Not so long ago, convenience foods were a treat. When I was growing up, and my dad was traveling with his job, my mom would sometimes give herself a break – and me a treat – by serving TV dinners. I fondly remember watching reruns of “The Mickey Mouse Club” while eating franks, beans and cornbread from a foil-covered aluminum tray hot out of the oven.
These days, convenience foods are everyday fare. We scarcely know how to cook without them. Yet, convenience foods can be expensive, and often come with ingredients I’d just as soon live without. Good flavor and nutrients are sometimes sacrificed, too.
Homemade mixes are a terrific alternative, offering convenience without fillers and unpronounceable ingredients. I am intrigued by the endless variety of homemade mix recipes I’ve come across. I’ve found recipes for baking mixes, spice mixes, flavored-rice mixes, drink mixes, meatball and meatloaf mixes, and even for homemade laundry detergent, deodorant, and home-cleaning products.
I suppose it’s the creative element of mixes that appeals to me. I know exactly what I’m putting into any mix I make. No chemicals or mystery ingredients are lurking. No MSG or high levels of sodium come with the spices. I can keep adapting the mixes until I get just the right balance of flavors – or cleansers – that works for me. I can leave out the seasonings I dislike, or add more of what I love. And, of course, the cost factor of making your own mixes is a plus.
Homemade mixes can turn basic spices and pantry items into delicious dishes for very little money. Recently, for example, when I needed a dish to take to a potluck, I made taco rice. I bought an inexpensive bag of rice, a can of diced tomatoes and some cheese. By using those few simple ingredients and spices I had in my cupboard, I made a tasty dish for a crowd for about $4. Just buying a box of flavored rice mix or instant rice would have cost me at least $2. And one bag of uncooked rice made two batches of taco rice mix.
That second batch of taco rice was a great accompaniment to the enchilada casserole I made later. The casserole recipe called for a 1.5-ounce packet of enchilada sauce mix – something I didn’t have in the house. After a quick online search, I found a recipe for enchilada sauce mix that made the same amount of sauce as a 1.5-ounce packet. I had all but one spice in my cupboard that the mix recipe called for. The sauce was delicious anyway, and took only minutes to prepare. Driving to my nearest neighborhood store to buy enchilada sauce mix would have taken two or three times longer.
Homemade mixes can save the day when you need a gift, too. Cookie mixes, soup mixes and “foods in a jar” mixes elevate pantry items to gift status. Giving something delicious and edible that can be used up is a terrific gift option, especially for people who seem to have everything and who might appreciate a gift they won’t have to store or dust. Mixes also are good for those who have allergies or who are gluten intolerant and need foods that are customized for them.
The creative fun you can have with homemade mixes is limitless. All you need is some imagination and a well-stocked pantry.
Dry Enchilada Sauce Mix
2 teaspoons mild chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. To prepare sauce, combine mix with 1 cup of water or chicken broth and an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until cornstarch is dissolved and sauce thickens. One batch of homemade mix equals a 1.5-ounce packet of enchilada sauce mix.