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Homemade Basics: Butter, Ketchup & Marshmallows

Herb Butter Herb Butter

By Lori Grossman

It's hotter outdoors than that place down under (and I don't mean Australia). Animals are suffering, too. A few days ago, I saw a small squirrel snoozing on a shady tree limb, and did I ever sympathize! The best way to cope with August in Texas is to stay inside in the AC. So, while you're keeping cool, let's play that new cooking game called "Make Your Own Basics."

We're all into convenience foods these days. It saves time and effort. But do you ever wonder what your great-great-grandmother would think about people these days being able to buy just about anything at the corner grocery store? Think about it; if she wanted to bring fried chicken on a picnic, she couldn't drive the buggy down to the KFC drive-through. She had to catch the chicken, kill it, pluck it, etc., before the cooking process even got going. There weren't bread-making machines or food processors in those days, either. And butter didn't come in a neat little package. She had to milk the cow, separate the milk from the cream, and then get to churning. Let's face it, we're blessed.

Besides giving you bragging rights among your family and friends, making some of your own food is a great project to share with kids who, by this time, are probably moaning about being bored. My mom seized the opportunity to use some of our home-grown pears, while teaching me how to roll out pie crust, instead of buying a pie at the grocery store. Take the time to make those special memories for your kids, while you make your own butter, ketchup and/or marshmallows in your own kitchen.

By the way, here's a riddle for you: What's unusual about the following three recipes? Here's a hint: you'll be grateful. I'll give you the answer after the last recipe. No fair peeking.

Homemade Unsalted Butter

Your great-great-grandmother would have thought this way of making butter was magic. You can make several flavored butters from this basic recipe. I've included directions following the recipe. You'll need
  • 2 cups pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream
Line a sieve with a single layer of cheesecloth and place the sieve over a bowl. Pour the cream into a food processor and process for about 5 minutes, or until the butter forms a mass and separates from the whey. (The whey looks like a milky liquid.)

Transfer the butter and whey to the sieve and work the butter with a wooden spoon or spatula to release more of the whey until you have a solid mass, like whipped butter. Scoop the butter out of the sieve. Wrap it in plastic wrap, and either serve immediately, or refrigerate. Or, spoon it into a metal or plastic butter mold and then refrigerate. Makes about 1 cup (the equivalent of 1/2 pound or 2 sticks).

  • For Herb Butter, mix 2 tablespoons fresh herbs with 1 cup softened butter.
  • For Honey Butter, mix 1 cup softened butter with 1 tablespoon of wildflower or other medium-colored honey, or more if you prefer.
  • For Strawberry Butter: mash 1 cup of strawberries and blend with 1 cup softened butter.
Kitchen tools you'll need
Butter Molds, Food Processor, Mixing Bowls, Sieve, Spatulas
Your great-great-grandmother would have thought this way of making butter was magic.

Spiced Tomato Ketchup

Whether you have lots of your own home-grown tomatoes on hand or you buy them at the grocery store, this is the perfect time of year to make some homemade ketchup. It's a great addition to hamburgers, hot dogs, or even meatloaf, plus, your kitchen will have a wonderful aroma from the simmering ketchup.
  • 4 cups peeled and chopped very ripe fresh tomatoes (about 6 to 8 large tomatoes), or 4 cups canned chopped and peeled tomatoes, drained
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
Cook the tomatoes and onion in a saucepan over medium-low heat for 20 to 25 minutes, or until both are very soft. Transfer them to a food processor or blender, and purée until nearly smooth.

Place a sieve over a clean saucepan and pass the puree through the sieve into the saucepan (or use a food mill). Press the purée with the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula to remove the tomato seeds and to smooth out any lumps. Place the pan on the stove and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour to blend the flavors and thicken the ketchup.

Pour the hot ketchup through a funnel into a clean bottle. Cover the bottle, let the ketchup cool slightly, then put the bottle in the refrigerator. The ketchup will keep indefinitely. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Kitchen tools you'll need
Blender or Food Processor, Mixing Bowls, Saucepan, Sieve, Rubber Spatula

We all love s'mores, right? Did you ever think about making your own marshmallows? Before they were widely available, people used to buy them in candy stores. The first commercially made marshmallows hit store shelves around 1900. These marshmallows do contain corn syrup, which can be a problem if you're allergic, but at least they don't contain any blue food coloring. I'm not kidding; check the ingredients on the store-bought kind.

Once you try these, they'll be a must for any camping trip, the aforementioned s'mores, or floating atop a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

Homemade Marshmallows

If you want to go all out, make homemade hot chocolate to go with these marshmallows. You'll need a 9x13-inch pan for these.
  • Four 1/4-ounce packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1-1/2 cups cool water
  • 1-1/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Confectioners' sugar (for dusting marshmallows)
Line a 13x9-inch pan with parchment paper and coat the paper with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Sprinkle the gelatin over 3/4 cup of the water in a large mixing bowl. Set aside for several minutes until the gelatin is soaked through.

In a large heavy saucepan over high heat, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of water, the corn syrup, salt, and sugar and cook to a temperature of 240°F on a candy thermometer, or the end of the soft-ball stage (when a drop of hot syrup makes a soft ball when dropped into a glass of ice water). This takes about 10 minutes.

Pour the hot sugar mixture over the gelatin. With an electric mixer, beat until fluffy and pure white (about 15 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract.

Spread the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to solidify at room temperature for 12 hours.

When the marshmallow has solidified, use a moistened knife to cut it into 1-1/2-inch squares. Dust each square with a little confectioners' sugar. Store the marshmallows in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Layer them between sheets of waxed paper. They will keep indefinitely. Makes about 4 dozen.

Did you figure out the answer to my riddle yet? Here it is: you didn't have to use your oven! I told you you'd be happy -- and cooler, too!

Kitchen tools you'll need
9x13 Baking Dish, Electric Mixer, Mixing Bowls, Saucepan
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