If you’re like most Americans, your favorite family holiday recipes might include a few items that come in cans or plastic containers: evaporated milk, corn syrup, cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions, among the most prevalent. But you can skip those unhealthy versions this season with these easy DIY recipes. They’re a healthier choice and also a more frugal one, too. Eliminating pre-made store-bought items can save you boucoup bucks, freeing up some room in the budget to pay for organic meats and produce.
1. Evaporated Milk
A lot of pie recipes include either sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk. Yes, you can buy these quickly and easily at the store, but convenience isn’t everything. You can “condense” and evaporate milk at home inexpensively and easily, it just takes a bit of a time investment.
2 cups whole milk (for a vegan version use non-dairy milk)
Warm milk over medium high for 5 minutes, reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours or until milk is reduced by half in volume.
Yield: 1 cup, about 1 “can”
2. Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup natural sweetener (organic cane or sucanat)
3 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix sugar and milk and, stirring, bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to low and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer about 2 hours until reduced by half.
Whisk in butter and vanilla.
Yield: 1 1/4 cups, about 1 “can”
3. Corn Syrup Substitute
One of the most ubiquitous holiday pie ingredients is corn syrup. While it doesn’t reach the heights of high fructose corn syrup in terms of being bad for your body, its nutritional value is dubious at best. Plus, it’s pricey compared with making your own syrup at home. Try this easy syrup substitute in your next pecan pie.
2 cups natural sweetener (honey granules or organic white sugar will work best)
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartare
1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Cover for 3 minutes to remove sugar crystals from pan’s sides. Uncover and simmer, stirring frequently, until it reaches the soft ball candy stage.
Yield: 2 cups
Note: This syrup will keep for about 2 months.
4. Homemade Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
My favorite holiday dish to make with cream of mushroom soup is Green Bean Casserole (or even a version of Green Bean Casserole with bacon!). It’s great with fresh green beans and homemade soup. It’s not that boring, canned casserole that you may be used to, it’s much more delicious and nutritious.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, diced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
3/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth
Saute garlic, onion and mushrooms and set aside. Melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add milk and broth. Add sauteed garlic, onion and mushrooms. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring regularly, until it reaches desired consistency (about 15-20 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use as you would a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup.
Yield. 1 1/2 cups, 1 “can”
5. French Fried Onions
If you’re going to make a fresh green bean casserole, you’ll want to top it with real French fried onions, instead of the kind from a can. Try this recipe, adapted from Food.com.
2 large onions, sliced into rings
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
oil for frying: peanut, safflower or organic canola
Soak the onions in milk for about 5 minutes. Heat oil in a skillet or fryer. Dredge the onions through flour. Fry, drain on paper towels, and season to taste.
Replacing just these five canned ingredients with homemade versions can save you money and improve your health this holiday season.