Better Than Store Bought

Learn to make many pantry items using fresh ingredients and at a fraction of the cost — without preservatives!

From whisking together time-saving baking mixes to making your own nut milks, cheese, or spice blends, this section is full of tips and simple instructions about how to “do it yourself.”

How to Make Fresh Pumpkin Purée


Which kind of pumpkin is best for baking?

  • Smaller is better – large field pumpkins, which are specially bred for Halloween jack-o-lanterns, are generally too tough and stringy for baking.
  • Choose “pie” or “sugar” pumpkins or other flavorful varieties, such as Sugar Baby. Small and sweet, with dark orange-colored flesh, they’re perfect for pies, muffins, breads and soup.
  • A medium-sized pie pumpkin (about 4 pounds) should yield around 1½ cups of mashed pumpkin. You can use this puree for all your recipes calling for canned pumpkin.

Homemade Pumpkin Purée

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Rinse the pumpkin under cool water to remove any dirt or particles.

Cut the pumpkin in half and discard the stem section and stringy pulp and seeds. (Save the seeds to toast for a healthy snack, if desired.)

In a shallow baking pan lightly coated or sprayed with vegetable oil, place the two halves face down and cover with foil.

Bake pumpkin at 375°F for approximately 1½ hours, or until flesh is tender when pierced.

After baked pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh and mash by hand or purée it by pressing flesh through a food mill or using a food processor.

Place purée in a fine meshed strainer lined with a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth and set over a deep bowl. Stir occasionally and drain until the puree is as thick as canned pumpkin, about two hours.

Immediately store in sealed container and refrigerate. Use within three days.

To Freeze:

Measure 1 ¾ cups of drained purée (which is equivalent to 15 ounces of canned pumpkin) and place in rigid containers, leaving ½ inch head space.  Label, date and freeze up to one year.

RECIPE: Pumpkin Pie from scratch!



Nadine’s Garlic Aioli


As a regular customer at the Aptos Farmers Market, Nadine Frush can be spotted there almost every week carrying bags full of fresh produce from her favorite farmers. She also happens to be a wonderful cook — no surprise there!

Garlic aioli is one of her signature condiments that she keeps on hand. When I mentioned that we needed a good recipe for aioli for the Crispy Fried Calamari recipe, Nadine said, “Here’s the recipe I use for my garlic aioli. It’s based on a recipe that appeared in New Recipes for the Cuisinart by James Beard and Carl Jerome — a wonderful little book under 100 pages with great recipes.”

What’s the difference between aioli and mayonnaise? Basically, it’s the same condiment — however, aioli contains garlic.

Garlic aioli is especially delicious served with crispy calamari or shrimp, crab, boiled small potatoes, homemade French fries, or crudites.


1 large egg
1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups peanut oil*
1 clove of peeled, finely minced garlic
Optional flavor variations:

  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 6 spinach leaves, 6 parsley sprigs, 4 green onions cut up, 4 sprigs of tarragon, 2 sprigs of dill


In the bowl of a food processor using the metal blade, add vinegar, egg, salt and pepper. Give the mixture two quick pulses and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then process until blended. While the food processor is running, slowly start dripping in the oil. As soon as it starts to thicken (when about 1/3 of the oil remains), you can speed up the pouring. Add the garlic (or other add ins). Refrigerate immediately. Aioli is good for about a week.

* Nadine is French, and she says that where her family is from in France, “Our aioli is always made with peanut oil.” However, if you don’t have peanut oil on hand, you can use 3/4 canola oil and 1/4 olive oil. Don’t use all virgin olive oil for aioli — it overwhelms the flavor of the sauce. If you want to use all olive oil, a better choice is a blend or a very light olive oil.

Here’s a video about making aioli without a food processor. It’s a slightly different recipe, but the method is worth learning.



How to Make Almond Butter

With a new crop of almonds plentiful at the farmers market this time of year, you can quickly and easily make delicious homemade almond butter using your food processor. Almonds are a rich source of protein and vitamin E. Almond butter can be used like peanut butter on sandwiches or in baking or cooking. And when you make almond butter at home, you can control the salt content.


1 cup whole natural almonds, roasted
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons almond or vegetable oil


To roast almonds, spread on a shallow baking pan. Place in a 350ºF oven and bake 7 to 10 minutes or until almonds are fragrant; stir once or twice to assure even roasting.

In food processor with metal blade in place, grind almonds and salt until fine. While running, slowly add oil in a steady stream until mixture is spreadable.


How to Sprout Lentils


Sprouted lentils and beans are a very healthy source of both protein and complex carbohydrates. Once sprouted, use sprouts for raw salads, batters, sandwiches, and soups. Not only are sprouts more easily digested, they also have an increased nutritional value and fiber content!


1/2 – 1 cup organic, dried grey green lentils*
1 large glass wide-mouthed canning jar, sanitized
Cheesecloth or mesh screen to cover the jar
Rubber band
Water for rinsing


Sort through the lentils to remove any debris, broken or discolored lentils or small stones. Rinse the lentils very well before soaking.

Place the lentils in a glass jar and cover with water. Put the cloth (or mesh screen) on  the top of the jar and secure with rubber band. Soak the lentils overnight or for at least 8 – 12 hours.

In the morning, rinse and drain them well. There should not be any water left sitting in the bottom of the jar. If water sits and collects, mold may develop and your sprouts will go bad.

Place the jar in a cool place, away from daylight, while the lentils sprout.

Rinse and drain the lentils well about every 12 hours or so. As long as you are diligent about rising them and not leaving water in the jar you should not encounter problems with slime or mold.

Lentils take about three days to become fully sprouted. When the sprouts have reached the  desired length, give them a final rinse and then place them on a paper towel or tea towel to air dry before storing. Place sprouts in a paper-towel lined bowl, cover with another paper towel before closing container, and place in refrigerator. They should stay fresh for about one week.

*Sprouts will at least double in size so sprout only as much as you can consume in a few days.

NOTE: You can sprout many kinds of seeds and legumes including mung beans, garbanzo beans, soy beans, quinoa, sunflower seeds, peas, etc.

How to Make Dried Persimmon Slices

fuyu persimmon slicesDrying persimmons is easy, with or without a dehydrator. Your kitchen oven will do the job just fine. Dried persimmon slices make delicious snacks or can be added to salads, cookies, cereal, or breads.

The trick for best results is to use a mandoline or Benriner slicer to make certain the persimmon slices are even.

12 ripe, firm Fuyu Persimmons

Peel persimmons. Cut crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline.

Preheat oven to 175°F. If you have a convection oven, use the convection setting and set the oven temperature to 150°F.

On two baking sheets, arrange the persimmon slices in a single layer. Bake for 8 to 10 hours, switching the position of the baking trays several times. (Note: Convection ovens will take less time.)

After 4-5 hours, turn the fruit slices over on the baking sheets to promote even drying. The fruit will dry to a rich pumpkin color and should be light and leathery, not sticky. If sticky, return to the oven for awhile longer, or until no longer sticky.

Remove the trays from the oven and allow the fruit cool completely. To store, place dried fruit in glass or plastic containers and seal tightly.

10 Tips for Making Perfect Pie Crust


Everyone enjoys a great piece of pie, especially made with fresh fruits from the farmers markets! It is easily one of America’s favorite desserts. However, the bane of most cooks is making the pie crust. While it’s easy and convenient to turn to store-bought, pre-rolled pie crust, nothing comes close to a homemade, buttery, flaky pie crust.

If you’re a newbie to baking, don’t try to make a pie crust from scratch when guests are expected in two hours! Instead, set aside a half hour and follow the directions carefully. Have your pie filling ingredients ready to go, and devote your attention to the pie crust. Continue Reading →

How to Make Kefir


What is Kefir
Kefir is a cultured milk beverage that originated in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia and is touted for its probiotic benefits. Kefir can be easily made at home. It is made by fermenting milk (cow, goat, or sheep milk) using fresh “kefir grains,” the name for the small gelatinous, cauliflower-looking clumps comprised of yeast and bacteria mixed with proteins, sugars, and fats. Kefir grains can be used for a lifetime if maintained properly, allowing for a new batch of kefir to be prepared each day, requiring minimal time and effort. Continue Reading →

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix

This shortcut spice mix is often called for in pumpkin pie recipes, but it is also delicious used in savory baked pumpkin or squash recipes, cookies, sweet potato pie, custard, cheesecake, and more. Made with ingredients most of us have in our pantries, why buy a spice mix when you can easily blend your own?


2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg together until evenly mixed. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

How to Make Almond Milk


1 1/2 cups raw almonds
4 cups pure drinking water
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon sweetener of choice
Pinch of Himalayan salt


Rinse almonds, soak in water for 10-12 hours. Rinse again.

Blend the nuts with the drinking water in a blender, into a slurry.

Position a nut-milk bag over a bowl or quart measuring cup (or lay several layers of cheesecloth over the top of a bowl or large measuring cup) and pour slurry through. Lift bag (or pick up corners of cheesecloth) and lightly squeeze the contents until no more liquid drips through.

Put the milk back into the blender, add the sea salt, sweetener, coconut oil and vanilla extract and blend well. Refrigerate immediately.

Nut milk is highly perishable. Use within three days.

YIELD: 1 quart of vanilla almond milk

Try these ideas:

1) Freeze the milk in ice cube trays for smoothies.

2) Pour on cereal or granola.

3) Use on cooked oatmeal, warm slightly just before serving.

5) Add a heaping tablespoon of chocolate, blend well.

6) Add your favorite fruit, blend well.

SOURCE: Recipe courtesy of Rita Rivera of Milks Alive