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Vera Kuznetsova makes her own ricotta using milk, lemon juice, a sieve and cheesecloth. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Vera Kuznetsova makes her own ricotta using milk, lemon juice, a sieve and cheesecloth. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

DIY food

No baking powder? No problem. Just make it yourself Add to ...

Jennifer Perillo brought out the top-drawer ingredients the morning she was to bake three cakes for her husband's 50th birthday: Valrhona cocoa and King Arthur cake flour. But there was one thing missing from her pantry that threatened to leave her cakes rock-hard, deflated and inedible: baking powder.

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Ms. Perillo, 35, was stuck indoors with two kids while a snowstorm raged outside her Brooklyn apartment. A quick run to the supermarket wasn't an option.

Thank goodness for Google.

Ms. Perillo did have cornstarch, cream of tartar and baking soda in her kitchen, which she combined to make a substitute for baking powder. And it worked - her cakes sprang up beautifully.

In recent months, Ms. Perillo has phased out brand-name staples such as Rumford Baking Powder from her pantry and replaced them with her own homemade ingredients.

She's part of a growing number of home cooks who have gone DIY, stocking their kitchens with cooking essentials that most purchase at the supermarket.

Popular recipe-sharing site Tasty Kitchen, created by the iconic food blogger "Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond, recently launched a homemade ingredients category in which users have uploaded dozens of recipes for everything from cake flour to whole wheat pasta - most often things made in a pinch, but reproduced later to cut down on grocery runs, save money or get a better-quality product.

Ms. Perillo has always tried to purchase the healthiest ingredients for her cooking, but found that as a product's claims of being local, organic and preservative-free rose, so did the price.

"I want to have all high end-ingredients … but we're a family of four and we live in New York City, which is already very expensive," Ms. Perillo says.

She has since started to eschew packaged bouillon cubes, making her own in a food processor. The concentrated batch she made two months ago for flavouring soups and sauces will yield about 45 litres of stock, she says.

"For the amount of bouillon this recipe makes, it would cost you over $200. This way you have the flavour that you want, and it's cheap."

Cost was also what motivated Amy Maltzan, 32, of Ithaca, N.Y. to try her hand at DIY vanilla extract.

She had often shelled out $20 for a tiny bottle of Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract, which was often drained after a few rounds of baking. She estimates she's saved more than $100 since a friend taught her how to make her own.

She ordered 25 vanilla beans on eBay for about $20 and split them among three canning jars, which she filled with an $18 bottle of vodka. Then, she just let the concoction steep for three months until it was potent enough to use.

But she didn't stop there.

Ms. Maltzan was troubled by the number of plastic containers her family went through, so she learned to make her own yogurt. She's also converted to DIY ketchup and soft cheese.

"What drew me to trying some of these things is you can control what's going into it," she says.

But it's the superior taste that helps her justify the extra time it takes to make them, she says, a sentiment echoed by many other urbanites who prefer home cooking to the convenience of prepared ingredients.

When Vera Kuznetsova, 30, immigrated to Surrey, B.C., a decade ago, she couldn't find the fresh, creamy ricotta that was readily available in the supermarkets and farmers' markets of her native Russia.

"It's always somewhat grainy and watery and kind of bland," she says of her local grocer's offerings.

At least once a month now, she simply heats up milk, adds lemon juice and drains the curdled mixture.

Her recipe, which she published on her blog Baking Obsession, has been featured on many other recipe sites and blogs. Many appreciate its simplicity, she says.

"If you read the list of ingredients on the [store-bought]cheese, there are so many artificial [things]there, so it makes perfect sense to make it at home."

For some home cooks, whipping up DIY ingredients is less about the product and more about the process.

Margot Hovley, 48, a mother of seven in Centerville, Utah, lives just a five-minute walk from a store, but doesn't indulge in grocery runs when she's run out of brown sugar or cake flour - instead, she makes them.

"The main motivation [was]I wanted to find out about all these old skills that are being lost that our grandmas used to know how to do," she says.

When brown sugar wasn't pre-packaged, it was made by mixing molasses and granulated sugar. Before cake flour appeared in the baking aisle, it was prepared by sifting together flour and cornstarch.

"There was some stuff like that where I had no idea it was so easy," she says.

She's been charged with making cilantro-lime salad dressing this weekend to feed 100 guests at her daughter's wedding. While she could have made a quick grocery run to buy the few cartons of buttermilk needed, she instead prepared two large jugs in her kitchen.

"I'm two blocks away from a store, but I'm still not going to go down there to buy one thing for a recipe," she says. "I'm happy to know how this is done just in case for some reason … I was isolated from civilization."

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