Recipe Spotlight

11 Staples You Should Make Instead of Buy

These items are all super simple to make and taste far superior to store-bought versions. Plus, you can save money in the process.

Published Apr. 10, 2023.

You can buy granola. And granola bars. Along with yogurt, mustard, nut butter, vanilla extract, and many other staples. 

And more often than not, you probably will. 

But making these items yourself can be incredibly gratifying. You can customize the results, make something that tastes better than store-bought, and in many cases even save you some money.

Here are 11 of our favorite DIY staples. 

None require special equipment. Most are quick and dead simple—and if they take time, it’s mainly hands off. And for those that require an upfront investment in pricey ingredients, you’ll find that buying in bulk can significantly shave the cost and allow you to make multiple batches. 

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1. Granola

Store-bought granola suffers from many shortcomings. It’s often loose and gravelly and/or infuriatingly expensive (often $9 or $10 or even more per 16 ounces). Making your own can ensure big, satisfying clusters; crisp texture; and lower costs. Our secret is to firmly pack the granola mixture into a rimmed baking sheet before baking. Once it’s baked, you’re left with a granola “bark” that you can break into crunchy clumps of any size. The flavors we offer are suggestions—have at it with any mix-ins you desire. 

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2. Granola Bars

Most store-bought granola bars are excessively sugary, contain mostly filler, and fall apart. For 24 bars that were wholesome, satisfyingly chewy, and neat to eat, we combined toasted oats, nuts, and seeds with a mixture of pureed fruit, brown sugar, oil, and water and pressed the mixture into a baking pan before baking. The pureed dried fruit is our secret to making bars that are sticky and chewy without excess sugar, but most of the ingredients can be swapped out to customize the bars to suit your tastes. 

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3. Almond Butter

Almond butter is as essential in sandwiches, smoothies, cookies, and a zillion other applications as its legume-based cousin. But unlike peanut butter, it’s also ridiculously pricey (as much as $12 per 16 ounces). Making your own can dramatically cut costs and couldn’t be easier: Roast almonds for 10 minutes, cool, and then process them for 5 minutes and add a bit of salt. The results? Two whole cups of silky, nutty almond butter that can be stored for two months.  

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4. Vanilla Extract

Making vanilla extract at home can save you at least $1 per ounce, and because our recipe produces 8 ounces, that’s not nothing. The key is to buy beans in bulk online, use a basic vodka, and have a little patience. It takes 10 minutes to combine the ingredients, plus a few weeks of steeping—hence the patience), after which you’ll have a wonderfully fragrant and complex vanilla extract to use in your baking or as a lovely homemade gift.

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5. Yogurt

If you want full control over your yogurt—determining its fat content, sourness level, and consistency—along with producing pure cultured dairy of the highest quality (no stabilizers, sweeteners, or other additives), consider making your own. We heat ultra-pasteurized milk and then stir in a bit of store-bought yogurt with live cultures. We then place the mixture in an oven alongside a pot of boiling water, which keeps it at the right temperature. Culture future batches with your homemade stuff—and never buy yogurt again!

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6. Ghee

Ghee is a deliciously nutty-tasting clarified butter that can cost $10 (or more) for a small jar. But it can be made almost entirely hands-off at home and for a lot less. In our version, we cook butter low and slow in the oven for a few hours before straining out the milk solids. The resulting product can be used in traditional South Asian cooking or as a more flavorful buttery substitute in any recipe that calls for simple clarified butter. It can also be used for high-heat applications such as frying and making popcorn. All it takes is 2 pounds of unsalted butter and time.

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7. Tortilla Chips

Few snacks are better than a basket of hot, freshly made, lightly salted, ultracrispy tortilla chips. So, why settle for store-bought, when it’s so easy to make them? Our technique takes just half an hour—plus, it allows you to use up leftover tortillas. And the oil it requires for frying can be strained and used again and again.  

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8. Whole-Grain Mustard

This indispensable condiment for sandwiches, glazes, sauces, and more packs a much bigger punch when you make it yourself. It comes together from ingredients you may already have, takes only 15 minutes, and yields 2 cups. We use a 1:1 ratio of milder yellow mustard seeds to spicier brown seeds. A little brown sugar tempers their bite while cider vinegar adds complexity. Letting the pureed mixture “ripen” on the counter for a few days allows bitter compounds to dissipate and spicy ones to develop. Refrigeration will halt these enzymatic reactions, so chill it once it reaches your desired heat level.

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9. Lemonade Concentrate

Bottled lemonade is refreshing, but it can also be cloyingly sweet and one note. For a drink with complex lemony flavor that can be customized for sweetness and intensity, we created a lemonade concentrate. We muddle zest with sugar and steep the mixture in hot water before adding lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Dilute the concentrate to make an entire pitcher or just one glass. And lemonade is just the beginning: This concentrate can also be incorporated into cocktails, combined with iced tea for an Arnold Palmer, or mixed with beer for a shandy.

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10. Dark Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Supermarket fudge sauce gets the job done. But for a truly luxurious consistency and rich, chocolatey flavor, you need to pay a lot more money—or make one yourself. Fortunately, homemade fudge sauce is simple and easy, and you’re likely to have most of the ingredients already (milk, salt, sugar, butter, and vanilla, plus unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder). Ours is perfect for spooning over fruit or ice cream or eating as a dip. You can also make it in flavored versions such as orange, spiced, or peanut butter.

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11. Homemade Grated Horseradish  

Prepared horseradish from the supermarket is certainly convenient, but if you’ve never experienced the wallop of the freshly made kind, grated from a whole root, you’re in for a real treat. And we know how to make its pungency last: Stir in vinegar in two different stages—during processing and after a 10-minute rest. Add your homemade horseradish to a cream sauce or to top pork or steak or stir some into mashed potatoes for a jazzed-up side.

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