Getting Back to Basics

Did you know, that almost anything you buy in a store, ready-made or prepackaged, can be made at home and often for a fraction of the cost?

I have been collecting these off-the-wall recipes for various concoctions for a number of years and keep them all together in a recipe box that resembles a log cabin. I began to realize what a treasure-trove I had some years ago when my sister complained that she wanted to make tacos but didn’t have any packages of taco seasoning mix.

“You don’t need that,” I told her, “I can give you a recipe for making your own taco seasoning mix” – and ever since, she tells me, she makes up her own mix. Taco seasoning isn’t expensive – you can generally buy a package of seasoning mix for under a dollar. But what if you can make up a big batch out of ingredients you have in your kitchen cupboard and it doesn’t cost you even a dollar? Wouldn’t that be worth making your own and always having it on hand?  And taco seasoning is probably one of the cheapest mixes you can buy, but some other things are not so inexpensive.  For instance – an all-purpose rub.  Here is a simple recipe for


You will need:

¼ cup black peppercorns

¼ cup fennel seeds

¼ cup cumin seeds

¼ cup coriander seeds

1 TBSP ground cinnamon

3 TBSP brown sugar

Grind peppercorns, fennel, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and brown sugar into coarse powder with coffee or spice grinder. Store tightly covered in a cool place up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 1 cup.


You will need:

Juice of 2 limes (about ½ cup)

½ cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 heaping tsp kosher salt

fresh ground pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, mash garlic, cumin, salt and pepper until it forms a rough paste. Add lime juice and olive oil and whisk until completely mixed.  Taste marinade. It should taste salty. Add more salt if necessary.

To this basic marinade, you can add the following to make it different:

Argentinian: Add 1 cup of  chopped parsley, 2 more cloves of chopped garlic and reduce salt. Argentinians call this marinade chimichurri and add it on top of their meats as a fresh salsa.

Cuban and Central America: Add juice of 1 orange. Sugar in the orange allows the meats to carmelize and gives them a great flavor. Very good on pork. To make spicier, you can add some finely chopped habaneros or the pepper of your choice.

Brazilian: Add some finely chopped papaya or mango. Papaya also tenderizes meat.

Bolivian: Add 1 additional tsp of cumin, 1 finely chopped shallot and ¼ cup of yellow chile peppers. **

To make your own


You will need:

4 ounces dry mustard

1 cup white vinegar

1 large egg

1 cup white sugar

In a medium size saucepan, combine mustard and vinegar (if you can push the dry mustard through a sieve, it will mix easier, without lumps). Cover tightly and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Add sugar and egg, mixing thoroughly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens or coats a spoon. Pour into sterilized jars, cover and refrigerate. May need stirring after storage in the refrigerator. **

Here is a recipe for Italian Seasoning. You can omit the salt in many recipes and use Italian seasoning to give bread, pasta, spaghetti sauce and other dishes a distinctive taste.


You will need:

3 TBSP EACH dried basil, oregano and parsley flakes

1 TBSP garlic powder

1 tsp dry thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

¼ tsp pepper

¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Place all ingredients, in batches if necessary, in a spice grinder or small bowl. Grind or crush with the back of a spoon until mixture becomes a coarse powder. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Makes 7 Tablespoons.

Sandy’s cooknote: I have a small coffee grinder that has never been used for coffee beans; I keep it for grinding spices and once tried it out to make my own tomato powder after I had dehydrated tomato slices.


You will need:

½ cup flour

½ cup crushed potato chips

½ cup cornmeal

2 tsp salt

dash of pepper

Mix well. Place in brown bag. Moisten chicken parts with milk. Shake chicken in crumb mixture to coat well. Place in greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hr.


You will need:

1 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

4 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp onion powder

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp dried oregano, crushed

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

In a heavy zip-lock type of plastic bag, combine the flour, cornmeal, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Shake the bag to mix the ingredients. Makes two cups of mix which will season four (3 ½ lbs) chicken.  To use the mix, remove ½ cup of mix and place in a bag. Cut chicken into serving size pieces  and place a few pieces at a time into the bag, shaking to coat. Arrange in a lightly oiled pan and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, tuning chicken once during baking time. Makes 6 servings.


You will need:

6 TBSP dried parsley flakes

3 TBSP dried onion flakes

2 ¼ tsp dried oregano

2 ¼ tsp dried marjoram

1 ½ tsp dried sage

¾ tsp celery seed

¾ tsp garlic powder

¾ tsp salt

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

In a plastic zip-type bag, combine all ingredients. Shake bag to mix. Makes enough for 4 meat loaves.  To use: Combine 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp of the mix with 1 ½ pounds of lean ground beef, ½ cup tomato sauce, ½ cup fine fresh bread crumbs, and 2 eggs. Pack into a 9×5” loaf pan and brush with an additional ¼ cup tomato sauce. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hr and 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing. The meat loaf makes 8 servings.



You will need:

3 cups instant nonfat dry milk

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ tsp salt

Sift dry milk, sugar, cocoa and salt together or blend with a fork. Store in an airtight container Makes about 4 ½ cups of dry mix.  To mix:  Put ¼ cup of the mix into a mug. Mix in a little water to make a paste. Fill the cup with boiling water, stir and serve.

If you would like to make a larger batch of cocoa mix, here is another recipe that makes a lot:


You will need:

8-qt box powdered dry milk

16-oz box of hot chocolate mix

11 oz jar of Cremora

1 box (16 oz) sifted powdered sugar

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients. Store in covered container. For 1 cup of hot chocolate, combine 1/3 cup of the dry mix with hot water and stir well.  You can also add a package of the tiny marshmallows to the mix and for a more adult version of hot chocolate mix, use a jar of flavored Cremora. **


You will need:

1 cup lemon-flavored instant tea sweetened with NutraSweet

1 TBSP tang, sweetened with NutraSweet

1 TBSP apple pie spice

1 (1 ½ oz) package lemonade drink, also sweetened with NutraSweet

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store in airtight container. For each serving, place 1 ½ tsp mix in a cup. Add ¾ cup hot water. Stir well. (3 calories per serving). **


You will need:

1 pound cheddar cheese

2 cups evaporated milk

1 ½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp dry mustard

2 beaten eggs

Cut cheese into small pieces and melt in top of a double boiler. When melted, add evaporated milk, salt, and mustard. Remove from heat and add eggs. Return to double boiler and stir; cook until eggs thicken slightly.  Remove from heat. Pour into dish to cool slowly.  Stir as it cools to prevent a crust from forming.  Put into jars. Cover and store in refrigerator. **


You will need:

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup light corn syrup

4 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup hot water in a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer; cook until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat; stir in chocolate until smooth. Add vanilla and ¼ cup warm water. Serve or store in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to a week. Warm before serving.


You will need:

4 cups brown sugar

2 cups cocoa

½ cup light corn syrup

4 cups granulated sugar

4 cups water

¼ cup vanilla extract

Mix first 4 ingredients in a large pan. Add 2 cups of the water and mix well.  Add remaining water. Bring to a rolling boil. Watch closely–it may very likely boil over. Boil for 5 minutes. Add vanilla. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Will keep about 8 months. **

Last but not least, here is the recipe for making your own Taco Seasoning Mix, the recipe that  inspired this article.


You will need:

3 TBSP chili powder

2 TBSP flour

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried oregano, crushed

½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a plastic zip-lock type of bag; shake until completely mixed.  Makes about ½ cup.

Sandy’s cooknote: if you are going to all the work of getting out all of the ingredients and mixing this, why not double or triple the amounts so that you have some on hand the next time you want to make tacos? I save up all small glass jars to store my seasoning mixes in.

Happy cooking!


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