RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Even people who love to cook don't make everything from scratch. You might make a homemade graham cracker crust, but who makes graham crackers? Chris Kimball, that's who - the host of "America's Test Kitchen," who says there are quite a few foods you'd never think of making for yourself that you actually can. So we asked him to come up with a list of his favorite, make-it-don't-buy-it items.
CHRIS KIMBALL: Some of these actually save you money. And some of them produce a much better product 'cause a lot of the commercial products you get have fillers and stabilizers and gums and other things. So you can actually produce a much better product. The third thing is there a lot of people, actually, who enjoy cooking (laughing) like me. So sometimes, it's a project; you do it 'cause it's fun.
MONTAGNE: And to prove it, Chris came in to our studio at NPR West with some of his homemade products to try. We started with graham crackers. It's just hard to believe anybody makes graham crackers.
KIMBALL: Well, they have a great history. There was a guy called Sylvester Graham, in the 19th century, in America. His theory was that Americans were too sexual. So if you ate a lot of bland foods, it would reduce - (laughing) reduce that proclivity. One of the things he invented was graham flour, which you can still buy, which is a very coarsely ground whole-wheat flour, which is actually very healthy. So graham crackers were much less sweet in his time, made with this whole-wheat flour - graham flour. And they were a health biscuit. So our recipe goes back, a little bit, to what he did, which was graham flour, which is a whole-wheat flour, some white flour, some sugar - more than he used. And molasses goes in and some water, and it's much like a pie crust, where you cut butter in in a food processor, add the molasses and water, salt, a little vanilla. Roll it out. Cut it, and bake it for about 15 minutes in a moderate oven. So it's not hard to make, but you will see, I think, just the color is very dark.
MONTAGNE: It's much darker, yeah.
KIMBALL: And they're wonderful. I mean, there's no comparison, I think, between this and what we have today, which is a sweet, mostly kid's cracker.
MONTAGNE: The homemade one does not stick to the top of your mouth.
KIMBALL: It's not quite as airy as the commercial one. It really has flavor. I mean, the molasses really give it a lot of flavors.
MONTAGNE: Very nice. One item you've made for us is kind of a cheat. It's instant, aged balsamic vinegar. One would think this is where one would save money.
KIMBALL: Yeah. Balsamic vinegar, the good stuff, it's only made in two regions in Italy. It can cost $60 an ounce. And the fake stuff, you know, that's inexpensive, just isn't very good. So this is, like, a five minute trick. Take a third of a cup of cheap, supermarket balsamic vinegar that costs a few bucks. You add a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of port and you simmer it for 20 or 25 minutes - very low simmer 'cause if you boil it too hard you lose the flavors, and you reduce the volume by about half. And you'll get something that's much, much, much better than what you buy in the supermarket.
MONTAGNE: In this case, you're not looking for, say, a much more delightful homemade version as much as one that's as good as a good balsamic. But...
KIMBALL: Almost as - yeah, let's...
KIMBALL: Yeah, I don't want to get thousands of hate emails from Italy from people who make this for living. So let's just say it's not as good, but it's very good.
MONTAGNE: Nice to taste. But let's get into the kitchen. Chris Kimball and I head out of the studio and down the hall to NPR West's own, bare-bones, office kitchen.
You've never cooked in this kitchen?
KIMBALL: I've been here; I've never cooked in this kitchen. Yeah, it's an amazing facility.
MONTAGNE: (Laughing) Not one but two microwaves.
KIMBALL: (Laughing) And a toaster oven, yeah.
MONTAGNE: Luckily, we don't need much for this next recipe, Chris Kimball's take on oh-so-trendy kale chips.
KIMBALL: You can make them at home in about three minutes. Five ounces of kale - you want to get the flat kale, not the curly kale. Wash it thoroughly, dry it thoroughly, toss it with a few teaspoons of oil. Put it on a play in one layer, not two layers. And put it in the oven for about three minutes on high - microwave oven. We found the microwave does a much better job than a regular oven 'cause it dehydrates them very quickly, and you - little salt on top. So in a few minutes, you can make kale chips. And they are very good.
MONTAGNE: All right. I'll be putting it into the microwave. That's my contribution.
KIMBALL: And set it for three minutes.
MONTAGNE: OK. It's crackling away in there.
KIMBALL: It sounds like popcorn. Yeah, it's making a popcorn noise.
MONTAGNE: And minutes later...
MONTAGNE: Time to sample these homemade kale chips.
MONTAGNE: Isn't that a satisfying sound?
KIMBALL: Yeah, and you're...
MONTAGNE: Can you hear it?
KIMBALL: I think NPR East can hear it, yeah.
MONTAGNE: They are very light. In fact, I could easily eat this entire plate. And I would end up eating five leaves of kale. Now for Chris Kimball's final recipe, perfect for those avoiding dairy. It's whipped cream made from coconut milk.
KIMBALL: Coconut milk in a can is really the starting point. Put it in the refrigerator for a few hours, preferably upside down. The liquid will separate out. We've taken three-quarter cup of the solid part, put it in a bowl. We have a hand mixer, and we're good to go.
MONTAGNE: Here's the hand mixer. I'll let you do the honors.
KIMBALL: A teaspoon and a half of sugar, same amount of vanilla.
(HAND MIXER WHIRRING)
KIMBALL: We'll start it on low to get some air bubbles in there. And now we'll crank it a bit higher.
(HAND MIXER WHIRRING)
MONTAGNE: This is thickening up, just like whipped cream.
KIMBALL: Yeah, it's not going to be quite as billowy as real whipped cream. But it's still going to be light and it has a really nice flavor.
(HAND MIXER STOPPING)
MONTAGNE: That took no time at all.
KIMBALL: Here, here's a spoon if you want to taste it.
MONTAGNE: Oh, thanks. Oh, very nice.
KIMBALL: It's a very mild, coconut flavor - really tastes great. It's creamy.
MONTAGNE: Homemade, dairy free whipped cream.
MONTAGNE: Our regular guest Chris Kimball is host of "America's Test Kitchen" of PBS. And you can find his make-it-don't-buy-it recipes at NPR's food blog, The Salt. Chris Kimball, thank you very much.
KIMBALL: Thanks, Renee.
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