• Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
• Hardcover: 256 pages
• Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, 2011
• ISBN: 1451605870
• Genre: Cookbook; Foodie Memoir
• Recommended For: Cooks looking to cut back on their grocery store expenses; readers interested in food-related memoirs.
Quick Review: Borrow the Book, Don’t Buy It.
How I Got Here: My husband heard an interview with Reese promoting this cookbook on NPR and knew that I enjoyed learning how to make grocery store staples like chicken stock from scratch. He immediately ordered it off of Amazon and gave it to me for Christmas. Such a thoughtful man!
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
Known to her online foodie following as The Tipsy Baker, Jennifer Reese brings a realistic—and very funny—perspective to the homemade trend, testing whether to make from scratch or simply buy over 100 foods, in what is destined to become the new go-to reference for home cooks.
When Jennifer Reese lost her job as the book critic for Entertainment Weekly, she was overcome by an impulse common among the recently unemployed: to economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for. And so began a series of kitchen-related experiments with the practical purpose of breaking down whether it makes sense to make household staples—or just pick them up at the corner store.
By no means straight kitchen science, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter tells the often funny stories surrounding these experiments and offers a full picture of what is involved in a truly homemade life. On the practical side, Reese asks a handful of questions about each item to decide whether to make or buy: Is homemade better? Cheaper? How much of a hassle is it to make? And what about sustainability and animal welfare—what value should we place on knowing that our eggs came from happy chickens, for example? Is it somehow ennobling to slaughter your rooster yourself? Full of recipes and featuring an extensive chart at the end that summarizes the make-versus-buy status of every food, this eminently practical yet deliciously fun book reminds readers that they don’t have to do everything by hand—and shows how to get the most out of your time in the kitchen.
My Analysis and Critique:
I read this cookbook rather quickly, and it was, indeed, a book to read, not scan. There is as much text space devoted to Reese’s vignettes related to the included recipes as there are recipes, and I really enjoyed each experience shared. Reese is very humorous and is a good storyteller. Reese sounds like the blogger that she is in her writing style, and her stories reminded me a lot of Julie Powell’s of Julie and Julia fame. Yet, after a while, I started to scan through her vignettes, as I was more interested in her recipes and advice on what to buy.
The book is set up like this: 1-2 page story that tells how she got to the making of the food profiled in the chapter (i.e. the eggs chapter tells of her chicken-raising experience and her honey chapter discusses cultivating bees), and then a few recipes related to the focused food with their own anecdote on the experience of making the food featured in the recipe or examples on how or why to use the recipe. Then, each recipe begins with three notes on whether you should make it or buy it. For example, here is the opener to the recipe for bagel chips:
If your bagels are getting stale, this extends their life. Bagel chips are great with hummus, or plain, for mindless snacking.
Make it or buy it? Make it.
Cost comparison: A 6-ounce bag of New York Style bagel chips (they contain both palm oil and sugar) costs $4.39. To make 6 ounces of chips from bagels you’d otherwise throw away: less than a dollar.
At first, this section of each recipe really appealed to me. Reese has done all the research I needed to help me decide what to make myself and what I should just buy! Excellent concept for a cookbook!
But then, I started to notice how wishy-washy her analysis was.
Her vignettes and anecdotes for each recipe can be very confusing. Reese sounds like she’s saying to buy it, as she describes the hassle to make it and/or her family’s poor reaction to the food. But then, the following recipe says “Make it with slight hassle”. Or “Try it yourself and decide”. No thanks, I want you to decide. That’s why I’m reading this book! Why would I make it if it’s as big of a hassle as you’ve described?
Another problem I had with this book was that some of her analysis just didn’t check out with me. She includes a recipe on lemon curd, and states “Make it”. Although it requires hard work, it is cheaper than what you’d buy in the grocery store. Yet, looking at the recipe, I noticed that it only lasts for a week. That’s not cheaper, when the jar at the grocery store lasts a very long time in the fridge. And who uses lemon curd anyway? She uses it in her lemon yogurt recipe, but I’m not even sure if I like lemon yogurt, and even if I do, I know I don’t like it enough to go through a whole container of homemade lemon curd in a week!
Then there’s the problem with wasted space in this cookbook. Reese spends a lot of book space on recipes that she recommends not to make! Why? Meanwhile, there is only one recipe for chicken in her chicken chapter, and she doesn’t even recommend making one’s own chicken stock, one of the easiest and most useful cooking processes ever! I couldn’t relate to her reasoning behind this recommendation, as she states that she doesn’t know what to do with the leftover chicken bones and cooked vegetables, and she doesn’t know how to store the stock. Come on! This is the most useful and resourceful recipe to regular cooks, and you’re not even recommending it! Well, cooks out there, I recommend using your leftover carcasses to make stock, and so does Julia Child. So there!
More on the wasted space: while Reese has only one chicken recipe in her chicken chapter (though you find other chicken recipes sprinkled in other random chapters), she spends lots of space on completely useless topics that also get their own chapters (and more recipes!). Some useless chapters include: honey, duck eggs, goats, and turkey. Come on, now! Where am I going to find duck eggs? I live in the city, so I’m not going to raise my own. Am I supposed to buy my own ducks, goats, bees, and turkeys? Maybe I’m not getting her purpose here.
Finally, there is the major issue: the applicability of the recipes.
I made the eggnog French toast, it was easy and delicious, but it was also a 2 sentence recipe: soak the bread in egg nog, fry the bread in butter.
My next recipe was the Biscuit Pudding. I had leftover biscuits, I love bread pudding, win-win. So, as I began to prep for the endeavor, I noticed a major problem in the recipe. Reese states in Step 2 to melt 4 tbsp of butter. Then the butter just disappears in the recipe. No more mention of the 4 tbsp of butter at all. And that’s a lot of butter! So, I consulted the good old internet, and found a recipe that informed me that I was to mix the butter with the chunks of bread before pouring the custard on the bread. Thank you internet! After reading on with the internet recipe, I decided to hybridize my recipe by adding some internet steps to Reese’s recipe, as well as using an internet recipe for rum sauce. I will share this recipe at the end, as well as a picture of the finished product (it was delicious!).
So, the point of that anecdote was that now I don’t feel that Reese is reliable. If you leave out a step in a 5-step recipe, what else are you screwing up on? And the order of her steps was wrong too, having me make a meringue that would just sit for forty minutes (the actual amount of time it takes to soak up the custard, not the 5-10 minutes that she states) while I waited for the bread to soak up custard. I changed her recipe all around!
On the positive side, Reese’s vignettes and content were interesting and fun to read. I don’t really see it as a cookbook, but more as a foodie memoir that inspires me to cook, like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence or Francis Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. It will inspire me to try to make certain things, like hummus, yogurt, and hashbrowns, but I don’t think that I’ll necessarily use Reese’s recipes. For this reason, I recommend that this book is borrowed from the library, and not bought.
My Hybridized Version of Reese’s Recipe for Leftover Biscuits Bread Pudding with Light Rum Sauce
Sources: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, p.76 and a couple of different internet recipes
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
Six 2 ½- inch biscuits (or thereabouts)
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
Big pinch of salt
4 large egg whites (save 1 yolk for rum sauce)
1. Generously butter a 1 ½ qt casserole or baking pan. Preheat oven to 325°.
2. Melt 4 tbsp of butter. Break the biscuits into a big bowl in large chunks. Blend chunks with melted butter. Fill the casserole with the bread mixture.
3. In the same large bowl, beat the 2 large eggs with 3/4 cup sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Pour this over bread and leave to soak–do not allow bread to float in the mix. Save the leftover custard for later. Allow bread to soak for 40 minutes, and add leftover custard periodically.
4. With a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and whisk until combined.
5. Heap the meringue on top of the bread mixture and place casserole in larger casserole. Fill larger casserole with hot water until it reaches halfway up the small casserole.
6. Bake for 40-60 minutes, until the meringue is browned, and when shaken, the pudding doesn’t quiver too much.
7. Remove from oven and serve just slightly warm with rum sauce on top. To reheat, simply warm up oven to 250 and place casserole in oven for 5-10 minutes, until the meringue is crusty again.
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1/8 cup light rum
1. Place butter and powdered sugar in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisking constantly, cook until butter is completely absorbed and mixture is thoroughly blended. Do not allow to boil.
2. Remove from heat and beat in egg yolk. Place over low heat and gradually stir in rum until mixture is well blended. Makes about 1 cup.
Notes: If you don’t have rum on hand (as I didn’t), you may substitute Disarrono liqueur for the light rum. I did this, and the almond flavor was quite delightful with the bread pudding.
The Finished Product:
Jennifer Reese’s Blog: The Tipsy Baker
Weekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads. It is “is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. “