I like making food from scratch and I have been cooking almost all of my family’s meals from scratch for 20 years. My favorite cookbooks are splattered and grease stained–my favorite chocolate cookbook with a recipe for Black Forest Cake, even more than most. The finished cake is wonderful, but I am not sure if I am really willing to go to all the effort of melting, mixing and measuring for the finished product or the gustatory pleasures of licking out the bowl!
Cookbooks are perennially popular, and books about food (with or without recipes) are experiencing a boom. I like reading about food but find some of the recent books pretentious and sanctimonious. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch–Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some great recipes. I don’t agree with all of Jennifer Reese’s pronouncements on which items should be made and which should be bought (buy rice pudding?) but I can’t go past any book that says: “Here in Northern California, where you can’t throw a Birkenstock without hitting an artisanal bakery, it’s still hard to find finicky butter-based pastries like the croissant. “
I decided to rise to the challenge of croissants since I currently bake most of our own bread (with the help of a bread maker) and made croissants from scratch many years ago. I had some difficulties with milk that was too hot for the yeast and an oven that was too hot for the bottoms of the croissants on the lower tray but the five petits pains au chocolat that I made were just right. As Jennifer Reese says, it was an “unbelievable hassle” but the results were worth it.
Since I firmly believe that chocolate cookies should be in a food group of their own, another recipe I found intriguing was for homemade Oreos. Growing up in another country, I came to Oreos as an adult. I find them tasty in small doses, but somehow artificial tasting. Homemade has to be better, right? I think my first attempt at Homemade Oreos was a resounding success. My kids and work colleagues pointed out that I didn’t make Oreos because “real” Oreos always come in a packet. But everyone, including me, thought my creation of a rich crumbly, deep chocolate cookie with a creamy filling was much better than anything “real.”
This book is great for people who are thinking of making more of their own food from scratch and need recipes. It is also full of entertaining tidbits that started out in Jennifer Reese’s blog, The Tipsy Baker. I enjoy her lack of pretentiousness. In one story she talks about one of her dearest family memories consisting of blobbing in front of the TV to watch The Lord of the Rings on DVD while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. She compares it to an occasion when she proudly and successfully made delicious and healthy homemade fried chicken from scratch, imaging a Waltons-like family gathering, including “corn likker,” only to see everyone eat and disappear to their own affairs like the meal was nothing special. The take-away message from this amusing book is make the bread from scratch when you can because it is cheaper, tastier and healthier, but don’t beat yourself up for needing to run into the supermarket to grab Wonder Bread.
Check the WRL catalog for Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.