My friend Janssen loves this book. I loved her description of it so much, that I even started telling people about it before I had cracked it open myself. She mentioned in her review that she contacted the publisher directly to ask for a review copy, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to do the same. They agreed to send one my way in exchange for this review.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is written by Jennifer Reese of the blog The Tipsy Baker. Jennifer is on a mission to cook her way through the 1000 cookbooks she owns, and somewhow in the middle of that she found the time to write a book as well. Not just any book, one of my favorite books ever (yes, a cookbook just made my top 10 list). I took it on the plane to Dallas with me and read the first half on the way there, and the second half on the way back. The kind of all-consuming speed reading where you don’t even look up when the waitress walks by offering drinks. This isn’t just a cookbook, it’s a memoir. A memoir cookbook. Jennifer describes the birth of her book like this:
[A] question lodged in the forefront of my mind. Where is that sweet spot between buying and making? What does the market do cheaper and better? And where are we being deceived, our tastes and habits and standards corrupted? Could I answer this once and for all? I didn’t want an answer rooted in ideology, or politics, or tradition, or received wisdom. I wanted to see the question answered empirically, taking into account the competing demands–time and meaning, quality and conscience, budget and health–of everyday American life.
So she sets out to figure out which is worth it. Homemade bread of a store bought loaf? Buttermilk? Mustard? Pizza? If you make dumplings, is it worth your time and money to make the wrappers?
Eventually, she gets really hard-core. Buying her own chickens (which she loves), raising turkeys (which she doesn’t love as much), and even getting a goat (I agree Jennifer, why aren’t goats allowed as pets wherever dogs are?). Most recipes are accompanied by a story (I most enjoyed the anecdotes that include her children), and all of the targeted items have the question “Make it or buy it?” next to them. Most items get the “Make it” stamp, but some of them are accompanied by the caveat that you should really only make it if you actually want to take on the challenge of making said rather difficult item. She also provides a description of how difficult each item is, as well as a cost comparison between the store bought variation.
The best part about this book though, is how funny Jennifer is. Who would have thought that a memoir cookbook would have me crouched over in my airplane seat laughing uncontrollably? The night she spends outside sleeping with her goat is my favorite. I kept turning to That Husband to read things out loud to him (this didn’t last long), and after the third or fourth excerpt he stopped me.
“This lady is you, in 10 years. You are going to be her. Right now you are obsessed with making absolutely everything from scratch [this is true] but eventually you will figure out what is worth making and what is worth buying. And I can seee us having chickens.”
So thank you to Jennifer, as you have brought me one step closer to where I’m going to be in 10 years (meaning relaxing a little bit and not being so obsessive). Like you, I’ll be making my own bread and collecting my own eggs, and making cheese on the weekends. Hot dogs and Thomas Keller’s chicken and beekeeping? I’ll leave those things to someone else from now on.
When I started reading I turned down the corners of the pages that featured items I wanted to make. About 50 pages in I realized I had bookmarked every single recipe thus far. So I gave up on that system and decided eventually I’d take a page from Jennifer’s systemand eventually cook my way through the entire thing. I’ve already tried out two recipes, both eaten over Thanksgiving, and Jennifer let me know it would be okay for me to share the recipe below so you can try it out for yourself.
You know how recipes sometimes call for a spice/oil/condiment, and you buy it, use it, and realize you not only didn’t like the recipe, but will never be able to use that $8 jar of spice again? Vadouvan is not like that at all. Next time around, I want to buy it in bulk. She prices this out at $2.40/cup. Souffer’s frozen mac n’ cheese is $1.50/cup. Kraft in the blue box is $0.69/cup.
Vadouvan Mac n’ Cheese
from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the casserole dish
6 slices fresh bread (about 6 ounces), homemade or store-bought, crumbled [I used whole wheat]
5 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup all purpose flour [whole wheat again]
3 tablespoons vadouvan spice blend
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar (about 18 ounces)
2 cups grated Gruyere (about 8 ounces)
1 pound elbow macaroni [surprise, I used whole wheat here too]
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Butter a large casserole.
2. In a skillet melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and toss with the bread crumbs.
3. In a medium saucepan, gently heat the milk.
4. In a large pot or Dutch oven melt the remaining butter. When it begins to bubble, add the flour. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
5. Slowly pour the hot milk into the flour-butter mixture and whisk well. Continue cooking, whisking constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 teaspoons salt, the vadouvan, pepper, chili powder, 3 cups of the cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups of the Gruyere. Set the cheese sauce aside.
6. When the water is boiling, add the macaroni. Cook until it is just tender; the inside should still be somewhat firm. Drain the macaroni in a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well again. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle over it the remaining cheddar and Gruyere. Scatter the breadcrumbs over top. Bake until browned, about 30 minutes.
8. Transfer to a cooling rack for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 14 cups, to serve 12