Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Book Review: "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter" - April 3, 2012

Hello, my name is Jaime and I am a cookbook addict. I have never been able to resist the lure of a new cookbook, especially one that has such a compelling premise as Jennifer Reese's Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. After unexpectedly losing her job, she started filling her free time with recipe experiments in order to determine what you should and should not cook from scratch. I enjoyed reading about her chronicles, while privately seething in jealousy of her California yard large enough to accomodate a variety of farm animals and the financial security that apparently allowed her to become a full time blogger/homemaker. I fantasize about being able to chuck it all, strap on apron, and step out my backdoor with a bucket full of chicken feed. Then reality hits and I wake up in our DC-area townhouse to the sound of the nearby Metro train and head off on another business trip... with one of my "back-to-the-land" library books for reading on the airplane (above photo taken aboard one such plane...).

Reese's narrative and concept are excellent, but unfortunately I found some of her recipes to be a bit too imprecise. For example, in her directions for making ricotta she says to just bring the milk to "near boiling." I'd previously used Smitten Kitchen's technique, which calls for an exact 190 degrees. I figured Reese probably knew what she was talking about, so I left the thermometer in the drawer. The result was utter disaster. The milk never got nearly hot enough and only a few little curds formed. Rather than throw out one entire gallon of organic whole milk, I pulled the thermometer out and started over. 

Ricotta, made by bring the milk to 190 degrees, then adding acid and letting it sit for 30 minutes before draining.

Whey draining from the ricotta cheese.

I also didn't care for her English muffin recipe. I've experimented with a few different recipes and found that the only ones that come close to the factory-produced ideal of nooks and crannies are the batter-type recipes that you "bake" like a pancake. I've been particularly pleased with Michael Ruhlman's version, which I prefer to the Alton Brown recipe just because I'd rather use real milk than the powdered stuff which I don't trust to be corn-free.

In the end, I'm glad I read the book (borrowed from the library - the only way I can keep my cookbook addiction from breaking the bank) and plan to try some of the other recipes in it eventually (cream cheese, Canadian bacon, to name a couple). But my chicken and goat raising will have to remain just a fantasy.


Jess said...

Thanks for the cookbook critique, Jaime! I've read about this book, but have never actually flipped through it. Homemade ricotta is on my to-do list. So is owning my own sheep...sigh. Perhaps we need to start making plans for a Dinner Club Ranch?

Jaime said...

I am all for the Dinner Club Ranch!

Homemade ricotta couldn't be easier. Just three ingredients and about an hour's time (most of it unattended). I can't find any in the grocery store that isn't made in a way that I can verify is corn-free, so I had to learn how to make my own.


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