Jennifer Reese comes at this whole "Make or Buy" debate from every angle. She factors in overall cost (like the special fence needed to protect those pesky if lovable chickens from neighborhood dogs) along with time and effort, final quality, matters of conscience, and the meaning of a particular made or bought food to her family.
When a dish works well at home, she includes the recipe. If not, she spares us the trouble and directs us to the best place to buy it. Every recipes starts with a breakdown of whether it's overall better to make it or buy it, how much hassle we're getting ourselves into if we go for it, and the overall cost breakdown.
The results range from predictable (make your own bread) to surprising (roasted chicken and supermarket rotisserie chicken are really a toss-up). Every time, Reese explains how she came to that conclusion while still leaving room for you to have your own opinion. In one of my favorite stories, Reese admits that the crazy-delicious Thomas Keller homemade fried chicken she made will never live up to the memory of eating KFC with her children while watching movies on a rainy day. In the life of a domestic goddess, sometimes the best moments come when you let go and take off the apron.
Reese will also make you laugh. I certainly did. Her sense of humor and the almost blog-like feel of this book is what had me reading it late into the night. Her recipe head notes more closely resemble mini-stories. They consist of snippets from her life and what happened while she was testing this particular recipe. Besides being entertaining, they give the recipes real-life context and a human face.
As a guide through the world of DIY-Everything, we can't do much better than Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. It is full of no-nonsense recipes written in clear language and advice on when, precisely, to make them or buy them. It's an excellent read and an excellent kitchen companion.
• Buy It! Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook From Scratch - Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese, $15 on Amazon
Jiffy mix makes a fair cornbread. It's not quite as lofty as homemade, you can't tailor the sweetness, and it does contain partially hydrogenated lard. But the bread tastes fine and it's marginally cheaper and quicker than homemade. That said, I've been baking my husband's grandmother's cornbread recipe for fifteen years, and I think of her every time I do it. She was lovely with a cloud of white hair and the gift of making everyone feel appreciated, from the smallest child to the most shy and awkward adult. She called recipes "rules" and she wrote out this rule for "Aunt Sally's cornbread" for me in her own hand. Whoever Aunt Sally was, she was definitely a Yankee. This cornbread is sweet.
Make it or buy it? Make it.
Hassle: Not as jiffy as Jiffy but quite easy
Cost comparison: Jiffy costs about two cents per ounce less than homemade. A piece of Jiffy cornbread: $0.18. A piece of homemade: $0.22.
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal, whatever grind you like
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Put the butter in a 10-inch pie plate and place
it in the oven to melt.
2. Mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller
bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. When the butter has melted, take the pie
plate out of the oven and swirl the butter around to coat the pan. Let it cool for 1
or 2 minutes, then pour the butter into the milk-egg mixture. Whisk to combine.
3. Whisk the liquid into the dry mixture--not too strenuously. A few lumps are okay.
4. Pour into the pie plate and bake for 25 minutes. When it is done, the bread will
be slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean.
Serve immediately. Leftovers keep for a few days, covered, at room temperature.
Related: Dinner Rolls: Do You Make Your Own?
(Cover image and recipe reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster. Text copyright © by Jennifer Reese)