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Is it better to make it from scratch or buy it?

There is a new book out there entitled “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch -- Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods” [Hardcover]
By Jennifer Reese

The author did a series of experiments, taking into account the competing demands of everyday life as she attempts to answer the question: When is homemade better? When is it just better to buy it?

I really don't know much about this book other than the fact that it's $16.32 on Amazon. It has 304 pages. It was published October 18, 2011 and is fairly highly rated on Amazon.

The subject matter, however, has intrigued me. What do you chowhounders think? Let's see your list of foods that are either better to make from scratch or better to buy it. I suspect there may be some controversy over bread and mayonnaise to name a couple.

Oh. Does anyone know anything about this book? Did you like it?..hate it? Would you recommend it?

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  1. It depends so much on the person making the food from scratch and where they happen to be located. For example, I am not a particularly accomplished bread maker. There are a few kinds I have mastered and that are usually worth the time to make because they are fresher and cheaper than what I would buy from a store. Other types of bread (basic sandwich bread, for example) I would rather buy. But that's mostly because I am not very good at making it. A better baker than I would undoubtedly make sandwich bread far greater than what I get from the supermarket.

    I also find that I accommodate my cooking to where I live and the ingredients that are inexpensive and easy to find. I've started cooking all kinds of Mexican and Southeast Asian food from scratch since I moved to a city with copious inexpensive Mexican and Southeast Asian markets. It's worth it to make my own curry paste because I can buy lime leaves and lemongrass in bulk. Growing up in small town Canada, both of those ingredients were nearly impossible to find and it was much more practical to buy a jar of curry paste.

    Things I always make from scratch: cake, brownies, muffins

    Things that are better from scratch that I sometimes buy because I'm lazy or don't have the ingredients on hand: frozen pizza, pasta sauce, salad dressing, pickles (although I've been making these more and more often), jam, BBQ sauce

    Things I always buy: mayonnaise, ketchup, sauerkraut, canned artichoke hearts (except for when I'm eating the whole artichoke), vinegar, wine, beer

    That's all that comes to mind at the moment, although my cupboards are full of cans and jars, so I'm sure I buy a lot more.

    EDIT: I've never read that book, so I can't really help you there. Sounds interesting though.

    1. Commercial baked goods can be divided into two levels. The supermarket variety and the professional specialist bakery variety. IMO, baked goods from the supermarket "bakery" or prepackaged baked goods don't compare to those made from scratch by a competent home baker. When it comes to other foods prepared at home or in a supermarket or professional take out kitchen, if the home cook is skilled, the home goods will (IMO) be superior to those sold commercially. The only thing I rely upon commercially are condiments and some of the more common items like pickles, cherry peppers, mayonnaise, horse radish, jams and jellies.

      1. This books sounds quite interesting.

        I always made a delicious roast chicken. Due to the convenience and price of Costco's rotisserie chickens I can't remember the last time I roasted a chicken from scratch. Mine was healthier and tasted better, but theirs is pretty good and so easy.

        I do make my own stock. I like the process and mine tastes better than store bought. I do keep a few boxes of Pacific brand in the pantry just in case. Mine is inexpensive in ingredients, but it takes some time and uses fuel - so probably they end up costing the same.

        1. I think the idea that there is an objective standard about what is better to make from scratch is absurd. I make what I do from scratch because I like to and enjoy it ( important factor) , can control what is in it, can find ingredients, have or want to obtain the skill.That is completely specific to me and my household.
          This is one of my great pet peeves about food culture, that there is one right way and all the other ways are wrong.

          10 Replies
          1. re: magiesmom

            I can understand that point of view. I wasn't holding the book up as a standard. I'm sure everyone has make up their own mind. I for one do not make my own tomato pasta sauce. I know it is easy but opening the jar is even easier. Then again, I'm not a big fan of pasta with tomato based sauce on it and that may be the reason. Some day, I will have to find out.

            While everyone says they are lots better, I have my doubts as to whether it is worth making a cake from scratch as opposed to a mix. It is certainly cheaper and better to make one, even from a mix, rather than buy a bakery department cake from the grocery store for $10.

            Anyway, what will be interesting to see is what different people feel is worth their time and money to make from scratch. There will be some items that for some people just isn't worth the hassle.

            1. re: Hank Hanover

              Almost anything can be made better from scratch- if you have the time to practice and to do some trial and error. I make stuff because I enjoy making stuff, but there is almost always a really good substitute that i can buy ready made for almost anything we eat.

              Sometimes my only goal in making something from scratch is to produce something that is just as good as what I can get in a store or a restaurant, and when that happens, I'm happy...

              1. re: Hank Hanover

                I despise cake-mix cakes, and have had very few storebought cakes that I thought were worth the money -- so cakes at my house are always homemade. Fussy that way.

                Having said that, it was only recently that I *stopped* making brownies from a box -- I'd never found a recipe that was as good as a Duncan Hines box mix...I've found a good recipe now, so those are homemade, too.

                Bread? I'm quite good at bread -- but I have 7 bakeries within walking distance of my house (including the regional champion in a recent competition), and bread in France is cheap, so I can't come up with a good reason to go to all that work.

                I make really good, flaky pie crust, too -- but the refrigerated stuff is nearly as good, really cheap, and no work at all. Storebought.

                Roasted chicken varies - sometimes I do them myself, sometimes I buy them.

                So it varies -- everything swings on how much time and energy I have, and if there's an item that lives up to my scrutiny, and how big a difference it makes at the table.

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  Tomato sauce is for me one of the things I always make in summer when the tomatoes are good. I enjoy the process of doing it. When Spring comes and I run out, I have been known to buy some.
                  I never make mix cakes. Scratch cakes are easy, except very elaborate ones, which I find fun. Cake mixes taste like chemicals to me, although I can't remember the last time I had one. I buy cakes sometimes at the marvelous bakery down the street.
                  Salad dressing is something I don't buy, no reason, it is easy and better at home.
                  I usually don't make mayo because it is hard to make a little, but when I do I am always glad I did. When the local farm isn't making ricotta, I make it, again, mostly because I like to .

                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    I don't understand how making a cake from a box is so much easier, all they do is weigh and mix the dry ingredients for you, which is the easy part. You still have to mix in the eggs and milk, pour the mixture into a tin and bake it. Or are bake mixes in the USA different?

                    I think you've hit on something with the pasta sauce thing. It's much more worthwhile to make things that you like and use often.

                    1. re: ecclescake

                      I think one of the factors is the fact that most US recipes are by volume, not weight. You can't just slap one bowl on a scale and weigh as you go along - you have to sift your flour, scoop and sweep each cup, and dirty multiple measuring tools (cups plus teaspoons and tablespoons). It really does take more time to measure out dry ingredients from scratch - though it's usually worth it.

                      But it's also worth buying non-American cookbooks! I think it's SO much easier to weigh ingredients.

                      1. re: kathleen440

                        My US cookbooks are growing new columns, where I measure the traditional way, then throw it on the scales and note the weight so I can make it with whatever utensils I happen to have to hand that day.

                        (My European cookbooks are, too, just not at the same speed, because it's just so darned much easier to weigh, hit 'tare' and keep going)

                        1. re: kathleen440

                          New Zealand recipes are like that too. I usually don't bother with the sifting but I have been known to dirty multiple cups (although these days I prefer to weigh). I've just never though of it as a big deal, but then again I've never actually used a box mix so maybe I just don't appreciate how much easier it is.

                          1. re: ecclescake

                            ecclescake, they're not that much easier than making it from scratch -- you still have to measure and add oil, add eggs, and do the mixing... It might take 5 more minutes to make a cake from scratch than from a box.

                            And to me there's no comparison between a homemade cake and a spongey, rubbery, off-tasting box-made cake.

                      2. re: Hank Hanover

                        I read the book and even wrote a blog post on it. Her writing is pretty engaging so I think it is worth a read. In my case, I found I agreed with a lot of her suggestions, I do tend to make a lot of things from scratch though, including jams and pickles and all sorts of baked goods, so have a well stocked pantry.

                    2. I think this is an excellent point. Real life is somewhere between the two. If we buy everything, then it is like rice-roni or cup-o-noodle. If we do everything, then it is way too time consuming and unrealistic. So we have to settle to make some and buy some.

                      I like the idea of the book, but I don't know much. While it is interesting, I wonder if it isn't something we do all the time. We may not talk about it, but we definitely make this kind of decision on a daily basis.