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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is cooking at home always a value?

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I went to dinner with five friends Friday night and the conversation turned to Christmas food. Minus one other, I was the only person at the table who hadn't made fudge that week. Seriously. They were comparing recipes and extolling the addictive properties of the stuff.

I confess I have never liked fudge, to say the least, but I was surprised they bothered to make it. "Why don't you just buy a good quality in a store?" I asked.

Naturally, their mothers and nostalgia for holiday cooking immediately entered the discussion. (My mother didn't make fudge and I don't think she liked it, either.) My friends also said the stuff is easy and cheap to make.

That brought something more general to mind. My friends all make about 3,000 times as much money as I do, yet they're cooking this stuff at home. Having undertaken a lot more home cooking myself lately, thinking I'd save money, I've been surprised to find that the difference in price between eating in a good, inexpensive restaurant and cooking dinner myself isn't always that great. And it doesn't necessarily taste better, either, and, no, I'm not a bad cook.

And then there's the question of whether grocery-store labeling of foods means anything. Most people by now know that "free range" and "organic" have practically no meaning in the stores, despite the higher prices. Flavor is often not any better than the lower-cost stuff, either.

As it happens, there's a new cookbook that takes up this subject. It's "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch" by Jennifer Reese, the Tipsy Baker. You can read an excerpt at the link above. Here's part of the publisher's comments:

When Jennifer Reese lost her job, she was overcome by an impulse common among the recently unemployed: to economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for. She had never before considered making her own peanut butter and pita bread, let alone curing her own prosciutto or raising turkeys. And though it sounded logical that “doing it yourself” would cost less, she had her doubts. So Reese began a series of kitchen-related experiments, taking into account the competing demands of everyday contemporary American family life as she answers some timely questions: When is homemade better? Cheaper? Are backyard eggs a more ethical choice than store-bought? Will grinding and stuffing your own sausage ruin your week?

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