Thursday, July 10, 2008

Make or Buy?

Pizza: Make or Buy?
Buy. I know that making pizza at home can be a glorious thing. You can put on as much sauce or cheese as you want. You have free reign with toppings. You can control the thickness of the crust (if you’re good at stretching dough). And making pizza at home costs pennies in comparison to what it costs to buy.

However, I have never had an oven that got hot enough to make a really satisfying crust. Also, making my own dough at home is a complete toss-up, as it comes out drastically different depending on the temperature of the air, the temperature of the water, the freshness of the yeast, and so forth.

My sister and her fiancĂ© are home-pizza devotees. For her bridal shower, all the bridesmaids and I (I’m her maid of honor) put together a gift basket that contained a pizza stone, pizza wheel, pizza peel, pizza cook book, and a couple of other tools. If you are going to make your own pizza at home, the pizza stone is an essential tool, as it mitigates the problem of working with a home oven that might not be able to sustain 450 to 500 degrees.

Hummus: Make or Buy?
Make! Before I owned a food processor, I would have said “buy,” but hummus is so easy to make, so delicious, such a crowd-pleaser, and keeps so well in the fridge that there is no reason not to make your own.

A few days ago I made a batch of hummus using tahini for the first time (I used to always leave it out because I never remembered to hunt it down in the grocery store, but now I live in a neighborhood where it’s widely available). Here’s my quick recipe: 2 cup2 of chickpeas (1 cup dried) also known as garbanzo beans, soaked, boiled, and skins removed; juice of one lemon; 1 tablespoon or more tahini; 2 cloves of garlic, chopped and sautĂ©ed in about two tablespoons of oil; salt; paprika; and cayenne. It all goes into the food processor, and if it’s not milling, you add a drizzle of warm water until it does. Easy, right? And you can add any other flavors you like, such as roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, more garlic, more lemon, olives, whatever.

The only real trick is remembering to soak the chickpeas a day ahead of time. Alternatively, you could buy canned chickpeas which have been already soaked and boiled, but the inexpensiveness of the dried ones are what really make it worth it to make your own hummus.

Salsa: Make or Buy?
Make! Fresh salsas are worlds away from jarred ones. There are a few good brands on the market that you can easily find in most all grocery stores, the kinds that come in plastic containers and are displayed in a refrigerated case near fresh pasta sauces and raviolis, or near produce that needs to be refrigerated. These 16oz tubs cost between $5 and $7. For half the price you can make double the amount of salsa at home, and it takes hardly any time at all.

I make my own salsa all the time, and I eat it with omelets, crostini, broiled fish, rice, polenta, and chicken breast, as well as chips and tacos.

Here’s the quick recipe: a couple of tomatoes, any kind, diced; about a cup or cup and a half of diced red or yellow onion; a handful of cilantro (also known as fresh coriander), chopped; the zest of one lime; the juice of one or two limes; a splash of red wine vinegar; salt; cayenne pepper. If you like saucier salsa, you can add a few teaspoons of prepared ketchup to the mix, or you can put the salsa in a blender or food processor and whirl until the consistency is how you like it. I like my salsa really chunky and juicy.

Bread: Make or Buy?
Buy. I make breads a couple of times a year, cornmeal dusted batons, a half-risen sage and sea salt round loaf, and on one occasion, a super crusty peasant loaf that took almost 24 hours to rise and re-rise (it looks like a messy blob while it's rising; see image). When I make bread, though, it’s usually because I’m in the mood for a project, not because I want to eat bread. The quality of fresh store-bought breads is reliably good, and bakery breads or loose rolls sold at many small produce markets are even better. The amount of bread I eat probably accounts for only $3 or $4 of my weekly food budget; the cost of buying far outweighs the cost of labor to make my own.

Cookies: Make or Buy?
Make. I make delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the thought of eating desiccated Keebler elves instead is just nauseating. There are some decent packaged cookies (Entemann’s comes to mind), but 90 percent of the time I’d rather eat my own soft cookies, either fresh from the oven or in chewy luxurious dough form.

Once in a while, I buy one of those giant, soft, bakery cookies, which I love, but on the whole, when it comes to cookies, I make my own.

Coffee: Make or Buy?
Make. The older I get, the less coffee I drink. I used to be one of those people who really enjoyed having a cup of coffee out in the middle of the day or in the early evening. Now, I’m becoming more sensitive to the shortcomings of coffee drinking: bad breath, acid overload in the stomach, jitters if drunk on an empty stomach.

I love having morning coffee while I’m still in my pajamas while listening to NPR, and I enjoy that ten times more than having a cup of coffee out at a shop. It’s not an absolute rule to always make my own coffee over buying it, but in general, I prefer it.

Beer: Make or Buy?
Buy! I fear that one day my kitchen will be overrun with buckets, hoses, bottles, and homebrew kits. Making your own beer seems like a messy and fairly expensive habit. From what I’m told, it’s a good three to six months before you break even, and that’s only if you actually like you homemade beer well enough to drink it regularly.

I’ll happily drink someone else’s homebrew, but I’m not bubbling any beer in my house!

Soup: Make or Buy?
Make. Soup is a joy to make and a joy to eat. When you buy soup in a can, it’s laden with sodium. I won’t deny that there are days when I’m at the store, famished, and too beat to cook that I pick up a can of Progresso lentil soup and call it a night., but those are dire straights.

Homemade soup is one of my favorite leftovers to have on hand in the fridge or freezer. If you keep a couple of bouillon cubes tucked away in the cupboard, you’re never more than 15 minutes away from having a quick and homey little something to eat.

Sandwich: Make or Buy?
Buy! It’s not like I don’t make my own sandwiches, but I love treating myself to a big fat deli sandwich on a hard roll with pickles and all the other fixings.

Granola: Make or Buy?
Buy. Homemade granola never has those wonderful crispy clusters that you find in packaged cereals. It requires the oven to be on for a long time for what seems like a pretty worthless outcome. When making your own granola, you realize just how much sugar goes into it, and personally, I’d rather not think about that. Another thing I’d rather not think about is the fact that the best tasting granolas are the fattiest ones (when I buy granola, I get low-fat).

If you like granola but never paid any attention to the nutritional information label, my advice is: don’t! And if you do read it and think it’s not that bad, take another look at the serving size. It’s bad. Granola should be eaten sparingly and with a little bit of denial. Still, don’t bother making it at home.

Baklava: Make or Buy?
Buy. I really really love baklava, but I don't make my own. Here's why: One time I thought I was going to make my own because I saw someone on Food Network do it and it seemed relatively simple. Then I went to the store to buy ingredients, realized how ridiculously expensive they are, and promptly decided it wasn’t worth it.

Phyllo is not too expensive, but to make a sheet of baklava you need at least two boxes of it. You also need good quality butter and a lot of good quality honey. Then there are the nuts, and whether you go for walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or a combination, they cost a fortune – and you need a lot of them, too.

In the end, how many pieces of baklava can one person reasonably eat in the course of, say, a week? I adore the stuff, but I even I have a pretty low ceiling for how much of it I can cram down my throat. Seeing how pricey all the ingredients are definitely made me appreciate the price Greek and Turkish bakers charge for the stuff. A single piece of baklava or kataifi can easily cost $2.50. (A friend of my turned me onto a market in Astoria that sells homemade kataifi for $1 apiece. That’s a steal!)

I’d rather buy a few pieces for five or six bucks and be satisfied for a week than make a whole tray for $40 that I could never in a million years finish. I suppose you could make the argument that it would be worth it to make a tray for a party or family gathering, but of all my friends and family, only a few of them would be into it. Baklava is not worth making at home.

Make or Buy?
What other things do you feel strongly about making or buying?

8 comments:

hreeves said...

Spaghetti Sauce/Marinara Sauce/Pizza Sauce etc-- MAKE. I will never again resort to eating Prego (ew!) or Ragu (ew ew!) when even just warming up some canned tomatoes and garlic tastes so much better.

and I know you don't like beef, but as a cheeseburger fanatic I have always loved the taste of store-bought hamburger patties to homemade ones. They're better shaped, just the right amount of juiciness, not too thick. yum!

Darius Kazemi said...

Pizza is only a BUY for you because you live in New York. Jerk.

Leigh said...

Juice. I am torn about it. On the one hand, making your own juice is fun and you take all the sugar and additives out of the equation. Just pure, simple, fruit and veggie juice. However, to make just one cup of fresh juice, you need a LOT of fresh fruits or veggies. I probably spend just about the same amount of money on the produce to make one cup of fresh juice as it would cost to buy a container of 8 cups at the store.

Anonymous said...

I found the dirty dozen list extremely interesting. It even makes me understand better why buying organic teas and coffees is better for you. I will be looking more closely now at tastyorganicfoods.com. Thanks for the information

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your sis on the pasta sauce. Homemade is about 1000 times better. Plus, jarred=more salt. Here's one for your list: Pasta. And it mostly depends on whether or not you have a pasta press. If you do, go for it. Especially if you like wheat pasta. Then it's a lot cheaper and tastes a lot better.
Annette :)

Leigh said...

I agree with most of this. Not the sandwiches and not the granola though.

Anonymous said...

ice cream: make ....homemade = few ingredients, completely self-directed combinations, and the ability to use things like goat's milk or other things. Also, not terribly expensive or time consuming

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend Mansoura Pastries in Brooklyn for authentic Baklava: http://www.mansoura.com/baklava.html

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