I have always wondered to myself- do chefs eat as amazing food at home as they make at work? It’s easy to imagine them shopping at farmers markets and eating beautifully plated dishes for their own dinner at home, looking down on those of us who make boring quesadillas for dinner or grab some fast food on those particularly rough days. Does culinary school and extensive training make them look down on us lowly eaters that might indulge in Doritos and store-bought refrigerator dough?
“Milk Bar Life” has your answer. Coming from the famed Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar whose gorgeous cakes and indulgent cookies ship worldwide, “Milk Bar Life” exposes the true eating habits of Tosi and her cohorts at Milk Bar. Just looking at the beautifully styled cover featuring Ritz crackers, Fruity Pebbles, and potato chips, you get a peek into the wacky and creative concoctions these pastry chefs eat in their spare time.
Tosi’s last book “Momofuku Milk Bar” divulged the secrets to Milk Bar’s Crack Pie, Birthday Cake, and Cereal Milk treats. Calling for ingredients like freeze-dried corn powder and requiring very specific processes for recipes as simple as Peanut Butter Cookies, Tosi displays the time, thought, and creativity she has put into every dish.
But from the very beginning, Tosi makes it clear that “Milk Bar Life” is not any sort of fancy follow-up to the delicious yet tasking “Momofuku Milk Bar,” but rather a collection of recipes she and her team consume together on the regular. She explains in the introduction, “Despite the fact that many of us are formally trained and have worked in great restaurants, we also crave and embrace food with a more down-home, lowbrow approach.” Anyone who expects anything more should stop right here.
A perfect example of this “down-home, lowbrow approach” would be her Haute Dogs. Similar to pigs in a blanket, these hot dogs use savory fresh baked dough for a simple dish with a creative dish that will satisfy and impress friends at a barbeque. You find this easy-going and fun attitude throughout the book with more recipes like PB Cornflake No-Bakes, Kitchen-Sink Quiche, and Pickle-Juice Poached Fish.
I’m a sucker for restaurant cookbooks that not only feature drool-worthy recipes, but also stories from behind-the-scenes and “Milk Bar Life” definitely delivers in that regard. Each section of the book features a thoughtful essay Tosi has written about her past and her time at Milk Bar and every recipes has their own personal paragraph or two as well. As I read through each snippet, I grow more and more attached to Tosi as a person and her sweet and funny personality makes each recipe irresistible.
The recipe that really caught my eye happened to be the first in the book in the “Hand-Me-Downs” section: My Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies. She explains that this cookie is the reason she got into baking and told of her grandmother’s dedication to this class recipe. The cookie recipe that inspired a cookie master must be a winner and I had to make it right away. Luckily, I always have the ingredients on hand so I was able to start the day my book arrived on my doorstep.
After a simple prep, the dough was ready and I couldn’t resist sneaking a few spoonfuls before rolling them into balls for baking. After just eight minutes in the oven, the cookies were completely flat. Where did I go wrong? Though I was a little frustrated with the outcome of my first experiment with this book, I couldn’t help but snack on the crispy oatmeal pancakes as they were very flavorful. We even considered using them for ice cream sandwiches as they definitely wouldn’t break easily.
But after a second attempt, our results were MUCH better. My husband requested that we add chocolate chips to half of the batter and as a chocolate addict, I obliged. This time I trusted my baking intuition and cut back on a little of the butter and threw the dough in the refrigerator for thirty minutes. The mind-blowing, life-altering trick to these cookies is rolling them in powdered sugar before baking. I’d never even heard of a powdered sugared oatmeal cookie, but now I don’t think I’ll make it differently ever again.
Coming out of the oven, these cookies were perfect. Chewy with a little crunch and just the right amount of sweetness to step up the indulgence factor just a notch. I’m hooked. It’s no wonder Tosi was so inspired by these gems!
This recipe and others throughout the book prove that expensive ingredients and loads of time aren’t always required for delicious. Instead, Tosi teaches us to have fun, use ingredients that we love, and create something delicious to share with friends.
RECIPES: While the recipes are simple, some are TOO simple and don’t give enough details or tips to make them turn out perfectly. There are also a few recipes that I wouldn’t ever need like nachos and blue cheese pretzels. But I love the creativity and variety and she does offer tips and advice here and there which is very helpful (but would be more helpful if there were MORE tips and advice).
WRITING: I ate up the stories in this book. They were sweet and funny and inspiring and often encouraged me to try recipes that I previously wasn’t too interested in.
DESIGN: I bought got this book initially because of the design. That neon “LIFE” on the cover caught my eye and pulled me in. The chosen fonts and colors add to the playfulness of the book and the layout design is clear and simple with extra tips and advice bordered by shapes throughout the pages.
PHOTOS: I felt like this cookbook was a Milk Bar scrapbook. They had funny photoshoots of the team and styled shots of Tosi that added to the playfulness. The food shots were simple and close up to really draw you into the texture of the dishes. I didn’t love that there were so many different styles of photos- photoshoots, close-up food, styled process pictures, and some darker less-styled pictures. I would’ve appreciated a standard look for the photographs to make it more cohesive.