Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Book Review - Cheap Eating
Many years ago I took a trip to the beach with friends. It was all girls (we called ourselves the "Beach Babes") and we had a fabulous time going out to lunch, poking around in the shops, walking on the beach, curling up with good books and, of course, talking - a lot! On one of our trips into town, we peeked into a small bookstore. I, of course, went straight for the cooking section. This little book caught my eye - Cheap Eating - How to Feed Your Family Well and Spend Less, by Pat Edwards. At the time, my husband was just starting out in his career and we had two small children. I was working at the time but wanted desperately to quit my job and stay home with my girls. I was looking for anyway possible to cut expenses to allow that to happen. A book that could teach me to cook and eat cheap? For only $9.95? I'll take it!
Not long after that trip I was finally able to quit my job and stay home. I wish I could say this book was responsible, but it was not. However, it did give me some great ideas.
The first 130 pages of this book aren't recipes, but rather strategies and ideas to help you shop smarter and cook cheaper. If you are a hard-core frugal shopper, most of this information is nothing new. There are some tips and tricks you might not have thought of, but nothing earth-shattering. If you are the "don't make a list, throw whatever in the cart, convenience is the name of the game" type of shopper, you will learn a lot from this book. In fact, if you are that kind of shopper, some of these ideas may seem extreme and unrealistic. Let me assure you, lots of people shop and cook in exactly this way and it doesn't feel extreme to us!
The last 150 pages or so are recipes. Let me just say this, these are bare-bones, no frills recipes. An example is the recipe for lentil rice casserole on page 140. The ingredients are: lentils, rice, water, onions, salt and pepper. That is it, you don't saute the onion in oil or butter, there is not flavoring in the water, you put it all in a casserole pan and bake for 1 hour at 350. She lists "optional" ingredients as curry and grated cheese. I'm not sure if she's talking about curry powder or not, and she doesn't say how to add it. She recommends serving the cheese at the table to sprinkle on top. I'm not sure my family would go for this one. Her version is listed as only costing 73 cents for the whole casserole (not including the "optional" cheese).
However, these recipes can be the basis for some really cheap meals if you make modifications that don't send the cost skyrocketing. For instance, we do a variation on the lentil-rice casserole with chicken boullion added to the water, sauted carrots and onions and cheese melted on top. Mine is still really cheap but has enough flavor that my family gobbles it up.
One such "changeable" recipe is "Breakfast Muffin Cake" Here is the original recipe:
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix in a bowl:
4 Tbls oil
1/2 c. molasses
2 cups water
Mix in a separate bowl:
1 c. dry milk
2 c. dry oatmeal
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
(optional ingredients are raisins or a couple Tbs of marmalade; 1/2 c. applesauce, cooked squash, or carrots)
Blend dry ingredients with wet, stir just until moistened. Bake in 9 x 12 pan for 15 minutes. Should last for two breakfasts. Cost: $1.65. (The book was printed in 1993, I'm sure prices have changed).
I made some modifications: I added 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 c. sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and 1/2 c. dried cranberries. I used part whole wheat for some of the flour. I drizzled a powdered sugar glaze on the cake when it came out of the oven. It took almost 25 minutes to bake and I used a 9 x 13 pan (who has a 9 x 12???). My family liked it and I would definately make it again. Next time I would add the 1/2 c. applesauce (my family's one complaint was that it was a little dry), I would do raisins instead of cranberries, and I would blend the oatmeal (I used whole oats and they were a little crunchy).
So, it was a really cheap recipe, I made modifications that didn't break the bank, and I came up with a healthy, cheap recipe that my family likes. That's a winning combo!
If you don't like playing with your recipes, but want flavorful food, this is probably not the cookbook for you. If you have fun being frugal and don't mind tweaking a recipe to make it fit your family, you would probably enjoy it. In addition, I did a search on Half.com and on Amazon.com and found copies of this book for as low as 75 cents! Hey, for 75 cents you can't go wrong, right?