Monday, February 9, 2009
Why Good Cookbooks are Essential
In my quest to lower my food bill, one tool has been invaluable: cookbooks!
Let me first state that I'm addicted to cookbooks. My husband laughs at me because I read them like novels. I check them out from the library and read them at night before I go to bed. I've almost always got a cookbook "going" beside my bed - a big bookmark about half-way through. Most cookbooks are good for just that, one read through. They give me ideas and new ways of thinking about food.
Some cookbooks need to be in my cupboard! My rule is that if I have check-out a cookbook three times or more, it should be purchased for my collection (from half.com at the lowest price possible, of course).
No matter if you are addicted to cookbooks or not, there are a few kinds of cookbooks everyone who is serious about saving money should have in their cupboard.
A General All-Purpose Cookbook
Everyone should have a general cookbook in their cupboard. My personal favorite is my The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook which was a wedding shower gift from my now mother-in-law (thanks, Mom!). There are other options out there for a general cookbook: The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker Cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the old red and white checked one your mom probably had), etc.
What you look for in a general cookbook is, well, general recipes. You want a recipe for pie crust, a basic cake, pancakes from scratch, fried chicken, how to prepare different types of vegetables, a basic bread recipe, a corn bread recipe, a frosting from scratch recipe. Not specific special stuff, just basic recipe that you would learn in home ec (if schools still had home ec!).
I go to my general cookbook all the time - you can tell by the warped pages and tattered cover. I use this for my pie crust recipe, my pancakes from scratch recipe, my crepe recipe, my basic cake recipe - lots of things. And when I buy a vegetable that looked really good at the farmer's market but I'm not sure what to do with it, I look it up in Good Housekeeping and they tell me what to do!
One of the biggest ways to save money on groceries is to stop buying prepared foods and make stuff from scratch (we're going to talk more about this next week). How do you learn how to do that? From your cookbooks! A prepared pie crust costs anywhere from $2 to $4. A pie crust from scratch costs about 60 cents. Pancake mix is pretty spendy but a from scratch batch of pancakes costs less than a dollar (and doesn't have preservatives and artificial gunk in it). A good basic cookbook will save you tons.
A Baking Book or Two
I love to bake. I love baking even more than cooking - mostly because I love bread so much. I have several (ok, lots) of baking cookbooks. I don't think you need to go that far, but a good baking book will serve you well. Recipes for muffins, scones, quick breads, different kinds of yeast bread, cookies, etc will give you lots of ideas for cheap, healthy snacks and sides for your family at a fraction of the cost of buying prepared.
Some of my favorite baking books are The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, Bread for Breakfast by Beth Hensperger, Home Baking by Alford and Deguid. There are tons of great baking books out there. Check them out of the library until you find one that makes you say, "oh, I should try that" at least every 10 pages.
A General "Cheap" Cookbook
I like having a couple of "cheap" cookbooks around. You know, the kind that use ingredients you've actually heard of that don't cost $6 for a 4 oz jar! Most cheap cookbooks also have lots of tips and tricks in them that change your way of thinking about food.
Some of my favorites are: The More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, Cheap Fast, Good by Mills and Ross, The Tightwad Gazette, and Miserly Meals by Jonni McCoy. I've also heard good things about Not Just Beans by Tawra Kellam, but I've never actually read it.
Having a source for really cheap recipes that are family friendly if so great. When I'm sick of our cheap meals, I turn to one of my cheap cookbooks and browse through to get some new ideas.
There are lots of other cookbooks I own, because they are valuable to me. I own several mega-cooking books, some crockpot books, a cookbook put together by the ladies at church which includes several of my favorite recipes, and a couple of vegetarian recipe books because of my veggie girls. I don't think everyone needs these types of cookbooks, but I do. You need to just check different kinds of cookbooks out of the library until you find the kind that speaks to you. Yes, my cookbooks speak to me. I've talked to professionals, they assure me I'm not a danger to others.
So, go to the library and have fun. Read them like novels and when one speaks to you, go to half.com and find it for the lowest possible price.