The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook

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The recession has put a lot of strain on the grocery bill, especially for those with families or friends to feed. But that doesn't mean having to skip gourmet food and a balanced diet. Noted chef and "four-star frugal gourmet" Lynette Shirk shows readers how to creatively and cleverly use ingredients and leftovers to produce wonderful inexpensive meals for any occasion. This book has everything, from roasting coffee at home to concocting inexpensive crave-worthy casseroles to whipping up snacks on a shoestring. Chapters include "Bankable Breakfasts," "Lunch for Less," and "Dinner on a Dime," and feature irresistible recipes from Shaved Shrimp Rolls and Gourmet PBJ to an "Exponential Chicken" that stretches the bird over five different courses. With hundreds of delicious dishes and expert advice (including fun ideas for serving), The Budget Crunch Gourmet Cookbook keeps hungry readers living well and eating better.


Lara Starr
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The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook
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It was back in 1984 when Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet hit the bookstores. Based on his very successful series on PBS, it was the first of several "frugal" books he was to publish. And it added a phrase to the culinary lexicon.

In his introduction, Smith wrote: "Our current economic bind also pushes us to think carefully about what it is we are cooking, and why."

Now, 25 years later, we are again in the midst of economic hard times, the like of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression. People are casting around for ways to stretch available funds, especially when it comes to food costs. Slap the words "cost saving" or "save," or, to put a point on it, "frugal" on just about anything, and people will buy it. Which opens the door for taking advantage of people's hopes and fears.

The Frugal Foodie Cookbook, published just last month, unfortunately fits that exploitive mold. Shirt tailing on both the economic times, and on Jeff Smith's body of work, it's not so much a written book as what's known in the publishing world as a "package." The authors have merely assembled bits and pieces from here and there, many of which are unconnected to the topic or even to each other, under the guise of helping home cooks stretch their food budgets.

While reading the book several terms came easily to mind: Self-evident, superficial, self-contradictory, and even silly.

In their introduction the authors say, "being frugal is about getting the most value from your food. It doesn't mean using absolutely the least expensive ingredients." Not a bad thesis. But it sounded even better when Jeff Smith said it back in 1984: "The concept behind The Frugal Gourmet," is a simple one, he explained. "The term "frugal" does not necessarily mean "cheap." It means that you use everything and are careful with your time as well as with your food products. Fresh foods, prepared with a bit of care and concern, will result in terrific meals with lower costs."

If the authors stuck to that idea it wouldn't matter who said it first. However, much of the contents actually contradict their stated purpose. I mean, instant oatmeal as value for the bucks? Gimme a break!

In fact, their entire 25-page chapter on breakfast could be condensed into one line. If you make it yourself instead of eating at McDonalds you'll save money. Wow! Now there's a cost-savings eye opener.

Scattered through the original Frugal Gourmet were boxed tips and tidbits. This is something else the authors have usurped. They call them "frugal foodie tips." But whereas Smith's tips stuck to the subject, actually instructing the reader, the Frugal Foodie uses them just to fill up space. For instance, check out the one headlined Frugal Foodie Tip: Switch-A-Roo. "My mom was a very young mother and got a lot of advice from the other moms in our co-op nursery school. One tip she passed from them was to wipe down all the switch plates for lights and the places you push on interior doors once a week. The house will feel much cleaner even if you haven't done a major attack."

In addition to teaching you how to be a lazy housewife, that tip has nothing at all to do with cooking and food, frugally or otherwise.

You might be interested in learning, too, from another Frugal Foodie Tip, that left-over white bean spread "can be spread on crackers and sandwiches…" Gee whiz. I'd have never thought of that!

I have to wonder, too, if the authors have actually tried the tips they present. Several of them are out and out incorrect or are questionable at best. For example, they recommend that if you don't have an egg ring (apparently you can't fry an English-muffin sized egg just by cracking it into a pan) that you cut the top and bottom from a tuna can and use that instead. Sounds reasonable, until you realize that modern tuna cans have rounded bottoms, and can openers do not work on them.

Another way they bulk-out the book is to fill it with boxed quotes from other people. Sometimes these have at least a nebulous connection to food and cookery, such as Raymond Sokolov's quote that "Manhattan is a narrow island off the coast of New Jersey devoted to the pursuit of lunch." A great one-liner, to be sure. But what does that have to do with frugal cooking? Many of these quotes have nothing to do with food at all, such as when Joan Rivers noted, "I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again."

To be fair, those boxed aphorisms do contribute something. They help to fill up pages where the authors otherwise have nothing much to say. Not that they say much in the boxes, most of which contain only a couple of lines of text. But, between their arty borders and the white space surrounding them, each of the quote boxes takes up from 25-50% of a page---except those cases where they're combined with a short tip and some fallacious artwork to kill an entire page with fluff.

There are pages of unrelated stuff: filler material unrelated to frugal cooking, or cooking at all; gardening tips; even a compendium of out-of-date diner jargon. Seems as though the authors couldn't decide whether to package a cookbook, a compendium of aphorisms, or to have Heloise (as in hints from) as a silent coauthor.

"Every meal should certainly have a purpose," Jeff Smith wrote a quarter century ago. The same applies to cookbooks. The purpose of The Frugal Foodie Cookbook is, purely and simply, to make money for the authors and publisher. It certainly isn't to educate the public on how to get the most value for their food investment.

So here's a frugal foodie tip of my own: Save the $15.95 cover price and use it instead to prepare a real meal or three. You'll be much better off.


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