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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Books And Other Arts Book Review: Cheapskate Gourmet
Book cover image courtesy of St. Martins Press ********************************************************
The long days of summer have stretched out like wisps of dried dandelion floating through the air. In my neck of the woods, we're experiencing "the dog days of summer", during which a meal may be cottage cheese, a cold sandwich, fruit, potato salad or coleslaw. In short, anything that doesn't require cooking is a welcome respite to the palate.
Due to my situation as an unemployed person, though, I thought I'd think ahead a bit, and take a look at this cookbook to see what it has to offer this "cheapskate". The book, by Mary Hunt, claims it will help the reader create fabulous meals for a fraction of the cost. (A fraction of the cost of what, exactly??) The book is actually out of print now, but I acquired a copy from the Plymouth Library. (Thank you, all you nice folks at the Plymouth Library!)
Before I really review this book, I guess I should disclose some things about my cooking experiences. My mother was an excellent cook, but had a rather limited repetoire of foods she'd serve. She was somewhat predictable in her menus and presentation. For example, the New Year's Day's menu in our household was always glazed ham, au gratin potatoes, and green beans. There may or may not be minor variations in terms of a green salad or dessert, but the major components of meals were always predictable. The sibling closest to my age worked out a deal with me when pork chops were served, and we'd "swap". (Pork chops were served with mashed potatoes and pickled beets.) As a very young kid, I wasn't fond of pork chops, and Brian didn't like pickled beets. When my mother left the dining room to go back into the kitchen, Brian would shovel his pickled beets onto my plate and spear my pork chop to move onto his own. My older sister proved to be a much more inventive cook and baker, but couldn't always produce items she didn't enjoy eating herself. Having cultivated a pronounced distaste for Jell-O, for example, sometimes when she made it, the end result was rather rubbery. I learned how to cook fairly auto-didactically, as no one had time or patience to mentor me, and thanks to my reading skills and Better Homes & Gardens, I managed to become a decent cook. I managed too, to avoid the Achille's Heel that plagued my sister, in that an allergy prevents me from enjoying eggs, but I spent many a happy hour cooking them, in later adulthood, for our dad's Sunday breakfasts, as soft-boiled, scrambled, poached or in an omelet. In early adulthood, I cooked for housemates and in a cooperative living situation, I actually cooked on a small "team" that would turn out meals for a hundred people. I've had my share of failures in the kitchen, and no decent cook I've ever met has had smooth sailing on every attempt.
Having shared that, I must say that I felt The Cheapskate Gourmet was rather disappointing. I would recommend it possibly for someone setting up their first kitchen and/or the beginning cook. The first part of the book is devoted to what every kitchen should have in terms of equipment and "dry goods", such as rice, canned goods, flour, etc. Some of the recommended items are things that, frankly, I've lived without for some time now, like a food processor.
For what I thought would be a cookbook, the book is a bit short on recipes, and some of the recipes listed have "processed" ingredients like Velveeta cheese. (!!) Practical advice like making and freezing stock as well as uses for "leftover" vegetables will seem, I believe, to more experienced cooks, more like common sense. There are some excellent recipes for sauces, and maybe a few other recipes for desserts which aren't complex and look like fun, but most of the information in this book will be available in other culinary reference books like "The Joy of Cooking" or one of the "Better Homes and Gardens" cookbooks.