Category Archives: Cookbook Reviews

My New Thing

Well, it’s related to many of my old things. It’s food waste. Did you know that Americans on average throw out 40% of their food? Easy way to save $ eh? Just throw out less.

To that end, and because I believe that public libraries should be both paid for and used, I found a listing for a book which looked interesting:

The Kitchen Ecosystem – by Eugenia Bone.

I got a copy via inter-library loan to look at, so I wouldn’t just buy another book. (Also different than years past. I would have bought it with the least amount of provocation!)

And, because I am who I am, I was pleased to see on the title page two stamps: the top one reads: “Library of Congress, surplus duplicate” and the 2nd is the ownership stamp of the library where my library got it. Made me smile. I guess the publisher donated an extra copy to the LoC and it wound up in a small town’s library in rural New England. Must be the used bookseller in me, but I love books where you can trace their history!

Anyway, the book is sorted by ingredients, from Apples to Zucchini and each ingredient has a sort of flow chart.

  • Top level is the ingredient used fresh, and recipes listed which do that.
  • Preserve some: take whatever excess and put it aside in something.
  • Use the preserves.
  • Use the scraps.
  • Sometimes, there is a 5th level: Make more. Which I guess is what you do if the preserves and scraps still don’t use it all up!

Over the years, I have collected all sorts of left over cookbooks. Also have a small batch preserving book.  And of course other cook books.

That said? This is the only time I’ve ever seen anyone who, like me, talks about flowing ingredients from one dish to the next. It isn’t left overs or planned overs. It’s splitting the original ingredient into pieces which can be used in completely different recipes. Sometimes, I use all of something (especially with meat) in which case I will cook the bulk of it as plainly as possible so that it can be used for something entirely different down the road.

To that end? This week we had a potato “one pot” for dinner. I used a HM package of chopped onion, part of a HM package of chopped bell pepper, ditto celery leaves, 1/2 of an individual HM meat loaf, and about 2/3 of a commercial bag of thick cut hash browns.  Also used the end of a bar of cheddar.

I sauted the vegetables, crumbled the meat and added it. When that was hot, I turned off the heat, added the hash browns and some chunks of cheese. This mixture went into a Pyrex rectanglular pan and into a hot oven. I kept stirring it to brown the potatoes on all sides. When it was good and hot, I sprinkled some more cheese on top, grated this time, and broiled it until the cheese was light gold.

It was yummy, A one-pot meal, used what we had and essentially was free, or nearly so. The meatloaf, celery leaves, and bits and pieces of pepper would probably have been pitched. The cheese was an end I used up. The chopped onion was a whole onion, chopped because either I simply had too many for the pantry or it looked like it might go bad soon. The only “new” thing in the dish was the partial bag of potatoes. Everything else was the end of something bigger.

No recipe. No meal plan. I looked in the pantry, fridge and freezer and figured out what I needed to use up, and did. I do this or some variation of it almost every night. I use recipes for baked goods and preserving foods. I use other recipes usually as a guide, not instructions, if I use them at all.

There’s a quote in the book I might cross-stitch for my kitchen, I like it that much! Certainly it reflects my experience: “… while gizmos of cooking are very useful, I can tell you from experience that good cooking is not the result of stuff. It’s the result of practice.” (page 5)

No surprise  — I ordered the book! (And that’s a story, for another day.)


Cook Book Challenge, Can I Do This?

I’ve been reading this book from the 1960s on making cheap dinners. It has no non-meat based meals and uses lots of prefab stuff I wouldn’t. On the other hand, they also deliberately use many of the bits/pieces left from one meal to the next. But they don’t use trimmed fats, HM bread, etc.

Feeding two people for $1 of course isn’t possible now, [unless you’re eating grass in your own back yard, and the taxes might make that cost too much!]

The book is from 1967, just about the time I was first starting to cook. The menus have usually 2 starches in them, bread & potatoes too, which I also wouldn’t do, and many fewer green vegetables. It’s an interesting read.

I think I’ll find one of their menus and price out what it would cost to make it now, just for grins.

The rate of inflation between 1967 and 2012 is 586.8%, so that a $1 meal should cost $6.87 now. Don’t let anyone fool you that we don’t have any inflation, even at 1-2% a year it adds up over time!

I wonder if their menus will work in that price range?


We’re having hamburgers for dinner. There are three recipes in the book that use ground beef, none of them as simple as hamburgers: herbed ground beef, ground beef and cheese, and ground beef with chili beans. The ground beef and cheese looked maybe like cheeseburgers, but no. The recipe is a stuffed hamburger with the meat formed around a slice of cheese.

Okay, I bought meat yesterday, on markdown sale. I have 1.13 lbs of 85% ground beef. Regular price $4.19/lb, original price was $4.73 – I got it for $1.50 less than that, or $3.23, which is only $2.85 a lb. The ground beef price in the book is .52 a lb, or 18% of what I paid for my pretty good deal! So much for feeling really good about that price ‘eh?. If I’d paid .52 a pound, my package of beef would have cost me .59 ! Acc. to Jill Bond in the Mega Cooking book, ground beef comes in 25 lb tubes. I wonder if I agreed to buy that much how much I’d have to pay for it?

DH will cook the beef in 2 patties and cook them with a little sweet onion, olive oil and Worcestershire Sauce. We’ll have bagged veggies with it, probably green beans, as that’s what we’ve got open. The veggies were I think $2 a bag, on sale. I have no idea what I paid for the onion! I buy them at near wholesale in the fall from a farm stand the day they close for the season. I don’t know what I paid per pound! Figure the beans are 1/4 of the package, that’s .50, the meat was $3.23. I’ll guess $2 for everything else: part of an onion, the olive oil, margarine (on the beans), and Worcestershire, then it’s $5.73 or $1.14 less than what I figure their $1 meals would be, above. Sigh. I thought my cost was better than that, but live & learn I guess! And, if I figure in energy costs, I’m sure we’ve spent more than they had. Although, in all honesty, their figures didn’t include energy costs either.

Note: On 4/29 I went to make dinner and found that DH had only used 1/2 the hamburger when he made them. I cooked the rest of it up with chili powder and onions and we had tostadas for dinner, and there was some left over. DH will probably use that for a lunch. This means that the package of meat, which cost $3.23 actually was used in 5 portions (2 hamburgers, 2 tostadas, 1 single meal), or a cost of about .65 each portion. That means that instead of the .52 the meat cost in the original recipe for a meal, it costs us $1.30 for 2 meals, which might be the best I can hope to do?

Cookbook Parade #2 Books I Read & Use

One bias I didn’t talk about last time was time, I really dislike recipes that keep me in a kitchen chopping, stirring, etc. for more than half an hour at a stretch. I don’t mind multiple half hour cooking bouts in a single day, but if I end up standing and prepping something for more than about 30 minutes, I lose patience. My onions get rough-cut rather than diced. I dump all the flour in at once (and get lumps), etc. I’m an impatient cook. If I can start something, leave it alone for a while and come back to it? That’s great! But if I have to babysit it more than 30 minutes? I won’t do it carefully. Obviously, I was never cut out to be a professional cook!

I realized a few years ago that nearly all my cookbooks were how to do more with less (time, money, or ingredients). The books I keep usually fit within my time bias. Many books I’ve kept I use only for reference, or I use them for ideas or techniques.

All of these books are in my permanent collection, that is, they’re “keepers” unless something drastically changes!

Bond, Jill – Mega Cooking (2000 Cumberland House, 445pp).

A quantity cookbook that’s adaptable, she gives recipes 1x, 2x, and 10x. Has the most reasoned discussion of cooking techniques I’ve found in a home cookbook. Her focus is on doing things with the least amount of effort and freezing a month or more’s worth of finished foods, or ingredients.

Like me, she has a thing about sauteed onions. She eliminated them entirely. I don’t like starting most dishes with sauteed onions either, seems like a lot of repetition. I make mine up in a crock pot, a pint or so at a time (3C chopped onion, 1 stick sweet butter, cook on low til golden brown. Store in Ball jar in fridge.) She includes comments of other cooks on her recipes, and talks about buying foods wholesale, etc. Great discussion about freezing foods, what works/doesn’t and why. Probably the most adaptable from home to commercial type cookbook I have.

A technique book, with recipes I’ll try. Downgraded because I’ll have to adapt both the recipes and the techniques. ***

Wolf, Ray (Ed.) – Eating Better for Less: A Guide to Managing Your Personal Food Supply ( 1977-8, Rodale Press, 467pp).

This book is more a discussion of food, food sources, storage, ingredients, etc. than a cook book. There are discussions of health/nutrition/diet, growing/raising your own foods, and using your foods more efficiently. The last two chapters (Turning Your Kitchen into a Food Processing Center/Using Your Food Supply More Efficiently) are where you’ll find all the recipes. Also includes a discussion about whether you should make or buy something and talks about the effort required, like Bake the Bread, Buy the Butter, but this book is much earlier. Has ethnic recipes, I love their Sopa Seca recipe (pg 406).

I learned a lot from this book, and have used/modified recipes in it for years. I still look at it, though I mostly use it only as a cook book these days.

A great discussion about our food supply, although dated, with easy to use recipes. Downgraded because there’s not very many recipes. ****

Sass, Lorna – Whole Grains: Every Day, Every Way (2006, Clarkson Potter, 323pp). This book introduced me to a new realm of grains I had no idea existed! It’s the reason I bought the Madagascar Pink Rice and the Forbidden Black Rice.

Sass is a professional cook book author and discusses what she did in her testing, and has recommended basic cooking techniques for the grains she covers.

Many of her other recipes intimidate me. They look complicated, and somehow they “feel” like recipes I’ll try and won’t work. I intend to try some of the simpler ones, but things like Brown Rice Salad with Flank Steak with Asian Flavors (pg 150) with 19 ingredients and over 1 page of description I will probably never make. Others, like Millet with Buttermilk & Chives (pg 226) with 6 ingredients I probably will.

Great reference with recipes for not-so common foods. Downgraded because of the complicated recipes. ****

Readers Digest – Quick, Thrifty Cooking (Reader’s Digest, 1985, 256 pp).

Probably my favorite cookbook. Recipes aren’t complicated or time consuming, make good tasting foods that don’t cost a fortune. I like this book so much I buy copies and give them away. [I recommend the curried celery soup (pg 29), something I make midwinter. Warms you twice, once with the hot soup, once with the pungency of the curry powder. (Of course, if you don’t like spicy food, it won’t appeal.)]

Almost always the first cookbook I grab when I’m looking for a recipe or idea. *****

Cookbook Parade #1

My cooking ambitions are modest. I want to be a good, simple cook. I have no pretensions of being Julia anybody. I don’t want to be a food snob. I just like to eat, and want recipes that are easy to make, taste good, waste little, and cost as little as possible. I love trying new foods, as long as I don’t have to go broke doing so!

As I’ve said before, I read cookbooks for fun, and I was a used book dealer for more than 20 years so I have a lot of older cookbooks. Here are reviews of four cookbooks I’ve been looking at lately. I’ve written a more detailed explanation of why I do or don’t like the books, and gave each a rating, up to 5 stars. [Not pretentious at all. . . excuse me while I trip over my hypocrisy.]

Klinger, Judith – The Food Inflation Fighter’s Handbook (1980 Fawcett Columbine, 320pp).

One of my favorite books to browse. I’ve been flipping through and reading this book for years, still find new things in it. Nicely organized, I wish there was an updated version!

A keeper, *****

Brooks, Patricia – Meals That Can Wait ((c)1970, Gramercy Publishing, 223pp).

This one hails from the late 60s to early 70s and has those pretensions…. ingredients lists were usually longer than 10 ingredients, lots of herbs/spices. There’s a few (5-15) recipes I’ll try from this book and probably modify quite a bit. Mostly I’ve kept this book to look for techniques, food that can be reheated a lot is food that won’t go to waste as it’s only good immediately after cooking.

A technique book with only a few recipes I’m likely to try, ***

Taylor, Mary L.R. – Economy for Epicures (1947, Oxford, 526pp).

One I use quite a bit. So much, in fact that I’m cross-indexing it. The author numbered all her recipes r. 1-r. ? and references recipes in others, back & forth, although whoever indexed the book should have been fired, they did a LOUSY job! My copy is all marked up in pencil, nearly completely indexed.

She uses left overs as part & parcel of her recipes, also drippings/fat, outer leaves of cabbage, etc. Her vegetables are almost all overcooked, but that’s what was common in the 1940s, so I just ignore it (Green beans cook in boiling water 12-15 mins.? Shudder!). The pretensions here are about making good food, and that’s fine with me! Her quirks are easily ignored. This book also has the best approach to baking recipes I’ve ever seen: charts. Clean, tidy, easy to understand and about 8-12 recipes fit on a single page.

A keeper. **** (downgraded because of the index problem)

Polvay, Marina – Energy Saver’s Cookbook (1980, Spectrum/Prentice-Hall, 309pp).

My most recent acquisition and except for a short chapter on saving energy with certain types of appliances, this book isn’t very useful. It’s simple foods, with instructions for making them using less electricity than an electric range:with crock pot, crock plate (Never heard of this?*), hibachi, wood stove, electric skillet, etc. I bought it thinking I’d use it when we had a power outage, but I probably won’t keep it long enough to use it at all. I may go through the recipes to see if there are techniques that pertain to electric skillets, hibachis, etc. (I have an hibachi but not a skillet.)

*Apparently a short-lived appliance from Rival, a sort of electric skillet. Like this:

A technique book only **