I've been using this book for over three years, but hadn't felt I was ready to discuss its merits on an adequate level. After all, how can I properly review a book without having attempted several of its recipes?
Let me say this: this cookbook was what inspired me to start cooking.
Before I encountered the colorful and simple cover of The Frugal Foodie while working at a used bookstore, I had already been learning to bake cookies and cupcakes. However, I was an extremely inexperienced cook. I didn't know how to chop or prepare a lot of vegetables, and I followed recipes to the letter, which was probably why baking seemed a lot less intimidating to begin with.
The layout of the book was what made it so accessible and attractive to a cooking novice (or dunce) like me. There are tables on substitution ingredients, mix-and-match additives to a salad, etc. I love going back and referring to them.
However, what elevates this book beyond a simple collection of recipes is the philosophy that a person with a budget can create and dine on gourmet meals by using ingredients wisely and creatively. The philosophy in this book promotes a sustainable-but-luxurious gourmet lifestyle. It even romanticizes the act of cooking at home as opposed to out and unloading a lot of cash for a pre-made culinary adventure. I don't mind the romanticization of cooking at home. In fact, I am eager to embrace and adopt this ideal.
The language is beautiful, and the anecdotes and tips for frugal living greatly enhance The Frugal Foodie's re-read value. I've read it over and over again, not just as a reference for cooking, but for entertainment.
In the introduction, Lynette Shirk stated,
"Being frugal is about getting the most value from your food. It doesn't mean using absolutely the least expensive ingredients. You could probably pare your food budget down to pennies if you lived on potatoes and ramen noodles--but would you call that living? Making smart choices are how, when, and where you spend your money will fill your pantry and menus with delicious options. Splurge on a little balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings, and a few shallots and humble ingredients will come alive with flavor."
As with most recipe books, there are amazing recipes and some that don't quite turn out as expected. I will share some pictures of my renditions of some of my favorite recipes in this cookbook. I improvise now, but keep in mind that these recipes worked well for me when I followed them faithfully as a cooking novice in 2011.
I used ground turkey instead of ground pork because that was what I had on hand, and it still turned out quite well.
Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry, based on "Teriyaki Chicken "Skewers"
I took the leftovers from the "Teriyaki Chicken Skewers" and added some broccoli, mushroom, and shredded carrot to create a stir fry, and then served it with steamed rice.
"Pie: Mushroom and Onion"
This was the pie before I baked it. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the photo of the finished pie. The concept of a mushroom pie was strange to me at first, but it was delicious! I love the idea of using mashed potatoes as a savory pie crust. It's also vegetarian, which saves money on meat.
Other Recipe Favorites:
- "Dinner 1: Chicken Curry." This recipe has made it into my regular meal rotation, and is friendly to improvisations. Instead of water, I recommend using coconut milk for a richer and creamier sauce.
- "Hard-Boiled Curry in a Hurry." Because I was rather impatient the day I attempted this, the eggs were mushy instead of choppable, but it was still incredibly yummy. This recipe uses eggs instead of chicken, but since it uses 12 eggs and my husband loves to eat fried eggs, I reserve the eggs for him and make the chicken curry instead.
- "Classic Pizza Dough." This beats any pizza crust mix that I've ever used (most which result in a flat, awfully-textured crust). While I used jars and cans of pasta sauce as the typical fillings instead of the ones suggested by the book, this pizza dough was great because the crust would inflate tremendously and the texture would be chewy and soft.
Recipes That Didn't Work Out For Me: (Granted, it was mostly my fault as a cooking novice. I will explain in the following examples.)
- "Three-Day Sandwich." This was the first recipe I ever attempted, and in my great ambition to have my siblings and I feast "like kings from this majestic sandwich," I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients, many which I was unaccustomed to using. However, my biggest mistake as a cooking novice, probably in the history of humankind, was not knowing the difference between a "head" of garlic and a "clove" of garlic.
The recipe asked for a clove, and I figured it must mean the entire head, so I peeled each clove in the head and threw them all into the blender.
For the tapenade, I couldn't find any anchovy fillets so I figured sardines would do. To this day I still do not know what a tapenade is.
...It did not go well. But my mom loves garlic, so she enjoyed the sandwich a lot more than my siblings and I did.
- "Lentil Burgers." Another vegetarian recipe like the mushroom pie, but ultimately I found it lacking in flavor despite adding the salt and pepper to taste. I tried adding chicken boullion, but that just gave it a really weird flavor.
Here is the table of contents:
- Chapter 1: Bankable Breakfasts
Morning Fix, Shell Game, Commuter Sammies, Cozy Oats
3-in-1 Eye-Opener Mix
Cents-able solutions: Cost-Cutting Cleanup Concoctions
Cents-able Solutions: Meal Planning 101
- Chapter 2: Brunches--When Your Wallet Doesn't Have Bunches!
Craveable Casseroles, Naked Quiches, Waffle Bites
Cents-able Solutions: Be a Hipper Clipper
- Chapter 3: Midday Money Matters: Lunch for Less
Brown-Baggin' It, Bento Box, Down-Home American Diner
Cents-able Solutions: Food Storage and Safety
- Chapter 4: Snacks on a Shoestring
Flashback Candy, Dirt-Cheap Self-Filling Cupcakes, A Way with Wings
Cents-able Solutions: Grow Your Own
- Chapter 5: Dinners on a Dime
The Three P's: Pizza, Pasta, and Potatoes, Fowl Play, Retro Date-Night
Cents-able Solutions: Savvy Substitutions
- Chapter 6: Pulled-Purse-Strings Parties
Pasta Roll Play, Get Punchy, Stone Soup
Cents-able Solutions: "Antidepressants"
- Chapter 7: Clever Kids' Meals
The Usual Suspects, Hippie Food, Baby Food, Colorful Birthday Party
Cents-able Solutions: Snacks for Starving STudents
- Chapter 8: Midnight Snacks
Mediterranean Meze Munchies, Hot, Toasty, Cheesy and Melty
Cents-able Solutions: Dollar-Stretching Dot-Coms
- Chapter 9: Thrifty Gifts
Tasty Tokens, Dessert with Benefits, The Frugal Beauty
Cents-able Solutions: Restaurant Recessionista
- About the Authors
There are still many recipes in this book that I plan to try, so I will be using this book for quite a while. I whole-heartedly recommend this cookbook to anyone who would like to experiment with recipes and enhance their frugal lifestyle (and cooking skills) with yummy bites.