How could any frugalista worth her salt resist a book with a title like “$3 Meals~Feed Your Family Delicious, Healthy Meals for Less Than the Cost of a Gallon of Milk”?
Here is a little disclaimer. Since these brand spankin new cookbooks only arrived on my doorstep a few days ago, I have not had a chance to try out any of the recipes. I will post an update later when I’ve made a few. . . after all the proof, as they say, is in the pudding! The cookbook is written by Ellen Brown, the founding food editor of US Today, the former senior feature editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer (which included the restaurant & food sections) and the writer of 17 cookbooks~obviously this lady knows a thing or two about food. I’m willing to go out on a limb here about the quality of the recipes 🙂
On to the review/overview.
The original $3 Meals cookbook is 242 pages long, contains over 200 recipes, and costs $14.95. The book is separated into 8 Chapters.
This book is simply written with clear directions. Many of the recipes contain notes with possible variations and information on whether the dish can be prepared ahead. The author uses call out boxes at the end of recipes to give the reader additional information such as pronunciations, interesting history, and offering relevant tips and techniques for the recipes.
Chapter 1: Strategies for Shopping and Cooking
Saving money while cooking not only comes from the recipes themselves, but from being organized and purchasing your ingredients at reasonable prices. This chapter talks about being organized and shopping frugally. Right away she recommends is having a weekly meal plan-you know I love that! She then covers most of the basics. Ways to save via coupons, sales and using alternate brands. Stocking up but not wasting food either. Alternate places to shop. It’s a good section for newcomers to the frugal life, or a refresher for those of us already on the path.
Chapter 2: Starting with the Basics
Here she attacks some of the basic building blocks of meals. Dressings. Marinades. Sauces. Breadcrumbs. Stocks. These are indeed the things that can take a ho-hum meal and dress it up. . .
Chapter 3: Meals in a Bowl
This section is all about soups that make a meal. I soup is frequently a “use it up” frugal style meal at the Frugal Upstate household. I rarely use a recipe. . . but the “Chinese Vegetable with Meatball Soup” and the “Tuscan White Bean Soup with Sausage” have me salivating. One of those might have to go on my menu plan in the near future.
Chapter 4: Fishy Business
Every week when I make my menu plan I tell you all that I am trying to work fish into my family’s diet. Yet I seem to use the same 2 or 3 dishes over and over. This chapter had some basic variations on baked & poached fish, but also had some more unusual ideas such as “Fish Pot Pie”, “Fish Corn & Pea Risotto” and “Peppers Stuffed with Tuna and Rice”.
Chapter 5: Poultry with Panache
The chapter on poultry starts out with a discussion of the less expensive cuts to use. There is a nice description of how to cut up a whole chicken and how to debone bone in breasts. I keep promising myself that I will try that eventually.
Although there are many basics in this section-“Chicken Pot Pie”, “Chicken and Dumplings”, “Oven Friend Chicken”, “Turkey Meatballs”-there are also some more unusual offerings. The ones that jumped out at me? “Chicken Cooked in Red Wine (Coq au Vin)”, “Chicken Croquettes”, “Chicken Hash”, and “Moroccan Chicken Salad” (although that last has some ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand).
Chapter 6: “Meating” the Challenge
The meat chapter stays true to the frugal theme by concentrating on the cheaper cuts of meat that benefit from braising (a cooking method where food is cooked in liquid at a lower temperature for a longer time). I found the lead in to the recipes in this section to be particularly informative. Ms Brown covers how to choose your cut, some procedures (such as browning the meat first) that increase flavor, how to cut back on fat and even briefly how to substitute different types of meat for a recipe.
There are the standby’s in this section. “One Step Lasagna”, “Shepard’s Pie”, Spaghetti with Bolognese (meat) Sauce”, “Stuffed Peppers”, “Sweet and Sour Cabbage Rolls” and “Spaghetti Carbonara”. Some new recipes I would happily try in this section are “Garlicky Rosemary Meatballs in Tomato Sauce” and “Vietnamese Pork Loin” (although I’d have to find some Lemon Grass & Fish Sauce for that one).
Chapter 7: Vegetarian with Verve
Another goal I frequently mention in my weekly meal plan is adding in one meatless meal a week. Meatless meals can be big budget stretchers, as well as healthy and tasty! Many meatless dishes rely on beans for their protein punch, which not only are extremely inexpensive, but naturally winds up lowering the fat content and upping the fiber. Win Win!
Ms Brown starts out the section with some basic information on beans and pastas. I was happy to see that she took the time to explain the concept of “completing proteins”.
This section had a lot of new recipes for me. “Italian Bread & Tomato Stew”, “Asian Black Bean “Chili””, “Curried Lentils”, “Southwest Spinach Loaf”, “Risotto Style Barley with Spinach” (I’ve been meaning to try cooking barley), and “Southwestern Squash and Bean Stew”.
Chapter 8: Bakery Basics
There are procedural points at the start of this chapter for folks not familiar with baking.
There are your basic all purpose recipes like those I already use frequently (several of which I’ve posted here on Frugal Upstate). “Basic Muffin” (with variations), “Beer Bread”, “Banana Bread”, “Buttermilk Biscuits”, “Pie Crust” and “Homemade Pizza Dough”. There is a nice savory twist on a quick bread I need to try: “Basic Herb Quickbread” as well as “Focaccia” and her own version of “No Knead White Bread”.
Overall this is a nice cookbook for those trying to be more frugal in the kitchen. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you have basic skills but haven’t cooked much from scratch-she explains the frugal philosophy well and I think it has a very nice combination of basic recipes and a few more unusual/advanced.
If you are a long time cook you may find those basic recipes to be just that-basic. You probably already have a favorite Spaghetti Bolognese or Chicken Pot Pie in your recipe file and aren’t likely to replace it with one of these. There are quite a few new recipes spanning several cultures-Asian, Mexican, Greek, French-so I would suggest pick up a copy at your local library or bookstore and flip through it to see if this is a cookbook you’d use frequently.
Now on to the fun part! Globe Pequot Press was kind enough to not only provide me with a copy of the book to review, but also with a copy to give away! One readers will win a great frugal cookbook this week.
This giveaway will run from Tuesday, Nov 10th to Monday Nov 16th.
Leave a comment telling me what your family’s favorite inexpensive meal is.
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