Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Two Thrifty Cookbooks Inspiring Me Right Now

I have been inspired by two new cookbooks from the library recently. It so happens that they are both thrifty, although in different ways.

The CSA Cookbook: No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way Through a Community Supported Abriculture Box, Farmers' Market, or Backyard Bounty by Linda Ly is a new book (so I can't renew it and I just keep paying the fine because it's a rental fee, a donation to the library - right?).  Ly's parents were first-generation immigrants from Vietnam and they used every scrap of the food they bought.


I knew that rhubarb leaves were poisonous, so I guess I extrapolated that to mean that other leaves are not good eating either.  But: Tomato Leaf Pesto and Ginger-Spiced Chicken Soup with Wilted Pepper Leaves (and others!). I have already made her recipes for Chard Stalk Hummus and Kale Stem Pesto.  I didn't care for her specific recipes (she put lemon in the pesto and I like my hummus recipe better), but the concept is brilliant. I definitely will not be composting kale stems again!


Ly brings in a number of ethnic cuisine recipes, which makes sense because other cuisines are adept at using parts that we Americans ignore or discard. Chimichurri the Way an Argentine Makes It, for example, and Watermelon Rind Kimchi which has convinced me to seek out a Korean pepper paste at my Asian store.



My only pet peeve with this book (and it's not Ly's fault) is that it is a hardcover book which is difficult to wrangle in the kitchen where, ostensibly, a cook would want to have the book in order to use it.  Hey, cookbook publishers, make the cookbooks kitchen-user-friendly, like with a spiral binding or a three-ring binder.  I know the industry tips towards coffee-table book food porn, but I want a practical book.


The other cookbook I'm renting is paperback - a bit easier to manage as I cook.  It's Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day by Leanne Brown. It grew out of her master's project to make good recipes for people living on SNAP (formerly known as food stamps).


I am absolutely fascinated by this book because I deeply desire to get people, especially people with few resources, into the kitchen to cook and eat well.  Brown is attempting to reach a population that could really benefit from kitchen knowledge and cooking. I bump into people like this frequently at my kids' school, although I usually start up conversations with less-dangerous topics than cooking and eating.


Her tone is friendly and matter-of-fact and she has an impressive range of recipes and ideas for all kinds of cooks - I picked up several tricks along the way (corn cob broth, frozen melon cubes for a quick sorbet, savory breakfast oatmeal).  Her recipes focus on vegetables with just a bit of meat here and there; I am particularly charmed by the Half-Veggie Burgers, and the Chorizo and White Bean Ragu. I love her suggestions for hot dog toppings.  She divides her recipes into truly useful chapters:  Breakfast, Soup and Salad, Snacks, Sides, &Small Bites, Dinner, Big Batch, Pantry, Drinks & Desserts.  The final chapter of desserts is a tiny chapter and although Brown doesn't preach anywhere that sugar is bad, that tiny chapter is an unmissable statement.


Most of the time, Brown explains any fancy ingredients and techniques.  Sometimes, however, she forgets these cooks and accidentally shows her NYC roots.  Her dal recipe specifies black mustard seeds and cumin seeds in addition to other spices; these are not common spices, nor do they have wide application in a number of dishes. There are dhal recipes with more common spices (mine, for example), or she could list a variation with ground spices. A recipe calls for a "handful of Thai basil" - this is a rarity unless you have a garden or a fancy (probably urban) grocery store. She doesn't advise what to do with a partial can of coconut milk (I would freeze it in cubes for other recipes) and she generally specifies fresh hot peppers, which have unpredictable heat so you could accidentally make a dish too spicy to consume or burn your fingers and lungs in the process. For a stroganoff, she airily advises cooks to "ask your butcher" if you want to use a cut other than chuck. Most cooks don't have a butcher to ask, let alone a novice cook who is overwhelmed simply by the grocery-store display of meat.
Both these cookbooks have inspired new dishes in my kitchen, which is nice.  I cook for my family daily which occasionally bogs me down into a rut where I feel like I've cooked everything already. And now that I have told you about these books, I will return them to the library on the walk to school tomorrow.  Possible purchases in my future. . .

25 comments:

Tammy said...

I have (on very rare occasions) paid the daily fine of not returning a book because I couldn't renew and I wasn't quite done with it. It goes against me to rack up fines at the library though, so those cases are few and far between!

I had always heard that tomatoes were in the nightshade family and thus the leaves were poisonous? Off to look that one up! Otherwise, that first cookbook sounds very interesting. I know that I often throw out things that could be used as I'm using another part of the fruit/vegetable. Like, I know some people make peach peel jelly but by the time I'm done making canned peach slices, the last thing I'm interested in is using the peach peels to make jelly with...I'm already DONE in the kitchen. But this book seems more approachable.

For books I own, that won't stay open, I have taken them to Office Max and had them cut the binding and put a spiral binding on it. It adds about $5 to the cost of the cookbook but was well worth it for the two I did this to. No more frustration and propping the book open with random bowls and such.

I have that second book out of the library right now too! I also agree that she sometimes strays from her main goal and made things a little too difficult. I wondered about the cumin seeds too! She has this book available as a free PDF download, which would mean you wouldn't have to keep paying the library for it. ;-)

Fun post! :-)

Tammy said...

OK! So first I found an article saying DO NOT EAT tomato leaves because they are POISONOUS and here is what they'll do to you! And then I found this interesting article: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/08/tomato-leaves-the-toxic-myth/

Anonymous said...

Hi I've recently begun reading your blog. I think I found you thru another food blog. Look at Food in jars for a pickling receipe for all those stem scraps. Thx for great ideas...

Lisa said...

Yesterday a co-worker brought in some fat carrots from her garden, and I was wondering if anything can be done with those beautiful leaves. I should look that up now.

Ladies, don't worry about your library fines - I work in a library, and I can tell you that we, at least, take in a lot of money from fines! As long as you return the stuff, or don't hog something that's on hold for another.

Becky said...

The CSA cookbook sounds intriguing - thanks for sharing, I will seek that out!

I have the Good & Cheap cookbook. I've had countless people send me articles about it and try to tell me about it because they know of my involvement in efforts here trying to reach the same population Brown is. While it's a pretty cookbook, it's not for the average low income family and not just for the reasons you list. Her argument for spending $4 on a dozen eggs as well purchasing fresh loaves of bread from an independent bakery come across as completely tone deaf to the population she's trying to reach. To a family struggling to keep food on the table, they are going to go with the most affordable options - not necessarily what 'tastes' best as recommended by the author.

Lana said...

A local group here is working to educate those who are on limited incomes and/or food stamps because they just do not know how to cook and it has been passed down through generations. But, another huge obstacle that has come up is that many do not have basic equipment such as pots and pans or even a stove. Many only have a microwave. They are working to teach based on these situations and are even rewarding attending all of the classes with some of the lacking cooking equipment. Until our oldest daughter worked with this group I often felt myself sneering at the loaded carts of frozen pizzas and dinners that made up many food stamp purchases but now I understand why. I do applaud that cookbook but it appears to be a much bigger issue.

Margo said...

Tammy, the Garden Betty link you posted is to Linda Ly's blog! She's the author of The CSA Cookbook. I hope she's not the only one saying tomato leaves are edible :)

Margo said...

also, Tammy, thanks for the spiral binding suggestion. I have thought of doing that but never looked into the specifics - thanks to you, it sounds like it's not a big hassle or expense.

Margo said...

Anon, welcome! I tried pickling chard stems and beet stems and both were too stringy and tough to eat. I think Linda Ly's method of chopping kale stems in the food processor and cooking chard stems first before chopping is genius.

Margo said...

Lana and Becky, I'm fascinated by your experiences. And it rings true with mine, that what I would think is the most basic cooking knowledge is NOT for some because my knowledge is still based in privilege/education and money and generations of home cooks.

My kids' school has a program that sends home a bag of groceries with accompanying recipes every week. Families have to qualify based on income and need. This seems like a great way to help people get in the kitchen and not feel overwhelmed - the groceries and recipes are already chosen for them.

BLD in MT said...

I just flipped through the Good and Cheap book which my library recently purchased. I've made a display of cookbooks near the front desk and plan to snag that one for myself if someone else doesn't here soon. That CSA book sounds brilliant! Kale stems in my hummus! I'd have never thought of that. Awesome. Thanks for putting it on my radar. Maybe our public library has it. I'll have to check.

And three ring binder cookbooks are so handy...though not plentiful enough, in my experience.

jenny_o said...

By chance I recently ran into the Leanne Brown recipes as well - her cookbook is available as a free download at http://www.leannebrown.com/ by the way - and I felt almost immediately that her recipes and her outlook, while admirable in theory, would not be helpful to those who are truly living on a low income. To take just one example which I am familiar with from using a different recipe - chana masala - she starts with ghee and a splash of olive oil - are these really going to be in a low-income family's cupboard? The recipe continues with 7 or 8 spices. I have had much better luck with basic frugal recipes on government websites and from specialty groups like beef, pork, or egg marketing boards.

I like the idea of sending home recipes with the bag of groceries - reasonable and helpful.

The CSA cookbook sounds intriguing!

Dianna said...

I have also looked at Good and Cheap (free online, another reason to love Leanne Brown). Like you, I appreciate that she's trying to reach people who could really use the kitchen skills.

Tammy said...

That's funny that the link I found was the cookbook author. I wasn't paying attention to that. I would be interested to see someone else's take on the matter, LOL. Until then...I really don't like the smell of tomato leaves, so I can't imagine I'd like the *taste*. It's kind of like marigolds...they're edible, but they smell too yucky for me to consider eating them. LOL

SO. Ever since I got the second cookbook out of the library, I have been intrigued: could one take the recipes in the book and literally live off $4 per person per day? I decided to write down a menu using only recipes from the book. I put it out for 4 persons since most of her recipes serve four. I just opened the book and picked the first six breakfasts, the first six dinner dishes, and sides which seemed to go with each dinner. I did NOT account for any snack or lunch items (snacks may be optional, but lunch isn't). In some cases dinner serves 6 so that would be leftovers for 2 people the next day. My math goes: $4/day per 4 people times six days: $96. The total for the above mentioned meals: $119.50. That's $23.50 over budget and doesn't even include all meals. One day on my menu the breakfast was a carryover from the day before (muffins). So even using this book you can't realistically plan $4/day per person...

Margo said...

ooooh, Tammy, thanks for doing the math! Sorry to see that the meals are not realistic over several days.

Tammy said...

I think it is a great idea that needs some more work and more realistic recipes/menus.

Sara said...

Hi Margo! Do you read this blog? I think you'd like it. I heard about it through another blog The Frugalwoods. http://www.budgetbytes.com

Margo said...

Sara, thanks for the link. I hadn't heard of her and I went over to check it out. Her recipes seem very reasonable - I'll keep reading to see how she does it over time!

Laura said...

There is also a Budget Bytes cookbook which I love. It's available at my library but I ended up purchasing it. Both the book and the website have been invaluable to me. I also like the good cheap eats website.

Sew Blessed Maw [Judy] said...

Thanks for sharing your great finds..Love the added photos..

Linda said...

Wonderful finds! You have a lovely blog.

Polly said...

Thank you for the suggestions! I was just, in the past 48 hours, cranky over how much food waste I feel like we generate. Sure, the cows eat a lot of it, but still. STILL.

Why have I never frozen leftover coconut milk?? I freeze all sorts of things in ice cube trays (chipotle in adobo, cilantro, basil, etc....) to throw into soups...but I haven't done coconut milk. Will do now.

Margo said...

Polly, I never buy chipotles in adobo because I can't use up the can - so thanks for the tip on freezing (and like you, WHY didn't I think of that?!). Also, when you are freezing herbs, how exactly do you do that? I froze cilantro in a bunch but it was strange to work with it that way.

MDiskin said...

Margo, freezing chopped herbs in a little water in an ice cube tray works, but I tend to make mine into pesto for freezing in about half-cup measures (we looooooove pesto at our house, and with a nut allergy we have to make it ourselves, always). Or maybe you could freeze with a little olive oil to bind them together? Since frozen herbs are usually used for cooking or for emulsion in salad dressing, the oil should work well. I think I'd process the leaves for cilantro pesto -- I've done this before.

Margo said...

thanks, MDiskin. I do freeze pesto already, but I think I will try just water and cilantro in an ice cube tray next time I have a bunch that is about to go off.

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