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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Save Money and Time: Frugal Cooking with Marian Burros

The other day, Philip Brewer, one of my favorite finance bloggers, posted on how cooking at home saves time as well as money. This was not news to me or to others who love to cook at home. For those who do not like to cook--and I wrote an earlier post on my sister-in-law's inefficient and expensive shopping and cooking--Brewer's point might be as mystifying as vectors might be to me.

It is worth your while to learn, however. I am a ridiculously un-domestic person, whose cleaning, organizing, and laundry habits would horrify most (including my sister-in-law, who is a model of efficiency and skill in these other areas). Still, I have learned to do it, the slow and painful way, starting with Julia Child. I remember working for several hours and presenting Mr. FS with a zucchini dish. I was too exhausted to do anything else.

Brewer mentions learning to cook from books and mentions a few--such as The Joy of Cooking. Cooking from books can be frustrating: not all recipes are well-tested, for one thing, and, The Joy of Cooking and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything have thousands of recipes. Where to begin? The paradox of choice once more.

In my comment on Brewer's post, I mentioned one candidate for the cookbook to start with if you are totally clueless. Actually, I mentioned a cookbook writer: Marian Burros, who used to be the restaurant critic for the New York Times. The book I would start with is Keep it Simple: Thirty Minute Meals from Scratch.

This book is easy to find used, in your library, and even on

Burros is not kidding. She has an excellent palate. Her recipes always come out. In fact, two years ago, Miss Em decided to visit her food-loving grandfather a bit earlier than the rest of us. She wanted to cook for him. I gave her a pile of cookbooks from which to copy recipes and she chose many from this book. This is a book that will give you confidence for the future.

Burros gives you a list of pantry staples and cooking equipment. Each menu has a list of staples and a shopping list. She provides a "game plan."

Most of her menus include a main dish, two sides, and dessert. I confess I usually stick to main dish and one side.

Here are a few sample dishes: chicken in lime, cinnamon chicken,snapper in orange sauce, zucchini and rotini, pork chops with apple, cabbage, cumin.

There are fewer than 60 menus, thereby minimizing the paralysis of choice, and EVERYTHING IS GOOD. There's even a quickie Thanksgiving menu.

If anyone is interested, I'll post a few of the recipes.

What is your favorite learn-how-to-cook book?


Duchesse said...

I'd enjoy a few recipes!

When I went to college I took Peg Bracken's "I Hate to Cook Book" and learned to make dishes like Skid Road Stroganoff. But to this day, I make her "Wine and Cheese Bake", a baked cheese fondue that is one of those magic recipes.

There are a few cans of cream soup involved in some of the recipes, but they are well-disguised, and she prescribes a good snort of sherry while you were stirring.

Nowadays I reduce the salt but the recipes stand up: hardy and simple.

sallymandy said...

Sure, bring 'em on! This sounds like a great book.

Well, I always loved the "I Hate To Cook Book," which was given to my mother when she married in the 1950s. I have that vintage copy, and besides being funny reading, it has some recipes that still work for today.

Hey, I just saw that Duchesse also mentioned this book! Yes, Wine and Cheese Bake! And I confess to a weakness for Hurry Curry, and Chicken and Artichokes.

Thanks for an informative post.

Funny about Money said...

Burros's is a good book for newbies. My gosh, Duchesse, & Sallymandy I'd forgotten the I Hate to Cook Book! w00t!

The Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook--the one with the red & white plaid on the cover -- was my primer when I was a young bride. It even explains how to hard-boil an egg. It has a lot of good, basic recipes that are very easy. The one I had came in a three-ring binder, so it would lay flat on the counter.

Another favorite from the Cretaceous Period was the American Home All-Purpose Cookbook. That served for "fancy" dinners before Julia Child came on the scene.

Ah, but Julia opened the gate to a whole new world of cooking and eating!

Duchesse said...

Sallymandy, I LOVE Hurry Curry. And Saturday Chicken and its Sunday variant. And that hot crabmeat po-boy thing... it's kind of embarrassing to admit how much I still use IHTCB.

Frugal Scholar said...

@All--Ladies, I LOVE reading Peg Bracken, but I think her recipes are actually more time-consuming than one would expect. I will retrieve my old copy (where is it?) and give it another look.

Shelley said...

For a long time it was Amy D's universal recipes in the Tightwad Gazette newsletters. More recently it was Bittman's How to Cook Everything -- the basic, original version.

I think meal planning can be harder when one has too much choice. I have a rota I use for the main protein in our meals: beans-poultry-fish-beans-cheese-fish-vegetarian-meat-fish-eggs-beans-combinations (of proteins, ie meat and cheese)-fish-vegetarian. I know this sounds terribly compulsive and I don't follow it strictly, but I do find it forces me to to use up those dried beans and it limits the use of more fattening things like cheese and meat. I found the challenge of coming up with recipes quite fun and after a while I have developed a stock of several to use for each type of meal. I doubt I ever spend more than 30-45 minutes preparing a meal.