Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Favorite Cookbook - The One That I Will Live and Dine By

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. 

"Bowled-Over Chili"
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:

  • Introduction
  • 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
    Ladies Lunchin'
    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
    Restaurant Dinners
    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
    Secret Sweets
    Cents-able Solutions: Dollar-Stretching Dot-Coms
  • Chapter 9: Thrifty Gifts
    Tasty Tokens, Dessert with Benefits, The Frugal Beauty
    Cents-able Solutions: Restaurant Recessionista
  • Acknowledgments 
  • 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. 

My rating:

Find out more about The Frugal Foodie by Lara Starr with Lynette Shirk:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review: THE WANTED by Lauren Nicolle Taylor (The Woodlands #4)

The Wanted
by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
(The Woodlands #4)

Here are some facts about this book:
  • The fourth and last novel in the series, The Woodlands 
  • Will release on October 31, 2014
  • A post-apocalyptic dystopian novel
  • Responsible for at least two late nights beneath the blanket 
  • Probably contains nicotine somewhere in there

Out of all the books in The Woodlands series, this one is my favorite because of the dual narrative and beautiful language that weaves together the sensory details with Rosa's inner thoughts. Rosa may think that she's horrible with metaphors, but her narrative voice is actually filled with vivid figurative language. 

The story is divided between the perspectives of Rosa and Joseph. Given the movement that Rosa and Joseph take part in against the oppressive regime of the Superiors, I had an idea of what would happen, but I had no idea how. The episodes between Rosa and Joseph are brief but important -- each scene moves the story forward and keeps me intrigued on what would happen next. 

Sometimes the perspective would switch and I'd whine, "No, but I wanted to find out what happened to Rosa." But soon enough, I'd be entranced with Joseph's side of the line. 

So what's going on in The Wanted?

Rosa is a prisoner of the Superiors and faces interrogations in multiple forms. They want information about her friends, the Survivors, and Joseph. She has to stay strong and defiant and not let them break her. 

I had no idea how Rosa was going to get out of that captivity. I was thinking that maybe Joseph could smash his way in to save her, but then that'd be really cliched and predictable. The story went nowhere in that direction. It was filled with plot twists that boggled my mind and kept me chasing down the rest of the story to find out what would happen. 

In the beginning of the series, I wasn't able to identify strongly with Rosa (even though I liked her a lot as a character), but in The Wanted, I cheered for her the whole way. I think it's partly because she has matured over the past few books, especially after the death of Apella, a girl who ultimately proved Rosa's judgmental views wrong with her sacrifice. And while Rosa does "size up" people when observing them, she's a lot less judgmental than before because she tries to see things from their side of the fence.

Joseph was forced to leave her and escape. He struggles with feelings of guilt over the violence he used in order to flee. In the meantime, he is helping with the Survivors' rebellion against the iron grip of the Superiors. With many readers, there was an issue of Joseph being too perfect. To me, he just came across as an optimistic sort of guy who knows what he wants. In this book, however, his optimism and values go under trials of loneliness, grief, guilt, and uncertainty. It was good to explore some inner turmoil and weakness within him because his negative reaction to certain actions shows us where his values are as a person. Even if he is an overall hero, he can still be prone to moments of weakness. 

Like with Rosa, some of the people in the Survivors have mellowed out a bit after their initial hostility towards each other, such as Deshi. I've gotten really fond of him and Rash as minor characters. I was even hoping for Deshi to hook up with another guy that comes into the picture in this novel, but *ahem* that did not happen, probably for the best. 

I'm going to miss Rosa, Deshi, Rash, and Joseph. They had a wonderfully cranky but loving dynamic. When I saw the novella The Willful, I was actually hoping that this series had been extended into a quintet. Overall, I enjoyed this wonderful ending to The Woodlands series. The main loop is concluded, but as with life, there is a lot of uncertainty in the details in the aftermath. Will Deshi and Hessa become close again? Will Rosa and Joseph move past this moment of disloyalty? Will they all be a family in five years, after things have settled down somewhat? I think so.

My rating:

Find out more about The Wanted by Lauren Nicolle Taylor on:

Check out my reviews on the other The Woodlands novels: