Cookbook Recommendation: Cheap, Fast, Good

I would say that I like to cook in the same way that I like to do laundry: as chores go, neither is terribly onerous, I get a certain satisfaction when I do them well, and I occasionally enjoy the work itself. However, I’m not a passionate cook, nor am I a brilliant one.

That’s why I like this cookbook so much.

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Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, 2005

My mom gave this to me as a gift several years ago, buying it off-hand because she thought it looked interesting. It has become one of the cookbooks I go to most regularly, and I have learned a lot about cooking from it.

The premise is just what the title states: the authors tried to put their heads together and formulate a collection of recipes designed to feed families economically, conveniently, and healthfully. In addition to the recipes, there are features about how to shop frugally, how to get out of a take-out/eat-out mindset, how to use up certain ingredients (a whole ham, the backyard garden/CSA bounty), and how make such decisions as whether your time or your money is more valuable on a given day.

I love using this book because it didn’t just give a basic recipe, but the directions demonstrated how to make the recipe most efficiently, which is something I badly needed help with. I now roll my eyes when I see recipes that call for all the ingredients already chopped, because they are cheating on the time estimates they give! Simple things like heating the oil while you start chopping onions, then adding onions (or other ingredients) to the pan as you chop, can save a good amount of time. I also like that many of the recipes discuss how to substitute less expensive ingredients or just what you happen to have on hand.

It’s not perfect–some of the recipes rely on batch ingredients that you have to prepare first, and while many of them have a substitution available if you haven’t or don’t want to make the whole batch, not all of them do. Also, because I liked this cookbook so much, I specifically asked for Desperation Dinners by the same authors, but I didn’t like that book nearly as much–it relied much more heavily on convenience foods, and not convenience foods that my family tends to have in our kitchen. Cheap. Fast. Good! does NOT rely overly on convenience foods, and even has suggestions for making your own batches of cut veggies, buying large cuts of meat and what to do with them, and otherwise using real food.

I learned how to make a good pie crust from this book, and I use many of the recipes regularly. I think it’s perfect for those cooks who face the daily task of feeding your family without wanting to spend all day on the task. Many of the recipes are very kid-friendly, and those that are less so have suggestions for variations to make them palatable to the under-20 set. The book is listed for about $12 on Amazon, but my public library has 4 copies available, so yours may have it, too.

To finish up, here are some of my favorite recipes from the book: Summer Stew, Orange Marmelade-Glazed Chicken over Rice, Grown-up Sweet and Sour Chicken, Good Ol’ Beans and Rice, Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce, Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad, Southern Buttermilk Pie, and Ron’s Favorite Sweet Potato Pie.

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