I can’t actually remember what I was doing online that led me to this cookbook, but when I read that it was by a Melbourne food blogger who had started off in 2010 trying to feed her family for $120 a fortnight (the amount left from her Centrelink payment after rent and bills were deducted) without resorting to frozen meals or margarine, I had to see what her recipes were like. So I wandered over to Sandra Reynolds’ blog to have a look, and… actually, I can’t say it was one recipe in particular that stood out for me (though it must be said that I went stampeding straight over to the sweets and baked good sections and really liked what I saw), I just liked the whole look and feel of the recipes, and could see at a glance that there were plenty of things that I could use.
Besides, I’ve been talking to a few people recently who look likely to be on a similar budget over the next months, and I wanted to have a look at the cookbook so that I could recommend it. Also, of course, budget cookbooks tend to have handy recipes for the cheaper cuts of meat that I’m less familiar with. But I confess, it was really more a case of me going “Ooh! Cookbook! Ooh! Slices! I haven’t cooked slices in ages!” and then exhibiting no self control.
Which is slightly ironic given the theme of this book, but I’ll let that slide.
Anyway, the cookbook arrived today, a week or two ahead of the official publication date, which made me feel like the sort of professional reviewer who gets ARCs, so I couldn’t resist reviewing it. Though, having read it, I would certainly have reviewed it anyway (just not so promptly).
And did I mention the baking? Apricot slice, easy chocolate and caramel slice, banana and chocolate cupcakes (oh, come now – who can afford bananas in this day and age – saffron is very nearly cheaper!), lemon and passionfruit slice, and a chocolate and nutella cake that derived from a cake using chestnut purée (and I must admit that while I am not keen on nutella I *do* happen to have a tin of chestnut purée in my pantry, so I may be reverting it right back). I sense a lot of baking in my future.
(Yes, yes, you can all stop laughing now. I don’t actually bake *every* day you know…)
There is a good selection of vegetarian recipes in this book (and Reynolds does love her legumes, especially lentils – my recipe roulette just didn’t land on those pages). I just did a quick census of Autumn and found ten vegetarian recipes, two with pork, two with chicken, three with fish, two with beef or veal and one with lamb. It’s less useful for vegans – I found four recipes in the Summer section that were vegan or could readily be made so (for example, omitting grated parmesan from a spaghetti recipe).
A census of Winter (yes, I’m going through the seasons randomly) found more than half of the recipes were dairy-free and several of the remainder could be converted easily enough (they just contained grated cheese to serve, or butter to sauté). I’m less certain about fructose, but the savoury recipes looked pretty good to me in this respect – the desserts and sweets leaned fairly heavily on fruit. Frankly, that’s a selling point to me, but I understand not everyone leans that way (or indeed can lean that way).
If you are looking for gluten-free fare, this book is definitely useful – my quick census of Summer found 13 recipes which were gluten-free and 5 more which could easily be rendered gluten-free by using a gluten-free pasta, corn tortillas or gluten-free breadcrumbs. About half the desserts are gluten-free or could easily be adapted to gluten-freedom (the chocolate lava cakes, for example, contain only a couple of tablespoons of flour to help glue them together – you could replace this with just about any gluten-free flour or, I suspect, almond meal), and just about all the pastry in this book is handmade, making it possible to substitute your choice of flour.
Overall, I’d say this was a useful book with a very good range of recipes. There are plenty of things in here that I plan to try, and I found a lot of the vegetarian recipes, in particular, appealing. I like Reynolds’ habit of alternating different kinds of meat and fish with vegetarian dishes (and I’m rather hoping that I might actually be able to use this as a guide to affordable fish, in fact – European and American books are pretty unhelpful to the Australian cook in this respect). My one caveat would be that I did think a number of the meat recipes were a bit low on veggies and could have used a side salad – but then, I like a *lot* of veggies in my food, so I may be biased. Still, if it were me, I’d add a dollar on to each meat-eating day as a salad or vegetable budget.
That said, I think this book is well worth buying if you are looking for tips on how to spend less on your food while still eating well. It is also, I think, well worth buying if you just want a nice collection of family dinner or lunchbox ideas, because it doesn’t feel budgety in the sense of being all mince and curry and soups (not much mince in there at all, actually). It reads, in fact, like a slightly old-fashioned family cookbook, with updated flavours. I can see myself getting a lot of use from this, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be visiting Reynolds’ website again, too.
You can buy The $120 Food Challenge at The Book Depository , or buy it locally at a lot of Australian bookshops from the beginning of February. I’ve spotted it on the Readings catalogue and at Books for Cooks. At $29.95, it’s definitely worth the money you will spend on it.