I have read Owlhaven off and on for years and it was Mary's cookbook that finally got me to leave a comment on her blog. The book is an excellent primer on how to cook economically for a family. Really and truly excellent. So much so I want to give someone a copy (read on for details).
I've been reading frugal cookbooks for a few months now, this is the best one I've found--which is why it's my first book review on this blog, the other ones are kind of annoying to write about because I wasn't happy with them. Lets take it chapter by chapter, at least for the first 4 chapters, shall we?
Before we start, I want to point out each chapter ends with a checklist of action items that gives you organized marching orders. Family Feasts is not messing around and will truly help you get serious about saving money on groceries.
Chapter 1 sets the rationale and asks what you would do with an extra $100. To which I say, Mary, I need an extra $500 a month, but I guess we all have to start somewhere. There's a quiz at the end of the first chapter that will help you identify your frugal strengths and weaknesses. The score also tells you which parts of the book will likely be the most helpful for you--which is kind of neat and provides a customized reading experience tailored to your needs.
Chapter 2 is full of basic shopping information. Even though I know most of it, the lists are great in this chapter. There's a pantry list and a list of seasonal veggies and fruits. Each aisle of the grocery store is broken down and dissected until you know exactly where to save money. This would be an excellent chapter for someone out on their own for the first time.
Chapter 3 introduces what Mary calls 'Guerilla Shopping'. Here she gets into the nitty gritty of keeping a price book, sales and coupons. Her gradual approach on the price book is appreciated because I've been avoiding this chore for a long time, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task. I also like her stance on coupons which is, they aren't all that great unless you like to eat highly processed food full of sugar and fat. Whole foods don't usually have coupons so health conscious eaters shouldn't worry too much about coupons.
Chapter 4 delves into meal planning and the logistics of food prep. There is a hold-your-hand process for meal planning in this chapter. If you are lost when it comes to making a menu, this chapter will help you beyond your wildest dreams.
After the fourth chapter we get into recipes and my only criticism of the book, which is the use of lemon/lime soda in a handful of recipes as well as the use of corn syrup. Those particular recipes can be easily modified or avoided, but I was a little surprised to see such chemically laden bad-for-you items serving as base ingredients in a recipe. Also, pictures of each recipe would have been great.
On the positive, Mary includes a world of flavors in her recipes. There's Korean and Ethiopian food alongside American favorites. I happen to really like Ethiopian food and look forward to trying some of those recipes. (If you like Indian food, you should like Ethiopian. They aren't the same, but similar in flavor.)
Here are some of the recipes I want to try after reading this book.
Cream cheese Pinwheels
Chicken and Apple sandwiches with melted cheese
Spicy Chicken Enchiladas
Pork Chops with Apricot Sauce
Korean Barbecued Beef
Spicy Ethiopian Beef in Green Pepper
Ethiopian Sloppy Joes
Slow cooker white chicken chili
Southwest Beef Chili
Chinese chicken salad
Thai beef salad
Southern Style Fresh Cabbage Salad
6 week bran muffins
Soft rich brownies
Baked chicken Kiev
Stuffed French Toast Strata
Ginger and orange glazed baby carrots
Asian Ginger Dressing
Slow cooker white bean, sage, sausage soup
So if that sounds good to you and you would like a free copy of the book, leave a comment. Tell me how you're staying afloat in the rising tide of food prices.
Entries for this drawing will be accepted until midnight 12/15/09. We will announce the winner on 12/16. Only one winner, chosen at random, will be announced. Winner must live in the US and provide a mailing address within 3 days of the winner announcement.