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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cheap cooking ideas and where they come from

Students at St-Lawrence College, in Kingston, Ontario, have been working on a project featuring eating well at a low cost.  Considering that many families live under the poverty level everywhere in Canada, it is difficult for these families to eat healthy when the grocery store is far (thus costing cab or bus fare), when many proteins (cheese, meat, nuts, lentils and beans) are expensive (at least the three former are), and when the adults in the families are stressed by lack of money and are not inspired to cook. 

Part of a larger group with a mission to reduce poverty, the cookbook is just one of their projects (you can visit their website at ). 

I found that the lack of imagination or inspiration is often my biggest barrier to cooking at home; when I go out for food, it’s either because I am tired or because I can’t think of what to cook (it’s easier to choose from a menu than to choose from the recipes that I know).

A great cookbook is often, for me, the key to cooking great food and being excited about cooking.  I love cookbooks with lots of photos (they inspire me) but with easy-to-find and inexpensive ingredients.  I can’t afford filet mignon on a regular basis, or expensive cheeses for that matter.  Artisan breads and freshly made pasta are out of reach on a regular basis.  However, I don’t want to eat cheese that comes from a tube or bread that has a shelf-life of several months (what do they put in that?!).

Which is why I have relied on different budget cookbooks, online and hard-copies.  When I search for a recipe to use up a certain item that I bought on sale, I use the internet. lets you save recipes in your own recipe book online if you sign up (free).  This way I can bookmark recipes I want to try and I can add and read comments from people who have tried the recipe.

When I have a huge crop of tomatoes or rhubarb (two things that are hard to kill so therefore I can grow!), I search for the item name on Google and often find a site that specializes in that ingredient.  This helps me find many recipes which use a larger quantity of the ingredient.

I also often borrow cookbooks from the library.  The library often has the latest cookbook, but it also has specialty cookbooks that I would not purchase because I would not need 105 bread making recipes or 99 chocolate cake ideas, I can borrow the cookbook for 3 weeks, use it and copy down two recipes from each.  I can also ‘try out’ a cookbook by borrowing it before I decide I want it in my own collection.

A type of book that I often borrow from the library is the budget cookbook.  There are many of them, and I find that once a while I borrow a couple, get inspired again and I’m good for a few weeks.  The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook by Erin Chase is one of my favorite because the recipes are realistically made at dinner time, and even if made for one person, provides lots of left-over for other nights or lunches.  If you search for ‘budget cookbook’ on Amazon, for example, you can find a large variety of frugal cookbooks for all tastes, including gluten-free, vegan, Paleo diet, etc.  I personally still really enjoy my beat-up copy of The Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith), bought second-hand, that has real gourmet food at a good price, such as his famous-in-our-house chicken stuffed with rosemary and caper potatoes (he passed away in 2004 so you may need to buy it second hand). 

Even if cooking is not your passion, turning it into a bit of a hobby helps enjoying good food at home easier, AND it saves money.

The free and downloadable cookbook from the St-Lawrence students (as a pdf file) is available here: .  It is full of healthy and frugal recipe that sound delicious (I have not tried them yet).  And if you are reading my blog right now, this is the easiest step to a free frugal cookbook.

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