Quick and easy cookbooks

Time Out reviews the best recipe books for simple, satisfying meals

Economy Gastronomy: Eat Better and Spend Less

Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett, Michael Joseph, £20

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As our economy collapsed like a cooling soufflé, a wave of ‘economy’ cookery books cashed in. Economy Gastronomy ties in with the BBC TV series of the same name, but – surprisingly for a TV tie-in – it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it.

The text avoids the slightly hectoring tone the show takes by focusing solely on the dishes. If you start to feel guilty when reading this book, it can only be because you know you’d benefit from the cooking tips within.

In the first section, the authors have developed an approach to meal planning which begins with one major ‘bedrock’ purchase (a whole chicken, for example) which is then made into three or four easy ‘tumbledown’ dishes (chicken pie with tarragon, hot and sour chicken broth), making full use of the freezer. In this respect, it mirrors the TV show. When followed rigorously, this system cuts down profligacy as well as, hopefully, the weekly shopping bill.

The rest of the book comprises simple, single-dish recipes for everyday meals, albeit selected for their affordability and prudence. Chapters include the innovative ‘Gastropubonomy’ (including Thai-spiced mussels) and ‘Home-made takeaways’ with a recipe for ‘Colonel Merrett’s Bucket of Chicken’.

Georgia Glynn Smith’s photography and the restrained design treads a tasteful line between austerity and allure, with close-up pictures of the dishes interspersed with shots of the authors looking relentlessly jovial.

The cynic might point out that this sort of cooking is nothing new; that there is a long (lost) British tradition of waste-not-want-not, of making the most of ingredients. It’s a tradition that was put into print so authoritively by Mrs Beeton, was made inescapable by rationing, and has been contemporised gracefully by Rose Prince. But with a third of all food bought in Britain ending up in the bin and shopping bills rising unstoppably, this book is a timely reminder of how easy (and rewarding) it can be to practise culinary thrift without sacrificing appeal.

Euan Ferguson, Time Out London Issue 2036: August 27-September 2 2009

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