Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cookbook Review: More-with-Less

My well-used copy of this interesting little cookbook looks a little bit different; some of the updated versions have a darker yellow cover (same picture) and/or spiral rings (the older ones all have spiral rings).

More-with-Less was published by the Mennonites in the 70's. It issued a well-needed and rather revolutionary (for its time) challenge to North American cooks: consume less of the world's resources. North Americans consume vast quantities of world food resources, particularly because we eat so much meat (and grain supplies go to feed those cattle!). In a time period when most people in North America were eating the classic "meat and three" meals for dinner every night, More-with-Less appeared with recipes for stir-fry dishes, Indian curries, and soups which all used much less meat than was typically consumed in American homes. In addition, as more and more women went back to work, people (partly out of necessity and the increasing number of products available) bought more and more pre-packaged and processed foods (think Mac-n-cheese!). More-with-Less offers recipes for making your own pancake mix, Jello, and many, many other things typically considered convenience foods. The reality is, many of these homemade alternatives are not only cheaper and healthier, but really no more trouble than their store bought counterparts.

This cookbook is worth checking out from your local library for an initial trial run. The opening chapters give some fascinating information (much of it updated for the 2000 edition) on consumption of resources, protein sources, and challenges to live with less (and get more in return). There are some really great recipes for things like homemade granola, healthy desserts (ones that provide nutrition as well as a sweet finish to the meal--see Refrigerator Cheesecake for an example), and breakfast foods like the pancake mix mentioned above.

One of the book's greatest strengths is the number of variations for each recipe. For the thrifty and/or creative cook, these are infinitely valuable. They allow you to adapt your ingredients to the recipe at hand, whipping up dishes at a moment's notice, so to speak. In addition to the variations given for many individual recipes, each chapter has a section titled "Gathering up the Fragments" which simply lists ways to use up leftovers in that category. For instance, one chapter might have a list of recipes that use leftover cooked rice. It's a great resource and has inspired me to create my own similar lists using favorite recipes from various cookbooks.

I think more mainstream/modern cookbooks now provide many similar entree/vegetable dishes as More-with-Less due to our current national fixation with whole grains and fruits/vegetables as well as our familiarity now with Mexican and Asian cuisine in particular (some of the recipes in More-with-Less were probably pretty strange looking in the 70's, but people now eat tortillas all the time). Recipes in modern cookbooks are a little more strongly flavored, and therefore, probably more pleasing to modern palates. There are also more vegetables widely available to us now than in the 70's (for instance, I don't believe broccoli or red peppers make much of an appearance in the book). If you're willing to adapt and use your ingenuity, though, this cookbook can serve you as well it might have served your mother!

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