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Great strengths but also weaknesses
on 20 February 2012
Lets get one thing clear; this isn't a book on how to live on next to nothing. It doesn't have 143 clever things to do with budget mince. It's a stimulating book on how to eat very well without lashing out on lamb chops or steak every night. If you like entertaining, but have limited money, this book is ideal, as it has lots of interesting and unusual recipes using modestly-priced ingredients. If you want something cheap and quick to throw at the kids after school, look elsewhere. Like the curate's egg, this book is excellent in parts. Other reviewers have pointed out the problems with the index.
Unfamiliar and delicious peasant dishes from Europe such as Cocido Estremeno sit close to British traditional staples such as Pease Pudding, and are interspersed with dishes from India and the Far East. This is a weakness; we now expect our ethnic dishes to be more authentic than we did in 1971, and the oriental recipes read like watered-down versions of the original. People who want to cook the authentic and fairly demanding European regional cuisine won't also want to knock up a bland imitation of something from the take-away.
Recipes are arranged not by course or ingredient, but listed as "standards, padding, fast work, pasta faster, veggies, fancy work and private enterprise". This attempt at wit falls flat and is just confusing; it isn't that easy to find a suitable recipe. There is an index but it isn't reliable for finding recipes for specific ingredients; if you've acquired a crab, you won't know that the "Partan Pie" listed under fish in the index is a very nice recipe for making baked crab go further.
Other quibbles; no pictures (sometimes it's handy to know what a dish is supposed to look like, photo's are not just window dressing), and the Frances Lincoln reprint won't lie flat, so you'll have to either copy out the recipe or accept that the pages will get very mucky.
This book is still well worth having on the shelf if you're an adventurous but impecunious cook in search of good ideas. It would have been a far more useful book if the recipes for staples like rice pudding or basic white sauce had been left out, and more space had been given to the author's chatty and engaging background material and advice.