Regular readers of Jack Monroe's blog will be familiar with her excellent recipes that conjour up quick tasty and above all, cheap meals from store-cupboard staples such as tinned chickpeas, lentils and cut-price bacon. Those who have tried the recipes will know that they mostly work, and work extremely well.
This book is a collection of the blog recipes along with new ones but it is also so much more. The first nice surprise was the format - an A4 sized softback packed with beautiful but realistic photos by Susan Bell of each dish opposite the ingredients and method.
For some recipes such as 'Use -Me-For-Anything Tomato Sauce' there are helpful stage by stage photos arranged to make the procedures easy to follow; ideal for nervous novice cooks.
Each recipe has plenty of suggestions for variations - vegetarians and vegans will find that many of these recipes can be adapted to suit them. For those not too familiar with her work, Jack introduces herself with some moving extracts from her blog - including the now-famous 'Hunger Hurts' piece - and at the end of the book, 'Hunger Hurts - One Year Later', showing just how far Jack has come in that time. There is some incredibly sensible advice on the basics needed to equip a kitchen. The only expensive item required in many recipes is a blender, and Jack's cost under a tenner.
Sound advice is given on how to shop with a very limited budget and build up a store-cupboard at the same time - proteins first, vegetables second, then one store-cupboard carb per week -rice, bags of pasta, tins of potatoes (tins work out much cheaper than fresh and are surprisingly versatile). Then back to the fruit or tinned fruit with any spare cash. It's this grounded sensible no-nonsense approach that infuses the book and makes it such a valuable read.
If you read Jack's blog regularly you may think you have seen all these recipes already; well, you haven't - many were new to me. There's some brilliant advice on getting a decent batter coating in a lovely Scampi Roes recipe (using tinned herring roes), and an inventive way of making gnocchi using tinned potatoes. With recipes being so budget focused, ingredients lists are almost always under ten items and often seven or less.
I've been cooking for many years using Shirley Goode's and Jocasta Innes' budget recipes. Jack is their equal, if not better, in that she is bang-up-to-date in what ingredients are readily available to today's cook. Costings aren't given but very few recipes appear to be more than £1.50 per head - and many are substantially less.
Since first writing this review, I have tried more recipes, having only tried those on the blog previously.
Some are very good - mixed bean goulash, sausage and lentil hotpot, creamy salmon pasta - but there is one that doesn't work and that's the Diet Coke Chicken. Jack describes it as being 'sticky', but to be sticky it needs a sugar content, and there is none in the recipe. It's a rather boring non-sticky tomato reduction, not very nice and the Diet Coke may as well have been water. I would like to try it again with more of my conventional BBQ sauce ingredients such as honey, plum jam or golden syrup, Worcestershire sauce and tomato puree.
I would hope that those public libraries that are left following council cutbacks buy multiple copies of this book. It deserves to be made widely available to those who will need it most. I bought and donated a copy to my local library.
Jack is exceptional in the way she has fought her way out of the poverty that mindless bureaucracy imposed upon her, but there are many, many like her who need her wisdom and hard -won knowledge.
92 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?