Economy Gastronomy Challenge – Final verdict

My Economy Gastronomy challenge has come to an end now and I’ve been weighing up the pros and cons of chefs Paul Merrett and Allegra McEvedy’s approach to cooking and saving money in the kitchen.

I’ve really enjoyed the two week task– I’ve cooked some great meals that I would never have considered making before and I’ve enjoyed reading the cookbook. It’s beautifully set out and includes some genuinely mouth-watering recipes. I don’t regret getting it and I will definitely make some of the meals again.

But I do have some criticisms. I found many of the dishes a faff to make and I often had to re-read sections because I made mistakes. I think the small typeface used doesn’t help. And it wasn’t just me. DJ, who is much less of a moron, also made some errors when he made his haddock soup. I rarely have this problem with Jamie Oliver’s books.

To be fair, some of the recipes are easy to follow and quick to do – like the spare ribs one. But some are very fiddly and cheffy. I get the impression that professional cooks love to make their meals fussy and generate a lot of washing up because there is someone else to do it. I know, because I’m one of those cooks who likes to tidy up on the go, so I end up cooking and doing most of the washing up too! As a result, I was pretty tired after making a lot of these meals. I don’t mind running around like a maniac to make a roast dinner because it is special and worth the effort. But the pumpkin risotto was a faff and not really worth the hassle. I’m no Nigella Lawson, but I’m used to following recipes and I also have the time to cook because I work from home. So I wonder how busy parents or commuting couples would find the time to make these meals every day. Jonathan on the programme last week said he found some of the recipes time-consuming and I can see why.

I’d also question whether the gastronomy is really economical, too. It’s not the case with all the meals, but some of the ones I cooked involved expensive ingredients, such as the taleggio cheese in the pork lasagne. By the end of the first week we had also used an entire block of £3.49 parmesan, which would normally last us at least four weeks. There are a lot of families out there in the recession who simply couldn’t afford to buy these ingredients every week.

It’s also not easy on somebody watching their weight, such as yours truly (I’ve been too scared to get on the scales this week), or with diabetes, such as my Dad, or high cholesterol. Many of the meals are full of large helpings of butter, cheese and cream. Even the pumpkin risotto recipe states that you should use half a block of butter in it for four people, on top of the gorgonzola and parmesan cheese. If Paul Merrett and Allegra McEvedy bring out a new edition at some point, I’d love them to include suggestions of how you could adapt the recipes to make them lower fat or ingredients you could substitute to make the meals more affordable (ie. use half cheddar and parmesan instead of all parmesan, etc.).

But frugality is all relative. If you’re producing beautiful gourmet meals at home every day and not eating out, then you are probably still saving money. I still can’t understand how it’s possible to spend as much on food as some of the people on the TV series do. However, I also believe that frugality is not about eating rubbish but eating the best food you can afford on your own particular budget. And where the approach wins hands down is that – in theory at least – nothing is wasted. The bedrock recipes mean that leftovers are imaginatively made into other meals, and if you don’t want to eat them immediately you can freeze them. Plus there are good hints and tips in the book on using up fruit that’s past its best and making stock – if, of course, you have the time to do so. So, I definitely think the cookbook is worth a look through for some new ideas. But in my opinion, older recipe books, such as anything by Marguerite Patten, will provide more insight into cooking cheaper cuts of meat, using up leftovers or preserving foodstuffs. So, perhaps you could use McEvedy and Merrett’s ‘bedrock’ approach but substitute your own frugal meals or ingredients.

I’m taking a break next week and will be back in October. Have a great weekend.

Have you read the Economy Gastronomy cookbook? What do you make of it? Leave me a message and let me know.

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3 Responses to Economy Gastronomy Challenge – Final verdict

  1. Gabrielle says:

    Well done you, another challenge completed!I think you\’re spot on with your last sentence (no, not the great weekend one but I will try to, thank you). Using Economy Gastronomy bedrock recipe principle as the bedrock to a week\’s meal planning. I haven\’t seen their book but the shows gave me the impression some of the recipes were quite fiddly and time-consuming, as you\’ve backed up. I think the important message to take from the show/book is that a dish should be seen as a way of providing several meals not just the one. Not always obviously, but just to take a moment and think to yourself, how could I use this to make another meal, even if it\’s just cook a bit extra to freeze a portion.

  2. Bill says:

    A well earned break girl, I have not seen the programme in question, but have followed it, in my own time & pace, through your blog. I tend to agree with you that it is much too faffy, but would expect that from top proffi\’s. The high fat content is also to be expected from Classic French Scholars. I have long since been a fan of "eintopf" (one-pot) dishes & meals, such as rib-sticking soups & stews. I oft used to cook enough rice/pasta/spuds to last a whole week, preserving some in French Dressing, & some in home made Mayo. I was oft packing enough lunch boxes, edible at any time of day, to last several days, even an entire week, as I oft spent an entire weeek, or even two, on a single tour of duty. I cooked enough steamed, or roast veg, to last the same, preserved in either Mayo or French Dressing.Braised liver & bacon/pork loin steaks/lamb\’s hearts/pork-/lamb\’s kidneys, or poached/steamed cod/salmon/haddock/trout/herrings or sardines, can all be mixed into the above veg/sauce for transport/storage in a good quality cool-bag.I always packed the above into m/wave friendly click lid containers, for reheating in any available machine, & also found my home made "K-rations" (convenience food) extremely tasty cold. I also used to carry assorted small fish cans, & could purchase cheap packs of cooked ham, bully-beef, etc., on route.I have also made my own bully-beef, spam, & haggis, but it was normally consumed fresh from the pot, failing to make it into the cool-bag.I did notice, that the past few weeks appear to have produced a glut of cookery programes on UK tv.I oft avoid the fat problem, with low fat cheese & yoghurt, such as Parmesan & Mozzella, also Cammembert, oft on Bogoff at tesco, when I stock up like a swine, as also on the "50%" sell by date. Low fat Brei is also oft available on Bogoff & sell by. Sheep & Goat\’s cheese is also low fat, my fav is genuine Corsican, not so easy to find in UK. Goat\’s butter is also difficult to locate outside Yugoslavia. Sadly, I do not have the time, space or simple technology to make my own pasta in my current MBC cave. I also miss my walk-in fridge, with whole carcass meat, & 2 metre long fish. In my present cave, I no longer bake my own Black (barley) or rye bread, but find that tesco Rye or oatmeal bread, while heavily polluted by wholemeal wheat, keeps extremely well at room temp. when kept in airtight nylon bags, & can always be refreshed if slightly dehydrated, simply slice or chop adequate for immediate consumpttion, place in m/wave at 80% power with half an egg cup of water, for just 30 secs. Wallah! Clean, new fresh-baked bread, complete with aroma.

  3. Kerri says:

    I totally agree with your comments about using the principal of Economy Gastronomy as a thought basis for the way we cook and look to use left overs. I also agree that frugality is all relative, if your weekly shop is £450 then cutting it to £300 will make a difference to your household economy and no doubt you won\’t balk at the prices of some of the more expenisve ingedients. However, if your weekly shop is usually £50 and then you start purchasing some of these more expensive items, you are likely to see your bill rise. I do watch a few of the cookery themed shows (old fav Jamie O and Mr G&T Ramsey mainly, though I do like to see Nigella get all hot and bothered about a bowl of pasta). I think all cookery should be about tailoring ingedients and recipies to your lifestyle and budget – unless you\’re Heston Blumenthal, cooking is not an exact science. I have just cooked a lovley Potato and Bacon Chowder (recipie in the lastest mag from Tesco) and it called for 4 x back bacon rashers, while shopping in Asda today they had 2 x British bacon chops on offer for £1 so I just used those instead – not a huge substitue I know but I saved money and the chowder tastes yummy (first time I\’ve cooked one!)What I have taken from the programme is to think far more about what I buy, what i can make from what I have in \’when the cupboards are empty\’, and also, where I am buying items from – I stocked up on plenty of fruit and veg from our market yesterday for £5. i am also trying to use up what I buy before I go shopping and throw less away. I don\’t know if there will be a huge change to our shopping bill (it\’s about £250 a month for two of us, which includes cleaning and laundry etc) but I hope that this thought process helps me try new recipies in the kitchen.

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