Friday, October 16, 2015

BUDGET BYTES by Beth Moncel - Book Review

5/5 - So delicious that I read until my eyes went blurry!

Title: Budget Bytes

Author: Beth Moncel

Format: paperback

Published: 2014

Genre: cookbook

Publisher: Avery (Penguin Group)

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from publication cover blurb):

A few years ago, Beth Moncel found herself, like many twenty-somethings, barely making ends meet. Living in a tiny, run-down apartment, being eaten alive by student loans, and sick of having to choose between buying toilet paper and fill her car's gas tank, Beth decided to cut down on the only expenditure she could: food. The trick was figuring out how to do so without resorting to peanut butter sandwiches at every meal. Armed with a degree in nutritional science and determined to eat healthily and well while cutting costs, Beth tackled the dilemma head-on.

By tracking her costs with obsessive precision, Beth learned which ingredients helped stretch her funds and which burned through them fastest. Eager to share her tips and recipes, she launched her blog, Budget Bytes. The blog soon attracted millions of readers clamoring for more.

Beth's eagerly awaited cookbook proves that cutting back on cost does not mean sacrificing taste. Budget Bytes delivers:

- More than 100 easy-to-follow, healthy, and affordable recipes for dependably delicious meals, like Coconut Chicken Curry; Mango, JalapeƱo, & Quinoa Salad; Chorizo-Sweet Potato Enchiladas, and Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Mayo.

- Expert principles for cutting costs in the kitchen—including how to combine inexpensive ingredients with expensive ones to ensure that you can still have that pricey steak you're craving.

- Information to help you get acquainted with your kitchen, stock your larder, and get maximum use out of your freezer.

Many people assume that eating on a budget means compromising your standards; Beth proves that isn't the case. Whether you're urban or rural, vegan or paleo, Budget Bytes is guaranteed to delight both your palate and your pocketbook.


I can't remember precisely how I stumbled upon Beth Moncel's recipe blog Budget Bytes but it's a good bet Pinterest had something to do with it. Her recipe for Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups was one of the first recipes I tried online that became an instant family favourite, which prompted me to peruse her website and try other highly popular recipes. (I've boldly served her Italian Wonderpot—paired with baked skinless chicken breasts—to guests on a trial run of the recipe, to receive rave reviews).

Imagine my surprise when one day I (finally) noticed she's got a recipe book advertised in her sidebar. I poked around online reading up on it (are the recipes the same as her blog? does the book have more tips?), and the minute a little bird told me that she's got her best recipes saved for the book, I took the plunge and ordered a copy.

It's now dog-eared and full of stickies.

Over the summer I've served our family several of her recipes, and I have yet to find one that isn't a hit. We have specifically tried her Easy Meat Sauce (for pasta); Farmer Joes (a healthier Sloppy Joes knock off); Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Pasta; Savory Coconut Rice; Monkey Bread; Roasted Broccoli with Crispy Garlic; One-Skillet Lasagna; Firecracker Cauliflower; Five-Spice Chops; Chili-Cheese Beef 'n' Mac (think Hamburger Helper from scratch); Triple-Herb Mashed Potatoes; Peach Bubble Cake; and Indian Skillet Potatoes.

Granted, that's only thirteen recipes, but I'm not losing steam—I've another 14 marked to try once the weather turns, or during Mr Lannis' holidays (read: accepted time for truly experimental menus). Fact is, I can already tell from reading Moncel's write ups that these recipes are going to be hits.

Now while I've burnt my share of toast over the years, I'm not a beginner in the kitchen, but neither am I an expert. But I can tell you what I think Moncel is doing right, and why you should buy this book—or at the very least check out recipes on her blog:

- Budget Bytes is not intimidating. It's written for beginners, and the recipes are simple and classic. There's no need to go to cooking school to understand the concepts therein.

- Moncel breaks it all down: the costs; the benefits of meal planning; how to stock your kitchen and pantry; how to properly freeze food to cut back on waste; sample menus; conversion tables; and an appendix listing over 70 vegetarian and vegan recipes and where to find them in her book.

- There are Chef's Tips to help you become a more skilled participant in the kitchen, as well as Budget Bytes, which highlight cost-saving ideas.

- Each recipe has a code that correlates to how expensive the cumulative ingredients are, and how well the recipe freezes for leftovers—handy info if you're unsure of the number of mouths you're feeding on a given day, or like to prep freezer meals in advance.

- Its recipes are forgiving: we used leftover sausage instead of fresh for the meat sauce and guess what: nobody died. In fact, it was delicious. And I fully plan on defying instructions and using the slow-cooker instead of the stove top to make that Better-Than-Mom's Chili, because: hello, lazy! I'm fairly certain we'll survive that, too.

- Moncel's personality shines. She's written a short introduction to each recipe, and she's down to Earth and endearing.

- Great photographs. Never underestimate the power of food porn. Seriously.

The reason I am writing this review after only having tried thirteen recipes (fifteen if you count the two from her website) is that I have struggled to put this cookbook back in the cupboard since it was purchased. I keep flipping through, drooling, marking up, and adding stickies, and I know this book has been an investment I won't regret. I've already learned a thing or three.

What's the rule? If you get two good recipes out of a cookbook it's a keeper? So far Budget Bytes had proven that at least four times over and stands to do so another five times if it keeps to the current record. If you're still unconvinced, check out her blog, but remember: the book is even better!