Thursday, 6 September 2012

Retro Cookbook Corner: Quick & Easy Cooking

There is a magnet on my fridge. I says "If you are what you eat, I'm quick, cheap and easy". I wish I could say it was given to me by someone who knows me not, but it was a gift from my own twin sister. Quick, cheap and easy, that's me.

And so we come to Quick & Easy Cooking from The Reader's Digest. This retro cookbook is for folk such as myself, it seems- indeed it was utterly cheap at £1 from a charity shop. A relatively new book by my standards (1988-9) it appealed to me because in being a practical guide, many of the recipes are more staid and less adventurous than more aspirational texts from the 70s and even 60s. If you covered the cover, and peeked inside, you might be forgiven for assuming it was a thrifty housewife's book from 1965 (bar the occasional panic about all eggs being salmonella eggs, which date it immediately).

Now usually I would show you some pictures from within the book, but there aren't any. Like I said, this is budget.

Nevertheless, there are some useful money and time saving tips in here, along with some sensible everyday recipes (the salads section is particularly good, as is 'appetisers' - olive butters and cheese biscuits etc') and on a day-to-day level I must admit I use this book a lot. So instead of images, I'll share a small selection of the many, many top tips from within:

  • "Avoid convenience food, and ready-prepared meals in particular - unless the saving in time is really worth the extra expense."
  • "Try and cook at least two dishes in your oven at the same time - it is never really worth putting it on just for one dish." Indeed. I always try to fill my oven... mostly with cake and extra chips, admittedly.
  • "Do not store citrus fruit in the refrigerator - the flesh tightens and dries up."
  • "To separate the leaves from a round lettuce, hit the core sharply against the work surface - the core can then be pulled out and the leaves will detach easily." I must admit I tried this and failed. Perhaps I am doing it wrong.
  • "When you need only a few drops of lemon juice, puncture a whole lemon with a toothpick, squeeze out what you need and put the toothpick back in the hole."
The kitchen tips all sound pretty good. Most of the retro appeal in this book comes from the shopping tips. Since moving I have had three high streets with 'real' grocers, fishmongers and butchers within easy walk/cycle (of varying levels of poshness- one has bespoke delis and another has a greengrocers in what is essentially a lean-to against a wall) and so retro shopping advice - which can be scuppered by everything-boxed-and-wrapped Tesco - comes into its own. Well, mostly.

  • "Make out your shopping list in sections, according to the type of food."
  • "Know exactly what you're getting for your money - check the weight! Over elaborate packaging can be like an edible pass-the-parcel..."
  • "Never freeze marked down meat." (The book assumes mark-downs are past their sell-by-dates. Nowadays, most are one day before - personally I do freeze reduced food within it's sell-by-date. I am not advocating or suggesting this is what anyone else should do, I'm just saying).
  • "When buying just two or three items in a supermarket, do not take a trolley - it is all too easy to fill it up with extra goods."
  • "Buy the amount of food that you know you will use - excess often means wastage."
  • "Go for fewer, larger quantities wherever possible." Hmm, these seem to contradict each other. I think they mean larger quantities of dry goods such as pasta, which will be used, or larger tins/jars/tubs if the item is used every day (they gave the example of tinned tomatoes).
Although not pretty to look at, and with few retro 'moments' (apart from celebrating with wonder the invention of the itemised till receipt... which I am positive hit London before 1989) this is a sound everyday cookbook and one of the most used of my collection. The ingredients and recipes are everyday with nothing exotic or luxurious, but it does exactly what it says on the front: quick, easy cooking.

If you want one from Amazon they come in at £20 new or 1p used. Guess which I recommend.


  1. Old cookbooks are fab! They say so much about how people lived and what they aspired to.

  2. I am loving that lemon/toothpick tip.

    When I have a kitchen I will totally use that one!

  3. I do like easy cooking, mainly because I burn water and that isn't easy to do!

  4. I love old cookbooks too, the lemon/toothpick tip is fab!


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