Pros: Great how-to directions; very good food; fantastic hints and extras
Cons: Repetition; organization; wanted more recipes
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 11/5/2002
Review copy courtesy of Champion Press
I was dubious when I first looked at Deborah Taylor-Hough’s “Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month.” I have a great love of good food (and cooking), and the idea of eating frozen dinners hardly appealed to me. Instead, what I discovered was a new philosophy of shopping, cooking, and eating that slimmed our grocery bills, turned out to be surprisingly adaptable, and still managed to satisfy our taste buds! If you find this hard to believe, as I imagine you might, then read on…
What It’s About
Frozen Assets isn’t so much a cookbook as a method and a philosophy. It’s aimed at people with slim budgets and/or a lack of time on their hands. Although it isn’t the only use for this cookbook, the basic theory is called “once a month cooking” (or OAMC). The idea is that you plan your meals for a month, then spend one full day cooking a bunch of freezable main dishes. Then, for the rest of the month, you have only to thaw things, make a few side dishes, and eat.
This isn’t nearly as difficult or outlandish as it sounds. Deborah achieves this largely by creating several very adaptable meal components – such as a ground meat mix and a spaghetti sauce – that can be combined and re-combined in a number of ways to make a delicious variety of dishes. She also has a wide range of hints to help you fit this bounty into your little refrigerator freezer (although having a full-size freezer wouldn’t hurt).
However, OAMC isn’t the only use for this cookbook. There are plenty of variations on the theme. You could cook twice a month, preparing two weeks’ worth of recipes at a time. You could simply make large recipes when you cook normally, allowing you to have your meal and another several main dishes later on. You could even just play with Deborah’s many fine tips for saving money when you shop.
There’s a handy FAQ (frequently asked questions) answering such questions as:
- “I only have the small freezer above my refrigerator. Can I still do a full month worth of cooking ahead?”
- “How do I cook for an entire day with two toddlers underfoot?”
- “My kitchen is tiny. How can I handle a large amount of cooking in such a small space?”
- “I’m a vegetarian. Any special tips?”
And more. The author provides simple, practical answers to these questions. This is followed by A day in the life of frozen assets. The author walks us through her routine of planning and preparing a month’s worth of meals so we’ll have a realistic idea of the effort it entails. She even includes her meal plan and grocery list.
The next chapter is The “Ins and Outs” of Meal Planning. Here you’ll find tips, variations on the main OAMC idea to fit your own lifestyle, handy uses for all those frozen dinners (like helping out when your neighbors or friends hit stressful times in their lives), shopping tips, cooking tips, and everything else – right down to handling power outages. Next we have the Thirty-Day Meal Plan. There’s a lineup of meals, a shopping list, preparation instructions, and the recipes. The Two-Week Meal Plan has a similar selection of handy material, as does the Ten-Day Holiday Meal Plan.
There are More Main Dish Dinner Recipes (bulk spaghetti sauce, lazy lasagna, baked ziti, spaghetti pie, beef mix for meatloaf and meatballs, stuffed peppers, etc.), as well as Breakfasts, Lunches, Desserts, Mixes (holiday breakfast casserole, breakfast sandwiches, mix-n-match soup, multi-purpose baking mix, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, etc.).
The next chapter covers Money-Saving Tips and Ideas for Groceries. The author contends that, with care, you can get your grocery bill down to as low as $50 per week for a family of five using the OAMC method and a number of other tips and hints (I think this amount is highly dependent on where you live, having seen the difference in grocery store prices between different areas, but certainly you should be able to make some very nice cuts to your grocery bill). She then includes no less than one hundred tips for reducing your grocery bill! Some of these I’ll skip (they’d take up more time than they’re worth to me), but it’s an individual decision based on how much money you have vs. how much time. Certainly there are some great tips in here – everything from “Popcorn is one of the least expensive snacks you’ll find” to saving your butter wrappers to grease baking pans with.
Appendix A helpfully covers Foods that Don’t Freeze Well so you won’t have to waste food by freezing the wrong things. Appendix B is something I’ve wanted for a long time – a recipe equivalents section that covers such things as how many apples yields a cup of chopped apple. Appendix C has tips for single people, so that even individuals can make use of the bulk-cooking and freezing methods, while Appendix D has tips for Reducing Fat in Recipes and Appendix E presents Creative Uses for Freezer Meals. You’ll also find a handful of recommended resources, including the author’s web site and a few other handy books.
For some reason, a Spending Plan is psychologically less threatening to many people than a b-b-b-b-b-budget.
I admit, I didn’t expect to love the food in this cookbook. It’s simple stuff, and often uses simple inexpensive ingredients – which in some people’s hands can lead to some truly awful food. But in this author’s hands it leads to delicious meals! The baked ziti is one of our favorites. It makes a full 13×9-inch pan full of ziti with sauce and a small amount of meat and cheese – plus enough for two frozen batches of the same size. The lentils ranchero primarily consists of lentil (with a small amount of ground meat, lots of ketchup, and some onion soup mix) – but somehow it comes out tasting like it’s all yummy hamburger! (It’s black magic, I’m telling you.)
One of our complaints about this cookbook won’t apply to everyone and is easy to fix – many of these recipes are most definitely not diet food (the author has young, growing children, after all!). However, this is offset by the fact that these recipes are incredibly easy to adapt. Want to reduce the calories of the ziti? Substitute broccoli for some of the pasta and use less cheese. Want to reduce the fattiness of the wonderful breakfast casserole? Add an extra apple, use Egg Beaters instead of eggs, and take out half of the sausage. These are remarkably flexible recipes, and their simplicity lends itself very well to adaptation of almost any kind.
Our Few Complaints
Because of the format (meal plans including recipes), a number of recipes get repeated in several places. I would have preferred to have that space taken up by more recipes. There’s also a lot of repetition of tips, particularly near the front of the book. Again, I would have preferred more recipes, since the selection isn’t as large as I’d like.
There are a couple of minor snafus here and there – a recipe or two that list an ingredient in the ingredient list and then forget to mention it in the preparation instructions, things like that. But again, since the recipes are so simple it’s usually pretty easy to figure out what to do.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give this book is that it has influenced the way we cook. While we don’t do the full once-a-month thing, we do tend to make larger meals that will freeze well and freeze a meal or two for later. This gives us food for when the leftovers run out early, or we get sick and don’t want to cook. It also means that now and then we can use a pre-made main dish and take the opportunity to make a more complicated dessert or side dish than we’d normally have the time for.
The cookbook isn’t perfect, and I do wish there had been more recipes provided, but it’s still surprisingly helpful and adaptable. The lists of grocery tips are bound to lower your food bill at least a little, and if you’re a busy mom or dad with lots of little mouths to feed, you’ll love not having to cook every night – yet being able to provide a nutritious home-cooked meal.