Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cookbook Review--"Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget" by Amy McCoy

It is always fun to read and review a cookbook, especially when it is the work of a fellow blogger, as in the case of the newly published "Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget" by Amy McCoy, (published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, May 2010). McCoy is a successful freelance television producer who loves gourmet food and didn't worry about the cost until the recession hit (that sounds familiar!) and her freelance work dried up. Choosing to eat the best food she could but spend the least amount possible, Amy McCoy created a popular blog Poor Girl Gourmet, and this cookbook of the same name, featuring gourmet recipes that are less expensive to prepare along with tips and insights on eating well on a budget.

Espresso Granita from "Poor Girl Gourmet"

Now I have to confess that although I try, I am not the best at meal planning and sticking to a budget when it comes to food--I like what I like, when I like it. Since, like so many others, my circumstances are not what they once were in terms of disposable income, I was excited to read Amy's book and see if I could pick up at least some "Poor Girl Gourmet" (henceforth referred to as "PGG") tips and learn to eat well on a budget. (In fact, I was so interested that this book "jumped the line" of several review copies of books I had waiting).

With a goal of feeding 4 people a meal for $15.00 or less, (unless it is a "Splurge" of $15-$30), McCoy does price out the cost of her recipes, on the recipe itself, then breaks it down even more with menu suggestions of what things to combine to hit the goal amount. I probably should have tried to price out everything to see how things translated to Hawaii prices (there is a big cost to living in Paradise and usually grocery items are marked up anywhere from 10-20% of mainland prices due to shipping costs, etc.), but since I relied a lot on pantry items and I have a penchant for buying organic and/or antibiotic-free meats, poultry and other items, I went mainly with reviewing how things tasted versus how much they cost.

"Poor Girl Gourmet" contains McCoy's tips and pointers for saving money on groceries and meal planning, basic techniques for cooking, and "value" wines--reviewing 25 different lower-cost wines and offering pairing suggestions to go with her recipes. The book contains more than 80 recipes. lots of beautiful color photographs, and has an appealing conversational style to it--like you are hanging out and chatting with the author. I ended up selecting seven different recipes to "road test" from throughout the book.

From the Soups and Salads chapter, I tried the Orzo, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Walnut Salad with Feta, (Serves 4, $10-$15). Described by McCoy as a "meat-free, anytime-of-year, pasta salad," this is an easy dish that goes together quickly and has a lot of great flavor. I used a new brand of whole wheat orzo that I had in my pantry (it seems very "PGG" to use what you have on hand whenever possible), which had a great chewy texture. I liked the fact that most of the ingredients are staples that I usually have on hand and that they all work together well to make this tasty salad.

McCoy recommends serving it on top of lettuce and drizzled with a bit of extra olive oil as a side salad or omitting the lettuce and serving out of bowl as a quick and convenient party/potluck dish.

This salad was great warm, room temperature and cold, and it worked well on its own as a light entree, and also paired with chicken as a simple side dish. I have a feeling this could become a potluck staple for me.

From the Entrees chapter, I made the "inspired by Italy" Roasted Chicken Legs with Olives (Serves 4, $5-$10). This dish was a budget-conscious recreation of a meal of roasted duck and olives that McCoy ate on vacation, made less expensive by using chicken legs instead of the duck.

Although my chicken legs cost more than McCoy estimated, it is because I have chicken "issues" unless I can by it organic or at least hormone and antibiotic-free, which is worth it to me. This is another simple dish, the chicken legs, a quick trip to the olive bar, some good olive oil, a few sprigs of thyme (conveniently in my CSA box this week), salt and pepper, and an hour or so in the oven, made for moist, flavorful chicken and yummy roasted olives. It paired really well with the orzo salad.

(You can find the recipe for the chicken at the publisher's site (here), and I highly recommend trying it, as it was delicious!)

The section of Vegetables and Sides had a lot of delicious recipes to choose from but I ended up with the simple and fun Zucchini with Pecorino-Romano (Serves 4, $5.00 or less). Zucchini "coins" are tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, laid out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and topped with a bit of grated cheese, then baked until the zucchini is soft and the cheese nicely golden-brown.

As McCoy mentions, the more in-season your zucchini, the more budget-friendly this recipe is, so lucky for me--zucchini is pretty inexpensive at the farmers markets here most of the year.

This makes a great side dish and of course I had to plate it tic-tac-toe-style on my favorite plate just for fun.

Also in the Vegetables and Sides was the Quick White Beans with Bacon, (Serves 4-6, $5 or less), although I ended up enjoying it as a main dish with some good whole-wheat bread.

This dish uses canned cannellini beans (McCoy readily admits dried are cheaper but sometimes you want beans more quickly so the canned beans work nicely here). The beans are cooked in the fat from the bacon and the liquid from their cans (I bought low-sodium organic), garlic, dried red chili pepper flakes and sage, and simmered until the liquid is thick and flavorful.

Topped with some crumbled bacon, it was a perfect curl up on the couch meal for a rainy day--comforting and delicious. I will be enjoying this again.

I was going to bake some cookies from the Bakery and Desserts section but the weather turned a bit humid and I was craving something cold and refreshing. The Espresso Granita, (Serves 6-8, $5 or less), seemed perfect. McCoy recommends using leftover brewed coffee if you have it for this, but I had some Starbucks Via instant coffee packs a friend had given me and I used the Italian roast to make my granita. This granita was incredible--I don't know if it was the Via coffee--which has a lot of flavor, or the addition of a tablespoon of cocoa powder to the mix but it was smooth, and had that perfect coffee-chocolate flavor.

McCoy says you "earn additional adorable points" by serving this in espresso cups and of course I am all about adorable points! ;-) I tried small servings in some demitasse cups and a larger serving in a coffee cup (see the picture at the top of this post). Also she recommends adding a bit of milk to the granita in a glass to make her PGG version of a "fancy frozen coffee-shop-style drink" so I tried it with some vanilla rice milk. Delicious! Starbucks Frappuccino watch out!

(The granita recipe is also on the publisher's website (here) if you would like to try it.)

Finally I chose something from the Splurges chapter, which has "Entrees for Special Occasions and Otherwise" that serve 4 for $15 to $30--the Southwestern-Style Cobb Salad. I chose this recipe for two reasons: 1) the Lime Corn Cream Dressing recipe which sounded unique and delicious and 2) the "corn lady" on the side of the road by my house had some yummy Dakota Sweet corn for sale and I couldn't resist picking up a bag.

The Lime Corn Cream Dressing (Makes 2 cups, $5 or less), (which McCoy uses in two recipes in the book, and also recommends using it as a dipping sauce for barbecued chicken wings or fish cakes), is a tasty pairing of the sweet corn with tangy lime and sour cream. It was really good, and I am happy to have some left over, as I think it will be drizzled on some fish tacos this week.

The Southwestern-Style Cobb Salad (Serves 4, $15 to $20) is the PGG take on Cobb salad--topping lettuce with black beans, corn, avocado, tomatoes and the dressing and adding the usual hard-boiled egg and bacon combo found in Cobbs. It is hearty and delicious and makes a great warm weather dinner.

"Poor Girl Gourmet" is a great book for anyone looking to eat gourmet-style food but not break the bank doing it. Everything I tried was simple to make, most recipes don't require special or "fancy" ingredients, and it all tasted great. There are a good variety of types of ingredients and food and it definitely has a gourmet edge. It is the kind of food you can enjoy as a weeknight meal, or comfortably serve to company. Most of the recipes are set for four people, but I found them easy to reduce if needed. McCoy offers good tips for saving that are even helpful for a non-planner / bad budgeter like me. I also appreciate her emphasis on buying as much local and seasonal food as possible. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for any foodie or foodie wanna-be who wants to eat well and wants some help saving money while doing so.

* Blogger Disclosure Statement: Aloha! This cookbook was sent to me at no charge from the publisher to review. I received no monetary compensation for my review and the opinions contained in this post are my own, based on my experiences with the book and cooking recipes contained in it.


  1. I am also one who doesn't meal plan or stick to a budget...everything you tried looks so yummy!

  2. All those recipes sound amazing! And budget is good!

  3. Awesome review! I try to stick to a budget....but often fail. It's usually fine, I just don't spend as much money on beer Friday night of that week (yes I have beer built into my budget. I have to with friends like mine.). This sounds like a great cookbook!

  4. Great review! You did a wonderful selection of recipes.

  5. That sounds like a great cookbook! I also struggle with meal planning- especially on a budget- and think books like these are great. It's good to see that you can eat nutritious food without breaking the bank. Love it!

  6. Great review! The food looks fantastic! Thanks!

  7. I've been wondering about this book...sounds like it's worth it! Delicious review :)

  8. Hi Deb,
    Thank you so much for delving so deep into the book for your review. I LOVE your photographs, and give quadruple adorableness points for not only the espresso cups, but also the tick-tack-toe zucchini! Love it! and I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipes!
    Take care,

  9. wow, you tried so many recipes, most i'd like to eventually try!

    the photos are gorgeous, especially the espresso granita.

  10. Great review! This is my kind of food on my kind of budget.

  11. THose recipes look gorgeous, and I know I really need to work on being more cost conscious when planning my meals. Its hard when you live with a voracious meat eater like my husband, though! I may have to give this one a try - that orzo salad looks fantastic!

  12. Did you make those beans with bacon just for me ;-) I could really dominate a bowl of that right about now! Everything looks delicious and this is a great idea for a book. I often write my grocery list based on what we're hungry for instead of what's on sale. I could definitely do better with the grocery budget.

  13. You have a talent for writing cookbook reviews. This was wonderful and I'm impressed with how much your were able to cook and report on. I'm going to put this on reserve at the library and take a good look at all she offered. It sounds like a great addition to the bookshelf. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  14. This book sounds great. I definitely have to check it out. I haven't been so great at meal planning lately, but we do stick to a monthly food budget so books like these really appeal to me. I especially like that orzo salad. It looks wonderful!

  15. Everything looks so delicious! I love the sound of the corn dressing. I am not much of a planner either - I eat whatever I am craving at the time. Otherwise I overeat because I'm not satisfied.

  16. This sounds like an interesting cookbook and is coming to the market in a timely manner when there are many people looking to save money. The espresso granita looks spectacular.

  17. Very impressive!!! All the food looks and sounds great. ~LeslieMichele

  18. Fantastic review,everything looks so inviting!


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