A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe

I admire Jack Monroe. Her blog post Hunger Hurts is enough to upset even a miserable git like me. When I was a child there were times when my parents had very little money and I am pretty sure they skipped the odd meal to keep us boys clothed and fed.

Jack Monroe hasn’t been content to concentrate on her family now is gradually moving away from abject poverty. Instead she campaigns about food poverty. Nobody should be without regular food. This book will not stop food poverty. What this book can do is help you think about the way you shop, where you shop and most importantly what you buy. Given how tight my family finances are this book is very welcome at the moment.

There are some great pieces of advice in this book as well as the recipes. Woody herbs like Rosemary are almost impossible to kill even on a windowsill if they are kept damp. Growing chili plants is also great, not only in terms of flavour but also because they have some great health benefits too. Pickling leftover vegetables and freezing breadcrumbs are also great ways to save money and waste less. There are other similar tips in this book.

Soups are great. Even small children who don’t like vegetables will eat soup. My 6yr old loves bean soup without the beans. We blitz the whole soup so he is getting them. Don’t forget that those beans and pulses are sources of protein. There are not a lot of meat recipes in this book because meat is expensive and if you are on a very tight budget it is only ever a treat. There are plenty of breads to make and a surprising number of recipes packed with flavour. This is not a book for a dessert lover though. There are a few and they reflect the same ethos as the rest of the book. Some nice cheap jam for the sweetener is something I’m keen to play with.

These recipes are all quite simple to make. There are few ingredients, few utensils and not many steps to follow. This would be an ideal present for somebody just leaving home and learning to fend for themselves.

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The Hairy Dieters Eat For Life by Si King and Dave Myers

I bought and read The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight but was not impressed. I wasn’t at all inspired and cooked a total of two recipes from it. I was therefore a little nonplussed to receive the follow-up in my Christmas stocking.

This book starts out with a a typical fluffy look at the authors and how well they have done to lose weight. One difference in this one though is that it is clear that they will be indulging and have no plans to become stick insects. In short it gives a more realistic view on life. Lowering calories is only part of the battle. Exercise is another, but isn’t covered other than a vague mention at the back of the book (I’ll get to that). The first section is on breakfast and brunch. Most of them are sensible but I can’t see myself ever making Kedgeree or having salmon for breakfast. That’s just me though. I like the idea of breakfast muffins and eggs are always a good choice. There is also a whole page on oats to prevent boredom. There are then several different sections of main courses which had me salivating. I have eight post-it notes already in place for recipes I will be cooking. Some like the Goulash I plan to eat next week. I’ll have some in a tub for lunch the next day too. This is what I need in a cookery book. The inspiration to cook. This is even more important in a healthy eating guide. There is a really good tip in this section. Half-fat creme fraiche or coconut milk have little impact on the flavour compared to getting better quality spices. For me this means visiting the local market to see the lovely lady and her collection of spices to have a wonderful curry without too many calories.

If you are a vegetarian this is not the book for you. It does have a few recipes and in a couple of instances Quorn could be substituted but not enough to justify missing out on large swathes of this book. Towards the rear of this book are some really useful pages for some very simple basics. Four simple pasta/rice/mash/jacket spud ideas to ensure you have a few basic sides to go with your dishes. Then there is a page containing a list of what quantities of food equate to about a hundred calories. This makes it easy to roughly total your food intake. At the very end there is a page about the Hairy Biker Diet Club. I thought this sounded like a great idea as it looks to have exercise advice as well as additional recipes. Unfortunately it costs money so I can’t give any more details than that.

This is a definite improvement on the first diet book by the authors and has lots of interesting food to stave off that diet food depression. It is well worth a read.