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“Everyday Cheapskate”

Posted on Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 12:01 pm

The people you meet, the books you read

everyday cheapskate - mary huntSYNDICATED COLUMNIST

mary hunt

The late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, said one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.”

While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. Not only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances.

Little by little, as I became a better cook, we naturally began to eat at home more. Even now, the more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better a cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!

The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.

Today, I want to tell you about my current four favorite cookbooks (the lineup does change from time to time) and suggest a way that you could use any one of these fabulous cookbooks as the central item in a gift basket that you create for an aspiring home cook. I guarantee that a cookbook — plus several items to go with the theme of that particular book — will delight any home cook, from novice to advanced. What makes me so sure? Because I know how happy I’d be to receive any one of these gift baskets for any occasion.

GOURMET ITALIAN GIFT BASKET

“Everyone is Italian on Sunday,” by Rachael Ray (Atria Books, 2015). This brand new cookbook currently sits at the top of my list of favorites. The recipes I’ve tried in the past three weeks have all turned out so well, I’m pretty sure that soon I’ll be speaking with an Italian accent. At nearly 400 pages, this oversized book contains hundreds more of what appear to be fantastic recipes. I can’t wait to test them. This cookbook has all the earmarks of a great gift. It’s beautiful, quite hefty and written in an engaging, fun style. $26.

Additions to this gift basket could be a salad set of a bowl, vinegar cruet and oil dispenser. A garlic press that crushes fresh garlic would be a great addition along with a bottle of good extra virgin olive oil. Finish your Italian gift basket with a set of beautiful pasta bowls.

HOME CHEF GIFT BASKET

“How to Cook Without a Book,” by Pam Anderson (Broadway Books, 2000). You know how much I love “Chopped,” the Food Channel show, right? This book is helping to build my confidence in looking at a pile of ingredients and figuring out what to do with them, without a specific recipe. Would you believe I now know how to make Pad Thai sauce by heart? I do, and so much more! I just adore this book and study it all the time.

So don’t ask to borrow it. You need your own copy!

In a gift basket built around this “uncookbook,” I would add a nice balloon whisk, a set of bamboo kitchen spoons and spatulas, a nice pair of good kitchen shears, a nice big stainless steel colander and a Visalia Chop Wizard — my favorite onion and vegetable chopping tool.

ARTISAN BREAD GIFT BASKET

“The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013). I might as well be the president of the Artisan-in-Five fan club for how this book and the method have changed my life. It does require a few strategic pieces of equipment. Take care to add the following four items to your gift basket:

A wooden pizza peel, an oven thermometer, a dough-rising bucket or other 6-quart container with a lid and a baking stone are must-haves for baking artisan bread at home. All four items arranged together with the book in a big basket is sure to delight!

CAST IRON SKILLET GIFT BASKET

“The New Cast Iron Skillet Cook Book: 150 Fresh Ideas for America’s Favorite Pan,” by Ellen Brown (Sterling Epicure, 2014). Oh my, how many ways can I thank Ellen Brown for writing this thorough, beautiful book? It is a cookbook, but it’s more than that. It is a how-to book for every possible question and instruction for owning, maintaining and cooking in cast iron. It is an art, and a lovely activity, too. My cast iron skillet is 40 years old. It was part of a set and a cheap set at that. It is the only piece that survived my brutality and abuse. Thanks to Ellen, my skillet has been totally restored. I’ve followed her precise instructions and could not be happier. I am pretty sure I’ve now built up 1,000 layers of seasoning. It glistens, it is so beautiful. And oh, the recipes in this book!

Making a gift of this book, plus four strategic items is to give a gift that will be so enjoyed. Items to care for cast iron include a natural bristle brush, flax seed oil (it may be challenging to find, but so worth the effort, as this is the best oil for cast iron), a scrubbing tool called a “Ringer,” (looks like a piece of chainmail and just the coolest thing ever) plus what else? A lovely cast iron skillet. I suggest you look for a Utopia 12.5-inch skillet. At around $20, it’s a great deal and fabulous piece of kitchen wizardry.

As for Jones’ other mention in that quote, I am so happy that you are one of the people I’ve met in the past five years. Thank you for being in my life and for being such a loyal reader.