Friday, September 08, 2006

Elegant Meals with Inexpensive Meats


Recently I was sitting around a table with several other food writers and editors, one who had written for women's magazines, one who was an editor at Sunset, a couple who had written for regional publications, etc. Though I have been primarily a web-based writer, these were my colleagues. So when a discussion ensued about our one favorite cookbook I have to admit I felt a bit embarrassed.

Sure. I have tons of cookbooks. Too many to count. But if I had to choose just one, the most important one, it's an easy call. It's a cookbook that has attained "classic" status in my family. It has timeless recipes, designed for the home cook. They use inexpensive and easily attainable ingredients. Everything in it is so good! I can easily say I have cooked more things from this one single cookbook than any other.

So why was I feeling so sheepish? Because it's a cookbook hardly anyone has ever heard of. A cookbook put out by Ortho, can you imagine that? Ortho, which was a garden chemical division of Chevron. And then of the course there is the title--Elegant Meals with Inexpensive Meats. Written in 1978 it is straight out of the recession era. Some of my favorite recipes are a honey roasted chicken, an Italian sausage and bean soup that tastes like chili, a Greek casserole with macaroni, ground beef and a bechamel sauce, a turkey drumstick soup, a recipe for pita with a lamb stuffing, and a chicken escarole soup with pasta also pumpkin muffins, lemon bars. But really, I could go on and on.

As my esteemed colleagues mentioned How to Cook Everything, On Food and Cooking and even Betty Crocker as their seminal texts, I waited for my turn. When I mentioned the book, a couple of people started laughing. I was joking, right? No I said. Really, I love this book. Everyone in my family has a copy. Well, said the prominent food consultant who had brought up the topic, Cynthia right here wrote it! And so it was that I came to know the author of my favorite cookbook.

While Elegant Meals with Inexpensive Meats was reprinted once by the California Culinary Academy, it is long out of print. But thanks to the internet you can still find used copies for a pittance. The reprint is exactly the same except for the cover design and the title, which was changed to Affordable Elegant Meals. And it turns out I'm not the only fan, back in February the Oregonian asked food writers which cookbooks they "cherish" and one of their columnists singles out the book as well. Get a copy and join my little club. Elegant Meals might end up your favorite book too.