I picked up my copy of The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook from a local antique mall. What drew me to this cookbook, besides the smart-shopper price tag ($2!), was the very specific audience that this book targets. The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook is written for the American homemaker in an era of energy crises and record inflation, the invariably female household manager tasked with maintaining a certain standard of living in the face of runaway food prices. From the Foreword:
With the cost of living continuing its upwards climb like a well-inflated balloon, and no relief is in sight, the average homemaker could burn out a computer (if she could afford to buy one, that is) just trying to find out how to keep her expenditures down. What makes her job doubly difficult is the fact that her family has developed champagne tastes over the past fat years, but Dad’s paycheck and those stock dividends are now on a beer level.
Author Loyta Wooding is uniquely qualified to help the homemaker in her predicament. Trained as a nutritionist, Mrs. Wooding had at different times in her career been both editorial manager for Betty Crocker Kitchens, and president of an international economic development consulting firm. The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook draws both on her home economics credentials and her sound and experienced financial knowledge. Despite a long and august career working outside the home, Mrs. Wooding makes no mention of working mothers. Her book is written for the full-time homemaker.
And yet there remains sound advice for the twenty-first century American family, where even if a parent remains home there is an increased sense of shared responsibility. I found the following particularly insightful:
Food costs are more flexible than any other household expenses. You can tighten the reins on your food bill when you need to, and let them out again when the difficult period is past. The trick is to know how to do this.
I have lived and practiced this principle unknowingly but never heard it put quite so succinctly. Mrs. Wooding then proceeds to lay out practical principles of budgeting, good shopping habits (“no market-hopping please! Find your favorite market and stick to it”), and planning affordable, nutritious meals. These practical and timeless principles are peppered with charmingly outdated advice for a successful shopping trip:
If the children are too young for school, by all means, take them along. They will intimidate you into purchasing a box of cereal … advertised on the inescapable TV, and this won’t be such a catastrophe, but a husband will absolutely ruin you… [W]ith a glazed eye, as unerring as a laser beam, he’ll pass over the neatly stacked displays of Specials and head straight for the porterhouse and beef tenderloin section. [L]ull him with a cold beer and a baseball game on TV, and just leave him behind.
There is similar advice against shopping with neighbors, who may pressure you into buying expensive items. Shopping expeditions are to be carried out with military precision and secrecy, to emerge the victor in the “Battle of the Budget”.
The tactical advice comprises the first fifty or so pages; the remainder of the book is recipes. For a book on budget cooking from the 1970s I was expecting a deluge of soup-drenched casseroles and pastas with ground meat, but this is not Mrs. Wooding’s style. The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook teaches you how to cook on a budget without looking like you’re cooking on a budget:
You’ve got to keep up appearances, no matter what, and never let the Joneses know that you’re stretching your food dollars… Never should there be even a soupçon of a hint that the Beef Wellington you served so proudly the other night was the Chuck Roast Special.
In my own family’s lean times we have cut back significantly on our meat consumption, but this would never do for Mrs. Wooding. There are a hundred and fifty pages dedicated to elegant meat entreés – nearly two thirds of the book. Mrs. Wooding believes that meat the “hub” of the meal and advises the homemaker to set aside a quarter of her food budget for meat. Her secret to budgeting is to avoid expensive cuts of meat. Why use steak when ground beef, eye round, or chuck roast can be used instead? Why buy six chicken legs when a chicken only has two? Use the whole chicken and pay half the price. Meals are dressed in sauces or preparations usually reserved for more expensive cuts, without using expensive ingredients. If you have leftover meat save it for salads or sandwiches. There is a short chapter on meatless dishes, with oddities such as Southern Peanut Loaf and a spaghettini-and-Velveeta casserole, but it’s clear that this isn’t where Mrs. Wooding’s heart is.
The budgeting principles are in many ways timeless (and perhaps axiomatic) but the recipes that were dollar-stretchers in the 1970s aren’t necessarily budget items in the twenty-first century. For example, there are dozens of recipes for lamb and veal which – when The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook was written – were plentiful and more reasonably priced. In the intervening decades lamb consumption has declined precipitously and veal has largely fallen out of vogue. Prices for lamb and veal have risen accordingly. When making Mrs. Wooding’s delicious Lamb Curry Tomato Soup the ground lamb was only marginally less expensive than a ribeye steak on special. The pendulum swings the other way as well. Favorable trade agreements have dramatically reduced prices for fresh vegetables and made certain delicacies more affordable and available year round. For example, Mrs. Wooding rails on the excesses of out-of-season avocados, but for the twenty-first century American shopper inexpensive high quality avocados are available from Mexico year round.
Mock-Steak Joubey is one of the more entertaining recipes in The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook. To some degree it captures the essence of the cookbook – making elegant meals with ground meat or inexpensive cuts – but very few of the recipes take that charge quite so literally. Mock-Steak Joubey actually fashions a ground meat patty to look like a steak – bone, fat cap, and all. That’s not the norm for The Smart Shopper’s Cookbook, but it’s too much fun not to show you here. I will admit that I haven’t got the faintest idea what a joubey is and Google isn’t any help. It’s delicious either way, a rose by any other name and all that.
Preparation is easy enough for a weeknight meal, thanks in large part to prepackaged seasonings and very little chopping. Beef and pork are mixed with the mid-70s dynamic duo of onion soup mix and pre-packaged stuffing, moistened with a little bit of Worcestershire and tomato sauce. Fashion it to look like a T-bone steak, add a couple of carrot sticks for “bones”, wrap it with bacon and slather it in a buttery steak sauce. From there you can bake the steak in the oven or, if you’re feeling adventuresome like I was, fire up the grill and get a nice char on it. No one’s going to be fooled but that’s not the point. This is a hearty and elegant dinner that no one’s going to complain about. I fed my family for under $20 and everyone walked away full and happy.
Getting the “steak” to stay pretty during the cook is pretty tricky. Of the six mock-steaks I made for my family only three made it through without losing their carrot-bones. Even if you can’t be bothered with the fancy art direction there’s still a great meatloaf recipe underneath. Instead of handforming steaks, make a meatloaf, top it with bacon, and slather it with the steak sauce while it’s baking.
Serve Mock-Steak Joubey with the same sides you’d serve with steak or meatloaf. Potatoes are a must, but this can take whatever form seems appropriate for your family and the weather. I cooked this for my family on a cool but sunny spring day and paired it with mashed potatoes (no gravy) and a simple green salad. In the winter it would have been mashed potatoes with gravy and probably some cooked carrots. Maybe mix it up with a potato salad in the summer. But you can’t really go wrong. This is a budget stretcher and a belly buster and not for the faint of heart. Enjoy!
For the mock-steaks:
- 2 lbs ground beef (80/20 is best)
- ½ lb ground pork
- 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 packet onion soup mix (such as Lipton brand)
- 2 cups stuffing mix (such as StoveTop brand)
- 8 carrot sticks
- 6 slices thick cut bacon
For the sauce:
- Prepare a medium hot grill or preheat the broiler in your oven.
To fashion the mock-steaks:
- Combine meat, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soup mix, and stuffing mix, Mix by hand until well-combined.
- Divide meat into roughly six equal portions and shape like T-bone steaks (or kind of like the African continent). Wrap steaks with bacon and secure with wooden toothpicks. Add carrot sticks for decoration where the bones in a T-bone steak would normally be.
To make the steak sauce:
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes until onion starts to sweat, then stir in remaining ingredients.
- Baste the top side with the steak sauce and place on the grill sauced-side down. Baste the backside of the steak with the sauce, then close or cover the grill. After 5-6 minutes flip the mock-steak carefully with a spatula. If you use tongs you'll lose your carrots. Cook another 6-10 minutes, covered, or until internal temperature reaches 165º F.
- Baste both sides of the steak with the steak sauce. Broil in the oven about 3 inches from the heat until top is nicely browned, then flip and broil the other side three minutes more. Reduce oven heat to 375º F and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165º F.
- Serve with remaining steak sauce.