Icing on the Cake

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I’m not doing a particularly good job of keeping track of which things I’ve written about in response to a comment and which were a post, so at the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to mention the More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.

The book was originally commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee in the early 1970s as a response to global food shortages and related geopolitical issues. According to the book’s preface,

…MCC has asked each constituent household to look at its lifestyle, particularly food habits. Noting the relationship between North American overconsumption and world need, a goal has ben set to eat and spend 10 percent less.

In Mennonite communities across North America, people are responding with a kind of holy frustration. “We want to use less,” they say. “How do we begin? How do we maintain motivation in our affluent society? How do we help each other?” From questions like these the idea of compiling a cookbook was born.

The book was re-issued in 2000 as a 25th Anniversary Edition, which is the version I have.

If you’re opposed to overtly Christian messages, you’ll probably want to skip the intro sections, and you might want to skip the book altogether.

As I mentioned, I’ve been doing some research in preparation for my next project, and as part of that, I decided to take another look at the introductory sections of More-with-Less, which I had glanced at when I first got the book but hadn’t spent much time with. Some of it is a bit dated, but still has some useful stuff. And I also ran across the following, which I thought was interesting:

Here is an example of how rising affluence over the years changes our kitchen habits. My grandmother iced cakes only for birthdays. My mother iced most of her cakes, but thinly and only between the layers and on top — not on the sides. Until recently, I stirred up an ample bowlful of frosting that covered everything and left plenty of finger-lickin’s.

The Mennonites have a big missionary program, so many of the recipes are based on food from other cultures, where meat is a much smaller part of the diet. Also most of the recipes are quite flexible, almost suggestions more than recipes, with a variety of options depending on what’s in season or what’s cheap.

I frequently use the book for ideas, but I don’t necessarily follow the recipes exactly. And it seems like that’s actually how it was designed to be used. I don’t know how someone without much experience would do with it, if it would be overwhelming or if it would still be useful. But for experienced cooks, it’s a good resource.

I started thinking of it as the Something-from-Nothing Cookbook after finding a few things when cleaning out the freezer and debating whether to keep them or toss them and I decided to look in More-with-Less to see if there were any ideas. I found a recipe for chicken-cheese casserole that looked pretty good, and ended up getting 3 or 4 really good meals out of this tiny amount of food that hardly seemed worth saving. It was like the loaves and fishes, I swear.

So if any of you run across any leftover turkey or mushrooms in your freezer that hardly seem worth saving, here’s the recipe for Chicken Cheese Casserole. Give it a shot. (And feel free to adjust proportions based on what you have available and how much you need.)

Chicken Cheese Casserole

Cook and drain according to package directions
3/4 lb noodles

Saute in a skillet
5 T margarine (or butter)
1 small onion, chopped
3 T. chopped green pepper
1/ 2 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)

5 T flour

Cook and stir until bubbly.

1-1/2 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp dry mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Cook, stirring until thickened.

white sauce
cooked noodles
3 c. cooked chicken or turkey

Put in greased casserole dish and top with
2/3 cup shredded cheese
buttered bread crumbs

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Mona Sauder, Wauseion, Ohio
Marjorie Geissinger, Zionsville, Pa

13 Responses to “Icing on the Cake”

  1. Have you heard of the Laurel’s Kitchen Cookbook? I found it very similar to the More-With-Less Cookbook except that it’s a vegetarian cookbook.

  2. Amy Says:

    I’m making myself nuts researching nutrition on the Internet. Last weekend I read all about the paleodiet, i.e. not eating foods our species didn’t eat for the first thousand years of our existence. Challenging.

    The above recipe appeals to me because I grew up eating creamed tunafish:-) I like a white sauce and I like casseroles. Thanks for posting.

  3. Astro Says:

    I’m not sure how useful it would be for a celiac and a vegetarian, but I will keep a look out for it in local used bookstores anyway. We have Mennonites near by, so who knows, maybe one will turn up.

    I did find Simply In Season via Amazon’s recommendations based purchases of More with Less though, and that one looks very interesting.

    Interesting looking book though, so thanks for the suggestion.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    I’m not sure how it would work for a celiac and a vegetarian, but a lot of the recipes are light on meat so I think the vegetarian part would be okay. Not sure about wheat. If you had gluten-free pasta, I think that would help. There are a fair amount of casseroles with noodles. But also a lot of rice-based things. It’s a bit heavy on dairy, lots of cheese and white sauces.

  5. lessisenough Says:

    I have The New Laurel’s Kitchen but it’s one of my least favorite cookbooks. I am also not a big fan of Deborah Madison, who I know lots of people love. I feel like both of them (Deborah Madison and Laurel Robertson) are sort of smug about vegetarianism, and Laurel’s Kitchen especially I find somewhat preachy. The vegetarian cookbook I like the most is Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons. It has great recipes and good general information about cooking grains and legumes etc., and is not designed to be specifically economical but many of the recipes can be made very cheaply. I’ve had that cookbook for more than 10 years, and almost everything I’ve made out of it has been really good.

  6. lessisenough Says:

    I know what you mean about reading different ideas on the internet and getting a little crazy. Before I start my next project, i’m going to do a nutrition overview where I’m going to talk about the various ideas (USDA food pyramid, Paleolithic diet, Mediterranean diet, Atkins, Andrew Weill, etc.) and give some thoughts based on what I’ve read. So right now I’m doing the reading for that and look forward to putting it all together.

  7. Sharon Says:

    Another cookbook along the same lines is a followup to More with Less. It’s
    Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook by Joetta Handrich Schlabach. I found the insights into other cultures interesting as well.

    Other things that might be useful are some of the universal recipes in The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn and the vegan loaf generator

  8. Chicky Mama Says:

    I like More With Less, but LOVE their other cookbook, Extending the Table. It’s recipes from around the world, lots of interesting flavors, delicious and very cost effective.

  9. auntieintellectual Says:

    I love my “Simply in Season” cookbook, if only for the way it’s laid out. But goodness, those Mennonites certainly do love their cheese! I will have to look for the “Extending the Table” one, which I’ve not heard of before.

    How do you like the “Veganomicon?” Or Jeanne Lemlin’s books?

  10. lessisenough Says:

    Thanks for all the book and cookbook recommendations. And sorry for the delay in getting comments up from the new people, I was away from my computer for the weekend. (For the record, the blog is set to require approval the first time someone posts, and then put future posts up immediately. Unless you turn out to be a stealth spammer, in which case I’ll have to unapprove you and start over. Anything with a link needs to be approved first, even if you’ve posted before.)

    I’m definitely going to do a post about the Tightwad Gazette “universal” recipes, which are great, and also something about another book I like called How to Cook Without a Book.

    So look for those after I’ve built up some more energy for writing.

  11. Gail D Says:

    I’ve had my copy of the More with Less cookbook since the late 70s. It was so thoughtful in its presentation of why and how it was important to eat more frugally that I almost became a “cookbook convert” to the Mennonites.

    Also a thoughtful book (not specific to cooking and recipes only), and perhaps a little harder to find–is Living More With Less by the same author, completed by others after she died at an early age.

  12. Jeff D Says:

    I haven’t seen How to Cook Without a Book, but Fine Cooking (my favorite cooking magazine) has a Cooking Without Recipes feature that I’ve found fun and useful (it’s helped me start to feel like a real cook). It sounds like it’s in the same spirit and may bear mention.

  13. Bec Says:

    I just made something from the dregs of the refrigerator – it feels good to use things up. Thanks for the recipe.

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