The $10 Gourmet: Restaurant Quality Meals That Won’t Break Your Budget
By Ken Kostick
Published by Whitecap Books 2009, softcover, $24.95; 177 pages

I’m always a little fearful of cookbooks that try to squeeze themselves into a corner with a promise — a hard-and-fast time line, a limited number of ingredients, or in this case, a dollar figure.

Such gimmicks — and, really, that’s what they are — do have great appeal at first, but they lose their lustre because, for whatever reason, they don’t hold up in the real world.

Today’s obsession is the economy and we’re all pulling in our shopping horns, buying less of everything, cutting out what really isn’t necessary.

Everybody’s got to eat though, but going out to eat on a regular basis is no longer an affordable reality for a lot of us. That’s why celebrity chef Ken Kostick’s latest book has such great appeal. The idea of cooking up your own restaurant-quality meals at home for $10 or less means you don’t have to give up fine dining. You just have to be more resourceful about it.

But that $10 figure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be because once you get inside the book, several niggling little problems raise their heads. One is that all the recipes are intended to feed only two people, not four, which — unless stated otherwise in bold letters on the cover — is the standard for most recipes today.

The other is that each recipe in the book includes a shopping list with actual prices, right down to the penny. Kostick lives — and presumably grocery shops — in Toronto and those food prices aren’t going to be the same from St. John’s to Sooke. So why even bother to straightjacket yourself with a dollar figure.

I also find some of the ingredient amounts he calls for confusing. Instead of telling us exactly how much (in ounces or grams) chorizo we need in a particular recipe, for example, he states “1 chorizo sausage” (at a cost of 60 cents each, by the way; find me that butcher! I usually pay $1.98 each for admittedly good-sized specimens at my grocery store). Chorizo sausages come in various sizes, so it would have been clearer to have the weight spelled out. As well, calling for “2 cups (500 mL) mixed seafood” is somewhat confounding, since seafood is normally done according to weight, not liquid volume. Thus it’s not clear if he means 500 grams, which is about one pound, or 2 cups, a measure not normally used with seafood.

In any case, Kostick’s many fans no doubt will see this as a lot nitpicking, which may be true. But this is a recipe book so you should know what you’re in for. Here’s recipe that’s pretty straightforward, a good dish for a relaxing evening around the fire on a drizzly night. Replace the leek with 3 cups chopped spinach, if you like, Kostick suggests.

FUSILLI WITH PROSCIUTTO & LEEKS

1 lb. fusilli
2 tbsps. olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
12-14 prosciutto slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 leek, cleaned and cut lengthwise into thin slices
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsps. balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in large saucepan. Sauté carrot, celery, onion and garlic for about 2 minutes. Add prosciutto. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except for parsley and Parmesan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer sauce for 10-12 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by half.

Drain pasta and return to the pot. Add sauce and toss to coat. Add parsley and Parmesan. Toss. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

From The $10 Gourmet