"Cooking 'Round the Clock: 30-Minute Meals," Rachael Ray

Pros: Easy, simple, delicious, whimsical
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 5/31/2005
Review book courtesy of Lake Isle Press

The last cookbook I reviewed nearly flash-fried my husband, so I was a little gun-shy when it came time to try the next one. Until, that is, I started looking through it. Then I was just hungry and raring to cook!

Rachael Ray hosts cooking shows on the Food Network, and she has authored a number of cookbooks. While I have neither seen her show nor read her other books, her personality shines through in this book. The book is written with a whimsical sense of humor and an almost childlike glee, yet at the same time it has a certain kind of elegance to it.

These are intended to be easy meals, but they by no means sacrifice quality for convenience. Ms. Ray has a wonderful sense for which corners you can cut and which you can’t. I always felt, when making recipes from this book, that she had picked exactly the right ingredients to substitute pre-packaged foods for–and exactly the right ones not to substitute.

For example, we’ve made two pasta salads from this cookbook. One was a pasta salad with a lemon-pesto dressing, and one was a spinach-artichoke pasta salad made with tortellini. Ms. Ray tells you to use a store-bought pesto for the former–it’s pretty easy to find a good-quality pesto in the store, after all. She has you use fresh spinach for the latter, though, because there simply isn’t a substitute. However, she does tell you to buy baby spinach, which tends to be in much better shape and takes much less sorting through–so you get to use fresh ingredients, but you still keep things quick and easy.

She also has a marvelous sense for balancing flavors. I sometimes find the flavor of pesto to be too heavy for my liking, but it’s just perfect when balanced with the tartness of lemon in the lemon-pesto dressing. Spinach isn’t my favorite leafy green vegetable, but when cut with artichoke and dried tomato it’s fantastic.

There’s a fruit soup in here that requires no cooking and no sugar, yet is just perfectly balanced and contains a medley of delicious flavors (it uses some fruit and some juice, so it’s quite easy to make). We tried two different tuna melts from this cookbook, and each was distinctly different and delicious. Whether you want seafood burgers, beef and broccoli salad, mixed greens with balsamic vinegar and strawberries, deviled egg salad on pumpernickel, scrambles with salmon and peas, or crunchy vanilla-almond French toast with fancy fruit topping, you’ll find it here.

The recipes are simple and easy to make. They often call for loose amounts such as “a handful” of frozen peas, but only in cases where it really is that simple–Ms. Ray doesn’t leave you hanging without a guide (and she usually gives both loose amounts for more experienced cooks and actual measurements for beginners).

Midnight snacks are often designed for one or two people, while meals are usually designed for four to six. Quite a few simple menus are provided. There are a few pretty color photos in the middle of the book, but otherwise no photos are provided. We found the foods to be quite colorful and attractive, by and large.

In short, I wholeheartedly recommend this cookbook. It’s a wonderful source of delicious food. The meals are satisfying without being loaded down with fat; toward the healthy end of the spectrum without being “diet food” in the pejorative sense. Plenty of extra-virgin olive oil (“evoo” as she calls it) gets used and a whole lot of colorful vegetables, and you won’t be hurting for such flavor-filled ingredients as sharp cheddar, bacon, and avocado. Myself, I can’t wait to try the toffee hot chocolate!

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Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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