Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fast & Frugal Cookbook Book Review

I want to feed my family healthy foods.  I am on a budget.  And I don't have an hour a day to spend on dinner.  It seems that these three factors - health, money, and time - always play against each other.  You can have quick and cheap, but it won't be healthy.  Or you can have healthy and from scratch (therefore cheap), but it will take a while.  It's hard to find a good book that gives you all three.  Dawn Hall's Busy People's Fast and Frugal Cookbook tries hard to do a stellar job with all three categories, and ends up doing passably well.  Which is often good enough for me.

The cookbook is arranged into chapters like any other cookbook: Breakfast and Brunch, Salads, Main Meals, etc.  But what I really liked about it is that each chapter is sub-divided into parts, arranged by how long each thing takes to cook, start to finish: 10 minutes or less, 15 minutes or less, 20 minutes or less, 30 minutes or less.  Brilliant!  Each meal (or dish) also only has seven or fewer ingredients, and they are all normal things that normal people have already or can easily find.  Again, brilliant.

Most of the dishes I made from this cookbook earned 1.5 to 2 thumbs up.  By far the winner was the Chicken and White Bean Chowder, which was so good it was would be worth buying the book for.  Yum!

And all the recipes took the amount of time she says they will take.  One of my favorite parts of this cookbook is that she gives meal ideas with times.  For example, on the Ham with Honeydew Chutney, the page reads: 20 min before the meal, make the cheesy triangles according to the directions, but do not bake.  10 min before the meal, make the green beans and potatoes according to the directions.  5 min before the meal, bake the cheesy triangles...  You get the idea.  It's a nice play-by-play.  And it includes grocery lists (which I never use, but some people do, I guess).

Now the downside: I'm not sure I'd call the meals particularly healthy.  Better than convenience food, sure.  Better than fat-full recipes, yes.  But much of the food called for is canned rather than fresh, cooked in the microwave, etc.  And all (I think) of the desserts call for the use of Splenda instead of sugar, which isn't healthy either.  You can substitute for healthier options, but then you add more time and expense.  It's a vicious cycle.  One final downer: there are no indications with each recipe as to how many people it serves.  You just have to guess, or make it yourself and write that in the margins.

Overall, this cookbook is handy to have.  Lots of quick meal ideas, and very tasty ones mixed in with passable ones.  Does it live up to its promises?  Not exactly.  I give it three and a half stars. 

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