22 June 2013

Weekend Cooking: Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals by Caroline Wright

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June is the season of weddings and graduation and the promise of summer fun. It's also a crazy time of buying gifts and trying to get meals on the table between work or camp and an evening game of backyard horseshoes. Caroline Wright's Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals (for 4 People) was published just in time to help you navigate these rough waters.

Before I tell you what's inside the covers, I encourage you to buy several copies: give some as gifts to graduates renting their first apartments on entry-level budgets; give others to newlyweds, who need a stock of go-to, easy dishes for weeknights and for entertaining; and keep one for yourself to add fresh new dishes to your repertoire without straining your wallet.

I love the small size and fun, bright design of Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals. The red-and-white theme is cheerful, and the yellow highlighting and cute "handwritten" margin notes make the cookbook fun to use.

I also love Caroline Wright's kitchen philosophy. Her nightly meals are less influenced by a weekly plan and more on transitory factors, such as what's on hand, what's fresh, what she has a craving for, and even the weather. Although she is a professionally trained cook, Wright's recipes have a foundation in her twenty-something days, when she might not have had much money but still liked to eat well and feed her friends.

She also believes a tasty, from-scratch, casual dinner can be made with a minimum of fuss and in about twenty minutes. To help you develop your skills, she offers plenty of tips for organization, pantry stocking, and substituting on the fly. All of the recipes serve four people, and all (except the desserts) can stand as a one-dish main meal, rounded out with a little something like a salad, bread, or cheese.

Each recipe has a full-page color photo of the finished dish, which I know is welcome news for many of you. In addition, Wright includes ideas for variations and notes on ingredients, when needed. The recipes are written out in paragraph form, but all the ingredients are highlighted, so you can spot them at a glance. Even better news is that no special equipment or arcane chef skills are required. There is nothing intimidating about these dishes. In fact, some dishes are so simple a recipe is hardly needed, such as the traditional dessert of French bread, chocolate, and red wine and a simple dinner of linguine with fresh garlic sauce.

So if the meals are quick, inexpensive, and easy to make, what must they taste like? Well here's the thing, the flavors will bowl you over. The meals are based on classic combinations with good depth of flavor, and even the pickiest of eaters will readily dig in. You won't find unusual ingredients or hard to find spices. Even the fish recipes are accessible for everyone, calling for shrimp, salmon, catfish, and other common species.

Although vegans will find Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals difficult, vegetarians will discover plenty of meals to satisfy their tastes. There's even an entire vegetarian chapter, and only two recipes call for tofu.

In chapters ranging from salads and sandwiches to soups, pasta, and pizzas along with meats, eggs, and desserts, you'll find classic flavors as well as fresh, modern combinations. Here are just a few that caught my eye:
  • Spring Green Salad with Poached Chicken + Buttermilk Dressing
  • Red Lentil Soup with Browned Spice Butter
  • Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches with Fresh Aioli
  • Steak + Arugula Pizza
  • Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops with Grilled Peaches + Onions
  • Butternut Squash Curry with Bulgur
To tell you the truth, close to 98 percent of the recipes appealed to me, and I predict that this cookbook will be well worn and kitchen stained before too long

Caroline Wright's Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals is casual dining at its finest. Serve these meals on a busy weeknight, before or after a Saturday night movie, or for a lazy holiday brunch. Feeding your family and friends has never been so simple and stress free. I bet you anything, your guests will want a copy of this cookbook for their very own.

To the right is a scan of one of the recipes I tried (more or less). I used hot sausage, didn't have anchovies, and substituted chick-peas. I think Caroline Wright would have approved. [NB: Do not judge the quality of the cookbook by my poor scan. Click the image to enlarge.]

Workman Publishing, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780761174936,
Rating: A-
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright 2013 cbl for www.BethFishReads.com


rhapsodyinbooks 6/22/13, 7:08 AM  

I got one of these to give to my sister - perfect for a working single mom! (or even non-single mom!)

Tina 6/22/13, 7:23 AM  

Great tip about getting a copy for grads or newlyweds. Since I am making a trip to Barnes and Noble today I will look for it. Since I try and plan ahead there is usually a box in my closet with items I grab as future gifts. This could be one (or more) awaiting another graduate in the family.

Besides, who doesn't need some quick go-to recipes after a long day at work!

Hope you don't mind me posting/linking an older post here. Just grabbed that Bourdain book again while cleaning up.

(Diane) bookchickdi 6/22/13, 8:09 AM  

I picked up this book at BEA and it looks terrific. The recipes look very easy to make. I never thought about it as a graduation or wedding shower gift, but you are right it is perfect for that.

Beth S. 6/22/13, 8:23 AM  

I like the concept of this book. I'm definitely going to seek it out!

JoAnn 6/22/13, 8:24 AM  

Guess I'd better buy two! Twin A will be living in an off-campus apartment when she returns to college in the fall, but I want one for myself, too.

jama 6/22/13, 8:44 AM  

This review comes just in time -- I have several people in mind for whom this would make the perfect gift. Looks very handy and accessible. Thanks for the heads up!

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 6/22/13, 9:26 AM  

I'll have to check this one out. It has pretty much everything I like in a cookbook starting with photos for each dish and lots of veggie meals with not too much tofu.

Joy 6/22/13, 11:42 AM  

This looks useful. I'm a terribly slow cook, so I could really use some tips and recipes to speed things up!

Joy's Book Blog

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 6/22/13, 12:13 PM  

I love to give good cookbooks to new brides! Thanks for this review.

Cecelia 6/22/13, 3:06 PM  

Wow, this sounds like a great little cookbook and a fun gift idea, too! I'll be checking it out thanks to your sterling recommendation!

Ali 6/22/13, 3:30 PM  

This looks like the perfect book for me, since I'm always trying to throw together a healthy homemade dinner on very little time! I can't wait to get it and try out some of the recipes.

bermudaonion 6/22/13, 5:11 PM  

That looks like a winner! I love the way the recipe is written.

Sue Jackson 6/23/13, 11:46 AM  

Hmmmm...this looks like a good one, Beth! As you know, I don't use a lot of cookbooks, but this sounds intriguing to me. Though I don't think of $20 a meal as necessarily cheap, it is reasonable, and I love the focus on fresh ingredients and simplicity. And I am always looking for quick recipes because of my chronic illness - I can't always manage a lot of time in the kitchen, even though I enjoy cooking.

I jumped right up to print the recipe you scanned - I may try this tomorrow! We keep getting kale in our weekly CSA, and my kids aren't fond of it - but they love sausage and white beans. Italian sausage isn't their favorite (though I love it), so I may try some low-fat chicken andouille sausage in this recipe. Thanks for the inspiration!


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Laurie C 6/23/13, 1:48 PM  

I like the highlighted ingredients instead of the separate list at the top of the recipe! I would have thought that would make it easy to think you had all the ingredients when you didn't, but it actually does seem easy to scan the list of ingredients that way for shopping purposes and you don't have to refer back and forth for the measurements while cooking.

Gilion at Rose City Reader 6/23/13, 2:31 PM  

You are right -- it sounds like a great book for a graduation or wedding shower gift!

Daryl 6/24/13, 9:53 AM  

if only i cooked .. but this is going on the list none the less as i have a dear friend who would love it

Julie P. 6/24/13, 3:40 PM  

I was lucky enough to get this one at BEA. I need to pull it out since I don't have much time for food prep lately.

Sue Jackson 6/25/13, 7:28 PM  

Had to come back and let you know - I tried the Sausage, Bean & Kale recipe tonight and it was delicious! I used Andouille sausage because it's my son's favorite (he likes things spicy) and I added some sauteed spring onions from the farm at the beginning. Oh, and I lied and told the boys the green stuff was spinach - ha! I've added this one to my Tried and True list - thanks!


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Cecelia 6/26/13, 12:37 PM  

I tried the recipe last night (doubled) for a potluck with friends - it was delicious, and everyone was very impressed by the flavor, healthful ingredients, and simplicity (once I described how easy it was). A big hit! It's going into my regular rotation, and I've just requested that my local library acquire the cookbook for their collection.

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