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$3 Meals in Minutes:
Delicious Low-Cost Dishes for Your Family that Can Be Prepared in No Time!
By Ellen Brown
ISBN: 1599218224
Publisher: Lyons Press
Publication date: August 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
Number of recipes: 250+
List price: $14.95
Type: General: Low-cost; quick
Sample recipe: Asian Chicken Salad
Intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
Apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive encyclopedia coffee-table
Meal part: all breakfast/brunch lunch dinner dessert
Competition: outclassed a bit behind in the pack strong challenger likely champ
Variety: too little too much unusual nice mix just right
Practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% ≥80%
# of ingredients: ≤4 ≤7 ≤10 ≤12 >12
Ingredient hunt: airfare required online specialty store supermarket pantry
Recipe complexity: too hard simple medium challenging professional
Instructions: inadequate verbose minimal complete educational
Time conscious: not conscious bald lies white lies realistic scout's honor
Cooking time: weekend project takes all day takes time ≥30 minutes <30 minutes
Added info: zip overwhelming scant ample generous
Photos/drawings: none drawings b&w photos occasional color all color
Recipe results: ≤dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
Nutritional info: none overwhelming hit or miss adequate comprehensive
Format/Ease of Use
Layout: ugh cluttered fine kind work of art
Legibility: unpleasant challenging ok clear brilliant
Production quality: cheesy delicate years of service gift quality stunning
Page numbers: hard-to-find spotty sufficient most pages every page
Table of contents: missing frustrating minimal helpful excellent
Index: none confusing adequate nice a treasure
Page flipping: upsetting tedious acceptable rare never
Writing history: beginner writer/journalist food writer writing cook personality
Cooking heritage: unknown self-taught teacher chef celebrity
Fulfills ambitions: falls short satisfactory successful exceeds home run
Flavor delivered: sad inconsistent tasty delicious exceptional
Overall tone: sterile trying too hard straightforward good friend mom
Value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money a deal
Overall rating: skip it good very good excellent Ochef Top 100

Comments: Where in life are there not compromises? In cooking/eating, we see at least the following components: cost, ingredients, time, flavor, nutrition, convenience. Almost always, one comes at the expense of another.

If you buy convenience foods, the cost goes up and the amount of time involved, the quality of the ingredients, and the flavor generally goes down. If you use fresh ingredients, flavor and cooking time go up, while convenience is sacrificed. Plug in any of the other components and see how they affect others.

Well, $3 Meals in Minutes promises everything, even though it is an impossibility.

It provides lots of recipes (most of which look fine; some a little, um, unusual (Spicy Garbanzo Bean and Kale Stew, for example)), and promises that they are delicious, inexpensive, and go together like the wind. Well, they may go together like the wind, but that is only after you've prepared all the ingredients – and 2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken and 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, and diced, do not appear out of thin air, and Napa cabbage does not rinse, dry, and shred itself. Some of these recipes involve more than 15 ingredients, and in some cases, you have to actively prepare 4 or 5 of them, before you get to the 15 minutes of assembling the dish.

Recipes fall into inherently speedy categories – salads, sandwiches/wraps, pastas, stir-fries and sautés, skillet suppers, casseroles and dishes baked in the oven. The book ends with dessert recipes that should cost not more than $1 per person.

Almost every meal in the book serves 4 to 6 people, no matter what volume of ingredients goes into it. Does that mean we should allocate $12 to the dish or $18? That's a pretty big difference. Our estimate is that most dishes serve 4 amply. If you're serving six, they had better be fairly dainty eaters. We also think you'd have to be a pretty aggressive shopper/pretty stingy server to bring most of the desserts in at $1 per serving. The book has a section on shopping with coupons and lots of other information, some of which you will find useful and some of which you may not.

It's a fine cookbook – may be really good for some people. We like very much that it is almost all cooking from scratch. We would much rather that you cook dinner for your family instead of heading out for fast food. You will spend less on groceries if you cook and serve these meals. We just get really tired of books that promise everything, when it is impossible to deliver everything.


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