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Rachael Ray: 30-Minute Meals 2


Hey, Rachael Ray can cook!

After the mess that was 30-Minute Get Real Meals , I figured I should give Rachael Ray another chance. She's an extremely popular cookbook author, and I assumed that she must be more successful when she's cooking in her own element, rather than according to a marketing plan.

Happily, 30-Minute Meals 2 is a better cookbook than 30-Minute Get Real Meals . Rachael Ray is cooking real food here, not a fad or trendy diet, and this book can be, at times, a handy tool. Some recipes are excellent, while others are downright weird.

The book is set up in a menu format, usually consisting of Main Dish, Side Dish, Dessert. This makes it easy to throw together a dinner, since the question "What should I serve with this?" is already answered. For example, Ray serves Rio Grande Spice Rub Strip Steaks with Cracked Corn and Cheese Squares and Mexican Fiesta Salad. Or Ravioli Vegetable 'Lasagna' with Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette and Fresh Oranges with Lime Sorbet. It would also be easy to mix and match main dishes with side dishes -- the Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette would also pair nicely with Chicken Picatta Pasta Toss.

Rachael Ray is most successful in 30-Minute Meals 2 when she's cooking Italian-style food. When she steps away from her familiar cuisine, things can get strange. For simple meals like grilled steak, she's fine. But when she gets way outside her comfort zone, the recipes really don't work. Prime example: Ray's got a section of the book called "Make Your Own Take-Out." She encourages cooks to make their own versions of popular take-out foods, saying "In as much time as it takes to wait for the pizza guy or to drive to the local Chinese take-out, you can make your own, and be sure that the food is fresh and reasonably good for you by controlling the quality of ingredients, especially the salt and fat content."

Which sounds great, but what if your home-made take-out doesn't taste anything like the real thing? Both of the Indian-style recipes in this book are failures. Neither one comes close to tasting like Indian food. And the majority of the Make-Your-Own Take-Out recipes are burgers. I don't know about you, but assembling ground turkey/salmon/mushrooms/beef/etc. into patties and throwing it on a grill doesn't sound like something I'm likely to do when my first impulse is to ring up for pizza delivery, you know?

The Italian recipes fared much better in my tests. Without fail, they were tasty and pretty easy to prepare. I would make most of them again. Ray has a very good feel around Italian ingredients and methods, so the recipes are easy to follow and the flavors are strong.

The book suffers from an excess of "aw-shucks" cutesiness. I've gathered, from watching her in a couple of episodes of "$40 a Day," that that's her TV persona. And it seems to be working for her, so she's clearly got no motivation to mess with success. The perkiness can grate on the reader, however. The book's introduction is particularly annoying, containing a lot of "I'm so lucky" blathering from Ray, and a goofy Q&A (sample question: "Is Bobby Flay really hot in person?" Answer: "Yes!" Ooookay. If you say so...)

One of the Q&A questions asks if these are really 30-Minute meals, and her answer, simply, is "Yup." Which...not so much. Just as with 30-Minute Get Real Meals , I found that most of the recipes in 30-Minute Meals 2 took longer than thirty minutes to prepare. Some of them took up to an hour. Given that the "30-Minute" promise is Rachael Ray's big selling point, I find it disingenuous to claim breezily that every meal in this book can be prepared that quickly. They simply can't.



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