Can you grocery shop for a three-course dinner and still use the express check-out lane? You can with these two books as your guide!
Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only 3 Ingredients, by Rozanne Gold (Viking 1996, $22.95), contains over 250 recipes from appetizers through desserts. Simplicity can be better when it comes to the senses, the author says, equating her meals to a chamber orchestra or a haiku.
Gold notes, however, that this book is not necessarily about fast food nor exclusively quick-and-easy. While some recipes are ready in minutes (try the salmon baked in grape leaves or the garlic and oil spaghetti), many recipes take over an hour to cook. Actually preparation time, however, is usually minimal. Somehow I assumed that recipes with three ingredients would be ready in a snap. And certainly not all of it is "everyday" food, either. Who's going to "encircle seared sea scallops on sweet pea puree with pearls of peas" before scarfing them down in front of Seinfeld? For that candlelight dinner for two, however, the scallops would make a quick and delicious offering.
Fabulous Foods has lots of nice extras. Thoughtful sections list recipes by category and by fat-free, low-fat, and low-cal. One gripe: page numbers would have been helpful for these sections, eliminating the need to cross-reference to the index. Other sections discuss wine, suggest menus using what's fresh and available during different seasons, and list sources for harder-to-find ingredients. Each recipe also has a side-bar of "add-ons". These are special touches that go beyond the promised three ingredients (but make a nice presentation or extra boost of flavor), and most include a "Grapenote," a suggested beverage, which may or may not be wine.
The book features colorful, luscious photos - which I always find helpful in knowing how the finished product is supposed to look. But here, too, captions and page numbers would have been useful.
If simplicity is what you want, and you want it now, try The 5 in 10 Cookbook: 5 Ingredients in 10 Minutes or Less, by Paula Hamilton (Hearst Books, 1993, $15). In binder style with no photos, this collection is not as attractive as Recipes 1-2-3, but also covers appetizers through desserts. Instructions are concise and easy to follow, usually comprising only three steps. It's a great beginners book.
5 in 10 offers some family friendly fare, such as a quick mac-and-cheese, and "taco" soup, but can get sophisticated, too. I liked the apple crunch salad with jicama and fennel, pears add an interesting flavor to spinach soup, and who'd guess that delicious, inventive mango corn muffins could be ready in about 15 minutes, start-to-finish!
By Amy E. Manczak