For anyone who’s ever stared into their refrigerator at 6 PM after a long day at work and wondered what on earth they would eat for dinner, the appeal of planning ahead is undeniable. This book promises to provide strategies that will enable us to quickly produce a from-scratch meal at the end of the day. But reviews for this title were mixed, and many questioned whether the approaches presented actually did save time.
As far as the book’s format, several members liked the “tips” section at the front, which provided general information on storing and freezing foods, as well as strategies for prep and portioning. Everyone enjoyed the layout and the many photographs. This book is arranged according to the method of making ahead, rather than by the main ingredient, but most people felt this wasn’t a problem; and the index seemed comprehensive enough if you wanted to search by a specific item. Many commented on the overall wordiness of the headnotes in particular– but this is a hallmark of Cook’s Illustrated. Some love this feature; others can’t stand it. Some recipes seemed overly involved for what they were (one example is the chicken Marsala) and/or had needlessly complicated instructions. Some recipes would have been simpler if they were just made then and there, instead of trying to “do ahead.” But most people came away with a good idea or two for streamlining their meal prep, as well as a few new recipes– even if they never again made them ahead of time! One favorite time-saver: do as much prep as possible on the day you shop– chop onions, separate broccoli into florets, cut up chicken, etc. Then when it’s time to cook, you’re all ready to turn on the stove. And fewer knives and cutting boards to wash!
Group members tried lots of different recipes from this book. One reader tried the teriyaki steak tips, but found them “boring.” She also tried the baked ziti with Italian sausage and loved it, though another person found this same dish “greasy and bland.” Potato-leek soup was “better than expected– and very simple to make.” Chickpea patties were also easy and good, with a delicious sauce. Tortellini salad was deemed a winner, as was the panko-crusted cod, the chicken fingers (“awesome!”), and the beef and broccoli stir-fry. Others that proved less popular included the vegetarian black bean chili (the large amount of chili powder overwhelmed the dish), the beef tamale pie (“tasty but logistically difficult”), and the slow cooker turkey soup (it slow cooked for 10 hours and then you needed an additional hour to add and cook rice), which was just “OK.”
In general, if your work time is flexible or you get home on the earlier side, you may not need to do as much planning ahead as this book endorses; but if you are usually out all day every day until the dinner hour, you may find that some or all of the strategies in this title are helpful. It’s always good to have some new meal prep tricks up your sleeve!