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Desperation Dinners Paperback – Bargain Price, January 10, 1997

4.6 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, January 10, 1997
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Written by two working moms with four kids between them, Desperation Dinners! fulfills its promise to supply you with more than 250 recipes that can be made from start to finish in 20 minutes. With the help of Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, you can serve up appealing and nutritious home-cooked meals on nights when that might seem impossible. There are meaty dishes (Fiery Chinese Beef) and meatless ones (Very Vegetarian Chili), as well as Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Cream for pasta-lovers, and even Magic Brownies for those with a sweet tooth.

The authors' technique, which calls for using convenience foods (canned, frozen, boxed, bagged, or jarred), is based on the idea that the time saved justifies extra cost and sacrificed quality. Their Desperation Pantry includes staples such as canned beans and broth, along with onion powder, frozen lemon juice, pre-shredded cheeses, and produce that is ready to use, such as chopped garlic and sections of citrus fruit. This is not great cooking, but the meals will rescue families from a surfeit of fast food and boxed-pasta dinners.


Mills and Ross set out to share their solution to preparing meals when working moms come home tired and in no mood to start fussing over the family dinner. All separately employed cooks face this dilemma, and Mills admits to feeling panic at the situation even though she is a newspaper food editor. The authors' prudent first line of defense is a well-stocked pantry, which makes daily trips to the grocery store superfluous. But their cooking thoughtfully avoids using merely prepackaged foods loaded with preservatives and commonplace flavors. Mills and Ross instead recommend combining fresh, frozen, and canned items to produce foods dominated by the cook's personality and taste. Thus, a bit of freshly chopped onion and garlic and additional herbs enliven jejune bottled spaghetti sauce. The imaginative cook will find inspiration here to follow in Mills' and Ross' footsteps. -- Mark Knoblauch, Booklist

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (January 10, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076110481X
  • ASIN: B001O9CD4W
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,636,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Mountford TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 10, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I admit that I was skeptical when I purchased this book. I was expecting yet another book full of "canned" recipes -- you know the type: a can of this, a can of that, few fresh ingredients. Boy, was *I* surprised!

While the book does take advantage of convenience foods -- pre-chopped veggies, frozen chopped onions, etc. -- it uses mostly fresh vegetables, meats, and readily available herbs, spices, and condiments. I've made several recipes from this book and haven't had a problem yet. My first was the cream of wild mushroom soup -- a heavenly silky concoction made with several varieties of mushrooms that reminded me a soup I'd eaten in an excellent Swedish restaurant some years ago. Outstanding!

And the authors are true to their word -- if you follow the directions, you'll complete each dish in 20 minutes or less. You'll keep busy for those 20 minutes, but you WILL finish. Each recipe is marked to let you know if you need to pre-heat the oven, boil water, etc. -- which aren't usually included in the 20 minutes.

As a cookbook collector, I purchased Desperation Dinners as another example of "quick and easy" cuisine. It's now on my "most used" shelf!

August 2007: It's now six years later since I wrote that review above, and this is STILL my most-used cookbook. I have over 2500 books in my cookbook collection, but this is the one I reach for first. I've made probably 30-40% of the recipes in the book, but I still have my favorites (that cream of mushroom soup, for instance). If you're looking for down-to-earth recipes that use everyday ingredients, but use them in creative ways, this is the book for you. Seriously. It's worth the investment.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book about a year ago and it is so well-worn I think I might need to buy a new one soon!
While I kinda like to think of myself as a "gourmet" cook, many nights I just don't have the energy, motivation, ingredients, etc. to even THINK about dinner, much less make it. That's where this book is indispensible. In 20 minutes or less -- no lie-- I can make a very tasty, filling meal, using pretty much what I've got in the cupboards (maybe with a short trip to the grocery to pick up a couple of fresh ingredients).
Now, I agree with one of the reviewers who said that these recipes are kinda bland. Many of them are. Mills and Ross certainly don't impress us with their cultured palate, and in some instances (for example, their Fiery Chinese Beef, or should I say, Fiery Chinese "Blech!") their use of spices is just plain wrong. But fortunately, they don't go astray too often and if you have a rudimentary grasp of salt, pepper & semi-exotic seasonings like curry powder, dijon mustard, "fresh" (bottled) ginger, etc. you can easily flavor these dishes to your taste w/ wonderful success.
Many of the recipes keep you moving, but some of them are so amazingly simple I wonder why the heck I didn't think of them on my own (the Shrimp Dijon and Honey Mustard Porkchops come to mind here: just slather & cook; served over rice these dishes are delicious). There are great recipes for gazpacho, shepherd's pie, chicken fingers parmesan, spaghetti w/ clam sauce, golden fried fish fillets and an interesting bunch of recipes for the grill, too. Along with the meals, Mills & Ross provide lots of simple recipes for delicious sauces, salsas, vinaigrettes, you name it.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book on the recommendation of a friend that runs a cooking store. Wow! I'm always short on time and ideas, running for fast food when my brain goes numb - it always happens near 6 p.m. - well, this book stopped ALL that! Not to mention side effects I hadn't anticipated! The recipes are simple, full of flavor and healthy. I'm not saying this book is solely responsible, but my husband's cholesteral level dropped significantly and I lost 15 pounds. I normally have 5-7 people at the table each night - 3 generations - and this book has something for everyone. I'm giving it as my Christmas present to all my friends, making sure my daughter has a copy to take to college with her, and moving all my other cookbooks off the kitchen shelf. I even packed this book for our 2 week vacation at the beach. This is the one cookbook no cook (busy or otherwise) should be without!
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Format: Paperback
I agree with the other readers' sentiments in saying that this cookbook fast becomes an "old standby."
Using readily available ingredients, these recepies take only 20 minutes. (If you're using a mandoline slicer or food processor, you can assemble many of the recipes in a mere 15.)
While I do love to cook, I am often left with tons of leftovers, as I am a single twentysomething. The recipes in _Desperation Dinners_ are not only quick-cooking, but incredibly easy to scale. Therefore, I can enjoy good, fast home cooking without leaving tons of leftovers. Also, the side dishes make excellent one-person meals.
Additionally, this cookbook is great to have handy if you (like me) frequently have friends and family stop by unexpectedly. I just grab my copy of _Desperation Dinners_, go to one of my Post-It-Note-marked pages, and make something great. Guests always comment on my Martha Stewart-like way of whipping up something delightful whenever they knock on the door. (Little do they know that _Desperation Dinners_ is my secret weapon.)
Despite my words of praise, I have a few words of caution: 1.) Don't buy this book if you only like using fresh ingredients, as many of the recipies rely on bottled sauces and condiments. 2.) This is not the best cookbook choice if you're on a low-carb diet, as the meat and veggie-only options are minimal.
Regardless, this is a great cookbook! I highly recommend it.
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