A cookbook for working mothers as practical and useful as Desperation Dinners don't come along often. Born of the life experience of two bright working women, Desperation Dinners shares what Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross learned the hard way about getting a family meal on the table at the edge of the dinner hour. Beverly Mills invented the term for home-built fast food seven years ago when she was six months pregnant with her second child. She was also the editor responsible for putting out the Miami Herald's food column, "plastering the refrigerator door with menus from take-out joints . . . a culinary professional by day, by night, a wreck." Her friend Alicia Ross, "a journalist and naturally gifted cook," also mom to small children, credits Beverly with the Desperation Dinner idea they developed. No question these gals can cook, but better than that, they're realistic. Like many these days, Sills and Ross don't have the luxury of chopping stuff up for mom's meat loaf at 3:30 or 4:00 p.m., popping it in the oven with scratch-made scalloped potatoes, taking the kids for a walk around the block before shelling the peas. In reality they pick up kids, arrive home with hungry mouths (including their own) to feed pronto. They also know that no speedy meal system will work if families won't eat what gets cooked.

Desperation Dinners makes five promises to readers: 1) "These recipes are not hard" (peeling and chopping are at a minimum). 2) "Our recipes can be made without expensive equipment" (sharp knives and decent skillets are basic though). 3) "These recipes don't lie" (20 minutes really means 20 minutes). 4) "This book can transform you into a 20 minute cook" (but you have to move fast and plan ahead). And finally, 5) "These recipes taste good." Employing a combination of preprocessed foods and fresh ingredients, the recipes offer 21 soups, 18 stews, 33 skillet meals (things like "Lazy Lo Mein" and "Skillet Jambalaya"), and over 40 pasta recipes. An intriguing category, Food on Bread, includes tacos and Hungarian goulash on rye. Breakfast for Dinner features omelets and frittatas. Salads appear in a chapter on Quick Sides. The authors scatter practical advice throughout the book and include great sections on stuff to keep on hand, how to store things for fast retrieval, and how to manage a Desperate Week with leftovers.

Desperate Dinners fills a slot in the twilight zone between Martha Stewart and McDonald's. Working householders of either sex are likely to be spotting up its pages with tomato sauce for a good many years to come.

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