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Dinner winners every time

Minutemeals _ 3 Ways to Dinner, edited by Evie Righter (Wiley, $13.95).

Family dinners have never been easier to plan thanks to the experts at the Web site www.allfood.com. One feature of the site, Minutemeals, has spawned this excellent planning cookbook.

Simple, home-cooked meals cooked and served in 20 minutes? That's what this book promises.

Chapters are divided into main dish ingredients such as poultry, seafood and meat. From there, each recipe includes a suggested menu complete with side dish and dessert. The menus aren't complicated, and many recipes use canned or prepared foods. There are more than 75 suggested menus. By mixing and matching entrees, side dishes and desserts, the possibilities are endless.

There are even more benefits to Minutemeals _ 3 Ways to Dinner. Every recipe offers a shopping list, an ingredient list and step-by-step preparation instructions. Many main dishes will have broad appeal, including barbecued chicken thighs, Louisiana po' boys, Micropoached Salmon with Summery Salsa, and Mexican tortilla pizzas. Desserts include Chocolate Fondue with Strawberries and Cake, Peach Pie a la Mode and Bittersweet Brownie Mousse. For those watching cholesterol or counting calories, nutritional information is provided for each recipe.

Minutemeals _ 3 Ways to Dinner is perfect for any skill level, although it is ideal for a novice or hurried cook.

Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years, by Greg Patent (Houghton Mifflin Co., $35).

Greg Patent has compiled more than 200 years of baking history in Baking in America. More than 250 traditional and contemporary recipes are included in this collection. Every type of sweet or savory baked good you can imagine is here: cakes, pies, breads, tarts, pastries, cookies and more.

Americans love sweets, and this cookbook is full of them. Breakfast options include Spanish buns, brioche, Moravian sugar cake, cinnamon raisin nut crisps and German puffs. These particular examples are yeast breads, which take more time and are among some of the more difficult recipes in the book.

Working with yeast can be tricky. The temperature of the liquid must be precise in order to proof the yeast. Less experienced cooks may not feel comfortable working with yeast, but there are plenty of other recipes to try in Baking in America.

Consider these recipes: ginger-macadamia nut pound cake, chewy butterscotch loaf, chocolate frosted coconut cupcakes, lemon cheesecake and poppy seed cake. Baking in America also includes traditional favorites such as Apple Brown Betty, Parker House rolls and pineapple upside-down cake. Contemporary standouts such as apple-plum crisp, raised potato doughnuts and malted milk chocolate cake are also featured.

Things not found in Baking in America are helpful tips and shortcuts. Instead, Patent has included historical tidbits from baking manufacturers, early baking cookbooks and anecdotes about things such as who put the scotch in butterscotch.

CookSmart: Perfect Recipes for Every Day, by Pam Anderson (Houghton Mifflin Co., $28).

Author Pam Anderson gives us a blueprint for "cooking smart" in CookSmart: Perfect Recipes for Every Day.

Cooking smart means reducing the time and effort that goes into making a dish while preserving its flavor. Anderson realizes that today's cooks are too busy to tolerate less than perfect results, so every recipe in this collection has been tested dozens of times.

Cooking smart also means making dishes the entire family will enjoy, such as oven-roasted ribs, roast beef tenderloin, and Chicken and Dumplings with Aromatic Vegetables. Side dishes and desserts include Flavorful Green Beans, Simple Scrumptious Caesar Salad, Baked Sweet Potatoes, Perfect Blueberry Pie, a chocolate cake that's got it all and Puffy Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies. Drawings showing techniques accompany some recipes.

Although these recipes may work well, you have to wade through a lot of text to get to them. The peanut butter cookie recipe has about three pages of text explaining how Anderson arrived at it before the final recipe is given.

With more than 300 pages, the majority of this cookbook is text. It would be better if more recipes were included.

The recipes that are included use readily available ingredients and are suitable for all skill levels. Many recipes, such as Vegetable Lasagna with Creamy Ricotta and Get Rich Quick Tomato Sauce, make a minimum of eight servings.

Ellen Folkman's cookbook review column appears monthly in the Taste section.

Bittersweet Brownie Mousse

{ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

{ cup heavy cream, chilled

1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or brewed coffee

4 brownies

In a small microwave safe bowl, place the chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of the cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir until the chips are melted. Let cool for a few minutes. Stir in the liqueur or coffee.

In chilled bowl, whip the remaining cream to stiff peaks with an electric mixer. Spoon the chocolate mixture over the whipped cream. Fold into cream until no streaks of white remain.

Cut the brownies into bite-sized pieces and place in 4 dessert dishes. Spoon the mousse over the brownies and refrigerate until serving.

Serves 4.

Source: Minutemeals _ 3 Ways to Dinner, edited by Evie Righter, Wiley, $13.95.

Very Lemon Cheesecake

Crust:

6 vanilla cream sandwich cookies

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

3 8-ounce packages Neufachatel cream cheese, at room temperature 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

\ cup cornstarch

\ teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

Finely grated zest of 3 lemons

{ cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the crust, adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform pan, detach the sides so the crumbs will brown evenly and set aside.

Put the cookies in a plastic bag with a zip top and crush with a rolling pin to make fine crumbs. Place the crumbs in a medium bowl and add the sugar and butter. Toss with a fork to combine well. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Set the bottom of the pan on the oven rack and bake for 8 minutes. Use a wide metal spatula to remove the crust from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool. Reduce heat to 300 degrees.

For the filling, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the condensed milk, and beat for 30 seconds more. Add the cornstarch and salt, and beat on low speed until smooth. On medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, beating just until each is thoroughly incorporated, 20 to 30 seconds. On low speed, beat in the lemon zest, juice and extract.

Reassemble the springform pan. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Place a square of aluminum foil, shiny side up, loosely over the top of the pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Turn the oven off, remove the foil and let the cake stand in the oven with the door closed for 1 hour longer. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then cover with a paper towel and refrigerate overnight.

To serve, run a small sharp knife around the edges of the cake and carefully remove the pan sides. Rinse a knife in hot water and shake off the excess water before making each cut.

Makes one 8-inch cheesecake, 8 to 10 servings.

Source: Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years by Greg Patent, Houghton Mifflin Co., $35.

The Best Oven Roasted Ribs

6 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons paprika

3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons garlic powder

Salt

{ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dijon or yellow mustard

2 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)

3 slabs pork spareribs or 4 slabs baby back ribs

Your favorite barbecue sauce

Adjust the oven rack to low position, remove remaining oven rack and heat oven to 250 degrees. Mix a dry rub of sugar, paprika, pepper, garlic powder and 1{ teaspoons salt in a small bowl. Mix mustard and liquid smoke, if using, in another small bowl. Lay the ribs directly on the removed oven rack and lightly sprinkle with salt. Brush both sides of each slab with mustard, then sprinkle both sides with the dry rub.

Line a jelly roll pan with a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, extending foil so it covers the oven rack.

Slide rack with ribs into upper-middle position and place foil-lined pan on lower oven rack, making sure foil covers rack. Roast ribs until fork tender, 2 to 3 hours for spareribs and 1{ to 2 hours for baby backs.

If coating the ribs with barbecue sauce, remove jelly-roll pan from oven and pour off excess fat. Transfer ribs to foil-lined pan, meat side down. Turn on broiler.

Brush ribs with half of sauce and broil until glaze bubbles vigorously. Turn ribs over, brush with remaining sauce and broil until glaze bubbles vigorously. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Cut slabs into individual ribs and serve.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: CookSmart: Perfect Recipes for Every Day by Pam Anderson, Houghton Mifflin Co., $28.

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