Review: Just in Time!

Every Sunday, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.

Just in Time” isn’t Rachel’s newest book, but I thought I would review it because my mom had a copy laying around and its very colorful cover caught my eye – which I guess is the point of having a colorful cover. So good job with that Rach.

Before I dive into this let me preface by saying that Rachel Ray isn’t my favorite Food Network personality. That said, I tried to give the book a fair shot. I’m not going to rant on about all of the normal things people criticize her for: annoying abbreviations, raspy smoker voice, too cheerful to be genuine, etc. I’m going to focus on the book and the recipes.

Nor am I going to talk about how crazy it is that she has her own daytime talk show. I watched the show while reading her cookbook which led to total Rachel overload.

Wait. I take that back. I am going to talk about the show for just a moment to say that it is a lot better than most daytime talk shows. It isn’t trashy. She helps people. She cooks stuff. I wish I could make fun of it, but besides the already mentioned grating traits, the show isn’t half bad.

The Breakdown

This book is jam packed with recipes. By my count, there is an astounding 232 recipes in the book almost half of which are “30 minute” meals. To help digest all of these recipes, she organizes the book is various ways depending on what you are looking for.

There are chapters organized by type of food (sandwiches, soups, etc), but also at the beginning there is an index of every recipe organized by prep time. Each recipe is classified as either a 15, 30, or 60 minute meal. This breakdown is very helpful depending on what you need.

Inventive Stuff

This may have been the first time that I ever really examined some of Rachel Ray’s recipes, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the delicious things she came up with for this book. And while some of the dish names are a bit cheesy, I caught myself smiling a few times at the fun names.

Stuff like: Red, Wine, and Blue Burgers, Un-beet-lievable Pasta, Tomato, and Rocket Lettuce Salad, and Chicken Riggies and ‘Scarole with Soul.

Those are just three that caught my eye. There are some serious food combinations in this bad boy, most of which sound delicious.

Text Color Overload. For me this was the most frustrating thing about this book. The entire book is written in the colors of this paragraph. Every header is written in a nice orange hue, which is fine. But every single recipe is written in this almost fluorescent blue. I would read a recipe and then crave black lettering. It’s just too much. Bright blue is not the new black.

What’s That Dish?

In this large, very colorful book, there are only 8 photos of the food. It is almost like they didn’t want to put photos in the book so they thought that a very colorful font would work. I don’t think every cookbook needs a bunch of photos. Some books are more instructional, but photos would be nice if you are giving me 200 interesting new recipes.

Also, some of her recipes are so wild, I’m not even sure what they are supposed to look like. Carbonara Deep-Dish Pasta-Crusted Pan Pizza. You have got to be kidding me. I need a photo of that or I have absolutely no idea how that should look even if I read the bright blue explanation.

Time Crunch

I consider myself a slightly above average person when it comes to cooking and prepping dishes quickly. I’m by no means a professional chef. But you probably aren’t either. That in mind, I find it very difficult to believe some of the time estimates she puts on some of her dishes. Especially some of the 15 minute meals. If you include cleaning veggies, dicing, and cooking, there is just no way that a fair number of these can be done in 15 minutes.

Example? Sure thing. Shrimp with Tarragon Tomato Sauce which Rachel can apparently make in 15 minutes – start to finish. The prep alone requires:

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
6 white mushrooms, chopped
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined (this alone could take 5-10 minutes if you didn’t buy them this way)
6 tarragon sprigs, chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and halved.

So after you clean and prep all of that you have to cook the veggies for 8 minutes and the shrimp for 4. Oh. Also you have to mix the tomato sauce together and make garlic bread. Maybe Mario Batali on speed could do this in 15 minutes, but I can’t and I bet you can’t. Heck. I bet Rachel can’t.

This is not to say this dish doesn’t sound delicious. It definitely does, but I think her time estimates are a tiny bit flawed. I’d give myself more time than she estimates in most cases.

My Ultimate Frustration

I’m really frustrated with this book because the recipes sound so good. I just can’t wrap my head around why she thinks it is important to write in a bright color and use crazy abbreviations and underestimate the amount of time it takes to cook these guys. It’s a frustrating book because you have to work at it to find the recipes. To decode them. To imagine what they would look like. To even read the darn things.

In my very humble opinion, if the book was written in black with maybe 30 less recipes (sub in photos), then the recipes would shine. Because they are good recipes and if you can work around some of the other issues which bothered me, then you will be pleasantly surprised with the delicious food in this book.

4 comments on “Review: Just in Time!

  1. Hey man- check it out…

    I like your site, been following it for about 3 months now and I really dig your Cookbook reviews. But here’s the deal- and don’t mistake my tone as berating- cause I swear it’s not- Carbonara Deep-Dish Pasta-Crusted Pan Pizza is THE BOMB. And if you- or any of RR’s many, extremely vocal haters out there ever actually watched her first foodnetwork show,(30 minute meals) these recipes wouldn’t sound so unfamiliar or OMFG-what-the-heck-does-this-look-like?- because she’s made a whole bunch of them right in front of those of us who can GET PAST her annoying voice, and her need to talk incessantly.

    So I said all that to say this- I guess your review of her book didn’t suprise me- nice sounding recipes, just too many of them, and not enough pictures. Which just reiterates why all of these so called foodies or whatev get their panties in a wad when anyone praises RR- cause yeah, she’s not a trained chef, yeah she talks way too much, but along with all that- YEAH, SHE CAN COOK HER ASS OFF. So sorry that she isn’t as sexy as Nigella, as polished as Giada or as schooled as Alton or Mario- but hey- in the end, any complaints about her character can just be chunked into the petty BS bin. I’ve watched her cook it, I, myself have cooked it, and let me tell you a secret, my friend, Carbonara Deep-Dish Pasta-Crusted Pan Pizza is very very good. That being said- I’m sure you know I’m not just bemoaning this one recipe; there are so many more of her’s that are equally unappreciated and/or unknown because nobody is willing to cut her some slack. I just got excited when I saw you mention that one, cause it’s one of my all time fav’s. You should make it, and post it!! You would be my personal hero!!

    If you need a picture, check out this link

    Also, if you need further detail, that awesome guy with the beard has a very similar recipe, although he calls it Pasttata. Check it:

    Once again- sorry if I sound like a beeyotch- I swear I’m really not- and I love your site. Macheesmo!!!

  2. Natalie: I do not think you are a “beeyotch” ;)

    The photos definitely help and thanks for the link to the Pasttata. I love the food in my beard… maybe because I have a beard?

    For some reason RR does cause some debate and I think it is because at the end of the day her recipes are really good. Some people, myself included, just can’t get past certain traits.

    Expect a Macheesmo Carbonara Deep-dish pasta-crusted pan pizza in the very near future…

  3. HECK YES!

    ‘Cept you should come up with a new, macheesmo name for it- cause I’m not copying and pasting that stupid, nine word thing again. That sucka is Long-

    But you know RR- finding new and more annoying ways to talk a whole bunch without really saying anything. Hey- believe me- after all the RR I’ve watched, I can agree- her. voice. is. friggin. annoying.

    Also- this might sound ghetto, but if you make it- don’t use stainless steel! Use a nonstick pan- a big one, and if the handle is plastic or not oven safe, wrap it with double aluminum foil when you stick it in the oven. That’s the only way you’ll get it out in one piece, and so flawless looking- I dunno how food beard guy did it w/ stainless- maybe there’s magic in the beard. Who knows…

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