Freshly prepared foods are often more delicious, more nutritious, and less expensive than their fast food counterparts, but take more advanced planning. If you're anything like me that planning ahead can be a challenge. I get tired just thinking about planning a menu, creating a shopping list, buying the necessary ingredients, and finally preparing the meal. Who has any extra time to spare anyway? When I do cook for my family, many of the meals I make are at best semi-homemade using pre-packaged mixes and pouches. When I do make a meal completely from scratch I often have disappointing results. That's where Ina Garten comes in with Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, the latest in her series of cookbooks based on her Food Network TV show. I've seen her show and am often amazed at her cool, relaxed confidence as she whips up one fabulous meal after another for family, friends, and occasional celebrities. I thought I'd try cooking from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof to see if it would live up to its name. The verdict is it does. So far I've made the 1770 Meatloaf, Parmesan Crisps, and Carmelized Bacon. Her directions were clear and concise and her ingredients were easily obtainable at the supermarket. What I also like is that she supplies a comforting, chatty narrative as she takes you through each course from appetizers, cocktails, main courses, side dishes and desserts. Then most helpful is the suggested menus where you can put it all together depending on your setting and occasion. Just be warned that most recipes yield enough for a dinner party of 8-10 people, so if your family is smaller, you'll need adjust the recipes accordingly.
Recommended by Cheryl Finnan