I got so excited when I saw this title on NetGalley. A cookbook that advocates for less effort in the kitchen? I am in favor of it! I was still really excited when I looked through the cookbook – great organization and lots of different kinds of recipes. The more I looked at it and the more recipes I tried (I tried a lot of recipes), I came to the conclusion that this cookbook is not for me, but it might be fine for someone else.
Most of the recipes I tried are some version of fine. There is one egregiously bad recipe in the advance reader copy I received and I hope it gets taken out before publication. Of the recipes I tried, the best was the Saucy Chicken in the Bare Minimum Hands on Time: Recipes for the Instant Pot or Slow Cooker section. It’s a formula with several different variations of store bought sauce and skinless boneless chicken thighs. It’s great and exactly the kind of thing I would want to see in a bare minimum cookbook – you pick a sauce you like with chicken, cook them together in the InstantPot, and pair with the carb of your choice (or not). I cooked chicken thighs with a fire roasted tomatillo salsa and had tacos for a couple of dinners.
I was disappointed that a lot of the recipes were bland or dominated by one flavor. I am all for quick food that doesn’t have to be worthy of Instagram or a restaurant. But, it can’t just be fuel. I want to enjoy my food. I love onions, but the Any Onion Frittata was a lot of bland egg (I did add the onion powder to the egg) on top of a thin layer of tasty onions. My issue with a lot of her egg recipes was there wasn’t enough seasoning for the amount of egg. The Ginger-Scallion Turkey Burgers were all ginger, no scallion, and nothing to balance the ginger. I was going to talk about how I’ve been making the Spicy Oven Fries a lot, but I realized that I abandoned Helwig’s seasoning for the fries a couple of weeks ago. The idea and the methodology are great and I love the nutritional yeast on the fries.
The truly reprehensible recipe is the Black Bean Burger in the Bare Minimum Time section. I made this knowing it was going to be awful because Helwig says “no more seasoning required” about using canned refried black beans. I don’t know what canned refried beans she has access to, but in my experience, canned refried beans are bland. They don’t need more salt, but they do need more flavor. Or they should be applied in a thin layer, with other things with flavor and texture. My other issue with the recipe was texture – soft bread, soft refried bean “burger”, soft mashed avocado topping for the burger. The reality was much worse. The patties were fairly think and the panko didn’t give them any texture. Biting into the burger was an unpleasant mouth experience. This recipe made me angry. I tried it because I wanted to give Helwig a chance to prove me wrong. In the end, I mashed the patties up with some salsa and made molettes (an open face bean and cheese sandwich), which would have been a much better 30 minutes or less use of canned black refried beans.
I still like the concept of Bare Minimum Dinners, and I know we all have different palates. What I found bland and one note, someone else will enjoy. It’s a very usable rather than aspirational cookbook. I’ve rounded this up to a three star from a 2.5 because I support the concept if not the execution.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.