In and Out of the Kitchen in Fifteen Minutes or Less
by Anne Willan

1995. 128 pages, 70 recipes.

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"None of us has much time to spend in the kitchen, yet we all love to eat well. The recipes in this book are my personal solution to the problem..."
-Anne Willan

Quick Ratatouille

Marmalade Souffle

-Salad of Fig-Stuffed Chicken with Bleu Cheese

-Snapper with Green Olive Tapenade

-Red Cabbage, Apple, and Roquefort Salad

-Grated Potato and Cheese Gratin

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Is it possible to make a meal that is -honestly- worth eating in just fifteen minutes? I wouldn't have thought so until I found In and Out of the Kitchen in Fifteen Minutes or Less. (I still have a little problem with the exacting time limit.....but more on that later.) When I first saw the title I almost didn't give the book a second look; I assumed it would be a parade of convenience-food recipes: Hamburger Helper Hash! Fish Stick Fiesta! Cool Whip Fool! ) Then I saw that the author was the renown cooking sage and founder of the esteemed La Varenne Cooking School, Anne Willan. I figured if anyone could make a fifteen-minute meal truly worth eating, she could.

I began flipping through the pages and all sorts of tantalizing recipes fought for my attention. Snapper with Green Olive Tapenade! (This has become a family favorite). Salad of Fig-Stuffed Chicken with Bleu Cheese! (It turned out to be every bit as good as it sounded.) Honey-Baked Apples with Chocolate! (This one, alas, didn't). And not a fish stick in sight. As Willan notes in the introduction:"...this is real food, made with market-fresh ingredients..."

This is how Willan eats in real life when not insructing students on the finer points of making lamb rib roast and chocolate ganache. "It's the way I've been cooking for years, since I started balancing a husband, two children, and a busy professional life." I can relate to that even though I can barely manage a roast chicken and am not even sure what a ganache is. I was eager to see how she applied her encyclopedic cooking skills to the day-to-day realities of home cooking. The book itself - glossy pages with stylish color photos - is far more elegant than its quotidian title would suggest.

Maybe it's all her years as cooking teacher that make Willan so thorough in her directions. She thinks of everything - right down to reminding you to stand back when you flame the Calvados for the Chicken Liver and Apple Mousse "so your eyebrows are not singed". At the bottom of each recipe is a short-hand "At-a-Glance" version which simply leaves out the smaller details (like the singed eyebrows bit).

While most of the recipes are paragons of clarity, the book's over-all organization is less so. I couldn't see much difference between the offerings in the Wholes-in-One section and those in the section called Fifteen Minutes to the Table. On the Lighter Side section is not, as you might guess, about low-fat dishes, but vegetarian-ish ones (most of which are not very low-fat).

I was particularly curious to see how she compressed slow-cooking classics into a 15-minute time frame. The Quick Ratatouille was wonderful: a young, fresh version of the mellow original. The 15-Minute Minestrone was less successful: a decent but a distant second to the traditional kind.

I wish I could tell you I met Willan's 15-minute deadlines, but most of the time I didn't (the Marmalade Soufflé was an exception: a ten-minute miracle). Even when I studied the recipe beforehand and had all the ingredients assembled, I still had to hurry along as I stirred and chopped and eyed the clock ticking away. On occasion Willan, too, sounds as if she's chafing at her self-imposed time limit and her writing takes on an oddly testy tone: "Don't even think about making conventional tarts and pies in 15 minutes..." For the most part though she dispenses cogent tips on ingredients and technique in a friendly, down-to-earth manner. (The recipe headnotes make good reading in themselves.)

When I didn't try to rush a recipe, not only did I enjoy the process much more, but I was still able to finish preparing within a 20 to 30 minute range. But that 15-minute bit really bugged me. Why did Willan feel she had to outrace even the speediest beat-the-clock cookbook? (Was this her editor's idea?) This is a wonderful book with exciting dishes that can easily stand on their own merit without the questionable 15-minute hype. In and Out of the Kitchen is a cookbook I I love to use whether I'm in a hurry or not.