PUBLISHED: 12:37 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Say goodbye to a sense of desperation

The women who bring us Desperation Dinners have always been about saving us time. Now, Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross want to save us money.

Mills and Ross spent the past three years developing recipes and researching how to save by cooking at home.

They put their findings in their new book "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, $13.95) -- at that price, even the book is a bargain.

"The minute you walk into the kitchen you are saving money," Mills told me during a telephone interview from her Minneapolis home.

Cooking at home can cut the family eating budget by 20 percent to 25 percent depending on how often the family eats out (including takeout, drive-thru and pizza delivery), Mills estimated. She and Ross calculated that many of the book's recipes cost about $2 per person.

"Where can you eat dinner for $2?" Mills asked.

I made Desperation Dinners the first feature I added to the Taste section after becoming food editor. Readers are fans, too.

  Review by Dan Macdonald
Desperation recipes seem to be the ones readers make once, love and then "lose" most often.

With the new book, Mills and Ross concentrated on making affordable food that tastes delicious and offers a variety of ingredients.

The book includes 275 recipes -- most of which are new. But the women did include a few favorites from the column that fit the thrifty criteria.

The book is perfect for that young family looking to save money wherever possible, but it also works for singles, couples without children and even retired folks.

Everyone wants to stretch the budget.

A random flip through the book shows that it has tons of money-saving advice, too.

• If menus are prepared for the week, you'll already have the groceries you'll need. There will be no temptation to go out because there's no food in the house.

• Set menus, pinpoint your grocery shopping; no more strolling the aisles tossing impulse buys into the cart.

• "To take advantage of the lowest possible prices, you can't be a die-hard brand loyalist." -- A cheap alternative to canned chicken or beef broth is two bouillon cubes dissolved in two cups of water. However, bouillon can be salty, so taste before seasoning the dish.

• Coupon clipping is a no-brainer but can be cumbersome. Make it a hobby or a game to stay motivated. Clip only coupons for items you plan to buy (don't clip because it looks like a deal on something you might use one day) and coordinate coupons with grocery store sales for added savings.

• "The freezer can be the single cook's best friend." I asked Mills if she was seriously suggesting that a single person in an apartment should buy a freezer. Mills had one in her younger days, a small lift- top chest that she kept in a corner with a tablecloth and flower arrangement on top. Such freezers cost less than $150 and will pay for themselves in a couple months if they're used regularly.

Most recipes produce four to six servings.

If people get into the habit of freezing leftovers, they can turn one night's meal into two or three

"The most expensive food you buy is the food you don't eat," Mills said.

That got me thinking about the gold mine I have in my freezer.

I have some Christmas bills and a golf trip to pay for in the coming months; Beverly and Alicia may have helped me come up with the cash.

Dan Macdonald is a Morris News Service food columnist.