Blogger's cookbook provides 20-minute meals for under $20

darrington@sacbee.comJuly 1, 2013 

For years, Caroline Wright amazed her 20-something friends. She could whip up a great, healthy, delicious and innovative meal in minutes — on an incredibly tight budget.

"In New York, I had a large group of friends who were all underpaid, overworked — and new cooks," Wright recalled in a phone interview. "They wanted to eat fresh and cheap — anything that would save a trip to another restaurant.

"This was stuff I was making for myself after work," she added. "I told them, 'It's not that hard!' "

Wright's nightly dinner menus had a definite gourmet flair with such dishes as grilled pizza with peppers and turkey sausage, risotto with pancetta and radicchio and spicy mussel soup.

Wright took the next step: She showed her friends (and anyone else interested) how to do it. She created a blog — — and challenged herself to make healthy family meals for four people in 20 minutes for under $20.

Her 20/20 approach caught the eye of publisher Workman, which invited Wright to turn her blog into a cookbook. "Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals" debuted in May.

This is Wright's first cookbook. Previously, she developed recipes and served as an editor for Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food." Her work also has appeared in "Every Day With Rachael Ray," "Cooking Light" and other publications. Wright taught cooking in Brooklyn, N.Y., before recently moving to Dallas with her husband, Garth, (a lawyer) and 8-month-old son, Henry.

Now 29, Wright still cooks for her family the way she did for her Brooklyn friends: Fast and budget-minded, but with upscale taste and seasonal ingredients.

All 90-plus recipes in the book were taken directly from her own kitchen table. She photographed her completed dishes herself.

Her recipe prose is simple and direct. Instead of traditional lists of ingredients, her recipes are written as narratives.

"I call it my girlfriend recipe style," Wright said.

Grilled turkey sausage and pepper pizza

Makes one pizza

• Ingredients:

1 pound mixed bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into planks (or baby bell peppers, cut in half)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound pizza dough (flour and cornmeal for cutting board)

1 ball (4 ounces) fresh mozzarella

2 sweet Italian turkey sausages (about ½ pound)

Red pepper flakes and fresh basil to garnish

• Instructions:

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.

In a medium bowl, toss mixed bell peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning once, until crisp-tender and charred, about 4 minutes; set aside.

Meanwhile, on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out pizza dough into a large, thin rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Transfer to a cutting board sprinkled with flour or cornmeal. Scatter over the dough the fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces, and the Italian turkey sausages, removed from the casings and pinched into small pieces.

Oil the grill grates, place the reserved peppers on the pizza and slide it onto the grill. Cook, covered, until the sausage is opaque and the cheese is bubbling, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and fresh basil leaves to serve, if desired.

Also try: ground lamb plus grilled chilies and smoked mozzarella.

This recipe is from "Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals," by Caroline Wright (Workman, $12.95).

Merguez burgers with cucumber dressing

Serves 4

Merguez is a spicy North African sausage, usually made with lamb.

• Ingredients:

• Burgers:

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

½ teaspoon coriander seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 pound ground lamb

2 minced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon harissa paste (or 1 teaspoon chili powder and ½ teaspoon paprika)

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

• Cucumber dressing:

3 sliced Kirby or pickling cucumbers

¼ cup Greek-style yogurt

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

• Instructions:

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat or a grill pan over medium-high heat.

Place the fennel seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a mortar and crush with a pestle.

In a medium bowl, combine the spices with the ground lamb, garlic cloves, harissa paste, kosher salt and cayenne pepper.

Oil the grill grate or pan. Form the spiced meat into four 1½-inch thick patties and grill, turning once, until charred and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium doneness.

While the burgers are cooking, combine the cucumbers, yogurt and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the burgers on rolls topped with the cucumber dressing.

Optional topping: tahini mixed with lemon juice, roasted red peppers and mint.

This recipe is from "Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals," by Caroline Wright (Workman, $12.95).

Grilled gazpacho

• Ingredients:

6 medium plum tomatoes

1 red bell pepper

Oil for the grill grates or pan

2 Kirby or pickling cucumbers cut into chunks

½ shallot

½ cup fresh parsley leaves

1 small garlic clove

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

• Instructions:

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat or a grill pan over medium-high heat.

Core and cut into large flat-sided pieces plum tomatoes and the red bell pepper. Lightly oil the grill grates or pan, add the vegetables and cook until charred, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the grilled vegetables to a food processor with cucumbers, cut into chunks. Add shallot, parsley leaves, garlic clove and red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and pulse to finely chop and blend. Serve with crusty bread.

Also try: husked tomatillos plus poblano, cucumbers, shallot, garlic and cilantro.

This recipe is from "Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals," by Caroline Wright (Workman, $12.95).

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