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$40 A Day: Best Eats in Town by Rachael Ray

Reviewed by Mary Gallagher

Six months ago I didn’t know Rachel Ray from a hole in the ground but then we were both scheduled for the same CBS morning news show in Washington DC and now I’m acknowledged not for my own skills but for having met her once in person. I didn’t know if Rachael Ray could cook but by the number of fans that poured out of Broadcast Headquarters – mostly men of all ages – apparently it doesn’t matter. It’s how you swing the pan that counts! Actually Ray’s biographical history shows a lot of food knowledge, experience and cooking skills.

Rachael Ray is fun, earthy and attractive. She doesn’t mind messing up whether it’s in preparing something – like we all do, misspeaking or some onsite disaster during one of her road shows. Her book $40 A Day covers 50 plus restaurants around the US, Canada and Europe carrying forth the same great “get up and go” philosophy. I liked her acknowledgement to the video editors whom she said managed to remove every good shot of her and replace them with all the bad ones. Now this is a scenario that anyone ever on television or film for ten seconds to ten years can identify with.

Many of the destinations she covers are very familiar to me although and understandably not all of the restaurants. Each chapter covers another city for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a drink and snack. Although not always can this be achieved for $40 so occasionally lunch will be a snack and drink or breakfast a muffin and coffee or any combination of the above. There isn’t an actual accounting of each days tab in the book and someone else mentioned her books don’t count tips but she does tip 15% to stay in budget and 20% as an individual.. I was in Europe when the dollar was almost two to a euro and even eating only from street vendors was difficult on $40 a day. Espresso at $6 a cup uses up the allowance fast.

I found many recipes worth trying or reminding me of something I haven’t had for a while. Luckily I have enough cooking skills that adapting recipes that interested me, like making the Cappuccino pound cake using a yellow cake mix, and the recipe for impossible to find prepared authentic Puttanesca pasta sauce looked perfect and not difficult at all. Recipes run from simple to in-depth, inexpensive ingredients to the other end. Not many pictures but neither are the instructions complicated or six pages long.

Rachael’s comments on every page are interesting, chatty without being vapid, not too long and I appreciated the number of places that still had information and recipes but sadly “establishment closed” notices. I frequently found myself looking for a particular city and then continued paging through reading about others. The typeface and page layout is easy to follow. Some people like the book as a companion to the programs but I’ve never seen the show and still enjoyed the book.

However, there were a few times I wish she would have consulted me before traveling! Like shopping in Montreal, there is no store in the world like Haricanna, re-designed furs to die for. She also ate breakfast in Texas at La Madeleine and in the metro DC area they should all be closed by the health department.

This is a nice book (not a lonely planet guide) to give a traveler and a beginning or not quite cordon bleu cook; I also thought it had a lot of quick ideas similar to her 30 minute meal recipes. Timesaving, something we all appreciate.