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Cooking 'almost from scratch'

No time to cook but still want a homemade meal? Try a mix of fresh and prepared foods.

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Millions of Americans are used to making soup with bouillon cubes, ragu from a jar of tomato sauce, or pie from canned pumpkin. Getting a little help from prepared foods is nothing new. But never before have there been so many choices available and so many gourmet-quality and organic convenience foods.

Just take a look at the shelves of salsa in your local supermarket. Hot, medium, or mild used to be the big decision. Now shoppers choose their heat as well as flavor from umpteen different combinations such as roasted garlic, corn, cilantro, mango, and more.

Upscale convenience foods are just the latest twist in what has become one of the subtlest yet most sweeping trends in the culinary world. Now, some of the savviest and most sophisticated home cooks are combining from-scratch recipes with prepared foods without a second thought. And because so many of these products - such as prepared pesto, curry, or Jamaican-jerk sauce - are now made with top-quality ingredients, dishes made with them can taste just as good as those made from scratch.

Right in step with this style of cooking is "Almost from Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine" (Simon & Schuster, 420 pp., $25).

Author Andrew Schloss is no slouch. He is a trained chef who works as a food-product consultant, writes about food for various publications, and has penned seven cookbooks. He also has a wife and three kids. So like most of us, he has a lot of demands on his time. Much as he might want to devote hours to cooking each day, he simply can't.

With "Almost from Scratch" Mr. Schloss streamlines supper without sacrificing flavor.

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