173 of 188 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I usually rave about Cooks Illustrated books because they are the best all-around cookbooks out there, but I have to rant a little about this one. The idea behind Cover and Bake is to improve on classic casseroles by getting rid of sub-par ingredients like cream of mushroom soup and pre-packaged bread crumbs, and simplifying cooking procedures so as to allow as much one-pot cooking as possible. The people at Cooks Illustrated make a lot of references to "Tuesday night dishes," i.e., main courses that can be prepared, cooked and served quickly and don't result in a lot of clean-up.
This, however, isn't that book. The dishes that look so quick and easy when you watch them on America's Test Kitchen aren't so quick and easy at home because they have someone else to pull the leaves off of enough fresh tarragon that they have 3 tablespoons ready and waiting when they start cooking their Chicken with Spring Vegetables. When at home you have to trim and cut the chicken, pull the leaves off of the tarragon and chop them, wash and cut leeks, carrots, and asparagus and measure out cream (rather a lot of it) and chicken broth as well as various spices, and make home-made bread crumbs in the food processor, it all adds up to several hours of preparation before the casserole even makes it into the oven, and along with the casserole dish itself, you end up with a dutch oven, food processor, cutting board, knife and several prep bowls to clean. You can make the basic dish in advance, but you still have to wait for the mixture to chill down before you can put it in the refrigerator, and you have to leave it out at room temperature for an hour before you can put it in the oven. Yes, it tastes much better than the chicken casserole you would make with precut pieces of chicken and cream of mushroom soup, but unless you make it on a weekened and have someone to take it out of the refrigerator for you before you get home from work, it's not a quick and easy weeknight dinner.
As mentioned by someone else, this also isn't healthy eating. Most of the dishes have cream or cheese, and vegetarian isn't a word the folks at Cooks Illustrated seem to have learned, although the dishes seem to have a lot of mushrooms. Even the side dishes aren't truly vegetarian as a lot of the recipes in the book use one form or another of pork for seasoning, or otherwise rely on cheese or cream. For a book called Cover and Bake, I certainly expected at least some recipes which make star use of grains, rice, beans and vegetables, which are nice to have even for meat eaters. Those also aren't here. These are basic beef, pork, chicken and fish with rice and/or potatoes and they are hearty dishes. The side dishes are basically rice dishes to serve with the meat.
Don't get me wrong -- the resulting food tastes good. But their "paella," for instance, bears no resemblence to paella. It's shrimp with tomatoes and rice and while it's quite tasty, for an expensive dish, it just isn't the star it ought to be. When you make a dish that calls for 1 1/2 pounds of extra large shrimp, which is going to run you at least $25, plus the costs of the other ingredients, the dish should be more than tasty -- it should be spectacular. No one is going to complain about this dish, but it's doubtful they are going to rave about it either.
On the plus side, everything is extremely easy to prepare, especially if you like making food that serves 4-6 people and makes use of 9"X13" baking dishes, dutch ovens, and large skillets. There are, as always, plenty of useful illustrations, and the instructions are easy to follow. I'll use this cookbook since I still like the idea of dishes I can make over the weekend and keep in the refrigerator for several weekday uses, but it's not going to replace Cooks Illustrated's New Best Recipe or The New Basics or other recipe collections I own. This is really for people who like chicken and rice, beef and potatoes and other combinations that classically go into casserole dishes with thick and creamy sauces. If that describes you, this book is probably a 5-star book for you. Otherwise, you may search hard for recipes that sound worth the trouble.