Lemme preface by stating that I am incredibly exacting when it comes to my home, my kitchen and what I choose to serve to my family and friends. And that's why this book is so special and unique. Because I know without a shadow of doubt that anything published by Cook's Illustrated and Chris Kimball (the editor-at-large) is always going to be Perfect!
I suppose it was about 2 years ago when I first got turned on to America's Test Kitchen (the hugely popular cooking series produced by WGBH and the master-chefs at Cook's Illustrated Magazine.) I just got so sick of watching the Food Network dumb-down their programming and otherwise bastardize the domestic arts. And, if I had to watch that little overpaid hog make 1 more ludicrous concoction I was (literally) going to gag. So when I stumbled upon America's Test Kitchen on my local Public Broadcasting Service I was more than eager to soak up all of their valuable information.
Since then, I have purchased some of America's Test Kitchen DVD sets and many of their books. The Best of America's Test Kitchen - 2007 is my very favorite book, though. This book is useful and practical on so many levels.
This isn't just a cookbook, it's a cookbook written by domestic artists who understand who their audience is and who also know the importance of practicality. This is a hardcover, 312 page book that measures roughly 11 X 8. The book also includes tons of full color pictures, diagrams and guides and tips. I also enjoy the smaller pictures included in just about every recipe that shows pictures of what the food should look like as you're preparing it (this helps so much!) The book includes a dust-jacket, but I always remove this simply because it tends to get dirty when I'm cooking. The actual cover of the book is almost coated with this shimmery-type of paper that is resistant to stains and splatters (this also helps a lot.) Oh, and 1 more thing I enjoy about the general make-up of the book is that it nicely stands up on its own, without any additional effort on my part.
The book includes easy-to-understand, step-by-step recipes that this cook can tell were written with care. Because America's Test Kitchen includes the names of some of the best brands (based on their extensive unbiased research) to use with most of the recipes as well. Each recipe starts out with an in-depth description of each dish; describing what could go wrong, what they changed and other points to look for. I have never used nor read any other cookbook that went to such great lengths as America's Test Kitchen! They really go the extra step to make sure their readers prepare only the finest recipes.
All of their recipes are second to none. I read the book cover to cover and I can honestly tell you that there is not 1 single recipe that was thrown in as "filler." This book was not simply slopped together (like so many cookbooks these days are.) No way. The experts at Cook's Illustrated would never stand for that. Every single recipe inside this cookbook has been tested, tweaked, and transformed into a dish that's not just beautiful to look at but also very simple to make.
There are a total of 10 chapters that are dedicated to recipes:
Starters & Salads
Soups & Stews
Vegetables & Side Dishes
Eggs & Breads
The Best of America's Test Kitchen - 2007 also includes a detailed introduction and an entire chapter dedicated to conversions (not to mention a very generous index; which I know is becoming a dying art in the literary world.)
What I also enjoy doing with large books like The Best of America's Test Kitchen - 2007 is to skim them for recipes that I may use. Since the book includes an informative index and table of contents it's easy to find anything that I may be in the mood to make. Next, I will either photocopy the page or just put a post-it on the page (depending on how soon I plan to make it.) Then I store the book in my media center in the kitchen so it's ready for the next time I want to use it. (This saves me time and makes the task of deciding on "what to make for dinner" seem much less daunting.)
These are some of my favorite recipes (that I have made, loved & serve to my family:)
Short-Order Home Fries (this was so easy) pg. 60
Potatoes Lyonnaise (very similar to the recipe above) pg. 62
Sweet Potato Casserole (made this last Thanksgiving and it was a huge hit) pg. 67
Glazed Pork Chips (I made this on my mother's birthday and she loved it) pg. 161
Chicken Kiev (a little bit of work, but it's so worth it!) pg. 161
Crispy Chicken & Potatoes (I make this for my family often and it's always a success) pg. 199
And, these are some recipes that I have marked to make in the near future:
Pan-Roasted Broccoli (note: they have another amazing broccoli recipe with fresh thyme & brown-butter, but that's in another book) pg. 46
Oven-Fried Onion Rings pg. 54
Stuffed French Toast pg. 77
Sloppy Joes pg. 154
Pepperoni Pan Pizza pg. 101
Besides Christopher Kimball, the main experts of America's Test Kitchen are Julia Collin-Davison (my favorite) and Bridget Lancaster. These 2 always have so many great tips. I think it was Julia who recommended (on the TV series) to line your cutting board with foil when you're cutting chicken (this saves me so much time!) And, Bridget turned me on to using Pam anytime I cook with something that may stick; even on those "nonstick" surfaces. I also enjoy the good-natured mean-spirited comments that Chris often makes to Julie and Bridget. They all have a wonderful chemistry together. The book does not include specific credits to any one person (besides the introduction, written by Chris) since it's more of a collaborative effort from the editorial staff at the magazine.
As I have said repeatedly, I especially love this book because everything is so easy and just generally saves me so much time. There are so many commercial cooking experts that claim to be "time sensitive" but I have never found one that really was; other than America's Test Kitchen. And, I think that's because they aren't trying to be anything besides what they are: an informative cooking organization that appreciates the domestic arts! In fact, I would have to say that roughly 80-90% of all of the recipes in this book include ingredients that every American household often has on hand! The basic staples of most of the recipes includes these items: unsalted butter, low-sodium chicken broth, Spanish onions, cream, whole milk, brown sugar, cayenne pepper and fresh garlic.
The only thing that is slightly confusing is trying to find some of the specific recipes from this book on the America's Test Kitchen TV show. Keep in mind, this is not a "companion book." When I finally realized that it was a lot less confusing because I was expecting to be a little more familiar with some of the recipes. The date "2007" does not refer to a season of the TV series; rather it is the date or "edition" that the book went on sale. As a matter of fact, some of the book-recipes (such as the Stuffed Rolled Flank Steak) have not even been on the TV series until the current season (season 8.) At the time this book came out, I believe the TV series was only in the seventh season. The eighth season of the series will come out in July on DVD.
These recipes are also advantageous because they all (at least the ones I have made) either double very easily or half very easily, too. Anyone who cooks for a busy household knows how imperative this is. And again, this is a rare trait.
I look forward to getting the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and their latest best-of DVD set that just came out recently. In the meantime, I am very satisfied with my latest cookbook. I also visit their Web site often in search of more recipes (they include a vast library of extensive recipes online) and most of these recipes are free; there is a charge for older ones, though. ...You cannot deny that America's Test Kitchen is the preeminent purveyor of superior recipes that your entire family will always savor. Remember, everyone can use a little ATK.