on June 16, 2004
Based on the title and reviews, I was very excited to read this book. He told the reason he got started was because of a haughty french cooking teacher didn't explain how things worked and why adding things in a certain order mattered... basically the science behind the cooking process. I love kitchen science. The intro to this book was right down my alley. After that, the book went downhill and quickly. His method of going through what ingredients worked and what didn't were fine, but they were based on his personal taste rather WHY ingredients are working the way they are... basically it seems that he writes a recipe that says "do this, I've already tested it" without explaining why it works -- just like that haughty french cooking teacher did to him. I also felt he often contradicted himself. For example, he launches into a tirade about how we should spend more time in the kitchen because it's a process and it makes us better and more in tune with our families when we cook for them, then the next two pages have recipes for risotto in half the time and seven minute polenta because he doesn't want to spend all that time in the kitchen. Overall, very infuriating since the book was not at all what the title, jacket cover and reviews suggest. No disrespect to his recipes because if you're looking for fast answers on what to make for dinner based on what someone else decides are the best potatoes to use, then this is your book. If you want to know WHY you should use those potatoes (based on starch content and how it reacts with the butter that you added earlier vs later), I recommend Shirley Corriher's book 'Cookwise' over this one any day of the week -- her book goes into the taste and the science behind it.... besides, it gives more recipes to boot, if that's what you're looking for. Second place after corriher's would be Alton Brown's 'i'm just here for the food'. For those that are gung-ho for the whys of cooking, Harold McGee's 'On food and cooking' has become the bible of kitchen science, although it is more tedious to read that either corriher's or brown's.
on March 12, 2004
The Cook's Illustrated publishing empire is perhaps the most benign, useful deployment of mass obsessive-compulsive disorder in today's America. I say that in the nicest possible way. Cook's magazine reporters tell you everything that went wrong during recipe development and testing, and why. If that wears the reader out, they can skip to the recipes, which ALWAYS WORK. (I'm not shouting at you--there's no way to put italics on Amazon.com reviews.)
If I'm going to spend time, money, and care on everyday recipes, rather than ambitious gambles, I want to know that the results will be worth it. I've never had a dud from a Cook's recipe unless it was clearly my fault (I didn't hear the timer, someone in the house started screaming and bleeding, etc.).
This volume is more idiosyncratic than the magazine, as maestro Christopher Kimball gives full voice like a hunting hound to his personal prejudices ("Poaching perfectly ripe fruit is insane"). He explains exactly how to make a gloriously moist, evenly roasted chicken, a batch of bran muffins worth eating, or from-the-cupboard main dishes that are ready in a flash or two, yet still memorable. If his bow-tied certitude starts getting you down, pour a glass of wine and skip to the recipes.
The gold standard for kitchen "whys" remains, in my house, Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise." I wouldn't be without it. But for day-to-day usage, "The Kitchen Detective" is guaranteed to make a cook take a different five o'clock look at the unpromising contents of one's pantry: Canned tuna as a pasta-sauce base? Gosh, it's good!
on March 1, 2004
I almost didn't buy this book after wondering if it would just end up being another issue of Cook's Illustrated (the magazine founded by Kimball), but decided to go ahead and get it, and I'm really glad I did! After only having owned this book for a week, it's already my favorite cookbook. I don't know if it's my New England sensibilities or just the high quality of the recipes that I've come to expect from Kimball & Co., but I'm amazed at how many of the recipes in this cookbook I want to make. Usually when I buy a cookbook, many of the recipes are either too time-consuming, too complicated, or they require expensive or hard-to-find ingredients. As he tests different recipes to come up with a perfected version, Kimball makes note of any strange ingredients or bizarre preparation methods, favoring simpler and more straightforward methods that will save cooks time and result in recipes just as delicious as any that require hours in the kitchen.
The book is divided into sections - soups, meats, dessert, and includes many helpful sidebars with interesting information about such things as the rise of Kraft Mac & Cheese or his most-used kitchen tools. Overall, this book is more than just recipes, though the recipes are all really great. The author goes through the trial and error process for you, reports on his results, and analyzes why some recipes failed and others succeeded, and gives you the knowledge you'll need to know what makes some recipes work and others turn out badly.
My only complaint about this book is Kimball's overuse of the phrase 'marriage' when referring to the combination of two ingredients, tastes, textures, etc. Someone get this man a list of synonyms.
on May 9, 2004
I checked this book out recently from the library, and loved it so much that I am now ordering my own copy.
I have made about 6 dishes so far and found them to be accessible and delicious. I especially enjoyed the vegetable soup, the braised chicken with sweet potatoes and maple syrup, and the shrimp curry. There are lots more great-looking recipes that I am eagerly waiting to try. I think that many of these will be new standards in our home.
These recipes are not overly gourmet and impractical, but aren't lowbrow either. If you're a home cook who loves good food, you can't go wrong with this book. Highly recommended!