Over time, twin enterprises Cook's Illustrated
magazine and America's Test Kitchen have published many books dedicated to providing exhaustively tested recipes--"best" versions of traditional dishes plus definitive takes on kitchen equipment and ingredients. Some series readers have complained of endlessly recycled or rejiggered recipes; others take each book at face value, finding the formulas and cooking insights good and helpful. America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which calls itself a cookbook, cooking school, and kitchen reference in one, offers over 1,200 approachable recipes for a very wide range of dishes--from "weekday" fare like Creamy Rice Casserole, Cheesy Nachos with Spicy Beef, and Skillet Lasagna, to dressier recipes, including Pan-Seared Lamb Chops with Red Wine Rosemary Sauce, Roasted Trout Stuffed with Bacon and Spinach, and Chocolate Marshmallow Mousse. There are "specialty" chapters devoted to sandwiches, drinks, and slow cooker and pressure cooker dishes; a grilling section is a tutorial in itself.
Unorthodox, "better-way" approaches abound. For example, a fried chicken formula instructs the cook to wet the bird's dry coating slightly before it's applied for an extra-crunchy crust. Predictably, side bars feature equipment and ingredient evaluations, on bottled salsa, for example; "good food/bad food" photographs show readers what to aim for when producing fare like holiday cookies; and there are tips, charts, and "Cooking 101" sidebars galore. Step-by-step photos offer more direction still.
Though the majority of recipes are sound and yield tempting results, readers poring through the book will note gaffes and curiosities. The recipe for poached eggs, for example, offers the option of extra cooking for "firm yolks" (hard-boiled poached eggs, anyone?) and hamburgers receive an indentation before cooking to avoid "puffy" domed burgers, a novel problem that could, in any case, be solved by proper shaping. The addition of sugar to some savory dishes--for example, a pan sauce for steak--is misguided. Readers should also know that the book, which comes in loose-leaf form, requires some assembly, and that the pages themselves are quite thin, making them vulnerable to spills and tearing in daily kitchen use.
These things said, the book delivers solid, family-friendly dishes with enough fully orchestrated "how- to" to make even novice cooks feel secure when tackling the basics or more ambitious fare.
What's New in the Revised Editon?
First out in 2005, Americas Test Kitchen Family Cookbook was praised for its recipe ease, inclusiveness, and wealth of helpful information, but was also criticized for its physical production. A loose-leaf book with its pages included separately, readers found it inconvenient to assemble and its paper impractically thin. The revised edition is printed on heavier stock, and arrives with its pages already on its rings (there are two more now, for sturdiness) with only chapter dividers to insert, a simple task.
In addition, new inside front and back covers provide information on emergency substitutions, roasting guidelines, equivalent measures, and more--and a "Light Recipes" chapter has been included. Without defining precisely what "light" means--fewer fats and carbs, or a combo?--the section offers attractive all-course recipes, such as turkey chili, veggie burgers, meat and cheese lasagna, and chocolate bundt cake. Some readers will welcome the "slimming" of familiar dishes while others will find some of the manipulations--using cornstarch to thicken the sauce in fettuccine alfredo or ricotta to add body to a reduced-fat pesto, for example--unappealing. The book, however, remains a valuable kitchen tool--and one with greater convenience and durability than before. --Arthur Boehm
Exclusive Recipe Excerpts from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (Revised Edition)
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From the Back Cover
The America's Test Kitchen Guarantee: Recipes that work . . . the first time and every time.
We know how frustrating it can be when things go wrong in the kitchen. Thats why every single recipe in this book has been tested not once, not twice, but often as many as 20, 30, or even 40 times. And then, just to make absolutely sure, we often test our recipes using cheap cookware, mediocre stovetops, and the wrong ingredients. All of this work results, we hope, in a simple promise: our recipes work, the first time and every time. As we like to say, "We make all the mistakes, so you dont have to." So here are 1,200 recipes you can count on. And thats a guarantee from Americas Test Kitchen to your kitchen.