on October 18, 2013
The America's Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook is my favorite cookbook of the fall so far. It is chock full of culinary know how and is an absolute pleasure to leaf through on these autumn evenings. It has something to offer everyone whether they are a beginning cook or an advanced cook.
This is one heavy, well-made book. They didn't skimp on binding it either. This 822 page beauty should stand up to years of heavy use in the kitchen. Toss it on the counter and use it as a reference as you cook--it will stay open on its own.
The chapters are as follows: cooking basics; how to cook: eggs; vegetables; pasta; rice, grains, and beans; meat; poultry; seafood; grill; stocks and soups; salads; quick breads; yeast breads and pizza; cookies; cakes; fruit desserts; pies and tarts; custards, puddings, and frozen desserts; appendix; and index.
I'm going to answer a question that many of you have. Those of you familiar with America's Test Kitchen are wondering about the recycling of recipes from book to book. The answer is yes, they did recycle recipes. I own the America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010 as well as ATK Family Cookbook. The first item I compared in the index is "eggs". I came up with repetitions from one book or the other for eggs benedict, some deviled egg recipes, several frittata recipes, huevos rancheros, omelets, quiches, a salad, and scrambled. Next I cross referenced "sauces" between the three books as came up with as generous an amount of overlap and then got modest overlap once more when I searched "potatoes, mashed" in the index. So why am I giving this book 5 stars?
I'm giving this book 5 stars because I feel that it offers something not many other books do. I'm a self taught cook, cooking everything from Rachael Ray to Thomas Keller in a week. No one at my house could teach me to cook growing up, and I will never be able to afford culinary school. There are huge gaps in my cooking knowledge and this book will fill them! When I hold this book and get picture by picture tutorials on recipes, I know that I'm going to learn how to do them accurately from beginning to end. There are 35 pictures to show you how to make sticky buns with pecans. It's hard to get that kind of in depth tutorial just anywhere.
The book is set up so that a core technique is photographed thoroughly so that you can master it step by step such as pan roasted chicken breasts and then they present you with a recipe library so that you can practice the master technique in other ways such as in chicken saltimbocca or chicken marsala. Despite 2,500 beautiful photographs to teach you, you aren't going to get step by step photography or even a finished picture of every dish.
I appreciate the "what can go wrong" charts on all the master technique recipes. They give you a wide range of problems ( fillets overcooked, fillets take longer to cook than indicated, etc) and then give you suggestions on how to cope with the problem in your home kitchen. Most of us have had similar problems regarding a dish that didn't quite want to follow the recipe's directions.
Each master recipe has stats to tell you how long to prep, how long to cook, the portion yield, whether you can make it ahead, and the difficulty level. Each master recipe also gives you a comprehensive list of all the kitchen tools and gadgets you will need to make each recipe a reality.
There are nice encyclopedic primers for a variety of ingredients that educate the reader all about cuts of beef and cuts of pork as well as the basics of prepping vegetables and what basic kitchen tools do. I could go on and on, but each time I turn the page, there is a new surprise. Tables for conversions and equivalencies, high altitude baking, and meat doneness temperatures reside in the appendix.
I love their sticky buns with pecans--talk about a breakfast treat. The chicken piccata is also a dependable recipe that is savory and well-balanced. Their French apple cake can't be beat. ATK consistently produces dependable recipes.
My summary after a lengthy review? Buy it. Sure, you aren't getting hundreds of new recipes. You are getting dependable, trust worthy culinary know how. This is the one cookbook I am choosing to stuff in my bag when I go on vacation with plans to cook.
on October 15, 2013
1. How To. Why. What can go wrong. Choosing tools. Taking care of your tools. Using your tools properly. Cooking techniques. Bad outcomes. What you should do instead. Tips. Tricks. Step-by-step pictures. Tables. Easy-to-grasp charts. Overviews. Recipe tutorials. Recipe libraries. 46 page cooking basics chapter. 600+ recipes. 2,500+ color photos. High quality paper / top-notch production.
The book is full of information that is presented in clear, concise, consistent manner that is easy to look up, absorb and apply. This book is in-cre-di-ble.
How much would you pay for ONE cooking class? $50? $100? I once paid $300 for a two hour class. The book has 800+ (!!) pages, and each page could easily be a cooking class, in itself. In short, an incredible value.
1. ATK tests equipment / products all the time and makes recommendations based on its test / blinds tests. This book has a lot of clear, comprehensive advise on what to look for in tools, however there are no brand-specific recommendations that are present, for example, in Cook's Kitchen book (e.g. "We recommend All-Clad 12" stainless steel skillet, however Cuisinart MultiClad Pro will perform almost as well as All-Clad for 1/3rd of a price". "Our tasters preferred De Cecco dry pasta")
One can, however quickly figure out which tools they use by looking at 2,500+ pictures.
2. Unsurprisingly, the book is (somewhat) big and heavy.
You may have been cooking for a month. A year. A decade. A few decades. You may have 10 cookbooks by now. Or 40. Or 100. Doesn't matter - you have to buy this one. You will learn something new - a tip, a technique, a recipe, a how, a why, a do or a don't. Guaranteed.
Run, do not walk to buy this book!!
Wow, do I wish I had this in college when I was trying to teach myself to cook - I could have saved myself literally years of frustration and trial and error. This is technically a cookbook, but honestly it's a reference manual and a textbook for the home cook who wants to get serious about doing the best job they can. The recipes seem like they are there to demonstrate techniques or set a standard.
The arrangement of the book is unusual for a cookbook, too. It starts with a whole chapter of just egg techniques. That's an odd place for a regular general-interest cookbook to start, they tend to start with appetizers, salads, or soups. But it makes sense for a manual, because egg cookery has long been a starting point for professional cooks, and that gives the reader a good sense of what this book is and where it is going.
I won't say this book is perfect. My 13-year old daughter, who has been working her way through Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: the Basics for the last several months, was at first interested, but quickly got overwhelmed. I don't know that I'd want to give this to an absolute beginner, there is SOOOO much here that it could be intimidating. And it does seem a little heavy on the 'buy buy buy' - for instance, it lists a stainless steel kitchen ruler as a 'must-have'. I've been home cooking for 3 decades now, and I don't think I've ever run into a situation where I thought, gee, I really need a ruler. Even for pie crusts or cinnamon rolls, it's really not that hard to fit things to the pan and adjust. And if you really needed a ruler, I'm not sure why I need a dedicated $7 ruler when I could borrow a plastic one from my kids & just wash it before and after use.
But, the techniques are excellent, and everything I've tried has been very clearly explained. Of course, if you are an experienced cook, you will likely find that some of the techniques don't turn out a product that you like as much as what you've been doing. I like their hard-boiled eggs, for example, but what I currently do is easier and seems just as good, so I won't be changing. But their technique for fried eggs was much nicer and easier than what I'd been doing, so that was very helpful. I'd definitely suggest this book for an advanced beginner or intermediate home cook who wants to do better.
This is billed as a cookbook, but it's really more than that. The subhead, "everything you need to know to become a great cook," may be a little bit of an exaggeration, as such things are wont to be, but it does point to the fact that this isn't so much a traditional cookbook as a combination of reference book and cookbook. As such, it's almost, but not quite, more suited to reading than to actual cookbook use. It's quite heavy, so there isn't going to be any holding it in one hand while you stir or mix with the other. And the type is a bit small. But this is because there's so much information to be packed in. At any rate, you can use this as just a cookbook, but it has plenty of information about the mechanics of cooking, the sorts of cooking tools you need on hand, how to buy food, etc. It is by no means a work of molecular gastronomy, but it really is a great combination work, and I do recommend it. Kind of a beefed-up, up-to-date Joy of Cooking without the social tips!
I consider myself close to a new cook, although I am in my mid-forties. I have cooked a few things here and there over the years and have always been complimented for what I have done. However, I have started cooking more on my own in the past year after changing my dietary habits. For the most part, I am fairly picky about the ingredients and what I eat nowadays, but have also started loving the pure tastes and textures of many foods I would never touch in the past. As such, I frequently change up recipes somewhat by trying to use "healthier" ingredients when possible. However, I do not have the skills or knowledge to know what I can substitute and so forth. I have struggled with knowing how to prepare and cook many items, particular vegetables such as butternut squash, spaghetti squash, eggplant and so forth. I have watched lots of videos online to get me through this type of thing!
I was surprised when this cookbook arrived in the mail - it is huge (over 800 pages), heavy and a well made hardback book. At first I thought it was going to be a lot of overkill; I mean, over 800 pages? However, as I opened it up and started glancing over the content and reading various sections, I found myself immeresed for a couple of hours.
Want a great example of something I learned from this book? I had no clue that when a recipe said "1 cup of walnuts, chopped", it is NOT the same as saying "1 cup of chopped walnuts". And no, this does not just apply to walnuts - it applies to any item. After I read the difference, I wanted to give myself a facepalm! Writing an ingredient that way was not someone trying to sound fancy or formal, it actually makes a difference! Want to see it yourself? Measure out 1 cup of unchopped walnuts and then chop them; set aside. Take some more walnuts and chop them up until you have 1 cup of chopped walnut pieces. Put the 2 piles of now chopped walnuts side by side and see what you have...
This is just a small example of what I learned and now I read recipes in the right way! For the record, I went around telling the story above about measuring ingredients to both experienced and inexperienced cooks alike. I was surprised at how many of the experienced cooks did not know the difference, either. At least that made me feel a little less ignorant, ha!
Other great features of this book include choosing the tools & equipment for your kitchen, tons of pictures outlining detailed steps, and so much more. I had never heard of American's Test Kitchen until I was offered the chance to read and review this book. I have since purchased a couple of more so I can continue my progression into the world of cooking. I highly recommend this
book to everyone, expecially those who are just starting out or who have done some cooking here and there.
"Cooking School" is part reference, teaching guide, and cookbook. The first chapter of this very heavy and large book covers many of the basics, such as what kitchen equipment to buy, what certain phrases mean, how to read a recipe, what the spices are about, etc. Some points outlined seem obvious to me such as defining why "1 cup chopped walnuts" is different than "1 cup walnuts, chopped" but I bet some would find the explanation a revelation.
Each chapter goes over a core technique such as "How to Pan-Sear Thick Cuts" of meat to "How to Use Wood" when grilling followed by a recipe library and a step-by-step recipe tutorial of how to assemble and cook the ingredients.
Using their lengthy tutorial, I decided to make the Cuban Black Beans and Rice which is a recipe of intermediate difficulty. I read all the pointers and the entire recipe before proceeding and the end result was AWESOME! I was going to rate this book 5 stars but the reason I did not was because:
- The recipe tutorial contradicted the recipe instructions on step 5. For instance, the tutorial said to half one large onion through root end yet the recipe said to halve the onion at equator and leave root end intact. Because the recipe explained why I was being asked to do this, I realized the tutorial was wrong and the recipe was correct. This leaves me wondering how many other recipes and tutorials are in slight conflict.
- The preparation time was not 20 minutes as stated. It took me almost 2 hours to prepare the ingredients for the recipe. Note that I am not counting the soaking time for the beans; I am only counting the peeling and chopping time and laying out the ingredients methodically. I think most people would take about 45 minutes of prep for this recipe. I tend to be very methodical and re-read parts as I'm preparing the ingredients to make sure I do not miss anything. I think cookbooks usually estimate on the short side assuming all the ingredients are in front of you and now it's ready, set, go, chop. To me that is misleading.
- Reading through all the pointers can be frustrating so I feel it takes a certain type of mindset to use a recipe from this book. For instance, the recipe I made required reading everything related to the recipe before I could begin because all of the information is not contained in the ingredients section and what immediately follows.
Despite the above, I absolutely love this reference cookbook. I do not care that their recipes may be repeated in other cookbooks of theirs that I have because I see this as another variation of how to make the dish. I wish I had this book years ago because it would have saved me hours upon hours of mistakes I made in the past. I also would have saved about $400 on faulty equipment such as pots, pans, knives, etc. that I purchased and threw out after finding they did not work as expected. With this book, an aspiring home cook can gain the knowledge needed to stock their pantry and kitchen with the appropriate equipment and knowledge that helps keep mistakes to a minimum providing one does a lot of reading in this 750+ book. As usual, this is another great cookbook from America's Test Kitchen.
on September 26, 2014
I have both the print version and the kindle version of this book. The reason why I gave this 3 stars is because of the mediocre kindle version. The book itself is one of the greatest and most comprehensive references that you can over own especially if you want something to cover the entire spectrum of cooking. It is not a specialized book yet it tackles a huge array of this very broad subject in a brilliant way.
The kindle version however has issues. I bought the e version since it is very convenient to carry around when traveling or out of the house instead of the huge print reference book. I am not very pleased withe the display of the pages and the variations of the layout when compared with the printed version. If this book was properly formatted for kindle it would have been a brilliant. It is a pity that more effort was not put into this project.
on January 3, 2014
While I think this book is a little bloated, it does seem to have an awful lot of great information in it. I do wish they had put more thought into the format, like you'll see a core recipe for something with step-by-step photos, then the same recipe in straight text form pages later. Or when I made a double pie crust, the core recipe didn't say it was a double crust, and the table of ingredients for single and double crust recipes is on the following page, so I found myself flipping pages back and forth to figure that out. Then pages after the pie crust core recipe is a core recipe for double crust pie. I see what another reviewer means about silly photos, the core pie crust recipe shows photos of a cup of ice water and vodka in a measuring cup, but I guess that's to make for easier formatting, not because they thought people don't know what ice water and vodka look like in measuring cups. That being said, the pie crust for my chicken pot pie turned out amazing, and was almost painless. I am looking forward to doing more recipes from here, and hopefully I'll get used to the format.
on February 13, 2014
Warning: This book is heavy and has so much useful information about how to improve your cooking, you will wonder why we had to wait so long for this cooking course book. My wife loves reading it and has found it quite helpful. We do have other ATK cookbooks so the recipes are similar. We have other cooking course books, Like Martha Stewart's but non are as comprehensive and tell you all the possibilities of what can go wrong with the recipe. This is especially helpful.
I may buy this book for myself in the Kindle version because it has all the same material and it maybe easier to read and plant in the kitchen. The color images of the food are quite helpful but are tiny and sometimes difficult to view, but in the Kindle version they can be enlarged for easier viewing. One other criticism is that the type font is quite small so if you have eyesight problems, this book could create eye strain. The kindle version could be a better choice for it's ability to enlarge font size and image size.
Whatever version of book you buy this book can be very helpful in understanding how to setup your ingredients, prepare the recipe, cook the food, and make a delicious meal. You don't have to read the entire book but reading your weak areas can lead to improvements in your cooking knowledge and skills. This in turn can improve the quality and taste of your meals.
This is a well thought out and informative compilation of prior ATK recipes, along with cooking instruction. Each chapter deals with a cooking topic (e.g. cooking poultry), then after covering the useful equipment and well-illustrated basic techniques, does a photographic demo of a number of recipes (sometimes too many, even for beginners). Following that is a "Recipe Library" of even more recipes in that category. I can think of a number of younger cooks for whom this would be a great book, that will be useful for a long time -- it would have been great if this book had been around when I was figuring this stuff out.
Thought it covers much of the territory of home cooking today, there are limits to the coverage of this book. To understand the range and scope of this book, here is what it does NOT include:
- New recipes that have not appeared previously in ATK publications (as far as I could tell, I recognized many).
- Photos for most of the recipes in the recipe libraries of each section.
- Regional and ethnic dishes: there are only a handful, e.g. carnitas but not tacos, tabbouleh but not hommus, collard greens but not grits, a few stir-frys, etc.
- No utilization of useful appliances such as slow cookers, pressure cookers, or microwave ovens, even when they make sense. For example, there are a number of recipes cooked in low-temperature ovens (e.g. slow roasted meats, spiral ham) that might do as well, or better, in a slow cooker, but no mention is made of that alternative.
- How to make do with just a minimal kitchen -- they emphasize lots of specialized cooking implements and utensils, which could be unnecessarily fussy overkill (and expensive) for beginning cooks who are just getting started.
- No cutting edge or modernist technique or recipes.
- A decent index -- if you want to find out what you can make with hoisin sauce (p. 379), the index won't help you find it, though it does include a lot.
However, if you are at all experienced in the kitchen, or have been reading other ATK publications, you will not find much new here -- this book is not intended for you. The organization and presentation of cooking principles is well-done, but if you have prior ATK publications, you will find much repetition here, and this book would be worth two stars (or less) for you.