I've been a big fan of Cooks Illustrated for years. The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, is similar in presentation to the Cooks Illustrated magazine which is a good thing. I enjoy the little tips, product suggestions and bits of cooking wisdom that are scattered appropriately throughout the book. Unlike some other cookbooks that can border on how to cook textbooks, this book dispenses little dollops of wisdom just at the right places.
There is an important thing you need to know about this cookbook and its authors though and it concerns the word "healthy." As you discover when you read the "Preface" and the "Our Approach to Healthy Cooking", you learn that this is NOT a diet book. The focus is "about balance and about incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into recipes on a daily basis, as well as reducing calories from fat wherever we could do so while maximizing taste." In other words, you will still find recipes using butter instead of margarine and added sugar and salt. The recipes may not be the absolute lowest in sugars, fats and salt -or- calories but they will most assuredly taste really good because of their focus on good tasting food that uses "healthier" ingredients. The recipes do not compromise on taste.
Case in point, one of the first recipes I made, which was absolutely delicious and garnered rave reviews from my guests who enjoyed it, was the Plum-Peach Upside-Down Almond Cake. I made the recipe with all peaches. One small detail that the recipe left out was whether the peaches should be peeled or not. I had to refer to another recipe in the book to see how they handled peaches there and in the other recipe they specified peeling the peaches, so I did that for this recipe. Concerning the ingredients, the recipe called for 7 Tablespoons of butter (that's 1 Tablespoon shy of an entire stick), 2 Large Eggs, 1/2 cup of light brown sugar and 3/4 cups of granulated sugar. Are you cringing yet? I was. But let me tell you, the dessert was absolutely delicious... and it was dessert after all. The recipe did make one concession when it called for low-fat sour cream (but only 1/2 cup) so yes, it did make a healthier choice in that regard.
The book is filled with a vast and mouth-watering array of recipes. When I first got the book and started leafing through the pages, I had to stop constantly because one recipe or another would catch my eye and even in the black & white photographs (I was reviewing a "galley" or pre-release copy of the book) the food looked delicious in the way it was prepared. Right off the bat I was attracted to "Smoked Salmon Rolls", "Healthy Smoothies", "Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Orange and Feta", "Stuffed Acorn Squash with Barley" and I could go on and on. There are more than 800 recipes overall covering: appetizers, snacks, salads, soups, stews and chilis, vegetables, rice, grains & beans, pasta, fish & shellfish, poultry, meat, vegetarian entrees, stir-fries & curries, grilling, pizza & tarts, whole grain rolls & loaves, quickbreads, cookies & bars, cakes, fruit desserts & more, and kid friendly.
The diversity and breadth of recipes is excellent. Again, the focus is ultimately on making healthier choices in ingredients without compromising the taste. Reducing fat is one of the main ways these recipes are modified from normal full-fat versions. Also the inclusion of whole-grains and vegetables, minimizing added salt as much as possible and using leaner cuts of meat.
This is not a diet cookbook, nor are all the recipes all going to be as low in calories as other cookbooks. But you can rest assured that these recipes will taste good and be a healthier way to make some classics that are typically not too healthy no matter now you make them, like Meat & Cheese Lasagna. But note that this recipe is 400 calories, 14g of Fat, 6g of salt and 90mg of Cholesterol vs the non-modified version of 530 calories, 30g of Fat, 16g of Salt and 120mg of cholesterol. As you can see a not particularly healthy recipe has been made "healthier."
I really like this cookbook. I'm going to dock it one star because of the incomplete directions that I have occasionally run in to which stop me dead in my tracks until I figure out what to do... like whether the peaches needed to be peeled or not... so just make sure you pre-read the recipes before you plunge right in and start cooking or you may find yourself having to stop what you're doing before you can complete the recipe. I also question the word "Healthy" and think "Healthier" is a better choice.
Basically if you already have the 3 ring binder Test kitchen cookbook (non-healthy edition) you already have this book. For the most part the recipes are the same with perhaps a few minor ingredient changes that I have noticed so far. This is both good and bad, as I have yet to come across a bad tasting recipe in either book. IF I didn't already have the other edition, I would buy this book in a heartbeat. However if you already have the non-healthy edition, unless you just want to add to your collection, you will have a majority of the recipes that in this healthy version already.
First, full disclosure and caveats for this review:
I am writing this on August 23, 2010, as a member of the Amazon Vine Program. The book I received, prior to the scheduled October 2010 publication date, is an "Advance Uncorrected Proof." The final book will be hardcover, ring bound, with color throughout. The proof copy I am reviewing is a paperback, 520 pages, black and white throughout. Everything I have seen indicates that this is going to be a five-star book upon its official release, but to preserve the integrity of this review, I need to be clear on the actual book I reviewed. It has nothing to do with the quality of the content, only the "draft" level of pre-publication presentation. I love it "as is" but I know the color version will be a real stunner.
The format of the book will be familiar to fans of "America's Test Kitchen" and their publication "Cook's Illustrated." You'll see the same sidebars on cooking utensils and "taste tests" of items such as canned tomatoes. These are extremely valuable as they point you in the right direction for successful execution of the recipes.
The book is HUGE (520 pages in the proof copy, final book may differ). It runs the gamut from appetizers through desserts, all kinds of meat, vegetarian dishes, breads...it is an excellent "general" cookbook but it is far from general in its range and depth. There are forays into ethnic cuisines, including a great, lengthy tutorial on making a classic cheese pizza. The first 16 pages of the book cover the basics of healthy cooking. It is then broken down into the following chapters:
Healthy Start (breakfast), Appetizers and Healthy Snacks, Salads, Soups, Stews And Chilis, Vegetables, Rice, Grains, and Beans, Pasta, Fish And Shellfish, Poultry, Meat, Vegetarian Entrees, Stir-Fries And Curries, Griling, Pizza And Tarts, Whole Grain Rolls And Loaves, Quick Breads, Cookies And Bars, Cakes, Fruit Desserts And More, and Kid Friendly, concluding with four pages of equivalent and conversion charts.
The tips and tricks (such as preparing brown rice in the oven, rather than the stovetop) help you succeed with items that may have been too daunting in the past (I hate cooking brown rice on the stovetop...it never comes out right). You also get variations: brown rice with parmesan / lemon / herbs, with onions / roasted red peppers, or with peas / feta / mint.
If you thumb through the book, you won't get past more than a couple of pages before something catches your eye. I can't imagine the amount of planning that goes into a book like this...it's packed with a lifetime's worth of things for you to try and enjoy in your own kitchen. If you like "Cook's Illustrated," you will love this book.
I was so excited to start trying recipes from this cookbook. It was very interesting to peruse through it. One of my favorite cookbooks is America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook (minus the healthy title). I've had it for three or four years and have a bunch of favorite recipes in it. Basically, that cookbook is an updated, modern version of Betty Crocker or the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. There's more flavor and spice in America's Test Kitchen's recipes than in the two I just mentioned. When I heard the Healthy Family version was coming out, I was very curious. We strive to eat healthy foods, but we have our share of foods that we love that aren't so good for us, too. Overall, though, I think we try to eat healthy foods. I also am always on the look out for good low fat recipes because they inspire me to cook and eat better.
When I first opened this cookbook, I noticed that a few sections are different than the regular family cookbook such as stir-fries and curries and kid pleasing foods. Though I haven't tried any of the stir fry sauce recipes yet, I am looking forward to it!
For the most part, the recipes in this cookbook are different than in the original cookbook, though a few have only minor changes. The great chili and cornbread recipes are here but with minor changes. Still, it is a different cookbook. I was most curious about the baking recipes. I tried the brownie recipe and was wowed by it! Last night, I made the oatmeal raisin cookies and when my neighbor tried them, her eyes widened. She loved them and so did I! I made the Butternut squash soup this week--which was very good though it didn't need the extra vegetable broth added to it. I made several other recipes along the way including the strawberry banana smoothie and all have turned out well. I also made the Chinese chicken salad. I was so surprised at how they made it lowfat! I still added 2 Tbsp of sugar because I do like it just a tad sweet, but that's a far cry from the 1/2 cup sugar in my original recipe that I've been making for 10 years. With one recipe I did skip a couple of their steps because it simply wasn't practical for me and the recipe still did turn out okay. But, in general, you do need to follow the recipe's directions in these two cookbooks. They often add different quirky and unexpected steps in that make the recipes come out better work.
One big difference that I noticed in this cookbook was that the recipes are either designated Fast or they have no time identifier. In the original cookbook, there was a prep time identified which I usually found inaccurate for me (and I am a quick cook). So, I suppose it's probably wiser to omit the prep time estimation altogether.
I liked the philosophy that this cookbook had about food. It was moderate, middle of the road and wasn't extreme. I typically do choose lowfat over nonfat products. When products go the way of nonfat, many artificial ingredients are added in. The other bits of advice scattered throughout this cookbook about cooking equipment and ingredients is all very helpful.
I highly recommend this cookbook. But, I have one last piece of advice. What I did with my original cookbook is get a separate binder and take my favorite recipes and put them inside sheet protectors. I will likely do the same with my recipes from this one. It is a large binder with thin, magazine thickness pages. It is durable enough for looking through once in a while, but if you use it constantly, the pages just won't hold up.
If you're looking for one family cookbook, I'd recommend this one first--simply because the recipes are healthier. But, the original family cookbook is wonderful as well. They compliment each other!
Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Boston Common Press.
Christopher Kimball and his crew at America's Test Kitchen reflect a singular passion for relentlessly dissecting and experimenting with recipes, ingredients and cooking methods to develop the most straightforward, error-proof recipes. Their previous five-ring-binder compendiums, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, presented compelling evidence of this approach, and their new sequel focusing on healthier recipes shows the same meticulous zeal. Since the editors have historically focused on flavor over nutrition (or at least a deliberate consideration of the latter), it apparently took a dozen test cooks over two years to develop the 800 recipes presented here with detailed nutritional information and recommended portion sizes. The useful and user-friendly format inside is the same as the predecessor - America's Test Kitchen's signature sidebars, tips, and evaluations on everything in the kitchen.
Flavor has not been sacrificed in the approach, just a more mindful consideration of the nutritional value needed to make a dish healthy. That means including whole grains and vegetables whenever relevant to a recipe. There are details such as how quinoa should be rinsed or toasted, or what state mushrooms should be used to intensify the flavor of a dish. Oil and egg counts have been decreased but not completely eliminated - and low-fat milk is often used over non-fat simply because the flavor sacrifice was too precipitous otherwise. That's what makes this reference book more reasonable to accept than diet cookbooks since they acknowledge the gradual transition necessary to accept such modifications to dishes we already eat. For example, simple dishes like stir-fried beef and eggplant have been adjusted to decrease the beef, increase the eggplant, and add mushrooms in order to make it healthier to digest. It's an excellent resource for improving your diet habits at home.
This is a BIG cookbook folks. B.I.G. 520 Pages big.
I don't know where to begin. I first became familiar with America's Test Kitchen via the popular PBS show which was a no frills, content driven show full of useful culinary information. The book is the same - not a lot of fluff - all content. And I love that nutritional information is given for each recipe. LOVE.
I was interested in seeing this book and originally thought it would be a lot smaller and divided into smaller units. As it turns out, once you get past the philosophies, basics and equipment essentials, you will be overwhelmed with thousands of healthy recipes. I can't cover everything so I will cover the two sections I loved most: Rice, Grains and Beans, and Cakes.
Rice Grains and Beans: My favorite recipe in this section is one for French Lentils - lentils, being one of my favorite grains. This recipe is to die for, full of carrots, onions, chicken broth, lemon and parsley. So delicious and very easy to prepare. Extremely healthy. There are other lentil recipes in this chapter but many wonderful bean and rice recipes, too. I've become increasingly interested in beans as a healthful alternative to animal proteins so this book is very useful in offering so many bean and other grain recipe options. Note, one extra nice thing about this book is how the test kitchen tried many brands of foods and give their opinion on the best items on the market (they do this in every chapter). In the case of white beans (my favorite), they have selected Progresso brand as the best and I would agree with that (though Goya also makes a beautiful product, in my opinion).
Cakes: Let me start by saying that I've tried the so-called healthy recipe alternatives including a recipe for coconut cupcakes by Bethenny Frankel from her first book and it was awful - made only with oat flour, raw sugar, vegan shortening, some leavening and some flavoring and they were not what was expected. They had a decent flavor but the texture was wrong and it wouldn't really satisfy a cupcake craving if you really had one because of how un-cupcakelike the texture actually is. I say, just make cupcakes in mini cupcake pans and have a real cupcake if you want one. The great thing about home-baked cupcakes is you can freeze them and take out only what you need when you need them. Use one of the cake recipes in the cake chapter in your mini cake pan and you'll be happy with the result.
That said, I love the cake chapter because it focuses on classic cakes we all know and love which are now tweaked to a more healthful end result without tasting chewy or weird. You really don't lose anything in the way these recipes were re-jiggered. (Sorry Bethenny.) Aside from cupcakes, I happen to love sheet cakes and Bundt cakes. There are recipes for classic sheet cakes including white, carrot and chocolate. One of the reasons I love sheet cake is that you get less frosting because it's only on the top and that's a lot more healthy than a filled, slathered all-around frosted cake. And I love Bundt cakes because they're pretty and can be displayed with minimal extras. You can lightly powder them with confectioner's sugar or drizzle them with chocolate or lemon glazes, etc... They offer a number of different glaze recipes including an intriguing one called "nutty glaze" which I will be trying on my next Bundt cake. Besides, Bundt cakes don't take a lot of work to be delicious and beautiful. The Test Kitchen folks revamped the cake recipes to reduce the fat and calories, give options for glazes and frostings (for the sheet cakes) and also include a lovely angel food cake and a cheese cake (one of my next projects for the holiday season). The cakes chapter is not big but it is substantial in content and information. Everything you need for beautiful, classic recipes is there.
There's so much more that's so great about this volume but I'd be here for days praising it if I don't stop now.
on August 26, 2010
NOTE: the version of the book being reviewed was not a final copy. Pictures were in black and white, and will be in color whent he book is released in October 2010.
"Move over Betty Crocker" is what my husband said just from looking at the recipes. That had me intrigued as he is a die-hard Betty Crocker Cookbook fan.
I knew I liked the book when in the foreword I read that they tried with all recipes to improve the healthy quality without sacrificing good taste, and retaining a decent size portion. A variety of techniques are used to minimize fat, salt and calories. One example is using breadcrumbs and milk as a replacement for heavy cream in Creamy Tomato Soup.
The cookbook has a ton of recipes interspersed with preparation techniques; for example, rolling out pizza dough, cutting a crown of broccoli, coring fruits such as pears and apples, and zesting. Also spread throughout are the results of kitchen appliance testing and food taste testing done on the show. They typically list the top result and occasionally what they refer to as the best buy which is a budget friendly and good functional version of the appliance winner if it is expensive. These are informative and great for when considering what food processor or even set of measuring spoons to buy.
Onto the recipes! I've had the book for 2 days and have made 5 recipes: chicken and zucchini in foil, whole wheat pizza dough, no-cook pizza sauce, classic cheese pizza, and broccoli cheddar soup. The chicken in foil was good. The chicken wasn't cooked in the 25 minute cooking time, but that could be my oven. It needed an extra 7 minutes to hit the recommended temperature. The rest was FABULOUS. The Classic Cheese pizza uses the no-cook sauce and whole wheat dough and part skim mozzarella. It turned out beautifully and the kids ate the whole 14 inch pizza in one sitting. I've never seen them do that with whole wheat pizza crust. The low fat broccoli cheddar was divine. It was creamy, seasoned just enough, and very filling. I can't wait to try out more!
The one thing I did wish I had in the book was color photos, SO I purchased the version that will have them when released in October.
I've been a huge fan of ATK since getting the "New Best Recipes" (2004) -- this book is similar to the ATK's "Best Light Recipe" (2006), but improves on it in three ways:
1) Ring-bound final edition is easier to use while cooking vs the library-bound "Best Recipe" compendiums (as a Vine reviewer, I received the galley edition, but I've flipped through the ring-bound version in stores).
2) More than twice as many recipes as "Best Light Recipe" -- this edition features over 800 recipes (vs 300). Note that it's also a thicker book (528 pgs vs 384), so it will take up more shelf space.
3) Updated ingredient and equipment ratings! Now this is where the book pays for itself. They rate and review dozens of ingredients like olive oil and diced tomatoes, and dozens of cooking tools like can openers and pots and pans. With all the different trends and ads for kitchen gadgets these days, it's easy to be overwhelmed, and ATK is a welcome voice of reason that will save you lots of money on unnecessary or badly-designed items in the future.
Fans of the Cooks Illustrated style will be happy to know that the straightforward, scientific tone remains the same in this volume. If you prefer flowery, editorialized food writing, this is not the book for you. But if you value no-nonsense, gimmick-free recipes that turn out GREAT every time (I have yet to find a dud), you will love this book.
One of my favorite things about ATK is how they provide clear explanations for what criteria the testers use to define the "best" recipe, so you know what to expect. I also love how they walk through failed techniques and recipes, and explain why they don't turn out so well.
How healthy is "healthy?" Honestly, it varies. Of course the chapters on veggies and soups are full of truly healthy options. However, let's face it, there's no such thing as a healthy chocolate chip cookie. That said, this book offers ways to cut down on calories by browning a smaller amount of butter to enhance the flavor, and using fewer chocolate chips, but reserving some to dot the cookies with before baking to ensure a denser chocolate chip "look." It's a persnickety cookbook, and I appreciate the attention to detail.
If you already own the "Best Light Recipe" book, is it worth the upgrade? It depends. If you want more recipes, a more convenient ring-bound format, and especially if you want updated product reviews, then definitely yes. But if you want new techniques and recipes that would replace the ones in "Best Light Recipe," then you don't need to upgrade to this edition since there's a lot of overlap there.
on August 26, 2010
Don't let the 'healthy' scare you away from this title. The America's Test Kitchen people will not let you down! This book covers everything from breakfasts to desserts, with plenty of both health (what are the different kinds of fats?) and cooking (how to matchstick slice carrots) tips.
As per usual with ATK, they veer away from expensive or rare ingredients, though for a few, you might need to hit a healthfood aisle (bulgur, quinoa, anaheim chilis).
Several recipes are 'makeovers' of classics, like the chocolate bundt cake, spinach lasagna, etc) that explain the story behind their choices, and highlight their concern that food must taste good as well as be good!
Many recipes feature several easy variations as well that sound intriguing and fun to try such as almond or cashew butter cookies for peanut butter cookies or sauteed green beans (variations include with thyme, coriander and sesame; with feta and oregano; with browned butter and almonds; and with red onion and goat cheese.)
Many of the recipes are classics: chicken salad, carrot cake, pork chops, but with the ATK touch.
And as usual, the cookbook is alarmingly readable--schedule at least an hour the day you get it for browsing!
With the Internet it is literally possible to find hundreds of recipes for any dish you can imagine in a matter of seconds. So why do you need (or want) another cookbook? Well here are some great reasons.
First when you find a recipe on the Internet you rarely know how much you can trust it. Has it been tested? To whose standards? Is it healthy?
With our growing awareness of the need (and benefits) of healthy eating, there is an increasing need for healthy recipes that have been thoroughly tested, are well laid out, easy to follow and most of all tasty.
The goal of America's Test Kitchen was to develop a family cookbook that filled all those requirements. They tested all the recipes numerous times until they found the very best combination of ingredients and cooking times and techniques. The result is their new book.
The book is full of healthy recipes in every category you can think of. It is a complete cookbook. But there is also a wealth of additional information in the book. They give 10 healthy cooking guidelines: Keep balance in mind, include more fruits and vegetables, use whole grains often, choose fats wisely, keep an eye on portion size, watch for hidden sodium, choose leaner cuts of meat, use cheese judiciously, check out low fat alternatives and replace high fat cooking oil with lower fat ones.
They also give you information on essential ingredients to healthy cooking, nutrition basics, some kitchen basics, measuring 101, and essential equipment for a well stocked kitchen.
Throughout the book there are write-ups on different products - from pots and pans to mayo and Dijon mustard. So there is a lot of great information. The book is filled with pictures so you know what the product should look like.
With the growing concern for eating healthier, this would make a great addition to your cooking library.