Most helpful positive review
242 of 247 people found the following review helpful
Healthier recipies that taste great
on August 27, 2010
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.