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. --Arthur Boehm
Read a letter, written exclusively for Amazon.com, from Christopher Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen and founder and editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine, as he talks about the years-in-the-making new project, America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook--an 800-pages-plus collection with 1,200 classic recipes.
Exclusive Recipe Excerpts from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook