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I consider myself a pretty good cook but a pretty bad chef. While I can cook individual dishes very well, I'm not so good at creating menus. Even with a six-burner stove, I find it hard to juggle the preparation of several things at the same time, and I frequently get confused. So, I was excited to receive my copy of America's Test Kitchen's "Menu Cookbook", a book that appeared to be aimed directly at me.
The book consists of 51 menus -- 10 for each of the four seasons of the year plus 11 "Celebration and Holiday" menus. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, apparently you get to take a week off. Most of the seasonal menus serve 8 people, while the celebration menus serve 12. Each menu contains an estimate of the amount of time each component recipe should along with pictures, drawings and descriptions. In fact, the illustrations are a little better than ATK's previous books.
At a minimum each menu consists of an appetizer, an entrée, a side and a dessert. But, some menus are more exotic. The "Tapas Party", for example, contains seven courses. The recipes appear to be pulled straight from "Cook's Illustrated" and "The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook", but I haven't compared them one-for-one. In other words, they don't appear to be simplified in any way.
And therein lies the problem. Although a rationale is presented for why each recipe works, there is no rationale for why each menu works. How do you coordinate the cooking, presentation and consumption of simultaneous dishes? Short of preparing some of the dishes the day before, the book offers no guidance. There's no indication of the best order for things to be prepared.Read more ›
This is a very nicely done, inch thick, hardcover book. More than just a menu book it contains cookware recommendations, as you'd expect from ATK, and an extremely useful list of "Emergency Substitutions." For example, you can substitute cake flour with a combination of AP flour and cornstarch, or buttermilk with milk and lemon juice or white vinegar. It also contains "11th Hour Recipes" separate from the menus in case something goes wrong at the last minute (dropped cake, etc.). There are a total of 51 menus with a total of 250 recipes. Each menu is portioned to serve 8, although the holiday menus serve 12. The menus are organized by season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Celebrations and Holidays. Each menu contains 4 to 5 courses, and contains a "game plan" for what to cook ahead and what to do the day of, and info for timing. No other ATK books I know of do that, nor do they arrange courses for you to keep things interesting for the guests. I can only see someone complaining about this is they prefer to plan all this themselves. If so, why buy the book anyway? I've included a full list of the menus below. These do not contain all the recipes for the menus because that would take a long time to type out.Read more ›
This is a beautiful book that has a better place on the coffee table than in the kitchen. The pictures are beautiful. The book is supposed to be for entertaining ("foolproof dinner parties!"), but I question making some of the menus for guests. Do you really want to be frying chicken when the guests are present? The New Year's Eve Blowout requires shucking oysters, roasting a tenderloin, broiling shrimp, mashing potatoes and cooking haricots verts at the last minute. But the tenderloin can be partially made ahead as can a sauce for the oysters and the dessert. I don't think this is a great way to entertain on New Year's Eve. There are a few make-ahead stews, etc. as are most of the desserts. A very few main dish recipes can be made the day ahead (even the Lasagna must be made the morning of the party). Some recipes can be made 4 hours ahead and served at room temperature or reheated in the microwave. Many, many other recipes can be made 1 hour before serving. The menus would be great if I had a chef doing the work while I entertained my guests. I have most of the Cook's Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country cookbooks. Many of the recipes are the same, or a slight variation, of previously published recipes. If you buy this book, put it on the coffee table and let your guests look at the pictures. If you want to entertain as we do, (like spending most of the time with our guests) try Pam Anderson's "The Perfect Recipe for Having People Over" or any one of Diane Phillips "make-ahead" books. I sent this one back.
America's Test Kitchen is a 2,500 square foot kitchen located outside of Boston. It is the home of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines and is the workday destination for over 3 dozen test cooks, editors and cookware specialists. Our mission is to test recipes until we understand how and why they work and arrive at the best version. We also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients in search of brands that offer the best value and performance. You can watch us work by tuning in to our public television show, America's Test Kitchen.