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The Best Simple Recipes
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156 of 158 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
As a "seasoned" cook, I've been down most of the cooking routes: from the French classics, to one-hour gourmet, to complex vegetarian, to severe, healthy cooking by the docs. Now, I lean to this cookbook's style: simple, tasty, fresh and light -- somewhere between poached quenelles and fried tofu. This is a good grouping of contemporary recipes with zip, often with international flair (oriental, Mexican, etc.). Some recipes are updated twists on old faves like Tuna Melt but with artichokes; BLT salad using mayo-smeared croutons; vegetarian chili with corn; Southwestern salmon cakes. Others take classics but ditch the complex and daunting preparation-- like switching paper-thin potato slices for a potato chip mix or skipping the fish-steaming by laying salmon atop the asparagus, or using rotisserie chicken for a flavorful- but quick-chicken soup. Some clever ideas that work! The book has some surprising ingredient combos like kielbasa with potato leek soup. I appreciate the explanatory notes on the thoughtful but concise hows and whys of the recipes, and am impressed with the recommendations of brand name grocery items that they have tested. It's instructive without being pedantic or fussy. For those of us who like to see the cook in action, there are selected photos of some of the techniques and I picked up a few new ones. This is the kind of cookbook you can actually USE everyday, without resorting to the dumbed-down or goofy ones, or those with exotic hard-to-find ingredients or lengthy preparation. It reflects how we cook these days, and I plan to use it often.
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85 of 89 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Boy, I really disagree with the few grumps who thought this book "beneath" Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. It's not beneath, it's just different.

Here's the need it fills:

Let's say you are at least reasonably comfortable in the kitchen and want to make interesting food in a hurry. You want some down home Americana, but you also want some international flavor without having to look for truly exotic ingredients. And it's got to be *really* quick and stress free - none of this stuff with "30-minute" recipes that leave out the slicing and dicing time and actually take 2 hours to make from start to finish. You're not looking to blow the doors off dinner party guests, but just feed the family. And you don't want to read the usual CI/TK 3 pages on how they came up with the recipe - just cut to the chase, folks.

These recipes are perfect for that need - 80% of the goodness of full-bore gourmet with 20% of the effort. That's a pretty good ratio for a weekday.

I've made a bunch of these recipes (and some recipes from the associated series of supermarket cards some folks have mentioned). The ones I've made have been yummy. The family loves them. They use real ingredients and they're interesting and tasty. I'm a big fan of the whole Cooks Illustrated / Cooks Country / America's Test Kitchen empire and for my money this is one of their very best cookbooks so far - even if it is a bit different from their usual output.
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130 of 139 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I am a fan of America's Test Kitchen's (ATK's) cookbooks. They follow a consistent format and the recipes tend to be reliable and reproducible. Our family tends to go in several directions at once so the idea of easy to prepare, quick meals has a lot of appeal. I was anxious to see how this cookbook measures up. In summary, it's a good cookbook but it makes some assumptions about the kitchen in which it is being used.

I have used other cookbooks that tout collections of recipes that can be prepared from start to finish in 30 minutes (in particular Rachael Ray's numerous offerings). My experience is that when a recipe is supposed to be prepared in 30 minutes or less, I usually finish up closer to 45 minutes. Perhaps someone who is more organized and motivated can accomplish this but I cannot. Regardless, every recipe I have tried from this book takes me less than an hour to put together and serve, which is still very much in line with reasonable as far as I am concerned.

One thing that is special about ATK cookbooks is the inclusion of the quick tips, brand comparisons and helpful suggestions that appear on almost every page. This book includes those same helps, and personally I find them interesting and useful.

Although not every recipe in the book comes with a nice picture, many of them (more than half, actually) do. This is always a helpful tool when deciding on what to make for a meal - eye appeal of a dish goes a long way to making a dish more likely to be tried, generally speaking. Also, each recipe is written to be clear and easy to follow and the results are consistent.

There is one main flaw with this cookbook. Many of the recipes call for uncommon ingredients that are not present in the average kitchen. It is important to keep this is mind when deciding on a dish as one ingredient from the dish can be a deal-breaker, no matter how appealing the dish looks in the picture.

This is a good cookbook, filled with good ideas for people who do not have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. The helpful extras make this a good reference tool, too. Though there are some recipes that call for odd ingredients that many do not keep on hand, this cookbook is still a worthwhile addition to any collection where fast and easy cooking rules the day.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 15, 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I want to start off by saying that I love this cookbook. It is simply one of the best cookbooks I have ever had the pleasure of using, and I have used a lot. Typically I have found you have two choices, great tasting complicated recipes or quick and fast artificial tasting food. This books says 30 minutes or less for making these recipes. I find it is more around 45 or less simply because I am not speedy at the prep work as some might expect. I am not in a great deal of a hurry either.

Now I have had a chance to make five recipes so far, two of them I loved, 3 of them were okay and one I didn't care for so much. Now the one of the ones I found to be okay probably had more to do with the my tortellini selection than anything, and the one I didn't care for much at all tasted plain and bland to me. The thing is though, the recipes are so straight forward that, for instance for the gumbo, I can easily add in my own seasoning the next time around and I will. The cooking method turned out great so it's just a matter of adjusting to taste.

Here are some bullet points of what I found to be good and not so good about the book overall.

Pros
Pictures: not every recipe has a picture, but there are a lot of quality pictures here including technique and info pictures ( 2 pages on cuts of beef too!)

Techniques: this is great, it talks about cutting leeks, cuts of steak, best way to make stir-fys, very instructional tips and the like that is great for novice and reminders for experiences cooks

Brand: they mention brand choices that they find to offer the best flavor, or texture, or etc. I find this especially useful when I am dealing with an ingredient I am not as familiar with.

Fresh food: my biggest complain with some of these quick food cookbooks is they are full of premade, artificial tasting food that doesn't taste good in the end. There are premade pastas, broth and etc. but overall these recipes look and taste more like from scratch kind of meal than some other books do.

Speed: a lot of 30 minute meals hit the 30 minute mark by leaving out most the prep work as if you can somehow have elves magically chop your onions for you. I think a quick prep work cook could easily do these in 30 minutes FOR REAL

Taste: I am happy with the recipes so far, even the ones I didn't care for because they taste and cook like someone actually made the recipe. Sometimes I wonder if some of these other cookbooks are just thrown together and never actually made because the outcome is just so awful.

Cons

Nutritional information: There is none. Zip, zilch, nadda. This is a big disappointment for anyone who might be cooking for someone who has to watch things like sodium, carbs or cholesterol. It's a real shame that they didn't take the time to put in the nutritional information.

Vegetarian Recipes: I should mention I am not a vegetarian but I was surprised to see a measly 9 recipes when the soup section has almost twice as many alone at 17 recipes.

Pictures: how can this be a pro and a con, well as mentioned before, not all recipes have pictures which is always a disappointment for me but not something I would penalize them for so much as mention why not!

Price: Not the prices of the book mind you but the food. It would have been great if some of the recipes mentioned cheaper alternatives to some of the spendier items. There are a lot of recipes that are "budget" type recipes but there are a number that are not for the price conscious. Please don't read this as super expensive either just not necessarily a cheap and quick book

Brand: they make bran recommendations which are handy and even give reasons why but for some of us, these brands aren't available except at some organic more expensive stores

Overall, this is a great cookbook to have. It shouldn't intimidate the inexperienced, offers great tips, simple instructions, tasty meals without pages and pages of ingredients. For those of us have cooked some, and I am not expert, it's great for a quick meal and so far a lot of the recipes can be tweaked easily to accommodate taste as well. By far this is the best 30 minute/quick cookbook I have ever had the pleasure of having. I plan on working through this book, a lot and have no doubt will find many more flavorful treats.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
My wife is a graduate of CIA, (Culinary Institute of America, not Langley) and I'm a simple construction worker. I have not a culinary bone in my body, I have no training, and before I was married ate mostly hamburger helper and Dairy Queen. When I had to do the lions share of the cooking in the house because of my wife's job, this cook book kept me from divorce court. The recipies are very tasty, the time frame is usually under 30 minutes, and the instructions are easy to follow. I'm not saying this book will turn you into Tom Colicchio, but with it you could whip the pants off of "Chef Boyardee." Love this book.
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90 of 109 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This cookbook was written by America's Test Kitchen, a favorite cooking resource of mine. I expected to *love* this book but I ended on finding it only good.

Pros:
appealing and updated recipes
attractive pictures
every person that came to my house picked up this book and coveted it, it has tremendous reader appeal
great sidebar commentary on various products and cooking tips, which is something you have to love The Test Kitchen for

Cons:
standard cons, of not suitable for hard kitchen use, the pages don't lie flat
there is not a picture of each recipe
the two recipes I tried were a little time consuming and only tasted "meh" for my effort

I was torn between "I like it" and "it's OK" settling on "OK" because I did not think the recipes that I tried were all that simple. If you just want to read this, I say I loved reading it. Cooking from it, not so much.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
Here's what we've made so far. I don't eat a lot of beef or pork, so I've made some substitutions.

In regular rotation:
Sausage and Tortellini Soup with Spinach - with chicken sausage. Delicious and easy.
Cuban Chicken Salad - we LOVE this
Chopped Salad with Apples, Bacon, and Turkey - with turkey bacon
Skillet Chicken Tikka Masala - not like any chicken tikka masala I've seen, but tasty anyway
Sweet-and-Spicy Veggie Stir-Fry - we have this often. I use reduced fat tofu and can't tell the difference.
Quick Indian Turkey Curry with Potatoes - very easy. I use Greek yogurt and add green beans.

We've also made:
Steak Nicoise Salad - fantastic, but since I use tuna steak, I don't make it often
Sauteed Chicken with Mustard and Dill Sauce - good, easy
Skillet Chicken Tetrazzini - I liked this, but my fiance finds rotisserie chicken too fatty
Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes - also tuna steak. Really about the potatoes, which were good.
Chickpea Cakes with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce - Okay, but not worth the effort.
Black Bean Burgers - I avoided this (I thought: ho hum) but they're actually quite good. The chipotle chile mayo does it.
Sweet Chili-Glazed Tofu with Bok Choy - Similar to, but not quite as good as, the stir-fry above.
Polenta with Mushroom Sauce - delicious but too rich, probably won't make again.

The grill section looks fantastic but we don't have a grill (or a place to put a grill).
The pasta section also looks fantastic but not all that healthy.
The pizza and sandwich sections usually inspire me to make some kind of pizza or sandwich that I already know and like...

Complaints:
Pictures of every recipe would help us imagine what we're getting.
Book doesn't lie flat.
I realize that asking for healthy recipes in 30 minutes or less is pushing it, but what, I want it all. :)

We still have a lot of meals in here that look good, though, so we'll continue trying new things from this book. This is becoming our family cookbook.

About the 30 minute thing: most of these recipes take me an hour or so the first time I make them, but some of them get a little faster with practice.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I noticed a recipe on the back cover of this book and then bought the book. The recipe is Pork with Pears and Gorgonzola. It is fabulous. Very easy to prepare (I had it on the table today in less than 25 minutes) and so delicious.

I've also prepared the Chicken with Artichokes and Potatoes - another winner. Oh, and the Steak with Peppercorn Cream Sauce is out of this world. Yes, there are a few ingredients that a person might need to seek out, but nothing is all that odd. I try to prepare a few days worth of meals at one time, so if I need a pear, I buy one. Yes, you do need to know your basic cooking techniques, but again, nothing is weird.

This is a collection of really good recipes that includes a wide variety of cuisines. Don't time yourself to see if you can make something in 30 minutes or less. Just enjoy the food. It's terrific.

The worst thing about this book is the paperback format. The book won't lie flat and I find that annoying. I'll live with that because the food is delicious.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
I love this book. I am a fan of the cooks illustrated magazines & books (have several of them). They are the only recipes I dare make without seeing a picture of what I'm supposed to be making (note - this book has lots of pictures). The only problem with other Cooks Illustrated books is that some of the recipes are labor (& ingredient) intensive. This book however is perfect for quick weeknight meals. There aren't too many ingredients - some of the recipes I've had everything on hand for & didn't have to go to the store (some of them were so good that I now keep the ingredients on hand just to make those recipes). And some of the recipes have only 3 steps in the directions (which is great when you are being distracted by children).
I can't say enough about this book. I have tried cooking things I haven't tried cooking at home before (scallops, stuffed peppers) that came out beautifully. When I can't decide what's for dinner during the week, I flip through this book & pick. I know that anything I choose will turn out great. I will be buying several copies this fall to give as Christmas gifts.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I am so glad I found this cookbook. I can't tell you how much it's changed dinnertime in my family. I'm a working mom with two kids who just might be the pickiest eaters ever. They both adhere to the "white starch" diet. I hesitated to try new recipes, knowing that my kids would reject them and I'd resent the work that I put into making them. I bought this cookbook, and I've tried around 10-15 recipes so far, and there hasn't been a loser yet. My kids have tried and liked every recipe I've made. The recipes are all fairly healthy (you can make them healthier with some simple substitutions), fairly simple, with fairly inexpensive ingredients. And they can all be made in around 30-45 minutes, which is a big plus for me since I'm always in a rush to make dinner after work. I enjoy trying new recipes knowing that there's a great chance my kids will rate them "yummy."
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