Customer Reviews: Comfort Food Makeovers
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on March 5, 2013
I always look forward to cookbooks from America's Test Kitchen. Their exhaustive approach to recipe-building, tinkering each aspect one at a time, ensures that the end product is spot-on. Although I love many of their past cookbooks, it's no secret that some of their best comfort food recipes are laden with fat, calories, and sodium. This cookbook starts over from scratch to build healthier, cleaner versions of classic comfort foods.

The book begins with an introduction that includes tips to cut fat and calories from food, important staple ingredients for a healthier diet, and necessary kitchen tools or equipment. In traditional America's Test Kitchen style, each recipe contains an introductory paragraph or two that details the recipe-building process. These can be great ways to gain insight into the methods used to cut calories and fat from classic dishes, and many of the techniques can be employed to tweak your own favorite dishes. The rest of the book is laid out in the following sections:

Appetizers and Snacks
Salads, Sandwiches, and Pizza
The Soup Bowl
Classic Casseroles
Baked Not Fried
A Chicken in Every Pot
Favorites from Land and Sea
Pasta Night
On the Side
Breakfast and Brunch
Chocolate Desserts
Cookies and Bars
More Sweet Treats

I have tried several of these recipes thus far (Roasted Artichoke Dip, Creamy Tomato Soup, and Spaghetti Carbonara). Each of them has been delicious -- well-balanced flavors that don't taste like a bland "health food" version of the original. I also appreciate that the folks at ATK don't shy away from using stereotypical "unhealthy foods" (bacon, butter, etc.); they just cut back wherever possible and make substitutions when necessary. If a recipe calls for a bit of butter, it's because they felt that the flavor of the final dish would be compromised without it. But on the other hand, fat-laden ingredients are not thrown in to dishes just because "that's the way it's always been."

One of my reservations about the comfort food makeovers is that the authors focus heavily on calories, fat, and saturated fat but pay less attention to sodium. They do recommend using low-sodium soy sauce or low-sodium broth, but the nutritional facts following each recipe omit the sodium values. I would have preferred to see a greater emphasis on reducing calories, fat, and sodium, which would be a true comfort food makeover in my opinion.

A note for vegetarians: This is not intended to be a vegetarian cookbook, but there are many recipes that could easily be tweaked to fit a vegetarian diet. Meat is central in many of the entrees, but the pasta dishes, soups, and dessert recipes may be worth it. It would be much harder to tweak these recipes to fit a vegan or gluten-free diet.

Overall, I highly recommend this book from ATK. Each recipe is exhaustively researched and tested, and they truly taste like the comfort food originals. I have a feeling that this will be frequently pulled from my shelf for weeknight dinners. Enjoy!
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have a lot of cookbooks - you could almost say I am addicted to them, though I prefer the term "collector" ;) Anyway, very few of them are for the healthier side of life, simply because I have a husband who believes he is allergic to the word "healthy". We've been married for 14 years, and it's taken this long for him to accept that low-fat won't kill him, and that it isn't necessary to eat meat every. single. night. So I was really looking forward to trying this cookbook, figuring what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him - and then I could have the pleasure of "I told you so".

This book did not disappoint. Before I get into the recipes I tried, let me give you an overview of the book itself. The chapters are broken down into these categories:

Appetizers and Snacks
Salads, Sandwiches, and Pizza
The Soup Bowl
Classic Casseroles
Baked Not Fried
A Chicken in Every Pot
Favorites from Land and Sea
Pasta Night
On the Side
Breakfast and Brunch
Chocolate Desserts
Cookies and Bars
More Sweet Treats
Nutritional Information
Conversions and Equivalencies

There are between 8 and 18 recipes in each category. There are some meatless ones, but not a large amount so if that is what you're looking for, you're better off looking elsewhere or being comfortable converting.

As my personal policy, any time I review a cookbook, I have to make at least 3 different recipes within the cookbook and I have to follow the recipe to the letter. Hard to review something when I've changed it. Anyway...being as there are so many different sections, I also decided that each recipe I tested needed to come from a different section within the book, in order to get as wide a range as possible.

The first recipe I tested was Cheeseburger Pie, from the Classic Casseroles section. We found that the recipe was delicious - the tortillas as crust was ingenious, removing a huge chunk of the fat from the recipe. The only glitch we found was that it was impossible to find the recommended cheese, which was Boar's Head 25 Percent Lower Fat American Cheese. We ended up subbing store brand low-fat Mexican Blend. The meat mixture was wonderful - thick and full of flavor. The cheese melted very well, and it was hard to tell the difference.

Next, for a true test with the reduced-fat cheese, was the Baked Macaroni and Cheese from the Classic Casseroles section. This wasn't a planned meal, but one made at the last minute when half the family was out. The daughter loves mac and cheese, so this is what I made. However, said daughter is also somewhat picky about her mac and cheese, so it could have gone either way. Thankfully, this was quite good, though my husband later said he wished there was a bit more mustard powder in it. The cheese was nice and melty, and the flavor was quite good, with just a hint of the cayenne in the background. It would be very easy to spice up if desired, and the recipe was quite simple to make.

The next recipe I made was Sloppy Joes from the Salads, Sandwiches, and Pizza section. While it can be hard to go wrong with sloppy joes, what makes this recipe stand out is that a good portion of the meat is replaced by mushrooms. They are cooked down, then food processed and mixed in. This was a serious test, as I am the only one in my house that will even go NEAR mushrooms. Not only that, but I ended up with two extra kids over for dinner as well - neither of whom like mushrooms either. It was a smashing success. Mind you - I made sure they had no idea there were mushrooms in the mixture. But quite honestly, it was pretty much impossible to tell they were there. The visiting kids went home and asked their mom to get the recipe, and mine enjoyed leftovers. Even the picky husband, who knew about the mushrooms and went searching for them, couldn't tell they were there. The flavor was quite good overall.

Then I made the Peanut Noodle Salad from the Pasta Night section. Easy and tasty, though a tad bit on the bland side for my husband. The addition of some Korean chili flakes fixed that, though I think he would have liked a bit more of the Asian flavor to shine through. Having said that - the neighbors (both sets) all absolutely loved it! In fact, one of the neighbors took home some extra the next day for lunch...

The final recipe needed to be a dessert. So, the Red Velvet Cupcakes were chosen. I was particularly impressed with these - they baked up nice and tall. The cocoa flavor was obvious without being overpowering, and the cupcakes were nice and moist. The frosting was not overly sweet, and definitely had a cream cheese flavor, though slightly toned down a bit. Overall, these were delicious. The kids loved them, and they would be great to take for just about any occasion.

All-in-all, I'm extremely impressed with this cookbook. The sign of a good one is that I generally want to look there first when trying to figure out what to make for upcoming meals - and this one certainly fit the bill. I really like that the food is healthier, and yet the food is still very good. It's even good enough to satisfy my picky husband and my semi-picky kids. In this household, this book is a keeper!
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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I lost a large amount of weight about five or six years ago. Ever since then, maintaining that weight has been more of a struggle than the actual weight loss! I am always looking for ways to create dishes that are both delicious and healthy, and I'm a huge fan of ATK.

In going through the recipes in this book, I noted that the nutritional information was...disappointing. The goal of the authors was to "to cut calories by a third (we ended up averaging 41 percent) and fat by half (final average was 65 percent)." But looking at the dishes (some were absurdly bad at the start), even though they achieved the goal, the dishes still weren't light. The cover photo shows Mac & Cheese. A serving of their 'light' version still has over 400 calories. And that's for a 'side' dish. Can you imagine making a whole meal with this?

I still like the methodology--they begin each recipe with the 'Why This Recipe Works' explanation of how they got to their finished product. There are a few gems of info in using ingredients. But I've noticed that the general substitutions are those that are done by MOST people (no rocket science here)--low fat cream cheese, low fat mayo, low fat sour cream, etc. They did adjust some of the ratios to get the best results with the least amount of fatty goods, but again...this is something anyone can do without a cookbook.

I do have to say that most of the recipes that I've tried from this and other ATK books are successful. When you buy one of their books, you can be assured that the recipes have been tried and tested by persnickety people. But I'm conflicted about this book. I got this for free through the Vine program. Had I been in a store and thumbed through the book (and looked at the nutritional info), I would have skipped it. I've seen better books with a deeper focus on lighter fare.
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on February 27, 2013
I'm always looking for new ways to eat healthier and trim some calories and this book is FULL of recipes to do just that. I love that they put a nice selection of foods, and expanded "comfort foods" beyond Meatloaf or Mac & Cheese. This book has a recipe for 80 calorie Crab Rangoon, 100 calorie Egg Rolls, 350 Calorie Pizza, plus soups, dips, and fabulous desserts including NY Cheesecake and Red Velvet Cupcakes. There's a great section in the front that explains how they calculated the nutritional values of the recipes, how to measure things properly, and key equipment used to optimize results. I gave it 4 stars because some of the recipes don't have photos. Overall, its a great cookbook and I'm pleased with it. I pre-ordered from Amazon and it arrived a few days before its official release date, which is kind of fun.
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on April 5, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is so helpful. I have been looking to slim down some of the meals I normally cook but didn't want to go for all fat free or sugar free. There are other cookbooks that go as far as to wipe off all fat and sugars and I didn't want to go there to get to a decent amount of calories and nutrition in an overall meal. These recipes are not like that, though they have a lower amount of sugar and fat, they are not completely free of either ingredients or call for any sweeteners.

I have tried several recipes of this book:

- Buffalo wings
- Classic wedge salad with Blue cheese dressing
- Thin crust pizza
- Meat and cheese lasagna
- Baked ziti
- Oven-fried fish
- Beef stroganoff
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Shrimp scampi with pasta
- Broccoli with cheese sauce
- Mashed potatoes
- Macaroni salad
- Cinnamon rolls
- Banana bread (turned into muffins)

And they ALL have delivered amazing flavor and richness. I use this book just about everyday. Not only has it helped me to bring new recipes, but it has so many helpful hints for meals that I normally do and are not in this book. I am learning to balance meals without having to cut on flavor or ending up with too watery sauces.

Each recipe starts with an explanation of why the recipe works and what they tested to come up with a `perfect' combination of ingredients. I am so glad to have this book and highly recommend it for those who are trying to watch some calorie intake or even for those who just want to plan meals ahead.

For people with allergies or special food inclinations like vegetarians, this book might have some recipes that you could use - please do some research before buying, there are other reviews with more information regarding the contents of this book. Feel free to ask some specific questions, thank you!
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on March 1, 2013
Beings that I am Lifetime on Weight Watchers, I now realize that there are just some wonderful foods I just cannot have very often, however...I have run the recipes from this book through my Weight Watchers' e-tools and have come up with some low points plus. The Spaghetti Carbonara was only 6 points per serving, and that was using regular pasta, regular mayo and regular cheese! They suggest NOT to go low-fat on ingredients because it will interfere with the taste. That being said, I don't use full fat products any longer, so using the lower fat products reduced the points, and since I am used to the taste of these lower fat/higher fiber products, I had no problem and was able to have a larger serving! I highly recommend it, especially if you are on a program like Weight Watchers because these kinds of cookbooks can really aid you on your way to goal, or even if you've hit that goal!
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoy the "America's Test Kitchen" television series and have a number of their books. This is the second paperback release made available through Vine. And like the first, it is definitely a mixed bag. I have made a variety of the recipes and some I would make again. Others were just OK. Some were downright awful or didn't work. I find it odd that anything ATK puts out would be a mixed bag, they spend an enormous amount of time researching recipesm, trying variatons and coming up with the "Best" recipe. The recipes they come up with usually require multiple steps, sometmes odd steps, but it is important to follow their recipes to the t, because every step is there for a reason.

That said, I followed each of these recipes step by step.

The first recipe I tried was actually the worst. Because these are "Comfort Food Makeovers", each recipe uses lowfat ingredients and some of these are substitutions for something that would normally be in the recipe. I tried the Chicken Tetrazzini recipe first. It uses boneless, skinless chicken breast and they really want this to remain moist. After making a sauce, the recipe instructs to put raw chicken cubes in the sauce, bring it to a simmer, simmer for 1 minute and then to put it in a casserole and bake for the remainder of the time. I did this. And surprise, the chicken pieces were unevenly cooked. Some of them were raw, others were almost cooked. A minute simply isn't enough and it shows this recipe is poorly written.

The Cheeseburger Pie was an interesting idea, but the flour tortillas were still soggy when we ate the dish, despite browning them first before adding the hamburger filling.

The chocolate bundt cake was dry and the only saving grace was the vanilla glaze.

Some of the highlights were:

The King Ranch Casserole. I have never heard of this recipe before, but it was very tasty. Very similar to a tortilla casserole.

The Pork Lo Mein is a dish I have already made a few times and it is a winner.

The Chocolate Cupcakes with frosting were pretty good.

The larger, hardcrover "America's Test Kitchen Best Light Recipes" is a much better volume. Many of the recipes I made from that book are keepers and it is difficult to even tell they are Light.

This book is a miss.
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on March 11, 2014
I am not sure how to rate this cookbook. Typically I don't buy cookbooks. I will try out a few recipes from borrowing a copy from the library first. When I brought this one home, my husband was all over it, turning pages saying he would like to try - that is he would cook - almost every recipe. The cookbook is nicely laid out and almost begs one to make everything - just like the show! We do like ATK. We've tried many of their recipes from the show, and we have the most recent annual compilation cookbook from the series.

However, we find that we often end up tweaking their recipes. We've tried 3 recipes from this cookbook so far. They are all ok, but only one will I definitely want to make again. We appreciate a healthy approach to cooking and eating. Yet even for comfort food these can be high in calories and fat.

I would recommend The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook: A New, Healthier Way to Cook Everything from America's Most Trusted Test Kitchen over this book. That one has a ring-binder binding making it very easy to use.
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on March 14, 2014
Always love the recipes from America's Test Kitchen. Especially love the "Why this recipe works" section. Have made a number of the made over recipes and my family loved them all. They didn't know that these were lighter in calories. The Chicken Enchiladas were amazing, a little spicy for the four-year-old, but the flavor was definitely there. Really looking forward to trying more recipes. I think I'll be making the cheesecake this weekend.
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on June 2, 2014
Few books are perfect, including this one. However, having made at least 17 to 20 of the recipes I would say this is a should have in a library of cookbooks for light and healthy cooking. Among the recipes are:

All American Chili - Modest in spicing but quite good. A tip: their recommendation of pinching of larger portions of turkey (rather than sautéing all of it) and adding to the cooking pot really works well - great mouth feel. No one will think this dish is low fat!

Creole-Style Gumbo - Fantastic. But like any Gumbo a lot depends on the spicing - which is why I used Emeril's blend.

Pork and Hominy Stew - Disappointed but not because of the recipe. It was the first time I ate hominy, and I just don't like its taste.

Creamy Mushroom Soup - Good but could have been better. Clearly I overcooked the mushrooms in extracting the water...or maybe the recipe is not all that great?

Sloppy Joes - Oh My God good. I never liked sloppy Joes much till I ate that recipe. Wow!

Oven Fried Chicken - FINALLY after years of trying recipes for oven fried chicken I found one I liked. The older ATK recommendations of "melba toast" breading is too dry and bland, and the panko coating is iffy, but the ground corn flakes was perfect.

Deviled Chicken - Excellent, especially if you like HOT ... you might want to cut back on the pepper tho...

Chicken and Dumplings - not easy to get the dumplings right, BUT still very, very good.

Meatloaf - Very Good to Great!

Jambalaya - Super Super GREAT! Emeril's spice used. Again, no one will think this is lower fat.

Steak Tips - Tried making this twice. Not bad but not very good either. The tenderizing method does not seem to be as effective as one might think. Perhaps cooking a bit longer would help (to medium)?

Spaghetti Carbonara - Very Good.

Fettuccine Alfredo - Very Good to Great.

Linguine with Bolognese - Fantastic. Really pleased with this dish.

Mashed Potatoes - Very Good to Great.

Buttermilk Biscuits - Fantastic, Great, So damned buttery.

Chocolate Cupcakes - I somehow screwed up the cake portion so it did not rise as expected and was dense. That said, the frosting was SUPER.

What I really liked about the book was in learning different techniques and ingredients in substituting products. Using soy sauce, anchovies, tomato paste, and dried mushrooms to add depth, different methods of thickening, ways of blooming aromatics (skillet and microwave), etc.

That said, there a is a caveat:, many recipes require careful attention to details of time, procedure, and ingredients. They are not complex recipes but sometimes they are exacting.

If your thing is understanding the tricks of healthy cooking, this book is an excellent addition to your library.
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