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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
The Cook's Illustrated publishing empire is perhaps the most benign, useful deployment of mass obsessive-compulsive disorder in today's America. I say that in the nicest possible way. Cook's magazine reporters tell you everything that went wrong during recipe development and testing, and why. If that wears the reader out, they can skip to the recipes, which ALWAYS WORK. (I'm not shouting at you--there's no way to put italics on Amazon.com reviews.)
If I'm going to spend time, money, and care on everyday recipes, rather than ambitious gambles, I want to know that the results will be worth it. I've never had a dud from a Cook's recipe unless it was clearly my fault (I didn't hear the timer, someone in the house started screaming and bleeding, etc.).
This volume is more idiosyncratic than the magazine, as maestro Christopher Kimball gives full voice like a hunting hound to his personal prejudices ("Poaching perfectly ripe fruit is insane"). He explains exactly how to make a gloriously moist, evenly roasted chicken, a batch of bran muffins worth eating, or from-the-cupboard main dishes that are ready in a flash or two, yet still memorable. If his bow-tied certitude starts getting you down, pour a glass of wine and skip to the recipes.
The gold standard for kitchen "whys" remains, in my house, Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise." I wouldn't be without it. But for day-to-day usage, "The Kitchen Detective" is guaranteed to make a cook take a different five o'clock look at the unpromising contents of one's pantry: Canned tuna as a pasta-sauce base? Gosh, it's good!
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2004
I almost didn't buy this book after wondering if it would just end up being another issue of Cook's Illustrated (the magazine founded by Kimball), but decided to go ahead and get it, and I'm really glad I did! After only having owned this book for a week, it's already my favorite cookbook. I don't know if it's my New England sensibilities or just the high quality of the recipes that I've come to expect from Kimball & Co., but I'm amazed at how many of the recipes in this cookbook I want to make. Usually when I buy a cookbook, many of the recipes are either too time-consuming, too complicated, or they require expensive or hard-to-find ingredients. As he tests different recipes to come up with a perfected version, Kimball makes note of any strange ingredients or bizarre preparation methods, favoring simpler and more straightforward methods that will save cooks time and result in recipes just as delicious as any that require hours in the kitchen.
The book is divided into sections - soups, meats, dessert, and includes many helpful sidebars with interesting information about such things as the rise of Kraft Mac & Cheese or his most-used kitchen tools. Overall, this book is more than just recipes, though the recipes are all really great. The author goes through the trial and error process for you, reports on his results, and analyzes why some recipes failed and others succeeded, and gives you the knowledge you'll need to know what makes some recipes work and others turn out badly.
My only complaint about this book is Kimball's overuse of the phrase 'marriage' when referring to the combination of two ingredients, tastes, textures, etc. Someone get this man a list of synonyms.
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82 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2004
Based on the title and reviews, I was very excited to read this book. He told the reason he got started was because of a haughty french cooking teacher didn't explain how things worked and why adding things in a certain order mattered... basically the science behind the cooking process. I love kitchen science. The intro to this book was right down my alley. After that, the book went downhill and quickly. His method of going through what ingredients worked and what didn't were fine, but they were based on his personal taste rather WHY ingredients are working the way they are... basically it seems that he writes a recipe that says "do this, I've already tested it" without explaining why it works -- just like that haughty french cooking teacher did to him. I also felt he often contradicted himself. For example, he launches into a tirade about how we should spend more time in the kitchen because it's a process and it makes us better and more in tune with our families when we cook for them, then the next two pages have recipes for risotto in half the time and seven minute polenta because he doesn't want to spend all that time in the kitchen. Overall, very infuriating since the book was not at all what the title, jacket cover and reviews suggest. No disrespect to his recipes because if you're looking for fast answers on what to make for dinner based on what someone else decides are the best potatoes to use, then this is your book. If you want to know WHY you should use those potatoes (based on starch content and how it reacts with the butter that you added earlier vs later), I recommend Shirley Corriher's book 'Cookwise' over this one any day of the week -- her book goes into the taste and the science behind it.... besides, it gives more recipes to boot, if that's what you're looking for. Second place after corriher's would be Alton Brown's 'i'm just here for the food'. For those that are gung-ho for the whys of cooking, Harold McGee's 'On food and cooking' has become the bible of kitchen science, although it is more tedious to read that either corriher's or brown's.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I like the word "foolproof" in a cookbook. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, and even a lot of cooking sense, a good recipe can create a disaster. Even a good chicken soup can become greasy with overdone, soggy noodles if not cooked correctly. In this book, Kimball takes food that most Americans have consumed, and breaks each recipe down into what works and what doesn't. Are you looking for ways to liven up such dishes as Tomato Soup, Greek Salad, Risotto, and Pork Tenderloin? Do you want to make a good meal fast? All of the recipes included in this book make meals from scratch...without too much fuss. Are they all as fast as cooking up a batch of Hamburger Helper? No. Are they better tasting and better for you? Yes. Even if you are only looking for new ways to jazz up favorites, this would be a good cookbook to peruse.

Some of my favorite recipes include: Hearty Minestrone, Real German Potato Salad, Garlic Pasta with Butter-Toasted Bread Crumbs, Braised Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Ginger, & Maple Syrup, Coca-Cola Chicken, Better Fried Fish, Homemade Granola Bars, and Burnt-Sugar Custard. Enjoy!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2006
I recently purchased "The Kitchen Detective" because I was interested in getting a taste of the "Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen" approach to home cooking. I wanted a representative sample of Kimball's approach but I tend to dislike the anonymous/royal "we" voice adopted by institutional cookbooks and collections (such as the Food Network, Cooking Light and various Junior Leagues)...so this collection, which is somewhat more personal and idiosyncratic in its voice and approach, seemed like the perfect choice.

Let me say, right up front, that there are some absolutely terrific recipes in here. Kimball's suggestions for a honey/lime juice glaze for root vegetables, for instance, is almost worth the price of the book by itself. I have only tried a handful of recipes, but I found his directions clear, easy to follow, and easy to execute..."foolproof" indeed, since I normally blow at least as many recipes the first time I try them as I carry off.

But as other reviewers have pointed out, the strength of this collection is also its biggest weakness. That is, by reading this book, you get a really vivid idea of what Christopher Kimball likes in a dish, and lots of very informative explanations on his thinking and choices as he arrives at his final result. What you don't get is the more open, generous, improvisational feel that other chefs and food writers inspire (I am thinking of people like Jamie Oliver, Sally Schneider, or Dave Lieberman), passages that make you want to run out and start slapping ingredients together for the fun of it. Reading page after page of Kimball's doctrinaire thinking produces an airless, hermeneutical, almost "prissy" feeling that seems to take a lot of the fun out of the cooking process. (Or maybe it's just the little "bow tie" graphic that ends each sentence at the end of a text box or a summary paragraph). Many given reader's tastes may not match Kimball's or they may not be looking for what Kimball is in a given dish. (I agree with the reader who thinks that Kimball tends to oversalt and under pepper almost every dish).

Similarly, I appreciate his detailed recommendations for tools and ingredients, but they seem to run somewhat counter to what I would expect sometimes .For instance, most celebrity chefs seem to hate garlic presses, but Kimball seems to favor using presses over the simple "smash and peel" approach that even a rookie cook like myself uses to avoid bitter, hot garlic pieces. And while most of the serious cookbooks I own disdain home knife sharpening devices as a waste of money (and good steel), Kimball endorses an expensive ($90+) elaborate model with little justification or explanation. Well, every one is entitled to their preferences, I just think some of his preferences seem a bit odd and arbitrary.

Despite these reservations, I admire the man's dedication to his principles and his talent at showing the reader how to work with the principles of taste, texture, and heat to arrive at a desired result. This may be the only collection from the Kimball publishing franchise that I ever feel the need to own, but it certainly was worth the purchase and the perusal.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2004
I checked this book out recently from the library, and loved it so much that I am now ordering my own copy.
I have made about 6 dishes so far and found them to be accessible and delicious. I especially enjoyed the vegetable soup, the braised chicken with sweet potatoes and maple syrup, and the shrimp curry. There are lots more great-looking recipes that I am eagerly waiting to try. I think that many of these will be new standards in our home.
These recipes are not overly gourmet and impractical, but aren't lowbrow either. If you're a home cook who loves good food, you can't go wrong with this book. Highly recommended!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2009
I like the detective/investigation format of the book. The recipes I've tried from it have turned out great, and there are helpful product recommendations interspersed throughout as well. The author draws from some Cook's Illustrated test kitchen results in his detective work, so we get to benefit of CI's research as well as the author's own testing (which he does in his own kitchen). He writes about ingredients or methods that he tried along the way that DIDN'T work, and why, so that we can learn from his trial-and-error without having to go through it ourselves.

The reason I give the book 4 stars, and not 5, is that sometimes the writing style is a bit hard to follow, and the general layout of the book is kind of "blah". There are several black and white photographs attempting to show the difference between two recipes that really don't add much to the book at all, the photos are generally too low-quality to discern whatever difference they're trying to show.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This will not replace all your cookbooks - but it will add some very
sound recipes to your repertoire. Any Cooks Illustrated books are
trustworthy - so with limited shelf space and a small kitchen;
this foodie will keep her copy because it has real value and
real inspiration for work a day meal crafting. The chocolate
chip cookie recipe has become our go-to and the savory
recipes are not fru-fru. This will not wind up in your donation
pile - but it will be stained and dogeared after 6 months! :)
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on March 29, 2013
This has the usual Christopher Kimball (of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country) explanations of how and why certain ingredients or techniques were used in the recipe to improve the outcome. Kimball can sometimes come across as a little pretentious (as do many food experts in my opinion as a simple home cook), but his work is easily read and understood and the results have been delicious.

The Pasta with Short Rib Tomato Sauce recipe is now a staple for our house - it's simply delicious, and is better eaten the second day as you can remove any congealed fat and the flavors meld nicely overnight. I've made this for dinners with friends and it always gets sincere compliments. I had never cooked short ribs (I know, I know) and these were a revelation. Another favorite is the Pasta e Fagioli, which my husband loves. I look forward to cooking my way through the book over time.
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on January 28, 2014
Knowing my daughter's interest in America's Test Kitchen and Christopher Kimball's work, I took a chance that this would be a book she would like. She's thrilled!
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