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The New Best Recipe Hardcover – November 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
A literal encyclopedia of recipes (culled from the magazine), this revision to Cook's Illustrated's popular The Best Recipe is almost double in size and includes more than 1,000 recipes. Cook's Illustrated is known for careful (some would say compulsive) testing of recipes with a focus on foolproof technique; detailed line drawings that take readers step-by-step through recipes; and opinionated guides that assert that their way is the best way. This methodology appeals particularly to a specific kind of cook, one with a primarily scientific rather than artistic or intuitive approach to cooking. Though there are a few photographs, readers who buy cookbooks for full-color photographs and personal anecdotes aren't likely to be drawn to this work. Twenty-two chapters cover appetizers to desserts. Even the simplest tasks, such as blanching vegetables or peeling an egg, are explained and illustrated in detail. More involved techniques include brining poultry and roasting a turkey. Pad Thai gets a full-page description with photographs to help home cooks learn how to properly soak the noodles. Well organized and extremely clear, the book has only one drawback: its heft may make it tough to hoist onto kitchen counters.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
". . . .will please those who groove to the cooking geek sensibility of CI editor Christopher Kimball." -- People Magazine, Novembe 12, 2004
"Its charm is its over-the-top thoroughness." -- Newsweek Magazine, Decmeber 6, 2004
"This new edition (The New Best Recipe) means business." -- The New York Times Book Review, November 5, 2004
"the book's recipes...you don't need to be a gourmet to pull them off." -- San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 13, 2004
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As good as it is, this book does suffer from many of the same pitfalls that plague the recipe book genre. Despite their earnest attempts to make their recipes as robust as possible, I find that their recipes tend to be somewhat kitchen specific. Simple things like differences in oven settings and thickness of pots and pans will throw off the recipe. You will find that while high heat was ideal for them, it may mean a burnt salmon for you. They try to address these things but most times you just have to use your judgement and learn from your mistakes. For me, the recipes almost never come out the way like it on the first try; they tend to be 'ok' but not spectacular. This is usually a combination of me not having their recommended cookware, making small adjustments to cook with the ingredients I have or me just disagreeing with what the authors consider the "best recipe".
The first issue is largely a function of me being college student and not being able to afford the top notch cookware that they recommend. To be honest, the cookware they recommend are not exorbitantly priced. They tend to go for the best value but sometimes even the best value is a bit out of reach for me. Overall, I do find that most recipes were accessible and they try to stick with the most basic set of cookware that they think most home kitchens should have. They would even outline variations based on available equipment. For example, if a recipe calls for mixing they would sometimes show you how to do it with a standing mixer, food processor or by hand. Judging from the very pleasing results from my lackluster cookware, I would imagine that if I had reasonably well stocked kitchen I would be consistently churning out splendid dishes. The second case, not having the exact ingredients, is almost unavoidable in my opinion. They sometimes recommend things that I either can't find at my grocery store (usually a specific brand of a product) or too exotic to be used for something else. They have a thing for fancy cheeses and fine wine. Well, fine wine is always useful :) but I'm not going to buy $12 block of cheese just to grater a little bit over a bowl of soup.
There have been a few occasions where after making everything exactly as they say (right ingredients, cookware, method and everything), I would still find the recipe to be underwhelming. I could think of their blueberry muffin recipe for example. For them, the ideal blueberry muffin should be light, moist, sweet, buttery and loaded with blueberries. After making these muffins, I found that they were too light (almost cake-like), too sweet and too buttery. I would say it was a blueberry cupcake rather than muffin. I like to eat muffins with my breakfast so I like them to have a hearty texture and not to be too sweet. That's just my preference though. I also didn't like their french onion soup recipe. They introduced a short cut that literally involved burning the onions to speed up the caramelizing process but the soup came out way off. I tried other french onion soup recipes and I thought they were way superior. Others will disagree with my taste and that's fine but this is where the book shines. By providing the thought process behind each step, it is a lot easier to tweak the recipe to your liking.
I should also mention that the book is littered with many educational gems such as how to pick out the best knives, why brining a chicken works to improve its flavor and moisture, the different types of flour and how their properties affect your recipe etc.
Other caveats... the book is somewhat difficult to navigate. It presents recipes under broad sections like soups, poultry, beef, breakfast, etc. which I think is fine but the aforementioned educational asides are scattered. The first time I tried roasting chicken by their method I set off my fire alarm because of the smoke coming from the fat dripping onto the hot oven surface. A few pages later, they tried a recipe that was more prone to smoking and took a long aside to go over why smoking happens and how to avoid it. It would have been nice, if they had all these little caveats organized at the beginning of the book or each section so that you can read through them before jumping into a recipe.
In my humble opinion, recipes should provide more inspiration than instruction and this book possesses this quality more than any other I have read. I have just scratched the surface of this book, about a dozen recipes tried, and I have been very impressed with the outcomes so far and I have learned a whole lot. I do plan on investing in good cookware :) and I even have plans to host dinner parties soon.
Very highly recommended --- and for a bit of appeal to authority, before I was a nurse, I went to culinary school. This is on par with many of the textbooks I used in school. An awesome guide to the kitchen for anyone regardless of skill level
Sure, my journey into the culinary world started with Alton Brown and his crazy antics and, uh, distinct, uh, way of speaking...but, uh, uh, this was one of the bricks that led me to where I am today (still pretty close to where I started, but I can make really good bread and other such foods).
This is a great book because they write about the process behind the recipe itself. So they discuss the various recipes they found, and what they liked about each one, and how they came to choose what to use and what not to use. It gives you an idea of how different ingredients affect the flavor and or chemistry in the cooking process. Making cookies? How does oil v butter v lard work? Check it out.
Oh, and follow the recipes, will you? People who deviate will blame it on the book, but you should at a minimum do it to the letter first. Afterward, feel free to alter it!