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on August 5, 2001
I'm an avid cook and, while I no longer subscribe to "Cooks Illustrated" magazine, I respect Chris Kimball and his expert kitchen team and have had good luck, more or less, with their recipes which, if followed EXACTLY, are virtually foolproof. I also never fail to learn something from their informative kitchen commentary, including kitchenware recommendations. All in all, his recipes and advice are beneficial to both novice and experienced cooks.
That having been I have to point out that taste is, of course, subjective. For instance, I've found, from trying a number of Kimball's recipes, that he is a salt-a-holic. I prefer to cook with little or no salt, as I find the taste harsh and unpleasant, and if I followed Kimbell's recipes exactly I'd be drowning in the stuff. I prefer pepper and tend to double or triple the often meager amounts Kimbell calls for in his recipes (usually he calls for four or fives times more salt than pepper, and I tend to reverse those ratios).
The recommendations too, are, of course, all one man's opinion. He speaks harshly of Le Creuset, which is my favorite cookware, despite the expense (don't listen to Kimball: the enamel service is as good or better than non-stick), and frequently raves about plain cast iron which, while I'm sure can be great, takes a great deal of patience to properly season (I've NEVER had any luck doing so), can't be washed in a dishwasher (big downfall, in my opinion) and can easily destroy an induction cooktop (something Kimball fails to even mention). He also highly recommends an electric rice cooker which is, perhaps, the least useful tool in my kitchen and is quite scornful of breadmakers, an appliance I use several times a week quite happily.
All of Kimball's cookbooks follow the same basic format: a long-winded, but often interesting, discourse on how Kimball views the "perfect" version of whatever it is he's showing you how to cook, including a lengthy explanation of variations he has tried, followed by his "Master Recipe" for the food. I recommend carefully reading the introduction, focusing on what Kimball considers "perfection," before attempting the recipe. For instance, he prefers very hard, extremely crusty bread (one of the main reasons he despises breadmakers, by the way) with a light, "air-filled" interior, while I like a soft, almost blonde, crust and am quite fond of the "cakelike" bread consistency Kimball is so disdainful of. So, in terms of bread, Kimball's "master" recipe is obviously not going to suit me.
In short, if your taste is the same as Kimball's when it comes to a particular food his well-researched and thoroughly-tested recipes will be amazing. If you don't feel the same way about, say, chicken (he likes it quite salty and greasy--though he uses the terms like "savory," "succulent" and "moist" to describe what I think of as "salty" and "greasy") as the author, his recipe for roasting a chicken will leave you cold.
The other caveat to keep in mind when purchasing Kimball's books is that many, most notably the "Cook's Bible," are extremely outdated (far more so than they should be, judging by the publication date), particularly when it comes to appliance and cookware recommendations. (Often the products he has tested either no longer are made or have been radically changed, and the ones he panned are now considerably better.) For instance, Kimball frequently talks about the "rarity" of a kitchen which contains both a food processor and a stand mixer while I'd say at least half the wives I know have both, and quotes bread machines as costing "upwards of $300." (There's also a rather long and ludicrious section where he goes into great deal about how "most" people who own a stand mixer "only have a whip attachment" when KitchenAid, and other popular models, have been including dough hooks and paddles, as well as whips, as standard equipment for at least the last 15 years.) Kimball also terms ceramic cooktops "experimental" though they are actually quite common now. (Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen people I know who cook on induction or ceramic ranges.) In addition, he completely ignores the Internet when giving out reccomendations of where to purchase certain items. (Most of the things he says you need can be easily found online.) In addition, he says you can buy a top-of-the-line Wusthof Trident chef's knife for "around $85," when in fact the knife he reccomends now costs well over $100. I could go on, but I think you get the point: Listen to Kimball's advice, but don't always take it as hard fact.
But my biggest problem with Kimbell cookbooks is this: If you have one, you have them all. He lifts whole passages and recipes and uses them in multiple books. "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook," and the "Cook's Bible," for instance, have at least 50 identical recipes, not to mention verbatim introductions to each section and cookware reccomendations repeated word-for-word. "The Best Recipe" features ALL of the recipes (as far as I can tell) from the "Cook's Bible," with the same commentary, which is, in turn, lifted in whole chunks from past issues of "Cooks Illustrated." I'm sure this saves Mr. Kimbell a great deal of time when compiling his cookbooks but it leaves little reason to own more than one edition of his work. Exceptions to this rule are his specality cookbooks, such as his "Complete Pasta and Noodle" or "Complete Poultry," which again contain exact repeats from other books but also add a wealth of new recipes and information.
If you're going to buy a Kimbell cookbook, and I do think it's a worthy investment for any semi-serious cook, buy his latest (for example, "The Best Recipe," in lieu of "The Cook's Bible"), whatever that may be. That way, you're sure to get 90% of what's contained in earlier versions, without paying for "repeats." On the other hand, if you already own, say, "The Cook's Bible," don't bother with "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook" or the "The Best Recipe." In addition, as mentioned earlier, Kimbell's speciality cookbooks, focusing on one particular item, are also worth the purchase price, but only if you're interested in that particular food type.
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on August 6, 1999
This book is the first cookbook I've read which has turned me on to the science of food-making in a clear, understandable, and fool-proof way. It is liberating to realize that broccoli tastes best when steamed 7 minutes (this is really true), that I can make truly amazing salad greens (I can't stop eating them) if I dress them with WHITE balsamic in a 4-to-1 ratio with fine olive oil--I add a teaspoon of fresh chopped rosemary and cracked pepper; and that a perfect roast chicken can be achieved by simply brushing the skin with butter and turning two times. By following along with his scientific method of figuring out what tastes best, I've also found that I've picked up an understanding of cooking that has allowed me to experiment more in the kitchen, and get creative--which is half the fun of it, after all.
Kimball's recipes focus on bringing out the best qualities of the food being prepared, rather than relying on sauces, cheeses, etc. to make it taste good. My snobbiest cooking friends have tasted food I've made from this book and commented on its deliciousness. I highly recommend it, especially to people who want to learn the hows and whys of cooking to become better, more creative cooks.
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on June 30, 1999
James Beard brought fine cooking to the American kitchen. Christopher Kimball has continued in this tradition.
This book provides not simply near perfect recipes but a guide to both the experienced cook and the novice on how to prepare them. The sections on the selection of kitchen equipment are wonderful. He presents his recommendations on what you need not only in the generic, but the specific.
Some of what he advocates, you may disagree with. I know that I can put a finer edge on a knife with a good steel than I can with the recommended electric knife sharpener. However, the knife sharpener is necessary when the edge no longer responds to the steel.
In no case will you go wrong with his recommedations (except for the waffle recipe). It does need more oil.
For anyone starting to learn to cook or wanting to learn to cook better, this is a priceless resource. I cannot recommend it more strongly. If I had only one cookbook in my kitchen, this would be it. The second would, of course, be James Beard American Cooking.
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on November 10, 2000
I have had The Dessert Bible for a number of weeks now, and have meant to write a review for at least as long, but each time I sit down with the book to gather my thoughts, I get lost once again in the crisp writing, the tips, and the odd bits of knowledge and inside information that Christopher Kimball provides along with his excellent recipes. This book is terrific simply to sit down and read for pleasure and edification (how can I resist such things as Case # 48 on beating egg whites, entitled "Better Whipping Through Chemistry"?), but it is also great for hands-on cooking. I am not a very accomplished cook, and not a particularly brilliant baker, but the recipes I have tried from this book have come out really well, without the pain and angst than I might have thought necessary. In part this is due to the fact that the recipes (delicious) have been thoroughly tested and improved upon, in part it is due to the general guidance provided by the author, and the theory he offers to support his practices and methods; I find knowing how and why things work or don't contributes to my sense of confidence in cooking, and especially in making desserts, which is for me esspecially daunting. I particularly love the charts detailing his experiment results, and the "What Can Go Wrong?" sections, and I find the drawings and illustrations of techniques to be a welcome relief from posed pictures of beautiful food that taunt one with their perfection!
This is an excellent dessert cookbook, aptly named a "bible," and it would make an inspired Christmas present for a thoughtful, creative person, regardless of his or her talent in the kitchen. Highly recommend it.
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on January 5, 2003
I have the version of "The Cook's Bible" that came as one book together with "The Dessert Bible." If you are at all familiar with Cook's Illustrated Magazine, the format and style will be familiar to you. As for recipes, you will find it all in here -- product tests, exhaustively researched recipes for the food your mom and grandma used to make, etc. Some of the product testing is a little dated, but frankly, I don't base my purchases on Christopher Kimball's opinions anyway. I rely on an amalgam of information from many different sources to determine the best kitchen equipment, ingredients etc.
It's a great kitchen resource, but be warned -- if you own this, there's no need for you to buy "The Best Recipe," "The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook," or basically anything else Cook's Illustrated puts out, because the recipes are the same. This book is basically an expanded version of the non-dessert recipes in "The Best Recipe," which I also own. Cook's Illustrated is famous for recycling their recipes over and over and just putting new titles and covers on the cookbooks. If you buy this, don't buy another CI book until you're absolutely positive (through side-by-side comparison) that you need both.
The only other criticism I have of this book -- and all the Cook's Illustrated books, really -- is there's not a lot of diversity of cuisines involved. The magazine and cookbooks stick to tried-and-true staples of American (actually Northeastern American) food, and occasionally step a just a little over into ethnic cuisine. But if you're looking for explosive new tastes, interesting fusions of different cuisines, daring flavor combinations, new twists on old standards etc., these are not the cookbooks you're looking for. This would be a great gift for nervous new cook who's interested in learning the fundamentals and needs the reassurance of extensively tested recipes, but there's not a lot of excitement or intrigue here for a cook who's more or less mastered the basics of American cuisine and is now branching out into cooking the food of other parts of the world. A very nice basic "resource" cookbook to have, but definitely not the be-all end-all "bible" of cooking Kimball purports it to be.
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on October 15, 2000
The two best things about this book are that I can understand the reasoning behind the instructions and that ALL of my favorite dessert recipes are finally in one book. I have 1/2 a dozen dessert cookbooks, each having a few recipes I really use and like. In this book, they are all here and there is enough information that I can make it right everytime.
About the flour measurement mentioned in another reader's review: the issue didn't even occur to me as I cooked my way through this book. I read the instructions on flour measurement and that seems to have done the trick. I made the pie crust recipe in both a low-elevation humid climate and a high elevation dry climates, with success each time. Kimball tells me what is important and what isn't, so I decide whether I can make do with what I have on hand or not. I'm not a culinary whiz, and these are recipes I can count while I try new things. I even cooked a new recipe for guests without worrying whether it would work.
Besides, who can resist a cookbook with recipes like Apple Pandowdy, fallen chocolate cake (which tastes better than you can imagine), and mango sherbert all in one place?
It's all here. It's hugely readable. You'll learn something. And the best part is: you get to eat it at the end. All my other dessert books are being donated to the library tomorrow.
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on August 21, 2001
I'm an avid cook and, while I no longer subscribe to "Cooks Illustrated" magazine, I respect Chris Kimball and his expert kitchen team and have had good luck, more or less, with their recipes which, if followed EXACTLY, are virtually foolproof. I also never fail to learn something from their informative kitchen commentary. All in all, his recipes and advice are beneficial to both novice and experienced cooks.
That having been I have to point out that taste is, of course, subjective. For instance, I've found, from trying a number of Kimball's recipes, that he is a salt-a-holic. I prefer to cook with little or no salt, as I find the taste harsh and unpleasant, and if I followed Kimball's recipes exactly I'd be drowning in the stuff. I prefer pepper and tend to double or triple the often meager amounts Kimball calls for in his recipes (usually he calls for four or fives times more salt than pepper, and I tend to reverse those ratios).
The recommendations too, are, of course, all one man's opinion. He speaks harshly of Le Creuset, which is my favorite cookware, despite the expense (don't listen to Kimball: the enamel service is as good or better than non-stick), and frequently raves about plain cast iron which, while I'm sure can be great, takes a great deal of patience to properly season (I've NEVER had any luck doing so), can't be washed in a dishwasher (big downfall, in my opinion) and can easily destroy an induction cooktop (something Kimball fails to even mention).
All of Kimball's cookbooks follow the same basic format: a long-winded, but often interesting, discourse on how Kimball views the "perfect" version of whatever it is he's showing you how to cook, including a lengthy explanation of variations he has tried, followed by his "Master Recipe" for the food. I recommend carefully reading the introduction, focusing on what Kimball considers "perfection," before attempting the recipe, because whether you agree with Kimball's definition of "perfection" is very important as whether this recipe will be a hit with your or not.
In short, if your taste is the same as Kimball's when it comes to a particular food his well-researched and thoroughly-tested recipes will be amazing. But if you don't feel the same way, the "master recipe" won't really work for you. For instance, I like my cookies more "blonde" and chewy than Kimball and his team, so his cooking times/methods aren't exactly to my specifications.
But my biggest problem with Kimball cookbooks is this: If you have one, you have them all. He lifts whole passages and recipes and uses them in multiple books. "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook," and the "Cook's Bible," for instance, have at least 50 identical recipes, not to mention verbatim introductions to each section and cookware recommendations repeated word-for-word. "The Best Recipe" features ALL of the recipes (as far as I can tell) from the "Cook's Bible," with the same commentary, which is, in turn, lifted in whole chunks from past issues of "Cooks Illustrated." I'm sure this saves Mr. Kimball a great deal of time when compiling his cookbooks but it leaves little reason to own more than one edition of his work. The "Dessert Bible" follows this same somewhat annoying pattern, featuring duplicates of basically every recipe in the "Cook's Bible" and "The Best Recipe." I'd say at least half, maybe more, of the recipes are duplicates--something you should be aware of, especially if you already own one or both of the above cookbooks, before you buy.
That having been said, the "Dessert Bible" does expand enough on Kimball's earlier works for me to recommend it to cooks with serious sweet toohs. Occasional kitchen goers would probably be better served with "The Best Recipe," Kimball's best cookbook to date.
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on December 7, 1999
I can't say enough good things about this book. Kimball tells you in precise detail what does and does not work. He and his staff do all the necessary research to let the reader know why a recipe turns out well. And his book reads like a conversation.
If you are one of those cooks who wants to understand food then this book and the whole Cook's Illustrated volumes are for you. They will tell you how to do their dishes and give you the intellectual background to understand the process. I hate to use such highbrow words for Kimball's downhome style, but this certainly ought to be part of the American gastronomic tradition.
By the way, did I mention that the food turns out fabulously?
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 5, 2002
Subtitled "The Best of American Home Cooking", this volume presents a series of master recipes within the context of recipe analysis, equipment recommendations and illustrated techniques.

Chris Kimball & Co. define what they consider the perfect dish, talk to experts, test dozens of recipe variations and then report back. Like a Consumer Reports for cooking, they name names and tell you what brand or supplier of ingredients and utensils is superior -- and why. And like Harold McGee's classic 'On Food and Cooking', they explain the history, the chemistry, the physics .... whatever interesting facts help explain what goes on in your kitchen. It really enables you to experiment more intelligently. One caveat: if you are a curious cook, give yourself some extra time to read the always informative and entertaining chapters leading up to the recipes.

I own about 60 food and cookbooks. Many are useful for a few recipes and a few are regularly useful, but I would rank The Cook's Bible as one of the top three I own. Recipes are consistently, and authoritatively, first rate -- and delicious.

Subjects include equipment for the kitchen, using a microwave oven, how to use knives, potatoes, steaming vegetables, roasting vegetables, how to build a salad, dried beans, shellfish, pasta, fish and shellfish, frying or roasting a chicken, turkey, stews, stocks and sauces, barbecue, pizza, stir-fry, yeast breads, eggs, cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, souffle, and baked and poached fruits.
Line illustrations and charts augment the text, and there is a comprehensive index.

Highest recommendation for curious cooks.
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on January 3, 2000
This is the most useful reference book you can have in the kitchen. You might think 'how hard is it to cook an egg?" but Christopher Kimball has tried all different ways and tells you the best and why. This is a MUST have for new cooks as well as those who cook often. The Lamb Roast master recipe is to die for!
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