HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


cooks illustrated

  • e

I just read, for the first time, a Cook's Illustrated magazine. I enjoyed the detailed explanations, which may make the difference between a great and sort of okay dish. It also seems to try to use practical ingredients. What do other hounds think of the magazine? Worth subscribing to? Thanks in advance.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. i like cook's illustrated... it is straightforward.. and most dishes usually come out after following the somewhat fussy recipes the first time.... and are usually pretty good. read: you can make this stuff for guests without worry...

    they do repeat recipes and reviews quite a bit.... (did anyone notice the first issue this year? I haven't pulled out my old issues... but seems like a lot of repeats)

    anyway... I like the fact that it doesn't come out that often. that way I don't have to feel guilty about the untried recipes. :)

    I'd give it a try...

    1. I'll tell you two tiny secrets: you can sign on to the cook's website for just a few dollars a month or you can wait until the end of the year and buy their yearly cookbook with is just a bound edition (With a full glossary) of all of the magazines from that year.

      I've had wonderful success with all of my recipes from Cook's and I'm a big fan. I've figured out a lot of problems I've been having by reading, as well (my baked potatoes are now perfect and my brown rice is flawless and foolproof).

      I also enjoy when they take out the snobbery - for instance they did a blind taste test on vanilla and found that in baked goods, people don't notice the difference between imitation and real. Ask anyone that only uses real (me included) and they will swear it isn't true but you can't really argue with blind taste tests.

      I guess I'm saying I'm a fan. I've only had one recipe go poorly and I think that was because of 'dead' baking powder.

      18 Replies
      1. re: KrissyWats

        After reading the other posts it occurs to me that I should make something clear: I don't believe ANYONE is the definitive source on anything in my kitchen except for me. Any recipe is just a guideline, so yes, if you are looking for a fine basic framework that you can incorporate into the rest of your cooking, then cook's is a good place to start. Like everything in life, you take in what people say, process it, and use it based on your own experiences. Question Authority!!! (Even Marcella Hazan!!!! Hahahaha)

        Oh, I also really enjoy cook's tips from other readers - I've found several of them very helpful - and the 'tests' they do on ingredients and cookware.

        1. re: krissywats

          I agree with you.

          I think that if you don't allow their attitude ("every recipe out there is imperfect in one way or another, so we tested them all and came up with this completely perfect one") to annoy you, they actually can be quite useful.

          I wish I was less prone to stylistic annoyance, because it prevents me from using otherwise solid recipes... but... can't... help it... (Same for Rose Levy B. and her "bibles". I'm sure there's useful info in there, she just bugs the hell out of me. I prefer the laid-back, looser approach of people like Mark Bittman or Nigella Lawson.)

          1. re: Sir Gawain

            Yes!! Nigella is my favorite because her attitude is 'let's eat, let's play, let's enjoy the passion in food'. I love that.

            And hey, it's ok - some people have trouble with being told what to do (my husband for example) but that can be good! Such people forge their own way in the world.

            1. re: Sir Gawain

              Yeah but lots of people say Nigella's recipes don't turn out for them or are often just eh, I personally have never tried a Nigella recipe so I don't know but I have made a ton of Rose B's recipes and almost all of them are fab. I don't think Cooks or Rose think their stuff is perfect, I think they are saying: "We are anal retentive. This is our style. We are not giving you anything that to US is just eh.

              1. re: Cook

                And that's what I dig about Cook's. They give you all the information you could ever possibly need about why a dish may have certain faults. And then you can take their tips to fix parts that bother you and leave their tips about parts you never cared about. I guess I like Cook's because it goes in-depth enough on each recipe to really help your technique, even if you never make it.

                Plus, I love their product tests. Finding out that the cheapest balsamic is the best? That the $20 pan is very nearly as good as the $120 pan? Priceless.

                1. re: Qwertyy

                  I don't trust their blind test (esp. taste) panels at all.

                  Valrhona chocolate tastes worse than Hershey's?
                  Artificial vanilla extract tastes same as real vanilla?

                  Only in a Cook's Illustrated world...

                  1. re: Sir Gawain

                    If you read further on the vanilla test you'd see that the imitation could only pass on BAKED goods. And I can believe that.

                    It's like the expensive wine glass thing - those who swear by it will never change their tune but when serious wine snobs were given wine in both the expensive glasses and the cheap - they could not tell the difference. The problem is that you have no idea how much our perceptions are changed just by our own ideas that they WILL be changed. Really, it's fairly basic psychology. Self-fulfilling prophecies in our everyday life are quite common: we believe with all of our hearts taht only the most expensive chocolate is the best because that's how we've been socialized so, it is. ::::shrug:::: not that I'm gonna change anyone's mind on this matter.

                    1. re: krissywats

                      I would argue in general that the taste tests in Cooks Illustrated aren't very good - I feel like the tasters have very mainstream American palates, and you can definitely argue with blind tests based on who is included in the panel. A panel of five-year-olds wouldn't mean much to me, nor of adults who eat like five-year-olds.

                      That said, the Vahlrona question is interesting. When I was in culinary school, the chefs did a chocolate testing (just among the chefs, not the students). Exactly half the chefs placed Vahlrona at the top of the list, the other half placed it at the bottom. It has a very distinctive taste you either love or hate. I adore it, but I understand the fruitiness I like doesn't work for everyone, and it doesn't work in all recipes either.

                      (Note: they didn't include Hershey's, the other competitors were Callebaut and other high-end chocolates. Hershey's is vile. People like it because they are used to it. If you get used to better chocolate, you can't go back. I believe that taste is a function of knowledge and understanding. Anyone who prefers Hershey's to Vahlrona doesn't know chocolate in any meaningful way.)

                      1. re: curiousbaker

                        I'd be interested in what you think about Scharffen Berger?

                        1. re: Junie D

                          You know, I've tried it straight and thought it quite good, but I've never baked with it because it's the most expensive choice around here, other than Valrhona. Personally, I like El Rey as an affordable option for when I'm making something with a fruit component or just straight chocolate, and Callebaut, which I find softer and rounder, if I'm doing something with "candy" flavors, like caramel or nuts.

                          1. re: curiousbaker

                            Thanks! I had never heard of El Rey and will look for it.

                          2. re: Junie D

                            I use ScharffenBerger for homemade icecream.

                            1. re: WCchopper

                              Yes! I did that a couple of months ago and it was great! I'm not a big SB fan but I loved it in the ice cream (raspberry/chocolate chunk, as I recall).

                          3. re: curiousbaker
                            culinary nerd

                            I agree that any "serious cook" who prefers Hershey's--a waxy, insipid-flavored chocolate--to Valhrona, Callebaut or Scharfen-Berger is a person who doesn't know much about chocolate and whose taste I do not trust in the least.

                            My theory about why they liked the CVS artificial vanilla in baked goods is that a lot of Americans have become used to eating processed foods which are pumped full of artificial flavors, and so have forgotten what natural flavors taste like. Yes, real vanilla has a more subtle flavor, and so in order to get that super vanilla punch you are used to getting in vanilla wafers, you have to use more. But in addition to the "vanilla" flavor, it has other scent and flavor components--components which are apparently valueless to the CI tasters.

                            Well, they may be valueless to them, but not to me. I read the magazine faithfully, even if the tone bugged the crap out of me, and I found most of the ethnic recipes to be grieviously inadequate, for years, but no more. After the vanilla taste test, which I replicated for my friends--and we could all taste the difference, I just gave up on CI and decided that the magazine was just too aggravating to be worth it for me.

                            The folks at CI do good enough work and they have come up with some really good recipes, but well, I have had my fill of the magazine, and that is that. No hard feelings--I just don't trust people whose tastes are that different from my own to tell me what the "best" recipe of any given genre is.

                            1. re: culinary nerd

                              At the risk of beating a dead horse....

                              Let me start by saying I think this discussion for me is less about CI than it is about an attitude towards cooking. I'm not saying anyone else's attitude is bad just different from mine.

                              Full disclosure: I did not switch from using real vanilla after reading CI's taste test. Why? Because I don't prefer it. I don't eat Hershey's, why? Because I don't like it. ANYTHING I read about food, I process. Someone may have more knowledge then me but they don't have more authority. Make sense? This is why CI's tone never phased me. I'd never even thought of it as 'we are the best' until reading this thread.

                              (How do you know who they use for their testers? Do they say that? I hadn't noticed that in the articles).

                              I still believe there is a bit of snobbery that goes on with what is the 'best' - we ALL have self-fulfilling prophecies inside that we are never aware of because they are so deeply embedded with emotions attached to such a thing. I don't have a problem with anyone saying they 'prefer' something. I have a problem when people insist that it is the best, second to none, whatever anyone else likes is inferior. Isn't that doing exactly what a lot of people are claiming CI does?

                              (I'm not specificaly speaking to YOU, Culinary Nerd, on these issues, just in general)

                              I do think your point about chemicals is interesting. About five years ago we started making the change to all organic and less processed. We are pretty much NO processed foods now. Most processed foods taste like chemicals to me now and I can't eat them. Sigh...I do miss Oreos, occasionally.

                              1. re: krissywats
                                Culinary Nerd

                                Krissy, no worries--I am not offended at all in what you are saying--it is a difference of perception. I read their "best" as meaning "the best ever for everyone everywhere" and you read it as, "the best -for us-."

                                Which of us is more factually correct in this instance? Eh, who gives a rat's patoot, really--we may both be correct, or not, or half-correct.

                                What matters is we both express our opinions well, and civilly on an issue and do not feel offended when we disagree.

                                It is all a matter of taste, and taste is an individual thing, whether we are talking of physical or philosophical taste.

                                Now, as for your last comment about processed foods--I have had a similar experience. I eat no fast foods, and minimal processed foods, and have been eating this way for years now. At this point in my life, I have lost the ability to easily stomach fast food. If I eat a McDonald's hamburger, it returns, violently. It is not pleasant. Also, like you, I have noticed that most processed foods taste off--and they are almost always hideously salty or overly sweet to my palate and thus are not at all pleasant to eat.

                                I used to love Oreos, too--but the last two times I tried to eat them, I got very, very sick. So, I don't even crave them anymore.

                                Glad to know that I am not the only one who has experienced this sort of thing. (I did an informal survey in another online community--one much smaller than this one, and found that a lot of folks, once they weaned themselves off of fast foods or processed foods, have the same issue with becoming sick if they eat them again.)

                                1. re: Culinary Nerd

                                  Oh yes! That is good to know.

                                  I only eat organic beef at home (or out if possible, but that's rare). Chicken, I only eat organic at home, and eat whatever is available when I go out. I won't touch veal and pork I go both ways. That said, I don't eat fastfood - as I mentioned.

                                  For a friend's birthday I made an exception at a Houston's in NYC (he used to work there and loves the place). I had beef. To me the difference between organic meats and non-organic is that the beef seems to be fattier and almost tastes 'creamy' but not in a good way - in a cheap way. I got SO sick later.

                                  That's the last time I did that.

                                  With Oreos and other processed foods I can literally taste the chemicals. I used to LOVe twizzlers and now I can't stomach thing because they taste like eating pure red food coloring to me.

                                  Although I did find an organic company that makes a DARN good sandwich cookie. Dangerous....

                                  The joke around our house is that we're going to end up living in Upstate NY with our own garden, milking our own cows, making our own cheese, etc. I won't even buy mayonnaise any more....sigh....this might make me an organic snob.

                                  1. re: Krissywats
                                    culinary nerd

                                    I grew up with grandparents who were farmers, so I grew up eating free-range beef and pork and chicken, and fish we caught out of our pond, so I have always been pretty picky with food. The only meat and poultry I buy is organically farmed, usually local. Same with the eggs, and with most of my fruits and vegetables. Not all, but most.

                                    So, yeah, I don't like the taste of most commercially produced factory farm meats. They taste--off. The texture and flavor of pork is really off in the meat you get in the grocery store, and I won't even touch grocery store chicken if I can help it. The texture is just cottony and bad, and there is a distinct lack of flavor.

                                    So, yeah, I am a food snob, too. ;-) Oh, well. C'est la vie.

            2. I registered for free online access to America's Test Kitchen (the TV version of CI--see link) and received a trial issue of CI. The print copy was informative and filled w/ useful info that could generalize to my overall cooking. A mag that you truly read and refer back to. Like that they don't accept advertising and that they do all the experimenting and refining so I don't have to. Because of rigorous testing, their recipes are very solid and trustworthy.

              That said, I cancelled after my trial issue b/c while the content is clearly good, some of the topics just didn't interest me and the overall writing and recipes just didn't inspire me in the same way as other food pubs. Plus w/ online access to ATK, I still have access to many CI recipes and info while preventing imminent magazine clutter. Some people like hard copies that they can physically keep though, and if you do, then I def. think this is a mag worthy of your financial support. Or you could buy their cookbook w/ compiled recipes.

              Link: http://www.americastestkitchen.com/

              1 Reply
              1. re: Carb Lover

                Yes - I bought the 2003 and 2004 compiled editions for my wife, each came in a nice bound book.

                My mother was looking through it and I got the sense she would like her own copy. So I know what to get her for MOther's Day :)

              2. I am a newbie and I like cooksillustrated, but they are one weapon in my arsenal. I use many other sources/magazines to help me. Here are two reasons why:

                1. They are a great guide but they didn't invent cooking and therefore some of those definitive, "know it all" results made me really nervous. While there is some underlying science in how ingredients interract with each other, and it is important to understand it, cooking, unlike baking, is all trial-and-error in MY kitchen so it doesn't matter what CI says. Its a great guide though.

                2 I felt free when I came to the conclusion in (1) above because if you get stuck on the holy grail according to cooksillustrated it may stunt your growth and never lead you to - CREATIVITY. This mag is repetitive and sometimes run the risk of going back on their own "conslusions" after a few years without even indicating that they have changed their minds for whatever reason. Really annoying!

                So I recommend them with reservations.

                1. I think it depends on your cooking style. CI is all about classic, homey American dishes ("we've tried hundreds of recipes for meat loaf, and this is THE ONE!"), nothing too fancy or unusual. They do have some useful "cooking science" info.

                  That said, many other cookbooks can tell you the same and more. I was all into CI at the beginning, but their "definitive recipe" religion has reallly turned me off. Because who is to say that there is one perfect way to make brownies? People have different tastes, and I don't really care that their "test group" (who I suspect of having pretty identical ideas about everything) decided they liked their brownies "dense, not cakelike". I like my brownies cakelike, but too bad, coz that ain't the way according to the gospel of CI. (BTW I made up this example, but you get the drift.)

                  (And I cannot abide Christopher Kimball and his bow tie... but that's just me.)

                  So. I guess I am more of a CI hater. I find their writing style kind of pompous and, in the end, the recipes too limited (and limiting). But it is true that whatever I've tried to cook based on their recipes was good.

                  If you really want to uderstand the science of cooking, get a copy of "On Food And Cooking" by Harold McGee. It's a fascinating book.

                  P.S. It's not by coincidence that one of the CI's cookbooks is titled "The Cook's Bible". I guess all the other "bible" titles were snatched up by Rose Levy Beranbaum, another cookbook author who found "The Way" to bake everything...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sir Gawain
                    amazing grace

                    "It's not by coincidence that one of the CI's cookbooks is titled "The Cook's Bible". I guess all the other "bible" titles were snatched up by Rose Levy Beranbaum"

                    Come to the light brother or your baked goods will never be as good as ours. I know that's harsh but it says so in THE BIBLE.

                  2. I liked them a lot for awhile, still will buy one at a bookstore once in awhile, but decided the recipies seemed to be pretty repetitive, like several other cooking magazines -( though not as repetitive as cooking light, where they seem to have about 20 core recipies and make some slight change -like change the herb and/or the meat- and give it a flashy new name every few months.)

                    I recommend buying a couple of cook's illustrated cookbooks at a bookstore - NOT through the company becuase it will magically put you in a "book club" that it takes months of correspondence to detatch from. American Classics is now a favotire of mine, and a few of the recipies really truly are the best recipe for that one thing that I have - like molasses cookies. Their taste tests are amusing but often pointless for me since they focus on east coast brand names.

                    1. They are pretty widely considered to tend towards safe, unchallenging methods that produce generally acceptable but seldom excellent results. They present themselves as a definitive resource for excellence, though, which is simply dishonest. Some of their stuff is useful but some of it is just laughably inaccurate. If you're not already an experienced cook, it can be hard to tell the sheepshit from the apple butter with those guys.

                      1. I like it because they explain why things work or don't work, and I can generalize that information to other recipes.

                        They are at their best when they stick to American classics. When they try to do ethnic dishes, they seem to get in over their heads and make some strange choices.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: snackish

                          I agree - one of the best Shrimp Fra Diavlo recipes I've found was from a Cook's Illustrated. I usually check them out on the newstand - as another poster pointed out there are issues that are of no interest to me so I prefer not to subscribe

                          1. re: snackish

                            I agree with most of what has been posted here (good, not outstanding, solid recipes, but may not agree with your idea of what is 'best'--use it more as guide, but probably not inspirational). What I want to particularly echo, however, is what snackish said about how they get in over their head with most ethnic dishes.

                            I received the new best recipe for xmas, and was flatly horrified by the recipe for muhamahara (apologies for bungled spelling). It was basically a, "we wanted to make muhamahara, but without using the ingredients that make it such" (e.g. don't bother with pomegranate molasses, you can just use maple syrup and lemon juice--feh!). To make it, they also recommended buying bottled roasted red peppers because they were "too difficult to make." To each their own (and I'm a busy person, FT job with young child to care for, so this isn't a reflection of how I've got a lot of time on my hands), but I think roasting red peppers is about the easiest thing in the world and would never consider buying bottled roasted peppers. I know it's an easy sub, the point is, they make some weird choices sometimes, particularly in the non-American food dishes.

                            Ok, rant over. Bottom line, stick with their 'American' recipes if you're going to cook from it.


                            1. re: Smokey
                              Culinary Nerd

                              I agree about their inability to do anything approaching decent when it comes to ethnic dishes. They are all about substituting for authentic ingredients and the results are a weird hybrid at best and utter crap at worst.

                              Thier stir-fried dishes are all about watered-down pseudo-Chinese food for a white-bread American audience. That is not what I like when it comes to Chinese food, so when they get all authoritative about how they have the "best recipe" for something Chinese, it both annoys me and makes me laugh.

                              The writing style in most of the articles is downright pompous, and I often disagree with thier ratings of the "best" when it comes to kitchen equipment. They seem to be more concerned with the "best cheap" piece of equipment rather than the "best" equipment.

                              And don't get me started on their "blind" taste test of vanilla extracts--I did my own blind taste test of vanilla, following their guidelines, and even my non-food obsessed husband could tell the difference between artificial vanilla extract and pure vanilla extract. This does not speak highly to the taste of thier panel of "experts."

                              That said, if you are looking for very good workable recipes for American basics, the magazine is fine.

                              I prefer Fine Cooking for learning techniques rather than just recipes, and I don't mind their ads at all--in fact, I found a piece of cooking equipment that I use all the time through there. I would otherwise have never known about it.

                              1. re: Culinary Nerd

                                What I find so interesting about this thread is how everyone speaks about their 'tone' but most LOVE Marcella?

                                And, I wonder sometimes if people get the same mag, I do - I just made their 'orange chicken' recipe for fun the other night and it was fantastic. The very first line of the article says 'While orange chicken is far from authentic Chinese fare...'. That to me says they aren't trying to be anything other than what they are. All of the ingredients were fresh and healthy. I didn't use thigh meat as they suggested, but used breasts, and it came out great! I will probaby make a few adjustments next time to make a thicker crust on the chicken (That the author does not like, but I do but I'm not offended in any way by her believe that a thin, crispy coating is superior. Who cares?)

                                I've seen them say many times 'this is how WE do it'. I find it so odd that people are offended by a 'tone' that I just don't see at all. It's an opinion....

                                1. re: krissywats

                                  I think they're sending mixed messages. In addition to starting things with a "this is how WE do it" caveat, the title of their most well known cookbook is The Best Recipe--says a lot about what they think of how THEY do it, don't you think?

                                  As for the comparison to marcella, I think one of the differences is that Marcella doesn't take this tone with foods from all over the world. Just with Italian food, which most people would concede she does know very well. CI takes the tone with all of their recipes (no matter what the ethnic origin), and they're simply not all a group of winners. Fundamentally, however, tone is in the eye of the beholder. I actually don't find CI's tone offensive/annoying. There are other authors who do bug me.

                                  And, as for my specific example, the entire recipe was about how to make muhamahara with ingredients found in a N. England kitchen. It just ain't possible and shouldn't be done. There are other recipes they've provided that are "authentic cuisine X" (unlike Orange Chicken) that they really should not have tried to improvise with ingredients found in midddle American kitchens.


                                  1. re: Smokey

                                    "It just ain't possible and shouldn't be done."

                                    Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on this point. Why 'shouldn't' it be done? Why not? It's FOOD!!!! We're not talking about splitting an atom, here - play, have fun, try something new with what you DO have, even if you don't have it all. My caesar has never been 'authentic' but I'm not going to stop making it, or stop calling it a caesar.

                                    I do see your point, I just disagree. I know there are a lot of people that feel there are certain lines in cuisine that just shouldn't be crossed. I'm not one of those.

                                    And I suppose they could call it "The OK Cookbook with a Few Fairly Good Recipes"? heehee. See my point? What ELSE are they going to call it? They are a business trying to get us to buy their book. Who knows if that is actually what those at CI wanted to name the book or if there was an entire marketing department in on that....know what I mean?

                                    1. re: krissywats

                                      I guess in a way it's a matter of when you have crossed a line. From what you're saying, there are no lines for you. But there just about have to be lines, or distinctions. I mean, there's a difference between a brown rice pilaf and risotto, isn't there (different (but similar) ingredients, different (but similar) techniques? Or, do you think they're really the same thing? If so, are quinoa pilaf and risotto the same thing (different (but similar) technqiue, more different ingredients)? If not what makes them different from one another? Is everything that is fried in a bit of oil and then cooked in hot liquid the same recipe?

                                      When is it that what you are cooking is so different from brownies/Caesar dressing/muhamahara (what have you) that you are no longer making brownies/Caesar dressing/muhamahara, but instead are making chocolate cake/krissywats' personal favorite salad dressing that was inspired by a Caesar salad dressing/red pepper dip?

                                      To me, the ingredients they were using for muhamahara made it no longer muahamara--it was a N. American, perhaps-inspired-by-muhamara, roasted red pepper dip.

                                      I'm not a "the recipe must always be followed to a T" type person, and I often improvise in the kitchen in response to what's available to me and what I feel like, even with baking. But I wouldn't call something muhamahara that wasn't made with pomegranate molasses. Period. It just ain't possible and it shouldn't be done. It's not that you shouldn't try to make a roasted red pepper dip with lemon juice and maple syrup, but don't fool yourself into thinking you're making muhamahara.

                                      I do think they're trying to play both sides of the coin with their, this is what *we* think is good. They go through this whole list of what they tried and why the other options were ditched. In my read, they rarely say 'this was good, but we didn't like it, you might'. They say, 'this resulted in a product that was too grainy/greasy/tough.' To my reading, there really isn't much room for the sort of interpretation you're giving it (different strokes for different folks). Also, their tone of "we've tried all the possible permutations and this is the best" (to me) actually discourages the kind of freedom and experimentation that you seem to prefer in your own kitchen.


                                      1. re: Smokey

                                        I tend to agree on the tone, though I'm a bit more forgiving, probably because Chris Kimball just looks like such a geek. He reminds me of the computer guy who insists on teaching you the key strokes so you won't rely on your mouse. You smile and nod, because you know that in the meantime he's fixing your computer and when he leaves, you'll use the mouse as you darn well please. I hate Rose Levy Berenbaum because she reminds me of the kid in class who started her science project the day it was assigned, but Chris Kimball just seems too wonky to be really annoying - he's the kid who worked on the science project all summer.

                                        So the tone is slightly irritating to me, but not a dealbreaker. I subscribed for a while, because some of the information was useful. And, yes, I frequently found myself changing the recipe back to something the writer had rejected (oh, using all-purpose flour makes it too dense? I like it dense; I'll do that.) And a few of their recipes are great, like the chewy chocolate chip cookies. But the repetition got to be too much for me. I also found the taste-test to be frankly off-base. And the tip section is useless. So, for a beginner cook, a subscription for a year or two makes sense - or, better yet, just buy The Best Recipe. I often look in it to compare recipes with my Fannie Farmer, Silver Palate, or other books that focus on American-style food, especially baking. I never use the book or the magazine for other cuisines, though.

                                        1. re: Smokey

                                          I completely see your point and I agree - there is a fine line.

                                          What's funny to me, for instance the orange chicken recipe most recently, CI immediately discarded the idea of using chicken breasts for thighs. I HATE dark meat (a throw back to my vegetarian days) so I used breast meat and it wasn't dry at all, as they said it would be.

                                          I guess I don't think of ANYONE as the final authority on anything so the tone doesn't phase me a bit. As I said, I'm the final authority. I have few rules, you're right, but your point is well taken. I'm definitely an experimenter (even with baking, as you said) and I create lot's of my own recipes (unfortunately I always forget to measure and in baking that is NOT a good thing....).

                                          Because I experiment, though, I have as many failures as I do successes, however - but they are good stories to tell later.

                                      2. re: Smokey

                                        So, if we live outside of NYC, as in rural México, we should just be happy to eat our tacos and beans and not try to create something different. Is that what you are saying?

                                    2. re: Culinary Nerd

                                      I get it. So, if we live outside of NYC, as in rural México, we should just be happy to eat our tacos and beans and not try to create something different. Is that what you are saying?

                                2. What can I tell ya? I've been a subscriber since the 1990s. My current subscription expires Nov/Dec this year. I just sent in my application for another 2-year subscription.

                                  The 2nd best part of the magazine is that there are no advertisements and smelly perfume pages like those in the highly advertised food magazines.

                                  1. CI is to today as Betty Crocker was to the 1960's. Betty Crocker was certainly a good reference for basic information (eg, cooking times) and tested recipes during the BJC era (BJC - before Julia Child), and CI fulfills much of the same functions today, in a somewhat more sophisticated environment.

                                    But I don't consider either source to be for outstanding cooking - challenging techniques and dishes that produce the real "find" food experiences that being a chowhound is all about. I'd equate their results to eating at CCF.

                                    For example, they are heavily into brining to preserve moisture. And if you're using a common pork loin chop - as you might buy in the local Stop'n Shop - it does produce a moist solution, although the meat has lost some graininess and definition, and even some flavor. But it doesn't compare to a Kurobuta chop, done using a recipe that takes advantage of the extra fat - no brining, but pan seared to perfection with a flavorful deglazing sauce.

                                    Of course, the Kurobuta chop costs twice as much and is harder to find. Nevertheless, as chowhounds, we should define the "find" vs. the everyday, and I have yet to try a CI recipe that gives me a "find". I do always turn to my copy of The Best Recipe when getting Lobster steaming times.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: applehome

                                      "Of course, the Kurobuta chop costs twice as much and is harder to find. Nevertheless, as chowhounds, we should define the "find" vs. the everyday, and I have yet to try a CI recipe that gives me a "find". I do always turn to my copy of The Best Recipe when getting Lobster steaming times."

                                      I think if that definition works for you, then great!! For me, the definition would be more about taking the ordinary (that pork loin from a local grocery store) and making it extraordinary - by brining, searing, and finishing with roasting in quality maple syrup and rosemary. Since I started brining my pork loins from Stop and Shop, there has been a tremendous change in the quality of those dinners.

                                      I would expect that the Kurobuta chop is something I might have a few times in a lifetime, whereas in terms of 'homecooking' I am going to serve a pork loin at least once a month and am constantly looking for ways to make interesting food from ingredients on the upscale side of ordinary. But this particular board is ABOUT everyday cooking, at least for me. For someone else it might mean the best brownies they can make with imitation vanilla. For me it might mean the best swiss chard pie I can make with organic ingredients but there is not one definition of 'hound' as far as I can see.

                                      That's why I like Cook's Illustrated (ok, that sounded like a commercial) - I have found several 'finds' that make my 'everyday' cooking quite good.

                                      Still dreaming about those perfect baked potatoes.....

                                      1. re: krissywats

                                        I think that you precisely made my point. The exactly same things you said would have been said of Betty Crocker - there would have been as vehement a defense of how it helped the "homemaker" of it's time by many of our moms who thought of themselves as excellent home cooks.

                                        But there were more adventurous people, even back then. There were people who explored ethnic cuisine long before it was popular. There were people who watched Julia Child intently, opening their minds to techniques and food knowledge that went beyond making the best roast beef and mashed potatoes with smooth gravy.

                                        Regardless of what I might believe about what this site ought to provide, or what's happening to the signal to noise ratio here, the op's question was about CI - and the truth is exactly as we both stated (and just about everybody else) - CI is not a place you go to for innovative, complex, new and particularly imaginative food fare. It is a place for making standard fare correctly, and less dull.

                                        1. re: applehome

                                          Unfortunately it's impossible to put people in a box. I personally cook from my french cookbooks as often as I cook from CI. Where I differ from some on this site is my lack of snobbery between an excellent ethnic meal garnered from Julia or Marcella or anyone else and a fantastic comfort food or that there are tried and true 'rules'. They can both be 'excellent'. If that makes me someone who 'thinks' of themselves as a good homecook vehemently defending Betty Crocker, so be it. I'm not a mom, though.

                                          You brought up the idea of what a 'hound' should be and I responded to it.

                                          I disagree that I made your point. You said 'less dull'. I said 'extraordinary'. I don't really believe in 'correctly' - but simply right for you.

                                          I happen to believe CI is really good and a nice framework. It is not my only framework and it is not the 'final' word on anything - I am in my kitchen.

                                          Just a good homecook....

                                    2. I think they can be useful at times. Their vegetarian broth is outstanding. I cancelled my sub after the first 3 years because I found it repetitive. They must have had 5 perfect roast chicken recipes in the three years. Their 'formula' (sub dark meat for white meat and brine brine brine...) is annoying, and their tasting panel is foolish. Like another poster I had a very bad customer service experience with them. They started automatically charging my credit card. I wrote them to ask them to stop and I got very unprofessional almost angry snippy reply to the effect that they wouldn't refund the charge unless I wrote them snail-mail.

                                      1. I just recently subscribed. Out of six yearly issues, I've received 3 out of which I did not find ONE recipe I would bother to make. I'll let my subscription runout. I will however go to Borders and read the newest issue. If it's interesting I'll pay the newsstand price for that issue.

                                        1. They brine everything to cope with substandard American meat. I wish they would at least discuss, in every recipe, why this is needed and why you should seek out better meat.

                                          Also, their "ethnic" recipes are VILE. "I can't find the ingredients for Pad Thai at my Vermont country store so instead we are making i with lemon juice, grape jelly, and wheat noodles."

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: JudiAU
                                            Chris Willging

                                            Actually, the tortilla soup recipe in one recent issue was excellent (one caveat: I did use homemade chicken broth instead of the canned they suggested).

                                            1. re: Chris Willging

                                              Not to mention the best Mexican rice this Texas boy (who is quite picky about his Mexican rice) has ever had. Just polished off the leftovers from last night, in fact.

                                            2. re: JudiAU
                                              JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

                                              Hey! I've made their pad thai recipe, and it's quite good. In fact, a friend of mine who I've made it for now complains that she can't find good pad thai anywhere now that I've made it.

                                              1. re: JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

                                                I agree. The CI Pad Thai recipe is excellent. In fact, made it this weekend.

                                                1. re: Shaebones

                                                  I stand corrected. I haven't tried their recipe for pad thai. Did it contain grape jelly? ;-)

                                            3. I am a charter subscriber. It is a great magazine for cooks just starting out--good info on technique, etc.

                                              Unfortunately, I'm rarely inspired to make their recipes. However, I get enough out of it to keep my subscription (rarely met a food mag I didn't like :))

                                              Their new magazine looks more appealing to me--seems to have more "Americana" or comfort food recipes, which are my favs.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Funwithfood

                                                I subscribe but rarely make CI recipes after IMO The Worst Blueberry Muffin recipe touted as, of course, the best. I find their food-nerdiness interesting but also hate the fact that they take all the love and warm-fuzziness out of cooking. Harold McGee on the other hand gives you all the food science you could want with plenty of reverence for ingredients and cooking.

                                                1. re: Junie D

                                                  >>Harold McGee on the other hand gives you all the food science you could want with plenty of reverence for ingredients and cooking.

                                                  Yes, yes, yes. It's a really interesting, fun and informative book.

                                                  1. re: Junie D

                                                    Their "Perfect Cupcake" recipe was horrible. (I have been reticent to try another recipe since.)

                                                    Their "turkey coverage" though has always been very good.

                                                2. I've got to put in a word for Fine Cooking here. I tried Cook's Illustrated but I found it ultimately unsatisfying. Fine Cooking, on the other hand, is the extreme opposite. It's beautifully photographed, every recipe I've made from the magazine has been not only good but outstanding, and they go out of their way to test products better than the average. This is the only cooking magazine I really look forward to. Maybe a little intense for the beginner, but you won't get better by not challenging yourself.

                                                  (But yes, if you want a solid foundation for food science, Harold McGee has no equal.)

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: Caviar

                                                    I'm very interested. However, I just looked at the website and read that the current issue involves how to cook:

                                                    Spaghetti and Meatballs
                                                    Brown Rice
                                                    Perfect Oven Fries
                                                    Carmelized Onions

                                                    This doesn't sound terribly challenging? The most complicated sounded pretty basic, as far as technique goes (Sear-Roasted Salmon with Lemon-Rosemary Butter Sauce). I don't mean disrespect to a magazine it sounds like you really like, I'm just wondering if it gets more complicated than that? It sounds like a lot of what I get in Cook's Illustrated. I'm looking for incentive to either switch or add - is there reason for either? Thanks!

                                                    1. re: KrissyWats

                                                      I'm a big and relatively new fan of fine cooking. On the whole the recipes I've tried have been terrific.

                                                      They do vary, one month might have recipes for duck the next for chili but the flavor of everything I've tried has been great. A fantastic texas beef chili from a recent issue has become a regular at our table as has their remoulade sauce. I think making the switch would be well worth it!

                                                      CI I pick up occassionaly if they are featuring something I'm interested in. I love th egeeky science facts but the recipes, IMHO, are not always to my liking.

                                                      1. re: linza

                                                        Thanks! I'll check it out online first for a couple of months before I 'officially' switch...

                                                      2. re: KrissyWats

                                                        A few comments.

                                                        I haven't really looked at the website, but it looks like it's just featured recipes for reference without a lot of the interesting stuff that's actually in the magazine.

                                                        The sear-roasting article is about technique, not any one dish, and they do the same technique for chicken, beef, pork, and salmon to illustrate the versatility, and spend some time talking about flavor combinations. Similarly, the rice article isn't "brown rice", but an examination of different rice types and cooking methods suited to individual varieties.

                                                        The spaghetti and meatballs article is written by Frank Pellegrino of Rao's, and it actually has a pasta technique I hadn't seen anywhere else. That's another thing I like about it - they often get chefs from very fine restaurants to write guest features. One of my favorites was the caramel popcorn feature written by Karen Demasco of Craft in the holiday issue.

                                                        This month also has leg of lamb in three varieties, a comprehensive vanilla bean feature, Cioppino, carving and butterflying techniques for the leg of lamb, one-pagers on barley and diced canned tomatoes, a quick-braise vegetable feature, and a number of other small interesting bits sprinkled in there.

                                                        Don't judge it by the website - pick up a copy.

                                                        1. re: Caviar

                                                          Great! Thanks for that. Gives a lot more insight - they should spruce up the site for those of us into online zines... I will pick up a copy. Thanks again!

                                                        2. re: KrissyWats

                                                          I'm a huge fan of Fine Cooking although I don't subscribe. I probably should, but as of now I just buy the issues that interest me. They do a really good Holiday Baking special issue every year. One excellent feature in even the regular issues is that measurements of flours and sugars in their dessert recipes are given in weight as well as volume. I love that. Abigail Johnson Dodge writes a lot of the dessert articles for Fine Cooking. They do tend to recycle recipes a bit between their regular issues and their special issues - they seem to do a Comfort Food special issue every year also. Actually, I like their newish cookbook which is their first compilation - "Cooking New American" - guess I'm just a fan of their style, and the recipes appeal to me.

                                                      3. I love Cooks Illustrated, but I consider myself a life-long novice cook. My husband teases me and calls it "Consumer Reports" for cooking. He prefers the attitude he gets from La Marcella and other big personalities on our cookbook shelf. You MUST stir the polenta for 2 hours with a WOODEN spoon, etc. He can stir for 2 hours, I just want a competent cornbread to go with the bean soup I made for dinner.


                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: chardgirl

                                                          Now that you mention it, my problems with CI are the same as my problems with CR - mostly that they typically test the "top five" of something, but it often seems to be alternatives 4-8, ignoring the best three that aren't widely available.

                                                          Incidentally, I've got a killer cornbread recipe:

                                                          Link: http://www.aquick.org/blog/2004/10/17...

                                                          1. re: Caviar

                                                            1 1/4 cups sugar? All that bp plus bs? NOT perfect cornbread from my wife's southern background... this looks like some of that sweet corncake stuff that they serve around here in New England.

                                                        2. I do enjoy reading CI, but it does have its flaws... I am a bit put off by the haute cuisine vitriol that seems to percolate from some of the posters here, though..

                                                          The magazine does sort of stick to a repetitive Euro-U.S. comfort food zone.. I have subscribed since the early years, and am getting a bit tired of another pork-chop recipe. I have started to use Food and Wine, as their recipes are a bit more comtemporary

                                                          I'd had pretty good luck with their recipes, and received good reviews from people that I have cooked for, both those with more refined palettes and those that have never eaten a beet before. I do find some dissonance with those that claim an amazingly refined palette and then complain how the recipe that they followed like an automaton turned out badly. Any recipe I do, I look at, maybe try, and then make my own - change it based on my own experiences and thoughts. If you don't like how it turned out, and are an amazing chef, then you should be able to figure out what you might be able to do differently to improve it. CI is just one tool - I like some of the "science/technique" explanations they bring forward, but I often then contrast it with recipes from other research to decide how I want to do something. An example is pavlovas - CI seemed to like their meringue shells crispy, other sources like them softer in the middle, so I knew there was a spectrum, and that I could change the timing on my batches to see which I liked better.

                                                          McGee is a great (but tough) read and spot-on with his science, but it is by no means a cookbook - he'll tell you why arborio rice is good for risotto, but he's not going to give you a recipe and tell you how much stock and saffron to throw in. His book helps you understand your options, on the way to being able to be more creative/improvisational in the kitchen, especially when working in uncharted territory.

                                                          Finally, CI is not about amazing plating, and they do recognize that most Americans are okay with Swanson's chicken stock versus making your own. If you like making your own meat stock and own a steam-injected oven, then buy Saveur. Appreciate that most people don't, and they like hearing that they aren't going to put a stake through their grandmother's birthday cake if they use imitation vanilla versus real or or ruin Christmas dinner if they buy their tenderloin from Costco versus Niman Ranch. Do they recognize there is a higher-level of taste out there? I think they do.. they just don't emphasize that it is critical to a dish that people will enjoy..

                                                          So many magazines are full of ads, "lifestyle" articles or exposes about the amazing cheese they ate on the Amalfi coast. Magazines where they have 24 pages of ads before the table of contents. In that regard, I do appreciate the simplicity and focus of CI and CC.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: grant.cook

                                                            For a cook like me, Cook's Illustrated is a fantastic tool. I rarely have time to cook during the week, I don't have time to go to more than one supermarket for my groceries (except for special occasions), and my kitchen is well stocked with most of the essentials, but it still lacks some ingredients (I don't buy something unless I know I'm going to use it at least once a month).

                                                            Still I love to cook and I'm always looking for recipes that use basic, easy-to-find ingredients, and don't require more than 20-30 minutes of prep work. I subscribe to the CI website, and when I'm in the mood for a dish I search there. Many times they have a recipe for what I'm looking for, and often two or three different versions of it. I haven't made a recipe of theirs that I haven't liked yet (except glazed carrots, that was awful, though I probably screwed it up), and I've really liked all the cookware they've recommended.

                                                            Maybe there's a better source out there for this type of recipe (search database is crucial, and frankly epicurious can be overwhelming), but Cook's Illustrated does the trick for me.

                                                            1. re: turkob

                                                              My DH loves that glazed carrot recipe! He will eat an entire pound of carrots in one sitting (along with all the rest of dinner). The taste is quite sweet, and I suspect that is why he likes it so much. I usually leave off the lemon step at the end, since he doesn't notice if I do.

                                                            2. re: grant.cook

                                                              Cheeses on the Amalfi coast are the stuff of dreams. Dreaming about that mushy textured, brined, pork chop (or turkey) from CI would be a nightmare. Haute cuisine or any other vitriol aside, the quest here is for deliciousness. With the understanding that such deliciousness is totally subjective and that some people actually like mushy, brined pork chops, there is absolutely room for people to comment on how much they enjoy CI recipes. But I don't really hear anyone saying that this magazine is actually good for new and wonderful recipes - that they present state of the art cookery - or that they serve sophisticated, well-traveled palates. Instead, I hear that it is good for simple, simplified, basic recipes. As you seem to be saying, when people gain experience, they are more apt to modify the simple recipes to better suite their more sophisticated tastes.

                                                              I make my own delicious chicken stock from fowls and feet, and would never consider going back to boxed stock (dire circumstances aside), and indeed, I do subscribe to Saveur. I know how to not over-cook a pork chop, even a lean one, so brining is not necessary for a juicy, delicious product. I would guess that many, if not most folks here at Chowhound have a well-traveled palate, and those that have been cooking for a while would be unimpressed with the majority of recipes in CI. Nothing wrong with that. It's a natural result of experience and growth.

                                                              Ultimately, it's a question of what you get out of the magazine. For some people the recipes are useful, for others not. It's just a matter of sharing opinions of what each of us thinks its good for - no vitriol, just opinion.

                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                No, not the majority, and I would say you are taking the "simple, simplified, basic" thread to an extreme. They did a Beef in Barolo recipe a while back, which isn't run of the mill, and although clam chowder is basic, doing it well is a fine achievement. I made a tarte tatin from their baking book that came out very well... my main issue with CI is that having read it for a while, they tend to stick to their sweet spot, which covers a LOT of territory, but if one is feeling experimental, he/she can easily move outside it..

                                                            3. This was a great discussion, I thought. What I like about CI is reading about what worked and what didn't as a recipe is fine-tuned. Have gotten a sense of the underlying principles and how things work from that.

                                                              I like Fine Cooking too.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: karykat

                                                                I agree. That was an interesting discussion, with various points of view expressed. As a fairly new reader of this board, I sometimes wonder if I even belong here...I am a US expat who lives in Mexico and enjoy cooking authentic Mexican food as well as many of the comfort foods my husband and I grew up with. The wonderful fresh ingredients I find here make them better, and I often rely on the CI website for recipes and ideas. Although I am a confident cook, I can learn new tricks, such as how to make a better meatloaf. Really. Now many of the people on this board probably don't eat meatloaf, but if you do, check out the CI recipe. It is moist and flavorful and good.

                                                              2. You should really read this parody of cooks illustrated: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/497665
                                                                It really has that slightly smug tone down pat!

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Nettie

                                                                  You just made my day! I wonder if they have a set of guidelines in a memo somewhere at CI that states exactly how many recipes they must gather, how many false starts they must make, how far along in the article to suddenly have an epiphany, etc. :-)

                                                                2. Is it just me or do people wonder what happens to all the food they go through. I mean each "test" requires about 20 versions with huge amounts of food being used. Do they eat it? Do they throw it away? They'll say with great pride that they baked 35 chickens to get the definitive roast chicken recipe. What happened to those chickens?!? Just the idea that they wasted all that food bothers me...

                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                  1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                    That would be a good question to ask the editor. They might give lots of it to the local soup kitchen, but that would require that the food be transportable at the right time to feed people.

                                                                    1. re: saltwater

                                                                      Most places soup kitchens can't take food that isn't in a sealed container for health reasons. I worked at a cheese shop and we used to take leftovers from catering jobs but they stopped that and we had to toss it - such a waste. At our church they no longer let people take leftovers from our free lunch - even though the people have just eaten the food there they can't take it home!

                                                                      1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                        How frustrating to have to throw it all away. If we have a spread of food at church, we divide it up and take it home. Our local food pantry used to receive baked goods from the local bakery. Maybe they can't anymore...

                                                                        1. re: saltwater

                                                                          This may just be a New York State thing - I think rules like this are state level not Federal.

                                                                    2. re: lupaglupa

                                                                      this was actually addressed on an episode of their television show. the stuff that's an absolute disaster gets tossed in the trash, obviously. the rest gets eaten or taken home by the testers and tasters.

                                                                      1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                        If the testing causes less waste by readers at home coming up with better recipes, then it's well worth it.

                                                                        1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                          They dump it in a big pile on Brookline Avenue. The whole place reeks..

                                                                          1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                            You might ask the same question of your local fine restaurant.. ever watch them prep veggies?

                                                                            1. re: grant.cook

                                                                              I practically came to blows over that subject with a chef at a wedding once. After working in quite a few restaurant kitchens I told him I thought there is a lot of waste - especially when good food is discarded for the sake of keeping a consistent presentation. He got very angry and lectured me at length about how restaurant kitchens waste almost nothing and it's the home cook who throws away the most. His wife finally intervened to stop us! I guess it's perspective or maybe the places I had worked were wildly different but I tend to doubt it.

                                                                          2. I find their recipes mostly ok, but I love a few of them, including their barbecued chicken breasts (oven and stove top) and eggplant parmesan. Those recipes are best in class IMHO.

                                                                            1. their cold sesame noodle recipe is completely ace. i subscribe to the magazine and nearly everything i cook from their advice is top notch.

                                                                              1. I like CI and do subscribe, but i prefer fine cooking, which i think is a little better, and both are cooking as opposed to food, oriented