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Nov 16, 2006 07:58 PM

Chris Kimball/America's Test Kitchen

I saw Chris Kimball give a short talk and book signing at Vroman's in Pasadena last night. He read a few humorous emails from viewers and talked about how his staff likes to trick him when he's doing the blind taste testing. I really enjoy his show, mostly for the equipment recommendations and tips on cooking methods. However, I have never actually used one of the recipes from Cook's Illustrated or any of his cookbooks. They must be prety foolproof right? I bought the America's Test Kitchen Family cookbook and was wondering if anyone has suggestions for recipes that I should try from it.

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  1. I've been exploring that book myself!! I made a few of the soups. So far I've made mostly soups.

    For the most part, I've been very happy having such a great reference guide (I look up tools and techniques...). However, they still require a bit of tweaking to get the flavors JUST right. For example, the Chili was a little flat, so we added beer and it came out JUST right.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Dommy

      i agree, it's a great reference. i like the substitutions on the inside cover.

    2. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. They appeal to the sciency side of me that wonders why X works instead of Y, and if I want to go rogue and radically reimagine a recipe, which things I can change and which I should just leave be. The books are SO easy to follow, and as someone who mainly uses recipes as inspiration, it's a relief to know I can turn to ATK books for solid recipes of the things I don't yet feel comfortable improvising. They're well organized, and with all the tons of other cookbooks on my shelf (good ones too) I use ATK's The New Best Recipe as my go-to guide, and the Family Cookbook as a supplement (the puff pastry tomato tart in there is to die for and so easy).

      1. I'm a naysayer re Chris Kimball. I own The Best Recipe cookbook, and used to read Cook's Illustrated magazine.

        It irks me that his thesis is: there is One Best Way. Any other, and you're headed for disaster. I resent the rigidity and then once I read his technique, I'm anxious about proceeding in another way. The opposite of pleasurable cooking, IMO.

        10 Replies
        1. re: NYchowcook

          Yeah, I feel the same way about Alton Brown... But for some reason I feel more comfy messing with Chris' recipes than Alton... I think it's because ATC because also factors in a simple approach in their 'best recipes'... Like I don't have to outfit one of my power drills with a pepper grinder to do one of their recipes... LOL!!


          1. re: NYchowcook

            Well, the guy who writes the Curmudgeon newsletter frequently mentions what he calls "Chris Kimball's ongoing battle with reality." I just got a sample copy of his new Cooking Country, and thought it looked good enough to try a subscription, until I saw a line saying that chicken breasts MUST be cooked to an internal temperature of 165. Oops, there he goes again...

            1. re: Will Owen

              What is this Curmudgeon Newsletter? Thx.

              1. re: bruce

                I think that I actually said that Cooks illustrated should be called Re-inventing the Wheel.

              2. re: Will Owen

                "chicken breasts MUST be cooked to an internal temperature of 165."

                That's most likely a lawyer talking. Not Chris


              3. re: NYchowcook

                Agree with you 100%, Nychowcook. Used to subscribe to Cooks Illustrated and have The Classic Cookbook and the Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. I stopped subscribing to the magazine, because I found Chris Kimball's take on things to be, in a way, too scientific, over the quality or caliber of the foods or ingredients used. I guess it comes down to the fact that I do not think cooking is scientific. Like art, I think you need the chef to be involved.

                Anyhow, if I want "perfect" recipes that are fail-safe, I go to Julia Child, or Marcella Hazan, or Richard Olney, or Rick Bayless, etc. I'd rather cook with instruction from a person I believe loves food as much as I do, than a technician aiming for perfection in a vacuum. My go-to book for basics lately has been Mark Bittman. He loves food and has good instruction in his book on basic stuff, like how to cook a steak or a potato. I like that.

                The only book of Kimball's that I do like is one called "How to Grill". It's a little volume which deals with the technical aspects of grilling. There, I value the input, but not over the technique or the recipes I get from elsewhere.

                Cooking is never foolproof.

                1. re: DanaB

                  Yes Bittman (How to Cook Everything) is my go-to book now, particularly fast weeknight dinners. Suggestions -- rather than dictates -- on techniques and lots of variations. So much friendlier than Kimball. And yes, Marcella is my constant companion.

                  1. re: NYchowcook

                    Marcella is the queen of the culinary dictators, at least that is the tenor of her writing.

                2. re: NYchowcook

                  I feel the same way! And not all their recipes are The Best (and Only) Way. The show I just find snarky--this is how everyone else does things wrong, so now we're going to do it TBW and aren't we wonderful for telling you. That's not to say that *all* the recipes are off--some are very good, but I resent the attitude that goes with them.

                  1. re: NYchowcook

                    I like the approach CI and ATK take because they explain how they want the dish to turn out, then what effect different variables have on the final product, and finally their recipe. If I want to tweak it, I know what ingredient or process will be most likely to give the effect I want. For instance, if they say that using sour cream made the dish too tangy, and I like tangy, I know to substitute sour cream for the dairy they recommend. It's the discussion of the variables they discard that makes the recipes for me.

                  2. I mostly like the America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated Stuff. I have that Family cookbook. I have only made one thing from it: caramelized onions for dip. I forget which section it's in. I was very pleased with them.

                    I also have a couple of smaller books from the "How to Cook..." series. I have Quick Breads, Muffins, and Scones & the American Layer cake one.

                    The scone recipe in Quick Breads, etc. is EXCELLENT! I really like it. The American Layer cake is nothing special, to me.

                    But, aside from the recipes, I enjoy the magazine (like others have said) for the equipment reviews & the techniques. I look at the recipes & think "that might be fun to try" but I usually don't. Although I did make a fritatta from the magazine that was really great, too. I didn't follow the exact recipe so much as the technique.

                    1. Gotta say, everything I've tried from ATK has come out flawlessly. Their technique for pan seared scallops has become a staple in my repertoire.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: lowwolf

                        Could you outline this technique for me? I'm not happy with the way my scallops come out...thanks!