Saturday, March 26, 2011

American's Test Kitchen Cookbook Review

I've been pretty open that my favorite cooking site is Cook's Illustrated, otherwise known as America's Test Kitchen.  I learned how to cook through their articles, recipes, and tutorials and I can honestly say that I have not made a bad recipe following their instructions.  Ever.  That's a pretty big statement.  They are my tried and true source for foolproof, flavorful cooking--so much so that I can confidently entertain guests using recipes that I am trying for the very first time as long as they are from Cook' Illustrated.  I cannot say that for any other recipe source.

I have been using America's Test Kitchen recipes for at least 8 years and have never, ever noticed one for a crock-pot.  I  have experienced very disappointing results using a crock-pot, so unless I have a phenomenal recipe that I know will produce a flavorful and appealing result, I avoid the crock-pot like the plague.  In my mind, good cooking and crock-pot do not go together.  They are oil and water, just completely not compatible.  Imagine my surprise when I was browsing the cookbook section at the bookstore and saw America's Test Kitchens new cookbook entitled, Slow Cooker Revolution:  One Test Kitchen.  30 Slow Cookers.  200 Amazing Recipes.  Are you kidding me?  How on earth did this happen?  My favorite source for recipes is going where no cook should the crock-pot? 

I thumbed through the pages and frantically scanned recipes, instructions, and pictures; read the Table of Contents and Index; glanced through their "smart shopping" sections, "quick prep tips", and "why this recipe works" introductions to each recipe.  I was blown away with the content the cookbook and could not put it down.  I grabbed another cookbook by Cook's Illustrated that caught my eye,  The Best Simple Recipes:  More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes that Cook in 30 Minutes or Less and walked straight to the checkout counter. 

I have spent hours looking through these two cookbooks.  Hours.  And although I was initially shocked by America's Test Kitchen's choice of appliances, they did what they have always done--come up with foolproof recipes that will not disappoint.  Here's my opinion of their two new cookbooks:

1.)  Slow Cooker Revolution:  One Test Kitchen.  30 Slow Cookers.  200 Amazing Recipes: 

America's Test Kitchen built an entire cookbook designed to help cooks produce flavorful food that comes out of your crock-pot (the dreaded c-word which they wisely avoid using; instead ATK prefers slow cooker).  They offer a varied array of soups, stews, chilis, braises, and sauces, as well as desserts, side dishes, brunch items, casseroles, and meatloaves all of which contain undeniable appeal.  Recognizing that the ease and time efficiency of a slow cooker sacrifices flavor, ATK made necessary adjustments to build flavor into each recipe before your food goes into the slow cooker.  For example, they may want you to use your microwave to bloom ingredients.  Then, they continue to build flavor by adding generous amounts of aromatics (i.e., onions, garlic, herbs), adding an extra boost of fresh ingredients at the end of the cooking process, and/or finishing with a quick broil in the oven.

As always, ATK brings their cooking knowledge to the table and offers a wide array of authentic cuisines with the premise that the final product will not be dulled and flavorless.  Will this cookbook be the revolution that the dreaded crock-pot has needed?  I think so.  With recipes like these, I am not the same self-described crock-pot skeptic I was before--and if they can convert me (possibly the largest crock-pot pessimist I know), they could convert anybody.  On my list to make using this cookbook:  Asian Ribs, Cassoulet, Moroccan Chicken Stew, Irish Oatmeal with Bananas & Walnuts, and Rum-Raisin Bread Pudding with a Bourbon Brown-Sugar Sauce.  Watch for posts...proof that my convert status is alive and well.

2.)  The Best Simple Recipes:  More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes that Cook in 30 Minutes or Less: 

This cookbook is the marriage of Rachel Ray and ATK.  Rachel  Ray is credited with the concept of the 30-minute meal, and before this cookbook, the majority of ATK's recipes took a considerably longer period of time to produce.  Using stream-lined cooking methods, shorter ingredient lists, and a variety of shortcut measures, ATK produced a variety of impressive meals that can be easily be made for a weeknight dinner.  While the shortcuts greatly reduce the amount of time necessary to complete a recipe, they are used minimally and do not alter the integrity of the recipe.   For example, instead of listing julienned carrots and shredded fresh purple and green cabbage on the ingredient list, they call for a store-bought bag of cabbage slaw.  Instead of requiring a baguette that is sliced, brushed with olive oil, and toasted in a warm oven they call for a box of Melba toast.   

What ATK doesn't do is compromise flavor.  The recipes are still loaded with fresh ingredients and a variety of herbs that produce full-flavored results.  Say good-bye to dull, unimpressionable weeknight meals.  Using ATK's recipes and guidance, you are guaranteed uncompromising flavor with minimal effort for soups, salads, pasta, and stir-frys, as well as vegetarian, beef, pork, and seafood entrees.  First on my list to cook from this cookbook:  Broccoli Pad Thai, Southwestern Salmon Cakes, and Ginger-Pork Spring Rolls.

Do either of these cookbooks interest you?  Stop by later this week for an America's Test Kitchen cookbook give away.

Please note:  the forementioned reviews are solely my personal opinion.  I am not being compensated in any way by America's Test Kitchen for posting this opinion.


Mrs. No-No said...

Funny - when I first started learning to cook, my crockpot sat on the counter....I haven't seen that baby in so long, I never even think of it any more!
Thanks for visiting "Mrs. No-No Knows"! following you back :) Hope you will stop back often and put in your two cents.
Carla at Mrs. No-No Knows

Mamahollioni said...

Thanks Carla. I just dusted off my crock-pot...ready to use again with some of ATK's recipe:-)

laura said...

ok- I want the crock pot cookbook, so I'll be back :-) I would LOVE to have some flavorful not dired out crock pot recipes!


Mamahollioni said...

Laura--I'm with you. Jen asked me awhile ago to post some crockpot recipes, and after 7 recipes and 1 that I would actually recommend, I stopped trying. The outcome just didn't justify keeping on.