The Next Book: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

It’s no secret that I’m a complete fool for Cook’s Illustrated.  I learned how to cook from this magazine and it is my single favorite source for reliable recipes.  Yes, their meticulous approach often results in recipes that ask you to do things that are unorthodox, inscrutable, and sometimes seem ridiculous.  Right now I am looking at a recipe from the book for Ultimate Banana Bread and if you think they’re going to let you just mush some bananas and fold them into a batter, you have no idea who you’re dealing with.  Listen to this: “Looking for a way to add banana flavor without moisture, we placed our bananas in a glass bowl and microwaved them for a few minutes, then transferred the fruit to a sieve to drain.  We simmered the exuded banana liquid in a saucepan until it was reduced, then incorporated it into the batter.”  Yes, we’re in exuded-banana-liquid territory.

And yet it is almost always worth it.

The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook represents 20 years of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  In the press release I received (yes, I am big-time enough to get a cookbook press release.  Can my IPO be far behind?  I am, after all, far more profitable than Groupon) I learned about the process that went into selecting the 2,000 recipes that ended up in the book.  Chris Kimball says “Our editors removed older versions of recipes that we had updated in later issues.  They did not print recipes that our board of editors did not think lived up to our standards.  They omitted recipes that did not make sense within this particular collection.  At the same time, we wanted home cooks to find almost any recipe of note that one would expect in a large American cookbook.”  Still, I like to think of it as the Greatest Hits of the last 20 years.

I will be reviewing some recipes that are new to me but unlike my usual process I can tell you right now that this book is worth buying.  Why?  Because I was able to identify 51 recipes that I already know are amazing.  And I’m not talking about just really good dishes, I mean life altering ones.  How many cookbooks do you currently own that you can say have even 20 good recipes in them?

I was sent a free promotional copy of this book and I tell you this to impress you with my influence in the cookbook publishing world more than anything but trust me, this will not cause me to abandon my semi-professional objectivity.  I cannot be bought for $25.96.  Maybe $35 but certainly not less than 30 bucks.

While I get cooking on new recipes, you can try some of the 51 I have loved for years:

Shrimp Tempura, page 6 (it’s in the appetizer section but we eat this as a main course)
Tomato Mozzarella Tart, page 21
Creamy Avocado Ranch Dressing, page 28 (also great as a dip)
Herbed Baked Goat Cheese Salad, page 41
Chicken Canzanese, page 106
French Pork and White Bean Casserole, page 109
Chicken Tikka Masala, 130
Stir Fried Thai-Style Beef with Chiles and Shallots, page 146
Pad Thai, page 156
Pasta with Tomato, Bacon and Onion, page 176
Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms and Thyme, page 186
Baked Ziti, page 217
No Fuss Risotto with Parmesan and Herbs, page 227
Ultimate Green Bean Casserole, page 251
Aligot, page 282 (this is why God invented potatoes)
Potato Roesti, 291 (or maybe this is)
Spanakopita, 303 (my vegetarian daughter’s favorite thing I make)
Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Cutlets, 311
Latin-Style Chicken and Rice, 345
Enchiladas Verde, 351
Steak Frites, 379
Ground Beef Tacos, 395 (one of my all-time favorite Cook’s recipes)
Swedish Meatballs, 397
Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas (Tinga)
Pan-Seared Sesame-Crusted Tuna Steaks, 452
Garlicky Shrimp with Buttered Bread Crumbs, 456
Grilled Chicken Fajitas, 465
Grill-Roasted Beer Can Chicken, 478
Grilled Argentinian Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, 494
Grilled Marinated Flank Steak, 499
Grilled Shrimp Skewers, 526
Spanish Tortilla with Roasted Red Peppers and Peas, 541
Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere, 350
Yeasted Waffles, 555
Oven-Fried Bacon, 557 (perfectly cooked bacon every time)
Blueberry Scones, 562
Quick Cheese Bread, 583
Sticky Buns with Pecans, 590
Grilled Tomato and Cheese Pizza, 611
Focaccia with Kalamata Olives and Thyme, 621
Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries, 630
Thin and Crispy Oatmeal Cookies, 631
Strawberry Cream Cake, 671
Lemon Bundt Cake, 690
Hot Fudge Pudding Cake, 697 (my all-time favorite dessert)
Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake, 703
Chocolate Cream Pie, 725
Baked Raspberry Tart, 733
Blueberry Buckle, 753
Sherbet, 791
Hot Cocoa, 806

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