December 11, 2011

Cook's Illustrated Cookbook Review

I have mixed feelings about the Cook's Illustrated publications.  While I am lured in by their promise of perfectly seasoned dishes at the end of the rainbow, I frequently find that the recipes don't mix with my style of cooking. 

Rarely do I pick a recipe, go to the store, purchase every single ingredient required and come home to make the meal.  Rather, I poke around in the fridge and cabinets, browse through a few recipes, and mix what I have with a few recipes I saw.  Sometimes this means I sub an onion for a shallot (oh, the horror) or white wine for vermouth. 

And this is where Cook's Illustrated and I fail to see eye-to-eye.  Developed in 'America's Test Kitchen' these recipes have been deconstructed and tested from the ground up.  So if they tell you to use a shallot, that means they've tried the recipe with yellow onions, without shallots, etc.  When they say shallot, they mean shallot. 

Chicken legs, over spinach, mushrooms, and polenta.  With ONIONS.  *gasp*
And I'm ok with people who seek a Platonic ideal of every dish they make (the uber chili?).  I'm just not one of them.  Ultimately the point of dinner is to satisfy a need.  And if I'm in a mood to take some time to make it in a tasty way?  Peachy.  But I don't have all night here, people.  Nor a limitless bank account.  Sometime the shallot becomes an onion. 

Recommendation?  As a gift for a new cook, I'd rather give the Joy of Cooking or Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  But this cookbook sure is extensive (800+ pages), has lots of great cooking tips that CI is known for, and may appeal to the cook that thrives when given meticulous, detail-oriented* instructions. 

Thanks to Rabelais Books for providing the review copies for our Cookbook Review-o-rama.  See the Portland Food Map for more book reviews from area bloggers. 

*Alternate title to this post:  'Detail-Oriented Is Not My Middle Name.'