Saturday, May 20, 2006

You won't find me talking about cooking or touting cookbooks much, so pay attention. Cook's Illustrated The New Best Recipe is a different kind of cookbook. You think you know how to make basic french toast? I thought I did. As it turns out, I had only a dim clue, and I needed to use less eggs, much more milk, some flour, vanilla and sugar. I haven't had this book for very long, I don't cook often, and I only cook for myself, as the man around the house prefers not to eat my cooking (probably for justifiable historical reasons). But every few weeks since getting this cookbook I've tried a simple recipe. Here are my results so far:

  • The french toast: amazing. Getting the inside custardy, and the outside not to taste like fried eggs, is a total win. Their way is not noticeably harder than doing it my old way. I even cheated by using the wrong bread (nowhere in the recipe did they even admit to the possibility of using wheat-and-7-grain bread) and it was still terrific.

  • Pasta tossed with oil (and a little garlic, parsley, etc): Very good and relatively easy, a solid recipe though perhaps not mind-blowing. I don't have much to compare to because I wasn't in the habit of making pasta without a sauce before.

  • Chicken cutlets: amazing. Brining chicken naturally takes longer, as does preparing the liquid, flour mix and bread crumbs to dip in. But holy fowl, does this make the most tender piece of chicken I have ever eaten, inside or out of a restaurant. Ever. I was worried because the breast meat seemed too moist when I started to eat, but the liquid was clear and the meat was cooked -- it was just that juicy. Again, I got this result even with a little cheating: I used frozen meat, mostly thawed by the time I turned it into cutlets. I only ate one piece fresh out of the frying pan and that was the one that caused the religious experience, but the cold or reheated leftover cutlets were also highly worth eating.

I guess the deal is that this cookbook explains so much -- not just explaining exactly what to do but why, for example what effect omitting some ingredient or step had in their tests -- makes up for me being the kind of cook who may sometimes take a few shortcuts. I have better guidance about what kind of shortcut really matters.


Anonymous said...

They are the best of the cooking outfits out there. They work recipes through, remaking a dish tens of times just to get it right. Check out their website and if you get a chance, their TV show, America's Test Kitchen. The show usually runs on PBS.

I recommend their chocolate chip cookies! Also, if you join their website, they send you recipes and ask you to try it out and send them feedback, so you can be part of their research.

Dave Cridland said...

My favourite recipe book is Just Like Mother Used To Make, which is all British recipes.

It's also a good read, which is quite rare for a cookbook. It, too, has a recipe for eggy bread - why anyone calls it French Toast is beyond me - but more importantly things like scones, and shortbread, which are really easy and yet impressive.

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