Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cookbook Reviews: New from America's Test Kitchen

America's Test Kitchen comes out with two new cookbooks this month, filled with tried and true recipes for the home cook.

The first one I read was:

Cook's Country
Best Potluck Recipes

More than 100 Classic and Heirloom Favorites for All Occasions

And by read I mean read, I take these babies to bed with me. I am always reading either cookbooks, foodie books, or murder mysteries. Where does the murder mystery fit in with all this? I don't know. But one day I should be able to write one heck of a food-related whodunnit.

In the Best Potluck Recipes book, the ATK folk deliver classic technique for cooking and baking all your favourite potluck dishes as well as tips for transport, food safety, and hosting your own potluck event.
The classics are classics for a reason. when we go to potlucks we do head for the tried and true. A familiar dish on the groaning board.
We tried out some of the recipes and found that, while their technique is flawless, the flavours seemed.. safe. That might be what you are looking for in a potluck book, certainly if you are cooking for a general population whose tolerance for heat and spice are not known. For us at home I added more seasoning, which is easy to do.

We had..

Deviled Eggs. I love them. If you bring Devilled Eggs to a party I will eat more than my fair share. Hubby too. The two of us might clean you out so make extra. Cook's Country Best Potluck Recipes provides a classic recipe with boiling, peeling, and piping techniques, as well as four flavour variations. I chose Spanish. It has olive, pimiento, paprika, sherry vinegar and cheddar cheese added into the classic base. Totally delicious. Of course, it is hard to go too wrong with a devilled egg. Unless, I guess, you use marshmallow fluff or candied lemon peel or something. My favourite part of this recipe was the tip to force the cooked yolk through a strainer before combining it with the other filling ingredients. Brilliant! How did I go this far in life without knowing that? Those kinds of tips are my favourite part of America's Test Kitchen books.
p.s. - Want to know why deviled eggs/devilled eggs? Deviled in the U.S., Devilled in Canada and the UK.

A classic Herbed Spinach Dip, also from the Starters to Share chapter. It was fine, but a little mild for our tastes. There were a couple of variations that were likely more exciting, such as the Spinach Dip with Blue Cheese and Bacon as well as the Spinach Dip with Feta, Lemon, and Oregano.

In the Cool Salads and Slaws chapter, I made the Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Pasta Salad. I loved the ingredients; ricotta, toasted almonds, roasted red peppers, Asiago, parsley.. I would just have liked more sauce to pasta, more flavour. That is easily adjusted by the cook though.
We have a thing for big flavour.

Our absolute favourite from this book, in the Game Day Favorites chapter, was the Batter-Fried Chicken. Move over Colonel! I felt like the queen of fried chicken. The skin, flavour and texture were perfect. Hubby was in heaven.

And one that I made for hubby is the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls from the Crowd-Control Casseroles chapter. I actually have no prior experience with them so I don't know what they should taste like. I found them oddly sweet but very tasty. The book gives instructions to steam the cabbage bit by bit in the microwave to soften the leaves for separating and rolling. At this point I realized that my microwave was far too small for cabbage steaming so I used my pasta pot. I felt like I was handling a simmering human head- taking it out and gingerly trying to peel off a couple of layers, putting it back in without splashing up the bit of water on the bottom. Over and over until I had enough leaves. I may just use a savoy next time. And add lots of garlic and hot peppers, 'cause I am like that!

Well, Cook's Country Best Potluck Recipes does deliver on its promise. These are good recipes for good dishes, potluck favourites. My only advice - adjust seasoning as you go, to your own taste.

The next book in the series is:

America's Test Kitchen
The Best Simple Recipes
More than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes that Cook in 30 Minutes or Less.

This is the kind of book we all need in the kitchen, as much as we love to challenge ourselves with elaborate and time consuming meals, we do need some good sources of reliable recipes to get dinner on the table in a short period of time.

As tempting as picking up fast-food dinner might seem, having a couple of good books that are geared to quick meal preparation on those busy nights can save you money and, more importantly, you will know exactly what it is that you are eating.

We found these meals pretty tasty and indeed fairly quick and easy to prepare.

In the Soups and Stews chapter, I made the Vietnamese Pho with Beef. I had had pho for the first time a couple of months ago for the Daring Cooks challenge, and was pleased to try a quick version for busy nights. We found it very tasty and satisfying.

A favourite was the Kung Pao Shrimp from the Stir-Fries and Curries chapter. These saucy, spicy little guys are perfect for steamed rice and much more delicious than take-out. I have a standing invitation to make them any time.

In the Pasta chapter, I made the Sichuan Pork Noodles. These were pretty good, not my favourite. I think I am just not a fan of ground pork. Also I found them mild, but that was nothing a little Sriracha couldn't fix! When I make a dish that isn't my favourite.. a disproportionate amount of it goes in hubby's lunches! Here I go revealing all my secrets again..

One of the more delicious dishes was the Whiskey Sauce Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes from the Pork chapter. Well that just looks comforting and delicious doesn't it? The sauce is made in an easy to learn classic French technique - with shallots and thyme, and using the whiskey to deglaze the pan, then reducing it with chicken broth and cream. Can you say yum? Delicious.

I'll give you a minute to lick the screen here....
Done? Good. This is the Crisp-Skinned Bourbon Chicken from the Poultry chapter. I am not sure I even have to say anything about it - just look at that beautiful glaze! Sticky sweet and savoury, that is real Kentucky bourbon in that sauce.

In The Best Simple Recipes, each recipe is preface with a paragraph titled Why This Works. It sums up the relationships between the ingredients and the effects the techniques have on the dish. An interesting addition to the book. As with their other books, it also includes related tips on food prep and best ingredient choices, and this one even suggests simple sides for the dishes.

Two new books to expand your classic potluck suppers repertoire and get a simple yet delicious meal on the table for busy nights. Just in time for Spring!