American Cooking Done Right: The Cook’s Bible

The Cook’s Bible

The Best of American Home Cooking

Christopher Kimball ($29.95)

Reviewed by: Amy Manczak

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Kimball’s premise: Take a classic dish, meticulously test all possible variations, and present the best possible recipe. This book
won’t necessarily inspire you to combine new flavors and textures, but that’s not its point. Though there are a variety of recipes,
this book’s mission is to provide the best way to prepare dishes you already know.

The best thing about this book (and Cook’s Illustrated magazine, of which Kimball is the founder and editor) is that he and
other cooking experts have spared you the time and expense (and waste) of, say, roasting turkeys at five different temperatures
and times. Us regular folk don’t have the time for that-we want it perfect the first time. * 

The drawback is that, while chemically speaking, certain ratios of ingredients do indeed turn out better cakes, breads or
vinaigrettes, etc., the "best" soup stock, chocolate chip cookies or baked beans cannot be determined by Mr. Kimball. You’re
allowed to like your food saltier or sweeter, crispier or lighter than the "master recipe" produces. That in mind, there are many,
many excellent tips in this book.

The first three chapters are devoted to equipment and techniques. Gas versus electric? Cooper versus aluminum versus
enamel? He also features a buyer’s guide to equipment such as blenders, food processors and ice cream makers. It’s like
getting a Consumer Reports entirely devoted to cooking stuff. 

I especially like the chapter 4, an illustrated guide to quick fruit and vegetable preparation. Most of us can chop on onion or
peel an apple, but some veggies are tricky. Kimball walks us through artichokes, mangos and leeks.

All the basics are here, most with excellent illustrations: the perfect baked potato, how to carve a chicken, the perfect ratio of
vinegar to oil, quick pizza dough, how to fry an egg, and the perfect pie crust.

But Kimball teaches us about the less familiar as well. The chapter (15) on the best way to cook grains is quite helpful. Bulgar,
barley, quinoa and kasha have become popular and are very healthy. But they can be confusing. Is the bulgar you just bought
whole, course, medium or fine? Cooking methods will vary. Kimball recommends dry-roasting grains (in a nonstick sauté pan 3
to 6 minutes) before cooking to give a toasted flavor to the dish. He also found that boiling grains results in light, non-sticky
grains (kasha is prepared differently, however).

You can learn a lot from this book. You may already have other "basics" books that will give you a recipe when you’re craving
good ol’ fashioned American home cooking, but you learn the whys and wherefores here. And that makes you a better
cook-just what a cookbook should do.

*Says he: For a small bird (12-14 lbs.) roast breast side down, tightly covered with foil, at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Reduce
heat to 200 degrees for 2 hours; turn breast side up and roast an additional 2 hours, 45 min. Remove bird from over and
increase temp. to 400. When oven has reached that temperature, remove foil and roast an additional 10 min. until thigh reaches
an internal temperature of 170-175. Remove from oven and allow bird to rest for 20 minutes. Whew! Perfection can be
exhausting!