The Cook's Bible: The Best of American Home Cooking
by Christopher Kimball
1996. 440 pages, 400+ recipes
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"A home-made meal touches the spirit in a manner never equaled by a dinner at the best four-star restaurant."
Cold Tomato Sauce with Mint and Basil
The Best Oatmeal Cookie
Green Salad with Roasted Pears
Pork Stew with Anchovies and Peppers
Since I've had The Cook's Bible in my kitchen, I have found the secret to the near-perfect oatmeal cookie, learned how to cook pork without turning it to leather, gotten a 12-minute polenta recipe that really works. I also know which no-stick pan I'm putting on my Christmas list this year.
The Cook's Bible is part culinary consumer reports, part cooking instruction with recipes, and part science of cooking. The author, Christopher Kimball is founder and editor of excellent bi-monthly magazine, Cook's Illustrated. Like his magazine, the book concentrates on addressing "the how's and why's of home cooking".
The first part of the book is devoted to testing and assessing kitchen equipment, rating the pros and cons of different brands. His shows why he thinks a good chef's knife is worth the $80 price tag. On the other hand, he deems electric steamers a waste of money compared with a cheap-o steaming basket.(In his words:"It's like reading Newsweek online - it's expensive and a bit more difficult".)
The bulk of the book is devoted to his "passionate pursuit of the best way to make a pot roast or the easiest, most dependable way to shuck oysters." Not to mention his pursuit of the best vinaigrette, best chiffon pie, baked potato....the list goes on. Nonetheless, he has the gracious modesty to acknowledge that "of course, the 'best way' of doing anything involves elements of subjectivity". Although Kimball claims the book is not meant to be "a collection of my personal favorite recipes", there are hundreds of recipes, ranging from show stoppers (those moist Lemon-Buttermilk Muffins! that astounding roast chicken!) to good basics (the Master Recipe for Stir Fry offers invaluable guidelines).
While an enthusiastic beginning cook could certainly benefit from The Cook's Bible, my guess is that it's best appreciated by those of us who are experienced, though not necessarily expert, home cooks: those of us still hungry to learn more. If you're like me, you might want some remedial help on your weaker skills (cooking meat is my bete noir). Or you may have niggling cooking questions that have gone unanswered over the years: Does it make a difference if I salt pasta water or if I melt rather than cream butter in cookie making? (Yes on both counts.) And maybe the scientific reasons behind tough stew meat, or what is it with the gray-green color on the outside of hard-boiled yolk haven't exactly kept you up nights, but it's interesting stuff nonetheless.
Kimball's the kind of guy I wish I'd had as a partner in grade school science fair projects. His investigative curiosity is infectious. His findings are meticulously recorded (and just as important, fun to read). And his tenacity is awesome. He kept whipping up and rolling out pie crusts (33 in all!) until he hit on the perfect alliance of method and ingredients. He roasted fourteen chickens before reaching perfection. (This is a stark contrast to my slaggardly kitchen credo: if you don't succeed the first time, call it quits.)