The New Best Recipe
editors of Cook's Illustrated, 2004

This is a 1000-page cookbook that, instead of merely presenting recipes, goes through several possible approaches to every dish, tries them all out, and reports back which one worked out the best and then tries permutations on that approach until finally arriving at the single "best" way to make the meal. Frederick Winslow Taylor would weep with joy. There are many interesting sidebars covering everything from the chemistry of pasta dough to which brand of soy sauce is best. And the book as a whole ranges from cauliflower to scrambled eggs to chocolate cake, along with many many many meaty chapters.

And in fact that is part of why in the several months I have had this cookbook, I have rarely found myself using it: all too often its solution to how to make a particular dish is "add pork!" Furthermore, even when this isn't the case, I find that my idea of what is "best" diverges significantly from those of the editors. Sometimes this is apparent just from the description — "gleaming soft wobbling curds" — and sometimes only after trying out the recipe. I tried this book's version of chocolate chip cookies a couple of times, following the directions very carefully, and both times came up with exactly the same sort of cookie... one that I found pretty gross.

Vegetables Every Day
Jack Bishop, 2001

Though I live in the Bay Area, reputed to be one of the premier places for food on the continent if not the world, the best food I've had here comes not from any restaurant but from my own kitchen, thanks to Jack Bishop's cookbooks. For the price of one mid-range dinner for two, Pasta e Verdura and The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook have fed me magnificently for five years now. The one Bishop cookbook I hadn't bought was Vegetables Every Day, because it appeared to be geared toward the preparation of vegetable side dishes, and since I'm almost always cooking only for myself, it's extremely rare that I make a side dish. But completism got the better of me, and I ordered the book... and it was pretty much exactly what I thought. Almost none of these recipes really works as a main dish, and so I haven't gotten much use out of it.

Return to the Calendar page!