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"Cook's Illustrated"


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#31 CtznCane

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 12:37 AM

I haven't been a subscriber in the past but am looking to subscribe soon to CI. One thing about CI and ATK that I have not seen mentioned here is that there are no advertisers. Their hands are free to give an honest opinion about a product. They don't have to, nor do they, pull any punches. They call it like they see it and I find that alone to be reason enough to subscribe and support them.

Let us not forget either, that they are out to earn a living as well, so if something gets repeated in more than one publication or their are only slight variations what's the big deal? I haven't looked but I feel pretty certain that many authors with multiple cookbooks have recipes that can be found in more than one book. Again, what's the big deal?

Maybe it's my Berkeley upbringing but I find their quirkiness and nerd-like attitude to be entertaining. I don't agree with all of their findings but then again if we all had the same tastes it would be rather boring. Items, be it products or food, they find to be the best are often the most expensive. Is that any surprise? No. Equipment wise though they also have what they consider best-buys and food wise I haven't seen them be condescending towards those who may not be able to always afford the best. It is all with a grain of salt. Technique wise I think they are spot on and a good resource. Their recipes are also in general quite sound and if you follow them you will get a fine result. Lastly, at least for myself, I find CI & ATK to be entertaining.
Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

#32 prasantrin

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 03:07 AM

But how does one contact their customer service department regarding website subscriptions? I have sent e-mail after e-mail to the address provided on the website, and all I get back are automated responses. The only phone numbers available are for magazine subscriptions or book sales.

Again, does anyone here have any experience with their customer service department, or how one may contact them regarding website subscriptions?

#33 Beanie

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 05:49 AM

But how does one contact their customer service department regarding website subscriptions?  I have sent e-mail after e-mail to the address provided on the website, and all I get back are automated responses.  The only phone numbers available are for magazine subscriptions or book sales. 

Again, does anyone here have any experience with their customer service department, or how one may contact them regarding website subscriptions?

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I just checked the web site and can find no telephone numbers. However, under the section on web site subscriptions, they give the following mailing address for subscribers who don't want to use a credit card online. I'd give 'em a call.

Boston Common Press
17 Station St # 3
Brookline, MA 02445

The telephone # is (617) 232-1000.
Ilene

#34 Alex

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 06:30 AM

But how does one contact their customer service department regarding website subscriptions?  I have sent e-mail after e-mail to the address provided on the website, and all I get back are automated responses.  The only phone numbers available are for magazine subscriptions or book sales. 

Again, does anyone here have any experience with their customer service department, or how one may contact them regarding website subscriptions?

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You might want to try this number: (800) 611-0759. I called them a couple of days ago and got a real, live person who handled a small billing issue very efficiently. It concerned a print subscription, but they might also know about website subscriptions.
Gene Weingarten, writing in The Washington Post about online news stories and their readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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#35 MollyB

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 01:37 PM

But how does one contact their customer service department regarding website subscriptions?  I have sent e-mail after e-mail to the address provided on the website, and all I get back are automated responses.  The only phone numbers available are for magazine subscriptions or book sales. 

Again, does anyone here have any experience with their customer service department, or how one may contact them regarding website subscriptions?

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I also had problems contacting the website customer service dept., and had trouble getting any response. I tried the website for a year and didn't want to renew it, but they automatically renewed my subscription and charged my credit card (without my consent). I think I finally had to go through the customer service dept. for the print version, saying I couldn't get a response from the website version's contact info. They gave me a refund, but were not very nice about it. (I will not be subscribing to either format in the future.)

#36 prasantrin

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 10:39 PM

Thanks for the numbers! I'll give them a try once I figure out the best time to call (I'm in Japan). I figure if I stay up a little late, or wake up a little early, I should be able to catch someone at work!

MollyB--I hear you! I used to be a paper subscriber, but tried the web subscription to see how I liked it. After this, I will not be subscribing to, or purchasing, either--ever! And I will certainly let them know why.

#37 tammylc

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 12:51 PM

The key to liking CI's recipes is agreeing with their definition of what the "best" something is. So if you like thick, chewy chocolate chip cookies, their thin and crispy recipe is going to be a failure for you. But because of their obsessive testing, their recipes will live up to their definition.

Their Tortilla Soup recipe is phenomenal. Sure, it's slightly simplified from a traditional recipe, but everyone I've served it to has absolutely raved. (And since I've cooked it several times for 50 or 60 people, that's a lot of raves.)

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#38 repoman

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 03:13 PM

When I first decided that I wanted to learn more about how to cook instead of just following recipes I really liked CI. I learned a great deal about different cuts of meat, preperation, techniques, and ingredients. I often use the information I gained from reading CI on recipes from other sources (or my own creations) because their recipes seem boring.

Now I seem to find myself in line with the CI naysayers. I think that their target audience and their actual audience are a bit off. I believe that they really are looking at the average person who just wants to know how to make a better pot roast. Unfortunatly I think that their main audience is hardcore foodies who want more information on techniques and equipment ratings but really don't have much interest in making the best pot roast. I am usually disappointed with their recipes because they are so uninspiring. They rarely do any sort of authenitc international cuisine either.

I think they really could make a killing if they either shifted their focus to more upscale or international cooking or created a Cooks Illustrated gourmet cooking edition. I can see it now....

The Problem: Foie Gras is very expensive and often ends up over or under-cooked. The sauces served with it often overwhelm the taste.

The Goal: A foie gras dish that balances the rich buttery taste with a fruit-based sauce that doesn't overwhelm.

The solution: We purchased 43 ducks and 43 geese and force fed them diets of different mixtures of corn and other ingredients. Then we tried all kinds of preperation methods from the traditional Terrine to sauteed foie gras.

Edited by repoman, 19 December 2005 - 03:15 PM.

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#39 prasantrin

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 03:22 PM

Thanks for the numbers!  I'll give them a try once I figure out the best time to call (I'm in Japan).  I figure if I stay up a little late, or wake up a little early, I should be able to catch someone at work!

MollyB--I hear you!  I used to be a paper subscriber, but tried the web subscription to see how I liked it.  After this, I will not be subscribing to, or purchasing, either--ever!  And I will certainly let them know why.

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Just an update...I finally got a reply to my e-mails. They said they cancelled my membership per my request (note that even though they had billed me for a membership, I could not access the site, even prior to their e-mail). They also said they would refund the subscription. That was a few days ago. I've been checking my credit card on-line, but no refund yet. I know these things take time, but it took no time at all for them to charge my account, one would think they could refund it in an equal amount of time.

Might I add, there were no apologies, no "please excuse the inconvience", etc. Nothing. So much for good customer service. I think I"m going to write a little note to Christopher Kimball.

#40 stef_foodie

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 06:04 PM

piping in to say i'm another DLX user/lover. i'm also a CI fan and have been for a while, though like many say, I've gotten tired of the "yankee" recipes. thank goodness i didn't see the DLX review before i bought mine, because at the time i still ranked them highly on my list of credible sources of information, and if i had seen that i might have thought twice about my purchase.

I have a KA and have done a side by side test of beating egg whites, using a copper liner in my KA bowl and the plastic bowl with the twin beaters on the DLX. 
The volume in the DLX was greater than the volume in the KA when both batches were turned out into bowls of the same size.


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#41 McDuff

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 06:42 PM

If you're in the area, Brookline Village T stop, Chris Kimball has been known to nosh at Matt Murphy's on Harvard St, about a block up from Station St. He had a lamb sandwich, my wife reported. Fabulous Irish breakfast there.
I used to obsess about getting the latest issue of CI, but I do think they tend to recycle topics and I didn't spend the money on the current issue, but I may change my mind come payday. In general I do like the mag, and the show, and the recipes, I refer to them constantly, but I could never work with Chris Kimball. He would sneak his hand onto something I was working on once too often and ooops, sorry about the cut there, fella. I used to work for a guy who got fired by him. Said they had a difference of opinion on how to run the company.

#42 cakewalk

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 08:48 PM

If you're in the area, Brookline Village T stop, Chris Kimball has been known to nosh at Matt Murphy's on Harvard St, about a block up from Station St.

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Oh, I dunno. "Nosh" just doesn't seem to be a word that fits Chris Kimball at all. :biggrin:

I appreciate a lot of things about the magazine. Their testing goes a long way in teaching me how foods behave when you do this, and when you do that, etc. I've made several of their recipes, and while I've always felt the end product was very good, I've also usually felt that the amount of time each recipe demanded was too much. A vegetable casserole shouldn't take 3-4 hours, with much of that time going into prep. Also, as has already been mentioned, I was pretty ticked off when I realized that purchasing a subscription to the magazine did not include access to their website. I mean really. :angry: And the tone of the magazine used to drive me up a wall, but now it just gives me a chuckle. I don't think I'll renew my subscription when this one lapses.

#43 Human Bean

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 09:34 PM

I've weighed in on CI in other threads, but to repeat at least one thing, and respond to a couple of others:

Taste tests: They make an effort to test things that are likely to be available nationally, which is overall a good thing; there may be a great thing that is only available in a limited region, but that's not so useful if you don't happen to live in that region. Be that as it may, I'm not annoyed they pick something expensive as best. Maybe it is. What I find annoying is that their tasters often tend to prefer the familiar, perhaps childhood favorite items. Example: sugared peanut butter got high marks, IIRC. Yuck, says I.

Pay for mag and website: Obnoxious perhaps, but consider another non-advertiser-supported periodical-- Consumer Reports. They also make magazine subscribers pay for their website (though they do give a discount for non-subscribers; I don't think that CI has a subscriber discount for the web). The web offers immediate access to the entirety(?) of their back content; if you pay for access, you are free to copy as much of it as you want for your use, and you can non-renew if you wish.

Overly-complicated recipes: I guess you haven't read _The French Laundry Cookbook_ or _Bouchon_. But seriously, since quick/weeknight/30 minute recipes seem to be all the rage, they do have an entry in that field: _The Quick Recipe_, which has the premise of recipes that take an hour or less, from start of prep to finished dish. And you don't have to watch a giggly 20-something make them. I have this book (and others from CI) but don't recall making any of the specific dishes; I've certainly nicked a few ideas though.

#44 prasantrin

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 12:08 AM

Pay for mag and website: Obnoxious perhaps, but consider another non-advertiser-supported periodical-- Consumer Reports. They also make magazine subscribers pay for their website (though they do give a discount for non-subscribers; I don't think that CI has a subscriber discount for the web). The web offers immediate access to the entirety(?) of their back content; if you pay for access, you are free to copy as much of it as you want for your use, and you can non-renew if you wish.

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True, but it's a heck of a lot harder to not renew than it should be (take my case, for example). I think that's the case for most automatic renewals, and which is why I am very wary of subscribing to any website which uses that system.

#45 Chris Hennes

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 10:18 AM

I'm resurrecting this old thread because I had several people on my recent foodblog comment about how much they liked CI, an opinion that I obviously shared, based on the number of recipes I prepared last week from their magazine :smile: . So I was a little surprised to pull up this thread and see the number of negative impressions (customer service aside: I cannot speak to that, except to say that if the service is crappy, then that sucks!).

My take on CI is that first, when I am looking for a basic recipe they are a great place to start: their obsessive research and documentation is handy, even if I don't agree with the final product. Secondly, my "hit rate" with CI recipes is much higher than with most of my cookbooks, easily on par with Fine Cooking, and probably around 75%. Third, especially when making things I am unfamiliar with, I find the baseline provided by CI to be much more useful than a recipe from a standard cookbook, due to the inclusion of the "why"'s in the articles. As an amateur cook who badly wants to improve, the attention to detail is welcome.

I ignore Kimball's editorials, which I find insufferable, and I only tolerate the tone of the articles, but in the end I maintain my subscription, year after year, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future (though I consider the November issue a lost cause... :smile: ).

Edited by Chris Hennes, 15 April 2008 - 10:19 AM.

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#46 phatj

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 11:05 AM

I'm resurrecting this old thread because I had several people on my recent foodblog comment about how much they liked CI, an opinion that I obviously shared, based on the number of recipes I prepared last week from their magazine :smile: . So I was a little surprised to pull up this thread and see the number of negative impressions (customer service aside: I cannot speak to that, except to say that if the service is crappy, then that sucks!).

My take on CI is that first, when I am looking for a basic recipe they are a great place to start: their obsessive research and documentation is handy, even if I don't agree with the final product. Secondly, my "hit rate" with CI recipes is much higher than with most of my cookbooks, easily on par with Fine Cooking, and probably around 75%. Third, especially when making things I am unfamiliar with, I find the baseline provided by CI to be much more useful than a recipe from a standard cookbook, due to the inclusion of the "why"'s in the articles. As an amateur cook who badly wants to improve, the attention to detail is welcome.

I ignore Kimball's editorials, which I find insufferable, and I only tolerate the tone of the articles, but in the end I maintain my subscription, year after year, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future (though I consider the November issue a lost cause... :smile: ).

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I agree with this 100%.

My only complaint with Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen is the somewhat underhanded marketing of their cookbooks. I ordered one a few years ago and now I can't get rid of them. I keep hoping if I keep sending them back eventually they'll get the hint.

#47 Katie Meadow

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 06:13 PM

I think the Foie Gras parody upthread is very funny! Put me in the "irritation with Chris Kimble" camp. I can't stomach his monthly letters about what an idyllic life he has, tapping his perfect trees to make his perfect syrup, inviting the indians over for Thanksgiving, neighborhood shooting parties, roasting pigs and jawing with all the local farmers. A couple of years ago I wanted to see what CI was like, but I didn't want to pay for it, so I sent in a "reader's tip" and got a year for free. After that I couldn't get rid of these people! I asked to be removed from that email list and two years later I still get these self-important updates about the folksy life on the farm.

I think the recipes are kinda dull. "Best" this or that? I'll be the judge of that, thanks. Their approach to cooking seems more like Problem Solving. This old saw about "we make it hundreds of time so you don't have to" just seems kind of antithetical to what cooking is really about: having fun and experimenting and figuring out which techniques work best for the way you like to eat.

In a whole year's worth of issues I was inspired to make very few of the recipes and only one was a keeper for me. I didn't find their product comparisons too enlightening, either. Products that I have found useful and long-lasting were often omitted, and the one time we bought something they highly recommended it turned out to be useless. It was cheap, though.

#48 qrn

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 09:50 AM

I haveCI from the first issue in 93 (I think) until about 3 or 4 years ago. The last few years were same old stuff, and aimed for the pure novice. so I passed. As I did with Fine cooking.

The predessor to CI was Cooks magazine , which I have from 80 until it was bought, and folded, by Gourmet, in 90. It was by far the better of the two, aimed at a more advanced audience. I assume Kimball had a non-compete so there was nothing from 90 to 93.
But if you have a couple years, you don't need any more , because it's the same old stuff..
Bud

#49 paulraphael

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 11:08 AM

Usually I can get what I need from CI with a couple of minutes of browsing at the magazine stand. Like, what vegetable peeler is the best bargain.

The recipes have generally struck me as uninspired. Someone upthread suggested that the CI approach is all science and no art, but I think there's more to the problem than that.

It might be that the science part is done unscientifically. There's a lot of testing, but very little goes into designing the experiments to isolate variables and produce quality information. I'm grateful for this, because it would take teams of grad students years to get to the bottom of a single cake recipe if you were really thorough. And the result would feel like a trade journal, not a mag. But CI presumes thoroughness, and tone of authority, both of which seem unearned.

Then take into account the alleged lack of artistry (which I agree with), and the result is a lot of long articles outlining flawed procedures, a vision (and quality standards) that are often poorly articulated, excessively fussy recipes, and workmanlike (but uninspired) results. It feels to me like chefing-by-committee.

I love the general idea of CI. The execution keeps me from buying it.

#50 nibor

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 11:16 AM

While I appreciate that CI might not work for the average EG type, for me (who got to age 40 without knowing how to boil water, and had no one to help me learn) CI was a godsend. Those little experiments were just what I needed - they helped me understand why my own improvisations were failing.

#51 pups224

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 12:08 PM

Unbelievablely well said and to the point. Once in a long while I'll make a recipe and I'm disappointed.
There is one recipe for pear fragipane tart that is a keeper.

Usually I can get what I need from CI with a couple of minutes of browsing at the magazine stand. Like, what vegetable peeler is the best bargain.

The recipes have generally struck me as uninspired. Someone upthread suggested that the CI approach is all science and no art, but I think there's more to the problem than that.

It might be that the science part is done unscientifically. There's a lot of testing, but very little goes into designing the experiments to isolate variables and produce quality information. I'm grateful for this, because it would take teams of grad students years to get to the bottom of a single cake recipe if you were really thorough. And the result would feel like a trade journal, not a mag. But CI presumes thoroughness, and tone of authority, both of which seem unearned.

Then take into account the alleged lack of artistry (which I agree with), and the result is a lot of long articles outlining flawed procedures, a vision (and quality standards) that are often poorly articulated, excessively fussy recipes, and workmanlike (but uninspired) results. It feels to me like chefing-by-committee.

I love the general idea of CI. The execution keeps me from buying it.

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#52 Abra

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:11 PM

I detest CI. Every year they send me that compendium cookbook, then send me 6 or 7 bills threatening to refer me to a collection agency, no matter that a) I never ordered the damned things, b) I called and emailed umpteen times to tell them so. This year I even had to call them from France, for crying out loud. They said "well, you ordered it" and when I said "hey, I'm in France and no way did I order it, not to mention that I totally cancelled my subscription over this same crap a couple of years ago" they had the gall to say that someone staying at my house in the US must have ordered it and should send it back.

And their recipes drive me mad. They try one version of a recipe, it's too salty, another's too sweet, another's too heavy, another's got 1/36 of a tsp too much baking powder, and only their special CI recipe is juuuuust riiiight. My ass. If a recipe is from CI I'd never even try it. I hate them that much.

#53 takadi

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:50 PM

Oh god, I had so much trouble with their subscription cancellations as well. They charged me for six months on a free trial subscription.

#54 CaliPoutine

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 06:37 PM

I'm with Chris upthread. I love CI recipes( I've rarely had a failure) and I usually look to the first( check my foodblog, I've cooked a lot from CI). I do HATE their customer service with a passion. I never received the last 3 issues of the magazine and made 100 million phone calls and I FINALLY got this months.

I also got a book I didnt order( sent it back) and then was blocked from ordering anything else until I got a supervisor on the phone and gave her wholly hell.

At my last job, I made dozens of their Blueberry Scones each day and people went beserk for them. Litterally lines out the door the day before Easter to get these scones. They're that good!!

#55 nibor

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 07:28 PM

I have never received an unwanted book or had any problem with my subscription to CI. In my experience their customer service has been great. I sometimes leave the US for years at a time, and they cope with that without blinking an eye. Via personal email.

Several of my most in-demand recipes are adaptations from CI. I can pull off these adaptations because, thanks to them, I understand the consequences of, say, too much acid or too little sugar. When they defer to the food science faculty at Cornell it totally cracks me up. But then, I am a scientist too. And I realize that that kind of approach is not for everyone.

As for the smarmy essays at the front.. well, I grew up in an eastern forest, and then moved to the LA sprawl. I have been out here in condo-world for 20 years. I like those essays the same way I like the photos of Kim Shook’s kitchen. They take me back, and remind me of a place a long way away, both in time and space, that I will probably never get back to. But which I loved very much.

#56 Chris Hennes

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:16 PM

I'm really interested in the very polarized responses to CI. I can definitely understand hating them if you have had bad customer service: I've never interacted with their service department, so without any personal experiences I can't really judge them on that. I do receive the Annual edition every year, as they explained when I ordered it the first time. I have never tried to cancel it, but if they didn't when I asked that would piss me off for sure.

I am really interested in people's differing experiences with the recipes: I have had primarily good luck, especially as compared to the vast majority of my other cookbooks. In addition, their in-depth explanation of how they arrived at the recipe helps me when I go to change it. Their pretension that they are "discovering the one true version" of a recipe doesn't bother me because I feel like every cookbook out there presents itself as though its recipes are perfect: at least CI tells you how they got there. Now, this is with the caveat that I basically never use any of their baked-goods recipes, so they could all be crap :smile: .

I'd be very interested to know which recipes have failed people, in an attempt to understand if my tastes just differ, or if we are simply trying different recipes. For example, I have had very good luck with their Thai Chile Beef (July 2005), their Orange Chicken (May 2005) and their Penne alla Vodka (November 2006). Are these on any of your "I hate that" lists?

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#57 deltadoc

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 05:23 AM

I don't subscribe, but I watch America's Test Kitchen. I learned one trick about searing filet mignon in a very hot dry cast iron skillet, then popping it into the oven. It really works!

However, while I find the show entertaining for the most part, most all of their recipes are bland!

Two reasons for this methinks:

1) The show is creating recipes for the masses. The masses are what made McDonalds famous and rich. Those with gourmet tastebuds usually don't occur in "masses".

2) Everybody's feelings about "what tastes good" is different, i.e. why some people like steak medium rare and others well done.

doc

#58 ghostrider

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 06:51 AM

I agree that the recipes are bland & sometimes downright bizarre. Making a "Bolognese" sauce with crumbled Wonder bread so you can do it in 30 minutes? Puh-leeze! Why bother?

However I still watch the show. It's entertaining & some of the equipment analyses are useful.

Edited by ghostrider, 17 April 2008 - 06:55 AM.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

#59 Chris Hennes

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 07:07 AM

I agree that the recipes are bland & sometimes downright bizarre.  Making a "Bolognese" sauce with crumbled Wonder bread so you can do it in 30 minutes?  Puh-leeze!  Why bother?

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Because that's what you have time for. If you have more time, you go to the "classic Bolognese" recipe from January 1999, which doesn't contain anything "unorthodox." They have been publishing for over a decade and trying to stay within their audience's food comfort zone (i.e. limited Asian cuisine), so it does seem that they are running short on ideas sometimes. I agree that I wish they would branch out more, but trying to make a tasty pseudo-bolognese in 30 minutes doesn't seem that far-fetched to me.

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#60 mtigges

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 07:41 AM

I agree that the recipes are bland & sometimes downright bizarre.  Making a "Bolognese" sauce with crumbled Wonder bread so you can do it in 30 minutes?  Puh-leeze!  Why bother?

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Because that's what you have time for. If you have more time, you go to the "classic Bolognese" recipe from January 1999, which doesn't contain anything "unorthodox." They have been publishing for over a decade and trying to stay within their audience's food comfort zone (i.e. limited Asian cuisine), so it does seem that they are running short on ideas sometimes. I agree that I wish they would branch out more, but trying to make a tasty pseudo-bolognese in 30 minutes doesn't seem that far-fetched to me.

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I would either have to bake the plain crappy bread-like substance myself or check myself into a sanitorium after I realized what I'd just spent money on were I to actually buy wonder bread to make their sauce.

Either way a more traditional is much more attainable.

Who in their subscriber base has wonder bread (or another similar noxious substance) on hand?

I like CI. I didn't see that recipe, but I often skip right over some of the articles that I have no interest in. You can't fault them for trying to appeal to the demographics of their subscribers but Wonder Bread? Was it a special April 1st issue?