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"Cook's Illustrated"


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#61 ElsieD

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 08:37 AM

My husband is fonder of CI than I am as he is interested in the science of things whereas I'm more interested in the recipes and CI doesn't have that many really interesting ones. That said, if I want to make something that I want to be sure will turn out, I will often turn to CI as no recipe has ever failed me. As far as magazines go, I prefer Cuisine at Home. It too, has no advertising but a more interesting range of recipes.

I had a problem once with getting CI's magazine - I think a shipment to Canada went astray and it is next to impossible to find someone to talk to. I was testing their recipes at the time and finally wrote to the person in charge of that - she didn't get back to me either. If it is customer service you are looking for, don't count on getting satisfaction from CI.

We subscribe to both the magazine and their web site as I like to be able to go on-line and print off a recipe rather than looking through their annual books (which we do get and enjoy) and having it on the counter while I cook. We have some of their The Perfect...."cookbooks but no longer get them as we found that most of the recipes are available in the annual books.

With regards to ATK, I can't stand how, at the beginning of each show, they show a dish in it's sorry state, whether purchased or made from some "other" recipe. I find that a trifle arrogant not to mention it makes me feel like they are assuming their audience are idiots.

And Cook's Country magazine? Is there a Paula Deen lurking in their somewhere?

#62 Darcie B

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 08:49 AM

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?

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I don't recall them ever calling for bread in ANY of their bolognese recipes, much less Wonder Bread. I just double-checked, and no bread is listed in their weeknight bolognese (which uses dried porcini mushrooms to boost the flavor, hardly a noxious substance).

In the recipes that do call for bread, they specify quality white sandwich bread, preferably homemade, but if not like Pepperidge Farm. I cannot find where they have ever called for Wonder Bread or similar squishy stuff.

I can understand the hate for those who have experienced bad customer service. But the vitriol toward Chris' homespun soliloquies (which I find good for a laugh) and toward their quest for "perfection" I don't understand.

My cooking improved immeasurably thanks to CI. I now feel much more confident and while I do branch out to other authors for more sophisticated recipes, I still turn to CI for reference and grounding.
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#63 CaliPoutine

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 09:22 AM

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


Maybe people who subcribe to Cook's Country, their sister publication!!

#64 ninetofive

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 11:00 AM

I admit, I find the structure of CIs articles and shows a little tiresome, but it doesn't stop me from subscribing or watching. As others have pointed out, how can every version of a dish suck so bad until CI comes around? I wish for once they'd admit, "We've rarely met a monkey bread we haven't liked, but what if we could develop a gooey, cinnamon-infused Sunday morning treat that tops them all?" That gets my attention more than harping on the awfulness of a recipe.

That said, I like the magazine a lot. I like that they don't accept advertising. I like that they put a recipe through the wringer, testing it dozens and dozens of times, something I'm not able to do as a freelance recipe developer -- what a luxury! Do I I always agree their results are the "best"? Taste is awfully hard to nail down; what they do well is breaking the recipe down into techniques that are usually spot on and something I adapt to my own cooking. From there, I'm free to improvise and develop the roadmap to my "best" taste.

I picked up the special CI that just came out (a fluffy white coconut cake on the cover?) and made the manicotti the other night. I followed the recipe exactly, which is something I rarely do. The idea of using presoaked no-boil lasagna to roll up the pasta was a cool idea. I made the components of the dish ahead of time, put it together on a Sunday afternoon, then baked for dinner on a Monday as the recipe said I could. While the dish turned out fine, it certainly wasn't the most spectacular manicotti I've ever had, and I know I'll never make that particular version again. (My son complained that it made the whole house smell like vomit, thanks to the browned cheese on top -- and I have to admit, he was right!) However, I will use that noodle idea with my mother's recipe for the ricotta filling and my grandmother's meat sauce recipe next time I've a hankering for manicotti.
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#65 Jujubee

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 09:39 PM

I'm with Chris. I really like CI, and I've had a very high success rate with their recipes. I do quite a bit of entertaining and am always trying recipes from lots of different sources, and CI recipes consistently get the most raves. And contrary to what people are saying here, I do get a better result if I follow the directions exactly (and by exactly, I mean pull out the rulers/ get out the laser thermometer/ use their recommended brands). It maybe be a recipe I've tried a bunch of variations on before, but somehow the CI version pulls it together just so.

One thing that tends to happen is that I get inspired by a recipe in another publication, but when I try it, it's not perfect in technical ways. Like say, the cooking time is off, or the browning is subpar, or the technique is somewhat sloppy, or something like that. But the idea, the twist on flavors, or whatever is good. So I apply that to an existing CI recipe and figure out the techniques that worked for them (time, temp, order of operations), and then the end result is both technically perfect and creative (well, not my creativity, but borrowed from some other source).

I was browsing through my cookbooks from them (I buy The Best Recipe Series - the best solution I found for minimizing the repeats was to stick with one series, so I don't buy the ATK companion series, for example. There are still repeats, but in a way that makes sense, usually a more basic recipe that applies to a different categories/cuisines), and I think they do have flavor variations that are very up-to-date. You can definitely trace the progression from the original The Best Recipe through the more recent books. However, I think they are presented in a way that makes their food seem very uninspired. Basically, the main recipe is almost like the "blank slate" basic version, and the variations just look like a short afterthought. But that's where you see the progression of how they are adapting to changing tastes and trends. And some of those variations are really good! For me, I like that they always walk you through a "blank slate" version, because then I know what they considered necessary, and it makes it much easier to superimpose other flavor variations.

I don't like their attempts at Chinese cooking, but that's because I'm Chinese and it tastes inauthentic to me. My white husband loves it though; it's like the best version of Americanized Chinese. But I like their attempts at other cuisines, because in those cases I do have American taste buds.

#66 petite tête de chou

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 09:28 AM


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?

View Post

I don't recall them ever calling for bread in ANY of their bolognese recipes, much less Wonder Bread. I just double-checked, and no bread is listed in their weeknight bolognese (which uses dried porcini mushrooms to boost the flavor, hardly a noxious substance).

In the recipes that do call for bread, they specify quality white sandwich bread, preferably homemade, but if not like Pepperidge Farm. I cannot find where they have ever called for Wonder Bread or similar squishy stuff.

I can understand the hate for those who have experienced bad customer service. But the vitriol toward Chris' homespun soliloquies (which I find good for a laugh) and toward their quest for "perfection" I don't understand.

My cooking improved immeasurably thanks to CI. I now feel much more confident and while I do branch out to other authors for more sophisticated recipes, I still turn to CI for reference and grounding.

View Post


I subscribe to their website and I checked their bolognese sauces for bread, too. It's not to be found. Wonder bread was considered a "do not bother" product after their tasting of white sandwich bread.
Also, *I* have a loaf of Wonder bread in my cupboard at this. very. moment. My husband considers a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on squishy white bread with a glass of milk a childhood treat...so lets not assume who has what in their pantry based on what website they subscribe to. :smile:

Edited by petite tête de chou, 18 April 2008 - 02:49 PM.

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#67 PamPam

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 01:56 PM

A few years ago I ordered one of their cookbooks. My excuse is I was cooking and drinking a fair amount of wine when the telemarketer called. Remember I ordered ONE book. A copy of every subsequent cookbook was mailed to me. I could not find a human being to speak with to cancel. I even wrote Christopher Kimball; no response. I returned them all, but that did not stop the mailings. The only thing that got those darned books out of my life was Hurricane Katrina. It must have dawned on someone that mailing packages to New Orleans was not a winning proposition. Thank God they did not discover that I moved back to the same address six months latter.
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#68 ruthcooks

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 04:01 PM

My objections to CI are about the same as everyone else's, the tone, the silliness of trying ridiculous steps in the interest of being thorough. ("We wanted a crispy skin and it was imediately obvious that boiling was not a satisfactory method.")

My main objections are about the fact Chris comes off like a hypocrite. I've read he has more money than he knows what to do with, lives in a million dollar condo in Boston, and yet hokes it up like Farmer John in his editorials. Also, his claim to "accepting no advertising" may be true in that he won't accept it from anyone else, but each issue is loaded with eight full size pages and who knows how many inserts touting his cookbooks. I mutter to myself every time it comes and I have to rip those suckers out. And he wants me to pay for access to his web site?

In all the years I have subscribed to CI, I think I've only tried one recipe: a yellow cake which was a dismal failure, featuring a yellow rubber layer at the botoom. We have a trust issue.

Thanks to all who have posted their favorites, maybe it will inspire me to try more.
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#69 ghostrider

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 04:47 PM

I don't recall them ever calling for bread in ANY of their bolognese recipes, much less Wonder Bread. I just double-checked, and no bread is listed in their weeknight bolognese (which uses dried porcini mushrooms to boost the flavor, hardly a noxious substance).

In the recipes that do call for bread, they specify quality white sandwich bread, preferably homemade, but if not like Pepperidge Farm. I cannot find where they have ever called for Wonder Bread or similar squishy stuff.

View Post

Sorry, the Wonder Bread reference was just me being a bit snide; I assumed that folks would realize that. The recipe in question actually did call for that "quality white sandwich bread." I don't really care if they're talking Pep Farm or Wonder; I still find either one a gross thing to put into a purported Bolognese sauce.

This particular bread-intensive recipe may not have been published but it was definitely televised, within the last 2 weeks here in Jersey. (I've no idea of the actual episode date since they rerun a lot of older ones late at night.)

IMHO a Bolognese sauce should be made properly or not at all. There are plenty of other delicious pasta sauces that can be prepared in 1/2 hour without adding white bread to them.

As noted, I am a fan of the show. This was one of the few episodes where I thought the featured recipe just went totally off track.
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#70 PamPam

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 08:27 PM

OK, I ranted about the cookbook issue. I have one rant left in me. Someone gave me an issue of CI titled "Fall Entertaining" or something like that. It had an article entitled " Great Gumbo". It should have been titled " Great Shrimp Soup". It actually said they could not make gumbo with okra or file because they were acquired tastes. Well, if you cannot acquire the taste eat shrimp bisque. It was so dumbed down.

#71 Hombre

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:51 AM

I've experienced both the good and the bad things mentioned in this thread. First, the customer service comments are right on target. Order one book from them, and they just keep on coming. I called, mystified, and had a hard time getting it stopped.

But I didn't start cooking until my late 20s, and NOTHING comes naturally to me in the kitchen. So I enjoy the lengthy explanations and tips that are probably trite to the pros. Their one-skillet pot pie is one of my favorites, and I check the recipe every time to get the dough right.

My first attempt at Bolognese was the original "classic" version from the old Best Recipe, and it's very good. So when I got the new Best Recipe, I was dismayed by the new short version, but I did try it. It's quicker, but it's also more complicated, and nowhere near as good. Sometimes tinkering too much can ruin a thing.

Edited by Hombre, 19 April 2008 - 07:56 AM.


#72 Chris Hennes

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 08:48 AM

I've experienced both the good and the bad things mentioned in this thread. First, the customer service comments are right on target. Order one book from them, and they just keep on coming. I called, mystified, and had a hard time getting it stopped.

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It is a shame so many people seem to be having trouble getting the automated delivery of new volumes stopped. I knew that was they way their books worked when I bought one, so I wasn't surprised that every year I get a new one, but I haven't tried to cancel it. I think anger at their customer service department is completely justified: it's a tactic that book and CD clubs have been using for years. It's one thing to make everything a "subscription," but it's something else entirely to make it nigh-on impossible to cancel.

But, alas, recipes like their Beef Tacos from May 2002 are so good that I find it impossible to consider canceling my magazine subscription! Has anyone else tried these? As jsmeeker mentioned in my foodblog, one of the things they recommend is buying soft corn tortillas and frying them yourself. Total pain in the butt, but also makes the best taco shells I've ever had at home, hands down, no question.

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#73 Hombre

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 08:56 AM

I agree with you on the recipes, and I still subscribe, too. But when I want a book, I get it from Amazon or Costco. Their content is great for people who want to learn more about cooking.

#74 dockhl

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 10:21 AM

RE: cookbooks keep on coming

It is illegal for them to continue sending merchandise when you have told them to stop.

HERE IS THE POSTAL LAW

You can keep it. Quote that in an email to them and they WILL stop. It worked for me, but it took that extreme before they'd quit. :angry:

#75 Josho

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 08:05 PM

My favorite Cook's Illustrated parody (perhaps because I lovingly crafted it many years ago):

Cook's Illustrated does Pop-Tarts

(Warning: it contains one potentially objectionable four-letter word.)

BTW, I've been a subscriber since the first issue. I echo the negative sentiments regarding the customer service and any/all statements taking Chris Kimball's editorials to task. That said, I have more dependable, usable recipes from CI than from any other source, hands-down. Off the top of my head, their Chicken Tikka Masala, their Pad Thai, and their take on No-Knead Bread all top my list.

--Josh

#76 paulraphael

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 08:51 AM

My favorite Cook's Illustrated parody (perhaps because I lovingly crafted it many years ago):

Cook's Illustrated does Pop-Tarts

(Warning: it contains one potentially objectionable four-letter word.)


You win.

#77 nibor

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 09:44 AM

Good parody Josh. Another is: http://www.iwritefun...e-boiled-water/

#78 Josho

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 12:07 PM

My favorite Cook's Illustrated parody (perhaps because I lovingly crafted it many years ago):

Cook's Illustrated does Pop-Tarts

(Warning: it contains one potentially objectionable four-letter word.)


You win.

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As Mom used to say, "It's not a contest, hon."

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#79 paulraphael

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 01:12 PM

David Lebovits includes these instructions on his website:

"To Peel the Banana: Hold the banana in one hand near the base. With your other hand, grab the top stem, and pull it firmly downward. If it gives you trouble, rock it back-and-forth, trying to break the area between the stem and the skin just beneath. If that doesn't work, take a sharp paring knife, being careful not to cut yourself, hold the blade facing away from you and make a small incision on the side of the skin near the tip. Set the knife aside the tear the skin of the banana using your hands, which should make the skin peel away nicely.

Pull each side of skin down from the banana, exposing the fleshy fruit beneath. Once the banana is almost completely visible, firmly yank the skin down as far as possible and extract the banana from the skin. Discard the skin (it can be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to six month and saved for another use, if desired.) The banana should be used immediately. If not, it can be pureed then stored in a container with a sheet of plastic film pressed against the top, and refrigerated for up to 48 hours.


(Disclosure: The International Association of Banana Peelers, Slicers and Blenders, nor any liquor companies, are sponsors of the site. The instructions for peeling bananas and the recipe are a direct result of my trial-and-error methods, which I developed exclusively for readers.)"

#80 teagal

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 06:37 PM

Thank you for once again giving my husband reason to think I am a total dork-I read the 'pop tart' essay and kept laughing out loud- what a perfect parity of CI. As I try to explain why I'm laughing, the looks I get proves he just doesn't get it.

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#81 easternsun

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 01:30 PM

I like the fact that CI has no paid advertising. I was going through the April Gourmet yesterday and the thing that stuck me the most was the adverts. I love that CI has none. I make something from CI at least twice a month. Current faves are the Soups & Stews Winter 2008 and the Best Recipes and Reviews 2008.

I love the Cream of Tomato soup recipe and the Chocolate Lava Cake recipe. Sorry no pics but I will try to capture some of my future CI experiments on film:)
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#82 tamiam

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 01:26 AM

What really put me over the let my subscription lapse edge was the "mexican" pulled pork recipe last month. The recipe was good (not my best ever, but very tasty), but it is called Carnitas.

It isn't barbeque.
It isn't saucy.
It isn't pulled.
It's Carnitas.
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#83 Emily_R

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 08:29 AM

Ok, I'm in the camp of originally loved CI but now feel mixed as their tone has started to grate on me... HOWEVER, I do have their "best recipe" cookbook, and have to give them credit for their BBQ ribs dry rub, which is truly fantastic. I have made very minor modifications (subbing some smoked paprika for a bit of the regular paprika called for), but it is really fantastic.

#84 HungryC

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 08:44 AM

What really put me over the let my subscription lapse edge was the "mexican" pulled pork recipe last month.  The recipe was good (not my best ever, but very tasty), but it is called Carnitas. 

It isn't barbeque. 
It isn't saucy. 
It isn't pulled.
It's Carnitas.

View Post

I think you hit the nail on the head with this post; what's wrong with using the REAL NAME of the dish? Is someone afraid of a little Spanish? Somehow everything in CI seems sanitized, americanized, systematized.....the whole mag is far too stiflingly whitebread and rigid; it reads like a '50s home-ec publication to me.

#85 Octaveman

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 11:57 AM

Somehow everything in CI seems sanitized, americanized, systematized.....the whole mag is far too stiflingly whitebread and rigid; it reads like a '50s home-ec publication to me.

View Post

I was trying to figure out how to describe what it is about CI that gives me the "eh" feeling. Don't need to anymore as I'm pretty much says what I was trying to figure out.

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#86 Jujubee

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 12:46 PM

I made the Chicken Satay wth Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce and we practically inhaled it. It was that good. However, and this is true with a lot of CI's international recipes, it wasn't authentic. Like I said before, this really bothers me with chinese recipes since I have a strong sense of what is "right" in that cuisine, but for other cuisines, including other asian cuisines, I don't mind as long as it tastes good. And this was definitely delicious.

#87 phatj

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 09:53 PM

Speaking of inauthentic Asian dishes, I just remembered that I very much like the Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken recipe from Sept. '04. I'm not sure what an authentic recipe would be, but I don't imagine it would include peanut butter.

Tonight I made the Lasagna with Hearty Meat Sauce from The New Best Recipe. My first attempt at a standard lasagna, and it turned out quite good. Not earth-shattering but a good basic recipe with room for experimentation.

#88 nakji

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 02:27 AM

Speaking of inauthentic Asian dishes, I just remembered that I very much like the Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken recipe from Sept. '04. I'm not sure what an authentic recipe would be, but I don't imagine it would include peanut butter.

Tonight I made the Lasagna with Hearty Meat Sauce from The New Best Recipe. My first attempt at a standard lasagna, and it turned out quite good. Not earth-shattering but a good basic recipe with room for experimentation.

View Post


This, maybe?

I like the idea of Cook's Illustrated, but every time I open a copy, it seems fully 9/10ths of all the recipes require an oven for some step, which I do not have. I realize ovens are used for most Western dishes, but I wonder how much of it is really necessary.

#89 mcohen

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 05:12 PM

I have several issues with CI:

First of all, its freakin' ridiculous to find some of their recommendations if you don't live in Boston. Since it is a national magazine, you'd figure they'd take into account.

They point out something as best value for the price, but once you start calculating the gas you used driving to look for the item or the mail and shipping, is it really best value anymore?

And, the only reason they started off with no advertising is because they initially couldn't find any advertisers. These days, they don't put any ads into their magazines but that doesn't mean there's no promotions or advertising. On PBS, you see ads and when you buy an OXO salad spinner, there was a promotion about CI magazine.

Plus, I actually wouldn't mind if they accepted advertising, esp. something non-cooking related, if it would stop the shilling. I've noticed how their recommendations have changed through the years, even with really no new products in that marketplace. For example, this month's recommendations for mandolines and how much that varied from its previous testing. If CI wasn't as reliant on subscriptions, would they keep on needing to always change their previous recommendations?

Edited by mcohen, 01 May 2008 - 05:36 PM.


#90 nibor

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 05:24 PM

Speaking of inauthentic Asian dishes, I just remembered that I very much like the Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken recipe from Sept. '04. I'm not sure what an authentic recipe would be, but I don't imagine it would include peanut butter.

Tonight I made the Lasagna with Hearty Meat Sauce from The New Best Recipe. My first attempt at a standard lasagna, and it turned out quite good. Not earth-shattering but a good basic recipe with room for experimentation.

View Post

This, maybe?

I like the idea of Cook's Illustrated, but every time I open a copy, it seems fully 9/10ths of all the recipes require an oven for some step, which I do not have. I realize ovens are used for most Western dishes, but I wonder how much of it is really necessary.

View Post

Is not having an oven common in Japan? In my experience all but perhaps the smallest apartment in the US has an oven. Others can correct me if I am wrong.