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"Cook's Illustrated"

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I'll stand up for Cook's Illustrated. It's a solid source for definitive recipes, for kitchen tips and even for equipment recommendations. Along with the TV show and the free content on the Web site, a beginning cook can really get a free educatation.

I made their brownies last weekend. It was the first time I made brownies from scratch. I went to CI because I knew they would provide a tried and true method, and they did. Seasoned cooks may feel bogged down but beginners can get spectacular results just by following along.

I saw a great pot roast on their TV show this week. Sometimes you want to just put some Lipton onion mix in, and other times you want to spend the time to make it a memorable meal. I'll be trying that one next.

~ KP

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I'm inclined to agree with Kape.

The good folks at CI are completely absurd caricatures of themselves, but that is part of their appeal. Mr. Kimball’s editorials (especially the latest one) are rambling, disjointed, monologues that don’t really serve to make the magazine seem “in touch” with the readers. The little pencil drawings that show us how use kitchen tongs to get a box of cereal off a high shelf are completely useless. The staff takes an incredibly pretentiousness to a new level when badmouthing the recipes/ingredients they rejected. When I 1st started reading CI I was scared to make a batch of cookies (I’m not even sure that it was cookies) because I could find the brand of chocolate chips they recommended and I was terrified of using any chips that they had maligned.

Why keep buying the magazine? They test everything obsessively. All of the complaints leveled against CI are on target, but we must admit they are much more through in their analysis than other food magazines. Often Cooking Light (which I also enjoy) will publish recipes that need more than an little adjustment to get them right.

If you have never prepared a certain culinary staple before, they will give you the step-by-step to get it right the first time.

P.S. has anyone tried the chicken-pot-pie in the most recent issue?


Alamut was the mountain fortress of Hassan i Sabbah and the later heads of the Assassins. Alamut represents more than just a physical place, more even than a symbolic home of the movement. Alamut was with you in what you did; Alamut was in your heart from the moment of your arrival and introduction to "Heaven" until the moment you died.

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I like the magazine a lot but one thing that bugs me-and seems to have gotten worse in recent years-is their inclusion/discussion of low quality prepared foods like precooked breakfast sausage, jarred salsa, etc. Most of the brands they try I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole-made by large corporate producers and full of crappy ingredients. I think they are trying to work with only those items that are widely available but c'mon-it seems like their readership would be willing to mail order or visit a specialty store rather than only settle for what Safeway has to offer.

Edit: Alamut, I remember a chocolate chip test from a number of years ago where there winning brand was only found in natural food stores-that is exactly what I miss! I'll bet they wouldn't even include this brand now.


Edited by kiliki (log)

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I've subscribed to both the magazine and web site for some time and enjoy both, though I've stopped reading Kimball's editorials. I refer to the web site frequently for recipes and find it much more convenient than searching through old magazines.

My main complaint is their repackaging of material from the magazine and America's Test Kitchen TV show into assorted books and marketing efforts and their constant marketing hype. I ordered one of the Test Kitchen books a couple of years ago. The next year, they automatically sent me the new edition. I was really angry because I didn't like the first one but kept it anyway. Now I had to call them, explain that I received something I didn't order, and return it. They were very nice, but it was a waste of time. And have you seen their new magazine, Cook's Country? I've received about 3 "trial" issues without asking for them. It's a straight imitation of "Taste of Home" magazine, which I never even heard of until I moved to a rural area. The CI version is just as tacky as the original.


Ilene

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I enjoy Cook's Illustrated - both magazine and web site - I think because my basic nature is a nerd.  I always liked math and science in school, and I actually think computer programming is fun!!

I subscribed to their web site for 1 year and I'm printing everything off that I'm interested in and then will cancel.  Hah!

I also enjoy the researched recipes, they get me thinking about how recipes can be modified.  For me, who is a hopeless direction-follower who has not got an ounce of artistry or creativity - this helps me see how recipes in cookbooks can be changed without fear of disaster in the kitchen.

I see people don't like their "tone" but to me it is similar to Consumer Reports.  You are free to agree or disagree.  But at least they get you thinking about the elements of what make up a dish and you can then decide on your own if you like their result or not.

The equipment reviews are a favorite of mine because I am a gadget freak.  But no way do I agree with a lot of their recommendations.  Their knife reviews alone make me shudder.

I certainly did not agree with their review of the DLX 2000 mixer, which I have had now for a few years.

They did not recommend it at all, refering to it (as I recall, perhaps not exactly) as a "vast wasteland" - - - Too large for mixing whatever they put in it.

They described their testing of it but it was obviously not a test that was appropriate for the size of this mixer.

It is not and has never purported to be something for "normal" use. It is a mixer for making large batches of bread and other things - It does have the beater bowl for whipping egg whites, and smaller batches and it does a marvelous job on those. But in the steel bowl, you can't mix a regular batch of cake batter.

I use it for cake batter when I am filling 4 very large (long) loaf pans, 4 tube pans, 2-3 12 inch layers, or a full sheet pan.

Their evaluation, in my opinion, was unfair and I wrote and told them so. I know several home bakers who have the DLX and who do several loaves at a time, multiple batches of rolls, etc., they all love it.

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.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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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

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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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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?

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

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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?

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 the accompanying 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."

 

-The mosque is too far from home, so let's do this / Let's make a weeping child laugh.

    Nida Fazli, poet, 1938-2016 (translated, from the Urdu, by Anu Garg, wordsmith.org)

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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?

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.)

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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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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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Creating unique food and drink experiences

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Dinner for 40

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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 (log)

Explore the food, beverages, and people of Wisconsin EatWisconsin.com

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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.

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.

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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.


stefoodie.net - now a wheatless, eggless, dairyless food blog

noodlesandrice.com (with b5media)

bakingdelights.com (with b5media, and my 15-yo-dd)

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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 (log)

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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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: ).

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.

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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.

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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

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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.


Notes from the underbelly

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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.

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