Great cookbooks for the holidays: The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook | Rock Candy

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great cookbooks for the holidays: The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 1:27 PM

I collect cookbooks — old ones, new ones, local ones, foreign ones. Some get pulled out more often than others. And there's one... well, it's getting so dog-eared that I've picked up a second copy. That's The Best Recipe, put out in 1999 by the folks at Cook's Illustrated. Before every recipe in the book the authors described the methods that went into creating each recipe, explaining why each ingredient is used, why each method is utilized and explaining so much food science. If you love cooking and learning, this is the book I recommend.

That's why I was especially happy to check out another great book from the same folks. Out last month, The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook is more than 2000 of the very best recipes ever published in the magazine. Taking the same care as The Best Recipe, each separate recipe is a project explained. Unlike its predecessor, The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook extrapolates, seeking out contemporary food finds, dissecting them and creating useful and perfect recipes. It includes ways to create the perfect seafood dish, great ways to grill just about everything and an amazing number of recipes for variations on bread.

  • Carl Tremblay
Ever think about putting vodka in pie crust dough? Browned butter in chocolate chip cookies? The book explains why you'll want to use these ingredients... and why you put the glaze on the bottom of the pan when making sticky buns. It explains why a wok really isn't the best pan for stir frying and ways cornstarch can be used in the kitchen — besides thickening, of course. Everything from how to boil an egg and peel it the best way to why hickory is better than mesquite for smoking meat.

Want a sneak peek? Check out the recipes for Classic Macaroni and Cheese and for Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies (they're also on the jump, if you don't want to mess with a PDF). They'll give you a good idea of what to expect in the book. It retails for $40, but right now has it for $24.

Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 6 to 8

6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, 3 tablespoons cut into 6 piecesand chilled
1 pound elbow macaroni
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

1. Pulse bread and chilled butter in food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses; set aside.
2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until tender; drain pasta.
3. Melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter in now-empty pot over medium-high heat. Add flour, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne, if using, and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, slowly whisk in cheeses until completely melted. Add pasta to sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
4. Transfer mixture to 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish and sprinkle with bread-crumb mixture. Broil until topping is deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool casserole for 5 minutes before serving.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 16 large cookies

1 3/4 cups (83/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed (51/4 ounces) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (31/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 1 large yolk
1 1/4 cups (71/2 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
2. Melt 10 tablespoons butter in 10‑inch skillet over medium‑high heat. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter and stir until completely melted.
3. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla to melted butter; whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and egg yolk; whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if using. Give dough final stir to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Working with 3 tablespoons dough at a time, roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
5. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; let cookies cool to room temperature.

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