Top 17 Cook’s Illustrated Recipes

I basically credit Cook’s Illustrated (by America’s Test Kitchen) with teaching me to cook. I had no idea what was possible in my kitchen until I started reading that magazine, and later subscribing to the web site. Important notes about the magazine/recipe site:

  1. It’s not free. BUT that’s ok because…
  2. There are no advertisements (YAY!) and…
  3. The recipes are all tested and re-tested and quite delicious. It’s a far cry from sifting through junk and more junk and millions of reader reviews on free recipe sites in search of the occasional diamond in the rough.

Even though I find it a lot easier to browse though CooksIllustrated.com than a lot of other recipe sites, thousands of recipes can still be overwhelming. So, after about ten years of subscribing, here are my tried and true Top 17 Favorite Cooks Illustrated Recipes (I don’t know why there are 17; I started with a Top 10 and this is where I ended). These are the recipes I use week in and week out with my family, and hubby and our four young kids are no easy critics.

  1. Chicken Tikka Masala – I would pay the price of a year’s subscription just to get this one recipe. I stopped going to Indian restaurants after I mastered this, because the restaurants weren’t as good.
  2. Beef Tacos – Kick those little packets of taco seasoning for good! It’s easier than you think, and worth it.
  3. Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce – Again, canned enchilada sauce? No where near as good as this.
  4. Beef and Cheese Empanadas – Are you seeing a trend here? Yes, we like Mexican food. And these little pockets of delicious meat and cheese in a flaky crispy dough are as good as it gets.
  5. Tinga (Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas) – Ummm, yep, more Mexican food. But it’s pork this time! And this recipe is so easy… you can do it! We usually eat it over soft corn cakes instead of the tostadas.
  6. Samosas with Meat Filling – Back to Indian food! Have you ever had a Hot Pocket? This is like that, except it’s delicious authentic food, not a weird food impostor from the microwave (a.k.a. a weird oven impostor). So really it’s nothing like a Hot Pocket.
  7. Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs – No spaghetti for us, but try these meatballs and sauce with a side of fresh ricotta cheese and a green salad. Perfection. Stop buying jarred spaghetti sauce full of weird sugars! (Shout out to Colombo’s on Cape Cod – we first had meatballs with ricotta there and it was a revelation.)
  8. Coconut Red Curry Sauce over Sauteed White Fish Fillets – If you need a 20 minute meal with flavor that will blow you away, this is it.
  9. Beef Kebabs (both Southwestern and with Asian Flavors) – Kebabs are so great for the summer grill! Both of these marinades are worthwhile and offer lots of options for combining the meet with various fruits and veggies.
  10. Silky Butternut Squash Soup – One of the only soups my husband will eat. Toast a piece of sourdough bread with a generous spread of butter and have the perfect winter lunch.
  11. Falafel – We lived in New Haven for a while, and in the food world, New Haven is known for two things: pizza and falafel. I have never and likely will never match their pizza, but this falafel is wicked close.
  12. Restaurant Style Hummus – Stop paying a fortune for prepared hummus from the store. This is easy and delicious and great with all kinds of veggies! My kids love it.
  13. Rosemary Focaccia – We don’t each much bread now except the occasional sourdough, but when I was making a lot of bread, this was hands down my favorite. Don’t be scared by the time frame. Good bread is worth it.
  14. Best Crab Cakes – Crab is often prohibitively expensive, so we make these with wild caught white fish, sauteed with the aromatics until *just* barely cooked through so that it flakes apart, and use that in place of the crab. This is my kids’ favorite Meatless Fridays meal. And since the binder is an ingenious shrimp mousse, it’s very easy to make grain free.
  15. Chinese Orange Chicken – Chinese done right! We love this.
  16. Flourless Chocolate Cake – Everyone who has ever tried this cake wants the recipe. If you need a gluten free or grain free dessert that all eaters regardless of diet will fall in love with, this is it.
  17. Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting – After one bite, a friend asked me to make this for his wedding cake.

Ok, I know by now you’ve clicked on a couple links and are yelling at me that you can’t see the recipes without a subscription. I already admitted that this site is not free. BUT the subscription price for a year is less than one average cook book and you can save and/or print as many recipes as you want. PLUS you can get all of these recipes with a FREE 2-week trial. And if you already subscribe but weren’t sure where to start, well, now you know. Enjoy!

If you are a Cook’s Illustrated fan and have any favorites I’ve left out, please let me know what they are!

Thanks. : )

Obligatory Side Note: I have no affiliation with Cook’s Illustrated at all. They have no idea I or this blog exist. I just like their recipes.

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Homemade Rosemary Focaccia

Bread is getting a bad rap lately. Low carb diets and a sudden onslaught of gluten intolerance has it blacklisted in many households, and if you’re one of those households having to reinvent this staple, well, I hope you’re having success! We tend torwards the principal of moderation in my house, because even though we don’t have any allergies, I do believe that a diet high in white flour and simple carbs is not good for nutrition or energy, which is why a perfect pillowly loaf of homemade focaccia is an extra special treat.

I’m doing my best to stick to a bread-making schedule with our whole wheat sandwich loaf, because bread is one of those food items that usually requires a slew of preservatives to get it from the industrial oven to your table, and the smell and taste of homemade bread simply cannot be rivaled by the prepackaged substitute.

But for a super special sandwich, or a super special dinner side, or a super special Sunday (or a plain old Sunday, really), I turn to this Rosemary Focaccia from the geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen.

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Crispy, chewy, airy, pillowy, rosemary-y… I could eat a whole loaf of this with a good bowl of soup or a nice cheese and be perfectly satisfied with my day. It takes a little planning because a lot of the great flavor is due to a biga — dough starter — that has to rest for at least 8 hours after you stir it together. But overall, it’s not a difficult bread, and the result is more than worth the wait.

Get the full (FREE) recipe here from The Feed:

Rosemary Focaccia Recipe from The Feed

If you want a “wow” bread for your Thanksgiving table, give this focaccia a try (you might want to run a test batch this week, you know, “just to make sure it turns out well”).

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

FREE Recipe: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Remember a couple days ago when I posted about how much I’m in love with the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread? Well, they picked up my loafy picture on their Facebook Fan Pages, and now you can try the recipe for free, but only for the next week!

Check out the Fan Photos here, and go make some bread! Right, you’ll need the recipe… Ta-da!

Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread on CooksIllustrated.com

Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread

The Bread Winner

Please do not ever consider attending a dinner party at my house if any of the following are true:

  1. You are on a low-carb diet.
  2. You are on a gluten-free diet.
  3. You are afraid that eating rice will make your stomach explode like it does to a small bird (if that is actually true – I’ve never been sure).
  4. Ultra dark chocolate makes your face pucker.

Because these things are still staples in my house. I know, I know… studies are finding out that people who are allergic to gluten can have problems with everything from digestion to depression, but I don’t think I’m one of those people. I can eat a loaf of bread for breakfast, and I feel fine. I try not to, for the sake of moderation and the fact that I also love fruits and vegetables and just about any dairy and protein, but I can if I want.

However, while I don’t have anything against gluten or carbs, preservatives and “flavorings” and anything that ends in “-ate” or “-ide” in the ingredients list has me running and hiding under my covers like a knock on the door in Home Alone (2nd-best Christmas movie ever).

So I’ve been trying out recipe after recipe for whole wheat sandwich bread and the results were like the most boring posts ever on Epic Fail. Dry, crumbly, dense, ranging from overly chewy to “this might actually be a brick in a loaf of bread costume” – I was getting a little frustrated, so frustrated that I went back to store-bought sandwich bread.

Then, Cooks Illustrated swept in a rescued my family from calcium propionate with their Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread recipe! It was exactly what I was looking for, and it is a winner. The first try came out beautifully and even after five days in the cupboard, the second loaf still had a perfectly soft but hearty texture.

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It works for PB&J, but is graceful enough for cucumber tea sandwiches (as if I was ever going to make cucumber tea sandwiches). It also makes amazing French Toast after ten days or so. I have another soaker – one of the secrets to the texture – in my fridge right now, the whole wheat flour getting all soft and delightful in preparation for its transformation into a yummy fluffy carb cloud.

Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread recipe on CooksIllustrated.com

Sorry, this is another recipe that can only be accessed fully with a paid subscription to Cooks Illustrated, but if you’d like to give this recipe (and any other on their site) a try, simply click through to the recipe and activate a 14-day free trial. I’m about to go slice off a thick piece to toast along with my free-range egg omelet (ugh – I know – with this food thing; me = crazy).

Please make a loaf. It’s worth the effort. Even my husband, who has something in his brain that by-and-large breeds animosity towards the humble sandwich, claimed that he enjoyed a peanut butter and honey sandwich on this bread. And then he exclaimed that the French Toast I made with it was so much better than it was with the store bread, and he already loved my French Toast recipe. That’s high praise, people. High praise.

***UPDATE***

The picture above was picked up on the Cooks Illustrated Facebook Fan Pages, and now you can view the recipe for FREE for the next week! Check it out here!

Homemade Hostess Cupcake

Showdown With A Cupcake

I mentioned in my Natural Face Challenge post how I’ve been reading a lot of articles about our food (and by “our” I mean a typical first-world citizen, and by “food” I mean typical grocery store fare). These articles are not encouraging, to say the least. The accusations are serious: the milk we drink is basically cholesterol-raising candy (fortified, of course); anything made with wheat products could have some sort of wood pulp filler in it (fortified, of course); fake sweeteners; fake flavors; fake colors; fake shelf-life; fake food. Seriously, it’s really freaking me out a little. I’m not ready to move to the compound and eat only what I can grow in my own truck patch, but I am a little terrified to pull anything prepackaged off my local grocery store shelves. We are rapidly approaching a point in my house where if I can’t make it, we’re not going to eat it.

So you can imagine my dilemma when I tell you what one of my all-time most favorite nostalgia-inducing treats is: The Hostess Cupcake. You know, with the fluffy marshmallowy vanilly cream inside and the little curlicue of icing across the top?

I know it’s not right. I know it’s not good for me. I know there’s a fairly good chance it’s not even food. But I can’t help it! I grew up with the Hostess Cupcake and you can tell me anything you want – I’ll still put on my rose-colored glasses and enjoy a couple with a glass of milk-candy.

But then it came down to it, and I was standing in front of the Hostess Cupcake in my grocery store aisle, and the ingredients were leaping off the box and assaulting me, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring the little cupcake home.

So I made a little compromise. I have two preschoolers and a toddler in my house. I’m advanced beyond my years in the art of compromise.

I made my own Hostess-esque cupcake, in miniature.

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I know, I know: the sugar and butter and sour cream and flour and chocolate I used in the cupcakes are all highly processed (and sugar is another whole story, anyway). You’re good and kind and sweet to point it out, and I know you’re right. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who has more success with the baby-steps method than with cold turkeys, so this is my first step: from prepackaged, preservative-laden very very bad for me cupcakes to homemade (preservative free) miniaturized very bad for me cupcakes. But it’s all part of my plan, you see. Over the next months and years, I’ll slowly tire of putting all the time and effort necessary into making my Hostess indulgence, and my efforts will slowly be spaced further and further apart, until, one day, I’ll realize it’s been a hundred days since I had a Hostess cupcake and I don’t miss them at all. Painless weaning.

If you’re ready for your first step-down, you can get the full recipe here (free):

 America’s Test Kitchen Feed – Shaping Up Hostess CupCakes

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(photo from americastestkitchenfeed.com, as if you couldn’t tell from the differnce in quality from mine above)

Side Note: The recipe calls for Fluff (the jarred puffed marshmallow cream) for the filling, but I couldn’t stomach the ingredients, so I used sweetened whipped heavy cream stabilized with a bit of cornstarch. The original recipe for 12 regular size cupcakes made about 40 mini cupcakes using a standard miniature muffin pan. Since the cupcakes were mini, I used a large milkshake straw to bore a hole out of the middle for the filling instead of cutting a cone out with a knife, but would have liked a little more filling. I think an apple corer would do the trick.

Second Side Note: For the most part, I believe in healthful eating, and these certainly do not qualify (homemade or not). The basic food philosophy in our house is that the vast majority of what we eat is healthful (we take in almost no sugar in our regular meals) and then it’s ok to enjoy a special treat now and then, and when you do enjoy a special treat, it’s actually special! And it better be scrumptious. Scandalously scrumptious.

Replacing the store-bought variety with this homemade version might not make them lower in sugar, fat or calories, but I think ingesting less chemicals into your system is a pretty good reason to leave happier! It’s the little things.

Have a great weekend,

Amber