Editors of Cook's Illustrated

"The Best Light Recipes"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAY 1, 2006)

"I told our culinary staff [at America's Test Kitchen] that if they could produce a low-fat cheesecake that was almost as good as the high-fat version,  I would have to agree that the notion of a "light" cookbook made sense.  I tasted three recipes that day: our own regular cheesecake from The Best Recipe, a new lower fat recipe that the kitchen had just developed, and a third recipe from someone else's low-fat cookbook.  This last recipe, from a well-known cookbook author, turned out just as I had expected:  pasty, gummy, and unsatisfying.  No surprise, I loved the cheesecake from The Best Recipe, but our new lower fat version was substantially creamier.  That made the case for this book: Perhaps our test kitchen could make [other] lighter recipes taste better." --Christopher Kimball, Founder and Editor, Cook's Illustrated Magazine.

Cook's Illustrated The Best Light Recipes

Once Publisher/Editor Christopher Kimball became committed to a low-fat cookbook which put flavor first, America's Test Kitchen, which is associated with Cook's Illustrated, assigned two dozen test cooks, editors, food scientists, tasters, and cookware specialists to the task.  The Test Kitchen had the time, energy, creativity, and resources to try all possible combinations of cooking methods and lower fat ingredients, some of them surprising.  Most of all, they had the determination to create low-fat recipes that tasted so good that home cooks would choose to use them again and again.  "A light recipe you make only once is not very helpful," they agreed.

The result is this landmark cookbook, one you really will use again and again.  Test Kitchen cooks include the story of each recipe and how it was developed—a play-by-play diary full of drama, describing the low-fat ingredients and combinations they tried, their experiments with cooking methods, and their results, including the reasons for rejecting all possibilities until they came up with the final recipes published here.  And these recipes are sensational!  You won't have to eat broiled, skinless chicken or poached fish every night—and you won't have to feel guilty if you indulge in everyday macaroni and cheese, cheesy chicken enchiladas, guacamole, eggplant parmesan, green bean casserole (similar to the old favorite with mushroom soup and canned onion rings), and fudgy brownies, in addition to a cheesecake that is the best I've EVER had—lower fat versions of family favorites that you may have avoided as "unhealthy" for years.  In fact, if they hadn't shown the fat content and calories for a standard recipe beside the content of their improved, low-fat version, you would not be able to tell by taste that these recipes reduce the amount of fat by about 65%.  The creamy macaroni and cheese reduces fat by 78%.

The centerpiece of the cookbook is, of course, the cheesecake, the recipe that led to the cookbook in the first place, and it appears on the cover.  I tested that cheesecake by making it for Easter and serving it to six people.  One of them declared that it was the best cheesecake she'd ever eaten.  (I agree.)  It does require steps--easy ones--taken in advance, but none of these steps are time-consuming, and the end results are worth it.  Because the Test Kitchen had made 28 cheesecakes before developing this final "perfect" version, I did not vary from the instructions even an iota when I prepared it myself.  I knew that real attention had been paid to detail when the directions said to bake for one and a half hours, "or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the centerof the cheesecake reads 150 degrees," a useful, specific instruction I've never seen for a cheesecake before.  (My cake reached 150 degrees at exactly 1 hour, 25 minutes.)

Though the book has sixteen pages of colored photos, it relies primarily on helpful drawings to illustrate cooking methods, along with thumbnail photos of brand named ingredients and equipment.  The Test Kitchen also judges the "best" product, when appropriate—Ronzoni Oven Ready Lasagne Noodles and Sargento Reduced-fat Mozzarella Cheese, among the foods, and Farberware's (inexpensive) Millennium Soft Touch Stainless Nonstick Skillet and Baker's Secret Nonstick Loaf Pan among the equipment. 

Throughout the book, the editors stress "Core Techniques," which they highlight, those techniques they have discovered to improve the taste of lower fat recipes—how to increase the chocolate flavor of low-fat cakes, why the use of cake flour is preferable to high-gluten, unbleached flour, and why brining helps improve the flavor of pork, for example.  The book teaches and explains, illustrates and recommends, and, best of all, educates and encourages the home chef to use the techniques that the Test Kitchen has discovered to be so effective. 

If you, like me, have always looked for ways to lower the amount of fat in your favorite recipes but have often become discouraged by the less than satisfying results of your own experiments, this cookbook will literally change your life.  Revolutionary in its creative approaches and rigorous in its testing, America's Test Kitchen has produced a cookbook that really will change lives for the better—by making lower fat recipes so delicious that you will never miss the fat.  And even if you end up unexpectedly using yogurt cheese in your cheesecake or mashed lima beans in your guacamole, you can use those ingredients with the confidence that they really work and that the end results will justify your efforts.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews

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About the Author:

Cook's Illustrated is a bimonthly American cooking magazine founded and edited by Christopher Kimball. It accepts no advertising and and is characterized by extensive recipe testing and detailed instructions, the magazine also conducts equally thorough evaluations of kitchen equipment and branded foods and ingredients. The magazine’s staff also produces the PBS cooking show America's Test Kitchen.

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