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The Kitchen Detective

Maria Smith | Thursday, January 15, 2004

Last year’s August culinary release, “The Kitchen Detective,” by renowned chef Chirstopher Kimball, offers a new variety of inventive recipes researched with the same care as all of his past cookbooks. The editor, founder and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the host of the cooking show “America’s Test Kitchen” handles meats, pastas, salads and desserts with equally thorough virtuosity.”The Kitchen Detective,” as well as Kimball’s other cookbooks, such as “Perfect Vegetables” and “The Dessert Bible,” are a particularly good investment for off-campus students who want a little variety in their diets but don’t know where to start. Students leaving the dining hall behind for the first time often run the risk of malnutrition from a diet of Waddick’s scones, Ramen noodles and beer, but with Kimball’s carefully explained culinary creations, the prospect of preparing a meal from scratch becomes much less intimidating.All the recipes in “The Kitchen Detective” are preceded by an extensive explanation of why Kimball took a particular interest in a recipe, what results he wanted to achieve, and how the ingredients he chose affect the recipe. The explanations are by no means necessary to making any of Kimball’s dishes, but for a novice cook or a more accomplished chef who often finds his cookies a bit too chewy or lacks the time to make a good meal every day, the details of what goes into a recipe and why can go a long way to make cooking easier and more successful.In creating his recipes, Kimball researches many of the problems most pertinent to a casual cook. “The Kitchen Detective” is not a budget cookbook, but the recipe for chive pesto is a good deal cheaper than its basil alternative. Since plain ingredients are generally cheaper and tastier than the prepared and packaged alternatives, the cookbook is likely to be a budget saver for many students.Kimball also highlights how slicing your chicken a little differently lets you prepare a dish in four minutes, and how a new skillet, although expensive, allows for two-minute scrambled eggs every morning. Although recipes such as chicken with balsamic vinegar, tomatoes and capers, corn soup with coconut milk and ginger or baked goat cheese salad in “The Kitchen Detective” are fun for people who like to try new dishes, people who are looking for a single cookbook to get them through a school year or have less adventurous taste in food might do better to buy the slightly costlier but much more inclusive “The Best Recipe.” Where “The Kitchen Detective” offers offbeat recipes, “The Best Recipe” focuses on doing favorites like sautéed chicken breasts, spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, and big and chewy chocolate chip cookies right. Anyone will find recipes they like in “The Best Recipe.”Dieters will have to be a little bit wary of “The Kitchen Detective.” Kimball operates on the theory that excess weight comes from potato chips, Cheez Whiz and other chemical-infused junk food, not from full fat cheesecake or olive oil. Although the butter and fat content of his recipes tends to run a little high, cutting the higher fat ingredients a bit can go a long way to making the food healthier and doesn’t detract much from the taste. Cooking times tactics can change with ovens and ingredients, as well, so even when following the book exactly the trial run of any recipe might need a little tweaking.Above all, “The Kitchen Detective” is a cookbook that anyone can continue to use for years. The recipes cover all occasions, from a quick meal alone to pasta night with friends to a full-fledged dinner party. The recipes are delicious, practical and not designed exclusively for the cooking elite. “The Kitchen Detective” will grace the shelf of a habitual chef and a casual cook alike.