Photo | America’s Test Kitchen

Each recipe in “Dinner Illustrated” is a step-by-step photographic guide to producing a satisfying, fresh meal in an hour or less.

Every cookbook should be classified as a learning tool, but many just shovel out recipes and maybe a conversion chart. Some can be a little intimidating if you’re just getting your feet wet as a home chef, others just predictable. The fine folks at America’s Test Kitchen have come up with a guide for fast, stress-free weeknight cooking in their latest offering, “Dinner Illustrated” (Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, Boston, Massachusetts, 2018).

The book targets the modern amateur chef, many of whom work fulltime and come home to throw together a meal kit (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, etc.) in the precious moments before putting the kids to bed. “Dinner Illustrated” gives you more flexibility so you’re not stuck with whatever you ordered last week before your taste buds changed.

Sure, you’re picking out your own meat and produce, but shopping local and seasonal is what I missed when using a meal kit. With 175 dinners ready in an hour or less you will find something worth cooking with your hometown ingredients. These aren’t just entrées versus sides. Every page is a complete meal and from my initial experiences can be done in less than an hour.

One thing I do like about meal kits is that they tend to lean toward the slightly exotic, getting you out of your routine with trendy ingredients. Here you are getting the recipes in that style without paying for the food up front, all of which have been exhaustingly perfected at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, where chefs start with a basic recipe, cooking it over and over again, honing it until it’s as good as it gets. These are really hard to improve upon. The amounts and ingredients are exact, so I suggest you take zero liberties your first go-round, saving the freestyle for later.

The chefs (basically they’re food scientists at this point) have worked through each recipe in an obsessive way, getting the times exact from the first chop to the first bite. It’s a great way to organize your time and maximize your efforts without feeling rushed. Steps are laid out with photos and tips as to when you should begin an event. It’s something I need as I have a tendency to finish something too early. You don’t need a tepid side dish with a hot entrée.

In a nutshell, I would say this book is similar to a collection of meal-prep recipes, which I like, ranging from gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan to full-bore frying chicken in bacon grease. There’s a good bit of Asian and Mediterranean, Indian and Asian influence. Lots of salmon in the fish section, a pasta and noodles chapter, and a giant poultry section bested only by the beef, pork and lamb recipes.

With 175 meals in one book, I never felt they were phoning it in. I’m now interested in other titles from America’s Test Kitchen. Find this one online just about anywhere.

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