But first, today’s Dork Tower: as noted, the first two panels above happened verbatim as they appear here, when I first tried to find a Wii a couple of weeks ago.

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One of my favorite magazines is Cook’s Illustrated, a sometimes dour, often overly-serious but seldom less than blindingly useful periodical that I frequently turn to for inspiration and education.

Apart from the recipes, perhaps my favorite aspect of Cook’s Illustrated are its dire, quasi-apocalyptic headlines. They don’t simply try to improve recipes: they let you know they’re saving you from a Dish Worse Than Death. “SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF BAKED CHICKEN BREASTS: Nothing is worse than baked chicken breasts – chalky, sour meat topped with rubber, flaccid skin. Could we make this simple dinner item worth eating?” “THE BEST BLUEBERRY SCONES: We already knew what a blueberry scone could be – dry, crumbly and dense.” “PAD THAI AT HOME: Ordered out, this Thai restaurant favorite is often greasy, soggy and candy-sweet.” “BARBECUE BEEF SPARERIBS: Often fatal, this silent killer is like poison to us. Can we make it partially less lethal?”

OK. So I made that last one up. But you get the idea.

Still, I do enjoy the magazine. And if you must buy just one issue of Cooks Illustrated, buy the January/February 2008 issue, on stands now (or soon – it hadn’t quite made it to Whole Paycheck last I was there.)

My subscriber issue arrived a week ago, and I’ve pretty much spent my entire free time making the “No-Knead Bread 2.0,” a convenient, dead simple recipe that you leave for between eight to 18 hours, and knead (despite the name) for a mere 15 second. Based on the No-Knead Bread recipe from the New York Times (story, recipe and video are here), the results can make even a so-so baker (like me) look fantastic.

Is that all the magazine has? Nay, nay! I made the French Onion Soup from this issue three days ago (the innovation: reduce the onions in the oven first), and the results were deep, sweet (even using plain yellow onions) and utterly satisfying. A recipe for one of my favorite Spanish dishes, Gambas Pil-Pil (called here “Spanish Style Garlic Shrimp”), also lurks in this issue’s pages; I can’t wait to give it a go. The “French Chicken in a Pot” looks darned interesting as well. I almost made it the other night, but needed the Dutch Oven for the bread, so I turned instead to Thomas Keller’s stupidly good, stupidly easy My Favorite Roast Chicken recipe, from the Bouchon cookbook. Again, incredibly straightforward, with stunning results, even when made by a lummox like me. (Varied from the recipe ever so slightly: I added a ton of rosemary in the cavity of the bird before cooking, that being something I loved from Italy).

I’d have taken photos of the results, but we ate everything too quickly, the finished products were that good. Remember: me, lummox. So you should shine with these.

Anyway, short story long: “COOKING MAGAZINES: These pan-fried publications promise culinary cachet, but too often are dull, disappointing, dreadful, and possibly deadly. Could Cook’s Illustrated January/February 2008 issue do better?”

Yes. Pick it up.

John

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