Grocery Bag FAQ: How do you evaluate cookbooks?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010 | Tags: , , , , , ,

Besides what you see squeezed into our half-hour shows, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to evaluating a cookbook. We do our best to provide honest, informed opinions about our featured products.

For each cookbook we test, we spend months reading it, testing the recipes, and discussing the pros and cons of design, layout, pictures, diagrams, writing style, and of course the recipes themselves. We also have a team of behind-the-scenes testers who assist in the most thorough examination possible of each book.

Due to the limited length of our program, we aren’t able to include all of the information we’d like to, so it may seem we only judge cookbooks based on our kitchen day results. Not so. But we do find cook day to be a helpful reviewing tool. Trial by fire, if you will!

On cook days, we challenge ourselves by preparing a full menu for our guest judges, similar to what you might prepare for a dinner party. As a result of our cook day challenge, we often make mistakes. But these blunders are a big part of what viewers find relatable and entertaining:

“I forgot the…!”

“I overcooked the…”


“I put too much…”

Sound familiar? Most of you have been there, under pressure, trying to do your best to impress a guest. The difference is that we put ourselves through it every week!

Rest assured, these errors or omissions are taken into account when judging a book. At the end of the day, we present our opinions based on our overall experience after spending a lot of time with a book, both on and off the air.

And believe it or not, a total disaster cook day can still earn a stamp of approval for a cookbook if the recipes and book quality stand out above the crowd. For example, our Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking episode. The day was a complete flop, partly because we were working in a strange kitchen, and partly because we were nervous to be cooking for world-renowned chef Umberto Menghi. We both really enjoyed the book, however, and gave it the A & K Stamp of Approval, even though Chef Menghi grimaced at our food. Mama Mia!

In an era when so many recipes are available for free online, a cookbook must deliver in a big way for us to recommend consumers add it to their already overcrowded cookbook shelf.

Thanks for watching!

~ Anna & Kristina

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