I'm not sure if I would be the cook I am without Cook's Illustrated. I learn a lot from their testing narratives and their step-by-step instructions.
For Father's Day, I relied almost fully on the Cook's Illustrated's 2009 Summer Entertaining issue, and, not to brag, but the meal was huge hit.
Seriously, no one can go wrong with a Cook's Illustrated recipe.
Slow-Cooker North Carolina Pulled Pork
Cool and Creamy Macaroni Salad
Buttermilk Cole Slaw
Root Beer Baked Beans (Food and Wine July 2010)
Strawberry Poke Cake
While the whole meal was easy to make, I feel like the pulled pork yielded the most flavor of all the dishes. And what was really great was I didn't have to worry about grilling it all day with temperatures in the 90's. Using the slow-cooker let me forget about it and get to my other dishes. And the flavor was AWESOME. Because the recipe calls for ham hocks, a rich red color emerged as well as a smoky, cured flavor. The meat was perfectly moist too. My Pops couldn't stop praising it, which made me feel good because I made it special for him on Father's Day.
The Macaroni Salad and Cole Slaw were fantastic. Perfectly easy make-ahead recipes, which made my cooking life extremely simple. And again great flavors, and, if there are leftovers, they keep for a couple of days.
I had higher hopes for the Root Beer Baked Beans. They were good, but I thought they needed less molasses and more smokiness. I think next time I will add coriander, cumin, and liquid smoke, and I'll cut down on the molasses.
Out of all the dishes, the best was the Strawberry Poke Cake. I was extremely worried about making the cake from scratch but it came out light and moist with a perfect crumble. I tweaked a few ingredients for this recipe, though, which I think made a difference. Cook's Illustrated calls for store-bought frozen strawberries, but I bought 2 quarts of homegrown strawberries, sprinkled them with a little sugar and froze them. Then I cooked them down to get the juice for the pokes and the puree for the jam filling. (I didn't want to use the fresh berries because Cook's Illustrated said the flavor was a bit inconsistent.) Instead of Strawberry Jell-O I used a plain gelatin. In my opinion the berries had enough flavor; I didn't want to cover up their natural sweetness with artificial flavoring. Finally, for my fresh whipped cream topping, I added vanilla to intensify the flavor.
My brother, one of the world's most picky eaters, had three pieces of my Strawberry Poke Cake. In other words, I never got a chance to photograph it. It was that good.
Good enough that I just might make it all over again for 4th of July.