Tag Archives: america’s test kitchen

Behind the Scenes with America’s Test Kitchen

25 Jul

Last week, one of my dreams came true.

I got to attend an intimate tour of America’s Test Kitchen. In case you didn’t know, ATK is filmed right in Boston’s backyard in Brookline in a small, unassuming building right off the D Line. It’s an area that I frequent quite a lot, and the fact that one of my favorite TV shows/magazine/cookbook series/people  were located just a short walk away, well, let’s just say I get a bit giddy thinking about it.

The ATK studios is SMALL, made up of2 floors and they jam pack it. During our tours there were test cooks and staff and editors politely saying “Excuse me” to us as they try to develop a new tasty recipe. One of the most impressive parts of the ATK studios is their library collection. Steph (pictured below) who is the social media extraordinaire for ATK told us that ATK’s cookbook collection is one of the largest collections in the world. And I believe it. Not only were we surrounded by books on this floor, but there were books upstairs as well!

You may be wondering, why do many books? Well, Steph told us that most test cooks like to find 5 different versions of a single recipe when they are researching to come up with the “perfect” recipe. While there is certainly a wealth of information on the internet, most test cooks rely on cookbook as well as food literature in general, when coming up with a recipe. And it shows in the final product (the picture above is all ATK cookbooks) when the test cooks that not only write the recipes but the accompanying articles and tell you the story and the process they took to find that perfect recipe.

We also stumbled upon the end of a photo shoot. ATK uses all real food in their photographs, they even had some extra cakes over on the side (it took a lot to not ask for a piece!). They don’t use fake food, they said, unless it’s food like ice cream, which melts very easily.

Obviously as food bloggers, we were very interested in the process that goes into those mouthwatering photos.

We also got to take a look at their prop closet. They have two; with this one filled with towels and place mats and cutting boards.

Their other closet is filled with silverware, plateware, glassware, every kind of ware you could think of. During their filming (which lasts about 3 weeks) they empty this particular room and that is where the director and producers hang out during filming. I was VERY jealous of their prop rooms, they were the size of my apartment!

Steph informed us that they have 2 full time employees who job is to do the grocery shopping for ATK. They buy anywhere from 25-300 items in one shopping trip. They obviously do A LOT of baking considering they have 2huge barrels filled with flour and sugar. And I thought I had a lot of flour and sugar.

ATK technically has 2 test kitchens, the main one and this smaller one. They also pride themselves on using appliances that are available to the home cook. Which includes like, 20 stand mixers.

They also have a ton of ovens (I think they said around 16?). Let’s just say I was planning on hiding in a corner and never leaving.

I wish I had taken a larger picture, but in the corridor leading to the main test kitchen is every kind of kitchen utensil, pot and pan in existence. They have pots and pans that are only used for photos, and pots and pans that can be used whenever. As you may or may not know, ATK does extensive kitchen product reviews, and even after they have picked a winner, they are continually evaluating them and putting them into use in the kitchen so if something were to go wrong, they can let their readers know about it.

Right here, ladies and gentlemen, is where the magic happens. When you see Chris Kimball and Julia Davidson or Bridget Lancaster discussing and sampling a dish, they are doing it here. I also had the urge to go over to it and hug it. Or chain myself to it.

The time of our tour coincided with the end of the day of filming. Check out those loaves of bread?!? Aren’t they amazing. Again, I had the insatiable urge to tear off a piece of that bread.

They even had some baking in the oven! Why does my bread never rise that high? ::le sigh::

The tour ended with us visiting the editors lounge upstairs. I caught a glimpse of  Chris Kimball in his trademark suspenders and bow tie. I was sending him some subliminal messages to get off the phone and come say hi to us, but apparently he wasn’t listening to me. I apologize to Steph as I didn’t really listen much to what she was saying at this point because I was trying to figure out how I could get into his office without being thrown out in the process.

I had such a fabulous time learning more about what goes on behind the scenes at ATK. While the studios are small, what they produce is epic.

Make sure to check out their new website: America’s Test Kitchen Feed  which is a wonderful addition to their lineup of websites where you can get free recipes and food stories from the crew at ATK. It’s a must check out!

Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes

23 May

When I was a kid my Mom always made Sloppy Joes. Except we didn’t actually call them Sloppy Joes. We called them Manwich. Because of the can. I never really thought about the word Manwich until about five seconds ago. I mean, what kind of word is that anyway? Are they trying to say that only men can have this sandwich? I mean, I guess Girlwich doesn’t have the same ring to it, and you can’t really call it Personwich because then people are going to think it’s made from PEOPLE.

Basically, they should have rethought the whole name thing really.

And FYI, when I was a kid I used to each two manwiches.  So there.

Let me tell you, this Sloppy Joe’s recipe is most certainly NOT from a can. It’s way better than a can. It’s probably the best Sloppy Joe I’ve ever had.

I mean, it’s from America’s Test Kitchen, so obviously it’s a winner. I think actually the only thing I would change about the recipe is using a leaner ground beef. We usually get 90% ground beef or even turkey, and there was A LOT of fat when everything was settled and it bothers me and hubby’s stomach’s for a bit. It was still delicious, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer the leaner ground beef. I think next time I make this I will try it with ground turkey since I LOVE using ground turkey.

Sloppy Joe’s
From Slow Cooker Revolution

  • 2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (I used skim)
  • 2 lbs 85% lean ground beef
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 2 onions, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
Mash bread and milk into paste in large bowl using a fork. Mix in ground beef, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper using hands.
Heat oil in 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, garlic, and chili powder and cook until onions are softened and lightly browned 8-10 minutes.
Stir in beef mixture, 1 lb at a time and cook until no longer pink. Stir in 1 cup tomato sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Transfer to slow cooker.
Stir remaining tomato sauce, ketchup, sugar and hot sauce into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beef is tender, 6-8 hours on low or 3-5 on high.
Let mixture settle for 5 minutes and then spoon out fat from surface. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon onto buns and serve. Cheese optional.

Daring Cook’s Challenge: Gumbo

14 May

I’ve never been to New Orleans. That’s sad. I’ve wanted to go to New Orleans for as long as I can remember. My Dad used to promise that some year we would go to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras. Yeah, well, that didn’t pan out so well.

A lot of things come to mine when you hear or talk about New Orleans. Obviously, Katrina is a big one. But I’m talking about GOOD things. Delicious things.

Beignets.

Po Boys.

Crawfish.

Jambalaya.

King Cake.

GUMBO.

All these things are foreign to me. Well, except the beignets and po boys. Those I’ve had. But nothing else. The cuisine in New Orleans makes my mouth water. I keep telling my husband that I want to go to New Orleans for our next vacation, but he doesn’t like to listen to me. ::shakes fist::

Thank goodness this month’s Daring Cook’s challenge was Gumbo because there happened to be a Gumbo recipe in my new cookbook, Slow Cooker Revolution from America’s Test Kitchen. I love this book. I love my slow cooker, but let’s face it, sometimes you throw something in the slow cooker and then fish it out, sometimes it just doesn’t taste good. It’s an amalgam of something. Don’t get me wrong, there are other times I put something in the slow cooker and it turns out AMAZING. Slow Cooker Revolution’s recipes are a little more involved than just throwing ingredients in the slow cooker and letting it do it’s magic, but believe me, the extra steps are WORTH IT.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Slow Cooker Chicken Gumbo

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 canola oil
  • 2 onions, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced (seeds and stems removed)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, minced (seeds and stems removed)
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3.5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I substituted using chicken base and boiling water)
  • 1.25lb andouille sausage, sliced 1/2″ thick
  • 12oz frozen cut okra, thawed and patted dry
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin
  • dried parsley and red pepper flakes for garnish
Place oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add flour to a Dutch oven over medium heat and stir constantly until it begins to brown. Take off the heat and whisk in the oil until smooth. Cover pot, place in oven and cook about 45 minutes.
Remove pot from oven and whisk roux to combine.
Stir in onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, thyme and cayenne into roux and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Whisk in the chicken broth, making sure to scrape the edges and removing any clumps. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then carefully transfer to slow cooker.
Stir in sausage, okra and bay leaves into the slow cooker. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place the chicken on top of the slow cooker ingredients. Carefully push the chicken down until it is just covered. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours on low.
Once the chicken is tender, carefully remove the chicken and shred. Once the stew has settled, remove any fat from the surface. Remove bay leaves. Add shredded chicken back to slow cooker and stir in and let sit for 5 minutes.
Ladle into bowls, and add scallions and garnish.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 May

I’m always wary when people use superlatives such as best, greatest, perfect, so amazing it’ll knock your pants off to describe, well, pretty much anything.

For example,

The Greatest Bar – Should probably rename itself the Worst bar.

The Best Damn Sports Show Period – Not only do they use the superlative best, but it’s an imperative statement damnit! Whether it actually IS the best sports show ever, is debateable.

World’s Best Cat Litter – Now I have a cat, and I’ve never even heard of this brand of cat litter. That doesn’t stop it from being the world’s best cat litter, but you’d think people would have heard of it

World’s Best Recipe Search – A lot of these recipes tout themselves as being the World’s Best what have you. That’s a pretty lofty statement. I haven’t tried any of these recipes but let’s hope that they live up to their name.

The Perfect Recipe Cookbook – Again, I haven’t heard or know what’s in it. But one wonders if they got every single recipe right.

Which brings me to America’s Test Kitchen and their Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies. You’ve heard me wax poetic about how much I love America’s Test Kitchen. So when I learned that they were holding a contest for Boston Food Bloggers and their recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chips Cookies I didn’t care if they ended up being the worst chocolate chip cookies ever (they weren’t) I was entering the competition.

I mean, if you win you get to watch a taping of America’s Test Kitchen!!! Not to mention go on a tour of the test kitchen. WHO DOESN’T WANT TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!?!!?! Yeah I didn’t think so.

But I have to be honest, the prize caused a bit of marital strife. You see, if you win you get to bring a guest. When I was talking to my husband about it he asked me if he could be my guest. ::Insert awkward moment here::  You see, hours before I had already pinky sweared (and you know that means business) to Megan that if either of us won, we would take the other. It was a tense few minutes.  But needless to say, there are no divorce proceedings going on and he got to have some delicious cookies out of the deal.

I didn’t do much tinkering around with the recipe because if it touts itself as the PERFECT chocolate chip cookie, why should any tinkering be involved? In fact, the only difference was that I didn’t have enough chocolate chips ::gasp:: And when I asked my husband if he wanted me to add walnuts to the cookie he looked at me like I just committed blasphemy. Ooooooooooookay.

But even with the scant cup of chocolate chip cookies I used the recipe was great. Browned butter deserves its own category of awesomeness and when I bit into the gooey-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside cookie it really tasted like toffee/caramel. Love.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

From Cook’s Illustrated

  • 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 14 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz)  sugar
  • 3/4 cups (5 1/4 oz) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chip cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place oven rack in middle position. Line 2 large (or 1 if you don’t have 2 large) baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.

Combine flour and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

With a 10″ pan (do NOT use non-stick, you won’t be able to tell when the butter is browned) heat 10 tbsp butter on medium high heat until melted. Continue cooking, swirling constantly until nutty and golden brown. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Add the remaining 4 tbsp butter and stir until combined.

Add sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl and whisk until fully incorporated. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk until no sugar lumps are left, about 30 seconds. Walk away from the mix for 3 minutes (go to the bathroom, dance to your favorite Glee song, pet your kitty, annoy your husband). Repeat the 30 seconds whisking and 3 minutes doing something else 3 more times.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips and combine, making sure no flour pockets remain.

Divide dough into 16 portions, either with your hands or a cookie scoop. Bake 8 at a time, for 10-14 minutes, turning once. Let them cool on a wire rack completely before eating. Or you can skip that step and eat them straight from the oven. But if you burn your tongue it’s not my fault.

%d bloggers like this: