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Griffin to Go: A Memorable Encounter with America’s Test Kitchen


The moment Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen took the stage at the Tobin Center recently, my pen was poised. And then it ran out of ink.

So there are no notes with quotes to help me remember what the genial host had to tell his charmed audience of about 700.

Christopher Kimball

Christopher Kimball

But few who were there could forget the sight of Kimball sporting one of his signature bow ties while talking about the way America cooks. He’s learned our cooking habits the hard way, if you can believe some of the letters that have come his way after ATK’s recipes have been placed in the hands of home cooks out there. One concerned a pound cake recipe in which the writer had substituted everything from coconut flour to egg whites, instead of using the ingredients in the original recipe. There were a great many laughs and even a few gasps from the audience as he read of how the cook had used Smart Balance, a margarine substitute, instead of butter, which is not meant for baking and is clearly marked so on the package. The writer went on to write that she had tried several variations of her substitutions, but none of them had worked. Go figure.

Then there was the man who wrote in because how disappointed he was in an ATK chicken recipe he had tried. He admitted he substituted shrimp for chicken in the recipe, but they tasted terrible even though he had cooked them for the 40 minutes that the recipe had called for. Shrimp cooked for 40 minutes? Yikes.

Sorry, folks, but the whole point of America’s Test Kitchen, which is home to the magazines Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, is that they do the testing so you don’t have to. The folks in their kitchen may taste dozens of recipes or ingredients before deciding on what meets their standards and what they think will appeal most to their public. They test techniques, too, as a means of helping you save time. And they’ve paid attention to America’s evolving diet and tastes. They even have plenty of gluten-free recipes for those whose bodies can’t tolerate the ingredient.

Their research has filled the nearly 1,000-page cookbook, “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015” (America’s Test Kitchen, $45), which was for sale in the lobby, at least until the last copies were carried away. Each recipe in the book begins with a note on “Why this recipe works.” In the case of the Ultimate Creamy Mashed Potatoes, ATK suggests using Yukon Golds in which the surface starch has been rinsed away, a move that “helped intensify their creamy texture without making them gluey.” They also tried Barbecued Pulled Pork with a variety of meat cuts but eventually settled on a shoulder roast, also called Boston butt, because it “has the most fat, (and it) retained the most moisture and flavor during a long, slow cook.”

The evening was a relatively gimmick-free presentation, with little but a pair of tables, one with a microwave and a few other gadgets on it while the other was strictly used for tastings. As fans of the TV show know, Kimball doesn’t cook — but he knows his food. He demonstrated this by inviting a half-dozen eager volunteers to join him on stage for several tastings, one of which showed that people of all backgrounds generally prefer orange juice concentrate over the supposed freshness found in ready-to-drink brands like Tropicana, though the sales of concentrate lag far behind the jug juices. Another group found imitation vanilla to be more to their liking than real vanilla when it’s baked in cookies, which has also proven to be the case in America’s Test Kitchen.

Christopher Kimball poses for a photo after his appearance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Christopher Kimball poses for a photo after his appearance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

The 90-minute presentation was also filled with cooking tips that were extremely practical. I think my favorite was the suggestion to ignore the direction in the next recipe you try that tells you to seed a tomato before chopping it up for use. The flavor of a ripe tomato is concentrated in the seeds, Kimball said, so why would you want to throw away the flavor?

Another was that your beef will taste better if you slow cook it before putting it on the grill. Kimball’s associate Dan Souza said that you should place the meat in a 250-degree oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 90 degrees. Then finish it off on the grill.

While talking about beef, Kimball also destroyed one myth of cooking: Searing the outside of meat over really high heat does not seal in the juices. But searing does produce a flavor that people really like, so don’t stop using this technique.

One demonstration worth writing in the memory bank was the best way to whisk eggs. Souza had three audience members whisk egg whites using different techniques: one was in a circular motion, another also used a circular motion but lifted the whisk out of the bowl, and the third moved back and forth. The last worked best and it was the simplest. By the time the demonstration was finished, the egg whites beaten with a straight back-and-forth motion were stiff and the stirrer was ready for more, while the other two featured still-runny eggs and the stirrers’ wrists were tired from all that work. I’m going to put the technique to work in ATK’s recipe for Rich and Creamy Scrambled Eggs.

The television version of America’s Test Kitchen appears on KLRN-HD. If you cannot get that channel, you can watch some episodes and clips at americastestkitchen.com or pbs.org.

 

 

 

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Make Barbecued Pulled Pork Easier


America’s Test Kitchen has done its homework on this recipe, simplifying the pulled pork process as much as possible to give you a treat you’ll love any time of year.

Barbecued Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork

Why this recipe works: Pulled pork is classic summertime party food: slow-cooked pork roast, shredded and seasoned, served on the most basic of hamburger buns (or sliced white bread), with just enough of your favorite barbecue sauce, a couple of dill pickle chips, and a topping of coleslaw. However, many barbecue procedures demand the regular attention of the cook for eight hours or more. We waned to find a way to make moist, fork-tender pulled pork without the marathon cooking time and constant attention to the grill.

After testing shoulder roasts (also called Boston butt), fresh ham and picnic roasts, we determined that the shoulder roast, which has the most fat, retained the most moisture and flavor during a long, slow cook. We massaged a spicy chile rub into the meat, then wrapped the roast in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for at least three hours to “marinate.” The roast is first cooked on the grill to absorb smoky flavor (from wood chips — no smoker required), then finished in the oven. Finally, we let the pork rest in a paper bag so the meat would steam and any remaining collagen would break down. We also developed a pair of sauce recipes to please barbecue fans with different tastes.

Pulled pork can be made with a fresh ham or picnic roast, although our preference is for Boston butt. If using a fresh ham or picnic roast, remove the skin by cutting through it with the tip of a chef’s knife; slide the blade just under the skin and work around to loosen it while pulling it off with your other hand. Four medium wood chunks, soaked in water for 1 hour, can be substituted for the wood chip packets on a charcoal grill. Serve on plain white bread or warmed rolls with dill pickles and coleslaw.

1 (6- to 8-pound) bone-in Boston butt roast
3/4 cup Dry Rub for Barbecue (recipes follows)
4 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained
1 (9-by-13-inch disposable aluminum roasting pan
2 cups barbecue sauce (recipes follow)

Pat pork dry with paper towels, then massage dry rub into meat. Wrap meat in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

At least 1 hour prior to cooking, remove roast from refrigerator, unwrap and let sit at room temperature. Using 2 large pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips in 2 foil packets and cut several vent holes in top.

For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter three-quarters filled with charcoal briquettes (4 1/2 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Place wood chips packs on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.

For a gas grill: Place wood chip packets directly on primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium-high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature around 325 degrees.)

Set roast in disposable pan, place on cool side of grill, and cook for 3 hours. During final 20 minutes of cooking, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.

Wrap disposable pan with heavy-duty foil and cook in oven until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.

Carefully slide foil-wrapped pan with roast into brown paper bag. Crimp end shut and let rest for 1 hour.

Transfer roast to carving board and unwrap. Separate roast into muscle sections, removing fat, if desired, and tearing meat into shreds with your fingers. Place shredded meat in large bowl and toss with 1 cup barbecue sauce. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.

Makes 8 servings.

Dry Rub for Barbecue

You can adjust the proportions of spices in this all-purpose rub or add or subtract a spice, as you wish.

1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon white pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.

Makes 1 cup.

Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Sauce

This sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Salt
Pepper

Mix vinegars, sugar, pepper flakes and hot sauce together in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 2 cups.

Mid-South Carolina Mustard Sauce

This sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
SaltPepper

Mix vinegar, oil, mustard, maple syrup, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

From “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015”

 

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Whip Up the Ultimate Creamy Mashed Potatoes


Who doesn’t want the creamiest mashed potatoes imaginable? America’s Test Kitchen delivers with this recipe.

Ultimate Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

Why this recipe works: Sometimes we want a luxurious mash, one that is silky smooth and loaded with cream and butter. But there’s a fine line between creamy and gluey. We wanted lush, creamy mashed potatoes, with so much richness and flavor they could stand on their own — no gravy necessary.

For a creamier, substantial mash, we found that Yukon Golds were perfect — creamier than russets but not as heavy as red potatoes. Slicing the peeled potatoes into rounds and then rinsing away the surface starch before boiling helped intensify their creamy texture without making them gluey. Setting the boiled and drained potatoes in their pot over a low flame helped further evaporate any excess moisture. Using 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream gives these potatoes luxurious flavor and richness without making the mash too thin. We found that melting the butter and warming the cream before adding them to the potatoes ensured that the finished dish arrived at the table piping hot.

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 medium), scrubbed, peeled and sliced 3/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 teaspoons table salt

Place the potatoes in a colander and rinse under cool running water, tossing with your hands, for 30 seconds. Transfer the potatoes to a large Dutch oven, add cold water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to heat to medium and boil until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted, about 5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

Drain the potatoes and return to the Dutch oven. Stir over low heat until the potatoes are thoroughly dried, 1 to 2 minutes. Set a ricer or food mill over a large bowl and press or mill the potatoes into the bowl. Gently fold in the warm cream mixture and salt with a rubber spatula until the cream is absorbed and the potatoes are thick and creamy. Serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings. This recipe can be cut in half, if desired.

From “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015”

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Yes, You Can Make Rich and Creamy Scrambled Eggs


Getting your scrambled eggs just right is not hard, the folks at America’s Test Kitchen tell us. But you have to pay attention. “When your spatula just leaves a trail through the eggs, that’s your cue in our dual-heat method to turn the dial from medium-high to low,” they write in “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015” (America’s Test Kitchen, $45).

Rich and Creamy Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs

Why this recipe works: Scrambled eggs often end up as either tough, dry slabs or pebbly, runny curds. We wanted foolproof rich scrambled eggs with fluffy, moist curds so creamy and light that they practically dissolved on the tongue.

The first step was to add salt to the uncooked eggs; salt dissolved some of the egg proteins so they were unable to bond when cooked, creating more tender curds. Beating the eggs until just combined, using the gentle action of a fork rather than a whisk, ensured our scramble didn’t turn tough. For the intense creaminess we were after, we chose half-and-half over milk; it produced rich, clean-tasting curds that were both fluffy and stable. To replicate the richer flavor of farm-fresh eggs, we added extra yolks. Finally, when it came to the cooking process, we started the eggs on medium-high heat to create puffy curds, then finished them over low heat so they wouldn’t overcook. Swapping out our 12-inch skillet for a 10-inch pan kept the eggs in a thicker layer, trapping more steam and producing heartier curls.

It’s important to follow the visual cues in this recipe, as pan thickness will affect cooking times. If using an electric stove, heat one burner on low heat and a second on medium-high heat; move the skillet between burners when it’s time to adjust the heat. If you don’t have half-and-half, substitute 8 teaspoons of whole milk and 4 teaspoons of heavy cream. To dress up the dish, add 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, chives, basil or cilantro or 1 tablespoon of dill or tarragon to the eggs after reducing the heat to low.

8 large whole eggs
2 large yolks
1/4 cup half-and-half
Table salt
Ground black pepper
1 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

Beat the eggs, yolks, half-and-half, 3/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper with a fork until the eggs are thoroughly combined and the color is pure yellow; do not over-heat.

Heat the butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until fully melted (the butter should not brown), swirling the coat the pan. Add the egg mixture and, using a heatproof rubber spatula, constantly and firmly scrape along the bottom and the sides of the skillet until the eggs begin to clump and the spatula just leaves a trail on the bottom of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and gently but constantly fold the eggs until clumped and just slightly wet, 30 to 60 seconds. Immediately transfer the eggs to warmed plates and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately,

Makes 4 servings.

Rich and Creamy Scrambled Eggs for Two

Follow the recipe for Rich and Creamy Scrambled Eggs, reducing the whole eggs to 4, the yolks to 1, the half-and-half to 2 tablespoons and the salt and pepper to 1/8 teaspoon each. Reduce the butter to 1/2 tablespoon. Cook the eggs in an 8-inch skillet for 45 to 75 seconds over medium-high heat, then for 30 to 60 seconds over low heat.

From “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015”

 

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