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America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country

I love watching these shows. Many of the things they make look delicious. I find Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin-Davison very likable and perfect foils for the reserved nerdiness of Christopher Kimball. I think a lot of their tips and tricks are useful in the kitchen. I love learning the science behind cooking and baking. But...

I have never once made anything I have seen on the show. Why? Because they eventually take all the fun out of cooking by adding so many extra steps and being so damn perfect. I finally realized I like the show as pure entertainment. But as inspiration for cooking? Not a chance. Anyone else feel this way?

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  1. These are basically the only shows I actually cook from. Salting meat a day in advance of roasting or broiling has been the biggest improvement to my food.

    11 Replies
    1. re: phantomdoc

      "Salting meat a day in advance of roasting or broiling has been the biggest improvement to my food."

      OK, I can see doing that. But sometimes they take a basic thing like making banana bread and add so many extra steps that I just couldn't imagine doing all that extra stuff just to wind up with...banana bread! lol

      Now, take a show like "Essential Pepin" or Pepin's "Fast Food My Way" and I wind up making something from almost every show. His way of cooking is so straight forward. And although he is using techniques he borrows from classical French cooking, you would never know it unless he mentions it. He is truly a kitchen god.

      1. re: ttoommyy

        " he is truly a kitchen god',,,,,,,,and so nice to look at also!!!

        1. re: ttoommyy

          Roasting very slowly to make roast beef round taste like loin or rib and then cranking the heat at the end is another gem. One recipe from a book cooking broccoli rabe with raisins was terrible.

          1. re: ttoommyy

            OOOH I saw that banana bread recipe and actually tried what they suggested, with reducing the banana juices that you get from microwaving or thawing out frozen bananas. I thought it was a tad ridiculous. BUT you know what? I've never had BETTER banana bread and I'm going to keep on doing it. Funny, I thought it was overkill but it turns out it makes all the difference.

          2. re: phantomdoc

            never heard that tip.
            I have a ribeye roast at home that I bought for the holiday but we weren't home for the holiday and it's still in the freezer. think when it's the perfect day to do it, I'll 'salt the day before'?

            1. re: phantomdoc

              I'm doing the ATK's recipe tomorrow for pot roast. You'd mentioned salting 24 hours in advance so I need some help here if you please.
              I have the exact cut of meat they called for wanting it to turn out just right and as theirs did.
              So, I put 5 garlic cloves 1 TB salt 1 tsp pepper in the tiny Cuisinart to blend with a tsp water.
              I rubbed it on the meat so it can do it's thing in 24 hours. Here's my question. Do I rinse it off, did I use enough salt? was it wrong to add the garlic and pepper to the salt?
              I appreciate any input phantomdoc TIA

              1. re: iL Divo

                I just checked the recipe and it doesn't call for rinsing off the salt, so I wouldn't. But I wouldn't add any more salt to the dish, and a low-sodium or home made stock would be a good idea.

                The "pat dry" instructions probably have more to do with wiping off some salt than with actually drying, as that would be unnecessary because you aren't browning the meat and are instead just placing it directly into liquid.

                I think the garlic and pepper are good ideas.

                1. re: acgold7

                  oh thanks AC
                  appreciate it. won't rinse but will take it out of frig 2 hours early so it isn't too cold to start the procedure.
                  tonights the night, hope it's as good as they said it was on TV

                  1. re: iL Divo

                    can't find if I told about the pot roast

                2. re: iL Divo

                  Sorry about late reply, but I agree that wiping down with paper towel is a good idea. Hope it went well. I think I remember browning before brazing the roast, no? If browning you need to dry first to avoid steaming. Never wrong to add garlic to a roast, even if cooking in fruit juice (pineapple, apple, seven up, peaches etc.) If you have 1 TB table salt it is = 2 TB kosher salt. Very significant difference. Let us know the weight of the roast and how it came out.

                  1. re: iL Divo

                    Their pot roast recipe is amazing!

                3. I absolutely agree... I can't watch without keeping a mental tally of the dishes that each recipe requires getting dirty. Kills me. But I have tried some of the recipes; my husband does their roasted chicken and does indeed get shatteringly crispy skin. When I do use a ATK recipe, I still tend to use my own shortcuts anyway. Maybe that's what makes the show worthwhile-- certain techniques or ingredients provide a good backbone, even if you're going to "mess up' the uptight recipe by NOT GRINDING YOUR OWN PORK!!!

                  Another element that makes the show totally worthwhile, even if you never make a recipe, are those awesome equipment reviews and taste tests...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: candypandora

                    "Maybe that's what makes the show worthwhile-- certain techniques or ingredients provide a good backbone...Another element that makes the show totally worthwhile, even if you never make a recipe, are those awesome equipment reviews and taste tests..."

                    I agree with you, candypandora.

                  2. I do agree with you that many of the recipes involve a lot of steps, but I can't deny that these recipes *work*. Just about everything I have made from them is outstanding, and gets raves every time I make it for company or to take to a party.

                    I have made probably about 30 different recipes from these shows (or from Cook's Illustrated magazine) and only about 3 of them were things that I ended up not liking. I will never again look for another recipe for chicken & dumplings, macaroni and cheese, braised lamb shanks, or oven-fried chicken because I have found my holy grail recipes. I suppose, instead of following their mac & cheese recipe, I could just dump some Campbell's cheese soup in a pot of noodles. It would certainly be quicker and easier, but it wouldn't be nearly as good. For me, it's worth the extra time - for others, maybe not. Others may prefer to use the Campbell's soup if it saves them time.

                    I did see the banana bread episode you mentioned. Yes, it does have extra steps that most banana bread recipes don't have. I haven't made it myself, but I would bet that it tastes a lot better than those other recipes.

                    The thing is, we all compromise when it comes to cooking - how much time do we want to spend vs. how good do we want it to be? On one end of the continuum is eating nothing but takeout and TV dinners. On the other end is spending all day in the kitchen. Many of us prefer to be somewhere in the middle. While Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country lean more in that second direction (but not all the way), to me, it's a reasonable trade-off.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: JaclynM

                      "On one end of the continuum is eating nothing but takeout and TV dinners. On the other end is spending all day in the kitchen. Many of us prefer to be somewhere in the middle. While Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country lean more in that second direction (but not all the way), to me, it's a reasonable trade-off."

                      I am an avid baker and cook; I try to make most meals from scratch. That said, I still do not see the need of many extra steps ATK takes. Being an Italian-American, I especially find their attempts at such dishes as baked ziti, lasagne, etc., pretty laughable. In the time they make one dish I could make 3. Still, I do find the show eduational and I love the tips and taste tests.

                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        I had never made baked ziti until I made theirs and it was great! I was never really into baked ziti before--hmm, maybe because they were all quickie recipes and not that great. It definitely took a while to make though.

                        1. re: dmjordan

                          I wrote that I never use their Italian recipes, but you've reminded me that the baked ziti is indeed one of my "go to" recipes. It is a great recipe; I've served it to teens, church groups, family--everybody loves it. And it tastes so much better than most baked pastas, so the extra work is worth it, IMO.

                          1. re: lisaonthecape

                            Their manicotti recipe is so good even the Italian in-laws love it. (But yes, it's a 15-step process.)

                            And their no bake fudge is delicious ;)

                            1. re: lisaonthecape

                              I've made the skillet baked ziti- the one that starts with raw pasta. It's delicious and got to the table so quickly. Love that it's served in a skillet- only one dish to clean!

                              Besides for that, I've never really made a full recipe from either of the shows. I've used some of their techniques and 'sort of' followed their recipes, all with good results. But I do love watching the shows, even reruns.

                      2. I love ATK ~~ have their cookbook, to which I refer all the time. I love their "Dr. Pepper Pork Chops" which I had never heard of before ATK.

                        I make things from ATK all the time. I'm not a baker so I don't make baked goods, I'm not a griller and their grill recipes seem way over the top.

                        They have one recipe in the book, for refried beans, which starts with kidney beans, uh no.

                        But then I notice that sort of thing all the time from many sources, not just AKT.

                        *note* enchiladas should never ever be made with flour tortillas under any circumstance.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: laliz

                          I also have their cookbook--it has been a great point of reference. I only make their chocolate chip cookies these days...and ATK's Cooks Illustrated of a while back had a lemon pound cake recipe that has continued to be a mainstay in my cake baking for the family. Their marketing disgusts me, but I do love to watch the show because it is what it is and is unlike any of the FN shows. Thankfully.

                        2. While I have a number of Cooks Illustrated/ATK dishes in my "go to" repetoire, their quest for perfection does take the fun out of cooking sometimes. (I will say, though, that their recipes always work. Perfectly.) I especially agree with you about their Italian recipes--I go to Marcella, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Carol Field or Michele Scicolone, among others, if I want Italian cooking. More love, less science.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: lisaonthecape

                            "I especially agree with you about their Italian recipes--I go to Marcella, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Carol Field or Michele Scicolone, among others, if I want Italian cooking. More love, less science."

                            And that is exactly the pure essence of Italian cooking. To see them make it a laborious 10+ step process is painful and takes the joy out of cooking.

                            But let me restate...I really do like the show as an educational and informational tool. I watch it religiously. I just have never wanted to make anything I've seen demonstrated. Sometimes I'm with them for the first few steps but then I realize there are 10 more steps to go and some of them involve cooking things twice or leaving in the refrigerator for 5 hours. Those kinds of thing are the deal breakers for me, unless I am making a very involved dish. But for something like roast chicken, baked ziti or banana bread? No way.

                            Cooking and baking has always seemed to come naturally to me and maybe that is why I find these two shows so tedious sometimes. I guess that is also why when I look for a recipe, I try to find one with the least amount of ingredients and steps. I love to cook and bake but I don't ever want it to be a chore; I want it to be a combination of natural skill, love of cooking and art.