Tag Archives: America’s Test Kitchen

My new favorite chicken salad

My twist on ATK’s Classic Chicken Salad; it’s light & lemony & yummy

It’s from America’s Test Kitchen. Raise your hand if you’re surprised I fell in love with yet another ATK recipe. No? Nobody? Yeah, me either. It’s no secret I’m a rabid fan of America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks and TV shows. I just love that they devote their lives to perfecting recipes so I don’t have to.

So let’s get on to the chicken salad. This Classic Chicken Salad is adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (revised edition).

1 rotisserie chicken from your grocer’s deli, plain
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 ribs celery, chopped fine
3/4 cup mayonnaise (we prefer Hellman’s)
2 scallions, minced
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt & cracked black pepper to taste

Bone and chop your rotisserie chicken and toss it in a mixing bowl.

Note: I prefer the plain chicken seasoned only with salt & pepper. I say that because I once mistakenly grabbed a barbecue seasoned chicken and it was a horrible choice for chicken salad. Don’t be like me; read the label.

Add the canola oil, celery, mayonnaise, scallions, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, parsley and a good pinch of salt & pepper. Give it a stir and allow it to sit for a few minutes, then come back and taste it. I found I liked this recipe with a little more lemon juice, so I added another tablespoon. It gives it a bright citrus zing. Instead of adding more juice, you could also throw in some zested lemon peel, since you’re using a fresh lemon anyway. What I’m saying here is that the lemon is my favorite part of this chicken salad. It’s refreshing. And zingy. I also add a pretty heavy pinch of fresh cracked black pepper, because that’s my thing. I loved cracked black pepper.

Cover tightly and refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes before serving. It helps the flavors come together, and everyone is happier when they’re all getting along. To serve, simply scoop onto your favorite chicken salad vehicle. In my case, it’s a toasted bagel. I can also vouch for the fact that it’s delicious on whole wheat toast, saltine crackers and celery sticks.

If you’re feeling frisky, you can top it with a fresh sliced tomato and a nice crispy piece of romaine. I also highly recommend spicy sweet pickles and your favorite chips on the side so you can get in all the food groups – sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy. Wait, that’s wrong. There are five food groups. I totally left off chocolate! {slaps forehead} Have mercy… can you ever forgive me?

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My favorite new cookbook: America’s Test Kitchen’s “Pasta Revolution”

Pasta Revolution by America's Test Kitchen - it's my new favorite

Let me introduce you to my newest ATK cookbook – Pasta Revolution. I won this little beauty in a random drawing after participating in an on-line chat with Julia Collin Davison of America’s Test Kitchen. I was so excited to receive it. The book is a beautifully comprehensive collection of everything pasta. Chapters include Pasta 101, New Classics, Italy’s Greatest Hits, Pasta for Company (and my favorite – Pasta for Two), Pasta Salads, and two chapters on sauces – Pesto & No-Cook Sauces and Sauces from the Slow-Cooker.

So many choices, so little time

But wait, there’s more! You’ll also find a chapter on Whole Wheat Pasta, specialty pastas like gnocchi or tortellini, and even a chapter on Asian pasta dishes. See? I told you it was comprehensive! Here’s a sampling of what’s inside:

America’s Test Kitchen may just be my favorite series of cookbooks ever. Why? Because they take all the guess-work out of cooking. And by that, I mean you never have to worry about whether a recipe will work or not. Not when it comes from the crew at ATK. They go to great lengths to research and experiment with each recipe. They admit that they fail and tweak repeatedly to bring you the best possible version of each recipe published. I appreciate that.

What you get is a series of foolproof recipes along with a breakdown of what worked and what didn’t, tips on equipment and favorite brands, product reviews, and even shopping advice. When I make a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, I know it will be spot on every single time. When they talk, I listen.

And speaking of vodka, last night I made the Penne alla Vodka for dinner and it was incredible. Seriously scrumptious. What a gorgeous photo!

Here’s the proof. Not that you need it, but I want you to know that I’m totally putting my money where my mouth is. Or in this case, I’m putting the pasta where my mouth is. One forkful at a time. Repeatedly.

ATK's Penne alla Vodka - simple ingredients, tremendous flavor

You know what I loved about this recipe? Everything. It was easy to make. It was packed with flavor. The sauce was perfect, especially when it got trapped inside those little penne tubes. I loved the slight heat from the red pepper flakes. If the vodka is a turn off for you, I promise it does not permeate the dish. It would be fine without it, but it does add great flavor without an alcohol ‘bite’ to it if you leave it in. Which is why they give you tips about which vodka to use. I’m telling you, these guys think of everything.

My overall rating for this dish is a sold 10. I would eat this over and over again. In fact, we’re having leftovers tonight. That rumor that pasta dishes taste even better as leftovers the next day? It’s true. Especially red sauces. And this one warms up beautifully.

You want to see how it turned out, don’t you? You know you do. Here you go. You’re welcome. {wink}

NanaBread's Penne alla Vodka from ATK's Pasta Revolution

If you love pasta or know someone who does, put this one on your shopping list. It is most definitely a keeper. Special thanks to the social media group at America’s Test Kitchen and to Julia Collin Davison, my favorite contributor at ATK. I swear that girl loves bacon as much as I do. We should form a club.

I’m never going to wash my cookbook-flipping hand again.

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Recipe Review: ATK’s Chewy, Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Brownies

Triple Chocolate (Mint) Brownies from America's Test Kitchen

I love recipes from America’s Test Kitchen. You know what I love the most? That they do all the work for you. They pick a recipe, research the heck out of it, find what works best (and what doesn’t) and then explain it all in easy to understand instructions. When you make an ATK recipe, you know it’s going to work out every single time. This weekend, I tried the Chewy, Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Brownies from their Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Cookbook. What a book! It contains all of the recipes featured on their show from 2001 to 2011. It’s a 10-year anniversary gift to ATK lovers everywhere. Don’t have it yet? Well, you should. It’s a keeper.

Of course, you know me. I can’t make anything exactly as written. It’s my unspoken rule, except that I speak openly about it. My tweak – I added a bag of Andes Chocolate-Mint baking pieces. The colorful green striped variety. And I make no apologies for it. Sometimes a girl needs mint in her chocolate.

Here’s how it’s done:
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick (8 ounces) butter, unsalted
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (8.25 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 bag of Andes Mint baking pieces (my addition)

Adjust your oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat to 350F. Line an 8″ square baking pan with foil (sling-style so they’re easy to lift out) and spray lightly with PAM or other non-stick spray.

In a heatproof bowl, place chopped chocolate and butter into a double boiler or in the microwave in 1 minute intervals until melted and smooth. Whisk to remove any lumps. Whisk in the cocoa powder and beat to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently stir in the flour (and mint baking pieces) until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and shake gently to distribute, or use a spatula to spread the batter evenly out to the corners.

Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Baking time will be approximately 35-40 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack to room temperature (about 2 hours). Lift the brownies from the pan using the foil sling. Cut into 1″ squares and serve. NOTE: these are really dense and very rich; 1″ squares is a really good size for these!

Remaining brownies can be stored in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 5 days OR you could chop some of them into 1/4″ to 1/2″ chunks and do what we did – make Chocolate Mint Brownie Chunk Ice Cream. No, I’m not kidding. I’ll prove it:

TCP's Chocolate Mint Brownie Chunk Ice Cream

The Complete Package is the master of ice cream in our house. Christine, our evil but effective Cuisinart ice cream maker, is his baby. He plays her like an instrument. Using his favorite knock-off recipe for Ben & Jerry’s sweet cream ice cream base, he added mint extract and a few drops of green food color to make this pastel peppermint concoction. And it was good. Really, really good.

So, there you have it. Yet another America’s Test Kitchen recipe that came out exactly as advertised. Tweaked into a minty pair of lovely treats by yours truly, because I just can’t seem to stop myself. And I’m okay with that.

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Behold the power of cheese!

Homemade American Cheese - recipe by America's Test Kitchen

I made cheese yesterday. Well, not from scratch exactly, but I did make cheese. American cheese. Good ol’ ooey gooey grilled cheese-style American cheese. I was compelled to do it when I saw an internet feed from America’s Test Kitchen promising to show me how to make homemade American cheese with no additives or preservatives (except for what may be in the block of Colby you start with). Seriously? For realz? Needless to say, I was in. All in.

The Complete Package and I love a melty grilled cheese sandwich. And since I started with a good quality all natural cheese, I’m feeling pretty content about making my own preservative-free cheese. I don’t know about you, but I find that exciting. Especially when homemade American cheese leads to homemade grilled cheese sandwiches toasted on a griddle with real butter. Excited yet? Well, I am. I’m practically drooling.

Here’s the rundown on what you’ll need:
One 2-cup mini-loaf pan lined with plastic wrap
Twelve (12) ounces of grated Colby cheese
Unflavored gelatin, combined with little water
Dry milk powder, salt & cream of tartar
Whole milk
A food processor & a rubber spatula
Approximately 20 minutes of your time

In a nutshell, you grate the Colby cheese on the ‘small hole’ side of your box grater and throw it in the food processor with the milk powder, salt & cream of tartar. You bloom the gelatin in a little water then add it to boiling milk, whisking until the gelatin dissolves. Then you start your food processor and slowly pour the milk/gelatin mixture into the cheese mixture, blending for at least one minute until the cheese mixture is smooth, creamy and a little glossy.

Grate it, blend it, mold it & fridge it. Easy peasy cheesy.

Then you simply scrape it into your prepared mini-loaf pan, pressing it to remove air bubbles and smoothing out the top. You then cover it tightly with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge to set up (for 3 hours up to overnight).

I don't want to freak you out, but you're destined for sandwich greatness, my friend.

That’s it. It couldn’t be easier. And it only took about 20 minutes from start to finish, including lining the pan, making the cheese and washing the dishes. I’m impressed. I tell ya’ – the folks at America’s Test Kitchen know what they’re doing. I’m just grateful they are willing to share their knowledge with the rest of us. For the link to the actual recipe, click here. Handy tip: have some bread & butter on hand because you’re going to want to make a grilled cheese sandwich as soon as this is ready. I like mine with a steamy mug of tomato soup. Mmmm…

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Granola Brownies: they’ve got granola in them, so they’re good for you…right?

Granola Brownies: breakfast or snack? You choose.


Last week, I experienced a “fail” on a first-time recipe. I attempted to make homemade granola bars with chopped dates, coconut, almonds and dark chocolate chips. While it tasted spectacular, the bars just never stuck together. Guess my granola mix was too dry. Next time, I’ll add more honey. BUT… from lemons we make lemonade, and from failed granola bars, we make granola (which was great over Greek yogurt, by the way). And since I can can never seem to leave anything alone, I decided to kick it up a notch by making granola brownies. I mean, it makes sense in an unconventional way. Oats are good with chocolate. So are almonds, dates and coconut. And nothing satisfies a craving for sweets like a brownie, so…

Here’s how it all went down:
1 stick of unsalted butter
3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of granola, divided
Optional Ingredient: 2-3 Tbsp. Hershey’s Dark chocolate syrup
(because I’ve learned that nothing makes chocolate brownies taste more chocolatey than adding more chocolate, or a pinch of instant espresso powder)

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and chocolate squares (and the optional chocolate syrup, if you so choose). Beat with a whisk until smooth, and add the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into the chocolate mixture just until combined; do not over mix. Stir in 3/4 cup of your favorite granola (if it’s in bigger chunks, break it up). Press into an 8″ x 8″ baking pan lined with parchment paper or foil. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of granola over the top and press gently so it sticks.

Bake at 350F for 18-22 minutes (depending on your oven) or until the center is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan. Using the parchment paper or foil edges, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into squares. If you want nice, clean edges put your brownies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to cool, then cut into squares.

Tip: individual brownies can be plastic-wrapped and frozen for a quick snack to drop into your child’s lunchbox (or your own). It’s perfect for back-to-school snacks, after school snacks, or my-kids-are-grown-and-I-just-want-a-granola-brownie-for-myself treats. Unconventional? Perhaps, but they’re still nutty, and gooey, and delicious. And just like that, a fail becomes a win.

Recipe credit: brownie base is America’s Test Kitchen “Bake Sale Brownies”

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TCP Cooks: Flank Steak Sandwiches with Soy-Ginger Mayonnaise

TCP's Steak Sandwiches with Soy-Ginger Mayo - No one can eat just one!

This sandwich has become a Complete Package signature dish. He’s made it so often, family and friends consider it a trademark TCP creation. But the truth is the recipe came from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook (2001, Boston Common Press). Once he tried it, we were hooked. The recipe may sound less than dazzling at first glance, but it’s packed with tremendous flavor. It’s hard to describe, except to say that everyone who’s ever tried it loves it. Last week, when Mom and two of my sisters were here, TCP broke out the flank steak sandwiches, and they fell in love. They’re that good. The key is a good flank steak and the soy-ginger mayonnaise. If you’re not a ginger fan, don’t worry. Mom isn’t either, but she loved these sandwiches. All I can say is “try them…you’ll like them!”

First, mix up the Soy-Ginger Mayonnaise:
1/2 cup of Hellman’s Mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, Hellman’s – TCP insists)
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of garlic, smashed to a paste
1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make this up to one day in advance, and it really tastes best if you make it early so all the flavors come together.

For the sandwiches, you’ll need:
1 1/2 pounds of flank steak, trimmed of fat & patted dry
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
Salt & Pepper, to your own taste
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (if you use a skillet)
1 baguette of French bread (use a good soft one)
The soy-ginger mayonnaise (made in advance)
1/2 of a small purple onion, sliced paper thin
2-3 cups of arugula, washed, stemmed & dried

Season your flank steak with garlic salt, salt & pepper. If you’re using a cast iron skillet, heat it to blazing hot first, add the oil and then add your flank steak. If you’re using an outdoor grill, you can skip the oil and just season it first. Either way, cook your flank steak over high heat until the outside is seared and the inside is medium-rare. Remove from the heat and allow it to rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes. If you have a piece of foil handy, throw it over the steak to keep it warm. While the steak is resting, prep the rest of the sandwich.

Slice your baguette in half lengthwise and toast each half on the grill or in a dry skillet or griddle until lightly toasted. Spread each half liberally with soy-ginger mayonnaise. Cutting across the grain and on a bias (45 degree angle), thinly slice your flank steak and place it on the bottom half of the baguette. Top the steak with purple onion and arugula and put the lid on it. Gently press the sandwich to bring it all together, then slice into 4″ to 6″ segments and serve immediately.

We could talk about side dishes for this meal, but the truth is I never remember what we had with these sandwiches. Pickles? Chips? Maybe. I really couldn’t tell you. They’re so good, everything else becomes a blur. And really, you don’t need anything except a handful of napkins and something cold to wash them down with. Enjoy! And thanks for making these for the girls, honey. You da’ man!

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Winner, Winner…Chicken Dinner!

Crispy, crunchy chicken strips - the stuff legends are made of.

Okay, kids. Here’s another recipe adapted from the America’s Test Kitchen recipe collection. This fried chicken comes out crunchy and juicy every time, and it takes very little work to make it all happen. You can make this with chicken pieces on the bone, but I prefer to make boneless chicken strips. It makes them easier to dunk in gravy, and we all know everything tastes better when dunked in gravy, right? Marinating the chicken strips in buttermilk makes them juicy on the inside, and the “shaggy crumbs” method of breading makes them crunchy on the outside. My version uses only 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts but don’t let that fool you. This recipe made 18 chicken strips.

To prepare the chicken strips, you’ll need:
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
One 16 fluid oz. bottle of buttermilk (low fat is okay, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons of Morton Nature’s Season Salt (Lawry’s would also work)
½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper (optional, but very tasty)

Trim the chicken breasts to remove all fat. Slice each breast lengthwise into 1/2″ thick strips. In a medium bowl with a tight-fitting lid, pour in the entire bottle of buttermilk, the season salt and the cayenne pepper. Whisk to combine, and then add the chicken strips, seal the lid, give it a good shake and place in the refrigerator to marinate for one hour.

To prepare the flour mixture, you’ll need:
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of Morton Nature’s Season Salt (or Lawry’s)
½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper (it’s optional again, but so tasty!)

Toss all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk to combine. Once your chicken is ready, remove it from the fridge and measure off 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk mixture. Pour it into the flour mixture and stir with a fork or wire whisk to start forming your “shaggy crumbs” coating. It sounds weird, but those bigger crumbs in your coating are what will make the crust crispy and crunchy. If needed, add more buttermilk a little at a time. Don’t worry about using buttermilk that had raw chicken in it, either. This is all going to be fried in hot oil, so it’ll be fine. When your crumb coating is ready, it should look like this:

The shaggy crumb method is the key to crunchy chicken strips.

One at a time, remove a strip from the marinade and drop it into the bowl of flour. Quickly cover the strip and using your hands, press down on the chicken strip to pack on the coating. Don’t try to flatten it onto the chicken – you just want to make sure it sticks really well. Lay each coated strip onto a sheet of waxed paper and move on to the next. When you fry them, start with the strips you coated first. That gives them time to set up a little before frying, which helps the coating to stick. Here’s how your strips should look once coated:

Those beautiful shaggy crumbs are going to turn into crispy fried perfection.

How to fry the chicken:
Using a deep, heavy bottom pot, add 1 ½” of canola oil and heat to 350F. To test if your oil is hot enough, you can drop one of your larger shaggy crumbs in. It should immediately start to bubble in the hot oil. If it doesn’t, wait for it to get hotter or you’ll get soggy, greasy chicken. Once the oil is hot, cook chicken strips 3-4 at a time and cover loosely with a lid. Cook until golden brown on each side. Don’t play with them too often. You don’t want to destroy that crumb coating. Just given them a gentle turn every once in a while. Remove to paper towels to drain, and move on to the next batch. Remember, because you’re using boneless breasts and the strips are fairly thin, these will cook pretty quickly.

When they’re done, you’ll have a platter of crunchy golden perfection. I like to serve this up with mashed potatoes (I stir in a little sour cream and a lot of real butter), my easy cheater buttermilk biscuits (I’ll share that recipe later), and some chicken gravy (made with chicken broth instead of milk). Throw in a bottle of Savannah Bee Black Sage honey, and you’ll be in hog heaven. This is southern fried comfort food at its very best. Now grab a fork and a bib and let’s dig in.

Put on your fat pants - it's time to eat!

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