PBS // 2013 // 676 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // August 25th, 2013
"From America's Test Kitchen to your kitchen"
Cooking shows have come a long way since Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet ruled PBS Saturday afternoons. Not necessarily in a good way. The Food Network gave new life in the '90s to the format with chefs like Bobby Flay, Sara Moulton, and Emeril making cooking a primetime event. Two decades later, that same network has largely abandoned cooking shows for reality programming and endless cooking competitions. You may still find a how-to half hour late at night or early morning on a weekend, but the rest is lowest culinary common denominator.
If you want to learn new recipes, techniques, and the science behind cooking, you'll have to go back to PBS, where Christopher Kimball and the wizards at America's Test Kitchen continue their search for the best ways to cook the best dishes. Gastronomes will be familiar with Kimball's crew from the essential Cook's Illustrated magazine and its various cookbooks and spin-offs. America's Test Kitchen might come off as square compared to its flashy catchphrase-laden cable neighbors, but I'll take nerdy and delicious over tattooed and tasteless any day.
America's Test Kitchen: Season Thirteen on DVD has a whopping 12 hours of thoroughly thought-out recipes, kitchen tips, taste tests, and equipment recommendations. Buying a cooking show DVD set might sound quaint in a world that has YouTube, Google, and cookbooks a-plenty, but there are good reasons to invest. The folks who assembled this collection are as smart as the folks in the kitchen.
Season Thirteen has 26 episodes across four discs:
* "Meat and Potatoes & la Française"
French-Style Pot-Roasted Pork Loin
Potato Casserole with Bacon
Equipment: Knife Sets
* "Great American Classics"
Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
Carrot Layer Cake
Equipment: Springform Pans
* "A Taste of Spain"
Catalan-Style Beef Stew with Mushrooms
Spanish-Style Toasted Pasta with Shrimp
* "Simple and Satisfying Vegetable Mains"
Mushroom and Leek Galette with Gorgonzola
Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup
Man on the street: Amanda Cohen at Dirt Candy
Equipment: Vegetable Cleavers
* "Pork Chops and Lentil Salad"
Red Wine-Braised Pork Chops
Tips: Fresh Herbs
Letters to the Editor
* "Ultimate Italian"
Fresh Pasta Without a Machine
Ragu alla Bolognese
Man on the street: Homemade Pasta
Tasting: Mozzarella Cheese
* "Irish Comfort Classics"
New England-Style Home-Corned Beef and Cabbage
Gadgets: Quirky Kitchen Gadgets
* "Two Ways with Fish"
Poached Fish Fillets with Sherry-Tomato Vinaigrette
Easy Salmon Cakes
Science: Poaching in Oil
Tasting: Oyster Crackers
Equipment: Oyster Knives
* "Big, Bold Chicken Braises"
Filipino Chicken Adobo
Tasting: Whole Roasted Chickens
Man on the street: Filipino Cooking at Purple Yam
* "Spicy Fall Sweets"
Science: Baking Soda
* "Company's Coming"
Best Prime Rib
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Letters to the editor
Tasting: Premium Butter
* "Breakfast Standbys"
Ten-Minute Steel Cut Oatmeal
Man on the street: Blind Taste Test, Oatmeal
Equipment: Moka Pots
* "Turkey on the Grill"
Simple Grill-Roasted Turkey
Tips: Turkey Temperature
Equipment: All-Purpose Cleaners
* "Chicken Classics, Improved"
Skillet Chicken Fajitas
Classic Chicken Salad
Gadgets: Favorite New Kitchen Gadgets
* "Great Italian Pasta Sauces"
Quick Mushroom Ragu
Equipment: Box Graters
Tasting: Canned Whole Tomatoes
* "Asian Takeout Favorites"
Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce
Thai-Style Stir-Fried Noodles with Chicken and Broccolini
* "Spicing Up the Grill"
Spicy Pork Tacos (Pork al Pastor)
Equipment: Favorite Grilling Tools
Gadgets: Favorite Mortar and Pestle
* "Perfecting Summer Classics"
Grilled Steak with New Mexican Chile Rub
Tasting: Hot Sauces
Gadgets: Favorite Ice Cream Machine and Cone Maker
* "Rethinking Seafood Classics"
Best Crab Cakes
Man on the street: Nick's Fish House & Grill
* "Skewered and Wrapped"
Grilled Beef Satay
Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Equipment: Sauté Pans
* "Short Ribs and Chops Hit the Grill"
Easy Grilled Boneless Pork Chops
Grilled Roasted Beef Short Ribs
Equipment: Pressure Cookers
Gadgets: Knife Accessories
* "Indian Classics Made Easy"
Indian Flatbread (Naan)
Indian-Style Spinach with Fresh Cheese (Saag Paneer)
Gadgets: Favorite Kitchen Gadgets
* "Ultimate Grilled Turkey Burgers"
Juicy Grilled Turkey Burgers
Potato Burger Buns
Tasting: Cheddar Cheese
Gadgets: Oil Misters
* "Chili and Stew Go Vegetarian"
Best Vegetarian Chili
Italian Vegetable Stew
Beyond: Foxy Farms
Equipment: Vegetable Peelers
* "French Sweets, Refined and Rustic"
French Apple Cake
Man on the street: Mast Brothers Chocolate
Tasting: Cocoa Powder
* "Sunday Brunch"
Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Baked Eggs Florentine
Gadgets: Pancake Dispenser
Letters to the editor
Science: Baked Eggs
America's Test Kitchen strikes a good balance between ease and authenticity. Not every recipe is ideal for weeknight dining, but they've all been formulated so that normal people can make them at home. All of Cook's recipes undergo rigorous testing, both in their kitchens as well as via volunteer focus testing, so readers and viewers can cook with confidence. There's nothing more disappointing than following a recipe for something that looked great on TV, only to have it fizzle at home. Snarky critics might snicker at Kimball's bowtie and affinity for goofy costumes, but his team knows food.
They also know ingredients and equipment. America's Test Kitchen's cooking segments are interspersed with taste tests for things like spaghetti, molasses, and cocoa powder; and equipment recommendations for specialized equipment. There's even a separate segment for gadgets, if you happen to be in the market for seafood scissors.
This Season Thirteen DVD set doesn't have any on-disc bonus features, but each disc includes a PDF with all the recipes, accessible using your computer. The best thing about these DVDs are the extensive menu options. You can watch each episode from beginning to end, with recipe and segment-specific scene selection, but the top menu also lets you filter by recipe, tasting lab, equipment corner, and more.
The 1.78:1 standard-def transfer works fine for the material. Its accurate colors make the food look as tasty as possible, despite soft details. The 2.0 stereo mix delivers instructional dialogue clearly, with minimal flair.
I love America's Test Kitchen. If you dig food and have even a passing interest in food science, you will too. While celebrity chefs and wide-smiled pretenders rule the basic cable cooking landscape, culinary experts like Alton Brown and the Cook's Illustrated crew find new ways to make old food better -- teaching home cooks techniques to feed the next generation.
Not guilty, but oh so tasty!
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 676 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Recipe PDFs
* Official Site