Our tasting panel did not like Judge Erich Asperschlager.
"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:
• "Great American Classics"
• "A Taste of Spain"
• "Simple and Satisfying Vegetable Mains"
• "Pork Chops and Lentil Salad"
• "Ultimate Italian"
• "Irish Comfort Classics"
• "Big, Bold Chicken Braises"
• "Spicy Fall Sweets"
• "Company's Coming"
• "Breakfast Standbys"
• "Turkey on the Grill"
• "Great Italian Pasta Sauces"
• "Asian Takeout Favorites"
• "Spicing Up the Grill"
• "Perfecting Summer Classics"
• "Rethinking Seafood Classics"
• "Skewered and Wrapped"
• "Indian Classics Made Easy"
• "Ultimate Grilled Turkey Burgers"
• "Chili and Stew Go Vegetarian"
• "French Sweets, Refined and Rustic"
• "Sunday Brunch"
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!
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