The best way to make Judge Erich Asperschlager at home.
"Recipes that work"
Turn on PBS on any given weekend afternoon and you're likely to see a thin man wearing a bowtie and glasses, standing behind a kitchen counter explaining why you should rest steaks or what happens when you overmix muffin batter. Resist the urge to flip over to football or the latest infomercial and you might just learn something about cooking from Christopher Kimball and the talented folks who run the Cook's magazine, book, and television empire.
Kimball and crew have two TV series: America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country. Differences between the shows are slight, but each bring the Cook's foolproof food philosophy to the small screen. Test Kitchen leans more toward the technical, including tips and gadget reviews with the tasty recipes. Cook's Country also has product and ingredient recommendations, but the focus—as with the magazine that shares its name—is making the best versions of homestyle American food.
Cook's Country: Season Six is the series' latest DVD collection, with 13 episodes that celebrate the international flavors and regional cuisines that make up the "American" menu.
There's something for everyone in these episodes. Don't want to spend all day making crown roast or corncob-smoked ribs? Try honey fried chicken or green chili cheeseburgers. Breakfast on your mind? How about fluffy cornmeal pancakes or English muffin bread? Or skip straight to dessert with peaches and cream pie, cream cheese pound cake, beignets, and magic chocolate flan cake.
Cook's Country looks beyond old-fashioned American fare like meatloaf with mushroom gravy and herb-roasted chicken with melting pot recipes including Guinness beef stew and brown soda bread from Ireland, modern American adaptations of Asian flavors with glazed pork tenderloin and Chinese chicken salad, and Italian favorites like "grandma's" pizza and minestrone soup.
Country follows the tried and true cooking show format, with step by step instructions delivered in TV kitchens by expert chefs. The Cook's crewmembers arenâ€™t as flashy as the personalities over on Food Network but what they lack in sex appeal they make up for in authority. When you make one of their recipes you can be sure it has been tested and adjusted until it is just right (I regularly cook from our many Cook's Illustrated cookbooks, and have yet to be disappointed). The banter is goofy and good-natured as Kimball and company make recipes ranging from quick weeknight meals to slow-cooked weekend endeavors. Not every dish is right for a first-time cook, but I can't think of a better recipe base to start from.
The cooking segments are interspersed with product tests, tips, and tastings. Adam Reid's equipment recommendations are good if you're in the market for a skillet or sugar shaker, but I love the taste tests. America's Test Kitchen has similar segments, but Cook's Country ups the entertainment by bringing a studio audience into the mix. Kimball eats his way through blind tastings of multigrain bread, ready-made pie crusts, mayo, steak sauce, and more—as perpetual smiler Jack Bishop compares his picks with an "expert" tasting panel and a studio audience that look like the Platonic ideal of a PBS studio audience.
The DVD set-up is as well thought out as the recipes. The 1.78:1 video and 2.0 stereo soundtrack are clean and functional. There are no bonus features, but helpful DVD menus enable viewers to watch not only episodes but individual recipes, taste tests, equipment testings, and more—making it almost as easy to find the thing you want to make for dinner as if you were flipping through a cookbook. The discs also include printable PDFs of all 26 recipes, accessible via your computer.
Why spend mealtime cooking your way through random mommy blogs when you can let the pros from Cook's Illustrated figure it out for you. Cook's Country: Season Six continues the series' tradition of delicious recipes from America's past and present, delivered in a charming and informative way.
A blue ribbon show. Not guilty!
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