ATK at Home
What Our Book Editors and Test Cooks Are Cooking at Home
Like many of us, it includes bread, bread, and, um, more bread, along with some comfort-food staples and pantry-friendly, thrown-together meals.
04-13-2020
Tess Berger
Tess Berger

There’s no question about it—we’re all cooking a bit differently these days. Whether it’s trying to figure out how to use the excess of herbs in your fridge before they go bad or furiously Googling the most comforting comfort-food recipes, everyone is rethinking their time in the kitchen—including the test cooks that are used to spending their days developing recipes in our Test Kitchen. 

I was curious as to how our Books team is adapting their cooking to this new work-from-home reality, which you’ll find, like many of us, includes bread, bread, and, um, more bread, along with some comfort-food staples and pantry-friendly thrown-together meals.

Nicole Konstantinakos, Senior Editor

In my household, we eat a lot of bread. Whether it's for PB and Js for my kids' snacks, for pa amb tomàquet with the meals my Catalan husband prepares, or for a hearty avocado toast for breakfast, loaves of all kinds are in constant rotation through our kitchen. When we stocked up on groceries to stay home for an extended period to help flatten the curve, we needed to make judicious use of our available spaces to store everything, and we quickly found that we just didn't have room to properly store the amount of bread we'd want to be eating. I'd have to take on my family's bread beast and start baking.

I've made lots of loaves over the past few weeks—some things my kids wanted to try (like a pull-apart loaf of pizza dough balls filled with Bolognese sauce), and other things I thought would up our game, including many of my ATK favorites, including Ciabatta, Fluffy Dinner Rolls, Classic Italian Bread, and Durum Bread (you can find recipes for the latter two in Bread Illustrated). Through all of these projects, I learned something important: For this curve-flattening, family-feeding, bread-baking routine to be sustainable while working from home, helping kids with school work, staying sane, etc., I needed a recipe that was supereasy to make, economized ingredients we have at home, and appealed to the whole family. I turned to another ATK favorite, Almost No-Knead Bread, which I love since it's just a matter of stirring together a simple dough, letting it sit overnight, handling it only enough to shape it, and then proofing and baking. No stand mixer. No hand kneading. A mere ¼ teaspoon of precious yeast.

Luca making bread
Luca making bread

Nicole's family never met—or made—a bread they didn't love.

This was a huge success: a crackly crust with a moist, open crumb, plus extra flavor from a measure of yeasty lager and a splash of tangy vinegar. After I used our only bottle of beer for our first loaf, I made it again using 12 ounces of water for the total liquid component, and my family gave it rave reviews. With a bread so tasty and easy to make, we may never go back to store-bought bread again. And since I've also got a batch of my Cook’s Illustrated colleague @wordloaf's #quarantinystarter working (we named ours Little Big Boy), we'll be making some sourdough bread just as soon as our little guy is ready to raise some dough. I’m thinking the Almost No-Knead Sourdough Bread, this pain au levain, or the Auvergne Crown from Bread Illustrated—I’m also keeping an eye out for any quarantiny starter–specific recipes Andrew shares on Instagram.

Lawman Johnson, Associate Editor

Every chef, great cook, and food enthusiast has a story for when they really discovered food as something more than just sustenance. For me, it was alongside my first cooking mentor—Mrs. Johnson, my mom. It was through her, first as a kid and then throughout adulthood, that I realized the role food plays in our lives. Aside from the obvious, I learned of its ability to comfort, elicit positive emotions, and bring people together. In the time of COVID-19, these aspects have never been more important. Cooking at home with your kids right now can be quite rewarding. On the other hand, cooking with my parents as both an adult and a chef is a different dynamic.

Lawman and his mother
Shrimp and grits

Just enough cooks in the kitchen: Lawman and his mom, and the Shrimp and Grits they made together.

Which culinary school I graduated from, how many recipes I’ve developed, or what show I’m on is of little consequence—it’s still my mom’s kitchen and her rules. We’ve made Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf and Shrimp and Grits, among other great Cook’s Country recipes. When cooking at home with my mom, America’s Test Kitchen recipes typically become more like foolproof guidelines and/or suggestions—she’s never been one for following recipes. We’ve spent lots of quality time together creating delicious food and great memories, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I’m thankful that there are plenty of people who do follow recipes—I am a recipe developer after all.

One of my favorite quotes is this one from Lao Tzu: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.” If only for a brief moment, I’d like to think there are two teachers in the kitchen, and if not, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sarah Ewald, Test Cook

As a lifelong baker, bread has always been one of my favorite things to make. But during a normal work week, it’s hard to fit baking bread into my schedule. Now, with plenty of free time, I decided to resurrect a project I had started and then put on the back burner a year or two ago: baking my way through our Bread Illustrated cookbook. 

Scali bread

When quarantined in Boston, make Scali bread.

I started with the Pain de Campagne, which had a nice hearty crust and satisfying chew. My family quickly devoured it. After that I moved on to a Boston staple, Scali Bread, which has a pleasingly soft crust and fluffy crumb. We’ve been eating it with pasta, for sandwiches, and as plain old toast with butter. Today I finished a batch of the Parmesan Breadsticks, which I plan on immediately dipping into a bowl of marinara sauce. I’m not sure what recipe I'll make next, but one thing is for certain: It’s going to be carb overload for the next few weeks, and I’m not mad about it.

Sara Mayer, Senior Editor

Lately I have had to cook every meal, every day (OK, I admit some of those meals have been cereal). I have been scrolling through our websites looking for new and interesting recipes that vary from my regular, on-the-fly strategy of using whatever looks good at the market. Like many others in this position, I’m doing more planning than usual so I can make my grocery store visits count. Some of the stars lately have been Chicken Milanese with an arugula-tomato salad, Thai-Style Stir-Fried Noodles with Chicken and Broccolini, and Thin Crust Pizza—I added veggies on top. Tonight, I’m trying the lauded Best Chicken Parmesan.

I also love project recipes, and I’m using this time to really dive into bread making. So now, my freezer is full of whole-wheat flour and yeast. I have been using Bread Illustrated for my first foray into bread and have yet to be disappointed. My favorite thus far is the Rustic Wheat Berry Bread—yum! I plan on making the Ciabatta next week and, when I feel confident enough, Baguettes. Wish me luck!

Samantha Block, Test Cook

Quarantine cooking isn’t all bad. For me it has rekindled the old flame of creative cooking. I have little competitions with, well, myself, and look at my kitchen like a mystery basket. The other day I thawed a frozen chicken, forgetting that I still had sausage that was closer to its expiration date than I wanted it to be. Challenge accepted. I threw together a hearty soup with chicken, sausage, and lemony, herbaceous (and very pantry-friendly) dumplings. I found a half empty bag of spinach in the fridge and threw it in at the very end for some added freshness. There’s something satisfying about making a delicious meal where each step consists of an I-guess-I’ll-throw-this-in-here shrug.

Soup

No recipe, no problem: Sam's cook-what-you-have satisfying soup.

That’s not to say I’m altogether anti-recipe. Baking is an incredibly pantry-friendly activity, and not exactly something I can successfully guesstimate. The other day was my dad’s birthday, so I took a little ingredient inventory and made our Simple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Both the cake batter and the frosting come together in seconds in the food processor. There is a little bit of sour cream in the frosting, too, which adds an additional tang that even my 20-month-old nephew couldn’t get enough of! I couldn’t find any pecans or walnuts, which caused a bit of a scene, but he got over it. And by he, I don’t mean my nephew. Dads, am I right?

Joe Gitter, Senior Editor

My home cooking over the past few weeks has focused on two themes: keto and easy (with easy being the biggest priority!). My family finds it much easier to avoid stress eating when we’re consuming fewer carbs, but that doesn’t really count for much if I’m cooking overcomplicated recipes with obscure, keto-friendly ingredients. Luckily my team just finished development of our Easy, Everyday Keto cookbook, so I have tons of inspiration from which I can draw.

Indian Chicken
Frittata

Two of Joe's favorite quarantine meals: Indian Butter Chicken with Cauliflower Rice, and a broccoli and feta frittata.

Last night we had Indian Butter Chicken with Cauliflower Rice—it’s impossibly good. Today I’m making a broccoli and cheddar frittata. I love the frittata framework: Beat 12 eggs with ⅓ cup of half-and-half and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook whatever veggies you have lying around in a nonstick skillet; add ingredients such as cooked bacon or ham, smoked fish, or kimchi; pour in the eggs and any cheese you might have; and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. It’s a quick, efficient way to get lunch on the table in 30 minutes and use up spare ingredients. Best of all, It makes awesome leftovers and tastes even better at room temperature.

My top tip is to make a big batch of homemade mayonnaise for the week. Then you can customize it for each meal—make it lemony for simple fish, garlicky for a frittata, or add smoked paprika and cayenne for steak. A little gochujang mayo is incredible with roasted asparagus. Just stir it in and smear it on!

Camila Chaparro, Associate Editor

My family has been social distancing for more than a month now: My husband and I have been working from home the best we can, sharing our limited work space, as well as our attention and energy to keep our two young sons active, happy, and engaged (with something other than a screen). While there are definite challenges, I recognize how fortunate I am to have time—and a decently stocked pantry and fridge—to dedicate to cooking each day. 

Pancakes

Camila and her family start their day with pancakes that are almost too cute to eat.

We start out many mornings with Easy Pancakes, a breakfast my youngest son has frequently asked for on frantic, time-crunched school mornings, so I’m happy to indulge him now. My mother-in-law’s recipe for lasagna, whose secret ingredients include tangy cottage cheese and fennel-y Italian sausage, kept us full and happy for days.  Rick Bayless’ tortilla soup is my nomination for the ultimate chicken soup for the soul: the earthy chiles warm you from within, while the sprinkle of cheese, chunks of rich avocado, and the crunch of tortilla chips check off the rest of my comfort food requirements. We’ve made and devoured Cook’s Illustrated’s famous Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies—so good that my children each rationed their last cookie, breaking it in half so that they could enjoy it just one more day.

We’ve also tried out a few new recipes that I guessed (rightly) would please everyone’s palates: the Italian American classic Pasta e Fagioli, which my children happily consumed for dinner two nights in a row. And another Italian classic, Risi e Bisi, which in addition to its fun-to-say name, satisfied my fondness for risotto and my children’s fondness for peas. But the best part of any of these meals is not necessarily the food—as good as it is—but that we are all together and healthy during this time: something I realize more and more should not be taken for granted.