ATK at Home
A Day In the Life of Kate Shannon, Deputy Editor of ATK Reviews
How one of our product reviewers is testing kitchen equipment at home.
06-29-2020
Kate Shannon

After months of being closed, America’s Test Kitchen’s office in Boston is now open to a handful of employees at a time. So on any given day, the majority of the staff is still working from home, developing recipes, reviewing kitchen equipment, and creating magazines, cookbooks, photos, and videos that will help our community of home cooks excel in the kitchen. In this new series, we give you a look at a typical day—and in many cases, the home kitchens—of some of our staff.


 

As the Deputy Editor on the ATK Reviews team, I spend most of my days at the Test Kitchen rigorously evaluating equipment. A typical day might have found me making beef and broccoli stir-fry in ten different nonstick skillets or debating the merits of a totally flat wooden spoon. (Really! It’s called a spurtle and Executive Editor Lisa McManus recently tested some.) When our offices closed, the ATK Reviews team quickly adapted and began testing equipment at their homes. Here’s what a typical day looks like now.

8:00 AM – Shorter Commute, Same Coffee

I’m a big fan of public transit—driving in Boston isn’t exactly relaxing and the two hours I spent on the train every day certainly helped me keep up with my magazine subscriptions—but I’m very grateful not to be waking up in the 6s anymore. One thing about my routine hasn’t changed though: the enthusiasm with which I make my first cup of coffee. After six years working at ATK, I’ve accumulated quite a few of our winning pieces of equipment. I’m lucky to be able to alternate between our favorite drip coffee maker and our favorite cold-brew coffee maker. Since today is, as they say in Boston, a scorcha, I’m having cold-brew.

8:15 AM — Cookies for Breakfast (for Work!)

Baking cookies
Baking cookies

Making notes while the cookies are in the oven, then removing them with one of the nine sets of oven mitts.

I’m testing oven mitts today, so I turn the oven to 350 (bad timing given the weather) and start making Brown Sugar Cookies. I have nine sets of oven mitts in a range of materials (silicone, cotton, and Kevlar) and a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. I use each one to place a tray of cookies in the oven, rotate it, and remove it when the cookies are done. As I test each pair, I think about performance and ease of use. Can I delicately pinch the edges of the sheet or are the mitts so big, bulky, and cumbersome that I end up squishing a cookie or two? Are the mitts easy to slide on and off, and do they offer a secure grip?

Working remotely hasn’t stopped my team from being almost comically thorough in our testings.

10:00 AM – Spoons, Forks, Knives . . . and Slack

In addition to testing products and writing reviews, I do a fair amount of editing. Carolyn Grillo, one of the associate editors on my team, has just finished up a testing of disposable cutlery. Before she starts writing her story, we set up a Slack video chat to go over the results. It’s kind of like show-and-tell for adult coworkers. She holds up two knives, showing me how one has many sharp serrations but the other has just a handful of dull, rounded points. You can guess which one she said was better at maneuvering around an oven-roasted chicken thigh.

I won’t pretend that Slack is a perfect substitute for the real-life discussions we used to have, but it makes the distance bearable. Even with a half-dozen miles and two computer screens between us, I can see that one spoon is flat as a pancake (and no good at all for eating soup or ice cream) and another is just right. 

10:30 AM – Cake Pans, Tart Pans, and Dutch Ovens

Working remotely hasn’t stopped my team from being almost comically thorough in our testings. Now that I know how the oven mitts fared with cookie sheets, I use them to maneuver a few more items in, around, and out of the oven. First: a pie plate filled with delicate all-butter pie dough. (Later I’ll use that crust to make a strawberry pie. Or maybe a riff on sour orange pie. Either way, lucky me!) Second: a cake pan filled with water to mimic a batter that hasn’t set up yet. Third: a Dutch oven filled with 4 quarts of simmering water. The Dutch oven is especially tricky because the cast-iron pot is heavy, it retains a lot of heat, and the knob on its lid is tiny and can be hard to grasp securely.

12:30 PM – Lunch and a Gardening Break

I check on my garden. Aside from the rhubarb my mom and stepdad transplanted from their garden in Illinois last summer, everything is in containers. Before I sit down for lunch, I water everything and check on its progress. I can see the impossibly small beginnings of a cucumber, a handful of cherry tomatoes appeared overnight, and I have enough basil to know that pesto is in my future. 

The kitchen is hot from my earlier tests and I can’t bear to go back inside when I finish my lunch, so I don’t. Instead, I spend fifteen minutes in the hammock. The novelty isn’t lost on me. It’s a workday and I’m in a hammock. But I figure it’s more important than ever to enjoy the little stuff whenever we can.

1:15 PM – Lights, Camera, Action

Taking photos of colanders
Taking photos of colanders

Capturing photos of the colander lineup, with a feline fan looking on.

When I open up my computer after lunch and hammocking, I get a message from our art director, Marissa Angelone. She’s putting the finishing touches on my review of colanders and wants to know if I can take a side-by-side photo of two models to show the difference in the height of their bases. (One of the biggest takeaways in that story is if a colander’s base is too short, backwash and detritus in your sink can flow back in and mingle with your pasta.) I don’t have the benefit of a studio here, but it’s a fun challenge to help out our photographers and designers when I can. I don’t think anyone would guess that the pale yellow surface under the colanders is a dresser from IKEA and that there’s a cat “helping” just outside the frame.

2:00 PM – TV Time

Now it’s time for my only scheduled meeting of the day. It’s a big one. We’re having a big brainstorming session to figure out how we’ll film the upcoming seasons of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country television shows while we’re social distancing and our offices are only open to essential personnel on an extremely limited basis. We were supposed to have filmed ATK TV in May, but of course that didn’t happen. If you were looking for a spoiler here, you won’t find it! You’ll just need to tune in when the 21st season of America’s Test Kitchen premiers next January. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

3:00 PM – Dessert for Breakfast, Dinner for Dinner

I’ve already started to notice differences in the performance of my oven mitts, but I have more tests to do. This next one is a doozy. I’ll use each pair while making our Cast-Iron Roast Chicken. The chicken and pan together weigh about 12 pounds, the pan gets blazing hot in a 450-degree oven, and I have to grip the handle while making a lemon-thyme pan sauce on the stovetop.

Testing oven mitts by cooking chicken
Testing oven mitts by cooking chicken

Using two of the oven mitts to cook a chicken in a cast-iron skillet.

I felt pretty confident that this test would help separate the good mitts from the bad—and I was right. But, again, no spoilers here. I haven’t figured out the rankings yet. I’m working with our science editor, Paul Adams, to measure how quickly heat moves through the mitts. I’ll also do a few more cooking tests, stain them, and wash each one at least five times to see how they hold up.  [Editor’s note: Kate’s review is now live! Check out her findings here.]

5:00 PM – Is It Cocktail Hour Yet?

As my grandmother would say, the sun is over the yardarm. I’m ready to go back outside with a book, a bowl of peanuts, and a gin and tonic. But I still have a kitchen to clean. I put the brown sugar cookies from my earlier test in a plastic bag and slide them into the freezer. I leave the chicken on a carving board to cool a bit longer and breathe a sigh of relief that all that’s needed for dinner is a simple salad. I’m not turning on the oven again today.