Since we began asking you, our readers, for questions aimed at our test cooks, you’ve asked some pretty great questions. (“What’s the most challenging recipe you ever worked on?” for example.) You have burning questions, and our test cooks are dying to answer them. Today, you ask them “What kinds of food do you like to cook for yourself and others when you’re not developing recipes in the test kitchen?” Their answers are below.
Ask the Test Cooks: What Kind of Food Do You Cook At Home?
My team is working on a dinner cookbook right now, and we just finished up a poultry chapter and a beef, pork, and lamb chapter. As you can imagine, my out-of-work eating habits have been leaning vegetarian as a result. I tend to keep it pretty simple when I’m cooking at home and decide what to cook based on whatever produce looks good or is on sale—though I’m a citrus addict and nearly always add zest or juice to whatever it is I’m cooking.
Outside of my day to day cooking, I have a serious sweet tooth. If I have a spare weekend or free half-day Friday, you’re most likely to find me in my apartment melting chocolate, kneading enriched doughs, or pulling a sheet of cookies out of the oven. I’ve introduced my husband’s family to our recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I’ve started bringing Chocolate Babka as a hostess gift when visiting friends.
I love project recipes, and my freezer is stocked with frozen croissants and cookie dough just in case of a baked good emergency. Unfortunately, I have zero willpower, so a day or so after a baking session I usually end up seeking out a friend to gift the baked goods to and put me out of my misery.
They say not to bring your work home with you, but if you love food, you’re gonna do that here. I love to try out the latest ATK recipes at home to delight friends and family. That’s the most wonderful thing about our recipes—they empower you to reproduce, time and again, a scrupulously-tested, best version of something you really want to eat.
However, I think we all have our favorite home-cooked meal—whether it be the scrambled eggs your dad made you when you were sick or your mom’s ‘50s-style stuffed peppers enjoyed after school. Whatever it is, there are certain meals, flavors, and smells that evoke a sense of well-being, safety, and love—and I believe they’re normally rooted in early childhood memories when your parents could make everything better. I think I’ve found that dish for my family and it comes in the form of meatballs.
Their flavor is truly delicious every time, but they’re not always consistent—I don’t note what the fat content of the meat is, or how long I spend cooking them covered versus uncovered and I use as much basil and/or parsley as I can find in my garden. I think it’s truly the best thing I cook and it’s different with each version I make. Sometimes they’re a little dry and other times they’re perfect, but it never really matters—my wife and children become viscerally excited when they know I’m making them. I think it’s because they taste like love.
Most of the time when I cook at home, I tend not to follow any recipes at all! After measuring every ingredient, timing every step, writing, researching, and detailing every move I make professionally at work in the test kitchen, I love to come home and be a bit more liberal and creative with my cooking. I use what looks fresh and fantastic at my local market, or I cook creative “kitchen sink” recipes that are a great way to clear out my cabinets and refrigerator without letting any food go to waste. I use my professional knowledge of cooking methods, techniques, ratios, and flavor profiles to cook freely at home.
Also, due to the high amount of tastings I participate in at work when developing our cookbooks, (we are working on an Italian cookbook now, so lots of delicious cheese, pasta, and carbs) I tend to eat lean protein and veggies for breakfast and dinner during the workweek to make sure I am maintaining a healthy diet. Believe it or not, I have actually managed to lose a substantial amount of weight while working in the test kitchen by eating more thoughtfully during my work week and restraining myself at tastings. (It’s been a tough learned habit!)
For special occasions and weekend projects, I love to bake. I’ll turn to our Bread Illustrated book for a fun weekend bread baking project. We also just finished testing recipes for an upcoming cake cookbook, so I have been inspired to create imaginative and decorative cakes at home for friends and family on a more regular basis.
Every professional cook has heard some sort of variation of the following question: what is your favorite thing to cook at home? As a test cook for ATK, my answer may surprise most people. But given where I work, it will also make perfect sense.
Let me say first off, when friends and family approach me with, “How do I cook this?” and “How do I make that?” I most certainly refer them to one of our current or past recipes because I believe they are that good. That being said, when I’m not developing recipes in the test kitchen, I tend to cook from the hip, favoring quick stir-fries and simple pasta dishes.
I imagine that someone who plays classical music in a symphony orchestra would readily deviate from that very same music outside of work. The reason being: while some may feel that classical is the epitome of musical perfection and shouldn’t be changed or tampered with, others find it rigid and too by the numbers. On the other hand, without sheet music or a conductor to contend with, rock and roll is both freeing and emotional. I feel an experienced musician can’t help but create something awesome from that. I do love a great recipe, but at home, sometimes I just want to rock!
Bread IllustratedBread Illustrated is a fully illustrated handbook with more than 100 meticulously tested recipes that will enable you to bake artisan bakery–quality bread at home. Each recipe is a hands-on tutorial with a timeline and photos that break down the recipe step by step, because seeing the process from start to finish helps make any recipe more approachable.
What do you like to cook when you’re off book and improvising? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any questions for our test cooks, ask below. Who knows, we may just choose your question for our next post!