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"America's Test Kitchen" Favorites

If you're searching for foolproof recipes, the ones from America's Test Kitchen" may well be your best bet.

The popular Public Broadcasting show's staffers test each recipe multiple times, with many variations, and deal with all the mistakes, so you don't have to.

The show's host, Chris Kimball, doubles as editor in chief of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

On The Early Show Thursday, Kimball prepared some of his favorite recipes from "Test Kitchen Favorites," the latest companion cookbook to "America's Test Kitchen."

The book features the most popular recipes from the test kitchen. Staffers don't just try and compare recipes. They also taste-test frequent ingredients such as olive oils and vinegars, and even test equipment, to spare you from spending $1,000 on the perfect knife or blender!

The goal of all the testing: to make your life in the kitchen easier.

The book also gives an inside look at the workings of the real 2,500 square foot kitchen. located in Boston.

RECIPES

PEPPER-CRUSTED FILET MIGNON

The goal: to boost the flavor of tender, but mild filet mignon with a crunchy peppercorn crust — without the stinging heat that usually accompanies it.

The problem with most recipes for this dish: The pepper is too spicy and overwhelming for the mild meat; the peppercorns don't stay on the meat very well.

The solutions:

1. Kimball and his team discovered that, when you smash the peppercorns (note: NOT grind), you are able to release the essential oils. You don't want to grind the peppercorns. That makes it too fine.
2. Then, gently simmering the peppercorns with oil helps tame the "raw" bite and harsh heat.
3. Adding salt to the cooked peppercorns after they have cooled helps draw out the beefy flavor of the steaks.
4. To resolve the problem of peppercorns not adhering to the steak: Rub the paste all over the meat, then press down gently with plastic wrap.

INGREDIENTS:
5 tablespoons black peppercorns, cracked
5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 center-cut filet mignons, 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, 7 to 8 ounces each, trimmed of fat and silver skin

METHOD:
Heat the peppercorns and 5 tablespoons of the oil in a small saucepan over low heat until faint bubbles appear. Continue to cook at a bare simmer, swirling the pan occassionally, until the pepper is fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. When the mixture is at room temperature, add the salt and stir to combine. Rub the steaks with the pepper mixture, thoroughly coating the top and bottom of each steak with the peppercorns. Cover the steaks with plastic wrap and press gently to make sure the peppercorns adhere; let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the middle position, place a rimmed baking sheet on the oven rack, and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until faint smoke appears. Place the steaks in the skillet and cook, without moving the steaks, until a dark brown crust has formed, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn the steaks and cook until well browned on the second side, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the steaks to the hot baking sheet. Roast 3 to 5 minutes for rare, 5 to 7 minutes for medium-rare to medium. Transfer the steaks to a wire cooling rack and let rest, loosely tented with foil, for 5 minute before serving.

For more of Kimball's recipes, go to Page 2.

HOT AND SOUR SOUP

INGREDIENTS:
7 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 boneless center-cut pork chop (1/2 inch thick, about 6 ounces), trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch by 1/8-inch matchsticks
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cool water
1 large egg
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup bamboo shoots (from one 5-ounce can), sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick strips
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar plus 1 tablespoon balsamic vingar
2 teaspoons chili oil
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

METHOD:
Place the tofu in a pie plate and set a heavy plate on top. Weight with 2 heavy cans and let stand at least 15 minutes (the tofu should release about 1/2 cup liquid). Whisk 1 tablespoon soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in medium bowl; toss the pork with the marinade and set aside for at least 10 minutes (but no more than 30 minutes).

Combine 3 tablespoons of the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of the water in a small bowl and mix thoroughly; set aside, leaving the spoons in the bowl. Mix the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch with the remaining 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl; add the egg and beat with a fork until combined. Set aside.

Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a medium-low and add the bamboo shoots and mushrooms and simmer until the mushrooms are just tender, about 5 minutes. While the broth simmers, dice the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the tofu and pork, including the marinade, to the soup, stirring to separate any pieces of pork that stick together. Continue to simmer until the pork is no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

Stir the cornstarch mixture to recombine. Add it to the soup, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens and turns translucent, about 1 minute. Stir in the vinegar, chili oil, pepper, and remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce and turn off the heat.

Without stirring the soup, use a soupspoon to slowly drizzle very thin streams of the egg mixture into the pt in a circular motion. Let the soup sit 1 minute, then return the saucepan to medium-high heat. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then immediately remove from the heat. Gently stir the soup once to evenly distribute the egg; ladle into bowls and top with the scallions.

DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

INGREDIENTS:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brandy
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy cream

METHOD:
Melt the chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and brandy in a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks, 1 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until the mixture lightens in color and thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Pour the melted chocolate into the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Let cool until just warmer than room temperature, 3 to 5 minutes.

In the clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 1 minute. Detach the whisk and bowl from the mixer and whisk the last few strokes by hand, making sure to scrape any unbeaten whites from the bottom of the bowl. Using the whisk, stir about one-quarter of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it; gently fold in the remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula until a few white streaks remain.

In the now-empty bowl, whip the heavy cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 15 seconds more. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the mousse until no white streaks remain. Spoon the mousse into 6 to 8 individual serving dishes or goblets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and firm, at least 2 hours. (The mousse may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

SKILLET APPLE BROWN BETTY
INGREDIENTS:
Bread Crumbs:
4 ounces slices white sandwich bread (3 to 4 slices), torn into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Apples:
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 ounces) light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3 medium), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 3 medium), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/4 cups apple cider
1-3 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon

METHOD:
For the bread crumbs: Pulse the bread, sugar, and butter in a food processor until coarsely ground, about four 1-second pulses. Transfer the crumbs to a 12-inch skillet; toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; wipe out the skillet.

For the apples: Combine the sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of the butter in a now-empty skillet over high heat; when the foaming subsides, stir in the Granny Smith apples and half of the sugar mixture. Distribute the apples in an even layer and cook, stirring two or three times, until medium brown, about 5 minutes; transfer to a medium bowl. Repeat with the remaining butter, the Golden Delicious apples, and sugar mixture, returning the first batch of apples to the skillet when second batch is done.

Add the apple cider and scrape the bottom and sides of the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits; cook until the apples are tender but not mushy and the liquid has reduced and is just beginning to thicken, 2 to 4 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat; stir in the lemon juice, if using, and 1/3 cup of the toasted bread crumbs. Using a wooden spoon, lightly flatten the apples into an even layer in the skillet and evenly sprinkle with the remaining toasted bread crumbs. Spoon the warm betty into individual bowls and serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

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