We make the mistakes in the kitchen, so that you don't have to.

3 Fun Food Hacks for Pizza, Bananas, and Jam

Pizza, bananas, and jam are some of our favorite things, so we couldn’t resist sharing these quick tips. Just don’t feel compelled to use them all at the same time—but who knows?

Bananas: Even More Magical Than You Thought

Did you know that you can use a banana peel to polish tarnished silverware? After you enjoy a banana, rub the inside of the peel along the silver and you’ll see the magic happen. Just wipe it off with a clean cloth afterward to have sparkling silverware again. It doesn’t work with really dark spots, but this trick works great with lightly tarnished utensils.

Best Way to Reheat Pizza

Microwaving cold pizza makes the crust soggy, and reheating it in the oven takes almost 30 minutes. The best way to reheat cold pizza is to put a few slices in a cold skillet, cover it, and turn the burner to low. About 8 minutes in the pan gives the cheese time to melt while the bottom crisps perfectly. No more soggy slices.

DIY Salad Dressing with Leftover Jam

To savor every last morsel of homemade or storebought jam, add olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and herbs/spices when the jam jar is nearly empty, screw the lid on, and shake away. In seconds you’ll have delicious fruity salad dressing, and nothing is wasted from the precious jams.

All of these quick tips are from the newest issue (August/September 2014) of Cook’s Country (learn more about print and iPad editions).

Do You Know the Right Way to Use a Whisk? [VIDEO]

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Everyone knows the correct way to use a whisk, right? Wrong.

We’ve noticed that different cooks seem to favor different motions when using a whisk. Some prefer side-to-side strokes, others use circular stirring, and others like the looping action of beating that takes the whisk up and out of the bowl. That got us wondering: Is any one of these motions more effective than the others?

The results may surprise you. Watch below to discover what we learned.

This science experiment hails from the newest issue (July/August 2014) of Cook’s Illustrated (learn more about print and iPad editions).

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3 Fun Kitchen Tips for Summer Vacation Season

Sunshine and long days call for extra-hot quick tips.

Steadying Tipsy Tacos

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The rounded base of a hard taco shell usually requires one hand to steady it while the other stuffs. You can free up both hands by wedging the shell between the tines of a fork to keep it upright.

A Hole New Way to Pluck Herbs

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Plucking the leaves from a bunch of tender herbs like cilantro and dill can be tedious and time-consuming. Threading the stems through the holes of a colander (starting from the inside and pulling them through) makes quick work of the task—plus, the bowl collects the leaves.

Did Your Fridge Lose Power While You Were Gone?

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Easy way to gauge whether your refrigerator lost power while you were on vacation: Place 3 ice cubes in a zipper-lock bag on a freezer shelf before leaving. If the cubes have melted together upon your return, it’s an surefire indicator that the power shut off while you were away.

All of these quick tips are from the newest issue (July/August 2014) of Cook’s Illustrated (learn more about print and iPad editions).

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Perfect Grilled Steaks with These 3 Must-Do Tricks

Our technique for perfect grilled steaks is unique in a couple of ways. Our goal is to create a deeply caramelized, well-formed crust that translates to bold, savory flavor. Our recipe employs 3 effective kitchen tricks.

Trick #1: Pat Steaks Dry

Straight out of the wrapper, steaks are often moist with natural juices. Patting the steaks dry with paper towels removes surface moisture, which would otherwise interfere with browning—and with deeper browning comes better flavor.

Trick #2: Rub Steaks with Cornstarch

As odd as it sounds, don’t skip the cornstarch. The cornstarch absorbs additional moisture from the surface of the steaks. Drier exteriors mean even darker, more intense browning, which translates to bigger, more complex flavor.

Trick #3: Freeze Steaks Briefly

Put the steaks in the freezer before you fire up the grill, and let them chill for about 30 minutes. This time in the freezer brings down the internal temperature of the steaks so that they take longer to cook—a longer cooking time means that the exteriors of the steaks have even more opportunity to form nice brown crusts. If you don’t chill the steaks in the freezer before putting them onto the grill and you follow the recipe’s cooking times, the steaks will wind up overcooked.

Who’s ready for summer?

Perfect Grilled Steaks

Why This Recipe Works: We chose well-marbled strip steak for our charcoal-grilled steak recipe because of its beefy flavor and moist interior. For the essential wood-smoke flavor, we nestled a few pieces of unsoaked wood chunks along the perimeter of the fire and grilled the steaks covered for the first few minutes to help trap smoke flavor. For the grilled steaks’ requisite deep-brown char, we needed to get the exterior bone-dry. To do this, we sprinkled the steaks with salt and cornstarch (which helped dry out the exterior) and then left them uncovered in the freezer.

Serves 6 to 8

Our preferred steak for this recipe is strip steak, also known as New York strip. A less expensive alternative is a boneless shell sirloin steak (or top sirloin steak). We prefer oak, but other types of wood chunks can be used. Flipping 3 times during cooking allows for even cooking and limits flare-ups. To substitute table salt for kosher salt, halve the amounts listed in the recipe.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons kosher salt 
4 boneless strip steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick (about 1 pound each) 
4 (2-inch) unsoaked wood chunks 
Ground black pepper

1. Combine cornstarch and salt in small bowl. Pat steaks dry with paper towels and place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Rub entire surface of steaks with cornstarch mixture and place steaks, uncovered, in freezer until very firm, about 30 minutes.

2. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, about 100 briquettes) and allow to burn until coals are fully ignited and partially covered with thin layer of ash, about 20 minutes. Arrange coals in single layer over entire surface of grill and, using tongs, place wood chunks directly on top of coals, spacing them evenly around perimeter of grill. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes. Scrape cooking grate clean with grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above grate for 2 seconds).

3. Season steaks with pepper. Place steaks on grill, cover, and cook until steaks begin to char, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover grill, flip steaks, and cook on second side until beginning to char, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip again and cook first side until well charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip 1 last time and continue to cook until second side is well charred and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of steak registers 115 degrees for rare, about 2 minutes, or 120 degrees for medium-rare, about 4 minutes. Transfer to large plate and let rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Watch now: See how we tested charcoal grills to find the best bang for your buck.

You’ll Never Believe How We Make Perfect Bacon

In the test kitchen, we appreciate the beauty of bacon with a crispy and tender bite, rather than its being burned to a crisp. What innovative method ensures this perfect texture? We cook the bacon in water in a skillet.

Why? The addition of water keeps the initial cooking temperature low and gentle, so the meat retains its moisture and stays tender. By the time the water reaches its boiling point (212 degrees), the bacon fat is almost completely rendered, so you’re also much less likely to burn the meat while waiting for the fat to cook off.

Place the bacon (in strips or cut into pieces) and just enough water to cover it in a skillet over high heat. When the water reaches a boil, lower the heat to medium. Once all of the water has simmered away, turn down the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the bacon is crisp and well browned. This way, the meat plumps up as it cooks instead of shriveling, leaving the bacon pleasantly crisp, not tough or brittle.

RELATED: 14 Reasons We Can’t Live Without Bacon

Prepare Sticky Buns for a crowd in a cinch with our newest Online Cooking School Course: Brunch Classics.
Prepare Sticky Buns for a crowd in a cinch with our newest Online Cooking School Course: Brunch Classics.

Prepare Sticky Buns for a crowd in a cinch with our newest Online Cooking School Course: Brunch Classics.

How to Make Handmade Pasta Without a Machine

For the home cook, the idea of making fresh pasta may sound intimidating. But starting noodles from scratch is actually incredibly easy: Our recipe for Fresh Pasta Without a Machine doesn’t require any specialized equipment, and it only requires four everyday ingredients (flour, eggs, olive oil, salt). Moreover, using fresh pasta makes a world of difference when it comes to turning out an all-star dish.

For a pasta dough that could be easily rolled out by hand (but still cook up into delicate, springy noodles), we create a super-malleable dough that doesn’t snap back when you roll it. A generous splash of olive oil coats the flour proteins and limits their ability to form gluten so the dough stays more elastic. We also mixed in six extra egg yolks. Yolks are loaded with fat and emulsifiers that also limit gluten development—but because their proteins coagulate when heated, adding structure, they ensure that the pasta is strong enough to stay intact when boiled.

Additionally, we incorporated an extended resting period to allow the gluten network to relax and developed a simple, effective rolling technique (which we outline below).

What’s the trick to turning a lump of pasta dough into long, silky strands—all without a pasta roller? Starting with a soft, malleable dough is half the battle. You should be able to easily make an indent in the dough as shown:

After that, all there’s left is dividing the dough into small, manageable pieces and working with them one at a time. Here’s how. (Want to make homemade shaped pasta, like farfalle? Learn how here.)

1. WORK WITH SMALL PIECES

Shape the dough into a 6-inch cylinder; wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 1 hour. Divide it into 6 equal pieces. Reserve 1 piece; rewrap the remaining 5.

2. START SQUARE

Working with the reserved piece, dust both sides with flour, then press the cut side down into a 3-inch square. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 6-inch square, then dust both sides again with flour.

3. ROLL FROM CENTER, ONE WAY AT A TIME

Roll the dough to 6 by 12 inches, rolling from the center of dough one way at a time, then dust it with flour. Continue rolling until the dough is 6 by 20 inches, lifting it frequently to release it from the counter. Transfer the dough to a kitchen towel and air-dry for about 15 minutes.

4. FOLD INTO FLAT ROLL

Starting with the short end, gently fold the dried sheet at 2-inch intervals to create a flat, rectangular roll.

5. CUT INTO STRIPS

With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 3/16-inch-thick noodles.

6. UNFURL

Use your fingers to unfurl pasta, then transfer to a floured baking sheet.

Why We #LoveBoston — Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie

Boston is in our hearts this week. To celebrate the strength of the city (and America’s Test Kitchen’s hometown), we present one of our favorite local specialties.

Boston Cream Pie was invented by the Parker House hotel.

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We baked up the traditional recipe (shown above) and found three major challenges that we wanted to tackle in the test kitchen.

1. The original glaze dries to a hard, dull-looking shell that won’t bond with the cake. And who really wants brittle piped frosting on top?

2. The traditional sponge cake is too lean and sweet for modern tastes. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will bake up flat instead of airy.

3. It’s all too easy to create a pastry cream that’s too thin, leading to a filling that dribbles down the cake.

After much tinkering and experimenting in the test kitchen, we successfully revived this triple-component dessert into a modern-day showstopper.

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Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie from Cook’s Illustrated

Why This Recipe Works: A hot-milk sponge cake made a good base in our Boston Cream Pie recipe because it didn’t require any finicky folding or separating of eggs. Baking the batter in two pans eliminated the need to slice a single cake horizontally before adding the filling. We used butter to firm up our pastry cream, and we added corn syrup to heavy cream and melted chocolate for a smooth glaze that clung to the top of our Boston Cream Pie and dripped artistically down its sides.

SERVES 8 TO 10

Chill the assembled cake for at least 3 hours to make it easy to cut and serve.

PASTRY CREAM
2 cups half-and-half
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
Pinch table salt
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

CAKE
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar

GLAZE
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

1. FOR THE PASTRY CREAM: Heat half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. Remove half-and-half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add ½ cup to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to half-and-half in saucepan.

2. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 8 minutes.

3. Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is melted and incorporated. Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

4. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Heat milk and butter in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.

5. In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar at high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Remove mixer bowl from stand. Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated.

6. Working quickly, divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until tops are light brown and toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.

7. Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 2 hours. Run small plastic knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto wire rack. Carefully remove parchment, then reinvert cakes.

8. TO ASSEMBLE: Place one cake round on large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread evenly to cake edge. Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly. Press lightly on top of cake to level. Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.

9. FOR THE GLAZE: Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Whisk gently until smooth, 30 seconds. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

10. Pour glaze onto center of cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze to edge of cake, letting excess drip decoratively down sides. Chill finished cake 3 hours before slicing. Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving.

Taco Night? Warming Tortillas are the Way to Go

Straight out of the fridge, store-bought tortillas are lackluster in flavor, cold, and unbendable.

Here are 2 methods to warm them, a tortilla storage tip, and our recipe for Steak Tacos.

See how to make your own tortillas and learn the secrets to Mexican Classics on America’s Test Kitchen Online Cooking School.

Warming Tortillas Using a Gas Flame

When you only need to warm up a few tortillas and you have a gas burner, simply place a single tortilla directly over the medium flame and toast it until slightly charred. This usually only takes up to 30 seconds per side.

Warming Tortillas Without a Gas Flame

If you don’t have a gas flame, you can get similar results by toasting tortillas one at a time in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until softened and speckled with brown spots, 20 to 30 seconds per side.

Warming a Stack of Tortillas

When you need to warm up several tortillas the oven is better for the job. Simply divide the tortillas into stacks of 6, and wrap each stack in foil. Heat the tortillas on the middle rack of a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes. Keep the warmed tortillas wrapped in foil or a kitchen towel until ready to use or they will dry out. (If your tortillas are very dry, pat each with a little water before warming.)

Storing Tortillas

Many tortillas packages (especially corn tortillas) are sold in packs of 24 or more. To freeze corn tortillas, gently peel individual tortillas from the stack and place them between pieces of wax or parchment paper, then freeze up to 12 tortillas in a zipper-lock freezer bag. When you’re ready to use them, defrost stacks of four to six tortillas in the microwave at 50-percent power until thawed, 10 to 20 seconds per stack.

Steak Tacos, originally published in Cook’s Illustrated

Why This Recipe Works: To develop a steak taco recipe with an indoor cooking method that yielded steak taco meat as tender, juicy, and rich-tasting as the grilled method, we chose flank steak, beefy and tender when sliced thinly across the grain. Pan-searing gave us the browned exterior and crisp, brittle edges characteristic of grilled meat. A paste of oil, cilantro, scallions, garlic, and jalapeño applied to the meat and scraped off just before cooking gave our steak taco recipe a flavor boost without sacrificing browning.

SERVES 4 TO 6

For a less spicy dish, remove some or all of the ribs and seeds from the jalapeños before chopping them for the marinade. In addition to the toppings suggested below, try serving the tacos with Sweet and Spicy Pickled Onions, thinly sliced radishes or cucumber, or salsa.

HERB PASTE
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 medium scallions, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 medium jalapeño chile, stemmed and roughly chopped (see note above)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

STEAK
1 flank steak (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and cut lengthwise (with grain) into 4 equal pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

TACOS
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
Fresh cilantro leaves
Minced white or red onion
Lime wedges

1. FOR THE HERB PASTE: Pulse cilantro, garlic, scallions, jalapeño, and cumin in food processor until finely chopped, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, scraping down sides as necessary. Add oil and process until mixture is smooth and resembles pesto, about 15 seconds, scraping down sides of workbowl as necessary. Transfer 2 tablespoons herb paste to medium bowl; whisk in lime juice and set aside.

2. FOR THE STEAK: Using dinner fork, poke each piece of steak 10 to 12 times on each side. Place in large baking dish; rub all sides of steak pieces evenly with salt and then coat with remaining herb paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Scrape herb paste off steak and sprinkle all sides of pieces evenly with sugar and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Place steak in skillet and cook until well browned, about 3 minutes. Flip steak and sear until second side is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, stand each piece on a cut side and cook, turning as necessary, until all cut sides are well browned and internal temperature registers 125 to 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 7 minutes. Transfer steak to cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.

4. FOR THE TACOS: Using sharp chef’s knife or carving knife, slice steak pieces across grain into 1/8-inch-thick pieces. Transfer sliced steak to bowl with herb paste-lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt. Spoon small amount of sliced steak into center of each warm tortilla and serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

No Fooling Around with Intensely Creamy Berry Fool
The only tricks we have today are of the kitchen variety.
Watch Christopher Kimball and Yvonne Ruperti make Berry Fool on the “Sweet Endings” episode of America’s Test Kitchen.
Recipe and video clip free through April 10, 2014
No Fooling Around with Intensely Creamy Berry Fool
The only tricks we have today are of the kitchen variety.
Watch Christopher Kimball and Yvonne Ruperti make Berry Fool on the “Sweet Endings” episode of America’s Test Kitchen.
Recipe and video clip free through April 10, 2014

No Fooling Around with Intensely Creamy Berry Fool

The only tricks we have today are of the kitchen variety.

Watch Christopher Kimball and Yvonne Ruperti make Berry Fool on the “Sweet Endings” episode of America’s Test Kitchen.

Recipe and video clip free through April 10, 2014