Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An afternoon in the Ladies' Home Journal test kitchen

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Ladies' Home Journal food and entertaining director Tara Bench in the LHJ test kitchen

One of the best side benefits of writing a food blog is participating in events like last month's King Arthur Flour Blog & Bake. Not only did I learn how to make flaky scones, pillowy pizza dough, and pie crust, I met a dozen other bloggers and food editors who share my passion for pulling flavors together into recipes and finding exactly the right words to describe the food I love.

One of my pie crust buddies in Vermont was Tara Bench, a professional chef and recipe developer who currently directs all the food and entertaining content for Ladies' Home Journal magazine. I had a few free hours during a recent business trip to New York, so I asked Tara if I could stop by to say hi. Perfect, she said - I'll be in the test kitchen making chicken. And she wasn't kidding - Tara and assistant food editor Hilary Merzbacher needed to finalize 25 chicken recipes for an upcoming issue.

Ever wondered what goes on in a magazine's professional test kitchen? The refrigerator looked like mine - the door was full of half-used condiments, the main compartment held plastic containers with leftovers and bagged produce. Lots of cabinets, drawers and shelves. Great lighting. Two sinks, two stoves. And a huge center island. Definitely enough room for two cooks to coexist comfortably, maybe even three.

So how do these two chefs come up with 25 chicken recipes? First, they brainstorm, making sure there's a mix on all fronts. Some recipes used whole chicken, others breasts or legs or wings or ground chicken. They needed a mix of ethnicities and a mix of cooking methods (oven vs. stove vs. grill). Then they sat down and wrote out all the recipes. Next, they ordered ingredients for each dish from the neighborhood grocery store. Then they made each dish as written, tasted, and noted what needed to be adjusted. Some of the recipes required enough changes that they decided to re-make them. Finished dishes got plated and photographed to show to the editors, who would then choose which dishes should be photographed for the final spread. Then they'll have to make the hero dishes again, style them, and bring them to the in-house photo studio to be shot for the magazine.

The chicken: delicious in all forms. The company: also delicious. Tara and Hilary even let me use a corner of their kitchen to cook up a batch of my favorite chicken rice fritters for them to taste. Here are a few shots from the afternoon:

Penne with chicken bolognese and ricotta

My chicken rice fritters with lemon-mustard mayo

Oven-baked chicken risotto with sweet potatoes - this recipe needed another  round of testing, as the texture wasn't exactly what Tara wanted

Chicken salad in lettuce cups - nice and light for a summer lunch

Chicken with succotash
Baked chicken with chili sauce - sweet and spicy

Me in the test kitchen

Spaghetti with chicken meatballs and marinara

Tara in her LHJ chef' jacket

Note: I attended the 2013 King Arthur Flour Blog & Bake at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center as a very grateful guest of King Arthur Flour.

7 comments:

Ellen Harris-Braun said...

Please send some o' them chicken-rice fritters to my house ASAP. :)

Sippity Sup said...

Sounds exactly like writing a cookbook. GREG

Geez Louise! said...

How fun!

Kate | Food Babbles said...

What a neat experience and it sounds like you shared such a nice afternoon in the test kitchen with Tara!

Angela said...

How fun is that! I have always wondered about the inner workings--thanks for sharing.

Katie | Healthy Seasonal Recipes said...

Whaaaaat? This is too cool. I love that you made yourself at home and cooked up one of your own recipes too. I am so glad to have met both you and Tara at Blog and Bake. If you're ever back in VT, I can give you a tour of the EatingWell test kitchen too;)

Erika Kerekes said...

@Katie - I am in Vermont almost every summer (although not this summer). I will hold you to that! :)

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