When I was at the test kitchen, I had the best of everything at my fingertips — winning All-Clad pots and pans, winning ingredients, winning salad spinners, garlic presses, spatulas, pepper grinders, Dutch ovens, baking pans. By winning, I mean, ATK buys several models of something or several brands of the same ingredient, tests them all relentlessly, records the data, picks a winner, and then purchases that item in bulk for the test cooks to use on a daily basis.

At home, I’m not so lucky. After working on the 5-gazillion BTU burners at the test kitchen, my little Amana range seems, well, little. I needed fresh dill earlier tonight while making fish chowder. I had to go to the store to buy it, instead of being able to step a few feet to the right and find fresh dill always waiting for me in the walk-in at ATK.

I was spoiled rotten.

Testing my first recipe since being home was a challenge. I set out to make homemade oyster crackers (they don’t sell organic ones here in Central Florida…apparently there aren’t enough northern transplants looking for a chowder companion at Whole Foods). At the test kitchen, I would have baked separate batches to test docking vs. not docking the dough, resting times for the dough, milk vs. egg wash, salt vs. no salt on top, chilled vs. straight to the oven, etc.

At home, I only had enough time and ingredients for one batch of crackers, testing without yeast. To get in all of the variables I needed to test, I divided the pan into sections: docked, not docked, docked with egg wash and salt, docked with milk and salt, and the same for not docked. I also tested baking times. At the test kitchen, each baking time would have been a separate test. At home, I set the timer for 6 minutes and increased by 2 minutes until the crackers were done. Then I tested the 2nd pan (the recipe makes 80 crackers, which fit on two baking sheets) with the final time, just to be sure it was spot on. The condensed testing worked perfectly and I found the magic formula within that first recipe (photo above). Next week, I’ll test the same recipe, but with yeast instead of baking powder. Fingers crossed it goes as well as the first test did this evening.

Deep down, I know the most important thing to have is a sharp knife, and a few other essentials, but it was so nice being spoiled for a while.