Featured Cookbook: The Best International Recipe

by Ginny on April 3, 2011

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One of the best tools for a Sunday-style Dinner is a good cookbook. There are a few on my shelf that I turn to over and over for inspiration, but one stands alone as my very favorite. I have my sister Kim to thank for introducing me to this cookbook. She and a friend discovered it and started a little cookbook club around it,  taking turns cooking each other dinner from its pages. On a visit to see her in Seattle, she made us this Provencal Beef Stew– one of her favorite recipes from the book. That was at least three years ago, and I never forgot it.

The Best International Recipe  ($22.86 on Amazon.com) is broken down by country or region (Mexico, Spain and Portugal, Greece and Turkey, Africa and the Middle East, Southeast Asia, etc.) and contains authentic recipes made accessible to the American home cook. The editors were kind enough to let me republish one of the recipes from the book, so here it is, the Daube Provencal or Provencal Beef Stew that originally turned me on to this book (below). It’s the tail end of stew season, so hopefully I’m delivering this to you with enough time to squeeze it in before the sweet shelling peas show up.

Published in 2007 by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, The Best International Recipe has been a Sunday Dinner muse, a source of knowledge, and a dependable resource for solid recipes. In fact, solid recipes are the hallmark of the Cook’s Illustrated family of food publications, including their magazine, and a series of “Best” cookbooks (like The Best Recipe). What makes these recipes better than others? Two words: Recipe testing.

Before I can fully explain my love for this book, allow me to give you some back story. All of these publications fall under the umbrella of an entity called America’s Test Kitchen. Founded by Christopher Kimball, America’s Test Kitchen (ATC) is just that: a giant, lab-like kitchen complete with the appliances and tools familiar to the American home cook. Now, there are a lot of tested (and untested) recipes floating around out there,  but at ATC they take it to another level.

With a mission, question or problem in mind, they set out to perfect each recipe using scientific exactitude. For example, they might take something like Fried Chicken, and test it 30 to 70 times to hit the bullseye:  juicy, well-seasoned chicken, with perfectly crisp crust, adhered to a crispy skin. They do this by breaking down the elements of fried chicken: the chicken itself, the marinade or brine, the crust, the oil, the cooking temperature, and all the cooking techniques used in various fried chicken recipes. Then, they set to the kitchen. They compare pre-butchered chicken pieces to hand-butchered whole chickens, and flour-based coatings to cornflakes, saltines, panko crumbs, bread crumbs, etc. Each batch is tasted and reviewed by a number of testers, and then it’s back to the kitchen for the next round of testing.

By the time the recipe gets to you, it’s bombproof. If you’re a reader of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, you already know this. If you want to know more, I recommend visiting the America’s Test Kitchen website, where you can access many of these recipe treasures with a free 2-week trial membership.

It takes motivation to prepare and serve food. Whether food is a livelihood, or a daily responsibility, as cooks we can come to feel… uninspired, creatively stifled, burned out. But with a dose of inspiration, the fires are re-ignited, and we return to the kitchen with interest, passion, appetite, and a sense of adventure. It’s important to nourish our inner-culinary artists with good fertilizer, be it a great food mag, a favorite cooking show, or a cookbook that delivers on its promises. With that thought, I pass on this book recommendation to you, and a recipe to sample. Bon Appetit!

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Recipe: Provencal Beef Stew (Daube Provencal)

This recipe is unlike any beef stew you’ve ever tasted. It contains an entire bottle of red wine, strips of orange zest, nicoise olives, and– you wouldn’t know it– anchovies. With all the nuances of a fine red wine– subtle, aromatic, slightly fruity– you won’t be sorry you took the time to make this. I like to serve it over Spaetzle, with a simple salad of arugula tossed with fresh squeezed lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, and olive oil. 

Recipe republished from “The Best International Recipe” by the editors of “Cook’s Illustrated,”  with permission from America’s Test Kitchen.

“We tie the salt pork with twine in order to make it easy to identify after cooking; otherwise, it looks exactly like a piece of stew meat. Cabernet Sauvignon is our favorite wine for this recipe, but Cotes du Rhone and Zinfandel also work. If nicoise olives are not available, kalamata olives, though not authentic, can be substituted. Because the tomatoes are added just before serving, it is preferable to use canned whole tomatoes and dice them yourself– they are more tender than canned diced tomatoes. Serve this French beef stew with egg noodles or boiled potatoes.”

  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck-eye roast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 4 cups)
  • 3/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated, liquid strained [through a coffee filter], and mushrooms minced
  • 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle bold red wine (about 3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound carrots (about 6 medium), peeled and sliced 1 inch thick
  • 5 ounces salt pork, rind removed, tied tightly with butcher’s twine for identification purposes
  • 4 (3-inch long) strips orange zest from one orange, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 cup pitted nicoise olives, patted dry and chopped coarse
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 5 sprigs thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Adjust an oven rack to lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Pat the beef dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 7 to 10 minutes, reducing the heat if the pot begins to scorch. Transfer the browned beef to a medium bowl. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon oil and the remaining beef; transfer the meat to the bowl.

2. Add one more tablespoon of the oil to the pot and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, porcini, and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the wine, scraping up any browned bits. Whisk in the broth and water until smooth.

3. Stir in the browned meat with any accumulated juices, carrots, salt pork, orange zest, 1/2 of the olives, garlic, anchovies, thyme bundle, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and arrange the meat so it is completely covered by the liquid. Cover the pot partially (the lid should be just off center to leave about 1 inch open), transfer to the oven, and cook until a fork inserted in the beef meets little resistance and the sauce is thickened and glossy, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

4. Remove and discard the salt pork (easily identified by the string), thyme bundle, and bay leaves. Stir in the tomatoes and the remaining 1/2 cup olives, cover, and set aside to heat through, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, skim the excess fat from the surface of the stew. Stir in the parsley before serving.

Serves 6

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks April 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm

We love Cooks Illustrated too. I always have fun reading their product reviews and tips.


Stay-At-Home-Chef April 11, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Will have to add this to my list for sure! One of my favourites is Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson, and Friday Night Dinners by Bonnie Stern. Great inspiration for our family dinners…


Ginny April 12, 2011 at 8:22 am

Thanks for the recommendations, and the comment!


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