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Cook by the Book: The Best Recipes in the World

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Mark Bittman is my kind of cookbook writer. He manages to take complicated recipes and make them simple. The other thing I appreciate about Bittman is that he is not a chef. While I love what restaurant chefs do, it does not always translate successfully to the home. Or the home cook.

Recently I was interviewed about a certain publication that refers to it's recipes as the best. I slammed them. How can there really be a "best"? I'm still not sure there is a best--but there are "best loved" recipes and the latest cookbook by Bittman, The Best Recipes in the World (more than 1000 recipes, $29.95) manages to capture a lot of them. This book is a great introduction to many wonderful cuisines around the world. Is it the definitive Italian cookbook, Mexican cookbook, Chinese cookbook? No. But it is an awfully good start.

Unlike some of his other books this one does assume a certain level of basic cooking knowledge. But for the advanced beginner none of the recipes should be too challenging. Some great features of this book include a guide to which recipes are "make ahead", can be served at room temperature or cold, or can be cooked in thirty minutes or less. There is also an index of recipes by cuisine in addition to the standard alphabetic one.

Criticisms? Not all the recipes get the names in the original language. I'm not sure why. A lack of photographs makes it hard to know what dishes should look like when completed, and very few illustrations demonstrate techniques. Other than that, this one's a keeper!

Here's a braised gingery peanut chicken recipe from the book for you to try:


Nketia Fla (Ghana)
Groundnut (Peanut) Stew with Chicken
Makes 4 servings
Time about 1 1/2 hours largely unattended

2 tablespoons corn, grapeseed or other neutral oil
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine)
1 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade
3/4 cup natural peanut butter, preferably chunky

1. Put the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, put chicken in the skillet, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper and brown well, rotating and turning them as necessary, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate and drain all but two tablespoons of the fat.

2. Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes have softened, about 5 minutes.

3. Return the chicken pieces to the casserole and add 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

4. Whisk or blend together the remaining chicken stock and the peanut butter; stir the mixture into the stew. Cook for another 20 minutes or so, then taste, adjust seasoning, and serve.

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