Cookbook review written by contributing writer Aimée White
Canadian Living: The International Collection is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores
For additional information on this book please visit Random House Inc.
Canadian Living has come out with a brilliant new cookbook, titled The International Collection: Home-Cooked Meals From Around the World (published by Random House Inc., $27.95 CDN). Its premise is a beautiful one. In the opening pages, Canadian Living’s Food Director, Annabelle Waugh, explains how a multicultural team of first and second generation Canadians assembled the contents of this cookbook in the Canadian Living Test Kitchen. Not intentionally, but simply because they represent a microcosm of present-day Canada: a rich array of cultures, ethnicities, and traditions. In Waugh’s words, “Canadian cooking has been largely built upon a foundation of recipes that were brought to this country by immigrants… [their] cooking styles have become integral parts of the beautiful mosaic that makes up Canada’s culinary culture.”
The goal of this cookbook is to introduce a rich array of home cooked, international dishes into Canadian kitchens but without going broke at speciality food stores in the process. The idea is to make foreign dishes accessible and attainable, and that’s definitely a goal I can stand behind. There is just so much to explore in international food culture, and Canadians can benefit greatly from the traditions and recipes that new (and not so new) Canadian families bring with them.
As you can see by the yellow sticky notes in my first recipe test, there are countless recipes in this book I’m dying to try! Canadian Living provides a wide variety of recipes that represent every region of the world. One element of the book that really stood out to me was on the very last page: 12 regionally inspired or country-specific menus drawn from the recipes in the book. These meal plans are great inspiration for people who may not have dabbled much in international cuisine, or if you just don’t have enough energy or time to think about putting together a plan of your own at the end of the day. And let’s be honest, that can happen!
Unfortunately there were also a few minor things I didn’t like about this cookbook, including the fact that I didn’t love the overall layout of the recipes. Several of the recipes I looked at worked in reverse order of the ingredient list when explaining the method. The method was also written in paragraph form in the middle of the page, with ingredients on the outer margin. At times it made for recipes that didn’t read smoothly or feel intuitive. There were also many occasions when I wished the recipes included details on preparation time. I walked through many of the recipes in my head in order to get an estimate on time, and on more than one occasion I guessed wrong.
That being said, in terms of the general content and layout I really liked the fact that they made two mains sections: the first being for every day mains, the second category being for entertaining. A nice distinction, because there really is a difference is most cases.
At the end of the day, once I got past the layout of the recipes I saw that they were well-written and informative. Each one I tested met with great success, which is a credit to both the recipe writers and the editors. I would thus highly recommend buying this book. It is diverse enough to challenge even the most adventurous cook, while still being accessible enough for a newcomer to international cuisine. It’s an excellent collection of recipes and a cookbook with heart; a winning combination if you ask me.
For a sample recipe from this cookbook, please click here
Curried Plantain Beef Stew
RATING: 4 out of 5 (warming, delicious stew but takes longer than expected)
The Test: I have to be honest: I go a little weak in the knees for curry. The smell alone drives me wild! While flipping through this cookbook for the first (of many) times, I peppered its pages with mini sticky notes. So much to try; so little time! But naturally, and always, I gravitate toward curry. As luck would have it, I got to try making a curry dish in a food tradition and region with which I have limited experience – the Caribbean. It was this fact that helped me justify making another curry-based dish for my recipe test. The tried and true flavour of curry, but with a fresh twist for the usual dinner repertoire.
Another selling feature of the recipe? The plantains. I first tried plantains when I spent a week on a mountaintop in Haiti – long story – and when I got home I tried frying them (blind, sans recipe) the way the ladies in the village did. I failed miserably, despite the encouraging smiles of my family for whom I had prepared the dish. Six years later and here I am finally giving plantains another shot! Thanks to a cooking class I took this past summer in Halifax with Chef Renée Lavallee, I already knew how best to peel these bad boys. Despite their similar appearance, plantains are much tougher to peel than bananas. They’re also quite starchy, similar to a potato. To peel your plantain, cut four moderately deep, vertical slits into the skin, top to bottom. Then break (if under-ripe) or peel (if ripe) the skin off. You’ll really have to work at getting the peel off if the plantains aren’t ripe, and it’s a good idea to use these under-ripe ones if they are going to be slow-cooked or twice fried. Because this recipe called for them to be added only in the final 20 minutes of cooking, I opted for ripe plantains.
The Results: The recipe is quite straightforward but did take a long time to execute, making our dinner a late 9:30pm. Do plan ahead when making this dish, as you’ll need a solid four hours at least. We also only ate this as a stew and served it with bread, not over rice as the book suggested. Why? The suggestion to serve the stew over rice was lost in the introduction of the recipe at the top of the page. I had read the suggestion for rice as an accompaniment over a week before testing the recipe, so when I finally started preparing the dish I only looked at the list of ingredients and methodology. It wasn’t until 10 minutes before the stew was finished that I saw the suggestion again. Let’s just say that at 9pm I was in no mood to start making rice with such a hungry belly. This is another example of the awkward layout I mentioned earlier. In my opinion the rice should have been included in the ingredients list, or even as ‘optional’, if this is the traditional way of serving the stew.
Rice or no rice, what a satisfying, warming bowl of goodness! In the end, I was glad I forgot the rice because the stew was so filling and delicious that the rice was definitely not missed. It might not be the prettiest stew to look at, but the tartness of the tomatoes, the spicy curry, and the starchy plantains and sweet potatoes was a great way to end the day. A hearty and utterly scrumptious stew; perfect for a chilly night.
RATING: 5 out of 5 (quick, easy, & packed with flavour!)
The Test: I’m pretty sure that testing this recipe was written in the stars for me. I had already chosen two recipes from this cookbook, but was undecided about the third. I hadn’t looked through the book in a few days when I found myself in a part of town that I’m not usually in, which has a fantastic Middle Eastern food center. I dropped in and browsed around, got some tahini and red lentils. I got the tahini because I’ve always wanted to try making hummus, but forgot to get chickpeas. Whoops. Originally I had bought the lentils because there’s a red lentil soup I really like to make in winter. When I got home, I took a look through the book again and – lo and behold! – there was Lentil Hummus. With red lentils no less. I was definitely sceptical of how it would turn out without the chickpeas. It just seemed so wrong! Taboo, even. However, the recipe looked simple and quick so I figured it was worth a shot.
The Results: Who knew red lentils would work so well in humus! Unless someone had told me otherwise, I would have thought it would end up a thinner version of chickpea hummus. Taste and texture-wise, the hummus was remarkably similar to one made with chickpeas. I loved the ratios of garlic, onion, and lemon juice. It made for a fragrant and powerful hummus, just the way I like mine.
When boiled, the red lentils take on a light brown hue so the colour was also quite similar. Considering this took a total of 20 minutes to make and was absolutely delicious, I’ll be making it often. It’s perfect to whip up if your dinner is taking longer than you expected, or for a quick after school snack for the kids, or for friends who drop in unexpectedly over the holidays.
RATING: 5 out of 5 (an end product of which you can truly be proud, definitely worth the time and effort)
The Test: As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I would have to include it as one of my recipe tests. For the first time in years here was my chance to taste my beloved panettone! I immediately went online and ordered some paper panettone moulds, that’s how committed I was to the idea!
I first tried this Italian Christmas bread while working in Germany. My boss, Paolo, who hailed from the Italian part of Switzerland, had the most trouble-making sweet tooth I’ve ever come across. Trouble-making for me, I should add. Lean and fit, Paolo would sashay into work every day with chocolates, marzipan, pastries, cakes… if it was covered in sugar you could bet he had a limitless supply on hand. “Oh, but I got this when I was home in Switzerland and it’s just gorgeous! It’s very special! Just try a little?” Of all the sweets and treats I was privy to that year, there was something special about panettone that warmed my heart. The spongy texture, buttery flavour, and subtle, citrusy sweetness were simply irresistible. Paolo would sweep into work with it in those pretty boxes tied with ribbon, and friends? That’s when I found true love.
With my heart now set on making the bread, and the panettone moulds safely stowed in my kitchen, I finally read through the recipe for the first time start to finish. I read it over and over and over again, until – mouth agog – I exclaimed, “it takes how long to make?!” I added up the hours in my head through each stage of the method and realized it was going to be an all day event. However, I was not to be deterred! I booked a whole Saturday in my kitchen to devote to this recipe. The ingredients were simple enough, but would I have enough stamina to hack the intricately timed steps?
The Results: I started making the dough for the sponge at 8:45AM and the final product went in the oven at 4:30PM. My panettone came out of the oven at 6:10PM and I was enjoying a piece by about 8 o’clock at night, with eyes closed and a stupid grin on my face. Oh, the nostalgia! Was it worth it? Completely.
Yes, it takes ages to make, but it’s honestly not as mysterious and difficult to make as I had originally built it up to be. If you happen to be hanging around the house for the day, it’s pretty easy to just watch the clock and check on it as instructed in the recipe. The ingredients are simple, the method straightforward, it just takes a real investment of time.
The panettone is so completely satisfying in taste, smell, and texture that I’m positive you will feel as pleased with yourself as I did if you give this recipe a try. My whole house smelled like butter for about 2 days afterward, and it was absolutely intoxicating while the bread was baking. With the holidays just around the corner, panettone is a wonderful treat to make for family and friends either as gifts or as part of any merry-making breakfasts. With all of the effort it takes, it’s truly a treat from the heart.