I'm often often amused how America's Test Kitchen really appeals to my guy friends, a close second to Alton Brown's Good Eats. I think it must be the precision and the relentless pursue of perfection. I personally don't watch the show but every time I read the headnotes of their recipes, I am impressed by the thought process of which the author arrived at their final version of recipe. There are in fact plenty of parallels I can observe with the way we are taught in school for solving math, computer, and engineering problems. Their attention to detail is evident in the articulate directions that are useful to both novice and seasoned cooks alike.
On the other end of the spectrum, food blogs and reader submitted recipes are readily available all over the internet. As a home cook, how to tell the gems from the duds? I really wish I have a foolproof way to discern it myself. It really comes down to the reader's own cooking experience. Regardless of the quality of the dish itself, the art of recipe writing cannot be under estimated. I cannot tell you how many times I come across promising recipes that I never cook from due to inaccurate ingredients and ambiguous directions. I recently read a discussion on Serious Eats on recipe pet peeves. There are lots of practical tips on pitfalls to avoid. However, recipe is more than simply a set of steps. That is only the minimum requirement. Writers who infuse their recipes with charm, wittiness, and annecdotes that we can relate are the writings I return to again and again. That is the very reason why I don't cook too often from ATK's tried and true formulae.
Last night I made a vegan Hearty Ten Vegetable Stew which interestingly combined ATK's precision and a blogger's charm. The recipe of the stew is available at The Best Of America's Test Kitchen 2011 (not yet published on their website). It caught my attention immediately because of the huge amount of vegetable involved and the author's determination to create a hearty vegan stew packed with flavours. I have to agree that it was hugely successful and I did not miss the meat at all. The stew is built on mushroom, onion, carrot, celery, red pepper, celeriac, red potato, parsnip, swiss chard, and zucchini. It is seasoned with tomato paste, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, lemon juice, and parsley. The recipe called for vegetable stock, which is just the excuse I need to make 101 Cookbook's homemade bouillon. That's another bunch of aromatic vegetable! The bouillon is made with leek, fennel, carrot, celery, celeriac, garlic, shallot, sundried tomato, parsley, and cilantro. I practically cleared my vegetable crisper drawer making this stew.
There was ridiculous amount of cutting and chopping so if your knife skill is solid, it should not be an issue. Otherwise, budget a bit more time to prepare your vegetables. I absolutely love this stew and it is a much welcomed addition to my winter cooking repertoire. Flavour is not compromised and it is so satisfying. The best part? I can eat a huge bowl in one sitting without guilt because it is so low in calories!