We at the Food section aren't immune, which is why we're happy to present our annual Best Recipes List.
If the recipes have something in common, it's a lovely simplicity, a casualness that's the essence of Southern California. Rich, meaty short ribs braised with mushrooms. Duck legs appetizingly roasted with mustard. A carne asada sandwich garnished with avocados and a smoky dose of chipotle. An irresistible polenta enlivened with chile poblano.
This was also a banner year for desserts. A luscious pear cobbler with crisp hazelnut biscuits. Drop-dead honey-brandy ice cream topped with fig jam. A light, gingery creme fraiche cheesecake. Or even the simple majesty of the biggest chocolate chip cookie you ever saw, a cookie as big as a pizza.
Here, then, is our modest contribution to listomania.
Pear cobbler with hazelnut biscuits
Total time: 40 minutes, plus at least
1 hour chilling time
Note: Our favorite dish of the year appeared in a September book review of Wayne Harley Brachman's "American Desserts" (Clarkson Potter). It's a pear cobbler made luscious with cream and Marsala, garnished with irresistible hazelnut-scented biscuits.
1 3/4 cups cake flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup skinned, roasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pea-size bits
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup hazelnut liqueur
1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
3 tablespoons finely chopped hazelnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse-grain or granulated sugar, for sprinkling
1. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and coarsely chopped hazelnuts in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, a mixer with the flat beater attachment or your fingertips, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in the cream and hazelnut liqueur to form a soft dough.
2. Knead for just 10 seconds, then lightly flour the dough and pat it out to 1-inch thickness on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate for 1 to 8 hours.
3. Heat the oven to 375 degrees, placing a rack in the middle position. Uncover the dough and use a round cutter to cut out 2 1/4-inch biscuits. Pat the scraps together and recut to make a total of 8 biscuits. Arrange them at 2-inch intervals on a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet.
4. Brush a light coating of egg wash on the biscuits. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the finely chopped hazelnuts and one-half teaspoon sugar on each biscuit.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until slightly tan and springy. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack to cool.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 pounds Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
1/2 cup whipping cream
1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat. Stir in the brown sugar. Add the pears and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
2. Carefully add the Marsala, standing away from the pan, as the mixture may start to flame. After 2 minutes, any flames should subside. Add the cream and cook for 3 more minutes to thicken.
3. Top with the biscuits and serve immediately.
Each serving: 649 calories; 6 grams protein; 76 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 34 grams fat; 17 grams saturated fat; 83 mg. cholesterol; 276 mg. Sodium
Cardamom sweet rolls
Total time: 50 minutes, plus 2 1/2 hours rising time
Note: Three weeks ago, Test Kitchen director Donna Deane argued for treating cardamom as a regular holiday spice that could be used wherever you'd use cinnamon. These sweet rolls had a double dose of its sweet, aromatic, magical flavor, both in the dough and in the topping.
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
3/4 cup milk, divided
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2 teaspoons cardamom seeds, crushed using a mortar and pestle, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup butter, softened, plus some to butter a bowl, divided
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons toasted chopped hazelnuts
1. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir to dissolve. Let the yeast mixture stand while preparing the remaining ingredients.
2. Heat one-half cup of the milk in a small saucepan to just simmering. Remove it from the heat and add the cut-up butter, stirring until melted. Stir in 2 teaspoons cardamom, one-half cup granulated sugar and the salt. Allow the mixture to cool to warm.
3. Pour the warm milk mixture into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the yeast mixture. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Add enough of the remaining flour to make the dough easy to handle.
4. Lightly flour a board and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
5. Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough with butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Roll the dough with a rolling pin into an 18-by-12-inch rectangle. Spread 2 tablespoons of the softened butter to within half an inch of the edge of dough. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar combined with the remaining one-half teaspoon cardamom.
7. Using your hands, roll the dough up tightly from the long side to form a cylinder. Slice into 12 rolls. Place the cut rolls in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
8. While the rolls are baking, make a glaze by combining the powdered sugar, the remaining one-fourth cup milk, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the vanilla. Stir until smooth.
9. Remove the rolls from the oven and let them stand for 5 minutes, then drizzle with the glaze and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.
Each serving: 426 calories; 7 grams protein; 68 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 68 mg. cholesterol; 215 mg. Sodium
Star anise and grapefruit granita
Total time: 20 minutes, plus 2 hours freezing time
Servings: 4 to 6
Note: You'd think that granita, an alluring sweet of glittering ice crystals, would be a regular craze around July. It's lighter than ice cream, easier to make than sorbet and just darned pretty to look at. You don't even need any special equipment for it -- just a baking dish, a freezing compartment and a fork. Nadia Roden's "Granita Magic" (Artisan) seems to be the first book on the subject in English, and this was our favorite recipe from it. Roden suggests saving the star anise from the liquid to decorate the granita at the table.
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
4 to 6 star anise
Juice of 4 large yellow grapefruits (about 2 cups)
1. Put the water, sugar, zest and star anise in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, allowing the star anise to infuse until the mixture is cool.
2. Remove the star anise, or leave them in if you prefer a stronger spice flavor. Mix in the grapefruit juice. Pour the juice mixture into a wide, shallow container and cover with foil or plastic wrap. Put in the freezer and allow it to freeze around the edge, 1 to 2 hours.
3. Take the container out of the freezer and scrape the ice with a fork, mixing it from the edge into the center. Return to the freezer. Repeat this scraping and mixing process every half-hour until the entire mixture has turned into small, sequined ice flakes, at least three repetitions. If you have left the star anise in for stronger flavor, remove it before serving.
4. Serve the granita at once. If you leave it in the freezer overnight, let it set at room temperature until it softens a little, about 10 minutes, and then scrape it again with a fork to lighten the texture.
Each serving: 97 calories; 0 protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 1 mg. sodium.
Chile poblano polenta
Total time: 30 minutes
Note: The poblano is the upscale chile, Barbara Hansen pointed out in September -- beautiful, complex and aristocratic. It contributed all that elegance to this polenta containing both cream and crema, the Mexican equivalent of the French creme fraiche, suitable to accompany grilled quail, roasted chicken or grilled meat. The recipe is adapted from one by Benito Molina Dubost at Manzanilla restaurant in Ensenada. Mexican crema is available at Latino markets and many supermarkets.
4 poblano chiles, roasted and peeled
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 1/2 cups instant polenta 1/2 cup Mexican crema
1. Remove the stems, seeds and veins from the chiles. Cut them into thick slices. Place the slices in a blender and add the whipping cream and water. Blend until smooth.
2. Pour the mixture into a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and add the butter, salt and pepper. Slowly stir in the polenta. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking and stirring for 3 minutes until the polenta grains have softened. Serve with a dollop of the Mexican crema as garnish.
Each serving: 319 calories; 5 grams protein; 34 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 51 mg. cholesterol; 800 mg. sodium.
Duck legs roasted with mustard
Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Servings: 2 to 4
Note: "Why treat duck as winter food?" asked Regina Schrambling in July. Her recipe, adapted from Madeleine Kamman's "In Madeleine's Kitchen" (Collier Books, 1984), showed that roasted duck legs are almost as good as confit, and they can be served the same way: on mesclun or in a creamy potato salad sharpened with capers, cornichons and a bed of frisee.
4 duck legs (thighs included, about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence, crumbled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup panko or other dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
6 cups mesclun or other greens
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Rinse the duck legs and pat them dry. Rub them all over with the herbes de Provence. Season well with salt and pepper. Spread the mustard over the skin side of each leg to coat thinly. Lay the legs in a shallow baking dish, leaving space between them. Sprinkle evenly with the panko or bread crumbs and drizzle evenly with the melted butter.
3. Roast 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the coating is crisp. Serve on a bed of mesclun (no dressing is necessary as the duck juices and mustard will coat the salad).
Each of four servings: 421 calories; 41 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 24 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 177 mg. cholesterol; 557 mg. sodium.
Water Grill cheesecake
Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes, plus 2 hours chilling
Servings: 10 to 12
Note: Water Grill pastry chef Wonyee Tom devised the lightest cheesecake imaginable, which she serves in a ginger-cornmeal crust, elegantly garnished with a tuile biscuit, candied ginger and ginger blackberry-raspberry sauce. In May, we adapted her recipe for home use by expanding her miniature individual cheesecakes to full size and forgoing the tuile and candied ginger. Amazingly, it tasted just as good.
Ginger cornmeal crust
3 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup instant cornmeal (polenta)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat to a creamy consistency. Once the mixture is smooth, add the flour, cornmeal and ginger, and mix to combine. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.
3. Bake until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (save bean for other use)
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup lemon juice
4 1/2 ounces creme fraiche
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1. Place the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla bean seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs and egg white, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract, lemon juice, creme fraiche and cream and mix well.
2. Pour into the baked crust and bake until the center is set, 50 to 55 minutes.
3. Refrigerate the cheesecake 2 to 4 hours before removing it from the pan.
Ginger berry sauce
2 pints blackberries
2 pints raspberries
6 tablespoons sugar
3 ounces fresh ginger, sliced
1. Set aside half the blackberries and half the raspberries.
2. Combine the remaining blackberries and raspberries, the sugar and the ginger in a saucepan. Cook on low to medium heat until the berries have released all their juices, about 15 minutes.
3. Strain through a fine strainer, pressing down with a wooden spoon, and return the liquid to the saucepan, discarding the solids. Cook until the sauce is reduced by two-thirds. Drizzle the sauce over the chilled cheesecake and garnish with the reserved berries.
Each of 12 servings: 403 calories; 117 mg. sodium; 120 mg. cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 17 grams saturated fat; 36 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 6 grams fiber.
Mushroom braised short ribs
Total time: 4 1/2 hours, plus overnight seasoning time
Yield: 6 servings
Note: Beef short ribs were suddenly the fashionable cut in restaurants during September. Regina Schrambling explained why: rich flavor combined with versatility. Unlike many other strong meats, short ribs respond enthusiastically to whatever flavorings you want to add. In this recipe, adapted from "Tom Valenti's Soups, Stews and One-Pot Meals" by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman (Scribner), morel or porcini mushrooms extend the ribs' rich beefiness.
6 pounds short ribs, about 6 (10-inch) pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 cups dry white wine
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
9 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup dried morel or porcini mushrooms, rinsed
1. The day before cooking, season the ribs with the salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a roasting pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the ribs and brown on all sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, broth, thyme and bay leaf. Stir in the mushrooms. Bring to a boil over high heat.
4. Return the ribs to the pan, cover with foil and braise in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and cook 3 more hours, or until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone.
5. To serve, remove the ribs from the braising liquid and divide among 6 warm, shallow bowls. (Leave the bones for a dramatic presentation.) Remove the mushrooms and reserve. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the solids. Skim off and discard the fat from the liquid. Add the reserved mushrooms and pass as a sauce.
Each serving: 641 calories; 50 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 34 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 109 mg. cholesterol; 210 mg. sodium.
Carne asada sandwiches with avocados and chipotle mayonnaise
Total time: 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes marinating time
Note: In August, Russ Parsons' home avocado tree was showering him with fruit. With so many avocados to deal with, he had to create all sorts of ways to serve them. Here avocado adds a welcome note of richness to a spicy steak sandwich. Markets in Latino neighborhoods usually sell thin cuts of round steak for making carne asada. If you can't find it, substitute flank steak, skirt steak or even rib-eye and slice it thinly after grilling.
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds round steak ( 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon pureed canned chipotle en adobo, with sauce
2 avocados, halved and pitted
6 bolillo rolls, focaccia rolls or other high-quality buns
1. Rinse the sliced red onion in a strainer under cold running water. Pat it dry, place it in a bowl and cover it with the red wine vinegar. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
2. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with 1 teaspoon salt to make a paste. Add 1 tablespoon of the lime juice and incorporate it into the garlic. Slowly add the olive oil, stirring with the pestle to incorporate it too. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, use a food processor.
3. Spoon half the garlic mixture over the steak, spreading it with the back of a spoon. Season well with salt. Turn the meat over and do the same with the other side.
4. In another small bowl, use a spoon to beat together the mayonnaise, pureed chipotle and the remaining 1 tablespoon of the lime juice.
5. Cut the pitted avocados into thin slices and carefully peel away the skin.
6. Grill the beef over high heat. If you're using round steak, cook about 3 minutes on the first side, then turn and cook for 1 or 2 minutes more. The meat should be medium rare in the center. If you're using a thicker cut, leave the meat rarer in the center, cooking 6 or 7 minutes per side. Set the meat aside while you build the sandwiches.
7. Cut the rolls in half and spread with the chipotle mayonnaise, about 1 tablespoon for each half. Arrange the avocado slices on the top half of the roll, then add a couple of onion rings.
8. If you're using round steak, cut the meat into pieces roughly the size of the bread and arrange on top of the onion rings. If you're using a thicker cut, slice it thinly across the grain and then arrange it on the sandwich. Add the bottom half of the roll and press gently to compact everything together. Turn the sandwich right side up to serve.
Each serving: 650 calories; 47 grams protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 35 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 113 mg. cholesterol; 869 mg. sodium.
Total time: 35 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling
Servings: 24 (3 cookies)
Note: For the Super Bowl we wanted big food, so Donna Deane created these chocolate chip cookies as big as pizzas. To keep them in proportion, she substituted chocolate chunks for dinky little chocolate bits, and she added toffee chips for crunch and a drizzle of melted chocolate for, well, more chocolate. The result is a cookie lover's dream -- the cookie so big you probably can't even finish it.
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chunks
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
English toffee bits, divided
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. Stir together the flour, baking soda and salt.
2. Cream the butter and brown and granulated sugars. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Beat in the vanilla, then the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chunks, 1 cup English toffee bits and nuts. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Use a 9-inch cake pan to trace a circle onto each of 3 parchment-lined baking sheets. Divide the dough into thirds. Press dough evenly to fill the circles. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
5. Bake the cookies until browned and done in the center, about 20 minutes. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the top and sprinkle with the remaining toffee chips. Cut each cookie into 8 slices.
Each serving: 360 calories; 241 mg. sodium; 41 mg. cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 44 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.73 grams fiber.
Honey-brandy ice cream with fig jam
Total time: 35 minutes plus several hours cooling and freezing time
Servings: 6 to 8
Note: Emily Green made the case for honey in September, recommending musky avocado honey for an ice cream topped with a late summer treat: fresh fig jam. The jam recipe is from Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Fruit" (Harper Collins). The ice cream recipe is adapted from "Leaves From the Walnut Tree," by Ann and Franco Taruschio (Pavilion).
1 3/4 pounds ripe figs (about
6 cups quartered)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1. Cut the tough ends off the figs. Quarter the figs and place in a medium saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest, salt and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, until the figs are soft and translucent.
2. Puree the mixture in a food mill. Return it to the saucepan. Cook over low heat until it is a very thick paste, about 15 minutes.
Honey-brandy ice cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup avocado blossom honey
1/4 cup brandy
1. Heat the milk and cream together in a large saucepan until scalding but not boiling. Remove from heat.
2. Stir a little of the hot milk into the beaten eggs, then return the mixture to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens slightly. Do not boil.
3. Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the honey until blended, then add the brandy. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps.
4. Chill in the refrigerator several hours or overnight, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. This ice cream tastes best served right from the ice cream maker, topped with a spoon of fig jam. Otherwise, spoon the ice cream into a chilled glass bowl and cover before freezing. Remove from the freezer to temper 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Each serving: 480 calories; 6 grams protein; 68 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 21 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 173 mg. cholesterol; 146 mg. sodium.