THE YEAR IN COOKING
The 10 best recipes of 2007
Drum roll, please! Though so hard to choose, these were our favorite dishes from the L.A. Times Food section.
TOP OF THE HEAP: Caramel glaze spills down a brown sugar pound cake. (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times)
We couldn't resist Amy Scattergood's sautéed-shrimp taco topped with a pumpkin seed sauce vibrant with cilantro and chiles. She opened our eyes to making fantastic tacos at home. And we were dazzled by her crostini with English pea purée and Greek yogurt.
And there was Russ Parsons' squid stuffed with Italian sausage and braised chopped tomatoes and fingerling potatoes, exactly what we want to eat right now.
And we loved test kitchen director Donna Deane's lemon upside-down cake -- slices of lemons on top of the cake turned to a jammy richness. But we'd also fallen hard for a brown sugar pound cake with a caramel glaze that spilled down its sides, a recipe from Nancie McDermott's "Southern Cakes." It had it all -- it was luscious, gorgeous and easy to make.
Our new favorite hot-weather treat is the paleta, the Mexican ice pop that comes in every imaginable tropical fruit flavor, which Betty Hallock wrote about in the summer. Noelle Carter won us all over with her hot-and-cold paleta of cucumbers, lime juice and three kinds of chiles.
But what about that spectacular platter-size Pavlova heaped with fresh berries, or that delicious Tunisian lamb shank tagine. . . . ?
This year we couldn't help but pick out our top 10 plus 15 runners-up. The 10 best and runners-up can be found in the "Related Stories" links.
This year we couldn't help but pick out our top 10 plus 15 runners-up. The 10 best follow. Click here for the rest.
Brown sugar pound cake with caramel glaze
Total time: 45 minutes, plus baking and cooling time for the cake
Servings: 10 to 12
Note: This easy-to-make, delicious cake with a lush caramel glaze spilling down the sides was part of Charles Perry's Aug. 22 review of Nancie McDermott's "Southern Cakes."
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened, plus additional for greasing the pan
1 (1-pound) box dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and stir with a fork; set aside. Into a small bowl, pour the milk and add the vanilla; set aside.
3. With a mixer, beat the butter at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar in three batches, then add all of the white sugar, beating after each addition. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition.
4. Reduce the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture and then half the milk, beating until the flour or milk has disappeared into the batter. Add the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk in the same way. Quickly scrape the batter into the tube pan and bake until the cake is nicely browned at the edges, springs back when lightly touched at the center, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and leave it on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. Loosen the cake from the pan with a table knife and turn it out onto a wire rack or plate, then leave it to cool completely. When cool, glaze with caramel glaze.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup evaporated milk
4 cups sifted powder sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. In a large saucepan, place the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Stir until the butter melts and blends with the brown sugar to a smooth sauce, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the milk and let the icing come to a gentle boil. Stir well, remove from the heat and add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat well with a mixer, whisk or spoon until the glaze thickens and loses a little of its shine, 1 or 2 minutes.
3. Use at once. If the glaze hardens, stir in 1 or 2 spoonfuls of evaporated milk to soften it.
Each of 12 servings: 840 calories; 8 grams protein; 129 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 34 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 174 mg. cholesterol; 144 mg. sodium.
Meyer lemon posset
Total time: 25 minutes, plus at least 4 hours chilling time
Servings: 2 ( 1/2 -cup) portions
Note: It's nothing less than a Meyer lemon miracle -- just three ingredients that set up like a mousse, but with more lively flavor and a lovelier consistency. This recipe is from Regina Schrambling's Feb. 14 story on dinner for two.
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup superfine sugar
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1. Combine the cream and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring just to a simmer over medium-low heat and remove from the heat. Let stand until just cool, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
2. Stir in the lemon juice. Blend well. Divide between 2 goblets or small serving dishes and chill until firm, at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. Garnish with a sprig of mint, if desired, before serving.
Each serving: 546 calories; 3 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 44 grams fat; 27 grams saturated fat; 163 mg. cholesterol; 45 mg. sodium.
Shrimp tacos with pumpkin seed sauce
Total time: About 50 minutes
Note: A fabulous pumpkin seed sauce makes these shrimp tacos extraordinary. From Amy Scattergood's July 18 article about tacos. If you would like a spicier pumpkin seed sauce, double the amount of chiles.
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 serrano chile, seeded and inner ribs removed
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and inner ribs removed
1/4 large jicama, peeled
1 pound medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 small corn tortillas
1. Finely chop about a third of the cilantro to yield 2 tablespoons, setting aside the rest. In a small bowl, mix the chopped cilantro with the sour cream and set aside.
2. In a medium saute pan over medium heat, toast the pumpkin seeds until they pop and turn slightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes; do not let them brown. Set aside briefly to allow to cool.
3. In a food processor or blender, place the pumpkin seeds, olive oil, garlic, salt, chiles, remaining cilantro and one-half cup of water. Blend to a smooth paste.
4. Return the mixture to the saute pan, add one-half cup of water and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes to develop the flavors. Stir frequently to make sure the sauce doesn't burn and add more water if the sauce thickens too much or too quickly. Meanwhile, shred the jicama using a box grater. Refrigerate until needed.
5. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp. Cover and cook until the shrimp are pink, about 5 minutes, stirring and turning the shrimp occasionally for even cooking.
6. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat and warm the tortillas. Arrange two tortillas per plate, slightly overlapping. Divide the shrimp among the tortillas, add shredded jicama and a spoonful of cilantro sour cream. Serve immediately, with lime wedges.
Each serving: 471 calories; 32 grams protein; 33 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 24 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 185 mg. cholesterol; 365 mg. sodium.
Lemon upside-down cake
Total time: 55 minutes
Note: A marmalade-like top (or is it bottom?) with overlapping slices of lemons make this upside-down cake recipe from Donna Deane a standout. It's from a March 14 article about baking with lemons by Deane and Susan LaTempa. It may be served with a lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.
4 small lemons (about 4 ounces each)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter (1 1/4 sticks), divided
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1. Cut 3 of the lemons into one-eighth-inch thick slices. Remove seeds and set aside. You will have about 30 lemon slices. Grate 1 teaspoon lemon peel from the remaining lemon. Set aside the grated peel; save the lemon for another use.
2. Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or an ovenproof 10-inch saute pan until melted. Brush the sides of the skillet with a little of the melted butter. Add the brown sugar, stir until it is moistened with the butter and spread it into an even layer. Arrange the lemon slices, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom of the skillet. Set aside.
3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
4. Cut the remaining 6 tablespoons butter into a mixing bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the point of a knife onto the butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until creamy. Add the sugar and grated lemon peel and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
5. Add half the flour mixture and beat until blended. Add milk and beat until combined, then add the remaining flour mixture and beat until blended.
6. Spread the batter over the lemons in the skillet to cover evenly. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden and the center tests done. Let the cake stand 5 minutes, then invert the skillet onto a platter. To serve, slice into wedges with a sharp knife.
Each serving: 498 calories; 5 grams protein; 62 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 28 grams fat; 17 grams saturated fat; 122 mg. cholesterol; 274 mg. sodium.
Crostini with English pea puree and Greek yogurt
Total time: About 30 minutes
Servings: Makes 16 crostini
Note: Amy Scattergood turned blanched English peas into a velvety-textured topping for crostini, from her April 11 story on using a tamis.
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
5 tablespoons high-quality
olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (from about 1 1/2 large lemons)
16 slices of French baguette, cut 1/2 -inch thick on the bias
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups of shelled English peas
1 small clove of garlic, minced
Thinly sliced fresh mint for garnish
1. Mix the yogurt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, one-fourth teaspoon sea salt and the lemon peel in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Brush the bread with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with a little sea salt. Grill the bread over medium-high heat until golden. (You can use an indoor grill or toast the bread on the stove top in a cast iron pan or large skillet.)
3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a sauce pot, adding the kosher salt and sugar. Blanch the peas for about 3 minutes, until bright green and softened, and drain them.
4. While they're still warm, put the peas in a food processor with the garlic, one-fourth teaspoon sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until smooth.
5. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the pea mixture over each slice of grilled bread, spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons of yogurt on top of that, and sprinkle a little mint on top. Serve.
Each crostino: 97 calories; 3 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 mg. cholesterol; 163 mg. sodium.
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus freezing time
Servings: 9 (3-ounce) paletas
Note: Recipe tester Noelle Carter created this spicy-refreshing cucumber paleta recipe for Betty Hallock's Aug. 22 article on Mexican ice pops. Popsicle molds are available at select Bed, Bath & Beyond stores and online at Target.com and Amazon.com.
2 pounds (about 2 large) cucumbers, plus an additional half cucumber, divided
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 dried New Mexico chile pepper, slightly crushed
1 teaspoon New Mexico chile powder
1 teaspoon cayenne chile powder
1 teaspoon salt
1. Place empty ice-pop molds in the freezer to chill. Dice 2 pounds of the cucumber into 1-inch pieces; do not remove the skins. Place the pieces in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Strain into a medium bowl through a fine mesh strainer, pushing out the juice with some of the pulp. You should have 2 1/2 cups juice and pulp. Set aside.
2. Peel the remaining half-cucumber and cut it into one-half-inch-by-one-eighth-inch pieces. Set aside in a small bowl.
3. Add the lime juice, sugar and crushed chile pepper to a small sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly.
4. In a small bowl, combine the chile powders. Strain the cooled syrup into the bowl with the cucumber juice, discarding the crushed pepper. Stir in the salt and one-fourth teaspoon of the combined chile powders.
5. Pour some of the mixture into each mold, leaving about one-half inch of space at the top. Stir several pieces of cucumber into each mold. Place the lid on the molds and fit with the wooden stick. Place the molds in the freezer and freeze until solid, 2 to 4 hours.
6. Remove the molds from the freezer and run them briefly under warm water to loosen the paletas. Gently pull them from the molds and sprinkle the tops lightly with the remaining chile powder mixture to taste, if desired. Wrap the paletas in plastic wrap and return them to the freezer if not serving immediately. They will keep 1 to 2 weeks in the freezer.
Each paleta: 54 calories; 0 protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 263 mg. sodium.
Nectarine-berry pie with black pepper crust
Total time: About 2 hours
Note: Donna Deane's dream of a summer pie, with juicy fruit and a flaky crust spiced with black pepper, comes from a July 4 story by her and Susan LaTempa. For Demerara sugar, you may substitute any large-crystal sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces, plus 1 tablespoon butter, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces, divided
4 tablespoons ice water
10 nectarines (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch slices
2 cups blackberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Demerara sugar
1. Combine the flour, three-fourths teaspoon salt and black pepper. Add the two-thirds cup of butter pieces and toss to coat. Use a pastry blender or your hands to work the butter into the dry ingredients until small pieces of butter remain and the flour-butter mixture resembles coarse-ground meal with no large pieces of butter visible.
2. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough holds together and forms a ball. On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough in half and shape into two equal disks. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the nectarines, blackberries and lemon juice. You should have about 4 cups of fruit. Let stand while rolling out the dough.
4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to stand 10 to 15 minutes. Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle about one-eighth-inch thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin. Carefully lift the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate and gently press it into the bottom and up the sides, leaving excess dough hanging over the edge.
5. Roll out the second round of dough into a rectangle about 13 by 10 inches and one-fourth-inch thick. Cut the dough lengthwise into eight strips about 1-inch-wide.
6. In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and remaining one-fourth teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture over the fruit, stirring to coat. Then stir in the corn syrup. Fill the pie shell with the fruit and juices. Sprinkle over the remaining 1 tablespoon cut-up butter.
7. Lay half the strips of dough over the top of the pie. Lay the remaining strips of dough diagonally over the top of the first strips. Or weave the strips by laying 4 strips over the top of the pie. Fold the first and third strips back (about three-fourths of the way across the pie), then place a strip across the second and fourth strips. Unfold the first and third strips over the perpendicular strip. Fold the second and fourth strips back; add another strip across the first and third strips. Now unfold the second and fourth strips. Repeat with 2 more strips of dough, working your way across the pie.
8. Pinch the edges of the dough together and fold the edges under to fit the pie dish. Pressing the rim of the dough between two fingers, flute the edges. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes until the pie is well browned and bubbly. Let the pie cool to warm before serving.
Each serving: 444 calories; 7 grams protein; 70 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 17 grams fat; 19 grams saturated fat; 67 mg. cholesterol; 315 mg. sodium.
Sausage-stuffed squid braised with tomatoes and potatoes
Total time: About 1 hour, 10 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Note: Russ Parsons developed this recipe to accompany his Jan. 31 article about California's $230-million-a-year squid catch.
3/4 pound fingerling or other small potatoes
1/3 pound Italian sausage (about 1 link)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
12 squid tubes (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes and juice
2 tablespoons capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut the potatoes into bite-size pieces and place in a pot of simmering water fitted with a steamer or rack. Steam until tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Remove the sausage meat from the skin and crumble it into a mixing bowl. Add the bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon parsley and beat together with a wooden spoon until well mixed. It will form a pretty tight ball. Add the egg and continue mixing until the egg is well incorporated. The mixture will loosen up a lot.
3. Fill the squid tubes with the sausage mixture. You can do this with your fingers or with a small spoon, but by far the easiest way is to use a pastry bag. Fill the squid no more than half full; the mixture will expand during cooking. Depending on the size of the squid, there may be some sausage mixture left over. Seal the openings with toothpicks.
4. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is quite hot, add the stuffed squid and cook on both sides until the surface begins to color, about 2 minutes total.
5. Remove the squid to a plate and keep warm. Empty all but about 1 tablespoon of the oil from the skillet, leaving behind any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
6. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add crushed red pepper flakes and the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to free any of those browned bits. Cook until the wine reduces to a syrup, about 5 minutes.
7. Add the tomatoes and juice and cook until they begin to thicken, about 3 minutes. Add the capers and season with salt and pepper.
8. Return the squid to the pan, reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer gently 15 minutes. Add the cooked potatoes, replace the lid, and simmer until the squid can be easily pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes more.
9. Spoon into warmed broad soup or pasta bowls and sprinkle with more parsley. Remove toothpicks and serve immediately.
Each of 6 servings: 275 calories; 17 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 11 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 220 mg. cholesterol; 382 mg. sodium.
Braised zucchini with mint and lemon
Total time: About 1 hour
Servings: 4 to 6
Note: This sweet zucchini braised to a buttery softness is from Russ Parsons' Aug. 15 story on slow-cooked summer vegetables.
2 pounds zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped mint, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1. Cut the ends from each zucchini, slice the zucchini in quarters lengthwise and then cut the quarters in half crosswise. You'll have large pieces of zucchini about 2 to 3 inches long.
2. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, warm the olive oil and the onion over medium-low heat until the onion softens and becomes fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, the garlic, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon mint and 2 tablespoons of water and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is extremely tender and almost translucent, about 25 minutes. There should be some liquid still in the bottom of the pan.
3. Remove the lid, add the lemon juice and increase heat to high. When the liquid begins to bubble, remove from heat and set aside uncovered. When the zucchini is at warm room temperature, stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons mint and the pine nuts, then taste and add more salt and lemon juice if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Each of 6 servings: 96 calories; 3 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 7 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 400 mg. sodium.
Total time: 3 to 4 hours, plus overnight marination
Servings: 6 to 8
Notes: These succulent ribs, spiced with Mexican oregano and chipotles are from Regina Schrambling's April 18 story about cooking meat slowly at low temperature, for serious tenderness and concentrated flavor.
2 racks (5 to 6 pounds total) baby back or spare ribs
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Juice of 2 large limes
4 to 6 chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
1/2 cup peanut oil
1. Wash and pat the ribs dry. Remove the silver skin (the membrane on the underside of the ribs): Nudge a blunt knife or the back end of a spoon between the ribs and membrane. When enough membrane is loosened to get a good finger hold, simply pull the membrane off the rack -- it should come off fairly easily.
2. Lay the ribs in a glass or ceramic dish. Combine the salt, sugar, oregano and cumin and mix well, then sprinkle evenly over both sides of the ribs. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator, uncover them and let them come to room temperature over 2 hours.
3. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, chipotles and oil. Wipe or rinse the ribs to remove the excess salt and sugar, and dry the meat well. Lay them on a baking sheet and spoon the mixture evenly over the ribs.
4. Bake the ribs until they are tender (a knife inserted between the ribs will slide in with no resistance), 3 to 4 1/2 hours. Slice the ribs to separate them and serve.
Each of 8 servings: 667 calories; 35 grams protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 56 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 168 mg. cholesterol; 368 mg. sodium.