There's rarely a dull moment in the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen. One day we're perfecting a great chef's mind-blowing technique for slow-roasting, the next we're adding bacon to breakfast sweet rolls, because ... bacon.
We tested hundreds of recipes in 2014 — restaurant favorites, home cook specials and everything in between. Choosing just 10 from that number as our best is always difficult, but it seemed even more so in 2014.
What did we come up with? A little bit of everything, actually. We've got a couple of technique-heavy recipes that will challenge even experienced cooks up for a weekend project, and we've got a couple of dishes that are so simple — but so delicious — that you'll adapt them into your regular weeknight rotation.
French toast flavored with pumpkin pie spices, roasted carrots paired with avocado, breakfast muffins that come with their own coffee and a horseradish sauce that will clear your sinuses while it's making everything taste better. These are just a few of our best recipes of the year.
And, because we couldn't stop at just 10, we're including five bonus recipes online — a whole-grain salad perfect for dinner, a camping-friendly dessert, an ornate rabbit stew, a sorbet made from a chile pepper and our best version of grilled cauliflower yet.
That's the kind of year 2014 was.
Providence restaurant's Michael Cimarusti has a knack for coming up with creative techniques that not only take great ingredients to the next level but also can be used over and over again in different dishes. In the case of this recipe, it's the way he roasts the fish: slowly, with breaks in between to ensure the delicate flesh doesn't overcook.
Too many autumn lattes got you burned out on pumpkin pie spice? Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter took that as a challenge, developing this French toast that uses the signature mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger and allspice in a more creative way. It's the perfect antidote for anyone who shudders at the idea of one more sweet-spiced coffee.
Just when you thought there was no possible food combination that hadn't been explored, along comes Huckleberry's Zoe Nathan and this wholly unlikely, though totally delicious, mixture of carrots and avocados. Carrots and what? You heard right. It might sound strange, but trust us, the result is terrific.
Sometimes it seems as if Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter is just teasing us with her devotion to the idea that bacon can make any dish better. And then she comes up with something like these cinnamon rolls to remind us that she's deadly serious, and, what's more, she's absolutely right.
Every year there's at least one recipe that has us going back into the Test Kitchen and asking, "Shouldn't we try that one more time?" It's certainly not that there's anything wrong with the dish, in fact, quite the opposite. These muffins from Sweet Butter bakery in Sherman Oaks win this year's "Please, ma'am, I want some more" award.
Many people don't cook dried beans because of the mistaken belief that they need to be soaked overnight first. Who can think that far in advance? Fortunately, with most types of beans, that's really not necessary. If you have any doubts, try these vegetarian black beans from Food Editor Russ Parsons, made smoky by dried morita or chipotle chiles.
Restaurant-wise, 2014 was the year Southern California seemed to go Sichuan, with folks waiting for hours to get a table at Szechuan Impressions and Chengdu Taste. Thanks to Fuchsia Dunlop, author of "Every Grain of Rice," you don't even have to leave the house to get a good Sichuan burn. These stuffed wontons are delicious and easily made at home.
A big part of good home cooking is taking what you have and making something delicious. And when Food Editor Russ Parsons' garden was overflowing with fava beans, this was what resulted. On the other hand, braised beans with garlic and mint, burrata and chopped pistachios — how could you go wrong?
Nancy Silverton knows a good thing when she tastes it. This pungent sauce, adapted from a recipe by her friend, Jar chef Suzanne Tracht, is what inspired a love affair with locally made Atomic brand horseradish, the only one that she says gives the perfect blend of heat (from horseradish and mustard oil) and sweet (from parsnips)Recipe: Farro salad with smoked chicken
Bread dumplings might seem like the definition of bland and boring, but this Austrian version from Bernhard Mairinger, chef at the upcoming Bierbeisl and Imbiss, will convince you otherwise. They're tender and silky and are the perfect companions for rich braised or roasted meats, such as a holiday goose or duck.
Whole grains might have been the hottest ingredient of 2014. And little wonder. Not only are they good for you, but they also are delicious. And once you know how to prepare them, they're incredibly flexible (hint: a brief toasting in a dry pan brings out the nutty flavor). Here's one idea from Food Editor Russ Parsons.
When Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter started investigating dishes she could make on a camping trip, little did she know that one of them would turn out to be one of our favorite recipes of the year. Made in a Dutch oven over a campfire, or at home in a cozy kitchen, this is one great dessert.
In the mood for a project? This rabbit stew from queen of Mediterranean cooking Paula Wolfert may take a little doing, but the results are more than worth it. The dish is a fascinating combination of complex, interwoven flavors. Just take your time and enjoy the process.
John Rivera Sedlar can take the simplest ingredients and twist them in ways that sometimes may be shocking but always are delicious. In this example, he takes a poblano chile and turns it into a lovely, fragrant dessert. His Rivera restaurant downtown may have closed this week, but at least we have this recipe to remember.
One of the themes of 2014 was finding beauty in the simplest ingredients. One great example is the grilled cauliflower from the Culver City restaurant the Wallace. The humble brassica is simply brushed with rosemary olive oil, then served with a Parmesan cream sauce and sprinkled with almond bread crumbs.