A recipe has to travel a long road to make it into the Food section, and that's why there's almost always something cooking in The Times' Test Kitchen. It might be a recipe in development being tasted and tweaked, tested and re-tested to get it right. It might be a nearly finished recipe being put through its final paces just to make sure the instructions are as clear as can be. Or it might be a finished dish being primped and powdered, made ready for its close-up moment in the photo studio.
At a conservative estimate, the Test Kitchen staff follows this process for more than 200 recipes every year. With a bar set so high, we have to believe that -- like the children of Lake Wobegon -- all the recipes are above average. But still, objective tasters all, we have to acknowledge that some are more above average than others.
Every year around holiday time a note goes out to staff members, asking for their nominations for the best recipes of the year. Thus ensues a flurry of paper-shuffling and e-mails and when everything is tallied -- almost everyone has chosen something different.
Whether this speaks to the uniform excellence of the recipes or to our diverse palates, who knows? Most likely, it's a combination. And when you look down the list of this year's top 10, you can easily understand how this might happen.
Want something exotic? How about Noelle Carter's pumpkin seed stuffing spiced with Spanish chorizo. Want something homey? You've gotta try Donna Deane's midnight chocolate brownie bites. In the mood for a project? The panforte from the "Tartine" cookbook will take several hours to prepare but will repay that effort with an utterly spectacular Italian fruitcake.
If, on the other hand, you just want something great for dinner, Russ Parsons' halibut and shimeji mushrooms comes together like a breeze.
Something for everybody -- that's what we aim for in the Food section -- and thanks to the Test Kitchen, all of it as good as we can make it.