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How we’re making our recipes better for you

The most popular L.A. Times recipe of 2020 was this whole roasted cauliflower drenched in a spicy tahini sauce.
(Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times)

Though this year already seems just like the last, the passage of the new year gives us a time to reflect on all that happened last year in all areas of life. While much of what we’re dealing with seems chaotic — the pandemic, the events of last Wednesday at the Capitol — we can find some peace in cooking, whether that’s a big pot of macaroni and cheese for comfort or an hours-long project to keep our minds occupied on lower-stakes activities.

One thing I’m reflecting on is all the things I learned from cooking at home since last March. Having to cook for work and for pleasure posed some challenges and taught me to make peace with the number of dishes I will do daily, no matter how few pots and bowls I try to use. It also led me to a lot of thinking about our recipes at the L.A. Times, how they’re conceived and written, and how they’re understood and used by readers. In today’s print section, you’ll find the solutions to the issues, raised both by a crop of new L.A. Times Cooking readers and by some healthy personal introspection about how to make our work better for you.

Reflecting on recipes reminded me of some solid staples from our How to Boil Water series of last year that I want to keep top of your mind going into 2021. My former colleague Genevieve Ko makes the best oatmeal, sweetened with soft, cooked apples and served with bright, crisp slices on top. My kale and pasta salad, which started out as a way to give pasta salad a facelift, ended up being a great fridge salad that you can come back to day after day (if it lasts that long) without going soggy or losing integrity. Roast chicken is a classic, but my butterflied chicken, rubbed simply with dry spices, is just as easy and gets you crispy skin faster.

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Arguably one of my most requested recipes from this past year is this low-effort roasted cauliflower, which gets all its punch from an assertively-seasoned tahini sauce that you pour over the crucifer once it comes out of the blistering oven. And for a solid loaf cake recipe — perfect for breakfast, an afternoon snack or dessert — there’s Genevieve’s yogurt lemon loaf, perfumed with orange blossom water (if you don’t have it, you can simply omit it or use vanilla extract instead). It’s exceedingly tender and made with ingredients you already have in your pantry. These are basic recipes that any new cook should keep around to riff off of, or at the very least, take comfort in knowing they’ll always work out well.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Spicy Tahini Sauce

Time 1 hour 30 minutes, largely unattended
Yields Serves 2 to 4

The time it takes to roast the cauliflower leaves you plenty of minutes to mix up the lemony tahini sauce that goes on top.

Orange Blossom Yogurt Lemon Loaf

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes one 8 ½-by-4 ½-inch loaf
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Yogurt and plenty of lemon add tartness and tenderness to this classic loaf cake.

Dry Spice Butterflied Chicken

Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Split and flattened, this chicken gets double the crispy skin and cooks through faster than a whole roast.

Kale Pasta Salad With Parm and Smoked Almonds

Time 20 minutes
Yields Serves 2 to 4
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The dressing for this salad helps break down the tough kale and adds loads of flavor to the pasta without ever making it soggy.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Time 10 minutes
Yields Serves 1 to 2

A simple oatmeal recipe, this one is sweetened with chunks of cooked apple and brightened with raw slices on top.

JOIN THE L.A. TIMES DINNER SERIES ON JAN. 16

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Times television critic Lorraine Ali is hosting this month’s Times dinner series — a three-course takeout menu from Steve Samson of Rossoblu that includes a virtual live conversation with actors Henry Winkler, J.B. Smoove, Yvette Nicole Brown, Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton. The menu includes lasagna with celery root, mushrooms and taleggio; grilled beef loin; and citrus maritozzo, a riff on an Italian sweet with lemon curd and toasted meringue.

This is a benefit for meal delivery nonprofit Project Angel Food. Tickets are $95 per person, with a minimum of two tickets per household.

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