During the year, The Times' Food staff taste-tests a great many recipes that are shared by chefs and other food professionals as well as good home cooks. We even develop some recipes in our Test Kitchen to fit whatever story currently is in the mill. At the end of the year the Food staff compares notes on personal favorites that have crossed our palates during the year. But because taste is so subjective a sense, a consensus on the year's best recipes is not easily come by. We all have our favorites. As a result we resist trying to pick THE year's best recipe, preferring instead to pick 12 recipes that collectively have the greatest appeal to all of us. A story on fajitas, for instance, proved that like a lot of other people, as a group we find this trendy food tasty. But not everyone agreed on which fajita recipe was the best. La Parrilla's version garnered the most votes, however, so that is the one we selected for our 12-best list. And so it went throughout the year as we ate our way to a final decision on the exceptional recipes. Since the array of foods we sample ranges from exotic ethnic creations to simple, old-fashioned home cooking, it isn't surprising that the ones we like best would never fit into a single menu successfully. Individually, however, these dishes are truly memorable. Some are simple foods; others are more complex. They all are winners whose recipes will go into our personal files.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Cream together butter and sugar until light and creamy. Stir in cocoa and water. Beat 7 minutes with electric mixer. Add flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Beat 2 minutes longer. Add eggs. Mix 5 minutes longer.
Pour batter into greased and floured 9-inch layer cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees 30 to 40 minutes or until cake center springs back when lightly touched. Invert onto wire rack to cool completely.
Split cake into 3 horizontal layers. Drizzle orange-flavored liqueur lightly over each layer. Frost layers with refrigerated Ganache. Pour remaining unrefrigerated Ganache over top layer to glaze. Makes 1 (3-layer) cake.
18 ounces semisweet chocolate (squares or pieces)
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water. Add whipping cream. Remove from heat. Remove 2 cups chocolate mixture and set aside. Refrigerate remaining chocolate mixture until thick and creamy. Use refrigerated portion for spreading between layers. Use unrefrigerated portion for glazing top layer of cake.
LA PARRILLA'S FAJITAS
1 to 1 1/4 pounds skirt steak or rib eye steak
1 (8-ounce) bottle Italian dressing
4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch squares
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 poblano chiles, cut into strips
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
5 plum tomatoes, quartered
4 yellow chiles
4 green onions
1/2 small lemon
Marinate steak overnight in dressing. When ready to cook, drain meat and cut into strips. Cook meat with bacon on large griddle or in heavy skillet 4 minutes, sprinkling with small amount oil. Season with Worcestershire and some of garlic salt while cooking.
Cook poblano chiles and onion alongside meat on griddle or in separate skillet for same amount of time, sprinkling with oil and remaining garlic salt. Add tomatoes to vegetables and cook about 2 minutes.
Place yellow chiles on griddle or in skillet and cook until brown in spots. Dip green onions in oil, place on griddle or in skillet and char lightly.
Combine meat and vegetables except green onions on sizzling hot griddle or on heated platter. Arrange green onions over top. Squeeze lemon juice over before serving. Accompany with tortillas and salsa. Makes 4 servings.
MEXICAN JOE'S NACHOS
4 corn tortillas
Oil for deep-frying
1/2 cup refried beans
1 1/2 cups shredded Chihuahua or Jack cheese
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
Cut each tortilla into 6 wedges. Deep-fry wedges until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Paint each wedge with about 1 teaspoon refried beans. Place on heat-proof serving platter. Top with shredded cheese. Place in hot oven or under broiler just long enough to melt cheese. Do not allow tortilla chips to burn.
Top each chip with 1 heaping teaspoon Guacamole, then about 1/2 teaspoon sour cream. Place a few pieces diced tomato on top of sour cream. Place more Guacamole in center of platter. Serve Green Sauce and Red Sauce on side. Makes 4 servings.
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 small serrano chiles, finely chopped
2 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 teaspoon olive oil
Peel avocados. Place in bowl and mash coarsely. Add onion, lime juice, chiles, milk and olive oil and season to taste with salt. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.