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The Best Recipes of 2001

From red enchiladas to low-fat Indian fish, it was a very good year.

January 02, 2002

There is a rhythm to life in the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen. We test between 15 and 20 recipes every week--everything that runs in the newspaper. In a year, that's about 800 recipes. Without organization and a tight schedule, nothing would ever get done.

Mondays and Tuesdays start slow. Ideas are developed and dishes are tinkered with. Advance preparations begin for recipes that will be fully tested later in the week. Frequently, scouting trips are made for the many props and bits of decoration that are used in photographs.

Wednesdays and Thursdays, the place is going full-steam. Dishes come out of the testing side of the kitchen and go over to the styling side to be made ready for their close-ups. Then they're taken next-door to be photographed in our studio. Finally, they're brought out to the testing table for the staff to sample.

Then the pace subsides. Fridays are devoted to more advance testing and to filming the two-minute "Quick Fix" videos that appear every week on our Web site.

Los Angeles Times Saturday January 5, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Chocolate cake--In the recipe for Chocolate Truffle Cake in Wednesday's Food section, 10 balls of ganache are needed, not five. For the complete recipe, see the Jan. 9 Food section.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 9, 2002 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 10 inches; 340 words Type of Material: Correction; Recipe
Incorrect directions - In the Chocolate Truffle Cake that ran as part of the "Top 10 Recipes" (Jan. 2), you need to make 10 ganache balls rather than the five called for. Here is the correct recipe.
Chocolate Truffle Cake
Active Work Time: 25 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes plus 1 hour chilling
This recipe from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller's March 7 "Professional Help" column is almost more of a molten-centered chocolate souffle than a cake. The batter can be prepared up to 1 hour ahead and left at room temperature to be baked at the last minute. Or you can make it even more in advance, freeze it, then pop it straight into the oven. The baking time in that case will increase to 20 minutes.
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup whipping cream
Grate the chocolate and place it in a bowl. Bring the whipping cream just to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Slowly stir until smooth. Transfer the mixture into a shallow glass dish and let it cool slightly, about 10 minutes, then place it in the freezer to chill, 1 hour.
Scoop out 10 balls using a 1/2-teaspoon measuring spoon and shape them so they're round. Chill until ready to use.
14 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter
1 tablespoon flour
10 egg yolks
7 tablespoons sugar
Nonstick cooking spray
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over, but not touching, simmering water. Stir in the flour and remove from the heat to cool slightly.
Whip the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and slowly add the sugar until the whisk leaves a thick ribbon that stays on top of the batter when it is lifted out, about 5 minutes. Pour the chocolate into the yolk-sugar mixture and gently fold them together.
Spray 10 (1/2-cup) ramekins with cooking spray. Half-fill each with chocolate batter, place 1 ganache ball in the center and then continue filling to the top with more batter. Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point up to 1 hour in advance and stored at room temperature, or 1 week in advance and frozen, tightly covered.)
Bake the cakes until they begin to pull away from the sides of the ramekins, 13 to 15 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar.
10 servings. Each serving: 530 calo

But every once in a while, this rhythm is broken. A computer message pops up: "You've got to come try this!" A parade of staffers goes streaming into the kitchen. Everything stops while all involved--writers, cooks, editors and photographers--gather around to taste something really great.

Then they run back to their desks to make notes. Because we all know that at the end of the year there will be a test. That's when we vote for our best recipes of the year.

It could be anything. Because of the variety of stories and recipes we offer, it could be a perfect Californio red enchilada or a sublime chocolate truffle cake from a famous restaurant. It could be a variation on a Cuban rice dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare or an Indian-style sauce for grilled fish that offers remarkably complex flavors at 4 grams of fat per serving.

The goal of the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen is not to provide the staff with delicious snacks--it's to ensure that every recipe we publish works. But sometimes we exceed even our own expectations.


Classic Red Enchiladas

Active Work Time: 35 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour * Vegetarian

This recipe comes from an Oct. 24 cover story by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan, who wrote "Rancho Cooking, Mexican and Californian Recipes" (Sasquatch Books, $21.95). She says the red enchilada symbolizes the fusion of native Mexican foods with some of the favored ingredients brought over from Spain such as olives, olive oil and cheeses. In her family, these enchiladas, done Californio-style, with flour tortillas rather than corn, were served at every important event but especially at barbecues. Try to make the enchiladas the day before you need them because the red chiles will soak into the tortillas and make the enchiladas even better. Buy the thinnest tortillas you can find or use homemade.

Olive oil

5 onions, chopped

Salt, pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

4 cups Red Chile Sauce, divided

10 flour tortillas

1 1/2 pounds medium-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

1 cup pitted black olives or home-cured olives

Oil 2 (15x10-inch) jellyroll pans.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and the oregano.

Spoon 1 cup of Red Chile Sauce onto a wide dinner plate. Starting with 1 tortilla, dip both sides in the sauce. Place 1/2 cup of grated cheese, 2 olives and 1/3 cup of cooked onions down the middle of the tortilla. (We never added grated hard-boiled eggs, but many rancho families did.) Lastly, roll the sides of each tortilla over the filling. Place the enchilada, folded side down, on one of the pans. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Pour the remaining Red Chile Sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese in a strip down the middle of each enchilada. Decorate with any remaining olives. Cover the pans and refrigerate the enchiladas until you are ready to bake them. Let them stand at room temperature 1 hour before baking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees near serving time.

Bake the enchiladas until they are puffed and the cheese has melted, 20 to 25 minutes.

10 enchiladas. Each enchilada: 458 calories; 885 mg sodium; 57 mg cholesterol; 30 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 4.74 grams fiber.


Red Chile Sauce

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours

Red Chile Sauce, the pride of the kitchen, was used not only for the famous red enchiladas but countless other favorites such as Chile Colorado and tamales. This sauce differentiates itself by the toasted flour roux used to deepen flavors and the tiny bit of vinegar used to "sweeten" the chile.

18 dried California or New Mexican chiles, or a combination of both

2 ancho chiles

3 cloves garlic

3 1/2 cups water, divided

3 tablespoons light-flavored olive oil

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground oregano

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

Dash sugar, if necessary

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