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BEST OF 2002

10 gems from the year's trove

There's been no shortage of keepers -- we ran more than 500 tried-and-tested recipes in 2002 -- but these standouts are the ones we'll be making again and again.

January 01, 2003

We don't keep too many lists here in the Food section, but there's one that takes shape as the new year approaches, a natural expression of all the work that goes on in our Test Kitchen. It's our annual Best Dishes List.

It's nothing terribly official; we're not as formal as movie critics tracking their picks for best picture. As the Times Test Kitchen sets each finished recipe on the counter, as forks come out and lips are smacked, a name might get jotted down, a mental note made.

The Food section publishes more than 500 recipes a year, and the variety is tremendous. A recipe may come from the kitchen of the L.A. restaurant-of-the-moment or from a grandmother's memory. It may require ingredients from one of the Southland's many ethnic markets, or it may be based on what's already on hand. It may take some work, or it may be wonderfully simple.

But in every case, the recipes on this year's list are simply wonderful. Some are from chefs, such as the macaroni and cheese and the Indian chicken curry. A few come from our staff, like Russ Parson's preserves. A book or two lent a few more.

And then there's the big, beefy burger -- our Test Kitchen's concoction, the answer to a mystery involving some chopped steak, a sauce and a tight-lipped chef.

So here you have it: our favorites for the past year. We would happily make them again. And we hope you will too, as well as the recipes ahead in this new year. Think of them as another crop of potential best recipes.

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Strawberry preserves

Home preserving has an image about as hip and sexy as a gingham apron, Times staff writer Russ Parsons wrote June 12. But with some good berries and a recipe such as this, you can have an outstanding addition for your morning toast in the time it takes to prepare a pasta dinner. We couldn't believe something this delicious was so simple -- and yet different; the jam is spoonable. The recipe works best with weights; use equal amounts of fruit and sugar. We've listed approximate volume measures if you don't have a scale (2 pints of strawberries weigh about 2 pounds.)

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 8 hours standing

Servings: 5 (8-ounce) jars

2 pounds washed and hulled

strawberries, cut into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)

2 pounds sugar (about 4 cups)

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large pot and heat slowly until the juices are clear, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, then cover loosely and let stand overnight.

2. The next day, get everything ready for canning: Bring a large pot of water to boil and sterilize 5 sets of jars and lids, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the jars and lids in the hot water until you're ready to use them.

3. Heat 2 cups of the strawberries and juice in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the strawberries start to simmer, cook, stirring often, until the preserves test done, 3 to 5 minutes. (It's done when you lift your spatula and the mixture no longer flows from the side at one point, the way liquids do, but begins to come off in multiple points or sheets.) Ladle the jam into the sterilized jars, filling to within one-fourth inch of the rim. Cover with the lid and fasten the ring tight. Set aside and repeat with the remaining strawberries and juice.

4. To complete the seal, bring the large pot of water back to a boil, place the covered jars in a pasta insert and place them in the pot. Make sure the boiling water covers the jars. Cook 5 minutes. Remove the jars from the pan and set aside to cool. After 30 minutes, check the lids to make sure they've sealed tightly. Gently press down on the center of the lid; if it does not spring back, you have a tight seal. Repeat the canning process with any jars that have not sealed tightly.

Each tablespoon: 41 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.35 gram fiber.

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Our office burger

When we wrote about glamour burgers on Aug. 21 -- the pricey burgers showing up on menus -- a bar called Father's Office in Santa Monica wouldn't share its recipe. Lots of folks, including a national magazine, had raved about it. That led staff writer Charles Perry and our Test Kitchen to create our version, which we thought tasted every bit as good. When you make these, you'll need to cook more bacon than you actually use to have enough drippings. Dry-aged beef is available at specialty markets.

Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Servings: 4

Caramelized onions

4 slices applewood-smoked bacon

2 onions, sliced (about 4 cups)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon ketchup

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2-3 drops liquid smoke

1/4teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the bacon until crisp, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove to paper towels to drain. Crumble 1 slice and set aside; reserve the rest of the bacon for another use. Measure 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat into a medium heavy skillet.

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