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THE 10 BEST RECIPES OF 2006

Back for an encore

December 27, 2006|Charles Perry | Times Staff Writer

EVERY year, we publish close to 400 recipes, and some just cry out to be on our annual Top 10 list. It tugs at your heart to hear them: "Pick me! Oh, pick me!"

This year we loved simple, rustic dishes that had been given a glamorous makeover with the best ingredients. We loved stone-ground grits dolled up with shiitakes and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a bruschetta topped with pickled radicchio and locally made burrata. Roast chicken was lavished with black truffles and the best butter we could find. Even good old mac 'n' cheese -- one of the year's biggest favorites -- used imported Gruyere and a large shell pasta called chiocciole to create a luscious spurt of cheese sauce with every bite.

All in all, it was a delicious year. But don't take our word for it. Recipes follow on Pages 3 and 4.

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Arabic coffee pot de creme

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus 1 hour steeping time and several hours chilling time

Servings: 8

Note: Amy Scattergood highlighted this recipe in a July 19 review of Ana Sortun's cookbook, "Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean." Sortun flavors a classic French dessert with the favorite Bedouin combination of coffee and cardamom for a luscious, eye-opening treat. You will need eight (4-ounce) espresso cups or ramekins.

1 cup espresso beans

2 tablespoons whole green cardamom

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons brewed espresso, cooled

1 1/2 tablespoons very finely ground espresso

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Crush the espresso beans and cardamom by placing them together in a thick plastic bag and lightly pounding them or crushing them with something heavy (a rolling pin or wooden mallet works well). The espresso beans should have the texture of coarsely chopped nuts, and the cardamom pods should split open.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, milk and crushed espresso and cardamom to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Cover the mixture and let the coffee and cardamom steep in the cream for about 1 hour.

3. Heat the oven to 300 degrees.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thoroughly combined. Strain the cream (which is now infused with cardamom and coffee) through a fine sieve into the yolks, while whisking.

5. When combined, strain again through the fine sieve to remove any pieces of cooked or lumpy yolk. Stir in the brewed espresso and espresso grounds.

6. Fill eight espresso cups or ramekins with the mixture, pouring almost to the top, and place the cups in a large oven-proof baking dish. Pour lukewarm water into the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups or ramekins. Using a small spoon, skim any fine bubbles that form on the top of each custard. This will ensure a smooth and creamy top.

7. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Carefully remove the foil, because escaping steam can burn fingers. Test for doneness by shaking the pan gently; the cremes should be set around the edges and not quite firm in the center. Remove the cremes immediately from the pan and set them onto a baking sheet or tray, allowing them to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

8. Refrigerate the cremes for several hours to chill and set. Top with whipped cream beaten to soft peaks and serve.

Each serving: 606 calories; 7 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 51 grams fat; 30 grams saturated fat; 384 mg. cholesterol; 83 mg. sodium.

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Torsh kebab

Total time: 30 minutes plus overnight marinating

Servings: 6

Note: From Shoomal Restaurant in Tarzana. This kebab, unique to the Caspian Sea region of northern Iran, appeared in Charles Perry's story on Persian restaurants on Feb.15. The rich marinade is made with ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses (rob-e anar, dibs rumman), available in Middle Eastern markets.

1 onion

1 (3-pound) piece of beef fillet

1 cup pomegranate juice or

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

1 cup walnuts, finely ground in a food processor to a paste

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut the onion into chunks and puree in a blender or food processor, adding 1 tablespoon of water if necessary to make a smooth puree. Strain the onion through a fine sieve. Discard the solids and reserve the onion juice.

2. Slice the beef horizontally into two long strips, then cut it crosswise into 12 roughly equal rectangles. Lay one rectangle on a cutting board that has been wetted so the meat will stick. Hold the meat down with the palm of one hand. Using a very sharp knife, make a cut parallel to the cutting board one-third of the way from the top of the meat, going from one end nearly to the other but not cutting the meat into two pieces. Rotate the piece of meat and make a similar cut one-third of the way up from the bottom of the meat. Unfold the meat into 1 long slice. Repeat with the rest of the meat.

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