Recipes That Passed a Cookbook Critic's Test
Like anyone who cooks regularly for a family, I have my repertoire of weeknight standbys: roast chicken with herb butter, pork chops glazed with mustard and preserves, broccoli and pine nuts, pasta Bolognese. I can just about make them in my sleep.
But for one week of every month, all our favorites sit on the bench. It's recipe-testing time, the run-up to my cookbook review in the Wednesday paper. The candidates are entered into my database, along with a grocery list and projected cooking times. Out come the measuring spoons and measuring cups, the kitchen timer and the disposable latex gloves.
Inevitably, there are disasters. I spent one evening tearfully peeling duck skin off a melted "heatproof" plastic oven bag. There were the rice flour pancakes that ripped into soft shreds, and many battles with phyllo. We've endured more watery sauces and burned starchy sides than I care to recall. I have thought of collecting these fiascos into a book of their own, to be titled How to Build a Compost Heap, the Hard Way.
Nevertheless, each year a few new recipes emerge from the pack to become perennial favorites. Some even make it into the ordinary weekday lineup. Here follows a few of this year's best.
In May Bsisu's The Arab Table (Morrow, $34.95), I found baked kafta with tahini, a garlicky slam dunk of a dish that left me ungracefully licking the casserole dish. I also loved Ana Sortun's Persian fried chicken, crisp with walnuts and dressed up with saffron from her book Spice (Regan Books, $34.95).
Roy Finamore's Tasty (Houghton Mifflin, $30) made several contributions to the regular rotation -- silky, chewy homemade ricotta cavatelli with a "summertime ragu" surprisingly spiked with rose wine, veal and rosemary, for example, will find its place at our table. One happy week, I ate Finamore's curried chicken salad with apples and almonds almost every lunch. His bacon-wrapped shrimp, gilded with maple syrup, were very naughty and very good. Equally good if somewhat more decorous was the little fava salad with radishes and pecorino, which was worth every minute of bean-peeling tedium.
I loved the immodestly-titled pork loin extraordinaire, with its thick scent of herbs and apples, from a little paperback called Sleep On It: Prepare Delicious Meals the Night Before That You Can Pop in the Oven the Next Day by Carol Gordon (Hyperion, $13.95).
And I went crazy for the crab and corn chowder in The Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild (Wiley, $34.95). After dinner, I hid the remains in the back of the fridge so that I, and I alone, would get to have it for leftovers.
Brothers Matt and Ted Lee, authors of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook (Norton, $35), made history in our kitchen with their 83 East Bay Street shrimp and grits, which I made three times in three weeks.
I made several memorable batches of decadent chocolate-dipped pistachio-orange biscotti from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites by Jim Stott, Jonathan King and Kathy Gunst (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).
And no list of the year's best recipes would be complete without Emily Luchetti's frozen key lime pie with macadamia nut cream, from her A Passion for Ice Cream (Chronicle, $35). I hold that pie responsible -- well, partly -- for the 9-pound baby girl I gave birth to only two weeks later.
My New Year's resolutions say nothing about adopting a January austerity diet -- they pretty much boil down to: Live well, eat local and raise a couple of capable omnivores. The only thing more I could ask for would be to learn some new recipes. And maybe read a few cookbooks.
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