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Other titles in the 150 Best Recipes series:
The Best American Recipes: The Year's Top Picks from Books, Magazines, Newspapers, and the Internet (Best American Recipes: The Year's Top Picks from Books, Magazines, Newspapers, and the Internetby Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens
In t r o d u c t i o n
We never quite know what were going to find when we begin combing through hundreds of cookbooks, magazines, and newspapers looking for the best recipes of the year — which is a good part of why this is such an exciting enterprise. Its not unlike a massive culinary treasure hunt. Sometimes the treasures are anything but obvious, such as the Manhattan chef Waldy Maloufs pasta with mushrooms and chives — a recipe that looks so plain-Jane on paper that we almost passed it by. Yet as soon as we tested this easy recipe, we immediately fell for its clean but complex flavors. Its one of those cant-stop-eating- it dishes that we make again and again — a definite best.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of our search is recognizing the hot dishes of the year that seem to pop up everywhere. Once we identify these, we take it upon ourselves to test our way through as many versions as it takes to find the very best one out there. For instance, we knew early on that good old-fashioned crispy fried chicken was a big passion this year, partly because the food writer Jeffrey Steingarten fried his way through some two hundred chickens and devoted an entire column in Vogue to his findings. After testing plenty of different recipes, the one that stole our hearts was Fried Chicken Littles— crunchy, tender morsels served with a zingy, eye-opening dipping sauce.
It also didnt take us long to notice that granita, the sparkling Italian ice that up until now seems to have been waiting in the wings, was suddenly everywhere and in every imaginable flavor. This super-simple frozen dessert easily displaced sorbet and even ice cream this year. Taste the grapefruit and star anise granita in the dessert chapter, and youll know why.
These are, of course, very homey dishes.
And without a doubt, homey” is the watchword this year. But that doesnt mean plain, and it certainly doesnt mean boring. From shrimp cocktail and chicken noodle soup, to burgers and meatballs, to crisps and crumbles, the recipes that delight us may be familiar, but each has a sophisticated global twist.
Shrimp cocktail comes glazed with a spicy-sweet jalapeno-lime sauce, green chiles show up in macaroni and cheese, burgers are made from fresh salmon and dolloped with a snappy adoli, and old-fashioned chiffon layer cake is flavored with ginger and mango.
We also were struck by a corresponding and equally unmistakable trend: the revival of old recipes that had been forgotten or had fallen out of favor. We freely admit to having a huge preservationist streak, and we were thrilled to find others sharing the same passion.
Resurrecting old recipes is not just an exercise in historic preservation; some are just too good to do without, including the mild southern curry called Country Captain.
We tested several and chose a particularly elegant version.
You probably wont find a trifle on your favorite restaurant menu, but this big holiday treat from England has been gathering a lot of interest on this side of the ocean. The one we love most is Nigella Lawsons summer blackberry trifle, which brilliantly simplifies this gorgeous, impressive dessert.
Not that every standout recipe of the year falls into the old-fashioned, homey category.
There are plenty of thrilling new recipes as well, such as Paula Wolferts ethereal asparagus, cooked slowly in its own delectable juices with a touch of fresh tarragon.
A quick scan through the recipes that made their way into this collection reveals an impressive facility with global flavors that is no longer limited to chefs or hard-core foodies.
We were happily surprised to see how mainstream several cuisines have become: Spanish and Mexican, in particular, but also West Indian (one reason ginger beer is turning up everywhere). Possibly the most exotic cuisine we encountered is Scandinavian, which brings its own refined excitement to our tables. These influences are changing the contents of our pantries, where youre now likely to encounter pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), chipotles (smoked jalapenos) in adobo sauce, chorizo, pancetta (the unsmoked bacon of Italy), and panko (wonderfully crisp Japanese bread crumbs). Tomatillos, exotic mushrooms, and an assortment of fresh and dried chiles have entered the everyday realm and are now available in supermarkets almost everywhere.
Americans have been slow to recognize the charms of pecorino Romano, the earthier cousin of Parmigiano-Reggiano. But this year were making up for lost time — pecorino turns up everywhere.
At the same time, once-unfamiliar techniques are becoming commonplace. For instance, five yearss ago only the most dedicated cooks would undertake grinding their own spices to season a dish. Today a mortar and pestle or a little electric spice grinder (or a coffee grinder) is standard equipment in any well-appointed kitchennnnn. The flavor dividends for the moments it takes to grind your own are simply amazing.
Even after compiling this book for six years in a row, we are seduced (a lot more often than we should be) by recipes that look good on the page but simply dont deliver in the kitchen. The proof really is in the pudding.
We can assure you that all of the recipes in this collection have not only been kitchen-tested but meet our standards for dishes we want to make again and again. For those recipes that made the cut, weve added our own notes from the testing, to give you an idea of what to expect and offer suggestions about how you can play with them. And once again we present our favorite ten recipes from the book, so you wont miss them.
— Fr a n Mc C u l l o u g h and M o l ly St e v e n s
Copyright © 2004 by Houghton Mifflin. Introduction copyright © 2004 by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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