Recipes That Passed a Cookbook Critic's Test

Cookbooks, kitchen utensils i i

Cookbook reviewer T. Susan Chang whittles down a year's worth of recipes she has tested to a few that are destined to be perennial favorites. Scroll down for recipes. T. Susan Chang hide caption

itoggle caption T. Susan Chang
Cookbooks, kitchen utensils

Cookbook reviewer T. Susan Chang whittles down a year's worth of recipes she has tested to a few that are destined to be perennial favorites. Scroll down for recipes.

T. Susan Chang

About the Author

T. Susan Chang is a New England-based freelance writer and a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow. She also is the Boston Globe's regular cookbook reviewer, and her articles on cooking, gardening and nutrition appear in a variety of national and regional publications. You can find more information at her Web site, www.tsusanchang.com.

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.

Read last week's Kitchen Window.

Get more recipe ideas from the Kitchen Window archive.

Crab-and-Corn Chowder with Bacon and Chanterelle Mushrooms

Corn and Crab Chowder i i
Corn and Crab Chowder

From The Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild

Makes 8 first-course servings

6 ears fresh yellow corn (or about 4 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed)

4 cups low-salt chicken broth

3 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons olive oil

7 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions

1 1/2 cups finely chopped leeks, white and pale green parts only, (about 2 leeks)

3/4 cup finely chopped celery

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/4 pound white-skinned potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

6 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms, thickly sliced

2 tablespoons dry Sherry

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 pound fresh crabmeat, picked over

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Cut kernels off corn cobs. Set kernels aside. Combine cobs, broth and cream in heavy, large saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat oil in large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon and saute until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Pour off all but 3 tablespoons bacon drippings and add onion, leeks, celery and fennel seeds to pot. Sauté until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in potatoes.

Discard cobs from cream mixture, and strain cream mixture into potato mixture. Simmer until potatoes are almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in corn kernels.

Simmer chowder until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes longer. (Can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead. Cover and chill bacon. Cool soup slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to simmer before continuing.)

Melt butter in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in Sherry and thyme. Add mushroom mixture to chowder. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saute crabmeat in same large skillet over medium-low heat just until heated through, about 3 minutes. Divide crabmeat, reserved bacon and parsley among bowls. Ladle chowder over and serve.

Chocolate-Dipped Pistachio-Orange Biscotti

BIscotti i i
BIscotti

From Stonewall Kitchen Favorites by Jim Stott, Jonathan King, and Kathy Gunst

Makes about 3 dozen biscotti

2 cups raw shelled pistachios, toasted

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus more for dusting

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 packed teaspoon grated orange zest

1/4 cup orange juice, preferably fresh

6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet (about 55 percent cacao) chocolate chips

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Finely chop half the pistachios and combine in a small bowl with the remaining whole nuts. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until blended. Add the butter and blend into dry ingredients using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Mix the eggs, vanilla, zest and juice in a separate bowl until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just blended. Fold in the chopped and whole pistachios and the chocolate chips.

Generously flour a clean working area. Using floured hands, divide the dough into two equal portions. Form each piece into a flat log roughly 12-by-8 inches long and 1-inch high, adding additional flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter.

Carefully place the logs 2 to 3 inches apart on the parchment-covered baking sheet.

Bake the logs for 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch and just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 300, and let the biscotti cool for about 10 minutes.

Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut logs on a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide pieces.

Place the biscotti cut side up on one or two cookie sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through baking. The biscotti should be firm to the touch and golden brown on both sides. Remove from the baking sheet and cool completely on wire racks.

While the biscotti are cooling, melt the chocolate in the microwave, in a double boiler or in a pot over very low heat. When almost all of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Dip one end of the cookie, or one flat side of each biscotti, into the chocolate. Hold vertically to let excess chocolate drip off. Place the biscotti chocolate-side up on wax paper to cool until the chocolate hardens, 3 to 4 hours.

The biscotti will keep for several days in a cool, dark, well-sealed tin or in a plastic bag.

Persian Fried Chicken

From Spice by Ana Sortun

Makes 4 servings

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

1 teaspoon water

1/2 teaspoon saffron

1 tablespoon chopped garlic, about 3 cloves

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8 pieces)

1 cup walnut pieces

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon dried spearmint

Salt and black pepper to taste

4 cups canola or vegetable oil

4 lemon wedges

In a blender, puree the yogurt, water, saffron and garlic until the mixture is smooth and bright yellow. Pour the marinade over the chicken thighs and mix well in a glass or stainless-steel mixing bowl. Cover the chicken and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet and toast very lightly in the oven for about 6 minutes. The walnuts should be fragrant and oily but not dark brown, or they will taste bitter. Cool the walnuts and chop finely by hand. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, paprika, mint, salt and black pepper. Set aside.

In a medium skillet (10 to 11 inches) with deep sides that can hold the oil, heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees, using a thermometer to check the temperature. Drain off the chicken marinade and discard, dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture and shake dry. Fry 4 pieces at a time until they are golden brown on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the chicken using a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on paper towels. You can keep the chicken pieces warm by lowering the oven to 200 degrees and leaving them uncovered while the last pieces fry.

Sprinkle with walnuts and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the chicken.

Frozen Key Lime Pie with Crushed Sugar Cone Crust and Macadamia Nut Cream

From A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Sugar Cone Crust

12 sugar cones, broken up

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

Key Lime Curd

6 large eggs yolks

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup key lime juice (available at specialty shops)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup whipping cream

Macadamia Nut Cream

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

To make the crust: Finely grind the sugar cones in a food processor. Place them in a bowl with the butter and stir until combined. Press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Put in the freezer while you make the curd.

To make the curd: In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, eggs and sugar until combined. Whisk in the key lime juice and salt. Pour into a medium, heavy non-reactive sauce pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat resistant plastic or wooden spatula until thick, about 8 minutes. The curd is done when you can briefly see the bottom of the pan as you stir it. Cool over an ice bath. Whip the cream until soft peaks form and fold it into the curd. Pour the key lime curd into the prepared pie shell. Freeze for at least 4 hours until hard.

To make the cream: In a bowl, whip the cream, sugar and vanilla extract until firm peaks form. Fold in the macadamia nuts.

To serve: Spread the cream over the top of the pie. Serve immediately.

The pie can be made and frozen up to 2 days ahead. Cover well with plastic wrap. The cream topping can be whipped and refrigerated up to 3 hours ahead. Just before serving, rewhip the cream slightly until firm and fold in the macadamia nuts.

Baked Kafta with Tahini Sauce

From The Arab Table by May S. Bsisu

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Kafta

1 packed cup finely chopped fresh parsley

2 pounds lean ground beef or ground leg of lamb

1 pound yellow onions, minced

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Tahini

3 small cloves garlic, mashed

1 cup sesame paste (tahini)

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Cold water

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Salt, to taste

2 medium potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons salt

Pita bread, cut into triangles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the kafta: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and knead with your hands until all are thoroughly incorporated and the dough is somewhat smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours or freeze for up to 4 months.

For the tahini: Whisk the garlic and sesame paste together in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, whisking until the mixture turns into a firm white paste.

Gradually add up to 1/2 cup cold water, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens. Season with pepper flakes and salt. Thin with up to 1/2 cup water.

Spread the potatoes out in a 10-by-13-inch baking dish and season with the salt. Spread the kafta over the potatoes, pushing it out to the edges of the dish. Smooth the meat with the back of spoon. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and pour off the liquid that has accumulated. Spoon the tahini over the meat, spreading it out evenly. Return the kafta to the oven and bake until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 30 minutes.

Cut the kafta (including the potato layer) into 6 or 8 squares and serve, spooning the tahini sauce over it. Serve with the pita bread alongside.

To reheat: Pour 1/2 cup water into the baking dish to thin the sauce, which will have thickened as the dish cooled. Incorporate the water into the sauce, using the back of a spoon. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven until the meat is warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.

Pork Loin Extraordinaire

From Sleep On It by Carol Gordon

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon whole cumin seed

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 boneless pork loin (about 4 pounds), rinsed and dried

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick

2 or 3 thyme sprigs

3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced into ½-inch-thick wedges

1/4 cup Riesling or other white wine

In a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, toast the cumin seed until aromatic. Allow to cool, and grind finely.

Place in a zip-lock bag large enough to hold the pork loin and add the brown sugar, salt, and black and cayenne peppers; mix well. Add the pork loin to the bag and rub well with the spices. Seal the bag and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the olive oil in a flameproof, ovenproof casserole with a lid and add the pork loin and spices. Roll the pork to coat with the oil.

Place the casserole over medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Transfer the pork to a plate. Return the pan to low heat, add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the thyme sprigs and stir, covering the bottom of the pan with the onions. Layer the apple slices over the onion and cook briefly. Return the pork to the pan and pour the wine over all.

Roast, uncovered, in the oven until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the loin reads 150 to 155 degrees, about 40 minutes. Baste the roast with the wine periodically. If the bottom of the pan begins to dry out, add 1/2 cup of wine or water as needed. Remove the pork loin from the pan and allow to stand 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Spread the onion and apple mixture on a platter, with the sliced meat arranged over the top.

Curried Chicken Salad

From Tasty by Roy Finamore

Makes about 3 cups (enough for 4 sandwiches)

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons curry powder

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cooked chicken, cut into chunks

1 small onion, minced

1 celery stalk, minced

1 tart apple (such as a Granny Smith), peeled, cored and chopped

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Bread, for sandwiches (whole wheat could be nice), optional

Whisk the mayo together with the curry powder and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.

Make sandwiches. Or serve a scoop of chicken salad on a big bed of lettuce with some sliced fruit and grapes on the side.

83 East Bay Street Shrimp and Grits

From The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt and Ted Lee

Makes 4 servings

Shrimp Stock

1 1/2 pounds headless large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound, shells on)

3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1 bay leaf, in pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Grits

1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 cups water

2 pinches kosher salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Gravy

1 pound tomatillos, green tomatoes, or tomatoes (about 6 large tomatillos or 3 medium tomatoes)

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper (about 1 jalapeno)

1/4 pound slab bacon or 3 slices thick-cut bacon, diced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel shrimp, reserving the shells. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the shells and rest of stock ingredients. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the broth (you should have about 1 ½ cups) and reserve. Discard the shells.

While the broth simmers, stir the grits into a bowl of cold water and allow to settle. Corn hulls may float to the surface. Skim off the hulls and drain the grits. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and the 3 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add the grits, stirring with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium, add the salt and cook, stirring occasionally.

Once the grits thicken (about 10 minutes), reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently and adding water if the grits become too stiff. Cook until the grits are fluffy and creamy, 35 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and reserve.

While the grits cook, remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and place them in a medium roasting pan or cast-iron skillet. Broil them about 3 inches from the flame or heating element, turning them as their skins blacken, until they’re blackened all over, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the tomatillos (or tomatoes, if you're using them instead) to a food processor or blender and pulse to a soupy liquid, about three 1-second pulses. Press the liquid through a food mill or coarse strainer into a medium bowl (you should have about 2 cups). Add the jalapeno and reserve.

Scatter the bacon in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. With a slotted spoon, move the pieces around until the bacon is firm and just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat and add the butter, bell pepper and onion. Sauté until the pepper and onion just begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the shrimp broth into a small bowl, add the flour and whisk until it becomes a smooth paste. Pour the remaining shrimp broth into the skillet with the pepper and onion. When the broth reaches simmer, reduce the heat to medium and cook at a vigorous simmer until the vegetables have softened.

Add the flour paste to the pan, whisking vigorously to distribute the flour evenly throughout the broth. Add the sieved tomatillo and jalapeno mixture to the skillet, stirring, and return to a simmer. Cook until the gravy thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon heavily, 5 to 7 minutes more.

Add the shrimp and continue cooking until they are pink and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide the grits among 4 plates and ladle the shrimp and gravy on top.

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