The Best Recipes of 2001 There is a rhythm to life in the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen. We test between 15 and 20 recipes every week--everything that runs in the newspaper. In a year, that's about 800 recipes. Without organization and a tight schedule, nothing would ever get done. Mondays and Tuesdays start slow. Ideas are developed and dishes are tinkered with. Advance preparations begin for recipes that will be fully tested later in the week. Frequently, scouting trips are made for the many props and bits of decoration that are used in photographs. Wednesdays and Thursdays, the place is going full-steam. Dishes come out of the testing side of the kitchen and go over to the styling side to be made ready for their close-ups. Then they're taken next-door to be photographed in our studio. Finally, they're brought out to the testing table for the staff to sample. Then the pace subsides. Fridays are devoted to more advance testing and to filming the two-minute "Quick Fix" videos that appear every week on our Web site. But every once in a while, this rhythm is broken. A computer message pops up: "You've got to come try this!" A parade of staffers goes streaming into the kitchen. Everything stops while all involved--writers, cooks, editors and photographers--gather around to taste something really great. Then they run back to their desks to make notes. Because we all know that at the end of the year there will be a test. That's when we vote for our best recipes of the year. It could be anything. Because of the variety of stories and recipes we offer, it could be a perfect Californio red enchilada or a sublime chocolate truffle cake from a famous restaurant. It could be a variation on a Cuban rice dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare or an Indian-style sauce for grilled fish that offers remarkably complex flavors at 4 grams of fat per serving. The goal of the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen is not to provide the staff with delicious snacks--it's to ensure that every recipe we publish works. But sometimes we exceed even our own expectations. Classic Red Enchiladas Active Work Time: 35 minutes Total Preparation Time: 1 hour This recipe comes from an Oct. 24 cover story by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan, who wrote "Rancho Cooking, Mexican and Californian Recipes" (Sasquatch Books, $21.95). Olive oil 5 onions, chopped Salt, pepper 1 tablespoon dried oregano 4 cups Red Chile Sauce, divided 10 flour tortillas 1 1/2 pounds medium-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated 1 cup pitted black olives or home-cured olives Oil 2 (15x10-inch) jellyroll pans. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and the oregano. Spoon 1 cup of Red Chile Sauce onto a wide dinner plate. Starting with 1 tortilla, dip both sides in the sauce. Place 1/2 cup of grated cheese, 2 olives and 1/3 cup of cooked onions down the middle of the tortilla. (We never added grated hard-boiled eggs, but many rancho families did.) Lastly, roll the sides of each tortilla over the filling. Place the enchilada, folded side down, on one of the pans. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Pour the remaining Red Chile Sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese in a strip down the middle of each enchilada. Decorate with any remaining olives. Cover the pans and refrigerate the enchiladas until you are ready to bake them. Let them stand at room temperature 1 hour before baking. Heat the oven to 350 degrees near serving time. Bake the enchiladas until they are puffed and the cheese has melted, 20 to 25 minutes. 10 enchiladas. Each enchilada: 458 calories; 885 mg sodium; 57 mg cholesterol; 30 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 4.74 grams fiber. Red Chile Sauce Active Work Time: 20 minutes Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours Red Chile Sauce, the pride of the kitchen, was used not only for the famous red enchiladas but countless other favorites such as Chile Colorado and tamales. This sauce differentiates itself by the toasted flour roux used to deepen flavors and the tiny bit of vinegar used to "sweeten" the chile. 18 dried California or New Mexican chiles, or a combination of both 2 ancho chiles 3 cloves garlic 3 1/2 cups water, divided 3 tablespoons light-flavored olive oil 2 tablespoons flour 1 1/2 teaspoons ground oregano 1 tablespoon cider vinegar 1 teaspoon salt Dash sugar, if necessary 1/2 to 1 cup water or mild chicken broth, to thin sauce Hold the California and ancho chiles under running water to rinse. Use scissors to cut off the chiles' stems and cut the chiles in half. Shake out the seeds onto a paper towel. (Put the seeds in your garden for the birds. Place the chiles and garlic in the top half of a steamer set over simmering water. Steam for 25 minutes. This technique, as opposed to soaking dried chiles in boiling water, preserves more of the chile flavor. Remove the chiles from the heat. Place 1/3 of the chiles in a blender with 1 cup of water. Puree until smooth. Pour the puree into a wire strainer nested over a large bowl. Continue pureeing the rest of the chiles, garlic and water as in the previous step, in batches, so that you add 1/3 of the chiles each time. Push all of the chile puree through the strainer using a spatula or wooden spoon. Be sure to scrape off the chile puree clinging to the bottom of the strainer. Pour the remaining water into the blender and turn it on to help clean the blades. Pour this chile water through the strainer to catch the last bit of goodness. You should now have about 3 1/2 cups chile puree. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat and add the flour, toasting lightly until light nut brown, stirring, 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the chile puree and add the oregano, vinegar and salt. Simmer the sauce for 20 minutes to blend flavors. Taste, and if the sauce seems a bit sharp, add sugar. If the sauce seems thick, add water or broth, simmering again for about 5 minutes. About 3 to 4 cups. Each 1/4 cup: 33 calories; 165 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.70 gram fiber. Slow-Cooked Strawberry Preserves Active Work Time: 20 minutes Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours plus 3 hours standing Some jams are all about capturing the freshness of a fruit's flavor. This recipe from local preserve maker Edon Waycott, which ran July 11. 3 to 4 quarts fresh strawberries, about 12 pint baskets 2 cups sugar, or to taste 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice Lightly rinse the berries without submerging them in water. Remove the hulls, leaving the berries whole. Combine the berries, sugar and juice in a non-aluminum bowl. Allow them to macerate at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for at least 3 to 4 hours. The mixture can be covered and refrigerated overnight at this point. Pour the mixture into a wide, shallow 6- to 8-quart saucepan and set the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, skim the foam that collects on the surface, then reduce the heat to low. Make sure bubbles continue to break the surface. After about 20 minutes, the berries will give up additional juices and appear to be floating. Continue cooking them, stirring more often, and skimming the foam for about 1 hour. The jam is almost done when it turns dark red and the ratio of berries to juice is about equal. Watch and stir the jam often. Refrigerate and use within several days, or can in the usual way. 5 (8-ounce) jars. Each tablespoon: 27 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.61 gram fiber. Rhubarb and Raspberry Ice Active Work Time: 10 minutes Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes plus chilling This vibrantly flavored ice from Donna Deane's April 8 "The Lighter Side" column was one of our favorite desserts this year, and it has only 143 calories, without any fat. 1 cup sugar 4 cups water 4 cups rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces 1/2 cup raspberry-flavored vodka 2 tablespoons lime juice Mint leaves and raspberries, for garnish Combine the sugar and water in a 3-quart saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the rhubarb. Return to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the rhubarb is soft and falling apart, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. Strain the pulp and discard it. Combine the rhubarb syrup with the vodka and lime juice. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Spoon the ice into a chilled loaf dish. Cover and freeze until ready to serve. Spoon the ice into serving glasses and garnish each with some mint leaves and a few raspberries. 8 servings. Each serving: 143 calories; 3 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.44 gram fiber. Arroz con Chorizo y Camarones Active Work Time: 10 minutes Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes This Aug. 15 "Quick Fix" recipe by Times Test Kitchen assistant Mayi Brady was one of the most popular we ran all year. 1 large onion, chopped 4 cloves garlic, minced 1 red bell pepper, chopped 1 green bell pepper, chopped 1 large tomato, chopped 1 cup rice 3/4 pound Spanish chorizo or linguica, casing removed, cut into 1/4-inch slices 2 cups chicken broth 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined 2 tablespoons chopped parsley Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and red and green peppers. Cook, stirring, until the onion and peppers start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and rice and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until the tomato softens. Stir in the chorizo and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender but still quite moist, about 15 minutes. Stir in the shrimp, cover the pan and cook until the shrimp are opaque and pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley and serve. 4 servings. Each serving: 583 calories; 1,314 mg sodium; 243 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 40 grams protein; 2.88 grams fiber. Chocolate Truffle Cake Active Work Time: 25 minutes Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes plus 1 hour chilling This recipe from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller's March 7 "Professional Help" column is almost more of a molten-centered chocolate soufflé than a cake. The batter can be prepared up to 1 hour ahead and left at room temperature to be baked at the last minute. Or you can make it even more in advance, freeze it, then pop it straight into the oven. The baking time in that case will increase to 20 minutes. GANACHE 2 ounces semisweet chocolate 1/4 cup whipping cream Grate the chocolate and place it in a bowl. Bring the whipping cream just to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Slowly stir until smooth. Transfer the mixture into a shallow glass dish and let it cool slightly, about 10 minutes, then place it in the freezer to chill, 1 hour. Scoop out 5 balls using a 1/2-teaspoon measuring spoon and shape them so they're round. Chill until ready to use. CAKE 14 ounces bittersweet chocolate 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter 1 tablespoon flour 10 egg yolks 7 tablespoons sugar Nonstick cooking spray Powdered sugar, for dusting Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over, but not touching, simmering water. Stir in the flour and remove from the heat to cool slightly. Whip the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and slowly add the sugar until the whisk leaves a thick ribbon that stays on top of the batter when it is lifted out, about 5 minutes. Pour the chocolate into the yolk-sugar mixture and gently fold them together. Spray 10 (1/2-cup) ramekins with cooking spray. Half-fill each with chocolate batter, place 1 ganache ball in the center and then continue filling to the top with more batter. Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point up to 1 hour in advance and stored at room temperature, or 1 week in advance and frozen, tightly covered.) Bake the cakes until they begin to pull away from the sides of the ramekins, 13 to 15 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. 10 servings. Each serving: 530 calories; 248 mg sodium; 287 mg cholesterol; 43 grams fat; 25 grams saturated fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 2.69 grams fiber. Hazelnut Crisps Active Work Time: 30 minutes Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes plus 1 hour chilling From a Jan. 31 story praising hazelnuts comes this definitive simple nut cookie: fragile, crisp and very good. By cookbook author Debra Madison 1 cup toasted hazelnuts 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 egg yolk 1 1/4 cups flour Grind or pulse the hazelnuts with the granulated sugar in a food processor until fine, but with a few chunks scattered throughout. Cream the butter and brown sugar with the salt until light and fluffy, then stir in the vanilla and egg yolk. Stir in the hazelnuts and the flour. Shape the dough into a rough log, wrap it in wax paper or plastic wrap, then run the dough between your thumb and forefinger to force it into a cylinder about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Keep it round, or square the sides. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least 1 hour, preferably longer. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the log into 1/3- to 1/4-inch thick slices and place them on 2 baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each piece. Bake until lightly browned on top, about 15 minutes. Remove the crisps to a rack to cool; they'll get crispier. About 27 crisps. Each crisp: 98 calories; 24 mg sodium; 17 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.57 gram fiber. Grilled Halibut With Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Puree Active Work Time: 15 minutes Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes From Donna Deane in her "The Lighter Side Column" on Aug. 1. The result is a main course that delivers big-time taste despite having only 4 grams of fat. 4 (5-ounce) halibut filets 2 tablespoons tandoori paste Nonstick cooking spray 1 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, sliced 1 tablespoon minced ginger root 1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets (about 1/2 pound) 1 small white boiling potato, peeled and cubed 1 cup water 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons lime juice Salt Cilantro sprigs, lime wedges, for garnish Place the fish filets in a shallow glass dish. Spread the tandoori paste over all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate while preparing the cauliflower puree. Spray a skillet with nonstick spray. Cook the onion and garlic, covered, over medium-low heat until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ginger, cauliflower, potato and water. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Puree the vegetables in a blender until smooth. Blend in the cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and lime juice. Keep the puree warm. Lightly spray both sides of the filets with nonstick spray. Grill the sea bass over hot coals or use an indoor grill pan until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Lightly season with salt after turning the fish over. Serve with the cauliflower puree and garnish with the cilantro and lime wedges. 4 servings. Each serving: 214 calories; 1,049 mg sodium; 68 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 31 grams protein; 2.60 grams fiber. Heirloom Tomato Risotto Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 50 minutes Ojai cook Anna Thomas, a screenwriter ("El Norte" and "Mi Familia") and cookbook author ("The Vegetarian Epicure"), came up with this risotto for an Oct. 10 story on the very Californian pleasures of cooking close to home. The secret of this dish is finding the right tomatoes--a combination of several varieties works best, but the most important thing is to make sure they are really ripe and flavorful. Then be careful not to overcook them. The swirl of bright tomato colors against the pale rice is what makes this risotto so beautiful. 2 1/2 to 3 pounds tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 2 cloves garlic, minced Salt 1 onion, chopped 7 to 8 cups vegetable broth 2 1/2 cups Arborio rice 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving Pepper Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a shallow "x" in the bottom of each tomato and place the tomatoes in the water. Cook 30 seconds, remove and rinse under cold water. Peel the tomatoes with a tip of a knife. Core the tomatoes and cut them in large wedges or 11/2-inch chunks, preserving their juice. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and some salt and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring only once or twice. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 11/2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion with a dash of salt until it begins to turn golden, 5 to 6 minutes. In another saucepan, heat the vegetable broth to just below a simmer and keep it hot. Add the rice to the onion and stir it gently for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in the wine and stir immediately as it is absorbed. Add a soup ladle of hot broth to the rice and stir with a wooden spoon (so you don't ruin your pan), keeping the mixture just at a simmer. When the broth is nearly absorbed, add another ladleful and keep stirring. Continue this way, adding the broth a bit at a time and stirring almost constantly. After about 15 minutes, add the cooked tomatoes with their juice and stir until the juice is nearly absorbed, then continue adding broth as before until the rice is al dente. This process will take about 25 minutes, and at the end you will have a creamy sauce around rice grains that are tender but firm and studded with brightly colored pieces of tomato. Remove from the heat, stir in the basil and the Parmesan cheese, taste, adjust the salt and add pepper if desired. Add a last ladle of broth, give a final stir and spoon the risotto into bowls. Pass the additional Parmesan cheese at the table. 6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings: 323 calories; 877 mg sodium; 7 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 47 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 2.68 grams fiber. Sun-Dried-Tomato-Stuffed Eggs Active Work Time: 25 minutes Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes Times Test Kitchen intern Mary Ellen Rae thought up these stuffed eggs for an April 11 story on an Easter buffet. They're best the day they're made. If that is impossible, you can make them a day ahead, up to the point of piping the filling into the eggs. Just keep everything refrigerated, and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the yolk mixture to keep it fresh. Then fill the eggs just before serving. 12 eggs 8 sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil) 2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped 1 large shallot, finely minced 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1/2 cup mayonnaise 4 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil, divided Place the 12 eggs in a large saucepan. Fill with cool water. Bring the water to boil over medium heat. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat to simmer and cook the eggs 20 minutes. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and cold water and set aside. Meanwhile, place the sun-dried tomatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and cover them with water. Microwave for 2 minutes, then let the tomatoes sit several minutes until they have softened. Drain on paper towels, then finely mince. When the eggs are cooked, lift them from the pan using a slotted spoon and place them in the cold water. Chill completely, then peel and slice them in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and push them through a potato ricer or a mesh strainer to break them up into small pieces. This will help make a smoother mixture. Combine the yolks, tomatoes, capers, shallot, mustard, mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons of basil in a small bowl. Stir to combine. If the egg whites are inclined to roll around on a plate, cut a very thin slice off the bottom. Fill a pastry bag fitted with the star tip with the egg yolk mixture. Pipe the filling into the egg whites, then garnish the eggs with the remaining basil. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can cut the tip off a resealable bag to pipe in the filling, or use a teaspoon. Cover the eggs with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. 24 eggs. Each egg: 61 calories; 137 mg sodium; 97 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.35 gram fiber. Peanut Butter Cream Pie Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus 3 hours chilling This Aug. 8 "Culinary SOS" column recipe comes from the Brewhouse, a hangout in Montecito popular with students. It's a spectacular example of delicious excess--cream cheese, peanut butter and a crust of Oreo cookie crumbs, topped by a mountain of whipped cream. CRUST 1 1/2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cookie crumbs and peanut butter and mix well. Shape the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake until set, 7 minutes. Cool completely. FILLING 8 ounces cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup peanut butter 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar 3 cups whipping cream Mix together the cream cheese, peanut butter and powdered sugar until there are no lumps. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to form stiff peaks, then fold it into the cream cheese mixture and pour it into the pie crust. Chill the pie 3 to 4 hours before serving. 8 servings. Each serving: 737 calories; 324 mg sodium; 153 mg cholesterol; 59 grams fat; 30 grams saturated fat; 46 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 2 grams fiber.