Sifting through recipes to find best of the best

BOOKMARK

January 22, 2003|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

To appreciate The Best American Recipes 2002-2003, stop and think how many recipes are published each year in newspapers and magazines, in cookbooks, on Web sites and in community newsletters, even on the backs of cereal boxes and soup cans.

Now imagine trying to comb through those thousands of recipes to find the 150 best.

This is the Herculean task Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens undertake with this latest edition in a series from Houghton Mifflin (2002, $26).

McCullough and Stevens tested some 700 recipes before choosing their favorites. In the introduction, they note food trends they discovered, including the resurgence of butter, the popularity of cabbage and sage, and the propensity for chefs to put eggs over everything.

In selecting the best recipes, they say they looked for dishes that were simple but sophisticated, had exceptional taste and introduced new techniques or new uses for familiar ingredients. Among those they selected are recipes from celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, food magazines such as Gourmet and even one found on the label of a leg of lamb sold at Sam's Club.

There are no photos, but each recipe has a description of the dish as well as preparation tips and wine suggestions.

All of the recipes I tried were easy and delivered the promised sophisticated taste, such as this carrot salad topped with fried goat cheese.

Carrot, Parsley and Pine-Nut Salad With Fried Goat Cheese

Serves 4

two 2- to 3-ounce goat-cheese buttons (see note)

1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon good-quality white-wine vinegar

1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, preferably sheep's milk (see note)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shredded carrots (2 large or 3 medium)

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying

Slice the goat cheese in four 3/4 - to 1-inch thick discs. Place the flour and egg mixture into separate small bowls. Lightly coat each piece of goat cheese with flour, shaking off any excess. Dip into the egg mixture and coat again with flour. Set aside on a plate.

In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, sugar, lemon juice and vinegar. Let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the yogurt, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add the carrots, parsley and pine nuts and toss to coat. Taste and season again. Divide the salad among 4 salad plates.

Heat a medium-heavy or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the skillet. Fry the goat cheese, turning only once, until browned on both sides. The center of the cheese should be warm so that it will melt over the salad, but don't cook it so long that it loses its shape. Place a piece of goat cheese on top of each salad and serve immediately.

Note: For the goat cheese, you want something relatively fresh and mild so that it will have a bit of creaminess inside when fried. If you can't find small buttons (crottin) just get a log of chevre, like Montrachet, and cut it into four pieces. You'll need 4 to 6 ounces total.

Note: If you can't find sheep's milk yogurt, go for any good-quality whole-milk yogurt.

-- Ana Sortun, formaggiokitchen.com

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