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Alas, all good things must come to an end, and with this sweet confection we arrive at the finale of the Best Recipes of 2013 series.  But stay tuned in 2014 for another year of food stories and coverage of the latest cookbooks – and in the meantime, stay warm, eat well, and enjoy delicious holidays with your loved ones!

The book:  Family Table, by Michael Romano & Karen Stabiner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35.00)

The recipe:  Buttermilk Panna Cotta (with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote)

Why I tried it: I can’t believe I only discovered panna cotta this year – so easy! and so good!  Violating my own rule (never count on a recipe you’ve never tried, when you’re going to a dinner party), I made it for the first time for an evening with some friends.  I even doubled the recipe and, along with it, the risk of failure.  But I felt it was high time for me to get more comfortable working with gelatin, so I pressed ahead anyway.

Why I loved it:  On the very first try, this recipe hit it out of the park.  The final product was a subtly tart and sublimely decadent custard, which slid like silk stockings over the tongue.  The compote was good, too.  But it was the panna cotta itself that had me going back, time and time again, with a surreptitious spoon.  I made it several times more afterward, and a few times experienced some difficulties – the panna cotta sometimes separated into two layers – one creamy and liquidy, one clear and rubbery.  I later learned I could avert this by leaving the custard out to cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge (I had done exactly that by accident, out of sheer forgetfulness, the first time).  So let the custard rest and give it a last whisk before you set it in the fridge, and by the time evening falls you will have an indulgence to rival the splendor that was Rome.

Estimated preparation time:  15 minutes active time, followed by half an hour of cooling down and  several hours in the fridge.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.   You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

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Buttermilk panna cottaButtermilk Panna Cotta

Serves 6

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup of the cream. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.

Bring the remaining ½ cup cream, the sugar, and vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute, then whisk in the cream-gelatin mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Stir in the buttermilk.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Divide the mixture among six 4-ounce ramekins or pour into a small serving bowl. Let cool to room temperature and whisk once again before covering with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 5 hours, until set. (Well-wrapped, the panna cotta will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.)

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins and unmold the panna cotta onto plates, or serve it right in the ramekins or scoop out of the bowl.

Click here for the rhubarb-strawberry compote recipe if you want to make that too.

Reprinted from Family Table.  Copyright © 2013 by USHG, LLC, and Karen Stabiner.  Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The book:  Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan, $29.95)

The recipe:  Simple Beans

Why I tried it: Green beans are a staple in our household.  We eat them pretty much weekly, so I’m always looking for new ways to make them. I like them close to plain and pristine when we have fresh garden beans in the summer, but the rest of the time I like them robustly flavored.  The moment I saw “6 garlic cloves” and “5 anchovy fillets” – all for a mere 1/2 pound of beans – I knew we had a deal.

Why I loved it:  This is one of those times when the anchovy just melts away into the butter, and you wouldn’t remember it’s there if not for the powerful hit of umami which accompanies every bite.  Technique-wise, it’s pretty usual for green beans – blanch them real quick and then turn them around in some flavored fat.  But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bean dish that packs more shout-it-from-the-rooftops flavor than this one.  Eat it with someone you love – not necessarily recommended for first dates.

Estimated preparation time:  Less than 1/2 hour – and half of that is waiting for water to boil.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

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Simple Beans
Serves 4

Kosher salt
1⁄2 pound green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5 anchovy fillets
1⁄4 teaspoon chile flakes
Lemon wedges

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and have a bowl of ice and water ready. Add the green beans and cook for 2 minutes, then dunk them into the ice bath. Allow the beans to cool completely, then drain them in a colander.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the garlic, reduce the heat to low, and sauté until golden brown but not burned, about 3 minutes. Add the anchovies and sauté over low heat until the fillets begin to dissolve into the butter, about 3 minutes. Season with 2 teaspoons salt, add the chile flakes and green beans, and cook just until the beans are tender but still crispy, about 3 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Excerpted from Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Quentin Bacon.

Oh no!  you may be thinking.  This is Best Recipe #10! The series must be over!  Have no fear, friends. This is a 12-recipe series.  I’ll release the next two (including the easiest killer dessert you’ll ever make) tomorrow and Tuesday, before we all take off for the holiday.

The book:  Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing, $19.95)

The recipe:  Grilled Baby Back Ribs

Why I tried itGiven that I’ve loved pretty much every grilled ribs recipe I’ve ever tried, I wasn’t sure I needed another.  But the idea of starting right out a massive dose of fresh ginger and dry mustard – two of my favorite aggressive ingredients – was too good not to try.  By the time I got to the words “chunky rub”, I was sold.

Why I loved it:  In a lifetime’s and several pigs’ worth of ribs, these were exceptional, eyeballs-to-the-ceiling, swoonworthy.  There’s that “chunky rub” – an express train to flavor right there.  And then there’s that sour-sweet glaze, with that alluring tamarind thing which balances the tart and the fruity in that kiss-slap!-kiss-slap! way I can’t get enough of.  It gilds the ribs front and back and reduces you to an absolute animal, if you aren’t one to begin with.

Estimated preparation time:  1 1/2 – 2 hours, but much of that is idle time.  You can also marinate the night before, which will save you a little time.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  Indian Cooking Unfolded is one of my top 10!  You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

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Grilled Baby Back Ribs

Author’s note:  “If you don’t have a grill (or it’s freezing outside), use your oven to roast the ribs: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly spray a broiler pan, or a rack set in a roasting pan, with cooking spray. Arrange the ribs, meat side down, on the rack and roast them until well-browned, about 45 minutes. Turn the ribs over and roast them for 30 to 45 minutes longer. The meat should be tender and almost falling off the bone. Liberally brush the ribs with all of the glaze.  Continue to roast the ribs meat side up, until the glaze looks slightly opaque and the meat is very tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Let the ribs rest covered with aluminum foil for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing them between the bones.”

FOR THE RIBS
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground mustard
4 pounds baby back pork ribs

FOR THE GLAZE
1⁄4 cup tomato paste
1⁄4 cup maple syrup or molasses
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, or 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt

Nonfat cooking spray

1. Prepare the ribs: Mix the ginger, 1 teaspoon of salt, and the mustard together in a small bowl. Smear this chunky rub over the meaty side of the ribs. You can cook the ribs right away or you may also choose to cover the ribs and refrigerate them overnight to allow the flavors to permeate the meat. (I usually put the ribs on a sheet pan or baking sheet, as they are easily contained in one tray and don’t take up that much room in the refrigerator.)

2. Make the glaze: Combine the tomato paste, maple syrup or molasses, lime or lemon juice or tamarind paste, cumin, cayenne, cloves, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl and stir thoroughly.

3. When you are ready to grill the ribs, heat a gas or charcoal grill to high.

4. Lightly spray the grill grate with cooking spray. If you are using a gas grill, reduce the heat to medium. If charcoal is the name of your game, spread the hot coals to the sides for indirect heat.

5. Place the ribs on the grill grate, meat side down, and cover the grill. Cook the ribs until well-browned, 35 to 45 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the meat drippings don’t flame up and burn the ribs (if they do, I usually move the ribs to an unlit section of the grill for a few seconds until the flames die down).

6. Turn the ribs over so they are meat side up and cover the grill again. Cook until nicely browned and the meat is tender and almost falling off the bone, 20 to 25 minutes longer.

7. Liberally brush the ribs with the hot-sweet-tart glaze, using it all up. Continue to grill them, meat side up and with the grill covered, until the glaze looks slightly opaque and the meat is even more tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

8 Transfer the ribs to a cutting board, cover them with aluminum foil, and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

9 Slice the ribs between the bones (it’s okay to lick your fingers when no one is watching) and transfer them to a serving platter. Serve the ribs warm (this is a good time to bring out the bibs).

Reprinted from  Indian Cooking Unfolded with the publisher’s permission.  Copyright © 2013 by Raghavan Iyer.  Published by Workman Publishing.

The book:  The New Midwestern Table, by Amy Thielen (Clarkson Potter, $35.00)

The recipe:  Grilled Mushroom Salad with Toasted Almonds

Why I tried it: This is one of those goes-with-everything sides.  When I’m planning the week’s meals, I usually decide all the protein mains first, and then wing the vegetable while the main dish is bubbling away.  If I’m testing two recipes at once, it’s a boon to find a side that mix-and-matches nicely and doesn’t take up too much of my cognitive capacity.  This one looked like a winner. Plus, I love shiitakes in everything.

Why I loved it:  Grated garlic!  what a good idea – you get good flavor dispersal through the marinade, and it kind of clings to the mushrooms instead of charring in little bits when you try to grill.  The toasted almonds ensure that every bite goes crunch, if you are the kind of person who gets bored by soft mushroom textures after a couple of minutes. And the meaty mushroom flavor, the paprika, and especially the butter fuse the three parts – vegetable, green, and nuts – into something that transcends any one of those elements.

Estimated preparation time:  35-40 minutes, including a little marinating down time so you can spare some attention for whatever else you’re cooking.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  The New Midwestern Table is one of my top 10!  You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

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Grilled Mushroom saladGrilled Mushroom Salad with Toasted Almonds

Serves 6 to 8

Author’s note: “You can make the marinated grilled mushrooms well ahead of time. In the summer, grill the mushrooms outside. In the winter, I char them on a stovetop grill pan or, in a pinch, in a hot cast-iron pan.”

7 ounces shiitake mushrooms
1 clove garlic, finely grated
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
½ cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sugar
10 cups mesclun greens

Trim off and discard the mushroom stems. Wipe the caps with a damp cloth. Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of the paprika in a medium bowl. Add the mushroom caps, toss, and marinate for at least 20 minutes, and as long as a couple of hours.

To toast the almonds, combine them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the butter, ¹⁄8 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a small pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the almonds turn golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.

Preheat a grill or a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the mushrooms, starting gill-side down, until cooked through and well marked on both sides, about 7 minutes in all. Drop the mushrooms back into the marinating bowl to catch any juices. Then transfer them to a cutting board, chop roughly, and return to the bowl. Add the lemon juice, sugar, remaining 1 teaspoon paprika, salt and pepper to taste, and the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Just before serving, pile the greens into a serving bowl, and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter the almonds over all, and toss with the mushroom and enough of the dressing to lightly coat.

Reprinted from the book The New Midwestern Table.  Copyright © 2013 by Amy Thielen.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

The book:  Keepers, by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (Rodale, $26.99)

The recipe:  Skillet lasagna

Why I tried it: I always think “Wouldn’t be lasagna be great for dinner!” 1 hour before it is time to eat, so I never end up getting to eat it.  If you told me you could make lasagna in under an hour, I would assume that you meant you could reheat something you bought frozen, and an awkward pause would fall on our conversation.  But this version looked like real food, with real ingredients.  And having tested a bunch of complicated recipes the week before, I felt I deserved a break.

Why I loved it:  This recipe is so easy you feel like you’re only pretending to cook.  Every once in a while you mosey over to the pot and put it in a few more we’re-here-to-help type ingredients (sausage from the store, no-boil lasagna), and you give it a desultory poke with your spoon.   The best part is the silken swirl of creamy mascarpone at the end. It’s a sloppy, beautiful one-pot mess that doesn’t look a lot like the architectural pan lasagna we know and love, but it tastes every bit as good.  Too good, really – once again, I find myself altering a recipe down from “Serves 6″ to “Serves 4″.

Estimated preparation time:  45 minutes (not counting the “resting time” at the end) – but there’s hardly any prep, and everything goes in the same pot, so it feels even shorter.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  Keepers is one of my top 10!  You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

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Skillet Lasagna-p128Skillet Lasagna
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Large pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1 sprig basil, plus a handful of basil leaves
Salt and pepper
One 9-ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles
4 ounces mascarpone cheese or cream cheese (1/2 cup)
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and patted dry

In a large high-sided sauté pan with a 3-quart capacity and a lid, heat the oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add the sausages and cook, stirring often and breaking up the meat, until browned, about 4 minutes. Leaving as much oil in the pan as possible, transfer the sausage to a medium bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onions, garlic, and pepper flakes to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 7 minutes. Add the oregano, the tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands or a potato masher (see note, page 118), the sprig of basil, and the cooked sausage and any juices. Season with salt and pepper, then gently simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the seasonings (it should be a little salty) and discard the basil sprig.

Break half of the lasagna noodles in half crosswise (it’s fine if smaller pieces break off) and as you do so, push each piece into the sauce under the sausage, distributing them evenly throughout the pan. Break the remaining half of the noodles in half and distribute them evenly over the sauce, then push down on them with the back of a spoon to submerge them. Cover the pan and gently simmer (raising the heat a little, if needed) until the noodles are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 12 minutes.

Dollop the mascarpone over the lasagna and swirl it into the sauce. Top with the mozzarella and gently simmer, covered, until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, top with the basil leaves, tearing any large ones. Let the lasagna rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, then serve.

Reprinted from Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion.  Photography by Christopher Testani.  Copyright (c) 2013 by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. By permission of Rodale Books.  Available wherever books are sold.

The book:  Eat Your Vegetables, by Joe Yonan (10 Speed Press, $24.99)

The recipe:  Roasted sweet potato with coconut, dates, and walnuts

Why I tried it: I am not the sweet potato’s biggest fan. But I love coconut, and I’ve been carrying on a two-year affair with dates.  With maturity, I’ve also come to forgive walnuts for not being pecans.  Finally, I figured if anyone could sweet-talk me into eating my orange vegetables, it would probably be the infamously charming Joe Yonan.

Why I loved it:  In just one bite, I was transported to some kind of tropical fiesta celebrating the coconut.  Even though this recipe takes no more than 5 minutes of active time to put together, the riot of textures and different kinds of sweet made me feel like someone was throwing a party just for me.  It was a feeling I enjoyed so much that upon discovering this recipe, I made it for lunch for a week straight.

Estimated preparation time:  45-60 mostly idle minutes depending on whether you use the microwave or the all-oven method.  Once the sweet potato’s in the oven, you can deal with the walnuts and dates in no time at all and still have time to fit in an excellent cat video or two.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  You can find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

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Roasted Sweet Potato with Coconut, Dates, and Walnuts

3 tablespoons raw unsalted walnut halves
1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil (may substitute butter, olive oil, or walnut oil)
Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon finely shredded unsweetened coconut
2 or 3 pitted dates, preferably Medjool, chopped
1 tablespoon large unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Use a fork or sharp knife to prick the sweet potato in several places. Place on a piece of aluminum foil and bake until the potato is tender and can be easily squeezed, 30 to 40 minutes. (Alternatively, to speed up the process, the pricked sweet potato can be microwaved on high for 1 minute, then carefully transferred to a piece of foil and into the oven. Bake until the potato is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.)

While the potato is baking, sprinkle the walnuts into a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the nuts start to brown and become fragrant, a few minutes.

Immediately transfer them to a plate to cool; if you leave them to cool in the pan, they can burn. Once they are cool, chop them.

Transfer the sweet potato to a serving plate. Use a knife to slash it open, then spoon the coconut oil on top, mashing it in. Sprinkle with salt to taste, then add the finely shredded coconut, walnuts, dates, and large coconut flakes, and eat.

Reprinted with permission from Eat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

The book:  The New Persian Kitchen, by Louisa Shafia (10 Speed, $24.99)

The recipe:  Lamb Kebabs in Pomegranate-Walnut Marinade

Why I tried it: That familiar combination of pomegranates and walnuts had already won us all over in fesenjan (or fesenjoon), the classic fowl dish of Persia.  But I’d never tried it in a marinade context, a lamb context, or a grill context.  Why not?  I thought.

Why I loved it:  The first taste was love – complete, unadulterated, swooning infatuation.  “How can lamb taste so much like pork?!”  I practically shouted. And so it was, the meat as sweet and succulent as pork but with that irresistible edge of crisp lamb fat.  The walnuts give a body and a base to the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses.  In the recipe copy below,  I changed the yield from “Serves 6″ to “Serves 4″.  I bet you’ll still be fighting over the last skewer even if you’re only 4.

Estimated preparation time:  Only 30-40 minutes of active time, really, but there’s an overnight marinade plus heating the grill or coals for the grill.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.   You can also find hundreds of great cookbook recommendations on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices).

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lamb kebabs

Lamb kebabs in pomegranate-walnut marinade
Kebab-e torsh

Serves 4

2 pounds lamb tenderloin or boneless shank or neck, cut into 11/2-inch chunks
1 cup walnuts
3/4 cup pomegranate molasses
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra chopped for garnish
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the meat in a large casserole dish. In a food processor, grind the walnuts, pomegranate molasses, garlic, and olive oil into a puree. Add the parsley and pulse into small bits. Pour the marinade over the meat and toss well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak them in salty water for a couple of hours before grilling. Thread 3 or 4 pieces of meat onto each skewer 1/4 inch apart, leaving 2 inches of space at the end. Discard the marinade. Brush or wipe extra marinade from the skewers. Leave the meat out while you heat the grill so it can come up to room temperature (no more than 45 minutes total).

Prepare a hot grill.  Lightly oil the grill and grill the kebabs for 6 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally. When done, the meat should be slightly charred on the outside and very pink on the inside. Transfer to a serving platter and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley 
and serve.

Reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.   Food Photography: Sara Remington © 2013.

The book:  Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton, $35)

The recipe:  Vegetarian gong bao chicken

Why I tried it: Gong bao ji ding –  the standard Gong Bao chicken recipe – was a staple in my household as I was growing up, and it’s one of the things I wanted to learn early on when I first started cooking.  I wondered if a vegetarian version could hit the spot the same way.  And I thought portobellos, the meatiest mushrooms, were probably a pretty good bet as a protein substitute.

Why I loved it:  Vinegary, spicy, a little sweet, those gong bao flavors are unstoppable.  The mushrooms aren’t just a stand-in for chicken – they’ve got that spongey, chewy texture of their own which I sometimes genuinely prefer.  Combined with crunchy shards of peanuts everywhere,  I think they’re just the cat’s pajamas.  You will again find me sucking the chiles afterward.

Estimated preparation time:  Just over 30  minutes, if you don’t lollygag about and if your stove can bring a pot of water to a boil in less than 15 minutes.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations. You can also find hundreds of great cookbook recommendations on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for both  iPhone/iPad and Android devices).

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Vegetarian gong bao chicken

Serves 2 as a main course with rice; 4 if you add a side or two and throw in one more portobello.

When I don’t have the potato flour Dunlop suggests, I use corn starch.  Also, you can use mushroom soy for the dark soy – same idea.

3 large portobello mushroom caps (11 oz.)
8-10 Sichuanese dried chillies
3 cloves of garlic
An equivalent amount of ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
About ¾ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
3 oz. roasted peanuts

For the marinade:
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tbsp potato starch

For the sauce:
3 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
¼  tsp potato flour
½ tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinkiang vinegar

Bring a panful of water (about 2 quarts/2 litres) to the boil. Trim the mushrooms and cut into 3/8-3/4 in (1-2cm) cubes. Blanch the mushroom cubes in the boiling water for about a minute, until partially cooked. Drain, refresh under the cold tap and shake dry. Add the marinade ingredients and mix well.

Cut the chillies in half and shake out and discard the seeds as far as possible. Peel and thinly slice the ginger and garlic. Cut the spring onion whites into 3/8-inch sections. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl with 1 tbsp water and mix well.

Heat the oil in a seasoned wok to about  300 degrees F. At this temperature, you should see small movements in the oil, and the surface will tremble slightly. Add the mushrooms and fry for 30-60 seconds until glossy, stirring gently. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain off all but about 2 tbsp of the oil.

Return the wok to the heat with the chillies and Sichuan pepper and sizzle briefly until the chillies are darkening but not burnt and the oil is wonderfully fragrant. Add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and stir-fry briefly until you can smell them. Then return the mushrooms to the wok and stir into the fragrant oil. Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, stirring swiftly as it thickens. Finally, stir in the peanuts and serve.

Reprinted from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. Text copyright © 2012 by Fuchsia Dunlop. Photography copyright © 2012 by Chris Terry. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc..

The book:  The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, by Matt Lee & Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter, $35)

The recipe:  Dirty Rice and Greens

Why I tried it: It was one of those moments when you can feel your food opinions shifting.  My husband was talking about how much he loved chicken livers, and I was thinking about how much I wished I did.  At some point the words “especially in dirty rice” were spoken.  I stumbled on this recipe not long after, and I knew the moment had come for that Ziploc of saved-up livers that had been lingering in the freezer for months.

Why I loved it:  There is just so much going on in this dish – the sausage, the bacon, the aromatics, the organ meat!  You’d think that it really would taste blurry, or “dirty,” instead of just looking the part.  Yet by the time all is said and done, it’s a savory, cohesive potful of goodness.  As for the liver, it retreats into a kind of rich, basso profundo backdrop.  You probably wouldn’t know what it was if you didn’t want to, and you’d miss it if it wasn’t there.

Estimated preparation time:  About 45 minutes.  The Lees are refreshingly accurate about prep times (rather than wildly optimistic, which is the usual way with cookbooks that offer an estimate).  It’s one of the things I like about them.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  

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Dirty Rice and Greens
Serves 6

1 tablespoon peanut, canola, or olive oil
¹⁄³ pound sweet or hot Italian sausage (about 1 link), cut from the casing and crumbled
1 slice thick-cut bacon
5 ounces chicken livers (about 3 large)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 large)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 large cloves)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 cups cooked seasoned greens, e.g. slow-cooked collards, roughly chopped

1. Pour the oil into a 6- to 8-quart cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the sausage and the bacon slice, flipping the bacon a few times to render its grease while pushing the sausage around with a wooden spoon to brown evenly. After 2 to 3 minutes, when the sausage is not visibly raw, add the chicken livers, pushing them around and mashing them with the spoon to break them down as they cook, about 2 minutes.

2. Add the red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, thyme, salt, and black pepper and stir to mix evenly. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to give up some moisture. Add the rice and stir until the grains are glazed with oil.

3. Add 4 cups of water, stir until evenly distributed, and cover. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid is nearly gone.

4. Turn off the heat and add the cooked collard greens, stirring just enough to combine. Cover again and allow to steam for 5 minutes before serving. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Reprinted from the book The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen.  Copyright © 2013 by Matt Lee & Ted Lee.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

The book:  One Good Dish, by David Tanis (Artisan, $25.95)

The recipe:  Wok-fried lamb with cumin and chiles

Why I tried it: I vaguely remembered that the lamb and cumin stir-fry, as odd as it sounds, is a traditional recipe from northwest China, the bit near Mongolia, where they understand cold weather.   All year I’d be eating lamb and cumin in more of a Middle Eastern context, and something about the thought of all those red chilies, right in the middle of a New England winter,  just made my heart sing.

Why I loved it:  The cumin and the ginger conspire to cut the richness and bring out the sweetness of the lamb, and if you use a hot enough flame you can get that wonderful, seared-in velvety effect from the cornstarch clinging to the surface of the tiny lamb slivers.  Myself, I love sucking – carefully – on the dried red chiles afterward, for that fruity afterburn, but I understand that isn’t normal.

Estimated preparation time:  Less than 45 minutes.  It all depends how quick you are at reducing a hunk of lamb to 1/4″ slivers.  If you have the presence of mind ahead of time to partly freeze the meat – so that it’s neither liverishly wobbly nor icicle-solid – then  it goes a lot faster.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  One Good Dish is one of my top 10!

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Wok-Fried Lamb with Cumin
Serves “3 or 4″ (honestly? 2.)

1 pound boneless lean lamb, cut into strips ¼ inch wide and 1½ inches long
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
12 small dried red chile peppers, or more if desired
A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
6 scallions, thinly slivered

Put the lamb in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the cornstarch. Mix with your fingers to combine.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or wide cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and dried chiles. When they begin to sizzle, add the lamb, ginger, and garlic, toss well to coat the lamb, and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the lamb is slightly browned. Add the sesame oil, cilantro, and scallions and transfer to a serving dish.

Excerpted from One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Gentl & Hyers.

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