Best Beef: Beef Daube Provençal
All stews are wonderfully warm and comforting, but this recipe stands out for its simplicity and versatility. Spend 10 minutes browning the meat and garlic, then toss in the oven or slow cooker and your work is done. Ingredients you likely have in your pantry right now combine for deep flavor that can be a weeknight family dinner as easily as the centerpiece of a fancy party.
Best Appetizer: Spinach-and-Artichoke Dip
This dish represents our philosophy perfectly: It has all the creamy-inside, brown-and-crispy-on-top texture and cheesy taste that makes dips like this appealing, but with only 148 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving. The recipe was created in 2000, but it's still a go-to dish for staff parties.
Best Vegetarian Entrée: Falafel with Avocado Spread
With this recipe, we reimagined the Middle Eastern classic as a Latin American dish and found great success. Pinto beans replace chickpeas in the patties, which pick up extra flavor from jack cheese and crunch from crushed tortilla chips. An extra-creamy guacamole serves as a sauce, but all is still contained in the traditional pita.
Best Vegetable Side Dish: Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter
This dish is a favorite because it serves up so much flavor but is unbelievably fast and easy. Whip up the three-ingredient sauce while the asparagus bakes, and in 12 minutes you've got a dish that builds on the fresh sweetness of asparagus with complex caramelized and acid tastes.
Best Cake: Texas Sheet Cake
Reducing fat and calories in recipes does not mean you have to sacrifice flavor. This recipe uses butter and buttermilk in quantities that give it the right indulgently moist texture and rich flavor, but keep a serving's fat at 10 grams and calories at about 300.
Best Fish/Shellfish: Cornflake-Crusted Halibut with Chile-Cilantro Aioli
This recipe received the Test Kitchens' highest rating, quite possibly because of the creamy, spicy aioli, a sophisticated alternative to tartar sauce. But let's not slight the fish: Firm-fleshed, meaty halibut holds up well to pan-frying, and our coating of crushed cornflakes ensures great crispy texture.
Best Ice Cream/Sorbet: Fresh Orange Sorbet
This recipe first ran in the January/February 1990 issue, but its pure freshness is still popular among the staff today. A simple recipe yields intense flavor, thanks to generous amounts of orange juice and zest, with a bit of lemon juice for sweet-sour balance.Pantry Checklist:
- Optional: Mint
Best Yeast Bread: Hawaiian Bubble Bread
This wonderfully sweet, puffy, chewy bread is as perfect for a dessert as it is for breakfast or brunch. Fresh banana and pineapple-orange-banana juice provide tropical notes throughout, and an intensely coconutty glaze on top adds even more island flavor.
Best Grain Side Dish: Creamed Corn with Bacon and Leeks
This recipe is so fast and so simple, but it's miles above the stuff you remember from the school lunchroom. Leeks and corn straight off the cob add freshness, and a little crumbled bacon works its magic to deepen flavor and add a smoky crunch. The result is a sweet, creamy, comforting concoction that takes about 10 minutes to cook.
Best Potato Dish: Garlic Fries
With a wildly popular story called
Best Bar Cookie: Fudgy Mocha-Toffee Brownies
Ooey-gooey and rich with chocolate and coffee flavors, these brownies have a dense and fudgy texture that's just right. A topping of toffee chips that melts into the brownies during baking sets them apart in a delicious way.
Best Pork: Lombo di Maiale Coi Porri (Pan-Roasted Pork Loin with Leeks)
If you don't count salt, pepper, and water, this is an five-ingredient dish. But the simplicity of its preparation belies its deliciousness. Long-braised leeks fall apart into a sweet and mild oniony sauce that's a great companion to the tender pork, with white wine adding a hint of acidity to brighten the dish.
Best Quick Bread: Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze
Banana bread is consistenly one of the most searched-for terms on CookingLight.com, and with good reason―it's versatile, quick, and everybody loves it. We've had lots of banana breads in the magazine, but this one stands out: When we polled staffers about
Best Chicken: Roasted Chicken with Onions, Potatoes, and Gravy
When it's done right, there's nothing better than a simple roast chicken, and this recipe, created by Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams, gets it absolutely right. Add a bed of vegetables to the nicely seasoned, moist chicken and you've got a one-pan meal. Pour the easy pan gravy over that and you've got near perfection.
Best Soup: Baked Potato Soup
Potatoes give soups like this one a nice hearty texture, but it's the other ingredients that separate bland potato soups from legendary ones. This recipe uses milk and sour cream for a luscious mouthfeel, cheddar cheese for its tang and color, green onions for a zing of freshness, and bacon because bacon makes everything better. It's all the flavors of a great baked potato in a creamy, comforting soup, and we love it.
Best Chili/Stew: Chunky Two-Bean and Beef Chili
Chili is another perennial Cooking Light favorite; it's a fixture on our wintertime covers and is a filling and nutritious way to warm up when it's cold outside. This spicy, hearty version is our favorite for lots of reasons: the subtle heat from jalapeños, the complex fruity notes from red wine, and the spicy warmth from generous amounts of chili powder, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon.
Best Salad: Green and Yellow Bean Salad with Chunky Tomato Dressing and Feta
This dish shows off fresh summer produce in the best way possible: with a dressing made from more fresh summer produce. Check your local farmer's market for heirloom varieties of wax beans, which are both beautiful and tasty, and come in many colors beyond green. Shredded basil and tangy feta complement the bright tomato vinaigrette and complete this salad, whose simplicity might be its best asset.
Best Pie/Cobbler: Coconut-Peach Cobbler with Bourbon-Pecan Ice Cream
There's nothing about this dessert that isn't excellent. From the rich and nutty ice cream, to the coconut-cookie crust, to the sweet and fresh peach filling, it'll knock 'em dead every time. The best part? You can make each component ahead of time, and assemble and bake just before serving.
Best Pasta: Cavatappi with Spinach, Beans, and Asiago Cheese
You can't be too busy to cook when easy recipes like this one exist. In the time it takes to cook pasta, you can assemble a full and healthful meal. The beans add creamy body to the dish, while the spinach, lightly wilted after a toss with the hot pasta, brings freshness. Olive oil, garlic, and cheese form a light sauce that pulls everything together. Top with lots of pepper.