When you write about food for a living, what you put on the table at a dinner party, take to a potluck, contribute to a family gathering or place in a gift basket is always under scrutiny.
You can’t get away with picking up coleslaw at the deli or grabbing a box of doughnuts at the bakery.
I deal with that pressure by turning time and again to Cook’s Corner recipes that have proven their worth.
And in more than 30 years of doing this column, I have accumulated favorite recipes I make over and over.
Here are my top 10. And, in the spirit of the interactive nature of Cook’s Corner, I’d love to hear from readers about their own favorites.
Appetizers and first courses
The vegetables can be cut up in advance, but to keep the soup white and the vegetables crisp, don't combine them with the buttermilk mixture until just before serving. Low-fat dairy products are fine.
I like chopped cilantro, hot pepper sauce and extra sour cream as garnishes, and for a heartier meal sometimes add a can of cannellini beans.
It makes a lot, so you may want to halve the recipe. But you can use leftovers, which refrigerate or freeze well due to the vinegar, as a condiment to zip up a burrito or Spanish omelet. The recipe dates to 1991; a Tu Tu Tango lives on in Orlando.
Salad Dressings and Condiments
A debate over who makes the best black beans in Miami would no doubt become incendiary. But I’m partial to this recipe given to me in 1987 by El Pub’s Florentino Perez. This recipe does take a long time to cook, but the prep work is minimal and I usually make a double batch so I can freeze half.
I take this dish to just about every potluck supper or office party I attend and always am asked for the recipe. It’s economical, feeds a crowd, and can be made heartier by adding cooked shrimp, chicken or stir-cooked egg.
You can even make this in advance, up to the baking stage. I bring along extra Parmesan cheese and crushed dried red peppers for sprinkling on top.
Prepare the dough one day, roll it into logs and refrigerate for a week or freeze for months before slicing and baking.
Best of all, you zip it together in a blender and the only thing tricky is taking the caramel off the stove before it burns. The recipe is from Irela Messer, who submitted it to a recipe contest when I was the Miami Herald food editor back in 1986.
This microwave version provided by a reader is the ultimate fast indulgence. Note: Don’t double this recipe; it won’t cook properly.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.