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.
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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
• In 1993, Dawn Sieber, then-executive chef at the Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, shared her recipe for this glorious white gazpacho, which I make often.
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.
• For a long time the original Café Tu Tu Tango in Cocowalk was the place to go in the Grove, with its wall space gallery for local artists and eclectic café menu. Their black bean salsa is my go-to when I need a super-quick snack for game day, served with tortilla chips.
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
• I often get requests for the miso dressing from The Unicorn and this ginger dressing from Benihana. I make it often; not only is it low-calorie, but it packs a terrific flavor punch for an everyday side salad. It’s also great with a main-dish salad of tuna or sliced chicken or grilled shrimp.
• If you are from the South and of a certain age, you remember Morrison’s Cafeterias, where the food tasted of a gentler and yes, less cholesterol-conscious time. I loved the squash casseroles and congealed salads and all things battered and deep fried. Getting the tartar sauce recipe was such a kick.
• When I take the time to make black beans from scratch, I use this recipe from El Pub, a longtime Little Havana favorite.
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 created this recipe for Pad Thai when a restaurant wouldn’t part with its version. Because ingredients such as fish sauce and rice noodles were not as easily available then as they are today, I used what you could easily find in a grocery store. I’ve added those ingredients as options.
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.
• I love this simple but fabulous recipe from Laurenzo’s in North Miami, kindly shared by David Laurenzo in 1990. It’s a nice meatless supper and wonderful to bring to a potluck where vegetarians are often limited to salad.
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.
• These are my signature cookies, which I mail out by the dozens every year for Christmas, and for birthdays and “missing you” packages. These Key lime meltaways taste divine, with a sweet-tart-buttery kiss, and you can make them in stages.
Prepare the dough one day, roll it into logs and refrigerate for a week or freeze for months before slicing and baking.
• For this flan, I use a small Bundt pan with decorative impressions that always makes it look spectacular. Because it is firmer than a traditional flan, it can be sliced easily into small portions so it is great for a dessert buffet.
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.
• Long before dulce de leche became mainstream across America, it was popular in Miami, brought here in a variety of forms by immigrants from Cuba, and Latin and South America. Making it the old-fashioned way involves a lot of tedious stirring and cooking over low heat.
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.