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story.lead_photo.caption Tomato-Pimento Cheese Cornbread (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Before we dive into all the great recipes 2020 will bring, I want to take one last look at some of our favorites from 2019.

Narrowing down this annual list is never easy, but this year I managed to get it down to seven with a relatively even balance of savory and sweet.

In chronological order:

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This White Chocolate Blackberry Cheesecake was made using the formula for Create Your Own Cheesecake. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Mastering a formula for a customizable cheesecake recipe ranks among my proudest culinary accomplishments of 2019. I used this formula, published on Jan. 23, for numerous variations.

Create Your Own Cheesecake

The basic cheesecake formula is 1 egg, up to ¼ cup sour cream or heavy cream, and ¼ cup sugar per ½ pound of cream cheese.

For a plain 9-inch cheesecake beat 1 ½ pounds of cream cheese with ¾ cup sugar and a pinch of salt for 3 minutes or until smooth and creamy; add 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated between each addition; stir in up to ¾ cup sour cream, 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. To vary the flavor, stir or swirl up to 1 cup fruit jam or puree such as blackberry, strawberry, apricot and/or up to 12 ounces of melted and cooled chocolate into the batter. Pour into a springform pan lined with crust of your choice; place pan in a water bath and bake in a 350-degree oven for 40 to 60 minutes or until edges are set and center is jiggly.

A reader identified only as Sandy shared this recipe in Idea Alley on Jan. 30.

"We obtained [this recipe] last September on a visit to England, more specifically The Black Dog Pub in Kent," Sandy wrote.

In the following weeks, we heard from several readers who tried it and raved.

Cauliflower Soup

At some point before you are ready to make the soup, peel and slice in ¼ inch slices 1 medium size onion. Caramelize it in about 2 tablespoons olive oil over very low heat for about 2 hours. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to eat it, place 4 cups chicken OR vegetable broth in a pan and bring to a medium simmer. Add one head cauliflower in florets (or two 10-ounce packages frozen florets) and cook until very tender. Use an immersible blender (if you have one) or just mash like potatoes if you don't. Dissolve 2 tablespoons cornstarch in cool water and add to the pot, blending with a whisk until well combined. If you want to thicken it more, just repeat with more cornstarch. When you have the consistency you like, add about 2 tablespoons crumbled bleu cheese; stir until it melts. The important thing here is that the bleu cheese is just faintly present. Do not overpower the cauliflower or you will have bleu cheese soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in a splash of heavy cream just to lighten it. Add the caramelized onions last and serve. A great addition is homemade croutons. That's it!

Homemade Croutons

Cut bread — day-old baguette, sourdough and Texas toast work great — into ½- to ¾-inch cubes. Toss the cubes with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch or two of salt (or garlic salt for added flavor); arrange cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake them in a 350-degree oven, stirring once or twice so they brown evenly, until crisp and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Once cool, the croutons can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes 2 servings.

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Orange Bars (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

These Orange Bars featured in Front Burner on April 3, were a welcome change from the traditional lemon version.

Orange Bars

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups cake or all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

Pinch salt

1 ½ cups unpacked light brown sugar

Zest of 1 orange

4 eggs

¼ cup almond meal/flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice (bottled is fine)

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a medium bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add flour, granulated sugar and salt. Beat until mixture forms a crumbly dough. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned.

In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar and orange zest, rubbing the zest into the sugar with your fingers. Beat in eggs, beating until completely smooth. Add the almond flour and baking powder and mix well. With the mixer running, slowly add the orange juice, then the lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat for 1 minute. Carefully pour mixture over crust. Bake 20 minutes more or until filling is just set and does not jiggle. Cool completely before dusting generously with confectioners' sugar and cutting into squares.

Makes about 24 (2-inch) bars.

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Cardamom Cake With Strawberry-Rose Water Buttercream (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

I'm still dreaming about this cake I wrote about in Front Burner on May 29.

Cardamom Cake With Strawberry-Rose Water Buttercream

Cake:

2 2/3 cups cake flour

½ to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon PLUS 1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups milk

½ cup vegetable oil

5 egg whites

Frosting:

1 (1-ounce) package freeze-dried strawberries

1 cup butter, softened

4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Pinch salt (omit if using salted butter)

A few drops rose water (extract)

Milk or half-and-half as needed

Chopped pistachios, for decorating

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 (8- or 9-inch) cake pans with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cardamom, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the milk, oil and egg whites and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Divide batter among the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, or with a crumb or two attached.

Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes, then loosen the edges by running an offset spatula or plastic knife along the sides, turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

Set aside a few pieces of freeze-dried strawberries. Pulverize the remaining berries to a fine powder in a blender or food processor; set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar, the salt, rose water and the pulverized freeze-dried strawberries. Beat until smooth and creamy, adding a tablespoon or two of milk as needed to create desired texture.

To assemble:

Trim domed tops from cakes to level, if necessary. Place one cake layer on a cake stand and top with about a cup of frosting, spreading it in an even layer to the edge. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down, and frost top and sides of cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle with pistachios and reserved freeze-dried strawberries.

Makes 1 (2-layer) cake.

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Tomatillo and Watermelon Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

One bite and this quickly became my favorite summer salad with its delectable combination of sweet, tart and spicy flavors. The recipe appeared in Front Burner on July 10.

Tomatillo and Watermelon Salad

2 cups diced watermelon

1 ½ cups chopped fresh tomatillos (about ½ pound)

1 cup sliced seedless cucumber

½ small red onion, sliced

Handful cilantro leaves

Handful mint leaves

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt, to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

In a large bowl, toss together the watermelon, tomatillos, cucumber, red onion, cilantro and mint. Drizzle with citrus juices and season to taste with salt and red pepper.

Makes about 4 servings.

This recipe published on July 24 was, by far, the most popular of the year.

Tomato-Pimento Cheese Cornbread

1 ½ to 2 pints mixed cherry and grape tomatoes, halved

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon hot chile powder

Pinch celery seeds

¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano (Mediterranean oregano is OK too)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided use

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Ground black pepper, to taste

Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lime

2 green onions, minced, white and dark green parts separated, divided use

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 egg, beaten

1 cup whole milk

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar

1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimentos, drained

½ cup butter (1 stick)

Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven; heat to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, chile powder, celery seeds, Mexican oregano, ½ teaspoon salt, cumin, black pepper, lime zest and juice and the green onion bottoms.

Mix well; set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and remaining teaspoon of salt. Whisk in the egg and milk and then gently stir in the cheese and pimentos.

Add the stick of butter to the hot skillet, swirling pan to melt. Spoon batter into hot skillet, spreading it evenly. Immediately top with the tomato mixture. Return skillet to the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cut into wedges; serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with the minced green onion tops.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Quick Butter Tomato Sauce (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This buttery tomato sauce was delicious on everything I put it on — pasta, hunks of crusty bread, a spoon. The recipe was featured in a story on Sept. 25 about pasta sauces that can be whipped up while the water boils.

Quick Butter Tomato Sauce

1½ pints cherry or grape tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic paste (look for it near the fresh herbs at the grocery store) OR minced garlic

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook tomatoes, stirring frequently, until skins are blistered, about 4 minutes. Stir in olive oil and garlic paste (careful! — it could spatter) and reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to split open. Season with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mash tomatoes to release their juices — they won't all be ready to burst at the same time, be patient. When about half of them have burst, stir in the balsamic vinegar and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all of the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and cook, stirring, until butter is completely melted and incorporated. Use immediately. If a thinner sauce is desired, stir in some of the pasta's cooking water to achieve desired consistency.

Makes about 1½ cups.

Recipe adapted from Lindsay Ostrom of pinchofyum.com

Food on 01/01/2020

Print Headline: 7 wonders of 2019

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