Friday, January 25, 2013


This was my second time cooking farro. My first attempt didn’t go so well. I don’t think the recipe itself was the problem (so I won’t link to it), or my execution of it; in retrospect, it was just a poor choice for introducing a new ingredient, since it had a format (grain salad) and a main component (squash) that aren’t necessarily slam dunks for us, especially for A. He flat out disliked it, and by extension decided he was anti-farro. I valiantly tried to convince myself I didn’t think it was so bad, but after slowly wading through the leftovers over the course of a week, I had to admit that it wasn’t really to my taste either. I did kind of enjoy the chewy texture and nutty flavor of the farro itself—which was good, because I had another whole cup of farro still sitting in my cupboard. (I always overbuy in the bulk section at Whole Foods; everything looks so much smaller there!)

For my second attempt, I decided I had to be much smarter in my approach: crowdpleasing ingredients, not too exotic, not too farro-centric. When this recipe from A Good Appetite popped up in my Google Reader, it seemed ideal. A loves beef, I love mushrooms, the farro plays a supporting role, and the whole thing is basically just familiar beef and barley soup with the barley traded for farro. Despite the fact that I have no particular love for beef soup or stews, it still looked pretty appetizing. I decided to go for it…and then, as I tend to do, I immediately started having doubts. There weren’t many ingredients; would it be too boring? Should I add something to perk it up? And what exactly is “stew beef,” anyway?

Google answered the last question for me (and then, of course, I walked right into Whole Foods and found a package of meat actually labeled “stew beef,” so problem solved). As for the others: I did make a few small adjustments to enhance the flavor, using cremini mushrooms instead of button, using fresh rosemary instead of dried, substituting chicken broth for half of the beef broth (as recommended here; I find beef stock too intense sometimes), and garnishing with minced parsley, which I adore with mushrooms. Also, tasting the soup midway through its cooking time, it seemed to lack a bit of acidity; I considered adding a splash of balsamic vinegar but then remembered that I had an open bottle of red wine in the fridge, so I used that instead and it was perfect. (If you don’t have, don’t drink, or don’t want to buy red wine, I still think the balsamic would work as an alternative—maybe start with a tablespoonful and see what you think.) The end result was certainly not boring. We both thought it was incredibly delicious. The flavor was rich and savory (the soy sauce, which I never would have thought of on my own, was a nice touch, amplifying the umami of the beef and mushrooms even further) and I loved how the farro added texture and substance, giving you something to chew on without being as exhaustingly grainy as the failed farro salad had been. This soup—something with both can agree on, and easy enough to make on a weeknight to boot—is definitely a keeper, and farro has officially been approved for further experimentation in our kitchen. I can’t wait to try it in other ways…I just have to make sure to choose my recipes carefully.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound stew beef, cut into ¾-inch cubes
8 ounces cremini mushrooms
2 medium yellow onions, halved and then thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
½ cup red wine (optional)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 cup farro
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced fresh Italian parsley to taste (I used about ⅓ cup)

1. In a large, heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the beef, then add the beef to the pot and sauté until cooked through. Add the mushrooms and onions. Sauté for a few minutes, until the onions are tender and the mushrooms have released their liquid. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.

2. Add the broth, water, wine (if using), soy sauce, and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Add the farro. Bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the farro is tender (it should still have a slight toothiness to it). If the soup seems too thick, add another cup of water.

3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Serves: 6
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Friday, January 18, 2013


I made these cookies last Christmas and never managed to take a photo of them. I made them again this Christmas and only remembered to get a picture of them when they were already placed on the Christmas Eve cookie trays, ready to be devoured. So the photo isn’t the best, but honestly, they’re very homely cookies. It doesn’t help that I can’t seem to manage to get the shape to resemble the illustration in the original Sunset recipe—last year they spread so much that the two ends of the horseshoe fused together (A said they looked like butts), and this year they didn’t flatten out at all (A said they looked like turds). I’m not sure why they have to be in a horseshoe shape; I’m tempted to give up on it entirely next time, but then they’d just be plain brown circles, which could look even less tempting. At least I can pretend this odd shape has some sort of charming traditional Scandinavian significance. Plus, they resemble the letter C, which seems very apropos: C is for “cookie,” and “cardamom,” and “Christmas.”

Anyone who’s actually brave enough to grab one of these unglamorous blobs off the platter is in for a rare treat, at least if they like cardamom, which fortunately many of my family members do. As I’ve mentioned many times, I adore the stuff and am always adding it to recipes that don’t call for it, so it’s refreshing to see it featured so prominently. This is a serious dose of cardamom in a simple, buttery cookie. The recipe seems a bit odd—it doesn’t have many of the usual cookie ingredients, like eggs, salt, or vanilla—I promise you, it works. These have already become a family favorite, and buttlike, turdlike, or plain-Jane as they may look, they’re part of my holiday ritual now.

P.S. I finally got around to adding a button to my posts to convert them into a friendlier format for printing! I was printing off some recipes from other blogs today and lamenting how annoying it is when that feature isn’t available, forcing me to print a lot of unnecessary material spread over many pages or paste the recipe into Word and print from there. Then I realized that I’m a huge hypocrite because that’s exactly what I put people through with my own blog. (I guess I’m still in denial that anyone might be reading, let alone cooking from, this site.) Or perhaps you’re all cool and modern and you don’t print things anymore and you just cook directly from your iPad or phone or whatever? Well, la-di-dah. But this button also converts the posts to a PDF and lets you email them to yourself, so you might still find it useful. See what a nice friend I am?

1 cup (8 ounces) butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup sugar
1 tablespoon dark molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add molasses and beat until well blended.

2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, cardamom, and cinnamon. Beat into butter mixture until well blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill until dough is firm, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. With lightly floured hands, roll each ball into a rope about 2½ inches long and ½ inch thick; bend each rope into a horseshoe. Place cookies about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined or buttered baking sheets.

5. Bake cookies just until edges begin to brown, 7 to 9 minutes; rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on pans for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer to racks to cool completely.

Yields: About 3 dozen
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good; freeze well

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I was in serious danger of getting tired of butternut squash. The squash = winter equation is so ingrained in me, and I have so many great squash recipes, from soup to pizza to pasta, that I end up buying one about every other week, but lately I’ve been less enamored of its mushy (sometimes mealy) sweetness. What I needed was to spice things up, literally. When I spotted this Everyday Food recipe at The Bitten Word, I was intrigued by its flavor profile. Instead of pairing squash with the usual suspects—fallish ingredients like sage, maple, cinnamon, apples and pears, or sausage—it went in the opposite direction, with the summery-seeming southwestern tastes of chili, lime, and cilantro. It turns out that the heat of the spice, the tang of the citrus, and the herby freshness were exactly what I needed to shake off the squash doldrums.

I followed the recipe exactly, except that I threw in a bit of smoky chipotle chili powder with the regular stuff (recommended), and since I’m not especially passionate about Romaine hearts and noticed that the photo on the Bitten Word showed different greens instead, I used a bagged baby spring mix from Trader Joe’s. The recipe is a bit vague about what temperature the squash should be when you serve it; I like warm salads when they involve spinach or arugula, but hate wilted lettuce, so I compromised and went with room temperature. Roasted squash is always best right out of the oven, when the exterior is still crisp and caramelized, but the leftovers the next day were decent despite the soggier squash; I heated it briefly in the microwave (less than 30 seconds) just to take the chill off it before I added it to the greens.

This is just a personal taste thing, but I think next time I might cube the squash instead of slicing it, then just toss it with the olive oil and chili powders instead of sprinkling the chili powder on top—that would distribute the seasoning more evenly, help the squash cook more quickly, and make the salad easier to eat. I loved the salty crunch of the pepitas as a foil for the tenderness of the squash, but the cheese (I used feta, since I had some on hand) didn’t do as much for me; its creaminess seemed to blend too much with the squash, and it didn’t add much beyond salt and color contrast. I can’t believe I’m saying this, since I’m usually more apt to add feta to recipes that don’t call for it, but I think next time I’d leave it off entirely. Maybe cotija, which seems a bit drier and firmer, might work better, but for me, I’d rather just eat a quesadilla on the side to round this out into a meal than include cheese in the salad.

Chili + lime + cilantro is one of my favorite flavor combinations, but I never would have thought to apply it to squash (even though of course it’s been done before; now I want to try this version). I’m so glad I found this fantastic salad to expand my horizons and rehab the poor old butternut.

1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, halved, seeded, and cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon chili powder (I like to use ½ teaspoon regular and ½ teaspoon chipotle)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons lime juice (1–2 limes)
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¾ teaspoon honey
1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped, or about 5 ounces mixed spring greens
¼ cup toasted pepitas
¾ cup (3 ounces) crumbled Cotija or feta cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle with chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Bake until soft and lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Whisk together lime juice, cilantro, honey, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.

4. Arrange lettuce on a platter or in serving bowls, then top with squash, pepitas, and cheese, if using; drizzle with dressing.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: OK; store all components (roasted squash, dressing, greens, pepitas, and cheese) separately and assemble right before eating.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Despite hailing from Minnesota, one of the nation’s foremost centers of casserole (or, as we call it, “hot dish”) technology, I’ve never had the cheesy broccoli rice casserole on which this recipe is based. Apparently, it features Velveeta and canned cream of mushroom soup, which, let’s face it, made occasional appearances in my childhood but were certainly not staples of our diet, and I’ve never been much of a rice lover, so it’s not surprising I dodged that bullet. (Sorry, cheesy-broccoli-rice-cassorole fans; I’m sure the original version is surprisingly tasty despite its humble ingredients.) Annie’s Eats developed this less processed version in September, but although I rely heavily on that site, I somehow overlooked the recipe until November, when this adaptation appeared at Confections of a Foodie Bride.

I think the photo, showing a delicious-looking, browned, cheesy crust atop a green-spangled expanse of quinoa, is what got my mouth watering. I’m definitely a fan of the broccoli-cheddar combo, and I’m always looking for different ways to serve quinoa but hadn’t yet tried a successful casserole version. (My previous attempt had actually been kind of gross.) Once I realized this was basically mac and cheese made with quinoa and broccoli, I was naturally on board. I ended up making a hybrid of the two recipes; I liked the Foodie Bride use of real garlic and mustard instead of the powdered forms, but I went with Annie’s shallots over yellow onion and her addition of cooked chicken (I just poached some breasts) so I didn’t have to cook anything else to serve alongside. Then I scaled all the quantities (except the garlic, broccoli, and cheese, because who doesn’t want more of those things?) back by one-third, since the original recipes claimed to serve between eight and twelve people and we are but two, albeit a hungry two who would be eating this as a main dish.

The result was delicious, creamy and comforting without feeling heavy at all, and even A, a noted quinoa skeptic who is hardly passionate about broccoli, enjoyed it enough to happily consume leftovers. This is a welcome addition to my quinoa recipe library (where it joins fritters, hash, a couple of soups, and many, many salads) and my very limited hot dish—er, casserole—repertoire.

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 medium crowns of broccoli, cut into small florets
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 shallots, diced
1⅓ cups milk
1 clove garlic, minced
2 generous teaspoons Dijon mustard
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1⅓ cups shredded cooked chicken

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the quinoa in a saucepan with water and ½ teaspoon salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. Transfer the quinoa to a 9-by-13 casserole dish.

3. Steam the broccoli until crisp-tender and add it to the quinoa in the casserole dish.

4. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, shallots, garlic, mustard, cayenne, a generous pinch of salt and black pepper. Let cook 1 to 2 minutes and then slowly add the milk, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Let the sauce simmer, reducing the heat if necessary, about 5 minutes, until thickened and bubbling. Remove from heat and, a handful at a time, whisk in the all cheddar except about ½ cup or so (which you will reserve to sprinkle atop the casserole). Stir until cheese is completely melted, then season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add chicken to the quinoa-broccoli mixture, then pour the sauce over it. Toss to coat, mixing well. Sprinkle the reserved cheddar over the top.

6. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is nicely browned.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


When I named Roasted Cherry Tomatoes as one of my top 10 2012 recipes, I mentioned that I’d finally managed to do something with them beyond shoving them directly into my mouth. That something was this pizza recipe, which I adapted from Annie’s Eats to use the tomato-roasting method I’m already used to. As you can imagine, since it features not only the roasted tomatoes but also two of my other food obsessions, kale and feta, I adored the result; the earthy kale and salty cheese are the perfect foils for the tart-sweet tomatoes.

The original recipe had you make a garlic-and-hot-pepper-infused oil that you brushed onto the crust before adding the other toppings, but I’m lazy, and I figured my tomatoes would already be adding enough oil, so I just added the garlic and red pepper flakes to the kale when I sautéed it and it was just dandy.

All my pizza recipe quantities are approximate (I usually just eyeball the toppings until it seems like I’ve added enough), but since I made it quite a while ago, this one may be even more so. I made a full batch of roasted tomatoes—some leftover cherry tomatoes I had lying around, plus some small plum-like heirloom tomatoes that I cut into slices—but I don’t think I put them all on the pizza; I probably just snacked on the rest. And I may have used more cheese. Just do what feels right to you, but definitely make this pizza, because it’s a winner. I’m already hungry for more.

1 pint cherry tomatoes, any color, stemmed (you can also use 5–6 plum tomatoes)
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus extra to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3-4 cups kale leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 pound pizza dough
2 ounces mozzarella, shredded
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half (or, if using plum tomatoes, slice them into ½-inch-thick slices) and place them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the ¼ cup olive oil, maple syrup, and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, cut side up, and roast, without stirring, until the tomatoes shrink a bit and caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60 minutes. (You can do this up to a week ahead of time if you like—just let the tomatoes cool, scrape them into a glass or plastic container along with any liquid that was left on the baking sheet, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator.)

2. In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, then add the kale to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the leaves are wilted. Season with a little salt to taste, then remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the pizza dough on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the dough, then add the wilted kale, roasted tomatoes to taste (you may not use all of them), and feta.

4. Bake pizza until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10–12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


I have a dim recollection of liking canned cream of mushroom soup when I was a kid, but I hadn’t thought much about it in 25 years or so. At some point I acquired a recipe for a hideous-yet-tasty pureed creamless mushroom-potato soup that’s vaguely similar in flavor, but when this “Wild Mushroom Soup” recipe from Ezra Pound Cake popped up in my Google Reader a couple of months ago, it seemed to fill a need I didn’t even know I’d felt. Instantly, I craved it. I didn’t expect it to replicate the canned stuff, and it doesn’t—it is, of course, much better. This sophisticated iteration is light on the dairy, more brothy than creamy (contrast it with Ina Garten’s no-doubt-delicious version, which contains a whole stick of butter, 1 cup of half-and-half, and 1 cup of cream), brightened with lemon juice and spiked with a bit of sherry.

I made the recipe as written, except that since shiitakes are more expensive and come in smaller packages at Trader Joe’s (and, honestly, I don’t like them quite as well), I used less of them (about 4 ounces) and more cremini. The original recipe says this is just fine; you can even use all cremini if you prefer. I’d maybe add a little fresh thyme next time, because it’s just so good with mushrooms, but overall we both really enjoyed this soup. It’s bound to be the one I turn to when the mushroom jones strikes again.

¼ cup unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable or mushroom broth to make it vegetarian)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup heavy cream
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
Chopped fresh chives for garnish (about ¼ cup)

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven.

2. Add the onion and cook until soft and transparent.

3. Add the mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

5. Return the pan to low heat and pour in the broth, stirring constantly. Add the pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, and sherry.

6. Simmer the soup over medium heat for 10 minutes.

7. Add the cream and stir until the soup is hot. Add the cayenne and season with salt to taste. If the soup looks thinner than you’d like, you can remove half of it, puree it, and then return it to the pot.

8. Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with chives.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Great; flavor gets better with time and it freezes well.

Monday, January 07, 2013


This is the salad I served with the pumpkin ricotta gnocchi. It’s not revolutionary—strikingly similar to other kale salads I’ve tried, in fact—but it is quite delicious. I spotted the recipe at Whipped and realized that although I’ve tried peaches with kale, I haven’t yet tried the more obvious apple. Not surprisingly, it turns out that leafy greens, toasted nuts, sharp cheese, and crisp apples are a winning combination, especially in the fall and winter.

My only changes were to the dressing: I added some mustard, because I love it and knew it would play well with the cheese and apple, increased the lemon juice, because I love tart dressings and didn’t want to have part of a lemon hanging around, and decreased the olive oil, because ⅓ cup seemed like a lot. This was my first time trying Pecorino in chunks, rather than just shredded, and on its own I found it a bit too sheepy, although it worked well when mixed with all the other ingredients. I happened to have Pecorino in my fridge already and this was a good way to use it up, but in the future I’d be more tempted to just use a good sharp cheddar, as in my favorite kale salad. It’s just hard for me to say no to cheddar, particularly with apples.

This was also my first time trying the popular “massage” method of making kale salad. Proponents claim that it makes the kale tender and sweeter, but I’ve never found the taste or texture of raw kale to be a problem, maybe because I usually use Tuscan kale for salads and it’s already less tough, or maybe because I try to let it marinate in the dressing for a while before I eat it, which helps the leaves wilt a bit. But since the recipe specifically mentioned it, I dove in, and I do have to admit that it’s a great way of making sure that the dressing gets into every nook and cranny of the leaves. I’ll probably mix my kale salads by hand from now on, but if you’re squeamish about getting your hands messy, tossing very thoroughly with tongs will accomplish more or less the same thing. Some kale-massaging enthusiasts recommend massaging the kale without the dressing or just with salt, before you even make the salad, but I’m far too lazy to bother with that—and perfectly happy with my kale salads the way they are, thank you.

1 bunch Tuscan kale, washed, dried, stems removed, leaves chopped into ribbons
⅓ cup slivered or chopped almonds, toasted
½ cup cubed (¼ inch squares) Pecorino cheese
1–2 apples (such as Pink Lady, Gala, or Fuji), thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3–4 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. To make the dressing, whisk lemon juice, mustard, and olive oil in a small bowl until combined, then season with salt and pepper.

2. Place kale in a large bowl and drizzle dressing over it, massaging it into the leaves with your hands. (You may have more dressing than desired, depending on how much kale you have.) When all the kale is coated, add the cheese, almonds, and apples and toss together. Let sit about 15 minutes before serving.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, but you may want to wait to add the apples until you’re ready to eat

Friday, January 04, 2013


I think approximately 85% of the Internet is “year in review” lists this week. At some point in January I usually choose favorite recipes from the previous year and link to them in my sidebar, but I haven’t actually written a post about my selections since…2009, apparently? For whatever reason, this year I’m jumping back on the bandwagon to shill for my best-of picks—even though I technically have yet to tell you about the last six or so things I actually cooked in 2012. I resolve get caught up, but in the meantime, here are (in chronological order) the 10 recipes that rocked my world the hardest last year. If you haven’t tried them yet, what are you waiting for?
  1. Quinoa Fritters With Poached Eggs: Quinoa is oh so trendy nowadays, and this is an unexpected and alluring treatment of it—in fact, it’s really the only way that A will eat quinoa without complaint. Also notable: This marked my first attempt at making poached eggs, which would become a bit of an obsession for me throughout the year. (I didn’t perfect them until the following month with Warm Lentil Salad With Poached Egg, a favorite recipe that just missed the top 10; go there for a link to my preferred method.)
  2. Kale Salad With Squash, Cheddar, and Almonds: Two hipster foods in a row! I’ve been on the kale bandwagon for a few years, but this was my first kale salad, and although I went on to try many others, it’s still the best I’ve found.
  3. Tortellini With Sausage, Mushrooms, Fennel, and Spinach: It wouldn’t be a top 10 list for me without pasta. This recipe combines a lot of my favorite ingredients into one supergroup that somehow doesn’t manage to go over the top.
  4. Blueberry Corn Salad: Sounds so weird, tastes so good. This unique, uber-summery combination was one of the nicest surprises I had all year. It made good use of my huge surplus of hand-picked blueberries and helped fuel my “put a fruit on it” mania…
  5. Peach, Prosciutto, and Basil Pizza: …Which eventually led to this awesome pizza. Although Strawberry Pizza came first and was plenty tasty, this simple-yet-genius combo is the one that really blew my mind. (Update: I am pleased to report that my cast-iron skillet has finally recovered from the burnt-balsamic fiasco of my first attempt, and on later tries I learned that drizzling the reduction over the top after baking works better for me.)
  6. Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Both delicious and practical! I often have cherry tomato oversupply, so I’ve made these more times than I can count. Usually I end up gobbling them straight off the baking sheet, but near the end of the year I finally managed to put them on a pizza and the results were spectacular (recipe coming soon).
  7. Orange Quinoa Salad With Chicken, Cucumber, and Cranberries: Quite possibly the world’s most perfect quinoa salad. If I had to eat just one thing for lunch for the rest of my life, this would be a serious contender. Bonus points for leading to my discovery of how to poach chicken perfectly.
  8. Refrigerator Oatmeal: Literally life-changing, at least within the realm of breakfast. My consumption of storebought cereal has dwindled considerably thanks to this easy and clever strategy. When I don’t have baked oatmeal or granola on hand, this is my go-to. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all the different ways it could be customized.
  9. Peanut-Lime Chicken Rice Noodle Salad: So refreshing and satisfying, it’s actually worth buying and juicing 10 limes for. As a bonus, it helped me overcome my fear of fish sauce.
  10. Spicy Honey-Roasted Peanuts: This list has been suspiciously healthy—kale, two quinoa dishes, multiple salads, 50% vegetarian—but I swear it’s an accident; I can’t take credit for being quite so conscientious in real life. It just so happened that I didn’t try any totally amazing new dessert recipes this year, so this sweet-salty snack will have to do. I tried a number of lighter recipes for flavored roasted nuts this year, all of which were delectable, but this one wins for being the most magical-seeming and the most addictive.
Most of the recipes I made this year were winners, or at least I never immortalized the duds, so it was hard to choose favorites. Here are five honorable mentions that represent new ingredients or techniques I’m pretty pleased to have tried:
  1. Crispy Pork Medallions (which simply must be paired with another 2012 find, Roasted Carrots and Parsnips With Fennel and Orange) introduced me to pork tenderloin and is so far the only way I care to eat it.
  2. When we do eat out, we usually choose Japanese, Afghani, Himalayan, Thai, or Indian food, so I’ve never felt too invested in trying to explore those cuisines at home, but making Chicken Tikka Masala and Garlic Naan helped change my mind. Maybe they couldn’t compete with the authentic restaurant versions, but they were awfully tasty and fun to make.
  3. I claim not to care for rice, at least when it comes to home cooking, but the Coconut Cardamom Rice Pudding I made on a whim as a way to use up leftovers remains the dessert I think of wistfully on a near-daily basis. Since I rarely have cooked rice sitting around, one of my 2013 goals is to make a similar version that starts with uncooked rice. This will also be an important solution to the jars of very old basmati and Arborio taking up my valuable cupboard space.
  4. Somehow I had never really cooked with chard, which I remedied by making this wonderful Swiss Chard and Lemon Ricotta Pasta, my runner-up for best pasta recipe of the year.
  5. It’s hard to improve on perfection, but I found an even better (and veggie-laden) way to make one of my favorite recipes of all time, Chicken Gyros.
At this rate, I’m excited to see what kitchen discoveries 2013 will bring. Will this be the year I learn to love beets or Brussels sprouts or green peppers? (Probably not, but you never know.) Will I attempt DIY grenadine, crème fraiche, ricotta, flour tortillas, marshmallows, English muffins, yogurt, ketchup, vanilla extract, or limoncello? (I’ve had some of those bookmarked for multiple years, so probably not, but if I’m unemployed for an extended length of time—I haven’t mentioned it here, but my job of 8½ years is ending on January 31—I’ll have to keep busy somehow.) I hesitate to set too many cooking goals for myself because I like the serendipity of following my cravings and stumbling across new discoveries, plus I’ve already got so many great old favorites that I barely have time to make them all on a regular basis, but I would like to do more canning and baking. Specifically:
  1. Pizza dough: It’s ridiculous I don’t already do this myself, but the Trader Joe’s stuff is just so very cheap and convenient and reliable and decent. I know the homemade stuff isn’t that hard and can taste even better; it’s just a question of finding the right recipe for me.
  2. Pie crust: I’ve wanted to make pie for a number of years but am irrationally spooked about it. Clearly this is a fear that needs to be conquered…deliciously.
  3. Mustard: As you know, I am a reformed mustard hater who is steadily growing addicted to the stuff. I don’t think I’ve written about it, but I experimentally canned two kinds of mustard for Christmas 2011, with mixed results (one of them was just plain awful). This year I improved my technique and tried three kinds, two of which turned out great and one of which was just OK. The two that were most successful were both sweet mustards, which is fine for gift-giving, but I’d like to perfect something more savory I can use in my daily life, specifically, a replacement for my beloved Grey Poupon Country Dijon, which I consume in ever-increasing quantities but is annoyingly expensive at my grocery store. Yes, there are probably better-quality mustards out there (although in my frantic Googling for DIY versions, I’ve noticed that it does seem to have won a lot of taste tests), but I’m a newbie and this is the mustard that won me over, so I’m partial to it. It might be too much to hope that I could replicate it exactly at home, but since mustard is so easy and fun to make, I’d like to at least explore the possibilities. This will probably be just for my personal use rather than for canning and future gifting (I’ve found annoyingly few recipes that are specifically designed for water-bath canning), but there are two more in the Ball book that I’d like to try as well.
  4. Pickles. I love them and I love canning, so why have I not canned pickles? I want to start with garlic dills, then try dilly beans.
Finally, I’m toying with the idea of entering a jam or two into competition at the LA County Fair. I checked out the display last year and it didn’t seem to be a very crowded category, and nothing I saw looked especially remarkable in terms of gourmet flavor combinations, so if I can enter something unique, I might actually have a shot at a ribbon, which would be kind of cool in an oddball way.