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. 

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