Top of the Pots: The Year’s Best Eats

The Nation's Spin-sters seem always to get top billing around here, what with their weekly lists and annual "best of" extravaganzas. But what really matters is not what's on the spindle. It's what's on your platter. I'm going to lay out some contenders, but bring your best, people. Surely, you learned a few kitchen essentials during the 'rona lockdowns.

No pics in this post, Because Reasons. You are welcome to bring some food pr0n to the table (hint, hint: Bootsy Signal)

The Categories:


I'll lead off after the jump:

Breakfast: Brian's Pinhead
Pinhead, or Steel-Cut Oats are a hearty way to start the day and, uh, get things moving. I like to make enough to last for several days and reheat by the serving in the microwave. Toast one cup steel-cut oats in a large-ish pot, with a pinch of salt, over medium heat for a couple of minutes until slightly fragrant. Dump in one cup of water and one cup of milk (I use whole milk). Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer and cover. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup each chopped nuts (toasted is nice; walnuts or almonds go well) and a half-cup of dried raisins or berries (cherries, cranberries, blueberries all work well) or chopped dried fruit (prunes, figs, and apricots all work well; I would avoid mango, as it tends to be too leathery). Continue cooking until the cereal reaches your preferred level of chew. I like it al dente. You may need to add a bit more milk if it gets too stiff.

Lunch: Sammy Claus
I've recently discovered that making sandwich buns is quicker and perhaps more satisfying than baking whole loaves of bread. Which means fresh buns for sammiches.

For the buns: 3 cups unbleached AP or bread flour plus more if needed, 1/8 tsp yeast, 1.5 tsp kosher salt, 2 cups water, 1 cup sourdough starter, 2 tbsp olive oil. Combine the dry ingredients, then add in the wet. Mix thoroughly in your stand mixer or by hand in a big bowl, then knead for about 5 minutes, adding flour by the tbsp as needed so that the dough cleans the sides of the standmixer bowl or is workable on your board. Form into a ball and place in a well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a towel for insulation. Let stand at room temperature for a couple of hours at least, then refrigerate or store in a cool place overnight. It should more than double in bulk by morning. Punch it down and let it warm up a bit to make it easier to work. With some bench flour to keep the dough from sticking, knead a bit, then roll into a log and cut into about 9-12 portions, each a bit smaller than a fist. Form each into a ball, flatten a bit, and place on a half-sheet pan or jellyroll pan dusted with corn meal. Dust the tops with cornmeal and cover with a tea towel and let proof for about 60-90 minutes. Score an X into the top of each bun. Optional: spritz with water before putting into the oven for a bit more chew. Pop into a 425 degree oven for ten minutes, rotate the pan and give them about ten more. The buns should puffed up, slightly browned and crusty on top and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Remove buns to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the sandwich: well, this is more meat's territory than mine. But I'd go with pulled pork, crisped up a bit in a pan, topped with a splash of hoisin, pickled carrot, onion and daikon, sliced jalapeno and some rough-chopped cilantro. Good eats, and pretty much guaranteed to put you in a food coma for the afternoon.

Snack: My current go-to is wasabi peas. I bought a 4-lb bag from We Got Nuts on the Bezos Machine. They are sinus-clearers, and will help you wake out of your food coma.

Dinner/Supper: Yule Casserole. It's hard to beat a great plate of lasagna. You'll need a deep pan, a box of lasagna noodles, ~1.5 lbs 80-20 or 90-10 (if you are a health freak) ground beef , 1 lb of fresh italian sausage (I prefer hot, but you do you), a couple of carrots, a couple ribs of celery, a medium onion, about 6-8 mushrooms, 6-8 cloves of garlic, a large can of crushed Italian tomatoes, a lb of ricotta, a lb of mozzarella (whole milk, please), shredded, at least a cup of grated parmesan, some Italian parsley, anise or fennel seed, red pepper flakes (if you want more heat), maybe some fresh basil, and extra tomato sauce or jarred spaghetti sauce (no judgment!), salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg. I also use an egg in my ricotta.

First, the meat sauce. This will make a couple of quarts of sauce, which may be just barely enough for a large pan of lasagna. Hence, the extra tomato sauce in reserve. There's veggies in here, so it's healthy. Lightly chop, then in your food processor, pulse, separately, until each is coarsely chopped (or use your damn knife skills if you have lots of time on your hands and need the exercise): the mushrooms (start here, because the others will leave a lot of moisture and make it much harder to pulse the mushrooms), onion and garlic, carrots, and celery. Dump them all into a large pot with a few tbsp of olive oil on medium heat to sweat. Add maybe a half-tsp of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toss in the anise/fennel seed while sweating the veg. You could also add a tsp or so of dried oregano if that floats your boat. When the veg is somewhat softened and the onion a bit translucent, add the meats. Break them up and stir 'em around to brown. Once the meats are incorporated and no longer raw, dump in the can of crushed tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. There will be some fat. Stir it in. Fat is flavor. Ignore your spouse if she complains about fat. The pasta will soak it up and it won't be greasy. Add a tbsp or so of chopped parsley and, if you have it, chopped or chiffonaded fresh basil and stir them in at this stage. Keep warm.

In another bowl, combine the ricotta, the egg, a few grind of pepper, and a healthy bit of nutmeg, freshly grated (don't you dare use pre-ground crap!). I like to add a tbsp or so of the chopped parsley as well. In separate bowls, have at the ready your shredded mozzarella (or sliced fresh mozz if you are all fancy) and grated parmesan.

In lots of well-salted water, boil the lasagna sheets, a few at a time, for about 4-5 minutes. You do them in batches so that you can keep them from sticking together. Lay them out on an oiled sheet pan. Try not to overlap them or they might stick together.

Assemble: oil or butter the bottom and sides of your pan, then ladle in a little bit of reserved tomato sauce. Now put down a layer of lasagna noodles, then a layer of ricotta, then a layer of meat sauce, then mozzarella, and finally a sprinkling of parmesan. Eyeball your ingredients, as you want at least three layers of everything. You are looking for maybe a quarter- to half-inch of ricotta, 1/2- to 3/4 inch meat sauce per layer, and a lighter (but still generous) touch on the mozz and parmesan. It's the holidays, man. Repeat with noodle, ricotta, etc., layers, until the pan is almost full. Some (most) recipes say to omit the ricotta for the top layer, but I don't think it really matters. Top with plenty of cheese. Place on a sheet pan and into a 400-425 degree oven and bake for about 25 minutes until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting. Serve with a nice glass of wine and a salad. I think this is actually better the next day, reheated, because everything really sets and it's easier to cut.

Dessert: well, dessert's really not my territory at all. PEPPER!!!

Utility: CHILLaquiles. This is the lazy-man version, but it's still great. Fry some leftover crockpot pulled pork until crispy (like carnitas), then dump in a large can of green enchilada sauce (I like Las Palmas or La Victoria, but there are other good ones as well). Stir and heat to bubbly, let reduce slightly. Ladle generously over your favorite tortilla strips or chips. Top with grated cheese, a fried egg, maybe some avocado and cilantro, and some hot sauce. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Also works with shredded chicken instead of the pork. A GREAT use for Instant Pot chicken chile verde.

What's on your list?

85 thoughts on “Top of the Pots: The Year’s Best Eats”

  1. Looks like I had left this in draft. Anyway, Happy Monday. We seem to have a glut of fresh content, but this is here too.

    1. Your sammies sound (and looked) amazing, doc. Like a mini Bánh mì. Also intrigued by your lasagna. The mirepoix is an interesting addition. And holy cow, is that a lot of cheese! I must have some.

      When I have some time I’ll contribute some of my new culinary knowledge, complete with racy pictures. 😀

            1. I'm making red beans and rice for dinner. My younger self would have gagged at the notion. It's going to be delightful.

              1. I’ve got that and some Navy bean soup on the agenda for January. Andoullie and ham hocks are in the freezer.

                1. I just found out that the river parishes put together the Andouille Trail to force me into buying smoked sausages....... Also, for the record Jacob's andouille is the best I've ever had. Wayne Jacobs is a close if not equal second. I haven't made it to any of the other joints on the trail yet.

  2. Also, you may not need the whole pound of mozzarella. I made two lasagnas (lasagne!), in deep, disposable loaf pans. I had enough ricotta for one, so I had to make a bechamel for the second. And I ran out of mozzarella on the second and had to use feta for a layer and cheddar for a layer.

    With a lower, wider pan...YMMV.

    1. I had enough ricotta for one, so I had to make a bechamel for the second.

      So, you made one pan of Lasagna and one pan of Lasagne. Personally, I prefer mine made with Bechamel vs Ricotta.

      Since we are talking Lasagne or Lasagna, over the years I have developed a pretty darn good mexican lasagna. I use flour tortillas (sometimes corn) instead of the pasta, a red enchila sauce with grilled chicken instead of the meat sauce and then I will puree some green chilis and layer in with the cheese.

      1. mmmmm.

        My lovely wife makes a black bean tortilla casserole (vegetarian, but still) that I really enjoy, along the same lines.

        I am also a huge fan of enchiladas, which is a similar concept and awesome.

  3. Mrs. Twayn made a big batch of French onion soup (also a chicken wild rice soup that will put dimples on your butt) for Christmas eve, and an eye of round roast for Christmas day. Yesterday she cut up the leftover roast, strained the onions from the leftover soup and used them and some au jus to make a really tasty, rich vegetable beef soup. For New Year's eve we're planning a TV binge-watching party for two with our favorite party foods - crispy chicken wings, barbequed meatballs, hot sugared sausages, shrimp, deviled eggs, crudités and assorted relishes, chips and dip, the last of the Christmas cookies/fudge/whiskey glazed cashews - the whole nine yards. The leftovers get used for football game snacking. Then for New Year's dinner we're planning a small ham, some Hoppin' John and greens for good luck, and corn bread. We skipped the black eyed peas last year and I'll be damned if I'm taking that chance again.

    1. Pro tip: halves of whole water chestnuts wrapped in 1/3 slice bacon, secured with a toothpick. 1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup mayo combined.

      Bake the wrapped water chestnuts for 30 minutes at 350 in a glass baking dish or jelly roll pan. Drain fat and reserve for another delicious purpose. Mix the bacon chestnuts in the sauce and pour back onto your pan for another 20 minutes. Serve with the caramelized sauce.

      These are ridiculously good Because bacon. And sweet and...water chestnuts are vegetable, so healthy.

  4. During most of my pandemic time, I found myself too tired or depressed to do much as far as breakfast & lunch foods went. I ate a ton of scrambled eggs (with a splash of heavy cream), and a lot of tuna melts. I made some interesting suppers, though. Here were my two favorites.

    Kenji's Detroit-style pan pizza: Absolutely phenomenal. I hemmed and hawed for years on making this because I didn't want to spend $40 on a Lloyd Pans pan just for this recipe. It's worth it! I couldn't get brick cheese, so I used a mix of cheddar & mozzarella. I need to get my hands on some good pepperoni and do this again when I'm home.

    BA's best chicken & dumplings: This kind of ruined other soups for me since it was so delicious. I used shallot instead of leaks for the broth, and used duck fat instead of schmaltz since it's what I had on hand. I used slightly less water than the recipe asked for, but it turned out great. I can't wait to make this one again.

    1. Oh and I guess I forgot that before I left for Canada, I made myself about 12 cups of duck stock. I'm going to use it to make risotto when I'm home and I'm super excited about that.

        1. One of the big grocery chains up here sells “utility duck” for $2/lb. I brought some home with me last time I went home. What I didn’t know at the time was that “utility ducks” are missing a leg and the giblets, but the intent was that I would split them with a friend. He got the legs and I took the breasts (to make sous vide duck a l’orange), and kept the carcasses. I just threw them in the instant pot with a mirepoix and a few other herbs and let it cook. I haven’t tried it myself but I left some with a friend and it got rave reviews!

          If I go home with more ducks this time (tbd!) I might try to render down all the fat so I have a jar of duck fat and can make some cracklins. But ADHD means plans are way way way easier than action! And I’m lazy haha.

          Also: I do love Hormel, but I made a za with Vermont Smoke & Cure pepperoni and I was nearly brought to tears by how damn good it was.

  5. I'll try to do this, but in my own way:

    Breakfast: This meal is pretty laid back in our house, but one specialty that came to the forefront this year was Dutch Babies. I just use the NYT recipe, and it's easy though looks marginally impressive. Fam likes it though, so there you go.
    Lunch: I'll eat whatever we have in the fridge for lunch. I generally don't get too fancy with it. For the boy though, distance learning has made for some difficulty. I'll be working and hear the call, "Daaaaad, it's lunchtime!", which means I have to go run and be chef quick. Also, he's picky as all get out. With that and time crunches, I try to churn out something quick, but with at least some variety and somewhat healthy. It's an interesting challenge each day (some samples can be found here). I do occasionally make a mean sammich for me and the wife.
    Snack: I am the master at finding snacks on clearance at Costco. That's the usual go to. Sugarless beef jerky in the cabinet right now.
    Dinner/Supper: I'm still figuring out how to cook. I'm decent at following a recipe and adding flourishes, but I'm no lone wolf in the kitchen. This year has presented interesting challenges as we never went out much to begin with, and have ordered in roughly once a month. While the constant cooking can be a little draining, I've had fun taking inventory of what we have, getting an idea of what to make, finding a recipe to roughly match what I'm going for, and then filling out the rest. For example, tonight was pork chops with a shittake herb cream sauce. Maybe one of these days I'll be a scratch cook, but this has been enough to meet our needs for now.
    Dessert: Got nothing here.
    Utility: Pickling. I've recently begun my pickling career with fantastic results. In the past few months, I've done daikon, avocado, red onion, jalapenos, and asparagus. Often utilized in mini constructed fridge snacks.

    tl;dr: beans are gross and my kale pesto was good.

      1. Did you notice at the end of meat’s post he states, “goes well with black beans”? In the immortal words of Walter White:

  6. For the past 14 years I’d worked as a waiter at the restaurant of a large downtown hotel, primarily the breakfast and lunch shift. 4-5 times a week I could eat a nice breakfast and/or lunch as one of the perks of the job. I also live in a neighborhood where I’m just a few blocks from a bunch really good/reasonably priced restaurants (Americana, Ecuadorean, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese etc), so I’d eat out 3-5 times a week. That meant I might prepare as few as 2-4 “meals” a week. All that changed in March when I was furloughed from my job and the local restaurant scene cratered. All of a sudden, if I wanted to eat (and I often do) I had to make it myself. So with that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned in the past 9 months.

    Breakfast: Ideally I eat just two meals a day—a hearty breakfast and a nice dinner. I’ve gotten really good at cooking eggs any style. A new non-stick pan and cooking at a gentle, medium heat have helped immensely. Also have made a pretty damn good Hollandaise sauce a few times. A lot of work, but every once in a while you gotta do it. I make some mean sweet potato hashbowns, blueberry cottage cheese pancakes and only cook bacon on a sheet pan. (Also, parchment paper is a cook's best friend.)

    Lunch: Been on a soup kick of late—squash, potato-leek, creamy broccoli, cauliflower cheese, clam chowder to name a few. My immersion blender been a godsend. Making soup is just such a wonderful past time. I rarely rely on recipes and usually come up with something restaurant quality. Plus, it makes the whole apartment smell wonderful. Also home made croutons are so easy and can push your soup or salad to the next level.

    Snack: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, apple slices and grapes have become my go-to. While I find myself going to Aldi less than I used to, their prices on nuts can’t be beat.

    Dinner: A couple of times a week I try to do a classic plating of a meat, a starch and a veg. Have done a broiled salmon with lemon-dill sauce a couple of times recently that is out of this world. Any steamed veggie tossed with garlic and butter immediately is a winner. A little Jamie Oliver tip has made my roasted potatoes perfect just about every time. Parboil them for about 10 minutes and let them steam dry in the colander for about 15 minutes before tossing them with fat and herbs and roasting them at 400 for 40 minutes. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. Oh, baby...

    Dessert: Never my forte, but I’ve started to make some scratch cakes that are pretty fantastic. Did a double frosted Chocolate-Orange cake for Christmas that nearly made me swoon. Looking forward to trying out more desserts recipes in the bleak winter months.

    Sorry if this turned into an insomniac’s foodie ramblings. Not sure if I played the game right. If anybody wanted any further info or recipes, please ask. One last thing, keeping a well stocked pantry and upgrading my cookware has made cooking a lot easier and, I dare say, more fun. Also, 3 words. Digital. Meat. Thermometer. You want one if you don't have one. Trust me on this. (Still not a fan of doing the dishes, though.)

    And now, without further ado, on to the pr0n!

    (Beans rule—haters drool!)

    1. One other strange phenomena of 'Rona World is that while I'm good friends with a number of chef co-workers, both past and present, I bet we talked about food less than 5% of the time when we were working together. Now our phone calls and text threads are primarily about the kitchen and cooking. Sure, we'll still bitch about 45 and maybe see what people are watching, reading or listening to, but a good 2/3 of the conversation is food related. I gotta say it's nice having a bunch talented culinary dudes to lean upon for advice.

    1. *flings handfuls of sugar in all directions*

      I will come back this afternoon when I've kicked the rest of the family out of the house to play in the snow and can actually compose coherent sentences!

  7. Two big themes for me in 2020 cooking were garden-to-table and kids cooking.

    Re: Theme #1 - I had a lot of bounty in the garden this year. That meant lots of salads, frozen tomatoes and homemade spaghetti sauce, basil, basil, and more basil, pesto, lots of peppers, peas and beans. I made some chili the other day from the frozen tomatoes and they added a lot of flavor. I'm planning on breaking out some of the frozen pesto soon, though I generally find it doesn't hold up so well. I often did stir fry featuring our Thai basil. That was regularly excellent.

    Theme #2 to follow...

    1. Kids cooking:

      Oh mama is this a lot of work. But my kids - especially Aristotle (8) - love cooking. For Christmas we got her a cookbook designed to teach baking skills and build confidence. As you might imagine, the results of her cooking are rather mixed. The other day she made "candied bacon" which was... well, you just couldn't eat much more than a slice. It was all the sweet and all the fat at once. She, of course, wanted to make the full package of bacon. So we had a lot of leftovers. I was glad to come up with a use (I diced it up, wilted some spinach, added a few raisins and seasonings, and made a salad). But I expect we'll be dealing with a fair bit more waste for a bit - not all of them are going to be salvageable. I just had a dessert of "PB&J cheesecake" which tasted exactly like it was supposed to (like a PB&J, but, you know, in a cheesecake), but there's an awful lot of it left, and even though it was good, I don't think I can have that many slices in the next couple days.

      It's also a lot of work shopping for and supervising the kids when they're cooking. We're trying to make them do more of the clean-up (we should have been doing this part already, but... ), and they very much want to do the work. They just don't always realize how challenging some things can be.

      One thing that has been nice though is that this has brought us closer together. They've gotten really into watching The Great British Bakeoff, so we've done a few little household baking competitions (and if you're on FB you can see the video that we did of one of them). They love this stuff, and it is great family time to bake together and help the kids through it.

      1. The jalapeno will help bake if he's in the right mood, which is primarily in the evening after he isn't allowed to have any more screen time and his brother is in bed. The peperoncino is more enthusiastic about helping--we made challah yesterday because he was excited to show me how he nanny had taught him to braid it a few weeks earlier. The peperoncino also recently learned how to crack eggs, which he is tremendously proud of.

        1. Oh, the egg cracking... mine are mostly between "knowing how" and "executing properly", so there's still a fair amount of digging out shells... Aristotle seems to have gotten it down now, with her extra baking.

  8. I have done more cooking at home during the 2 shutdowns this year, than I have probably done in the other 22 years of my marriage. My food choices have changes a fair amount as well as I have been either in a losing weight, or maintaining weight mode all year.

    Breakfast: I know I should eat breakfast, but I rarely do. On work days, I usually have a cup of coffee and grab a slice of left over bacon out of the fridge. Once a week, I may have a small bowl of oatmeal. However, on non-work days, I have been cooking breakfast for the family. My favorite breakfast this year begins with a base of polenta. I then add on some combination of oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers, raw bell pepper, avocado and then top with an egg. I have been playing with a new (for me) egg cooking technique in which you separate the yolk from the white. I mix up the whites and fry in a pan. Once it is almost set, I add the yolk then fold the egg white around it similar to wrapping a package. The result is the egg white is fully cooked, but I get more runny yolk goodness to pull the dish together.

    Lunch: Biggest contributor to my weight loss was this spring only eating salads for lunch. I build a pretty basic salad base with spring mix, diced tomatoes and cucumbers. I then saute some mixed veggies and splash a little of our Sriracha Meltdown wing sauce on them at the end. I pour the veggies over the salad base and sprinkle some blue cheese crumbles. on top. No dressing whatsoever. The combination of the cooking oil and the Sriracha Meltdown sauce give the salad enough of a savory profile I always crave. I can't eat a salad with all cold ingredients.

    Dinner: I am on a year long kick of cooking Asian Fusion. Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc. I still have a fair amount of Ghost Pepper Oil and Habanero Oil that I made with peppers Nibs gave me. Those oils are always my starting point. I saute with them quite a bit. Mostly, my proteins are chicken, and shrimp with pork occasionally entering the picture. I think I have cooked beef at home less than 10 times this year. We have been good about having a ton of fresh veggies on hand and I usually end up making some sort of protein bowl or stir fry. The one dish that sticks out was shrimp (in that tasty Ghost pepper oil), shaved brussel sprouts, oven-roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers stir fried then the pan was deglazed with some lime wine. I then splashed a little Sriracha chili sauce in the mix and finished with a touch of honey. It was a bit spicy for my daughter but boy, my wife and I loved it.

    Desserts: I think I have eaten one bowl of ice cream this year. Desserts just are not in my wheelhouse anymore.

    Snacks: The bane of my existence. I can go from 6am until 7pm with zero snacks. However, when we sit down to binge watch something at home, my wife is constantly bringing over snacks. I blame her. Chips and guac or salsa, Doritos, smoked almonds, cheese and crackers when put on the coffee table while i am having a glass of wine are dangerous. I snack too much. This morning, as I drove into work, I was thinking of this and I may have to put my foot down and ban salty, unhealthy snacks in the household. I am just fine snacking on baby carrots, raw broccoli, etc if those are the only options. I am still hovering between 250 and 253 pounds, after losing my 30+ pounds in March and April. With the cold weather my exercise has slowed way down, so it may be time to jump back on my Noom app and set a 10# weight loss goal for the rest of the winter. I am pretty confident that once I can get outside this spring I can knock out another 15-20 lbs fairly quickly. I don't really expect or even desire to get down under 200 lbs in the near future. I just want to feel healthier and be at a spot where I can enjoy chasing around grandkids when they appear on the horizon.

      1. Pre-diet, there would never be left over bacon. However, since we always cook off a full package of bacon at a time, we often have 6-7 slices in the fridge from a prior day. I understand your confusion (and that of hungry joe below), but now you have your explanation.

    1. My favorite breakfast this year begins with a base of polenta. I then add on some combination of oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers, raw bell pepper, avocado and then top with an egg. I have been playing with a new (for me) egg cooking technique in which you separate the yolk from the white. I mix up the whites and fry in a pan. Once it is almost set, I add the yolk then fold the egg white around it similar to wrapping a package. The result is the egg white is fully cooked, but I get more runny yolk goodness to pull the dish together.

      this technique sounds incredibly tasty and fancy. Also, the polenta breakfast thing immediately made me think of congee.

  9. Let's see here . . . baking is great and I highly recommend it both for stress relief and general deliciousness. That said, I didn't really get into baking at the levels other people (on Twitter, etc.) seemed to early in the pandemic.

    -These are my go-to pancakes. I always double the recipe and use half all-purpose flour and half white whole wheat.
    -I think it was within the last year that I realized cooking vegetarian sausage in the cast iron pan yields infinitely better results than microwaving it.

    -Mr. NaCl has been making trips to Seoul Foods every so often, and my favorite pandemic lunch is to make package of vegetarian Korean ramen and add a soft boiled egg. (This is also the year I finally got good at making soft boiled eggs!)

    -I haven't made these in ages, but my boys always have a lot of fun helping to shape these baked pretzels.

    -While the pizza recipe I shared here is still the one I use most often, the King Arthur one baked in a cast iron pan was a fun discovery this year.

    -I've shared my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe here already. When I'm feeling fancy, though, this one is phenomenal.
    -I did some holiday baking with varying levels of help from the boys, and we had some great results from this Christmas Cookie cookbook, written by a Jewish baker. Particular highlights were the chocolate madeleines (a.k.a. trilobite cookies) and something called melting moments.

    For Christmas, I selflessly gave Mr. NaCl a subscription to the New York Times cooking site. So far he's made this baked mac & cheese and this fried tofu sandwich, and both were fantastic. (Plus, the children even liked them!)

    1. Pepper comes through!

      The NYT thing chaps my hide. I am a digital subscriber to the newspaper. It makes me mad that I can no longer access the recipe archives as part of what I thought I was paying for. I mean, I get that media companies need to monetize their content, but it still makes me mad when they al la carte access. What next? Will they carve off each section and charge a separate fee?

      I probably shouldn't be giving them ideas.

      1. I share NYT subscriptions with someone. I subscribe to the "paper," they subscribe to recipes and crossword and we share logins with each other.

        Same with streaming services and the kids, we all take on a Netflix, HBO, Disney+ subscription.

      1. Haha, yes. I figure a moderate serving with a salad on the side is not so terrible, but wow that's a lot of cheese. Fortunately it reheats quite nicely in the oven so it's not one of those dishes that's only good the day you make it.

    2. Going to make these pancakes and some veggie sausage for J this weekend. I've been wanting to try a homemade pancake recipe and this one sounds delicious.

      1. Oh, excellent--I hope she loves them! One tip--make sure the heat is medium low. My biggest pancake error is cooking them at too high of a temperature. The new oven/stove I bought in 2019 has a center griddle, and using that has definitely improved my pancake making.

  10. I've done most of the cooking in the slaughterhouse since 2005. I learned how to cook when the good doctor was working on her reading lists for her comprehensive exams. I've carried forward learning new tricks as we go along to the place where I can pretty much cook from scratch. The problem is that like hanging drywall once you're good at it you never want to do it again. This last 10 months has drained the joy of cooking from me a bit. Nonetheless I've pushed forward and will continue to cook meals every night of the week except for pizza delivery night. (and now that I know how easily pho travels that will make its way into our weekend lunch rotation more frequently).

    b-fast: I love an elaborate weekend breakfast, but as the 'ronas raged on we've done less and less traditional weekend cooking. I found a local source for NY bagels (name brand, but this is an arena I have no desire to enter let alone fight about because at the end of the day an okay bagel is still bread and I love bread), and I've made smoked salmon spread several times this pandemic. I have smoked the salmons myself, but there is no need to go to such stupid lengths. Just buy a package of smoked fish, soften some cream cheese, add dill (if you're a monster), lemon juice, a dash of hot sauce if that's how you roll, and blend until smooth. There are a million different additives for the dip - sour cream, yogurt, horseradish - the sky is the limit. Dealers choice. Or, you could just skip the mess and put sliced smoked salmon on top of a hearty slather of cream cheese douse with a splash of lemon mist, and add some thinly sliced red onion and call it a day.

    Though, the biscuits were my most significant culinary leap forward

    Lunch: Sandwich. More of a format and fighting word than anything specific. I'm not going to lie to you kind folks and friends, I'm tired of sandwich. I feel like the ennui has taken hold. I have seen the void, and it is sandwich. I am sandwich. I am the void.

    Snack: All of the salty goodness of any kind of deep fried farm subsidy I can get my hands on. Though to be honest, I've tried really hard to excise snacks from the diet in a futile attempt at "healthy" Zapps crawtater is my go to fix any shitty mood salt and spice infusion.

    Dinner: This is where I've really turnt up the effort. For a while I was in a real funk, but still having fun cooking, and we hit decadent dinner once a week. I learned how to ziplock bag fakey sous vide (pro tip - not worth the effort...), made some really delightful pork products , and made a lot of fish that I wasn't totally comfortable cooking. But the King Arthur pan pizza became a save the culinary week without too much effort totally comforting dinner. Before the ronas I would have turned up my nose at this pizza. I would scoffed and snickered if this had been proposed to me by a good friend. Sauce on top? Fools. However, I am capable of growth as a human, and have discovered that this pizza can cure a lot of ills. We cooked through a bit of the Jerusalem Cookbook, and have an Indian(ish) cookbook that we'll be making more from in the new year. Again, I'm in a bit of a familiar rut. Kinda not looking forward to another year of cooking meals that can't be shared in meaningful ways.

    Dessert: Not my bag. I'll have another basket of fries please.

    Utility: Spring rolls. It's likely we have spring rolls once a week. Kitchen sink of salad meal that isn't a salad but is all vegetable (or shramps if they're there). I use equal parts cilantro and basil (round a 1/2 cup or so of each), whatever lettuce we've got lying around / growing, a couple of green onions sliced thin and on the diagonal, shredded carrots, sliced peppers and whatever other veg you have. I will also marinate tofu in miso (or not) toss sliced strips in sesame oil and 'air fry' it crisp in the toaster oven. I've made so many in my lifetime that I could roll them in my sleep, but that familiarity was hard won. Now I toss all the green veg together in a large bowl. Boil a kettle of water, put the carrot shred and sliced peppers into a small bowl (and bean sprouts if thats what you're into), and have the tofu on a plate. I fill up a large bowl with the boiled (and slightly cooled) water, and then dip the rice paper one corner at a time (I highly recommend the square papers as they're much easier to get a good seal than the round ones) rotating the paper until the whole thing is soft and pliable. Gently set the paper on the counter in the middle of your fillings with one corner pointing at your belly. Grab a small handful of chopped greens and place near the point facing you. Add sliced peppers and carrot in a line parallel to the edge of your counter, tofu on top, and fold the bottom point up over the whole package. Then fold the points on the sides in and roll the whole shebang towards the top point. Now do this again and again until dinner is done. Serve with sweet chili sauce and peanut sauce and eat your veg.

    1. Good man.

      Thanks for the spring roll primer. I love spring rolls. Fresh, crunchy, light, flavorful. I gotta try making those.

    2. Bagel, schmear, red onion (and capers) was a regular perk at my job. And the price couldn't be beat. Also, love the sound of those spring rolls--especially with them shramps.

      Kinda not looking forward to another year of cooking meals that can't be shared in meaningful ways.

      There is definitely a tinge of melancholy sitting down to a meal that you prepared with love and all the other chairs are empty..

      1. Best bagel in West Hartford is Goldberg's. Their Lower East Side works for me - lox, red onion, cream cheese - I get the plain bagels and have them hold the tomato and add capers.

    3. Have you had the bagels at Stein's? I always wander over there a time or three when I'm in town (and Sheenie always returns with at least a dozen bagels to put in the freezer because she has such a hatred for any bagel in Minnesota)

      1. Stein's was our go to every Sunday pre-pandemic, and those are the bagels I purchased (though through Martin's wine cellar). We've become fans of smallmart and their imported NY bagels (other famous NY brand name, not necessarily better but good).

      1. I think you can probably skip it. Just sub a bit more water. Let time do its work. The dough improves in flavor over a couple of days in the fridge.

        Maybe up the yeast to a quarter tsp instead of an eighth.

  11. 2020 Best:
    Breakfast - Grand Marnier Soufflé with farm-bought eggs. Notable mention is NBBW's avocado toast. Also VItamix's Pannenkoeken recipe.
    Lunch - Tea Smoked Duck w/ hoisin, cabbage & flour tortillas. Can't touch this.
    Snack - Biscoff cookies (think Delta airlines).
    Dinner/Supper - NBBW homemade pasta with mushroom cream sherry sauce (two nites ago).
    Dessert - Far Breton (Britanny dish made with prunes).
    Utility - Store-bought pot-stickers. The trick is to have the pan hot before you put in the oil. Sauce: soy, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, scallions, pepper flakes, some honey.

    1. I do a similar sauce for the pot stickers I get from the Korean market, except I like to steam mine. Top with scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

      1. I like fresh ginger and garlic, green onion, sambal, dark soy, light soy, sesame oil. Maybe a little sugar to tie it together.

  12. What to do with left over prime rib? It's rare that we don't sell out on Saturdays at the joint, but this Saturday we had way too much left over. I decided to experiment with a Prime Rib taco. So yesterday we ran Prime Rib Tacos with caramelized onion and an Avocado Horseradish sauce. Avocados, horseradish, freshly squeezed lemon juice and roasted garlic paste. I was off yesterday and my wife and I stopped by after a long walk and sat on the patio and ordered the special. It was super good and we sold out over lunch. I might have to get this in a heavier rotation.

    1. Not prime rib tacos (ZOMG!), but Korean-style short rib tacos are amazingly fantastic. I wonder if something in that direction would work with leftover prime rib.

      Or maybe just go all in on Bánh mì styling, but with shaved prime rib. Yea, that would work.

      1. Our most popular menu item is our Korean BBQ Beef Tacos. I use flank steak, but I have seen many people use short ribs. Both are awesome! When I am looking for something different at work, I will often make Korean BBQ Pork Belly Tacos. We source sous vide pork belly, that I sear with the Korean BBQ sauce. So good! I have also made a Prime Rib Stroganoff, Cajun Prime Rib, and Prime Rib Quesadillas at the joint. At home, I made a pretty awesome soup with left over Prime Rib and shaved Brussels Sprouts. It had a Korean flavor profile.

        As I type, I am wolfing down a Grilled Veggie Wrap at the joint, with a Mango-Cilantro Dressing, Spinach and house pickled carrots and onions. So good! I am on day one of eating only vegetarian for the rest of January. Jumped on the scale this morning and was 5 lbs heavier than I was post summer diet. So, I made the decision to go vegetarian for a while and get back to a brisk 30 minute walk each morning. (My knees don't agree with jogging). The diet that helped me drop 30#s early in summer was basically this: Oatmeal or Avocado Toast for breakfast, Grilled Veggie Wrap or Salad for lunch and usually some sort of veggie stir fry for dinner. I will also drop down to one cocktail or glass of wine 3-4 evenings a week.

        1. I don't know the next time I'll get to Alexandria -- I don't drive to ND anymore -- but I promise that the next time I do, I'm coming in.

          1. It's been way to long since we first met in person at the old joint. 14 years?? It will be good to see you. Make sure when you do head this way you give me a shout out. If I am off, I will make the trip in!

  13. I'm a bit late to the game here (we were out of cell range camping in Death Valley and the Alabama Hills area of the Sierras), but hopefully not too late to join in.

    Breakfast: I have gotten to where I make a few eggs for someone about every morning, though it's usually not for me. Scrambled, omelette,and/or a breakfast sandwich (English muffin, Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese, and an egg) most days, between my wife and two kids.

    I had a streak where I was making grits (with cheese and garlic) in the mornings, then adding a runny egg on top. That was tasty.

    Lately, I've been making overnight steel-cut oats. Toast 1 cup of oats in a dry pan. Add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Cover pan, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, bring to a boil, and simmer until creamy and thickened, about 5 minutes. I'm not big on sweet things in the morning, so I add a teaspoon of salt while cooking, and then a couple of glugs of buttermilk once it's scooped into a bowl. Tangy, salty, and delicious. You can skip the overnight soak if preferred, you just need to cook it for more like 20-30 minutes.

    Lunch: Leftovers usually. Nothing to see here.

    Dinner: I made Kenji's Lopez-Alt's prime rib a couple of times when I could get something on sale. Super easy, has a really long resting window, so getting sides timed right is easy, and turned out great each time. Definitely a winner.

    Pre-COVID, we liked going to a shabu shabu place down in Orange County whenever we were near there, but of course we're not going anywhere now. But, my wife found someone selling a split hot pot and propane cooker (like this and this) for $20. So, the weekend before Thanksgiving, I made shabu shabu-style hot pot. Super thinly sliced meats, a collection of veggies, dashi broth in one side of the pot and miso in the other. Added some noodles at the end of the meal to make soup. If I can improve my broth game a bit, it would be as good as the restaurant.

    Desert: Usually, this isn't my forte. I enjoy eating it, but don't connect with making sweets as much as I do savory things.. But, this year my wife found this recipe for a cake with a brownie layer on the bottom, cheesecake in the middle, and cookie dough on top. It is as decadent as it sounds, but was really, really good, and pretty easy to make. The brownie bottom in the recipe ended up being a bit lackluster, so I think we'll switch that out for something else next time. Probably boxed Ghiradelli brownie mix, which is amazing. Our 6-year-old has already requested this for his birthday, which is coming up in a couple weeks.

    Utility: I've got a couple of new things I made this year that were big winners for me, though no one else in my house would touch them.

    First, I made this gravlax. It took a while to do, but all the work was really just flipping it over a couple of times a day. Turned out great, highly recommended if that's your sort of thing.

    I also did a bunch of pickling/fermenting this year. Spicy green beans, jalepenos, and cucumbers were all good. But the best thing I pickled was this kimchi. I used gochugaru, shredded carrots instead of julienned, and skipped the shrimp. It is salty, sweet, funky, just the right amount of spice, and the ginger adds a nice accent flavor. Really, this may be my favorite food I made all year.

      1. It's cookie dough, so not baked cookies. No eggs in it, so completely safe to eat, but the top layer doesn't get cooked, just chilled once it's spread on. It's that chocolate chip cookie dough layer that really throws it over the top.

    1. I made kimchi once, several years ago. Didn't have any gochugaru at the time, so I tried to work around it, using some smoked paprika in the mix. It was...ok. But I've been meaning to give it another try with gochugaru, dried shrimp, etc.

      I would love to try gravlax some time. Num.

      Total respect on the prime rib, but my wife is very indifferent on steak/prime rib, so that's not gonna fly around here. 🙁

      as for the dessert, I have never, ever understood the point or attraction of raw cookie dough. Blech. The rest of it sounds great.

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