Saturday, January 3, 2015

Top Ten Recipes of 2014


Another year gone by in a blink.

It was a good one, as years go. I didn't fracture my finger by tripping over the sidewalk, my brother got married (and I only sliced up my leg a little bit from a chard of broken wine glass), and I actually went places that were like totally not just my parents' house in Orange County.

I mean, we're talking Phoenix, guys. And San Diego. And the Valley.

But in all seriousness, I did push myself outside my comfort zone a little bit more than I did in 2013 - traveling to New York City by myself, indulging in not one, but two spontaneous road trips up to Santa Ynez, and accepting invitations to parties where I didn't know anyone other than the host. (If you know me, the real me, you'll understand that the lattest is a very very VERY big deal.)

My goal, as it is every year, was to say "yes," more than "no." It's a struggle for me to be open to letting life happen at times, or, more accurately, all the time, because I hate being in situations where I don't feel in control. It's funny how those words just tumbled out, but that's basically… me.  Which, likely, is why I enjoy cooking and baking so much. I get to make the decisions. I can follow along or riff on the recipe at will. I'm in control of the outcome.

Most of the time.

You know, when life isn't getting in my way.

These recipes, my favorite of the year, managed to come out unscathed. They were, in many ways, the antidote to the highs and lows of my year. The steadying hand that brought me back to my center during the moments when I was feeling stuck or sad or nostalgic for something that would bring me comfort amidst the chaos of my vocation and, often, imprisoning daily rituals. If these recipes didn't similarly move or inspire you before, I hope this summation breathes a second life into them. They're worth one last look before we dive forward, fearlessly, into 2015.


Tartine's Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies
These cookies. When I posted about them early last year, I couldn't even find the words to properly pontificate why they were so hauntingly good. I simply informed you that I ate eight, hoping that was enough to incite you to drop everything to make them immediately. In case it did not, and in case you are reading this right now, ignorant to what happens when chocolate and rye intermingle within a cookie, please do drop everything (including that post-holiday diet). It's worth it for these - an articulation of the best parts of a cookie and a brownie, kept from going over the edge into too-sweet, too-rich territory by the sharp tang of the rye flour. It should come as no surprise that this recipe comes from Tartine No. 3, an astonishingly beautiful guidebook to baking with whole grains. I whole-heartedly recommend it, as well. 


Alice Water's Brown Sugar Rosemary Shortbread

And while we are on the subject of cookies, these sweet & savory shortbread wedges via The Essential New York Times Cookbook were my sleeper hit of the year. I made them on an impulse one week night when I probably should have been, well, sleeping or, at the very least, watching something terrible on television, and was immediately transfixed by their texture and depth of flavor. Shortbread seems like the kind of thing that adults eat because it's a very adult thing to do, but I assure you this shortbread is something you'll eat solely because it's just so darn delicious. I consumed nearly this entire pan in three days, which, now that I think about it, wasn't very adult of me at all.


Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Lest you think I only subsist on a diet of cookies, let there be soup. Specifically, this soup, an intoxicating slurry of curried spices, sweet butternut squash, coconut milk, and nutty chickpeas that manages to be far more soulful than "health food" has any business being during the time of year when hearty braises and roasts are the typical piece de resistance. While intended to be a means to repent for the sins of a very very merry Christmas, I fell head over bread heels for this recipe, eating it for four days straight without a single moment of protest or regret that I wasn't eating, well, cookies instead. 


Eleven Madison Park Granola
While the granola I make most frequently is still Earlybird Granola (via Molly Wizenberg over at Orangette), this replica of the version gifted upon diners at the end of an epic meal at Eleven Madison Park is pure addiction. It teeters on the border of too salty/too sweet, but is really just everything you want it to be spooned over a bowl of cold banana slices and Tillamook Farmstyle Greek Vanilla Yogurt (the best). It's also everything you want it to be spooned shoved, by the handful, directly into your mouth. 


Peanut Butter & Jelly Baked Oatmeal
The second of three, yes, three, breakfast recipes within this roundup undoubtedly goes to this iteration of baked oatmeal, which gets its inspiration from, predictably, the sandwich of the same name. It's what I imagine a hug would taste like - it's comfort, nostalgia, the happy ending in a romantic comedy, home, and everything that is warm and fuzzy and Hallmark Channel-worthy in this world. 


Chocolate Chia Pudding with Cherries
This. I can't even look at the photo without feeling utterly depressed that it will be months before cherries are in season, and this… situation can happen again. I won't draw this out too long, but let it be clear, this is the best possible excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast while still managing to be irritatingly healthy to all your friends and family members.


Zucchini Fettuccine
I don't know that I've mentioned it here before (at least not explicitly), but for the past couple years, I've been creating healthy recipes for this here blog. No, I did not link to the official Power Rangers' blog for parents of kids who watch the show by mistake. This is real life, guys. And this is also why I don't always get around to telling you about my latest misadventure in dating or my new quinoa salad obsession or insert other thing you couldn't possibly care that much about anyway.

So, let me tell you something that you should care about - this zucchini fettuccine. Constructed with grated zucchini that's sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and then tossed over whole wheat fettuccine with brown butter, parmesan, lemon zest, and a heady amount minced parsley and mint, this dish defined my summer. I would pile it into a bowl with a plate of heirloom tomatoes on the side and it was… everything. I'm thinking a version with slivered Brussels sprouts may be an appropriate winter variation, and if it is, indeed, appropriate, I'll be sure to tell you all about it. Likely with another regrettable dating story served on the side.


Chili Roasted Tofu with Minted Pomegranate Salsa
One of the first new recipes I made last year, I knew as soon as I tasted this tofu from Sara Forte's Sprouted Kitchen that it would make this list. It can be a challenge to create vegan, gluten-free recipes that feel special, but Sara nails it with this wholesome, yet vibrant dish that is a study in textures and assertive, flavor contrasts. It's something that I can see serving to not just company, but mixed company - ie. people who usually think a meal is not a meal unless half the plate used to come with a face.


The Creamiest White Beans & Leeks with Parsley Pesto 
I remember writing about this dish on the train ride from New York City to Baltimore this June and thinking that if I wasn't confined inside a train for 2 1/2 hours, I would likely not have the stamina to detail out all of the steps required to make this recipe. I say this not to discourage you from clicking through (none of the steps are particularly hard), but more to reinforce that this whole white beans and rice thing is kinda a big deal. It's not just, you know, rice and beans. It's Sunday Supper. It's break-open-a-nice-bottle-of-white-and-stay-a-while. And it's fantastic as leftovers on a night when you can't be bothered to do much of anything at all.


Charlie Bird's Farro with Pistachios, Mint and Parmesan
If trail mix could take salad form, this recipe would be that dish. Based on the farro I ordered at Chef Ryan Hardy's Charlie Bird when visiting New York City this June, I couldn't get enough of it when I got back to LA, my soul lusting for the city I've come to view as a home away from my home. It's exemplary not only because of its sentimental value, but for its arresting juxtaposition of textures and flavors. Crunchy raw vegetables and chewy nubs of farro; fresh herbs, tossed in like lettuce leaves; and a liberal application of pistachios and parmesan that simply gild the lily into the zone of edible fetish. Even now, sitting here on the couch, getting ready to finish things up here, so I can watch a movie on Netflix, I'm thinking that it sounds like something I could eat by the fistful like popcorn.

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A few final words before I move on… I would feel remiss if I didn't mention two other recipes that stood out from my 2014 kitchen archives, but didn't make it to my site for one reason or another. The first is a five-grain salad, inspired by this recipe via one of the chefs I represent, that exemplifies why we go to restaurants. Cooking five grains separately is A LOT of work, but this stunner of a salad was well worth the effort for my family's Thanksgiving in Phoenix this year.


The second, at the opposite end of the labor spectrum, is the two-ingredient chocolate banana ice cream pictured at the top of this post. It completely blew my mind this summer. Two ingredients, guys! Though I would be negligent if I didn't mention the flaky Maldon sea salt I sprinkled on at the end… it was, indeed, the perfect cherry on top.

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