Who doesn’t love a good EOY list? From the most read stories in the NYT, to GoodReads' year-end choice awards, to Portland Press Herald food critic Andrew Ross’s best restaurant meals, I love reading about what stuck with folks this year as the best (and also, maybe, some of the worst) things they tasted, sipped, listened to, read, or watched.
As a cook who likes to experiment and entertain, I am constantly turning to cookbooks, blogs, websites, and friends’ advice for new recipes to try at home. I’m also the type of busy person that plans her weekly menu each Saturday, and hits the farmers’ market or the grocery store immediately.
These recipes aren’t all new. Some of them come from decades-old cookbooks, or were cut from the pages of magazines years ago and saved in a file. But all were resurrected in my kitchen over the last 12 months. My rating system is simple: these are the recipes that were so good, I put them on repeat all year long.
A note about accessing recipes: To avoid copyright issues, unless the recipe is my own, I have not reprinted it in this post. For those that are available online, I have included links. Many of these links lead directly to the recipe and you can get cooking! And some of these links will hit a paywall if you are not a subscriber to that particular site (for example, you must subscribe to NYT Cooking—which I highly recommend—to access those recipes). If the recipe is from a cookbook and you don’t have that particular cookbook, might I suggest using your local library before hitting the bookshop? Borrowing a cookbook from your library is a great way to take it for a test drive before purchasing! You may also find the book on your library’s digital shelves, which in many cases, will give you instant access. Additionally—and this is completely mindblowing—many libraries offer digital access to ALL THE MAGAZINES. That means you can browse Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, even decades-old Gourmet, all on your tablet or phone FOR FREE. Libraries are magic!
Best Chocolate Recipe
Might as well start with the obvious. As someone who is often asked for a good chocolate recipe, I feel obligated to always have one ready to rave about. Hands down, the best thing I made at home with the brown stuff this year was David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Sorbet. It is a masterpiece of simple, high quality ingredients and good chemistry, and makes a satiny, scoop-able, icy cold delicacy that has the power to convert the most stubborn chocolate ice cream sceptic (myself included!).
The quality of your cocoa powder will make or break this recipe, so please don’t reach for that decade-old can of clumpy Hershey’s cocoa in your cupboard. Instead, choose a high-fat, Dutch-process cocoa powder, such as the one on the Ragged Coast website. Call this a shameless plug if you must, but I’m not the only true believer out here.
Best Salad Recipes
We eat a lot of salads at Chez Shaffer, so I’m always looking for new ideas. Sure, most of the time I pull ingredients from the fridge with abandon, and go from there, but every once in while I’ll be inspired to try an actual recipe. Due to my inability to pick a favorite, I’ve cheated a little here and divided this into two categories: Best Fruit Salad, and Best Leaf Salad (plus a runner up!)
Best Fruit Salad goes to J. Kenji López-Alt’s Watermelon Salad With Fried Shallots and Fish Sauce. I KNOW, it sounds f-ing disgusting. And if I’m honest, it’s exactly for that reason that I had to try it. So imagine my surprise when my first bite delivered both crisp and soft; umami and sweet; nutty and fruity. This salad is a texture and flavor bomb, and it was what I brought to every single barbecue I went to this summer.
Best Leaf Salad also goes to an NYT Cooking writer: the Radicchio Caesar from Eric Kim. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of ALL the chicories. I could happily sit down to a bowl full of raw dandelion greens, radicchio, endive, and escarole splashed with a little oil and fruity vinegar and call it dinner. But not everyone has such love for them. Even with the creamy, garlicky, anchovy avalanche of a dressing, this salad is for—and only for—radicchio lovers. If you can, choose a supple-leaved, freshly-cut head from your favorite greens grower at an early fall farmers’ market. My go-to is the radicchio grown at Dandelion Spring Farm in Bowdoinham, Maine. Beth and her crew grow the best greens and herbs I’ve ever tasted. In fact, they’ve ruined me for all others.
Note: I did make a few adjustments to this recipe based on my personal preferences regarding anchovies. I love anchovies’ salty umami, but I don’t love the fishy taste or flaccid texture of a whole anchovy filet. So, I leave off the final garnish on the salad. I also choose to sauté my bread crumbs in plain olive oil, and I don’t include the chopped anchovies with the bread crumbs. Instead I use the entire tin of anchovies in the dressing, whirring everything in a food processor until smooth.
Best Leaf Salad, Runner Up, is the simple, timeless Wedge Salad.
I’ve been slinging this one all year and here is my favorite method to serve four:
Trim then quarter a large head of iceberg lettuce (pictured here is a fancy variety from Dandelion Spring Farm, but I love the good old-fashioned standby from the grocery store just as much). Place the wedges on a large platter. Scatter them with finely diced tomato, minced oil-cured black olives, sieved hard-boiled eggs, and crumbled crisp bacon. If you’re not a bacon-eater, just leave it off, and sprinkle on some toasted salted sunflower seeds for crunch. (If you think you’ll miss the smoky taste of the bacon, I suggest sprinkling the finished salad with smoked paprika.) Mix up a dressing of mayo and blue cheese thinned with milk or buttermilk. Add salt and pepper to taste, and maybe a squeeze of lemon if you’ve used plain milk. Make the dressing thin enough so that it can seep between all those closely packed layers of crunchy iceberg. At the table, drizzle the wedges generously with the dressing. I feel that it should be good and saturated. That crunchy iceberg can take it!
Best Soup Recipe
My friend Ellen shared her favorite Tuscan Kale, White Bean, and Ciabatta Soup recipe (from the Sunset Magazine website) with me in the depths of last winter, and we ate it every week until summer. The soup is brothy but rich, thickened with bread and well-seasoned with lots of umami flavors. I’ve made a few adjustments to suit Steve’s pescatarian diet (vegetable stock, instead of chicken stock) and my desire for convenience (1 or 2 cans of cooked white beans substituted for the 1 cup of dried beans the recipe calls for). Instead of ciabatta, I used the remnants of our weekly sourdough loaf, and it worked great.
Best Vegetable Side Dish Recipe
I'm not immune to food trends: this off-the-cob Mexican Street Corn from Foolproof Living has been a fun and welcome change to our weekly menu. Served warm, it's a pleasing blend of crunchy and creamy, sweet and piquant. Out of season, I use a bag of frozen organic grilled corn kernels and cook according to the package directions before mixing with the sauce. So easy and ready to eat in less than 10 minutes!
Best Pasta Recipe
I make my pasta from scratch. It takes time, but is really pretty easy, and the result is so far superior to the dried pasta from the grocery store, I really can't think of an excuse not to do it. Plus, let's face it, it makes a pasta meal a pretty special treat, and not something I'm tempted to turn to when we need a quick, filling dinner after a long day at work. The Tossed Spinach Lasagne and Goat Cheese Gratin recipe from Deborah Madison's 1997 tome Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books) is the best kind of winter comfort food. It's simplicity--sheets of fresh spinach pasta tossed with an herby béchamel fortified with soft lumps of fresh goat cheese and baked until bubbling and browned--disguises the fact that the result is a meal elegant enough to serve to company. I bake it in my 10-inch cast iron skillet, and cut and serve it tableside.
Best Main Course Recipe
This was a tie between the Vegetarian Mushroom Wellington from NYT Cooking, and Half Baked Harvest's Crispy Roasted Blackened Cauliflower with Burrata and Herbs.
I made the Wellington for special occasions (Thanksgiving, b-day celebrations) since it's quite a bit of work. But man oh man is it good. A few tips: Step 2 in the recipe (preparing the mushroom filling) was just a bit too fussy for me, though I understand the reasoning behind it. My shortcut was to just toss all the mushrooms into my food processor and whir until chopped. Seemed to turn out just fine. Also, I found that the port reduction required a lot more time to reduce to 1/2 cup than the 25-30 minutes called for. I suppose the culprit could be my low BTU stovetop, so you may have different results.
Like many of Half Baked Harvest's recipes, the Crispy Roasted Blackened Cauliflower with Burrata and Herbs is straightforward, filling, and big on flavor. I am a notorious cauliflower hater, but this recipe really turned my head. IMO, the unlikely mix of herbs in the finishing drizzle REALLY makes it, so don't be tempted to leave it off (like I was).
Best Cooking Project
One of my favorite things to do on a long winter weekend is to attack a complicated cooking project. Learning to make an authentic, eye-rollingly delicious bowl of ramen has been a culinary goal of mine for a long time. Let's Make Ramen! by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan (Ten Speed Press, 2019) is a collaborative masterpiece, and simply put, the very best cookbook I have ever used. Through storytelling and clear (dare I say cute?) illustrations, Hugh and Sarah guide ambitious cooks through the process of creating all of the layered components--broths, noodles, meats, and accompaniments--of authentic, crazy-good ramen. Along the way, I learned a lot about the culture of ramen, ramen eating, and preparing ramen. My brother lives in Japan, and my ramen immersion lessons led to some great email chats with him about his adopted country's beloved national dish. I picked up my copy at our favorite local comic book shop, but I also found it on the shelves of our downtown library alongside the duo's other great collab Let's Make Dumplings!
Best Single Ingredient Meal
Saturdays at the Portland, Maine Farmers' Market always ended with a trip to the Emily's Oysters stall, where I would buy a dozen of Emily's ice cold, fresh, Casco Bay oysters. Lunch for the weekend would consist of 6 oysters on the shell, topped with a sparky mignonette, and accompanied by a well-chilled glass of this fantastic dealcoholized sparkling chardonnay. Find a recipe for mignonette on Emily's website, plus, a handy how-to video on shucking for the uninitiated.
What were your favorite recipes you cooked this year? Tell us in the comments! Could be next in line for my best of 2023!