The Things We Cooked: Recipes We Loved This Year

Two years ago, Houstonia staff members wrote about their favorite restaurant meals. This year? Suffice it to say we spent more time than usual in the kitchen in 2020. 

So, we opted this time around to talk about our favorite recipes to follow. May 2021 include many more great kitchen accomplishments! (Though let’s also beat this virus and eat in restaurants again, okay??)

Spiced Meatloaf Joins the Rotation

I’m not too big on recipes in my day-to-day cooking, but I do have a few I’ve memorized over the years and crank out as needed. Pableaux Johnson’s red beans recipe, Mark Bittman’s sardine pasta, and Martha Stewart’s Mediterranean chicken (Love you, Martha! Granted, I usually cook thighs, not boneless chicken breast). The Moosewood Cookbook’s Hungarian mushroom soup and the Run Fast Eat Slow spicy black beans (I use chicken stock instead of water; and, sorry, it doesn’t appear to be online) are typically on rotation in cooler months, too. 

The best recipe I successfully made this year—granted, pre-pandemic—was Nik Sharma’s insanely good spiced meatloaf. — Gwendolyn Knapp, managing editor

Amatriciana Becomes a Staple

As we’ve rolled into the end of this strange, chaotic year, I’ve found myself obsessed with Amatriciana, an Italian dish my Italian fiancé introduced to me when we first met. I’ve enjoyed making it this year because it’s both delicious and so, so easy to pull off, a key factor if you’re not exactly a confident kitchen wizard.

You start by boiling your pasta (traditionally bucatini, though cellentani or really anything else works) and putting about a quarter pound of diced pancetta (or guanciale if you can get it) in a pan with one chopped habanero pepper, letting the pork brown while the grease absorbs the heat of the pepper. Then add a pound of cherry tomatoes and let the concoction simmer for about 10 minutes, or until all of the tomatoes are clearly cooked. 

Once the pasta is cooked, stir it into the sauce, grate pecorino or pecorino Calabrese over it and serve. I’ve made this so much this year, I think I could make it in my sleep.

And, if you’re wanting to feel a little festive, you can top off the meal with a glass of vin brulé, a Northern Italian take on mulled wine that is almost ridiculously easy to make. You just throw a bottle of red wine, a peeled orange, a peeled lemon, two sticks of cinnamon, eight cloves, and about a half a cup of sugar into a pot, bring the mixture to a boil, and serve. — Dianna Wray, editor-in-chief

Conquering My Paella Mountain

Arguably my greatest accomplishment of 2020 was making paella from scratch by myself. As a relatively unexperienced cook, I was terrified of making it—what if I burned the rice, what if I accidentally set my apartment on fire, what if it tasted bad? It was my Everest.

But since 2020 was such a dumpster fire of a year, I wanted to relive better days, namely my college study abroad trip to Barcelona. So, after a $30 trip to Kroger for ingredients, I began to climb, so to speak. And for a moment, when I threw the saffron into the pan, I was back by the sea in Spain, sharing pitchers of sangria and massive pans of paella with friends. — Catherine Wendlandt, digital editor

I Can See for Myles

I love to cook and entertain, so having more time in the house in 2020 was something of a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to work on my kitchen skills. Every opportunity I had to cook a big meal, I went right for the throat. On top of that, my wife bought me a grill for our new house, which meant late-summer evenings were spent firing up some steaks and burgers for the family.

I consulted many sources for recipes this year, including Toni Tipton-Martin’s fabulous Southern cookbook Jubilee; 2020’s The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook, celebrating the food of a hipster hotspot in the Catskills of New York; and 2011’s The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (from a Montreal restaurant that was the setting for one of my most favorite meals ever). My favorite recipe to cook this year, though? It came from the freakin’ Joy of Cooking.

Miles Standish stuffing is a bready wonder that includes a bunch of meaty things (pepperoni, breakfast sausage, turkey heart, and gizzard), some fresh spices, celery, and loads of butter. It’s named for the military advisor for Plymouth Colony, Myles Standish, who was on the Mayflower. Standish was also honored with the name of a hotel in Boston. That hotel later became Myles Standish Hall, a dormitory at Boston University where I lived and worked for nearly four years as a top student cook and manager.

So, Myles Standish Hall is where I learned to love cooking. That small personal connection was enough for me to dive right in.

You’ll have to read the Joy of Cooking to get the actual recipe, but celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli has a pretty good one available online. I made mine for a post-Thanksgiving holiday meal (with leg of lamb), and everyone raved about it. The secret: Naturally, more butter. — Timothy Malcolm, dining editor

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