I know what you’re thinking: how can there possibly be a best of anything in 2020? A year where the hits kept coming, from the pandemic, to financial uncertainty, civil unrest and murder hornets. And yet somehow we slogged through, a little weary and yearning for a return to even semi-normal. As I sit at my desk with a cup of hot tea overlooking a yard that is now covered in icy snow, I’d like to reflect on the good that happened in 2020. There was a LOT of cooking, which is always good. So in that sense, 2020 was actually a very very good year.
Working from home for several months gave me a bit of leeway when it came to dinner prep and also a rare opportunity to make a decent lunch for myself! There were a lot of “firsts” including pastitsio, homemade flatbread, gumbo, chocolate chip cookies that were actually amazing, and most recently the overnight, no knead bread that was a resounding success. Not to mention the many wonderful recipes I made in the Instant Pot (more about that later). Too many great recipes to list, so I decided to just pin them all onto one Pinterest board called “Pandemic Cuisine” . Over 75 comforting recipes. Check it out to see if anything new inspires you!
*NEW COOKWARE & APPLIANCES*
You know I’m always on the lookout for new gadgets and gizmos for the kitchen. Here are some of my favorite *new things from 2020:
Hamilton Beach 2-Way Coffee Maker – Just before the pandemic hit, we decided to ditch the Keurig and go back to the days of brewing a pot of (really really good) coffee. Loved this model that would allow me to brew one cup for the days when I was going into the office or an entire pot of coffee on the weekends. As it turned out, we were both working from home most of the year, so our timing could not have been more perfect! Makes superb coffee and added bonus: we found a small business right here in town that roasts their own coffee and delivers it for free. Win!
Instant Pot – Oh you know I held out on this one for a long time. I was convinced it was a fad that would go by the way of the bread machine and spiralizer. I was convinced it couldn’t possibly be better than my beloved slow cooker. Turns out I was wrong on all fronts. Everything we’ve tried has been a success and there’s something comforting about knowing I can get a beef stew on the table in an hour. Click here to check out some of my favorite Instant Pot recipes of the year. This goes in the “Win” column for sure.
Tramontina Gourmet Enameled Cast Iron Round Dutch Oven – Really a “must have” for any home cook, looking back I can’t believe I’ve been cooking for nearly 30 years without one! Inspired by the no knead bread recipes that were pandemic popular, I finally decided to treat myself. This model was highly rated and about 1/4 the price of the more expensive LeCrueset and Staub (waiting to hit big on the lottery to purchase one of those). Not only did it perform well for the no knead bread, I’ve used it for countless other dishes including my gumbo and stews. Added bonus: it came in this gorgeous dark blue!
OXO Good Grips Citrus Juicer – Sometimes the best purchases are the small, whimsical ones. I spotted this juicer in a cooking video and knew I HAD to own one. Amazon to the rescue (of course!). I already own a few juicers but none that both screen out the seeds AND have measurements on the cup. It rocks my world, even in a small way 🙂
*NEW FOOD FOLLOWS*
What better way to pass the time on lockdown than watching cooking videos! These two in particular brought great joy to an otherwise bleak and dreary March and April. More recently, we subscribed to MasterClass which has opened up yet another world of amazing cooking videos from renowned experts, like Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, Apollonia Poilane and Yotam Ottolenghi to name a few.
Pasquale Sciarappa – This man is pure joy and his videos will lift your spirits. He sings, he dances, he drinks wine. Oh, and his recipes: AMAZING! Just made his Italian Wedding Soup featured in the video below and it was out of this world good. Also check out some of his garden videos. This man can grow tomatoes like no one’s business! You can find him under the name “Osara Recipes” on YouTube or on Facebook. You’ll find yourself dancing along saying “Salute Cin Cin”!
Michael Symon – Chef Symon’s daily #SymonDinner videos were often the highlight of my day in March and April. With the help of his assistant Liv, he filmed daily dinners out of his home and they are everything a good cooking video should be: informative, relaxed and sprinkled with a little humor and occasional appearances by his VERY cute puppy, Norman. He patiently answered questions from his viewers and amassed quite a following during this period. Although he stopped producing videos around the end of April (or May), you can find them on his Instagram page (@ChefSymon) or on YouTube under the hashtag #SymonDinners. Thanks for keeping us sane, chef!
*MY FAVORITE FOOD BLOGGERS OF 2020*
I follow so many food blogs , honestly I’ve lost track. In going through my recipes from 2020 though, two bloggers stood out among the rest, and I find myself returning to their sites over and over again:
Recipe Tin Eats – Nagi was born in Japan but grew up in Sydney, Australia. Her blog is everything I’d love mine to be if I had the time: fresh straightforward recipes, entertaining prose and very well organized. Her Soft flatbread recipe (discussed below) alone was one of my greatest finds of 2020. Also love her photos and updates on her adorable golden retriever, Dozer.
Jo Cooks – Another blog where I want to make EVERY recipe posted! Joanne Cismaru is the blogger and also a cookbook author (you can find her book “30-Minute One-Pot Meals” on Amazon). I first discovered her when searching for paella recipes and ended up making her amazing Chicken and Seafood Paella. Since then, I’ve tried dozens of other recipes from her blog, each one a solid “win”. Great layout as well, with easy access to slow cooker, instant pot and 30-minute recipes.
*NEW TRICKS AND TECHNIQUES*
One of the greatest joys of cooking is learning new techniques and experiences and mastering others. There’s nothing quite like the first time you bake your own loaf of bread or make that perfect vinaigrette and realize you’ll never go back to bottled dressing again. For me, 2020 gave me many opportunities and many “firsts” Here are some of my favorites:
Jacket Potatoes – For many decades my method for baking potatoes was 1 hour in a 400 degree oven. Ho hum. Then in 2014, a Chicago Tribune columnist, John Kass, published a story on salt baked potatoes. It was such a game changer, I wrote a blog post about it. In 2020, yet another revelation in potato baking: the British version called “Jacket Potatoes”. Actually a very simple approach scoring the potatoes but instead of one hour, they’re cooked for two hours. Yes…TWO! Trust the process because these potatoes turn out unbelievably tender and fluffy with a nice crisp skin. Game changer once again!
Cajun Roux – This is where the nerdy/geeky side of me comes to life. Mastering the art of making a dark cajun roux. We had just purchased some gorgeous fresh gulf shrimp from the fabulous Fabian Seafood Company and decided to make gumbo. THE key ingredient (aside from the shrimp) is the perfect dark roux. I was thrilled to come across this tutorial online that walked us through the process and allowed us to master this technique. I literally had my phone in one hand staring at this photo of the stages of roux while stirring with the other.
Easy Soft Flatbread – As I am not a baker by nature, I am always fascinated by how flour and water can be transformed into just about anything just by following a different technique. In this recipe, flour is combined with a little milk and butter to create THE most perfect fresh flatbread you’ve ever had. I served ours with kebobs this past summer then used the leftovers to make some fabulous pizzas for lunch the next day. Also one of my favorite bloggers of the year (Recipe Tin Eats). Great recipes and I love Australian based Nagi’s stories and posts about her dog, Dozer.
Overnight No Knead Bread – Saving the best for last and there’s a reason it was featured on my “Best of 2020” photo grid. At the start of the pandemic, recipes for no knead bread started appearing everywhere. Flour was flying off the shelf as people were hunkering down and baking up a storm. As mentioned previously, I purchased a Dutch Oven precisely to make this bread but didn’t actually get around to it until late December. I remember looking at my sad looking dough the next morning and thinking there was not a chance in you-know-what that it would turn out.
Turns out I was wrong. As wrong as I was about the Instant Pot. MORE wrong, in fact. This was one of the most glorious breads I have evern eaten! Not only did it look like something that came out of a French boulangerie, it had incredible flavor and texture. Again…flour, yeast, water and salt. Transformed. Perhaps THE best thing to come out of 2020 (other than my new garage door).
If you’ve made it this far in my post, thank you! In my perfect world, I would be posting way more often, but I am grateful for the time I do have to pop in here from time to time and share my love of cooking with you. When you tell me you’ve made one of my recipes and it was great, that truly makes my day.
I wish everyone health and happiness in the new year and a return to peace and normal. And as always, eat well, be well and love lots.