Not gonna lie—dinner at home has improved immeasurably since I joined the Serious Eats team earlier this year. When left to my own devices, I tend to make the same handful of familiar favorites over and over again—I get enough experimentation during my nine-to-five. But it’s impossible to work with Daniel and Kenji and not feel inspired to try something new.
They both write recipes that are supremely easy to follow, and ones that speak to the soul of my cravings: hearty, salty, super-savory foods that bring balance to all the sugary things I snack on throughout the day. Compiling a list of my favorites from 2016 was a little tricky, since I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy so many of their recipes this year. So I limited myself to the ones that were so good, I made ’em twice. And, perhaps because Daniel and I share the Serious Eats test kitchen for a week every month, my list skews a bit in his favor, but it’s not as though The Food Lab is collecting dust on my shelf.
Modern Mac and Cheese
If you grew up on blue-box Kraft mac and cheese, or a homemade version made with nothing more than melted Velveeta, Daniel’s modern mac and cheese is everything your child brain desires and all that your adult brain demands. Namely, it’s silky-smooth and gooey, but with the flavor of your favorite cheddar.
The recipe calls for water instead of milk, and it’s perfect, I swear. Trust me: There are two pounds of cheese in this recipe. The results aren’t hurting for fat or lactose. I mean, just look how freaking amazing this is.
I made the “stew” portion of this shepherd’s pie a day in advance, then carted it down to my folks’ house in a zip-top bag. My brother was on mashed potato duty, so all I had to do was transfer the elements to a baking dish and toss it in the oven. This super-savory “pie” was a great and easy way to tag-team dinner for a big family gathering, and there wasn’t so much as a stray pea left behind when we were done.
Beef and Barley Soup
Expecting company for Thursday night football, I decided that beef and barley soup would be sufficiently tasty but low-key. On trying it, my husband declared that his friends (and cheap beer) weren’t worthy, forcing us to whip up a Plan B so we could hoard Plan A (and a bottle of red) to ourselves.
Since then, we’ve polished off a one-pound bag of pearled barley by making this rib-sticking soup time and again, and not once have we offered to share.
Chicken Cacciatore (Both Ways)
I didn’t grow up eating chicken cacciatore (there’s a serious lack of Italian-restaurant culture in my hometown), so when I saw Daniel’s dueling variations on the theme—one with red peppers, one with mushrooms—I didn’t know where to begin.
So, taking his no-rules, any-way-you-like-it guidance to heart, I merged the recipes and made both. I still don’t know what chicken cacciatore is supposed to be, only that I’ll be riffing on this customizable recipe for many dinners to come.
Earlier this year, I had a chance to check out the Spanish bar Donostia after hearing about it from Vicky (who shot it for our feature on New York City’s Most Underrated Bars). It was an amazing experience, but I was bummed to know that, since I live in Kentucky, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy their tortilla española all that often.
So when Daniel got to work on a recipe for Spanish tortilla, I immediately made one for myself. I totally wimped out when it came time to flip it over, though, so I just covered it tightly and finished it in the oven like a quiche. Despite this egregious violation, it came out beautiful, and was just what I’d been craving.
Mushroom Kale Salad
Full disclosure: I’ve never made this salad! My husband found the recipe and made it for dinner one night, and it’s been in our regular rotation ever since. And John’s not a big salad guy, so that’s saying a lot. What we love about Daniel’s mushroom kale salad is the variety of temperatures and textures: warm and crunchy potatoes over crisp greens, with tender marinated mushrooms. We’ve gotten into the habit of keeping boiled potatoes in the fridge so the recipe comes together even faster.
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Broccoli soup is my husband’s absolute favorite, so I tackled Kenji’s broccoli cheddar soup the very day the recipe went live. I’ve made a ton of broccoli soups in my day, but what I love about this one is the inclusion of carrots and potato, which give it more dimension and body. Plus, you know, there’s lots and lots of cheese.
Steak Carpaccio Salad
Kenji’s steak carpaccio salad was one of the first recipes I ever had to edit on Serious Eats, and midway through, I took a screenshot of the list of ingredients so my husband could pick them up from the store. Which kind of defeats the point, since it’s supposed to be a recipe to use up leftover steak, but whatever. Just looking at it made me hungry, and it tasted just as tangy/salty/savory (the flavors I want most after a day of sweet carbs) as I’d imagined. We’ve since started overbuying on steak so we can have it more often.
Crispy Fried Eggs
Coming from the restaurant industry, I’m not used to cooking meals for myself. During my former life, I could always count on family meal, or trading cookies and ice cream for something savory from my buddies on the line. Now that I’m working from home, Kenji’s crispy fried eggs are the quick fix I need, and they’re what I tend to make for myself during the day when I want something to bulk up a simple salad or bowl of grits.
So there you have it. Proof positive that BraveTart does not survive on sugar alone. The next year may prove to be many things, but at least I know there’s more good food en route.