Each new year gives us the opportunity to step back, to reflect, to be like "Wow, that gluten-free pancake I made was really disgusting," or, "Who knew eggplant could be so dang tasty?"
As someone who cooks for both personal reasons and professional ones, I find it useful to keep a running list of my favorite dishes. Developing at least one new recipe each week to run in these pages can be a challenge, my urge to just make macaroni and cheese for every meal strong.
But that impetus to be creative has taught me a lot about cooking, about what I like and what I don't, and about how much salt and pepper you really need to flavor a dish made from scratch. (Hint: a lot!)
Here are 10 recipes I made in 2018 that stand out, recipes that taught me something about cooking, that nurtured me and my loved ones, that I keep coming back to again and again.
10. Eggplant Gratin
This recipe came out of a cooking boot camp I attended in October at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. A chance to get some professional training after years of writing about food and making it as a home cook, it was also a good opportunity to work with other foodies and execute different recipes each day. On our last day in class, we had to create our own recipe. I still marvel at how well this gratin turned out, the tender roasted veggies slathered in a creamy cheese sauce. It's a go-to for large groups and holidays.
9. Christmas Tree Cakes
Some recipes you treasure for how they taste, some you treasure for their "Wow!" factor. This is one of the latter. It was the result of a challenge from a colleague: Could I make a Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cake from scratch? I could and I did, and the festive little desserts made for a fun baking project I would definitely take on again. They were a hit in the office, where comparisons to the real thing were quite flattering.
8. Minty Ricotta Chicken Toast
In my kitchen, there is no middle ground for cookbooks. I either don't use them at all or find one I love and use it till the pages rip. One I fell in love with in 2018 was Chrissy Teigen's Cravings: Hungry for More, a followup to the model and expert Twitter user's first cookbook, Cravings. I adapted her recipe slightly, creating this light and lovely toast.
7. Chicken Pot Stickers
I made these for guests a lot in 2018, so the recipe is wrapped up in sweet dinner party memories. Making pot stickers is a perfect weekend project, the kind of dinner that takes slightly longer to make but is definitely worth it in the end, when you pluck the sizzling dough pockets from a hot skillet. And it caters to my desire to find new bread products to make from scratch.
6. Rosemary Simple Syrup
2018 was the year I realized I didn't always need to pay someone else $12 for a fancy handcrafted cocktail, because they are doable (and fun!) in your home. Things really took off after I wrote a story about a local mixologist who built a tiki bar in his backyard. Our backyard isn't as conducive to such an elaborate setup, but the lessons about crafting your own drinks stuck with me. Simple syrups are a big part of cocktailmaking: Liquor, some simple syrup and a spritz of fresh citrus make for an effective libation. The syrup I can't stop making is this Rosemary Simple Syrup, which can sit in your fridge for up to a month.
5. Chicken and Ricotta Dumplings
Ricotta cheese is the not-so-secret ingredient in this recipe, offering a twist on standard chicken and dumplings. It's one of my husband's favorite meals, and after subbing in these pillowy, cheesy dumplings, it's one of mine, too.
4. Almond Tahini Cookies
The revelation for me here is using tahini in baked goods, specifically to enhance vegan baked goods. My brother and his girlfriend are vegan, so I've embraced trying to create desserts for them that still taste good and don't use too many artificial products. Nut butters get that job done with aplomb. And tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, works beautifully in these sweet-and-salty cookies.
3. Pumpkin Curry
Okay, this is kind of cheating. This recipe is publishing for the first time in today's Times (see Page 2), but I first made it — and then made it again and again and again — in 2018. I'm thankful to have mastered a quick, economical homemade curry, using the spiced sauce as the base for many dishes. I always serve it with rice, and usually some sort of vegetable. Chicken is also a great addition, as is a handful of toasted nuts for a crunchy topping.
2. Braised Short Ribs
One of my cooking goals for 2018 was to make 10 things I'd never made before, and one of those things was short ribs. The fatty cut of beef has been ubiquitous on restaurant menus the past couple of years, and I always assumed it was something that would be difficult to make in my own kitchen. Well, I was wrong. This recipe is good braising practice, and the result is super tender, beefy goodness.
1. Caramel Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast
This isn't a functional, every day kind of meal. But it stands out as the best-tasting thing I cooked all year. All the more surprising because it was not planned at all, created on the fly when I set out to make a romantic breakfast on my wedding anniversary. It was a proud moment, putting my impromptu cooking skills to the test and using my palate to balance salty and sweet flavors.