2016: These recipes review the year in my kitchen

The past year’s progress came both in huge leaps and literal baby steps.

Once my younger son, now 19 months, could feed himself, I found myself each day with an extra hour, some of which I used to experiment in the kitchen and to plan more frugal, healthful meals. Dispatching our holiday leftovers engendered a new dish this week that’s bound to become a family favorite: white lasagna with ham, spinach and mushrooms.

Planning in my own kitchen gave me the confidence to construct a cooking class in partnership with ACCESS for subscribers to local community-supported agriculture programs, explained in a previous post. Offering the monthly sessions for five months during the growing season wasn’t without its challenges. But the food never suffered despite some equipment failures and fatigue from heavy lifting.

One of the class dishes, zucchini fritters, was an 11th-hour substitution after plans A and B both fell through. And it was a surprise hit, albeit adapted from the recipe posted earlier that day to this blog. Lacking feta cheese and fresh dill and mint, we substituted Monterey jack and red-pepper flakes and cumin seeds.

Although recipes are this blog’s stock in trade, adaptations are my way of navigating the practicalities of seasonality, budget-wise cooking and abundance — or shortfalls — in my pantry. It’s how real cooks cook. And while I prepared about a dozen new recipes before or after blogging about them, only one or two were followed to the letter.

So here is my look back at 2016 in recipes, some with additional commentary and photos.

Coriander-Coconut Braised Ribs: It’s cold enough to revisit this sweet, savory, spicy recipe that warmed us last February. My adaptations already have been explained at length in the original post. The next substitution is lamb ribs from my freezer.

Ultimate ‘Heart Smart’ Chocolate Chip Cookie: The holidays left us with a half-pound of cream cheese and several sizes and colors of chocolate chips. Having some key ingredients for this recipe on hand may prompt me to mix up a batch of dough and stash them in the freezer for our next cookie craving. The “heart smart” reputation of these cookies comes from transfat-free margarine. As I explained in the original post, stick with butter and increase the baking time by a couple of minutes.

Sarah Lemon photo

Ginger-Scallion Sauce: This recipe is my new addiction. When my garden had a surplus of scallions, cucumbers and chilies, I was preparing this sauce for fresh Chinese-style wheat noodles at least once a week. Ultimately, I beefed it up into a hearty main dish with toasted cashews and a Chinese-style omelet sliced into spirals, all seasoned with lots of fish sauce. Now that the scallion harvest has tapered off, I’m loathe to leave the dish out of my repertoire but can’t wait for spring’s fresh inspiration.

Sarah Lemon photo

Egg-topped cornmeal waffles: Spring was the impetus for topping savory waffles with poached eggs. Just as the original post suggested several variations, I tried them with bacon and homemade tomato chutney and smoked salmon and sautéed asparagus. I’m anticipating adding fresh, grilled corn this summer and garden tomatoes.

Muesli: Eggs most often factor into my dinnertime dishes. A boon to this year’s breakfast lineup was muesli. I’ve enjoyed this cereal many times over the years but had never seen fit to mix up a batch and portion it out each night with milk for the next morning. My personal favorite combination is rolled oats and barley, chia seeds, dried cherries, toasted almonds and coconut. It replaced my beloved steel-cut oats, which I lack time these days to make fresh each morning and just can’t conscience par-cooking.

Sarah Lemon photo

Crisp Endive: Another substitute for yet another beloved dish arose from searing and braising Belgian endive like fennel. The original post explained my additions.

Sarah Lemon photo

Lamb and Phyllo Cigars: File this one under “awesome.” My mom spearheaded their manufacture with ground lamb she had on hand after I mentioned the recipe. The ingredients yield 21 cigars, of which I easily could have eaten half. Their appeal was confirmed, surprisingly, by my dad, who isn’t particularly keen on lamb and also suspicious of sweet spices in savory dishes. We’re already allotting some of this year’s pasture-raised lamb to another batch and should expand that to several, including some to freeze.

Sarah Lemon photo

Raspberry Cheesecake Bars: Backyard blackberries constituted my first foray with this recipe, adapted to a tart pan with removable bottom. I was such a fan of the crust that my mind started spinning into all the other directions I could take it. A pecan version became the base for a salted caramel-pumpkin tart for Thanksgiving. And I vowed the holidays wouldn’t pass before I shifted the recipe once more in a savory direction: walnut-black pepper crust with blue cheese filling and cranberry or huckleberry coulis.

Chana Masala: This is another foundational dish with infinite variations. To the chickpeas, I added butternut squash and curry paste (not powder) this past month and wowed dinner guests on more than one occasion. I flavored my basmati rice with orange rind, bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon. On the side, I served braised, vinegary collard greens.

Sarah Lemon photo

Pot Stickers: The original post called for turkey in this dumpling’s filling. But I made them with leftover Christmas duck, fried them in duck fat and braised them in duck stock. As my husband and I tucked in, we agreed that we’d be very pleased with this plate of food in a restaurant setting. Even more so at home before a roaring fire.

Best wishes for 2017 and bon appetit.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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