Top 5 Recipes of 2008

As well established readers of this blog will know, I enjoy cooking. So what retrospective of 2008 would be complete without a list of recipes that have influenced me this year. I’ve tried out a lot of new recipes this year, and these are the ones that I loved the most and wanted to share with you all.

5- Zucchini “Crab” Cakes

Amy made this recipe for one of our regular get-togethers to play Settlers. I loved the recipe so much that I tried and failed to replicate it by myself, and eventually just broke down and asked Amy for it. With my CSA this summer I had no dearth of zucchini and summer squash, and this became an easy dinner recipe that I relied on time and time again. This recipe is very easy to both scale and tweak. Add extra little bits of whatever you’ve got (ham, cheese, other veggies, whatever) or vary the spices and you’ve got a completely new experience.

Zucchini “Crab” Cakes

2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning TM
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, egg, and butter or margarine. Stir in seasoned crumbs, minced onion, and seasoning. Mix well.
Shape mixture into patties. Dredge in flour.
In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium high heat until hot. Fry patties in oil until golden brown on both sides.

4- Amy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

I blogged about Amy blogging about these cookies. I’ll refer you to her recipe for the details, but these are far and away the best cookies you could ever make. Ok, maybe I’m gushing, but this recipe sings. And instead of hoarding the recipe to herself, she shared it! And now you can try them too. I’ve made them several times and they’re great.

3- Cranberry Relish

I’m a cranberry geek. I love cranberry sauce, but its very rare for me to get well prepared sauce not from a can. (Has anyone ever gotten good stuff from a can? I don’t know!) For Thanksgiving this year, I decided that if I wanted good sauce, I would have to make it myself. So I did. And it was good. I trialed the recipe twice, and got slightly different results, but the outcome was great both times.
Cranberry sauce

Here goes:

Cranberry Sauce
1 C Water
1 C Sugar
1 Bag Cranberries (12 oz)
zest of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 orange
Apple Pie Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)

Bring water and sugar to a boil, dissolving sugar. Add orange juice and cranberries. Return to boil (It’s hard to tell, because there are now more cranberries than anything else in the pan, and not terribly important, just get the temp back up). Lower heat to a gentle simmer. Cranberries will start to pop. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries have softened and the liquid starts to gel. Add zest and spice to taste. (I just dumped it in, I didn’t measure… probably 1-2 teaspoons.) Mix on the heat for another minute or so. Remove from heat, pour into serving dish. The gel will harden as it cools. When it has come to room temp, put in the fridge until showtime.

My first go with the recipe, I simmered for less than 10 minutes, and the berries were more whole and the gel less firm. The second round, which I brought for dinner, I simmered a little longer (I wasn’t paying attention), and it worked out fine, and set up a lot harder.

2- Spring Rolls

When I went out to Salt Lake this spring, I surprised my MBA friends. They’re always inviting me over to dinner, but rarely give me enough advance notice to get out there. This time I told them I’d go (which was the part that surprised them!). Jodie was hosting the dinner, and since I was staying at her place, I weaseled my way into helping make it. Or mostly watching Jodie make it. The appetizer course was Spring Rolls, which are fancy and very simple to make.

Spring rolls

I later hosted people for a roll your own dinner, and also forced them upon my family over the 4th of July. I think I ended up taking them to a mingle as well, except I called them Summer rolls.

This is another recipe that is very customizable to whatever you have available.

Here’s a basic recipe:

Spring Rolls

1/4 pound vermicelli rice noodles, soaked in boiling water to barely tender (2 to 5 minutes), drained, rinsed, and drained again
1/2 pound Asian barbequed pork, lean beef or chicken, thinly sliced, or thinly-sliced tofu, or any fairly dry cooked vegetable or meat
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, halved lengthwise (optional)
12 lettuce leaves, washed, dried and thinly sliced
1 to 2 cups shredded carrots, or other vegetables shredded on a cheese grater
1 bunch spearmint, washed and dried
1 bunch coriander or basil, washed and dried
20 rice paper rounds (6 to 7-inch diameter)

1. Moisten rice paper by rubbing with water, or dipping in hot water for a few seconds. Let stand a few moments until softened.

2. On the bottom third of the rice paper round, make a small pile of rice noodles, a few shreds of meat, half a shrimp, some lettuce, carrot, and a leaf of each herb.

3. Roll up the rice paper over the filling, taking it halfway up the uncovered portion of rice paper. Now fold in the side flaps and continue rolling until you have a tight cylinder. Put on a plate and keep covered with a damp cloth.

You should serve these with dipping sauces. One easy dipping sauce is Sweet Chili sauce, which you can find in most Asian sections at the grocery store. Another easy sauce is Peanut Sauce. In a small sauce pan, add 2 parts peanut butter (natural and chunky is the way I like it!) to 1 part hoisin sauce (another Asian section staple). Heat it up a bit while stirring. When it seems well mixed, add some coconut milk or water (or both) to thin it down. Whisk vigorously and serve.

It’s that easy! (Special thanks to Jodie for helping me refresh my memory of how to make these, especially the peanut sauce. She is absolutely awesome!)

1- Indian tomato sauce

I love this next recipe. I’ve blogged it before, but I’m going to go ahead and put it here again. Because I love it that much. And because you probably won’t click the link. I discovered this in my How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook (by Mark Bittman), when Melanie, Leilani, and I were having one of our Vegetarian cooking nights. We did Baked Garbanzos with Fresh Cheese and Spinach (basically a fancied up saag paneer). But this sauce was the star of the show. I’d make this for dinner every day if my stomach wasn’t so sensitive to tomatoes.

Here’s the recipe:

Spicy Indian Tomato Sauce

Makes 2 cups.

4 T butter or 1/4 c neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
one 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 T minced fresh chile or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
2 T garam masala or curry powder
1/2 t chili powder
large pinch sugar
2 c chopped ripe tomato (about 1 lb. whole), preferably peeled and seeded, or drained canned tomatoes
1/2 cream or coconut milk
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 t cumin seeds
1 t mustard seeds

1. Put 3 T of the butter or oil in a deep skillet over medium0-high heat. When the butter is melted or oil is hot, add onion, garlic, ginger and chile. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in garam masala, chili powder and sugar and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook and stir until spices become fragrant, a minute or two more.

2. Add tomato and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to release its liquid, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and cilantro and keep cooking and stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.

3. Turn heat down so the sauce bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato breaks up and the mixture comes together and thickens, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. (The sauce may be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before proceeding.)

4. Put remaining butter or oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add cumin and mustard seeds and toast them until they begin to pop. Spoon over the sauce just before serving.

And now two bonuses:
Bonus #1: My favorite new spice: Garam Masala. Technically, a mixture of spices, garam masala is an Indian spice, which packs such an incredible punch of flavor. I had been using my own mixture until I realized there is an Indian grocery just down the road a bit. I found it, and I’ve been finding ways to use it ever since. So far, I have seasoned my Thanksgiving backup ham with it and a lentil soup. I’m looking forward to the other ways that I can use it!

Bonus #2: A Christmas cookie recipe: Rolo Cookies.
I got a great response to these on my cookie trays, and thought I’d share the joy. Clicky the linky above. Mmm!

So there you go. My favorite recipes of 2008. What are yours?