Sunday, January 3, 2021

Around the Kitchen Table -- Recipe of the Year -- #giveaway

LESLIE BUDEWITZ:  It's the time of year for lists, for the best of this, the best of that. The person of the year, the song of the year. The recipe of the year. 

Many of us cooked more these past few months. Some days it was fun and invigorating; some days, not so much. (Even Sam Sifton, food columnist for the New York Times, admits he got tired of cooking at times, and desperately wanted to just go out for a sandwich.) At its heart, though, as we try to remember here at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, food is about connection, and cooking is nurturing -- for us, for those around our table, for the neighbors we share that new cake with when it turned out to be delicious but way more than we could eat. And for you, our readers, with whom we share a love of food and of story.

At my house, the kitchen success of the past year was pizza. We'd tried making pizza several times and never found a dough recipe that satisfied us. The search became crucial when our favorite Italian restaurant, home to a prize-winning pizza they justifiably called "World's Best Pizza," closed last spring. Then I tried the King Arthur Super-Fast Thin-Crust Pizza, and we had a winner! (Check my post this Tuesday for details and two topping options.) So naturally, along came a pizza stone and more experimentation. Is it the world's best? Hey, there are many types of pizza, and now that we've got a reliable recipe, we've tried others, many from King Arthur, with similar success. 

Les Oeuffs Mayo, at a bistro
on Rue Montorgueil in Paris
In January, Mr. Right and I are taking a deep dive into French cooking, partly in reflection on our last big trip, to Paris in January of 2020, and partly because it's so darned good. We're hauling out the Julia and Jacques videos, poring over cookbooks by Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz, and others. It's common to think of French cooking as complicated and "gourmet," but it's also chocolat chaud and oeuffs mayo and the perfect omelet.   

Here at the Kitchen, we're delighted to welcome two new bloggers, Tina Kashian, who debuted last month, and Mia Manansala, whose first post will appear tomorrow. Our dear friends, Daryl Wood Gerber and Krista Davis, aren't leaving us entirely; they'll pop in now and then and occasionally join the group conversations. We've got some other new treats coming this year, so stay tuned. Know, though, that we'll always be about story and food, about joy and connection.

So, mystery-loving cooks, was there a recipe or a food discovery that stands out for you from this past year? Or a dish you're looking forward to trying, even mastering, in this year to come? Readers, talk to us in the comments for a chance to start the year with a fabulous stack of books!  


MADDIE DAY: I have told this story elsewhere but probably not here. I've been baking yeasted bread for nearly fifty years. Ten or fifteen years ago I waded into sourdough. Sometimes my starter went overly dormant in the summer when it's too hot to bake and I forgot to feed it. But I could always either revive it or get another bit from Allan, my older son, who was also working on his sourdough skills (when his starter died, I'd give him some of mine). 

But last spring when everybody in lockdown began baking sourdough, I totally lost my mojo. The starter was fine, but all I can imagine is that the world has only so much rising in it. After three consecutive batches of baked bricks, I gave up. This fall Allan sent me a new recipe he was having great luck with. It's a highly hydrated (that is, wet) dough. You pull and stretch instead of knead. With my left hand recovering from surgery, I knew I couldn't knead with both hands, but I could secure a bowl with my left and do the work with my right. And voila - I got my mojo back! 

Chewy, airy, sourish bread with a nice crust. So delicious. And I am grateful to start a new year being able to bake great bread again.

LESLIE KARST: I generally host a variety of dinner parties throughout the year, but (surprise!) that didn’t happen so much in 2020. One sort of cooking I did a fair amount of, however, was stir-fries for Robin and me, and by far my favorite discovery was how easy it is to wok up a delicious meal of pan-fried noodles with a variety of meats and vegetables. Yes, the prep—all that cutting and chopping—can be time-consuming, but once it’s completed (and you can do it hours ahead of time), the frying process is pretty darn simple. So my pick for favorite recipe of last year? It would have to be my Ginger Chicken Chow Fun.

And as for this new year now upon us? Boy, do I miss barbecuing with a gaggle of family in friends in the back yard. Standing around the grill, glasses in our hands, swapping stories and inhaling the intoxicating aroma of sausages and burgers sizzling over the fire. So here’s hoping that come summertime, that possibility will be back in all of our lives!


TINA KASHIAN: Hello! I’m thrilled to be a new member of Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen. I love to entertain and cook for family and friends, but this year was quite different with the pandemic. Since I’m new to the group, I don’t have a year’s worth of posts to pick from here, but I certainly have recipes that were great, others not so successful. My favorite dessert is baklava, and I shared my family recipe on the blog a while ago. Dealing with phyllo dough can be a bit tricky. Each sheet of pastry is as thin as newspaper. But once you get the feel for the dough, it is not difficult to make and the dessert is well worth the effort. I wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year! 


MAYA CORRIGAN: The meal I had most often this year symbolizes 2020leftovers. In the B.C. years (Before COVID), we went to Happy Hour several times a week and made a dinner of bar bites, AKA, tapas. We did this at a variety of nearby restaurants: Spanish, Italian, French bistro, seafood, Asian, Mexican, Greek. Starting in March, though, the only way I got a break from cooking was to reheat or re-purpose what I'd previously made for dinner. Roast chicken usually lasted for three meals, i.e., until we were tired of eating it. Lasagna was my favorite multi-meal dish. We had it for two dinners initially and put a third of it in the freezer for a meal a few weeks later. This year I shared a recipe on MLK for another pasta dish that makes enough for a couple of dinners and reheats well: Vegetarian Mediterranean Pasta

A couple of months into the pandemic, one of our favorite happy-hour restaurants closed for good, but the others had begun offering efficient and safe curbside pickup. In keeping with our leftover habit, we always pick up enough food for two dinners. Yes, it's not delivered piping hot, but it's still worth supporting those eateries in hopes that we can go to them again and enjoy Happy Hour . . . in 2021. 

Good riddance to 2020, and Happy New Year to you!


PEG:  I can't say I discovered anything particularly special this year but I did learn some things thanks to being on Weight Watchers for most of the year.  I discovered you can make tasty food and cut back the calories significantly--or points if you're doing WW.  I began to measure the oils I used (usually olive oil) as well as rice and pasta on the rare occasions that I included them in my meals.  I started making my own ranch dressing using buttermilk, made vegetables more appealing by roasting them or grilling them and found I didn't die if I didn't have a starch at every meal! It was almost fun--an adventure to see how much fat and how many calories I could shave off a recipe. Would those dishes rival something out of Julia Child with its profligate use of butter and cream? Of course not, but the food was still enjoyable.  One thing I made frequently was two-ingredient bagels--a combination of self-rising flour and equal amounts of fat free Greek yogurt.  I share the recipe here.  Wishing you a happy new year (and tonight I'm splurging!)


LUCY: Last year I asked for Alison Roman's cookbook for my birthday and she has a roast chicken recipe in there that's to die for. I'm sure I've made it 8 times over the past year and we're still not tired of it. (Even though, shoot, I'd kill for a meal out in a restaurant!) She roasts her bird long and slow with oregano, fennel seeds, garlic and tomatoes. The sum is great than the parts...

And PS I give an enthusiastic thumbs up to Leslie K's chicken chow fun--so yummy!


DENISE: Our favorite recipe is for a chili that uses ground turkey, both cannellini and kidney beans, kale, and a hearty red wine. Although I like to let it simmer a couple of hours, the actual prep is less than twenty minutes. It makes enough for three meals and served with corn bread is a hearty cold weather dinner.


MARY JANE MAFFINI   This was a year spent in the kitchen as ... well, where else?  We had lots of fun and tried many new recipes, but some of our old standards really paid off.  When not in the kitchen, we were streaming like mad. And while we were getting our "Netfix", there always seemed to be six green bananas that were busy turning black well ahead of schedule. The solution was always Banana Blueberry Muffins, a recipe that I put up here back in 2017, when we could travel and we discovered it in a wonderful B & B in Cape Breton.  This paid off in many ways, especially when our 90 year old neighbor said that the only thing he was missing in the pandemic was a good muffin.  We've tried to keep him and our family members (and ourselves) in muffins this dreary year.  If you want the recipe, click here for Blueberry Banana Muffins . 

The second recipe was for our sugar snowflake cookies, a fave around this place.  The snowflake cookie cutter came out and the blue sugar sprinkles and all was well with the world again, UNTIL we realized that the cookies were shaped far too much like the coronavirus for comfort.  No choice at all but to eat them all as fast as possible. 

Remarkably there were requests for more corona-cookies.   What is the matter with people?

I must say I am enjoying this discussion and as usual will steal many of your ideas.  Mystery Lovers Kitchen recipes this year and previous have given us so much fun and distraction in the kitchen. I am thrilled that Mia and Tina have joined the team.  Hope you all have a great cooking year! 

 CLEO COYLE: During the Great Depression, my grandmother (Grazia Alfonsi) made her own cheese, cooked spaghetti sauce using garden vegetables, and baked bread in an outdoor coal-and-wood-burning oven. Inspired by her culinary work ethic during those hard times, I did the same as my husband and I struggled to surmount the pandemic perils and shortages of 2020, the only exception being the outdoor oven, which my Queens, NY, neighbors would have (no doubt) reported to the Fire Dept. 😊 Instead, I used my gas oven and a bread-baking cloche. So, I guess, my personal recipe of the year is really a tribute to my grandmother’s legacy of recipes. I hope to blog some of them in the future and/or share them in the Coffeehouse Mysteries that I write with Marc. 

For this post, however, I’m happy to link to what you, the audience, decided was my recipe of the year because it received the most hits of my uploaded posts in the year 2020, and that was my LIGHTER SHRIMP SCAMPI, which I shared last April for National Shrimp Scampi Day (no kidding). May the recipe bring you joy, and the New Year bring you peace and blessings. Take care, everyone! 

Click here for Cleo’s recipe
(with a free, downloadable PDF).


WHAT ABOUT YOU, DEAR READERS? What recipe or food discovery from this past year stands out for you? Is there a dish you're looking forward to trying, even mastering, in the year to come? Talk to us in the comments for a chance to start the year with book mail -- fabulous giveaways from Tina Kashian and Maddie Day! 

Be sure to leave your email address.
Winner will be announced Tuesday, January 5.

Murder at the Taffy Shop
by Maddie Day

Mistletoe, Moussaka & Murder
by Tina Kashian

Click to see more of our
upcoming releases.



  1. Thanks for sharing your fave recipes, MLK authors!

    Like many of you, I spent a lot more time stuck at home in 2020 with both the spring and current lockdowns, and being a COVID long-hauler who was sick for over 4 months.

    I have to be really sick to LOSE WEIGHT and keep it off. At least getting COVID-19 allowed me to drop another dress size. And despite getting my appetite back and I did not gain any weight during the recent holidays.

    So, my 2020 fave recipe was a sloq, over-roasted pork belly. Previous recipes were disappointing I tried were disappointing since the pork belly ended up chewy or soggy. The recipe I found is a modified version of a recipe from chef David Chang, and was so easy to make.
    I have made it several times and will continue to do so in 2021.

    grace dot koshida at gmail dot com

    1. Grace, I hope you continue to get better and look forward to seeing you in person at book events (or other fun things) when all this is over. Hugs. MJ

    2. So glad you're recovering, Grace! Mr. Right and I got sick, too, and like you, it took us a while to get interested in food again. Glad you've got both the reading and cooking mojo back.

    3. Hi Grace, Glad you are feeling better. Your oven-roasted pork sounds delicious. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2021!

  2. Thank you to all that contribute to Mystery Lovers Kitchen! Always look forward to new recipes that the authors have made and recommend. There's nothing like using a tried and true recipe.

    One of the recipes that we have finally mastered is Cavitini. It's a dish Pizza Hut use to have years ago that's a cross between pizza and pasta. There are multiple types of pasta in a sauce with onions, bell peppers and pepperoni all smothered in cheese. Sounds easy doesn't it? Well, the sauce gave us fits trying to figure it out. It took many tried with different ingredients, but we both think we finally got it right. Well, if not exactly like theirs at least it's right for us. We finally decided it was a mixture of both spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce and then we had to get the amount of each right. Making it with homemade spaghetti sauce using garden tomatoes hits it over the top.

    Another dish we perfected during this stay at home was homemade chili. What you must know is hubby loves EXTRA hot and I like spicy and some heat but don't care for my mouth to be set on fire. Having it figured out once, we found it was a real downer when one of the ingredients were no longer available. So it was back to the drawing board to figure out how to make that special tomato sauce. Took some doing, but with all the stay at home, we had ample time to experiment. As for the heat factor, it was using our own mixture of different spices to add more flavor than heat but yet satisfied hubby's "I want it hot" desire. I'm happy to say the last two pots of chili were a big hit with both of us.

    Hubby has also worked this last year in perfecting his smoking skills. He used a variety of rubs and spices along with temperatures and times to get the most perfect smoked meats around. With both of us loving to cook/bake, I think we make the perfect team - in and out of the kitchen.

    In 2021, we look forward to many more recipes from Mystery Kitchen Kitchen to expand our go to recipe list. Keep up the good work!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Kay, you two were kitchen maniacs this year! Your experimentation sounds a bit like us and pizza. So glad you're part of our crew!

    2. Hi Kay! I love a bowl of chili. It's the ultimate comfort food for me and my husband makes this often. Happy 2021!

  3. I want to try more recipes that are mostly vegetables. Maybe try some Oriental dishes that aren't very spicy. Thank you for this chance at your giveaway!! pgenest57 at aol dot com

    1. As the Spice Queen of the blog, may I suggest you take a cue from Kay and think of spice as flavor, not heat? There are a lot of ways to use herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of vegetables, and even if they involve cumin or chili oil, with some experimentation I'm sure you can find a way to up the flavor without needing to call the fire department!

    2. I used to love spicy food, but can't eat too spicy now. I do love most vegetables and I'm going to try to cook healthier in 2021.

  4. Mary Jane, I'll be giggling all day about your coronavirus cookies! and happy new year everyone!

    1. Thank you, Lucy/Roberta. We are a fun bunch here! Hugs. MJ

    2. Roberta - Mary Jane's "coronavirus cookies" cracked me up, too. Thanks for the New Year uplift, MJ, we can all use it. (And I wouldn't mind a few of those cookies for a post-vaccine snack, either!)

  5. Thank you all for so many great recipes over the years. I've tried many, and they were al delicious hits at my house.

    This year I really got into mushrooms. Maybe because they're a good source of Vitamin D, which seems to help with immune response, but whatever reason, we really enjoyed them so many ways this past year. I love mushroom soup, but had never made it until quarantine, and also mushroom risotto. We found a patch of morels at our farm (finally, after owning it for 12 years), and they made it into a couple dishes, too.

    my husband carefully watched our son-in-law grill steaks, and now he does an even better job than he used to, and he was already pretty good.

    Finally, Google David Lebovitz's chocolate fruitcake. Divine!

    1. Thanks, Karen! We love mushrooms. I wish they were more photogenic but will keep working on that. Happy New Year. MJ

    2. Morels -- you lucky dog. I saw Lebovitz's recipe but didn't try it -- glad to know it's a hit!

  6. We tried a lot of different homemade pizza dough recipes. Some were fantastic, some weren't. Always fun trying different recipes to find the best one!

    Thanks for the chance!

    1. BE sure to check the blog on Tuesday, when I share one of our favorites!

  7. Thanks for sharing all your recipes. It gives me so many ideas. I made no knead bread this past year and apple cinnamon loaf. I want to try to make more healthy meals for 2021. Have a great year everyone.