In 2019 I made a cooking schedule and mostly stuck to it.
I was initially daunted by the task of creating the thing, because I have a bunch of cookbooks I love and tons of recipes I’ve collected over the years in an archival box. I wasn’t sure how to choose from them, or how many to assign to a week, or how to cook seasonally, or whathaveyou.
Then, at Christmas 2018, my little brother gave me Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden, and I struck upon an idea.
Using McFadden’s book and PNW gardening schedules, I figured out approximately where his six seasons begin and end in a calendar year and assigned a set number of weeks to each season. Then, I looked at my weekly meal plan chart (look, my life falls apart without a bunch of schedules and charts…) to decide how many recipes I needed to make in each of those weeks. I cook for one, and I have no problem eating the same stuff a few days in a row, so I really just needed one main dish to eat in the evenings and two other smaller dishes I could take to work for lunch, or include in my breakfast. I made a document listing the weeks, leaving space for the meals, and then I got to do the fun part.
Fill it in.
My life’s blooooooooood, just give me all the charts, I will never get tired of filling them.
I elected to pull recipes from my newest cookbooks, for the fun of uncharted territory, and also from the oldest sections of my recipe box, to see how my tastes had changed. I included a roasted vegetable soup tournament, to try to eliminate a few of my thousands of butternut squash recipes. I made sure each week had a new ingredient for me to try, a new recipe, or a new technique. And, yeah, then I just went to town, cooking my way through the year.
It was awesome.
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My Top Ten Recipes of 2019
(In no particular order, as I was astounded by each of these for incomparable reasons. All photographs mine!)
1. Kohlrabi with Citrus, Arugula, Poppy Seeds, and Crème Fraîche from Six Seasons
Ho.ly. Fuck. This was the most delicious salad ever. The crunch of the kohlrabi with the snap of the citrus and the incredibly subtle sweet/sour of the cream just worked. I’m going to make this every year when kohlrabi are in season.
Also, kohlrabi are adorable. They look like they belong in a Ghibli film doing a happy little dance.
2. Parsnip soup with Pine Nut, Currant, and Celery Leaf Relish from Six Seasons
Turns out I like parsnips. Like, I thought I hated them? But I don’t. Probably, I prepared them incorrectly the first time I worked with them way back when–the bigger ones need to have the cores cut out, and the parsnip needs to cook thoroughly. When done properly though, they are the most perfect combination of earth and sweetness, and the relish was bright and tangy on top of that.
My only top ten recipe I failed to get a picture of, for some reason. I must not have thought it was especially photogenic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t utterly delicious. And really not that hard to make, aside from the fact that these muffins require about every kind of flour and every size of measuring cup. It was more of an experiment that turned out well than an easy go to recipe.
4. Fried Celery Root Steaks with Citrus and Horseradish from Six Seasons (*with modifications)
I skipped the horseradish because I’m not always a fan of that and they only sell it in giant roots at the store near me, leaving me with like…most of a giant root after any giving recipe. Instead, I did slightly hotter peppers (pickled Hungarian) than the recipe calls for (pepperoncini), but still with that citrus snap. Excellent. Plan. Me. The celery root steaks on their own were phenom, and I would make those again and try other toppings, too.
5. Socca with Tomatillo Romesco, Stewed Bananas, and Goat Cheese from Ojas: A Cookbook; Modern Recipes and Ancient Wisdom for Everyday Ayurveda by Nira Kehar
This surprised the hell out of me, mostly because I don’t usually like bananas, nor would I have ever thought to put bananas with goat cheese or to make romesco out of tomatillo. I absolutely LOVED IT. The socca is so easy to make–described in the cookbook as “a large gluten-free pancake made out of chickpea flour (also known as besan)”–and you can really put anything on it, so I’ll be making it for another crust another time. But in this case, the romesco was super savory and strong, and the stewed bananas totally changed my mind about bananas. Blew my mind. Definitely a keeper.
6. Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes, Yogurt Sauce, and Chickpeas from Six Seasons
This is goddamn delicious. Definitely needs to be prepared with fresh tomatoes, and next time I could probably halve the recipe since it made an entire serving platter. But DEFINITELY going to make this one again, holy shit. The brightest, freshest, saltiest, sweetest thing I made in the entire last year.
7. Swiss Chard, Leek, Herb, and Ricotta Crostata from Six Seasons
So, the walnut crust was a little troublesome, but probably something I can get better at with repetition. And the filling was truly terrific. If ice cream didn’t exist, this would probably be my desert island food.
8. Farro and Roasted Carrot Salad with Apricots, Pistachios, and Whipped Ricotta from Six Seasons
First things first: I would kill a man for this whipped ricotta. It is the definition of decadence, and I made it a few more times just for the hell of it after I tried it on this recipe.
Second things second: The rest of the recipe was exceptional, as well. It had all this oil and brightness to it, and the farro is the perfect amount of chewy and tender. I actually enjoyed eating this the whole way through–sometimes my interest fades as I go through the meal. And this is the first instance in which I’ve ever liked dried apricots, the skin tags of the vegetable world.
9. Garden Keeper’s Pie with Beets, Lentils, and Creamy Celery Root Mash from thefirstmess.com by Laura Wright
For whatever reason, I much prefer Laura’s website to her cookbook (weird, right?). I actually gave her cookbook to a friend after trying a few of the recipes and went back to her website, from which I print scads of recipes.
This particular recipe is the perfect balance of sweet on the bottom, savory on the top, and spicy throughout. The balsamic vinegar in the base is just astonishing. It’s so good next to eggs or fish, or just on its own. 100% would make again.
10. Moroccan Stuffed Squash from The Sprouted Kitchen
This was as fun to make as it is beautiful to look at. The filling is just on the right side of sweet and makes enough for a side with fish, too, which I was happy to discover. And the squash heats up really well as a leftover, although it’s best just out of the oven when the skin is still crispy.
Unstoppable Cookbook of the Year
Yeah, that would be Six Seasons. I’ve been cooking vegetarian cuisine for about a decade now, and this is the first cookbook I’ve ever used that completely blew my mind over and over again. Like, standing-in-the-kitchen-so-overwhelmed-by-taste-I-get-angry kind of mind blowing. Swearing tirades and karate chop action.
That said, it might not work for every palate. It definitely has a Southern Italy meets Earthy PNW vibe to it–think lemon/salt/chilis meets verdant/loamy/spicy–so if that’s not your jam, it likely won’t impress you.
If that is your jam, buy this book, holy shit.
Other pros of this cookbook: it convinced me to upgrade my olive oil game with no regrets; it taught me to make flavored butters; it thoroughly settled me into a seasonal cooking schedule; it made me feel like a chef.
Ojas, for sure. I only ended up with one recipe from this book in my top ten, but I really solidly enjoyed a bunch of other recipes from it. It’s also completely gorgeous, with gold-edged pages, zodiac illustrations (it’s divided astrologically), education on Ayurveda, and stunning spice mixes that you make ahead and chuck into the recipes as you go.
The only drawback? Each recipe has about a million ingredients, and at times the ratios seemed a little bit off. But it’s the author’s first book, and she’s already at work on another cookbook with simpler recipes that follow the same guiding principles. I’m super excited for it.
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So, yeah, this was hella fun, and very successful, and I’ve already got my 2020 schedule ready to go. I’ll be adding back in the recipes I didn’t get to while I was at Clarion West (mostly Six Seasons summer stuff) and using some other cookbooks as well to explore Mediterranean cuisine and American gardens.
I’m super looking forward to it.