It’s been a strange season in a weird year. As we usher in 2021 (and simultaneously kick 2020 out the back door), I’d like to share a few of “my favorite things” (as the song goes), and hopefully encourage you to check them out as well.
The following are a few of the things that I’ve found especially, tasty, interesting, and/or fun in the past year (or so). Please feel free to let me know what you think (leave a comment), or share how your own favorite things have made the quarantine just a touch more tolerable!
1 – Frozen Soup Dumplings
There are few things as comforting on a rainy day as warm soup-belly, and my wife and I would argue that when the soup comes in dumpling form, it makes everything that much better! Soup dumplings, or Xiaolongbao, were created in Shanghai in the late 1800’s and have become a staple of foodie culture. I was introduced to the tasty little pockets a few year ago when my wife and I waited not-so-patiently in line at the Bellevue Din Tai Fung, and eventually crowded into the bar, only to consume multiple baskets full of their rich, soupy dumplings. Needless to say I was hooked. Pre-pandemic, we would often frequent the smaller (but easily accessible) local branch of Dough Zone, but in the midst of quarantine we’ve been picking up bags of soup dumplings, and steaming them on our own at home! It might seem complicated, but given a skillet, a two-tiered bamboo steamer with some liners (or cabbage leaves), and a bag of premade potstickers or dumplings, you’re about 10 minutes or so away from a tasty meal.
2 – The Half Baked Harvest Cookbooks
Half Baked Harvest is a blog by Tieghan Gerard, an Ohio-born denizen of the mountains of Colorado with a passion for food, and a talent for writing about it (and photographing it). Her recipes are hearty, comforting, delicious, and pretty darn easy to make. What’s more, while her food is very approachable, it’s helped push me in a variety of directions with my own cooking. I highly recommend that you pick up her two books (The HBH Cookbook, and HBH Super Simple) but if you’re not convinced just give this recipe for 15 minute garlic butter ramen noodles a try.
Trust me, it’s one of our recent favorites:
3 – Poached Eggs
Almost a year ago, we were fortunate enough to pack up the car and take the kids away to Vancouver BC for a quick “adventure weekend” on the eve of the pandemic. While dining out, my wife and I noticed that many of the restaurants we dined in served most of their eggs poached. A waiter informed us that it was (at least in that particular establishment) a way to follow certain rules for ventilation of the cooking space. Needless to say, we were hooked, and while I had cooked poached eggs in the past, this led to a year or so of “poachers” in our household. It turns out, poached eggs are just better. They’re cooked in water, so they’re healthier than if you cook them any other way. They can be seasoned as you see fit. They can go with pretty much anything. and – best of all – once you get the cooking process down, you’re only a few minutes away from velvety, yolky, deliciousness. Five stars. Highly recommend.
4 – Smash Burgers
I wrote a post about this already. Long story short: I now know how to make delicious, fast-food style (but where I get to control the ingredients) burgers in the comfort of my own home. Plus I have a great recipe for fancy sauce (see last link).
5 – The Beer Section of Costco
Ok, this has been on my favorites list for a while now, but lately, the beer section of my local Costco has been KILLING it with the rotating selection of microbrews. They carry the big brand names, of course, and while they seem to have (thankfully) given up on brewing their own beer, they almost always have something new and interesting waiting in the aisle or on the end cap. While the Seattle area stores have carried a few of my favorites for a while now (Georgetown Brewing’s Bodhizafa is usually at the top of my list), I’ve also been introduced to some new favorites, including Reuben’s Brews PNW Crush, and The Hop Concept’s Tropical and Juicy IPA. Throw in an old favorite or two, like Old Rasputin pounders, and the always trusty Stone’s Enjoy By series, and man, you got a stew going. Hopefully your Costco is as stocked as mine!
6 – French Press Coffee and Bean Box!
About a year or so ago our (second) Keurig machine kicked the bucket. Instead of replace it again, I made two moves. First, I bought my wife a Nepresso Vertuo espresso machine, and second, I bought myself the products to make “regular” coffee. Sure, I like espresso, but after a little while, I found that I was missing the process of making and drinking a full cup of normal, bitter, black coffee. I did a little research, and ended up ordering a Mueller stainless steel press, and an electric grinder by the same company. I then raided the coffee aisle at the local Safeway, and after a few missteps, discovered a handful of new favorites (which I’ve been sharing on Instagram) including the truly delicious Deadman’s Reach by Raven’s Brew, a wholesale roastery out of Ketchikan Alaska and Tumwater Washington. Not long after that, my wife – knowing that I would probably do so on my own – set me up with a subscription to Bean Box, an online subscription service that sends me a monthly box of four freshly roasted coffees from local roasters. That all being said, I’ve enjoyed some high-octane brews over the past few months, which have honestly been necessary considering the whole distance learning situation.
7 – My Weber Kettle
I love grilling, but given my affinity for my gas-fueled Weber Genesis, I was a little confused when my wife surprised me with a new 22 inch Weber Master Touch last Father’s day. Turns out, it’s a lot of fun.
While we don’t have a lot of time for slow and low cooking, I’ve used my new grill to cook a handful of delicious meals, and I’ve even carved out a few days during the quarantine to try my hand at some longer cooks. I made my first Texas-style brisket over the summer, which was a 10 hour endeavor, and the smoked beer can chicken has become one of our recent favorites. I also just got a brand new Slow ‘N Sear Deluxe for my upcoming birthday (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) which I’m excited to try out!
My Least Favorite Thing: Jackfruit
Last February, a colleague at work told me that you can use Jackfruit to make a healthy, pulled pork alternative. I should have been dubious from the start – fruit can not be pig – but I remembered having seen cans of this strange fruit in my local Trader Joes, so I wanted to try it out. I looked it up online, which we all know is the real test of truth, and found a multitude of posts about this miraculous meat-alternative. One person even claimed their kids couldn’t tell the difference. I call bullshit. I can do that, because I cooked it up, added bbq sauce and tried it out. It was the worst. Fuck Jackfruit.
I hated it so much, I wrote a post about it. Please enjoy (the post, not the food).