After I finish some writing this morning, I am taking the afternoon off to do something I haven’t done in a while: cook a fancy dinner. There is no special occasion. There are no guests. But it’s a sunny day, spring feels soon and, well, I want to. It’s reminded me what a great feeling it is when the horizon of your day doesn’t involve anything more complicated than chopping, kneading, and stirring white chocolate.

The menu for tonight is tuna tartare with potato chips; broccoli Caesar salad; braised lamb shanks and polenta; and white chocolate pudding with blackberry curd. It’s the kind of dinner I used to make when I was younger and more ambitious, when I could eat and drink for days without consequence, and before the world, well, closed.

But now that the pandemic eclipse is starting to very slowly slide over, it’s made me reassess what I have actually cooked in the past year. The recipes have been different. They were carefully planned so I wouldn’t have to grocery shop more than once every two weeks. They featured whatever I could get in town or on Amazon, so they were relatively simple. And, after the initial “let’s eat it all because it’s the end of the world” phase ended, they were, in general, pretty healthy.

I added several to my recipe binder this year and, interestingly, they were not ones I found myself. The neat thing about the past year is everyone was at home cooking and that meant I received some amazing recommendations. So today, with bread dough rising and the lamb coming to room temperature, I thought I’d share them in case you’re likewise in the mood to cook. All of them are available online.

  • Peruvian-style grilled chicken with green sauce from Serious Eats: I tend to like just about any recipe that doesn’t dress up its name too much, so the “green sauce” appealed to me right away. And for good reason. This sauce, made green by cilantro and jalapeno, can improve just about any meal. Its base is mayonnaise and sour cream, so, yum right away. Then it gets dressed up with white vinegar and Amarillo pepper paste (I bought it on Amazon), which is sweet and smoky. My friend Rick Segal recommended this one to me and skipped the Amarillo, reporting it was just fine without it.
  • Green goddess roasted chicken from NYT Cooking: Looking back on it, umm, we had a lot of chicken in the past year. But, hey, its possibilities are endless. This recipe, recommended to us by our lovely friend Hannah Vogel, has you spatchcock a chicken (which means you get to use the word “spatchcock” all day long) and then marinate it in a blended mix of buttermilk, chives, scallions and basil for at least six hours. I generally dread recipes that have me working on it either the night before or even the morning before, but I promise this is worth it. The funnest thing is you save some of the marinade, so you have a delicious sauce to dip the chicken in post-roast.
  • Bechamel sauce from Epicurious: The name of this recipe is a bit misleading for what we used it for. Which is: Philly cheesesteak, baby. At the bottom of the recipe, it will show you how to transform your bechamel into cheddar cheese sauce, cheddar cheese sauce that blankets your sammy in Friday night indulgence. I add more extra-sharp cheddar than it asks for and I whisk it quite a while (it will thicken in time).
  • Asian salmon bowl with lime drizzle from Epicurious: I love a good rice bowl and now that we’re getting our fish from Sitka Salmon Shares, we can even eat it sashimi-style at home. The drizzle is the key to this bowl, combining maple syrup, soy, lime juice, garlic and, yes, melted butter. The recipe suggests just adding spinach, but I grate carrot, add cucumber, radish, scallion, broccoli, whatever I need to get rid of in the fridge. Also: shout out to our Zojirushi rice cooker, a gift from our friend Bjorn Olsen. We have never looked back!
  • Kung pao chicken from Half Baked Harvest: Gah! More chicken! I know, I know, but this recipe is a delight. I discovered Szechuan peppercorns this year (bought from Amazon but I bet you could get at any Asian market) and they are so buzzy and interesting. The nice thing about Tieghan at HBH is she always looks for ways to increase the healthy factor in her recipes, and this meal, with plenty of red bell pepper, ginger and peanuts, is no exception.
  • Shockingly easy no-knead focaccia from Bon Appétit: I’ll admit I made two more pans of this stuff within 10 days of making it the first time. This springy, oily, salty bread is super addictive, so be forewarned. But, given that yeast was out of stock for forever, there has got to be a lot of it still hanging out in people’s fridges, and this, I promise you, is the recipe to put it to good use. I especially think this would be a fun recipe for kids to try, in part because it suggests you play the dough like a piano on the very last step. I like to halve, oil and then roast grape tomatoes for a few hours on 200˚F and stamp those into the dough for extra tang.

If you have any questions about these recipes, or have any others you’d like to share, please email me at tara@swayessay.com. I love to hear from you and am always hungry for more recipes to try.

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