Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Look Back at 2011: The Weekend Gourmet's Kitchen Adventures

It's here: New Year's Eve. The last day of 2011. What a year it's been for us...mostly very good, thankfully!! On the positive side, we saw U2's amazing 360 concert at Soldier Field in Chicago and spent time there visiting with some of Michael's family over July 4th. We celebrated my in-laws' 50th Anniversary with a small family brunch in September. Then? We won a pair of tickets to Saturday Night Live and spent a fantastic three-day weekend in New York in October. To top it off, Michael attended the World Series with one of his cousins. On the not-so-fun side, we said goodbye to Michael's brother and his wife when they moved from San Antonio to Portland, Oregon, this fall. I'm really excited to see what 2012 has in store for us!

I've been having so much fun reading everyone's end-of-the-year "best of" I decided that I want to get in on the fun too! Rather than count down my ten most popular posts or my ten favorite recipes, I decided to pick my favorite post or recipe from each month and share the links with you. If you're new to my blog, you might have missed these the first time around. If you've been around for awhile, maybe some of these will jog your memory.

January: Comforting Apple Upside-Down Spice Cake. This cake give a lot of bang for the buck: easy to prepare, but lots of eye appeal. It's so pretty with the rings of caramelized apples on top when you flip it out of the pan. And the taste? Spicy, fruity, and moist. 

February: PB&J Puff Pastry Doughnuts.  Puff pastry rounds filled with honey-sweetened peanut butter and raspberry jelly...then baked and dusted with powdered sugar. It doesn't get much easier than that. The variations on basic recipe are endless too!

March: Mardi Gras Crispy Fish Sandwiches. These sandwiches are perfect for Fridays during Lent, but are fantastic all year long. Crispy pan-fried tilapia, a homemade spicy remoulade sauce, toasted French bread, and cheese combine for a fantastic sandwich!

April: White Chocolate-Strawberry Easter Cake. This was my first-ever attempt at decorating a cake, and I was very proud at how cute it came out. Luckily, it tasted good too! I doctored up a cake mix and filled it with strawberries, then frosted it with white chocolate-cream cheese icing. And the bunny? Godiva Chocolate sent him to me, so I wanted to feature him in a recipe worthy of his cuteness!!

May: Lickety Split Artisan Bread. Until this post, I had always been intimidated by yeast. Lucky for me, my best friend isn't. We spent a girls weekend together, and she walked me through my first loaf of homemade bread. Using this recipe, it was so easy...and it came out so delicious! Another baking fear conquered!!

June: Lemon-Thyme Roasted Chicken Breasts. One of the most popular posts in the history of my blog. This was my spin on a fantastic Ina Garten recipe that was featured for my Foodbuzz Dinner Party in June. This chicken is fantastic: moist and full of flavor. The pan juices are divine spooned over rice on the side!

July: Mesquite Chicken Tacos with Creamy Corn Salsa. I received a review copy of the wonderful 300 Best Taco Recipes cookbook this summer and discovered this recipe. It was SO yummy -- especially the unique creamy corn salsa. The basic flavor profile of this taco is familiar, but it's this salsa that makes this taco so special!

August: East-West Chicken Tacos. Another winner from 300 Best Taco Recipes. This taco reminds me of an Asian Lettuce Wrap inside of a soft flour tortilla. Chicken, water chestnuts, a sweet-spicy Asian sauce, lettuce, carrots, and honey-toasted peanuts combine for a unique twist on the usual taco.

September: Fiery Chicken Shawarma. This dish is very special to me...not only is it AMAZING, it was also my very first Foodbuzz Top 9 post! I never dreamed that this dish would capture the attention of so many readers, but it did. Spicy yogurt-marinated chicken, cooling yogurt sauce, and fetta-studded salad combine with pita triangles to make a dish that's way better than takeout!

October: Beecher's "World's Best" Mac and Cheese. It takes a lot to live up to hype like that. Luckily, this mac and cheese more than earns this title...with cheese in the sauce and  sprinkled on top! Creamy, rich, and full of cheese...a little goes a long way. I paired this amazing mac and cheese with mini meat loaves and salad for one amped-up comfort food meal.

November: Sausage-White Bean Minestrone. This is one of my favorite soups, because it's hearty and delicious. Italian sausage, veggies, white beans, and pasta simmer and become a fantastic dinner. It's a hearty meal-in-a-bowl...just add some garlic bread and you're ready to eat. 

December: Baked Blackberry Oatmeal. What happens when you combine a few basic pantry staples with blackberries and bake it in the oven? Magic. This baked oatmeal is light and fluffy, and just sweet enough thanks to the addition of a bit of brown sugar. It makes a fantastic breakfast, but it's also a great snack or light dessert. This recipe proves that simple can be totally delicious!

However you choose to ring in 2012 this evening, I hope that it's wonderful...and safe! We're grabbing a bit of dinner, then coming back home to watch the Times Square ball drop on TV...and have a bit of bubbly and some chocolate cake my Dad brought us yesterday. It'll be a pretty low-key celebration, which sounds totally perfect to me!! Here's to a fantastic year ahead...a year full of surprises and good food!!

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