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Dec 29, 2012 03:41 PM

2012 - What were your cooking highpoints?

Did you complete any cooking goals for the year? Conquer an elusive technique? Finally perfect a no-fail dinner party menu? Started brown-bagging and saved enough for that cooking week in Italy?

Let's dish!

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  1. I finally managed to ferment wonderful sauerkraut.

    1. Great post! How 'bout YOU, meatn3? :)

      I learned quite a bit from the nice folks at Cook's Country this year. I adapted their cat head biscuits to make biscuits the perfect size for a sausage sandwich or biscuits and gravy. They're so excellent and so easy 'cause you don't need to roll them--you just use a cookie scoop to portion out the batter.

      Cook's Country also taught me a great recipe for herb crusted tenderloin. Merry Christmas!

      I learned--and documented in video--how to make my mom's apple pie. She makes it look so easy.

      I made Momofuku corn cookies. They're OUTSTANDING!

      I learned to make an ABC (almond, banana, coconut) kale smoothie at home instead of spending $7 for one at our local farmers' market.

      I made my own pork meatball banh mi for the first time--pickled vegetables, too, of course.

      I made a few new friends with my bourbon salted caramel frosting.

      I made bolognese for the first time. And my own homemade ginger hooch!

      I still need to learn to make scacciata--it's my goal for 2013, though I really hoped to learn from the nonna I know this year.

      I didn't learn to make a yellow cake from scratch I loved. My heart still belongs to Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Golden until I find a recipe I prefer. :)

      ETA: I learned the magic of bacon guacamole and the BLT salad (bacon guac with mayo over spring mix)!

      13 Replies
      1. re: kattyeyes

        Kattyeyes, would you be so kind and share your ABC kale smoothie? I am trying to have kale 2-3 times a week and the only dish I truly love is kale salad with tahini dressing. Smoothie would be awesome :)

        1. re: herby

          Certainly! Copied/pasted from my blog:

          adapted from The New York Times

          1 banana, sliced and frozen
          2/3 cup milk
          1 tablespoon sliced almonds
          1 tablespoon flaxseeds
          1 teaspoon honey
          1 teaspoon coconut
          1/4 teaspoon almond extract
          1 stalk kale, ripped up into smaller pieces

          Ready for how easy as ABC this is? Add all ingredients to your blender, put on the lid and blend!

          Hint: it's very convenient to slice the banana and remove from freezer as needed. :)

              1. re: cheesecake17

                Baker's Angel Flake brand coconut (sweetened). I find it to be more moist than the generic and refuse to buy anything else from here on out...unless there is something even more wonderful I should know about. I am really high on this product. Organic coconut was not as nice as this. :)

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  That's what I've got in the pantry. Actually, it's shoprite brand. In baking, it's comparable to angel flake

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    Oh, cool. I had bought organic coconut of some sort that was nowhere near as moist. Never again.

          1. re: kattyeyes

            Another begger! Any way I could get your recipe for bourbon salted caramel frosting? And what kind of cake do you like it on? I"m thinking the plainer the better, but would be interested to know.

            1. re: LulusMom

              You've got it--I originally frosted brownies with it, but like it best on chocolate cake (Hershey's Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake is a longtime fave of mine). Recipe in link here:


              In the same thread, cheesymama mentioned trying it on a chocolate apple cake. I never got around to it, but I'm keeping it on mental file. :)

              1. re: kattyeyes

                Thank you so much! And I think apple cake (sans chocolate for me) would be the perfect thing to put this dressing on. Oh man ...

            2. re: kattyeyes

              Is there a thread somewhere regarding your experience making ginger hooch? I am currently obsessed with alcoholic ginger beer but the only brand I can find (Crabbies) is pretty expensive, and I'd love to try making my own.

              1. re: biondanonima

                There's this thread re homemade ginger hooch:
                But sounds like you're looking for ginger beer? That I do NOT know how to make.

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  I would like to make ginger beer but the hooch sounds great too! I got a bottle of Canton for Christmas, but I'll be trying your recipe when it's gone!

            3. Much of my energy has been focused out of the kitchen this past year. That said, I am pleased to have been able to achieve several of my kitchen goals for 2012!

              My current kitchen has enough room for fermenting! I was finally able to get a good start and move through a decent amount of experiments. I learned a lot and developed some troubleshooting skills for next year.

              The extra space also allowed me to finally make 7 day pickles, a recipe I had been intrigued with for many years. I'm so glad I did! The result is a very crisp, highly addictive sweet pickle. This is going to be a yearly tradition in my house in the future.

              My sister and I prepared Thanksgiving together in her home. She wanted to master our Mothers recipes and requested my help. Our cooking styles are at opposite ends of the spectrum - I lean toward OCD and she finds staying focused to be like herding cats. It came off smoothly and everything was delicious. This was our third time trying this menu and she now feels she can do it unassisted! We put together a folder with the recipes, time table, ratios for brining and she added her notes on the process.

              A goal for the year was to get some scented geraniums and start to play with them a bit. I used them in preserves and scented sugars. Had hoped to try them in baking - next year!

              On a more mundane level I put in some time inventorying my freezer and pantry. The lists really helped me steadily start using up those items.

              18 Replies
              1. re: meatn3

                "I lean toward OCD and she finds staying focused to be like herding cats." HA HA HA! Yet, you pulled it off together swimmingly. NICE! The folder and timetable are great ideas, too.

                Don't forget to plant nasturtiums next year. They're sooooo pretty in salads. And several of mine looked like Janice from the Muppet Show band as they bloomed. :) I'll look for scented geraniums.

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  Thank you for the nasturtium reminder! I never remember in time...

                  I found a decent assortment of scented geraniums at an otherwise uninspiring herb festival. They ran about $7 each. I bought rose and nutmeg scented varieties. The nutmeg was lovely - variegated cream and light green dainty leaves. I hope they over winter!

                  My gardening is limited to my deck now. The four legged devils known as squirrels have convinced me to give up on tomatoes so I'll have more room for other things!

                  Edit: Absolutely love the cdo poster!

                  1. re: kattyeyes

                    Wasting naturtium in salads. Make a cold broth out of them, then use in risotto or in place of saffron in paella.

                    1. re: law_doc89

                      What does the nasturtium broth taste like? Can you describe it?

                  2. re: meatn3

                    I'd love to make the pickles. Do they need canning? Or are they fridge pickles?

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      Actually neither! There is so much sugar in them that they seem to do fine at room temperature. I've kept some in the pantry just to see how long they are shelf stable.

                      My bad, they are actually 9 day pickles!

                      I'll try to fish out my notes and type the recipe down within a few days. In the meantime Here is the link which first got me interested:

                      1. re: meatn3

                        Very interesting. Looking forward to trying this when cucumbers are in season!

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          I based my recipe on the description for Eloise's pickles and filled in some of the vague aspects after looking at other 9 day recipes, especially helpful was Marion Brown's Pickles and Preserves**. I worked out the ratios and cut the recipe down to a third of the original since I didn't want to make a large amount the first time.

                          DAY 1

                          2 lbs. pickling cucumbers, cut to 1.5 - 2" pieces, ends discarded
                          4 cups water***
                          1/4 cup sea salt or pickling salt

                          Place cucumber slices in a non-reactive heatproof container*. Boil water, add salt, dissolve. Pour hot liquid over cucumbers.
                          Cover and keep at room temperature.

                          DAY 2

                          Drained Cucumbers
                          5.33 cups water
                          1/4 c. powdered alum

                          Drain the cucumbers, wash the container, replace cucumbers.
                          Bring water to a boil. Stir in alum until dissolved. Pour over cucumbers.

                          Use a small plate or jar to weigh cucumbers down to eliminate floaters. Cover and keep at room temperature.

                          DAY 3

                          Drained Cucumbers
                          5.33 cups water

                          Drain cucumbers as before. Bring water to a boil, pour over cucumbers. Weight, cover, set aside at room temperature.

                          DAY 4

                          Drained Cucumbers
                          32 oz. apple cider vinegar
                          4 Tb. Penzeys pickling mix
                          Cheese cloth

                          Drain as before. Bundle spices in cheese cloth. Place bundle in pot with vinegar. Bring to a boil. Cover cucumbers with boiling vinegar, including the spice bundle. Weight, cover and keep at room temperature.

                          DAY 9

                          Drained cucumbers
                          Sugar (by Eloise's ratios about 1.33 lbs.)
                          Sterilized wide mouth pint jars

                          Drain cucumbers. Cut them down to 1/4 - 1/2 inch slices.
                          Fill jars alternating a layer of cucumbers then a layer of sugar. Repeat until the jar is nearly full. Place sterilized lids on jars (I used the plastic screw style since I wasn't going to water bath process.) Eloise recommends laying a piece of waxed paper across the top first if you are using metal lids. This will prevent the lids rusting.

                          Several times a day turn the jars sideways and roll in your hand. This helps dissolve the sugar and produce the syrup. If the cucumbers are not covered in syrup after a day just gently tamp them down and add more sugar.

                          After 4 days (Day 12) all the sugar had dissolved leaving the pickle slices covered in syrup.

                          They are ready to eat!

                          Once opened I keep in the fridge. I used very small jars for some so I could keep them in the pantry and open monthly. I'm at 4 months and they have had no loss of quality.

                          These ratios produced about 3 pints of finished product.

                          *I use an old crock from a crock pot and have a ceramic saucer which is sized perfectly as a weight. Then I use the original glass lid to cover.


                          ***I use bottled spring water just to reduce the variables - ymmv!

                          If you want to can these I think the method used in the following recipe would work well:

                          1. re: meatn3

                            Thank you! Looking forward to making this in the spring, when we BBQ often.

                            What is powdered alum?

                            1. re: cheesecake17

                              This link explains alum better than I can:


                              You see call for alum in many older recipes to help create a crisp pickle. These days not so much since large amounts are harmful. It can be a little hard to find.

                              For myself, I'm fine with it. I'm not in a reproductive point of life, I'm not feeding youngsters and I consume a small amount of the finished product. Plus the alum is rinsed off - the residual amount is not worrisome for me.

                              I will say that the results were firmer with a amazing crispness I have not experienced in other pickles. I have had pickles made with foodgrade lime - the alum pickles were much better imo.

                              1. re: meatn3

                                I like the idea of alum, but I'm not comfortable using it. The main pickle eater in my house is a toddler.

                                Would you suggest trying the pickles without it?

                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                  I wonder if you would prefer a simple approach to pickles. It's a recipe from one of my teachers and doesn't get much easier than this. :) Thanks again, Mrs. B!

                                  1. re: kattyeyes

                                    Looks like a very easy pickle recipe! Thanks

                                  2. re: cheesecake17

                                    I completely understand not wanting to use alum for a toddler. I'm sure it will be tasty if you just skip Day 2 entirely.

                                    The alum creates a very crispy pickle. Pickling lime has similar issues to alum, so you probably wouldn't want to use it in place.

                                    Some recipes call for soaking the cucumbers in ice water before starting a recipe. Another method is to use Pickle Crisp made by Ball. You'd have to read up on this product - I'm not sure at what point to add it.

                                    As Kattyeyes says, there are many pickle recipes which are quicker. The process and length of time had always made me hesitant in trying this one - so it became a goal for me! I'm really glad I finally made them and feel they are entirely worth it.

                              2. re: meatn3


                                Day 3 should include rinsing the cucumber very well to remove excess alum!

                        2. re: meatn3

                          Question about your scented geraniums. Do you leave the geranium leaves in the sugar or take it out? And how are you using it?

                          I made some anise hyssop raw sugar. Which smelled just wonderful after a few months. I gave some away as gifts.

                          But the blossoms and leaves were kind of moist and wilted in the sugar. The sugar itself got kind of moist. But - like I said - smelled wonderful. I wondered if it was safe. (That didn't stop me from giving it away though! Like I say, it smelled great.)

                          Your experience?

                          1. re: karykat

                            I've been looking for my notes, but they have proven to be elusive...

                            IIRC I kept the leaves in the sugar for a week or so and then removed them. I had partially filled lidded jars, leaving a little room so I could shake/roll the contents every so often.

                            I've used some of the sugars in jam and in short breads. I've also used some (the nutmeg) when baking squash and stewing fruit.

                            I also bruised the leaves and added them to fruit/sugar/lemon juice during the overnight maceration for jam. I think this worked better flavorwise than using the infused sugar.

                            I added the leaves during my shrub experiments. I didn't care for the results - created an herbal medicinal flavor. Next summer I'll try using the infused sugar and see if that works.

                            If I can locate my notes I'll update! I'm afraid this may be one of those times I was sure I'd remember...!

                            1. re: meatn3

                              Thanks for this advice! I can see why putting the leaves in the maceration might give the jam a better flavor.

                              The infused sugars smell fantastic but the flavor might be a bit lost, depending on what you do with it, I think.

                        3. Mine is probably a little silly but 2012 was the first year I had to cook for real. I moved in with my BFin May and we agreed that I would do all the cooking. So I went from making the occasional full meal every now and then to meal planning, grocery shopping, and putting good meals on the table every night. My meal prep time every evening has become my favorite part of my day. I learned a lot in 2012 and look forward to learning more and becoming more adventurous in 2013. Chowhound has been a very valuable tool for me.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: juliejulez

                            Not silly at all!

                            I think day to day cooking is more of a challenge than pulling off an occasional dinner party. There is so much to learn about timing, successfully using up ingredients and leftovers through out the week without becoming bored, taking advantage of seasonal is never ending journey!

                            1. re: meatn3

                              HA HA, jinx--you owe me a Coke! Agree 100 percent about the journey! :)

                              1. re: kattyeyes

                                You're on! Especially if it is Mexican...

                                Meet in the middle?!

                            2. re: juliejulez

                              Not at all silly--that is definitely VERY MUCH a highpoint! Brava!

                              1. re: juliejulez

                                Good for you! It's a big deal to get dinner on the table every night!

                                1. re: juliejulez

                                  Egads, not stupid at all. I've been working at it for 15 years and still fail to get dinner on the table every night for the 4 of us. It is the goal that keeps on giving, I guess.

                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                    Silly? That is a MAJOR accomplishment. You have allowed cooking to become a major part of your life. That is a huge transformation. The fact that you enjoy it is even more so!

                                  2. Learning how to can. Canned tomatoes. Made pickled carrots and onions. Made pear vanilla jam, fig jam, orange and lemon marmalade, tomato jam, pear cinnamon jam and pear cranberry jam.

                                    Really got the timing right on Thanksgiving dinner. Everything came out hot and fresh.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                      Sometime in the spring, I made creme fraiche for the first time (heavy cream and buttermilk); now it's a staple.

                                      In early July, during a massive heat wave, did my first unassisted canning (peach jam and butter).

                                      In the fall, made my first ferments (pickled carrots with ginger and spices, and dill-garlic pickled beans).

                                      At Christmas, pan-fried my first duck breast.

                                      This year was the first time I'd cooked short ribs. Why did I wait so long?

                                      Cooking keeps me looking forward...

                                        1. re: ChrisOfStumptown

                                          Creme fraiche is the easiest thing ever. Add three tbs. buttermilk to one pint heavy cream. Cover loosely, sit in a warm place for 12 hours or so. Refrigerate. That's it.

                                          1. re: ChrisOfStumptown

                                            What Jon says. I generally go close to 24 hours before refrigerating, unless it's unusually warm.

                                            I've seen recipes for creme fraiche among my cookbooks since the 1970s -- probably first in Perla Myers' Seasonal Kitchen that I shed in a cross-country move.

                                            But somehow I never got around to trying it until this year. What pushed me was the greater local availability of excellent heavy cream (pastured). Culturing keeps it usable for longer. I use it in gratins, soups, sauces, as a sandwich spread, with roasted poblanos... heaven to have on hand.

                                          2. re: ellabee

                                            Just remembered an eating high point that was also a cooking first (and turning point): grilled lamb kebabs with pita, fresh garden tomatoes and my first tzatziki sauce, using recipe from Veg. Cooking for Everyone.

                                            The technique of pounding the garlic with salt in the mortar before adding to the yogurt and cucumbers was crucial, and I've continued it with great results in many other dishes.

                                            1. re: ellabee

                                              FWIW, you could try pan-frying duck breasts skin side down 20 minutes over very low heat in a lightly greased skillet, after scoring them lightly with a very sharp knife, until the skin is crispy & the fat is rendered out, then baking for 8 minutes or so at 350F, skin side up, until they're medium rare, then letting them rest for 10 minutes and slicing them thinly. If you then take most of the grease out of the skillet, saute a minced shallot in the remainder & deglaze with something interesting like blackberries & port or quince jam & orange juice, you'll have a nice sauce to serve with them.

                                              1. re: dan.haggarty

                                                That pretty much describes exactly how I did our Christmas duck breasts, except that I just did the skin-side-up cooking in the pan, after removing a good bit of the fat. Port for deglazing, with port-soaked cherries added before saucing.

                                                I was very glad to have an instant thermometer, to be able to hit the pre-resting temperature for medium rare (which was in the most helpful description of the process,in the Herbfarm book by Jerry Traunfeld), because breast halves can vary so much in size. Ours were 10 ounces apiece.

                                                Your account is also clear and confidence-inducing; thanks.

                                                1. re: ellabee

                                                  Since you mentioned one of my very favorite books, I'll mention two highpoints from the past year from that book.

                                                  Delicata squash cooked in apple juice and apple vinegar with fresh thyme and rosemary.

                                                  And, carrots cooked in carrot juice. Not remembering the spicing.

                                                  (Actually, these were both made recently by my SO but I will claim credit for giving him encouragement and appreciation!)