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As Someone Who Cooks For A Living, I Tried A Lot Of Recipes In 2021 — These Were The 13 I Made On Repeat

Everything from the only legit 10-minute meal I've ever loved, to the ultimate hack for cooking perfect salmon every single time.

Hey y'all! 👋 I'm Ross, and a fun fact about ME is that I pretty much cooked every single day in 2021. Cooking is one of the biggest constants in my life — I'm a food writer by day and recipe developer by night, so even when I'm haunted by the thought of dirtying yet another dish...chances are, I'll cook something anyway. And I truly, genuinely love it. (Especially when I get to tenderly smooch fried chicken and sip on a cocktail simultaneously.)

Ross Yoder

As much as I love the practice of cooking itself, I might just love the act of sharing my tried-and-true favorite recipes with the people I love even more. I mean, if recipe sharing could be a love language, it'd likely be mine. I'm basically the recipe matchmaker of my friend group, and it's a job I take incredibly seriously.

Ross Yoder

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I'll cook pretty much everything, though I usually gravitate towards recipes that are straightforward and undeniably delicious. Sure, I love a good weekend cooking project, but when I'm done working for the day (and hungry), I'm a massive fan of recipes that are as enjoyable to cook as they are to eat. I also make it a point to cook for friends whenever I can, but when I'm not cooking for a crowd, I'm cooking for two...with plentiful leftovers, that is.

Ross Yoder

Of the countless recipes I made in 2021, there were a handful that I came back to over and over (and OVER) again — and for varying reasons. I wanted to share those recipes with you all, so you can fill your 2022 recipe rotation with some seriously delicious meals for yourself, your friends, or family.

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1. For the most crowd-pleasing pasta dish I know how to make (with very, very minimal effort): Ina Garten's Rigatoni with Sausage & Fennel.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: I made this cozy, ultra-comforting pasta dish soooooo many times in 2021, and I've yet to serve it to anyone who didn't immediately text me for the recipe. It's a bonafide hit, and after trying it yourself, you'll know exactly why. Imagine the silkiest vodka sauce you could ever taste, made inexplicably delicious with the additions of sausage and plenty of sweet sautéed fennel. It's heavenly.

If fennel isn't your thing, don't be deterred by this one! Raw fennel is never a vegetable I look forward to eating, but sautéing it down with a whole bunch of onion turns it into the sweetest, creamiest base for pasta you could ever make. I've served this dish for folks who hate fennel, and they've gone back for seconds (and thirds).

Recipe: Ina Garten's Rigatoni with Sausage & Fennel

2. For the absolute quickest, easiest weeknight stir-fry (that just so happens to be gluten-free and vegan): Cashew Tofu.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: Ever since I learned the ultimate trick for cooking flavorful, crispy tofu — without having to drain it, press it, cut it, and bake it FOREVER — I always keep a block of the extra-firm variety in my fridge to make meals like this one. After years of being "not so into tofu," I've happily converted my boyfriend into a tofu-lover as a result of this recipe, which is a reaaaaaally great thing for A) the planet, and B) my wallet.

Here's my trick for perfect tofu every single time:

• Drain it, per usual, and gently pat it dry-ish with paper towels. No need to go wild here, so long as it's not sopping wet.

• Slice the tofu the long way, through the thinnest side, so you end up with two rectangles about 1" thin.

• Sear the tofu rectangles over medium-high heat in a bit of neutral oil, until they're super crispy — it should take about 4–5 minutes per side.

• Once the tofu is crispy, cut each rectangle into equally-sized squares, and add to the stir fry (or however you're serving it).

Another reason I love this recipe? It's as versatile as it gets. Seriously, just throw in whatever veggies you totally forgot about in your fridge (like the green beans above!) and you've got a quick, healthy, meat-free meal.

Recipe: Cashew Tofu

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3. For homemade bread SO EASY, I guarantee you (without knowing a single detail about your cooking skills) could make it like a pro: No-Knead Focaccia.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: A lot of recipes get branded as "the easiest" or "simplest ever," but I mean it when I say anyone is capable of making this bread. And oh my god, this stuff is next-level delicious. It's truly as easy as mixing up some ingredients, letting it rise in your fridge overnight, and baking it the next day. Then, BAM: freshly-baked, homemade bread!

Trust me, I was fully swept up in the sourdough-making craze of 2020, and then stopped making homemade bread forever (it's hard!). This recipe, however, couldn't be simpler — and its easy-to-follow directions really rekindled my love for homemade bread.

One important tip if you're going to try this out yourself...

Ross Yoder

When you're dimpling the dough just before baking it, dimple it HARD. Like, so hard that you feel your fingers hit the bottom of your baking pan. Focaccia-making is, thankfully, not a precious art, so this is not the time to be gentle, people.

Recipe: No-Knead Focaccia

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4. For those of you who are already dreaming of Summer 2022, when berries are as abundant as ~happiness~ itself: The Easiest Raspberry Jam.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: I love a weekend cooking project, but homemade jams or jellies always tend to be a biiiiiit too fussy for me. This jam recipe, however, couldn't be simpler — it's as easy as boiling fresh raspberries with lemon juice and sugar until they break down and become beautifully jammy.

If you've never tried to make your own jam before, I highly recommend this recipe. It's nearly impossible to mess up, and you'll be rewarded with a jar of summery goodness to slather all over a piece of toast...or a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Either would be an excellent choice.

Recipe: The Easiest Raspberry Jam

5. If you need a brunch staple that's perfect for impressing your friends and family without very much effort at all: Huevos Rotos.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: Of all the recipes I made in 2021, this was by far my most requested. Hands down. It's based on a traditional Spanish dish that's commonly served all over the country (and frequently eaten for lunch, or even dinner), but I love this riff on the original because it's budget-friendly, undeniably impressive, and just so happens to be vegetarian.

I've cooked many, many dishes in my lifetime, and I'm still unable to find a brunch recipe that beats the peak comfort offered by this one. Perfectly runny eggs, baby potatoes that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside...I mean, it's a perfect meal, really. If you're cooking this meal for non-vegetarians, you could totally add some sliced chorizo or ham. But as a total omnivore myself, this recipe made as-is is pretty darn special without it.

Recipe: Huevos Rotos

If you hit a paywall when trying to access the recipe above, find a similar recipe here.

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6. How to make the best-ever "apple pie" without the fuss of making, ya know, an entire apple pie: Bourbon Apple Galette.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: I don't love to bake! I'll bake occasionally (since there's nothing better than having fresh baked goods in the house), but it's a rare occasion when I do. That said, even as someone who bakes infrequently, this is the one recipe I go back to over and over again.

I love apple pie, but if you've ever made an apple pie from scratch before, you know there are a LOT of steps. This galette is all the goodness of a scratch apple pie with a fraction of the effort, and it comes together super quickly.

My biggest piece of advice when you're making this recipe? Make two. Trust me: they'll disappear instantly.

Ross Yoder

This recipe calls for homemade pie crust — and the crust recipe provided is seriously as good as it gets — but if you're in a rush or would rather not put in the effort to DIY it, you'll get similarly great results using store-bought dough.

Recipe: Bourbon Apple Galette

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7. If you're trying to up your #soupseason game, do it with the tastiest-ever version of this classic: Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: Truth be told, I don't take my Instant Pot out as much as I'd like to. My NYC apartment kitchen is tiny, and since taking any major appliance out of a cupboard or pantry is like the most horrific game of real-life Jenga, it tends to sit totally forgotten about most of the time...until I make a batch of this incredible chicken noodle soup. TBH, buying an Instant Pot would be worth it just to make this glorious recipe all the time.

I've made chicken noodle soup from scratch a zillion different ways: Using store-bought stock and a rotisserie chicken, using bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, chicken breasts...you name it, I've tried it. Nothing compares to this version — where a whole chicken is cooked in the Instant Pot and gives you a rich, homemade stock with meat that's beyond succulent.

If you're panicking at the thought of cooking a whole chicken, I promise it's much easier than it sounds. Since the whole meal comes together in your Instant Pot, anyway, it's totally hands-off! And if you don't own one, you can totally do this in a large pot or dutch oven. It'll just take a bit longer.

Recipe: Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

8. For upping the ante in a BIG way when it comes to your usual sheet pan meals: Turkey Meatballs with Romesco Sauce.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: My friend Sara contributed this recipe to Bon Appétit earlier this year, and ever since, it's become a total favorite in my house. The greatest part? It makes perfect use of the (limited!) time you have to cook a quick weeknight dinner.

First, you'll give the meatballs a quick sear for a golden-brown crust, then while they finish in the oven, you'll blitz up the EASIEST (and I mean easiest!) romesco sauce using jarred roasted red peppers as the ultimate time-saving hack. That sauce?! I have no words for how delicious it is.

There's no time wasted here, folks, and when it comes to getting a flavorful dinner on the table as quickly as possible, that's something I can deeply appreciate.

Recipe: Turkey Meatballs with Romesco Sauce

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9. For a back-pocket, 10-minute meal that actually comes together in 10 minutes: Cacio e Pepe Udon Noodles.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: 2021 was the year I discovered the magic of store-bought udon noodles, and consequently, the year in which I learned about this simply perfect 10-minute meal. After a trip to my local H-Mart (where I bought the most massive package of frozen udon noodles known to humankind), I stumbled upon this recipe that I've been making regularly ever since.

I can't say the cacio e pepe-flavored everything phase we're collectively going through works with every single dish, but it really excels here. Chewy udon noodles are the perfect base for this cheesy, peppery sauce, and since they come pre-cooked, all you have to do is defrost them in some boiling water. Seriously: In the time it would take for you to boil a package of instant ramen, you could probably have this meal on the table.

Moral of the story here? If only for the moments when you need a quick dinner in less than 15 minutes (and don't want to order take-out), grab a package of pre-made udon noodles next time you're at your local Asian grocery store — preferably the kind that comes in single-portion packs. You'll be so glad you did.

Recipe: Cacio e Pepe Udon Noodles

10. The most delicious meal you could possibly make with those Summer 2022 tomatoes, since it's never too early to start daydreaming: Balsamic Glazed Caprese Sandwiches.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: Summer tomatoes > everything, TBH. When tomatoes were ripe (and SO SWEET) this past Summer, I made these sandwiches weekly. The most essential part of this recipe is — and I know the hardcore foodies out there will roast me for this — the sticky-sweet balsamic glaze. Yep, the one that comes in that little squeezy bottle at your local grocery store.

Bottled balsamic glaze might be straight-up sugar, but truthfully, I don't care! It turns these grilled sandwiches into total masterpieces — juicy tomatoes, melty cheese, savory pesto, and a generous drizzle of sweeeeet balsamic. I mean, it's heaven.

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Important tip here: I'm a strong believer that this recipe isn't the time to use the best mozzarella your money can buy.

Ross Yoder

Perhaps a hot take, but I stand by it. The expensive stuff normally has a pretty high water content, which means your sandwiches will turn to soggy mush the second the cheese starts melting. Look for the mozzarella that's packaged in plastic, and not packed in water. I've found that variety to be the best combo of being perfectly melty without giving you pizza-style cheese pulls or turning your sandos to mush.

Recipe: Balsamic Glazed Caprese Sandwiches

11. For a quick side dish at your next cookout, and possibly your new favorite way to eat potatoes: Grilled Potatoes.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: You don't really need a recipe for these, which is always a plus IMO. These grilled potatoes exist somewhere between a baked potato and...potato skins? Regardless, they're just so, so good. Here's how I make 'em:

• Microwave 3–4 potatoes (pierced all over with a fork) for 6–8 minutes, or until slightly softened.

• Slice each potato in half, lengthwise, brush the skin and flesh all over with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

• Grill over medium-high heat for 4–5 minutes on each side, or until there are deep brown grill marks on the flesh and the skins are crispy.

That's quite literally it. As shown, my favorite way to eat these is with a generous squeeze o' ranch and a sprinkling of chives, but you do you.

Recipe: Grilled Potatoes

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12. Perfect for a vegetarian-friendly lunch (or snack!) that's bursting with textures and a whole lotta flavor: Toast with Greens, Chickpeas & Maple Ricotta.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: Admittedly, this is one of my own recipes, and it's the one I make most often. There are just SO many flavors and textures going on here, and considering just how simple it is to put together, it's definitely not ugly to look at.

You can go as simple or elegant as you want here — this toast is great with the maple-y ricotta, tender greens, and crispy chickpeas, or you can totally up the ante with some pickled red onions, lemon zest, and chile flakes. Either way, this is a hearty-but-wholesome dish that you can eat pretty much any time of day.

This year, while on the hunt for a vegetarian-friendly sandwich I could pack for a mid-hike picnic, I converted this recipe into a full-blown sandwich...and I'm so glad I did.

Ross Yoder

To turn this toast into a sandwich, I did pretty much everything exactly the same...but I smashed the chickpeas with a bit of olive oil until creamy but still a bit chunky. The chickpea smash held its shape beautifully on this sandwich, and it wasn't a total mess to eat. This sandwich was some SUSTENANCE, and if you ever need a quick and easy meal to take for a picnic, I'd highly suggest this one.

Recipe: Toast with Greens, Chickpeas & Maple Ricotta

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13. The most consistent way to make perfectly-cooked salmon every single time, with the silkiest texture imaginable: Olive Oil Poached Salmon.

Ross Yoder

WHY I LOVE IT: Salmon has the potential to be astoundingly moist and flavorful — or, bland and dry. I consider myself to be a genuinely good cook, but if I told you I didn't occasionally end up with the latter, I'd be lying to you. When cooking salmon this way, however, it's virtually impossible to mess it up. This method of poaching salmon in olive oil (or butter, if you'd rather!) yields a perfectly moist interior every single time.

Whether you're using the oven or the grill — my favorite hack — I guarantee you'll be rewarded with the best salmon you've ever tasted. This Summer, I started using this method on the grill, using a DIY foil packet for super easy cleanup. Quite simply, I was changed forever. All you have to do is place the salmon over indirect heat on the grill and baste the salmon in that beautifully-golden oil every few minutes. It comes out perfectly every single time, and considering how easy it is to make, it's shockingly elegant, too.

Recipe: Olive Oil Poached Salmon

What recipes did you make over and over again in 2021? Drop 'em below in the comments — I want to know!

The year is almost over, and we're looking back on 2021. Check out more from the year here!

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