Staff Favorites: The 55 Best Recipes of 2015
January/February: Warm-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
As we test and taste recipes for the magazine, we judge each dish on flavor, practicality, and creativity. Our grading scale is similar to that of a classroom. The highest ranks are sure to impress your guests and revolutionize your average weeknight dinner. The end result of any featured recipe is worth the effort spent in the kitchen. We're proud to present this year's tried-and-true staff favorites.
First up is our delectable Warm-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup. Earthy, fragrant spices like allspice, cloves, and cinnamon make wonderful accents for the natural sweetness of butternut squash.
January/February: Charred Lemon Chicken Piccata
Lightly charring the lemon slices intensifies their flavor and creates a gorgeous look. Be sure to include any of the sweet, tangy liquid the lemons give off in the bowl; it adds incredible depth to the sauce.
January/February: Salmon with Lime-Hoisin Glaze with Crunchy Bok Choy Slaw
You'll love this dish for the sweet, sticky caramelized crust and crispy skin. The broiler will get you there in only 20 minutes.
January/February: Almond Butter Chicken Satay
You can make the dipping sauce and add the chicken to the marinade before you leave for work in the morning, so you only need to skewer the chicken and grill when you get home.
January/February: Caribbean-Style Roast Cabbage with Carrots
Nicely roasted cabbage turns sweet and earthy, with a deliciously silky texture. There's a beautiful balance of flavors here—sweetness from cabbage and carrots, fire from hot sauce, brightness from vinegar, and richness from butter.
March: Pork Chops with Balsamic Roasted Vegetables and Gorgonzola
A quick balsamic vinaigrette doubles as a marinade for the vegetables and a sauce for the pork. Taking the roasting pan from stove to oven jump-starts cooking so the pork, potatoes, and onions finish at the same time.
March: Whole-Grain Pecan Blondies
Blondies are simply brownies without the chocolate. A light-colored metal pan is your best bet for even baking and cakey, moist blondies.
“No matter how many batches Deb Wise baked, I couldn’t get enough!” —Katie Barreira, Test Kitchen Director
March: Creamy Broccoli-Cheese Soup
We like our version extra chunky, so we only puree about a third of the broccoli mixture. For a thinner, smoother consistency, add more soup to the blender.
March: Shrimp and Chicken Gumbo
The enamel-coated cast iron of a Dutch oven maintains an even heat at any temperature, so foods won't suddenly scorch or boil over. Great for the low and slow simmer of this flavorful gumbo.
March: Spaghetti and Meatballs in Tomato-Basil Sauce
Feed a crowd of eight tonight, or cook 6 ounces pasta to serve four and freeze half the meatball mixture for later. Spoon into whole-wheat hoagie rolls instead of over pasta.
April: Berry Lemonade Bars
Guests will swoon when you send them home with these pretty treats. The strawberry version is sweet and rosy pink; the raspberry version, deeper mauve and tart.
April: Roasted Salmon with Dill, Capers, and Horseradish
We couldn't get over how delicious and silky-rich this salmon is, or how foolproof the recipe is. Don't be thrown off by the total time it requires: Think of it instead as a great make-ahead dish, where all you have to do the night of the gathering is pop the fish in the oven for a short time. The dill sauce will keep in the fridge for up to one week.
April: Sweet Pea Crostini with Ricotta
Making your own ricotta is incredibly simple and doesn't require special equipment. Our microwave trick is foolproof. The pea mixture is quick and easy to make, but you can also mix it up ahead, along with toasting the bread, so that you can simply assemble the crostini when you are ready to serve.
“So fresh, tasty, and pretty. I couldn’t stop eating them!” —Deb Wise, Recipe Tester
April: Sea Salt-Caramel Éclairs
Forget eating in a flash. With half the calories and all the fluffy, cream-filled, caramel goodness of the original, these treats are meant to be savored.
April: Lamb Burgers with Feta-Mint Spread
We combine ground lamb with lean ground sirloin for a less fatty patty; you can also use all sirloin. Try our grilled asparagus spears in place of fries: They get deliciously charred in the pan.
May: Vietnamese-Style Pork Noodle Salad
Think of this refreshing salad as a deconstructed spring roll: cool rice noodles, crisp vegetables, and a sweet-and-spicy vinaigrette instead of a dipping sauce. Top it all off with savory stir-fried pork.
May: Pineapple Chicken Kebabs with Cilantro-Lime Slaw
A sweet-tangy-spicy glaze of Asian pantry staples caramelizes beautifully under the broiler. To complete the meal, serve with jasmine rice tossed with sliced green onions and lime rind strips.
May: Swedish Meatballs with Red Currant Pan Sauce
Silky and sweet, the red currant pan sauce would be delicious served over pork chops or grilled poultry. Use leftover jam for anything from spreading over biscuits to creating a flavor base for barbecue sauce.
May: Seared Steak Tomato Blue Cheese Salad
For a finishing touch of color and light, herby flavor, garnish the dish with chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.
May: Skillet-Charred Vidalia Onion Salad
Make sure to have your stove's hood vent cranking—the onion will give off smoke as it chars. A hit of fresh oregano provides the perfect top note for the salad's Mediterranean flavors.
June: Cheesesteak Burgers with Pickled Peppers, Onions, and Cucumber
Quick pickles add tangy crunch to our fresh riff on the cheesesteak sandwich. Avoid overworking the meat when you mix and shape the patties; you run the risk of making them tough.
June: Beef and Bean Taco Salad
One thing we know: A taco salad in its own wonderfully crisp edible bowl is irresistible. A little iceberg adds crunch, and a fresh tomato-and-avocado combo tops off the bowl for a bright, crave-worthy finish. Our lighter version to the classic taco salad is a satisfying all-in-one meal, with fresher flavor, less than half the calories, and all the crunchy goodness.
June: Summer Veggie Sandwich
Scooping out part of the bread in this simple version of pan bagnat allows for more tasty fillings and acts as a hull to collect flavorful tomato juices. Make breadcrumbs with scooped-out bread.
June: Strawberry Cheesecake Pops
Perfect for kids and adults, we love this frosty twist on a classic treat—strawberry cheesecake on a stick, complete with a dip in graham cracker crumbs.
June: Tuscan Steak Salad
A steak dinner for two feels date-night special, but this meal couldn't be easier for a quick weeknight dinner. One 8-ounce strip steak is just enough for two; if you care for different levels of doneness, cut the steak in half before grilling.
July: S'mores Ice-Cream Sandwiches
“Tastes exactly like backyard-toasted marshmallows, with a similar snappy texture.” —Ann Pittman, Executive Food Editor
If you don't have an ice-cream maker, soften 1 pint low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt, and place in a food processor; add 5 ounces toasted marshmallows, purée, and freeze until firm. For chocolate lovers, use chocolate graham crackers.
July: Sausage and Vegetable Calzones
These veggie-packed pizza pockets are baked, wrapped, and frozen individually—perfect for last-minute suppers or unexpected guests. Cook as many stuffed pockets as you want tonight: freeze the rest, and bake as needed.
July: Buffalo Chicken Drumsticks
Grilled drumsticks slathered in tangy, spicy Buffalo sauce? Yes, please! Bibs and moist towelettes are recommended for this finger-stickin' good dish.
July: Watermelon Salad with Feta and Cucumber Pickles
Sumac—available at spice stores—adds a subtle piney, tangy note, but don't worry if you can't find it: The salad will still have loads of flavor complexity without it. You could also sub 1 teaspoon of prepared horseradish for the wasabi powder.
July: Cornmeal-Dusted Catfish Sandwiches with Tangy Slaw
Forget pulling out a deep fryer—a light coating of crunchy cornmeal and a quick pan-fry make catfish fillets delicately crisp.
August: Short Ribs with Cucumber and Orange Salad
Short ribs are typically braised, but they also hold up beautifully over low heat on the grill—the technique is a real game-changer. So, too, is the lightly charred orange—peel and all: fragrant, fruity, and removed of most of its bitterness.
“The pull-apart meat is offset by bits of delightfully charred, crispy crust. Grilled orange peel will change your life.” —Hannah Klinger, Associate Editor
August: Fresh Fig Galette
Almond meal is nothing more than finely ground almonds; it adds a rich, crumbly texture and nutty flavor to the crust of this free-form tart.
August: Parm-Style Chicken Sliders
These Italian-style sliders put a summery spin on Chicken Parmesan. Top the patties with mozzarella and marinara for a kid-friendly twist on the Italian classic.
August: Veggie Pizza with Cauliflower Crust
No "knead" for bread—this cheesy veggie crust has half the carbs and double the fiber of traditional pizza dough.
Veggie Pizza with Cauliflower Crust
Find this pizza and other carb-slashing recipes in the Cooking Light DIET.
August: Grilled Steak and Tomatoes with Tofu Ranch Dressing
There's no need to pull out the food processor to make the small amount of breadcrumbs for this recipe. Just tear bread by hand into very small pieces; the rustic texture is perfect.
September: PB&J Stuffed Multigrain Pancakes
“This speedy breakfast idea brings together two of our favorite things—pancakes and PB&J.” —Sean Kelley, Managing Editor
Peanut butter powder is the secret to adding intense nutty flavor (without a lot of fat) to these jam-stuffed pancakes.
September: One-Pan Broccoli-Bacon Mac 'N' Cheese
Butternut squash puree enhances the color here without distracting from the cheesy flavor, and it sneaks in another serving of vegetables. If you can't find frozen butternut puree, swap in an equal amount of mashed sweet potato or canned unsweetened pumpkin.
September: Huevos Rancheros Burritos
Roasting the vegetables gives our ranchero sauce intensely rich flavor in just 10 minutes. Be sure to use plum tomatoes, which are meaty and not overly juicy—this will ensure a thick sauce that won't make the burrito soggy.
September: Hasselback Apples
Simple and easy to make ahead—this twist on the apple crumble is unbelievably good. With cinnamon-sugar butter between the layers, a crispy streusel sprinkle, and a dollop of ice cream on top, there’s no doubt this will be a hit with your friends and family.
September: Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Chipotle Butter and Bell Pepper Sauté
Make sure the cast-iron skillet is hot before adding the steaks so that they get a nicely browned crust on both sides. We like both red and orange peppers, though just one color will work. In place of tenderloin steaks, you can also use top blade steaks or petite tenders.
October: Smoky Ham and Split Pea Soup
Potatoes contribute starchiness and silky thickness, while sweet carrots and salty ham balance out the peas' light, earthy flavor. Leftovers fare well in the freezer, so say hello to your new favorite make-ahead soup. Garnish with parsley and additional pepper, if desired.
October: Beer-Braised Top Blade Roast
Slow braising blade roast in a Dutch oven as we've done in this recipe keeps the meat moist and tender. You can also cook this roast in a slow cooker. After adding the stock, transfer to a 6-quart electric slow cooker, and cook on LOW for about 8 hours.
October: Tofu Saag
Chef and cookbook author Suvir Saran, one of America's foremost experts on Indian home cooking, uses an eye-opening technique to pat the tofu dry very briefly, rather than for 20 or 30 minutes. This keeps it moist and creamy inside, and the outside still gets browned. Look for ghee–clarified, toasted butter–at Indian or Asian markets.
“This dish rocked my world—I didn’t know that the spinach puree could be so rich and flavorful without cream, and the quick-dab tofu method was a game changer.” —Tim Cebula, Senior Food Editor
October: Classic Beef and Two-Bean Chili
Simmering the chili in the oven rather than on the stovetop prevents scorching at the bottom of the pan. Find achiote paste and dried whole chiles at Latin markets. Ask your butcher for chili-grind beef, which is more coarsely ground and requires the 1/2-inch plate on the grinder.
October: Short Rib and Tomato Ragout
The short rib bones add incredible flavor to this ragout as the meat breaks down.
November: Roasted Winter Fruits and Vegetables with Farro Porridge
This rustic dish serves as a tutorial for both steam- and dry-roasting. Serve the fruit and vegetables with the savory farro porridge and sweet-sour mostarda for brunch, a vegetarian main course, or a festive side dish.
November: Applewood-Smoked Turkey
Applewood chips lend a slightly sweet and fruity flavor to the meat. You can also try smoking the turkey with cherry or alder wood chips for more delicate smoked flavor.
November: Cran-Apple Smoked Turkey Sliders
Let's face it: You have to have a killer leftover turkey sandwich the day after your holiday feast. If you start Thanksgiving with our robust Applewood-Smoked Turkey, you need only a few embellishments—namely the juicy snap of tart apple and the extra layer of smoke from the cheddar—to reach to-die-for status.
November: Gram's Clam Dip
Test Kitchen Director Katie Barreira, a Boston native, and her cousin rivaled in their grandmother's clam dip recipe and the secret to what made her classic holiday dip green. "My cousin Jen won the battle," says Katie, "so it remains a mystery to me, although I think it's just food coloring."
Katie's lower-fat version uses reduced-fat Greek yogurt and cream cheese for a creamy result that does this heirloom dish justice.
November: Pan-Seared Chicken with Pecan-Scallion Gremolata
The lemony, nutty gremolata is addictive. Dollop it over any number of proteins, or spread it on a toasty sandwich. Serve the chicken with a peppery arugula salad, and you're good to go.
December: Golden Potato Latkes
A touch of lemon juice keeps the raw shredded potato from oxidizing and lends extra flavor to the latkes.
December: Mushroom Carpaccio with Gremolata and Shaved Parmigiano
This salad is the perfect antidote to the winter blues, and it pairs beautifully with foods of the season—roasts, stews, and braises. You could use a mandoline to slice the mushrooms, but a sharp knife will do.
"Thin slices make for a gorgeous plated display, and simple mushrooms shine with earthy goodness. I'd serve this at any holiday party." —Darcy Lenz, Assistant Food Editor
December: Chicken Tamales with Ranchero Sauce
Forming the tamales, albeit time-consuming, is part of the fun. Make it a family activity and set up an assembly line—one person placing the filling, another folding, and a third tying. This recipe uses lard, which actually has less saturated fat than butter.
December: Classic French Onion Soup
Caramelize onions hands-free: Place 2 tablespoons oil, onions, and thyme in slow-cooker; cover and cook on high 8 hours. When onions are deep golden, remove from slowcooker and continue cooking. The results are well worth the time spent in the kitchen.
December: Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Sauce
Nutty, tender roasted cauliflower pairs perfectly with the assertive flavor of anchovy. If you are an anchovy lover, use the oil from the tin or jar in place of extra-virgin olive oil to make the anchovy sauce.