Best recipes of 2012.

We’re always in that reflective frame of mind at the end of December, and so it seems appropriate to take a look back at 2012 and recall some of its high points.

I welcomed a few new additions into my kitchen this year, including a Santoku knife — which I highly recommend for its super-sharp blade and smooth cutting action — and a tortilla press. I managed to improve my picture-taking, thanks to the Canon Eos camera I acquired at the beginning of the year. Ingredient-wise, I explored masa (corn flour, for those homemade tortillas), fresh yeast for bread-baking, farro and other whole grains, and discovered how to cook with garlic scapes.

I went to a fancy picnic, cheered the opening of my brother’s Chicago bakery, interviewed a hero of the local food movement and encountered a stack of wonderful vintage recipe cards. Those old cards inspired The Clara Project, where I’ve been making and updating some recipes from the 1930s.

And I did a lot of cooking—for weeknight dinners, for friends and family; recipe testing for clients and for this blog. Here are my Top 10 Favorite Recipes from 2012 (in no particular order):

my top 10 recipes of 2012

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake—cake meets pudding, and they have a chocolate baby. This old-fashioned recipe from The Clara Project is beyond easy and magically delicious.

Pasta with Kale, Bacon and Fontina—Sure, I jumped on the kale bandwagon. Kale chips truly do rock. But really, kale isn’t some weirdo vegetable that health-food junkies turn into sludgy smoothies. Kale really likes bacon. And cheese. And this pasta recipe is divine.

hot fudge pudding cake #writes4food  Pasta with Kale and Bacon #writes4food

Spaghetti Squash with Swiss Chard and Ricotta Cream—At just 45 calories per serving, spaghetti squash is a smart substitute for pasta. But forget the calories: It just tastes fantastic, especially topped with this mix of sautéed Swiss chard and walnutty ricotta cream. Here’s the very best way to cook spaghetti squash.

French Picnic Salad in a Jar—Seriously, how cute is this? And it’s perfect for toting to a picnic or, less romantically, to the office for lunch. Put the dressing on the bottom of the jar, and it won’t wilt your greens.

Spaghetti Squash with Chard  French Picnic Salad in a Jar #writes4food

Mac and Cheese with Zucchini, Spinach and Peas—If you have fussy kid eaters at home, this is a smooth way to sneak veggies into their diets. If you don’t, this healthy mac and cheese is still a great way to get your veggies. And it rocks.

Grilled 3-Cheese and Arugula Sandwich—That beautiful pile of fresh baby arugula on your grilled cheese sandwich will make you feel just a teeny bit virtuous.

Mac and Cheese with Veggies #writes4food  Grilled Arugula and 3 Cheese #writes4food

Simple Chocolate Red Wine Cake—You know how well red wine and good chocolate go together … and here they are in the simplest of cakes.

Ultimate Build-Your Own Party Snack Mix—I do love me some classic Chex mix; my mom makes the best. But I wanted to hack this old recipe and add my own favorite ingredients, like cheddar goldfish and sesame sticks. You can add whatever YOU like.

chocolate red wine cake #writes4food  best party snack mix #writes4food

Fabulous Chicken and Wild Rice Salad—With a creamy basil dressing, roasted chicken and hearty wild rice, this make-ahead salad is a great workweek lunch option or easy dinner.

Summer Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing and Biscuit Croutons—That’s right: biscuit croutons. ‘Nuf said.

Chicken and Wild Rice Salad #writes4food  Salad with avocado dressing biscuit croutons #writes4food

Better than store-bought—I love homemade versions of grocery staples; they’re so much tastier, and healthier, too (you can control the amount of salt, sugar, fat and skip all the artificial ingredients. Here are a few of my favorite “better than store-boughts” this year: homemade yogurt, homemade chicken stock, homemade frozen dog treats (because EVERYONE deserves healthy food).

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and delicious 2013! Thanks for being a part of this food journey.