20 of the Best Foods of 2020
2020 brought us incredible challenges, shortages and restrictions. It is not possible to review this year without remembering the fear and the loss; but, amidst all those troubling days we hopefully also find the good. What things brought you joy? For me, I obviously find comfort and joy in food … not just the consumption of food, but learning about food, adding unusual varieties of plants to my garden, discovering flavor profiles and awesome recipes. These things make me happy. And so, I have compiled a list of 20 of the best foods of 2020 that I ate. Some I made myself, some were made for me. I grew some and I bought some. Hope you enjoy!
In no particular order …
BEST FOODS OF 2020
1. MARTY’S OMELETTES
If you’ve been following along for a while you probably remember that I am not a big fan of eggs. If the white and the yolk are separate, forget it. If an egg is scrambled, I will eat them (SAM I AM). Frittata, quiche, breakfast casserole, burrito … yes, please! My husband makes the best omelettes and, this year, we found my favorite combination: goat cheese, spinach, prosciutto (or bacon) and fresh herbs. The tanginess of the goat cheese is the perfect balance, IMHO, for the scrambled eggs.
2. BRICKTOWN BAKERY DOUGHNUTS
While we’re talking breakfast, I would very much like to discuss doughnuts! Bricktown Bakery in Nevada, Iowa (just off of I35 and east of Ames) opened this year. I love a doughnut that has that crispy exterior and the soft interior. Rotate the flavors with the seasons and I can’t help myself. Two of my favorites were the chocolate espresso and the maple bacon. I am truly sad that I missed out on their gingerbread doughnuts … #2021goals!
For over 30 years, my mom babysat my currant bushes. When my grandmother passed away, my mom dug up two of her currant bushes and planted them on our family farm. The idea was we would then transplant them to my own garden when I had one. For about 20 years, I had a garden but it was not big enough to support the bushes. Until two years ago when we moved to an acreage and created a 42’x48′ garden. This past summer, those bushes produced the first currants. To encourage root structure and growth, most of the clusters were pinched off early but I had to leave a few. That tiny, tart bite was just enough to carry me through until next year when I should be able to let them all mature and harvest them for pancakes (like my grandma use to make for me) and jelly.
4. VEGAN GLUTEN FREE BANANA PANCAKES
In mid-March, when the pandemic hit hardest, our oldest son and his then fiancé (now wife 😊) had come to stay with us for a weekend. They ended up staying 8 weeks. If that sounds at all like a recipe for disaster, let me assure you that it wasn’t (at least I didn’t think so)! They contributed to all the chores and introduced us to the recipes of a wonderful food blogger. She is a registered dietician and creates healthy, nutritious and delicious recipes. Case in point … these chocolate-banana pancakes. I highly recommend you try these! Yes, they are gluten free. Yes, they are Vegan. Yes, they are AMAZING! You can get the recipe here: Vegan Gluten Free Banana Oat Pancakes.
5. SALMON WITH KALE AT THE LANGHAM HOTEL
As alluded to in the previous description, we had a wedding this fall! Our son and daughter-in-law were married in Chicago. Throughout the whole weekend, we were treated to fantastic meals. Choosing one for this post was not easy but I had to go with the salmon and kale dish that was one of the options for the rehearsal dinner at The Langham Hotel. First of all, any dish that has pretty little edible flowers will get my attention. The combination of the salmon and kale with the Hollandaise sauce was so delicious! I can’t wait to experiment with the combination next summer when the kale comes out of the garden.
6. SWEET CRISPS FROM CORNER BAKERY
While we’re talking Chicago, let’s talk Sweet Crisps. We went to a bakery/cafe called Corner Bakery to get takeout lunch. I ordered the Harvest Salad which comes with crumbled bites of these crisps. Luckily, I saw them in the display case as well and added a couple to my order. Think very thinly sliced biscotti but with a more buttery flavor. They look super sweet but there’s a balance of savory as well which made them perfect on top of the salad.
7. HOMEMADE SALSA VERDE
While strolling through the greenhouses last spring and picking out tomato plants, I grabbed three tomatillo plants on a whim. Never having grown them before, or even knowing if they would do well in the midwest, they just seemed like a fun addition to our garden. After a little research and learning that humidity is not their friend, I almost pulled them right out of the ground. Almost. One thing I read was humidity causes the blooms not to pollinate well but you could improve the chances by gently shaking the branches to release the pollen. So I did. And it worked! The blooms turned into husks (like big ground cherries) and the tomatillos started forming in the husks. Eventually, they filled out the husks and I had enough to make a batch of salsa verde. That quickly turned into two batches and the promise to plant more tomatillos next year! Delicious with chicken for enchiladas, pork for pozole, scrambled eggs for breakfast tacos, or straight out of the jar with tortilla chips.
8. EL AZTECA’S STEAK RANCHERO
In general, Marty likes to order pretty safely at restaurants but once in a while he will surprise me by ordering something unusual. This was one of those times and I am SO glad he did. El Azteca in Ames, Iowa has a menu full of great Mexican options but on this particular visit, Marty tried the Steak Ranchero. My apologies for the picture not being as stunning as this dish deserves but trust me … the char on the steak with that sauce is fantastic. This dish is on the spicier side but some guacamole and a little sour cream will balance it out if needed.
9. JEFFERSON COUNTY CIDERWORKS LEMON LAVENDER CIDER
Do I have any hard cider lovers out there? Have you tried Jefferson County Ciderworks cider? Made in Fairfield, Iowa, this is my favorite hard cider company. Lemon Lavender is perfect in summertime and the Gin Inspired Spiced cider is my wintertime preference.
10. GREAT PLAINS SAUCE AND DOUGH COMPANY PIZZA
Dining al fresco certainly took on a new appreciation this year. With the pandemic, outdoor seating and carry-out orders were popular! Early on, I was quite hesitant to order anything from anywhere but when my comfort level increased, it was pizza I was most willing to pick up. Living relatively close to Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company in Ames is a dangerous thing. Dangerously good! Our standard order is the Buffalo pizza on the Denver crust – “a hand-rolled edge wheat crust” with pepperoni, sausage, olives, green peppers, onions and mushrooms. Once you get to that edge of crust, drizzle some honey on it and … aw geez … I talked myself into a big old craving!
11. AROMA PIE SHOPPE’S BLUEBARB PIE
It doesn’t happen very often that I am impressed with pie from a restaurant or store. I am a pie snob. That is why this pie makes this list. This is the bluebarb pie from Aroma Pie Shoppe in Whalan, MN (a small town in southeast Minnesota). This place was recommended to me by one of my fellow travel-foodie-enthusiasts. Marty and I were meeting our oldest son in that area for a day of fly fishing. I can honestly say, this was one of the best, if not THE best pie I have ever purchased. A combination of blueberries and rhubarb in a perfectly baked crust … and I ate my slice (or three) right there on one of their picnic tables. You’re lucky I remembered to take a picture first! You can bet this spring when my rhubarb is ready, I’ll be doing my very best to duplicate this pie using my Never Fail Pie Crust recipe.
12. HAND-ROLLED SUSHI
Before the pandemic, we got together with my nephew and niece to make sushi. Finding sushi-grade fish can be a challenge here in the midwest but we managed to put together some pretty terrific tuna, salmon and crab rolls nonetheless. Cucumbers, avocados, sticky rice, mangos and jalapeños gave us plenty of combinations to try.
13. TUSCAN TART AT PROVISIONS LOT F
Now this is brunch! An Italian flavored quiche-like tart with savory ingredients like artichokes, roasted tomatoes, potatoes and Parmesan cheese, every bite was packed with flavor. It came with a side salad of fresh greens and a cup of yogurt and berries. This is not always on the menu at Provisions Lot F in Ames, Iowa … but I sure hope I see it again soon!
14. Cheddar Tomato Pie
Summer in a pie plate. How Sweet Eats is where you can find this recipe and yes, it is worth the effort to make. Fresh tomatoes are the star of this dish. I used a mixture of heirloom and cherry and my standard red tomatoes. The filling is a combination of cheeses, garlic and some mayonnaise and the crust has herbs and cheese mixed into the flaky goodness. Oh boy, does summer seem a long way off right now.
If you ever get the chance to visit a Lunds & Byerlys grocery store, take your time walking through the bakery area. I found these Rosettes in Minneapolis and they took me right back to Christmastime at my aunt’s house. She would make these delicate, sugary crisps each year and they just melted in your mouth. Maybe those memories played a role in choosing these for one of my top 20 foods, but if that’s not a good reason, I don’t know what is!
16. The Seoul Sucker Sandwich from Cornbred BBQ
Do I have you convinced to visit Ames, Iowa yet? Let’s try a little barbecue. Cornbred BBQ serves up not only outstanding smoked meats, but the most creative, inspired meals that feature those meats. Here is one of my favorites: the Seoul Sucker Sandwich. Smoked pork, Korean BBQ sauce, kimchi slaw, cilantro, mint, sesame seeds and almond butter on a toasted bun. The large patio and social distancing practices made outdoor dining a viable option this summer and fall.
17. FRESH WILD RASPBERRIES
We knew we had wild raspberries on our property, but we didn’t know they would be this good! Marty came inside from mowing one day with a small bowl of these beauties and neither one of us could think of a better way to enjoy them than simply serving them over ice cream. Maybe next year, we’ll find enough for pie!
18. STUFFING FLAVORED CHEESE CURDS
While grocery shopping before Thanksgiving, this container of cheese curds caught my eye. Being a big fan of sage stuffing (or “dressing”), I was curious enough to try them. They were really good. SO good, in fact, I never found them again. Apparently, Metz’s Hart-Land Creamery was really onto something and couldn’t keep up with the demand! Interesting thing … as I write this, I discover that this creamery is not far from the Aroma Pie Shoppe mentioned previously. Can’t wait for our next fly fishing trip to southeast Minnesota!
19. HOMEMADE SOFT PRETZELS
Self-rising flour just might be the one ingredient I experimented with most this year. I’ve always used it for Beer Bread, but this year, it was also used to make Naan bread and these soft pretzels with Everything Bagel Seasoning. I need to make these again soon, taking better notes on measurements, so I can share the recipe. There are only four ingredients: self-rising flour, plain greek yogurt, butter and the bagel seasoning.
What is better than a S’more to end an evening? Or a top 20 list? Perhaps this particular S’more! We were having a fire pit one evening and happened to have a few mini, Monster cookies from Casey’s General Store hanging around the house (don’t ask me how there were any leftover). After picking the marshmallows from the pantry, I noticed the cookies were just about the same size as the marshmallows. Sorry graham crackers … Monster Cookies S’mores have my undivided attention. Don’t worry though … Marty doesn’t like Monster Cookies, so you’re safe.
HERE’S TO 2021!
Collecting these pictures and describing them to you has been such a fun way to end this year. I marvel at the talented people who work with food and create such delicious things for us to try. The beauty of food in the garden, the grocery store, in restaurants and on our own tables is a blessing. I am thankful to you for joining me on this journey, this picnic life. I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings and what I will write about twelve months from now. Looking at these pictures, perhaps I should plan to write about how I lost 21 pounds in 2021? 😉
Here’s to simple food, good company and a comfortable place!