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RECIPES: Sensational & savory — the best recipes from 2021, part 1

by Kelly Brant | December 29, 2021 at 6:54 a.m.
Green Enchilada Chicken Soup (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

With more than 600 recipes to choose from, compiling our annual list of favorites is no easy task. After making our list (and cutting it twice, no thrice!) we narrowed it down to a baker's dozen — still double what we have space for in our digital replica edition. So, as we have in the past, we're breaking it up into two installments. Because the recipes were easily split between sweet and savory, that's where we drew the line.

First up: Savories.

We selected these recipes based on how often we made them again after publication and your feedback.

In chronological order:

From 'Front Burner: Enchilada chicken soup recipe for the impatient' by Kelly Brant, published March 24

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Green Enchilada Chicken Soup

  • 2 cups canned or homemade green enchilada sauce (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 12 ounces shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie or leftover)
  • ½ cup half-and-half OR 2 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided use
  • ½ cup salsa verde plus more to taste
  • Desired garnishes such as sliced avocado, cilantro and tortilla chips

In large saucepan, combine the enchilada sauce and chicken broth and heat over medium. Stir in the chicken, half-and-half or cream cheese and 1 cup of the Monterrey Jack cheese and cook until cheese is melted and chicken is heated through.

Serve soup topped with remaining Monterey Jack, salsa verde and desired garnishes.

Makes about 4 servings.

■  ■  ■

Green Enchilada Sauce

  • 1 pound tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
  • 1 white or yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, smashed but not peeled
  • 1 serrano or jalapeno chile, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, or to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Cumin, to taste
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1 ½ teaspoons safflower or corn oil
  • Sugar, to taste

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil. If any of the tomatillos are larger than a lime, cut them in half. Arrange tomatillos, onion, garlic and chile in a single layer on the baking sheet. Season lightly with salt and cumin. Roast 20 minutes, or until tomatillos and onion are tender. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic from its papery husks.

In a blender or food processor, combine the roasted tomatillos, onion, chile, garlic and cilantro, along with any juices that accumulated on the baking sheet and pulse to puree.

Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, but not smoking, pour in tomatillo mixture and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer over medium heat for 6 minutes, or until it thickens and deepens in color, stirring in about ½ cup water. Taste and season with salt and/or sugar.

Makes about 2 cups.

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From 'Front Burner: Substitute beef in roast to get Mississippi Chicken' by Kelly Brant, published April 21

Baked Mississippi Chicken

  • ¼ cup butter, divided use
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • ½ (1-ounce) packet ranch dressing mix (about 2 tablespoons)
  • ¼ to ½ (1-ounce) packet au jus gravy mix
  • Jarred pepperoncini peppers or banana peppers, sliced

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Lightly coat a baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken with butter.

Place chicken in the baking dish. Sprinkle with ranch seasoning and au jus gravy mix. Thinly slice the remaining butter and scatter it over the chicken. Bake 15 minutes, add the pepperoncini and bake 15 minutes more or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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From 'Front Burner: Get your vegetarian game on with squash cakes' by Kelly Brant, published May 26

Squash Cakes With Cheese and Herbs

  • About 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil, divided use
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound summer squash such as yellow squash or zucchini, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline set on 3 mm)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced OR 1 teaspoon garlic paste, optional
  • Scant ½ cup chopped fresh herbs such as oregano, cilantro, parsley, basil and/or dill, divided use
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
  • ½ cup (or more) grated or crumbled cheese such as cheddar or feta
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Ground cumin, to taste, optional
  • Tomatillo salsa and sour cream or yogurt, for serving

In a large, wide skillet heat about 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the squash, about ¾ teaspoon salt and the garlic, if using; stir well to coat. If the skillet seems a bit dry, add another tablespoon of butter or oil. Cook, turning the squash every few minutes, until the squash is golden in places, starting to dry out and is considerably reduced, about 20 minutes. Stir in a generous pinch or two of the herbs and cook for a few minutes more. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, ½ cup breadcrumbs, remaining herbs and ½ cup cheese. Stir in the squash and season with pepper and cumin, if using.

In the same skillet used to cook the squash (wipe it clean with a paper towel), heat a bit of butter or oil over medium heat. Drop in about 1 tablespoon of the squash mixture and cook until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, then turn and cook the other side until golden and crisp. Taste it and add more salt, pepper, cumin, cheese or breadcrumbs to the batter as needed.

After making any necessary adjustments to the batter, add about 1 tablespoon butter or oil to the skillet, swirl to coat and drop the batter in small mounds, flattening each with the back of a spoon or spatula, and cook until golden and crisp on both sides.

Serve warm with salsa and sour cream or yogurt.

Makes 4 appetizer servings or 2 main course servings.

Recipe adapted from "In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes" by Deborah Madison

  photo  Thick and Fluffy Big Skillet Cornbread (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  From 'Idea Alley: Big skillet + doubled recipe = perfect cornbread' by Kelly Brant, published June 16

Thick and Fluffy Big Skillet Cornbread

  • Canola oil or other high-heat vegetable oil
  • 1 1/3 cups cornmeal
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons PLUS 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk

Pour enough canola oil into a 10-inch iron skillet to cover bottom of the pan.

Place skillet in oven and heat to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and milk.

Add the egg-milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir until just moistened

Once oven is heated, remove skillet. Carefully pour hot oil into batter and stir vigorously to combine. Pour batter into hot skillet and bake until brown, 30 to 40 minutes.

Recipe from Lew Sorrells

  photo  Summer Squash and Turkey Gratin (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  From 'Front Burner: Summer Squash and Turkey Gratin cheesy delight' by Kelly Brant, published June 23

Summer Squash and Turkey Gratin

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced OR ½ small red onion, diced
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound very lean ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan, or to more taste
  • 1 or 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced (I used a 3 mm mandoline)
  • 1 or 2 small yellow squash, thinly sliced (I used a 3 mm mandoline)
  • 6 to 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large oven-safe skillet (I used a 10-inch cast-iron skillet), melt butter over medium heat. Add the shallots or onion and cook until beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute more. Add the ground turkey and cook, breaking it into crumbles, until no longer pink and most of the liquid has evaporated away. Sprinkle evenly with the flour and stir to coat and then stir in the half-and-half. Gently simmer for a few minutes and then add the parmesan cheese, sliced squash and sliced zucchini — the skillet will be quite full. Carefully, but thoroughly, stir the squash to coat with the half-and-half. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the squash begins to soften. Sprinkle the cheddar evenly over the top and transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

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From 'Front Burner: Stuffed poblano peppers spice up summer supper' by Kelly Brant, published Aug. 11

Poblanos Stuffed With Cheesy Rice and Beans

  • ½ cup long-grain rice
  • Salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can beans (white, black, pinto, red — your choice), rinsed and well drained
  • 8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided use
  • ½ cup roasted tomatillo salsa, plus more for serving
  • Cumin, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 or 5 large poblano peppers
  • Desired garnishes such as lime wedges, cilantro, sliced avocado, sour cream

Cook the rice with a generous pinch of salt according to package directions.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, beans, most of the cheese and about ¼ cup of the salsa. Taste and season with cumin, salt, pepper or more salsa, if needed.

Cut the top off each pepper and gently remove the core, seeds and membranes. Reserve tops.

Fill each pepper cavity with rice mixture, making sure there are no air pockets. Replace the pepper tops and secure with wooden picks.

Arrange peppers on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes or until peppers are quite tender. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and return peppers to the oven until cheese melts, about 5 minutes.

Serve topped with additional salsa, cilantro, sliced avocado or other desired garnishes.

Makes about 4 servings.

  photo  Buttermilk-Brined Turkey Breast (The New York Times/Romulo Yanes)  From 'Simple and satisfying: Brining or spatchcocking results in a succulent, golden turkey' by Samin Nosrat via The New York Times, published Nov. 17

Buttermilk-Brined Turkey Breast

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1.16 ounces/33 grams fine sea salt (2 tablespoons)
  • ½ turkey breast (about 2 ½ pounds), on or off the bone

One to two days before you plan to cook, place buttermilk and salt in a gallon-size resealable plastic bag and stir to dissolve salt. Place turkey breast in the bag and seal carefully, expelling the air. Squish the bag to distribute buttermilk all around the turkey, place on a rimmed plate, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. If you're so inclined, you can turn the bag periodically so every part of the turkey gets marinated, but that's not essential.

Two hours before you plan to start cooking, remove the turkey from the plastic bag and scrape off as much buttermilk as you can without being obsessive. Discard buttermilk, set the breast on a rimmed plate and bring it to room temperature.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 425 degrees. Place breast skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a wire rack or parchment paper.

Place baking sheet on the prepared oven rack and roast the turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast without touching bone registers at lease 150 degrees, about 40 minutes for a boneless breast or 50 minutes for a bone-in breast. (You may want to tent the breast with aluminum foil if it's darkening too quickly.)

Transfer turkey to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest at least 15 minutes before carving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


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