My Eleven Favorite Recipes & Three Biggest Kitchen Fails from 2014

It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.

Just kidding.

Well, not just kidding about the truth that you added much joy to my year and continue to make blogging fun, but yes just kidding about utilizing this particular phrase Facebook users have now seen thousands of times. Our first, whole year living in North Iowa really has been great, though. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being a part of it.

I traveled a little and enjoyed a lot of dining experiences. I tried some new recipes, though I embarked on less elaborate home cooking projects than past years. With all of this year’s changes, comfort food was key. I tried writing about different topics like online dating and subscription boxes, but ultimately decided to refocus my blog and social media content on food and travel. I continue to meet some of the best people, both readers & writers, through my blogging adventures. These connections are one of the main reasons why I blog.

With each year’s new beginning, I enjoy summarizing my favorite dining experiences, recipes and most memorable kitchen fails. Here’s a summary of the eleven recipes we enjoyed the most this year and my top three home cooking fails:

Eleven Favorite Recipes from 2014:

Wini's Pork Meatballs text
I kept describing this recipe as “too good,” because Jake and I fought over every last meatball. These meatballs are unique because they contain no breadcrumb filler and a whole cup of fresh parsley which balances out the rich sauce. You can also find this recipe in Wini’s Braiser E-cookbook.

Miso Cod

I originally found this recipe searching for ways to use my jar of Korean gochujang. This glaze is the perfect balance between spicy, sweet, and savory. We liked it so much, I made it twice in one month. Plus, it’s easy to whip together on a week night.


I participated in an online cooking club via Twitter for about one recipe. Although many of us got off-track, I made some new friends and prepared what became one of our favorite recipes this year. My attempts to cook Indian dishes had always resulted in just OK food, but this recipe was different. Freshly toasting and grinding my spices made all of the difference in the world and I like how Iyer writes his recipes. They’re easy to follow and approachable. Indian ingredients are not widely available in rural North Iowa so I had to make a couple of adaptations, and we were still wow’d by this dish.


Amanda is another friends who’s written a cookbook. Call me biased, but I believe Smitten With Squash  is the best resource for cooking squash available in the Midwest. I’ve prepared many recipes from this book and this dip is possibly our favorite (so far). It’s bright and fresh.

Call Me A Party Pooper

I’ve prepared this dip many times since I first watched Nadia Comanceci prepare it on Trisha’s Food Network show. It’s easy to make and the hardest step is roasting the eggplant whole (which is super easy). I’ll eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so quickly, that Jake hardly gets to enjoy a bite.

Laurie's rhubarb pie

I baked many desserts this year and this was the best. Spring rhubarb from the Midwest is a magical thing and Laurie’s pie does it justice. Tart rhubarb is suspended in a creamy custard and topped with crunchy, buttery crumble. It’s best served in a homemade pie crust.


Like the cod recipe above, this baked fish dish is easy to prepare. Can you tell we like creamy mustard sauces?

Runza watermarked

My cousin Chris gave me recipe cards when I graduated from college many moons ago. I found her family’s recipe for Runzas while unpacking a box soon after moving to Iowa. This recipe utilizes what I refer to as “bam” crescent rolls from a tube, but you could also use bread dough. There’s nothing fancy about the ground beef-cabbage filling, but it makes for an addicting combination. Jake and I fought over these meat pies, too.

Lebanese Meat Pies (Sfeeha) from A Taste of Beirut 

Meat Pies

So I really like meat pies. They’re a perfect, compact lunch to take to work. My Lebanese meat pies aren’t as pretty as Joumana’s, but it doesn’t matter because they tasted so good. Lebanese ingredients are also not widely available in North Iowa, so I made some adaptations such as subbing balsamic vinegar for pomegranate molasses and a red jalapeno for red pepper paste. Make sure to use lean ground lamb or beef.

Debbie's sandwiches

Debbie took North Iowa by storm with her Copycat Northwestern Steakhouse and loose meat sandwich recipes. I tried my first loose meat sandwich at Pro’s in Mason City and liked it so much I prepared a batch of Debbie’s Maid-Rites. We enjoy them with yellow mustard, pickle chips and chopped onion. I prefer these to Sloppy Joes.

Soda Bread Collage

Corned beef and cabbage is for any time, not just St. Patrick’s Day. One of my readers Stu shared his crock pot method which truly makes this meal painless to prepare anytime, as long as you get started in the morning so it can cook all day. Irish Soda Bread is also simple to bake since it doesn’t contain yeast. We love spreading slices of the crusty bread with butter and dipping it into the flavorful liquid.

Top Three Home Cooking Fails:
Cooking fails are inevitable realities for anyone who cooks. They can lead to surprising discoveries and inedible messes and will happen despite your best efforts, but don’t let them stop you from trying.

Fail Collage

From left to right: Peppermint cookies, coconut shrimp & Grandma’s crabby snacks.

  • Peppermint Meltaway Cookies: I really wanted to enter Des Moines Register Food Writer Jennifer Miller’s Christmas cookie contest. I tried to improvise on my lemon meltaway cookie recipe by baking ones dotted with candy cane and filled with chocolate. Sounds good, right? I learned how horrible chocolate, peppermint, and butter taste could taste, which I didn’t even imagine could be possible. Two sticks of butter died for these cookies. I’m still grumpy.
  • Coconut Shrimp: I tried to prepare Bobby Dean’s Baked Coconut Shrimp recipe. While the actual baking method was spot-on, the shrimp I used were horribly fishy and the dipping sauce tasted horribly bitter. Too bad, because the meal looks beautiful.
  • Grandma Dorothy’s Hot Crab Meat Sandwiches (Crabby Snacks): This recipe derailed my quest to cook all of my grandmothers’ retro recipes I found in church cookbooks. I’d be willing to try someone else’s version of crabby snacks, but this particular canned crab had a particularly strong flavor and smell and I was left with a giant brick of Velveeta. We did not go back for seconds.

Coming Up Next: Top Ten Favorite Foods from 2014, plus some honorable mentions & my recipe for weeknight Chicken Parmesan. 

What were some of your favorite recipes and cooking fails from 2014? 


  1. Michelle

    My favorite recipe from 2014 is one from Kate in the Kitchen: seeded crackerbread. I substituted Asiago cheese for seeds and am now addicted to the darn stuff. It’s so good.

    Biggest fail? I tried a new pad Thai recipe that touted itself as being easy. It was easy but it also tasted like styrofoam. I took two bites and dumped it.

    • Jeni

      Thanks Michelle-I will have to look up Kate’s recipe. We go through so many crackers, might as well make my own. I had a big Pad Thai fail too! Haven’t attempted it since.

  2. Carrie

    Ooooh those look tasty, especially that salmon! I’ve been looking for another way to prepare it besides the old standby dill/garlic routine! THANKS!

    Have a safe and happy 2015!

    • Jeni

      Thank you Carrie. I wish the same to you:)

  3. TasteofBeirut

    I am so happy to see that the traditional sfeeha was on your list! I loved your creative substitutions too! Best Wishes for 2015!

    • Jeni

      What a great recipe. Thanks for sharing it. Next time I’m in Minneapolis, I need to grab a jar of the pomegranate molasses though. Best wishes to you too.

  4. Cristen

    Oh Jeni, this is a great post and I’m already trying to figure out how I can make that cod recipe TODAY! Looks delicious! AND, the concept of the peppermint meltaway cookie is spot on… they do sound delicious! We need to make those work. I hope to see you soon, I can’t wait until we have more pigs of many colors (those come at the end of January/first week of February). Maybe we can set up a get together to see pigs and a ‘cook together’. That’d be so fun! XOXO

    • Jeni

      Thank you so much Cristen! Maybe next year I’ll try the contest again, though I’m not sure I want to go up against one of your amazing cookies. I would LOVE to meet your piggies (and see you). Count me in!

  5. Amy

    We really should try and revive the internet curry club. More curry!!!

    • Jeni

      I agree. I was just looking at the 600 Curries book and thinking about that.

  6. Beth Ann Chiles

    Yum. I have to definitely make several of these (not the peppermint cookies, though). I love how you are always so great at taking recipes and tweaking them a bit to make them yours and new and improved. I need to take some tips from you. I am loving all these “best of 2014” round up posts. Giving me lots of great ideas of what to cook next year!

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