Bacon, coffee and pasta pie: A look back at your favorite Quick & Dirty recipes of 2021

The most popular recipes reflected our collective love of chocolate and potatoes

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 30, 2021 3:00PM (EST)

3-Ingredients Cheesecake, Cypriot Potato Salad, and Marzipan Cake (Photo illustration by Salon/Mary Elizabeth Williams)
3-Ingredients Cheesecake, Cypriot Potato Salad, and Marzipan Cake (Photo illustration by Salon/Mary Elizabeth Williams)

You really love bacon and coffee. You also love pasta (and have very strong opinions about it). You love anything roasted on a sheet pan, as well as dishes that involve two ingredients (three, tops). But it was your affinity for chocolate that really clicked like nothing else this year.

Early in the pandemic — April of 2020, to be exact — I wrote a story about a chocolate cake that comes together with pantry staples and doesn't require any butter, eggs or milk. That Depression cake recipe quickly became as popular with Salon Food readers as it was with my family, as did the magical, 2-ingredient Nutella brownies that followed it.

RELATED: Make this rosé bucatini for the wine mom in your life

As the challenging months trudged along, I found myself coming back again and again to the consoling feeling that we have all been cooking together though all of this. We've been figuring out how to feed ourselves and our loved ones through supply shortages and quarantines by sharing what works. I think what it frequently comes down to is carbs.

I called this column Quick & Dirty because that's just how a lot of us are getting it done these days. But cooking with more ease and simplicity shouldn't have to mean a big compromise on the pleasure that food brings. At the end of an inevitably tough day, most of us just want something that tastes really good and doesn't add to our stress. In 2021, these were the recipes that best ticked those boxes for you.

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1. A 3-ingredient cheesecake, no measuring needed

Having recently and wholeheartedly joined the cult of the Basque cheesecake, I confess I was skeptical about this one. But this delicate and not-too-sweet dessert, which requires only three ingredients and zero measuring, really proves itself a surprise keeper. Make it once and commit it to memory, and you'll never be able to say, "I can't bake" again.

2. Mediterranean potato salad is all you need for dinner

Everybody already loves potato salad, but maybe it was the liberating suggestion that it doesn't need to play side dish to anything that spoke to you. Yasmin Khan's lemony, minty, olive-y version is the ideal meal for nights when you don't feel like turning on the oven — and heaven knows those don't just roll around in the summertime.

3. Orange coffee soda is your mysteriously delicious summer drink

What the hell is it about this thing that makes it such a year-long liquid hit? I may never understand, but the combination of citrus, carbonation and caffeine is startlingly good and laughably easy — especially if you buy your cold brew coffee pre-made. It doesn't seem like it should work, but wow, does it ever. Want another effortless suggestion for your coffee? You will never go wrong with affogato.

4. Cacio e pepe pie is an insanely easy pasta dinner

Go ahead and tell me this isn't authentic cacio e pepe. Call it whatever you want, then. Call it just pasta pie or sort of mac and cheese. Whatever nomenclature you choose, just make it. The best use of leftover pasta and miscellaneous fridge cheese you can make is as forgiving as it is delicious — and it might even be better cold the next day for lunch.

5. The best brownies are gluten free and have soy sauce in them

Brownies, in all their forms, are the best things. This year, I discovered the genius of sheet pan brownies that bake up in only 15 minutes. I discovered fudgy, boozy, no bake bars. But nothing quite compared to Hetty McKinnon's addictive soy sauce version. How good are they? Just last week, I had a friend call me asking for a wow factor dessert to bring to a neighbor, and this was the first idea out of my mouth. I told her to just go ahead and make two pans, because she'd definitely need to keep one for her own family, too.

6. A 3-ingredient, no measuring cake that tastes like autumn in Copenhagen

Based on Mikkel Karstad's sublime recipe, I still can't believe how fantastic this intensely almond flavored cake is. I made it in the fall with apples, but it demands a year-round rotation with whatever fruit you like.

7. French-inspired lentils are the easiest cure for your winter blues

I've been making Susan Herrmann Loomis' cozy, inviting lentils for my family for ages, and it was really special seeing it appeal to so many others, as well. Whether with loved ones or alone, when you sit down to dinner tonight, I hope you feel as warm and nourished as this dish makes me feel. And I hope your 2022 is as happy and healthy as it can possibly be!

More of our favorite Quick & Dirty recipes: 

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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