The Most-Read Food Stories of 2021

And so closes the second year of the pandemic, 12 months more of worry, of working from home, of trying to make each meal feel like something new. The articles that readers of the Food section and New York Times Cooking craved this year acknowledged this new reality. Many of our most-read stories offered tips for making weeknight meals faster and more delicious. Some fed readers’ curiosity about a return to dining out, and others delved into disturbing territory: a Southern farmer’s discovery that her ancestors had enslaved people, and revelations about sexual harassment and other abuses at a destination restaurant in Washington State.

Here are the articles, in ascending order:

10. Eleven Madison Park Explores the Plant Kingdom’s Uncanny Valley

When Pete Wells reviewed the newly vegan Eleven Madison Park, he wrote that the restaurant was doing strange things to vegetables. Here, a beet awaits diners in a clay pot that is cracked open by the server with a ball-peen hammer.Credit…Daniel Krieger for The New York Times

In June, the world-renowned restaurant Eleven Madison Park revamped its elaborate tasting menu to be strictly vegan. When Pete Wells reviewed the new incarnation in September, he found vegetables whose “delicate flavors are hijacked by some harsh, unseen ingredient.” And he noted one feature that belied the restaurant’s plant-based messaging: Those willing to pay for a private room had the option of adding a beef tenderloin to the vegan menu.

9. Her Family Owned Slaves. How Can She Make Amends?

Stacie Marshall, who has inherited a farm in the northwest corner of Georgia, learned that her ancestors kept enslaved people. She is trying to bring that history to light and help heal her community.Credit…Nydia Blas for The New York Times

When Stacie Marshall, a farmer in Dirt Town Valley, Ga., learned that her forebears had kept seven enslaved people, she wanted to know how she could make it right. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I have property,” she told Kim Severson, who spent several months reporting on Ms. Marshall’s efforts to unearth that history, share it and find a way to heal her community. “How am I going to use that for the greater good, and not in like a paying-penance sort of way but in an it’s-just-the-right-thing-to-do kind of way?”

8. The Best Bagels Are in California (Sorry, New York)

The bagels at Boichik in Berkeley, Calif., are chewy, but not densely so, with a shiny, sweet-and-salty crust.Credit…Preston Gannaway for The New York Times

“Bagels are personal, and everyone holds to her own vision of the ideal,” our critic Tejal Rao wrote in this ode to the West Coast bagel. Despite New Yorkers’ claims that theirs are unrivaled, Tejal declared that a new contingent of bakers in California is making some of the nation’s best.

7. What Our Food Reporters and Editors Make When They’re Too Tired to Cook

Sheet-pan bacon and eggs from Genevieve Ko is a favorite of Eric Kim, a writer for New York Times Cooking.Credit…Andrew Purcell for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Carrie Purcell.

Grilled cheese, baked potatoes and popcorn are just the beginning of this list, compiled by Alexa Weibel, of the dishes the Food and Cooking staff makes when they are too taxed to do anything else.

6. 20 Simple Sauces That Will Transform Any Meal

Chile crisp, a spicy condiment to add to your pantry arsenal.Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Victoria Granof.

In July, Genevieve Ko spread the gospel of sauce, calling it “the quickest way to dishes that thrill with big flavor.” The 20 recipes that accompanied the feature — organized in six categories: green, salty-sweet, chile, tangy, creamy and sweet — helped win converts to the saucy side.

5. 24 Days of Cookies

After another uncertain year, we all needed as many holiday cookies as we could possibly bake.Credit…Anna Williams for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Susan Spungen. Prop Stylist: Sarah Smart.

Homemade cookies brought the sparkle this holiday season, and this virtual calendar showered readers in Italian rainbow cookies, savory Cheddar coins, minty lime bars and figgy cookie pies. One intrepid reader made them all.

4. The Island Is Idyllic. As a Workplace, It’s Toxic.

After a monthslong investigation into conduct at Willows Inn in the Northwest, Julia Moskin uncovered faked ingredients, sexual harassment and an abusive kitchen.Credit…Amber Fouts

Under the leadership of the chef Blaine Wetzel, the Willows Inn, a seasonal restaurant on Lummi Island, 100 miles north of Seattle, became a global destination. But in a monthslong investigation, 35 former staff members told Julia Moskin that the restaurant routinely faked “island” ingredients it advertised to guests; that female employees were sexually harassed by male kitchen staff members; and that Mr. Wetzel was physically intimidating and verbally abusive, using racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. Mr. Wetzel denied the substance of most allegations.

3. Sheet-Pan Everything

Yasmin Fahr’s sheet-pan baked feta with broccolini, tomatoes and lemon.Credit…Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Readers fell hard for these 20 sheet-pan recipes, each cooking on just one aluminum pan. And if you missed it, here is Genevieve Ko on the history of its use in popular culture. Thank you, Martha Stewart.

2. The Restaurant List

Our list of 50 restaurants is not ranked; together the restaurants reflect the rich mosaic of American dining.Credit…Clockwise from top left: Chona Kasinger for The New York Times; Matt Coughlin; Jessica Attie for The New York Times; Daniel Krieger for The New York Times; Emon Hassan for The New York Times; Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

Before the Omicron variant pumped the brakes on dining out, our reporters and editors traveled the country to find the 50 restaurants they were most excited about at the moment. Their list sums up the many reasons restaurants will always have our hearts.

1. This Is How You Get the Best Scrambled Eggs

You can leave these eggs on the stovetop for an extra 30 seconds, and they still won’t turn tough or dry the way scrambled eggs typically do.Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

Like all great creators, our science-minded columnist J. Kenji López-Alt pulled from several sources — namely Mandy Lee from Lady & Pups and the chef Daniel Boulud — to create his method for a better scrambled egg. It involves adding butter to the eggs along with cornstarch, which keeps them creamy and tender as they cook.

Recipe: Extra-Creamy Scrambled Eggs

And in Case You Missed Them …

A Year of Cooking With My Mother

Eric Kim spent nine months of the pandemic at home with his mom. Here, he writes about the lessons he learned watching her make kimchi, jjigaes and the other foods of his childhood in Atlanta.

Feeding Thousands After the Building Collapse

In July, Christina Morales traveled to Surfside, Fla., to meet with restaurateurs who were feeding rescuers, survivors and the families of the missing after the deadly collapse of a condominium complex.

Finding Memories, and Mom’s Sewing Stuff, in a Reused Cookie Tin

Priya Krishna described how a store-bought food container can contain multitudes.

In the Mountain West, the ‘Dirty’ Soda Rush Is On

Victoria Petersen told the effervescent tale of how dozens of soda-shop chains and independent soda shacks have opened from Idaho to Utah to Arizona, an area of the Mountain West sometimes called the Mormon Corridor.

One Year Later: How U.S. Winemakers Averted Disaster

Eric Asimov detailed how some winemakers pivoted at the beginning of the pandemic to focus on direct-to-consumer sales.

Sea Scallops Farmed in Maine Aren’t Just Sustainable. They’re Helping Their Habitat.

In Maine, Melissa Clark profiled several sea scallop farmers. While looking for ways to diversify beyond lobster, they stumbled on one of the most environmentally beneficial types of aquaculture.

These Thanksgiving Recipes Aren’t Just Side Dishes. They’re My Memories.

Yewande Komolafe told how Thanksgiving allows her to embrace the treasured recipes of her friends and chosen family.

With Chop Suey and Loyal Fans, a Montana Kitchen Keeps the Flame Burning

Brett Anderson traveled to Butte, Mont., to see how one of the nation’s oldest Chinese restaurants, Pekin Noodle Parlor, was coping after the loss of its longtime owner, Danny Wong.

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