Category Archives: Favorite Foods

My favorite foods of the year, all lined up in a tasty top ten list.

My Favorite Foods of 2020

If you know me, you know I love food — and not just for the taste, but for the memories of family and friends that go with every bite. We’ve had lots of good food together this year just like every other, and I’ve whittled down our selection of tasty dishes down to these top ten. Bon Appétit!

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#10. Buona Italian Beef Sandwich

Our local Aldi began selling giant tubs of this “Italian style gravy and sliced beef” back in May, and I learned about it online. It’s apparently from a very popular chain out of Chicago. We ate ours inside an Italian hoagie with sautéed onions and peppers.  It was very similar to a cheesesteak, but I liked doing mine “French dip” style with the au jus left over (and there was a lot of it).

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#9. Fish fry at St. Charles Borromeo

Lenten fish fries have been a tradition for me ever since I was introduced to them over a decade ago, and I think St. Charles Borromeo has my favorite fried fish of all the ones I’ve visited.

This year’s visit was particularly special, however, because it came at the start of the fish fry season, which was before everything was locked down for Covid a week or two later. I was very happy to have gone to a real, in-person fish fry during this window, and we likely wouldn’t have gone at all we hadn’t been invited by our friends the Simpsons.

Sickie's Fried Pickles
#8. Sickie’s Fried pickles

Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews” opened in the old Summer Kitchen in Bellevue with great anticipation back in January. Vivian and I had been planning on eating there for months. In fact, we swapped our “sushi anniversary” with our First Date anniversary just so we could stop on by. We weren’t disappointed and had three delicious burgers between the two of us. My favorite item on the menu, however, wasn’t a burger, but the fried pickles appetizer we had beforehand. Very tasty!

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#7. Red Bag Chicken

Red bag chicken” at Aldi refers to the frozen, breaded chicken breasts that are very similar to what you’ll find in a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Combine it with some pickle slices and a brioche bun, and you’ve got a delicious sandwich that’s an easy dinner any day of the week (with or without waffle fries).

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#6. Avocado Toast

I’m just a bit too old to be considered a Millennial, but I’m certainly not too old to appreciate the deliciousness of a toasted piece of sourdough smothered with avocado and sprinkled with “Everything Bagel” seasoning. It’s probably my favorite thing to have for breakfast, so long as I time the ripeness of the avocado just right. I could eat this any day of the week, and often do.

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#5. Sage’s stuffed mushrooms

We held our biennial hors d’oeuvres party again this year, and we had many tasty competitors, but Sage’s mushroom caps stuffed with cream cheese and ground beef were the clear favorite. (And I don’t think we had any leftovers.)

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#4. Homemade Pizza

Vivian made some homemade pizza several times this year, kneading the dough with her new KitchenAid mixer. It’s a delicious thing to have any time of year, but I particularly enjoyed one we had al fresco on our deck with leaves of fresh basil picked from our garden.

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#3. Dinker’s Hamburger

The sign calls it “Omaha’s Best Burger,” and while I certainly have my favorite burger joints in Omaha, Dinker’s was my favorite this year. What makes these burgers particularly unique is how tasty they were without slathering them with seasoning, toppings, or much of anything else. Somehow, the meat by itself is just that good.

We went there for a “Takeout Tuesday” back in March and had a lovely picnic dinner on a beautiful evening at Hanscom Park — our first time visiting the park, which made the occasion even more special.

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#2. Buttermilk Biscuits & Gravy

These delicious biscuits are about as homemade as you can get. Not only are the biscuits made from scratch, but the buttermilk itself is made from scratch — being the result of Vivian’s experiment making fresh butter from cream. She whipped up some sausage and gravy and we had some for a lovely Sunday breakfast before church.

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#1. Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

This was the highlight of our trip to Mount Rushmore — sitting down after a long walk around the monument to have a giant cone of vanilla ice cream made from a recipe by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. It was remarkably good ice cream, but part of the fun was eating right in front of Mount Rushmore itself.

We had other delicious contenders on our road trip, including a Runza on Lake McConaughy, an Egg McMuffin on the road, and a burrito from Scotts Bluff, and spam while camping, but this alone was the most memorable.

Top 10 Foods of 2019

It’s been another year full of fond memories and good food. I’ve taken a look at the memorable things we’ve had to eat throughout the year and narrowed it down to this top ten list for 2019.

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#10. Baked Camembert Fondue

Vivian prepared this little wonder in her cast iron skillet, which consists of four blocks of camembert stacked on top of one another and baked inside a pastry crust, surrounded by baby potatoes (for dipping). I’m not actually fond of camembert, but it was a delightfully fun thing to bring out at our cheese party this year.

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#9. Dad’s smoke-ringed hamburger

My dad absolutely loves his smoker, and all throughout the year he’ll be smoking one thing or another for us to eat in his backyard. Though I love ribs, my favorite smoked treat this year were the hamburgers grilled Labor Day weekend, which were smoked so thoroughly you can see a “ring” around the meat when you take a bit out of it. This was a burger that tasted more like a steak. The best part, however, was being able to eat it after a mere ten-minute walk from our house with the kids.

Polpetti at Amato's
#8. Amato’s Polpetti

Among the many restaurant casualties Omaha suffered this year, Amato’s was one of the hardest. We’d gone there for ricotta pancakes and homemade sausage many, many, many, many, many, times in the past, often because they’re right around the corner from where I work. The last time I ate there with Vivian, we decided to get “polpetti” along with our meal, which was a kind of meatball covered with cheese and red peppers. It was tasty enough we bought some of Amato’s breadcrumbs to make some of our own after they closed.

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#7. Donna’s Mother’s Day Chocolate Pie

Absolutely decadent, from the whipped chocolate cream topping to the Grand Marnier soaked into the cake itself, this cake was absolutely amazing. Nothing quite says “I love you, mom” than a chocolate pie like this.

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#6. Gerda’s Schnitzel and Späetzle

Another restaurant we were sorry to lose this year was the legendary German restaurant Gerda’s. I’d been there a handful of times before, and every time was a treat, but I always liked their breaded pork schnitzel and späetzle. It was a shame to lose this place.

As I understand, when Gerda passed away, the new restaurant regulations that her restaurant had been able to avoid by being “grandfathered in” were about to take effect, and they couldn’t afford to pay for all the upgrades needed to comply.

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#5. Vala’s Bucket o’ Chili & Cheese Fries

A visit to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch is usually a very long and exhausting day walking from one end of the park to the other with the kids, checking out every attraction along the way. Down by the corn bin (next to the jumping pillows) is a stand where you can buy a “bucket o’ fries” for a few dollars, and add chili and cheese for a few more. Most of the food at Vala’s is fairly expensive, but this is an affordable mid-day energy boost, quite necessary before hurrying on to the pig races.

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#4. B&B Hot Dogs’ Mac & Cheese dog

This year, Bellevue lost a charming little place called B&B Grill and Arcade, which was like a down-scaled Dave & Buster’s with video games and a variety of hot dogs and deep-fried appetizers. The food was all creatively-themed junk food, but the noisy experience combined with video games made this place particularly special. And what better way to eat a one-pound hot dog than with by slathering it with macaroni and cheese?

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#3. Ceviche

Making the list once again is my homemade ceviche, which i made up for Cinco de Mayo. It’s not terribly difficult to make, but oh my goodness it’s the best thing to happen to raw fish since sushi.  Vivian and I together devoured an entire two pounds of the stuff while watching the Three Amigos, and we probably had room for more.

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#2. Vivian’s baked brie and garlic on baguette

Vivian and I stayed up late on a chilly evening to see a rare blood moon total lunar eclipse back in January, where a full moon was devoured in shadow and then turned ominously red. It was bitterly cold outside, and nothing could warm us up better than roasted garlic and baked brie on a baguette, which Vivian and I enjoyed in every bit of its gooey goodness in-between the stages of the eclipse.

Father's Day Dinner 2019
#1. Father’s Day Dinner

Looking back on 2019, my most favorite food was the dinner Vivian and her mom prepared for Jack and me on Father’s Day. All my favorites were there — prime rib with mushrooms and garlic, a loaded baked potato, roasted asparagus, homemade cheddar jalapeno bread, and shrimp salad (off to the side). There were so many things I liked to eat all at once they couldn’t all fit on one plate (or in one picture).

This was a particularly happy Father’s Day for food, which included burgers with my dad the day before (and another burger for lunch at Don & Millie’s on Sunday). Nothing can quite compare to this meal, however, which happily sits at the top of the list.

I’m already getting hungry looking forward to 2020.
Bon Appétit, everybody!

Favorite Foods of 2018

As my bathroom scale can attest, I love food — often to a fault. Food isn’t just a means of sustenance — it’s an every day celebration of cultures and flavors and pairs deliciously with friends and family and many happy occasions we celebrate throughout the year. In 2018, I picked ten special dishes to highlight memorable moments of eating throughout the year. If you’re not hungry now, you will be at the end of this list.

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10. Ceviche

I recently learned how to make ceviche with a simple recipe involving freshly-squeezed lime juice and a white fish (usually tilapia). It was particularly easy to make but also very, very tasty. I put a bowl of this together for Cinco de Mayo last year and could have easily eaten the whole bowl myself. I never thought I could find something tastier than sushi that I could do with fish without cooking it with heat, but I was wrong — ceviche wins every time.

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9. Ice cream layer cake

This was a fun treat for Father’s Day — a frozen chocolate cake with layers of ice cream woven in-between. This cake was particularly special because my kids helped to make it! I also regretted not taking a better picture of it — I actually put my “good” camera aside so I could enjoy most of Father’s Day without worrying about the pictures, but somehow I missed getting better documentation of this fun little dessert.

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8. Super Bowl Food

In our house, the Super Bowl isn’t about the game. It isn’t even about the funny, memorable commercials. It’s always about the food — and nothing but the food. Nachos with gooey cheese and buffalo wings with blue cheese on the side especially make this day something to look forward to.

I also have a tradition of getting Hannah to pick the winning team, and so far she’s been four-for-four. I don’t know if she’ll pull it off again, but I know one thing — our whole family will be well-fed (and our stomach lining will be regretting it for days).

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7. Garden Bruschetta

In my opinion, the whole purpose of having a garden in your backyard is to grow your own tomatoes — those ripe, succulent fruits with flavor you can’t buy in any grocery store. And one of my most favorite things you can do with tomatoes is turn them into bruschetta — with basil from out own garden as well along with fresh-chopped garlic and olive oil served in a toasted baguette. Sprinkle some shredded Parmesan on top and you have the best appetizer you can put in your mouth. There has never been an occasion where we’ve had any of this left over.

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6. Chocolate liqueur cake

For Mother’s Day, I found a recipe for a chocolate liqueur cake online and decided to roll up my sleeve and try making it myself. It wasn’t terribly difficult, much to my relief. It came out moist and delicious, with quite a bit of the actual liqueur flavor coming through even after baking. I was particularly proud of this one.

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5. Tiny cheeseburger from Golden Corral

I came upon this inexplicable morsel on Father’s Day. My dad wanted to go out to breakfast with my brothers for a morning full of fat, sodium, and calories down at the Golden Corral. The food was greasy and mediocre, but on the way out they started to bring out the lunch items, and this was one of them. I had just enough room to pop one of these teeny, tiny cheeseburgers in my mouth on my way out the door, and my goodness, it was delicious. The burger tasted flame-broiled, the bun seemed to be buttery and toasted, and the pickle just seemed to bring it all together in cheeseburgery goodness. It was by far better than anything else on the buffet, and I only wish we’d come for lunch instead.

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4. Pete Ricketts’ steak fry steak

On a rainy September day, my dad and I headed up to Fort Calhoun for a steak fry with the Governor. I’d wanted to go mostly to rub elbows with four different governors and a handful of other VIPs in attendance (including patriarch of the Ricketts family, Joe Ricketts).

What I didn’t expect was that the steak at this fairly modest shin-dig would be really, really good. I couldn’t identify which part of the cow the steak came from, but it had been slow-smoked by the All-American Beef Battalion and seasoned with Walton’s out of Wichita. And it was darn good steak, too — far more tender than the cut would suggest.

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3. Fazoli’s

Some of my favorite foods have more to do with the memories behind them than the food itself. After a fun night of dancing with some Jitterbug friends, I suggested we get something to eat at a nice Italian restaurant around the corner. Unfortunately, they were either too busy, too understaffed, or too indifferent to serve us anything. After half an hour of waiting, we hadn’t even gotten someone to take our order, and even the drink I’d ordered at the bar hadn’t made its way to our table. I wasn’t terribly eager to pay $20+ for a plate of spaghetti, so I suggested we bail and wound up going to Fazoli’s instead.

Wow, what a difference. The food probably wasn’t the same “quality,” but we got it right away, paid a fraction of the price, and had unlimited bread sticks to boot. And believe me, after all that waiting, we were absolutely starving, and the pile of noodles with red and white sauce you see above was absolutely delicious. Naturally, the company of good friends made it even better.

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2. Rib Eye Steak with Mushrooms

No steak in the world (or Omaha) beats Vivian’s steak. She sauteed it with butter using her cast-iron skillet and serves it up with fried mushrooms and garlic cloves, which go well either atop of the steak or on a baked potato (or both). Whenever Aldi has a deal on rib-eye, I make sure to pick up a bunch — both to cook right away and to freeze for later. This is my favorite dinner item any night of the week.

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1. Jack Stack “Mom’s Carrot Cake”

Kansas City may be known for Jazz and Barbecue, but Jack Stack will always be known for the warm, gooey ecstasy that is its carrot cake. Vivian and Jenny discovered it by accident when a waiter found himself with one extra cake and decided to give it to them for free — they finished every bite and have been clamoring about it ever since. Mention Jack Stack, and they won’t talk about the burnt ends or the ribs — they’ll mention the carrot cake every single time.

Seriously. It’s served piping hot with cream cheese frosting melted on top, and you will savor every freaking bite. At the end, you’ll wonder why you bothered eating anything else that day when you could just have had this.

Favorite Foods of 2017

We’re closing out another delicious year, and 2017 was certainly another record year for culinary treats. Here are some of my favorites from the last 12 months before we ring in the New Year.

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1. Valentine’s Day Breakfast.

Vivian got to use her new smoker to serve me up some smoked salmon for a Valentine’s breakfast, served on a bagel broken with cream cheese and broken apart in the shape of a heart. Smokin’!

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2. Bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers.

Yes, I included these last year, but it’s one of the most delicious things you can put on a toothpick. Crispy bacon and a creamy, cheesy, onion soupy filling inside a (seeded) jalapeño pepper. Give me as many as you can — I’ll eat them all!

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3. Easter Breakfast at Twin Valley Church.

Pastor Ryan and our Church Elders were at Twin Valley Church bright and early serving up a wide variety of different breakfast foods for the congregation — eggs, muffins, pancakes, bacon, strawberries, and nearly anything else you can imagine. The best part, however, was being able to have Fellowship together in the morning.

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4. Father’s Day Dinner.

Between Vivian and her mom, they can come up with just about the most delicious meals imaginable. This year for Father’s Day, they made for Jack me a plate of prime rib, scallops, and yucca along with a Crab Louie salad and Donna’s peanut butter chocolate pie for dessert. Rarely has such a delicious meal ever been served anywhere.

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5. Fried Bologna Sandwich.

We took an adventurous trip to Pella, Iowa back in May for Tulip Time, and we brought Hannah and Aaron along for the ride. Along with the parades, windmills, and tulips all around, there was plenty of unique food to be had. The best of which, I decided was the “Pella Bologna,” which we got from the In’t Veld Meat Market on Main Street. We fried up a few slices and put it on a toasted Pretzel Bun along with some mustard for a very delicious sandwich.

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6. Dim Sum at the Park.

Ever since Phil and Jen introduced us to Dim Sum last year, we’ve been having it nearly everywhere. We ate it on Valentine’s Day and for our First Date Anniversary, but I’ve especially grown fond of getting it at Gold Mountain in Aksarben Village, right across the street from Stinson Park, where our kids come to play at lunchtime. There’s nothing quite as nice as having pork dumplings on a lovely, sunny day.

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7. Cast iron skillet breakfast.

Vivian has become very fond of her cast iron skillets, which she particularly enjoyed using when we went camping down by the river in Louisville over Labor Day Weekend. She made some cheesy eggs and sausage with pancakes for everyone our first morning there.

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8. A year’s worth of Arby’s.

Props to Pastor Ryan for letting me know the first 50 people at the remodeled Arby’s in Bellevue got to have free Arby’s for a year. That means 52 Free Meal vouchers with your choice of sandwich. I’ve been able to eat there over a dozen times so far and haven’t had the same sandwich twice. These include the Bourbon Brisket sandwichAngus 3 CheeseCajun “Deep-Fried” Turkey, Smoke Mountain, the Venison sandwich, and the Gobbler.

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9. Big, messy birthday burger from Five Guys.

Vivian and the kids surprised me for my birthday around lunchtime with food from one of my favorite burger restaurants. You may not think it’s much to look at, but it’s delicious (and comes with a ghetto grocery bag full of fries). We ate them all together at the Elmwood Park Grotto.

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10. Vivian’s vegetable medley.

Vivian has been making a unique vegetable medley with summer squash, Brussels sprouts, and a handful of other ingredients inside her cast iron skillet and serving it for meals, side dishes for parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas and just about any other time. It’s worth a mention just because of how much everyone enjoys it, including me (and I didn’t even think I liked Brussels sprouts).

Favorite Foods of 2016

If you know me, you know I love food. There’s something about good food that brings people together, and some of my favorite memories are spent with good food enjoyed with family and friends. Here are my top ten favorite dishes from 2016 (in no particular order).

Dinner at the Bohemian Café
10. The last meal at the Bohemian Cafe

The Bohemian Cafe, a mainstay in Omaha’s historic Czech neighborhood, closed its doors this year. It was the first place Vivian came to eat when in Omaha (with our late friend Keith, who also passed away this year). It was also where I bumped into Warren Buffett when Vivian took me there for my birthday in 2011. The food was from another era. This particular dish was their roast Beef with burgundy gravy and mushrooms, sweetsauer cabbage, and dumplings (which were especially memorable). This place was a gem and it will be missed.

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9. All-you-can-eat Sushi at Tokyo Sushi

We went to this place twice in 2016 to get our fill of sushi, and we also took Vivian’s aunt and cousin there when they came to visit (pictured above). The sushi is very good and the menu is fairly extensive. You can even get sashimi at certain time, but the fact that you can have as much as you like makes this place particularly special.

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8. Big Sal’s Pizza

My favorite pizza place in Nebraska or anywhere else nearby. Whenever we stop by in Lincoln, whether for a freelance gig or to visit the state capitol, we try to make a trip to Big Sal’s for lunch. I always get a large combo and also try to use a Groupon whenever it’s available (and it usually is).

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7. Brats and hot dogs at the Costco food court

One of the highlights of shopping at Costco with the family is being able to stop by the food court for one of their 1/4 lb. hot dogs for lunch. You can get them with a drink for just $1.50, which is likely a loss-leader for Costco. The best part, however, is just being able to go out to lunch with the family after shopping (and nibbling on samples, of course).

Mother's Day Quiche
6. Quiche for Christmas & Mother’s Day

This year, I learned how to make some simple quiche for both Mother’s Day and Christmas. Preparing these things was remarkably simple. I buy pre-made frozen pie crusts and then fill them with cooked bacon and sausage, cheese, onions, peppers, spinach, or whatever. Then I pour an egg-and-cream mixture over them and bake for 15 minutes at 375° F. It’s especially nice to prepare these a day ahead of time so they’re easy to throw in the oven when it’s almost time to eat.

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5. Jen’s birthday cake for Dennis

For Dennis’ birthday this year, our mutual friend Jen made this super-rich, super-dense, multi-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. You could hear it landing on my plate with a “thud” and it was the sort of thing you savor with every bite.

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4. Vivian’s Jalapeño poppers

One of Vivian’s specialties are bacon-wrapped Jalapeño poppers stuffed with a cream cheese and onion soup mixture. She usually tried to get all the seed out ahead of time so they’re not too spicy, but I don’t mind them hot. It just means it take a little longer to enjoy them all. (I would recommend removing the toothpicks, however.)

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3. Father’s Day Cubano Lunch

I first learned about the cubano sandwich while watching the 2014 Jon Favreau film Chef via Netflix. It’s made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on bread put through a panini press, and it’s quite delicious. For Father’s Day, I got to have one with onion rings and a seafood salad that was quite generous with crab and avocado. Best Father’s Day lunch ever!

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2. Liver with fava beans and a nice chianti

I must be unusual in that I love liver and onions. Somehow, the iron-rich dish tastes good and feels good, particularly served hot and smothered in a sauce made with butter and red wine. The fava beans added a nice, meaty side, and a good red wine, in this case a Chianti, is a must.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.

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1. Valentine’s Day Apple Roses

Vivian made these beautiful little things for me for breakfast on Valentine’s Day this year. What can I say? They were nearly too beautiful to eat, but I made sure I got a nice picture of them first, of course.

Favorite Foods of 2015

If you know me, you know I love food. And it’s not just the food itself, but the people and memories shared with every bite. I’m also one of those annoying people who takes pictures of food at memorable times, so here are some of my favorite tidbits from 2015. Bon Appétit.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower soup from my Valentine’s Day dinner with Vivian at James Arthur Vineyards. It was the first of a five course meal but was particularly memorable for the heart-shaped croutons. (It came paired with Amo Te or Dry Seyval wines.)

Mom's Homemade Pizza
Mom’s homemade pizza

My mom’s homemade pizza. That was one of my favorite things to eat growing up. My brother Jonathan requested it for his birthday.

Dinner at the Holy Name Fish Fry
Dinner at the Holy Name Fish Fry

Fried fish at the Holy Name Fish Fry. This place was legendary, and all the fish served there was hand-breaded.

Tongue Sandwich at Big Mama's Kitchen
Pig’s ear sandwich at Big Mama’s Kitchen And Catering.

I took my parents to Big Mama’s Kitchen up in North Omaha for their 40th Anniversary and ordered this sandwich, which Guy Fieri described as “natural bologna.”

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Marbled Tea Egg

Marbled tea egg made at Philip and Jen’s place for Jen’s birthday back in march. Delicious and beautiful all at the same time.

Better Off Ched Burger at Zombie Burger
Better Off Ched burger

The Better Off Ched burger from Zombie Burger + Drink Lab in Des Moines, made with deep fried mac and cheese slabs for a bun, among other things. It’s as delicious as it is disgusting and a top contender for the “This is why you’re fat” website.

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Vivian’s Patriotic Cheesecake

Vivian’s patriotic cheesecake. Nobody does cheesecake like my wife!

Homemade Hamburger with Kimchi and Egg
Kimchi Burger

Burger with homemade kimchi and a fried egg. Served up by Philip and Jen at our house.

Dad's smoked pork ribs
Dad’s Smoked Ribs

Smoked ribs from my dad, Ed Johnson, in celebration of his birthday. Recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen.