It’s hard to believe this year is already coming to an end. As we prepare for the year to come, it’s just as important to reflect. And what better lens through which to reflect than food? We took a look back at the most popular recipes on TODAY in 2021 to see what our readers were cooking. Quick and comforting seem to be the criteria for this year’s favorites (shocking!), and many came from our own Dylan Dreyer. From one-pot wonders and sheet-pan suppers to clever shortcuts and make-ahead meals, convenience was key. But not to worry — none of these recipes skimp on flavor!
Not only is this recipe very versatile but it also combines two brunch favorites recipes into one fun dish. Here, golden hash browns become the bed for a beautifully baked frittata. It’s a nice update to the classic quiche. Baking this in an oven-safe, nonstick skillet guarantees a crunchy crust.
Have a pancake party — no flipping necessary! Fit to serve a crowd, this flavorful flapjack recipe is truly a one-sheet wonder, delivering warm-out-of-the-oven breakfast treats right to your table. They’re super moist and gently sweet, and the toppings can be tailored to your taste buds — chocolate-blueberry, banana-pecan, strawberry-coconut and more!
Courtesy Justin Coit
Vanessa Lachey has made the same breakfast casserole for Christmas morning ever since she and her husband, Nick, spent their first winter holiday together. “We started dating during the summer of 2006, and that December it was just the two of us at his house in California,” she says. “It was actually the first Christmas I’d spent with a significant other, and I wanted to make something special for Christmas morning that didn’t require a ton of work so we could relax and snuggle in bed. That’s how the tradition started (basically, with me wanting to snuggle), and it has evolved over time. I change the bottom layer each year — sometimes it’s biscuits; sometimes it’s potatoes; sometimes it’s crescent rolls — but it’s always delicious and easy.”
Eloise Head/ @Fitwaffle
Yes, it really is possible to make cinnamon rolls with just two ingredients! Self-rising flour and Greek yogurt are the only ingredients needed to create the dough for these tasty rolls. Take care not to overcook or over-mix the dough, as this will result in the dough becoming dense and chewy in texture. These cinnamon swirls are so quick, easy and absolutely delicious. They’re a perfect treat for a simple morning breakfast or brunch.
Applesauce makes the best, most scrumptious muffins that don’t dry out in a couple of days like other muffins do. This recipe offers a great opportunity to incorporate some other healthy ingredients while leaving the kids thinking that they’re simply being spoiled with a sweet treat. The great thing about these is that you can make them ahead of time, freeze them and they reheat very well for on the go snack, lunchbox or in place of a protein bar or shake.
Courtesy Angie Mosier
This blueberry French toast is an amazing way to celebrate Sunday. It can be assembled on Friday or Saturday and left to sit and soak in the fridge. It actually gets better because all that yummy goodness has time to really soak into the bread. Pro tip: Coat the blueberries in flour to stop them from turning the French toast purple.
For Dylan, this recipe brings back fond, nostalgic feelings. “I always remember my gram making this salad in a big yellow plastic tub,” she says. “My kids love tuna and I always throw in carrots for a little added crunch and some extra veggies. Mixed together with the pasta, it makes a complete meal or a side dish to serve at a barbecue!”
Courtesy Valerie Bertinelli
No mayo alert! This Japanese-inspired pasta salad from Valerie Bertinelli is filled with crunchy edamame, carrots and bell peppers. The flavorful dressing is made with miso, ginger, soy and sesame. It gets better as it sits, which means it’s perfect for picnics.
TODAY Illustration / Dylan Dreyer
Dylan goes back to her grandmother’s recipe book again for her favorite potato salad. “I’m very particular with potato salad — and by particular, I mean plain,” she says. “I don’t like anything tangy in my potato salad. This is my grandmother’s recipe and I always loved when she or my mom would make it. It’s just nostalgic and delicious and now I make it all summer long!”
This egg roll in a bowl can satisfy even the strongest cravings for the fried classic. The deconstructed version is full of flavorful spices and a veggies to cut the carbs and pump up the protein. Plus, it’s ready in a mere 20 minutes. This delicious dish features ginger, garlic and loads of fresh veggies like shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and scallions. And, the DIY duck sauce only requires three simple ingredients.
This is Dylan’s favorite chicken noodle soup. “When I had the flu in Korea during the Olympics, I ate the best chicken soup and I think it’s because they used ramen noodles,” she says. “So, that’s how I make it now. I always try to make sure I keep some frozen … it’s perfect when a cold is going around!”
Who doesn’t love a casserole? This recipe is so great because it’s easy enough to make for a Monday night, but the results are nothing short of a fancy Friday night dinner. A hint of curry, melty cheese, creamy sauce, tender chicken, crisp broccoli and a crunchy breadcrumb topping all come together to create a cohesive, flavorful and comforting dish.
Sweet, saucy and oh-so-satisfying, this is a dish the whole crew will really enjoy. It’s bright, colorful and packed with protein and other countless nutrients, thanks to the chunks of juicy pineapple, red onion and bell peppers. The best part? This recipe comes together fast on a single sheet. Pro tip: Add a spicy kick by stirring a tablespoon of Sriracha into the marinate and teriyaki glaze.
Courtesy Moriah Sawtelle
Holidays like Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day call for special recipes. This classic chicken and rice dish gets a festive flavor boost from briny olives, sweet green peas, smoky chorizo and fresh herbs. The result is delicious, comforting and perfect for any occasion.
This baked pasta is the definition of Italian comfort food. It’s filled with hearty meat sauce and creamy ricotta cheese then topped with melty mozzarella and flavorful Parmesan cheese. It’s perfect for a casual family dinner and impressive enough to serve to guests.
Meatballs are one of Dylan’s all-time favorite foods. “I absolutely love meatballs, but I’m very picky,” she says. “I like them flavorful, light and fluffy. When I tasted my mother-in-law’s meatballs, I fell in love. The recipe actually comes from my husband’s great-grandmother from Sicily. She made sure to teach my mother-in-law (who’s very Irish) how to make proper meatballs. And now that I’ve got the recipe, I’m sharing with you. These meatballs are good on their own or in sauce, but remember, they’re very light, so they shouldn’t sit in sauce for a long time or they’ll begin to fall apart.”
This is a great springtime pasta bake. Even in the lighter, warmer months of the year, the kitchen is still a source of comfort food. This is a dish for filling that important place. Just pull the pasta out of the oven and place in the center of the table. It’s got springtime vibes galore but also feels so homey and familiar.
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
Mashed potatoes are a cornerstone of so many homestyle meals, but just what kind to make? Smooth or lumpy, classic or with a twist … the variations are almost endless. Ina Garten’s unique take on the classic dish is flavored with plenty of Parmesan cheese and tangy sour cream. They owe their satisfying texture to the addition of red potato skins and silky half-and-half.
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
Hearty and comforting, this recipe can be pulled together with ingredients that are usually already on hand. It’s also a family-friendly dish that has all the beefy, cheesy flavor of a burger with the warming goodness of pasta. The flavor foundation of fresh veggies and a pinch of sweet paprika add a touch of sophistication to this nostalgic childhood favorite.
Courtesy Valerie Bertinelli
Celebrate the flavors of spring with this light and zesty pasta dish. Bright lemon, rich cream, fresh herbs and fragrant aromatics take plain spaghetti from bland to brilliant! It’s quick and easy to throw together and bursting with fresh flavors.
Dylan’s family loves these chocolate chip cookies. “I am very persnickety about chocolate chip cookies,” she says. “I’ve been adjusting this recipe for years. I finally figured out the perfect combination of ingredients for a chewy and fluffy cookie with just the right flavor that my family loves. Clearly Calvin loves the dough as much as the cookie!”
TODAY Illustration / Erica Chayes Wida
This chocolate-peanut butter cake is incredibly decadent and irresistible to any peanut butter cup fan. The combination of smooth peanut butter and rich chocolate make this five-ingredient dessert a stunner. No one would ever guess this indulgent, richly flavored cake uses boxed mix!
These blondies are perfect for enjoying while having fun in the sun — and everywhere else! They’re sweet and satisfying, but with a lighter feel than traditional chocolate brownies. They are super easy, super delicious and great for taking on the go.
The Pioneer Woman finally reveals her long-held secret to the best chocolate cake: “As a middle-aged woman of the world, it is no secret to me that you can doctor up boxed cake mix to create a heavenly dessert,” she says. “This trend took hold in the nineties and it gave masses of people permission to forgo the measuring and mess of a from-scratch cake. But just in case your generation hid this eternal cake mix truth from you your whole life, I’m here to lift the veil. This is an incredibly simple way to ease into the cake-mix era in your life: a rich, very chocolaty cake that’s such a cinch to make, it might become your go-to birthday cake request.”
This is a perfect recipe for summer entertaining, as it celebrates the bounty of the season but is also so easy to prepare. It can be made with any kind of chopped fruit and different varieties of sugar. Don’t forget to serve it with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. The sensation of the cold ice cream mingling with the warm, crisp crumble is out-of-this-world amazing.
Courtesy Joy Bauer
Make fudge with just two ingredients: chocolate and dates. It’s a soak, melt and blend situation. Semi-sweet chocolate chips make for a sweeter fudgy experience, but if dark chocolate is preferred, use chips with a higher percentage of cacao (60-70%). Choose to be a purist and leave the treat plain or add extra flair by incorporating all sorts of goodies to the batter — from roasted, chopped nuts (walnuts, peanuts, pecans) to swirled nut butter to shredded coconut.
Courtesy Hetty McKinnon
The use of this yeasty, salty condiment in a brownie is surprising, but it brings a complex depth of flavor to this classic sweet treat. The soy sauce amplifies the chocolaty flavors, bringing a rich caramel glow. The taste very much resembles salted caramel. This brownie is gluten-free, by way of nutty almond meal and a gluten-free soy sauce.