For many of us, it’s been almost a year since we’ve set foot in our favorite restaurants except to retrieve a carryout order. Although COVID-19 has changed the way Missourians are eating, the fact of course remains that we’ve still got to eat. With more time at home, people began getting creative in the kitchen, and the Missouri Life staff was no exception. A number of Missouri Life team members were bona fide gourmets before the pandemic hit, while others used time that would have been spent going out or traveling to develop new culinary muscles. With that in mind, we decided to showcase some of the best things we ate (and cooked) in 2020 here. Each dish was contributed by a different staff member, and each has a recipe for you to try out in your own kitchen.

Lemon Burst Crinkle Cookies

Corin Cesaric, Associate Editor

The pandemic made me, like many others, believe that I was a local Gordon Ramsay. In the span of about five months, I’m pretty positive that I cooked more than I have in my entire life. I perfected my grandma’s palacinke (croatian pancakes or crepes), gave chicken Parmesan a try, dabbled in cauliflower meals, and learned more than a few recipes from TikTok (for the record, I downloaded it as a joke only to find I love it). But my standout creation was a dessert: lemon burst crinkle cookies. I found the recipe on one of my all-time favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess, which was created by two sisters from Springfield. The site is full of do-it-yourself projects and drinks and meals to try, which was perfect while I was stuck at home. I love anything lemon, so with one glance, I knew I was going to try these out. After making the dough and letting it sit overnight, I rolled it into balls, rolled them in powdered sugar, and waited patiently while they cooked for about twelve minutes. They turned out so delicious, I made them twice in one week. Then again, and again. Imagine a slice of St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake with a tinge of lemon, but in cookie form! I never bake from scratch, but these were so easy that I recommend them to both home cooks and true chefs.


1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
1 egg
1 egg yolk
Lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, oil, and eggs, then zest all of the lemon peel and add it in. Next, squeeze all of the lemon juice into the bowl. You can add more juice if you’d like a stronger flavor.
Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
After the dough has been refrigerated, divide it into twelve balls with your hands and roll them in powdered sugar until completely coated. Place rolled dough on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12–14 minutes, then cool.

Amy Stapleton, Office Manager

Ramen, The Easy Way

This year, I learned how to make ramen using those cheapo noodles that I thought only starving college kids ate. They’re shockingly good. This dish is now in our regular repertoire of meals at my home. I started out with an assortment of grilled veggies (baby bella mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, and red onion). I prepared them the day before with another meal, and incorporated some leftover roasted chicken as well. Using leftover ingredients makes this a great dish for the end of the week, but learning to make garnishes like pickled onions for the topping also adds some culinary flair to your rotation. Although the recipe calls for two packages of noodles, you’ll only want to use one packet of the seasoning that comes with it, otherwise it’s just too salty.


Serves 2
1 egg, soft-boiled
2 cups baby bella mushrooms
1 zucchini, cut in half
1 yellow squash, cut in half
1 red onion, sliced
Meat of choice (if desired)
1 tablespoon butter
5 cups chicken stock
2 packages of ramen noodles
1 packet of ramen seasoning

For garnish:
Shredded carrot
Pickled red onion


Soft-boil an egg and saute or grill veggies to desired consistency (we recommend 5–7 minutes with olive oil, salt, and pepper for the squash, zucchini, and mushrooms, plus about 4 minutes or until beginning to soften for the onions). If you’d like meat in your ramen, prepare ahead of time and incorporate in step two.
Incorporate vegetables and cooked meat (if desired) in a pot with 1 tablespoon butter, until butter has melted.
Add chicken stock, two packages of chicken Top Ramen noodles with one packet of the seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 2–3 minutes.
Divide it into two bowls and top with pickled onions, edamame, shredded carrot, julienned fresh basil, and a soft-boiled egg cut in half.

Holly Kite, Creative Director

Summer Zucchini Salad

Being quarantined inspired me to create spaces at home that I enjoyed and could spend time in. The backyard became my haven. Growing flowers and planting a garden with my neighbor were the highlights of this past summer. When I needed a break from work, I would walk outside and observe the daily progression of each plant. When they were ready to pick, it was equally as thrilling and sometimes overwhelming, figuring out how to use our harvest. We pickled cucumbers, canned salsa to snack on throughout the year, and ate loads of fresh zucchini. This recipe is inspired by the fresh produce we used to create it and leaves the taste of summer lingering until dessert.


Serves 4
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly roasted
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Course sea salt and freshly ground
pepper, to taste


In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas, zucchini, basil, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, red onion, and garlic. Add grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts; toss gently until well combined. Season the zucchini salad with a pinch of red pepper flakes, coarse salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted pita or a crusty baguette and enjoy!

Creamy Chicken Pasta

Emily Hanneman, Editorial Assistant

I don’t like coconut milk. I haven’t actually tried coconut milk, but I don’t think I like it. There’s a reason Mounds candy bars were always the wheezing stragglers after Halloween, often limping into December.

Anyway, when I saw the recipe I’d been eyeing for vegan pasta called for coconut milk, my eyebrows shot to my hairline. But what could I do? Lo and behold, Google handed me a solution that might as well have been adorned with a glimmering bow. Greek yogurt! I could use Greek yogurt! So much for the pasta being vegan, I figured, and decided to add chicken as well.

Everything else was pretty straightforward: chickpea pasta, a blend of spices, a smattering of veggies. All of this would be thrown in my Instant Pot and left to do whatever magic the Instant Pot performs. There was just the obvious problem. As I found out from a culinary-minded friend, coconut milk and plain Greek yogurt do not have the same consistency.

In the end, I eyeballed how much Greek yogurt equaled 15 ounces, and then I added about a quarter-cup of water and mixed it in. I dumped this in the Instant Pot along with the other ingredients and, before I pressed pressure cook, had a moment of silence for these brave ingredients that were, no doubt, about to be absolutely mangled.

But much to my surprise, when those minutes expired and I tentatively scooped up a few noodles, it was delicious.

The pasta absorbed the broth until it took on a gravy-like consistency; the liquid was creamy, reminiscent of a less buttery alfredo. The chicken was cooked through and peppered with mouthwatering spice. The veggies were done, but not mushy. And the yogurt? It must have done whatever coconut milk was supposed to do.

And so, when I reflect on favorite meals I’ve made this year, this ranks high on the list. Because it’s not just a high protein, low fat dish that’s ridiculously easy to prepare and absurdly simple to throw together (which, as a grad student, I appreciated). It’s healthy without tasting healthy. And it marks a milestone in my culinary evolution: I did it. But I’m still not trying coconut milk.


Serves 4
3 cups vegetable broth
15 ounces Greek yogurt mixed with ¼ cup water
(or 1 15-ounce can full fat coconut milk)
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
8 ounces gluten-free chickpea pasta shells
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
½ pound Chicken Breast


Add all of the ingredients to your Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.
Put the lid on and make sure the vent valve is in the SEALING position.
Using the display panel select the MANUAL/PRESSURE COOK button, use the +/- buttons to set the pot for 4 minutes.
When the time is up, open the vent valve and quickly release the pressure.
Open pressure cooker, remove liner, and let it cool. The noodles will

absorb more water, and it will become thicker, like a gravy.

Although dining looked a lot different for most of 2020, pick-up and delivery, outdoor seating, and social distance allowed us to patronize some of our favorite Missouri restaurants.

El Oso, Columbia

After cooking so often for so long, I was craving food that was cooked by someone other than myself. This led me to trying El Oso in downtown Columbia for the first time in mid-summer. I kept hearing good things about it, and there was a nice open patio to sit at. Plus, takeout is always available. I opted for the tacos, and they did not disappoint. You can choose between Mexican tacos with corn tortillas, onions, and cilantro or American tacos with flour tortillas, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese. Onions AND corn tortillas? Sold. I obviously went with the Mexican tacos. Choose between pastor, chorizo, steak, chicken, carnitas, lengua, and barbacoa. So far, chicken and barbacoa are my favorites. I’m a bit skeptical on lengua (cow tongue), but who knows? I’m convinced this restaurant can make anything taste good. And the best part is, these delicious tacos are only $2.25 each. –Corin Cesaric

Vicia, St. Louis

Back in January last, before I’d incorporated cloth facemasks into my daily attire and the Coronavirus was a term I was only familiar with in passing, I got a chance to eat one of the best meals of my life at Vicia in St. Louis. Vicia is a vegetable-forward restaurant focused on creating dishes with ingredients sourced from within fifty miles. Headed by co-owners Michael Gallina and Tara Gallina, the kitchen turns out innovative dishes on a seasonal menu that the friendly, knowledgeable staff eagerly walk you through. In town for a meeting, I went to the restaurant along with some of my colleagues from Missouri Life, and we took advantage of the tasting menu, which included a stunning risotto and fusion tacos served on thin slices of kohlrabi instead of tortillas. It was an excellent experience made better by the knowledge that Vicia’s rotating menu meant we could only get it for a limited time. This serves the dual purpose of making me want to return as soon as possible to see what new dishes are coming out of the kitchen. Vicia is currently open for dine-in on their heated patio, as well as for carryout meals. –Evan Wood, Editor

Fernweh Distilling Co., Hermann

Technically, I didn’t order this meal in 2020. I ordered it less than five hours before January 1, 2020 but from my hazy memory, I think the clock struck midnight while I was finishing my leftovers. I was in Hermann for a somewhat mellow celebration, but if I knew what 2020 had in store, I probably would have forked over the cash for a plane ticket to Las Vegas instead. Early in the night, my boyfriend Jesse and I went to Fernweh Distilling Co. for dinner. We ordered the delicious made-from-scratch spinach artichoke dip for an appetizer, and I ordered the barbecue smoked brisket for my main course with hot German potato salad on the side. The brisket is available in four or eight ounces, and there are six different sauces from which to choose. Even though that was the very end of 2019 and the very beginning of 2020, it is still the best brisket I had all year long. It is smoked daily and melts in your mouth after every bite. Although this place is known for its drinks, the food menu is a draw in its own right. –Corin Cesaric

Photos by Holly Kite 

Article originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Missouri Life.