2020 Monthly Cooking Themes!

Oops, I forgot to post anything for the last 6 months. But I’m back, with a summary of 2019 and some grand kitchen plans for 2020! And my first two creations for January’s theme.

2019 was the second year I completed Monthly Cooking Themes, based on an ingredient, cooking method, or international cuisine. I find that it’s a great way to organize all of the ideas I have saved on Pinterest, try new recipes, and have less waste of ingredients that may be used throughout the theme. My weekly menu plan usually includes a mix of new recipes and old favorites, and the theme helps me fill in that menu if I’m stuck in a rut.

2019 THEMES:

  • January – soup
  • February – cheese
  • March – Irish
  • April – booze infused
  • May – Mexican
  • June – Mediterranean – 2nd place for Shaun
  • July – salads
  • August – grilling
  • September – sandwiches – HOUSEHOLD FAVORITE THEME!
  • October – pizza – 2nd place for Christine
  • November – breakfast
  • December – healthy


  • Shaun – gyros (June), street cart chicken & rice (June), chicken & waffles (Nov), tortas (May)
  • Christine – broccoli pizza (Oct), gyros (June), fried chicken sandwich (Sept), Spanish roasted chicken salad (July)


  • Shaun – pickle soup (Jan), pastitsio (June)
  • Christine – pickle pizza (Oct), gyros (June), chicken & waffles (Nov)


  1. Limit # of meals to 10 per month (or less). In July, I made 21 different salads!!! Of any month, this is most feasible because I made single servings quite often. However, 10 seems like just a enough, to have a balance with our normal favorites, going out to eat, and just being busy. It also helps us rank more easily!
  2. Align as many recipes as possible to my new cookbooks from Half Baked Harvest. There are two cookbooks, plus new recipes online regularly. I have never been so excited for new cookbooks (with the exception of everything from Sally’s Baking Addiction – I want to bake all the things!). There’s a few others I use pretty regularly, but I want to make as many of the recipes as possible from these books, aligned to my theme. I’ll also use old favorites and trusty other cookbooks as well.
  3. New themes!!! I have at least 4 new themes for this year, and a few I’m bringing back from 2018.
  4. Ranking – I’ll be ranking recipes. I wanted to keep it pretty simple. 1 star – don’t make again. 2 stars – needs some tweaks. 3 stars – delicious, make again! 3+ is allowed. 4 stars – top notch, alert the media, amazing, to be used very sparingly.
These cookbooks are amazing. You’re going to want to buy them!

I plan to continue Sally’s Baking Challenge each month. Every month, a new baking challenge is posted. I’ve been able to tackle baked goods I’ve never made before, thanks to Sally’s clear & detailed instructions. Every recipe is easy to approach, and ALWAYS delicious. The last 2 years I’ve completed all 12 challenges and I can’t wait to bake more!

I’m kicking off 2020 with soup month! This quote from Laurie Colwin (food writer from Gourmet magazine) says it all, “To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.”

First up, chili! Last January, I shared my chili recipe. I made a half recipe in my dutch oven, and it made 10 generous servings. Last year I made enough to fill both my dutch oven and large crock pot. My favorite thing to do to chili? Add cream cheese! I like a creamy chili and the cream cheese helps make a velvety texture. Here’s the updated ingredients for one large pot! If you don’t have, or don’t like, some of the ingredients, leave them out. Do you prefer it with or without shredded cheese & sour cream?



  • 1 – 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 diced green pepper
  • 4 diced jalapenos
  • 2 stalks diced celery
  • 2 – 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 2 TBSP each: chili powder, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & ground pepper, to taste (I like lots of salt)
  • 8 oz tomato paste
  • 2 15 oz cans fiery diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 15 oz cans kidney beans, drained
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, drained
  • 12 – 16 oz dark beer or water
  • 4 oz – 8 oz cream cheese
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste


  1. Heat olive oil in large cast iron dutch oven.
  2. Add beef & sausage to brown. Season the meat with salt & pepper.
  3. Once the meat is browned, do not drain. Add all veggies (onion thru garlic) and saute until softened.
  4. Add the seasonings and stir well to coat all the of meat & veggies.
  5. Do the same with the tomato paste, coating everything in the pan.
  6. Then add all of the tomatoes and beans, along with the Tabasco sauce.
  7. Add a few ounces of the beer or water.
  8. Let the chili simmer uncovered, stirring often, and adding more beer if it becomes too thick. It can simmer on low 4 hours – the longer the better!
  9. Last, add the cream cheese and stir until melted and creamy.
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed – more salt & Tabasco!
  11. Serve topped with a blanket of shredded cheddar and a massive heap of sour cream.

Soup #2 was from Half Baked Harvest. The website has several versions of broccoli soup, but the second cookbook has a recipe that stood out to me. Broccoli cheddar soup, topped with seasoned pretzels. The pretzels add the perfect touch of crunch! To make this a heartier meal, I added some chicken breast to the bottom of the soup bowl before adding soup & pretzels.

Broccoli cheddar soup, on top of chicken, and topped with seasoned pretzels.

I’m making more than just soup from Half Baked Harvest this month! I’ve also made kale, artichoke & chorizo dip for New Year’s Eve, and Peanut Butter Crunch French toast for New Year’s Day breakfast. I have another recipe in the oven for tonight!

Two more soups coming next week, including debuting my new Instant Pot! What are some of your favorite soup recipes?

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