What's up, 2-oh-oh-8! Time to look back over the year in food. So many good memories, so many good tastes. The year started, as many new years begin, with a diet plan that helped me lose about 15 lbs. It was a pretty strict plan and required a lot of work preparing all my own food or being that super-annoying person at the restaurant with a list of special requests. But it felt very healthy and helped me learn several things:
Top Six (yes, six,) Diet Epiphanies for 2008:
1. I CAN drink coffee without milk and sugar. (gasp!)
2. Trader Joe's is an excellent source for expensive but healthy products like 100% unsweetened cranberry juice, flax oil, frozen berries, stevia, protein powder, etc...
3. Zucchini "pasta" & lamb burgers
4. Freedom from a 20-year salt addiction (ok, freedom is a strong word - now I'm less addicted)
5. Drinking enough fluids = peeing every 25 minutes
6. Eating right means no afternoon sleepy slump at work.
I slowly phased out of my diet by adding in more carbs and dairy and stuff. Which allowed me to eat my favorite things again like pho, kao soy, bread, popcorn, tamales, cheese and pasta. Most importantly, I could have dinner with friends or at restaurants again without offending anyone.
2008 was also the year that I entered the competitive cooking circuit. It actually started in 2007 with the Brooklyn Kitchen's 1st anniversary party. In 2008 I competed in the following:
1. Chili Takedown - earned a "Certificate of Participation" stating that I did "A Pretty Good Job"
2. Brooklyn Kitchen's 2nd Anniversary Party & Ramen Cook-Off - 2nd Place from the judges, and 1st place of People's Choice!
3. Casserole Crazy! - made fideos & chorizo casserole (called A Casserole You Can Believe In,) deemed too wine-y by the judges. They were right, but it was still delicious!
4. Cookie Takedown - came in with the 3rd highest number of votes for my Hazelnut Love Bites, but only one prize was awarded. Still, after trying a ton of cookies, I think we were all winners.
5. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Recipe contest - made Butternut Squash and Pomegranate Ravioli with Browned Butter sauce. I think it came out great, finalists to be announced mid-January.
For me, the thrill of food and cooking comes at the intersection of art and science. The possibilities are endless and I get excited when I taste a new dish or learn about new ingredients or tools or cooking techniques. There is so much to learn and try that I can't imagine ever running out of new things. I have so many great discoveries for 2008 that I can't list them all. Some highlights include La Superior, Korean pomegranate soda, Nanny Rolls, supper clubs, Prune, Brooklyn Based, Produce Stories, Wafels & Dinges and the aforementioned cooking competitions. So to narrow down my top ten list for 2008, I will limit myself to only edibles:
10. Sweet potato fries - I've never really liked holiday sweet potatoes or squash, but oven baked sweet potato fries are delicious. Peel, slice, toss with olive oil and spices and bake at high heat in the oven. I use cumin, garlic, cayenne, coriander and salt.
9. Zucchini Pasta - yes, I mentioned this above as well. I discovered it during my diet but it's so delicious any time. You peel the zucchini and then using the peeler on the white part, make long strips until you get to the seeds. Blanch the strips in boiling water for about 2 minutes and toss with sauce. So much lighter than pasta.
8. Arepitas - I stayed out of the kitchen and let my friends make these - sort of a thick fried corn disk with beans, meat, pico de gallo and Mexican cheese on top.
7. Trader Joe's Mirepoix - it's a convenience that I use for my quick and satisfying home made chicken soup. Chopped carrots, onions and celery in a neat package that I can toss right into the pot along with stock, a chicken piece or two, some garlic & ginger and some diced tomatoes. If I have corn or other veggies, they go in, too. Salt & pepper and maybe some fresh thyme or parsley and voila! Hearty, comforting, easy chicken soup.
6. Nunu Salted Caramels - wow. Sweet. Salty. Yum.
5. Cilantro Chutney a.k.a. "my new favorite condiment" - got this at Kalustyan's and it's so delicious. I bet it would be easy to make at home... I sense a recipe coming.
4. Beef Tongue Taco - from La Superior. I've never had it before and it was so tender and flavorful.
3. Soup Dumplings - how is it possible that I have never had these until now? How can I get all those wasted years back? It's a steamed dumpling with broth inside as well as a lovely meaty filling. I think the broth is chilled until it gels and then scooped in with the filling when the dumplings are formed. I just got a bamboo steamer for Christmas so I'm going to have to make these at home.
2. Ginger Gold apples - these must be an east coast thing because I don't remember them in Seattle. So crisp and sweet yet tart and firm and juicy. Check your local farmer's market in the summer. They start earlier than other apples.
1. Bacon Chocolate - yet another way to love bacon. You'll want to marry it.
So there it is. The year in review. I'll be starting 2009 the way I have for the last 8 years: with a pot of chili and a few friends. I think this year there might even be homemade tamales. Stay tuned.