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.
Ok, so I'm a little late on this one, but check out local butcher Tom Mylan's mention in New York Magazine as one of their Reasons to Love New York 2008: link
Last weekend I was a cookie making fool! I made a double batch of pastry chef Betsy Balog's famous Nutella-stuffed hazelnut & chocolate shortbread cookie sandwiches. Why did I do this? Why, for Matt Timms, of course! Matt is the man behind the recent spate of Takedowns you may have seen featured on this blog. This is the second I've competed in and the third I've attended. The Takedowns are historically chili related, or more recently, fondue-featuring. Just in time for the holidays, Matt introduced the cookie theme. Many chefs set themselves to the task at hand, and many cookie enthusiasts showed up at the Soft Spot Bar in Williamsburg to taste, drink and judge away.
The competition was fierce! There were at least 3 versions of the classic chocolate chip (the best was made with a secret ingredient: mint!) There were spice, ginger and molasses cookies, a "roll in the snow" cookie that was darn good and confectioner's sugar-messy, black & whites, brownie cookies, vegan peanut butter cookies and many more. I couldn't taste them all. Sorry, Matt, I really tried. A girl can only take so much sweetness. Speaking of sweetness, there were a bevy of cute boys at this event. Meow!
After being urged to taste and taste and taste and finally vote, Matt gets down to the business of telling everyone who didn't win what losers they are:
My Hazelnut Love Bites scored a reputable 8 votes, but then the mint-chocolate chip cookies pipped me with 9 votes. Unfortunately for both of us, the winner blew us away with a whopping 16 votes for her Christmas Bark - and it's not even a cookie!! I didn't care though - mostly because I was in a sugar-induced frenzy, but also because I was just plain having fun. Here's the lovely winner of a $20 bar tab & whatever else might be in the fancy bag, although I'm pretty sure it's just tissue paper:
Here's the recipe for my Hazelnut Love Bites, which can also be punctuated as Hazelnut, Love Bites. Depends on your state of mind.
1 cup all purpose flour
Scant cup whole wheat flour
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped and sifted (to remove dusty bits)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped and sifted (same)
-Whisk together the flours in a medium bowl, set aside.
-Beat butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla with mixer until smooth and creamy but not fluffy, about 1 minute.
-Add hazelnuts and chocolate, mix well.
-Add flours, mix until just blended.
-Lightly knead dough. Divide in half and flatten into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
-Roll out dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to about an 1/8 in. thick (maybe between an 1/8 and 1/4 in., not too thin, not too thick). Chill on a sheet pan in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
-Remove plastic wrap. Cut chilled dough into desired shapes (dip cookie cutter in flour when necessary) and bake on two parchment lined sheet pans until light golden around the edges, about 12-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking.
-Cool completely. Fill with Nutella, press together lightly.
A friend made me dinner using this canned Italian tuna belly that his mother brought him from Italy. He made a simple red sauce with the tuna which we had over perfectly cooked penne. So simple, so delicious. I'm crossing my fingers that he brings me this or another food treat when he comes back from his Christmas visit in January.