Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2010. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2010 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from ingredients to bakeries. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. All of the items here get my strongest recommendation.

Favorite Local Farmer's Market: Yes, maybe this choice is a bit biased but the Stoneham Farmers Market greatly improved from the previous year (which was its first year).  They moved to a larger and more public space, the Town Commons, adding numerous vendors.  On many Tuesday afternoons, I would stop by the market to get fresh bread, cheese, local produce and more.  Next year, the market should get even better.

Runner-Up Local Farmer's Market: Though it may be a bit of a drive for those in the Boston area, the Newburyport Farmer's Market is worth the ride.  With about 25 vendors or so, there is a great variety of foods available, including some delicious meats, pastas and baked goods. There are even chairs and tables where you can sit, and enjoy some of the food from the market.     

Favorite Local Butcher: Though I still have not written in depth about it, which will happen this January, the Meat House is a winner.  Though it is a franchise of butcher shops, currently in about eight states, it has the feel of a local butcher shop.  The Arlington shop has a large selection of meats, including grass-fed beef and exotic meats, but also stocks many other food items.  It is a one-stop destination for all you need to prepare a delicious meal.  Service is very good, and they will provide you helpful advice on selecting and preparing meats.

Favorite Local Bakery: For the second year in a row, Swiss Bäkers is my top choice.  They produce a wide assortment of delicious Swiss products, adding new ones all the time. Their baking philosophy is simple and compelling: Authentic, fresh, and natural.  Croissants, preztels, breads, Berliners, Linzer cookies, Leckerli and much more.  They are also set for future expansion, with potentially a bakery and cafe set for Allston and maybe even food trucks.

Favorite Candy: Who would have thought that a wine store, the Beacon Hill Wine and Gourmet in Melrose, would carry my new favorite candy?  They brought in several South African food products, including Walters Handmade Honey Nougat.  The Nougat was very impressive, like a thick marshmallow in consistency and with a distinctive honey flavor, the sweetness restrained and pleasing.  Plus, it is artisan made, from natural ingredients, and comes in different flavors including Macadamia, Almond and Pecan Nut. Nougat never tasted so delicious.

Favorite Chocolate Shop: I was disappointed when Chocolee Chocolates closed, but that changed when they finally reopened on Dartmouth Street.  Though only open for four days each week, they still produce some of the best chocolates and chocolate-desserts in Boston.  Their Salted Caramels are heavenly, with a soft, gooey caramel center. Plus, who can resist their chocolate-filled Beignets? 

Favorite Chips: I never expected famed Chef Ming Tsai to be behind my new favorite chips, the Blue Ginger Multi-Grain Brown Rice Chips (Black Sesame and Sea Salt flavor).  They are light, crisp, tasty and very addictive. They might sound like something healthy (which they are), but devoid of taste, but they will surprise you with all their flavor.  Eat them as is, or use them with dips or cheeses.

Favorite Corn Bread:  Corn bread is one of my favorite foods, yet it is hard to find really good cornbread.  Too often, it is too dry or overly sweet.  But All Star Sandwich Bar in Inman Square makes a perfect one, just the right balance of proper moistness, a touch of sweetness, and a wonderful corn flavor. I would go there just for hot cornbread, smothered with butter.

Hot New Ingredient: For 2011, one of the hot new ingredients may be Kasu, which consists of sake lees.  It is a versatile ingredient, used for pickling, as a marinade or added during cooking to add flavor. It also enhances the umami flavor in foods. U.S. chefs are just starting to work with kasu, and it could be poised for a major surge.

Favorite Cookies: Angels Nougat Biscuits are another entry from South Africa, and also available at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet.  These are shortbread biscuits, made with real butter, and contain crisp nougat chunks and nuts. The small cookies are big on flavor, with a strong buttery flavor, and the nougat adds an intriguing taste and texture to the cookie. 

Favorite Frozen Food: Do you like lobster but cannot get it locally? Well, the Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company in Maine sells a variety of frozen seafood foods, including their Lobster Ciabatta. The sandwich consists of Maine lobster claw and knuckle meat with lemon herb butter in a hearty ciabatta roll.  I was skeptical at first, but really enjoyed the sandwich and if you were not aware, you might think it was a homemade sandwich. It is a bit pricey, but then again it is lobster.

Favorite Food-Related Bookstore: For the second year in a row, Rabelais, a compelling food and wine book store in Portland, Maine, remains a favorite. But, this year it must share the love with Omnivore Books, in San Francisco.  Similar in many respects to Rabelais, Omnivore Books is a fascinating food and beverage bookstore, which enthralled me on my visit to San Francisco.  You'll find both new, used and collectible books, and they often run special events. Plus, they ship all over the country, making it easy even if you cannot make it out to California.

Favorite New Food Magazine: I love perusing the magazine racks at local book stores, as you never know what new magazine you might find, such as Cooking Wild. This new magazine covers cooking from the perspective of hunters, fishermen, and foregers, and provides a fascinating insight into wild game.  Each issue has well written articles, beautiful photography and about twenty recipes.  With local butcher shops now offering exotic meats, the recipes in this magazine can be very useful, even if you do not hunt or fish. 

Favorite Food Magazine: Last year, this was my favorite new magazine and it still remains a favorite. Culture: The Word on Cheese is an amazing magazine, all about the world of cheese. The articles are fascinating, cover diverse topics and are supported by compelling photography. I eagerly await each new issue and I have written about several of the prior issues, including #2, #3 and #4.  If you love cheese, then you must read this magazine.  

Favorite Food Manga: U.S. comic books are mainly about superheroes but Japanese ones, called manga, cover a much wider range of subjects, including food and wine. The Manga Cookbook is surprising good, and very useful.  Both novice and experienced cooks will find this cookbook useful to learn about Japanese cuisine. Despite the cartoon images, this is a serious and unique cookbook with plenty of interesting recipes, from Onigiri (rice balls) to Okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pizza). Highly recommended.

Favorite Cookbook:  The best cookbooks often have stories behind their recipes, and that does not always occur with celebrity cookbooks.  But Bobby Flay's Throwdown! is different, a cookbook based on the Food Network television series. You are not only provided with Bobby Flay's recipes, but you also get recipes from those he has challenged, as well as some background information on them.  The challenged represent some of the best chefs around the country so their recipes are compelling, and I found many that appealed to me.

(I must note that I don't yet have a copy of Joanne Chang's new cookbook, Flour: A Baker's Collection of Spectacular Recipes, but hope to remedy that soon.  I am a big fan of Flour Bakery and have heard only excellent things about her cookbook. So, if I do enjoy it, it would likely end up on my 2011 favorites lists.)

Favorite Eco-Conscious Food Book: What can a consumer do to be a more responsible and socially conscious shopper? Well, The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu is a very useful and practical resource to help consumers navigate the sometimes complicated issues revolving this matter. It is a fairly comprehensive guide, and offers plenty of excellent suggestions and advice. 

Favorite Food Lecture: The Oldways Preservation Trust, a Boston-based non-profit, food issues think tank put on a seminar on Yupiks, Kwik'pak Fisheries & Wild Yukon Salmon.  The seminar was fascinating, especially the presentation by a Harvard doctor on the Significant Health Benefits of fish. The information was eye-opening, and presented in a easily understood manner.  One of the best educational seminars I attended all year.  And I cannot fail to mention the delicious salmon we got to taste either.

Favorite Local Food Policy Failure: Brookline recently passed a resolution calling for local restaurants and markets to stop selling crated veal. Yet they admitted it would make little impact, as well as ignoring the larger issues at hand, such as the other animals which are cruelly raised. Brookline passed an easy resolution, without teeth, attempting to seem enlightened and caring yet failing. They had an opportunity to make a difference, but chose not to do so.

Favorite Cooking Class: I was fortunate to attend Myers+Chang Inaugural Cooking Class and it was both educational and lots of fun.  We learned to prepare three dishes, including papaya slaw, scallion pancakes and dumplings. Chef Matthew Barros was an excellent instructor, and even led us on a tour of Ming's Supermarket after the class. Plus, the class came with a Dim Sum lunch which is always a treat.  Myers+Chang is continuing to hold cooking classes and I highly recommend them.

Runner Up Cooking Class: Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro presented a fascinating cooking class and demonstration centered on clementinesTuna Tartare, Escarole Salad and Brazo Gitano.  All were delicious, especially paired with Spanish Txacoli, and Deborah was a passionate instructor.  

Favorite Charitable Food Event: I attended a number of charitable food events this past year, and all were worthy, but my favorite was the 2nd Annual Chefs for the Cure, in support of The Massachusetts Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fight and eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. Some great chefs presented plenty of tasty food, there were wines from Cleavage Creek Winery, and Alissa Bigelow put on a very amusing cooking demonstration.  Overall, a top notch event for a great cause.

Favorite Local Cooking Competition: There might be a little bias here as well, as I was one of the judges at Turner Fisheries Seafood Recipe Contest.  But, the contest was cool, where amateur cooks submitted seafood recipes and three finalists were then chosen.  Four judges, including myself, got to select the overall winner, whose recipe would be put on the restaurant's menu. That is certainly a great prize.  All three finalists were obviously passionate cooks, and it was enjoyable to be on the inside, as a judge, and get to sample all three dishes.  In the end, the Mussels squeaked out the wine.

Favorite New Local Food Blogger Site: The Boston Food Bloggers site is a new resource, collecting information on 200+ Massacusetts food and drink blogs.  The site is growing, adding new features all the time, and is a good starting point to learning about the local food and wine scene. 

New Food Short Story: This year, I wrote a new, food-related short story, called Feast For A Killer.  What would you do if an assassin showed up at your home while you were cooking?  The assassin is there to kill your husband, the man you love. Can your food save the day?  I hope you enjoy this story and would like your feedback.

For more food-related reviews and highlights, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything that I enjoyed in this summary post.

What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?


Rachel Blumenthal said...

Thanks for including! I'm looking forward to adding new features in the coming year!

Elina (Russian Bites) said...

Great summary! I added The Conscious Kitchen to my library list, looking into Myers + Chang cooking classes and can't wait to visit the new Chocolee shop (I was said to see them close as well... before even trying it, so now I'm excited that I still have a chance!) Here is to an awesome 2011!!!

Manga University said...

Thank you very much for naming "The Manga Cookbook" to your list! We're very honored!