What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?
Let me continue my collection of lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2012. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2012 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from cheese to candy. 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.
This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more food-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.
Favorite Food Magazine: For the second year in a row, Lucky Peach easily prevails as my favorite. This quarterly magazine is eclectic and irreverent, with fascinating articles, essays, recipes, and more. I eagerly devour each issue when it is released and its quality has remained consistent. It entertain and educates, as well as providing much to ponder. Their recent Chinatown themed issue was very cool. If you love food and are not reading Lucky Peach, then shame on you.
Favorite Ethnic Cookbook: If you enjoy Chinese cuisine, then you should read Feeding The Dragon by Mary Kate Tate and Nate Tate. The book is a combination travelogue and cookbook, broken down into regions of China. Each regional section begins with interesting essays about that area and then provides about 10-15 recipes, spanning the range from appetizers to desserts, and including several beverages too. The book is a fascinating culinary survey of China with a sampling of recipes that provide some authenticity for home cooks. It is aesthetically pleasing, with numerous beautiful photos of not only the dishes, but also of the people, places and items of China. An excellent read.
Favorite Food Trade Event: For the second year in a row, I have selected the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. It is an engaging event and I wrote over a dozen posts about the show this year. It is a compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next IBSS in March 2013.
Favorite Cheese Shop: The Concord Cheese Shop has a huge and diverse selection of local, domestic and imported cheeses, including many small production and unique cheeses. Local cheeses are one of their specialties. In addition, they sell a good selection of wines and other gourmet foods. A one-stop store to stock up for any party. The staff is very helpful and it is in a good location, where you can also check out many other intriguing shops. Make it a day and visit Concord and the Cheese Shop.
Favorite Cheese Event: Each summer, the Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival is held at Shelburne Farms and I have attended many of their events, always enjoying myself. This year, the event showcased over 40 Vermont cheesemakers, with over 200 cheeses for sampling, a smorgasbord of dairy pleasures. There was a vast diversity of cheeses, from chèvre to blue cheese, from cheddar to mozzarella. Besides all these cheeses, there were other foods as well, from candy to croutons, breads to hot sauces. In addition, there were local wines, beers, ciders, spirits and other drinks. It does get crowded, but it is still well worth attending.
Favorite Cheese: I love cheese, in all of its forms, and it was not easy to select just one to be my top favorite for the year. However, I made my selection, the Grafton Village Cave Age Truffled Bismark. The Bismark, named for a legendary Vermont ram from the late 19th century, is a sheep's milk cheese that has been aged for at least three months. The Bismark has an intriguing taste; nutty and creamy with a delicious earthiness due to the addition of white and black truffles as well as some truffle oil. This would be a perfect cheese for an umami rich Sake, like a Kimoto or Yamahai. An amazing cheese with such a depth of flavor and complexity. Highly recommended.
Favorite Seafood Treat: Bacon? How about Salmon Bacon? Yes! I enjoyed two different salmon bacons, and they were significantly different. Though I liked both of them, my preference was for the MacKnight Salmon Bacon as it seemed more like bacon rather than just smoked salmon. It still had a salmon flavor, but was thinner and crisper and I would eagerly place it on any breakfast plate. It is even supposed to be healthier for you than pork bacon.
Favorite Pickled Food: It seems that almost any food can end up pickled and this year I was especially impressed with Pickled Willys seafood. They currently have four different types including Wild Ling Cod, Wild Sockeye Salmon, Alaskan King Crab Tail, and Halibut. They use only sustainable, wild Alaskan seafood and it is prepared with organic vinegar, cane sugar, and a blend of pickling spices. The end product is delicious, the fish still having a firm flesh and the light pickling enhances the taste. The salmon was my favorite though I enjoyed all of them.
Favorite Japanese Ingredients: At the International Boston Seafood Show, there was a Japanese pavilion, showcasing numerous food products. The Shinmarusyo Co. Ltd. produces dried bonito and also makes dashi, kind of a fish stock. Dashi is very important in Japanese cuisine, and is a common base for many dishes. Their dashi can be used to make a savory soup, which is rich in umami, that was subtle but complex flavors. In addition, they make a couple soy sauces, including the Shiro Dashi Soy Sauce, and Katuobushiya Dashi Soy Sauce. The Shiro is a light colored soy sauce with dashi and fermented seasonings. A nice depth of flavor and though like many other soy sauces in some respects, it also possessed its own exotic and unique nature. The Katuobushiya is made from dried bonito and Rishiri seaweed. It has a deeper flavor, more like regular soy sauce, but more intense and with a greater umami.
Favorite Mac n' Cheese: Though I had mixed feelings on some of their other dishes, I was impressed with the Mac & Five Cheese Gratin at GEM Restaurant & Lounge. Cooked perfectly, with a crispy top of buttered breadcrumbs and rich, cheesy noodles, this was the perfect comfort food, elevated to a high level. Nice levels of flavor, this bests many other mac n' cheese dishes you will find elsewhere. It is only a side dish, but you could easily make a meal out of it.
Favorite Frozen Food: Though it is generally best to get fresh baked goods, there are times a frozen product can satisfy your cravings. Gagne Foods, located in Maine, produces both fresh and frozen products, including sweet potato biscuits, cinnamon rolls, cream cheese biscuits and more. The sweet potato biscuits were fantastic and I enjoyed all of their products. The frozen biscuits are easy to cook and your guests might even believe they were fresh. Try the sweet potato biscuits and become a convert.
Favorite Local Ice Cream Shop: In West Concord, you will find Reasons To Be Cheerful, a dessert cafe that makes ice cream in small batches using a natural, hormone free, 14% butterfat ice cream mix from a local dairy. Their flavors vary from the common vanilla and chocolate chip to more unusual flavors like sweet azuki and ginger. They even make several ice creams using alcohol such as the Milk Chocolate Guinness and the Dark & Stormy. I found the various flavors to be rich, prominent, and well balanced so that you receive exactly the flavor you desired. The Dark & Stormy was one of my favorites.
Favorite Dessert Sauce: I have raved before about the goat's milk caramel sauces from Fat Toad Farm and this year I tasted a new flavor, their Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce. It lived up to my expectations, with a sweet, creamy flavor complemented by a salty element and the vanilla notes from the bourbon. Pure heaven. You must try their this sauce or any other of their caramel sauces.
Favorite Candy: Speaking of goat milk, Big Picture Farm is producing some compelling goat's milk caramels. I tasted two of their hand-made caramels, the Chai and Vanilla & Sea Salt. The Chai was spicy, with a nice cinnamon and nutmeg kick, and it was not overly sweet. My favorite though was the Vanilla & Sea Salt, just bursting with creamy flavor, prominent vanilla, that great salty contrast and just the right amount of sweetness. These are very addictive.
Favorite Fruit: Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta introduced me to a new fruit, lucuma. It is a Peruvian fruit which is also known as egg fruit because its flesh seems to resemble the texture of a hard boiled egg. Chef Duarte prepared a dessert using lucuma, a smooth and creamy pudding-like item that reminded me of a delicious butterscotch pudding. Peru is a country rich in exotic food products and I hope more of them make it to the U.S. if they all can be as delicious as lucuma.
Favorite Cupcakes: I am very picky about cupcakes, and am often disappointed by the myriad cupcake stores that have spread throughout the area. However, I found a bakery, Cakes For Occasions, which makes very satisfying cupcakes. Properly moist, the cupcakes are topped by a creamy and light frosting, and the flavors are compelling. These are cupcakes that have earned my recommendation. The bakery sells many other baked goods, such as delicious whoopie pies, cakes, cookies, pies and more. Check out the bakery, get some cupcakes and see what else tantalizes your taste buds.
Favorite Healthy Snack: Kind Healthy Snacks makes all natural whole nut & fruit bars, which have natural protein, fiber and 5 or less grams of sugar. They have plenty of different flavors, including a number with chocolate. My favorite was the Almond & Coconut, which contains almonds, dried coconut, honey, non-GMO glucose, puffed rice, chicory fiber, and soy lecithin. Plenty of delicious coconut flavor, a mild sweetness, nutty accents and a nice chewy texture. It didn't taste healthy and is going to please any dessert lover.
Favorite New Food Market: A short ride away, in Salem, New Hamphire, is the new Tuscan Market, a large artisanal market, which is a one-stop shopping spot for Italian food and ingredients, as well as other quality items. Many of the foods are prepared on premises while others are purchased locally or imported from Italy. Fresh baked breads, wines, cheese, produce, meats, seafood, desserts, prepared foods and much more. There is also a 65-seat café where you can grab a bite, from pizza to pasta. This is a compelling culinary destination and you should be shopping there.
Favorite Food Contest: My inner carnivore roared in approval at the East Cambridge Rib Fest, where over 20 restaurants prepared their own version of ribs. I was even more fortunate as I was one of the judges and got to taste nearly all of the various ribs. So many tasty dishes, including beef and pork ribs, both dry and wet, savory, sweet and spicy. There was live entertainment, local beers and the weather cooperated well. I can't wait to attend this event again next year and highly recommend everyone else go as well.
Favorite Food Controversy: Once again, one of the most important, and sometimes controversial, food issues I addressed this year was seafood sustainability. I have tried to cover a variety of issues, seeking to delve behind the science and rhetoric. The importance of this matter cannot be underestimated, but it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth behind the issues. Last year, the Legal Sea Foods blacklisted dinner made headlines but this year I followed up with Roger Berkowitz (see Part 1 and Part 2) to assess the dinner's impact and Legal's continued efforts. Some of my other posts addressing seafood sustainability include: Stop Eating Cod, Tuna & Salmon, A Sustainability Primer, Verlasso Farmed Salmon, State Of Fisheries Address, How A Restaurant Becomes Sustainable, Aquaculture & Cobia, Consumers Purchasing Sustainable Seafood, Can Bordeaux Save The Sharks?, Eat More Seafood Especially Local, and Bluefin Tuna Stocks Recovering?
My Biggest Personal Food Issue: Last January, I announced that I had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, which required some adjustments to my lifestyle, including more exercise and watching my diet. I have fortunately been successful and brought my blood sugars back to normal levels, also losing a significant amount of weight. It is a health issue that will require ongoing attention but it can be managed. Thanks to everyone who supported me in my efforts and I will continue to make this a priority in my life.
My Food Prediction For 2013: A few restaurants have been experimenting with seafood charcuterie this past year and I predict that it will become an even more popular and prevalent dish in 2013. Charcuterie has been huge, with many restaurants making their own sausages, chorizo, pates and more from a variety of meats. As chefs are often looking to innovate, I feel they will move from pork, beef, poultry and other meats toward seafood. The few examples I have tasted this past year have been delicious and I think seafood charcuterie has great potential.
What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?