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, 2013. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2013 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from donuts 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 third 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 entertains and educates, as well as providing much for reflection. If you love food and are not reading Lucky Peach, then shame on you.
Favorite New Food Magazine: A new quarterly magazine, the Modern Farmer is a fascinating look at the connections between us and the foods we eat. Farmers all over the world take center focus, and the articles are informative, thought provoking and and practical. I've read three of their issues so far and it has consistently offered much of value to any food lover. It is a more serious food magazine, but it isn't pretentious. Another must read.
Favorite Food Book: Written by a former vegan turned butcher, The Ethical Butcher, by Berlin Reed, is part memoir and philosophy, discussing butchery, meat eating, sustainability, seafood, and more. It is a fascinating tale with much to ponder, and never becomes preachy or dogmatic. If you are concerned about the food you eat, whether meat, seafood or vegetables, you should read this book.
Favorite Food Trade Event: For the third 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. Plus, the New England Food Show is held in the same venue, offering samples of food, drink and even alcohol. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and I wrote a dozen posts about the show this year. It also helped that I won the 3rd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest for my coverage. The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next IBSS in March 2014.
Favorite Seafood Show Pavilion: At the International Boston Seafood Show, numerous countries work together to promote their countries products, but none do a better job than the Japanese pavilion. From Tamago to Fried Oysters, from Dashi to Yellowtail, there are plenty of delectable samples, and they hold several cooking demonstrations as well. The people are personable and pleasant, enhancing your visit to their pavilion. I look forward to visiting it again at next year's seafood show.
Favorite Food Contest: This year, 18 restaurants participated in the East Cambridge Rib Fest, and I was once again fortunate to be one of the judges. I got to taste all of the various ribs, a diverse mix of beef, lamb and pork ribs, both dry and wet, savory, sweet and spicy. The weather cooperated well and it was a fun and tasty event. It was a feast for carnivores, a primal meal of gnawing cooked flesh off bones. Yes, that was bliss. And kudos to all of the winners.
Favorite Cooking Class: This summer I learned how to prepare Risotto at Lucia Ristorante in Winchester. The restaurant runs a cooking series, with different classes every month or so, and as I love risotto, I figured it would be cool to learn how to make it. Owner Donato Frattaroli and Executive Chef Pino Maffeo were excellent instructors, and the class was very hands-on. I've been to other classes which were more observational, but everyone in the class contributed to preparing three risottos and arancini. The class ended with a dinner of our risottos and I later put my new found skills to work at home, and the results came out well.
Favorite Winter Food Market: The Wayland Winter Farmer's Market, with about 40 vendors, offers plenty for winter shoppers, especially on their various event days, like MA Wineries Day. Produces to local meats, cheeses to sauces, there is a nice diversity of items available. And the pizza food truck, located outside the market, was an extra bonus, making a tasty wood-fired pizza. I look forward to visiting the market again very soon.
Favorite Food Market, New Hampshire: Though the Tuscan Market in Salem, NH, opened in later 2012, I didn't visit it until early 2013 (except for a media tour in September 2012 before it opened). The artisanal market lived up to its potential, creating a wonderful one-stop shopping place for all things Italian, as well as meats, produce, cheeses, breads, wine and much more. I love their fresh breads, homemade pastas and sauces, and their cafe puts out some tasty foods. This is a compelling culinary destination and I highly recommend it.
Favorite Food Market, Montreal: Just over the border, the Jean-Talon Market is quite a large market, surrounded by a number of food/drink related brick & mortar shops. A great cheese shop, a nice wine store, fresh breads, lots of snacks to eat, and so much more. It is a must stop in Montreal, and you'll probably load up your car with food for the trip home. This market is a happy place.
Favorite Sustainable Seafood Treat: As unagi, eel, is endangered, then the Alaska Sablefish Unagi Style can make for a good replacement. Made from wild Alaskan sablefish, with an unagi marinade, it is precooked and ready to heat and serve. It shares some of the texture of the unagi, which is important, and a bit of the taste. It may not be a perfect replication of unagi, but because it is so tasty, and has a similar texture, I think this works well.
Favorite Sustainable Caviar: With certain types of caviar being endangered too, there are a number of replacement options sprouting up. The Northern Divine Caviar, from British Columbia, is the first certified organic caviar in North America, from thirteen year old White Sturgeons. Currently, they are sold mostly in Canada, though you can find it in the U.S. and they are seeking more distributors. It is pricey, at about $88 for 30 grams, but then caviar has never been an inexpensive luxury. The taste is exquisite, smooth, briny and buttery without any fishy aftertaste. Well worth the splurge.
Favorite Frozen Soup: Mandy's Seafood Chowder is a lobster bisque filled with shrimp, scallops, clams and fish. Most of the seafood is local except the shrimp is wild caught from Key West and sometimes they use Alaskan pollock. It is all natural, gluten free and uses sustainable seafood. It has an appealing taste with a nice creaminess without being too thick. It was well spiced and it would be excellent for a winter dinner.
Favorite New Pizza: The Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza, a pizza food truck, is a cool idea and they offer some interesting pizza choices, or you can compose your own, all priced about $8-$12. Get a Breakfast pizza (cheese, bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, Egg Beaters) or the Beetza (pesto, winter moon root beets, caramelized red onions, black olives and Gorgonzola cheese). The Vesta (red sauce, bacon, chicken, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese) was tasty, with a nice, crisp crust, plenty of toppings and lots of cheese. I was very satisfied.
Favorite Sandwich: While drinking bourbon, BBQ pork is a great accompaniment, and I enjoyed that pairing at a Four Roses event at jm Curley, with their BBQ Pork Sandwich. It usually comes with cheddar, griddled onions, slaw, jamama sauce, and bacon atop local sour dough though I chose to have it a bit simpler, with only cheddar and bacon. This was a hearty and savory sandwich, with plenty of tender pork, slathered in an appealing, well-spiced sauce, complemented by the sharpness of the cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The grilled sour dough also added to the tastiness of the sandwich. Hearty comfort food, and great with bourbon.
Favorite Poutine: My friend Adam, of Wine Zag, never had poutine before, so when we journeyed to Quebec, I knew he needed to try it. At a little roadside restaurant, we ordered some poutine, and ate it while looking over the St. Lawrence River. Adam enjoyed these gravy laden fries, topped by cheese curds, and it filled our bellies for the day of wine tasting ahead. The poutine was good, but was greatly enhanced by the experience, of sharing a food discovery with a good friend.
Favorite Cinnamon Roll: Wow! And Wow! In Portland, Oregon, Sugar Mama's Cafe is a small, casual restaurant which makes most of their dishes from scratch. On Fridays, they make cinnamon rolls and they are simply superb, probably the best I have had at any restaurant. They were well balanced, with great flavor, texture and quality. I couldn't stop raving about them and if you visit Portland, you have to make sure you get some.
Favorite Donut: I've had the famous Voodoo Doughnut Maple-Bacon donut but it can't compare to the Cafe Dulce's Bacon Donut. Located in Japantown in Los Angeles, the cafe makes a yeast donut, topped by a sweet glaze and plenty of bacon crumbles. A perfect combination of sweet and salty, atop a soft, fresh donut. Very addictive and with lots of bacon flavor. I stumbled upon this find and will definitely return the next time I am in the area.
Favorite Local Donuts: Forget the chain donut shops, they can't compare with the independents. This year though, at a jm Curley's Pop Up donut event, I had several delicious and innovative donuts, from a Coconut palm sugar glazed to an Apple cider bacon, from a Mai Tai to a Mexican hot chocolate. Freshly made, they put to shame chain donuts, and I hope they have more donut popups in 2014. We don't need any more cupcake stores but we could use more artisan donut shops.
Favorite New Frozen Food: Though it is generally best to get fresh baked goods, there are times a frozen product can satisfy your cravings. Brazi Bites, a Brazilian cheese bread, come in three different flavors, including bacon, and you just have to pop them in the oven. Great texture, lots of cheesy taste, and the flavored types satisfy. They are an addictive treat and hopefully will be available locally in Spring 2014.
Favorite Frozen Seafood: Lobster Anywhere will ship frozen seafood to anywhere in the U.S., so that even someone in California can enjoy a Maine lobster. They sell a plethora of products, from lobster tails to clam chowder, and their prices are competitive with other online seafood purveyors. The seafood is all easy to prepare, tasty, and will seem as if it were fresh. If you have a hankering for lobster, you can always have it delivered.
Favorite New Ice Cream/Gelato Shop: Located in North Andover, the Pazzo Gelato Cafe sells about 20+ flavors of gelato and sorbets, including nut free, gluten free and dairy free options. The products are generally made fresh every day, and local ingredients are used when possible. Nearly every flavor I tasted possessed a bright, fresh and natural taste. The fruit sorbets tasted like fresh fruit, and not some artificial flavorings. They also sell paninis, baked goods and more.
Favorite Restaurant Dessert: I almost didn't order it but am very glad that I did. At the new Bonefish Grill, in Burlington, their Macadamia Nut Brownie includes a flourless brownie, topped with raspberry sauce, home-made whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and sprinkled with macadamia nuts. It is large enough for two people to share, though you might be tempted to eat it all by yourself. The brownie is moist and rich, with lots of fudgy flavor, and the raspberry sauce is mild, accenting the brownie without overpowering it. The whipped cream and ice cream enhance the dessert, and the nuts add both flavor and texture.
Favorite Candy: In Montreal's Chinatown, I found a stall selling Dragon Beard Candy, allegedly once reserved for only the Emperor. It is essentially strands of sugar surrounding a mixture of nuts, sesame seeds, coconut, chocolate, and sugar. The candy is made by hand, where a disk of corn starch and sugar is pulled continually until you get many thin strands. When completed, the candy resembles an insect cocoon and has some of the stickiness and texture of cotton candy. The inner mixture is very pleasant, a melange of sweet flavors and textures.
Favorite Meat Snack: Slant Shack Jerky uses only grass fed beef, from farmers in Vermont and New York, and it comes in a variety of flavors, such as Dried & True and Hot & Smoky. You can even custom order your own flavors, choosing a marinade, rub and/or glaze. I was impressed with the flavors of the jerky, as well as its texture which wasn't too tough or chewy. The Jerk McGurk's Wild Rubdown, which has ginger, garlic, brown sugar, cayenne and paprika was my favorite of their flavors.
Favorite Healthy Snack: When I saw a sign for Certified Vegan & Wheat Free Superfood Bars, I almost walked by but decided to give it a chance. The BudiBars are intended to be healthy, and good for allergies, but without a sacrifice of taste. The Zen BudiBar is made from 80% Dark Chocolate and is nut & dairy free. It tastes sweet and nutty, with a nice chocolate taste and intriguing spice notes. It doesn't taste healthy at all. The Namaste BudiBar is also made from 80% Dark Chocolate, is dairy free but contain nuts, almonds. Like Zen, this bar was sweet and nutty, with plenty of chocolate taste and enjoyable almond pieces. And once again, it doesn't taste healthy. Everyone is going to enjoy these bars.
Favorite Restaurant Faux Pas: It is a physical disability that often is ignored, yet it can have a real impact on customers. I'm talking about color blindness, which afflicts about 7% of the male population. In Rant: A Conveyor Belt Of No Respect, I discussed my visit to Enso Sushi, a new kaiten-zushi restaurant where sushi glides through the dining room on a conveyor belt. Each plate is color coded to a specific price so that when your meal is over, the server can easily determine your bill through counting the colored plates in front of you. However, if you are color blind, you might have difficulty determining the price of some plates. That can be a real pain. Restaurants need to consider colorblindness when designing certain elements.
Favorite Food Expose: Though it displeased some, my Rant: Brandt Beef, Is It "True Natural" touched on some important issues that apparently have not been given much attention. Though Brandt Beef is certainly delicious, I don't believe they should call themselves the "true natural" especially when their cows are fed GMO corn. You won't find that fact on their website, or in most other articles, but the fact came directly from Eric Brandt. With all the furor and controversy over GMO food, transparency calls for this fact to be made known, so consumers can be best informed. Restaurants need to understand all of the facts about Brandt Beef.
Favorite Food Issue: 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. Here are essentially all of my seafood sustainability posts this year:
Seafood Prices & Fate of Local Fishermen
Buy American Seafood: Four Excellent Choices
Rant: Cook More Seafood, Especially Local
Rant: Should We Take Fish Lessons From Maine?
U.S. Aquaculture Advocacy
Eat More U.S. Seafood: The Gulf Coast
Perceptions of Seafood Sustainability
Rant: Stop Worrying, Seafood Is Safe
Rant: Wake Up Japan, Bluefin Are In Danger
Verlasso Salmon: An Update
Verlasso Salmon: A Seafood Watch "Good Alternative"
Favorite Fake Food Controversy: In this age of social media, when April Fool's Day comes around, it seems everyone is aware of it so it is difficult to get away with a prank. It takes lots of planning and strategy to be able too fool people on this day. This year, I posted a prank, my Rant: Destroying A Chef's Reputation?, which was able to fool some people. It helped that I laid some groundwork earlier in the week, posting some teasers and hypothetical questions. It will be tough to get away with another prank in 2014, but I'll try again.
What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?