Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: Favorite Food-Related Items

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, 2016. On Wednesday, I posted my list of my Favorite Restaurant Dishes of 2016 and yesterday, I posted my Favorite Restaurants & Top 50 list. Now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from culinary school to food events, seafood 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 Culinary School: Nothing else touched my heart this year as much as NECAT, a local culinary school which trains people from challenging backgrounds, from ex-convicts to recovering addicts, from the homeless to the chronically unemployed. NECAT fills the important need for culinary help while helping numerous people achieve a better life. It is such a worthy school and I want to raise its visibility, so that its good work can continue and even expand. I'll be talking more about NECAT in 2017 as it is a cause I believe in and which benefits our community in a number of ways.

Favorite Food Trade Event: For the sixth year in a row, I have selected the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) 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. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and I often write numerous articles about what I learn about there. The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next SENA in March 2017. Hope to see you there too.

Favorite Seafood Trend: There had been a slow decline in the amount of Seafood Consumption in the U.S., despite the USDA and other authorities stating people should consume about 26 pounds of seafood each year. Consuming seafood is a great way to reduce heart disease and prevent other medical issues too. In 2005, we saw a significant gain in seafood consumption, almost an entire pound, to 15.5 pounds. It is still much lower than it should be but it is positive progress and we can only hope that the trend continues and people continue eating more seafood.

Favorite Food Magazine: For the sixth 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, which usually has a specific theme, 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 Food Book: In Pastrami on Rye: The Rise & Fall of the Jewish Deli, Ted Merwin explores the history of the New York Jewish deli, from its origins to the present day. During this exploration, Merwin also mentions Jewish delis in other U.S. regions, including Boston, though the majority of the book centers on New York. It is a fascinating history of the New York deli and you'll find much of interest in its contents. I would have liked to see more information about some of the dishes served at the delis but hopefully Merwin will write a sequel to continue the compelling story he has begun.

Favorite Food Contest: For the second year in a row, the Battle of the Burger wins this category. It is was a fierce competition, presenting plenty of delicious and inventive burgers for tasting. And who doesn't love the opportunity to taste more than 20 different burgers? It is a full scale event, with music, wine and cocktails to complement all of the burgers. The event didn't get too crowded until later in the evening, giving me plenty of time to savor burger after burger. I recommend you check out this event next year.

Favorite Food Trend: It is only in its infancy in the Boston area, but I'm hoping it makes a significant impact. Nikkei cuisine, at its most basic, is "the cooking of the Japanese diaspora," and thus varies dependent on where the Japanese settled as they adjusted and modified their cuisine, using different local ingredients and cooking styles. Nikkei cuisine is prominent in Peru and this past year, there was a late night Nikkei menu at Tico, showcasing this cuisine and I loved what I tasted. This month, a new restaurant, RUKA, just opened and it too offers Nikkei cuisine. I haven't been there yet but the menu looks promising and I will be visiting it in the near future. Let us hope more Nikkei cuisine comes to Boston too.

Favorite New Farm: I was thoroughly impressed with Little Leaf Farms, a hydroponic lettuce farm in Shirley. and wrote a series of three article about it, including Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. The lettuce  is local, yields are high, and it tastes delicious. As most lettuce comes from California and Arizona, it is great to have a local option, including one where almost no human hands touches the lettuce. This is the future of lettuce and you need to check out their products at your local supermarket. Little Leaf hopes to expand in the near future and that would help increase production and let more local people enjoy this local, sustainable product.

Favorite Cheese Shop: When it comes to cheese, the suburbs reign supreme once again with the Concord Cheese Shop, which commonly stocks 150-200 cheeses, including many local cheeses. The staff is very knowledgeable and passionate about their cheese, and they are always seeking out new cheeses for their stock. Besides all that cheese, they also carry a variety of other gourmet foods as well as wines and beers. It is an excellent destination for many reasons.

Favorite Frozen Seafood: Stuffed clams are a traditional New England dish and Matlaw's Stuffed Clams does it right. They are inexpensive, come in a variety of flavors, are easy to prepare and are quite tasty. If you served them to guests, they probably would not even know they had been frozen. The Bacon & Cheese Stuffed Clams had a nice smoky flavor and plenty of cheesy goodness while the Chorizo Stuffed Clams had a nice spicy kick. Plus, these stuffed clams are processed locally, in Gloucester, which gives another reason to support these products.

Favorite Local Seafood Purveyor: Located on the Boston fish pier, Red's Best sells fish for over 1,000 fishermen, offering more than 60 types of seafood which is sustainable and has traceability. It is all domestic seafood, much local, and it includes under-utilized species. I really like their philosophy, their support of small, local fishermen, and their passion. They now have a small store at the Boston Public Market which you should visit to buy some excellent seafood.

Favorite Chips:  At this year's Burger Battle, I sampled the Late July Snacks Sweet Potato Multigrain Tortilla Chips and really enjoyed them. They were thick, crunchy and flavorful, with a nice spice to the taste. And they are healthier than many other snacks so are something you should seek out at your local supermarket.

Favorite Cider Donuts: There are basically two types of cider donuts, the soft ones like at Russell Orchards in Ipswich, and heavier, more cakey cider donuts that you can find at a number of other farms. My favorite are the ones from Russel, which are soft and moist, with a slightly crusty exterior, and the right balance of apple and spice flavors. And when they are warm, it's hard not to eat several on your way from the cash register to your car. With the heavier style, they tend to be more dry, less moist, and you need to have a drink with them to help wash down the dry donut. They also feel heavier in your stomach so that you rarely want more than one. Even warm, they still feel heavy and dry, and just don't satisfy like the lighter style.

Favorite New Candy: Though they are only available in Japan, the Sake-Flavored Kit Kats are awesome. These Kit Kats are created with a Sake powder which is added between the white chocolate and wafers, and the candy actually has an alcohol content of 0.8%. When you break them open, you can detect a subtle aroma of Sake, a hint of steamed rice and melon. And when you taste it, you get a mild Sake note amidst the sweet white chocolate and crispy wafer. And the more you ear, you'll realize there is more of a pleasant Sake aftertaste. You can find some on Ebay and they are worth picking up.

Favorite Dessert & Wine Combination: McCrea's Candies makes a variety of delicious caramels and I've been enjoying their caramels since 2012. They are a local company and have been regularly exhibiting at the Expo. This year, they were involved in my favorite food & wine pairing of the Boston Wine Expo. I enjoyed their Black Lava Sea Salt Caramel with the Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana Alameda Cream Sherry. The sweet and salty caramel went well with the complex flavors of the Sherry, including its nutty, briny and caramel notes. A magical combination.

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

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