Monday, December 31, 2007

My Favorite Things in 2007

This year was pretty amazing for me personally, professionally and foodwise (Is there an adverb like "culinarily?" If you know one, leave a comment). I thought it would be pretty hard to beat 2006, the year I got married, started this blog and had the privilege of being in my sister-in-law's wedding. But 2007 turned out to be quite a doozy--in a really good way!

For Mike and me, 2007 was all about travel. This was possible largely because I quit my full-time job to pursue freelance writing. I love working towards my own success instead of a corporation's bottom line, and I've never once had a morning when I woke up and dreaded the day ahead. When Mike's aunt and uncle relocated to Singapore, we were able to head off to Southeast Asia for three weeks in June. We were so fortunate to have that freedom.

In Singapore we ate Black Pepper Crab, feasted on hawker centre fare, drank Singapore Slings at the Long Bar and faced down a Komodo dragon.

In Bangkok, we saw the big Buddha (or twelve), hung out at the food court and cooked our hearts out at Baipai (that's what we're doing in the picture at the top of this post). Here's the incredible cashew chicken recipe we learned. I was also thrilled to know that our version of homemade pad thai (below) is pretty darned authentic!

In Vietnam, we fell in love with the food and ate the pho we should eat before we die in Ho Chi Minh City. We had more truly beautiful food at Lemongrass (4 Duong Nguyen Thiep, 822-0496), and had a salty dog with a crocodile. In Nha Trang, we ate incredible seafood, soaked in the mineral mud and did some fantastic diving.

We fell in love with just about everything in Tokyo. Especially hidden udon noodles, hot or cold soba, shabu-shabu (below), FRESH fish and French pastry.

In 2007, I also got to show Mike London, one of my favorite--possibly most favorite--cities. We went to all my favorite places and then spent a few days Amsterdam, a city that was new to both of us. We also had Dutch-style Indonesian food for the first time--it's spicy and sort of like tapas--awesome!

We were thrilled to go to Southern California for a wedding, visit my mom and--last but not least--take a drive to the Santa Ynez wine country. There, we experienced one of the top food highlights of the year--Burger night at The Hitching Post. Best burger I've ever eaten. I dream of it.

Now onto my favorite recipes of the year:

My favorite meal--Duck Leg Guazzetto that I raved about here and here. It's so different, so easy--a really perfect braised dish.

My favorite big hunk o'meat recipe: Slow-Roasted Pork with Memphis Barbecue Sauce. This is the best and easiest BBQ sauce I've ever had. Read about it here and here. And don't forget the cornbread.

My favorite hors d'oeuvres--I'd call them appetizers, but they're just too fancy (but not difficult!). Gruyere Gougeres are perfect with Champagne (I'm making some tonight!), and Chicken Liver Pate with Pistachios and Apple-Thyme Chicken Liver Mousse are two of the best reasons in the world to eat organ meat.

An honorable mention goes to Brik, the Tunisian dish that involves a creamy egg yolk, tuna and parsley fried inside wonton shells. Fun to make and better to eat.

My favorite breakfast--I had a revelation yesterday involving Eggs Benedict and Julia Child's Hollandaise sauce. It's a dish truly greater than the sum of it's parts. Next time you make Hollandaise sauce, do not skimp on the lemon juice. As far as favorites go however, I have to name these Cinnamon Oat Scones--best scones ever.

My favorite sweet thing--I have to choose these soft Peanut Butter Cookies I originally found on Cookie Madness. Mike probably mentions them every other week, eyes rolling back in his head in blissful reverie. Honorable mention goes to Guinness Cupcakes with Espresso Cream Frosting. My name is O'Hara, after all.

My favorite novelty that's really delicious: Bacon and Egg Ice Cream--it just works.

Other Favorites:

In 2007, I went tart-crazy. Sweet or savory, these are some of my favorite things to make. They are delicious as dinners, lunches and brunches. From the crop of tarts, my Brussels Sprout-Chestnut Tart and the Zucchini-Lettuce Tart (above) from Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savory Tarts (a fantastic book) are my favorites.

Favorite Restaurant: I just mentioned Michael's Genuine in the last post because of the wonderful Chicken Liver Toasts they serve. We are working our way through most of the menu, and haven't been disappointed. I love, love this place. It's cozy, unpretentious (for Miami) and fairly priced. Forget the Setai, Casa Tua or Azul--if I had one night in Miami, I'd go to Michael's.

Favorite Personal Cooking Triumph: Though I didn't blog about it, I had a huge success with baking my grandma's homemade bread. It's a sweet, babka-like loaf filled with brown sugar, nuts and cherries and makes the best ham sandwich ever. Using her totally imprecise, very fuzzy recipe, I produced two gorgeous, golden loaves. I have to tinker with the recipe a bit before I write up my final version, but now I know hope for the bread is not lost.

Favorite Cookbook: This is a hotly contested category. Every year, I get new things I can't put down and also rediscover older books in my library. Right now, the books not far from my side are the Les Halles Cookbook (2004) and The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon--just released this fall in a homey paperback, the author's food sensibility and passion for her subject and the people who cook it are a total delight.

So what did I forget? If you have a blog and wrote a "Best of 2007" list, leave a link in the comments. I love reading these recaps and remembering the delicious, surprising or funny things that happened in the past year. I hope all of you are well-loved and well-fed in 2008!

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Susan from Food Blogga said...

I admire you for pursuing your dreams. May 2008 be filled with adventure and happiness for you both.

Lydia said...

Check out some of the wonderful posts in Nupur's round-up of the Best of 2007 at One Hot Stove. Happy New Year, Julie.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That was excellent. I think I should do that but probably will wait for next year.
All year I've had Gruyere Gougeres on my list of must make, surely I'll get to it this year.

Emiline said...

Is that your husband and you in the picture? You two are too cute!
This is a great list you put together.
That's amazing that you got to travel so much. I look forward to reading about your adventures in the future.

Peabody said...

Oh I wish you would have blogged about your grandmothers bread...I love family recipes.
Here is to a happy and stress-free 2008.

Anonymous said...

Wow that is quite a year indeed! You are so lucky to have traveled to so many exotic places. :)

Ari (Baking and Books)

Dana said...

Your 2007 sounds like what I'm hoping my 2008 will be! I, too, hope to go freelance at some point this year and ditch the grind of daily Washington journalism. And I'm headed to Singapore and Thailand in March!! I'm open to suggestions :).

NittanyRedhawk said...

"Culinarily" is actually the right word. :)

Julie said...

Susan: Thanks for your nice wishes!
Lydia: Wow, you're right--I loved Nupur's round up.
Tanna: You will adore gruyere gougeres--making and eating them. I LOVE those things!
Emiline: That's us--thanks!
Peabody: I will eventually! She always made it for xmas and Easter, so I'll do it again at easter and perfect it. I figured out that one of the biggest problems with the recipe was that she said to bake it at 325--much too low!
Ari--I was lucky, and I just want to do it all again!
Dana: wow, that's great! Drop me an email. You're going to love it.
Redhawk: I guess you're right. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Glad someone chimed in on my grammar quandary:)

Tartelette said...

What a great year! I wish you even greater and better thing for 2008!

Anita said...

I enjoyed your travel immensely. what a truly wonderous year it has been for you!

May 2008 be even better!

Anna said...

Julie, have a wonderful 2008. By the way, thanks for all the wine tips you've given me this year. You've expanded my (and my husband's) horizons quite a bit with your recommendations.