Much like 2016, 2017 was a year of transitions, but food was never far from my mind. Just ask my kids, who got dragged all over creation in Guatemala until I could find the right denomination of money to try a traditional coconut cookie! So without further ado, here are my favorite culinary discoveries from 2017.
Turmeric growing in Belize. It is dying–about to be picked for its roots.
Wow I am hitting a new low for lateness on this post. We’ll blame the cruise–but hey since my best culinary experience of 2017 came on December 31 on said cruise, it seems appropriate that I waited until after to write this post. As with last year’s end of year post, this list is a little derailed by moving, but this time the main effect is just that I am now missing even more cookbooks than I was a year ago. I am basically missing everything that was purchased in the months before leaving Ohio and everything that was purchased in the first half of 2017, before moving to our current home.
C’est la vie. And as soon as I finally get the cookbooks organized in their new bookshelves I will be the happiest person on the planet!
Vanilla beans growing in Belize
As in past years, I have divided this into cookbooks and everything except cookbooks. First the cookbooks in no particular order (and any cookbook acquired in 2017 is fair game, even older ones):
- I said it in each review– 10 Speed Press outdid itself this year with international cookbooks. Check out my reviews of Bangkok, Vibrant India, Nopalito and Burma Superstar. All of them were gorgeous and filled with inspirational recipes to get you into the kitchen.
- Victuals was the best reading cookbook I got this year. It mesmerized me–it definitely takes the award for best food writing cookbook I read in 2017.
- I have not yet baked from Chetna Makan’s The Cardamom Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East but her flavor combinations are brilliant, and have me wanting to get into the kitchen and bake!
- Some cookbooks immediately inspire you carefully page through them, bookmarking recipes. Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe; Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & The Caucasus; and Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking are the three books at the top of my to cook from pile.
- Cookbooks I am most excited to have received from Santa: Night + Market: Delicious Thai Food to Facilitate Drinking and Fun-Having Amongst Friends; Vivek Singh’s Indian Festival Feasts and Simply Pho: A Complete Course in Preparing Authentic Vietnamese Meals at Home. I will hopefully have reviews to share after I check them out! One of the problems with leaving for a cruise the day after Christmas is barely having a moment to check out my goodies!
- For Indian cooking fans, I highly recommend The Indian Cooking Course: Techniques – Masterclasses – Ingredients – 300 Recipes from Monisha Bharadwaj. I turned to it for my annual Christmas Indian feast with my in laws, and the Nadan Beef Fry went over really well (but alas I got no pictures).
- These last two are not cookbooks, but I am throwing them in with cookbooks. I am completely enamored with my subscriptions to Bake from Scratch and Christopher Kimballs’ Milk Street. I get super excited when they show up in my mail box! If you are serious about homestyle baking (Bake from Scratch) or international cooking in an American kitchen (Milk Street) I cannot suggest trying them enough.
Cardamom growing in Belize
And now for the non-cookbooks:
- The Belize Spice Farm was one of the excursions we chose to do on our cruise, and coming from this spice lover it was an awesome experience! In addition to getting to see so many of the spices I love growing, we got to smell and taste some pretty interesting things. For instance, did you know if you chew a (Ceylon) cinnamon leaf, it tastes exactly like Big Red cinnamon chewing gum? And I mean exactly! Or that allspice leaves smell just like allspice berries, and can be used in cooking similar to a bay leaf (I brought some home!)? While I enjoyed the cinnamon leaf the most, the wildest by far was the freshly picked cacao bean from a cacao pod. What we think of as cacao beans have been dried and fermented–when fresh they are kind of white slimy cubes. You cannot (or should not anyway) bite into them because they will be quite bitter–but fascinatingly that outer soft slimy coating it quite fruity and slightly sweet. (If you are wondering, we sucked on them for a while and then spit them out!) How on earth anyone ever thought to take it and dry and ferment it I have no idea! And if you are curious as to some of the spices we saw growing, the farm is owned by a retired Indian doctor who moved from India to America, and then after retiring, moved to Belize. So the farm is a mix of traditional, native spices and plants, like the cacao trees, and those imported from Asia, like the cardamom and turmeric.
- Now that I live in a proper city (or closer to one anyway), I have decided to give a shout out to my restaurant discovery of the year, and for 2017 it was definitely finally getting to try Justin Severino’s restaurants, Morcilla (ohmigosh if you follow that link you will see they are closed because their dining room flooded!) and Cure. Both are focused on Mediterranean flavors; Morcilla is more of a traditional dining experience and Cure is tapas. Both were absolutely delicious–and hopefully Morcilla will re-open soon!
- Speaking of being in a proper city, every time I think I have discovered everything there is in the Strip District, I discover something else amazing. As someone interested in traditional foodways and international cuisines especially, Strip District Meats has been a revelation. If I want to make a goat curry like this one? No problem, I now have a place to get goat! And ground lamb! Mutton! Rabbit! Elk! You name it, I bet I have a decent shot at finding it–this makes my day!
Cacao tree growing in Belize
That’s it for 2017! On to a new year and more culinary discoveries….