2015 was an amazing year for culinary discovery. I don’t think I have ever had so many “things” to share with you before! Happy 2016!!! [Affiliate links have been used to link to items discussed in this post.]
So this is a somewhat different list from my regular end of year “best” lists. Why? Because part of it is something more similar to what I always do, things that got me excited as a cook, baker and eater in 2015. And then part of it is things that got me excited as a cook, baker and eater in Italy in 2015. When I went to compose the list it was apparent I needed to just separate them, because Italy was dominating everything.
How could it not?
So without further ado, let’s start with everything exciting about food for me in 2015 here in Ohio:
- My favorite cookbooks reviewed from this year:
- Every year I seem to discover a new cookbook author, an established one, whose writing and cookbooks I was previously unfamiliar with. This year it was River Cottage Cookbooks, written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I really enjoyed reading River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes and we loved the British Vegetarian Chili I made from it. River Cottage Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the resourceful cook is on its way to me, and I still need to explore River Cottage Every Day. His writing is sharp and witty, and in general I agree with his food politics.
- 2015 was the year of the Burrito Bowl. Indian, Mexican –even Moroccan, although I did not call it a burrito bowl, but it essentially was. What can I cook up in a flash and toss with some kind of cooked grain is now one of my weeknight dinner thoughts.
- Ramen. Yes this 42 year old never had ramen ever until 2015. And then became fixated with turning leftovers into soup bowls with ramen noodles.
- 2015 was the year we confirmed that I do indeed have morels growing on my property (thanks Mom and Dad!).
- OK back to cookbooks. In addition to the reviews above, these were my favorite cookbooks from 2015–and as always they may or may not have been published in 2015 (if I have a post about the cookbook, the link is to the post. If I do not, the link is an affiliate link to Amazon):
- Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry
- Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East and Beyond, by Sabrina Ghayour
- More Mexican Everyday: Simple, Seasonal, Celebratory by Rick Bayless
- Wild Rosemary and Lemon Cake: A Collection of Italian Recipes from the Amalfi Coast by Kate Caldesi
- The French Baker: Authentic Recipes for Traditional Breads, Desserts, and Dinners by Sébastien Boudet (full disclosure I was sent this to review and loved it, but am not yet happy with my photos so have not yet posted about it!)
- Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen by Meera Sodhadd
- I had a few dishes in 2015 that I am exceptionally proud of. You will notice they are dominated by baked goods. I think that is because I have a lot more confidence as a cook and therefore am not as easily impressed. Those are:
- Taking the plunge and learning to make Vietnamese Caramel Sauce
- Rosemary Bourbon Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Smoked Sea Salt: it is not often when baking that I manage a flavor combination that I find truly unique and inspired. This is one.
- Bi Bim Bap–because I have adored it for years but never had the guts to try to make it at home for fear it would not taste right. It tasted right!!!
- Citrus Olive Oil Cake with Strawberries–just because of the circumstances in which I made it.
- Apple, Oatmeal and Goat Cheese Muffins–see comments above re creating unique flavor combos. This was another one.
- Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes: Because they kicked ass and because they really tasted like the ice cream!
- Bittersweet Chocolate Meringue Nests with Cacao Nibs and Salted Caramel Sauce–just because.
- And last, here is a list of cookbooks I just acquired, i.e., either for Christmas or purchased with Christmas gift money, so cookbooks I am excited to dive into:
- Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate our Shared Humanity
- Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán by Eric Werner
- Modern Flavors of Arabia: Recipes and Memories from My Middle Eastern Kitchen by Suzanne Husseini
- Sheet Pan Suppers: 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-Off Meals Straight from the Oven by Molly Gilbert
- Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan
- Cooking at Home with Pedatha by Jigyasa Giri
- Joon: Persian Cooking Made Simple by Najmieh Batmanglijdd
- Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak
And now, for my best foodie recommendations, experiences, anything that blew my mind as a cook, baker or eater, in Italy in 2015. And if you missed it, we were in Italy for 6 weeks last summer and here is a link to those posts–someday I hope to finish them!!
- The easy and obvious beginning is the food tours we went on. We took a food tour of Testaccio in Rome when we first got to Italy and it was amazing. We were lucky enough to bookend our trip with incredibly fruitful and delicious food tours as we finished out with a food tour in Florence–which I have not yet written about.
- Now don’t laugh, but arugula. Of course I had had arugula before going to Italy. But arugula was in every salad and many other dishes besides. It was clearly the primary green, at least in the region we were in in early summer. And in my kitchen in Calabria I had it with pasta and in a frittata, and I came home wanting to put it in everything also.
- Prosciutto–another obvious one, and yet another one where I discovered I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg as to its uses. I discovered I preferred Prosciutto San Daniele over Prosciutto di Parma, but that I would happily eat either in a sandwich, in a salad, with pasta, and just about any other way the Italians wanted to serve it to me!
- I discovered that in Italy, at least where we were, pecorino was the cheese of choice, not parmesan, and honestly I preferred it! I came home hankering for aged Pecorino Romano as well as a young, soft and tangy Pecorino. It is now the cheese I reach for when grating just a little cheese on pasta or a salad.
- Cannoli. This is a frustrating one because guys I have never cared for cannoli made in America. After obsessing on it and eating them as often as I could (shamelessly) in Italy I am left to conclude it is the Sicilian ricotta. I dream about them for heaven’s sake!
- Gelato. Another obvious one, but truly until I went to Italy I just did not get it. I think we (shamelessly again) ended every day with gelato!!! My favorite was 2 flavors in one dish, limone (lemon) and fiori di latte (kind of the taste of pure, sweet cream).
- OK this one is a twofer. First, I discovered the joy of the southern Italian salad. Filled with arugula, sweet corn, and tons of other divine ingredients that differed by restaurant, it is drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I came home obsessed. As soon as sweet corn season was over I had trouble holding on to the love, but during corn season I swear I was eating more veggies than ever, even back home (reflecting on that, maybe it is time to try with frozen corn). Second, thanks to the southern Italian salad, I also discovered the joy of good balsamic vinegar. Now I am not saying you have to shell out $100+ for a tiny bottle to enjoy yourself, but forget that cheapest bottle with the watery sour stuff. The vinegar in Italy was thicker, sweeter, and made everything better. Unfortunately I do not have foolproof advice about what exactly to buy as much of the information I have received from supposed experts has contradicted itself, and the way the bottles are labeled here is different from Italy. So all I can say is experiment–and be willing to spend a bit more money. Recently I have been spending $30-35 per bottle.
- This last one is funny but true. Lemons. OK I have always been obsessed with citrus–if you ask me my favorite fruit the answer will be limes or lemons depending on my mood. But somehow this one quarter Italian American had no idea that lemons were so huge in the cuisine of southern Italy. Forget about alfredos and tomato sauce (and yes the tomatoes were amazing there), I want Italian lemon sauces from here on out! And lemon cake! And lemon drinks! And oh my gosh the lemon gelato!
It comes down to this. So many people said oh you love to cook, you must want to go to Italy! And in my Asian/Indian/Latin American food loving foolishness I said eh, I would rather go to Vietnam. Or Brazil. Or India. And I still would love to go to those places. But those people were not wrong. Italy was a revelation and easily the most important culinary experience that happened to me in 2015.