December 30, 2011
Most of us don’t go around wondering what we’ll be eating next year, and it’s always seemed to me that “trend” lists were something invented by the media to keep ourselves busy. But so much changed so fast last year that I’m taking a look back at what we ate – and why. And then – forgive me – I’m going to project what these choices might tell us about what we’ll be eating next year.
2011 was the year when kale became cool. It probably has something to do with the wide availability of lacinata kale (also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale), which is so much more versatile than the ordinary kind. We ate it roasted (into healthy chips), sauteed (with just about everything), and raw (as a major salad ingredient). This is very good news for the other leafy greens: next year I expect to see more collard, turnip and mustard greens showing up on our dinner plates.
Salty Caramel Everything
Americans have always loved the conjunction of salty and sweet. Pastry chefs everywhere started salting their desserts. This year that was expressed in the explosion of salted caramel puddings, candies and sauces. Next year? Expect a plethora of savory sweets. Cocktail cookies anyone?
A few years ago everyone was talking about the way salsa had replaced catsup as the condiment of choice. This year Sriracha trumped salsa, showing up in a wide variety of recipes. When I visited the Wired cafeteria, I discovered a bottle of Sriracha on every table. Next year, Korean flavors will make a giant surge, and kimchi may push Sriracha off its perch.
It all started (in this country at least), with Nutella. Once sophisticated palates embraced the marriage of chocolate and hazelnuts, they went looking for a better brand. The result? Eataly sells about ten different varieties of Gianduia. Next year: other nuts will be folded into chocolate, for a wider variety of flavors.
Bitters, Bitters, Bitters
Mixologists embraced bitters in a very big way. That’s big news, because Americans have never embraced bitter flavors. In the long term this will pave the way for a whole new range of bitter foods. But what I see in our immediate future is an explosion of home-made bitters.
Macarons in a wide variety of colors and flavors, battled it out with cupcakes. The macarons won. Next year, I think, pie will win the sweets sweepstakes, and we’ll see pie shops springing up all over.
Meatball sliders are so 2010. 2011 was the year of everything else: oyster sliders, pork belly sliders, fried chicken sliders. They’re cute, they’re delicious – and there are still a lot of unexplored possibilities. I don’t expect to say good-bye to the slider anytime soon.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
It’s the title, mostly that's so irresistible. On menus everywhere this year, the ubiquitous dessert may mean that puddings of all sorts are ready for their closeup.
In 2011 it was every chef’s favorite ingredient. But it’s just uncured bacon – and the bacon craze continues unabated.
December 29, 2011
I’ll admit that I haven’t tried this in many years, but I remember it well. It’s an old Irish recipe, given me by a friend, and I’ve always been charmed by its sturdy simplicity. (It is, of course, the yang to the yin of summer pudding, made with fresh raspberries and currants, slices of bread and always served with a generous swoosh of cream.)
Cream a half cup of sweet butter with a half cup of brown sugar. Beat in 2 eggs and 2 large tablespoons of raspberry jam. Fold in a cup of flour that’s been sifted with a half teaspoon of baking soda. Put it into a well-buttered 1-quart mold. Stand the mold in pot with enough boiling water to come two thirds up its sides and steam it for 2 hours, covered. The water should remain at a simmer, but check every now and then to make sure that the water has not boiled away.
(If you don’t have a mold use a small bowl. Cover it with buttered parchment paper and then two layers of aluminum foil securely tied with a string.)
Serve it with a sauce made by stirring a half cup of raspberry jam into a quarter cup of water and heating over low heat until the jam has dissolved. Stir in the juice of one lemon.
December 28, 2011
I’ve been going through an old recipe folder filled with bits of crumbling paper that I tore from newspapers and magazines long ago. (Some are from my childhood, dating back to the fifties.) One, in particular, caught my eye because it was what I considered the height of elegance at one point in my life. The date’s vanished, but it was something Craig Claiborne published in the New York Times, probably in the sixties. I remember it as really, really rich. This will make 16-20 servings, and I’m thinking of making it for New Year’s Eve.
4 dozen amaretti
1 cup bourbon
1 pound butter
2 cups sugar
1 dozen eggs, separated
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate,melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
2 dozen ladyfingers
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped.
Soak the macaroons in the bourbon. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy Beat the yolks until light and mix into butter/sugar mixture. Add the chocolate, vanilla and chopped pecans.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in.
Line a 10 inch spring from pan with the split ladyfingers. Fill it with alternating layers of soaked macaroons and chocolate mixture. Chill for at least 8 hours. Remove the sides of the pan, decorate with whipped cream, and serve.
December 26, 2011
When Nick was little, Brussels Sprouts were the only vegetable he would eat. I’ve never really understood why, but as a consequence I’ve cooked them in every conceivable fashion. (The one way he hated them – still does – is boiled.)
A couple of days ago I needed a quick dinner after a movie. Before we left, I put some big potatoes into a slow oven to bake, washed and shredded a few handfuls of Brussels Sprouts, until they were nothing but ribbons, and diced an onion. Just before walking out the door I put some locally-raised lamb chops on the counter to come to room temperature.
When I came home I checked the potatoes; they were soft, pliant and quite perfect. I tossed the diced onion into a pan with a glug of grapeseed oil, a smashed clove of garlic and waited until they become almost impossibly fragrant. Then I added salt and pepper, some chile pepper flakes and a few generous tablespoons of miso. Finally I added the shredded sprouts and tossed them about.
While the sprouts cooked I salted the chops and threw then into a hot pan, cooking them until they were really crisp on the outside, but still bright pink within. When they were ready I sprinkled some Vietnamese fish sauce into the sprouts, adding a final layer of flavor.
It was a wonderful meal: crisp lamb chops, potatoes baked almost to the melting point with sweet butter, and those sweet, salty spicy Brussels Sprouts. Even Michael, who has no love for either lamb or Brussels Sprouts, had seconds.
December 24, 2011
Home-Made Bread Crumbs
This is the best last-minute present I know, so even though I included it in last year’s gift guide, I’m offering it to you again this year. After all, you can never have too much of a good thing. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be thrilled to find some of these spectacularly useful home-made breadcrumbs sitting under their tree. The gift is even nicer if you put them into a pretty bowl.
Cut a good loaf of stale bread into cubes and grind it into crumbs in a blender or a food processor. (A blender is better; it gives you a more uniform texture). If your bread is not stale enough to crumb, you can dry the cubes out in a 200 degree oven for about 15 minutes before grinding.
Spread the crumbs onto a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden. Drizzle with olive oil (about a quarter cup for every 2 cups of crumbs), season with salt and allow to cool completely before putting into containers.
These will keep in the freezer almost indefinitely. Just whirl them in the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off.