Happy (very belated) New Year to you out there! End of 2015 had me busier than usual, so I’m only just now posting this. Mea culpa!
For an eater like me, I’ve been excited about what I’ll cook, eat, drink this year. I will say that I truly ate the dickens out of 2015. It will be a surprise to exactly no one that the best 2+ weeks of the culinary year was spent in Paris. (Strangely, my worst meal of the year was also spent there. But all of the other meals canceled out the one terrible one.)
On a lark back in 2010, I decided to write a year-end recap of notable culinary trends for that year. Pretty sure I was mainly writing it for myself as I didn’t have many readers then. However, I enjoyed following the food trends so much, that I ended up doing it again the following year, but getting more serious and adding actual predictions for the upcoming year. The following year, instead of predictions (which I was woefully unskilled at), I added my list of favorite cookbooks of the year–one of my all-time favorite topics and trends–and that format stuck.
This time, I’m adding a couple of personal “Favorite Bites of 2015” just to brag about the good eats I had this year. (2015 was wholly mouthwatering.)
Notable Food (and Drink) Trends
Cold-brew coffee. I’ve seen cold-brew around in a couple of different variations for about 4 or 5 years, but it really gained traction this year. I tried some this year and was instantly blown away by the flavor. No bitter taste, just full-bodied flavor. And served chilled, it can be refreshing to boot.
White chocolate. White chocolate has gotten an enormous make-over with delicious artisan-made whole white chocolate bars, white chocolate frostings, and so on. And the flavors really vary. Some have vanilla, some don’t. Some taste more of a burnt cream; others have varying levels of cocoa butter. In 2015, I can honestly say that I didn’t meet a single white chocolate that I didn’t like.
Open-faced sandwiches. Single slices of bread with toppings, either toasted or not, seemed to be a hit this year. Lots of gorgeous toppings, reminiscent of Scandinavian-style smørebrød, found their way onto restaurant menus, into cookbooks, and onto recipe blogs.
Bone broth. Bone broth is just homemade “broth” or stock. It’s absolutely nothing new but it’s been rebranded and repackaged and has successfully re-entered the culinary world as a health food. It’s good for the gut, highly nutritious, and some people are drinking it straight instead of their daily coffee, for a mental boost. In the last 18 months, no fewer than 20 brand-new books on bone broth have come out, not to mention the scores of health books that are talking about it. Wow!
Waffles. Not traditional Belgian waffles, but waffled ANYTHING. Waffled tater tots, waffled sandwiches (move over, panini), waffled hash browns, waffled French toast, even waffled eggs–the craze is serious. Waffle irons got a Herculean workout last year.
Ugly root vegetables. Beets. Turnips. Rutabagas. Parsnips. Carrots. Potatoes. There was a real resurgence of root food this year, particularly in roasted form, both as appetizers and accompanying main dishes.
Flavored waters. Coconut water is the big one, but there are all kinds of flavored waters on the market now. The one that I enjoyed the most was maple water. Extremely subtle (as “water” would suggest) but a lovely, natural sweetness to it.
Watermelon. Watermelon has shown up everywhere this past year, but most notably in salads paired with fresh herbs like mint and basil.
Spiralized veggies. A wide variety of vegetables can be spiralized (turned into spaghetti-like strips) for a pleasant deviation from standard veggie preparations and textures. The most popular has traditionally been zucchini but people are spiralizing all manner of produce these days.
Turmeric. This ancient spice is having its moment in the spotlight currently. Not just in curries and other Asian foods, but in juices and soups, and other non-traditional recipes. People are also taking it in pill form for its anti-inflammatory properties and other purported health benefits.
Matcha green tea. Matcha green tea has a very long history with ancient ceremonious practices. There are also health benefits in drinking the powdered green tea leaves, and the mild flavor marries well with sweets. It’s been on an upward trend for several years, but this past year, the trend went absolutely wild.
Sparkling rosé. It was lovely enough that rosé wine came back into vogue last year (yay!), but now the sparkling versions are also more prominent on restaurant and bar menus. I had more sparkling rosés this year than I have in the last 25 years combined.
Jerky. The proliferation of hipster jerky is likely the response to the Paleo-diet crowd. Dried beef is quick protein. Manufacturers have found dozens of new ways to successfully flavor and market the beef to appeal to the masses.
Mezcal. This centuries-old, smoky, Mexican spirit has made an enormous splash this year. A bit different than tequila, which is distilled from the same plant, this is a sipping spirit. (And not for the faint of heart, either.)
Kombucha. A drink that’s been in health food stores for eons is now seeing large-scale commercial interest. This fermented tea tastes like beer and sparkling wine had a baby together. Not particularly unpleasant, and with probiotic properties in it, it’s caught on as the new drink of choice for many.
Food delivery. In urban areas, food and grocery delivery has become the new big thing. Whether restaurants hiring drivers, people ordering meals online, or grocery sites delivering goods to customers, there are meals and ingredients being delivered all day long, every day. In my city, there are dozens of websites from which you can order meals from hundreds of restaurant menus online, groceries from about any retailer (even Amazon), and even the Uber ride-sharing service can bring food to you. Over the summer, I was jonesing for gelato one day and had a few pints delivered to my doorstep within 20 minutes. Let that sink in, guys: ICE CREAM DELIVERY. We have arrived!
My Favorite Cookbooks of 2015
Unlike the previous years, I spent this year making very few recipes from my cookbooks. It was a weird year that way. I ate out, ate simple, ate at others’ places, or ordered in, a lot more than usual. (I’ve already started to get right back into cooking for 2016, so I should have a lot more reviews for you this year!)
My favorites are as follows:
The Food Lab. This is, hands down, my personal winner this year. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wrote the ultimate book for kitchen nerds. It’s absolutely loaded with great recipes and info for all cooks–beginner to advanced.
The Nordic Cookbook. I couldn’t wait for this book to come out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Swedish chef Magnus Nillson’s book “Fäviken” was my favorite book from 2012 (and still in my overall top five cookbooks). Northern European food has long been an interest of mine, likely since one side of my family hails from Norway. The chef traveled the depth and breadth of Scandinavia to nail down regional recipes and wrote a book that is exactly what I was hoping it would be–an enormous tome, well-written, great photos, paying incredible homage to the Nordic regions of Europe. It feels like a personal keepsake to me.
Sea and Smoke. I need to whip out all of the superlatives in my vocabulary to properly honor this book. First, it was written by Blaine Wentzel (a chef in my home state of Washington) and it was photographed by food photographer extraordinaire, Charity Burggraaf. It uses the freshest ingredients from my neck of the woods, and the dishes are inventive and inspiring. I’d say that this book is mainly for experienced cooks, but if you live in the Pacific Northwest and have access to these ingredients, go for it!
Bistronomy. Not to be confused with the cookbook of the same name that came out in 2014, this book from Jane Sigal is full of recipes from the menus of best new bistros in Paris. Not only are the recipes gorgeous, accessible to more beginner cooks, and extraordinarily tasty, the book itself is a stunner–the binding, the fonts, the photos. It’s a book that makes you immediately want to dive in (both reading and cooking).
Sweet Paris. Yes, I realize I have two Parisian cookbooks on my list this year, but it’s also the year I went to Paris, and so my food interests were French- and, in particular, Paris-centric for a while. This book really captures the spirit of Paris through its traditional pastries and desserts. Most of the classics are in this one, and with stunning photos.
Favorite Bites of 2015.
One thing I noticed as I put together my list of favorite bites and drinks this year was that they were all surprising. Somehow, I did not expect any of these to taste nearly as well as they did. So, while some might not have been the biggest culinary pleasures I’ve ever experienced, they were delightful surprises–often just a taste that left me wanting more. That’s a perfect bite, in my book; something over which I’ll still ruminate with someone who was there. “Hey, remember that hot chocolate we had in Angelina back in 2015 where we spent the next three days scouring Paris for hot chocolate pitchers so we could recreate the entire experience at home?”
Here are my favorite bites of the year.
Chocoron from pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki in Paris. On first glance, this would be easy to dismiss as a huge gimmick. A macaron filled with ganache, enrobed in thick, dark chocolate, topped with a cute polka-dotted chocolate wafer. It would be easy to underestimate this over-the-top pastry as a pastry maker trying to stretch out a waning macaron hey day. But upon biting into one, the combined textures and exquisite flavors, and the *snap* of the wafer, and the experience was mind-blowing.
L’Atlantique chocolate bar from Franck Kesstener. With layers of sable cookie, salted caramel, and dark chocolate, this is an absolute favorite.
Le chocolat chaud à l’ancienne dit l’Africain (“African style” hot chocolate) from Angelina in Paris. By far, the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. I tried several hot chocolates around Paris. None even came close to Angelina’s (although a friend swears by the version by Jacques Genin, which I didn’t get a chance to try.)
Tartelette aux fraises des bois, or a tart with tiny strawberries and chantilly cream, is a Parisian standard. The one we ate at Pain de Sucre was exceptional.
Moondrop grapes from Pike Place Market in Seattle. These strange, oblong, dark purple grapes were an incredibly tasty summer treat this past year. My new favorite fruit.
Tiramisu from La Fontana Siciliana. Okay, let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: I don’t like tiramisu. Not here. Not in Italy. Not self-made. (Yes, I’ve made it for loved ones.) I do like a good trifle, as long as the bits of cake aren’t soggy, but the traditional tiramisu flavors of cocoa, Kahlua, and coffee just aren’t my thing. So, for me to put this on my “best bites” list is nothing short of a gastro-miracle. This particular iteration was all about the cream. I don’t know if they used traditional mascarpone but it was the best, creamiest, non-soggy, non-overly-coffee-flavored tiramisu. Absolutely stunning.
Self-made Chinese potstickers (under the instruction of Hsiao-Ching Chou). I’ve had incredibly great dumplings before, but there is something insanely satisfying making them yourself under the tutelage of a Chinese cook and her mother, and having them come out to perfection. Thanks, Hsiao-Ching!
Lemon Zeppole (essentially airy donut balls) with chocolate & salted caramel sauce from Tavoláta restaurant in Seattle.
Mrs. Chiang’s cocktail at Lionhead in Seattle. Developed (and ever-evolving) by super-bartender Veronika Groth, it is the perfect cocktail. (At the time I had it, the ingredients were: Gin, Jasmine, Yellow Chartreuse, Lemon, Bitters, Egg White.)