Thursday, December 31, 2015

A's Favorite Food Memories of 2015

So it's that time again! Another year is coming to a close, and I'm coming up with my favorite food memories for 2015. In years past I've focused more on just my favorite dishes of the year, but this year I embraced more of the actual feel of this post and chose my favorite food experiences. This list is going to be alphabetical by restaurant (except for the last entry) as I'm not in the mood to try and rank all of these as it was hard enough to pick them all.

1.   Shrimp and Grits - B. Matthew's Eatery (Savannah, GA)

I've had shrimp and grits in my day, but the one from B Matthews? My god, what a dish. Perfect balance of saltiness from the andouille sausage and spice rub, richness and creaminess from the cheese and butter, and texture from the grits. The peppers and scallions added an element of freshness to an otherwise heavier dish.

2.   Celebration Meal - Danji (NYC)

This meal, while very good, was not chosen for any one particular dish. As a whole it was a very good meal, but it probably wouldn't have made the list in any of the previous years. This meal as a whole made the list because of what it represented. This was the meal that M and I had to celebrate me leaving my previous job near the beginning of the year. I was glad to have finally made that move, and it has thus far been the best move of my life professionally. The food also happened to be really good.

3.   Tamal de Elote con Camarones - Dove's Luncheonette (Chicago)

This year I had something of a theme to a lot of my food choices, grits and grit-like consistency dishes. This is the second of those on my list. I had a rough morning that day. A migraine kept me laid up for hours, and I was still in a fog when we got to Dove's. That all changed when they brought out the food, though. This dish is a collard green filled tamale with chili garlic shrimp, and banana peppers on top of soft scrambled eggs and garnished with fried garlic and cilantro. The eggs were soft and creamy, and the entire dish was an explosion of flavors. It was a blend of heat, acid, and salt rolled up into one delicious dish. M and I both agreed that we would totally get this dish again, but unfortunately a scan of their menu shows that it is no longer there.

4.   New England Clam Shack Feast - Fred's Shanty (New London, CT)

Ever since M and I moved to NYC, she'd always regaled me with tales of summer New England clam shack meals. Essentially they're clam strips or bellies fried to perfection and often served with fries and cole slaw as well. It's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it's a damn delicious one. Fred's Shanty was our first such stop on our trip this past summer. It wasn't the best fried clams we had on the trip, but they were the first I had ever had in New England during the summer. I'd had fried clam strips before in my life, but this was my first time having them while sitting out near the open water on a nice, hot day.

5.   Berry Picking - Johnson's Farm Produce (Hobart, IN)

One of my fondest memories while growing up were going to the grocery store with my mom and learning how to pick out produce. On our departure day from Chicago this year, my family decided to go out to a berry farm in Indiana that my brother and his family had been to earlier. Aside from being the juiciest and sweetest raspberries and blackberries I had ever eaten, it was so much fun being out in the fields with my mom. M remarked later how happy we both looked while working together to find and pluck the best berries on all of the bushes. My only regret for the day was not taking more of the boxes of berries. M and I inhaled our two boxes within an hour of being on the road.

6.   Toasted Cheese Sandwich - Kappacasein (Borough Market, London)

I like grilled cheese sandwiches a lot, but what we got at London's Borough Market was other worldly. Kappacasein is a local dairy farm that produces some amazing cheeses, and their stall pumps out the most amazing toasted cheese sandwiches (aka three cheese toasties) in the world and also raclette, a small pile of potatoes smothered in melted/seared cheese. We didn't get the raclette, but that cheese toastie haunted our dreams for weeks to come. So much so that M made her own version later on (more on that later...). The sandwich itself is rather simple. It has three types of cheese shredded to allow for better and more uniform melting and leeks and onions, both red and white, pressed between bread in a sandwich press. The melting cheese crisps up on the sandwich press, and the whole experience of eating these is heavenly.

7.   Lithuanian Festival (Catonsville, MD)

This was our first ever experience eating Lithuanian food, but that's not what made this so special. Sure the food was pretty good. Both dishes we got, Cepelinai, the national dish of LIthuania, and Kugelis, both seemed like potato and bacon dishes at their cores, but they were really delicious because... well... potato and bacon. While the food was tasty, the whole experience of being at the festival was so amazing. There were stalls selling traditional jewelry and clothing and also traditional Lithuanian folk dancing which was such fun to watch. It was a great entrance into both the food and culture of Lithuania.

8.   Sunday Roast - The Pig and Butcher (Islington, London)

One of the things we knew we wanted to try to do in London was have a proper Sunday Roast. Thankfully we were able to get into Pig and Butcher. My prime rib (which was only allowed to be ordered rare) was sublime. The meat was super tender, and it had just the right amount of seasoning. I got the horseradish with it, and the pairing was perfect. It also came with a massive Yorkshire pudding, carrots and cabbage, fried potatoes, and some jus. All of the flavors were so fresh. On their wall they also had a map of Great Britain which also showed where they got all of their ingredients from. It was amazing to see that everything was local, and we loved the down-home, rustic vibe of the entire restaurant. We also ordered a board to share, and they brought out creamed leeks as an additional side to our roasts.

9.   Fried Chicken Livers - Planters Tavern @ The Olde Pink House (Savannah, GA)

I've always been a fan of offal, and M is starting to come around. These fried chicken livers sounded so good. They were fried and put on top of Geechee Boy grits (there goes those grits again...), bordelaise, and fried spinach. The rich and slightly sweet bordelaise topped the mineral-y chicken livers to form a creamy, decadent dish. The grits were amazing. They had just the right amount of texture to give some bite to the ensemble, and the fried spinach gave things such a nice crunch. This was easily one of the best dishes we had all year.

10. Home cooking

Similar to last year, M has been doing a lot of cooking at home. There were a lot of amazing dishes that were made, and I know I'm missing a ton, but I've selected 4 to highlight.

Cheese Toastie: Shocking right? After loving the cheese toastie we had in London M wanted to try her hand at making her own. The results were beyond anything either of us could have imagined. While it didn't taste quite as good as the ones we had in London, these sandwiches were incredible. Shredding the cheese for the sandwiches makes a massive difference.

Bacon, Leeks, and Mushrooms: What do you get when you cook bacon in butter and then use all of that to cook leeks and mushrooms? Something ungodly unhealthy, but soooooooo delicious. M even made it again for Thanksgiving.

Larb Gai: A traditional Thai salad with ground chicken, mint, cilantro, lime, and a bunch of spices. It's one of our favorite dishes, and M had always wanted to make it. Well, she finally did. It turned out great, and she's made it again at least once since.

Hawaiian Pancakes: This was one I actually did. We bought some Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix, and I wanted to make it one day. Instead of stopping there, though, I decided to turn it into a full-on Hawaiian memory for us. I took one of our remaining bananas and made a banana syrup for the pancakes and then topped it all with chopped Macadamia nuts. I would love to make this again, but pancakes are too heavy for just the two of us.

Overall we had a really good eating year in 2015. M and I are really excited to continue our eating adventures even if we're really slow at writing about them. Maybe in 2016 we'll actually get better about that, too!

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