Thursday, December 31, 2015

M's Favorite Food Memories of 2015

2015 was a pretty great eating year for us. We went on road trips to both the South and the Midwest, and went across the pond for a week in London. We also had some great food right here at home in New York City. The year went by pretty quickly, but it was nice taking some time out this week to think about what my 10 favorite food memories were. In no particular order, here are this year's favorites.

1. Fried chicken sandwich from Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter (New York, NY)

2015 seemed to be the year of the fried chicken sandwich. As that is one of my favorite foods, that got no complaints from me. I ate a bunch of them this year - the Southern style sandwich from Delaney Chicken, the very hyped (and in our opinion, overhyped) sandwich from Fuku+, the old standby chicken sandwich at Manhattan's first real Chick-fil-A, a fried chicken biscuit from Southern chain Bojangles, a bunch of sandwiches from Do-Rite in Chicago, a bunch more sandwiches from Hill Country Chicken down in Flatiron, and probably more that I can't even recall off the top of my head. But my favorite of all is the fried chicken sandwich from Bobwhite down in the East Village. The chicken is fried perfectly, is so juicy, and is just the right size for that soft buttery roll. This year wasn't the first time I had it, but previously I had it with pimento cheese instead of the bread and butter pickles, and I like the simple pickles version so much more. It's my perfect chicken sandwich.

2. Freshly picked raspberries and blackberries from Johnson's Farm Produce (Hobart, IN)

As we started our return journey east from Chicago on our Great Lakes road trip, we went with A's family to a farm in Hobart, Indiana to pick some berries. Raspberries and blackberries were in season, and they were so good. It was great to get out of the city, be surrounded by open fields, and indulge in some really tasty berries. I'm not really one for picking them (takes too much patience, lots of bees, etc), but I loved watching the care that A (and his mom) put into selecting the perfect berries for us. We started snacking on the berries in the car after lunch and they didn't even make it halfway to Cleveland (our stop for the night). The blackberries especially were this perfect balance of sweetness and tartness unlike any blackberries I had ever had before. I'm not sure I'll ever get blackberries as fresh and ripe as these.

3. Cheese toastie from Kappacasein at Borough Market (London, UK)

I already wrote an ode to the cheese toastie from Kappacasein back during the Week 45 cooking challenge when I made my own version of the toastie at home. Not as good as the original in London, but I didn't have the exact same cheeses or the griddle that they used with cheese remnants of the hundreds of sandwiches that came before it. The toastie was delicious. The 3 cheese blend they used was extremely high quality, and the little bits of cheese on the side of the crusty bread were fantastic. The sandwich had a nice crunch to it. On top of all that, the onions and leeks that they mixed into the cheese made it so different from most cheese toasties and incredibly addictive. We wanted another one so badly after that, but forced ourselves to go try other things. 

4. Smoked bluefish fried rice from Kin Shop (New York, NY)

This fall, we sadly bid farewell to Kin Shop with a goodbye dinner where we got some old favorites (like the duck larb and brussels sprouts) and tried some new things, like this smoked bluefish fried rice. This hadn't been on the menu on any of our previous visits, and it was incredible. Garlic, shallots, smoked fish, hot sauce, perfectly cooked fried rice, so much good stuff here. We're so sad that we'll never be able to get this again.

5. Nandocas Choice sandwich from Nando's Peri-Peri (Woodbridge, VA)

We had been looking forward to our Southern road trip for many reasons, and one of those was our plan to stop at Nando's Peri-Peri on the way down to Savannah. The Baltimore/DC area has quite a few Nando's, but they haven't made it up to NYC yet. We had been obsessed with them for ages and couldn't wait to try the chicken. For my first taste of Nando's, I opted for a sandwich called Nandocas choice - chicken breast topped with cole slaw on their buttery garlic bread. It sounded amazing, and it really was. The flavor of the chicken itself might have been a little bit better on A's regular flame grilled chicken, but all together, this combination was great (and after trying many different things, those are still my 2 favorite sides for the chicken). We completely understood why people from England were so obsessed with Nando's. It's pretty amusing how 2015 has been, in some ways, the year of Nando's for us. We got our first taste in Virginia on the way down to Savannah, then again on the drive back in Maryland, and then we went to one of the new Nando's stores in Chicago. On top of that, we also went to Nando's in London and got to try some of the stuff there that is different from what we can get at home. Now all we need is a Nando's in NYC.

6. Scallops from Nopi (London, UK)

When I saw the scallops on the menu at Nopi, one of the Ottolenghi spots in London, I thought they sounded interesting. We were trying to narrow down our choices from a gigantic menu that sounded good, and it was tough to decide what to get. Then a few dishes arrived at the table next to us, and one of them was this scallop dish. The aroma of the scallops overpowered anything else in our area, and we both knew we had to get it. The scallops came with an apple yuzu puree, some soft roasted endives, and little bits of pork, and they were cooked perfectly. We expected nothing less from an Ottolenghi spot, but this dish was amazing. I can still taste it today, the rich scallops, the bright purees, the hearty pork, and the comforting endives. So good.

7. Mentaiko spaghetti from Noreetuh (New York, NY)

We went to Noreetuh to celebrate our anniversary this year, which made complete sense since we got married in Hawaii and Noreetuh serves elevated and inventive Hawaiian cuisine. One of our favorite dishes was this mentaiko spaghetti with smoked butterfish (clearly, I love smoked fish), aonori, and chili. The pasta was just right and al dente, the fish was soft and silky, and the entire dish was really smoky and so rich and buttery. The balance of the seasonings was spot-on, and we cleaned every bit of sauce off that plate.

8. Sunday roast pulled pork from The Pig and Butcher (London, UK)

The Sunday roast at The Pig and Butcher was one of our favorite London experiences. You got to choose your meat - I went with pork - and then it came with standard sides of leeks, roasted vegetables, fried potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding.  The pork was a roasted pork shoulder that came with a side of applesauce and also a side sauce of your choosing (at their suggestion, I went with dijon mustard). This was the best roasted pork I have ever had in my life. It had the texture of a good pulled pork, but it wasn't barbecue like most of the pulled pork here in the States. It felt like comfort food, and was such a great way to experience classic London.

9. Fried chicken livers and grits from Planters Tavern at the Olde Pink House (Savannah, GA)

We had a lot of good Southern cooking in Savannah and I had quite a few dishes as possibilities for this top 10 list. In the end, the one that won a place was this dish of fried chicken livers, Geechie Boy grits, bordelaise, and fried spinach from Planters Tavern, the downstairs old school tavern under one of the most famous Savannah restaurants, the Olde Pink House. We loved the vibe of the tavern as we sat at the bar having a few appetizers. While the chicken livers were really tasty, the best part of this dish was the grits. I love grits and these were possibly the best grits ever. I liked them so much that while I sat at the bar eating them, I was researching on my phone where Geechie Boy grits came from (Edisto Island, SC) and how far it would be from our planned driving route in South Carolina (almost an hour detour each way). They were so good that we were really tempted to change plans to get some of these grits, but in the end, just didn't think we could fit it into the trip. The fact that we even considered it I think says everything about how highly we thought of them.

10. Home cooking and the 52 week cooking challenge

As has been the case for the past few years, I'm devoting one slot on the top 10 list to home cooking, and just like last year, it's to dishes from the 52 week cooking challenge. I have become a much better cook than I was 2 years ago, and I think part of that is due to pushing boundaries and making myself try new things instead of making the same old, comfortable dishes week after week. Some of my favorite things from this year were the loaded baked potato salad, cocoa jerk tofu, Chilean butternut squash casserole, the cheese and leek toastie, leeks with bacon and mushrooms, and of course, one of my favorite dishes in the entire world, larb gai. The fact that because of the challenge I can now make larb at home is alone one of the highlights of my year. I'm incredibly grateful that something like this challenge even exists to get me out of my comfort zone and give some structure to my cooking journey (which has in many ways taken place on this blog; reading some of the early cooking posts, I've really seen how far I've come).

There it is - my top 10 food memories of 2015. Hoping 2016 brings some excellent food adventures!

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