Top 10 dishes tasted in 2011
It's that time of year again - time to review everything I've eaten or sipped in 2011 and determine which of the 1,000 or so dishes (three meals/day + beverages + treats - reheated repeats = ?) rose to the top of the food chain (ha!) and will make my Top 10 list.
Decisions are difficult enough for me when I merely have to sort through the myriad varieties of orange juice. Truly, these types of endeavors make my brain hurt because of all the permutations!
So imagine how overwhelming this annual project is, narrowing everything down to only 10 selections while simultaneously remembering a couple of disappointingly bad meals (which I'm too nice to talk about publicly) and lingering deliriously over the particularly stellar ones... well, I nearly become catatonic.
But enough of the meandering preamble! You want to know what made the cut, don't you? (Some of you may already have scrolled down without even bothering to read the introduction!) You want to reject my choices or cheer along with them.
Without further babbling and in no particular order — with the exception of the #1 spot, which I knew would be the winner the very moment I tasted it this summer (even announcing this to my dining companion, who heartily agreed) — here is my Top 10 list for 2011:
10. I was only permitted one taste of the Chocolate Hazelnut French toast at the Bomber, with thanks to Jeremy for treading that fine line between wanting to share the joy and wanting to hoard the goodies all for himself! But that one taste was enough to know that this was an absolutely luscious and decadent treat. Of course, how can you go wrong with divine Nutella, warm and gooey as it oozes out of golden toasted, battered bread? I'm not even sure I would put syrup on my own serving — I might treat it as the dessert-like creation that it is and douse it with whipped cream instead. Either way, this was a fabulous breakfast!
9. The Garlic Parmesan Fries at Chicago Reds are amazing! Here's what I wrote about them in my original post: "These were as close to perfection as fries might possibly come — golden, crisp, hot, salty, garlicky, cheesy, but none of these attributes was overdone. The consistency was ideal, and the flavorings were exceptional." And I wouldn't change a word of it.
8. My Curried Rhubarb Chicken is one of the very best dishes I've made. I debated whether to include any of my own recipes here, but I'm very proud of this, so why not? I also received some lovely compliments from those who tried the dish after it was posted: "I made this tonight and it was awesome! The brown sugar caramelized on top of the chicken and the rhubarb dissolved into a super-yummy sauce." "(We) had your Curried Rhubarb Chicken. I felt like it was a dish from a fancy restaurant .... We loved it!" I'll look forward to spring not only for the warmer weather, the flowers, and finally seeing grass once more when the filthy remnants of snow melt, but also because rhubarb will be in season and I can make this dish again.
7. Whether using Flip Flop Wines Moscato to glaze a cake, enjoying it with a light dinner, or sipping it after a meal, I think it's just lovely. And I'm not alone: Wine Enthusiast magazine has named Flip Flop Moscato one of its "Best Buys." I originally tried the Moscato because it was sent to me for marketing purposes, with no promise of a review but assurances that it would be mentioned whenever I used the wine in a recipe. (I never want anyone to think I'm endorsing an item only because I've received a freebie, so I refuse to do product reviews.) But I like this wine so much that I now buy it for myself... how 'bout that?
6. I attended a fabulous wine tasting sponsored by The Produce Station and hosted by the Alley Bar. Some wonderful foods were provided to accompany the wines and to help cleanse our palates between tastings. At my table, the charming offering was a plate of sliced baguettes from Detroit's Avalon International Breads and a really lovely cheese. In my post about the event, I described the Pyramid Pointe goat's milk cheese from Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery as "slightly tart and creamier than butter." The creamery's website gives further detail: "Pyramid Pointe is a soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized goat's milk. It has a pyramid shape with a natural grey/white rind which is blackened with ash .... The flavor is mild with a sharp lemony finish." It was wonderful!
5. I spoke at Temple Beth Emeth's annual Sisterhood DAMES Dinner, and had a fabulous time! I made new friends, and ate an extraordinary meal prepared by chefs Burt Steinberg and Ron Philipp. The Asian cole slaw, with a light cilantro-lime dressing, was lovely; the brownies were rich and decadent. But the Chicken Franchese — a lightly-breaded chicken breast topped with a sauce comprised of beurre blanc and Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, red peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms — shone beyond any of the other delicious dishes. The flavors were explosive and vibrant, some more prominent while others added depth; the sauce was slightly tart, creamy, and an exceptional enhancement to the fork-tender chicken. I wish I could simply send you to a restaurant and tell you to order this dish; instead, you'll just have to hire Burt and Ron to cater a party for you!
4. I haven't written about this one yet, because Jeremy and I visited just three days before the place closed for the season (it will reopen on Feb. 1). But the root beer at Bill's Drive-In, on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, was exceptional and simply had to be included here! The soda is homemade and is reminiscent of previous incarnations you may have enjoyed, but it is so far beyond any others in taste that you'll hardly believe that they can all be called "root beer." There's not too much fuzz or fizz, and the flavor is incredibly rich. Jeremy's initial reaction says it all: "This is, like, the best root beer I've ever had in my life! It's amazing!" (With many thanks to the wonderful Mary Catherine Smith of WEMU for the recommendation.)
3. The chocolate-glazed orange cake that I adapted from a recipe on the back of a note card I'd bought at The Andy Warhol Museum was just exceptional! It was unbelievably moist, the flavor was bright and vibrant, and the rich chocolate glaze was utterly decadent. It would be an ideal dessert to serve in winter, when oranges are plentiful as we wait for the return of berries and other summer fruits. And how perfect would it be with a cup of cocoa, particularly on a cold, snowy day? I absolutely loved this cake!
2. The pierogi at my BFF Wendy's family Easter feast represented a three-day labor of love, and were truly extraordinary! There was an enormous pile of the beautiful, golden treats which were filled with either sauerkraut, cheese, or prunes. And I can personally vouch for each variety, although the prune pierogi were my absolute favorites with their sweetness and a hint of spice. Not one of those measly three-inch pierogi that you find in the grocery store was anywhere in sight... pfffft! Each of these was at least twice that size, and the fillings were all homemade in addition to the dough having been mixed and rolled and formed by hand. I have already invited myself back for next year's holiday celebration, and would love to join in the pierogi-making party, too!
And who won the top spot?
What is the very best dish I've eaten all year long, the one that makes me smile and sigh with longing just to think of it?
I can still conjure the fragrance of the beautiful fried pastries — slightly citrus, mingled with warm spices. I vividly remember the contrast between the slight crunch of the churros' exterior, coarse with a coating of sugar crystals, vs. the tender softness of the interior. The churros themselves were extraordinary, and yet they were remarkably enhanced when dipped into the creaminess of melting ice cream. The aromas, the textures, the flavors... truly, this dish was superlative.
So, that's it for 2011. On Sunday, a brand new year of eating begins!
Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures in the kitchen. She was thrilled to have her post about Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread named as one of the daily "Best of the Blogs" by the prestigious Food News Journal.
The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here.