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Posted on Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Top 10 of 2012: Best food and drink of the year

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Well, it's that time of year again — time to review everything I've eaten, drunk, tasted, sampled, and enjoyed this past 12 months. There's been a lot o' good eatin', as always. I live in a fabulous community filled with great food, restaurants, shops, and other treats! But as I remember and reminisce, there are inevitably a few shining stars that rise to the top of the list.

And so, without further ado, here are some of the very best things I enjoyed in 2012. I highly recommend that you go find them, cook them, and relish them, too!

The barbecue at Red Rock Downtown Barbecue in Ypsilanti is excellent; the mac 'n' cheese (pictured above) is even better. Here's what I wrote in my Frugal Floozie Friday post about the restaurant: "the star of the show — the star of the entire meal — was the Macaroni and Cheese. What you see... is the small version ordered off the side dish menu; it was enough that I could very well order it for a full meal! And I'd be lucky to finish it ... though it was so exceptionally rich and smoky and luscious that leaving any behind would be unforgivable. Jeremy and I literally scraped the bottom of the dish to make sure we didn't miss any of the goodness!"


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

After you eat the mac 'n' cheese for dinner, walk across the street to Bona Sera Cafe and linger over the luxurious Salted Caramel Gelato for dessert. You only have to spend a mere $1.50 for this rich treat.  This past summer, I posted that "if the salted caramel gelato was my last dessert on this Earth, I could die blissfully happy in a giddy reverie. It was buttery, salty, and like liquid gold as it melted on my tongue. I've been craving it since I left, and promised Wonder Woman I'd be back for more."  I need to get back there, and you need to make a special trip yourselves.

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Not too far removed from the buttery sweetness of the gelato is my very own Drambuie Butterscotch Sauce, which doesn't even need cake or ice cream, just a spoon. I'm always loath to include my own recipes in this annual list, as it seems a bit conceited; at the same time, this really was stellar, and I'm very proud of its flavor as well as its simplicity. It's a lovely change from traditional hot fudge sauces.

Another item which can be enjoyed in a variety of ways — on a salad, as a vegetable or pretzel dip, schmeared onto a sandwich — is the blue cheese dressing at Old Town Tavern. It is "an exceptional thick, garlicky blue cheese dressing so good that I've even written to the restaurant to see if they might share the recipe with me." (Still hoping to be able to make it myself, though I'm happy to go pay for it at the restaurant, too.) Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it; but it's not too hard to imagine a dressing with generous chunks of cheese, which is thick enough to cling to whatever it's going to enhance.


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

I am a huge fan of chocolate, of peanut butter, and of chocolate served with peanut butter; this is, as we all know, one of the classic combinations. In September, I was thrilled to help judge the Girl Scout Cookie Bake-off Benefit, featuring desserts prepared with Girl Scout cookies. The treat that won second place for "Most Creative" was the Peanut Butter Bombe created by Cheryl Hanewich of La Dolce Vita. This was rich, creamy, seductive, filled with rich peanut butter and topped with smooth, sleek chocolate ganache. It was even garnished with candied bacon — the sweet/salty combination reigned supreme!

Now, to go back to the savory rather than focusing upon the sweet ....


Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

The Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery is noted for its beers; however, when I go out I'd rather spend my money on food than on drink. For a ridiculously fair $5, the restaurant offers an exceptional snack that Jeremy and I enjoyed immensely: Truffled French Fries. As I wrote in my original feature: "They were utterly irresistable — so crisp, so fragrant with rosemary, so subtly and perfectly flavored with truffle and salt — that we'd have each happily devoured our own serving rather sharing. The fries were perfectly complemented by a rich mayonnaise-based dipping sauce — ketchup would be a sacrilege. I've already made a note to myself that these fries will be on my Top 10 list for the year."


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

When I served Baked Chicken with Morels and Leeks, Jeremy told me it was the best chicken dish I've ever served. Wow! In the post about it, I wrote: "The chicken, having baked in cream, is fork-tender. The sauce is luscious, and lets the leeks and the morels shine without either one overpowering any other ingredient." You don't need to spend a fortune on the ingredients: chicken thighs are inexpensive, and a few dollars' worth of morels are all you need to infuse a rich, indulgent flavor to the sauce. Be sure to make this during the all-too-short morel season! When I noted to Jeremy that I was including this dish, he reiterated: "I don't think there could be anything better in the history of ... ever!"


Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

Baconfest Michigan is one of the best events I've ever attended; Jeremy and I were in our glory, eating bacon in everything from sliders to grits to ice cream! (Here's my summary of the party.) But of the multiple options served by 30 vendors who celebrated everything glorious about the pig, my favorite treat was the bacon-coated caramel apples from The Root Restaurant & Bar. The apples were tart and crisp, the caramel was smooth and creamy and buttery, the bacon was chewy and salty. Altogether, these hit every taste bud, offered every texture. They were utterly sublime.

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Fruit 'n' Nut Baklava — my own spin on this beloved traditional dessert — was a huge hit with everyone who tried it. The flaky layers of phyllo dough, the sweet chewiness of the dried fruits, the crunch of the nuts, the hints of dates and cinnamon and honey throughout. Baklava has a reputation for being difficult to make, but this isn't true at all; one of the beauties of phyllo dough is that, while it's very fragile, it also doesn't really matter if you tear it while layering it — the dough will crack and crumble anyway, so who's going to know? Try this recipe for yourself and see how easy it can be to make something so impressive.


Photo courtesy of The Produce Station

And finally, here is a lovely wine that Craig and I enjoyed immensely, celebrating its annual release in November. The bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau that I purchased at The Produce Station was wonderful — light, fruity, sweet but not overly so, juicy, bright, and vibrant... it was definitely our favorite of the variety of wines we've tried (with dinners, at events, at tastings, etc.).  As I paid for my purchase, the fabulous cashier noted that my outfit perfectly matched the bottle; she gleefully called for Jorge, wine steward extraordinaire, to bring the camera so she could take a picture of me with my prize!

As Frank Sinatra sang, it was a very good year for my continued adventures in celebrating food. This list doesn't even begin to encompass all the wonderful creations, the fabulous dishes, the friendliness of service, the helpfulness of staff members, and other attributes which contributed to celebrations, to moments that required comfort, and to the many instances where food was integral to an experience. Whether a guilty indulgence in doughnuts at midnight, brownies offered as solace, or a milkshake shared with someone you love, food is so much more to us than mere sustenance.

May 2013 bring you much luck and happiness, and an abundance of good things to enjoy!

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Mary Bilyeu writes for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, telling about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests, meeting new friends ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions, comments, or suggestions:

Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — where she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related; and look for her monthly articles in the Washtenaw Jewish News. "Like" her on Facebook, or send a tweet on Twitter, too.

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 - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.


Linda Peck

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

It all looks yummy, Mary.

Sandy Castle

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

Thanks for the tips! I"m going to get out and try those peanut butter boms! I've had the Mac-n-cheese at Red Rock and the first time I had it it was amazing!!!! It was saucy and cheesy and tasted like it had baked for hours...YUMMY!!!! However, the second and third times it tasted like they had just put shredded cheese on top of noodles and nuked it. I'm afraid to order it again...


Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

I have to agree with A2DAVE. This is a weird article. It's not a TOP 10 at all but a list of things you like. Plus the things you like aren't even very good. It's very weird and frankly a bit creepy. Mac & Cheese at some mid-level joint in Ypsi is your favorite thing? I've been to that place and it was very very average at best. What gives? No offence, but seriously.


Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

A bit creepy? C'mon. How in the world do you make the stretch that her article is "weird" and "creepy?" It's about the food she ate this year. Some of it she made. And it's HER top ten list. Not yours. There are a lot of creepy things out there BUT saying she likes a mac and cheese at a restaurant you may not like is NOT creepy. I'm very interested in hearing your response.


Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

"It's not a TOP 10 at all but a list of things you like." ? That's the very definition of a Top 10 list. What else is a Top 10 list supposed to be?


Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Three of your own recipes in a "Top Ten List". My, you must be very, very, very good. Conceit? Perhaps not, but very poor taste? Imagine an author creating a "my favorite books" article for NY Times Review of Books, and including three of the author's own writings.

Mary Bilyeu

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

I debate it every year, but these really were excellent and I'm encouraging people to try them. My son, as you can see, endorses the chicken even more than I do. I'd rather tout something I'm proud of than something I didn't enjoy as much from someone else's kitchen.


Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 2:10 a.m.

I love your columns and this is one of the best! Happy New Year and Keep up the Good Work!

Mary Bilyeu

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

Thank you so very much, Elaine! Once the snow clears, you'll have to go do the tour and enjoy all these fabulous things ... :)