Sunday, 18 December 2011

Best of 2011

Ingredients of the year: corn tortillas and kalamansi limes

Tacos have made it into the bi-weekly dinner repertoire. Fillings vary: there has occasionally been spiced-up leftover brisket or shoulder of lamb, more often some beans. A cabbage salad is a new and popular addition to the table. Whatever the individual components, this is always fun to eat, its quality underpinned by proper tacos (ordinarily from here, though there are some being made in Brixton now too).

Amongst the many foolish things that the European Commission has done is to forbid the importation of these limes, far more intense and aromatic than anything I’ve come across. Bottled concentrates bring back at least some memory of drinking sweet-sour lime sodas across Malaysia, but I remain on the lookout for contraband.

Method: curing

When I lived in France, I would have no more made confit de canard from scratch than I would have baked my own croissants. But measured by an input-output ratio, this delivers an astonishing amount for very little effort: one pan, about 15 minutes of active time and a bonus jar of duck fat at the end.

Most exciting Brixton opening: Lab G

Our local maestro di gelato is a generous soul, a creative genius and a perfectionist, particularly when it comes to his exceptional pistachio and salted caramel flavours. This is the place we take people when we want them to appreciate just how astonishing the Brixton food scene is.

Best meal (London): Pied รก Terre

I was lucky enough to eat at this Michelin 2-star twice in 2011. The food was beautiful to look at, and the kitchen is creative while still turning out plates that are hugely enjoyable to eat. The service was a surprise too: well-informed, generous and far from starchy. At lunchtime, it's not even shockingly expensive.

Best meal (everywhere else): Tek Sen

One of the few disappointing moments of our trip to Penang was finding this restaurant closed (some kind of temple festival) when we tried to make a return visit. This was revelatory food: astonishingly fresh yet amazingly complex in flavour. If there’s a single reason why we’re cooking and eating so much more Asian food now, it must lie in the effort to recapture what was on those plates.

Most-used cookbook: Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy

We had this out from the library on and off for the last 6 months; our permanent copy should be arriving in time for the beginning of Hanukkah. It’s yielded crispy, spicy chickpeas which are perfect with a G&T, our first proper dhal and introduced us to curry leaves. But the biggest game changer has been making our own chapattis, far simpler and tastier than I would have imagined possible.

Most enjoyable food shop: A & C Co Continental Grocers

I’m spending more time in the local Asian grocery these days, and I still make a trip to Borough Market most weekends. But this is the place that I stop into nearly 6 days a week, whether for some olives or nuts to start off dinner, to top-up store cupboard basics or for the things that no one else sells locally, like quinces or fresh bay leaves. These are the people who’ve held onto my extra keys, make me laugh at the end of a rotten day and are eager to have taste me the new cheese that’s just come in. I don’t think most people have a shop like this; I’m very lucky that I do.

Best experiment: growing tomatoes

Flowers and shrubbery may still hold very limited interest, but I’m now beginning to understand why people like to garden. I’m not sure that in the midst of the root rot saga of August and September, or when I was hauling home 40 litres of potting soil on the bus, that I wholly appreciated how satisfying it could be to grow my own food. But it gave me occasion to talk to my neighbours, and was a far better use of time than more Internet surfing. And I learned that even basic cherry tomatoes taste great when picked as the table is being set for dinner.

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