I'm writing this on New Year's Eve, frosty glass of fizzing Cava in hand, and thinking about how 2012 made a difference to my eating and cooking. And I was surprised to find that there were lots of things I cooked a lot of this year that I hadn't tried much of before. Here's a run down of some of my food highlights of 2012...
I happily jumped on the 'Korean food trend' bandwagon and gobbled up what must have been hundreds of mini plates of this spicy, fermented cabbage. In most places I've been to, it's served fridge-cold, alongside grilled meats, rice dishes or noodles. In fact, I've found myself ordering main courses in restaurants just because they come with a side of kimchi. I'm addicted to the stuff.
This year I've really fallen in love with the dark green, frilly leaves of a savoy or Cavalo Nero cabbage. We've eaten them stir-fried until crispy, baked them with sliced potatoes and tallegio cheese and chopped up into potato cakes with bacon and a runny fried egg. Nigel Slater's buttery spring greens and ham baguette was the best - and most surprising - sandwich of the year.
Alcoholic cakes and puds
If there was a way of getting some booze into my cakes and desserts this year, I did it. Highlights include a Bailey's cheesecake, Nigella's chocolate and espresso cake (laced with Tia Maria) as well as her Coconut (Malibu) cake. Also, Gennaro Contaldo's chocolate puddings with Amaretto and a Malibu and coconut ice cream.
Home-made ice cream
This was the year I learned how to (properly) make home-made ice cream, thanks to The Icecreamists book and my Lakeland ice cream maker, bought early in the year. I've since found that no supermarket ice cream (even the poshest ones) can compare with ice cream that's been made at home in the morning for dessert that night. I can whip up a quick custard-based ice cream now with eggs, cream, milk and sugar - but making it using condensed milk was a revelation. And every time I think I've cracked my own ice cream recipe, I visit Jane at Tutti Frutti in Reading and then I realise I still have lots to learn. She's my ice cream hero (try the Trifle flavoured ice cream next time you're there).
Thanks to the people at the British Cheese Board and cheese expert Patrick McGuigan I learned lots and lots about cheese this year. Everything from the difference between cheap cheese and artisan (water and time, mostly) to the massive variety of cheese available in Britain, all distinct and dependent on many factors such as the cattle's diet, the quality of the milk, how the cheese is moulded and what's added later (dried fruits, bacteria, nettle leaves, etc). I've developed a thing for Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Sussex Slipcote and melty Lancashire cheese. Tip: the best five-minute snack of 2012 was sliced 'tasty' Lancashire cheese, melted in a quesadilla with chorizo and red onion.
The Slow Cooker
2012 saw me dust off my slow cooker and use it to make not only stews and curries, but really tasty, modern dishes too. We went crazy for slow-cooker barbecue pork ribs, where the meat fell off the bone after a quick blast in the oven to caramelise the sticky topping. We ate bowls of Teriyaki Chicken with Jasmine rice and learned to cook a whole chicken in there (courtesy of Kavey). I'm in the middle of a pork shoulder craze at the moment, where burritos make an appearance on the dinner table at least once a month (cook the pork shoulder in the slow cooker with onions, thyme and beer). I've always felt that slow cookers were consigned to the 'retro' category but I really think they're having a bit of a revival now.
One sip and I was converted. I love bubble tea. Icy cold and milky but flavoured with green tea or black tea or sometimes with other fruity flavours with little chewy tapioca balls you suck up through an oversized straw. Bubble tea might have been the big news of 2012, but I reckon it's going to get even bigger next year, and we'll be able to get it in some more unusual flavours, too.
Hot Dog Night
Hot Dog Night overtook Burger Night in our home this year. The dogs: plain and bacon-wrapped smoky jumbo and skinny regular franks, chipolata pork sausages, white German sausages and Cumberland. The toppings? sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, avocado, cheese, onions. For me, it isn't a hot dog if it doesn't come with a sweet and sticky pile of chunkily chopped onions and a good squeeze of both mustard and ketchup.
What foods did you discover a love for in 2012? What do you think will trend in 2013, food-wise?