Best of 2009

In the wee hours of a fresh new year, it is a lovely feeling to sit down and reminisce about the one that just ended, trying to squeeze out its essence and single out a few of its most memorable moments.

Among them, and in no particular order, I would list the release of a French classic I helped edit, a Best Culinary Travel Guide award for my Paris book, a trip to San Francisco and our first-ever apartment swap, my thirtieth birthday, and a few other noteworthy things, listed below.

Favorite new kitchen pet

Last spring I started keeping a sourdough starter, which I named Philémon, and this has been the most gratifying, wonder-filled project I have ever undertaken: each starter bread I bake seems an opportunity to learn something new and improve my skills, and the results delight us every time.

In addition to simple loaves, English muffins, and bagels, I have just started making sourdough baguettes and you will hear about these very soon.

Favorite new appliance

After a maddeningly frustrating few months trying to work with an oven that refused to cooperate, I finally threw in the towel and invested in a shiny new one that has (knock on wood) served me really, really well so far.

The contender in this category is the electric steamer I got for my birthday, which opened me to a whole new world of steamy dishes. In 2010, I ambition to use it for homemade dim sum.

Favorite new cookbook

This is not at all a newly published book, but I recently acquired Claudia Fleming’s dessert book The Last Course after hearing glowing reviews from several trusted sources. And indeed, it is a beautiful and inspiring book, full of seasonally-sound ideas and useful tips. (The book is out of print and its market value has shot up to absurd heights, but it can be ordered for a more reasonable price through the North Fork Table & Inn, where Fleming works now. Update: the book is now sold out at the North Fork Table & Inn.)

A contender in this category is Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery, a book about baking with a natural starter, which is, as I think we’ve established, my current passion.

Favorite new pieces of cookware

2009 was the year of cast iron for me: back in May, I acquired two cast-iron skillets, one vintage, one new, as well as a small, vintage, enameled cast-iron pot that matches one of my cocottes, and I gleefully got rid of the scratched nonstick pans they were coming to replace.

I am now a cast-iron convert — it conducts heat really well and is a lot easier to care for than people think — and I invite you to consider it for your next pan purchase.

Favorite new toy

The best kitchen toys are the ones you get thinking they’re just a fun gadget, but end up surprising you with their usefulness, and quickly earn their keep in the utensil drawer. In this category, my 2009 winner is this laser thermometer, for which I discover new uses all the time: checking the readiness of a griddle, a bread dough or a syrup, keeping the stock just under the simmering point, making sure the brown butter doesn’t burn, using the right temperature water for the right kind of tea… (Note: I call this a kitchen toy, but obviously you should keep it out of the reach of children and handle it with caution, never directing the beam in anyone’s eye.)

Favorite new pastry challenge

Making my own strawberry daifuku mochi after taking a class at La Cocotte.

Favorite new staples

On heavy rotation in my kitchen in 2009 were these two new staples: the olive oil tart crust, which I’ve used for savory and sweet tarts alike, and the peacamole, a green pea cilantro spread that’s quick to make and always well received.

Favorite blogging moment

To celebrate Earth Day, I asked C&Z readers to share their best tips for a green kitchen. Your enthusiasm was heartwarming and I was most impressed with your resourcefulness and clever ideas, as compiled in these two posts: Tips for a Green Kitchen, Part I and Tips for a Green Kitchen, Part II.

Favorite new DIY projects

I enjoy to try and reproduce in my own kitchen those items that most, um, normal people would buy ready-made, and these projects are especially rewarding when the result costs less and tastes just as good, or even better, than the store-bought version. In this category I’ll nominate the homemade Lärabars and the homemade vanilla extract.

Favorite food adventure

On a chilly but sunny day in late November, a friend and I joined two mushroom experts and went foraging with them in the Rambouillet forest, thirty minutes outside of Paris. It was my first mushroom-picking experience, and although I could stand to be more persistent and wear better shoes, I had a fantastic time.

I came home that night with a basket heavy with ceps and assorted, lesser-known specimens, and what followed at our table was a bit of a wild mushroom extravaganza, featuring a cep carpaccio, cep fettuccine, a cep pizza, wild mushroom oeufs cocotte, and a wild mushroom tart. I can’t wait to go back for chanterelles in the spring.

Favorite (non-food-related) reads

Because I know many of you are also enthusiastic readers, I can’t resist sharing my four favorites books among the ones I read in 2009: Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, Peter Godwin’s When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. (Note: I maintain a list of the books I read on the site.)

And you? I’d love to hear about your own best-of-2009 list!

  • I’m with you on the cast iron – that stuff has changed my life!

  • My boyfriend & I absolutely LOVED your Paris culinary guidebook – so many great choices! I’m so glad you had such a great (and delicious) 2009!

  • I especially enjoyed the Strawberry Daifuku Mochi post.In Vancouver we are blessed with a huge variety of different of mochi, which I absolutely adore, but I had never considered making an attempt at them myself. Love it and thanks!

  • Glad that you had a fab apartment swap; the only way to see the world (and the inspiration for InventedCity!).

    Glenn | San Francisco

  • Sarah

    This was a lovely post to read! I’m so interested in the laser thermometer – can you point it at liquids in a pot e.g. milk for cheese-making, to determine the temperature, or does it only work on the surface of the cooktop or saucepan? All the best to you for 2010, I love your blog!

  • Sarah – The laser thermometer will measure the surface temperature of anything you point to, whether it’s solid or liquid.

    What it won’t do is give you an internal temperature, to check on a roast for instance. For that you need a digital probe thermometer, which I’m embarrassed to admit I also own, but I find it more cumbersome to use. The laser thermometer, on the other hand, is super quick to whip out, use, and move on with whatever you’re doing.

  • My favorites for 2009 are in no order at all:

    Omnivore Books in San Francisco, a new store just for books on food.

    New cookbooks (hard to chooose!): Ad Hoc at Home, Ratio, Bakewise,and Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.

    Kitchen gadget: Beater Blade for my stand mixer (scrapes the bowl as it mixes, folds batters, and works as a spatula – a must for cake batters!)

    food trend: I love the trend of house-cured and pickled foods. I am seeing pickled vegetables everywhere and love it!

  • Great idea! I’m going to make a list of favourites right now. This past year should be perfect for making a list for since I did a LOT of travelling.

  • I just put together a list on my blog; it was fun going through all of the posts for the year and making up categories that fit my favorite ones. In summary, fried green tomatoes and vanilla/persimmon sorbet are epic.

  • Lovely! I’m going to tackle sourdough next.

  • Rachel

    My faves from 2009:

    Cookbooks acquired: a 3-way tie between the Ottolenghi cookbook, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (Peter Reinhart) and Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

    New piece of cookware: I finally have a tart pan!

    Most memorable meal (Paris): dinner at Cafe Panique, which I would never have discovered without the help of Edible Adventures

    Most memorable meal (elsewhere): lunch at Xoco in Chicago. I’ve never queued for 90 minutes for a sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate before, but they would have been worth twice the wait.

    Food adventure: exploring the Ferry Building (both shops and farmer’s market) in San Francisco

    Life-changing culinary experience: moving to California. I still can’t get over the fact that I can buy olives, dates, grapes, citrus, pomegranates and figs (and so many others) at the farmer’s market!

    All the best for 2010!

    p.s. Any chance of you posting your mushroom tart recipe??

  • My best kitchen moment of last year wasn’t culinary as such. Built us a kitchen table out of scaffold boards and old warehouse shelving. Everyone scoffed (and rightly so… I have a history of bad DIY) but it’s come out really well after hours of sanding, painting and sawing. Keep having to sneak downstairs to look at it. How sad… I’m calling it post-modern, industrial chic.

  • Cast iron, eh? I keep meaning to buy myself one. I had a similar discovery with the all clad copper core skillets and threw out all my non-stick. Of course they are terribly expensive, but they are also easy to clean and a joy to work with.

  • I’m loving looking back at peoples Best/Top Lists of 2009! Seeing how busy people were.

    Mmm I think I might have a sough dough project and keep a starter going. It is easy?

  • Somehow I missed the changeover from 2009 to the new year and was only really jolted awake by your Jan 2010 Desktop calendar (which is awesome by the way).

    I think my best kitchen moment of 2009 was making my first loaf of Sourdough with Beatrice, my own self-made starter. Followed closely by my first successful loaf of bread in my Electrolux Mixer.

    And thanks for the recap of your year. I’ve only been reading since August and looks like you had a lot of great posts this year!

  • My list of favorite cookbooks is so long I don’t think I have time to list them! But they include: anything by Dinah Shore or Ann Hodgman or Laurie Colwin.

  • Interesting read, thanks for the insights into yourself; I’ll be back to read more! Best wishes for a wonderful 2010!

  • EB

    Great list! I love your roundup. I think I might have to adopt your kitchen pet for the new year. :)

  • Paris Food Blague

    hi! i just want to say how much i admire your blog and please please blog about your next mushroom picking experience! it sounds like so much fun (and so rewarding to your senses).

    I live in Paris as well but have never been to the Rambouillet forest. Is this particularly good for mushroom picking or will others do as well…Fontainebleau for example?

  • Thanks for sharing your own culinary highlights for 2009 — I love hearing about them.

    Paris Food Blague – As I mentioned, this was my first experience so I’m no expert, but I understand different forests are good for different types of mushrooms at different times of year.

    The Fontainebleau forest is definitely a good spot as well, but I encourage you to go with someone who knows what they’re doing so you’re sure not to get sick or worse — there are a lot of toxic varieties out there.

    One option is to get in touch with the Société Mycologique de France, which organizes mushroom-picking outings for its members.

  • Maya R

    & in 2009, I began reading your blog….and that’s one of my best of’s =D It’s become quite a companion! I’ve prepared a good handful of your recipes, and everyone is always very happy. I believe next up will be Aunt Amélie’s Smooth Chocolate Cake. Hope you have a very good year!

  • Joan

    Favourite book : Bourke Street Bakery

    The temperature in Oz is sooo hot I can hardly think!

    Glass of cool bubbles raised to your year..’n the anticipation of more wonder-filled posts..

  • I love that Claudia Fleming book! And if you ever have a chance to eat at the North Fork Table & Inn, GO, GO, GO! It’s outstanding:

  • Renee

    The North Fork website offered the following message. Chef Fleming’s cook book, “The Last Course” is sold out!

    Such a shame, hopefully it will be reprinted so that C&Z readers can order a copy.

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