Best of 2010

I hope you’ve enjoyed a warm and cheerful holiday season, that you’ve shared laughter and good meals with the people you care about, and that you’re feeling full of energy and dreams for 2011.

May this fresh new year bring you joy, serenity, fulfillment, and really good skin. I look forward to another year of meeting you here on Chocolate & Zucchini.

Before we kiss 2010 goodbye altogether, I don’t want to miss my chance to reminisce on what it has brought me, thereby establishing my traditional “best of” list*.

Most memorable trip

The most salient memory I will keep from 2010 is, without a doubt, the trip I took to Japan with Maxence. I can even say it was the best trip of my life, and I wish I could bottle up the euphoria I felt for two weeks straight — and also wrap up in a magic doggie bag every single bite we ate, so I could savor them over and over again.

Most rewarding baking project

For the first time ever, I baked a galette des rois to celebrate the Epiphany, the traditional January holiday I wrote about here and again here. It was a success that far outweighed the (moderate) work involved, and I encourage you to try your hand at it too: the official date is this Thursday, but l’Epiphanie is customarily celebrated anytime in January.

Favorite breads

Ever since I found James MacGuire’s instructions for pain au levain in an issue of Art of Eating, it has become our weekly loaf of bread, and I now make it (almost) with my eyes closed.

I also baked a number of batches of these tomato burger buns. They accompanied us through a fabulous summer of near-weekly cheeseburgers — many of them vegetarian, since I discovered with glee that they sell portobello mushrooms at the greenmarket.

Favorite new cooking utensils

My new/old pressure cooker is definitely getting some mileage on my stove: I use it several times a week to cook legumes, grains, soups, and stock.

I have also acquired a used electric coffee grinder (a model very much like this one) that I have repurposed as a spice/seed grinder, to whizz things like flax seeds, cardamom and lemon zest.

And although it isn’t a cooking utensil exactly, we are delighted with the sparkling water fountain that my sister and brother-in-law gave us for Christmas, which allows us to turn still water to sparkling at the push of a button (“abracadabra!” optional).

Most thrilling experience for the thrifty cook

In the fall, I was grateful for the chance to cook and bake with free ingredients that I either foraged (mushrooms and chestnuts) or received from generous friends with gardens (quinces and walnuts), as evidenced by these recipes for cep and walnut pizza, quince almond cake, quince jelly, and walnut and date cookies.

Most frequently made meal

When we have friends over for dinner, I tend to go through phases of serving essentially the same meal to different groups until (almost) everyone has tasted it, and then I have to think up something new. In 2010, my little black dress of dinner parties has been a salt-crusted chicken served with perfect roasted potatoes and a green salad, followed by a seasonal fruit tart.

I actually got to serve this to an ambassador and his wife whom we befriended this year (I know!), and they kindly requested the chicken recipe, which is a variation on the one that’s included in Yves Camdeborde’s book Dimanche en famille (already mentioned here).

Favorite new staple

Since early last summer, I have been making most of my savory tarts on this yogurt-based crust, and it now keeps my olive oil crust company in the regular tart rotation.

Favorite new skill to develop

I had the opportunity to visit the Valrhona chocolate factory in Tain-l’Hermitage last spring, and our group was treated to a primer on how to taste chocolate. It was fascinating, and I’ve tried to follow our instructor’s advice ever since.

Favorite kitchen toys to play with

A friend let me borrow her dehydrator, and I had a lot of fun playing with it, making this raw buckwheat granola and these raw flax seed crackers especially.

I’ve also used my pasta roller quite a bit this year, to prepare fresh pasta of course, but also multiple batches of these excellent olive oil and seed crackers.

Favorite food-related reads

Among the books and cookbooks I read this year, I particularly enjoyed In the Green Kitchen (I wrote about it here), 52 Loaves (I wrote about it here), the above-mentioned Dimanche en famille (I wrote about it here), as well as Eating Animals and Bidoche, two life-changing books on the meat industry.

Favorite non-food-related reads

My favorite books for 2010 are — in order of appearance — The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (read her other books, too, she’s an extraordinary writer), A Distant Neighborhood by Jirô Taniguchi (this one is a manga), My Ántonia by Willa Cather, The Passage by Justin Cronin, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (I read it in French, of course, but I’m linking to a new translation by Lydia Davis), and A Visit from the Goon Squad. (See my reading page for a complete list.)

I will also remember 2010 as the year I crossed over to the side of e-readers: I got myself a Kindle and I have taken to it like fish to water. I won’t read all my books on it, in part because I borrow many of the novels I read from my mother, but it’s been wonderful to have when traveling, and I plan to use it to read or re-read classics that are now in public domain, and are therefore available for free download.

What about you? I’d love to hear about your own 2010 highlights!

* If you want to take a little trip back in time, you can check:
~ Best of 2009
~ Best of 2008
~ Best of 2007
~ Best of 2006
~ Best of 2005.

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