2011 -- looking back and moving on

2011 recapI'm not likely to forget 2011 anytime soon, but I'm glad it's over. When I first started working on a recap post, I focused just on the food. Then I thought I should focus on the people instead. Then I realized there's almost no distinguishing between the two, at least not the way my life typically goes. Food brings people together, at least the kind of people I tend to know.A highlight for me in 2011 had to be the food crawls. There's the food of course. I also love checking out a neighborhood I don't get to visit very often (funny since I'm originally from Flushing, Queens, but it's changed a lot over the years). But I have to say that the right crowd is what makes a foodie meet-up memorable.2011 recapI couldn't write a recap of 2011 without talking about the baking. A lot of baking. And if you know me in real life, maybe you got to sample a few of these treats.2011 recapPeople love talking about the food truck scene, but I'm kind of over it. Don't get me wrong -- I'm more than happy to get my lunch from a truck whenever possible. But what got me excited this year were the food festivals -- Hester Street, New Amsterdam Market, and especially Smorgasburg. It would take me ten posts to list all the vendors I loved best, so I shouldn't even try.2011 recapI'll let the photos do the talking. Now I'm counting the days until the weather warms up  and these markets can all open again.2011 recapI attended just a couple of the smaller food blogger conferences this year, and I definitely made the right choice. Those bigger conferences are fine if you're interested in power networking, but now I know better -- you really can't beat the intimacy at events like these. I'm so honored to have been a part of these events.2011 recapThe photoshoots I worked on this year were particularly interesting. I can't say too much about them yet because the cookbooks are still in production, and I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm really excited about some of these projects.2011 recapMost of these moments don't need much explanation, or if I tried to explain them, it would take quite a while. These photos all have one thing in common -- they make me smile. And while 2011 was far from perfect, clearly I have a lot to be happy about.

Cookie Swap NY '11

Cookie Swap NYC '11New Yorkers have all the luck. The food here is amazing -- great restaurants, a cool food truck/cart scene, authentic specialty markets, and festivals year round. But it's the social events which make me the happiest -- gatherings like Pie Party Live and Brooklyn Swappers -- because they bring people together. It's the community which makes these events so nice, meeting with friends old and new, and sharing in a love of all things "yum." So when I heard about Cookie Swap NY 2011 (being put together by my buddies Maggy Anderson Keet and Jackie Gordon, among others), of course I got excited. It's only the second time they'd held one of these events, but it was my first time attending, so I felt like I had to go the extra mile. I decided to bake three different cookies. First I made the lime-cornmeal cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang, possibly the only recipe left in that book which I hadn't tried yet -- it's another winner, although I might experiment with the coarseness of the cornmeal if I made them again.Cookie Swap NYC '11I also made the double chocolate cookies from Flour, which I've raved about before. Seriously, these cookies are sleepers, meaning that they look kind of normal, but they're astounding in texture and richness. They're for chocolate fiends.Cookie Swap NYC '11Lastly, I made Homesick Texan's chipotle-spiced chocolate-pecan chewies again. I felt like something was different this time about the texture, but they were still great. Add to that, I got to put them on the gluten-free table at the event.Cookie Swap NYC '11Baking just for fun is nice, but the event itself, held at Hill Country BBQ, was put together to help raise money for a charity you might know I feel strongly about, Cookies for Kids Cancer. Wiley donated some cookbooks for a giveaway, along with other sponsors like KitchenAid. The book, by the way, has become a little hard to find this holiday season, but I'd recommend Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Williams-Sonoma, and soon the book will be at all Bed Bath & Beyond stores!Cookie Swap NYC '11I didn't count, but there must have been something like 75 different kinds of cookies there. This round-up is by no means authoritative, and I would have taken more photos, but it was a little dark inside the restaurant for snapping pictures. Some highlights I noticed (and yes, these people are almost all my friends) included Hazel's adorable bacon shortbread, cut in the shape of little piggies!Cookie Swap NYC '11Cookbook royalty was in attendance including Dorie Greenspan (seriously), Pam Anderson (love her), and Abby Dodge, who made these delights.Cookie Swap NYC '11My friend Louisa baked these, perfect for the holiday season.Cookie Swap NYC '11Gluten-free gingersnap candy cane sandwiches from Glow.Cookie Swap NYC '11Oh my god, Anna, how did I not get to actually taste these? Wow.Cookie Swap NYC '11Jess's cool bullseye cookies.Cookie Swap NYC '11Speaking of cool -- Debbie's Nutella raspberry pinwheels -- I love how these look.Cookie Swap NYC '11As if hundreds of cookies weren't exciting enough, there was a BBQ feast too -- Elizabeth Karmel and Hill Country BBQ went all out. The corn pudding and brisket were my favorites, so I went back for seconds of both.Cookie Swap NYC '11Possibly the best thing about Cookie Swap NY 2011 was something I didn't expect -- the secret stash cookies and special deliveries. Cathy started me off when she offered me some bacon rugelach... nice. Then Jackie passed me these mandarin-flavored sandwich cookies (in the photo above). Lillian gave me some insanely good macarons to take home. Ken slipped us some special treats as well. So next time I'll know -- save the really good stuff for handing out on the sly. Maybe next year I can be one of the "cool kids."

to skin or not to skin

Best Ever Chocolate PuddingI had a lot of ingredients leftover from my Thanksgiving cooking, so I went on a bit of a cooking/baking spree to use them up.  The "Best Ever Chocolate Pudding" from Joanne Chang's amazing Flour cookbook came to the rescue for making use of the half & half and heavy cream I still had in the fridge.  So does the recipe live up to it's name?  I'm going with yes. The funny thing is, I had to improvise a bit.  I didn't have the right amount of half & half, I didn't have bittersweet chocolate at all (I did have plenty of unsweetened and semi-sweet, so I could wing it), and I didn't have a vanilla bean to make the "vanilla sugar." Add to that, I'm pretty sure I over cooked my pudding.Best Ever Chocolate PuddingThis isn't a book I edited or published, but it always drives my authors a little crazy when I tell them stories of all the things I do wrong when I make their recipes, especially when it comes to desserts. (I wonder if my friend Joanne will feel the same way?) But in my mind, it's a sign of a really good recipe when I can totally screw it up and still get amazing results like this.  Seriously, this was practically liquid fudge.  (That's a very good thing.)Best Ever Chocolate PuddingThe recipe specifically calls for putting plastic wrap over the top to prevent a "skin" from forming.  Oops.  Just kidding -- I deliberately didn't put plastic wrap on top because I've loved that skin on top of pudding ever since I was a kid.  Isn't that the best part?  Jen totally agreed with me on this, so I know it's not just me.  So I ask, do you like the skin or not? P.S. Buy this cookbook.

a little more San Francisco love

Justin SchwartzNow for part-two of my San Francisco round-up. That's me on Lombard Street with all the other tourists, wondering if my SF friends are going to laugh at me when they see this photo.  I know it's a little cheesy, but it's fun being a tourist for the day.  If this post and the last one seem long, you'd laugh if you knew how much more food than this we really ate. I not even mentioning Pagolac, Saigon Sandwich, Out the Door, Katana-Ya, Amber, and oops! Well, I'm not sharing photos from those places because, believe it or not, I do put my camera down sometimes. So just the highlights now...Heaven's Dog, San FranciscoAfter an astounding meal at Amber with Shauna, Danny, Lu, Allison, Aran, Molly, Jennifer, Dianne, and Penny, Diane and Todd invited me and Jen to come out with them for cocktails and snacks over at Heaven's Dog. The drinks were a treat, but getting to know White on Rice Couple in person was even better. I'm not even sure how it happened, but we ended up going with Diane and Todd again the next night, for more late cocktails and snacks at Absinthe. I've got so many great memories from those two nights. Why do they have to live so far away?sf3Ferry Building Farmers Market, San FranciscoFerry Building Farmers Market, San FranciscoFerry Building Farmers Market, San FranciscoFerry Building Farmers Market, San FranciscoBack to the food. This is all a bit of a blur now because I was also having fun at Blogher Food 2010, but on Saturday we ended up at the Farmers Market again.  Amazing produce, great people, artisanal foods, and more. I could spend all day here.Namu, San FranciscoWe made it back to the Namu booth. I guess you could say this was a Korean-inspired poutine, sans the gravy, with bulgogi and hot sauce on top. (Or was that meat more like galbi?) Either way, damn, that was tasty.Tartine, San FranciscoOf course we visited Tartine, but what else can I say about it that I haven't said before?Bakeries just don't get much better than Tartine. I still gotta check out their new book.Bi-Rite, San FranciscoThen I stopped by Bi-Rite to pick up a bag of those awesome 4505 chicarrones. Does anyone in NYC sell them?Humphry Slocombe, San Francisco How did I not visit Humphry Slocombe the last time I was in San Francisco? Definitely worth the hype. New Yorkers are pretty lucky when it comes to ice cream, but San Francisco really knows its stuff.La Palma papitas fritasPlease tell me you've tried the potato chips from La Palma? I know they don't always have them available for purchase because they sell out, but that's no excuse for not visiting. So amazing.The Jelly Donut, San FranciscoAfter that failed trip to Dynamo, we popped into The Jelly Donut. I always love old-fashioned style donuts like these, and the countergirl gets serious brownie points for giving me two free donuts because it was late in the day and they were closing soon. Seriously, two free donuts!Little Bird Coffeehouse, San FranciscoNo joke, I don't even like coffee. Maybe it's because I don't have a Little Bird Coffeehouse nearby me, because this was dreamy. And could the people working there be any nicer? No, I don't think it's possible.Bob's Donuts, San FranciscoUmm, OMG! Bob's Donuts!!! Seriously, I've been to San Francisco a fair number of times, like five or six, and no one has ever told me about Bob's?! Tough call on this one, but it's the only place I know of that can come even close to Donut Dip in West Springfield, Mass. If I ever move to San Francisco, I'll need to live within a block of Bob's.  P.S. That photo above is one of my favorites of all time.In-N-Out BurgerI had to do the In-N-Out Burger thing again (only my second visit, ever) because this time I knew how to really order. I got these "animal style" and felt all cool saying that. Yeesh, I'm such a food dork.XOX Truffles, San FranciscoXOX Truffles is probably a total tourist spot, right, with the cable cars rolling by? Eh, it didn't bother me because these were such a treat. If it wasn't so hot that day, I probably would have gotten a box to go.Namu, San FranciscoNamu San FranciscoNamu, San FranciscoWe decided to have our final meal of the trip at the actual Namu restaurant in Inner Richmond, since we'd had so much fun trying their food at the Farmers Market. What a great meal. Everything was so interesting. I guess it's Korean-inspired, but they've got some distinctly Japanese dishes too. Don't let the classification worry you though. This is a really nice spot for a romantic dinner. I'm guessing some locals will think this was a weird choice with all the legendary chefs in San Francisco, but we loved our meal. What a great night (even with the most obnoxious guy on Earth sitting so close by).Union Square Park, San FranciscoAnd did I mention the warm weather? (Yes.) At least a couple of our nights were spent just strolling around and sitting in the park. (In New York City, most public parks are a little dicey after dark.)  Plus it's well into Fall, so it was really nice being able to sit out at night and enjoy the city like that, without the usual crowds around Union Square. I'm told the weather was a bit of a fluke, so I'll consider myself lucky to have been there for it. In fact by the time we left, I could have easily been wearing shorts and flip flops. I want that weather back. I want San Francisco back.

almost the 4th, kimchee dogs, and crazy-good ice cream

Guerrilla Ice CreamThanks to everyone for tips on where I should eat in D.C. and Philly. (It's not too late to post more suggestions!) Someday I'll stop raving about the Hester Street Fair, but that day isn't today. I stopped by for the holiday weekend celebrations, which included a live DJ. I'd tried some samples of Guerrilla Ice Cream the week before, but today I was craving more than a taste. This bit of icy heaven is called the Chinatown Tea Party. (I know, how could I possibly not order one?) It was a special of the day, made with their Steel Buddha Tea Sorbet and topped with Chinese walnut cookies and fresh dragonfruit. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever had fresh dragonfruit before, even though they're all over Chinatown right now. This was a refreshing, floral, just-sweet-enough-but-not-too-sweet, and overall totally enjoyable experience, not quite like anything else I've tried before. Nice one, guys. By the way, Guerrilla seems totally cool -- check out their site to learn more about their politics and charitable work.Mama O's kichee dogThat sorbet came in handy because I was nicely spiced up after eating this radish kimchee chili- and kimchee kraut-topped brat from Mama O's. They asked if I wanted it spicy and proceeded to add a nice dash of Sriracha. These guys think like me -- hearty, spicy Korean food to the rescue.Jen and EmilySpeaking of Korean, that's Jen of course, along with her sister, Emily. They both got haircuts in the East Village while I was eating my way through the Lower East Side. Aww, how cute are they? In case I don't write again tomorrow, happy 4th everyone!