My Favorite Food Items of 2011 from A to Z and Giveaways

The following is the list of my favorite food items of 2011 — from A to Z. There are a few giveaways at the end of the post. Thank you for hanging out here with me this past year. Happy New Year, everyone!

A: Apples

Growing up in a place where apples are imported, heavily waxed, and irradiated, I’ve never for a moment taken for granted the superior apples that are available every autumn in my host country.

I’ve recently used apples in some classic Thai dishes that normally require tropical fruits. Apple fritters made in the style of street Thai fried bananas are a favorite this year. A simple green apple salad has been served atop various grilled and fried pieces of meat this year in lieu of green mango salad as it is getting more and more difficult to find fresh, firm green mangoes in my area. For the same reason, I even serve apples with the sticky, salty fruit dip, nam-pla wan.

This practice is clearly not traditional. But in the face of scarcity, you do what you can. Sometimes, a substitute can even outperform the original. Case in point: my kitchen hasn’t seen fried crispy catfish (ยำปลาดุกฟู – Yam Pla-Duk Fu) served with the traditional green mango salad for several months; I’ve been too enamored with the same salad made with tart, crisp, refreshing, much-easier-to-find Granny Smith apples.

B: Broccoli Stems

thai recipe
Those familiar with Mu Ma-nao (หมูมะนาว – steamed or poached pork with spicy lime-fish sauce dressing) know that the Thai dish is served accompanied with a plate of either Chinese broccoli (kai lan) tips or its stems, peeled and iced. Prepared this way, broccoli stems are superbly crunchy. If anything can take the edge off the tangy, spicy dressing and cool you down, it’s this refreshing, ice-cold cruciferous stalks.

This year, for reasons I can’t recall, I have taken to serving iced broccoli stalks to not just Mu Ma-nao but almost every spicy Thai meat salad. Laab Gai has been getting the broccoli stem treatment more often than others this year.

C: Croque Monsieur

I had never made my own croque monsieur — the cheesy, bubbly type complete with béchamel sauce — until one day when I had a croque monsieur at a local restaurant that tasted just as repulsive as it looked. In fact, when the server placed it in front of me, I thought he had mixed up my order. That’s all it took for me to get into a year-long phase of making this classic French dish as often as a couple of times a month. For a quick overview of the process and links to the recipe (the same used at Bar Boulud), you can watch my short YouTube video on how to make croque monsieur.

D: Durian Cake

Living in a place where fresh durian isn’t available, one has to make do with its frozen flesh which is nothing but a pathetic excuse for durian. Since I find frozen durian to be utterly unpleasant to eat straight up (due to its texture), I’ve been using it to make durian flan (คัสตาร์ดทุเรียน) and sweet sticky rice with durian coconut cream (ข้าวเหนียวทุเรียน). I like to use durian purée in desserts with custard-y texture reminiscent of durian pulp in its natural state.

But this year, I’ve found another way to use durian pulp: durian cheesecake. It’s not a traditional cheesecake, but a hybrid of cheesecake and sponge cake with a texture very similar to my soft, light, and fluffy Pumpkin Mascarpone Bourbon Cake which many of you enjoy so much. The recipe will be posted here soon.

In the meantime, those who have never had durian may benefit from these tips (written by yours truly — probably during an altered state of consciousness, in retrospect …) on how to make your first experience with durian as painless as possible.

E: Eggo Ice Cream Sandwiches

eggo ice cream sandwich
Oh, man. I can’t tell you how many times I made and ate these ice cream sandwiches this year. And I’m not an ice cream sandwich person.

It all started when I talked to Adam Sobel, former executive chef at RM Seafood (he’s now at Bourbon Steak in Washington D.C.), for a post. Sobel mentioned that one of his favorite things to make and eat at home was Eggo ice cream sandwiches, especially ones made with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Curious, I decided to make one for myself just to see what the big deal was. Got hooked on it ever since.

F: François Payard’s Pound Cake Recipe

Maybe I’d been doing it wrong, but none of the pound cake recipes I had tried until I discovered this one ever yielded the result I’d hoped for which is a buttery cake with fine texture resembling that of a mass-produced pound cake but tastes homemade. Using superfine sugar helps a bit; so does the use of an emulsifier. But none of that is really needed if you follow this unusual method of making a pound cake by Payard. It does not involve the conventional creaming of butter and sugar in the initial stage; it begins with the beating of the eggs and sugar as if you’re making a génoise. The necessary lipids come in the form of equal amounts of melted butter and heavy cream which are folded in toward the end.

The result is a fine-crumbed pound cake that is light without being spongy and buttery and dense without being heavy. This will be the only way I make pound cake from now on.

The recipe is from Payard’s Simply Sensational Desserts (which is one of the most heavily used cookbooks in my library); you can find it here.)

20 Responses to My Favorite Food Items of 2011 from A to Z and Giveaways

  1. Tangled Noodle December 31, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Looks like 2011 was a delicious year for you! Here’s wishing you an equally tasty 2012! 😎

  2. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    I will just use the opportunity to say how much I love this blog, and I hope 2012 will be just as good, or even better, than 2011. 🙂

  3. Bville Yellow Dog December 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    That Lime oil looks great. Ordered! If it tests out I won’t buy the tree I was considering. Indoor citrus in pretty hopeless. They always get spider mites and die inside in the winter.

  4. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    “I” Isaan sausage at Tac Quick in Chicago. I completely agree with you. It is fantastic and my good friend Andy is the chef and part owner of the restaurant. TAC Quick is one of the best and most authentic Thai restaurants in Chicago. Thanks for posting.

  5. Anonymous January 1, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Leela, I’m interested in hearing more about your experience with the kaffir lime oil. Is it true as they say on the website that you don’t need more than a few drops? This stuff is pricey! But if you think it’s worth the money …


  6. Admin January 1, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Jeff – I’ve found that, for my taste, I prefer to use more drops than recommended on the website. For example, to make about 2 cups’ worth of Tom Kha Gai, I use about 2-3 drops of the 5% oil; for the same amount of panaeng curry, I use twice as much.

    Could be a personal thing. I really like the scent of kaffir lime.

    Also — and thanks for asking this question because I should’ve said all this in the post — I’ve found that it’s best to add the oil to the dish *after* it has been cooked. This is not always possible; you can’t do this with deep-fried dishes such as Tod Man Pla (Thai fish cakes). But when it comes to panaeng curry or infused soups such as Tom Yam or Tom Kha, this works extremely well.

    I guess heat renders the oil less potent.

  7. Laura January 1, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    I tweeted because boy am I intrigued enthused excited to try the som vinegar. Fingers crossed! Also intrigued by the kaffir oil but would feel guilty winning it given that 3 limes just fell off my tree this weekend. 😉

  8. Kevin January 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    That is a lot of tasty looking food! Happy New Year!

  9. kita January 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    I love this post. A lot of things perked my interest and I have a lot of open tabs now. I believe that eggo ice cream sandwiches are best with mint chocolate chip ice cream too. 😉

  10. Hyosun Ro January 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    You have a beautiful blog! This post on your 26 favorite food items is very interesting. Great job! My goal this year is to learn how to make pad thai from this blog. Wishing you the very best in 2012!

  11. OysterCulture January 2, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Whoa, that’s a heck of a list, you’ve inspired me to branch out as I’ve been in a culinary rut lately. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  12. brillsec January 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Loved this post! I can’t wait to try the kaffir lime leaf essential oil. I live in Alaska, 90 miles from the nearest Asian market; they do carry lime leaves, but the price has gone up from $3.00/half pound to $6 for 12 leaves! Yikes. So glad to hear there’s an alternative, because my family loves Tom Yum Gai.

  13. Rachel A. January 8, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    I just discovered your blog, and I am in love! I live in Atlanta, and have yet to find Kaffir lime leaves, even at some Asian markets… The idea of the essential oil is fantastic. Thanks for all of your hard work and inspiring me to branch out in the kitchen.

  14. Anonymous January 10, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    Happy New Year, Leela. Must make G and I immediately. Guess who got the new 17″ Lodge pan for Christmas. Major daily hint dropping did work this time. Love your list.


  15. Admin January 11, 2012 at 4:36 am #


    I have listed all the entries here. Then I’ve asked @DwightTurner, the man behind Eating Thai Food to randomly choose the numbers (he had NO idea what the numbers were for).

    His choices are as follows:
    For Giveaway#1: @brberliner, @sundevilpeg, @JMWeishaar, @abredro, and Anthony Robinson from my Facebook page.
    For Giveaway #2: John Weber from my Facebook page
    For Giveaway #3: @katraena9, Joseph Spacone from my Facebook page, and @JBudd451

    Thanks for participating, everyone!

  16. Rick January 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    That’s a great year end recap… eying that grilled pork again…

  17. Mikey September 1, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    Where can I find a recipe for the salad (the yam part?) that goes with yam khai yiao ma? I recently found a store where I can buy these eggs (stoked, been hoping to find them in my country after eating them many times in Thailand), and I want to learn some traditional ways to prepare them. Thanks.


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