Reflecting back on 2008, this was the year of the pig. (Forget what the Chinese Zodiac said about the rat.) In February, I watched the slaughtering and butchering of a pig. Then I made head cheese out of the head. I decided that that adventure was the culinary zenith of 2008. Rather than make me swear off pork forever, the experience did the opposite. I craved all things pork.
So fittingly, I made a New Years' Eve meal that was appropriate for celebrating the end of Sarah's personal year of the pig. For an appetizer, I made almond stuffed dates, wrapped in bacon. It's true. Everything is better with bacon. They are also ridiculously easy to make, if a bit tedious to assemble. The flavor, however, is worth it. The dates nearly caramelize in the oven, and the salty bacon, the sweet date, and the crunchy almond exploding in your mouth all at the same time, well, it's just a bit spectacular considering it's all wrapped up in such a small little bundle.
Here they are before they go in the oven. In my cooking and eating haste, I overlooked snapping an after picture.
Almond-Stuffed, Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Simply take pitted dates, push an almond into the center, and wrap with half a strip of bacon (avoid thick cut bacon). Secure with a toothpick (off centered, avoiding the hard almond in the center,) and bake on a rimmed baking sheet at 350, until the bacon is done, about 25 minutes, turning once so they brown evenly.
I also made Hoppin John, completely from scratch this year. I simmered the black-eyed peas with a pound of smoked pork neck bones, and I could not believe how incredibly smoky and earthy they turned out. Hoppin John, with a side of greens, will supposedly bring good luck. The greens, in particular are supposed to bring you more folding money in the new year.
I love New Year's if only for the fact that it's a holiday that invites reflection, nostalgia and list making. These are my favorite past times. (An understatement, I know). Add to this a blank 365-day slate of possibility laying in wait, and an excuse to get really drunk, well this is just my type of holiday.
While I've thought about listing a Prose and Potatoes 2008 Greatest Hits list, the idea tired me out and made me bored. I also thought about a Biggest Bloopers of 08 list, but honestly, I don't document the flops because I'd rather forget them as quickly as possible. The only exception here would be the Spam Sushi experiment. What the *&%! was I thinking?! However, I will tell you about one disaster. It was an angel food cake with lemon curd filling that tasted like sweaty, raw eggs and had the texture of a kitchen dish sponge. You can find the recipe, here, if you want to mock how ridiculous it is to fill an angel food cake with lemon curd and then, smother the whole shebang in boiled icing. What was I thinking?!
Instead of those lists I give you the list of culinary adventures I want to have this year. Here are the things I want to do with food and cooking throughout 2009, in no particular order.
1. Make my own ricotta and mozzarella cheese. (And hopefully taste raw milk for the first time.)
2. Make homemade sesame seed bagels.
3. Learn to can tomatoes from my garden.
4. Make dandelion wine and Lemoncello.
5. Cure my own corned beef.
6. Cook and eat beef tongue.
7. Make pirogi.
8. Make coffee can ice cream.
9. Make Baked Alaska and other frivolously retro desserts.
10. Make something with dried lavender flowers.
Am I missing anything? Is there some wonderful culinary curiosity that I should explore this year? I'd love your suggestions. And what about you? Is there anything that you've always wanted to learn how to make but have been holding back and putting it off? What is it? I'd love to hear about it.