Dining Reviews

Best Bites of 2014

1452DINING GT1452A look back at the year in good taste

We all have our “can’t live without ’em” culinary items. You know, that favorite juice or snack food that gets you through all sorts of low blood sugar moments. Well, here’s my personal list of go-to items that have powered my home cookery and added a sparkle to the table, week in and week out, during 2014. In no particular order:

Patak’s Hot Mango Chutney tops our list once again. This brilliant blend of fruit, spices, vinegar, and something hot, has endless uses. We need it—need it!—on pork chops and with cheese platters. It is the secret ingredient in homemade vinaigrettes. This chutney can dress up almost any item in your kitchen, with the exception of seafood. Do not go into the New Year without a jar of this user-friendly chutney. It will make you look like the second coming of Julia Child.

Gerolsteiner mineral water, because it has a crisp, minerally, very light bicarbonate of soda and magnesium flavor that makes it an exceptional sparkling water. We like to mix it with lemonade or cranberry juice, or drink it all by itself. The Kevita Lemon Cayenne probiotic drink has earned a place in our pantheon of must-have liquids, as well, for its remarkably clean, addictive flavor, not to mention the good-for-you factor. Almond biscotti from Companion Bakeshop combine those crucial biscotti elements of crisp exterior and chewy, yielding interior. These are exceptional biscotti worth stopping by for on a daily basis. From Shopper’s Corner comes Edmond Fallot Green Peppercorn Dijon mustard, which marries the best of Dijon mustard (made not with vinegar, but with the pressing of unripe grapes, verjus) with the playful edginess of green peppercorns. Also from Shopper’s comes our absolute favorite butter—Somerdale English butter—balancing ultra creaminess and saltiness. It beats out all the other imports as far as I’m concerned. This butter is great on toast topped with Hero Sour Cherry jam, a jam we cannot live without. Tart and barely sweet, bearing a rich, deep sour cherry flavor. OMG.

I am hopelessly devoted to the peerless distillation from the Orkney Islands—Highland Park single malt whisky—which now occupies the sacred spot in our liqueur cabinet shrine. Perfumed by peat smokiness, honey, heather, and the mythic vibes of the very far northern Scottish islands, Highland Park is what single malt is all about. (With apologies to the excellent Talisker and the eccentric Laphroaig.) Milton multi-grain crackers are required in our larder, along with the “bar mix” from Shopper’s. These are our favorite pre-dinner snacks, or appetizer treats along with a glass of wine. The small one-inch square Milton’s are my current faves, but the large round crackers are the best platform for Basque sheep cheese or young Mahon. The Rue sandwich from Kelly’s has formed the center of many a quick lunch. Excellent chewy baguette with an interior of butter, mustard, ham and cheese. What’s not to like? Reliably tasty and easy to eat. For those last-minute dinners (when you cannot, or will not, cook) I run over to Gayle’s and grab a house meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner that tastes wonderful enough to rival homemade. Other items of frequent use that we love include Flat pretzels, and line-caught tuna, which we combine with white cannellini beans and some tomatoes to makes an authentic “Roman-style” dinner. Cucina povera that can’t be beat. And my new favorite is actually a rediscovery from childhood days. Thomas’ English Muffins. Yes I know, these babies have no redeeming nutritional value. But add some of that English butter and sour cherry jam to a toasted English muffin, and you’re happy. As in Happy New Year!

PHOTO: Almond biscotti from Companion Bakeshop was among the year’s top delectables.  CHIP SCHEUER

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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