Friday, January 20, 2012

My Top Four Ingredients of 2011

When I think back on the last year of cooking and eating, I think in terms of the ingredients I have most enjoyed using and tasting.  These ingredients have also - as you'd expect - been reflected in the posts of 2011.  In many respects, finding new foods and flavours is how I expand my repertoire of recipes and discover new dishes.  So, here they are, my top four ingredients of 2011.

1.  Coconut

Shredded.  Shaved.  Coconut milk.  Coconut cream.  Coconut frosting, powdered, toasted and desiccated.



 I have used coconut in vegetarian green curries, Thai pomelo salads and (of course) in cupcakes.  In many respects 2011 was my Year of the Coconut.  The only form of coconut I haven't be able to find since I left South East Asia is fresh, young coconut - I love these with the tops sliced off, sipping the clear juice with a straw and then scooping out the sweet, gelatinous flesh.  It doesn't get a whole lot better.


If you'd like to taste a little bit of my favourite new ingredient of 2011, check out Penny's Lemon & Coconut Tart or my Coconut Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting.  Perhaps some Coconut Bread for your Sunday brunch?  Or add some coconut cream to your pumpkin soup when the weather turns cold - I highly recommend it!


2.  Saffron

In addition to tinting a dish a lovely orange colour, the fragrance of this spice is for me the scent equivalent of mead - golden, sweet and delicious.  While not dominating a recipe, it adds terrific layers of flavour that are really very subtle.  When I did a wine tasting course last year I realised just how often the whites I love have often have the scent of saffron to them.

The best example in my repertoire of a saffron-flavoured dish is the lamb tagine with dates from Claudia Roden's Arabesque cookbook.  The dish is served piping hot over a plate of fluffy couscous, redolent with the scent of saffron wafting up as you eat.  What's not to like?




I am also about to upload a brand new lamb tagine recipe which uses saffron water - the result of pouring hot water over a pinch of saffron strands - and grated pumpkin.  It looks amazing, so I'll let you all know how it goes.

3.  Cinnamon

What is not to love about cinnamon?  Truthfully, this spice features on my list of Top Four Things of All Time.  It's up there with fresh sheets and rainy days on the couch reading a good book.

Cinnamon has always featured pretty heavily in all my cooking - from tagines (yep, right up there with saffron) to ice cream and, of course, muffins.  Check out the post on Buttermilk Choc-Chip Muffins - without the ground cinnamon these beauties would only taste (and smell) half as good.  The Tarte Tatin would also be a lesser dish without the addition of this versatile spice.  The Sugar 'N Spice Loaf is pretty damn terrific too, piping hot and straight from the oven.  Just saying.



4.  Lemon Zest

There's a bit of a theme to my top four ingredients - they are all the types of ingredients which help amp up the flavour of a dish, but not the showponies jockeying for dominance in the mix.  Always the bridesmaid, but rarely the bride.  I guess that's why I love them so much.  Is your plain cake a bit, well, plain?  Add some lemon zest.  Ditto for your icing - leave out the vanilla, add in a teaspoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of zest.  You won't be sorry.


One of the dishes in which lemon zest really stepped out and hogged the limelight a little this year was my Gluten-Free Lemon Curd Cheesecake.  I can hand on heart say that this is one gluten-free dish which is better than the gluten-full version - the base was outstanding, nutty and held together without being either too crumbly or too hard to sink your fork through.



I have so many plans and schemes for Four Figs in 2012.  Of course, lemon zest, cinnamon, saffron and coconut will stay on high rotation, but I am also keen to extend my Asian cuisine repertoire, embrace unusual flavour combinations in my baking and bring you more of my favourite savoury dishes.  I can't wait for the cold weather to arrive so I can spend the weekend whipping up an authentic cassoulet just like we sampled in Kate Hill's kitchen in October.  So much to look forward to.

No comments:

Post a Comment