I know this sort of blog post is normally done closer to New Year than at Christmas, but this time of year gets me to thinking about all that's happened over the last 12 months.
I think it's because Christmas is something that I remember quite clearly, whereas New Year can all be a bit of a blur (for different reasons!).
I asked hubby what his favourite dishes were, of those I've cooked over the last 12 months. We were both agreed that the best ones were the surprises. Not "surprise" as in "sausage surprise", but the things that we'd never had before and which turned out to be completely delicious.
Things like the Baked Camembert. That lovely warm, soft, melting cheese being dipped into with griddled asparagus spears. Oh, truly To.Die.For. We knew it was going to be good, but oh my word, how it surpassed being simply "good".
The real taste revelation that was Black Pudding. I'd never had black pudding before and had been too leery of it in the past, to try it. I was so glad I did - and I suspect it was just at the right time.
It has a complicated flavour that has very little relation to blood, but has an intense savouriness that is just so great – in small doses – with all kinds of dishes.
Another surprise was the Borscht. I'd been aware of this beetroot soup for donkey's years, but hadn't ever tried any. To be honest, up until the last couple of years, I'd been carrying a childhood dislike of beetroot.
However, my re-awakened interest in food and cooking has woken me up to many different flavours, one of which was the humble beetroot. I certainly wasn't anticipating the depth of flavour, nor the complicated levels of flavour that the Borscht brought.
Oh, and while we're thinking along beetroot lines - how about the Chocolate & Beetroot Cake! Now there was a really delightful surprise.
I've since made the cake on three different occasions - two of which were (very successfully) for family birthday parties. Generally, the news that the lovely chocolate cake before them is, in fact, made with beetroot (along with chocolate) sends eyebrows shooting skywards in surprise.
It is fun to watch everyone taking their first bite and waiting to be assailed by a beetroot club, only to find a gloriously moist and sticky, chocolatey mouthful of loveliness instead.
Another big surprise came from another humble vegetable. Who'd have thought that a couple of avocados could make such an unctuous, gorgeous, incredibly moreish, dessert when coupled with a tin of condensed milk, a couple of limes and a packet of digestives!
If you're in any doubt, give the Avocado Pie a go. I bet you'll be as pleasantly surprised as we were.
Something else that came as a surprise, was the Cream of Celery Soup. Now we knew that this soup stood every possibility of being lovely, but the actuality was (again) so much more.
In comparison, I can quite categorically confirm that the tinned soup tastes as much like Celery as its label does, i.e. not at all. Who knew such an unassuming vegetable packed so much flavour, that was so successfully eradicated in the tinned version?
For me, one of the big surprises of the year has been my immediate acceptance of Goat's Cheese. I had always been vehemently against Goat's Cheese, not in general but as something liable to cross my plate.
This is entirely down to a goat I used to know, by the name of Harvey, who was the smelliest most disreputable creature known to man. He was a lovely boy really, but God, did he stink!
My most stellar experience with Harvey was when I received a phone call from his owner to say Harvey had escaped and was holding the guests of a local Hotel hostage as he prowled their lounge - and could we do him a favour and go and retrieve him?
We found Harvey happily munching his way along a trail of bread rolls which led out of the door of the Lounge - except every time he reached the door, instead of going out he'd turn back and ask for more.
Not being frightened of him, we quickly grabbed a horn each and frog-marched him back along the road to his pen, where he was quickly attached to a long chain to prevent any further ideas of Hotel domination.
For years, though, the smell of goat's cheese was just too reminiscent of the smell of Harvey to be anywhere near palatable.
After all, I knew what he'd done to himself to create such a green miasma to hover above his head - and it didn't make me think "yummy!". Nope. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I ventured tentatively into goat's cheese with the New Potato, Bacon & Goat's Cheese salad and absolutely loved it. Seems like even a rampant male goat can become acceptable, if you add twenty or so years to the mix!
So, with that trip down my culinary memory lane completed, it just remains for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and the best of all things in the year to come. Who knows what I might try, next year. I've always had a hankering to try some truffles ....
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