astrid

Best 2012 Ingredient Discoveries

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One of my favorite things about the Shopping and Cooking forum are the interesting discoveries highlighted in grocery store specific threads. I would love to hear from you all about your favorite ingredient/grocery store discoveries of 2012.

Mine were:

queso de freier (Costco) - just as tasty and easy to fry as halloumi at only 1/4 the price.

aji dulce (home grown from Southern Exposure Seeds) - similar flavor as habanero but none of the heat, these proved to be wonderful additions for various stews, sauces, hot sauce (in place of carrots), and surprisingly, popiscles.

frozen almond crossiants (Trader Joe's) - are way better than any bakery almond croissants I've ever had

okra "Burmese" (home grown from Baker's Creek Seeds) - this variety is amazing, I had loads of tender 10" pods from my community garden every week, this is *the* variety for weekend gardeners

fennel (Trader Joe's) - I'm a big fan of the Trader Joe's fennel 2 packs because they're cheaper and don't come with all the annoying fronds (my community garden plot is infested by non-bulbing fennel, so I already have way too much of the tops)

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Red Boat fish sauce. Put it on everything. Umami-mazing.

Lardo. Sliced thin, let it come to room temperature, eat it raw. Wowa.

Under the Olive Tree (Tysons Corner Mall) for extra virgin olive oil that is fresh from the crush. You can taste it before you buy it. What you taste is what you get, and they have everything from astringent/phenolic to buttery. Balsamic vinegars, too.

Murray's Cheese, mail order from Bleecker St. Shipped overnight in a cute little insulated box with an ice pack inside. Arrives cold even when it's hot outside.

From my CSA, Potomac Vegetable Farms, a wonderful vegetable that looks like celery and tastes like parsley. Memo to self, what is it? Whatever it is, I want more.

My 2013 resolution, source the wonderful olives and cheese from Dino.

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Love this thread. Will have to think on it a bit more, but for now, not a discovery but a rediscovery - spice blends! Thanks to Mrs. Dash I had in my head that good cooks don't use spice blends, but there are worlds of good quality spice blends out there. My current favorite - Capitol Hill from Savory Spice shop (similar to Sunny Paris from Penzey's). Excellent on chicken dishes and in pork stew.

Also, sour cherries. Pickled sour cherries were my favorite cocktail garnish this year. Planning to buy a lot more of them next year and see how many ways I can preserve them.

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pea tendrils -- although I had to learn that I need to chop them up before sauteeing or they tie themselves into a giant mass.

sumac -- adds a wonderful bit of acid and pop of color to things.

making turnip pickles for sandwiches

Cherokee heirloom tomatoes -- a dark purply-red and tops that split easily, but the taste is divine! And far too few of these were grown by the farmers who set up at the Falls Church market, more's the pity.

Oh, and the bicolor sweet corn that Toigo Orchards had at the end of the season, starts with an M, I think...so good.

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Grocery store discovery - Talenti Gelato is pretty fantastic stuff.

My mom turned us on to this as well and the kids love it also. Although Giant by us has stopped selling the sea salt caramel, which is their favorite.

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Lardo. Sliced thin, let it come to room temperature, eat it raw. Wowa.

Do you have a local source for lardo? (Lardo is among the contraband I have smuggled into the country from Italy, and I deny having said that.)

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Also, sour cherries. Pickled sour cherries were my favorite cocktail garnish this year. Planning to buy a lot more of them next year and see how many ways I can preserve them.

The last two summers, I put up sour cherries in Luxardo maraschino liqueur. The first time, I pitted them first, which is a big mistake. They stay much firmer and nicer un-pitted, and you can always pit them when you're going to put them in cocktails later. Great in a Manhattan, or my variant called the Isle of Joy, made with rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur (especially good is the maraschino liqueur in which sour cherries have been put up), dry vermouth, and Angostura bitters, garnished with one or two of the preserved sour cherries and a slice of lemon.

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The last two summers, I put up sour cherries in Luxardo maraschino liqueur. The first time, I pitted them first, which is a big mistake. They stay much firmer and nicer un-pitted, and you can always pit them when you're going to put them in cocktails later. Great in a Manhattan, or my variant called the Isle of Joy, made with rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur (especially good is the maraschino liqueur in which sour cherries have been put up), dry vermouth, and Angostura bitters, garnished with one or two of the preserved sour cherries and a slice of lemon.

Funny, a friend who read that I had used mine in a cocktail yesterday posted a link to a recipe for "real" maraschino cherries, made exactly as you describe. Except I didn't click on the link before responding with a lecture on how maraschino liquor actually has nothing to do with the bright red maraschino cherries we all think of. Oops. :ph34r: Am adding that drink recipe to my list, thanks.

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Funny, a friend who read that I had used mine in a cocktail yesterday posted a link to a recipe for "real" maraschino cherries, made exactly as you describe. Except I didn't click on the link before responding with a lecture on how maraschino liquor actually has nothing to do with the bright red maraschino cherries we all think of. Oops. :ph34r: Am adding that drink recipe to my list, thanks.

I think to be really, really "real" maraschino cherries, the cherries need to be of the marasca variety, for which I know of no source, but no matter. For the Isle of Joy cocktail, I gave the formula here. I see I used Fee Bros. aromatic bitters rather than Angostura; either would work beautifully.

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I usually just soak my sour cherries in Seagram's seven crown with a spoonful of sugar. The cherries are good but the booze is better. Homestead Farm has a really nice variety called Jubilee that ripen a week or two before the bright red Montmorencies. I think Jubilee is a Morello as it is dark red and almost sweet enough to eat fresh, but still have tender skin.

I also made a batch of pickled cherries in 2012, with white vinegar, coriander, rosemary, and peppercorn. It is tasty but very potent.

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I must try the Talenti gelato. My standby was the gelato sold at the food court in Pentagon City Costco - it's only $5/quart and they seem to make it fresh on the premise. But they only have three flavors and two of them are now chocolate-centric (they swapped out a delicious mixed berry flavor for chocolate), so not much for variety.

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From my CSA, Potomac Vegetable Farms, a wonderful vegetable that looks like celery and tastes like parsley. Memo to self, what is it? Whatever it is, I want more

Lovage, I'll guess. Don't care for the stuff myself as it can be exceptionally strong except when very young.

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Do you have a local source for lardo? (Lardo is among the contraband I have smuggled into the country from Italy, and I deny having said that.)

Society Fair usually has it. Cheesetique may have it occasionally, when I called looking for it they said they were sold out, so I assume that means that they do carry it.

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My mom turned us on to this as well and the kids love it also. Although Giant by us has stopped selling the sea salt caramel, which is their favorite.

I have not seen the Talenti sea salt caramel at the Van Ness Giant either...it is gelato crack. I have seen it at Safeway.

The chocolate peanut butter is good (Giant/Safeway). The caramel cookie flavor is just ok and I would avoid if the sea salt caramel and/or chocolate peanut butter is available.

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Lovage, I'll guess. Don't care for the stuff myself as it can be exceptionally strong except when very young.

The CSA email said celery. Strongest tasting celery I ever saw, and the stalks were not bunched together but standing apart. Probably an heirloom variety? Something like smallage?

I will try lovage and/or smallage in our veggie garden this year, as I am a fan of exceptionally strong celery flavor.

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I think celery is probably more likely than lovage, since I definitely got some very strong tasting celery (a bit too strong for me, I saved it for stock making) from Potomac Vegetable Farm CSA this year, but I don't recall ever getting lovage. I grew some cutting celeries in 2011 and they are definitely strongly flavored and prolific after a slow start (the seeds are tiny and the baby plants didn't do much for a while). They're allegedly much easier than regular celery to grow because they don't need to be blanched and are less picky about watering. Stir fried cutting celery (usually with some pork slivers or dried tofu curd slivers) is a popular dish in China and you might be able to find them in Korean supermarkets.

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Society Fair usually has it.

I've never been, and in truth I had forgotten that it had come into existence. I'll have to get over there soon. (Alexandria is sort of like a foreign country to me, even though I grew up in Arlington.)

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I have not seen the Talenti sea salt caramel at the Van Ness Giant either...it is gelato crack. I have seen it at Safeway.

The chocolate peanut butter is good (Giant/Safeway). The caramel cookie flavor is just ok and I would avoid if the sea salt caramel and/or chocolate peanut butter is available.

While I was up visiting friends in Bethel, NY (in the Catskills) last weekend, I tasted Talenti coconut gelato, which was sensational. I haven't seen it here, but they hadn't seen salted caramel there.

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While I was up visiting friends in Bethel, NY (in the Catskills) last weekend, I tasted Talenti coconut gelato, which was sensational. I haven't seen it here, but they hadn't seen salted caramel there.

I've seen it at DC Safeways, Giants, and Whole Foods. Looks like the one issue is no one seems to carry their full product line. Generally I've seen 3-5 flavors at any one time, but they have 20 different flavors. Maybe larger grocery stores in the burbs will have a greater range of their product.

But basically everyone I know who has tried it instantly falls in love...I've even had conversations with grocery store cashiers about which flavors are best!

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I think celery is probably more likely than lovage, since I definitely got some very strong tasting celery (a bit too strong for me, I saved it for stock making) from Potomac Vegetable Farm CSA this year, but I don't recall ever getting lovage. I grew some cutting celeries in 2011 and they are definitely strongly flavored and prolific after a slow start (the seeds are tiny and the baby plants didn't do much for a while). They're allegedly much easier than regular celery to grow because they don't need to be blanched and are less picky about watering. Stir fried cutting celery (usually with some pork slivers or dried tofu curd slivers) is a popular dish in China and you might be able to find them in Korean supermarkets.

Cutting celery might be it! Looks like a good host for black swallowtail butterflies in my butterfly garden.

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I've seen it at DC Safeways, Giants, and Whole Foods. Looks like the one issue is no one seems to carry their full product line. Generally I've seen 3-5 flavors at any one time, but they have 20 different flavors. Maybe larger grocery stores in the burbs will have a greater range of their product.

But basically everyone I know who has tried it instantly falls in love...I've even had conversations with grocery store cashiers about which flavors are best!

Balducci's (both Old Town and Bethesda) usually has the seal salt caramel and I may recall seeing it at Harris Teeter in Potomac.

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Cutting celery might be it! Looks like a good host for black swallowtail butterflies in my butterfly garden.

I think it was probably celery. The celery we are all familiar with from the grocery store is a pale thing in flavor compared with the cutting celery you can find at some farmers' markets.

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Well thanks a lot to many of you. I went into Giant on my way home to pick up a few harmless things, Amelia's flavored sparkling water, citrus for cocktails...and I left with a container of sea salt caramel gelato! I really don't have a huge sweet tooth and I never buy ice cream, but I was standing there eyeing this bag of coconut macaroons thinking something a little sweet sounded good until I realized they were $8 a bag :o so when I saw the gelato you had all been talking about I couldn't pass it up. And I got a chocolate muffin to put it on top of. Double :o !

They had 10 flavors of it btw (and it was on sale) so if anyone is craving a particular flavor other than the caramel, let me know and I'll let you know if the ghetto Giant in Laurel has it. :P

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OK. Now I'm going to need to do a side by side comparison of Talenti sea salt caramel with Dolcezza sea salt caramel. I think Dolcezza has to be favored since local, fresher and with fewer preservatives but, until compared, no way to be sure.

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Red Boat fish sauce. Put it on everything. Umami-mazing.

Good to know - I just bought a bottle from Lotte a few weeks ago. I haven't opened it yet or figured out how I'll use all of it (it's a large bottle). I bought it to try making Thai spicy lime dressing.

Cava Mezze brand tzatziki sauce from Whole Foods has been a constant in my fridge for the past few months. It's thick and has pieces of fresh dill. Not only is it delicious as a dip, but it's a great lower calorie alternative to mayo. 2 tablespoons of the tzatziki has 35 calories. I use it instead of mayo to make tuna fish sandwiches or other sandwiches. I also put a dollop of it on my chili like sour cream.

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Cava Mezze brand tzatziki sauce from Whole Foods has been a constant in my fridge for the past few months. It's thick and has pieces of fresh dill. Not only is it delicious as a dip, but it's a great lower calorie alternative to mayo. 2 tablespoons of the tzatziki has 35 calories. I use it instead of mayo to make tuna fish sandwiches or other sandwiches. I also put a dollop of it on my chili like sour cream.

The Cava spicy hummus is pretty darned delicious, too. Rodman's Friendship Heights carries the product line, as well.

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The Cava spicy hummus is pretty darned delicious, too. Rodman's Friendship Heights carries the product line, as well.

I love their garlic hummus and also the harissa.

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OK. Now I'm going to need to do a side by side comparison of Talenti sea salt caramel with Dolcezza sea salt caramel. I think Dolcezza has to be favored since local, fresher and with fewer preservatives but, until compared, no way to be sure.

I was a bit disappointed to be honest. It's delicious, but I didn't actually get any salt. :unsure:

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Choirgirl, just for clarification, did you find salinity lacking in the Talenti or in the Dolcezza versions? Obvious point but, with Dolcezza (you can buy hand-packed pints), it's made fresh every couple of days so it won't be 100% consistent as with a manufactured product from a plant.Dolcezza's pints are likely pricier ($10.50) than Talenti but I think a great example of the "you get what you pay for" cliche. All said, it's all about the flavor and side-by-side is the only way to assess that.

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I like Talenti's but their gelato consistentcy is a bit different than, say, Dolcezza or Dolci Gelati, though. I have seen Coconut at WF or HT, and I like how HT usually has them on sale.

I do LOVE how I can reuse the containers for knick-knacks afterwards -- they survive they dishwasher heat, and with the screwtop closing, they've been used to hold screws, children's medicine dispensers, coffee grounds, flour, etc.

Note: The containers can't withstand high heat, and I don't think they are BPA-free, so use with caution....

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Choirgirl, just for clarification, did you find salinity lacking in the Talenti or in the Dolcezza versions?

The Talenti. I've never had the Dolcezza version.

I like Talenti's but their gelato consistentcy is a bit different than, say, Dolcezza or Dolci Gelati, though. I have seen Coconut at WF or HT, and I like how HT usually has them on sale.

I do LOVE how I can reuse the containers for knick-knacks afterwards -- they survive they dishwasher heat, and with the screwtop closing, they've been used to hold screws, children's medicine dispensers, coffee grounds, flour, etc.

Note: The containers can't withstand high heat, and I don't think they are BPA-free, so use with caution....

I also appreciated the screw top cap. Maybe on the rare occasion when I buy a pint of ice cream from the farmers market for the outrageous price of something like $6 in the thinnest plastic container imaginable that never fails to break thus preventing me from getting my $1 back I can move the ice cream to an old Talenti jar. :P

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