Virginia B. Wood's Bites
1) La Speranza Dinner: Former restaurant owner Hallie Speranza now caters small parties with simply exquisite Italian food. My friends and I customized a delightful menu from many choices and feasted on olives and goat cheese, delicate homemade pasta, sea bass with artichoke hearts, spinach souffles, and lemon tarts. Divine.
2) Linda Ball's Caviar Deviled Eggs: These dainty eggs resplendent with red caviar were among the first dishes to arrive at my annual birthday potluck. They were so good, it was all I could do not to be an ill-mannered hostess and eat them all myself.
3) Chorizo Burger at Austin's Barbecue: The memory of Marisela Godinez's distinctively delicious burger creation stayed with me all year I even recognized a knock-off of her tasty original on a menu closer to home this fall.
4) Texas Twist Roasted Poblano Caesar Salad Dressing: My favorite among a handful of salad dressings developed for HEB and available in the produce sections of their higher-end stores. I love this stuff on lettuces, micro greens, and salad mixes of any kind.
5) Poblano Corn Chowder at El Gringo: The first time we had lunch at El Gringo, my friend and I fairly swooned over this luxurious bowl of soup, velvety rich with real corn sweetness and a tantalizing back heat finish from the peppers. We raved about it every time we talked about the new restaurant. When we went back for more, the recipe had changed the name on the menu is the same, but the soup version I loved is only a memory.
6) Peach Creek Farm Berkshire Pork Bacon: Hands down the best bacon flavor I tasted all year. I made heavenly BLTs with this bacon, Boggy Creek Farm tomatoes, and Amador Farms lettuce on fresh bread from Mandola's every day for a week when tomatoes were in season last summer.
7) Fried Nopal Cactus at Mesa Ranch: Paper cones filled with brined pieces of nopal cactus fried in a light, crisp batter were the most innovative appetizer I saw all year a very good idea I plan to steal.
8) Spaghetti and Meatballs at Mandola's: The al dente noodles expertly dressed in hearty, robust red sauce crowned with big, flavorful meatballs evoked memories of one of my earliest ethnic food experiences the home cooking of our Italian-American neighbors from when I was a kid. What comfort!
9) Fried Green Tomato BLT at Bountiful Bakery & Cafe: We didn't find this new little place until late in the year, but you'll be hearing more about it soon. Inspired sandwiches, good pastries, catering.
10) NY Strip Steak at III Forks: A truly marvelous piece of meat; the best steak I've had in years.
1) English Lemon Pudding From the Sticky Toffee Pudding Co.: Tracy Claros' lemon version of her marvelous pudding cakes has to be my favorite, though I'm genuinely impressed with all of her baked goods. Stop by her stand at the Downtown Farmers' Market some Saturday, and see for yourself.
2) Manhattan Ice Cream at El Gringo: Considering that bourbon was my drug of choice for many years, I can tell you from experience that this luscious ice cream is the most sophisticated bourbon delivery system I've ever encountered. Great with cookies, too.
3) Lemon Ginger Apple Crisp at El Gringo: Maybe it tasted so special because we got the very first servings to come out of the oven, but this rustic fall dessert was very satisfying.
4) Iced Blended Mocha at It's a Grind: I'm an iced coffee fiend, I'll admit it, and this sort-of coffee milk shake became my drive-through refreshment of choice during the summer, calories be damned. Proximity to the office made it so easy to indulge my addiction.
5) Blackberry Jam From Boggy Creek Farm: There was no blackberry or wild-plum jam this summer because of drought damage to the farm's fruit supply, so when I found a jar of this jam hidden in the back of the pantry, it was truly like discovering buried treasure. Yum.
6) Pear Bread From Miles: Last year, it was just a tease, but this year, the sweet tea bread with ginger and almonds was on the market during the holidays. I like it toasted, slathered with cream cheese and candied ginger.
7) Kákawa Hot Chocolate: Local chocolate maven Tom Pedersen's newest creation, this hot-chocolate mix contains some ground, roasted cacao beans to enhance the deep, rich chocolate flavor. It was one of the highlights of my holidays.
8) Peanut Brittle From McCall Creek Farm: I discovered this delight one weekend at the Itz's stand at the Downtown Farmers' Market, but now I have to order it from their business in Blanco no problem, it's worth the trouble.
9) Paula's Texas Lemon: Though I don't drink anymore, I found plenty of creative ways to add a little lemon zing to the desserts this holiday season. Just opening the bottle in the kitchen was a lemon revelation.
10) Marilyn Brownie From Mary Louise Butters: Although it's the only nonchocolate brownie on her list of delectable sweets, the buttery blondie is actually my favorite.