The Best Things We Ate in 2015

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Assuming you eat three times a day, you probably consumed a little under 2,000 meals this past year. That’s not including snacks or desserts. There’s no way you can remember all of them, but sometimes the memory of a single splendid bite can linger for years.

Here’s what the crew of Paste Food has been daydreaming about—the things we wish we could eat again, whether they were elaborate preparations at a fine dining establishment or packaged foods from the snack aisle.

Cracked Dungeness crab
I’m reaching way back to last New Year’s for this one, but that should tell you just how good this crab was. Served to me by a close friend, she took Dungeness crab and partially cracked all the legs. She then whipped up a sauce of just olive oil, a little butter, garlic and dried oregano from her garden and drenched the crab legs with it. I think she heated it all up slightly in the oven—but I can’t get the total recipe out of her just yet. It was completely finger-sucking, mind-blowingly good. (Jackie Varriano)

Greek Yogurt Lavender Mousse at Nerai

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Having a Greek dad, I’ve been eating (and loving) Greek yogurt since I was a kid. I’ve had it with honey, with sugar, with nuts. But I’d never had it whipped, flavored with lavender, and topped with candied pecans and pineapple carpaccio. This dish by Chef Chris Christou of Nerai takes a Greek classic, and updates it with a modern and refreshing twist. (Madina Papadopoulos)

Strafford Organic Creamery Sweet Guernsey Cream Ice Cream
I’m a sucker for chocolate that uses distinct milk (think Mast Brothers Sheep’s Milk Chocolate or Askinosie’s Dark Goat’s Milk), and this year I discovered an ice cream that showcases its dairy, too. Stafford Organic Creamery is based out of a tiny family farm in Vermont, and if you’re ever in New England, their Sweet Guernsey Cream Ice Cream is worth tracking down. Custardy and grassy, this flavor is simple bliss. (JoAnna Novak)

Beanfields Pico de Gallo Bean & Rice Chips

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True confession: My husband has to put our bags of Beanfields Bean & Rice Pico de Gallo-flavored chips way up on a shelf, out of my reach, as they can be hazardous to have around while I work from home. It doesn’t mean I won’t eat them—just that I have to get a step-stool to do so, which gives me time to think about whether I’ve had my weekly quota or not. Seriously, I’ve eaten way too many of them this year…and will probably do it again next year, and I’m not sorry! Nacho flavored ones will do in a pinch. (Shawna Kenney)

Turkey neck confit
The past few years at Thanksgiving, I’ve butchered the bird into pieces: the breast gets slathered with herb salt and roasted; the legs, thighs, and giblets get cured and then made into confit. This year, instead of sacrificing the neck for stock, I did confit with that, too. Why was it I had only one plate of food at the big meal? Uh, I kinda had a private first course in the kitchen, because the turkey neck meat was so damn good I just picked it right off the bones and ate it all at while standing over the cutting board. Traditionally no one fights over the turkey neck..and no one’s going to be in the future, because I’m not telling anyone else about it but you. That neck is mine, suckas.

The Perfect Egg at Dutch & Company in Richmond, Va.

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I have the good fortune of living in Richmond, Virginia, a city that keeps me well-fed with all of its amazing food establishments. One of my favorite restaurants in town, Dutch & Company, always delivers with sensational cocktails and cuisine. While the restaurant has a seasonal menu with constantly changing dishes, the chef keeps one very special small plate on the menu (or else all hell would break loose in town). The Perfect Egg ($9) is Dutch & Company’s brilliant take on the Scotch egg. A hard-boiled egg, crusted in rye, is served with cured salmon topped with sprouted quinoa and fresh herbs, and then nestled a bed of braised cabbage. A side of creamy cumin yogurt brings the dish home. Paired with one of Dutch & Company’s delightful craft cocktails, you are truly in for a treat. (Marissa Hermanson)

The Absolu Citron lemon tart from Des Gâteaux et Du Pain in Paris
I’m a sucker for a great lemon tart, but as far as I’m concerned, even a good lemon tart is hard to find. The Absolu Citron, however, is everything I’ve ever wanted from this classic French pastry. The lemon flavor is bright, thanks to the use of Sicilian lemons, and the buttery shortbread crust stands up to the curd perfectly. But I think what really took the proverbial cake here was the addition of Sicilian green olive oil, which adds an extra layer of complex fruitiness. You also don’t have to share, as they come individually sized. (Emily Monaco)

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Khao Soi Lamh Duan in Chiang Mai, Thailand
It’s impossible to rank these things, but my first bowl of khao soi at this Chiang Mai institution was quite possibly the single greatest bowl of food I’ve ever consumed. The trip to Asia was worth it solely based on this lunch. Perfectly seasoned and balanced between coconut milk, spices, and stock made from chicken and pork, khao soi cannot be touched in the pantheon of Thai soups. (Max Bonem)

Scrambled eggs in the double boiler
In 2008, I ate soft scrambled eggs with caviar at James Beard winner Gerard Craft’s St. Louis restaurant Niche. I’ve been picky about my eggs ever since: I like soft, barely-formed curds, creamy, almost custardy. If you’ve got fifteen minutes, you can whip up the perfect batch. In a double boiler, beat a couple eggs with a splash of whole milk, a grind of pepper, some good salt, and then stir constantly with a rubber spatula (preferably one that’s not dinged up) until the curds form to your liking. Best served with good toast—and, of course, lots of sriracha. (JoAnna Novak)
My mom’s seafood pasta concoction

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My mother is an amazing cook. Now, one might think I might be biased because she’s my mom, but this photo says it all. She’s from Milan, married to a Greek, and lives in New Orleans, all great food scenes. She’s pulled from all the different cultures she’s come across and developed her own unique style of cooking. This last year, she’s been toying with her version of Spaghetti allo scoglio. She sticks to the traditional shrimp, scallops, mussels, and squid, but adds the twist of sun-dried tomatoes to make a decadent yet light sauce. (Madina Papadopoulos)

Apricot and Almond-Cornmeal Muffins at Violet Bakery
This was the year that I discovered Violet Bakery. On an early Saturday morning at the Broadway Market in London, I bit into one of the Apricot and Almond-Cornmeal Muffins. Muffins aren’t usually a food item that one gets overly excited about, but these were different. A slightly coarse texture from the cornmeal and the tang of apricot. I kept thinking about it many weeks after, longing for another trip to London. But the good news is, the recipe happens to be in Claire Ptak’s new book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook. Saved. (Anna Brones)

Sauerbraten with Gose Beer in Leipzig, Germany

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I visited Leipzig to learn more about the local sour beer, Gose, but I had to eat, too. One night, I visited Zill’s Tunnel where I was able to try a Saxon specialty, sauerbraten, with red cabbage and dumplings. This traditional dish combines sweet, savory and sour flavors; many say that the secret to getting it just right is putting speculoos crumbs in the sauce. The meat was tender and perfectly cooked, and the sauce was so savory and flavorful I sopped it all up with dumplings. It was perfectly paired with a glass of the local sour beer. (Emily Monaco)

Onion sprouts
Seriously! Who knew? Thanks to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, I’ve learned the joy of onion sprouts. I never want bean sprouts again. Onion sprouts are so flavorful and well, onion-y. Good on sandwiches, salads and just by themselves. My next step is learning to grow them myself. (Shawna Kenney)

Kitchen Garden Farm Fresh Sriracha

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Sriracha is definitely trending, which, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing. I’ll pass on the memorabilia (cookbooks and personalized bottles aren’t really my bag), but I can never resist trying new brands. Located in Sunderland, Mass., the Kitchen Garden Farm mixes up the perfect blend of hot and sweet sriracha. If you’re fire resistant, try the orangey habanero variety. (JoAnna Novak)

Lamb Barbacoa at a 4-H Camp in West Virgina
Have you ever loved enjoyed eating something so much you wished you could beam it into the future to enjoy months or years later, when you might need a pick-me-up? I went to a weekend-long wedding celebration in the middle of West Virginia that had so much amazing food—freshly caught trout, homemade pepperoni rolls, scrambled farm eggs with ultra-crispy slices of fried scrapple—that I kept having to pause in the middle of meals in order to fully absorb the splendor of what I was eating. The lunch that really blew my mind was made by Christina Martinez and Benjamin Miller, the husband-wife power players behind South Philly Barbacoa. Miller and Martinez had made the journey from Pennsylvania to cook up our friend’s lamb, which guests enjoyed in tacos, and also in a totally amazing brothy soup that had a slicky of spicy orange grease. I can almost feel it on my lips at this moment. Those of you in Philadelphia don’t have to attend the Appalachian back-to-the-lander’s wedding of the century to enjoy Miller and Martinez’s magic, though—especially now that their popular food cart has moved to a brick-and-mortar location. It’ll be my first stop next time I’m in Philly. (Sara Bir)

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Olive oil at Oregon Olive Mill
This fall I went to the Oregon Olive Mill during pressing season and fell in love. I’m fascinated by their story and their perseverance grappling with the crop and weather—but I’m also completely overtaken by my love for drinking olive oil. Yep, drinking it like a glass of friggin’ wine. Granted, I haven’t done it since carting the bottles home, but while at their Willamette Valley olive mill we swilled, slurped and coughed our way through five oils. And I could do it all over again. (Jackie Varriano)

Flodni in Budapest

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While in Budapest, I tried several different local cakes, but the one that reigns supreme is undoubtedly the flodni, a layered cake of pastry, poppy seeds, apple and walnut, occasionally served with plum jam or a plum layer. This traditional Jewish cake has been made particularly famous by Rachel Raj, who churns them out at her shop in the Jewish quarter, but I had perhaps an even more delicious version at Frolich, where the layer of walnut was so thick it resembled halva, and the poppyseed layer so finely ground it was nearly creamy. (Emily Monaco)

Fuyu Persimmons
I never even heard of persimmons while growing up on the East Coast, but now that I live in Los Angeles, they seem to be everywhere, especially in the summer. The crisp fuyu variety is delicious chopped up into salsa, added to smoothies, baked into tarts and cut up on salads. The trees are beautiful, too. (Shawna Kenney)

Goat Head Tacos at Odd Duck in Austin, Tex.

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Scene: It’s 1am, you’ve been out all night, and you stop by one of the most popular industry spots in town for a snack. Enter an entire roasted goat head, served with its perfectly grilled and sliced tongue, coupled with fresh salsa and tortillas. It wasn’t just delicious—it was an experience I can never replicate again. (Max Bonem)

Pizza at Delancey
Yeah, so Seattle’s Delancey has been open so long co-owner Molly Wizenberg has already had the time to write a book about it (which I have also devoured) but I don’t care. Plus—I haven’t lived in Seattle that long, so I’m giving myself a pass. My first taste of a hot salami pizza at this tiny little joint was like, close-your-eyes-and-exhale-slowly-whoa-good. It’s turning me into a downright pizza snob. I recently tried to get a fix and upon arrival found out they were closed the week of Thanksgiving, and was practically in tears. Pathetic, this pizza addiction of mine. (Jackie Varriano)

Rancho Gordo’s beans

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I love beans. Like, a lot. But I don’t particularly like canned beans or the average store-bought dry beans. Recently I came across Napa’s Rancho Gordo, who grow heirloom beans: “They tend to have a lower yield and can be much more difficult to grow, but the payoff is in the unique flavors and textures that you don’t find with bland commodity beans,” reads their website. You can order so many types of beans, such as garbanzo or a black-and-white one called vaquero, but my favorite is the ayocote morado, shaped like a lima bean. “Morado” means purple in Spanish (they also come in white, yellow, and black varietals), but the beans are actually a deep red. They taste earthy, and because they’re meaty, they pair well with soups, mole, or on their own. The beans cost $5.95 for a one-pound bag. Add on the shipping and that’s a lot to pay for beans, but they’re well worth the splurge. (Garin Pirnia)

Point Reyes Blue Cheese at Nepenthe
The cheese plate I had at Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur was memorable enough for the exquisite views. But it wasn’t just the atmosphere that stood out to me. The Point Reyes blue cheese was an eye-opener. I’ve always been pretty anti-blue/bleu. Most of what I’ve experienced has tasted fairly foot-like, but this was a very layered flavor that paired beautifully with dates. Very different from the “crumbles” I’d had on crappy chain salads with iceberg lettuce! (Holly Leber)

Mi Quang at an unnamed roadside stall in Dalat, Vietnam

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I showed up in Dalat late in the evening with a chill in the air, and the first street stall I came across was a husband and wife serving two dishes I was unfamiliar with. After surrendering to them, I was brought a bowl of mi quang, a traditional soup-ish noodle dish from central Vietnam that includes saffron noodles, chunks of pork and/or chicken, peanuts, sesame-rice crips, various herbs, and one of the deepest and most delicious stocks I’ve ever come across. (Max Bonem)

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