This year, much like last year, had some pretty specific culinary trends. Last year was all about microdistilleries, street food, foraging, and pie. This year, for a variety of reasons, we've seen a rise in cake pops, ceviche, bitters, and fried eggs atop our meals. Some items overlapped years (bacon-in-everything is the trend that won't die), some fads have already quickly come and gone (Twinkies) and some trends have sparked a new craze among food bloggers and home cooks (do-it-yourself marshmallows).
As I feel the need to state every year, I am in no way a culinary expert. As a food photographer, cookbook collector, and social media junkie, I do however routinely observe culinary trends through photography, various food blogs, gastrojournalists, chefs, local and regional restaurants, and food purveyors and manufacturers.
These are the biggest trends I've noticed in 2012, from my tiny perch in the great gastroverse. I've also made a few culinary predictions for 2013 and have added a brand-new section: my top five cookbooks of 2012.
Cake pops. I, personally, have not had one, but I've seen them around for about 2-3 years. However, this year the trend exploded with the availability of some new cookbooks and cake pop makers to make them in.
Peruvian food. Particularly ceviche. While I've eaten it here and there over the years, it has gained popularity exponentially in the last year. Peruvian is the new Italian.
Riesling, rosé, and chardonnay. These wines are all making remarkable comebacks, and dry rieslings are trending anew. Whites and rosés seem to be enjoying almost as much time in the spotlight these days as their ever-popular red counterparts.
Side towels/tea towels. They are the new pot holder, dish rag, or table napkin these days. Culinary author Michael Ruhlman even hawked them this year.
Mason jars. Jars with lids were all the rage this year, particularly with regard to the aforementioned refrigerator pickling, but also for sauces, icebox jam, and drinks.
Food blogger cookbooks. An enormous amount of cookbooks came out this year by food bloggers across the globe, many just in my own city alone. Those with a strong culinary web presence, a lot of followers, and especially those who develop recipes, have a strong chance of publishing a cookbook these days.
Frozen pops. A lot of people, including myself, have made their own frozen popsicles this year, using both traditional and non-traditional ingredients. There were also quite a number of recipe books on frozen pops that came out this year.
Gin. So, I'm not sure if it is because of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee this year (the Queen is a gin fan), the admission of spirits into grocery stores in my state, or all of the new micro-distilleries popping up, but gin seems to be enjoying a resurgence, at least in my area. Since it was the first hard liquor I ever tried, and since I was a fan of the gin bars while living in Belgium, I'm enthusiastic, despite my lack of royal title.
Salted caramel. This one has really been hit for a couple of years now, but it's popularity is not waning in any way, and in fact, quite steady. And I can see why; sugar, cream, and salt remains an outstanding flavor combination and pairs well with all sorts of other sweets, such as dark chocolate, chocolate or vanilla-based cakes, and ice cream.
Watermelon. This sweet summertime fruit has received a savory makeover. A hugely popular recipe currently is a watermelon and feta salad. Also popular is watermelon salsa, pickled watermelon, and throwing watermelon into stir fries.
Bitters. Cocktails have been on the upswing for a couple of years now, and mixologists are using bitters to create signature drinks. Some people are even making their own concoctions. There is just about every bitter you can possibly think of these days, such as sriracha, baked apple, and tomato.
Speculoos. This Belgian spiced cookie (also popular in the Netherlands, called Speculaas) has won the hearts of food bloggers everywhere. From making the cookies themselves, to using them as pie crust or in a spreadable form, this is quite popular right now. A local grocery store chain here even sells Speculoos-filled dark chocolate bars.
Fried egg. This was the year that people put a fried egg on top of everything--sandwiches, oatmeal, soups, stir fries, pizza, you name it. If it's food, chances are you can put an egg on it.
Chicken and waffles. I have seen this on several restaurant menus this year, and friends of mine (both online and off) order it enthusiastically. All I have to say about this one is... What the fig?!? This is a flavor pairing that I'd never imagine. Until I try it, though, I am trying to keep an open mind. For now, I'll just sit here and bask in my befuddlement.
DIY marshmallows. People are making their own, homemade versions of these sweets, infusing various flavors such as lavender and peppermint. I've received a couple of packages from people as gifts this year.
Hydroponics. Now this technology--growing plants outside of soil--has been around at least since the 15th century. Lately, however, it is being used in much greater capacities. It is thought to yield bigger crops, allow plants to grow in non-native or harsh environments, use less water, and avoid most pests (and thereby, pesticides).
Poutine. This French-Canadian dish of essentially fries, cheese curds, and gravy is simple, but it can also have many variations. (If you are not a poutine purist, read on.) I've seen restaurants add meat or foie gras, substitute different cheese (blue for curds), use bolognese instead of gravy, or add hot sauce. I am a long-time fan of gravy over fries, so this trend is a great one for me (despite it being something of a heart attack in a bowl).
Twinkies. I'd love to skip right over this one, but I can't. Not only did America go completely mental and buy up every twinkie in the store when Hostess announced it was shuttering, but food bloggers and sweets shops have developed their own (albeit healthier) versions now. It's already on the downward trend again, but it might not fade completely away if Hostess gets bought.
Fictional food. Strangely, there have been all kinds of cookbooks written based on fictional shows or films: Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and so on. (I can't quite imagine what would be in the Hunger Games cookbook.) Apparently, cookbooks are the new action figures, to sell on the side to fans.
Non-traditionally boozy drinks. Spiked coffee and boozy shakes are on an upward trend right now.
"Green" foods. With marijuana now legal in two states (including my own), and undoubtedly more to follow, I predict a wave of herb-friendly foods, not just brownies.
Popcorn. Yes. Again. Pimped-out popcorn is growing in popularity again--spicy, crunchy, sweet, salty, you name it.
Aussie yoghurt. Greek yogurt has had its day. Time to move over and try the creamy, velvety Aussie-style yoghurt (spelled with an "h"), which is traditionally sweetened with honey. It tastes very caloric, but isn't. My favorite brand is Noosa, but Wallaby is also very tasty.
Touch-screens. Ordering and/or paying via touch-screen iPads (or other tablets) in restaurants, bars, and cafes is becoming more common. I imagine this will be the norm in another year or so.
My Top Five Cookbooks of 2012
I am a self-professed cookbook hoarder. Since this is the only thing I collect, and my bookshelves are not yet encroaching on the neighbors', I constantly enjoy new recipes and reading material. While I'm still very selective with my cookbook shopping, I've bought dozens of them this year, from various food styles, regions, and skill levels. While I do love to cook from these books, I also happen to simply love reading about recipes, the chefs and authors who created (or added their own twist) to them, and the familiar or completely exotic places they hail from. I also love brilliant food photography, and spend more quality time reading through a cookbook full of great images than one without.
It was hard to pick my top five, because there wasn't one book this year that I didn't love, and I actually have too many "favorites," including those written by friends. These five, however, were the ones that I repeatedly went back to, poured over, and bookmarked. Ergo, I present the Fabulous Five.
Jerusalem. A stunning cookbook from co-authored by London's renown chef Ottolenghi. The recipes are flavorful and accessible to home cooks. So far, I've made the roasted cauliflower with hazelnuts, Balilah, and Mejadra, all exquisite. There is also a pistachio soup I'm dying to try.
Homemade: Winter. After the popularity of "Homemade", this Dutch couple have put together yet another two volumes (Winter and Summer) and the Winter edition is a new favorite of mine. It was inspired by Yvette's childhood in Ireland. But it's not an Irish cookbook, rather a gastronomic infusion of Ireland, the Netherlands, and France. The drawings and photography are simply stunning, not to mention the recipes themselves. And there's an entire chapter called "Cake." Need I say more?
The Complete Bocuse. Chef Paul Bocuse is legendary in France and beyond. He's has three Michelin stars since the mid-60s, and he is really the face of modern French cuisine. This is an unlikely book for me to pick as a favorite because it's an enormous tome (with 500 recipes) and I find French cuisine sometimes inaccessible. But au contraire! The recipes in this book are both lovely and not overly hoity-toity. In fact, some are so simple that there are only a couple of ingredients, such as eggs with tomatoes and herbs. The book itself, while very heavy, is absolutely gorgeous with an enormous amount of photos and the recipes are true winners.
What Katie Ate. As a food blogger/photographer, Katie has made an international name for herself. her book is just as stunning (if not more so) than her blog. The book itself feels like a culinary travel journal. The only recipe I've made from it so far is the mini beef with bacon meat pies, but there are so many recipes bookmarked for future experimentation, that I ran out of book flags. Every recipe sounds brilliant. I've never read a cookbook so many times.
Fäviken. This is, simply put, my Cookbook of the Year. Without a doubt, I will own this book until someone puts me in a nursing home. Chef Magnus Nilsson is phenomenal and heads the restaurant that this book hails from, in northern Sweden. Its recipes are not particularly accessible to the average home cook (although not entirely esoteric, either), but despite that, it's a testament to the sheer uniqueness and quality of the book itself that I consider it my current favorite. The recipes are mostly tiny courses (French-style in that regard) but oh, so brilliant. One part of the vinegars section is called "Vinegar matured in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree". It isn't for everyone, but my goodness, is it for me.
Are there food trends, or cookbooks, that really leapt out at you this year?