2009 Year in Review – Your Favorites

Hey everyone, 2009 is nearly gone!

That’s right!  Celebrity-killing, economy-depressing, mortgage-wrecking, swine-fluing, teenage-vampire-obsessing 2009!  It’s the year that saw unemployment soar to double digits, the year that the American auto industry became more-or-less nationalized, the year that banks went out of business (which to a Canadian is like the sun itself going out), and everyone from Patrick Swayze to Michael Jackson to Brittany Murphy perishing for reasons entirely known to only themselves.  I would say that I’m not at all sorry to see a year like this gone, but that’s not how Choosy Beggars roll — no way.

Because for as many stars of Road House or Moonwalker or Clueless as fate may take away from us (not to mention our god damned savings), the truth is that in between all the crap and corruption there is still room for little moments of joy, flavor, and cocktails that set your hair/liver on fire.  That’s what makes us all choosy beggars to begin with anyway, isn’t it?  The nagging drive to find something just a little more fun, a little more delicious, a little more fabulous than life ever deems to roll our way.  It is not simply within us to accept so crappy a year as 2009, not when there is so much more to enjoy than that.

Which is why it’s so much fun for me to look back at what thrilled you, our readers, and see what helped us all get through what was a year that had so very much room for improvement.

Your favorite articles:

#5 – Mediterranean Salad with Israeli Couscous

What isn’t to love about this recipe?  It’s fresh, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make and it was uniformly popular with everyone cooking for their families.  Full of the brightness of tomato, the boldness of olives and the twist of arugula, this is a salad that exactly everyone can enjoy in their own right.

Here’s a meal that you can feel good and wholesome about, serving it in the summer as a light appetizer, or in the winter as a reminder that there will once again be days where the sun is out longer than the stars.  Nutritious, simple and delightful, I can also personally avow that it can carry on as the kind of lunch that will provoke bitter, sustained jealousy among your cow-orkers, even as they choke down frozen entrees.

And frankly, that is not at all an ignoble achievement it itself.

#4 – THIS SNACK SUCKS: McDonald’s Big Mac Snack Wrap

Hey, look.  Sometimes we all need an outlet, and sometimes a nation becomes a hater-ation.  And that’s okay!

Because sometimes, that’s exactly what a product deserves, and we’re happy to be the ones to help you realize that.  When McDonald’s decided to unleash the weak-sauce Big Mac Snack Wrap on Canada, it was with the hope that a market as friendly and easy-going as ours wouldn’t notice the profound crappiness of their offering.  Low-calorie, low-cost snacks are surely an opportunity in these harsh times, but is the solution really taking a half-patty of McDonald’s Brand Beef and slapping it in a burrito with some lettuce and a half-hearted portion of Special Sauce?

We all know that the answer is, without any deep debate or searching of our souls:  Good God, no.

The Big Mac Snack Wrap is one of the saddest, most heart-wrenching half-assed efforts of fast food this past year, and it’s gratifying to know that our experimentation with the purchase, sampling and vituperation on its lameness has helped others save up to two dollars out of their household snacking budgets.  Let’s be honest, there are times when a good old-fashioned junk-food binge is just what you need to make it through a Wednesday, right?  And wouldn’t you be happier knowing you got your money’s worth out of it?

Exactly.  Which is just the reason so many of you enjoyed learning how much the Big Mac Snack Wrap SUCKS.

#3 – Pub Night: Baked Jalapeno Poppers with Cilantro-Lime Yoghurt Dip

So, guess who likes a good old-fashioned scummy pub meal?  All of you, that’s who!  But without the guilt and obligation of getting guilty and fat the next day, which is entirely fine by us.

Tina offered up a few different pub night recipes through the year, but none with the huge appeal that these light, crispy jalapeno poppers offered: all the creamy spiciness of your favorite pub offerings, but without any of the greasy fried guilt that might otherwise ruin your Friday night.  With a baked recipe that keeps the calories relatively under control, this was one of the most downloaded recipes that our site has ever produced.

It’s no surprise to me, personally.  It’s only too easy to feel, even while you’re digging through a basket of these at your local Kelsey’s or Chili’s, like you could have done as good or better on such a tasty snack — here finally is a way to deliver on those promises, issued with a half-mouth-full of illictly fatty appetizers, to yourself.

AND THEN THERE’S THE DIP.  If you don’t drink at least a little bit of it, then you are a liar (and we are proud of you anyway).

#2 – Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade, as reviewed by Tuscany

North America’s crappiest open-and-pour cocktail brought in more visitors in a shorter period than anything else this year, and God above only knows why.  We couldn’t find more reasons to make fun of this product if we tried, from the weak flavor to the even weaker alcohol content, right up to the entirely cynical reference to the Italian province of Tuscany.  Look!  There’s even an outline on the bottle of the clock tower in Sienna (as if that had to do with anything other than the fact that consumers have heard of Tuscany but not Amalfi)!

Is limoncello even popular in Tuscany, as far as we could tell?  Not really, but why let such trivial details get in the way of marketing one of the lamest bottled cocktail offerings of the year?  Not to mention the entirely suspicious appearance of commenters on the article discussing such lofty topics as Smirnoff’s contribution to “cocktail culture”, we have never come out more strongly against a product, nor have we ever seen such interest in you all in finding out whether it’s worth your money.

The truth is, you can do a whole lot better with a can of frozen lemonade concentrate and a bottle of your favorite vodka, but let’s not let that ruin the fun of making fun of all the diverse, complex and unending marketing maneuvers to make this horrible “pre-prepared cocktail” trend stagger endlessly through 2010, shall we?

#1 Garlic and Halloumi Pull-Aparts

Our most popular recipe, beyond all question and without any doubt, is this delicious combination of briny halloumi cheese and puffy herbal bread.  Puffing up beautifully and in the kind of individual portions that make devouring half of your first batch only too easy, this is a personal favorite of mine.

If you’re reading this and are at all interested in the kind of dead-simple, straightforward baking that will wow your guests over the New Year, then it’s difficult to justify looking any further.  These small, single-serving bites can supply a party with ease — not only giving everyone the delight of their own tiny freshly-baked breads, but with the added delights of chewy cheese and punchy garlic.

In a way, it’s a full appetizer course in a single bite, if properly accompanied with the right cocktails and encouragement.  How often can you depart from the usual garlic bread ‘n’ cheese to try something new, after all?  A dose of hallloumi, baked into a puffy and light pastry, gives you a chance to try a new take on a familiar favorite, and give your guests something entirely new to tear into.  More people have printed, sampled and eaten this than anything else this year, and we could not be happier to recommend it.

I doubt very much that 2009 will go down history as a positive, benevolent or even slightly happy year in our history.  But if anything can bring the best out of the worst, it’s the wonderful, generous and giving spirit of our readers this year — the folks who could not resist baking Tina’s breads, meats and desserts (and occasionally Mike’s cocktails).  As much as the world around us can fail us, we have it within our reach to make our days happy, delicious and filling.

Thanks to everyone who came through this year with us, and shared our food with their family and friends.  We hope it was delicious!

  • Jan

    Wow, I somehow missed your Big Mac Wrap post the first time around. Mike, I can’t believe you ate that! The reminder of the couscous salad is also welcome; methinks it’ll suit perfectly for my “let’s have something light-ish after all this holiday feasting” meal. Thanks, Tina!

    Happy New Year to you both!

  • Umme Kulsum

    HAPPY NEW YEAR TINA AND MIKE.

    Want to try the halloumi and garlic pull aparts I’m sure it is one of ya best recipes

    Enjoy !