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Gastronomy and Goosebumps at the International Food Bloggers Conference

The two of us are at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Theo’s Chocolate Factory in Seattle.  We just finished lunch – and what a lunch it was!  When you have 250 foodies gathered together, they’re a hard lot to satisfy.  We had everything on our bambu eco-friendly, recyclable, green plates from paper thin sliced salmon carpaccio with riccotta salata and a peppery arugula salad –  to a spicy chickpea dish with crunchy chorizo and a slightly daunting, barely-miniature grilled mini-octupus with arugula salad (there must be an assumed palate-pleasing connection by the featured chefs between arugula and those who write about food).

This morning we learned how to put the “sex” in food blogging.  You think what you want – especially as we used all 5 senses:  look, listen, touch, taste, smell  and all with a lemon!  Kathleen Flinn, you certainly know your way around a knife.  As the presenter of this session on “Writing With Your Senses”, Kat had us all salivating with our inner writer.  We also loved Joy Victory of  WordPress.com who has the great job title of Editor Czar (can we dub ourselves Blog Emperor and Empress?).  Seriously, Joy who was a joy, along with Barnaby Dorfman of Foodista and Matt Dhillon of UrbanSpoon.com, filled us in on the not-so-subtle nuances of social media.

Norma & Allan IFBC 8 10 SmallerSo, now it’s back to work.  We might have snoozed through some of our afternoon sessions after the Walla Walla wineries poured some great wines to accompany our lunch, but the cool weather at our indoor/outdoor conference is keeping us bolt upright as we struggle to manage our goosebumps.  Also, there is more than a touch of a sugar high going on here, as Theo’s has generously put out mountains of melt-in-your mouth chocolate to taste (now addicted to the beautifully balanced 70% Dark Chocolate Spicy Chili) , in case our energy flags.  The day’s seminars end around 5 pm and a dinner/reception this evening will feature James Oseland, Editor-Chief of Saveur magazine, followed by another full day tomorrow.  We’ll definately be hitting the gym on Monday….Norma and Allan

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A “Sideways” Glance

I just returned from a trip to the Los Angeles area with my husband (my “foodie” soul mate) to visit family.  Whenever we get a chance, we slip away to the nearby Santa Ynez  Valley wine country (immortalized in the 2004 movie “Sideways”)  for a day of tasting as well as enjoying the gorgeous scenery on our drive up the coast.  Rather than talking about wine today,  which could fill many blogs, I have to share a terrific restaurant find.  We were in the town of Los Olivos around noon and feeling the need for something solid, when we caught sight of a beautiful vine draped porch set up for outdoor dining.

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Run…don’t even hesitate – to dine at the Los Olivos Cafe!  Besides a setting right out of a painting, this charming restaurant earns raves for service, food and an award-winning wine list.  Indoor dining looked just as inviting but with sunny, warm weather (and being from Seattle), the outdoor option was just too great to refuse.

We are “grazers” in order to try a wide variety of dishes.  Our server was thoughtful in his recommendations for both food and wine pairing, returning to check on us often – but was never obtrusive.   Alert – we almost filled up on their incredible bread and house-made olive oil, so do not let yourself be tempted beyond one basket full!  Starters worth trying – definitely the Rustic Spreads which include generous portions of the Cafe’s signature tapenade muffaletta (took us back to New Orleans) and hummus.  Great flavor in both and the hummus didn’t overwhelm your palate with garlic, as so often is the case.  The Artisan Cheese Plate had three extremely good sized portions of cow, goat and milk cheese – again, selected with great attention to quality, freshness and taste.

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The indoor “wall of wines” made famous in the aforementioned movie is a guarantee that you won’t go thirsty.   Again, based on our dining choices, our server guided us, providing some sample tastes along the way.

A few more thoughts – I am sure I was a bunny in a former life (not Playboy, as in rabbit!) and the salads were .   The Cafe Nicoise featured an entree size portion of fish along with egg, olives, green beans, new potatoes , cherry tomatoes and greens, and a light vinaigrette.  We ogled another table’s entrees of Cafe Salmon and an immense 8 ounce grilled Angus burger, but couldn’t squeeze in another bite.

We would return in a heartbeat – and will!   Next time we intend to end a day of wine tasting with dinner there and perhaps an overnight at the Fess Parker Inn, which is just across the street.  Here’s the info:

Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe:  2879 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos, CA.    Phone:  805-688-7265   LosOlivosCafe.com

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Catching Up in the Kitchen

After a hiatus, I am excited to return to FuntasticFoodie and doing what I love best – sharing adventures, thoughts and stories of all good things food, wine and travel related.  I’d like to introduce a good friend and equally enthusiastic “foodie” who will be pairing with me – Allan Aquila, who also brings years of hospitality experience and tales to the table.  So, pull up a chair and let’s resume our conversations….

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Foraging in the Kitchen

It’s a fall night and as always, around 5 pm, the talk is dinner.  As my husband is from Southern California, he loves to barbecue and is totally undaunted by the weather (neighbors once rushed over during a snow fall to tell us our house was on fire, only to end up staying for paella right off the grill).  However, we’ve done steaks, ribs, chicken and fish all summer and are restless, looking for something different and are way too tired from a long work week to venture out.  Pizza, he is murmuring.  Oh yah, I’m right on top of it.  From my foggy memory banks I remember that there is some extra dough I froze when recipe testing for Tamara Murphy’s new book – Tender: Farmer’s, Cooks, Eaters, so I pull it out of the icy depths and start scouring the fridge and pantry for ingredients.  Mister Skeptic worries that the dough will either ooze between the grating or bake itself onto it, becoming a ruinous cement mess.  I point out that the recipe says it will be easy to flip, and slide right off.  He does have a healthy respect for the written word (even if he does raise one brow and get me to swear I’ll help scrub if disaster befalls), so we get to work.  With Tamara’s recipe as a base, instead of foraged mushrooms, we have foraged kitchen pizza.  An hour later (the dough defrosted fairly quickly in the warm kitchen), we are sitting down to something hot, crusty and while far from symmetrical, definitely one darn good pizza.  Already under discussion as we eat away are less coals in the Weber as it was a tad too hot, the taste possibilities of adding wood chips like mesquite, seasonal toppings, and how to adapt this into a flat bread to accompany a grilled meat and veggie future dinner.  There is also the dawning realization that a stash of frozen dough should become a kitchen staple, ready to take out at a moment’s notice, should last-minute company appear.  Who would of “thunk”?

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The Proper Way to Consume a Cupcake

“Jen”, who works at the salon I go to, always has the greatest culinary tidbits.  A foodie like me, albeit a much younger one, she lives in the heart of a gastronomic mecca on Capitol Hill.  We both love sweets and – lucky Jen – a Cupcake Royale opened right beneath her apartment.   Besides filling me in on “Cupcake Happy Hour” (do you love it!) when the day’s unsold gems go for 50% off, she also instructed me on the best way to eat a cupcake, as related to her by a manager of the store.  Now this is a fine and very personal science.  Everyone has their own technique, just like when eating Oreos.  However, I think you’ll agree that this method via Cupcake Royale has it nailed.  They suggest removing the top half or “crown” of the cupcake, flipping it over, and replacing it on top of the bottom; in essence making a “cupcake sandwich”.  That way, you get frosting with every bite AND remove the possibility of ending up with telltale “cupcake nose” (frosting on the tip of the proboscis), a sure sign that you have downed the evidence and not shared with others.  Your preferred approach?

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Slice of Favorite Apple Recipes

 

 A HEART TO HEART ON A TART

 I found one of my family’s favorite fall dessert recipes many years ago in a magazine in a high school library, where I had gone to kill time between classes as a substitute teacher.  The origin has long ago disappeared, but boy, do we love this tart.Apple Photos for Blog

When I first tried making it, I somehow didn’t grasp that dry jack cheese was not regular jack.  The regular jack in the crumble topping melted, rather than holding its shape and while the taste was okay, it was not nearly as fruity or rich  as using dry jack or even similar in intent.  Dry jack is harder and more akin to parmesan in texture.

Yesterday, when I went to PCC to buy dry jack, I was told that they had discontinued carrying it.  Without the time to start scouring greater Issaquah, a long discussion ensued with the cheese-monger on a good substitute.  I came home with Mt. Townsend Creamery Rustic Whole Milk Tomme.  While this cheese is nuttier and a little sharper, it worked well.  It’s also fun to create a dish featuring local ingredients – Washington State granny smith apples and cheese.

 SONOMA APPLE JACK TART

(Serves 8 – 10)

 Crust:

2 cups flour

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

5 ounces sweet butter, chilled and cut into ¼ inch bits

1 egg

1 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom

(Makes two 9 inch tart shells)

  1. Combine flour, sugar, salt and butter and quickly mix until it resembles coarse corn meal.  Add egg and quickly mix until dough forms a ball. Gather and press dough together, wrap in plastic and chill two hours or overnight.  Roll out half the dough and line a 9-inch tart pan.  Prick with a fork several times.  Freeze the other half of the dough.

Filling:

4 large granny smith or other tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 4 cups)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 Tablespoon white granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon flour

1 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Mix all ingredients together well and fill tart shell evenly.

Topping:

½ cup sugar

½ cup flour

3 ounces cold butter, cut into bits

½ cup grated dry jack cheese

1.  Combine sugar, flour, and butter and rub together with fingertips until it looks like coarse oatmeal.  Add cheese and lightly mix.

2.  To finish tart, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Scatter topping evenly over filled tart.  Bake for 40 minutes until top is golden and apples are tender.  Cool slightly before serving.  Serve with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.

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Growing Up with Gourmet

Gourmet has been a part of my life for so long…and a part that I have always taken very much for granted, that the magazine’s demise seems almost surreal.  When I was in my 20’s and learning to cook, I would spend hours trying to replicate the mouthwatering cover image by slavishly following each detail of the recipe.  As time went on and I became more experienced in the kitchen (and had less time as the mother of two young, very active daughters), my secret pleasure was to curl up after everyone was in bed and comb every issue for ideas.  From the confidence and cooking savvy gained, I had graduated into the experimental stage.  As years went by, I adapted recipes that became family staples.

Gourmet also fed the passion for travel that my parents had instilled in me.  It transported me to faraway places when my husband and I were unable to get away due to work.  And when we could take a trip, hoarded back “Collector’s” issues became an insider’s guide to Paris, Italy and such.

And then there was (it seems so sad to use the past tense!) the Thanksgiving issue.  When we moved back to Seattle a year ago, I had to sort through years of past Gourmets as my husband pointed out that the moving van was charging us by the pound.  However, I refused to give up my stash of turkey-centric issues and schlepped them back across the country with us.  Always anticipated, always the inspiration for the ever rotating “new dish” that we tried each year to add a little punch to our feast, it will leave a little hollow in our holiday tradition.

Like everyone else, I now often try to save time by surfing for recipes on the web when I’m in a hurry.  But I’m also old-fashioned enough (or just plain old enough) to still get that thrill of anticipation when a new issue of a coveted magazine arrives in the mail.  There’s nothing like curling up with beautiful photos, thoughtful writing and new twists on classic ingredients with journal in hand as well as visuals and commentaries to stimulate creativity and dreams.   Life goes on, but I have to weigh in and say, Gourmet, you will be missed.

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hello world

Welcome to Funtastic Foodie.  I hope you’ll find everything you need to delight your culinary interests.

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