Carnitas Francaises, Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce

I am not the most observant Jew. Case in point, posting about Franco-prepared pork on Yom Kippur, albeit two days after I actually made it, still makes me look like a halfhearted Sasha Baron Cohen progeny. Even if I told you I was fasting today, my flagrant offense of everything Jewish ever makes it pale in comparison. Still, it goes without saying that when steaks run up to $24/pound and when frozen chicken breasts swallow the bulk of your birthday money, seeing a 2 lb. pork shoulder for 4 Euro means that you put your money where your mouth is and eat like a queen for four days. Hence, Carnitas Francaises.

Two pounds, four Euro. And to think that all that I had to do was roll up my sleeves and hack at this sucker with a serrated knife like my life depended on it. After trimming and removing the skin and most of the fat and filleting the meat from the bone, I ended up with roughly 1.25 lbs of tender meat. I knew I wanted to make carnitas on the stovetop, and I also knew that I wanted to have a spicy, but distinctly French flavor profile, so I made a spice blend that incorporated all of those components.
The result, after three hours of simmering and twenty minutes of frying and chopping, was transcendental. Roddy, here’s that Franco-Mexican fusion we spoke of. Sheer, tender delight in miniscule shreds accompanied by a quick gastrique. I had every plan to make this into tacos, buy or make tortillas and eat it over the period of a few days, but its allure ensured that that never came to fruition. I ate it plain, slathered with its spicy, fruity sauce, on baguette, on white bread, but never on tortilla. However, there will be another time for this, that much I am sure of.

Carnitas Francaises
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 2lb. bone-in pork shoulder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder/1 clove of chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of parsley
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)

1. Trim, debone, and cut the pork shoulder into small  pieces, roughly 3-4 inches long. Heat a pot with roughly 3 cups of water on the stove on high.

2. Mix the spices together and toss to coat the pork. When the water is boiling, put in the pork and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the pork cook for 2-3 hours uncovered, or until all the water is evaporated.

3. When the water has evaporated, the pork will start to caramelize and fry in its own fat. After the pork is brown, remove it and let the bottom of the pan continue to brown. Pour in the wine and deglaze for a few minutes until reduced and toss in the pork again, allowing the wine to cover the meat. Remove the pork and shred.
Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tablespoons habanero hot sauce, or 2 chopped habanero peppers
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)
1/3 cup fresh raspberries or raspberry jam

1. Let all ingredients simmer in a saucepan until reduced and thick. Stir frequently. Keep in a sealed container for up to 4 days.

Roasted Nectarine, Riesling, and Bacon Panini

Excessive? Nah. Not here. There’s a world of foie gras and French fries out there to explore. In comparison to the rows of éclairs at the bakery down the street and the wafting scent of waffles rising up to my apartment, this sandwich almost seemed pedestrian, or dare I say, healthy- in comparison. To celebrate completing most of my law school applications (!!!) I made dinner at home tonight, using up some nectarines and chopped bacon and part of the Poilâne loaf I’d purchased earlier in the week. My mission? A killer panini.

You wouldn’t expect to see panini in Paris, but they’re as common as croissants in some areas and street corners. While doing some photoresearch for my latest blog, Dogs of Paris, (check it out!) I got a craving for the filled baguettes and savory sandwiches and decided to go home and make one of my own. I started out by tossing sliced nectarine in cane sugar, salt, and pepper, then caramelizing it in rendered bacon fat. Deglazed the pan with a little Riesling, and smashed the whole thing between two pieces of Polaine’s famous brown bread and a few slices of Cousteron cheese. Nom.

Roasted nectarine and bacon panini
Ingredients (serves 2)
Four slices of brown bread
Two tablespoons of butter with sea salt crystals
Three ounces of Cousteron or other soft cheese, sliced or shredded
1/3 lb of chopped bacon
1 nectarine, sliced
1/2 teaspoon of cane or brown sugar
1/4 cup of Riesling or other white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Spread the butter on the bread and sprinkle cheese on each slice. In a medium-sized saucepan, start frying the bacon over a low heat, rendering the fat out and crisping it. Sprinkle the nectarine with sugar, salt, and pepper, and let sit for five minutes.
2.  Put the bacon on a plate, leaving the fat in the pan, and cook the nectarine over medium-high heat until soft and caramelized. Toss with the bacon and deglaze the pan with Riesling until it is reduced and forms a pan sauce. 

3. Spoon the toppings onto the bread and sandwich together, grilling until outside is toasted and cheese is melted. Serve warm with sauce on the side for dipping.

Riesling won’t know what hit it! And neither will you.

Mohegan Sun BBQ Fest 2012

Last month, Dillinger and I took a trip out to Mohegan Sun for their first annual Sun BBQ Fest. It was a pretty unique sight to see- the entire outer west part of the casino had been transformed into a Southern-style barbecue festival! For New Englanders like us, we were excited to sample some of the country’s best smoked meat from Illinois, Texas, South Carolina, and Arkansas.

We received tickets with our press passes to sample a little of everything the festival had to offer. We started at the produce stand, where vendors sold all sorts of farmer’s market treats from Connecticut strawberries to miniature heirloom potatoes.
We sampled the fresh watermelon, quenching and a best-seller on such a sweltering day, as well as the grilled cobs of corn. Both were sweet, soft, and very tasty with sea salt and pepper. (Watermelon included!) The farmer’s market selection was quite varied- I would have loved to take some of the baby artichokes and sweet tomatoes home for supper.

But we were here for business, barbecue business at that. Our first stop was to the Big Boned Barbecue Company’s stand, out of South Carolina. Their combo plate included short ribs, regular ribs, a chicken breast, and two sides, cornbread, and baked beans. The ribs, which looked tantalizing from the big smoking grill, were served unfortunately lukewarm, but were tender as all hell and intensely flavored. They went exceptionally well with the habanero barbecue sauce on the side. The chicken was, to its credit, moist and tender, but basically served as a sauce carrier. The beans and slaw were fine, but not too outstanding and the cornbread a hair too sweet. Still, an excellent start to the day. They were also the friendliest stand- no small feat at 9AM!

Our next stop was to the Texas Thunder booth, whose claim to fame was an enormous, gun-shaped smoker belching smoke at timed intervals. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for their ribs. Sticky after a dousing in sauce, they were chewy and tough and lacking in flavor. The beans were excellent, but the slaw and cornbread were both inexplicably sour. The Texas toast on the side, untoasted, chewy white bread, was something a Yankee like me could have made. Frankly, I expected better.

Dillinger and I took a break out of the hot sun (Mohegan Sun was kind enough to provide your Nordic-skinned critic with heavy-duty sunscreen!) and checked out the casino stores. Yankee Candle’s Mandles provided sheer minutes of entertainment.

After a few laps around the casino, all was redeemed with the chopped brisket sandwich from Uncle Bub’s BBQ out of Westmont, IL. I could have eaten three of these sandwiches and left happy. I fancy myself a decent brisketeer, but this put mine to shame. Tender, sweet, and hot with a crispy crust, this was complimented by the spicy sauce but not overwhelmed. Being that there was about a half-pound of meat on the bun, a good deal of it fell out of the sandwich in the process. All the better to eat with the cornbread, sweet, buttery, and soft. This sandwich made me wish we’d done a massive brisket sandwich throwdown! Perhaps next time we’ll go that route.

It was a great trip. Tons of people came out to the festival despite the heat, and there was plenty of entertainment to enjoy when we weren’t eating- bands, vendors, and rum shots served out of a Sailor Jerry vintage trailer. I highly recommend it if you’re a landlocked Yankee craving the flavors of the West- it was definitely a unique experience!

And the best part of the trip? Bonus surprise Coke Freestylin’ Freestyle machine on the way back. Mohegan Sun, can I move in with you? I could live off of Orange Cream Fanta, Raspberry Lime Coke, and Cherry Lime Hi-C for my remaining days.

Check this out next year- Mohegan has been doing some crazy awesome food and wine events, and this is one you should not miss. Thanks again to Mohegan for having us check this out. We can’t wait to get our BBQ on next year!

Blue Ribbon Classics at the Renaissance Hotel, Boston, MA

A few weeks ago, Miss Love and I took an excursion to Boston to check out the Renaissance hotel, enjoy the music of a local funk band, and try out their new menu from Blue Ribbon Classics, a New York-based restaurant company partnering with New England hotels to teach them their award-winning recipes for usage in their restaurants. It delivers an interesting concept- instead of selling the food directly to the hotels, they sell the recipes and techniques so that each hotel can deliver a fresher, tastier product based off a famous recipe.

I’m not sure if I’d ever stayed at the Renaissance before, but it’s close to the water and in an accessible area near the Boston Convention Center. Our room was bright and nautical, and we lounged on the striped chaise and bed and watched a few episodes of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and talked about boys and the mall. We don’t have a TV back home. Things get pretty intense.
Here’s the view from our room, looking out on the water.

After our television binge, we headed down to the bar area, the Capiz Lounge, for a few drinks before the show. The drink list was wonderfully eclectic, using ingredients like Tabasco, grilled fruit, and one that really caught our eye, creme de violette. Such a vintage flavor! This drink, the Aviation, was a fresh, fruity beverage with vodka, club soda, lemon, and the aforementioned creme. Really refreshing and pretty potent, too. Miss Love enjoyed a cava cocktail with raspberries and lime. This was a little more muted in flavor, but after a drive in 75 degree weather in Memorial Day traffic, it was incredibly quenching!

We decided to whack up a bunch of appetizers from the Blue Ribbon menu along with our drinks, and started off our meal with some barbecue pulled pork sliders, fried rock shrimp, Northern fried chicken wings, manchego and honey toast, and smoked salmon toast. The five appetizers were generously proportioned and loaded with toppings. I think that three of them could have easily sated us. With five, we left stuffed!

Surprisingly, our favorite part of this smorgasbord was the manchego cheese toast. The thick slices of warm white bread were saturated with honey yet not sticky at all, and the lacy slices of cheese on top were creamy, but not overwhelming at all. A very provincial, yet delightful dish. I could have eaten this for breakfast, lunch, or dessert and loved the combination of flavors.

The salmon toast was made from the same bread, but suffered from an overzealous hand with capers and onions, the loose toppings falling over the side. The composition of this was precarious and unwieldy, as the cream cheese anchored the salmon to the bread, but the remaining toppings were left to fend for themselves. While the presentation might not have been as striking, mixing the vegetables in would have made for a more compact, evenly distributed bite.
As we ate, the band played a few sets. They were really good! It was an eclectic mixture of funk and rock, and they seemed to have a great time playing. 

There are many words to describe these wings, but only one seems to fit the bill: pornalicious. For once, this dirty Fieri-ism hits the nail on the head. The wings were crazy, huge mastadon tendons drizzled with a honey cayenne sauce. We were told they were made with a matzoh-meal batter, which explained the airy, light texture and sweet, yeasty crunch. These were wonderfully seasoned with garlic, onion, paprika, and thyme.

The real downside to these, unfortunately, was their size and preparation. Because they were served whole, they were really difficult to eat without making a huge mess. Cutting them also proved to be tough as they batter easily flaked off. The only alternative was to pick them up and gnaw on them- extremely fun, but the bar is well-lit and it tends to be a bit of a date-killer. Aside from that, these were winners. I just wish they’d been easier to eat.

The fried rock shrimp were poppable, tender, and tasty, made even better with the lemon cayenne aioli. Nothing too crazy here, just a basic and reliable appetizer with a spicy kick.

Miss Love’s favorite dish of the night was a surprise! I ordered the barbecue pork sliders expecting that they’d be relinquished to me. Little did I know that we’d end up eying the last one territorially. With homemade pickles and a sweet, Carolina-style vinegar sauce, these were both filling, but not too indulgent. We loved how buttery the brioche bun was without being too dense. The sandwiches were really perfectly proportioned and had a bright, zesty flavor thanks to the citrus zest in the pork and sauce.

After all of these salty appetizers, we really needed another drink! We asked our waitress for a recommendation and was told that the bartender, Cathy, had a special sangria that she made on request. We asked for two and were told that it might be best to share one- Cathy’s recipe has twelve kinds of alcohol! It was bright yellow and studded with pieces of lemons, oranges, and lime when she brought it out. Despite the booze, this was a refreshing, crisp, lemony drink with a very smooth finish and not a hint of burn at all. Well made- I’m quite sure this made TLC 200% funnier after we shared it.
It was a fantastic trip, and I was so glad to test the new Blue Ribbon appetizers. Like I said, I think that the concept is wonderful and it’s clear from what we ate that they’re doing a great job of executing it at the Renaissance. I look forward to coming back and trying the rest of the menu, and can’t wait to get back to Boston! Thanks again to the hotel and PR team for facilitating our visit. We had an amazing time!

Red Robin Cry Baby and Fiery Ghost Burgers

Happy 6th of July! All the fireworks are now 90% off. But in other, more important news, Happy I’m About to Reach 1,000 Reviews Day! We’re just a few away from 1,000 reviews of fancy, funky, freaky food, guys. It’s extremely exciting. But today, here’s a patriotic pair of burgers that will have your tongue singing Sousa marches all day long. If you happen to know Sousa marches. Okay, so there was a brief (eight year) period in my life when I played the flute in the local adult band. Not nearly as fun, erotic, interesting, or clever as it sounds outside of proving that in high school, I was that guy.

Whatever. Red Robin sent over a gift card to us to review their newest, sexiest burger selection, featuring the first usage of the elusive ghost pepper in a casual dining chain restaurant. The Cry Baby burger and Fiery Ghost burger are two new additions to the chain’s Tavern Double line, which allows you to choose between two sizes of burger, and then, for $1 extra, upgrade with a set of toppings. This is a great, streamlined way to get the Red Robin experience without agonizing over topping selection. One thing that has always confused me about the menu is that they emphasize customization, yet the menu lacks a complete list of toppings, sauces, and bread selection for you to create your own burger with. Instead, you’re picking and choosing elements from other burgers like you’re picking out items from those prefab, modern homes and tallying them up in your head. This way is easier, and includes a row of additional items at the bottom that you can add for an additional surcharge. Much better.

We ordered the two smaller Tavern Double burgers, and shared the latest beer from Blue Moon, Summer Honey Wheat. I’m not a beer person, but I loved this beer. It was fantastic and light, and didn’t weigh us down before our big meal. The flavor was identical to a honey wheat pretzel twist with a little citrus thrown in, and all I could think of when I was drinking it was how cool it would be to cook with this and infuse that phenomenal flavor into chicken or brisket. It was great.

Our burgers arrived shortly, and if you’re wondering now whether the Tavern Double is big enough for your appetite, stop wondering. These are enormous. While both burgers do go light on the dairy-heavy toppings (neither sauce is mayo based) they clock in at roughly 1,200 calories apiece. We chose to each eat half and save the rest for later. Let’s start with the two new sauces. The Fiery Ghost comes with a ghost pepper-infused hot sauce, a thick sauce with a flavor profile better suited toward sweeter sauces, like a curry, than a hot sauce. 
It had notes of cumin, cloves and cinnamon that gave some depth to the meat, but lent a sweeter aspect to the burger that didn’t really scream “heat.” However, the Fiery Ghost was hot enough to make tears run down our faces…why? You’ll see. The Cry Baby came with a ketchup, also infused with ghost peppers. We preferred this one because it had a little more of a bite, a cleaner flavor with jalapenos at the forefront. Can’t say that either sauce was extremely hot, but then again, there must be restrictions for the number of Scovilles a restaurant’s sauces can have. Still a decent attempt, and each sauce made an excellent zippy dip for onion rings.

The Fiery Ghost burger was insanely hot. Not due to the aforementioned sauce, but because there were three whole jalapenos chopped up on the burger. You can see one of them sliced in the above photo. This is both good and bad. Good, because in the initial phases of the debut, some reviews had comments complaining about the weak topping distribution. I’m pleased to report that there were a ton of toppings on these burgers. The Fiery Ghost had three fresh chopped jalapenos and around six fried jalapeno coins on top, and the Cry Baby had plenty of fried and caramelized onions. However, this did mean that the Fiery Ghost was incredibly spicy, and the bite of the peppers overwhelmed most of the other flavors.

The Cry Baby had a better balance of flavor. The combination of the sweet caramelized onions and crispy onion strings really brought out the natural flavor of the beef, and the cheese and sauce gave it a bit of a kick. This was more like a steakhouse-style burger than an explicitly spicy one, but it still tasted wonderful.
These were solid burgers, and really fun additions to the summer menu. I think they’re more of a step outside of the norm than the bacon on everything and combined farmyard animal burgers that a lot of restaurants have been debuting. The creativity of the ghost pepper is in the right place, even if the heat is not. I can’t wait to see what else Red Robin concocts!

DiGiorno Three Meat Pizza Dipping Strips

I like my food to be interactive. Of course, there’s only so many ways you can jazz up lift food, insert in mouth, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to make it more exciting. I blame it on my parents, whose authentic airline-related commentary while flying the fork plane into my mouth as an infant would have made any TSA agent proud. So these days, where a spoon would suffice, I’ll stick a straw in. I like arranging plates to have as many condiments and dips as there are items on the plate itself, and a dinner just isn’t a dinner unless it has at least one experimental cocktail.

DiGiorno sent over some of their pizzas last week, in a bizarrely paradoxical “is it delivery or is it DiGiorno” situation. In this case, it was both, which seems to defy the laws of time and space, but whatever. Funny story: sometimes the press kits companies send over can be very convincing. In this case, I got a text from Miss Love while on my way home from work. “digiorno sent 1 pizza just put in freezer.” Curious to hear more, I called her, and we both expressed our confusion at having received one pizza in what she said was such a large box.

I came home later and found this in the freezer, with these inside.

Yup, they made their press kit so convincing that it fooled my poor girlfriend. Shit is crazy like a Foxwoods, I tell you. Luckily, thumbdrives can take a licking, so despite the fact that these were frozen, they turned out just fine. I also need to point out that this is one of the most impressive press kits I’ve recently received. They made a thumbdrive that’s meant to resemble a Dipping Strip. The operative word here is “meant,” as it errs more toward the side of skin disease demonstrative display (“Pepperonitis Simplica”) but it’s still freaking awesome.

I ran to the store and grabbed the Three Meat pizza for my first test. Maybe I’m just used to the slender, compostable Amy’s boxes we usually get, but this pizza was hefty. I swear I saw my triceps cry when I lifted it out of the freezer case. The Three Meat Pizza is topped with pepperoni, sausage, and beef, and comes with two tubes of garlic and marinara dipping sauce. I can understand the former, which seeks to deliver a certain pizza restaurant’s certain magical sauce to a certain masses, the likes of which rhymes with “Ploppa Han,” but the latter baffles me ever so slightly. I’ve never known anyone to add extra sauce to a pizza.

I’ve always liked DiGiorno’s pizzas, and this one was no exception. While I find the crust a little too thick and dense, the flavor is tasty without being oversalted and the toppings are generous. The execution of the dipping strips is a little unwieldy, though. The cheese extends and separates in a net-like form, leaving small pieces of beef and sausage in its wake like the children of divorced parents. As the cheese breaks off, they ultimately fall by the wayside until you plop them back on the pizza. The toppings are fairly nondescript- the pepperoni is gamey and fatty, distinctly reminiscent of packaged Hormel sausage or the cold slices you’d get in a Lunchable, and the sausage and beef are virtually indistinguishable. But still, meat toppings FTW. The real fun is in the dipping.

Both sauces feature easy-to-tear pouches and a slightly greasy exterior as well as the heady implications of explosion should you microwave them. Once again, I’m reminded of Lunchables. This pizza feels more and more like the adult version of the deep-dish pizza creator you were jealous about in the 4th grade. You know, the one with cold cheese and an animal-based crust that you’d have given a kidney for. Now it comes in 1 lb increments and has garlic sauce. You’re all grown up, baby. The marinara sauce was surprisingly, my favorite condiment, likely because it served as a zesty lubricant for the craggy pizza strips. The garlic sauce was congealed with oil and it had a thin, watery texture. It had a salty, non-garlicky texture and I ended up throwing it out.

This is a pretty successful frozen pizza, and it’s definitely a fun, easy way to portion out food. Many an argument has broken out chez nous over the last slice of pizza, and this way you can divide up your strips as evenly as we divided up land back in the 1800’s. While I’d love to see a thinner crust and some more diverse toppings and dips, it’s delicious, moderately nutritious, and better than the DIY version we had as kids.
Now with 100% more data!

2012 Summer Fancy Food Show, Day 2

Oof. We’re back home and recovering from our weekend, filing and checking out our snack hoard, and taking our pork vitamins again now that we’re back to suffering a proscuitto deficiency. And in terms of awesome new products to show you, this is easily our craziest year yet. We’re talking bubblegum in chocolate, fruity potato chips, and a few condiments that will knock our your teeth.

 Due to the sheer number of chocolate bars alone that you need to see, we’re bringing back chocolate week- or should I say, Fifty Shades of Chocolate? Eat your heart out, Mr. Godfried.

Yesterday, we started munching bright and early in the second room of the exhibition. Our first stop was the ever-popular Mexico booths, because where else can you get free avocado oil and salsa verde cocktails at 11AM? Oh, and cocktail atomizers, for the airplane. Doi.

Some of our favorite companies were there, like Askinosie, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Serendipity, and Frontera. Also in attendance were some terrifying Peruvian energy drink pushers, cheesemongers aplenty, and even a few cheese mice.

This year, there were so many different booths and new companies to scout out, we weren’t able to attend any of the seminars. Fear not, though- we got our fill of fascinating products.

The gummies above were a scant sampling of the 640 square feet of awesome that Buyer’s Best Friend brought with them- we finally got to meet our West Coast pals!

We took a break from eating and crowds to go to another room to eat and vote for the sofi award winners! Our favorites included bacon schnecken from Queen City Cookies and an amazing whole grain mustard from American Spoon. Also included was this gorgeous tea packaging from Le Hammeau whose booth dictator, oddly enough, adamantly refused any photos of his booth during the entire show.

After our brief respite and flirt with tamale pie and Korean hot sauce, we were ready to tackle the show once more. It seemed like many companies were enjoying the marketing opportunities that came along with 2012 being an election year- Dave’s Insanity had these funny adjustable hot sauce bottles, with adjustable opinions for Mittens and adjustable origins of birth for Obama. Nobody was safe!

Vosges had some badass chocolate displays, as they always do, featuring new flavors like carrot ginger and milk chocolate and smoked banana caramel. Both were eccentric and refined, as Vosges typically is. Also featured were the new Wild Ophelia bars, which we’ve reviewed here before.

It was another fantastic day at the Fancy Food Show, made even better by the events and after-parties we checked out afterwards. This definitely felt like one of the best shows yet, and seeing DC again made it an even better experience and mini-vacation. Although it will be much easier to bop over to Manhattan next summer, this was a great way to take a break and see a new place.

Tomorrow we’ll be racking up our Top 15 Sweet/Savory Snacks and give you a recap of the after-parties we checked out.

From there, it’s back to your regularly scheduled Foodette programming, with plenty of product and restaurant reviews and a shake of snark thrown in. Thanks for bearing with me over the last few weeks- I know that the last 14 days have likely wreaked havoc on the site and that new readers now have the impression that I’m a jet-setting, globe-trotting, chubby Carmen Sandiego. Actually, that’s kind of awesome.

In any case, thanks for your patience! You guys are swell. I’d feed you all if it weren’t so expensive. Incidentally, I will soon be feeding three of you- go to my Twitter page for details on how to win a $25 gift card to Quizno’s. I have three of them for the first three people to guess my favorite new Quizno’s item via DM.

BlogHer Food ’12 Recap, Day 2

Conference day! As well as my time to scout out Seattle’s best and strangest food. Obviously, an excursion to Pike Place Market was in order. It was only a half mile from the hotel and the weather was brisk and sunny. I woke up at six, studied a little, and then headed off after checking out the sponsored booths at BlogHer.

The BlogHer sponsors were awesome. They had killer contests, amazing and interactive booths- make a rhubarb creature! Make your own yogurt! The fun was endless.

I started out my morning the way God intended, with some customized latte action and a plaid shirt. Sassy and caffeinated, I hit the awesome breakfast buffet and went on my way.

Bagel stakes! Yes!

Pike Place was an easy walk and offered so many things to see and do. I won’t bore you with facts or information or blah blah organic blah blah local color but I will say this. I don’t like people. You know I don’t like people because when I’m not making fun of food here, I’m making fun of people and then relating them to food. But the people in Seattle were weird, and by weird, I mean idiosyncratic. Funky. Not crazy, but not antisocial, either. 

Case in point: I’m not one for friendly banter with strangers. I’m not that guy who holds hands with random, unsanitary people at a concert. I try not to make out with strangers, though they throw themselves at me so. And the most reviling thing someone I’ve never seen can do is say something unsolicited to me because rarely do my quips come out as well-played and rehearsed as they do in my head, hours later. The best I’ve done is a “mmm,” which makes me look constipated and aroused at the same time.

But these people, man. Something about the air unlocked me. These people zoned in on me to give me the what-for and I gave it right back. A drop-dead gorgeous drag queen walked by me when I was taking the Molly Moon photo, sizing me up and whispered, “Oh, you like that dog?” And something clicked and I stared right at her and said, “Fuck, yes, I love that dog.” Not untrue. I’d been to three dog-themed eateries that day, but still uncharacteristic.
The man selling these crabs asked me if I was going to buy one to take on a hot date. I declined purchasing but offered to take one to the park. Seriously, I don’t know what came over me. I was like an annoying frat boy and a drunk college chick all rolled into one, except that it was ten in the morning and I wasn’t inebriated.

 For Christ’s sake, I screamed “YOLO” at someone.

This can’t be good.
After collecting myself, I got some breakfast. It was like being in a cartoon, guys. One minute you’re walking with a sense of purpose to Beecher’s cheese for an Atkins-friendly breakfast of cheese and more cheese, and the next minute you’re taking a comical U-turn into a small bakery, cramped with people, lured by the smell of something with a seductive magnetism. Welcome to Piroshky Piroshky.
What’s a piroshky? No idea. Something delicious. I wanted to bring home fifty of them. Motivated by self-control and a credit card with a reachable limit, I settled on marzipan and ate it in Beecher’s. So classy.

It’s also worth noting that my original destination for breakfast was a crumpets-only shop and because you must eat crumpets at a crumpet store, I got two and ate them. I repeat, YOLO. 

Ricotta and lemon curd. The only non-housemade item was the paper plate it was on, and it was likely upcycled or purchased on etsy.

After my breakfast bacchanal, I headed back to the hotel to pace anxiously around the room and get ready for my panel. Lillian, April, and I met up ahead of time to scope out the area and had a decent idea of how to fill up an hour and a half without resorting to knock-knock jokes or trust falling.

The panel was a smashing success. Did you know that despite being on a panel about how to relate food to humor, one must know that food is and never will be, under any circumstances, funny? Take it from an expert, I had no idea. And here I thought I was totes successful. Internet famous. Turns out I was doing it wrong and mushrooms can go back to being singularly gross and not at all humorous. We could all do well to keep humor strictly within the realm of 1950’s pop hits and gentle anecdotes. 

Also, true story- nobody wanted to take a photo with me. And I tried so hard to guilt people into it, too! I think David’s annoying front-row paramour took home more women than I did. He also left the audience with a swell takeaway for a how-to panel along the lines of, “If you’re having joke problems I feel bad for you, son, I got 99 problems, but kitsch ain’t one,” and most of them left grumbling shortly after.

Oh well. It was Baby’s First Speaking Engagement and will go right in the scrapbook alongside the removal of my wisdom teeth and photos of my first prom. However, I didn’t completely Britta it, and I found that I meshed with everyone well and that we had clever and hopefully, insightful information to bequeath unto all the participants.

I was famished afterwards, but glowing with pride, so I returned to the room to snap photos of myself that may or may not have ended up on craigslist after the fact and then made a second grand entrance to the Spanish ballroom to meet my throngs of thong-waving, adoring fans and eat carbonated tomato appetizers and ahi tuna tacos.

However, miniature tacos and fizzy fruit do not a Foodette make, so once more, I schlepped off to my favorite mystery restaurant, the likes of which shall be revealed in a full restaurant review tomorrow.

Eating this made up for having to sit at the bar. 

And then I went back, full of love, poutine, and internet memes, my innards vibrating with delight, and slept until my flight back east.

Thanks, Seattle.

Thanks for the pepper garlands.

The neon beacons.

And the piles of photogenic cookies.

But most of all, thank you for being a little quirky.
We’ll always have BlogHer Food. 

To all who checked me out, took a chance on me, undressed me with their eyes, brushed against me, dealt with my yammering, ate with me, drank with me, locked eyes with me from across a crowded room, and let me speak, thank you.

You all mean the world to me.


BlogHer Food ’12 Recap, Day 1

Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s 200+ photos from BlogHer Food, so ogle ’em, maybe. If you’re expecting snarky reviews, give it a few days before I cold-start my engine again. I’m coming back from the dead, fresh from the world of standardized testing and reverse redeye flights!

As you know, I’ve had a whirlwind of a weekend in Seattle. It was a blissful dalliance from charming New England. It started out at 2:45 in the morning when I left the house in a daze. That daze continued until well around three in the afternoon, but at least I got a good Pink Floyd-esque album cover out of it.

When I wasn’t paralyzed in fear from the turbulence of the incredibly small aircraft that, despite physics, successfully held us aloft, I took this photo.

 Arriving in Seattle was virtually painless, and when I got to the Fairmont Olympic, I collapsed in my room. Unbeknownst to me, Progresso’s fairies sneaked in ahead of me and left this gift.
The view from my room.
This is where the magic happened, and by magic, I mean LSAT study hub and naked snoring. Keeping it as classy as classy can be. Seriously, ladies, where were you?!

After a quick nap and brief study session, I hopped a bee-themed shuttle to an event sponsored by Whole Foods- a pollinator picnic! Representatives from Whole Foods and some local businesses spoke to us about the plight that the honeybees are facing with Colony Collapse Disorder. Did you know that 75% of our fruits and vegetables are pollinated by honeybees? Imagine a world without mangoes, almonds, strawberries, and blueberries, and you’ve got a fraction of an idea about what life would be like without bees. We learned about how we can help them in our own gardens and tomorrow, Miss Love and I will be constructing a bee bath and planting some bee-friendly wildflowers in our summer garden!

Whole Foods supplied us with some wonderful picnic food, too.

After the lecture, a few of us wandered out into the Arboretum, pleased to see the sun peeking out after we’d been warned of crappy weather. The Washington Park Arboretum is huge, and I would have loved to check out more of it.

Steam was rising off the beams after the rain let up- very picturesque!

 The park is full of beautiful sights and sounds.
We hopped back onto the bee bus and drove back to the hotel. 
I had a speaker get-together at six thirty, but was left with a few stir-crazy hours in between to look for food and hang out. I decided to introduce myself Seattle the way I like to introduce myself to know most things- get inside of it. I walked all around and staked out the restaurants I’d meticulously researched before the trip, stopping at a little place called Po Dog to grab a dinner snack before the meeting. True story, the free snack for passengers flying business class on United Airlines is an erect middle finger. Girl was famished.
Nature. Best appreciated with a greasy sack of food and Mexican coke.
But two hot dogs and fries might not have been the best option. Not to mention that they were solidly mediocre. Still! Peanut butter and banana! Wasabi egg roll dog! Lemon aioli! Also, shame on them for running out of the “I <3 wieners" shirts just before my grand arrival. Shame.
I got some ice cream instead. Molly Moon’s is boss, y’all. This was another collaboration sweet spot- Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar ice cream!
I juuuuuuuussttt missed their specialty Beecher’s sundae- pie crust crumbles, apple compote, Flagship cheddar ice cream, and cajeta. God. Damn.

Of course, all of this stupid stress eating was completely nullified by this dinner at this speaker meeting. I’ll leave you with a teaser photo for now…tomorrow, find out exactly what I did to that chicken.

Tune in tomorrow, 8PM EST, to hear how my awesome speaking engagement went, what else I ate, and why I’m officially the coolest person alive.

Wendy’s New Smoky Honey Mustard and Asiago Ranch Grilled Chicken Flatbread Sandwiches

I’ve got to admit, I don’t make it out to Wendy’s often. It’s not the restaurant’s fault, but the location of the closest one is within a quick radius of at least three other good restaurants, a Trader Joe’s, and is halfway between home and school, so it’s rare that I’m ever making a pit stop. Tonight, though, I found myself with a block of spare time and a nagging parched feeling, so I decided to stop for a soda for the ride home, remembering I’d had a gift card for the new ranch guacamole chicken sandwich to try out.
However, when I saw an advertisement for two new varieties of grilled chicken flatbread tucked behind some bushes, I couldn’t help myself. As luck would have it, they happened to be out of guacamole as well. I was initially apprehensive because from the angle my car was at, all I could see was “smoky honey-” and I reasoned that if the next word was “BBQ” I’d just pass. Fast food barbecue is nothing exciting and the bulk of them are overly sugared and sticky, but it turns out that I was in luck. Smoky honey mustard and asiago ranch awaited me along with a cool drink.

They also explicitly advertised the sandwich in a generic “fancy food” font and had a strange sign (presumably for people with allergies to butter? Or a desire for fine dining at fast food prices?) informing customers that the flatbread sandwiches were prepared with butter. All righty, then!

For $3.99 plus tax, the flatbreads provide a decent value and an excellent quality. After a little research, I found that the chain has been testing four varieties for the last five months, switching up the flavor combinations and offering two others in addition to the two mentioned above, smoky apple barbecue (though whether that’s applewood or apple fruit, I don’t know) and caprese. They’re packaged in a special brown-bag wrapper with instructions to rip and grip for eating on the go.

Right from the get-go, it was easy to see that these were not your average fast food chicken sandwich. The smoky honey mustard sandwich features grilled, seasoned chicken, a blend of lettuce and arugula, tomato slices, and a smoky honey mustard sauce atop a whole-grain flatbread. The asiago ranch flatbread, like its sandwich counterpart, features the same meat and vegetables, but adds on a slice of asiago cheese, ranch dressing, and crispy bacon.
The two flatbreads were exceptional. Although the format of the whole-grain bread has the surreptitious flavor profile of a mother trying to sneak vegetables into her kid’s food- a highly sweetened honey flavor to detract from the crunchy nuts and seeds and a toasty exterior so that nobody notices the bread isn’t blindingly white, it’s still a valiant attempt at vending whole grains on a large scale.The bread has a nice chew to it while still remaining yielding and is soft, holding together all the toppings without falling apart.

I felt like the honey mustard sandwich was the less balanced of the two. While I’m always up for a condiment-centric sandwich, there was no smokiness to be found in the sauce and its sweetness only enhanced the sugars in the bread. I would have liked to see a little more bite to this sauce, from something like paprika or even horseradish. However, the vegetables were crisp and fresh and the chicken was moist, tender, and lightly seasoned with a blend of spices that cut some of the cloying flavor. The sandwich contained about a half of a pounded, but still relatively thick, chicken breast, and was very filling.
We unanimously preferred the flavors in the asiago ranch sandwich– it’s definitely one I’d get again if I needed a quick meal.  For whatever reason, the tomato in this one was much pinker and anemic-looking, and tasted less fresh. The remaining components were amazing, though- the slice of included bacon was thick, chewy, and even a little crispy at the ends. It balanced out the bread wonderfully along with the sharp tang of the asiago, slightly melted from the heat of the chicken.
Like the other sandwich, the lettuce added a welcomed bitter contrast to the rich flavors and was bound together by the ranch sauce, which was strong enough to give a kick to the whole package, but didn’t overpower any one ingredient.

All in all, I was really impressed with these. The interesting ingredient combinations and  high-quality feel of the sandwich gave me deli or coffee shop quality at a fast food prices. I’ve seen things like this sell for around eight bucks at organic coffee places, so this is a wonderful compromise. I’d love to see new versions of these on the market soon!