Sunday, January 31, 2010

What exactly did we do at Food Blogger Camp?

(photo credit: Jaden Hair)

We've been back a few weeks now since food blogger camp and we realize we never really said exactly what we did there or who else we met!

(photo credit: Sarah Olson)

So, first of all we met some amazing and well-known bloggers who taught sessions in:

• food photography (Matt Armendariz from Matt Bites)
• food styling (Adam Pearson)
• making your blog more valuable to more people (Michael and Donna Rulman)
• from blog to book (Jaden Hair from Steamy Kitchen and David Leibovitz)
• food blog best practices (Elise Bauer from Simply Recipes)
• food writing with the senses (Dianne Jacob)
• building a better blog with multimedia (Diane Cu and Todd Porter from White on Rice)

For the details of each session, Diane and Todd wrote three great, in-depth posts:
writing, food styling, and photography
photography, getting a cookbook deal and the Zihuatanejo marketplace
final video and recap

And we met other bloggers who wanted to learn more about blogging. Just like camp, we ate most of our meals together. (From left to right, Fran from Frantastic Food, Sarah from A Beach Home Companion, Casey from Good.Food.Stories and Cecilie from Lekkermunn.)

In addition to the technical details of blogging, we spent a day in the markets in Zihuatanejo checking out the fresh fruits and vegetables and meats.

We stopped at Fonda Irma, one of many ready-to-eat food stands in the market, and tasted specialties like chile relleno, chicken molé (above) and goat soup. The food was incredibly authentic and delicious!

And by the end of the camp, we all felt like we shared a unique week together at a time when the food blog community is growing together. (From left to right, Brooke from FoodWoolf, Dianne Jacobs, Diana from DianasaurDishes and Casey from Good.Food.Stories.)

Most importantly, Justin and I felt inspired to learn even more, to practice what we learned in this week and to grow our new connections with other food bloggers.

Justin and I are looking forward to putting our learnings into action! We thank you for reading our blog and looking forward to sharing new things!

For even more posts on Food Blogger Camp, here's a list of everyone's posts:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fancy Foods Show 2010 Recap

Handheld honey, sparkling tea, and spicy ketchup were just a few of the new food ideas that Justin and I saw at last year's Winter Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco. As food scientists and product developers, we are always looking for new ideas. But as seasoned veterans of food trade shows, we have learned the hard way how to be selective samplers. Using a process more rigorous than the American Idol auditions, only the most tempting and unusual foods are allowed the pleasure of gracing our palates.

We recently attended the 2010 Winter Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco and spent 4+ hours in search of novel ideas, curious combinations and intriguing foods. No photos are allowed so apologies for the poor quality of my secret shots.

Our Fancy Foods Favorites:

1. Honest Tea Kombucha
We're fans of this raw, live fermented tea when it's mixed with fruit juices to off-set the tartness. Honest Tea is taking on top kombucha brand GT Dave's Synergy and Kombucha drinks and it will be interesting to see if kombucha becomes more mainstream. The kombucha craze is in full force in the San Francisco Bay Area. Honest T's flavors include peach mango, berry hibiscus, and lemon ginger. We even tasted the new top secret flavor in the works: apple.

2. Annie Chun’s Mini Wontons and Korean “Goes with Anything” Sauce
These frozen mini- wontons are perfect for soups or appetizers because they are just one bite.

Add the Korean Go Chu Jang "Goes with Anything" sweet n' spicy sauce and it's a match!

3. Pasta Slim Noodles
These Pasta Slim "noodles" are made with konjac flour which is naturally high in fiber (glucomannan) and low in calories. Other similar noodles called shirataki noodles are on the market but can have off-flavors. Pasta slim advocates a better flavor as well as low calorie and gluten-free.

4. Savannah Bee Co. Grilling honey, Cheese honey, and Tea honey
We have a soft spot for these honeys because they are purposefully paired with foods. Maybe one honey doesn't fit all.

5. Oikos Pure Pleasure Greek-style yogurt with caramel or chocolate
This thick Greek-style yogurt with 0% fat has caramel or chocolate on the bottom for a guilt-less pleasure. We love the higher protein content from strained Greek style yogurt with a sweet indulgence.

6. Naan Pizza
There's a bit of spice when Indian naan meets Italian pizza. We thought this was a tasty twist on a classic pizza from the Tandoor Chef.

7. Silence Tea
Shhh. Peace and tranquility are at the heart of this new line of Silence Teas. With all of the energy drinks in the market, it was refreshing to find a beverage celebrating the art of slowing down. Another beverage, Slow Cow had a similar philosophy with the same active ingredient as Silence Tea, L-theanine, an amino acid.

8. Dave's Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
Celebrate the butternut squash in pasta sauce, don't hide it. That's the philosophy behind the bright yellow pasta sauce also made with garlic, onions, and roasted red pepper from Dave's Gourmet. We already saw this on the shelf at our Costco.

9. Zócalo Heritage and Naturally Gluten-Free Flours
Leveraging the 35 species of corn, 2000 varieties of potatoes and 650 native species of fruit in Peru, Zócalo Gourmet offers naturally gluten-free grains and flours. We saw sweet potato, purple corn, kañiwa and mesquite. Gluten-free was still a huge trend at this show.

10. Magnolia Tropical Ice Creams
These ice creams are made with unique fruit from the Philippines including flavors like ube, lychee, avocado, green tea, halo-halo and red bean.

11. Jelly Bellies Chili Mango
Ah, Jelly Belly- always coming up with new flavors to tempt us. This year we sampled a bit of sweet and spicy in the new flecked chili mango bean. Also, new was honey bean as well as a superfruit mix including pomengranate, acai, blueberry, cranberry, and cherry in the mix.

Some Honorable Mentions:

Favorite Authentic Packaging:

Most Unusual Product:
Le Foam- available in sweet and savory flavors like chocolate truffle and lemon dijon

Novel Take on Tea:
Numi Aged Puerh Tea Brick- this 60 day fermented tea is pressed into a brick and aged. You simply break off a piece and add to boiling water to steep.

And finally a few other trends we saw:

• plenty of tea including Chocolate tea from the Republic of Tea
• a lot of chocolate including burnt caramel and toffee as popular flavors
• gluten-free snacks
• bacon-everything including maple bacon marshmallows from Plush Puffs and Sir Francis' Bacon peanut brittle
• nut mixes- including new glazed flavors from Sahale Snacks like almonds with cranberries, honey and sea salt, and even a line of gourmet dried fruit and nuts mixes from Gary&Kit at Clif Family Winery and Farm.

All-in-all, it was an interesting show!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

One Word Wednesday: Toasted

Even though we call it grilled cheese, it's really much more like a toasted cheese sandwich. Mmm, we've had grilled cheese twice this week and we'd like to know:

How do you make your grilled cheese sandwich?

Diagonal or straight-cut? And Why?

How did your mom make this sandwich for you?

We'll share our answers if you'll share yours!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Building Kitchen Traditions: It's Never Too Early to Start!

Can you remember the first time you "cooked" or "baked" in the kitchen? Even though we might not be cooking three meals a day from scratch like our grandmothers did, there's an opportunity to start new cooking traditions for ourselves, our friends and families.

We've recently started a baking tradition with my friend, Mama A and her daughter, Little I, who will be 3 in February. This was our second year of baking and decorating sugar cookies together and it was fun to see Little I's interest grow. I've learned that it is never too early to start building a new kitchen tradition.

Last year, Little I was almost 2 when she came over to decorate cookies (in photo above). I was amazed at her interest and ability to gently pick up sprinkles from Mama A's hand and delicately put them on the cookies at such a young age. Click for the full post on Little I's first sugar cookies.

This year, Little I's excitement about making cookies was wonderful to see. I received a lovely "princess" cookie cutter set which was perfect for this occasion. What a difference a year makes as Little I was more engaged and wanted to be even more involved. I made the cookies in advance and prepared the buttercream frosting. While Mama A put on a layer of frosting, Little I eagerly selected the sprinkles and put them on the top of the the cookies. It was a great moment to talk about the different colors and shapes. Little A had lots of opinions about which colors she wanted to use!

She also really enjoyed eating those sprinkles!

Three different generations were involved this year as my mom, "Grandma" Gail, stopped by and joined in the decorating fun.

Baking cookies together will be a yearly kitchen tradition we will continue. I'm also excited to start a cooking tradition with Little I where we make something with fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods.

Do you have any kitchen traditions with your kids or friends or family?

Are you thinking about starting some new kitchen traditions?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Food Science Friday: Light struck

Last week you may have seen me in a Corona commercial. With a brilliant blue sea and sky stretching out, the crashing waves roaring with regular frequency, and the pillow top of a weathered cabana, all that was remaining was the beer. And beer I did have.

My lazy thoughts drifted back to my days in graduate school when I lived with three students who all were studying some aspect of beer (two have gone on to become brewmasters). Late night discussions would turn to the fuel of our late night discussions (the beer) and the chemistry of light struck beer was of course one topic of we couldn't ignore.

For the purists, beer is simple from an ingredient standpoint (water, barley malt, hops, yeast). The role of hops is multi-fold, but it is usually thought of for the flavoring characteristics it imparts--the bitter taste and floral notes. Of the many chemical compounds present in the hop flowers those called isohumulones are some of the prima donnas. If you treat your beer well the isohumulones will perform a delicious dance, if you abuse your beer then will make the entire experience stink. Stink, literally, stink like a skunk.

The term skunky beer comes from the formation of 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (MBT for short), which is chemically similar to what's in a skunk spray (hopefully you've only had to smell this racing down the highway and away). When isohumulones break down and recombine with sulfur groups naturally in the been proteins they form MBT, which is detectable at parts per million levels in your nose. However, a key in making this reaction go is the exposure to light energy that kick starts the chemistry. So, if you can avoid light, you'll help keep MBT out of your beer drinking experience.

I won't advise you to drink in the dark, for many reasons, and a cold beer on the beach is sometimes in order. Take my advice: pour it from a keg or dark bottle, keep it cold, and drink quickly! Then repeat.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One Word Wednesday: Comfort

It's a rainy day here and this cup of hot chocolate was just what I needed.

What foods bring you comfort on a cold and rainy day?

Are you cooking anything special today?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Food Styling: Why Good Food is like Penelope Cruz At the Golden Globes

Did you know that food, like an A-list celebrity, needs a stylist before it is photographed? You won't see Penelope Cruz walk the red carpet without the perfectly fitted Giorgio Armani Privé dress, sixty-nine carats of sparkling Chopard diamonds, and shimmering lip gloss. And whenever you see crusty loaf of bread on a cookbook cover, that bread has had its own "Rachel Zoe" spend hours perfecting its look. We spent some time this week understanding the art of food styling with food stylist extraordinaire, Adam Pearson.

Food styling is all about creating, arranging, building, adjusting and ultimately sculpting the food for a photographer to capture. It's not only actually cooking and preparing the dish but considering the positioning of ingredients and elements and creating a story for the photographer to capture. There can even be a separate prop stylist to select the appropriate linens, flatware, dishware and accessories to accompany the food! Who knew that a loaf of bread could be so high maintenance!

We eagerly watched Adam prepare a simple plate of spaghetti using his personal toolkit which included everything from small scissors to trim the spaghetti, to a spritz bottle of water to add moisture and shine to a bit of museum wax to anchor a well-placed fork. We could tell you how he cracks his own peppercorns to get large, visible pieces or how he gently coils the spaghetti around his fingers and trims it to size. But instead, we also took a video of his demonstration to show you. He only makes it looks easy!

Thank you to Adam for sharing his craft with us at Food Blogger Camp!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Clicking the Mental Refresh Button in Ixtapa

Life is busy and while we generally are glad to have Facebook, Twitter, the Blackberry/iPhone, our blog and the internet, sometimes it can be overwhelming along with the craziness of daily life. On this trip to Food Blogger Camp in Ixtapa, we're clicking the mental refresh button by coming down to Club Med (which we probably wouldn't have done otherwise) for week of amazing discussions, tours and dialogue.

While I was certain we would be inspired by the amazing other food bloggers here, I wasn't sure why it was in Ixtapa, why it was at Club Med and if we needed to really be in such a remote location.

As you can see from the photos, this is truly a paradise. The weather is pleasantly warm- even at night, the ocean is magnificent and the resort is lovely. There's a spirit of fun and of relaxation all around; an ease and a slower pace at this resort. There are many things to do and plenty of time to do them. It's remarkable and rare in our lives.

And now that I am here, I can see why this is the perfect location for Food Blogger Camp. If we had been in New York City or another urban area, we might be feverishly looking for the best bacon donut, the most amazing new restaurant, the secret speakeasy. Instead, we are truly relaxing our bodies and minds to actually have creative thoughts and discussions. We're able to disconnect from the "get-it-done" pace of work and home and even the busy tone of the city.

So I am grateful to the foresight of Jaden and the other organizers that so thoughtfully chose this relaxing location and this talented group of instructors and also decided to keep the attendance small such that authentic connections can be developed this week.

How do you mentally refresh? Have you had an inspiring vacation/ day trip or food adventure that recharged you?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why Are We in Ixtapa, Mexico?

To attend Food Blogger Camp, of course! Justin and I are spending a week in Ixtapa, Mexico with amazing, influential food bloggers. We are a part of the wonderfully small group of 30 bloggers that will be learning about food photography, food styling, writing, understanding multimedia tools in your blog and much more. Not only will we be attending "classes" but also eating together and taking a culinary tour and getting to know some inspiring people. Click here for the full agenda and the list of respected and well-known instructors!

And in addition to all of the foodspiration that we will be getting, we are enjoying the warm and beautiful location at Club Med in Ixtapa! More posts to come!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Food Science Friday: Comminuted

In the spirit of sharing some food science terminology, we thought we would explain the word "comminuted." Comminuted refers to a food that is reduced in size by chopping, grinding, etc and restructured, Examples include hot dogs, sausage, salami, and bratwurst where the filling is made of ground meats and filled into a casing.

Justin and my brother recently made this comminuted product, hot sausage, with my Italian-American family in Northern California. The full post is coming soon! In the meantime, enjoy those comminuted meat products!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One Word Wednesday: Na zdraví! (to your health!)

While visiting this holiday season my father gifted us a bottle of Becherovka, a traditional Czech herbal liquor. Anise is at least one of the characteristic flavor components.

A couple of years ago when we traveled to "the motherland" we were invited into people's homes and were toasted in the traditional means: abundant liquor served in a small glass with a toast, Na zdraví! (in Czech, "to your health"). Pictured here are some of the glasses (featuring the town fire engine and wheat crest) that we were presented to us by they mayor of Jenišovice, a small town where some of our Šimek ancestors once lived.

Do you have a favorite toast? What do you say when you raise a glass?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hamburgers Sausalito, "where the customer is rarely right."

I had the opportunity to visit Hamburgers Sausalito over the holiday weekend with my father who was visiting form out of town. We started this homegrown tourist adventure with a BART ride into the City, grabbing a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee at the Ferry Building, and then boarding the ferry to Sausalito (also my first time there).

For lunch we were lured in by the rotating flame grill in the front window (above). The grill literally rotates as if it was a large turntable and holds the burgers, cheeseburgers, chicken, and thin-sliced steak for sandwiches.

This place was giving me flashbacks in the spirit of Al's Breakfast, one of my favorite Minnesota breakfast joints. I'm not sure if it was the narrow storefront with minimalist seating, the line of customers snaking it's way out on to the sidewalk, the full-on commitment to hamburgers, or the surly staff . . . but it was time for lunch!

If you get the lowdown on this place from yelp you'll see that many of the complaints mention their lack of customer service. FYI--there isn't any--so don't be disappointed. While I found my experience pleasant enough, their website indicates their restaurant is "where the customer is rarely right" . . . clearly no promises. The grill-boss abruptly asked several members in the group in front of me to wait outside since only one person is allowed per order otherwise it jams up the flow.

The burgers were good . . . flame broiled with melty Finnish Lappi cheese and complete with lettuce, tomato, onion, relish, mayo, mustard and ketchup. They take their beef seriously and grind it each morning. It's USDA certified black angus and 100% vegetarian fed, hormone, and antibiotic free meat. Since the seating was slammed we headed across the street to dine on our burgers and fries on a bench in the park. With views of Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the City by the Bay the ambiance was quite adequate indeed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lazy Weekend Lunch: Bubbling Soft Tofu Soup

I never thought I would say this, but I love tofu. That's right. Erase any previous negative tofu experiences you might have had and give soft tofu soup a try. A cold wintry day is the perfect excuse for a bowl of this Korean soft tofu soup with dumplings, at the So Gong Dong Tofu House in Palo Alto, California.

This soup came to the table boiling in a hot stone bowl with a raw egg that I cracked into the bubbling goodness. It's hot enough to cook it- to quote one yelper "like center of the sun hot!" And if you look closely in the background you can see the delightful little bowls of purple rice, pickled cucumber, kimchi and other tasty things that come with it.

The soup that I ordered also had beef in it with 3 delicious dumplings. You can also order your preference of spiciness. I can't take too much heat so I ordered mine mild, but go for the medium or hot if you dare. The chunks of tofu are silky smooth, melt in your mouth and the soup has great full flavor.

The End.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

We spent New Year's Eve at One Market in San Francisco at the Embarcadero. Here's a link to the menu we had. I chose the Maine Lobster Ravioli, the Sonoma Lamb, and Valrhona Hot Chocolate Cake with coffee mascarpone ice cream. Justin had the Lightly Smoked Ocean Trout with a 62 degree egg, the Pan Seared Scallops, and the Cheese Tray for dessert. We noticed this restaurant was "sous vide"ing quite a bit of the meats and seafood!

From our table we could see part of the kitchen where the lamb was prepared as well as this view. It was a lovely evening with a view of the Ferry Building and fireworks at midnight! There were so many people outside to see the show!

We wish you a wonderful and delicious 2010!

Lauren and Justin