Friday, March 13, 2015

Beer, Bacon, Chocolate, Cheese + Ticket Giveaway!

One of the benefits of writing about food is being asked to judge and attend foodie events. Here are some of my top picks for this weekend and next, including two events I’ll be attending. 

This is a new event that was very successful last year in New York and Seattle. The Bacon and Beer Classic takes place at baseball stadiums on non-game day Saturdays across the country. 

A ticket is all inclusive and the event features craft breweries and local restaurants for plenty of beer, food plus music, interactive games, beer schools and cooking demos. There are two sessions, one from 12- 3pm and another from 7-10pm. 

Some of the breweries include Schubros, Lagunitas, Anchor Brewing and Saint Archer. Some of the participating restaurants included are Casa de Cobre, Park Place, Frozen Kuhsterd and 71 Saint Peter. 

I will be attending this event at both sessions, if you’d like to attend, you can purchase a ticket with a 20% discount using the code AMY. 

I’m also giving away 2 VIP tickets worth $99 each! This gets you an extra hour of early access to the event plus some other perks. To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite craft beer and favorite dish that includes bacon. I will choose a winner at random on Monday March 16. Please only enter if you are able to attend the event. 

I’ve spoken, judged and just enjoyed attending the SF chocolate salon many times and will be judging again this year. 

The event features tastings of chocolates from many outstanding chocolatiers and confectioners including locals like Quail Point, Snake & Butterfly and Guittard in addition to other well known favorites like Amano, Choctal and William Dean. There will be demonstrations and presentations including one on tequila and chocolate pairing and another on tempering chocolate. 

It takes place this Sunday March 15 at Fort Mason, and tickets are $20 or $30 at the door.

It’s long been on my wish list to attend this premier cheese festival which brings together artisan cheesemakers, chefs, brewers, sommeliers, winemakers and passionate guests for three days of touring, tasting and learning about artisan cheese. The tours are sold out, but there are still tickets to the seminars on topics like cheese and chocolate, cider and cheese and cheesemaking 101—Feta and friends. 

The tasting events include the artisan cheese tasting and marketplace as well as a “cheesemaker’s duel” competition with two dozen cheesemakers creating some delectable from a block of cheese. 

This takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday March 20-22 in Petaluma and tickets start at $50 

Disclaimer: I was not paid to post this or any other post. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

Neoflam Ceramic Stovetop Cookware Review

I’m pretty satisfied with the cookware I own, which is a combination of stainless steel, cast iron, enameled cast iron, stoneware  ceramic and ceramic non-stick, but I’m always open to checking out what’s new. Every once in a while there’s a line of cookware that offers something different from the rest. It’s either safer, more versatile, or just a more attractive design.

Neoflam ceramic, branded NatureCook seems to check all the boxes. It’s a Korean brand that recently launched in the US so you won’t find many reviews yet. It’s free of PTFE, PFOA, heavy metals, and other toxins. It’s very good looking and extremely versatile. It’s specifically designed to work on gas and electric ranges, oven and broiler, grill, microwave and freezer. Best of all you can actually take it from the freezer and put it into the oven because it’s engineered to “withstand dramatic and sudden temperature changes.” As you might imagine, it’s also dishwasher safe.

I didn’t have enough room in my freezer to store the 2 quart ceramic casserole I was given to review, but I did take cold food from the refrigerator and try cooking in the microwave, broiler and stove top. It performed very well. The exterior is matte, but the interior has a glossy slippery glaze that prevents food from sticking. Of course, the clean up will depend on what you’re cooking. But this is cookware that withstands metal tools and abrasive cleaners and it’s nicely priced as well. The  2 quart ceramic casserole s just under $55 on Amazon. It also comes in two smaller sizes, 1 and 1.5 quart. The only negatives about this piece of cookware is that the handles are a bit on the small side, and the knob on the lid does get hot, otherwise I’d absolutely recommend it. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a 2 quart ceramic casserole for review purposes. I was not monetarily compensated for this or any other post. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Snacks & Treats from the Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show

Are you a sweet snacker or a salty snacker? I like both and the Fancy Food Show is a snacker’s dream. Though it took place over a month ago I am still snacking on some samples I collected at the show. There was quite a range from healthy to indulgent, classic treats and new and innovative ones. This year more than a few made an impression on me that you might want to try too. 
On the sweet side I was impressed with two different ice creams. One was Choctal. Choctal makes single varietal chocolate ice creams from Costa Rica, Ghana, Dominican (from Hispaniola) and Kalimantan (from Borneo) that each taste very different and very good! My favorite was the Ghana. They also make vanilla ice creams, but I found them a bit too sweet for my taste. 
I’ve written about Magnolia ice cream before, they make wonderful Southeast Asian inspired flavors such as Thai tea, lychee and coconut. This year they introduced a new flavor that will remind you of Hawaii--Kona Chocodamia Nut. It’s coffee, chocolate and macadamia nut. It’s the perfect flavor for someone who can’t settle for just one flavor per scoop.
I’ve written about the coconut trend before and the highly addictive coconut chips being sold as a snack. Different brands pop up all the time, but this year I tried a flavor that blew my mind. It’s  chocolate crunchy coconut chips from Bare. Imagine crisp coconut flakes flavored with chocolate. Not covered in chocolate but magically flavored with it. These are just ridiculously good. 
Everyone I know who has tried Raincoast Crisps has loved them. They are sweet and savory thin crunchy toasted crackers with seeds, nuts and dried fruit. At the show I discovered Wild California Crisps, which are similar but a bit smaller in size. Like Rainforest Crisps, these are good with cheese or on their own as a snack. A touch of salt keeps them from being too sweet. They come in Fruit N’ Nut and Apricot Ginger. Look for Coconut Sesame and Apple Cinnamon Walnut coming soon. In a way, they remind me of Almondina cookies, but much more savory. 
If you’ve ever ordered fried chickpeas in a restaurant you know how tasty they are. Roasting them sadly never seems to produce quite the same result. But Biena is making roasted chickpeas in a variety of flavors that has the distinctive crunch. They taste fried even though they aren’t and so they are a healthy snack that tastes like a more indulgent one. I don’t know what their secret is, and they aren’t telling either. They come in flavors like barbeque, honey roasted and cinnamon maple. I liked all of the flavors. 
I’m kind of obsessed with pumpkin seeds right now. I keep dipping into a bag and toasting them up to add to salads. But I don’t typically just eat pumpkin seeds on their own. But Superseedz are good enough to munch on all by themselves. They come in a wide array of flavors including sea salt, coco joe (which is cocoa not coconut) cinnamon & sugar, tomato Italiano, curious curry, somewhat spicy and super spicy. This is a high protein snack great for taking on the go. 
Last but not least is Way Better Snacks. A lot of “better for you” snacks taste taste downright terrible. Not Way Better Snacks. Their crackers and chips are really a treat and come in a variety of intriguing flavors. The crackers come in flavors like mustard and cheddar, rosemary and olive oil and black bean and salsa and are made with sprouted barley. Their multigrain chips are available in flavors like sweet chili, sweet potato, sriracha, black bean and mustard and onion. The crackers are particularly light and crisp and the chips have a great hearty crunch and seedy texture thanks to the use of sprouted seeds including broccoli, daikon radish, flax, quinoa and chia. I would buy any of these as a snack or to go with dips, cheese or salsa.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Beyond Wheat Flour

There are a lot of food bloggers and recipe developers devoted to creating only gluten free recipes. I am not one of them. But I recently had a client ask me to develop some gluten free baked goods and so I experimented with several non-wheat flours including rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca and potato starch. I quickly realized that they have their own flavors, strengths and foibles. 

Anyone who has visited the grocery store lately may have come to the conclusion that we are moving into a new realm, discovering and rediscovering non-wheat flours. While I haven’t reviewed gluten free baking books up till now, I found these books particularly interesting and each takes a very different approach. 

Alice Medrich experimented with non-wheat flours, baking for flavor, rather than for health or to avoid gluten. While her book Flavor Flours features 125 gluten free dessert recipes, it’s really all about exploring flavor through flours opening up possibilities for all bakers not just those limited to gluten free ingredients. The flours she focuses on are rice, oat, corn and cornmeal, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum and nut and coconut. 

Each chapter focuses on a flour, rather than a style of baked goods and begins with a list of flavor affinities—the ingredients that play well with the flour such as nuts, caramel and fresh apples with oat flour or toasted hazelnuts, dark spice an coffee with buckwheat flour. In exploring these flours, she has reinvented classic desserts such as Oat and Almond Tuilles, Chestnut Buche de Noel, Buckwheat Gingerbread and Coconut Key Lime Tart.  It's a ground breaking book. 

Honey & Oats is not a gluten free cookbook, it’s focus is on whole grains and natural sweeteners. The book includes whole wheat flour, which is often not used to it’s best advantage. What I like about this book is that taste clearly comes first. The author Jennifer Katzinger is not afraid to use eggs, butter and some whole wheat flour. This book is really good for bakers who want to start using whole grains, alternative flours and less refined sweeteners and don’t want to use ingredients like xanthan gum. Gluten free and vegan recipes are indicated as such. In some recipes Katzinger gives the option to dial up or down the texture using ingredients like tapioca flour or blending two kinds of flours instead of using one. Recipes you’ll want to try include Chocolate Pistachio Shortbread Bars, Lavash Flatbread, Honey Oat Bread and Carrot Pineapple Cupcakes. 

Veteran recipe developer and magazine editor Kristine Kidd is the author of Williams Sonoma Gluten-Free Baking, a great primer for those adopting a gluten free diet. Kidd goes beyond flour blends that she calls “nutritionally empty white starches.” In addition to well-tested recipes there are lots of tips, tricks and techniques as well as information about each of the gluten free flours and starches and how to use them. There are classic recipes like Cheesecake with Blueberry Sauce, Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies and Apple Crumble Pie as well as appealing modern desserts like Fudgy Ginger Nut Meringues, Broccoli and Goat Cheese Quiche and Chai-Spiced Flan.
In The Everyday Art of Gluten-Free, Karen Morgan of Blackbird Bakery takes almost the opposite approach to gluten free cooking and baking--she offers six different gluten free flour blends that can be used for recipes for everything from fried chicken to sourdough to cinnamon rolls to pastas to tempura. There are 125 recipes for both sweet and savory things you might not realize you can make gluten free. There are biscuit, donut & fritter, pie & pasta, cookie jar, cake & muffin and bread & pizza blends. Most of the ingredients are measured in cups as well as grams. Use a scale for best results. 

While Alice Medrich approaches baking with the rigor of a scientist, the true kitchen geeks are Aki Kamazawa and H. Alexander Talbot the Ideas in Food bloggers. Their book Gluten-Free Flour Power will be released towards the end of March 2015, but I received an advance reading copy. Their recipes rely on three custom "all purpose" blends of gluten free flours, including one developed with no milk powder for those with dairy allergies. They have tested every recipe using each blend and find them to be interchangeable. They also explore doughs like sourdough starter and brioche. The goal of their book is to recreate favorite recipes that traditionally use wheat flour—everything from Chinese steamed buns and dumplings, to pound cake, madeleines, pastas, crackers, crumpets, breads, cookies, pies, cakes and more. While I didn’t see a recipe for croissants, there is one for kouign amann, a type of laminated dough. It’s a very intriguing book sure to satisfy gluten free bakers on the quest for the illusive gluten free doughnut or pizza recipe. 

Disclaimer: This post includes books I received as review copies and affiliate links