Monday, September 28, 2015

Trendy and Tasty: favorite dishes at IFBC

A Food Blogger Conference places, as someone would expect, food in the center of its activities. This year's IFBC did the same. I won't say much in this post but I will show. Pictures often speak for themselves even if they are occasionally blurry (thanks to amazing cocktails and wine available pretty much throughout Saturday during the conference). 

Here they are:

Starting with breakfast, the beet citrus flavored Stonyfield yogurt served in a martini glass was delicious -I loved the tart taste. The innovative glass serving elevates yogurt to a completely different level!

During the Franciacorta seminar, we tasted six different sparkling wines paired with amazing foods courtesy of Stoneburner restaurant. My favorite -the Hebi (spearfish) crudo, finger limes and alleppo pepper. I love raw fish!

At the culinary fair, top dishes were: 

Smoked sobrasada chorizo with port soaked figs and Valencia almonds from Lark's Bitter/Raw- pure pleasure with an exclusive blend of flavors

Loulay's duck confit sliders, those small bites of happiness can be on my table every day

Fried chicken on waffle, an old classic with a twist in a mini version, comfort food for the soul from the Skillet

Hot Stove Society featured pig's head stir fry with spicy rice crunchies and scallions - a real treat for the carnivore

The list tops the avocado mini cupcake from Avocados from Chile - I am not a cupcake fan but savory cupcakes are far more attractive. A new trend?

Favorite drink? The Il Mosnel Brut from Franciacorta. This blend of chardonnay, pinot bianco and pinot nero is a dry wine of medium acidity and an excellent choice for a warm summer evening or a crispy fall day. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why I like the IFBC gift bag

What can someone find in the IFBC gift bag? There are plenty of things that you could guess like a  recipe book, a cheese cutter and an ice cube tray. But there are some items that are random and unrelated to a food blogger, like the pair of sun glasses and the odd selfie sticker.

I love gifts. Unlike others who feel maybe intimated or overwhelmed from the unexpected box or just like to "play" humble, I have always welcomed them small or large. A gift is a manifestation of generosity in any shape or form: from a red apron to a freshly-baked cookie, I grab it with an open heart and the smile of a little girl. I don’t feel any guilt and have no regrets. It is not a coincidence that the gift chose to appear in this particular moment, in this particular bag. Maybe there is a reason for that. Maybe it’s time to embrace it and learn something new.

 What I can possible learn from Krusteaz's apron? Well, maybe to cook more often and keep the dough away from my shirt. The cheese cutter? To cut cheese better by indulging in cheese more often. The ice cube tray? To make ice cubes with different ingredients and use them for iced coffee or cocktails. Not all the items in the bag have an educational purpose like the gluten free crackers or the notebooks; they will still serve me well but I know how already. Manitoba Harvest's hemp seeds will pair well with the Stonyfield yogurt and the recipe books will generate new ideas for cooking. My check list is in good order.

Opened and almost gone!

My thanks to all those who accepted to give away their unique and useful products. I am certain that they found a place in our homes already. Now let me find my selfie stick. Time to take some selfies.

I have to learn to take better photos....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Olympia for the foodies and more!

If you want a break from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, or are traveling to or from Portland, don't forget to stop in by car, bus or train for a fun and relaxing time in Olympia at the southern end of Puget Sound. Whatever you decide to do, there will always be a place to satisfy your appetite  there. The Washington State Capital is a small town but it offers an array of culinary and drinking adventures. Here are my suggestions:  

Start your day at the Farmers Market which celebrates its 40th birthday in 2015. During the summer months from April to September, the market stays open from Thursday to Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Buy your fresh fruit and vegetables, grab fresh bread, smoked sausage or salmon jerky –all at your fingertips. Then pause for a break for brunch with a pita gyros at the Pithos Gyros, tamales at Los Tulenos  or some Indian curry at the Currie in a Hurry. This vibrant open market is a small heaven, an ideal place to relax with a plate of food.

Continue west from the market to the boardwalk overlooking the impressive Olympia marina with wonderful views of the Puget Sound to the north and striking sights of Capitol buildings and Dome to the south. The Thriftway store just a little more to the west is Olympia's only downtown grocery store with an good selection of gourmet foods, wines and beers and a nice little coffee shop overlooking the marina.

Olympia is known for its notable coffee scene. There are more than half-dozen independent and local coffee brewers ready to please your java needs. Olympia Coffee Roasting Company sources its beans form the best farmers around the world while at the spacious Batdorf & Bronson, you will get an organic cup of joe. Café Au Lait is a tiny coffee stand at the Capital Mall, the best spot to grab your mug before sightseeing. 

Just south of Olympia is the town of Tumwater which was the home of the Olympia Beer or "OLY", a once revered name in the West for Beer. The brewery shut down its door many years ago but there are some thoughts of renovated the currently empty brewing buildings  and convert them into an educational center for brewing and distillation . If you want to find out more about the historic brewery, you can take a guided tour at the Schmidt House in Tumwater (check here for times and fees). This is the family house of the Olympia Brewing Company founder, Leopold Schmidt. 

There are of course several great micro breweries. Oly Taproom, located at the waterfront, is Olympia’s first taproom and bottle shop where you can try selections from more than 600 bottles. Or try the Fish Brew Company, where you can enjoy handcrafted brews, ciders and ales with some tasty dishes and live music.

Like much of the Northwest, Olympia is home to a number of wineries and distilleries. One of the best, the Stottle Winery produces award-winning wines from Viognier to Cabernet Sauvignon. Or if you like spirits more, don’t miss the Sandstone Distillery with its very distinguished white whiskey and gin. For those who really like their wine, there is a wine trail with stops at six wineries. Find out more here:

The dining scene is equally impressive. Find local fine cuisine at Anthony’s HomePort with exceptional seafood and Northwest specialties or grab a table at Koibito Japanese Restaurant if you have a craving for sushi or udon, and the always excellent Oly Rockfish Grill.

Don't forget to walk the length of  4th Avenue, former home to a lively hippie scene in the 70's and now home to a variety of unique bars, shops, and book stores, with my favorite for some one-of-a-kind cookbooks Orca Books. In fact all of Olympia's downtown is interesting, small and easy to walk. Halfway between Seattle and Portland the town has elements of both cities to sample and explore.

Finally, finish the day with a nice evening out. There are some interesting bars like the Dillinger’s Cocktails & Kitchen for some Prohibition era cocktails at the bank vault of Olympia’s Security Building. Or the 1230 Room for the hipsters and some dance music. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

The New Primal Spicy Grass-Fed Beef Jerky

I am a great fan of beef, turkey and salmon jerky. When I discovered the New Primal, I was intrigued by their unique packaging -take a look at the back side- and the fact that is probably the only one beef jerky that has no added brown sugar in its ingredients. Instead, they use honey. 

The New Primal Spicy Grass-Fed Beef Jerky is made with beef raised without added hormones and without antibiotics. The product is USDA inspected and free from gluten, artificial ingredients and preservatives. It is available in a 1-oz. and 2-oz. packs. 

Some of the ingredients include gluten-free tamari sauce and less than 2% of pineapple juice, black pepper, ginger, cayenne pepper and jalapenos. Looking at the nutrition facts, one serving size of 28g has only 60 calories, 10 of which is fat. Total fat is 1g, sodium 280mg and cholesterol at 20mg. Carbs are low with 4g and protein at 8g. 

Overall, it seems like a healthy snack that will serve you well when you are out and about and you don't have time to cook or stop for a sit-down lunch. It is definitely better than getting snacks high in carbs and calories so the New Primal Beef Jerky is one of the best deals. And it has a kick if you like it. 

For more information and retail prices, check

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Yakima for the foodies

Yakima Valley, the area east of the Cascade Range, is a short, 2-hour drive from Seattle. Known for being the capital of hops and apples not only of the Washington State but also of the country, it can also offer a variety of unique culinary experiences paired with a glass (or two) of locally made wine. After spending a weekend in the area, here are my personal recommendations:

Relax for breakfast
Start your day with a relaxing breakfast at the Essencia Artisan Bakery where you can enjoy a nice cappuccino with a freshly baked croissant. You can also go for a bowl of granola, yogurt and mixed nuts if you want to play healthy. The ice coffee is a must-try. 

Visit vineyards
There are more than 80 wineries in Yakima Valley. To get an idea, check the map here If you don’t want to drive far, opt for two wineries adjacent to each other. The Naches Heights  Vineyard whose wines are made from live certified salmon safe grapes. Next to it, is the first recreational in the area winery, the Wilridge Winery. Make a day with a picnic and a bottle of wine in this lovely environment.

Have lunch at the Los Hernandez Tamales. This local favorite makes tamales from broth, ground masa and chicken or pork patted into a corn husk by hands. If you visit during the spring season, you will be lucky enough to try their famous asparagus tamales.

Visit a brewery
Learn about hops and handcrafted ales at the Bale Breaker, located in a hopfield. The taproom known as the  Baling Room  is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Have a pint or two together with food by the food truck of the day or stay later for an evening event. The brewery organizes tours as well.  Check the website to find out more about events, tours and food at

Visit a cider maker
As apples are everywhere in Yakima Valley, so is cider. The Tieton Cider Works is a third generation farming family using Harmony Orchards as their fruit and they blend American, English and French cider varieties. 

Don’t forget the fruit stalls! The cherry and asparagus season comes late spring and early summer so you can get them fresh from any stall. There is a list of stalls here: but you will see them everywhere as you drive around.  

Dinner is fancy in Yakima. The newly opened Cowiche Canyon and Icehouse will surprise you not only with its sophisticated dishes and signature cocktails but also with its sleek and modern looks. Go for a Pisco Sour to start with and continue with spring rolls, deviled eggs and a steak salad watered down with a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Washington State of course!

If you like something more traditional, the French Carousel will satisfy your palate but also a secret but forgotten love: black and white silent movies to watch while dining! 

There are wineries with tasting rooms to visit downtown as well
Lookout Point Winery is a small winery focused on Malbec grape. This lovely space has some art on the walls and mouthwatering chocolates to pair your Malbec

Gilbert Cellars produce wines for almost a decade and the downtown tasting room is a nice space to relax, have a glass or listen to a live band.    

If you happen to be in Yakima on a Sunday, don’t miss the downtown Farmer’s Market, open from 9 am to 2 pm. Except for the fresh produce and local crafts, get freshly baked tamales for breakfast!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A day at the Westerdam

Hours before the Westerdam, Holland America Line cruise liner, disembarked on it first 2015 cruise for Alaska, social media experts and travel writers had the opportunity to tour the ship, sip cocktails and enjoy a luncheon, on May 2nd.

We embarked around 10: 15 AM. Welcoming and cheerful staff escorted us to the Queen’s Lounge where green and purples cocktails arrived very soon with mixed nuts and pieces of cheese. The president made a warm introduction and then the King's Blues band sang songs spreading joy and smiles. Before leaving, we took a bite of the celebratory cake wishing “a happy and well-traveled” season.

The cake

Then the exploration on the boat started. We visited the Neptune staterooms on the 7th floor. Those are the “first class” cabins: spacious and luxurious come together with a private balcony to enjoy the ocean view and plenty of perks –including a tray filled with chocolates and access to the Neptune lounge, a concierge type of lounge for the demanding and privileged few.

Lunch was served at the Vista Dining Room, one of the largest restaurants on the ship. The appetizer was tuna and salmon tartare, followed by a sun-dried tomato gazpacho and then the selection of three: salmon, filet or ravioli. A light Chardonnay and a well-balanced Merlot were the wines options from the Santa Carolina Cellar Selection of Chile.

We went one touring the ship after lunch, starting with  the spa that offers numerous treatments including an exclusive package for the thermal suite with the heated ceramic lounges and the hydropool with the mineralizing bubbling water (at an additional fee). The gym was fantastic surrounded by windows: what a great way to exercise while looking at the deep-blue ocean!

The indoors pool

Fellow writers relaxing at the heated ceramic lounges

We briefly stopped at the children’s activity center, the Culinary Art Center and the library, all interesting locations to spend time while on board.

It seems that cruising to Alaska in the summer is rather tempting and I may soon give in and be on Westerdam for the real experience. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to make éclairs and Saint-Honorés

Making éclairs may be a dream for some but more of a complicated task for others. Willing initially to take a class on how to make Saint-Honoré, the grandiose French dessert dedicated to the Saint with the same name who is the patron of bakers, I signed up for the éclairs and Saint-Honoré cooking class at the Paris Eastside School.

After being welcomed by our instructor and school owner Muriel, we put on our aprons; Muriel didn’t delay the three-hour process of pâte à choux –puffs in English -and éclair making. First is the dough of course, which can be tricky. Depending on the humidity, flour responds in different ways.

Tip 1: Stick to the basic, all-purpose flour and don’t blend leftovers from one brand or type of flour with another. You don’t know what results you will get and this is not good news.

To make the dough, put the butter, the sugar, the salt and the water in a pan, melt them together and put them to boil. When you actually see the rolling broil, dump the flour -set aside in a bowl- and combine them together. Make sure that there are no lumps of flour leftover and then put the entire mix back to the saucepan to dry it out for less than a minute. Then add the eggs, one by one, by stirring them with a wooden spoon. OK, I said, so far so good.

Tip 2: Buy good butter.  Don’t be too stingy as good quality butter makes a difference

Tip 3: Don’t over stir the eggs because the mix becomes too sticky and you don’t want that.

Tip 4: If you think that you need more consistency in the mix, you add one additional egg. However, you don’t want to overdo it with the eggs as the dough may become too egg-y.

Then you put the dough in a pastry bag with a 16mm tip and pipe it on a sheet of parchment paper; for the puffs, you create rounds, the éclair should be 1.5 inches  long (see the photo to get an idea). This is much trickier than you think. Make sure you leave some space between them as they will rise after baking and you don’t want to touch each other. Let them bake for 20 minutes in the oven.

The pastry cream or crème pâtissière is another creative thus challenging process but it is tends to be a good exercise for your arms.

You put the milk, sugar and salt with the flavor you want –vanilla in our case- together to boil.

In another bowl put the egg yolks mixed with equal parts of flour and corn starch; whisk well together without leaving any lumps out, then pour the boiling milk over the mix. Put the mix back to the saucepan and whisk well for some time until it thickens (for the chocolate éclair you also add the grated chocolate at this stage). Then let mix to cool.

Once the puffs and the éclairs are cooled off as well as the pastry cream, you literary inject the pastry cream in each of them with the tip of the pastry bag.

Tip 5: To make éclairs the French way, you have to match the filling (the pastry cream) with the topping –so for chocolate éclairs you need a chocolate ganache or chocolate icing topping and not something else.

For the Saint-Honoré you follow the same process really. You need three puffs (each has caramel on top) added together on a pastry puff base, and then you add whipped cream. The photo on top witnesses the grandiose element of the dessert. It is for the Saint-Honoré after all. It is a big dessert that obviously needs to be shared with others.

For the base of Saint-Honoré: Place circles of puff pastry between two sheets of parchment paper, weight with another cookie pan and cook for 20 minutes.

The éclairs and the puffs ended up being soft, fresh and tasty - wonderful for a Saturday lunch that came together with a glass of champagne. I liked both the vanilla cream filled puffs and the chocolate éclairs, each for different reasons. The chocolate has a bold character, the vanilla is softer.

Tip 6. The puff is also used to make profiteroles, beignets and gougère among others. So you really learn something useful that is also versatile.

I am glad that I experimented with French pastry making. Now time to practice at home.