I attended the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle this last week. What a great weekend. The kind of weekend where it takes a week for the buzzy glow to fade from you. Since there were 249 others there also blogging about their weekend, I figured I would let them recap in their more elegant prose. But then I decided to just do a simple post for myself to remember the best bits.

Aggressive Tweeting - A roomful of bloggers with their laptops and pdas tweeting like crazy. An IFBC thread that created frustration when Twitter would freeze up with a notice that we had reached our rate limit. Realizing that tweeting in meetings/conferences is the new age version of passing notes in class. Feeling part of a collective mind via technology.

Penny De Los Santos, photographer for Saveur, said "be inspired" and, instead, inspired a room to "make pictures" instead of "take pictures". I already knew my photos were lacking and now am inspired to get a better camera (instead of my pocket one) and practice.

Morgan Spurlock challenging bloggers to reach beyond the internet to interact with their readers. That we need to have more back and forth discussion with our readers and to do or create events for them to be able to participate in. Feeling proud that I am already doing this with my crusade to bring food trucks to Sacramento. That by bringing attention to the issue, creating a movement, and hopefully bringing a food truck event to town next spring, I am engaging my community beyond them just reading this blog. 

James Oseland, Saveur editor and Top Chef Masters judge, loves food bloggers. In fact, many times Saveur turns to bloggers in the cities/countries that they are visiting to get to the best food and food experiences to put in the magazine. That he recognizes the importance of bloggers in the ever changing world of food reporting.

Top Chef style eating.
A food bloggers conference had better have the best food or it’s a joke. (I’ve heard other conferences have failed here.) We were blessed with Top Chef style eating - small plates served up by a selection of Seattle’s (and elsewhere’s) best chefs. It so reminded me of the TV show that I suggested that when TC some day does a competition from Seattle (like it surely will), the contestants must feed us at IFBC for one of their challenges. My two favorite food items both involved around lamb. We had lamb pops (really lamb chops eaten popsicle style) that was so tender and juicy that I had to go back for a total of three. Yum! Then the next night there were fabulous lamb meatballs that were also juicy and seasoned to perfection. Heaven!  I was blown away by the gluten-free fare provided by Wheatless in Seattle. Chocolate cupcakes that weren’t all crumbly like other GF ones I’ve had elsewhere. And even though I don't drink, I know the others were happy with the generous amounts of wine, sherry, and beer.

Urbanspoon.  I’m the #1 blogger in Sacramento for Urbanspoon and so it was great to meet the folks behind it. They are based in Seattle. I was able to share with them one-on-one suggestions on how to improve their support of their top reviewers.

Food truck lunch!
On Friday had hoped to track down Seattle’s most famous food trucks but they weren’t working. I was so thrilled when they both showed up on Sunday right in front of our conference! Best of all, eight trucks were their exclusively to serve us lunch for free. And even though I had to pay for Maximus Minimus (they weren’t there for us, but for the regular Sunday market), my quest for some Seattle street food had been fulfilled and I didn’t even have to go anywhere.

Food bloggers are good people. The sense of community was fabulous. How can you not have fun when the topic is food? I made some fabulous new friends and great contacts. I met people from important sites such as Saveur, Urbanspoon, Allrecipes, About.com, and more.

The fact that I learned something (or rather, many things). This conference had sessions that were informative and helpful. Another conference I went to was just about schmoozing and food. Fun, yes. Helpful, not so much.

There are a lot of other little things as well: snaky comments (and noises), royal restrooms, lots of chocolate (we were in a chocolate factory after all), swag bags, etc. But no one thing matters compared to the conglomeration of the whole. IFBC has now become a must-do event.

I must end with a gigantic THANK YOU to Red Lobster. They paid for my conference fee and made it possible for me to go when I was financially strapped. I am ever grateful.

Until next year…
In my continued efforts to educate on food trucks, let me just show you the most famous in Seattle - Maximus Minimus. Does this look like a roach coach to you? (Seems like it's a pig truck to me.)

Does this look like crappy food to you? Pulled pork with your choice of Maximus (spicy) or Minimus (sweet) sauce.

I'm just sayin!

Other items: Mac n Cheese, Veg sandwich, almond cake w/ berries and cream

Another clue - minimal menu. Roach coaches sell you everything under the sun.
IFBC stands for the International Food Bloggers Conference.
Pictures of Day 1

different way to look at Space Needle
baby octopus on chickpeas

salmon carpaccio
salmon w/ mascarpone cream and arugula
beef cheeks w/ squash blossom and GF pastries on sides
steak tartar
James Oseland from Saveur and Top Chef Masters

Three Banditas

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I had really wanted to do the Baked Alaska but time just wouldn't permit. I had to settle for the petit fours.

My first disappointment was in the required brown butter pound cake. I found it dry and unappetizing. Because I've made plenty of ice cream before and I had the time issues, I just ended up buying some ice cream and using that. Lastly, I just have a miserable time when it comes to dipping things in chocolate and them coming out attractive.

This all being said, I will not be sharing the recipes. Plenty of other bloggers will.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

It seems like I've been doing a lot of burger tasting lately and that it always happens because I am in the neighborhood. Last night I was in Natomas to shop at Petsmart and remembered that the new Five Guys Burgers was open somewhere there. A quick check on my Droid and I navigated over to the corner of Truxel and Del Paso. I will admit I had about five minutes of frustration trying to locate it in the mess of stores in that complex. It really is, literally, tucked into the corner at Truxel and Del Paso. It's just that the signs weren't good enough as I circled through the whole complex searching for it.

For those of you who have never heard of Five Guys, it's Obama's place. As in, whenever you see President Obama venturing out of the White House in search of burgers, he's heading straight for Five Guys.

The joint keeps it pretty simple. There are burgers, fries, and hot dogs. The nice thing is that all the toppings are free. So you build your burger as you want. I also liked that they offered Cajun fries.

My order consisted of the cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, onions, lettuce, and jalapenos. I ordered the smaller size of Cajun fries and a regular soda. It was pretty pricey - $11.06.

What I got was a bag with my burger on the bottom, and then an overflowing cup of fries. I mean, OVERFLOWING! It was a ridiculous amount for regular. In any other place it would be a large. But they were good! They were hot, not greasy, and covered in Cajun seasoning. My dilemma for next time, then, would be whether to order fries at all. If I'm by myself, it would be a total waste as I ended up throwing more than half of them away. I would definitely order them if with a friend or two to share.

The burger itself was good although not exceptional. It was a normal size burger and bun whereas I believe Smashburger's were larger bun/burger. I did like that the onions were chopped versus left in rings -  it makes it easier to eat. The jalapenos are fresh, not pickled. I was a bit disappointed that my slice of cheese was apparently added right before bun because it was not nice and melty.

Some other things to note about the place... They have shelled peanuts to eat while you wait. There's a large box with paper bowls so that you can fish out a load of peanuts and sit, shell, and eat. There was also a sign posted with where the potatoes of the day came from. This day they were from some farm in Idaho.

I like that the place keeps things simple, I just wish the price was simpler too. It got #1 from Zagat's for burger chains while In & Out got #2. But In & Out is about half the price. Yes, they have their differences and I did enjoy Five Guys, but for myself, if faced with both restaurants sitting across the street from each other, I'd opt for the cheaper In & Out.

What is your favorite type of panini? I love fontina cheese with prosciutto and caramelized onions. Actually, I pretty much like any sandwich that has cheese and is grilled so that the cheese is nice and melty.

This week I went to the farmers market and found figs. It's not a good idea, wallet-wise, to build a meal around one item when you then have to go and buy all the other ingredients. But I couldn't resist. Off I went to get goat cheese, prosciutto, and some artisan bread.

At home I sliced the bread and spread the goat cheese on one side. Then I took the figs and mashed them up so I could spread them on the other side. Drizzle on a little balsamic vinegar. Add some slices of prosciutto and grill. I use my George Forman. I didn't use butter on the outside and so that's why it isn't grilled very dark in the picture. Besides, I was impatient.

If you like this combo, you'd probably like the same combo in the pizza I made here.
When Foodbuzz gave me the opportunity to attend some of the events at SF Chefs Week on Friday I was specifically interested in my interview of Daniel Scherotter and of the Food Media panel in the afternoon. Actually, I found the Food Media discussion disappointing and not even worth writing about. But Foodbuzz was kind enough to throw in an extra seminar - Nature's Blueprint: Pairing Wine and Produce with Your Eyes.

Now my readers know that I don't drink alcohol and so the idea of going to a wine pairing discussion is not really my thing. But it was free, supposed to include food (ha!), and educational. So I went for it.

I arrived early and took a front seat. In front of me were three pours from Kendall Jackson: Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Chardonnay, and Reserve Pinot Noir.  Our instructor was Gilian Handelman, Directory of Wine Education at Kendall Jackson. 

Handelman explained that in 1997 they had planted a 2.5 acre organic garden. When they got their first crop of produce and decided to taste it with their wines, they had laid out the wines light to dark and the produce light to dark. Now while it was a normal wine behavior to line the wines out that way, they just happened to do it that way for the produce. They tasted and everything was fine. Then someone noticed and said, why not mix up the produce? Why did we follow a color order? So they mixed up the produce and tasted again. Awful.

It was then that they realized that the color lineup they had done was instinctual and yet matched correctly with the wines.  What was it about the colors that influenced the tastes? Darker fruits and vegetables have polyphenols and just as they work to influence the taste of the wine, they influence what the wine should be drunk with.

Handelman then showed us listings of the color categories.
White/tan – white nectarines and peaches, turnips, cauliflower,  etc. These are the most bland in flavor with no bitterness.
Green – apples, greens, limes, green grapes, pears
Yellow/orange – most citrus, melons, peach, corn, carrots, pumpkin
Red – strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, red peppers, beets
Blue/black/purple – eggplant, black currants, blueberries, black olives
As you get darker, the flavors become more pronounced. 

We were given small plates of produce with light and dark versions of things. For instance, green and red cabbage, yellow and red raspberry, Green Zebra tomato versus a dark, red beefsteak tomato. It was then time to taste.

Now remember, I don’t drink. So although I gave it my best shot, it really was ridiculous to expect me to taste the differences. But, I’ll explain one interesting thing a little later. We were first told to taste each wine. There were spit cups for the others, but I, of course, just took the tiniest sip hoping that I could at least taste the difference. Not surprisingly, for someone who never drinks alcohol, they all tasted the same to me – alcohol!  LOL! I couldn’t tell any difference because the only thing my untrained tongue tasted was alcohol.

Don’t discount my having anything to share with you then. It was still an interesting discussion and I still have to share the little surprise.

We started with the first item, the green cabbage. Really, it’s mostly white or light green. It was very mild and had a vegetative taste. We were then to taste it first with the Sauvignon and then with the Pinot Noir.  Next we took a bite of the red cabbage. There was definitely more flavor in the red. As we tasted it with the two wines Handelman waited to see everyone’s reaction.

So here’s the surprise. Even though all the wine tasted the same to me (alcohol) there WAS a noticeable difference when I tasted ill-paired items. When I put the red cabbage with the Sauvignon or the green cabbage with the Pinot (bad pairings) there was a definite flavor clash/jolt I got from them. Whereas pairing them properly – red cabbage to Pinot – was less so.

We tasted around the plate, light and then dark. It was interesting because there were the light and dark versions of the same produce. Some items were alone. Corn, for instance. But then we got to the eggplant and the red runnerbean. First Handelman asked us to taste just the insides, which are white and bland. Then again, this time with the dark skin. The skin has all the color and the flavor. It made a difference when you tasted them with wine.

We were given maps of how KJ has their gardens laid out today. The white wine garden has paler produce items and is arranged in quandrants for wines. In the Chardonnay corner is lemon, peach, pear, melon, and gardenia. In the Gewurtztraminer/Riesling quadrant is orange, grapefruit, mint, and jasmine.

The red wine garden had all the darker produce. In the Pinot corner is plum, blueberry, tomato, raspberries, while the Cabernet/Merlot quadrant has black currants, bell peppers, black cherries, oregano.

Handelman said that it is interesting to watch people tasting wine and then strolling through the gardens because there really is a sensory experience that matches with the wines. 

We ended with Q&A and one woman asked the question, “So how should you pair? Wine to food or food to wine?” The answer was that it depends on the circumstance. If you have some particular food that you are showcasing, at a peach festival for instance, then you pair the wine to the food. But if your spouse comes home with some spectacular wine, then figure out the food to go with the wine.

The end point was the same as the start. Go by instinct and use color as your guide.

"To get girls." That was the answer to my first question to Chef Daniel Scherotter, owner and head chef of Italian restaurant Palio D'Asti. I had asked him, "Why Italian?" After all, his is not an Italian last name and he had been studying philosophy at William & Mary in Virginia. But as a young man his thoughts were on girls and he figured that learning Italian and cooking were good lures. During a semester in Italy he started bartering his time. He would translate restaurant menus to English while learning proper Italian cooking in their kitchens.

So much for philosophy. After years of training in Bologna, Italy he returned to the U.S. and went to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He then continued learning under the guidance of Gary Danko, Craig Stoll, Bruce Hill and others. Eventually he ended up buying out his partners at Palio D'Asti to become sole owner.

We were at the William Sonoma store at Union Square.  Scherotter was there to do a cooking demonstration for SF Chefs Week.  As he prepped we talked about Italian cooking.  Did he favor a certain region?  That was “a mood question”, he replied, as well as seasonal. Northern cooking, in which he was trained, is more of a winter style with more meats, truffles, nuts, and richer foods. Southern is more summer and vibrant with its fresher produce like eggplant and zucchini. Northern fresh pasta uses egg and durum while Southern dried pasta uses water and semolina. He said each region could be wildly different as well. Most Americans know Tuscan, which he considered the worst region to relate Italian cooking to. But travel just 60 miles to the north and they are using different meats, cheeses, and oils to cook.

Scherotter was making a Sicilian caponata (recipe below). What he loved about Sicily was that it had so many influences from over the centuries: Moorish, Jewish, Greek. He pointed out the ingredients and explained that a trait of Sicilian cooking was pairing ingredients. Capers are with olives, pine nuts with raisins, anchovies with garlic. Someone asked about crushed versus sliced garlic and Sherotter explained that the Italians infuse the oil with the garlic by putting the garlic and oil in the skillet and then heating them together. Soon the dish was complete and samples were passed around. I’ll admit. I passed on it. After all, it had two things I really dislike, eggplant and olives.

We continued our conversation after the others left. What were his dining pet peeves? As a chef, he said, he was baffled by the way diners want to change the menu items. Although he’ll cater to the guest with such things as dressing on the side or remove olives due to an allergy, he, like all chefs, gets annoyed with a demand to change a dish in such a way that destroys its integrity. And as a diner? The chef in him still comes out in the diner. He hates when a server gives an opinion on a dish. He’d rather they stick to the facts. Explain that a dish is chicken in a spicy sauce of peppers and capers instead of saying they are a vegetarian and it was too spicy for them.

We talked as well about his participation in the Golden Gate Restaurant Association where he has been a past president. He talked about the importance of the Association representing restaurants as a group when talking about working with suppliers or dealing with city regulations. As my readers know, I have an interest in food trucks. I had read an article that made Scherotter appear anti-food truck and had to ask him about it. He said he understands the interest in food trucks and some of the interesting and unique foods they bring to the public. But as a small business owner, he explained that it’s the brick and mortars that employ more people and supply the city with more tax revenue. So why is it that the City Council tries to make it easier for the street vendors to operate, who generate no real tax revenue, while they constantly add more restrictions to the brick and mortars? I appreciated his viewpoint.

I thanked the Chef for his time. I found him charming and laid back. It seemed to me his personality was just fine for attracting the girls.

640 Sacramento Street
Features a prix fixe menu where you can choose to have 2 courses ($29), 3 courses ($37) or 4 courses ($45) and select anything from the menu. Wines are retail plus corkage.


6 eggplants, diced and fried golden

½ red onion, julienned

4 stalks of celery, sliced half moon, blanched and shocked

1 T chopped garlic

2 oz anchovy filets

2 oz Sicilian olives, quartered

2 oz capers

2 oz toasted pine nuts

2 oz sultana raisins, plumped in Marsala wine

3 oz red wine vinegar

Pinch of dry mint and oregano

Bunch of mint, chiffonnade

1-2 pts tomato sauce

2 T Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Saute onions, garlic, and anchovies in olive oil. Do not overheat the pan. You want to cook the vegetables, not brown them. Deglaze with vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce a bit. Add tomato sauce, dry mint, and oregano. Simmer until thicker. Season to taste. Cool and combine with remaining ingredients, folding together. Add fresh mint when serving (on crostini) or it will lose its aroma and color.
Red Lobster on Urbanspoon

REPOST:  Because of the Red Lobster contest I'm sponsoring, I'm reposting this review that was done in March 2010. Note that they did not start to officially sponsor this blog until August 1, 2010, thus this post was written with no bias to the restaurant at the time.

A couple weeks ago I got an email with an opportunity from Red Lobster's corporate promotions rep, Erica. They were inviting food bloggers and reviewers to come and sample their menu and meet their head chef. Gotta admit, I like his title. Michael Laduke's card says 'Senior Director Culinary Development'. Poor Girl Kimberly and I were pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed ourselves.

Now those who know me or read me via Urbanspoon see that I have pretty upscale taste. So I am hard pressed to remember the last time I went to Red Lobster. After all, I generally stay away from chains. Other bloggers or foodies might consider it a sell out to go to one of these events. First, it's free food. LOL. Second, I don't lie or compromise my reviews - I tell it like I see it.

Turns out we had a really great time. The conversation with the RL folk was great and we got to sample a lot of great food.

Erica explained that all the Red Lobsters in the Sacramento had recently been renovated. When customers were asked how they pictured RL restaurants in their mind's eye, they thought Maine/New England. So the decor was done to reflect a coastal fish restaurant in New England. The wood was all dark stained, the booths reupholstered, and the pictures all nautical themed. They also made a really nice outdoor patio in back - a definite seating to request as we go into our al fresco dining weather.

They figured this would be a good opportunity to come to promote the changes to the decor and the menu to those who might not have been to RL in a while. The changes to the menu include a lot more interesting choices than popcorn shrimp, fried fish, or butter laden shrimp scampi. Tasty, creative, and healthier items have been added to the menu.

I liked both appetizers we sampled. The first was the lobster pizza - crisp thin-crust pizza topped with langostino lobster meat, melted mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and sweet basil. The crust was indeed very thin and crispy. There was a slight saltiness to it and then you got the fresh tang of the tomatoes and the lovely basil. I had never been one to think of shrimp on pizza, let alone lobster. But the small bits of langostino added a nice toothiness to your bites and fit perfectly with the tomato and basil.

This was demonstrated again with the Wood-Grilled Shrimp Bruschetta - chilled, wood-grilled shrimp tossed with fresh tomatoes, basil, red onions and balsamic vinaigrette, over garlic sourdough toastettes. The added bonus was the that the garlic toastettes were the perfect base. Toasted just right so that they weren't soggy and yet not rock hard either. You bit into it and it was an ideal crisp then chewy toastette.

They could not forget the cheesy biscuits that everyone has known for years. I just had to include this shot because it shows the flakes of cheese and how light and fluffy they are.

In between samplings we had a lot of great conversation. Little tidbits of Chef Michael were revealed. He used to be head chef at Disney's Epcot and he said that Disney was always on top of food trends. He also knew to cater to masses and deal with special dietary requests for the increasing numbers of children with special diets. You might have seen him on TV as well. He's been a judge on some of the Food Network shows such as Iron Chef and the Next Food Network Star competition.

We sampled about six other dishes and so I'll just mention a couple that really struck me. And in case you wonder, none of them were fried.

The first main course that came out was a great one. The Maui Luau Shrimp and Salmon - wood-grilled fresh salmon and skewered jumbo shrimp, brushed with our sweet and spicy glaze and served over wild rice pilaf with grilled pineapple. Think about that great Asian sweet chili sauce you get for dipping eggrolls in. That's the type of sauce that is glazed over the salmon and shrimp. The shrimp were cooked just right, but the salmon was a bit overdone and dry. Get the fish right and this one would have gotten a 10 from me. But that little error only takes it down a notch. Another observation, they provide extra sauce on the side. If you've read my other reviews you know that I always point out the need for a little extra sauce for those dishes without.

We did discuss the fact that they are really making an effort to showcase the wood-fire grilling. It's healthier and it cooks well while adding flavor. We were told you could still order your fish cooked sauteed, blackened, etc., but they didn't mention it on their menus because they want to go for the healthier grill. Research has shown that people order what they see on the menu and so aren't commenting on the change. I will say that we all know there are a lot of hidden calories in the sauces. So if you want to control that a bit, ask for the sauce on the side.

There were a few dishes we sampled that were showcasing flavor combinations in the sauces. The maple cherry glazed chicken breast was one. Another was the mango jalapeno shrimp skewers. Kimberly and I agreed that it could use a bit more jalapeno, but it was a nice sauce and we loved the presentation. The shrimp were interlocked into wheels on the skewer. As Kimberly said, this meant you were really getting your money's worth. How often have you asked the waiter, "How many shrimp come in that?"

My favorite, though, was the Tilapia in a Spicy Soy Broth. It was perfectly moist, flaky, tender. It had a reduced soy broth with a hint of wasabi for heat. Arranged around it were nice, thin spears of asparagus. I said I wanted the recipe and upon returning home I found that it was in the recipe box on the website. Yay!

In fact, let's talk a little about the RL website. You'll find the menu, of course, but I really liked that it had little videos embedded throughout. Go to the Chef's Kitchen and it's got areas for tips, chef interviews, and recipes. The videos feature Chef Michael and others teaching you about proper grilling of seafood, sauces, fish selection and more. Check it out.

They were done with the sampling but offered to let us try anything else on the menu we wanted. Having a sweet tooth, I always have to look at the dessert menu. As I've said before, I look for something different. We were all drawn to the Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie. Chef told us that he had come across a guy at a food trade show that was showcasing all these lava type desserts that he had come up with. Chef told him to keep the cookie under wraps and they flew him to the Orlando headquarters to show it and arrange a deal. It's now on the RL menus. Yummy! Who doesn't want a warm chocolate chip cookie with more chocolate oozing out of it and then topped with vanilla ice cream?! I admitted that this was something that would make me excited about coming to RL. To know that I was gonna have a great meal of non-fried seafood with those cheesy biscuits and then ending with this great dessert.

So yes, I am happy to report that there are a lot of good things to say about Red Lobster and to suggest that you give them a try. I know that among my more gourmand friends RL is never on our go-to list. We are often obligated to go when someone else has invited us to a function there. But I'm telling you, they have a lot to offer. Don't put that nose up too high.