Sucking Up IFBC

Note to readers: This is a subsidized post. In exchange for a reduced conference fee, I agreed to write three posts about the International Food Bloggers Conference.

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The agenda of speakers and breakout sessions at IFBC ’14 was feast or famine for me: I either faced a scheduling conflict with multiple events of interest happening at the same time, or nothing at all to capture my attention. Of the latter, I actually left and saw a movie during a loll. (The Maze Runner, which wasn’t half bad!)

One session I chose to attend over two other equally intriguing options was a writing class with Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write For Food, a book which I think I may have purchased, put on my shelf, and never got around to reading. (Nothing against Dianne — I’m like that sometimes with books.) In her well prepared and presented hour with us, Dianne offered some excellent advice and tips: Use context. Add memories from the past and bring them into the present. Tap into all your senses. Be conversational. Activate the verbs and get specific with the adjectives.

The session also including a couple of in-class, timed writing assignments. The first was to describe our lunch, which for many of us was served and consumed in the Westin Hotel conference center, included with our registration fee and sponsored by a blender company. Here’s what I wrote:

There’s always a sense of foreboding when approaching a hotel buffet lunch, forged from countless business meetings, weddings, and other situations where you’d likely rather be somewhere else. As this lunch was being served to a conference of food bloggers, my expectations were a little less gloomy, hoping that the kitchen and conference organizers had risen to the challenge of serving hundreds of hungry and highly critical folks.

While the buffet tables stood ready, awaiting to be scavenged and devoured, a few shutterbugs swarmed over the multiple spreads, capturing heaping bowls of cheery chopped salads, baskets piled high with plump chunks of herb-studded focaccia, and long gleaming steam tables, their ornately adorned stainless steel lids still closed, providing some drama and mystery.

Would this meal for the masses pass muster, or even become a highlight of a very full day of tasting and experience? Or would it be as laughable and unappetizing as a rubber chicken?

Notice how I barely mentioned the food? That should tell you everything you need to know about it.

The next assignment was to “write sensually” about a food item; roasted almonds and ginger candy chews were distributed around the room to get our mouths and minds flowing. Personally, I hate this kind over-writing; it’s campy, clunky, and unnecessary. As the mostly middle aged women in the room tittered over their “racy” compositions, I wondered if perhaps food writing has become the romance novel of the modern age.

Here’s what I wrote:

Under two layers of crinkly paper, a dime-sized amber brick emerged, dusted with an unusually gritty powdered sugar. Though it had the translucent appearance of a gummy bear, a small bite revealed a much denser, tougher consistency that surprised my teeth. Chewing the candy into submission rewarded me with a deep rush of warmth, and the spicy sensation spreading across my tongue was yet another surprise from this deceptively simple-looking treat.

I kinda hate that I ‘went there’ and wrote something that involved “surprising” my teeth. But that was the six-minute assignment, and I truly thrive on direction, parameters, and deadlines. Even if it’s not something I’m into.

The people in the session who read their work aloud also had no problem embracing a romantic, over-the-top style of writing. They consistently included all sorts of gory details about the maceration of foodstuffs inside their wet and busy oral cavities, bearing mouthfuls of beautiful destruction and discovery. Or something like that. To that feast-y style of overwrought writing, I simply must say: yuck.

Marketing at IFBC: The Good, The Bad, and the Huh?

Note to readers: This is a subsidized post. In exchange for a reduced conference fee, I agreed to write three posts about the International Food Bloggers Conference.

The good: this genius shirt from the Bordeaux Wine Council.

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I was more than happy to post this Instagram photo to get one. And great to make a new local friend, Allan Aquilla! We had a good time together at the Saturday night event.

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The bad: please please please can we put the “Keep Calm And…” thing to rest already?

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I will acknowledge that this at least has a somewhat nice ring to it. But still. I don’t want to use these pans to cook the dead horse you’re beating.

The huh?

I was surprised that there weren’t more Seattle/Northwest brands represented. How is Starbucks not a sponsor of an event like this? A few local restaurants were part of the Saturday night “Taste of Seattle” event but it was dominated by other national/international brands. Raincoast Crisps had a significant presence at the opening event, but Lesley’s Stowe’s little pitch speech was widely (and loudly) ignored. As I learned over the course of the weekend, ignoring people who are talking might be one of the hallmarks of a bloggers conference. I was in a breakout session on writing and a woman near me spent the entire time writing and monitoring three Twitter feeds. Does it count as “being there” if you’re not really present in the moment?

How To Ruin A Perfectly Good Crab

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The sight of a whole cooked Dungeness crab is so sad to me. Not because I don’t eat shellfish! Crab is one of my all-time favorite foods. But cooking a whole live crab is *not* the best way to enjoy it, IMHO. While most people assume that crab must be cooked live, I grew up following a different method, with much tastier results.

Cooking a whole live crab means the guts will cook along with the meat, adding discoloration and unwanted flavors. You also have to wait until a whole cooked crab has cooled down enough to clean it, and will miss out on the opportunity to enjoy piping hot crab.

The trick is to kill and clean the crab first, right before cooking it.

It’s very important to clean & cook the crab right away, and disastrous if you wait any longer than 15-20 minutes between cleaning and cooking as the meat will “turn” and result in a horrible flavor (which you’ll also encounter if you undercook the crab).

You should always start this process with a live crab, which can be kept alive for a day or so in a ventilated cooler with ice (be sure any fresh water from melting ice drains out or it will kill the crab) or longer in an aerated holding tank of sea water, just like you might see at your favorite seafood establishment. Also, don’t ever freeze or refrigerate raw crab meat, whether whole or cleaned. It won’t turn out well.

A Dungeness crab can be killed quickly by a blow to the abdomen; I sometimes use an axe, or slam the middle undersection onto a hard edge such as a bench.

Here are the next steps to follow according to the Washington State Department of Fish & Game:

  1. Remove the abdomen with your fingers (also called the apron, it is the flap of shell on the underside of the crab).
  2. Remove the outer shell (the back of the crab, also called the carapace) by sticking your thumb into the hole left from removing the abdomen and lifting up firmly.
  3. The shell will detach from the body with some guts attached.
  4. Remove and discard the leaf-like, spongy gills from either side of the body.
  5. Rinse out the greenish-brown guts. Break off and discard the mandibles, which are the mouthparts at the front of the crab.
  6. Turn the crab upside down, grip it on either side and place your thumbs underneath near the midline on the back (where the shell used to be).
  7. Push up with your thumbs and pull down with your hands; the crab will crack easily along its center line.

Here’s a video to walk you through it:

Another tip: rather than immersing the crab into boiling water, try steaming it in just two or so inches of salted water, or even better: clean seawater. I don’t recommend using water at the shoreline; when you’re out lifting your pots, grab a bucket from a deeper area where the water will be cleaner and free of dirt, seaweed, etc. Steam for about 8-10 minutes.

It’s astonishing to me how many recipes call for cooking the crab first, then cleaning it. It’s really not hard to clean a live crab, and the end result is cleaner, purer meat that you can enjoy while it’s still piping hot! Try it for yourself and discover the difference.

A Fishing Tale

We recently celebrated a friend’s birthday by fly fishing on the Snoqualamie River. This particular stretch of waterway is ‘catch and release,’ so to satisfy our craving for fresh fish we picked up some trout from a local market and brought it with us. Pre-cleaned for easy cooking, we stuffed the cavity with 1tbsp butter, fresh thyme, salt  + pepper. We fried the fish in a butter-laden cast iron pan on a camp stove and served with lemon wedges. Doesn’t get much more simple or satisfying!

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As Seen On TV!

We picked up one of these Veggetti devices recently (at the outlet mall — so much for “not available in stores!”) and it’s actually really great.

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Pasta doesn’t make it into our house much these days as we’re eating semi-Paleo-ish and trying to avoid starchy carbs, or wheat and sugar if you want to get down to identifying the real culprits. In any case, this little gizmo turns out totally satisfying “noodles” from zuchinni, squash, carrots and more. We’ve only experimented with tomato sauces so far, but I’m finding lots of interesting recipes on Pinterest, including this one for “Mexican style pesto” — ole!

Mexican-Chile Pesto with Zucchini Angel Hair Pasta
A Recipe by Diana Keuilian

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Prep time: 20 mins Total time: 20 mins
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

3 red Jalapeños
¼ cup pistachios, shelled and toasted
1 cup fresh cilantro, packed
1 cup fresh arugula, packed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 lime, juiced
⅓ cup organic chicken broth
¼ cup olive oil
dash of sea salt and pepper
4 organic zucchinis

INSTRUCTIONS

Char the jalapeños in a skillet or over a gas flame. Place the charred jalapeños in a paper bag, and close. When cool enough to handle, rub off the skins with a paper towel, then halve and seed the jalapeños and place in a food processor.
Meanwhile, lightly toast the pistachios in a dry, small skillet or in a toaster oven.
Add the pistachios and all remaining ingredients, except the zucchini, to the food processor. Pulse until well combined.
Use a veggie peeler to strip the green skin from the zucchini. Cut in half, width-wise, and run through a spiral slicer to create long, angel hair pasta strands.
Place all of the zucchini noodles in a large bowl, add the pesto and mix well until all strands are coated. Serve immediately and then store in the fridge.

NUTRITION

Serving size: ⅙ Calories: 140 Fat: 11 Carbohydrates: 8 Sodium: 85 Fiber: 3 Protein: 3

A New Cocktail: “The Bad Back”

 

Chicago mixologist Paul McGee has a lovely concoction called “Forget the Winter” which was eye-opening for me — using Ruby Port for complexity and spice is brilliant in this rum & lime based drink. I applied this idea to a margarita variation I was working on (the hard, hard work of testing drinks!) and was thrilled with the results. Aperol and fresh mint syrup take it to the next level. Next time someone asks you for a margarita, dazzle them with this sophisticated variation.

2 oz Espolón tequila
.5 oz Ruby Port
.5 oz Aperol
1 oz fresh lime juice
.25 oz mint syrup

Mint Simple Syrup

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Put equal parts sugar and water into a saucepan (1 C. each is a good amount) and bring it just to the point of a light boil, when bubbles start to rise and the liquid clarifies, you’re done. Drop a handful of mint into the pot and give it a quick stir. You want the mint to brighten up and come alive, but not wilt or brown.

Put the warm mixture into a blender and purée.

Strain into a jar or bottle using a funnel.

Voila!

Be "Kind" to your wallet — DIY nut bars

Taking a quick poll on the prices of fruit & nut bars like Kind and Larabar is enough to give a lot of people the same great idea. I googled “DIY Kind Bar” I found this great recipe by The Whole Kitchen. It solved a few of my problems (namely getting enough structure in them so that they stand up to cutting and don’t crumble into a chewy granola.)

I added chocolate because, well… Because I can.

I also wrapped them in Saran Wrap so they’re grab-n-go easy!