Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Moroccan Sea Scallops

May 12, 2014

Like a lot of home cooks, I tend to get stuck in ruts, preparing the same comfortable recipes in regular rotation. Sure, I have a collection of more adventurous dishes I’m dying to try, but on most weeknights, I find myself falling back on my favorite quick and delicious chicken stew, lemon pasta, or taco salad.

I was particularly excited, then, to attend my first cooking class at The Pantry at Delancey recently. Chef Kim Cozzetto Maynard guided us through a delectable and inspiring menu of modern Moroccan dishes that successfully combine North African flavors with French cooking techniques, a legacy of Morocco’s colonial history.

The complete meal, re-created at home. If I can do it, you can too!

The complete meal, re-created at home. If I can do it, you can too!

While the menu we prepared – which included a spicy, salty and sweet roasted beet salad with marinated feta and honey pistachio dressing, rich chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemon, and rose-scented ricotta phyllo hand pies – ideally lends itself to a leisurely day of cooking topped off by an intimate dinner party, one dish in particular struck me as a potential addition to my weeknight repertoire: ras-al-hanout dusted sea scallops with carrot broth.

This tasty dish utilizes Morocco’s famed spice mix and a new take on a classic emulsified beurre blanc sauce to add pizzazz to seared scallops on a bed of wilted spinach. After Chef Kim walked us through the process of preparing the scallops as an appetizer course, I was pretty sure I could make it at home on a Monday night, with the addition of couscous and a few more scallops per serving to turn it into it a complete meal.

While carrot juice, chopped shallot, and vermouth reduced on the stove, I quickly cooked up the couscous (using chicken broth and a bit of orange zest for added flavor) and wilted spinach.

The finished product

The finished product

Next, I dredged eight good-sized scallops in ras-al-hanout. This blend literally translates as “head of the shop” and is traditionally a varying mixture of the best spices on offer, so every cook’s version will vary. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chilis, coriander, cumin, paprika, and turmeric. On this night, I picked up a couple of ounces of pre-blended ras-al-hanout from World Spice (some of the more adventurous grocery store spice sections around Seattle also carry commercial versions). Then I seared the scallops for about 3 minutes on each side, careful not to burn the spice crust.

At this point, the sauce was reduced and ready for the addition of butter, which turned a tasty broth into a velvety and rich sauce. Finally, I plated the scallops on top of the spinach over the couscous base, drizzled liberally with the sauce, and – voila! – a colorful, balanced and flavorful dinner that paired quite nicely with a bottle of Stella Blanca Sauvignon Blanc from Walla Walla’s Northstar Winery. Total preparation time: 45 minutes.

Upcoming class schedules for The Pantry at Delancy can be found online here.

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Uncorked: Quivira 2007 Syrah Hommage a Ampuis

October 25, 2012

Several years ago, while attending the first Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, I had the chance to tour Quivira Vineyards and Winery, in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley outside of Healdsburg. I remember a gorgeous late September day, leaves turning on the hills and harvest winding down in the vineyards, the smell of fermenting wine rich in the air. Our group was fortunate enough to get a private tour through the winery’s gorgeous biodynamic estate vineyard, taste the current releases, and have a lovely, locally-sourced lunch on the patio before hitting the road again.

My visit to Quivira made a lasting impression on me. I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about the principles of biodynamic winemaking.  Gnome houses in the vineyards? Burying ram’s horns full of green manure on the equinox? Some of these tenets seem fanciful at best, and unlikely to improve wine quality. But I can also appreciate the wisdom of a (non-biodynamic) vineyard manager I respect, who often points out that time spent in the vineyard is time spent improving growing conditions – and so the time-consuming vit practices of Bio-D acolytes like the folks at Quivira probably do account for some sort of increased quality. At the very least, these practices don’t hurt.

And the wines from Quivira, which I’ve revisited over the years, are indeed quite enjoyable. We opened a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah from the cellar to pair with an ancho-spiced grilled skirt steak. In this bottling, “inspired by blends from the French village of Ampuis,” a small percentage of Viognier is co-fermented with the Syrah grapes, giving the wine some lovely floral notes and a tannic structure that remains balanced even five years on. I got a lot of blackberry, white pepper, lilac, and vanilla off the wine on that first night, along with some surprising heat. It paired well to the smoky adobo flavors, and had enough acid to hold its own against the rich fattiness of the meat.

Two days later, we finished off the bottle with a simple pot roast. The wine had really opened up, keeping its structure while offering up more blueberry and cocoa-covered cherry flavors and a mellow, mouth-filling juiciness.

Oyster Picnic at Hog Island

January 25, 2012
 

I am extremely lucky to have a good number of adventurous, food-loving friends who think nothing of dropping everything to travel hundreds or thousands of miles for the promise of good grub.

Kerry drove through a blinding blizzard in Vermont once to get us to Montreal for beer and poutine. Leslie orchestrated a trip to Memphis just so we could ride her coattails through the Memphis in May barbecue championships. And Ku? Ku guided five adults and a cranky toddler through several neighborhoods in Beijing so that we could try authentic hot pot before heading back to the U.S. Stressful? Nah, they live for this stuff, and it’s my luck to sometimes get to come along for the ride.

This is how, on a rainy Sunday in November, I found myself spreading old newspapers on a damp picnic table at the edge of a sandy spit jutting out into Tomales Bay, California. We were at Hog Island, and we were ready to eat some oysters.

View of the flats at low tide

How did we get here? My intrepid friend Kerry, the aforementioned beer-loving snow driver, began planning this picnic as soon as we’d finalized plans to meet at my mom’s place in Northern California for Thanksgiving. Kerry also loves oysters, and Hog Island is one of the most renowned local purveyors of the briny bivalves. They also have a very cool picnic area at their Marshall farm, where you can buy oysters straight from their beds to eat raw or cook up on the grill. The Hog Island folks provide shucking knives, lemons, a delicious mignonette called “Hog Wash,” and sell wine, beer, and assorted other snacks from an upended boat-turned-snack bar. What more could you ask for on a winter’s afternoon?

There was the matter of the rain – pounding down in sheets as we meandered up Highway 1 – but we were undeterred. After a quick stop  in Point Reyes for some dried fruit at Toby’s Feed Barn and delectable Mt. Tam triple cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, we tooled up the road, parked on the shoulder, and hauled our goodies – including a magnum of bubbly, a given with the menu and the presence of the Diva – to a table facing the bay, breathtaking even in the fog.

Our picnic.

 Once we got things set out and picked up three dozen Hog Island Sweetwaters and a dozen Kumamotos, we got down to the serious business of shucking. Luckily, Carl is a former professional, and Kerry, Sean, and the Diva were quick learners. I acted as supervisor and cocktail waitress.

Sean: shucking is serious business.

 

Carl shows Diva Armida how it's done

After a while, the picnic area filled up with other groups celebrating birthdays, early Thanksgiving, and generally having a fun time. The sun came out and the whole place took on the air of a great big oyster hoedown, helped along with numerous bottles of wine and the good cheer of our hosts and fellow picnickers.  As we discarded our trays of shells and packed up to head back across the county, full of oysters and smiles, I was once again reminded that good friends – and good food – are worth more than gold.  
 

No sun? No problem! Happy picnickers in front of "The Boat"

 

Aftermath of a great afternoon

 

24 Hours on Whidbey Island

January 8, 2012

The harbor at Coupeville, Whidbey Island

We needed to get away. After months of grey skies, the sun was shining and sweaters were finally shucked, but summer was quickly coming to an end. I was dreaming of an island getaway, something short and sweet and new. Somewhere we could smell the salt water and hear the clanging of buoys and eat from the sea. So on a cool but clear Friday morning, the last of the summer, we packed up the car and headed up I-5 to catch the Mukilteo Ferry to Whidbey Island.

From Seattle, Whidbey is the perfect quick getaway for a day, night, or weekend.  It’s nearby but feels like another, more relaxed world. There are a variety of outdoor activities from beachcombing to hiking to boating, and a surprising number of places to stay and tasty spots to eat. I was also excited about checking out the island’s thriving farm and gardening scene.

After a short hop up the highway and onto the ferry at Mukilteo (we thankfully got to the dock before the weekend crowds arrived and lines for the boats got long), and a quick trip across the Sound,  we arrived at the southern end of the island. From there it’s a 10-minute drive to Langley, where we stopped to get our bearings and poke around the shops on First Street.

One of my goals for our trip to Whidbey was to try as many of the local specialty Penn Cove mussels, from as many different sources and in as many preparations, as possible. I started my quest over a leisurely lunch on the sun-dappled deck at Prima Bistro, a recommendation from a food-loving co-worker, where we enjoyed mussels “a la mariniere” steamed with white wine, shallots, and garlic. These mussels were served in their own little cast iron pot, and the simple preparation allowed their fresh brininess to shine through.

Burrata and salmon rillettes plates at Prima Bistro in Langley

Fresh preparations seemed to be a hallmark at Prima, where we also enjoyed a flavorful and light wild salmon rillette and a toothsome and satisfying duck leg confit over lentils dressed with a bacon vinaigrette. The tomato, basil, and burrata plate could have been improved with riper, more flavoful tomatoes (even in this late-blooming summer, delicious heirloom varieties are ripe all over the region), but the burrata itself was elastic and creamy, set off nicely by a light drizzle of sea salt and balsamic vinegar.

Duck Leg Confit at Prima Bistro - delicious!

Full and feeling good from our lunch in the sun, we continued north up the spine of the island towards the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in Greenbank, where I had heard a big Labor Day sale was in progress. We’ve got a beautiful pink rhody right in front of the house and thought it might be fun to get another one to go with it.
 
Turns out we went searching in the right place. The Meerkerk nursery is located in a wooded glen behind the public gardens, and on this day rows and rows of plants of all different colors and variations were available for sale, including several different hybrids created by local hybridizer Frank Fujioka. After a lot of debate we picked a lovely orange and silver “Seaview Sunset” from Fujioka and strolled out for a quick look at the gardens before heading back up the road.

Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank

 Our next stop was just down the road. Greenbank Farm is a former working farm that now houses several small shops and galleries as well as the Whidbey Pies Cafe, known for pies made from local loganberries and other fruits. We shared a slice of huckleberry pie a la mode at a picnic table overlooking a tranquil duck pond, then headed for our final destination of the day.
 
Located about halfway up the length of Whidbey Island on the banks of Penn Cove, Coupeville has a tiny, two-block long commercial strip along Front Street, a wharf with a pretty great coffee shop out at the end of it, and many original Victorian era homes, some of which have been turned into charming B&Bs. We stayed at the Lovejoy Inn, a cozy three-room lodging two blocks up from the water. Mitch, the innkeeper, spent several years working at the nearby state park and seemed to know every cranny of the island. Our first floor room was small but sweet, with a large walk-in shower and comfortable bed.

The Lovejoy Inn in Coupeville

After a walk around the corner to check out Bayleaf, a cute gourmet food and wine shop, we took Mitch’s advice and popped in next door to Christopher’s for an early dinner including a second round of mussels. This version was steamed in a creamy, garlicky white wine sauce that nicely offset the plump, juicy oysters. With a basket of warm bread, it would have been a meal in itself but, intrigued by the European-influenced menu, we ate some more. And some more.
 
First linguine in a surprisingly light smoked salmon cream sauce, then a paprika-scented Austrian chicken and spaetzel, and finally a delicate chocolate mouse and lemony cheesecake. Overindulgent? For sure. But we were on vacation! A leisurely stroll down to the harbor and we were ready to call it a night.

Sunset over Coupeville harbor

 The next morning, we were up early for a tasty hot breakfast prepared by Mitch and a visit to the Coupeville Farmer’s Market, where we stocked up on home-brewed root beer, local berries, and honey before heading out to Ebey’s Landing for a hike along the beach and up the bluff, where farmland meets coastline with spectacular views of the Puget Sound and Mt. Baker.

Bluff Walk at Fort Ebey State Park

 After our walk it was time for one last sampling of mussels, this time at Toby’s, a classic tavern on the water back in Coupeville. Juicy and basically unadorned, accompanied by thick pieces of garlic bread and icy beers, they hit the spot and Toby’s, like Whidbey Island itself, was comfortable, unpretentious, and fun. On the drive home north through Deception Pass and back down I-5, we were already plotting our return trip.

Walrus and Carpenter Low Tide Oyster Picnic

February 17, 2011

Although I grew up a stone’s throw from Tomales Bay and have always loved a good bowl of steamed mussels, pile of fried shrimp, or mess of crab legs, I was never an oyster eater.

Something about swallowing the gooey, briny little knobs always made me a little queasy. And chew them? Forget it!

Elliott's Chef Robert Spaulding shucking Olympias

Even when I lived in Boston and frequented the bar at McCormick & Schmick’s with a bivalve-loving co-worker, the best I could do would be to douse one or two small oysters in Tabasco sauce, close my eyes, and gulp them down with a healthy swig of whatever white wine was on hand. I appreciated the ritual of oyster eating, but it just wasn’t my thing.

Then I met Carl, whose years cooking at Elliott’s Oyster House on the waterfront in Seattle had given him a healthy knowledge of, and appreciation for, the bountiful oysters of the Pacific Northwest. 

Every November Carl returns to Elliott’s to shuck hundreds of oysters at the restaurant’s Oyster New Year bash. It was at this huge party, wandering through a massive tent on the end of Pier 56 and sampling scads of oysters whose names I’d never even heard of,  that I finally began to “get” the appeal of these tasty little shellfish, to enjoy the sweet succulance of a perfect bite of cold fresh Kumamoto or Skookum or Snow Creek.

I am lucky to have my own personal shucker

Like a nice wine, a good oyster is a perfect encapsulation of a specific terroir, in this case the waters from which it came, redolant of  cold seawater and (in my imagination at least) clean air and pure earth and sand.

In the flush of my new way of considering the oyster, I was thrilled to get a chance to attend this winter’s final Walrus and Carpenter Oyster Picnic, organized by oyster impressario Jon Rowley and held at low tide in the dead of night on the shores of the South Puget Sound’s Totten Inlet.

Our host, Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms, giving us the oyster lowdown as the bus approaches the beach

The idea: a group of eager oyster lovers dress in many layers and gather with Jon at Elliott’s. In a light rain, we hop a bus south. At a gas station off of Highway 101 we pick up a man in a red jacket – no ordinary hitchiker but Bill Taylor, fourth generation owner of Taylor Shellfish. Bill guides us off the main highway and down a dirt road to a stretch of tidelands near Steamboat Island where his family has farmed shellfish for over a century. The bus parks, we eagerly disembark, turn on head lamps and pull up hoods, and set off down the beach, which is littered with oysters of all shapes and sizes, there for the plucking.

Shucking Kumamotos and Pacifics

Winter low tides are the best time for picking oysters right out of the water, and the Taylor team has set up a line of oyster and wine-tasting tents along the sand, with lanterns illuminating other stations where harvesting and shucking lessons attract small groups up and down the tideline. A bonfire provides warmth and the opportunity for rustic oyster roasting.

Carl and Marcia examine a Virginica

Carl, his friend Marcia, and I have a blast roaming the beach, pulling oysters from their tide-exposed perches, and savoring them with copious amounts of ice cold, Oyster Wine award-winning vinos (which I was also helping to pour for the group).

Delicious “Oyster Wines”
Carl finds a bunch of Olympias, the only oyster native to the Northwest, nestled in the sand and shucks them open for us to enjoy. Olympias are tiny, about the size of a quarter, and have a coppery yet creamy taste – sort of like eating a penny, if pennies had the consistency of butter. A little weird, but oddly appealing.

Shucking lesson with Waterfront Chef Peter Levine

As the rain begins to pour down harder and the moon disappears behind full cloud cover, we trudge back up the beach to enjoy a steaming cup of oyster stew prepared by Chef Xinh, a former star Taylor shucker who now runs her own seafood restaurant in nearby Shelton. It’s a warm, comforting end to a fun and delicious evening.

Chef Xinh serves up oyster stew

Happy Hour: Lola

June 2, 2009

Many of my friends know what a big fan I am of Seattle chef Tom Douglas, who runs several great restaurants and a boffo event space, the Palace Ballroom, downtown.  I always jump at the chance to visit the Palace Kitchen for plin and olive poppers; the Dahlia Lounge for monkey bread and coconut cream pie; Lola for skewers and the best tzatziki; Serious Pie for delicious, inventive flatbreads; or Etta’s for fresh local seafood.

Carl’s friend Melanie works in the lounge at Lola on Monday nights so last night we decided to stop by, say hello, and enjoy some happy hour treats. Lola has a short but delicious HH menu that includes mini lamb burgers with homemade ricotta; squid, lamb, and chicken skewers; various Greek-inspired spreads; and a handful of tasty cocktails. It was a beautiful night and we sat out on the sidewalk, enjoying our delicious dinner and several “Greek Tigers” (ouzo and orange juice).  Fun times!

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First up: spicy squid kebabs with chermoula and grilled onions doused in ouzo. Just the right mix of spicy, sweet, chewy, and crunchy from the carmelized onions.

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Next: mini lamb burgers with housemade ricotta, mint-arugula salad, and baby tomatoes. Tasty!

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Carl, very seriously tucking into lamb kebabs braised in red wine, meatballs with tzatziki and toasted pita fries, and mini burgers.

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The remains of our dinner. Two thumbs up!

Food-Filled Weekend with Headchef K

May 20, 2009

Headchef Kerry came to visit this weekend from Boston, and the stars aligned for an action-packed weekend that included a visit to the International Food Bloggers Conference, a long bike ride down the Burke-Gilman Trail to the Ballard Locks with Carl, attending the Ruth Reichl reading at the Pan Pacific, eating our way through the Seattle Cheese Festival at Pike Place Market, rooting for our respective teams as the Mariners played the Red Sox at Safeco, dinner at Chez Liang, and lots of meals in between. Good times, huh?!

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Our first stop on the gustatory tour was Barrio on Capitol Hill for a lunch of guacamole, tacos, and chopped salad. The guacamole was fresh and creamy, the salads crisp and refreshing. I still think the non-Happy Hour taco prices are entirely too high, but the chicken adobo tacos with cotija cheese (shown above) *are* delicious. The seared salmon tacos (also shown above), which I tried for the first time on this visit, were little bland, and needed lime juice, salsa, or a little marinade to spice them up. I do enjoy this place, though, and highly recommend their Happy Hour for tacos, chilaquiles, and cheap Mexican beer.

After Barrio, we moseyed over to the new Molly Moon’s outpost for some creamy frozen goodness in the form of maple walnut (me) and salted caramel (Kerry) ice cream cones. We hit the place at the right time and only had to wait in line a few minutes, which passed quickly as we debated which flavors to try post-tacos. The maple walnut had just the right amount of sweet maple flavoring, with the added crunch of walnuts, and is my new favorite – followed closely by the classic balsamic strawberry.

Our next food foray was a late night visit to Serious Pie after the reading Saturday night. We joke that Kerry has to visit at least one Tom Douglas restaurant on every Seattle visit, and it was fun to hobnob with the girls from Cleveland sitting next to us while we enjoyed the cherry bomb pepper and fennel sausage pie and a seasonal pie with green onion pesto, sheep’s milk cheese, and morels. That one was truly amazing, with the creamy cheese providing the perfect base for the salty, fresh pesto and earthy morels. No photo available as it was inhaled quickly!

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Kerry, preparing for Ms-Sox with a little pre-game Skillet action.

Next up: Skillet Street Food, which is now set up outside the south entrance of Safeco at every home game and which I’ve been dying to try. To save room for beer and peanuts later, we split a fried chicken sandwich with apple and celery root slaw. The sweetness and crunch of the slaw went so beautifully with the crispy, salty and chewy chicken and the toasted brioche-like bun, it was perfect food for eating outdoors in the sun, which we did!

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On Sunday night, we grabbed Carl and headed over to Ku, Adrian, and Mia’s place for out-of-this-world bouillabaise, grilled asparagus, barbecued pork, Adrian’s homemade angel food cake, Beard Papa cream puffs, and a couple of cheeses we’d picked up at the Cheese Fest that morning: Barely Buzzed from Utah, a chedder washed in espresso and lavender; and Cirrus camembert from our own Mt. Townsend Creamery. It was a great evening with wonderful friends and the entertainment of Mia, Chowder, and Carl playing with the Cat Dancer.

Dinner at Chez Liang would have been the perfect end to a great weekend, but there was still more to come! We managed to squeeze intwo more stops before heading to Sea-Tac Monday night: Oyster Happy Hour (and then happier dinner!) at Carl’s old stomping ground, Elliott’s on the waterfront, where we had tasty oysters, smoked salmon, crab cakes, mussels, and cioppino; and a quick run to the West Seattle Cupcake Royale to try out Peppermint Pattie and Holly Hobby cakes. Sue McCown has really upped the ante on those cakes, which are now much more moist, rich, and tasty than ever before!

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Carl’s Taku River salmon at Elliott’s

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Cupcakes royale.

As sad as I was to see K. go on Monday night, as I waddled home I was so happy to have had a wonderful foodie weekend with my great friend! Can’t wait for the next trip.

Argentine lunch on the lawn

May 20, 2009

Occasionally I get the chance to enjoy a meal prepared by Janet Hedstrom and her team at the winery. Janet is an amazingly inventive chef, who always seems to know the perfect foods to pair with whatever wines or special occasions are being showcased. Yesterday’s lunch on the lawn was a perfect example. 

Knowing that our guest is fond of South American cuisine, and faced with a wide variety of wines to be poured, from a kabinet-style Riesling to a big, bold Cabernet Franc, Janet came up with an Argentine-inspired feast that blended Latin flavors with Northwestern seasonal ingredients like asparagus, Yukon Gold potatoes, and some of the first Copper River salmon of the season.

I wasn’t able to take photos, sadly, but the menu included grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, yerba mate-marinated salmon with spring onions and roasted peppers, meat and veggie empanadas, grilled asparagus, grilled pineapple on puff pastry, alfajores, and a massive cheese plate featuring, if I’m not mistaken, some Purple Haze chevre from Cyprus Grove and possibly Mt. Tam from the Cowgirl Creamery.

The alfajores, which are apparently an Argentine specialty and are like caramel cookie sandwiches, were particularly sweet and delicate, and a great way to end the meal. If only lunch on the lawn, in the sun, with food like this was an everyday occurrence!

Days of Wine and Tacos

April 3, 2009

I’ve been remiss in posting lately, but that doesn’t mean nothing has been going on – quite the opposite! It’s been so busy I am not sure where to begin, so here’s a brief look back at my March in munchies:

Been hitting  a lot of happy hours this month, from tasty tasty pretzel dot sandwiches at Licorous with Gena B. and then again with Julien P. to chicken tacos and chilaquiles at Barrio with Ragan and Erin, to sweet potatoe fries with the gals at Smith, to squid kebabs, tzatziki, and little meatballs at Lola with Carl before going to see Steven Rinella read at Words & Wine (followed by late night, unofficial happy hour coconut cream pie at Dahlia later that same night!!)

The St. Patrick’s Day trip to NOLA is a whole other post, crammed as it was with food, drink, and merriment , and I promise I’ll get to that soon. Highlights: chocolate pecan pie at the Camellia Grill (closest I’ve been to heaven yet), hurricanes at Pat O’s, red beans and rice at the Gumbo Shop, delectable corn muffins and funky neighborhood ambiance uptown at Jacques-imos, Mia getting her groove on during zydeco night at the Mid City Lanes, a rainy and bead-laden parade in the Garden District, and of course, muffaletas from Central Grocery, enjoyed with good friends on the banks of the Mississippi.

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Kerry and Sean, back in New Orleans.

Other March food highlights: duck ravioli and chocolate fudge cake at Spring Hill, grilled mackerel and mussels at Anchovies and Olives, and many, many wonderful meals prepared by Chef C, including steak tacos, moules frites, the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten (sorry, mom), chicken tacos, and herb crusted rack of lamb with scalloped potatoes au gratin and roasted asparagus. I am a lucky girl!

More to come, I promise.

Eating My Way Through the Southeast

March 10, 2009

Took a whirlwind market trip through Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami last week and had a chance to sample a lot of great food and drink with my partners in crime.

First stop: Atlanta and the Mansion on Peachtree, an amazing hotel in Buckhead. Dinner with M. and M. at NEO in the hotel: pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin with fig port sauce (!!); mediterranean oysters with tomatoes and capers; veal, sage, and artichoke raviolini; porcini risotto; and shortrib brasato with fontina gnocchi. Somehow we managed to fit in a few bites of lemon ricotta cheesecake, flourless chocolate torte, and “Chocolate soup” as well before stumbling off to our opulent rooms upstairs at the Mansion. I kid you not, the bathroom was roughly the size of my first apartment back in Boston.

Day Two: Atlanta. Lunch with the team at McKendrick’s.  I had a good idea of how many steakhouses we might be hitting during the week so opted for a wedge salad and lobster bisque, but had to also share the table’s appetizers including crab cakes and . . .wait for it . . . tempura lobster tails. Amazing!

Dinner – Two Urban Licks, a funky New American place in an old warehouse with a retractable roof on which the rain and hail drummed like the sky was about to fall in (my first tornado warning!) Special menu of poached salmon with clementine dressing; carolina quail with braised pork belly and creamed collard greens; lamb chops with a beet and goat cheese hash; and for dessert a “kick ass cheese plate” featuring my favorite Humboldt Fog. Beets + goat cheese = a good thing, in my book.

Day Three: Up before dawn for the flight to Orlando. Met L. for some work and then to lunch at the Capitol Grille (outstanding mashed potatoes), more work, and then dinner at Luma in Winter Park with the gang.  We ate in the bar which had a great, casual atmosphere befitting the balmy (to this Northwesterner) Florida evening. Ginger-lemongrass fried calamari and shrimp; margarita and heirloom tomato pesto pizzas with perfect thin crusts; duck breast with black rice and kumquat marmalade; seafood risotto. All delicious but were overshadowed by the star of the evening: truffled popcorn with shaved parmesan, free at the bar.

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popcorn, truffle oil, cheese. . . so simple, yet so perfect. It was gone in about a minute.

Day Four: Up before dawn again after a late night for the flight down to Miami, luckily we are staying in the Airport Hyatt which is literally in the terminal and so can roll downstairs and right to the gate. Land in Miami and share a car with M, M, and JM to South Beach. Breakfast at a Cuban deli two blocks from the ocean: cafe au lait and scrambled eggs.

Afternoon chef event at Smith and Wollensky’s on the water – a perfect sunny South Florida day. JO and I retired to the deck to watch the celebrity chef festivities and share apps including this beautiful crab and asparagus salad:

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Then it was off to the Fountainbleu Hotel for another event and more amazing food and wine, including this delectable grass-fed beef meatloaf from chef Michel Nischan at The Dressing Room in Westport, CT (which was amazing with a fantastic Washington State Merlot) and an awe-inspiring dessert buffet put together by the team at the Fountainbleu:

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Day Five: breakfast with Stephanie and Lauren at the News Cafe, a sidewalk  joint right across from the beach where, apparently, Gianni Versace used to hang out when he lived down the block. I was underwhelmed by my bacon and eggs, although the potatoes were crispy and tasty, and the people watching was first rate.

After breakfast, up to the Convention Center to work for a few hours, then a grand finale dinner with the entire team at Quattro on the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. There was much merriment in our group of 22 as we sat outside in the warm air under the stars and enjoyed Italian fare including cured meats and cheeses, braised beef agnoleti, lasagna, tiramisu, and crepes. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer evening to end our Southern journey: good company, great wines, and wonderful food.

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My braised beef agnoleti in beef stew sauce. Mmm. Beefy.

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M’s nutella crepes.