Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When Work Meets Fun: Guide Dogs for the Blind's 7th Annual Support Our Canine Heroes Wine Gala

How many of you out there love your job? No? I can happily report that I do love my job. Quite a bit, actually. For those of you not in the know, I work in the Communications Department of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Duties: various and sundry. But suffice it to say, despite the inevitable politics, drama and The Office-like moments that are bound to accompany ANY job, heading off to "the miracle at San Rafael" every day is just not a tough thing to do.

Even luckier for me, my job sometimes actually intersects with my interests. This past weekend is one such example. It was GDB's 7th Annual Support Our Canine Heroes Wine Gala in Napa Valley, an event I've been involved with since Day 1, seven years ago; an event of which I'm actually very proud. My husband Randall and I were both on the original planning committee... more by default perhaps - we were Napa Valley residents and Ran worked in the wine industry - but regardless, I feel like I had a hand in shaping the event in its earliest stages, and watching it grow into the success that it is today is pretty darn gratifying.

My participation in the event decreases every year - by now there are several working committees, tons of volunteers, and many, many people more heavily involved in the planning and execution than I. But it's still one of my favorite projects to work on all year long, and perhaps the one event I look forward to attending because it's really a lot of fun.

This past weekend, we raised more than $425,000 - an impressive number, especially in this economy. Our donors, gratefully, are nothing if not loyal. Beyond that, I'm not going to write much about the event itself; if you'd like to know more please visit GDB's blog for the blow-by-blow (and it's good! Teaser: Captain Sully of the Hudson River landing fame gets a big surprise!). Rather, I'm just going to leave you with a photo essay of my weekend, as it is appropriate for this venue - and much is very appropriate, since the whole event revolves around food, wine and building community. Fare to Remember, indeed.


Pinot Noir Poached Pears

All the limos had driven away, the chefs had packed their knives, the sparkling chatter had died down to quiet hum. The wine cellar that had just hours before been dolled up with beautiful decor and beautiful people once again looked like, well... a cellar. The Wine Gala was over. I was exhausted.

The remains of the huge party that had just consumed my every waking minute for days on end were many: gorgeous floral arrangements that needed homes, unclaimed goodie bags and auction items that had to be stowed for safe keeping, and wine. Bottle after bottle of top-notch wines that out of necessity had been opened, but in reality would never be consumed in their entirety. Since it pains me to watch good wine to go to waste, I took home several half-full bottles, knowing that I could put them to good use.

The wines I had chosen to bring home with me were one lone bottle of Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon that had just enough left in it for me to enjoy one more glass (which was the last thing I needed - but damn, it's just too good to turn down), and three bottles of Beringer Pinot Noir of varying amounts.

The first thing that came to mind: Pinot Noir Poached Pears. And that's just what I did. And once the pears were perfectly poached, I continued to reduce the liquid to make a Pinot Noir syrup to serve alongside.

To say that my house smelled divine as the wine simmered on top of my stove is an understatement. It was like ushering in Fall, with the heady aroma of mulled wine permeating the crisp Napa Valley air. It was a soothing way to spend my morning, since it required little effort on my part, but gave me all the benefits of an aromatherapy session at the spa.

As you can see, the results were amazing. Thanks, Wine Gala, for the leftovers. It made my day.

Pinot Noir Poached Pears
This recipe is written in quantities sufficient to not only poach the pears, but to make a syrup out of the remaining liquid as well (the syrup is not only delicious over the poached pears, but as a topping for ice cream or other sweet treats as well). If you don't want to make the syrup, cut the quantities in half for poaching only.
  • 6-8 pears, peeled (I used red pears, but Bosc or Bartlett pears would also be good choices)
  • 3 cups Pinot Noir
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Dash of allspice
  • Dash of freshly-grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients (except pears) in a deep sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, gently place the pears in the liquid (I drop them in with a slotted spoon). Once the liquid returns to a boil, reduce temperature until the liquid is at a simmer. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, turning pears occasionally. The finished pears will take on a gorgeous red color and can be easily pierced by a fork. Remove from poaching liquid and set aside. To make the syrup, let the poaching liquid continue to simmer until it has been reduced by half (or less - depending on how thick you'd like the syrup). Remove the cinnamon stick and serve the syrup over the poached pears.

Roasted Fig Puff Pastry Shells

During my Wine Gala weekend of gluttony, I had a few hours to kill between duties with a few of my fellow coworkers and volunteers. Lucky for me, I consider this particular group of working stiffs to be some of my most favorite people in the world; spending time with them was going to be a pleasure. On our itinerary: dinner, of course!

We wound up at one of our local favorites, Bistro Don Giovanni, known for good food, great ambiance, and a chance to rub elbows with Napa Valley's wine industry insiders (true to form, Randall spotted no fewer than three people he knew immediately upon our arrival). Settling in for what was anticipated to be a great dining experience, we all came away just a little disappointed (poor service being the main culprit). Although the food was good (my main entree of trenne pasta with braised lamb shoulder, artichokes, olives, goat cheese and a touch of fresh mint was a surprisingly stunning flavor combination) - it wasn't great.

Perhaps the biggest letdown was our appetizer pizza. If Bistro Don Giovanni were famous for only one thing, it would be its wood-fired pizzas. We ordered the seasonal special: a pizza topped with carmelized onions, goat cheese and figs - a delicious flavor combination, eagerly anticipated by all. But when the pie arrived, it certainly was better in theory than reality. The thin crust was soggy, making the individual slices limp and impossible to transfer from pizza dish to plate - even more impossible to eat without a fork. And the figs were fairly nonexistent - only a few of them dotted the entire pie, perhaps 1/2 a fig per slice. Oh well. At least, as expected, the company of my dinner guests was delightful.

The sparkling lights of Bistro Don Giovanni's patio at nightBut with that pie on the brain, I knew I had to reproduce something with that same flavor combination - something to remedy the pizza's failure. And wouldn't you know it, here's what was waiting for me when I arrived at the office on Monday morning:

Fresh figsFresh figs! Not sure who brought in these lovely figs from their tree, but I thank you. I whisked them all away from the "up-for-grabs" counter in the coffee room, and in that moment, the idea for these puff pastry bites was born. I used the same ingredients as the doomed pizza: carmelized onions, goat cheese and figs - but put my own little spin on it as well: I oven-roasted the figs, glazed them with some local honey, and added fresh chopped rosemary to give it all a fragrant kick. And the store-bought puff pastry shells held up beautifully to the ingredients - nothing soggy or droopy about them.

Puff pastry shells with roasted figs, goat cheese and carmelized onions
Fresh figs; figs roasting in the ovenOnce again, I don't really have a recipe for this creation, just some guidelines:
  • Prepare the puff pastry shells according to package directions, removing the tops when cool
  • Slice figs in half, remove stems, and roast under the broiler until soft
  • At the last minute or two of cooking the figs, brush with melted honey and sprinkle with chopped rosemary; return to broiler and let the honey form a glaze
  • Thinly slice a yellow onion; carmelize in a sauce pan with a bit of butter or olive oil
  • Fill the puff pastry shells with the still-warm carmelized onions and roasted figs; layer with a sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese
  • Return the shells to the broiler to melt the cheese; serve while warm

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tasty Travels: Foodsnap in Seattle

From the list of numerous reasons I decided to start this blog, becoming a better photographer was right up there at the top. But I can tell you that after almost a year of shooting my delicious life, I have a long way to go before "food photographer/stylist" is anything I can list on a resume. A LONG way. Truth be told: I have no idea what I am doing, and it very often shows. Granted - I pull off some great shots from time to time (if I do say so myself), but for every one of my photos that comes out well-lit, beautifully composed and drool-worthy... there are dozens of others that stink up the place like the remnants of last night's fish dinner. And don't just take my word for it - the voluminous quantity of images I've had rejected from juried food photo sharing sites like Tastespotting and Food Gawker for reasons such as "unflattering composition," "unappealing subject matter," "dull/unsharp image" or "lighting issues" only further prove my point. But, ego aside, I learn a lot from the anonymous criticism (even if I don't agree), and keep attempting to improve.

So imagine my delight one day when I was catching up with my Twitter feed and saw a notice from Keren Brown of Frantic Foodie for a hands-on, one-day food photography seminar that she was putting on in Seattle. The class would be taught by Lou Manna (formerly of The New York Times, currently working with pretty much any chef you can name off the top of your head), along with a host of some of Seattle's top food shooters (Lara Ferroni, Barry Wong, Rina Jordan and others). The thought of such an amazing wealth of expertise and talent not only assembled under one roof, but doling out tips and advice to folks like me? My heart skipped a beat. And then I bought a ticket.

If you know me, you know that I'm not exactly the spontaneous, impulsive type. To not only purchase admission to the seminar, but to go as far as to book a plane ticket - without consulting husband or boss or conscience first - something obviously had struck a chord. I was hungry.

So this past Friday, off I went. Bound for Seattle, determined to come back with a full plate of new skills. Even so, I was intimidated, no doubt about it. One of the requirements for the seminar was for attendees to upload samples of their food photography to a Flickr group that Lou would publicly critique. After looking at the other photos that were being shared, I started to wilt with self-doubt... there were some damn good photographers coming to this thing. How would my work compare? Me, with the non-existent studio and rudimentary equipment, attempting to play with the big boys. I got a stomach ache.

Turns out, I could have left the Tums behind... the review was one of the highlights of the seminar, and probably the point at which I learned the most. Lou was very fair and honest with his critiques, and delivered even the harshest assessments with a smile, a joke, and some advice for how to improve.  When he got to my photos, they were all very well received (phew!) - he complimented the composition of each and every one. And for my shot of some Purple Heirloom Tomatillas, he had an especially glowing review: "Nicely lit, beautiful composition.... seriously, this is a very pretty shot."

After hearing his take on the nearly 200 photos, I have a much better understanding of composition and learned that the devil is in the details. (The amount of detail that goes into a commercial food photo shoot... hoo boy. I thought I had an idea. I didn't.) I couldn't wait to put it into practice.

Lucky for us, after some technical instruction on how to use our cameras (stuff that - go figure - I was doing right!), and some insider tips on lighting (using mirrors, reflectors, foil, glass bottles...), we were turned loose on a room full of food products, props, tableware and more, provided by the seminar's sponsors. They had different studio lighting scenarios that we could try, various tools and materials at our fingertips, and the pros at our disposal.

I couldn't have been any more geeked out. Not only was I spending an afternoon taking pictures strictly for pleasure, I was in a room with fellow foodies just as geeked out as I. It occured to me that I actually didn't really know any other food bloggers until that day. To suddenly be surrounded by people who don't find it one bit odd to want to take a photo of a chili pepper that you have placed just so was pretty empowering! Needless to say, I met a lot of really great, wonderful, encouraging people.  The networking aspect to the day wasn't something I had necessarily anticipated, but has already turned out to be extremely rewarding.

All that being said, I put together the following photo essay of my day. I figure that a picture really is worth 1,000 words... so I'll quit writing right now and leave you to the pretty stuff. Enjoy!

Milling about the gorgeous space, 
waiting for the seminar to begin.


Doughnuts, Frost

Tablescapes from Red Ticking; food from Fooducopia

Wraps from Andaluca

 Cheese plate, Fooducopia

Flowers, InBloom Designs; Tableware, Red Ticking

Tableware, Red Ticking 

 Vegetables, Fooducopia

 Spices, Fooducopia

 Grains and rolls from Bluebird Grain Farms

  Chocolates from Emily's

Chocolates, Emily's

Cupcakes, Wink

Gelee Cocktails from Kathy Casey

Gelee Cocktails, Kathy Casey

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Feed My Ego!

Hey there readers - are you enjoying this blog? Is it the one goodie you crave to get in your inbox or like to see pop up fresh in your RSS feed? Does it leave you wanting more? If so, I'm making an appeal: help a girl out and consider nominating Fare to Remember for a Food Buzz Food Blog Award (Best New Blog category is probably the best fit). The more of you that take the teensist of moments to throw me a bone, the better. There's a sea of amazing food blogs out there - chances of winning are slim - but it's the thought that counts. So go on now... follow that link up there and send me some love (you only have until September 30 - hustle!). In return, I'll keep dishing it out, one yummy blog post at a time. Thanks all!

Please Pass the Blog: Guest Post by Margo Anderson of "Off the Wheaten Path"

Way back in the day when I was a Food Editor for a community newspaper in Cache Valley Utah (holla!), I had a friend named Margo. Margo was a dancer; I was a dancer. Our classes, rehearsals and performances kept us in pretty tight proximity - there really wasn't a day that went by for several years when Margo and I weren't sharing significant portions of our lives within arms-length of each other (or literally in each other's arms, as the choreography would dictate!). Needless to say, much of my newspaper writing was done in the dance studio or dressing room - places more akin to home than where I lay my head at night - and all of my dance family members were recruited to help in some capacity or another. When it was her turn to rise to the occasion, Margo wound up being the model for a photo illustration to accompany one of my columns. I don't remember the column, but I do remember the picture: wide-eyed Margo, bundled in arctic-wear (apropos for Cache Valley winters), blowing the steam off of a hot mug-o-something (hot chocolate? soup? who knows). Super cute.

And then real life set in. At some point, Margo and I went our separate ways. We fell out of touch. But all these years later, through the marvel of this thing called the internet, we have reconnected. And wouldn't you know it? Margo has recently started a food blog! Seems as though we still have plenty of things in common.

Margo's blog, Off the Wheaten Path, is devoted to her quest for good eats on a gluten-free diet. Margo has Celiac's disease - rendering all things wheat, barley and rye strictly off limits. Far from a fad, gluten-free diets are garnering more and more attention from not only the media, but food manufacturers as well. I personally know more people than I can count who have banned gluten from their diet, and you can't even step foot in Trader Joe's without encountering new gluten-free products. So, Margo graciously agreed to write a guest blog post for Fare to Remember with some gluten-free tips to help enlighten us all.

The arrival of Margo's post happened to coincide nicely with a "Gluten-Free Extravaganza" hosted by my neighborhood Whole Foods market. I trotted my completely gluten-tolerable self down to have a look-see (samples were promised!), determined to learn a thing or two. Even though I'm familiar with the gluten-free diet, I am (was) a neophyte as to the differences between Celiac's disease (genetic auto-immune disorder) and gluten intolerance (broad term that defines sensitivity to gluten). I also wanted to discover if there were benefits to eating gluten-free, even if you don't suffer from either of those conditions (maybe no benefits per se, but certainly no harm in it, especially since it will get you away from eating most processed foods). From the lectures and demos given by local physicians and chefs, I did learn a lot - way too much for me to try and encapsulate here, especially since there's already a wealth of information available online. But I did load up on tasty samples in the name of research (my favorite being the Mary's Gone Crackers Sea Salt Sticks & Twigs - delicious!), and feel wiser for it.

But really - despite my long-winded introduction, this is Margo's post and she's got a lot of good info to share regarding gluten-free baking (perhaps the trickiest aspect of the diet). Take it away Margo....

The Rules Have Changed: Gluten Free Baking 101
By Margo Anderson, Off the Wheaten Path

Here’s the deal: baking is an exact science. You must measure. You must use a timer. You must have your eggs and butter at room temperature. And never, never jump up and down in front of the oven. However, when you add gluten-free flours into the mix, the rule book sort of gets up and walks away. In fact, it takes a shuttle bus to another state. Having been a gluten-free home cook for the last six years, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
  • Expect the unexpected. There isn’t one single grain that has all the same properties as wheat, so you have to use several flours to replace the parts of flour that you are missing. This can mean several things: either your baked goods will taste mealy because other flours aren’t as finely milled, or they will taste different, because other grains are, well, other grains. Or it could mean your dough won’t be as elastic. Or it won’t be as thick. Or it won’t rise as much. What we’re going for here is an approximation of a wheat-filled baked good. Not an actual replica. Let’s face it, some things you just won’t get to eat again. So say goodbye to your Twinkies and look forward to a Gluten Free Sugar Cookie.
  • Be willing to try new ingredients. At this moment I have a Betty Crocker Gluten Free Devil’s Food Cake in the oven made with sour cream instead of butter. I don’t exactly know how it will turn out. But I really wanted some sour cream chocolate cake, so I figured, what’s the worst that could happen? It could be the best thing I’ve ever eaten and I just don’t know it yet.
  • Pay attention to texture. Think about the food you are making and how the gluten-filled one tasted. Was it chewy? Light and fluffy? Hearty? Dense? Dipped in chocolate sauce and dunked in coffee? Then you need to think about your available replacement flours and their properties before you substitute them. For example, teff flour is a very finely milled flour, but it doesn’t rise as well as wheat flour. So I add an extra teaspoon of baking soda to my batters that use teff. And it’s a darker flour, so I use it in brownies, because you can’t see any difference in the finished product. Buckwheat flour is also darker, but it is heartier, so it makes a good substitute for whole wheat flour, like in my Gluten Free Apple Pancakes. White rice flour is a little mealy in texture, so it’s fine to use in, say, a cornbread that is already mealy and crunchy. Do you see where I’m going with this? Use apples for apples, wherever possible.
  • Use the mix already! There’s no reason to be noble, here. Gluten free baking is tricky, and there’s ratios and scientific stuff that you and I will probably never understand. Let the pros do the work for you and use those gluten free mixes when you can. You don’t have to use them as a plain old mix, though. Feel free to jazz them up a bit with your own ingredients or substitutions. Just use the mix as a base for your own creativity. Check out my Gluten Free Carrot Cake Muffins, a perfect example of just making up a recipe because you had a Namaste spice cake mix laying around in your pantry.
  • Stay positive! It’s tough living with a chronic condition that you didn’t get to choose and you didn’t want to deal with in the first place. But do yourself a favor and try to look at the positive side of things. Now that there’s a low-carb craze going on, no one looks at you funny when you order a hamburger without the bun. You are always on the Zone diet. And to top it all off, you’ll feel better and be healthier by sticking to your diet instead of sticking to those sticky buns.
The Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone Frosting I mentioned above turned out to be so dreamy. Here's a quick recipe for it:
  1. Follow the instructions to make a Gluten Free Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix, except omit butter and add 1/2 cup sour cream instead.
  2. Let cake cool on a wire rack until completely cooled.
  3. Take one 8-ounce package of Mascarpone cheese (Italian style cream cheese) and beat in a stand mixer with 1/2 tsp vanilla and 3-4 cups of powdered sugar added one cup at a time, depending on how sweet you like your frosting. Frost cooled cake.
I’ll take that over a Twinkie any day! Happy eating!