IFBC

IFBC: When The Universe screams in your ear, you better listen.

When I headed to Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), I expected to be educated. I expected to eat some great food. I expected to try some interesting wines. What took me by surprise was the validation.

I know, I know, that sounds just a teensy bit melodramatic. Validation? Really, Jordan?

Hear me out. Let’s recap what happened in the weeks leading up to this trip. I said, out loud, that I wanted to quit my corporate gig and go work in food for real. I did the first thing, and got a job that fulfills the second thing. I said I wanted more time to focus on school and the blog. The new job gives me that. I’ve also had the chance to work with and talk to some really great local chefs over the past month or so. Once I made the decision to finally follow my bliss, The Universe answered.

And then I went to IFBC. I had the sessions I wanted to attend all mapped out, and then I ended up going to completely different ones that turned out to be exactly where I needed to be, hearing speakers that so loudly echoed all of my most recent decisions that I had no choice but to pay attention. Two sessions really spoke to me on a pretty personal level.

It started right off the bat with the Keynote from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible and the soon to be released Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

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If you ┬áhad been watching the IFBC tag on twitter, you’d have seen the same quote tweeted out from nearly everyone in the room at once:

“Being a good writer has to do with living an authentic life.”

Seems like that message hit close to home for a lot of us. Page and Dornenburg encouraged us all to follow our chosen path regardless of how popular/unpopular it might be, and to keep walking it no matter how many times we fall or get pushed down. They showed us samples from rejection letters they received from publishers telling them that their first book idea was too narrow, and wouldn’t reach a large enough audience to be marketable. They kept trying, and eventually they got that book deal. Needless to say, that book (Becoming a Chef) sold well, and won a James Beard Award.

They also encouraged us to taste everything. Every taste, every texture, every smell goes into our taste memory, ready to be called up, “like a song in a jukebox.”

The next big food trend? Vegetables! More and more people are moving to a plant based diet, and chefs are paying attention. They’re treating veggies like meat– braising, smoking, grilling, and curing them, just like they would meat. For vegetarians and vegans that’s good news, especially when they go out to eat. They won’t get stuck with some boring rice and veggie skewer dinner. It’s also pretty great news for us omnivores, because it means that we can order veggie based dinners and get the same kind of satisfaction that we’d get from one with meat as the main event.

They closed out their session by reminding us how powerful we can be as food writers, and leaving us with an important question, one that’s really got me thinking, “What kind of world do you want to create with this power?”

Joe Yonan, Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, was another speaker whose message resonated with me. His story, one that started with a confluence of not so wonderful events, led him to make some big changes in his life and his approach to writing.

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He took a year off from the paper to write a book and spend time working on his sister and brother-in-law’s homestead in Maine. He spent mornings working on the farm, doing just one task at a time. It was difficult at first, he said, to focus on “uni-tasking,” and to avoid the temptation to constantly check his phone. But over time, he found that he began to enjoy the opportunity to focus, and when he set out each afternoon to work on the book his head was clearer.

I really loved his sense of humor. While telling us about his obsession with keeping the chicken coop clean, he likened it to “being a Lilliputian in the world’s biggest catbox.”

Well, maybe you had to be there. ­čÖé

When he went back to work, he continued making changes, and decisions, that helped him keep his perspective. He encouraged us all to think about the changes we can make to keep ourselves happy and passionate about what we’re doing, to give ourselves time away from the craziness (whatever that craziness is for us), to pick a day to unplug from all our technology and just be in the moment, and to learn new things by doing, not just by reading about it or watching a video about it.

I feel like there was so much more covered, but I’m still ruminating over all of it and trying to figure out how to apply all of this great advice. I’ve already picked Sunday as my “unplug” day. I’ve never considered myself a social media addict, but as a food blogger every time I’m around food, or someone cooking, or the farmer’s market, or a hundred other places, out comes the phone so I can take a picture and try to turn it into a writing opportunity. I feel like much of what I heard over the weekend said, “Don’t force it. Be yourself and there will be plenty to write about.”

Last, but not least.

I’m going to go backwards when telling you about my weekend at IFBC in Seattle. This first post is actually about my last meal.

I did not take a photo of my last meal in Seattle. ┬áI did not Instagram, or Tweet, or even Facebook. ┬áI did not “check in” to the little French bistro where I had brunch at the almost silly hour of 2pm.

That was not my original intent.

After wandering through the Pike Place Market for over an hour, snacking on crab cocktail and flipping through stacks of vintage this and handmade that, my plan was to go eat somewhere, take a ridiculous number of pictures of my meal, and check myself in with a photo of the glass of sparkling whatever-was-on-the-menu to which I was treating myself. Then, I noticed how low my phone battery was getting. ┬áAs I looked around, charger in hand, for a place to plug in, the hostess walked over and offered to plug it in at the hostess stand for me. I panicked. I was at a bit of a crossroads here. Do I take Joe Yonan’s advice from that morning and unplug, or did I grip my phone to my chest with Gollum-like protectiveness and just do as much social networking as I could before the phone died? I mean, I hadn’t even taken a picture of my plate yet!

Ultimately, I handed over my phone.

I spent the next hour sipping bubbles and enjoying the delicious house cured salmon in front of me. It was the best decision I could have made.

After an entire weekend of live tweeting and Facebook posts and taking pictures of every single morsel that went into my facehole, that one meal was mine. I’m going to keep being kinda selfish and not even describe it to you now. What I will tell you is that through the entire meal, I didn’t think about anything else. I didn’t think about the weekend, or the blog posts I’d do after I got home, or how many page views I’d get after publishing them. I just ate my food. And you know what? It was really, seriously, truly, lovely.

Thanks, Joe, for the advice. I expect I will be using it a lot from now on.

 

News! and IFBC! and Things!

Hi folks! I’ve made it through the Menu Management project with most of what’s left of my sanity in tact. I actually had to stay up all Tuesday night to finish my presentation, just in time to give it in class Wednesday. I was so sleep deprived at that point, I can’t even tell you what I said, but I think it went ok. I guess I’ll find out when Chef posts the grades. The nice thing about giving my presentation this week is that next week I get to just sit back and listen to everyone else’s stuff. And then, just like that, the quarter is over. Needless to say, this month on the blog has not gone at all like I wanted it to, but I have a week off of work coming up and this place, and you lovely readers, are at the top of my priority list.

Also, I have a little news to share.

Since I started school in January, I’ve had this grand plan to work until the end of March next year, and save up a bunch of money to get started on this burgeoning culinary career thing I’ve got going. Well, The Universe conspired to expedite the plan by ┬ásix whole months. About three weeks ago, I started looking for a new job, something food related, and I’ve been offered a very “low on the totem pole” kinda gig working for Colorado’s largest catering company. Getting that job meant that I could put in my notice at this corporate thing I’ve been doing for about five years and finally start gearing up for the rest of my life. I’ll be a production cook, so lots of potato peeling and vegetable chopping and cookie dough mixing, and needless to say the money is significantly less than what I’ve been making, but I’m SO excited!

I’ve never heard of a Baby Step of Faith. It’s a leap, or it’s nothing at all. So here I am, flinging myself out into the world to do the thing I’m passionate about instead of just earning a paycheck doing something I happen to be good at. What’s weird is that I’m not even a little bit scared. There have been so many signs pointing me in this direction, and I’ve been kind of turning my head away, believing that I wasn’t ready for such a big move. But tell me this… what makes someone ready for that? I think you just have to do it. So, I’m doing it.

Step one was getting the job. Step two is sucking every single bit of experience and knowledge I can out of it.

Now, let’s move on to the more immediate excitement… the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle! It starts tomorrow night with the opening reception, and runs through Sunday afternoon. I am beyond excited about this. It’s my first food blogger conference ever, but all the veterans I’ve talked to have been so welcoming and warm (at least, as warm as you can get over Facebook) that I know it’s going to be a great experience.

IFBC’s sessions are broken into three tracks– Food, Writing, and Tech. If you look at the Agenda online, you’ll see that there’s a LOT of information being covered, and I’m still not entirely sure which sessions I’ll be attending. There are a couple of time periods where there are two sessions┬áI’d like to attend (Learn about butchering beef or about Bordeaux wines? I want to do both!). However, what I think I need the most help with is the Tech side. Luckily, some folks from WordPress will be there to hopefully answer some of my questions about the actual process of making my blog more reachable, but there are other sessions on Branding and using Google + that also sound like they’re going to cover stuff I really need to know. Google + especially feels like the Wild West to me, so I hope I can learn how to make some sense of it.

I’m also really hoping to make some new friends, and get some time to meander around the city a bit.

I have a recipe ready to share (about damn time, right?!) when I get back, as well as an interview from a guy who owns and runs a local ice cream shop. He has a great tip for those of us who aren’t blessed with access to an industrial sized ice cream maker that I think you’ll all appreciate. And, now that all the madness has died down, I’m going to share the menus I created for this fictitious restaurant I’m never going to open. Plus, of course, I’ll be sharing lots of details and information from IFBC.

Thanks for bearing with me folks. Have a great weekend!

Oh, just stuff it!

Before I get to today’s regularly scheduled blog post, I have a little announcement! Thanks to the help of some very good friends and supporters, I’ve been able to register for the┬áInternational Food Bloggers Convention in Seattle next month! Woot!

I’m super excited! I’ll have the opportunity to attend sessions about everything from how to build a brand and make the best use of social media to beef butchery to food photography, plus so much more. I’ll be blogging from there, of course, so prepare for me to pretty much just totally geek out all over you lovely people. ­čÖé

If you’re willing, able, and interested in doing so, I am still about $75 away from what I really need to make sure I can cover my flight. I’ll make it happen either way, but if you’re able to help out, the link to my GoFundMe page is right here.

And now… on with the show! erm. Post!

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it previously, but I’m taking Latin Cuisine this quarter. We definitely covered Tex-Mex food last quarter in American Regional, but this quarter we’re moving past all those giant blobs of cheese and sour cream to food that is a lot more authentic to Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. I really like the chef who is teaching it, which helps tremendously in navigating all the complexity of Latin cooking.

Last week our main dish was Chiles en Nogada, or Chiles in Walnut Sauce.

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As you can probably tell from the picture, it’s battered and fried, but don’t let that deter you if you’re trying to avoid such things. This isn’t State Fair food or anything. That outside coating can be as light as you need it to be, or even skip it altogether and just pan fry or oven roast these babies. They’ll still be good.

There are a LOT of ingredients to this one, so I’m not going to pretend it’s not labor intensive. However, if you’re looking for a special occasion dish to make for people who are worth the effort, this is a good recipe. You can also customize it pretty easily– leaving out the meat and/or replacing it with mushrooms, or using a different cooking method once the chile is stuffed.

Because there are so many ingredients, and I was afraid I’d miss one, I’m going to just give you the recipe straight from the book. It’s an image, so you won’t be able to copy/paste, but feel free to leave me a comment┬áor email me at gonnacookthat@gmail.com and I’ll send you the recipe in Word format so you can print it out.

I’m going to make some recommendations about this recipe right up front. First,┬áreplace the fresh peaches and apples with their dried counterparts. Those two fruits seem to give off a LOT of liquid, and I think it muddied the flavors just a bit. I’m also going to recommend the that you add cumin, Mexican oregano, and some chili powder along with the coriander seeds. I felt like the filling was lacking that punch of flavor I was expecting until I doctored up the seasonings a bit, and that’s the combo (in any ratio you want) that seemed to work best. Also, make sure you’re seasoning after each major addition to the filling mixture with a little salt, to help build up the layers of flavor.

Equipment:
Deep frying pan (this is a lot of filling)
Large pot for frying, or if you’re going to oven roast these without the batter, a baking sheet
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Large mixing bowl for steaming the roasted chiles
Two small mixing bowls for breading
Toothpicks
Pan or plate for holding the chiles once they’ve been fried
Stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a balloon whisk if you’re going to mix the batter by hand
Paper towels
Plastic wrap
Spoon (to help peel the chiles after they’re roasted)
Blender
Small container for soaking the walnuts

Ingredients for the stuffed chiles:
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Plus, don’t forget the extra oil for deep frying, if that’s the way you’re going.

Roast (char) the chiles, steam (in your large bowl, covered tightly with plastic wrap), and peel off outer skin without removing the stems. This is where your little spoon comes in handy.

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Make a lengthwise slit in each chile and remove the veins. ┬áNote: This part is tricky. Just do your best. Make your slit toward the stem end of the chile, and use a small spoon to get out as many of the seeds as you want. It’s not necessary to get all the seeds out, especially if you want the chiles to keep a little bit of bite.
Optional: Soak in a salt water and vinegar solution for up to 2 hours to reduce the heat of the pepper.

Heat oil and brown the pork.
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Remove and drain meat; leave fat in pan.
Cook onion and garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes and cook 2 minutes. Combine pork, apples, peaches, plantain, raisins, almonds, pine nuts, lemon zest, and chicken stock with onion mixture. Add spices (coriander, etc.) and season with salt and pepper. Cook over slow heat until almost dry. Allow to cool.

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Stuff chiles with pork mixture. Reshape and secure openings with a toothpicks; chill for 30 minutes. See how I mangled mine? They look like they’re being tortured into submission. We didn’t have toothpicks, just these long, wooden skewers we had to break in half. “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

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Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Lightly beat the egg yolk and mix into whites.
Heat oil to 350┬░F (175┬░C) in a deep fryer or pan fry using enough oil so it comes up half the thickness of the chiles.
Dip the stuffed chiles in flour and then in the egg batter, and fry until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels and remove toothpicks.

Ingredients for the walnut sauce:

1 C Walnut Halves
1 C Milk
1 ounce white bread (sandwich bread is fine), torn in pieces
1 C Queso fresco or whole milk ricotta
1 C Heavy cream
1/2 tsp sugar

Soak walnuts in half the milk for 1 hour. Strain and reserve the milk. Rub walnuts in a clean towel to remove the skin.
Soak the bread in remaining milk for at least 30 minutes.
Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

You can serve these however you’d like. Put the sauce on the bottom or the top, and do yourself a favor and buy a package of pomegranate seeds. Seeding a pomegranate isn’t difficult, but it can be messy, and your kitchen might end up looking like a homicide scene. Save yourself the clean up and take advantage of the convenience item in this case.

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Am I recommending this dish for a regular weeknight meal? Hmmm. Maybe not. But, you can definitely do everything up through stuffing the chiles ahead of time to make the “day of” service a little easier. The flavors will only get better overnight, and the walnut sauce will definitely hold in the fridge overnight. Just warm it up a little before you serve.