Orlando Dining Highlights

November 29, 2010

On our annual trip to Orlando to visit my family, there are a couple of things we just must always eat and drink.

A plate of Stone Crab Claws at Houston’s restaurant, rebranded in June as Hillstone, is a must-have. Partnered with the restaurant’s famous Mustard Sauce and three big glasses of unsweetened iced tea (none of that frou-frou mango or passion fruit stuff–this is the real deal–just freshly brewed Tetley or Lipton, I’m guessing) and I am a happy camper.

Not so happy, however, that I didn’t save room for a slice of Hillstone’s tangy Key Lime Pie. It’s especially good thanks to the nuts (pecans?) in the graham-cracker crust. Slices are huge. . .this baby comfortably fed four people!

The Eola Wine Co., located along the main drag–Park Avenue–in downtown Winter Park, is a great place for a nightcap. Here’s my Champagne and Sparkling Wine flight, which included entries from France, Italy, South Africa (!), and the United States. The winner? Piper Heidseick–the French really know what they are doing when it comes to bubbly!

Last but certainly not least, we were introduced to a new barbecue place on this trip: 4Rivers Smokehouse. The lines out the door are proof positive that this place serves up some of the most serious and popular brisket, pulled-pork, and turkey sandwiches in central Florida. The turkey sandwich was peppery and good; the sweet-potato casserole more like dessert than a side dish.

Spice Up Your Holiday Meals with Low-Cal Dijon Mustard

November 25, 2010

I always love low-fat cooking hints, but they’re especially welcome this time of the year when we are all tempted to eat and drink just a bit too much!

The good people at American Roland Food Corp., a leader in specialty foods for more than 76 years, sent along the following tips for adding flavor with Dijon Mustard, a sometimes overlooked condiment with just 10 calories per teaspoon, zero fat, and less sugar than ketchup.

*Spice up traditional mayonnaise and cut the fat by simply mixing in a bit of Dijon before adding to those leftover turkey sandwiches.

*Brush Dijon mustard over chicken breasts before grilling for a spicy twist; add a touch of honey to the mustard before you brush, for sweetness.

*Top baked potatoes with Dijon vinaigrette–a lot less fattening than sour cream.

*Brush salmon with Dijon and a bit of olive oil before roasting.

*Adding a teaspoon of Dijon to your vinaigrette adds balance and a bit of zing.

*Take barbecue sauce up a notch with a touch of Dijon.

Quinn’s Cuttlefish Salad and Rosé Wine Flight

November 22, 2010

Radicchio, Cuttlefish, and Spring Onion Salad with a grand schmear of Kalamata Caramel at Quinn’s gastropub on Capitol Hill

Last month, just before we headed to a movie at the venerable Egyptian Theater on Capitol Hill, we stopped in for dinner at Quinn’s gastropub. It was still (relatively) sun-shine-y then, so we scored a window seat beside the busy bar and settled in.

We enjoyed lots of good dishes that evening–Baby Greens and Roasted Beet salads; Roasted Idaho Trout with Radish, Mizuna, and Romesco Sauce; and Mussels with Saffron, Grain Mustard, and White Wine–but perhaps the most memorable dish was the Radicchio, Cuttlefish, and Spring Onion Salad with a grand schmear of Kalamata Caramel.

The Rosé flight at Quinn’s

A Rosé wine flight called, “Everything’s Coming up Roses: Select 2009 Rosés by the Glass,” featured French and Portguese offerings along with Gilbert Cellars 2009 Rosé from Washington’s Wahluke Slope. All three paired well with everything we ordered.

Seatown’s Savory Snacks

November 18, 2010

Back when it was still summer time in Seattle, back when the sun was shining and you could eat outside without freezing to death or getting blown into Puget Sound, we enjoyed a Saturday lunch at Tom Douglas’s latest eatery–Seatown Snack Bar. It’s located just across the street from the venerable Pike & Western Wine Shop at the corner of Virginia and Western overlooking Victor Steinbrueck Park and right next door to Tom’s long-running Etta’s Seafood.

Since our visit, Seatown has been renamed Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie to better mirror its mission–as a place for a drink and a nosh or even full meal, with a handy rotisserie serving take-out mains and sides next door. It’s also had a bit of a menu overhaul; luckily, the dishes we ordered are still on the menu.

Here’s the Seatown Sampler, replete with tastes of all six types of seafood featured in the Smoked Seafood section of the menu. We especially liked the Westport Black Cod with Nectarine Miso–silky, slightly sweet, and a bit salty. Less desirable was the Willapa Bay Oysters with Fennel Relish and Tobiko (mea culpa: I’m not a fan of smoked oysters in general and this one was really smoky).

Spencer ordered the Northwest Free-Range Chicken Dinner from the Entrée Plates section of the menu. It came with Dripping Potatoes and Garlic Rapini and proved to be a sizable chunk o’ chix. And who could ever resist a dish with a name like “dripping potatoes!”

We loved the whimsical murals in the ladies’ room. Made me want to tango with the merrily dancing crabs!

And we would have loved to have ordered a scoop of Concord Grape Sorbet, which sounded cool and refreshing and very Northwest to boot, but we had to get on with our Saturday afternoon errands. Next time!

Rusty Figgins, Master Distiller

November 15, 2010

Yesterday, my latest article for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine ran. Entitled, “In the Spirit of Tradition,” it chronicled the career of Berle, a.k.a. Rusty, Figgins, a successful winemaker turned craft distiller.

Here is Rusty pictured at The Ellensburg Distillery in (you guessed it!) Ellensburg, Washington.

And here are his award-winning products–El Chalán Peruvian-Style Grape Brandy, Gold Buckle Club Frontier-Style Malt Whisky, and Wildcat White Moonshine.

The spirits pick up color and flavor as they age in oak barrels (just as wine does). Rusty’s Gold Buckle Whisky rests in new American Oak for one year!

Photos by Spencer Johnson

DRY Soda Pairs Well With Holiday Foods

November 11, 2010

A well-crafted Pinot Noir or Off-Dry Riesling come to mind whenever anybody asks me what to pair with the foods we associate at Thanksgiving–roasted turkey, stuffing, creamed oysters, pumpkin pie.

But sometimes we don’t feel like drinking alcohol. Or perhaps there’s someone around your holiday table who’s pregnant or nursing or taking medication that precludes alcohol consumption.

DRY Soda to the rescue! This sophisticated beverage, like wine, pairs well with fine food.

“DRY Soda is made of only four all-natural ingredients, is less sweet, and makes a great alternative to alcohol beverages during the holidays,” Sharelle Klaus, founder and CEO of DRY, told me.

Klaus has long been on my radar screen, from the moment I tasted the products when the company launched in 2005 with four flavors (Lemongrass, Lavender, Kumquat, and Rhubarb) to the recent addition of new flavors such as Juniper Berry, Vanilla Bean, and Blood Orange.

Two years ago, right around this time of the year, I even wrote a Taste column entitled, For a Sophisticated Alternative to Alcohol, Go DRY, for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine charting the company’s fascinating beginnings and its meteoric rise in the super-competitive world of soft drinks and sodas.

Lucky for us, Klaus has put together her ideal pairings of traditional holiday meal cuisine with hand-selected flavors of DRY.

Klaus’s suggestions for holiday food and wine pairing?

*For turkey and cranberry, try Rhubarb DRY. Enhance the flavor by using rhubarb in the cranberry sauce recipe.

*If duck is your bird of choice, sip Kumquat DRY, and use kumquat in the duck marinade.

*Prefer red meat? Pair your prime rib with Juniper Berry DRY.

*To satisfy that sweet tooth, enjoy Vanilla Bean DRY with pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and sweet potatoes.

A Duo of Bartending Books

November 8, 2010

Ever wonder how to muddle a margarita? Stock your home bar? Shake up the perfect martini?

My latest article for Amazon’s Al Dente blog, entitled, A Bevy of Bartending Books, features mini book reviews on two valuable tomes: “Bartending for Dummies” and “The Bartender’s Best Friend.”

Either or both should be on every cocktail-lover’s bookshelf!

A Date in the Desert

November 1, 2010

A big field of artichokes

One of the highlights of our trip to Palm Springs for Les Dames d’Escoffier 2010 annual conference was a pre-conference farm tour. A big bus took Spencer and me (plus 37 assorted Dames and spouses) from our hotel headquarters at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa in Indian Wells (one of the nine towns that make up the resort area) to the unincorporated parts of the city that form the heart of the growing area.

It was an educational four hours, as we visited Agri Service, Inc., a high-tech composting operation that makes compost from landfill (!); a citrus, date, and table-grape farm right next door that uses the mulch from the composting company to nourish its crops; Ocean Mist Farms, a third-generation grower in business since 1924 and the number-one producer of artichokes in the U.S.; and a stop for lunch at the world-famous Shields Date Garden.

Along the way, we learned that a total of 250 crops are farmed in the Coachella Valley, and something is growing an impressive 365 days per year! Temperatures are so hot in the summertime (upwards of 120 degrees) that the crops are picked and bagged at night.

Special highlights for me were eating leftover table grapes that had shriveled on the grapevines to become raisins, straight from the vine (!). We also picked beautiful fresh lemons that had fallen off the tree straight from the ground.

Shields Date Garden

A stop for lunch at Shields Date Garden was like stepping back in time, from the vintage signage out front. . .

Date crystals and milkshakes at Shields

To the soda fountain inside the gift shop where you can buy the company’s famous Date Crystals and Date Milkshakes (a steal at $3.75). Or just wet your whistle with a fresh-squeezed lemonade or grapefruit juice.

Shields has been in business since 1924, and has a great backstory about the family who founded it.

Dates growing on the tree and bagged for protection from predators and rain

Right outside you find acres and acres of producing date trees. White cloth bags are wrapped around the parts of the trees where the dates grow to protect the precious fruit from predators (such as birds) and the desert’s rare rain shower.

Shields’ Date Milkshake in all its golden, creamy glory

Here’s the famous Date Milkshake, one of the best things I’ve ever put into my mouth. Calories and carbohydrates took second place to sheer joy and goodness here.

Just one last bite!

Another decadent spoonful, as the shake was so thick, it was almost impossible to sip it through the pretty pink straw provided!