Happy New Year everyone. Thanks so much for making the first year of RealFoodies TastyBits great. I believe February will be our official first birthday! I didn’t write during the holidays. I figured we could all use a break or at least that is what I am going with. Here are my thumbs up and down of 2010. I would have to publish a book to include everything, so I wrote what came up for me first, which was a lot. I would love to hear your comments. Stay tuned for a lot more TastyBits fun in 2011, including MORE VIDEO!
SHARING FOOD WITH STRANGERS: (really just my thing, but still a favorite) I really would like to give the world a Coke. I love sharing food at restaurants with strangers. I often say, the only reason you are a stranger is because I haven’t met you yet. Duh, right. Well, how many times do you have to hang out with someone before you can ask them for a fry? I sometimes make my dining companions uncomfortable, but they usually begin to thaw when they see the HUGE smiles on the faces of people I offer food to. I do occasionally ask someone for a fry. It takes me a minute or so to assess if they are not going to dig the idea. I have only been wrong a few times. This last World Series, I was at a bar that was packed and had no way of ordering food. I noticed that the people in front of me weren’t eating a few pieces of pizza, so I tapped the woman gently on the shoulder and asked, “excuse me, may I have a slice?”. She looked relieved because, like me, she was probably sad to throw out good food. She turned around later and offered me half of her burger too. I declined, so save it. I do recommend that you only share “shareable” food. Soup is not a shareable food. The next time you are at a bar, I challenge you to share your calamari with the person next to you. People love other people’s calamari!
CUPCAKES: (see “thumbs down” list as well) I love the cupcake idea, especially minis, because it allows us to have a guilty pleasure in a small dose. One of the ailments that plagues our country (soap box alert) is not just what we eat, but how much we eat of it. My philosophy is that you can eat anything you want, including fast food, as long as you limit your portions and move more. I write this as I eat a croissant and cheese-wrapped hot dog and wash it down with a sugar and cream laden espresso. My favorite cupcakes so far are: MoonBaby Cakes in SF. Ironically, they don’t have a store front. Check out their cool flavors.
SMALL PLATES: (see “thumbs down” list as well) Someone very close to me hates the idea of small plates. This person likes to have their plate of food all to themselves. I love sharing food because I am that annoying person that always wants a bite of your food. What a better way to get a good feel for what a restaurant has to offer than to try a bunch of small plates. If you love a dish that much, you can go back another day and have it all to yourself.
THEMES: (see “thumbs down” list as well) I mocked the idea of having a store dedicated solely to cupcakes, rice pudding, pie or anything else, but if you think about it, it is pretty old fashioned. A long long time ago, people used to go to a separate place to buy bread, eggs, meat and umbrellas!
I like sliders and apparently so do a lot of other people. We also like grilled cheese and fondue. I dig fondue, but I don’t dig cheesy fondue themed restos, so it is cool that it is not only appearing on a lot of app lists at fun bars, but also as cool stand alone restaurants. I like that there are a ton of sliders on menus ranging from your typical beef and cheese to coconut shrimp and lamb sliders. Again, observe the “small” theme, although I have been known to polish off all three. Yum.
KALE: Yes, Kale. I will dedicate a post specifically to this another day, but I have to mention it here. I used to think Kale was what you decorate a bad salad bar with because I was salad bar girl in New Mexico at Mazzio’s pizza. I spent a lot of time in the walk-in fridge dipping veggies in home-made Ranch. Anyhoo, I tasted three Kale dishes last year that blew my mind and they were all salads! I thought Kale would be too tough to consume as salad. I was wrong. I have to admit that I have not made it myself as of yet, but look out for it because I think it is only the beginning of a lustrous career for my leafy green friend.
EGG: The incredible edible egg is not quite the Diva that pork belly is, but has manifested itself more seductively than pork belly on “sheek” resto menus. What I love about ordering a dish containing a soft boiled, deep fried or poached egg at a restaurant is that I most likely cannot replicate it at home. I will try one day, and you will hear about it, but for now, I will leave the huevo to the pros. Did you know that in the old days, the folds on a chefs hat represented the different ways that they could prepare eggs? In France, a chef used to be asked to prepare an omelette as a test of his skills. Here are a few of my favorite egg dishes: Green Eggs and Ham, Bottega, Napa Valley and Scotch Eggs, Wexler’s, San Francisco.
AWARENESS: (soap box alert) Everything in our big country begins with media hype. Eating healthy/conscientiously and being environmentally aware not new concepts, but are currently sparkly to the masses thanks to the media. Thank you media! Here’s the deal: I get that people are sometimes bothered when they feel like something is being shoved down their throat or when they feel like they are being accused of making the wrong choices for their families. I really do. No one likes to be told they are doing the wrong thing. I am happy, however that the big chains and big brands are succumbing to societal pressure to “think” about what is in their products. I know that big brands are only making these changes because it is affecting their bottom line and they are losing market share, but groovy. I don’t care how it is coming about, I am just glad it is happening. Eating organic and healthy whole food should not be a privilege of the wealthy. I need to end this now, but I am sure there are a lot of you saying that big brand organic may not really be organic. It is a start and it is the first time in our modern society that main stream America is taking notice of what they eat and where their food comes from.
FOOD BLOGGERS: (see “thumbs down” list as well) I love that home cooks across the world are able to share their recipes and techniques with the rest of the world. I feel like everyone has something to teach, which doesn’t mean they are an “authority” on a matter. That is for you to decide. I love searching YouTube for tips on how to wrangle an ingredient. I also love that people can share what they like to eat and drink. I feel like I reap the benefits of other people’s points of view without every having met them. I love people, except the mean ones and hard core criminals.
FREE SPARKLING WATER: I already wrote about this, but it seems as though the trend is catching on! Some places charge a little, like .55, but that is fine compared to $5. I love, love, love this trend. It is one of those warm fuzzy things that make me soooo happy and invariably increases a server’s tip. I also love when I get a little tiny cookie or chocolate with my bill. It seems like such an obviously easy thing to do, but not many businesses do it.
MORE CHEESE: it seems like more cheese became available to more people! What’s not to like? It used to be that the only “nice” cheeses available to even the high falutin crowds, anywhere, but the Bay Area, was St. Andre and maybe some kind of Manchego? Nowadays people are beginning to buy more lovely foreign cheeses as well as local cheeses. It isn’t just super delicious that local farmers are trying their hand at European-style cheeses, but it supports local economies and it is the American thing to do. I love combining patriotism with cheese. Same goes for produce and meat… this a big country and local doesn’t have to mean, within 30 miles. I think local can mean anywhere in the US because even though apples from New England can mean a larger Carbon Footprint if you live in California, it still means that you are supporting the US economy. Please don’t mistake this for a soapbox. I still eat foreign cheese and everything else, but it feels really good to me when I can purchase something that supports US farmers. Go farmers! Some great cheeses to try, Gringo and Foreign:
Blue Baily Hazen (Vermont), Petite Basque (Fronch – seen it at Costco), Aged White Cheddar (gringo), Brillat Savarin (Fronch), Cotswald (Engish- laced with chives – a party favorite )
SUNSET MAGAZINE: Full disclosure: I know the Editor in Chief, but that has little to do with why I am listing this as one of my favorites of 2010. Katie Tamony is amazing and meeting her was a lovely part of 2010, but I really did fall in love with the magazine and the web site. In all honesty, I thought Sunset was a magazine for retired people. Clearly, I had never opened it up. Sunset has been around since 1898! Whoa. For those of you who have never opened it up because you mistook it for a Westways magazine, please do yourself a favor and buy an issue. The web site is also fantastic. I love Sunset because it is a magazine about far West Coast United states and I think we do a pretty good job here in the West of being innovators and living well. It is not just about recipes, although I know for a fact that they test every recipe three times in their test kitchen in Menlo Park, but because they never tire in uncovering all the amazing nooks and crannies that the West Coast has to offer. I have a friend who has relied on Sunset for most of her weekend getaway ideas. She used to read Sunset when she lived in Nebraska, years ago. In fact, I hear they have a pretty large readership all over the US. Every time I open up an issue, I end up inspired by who I read about and what I learn. I also feel lucky to live close to most of what they cover. I visited the headquarters of Sunset in Menlo Park and could not believe what an amazing place it was. This was not your typical shiny, fast paced, cut-throat magazine headquarters. It is a Ranch Style structure that covers many acres where they experiment with gardening, farming, bee-keeping and many other things that don’t usually occur at a magazine. I won’t go on, but I will say that if you are thinking of subscribing to one foodie lifestyle magazine, Sunset would be my first choice.
GREAT FOOD SHOWS:
Anthony Bourdain’s No reservations – Honest, educational, funny and offensive to some, just not me.
The Best thing I Ever Ate – Best non-cooking show on the Food Network, hands down.
Throwdown with Bobby Flay – Fun. I actually like Bobby Flay now. I mostly enjoy seeing him lose, but I like that we get to see the real him. I also love that his two assistants fail to realize that they are on television and don’t care about their hair and make up. Wait, that sounded like a jab. I also like to hear Bobby say “Thwow-down”. He has a little Bawbawa Wawa going on. Hee hee.
Chopped – Sometimes I don’t like that the competitors are nasty to each other. I love that ya never know what ingredients they will have to work with and usually the nice guy wins. I love to see the mean guy lose. Is that mean? (please see my earlier blog post for great tv food talent I have left out here)
SPAIN: Spanish influence is all over the place and I love it! Mussels with Chorizo, blood sausage, escabeche, sardines and Marcona almonds. Ok, the almonds were 2008, but you get the idea.
BAD FOOD SHOWS:
I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t make it on the Food Network after this.
Cupcake Wars – Really? ….Really? People watch this? I tried, but then realized that it was just another train wreck of a reality show. People love drama. I love food.
Worst Cooks in America – What is the point of this show? Drama wins again. I really can’t say more.
Man vs Food: (Travel channel): People love this show. Is food about pleasure or about stuffing your gut until you vomit and win a t-shirt?
Food Feuds: Again, this seems to be a case where they have thrown someone into a role because the formula seems to have done well on another network. I am sure it is really difficult to create good programming, but I do expect more from the Food Network. I learned to cook on the Food Network, after all.
Guy Fieri copy cat shows:
Outrageous Foods with Tom Pizzica: First of all, this guy was a runner up and got his own show anyway. Hmmm. Apparently, he got some good ratings. I am not knocking the guy personally, but his show is exactly like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and he just isn’t Guy Fieri. He seems nice enough, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit.
There is only one “Guy” and he invented the concept. I have lost a little respect for the Food Network for creating shows based on a formula. There are a lot of great ideas out there for shows. I have about four and I am sure you do too. Relax Claudia.
MEAN PEOPLE: Clearly I was bullied as a child. I have a hard time watching any of the reality food competition shows. People are mean. If one guy screws up his dish, the other guy laughs. The camera loves to catch evil gazes, snarls and insults. Does this make for good TV? One thing I loved about Top Chef Masters was that everyone was a professional and no one really needed to knock the other guy to build himself up. My Chiarello was a little snappy with his underlings, but he was just being himself. I feel like there is a general lack of “elegance” and “decorum” when it comes to reality shows across the board.
SMALL PLATES: Small is one thing.. but teeny is another. Do not serve me one scallop and charge me $11. Do not serve me one meatball, unless it is a big meatball. If you want to serve lilliputian dishes then please call them “bites” as some intelligent restaurants do.
CUPCAKES: Please don’t add cupcakes to your menu if you really aren’t a baker. You might as well sell Lotto tickets too because everybody buys them. Leave the cupcakes to the experts. I can taste when there is no passion behind the cupcake. Same goes for pie, hot dogs and noodles. Just because you are bored and have lot’s of money, doesn’t mean you have to open a cupcake shop. Stick to bad clothing stores.
AWARENESS: As I mentioned above.. it is nice that the collective “we” is more concerned with our health, but also be weary of fake “awareness” on the part of food companies. Kosher can be purchased and most foods that say gluten free are naturally gluten free. Many sugary foods are fat free, but packed with sugar, so just be aware.
PORK BELLY: People, the emperor is nude. Pork belly is bacon. I love it, but it is uncured bacon. Poor people have been eating it for centuries. I really love pork belly and was super excited when it began to appear on menus all around, but give the pork belly a rest for a minute. I have also found that many chefs don’t know how to prepare it. I have seen a huge piece served as an entree with zero crispiness. I don’t know about you, but to me, that is almost the equivalent of drinking pork fat. Other places over fry it so you are getting a nice expensive piece of chicharron. Man, writing this really makes me want some.
FOOD BLOGGERS: I get that this concept is somewhat new and I also get that some food bloggers have made it on tv and into magazines, but c’mon man, does everybody need to take pics of their food at a restaurant? I was guilty and still am if I am actually writing about something, but it can be a little off-putting to have someone snapping pics of food while you eat. I have made my dining partners wait until I photograph food. I am surprised they didn’t tell me to take a hike. I don’t even know what to compare the whole food blogging craze to. Do you?
BAD RESTAURANT REVIEWS: People don’t seem to realize that giving a bad review to a restaurant because the the hostess was rude or their table was too close to the kitchen can be very damaging to a new restaurant. It doesn’t really matter once a restaurant has hundreds of reviews because the truth floats to the top, but for a new restaurant, one star can really ruin their average. If you really care about food and the quality of a restaurant, you should call and politely talk to the owner/manager or write an email. If you get no response or a bad response, then Yelp away. Can you imagine if we were rated on our worse day or based on only one aspect of ourselves?
MIXOLOGY: It is sort of something that was very 2009, but could not chill out in 2010. I don’t need cumin in my cocktail. I am all about being creative, but I tasted some concoctions in 2010 that were shocking and shocking. I get that bartenders can be chef-like and very creative. It is sort of like the difference between someone who cuts hair at Fantastic Sams and a Stylist in Beverly Hills. Either way, the attitude is unnecessary. The look on some of these mixologists faces when they prepare a cocktail is priceless and they don’t even deliver the drink with a smile. Give me a bourbon and ginger. Leave out the hand preserved ginger and add a smile instead.