Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Food Media Forum 2013

It is really awful that it has taken me this long to write about such a fantastic weekend at the Food Media Forum back in early August at the Culinary Institute of St. Louis. I had skipped the first year because I really wasn’t too sure what it was about, but this year, I won a free entry thanks to a contest that I entered!

The conference is really the best of both worlds…foodies, food critics, chefs, restaurant owners, and local media were all available for speaking. Not to mention we were QUITE well fed three times a day! Not too many other conferences can say that! But really the best part of the conference was meeting so many people and making new friends, especially those that I had only known online.

All the meals were prepared by the culinary students so I made sure to thank them for working so hard to feed all of us on a weekend. Saturday morning we started off with waffles (with chocolate chips!), scones, egg strata, and potatoes. While at breakfast, I met a woman from Alaska who was sponsoring the event (and lunch) by Copper River.

Coho Salmon and Corn Chowder
I also met Ann Pollack, formerly married to local restaurant critic Joe Pollack, and a critic herself. I felt bad I did not recognize her, but she had quite a few things to say about restaurant writing and luckily I was able to attend her session during the conference.

I went to a lot of sessions throughout the weekend and while I have pages upon pages of notes, I hope to just hit the highlights. Yet, the first session was actually my favorite session, probably because it was most applicable: “Ethical restaurant reviewing”. I have been gently “encouraged” not to post anything negative in my food writing and that since I’m not a “critic” or a “reviewer”, I should be careful what I say and how I position my writing.

This session was a panel of restaurant owners and two professional food critics. They all admitted to the power of blogs these days, and yet they are afraid it may unfairly dilute the quality of the review. One point I definitely agree on  is to not write about a restaurant during a soft opening, or even when it’s first starting out (if you ask me). It’s better to let the restaurant get settled first. While chefs do read what the average blogger might say, they really just look at the overall view point. And don’t be mean since those kinds of comments don’t really help.

Next up was “How to adapt recipes to special diets”, which was a panel with a vegetarian (STLVegGirl), a woman on a gluten-free diet, and another on the “paleo” diet. The best part of this session was that all three ways of eating (not really a diet) are very similar and are geared towards eating healthy, nutrient-dense, non-processed foods to help fight disease.

At lunch time, the highlight was meeting my online nemeses MC Charcuterie! We started out with much debate “pig vs cheese”, but it turns out that the woman has one of the best collections of cheese in her refrigerator drawers out of anyone I know!


After lunch, I went to another applicable class, “Food Blog Design”, by one of my food blogging heroes, Stefani Pollack. I got to talk to Stefani in depth while standing in line for lunch and she is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. The best part about being able to make money from her blog is that she now has a lot more time to spend with her children. That was really inspiring.

The last three classes of the first day were about food photography and I definitely know very little about it. I struggle with whether or not to use a flash and I'm sure you've seen some awful pictures on my blog. I learned a lot, especially from famous local photographer, Jonathan Pollack (Stefani’s husband), but it’s really hard to do much with your camera phone while you’re at a restaurant. Without it, it seems too dark…with it on, the image gets whited out. I probably need to take those sessions again next year.

The first day ended with a goodies bag CHOCK FULL of stuff (everything from BBQ sauce to cake decorating tools) and a happy hour catered by Chipotle with Schlafly beer!

Now that I knew what to expect Sunday morning, I made sure to arrive on time for another filling breakfast.

As someone who is still trying to figure out how to monetize my blog, I found the 9AM “Selling Ads and Ad Networks” very useful. I had no idea there were “ad networks” that you could join as an easy way to get ads onto your site. Several ad networks include Federated Media, BlogHer, Platefull, Glam Media, and Martha's Circle. It was recommended that you should be in at least two networks to ensure that you constantly have ads appearing on your site at all times. Also, it was recommended to add “related posts” to your site to keep eyeballs there and increase page views.

Caryn Dugan, STLVegGirl, gave a 10AM talk about how to do a TV food demo. Caryn has become quite an expert after all her sessions on morning TV.

Another super useful session for me was the 11AM talk on “Affiliate Marketing”. I had no idea that some bloggers could really make a lot of money and Monica Matheny, with help from her computer expert son, was able to do very well through Amazon's affiliate marketing program. Unfortunately, a week later, Amazon announced they were ceasing all payments going forward so it is unsure if it will be reinstated.

The 1PM session was given by another familiar face, Angela Ortmann, STLwinegirl, who talked about branding. That's a pretty wide topic so Angie shared her opinion and gave some great advice from her point of view. She suggested that you shouldn't compare yourself to others, be unique, and find a niche to set yourself apart. Be a go-to person and a resource in your field. Build relationships and mentorships with others, so that it's a win-win situation for both parties. Face to face interaction goes a lot farther than just social media and use it to tell your unique, memorable, and compelling story. Be authentic, honest, and factual, which will help with loyalty in the long run. Say yes, be flexible, and experiment.

I got to meet some more of my writing heros in the 2PM “Freelance Writing” session. All the panelists had great experience writing for local publications and had a lot of tips. They suggested filling a niche, use good writing, and be able to meet deadlines. Don't write the same story for multiple publications and use your blog as a resume for editors to see your writing. Keep the focus on your story. Use social media to promote your work. Spell correctly and triple-check your work for typos. Send pitches to editors that are personalized, and explain how you can add value to a publication.

I did attend the 3PM session “WordPress 101” hoping to learn something new, but I think I have all the basics down. Unfortunately, how to host your site is a major debate for a lot of people still.

Resources:

St. Louis Food Media Forum = http://www.foodmediaforum.com/
Other Blogs:

Every Little Thing = http://www.everylittlethingblog.com/2013/08/food-media-forum-wrap-up-2013/

St. Lou Eats = http://stloueats.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/food-media-forum-night-one/

Katie's Pizza & Pasta

Normally I try to follow the unwritten rule of not writing about a place that has just opened but I am hoping that it's OK to break the rule if you think the food is just fantastic!

And since this is Katie's second location, it's not totally "brand new", but I was excited to try Katie's pasta, which is new at this location.
 
I was thrilled to see several burrata listed on the menu and started my lunch with the Mixed Wood Mushroom Burrata, all lightly covered with a balsamic dressing. 
 
Then I tried the artichoke salad and the artichokes looked just like flowers amongst all the feta cheese and greens. It was almost too pretty to eat and I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of it.
 
Those two together were probably enough for a proper lunch, but I wasn't done yet. The Tagliatelle with prawns, mussels, clams, monkfish, and chili peppers caught my attention. The noodles were a dark color and had a bite at the end, catching me off guard, from the chili peppers mixed in. 


Tagliatelle
My coworker was also kind enough to share a bite of his cured meat pizza. If you love meat on every inch of your pizza, this is for you!
 
The inside of the space is just beautiful. Different tables and chairs, paper lamp shades, living walls, and an open kitchen. What a wonderful spot!
 
Resources:
 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Libertine for Dinner

I finally made it back to the Libertine for dinner but I forgot that Josh Galliano's famous fried chicken is only served on certain Sundays of the month. So I will have to go back again. Yet, this really worked out well because I got to check out the full dinner menu. Let's just say I was quite overwhelmed by all the choices listed. Even my friend who I was with changed her mind several times before she finally decided.

My friend probably did it the best way by choosing a smaller dish first and then a main course. She started with the She-Crab Soup that was just as thick as any bisque. The pan roasted cauliflower was also delicious with a light balsamic-like dressing.

I was very tempted by the fish courses on the menu but I wanted to test Chef Galliano's southern style cooking so I chose the Shrimp & Andouille. The three shrimp were cleverly hidden inside crawfish heads, while the sausage chunks were already cut into a proper size and weren't too spicy for me!

I did think both “main courses” were on the small side, so I do wish I had also picked a “starter”. The smaller courses really aren't designated although you can tell more so by the prices. Instead the menu is separated into meat, seafood, and vegetable. 

Another tough choice we had was whether or not to go with cocktails or wine. I was really curious about their cocktail list so I tried the "Tom Waits For No Man". The citrusy flavors helped to smooth out the dry finish.

One advantage to the smaller portion size was that it meant I had plenty of room for dessert and I immediately knew I wanted The Libertine Candy Bar one more time. Since I had company, I also picked out a second dessert, the Pumpkin Pie. It was incredibly soft and creamy, and came with a Maple Bacon and Bourbon ice cream. Now I'm all ready for Thanksgiving!

Resources:

PW Pizza Goose Island Beer Dinner

I attended my second PW Pizza Beer Dinner in a row this month since I am a huge Goose Island fan. I am a little sad that they are no longer a “craft brewery”, but they still make beers I really enjoy.

I first got hooked on the 312 Urban Wheat Ale since it's so light and easy to drink. It was a great way to start off the evening as it was paired with a mixed green salad and went into the vinaigrette dressing as well.

Slightly heavier, yet still very smooth, the Honker's Ale was a good pairing for the Prosciutto Pizza. There actually was a little too much meat on the pizza, making it a bit too salty. I'm sure you can guess that I picked off a lot of the piggy.

My favorite pizza of the night was the House-Made Chorizo Pizza on PW's famous Honey Wheat Crust. While the chorizo was supposed to give the pizza a little bit of a kick, it was very subtle so the kalamata olives and rich tomato sauce stood out for me. This was paired with an IPA, which I thought was a little too overpowering, but I am biased since I'm not really an IPA fan in general. I actually continued drinking the Honker's Ale instead.

The last course was really my favorite since a cheese course was used in place of dessert and it was paired with one of my favorite "ladies", or Matilda, who has a light and tangy finish.

Goose Island and cheese!
 

Menu - Photo by Beth Sorrell

Resources:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

STLVegGirl Vegetarian Party

Since Patience and her friends have so many special diets among them, which includes a couple of vegetarians and some gluten-free folks, I figured that the best way to make everyone happy was to throw a STLVegGirl Vegetarian Party.

While I love dining out, I now understand how hard it can be to “find something you can eat” when you venture out to a new restaurant. While STLVegGirl (aka Caryn Dugan) doesn’t regularly focus on gluten-free, she had no problem coming up with ways to work around wheat items in her menu as well. What was really satisfying was to hear our friends say they were full by the end of the night. Sure beats trying to put side dishes together to make a meal!

I decided to start with STLVegGirl’s world-famous hummus, which uses tahini paste and tamari as the secret ingredients, and instead of using pita chips, STLVegGirl was thoughtful enough to purchase a bag of gluten-free chips instead. This way my guests had something to snack on as Caryn worked on the next course, Zucchini Sliders with Herbed Mayo.

I had seen STLVegGirl create these sliders on a local morning show and I wanted to try them for myself. The sliders usually get their thickness from bread crumbs, but since we were going gluten-free, STLVegGirl brought gluten-free bread and we made our own. (We also skipped out on the mini-rolls to make a sandwich.) My other favorite ingredient was the 21 Salute seasoning (found at Trader Joe’s) that was mixed tino the Veganese, that replaced regular mayo.

Next up was the “dinner” course and STLVegGirl started us off with a Crunchy Kale Tahini Salad. The tahini paste and tamari showed up again in the dressing for the salad, but my favorite salad ingredient was the “feta cheese” made from firm tofu. My other favorite cheese substitute that was used is nutrional yeast, which gives foods a cheesy nutty flavor. I have used it in the past to mix in with pasta sauce.

We finished the night with Italian Tempeh Meatballs, which could also be made into a meatloaf if you prefer. The “meat” was actually tempeh, a fermented soybean cake, and was chopped up into chunks. All your usual meatball seasonings and marinara sauce can be added like usual. Again, to avoid the bread (for a meatball sandwich), we just used toothpicks and forks.

If you wish to throw your own vegetarian party, or are interested in classes or a personal chef, all of STLVegGirl’s contact information can be found on her website listed below. STLVegGirl can be found on Facebook and Twitter as well!



Resources:

STLVegGirl = http://www.stlveggirl.com

Schlafly Brew Master Beer Dinner

I have attended a couple of beer dinners in the past, but I was especially looking forward to this one since Schlafly is one of my favorite local breweries. While this one wasn’t as fancy as the ones in the past, I really did enjoy PW Pizza as the food pairings since I enjoy their pizza so much.y looking fore past but I was especial Beer
 
These PW Pizza beer dinners are priced at $24.99 (before tax and tip added when you pay), which is quite a reasonable for the four courses. I really thought I could pace myself, but I still ended up quite full. There was enough pizza for everyone to have 2-3 (half-sized) slices for the pizza courses and I probably should have stopped at 2 slices each to have more room for dessert!
 
The first course was well paired with the Kolsch and the Mixed Greens. Kolsch is light enough for me to drink regularly so of course it’s the salad course. Hehe
 
My favorite pizza was the Shrimp and Spinach since it was on the Honey Wheat Crust, although the second pizza tasted much like BBQ chicken, which I love, but I had to pick off all the bacon bits. While we both love the Oktoberfest, neither Patience nor I could stand the Tasmanian IPA. You either love the hoppy stuff or you don’t!
 
As for pumpkin crème brulee…yes..it tasted just as delicious as it sounds! It was paired with a Schwarzbier (which means dark beer) and I was surprised that a heavier beer could have such a smooth finish.
 
For you beer lovers, everyone gets a tasting-sized (4 ounce) pour and we often poured our own samples from a pitcher for the whole table. So there was definitely no shortage of beer!
 
1st Course
Mixed Greens
Roasted Butternut Squash, Spiced Pecans, Parmesan, Tart Apple Vinaigrette
Paired with Kolsch
 
2nd Course
Shrimp & Spinach Pizza
Honey Wheat Crust, Red Onion, Goat Cheese, Tomato Sauce
Paired with Oktoberfest
 
3rd Course
Roasted Chicken & Bacon Pizza
Original Curst, Pineapple, Mixed Mushroom, Cheddar Jack, Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Paired with Tasmanian IPA
 
4th Course
Pumpkin Crème Brulee
Paired with Schwarzbier


 
 
Resources: