Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Veggie Garden Project: Version 2.0


Kate the Zucchini
For me, loving something means sooner or later learning more about the elements that make it what it is, as that increases my appreciation of it that much more. This is certainly the case when it comes to my approach to food. For that reason, I got really into learning how to make my own bread, my own cheese, my own tortillas, and so forth at different points over the years. Then recently, I've discovered that I also enjoy growing vegetables.

Really, let me tell you that there's nothing more rewarding than watching something you nurtured grow from a tiny seedling into a flourishing plant. There's also nothing that tastes better than a salad made from freshly harvested greens and veggies that you grew yourself. For that reason, I think every chef ought to at least attempt  to grow their own produce at least once in their lifetime. It gets you in touch with your food and your craft in a way nothing else really can.

I grew my very first veggie garden ever when we were still living in Montana and I really couldn't believe how simple it was to maintain. I also couldn't believe how much produce the thing produced, even though it was literally just a modest corner of cleared land in the back yard. There were salad greens, zucchini, and corn... almost too much garden bounty to even eat it all, but it was amazing. It was nice to be able to know for a fact just how the vegetables were grown, whether or not any pesticides were used, and so forth as well.

Fred the Jalapeño
We didn't get a chance to repeat the experiment last spring and summer, as we were planning our move to California at the time. However, we have decided to grow at least a few plants this year. At this point we have two, a zucchini and a jalapeño. We're going to attempt growing them in pots this time because of the massive gopher problem we have in this area of California, but so far both plants seem to be pretty happy with their little lives.

As you no doubt realize, we've even named them, as their being in pots somehow makes them seem more like individuals. They're actually named after two of the band members of The B-52's, one of my favorite bands. I am sure that if we acquire any other plants, the names will follow suit. I can't wait until these produce their first harvest and I get to share what I cook with it. It seems like it's a really long way off right now, but with the way time flies, I'll be making stuffed jalapeños thanks to Fred and zucchini lasagna thanks to Kate before I know it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Whisky, Sliders and Chowder: Oh, My!


If you're on my Facebook list or know me through Examiner, then you may already know this, but your friend Cat just so happened to have had something really fun and interesting happen to her recently! Based on the strength of my Monterey Chef Recipes column, I was recently invited to attend a sit-down whisky tasting for Crown Royal. Said whisky tasting was actually the 3rd Annual Crown Jewel Tasting that has become the official kick-off to rodeo season here in the Monterey area to boot, so if you live here, you already know this is kind of a big deal. Very cool stuff!

I've been a writer ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil and I've been a professional writer and journalist in one capacity or another for a good six years or so. However, everything I've done for clients or as an official member of the press so far has been on a remote basis via the internet. Local food and spirits journalism that involves events and establishments in my immediate area is a newer venture for me, so this was actually the first time I've been invited to physically be somewhere and partake in the festivities.

The five Crown Royal marques we were invited to taste.
This was also actually my first official whisky tasting. At this point, I know quite a bit about wines, beers and related pairings. I've been to a few tastings in regards to those things as well. However, whisky was definitely a subject I would have liked to know more about, making this an extra fortunate opportunity for me. Above are the five different marques Crown Royal is currently offering. From right to left, they are Crown Cask No. 16, Crown Royal Black, Crown Royal Deluxe, Crown Royal Reserve, and Crown Royal XR.

I've created a pretty thorough journalistic write-up for Examiner on all of these already. (If interested, please see my Examiner article Kicking off rodeo season at the 3rd Annual Crown Jewel Whisky Tasting.) It includes a brief background on each whisky, tasting notes, my personal recommendations for recipe use or pairings, and then also some suggestions from Steve Beal, the Master of Whisky who led us in the tasting and whom I had the opportunity to sit down and interview later in the evening.

Me interviewing Senior Master of Whisky, Steve Beal
In fact, here is a photo of me during the interview. I've done some interviewing before, but this is the first time I've had a chance to actually sit down in person with someone of this caliber and pick their brain. Mr. Beal is not only a Senior Master of Whisky, but he also studied culinary arts in France.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience to get to sit down and speak with someone who was so knowledgeable in regards to not only spirits, but also food. Since I'm a food writer, it was important to me to get the skinny on the best ways to pair these whiskies with dishes or to cook with them and this guy sure knew his stuff. Seriously, check out the article I linked to above so that I can pass on everything I learned to you. It will make me very happy and you'll learn a lot, too.

Clam chowder and roast beef slider 
Of course, no event would be complete without food. After the whisky tasting, we were treated to dinner and dessert. That's mine right there --roast beef sliders on a multi-grain bun and some lovely clam chowder. The slider was juicy and succulent without being so juicy the bun was soggy. The clam chowder was just heavenly. It had rosemary and carrot in it, which I'm not used to in clam chowder. However, I really enjoyed what those things added to this and will have to experiment with that in the future.

I wish for the life of me that I could remember which of the restaurants around here did the catering, but alas... I didn't really catch the name of the establishment. I do know that it was one of the local pubs though, which doesn't surprise me. I love the pub food here in this area and I really missed it while I was away living elsewhere. I will be making it my mission to track down that chowder again though so I can pimp out the people who made it. Seriously... it was A+.

Locally-made cupcakes with whisky baked right in
Then here was dessert. Again, I wish I'd caught the name of the bakery these came from, because they were amazing -- light, fluffy, and very unique. They had Crown Cask No. 16 cooked right in to the frosting, as I was told. However, I was pretty sure I detected some baked into the cake part as well. The ones on the left have chocolate-covered coffee beans on them and the others have cherries. Not being this huge whisky expert prior to attending this event, it had never occurred to me that you could successfully bake it into any kind of sweet without it tasting out of place, but let me assure that you can. I will have to explore this idea more thoroughly in the future.

And that's the story of my first ever in-person event in attendance as an official member of the press! I had the most amazing time and I really hope this is the first of many opportunities like this. I love food and I love food writing every bit as much, so it was hard to believe that I was technically working while I was here. However, that is -- as they say -- the way it should be, no?