Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Stories Beat Stuff 3 US - Another Chance for a Trip to New Zealand!

I’m still working closely with Tourism New Zealand in their quest to get readers to experience one of their exciting adventures – for free! The options continue to get more and more exciting and this campaign offers two trips I’d love to go on.

Option No. 1 is called Culture Kaboom and it gives you the chance to explore both the culture and the landscape of New Zealand. You’ll start by landing in a city built over 50 volcanoes and then you will head east to actually see steaming geysers, boiling mud pools and a hot water beach. This area also happens to be the center of Maori culture so you can experience real New Zealand hospitality while you hang out with locals visiting a marae and digging a hangi. To get a glimpse of this breathtaking land, check out this video.

Option No. 2 is City Splendour and that’s just what it is. You will have a chance to explore New Zealand’s largest cities – Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. The itinerary includes everything from eating at the hottest restaurants and visiting a downtown club, to whale watching and seeing kiwi birds in the wild. This video can show you more of New Zealand’s top cities.

Like the previous Stories Beat Stuff campaigns, this one is all about proving how much you want it. You can win this trip for you and three of your friends  (valued at $20,000-30,000) by creating a video or photo entry for the trip of your choice. Your creation must show (or talk about) a physical object you would trade for this trip of a lifetime. Then, have your friends share and vote for your creation. Here’s one of the winning videos from the first campaigns if you need an idea of where to start.

If you aren’t feeling overly creative, you can still be a part of the fun by voting for your favorite entry.You might even win two tickets of your own to fly to New Zealand.

Good luck and I hope at least one of my readers can have a glass of sauvignon blanc for me in New Zealand!

Sponsored Post

Monday, August 27, 2012

Partying Away at Aspen Food and Wine Classic

Food and wine festivals are always busy days, but I took on quite a bit for Saturday at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. I had five parties to get to and I was determined to see, taste and listen to as much as possible.

We started the day at the Whole Foods Fishmonger Face-Off, which certainly wins the prize as the most unusual event at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic. There were 11 fishmongers from Whole Foods Market stories around the country competing to cut their fish quickly and accurately, as well as answer trivia questions by Chef John Besh that helped educate the audience on making responsible choices on seafood.

As you can imagine, there wasn’t much to eat for someone with a fish allergy, but I had Lisa to do the tasting (she raved about everything, especially the Rockfish Pontchartran with Chanterelle and Blue Crab) and I knew there would be plenty of things to save my appetite for and nibbled on some scrumptious mushroom tarts.

Aspen Peak Magazine definitely knows how to throw a party and I was glad Lisa and I got an invite to the Carte Blanche event. It was a private event and we had our own musical entertainment by the phenomenal Bella Betts. At 11 years old, the daughter of famed sommelier Richard Betts decided she wanted to make it on her own and made an album funded by Kickstarter.

Less than a year later, she’s playing her music everywhere, including songs she writes herself. I was just blown away by the talent of this young girl.

It was an A-list crowd that included singer John Oates , an Aspen resident who Lisa couldn’t wait to meet. We dined on everything from falafels to lobster rolls, with some terrific Carte Blanche wines.

By the time we got back to the Bed and Breakfast, we had just enough time to shower and change for the evening’s festivities. We drove up the mountain to the Swine at the Mine party.  It was quite a view from Smugglers Mountain and we walked around for awhile just taking in the views.

Although I was content on the outside, Lisa actually even got me to go inside the mine, which turned out to be more interesting than I thought.

We posed for some photos and had some wine. The Infinite Monkey Rose in a can was a unique idea and very refreshing. Since I’m not much of a beer drinker, I loved the idea of making wine as casual and portable. We showed our approval for it by getting matching Infinite Monkey Theorem tattoos!

They certainly made use of the swine at this party. We enjoyed the Roasted Pork Belly Tacos and Handmade Garlic Sausage. There was also Pork Rilette and additional side dishes to complete the “Pork Six Ways” presented by Masterpiece Delicatessen.

I left Lisa at Smuggler’s Mountain while I headed to the Food & Wine Classic 30th Anniversary Party and Elvis Costello concert. I didn’t make it in time for the actual party, but I did get seated before the concert began. It was a wonderful concert, with the whole audience signing along through most of it and the chefs down in the front row dancing in the aisles!

The night ended at the Belvedere After Party, where I definitely danced the night away. The place was packed with celebrity chefs like Andrew Zimmern, journalists (I finally got to meet Food & Wine’s Dana Corwin and dance a bit with my Aspen Peak editor Erin Letz) and lots of Aspen regulars. I discovered Belvedere Lemon Tea and tonic, a drink I would soon not forget.

I was more than ready to call it a night when the party was over, but I had made it through the biggest partying night of the year and the next day was going to be a lot easier. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tastes of Aspen Food & Wine Classic

I walked around Aspen for a while enjoying the warm day deciding what to do with the two hours I had free. Since I’ve been to a few of these food and wine festivals I know that it’s pretty impossible to do the Grand Market all at once. There’s just more food and drink than any person can consume. I decided to make more than one trip and headed downtown for my first.

The Food & Wine Classic market wasn’t nearly as big as South Beach, but there was certainly plenty to try. I stopped at the British Airways table to find out more about how the chefs prepare food that works well with the plane’s altitude. I can’t say I fully understood the process, but it seemed to come together on my recent trip to London on that airline.

Can you think of a better combination than Godiva Chocolate and ice cream? Godiva Chef David Funarc took it one step further by giving his Godiva Ice Cream Parlor Truffles flavors like Banana Split, Pecan Caramel Sundae and Rocky Road.

The Wines of Spain tent included not only a fantastic selection of Tempranillo, Albariño and other Spanish varietals, but also cheese tasting.

The Best New Chefs named by Food and Wine Magazine had their own tribute and area to cook some of their award-winning recipes.

If you see Kay wine not only has an interesting name and intriguing bottle, but I liked their fruity Cab blend from Italy. For an entirely different take on “boxed wine,” try Volare, which comes in a pocketbook case. The Pinot Grigio wasn’t bad and the pocketbook holds the equivalent of two bottles for $14.99.

Kitchen Aid had their entire Cook for a Cure appliances on display. These pink items acknowledge the relationship between the cookware company and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer for the Cure organization.

I didn’t want to eat too much because I had a luncheon to go to, but did take a few of Green & Black Organic Chocolates to go (love the real cherry pieces in the Chocolate-Cherry, as well as the Ginger one). The StellaArtois Best of Belgium Press luncheon started with Hoegaarten with an asparagus, scallops and lobster dish. My friend Lisa was with me and she hard at work tasting the beer (it’s not my favorite beverage), as well as eating the seafood. She didn’t seem mind the task and also enjoyed the sushi dish with Stella, while I checked out the cheese and fruit platter.

Chef Daniel Joly prepared the food for the event to pair with the beers. I thought the gnocchi with lamp was a great combination, and the Open Chicken Crepe was delicious. The Stella Artois party ended with a Decadent Chocolate Dessert and miniature crème brulees. A few bites of two of my favorites were all I could manage after the morning of eating.

We headed back to the B&B for a short nap before the Zonin Prosecco tasting at Casa Lua. I really enjoyed the sparkling wine and wished we had time to sample some more of the company’s Italian wines, but we had another party to get to.

Fly, Drive and Reside was sponsored by Mercedes, Veuve Cliquot and Timbers Resorts. We were on the rooftop of the Dancing Bear in time for a beautiful sunset and lots of champagne. Lisa and I mingled for a while and enjoyed the scenic views. The night was just perfect, not too hot and not a chill in the air. It was hard to leave, but I had another party to get to.

Gail Simmons’ Last Bite, Late Night Dessert Party was at the Hotel Jerome and it was as sweet as it sounds. Even the drinks at the Late Night Dessert Party were decadent. I went for the Espressotini with Patron XO Café Dark Cocoa, Patron XO Café and Fonte Espresso. It certainly woke me up!

Harry & David supplied a selection of Moose Munch and Bark, with flavors such as Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroon and Cherry Vanilla. The mini cupcakes and mini doughnuts (bittersweet chocolate, yum) were on a looking like they would be rolled around the room. The Roasted Vanilla Peach Hand Pies made me glad I hadn’t had any dinner before I came.

It was pretty late when I got out of there, but I was on quite a sugar high and not ready to hit the sack. Before calling it a night, Lisa and I met up with a friend at Belly Up to hear some great live music. It was a comfortable venue and I wish I had the energy to stay until the end of the show and the closing of the club, but I was coming down from the sweets. It had been a long day and I had an even longer one to come. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Intro to Aspen Food & Wine Classic

I’ve been attending the Food Network South Beach Food &Wine Festival and the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival for years, so when the opportunity came up to cover the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, I was excited. I had heard nothing but good things about this event and was ready for my first trip to Aspen.

It wasn’t easy getting to Aspen. I had to take three flights just to get to Vail, where I was meeting my friend Lisa. She had decided to drive up and the timing worked out perfectly to pick me up at the airport and make the scenic one and a half hour trip to our bed & breakfast in Aspen.

We didn’t arrive until about 9:00 pm and had to change quickly to get to two of the first night’s parties. The first was downtown on the rooftop of the Dancing Bear. We saw Rick Bayless, but most of the other guests had already departed by the time we arrived, so we just stayed a short while before getting back in the car and heading up the mountain.

The Jose Andres Wines of Spain Party was at a private mansion (currently listed for sale at $28 million) that was as spectacular on the inside as it was when we pulled up to the valet in the driveway. We went to the bar to try Jose’s Sour before sampling some wines and the barbecue of chorizo, skirt steak and some of the best pork sliders I’ve had.

Lots of the celebrity chefs were at the party, including Marcus Samuelsson, Giada de Laurentis, Tom Cocchlio and Andrew Zimmern, who I had met in South Beach and interviewed recently for an article. It was a fun atmosphere as the “official” festival had not started and everyone was pretty relaxed.

We left the party around midnight to get some sleep for a very early wake up call. Lisa had agreed to run the 5K with Bobby Flay charity run and I was in charge of taking the photos.  Despite the fact that she hadn’t been running regularly and hadn’t really adjusted to the altitude, she did pretty well in the race. The real winner, though, was Samuelsson, who was the first chef to cross the finish line.

After the race, the runners were treated to a breakfast of Pure Protein bars, Figi Water, bagels and champagne.  Lisa hung out for a bit while I went down to a local breakfast hangout called Poppycock for a fun interview with Belvedere head Vodka’s Head of spirit creation and mixology, Claire Smith. We had a great time and I left ready to face a full day (and night) of Aspen Food & Wine Classic activities – after a downed some of Poppycock’s famous Old Fashion Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Taking in More Views and Tastes of Chicago

One of my Chicago bucket list items for the longest time was to have dinner up on The Terrace at Trump and watch the fireworks over Navy Pier. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but it did turn out even better than I expected.

I was with Cocktails and Joints publisher Dale Winespeare for some meetings (and eating) in Chicago. We were staying at The Trump and had plans for dinner at The Terrace. Unfortunately, it was a windy night and it was closed off, but we ended up with a tour that finished in front of a perfect window table., which still provided a perfect view.

We didn’t have to make any decisions as Executive Chef Michael Fiddler was ready with a sampling of the menu he created for the summer season. We started with some cocktails from the creative menu, I with a delicious Exotic Ginger (Belvedere, St. Germain, Cointreau, muddled ginger, white cranberry juice and lime) and Dale with a Berry Genever (Bols Genever, lilac, lemon and muddled blackberry) he really enjoyed.

My first taste turned out to be my very favorite item on the table. The Garden Salwich was a combination of burrata, fried eggplant, pequillo, pesto, tomato compote, arugula and smoked olive oil aioli on a grilled polenta bread, drizzled with balsamic. It was filled with fresh ingredients.

At first I thought the sliders and potatoes sounded a bit boring as compared to some of the other offerings, but when I tasted these Wagyu Beef concoctions with Prairie cheddar cheese and homemade ketchup, served with potatoes in blue cheese, I quickly changed my mind.

Dale got to try the fish dishes, which included Thai Fish Tacos. The fish was in a curry sauce that also had papaya and coconut milk. He really liked them, but not as much as the Lobster Babies. These lobster sandwiches contain shallots and tarragon for an extra special taste.

Before we had actual dessert, we tried some of the Adult Ice Pops. I thought the Passion Colada was a bit too sweet, but the Sangria Rouge was excellent, as was everything in the next course, from the Mandarin Vanilla Float (Goose Island Vanilla Soda and Combier Orange Liquor) to the Caramel Nutella Cones (with Twelve Caramel Ice Cream and salted hazelnuts).

I stayed in a one bedroom suite at The Trump for the night, working out in the morning and holding off on breakfast for our next stop – Glazed and Infused.  It’s not difficult to get me to have any type of cake for breakfast, though no one has ever presented me with a selection like this! Pastry Chef Christine McCabe presented us with a selection of doughnuts like I’ve never seen before. Then she sat down to explain about how she uses natural ingredients, fresh fruits and makes the doughnuts so they absorb less of the Tran fat free oil.

The feast in front of me contained Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Ganache; Old Fashioned Buttermilk; Raspberry Jelly-Filled; Peanut Butter & Jelly; Luscious Lemon (Dale’s Favorite); Apple Fritter; Crème Brulee; Chocolate Four (my favorite); and Maple Bacon Long John (the customers’ favorite).

I was happy to have a few hours to walk and work before my final meal of this Chicago trip. That last eatery was Mercat a la Planxa inside the Blackstone Hotel. It was my second experience eating at a Chef Jose Garces restaurant.  (I ate at Distrito while in Scottsdale).  Like that restaurant, Mercat a la Planxa had a menu filled with unusual Latin food and drinks.