Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Great Arizona Picnic

By: Bethany Bonomolo

As part of the 37th annual Scottsdale Culinary Festival, we were lucky enough to attend one of the main events: the Great Arizona Picnic. The Great Arizona Picnic features samplings from many local restaurants, chef demonstrations, live music and a host of other culinary vendors. Other events in the six day festival include themed cocktail parties, luxurious dinners and contests, all designed to raise funds for the Scottsdale League for the Arts.

When we arrived at the picnic, we didn’t know where to start. We needed a plan, or did we? Should we study the map to find out what all of our tasting options were or just wander aimlessly through the beautiful shaded and grassy areas amidst the sparkling fountains with culinary delights lurking around every bend?

We decided to just wander and started with Grimaldi’s pizza, fine thin crust with just the right amount of cheese. We moved on to Sushi Roku and sampled the most delightful salmon poke with avocado served in a delightful lightly fried wonton.

Next, was Spinato’s pizza, always fresh with the perfect amount of sweetness in the sauce. After a nice rest on the grass enjoying some of the local musical talent, we headed to Roka Akor, where we enjoyed a mouthwatering salmon skewer cooked to perfection and served with a wonderful tidbit of pickled cucumber. As a little palate cleanser, we sampled some authentic Italian ice which was perfectly delicious. Next, we moved on to Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers and sampled their cheeseburger sliders, which were mouthwateringly fresh and juicy right hot off the grill.

Next we decided to head into the Southwest Festival of beers. Who doesn’t like to taste a bunch of fantastic beers from all over the country? We passed up some of the beers we've already tried and headed to Angels Trumpet Ale booth to sample the Strawberry Blond and the Mandarin Wheat. They were both crisp, cold and delicious and served up by the great folks from Uncle Bears Brewery in Ahwatukee. We made our way around sampling a few IPAs, (all too hoppy for my taste), a few brews from Montana and Oregon and a few delightful apple ales.

All in all, it was quite a successful afternoon of grazing and talking and enjoying the wonderful bands that played at the various stages in the beautiful Scottsdale Civic Center Plaza. Looking forward to next year.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fromager d'Affinois Cheese Review

By: Brandi O'Neil

I will take almost any opportunity to eat cheese so I jumped at the chance to sample three specialty cheeses made by Fromagerie Guilloteau. The cheeses are made in France and use cow's milk which give them a smooth and creamy texture, similar to brie. Known as a double-cream cheese, they yield a higher protein and calcium content.

My family's favorite of the bunch was the blue cheese which we enjoyed on both burgers and crumbled into salads. With a pungent scent, the blue cheese is robust and full flavored. I think the best use for this cheese would be in dressing form. 

We also sampled the herb cheese which had a mild yet bold smell, with a pleasant herbaceous taste. It paired best with a glass of wine and crostini/crackers. 

Finally, the pepper cheese which I was hoping would have a kick, was surprisingly tame and mellow with a mild black pepper taste. Stuffed into mini sweet peppers, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in the oven at 350* for 20 minutes, it made a good looking appetizer. Even though it lacked the kick I was hoping for it was still delicious and creamy. The best way to enjoy this cheese would be on a cracker, dressed up with a thin slice of pear. 

Overall the various cheeses are of great quality and can be eaten as a quick protein filled snack or at a cocktail party paired with a glass of wine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Peas with Pecorino & Mint

By: The Food Hunter

Sweet & succulent peas are not only the epitome of springtime they are also a nutrition powerhouse. It is said that eating peas can improve heart health, protect your eyes and help meet daily iron needs. 

The recipe below features one of my favorite food combinations; sweet peas with mint. The shaved pecorino adds a hint of nuts to the flavor profile, but don't hesitate to substitute with another cheese like goat, feta or even blue. Serve alongside your preferred cut of meat for a quick hassle-free meal.

Peas with Pecorino & Mint
2 cups water
1 cup shelled green peas (frozen is fine)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup shaved fresh pecorino cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add peas; cook 1-2 minute and drain.

Combine peas and mint in a skillet over low heat. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss to coat and allow it to heat through. Remove from pan and sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 13, 2015

SaltRock Southwest Kitchen at The Amara Resort Sedona

By: The Food Hunter

Set back from the main road that runs through beautiful Sedona is the recently remodeled Amara Resort & Spa. The tree lined Kimpton property on the banks of Oak Creek has recently undergone an extensive remodel. The new look is modern-native with detailed accents throughout the property and in the guests rooms, that match the surrounding dessert terrain.

The resort's beautiful heated negative edge pool is located off the lobby and offers amazing views of the red rocks.

There's also a large grassy courtyard with comfy chairs and fire pits. This is a perfect spot to relax with a good book or enjoying a craft margarita or agave cocktail from the hotel's signature restaurant SaltRock Southwest Kitchen.

Under the helm of Chef Massimo De Francesca, SaltRock delivers Southwest style cuisine using only the freshest ingredients. The menu is fun and casual offering items like a make it yourself guacamole kit, tortillas and deviled eggs along with more formal entrees. Dine outdoors for unspoiled views or indoors where live music is offered every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Chef Massimo prepared for us a 10+ course tasting menu showcasing some of the more popular menu items, starting with the house made yucca rolls and salsa.

Deviled eggs are served on a bed of whole grain mustard and topped with a bacon onion marmalade and pasilla-maple syrup. A small bite that packs a powerful flavor punch.

Next up was a delicious corn duo. Grilled corn soup with cilantro creme and tortilla strips was served with a side of grilled corn on top of spicy aioli sprinkled with cotija cheese. Being a huge corn fan this was one of my favorite tastings.

The corn was followed by pine needle smoked oyster mushrooms topped with a pine nut gremolata and a smear of Mexican chocolate. With the pine needles still smoking on the plate, this was by far one of the coolest food presentations I've seen in awhile.

The fried yucca marinated in mojo was served with a queso blanco dipping sauce. This was a fun treat similar to traditional fries but much tastier in my opinion.

We tasted mini lamb & goat cheese tacos topped with a tomatillo-apple salsa next which were absolutely yummy.

Chef Massimo does a unique take on the traditional tamale. Thick pieces of beef barbacoa which have been rolled in masa are cut into rings and served with mole-demi glace, bacon braised black beans and truffle parsnips.

I tend to skip chicken on most menus as it is usually bland and boring. This is not the case at SaltRock, marinated chicken breast is served with spinach, cilantro-jalapeno risotto and grilled asparagus topped with a pignon sauce & pomegranate seeds. A delicious entree choice for sure.

Thankfully portions were small so I was able to enjoy Chef's chili chocolate torte with chopped peanuts, a thick peanut butter sauce and caramelized banana's. The chocolate peanut butter lover in me was in heaven with this dessert.

If you want to experience all the Southwest has to offer in both food and views your next trip to Sedona should include a stay at the beautiful Amara Resort and dinner at SaltRock.

SaltRock Southwest Kitchen
100 Amara Lane
Sedona, Az 86336

This meal was provided complimentary. However, all opinions and comments are my own.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Featured Mixologist Taylor Hall & Her Harlemese Sangria

By: The Food Hunter

Today’s featured mixologist is Taylor Hall, of McCoy's at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa. When Taylor started working in Pompano Beach, the hotel’s cocktail menu consisted of just 12 frozen drinks. Guests were sticking to the daiquiris; nothing seemed fresh or exciting. She wanted locals and travelers alike to experience something one-of-a-kind at McCoy's, the on-property oceanfront bar. Having worked closely with the chef of a specialty restaurant at her last position, Taylor began pairing food with exceptional drink to create an authentic culinary adventure.

Combining her passion to create something refreshing for sipping by the pool and her love for St. Germain Elderflower liqueur was how Taylor came up with the Harlemese Sangria. The fresh fruit and sweet floral accents give this drink a taste of Florida sunshine that can be enjoyed any time of day.

Harlemese Sangria
Taylor Hall

1.5oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
4oz Reisling
A variety of fresh fruit including: strawberries, blueberries, lemons & oranges
mint leaves.
soda water

In an ice-filled wine glass add fruit and mint. Pour in St. Germain and Reisling and top with soda water.