Food 52’s 2014 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks

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Here we go! It’s the 2014 Piglet from Food 52, their annual tournament of cookbooks, has started. I love it for a couple of reasons; because cookbooks are awesome and the judging panel adds a unique perspective to the books. The lineups of books that go through cookbook bracketville are always notable and this year is no different. And the judges are always interesting and neck-deep in the world of food and moving the conversation of food along.

For the 2014 Piglet, I’m backing Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee. Most know of Edward Lee during his time on Top Chef Texas and he’s been plying his trade at his restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky for some time. What I enjoyed about his book was his storytelling and his perspective from learning in New York to moving to Kentucky and embracing the culture, lifestyle, and purveyors of the Bluegrass State. And the recipes I’ve cooked from his book have been great.

Until we know about a winner, there are three weeks of decisions to be made. I, for one, look forward to reading along. As one does with books.

Here are the books:

  • Balaboosta by Einat Admony
  • Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from our Restaurants to your home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner
  • Flour, Too by Joanne Chang
  • Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes by Jane Coxwell
  • Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes by Nigel Slater
  • Roberta’s Cookbook by Carlo Mirarchi, Brandon Hoy, Chris Parachini, and Katherine Wheelock
  • Robicelli’s: A Love Story by Allison and Matt Robicelli
  • Saving the Season by Kevin West
  • Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stores from a New Souther Kitchen by Edward Lee
  • Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating with Southern Hospitality by Anne Quatrano
  • The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin
  • The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
  • The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
  • The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia
  • Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
  • Whole-Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon

Here are the judges:

  • April Bloomfield
  • Brian Boitano
  • David Chang
  • Amanda Cohen
  • Nicholas Day
  • Kerry Diamond
  • Tad Friend
  • Andrea Gentl
  • Aran Goyoaga
  • Evan Hansen
  • Kat Kinsman
  • Liz Larkin
  • Joshua Malina
  • Tejal Rao
  • Maxwell Ryan
  • Sam Sifton
  • Christina Tosi
  • Emily Vikre

Garagiste’s Lair

Photo by Garagiste

Want to get a special bottle of wine for a gift for this weekend’s dinner party? How about wanting to try a new wine from a region you’ve been curious about? How about a bottle of utterly unique wine from one of the very best wine purveyors in the nation? At killer prices? Look no further, Garagiste has opened up a pop-up shop for the holidays.

If you’re not familiar with Garagiste and you love wine, you really should. Started by Jon Rimmerman and based in a nondescript warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, Garagiste is sort of a like a flash sale site but more carefully curated and under the watchful palate of Mr. Rimmerman. Jon writes this lush and rich descriptions of each wine in an email newsletter that goes out a few times a week and you’ll want to order almost every wine. His taste is renowned and his business model is very unique, so much so that The New York Times took notice. You should really sign up for the email list. Some of the wines are out of reach or a bit esoteric, but they are all very interesting and you’ll learn something in each email.

Here is where it gets better; this holiday season, Garagiste has opened a pop-up shop in their warehouse called the ‘Garagiste Lair’. I went on opening day and had to be sensible and not go overboard with buying as much as possible. The wines are segmented in pricing tiers; $5, $10, $15, $20, $25, and so on. At each level there are sure to be interesting wines. I partook in some Morgon for $5 and some Prosecco for $20. Was also able to scoop up some Quilceda Creek for $40. Yup, forty bucks. Some Touraine. A bottle from Mencia. But I look forward to going back to see what else is new. The inventory will be rotated and that is part of the fun about this pop-up; finding treasures amongst the stacks and bottles of wine.

If you’re in the Seattle area, love wine, or know someone that does, a visit to Garagiste’s Lair is in order. Their hours are Tuesday-Friday 11am-6pm and Saturday from 10am-5pm at the Garagiste Wine warehouse at 707 S. Lander St, Seattle 98134. But hurry up and head there soon, the pop-up is only open through the holidays.

When to Drink at Seattle’s Tasting Rooms

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We like wine. Using the royal ‘We’, America’s wine consumption is growing by the year.  Join in the imbibing with these Seattle-area wine purveyors. Support local! Here is a quick rundown of area tasting rooms, shops, and retailers and the days where they do some pourings. Cheers.

Bin 41
-Friday 6-7:30pm

DeLaurenti
-Saturday 2-4pm

Esquin
-Frequent tastings throughout the week, check website

Greenlake Wines
-Thursday 5-7pm

McCarthy & Schiering
-Every Saturday 11-5pm (both locations)

Pike & Western
-Wednesday 4-6pm, $5
-Friday 3-6pm, complimentary

Portalis
-Tue & Wed 3-9pm

Sixth Avenue Wine Seller
-Thursday 3-7pm, $10

The Tasting Room
-During business hours $2-5pm

Vino Verite
-Thursday 5-8pm

West Seattle Wine Cellars
-Thursday 5:30-8pm, complimentary

Wine World & Spirits
-Every weekday 6-8pm
-Every weekend 2-5pm

The calm before the IFBC storm [UPDATE]

International Food Blogger Conference 2013 Seattle 

It’s almost here; IFBC 2013 is this week and I, for one, am giddy to attend. When we last convened about IFBC, final details were in flux. That is no longer the case. The attendees have been finalized, the agenda is set, and the afterparties are awaiting. What’s left from now until then? Order new business cards. Get a haircut (I should look presentable for this, after all. Which reminds me; do laundry) Stretch out my stomach for all the eating by eating. Raise my tolerance for the volume of booze flowing. Reserve transportation to get to the events. Figure which sessions to attend. This should be fun. Look forward to meeting my fellow food bloggers. Cheers to that.

UPDATE – The folks at IFBC have released a conference app. Whee to new media!

Travel Channel’s Chowdown Countdown

Or it could be titled “Places to eat in Texas, New York, California, and a sprinkling of other places”. But I get the Travel Channel’s title; short and catchy.

A few weekends ago, the Travel Channel re-aired its series of shows touting its Chowdown Countdown. This has replayed every so often since its original airing a few years ago. It’s a mesmerizing collection of entertainment. They feature various eateries in their 101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown from hole-in-the-walls to renowned restaurants coast-to-coast.

But, the thing I notice about Travel Channel’s Chowdown Countdown is that they don’t disclose the criteria for making their list. Yeah, it’s cool to have a countdown, but by numbering these restaurants you imply the best, which they didn’t quantify or explain the reasons why. Well, dear reader, I did the viewing for you and after watching the five hours of programming, I’ve found that the chief criteria to place is to have a calorie-laden, protein-heavy dish that wallops you with enough fat to survive winter hibernation. Some of these things are gastronomic wonders, and in some cases it isn’t a good thing

That said, I was entranced with the show and always had it on in the background as it aired. And I got some ideas for new places to visit. But there were some places that I would avoid. Sorry, but a five-pound burrito isn’t my idea of fun. I barely even stand some of the mega-burritos we have locally in Seattle, so there is no way I’ll go out of my way for that 80 ouncer.

It’s an odd show, sometimes they’ll provide context to a place; tell a backstory, give sense of appreciating the people. For others, they zoom right by. And the show often leans heavily on certain states and cuisine. Texas, New York, and California are frontrunners. Are you from Virginia and think you have some hole-in-the-wall gems? Well, the Travel Channel doesn’t really agree with you, because Virginia is amongst the states that don’t have a single entrant. As for food, if you love barbecue, pizza, or fried chicken, you’re in luck. There are a ton of those types of places. I would’ve loved to some of the history on these places, learn more about their staff and why they are iconic. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

For many of the restaurants that made the list, bigger isn’t better. Some of these places were jokes. When it comes to what I eat, I want to know the why, not just the what. The Travel Channel did a great job with the what. In many cases they just featured the dishes that were preposterously massive. But my main squabble is that they never talked about flavor and context. Why should I care about a 6 lb burrito? Or a 12 patty burger? Outside of horror, much of the list included places that had over the top dishes. Sorry Travel Channel, you had a window to shine a proper spotlight on cool places across America, but you reduced many of them to a gimmick. Not cool. If you can’t tell already, I’m conflicted with the show. It’s American to love lists. And to gripe about them. So yeah, well done Travel Channel, you got me talking about your show.

As a proud Washingtonian, I had major beef that our state’s few representatives were Paseo and Beth’s Cafe. Paseo, I’m cool with because their sandwiches are delicious. As for Beth’s? Because it’s TV and cliched, they focused on Beth’s 12-egg omelet. Whoop-de-doo, it’s been featured before. And there are other mediocre overrated breakfast places in Seattle, so they went with the most obvious. Darn Texas took all of our other spots.

Food, blogging, and food bloggers – IFBC 2013

International Food Blogger Conference 2013 Seattle

In my eyes, in late summer/early fall 2013, there will be an inflection point in the world of food for this year. The Pacific Northwest will be the basecamp for this sea change. It also just happens to be on the same weekend. There is the delightful and decadent Feast PDX, presented by Bon Appetit; this will be the celebrity chef event driven down the I-5 South corridor to Portland. Here in Seattle will be IFBC 2013 (International Food Bloggers Conference), presented by Amazon.com. Hundreds of food bloggers will visit the Emerald City to network, eat, and converse about, well, food blogging. I’ll be attending IFBC this year and can’t wait to partake in all what the con has to offer.

Though I would love to attend both Feast PDX and IFBC; alas, my X-Man alias is not Jamie Madrox, so I won’t be attending the Portland event. My physical self will be at the W Hotel in Seattle; the home base for this year’s IFBC. This is the fifth year of IFBC and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t attend the inaugural in 2009. That year was crazy. At that moment in time, Twitter was truly cresting among food bloggers in the Seattle area. That summer was a whirlwind of meeting fellow food lovers in person. There was a camraderie, openness, and inclusion amongst fellow like-minded food lovers that I hope will happen again. And I remember from my fellow food friends that IFBC was one of the moments where food became culture here in Seattle, fully fleshed out with faces attached to names.

While I can hope this wave of excitement will happen again for IFBC 2013, I’m instead thinking of the value that I hope to get at the conference. The agenda is great; a keynote from Dorie Greenspan, talks on relevant topics, and the opportunity to meet other great food writers is always exciting. To hear what drives other writers. What their angle is and what they focus on. What inspires them. What they hope to share from their writing. I’m looking forward to IFBC 2013 and the next steps of what results from it.

As we get closer to IFBC 2013, I’m going to zero in and blog about this event in further detail. This should be fun, stay tuned.

If I were Danny Meyer, where would I open a Shake Shack in Seattle?

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First off, this is not to say that the rumor line is purporting that a Shake Shack is in the works for Seattle. Secondly, there isn’t a Shake Shack on the West Coast. Thirdly, this is all speculative and meant to be fun. Lastly, Shake Shack is awesome and would be welcome in Seattle. Where they may open is what we’re pondering.

I first learnt of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack about four years ago. I was asking my friends for suggestions on places to eat in Manhattan. Amongst the usual suggestions one gets when going to the city (the Momofuku restaurants, Balthazar, Katz’s, etc) was this suggestion of a little burger joint in Madison Square Park. It was called Shake Shack and was one of the many restaurants from Danny Meyer. My knowledge of Danny Meyer (and his Union Square Restaurant Group) was nascent, but I had heard of him; that he was a restaurateur of the highest order, he wrote the book Setting the Table, and that was it. But Shake Shack was the place that I wanted to check. It was a burger stand in Madison Square Park. The lines were legendary. And their burgers and ‘concretes’ (milkshakes) were purported to be delicious. We were staying nearby and knew we had to go.

Of course it was tasty. But it wasn’t just the quality of the food at Shake Shack that made it great; it was the experience. The park setting was idyllic. The lines were long but were part of the experience and was managed well by the Shake Shack staff. The staff itself was professional and courteous. It was that experience that I keep returning to. A lot of people that try Shake Shack often say that they don’t understand what the big deal is. Which is an opinion they’re entitled to, but taken with just the burger is missing the point. When Shake Shack opens up new locations, it’s part of a cultural zeitgeist and can revitalize and energize the area near where it opens. And that is why we’re going to list out places in Seattle that I think would make sense if Danny Meyer would open up a Shake Shack in Seattle.

Let’s talk about the criteria. The first Shake Shack opened up in a park. The recent openings have used existing storefronts. I’d like to take the park formula as there are a few Seattle parks that could use a shake-up. Also consider nearby food options, walking traffic, available parking, and area revitalization. Yeah, we could theorize that Ballard or Capitol Hill would make sense, but that’s too easy. And besides, this is all food nerd make-believe so we’re going the park route and what it would mean for the area. Continue reading

The price points of wine

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Imagine this scenario; you’re at the store and want to buy a bottle of wine for dinner at home. You’re having steak and you want a red wine. This is the extent of what you know. There are a ton of varieties, regions, and styles of wine to choose from. And where your head spins are the price points. Is this $12 malbec not as good as that $25 syrah? Why is this cabernet sauvignon $9 while that one is $90? There is some noise to filter when it comes to price points, but here is a guideline of expectations as you go up in pricing tier.

<$10 – The domain of Three Buck Chuck, large volume wine, and hidden gems. The wines at this level are often value-oriented. They can play in this field because the wines can be a bunch of variables that can drive the price down. The wine can come from a winery that has massively huge volumes of wine. Or it comes from regions that can support large scale production. Or the winery owns all their capital goods and can afford a lower margin (often in Europe). At this stage, you can find good wine, but it will be tough to find a great wine. Good, however, is the pricing bar that many want to find in the wine they buy. It’s not too expensive and won’t be a hit on the wallet.

$10-20 – This is a magical level that plenty of consumer wants to play with. But here’s the thing; generally speaking, the quality bar is different at the $15 mark. Below, you’ll find good stuff. Above, you can come across great wines. How so? Because this is the sweetspot that the modern wine consumer wants to play in, so pricing has adapted. In this field you’ll start to find more layers, nuances, and subtleties in a good bottle. You’ll also have the opportunity to discover new regions that you may be unfamiliar. Portugal, Spain, Chile, and Argentina beckon.

$20-30 – This is a level where you can find some really interesting wine. Many in the industry feel it’s a growing category. Great wine can be had. A wine drinker has almost all of the wine regions of the world at their disposal. You’ll be able to get bottles with more aging, single vineyards, more fruit and provocative flavor notes.

$30-50 – We are now getting to the price category where wine nerds start to surface. Take all of the good that was mentioned at the previous tiers and now amplify them. The wine can border on magic. You’ll start to believe that notes of bacon fat or elderflower are present.

$50+ – You really love wine at this point. Or you want to impress someone.

$100+ – You and wine are soulmates. Or you want to impress someone’s parents.

$500+ – You probably read The Robb Report. And you probably have tasted a DRC. Most of us have only read about a DRC. Even more have no idea what a DRC is.

Disclaimer: wine pricing is a fluid and complicated area. Supply and demand is in play. Location has a hand in pricing. Know this; really good wine can be hand at any price point; it just requires a bit of know how to weed through it. And besides, it’s your palate, enjoy drinking with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek.

The 2013 Piglet: Food 52’s cookbook tournament of champions

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Cookbook nerds. We are everywhere. We frequent bookstores that only carry cookbooks. We think we have enough cookbooks. But we never have enough. We sometimes forget which ones we have and find ourselves doubling up on copies. And we love them. We love our cookbooks. Their stained pages. The stories they can tell. And like sports fans have March Madness, we have our tournament; The Piglet. There is even a bracket (PDF). From the fine folks at Food 52, this is their fourth annual cookbook tournament and it launches later this week. I heart the Piglet. You should too.

I wrote about the Piglet last year and touched on why I loved this series. The varying ‘judges’ that weigh in on the winners. The books that were the ‘competitors.’ Last year was particularly entertaining because of the championship round. On one side was the book of decadent indulgence from the Joe Beef crew from Montreal. On the other side, was the mad scientist baked goods book Momofuku Milk Bar. And it was judged by Alice Waters. Alice Waters. The chef that raised the bar for thoughtful, seasonal, and considered California cookery. The chef whose highbrow nature didn’t exactly jive with the debauchery of Joe Beef or the addled sweet tooth of Momofuku Milk Bar. The chef whose recap of the championship was dripping with disdain for the two books. Can there be a reluctant champion? Because that is the crown that Alice Waters bestowed Joe Beef.

As with any new year, things start anew and we are onto the next Piglet. Of the 16 books in this tournament, I have five of them. Of the judges, I’m only familiar with a handful of them. Which is a big reason why the Piglet showdown is entertaining. Different voices, different books. While I couldn’t fathom the bile Alice Waters had for last year’s finalists, at least she stayed on brand. And I’m curious to see how the judges insert themselves this year.

I’ll be sure to follow the tournament along. In fact, I’m betting on Canal House Cooks Everyday by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. It was one of my favorite books of the holiday season. We’ve been fans of the Canal House and their thematic food volumes for a few years. We were fortunate to have conversations with Melissa and Christopher on their recent visit to Seattle, where we got to hear their stories and how much fun they had with compiling all of their Canal House lunches. Which is the emphasis of Canal House Cooks Everyday. I particularly enjoyed the weather reports sidelining the recipes. Their writing has a way of welcoming us into their world. And now with the Piglet, cookbook nerds have the chance to feel a little closer to a bunch of new cookbooks, their recipes, and the chefs behind them.

Food 52’s 2012 Piglet

Photo courtesy of food 52

We’re through the first week of the Piglet – Tournament of Cookbooks; Food52’s annual cookbook battle royale. For cookbook nerds like yours truly, the Piglet is great fun. It’s a tournament where the folks at the food community website Food52 take 16 cookbooks published over the last year, pit them against one another bracket-style and have the books judged by various food-loving celebrities. It could be someone like Mario Batali or Nora Ephron weighing in on a winner. Like anything involving a bracket and a chance to place your bets to a winner, The Piglet is a fun read into the biggest, baddest, and boldest cookbook in the land.

This is the third year of the Piglet. The first year’s winner was Seven Fires by Francis Mallman with Peter Kaminsky. I have this book and yes, it is awesome. I particularly like the recipe for cooking an entire cow. But my personal favorite that year was David Chang and Peter Meehan’s Momofuku. Year Two’s winner was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood. We’re now into the 2012 edition and I’m looking forward to seeing how this Piglet shakes down.

If the first two days of this Piglet is any indication, we’re in for a fun ride. Day One had the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson seducing us with her words. Day two had the delightful Celia Sack of San Francisco’s Omnivore Books weighing in. The third review by James and Caitlin Freemand of SF’s Blue Bottle Coffee, didn’t quite have the lushness of Lawson’s review or the perspective of Sack’s review. Conversely, the Freeman’s felt a bit stilted in my mind, and I couldn’t identify with their viewpoint. Reading these editorials often provides as much perspective about the cookbooks as the critics.

Which is one of the fun things about the Piglet. Because they have reviewers from various disciplines and industries; there will be unique and divergent opinions on cookbooks. Some might love the photographs, some might enjoy the clarity and detail in the recipes. One of my favorite reviews was from the 2010 Piglet when Grant Achatz’ review pitted Canal House Cooking Vol. 1 vs Real Cajun. What I enjoyed about the review was that Chef Achatz’ critiqued two books, each with recipes and styles radically different from his restaurants. His voice made for a great read. I loved it.

There are a few more weeks left in the Piglet, a bunch more reviews, and plenty of opportunities for some upsets. Like the glory of March Madness, we should be in for some surprises. Until then, visit Food52’s Piglet and stock up on those cookbooks. I’m at 336 and I’m getting a bit of an itch to go shopping.