Monday, April 30, 2012

April Foodie Penpals

The Lean Green Bean

This is my second time participating in the Foodie Penpals program created by Lindsay from the Lean Green Bean. This month I received a box from a first timer, Liliana, who lives in Ohio. She is not a blogger, but I had a good time e-mailing her. She put together a fun box of her favorites for me, look at all the things she sent me!

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 These mini buck-eyes were my favorite, who doesn't love chocolate and peanut butter? I am so addicted, I may have to get her to send them to me on a regular basis ;)

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I had never thought about combining chocolate and oatmeal, but that was an oversight on my part, match made in heaven!

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I've had Poppycock before, but hadn't tried the apple flavor, reminds me of eating caramel apples.

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The chocolate theme continues with cranberry chocolate trail mix and chocolate almond cookies, you can tell this is a girl after my own heart, you can never have too much chocolate!

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The funfetti and apple cinnamon pancake mixes are great for fun weekend brunches.

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The guacamole mix will come in handy, I adore guacamole and have plenty of avocados thanks to my Avocado of the Month Club from SoCal Avocados.

I sent a box to Rhonda of the Rhoyal Report, check out what I sent her here!

If you are interested in joining the Foodie Penpal program, here is all of the information you need:

-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal! 
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month. 
-Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We've determined things might get too slow and backed up if we're trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. 
If you’re interested in participating for May, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.
You must submit your information by May 4th as pairings will be emailed on May 5th!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Simply Pasta #SundaySupper

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I am lucky enough to be a part of the only live radio cooking show, Chef and the Fatman. At this weeks taping, Chef Erik created a fun jalapeño popper, it was stuffed with cream cheese, dates and manchego cheese, then wrapped in bacon and cooked on a Big Green Egg. They were absolutely fantastic, but, the jalapeños he got were really hot, hotter than I've tasted in some time. Has anyone else noticed that jalapeños lately have gotten very mild? Well these suckers were not!

I so enjoyed the flavor profile, sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy I started thinking about how else I could combine those flavors. As I had just picked up some fresh linguine, I decided to see how it tasted as a pasta dish. It was a winner! I had everything on hand, mostly because Chef Erik sent me home with the leftover dates and manchego, so it was a breeze to throw together. I also added some fresh arugula that I had picked up at the farmers market, just to give it a little nutritional value. I hope you like it as much as I did!

Ingredients:
1 1/4 lbs fresh pasta (I used linguine, but use whatever you have on hand)

1 8oz block of cream cheese
1 c shredded manchego cheese
1 c roughly chopped pitted dried dates
1- 2 c chicken stock
4 c packed fresh washed arugula

6 strips cooked bacon, crumbled

Boil pasta in salted water until al dente, then drain. In same pan, combine cheeses and dates and stir until melted. Toss in cooked pasta and slowly add chicken stock until you reach the sauce consistency you desire. Add arugula, combine and let wilt slightly. Garnish each plate with crumbled bacon, just before serving.

Serves 6






Friday, April 20, 2012

R rice and a Giveaway!

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I'll admit, I am a sushi snob. I do not generally eat sushi that has cream cheese, or sushi that is fried, or sushi that is topped with myriad rainbow-hued sauces. I eat nigiri or maki or the occasional chirashi bowl. I want to taste the fish first and foremost, with nicely vinegared rice, and accented with just a hint of wasabi and soy. So when I was invited to attend a blogger lunch at R rice, I almost said no. It's very near my work and I had been there before, but the sushi was more of an after thought. However when I read that they had brought in a new Master Sushi Chef from New York, Danny Chen, and had revamped their menu to show off his skills, I knew it was time to give them another try. I'm so glad I did!

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While I didn't get a chance to speak with Chef Chen, Gary Lin, the owner, talked with us a bit about why he had brought Chef Chen to Atlanta. He feels like the sushi scene in Atlanta is somewhat stale, that there isn't the innovation that you see in New York and other big markets, that Atlanta is ready for a change. I really appreciate his philosophy that Chef Chen is a Master Sushi Chef and that he knows what he is doing so he allows him to source ingredients as he sees fit, like top end nori for rolls, that most places don't use because it is so expensive.

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When you order you may find that you need to order slightly more than you are used to, because as you can see above, they use significantly less rice in their nigiri than most places. Their nigiri showcases the beautifully cut fish, so that you can appreciate both its taste and texture, instead of just a big mouthful of rice.

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If you would like an opportunity to try out the new sushi menu at R rice, here's your chance!! The great team at R rice are offering one lucky reader a $25 gift certificate, so here's how you enter to win:

1) Sign up for R rice's mailing list

2) "Like" R rice on Facebook

3) Follow this blog

4) Follow me on twitter and tweet the giveaway

5) "Like" Ultra Epicure on Facebook

Please leave a comment for each that you do. That's 5 chances to win! Good luck!

Contest ends Friday, April 27 at midnight. Winner will be chosen at random and notified via e-mail.


Disclosure: I was a guest of R rice for lunch, but all opinions expressed are my own.
Photo credit: All photos are courtesy of Lilian Raji PR.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Smart Chefs Stay Slim

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I first heard about Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living From America's Best Chefs from my friend Donna, whose blog Cookistry is one of my favorites. As someone who has struggled with my weight for my entire life, now that I'm in my 30's, I'm really starting to feel the extra pounds in my back and knees, it's a wake-up call. To that end, I have resolved to make some changes this year. This is going to have to be a year to diet, to get out and exercise more. The problem is, how can you be a foodie and lose weight? Isn't it mutually exclusive?

When food is your passion, you can't just order a box full of low cal food and live off of that. I would rather not eat at all, than nuke an entree in a cardboard box. I don't do artificial sweeteners, dairy free "butter" or zero calorie foods. I have tried fad diets, and read all kinds of diet books, from ones that prescribe foods based on my blood type, to ones that promise to speed up my metabolism, but never do.

Smart Chefs Stay Slim is different. This book shares the ways that people like me, people who are food focused, who crave flavor, can eat delicious food, but lose weight. This is the first diet book I have ever read and come away feeling like I could actually succeed on it. It helps you change the way you look at food, it's a lifestyle change, but not one that feels like a life sentence.

In Smart Chefs Stay Slim the author, Allison Adato, talks to over 30 world class chefs and compiles their secrets to losing weight, cumulatively hundreds of pounds, while working as professional chefs, surrounded by temptation. Because there are so many different tips, you feel like you can customize what's suggested and work out a plan that will work for you. I have to say, I am most intrigued by Mark Bittman's 30 pound weight loss through "Vegan Vampirism". I think I can do that and am excited to try it out.

In addition to all of the great ideas shared by the chefs, organized into 92 easy to read and understand lessons, there are also over 50 healthy recipes to kick your imagination into high gear and get your taste buds going. I haven't had a chance to make them all, I've only had the book for two weeks, but they all sound incredible! I did whip up a batch of Naomi Pomeroy's CreamyAsian Tomato Soup, such a fast and easy week night meal. The soy and fish sauces give it a depth of flavor unlike any tomato soup I've ever tasted, and the coconut milk make it as creamy as the richest bisque, but with zero cholesterol.

I also have plans to try out Michelle Bernstein's Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Feta and Olives as soon as I can get my hands on some good summer produce. Tom Colicchio's Raw Yellow Beet Sandwiches with Avocado, Grapefruit and Radish Sprouts will be making an appearance at my table when I get another box of amazing SoCal Avocados and the Meyer lemons I bought last weekend are begging to be used in Alex Guarnaschelli's Lemon-almond Cookies. If you want these recipes and all of the others, you can buy the book at your local bookseller or on Amazon, trust me, you won't regret it.

I'll leave you with something Art Smith says in the foreword that resonated with me. "In the end, it's about finding your happy-the thing that works best for you. It might be preparing a beautiful, healthful meal that you share with loved ones. It could be making smarter choices when you go to your favorite restaurant. Or it might be starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal and berries that you make just for yourself." I can do this and so can you.

Disclosure - this book was sent to me by the publicist representing this book, but all opinions expressed are mine and mine alone and I was not compensated for them.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Classic Cocktails at H. Harper Station

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When I saw the Scoutmob Hand-Picked "Crafting Classic Cocktails: Mixology Class at H. Harper Station" e-mail in my inbox just a few days before my birthday, it seemed like it would be a fun way to celebrate. Unfortunately, these classes were so popular, the one for that weekend sold out within minutes, but I was able to grab a spot for the St. Patricks day class. I had been wanting to check this place out for a while, plus I'm always looking to learn new things, especially when it comes to food and drinks, so I was really excited. The reality was even better than I had anticipated.

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H. Harper Station used to be the Atlanta & West Point Railroad Station and is owned by Jerry Slater, who taught the class. It's a great vintage space with a fun vibe that is clearly a popular spot with the residents of Reynoldstown. Of the people sharing my table at the class, five lived in the neighborhood.

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I had expected from the wording of the e-mail that we would be participating in the cocktail crafting, but it turned out to be a demonstration class, not that I'm complaining. Jerry did an excellent job teaching the class, he is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject of cocktails, and peppered the class with history and tips, recommendations and ideas for substitutions. After he showed us how to make each cocktail, he gave us a chance to ask questions, then we each got one to sample. They also brought out a great selection of snacks for us to munch on, like the candied bacon CrackerJacks.

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Our first cocktail was a margarita, one of my all time favorites. No neon green mixes here, it's simply tequila, orange liquor, lime, agave nectar and salt. Jerry's not a big fan of salted rims, so he adds just a pinch of smoked sea salt to the drink instead. I'm a salt person, so I expected to miss it, but was completely satisfied with it exactly as served.

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The deviled eggs with pickled Benton's bacon were a big hit at our table and were polished off in short order. They were flavorful with a nice horseradish kick and great smokiness from the bacon.

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Our next drink was the Aviation, a historic cocktail that is experiencing a revival in popularity as some of the specialized ingredients, that have long been forgotten, are being brought back by artisan producers. It's a gin based cocktail with lemon, Creme de Yvette violet liqueur and maraschino. I noticed that some of the guys at the other tables seemed to be hesitant to sip on such a pink drink, but it was their loss, as it was very tasty.

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The new chef, Joseph Ward, formerly of Woodfire Grill, put some fun twists on old southern favorites. The pimento cheese, for example, was topped with a few florets of pickled cauliflower, a great foil for the rich, creamy cheese. I could have happily devoured the entire plate full.

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The house made BBQ potato chips were served slightly warm with excellent blue cheese dip. They were so good, it was hard to limit myself to just two, but there were seven other people at the table. I may have had to get an order just for myself at the bar after the class.

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I will admit that I was not that excited about our final cocktail, as I am not a bourbon drinker, but I'll try almost anything once, so I took a sip. Then another. Then another. Until my glass was empty. It was surprisingly delicious, with notes of nutmeg, perhaps from the bitters? Lemony and sweet, I think I may actually add bourbon to my bar so I can recreate this at home.

At $35 this class was such a great deal, 3 amazing cocktails, tasty southern snacks, I would highly recommend it to anyone. In fact, there may potentially be another series of classes coming down the pipeline. One of the other mixologists told me they may do an advanced class where they will cover more complicated cocktails. If they do, I hope to see you there with me!