Sweater weather is here. Even in Arizona, we get enough of a chill to break out sweaters and scarves, clutch hot coffee closely and snuggle deeper into our beds. I love this time of year and all the tasty goodies it brings with it.
After spending Thanksgiving stuffing myself with food, wine and pastries galore, I need something sweet to accompany my morning coffee that won’t slather more holiday pounds onto my lovely hips. Enter cinnamon pecans.
Commonly seen in little paper cones that you eat at the hockey games. The warmth and sweetness from the cinnamon and a little nip of bourbon are the perfect compliment to a cup of coffee, or a Guinness, if you are in a cold arena. These are great to bag-up and give to loved ones for the holidays or as a host/hostess gift. If you have a fireplace, please enjoy these in front of a crackling fire for me.
3 ea. Egg Whites
1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 tsp. Bourbon or Whiskey
1 tsp. Water
1 # Pecan Halves, Raw
1 cup Granulated Sugar
4 tsp. Cinnamon, Ground
1 tsp. Fine Sea Salt
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. In one bowl, whisk together granulated sugar, cinnamon and fine sea salt. In another bowl, with another whisk, whisk egg whites, vanilla extract, water, and bourbon or whiskey until frothy. Add the 1 # of pecan halves to the egg white mixture, and coat all the pecans throughly. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the coated pecan halves, tapping out excess liquid, and adding them a spoonful at a time to the sugar mixture. You can coat all the pecans at one time, but to keep excess liquid out of the sugar mixture, scooping with a slotted spoon works best. Once they have been added to the sugar mixture, stir and coat them all.
Place the coated pecans onto a greased sheet pan. Bake the pecans for about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Stir the pecans every 10-15 minutes (about 4-5 times during the baking). Once your pecans are done baking, allow them to cool for about 5 minutes. Then transfer them to a clean, cool sheet pan to continue cooling throughly. Wash your sheet pan immediately, as it will be coated with baked sugar, so best to clean while still warm. Store in a sealed container.
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is hidden in the desert landscape of north Scottsdale, creating a quiet retreat. On a rainy, cool night, we (My fabulous friends Rhonni Boss Moffitt and Christina & Ernesto Barrueta) sat down, tucked into their softly lit, warm dining room. Each table has so much space around it, you feel like you’re eating in a private dining room.
A hot skillet of house-made rolls appeared, beginning our torrent of food and scotch about to pour-forth from the kitchen. In a haze of crumbs, nods of approval at each other and the vanishing rolls, Jason, master of cocktails, came to our table to give us an in-depth tutorial on each cocktail.
Of the four scotch drinks, my favorite was the first, a Macallan 12 year, one cube, fig and lavender. Not too sweet and not too burning alcohol. Refreshing with homemade fig and lavender syrups, I could have sat there and sipped a few for happy hour. Unfortunately, we were starving, so bring on the food.
Our first cocktail was paired with stuffed quail, black mission figs, blue cheese, salsify and local greens with cranberry-vanilla vinaigrette. Crisp skin, tender quail, rich blue cheese, fresh greenery with a light, zingy vinaigrette.
Next course, a cocktail with Macallan 15 year fine oak, Up, Orange bitters, Cynar. Jason told us that he added some vinegar to this drink to help cut the richness of the next dish. This was my favorite dish of the night, called “Cheek to Cheek.” Braised veal cheek ravioli, halibut cheek, brussel sprouts, bacon, and porcini broth. The veal check meat was so tender and flavorful. Pasta skillfully made and perfectly cooked. Halibut cheek light and flaky. Finished off with a vivid porcini broth, a sprinkle of julienned brussel sprouts and bacon, it is, in my opinion, the season of fall in a dish. Solo, the cocktail was quite bitter and acidic, but paired with the dish, it balanced beautifully.
The third scotch was a Macallan 18 year with an ice ball, which was visually much more interesting than on the rocks with plain ice. After tasting this, I would love to be able to sit down with someone like John, from Macallan, and sip each scotch on it’s own, to taste the differences and learn how each is made, in order to understand the flavors.
This scotch was paired with lobster and wild boar sausage “paella.” I could not believe how much seafood was in this dish. Lobster, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp and then the wild boar sausage (my new love), a top a generous serving of saffron spiked risotto and splashed with lobster stock. I want to swim in the lobster stock. It’s rich and heavenly, and I’m willing to bet money it has some magical healing properties. At this point, I slipped into a mild food coma or it could have been my pants becoming increasingly tighter and cutting off my circulation. Either way, I was happy.
Once the “paella” was placed before me, I pretty much forgot about the scotch that went with it, so I can’t say if it paired well or not. I drank my Macallan 18 year with my dessert course, as I preferred it to the final cocktail.
Our final course, was pear bread butter pudding with Macallan scotch raisin ice cream, maple pecans and scotch caramel. The bread pudding was light and cream, a perfect bread pudding in my book. The best part of the dessert was the Macallan scotch raisin ice cream. Unique and well executed. The maple pecans were good and the caramel was good, but I have to say, the caramel wasn’t boozy enough for me. If it had been a little stronger with the scotch flavor, it would have knocked the whole thing out of the park. The final cocktail was Macallan 10 year fine oak with chipotle, maple, and nux. This wasn’t my favorite cocktail. It was definitely interesting, with a little heat, which paired well with the sweetness of the dessert, but it was heavy and being so full, it wasn’t what I wanted to sip on at the end of the meal.
Chef Mel came to speak with each table that ordered the Macallan menu that night, which for an executive chef in a busy kitchen, was an exceptional treat. He spoke with us about what he wanted with the menu and how much he enjoyed working with Jason, cocktail maestro.
We rolled our plumped bods to the car and drove home in the beautiful desert rain. I truly believe that it’s the small details that set a restaurant apart and I was impressed with every aspect of Talavera and their staff.
Talavera, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
10600 East Crescent Moon Drive
Scottsdale, Arizona 85262
*Please note: I pay for my own meals, unless otherwise noted. I do not write pieces about restaurants for free meals. The views are my own.
In my opinion, food festivals aren’t the best avenue to check out a bevy of restaurants in one foul swoop. I have work in restaurants that have participated in them, and I feel like editing a dish down for simplicity to serve and eat (and be cost effective), then turning out 3,000 small bites of said dish leaves a lot of black holes to fall into. As a customer, I don’t want to show up, pay the amount of money I could be spending on two apps and two drinks, to sardine shimmy my way through a throng of people, to leave hungry. But these are food trucks! They are used to working on the road, in these conditions (albeit not for this quantity of people at one time), and for most of them, they have no brick-and-mortar to be worried about back at the ranch.
The concept of food trucks is quickly becoming an over-publicized trend, but I have to admit, I still find it brilliant. Adding mobility to really good, simple food has the potential to revolutionize fast food in our country. Can you imagine your kid asking for a pork belly slider, instead of a burger from Mc Nasty’s?
I didn’t buy my ticket ahead of time because I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be able to go. Good thing my friend bought two tickets, because we got there at 5pm to a line wrapped down and around the block, and the tickets were sold out. However, it looked like they were still letting people in…so I’m not sure exactly what that deal was. I went up to one of the people organizing/working the event and he told me yes, they were sold out. “So these people are standing in line for what?” I asked. “No idea,” he shrugged.
Retrieving pre-paid tickets was well organized and we were quickly inside that magical chain-link fence. Enveloped in the calm chaos of trying to cram 23 food trucks, their staff and 2,000 something people into a small dirt lot. Lines snaked and criss-crossed each other everywhere, but the people were relaxed, happy perhaps to be ensconced in the weekend, with beer and delicious food in their near future.
We jumped on the first line we saw, which was for the Udder Delights ice cream and the Superstition Farm Truck, with guest chef Payton Curry. Ice cream was good and very creamy, but I would have liked a stronger pumpkin or sweet potato flavor. I was hoping for the huckleberry, but they were in the process of spinning it. Great job distributing it. Small cups they prepackaged and it was so easy to grab and go, no line.
Superstition Truck was serving fried mac and cheese balls with a spicy, creamy sauce. Payton was dishing up a delicious chanterelle salad with some fatty pieces of mushroom. Unique and vastly different from the other bites we would be tasting. Somehow I missed his lentil soup. The trucks were jammed with cooks cranking out food, as people continued to flood on to the lot.
Fried mac and cheese balls? We needed some beer after that. We got on the beer line and half way through our wait, we realized we had to get our id’s checked and get tickets at a different tent. Jumped on that line. Then wristbanded up, beer tickets in hand, we finally went back to the beer line.
On to a line for a rig called Duck Duck Pig. My love for porkers is something deeply disturbing. The exec chef at the last restaurant I was at found it peculiar when I’d make up pig songs as we broke them down on our huge stainless steel prep tables. I am having a dinner party this next month at my house, dedicated to the pig, called oinkfest. I haven’t yet gotten a pig tat with primal cuts, but don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind or been drawn on with sharpie to see where it would look best.
Imagine then, my horror to wait in the piggy line and be handed another fried mac and cheese ball. Listen, I get it, I’m not getting pork belly at a festival where you have promised unlimited samples of your food. Throw a girl a little pulled pork, though. Duck Duck Pig’s mac and cheese ball (superior to our first ball of the night, with golden crusty outer crunch and raging hot interior) did have some bacon in it, but I’m running on cheesy starch now and I’ve been on line dreaming of meat. I have a sneaking suspicion that Duck Duck Pig has killer food, and I hope to get some of their goods in the near future.
Disappointed and starving, we jumped directly onto the next line. We have no idea what line we are on. It looped around another line and moved at a fairly brisk pace. 10 minutes later we are holding plates with shrimp tacos from the T-licious Tacos truck. They momentarily ran out pork tacos and we are invited to check back later. The food was a little cold, but it was okay. If it had been hot, I think it would have been quite delicious.
The next line, for Hey Joe Truck, serving up Filipino food, wove it’s way around tables and near the stage in a horseshoe shape, so we ended up back where we started, this time with a half of a spring roll and some noodles. Very hot and tasty. I thought about getting back on line for more, but the line was one of the longest.
Sweet Republic line was pretty short, so we swooped over there for some fresh mint chocolate chip ice cream. Creamy, and perfect combo of fresh mint flavor with chocolate chip.
My friend Carolyn and her band Pick and Holler were playing on the stage area, so we figured since we were standing there, we’d wait on the Torched Goodness line. It went so quickly and in two minutes I was holding a nice little portion of crème brulee, which I normally never order when I’m out. Seriously, as a pastry chef, do you know how much crème brulee I’ve consumed? It’s not enjoyable to me anymore, however, Torched Goodness has some stellar crème brulee. It’s cream, not overcooked (like I find in most restaurants) and with a perfectly torched sugar shell on top (another faux-pas many restaurants make burning the shit out of the sugar). LOVED the little sprinkle of sea salt on top. Kudos to Torched Goodness for a great execution on a dessert.
At this point, two beers and not much food, it’s about 830pm and we are STARVING. I need some food, as in, more than one bite per 30 minutes. We made our exit and headed over to the Roosevelt Tavern.
I commend the organizers for dreaming up this event, but from what I experienced, there has to be some more organization, limits, and quality of what you are getting. I am not judging, just giving my observations here. This was a huge event and you learn from year to year what works and what doesn’t work.
Organization: The space was too small for the number of people. Bigger space and perhaps all pre-sale only tickets so that the trucks know exactly how many people will be in attendance. Enter, and the next tent is the id tent where you can get your over 21 bracelet.
Limit: Are you going to limit the ticket sales and allow people to really get a taste of these places? Great that there were unlimited samples, but at 3.5 hours in, I’d eaten 7 bites of food and there was no way I was going to hit all the trucks before they ran out of food, let alone go back for another sample. Froufrou pops was already out of product by 830pm, and I really wanted to try their popsicles.
Quality: Aside from the Payton’s mushroom salad and the Sweet Republic ice cream, I hadn’t eaten anything that was totally unique and rocked my world. The first two trucks I went to were both serving fried mac and cheese balls. I’m coming to taste what your truck normally serves. I saw a few of the regular menus, propped up near their respective trucks, and they didn’t have mac and cheese balls on it. I’ve worked events like this and get that you have to make something cost effective and easy to turn out for the quantity of people, but it defeats the purpose of the event, in my mind, if I’m not tasting what you are known for. For tickets for two people $60 and $20 for four beers, we are $80 deep, still hungry, and largely unimpressed.
I would love to see how the organizers of this event edit for next year. This has the potential to be a fabulous event. If some changes are made, I would buy another ticket and gladly return to see how they’ve changed things up.
I’ve been home from New Orleans long enough to do a pastry buffet for a baby shower, drink some Page Springs wine, wash my laundry and dump my photos onto my computer. Ready for the next adventure!
Heading to my former stomping ground, Las Vegas, to watch a good friend run in the last race of Indy season. So excited to go support him. Send good vibes our way this weekend, friends. More food pics, recipes and travel goodies when I get back!
If you are unaware, there are some very interesting people making wine in Arizona. I know, everyone looks at me like I’ve been drinking too much when I tell them of the burgeoning wine country in Arizona, but it’s here and it’s quite amazing. I gift many bottles of Arizona wine throughout the year and I wait impatiently for the phone call or email of pleasant surprise, once they’ve been consumed.
Page Springs Cellars is the only wine club I’ve ever belonged to, and they’ve spoiled me for any other club. Multiple member events, discounts, a gorgeous new tasting room and a masseuse at the ready in the vineyard, it’s hard to compete. The newest member event is Wine Wars. I have to say that I’m not normally first on line for the member events. My perception of them used to be that member events were more in the realm of lameness. I am happy to report that I was very wrong.
Rhonni from Arizona Wine and Vines Magazine and I arrived on Saturday afternoon at Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, AZ. After a little wine in the tasting room, we headed down to check in and sign up for a team (we were quite nervous about what our cryptic “Put A Cork In It” category would entail). Walking through the vineyard, around netted vines, we made our way down by the creek. Stacks of hay-bales corralled people away from the vines and created a natural jungle-gym for kids. A makeshift plywood board stage was set up overlooking folding table with chairs.
Justin busted out his karaoke machine to MC the event. Old school game-show theme songs played throughout, everyone could guess for a chance to win goofy prizes, while contestants competed. For each competition, the winners received a $15 gift card for the tasting room.
The first competition was two teams of two people. Each team had two bottles of wine and were required to open their wine and fill the glasses of all the audience members. Competition two was a grape toss into a number of glasses, large and small openings, worth different amounts. The third competition, Rhonni and I didn’t wine and will be practicing for next year, was seeing how many bottles we could hand-cork in a minute. We got 5 bottles and we were beaten by the other team, with 7 bottles.
The forth competition was my favorite by far…to watch that is! Rhonni and I were eyeballing this competition at the beginning, hoping it wasn’t the one we signed up for. Four plastic storage bins, filled with water, corks floating on top and bungs on the bottom. (Bungs are corks for barrels of wine.) Apparently, the game was just supposed to be bobbing for bungs, but they found out that bungs don’t float, so the game had to be adapted. For every cork a player scooped up in their mouth and delivered to the wine barrel placed behind the competitors, they would receive 100 points. For every bung that they managed to get off the bottom with their mouth and deliver to the wine barrel, the would receive 500 points. I was worried the players wouldn’t totally get into it, but I was surprised to see one woman diving into the container with her entire upper body, in an attempt to get a bung. She ended up winning and deservedly so! When I returned to PSC the next day to pick up my wine shipment before heading home, I ran into some guys who were attending Wine Wars, the Sunday edition. We started talking about the competitions and they told me that a woman got all the bungs but one! Dedication!
We broke for some lunch and a couple of little guessing games they had set-up (guess the song title with wine in it, how many corks in the vase, blind wine tasting). Lunch was sausage from The Meat Shop in Phoenix. The sausage was good, but the rest was a little lacking. I know some chefs, myself being one of them, who are in the wine club, and would love to come up and cook for an event. Homemade s’mores in the vineyard with a glass of wine? Just saying! ;o)
The fifth competition was making a bottle of wine. Two teams of three people, just so happened to be women vs. men. Hilarious! The women were totally into it and busted out some I Love Lucy grape-stomping moves. The men weren’t as into it and remained with shoes intact while they squeezed grapes with their hands and potato-mashers. Next they had to strain out the juice and make sure they had enough to fill a half bottle. Add the yeast, siphon into the bottle and cork the bottle. The competition wasn’t even close, as the women pushed the cork into their bottle and did a barefoot, grape-stained victory dance.
One of the highlights was tasting a 100% Arizona grown pinot noir. We tasted 6 wines at the event and they were all heavily discounted for purchase. After purchasing some wine (err, 4 bottles, plus the 6 from my member shipment), we headed back up to relax in the new tasting room. Sipping some great wine, listening to Puscifer, while chatting with friends. Good day in the vines.
It was an interesting girls weekend in Cali. We bested the largest spider known to man. Read trashy tabloid magazines. Drove a massive diesel truck through LA. Drank copious amounts of red wine. Ate steak in Fontana. Farm fresh eggs in Rancho Cucamonga. Fish and chips on Huntington Beach. Chinese takeout in Beverly Hills. Breakfasted with croissants and a flat tire on the way to the airport. And I ran in 4 inch heels, to catch my plane in the Ontario airport. All-in-all, great weekend.