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.

 

Phoenix Food Truck Festival

Packed!!! That’s the best word to describe the chaos. More pics later, but a few so far…

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On the road again

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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!

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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!

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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.

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My Weekend in Photographs

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.

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Summer Plummin’

I have a love-hate relationship with summer. It is definitely my least favorite of the seasons, and it was even when I was a kid. All I can think of are shorts, which I don’t wear, because they are highly unbecoming, or being 8 years old, and sticking to the leather seats in my grandfather’s gold Lincoln. The saving grace for summer not receiving my pure, sweaty hatred, was, and is, stone fruit season. Nectarines, peaches, cherries, apricots, and my personal favorite, plums.

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My mom only used to buy black plums, the deepest shade of purple with a white shimmer on them. The soft sweetness of ruby center disintegrates between the tongue and the roof of your mouth. The skin demands some chewing. As your teeth pinch the skin, tartness seeps and kicks your rear taste buds in the face. I’d slip into the refrigerator like a ninja, taking two plums at a time. I’d gobble them, locked away in my room, staring at a Donnie Wahlberg poster. Tucking the pits in a paper towel, I’d bury it at the bottom of the garbage can so no one would know I was double fisting stone fruit.

In this last bit of summer weather, while I pray for rain to pour from the skies and cool this retched desert off, I need the consolation of my favorite part of summer. The warm jamy plums, topped with buttery, sweet crumble. Perhaps a farewell, before kicking summer out the door.

Print

Plum Crumble

Rachel Ellrich Miller

Ingredients:

For the filling:
6-8 plums (I used pluots, but you can use any that you love)
1/2 c. - 3/4c. granulated sugar (taste the plums and decide how sweet you want to make it)
1/2 each lemon, juiced

For the crumble:
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. almond meal/flour
4 oz. butter, slightly softened at room temperature, but still cold (I use Irish butter. Once you eat Irish butter, you won't go back. Kerrygold is imported by many grocery stores. The only draw back is it's price at $4.99 for 8oz.)
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla paste

For the whipped cream:
heavy cream
granulated sugar
vanilla extract

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Prepare your plums into slices. Make sure they are all about the same size so that they cook evenly. Toss them with the sugar and lemon juice and place in a buttered, oven safe dish.

In a mixer bowl, place flour, sugar, almond meal/flour, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and toss into the mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to medium and mix until it becomes sandy and the butter is incorporated. This is why you want the butter to be semi-soft. Add the cream and vanilla paste and mix till incorporated. It will be paste-like consistency. Crumble the mixture in pieces over the top of the plums. I use my hands to do this. It's the easiest way and it allows for even coverage of the plums.

Bake at 325 degrees F, until plum juice bubbles up and becomes syrupy, about 30-40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 375 degrees F, till the crust is golden brown, and bake about another 10-20 minutes. It honestly all depends on how hot your oven bakes. You want the plums to thicken and become jamy, and the crust to brown.

Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Whip cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract, to your taste, for whipped cream to top crumble. Store in fridge and eat cold, by the spoonful, over the sink for breakfast.

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My hometown of Erie, PA is not a culinary mecca. The glass gems in our cheap tiara would be the concord grapes (grown for Welch’s) that perfume the air in the fall, Smith’s hotdogs (costs more to ship them to my house in Arizona than for the hotdogs themselves), sponge candy, and pepperoni balls (we used to pimp them for school fundraisers in grade school and often ended up eating most of them). Perhaps not valuable to anyone but me, nonetheless I keep that cheap, old tiara next to the real diamond earrings I got for my 18th birthday.

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But just a bit south, and on the route to the Pittsburgh airport, is Hank’s Frozen Custard, a true hidden diamond in the Pennsylvania countryside. Old school frozen custard, rich and creamy. Hand packed onto the ice cream cone. The good stuff people used to eat before the proliferation of fat-free frozen yogurt.

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I can’t write anymore. I’m busy licking.

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