An IPNC Interlude — please pause for wine

Grand Dames Dinner IPNC 2014

Iberico de Bellota pork cheeks, served with polenta, thyme and blackberries. Chef Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita. IPNC 2014. Grand Dames Dinner.

If it’s seemed a little quiet over here recently, there’s good reason. I spent Friday night at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon for the International Pinot Noir Conference. Yes, I stayed on campus — in the dorms even — with three co-workers.

It always seems like one night shouldn’t be so exhausting, but somehow, every year, IPNC knocks me out of commission for a while.

Maybe it’s due to eating super rich food all day (foie gras, Iberico pork, veal sausage and more foie gras) or because we drink wine from 3pm till 3am 8am. (Yes, we partied like true college freshmen this year. I saw the sun rise and everything.)

Here are a few pictures from this year’s Grand Dames Dinner, which is set in the middle of the Linfield College campus. Four chefs (all women this year which I thought was awesome) put out an amazing dinner for around 500 people. There’s a reason this is one of my favorite events to “work.”

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Fish Sauce Wings and the Pinnacle of Pok Pok

Ike's Famous Fish Sauce Wings

Ike’s Famous Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

Given the numerous Pok Pok posts on this blog, it’s clear I’m a girl with a serious hang up. Maybe it’s because I eat there often enough to know how good the food is, giving me extra motivation to replicate the dishes at home using the cookbook. Or because I know Chef Ricker’s recipes are spot-on and precise, which makes going through the effort all the more rewarding.

But, besides delights like yam khai doa and phat si ew, if you also own this cookbook, it’s possible you bought it just for one recipe: Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings. It’s okay — no judgment here! Ike’s wings are killer. The most perfect bar snack since beer nuts, they are at once salty, sticky and sweet. Every bite is full of umami bliss.

I can say with certainty I have never been to Pok Pok without ordering these wings. (Wait! The very first time I was there the wings hadn’t even been put on the menu yet!)

However, since I don’t do much deep frying at home, and rarely stray from my favorite, super easy and very delicious chicken wing recipe, it’s taken me seven months to get around to trying these at home.

After having eaten them, I can say those seven months were totally wasted. I should have been eating wings, wings and more wings.

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Drinking craft beer in Alaska

Craft Beer in Alaska

Doing what I do best…

When I used to wait tables at my dad’s restaurant in Kodiak, AK I remember serving a lot of beer. Sure, steaks, burgers and fried halibut were popular too but when half of the dining room was full of fishermen, most of my time was spent carrying pitchers of beer.

Fortunately, while work could be hectic, it was fun and, as most of the customers were just happy to be off the boat and had just gotten paid, tips were good. Unfortunately, the beer I was serving was all Coors, Budwiser and MGD — the closest thing to a microbrew I could offer was a pint of Alaskan Amber.

To be fair, almost everyone was happy with anything cold and alcoholic and I doubt anyone in the bar had even heard the term “craft beer” before. It was a different time.

Now, years later, craft beer has not only hit the mainland of Alaska, it’s made its way to Kodiak.

When I was there last month, I was shocked to see how much the beer scene had changed in my old hometown. Bars had more beers — and much better beers! — on tap than I had expected. When I saw Ninkasi’s Total Domination on draft at the bar by the Kodiak airport, I was ecstatic.

Doing his part to encourage this trend, my dad recently decided to add eight more taps to his restaurant’s line-up — bringing the total to 20, which is the most in town. He wanted the new handles to only carry revolving microbrews, mostly seasonal or specialty, or — at the very least — from Alaska. Since neither he nor my little brother are big beer drinkers, they thought they would utilize my (ahem) beer expertise to help gauge quality.

And so began a bit of a craft beer bender, which to me is the best way to spend a vacation.

Here are some pictures of our adventures, starting with Kodiak Island Brewing Company:

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Boozy Watermelon Jello Slices – because fruit loves alcohol

Watermelon Vodka Jello Slices

Watermelon Vodka Jello Slices

I have mentioned, oh, once or twice at least, my obsession with boozy Jello. These little summery beauties mixed that obsession with my love for party food and determination to try one of the many things I’ve pinned on Pinterest (I accomplish this about once a blue moon).

Since party food tastes better with company, I invited some girlfriends over for a Bubbles & BBQ party on Saturday. We had a serious spread of goodies — numerous cheeses, pasta salad, homemade pickles, Caprese salad and even a bowl of larb with butter lettuce. There were also some crazy good bacon-wrapped, shrimp-and-cheese stuffed jalapeños. Yeah, my friends can throw down when it comes to eating!

So much good stuff!

So much good stuff!

Stuffed peppers and Shrimp Poppers

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Phat Si Ew: With patience and persistence comes perfection

Making Phat Si Ew, Pok Pok Style

Making Phat Si Ew, Pok Pok Style

This is a story about a restaurant empire, an unfulfilling trip to an Asian market, the ensuing trials and tribulations and, finally, a meal worth blogging about.

It all starts with a girl who loves to eat…

I’m usually pretty easy to convince when it comes to dining out. I can be happy eating conveyor-belt sushi or sitting down to a multi-course dinner with wine pairings. However, in a rare show of culinary defiance, I hadn’t been very interested in checking out Sen Yai, Portland’s noodle-based spot by chef/owner Andy Ricker. I have no idea why I wasn’t drawn to it, considering I love his other restaurants immensely, but every time my husband would suggest it, I’d push to go somewhere else.

Finally, last week we joined an out-of-town friend for beers and food industry gossip. After a few pints, it seemed like a perfect time to meander over and eat some Thai food.

In an ironic twist my husband was a bit meh on his entree, but my dinner totally bowled me over. It was nothing crazy or unique, in fact Phat Si Ew is probably right up there with Pad Thai for its ubiquitous placement on all American Thai restaurant menus.

But this rendition was spot-on — it was slightly sweet, smokey from the char on the noodles and the pork was tender and delicious. The thin sprigs of Chinese broccoli added crunch and a touch of bitterness. It was a winner. And that’s not just the beer talking!

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Baby hasselback potatoes topped with burrata

baby hasselback potatoes with burrata

Baby hasselback potatoes with burrata, crispy chicken skin and fried garlic

I love cute food. I can’t help it — give me tiny one-bite appetizers or adorable mini anything and I will love it. There’s just something about a petite portion of food that is so pleasing.

And early summer is great time to find produce to aid with this mission. There are tiny spring onions, mini patty pan squashes and the smallest new potatoes that taste like butter. A week or so ago, I was woo-ed into buying some little red potatoes and after having roasted a batch or two, I was looking for something new to try.

I had a ball of burrata cheese in my fridge, crispy chicken skin from a recently roasted bird, and thanks to this recipe, things started to come together.

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