Friday, September 30, 2011

Bertolli, Fabio Viviani, Meal Soups & Me

If you follow me on Twitter (and I hope you do, if not, click the little birdie on the right. I am a prolific tweeter for better or worse), you'll know that earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a really wonderful event sponsored by Bertolli to promote their new Meal Soups with special guest, chef and two-time Top Chef contestant, Fabio Viviani. This was my first invitation to attend a food related event by a major company, so I kinda felt a little special. Cue the "Jeffersons" theme song (Movin' on Up....).

I thought I was going to be in a large room full of lots of press and wall-to-wall people where I could retreat into a corner and shove food into my face. Instead, I walk into this small, intimate wonderfully lit room full of bread, antipasto and friendly people. You guys, I met such wonderful bloggers at this event (more on them later), and I was just a feet away from Fabio Viviani, who is probably one of my top ten favorite Top Chefs ever (I think my favorite of all time is Carla Hall, who is probably the long lost sister of my friend, Big Mitts).

Of course, there was plenty of great antipasto for noshing and meeting people.

Amazing bread and wine....
Focaccia & Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

After a speech from a rep from Bertolli/Unilever, we saw a little introductory video about the Meal Soups. Chef Michael Christiansen, who essentially develops many of Bertolli's products from the chef's perspective, takes us through how they created the soups. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and is actually a really nice, down-to-earth guy from New Jersey. We had a great conversation that evening.

Essentially, these soups are the frozen componets of what you would make homemade except now you just add some water, bring to a boil, then let it simmer until all of the components are hot. Pretty quick and easy.

After the video, we proceeded into this lovely kitchen and had a demonstration of how the hearty soups really work and learned a little more about the production process. Fabio & Chef Mike tried to do a cook off to see who could make an actual soup in the time allotted. Of course, Chef Mike's Bertolli version won.

Chef Mike showing us the frozen version of the soup. It's essentially all cubed at first.

Here's an actual video of both Fabio & Chef Mike speaking about the soups. I will say that Fabio does give a decent explanation for why people skeptical of frozen anything should try the Meal Soups. Fabio is a VERY good salesman. BTW, excuse my camera angles! This was taken with my Iphone.

After the short talk, we were able to try some of the soups with wine pairings.

Chicken Rotini (roasted white meat, pasta, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots and celery in chicken broth)

Tomato Florentine (Cheese filled tortellini, white meat chicken, spinach and tomatoes in a tomato bisque) I think this one was a big hit. I was too busy scarfing to take a pic earlier.

So, I'm sure you all want to know my opinion, right? I will start by saying that you all know that I don't shill for anyone, so this is really my opinion. You guys, this stuff is actually good! Like I cleaned my bowl good. I wouldn't have been able to tell that it came from anything frozen. I know sometimes in the winter, especially, I am scrambling to find something to make on a weeknight, or I've run out of groceries. I could totally see me having one of these soups for a quick meal. While I am a proponent of eating things that are made from fresh veggies, etc., I don't mind taking short cuts when I need to. I also read the ingredient label, and I could pronounce everything. That's a good sign.

There was even someone serenading us with Italian opera favorites.

Luckily, dessert was not left out. Woo hoo!

I LOVE a good cannolli

You know that I was too happy to see some tiramisu.

As I mentioned before, all the bloggers there were sooo nice. It was really great to connect to food bloggers, especially those that cook since I am not a cooking blogger. Bloggers are really cool people (If I do say so myself). :)

from left to right: Rachel of Laptops & Stovetops, Dana of Dana's Food for Thought & me

Finally, the honored guest, Fabio and I actually had a few conversations during the night. I asked him about the whole Domino's thing. He mentioned that they wanted him as a consultant and that his role was to teach them about sourcing ingredients and how to make pizzas in a more authentic way. Hey, I'm not mad at Fabio for working for the big guys like Bertolli and Domino's. Do you, buddy! I can actually say that Fabio is exactly like he is on Top Chef: very genuine, charming, funny and the accent is totally real. Just kidding, Fabio. ;)

What a night! I'm waiting for New York City to finally cool down, so I can make the soup I got to take home.

Happy Weekend!

Disclosure: As usual, I didn't get paid for this post or links in any way, but a stomach full of good soup, meeting nice people, and hobnobbing with Fabio was payment enough.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Back Trackin', Ireland Edition - Guinness Storehouse

***MY BAD ON MY LAST POST! A big shout out the wonderful Jordan Matter of Jordan Matter Photography for those great shots of me. You're the best, Jordan!***

I've already discussed the new pub friends Husband J and I made while traveling through Ireland. Yet one of the mandatory beer related stops we had to make was to the Guinness Storehouse, the Guinness version of Disneyland a little ways away from central Dublin. This is actually not where they produce Guinness, but it doesn't matter to the throngs of peoplewho gather daily at one of Ireland's most visited attractions (at least according to the website).

When we visited I was nowhere near being a blogger meaning I have less pics than I'd like, but here's a little taste of the experience (no pun intended). I will say that the you'll definitely know that you arrived. They make it pretty obvious.

Husband J (who was Boyfriend J at the time) was happy. Very happy. Kid in a candy store happy to be there. I was just playing along. :)

The Guinness Storehouse is a series of exhibits that takes you through the history of the Guinness brand as well as the historical and current beer production process. I think I paid attention somewhere along the lines. Husband J surely did.

The part of the visit I was waiting for was the grand finale. Every visitor with admission ticket who is 18 years of age and older is entitled to a free pint of Guinness! While I am not a big Guinness fan, I will say that it's worth the trip. The tasting room is called the Gravity Bar, and you do get a really great view of Dublin.

With our free pints. The best kind of pints are FREE pints!

There were James Joyce quotations written on the glass for that extra "We're in Dublin" effect.

You can't go to Dublin and not go to the Guinness Storehouse. I think it might be blasphemy even if you don't drink or like beer. It's Dublin after all. :)

What's the best brewery tour that you've done?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Help Me

Hey folks,

See that picture up there on the left right underneath by blog header? If you're interested in the story behind the picture, you can read the post here.

It's time for a change. Here's where you all come in. Help me pick a picture. Which one of these is your favorite? Feel free to pick more than one. If you do, please mention your first or second (or even third) choice.

Thanks a bunch!





Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Return to Wadadli - Turner's Beach & Ffreyes Beach

I'm sure you wouldn't mind some beach pictures, right? I'm missing Antigua's beaches right now.

The saying in Antigua is that there are 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Sometimes I think that's true. There are many little inlets and coves. Growing up, I remember sometimes going to the beach and being one a few people there.

Our hotel, Sugar Ridge, will shuttle you to the nearby beaches and has relationships with some of the local beach restaurants and bars. We decided to go to Turner's Beach and Ffreyes Beach. Here's a little bit of what we saw.

Our first beach visit was to Turner's Beach.

I'm used to not having many people on the beach. We thought we had lucked out when we got there because there were no people.

Eventually people came, but there is nothing like the crush of people you can sometimes see in the U.S.

There's a restaurant here as well as bathrooms, which I thought was mighty convenient.

I love clear water.
Can you see my feet?

Turner's Beach seemed like a popular pit stop/drop off point for some of the catamaran and sailboat tours that you can take around the island.

The other beach we were able to see was Ffryes Beach, which is actually fairly popular with local Antiguans. We saw very few tourists here, which was different than the heavy tourist presence at Turner's.
It's pretty empty when you get there early.

There were some kids that looked like they were camping overnight and some church groups. We were there on a Sunday, which is a big beach days for Antiguans.
There are a few tourists in the picture, too.

At the top of a hill at one end of Ffreyes Beach is Dennis' Restaurant. We at lunch there. It was good albeit a little expensive. I will say this: I think all-inclusive resorts actually stifle the development of a restaurant scene in Antigua and also ensure that the restaurants can charge a pretty penny. There are probably more potent forces pushing up food and dining prices there (having to import so much doesn't help), but our meal shouldn't have been as expensive as it was.

Dennis' Restaurant has great views of the other side of Ffreyes Bay. The beach opposite the one where we were is also known locally as Small Ffreyes. :) We were at sitting and swimming at Big Ffreyes. By the way, this is what we were looking at as Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was ravaging the Northeast.

The view of Ffreyes Bay from Dennis'

Cocobay Resort. We almost stayed here.

Our meal at Dennis': Curry goat, rice and peas (actually kidney beans), a small salad and something that I think is yams. More about local food in another post.

There was a little of live entertainment while we were there.
Some of his songs had some questionable lyrics. :)

So that was our beach time. I wish we had more opportunities to just lounge at the beach, but I think we need a longer trip. Husband J? :) Do you understand why I am a beach snob now? I've been spoiled!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fantasy Travel Friday - Taj Lake Palace

I don't want these Fantasy Travel Friday posts to turn in "Fantasy Hotel Fridays", but I just couldn't resist featuring this one hotel. I promise that the next Fantasy Travel Friday will be something a little different.

May I present the Taj Lake Palace....

It's a former palace in the middle of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, India. You won't have to swim out to the hotel. :) A boat picks you up.

I love that you can really see what the palace used to look like.
Pool area

One word for these rooms: opulent. Which one is your favorite?


An early morning chai right here? Sign me up!

This place is too beautiful not to have a private dinner somewhere on the grounds.

By the lily pond?

Or maybe right in the middle of the lake?

Fascinating place, isn't it?

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Return to Wadadli - Carmichael's

Antigua is not known for fine dining. I'm going to be up front and honest with you about that. Antiguan food (and Caribbean food as a whole) is rather varied, but there aren't many restaurants on the island. Regular Antiguans do eat out, but there only so many dining spaces that bring visitors and locals together. Either way, I was glad to have my first fine dining experience at Carmichael's restaurant at our hotel, Sugar Ridge.

With the exception of the main pool and restaurant area, everything at Sugar Ridge is built into a hill. The rooms and their premier restaurant, Carmichael's, require walking up steps but the best way up is to just call a golf cart to take you where you need to go. Husband J wasn't into the golf cart idea on our way up to Carmichael's. **Side eye** Instead we climbed lots of stairs.

Here he is taking me through all kinds of back paths...Thanks, dear.

Luckily for us, all that trekking was worth the views from Carmichael's.

There is a small infinity pool right next to Carmichael's.

I'm smiling in that picture above, but I am actually getting eaten by bugs. One of the issues with being away from the water and sea breeze is that you're closer to the trees. Sunset seems to be the witching hour for bugs. If you go to Antigua make sure to bring your Off or other bug spray if you're going to be out at sunset. If you're not from the Caribbean, your blood is oxygenated differently making you especially tasty to the critters. :)

Carmichael's is an open air restaurant and perfect at sunset.

One thing that I don't understand is that Carmichael's doesn't technically open until 7pm, but for a large chunk of the year the sunset in Antigua is well before 7pm. It means that diners don't get to enjoy the sunset during their meal. You do see some lights after dark, but that's it. Go to Carmichael's for lunch or a drink at sunset to really take advantage of the views.

Public Service Announcement: Get the Carmichael's Joy, which is a drink only served at the bar at Carmichael's (you can't get it at the Sugar Club, the other Sugar Ridge restaurant). It's the best rum punch I have EVER tasted. Really. I have no picture of it. Sorry!

Dinner was good. Very good. Surprisingly good.


Husband J's scallops

My fish Carpaccio (I'm forgetting which fish this was)


I really did want to have a dish that tried to elevate Caribbean food, so I had Carmichael's version of jerk pork.

Grilled Jerk Pork
It was essentially pork three ways. From left to right: with bok choy, with tomato and red onion salad and with roasted sweet potato puree.

I made sure to ask for it extra spicy in case they made the spice too tame for tourists. Learn more about jerk seasoning here.

Husband J surprisingly ordered pasta. Okay...

Spinach & Goat Cheese Cannelloni with Pesto Sauce and Balsamic Reduction

After the trek up we couldn't leave without dessert.

Bread Pudding with Antiguan Rum Sauce
The sauce reminded me of rum raisin ice cream. A perfect ending to the meal.

Overall, I thought that all of the food we tasted at Carmichael's was high quality. I'm still not sure why everything had sprouts or other greens on top as a garnish, but I am totally going to overlook that. The service was friendly even if our server was a little forgetful. You are paying for the views to some degree, but I think it's worth it for a treat. It's great to see the beginnings of great fine dining options in Antigua.

at Sugar Ridge Hotel
Jolly Harbour


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