Archive for the ‘Culinary’ Category


Am I the only one who gets confused by the name Oktoberfest? Every year I seem to forget that Munich’s 16-day festival kicks off at the end of September—not the beginning of October. Needless to say, I’ve never made it to Germany to clink beer mugs with the six million or so patrons of Oktoberfest, or “die Wiesn” as the locals call it. Luckily, there are plenty of Oktoberfest celebrations throughout the United States that are worthy of wearing your lederhosen.


Photo: Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

Addison Oktoberfest
More than 60,000 people are expected to join the party on Sept. 17 through 20 for Oktoberfest in Addison, Texas. Experience a German car show, go on a pretzel hunt, indulge in German wine and beer, shop at the vendor booths and ride carnival rides.

For more information, visit

Oktoberfest in Irondequoit, N.Y.
Irondequoit, N.Y., is hosting its 22nd annual Oktoberfest on the weekends of Sept. 18 through 20 and Sept. 25 through 27. Stroll past master yodelers, listen to German music and munch on tasty bratwurst.

For more information, visit

Oktoberfest Denver
Oktoberfest on Larimer Street in Denver, Colo., is one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Forty years in the making, Oktoberfest Denver honors German heritage with authentic cuisine, an accordion concert, attractions, the Long Dog Derby (a dachshund race), music and much more. Check it out on Sept. 18 through 20 and Sept. 25 through 27.

For more information, visit


Photo: Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio, is home to the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the United States. More than 500,000 hops-loving attendees are present each year. The festival starts Sept. 19 with a keg tapping at each tent and continues on through Sept. 20.

For more information, visit

L.A. Oktoberfest
Sample traditional German food, sip on (or chug) beer and enjoy Bavarian bands playing old-time tunes at Los Angeles’ first-ever Oktoberfest on Oct. 10. Downtown L.A. will be filled with entertainment that includes the Aerial Showgirls, a polka band and Bavarian dancers, music by The Alemannia Music Foundation, a stein-holding contest and a beer pong tournament.

For more information, visit

These are just five of the many Oktoberfest celebrations occuring throughout the United States. Tell us about some of the Oktoberfest festivities in your area.

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Hot on the heels of my Israel trip in March, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) outpost in Napa Valley offered a one-day class on how to make Middle Eastern street foods. I signed up immediately, and the $75 half-day class was one of the best cooking lessons I’ve ever taken.

What made it great was its intense hands-on experience—no pre-prepared dishes, no watching the chef demonstrate steps, no slacking off while your partner does most of the work. After he taught us where to find the needed ingredients and equipment, along with some basic rules—how to handle knifes (from cutting to cleaning), operate the ovens, and properly maintain and clean your work space—our chef instructor Andy Wild treated us as if we were regular full-time students and knew our way around a professional kitchen.

Burns and cuts were entirely likely.

Eleven of us showed up that April morning and were paired into groups of two, with less than 90 minutes to prepare, cook and display our dishes, after which we would get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I drew the proverbial short straw and worked alone, which meant if my dish was inedible, there was no one to blame but moi.



I was charged with making Lamb Kofta With Raita (skewered ground lamb with yogurt-cucumber sauce), which also meant I had to prepare two items, alone, so I needed to haul ass. The sauce needed to chill for at least 30 minutes before it could be served, so I began with grating English cucumbers then mixing them with yogurt, fresh squeezed lemon juice, minced mint leaves, kosher salt and freshly minced garlic made into a paste.

Sounds easy enough, yes? It was, save for the garlic. It takes more strength and repeated mincing to get garlic cloves into a paste than I had anticipated, but I’ve since become a pro at it and regularly include the tasty treat in other dishes.

The raita chilling in the fridge, I moved onto the lamb, which also wasn’t too difficult to prepare since I was able to use packaged ground lamb as opposed to grinding it myself. The time sink is in mincing all the ingredients—Italian parsley, green onions, mint leaves—while the clock keeps ticking. If you’re the type of cook who makes sure all your slices are even, this can take a while—and end up frustrating non-perfectionist (read: less anal) cooks in the kitchen. Chef Wild kept glancing at my slow slicing and at one point offered to speed up my process by cutting the onions for me, but I politely declined. I could do this!

Once kneaded with the salt, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper, I shaped the lamb paste into little sausages, slid them onto skewers and placed them over a medium-hot fire, turning regularly until all sides were brown, about eight to 10 minutes. I started cooking the koftas with about 12 minutes to go.

Tip: If using wood skewers, make sure to soak them in water first so they don’t catch on fire while over the flames.

As Chef Wild called out how much time remained, we scurried around trying to avoid crashing into each other as we finished our dishes and scrambled to find just the right serving plates to garnish and perfect our presentations. We finished with seconds to spare. Burn-free, fingers intact.

Our feast also included Watercress and Tabbouleh Salad, Falafel, Muhammara (a red pepper dip), Green Harissa (a green pepper dip), Kibbeh Samak (stuffed fish fritters), House Made Pita Chips and Luz Biskwe (almond and cardamom biscuits). CIA provided a red Gamla 2005 wine from the Golan Heights Winery. All was excellent.



Each of us agreed that the class was well worth the investment and significantly helped improve our cooking skills. It took place at CIA’s beautiful Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif., located 18 miles north of Napa and 8 miles south of Calistoga on Highway 29 (about two hours from San Francisco). CIA began to offer its culinary continuing education classes this year, as local laws changed recently to allow nonprofessionals to participate.

Greystone was built in 1889 as a cooperative winery, and from 1950 to 1990 it was home to the Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching order, which produced its own brand of wines. Be sure to walk around the grounds and take in the vineyards and flower and herb gardens. Students also get a 10 percent discount in the CIA store.

CIA offers weekend culinary enthusiast classes at its Hyde Park, N.Y., and San Antonio, Texas locations, too. Upcoming courses: North African Spice Kitchen, Baking at Home—The Desserts, and Sharpening Your Knife Skills. I think that last one has a space reserved just for me.

For schedules and additional information, visit

(Photos: Donna M. Airoldi)

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After a recent trip to the Vail Valley in Colorado, I was able to experience firsthand a delicious trend among the culinary world: sustainable dining. Many fine-dining restaurants have begun to adopt the mantra that “fresh is best,” and use locally sourced products as main ingredients in the dishes.

Vail Famers’ Market

The Vail Farmers’ Market is the place to get the latest and greatest in locally grown produce and goods. Whether you’re looking for bell peppers, freshly baked bread or homemade salsas, the market has a huge assortment of locally made products that will tantalize your taste buds. I picked up some avocado vinaigrette from a local vendor, as well as peach salsa and chipotle-stuffed olives from another.The market is held every Sunday from the end of June until the beginning of September. Several restaurants make a “harvest menu” on Sundays, when you can be sure that nearly every ingredient in your dinner came from the farmers’ market that morning.

8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill

The 8100 Mountainside Bar and Grill located at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and Resort opened in December 2008 after the resort completed a $30 million renovation. Meat eaters will appreciate the regional menu, featuring buffalo steak (which I had), elk loin and trout. My favorite sides included the creamed corn and mashed potatoes, but the quinoa looked delicious as well.

Splendido at the Chateau

Situated on the ground floor by what appears to be a French chateau in the middle of Beaver Creek, Splendido could be perhaps one of the most amazing culinary experiences of my life. My group visited Splendido on a night when Chef Walford was offering his popular off-the-menu special lobster stuffed with Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Since few words can properly convey how delicious the meal was, I will leave you with a picture.


The lobster special at Splendido.

La Tour

French-inspired La Tour is a Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” winner, featuring more than 300 wines to perfectly compliment your dinner. Each month, Chef Paul Ferzacca adjusts the menu to reflect what is new and fresh in the region. On Sunday, he features a harvest menu that comes straight from the Vail Farmers’ Market that morning.

Kelly Liken Restaurant

Lauded by Bon Appétit and Wine Spectator, Kelly Liken Restaurant is the brainchild of up-and-coming chef Kelly Liken. Thankfully, I visited the night of the restaurant’s harvest menu. From my onion and nettle soup to an entrée of Alaskan halibut and fresh, local vegetables, Kelly Liken Restaurant delivered a dinner that was divine enough to blog about.


The halibut from Kelly Liken’s harvest menu.

If you would like an unparalleled dining experience outside of the normal foodie destinations, consider heading to the Vail Valley during the summertime. Its proximity to both the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains means that you will be eating fresh ingredients assembled by skillful and talented regional chefs.

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I’ve been on tequila-, beer- and wine-tasting trips, so naturally the opportunity to add Cognac to my libation travel list caught my eye.

On your next trip to France, swing by the House of Rémy Martin and indulge in Les Rendez-Vous Rémy Martin: A selection of gastronomic experiences that allow you to participate in a Cognac-tasting session, meal and tour of the celebrated estate. Dip your toe in by choosing a half-day or evening tour, or jump straight in to a complete day tour. A variety of options for each choice allows you to pick exactly what you’re interested in.


Photo: Louis XIII de Rémy Martin

Check out these choices:

The four-hour Discover Rémy Martin package includes a tour of the House of Rémy Martin in Cognac and the Merphins Estate for a cognac-tasting session. Appetizers and lunch follow at Club Rémy Martin. €160 (about $216).

The nine-hour Rémy Martin for the Epicurean package starts with a tour of vineyards or the Rémy Martin cooperage, and then moves on to a distillery tour where you can taste recently distilled eaux-de-vie. Lunch in the distillery before a tour of the Merpins Estate and House of Rémy Martin in Cognac. The day ends with dinner in a private dining room. €380 (about $513).

The 10-hour Louis XIII Experience is a customizable package, which highlights the luxury of Louis XIII and the Cognac region. Take a private tour through the family estate and private cellar, taste prized cognac, and enjoy a private lunch and dinner. €850 (about $1,147).

Prices on Les Rendez-Vous Rémy Martin packages include taxes and are guaranteed through Dec. 31, 2009. For more information, visit

If you go, consider taking me!



While I’m a major fan of some of the swanky New Orleans restaurants, like Lüke, Bayona and Commander’s Palace, most often I eat at the small neighborhood joints. Some of my favorites include:

Port of Call. This is the place to go if you have a hankering for hamburgers. Award-winning, half-pound burgers are served along with fat, baked potatoes. Steak and pizza are also available. Wash it all down with a tropical cocktail, like the Neptune’s monsoon or the windjammer. 838 Esplanade Ave., tel. 504-523-0120.

Coop’s Place. One quick glance into this spot on Decatur Street, and you might just pass it by, thinking it’s merely a small watering hole. Venture in, however, and take a gander at the menu on the wall. Coop’s serves up delicious jambalaya, gumbo, pasta dishes and more. To top it off, the chef uses house-smoked tasso (a seasoned, smoked pork) in a few dishes (like the crawfish and tasso pasta), so start with those for sure. 1109 Decatur St., tel. 504-525-9053.

Domilise’s Po’boys. Hit this Uptown bar before the lunch rush to get a seat at the counter. And if you find yourself in line—wait. It’s worth it. Some folks prefer the shrimp po’boy, others dream of the fried oyster, hot smoked sausage or roast beef po’boy—they’re all great. Add a bag of Zapp’s chips to your order, and wash it down with an Abita beer. 5240 Annunciation St., tel. 504-899-9126.

Verti Marte. You’re seated in the perfect bar in the French Quarter or Faubourg Marigny. The only problem: It doesn’t serve food, and you’re hungry. Do you get up to find a meal, or wait a while and savor your great New Orleans moment? Here’s where Verti Marte comes in. With a full menu ranging from breakfast to sandwiches to entrées, they’ll deliver to your perfect bar. You can also walk in and order directly from the counter. My favorite dish? The grilled shrimp po’boy with “wow” sauce (a spicy, creamy sauce). No, it’s not on the menu. Order it anyway. 1201 Royal St., tel. 504-525-4767.

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