Saturday, June 29, 2013

Guac This Way

When you go to a Mexican restaurant, do you like a little taco with your guacamole? 

Are you usually disappointed by that little dollop of avocado mixture you get at the fast casual "big burrito" places? Or turn up your nose at so-called "guacamole" some restaurants serve, that seems to be more mayo anything else? Or that's turned dark because it's been sitting awhile and the avocado has oxidized?

You need to try the Guacamole Fresco at Bella's Fresh Mexican Grill in Farr West (just off I-15 exit in the North Ogden area). You know it's fresh because it's made right at your table in a molcajete (mol-ca-hay-tay), a very heavy, mortar-and-pestle type tool made of lava rock.  It's also served in the molcajete, which holds enough guacamole to generously top a half-dozen entrees, for $7.99. 

It's got chunks of luscious avocado, mixed with chopped tomatoes, chilies, cilantro and onions. Two "stealth" ingredients make it unique — the house-made Roasted Jalapeno Avocado Salsa, and a big squirt of fresh orange that gives it a hint of sweet citrus.
On Saturday afternoon, manager Terri Strand showed me how it's done.  It was a fresh, flavorful addition to my Fish Tacos of grilled halibut with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo, for $10.99.   Yum.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Kelsey Nixon's Advice to Viet Pham About "The Next Food Network Star"

What advice would Kelsey Nixon give to chef Viet Pham, a hopeful on this season's "The Next Food Network Star?"

"I'd tell him, don't take any criticism too personally," Nixon told me during a telephone interview last week.  I was talking to her about her upcoming season of "Kelsey's Essentials," and her nomination for a Daytime Emmy.  I noted that another Utahan is competing on "The Next Food Network Star," and asked Kelsey what advice she would offer, given that the show gave her a shot at national food TV. 
"While you're there, you end up with tunnel vision; every critique felt like a personal attack in a way," said Nixon. "Just maintain your genuine self through the show, and don't let your critiques get you down."
It was only five years ago that a hopeful Nixon competed on the reality TV series, "The Next Food Network Star," with only a BYU college cooking show under her belt. Although she didn't win, viewers were impressed enough to vote her the Fan Favorite. When the Food Network launched its Cooking Channel for a younger demographic, Nixon was offered a shot at her own show.
Those who watched Nixon compete on the show may remember that some judges shot down her naturally sunny disposition. Bob Tuschman, Food Network's senior vice president, called it "overcaffeinated cheerleader," but revised his opinion over the course of the contest. 
"At first, I thought her sunny, ever-chipper personality read as fake," Tuschman wrote in a blog post when Nixon left the show. "But she is just a rare person. I know she will be back to reclaim a spot in the food television world."
Nixon also advised Pham to use the show's momentum to take advantage of opportunities. 
"That show opens so many doors for you, whether you win or lose," she said.  "But it's critical to work hard within the first year to take advantage of those opportunities.  I fostered the relationships that were offered up right after the show; because that's when people are most interested in working with you." 
It was just a few days after her  star-studded night at the Daytime Emmy Awards, and Nixon enthusiastically described it as a "grown-up prom."  

Kelsey Nixon with husband Robby Egan.
Although Nixon lost out to Lidia Bastianich of PBS' "Lidia's Italy," she said, "Cheesy as it may sound, I felt like I was going home a winner just to have my name on the same list as some of the other nominees." 
Her husband, Robby Egan, had fun meeting  Ozzy Osborne and a few other celebrities. Kelsey's "pinch me!" moment was being   seated next to Garten, of "The Barefoot Contessa" series.  Although the two are part of the Food Network's conglomerate, they had never met.
Nixon, who grew up in North Ogden, was a nominee for "Outstanding Culinary Host" for her Cooking Channel series, "Kelsey's Essentials." Her Facebook page shows a glammed-up Nixon in jewels and sequins at the June 16 events, posing happily with fellow nominees Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten. 

Her Daytime Emmy nomination caps off an eventful year, as "Kelsey's Essentials" begins its fifth season on prime time July 3 (airing 8 p.m. Eastern Time). On June 24, 2012, her son Oliver was born three months premature and weighing just two pounds. It was a challenging time for Nixon and her husband, Robby Egan, while Oliver spent his first months in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Now at age 1, "He's now happy, healthy, doing fantastic," she said (and  during the interview, I could hear his baby talk in the background.)  "We have really been blessed not to have any complications."
She also wrote a cookbook this past year. Pre-ordered copies of "Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything"(Clarkson Potter, $19.99) are now available on
"It was interesting, because last year at the end of filming, I was all ready to spend three months focused on writing my book before the baby came. And then the baby came three months early," she said. "But when he was in the hospital, it wasn't healthy for me to be there with him every hour of the day. It was emotionally draining.  So I would spend the mornings at home working on the book before going to the hospital. About a week before he came home from the hospital, I turned in my manuscript to the publisher."
She described blending motherhood with a career as "really hard, but really rewarding. People talk about 'life and work balance,' but I don't think 'balance' is a good way to describe it. I think 'juggling' is a better description. But what's been so great is that as he has started to eat food, my two worlds have intersected. Food is something I can bring into my home and nourish my family with."
Also, her career affords her time at home, instead of heading to an office every day.  "I'm able to do all my recipe development and writing from home. The only time I'm out of the home is when I'm filming, or if I have a meeting."
What people may not realize is that the entire 13-episode season of "Kelsey's Essentials" is usually filmed in a three-week period.  
"This time I brought my mom to New York, and she spent some great quality time with Oliver while I was filming."
 When asked some of her favorite dining haunts on her visits home,"My mom's cooking," was her first response. But she also likes to stop at Kirt's Family Drive-In on Washington Blvd, Tona on 25th Street for sushi, "And we always have to make a trip to Chick-fil-A because we don't have any in New York!" 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Viet Pham Hanging In On Next Food Network Star

Viet Pham at his restaurant, Forage.
After two episodes, Viet Pham seems to be in the middle of the pack on "The Next Food Network Star." He hasn't made any major missteps, but he hasn't jumped to the top of the class yet.

From what I've seen of the competiton, and what I know of Viet personally, his cooking skills and his creativity are his biggest assets. He doesn't have a bold (or bizarre) personality as some of the other contestants — shoulder-shaking Damaris, "Glam it up" Lovely, or "The Pie Guy."  In some ways, that's a good thing, because over-played gimmicks can get annoying.

But it seems the judges want everyone to have a cooking "point of view" that can be summed up in a quick sound bite. Hence, the "Pie Guy," and the "Barbecue Guy," and Nikki's "Meat On the Side" vegetarian cooking.

But the mentor/judges also seem to have preconceived notions as to what that "point of view" should be. Alton Brown, Giada di Laurentiis and Bobby Flay all jumped onto the idea that Andres had lost a lot of weight through cooking; but he was reluctant to bill himself as the "calorie-cutting chef" that they had in mind. So when it came down to Danuschka or Andres, they sent him packing.  (And they might have also wanted Danuschka to keep around so viewers would have someone to cheer against!)

I'm wondering if the judges want to label Viet as a stereotypical "Asian chef?" That would be a mistake, because his cooking is so much more.  But it would be hard to sum it up in a sound bite; maybe I would go with something like "creative global cuisine," or the ability to create something amazing from basic ingredients. While "I beat Bobby Flay" is a great bragging right, it doesn't describe Viet's type of cooking or what he will teach us on his show.

Viet Pham was the runner-up on "Extreme Chef." 
I was also surprised that Viet seemed a little camera shy.  This is the guy who was cool and confident through every bizarre episode of "Extreme Chef!" And beating Bobby Flay on "Iron Chef" tested his culinary mettle.
But, perhaps Viet is used to letting his food do the talking, instead of making a sales pitch about himself.

Still, he's connecting with viewers, because when I checked tonight, he was the second place Fan Favorite, behind "The Pie Guy" Rodney Henry.

It's been a few years since I watched "The Next Food Network Star" through a whole season. And it seems that instead of finding "unknowns" out there, the producers are recruiting cooks who are camera-ready because they've been on other TV series. Stacey Poon-Kinney's restaurant was featured on "Restaurant: Impossible." Russell Jackson competed on "Iron Chef." Rodney Henry has been on "Chopped," "Down Home With The Neelys" and "Paula's Home Cooking."  Danuschka competed on "Chopped." Chris Hodgson was on "The Great Food Truck Race."  I guess it's to be expected now that there are so many other food competition and reality series out there.

At any rate, I'm getting a chuckle out of some of the judges' comments.  Giada complaining that Lovely is too slick and polished?  Um, what do they say about "pot calling the kettle black?"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Marie Callender's Pie Sale Through June 30

Marie Callender's just kicked off its Marie’s Whole Pie-To Go Sale, through June 30.
You can buy a whole pie for $7.99 plus the cost of the pie tin. The sale excludes cheesecakes, seasonal fresh fruit pies and promotional pies, but you still have a lot pies to choose from!  Visit for a complete listing!  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blue Lemon Launches Breakfast Menu With Charity Event

Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes served at Blue Lemon restaurants.
 Blue Lemon restaurants are launching a new breakfast menu in June by hosting a week-long charity breakfast to benefit the Utah Adoption Exchange. 
Blue Lemon owners Aaron and Lychelle Day, who are adoptive parents themselves, will donate $1 to the non-profit for every breakfast entrée item bought next week, June 17 – 22. 

“We picked the Utah Adoption Exchange as a recipient of our charity breakfast event because we are personally very passionate about the need to find loving and supportive families for all children,” said Lychelle Day, co-owner of Blue Lemon.

In addition to being the mother of three daughters, Day and her husband have adopted two brothers, aged three and four. The Utah Adoption Exchange recruits families to adopt children ages eight to 18 years old.  According to Lindsay Kaeding of the Utah Adoption Exchange, 154 children are waiting to be adopted in Utah. The average child is an 11-year-old boy, and many children are victims of abuse and neglect. The Utah Adoption Exchange is the only adoption recruitment agency registered with the state of Utah. The organization contracts with the Utah Division Child and Family Services to match children who need a home with suitable parents.

Blue Lemon, with locations in Cottonwood Heights, City Creek and Highland,added six new entrees to the breakfast menu including: 
- Artisan breakfast sandwich with eggs, broiled tomatoes, fontina cheese, and a choice of black forest ham, grilled peppercorn turkey bacon or turkey sausage
 - Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes topped with homemade buttermilk syrup and fresh blueberries
 - Bananas Foster French Toast made with cinnamon walnut bread and topped with buttermilk syrup and fresh cream
 - Eggs Florentine with poached eggs, broiled tomatoes, fresh sautéed spinach, grilled ham on a freshly baked English muffin, topped with house made hollandaise sauce
 - Berry Orange Crepes filled with orange-zested sweet cram, topped with fresh berry orange compote and finished with mint coulis
  - Grilled Steak and Eggs. 
  Several entrees are accompanied with new rosemary grilled potatoes. 

Blue Lemon is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday - Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Breakfast is served from 7 to 11 a.m. at all three locations: at 55 W South Temple in Salt Lake City, in Highland at 11073 North Alpine Highway, and in Cottonwood Heights at 6910 South Highland Drive. For more information visit, @blue_lemon on Twitter and on Facebook.

About Blue Lemon
Blue Lemon was founded in 2009 by Utahns, Lychelle and Aaron Day, with fresh, seasonally-driven food with a unique twist of flavors and textures at an affordable price. Its mantra is “Pure, clean food with a twist.” 
Blue Lemon uses organic foods and hormone-free meats in its menu, and eco-friendly tactics such as recycling, sourcing from local providers and using recycled materials. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Saffron Valley Hosts Kebab & Wine Festival

Lamb dish from Saffron Valley.

Saffron Valley invites you to experience a traditionally distinctive menu of grilled kebabs complete with select wine pairings by Young’s Market Company during its 3rd Annual Kebab & Wine Carnival. The kick-off for the 2-week long Kebab & Wine Carnival will begin at its newer downtown location (26 E Street, Salt Lake City) from June 10-16 followed by theSouth Jordan location (1098 W South Jordan Pkwy.) from June 17- 23.
“The Kebab Carnival honors the age old traditional Tandoori style of cooking which is loved the world over by Indian food enthusiasts. What is so unique about Tandoori style of cooking is that it is absolutely flavorful, delicious and very healthy for you,” said Lavanya Mahate, owner of Saffron Valley, in a press release. “We are excited about the upcoming Kebab & Wine Carnival which will present over 25 different varieties of succulent kebabs and wines to go with them.”
Kebabs are chunks or morsels of meats or vegetables marinated in yogurt, fresh and dried herbs and spices and cooked in an open flame Tandoor oven which reaches temperatures over 750 degrees F. Kebabs can also be made with ground meats. Although the typical notion is that kebabs are grilled and served on skewers, they can be removed from the skewers prior to serving. All kebabs during the Carnival come with a generous helping of salad, rice and soup for a hearty dining experience.
In India Tandoori cooking and more specifically Kebabs were popularized during the Moghul era when cooking was taken very seriously and rivalries were common between chefs over recipes, ingredients and whims of kings, who wanted their meat cooked in particular ways. 

Saffron Valley is recreating the magic of the Tandoor to connect  modern day Salt Lake patrons with the ancient Tandoori cuisine through this dedicated Food Carnival.