Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Belated TedXAustin 2010

I was one of the lucky 300 selected to attend the first ever TedXAustin, and boy was I thrilled to be there.  Along with the amazing talks, the energy and the people there were firey and alive.  Everyone I met had an interesting story, interesting accomplishments, and fun personalities.  The energy at TedXAustin was exciting like a rollercoaster; any second there you would be surprised with a great speaker, story, or remarkable person in the audience.  The theme for TedXAustin was to Play Big.  Playing Big was about building a community in a playground.  Judging from all the new friends made that day, I'd say TedXAustin got it right. If you haven't seen it  by now, the cover of the Play Big program was created by the Bulter Brothers.  Kind of anyways.  It was actually created by kids.  Watch the video.  It was amazing.  

Two of my favorite talks at TedXAustin were Doug Ulman and Steven TomlinsonDoug Ulman from Livestrong speak about many things that were related to cancer; rather he spoke about things that helped people cope and beat cancer.  As oxytocin and health is one of my research areas, I couldn't agree more with Doug's message.  If we all give, we all profit.   Building a community of support, especially for those who need oxytocin the most, benefits us all.  

Steven Tomlinson reminded me of myself.  He's a man with many different passions, none of which are seemingly related.  I have different passions, and they used to be unrelated.  Hypermiling, Food, Beer, Cooking, Dogs, and, skating. They actually are becoming somewhat related now that I'm combining events involving multiple passions.  Steven's advice was to integrate all the things you enjoy, and don't worry about having a career.  Once you are good at the loose collections of hobbies, the lines dividing them will blur, and you'll do something you love.  Do something you love, do it well, and market it in a way that people will pay for it.  Also, he says to say yes to everything, which sounds eerily like me already.  As I'm nearing the very end of my graduate career in the depths of analyzing data, it was wonderfully uplifting to see what I might be able to to do just by doing what I like and trying to do it well.  Thanks, Steven for that glimpse into what it's like to have passion for many things and doing it well. 

I'll also add that Ruby Jane was incredibly talented.  She had amazing stage presence, and certainly a bright future.  She was so stunning that I kind of want to start listening to Willy Nelson.  TedXAustin was a wonderful experience.  I can't wait for the next one!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sake and Sushi Pairing Dinner at Kenichi Austin

I was a lucky girl to be invited to Kenichi's Sake and Sushi pairing dinner, and now you all get to live vicariously through John Knox's photos.  Check out the photo stream for even more photos. Michelle Cheng ( has already written a wonderful review of the dinner, so I'll indulge you with some food porn.  Also, I think if I write too much and have to stare at these photos, I'll be hungry again. 

Here's Chef Mark giving us the introduction on the dishes.

Amuse of textured beets with spring onion dashi.  I loved the beet chips, and they tasted like my favorite and beloved Terra chips.  Paired with the utterly delightful carrot infused TyKu "Black" Ginjo. 

I had a different very of this dish before previously, and let's just say, I'm in love with hit.  Scallop brulee with smoked fuji apples and mizuna paired with Tyku "White" Daiginjo.  The smoked apples and scallop were amazing in flavor and texture.

Chef Mark can make a mean soup.  Udon soup with radish, uzura (quail egg), and black cod cakes paired with Watari Bune "55" Junmai Ginjo. This soup had homemade udon noodles, and the broth was incredibly comforting. You have know that I grew up on Asian soups, so a well done soup has a special place in my heart.

Here's Brandi taking us on an educational sake tour throughout the night. 

Tai sashimi served with white soy and lemon vinaigrette, negi, grapes, crispy rice, and balsamic creme paired with Shichi Hon Yari "7 Spearsman* Junmai.  I got so hungry halfway through typing this sentence that I went to get some food. 

I'm back with some food next to me now.  This is steamed sea bass with coconut and candied ginger paired with Minogawa "Awa Yuki" Nigori Junmai.  The coconut flavors of this dish were riding that line between savory and sweet and perfectly balanced with the utterly delicious sea bass.  I admit. I licked my plate.

Shangjai kurobuta pork belly with pickled cherry congee paired with Tentaka Kuni "Hawk in the Heavens" Junmai.  Again, Chef Mark went for my comfort foods with that congee.  I'm not sure which is better: pork belly or really satisfying comfort food. 

Sweet kabocha dumplings with blood orange, strawberries, and creme fraiche gelato paired with Kenichi "Tankuki's Magic" Daiginjo.  I'm going to get some more food now. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The World of Cheese with Juliet Harbutt

I was delighted to be invited to take part in a cheese tasting hosted by Central Market and Juliet Harbutt.  Juliet Harbutt is the author of the new book, The World of Cheese, and if you don't already have a copy, you ought to go out and get one.  The book is guide to all things cheese along with beautiful pictures of cheese that will make your tummy scream, "FEED ME!"  What you won't find so easily in the book is Juliet's incredible sense of humor.  She's like a comedy act for food nerds an cheese whores.  That's not even mentioning that she knows her beers and wines.  Thank you to Juliet and Central Market for an incredibly fun-filled lunch.  

The cheese tasting event was not only enjoyable, but very educational.  Some important tips that we learned about cheese was that cheese should come to room temperature prior to eating.  This will let the full aromas and flavors to truly develop in your mouth.  Cheese should also be eaten soon after it is purchased.  Don't keep it in the fridge for weeks thinking that it is still going to be good.  It might still be edible, but it probably won't be as good as it was several weeks ago.  

Cheese that is warmed in your hands also has a different smell.  Try it next time with your cheese (but not brie, goat cheese, or other soft and creamy cheeses because that will just make a nasty sticky mess).  Roll a bit of the cheese around in your hand, smoosh it up, and take a whiff.  Does it smell like how the cheese book describes?  Does it smell like fresh cut grass, smoky wood, wet wool, dirty gym socks, or almonds?  Now savor that cheese (not the smooshy one, feed that to someone with a less discerning palate) with a complementary wine or beer.  I won't dive into cheese and beer pairings, but let's just say that there is a plethora of information out there about it.  

Enjoy some photos (by John Knox) from the event, and don't forget to savor your cheese and check out Juliet Harbutt's World of Cheese.

I'd like to take this home. YUMMY! I mean delicious *in a very ladylike fashion*.

Cheese plate, up. 

Smoosh the cheese.  Get those aromas going. 

I love blue mold.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Raw dining at 105 Degrees in Oklahoma City

During a trip to Oklahoma City, I visited 105 Degrees that was recommended by Cecilia Nasti.  105 Degrees was my first full raw dining experience, and well, it was certainly a different experience than most dining.  I won't jump into a long raw food blog post, but the premise is that the food is not cooked and still living.  There's plenty of debate over eating raw and the types of raw eater, and let's not touch that debate.  I will mention that I do feed my dogs a raw diet (which is just as controversial), and I am a strong proponent of it. However, I'm not a raw eater myself.  Enough with the introduction, let's jump into the food.  Photos by yours truly (me this time).

I loved the space in the lines in this open kitchen restaurant.  The bar was gorgeous, and the outdoor patio seemed like a nice place to chill in warmer weather (pardon my pun). 

I ordered the barbecued kale chips as they were highly recommended on Yelp.  I have to say that these were pretty tasty.  Light, non-greasy, and perfectly crunchy: these were a great snack. 

These were the kimchi vegetable dumplings with sesame ginger foam.

The kimchi centers were mixed with something to give them some sort of pastey filling texture.  I think it might have been nuts or coconut cream of sorts.  The kimchi flavor was tempered with whatever it was mixed with so that it wasn't too over powering.  The wrapper of the dumpling was make with dehydrated veggies, and I can't remember exactly which veggie now. 

I had originally ordered the coconut curry with smoked cashew custard, and it wasn't one of my favorites.  I think it just wasn't my style of dish.  

These were the red pepper ravioli filled with spinach, walnut pesto, and sage. 

The wrapper of the ravoli was made with dehydrated red peppers, and I thought the spinach filling was pretty tasty albeit just a bit salty.  Combined with the walnut pesto and sage, the flavors were pretty amazing. 

For dessert, I ordered a tasting plate with some substitutions.  From 12 o'clock going clockwise on this plate, I had hot chocolate hazelnut float, chocolate hazelnut cake, Meyer lemon cheesecake with candied almond crust, house made ice cream and berry sauce, and a snickerdoodle macaroons.

The chocolate hazelnut cake was amazing.  Absolutely amazing in flavor and consistency.

My favorites out of this offering was the Meyer Lemon cheesecake and the chocolate hazelnut cake.  Check out the destruction. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dinner at Fino Austin with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

My inner foodie dreams had come true.  Not only was I going to attend a dinner and cocktail pairing with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur at Fino, but I was also going to provide the dessert.  Chef Jason Donoho and Bill Norris presented a fabulous dinner and cocktail dinner, and Richard Arebalo did a wonderful and thorough write up.  

Two of my favorite dishes from the dinner were the scallop crudo with grapefruit and lavender and the pork belly confit with seared foie gras and julienned apples over smoked potatoes.  The scallop crudo was simply amazing.  With sweet and citrus notes paired with the light fragrance of lavender, the dish was to die for. Yes, I want that as part of my last meals. This dish also inspired me to top grapefruit with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.  The pork belly confit with foie gras and apples was also intense, rich, and well balanced.  The potatoes were amazing.  As an ordinary root veggie, the potato is usually a filler food, a side dish, something that we generally kick to the back of our minds. Not these potatoes though.  With smokey goodness, Chef Jason's smoked potatoes can hold their own.

The dessert I provided is a very special to me.  I first tried an ispahan cupcake made by Deverah Otten at Cupcake Meetup 2.0 at SXSW 2009.  One bite, and I was in love.  Ispahan is a classic French combination of lychees, raspberry, and rosewater created by Peirre Hermes.  I worked on my tipsy ispahan (boozed up version) recipe for several months only to think "This needs something."  I chatted about my problem with the extremely knowledgeable Bill Norris, and he introduced me to St. Germain.  I'm very honored that I got to share my favorite cupcake at Fino.  The cupcake is Amaretto cake, brushed with rose water, filled with lychees and raspberries, topped with St. Germain Swiss buttercream, and garnished with a fresh rose petal.
A big thank you to Fino_Austin, Chef Jason Donoho, and Bill Norris for having us over for dinner.  A big thank you to Bryan Townsend from St. Germain making it happen.  Don't forget to read Richard's in-depth write up of the dinner

Bill preparing the drinks.

Pouring of the first drink.

Delicious snacks.

Bryan Townsend from St. Germain.

Scallop Crudo, grapefruit, and lavender.

Pork Belly confit, foie gras, apples, and smokey potatoes.

Bill teaching us about St. Germain.

Pretty bottle for a lovely drink.

 The Tipsy Ispahan.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yelp's New Transparency Bad New for Businesses who write shill reviews

Yelp is trying to turn things around.  Public distrust.  Angry business owners.  Three class-action law suits.  Yelp has been on many people's naughty list lately, and they have implemented something new to turn that all around.  They have allowed previously "filtered" or "suppressed" reviews to be viewed by anyone and everyone.  Here's several links to the details on that, and I'll avoid rehashing all that information.  

Yelp's Official Blog Post about Filtering
Mashable's Blog post about Filtering

However, I spent a large chunk of time studying Austin business reviews, and here's what it means to users and to businesses (from my limited information that is).  I noticed that some businesses has only 10% of reviews filtered while others had more filtered reviews than reviews visible (i.e. 28 reviews visible, 47 filtered).  The percentiles were highly variable.  I haven't seen any patterns to them yet.  A few other things I gathered included:

1. Yelp has increased it's transparency, and that is bad news for sneaky businesses out there.  With the filtered reviews exposed, I easily found many businesses who wrote themselves shill reviews either using their own names or only writing positive reviews for other businesses they owned.  It appears that even if reviews are flagged by the community as being fake (i.e. the master debater's thread) they are either filtered or deleted due to violation of terms of service (TOS).  While I can't be absolutely certain due to the limits of information I have, I think they are deleted and placed below the filtered reviews.  You can't read the reviews anymore, but you can see who wrote them.

2. One thing I do notice is that the filtering system is fairly ineffective.  Sometimes it filters out people with 20 reviews, yet it leaves people with only one review unfiltered. Sometimes it filters out people who have spent a significant amount of time writing a thoughtful review, yet it leaves people with one-line reviews visible on the business page. That's the problem with having an algorithm do your work. 

3. The users who have filtered reviews (if everything is truly computer run numbers) should have all their reviews filtered.  I did find this to be true for the few people I researched on Yelp, but I can't be absolutely sure that this is true for all users who have filtered reviews.  Also, on the user(s)' profile page, it does not show whether or not their other reviews have been filtered.  It is also unlikely that any of these users know that their reviews have been filtered.  Theoretically, there should be a waiting period for all new users who have to work their way out of the filter by crossing whatever threshold the algorithm uses.  Yelp does not inform new users about that they are being filtered, which can be good or bad.  New users probably have a difficult time understanding the concept of filtering, and it might scare off new users from joining if they have to read a bunch of rules and regulations.  However, I think that if new Yelp users were informed of this filtering mechanism, Yelp might see more engaged new users.  That's all speculation though.  I can't think of any psychology studies examining commitment to a social community if there was a heavy time investment upfront without immediate reward. 

4. It appears that some administratively removed reviews are never shown in the deleted reviews.  I noticed very recently that Yelp had administratively deleted all reviews for a business if they were written before the business officially opened (i.e. Urban An American Grill and Lick it Bite it or Both).  After the business opened, those reviews did not reappear nor did they appear in the filtered or deleted review section.  It is my understanding that Yelp administrators would send an email to each of the users informing them that the review was removed.  However, there have also been some claims about missing reviews without an email from administration.  It does appear that all other administratively removed reviews that were flagged by the community do appear in the deleted review section.  

My advice for businesses is to scroll through your filtered reviewsIf they were written by yourself, your employees, or your friends, delete them as soon as possible.  These reviews might have been previously filtered and not visible to the Yelp community.  Now that they are visible to the Yelp community, users might feel as if you were trying to fool them with fake reviews and retaliate.  You might have escaped the master debater's thread previously, but now you can't hide those filtered reviews.  Even if users flag them now as shill reviews, they might still end up in the deleted section.  Deleting them now from the accounts you've (or employees or friends) created is the only way that they will disappear.  Additionally, reviews that are deleted are not searchable and do not come up in Google searches.  Threads, however, have no delete or edit button.  If you are called out on a thread, it is there to stay forever.  *Google can find quotes from filtered reviews though. 

Yelp has taken steps to be more transparent, but that also means that the businesses must also be more transparent.  You can run and hide, but not for long. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food Porn at Truluck's

Several months ago, Truluck's invited us to a delicious tasting menu.  However, this tasting menu was more like a tasting feast.  My two favorite dishes of the night were the lobster bisque and the kobe beef sliders.  The lobster bisque was incredibly smooth, rich, creamy, and full of flavor.  The kobe beef slider ranks in the top 5 best sliders I've  had so far, so that's saying something.  Enjoy the food porn! All photos by John M. P. Knox.

Seafood Tower.


U2 shrimp, meaning it is an 8 oz shrimp.

Crab cake.

Delicious chocolate cake.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Win a copy of The Icing on the Cupcake Book, signing event April 6th

With a nickname like the "Cupcake Fairy," how could I not cover the book signing and cupcake contest for The Icing on the Cupcake by Austinite Jennifer Ross.  The book signing and cupcake contest (complimentary Tito's Vodka Cocktails, Yum!) will be on Tuesday, April 6 at 7 p.m. at Bookpeople located at 603 North Lamar Boulevard.  You can follow Jennifer on Twitter: @CupcakeAuthor and find her recipes online at

Now for the win a book portion (full of recipes of course).  Post a comment with your favorite cupcake flavor on this blog post before noon, on April 5th.  @mousethedog will randomly select a winner of the book.   The winner will receive a copy of the book in the mail. Enjoy!

Filled with Mouth Watering Recipes for Unique Cupcake Creations
Author Jennifer Ross spent well over a year testing cupcake recipes, interviewing bakery owners and collaborating with a professional baker to create her own confection,
This charming novel tells the story of a young woman’s decision to leave everything she knows behind and start a new and delicious life for herself, after being jilted by her fiancĂ© who was deemed the most eligible bachelor in Dallas. Before long she opens a gorgeous bakery called The Icing on the Cupcake and realizes that finding herself first is much sweeter than finding a man. 
Complete with decadent cupcake recipes, THE ICING ON THE CUPCAKE is a fun summer read about a young woman experimenting with innovative ingredients—and with a life beyond her wildest dreams.