Category Archives: News & Nibbles

New Pen & Fork Launch

We’re Moving!

Chef Gwen has combined her wordpress blog with her website to create a more robust food blog.

Pen & Fork ( is a food blog about cooking and eating — at home and in restaurants — and everywhere in between.

Find recipes, cooking tips, cookbook reviews, kitchen tool finds and articles about restaurants, dining out and food travels.

If you subscribe to blog, please consider resubscribing to the new site at

Check it out:


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Giveaway: Tickets to Phoenix Cupcake Love-In

UPDATE 10-4-10: We have a winner!

Congratulations to Katrina M! A big, sweet thank you to all who entered. If you didn’t win, I hope that you’ll still come to the event. The entire ticket price goes directly to the two charities. Hope to see you there!

Did you read my last post about the fun-tastic charity cupcake event happening on 10.10.10 at Hotel Valley Ho here in Phoenix?

No? Well, go read it (here)….I’ll wait.

Meanwhile, I might shop for one of these Tees.

Back? Good.

Now you know that the Cupcake Love-In, co-founded by pastry chefs Tracy Dempsey and Kelly Garcia, is a charity event to raise money for Singleton Moms and Safe Haven for Animals, and you know that 33 Valley bakers are competing for best cupcake bragging rights. And there’s a cupcake eating contest and a cupcake decorating station for the little ones. And it’s all for charity.

In the spirit of giving, I’ve bought 2 tickets to the event.

To win both tickets, all you have to do is leave a comment, telling me your favorite cupcake flavor. That, and you need to be able to go to the event on Sunday, 10.10.10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Hotel Valley Ho in Phoenix.

Fine print:
  • 1 entry per person
  • Barring natural disasters, broken bones, virus-infections, etc., you agree to attend the event if you win.
  • Deadline is midnight (PST) Sunday, 10-3-10.
  • 1 winner will be selected at random to receive both tickets, and will be announced on Monday, 10-4-10.
  • Tickets will be left for the winner at “will call” at the Hotel Valley Ho the day of the event (10.10.10)

So, go ahead. Tell me your favorite cupcake flavor.


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Cupcake Love-in Charity Event

Peace, Love, Cupcakes

Don’t you want to take a big bite out of this scrumptious vanilla raspberry cupcake?

Sunday, October 10th, 33 Valley bakers are competing to see who has the fairest cupcake of them all in the first Cupcake Love-In at the Hotel Valley Ho.

The professional competition is just one part of the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. event.

There’s a cupcake eating contest, too, and a raffle with tons of great prizes.

Sample cupcakes from local bakeries, cupcakeries, restaurants and pastry chefs.

Bring the kids (free for children under 6), and let them decorate cupcakes.

Cupcake Love-In co-founders, professional pastry chefs  Tracey Dempsey (Tracey Dempsey Originals) and Kelly Garcia (Butter & Me) are organizing the event to raise money for two charities: Singleton Moms, a non-profit organization that helps single mothers who are battling cancer, and Safe Haven for Animals, a no-kill non-profit shelter in Phoenix.

We caught up with Chef Garcia and asked her how things were coming along:

“I am most excited about seeing the whole event come together really.  It’s been a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time.  I’m so proud of our team and humbled by how our community has been behind us on this, from our sponsors, participants and volunteers, to our raffle & door prize donors and, of course, the attendees.  I will be so happy to give our chosen charities the [donation] checks at the end.  They really deserve it!”

So, dig out the coins trapped in your seat cushions (tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door) and head over to the retro Valley Ho on 10.10.10 to indulge in a day of cupcake fun while supporting two great causes.

Oh, and I’ll be one of the judges in the professional cupcake competition.

Can you dig it? Hope to see you there.

Cupcake Love-In

Hotel Valley Ho
6850 East Main Street
Scottsdale, AZ 85251 (view map)
10.10.10, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Strategies for Arizona Restaurant Week 2010

Put on your eatin’ pants. It looks like 114 Phoenix restaurants and 43 Tucson restaurants are participating in Arizona Restaurant Week, September 18-26.

The participating restaurants have put together three or four-course prix fixe menus, some with extras thrown in, priced at $29 or $39, excluding tax, tip and beverages (unless noted otherwise). If you’re headed to Tucson, eight of the 43 restaurants are offering $19++ menus.

Given that Restaurant Week is dinner-only, you have nine dining opportunities. How will you spend them?

We’ve scanned through the Phoenix list and have come up with a few strategies:

(click on the restaurant name to look at the Arizona Restaurant Week menu)

History Buffs

Photo ©

Let’s say you’re in the mood for a side of Arizona history thrown in with your meal. You’ll want to check out Durant’s, the venerable old-school, clubby restaurant that opened in 1950. Even older than Durant’s, Stockyards (opened in 1947) is “Arizona’s Original Steakhouse.” Or you might try Avanti if classic Italian sounds more your style. Opened in 1974, Avanti is still owned by the two original partners from Sorrento, Italy. Even though El Chorro Lodge is sporting new owners and a $$$$ makeover, El Chorro grandly takes its place in Arizona history — it first opened as a lodge and dining room in 1937. And yes, the older-than-old-school relish tray and famous sticky buns are part of their prix fixe menu. (All $29++)

Fun & Funky

You think old-school is old news and you want high energy! Fun! Buzz, baby! Head to Cowboy Ciao, because even with wacky menu names like “pig & puddin,” the chow is seriously delicious. Eye-candy hangout Culinary Dropout is another option, and the slackers are even throwing in a wine cooler. Or try tapas new comer Iruña (from a been-around chef) for a little Spanish olé flavor in a hip setting — at least the menu isn’t the predictable steak/chicken/veg. (All $29++)

Stealth Health

Photo © FRC

Restaurant Week can wreck havoc on your good diet intentions, but it won’t if you hit up these restaurants. Calistro California Bistro ($29++) even has some gluten-free options as does True Food Kitchen ($29++), and TFK is tossing in a hummus starter, too. Ko’sin ($29++) at Wild Horse Pass has the local veggies down pat, and we’re even putting Roka Akor ($39++) in this stealth health group because they’ve got butterfish tataki and grilled salmon on the menu.

Chef Groupie

It’s no secret we have rock-star chefs in this valley, and three of the hottest chefs are serving up foodie dream menus for restaurant week: Josh Hebert at Posh Restaurant (the ORIGINAL improvisational chef; $39++); inked Chris Curtiss at noca Restaurant ($29++), and Aaron Chamberlin at St. Francis ($29++). We’re including the original *hot* chef — Mark Tarbell — on this list, too. (If you don’t remember when Tarbell was the hottest chef in town, perhaps you should stick to the Fun & Funky category.)  Tarbell’s ($29++) simple menu only includes one choice for each course, but his butterscotch tart with caramelized pancetta might be worth the trip alone.

Final Thoughts

We would have recommended FnB, Renegade Canteen or Christopher’s Crush, but all three are conspicuously absent this year. Maybe that’s a statement in and of itself.

Also, if you’re hoping to snag a glass of wine included with the price of the meal, you might want to consider 5th & Wine ($29++) or recent “Best Comfort Food” winner Cafe ZuZu ($29++), but, oddly, Cheuvront’s Wine Bar doesn’t include vino. Really? Go figure. In all, 27 of the 114 Phoenix restaurants are throwing in a glass of vino with the deal.

Lastly, if you’re seeking value above and beyond the great deals all of these restaurants are putting forth, you might want to consider one of the resort restaurants on the list, like Bourbon Steak (Fairmont Scottsdale), BLT Steak (Camelback Inn), Deseo (Westin Kierland), Lon’s (Hermosa Inn), Prado (Intercontinental Montelucia) or Talevera (Four Seasons). It’s near impossible to eat at these resorts for less than $40 on a regular night with just two courses. (All $39++ with the exception of Deseo, $29++)

Regardless of your ultimate strategy, you’ll want to make a reservation as the ones we’ve listed are likely to fill up fast.

And remember to be a good diner, too. Don’t ask for substitutions (you can do it, just this once) and tip well.

So, put some elastic in your eatin’ pants and let the feasting begin.

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Best Pen & Fork Photo – Winner

We have a winner in the Best Pen & Fork Photo contest!

We drew a name out of a hat from the entries, and the winner is….


Thanks to everyone who voted. The favorite photo, by a landslide, was the Buttermilk Pancakes with Quinoa.

That’s not motor oil (although I guess that’s been done before, by some food stylist.) I assure you that it was Trader Joe’s Grade B Vermont syrup…I keep it in the fridge, so it’s nice and thick. And I held the camera (Canon 20D on a tripod) with one hand, and poured the syrup with the other. The light coming from the left of the photo is natural window light. The pancakes were immediately consumed after the shot by my husband. OK, I had a bite first, then he finished them.

Official Vote tally:

16 votes: Buttermilk Pancakes with Quinoa
4 votes: Crazy for Zucchini
2 votes: How to Seed a Pomegranate
1 vote: Cafe Bink Hosts…
1 vote: Mandarin Orange Dust

Jessica wins a copy of Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian.

Thanks again to everyone who voted, and thank you all for coming along on this journey with me, pen & fork in hand.

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Pen & Fork Blog Turns Two

And they said it wouldn’t last. I’m kidding, no one said that. Except me. But hey, I was wrong.

Not that I would spit on anyone’s food before I served it or anything remotely violent if they had said that.

Most likely, I’d just cry. And there’s no crying in food blogging…unless onions are involved…and in that case, I have my trusty onion goggles.

Last year, I handed out completely unfounded awards to celebrate the 1st anniversary (or birthday?) but this year I have a much better idea.

In the interest of short attention spans (my own), I’m going with only one category:

Best Pen & Fork Photo.

And, more importantly, I want you to vote.

Sure, I could pick one, but that’s almost as lame as last year’s awards (except… shortly after that self-aggrandizing post, Pen & Fork did pick up it’s first, non-aggrandizing award…coincidence? Yeah, probably.)

Anyway, here are this year’s nominees for best photo:

#1 Buttermilk Pancakes with Quinoa

#2 Crazy for Zucchini

#3 Cafe Bink Hosts…

#4 How to Seed a Pomegranate

#5 Mandarin Orange Dust

Cast your vote and you’ll be thrown into a hat (not you literally — your entry) and my trusty assistant (or dog, depending upon who is available) will draw an entry out of the hat.

Fine Print:
Your vote must be cast on THIS post. If you cast your vote on another post, your name will NOT go into the hat. Not that I don’t appreciate any and all comments on any post, but to get into this random drawing, you have to cast your vote in the comments on THIS post. Voting ends Saturday, June 19th at 11:59 p.m. I’ll announce the winner by Tuesday morning, June 22, 2010. Only one vote per person. No alternate entry is valid. Whining, complaining and blatant brown-nosing (although appreciated) will not improve your chances.

The Prize:

The randomly selected commenter will receive a copy of the new Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods.

(Full disclosure: I have a couple entries in this book, mentioned in this previous post, but it’s a really great book in spite of that.)

In all seriousness,  I just want to say thank you…for accompanying me on this journey, with a fork in hand, I hope. Without you? Well, I wouldn’t do this.

Let the voting commence!

Which photo will win “Readers Choice: Best Pen & Fork Photo?”


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Phoenix Files: In The Raw Calendar

In The Raw Calendar

Bravo to 14 local chefs (and one brave spouse) for stripping down for charity.

And bravo to Ken & Lee Singh of Singh Farms for generously sharing their special farm as the calendar’s backdrop.

The In The Raw Calendar, unveiled during a private party for the participating chefs and the calendar sponsors yesterday at the beautiful Singh Farms, will go on sale at venues throughout the Scottsdale Culinary Festival starting this week.

The $14.95 calendar (April 2010 through 2011) was shot at Singh Farms, so it was fitting to have the celebratory feast for the uninhibited chefs who posed in the nude for photographer John Ormond.

The attending chefs (all clothed this time) and calendar contributors feasted on a spit-roasted pig, hand-made buffalo sausages, and a dizzying array of side dishes made with the fresh produce of Singh Farms.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Scottsdale League for the Arts, Camp AZDA (American Diabetes Association) and the American Red Cross’s earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

One chef even told me that he’s now hitting the gym in preparation for next year’s calendar. Something tells me that once word gets out about this little gem, even more chefs will be willing to bare all for the cause.

Participating chefs:

  • Lee Hillson, T. Cook’s at the Royal Palms
  • Taylor Domet, Heirloom at DC Ranch
  • Comer Smith, Cielo at Hotel Theodore (and his wife Robyn)
  • Aurore de Beauduy, Vogue Bistro
  • Jared Porter, The Parlor
  • Tammie Coe & MJ, Tammie Coe Cakes & MJ Breads
  • Jay Bogsinski (previously of Nine05)
  • Michael Stebner, True Food Kitchen
  • Matt Carter & Rochelle Daniel, Zinc Bistro & The Mission
  • Chris Bailey, Taggia at Firesky Resort
  • Charles Wiley, Cafe ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho
  • Payton Curry, Caffe Boa & Caffe Boa Bistro

Kudos to bare-naked chefs and to all who contributed in the production of the calendar, including MMPR Marketing Communications, Vaughn St. Imaging, Woods Lithographics and Bruce Vanderjagt Design.


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Cookbooks & Cocktails Event

Public Libraries are treasure troves of things I love.

Books… Information… Quiet space… Community… Free.

The Friends of the Scottsdale Public Library contacted me several months ago asking if I’d do a demo at the grand opening of their newest branch in North Scottsdale, the Appaloosa.

I don’t make public appearances like I used to. I review restaurants now, and while I don’t try to disguise my identity, I don’t walk in announcing myself either.

But how could I refuse? I love libraries, and a new one was opening practically in my back yard.

Then Susie Timm and Jay Pizarro from Foodies Like Us took over the planning and ramped up the Grand Opening event, smartly turning it into a fundraiser for the library.

They landed TV Food Network star Robin Miller, who happens to be a Scottsdale resident, too. I can’t wait to meet her.

Wine author Lizbeth Congiusti will also be on hand, and boy, did I ever pick out a tough assignment for her.

My demo is The Anatomy of a Great Vinaigrette — not the easiest thing to pair with wine, but Lizbeth is up for the challenge and will have some great suggestions on what to pair with vinegar based salad dressings.

I’m going to show you how to make as many different vinaigrettes as you can possibly dream up.

I’ll demo two for you, but I’ll also teach you how to make hundreds, just by varying a few key components.

So, Robin will dish on what it’s like to be a Food Network star, I’ll show you how to jazz up your summer salads, and Lizbeth with share wine pairing tips.

All three of us will sign our books at the end of the evening, and there’s a silent auction, too. I’m donating the proceeds from any books you buy to the library.

To purchase a ticket to the event (it’s only $30 in advance), visit www.foodieslikeus. com.

Hope to see you Friday, March 26th at 6:00 p.m.

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Cafe Bink Hosts Dogfish Head vs. Joel Gott

When I reviewed Cafe Bink for PHOENIX Magazine, I concluded that Binkley’s Restaurant’s younger sibling was a class act — a lovable, casual American French Bistro,  aptly run by Chef Brandon Gauthier and Amy Binkley. You might know Amy’s husband, Chef Kevin Binkley.

The haute Binkley’s gets lots of attention (deservedly so, Kevin is up for a James Beard Award again this year, and will be cooking at the Beard House on May 3, the night of the awards ceremony) but Cafe Bink is the kind of restaurant you visit more than just on special occasions.

Not to be outdone, Cafe Bink recently hosted its own “special occasion,” a Dogfish Head Brewery vs. Joel Gott Winery dinner, pitting one of the country’s most innovative breweries with a well known (especially for Zinfandel) winery from Napa Valley.

An informal polling of attendees before the dinner revealed that victory predictions were firmly in the Gott camp.

How could beer compete with wine when paired with sophisticated cuisine?

Each of five courses was paired with both a Dogfish beer, introduced by Arizona Sales Manager Louis Dolgoff, and a Joel Gott Wine, introduced by none other than Joel Gott himself.

1st course: (actually a reception with passed hors d’oeuvres)  included polish sausage atop brioche toast with mustard seed creme fraiche and Belguin endive stuffed with curried shrimp salad.

Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA vs. Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc.

Round 1:  Dogfish Head

2nd Course: Caramelized Pear stuffed with foie gras mousse, and served with apple buter butter smear, baby arugula, crystallized ginger strips and roasted hazelnuts.

Dogfish Head Pangaea vs. Joel Gott Chardonnay

Round 2: Joel Gott

(For the record, I voted for the ginger spiced Pangaea. The Chardonnay, made in the crisp, Chablis-style (vs. a buttery, oak style), didn’t enhance the flavors of this dish for me.)

3rd Course: Poached Salmon with coriander cous cous, charred scallions, sugar snap peas, and beurre rouge (a luscious, red wine butter reduction.)

Dogfish Head Red & White (11% alcohol, by the way) vs. Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon

Round 3: Joel Gott

(Something tells me that Gott had a leg up on this one, perhaps the red wine sauce was made with the Gott wine?)

4th Course: Braised short ribs with baby turnips, baby carrots, roasted fingerling potatoes and pearl onions.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre vs. Joel Gott California Zinfandel

Round 4: Joel Gott

(If you’ll notice, the baby vegetables, passed around in bowls, never made it to my plate. After one bite of the fall-apart ribs coated in a rich veal demi-glace, I decided vegetables would only detract from the fork tender ribs. But that’s just me. My dining companions said the vegetables were lovely.)

5th Course: Mexican Chocolate Torte with whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, blackberries and chocolate sauce.

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout vs. Joel Gott “Dillian Ranch” Zinfandel

Round 5: Dogfish Head

(I wasn’t surprised. When pairing wine with dessert, it should be at least as sweet as the dessert. The Chicory Stout beer was dark enough to match the depth of the chocolate, and since it, too, has chocolate notes, it paired perfectly.)

The take away from this fun, interactive beer vs. wine dinner is that beer is not just a bottle of hops, barley and fizz.

Dogfish Head Brewery beers are crafted with fine ingredients that pair just as well with food as wine, and in some cases, even better than wine.

It’s a given that wine pairs with food, and for the 65 people who attended the Cafe Bink dinner, it’s safe to say that they now think beer is a natural partner for exquisite cuisine, too.

What do you think of pairing beer with more than just burgers and brats?

Cafe Bink
36889 N. Tom Darlington, Carefree, AZ

You’ll find Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Raison D’Etre on tap and Joel Gott Dillian Ranch Zinfandel on Cafe Bink’s everyday menu.


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The Eyes have it… Or do they?

It’s true.

We eat with our eyes first.

Certainly when dining out, the eyes have it.

Of course, the nose really gets bent out of joint about this.

The nose can decide to join the party or it can throw a fit and rebel, which only spoils the party for everyone, including the tongue.

Especially the tongue, who waits patiently while these two yahoos make up their minds.

A particular Indian restaurant in San Francisco has clearly figured this out.

It presents food that is first appealing to the eyes, even though it is the fragrance of their gloriously spiced food that truly boggles the mind.

Frankly, it’s hard to miss the fragrance when you first walk into the restaurant, but — and this is my whole point — until the eyes scope out the scene, the nose can sniff all it wants. What does it look like, baby?

Heady aromas that make you swoon will come to a screeching halt if the food is haphazardly presented as goopy globs on a plate.

Rather than assuming the nose will just get over itself, Amber India decides to placate the eyes first with beautiful presentations of otherwise homey concoctions that only a nose or a mother could love.

Am I wrong?

Of course the real test, the “final answer” so to speak, ultimately belongs to the tongue. But it has to wait, patiently, until the eyes and the nose have rendered their judgments.

So which do you think is more important? The eyes or the nose? Or, are you all about the tongue, eyes and nose be damned?


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