Tag Archives: Organic Food

Natural Products Expo West Part One and Meeting Lillie Belle Farms

This year, I had the opportunity of attending the Natural Products Expo West which is the largest trade show in the natural/organic/healthy product industry.  Every year thousands of retailers, vendors and press attend the event to learn more about the latest and greatest when it comes to natural products.  I honestly had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the expo, but I was blown away.

The Natural Products Expo West is held at the Anaheim Convention Center and has over 3,000 exhibits ranging from natural and organic food and beverage, beauty and household products.  Since Sweet Potato Bites focuses on natural and allergen-friendly foods, this expo was pretty much a food lover’s paradise for me.  And it’s safe to say I left the expo with a bunch of goodies.

expowest_organic productsI was glad to see some of my favorite brands at the expo such as Reed’s Ginger Brew, Evolution Fresh and KIND Snacks to name a few, and even had time to take a SMOOCH with the cow from Stonyfield Farm and won a free candle as a prize.  I have to give special kudos to Stonyfield Farm for their excellent social media and consumer engagement – their booth was rocking!

stonyfieldfarm_expowestIn addition to stopping by some of my favorites, I also had the opportunity to sit down and chat with some of my favorite brands as well as some brands that were new to me.  One of those new brands was Lillie Belle Farms.

Lillie Belle Farms is an artisan chocolate company based in Southern Oregon that creates decadent chocolate using European techniques with a fun American “twist.”  Lillie Belle Farms is most well-known for their decadent truffles and bon bons, but I was most excited to learn about their “Bean to Bar” chocolates.

lilliebellefarms_expowestI had the chance to talk with Jeff Shepherd, the owner of Lillie Belle Farms who truly has a passion for making delicious chocolate while putting a creative spin on it.  After many years of making delicious truffles, he told me how he decided one day that it would be interesting to make a chocolate bar made directly from coffee beans, so he borrowed some beans from a friend, combined them with some sugar, and with a bit of trial and error, made a delicious “Bean to Bar” chocolate bar that ended up winning two Good Food Awards in San Francisco.  I tried the award-winning bar which was named Perfect Illusion (all of the bars named after songs) and it was divine.  If you are a chocolate purist, I definitely recommend these.  Jeff even uses quality Criollo beans from Peru in some of his Bean to Bar Chocolates.

lilliebellefarmschocolate_expowestHowever, if you are in the mood for something more creamy and decadent and perhaps milk chocolate, then The Most Awesome Chocolate Bar EVER made with homemade almond and hazelnut gianduja, crunchy feuilletine wafers and sea salt.  This bar is quite possibly the best chocolate bar I have ever tasted (and I have tasted a lot).  I now see why Jeff calls it The Most Awesome Chocolate Bar EVER.

Jeff also has other creative chocolate creations including a chocolate bacon bar that has a strong bacon flavor and the Sunshine Daydream bar made with milk chocolate and powdered buttermilk.  All of the Lillie Belle Farms chocolate flavors are so unique and you can tell that Jeff pours a lot of love into each bar.  Making chocolate is this man’s passion and it definitely shines through.

Unfortunately Lillie Belle Farms isn’t in Southern California (yet), but you can order their delicious chocolate from the website.  I definitely predict having many more Lillie Belle Farms chocolates in my future.  Thanks Jeff for taking the time to meet with me and introducing me to your delicious chocolate!

Stay tuned for part two of the Natural Products Expo which includes meeting Mary from Mary’s Gone Crackers!

A Sneak Peek at Paul Martin’s American Grill

Paul Martin’s American Grill is the latest restaurant to hit the Irvine Spectrum.  After having two American “Bistro” locations in California, the masterminds behind Paul Martin’s decided to open a Grill concept in Irvine.  The main difference between the Bistro and the Grill?  The Grill will focus more on simpler dishes without all the extra sauces and dressings.

When I heard this restaurant was opening in Irvine, I was pretty excited.  The menu and concept sounded exactly like the type of food I enjoy most.  So when an offer was presented for me and a guest (the Englishman) to dine at the new Grill in Irvine prior to it’s opening, I leaped at the chance.

Walking inside the restaurant was like a breath of fresh air – a cool, sleek interior, open bar space, and a lounge/patio area with couches and chairs.  One of the things I do miss from time to time are some of the awesome restaurants/lounges LA has to offer.  After dining at Paul Martin’s however, it looks like the Irvine Spectrum finally has a hip, trendy restaurant that is not your typical suburb-chain fare.

Paul Martin’s American Grill prides themselves on serving locally grown, organic ingredients and you can definitely tell.  All the food was extremely flavorful and I left eager to try out more of their dishes, which doesn’t happen too often at most restaurants I’ve been to.  The waiters were also very knowledgeable when it came to where the meat and produce came from.  Definitely a plus in my book.

To start, the Englishman and I decided to order a round of drinks and a Butcher’s Board with cheeses and artisan meats.  I was feeling a bit fancy so I decided to order one of my favorite drinks, a dirty martini.

With the exception of Houston’s, it’s been hard to find a decent dirty martini in these parts. I must say that the one at Paul Martin’s was quite excellent.  I definitely would’ve ordered another if I wasn’t the designated driver for the evening.  As we sipped our drinks, we were presented with a lovely board of cheese and meat.

The Butcher’s Board had goat cheese, blue cheese, and a hard Italian cheese (I forgot the name) that tasted like Parmesan.  The board also had olives, salami and prosciutto.  All of it was quite delicious, especially the goat cheese which looked like it had been dipped in some sort of honey.  Even the Englishman who is NOT a fan of goat cheese gobbled this one up.  I noticed that most of the tables around us were also happily enjoying their Butcher’s Boards which made me think this is a must order when you dine at Paul Martin’s.

For my entree, I had a mad craving for a burger so I went with the Bistro Burger that came with Tillamook Cheddar Cheese, Black Pepper Aioli and Fries.  When the burger first came out it was missing the melted cheddar cheese, but no matter.  After profusely apologizing, the waiter took the burger back and brought it out with sizzling melted cheese in under three minutes.

The meat was flavorful and juicy and cooked to perfection.  I haven’t had a burger this good in a long time so this was well worth the wait.  The skinny fries on the side were seasoned nicely and the Englishman was more than willing to help me eat those.

Speaking of the Englishman, he decided to order the Market Fresh Fish that came with a grilled pineapple salsa and wild rice.  The fish was seared beautifully and the Englishman loved the pineapple salsa and wild rice on the side.  He happily cleaned his plate before helping me with my fries.

We both debated ordering dessert, but were so pleasantly full that we decided to pass it up this time.  There were some delicious looking items on the menu including a Raspberry Creme Brulee that I am sure would be fantastic.

Overall, Paul Martin’s American Bistro definitely exceeded my expectations, and the Englishman and I agreed this place would definitely be in our regular rotation.  So to all you O.C. locals, go check this place out NOW.  You won’t be disappointed.

Paul Martin’s American Bistro

31 Fortune Drive Suite 302

Irvine, CA 92618

True Food Kitchen: Appetizer Edition

Every year for my birthday I have gotten to pick what restaurant I want to have my birthday feast at.  Past year choices have included Bluewater Grill, Taste (in LA), and Lola’s (also in LA).  This year though the choice was pure and simple:  True Food Kitchen.

Since discovering True Food Kitchen this past spring, it’s become my new food obsession.  I love the open decor of the restaurant, the simplicity of the dishes, and of course the mojitos.  Everytime I walk out of the restaurant I leave with a smile on my face and a happy belly.  And no, True Food did not ask me to write that, but if they are looking for a spokesperson, I am available…

So why is this post called appetizer edition?  Well, I’ve written about the mojitos, commented on the overall food, so why not focus on a couple of appetizer standouts?

First Up: Carmelized Onion Tart with Fig and Gorgonzola

What better way to kick off a birthday celebration than with this beautiful tart?  It was light, crispy and loaded with flavor.  I loved that the onions didn’t overpower the fig and gorgonzola taste and it didn’t feel heavy at all.  I could’ve eaten another one of these.  Seriously.

Next: Pita and Hummus

I don’t know what True Food Kitchen does to their hummus, but it is pretty fantastic.  Maybe it’s the fresh tomatoes, olives and feta on top, but I almost ALWAYS order this dish when I dine here.  The pita is whole wheat and fresh out of the oven, and the servers are always willing to give you extra pita triangles to scoop up the remaining bits of hummus.  Definitely a win.

And Last: Chicken Sausage Pizza with Fontina Cheese

Source: StyleEater.com

I may have cheated and ordered this dish as my entrée, but I have ordered it as an appetizer in the past so let’s just roll with it ok?  This pizza has delicious chicken sausage with just the right amount of spice and is topped with tomato sauce and fontina cheese.  It may not sound like the most exotic pizza around the block but it is definitely loaded with flavor.

Once again I had another delicious meal thanks to the wonderful people at True Food Kitchen.  I was even brought out a Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble as a dessert!  As you can see there is no said photo of the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble because I was about 1.5 Mojitos deep and the camera was long forgotten.

Looks like I have an excuse to come back to True Food Kitchen for a special “desserts” edition next!