March 30, 2009
Competitions @ California State Fair

Think your cooking and home winemaking skills can go mano a mano with the best in the state? Then surf over to and download an application for this year's competitions at the California State Fair, which runs from Aug. 21 to Sept. 7. Food and drink categories include: home brew, California cheese, "California Kidz Kitchen," home wine and others. For more info., click on the "competitions" link at or opt for old-school communication and dial (916) 263-3010. Good luck!

March 30, 2009
Beer Wars: the Hops Strike Back

Recently we told you about "Beer Wars," an upcoming documentary film about the foamy politics of the American beer industry. The movie opens on April 16 at a variety of local theaters - check for tickets and locations - and here's something else for you hopheads to consider. Rubicon Brewing Company (2004 Capitol Ave.) will be hosting a "Beer Wars" pre-party, featuring brewery tours and of course, much sipping of suds. Rubicon will pour its own beers along with ales crafted by breweries featured in the film. The festivities start at 4 p.m. For more information: (916) 448-7032.

BTW, speaking of beer, here's my recent article about Sacramento's homebrewing scene.

March 26, 2009
Donate food, eat dessert

canned food, jpg

Times are tough and Il Fornaio in Roseville knows it. The restaurant that already serves free nibbles to its customers during happy hour is partnering with the Placer County food bank to get food to the needy. Every guest who brings in a can of food to the Galleria at Roseville restaurant starting April 1 will get a gift card good for a house drink or dessert. The offer will run through May 15.

March 25, 2009
Home winemaking competition @ Dixon May Fair

See, there's more to the upcoming Dixon May Fair than petting zoos and going in the wayback machine with Cheap Trick. A home winemaking competition will be part of this year's fair, which runs from May 7 - 10. So listen up, home winemakers: you have until April 2 to send an entry form that can be downloaded at (look for the link to the 2009 Dixon May Fair Guidebook).

Categories for the winemaking competition include: white wines, red wines, non-grape wines and dessert wines. First place in each class receives a whopping $15, with $10 going to second place and $5 for third. But hey, those winning wines will be displayed at the fair's floriculture building and you can say that at least Dixon loves your wine.

For more information: (707) 678-5529

March 23, 2009
Local blogger nominated for James Beard award

Hank Shaw hunts, fishes and gardens. Then he cooks all of his finds and discoveries. Finally, he writes about it all. And this is how his blog - Hunter Angler Gardener Cook - has come to be nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the best blog focusing on food, beverage, restaurants or nutrition.

Shaw works for the Capitol Morning Report, freelances about food, and teaches at California State University, Sacramento. But his true and unfiltered voice lies in his blog where he'll write about driving to Berkeley for a Mangalitsa pig head, the flavor combination of pheasant and pomegranate, or the difference between copper and lead ammunition.

At the core of it is what Shaw terms "honest food" - nothing packaged, in a box or wrapped in plastic. He prefers to eat meat he killed himself, and vegetables and fruits he either grew himself or picked up at a farmers market. And he really likes things people don't seem to eat anymore like venison or cardoons. "I have nothing against good grass-fed beef or a head of lettuce," he writes in his blog. "It's just that others are doing just fine writing about those foods."

Shaw's blog is one of three contending for the award. The other nominees are The BA Foodist from Bon Appetit, and Our One-Block Diet from Sunset Magazine. The winner will be honored May 3 in New York City with a certificate and bronze medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation Awards insignia.

March 20, 2009
Calling all California olive oil makers

The deadline for entries to the Yolo County Fair's olive oil competition is coming up. It started as a county-wide only contest but is now one of the largest for California producers.

Two bottles and $75 gets your olive oil entered. Just do it by March 30th at the Yolo County Fair Web site. Judging will occur April 15.

March 20, 2009
Potato chips for SPRING


Food is not only essential to traditions - cake on birthdays, dumpling soup on lunar new year, turkey on Thanksgiving - but it also marks the transition from one season to another. This recipe from the Idaho Potato Commission and Chef David Burke of Smith & Wolensky Restaurant Group does just that.

These potato wafers are essentially potato chips with fresh herbs pressed inside. They would be the perfect accompaniment to a backyard barbeque or even an elegant side dish at a spring brunch. Enjoy.

Herb Idaho potato wafers
Serves 4

1/4 cup clarified butter or vegetable oil
2 large potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped or whole herb leaves*
Salt, coarse or kosher to taste

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Brush baking sheet lightly with clarified butter or oil.
Peel potatoes; cut into thin, translucent slices using mandoline. Arrange half the slices on pan in single layer.
Place 3 herb leaves or sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chopped herb on each potato slice. Cover each with another potato slice; press to seal.
Brush lightly with butter or oil; sprinkle lightly with salt.
Bake about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked, lightly browned and crisp

* Use tarragon, cilantro, chives, sage, basil, rosemary or other fresh herbs

March 19, 2009
Feeling greens

St. Patrick's Day may be just a hazy memory by now, but plenty of green can still be seen in the region. Well, make that greens. The Davis Farmers Market in Central Park (C St, between 4th and 5th streets in downtown Davis) is featuring a free tasting of local greens on Saturday. We're talking lettuce, beet greens, kales and other winter greens accompanied by dressings. Speaking of other green veggies, also be on the lookout for bounties of fresh asparagus at the Farmer's Market.

The Davis Farmers Market runs on Saturday from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. For more information: (530) 756.1695 or

March 19, 2009
Good wine, good time, great cause

If you've been meaning to get out and try one of the many popular after-work wine-tastings in town, here's that extra nudge you may need: you can taste wine, learn a little about the wineries, meet new friends and give back all in one outing.

David Berkley, the popular gourmet grocer and wine shop (just mentioned by Chris Macias below), is turning one of its weeknight wine tastings into a "Sip and Support" fund-raiser for the Sacramento Children's Home on Tuesday, March 31 from 6-8pm at David Berkley's.

Tickets are $25 in advance through March and $30 at the door. To RSVP, call 290-8199 and pay by credit card or check. Cash only will be accepted the day of the event.

"Sip and Support" will include light hors d'oeurves prepared by David Berkley's chef, Hepana Robertson, and a classical guitarist will perform. Participating wineries include Frank Family, Miner, Caymus, Duckhorn, Sojourn Cellars, Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel and Flowers.

According to its Web site, the Sacramento Children's Home serves 1,800 families and 3,500 children annually, providing educational programs and other support to a broad spectrum of at-risk youth. The mission of the Children's Home is "helping build strong families; to opening doors to the future; to maximizing potential; and ending the cycle of child abuse."

David Berkley Fine Foods and Specialty Wines is at 515 Pavilions Lane in the Pavilions shopping center off Fair Oaks Boulevard near Howe Avenue.

March 18, 2009
Pizza, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" style


It may seem odd to pair pizza with zen buddhists, but a competition to do just that has hit Sacramento.

In honor of a visit by the Abbot of Shaolin and monks from the Shaolin Temple, known for its long association with Chinese martial arts, lobbyist Josh Pane is hosting a vegetarian pizza recipe contest. "We're blending the east and the west, and what better way than through the international language of food," Pane says.

E-mail Pane your best vegetarian pizza recipe by 5 p.m. Friday, March 20, and he will select two winners for a pizza cookoff in honor of a kung fu performance Monday, March 23, at 11:30 a.m. at the Masonic Temple, 1123 J St., Sacramento.

March 17, 2009
A personal chef for a week


So 2009 is the year you were laid off. Well it could be exactly what you need to kickstart the dream that's been lingering in the back of your mind. Maybe necessity will force you to do whatever you've been putting off.

A full bottle of wine is a promise of a good time, an occasion to be toasted. But Houston chef Clive Berkman sees empty bottles as being much more poignant - those empties tell the real stories of the human spirit. Maybe it's a major life shift. Perhaps it's making success out of failure. Or maybe it's simply impacting someone else.

Berkman, whose cookbook "Creating Empty Bottle Moments: Cooking with Clive (Baxter Press, $30, 256 pages) was released earlier this month, promises to serve as the personal chef for three meals a day for an entire week to someone who shares the best "empty-bottle moment." If you were laid off this year, simply go to his Web site and share that moment that changed your life. The deadline is May 25.

March 17, 2009
Eureka and Vine is back to wine

The Eureka and Vine wine bar in Rocklin was silent for three months after its original owners shut down the business. But it's back to pouring and sipping at Eureka and Vine (6040 Stanford Ranch Rd, Suite 200, Rocklin) with new ownership. The wine bar's been getting up to speed with a soft launch that started in February, but will be hosting a grand re-opening soiree on Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event will feature tastes from Casque Wines, an award-winning winery based in nearby Loomis. The cost is three tastes for $5. Music, food and raffle prizes will also be included at the party.

Eureka and Vine currently carries more than two dozen wines, with an emphasis on vino from northern California. Look for selections from boutique producers based in the Sierra Foothills, Napa and other nearby locales.

"It's the stuff you wouldn't normally see at BevMo or Total Wine," says Jordy Drake, the new co-owner of Eureka and Vine.

But given the current economy, is he confident that people are ready to spend money on some wine bar sipping?

"This is either the smartest thing I've ever done or the dumbest," says Drake, with a chuckle. "But I think it allows people to have a smaller venue to go and tastes wines. People are always interested in wine, and if we can bring it closer to them, it's a plus."

Hours are Tuesday - Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday - Saturday from 4 p.m to 10 p.m. For more information: (916) 789-8700.

March 16, 2009
Michael Chandler now @ David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods


In this latest bit of personnel shifts on the local wine scene, we just got word that Michael Chandler is now the wine director at David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods. Many of you local wine lovers may remember Chandler's longtime stint at Enotria Restaurant & Wine Bar, where Chandler served as sommelier and manager before leaving in late 2007. That's Chandler in his Enotria days in the above picture.

Chandler's breadth of knowledge and easy-going appeal made him one of Sacramento's favorite sommeliers, and has since worked as a wine consultant, cellar appraiser and spent much time studying for his Master Sommelier exam. Chandler's new gig has him overseeing the wine program at David Berkley, which in recent months has featured winemaker events and a popular Friday night tasting series. Chandler replaces Jeffrey DeVore, who has stepped down from the wine director position but will still work occasionally in the shop.

March 14, 2009
Tasty bento


The bento has gone from being a simple lunch in a lacquered wood box to an intricate meal presented with color and design in mind. In diffiicult economic times, it makes sense that this lunch of Japanese origins is spreading. It's always cheaper to bring food from home but our palates have bypassed the old standby PB&J.

Look for a story in Wednesday's Food & Wine on the resurgence of the packed lunch with tips on how to keep it interesting. And if you want to get your taste buds ready, head on over for a bento lunch at Kru on J Street. This spot that never disappoints offers a choice of two items, served with miso soup, salad and rice for $12. Choose from chicken teriyaki, sesame chicken, salmon teriyaki, shrimp and vegetable tempura, beef teriyaki, gyoza, sashimi, nigiri, spicy tuna roll or a California roll. Pass the soy sauce!

March 14, 2009
Southeast Asian food, at home


Perhaps you're not totally sure what galangal, kaffir lime or lemongrass is. Perhaps you'd rather just go out to Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and let the blend of strong, fresh and savory flavors be a delicious mystery. Well, those flavors can now have a place in your kitchen too, in one easy jar.

Mai Pham, chef and owner of Sacramento's Lemon Grass Restaurant, is launching a line of sauces that will be available at Whole Foods Market, Nugget Markets and Corti Brothers. Just add coconut milk, chicken stock or water to the Thai Green Curry and Thai Yellow Curry sauces. The Lemongrass Ginger Marinade can be used straight from the jar.

We here at Appetizers have yet to try them, but plan to meet up with Pham this week. Try them yourself at a cooking demonstration Friday, March 20, or Sunday, March 22, at the Whole Foods on Arden Way. The demos and tastings are scheduled from 2 to 6 p.m.


March 13, 2009
Step-by-step sourdough bread

bread_052[1].jpgA couple of years ago, I wrote a long story in The Bee about making sourdough bread. I got so much response, both from people who make their own bread and those who want to try, that I thought I would go step-by-step through the process on "Appetizers."

I generally bake two loaves a week and it takes two days to go from beginning to end. Time and temperature -- and experience -- are important. It's also necessary to make sourdough part of your lifestyle, as it takes a good bit of planning. There's not a lot of busy work. But there's a lot of paying attention.

For best results, you'll need a digital scale and a few other things I'll explain later. The beauty of sourdough, though, is that it is made only with water, flour and salt, along with the magical bacteria from the air.

Let's begin with the sourdough starter, which is dormant in the fridge most of the week. I take it out and feed it, usually equal amounts of starter, water and flour. I usually do 300 grams each.


That sits for a couple of hours, depending on the room temperature, until it is nice and bubbling. The volume will have increased quite a bit. This is the leavening power that will later be applied to the actual dough.
It doesn't look like much at this point: bread2.jpg

When the starter is nice and bubbly and strong, I take 12 ounces of it and put it in a mixing bowl. The remainder of the starter is mixed (or fed) with more flour and later returned to the fridge where it awaits another baking day.

The 12 ounces is mixed with 2 pounds 2 ounces of flour (bread flour or all purpose) and 18 ounces of water. I mix it with my stand mixer at first. Here, I'm adding the salt (I use sea salt): bread6.jpg<

Then knead it by hand. In time, you'll be able to feel the dough's strength building. It will get smoother and stronger as you knead until you can sense it's ready for the first of two rises. bread7.jpg

Now you have four pounds of raw dough shaped in a ball. It rises on the counter (in a covered bowl) for about 3 hours until it is double in size. bread8.jpg

Then comes the so-called "punching down," which is more of a gentle stretch and light pressing with fingers or knuckles. Then the dough is folded like a letter and carefully shaped into two balls or boules.


It is covered and refrigerated overnight, where the dough retards and builds flavor. It can stay in the fridge for 8 or more hours. I take out the dough three hours before I'm ready to bake. The dough will warm and rise a little. Then I will score it with a razor. I use a couple of different patterns I like.
bread16.jpg I use a couple of special techniques to get what I would call a professional bakery-caliber crust. First, I use a thick pizza stone, which I preheat. I put the dough on the stone, then cover the dough with a large clay lid. This mimics the effect of a hearth oven, drawing out moisture from the raw dough and trapping it. This gives the finished loaf a crisp, blistered crust that you just can't get by spraying mist in the oven or by using a pan of water on the floor of the oven.
Here's the finished product. I would rate this loaf a 9 out of 10. Many of my loaves are a 7 and only a few are a 10.

You want the interior temperature to be around 210 degrees.bread18,jpg.jpg
Every once in awhile, nothing goes right and you bake an absolute disaster -- a 3. A 3 out of 10 may look terrible, but it still smells great and tastes pretty good, too.

This is what the crumb looks like -- tender, with lots of large holes. bread_052[1].jpg
You will want to wait until the bread cools -- I know, that's really hard -- but if you eat hot bread, your stomach will be tied in knots.

As for storage, a bread box or a paper-type bag is best in order to maintain a nice crust. Don't refrigerate bread and try not to put it in a plastic bag. If you still have bread after a couple of days, it makes incredible French toast and excellent croutons.

Thanks for taking a look. Feel free to email me your questions. I will do another post soon on the best equipment to use for making sourdough bread. There are a few things that can save you a lot of time and frustration.

March 13, 2009
Something like the "Slumdog Millionaire of wine"

OK, so maybe the Pavilions shopping center near Fair Oaks Blvd. is a long way from Mumbai, but the folks at David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods are offering a chance to put your wine trivia to the test. Tonight the shop is hosting a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" styled contest related to wine, with lifelines and all. Prizes include wine related gifts - sorry, they can't offer alcoholic beverages as prizes - but plenty of goodies will be for the winning. Those of you watching from the sidelines can still enjoy some wine tasting for $10.

The tasting and trivia runs from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods is located at 515 Pavilions Lane in Sacramento. For more information: (916) 929-4422.

March 12, 2009
Timothy Hollingsworth: back from the Bocuse d'Or


We recently sent our best wishes to Timothy Hollingsworth, the chef with Placerville roots who competed at the Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France. This event is something like the Olympics of cooking, with chefs from around the globe competing for one of the most prestigious awards in the culinary world. The Norwegian team, led by Geir Skeie, took top honors in the field of 24, while Hollingsworth and Team USA captured a respectable sixth place.

Hollingsworth's schedule has been slammed since returning from France. The 28-year-old is back in the kitchen at the French Laundry in Yountville, but he took some time out from cooking to reflect on this Bocuse d'Or via e-mail. Here's what Chef Hollingsworth had to say:

Timothy, congratulations on your Top 10 finish at the Bocuse d'Or. How are you looking back on this experience?
Thank you. I look back on the experience with gratitude, respect and new insights on the history of cooking as well as modern global cuisine. Throughout the experience, I tried to live as much as I could in every moment, but it went so fast it was almost too much to absorb while it was happening. It is great for me to look back and reflect on all the people I met and the experiences that we shared.

What was the toughest dish to create in the competition? How tough was it to keep your cool in the midst of cooking?
For me, the toughest challenge was working with the proteins. The Scottish beef used in the competition is very different than the American beef we practiced with. Scottish beef is older than American beef and has a different flavor and texture when cooked. The shrimp we used on competition day were also different than the product we were used to working with, so we actually had to change the composition of one of the garnishes and adjust on competition day. The pressure in the kitchen and during the preparation was not too overwhelming. The most difficult challenge came at the time of plating. We were using many of the silver pieces - including the platters themselves - for the first time and pulling all these components together took longer than anticipated. During this time, it was very intense, we could definitely feel the pressure and the noise from the spectators was extremely loud. To keep my cool during this time was very challenging and required extreme focus on the tasks at hand.

You received a three-month sabbatical to train for the Bocuse d'Or. What was a typical training day like?
Truly there was no typical day. As I moved through the process of creating the menu, each day would bring new challenges and a new focus. We did have some obligations to fulfill at the French Laundry, so it was a balance. In the two weeks prior to departing for France, the restaurant was closed and our full attention was on the competition. Everyday we would arrive at our training center in the morning and set our schedule for the day ahead. On full practice days, we would set up for a few hours, eat lunch, move through the 5 hour timeframe, evaluate the outcome and identify what we could do better, faster, smarter. Many days we had colleagues, visitors and friends come by to offer support and make suggestions on the food, technique and timing. Then we would do the dishes and head home. The days were long and challenging, but the process itself and seeing the progress was rewarding.

Does cooking at The French Laundry now feel like a cakewalk to competing in the Bocuse d'Or?
The French Laundry will never be a cake walk for anyone, no matter what their experience. We strive to excel and evolve and hold ourselves to the highest standards we know. Our motivation is that we can always improve, so it's never easy.

I understand you have some roots in Placerville. Did you ever cook there, or anywhere else in the Sacramento area?
Yes, I grew up in Placerville and graduated from El Dorado High School in 1998. I began cooking my senior year at Zachary Jacques with Chef Christian Masse and his wife Jennifer Masse who was the pastry chef. I worked there for nearly four years before getting the opportunity to go to The French Laundry.

Once again, congratulations on the strong showing for Team USA. Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
I want to thank everyone for their immense support and interest - my friends, family, colleagues, mentors, press, and all the new acquaintances that I met along the way. I am grateful for the experience and hope to maintain the relationships that I've established for a long time to come.

March 10, 2009
"Beer Wars": Coming to a theater near you

Can independent brewers stay afloat while competing with the big dogs of beer? That's the focus of a new documentary titled "Beer Wars," which dives into the politics of the American beer industry and shines a light on brewers who are bent on elevating the craft of beer making. But can they make it?

A special one-night showing of "Beer Wars" will take place on April 16th at six local theaters: Sacramento Stadium 14 (1590 Ethan Way, Sacramento), Laguna 16 (9349 Big Horn Blvd., Elk Grove), Roseville 14 (1555 Eureka Rd., Roseville), Sacramento Downtown Plaza 7 (445 Downtown Plaza, Sacramento), Sacramento Greenback Lane 16 (6233 Garfield Ave., Sacramento) and Natomas Marketplace (3561 Truxel Rd., Sacramento).

The showing will also include a simulcast discussion featuring a panel of brewers and beer experts, with moderation by Ben Stein. For tickets:

In other beer matters, we've got a story on Sacramento's homebrewing scene coming soon. Stay tuned ... in the meantime, pass the popcorn and check out the above preview for "Beer Wars."

March 6, 2009
The Wednesday Davis farmers market returns


In another rite of spring, the Davis Farmers Market returns to a two-day-a-week affair this Wednesday, March 11. But first, the market's pig day is scheduled for Saturday - a family-friendly event of live pigs and a lot of food, too. It starts at 8 a.m. and continues until 1 p.m. at Central Park at Fourth and C streets.

Then later this week, there will be the inaugural Wednesday market, which runs from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. There will be musicians and food - tacos, curry, pizza and burgers, as part of the weekly picnic in the park series.

And don't forget the year-round Sacramento farmers market under the freeway, or the Asian one around the corner, that offers even cheaper prices and a small taste of the shoving and pushing considered normal in many Asian countries. Click here for a list of area farmers market, locations and times.

March 6, 2009
Corned beef and cabbage


Cardboard shamrocks are decorating the stores and beer-flavored popcorn dyed green has come into the office. Yes, the holiday at the end of the rainbow is upon us and that means one thing to us Americans trying our hardest but inevitably failing at Irish traditions - corned beef and cabbage.

Some argue that corned beef is more Jewish than Irish, but let's just call it a multi-cultural American tradition and pick up forks in a fellowship of food. Cosmo Café offers a modern take on the dish all-year long, using savoy cabbage, baby round carrots and fingerling potatoes, and house-brined corned beef that takes almost a week to make.

Cosmo chef Scott Rose will demonstrate how to make this signature dish at an appearance at Whole Foods Market on Tuesday, March 10. He also will sear sea scallops and smoke ham hocks. The event costs $35 and starts at 6 p.m.

And look for the Food & Wine section on Wednesday for some other spots in the area that dish up Irish fare. In the meantime, here's a sneak peak at Rose's corned beef recipe. That salsa verde adds a brightness to the lean medallions of corned beef.

Cosmo Café corned beef
Recipe by Chef Scott Rose
Serves 4


For the brine:
½ gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoons pickling spice, available in most grocery stores
2½ pounds beef brisket
1 tablespoon pickling spice

For the vegetables:
1 head savoy cabbage
8 baby carrots
2 pounds fingerling potatoes

For the salsa verde:
¼ cup shallots, finely diced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


For the brine:
Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably. Bring to a boil, making sure the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until completely chilled.
Place the brisket in the brine for 5 days, weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged if needed.
Remove the brisket and rinse under cold water.
Place the brisket in a pot and add water to cover by 3 inches. Add the remaining pickling spice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours or until tender.

For the vegetables:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. The water should taste of the sea.
Peel, trim and halve baby carrots.
Place just enough carrots in the pot so the water continues to boil, do not over-crowd the pot. Blanch the carrots until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
Halve the fingerling potatoes lengthwise and cook in the same manner as the carrots.
For the cabbage, remove tough outer leaves, quarter head, remove core and separate leaves.
Blanch the leaves in the same manner as the rest of the vegetables, making sure they don't tear or rip.

For the salsa verde:
Combine shallots, vinegar, and a little salt in a small bowl, and let stand 5 minutes. Add shallots and mustard. Stir in the oil and check for seasoning.

To assemble:
In a sauté pan, brown the carrots and potatoes in butter, add the cabbage and cook until heated through.
While vegetables are browning, remove brisket from liquid, slice against the grain, strain the cooking liquid and reserve.
Place cabbage and vegetables in the center of the plate, placed sliced corned beef over the cabbage. Spoon just enough of the reserved cooking liquid over the top of brisket and vegetables to moisten them.
Garnish dish with grain mustard, salsa verde and virgin olive oil.

March 6, 2009
The ultimate scholarship: bound for Burgundy

Congratulations to Daniel Person and James McCeney, two UC Davis students of viticulture and enology who each nabbed the scholarship of a lifetime. Starting in July, Person will spend four months at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the estate in Burgundy, France which crafts one of the world's ultimate wines and its mose expensive (think: thousands of dollars for a single bottle). Person will help with the wine grape harvest, perform field tests in the vineyards and assist in production.

McCeney will meanwhile be off to Hospices de Beaune, the storied hospital in Burgundy which owns vineyards and hosts one of the world's most noted wine auctions. McCeney will join the winemaking team which produces wines especially for the auction.

The internships are a collaboration between UC Davis and the University of Dijon, Burgundy, with support from The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin Foundation. Here's to a happy harvest in Burgundy, and we'll be keeping tabs on these fortunate students.

March 3, 2009
Cocktail contest coming to Lounge on 20

Who's got the best cocktail mixing skills in Sacramento? A contest coming to Lounge on 20 (1050 20th St.) on March 18 is seeking to find this answer. Bartenders from a variety of Sacramento establishments and beyond will be competing for bragging rights and a $300 top prize, with $150 going to the runner-up and $50 for third place.

The contest is something of a promotion for Broker's London Dry Gin, and all contestants will create one drink recipe based on this gin brand. Any edible/potable ingredient is fair game for the cocktails, and the mixologists will get 15 minutes of prep time and 15 minutes to make drinks for the judges. Here's the panel to impress:

Darrell Corti (Corti Brothers)
Andy Dawson (Broker's London Dry Gin)
Joe Anthony Savala (Zocalo)
Mike Heller (The Heller Company)

Contestants will be representing such local restaurants and watering holes as Zocalo, Ella Dining Room and Bar, Benny's, GV Hurley - and yes, Lounge on 20.

The March 18 cocktail competition starts at 6 p.m. and cocktail specials will be available. For more information: (916) 443-6620.

March 2, 2009
Open That Bottle Night: the verdict

Saturday night marked the 10th annual Open That Bottle Night, and in an earlier posting I narrowed my field to three potential bottles: Mayacamas 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, d'Arenberg 2003 Dead Arm Shiraz and a semillon from 1986 whose producer I couldn't remember. So after some consideration, I opted to commemorate this occasion for opening a special bottle with the 1986 semillon. The cabernet and shiraz still have plenty of life in them, so I chose the wine that was the oldest of the three.

So I got my Ah-So cork puller and reached for the winner: a 1986 Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon from Australia's Hunter Valley. These wines are unoaked and meant for serious bottle aging, and in this case the wine wasn't even released until 1996 (i.e. 10 years after its vintage date).

But how has this semillon fared over the last 23 years?
The cork was still in good shape, if not a bit slippery. And once in the glass, the wine was a deep yellow-orange color and almost looked like apple juice. The nose smelled of honey and was slightly nutty, but with a tinge of alcohol heat. In the mouth the wine was fairly light, but rich with baked apple and fig flavors. The acidity still present in this wine made it all feel very much alive instead of a fuddy-duddy. Thanks, Open That Bottle Night, for inspiring me to pop this bottle. Until a week ago, I'd forgotten it was in my collection.

Anyone else have an Open That Bottle Night experience that you want to share? Leave a comment ...

March 2, 2009
MMMM. Oatmeal.


There are few breakfasts I like better than a hot bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit or dried cranberries. And I'm not talking about the instant kind that comes out of a paper packet.

Jamba Juice is introducing oatmeal to augment its line of juices and smoothies, and will be selling it for $1 during the month of March (it will normally cost $2.95). Simply download the coupon for a bowl of organic steel-cut oats topped with brown sugar and fruit.

Or, make your own! Here's a simple recipe from RecipeZaar that produces a breakfast with almost 5 grams of fiber and more than 7 grams of protein.

Irish steel-cut oatmeal
Serves 4

4 cups of boiling water
1 cup steel cut oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
milk (optional)
honey or brown sugar
1 tablespoon nuts
1/2 banana, sliced

Pour the cinnamon and oats into boiling water and stir until it begins to thicken.
Lower the heat until it begins to simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Do not overcook the oats.
Add the remaining ingredients and serve.

March 2, 2009
Elbows off the table - another diner's take on Gonul's

I received a lot of calls and e-mails after last week's review of Gonul's J Street Cafe, but only one call made me sit up extra straight and really pay attention.

It was a voice mail left by Sister Sheila Walsh, a nun for 53 years and counting. She was also the first nun in the United States to be a registered lobbyist, advocating on behalf of the economically disadvantaged (she will scold you if you call them poor).

I wrote a fairly long profile of Sister Sheila two years ago. What she never got around to telling me then was she is one of this city's most active diners. A resident of midtown, she knows all the hot -- and not so hot -- spots.

"Gonul's is absolutely my favorite restaurant. I've been going there a number of years. I usually order the mussels. She does a wonderful sauce and the mussels are always fresh. It's the best in town."

Sister Sheila said Gonul's was out of mussels one time she stopped in. The chef promptly dispatched someone to buy fresh mussels. The restaurant scored points with this city's most persuasive nun.

As the voice mail continued, Sister Sheila began to weigh in with her own conclusions.

"I would say it's excellent and not just good. To me, Gonul's is wonderful."

I so enjoyed hearing from her that I invited Sister Sheila to dinner on Friday, at a nice little restaurant she seemed to enjoy. She noted that two of her other favorite eateries are Aioli and Delta King (the latter is owned by her cousins).

I thought the place we visited Friday was good, and this time she agreed, thank goodness.

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