December 30, 2009
25 best gourmet sandwiches for guys (or everyone)

This just in from Men's Health, the magazine that's always promising to help you get that elusive six-pack. The magazine is very good at producing lists, some of them food-related.

Men's Health has come up with a nice list of healthy sandwiches. It says it's for men, but I'm not aware any of the ingreidents will make women hurl. The photos are quite tempting.

Check it out here.

December 30, 2009
Pizzeria offers lentils for luck, prizes for red panties

Care to eat food that'll ensure good fortune in the new year but don't want to spend hours in the kitchen?

Lucky for you we have Hot Italian.

The Sacramento restaurant is offering a special pizza starting New Year's Eve that incorporates the Italian tradition of eating lentils for luck on New Year's (for more on why lentils and good luck food traditions in other cultures, follow this link to my Food & Wine story)

The $15 pie features Hot Italian's signature thin crust topped with a lentil puree, slices of Cotechino sausage, shaved parmesan and fresh extra virgin olive oil.

"It's just to die for," said Nicki Rivieccio, the pizzeria's operations manager. The pizza also will be served on New Year's Day.

The restaurant also is encouraging diners to abide by another Italian New Year's Eve good luck tradition and wear red.

Red underwear, that is.

If you're willing to show your skivvies - "Just a little piece," Rivieccio noted - you might just win a prize.

Speaking of good fortune, I was asked to come on "The Takeaway," a national morning radio news show produced in partnership with The New York Times, The BBC World Service and Public Radio International.

The interview aired as part of today's broadcast (during the third hour). To listen, go to The Takeaway's Web site.

December 29, 2009
Array of recipe contests boast hefty cash prizes in 2010

chocolate.jpgDoes $10,000 and some gourmet chocolate sound like a sweet way to start off the new year?

We think so.

That's the grand prize for Scharffen Berger and's Chocolate Adventure Contest.

Participants must create a sweet or savory dish using Scharffen Berger chocolate and one of 16 "adventurous" ingredients, which range from mint and Malbec to black-eyed peas and banana leaves.

One grand prize will be awarded in each of the contest's two categories. A second-place prize, which includes signed cookbooks and an array of Scharffen Berger chocolate, also will be awarded in each category, according to the contest Web site.

You better get cooking, however. Contest entries must be submitted online by 11:59 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 3).

For contest rules and information, follow this link to the contest Web site.

If chocolate isn't your thing, don't worry, there are several other food-related contests currently seeking participants.

December 23, 2009
Ravenous rethinking its no-gift certificates policy

As regular readers of my reviews know, I am a fan of Mark Helms and his creative, precise and rigorous cooking at Ravenous Cafe. So I was alarmed to hear a caller recently who had a complaint: She tried to give Helms money, and he wouldn't take it.

Turns out, Lis Andersen is a member of an investment group and a fan of Ravenous, too. She wanted to get a friend a gift certificate at this little gem of a restaurant in the Pocket area. But when she inquired, she was told they don't do such a thing, that it causes confusion with bookkeeping.

"I was flabbergasted," she told me. "Why would a bookkeeper not want my money? They lost a $125 sale to Biba."

Turns out, the same thing happened to me six months ago. A friend at work was having a baby. When I reviewed Ravenous, he came along and raved about the food along with the rest of us. So I called Helms back then and said I wanted to buy a $50 gift certificate. He turned it down, with a similar explanation about bookkeeping.

I'm no business expert, but it seems to me that gift certificates and, especially, gift cards, are flourishing. Not hard to see why. For one thing, they are money that can only go to that business. For another, if they are not used right away, if they languish in a sock drawer somewhere for months, they amount to a nice little no-interest loan for the business.

So I called Helms back and asked what's going on. How can he keep leaving money on the table -- mine, Lis' and who knows how many others?

Helms is a food guy, but not a money guy.

"It's extremely hard to track," he explained.

Then I told him my free money layman's theory. He concurred.

"I'm going to start doing them anyway," he said. "I've had so many requests."

It may be too late to receive a Ravenous gift under your tree this Christmas, but if you're looking for a last-minute gift idea for a foodie, a restaurant gift certificate is an excellent way to go -- at Ravenous or any of other fine eateries around.

December 18, 2009
Entertaining expert offers advice for holiday hosts

Entertaining during the holidays can be a daunting task.

There's the cooking and tidying, not to mention making guests feel at home and keeping the mood light.

I spoke with entertaining and lifestyle expert B. Smith when she came to Sacramento last month to speak at area events and asked her to share some advice on how to a be a holiday host-with-the-most.

Q: What are some ways to make people who may be visiting for the first time feel comfortable and included, while still keeping the mood light?

A: One of the things I do is make placecards, even if its just my small family. I put their name on one side and something about the person on the other. I ask people to look at the cards before they sit down so they get to know their table-mates. I also like to hand-write a pretty menu for the meal and place it on the plate ... It gets the conversation started.

Q: What do you do if you have relatives visiting who don't necessarily get along or guests who don't know one another?

A: It's important that the host know something special about each of their guests and introduce the right people to each other ... It's always nice when people can participate because it can break the ice ... Maybe have one of the guests do the bartender role. Let them be a part of the entertaining. (Smith also advises having non-alcoholic drinks available).

Q: What are some easy things folks can do to make overnight guests feel special?

A: I like to have a little decorative touch in the bedroom or bathroom they'll be using. Maybe have some cookies by the bed, or even offer hot chocolate (before they turn in for the night). It's a seasonal thing that makes people feel like you really care.

Need some recipe ideas for meals to impress the family? Check out Smith's new cookbook, "B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style" (Scribner, $35, 336 pages) or her Web site, which has several free recipes.

December 11, 2009
Thawing out in El Dorado County

El Dorado County's wine country sure looks like a winter wonderland right now. Two feet of snow was dumped on the area earlier this week, which might've looked pretty and festive to passers-by, but was an icy headache for winery owners. Power outages and broken pipes shut down a slew of wineries, while some were simply inaccessible due to snow.

The good news: most El Dorado wineries are expected to be up and pouring wine this weekend - but be sure to pack some mittens and the heaviest jacket you've got. It'll be a cold one in them thar hills.

For a list of El Dorado wineries:

December 9, 2009
Rail Bridge Cellars' new addition to the family

You can't blame Jon Affonso for looking a little bleary eyed these days. The owner of Rail Bridge Cellars, a Sacramento urban winery located just north of downtown, welcomed the birth of daughter Simone in September. Her birth just happened to coincide with the harvest season, also known as the busiest time of the year for wineries. Let's just say that sleep was rarer than a bottle of 19th century Chateau Lafite for Affonso.

"That was crazy," says Affonso, looking back on Septemeber. "I crushed 30 tons of fruit this year, both of other people's fruit and my own. It was a big, big harvest this year. I worked a lot of weekends."

Affonso will be working this weekend as well, hosting a free wine tasting on Saturday at Rail Bridge Cellars (400 North 16th St., Sacramento). The event includes live music and starts at 6 p.m. For more information: (916) 492-2530.

December 9, 2009
Job fair at Sake House

Local restaurant industry folks: do you happen to be looking for a gig? Sake House and Ultra Lounge, a Japanese restaurant coming soon to the Fountains in Roseville, is looking for employees. A job fair will be held on Dec. 14 - 15 at 1017 Galleria Blvd. in Roseville from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Brush up that resume and apply in person for these Sake House jobs. The management team is seeking:

Food Servers
Cocktail Servers
Sushi Chefs

Good luck!

December 2, 2009
Sean Minor Winery: a majorly good deal in Napa wine


Quality Napa cabernet for under $20? Sean Minor of Sacramento is making that happen - and taste pretty good, too. His company, Sean Minor Wines, produces five wine varietals with all bottles costing under $20. You can get a taste of them yourself on Saturday at Capitol Cellars (110 Diamond Creek Place, Roseville; 916-786-9030). The tasting runs from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. and costs $10.

How does this Sacramentan craft quality wines at such affordable prices? Find out by reading an interview with Minor, who now finds his wines distributed in 24 states.

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