Appetizers
June 30, 2011
Ribs, burgers, dogs and beans -- Mark's Wednesday BBQ is back

Mark's Sports Bar & Grill was rockin' Wednesday night, with music blasting from the state-of-the-art jukebox and hungry folks lined up for its annual summertime barbecue. Owner Mark Adelhelm put together the 'cue program two summers ago, and it's back.

It works this way: Every Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. on the garden-style patio, Mark's cooks will grill and serve hefty cheeseburgers and plump hot dogs, with sides of house-made beans and potato salad (each plate is $5; two dogs per plate).

More interesting to us are the babyback ribs, prepared and sauced according to "a family recipe." Three ribs and the two sides are $7, with additional ribs at $1.50 each.

Also: an all-night open jukebox and featured drink specials that will change weekly.

We dropped by and loaded plates with much of the above. Frankly, there are some restaurants devoted to barbecue that don't do as good a job.

Check it out at 303 Iron Point Road in Folsom, (916) 357-5567, www.markssportsbar.net.

June 30, 2011
Food safety precautions urged for Independence Day celebrations

Food 20 Burgers Rick Bayles.jpgGrilling and barbecuing to celebrate Fourth of July is guaranteed fun, but nothing kills a party faster than food poisoning.

That's why three federal agencies and the Ad Council have teamed up to launch a new campaign, Food Safe Families, this week. The effort is the first joint national multimedia public service campaign and is aimed at helping families prevent food borne illnesses, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture news release.

The USDA, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are behind the campaign, which includes a Facebook page, Twitter handle and online database with answers to hundreds of questions regarding foodborne illness prevention.

June 29, 2011
More hot dog recipes

Once again, we had more recipes than space in this week's Food & Wine section, so wanted to share some additional recipes that didn't fit. These are for today's story on how to elevate your hot dog:

Roast red pepper relish (peperonata)
Yields approximately 2 cups
This recipe was created by chef Adam Pechal of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant THIR13EN

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups roasted red bell peppers, julienned
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 teaspoon chili flake, (or more or less depending on your spice level)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablepsoons parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS
Add olive oil and garlic to a small saucepan and heat over medium high. Watch closely as the garlic will quickly begin to toast and can burn quickly.
When the garlic is golden brown, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low for 20 minutes.
Can be served hot or cold.

***

Bratwurst "Hot Tub"
From "Planet Barbecue" by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2010)
Serves 4 to 6
Note: The brats can be grilled up to two hours ahead. That's the point.


INGREDIENTS

12 Wisconsin bratwurst
1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
4 tablespoons salted butter
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
2 bottles of beer (3 cups), preferably Wisconsin beer

For serving:

12 crusty rolls, like semmel rolls or kaiser rolls
Hot or sweet German-style mustard
3 cups sauerkraut

You'll also need: 1-1/2 cups hickory, oak or other wood chips, soaked in water or beer to cover for 1 hour, then drained (optional), bamboo skewers (preferably flat), a large aluminum foil pan (like a turkey roaster)

Smoke-roasting (indirect grilling) method:

Note: This is not traditional, but to me there is no better way to cook bratwurst or any sausage. Indirect grilling crisps the casing, keeps the brat moist, and eliminates the risk of burning and flare-ups, while the wood smoke adds a haunting dimension of flavor.

Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium (350 degrees F). Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the brats on the grate over the drip pay away from the heat.Toss the wood chips on the coals. Indirect grill the brats until crusty and golden brown on the outside and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes. Use an instant read meat thermometer to check for doneness--insert it in one end to the center of the brat--it should read 165 degrees.There is no need to turn the brats--remember, you're indirect grilling.

Direct grilling method:

Note: This is the traditional way a Wisconsonite cooks bratwurst. The secret is to work over a moderate heat, leave yourself a large safety zone in case you get flare-ups, and take pains not to pierce the casing, thereby releasing the tasty and flavorful juices. To do this, always use tongs and never a barbecue fork for turning the brats.

Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium. Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the brats on the grate over the fire, leaving 1 inch between each. Direct grill the brats until crusty and golden on the outside and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Again, use an instant read meat thermometer inserted through one end to test for doneness.

As the brats cook, skewer the onion slices on bamboo skewers. Melt the butter in the large foil pan. Lightly brush the onion slices with melted butter (you'll need about 1 tablespoon) and season with salt and pepper. Direct grill the onions until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (If working on a grill set up for indirect grilling, place the onions directly over one of the mounds of coals.) Add the onions to foil pan with the butter, removing and discarding the skewers.

Add the beer to foil and boil it for 3 minutes. Move it to a cooler part of the grill so it stops boiling. As the bratwurst are done, add them to the pan with the beer. Position the pan at the rear or side of your grill so that the beer and brats stay warm, but don't quite boil. Boiling will overcook them. Thus nestled in their hot tub, the brats will stay warm and moist for up to an hour or two--enough time for you to cook them ahead of time, imbue them with the flavor of smoke and fire, and enjoy them during the game.

To serve the brats, slather the roll with mustard. You can butter and grill it if you like--most Wisconsinites wouldn't bother. Add a brat, some grilled onion, and sauerkraut if desired. Take a bite and get ready for some of the best sausage on Planet Barbecue.

June 29, 2011
Weekly food truck festival returns to Tognotti's

Local food trucks will gather once again on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Tognotti's Auto World (2509 Fulton Ave., near El Camino, Sacramento). It's the second in a line of weekly festivals featuring local mobile food vendors, all of which are part of the newly formed Sacramento Food Truck Alliance. Look for eats from Mini Burger, Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, Mama Kim, Chando's Tacos and the Leaven & Earth Sandwich Co.

Organizers of last week's festival estimated an attendance of about 1,000 folks. Lines were much shorter than April's SactoMoFo festival, where some 10,000 descended on midtown's Fremont Park and some waits reached up to four hours.

"This one went smoothly and was much more laid back," said Catherine Enfield, an organizer of SactoMoFo and food truck advocate. "The longest line was about a 30 minute wait for Mini Burger."

Next week's festival will be held at a new location, most likely in the suburbs of Sacramento county where food trucks won't be held to the city's 30 minute rule of parking for mobile food vendors. We'll share that location when it's confirmed.

June 29, 2011
Experts say extreme couponing yields major savings, not hard

More than 100 coupon-clipping enthusiasts packed a Sacramento Bee conference room this morning to hear from expert couponers Jen Freeman and Jennifer Morris.

Freeman, a Las Vegas mother of twins, has been extreme couponing for about five years and earlier this month was featured on the season finale of TLC's "Extreme Couponing."

She wound up on the show after a video her husband filmed gained popularity on YouTube. The video showed only her hands, but in it, Freeman explains the process that helped her whittle a grocery bill to 20 cents from more than $300.

She's refined her process since then after learning a strategy from Jennifer Morris, who teaches in-home couponing classes in conjunction with GrocerySmarts.com, a free website that matches store savings with newspaper coupon inserts, thus taking the hassle out of couponing.

June 29, 2011
This praiseworthy pop a tempting treat for the over 21 crowd

Frozen pops are all the rage, and they also appear to have taken over my brain.

I wake up with ideas for new flavors and textures. Go to bed craving the frozen treat. I think I've gone to the cold side.

My latest quest - create an "adult" pop to be enjoyed after the children are in bed. The result is a Nutella and Frangelico pop that is worthy of praise. The key is to go easy on the hazelnut liqueur (too much and the pop won't freeze). And be sure to keep these pops out of reach of the kids.

For more on frozen pops, click here to check out my story in today's Food & Wine section. Follow the link below to get the recipe for spiked chocolate hazelnut pops.

June 28, 2011
Blue Nami sushi house adds momentum to Palladio center


The dining scene continues to warm up at the Palladio at Broadstone in Folsom, the 54-acre "lifestyle center" that was an unfinished ghost town until Cinema West opened a very popular 16-screen movie complex (www.gopalladio.com).

The Pinkberry (frozen yogurt) and Johnny Rockets (burgers) chains followed with stores nearby, catching the moviegoing traffic and anticipating more store openings.

The latest restaurant to set up shop is the Blue Nami sushi house, which had its grand opening June 24. It's the third store in the mini-chain, with sister restaurants in Roseville and Orangevale.

Plans are for more dining spots (and a Whole Foods store) to open between October and "the end of the year," said Stephen Hemington. He's the chief financial officer for Elliott Homes, owner of Palladio. Then he dropped some names: Chicago Fire, Chops, Panera Bread, Freebirds World Burritos and Toby Keith (named after the country singer, and part of his national chain).

So, what's going on here? "I think restaurants are recognizing an underserved market here in Folsom," Hemington said on the phone today.

Indeed, the joke is that if you open an envelope in Folsom - much less a restaurant - crowds will form. Case in point was when Land Ocean steakhouse debuted a few weeks ago, just down the street from Palladio, in another Broadstone center owned by Elliott Homes. Getting through the door still can be a struggle, but the menu's worth it (2720 E. Bidwell St., 916-983-7000).

Meanwhile, the Blue Nami menu looks good - from barbecued scallops and shrimp tempura to sushi, sashimi and nigiri. Plus, pork, beef, poultry and noodle dishes. Look for an upcoming review in "Counter Culture," my restaurant review column that appears Fridays in The Bee.

Blue Nami in Folsom is at 330 Palladio Parkway, (916) 983-3388, www.bluenamisushi.com.

June 28, 2011
New Panda Express opens Thursday in Woodland

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Grand-opening ceremonies will be held Thursday at the new Panda Express restaurant in Woodland.

The restaurant at 2041 Bronze Star Drive - just south of the Highway 102 exit off Interstate 5 - will offer customers a free two-entree plate and a 22-ounce fountain drink between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Panda Express bills itself as the nation's largest Chinese fast-food chain, with nearly 1,400 outlets in 38 states. It's overseen by Rosemead-based Panda Restaurant Group.

Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

June 27, 2011
Monday postscript: Taqueria Jalisco

Just a couple of things to add to my review of Taqueria Jalisco, which ran Sunday. First of all, Kudos to the 8,000 or so eagle-eyed readers who pointed out that, yes, it's usually spelled "tostada," not "tostado," as I wrote it (twice!). I think I looked at that word 20 times while I was writing the review and simply looked right over the ending. Any way you spell it, the tostadas are quite good at Taqueria Jalisco.

June 27, 2011
Free event at The Bee Wednesday featuring 'Extreme Couponing' maven

Ever wondered how extreme couponers can buy hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for what the rest of spend during a quick run to the supermarket?

You can find out Wednesday, when Jennifer Freeman, who was featured on TLC's "Extreme Couponing" will be featured during a free event hosted by The Sacramento Bee.

The one-hour sessions will be held at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at The Bee, 2100 Q Street, and are open to the public. Participants must sign up through The Bee's BeeBuzzPoints program to attend. Click here to register. Freeman also will be featured on Fox40 at 7:20 a.m. Wednesday.

Freeman, a Las Vegas mother of two who home schools her twins, saves as much as 90 percent off her grocery bill using newspaper coupons, websites and in-store deals. Freeman was featured on the series finale of the TLC show on June 15.

Have you ever tried extreme couponing? How much did you save? Do you find this kind of shopping intriguing or unappealing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

June 27, 2011
Between brunch and a July beer-tasting, Fabian's is on a roll

At the tender age of 6 months, Fabian's Italian Bistro continues to grow its base of loyal customers at viral speed. All that word-of-mouth is based on good reasons.

Let's start with its monthly winetastings, usually held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month. The bargain price of $10 buys four tastes and appetizers.

A twist on that is coming July 13, with a special pairing of appetizers and four Sierra Nevada beers - Torpedo, Harvest, Kellerweis and Old Chico wheat beer (www.sierranevada.com). Same hours, same price. However, chef Tom Patterson is planning a special dinner that night as well, using Sierra Nevada beer as an ingredient. The menu and buy-in are still being worked out.

Moving to the daily menu (and nightly specials), on offer are homestyle meals with a glaze of finesse. In a "Counter Culture" restaurant review in March, I quoted co-owner Christian Forte (with wife Mercedes): "We came up with the menu based on (the dishes) we enjoy cooking at home and the ones I grew up with. My dad (former teen idol Fabian Forte) is an incredible cook."

For awhile, I've been stuck on the salmon, crispy polenta and garlicky gazpacho whenever I drop by. But Fabian's outdoor patio opened recently, and three lunch pals and I attended Sunday brunch (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

From the to-the-point menu ($6 to $11) we shared four dishes that were outstanding for their vibrancy and choice ingredients (and big portions). With its two bright-yellow poached eggs and perfectly cooked Yukon gold potatoes, the spinach Benedict (pictured) took first place.

It narrowly edged out the french toast (cinnamon custard-soaked brioche with vanilla cream), spring vegetable frittata (light and moist) and "eggs in the hole," which had nothing to do with the classic British dish (toad in the hole) other than toast (Pugliese from the Acme bakery) and sausage (house-made Italian link). Think also in terms of melted provolone and marinara sauce.

One more thing: subdued live guitar music is played from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Anticipating the brunch rush from the after-church crowed, we finished our Bellinis (Prosecco and peach puree, with raspberry garnish) and headed for the hills.

Fabian's is at 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd. in the Almond Orchard center, Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.comphoto.JPG.

June 24, 2011
Time to get rum-ready for that Fourth of July bash

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of you-know-what for the Fourth of July party.

The folks at the Sailor Jerry spiced-rum company want to offer a few recipes to help you keep the spirit of Independence Day ... interesting.

Backyard Tea
2 parts spiced rum
1 part iced tea
2 parts lemonade
Add ingredients to an ice-filled highball glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Hellfire
1 part spiced rum
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 part ginger beer
Pilsner or lager beer
One-quarter fresh lime
Squeeze the lime into a beer glass. Fill with ice. Add Tabasco, spiced rum and ginger beer. Top with beer.

Sailor Jerry barbecue sauce
In a medium pot, add 1 liter spiced rum, 4 to 5 quartered oranges, 3 lemons and 2 limes (3 to 4 tablespoons of mixed fruit juice concentrate optional).
Reduce at a rapid boil by about 75 percent or until slightly thickened. Strain and let cool.

Pick your favorite brand of barbecue sauce. In a second pot, bring desired amount of sauce to a slow warm, adding the spiced-rum mixture a little at a time. About 5 to 6 parts barbecue sauce to 1 part rum mixture works well, but taste it along the way to see how you like it. Great on ribs and pulled pork.

June 24, 2011
More Mangalitsa pork arrives in Sacramento

Good news for folks who want to try some of the highly touted Mangalitsa pork that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Corti Brothers just received an entire Mangalitsa pig, a rare breed that's prized as much for its fat as its rich meat. After my story ran, Corti Brothers - the only retail shop in town to carry Mangalitsa - sold out of its Mangalitsa pork in one day. Customers have since been placing pre-orders for a piece of this pig, with 16 requests alone for its pork belly.

Mike Carroll, the manager of Corti Bros.' meat department, has spent the morning breaking down this 320 pound pig. Loin chops are priced at $18.99 per pound, $10.99 per pound for shoulder, $7.99 for a pound of pork belly and $10.99 for shoulder. Sure, these prices are pretty steep for pig parts, but there's a reason why Mangalitsa is dubbed "the Wagyu beef of pork", and served at fine restaurants ranging from The Kitchen to the famed French Laundry. The bonus of Mangalitsa is you can use its rendered fat for all kinds of cooking purposes, from mixing into hamburger patties and creating pie crusts.

"The fat on this pig came in so beautiful and creamy," said Carroll. "It's just gorgeous."

For more information about placing an order: (916) 736-3805.

June 23, 2011
Take a trip to Italy with food-wine expert Darrell Corti

How would you like to take a trip to Italy with internationally recognized food and wine expert Darrell Corti of Sacramento? You can - vicariously, of course.

For 12 days in March, as part of two wine-trade events, Corti toured through Palermo (Sicily), Venice and northern Italy. Looking calm and confident, and sporting various brightly color bow ties, he tasted and sampled while visiting with some of his store's purveyors. His trip was sponsored by Winett Taste & Trade (a Venice-based wine-marketing company) and the Sicilian Regional Wine Institute.

Accompanying him was Corti Bros. Market store director Rick Mindermann and videographer Esther Ritter. The two assembled a day-by-day blog site with commentary, 95 videos and 317 photos. Go to www.sites.google.com/site/tvcorti/home/BLOG (and check out the Corti Bros. Facebook page).

"The blog site captures what it's like to travel with Darrell," Mindermann said on the phone.

What were some of the highlights?

June 22, 2011
Newcastle Produce hosts fun food, wine event Friday

Here's a fun Friday idea for foodies: head to up Interstate 80 to Newcastle, where Newcastle Produce is offering cooking demonstrations, product samples and discounts.

The store is extending its hours to 8 p.m. every second and fourth Friday of summer to host "Summer Fun Fridays."

This Friday, in-house Chef Chelsea Federwitz will host a free salsa making demonstration and Snow's Citrus Court will hold a food tasting and is offering 15 percent off its products. Customers can also enjoy a wine tasting featuring Bonitata Boutique Wines, according to the store's website.

Participants also will be entered into a drawing for door prizes.

June 21, 2011
New location for Thursday's food truck festival

Just got word that Thursday's festival of local food trucks has been moved to Tognotti's Auto World at El Camino & Fulton Ave. The time remains the same - 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. - and four local food trucks are still on board: Mini Burger, Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, Mama Kim's and Chando's.

This weekly food truck festival will move to various locations each Thursday, and we'll let you know about the next one when we do. In the meantime, customers will get 10 percent off their orders if they wear a SactoMoFo t-shirt to the festival. They can be ordered through SactoMoFo's web site with prices starting at $20.99 for adult-sized shirts.

June 20, 2011
Sal's BBQ at South Lake Tahoe is grilling and singing

The dining scene at summertime Lake Tahoe is off to a great start, with the best tables found outdoors on decks and patios.

Example: Though Sal's BBQ isn't on the water per se, it is situated in a grand people-watching venue. An elevated patio in front of Embassy Suites fronting Highway 50 - near Harrah's hotel-casino and the Heavenly Valley gondola ride - has been set up to accommodate diners hungry for grilled goods and in the mood for music.

Offerings off the grill range from burgers and bratwursts to baby back ribs and hard-to-find skirt steak. Wash them down with draft beer (Hefeweizen and Kona Longboard), smoothies and sodas. Overseeing things is restaurant manager Terry Darmer.

Food prices range from $11 to $14. The children's menu features a burger, hot dog and cheese quesadilla ($5 to $7).

The food's good, as is the live music. We dropped by Saturday afternoon and caught one-man-band singer-musician Fabrizio, whose playlist ranges from reggae and pop to country and oldies rock. He plays weekends, with other live acts Thursdays and Fridays.

Sal's BBQ is an arm of the Echo restaurant inside Embassy Suites, and named for executive chef Sal Delgado.

Check it out from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays, through Labor Day. It's happening at 4130 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe; (530) 543-2140, www.embassysuiteslaketahoe.com.

June 17, 2011
Selland's Market-Cafe now opens its doors on Sundays

Some of the best food in town is served at the restaurants operated by the Selland family. Let's see, there's The Kitchen and Ella Dining Room and Bar, and the more casual Selland's Market-Cafe. Coming to the El Dorado Hills Town Center is a second Market-Cafe.

The news is that the Market-Cafe in East Sacramento is now open Sundays, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nancy Zimmer - who is married to Randall Selland - oversees the restaurant.

The Sunday breakfast menu includes pizza, sandwiches (egg with peppered bacon and cheddar cheese on toasted levain) and house-baked quiche. Lunches and dinners offer a wide array of beef, pork and seafood dishes, along with pasta and numerous salads. Plus lots of wine.

Selland's is at 5340 H St., Sacramento. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and now 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. Visit at www.sellands.com.

June 16, 2011
Weekly food truck festival to start next Thursday

Local food trucks will come together each Thursday starting June 23 to serve fans of mobile food and promote a new alliance of food trucks. The locations will rotate each Thursday, but the first event is slated on June 23 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at MK Auto on the corner of Arden Way and Bell St.

Three local food trucks will be featured at this first gathering: Mini Burger, Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen and Mama Kim's. Trucks from Chando's and a new vendor called The Wicked 'Wich are expected to participate soon. Other members of the alliance include the La Piedad and La Mex taco trucks.

All trucks at this as-yet-untitled festival are members of the newly formed Sacramento Food Truck Alliance. The organization will emphasize a self-policing policy, including not parking within a half-block of an existing restaurant.

"It's an organization to strengthen ourselves and make sure we're doing the right thing," said Davin Vculek of Mini Burger. "We don't want to fight restaurants. We want to show how we can co-exist with them."

Vculek said the ultimate goal is to bring the weekly festival closer to the central city "and bring more life into downtown." Currently, food trucks have to move after 30 minutes and must shut down at sundown. Until those regulations are changed, the weekly festival will operate outside city limits.

Look for web sites for the festival and Sacramento Food Truck Alliance to be online soon.

June 15, 2011
Weekly food truck festival coming soon to Sacramento

Though details are still in the works, local food truck vendors are banding together to hold a local mobile food festival on Thursday nights. Look for a location just outside the city limits, in the vicinity of Arden Way, and will feature only local trucks, including Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen and Mini Burger. By operating outside city limits, the food trucks won't be limited to 30 minutes in one spot, per current city ordinances.

This food festival is being organized by local food truck vendors themselves, who are currently in the process of forming an alliance. An introductory meeting between food truck operators, restaurateurs and city officials was held recently at The Kitchen, and proposals from all sides are expected at an upcoming meeting between all parties in the next four to six weeks.

Stay tuned for more of this mobile food truck news as it develops.

Update: We're also hearing word of a new food truck coming very soon that specializes in sandwiches ... more on that soon as well.

June 15, 2011
Hickory smoke-flavored peanuts pass the taste test

Sometimes, you feel like a nut. Or, more likely, a handful or two.

The folks at the family-owned and -operated Hampton Farms in rural Severn, N.C., understand that. The company specializes in peanut products, and reminds us that it is the "No. 1 brand of in-shell peanuts in the country." It also says that peanuts "have more antioxidants than broccoli, carrots or green tea."

A 10-ounce bag of its new product - "Hickory Smokehouse flavored in-shell peanuts" - arrived here at Food Central the other day. We tore it open and passed it around the room. The reviews were generally positive.

Before we get to those, though, we called Hampton's vice president of sales and marketing, Tom Nolan, to ask: Where do the nuts get their "straight from the smokehouse taste"?

"It's a natural flavoring, basically liquid smoke that is introduced during the roasting process," he said.

To buy the peanuts ($1.99), drop by any Winco store after July 1, call the Hampton Farms company store (757-654-1400) or visit its online store (www.hamptonfarms.com).

Anyway, here's what our tasters had to say about the peanuts, beginning with my take:

June 14, 2011
California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition winners

After judging more than 2,600 wines, the full list of winners has been announced for the 2011 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Best of show winners included Shady Lady primitivo from Amador County (red), Greenwood Ridge Vineyards of Mendocino Ridge for its white riesling (white), and Anderson Valley's Navarro Vineyards for its muscat blanc (sweet).

Click here for a searchable database of all winners.

In previous years, the gold medal winners from the State Fair's commercial wine competition were sampled with food from local restaurants at the Grape & Gourmet event. Grape & Gourmet has been put on hold this year, and the winning wines can instead be sampled on July 29 at the California State Fair. The tasting is now called Taste & Celebrate the Best Wine! and will require a $25 ticket separate from fair admission.

For more information: (916) 263-3247 or www.bigfun.org

June 14, 2011
Chowder competition meets steamed clams in Monterey

crowds_sm.jpgWe were hopscotching around Monterey over the weekend and were reminded of how many seafood restaurants populate the area.

Which segued nicely with Saturday's second annual West Coast Chowder Competition, at which 26 of the 34 entries were from local restaurants. The categories were "clam chowder," "seafood chowder" and "creative chowder," judged by a panel of 10 "food experts." We came upon the event by serendipity and joined the crowd for our share of sampling, too.

That contest was conjoined with the 35th annual Monterey Wine Festival, at which 45 wineries poured tastes (www.montereywine.com). It all happened at the Custom House Plaza, behind the Portola Hotel.

Meanwhile, over on nearby Fisherman's Wharf, we dropped by Cafe Fina for a big bowl of its steamed clams. Its clam chowder took second place in last year's competition; this year, its sister restaurant, Domenico's, took second place in the "creative chowder" category.

But about those steamed clams... They're cherrystones from the East Coast, which have more flavor and a better texture than the Manila clams most often used in the dish.

"We keep everything simple, with the philosophy that less is more," said restaurateur Dominic Mercurio. "The base of the broth is the natural salty clam juice that seeps out when the clams open (upon cooking). We cook the clams in butter, white wine, fresh garlic and fresh Italian flatleaf parsley."

Under attack from our cocktail forks, the meaty clams didn't get to swim for long in the buttery, garlicky broth. And we lost count of how many slices of Italian sesame twist bread we dipped into that fragrant broth (the bread is from the Palermo Baking Co. in neighboring Seaside). Afterward, we sipped some Amaro Averna, the Sicilian herbal digestif first concocted in 1868. You should, too. Cafe Fina: (831) 372-5200, www.cafefina.com.

An aside: As much as we enjoy Fisherman's Wharf, we're put off by the hawkers who stand in front of some of the restaurants, loudly soliciting passers-by to sample their clam chowders. Best advice: Keep walking.

Back to the West Coast Chowder Competition. And the winners were:

For clam chowder:
1. Characters Sports Bar & Grill (Monterey)
2. Loulou's Griddle in the Middle (Monterey)
3, Club XIX (Pebble Beach)

For seafood chowder:
1. Fishhopper (Monterey)
2. Flaherty's (Carmel)
3. Sam's Chowder House (Half Moon Bay)

For creative chowder:
1. Isabella's (Monterey)
2. Domenico's (Monterey)
3. Duke's Chowder House (Seattle)

June 13, 2011
Mikuni to host Japanese street festival in Roseville

What's up with the sound of booming taiko drums coming from The Fountains in Roseville? That'll be the 1st Annual Mikuni Japanese Street Festival, which is slated from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. at The Fountains shopping center in Roseville. Along with Japanese taiko drumming and crafts for the kids, the festival is a welcoming of sorts for Mikuni Kaizen, the latest edition to the Mikuni Restaurant Group which emphasizes small plates and tapas-style dining. The kitchen will be taking orders at Mikuni Kaizen until 9:30 p.m. on Thursday. For more information: www.mikunisushi.com.

June 9, 2011
The search for perfect scallops comes to an end (for now)

scallops.jpg

Scallops are among the tastiest gems of the sea, but they're easily overcooked. That's why I, for one, finally gave up trying to saute and grill them, and launched my years-long search for perfect scallops served in restaurants. (Remember, "perfect" is subjective.)

That search ended (at least temporarily) when I ordered the appetizer plate of the bivalve marine mollusks at the Terrace restaurant at Town & Country Village.

There, chef Michael Powers and co-owner/wife Margot Powers have put together a unique menu of specialty dishes that include twists on jambalaya, pulled pork and salmon BLT. But it was those scallops that stopped us. They're large, super-fresh, highly prized dayboat sea scallops, meaning they're brought from sea to land within 24 hours.

On the phone, Powers described how he cooks them. His techniques involve searing, steaming and deglazing. White wine, butter and olive oil play important roles.

The two accompanying sauces require the juices produced from wilting radicchio, spinach and fresh fennel in olive oil and wine, along with whole-grain mustard, cream, fresh pesto, salt and pepper. Reduction is key.

There are yet more ingredients, but you get the picture. Tab: $10 for three scallops on wilted greens, topped with microgreens.

"Timing is critical," Powers said. "The scallops take less than a minute, but you can't walk away from them, you have to be right there."

Do customers like them? "They're tied with the house-smoked salmon as our most popular appetizer," he said.

For the record, what we call scallops - those glistening white and yellowish rounds in the seafood cases of grocery stores - are actually the adductor muscles that are removed from whole scallops in the harvesting process. The adductor muscle attaches the scallop's two shells and controls their opening and closing, allowing the animal to "swim" in short bursts via water propulsion.

Interesting, but of little concern when you're sitting at the table with a plate of the delicacies in front of you.

Call the Terrace at (916) 486-1907 or visit www.theterracecuisine.com. Town & Country Village is at Marconi and Fulton avenues, Sacramento.

June 9, 2011
One more Mangalitsa recipe: Blueberry pot pie w/ bacon ice cream

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That's right, it's Mangalitsa week here on "Appetizers." To get some more information on the Mangalitsa pig, a prized swine with chefs ranging from The Kitchen to the French Laundry, check out my Food & Wine cover story on the Mangalitsa pig.

For you budding pastry chefs and gourmet home cooks out there, here's a recipe from Randall Selland of The Kitchen which includes bacon ice cream. I know, the idea of bacon in ice cream might sound just kind of wrong at first glance. But trust me, little bits of prized Mangalitsa bacon turns regular ol' vanilla ice cream into a mix of savory, sweet and salty flavors that will make your taste buds do backflips.

Here's the recipe:

June 8, 2011
Make That Sandwich Recipe Contest is worth $25,000


A Texas A&M University study shows that we Americans eat more than 200 sandwiches a year, which is a tribute to our creativity. Which naturally leads to this: It's time for the fourth annual Make That Sandwich Recipe Contest, sponsored by Mezzetta, a Napa Valley-based purveyor of olives, peppers and other condiments.

Home cooks, you can submit your original recipes at www.makethatsandwich.com in any (or all) of the categories - cold sandwich, hot sandwich and vegetarian sandwich - from now through Sept. 5 (Labor Day). The top prize is $25,000 and a "culinary trip and tour of the Napa Valley for two."

For inspiration, look at Mezzetta's database of sandwiches; click on "Sandwich Recipes" at the website. For still more inspiration, you might consult "The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo (Quirk, $18.95, 300 pages).

This year, Mezzetta will invite the public to choose the grand-prize winner from the 10 contest finalists, via online voting. That is, after the Mezzetta judges have pick the finalists, based on certain criteria. Online voting will begin after the entry portion of the contest closes on Sept. 5.

Still more: The Celebrity Chef Sandwich Charity Challenge is a co-category involving "eight culinary masters" whose sandwiches are now in competition (voting is open at the website). The winner will get to choose a charity that will receive a $10,000 donation.

Among the chefs are two from San Francisco: David Bazirgan, executive chef at the Fifth Floor restaurant (with an open-face grilled eggplant tartine sandwich); and Jeffrey Saad, host of the Cooking Channel's "The United Tastes of America" (with a variation on the classic Cuban sandwich).

Specialty-foods producer Mezzetta opened its doors in 1935 in San Francisco's historic North Beach.


June 8, 2011
Icing on the Cupcake opens new location, offers sweet charity

Icing on the Cupcake is opening its fourth, and largest, location in the Sacramento region and is celebrating by donating 25 percent of all opening day sales to the Children's Miracle Network.

The Rocklin cupcakery, which prides itself on using natural ingredients, has quietly opened its newest shop at 6839 Lonetree Blvd. in West Rocklin, but it will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. June 17, owner Christee Owens said.

The 7,000-square-foot location is the lead baking facility for all four cupcake shops. Icing on the Cupcake has stores in Sacramento, Folsom and on Pacific Street in Rocklin.

And on June 17, indulging in one of the new shop's cupcakes will yield an even sweeter reward - a donation to Children's Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for children's hospitals. The offer is available at all four Icing on the Cupcake shops.

"It's a great national charity, but they actually benefit our local community and local hospitals and we love helping out the kids," Owens said.

The cupcakery offers 45 flavors, with specialty flavors rotating in monthly. For menus and more information about Icing on the Cupcake, click here.

June 8, 2011
Bonus recipe: Fettucine carbonara with Mangalitsa bacon

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Today's Food & Wine section had an extra dose of flavorful fat, given the cover story on the Mangalitsa pig. From the French Laundry to some of Sacramento's finest kitchens and gourmet grocers, this pig is coveted for its exceptional fat and rich meat - though it can come with a hefty price tag, too.

But really, give some Mangalitsa a try for yourself. For you folks who want to dedicate some time in the kitchen, here's a recipe from chef Kelly McCown of Ella Dining Room & Bar that shows off the Mangalitsa in bacon form. Save some of the bacon fat for some refried beans or green beans. Mmmmm ...

June 8, 2011
Fat Face moves from Davis to midtown

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Today's "Wine Buzz" column checked out a fairly unusual spot for one of Sacramento's best new wine bar lists. You'll find that at Bows & Arrows on 1815 19th St., a vintage clothing store that doubles as an art gallery and cafe. It recently moved from L street to its current location, the former site of Retrofit recording studios.

Here's a little more about Bows & Arrows' similarly thoughtful food program, which is being run by Fat Face. Formerly based in Davis, Fat Face built a rep for producing some of the area's best popsicles - think kaffir limeade with avocado and strawberry-lemonade - along with a tasty line of sandwiches. Fat Face sold popsicles at the recent Sacramento Mobile Food Festival and went through more than 1,000 of these frozen treats.

So what the heck is Fat Face doing at a spot that specializes in vintage clothes?

June 7, 2011
Market at Pavilions wine-tastings move to Wednesdays

Noted Sacramento gourmand David Berkley instituted Friday-night wine-tastings at his store in the Pavilions, oh, nearly a quarter-century ago.

When he sold David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods to Greg Rhategan in 2008, and it was renamed the Market at Pavilions, the end-of-the-work-week tradition continued.

Now there's a twist: The tasting has moved to Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., but the spirit will remain the same.

Tomorrow night's tasting is dubbed "Kobe Burgers & Bordeaux," at which grilled Kobe beef sliders will be paired with a flight of five reds from the Bordeaux region of France. The tasting fee is $10 ($5 is refunded with a wine purchase), the sliders are $3 apiece.

The Market is in the Pavilions center in Sacramento, along Fair Oaks Boulevard near Howe Avenue. Information: (916) 929-4422, www.marketatpavilions.com.

June 7, 2011
Cooking for beginners: Here's the class to get you started

Elaine corn.jpgCooking has many components. You have to understand your ingredients. You must acquire certain skills, some of which take years to master. Then you have to manage things, time and temperature among them. It's a lifelong pursuit that includes plenty of rewards, lots of great meals, a few heartbreaking learning experiences and the chance to buy all kinds of gadgets for your kitchen.

But if the world of cooking seems daunting and if you're unsure how best to begin, I can't think of a better solution than taking a three-week cooking class for beginners, taught by author and distinguished Sacramento food journalist Elaine Corn.

The class meets on three successive Saturdays in July (the 16th, 23rd and 30th) from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The cost is $300, which includes a copy of Corn's book, "Now You're Cooking: Everything a Beginner Needs to Know to Start Cooking Today."

Don't consider yourself a beginner? Even if you know your way around a kitchen, it's always a good idea to brush up on the fundamentals and sharpen the skills you already have. Corn knows what she's talking about. Topics include: pro-level chopping skills, the proper use of salt, knowing when meat and fish are done, and how to time the courses of a meal.

You'll also learn how to bake, boil, steam and sauté "in a positive, completely hands-on environment," according to information on Corn's Facebook page, which goes on to say, "Here's a guarantee: After the first week, you'll be mincing herbs like a TV chef. By the end of the series, you'll be cooking for yourself, family and friends."

For more information, contact Maryellen Burns, (916) 768-6077, or foodtalk@me.com. For those interested in paying online, the class is expected to soon be listed on www.Brownpapertickets.com.

June 6, 2011
Free burger for dads on June 19th at The Counter

Ever heard that Chris Rock comedy routine about how dads never get any kind of appreciation, except the "big piece of chicken" at dinner? Well for one day, they'll get a free burger too. On June 19th a.k.a. Father's Day, dads will get a free 1/3 burger at The Counter (1005 Galleria Blvd., Roseville). All you have to do is tell your server, "I want the BFD!" And before the language police come calling, the "BFD" in this case means "Burger For Dad." Got it? Keep in mind that additional and premium toppings are extra. Until then, enjoy the big piece of chicken.

June 6, 2011
Fresh from Cliche Ranch: Are "farm to table" and "locavore" over-hyped?

mark1.jpgThanks to a link on Facebook, I recently read a short essay by local chef Mark Liberman about the "farm to table" movement, along with the "even worse newly anointed locavore movement."

Huh?

Yes, the backlash is at hand, thanks to people who seem a little too happy with themselves for buying locally grown food and looking down their noses at those who dare to eat something imported.

(If you have an opinion about the politics and/or glorification of eating locally, please give your two cents in the comments section).

June 3, 2011
Grape Escape: rain or shine

Mother Nature sure has pulled a whammy lately with all this weird weather, but no matter what, Saturday's Grape Escape at Cesar Chavez Plaza (10th and J streets, Sacramento) will proceed rain or shine. Organizers are scrambling today to add extra tents to cover the bulk of the park, which will feature more than 200 wines and food from nearly two dozen local eateries, including Pizza Rock, Piatti, Mulvaney's B&L and Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen. Last year's edition of Grape Escape drew more than 5,000 folks for three hours of wine drinking and face stuffing.

I'll have my rain poncho on stand-by because I'm one of the judges for Grape Escape's "chef's challenge," a culinary throwdown featuring defending champion Adam Pechal of Tuli Bistro/THIR13EN, David English (Press Bistro), Suleka Sun-Lindley (Thai Basil), and Russell Okubo of Fat's Family Restaurants. Each contestant will have 25 minutes to whip up a dish using a secret ingredient, and hopefully wow the judges enough to advance to the finals.

Meanwhile, the libations for Grape Escape read like a who's-who of regional wineries, including Bogle, Carvalho Family Winery, Jodar, Scribner Bend, Klinker Brick and more. Grape Escape runs from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. Tickets for this feast cost $40 in advance, with $5 off if purchased at Raley's stores and $50 at the door.

For more information: www.raleysgrapeescape.com. 21 and up only.

June 3, 2011
Amazing dessert: the ice cream sandwich at Ginger Elizabeth

069.JPGGinger Elizabeth Chocolates has earned a national reputation for its handcrafted, luxurious chocolates and small desserts such as the gianduja cake and the café cremeaux.

Once you visit the small shop on L Street, it's easy to understand why. Quality. Consistency. Premium ingredients. Time-tested technique.

So, when I finally got around to trying the ice cream sandwiches, available seasonally from May through October, I had great expectations. I bought all three flavors ($5.50 each), took them home and planned how I would taste them - one per day, each neatly sliced in half, and then savored as slowly as possible. The lemon, then the pistachio and, finally, the salted caramel.

June 2, 2011
Chicago Fire to open fourth restaurant in Folsom

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Sacramento restaurateur Eric Schnetz plans to open a fourth local Chicago Fire restaurant at the Palladio at Broadstone shopping complex in Folsom.

Schnetz said today that he hopes to open the 7,200-square-foot outlet by November. It will be built in existing retail space near the entrance to the Palladio 16 Cinemas along East Bidwell Street.

Seating around 300 and employing 80 to 100, it will be the largest Chicago Fire restaurant, which serves Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas, thin-crust pizzas and other items.

Current Chicago Fire restaurants are at 614 Sutter St., in Folsom (the first, opened in 2003), 2416 J St., in Sacramento and 500 N. Sunrise Ave., in Roseville. Those outlets employ about 180.

See more details in Friday's edition of The Sacramento Bee.

Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

June 2, 2011
Your favorite farmers market could be a star -- vote on it

We Northern Californians love our farmers markets, and why not? We lead the country in our devotion to locavorism and the farm-to-table movement, largely because we have such ready access to fresh produce and artisanal products, especially at farmers markets.

Now's your chance to show some loyalty to the farmers market(s) where you regularly shop (if they're registered for eligibility). The America's Favorite Farmers Markets national contest is open to take your online votes at www.farmland.org/vote, through Aug. 31.

The rules state that voters can nominate as many "participating farmers markets as they choose, but can vote only once for each market." The categories are arranged by size - small, medium, large and "boutique-size." Farmers markets that have not yet enrolled for eligibility (it's free) can do so at www.farmland.org/marketmanager.

One winning market in each category will receive prize packages and local celebrations, and be featured on the food-oriented website www.epicurious.com.

The contest is sponsored by American Farmland Trust, a "conservation organization dedicated to saving America's farm and ranch lands."

"Farmers markets offer a great way for consumers to support local farms and farmers," said American Farmland Trust president Jon Scholl. "The markets provide access to fresh, seasonal foods and help strengthen our ties to the land where our food is grown and the people who grow it."

For more information: (202) 331-7300, www.farmland.org.



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