Appetizers
July 30, 2011
Going on Placer wine tour? Take a tip from Mike Dunne

Jocelyn Maddux at the Placer County Vintners Association sent a note to remind us about next weekend's Grape Days of Summer that takes wine lovers on a tour of seven different wineries near Auburn, Lincoln and Newcastle.

If you decide to take the tour, we suggest you pay $25 here rather than $35 at one of the wineries. The ticket price gets you tastings at each location, food, music and educational activities, plus a special event wine glass.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 6-7. The featured wineries are Casque Wines, Wise Villa Winery, Dono dal Cielo Vineyards, Fawnridge Winery, Lone Buffalo Vineyards, Mt. Vernon Winery and Viña Castellano Vineyards.

July 28, 2011
Update on today's food truck festival in Elk Grove

The food trucks are coming this evening to the land of the Thundering Herd. That would by Elk Grove, and more specifically, Storage Kings at 8740 Calvine Rd. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and you can find grub from the following vendors: Mini Burger, Wicked 'Wich, Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen and Mama Kim.

While food truck operators continue to be stymied by only being able to park for 30 minutes in most parts of the city, locations in the county and suburbs have proven to be tasty locales for food trucks. Says Davin Vculek of Mini Burger: "Should be fun times. We always do pretty well in Elk Grove."


July 27, 2011
Weekly food truck festival coming to Elk Grove

This just in: The weekly festival featuring local food trucks is coming to Elk Grove this Thursday.

The location is Storage Kings, which can be found at 8740 Calvine Road.

Count on Mini Burger being there, and we'll confirm the rest of the vendors and time ASAP. Previous editions of this gathering have run from 5 to 8 p.m. and, along with Mini Burger, have featured Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, Mama Kim, Chando's Tacos and more. Hang tight for more info.

July 27, 2011
The sign is up at Whitey's Jolly Kone: fresh peach milkshakes

Once again, for the eighth straight year, the sign has gone up at Whitey's Jolly Kone: "Fresh peach milkshakes."

Imagine a visit to peach heaven and how a milkshake would taste there: high-quality vanilla ice cream studded with chunks of fragrant peach, blended into an icy concoction that freezes the throat. To quote the British pop group the Eurythmics, "sweet dreams are made of this."

Each summer, the owners of the landmark drive-in - Steve and Paula Ericson - sell the shakes as fast as they can make them. The secret: tree-ripened freestone peaches from Modesto. From now until around the end of August, they'll serve the area's best peach shake.

"They're going over very well," said Steve on the phone this morning. Years of first-hand experience tell us that's an understatement. Get 'em while they last. Regular, $3.25; large, $3.75.

Whitey's is at 1300 Jefferson Blvd., West Sacramento; (916) 371-3605.

July 26, 2011
Snackimals updates Barnum's classic animal crackers

RB Snackimals 3.JPGYes, "Animal Crackers" is the title of a 1930 Marx Brothers comedy, but beyond that the cookies are a British import popularized here in 1902. That's when the National Biscuit Company made the classic Barnum's Animals, which quickly became a national icon. Nearly 40 different circus and zoo animals have filled the distinct Barnum's Animals packaging over the decades.

Which brings us to a new product sent to us from Petaluma-based Barbara's Bakery. Our tasters sampled two of the six available flavors - double chocolate and peanut butter "animal cookies ... made with organic grain" (www.barbarasbakery.com). They're $3.99 per 7-1/2-ounce bag, available at Safeway and Whole Foods stores.

We passed them around the room and asked our tasters to give their opinions. Here they are, beginning with my own:

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July 26, 2011
Lincoln-based Rogers Family Company hosts coffee naming contest

A local coffee company and New York-based wild cat conservation organization are launching an online coffee naming contest today to benefit jaguar conservation.

Rogers Family Company, a roaster and producer of organic, responsibly grown coffee and tea, and Panthera, an organization whose work to save the jaguar was recently featured on "60 Minutes," are holding the contest on their Facebook pages.

Rogers Family Co. developed a new coffee for Panthera, which is described as a custom blend of shade-grown, organic beans from the highlands of Mexico's Chiapas region and the Concordia area of Colombia, which company officials say are important conservation areas for jaguars, a Rogers Family Co. news release states. The coffee will have "hints of cacao, a lively bright taste and smooth body," Vice President Jim Rogers said in a written statement.

July 25, 2011
Monday postscript: Thai food, street food and what we're missing

IMG_1770.jpg"It's all about the food. Even a fleeting visit to Thailand can leave you no doubt of this. Walking down the street - almost any street in Thailand - you can only be struck by the variety of stalls (sometimes literally) and amazed at the variety of food. Thais are obsessed by food, talking and thinking about it, then ordering and eating it. Markets brim with produce and snacks. Streets often seem more like busy restaurant corridors than major thoroughfares for traffic."

So begins the beautiful and inspiring coffee table-sized book, "Thai Street Food: Authentic Recipes, Vibrant Traditions," by David Thompson.

This book not only offers 371 pages of vivid photographs of meals and inspiring stories about the daily Thai quest for a great meal, it offers a blueprint, perhaps, of what is missing with regard to Thai cuisine in the Sacramento area. As I noted in my review Sunday of the impressive and consistent cooking at Thai Cottage, we rarely seem to encounter Thai restaurants offering a menu that reflects the amazing regional variety of food in Thailand. Obsession with food? It doesn't really translate to what we see in America.

July 25, 2011
Tomato truffle and tomato gelato are ready for TomatoFest

We dropped by Capital Confections for preview tastes of two unusual items that owner Teresa Higgins has concocted for the second annual TomatoFest. Her store is at Town & Country village, the site of Saturday's all-things-tomato celebration (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Earlier this year, Higgins created the Red Hot Chili Truffle - chili oil-infused ganache covered in a dark-chocolate shell. It was a hit, but it wasn't hot enough for some chocolate-lovers. So she added more fire for a second version, the Double Hot.

For a special TomatoFest novelty item, she added sun-dried tomato to the original hot truffle to produce the Lil Hot Tomata Truffle. It packs a bit of fire, plus bits of subtly flavored sun-dried tomato. Give it a thumbs-up. It and the other two truffles are $2.50 per 1.5-ounce piece.

July 25, 2011
L Wine Lounge closes indefinitely

Sunday's brunch was the last service at L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen for at least the next few weeks. The midtown wine bar at 18th and L streets is closing indefinitely due to extensive repairs and safety issues with its HVAC system, said co-owner Marcus Marquez. A lawsuit between the L's owners and its general contractor is complicating matters, though both parties are currently in mediation, said Marquez.

Marquez anticipates that the L will re-open by September, by which time repairs and legal matters should be settled. In the meantime, the opening bash for Midtown Cocktail Week on Aug. 15 which was scheduled for the L is being moved, likely to Shady Lady. The L will continue to cater events, while its 28 employees look for work during the closure.

"The process is moving forward and I feel like we can re-open quickly," said Marquez. "I look forward to getting back in the community."

July 20, 2011
Fishy time at the State Fair

Take a break from the corn dogs and deep-fried Twinkies and get some fish into your California State Fair food experience this Saturday for Aquaculture Day. Culinary students from Cosumnes Oaks High School and local chefs are going to prepare sustainable seafood from California, including tilapia, trout, abalone and sturgeon. They'll share the bounty with fairgoers as well, with demos at 1, 2, 4 and 5 p.m.

Aquaculture Day also includes a petting zoo of sorts, but of the fish kind. Student farmers from Watsonville High School will show off 2 to 3 foot long sturgeon and visitors will be allowed to pet them.

For more information: (916) 263-3000

July 20, 2011
Four cooks nab National Beef Cook-Off category wins

AsianBBQSkirtSteak.jpgFour home cooks been named category winners in the 2011 National Beef Cook-Off, one of the most prestigious cooking contests in the country.

The four category winners, who were each awarded a $3,000 cash prize, showcased simple preparations and cooking techniques with beef, great flavors and healthful ingredients, organizers announced in a news release today.

The cookoff, which boasts a $25,000 grand prize, is second only to the Pillsbury Bake-Off in terms of prize money. The National Chicken Cook-off, which used to offer a $100,000 purse for the grand prize winner, has since shuttered.

The Cook-Off category winners are Tedd Smith, of Mount Vernon, N.Y, for his Asian Barbecued Skirt Steak (shown at left); Peggy Calhoun, of Portland, Ore., for her Steppin' Up Beef Fried Rice; Edwina Gadsby, of Great Falls, Mont., for her Asian Beef Sandwiches with Slaw; and Ellen Verdugo, of Gloucester, Mass., for her Flash in the Pan Stir-Fry. Click here to see all the finalists and recipes.

July 19, 2011
Coffee (black), cake (white) and a nice recipe from Cook's Illustrated

IMG_1627.jpgI took a little coffee break this afternoon and enjoyed a thin slice of the cake I made yesterday for my girlfriend's birthday. She is finally old enough to rent a car, I am happy to report. The cake is very moist and the crumb quite tender.

I have been a paying member of the Cook's Illustrated website for at least 7 or 8 years. It's about $35 annually and well worth it if you A) like to cook and B) like to understand why your cooking either succeeds or fails.

July 19, 2011
Inspired by our food trucks, I whipped up a grilled cheese at home

IMG_1410.jpgI have been eating so much food truck grub lately that I haven't done much cooking at home. But after having my umpteenth grilled sandwich from Drewski's, I thought it was time to make my own. Here's a version of my favorite. Generally, I use my own sourdough bread that I make at home, but I was out, so I used some nice whole wheat bread. Don't underestimate the importance of the bread. If it's not substantial enough, the sandwich won't be as good as it could be.

The cheese is a matter of preference. This time, it was equal amounts sharp cheddar and medium-sharp cheddar, all shredded. The shredded cheese gives some volume and lift, and it seems to allow more uniform melting.

I have been using raw (yes, raw unpasteurized) butter lately and it is pretty impressive. Look for it at the Sunday farmers market or at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. The smell alone is wonderful -- like a grassy field. The flavor is deep and almost like a cheese. I coat the outsides of the bread with the raw butter as I heat up the old cast iron pan.

On the inside of the bread, I spread some coarse grain spicy mustard and top it with ground pepper. This seems to complement the flavor of the cheese and gives the sandwich a little zing. Then I add the shredded cheese. Sometimes, I do a double-decker and include a third piece of bread in the middle, with cheese on both sides of it. But I wanted my pants to fit tomorrow, so I went with the traditional two slices.

After the cheese comes the best part -- a smattering of sliced (pickled) jalapenos. I like jalapenos on my cheeseburgers and I like jalapenos on my grilled cheese.

The pan needs to be medium hot -- too hot and you burn the bread before the cheese melts. To help the cheese along, use a lid to trap some of the heat. The raw butter actually seems to burn slower and has a higher smoke point than regular butter, but I'm not sure why.

Grill it up to a golden brown and, voila! Five minutes to make it and about a minute to eat it. It's not going to make me forget about Drewski's and its braised beef (or, for that matter, those battered and deep-fried mac and cheese balls!), but this was good in a pinch.

July 19, 2011
Free corn dogs, swag for kids at California State Fair

As if today's offer of free admission for children to the California State Fair wasn't deal enough, Foster Farms is giving away free corn dogs to the first 1,500 kids.

Foster Farms, an official State Fair sponsor, will be offering the free corn dogs to children 12 years old and younger today and July 26. The family-owned company also will be giving away coupons, stickers and other promotional items, a Foster Farms news release states.

Also today and on July 26, children will have a chance to win a Golden Ticket, which is good for a one-year supply of Foster Farms Corn Dogs. One child per Kids Day will win the prize, the release states.

For more information about the State Fair, click here.

Need some conversation starters to distract your children while waiting on line at the fair? Try out these fun facts: The first corn dog wasn't served on a stick (shocking right?). Apparently, corn dogs appeared in the U.S. as early as the 1920s and gained popularity in the 1940s. A vendor at the Minnesota State Fair claims to have been the first to serve a corn dog on a stick in 1946, the same year the first Hot Dog on a Stick location was opened in Santa Monica. No word on whether the Hot Dog on a Stick staffers wore those kooky uniforms back then.

July 19, 2011
Fresh Pond Trading Post deli is another dining choice

The Highway 50 corridor to Lake Tahoe is jammed this time of year, good news for businesses. The sad news for diners is the passing of the four-star Dante's on the River Italian restaurant, between Pollock Pines and Kyburz, and the ongoing locked doors of the St. Pauli Inn in Pollock Pines.

However, the remodeled Red Apple restaurant outside Placerville is open (530-626-8144), and the dining room at Strawberry Lodge in Kyburz is a familiar standby (530-659-7200).

The Fresh Pond Trading Post in Pollock Pines is another oasis for hungry motorists on the to-or-from Tahoe trail, and a convenient stop for picnickers planning al-fresco dining at nearby Sly Park.

July 18, 2011
Closed for 8 days, Biba has reopened with a new look

restaurant2.jpgWhen I reviewed the much-admired Italian restaurant Biba several weeks back, I withheld a rating for the "ambience" category. Biba Caggiano had told me prior to publication that she planned to close the restaurant for a week and remodel.

The restaurant has closed, reopened and the remodel is complete - there is new art on the walls and those walls have been given new life. In the bar area, which is what customers encounter when they walk in the front door, paneling has been added and the paint gives the room a darker overall clubby feel. Beforehand, the bar had lots of mirrors and brass fixtures that suggested you were entering a themed restaurant called "Ode to the '80s."

July 18, 2011
Monday postscript: Food trucks, rules, diversity and the future

Drewski (11).JPGIn my review this Sunday, I took a look at the three new food trucks that have made a mark on the Sacramento area food scene in recent months. Drewski's, Mini Burger and Mama Kim on the Go. Throw in Chando's (whose taqueria I reviewed a few months back) and a new contender, Wicked Wich, and we have the makings of a movement.

That's not a lot. But these are the pioneers, and they're leading the way in a trend that is sweeping the country. Why are food trucks the new hot thing? For one, they are thriving in some cities we look to as trendsetters: New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland. We look to those cities for guidance and we envision a scene in Sacramento in which you can stroll along the city's streets, stop for a quick bite of good food and be on your way.

July 15, 2011
A foodie's dream trip: Ride with and learn from a great chef

rickmahan200x200.jpgDue to the timing of my vacation, I'm late telling you about a pretty cool event this weekend that combines a few of my favorite things: riding bikes, the American River bike trail and, of course, cooking great food.

It's too late to sign up for this event, unfortunately, but it's worth knowing about it. Don Bybee of Transpocycle and John Boyer of Edible Pedal have put together a bike ride and overnight camping adventure that highlights what a great area we live in for bikes. It's a 22-mile ride on Saturday from midtown up to the camp site at Negro Bar State Park along Lake Natoma, with a return ride on Sunday.

July 15, 2011
Heavenly Dog hopes to be wheeling wieners by October

Two years ago, I reviewed the family-oriented Heavenly Dog in Elk Grove, which still sells 13 variations on the wiener theme, plus a Hella Good Corn Dog that's hand-dipped in house-made batter and deep-fried.

We liked the dogs a lot, and heaped a ton of the four house-made relishes and five mustards all over them. Plus we knocked back sides of homemade macaroni and potato salads.

Now there's news: Though the brick-and-mortar store will stay where it is, owner Nicki Smith has plans to take her dog emporium on the road.

"My husband Chris is in the process of building our food truck," Smith said. "It will be Heavenly Dog on wheels. We'll have to trim back some of the menu items, but we'll sell our most popular dogs and rotate the others through the menu."

What about timing?

"We still have to go through the paperwork and licensing process," she said, "but we're hoping to be on the road by the end of October. There will be three of us on the truck, and we're planning to cover a lot of the outlying areas, away from downtown Sacramento."

Watch this space for upcoming developments. Meanwhile, check out Heavenly Dog at 9160 E. Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove, in the Marketplace 99 South shopping center. Information: (916) 714-7877 or www.heavenlydoghotdogs.com.

July 15, 2011
Food tours can be good for businesses and neighborhoods

The Sacramento food and dining scene has been credited with bringing new energy to Sacramento's urban core. Just think of all the restaurants that did not exist a decade ago and just recall how easy it was to find a parking spot in midtown or downtown back then.

Now comes the ripple effect, and it, too, is bringing positive energy to neighborhoods - and there's plenty of potential and opportunity ahead. One of the best examples of this is a new business called Local Roots Food Tours operated by Lisa Armstrong, a former private chef who moved to the area from Indiana 12 years ago. The tours are not only drawing great crowds, they're a positive force in the downtown neighborhoods of Alkali Flats and Mansion Flats.

July 14, 2011
'Got milk?' advertising campaign to attend Eppie's Great Race

By Max Ehrenfreund

mehrenfreund@sacbee.com

Representatives of the National Milk Mustache "got milk?" campaign will attend Eppie's Great Race to offer chocolate milk samples and talk with athletes about their product.

"Lowfat chocolate milk has been scientifically shown to refuel and rebuild muscles effectively to help athletes recover after strenuous exercise," according to a press release.

The 25-mile running, biking and paddling triathlon, scheduled to start at 8 a.m. July 23, is one of many endurance events around the country the "got milk?" campaign is visiting.

July 14, 2011
Contestants wanted for tonight's waiters race

Bastille Day is upon us, which means the "Daniel Pont Golden Beret" award is up for grabs. That's the trophy for tonight's Bastille Day Waiters Race, which kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight at L Bar (1801 L St., Sacramento). Local restaurant servers will wear traditional waiters garb and then race while trying to balance a tray with a bottle and glasses. Expect plenty of spills and thrills, plus an afterparty in the L's courtyard.

Race organizers are still looking for competitors, so if you want to be part of this charging herd of servers, send an e-mail to waitersrace@sactownmag.com and they'll send you the entry form. Registration costs $20 and forms need to be dropped off by 3 p.m. at Sactown magazine's office (1006 4th St., 9th floor; Sacramento). Limited registration may also be available on site tonight if the race hasn't reached its 50 waiter limit.

Good luck, and watch out for broken stemware!

July 14, 2011
Roasted fresh corn is another state-fair food tradition

We dropped by the California State Fair on Wednesday to check out the upcoming buffet at the food kiosks along the main promenade. Workers and cookers rushed around, preparing for today's noon opening. We found the usual on-a-stick items (alligator tail tastes nothing like chicken, by the way), along with chocolate-covered bacon, deep-fried Moon Pies and tons of garlic fries.

Looking for something more healthful, we spotted pasta, vegetarian spring rolls, falafel and grilled vegetables. But what stopped us was the Corn Shack, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary at the fair.

There, we talked with owner Dominic Palmieri, who has worked the fair circuit for 22 years. His company is based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Tell us about your corn-on-the-cob, please ($3.50 an ear, with fixins).

"It's California-grown 'big barrel corn,' with a cob almost 10 inches long," Palmieri said. "We oven-roast the ears in the husks at 600 degrees. It cooks so quickly that it never gets the chance to reach the starch stage. Instead, (the fast roasting) brings out the corn's naturally occurring sugar-content level. Our corn is picked every morning and goes from the field to the customer within 24 hours. We'll sell an entire field of corn here at the state fair."

After cooking, the ears are removed from their husks and handed over to customers. It's up to them to doctor the "naked corn" with butter and/or combinations of a dozen seasonings. "There are more than 300 combinations of seasonings, whatever creation you can come up with. It's a corn-lover's fantasy come true," Palmieri said.

Obviously, fairgoers love fresh corn. "Oh, yes," he mused. "It's amazing to watch them line up for corn at 10 a.m., when the fair opens (Fridays through Sundays; otherwise noon)," he mused. "Who eats corn in the morning?"

And the record for the most corn eaten by one fairgoer in a single day? That would be 24.

For more on the state fair: www.bigfun.org.

July 13, 2011
61 cent hot dogs coming Sunday to Wienerschnitzel

OK, we understand that some of you may still be seething following yesterday's "free Slurpee day" at 7-11. For one, those free Slurpees were given out in tiny cups and many franchises ran out before many folks could get their fix. Talk about a brain freeze of a bummer.

But now, we'd like to bring your attention to a deal that shows some promise. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Wienerschnitzel, participating locations will be offering 61 cent original hot dogs on Sunday. This includes mustard dogs, chili dogs and kraut dogs. They'll also be offering a drawing to win a trip for two to Germany and other 'dog related giveaways. Score!

For more information: www.wienerschnitzel.com

July 13, 2011
You can't be an astronaut, but you can customize M&Ms

JV_M.jpgSomehow, it seems appropriate that a company called Mars would have a longtime "candy connection" to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Mars candy company has supplied the M&Ms that have been aboard 130-plus space shuttle missions since 1981.

To commemorate NASA's final space shuttle launch on July 8, Mars delivered a batch of shuttle-themed M&Ms (pictured) to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to be shared by the Atlantis astronauts and ground staff.

Unfortunately, you can't get any of the special red, blue and silver iconic candies, but you can do the next best thing: Customize your own M&Ms. Here's how:

Go to www.mymms.com. To begin, click on the "Register" button in the upper right-hand corner, and follow the directions from there. Choose up to three colors of M&Ms on which to put your personalized messages or art work, and then select from packaging options. As for pricing, it's on the website.

For more on the Atlantis shuttle's "sweet sendoff," go to www.collectspace.com.

July 12, 2011
Mimi's Cafe takes diners on a culinary tour of Provence

Would you rather visit France vicariously or get a meal deal? How about both? Along with a chance to win a round trip to Provence, of course.

The Irvine-based Mimi's Cafe chain, with six stores in the Greater Sacramento area, is celebrating Bastille Day (French Independence Day) on Thursday with an offer: "Guests can enjoy a free two-pack of muffins, including the new chocolate mousse flavor, with a valid coupon and any purchase." To print the coupon, go to www.mimiscafe.com or www.facebook.com/mimiscafe.

More eats: From now through Oct. 5, Mimi's "Taste of France" program is featuring "Tour de Provence" seasonal menus, with Provence-inspired dishes. We dropped by the Folsom store for breakfast and had the sweetish cinnamon brioche french toast (one of four choices; $7.50).

Better was the three-course dinner deal for $14. In between a decent Caesar salad and an OK apple cinnamon crisp was the "country French beef gratin" (one of three entree choices). Described as a "French-inspired shepherd's pie," the ramekin-bound casserole was tasty and filling. There's a three-entree Provence-inspired lunch menu, too ($11 with beverage).

And: To enter the "Chance for France Giveaway" - five days in Provence, plus 100 other prizes - go to Mimi's Facebook page and "like" it. If you're not a Facebook member, you can register at Mimi's website.

"Taste of France" will continue with more seasonal menus. "Tour de Paris" will be Oct. 6-Jan. 25, and "Tour de Burgundy" will run Jan. 26-May 30.

July 11, 2011
See's Candies celebrates National Lollipop Day

San Francisco-based See's Candies has learned a thing or two during its 90 years of operation. One is how to promote itself, which, in this case, is a good thing for us.

For starters, on National Lollipop Day - July 20 - the candymaker will give away a gourmet lollipop to every customer who visits any of its 200 stores. Also, candy-lovers can buy boxes of the pops at reduced prices.

The bigger news is See's National Lollipop Day Sweepstakes, in which the winner and a guest will win round-trip air fare to San Francisco, four nights at a hotel, ground transportation, $100 per day for "incidentals," and a VIP tour of See's candymaking facilities. Enter the sweepstakes through July 23 at www.sees.com/lollypopsweepstakes or at any See's outlet. See the rules at www.sees.com/sweepstakesrules. Winners will be randomly selected on Aug. 26.

One more thing: See's four lollipop flavors are cafe latte, butterscotch, chocolate and vanilla, but right now there's a limited-edition summer flavor - root beerlollypops.jpg. We got our hands on a batch and orchestrated a quick taste test:

"Not too sweet, but the flavor could be bolder. When it comes to root beer, subtlety should not be part of the equation."

"Very nice, not cloyingly sweet, good root beer flavor, with a touch of creaminess. The original pops are good, but I like this one better."

"I like root beer plenty, but I've never been crazy about it in candy. The sucker's not bad, but not something I would opt for, given See's other choices."

"Very satisfying. I'm not one for root beer candy, but this is really flavorful, caramel-like and smelled of root beer as soon as I unwrapped it. It lasted a long time."

"Wow! This is as high-quality a root beer sucker as I have ever had. Though with every lick, all I can think is: I'd rather be sucking on a chocolate one."

July 8, 2011
Second annual TomatoFest is coming to Town & Country

tomato_sally_rice.JPG

The pieces are nearly in place for the second annual Sacramento TomatoFest, July 30 at Town & Country Village. But before we get to those details, there's one other thing...

Take a good look at the TomatoFest mascot in the photograph. She'll make her debut at the festival, but she needs a name. To that end, the winner of the "Name the Mascot" contest will receive a $100 gift certificate good at participating stores at the shopping center. Email your entries to sriceecp@aol.com, with your name, city of residence and daytime phone number. Deadline is July 22.

Also: Those tomatoes growing in your backyard garden right now could be a "cash crop" at the TomatoFest. At stake is $500 in prize money for each winner in three tomato categories: largest, smallest and ugliest. The tomatoes must be ripe. Contestants can download entry forms at www.theterracecuisine.com., or register tomatoes in person by 9:30 a.m. July 30.

There's more: Restaurant chefs will compete for the Orient & Flume glass-art trophy and bragging rights as they prepare their best salsa, bruschetta and cold or hot tomato-based soup (samples will be available to help attendees decide on the People's Choice Award). Last year's grand-prize winner was chef Jon Nelson of Sienna in El Dorado Hills.

Judging the dishes will be Gloria Glyer and Bernice Hagen, who were part of Sacramento magazine's Dining Divas team for 17 years; wine writer and former Sacramento Bee restaurant reviewer Mike Dunne; Sacramento Bee wine columnist Chris Macias; and Alex Lane, community manager of Yelp.

Also on the agenda are a village-wide sidewalk sale, live music, art displays, winetasting, gardening demonstrations, a children's area, a Tomato Trot for kids 13 and younger, and performances by the Sacramento Theatre Company. Taste-wise, look for tomato-based truffles and gelato, and bloody Marys.

Cooking demonstrations will be given by Nelson of Sienna, Buonarroti chef and co-owner Daniel Alcantaro, chef Gene Moana of Forge in the Forest in Carmel, and chef-cookbook author Elaine Corn.

The second annual Sacramento TomatoFest will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 30 at Town & Country Village, Marconi and Fulton avenues, Sacramento; (916) 933-4056, www.shoptownandcountry.com

July 7, 2011
Shady Lady mixing cocktails from latest Bond films

DSCF0049.JPGBy Allen Pierleoni
apierleoni@sacbee.com

The latest title in the multi-author James Bond pastiche - "Carte Blanche" - is a cut above the last several entries to have furthered the exploits of Agent 007. That's because the estate of the late novelist Ian Fleming (who created Bond) wisely contracted with veteran international-thriller novelist Jeffery Deaver to write the book.

The updated Bond still likes his cocktails, and Deaver created one just for this tale. Appropriately, he calls it the Carte Blanche. Which reminds us of another Bond-centric drink - the Vesper - that appeared in "Casino Royale" (the book and the film).

Has anybody actually tasted the two cocktails? We wanted to do just that, so we made our way to the Shady Lady saloon and there met with owner Jason Boggs and mixologist Sean Eggers.

July 6, 2011
Location set for Thursday's food truck festival

If you've got a hankering for some edibles from local food trucks, check out the mobile food festival every Thursday which rotates at spots around Sacramento county. This week's edition will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mel Rapton Honda on Fulton Ave. near the Capital City Freeway. Look for eats from the following local vendors: Mini Burger, Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, Mama Kim, Chando's Tacos and the Leaven & Earth Sandwich Co.

And where will the festival be held next week? Guess we'll just have to wait and find out. In the meantime, look for the web site to be up soon for the Sacramento Food Truck Alliance, which is organizing these weekly festivals.

July 6, 2011
Homemade cooking helps extreme couponer save scratch

So how do extreme couponers use up all those ingredients they score for next to nothing? They get creative.

Jen Freeman certainly does.

The Las Vegas mother of two and extreme couponer, who recently was featured at two extreme couponing events hosted by The Sacramento Bee and on TLC's "Extreme Couponing," said she stocks up on fruit and vegetables in season in order to save money, then creates recipes around her ingredients. I wrote about Freeman and her extreme couponing method in today's Food & Wine section. Click here to read the story.

Follow the link below to get Freeman's recipe for homemade strawberry preserves and a homemade strawberry preserves and poptart.

July 6, 2011
Beans-and-rice tortilla chips get a thumbs-up taste test

Let us count the good things about a new line of tortilla chips made from two kinds of beans (navy and black) and rice, instead of the traditional corn. Beanfields' four protein-rich flavors of "crispylicious" chips:

- Are gluten-free.
- Contain 4 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving.
- Are free of all the "FDA's eight most common ingredients that trigger food allergies."

You get the picture. And you can get the product at Whole Foods (www.wholefoodsmarket.com) and Elliott's Natural Foods stores (www.elliottnaturalfoods.com) around the Sacramento area. They're $3 to $4 per 6-ounce bag. More at www.beanfieldssnacks.com.

Yes, the chips seem to fall more on the healthful side of the snack divide, but what about taste? We distributed the four flavors (unsalted, sea salt, sea salt and pepper, and pico de gallo) to a group of tasters. Here's what they said, starting with my own comments:

July 5, 2011
Former David Berkley closes in Pavilions

By Allen Pierleoni
apierleoni@sacbee.com

The Market at Pavilions, formerly David Berkley, is out of business.

A sign on the glass front door tells the story: "The Market at Pavilions is no longer open for business effective July 1. Thank you for your loyal patronage."

The specialty-foods store had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors in late April.

The store's most visible co-owner Greg Rhategan could not be reached for comment this morning.

Donahue Schriber is the Costa Mesa-based retail-property company that owns Pavilions, Town & Country Village and Natomas Marketplace, all in Sacramento, as well as 75 other shopping destinations in four Western states.

"The closure of the Market (was linked to) an internal business issue that Greg Rhategan continues to deal with," said Audrey Yokota, director of marketing for Donahue Schriber. "We want to find a replacement (for the Market) soon. Our leasing agents are currently working very hard on that, talking with a number of players and prospects."

July 5, 2011
Waiters Race returns to midtown on July 14

MAJ WAITERS.JPG

On your mark, get set ... now speedwalk while balancing a tray with a bottle of wine and glasses. That's right, the Bastille Day Waiters Race will go down for the second straight year, this time on July 14. The course will start and end at L Bar (formerly known as L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen) at 1801 L St., with a party in the L's courtyard to follow the race. More than 50 local waiters participated last year, with Joe Cowley of Michaelangelo's Italian Restaurant emerging as the champion.

There were also some grumblings last year about some folks not playing fair, as in gluing their glassware to their trays and not balancing their trays with one hand. So there will be a few new rules this year, including no sprinting. More information will be coming soon on this fun event with plenty of broken glassware.

Note: Corrected to clarify the course route

July 2, 2011
Dunne picks will come in handy for Lake County wine event

Jennifer Hammond at the Lake County economic development program recently sent a note that the seventh-annual Lake County Wine Adventure would be getting under way soon. It's a two-day passport event that runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 30-31.

Buy your tickets to the event early, and you can get them for $35. Buy them on the day of the event at any participating winery, and you'll pay $40. A ticket entitles you to two days of activities, which includes wine tastings and hors d'oeuvres at each winery, a logo wine glass, art exhibits, and entertainment.

You can get more information by calling (800) 595-9463 or (707) 355-2762. You can also visit www.lakecountywineries.org.

Hammond's email reminded me of two features articles that wine critic Mike Dunne wrote for The Bee a little over a year ago, suggesting wineries, inns and activities for Lake County visitors. I decided to again share his lists with you, though I've updated the information where necessary.

IF YOU GO
Ceago Vinegarden: Ceago Vinegarden turns out solid takes on the county's two most fundamental varietals, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, while hinting at the future with a citric and spicy syrah rose. 5115 E. Highway 20, Nice; (707) 274-1462; www.ceago.com.

Steele Wines: Jed Steele, the man most often credited with reviving winemaking in Lake County, today oversees the production of about 80,000 cases a year at his Kelseyville facility. While he draws grapes from afar, he remains devoted to Lake County fruit with such releases as the lean and silken Writer's Block grenache and the fleshy yet sharp-edged Shooting Star barbera; 4350 Thomas Drive (at Highway 29), Kelseyville; (707) 279-9475; www.steelewines.com.

Langtry Estate & Vineyards: Ever since British actress Lillie Langtry arrived in Lake County in 1888, wine has been made on her estate, which now spreads over 23,000 acres, though just 400 are planted in wine grapes. Long recognized for its petite sirah, Langtry today is gaining prominence for the structure and elegance of its cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-inspired blends. 21000 Butts Canyon Road, Middletown; (707) 987-2385; www.langtryestate.com.

Gregory Graham Winery: Gregory Graham has received awards in such prestigious contests as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and The Dallas Morning News' Wine Competition. 13633 Point Lakeview Road, Lower Lake; (707) 995-3500; www.ggwines.com.

Six Sigma Ranch, Vineyards & Winery: Visitors can relax on the manicured grounds around the old stage stop made over into a cozy tasting room, where the sauvignon blanc is as friendly and alert as Fly, the resident border collie, the tempranillo as soothing and enduring as the surrounding oaks. 13372 Spruce Grove Road, Lower Lake. (707) 994-4068; www.sixsigmaranch.com.

Shannon Ridge Vineyards & Winery: Clay and Margarita Shannon pour releases from their estate vineyards. Their proprietary blend Wrangler Red is immensely popular, and their 2006 reserve cabernet sauvignon was the only example of the varietal to win a gold medal at Lake County's recent first wine competition. 12601 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks; (707) 998-1480.

STAYING PUT
Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast Resort: Rooms range from $150 to $220. www.featherrailroad.com; (707) 274-8378; 2870 Lakeshore Blvd., Nice.

Tallman Hotel: A search on the hotel's website showed no availability for this weekend, but call to find out whether there have been cancellations. More than a boutique hotel that blends respect for history with an appreciation of modern amenities, the Tallman Hotel is Upper Lake's cultural focal point. In addition to 17 rooms, some in the original 1896 structure, some in a cluster of contemporary outbuildings, the grounds include the Blue Wing Saloon & Cafe and a conference center, all of which double as the backdrop for frequent blues performances, winemaker dinners and the like. Next door is Sheldon Steinberg's antique plumbing shop, The Elegant Bowl, where he restored many of the vintage bath fixtures in the hotel. Rooms range from $159 to $249. www.tallmanhotel. com; (707) 275-2244; 9550 Main St., Upper Lake.

The Bungalow: Several quaint bed-and-breakfast inns dot the shoreline around Clear Lake, but the arts-and-crafts-style Bungalow seems to generate the most recommendations from locals. It has just three rooms, but it is roomy and tidy, and boasts a deck overlooking the lake. Rooms range from $140 to $170. www.thebungalow.com; (707) 998-0399; 10195 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks.

CHOWING DOWN
Blue Wing Saloon & Cafe: You'll find a diverse California and Mediterranean menu with such dishes as pan-seared crab cakes, risotto fritters filled with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, and baby back ribs gleaming with housemade barbecue sauce in the dining room, as well as on the spacious and well-shaded patio. Every wine on the list, incidentally, was made within 30 miles of the restaurant. 9520 Main St., Upper Lake; (707) 275-2233.

Saw Shop Gallery Bistro: Once a saw shop -- check out the vintage chainsaw atop the bar -- the sunny, homey quarters today house a combination art gallery and bistro. The art ranges from acrylic landscapes on old circular saw blades to refined jewelry, while the New American menu is similarly diverse, including pork pot stickers with Thai chili sauce, steamed mussels fiery with jalapeno peppers, a pan-roasted pork loin chop with local pears and sauteed radicchio, and seared sea scallops with Southern grits and a Tabasco beurre blanc. 3825 Main St., Kelseyville; (707) 278-0129.

DIVERSIONS
Bring your bike: Cycling in Lake County is scenic and relatively easy, with gradual grades and several roads with shoulders. Lake County Pathways has published detailed guides to 11 suggested routes, including one entirely around Clear Lake (68 miles, a gain of about 500 feet; allow six to eight hours, more if you plan to taste wine). Pick up the guides at the Lake County Information Center, 6110 E. Highway 20, Lucerne.

Clear Lake State Park: Campsites, picnic areas, trails and access to the lake for swimming, fishing and boating help explain the popularity of Clear Lake State Park among outdoor enthusiasts. 5300 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville; (707) 279-4293.

Kayaking: Kayak rentals are popping up all around the lake, and at least one winery (Ceago) and one casino (Konocti Vista Resort) provide tie-up facilities. The group Konocti Regional Trails is working to establish a series of linked hiking trails that it hopes ultimately will encircle the lake, and also has mapped out seven water trails on Clear Lake, downloadable at www.konoctitrails.com.

July 1, 2011
Sacramento dining scavenger hunt

No, we're not talking about dumpster diving or being a "freegan" and consuming others' leftover food, but a different kind of scavenger hunt is going on through July 11 at various midtown restaurants. Here's the deal: surf over to www.ilovedowntownsac.com and look for a link to download the "SCVNGR" app for your smart phone. You'll then be sent to an array of restaurants - including de Vere's Irish Pub, the Firehouse, 3 Fires Lounge and more - and can earn points by completing tasks. The Top 7 point getters will then receive $50 gift cards at local businesses. Score! Once again, click over to www.ilovedowntownsac.com and get scavenging.



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