Appetizers
July 24, 2013
Where to find fast-selling 'Lost Restaurants of Sacramento'

lostrestaurants.jpg People love lost restaurants - and the book devoted to this nostalgic topic.

Just released by American Palate, "Lost Restaurants of Sacramento and their Recipes" by Sacramento's Maryellen Burns and brother Keith Burns sold out quickly in some stores. The book and its recipes were featured in today's Food & Wine section in The Bee. (Read it at http://bit.ly/18DqIFK .)

"I just dropped off another 40 copies at Time Tested Books," said Maryellen on Wednesday afternoon. "They sold out in 45 minutes this morning."

Time Tested Books - located at 1114 21st St. in midtown Sacramento - had the most copies as of lunchtime today. Other local sources that still had "Lost Restaurants" in stock include Corti Brothers market (5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento), Beers Books (915 S St., Sacramento), J Crawford's Books (5301 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento) and the gift shop at the Crocker Museum.

The Barnes & Noble stores at Arden and Natomas also had a few left, Maryellen said.

Priced at $19.99, the paperback is also available online from Amazon.com.

July 12, 2013
El Dorado County inmates' baking continues to win ribbons

By Kurt Chirbas
kchirbas@sacbee.com

Inmates at two El Dorado County jails continue to earn bragging rights for their superior culinary skills, even if they aren't then bragging about it.

JailFood.jpegThey won a total of 31 ribbons from the El Dorado County fair last month. It is the largest haul of awards yet for participants of a program that teaches cooking and baking in an attempt to reduce recidivism rates.

"For a lot of them, they have never won anything in their lives; they've never been recognized for anything," said Capt. Randy Peshon, of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department.

The program, established in 2007 through a partnership between the El Dorado County Sherrif's Department and the Lake Tahoe Community College, has become a cornerstone of the county's response to AB 109, legislation that allows non-serious offenders to serve their sentence in county jails instead of state prisons.

There are two reasons why the program has been successful, said Peshon. It both gives inmates marketable skills and a sense of pride.

He described what inmates typically do with the ribbons won each June at the fair baking contests each June. "They are very, very proud, but they don't want to brag. They put their ribbons in their pockets ... and hope that you about ask about it. And then, when you say, 'Hey, it looks like you're one of the ribbon winners,' you can just see the pride on their faces."

Peshon added, "I can pretty positively say that very few inmates who have made it through the program come back to jail, and if they do, it is for a very short time."

His favorite baked goods made by inmates? "The cinnamon rolls are to die for."

July 2, 2013
Triple-digit heat? Blogger bakes cookies in her car

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By Janelle Bitker
jbitker@sacbee.com

Stephanie Nuccitelli took full advantage of the heat wave on Sunday. She used her car as an oven and baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

It sort of worked. Nuccitelli, the Sacramento-based baker behind the popular 52 Kitchen Adventures blog, put a couple trays on the dashboard at 2 p.m., when it was 102 degrees outside and 210 degrees inside her car.

"Next time I will start earlier, because a few hours later is was only 175 in the car and that slowed the cooking process down," she said.

After about five hours, the cookies were crispy on top and undercooked beneath, which is ideal for someone like Nuccitelli who enjoys a doughy cookie. On another triple-digit afternoon, she'll make some tweaks and blog about her findings.

"On a really hot day, you don't want to use the oven, so this is one way to satisfy a cookie craving," she said.

It probably smells great, too.

July 3 UPDATE: Nuccitelli went at it again with great success. Her biggest tips? Start early, use just a little bit of dough per cookie and don't line the baking sheet. Read why on her blog.

PHOTO COURTESY OF STEPHANIE NUCCITELLI

June 14, 2013
Sacramento-area women vie for $1 million Pillsbury Bake-Off

panzanella.jpg Kalani Allred of Loomis already has baked her way to Las Vegas. Rebecca Moe of Citrus Heights and Charm Allison of Lockeford are halfway there - but need a little help from their online friends.

All three cooks made the initial cut in the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off. Grand prize: $1 million.

In the revamped Bake-Off format, cooks must make it through online voting as well as professional critiques before they're invited to the finals, to be held in November in Las Vegas.

Allred, a graphic artist, earned enough votes online for her creation - Balsamic Chicken Cranberry Panzanella (shown here) - to be named one of 33 finalists in the "Amazing Doable Dinners" category. Her summer salad - inspired by the Italian classic - uses Pillsbury pizza crust and cranberries instead of bread and tomatoes.

"When I'm cooking, I love the gratification of preparing meals for my family and people I love," she said in her online presentation.

Voting is now open for Moe's and Allison's category - "Simple Sweets and Starters." Moe's Mocha Hazelnut Truffle Tartlets and Allison's Chocolate and Peanut Butter Marshmallow Squares are among 60 semi-finalists from 30 states. Of those 60, 24 are former Bake-Off finalists.

Deadline to vote for "Simple Sweets and Starters" is June 27. To vote and see all the semi-finalist recipes including Allred's panzanella, click on www.bakeoff.com.

May 28, 2013
Stoking the grill this summer? First check in with the BBQ Pro

david hill.jpgWhether you grill marinated tri-tip or spice-rubbed ribs over a charcoal-fired kettle or gas-fueled range, or break down brisket for 12 hours in a dented old smoker, the California backyard is the summertime site for some of the best 'cue going. Just ask the neighbors who live downwind from your place.

With summer here and Father's Day approaching, it's time to sharpen our 'cue skills. Open-minded backyard cooks are always willing to learn new techniques, and David Hill (pictured) is the guy to teach them.

Hill owns the BBQ Pro in Fair Oaks, a company that claims to stock "everything for the pitmaster."

It's got more 'cue stuff in one place that we've ever seen. The long, narrow store is jammed (in an organized way) with all things barbecue, from tempting rubs and sauces to top-quality grill brushes and marinade injectors. In the inventory too are bags of oak, mesquite and hickory lump charcoals, and bags of real wood chips and chunks - cherry, alder, apple, pecan, almond and hard-to-find red oak, the wood of choice for Santa Maria-style open-pit barbecue.

The BBQ Pro is also a dealership for the Big Green Egg, a high-fiber ceramic grill with many add-on accessories. Its design has roots in the "mushikamado" cooker, used for centuries in Japan.

Hill and hot coals have been BFF for "a good 40 years at least," he said. "I'm not so good with inside ovens. I would just as soon cook outside." Which is what he does it at home.

Hill hosts monthly grilling classes ($50) at his store, 10140 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 595-7444. The next one is on pulled pork, 4:30 p.m. June 23. Check the website www.bbqproonline.com for details.

Meanwhile, we asked Hill to give us the benefit of his expertise, and he offered these tips for backyard cooks:

May 24, 2013
Sign up early to make dough at State Fair baking contests

image001 (2).jpg Baking know-how could pay off at the upcoming State Fair during two cooking competitions. But to make some dough, you've got to sign up early.

Friday, May 31, is the deadline to register for the State Fair's two featured baking contests: Fleischmann's Yeast Best Baking Contest and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship.

Judging for both contests will be July 25 near the end of the State Fair's run, July 14-28 at Cal Expo.

The Fleischmann contest includes two categories: Best yeast baked good (breads, rolls, coffee cakes, doughnuts, etc.) and "Best Dessert Pizza." A $125 prize is offered for each category.

Entrants in the Chocolate Championship must use premium Ghirardelli 60 percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips plus any additional Ghirardelli baking chocolate in a bite-size treat. First prize is $150 and a Ghiradelli gift basket.

Complete rules and registration are available online at www.bigfun.org (under the "Contest" section) or call the fair's entry office, (916) 263-3146.

May 24, 2013
Sacramento second-grader cooks on national TV

nichaolasphoto (4).JPG Nicolas Come may be only 8 years old, but the Sacramento second grader brings his hometown's "Farm-to-Fork" campaign to a national audience Saturday morning.

Broadcast live from New York City, Nicolas will appear on "FOX & Friends Saturday" on the FOX News network, starting at 3 a.m. PDT. Nicolas' scheduled segment will air about 6:30-6:45 a.m. in Sacramento.

Nicolas drew the interest of FOX producers with his Nicolas' Garden mobile app and an appearance on local TV. Released last week, the app allows families to share healthy recipes, cooking tips and more in a fun, kid-friendly format. See it at www.NicolasGarden.com.

For his TV debut, Nicolas will cook on camera a recipe he developed for First Lady Michelle Obama's "Healthy Lunch Recipe Contest."

"It's really exciting," he said when contacted by phone in New York. "I'm making Nicolas' California Sunshine; it's curry."

His own recipe, the curry features vegetables, fruit, chicken and spices. This photo is Nicolas practicing his curry Friday at a test kitchen in Brooklyn.

"He's been practicing it quite a bit," said Drisha Leggitt, a Nicolas' Garden volunteer. "On the flight, his backpack was filled with spices. He brought three different curries.

"It takes a lot of guts to get up on live TV, but Nicolas really wants to do this," she added. "Who better to represent the capital's Farm-to-Fork movement than a kid from Sacramento?"

May 20, 2013
'Cookies & Cream' arrives just in time for summer

cookiescream.JPGSummer is here, which means it's time for a little something to take the edge off the notorious Sacramento heat.

For guidance, one place to turn is "Cookies & Cream" by blogging cook Tessa Arias, who describes herself as "a college student turned culinary student" (Running Press, $18, 222 pages; www.handletheheat.com).

Hundreds of imaginative recipes show the step-by-steps of matching home-baked cookies with homemade ice cream and ice cream custard in ways you would not expect.

The concept is simple, but the possibilities are seemingly endless. How about a Black Forest ice cream sandwich, or vanilla whoopie pies? For fruit fans, Arias gets involved with strawberries, pomegranates, lemons, mangoes, blueberries and the like. Can your sweet tooth handle it?

May 8, 2013
Fresh apricots taste best from own backyard

apricots.jpg It's not your imagination: Apricots just don't taste like they used to.

Several readers called in response to today's In Season feature in Food & Wine. (Read it at http://bit.ly/17KsqB5 .) They complained that supermarket apricots are "tasteless" or worse.

A lot has to do with variety. About 85 percent of the California apricot crop is now Patterson, which has less sugar than Blenheim and other old-school apricots. Also, commercial apricots are picked when still firm and don't get sweeter as they ripen.

The best place to get full-flavored ripe apricots is your own backyard. Apricots are among the easiest fruit trees to grow in California. Some good varieties to try: Autumn Glo (a late-bearing variety that ripens in August), Gold Kist and Tropic Gold. All rate very high in natural sugars.

Now what to do with ripe apricots (including Pattersons): Try this sauce, adapted from Nicole Routhier's "Fruit Cookbook" (Workman Publishing).

Combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add to the syrup 1/2 pound apricots, halved and pitted. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook until the fruit is tender, about 5 minutes.

Drain the apricots, reserving the syrup. Puree the fruit in a blender with 1/4 cup of the reserved syrup and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more syrup.

Transfer to a jar, refrigerate and use within one week. It's a wonderful dessert topping over cake, ice cream or pudding. This same recipe works with peaches and mangoes, too.

May 1, 2013
'Snacks' is a user-friendly cookbook with twists by the 'aisle'

snacks.JPGA library of cookbooks is published each year, the daunting avalanche overwhelming the curious home cook who's daring enough to browse the Cookbooks section of bookstores.

Where to begin? One manageable starting point could be the just-released "Snacks" by self-proclaimed "food explorer" Marcy Smothers (HarperOne, $19.99, 293 pages). It's one of cookbookdom's most entertaining and user-friendly new titles, with a foreword by celebrity chef-restaurateur Guy "Johnny Garlic's" Fieri, Smothers' longtime pal.

"Snacks" is a mini-feast of food lore, tips and trivia, surprising factoids and original recipes with chapters organized by "aisles," modeled after what a shopper will find along each aisle of a supermarket. For instance, Smothers begins with Produce, moves to Bread, then Cheese, then Frozen Food and so on - 15 aisles altogether.

Randomly flipping through the book, we found:

- The fresher the vegetables, the quicker they will cook (it's a moisture thing).

- What do the colored plastic tags on commercially baked breads signify? Answer: the day of the week they were baked (blue for Monday, green for Tuesday and so on).

- Tomato sauce doesn't have to simmer all day to be good; 20 minutes will do.

- There's no nutritional difference between white eggs and brown eggs.

Among the 50 recipes, consider prime rib sauce, crab Rangoon, fried rice and pork tacos with watermelon salsa.

As Fieri puts it: "When Marcy talks about food, I listen."

April 10, 2013
Fava beans not for everyone, can cause 'Favism'

fava.jpg Fava beans may be delicious, but they're not for everyone. Like peanuts, fava beans can create health issues.

In the case of favas, the reaction is linked to a genetic hormone deficiency called G6PD, short for Glucose 6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase deficiency.

"An important fact about fava beans is that individuals with G6PD hormone deficiency, also known as 'Favism,' often - though not always - have a very serious allergy to fava beans," said Tom Roberson of Sacramento. "Our 5-year-old son has the G6PD deficiency, so we carefully avoid fava beans.

"The G6PD deficiency is very common around the world, and, I believe, is now routinely tested for at birth," he added.

According to medical experts, G6PD deficiency is seen in about 10 percent of African-American males in the U.S., and is also common in the Mediterranean region, Africa and parts of Asia.

Learn more about G6PD at http://g6pddeficiency.org/wp/.

Most people can eat favas without worry. Favas are entering their peak spring season. For recipes and tips, see http://bit.ly/152qAg9.

March 27, 2013
QVC's Venable tweaks tradition with Easter ham glaze

hamglaze.jpg Tired of the same old ham? QVC host and cookbook author David Venable ("In the Kitchen with David: QVC's Resident Foodie Presents Comfort Foods That Take You Home") likes to mix it up with some tweaks to traditional favorites.

"Like most holidays, Easter menus tend to be very traditional and filled with dishes deemed 'family classics,' " Venable said. "I love classics -- especially if they're any sort of comfort food classic. But every once in awhile, it pays to try a new recipe."

March 26, 2013
Biscuits drive home lesson to authors Dupree, Graubart

Author Photo Nathalie and Cynthia.jpg Common sense can be lost in translation - especially when it comes to cookbooks.

Cynthia Graubart, co-author with Nathalie Dupree of "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," offers this example from her own Atlanta kitchen:

"My son - who likes to cook - was home (from college) and he tried one of our biscuit recipes while we were working on the book," Graubart recalled. "He was about to put them in the oven when Nathalie noticed all this dough left on the board."

He said, "The recipe said 'makes 12 biscuits,' so I made 12 biscuits."

Most experienced cooks would roll out that extra dough into another biscuit or two, Graubart noted.

"It really brought home to us how careful we had to be with language," she said. "People read 'cut in butter,' and they use scissors."

(A pastry blender or two knives are the preferred tools.)

Dupree and Graubart will demonstrate biscuit making at 3 p.m. April 3 during a visit to American River College, 4700 College Oak Blvd., Sacramento. Open to the public, the free demonstration will be held in the culinary lab (Room 505).

That's next door to the Oak Cafe, where the co-authors will sign copies of their new cookbook starting at 11:30 a.m. that same day. During the signing, the restaurant will serve two seatings of a special lunch featuring recipes from the book. For reservations, call (916) 484-8526.

For more about "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," recipe testing and a great gumbo, see http://bit.ly/103mM8L

March 20, 2013
More on Hank Shaw: his poignant thoughts on killing for food

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Yesterday we told you about local food blogger and author Hank Shaw's third nomination for a James Beard award. Today, I thought I'd give you an idea of why he was nominated and, more than that, why deserves to win.

One of the reasons I like Shaw and his work is because he is not smug about hunting and killing. His sensitivity is very admirable and, it seems, essential to the way he lives his life.

I eat meat -- in my job as a restaurant critic, I am obligated to eat nearly everything and be open-minded about it -- but I am also an animal lover. During my daily walks with the dogs along the river, I often see ducks and geese going about their business. Often, I will stop and marvel at the simple beauty and elegance of a duck skimming to a landing on the water's surface, or look upward and appreciate the power and precision -- and ingenuity -- of geese flying in formation, much the way we cyclists clumsily try to do it in a peloton to save energy.

Shaw's work centers around honest eating, and if you read him closely, you'll see that many who attend his talks haven't come to grips with all that he does. He kills the animals he eats. We -- those of us who eat meat in the modern world -- let others do it for us. We don't want to confront those twisted emotions.

On that note, here's a passage by Shaw on what it means to kill. And I have to say, the way he lives -- the honesty and integrity he exudes as he pursues his next meaty meal -- suggests he is operating on a higher plane than most of us.


March 14, 2013
Gearing up for grilling season with new Flavor Infusers

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Years ago, many adventurous home cooks who like to wrestle with whole turkeys moved beyond brining them in a spiced-saltwater solution and turned to the flavor-injection method. Turkey injector kits are sold in many barbecue-supply stores, sporting-goods and hardware stores, and online.

In this method, a big "syringe" is filled with seasoned marinade (or beer, wine, sherry, olive oil or whatever). Then the attached big-gauge needle is inserted into the turkey carcass at multiple sites and in various directions. The plunger is pushed with each insertion, spreading the liquid throughout. The injected turkey is refrigerated overnight, then smoked, deep-fried or oven-roasted the next day. The result is a juicer, more flavorful turkey.

In a smaller, far-less-hassle scenario, the French's company (of ballpark mustard fame) has introduced its new line of Flavor Infuser marinades. The theory is the same as above, but less ambitious and much easier for the weekend griller who's cooking, say, chicken breasts, pork loin, steak or fish.

Here's how: Remove the cap from the infuser, stick the plastic "needle" into the meat at several sites, remove slowly while simultaneously squeezing the plastic tube - slowly. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before grilling.

Flavor Infusers sell for about $3 each at supermarkets and come in four flavors - Sweet & Tangy Teriyaki, Classic Steakhouse, Zesty Italian and Caribbean Jerk.

While we waited for the charcoal in our Weber grill to burn down, we injected two chicken breasts (pictured), a filet of salmon, a thick porkchop and a market steak with the four flavors. The liquids certainly plumped up the meats. We found some marinade streaks when we cut into them later, but overall the infusers delivered what they promised - more juice, more flavor.

Caution: Because of the risk of cross-contamination on the injector tips, French's urges consumers not to reuse the plastic infusers. If you don't use a whole tube of liquid (which infuses up to four pounds), toss it.

For more information: www.frenchs.com.

February 28, 2013
Kale-potato salad one more way to learn to love this green

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Kale and Potato Salad.jpg Love it or hate it, kale is catching on everywhere. Suddenly, diners and cooks are discovering this ancient green veggie, a descendant of wild cabbage.

Kale haters complain that the curly leaves are bitter (or worse) and hard to clean.

These detractors still could be converts. Tuscan or dinosaur kale has milder flavor and flatter leaves. And kale's high nutritional value makes it worth learning to like.

Chef Katie Cavuto Boyle came up with this flavorful kale and potato salad for the United States Potato Board. It mixes curly green kale with another late winter/early spring favorite - asparagus - plus roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, scallions and walnuts. (Tuscan kale could be substituted for curly.)

Gorgonzola cheese and balsamic dressing give it extra zing.

For more on kale (and more recipes), see our In Season salute at http://bit.ly/13ShBJo

Kale and Potato Salad

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

1 pound petite Yukon Gold potatoes, halved

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 shallot, halved and sliced

3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

Salt, pepper and sugar to taste

7 cups (1-inch pieces) green curly kale (tough ribs and stems removed)

1/2 cup fresh scallions, chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 ounce smoked or traditional Gorgonzola cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. with rack in upper third of oven.

Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil, half the shallots, salt and pepper and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes then add asparagus to baking sheet; roast for 10 minutes more or until potatoes are golden brown and tender.

Puree remaining olive oil, shallot, vinegar and yogurt in a blender or small food processor. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar.

While the vegetables are cooking, place 1 inch of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil then add kale; cook for 1 minute or until kale is bright green and lightly wilted, tossing constantly with tongs. Drain excess water.

Toss kale with potatoes and scallions and top with walnuts and Gorgonzola. Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional analysis per serving:

Calories: 260, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 2.5g, Trans Fat:0 g, Cholesterol: 5mg, Sodium: 210mg, Potassium: 509mg, Carbohydrates: 29g, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 2g, Protein: 9g, Vitamin A: 250%, Vitamin C: 190%, Calcium: 15%, Iron: 20%

February 26, 2013
You want tender beef? Try the hard-to-find 'T major roast'

corti.JPGIn the prep area behind the Corti Bros. Market meat counter, meat department manager and master butcher Mike Carroll used a metal paddle to move around the trimmed briskets and other gorgeous cuts of beef soaking in his proprietary brine in stainless-steel barrels.

In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, the brine-injected cuts will soak for 21 days before they're displayed in cold cases and sold to home cooks planning to carve corned beef for their Irish-themed dinners.

Meanwhile, stacked in the display case out front is an item new to the store. The beef chuck shoulder tender filet - sold under the name "T major roast" - is "remarkable," Carroll said. It's $7.99 a pound, on sale for $6.99 from Wednesday through March 5.

"It comes off the top of the crossrib shoulder and weighs between three-quarters of a pound and a pound," Carroll said. "It just sits up there and doesn't do much (work). Like beef tenderloin, it's along for the ride. That's what makes it so tender. It's a very lean piece of meat that's been forgotten by most butchers. Traditionally, it's thrown into the trim bucket for hamburger."

We brought some home and cooked it two ways. The first steak was cut into medallions, rubbed with olive oil, coarse-ground black pepper and coarse Vignalta herbed salt from Italy, and pan-seared in olive oil to medium rare. The meat was shockingly full of flavor and more tender than many filet mignons we've had.

We seasoned the second steak the same way and put it under the oven broiler, turned it several times, removed it and let it rest, then cut it into slices (pictured). The rare beef was delicious, but the pan-fried version was better.

"You can put it on the grill for about 10 minutes," Carroll said. "It seems to do best when it's cooked rare, but you can take it up to medium. It's very versatile; you can make kebabs, roast it whole, pan-fry it, make steak sandwiches out of it, turn it into hash, add it to salads... It's an amazing piece of meat."

Corti Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800, www.cortibros.biz. Pre-order corned beef at (916) 736-3805.

January 30, 2013
Could this be the freshest frozen salmon in Sacramento?

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Lovers of fresh salmon filets and steaks couldn't wait to fire up their outdoor grills last April when the commercial salmon-fishing season opened and markets began to fill with the delectable fish. But smiles turned to frowns when the season closed at the end of summer. Home cooks have had to settle for farm-raised salmon while they wait for the season to reopen in the spring.

There's an option, though. Corti Bros. Market is selling an innovative new product, Frozen At Sea wild king salmon, for $15 to $20 a pound (depending on cut and occasional sales).

The technique as explained by FAS distributors involves "rapid freezing of the fish at minus-40 degrees while the boat is still at sea." This takes place while the fish is still pliant, which means, they say, it will have a higher moisture content when thawed out, resulting in better flavor and texture. There's more science to it than that, but you get the drift.

We broiled lightly seasoned steaks and fillets of FAS salmon at home and found them to be better than any farm-raised salmon steaks and fillets we've had, and pretty much the same in flavor and texture as fresh salmon. The succulent fish disappeared so fast, though, that we'd better get some more and conduct a second tasting just to be sure.

Corti Bros. gets its FAS salmon from Seafood Suppliers of San Francisco. The actual fisher responsible for that supply is Heather Sears, captain of the F/V Princess, docked in Fort Bragg. She and her crew caught the fish between Point Arena and Bodega Bay, an area that was thick with krill last season. Salmon love to eat krill; in turn, the small crustaceans intensify the salmons' natural orange color.

Corti Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800, www.cortibros.biz.

January 28, 2013
Ice cream inspiration for Super Bowl, Valentine's Day

product_shots-peppermint.jpg Sample ice cream in January? It's cold work, but somebody has to do it.

I recently had the pleasure of helping the experts at Crystal Creamery choose new seasonal flavors for summer. With production in Modesto, the company currently has 31 flavors in its year-round ice cream portfolio, so picking something that wasn't already on that frozen dessert menu wasn't easy.

Instead of more candy bar-inspired combinations, fresh fruit flavors appealed most to my taste buds. (Crystal will reveal the winners in late spring.)

Meanwhile, production is wrapping up on another seasonal favorite: Monday Nut Football ice cream. It's vanilla base with football-shaped chocolate cookies, chocolate-covered nuts and a fudge swirl. How's that sound for Super Bowl dessert?

For winter, Crystal also released Peppermint Blizzard, a very minty red and white ice cream. Although its target market is December, that combination would look great in Valentine's Day desserts, too. I can imagine an ice cream cake with that flavor as its base.

Crystal used Peppermint Blizzard as filling for whoopie pies - a perfect Valentine's Day dessert. Find the recipe at http://www.crystalmilk.com/pep_choc_whoop_pie.html.

Such flavors make ice cream sound appealing even on a freezing day in January.

January 23, 2013
Celebrate National Pie Day with slice of specials

redvelvet.jpgHere's an All-American foodie holiday: Happy National Pie Day! Today celebrates all things pie, the favorite dessert of millions.

Specifically, apple pie is the pick of an estimated 36 million Americans, according to the American Pie Council. The board offers a wealth of recipes, pie-making tips and ways to celebrate via its website, www.piecouncil.org.

Marie Callender's, a restaurant chain synonymous with pie, marks National Pie Day with specials. Its Perfect Pie Trio features chicken pot pie ($9.99) or Shepherd's pie ($11.99), accompanied by Caesar salad and a slice of (what else?) pie for dessert. (Cheesecakes, seasonal fresh fruit pies and promotional pies not included.)

If you miss Pie Day, don't worry. The offer is good through March 28.

Marie Callender's also has a new pie: Red Velvet Dream Pie. It's vanilla cream with layers of red velvet cake, topped by cream cheese icing. It's a good match for two holidays: National Pie Day and Valentine's Day.

The Red Velvet Dream Pie is $13.99 plus tin, available through Feb. 28. For locations, click on www.mariecallenders.com.

January 10, 2013
PBS searching for healthy soul food recipes

pulled-pork-list.jpg Can soul food be healthy? PBS is looking for examples.

In conjunction with the upcoming broadcast debut of Byron Hurt's "Soul Food Junkies," PBS is asking viewers for their revamped recipes of traditional favorites.

"Soul Food Junkies," which will air in Sacramento on "Independent Lens" at midnight Jan. 21, explores the rich culinary tradition of soul food and its relevance to black cultural identity. Viewers also can watch the film (after Monday) and trailers now online at http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/.

Hurt's examination was spurred by his father, who stuck to his traditional soul food diet in the face of a health crisis and ultimately died at age 63.

In its healthy soul food makeover, PBS offers online seven revised recipes for such favorites as pulled pork sandwiches (shown here) and black-eyed pea fritters. But the network wants one more from viewers to complete its set.

The winning recipe will be featured on a printable (and post-able) recipe card. To submit an original recipe, send it to healthysoulfood@itvs.org or fill out the form online. (Just follow the links from the "Independent Lens" home page.) Deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday.

January 9, 2013
Toast National Pizza Week (and big game) with beer dough

PRINT_5x7_300dpi_NewOrleansPizza_LowAngle_1296.jpg.jpg.jpg.jpg.jpg Here's a toast (and a twist) to National Pizza Week! (Yes, it's pizza week, now through Saturday.) Instead of beer and pizza, how about putting the beer IN the pizza?

Pizza expert Mark Bello of New York City's Pizza a Casa Pizza School (www.pizzaschool.com) perfected this recipe for The Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Pizza, of course, is a popular pick for Super Bowl parties. The Big Game is Feb. 3 in New Orleans. So, Bello offers a twist on the classic Italian Margherita pizza with a spicy New Orleans' Big Game Pizza.

January 7, 2013
Pillsbury Bake-Off mixes up its $1 million recipe contest

thumb_pillsbury.gifThat venerable cookoff classic, the Pillsbury Bake-Off radically revamped its recipe for 2013. It's simpler, more diverse and ultimately more democratic.

For the first time, the public will determine all 100 recipes that will vie for the grand prize, Pillsbury announced Monday. The creators of those recipes will compete Nov. 10-12 in Las Vegas for more than $1 million.

"We're excited to roll out changes to the ever-classic Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest," said Jann Atkins, Bake-Off kitchens manager. "We know consumers crave recipes that are delicious, yet easy to make, so adding an ingredient limit allows us to provide inspiration for even the busiest families and novice cooks. And with voters selecting all 100 finalists, we hope to rally excitement and friendly competition across the country as people choose their favorites."

Recipes will be limited to seven ingredients (not counting table salt, black pepper or water) and must take less than 30 minutes to prepare (not counting baking or cooling time).

Home cooks will have more chances to win with three separate recipe categories and three entry periods:

- Amazing Doable Dinners: This category is open now through Feb. 7.

- Simple Sweets and Starters: Entry period runs from April 4 to May 9.

- Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts: Entry period runs from July 4 to Aug. 8.

For full details, click on www.BakeOff.com.

January 7, 2013
A morning of opposites -- warp speed and slow speed --in the test kitchen

I'm cooking two things in two very different ways today, utilizing the pressure cooker to make chicken thighs and rice in all of 10 minutes, and simultaneously loading up the slow cooker to make a whole chicken with fingerling potatoes and olive tapenade in 10 hours. Productivity experts might say that multitasking is a bad idea, so I'm counting this as a single task, albeit a slightly confusing one.

Pressure cooker II.JPGFirst, the pressure cooker. I am working on a story about these great and under-appreciated kitchen appliances, so I have been testing a variety of recipes with my Fagor Duo pressure cooker. This one, though, is for the three dogs. Yes, I'm also testing a book of canine recipes -- "Feed Your Best Friend Better" by Rick Woodford -- so I thought I would combine them this morning.

As some readers may recall, I did hard-boiled eggs in the pressure cooker, based on a technique I learned about on the excellent website Hip Pressure Cooking, which Laura Pazzaglia maintains from her home outside Rome, Italy. I have since done these eggs regularly, keeping some cooked eggs in the fridge for a quick, healthy protein snack. Check out Laura's work at www.hippressurecooking.com.

But this time, with Oscar, Macy and Abbey looking on with noses twitching, I made arroz con pollo for dogs -- boneless chicken thighs, a bell pepper, rice, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder and water. With the pressure cooker, this takes about 15 minutes, including some prep work.

Pressure cooker III.JPGThe standard method would be 45 minutes to an hour. I started cooking for the dogs a few months ago after gradually becoming dissatisfied with mass-produced packaged dog food, even if it was supposedly high-end kibble. I began cooking for the dogs with a product called Happy Dog Food, which is based in Salinas (locally, it can be purchased at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op). The food is uncooked, containing pearled barley, brown rice, split peas, sweet potatoes and several other healthy things for dogs. You cook that with meat you buy on your own. The dogs love it, so I thought I would explore other healthy things they can eat.

So I had the arroz con pollo dog food going quickly, while the human food I wanted to go slowly. As many of you know, cooking at home involves planning and, more importantly, timing. Because Lynn and I often like to do a workout after work, as well as go on long walks with the dogs, we're often pressed for time if we also want to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Sound familiar?

The beauty of the slow cooker is that you can make time work for you. The problem many people have with the slow cooker is that the recipes turn out to be disappointing -- soggy vegetables, uninspired meats, bland flavors. At The Bee, we recently received a copy of a new book that sounds promising, "Mediterranean Slow Cooker" by Michele Scicolone. I'll be trying several recipes in the days ahead in preparation for a short story in The Bee about this book.

slow cooker.JPGThe first recipe, roasted whole chicken with tapenade, is quite simple. I bought a so-called "Smart Chicken" and fingerling potatoes at Compton's Market this morning. You mince some garlic and fresh rosemary, mix it into an olive tapenade (from a jar or you can make it yourself). You put half of this mixture into the cavity of the bird and rub the rest onto the outside. You put the chicken on top of the potatoes in the slow cooker, put on the lid and you can go on with the rest of your day.

I set the cooker for 10 hours, meaning that it can simmer and stay warm longer than that. After work, we can do what we need to do, get our workouts finished and not feel rushed. Then we can eat -- after, of course, I feed the dogs their arroz con pollo, which is waiting in the fridge. To be honest, this is the second time I've made this recipe for the dogs, and it smells so good I almost grabbed a serving for myself!

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

December 20, 2012
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri bounces back from NY flap

FIERI.jpg Guy Fieri, perhaps 2012's most talked about celebrity chef, is home in Santa Rosa for the holidays, getting ready for another non-stop busy year.

Last month's much-Tweeted blow-up over his new Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in New York City's Times Square has "blown over," he said.

Fieri already answered New York Times critic Pete Wells' scathing "open letter" of 34 questions with some sharp words of his own on the "Today Show," calling the review "ridiculous" and "overboard."

December 19, 2012
Find Sterling caviar at Raley's, make buckwheat blini

caviar.jpg More proof that local caviar is going mainstream: Raley's supermarkets - along with sister Bel Air and Nob Hill stores - are now offering Sacramento-grown Sterling Caviar.

During the holidays, the chain's meat departments will take orders for Sterling, ready for in-store pick up with three days notice. Get your Christmas and New Year's Eve orders in now.

It's only fitting; Sacramento is now America's Caviar Capital. (Read more at: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/12/19/5062625/sacramento-area-is-nations-caviar.html)

Traditionally, yeast-raised buckwheat blini - little Russian pancakes - are the perfect platform for caviar. (Blini is plural; one little pancake is a blin.)

Accompanied with a dab of creme fraiche or sour cream, blini and caviar pair deliciously with dry champagne or sparkling wine - ready to toast the holidays and New Year.

Buckwheat blini

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 cup warm milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 egg, separated

In a large bowl, mix all-purpose and buckwheat flours, salt and instant yeast. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in warm milk, mixing until smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Melt butter and let cool. Stir the melted butter and egg yolk into batter. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter. Cover and let stand 20 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. (Melt a little more butter in the skillet, if desired.) With a tablespoon, drop quarter-size dollops of batter into the pan without crowding. Cook for about 1 or 2 minutes or until bubbles form and break across the top of the batter. Turn and cook for another minute.

Remove blini from heat, cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Repeat with remaining batter.

Serve with caviar and your choice of creme fraiche, sour cream, cream cheese, finely chopped egg, finely chopped red onion or chives.

Note: Blinis also can be made with just all-purpose flour or a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flours; substitute equal amount for buckwheat.

Makes 24 blinis.

December 12, 2012
Persimmon explosion leads to holiday cookies

persimmon.jpgPersimmon season is booming - literally. Our backyard Fuyu is fully loaded.

We picked about 60 pounds of fruit, many as big as heirloom tomatoes. (Here's a photo of one big cluster.) There are many more near the top of the tree, out of reach.

But not out of range for squirrels and birds. It's their annual holiday treat. The critters bite or peck into the super-ripe fruit, which falls from the tree - creating a hefty blop!

During a recent wind storm, it sounded like a water balloon fight. Knocked down by gusts, exploded persimmons littered the lawn beneath the tree. (They're now in the compost bin.)

Although I hate wasting any home-grown edible, I already have my hands and kitchen counter full of ripening persimmons. A lot of them will find their way into cookies, a holiday favorite.

I usually use my great-grandmother's recipe, which I posted online as part of The Bee's Holiday Recipe Cookbook. Search for "persimmon cookies."

Ripe persimmons also can substitute for canned pumpkin in other cookie and dessert recipes. What pulp doesn't get baked will go in the freezer for later use - when this season's persimmon "bombs" are just a memory.

December 11, 2012
How to make grenadine, pomegranate molasses

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Pomegranate season brought a red explosion to my kitchen. Our little backyard tree - an aptly named Wonderful pomegranate - produced more than 60 huge red orbs.

They were the biggest pomegranates I've ever grown. Several were as large as softballs and just as round. One weighed 24 ounces.

Inside each fruit were hundreds of plump seed sacs. They seemed to be unusually dark this winter. Instead of crimson, the juicy sacs glistened like black garnets. They produced jelly and grenadine with the same, rich color.

And the flavor is outstanding - which is why I scrambled to preserve it for later enjoyment.

My favorite method is home-made grenadine. It's easy, quick and flexible depending on how much juice you have available. In a stainless steel saucepan, add one cup sugar to every cup of pomegranate juice. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer one minute until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool.

That's it. Store the grenadine in a jar and refrigerate; it will keep at least three months. Or freeze it for a year (or more). Grenadine adds color and pomegranate flavor to drinks, desserts, glazes (try it on pork) and other dishes.

Pomegranate molasses, a popular ingredient in Middle eastern cuisine, is similar to grenadine, but not as sweet. It also takes more time to make. For molasses, put 2 cups pomegranate juice in a heavy saucepan. Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bring to boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer for about an hour, until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy. (It will reduce to about 3/4 cup.) Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

For more ideas on enjoying pomegranates, read Chris Macias' story in Wednesday's Food & Wine section in The Bee.

November 21, 2012
Hard-boiled eggs in the...pressure cooker.

eggs II.JPG

I'm a big believer in the pressure cooker. For one thing, it's a green appliance -- once you build up the pressure, you can turn the heat way down, and the cooking time is much shorter than standard methods for most things. It's also efficient and effective. And these new and improved pressure cookers are much safer -- you can usually tell they are about to explode about 1.5 seconds before they actually do (don't ask me how I know this).

Despite my near-death experience (it was last year, I've recovered from the trauma, no one was actually hurt, we eventually got all the black beans off the 9-foot ceiling and the cats are almost finished with their therapy sessions), I continue to advocate for the pressure cooker. In fact, I'm working on a story about the many uses for the pressure cooker and how it, this old-fashioned relic of the '50s, is getting some serious traction in modern kitchens.


November 9, 2012
In need of pie-making help? Call the Crisco Pie Hotline

Making pies for the holidays is a snap, right? Well, for some home cooks it is. For others, not so much. Our pie crusts usually end up on the kitchen wall, but that's another story.

To the rescue come the experts at the Crisco Pie Hotline, dispensing baking advice, recipes, pie-making tips, time-saving shortcuts and trends for the ultimate goal: pie perfection.

Talk with the "pie experts" starting Monday and running through Dec. 21. Call (877) 367-7438 to get the pin rolling. For more information: www.crisco.com.

November 2, 2012
Is cooking a creative endeavor?

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The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently published a story on the bow tie-wearing grouch Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated Magazine, who is fond of proclaiming that cooking is not creative.

For many of us who love to cook and think of ourselves as devoted home cooks who are open to trying new ingredients and techniques (and maybe straying from written recipes), that could be taken as an affront. It shouldn't - because he's right. Cooking is not creative. In fact, in my upcoming restaurant review this Sunday, I touch on that point when I address the idea of consistency.

September 11, 2012
Sushi, sake course served at Benihana in Citrus Heights

The Benihana restaurant in Citrus Heights is hosting a class designed to help entrants learn the art of making sushi and pairing it with sake.

The class, called "Sushi + Sake 101," will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at 5489 Sunrise Blvd.

Under the guidance of a Benihana sushi chef, attendees will be taught skills to create popular sushi rolls and learn which styles of sake pair best with different types of sushi. They will also learn serving etiquette.

July 27, 2012
Cowboy steak part II -- amazing steak photos suddenly appear on my phone

Cowboy II.JPG

If you're a meat eater, this is one of the great indulgences - a big, thick juicy steak you cook yourself. Enjoying a steak of this magnitude and in this manner involves care, knowledge, maybe a ritual or two, and a little bit of precision. You think about it, make a special trip to buy it, take it home and center your entire evening around cooking and then eating it.

One of the great steaks in this neck of the woods is the "cowboy steak" at Corti Brothers. Meat eaters know this cut well - and they know it's worth every penny. I wrote about my encounter with the cowboy steak, and followed up with a blog post about a similarly incredible steak from the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op here.

Since then, Nate Simon, a Sacramento physician and major food enthusiast, has been biding his time until he could tackle his very own cowboy steak. I learned about his meal as it was coming out of the pan. The photos came out of nowhere. I was eating a salad, of all things, when I got a text from Nate. It was the photo you see above - a great steak that had been cooked in a cast iron pan. The only thing missing was the campfire and the covered wagon. Prior to that, I had received a few texts of great-looking food while Nate was dining at a French bistro -- in Paris.

July 3, 2012
Preserve summer's harvest with these handy classes

Summer gardens offer bountiful fruit and vegetables, often too much to eat fresh. Farmers markets and fruit stands also are brimming with bargain produce.

Get some expert advice on how to save some of that harvest for later with the help of the UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preservers.

These experts have several demonstrations coming up at the Sacramento Cooperative Extension Office, 4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento. Each event is open to the public with no pre-registration necessary. Here's a sample:

- The Pressure's On: UC master food preservers show how to preserve a bountiful harvest (and save time, too) through this introduction to safe pressure-canning techniques. The two-hour free class starts at 10 a.m. July 14.

- Tasty Tomato and Tomatillo Treasures: Get ready to tackle the summer harvest with salsas, sauces and more. This evening class, which has a $3 materials fee, starts at 6:30 p.m. July 18.

- All Dried Up: Learn how to dehydrate fruit and vegetables at home, with or without special equipment. This free class starts at 10 a.m. Aug. 11.

For more details, click on http://cesacramento.ucdavis.edu or call (916) 875-6913.

June 29, 2012
A few thoughts on sourdough starter, old-fashioned values, etc.

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The next two restaurants I am reviewing - Juno's Kitchen in East Sacramento and, a week later, Masullo Pizza in Land Park - have several things in common. They employ old-world techniques to prepare their food, and both places insist on using excellent ingredients. Beyond that, both places maintain a sourdough starter - Mark Helms of Juno's uses his to bake bread, and Robert Masullo's starter is the foundation for the Neapolitan-style dough for his pizzas. The starter is a key component of both businesses.

starter III.JPG

A starter, or natural leaven, is an amazing thing, a bubbly, soupy mix of flour, water, naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. As a bread-baking (and occasionally pizza-making) hobbyist, I have maintained a starter for about a decade, feeding it a regular diet of flour and water to keep it alive and active and ready to use.

May 4, 2012
Green Boheme will serve a special dish on Mother's Day

OK, moms and moms-to-be - here's a shout-out from the Green Boheme restaurant, which specializes in "organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free (dishes)."

Chef Brooke Preston has created a dish specifically for expectant mothers - "birthberry pie," which, she says, is "packed with nutrition and antioxidants." Ingredients include coconut, coconut oil, blueberries, cashews and dates.

The pie will debut on Mother's Day at Green Boheme, where moms and soon-to-be moms will get 25 percent off the $7.50 price.

Meanwhile, join chef Preston at 6 p.m. Wednesday for her culinary class that will teach how to make birthberry pie at home. Cost is $10, or watch the streaming version for free at the restaurant's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/thegreenboheme.

Green Boheme will serve a full menu on Mother's Day, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The restaurant is at 1825 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 920-4278.

May 3, 2012
Create a great chicken recipe and compete for $10,000

Your family and friends go wild when you prepare your special chicken dish from your super-secret recipe. If that's a close scenario in your cooking life, maybe you should get in line for the $10,000 grand prize (plus a year's supply of chicken) in the third annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest.

The competition is open to "home, amateur and professional chefs in California, Oregon and Washington." One of the rules: Recipes must reflect the "fresh ingredients grown on the West Coast." Entry deadline is June 3.

After the preliminary rounds, six finalists will compete for the top spot on Sept. 28 at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.

For the rules: www.fosterfarms.com/cookingcontest. To see last year's recipes, visit the company's new Pinterest virtual pinboard page: http://pinterest.com/fosterfarmsca.

There are three ways to enter the contest: online at www.fosterfarms.com/cookingcontest; via email at cookingcontest@fosterfarms.com; and by snail mail at Foster Farms, c/o Cooking Contest, P.O. Box 306, Livingston, CA 95334. For still more info, Foster Farms has Facebook and Twitter accounts.

April 18, 2012
Two mustards from Dijon go to work in the home kitchen

Bee staff photograph by Randy Pench

RP MOUTARDE.JPGTwo chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces stop next to each other at an intersection. The passengers in the backseats of both cars are eating lunch. The men are dressed in suits and ties.

The dashing gent in the white Rolls leans out the car window and asks the distinguished-looking man in the tan Rolls, "Pardon me. Would you have any Grey Poupon?"
"But of course," the man replies in a French accent, handing over a jar.
Voiceover: "The finer things in life... Happily, some are affordable."

That iconic 1980s TV commercial helped raise America's consciousness about mustard from the city of Dijon in the Burgundy region of France, the mustard capital of the world. Misguidedly, many Americans are still stuck on good 'ol ballpark mustard.

It's time to move on with two luscious Dijon mustards from Reine de Dijon, condiment-makers since 1840 - a traditional yellow, and that same mustard spiked with red pepper and tomato. Find them at Corti Bros. Market, 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 736-3800. They're $3.99 each in seven-ounce jars.


March 30, 2012
Impressive line-up of cooking classes at Stella in Truckee

brobertson@sacbee.com

Stella, the well-respected restaurant at the Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee, is known for its fine cooking. But it also has a reputation for its cooking classes. I recently received an email detailing Stella's upcoming classes, and there seems to be something for everyone. I am especially interested in the class on salt. As some of you know, I wrote a story a few months back on the illuminating book, "Salted," by Mark Bitterman (not to be confused with Mark Bittman).

While looking at Stella's website this morning, I was impressed to see they are baking bread in a wood-fired oven and selling the loaves retail. That alone may be worth a road trip.

Below are the details about the upcoming classes, dubbed, "Dishing with Stella." Taking a class would be a nice way to spend a day in the Sierra. Even better, make it a part of a multi-day adventure.

March 6, 2012
A great chef and his not-so-great appliances

I am looking at a photograph published in the Wall Street Journal showing one of the greatest chef's of our generation. Grant Achatz's restaurant in Chicago, Alinea, was awarded three Michelin stars and it has been listed by some as the best restaurant in the United States, and by others as one of the best restaurants in the world (how anyone can know these things without actually visiting all of the contenders within days of one another is a topic for another time).

Achatz is slim. His shirt is untucked. But my eyes looking over his shoulder. Yikes! He has a microwave! And it's white! And it's over his range! It's one of those gawd-awful microwaves that doubles as an exhaust hood - the kind that we used to have, the one that couldn't exhaust anything to save its life. The range and oven are also white. I rubbed my eyes. Refocused. Still white.

For the past decade or so, whether it was on one HGTV show after another or in magazines dealing with style and design like "Dwell," we have been led to believe that anything but stainless steel appliances are the kitchen equivalent of a fashion faux pas. We were supposed to make our kitchens look more commercial, more rugged. Watch HGTV. "Househunters," for instance. The first thing folks say when they walk through and encounter white or black appliances is, "Oh, we'll have to upgrade those." There is a slight and recent trend to offer other appliance options, like hiding them behind cabinetry.

March 1, 2012
Thomas Keller, on something as simple as the omelet

I thought the LA Times did a nice job on this piece about Thomas Keller and how he makes the perfect omelet.

As the visionary behind the French Laundry and Per Se points out, sometimes it's all about simple ingredients done with the proper technique. Keller does a couple of interesting things: he uses a blender and he uses relatively low heat with a non-stick pan. This is in contrast to the classic French technique of high heat with an untreated carbon steel pan, with clarified butter and two forks to stir vigorously.

Since it's always nice to learn a new approach, read the text, watch the video and give this a try. As Keller opines, the omelet is not just for breakfast -- he likes to eat his perfectly cooked eggs at night.

And if you're still looking for different, take a look at what I posted here a few weeks back -- poached scrambled eggs!

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

February 16, 2012
How to cook a steak perfectly: low heat, long time

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I just heard back from Jenny Cavaliere, the farmer in Oregon House who owns and operates High Sierra Beef (see the original story here). She tells me the new farm store is in the process of being fully stocked and that the best time to visit is in early March. The store is open Saturdays and Sundays until 3 p.m. We're already planning a trip. If you're thinking of doing something similar, be sure to bring along an ice chest to pack the meat for the drive home (about 90 minutes). That way, you don't have to hurry to leave Oregon House and you don't have to worry about spoilage.

February 10, 2012
Try this technique for scrambled eggs

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Ever since I came across the technique in the January 2012 issue of "Food and Wine," I've been tinkering with a new way to make scrambled eggs.

I'm referring to the illuminating article about Coi's Daniel Patterson and Rene Redzepi of Noma, considered by many to be one of the greatest restaurants in the world. They recently spent time at Patterson's house in Oakland collaborating on ways to come up with new flavors.

This is something for which Redzepi is particularly renowned. His rather mesmerizing book, "Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine" has scores of recipes using ingredients plucked right from the land, sometimes while strolling through the woods, traipsing across a meadow or walking along the seashore.

This scrambled egg dish is much more accessible. And it's a pretty cool trick.

eggs II.jpg

Partially fill a pot with water. The pot should have high walls because you'll be stirring the water very briskly. My first go-round, the water tumbled over the top, so I switched to a taller pot.

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Once the water is boiling, take a large spoon and stir vigorously (but carefully), creating a vortex. You will have already beaten your eggs. Stop stirring and immediately pour the beaten eggs into the vortex. Quickly cover the pot, turn down the heat and cook for about 40 seconds (for four eggs, slightly less for two eggs).

Carefully pour out the water into the sink, holding back the eggs with a slotted spoon. Then pour the eggs into a colander or strainer. The magazine suggests straining for 10 seconds. I found it needed longer than that; otherwise, you'll have watery eggs.

eggs V.JPG

In no time, you're looking at plump, perfectly cooked eggs - something between scrambled and an omelet. They're good enough to eat just like that, with a pinch of salt, maybe. But the Redezepi/Patterson article has a nice goat cheese sauce to add to the eggs.

You'll do this ahead of time: Take 4 ounces of fresh goat cheese and whisk with a ¼ cup of warm water. Then 2 ounces of shredded aged hard goat cheese (maybe gouda), 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan and stir into a pot with ¾ cup of simmering water. Stir until melted, then whisk in the fresh goat cheese mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the eggs into bowls (1 or 2 eggs per bowl), then spoon the cheese mixture on top. Drizzle olive oil over that and adjust the seasonings to suit.

It's a great new dish. And an entertaining way to get there.

If you're looking for more advanced recipes from Redzepi, you'll certainly enjoy his book, which is loaded with beautiful photographs. On page 275, for instance, there's a poached egg recipe (but not scrambled and poached), that includes radishes and verbena sauce. The entire dish is then covered with heated sea lettuce, creating an opaque window over the eggs and radishes.

February 2, 2012
Sacramento woman among Food Network's 'Worst Cooks'

Can Kelli Powers go from kitchen disaster to culinary master? The Sacramento woman has all-star help from celebrity chefs and a chance to win $25,000.

Powers is one of 16 contestants tabbed for season three of Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America," which debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.

Powers will be part of chef Anne Burrell's team of eight "recruits." They'll battle in kitchen boot camp with eight other admittedly awful cooks, mentored by superstar chef Bobby Flay.

All 16 contestants were nominated by family and friends for their atrocious cooking skills.

"Kelli's Nana -- her grandmother -- saw great cooking potential in her as a child, though Kelli was more interested in hitting the books than the pots and pans," according to the show's website. "Now a mother herself, Kelli wants to maintain her family's cooking traditions and is determined to no longer be the mom whose dish sits untouched at potlucks."

In the season premiere, Powers and cohorts attempt Orange Pumpkin Pancakes with Vanilla Whipped Cream and Cinnamon Maple Syrup. The contestant with the least successful dish each week goes home.

Upcoming episodes feature an international cuisine challenge, seafood preparation and cooking for a class of third graders. The series culminates April 8 when the two most-improved cooks are judged by culinary stars David Burke, Marcus Samuelsson and Susan Feniger. The winner gets $25,000 plus new confidence in the kitchen.

For more details, click on www.FoodNetwork.com/Worst-Cooks-In-America. Full episodes will be available for online streaming the day after original broadcast.

February 2, 2012
Listen and learn: Cooking duck breast with 2 ingredients

John Paul Khoury, the corporate chef for Preferred Meats, is one of the good guys in the business. He's smart, passionate, and committed to doing things the right way -- and the right way usually means a better, more flavorful product on your plate.

JP.jpgKhoury's main business is supplying high-end, sustainable proteins to some of the best restaurants around. But he's also a superb chef who often educates as he cooks. Usually, it's professional chefs. This time, it's the listeners for Capital Public Radio in a segment with the station's food journalist and author Elaine Corn.

Click here to learn a little about cooking a duck breast and making a sauce.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blabrob.

December 1, 2011
Undercover Caterer is not so undercover this Monday

oldironsides_photo1.jpgYou know her. You love her. But have you eaten her food?

If you're a fan of the fun and informative local food blog, Undercover Caterer, and/or you've been known to enjoy a good adult beverage at the legendary downtown bar Old Ironsides, AND if you like a really good bargain for dinner, I'm showing you the way to your perfect Monday night.

That's right, in a subtle stroke of ingenuity, Old Ironsides is having guest chef nights on Mondays to coincide with Monday Night Football. This Monday (Dec. 5), Sarah Singleton, aka the Undercover Caterer, is the chef. She's not a professional cook, but she is into food way, way more than most mortals. And she certainly knows her way around a kitchen. Her blog is loaded with recipes of all kinds, thoughts about cooking and food adventures.

ribs.jpgThe price of this dinner is a great deal -- $5. Dinner is expected to be served around halftime of the game -- about 6:30 or 7 p.m. No details yet on what Sarah will be cooking, but I'm sure it will be good -- and your $5 will go a long way. I don't think she could go wrong with her own recipe, "Baby back ribs with big cherry and Dr. Pepper sauce (pictured here)." Or maybe "Uncle Bobby's sausage burgers with peppers and onions (and marinated eggplant salad)." After I wrote this, Sarah, who actually has a real job, got back to me with some information about the dinner. She writes: "A prosperity sandwich, some sort of vegetable and gooey butter cake---all St Louis specialties. All designed to clog your arteries as well." Still, you won't have to sign a waiver before eating at Old I this Monday.

Sarah and I made an impromptu food swap a few months back -- a loaf of my sourdough for a jar of her homemade jam -- and it was a delicious deal for me. Her husband, Guido, is also quite the cook (and musician).

If you're not familiar with the venerable and beloved Old Ironsides, "Midtown Monthly" had a very informative piece on the bar a couple of years back. You can read it by clicking here.

November 23, 2011
Enter a gingerbread house contest

If you're into design and baking, and you'd like to put your talents to work while helping a worthy cause, here's your chance.

The American Institute of Architects, Central Valley Chapter, and the Sacramento Self Help Housing are sponsoring an inaugural gingerbread house competition.

For avid home bakers, don't fret that you'll be pitted against the second coming of Frank Lloyd Wright or Gaston Lenotre. There are three separate categories:
*Professionals (architects or professional bakers, with a $25 entry fee)
*General public (you may or may not know what you're doing, but nobody pays you for it; no entry fee)
*kids 6 to 12 (also no entry fee).

To register, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/210210 and select the appropriate category.

Take your house to AIA Central Valley office (1400 S St., Suite 100, Sacramento) on Nov. 30 or Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entry must be edible and mounted on a base no larger than 20x20 inches. Other than that, creativity is encouraged.

Those interested in sponsoring the event as an underwriter are encouraged to call 916-444-3658.

November 14, 2011
How strict should we be regarding local sourcing?

Some readers expressed concern about product sourcing in my "First Impressions" piece on Juno's Kitchen & Delicatessen. Specifically, in this farm-to-table, local-first restaurant town, they were not thrilled that chef Mark Helms uses beef from New Zealand. I may have raved about his burger, but some wondered why he didn't get his beef from around here.

It's an excellent question - and a tough one.

160px-New_Zealand_Cities.pngBefore I address it, let's begin with a digression. Way back in 2004, The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op went through a red meat controversy (the Co-op wanted to carry red meat, while opponents didn't want anything more, animal-wise, than seafood and chicken in the store). After much debate, the very ethical store opted to carry organic beef from Prather Ranch in Klamath Falls, Ore. It seems so long ago, because well-sourced beef is such a big-seller at the Co-op now - and so mainstream. Back then, I went to Prather Ranch to check out what it was all about and learn why it met the Co-op's very stringent guidelines. I note that it was a five-hour drive, one-way, which meant I passed a lot of other beef ranches large and small just getting there.

October 26, 2011
On salt and salting: A must-read book for your foodie library

IMG_4427.JPG

If you're really into food, the new book "Salted" by Mark Bitterman (not Mark Bittman) is a must read. Here's my story in today's food section.

Recently, when my girlfriend and I traveled to New York, we stopped by The Meadow, Bitterman's shop in the West Village. The photo above is the wall of salt. Pretty amazing selection. The salt is also available online here.

Locally, the best places I have found for buying salt are the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Corti Brothers, and Taylor's Market.

August 22, 2011
The Cowboy Steak: It's what's for dinner

Steak1 (17).JPGI recently received an email from a reader who wanted to know a couple of my favorite places to get a good steak. I cut right to the chase: Walk to the back of Corti Brothers, peer through the glass at the various cuts of beef, and pick out something called the "Cowboy Steak." You won't have to look hard -- it's humongous. If you cook that thing properly, all two pounds of it, it will blow your mind. Covered wagon, Gatling gun and open flame are optional.

August 19, 2011
Behind the scenes: Tasting sausage before it's on the market

JP (14).JPGJohn Paul Khoury, the corporate chef for Preferred Meats, stopped by the house today to cook up some sausages and give me a chance to sample three products the company hopes to make available soon.

Known to chefs at some of the area's finer restaurants, Preferred is a boutique company that supplies top-shelf meat with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture. I have done several tastings with JP, most focusing on steak or pork, and find these sessions to be helpful. I try to keep up with the latest and best products out there, and I find that comparing different meat from various sources helps me appreciate the often subtle differences..

Now, Preferred is making its own sausage, with a proprietary blend of Berkshire and Duroc pork in a thin lamb casing. JP cooked up three kinds of sausage in my trusty cast iron pan: a breakfast sausage and two kinds of Italian -- mild and hot. In addition to this tasting, JP was making the rounds Friday to several restaurants.The sausage is not yet being sold, so he was simply looking for feedback from chefs. This is part of the business the public often doesn't get to see. Good chefs are constantly on the lookout for products new and great. The taste has to be there, and the price has to make sense. Then there's the all-important logistical component: can you get it to us whenever we need it? If the answer is no or maybe, a chef may pass on it.

After he does enough sausage tastings with chefs, taking notes along the way, JP may tweak the recipes slightly to arrive at a finished product that enough chefs will want to put on their menus.

The next stop for JP on Friday was to see Chef Pajo Bruich at Lounge ON20. I called Pajo later and asked for his impressions.

He said: "I appreciate what JP is doing getting input from myself and other chefs around town and it's nice to think we will have a hand in the finished product
I thought the sausage was very well made. From my perspective it seemed to be 100 percent about the quality of the meat they are putting into the sausage. The meat was fantastic."

Pajo and I agreed that, if anything, the overall flavor profile was straightforward and perhaps one-dimensional. But when you are using high-quality meat, the chef pointed out, you don't want it to be overshadowed by a plethora of seasonings.


sausage (13).JPGI thought the quality of the sausage was very good, and especially I enjoyed the spicy heat of the breakfast sausage, which was seasoned with sage, garlic and chili flake. JP said some of the feedback from chefs was that there might be too much heat for a breakfast sausage. I could go either way on that, but I grew up putting Tobasco on my eggs, so I enjoy the heat.

In a matter of weeks, these sausages -- tweaked recipes or not, high heat or a version toned down a tad -- will likely land on several menus in the area,

The next tasting on JP's schedule Friday was with Chef Pajo Bruich at Lounge ON20. I called Pajo later to get his impressions.

"I appreciate what JP is doing getting input from myself and other chefs around town and it's great to think we will have a hand in the finished product.
I thought the sausage was very well made. From my perspective it seemed to be 100 percent about the quality of the meat they are putting into the sausage. The meat was fantastic."

AA_loungeontwenty005.standalone.prod_affiliate.4.jpgHe said:Pajo and I differed a little on the seasonings -- he thought the Italian sausage needed more coriander and fennel, while I could have been happier with a bit less. But we agreed that, if anything, the overall flavor profile was straightforward, even one-dimensional. But when you are using high quality meat, the chef noted, you don't want it to be overshadowed by a plethora of seasonings.

August 15, 2011
Stick a fork in it: Ill-conceived Good Eats is done

dodo.jpgMy phone has been ringing off the hook (remember when we put phones on hooks?) since word got out that Good Eats closed for good on Saturday.

My reaction? What took so long? This was a wounded, flailing dodo bird that just wouldn't die.

It was a big-budget eatery and gourmet grocery on Folsom Boulevard run by Mike and Julie Teel, of the family that owns Raley's grocery stores. It was eagerly anticipated, clumsily announced (remember the Corti Brother brouhaha?), awkwardly unveiled and, finally, it operated with a mix of chaos and confusion. Holding it all together? That's right, mediocre food.

August 12, 2011
Rare garlic: It's what's growing in Woodland

garlic2_250x188[1].jpgGarlic is everywhere, so much so that we tend to overlook the details of where it comes from, how fresh it is and how it should taste.

Here is a new report I just heard on Capital Public Radio by Elaine Corn, who recently returned to the airwaves after a break. Corn interviewed 84-year-old Woodland farmer Perry Skinner. It's nice to hear her enlightening segments again.

Click here to read and listen.

August 11, 2011
Central Valley blueberry bounty yields bevy of fruity delights

FOOD_BLUEBERRIES_3_FR.jpgLove blueberries? You're in luck.

The California Farm Bureau Federation reports that is could be a bumper crop year for blueberries.

San Joaquin Valley blueberry farmers are harvesting their crops right now, which could be the best quality and size in recent history.

The blueberry harvest happens three or four times throughout the summer, since blueberries on the same plant can ripen at different times, the farm bureau reported in its weekly e-newsletter.

Consumers should expect increased supplies - and lower prices - at markets now. Prices were highest when the harvest season began back in mid-May.

So what can you do with a bounty of blueberries, beyond the obvious smoothies or muffins? Try a mesclun salad with blueberries, goat cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. Put a spin on bruschetta and top toast points with blueberries, basil and lemon zest. Top sugar cookies with a thin layer of mascarpone and blueberries.

Or just kick back with this blueberry bourbon recipe from Serious Eats.

Photo credit: Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee

August 5, 2011
Scott Fenner: A chef in the making, not making enough to get by

180465_182274191809945_100000820977891_356173_1051708_n.jpgWhen you dream of becoming a chef and change your life to chase down that dream, it's supposed to go something like this:

You kiss your lousy job and your miserable boss goodbye, you immerse yourself in culinary school, and you show all your instructors that you have a knack for cooking that just might revolutionize the restaurant world. You do an internship at a top-flight restaurant, where the staff compares your palate to Mozart's ear. You graduate, and you sift through all the offers, settling for the one that brings in the most money at a joint with the most Michelin stars. The TV gig, the three-book deal and the Lamborghini are just around the corner.

The reality, of course, is something else, and Scott Fenner -- talented and determined as he is -- recently got a heaping dose when he gave notice at Ella Dining Room & Bar. He went back to his former world of working construction.

It wasn't because he couldn't cook.

He just couldn't make ends meet.



August 2, 2011
Taylor's Market offering sustainable, popular Lava Lake Lamb

A new line of grass-fed lamb has quickly become a hot seller at Taylor's Market in Land Park.

Taylor's owner Danny Johnson toured the Lava Lake Lamb ranch in Idaho in June and began carrying it in early July. The grass-fed summer lamb is raised sustainably, humanely and without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

"It's the most sustainably farmed lamb that we could find for mass production," Johnson said. "This stuff is just phenomenal."

The lambs are born in California and raised in the Northern Rockies. And the quality is unparalleled, especially for lamb available during summer months.

"We've never sold as much lamb as we did in July," he said.

The lamb is available at the butcher counter and at the market's adjacent restaurant, Taylor's Kitchen. Johnson said the quality is better, but he's keeping the retail cost of Lava Lake Lamb on par with other lines.

Want to take advantage of some great grilling cuts? Try shoulder chops - just marinate and grill - which run about $7.99 per pound. Or lamb ribs for $4.99 per pound. Click here to get lamb grilling tips and recipes from our recent Food & Wine section.

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 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 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.

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
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 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 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.

May 31, 2011
New farmers market debuts at Sutter Davis Hospital this week

farmersmarket2.jpgStarting Thursday, patients and staff at Sutter Davis Hospital will be able to optimize health by simply walking outside.

That's because just a few steps from the hospital's main entrance will be locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, bread and nuts. The hospital, at 2000 Sutter Place, is the newest location of the Davis Farmers Market. The market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 2 through Sept. 29.

The market is the first in Yolo County to be affiliated with a hospital, Janet Wagner, chief executive officer for Sutter Davis, stated in a news release.

Easy access to farm fresh produce and products is "particularly important as we see an increase in diabetes, heart disease and childhood obesity in our country ..." Wagner stated.

May 12, 2011
Chocolate, yeast bread entries sought for State Fair baking contests

cookie bar1.JPGDo you have a fabulous chocolate or yeast bread recipe? It could be worth hundreds of dollars.

The California State Fair is looking for contest entries for its Ghiradelli Chocolate Championship and Fleishmann's Yeast "Bake for the Cure" Contest. Registration deadlines for both contests is June 3.

The chocolate competition is looking for the bakers with the best treats, cakes and desserts featuring at least one Ghiradelli baking product (think chocolate chips, bars or cocoa) among its ingredients, according to a news release.

Prizes are, in order of first to fourth place, $500, $250, $125 and $50. Winners and one randomly selected participant also will take home Ghiradelli gift baskets.

May 9, 2011
Cookbook swap, food chats abound at FoodTalk@Cafe Bernardo

Here's a great idea for those who have too many cookbooks gathering dust on kitchen shelves - swap them.

FoodTalk is holding a cookbook sale and swap from 10 to 3 p.m. June 25 at Cafe Bernardo at 28th and Capitol in Sacramento.

Participants can meet several Northern California cookbook writers, peruse hundreds of new, used and rare cookbooks and swap up to five of their own cookbooks, according to an event e-mail.

FoodTalk, a forum for foodies interested in all things food writing, is sponsored by MatrixArts, a nonprofit that works in the realm of visual, literary, performing and culinary arts and provides art and design education programs, the organization's website states.

May 6, 2011
Last minute meal ideas to celebrate mom

scones.jpgFor those who don't want to leave the comfort of their home on Mother's Day, here are some ideas and recipes that'll help create the perfect celebration for mom Sunday.

(And for those who do want to venture out, click here to read our Things to Do blog post on Mother's Day events in the region.)

Brunch and Mother's Day seem to be synonymous, but don't torture mom with burned toast that the kids made. Layer yogurt, granola and fresh berries in a see-through cup or bowl to make an instant, beautiful parfait. Serve with pastries, such as this recipe for fruit and chocolate scones. A fresh cup of coffee - served in the lovely china that mom rarely uses - is all you need to complete the meal.

April 15, 2011
Local food writer Hank Shaw teaching pasta, sausage next month

Local food blogger and cookbook author Hank Shaw will be hosting two upcoming cooking classes for home cooks.

Shaw, whose cookbook "Hunt, Gather, Cook" debuts May 24, is teaching a pasta-making class at 5 p.m. May 7 at Whole Foods on Arden Way and a sausage making class at 11 a.m. May 14 in Sausalito.

The pasta class will teach participants how to make basic dough with various flours and turn out several different shapes, Shaw wrote on his award-nominated blog, "Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook."

The sausage making class features how to make professional-quality sausage at home.

For more information or to sign up, check out Shaw's blog.

April 14, 2011
Cooking with kids the focus of Guy Fieri's Sacramento upcoming visit

Guy1.JPGGet ready Tripe-D fans, Guy Fieri is coming to the Capital. And Capitol.

The spiky-haired Food Network chef of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" fame will be in Sacramento April 25 and 26 to endorse a resolution promoting cooking with children and to host fundraisers in the evening at his local restaurants.

In 2009, Fieri helped draft a resolution making the second Saturday in May as "Cook With Your Kids Day." From 11 a.m. to noon April 25, Fieri will be back at the Capitol where "Cook With Your Kids" will be introduced as a weekly initiative, a news release states.

The goal is to get families cooking and eating together every Thursday.

April 1, 2011
Get clicking! Local online bake sale benefiting Japan ends Saturday

Starving. Drooling. Craving sugar.

Take one look at the decadent confections that are part of a local online bake sale benefiting Japan relief efforts and those descriptions are likely to make sense.

The auction is open until 11:59 p.m. Saturday, so it's time to place your bid.

Many local chefs, food bloggers, bakers and do-gooders have jumped in to participate, including Selland's, Icing on the Cupcake, Masullo Pizza, Mulvaney's B&L and Poor Girl Eats Well's Kimberly Morales.

The Bee's own Blair Anthony Robertson is even auctioning a loaf of his superb sourdough.

To see the full list of item's available or to bid, go to the post on Munchie Musings' website.

To learn more about the bake sale, click here.

March 30, 2011
Fanciful cookie cutter kit, recipe delivers

Not only did Williams-Sonoma deliver with its spring and Easter-themed cookie cutter set, but the good folks in the WS Kitchen also provide a great cookie recipe.

The cookie cutter kit was among a handful of kitchen gadgets reviewed in today's Food & Wine section. Click here to get the story.

And yes, of course you could use the cookie recipe with other cutters, but considering the cute factor of the Williams-Sonoma kit (what's not to love about a basket cookie cutter complete with a stamp that makes a basket weave pattern?) and the reasonable price, why not give it a try? We did, and we haven't stopped using it since.

March 25, 2011
Chef Tuohy to go nuts in Chico

There'll be a little bit of Sacramento at the California Nut Festival in Chico next month.

Michael Tuohy, executive chef at Grange and a vocal advocate of farm-to-table dining, will lead a tasting and cooking demonstration at the festival on April 16.

The festival, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Patrick Ranch in Chico, also will feature demonstrations on cooking with nuts by local producers and restaurant staff, music, an art show and samples of local gourmet food, wine and beer, a festival news release states.

Nuts, beer, Chico. What's not to like?

Tickets are on sale for $20 per person and are available at any Tri Counties Bank branch location or online at www.californianutfestival.com. Tickets are $25 at the door.

March 16, 2011
Mikuni, local food bloggers launch fundraiser to benefit Japan relief

Sacramento area foodies aren't wasting any time in answering the call to help those impacted by the natural disaster in Japan.

Mikuni is launching a new roll today at its restaurants in an effort to raise money for Japan relief and local food bloggers and bakers are planning an online bake sale in early April.

The "Rescue Roll," a spin on Mikuni's Michi Roll, features an inner layer of panko shrimp, crab salad and cream cheese, outer layer of avocado slices and seared tuna topped with special Mikuni sauce and torched and garnished with unagi sauce and tempura bits, a Mikuni news release states.

The rolls are $12 each, $16 at the Northstar Resort location.

The goal is to sell a minimum of 1,000 rolls by March 31, the release states. All of the money from the sale of the roll will be donated to the American Red Cross. The restaurant also will be selling copies of Taro Arai's autobiography "Abundance: Finding the American Dream in a Japanese Kitchen" (Blue Fig Publishing, $25, 118 pages) and donating 100 percent of proceeds to the Red Cross.

March 4, 2011
This just in: Le Cordon Bleu is no longer in le restaurant biz

Who says Fridays are slow news days? Things are blowing up here in the newsroom on 21st.

I just got a call from the campus president at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Sacramento, who informed me: The student-run restaurant once open to the public has shut its doors.

Not yesterday or last week. It closed a year ago, according to Rafael Castaneda, the president who has been at the helm at the Natomas campus the past four months.

OK, so they're a little slow letting us know. They're chefs, not public relations experts.

The prez says the school is taking a different approach by closing the restaurant. Instead of hands-on, pressure-filled training at the school with the cafe, students will land externships (remind me how that's different than internships) at area restaurants.

For the general public, that's too bad. As I wrote over a year ago, the public was able to visit the restaurant, eat for free or cheap and then give a written critique. During our visit, we got mixed results, but there was plenty of good food and it was enjoyable. You just had to roll with the idea of eating rack of lamb, say, at 8:30 a.m.

But from what I heard, some of the "guest" reviews made my Morton's review look like a Hallmark greeting card. Yes, people were mean, and students were angry and flustered. Some guests didn't understand the concept of constructive criticism. Nor did they get that these were students, not pros.

Those externships will give students a different view of kitchen life -- they'll be doing mostly the kind of work no one else wants to do. That means plenty of time with brooms, rags and bleach rubbed on countertops in a circular motion. Sauces? Sautees? Not yet.

And they're not going to get a lot of sympathy from executive chefs around here.

Want to know what it's going to be like at some of the best restaurants? In the kitchen at a certain top restaurant downtown, the executive chef has a sign on the wall that lets you know where you stand:

"Your (past-tense expletive deleted, but it begins with the letter before "G" and rhymes with a certain tasty waterfowl) life is not my problem."

I'm told the chef also doesn't do hugs when you get your feelings hurt.

March 2, 2011
The sous vide storm now reaching home cooks

Sous vide.JPGBy Blair Anthony Robertson, Bee Dining Critic
Following up on Chris Macias' revealing story in today's Bee on the sudden rise of chef Pajo Bruich, here are a few signs that cutting-edge cooking techniques are catching on beyond high-end restaurants and boutique caterers.

As I was shopping at East Bay Restaurant Supply on Tuesday (for a silicon spatula and a couple of other things), I happened upon a sous vide machine for under $300. Next to it was a vacuum sealer. And near that was a book explaining how devoted home cooks can get into this compelling low-heat, long-hours way of cooking.

Be the first one on your block to cook a steak for three days without sending everyone to the dentist or the ER.

February 25, 2011
Elk Grove library to host teen cooking competition

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Teenage culinarians take note: you could be the next Iron Chef.

The Elk Grove Library is hosting a cooking competition modeled after the popular Japanese "Iron Chef" show that has launched a popular American offshoot on the Food Network.

The competition, held March 31 at the library, is open to 13 to 18 year old cooks, said Elsie Mak, the branch's librarian.

The library has held food programs for adults before, including strawberry jam making, pickling and raw food programs, but this will be the first food program for teenagers.

February 17, 2011
Fresh-baked sourdough to share with co-workers

bread2.JPGBy Blair Anthony Robertson
brobertson@sacbee.com
Not to rub it in or anything, but I brought in a loaf of sourdough bread I baked this afternoon -- hot out of the oven.

I like to do this fairly regularly because it's fun to share food and, well, it's important that I don't eat all my bread myself.

This is the sourdough made with the techniques from the great new book, "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.

The most popular accompaniment on this cold, rainy Thursday was some excellent brie from the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op called "Fromager D'Affinois Brie." Highly recommended. The best pairing was by higher education writer Laurel Rosenhall, who enjoyed the bread with her homemade soup.

February 17, 2011
Food Network chef to teach cooking class at IKEA

PICK_OF_THE_DAY.JPGBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Forget cookbooks, home cooks are increasingly turning to the Internet to learn how to roast, grill, bake and broil.

That's why you'll find a banquet of culinary legends like Martin Yan and Sara Masaharu Morimoto offering instructional videos at Food University, a free online cooking resource presented by IKEA and Family Circle.

But wait, there's more.

They're also getting ready to launch another culinary tour, where celebrity chefs will guide home cooks through free cooking seminars. And it's coming to West Sacramento.

Food Network's Curtis Aikens, a chef who has been with the cable network since its inception and also is a regular on Good Morning America, will be leading the seminar from 2 to 4 p.m. March 19 at the West Sacramento IKEA.

Aikens, who hosted "Pick of the Day" and is known for his healthful recipes, is one of the few African-American chefs featured on national television, a Food U Properties news release states.

The in-store cooking seminar will feature Aikens demonstrating Family Circle recipes and talking about the importance of local produce, using spices, ideas for quick and easy recipes and tips for entertaining, the release states.

Click here for more information about Food University.

PHOTO CREDIT: Food Network

February 16, 2011
Grange's pastry chef looking for the next opportunity

By Blair Anthony Robertson
brobertson@sacbee.com

Elaine Baker, the highly regarded pastry chef at Grange Restaurant, is looking for work.

The position at Grange has been eliminated and Baker, whose many dessert creations distinguished the restaurant, isn't wasting any time looking for new challenges.

Freelance work? Baking classes? Catering? Writing?

Baker is getting the word out that she's open to those things and more.

"I'm just kind of seeing what opportunities come my way. I had one of the best pastry chef jobs in the city. It was fabulous," she told me Wednesday when we chatted by phone.

I didn't get into what happened. Instead, we talked about baking for a living and what she might do next. Just to give readers an insider's view of this line of work, I asked Baker about the demands, the long hours, the physical toll it takes, especially with discerning customers typical of a high-end restaurant like Grange.

"There is a lot of pressure. You need to stay on top of the trends. You need to do things that compliment the overall menu that the chef has. It's very exciting," Baker said.

While viewers of the Food Network might get the impression that it's a glamorous occupation, Baker says it's pretty much 12-hour days, you're on the feet all the time and the schedule you work can be tough on families and relationships.

Baker was an original employee at Grange, starting there two years and four months ago.

When I mentioned the popularity of baking classes in town, Baker said it's something she is considering as she plots her next career move.

"Some people make it sound so mysterious and difficult. It would be nice to show people how simple it can be," she said.

Baker graduated in 1999 from the Culinary Institute of America's baking and pastry arts program. Before Grange, she worked at Firehouse Restaurant.

Anyone interested in discussing opportunities with Baker can contact her via email, efrancetic@yahoo.com.

February 16, 2011
Safeway urges shoppers to choose healthy foods with new program

Cereal tv_new.jpg
By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Safeway is launching a program today aimed at helping consumers make better nutrition choices while grocery shopping.

SimpleNutrition is an in-store shelf tag system that highlights 22 nutrition and ingredient benefits in products, including lifestyle benefits (organic, natural, calorie smart and gluten free). The green tags will be placed next to the pricetag and club card special tags, according to a Safeway news release.

All products in Safeway stores are screened for the program and about 15 to 20 percent of them have passed the criteria, said Kerry Neville, Safeway's consulting dietician.

Needless to say, you won't see a lot of green tags in the chip aisle (although there are a few that made the cut, Neville said).

The company is launching the program as a way to help take the frustration out of grocery shopping.

"Walking through the grocery store can feel overwhelming," she said in a phone interview. "Finding healthy choices can feel frustrating sometimes."

Safeway surveyed 1,639 moms and found that 41 percent said the biggest challenge regarding nutritional decisions is not having time to read all the nutrition labels in-store, and 19 percent said it's too time consuming to search the store for the healthiest options.

"I think of it as having your own personal nutrition coach with you in the aisles," Neville said.

The program, which also includes a website full of tips and recipes, launches today in Safeway and Vons stores nationwide.

February 9, 2011
Combine cheese, chocolate, wine for your valentine

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

The Valentine's Day-themed cheese and chocolate pairing class at Taylor's Market is booked, but cheesemonger Felicia Johnson provided a few tips for Appetizers readers.

For a post-dinner treat, pair a dark chocolate truffle with bleu cheese and serve with port.

"The sweet with the savory and salty is phenomenal," Johnson said.

Try milk chocolate and a lighter, fluffier cheese like chevre together. And for hazelnut chocolate truffles, try a meatier cheese such as a Taleggio or a Morbier, she suggested.

"Cheese for dessert is something that is definitely overlooked," Johnson said.

For more Valentine's Day meal tips, check out today's story in the Food & Wine section.

Speaking of chocolate pairings, UC Davis is hosting an event Saturday highlighting female winemakers and wine and chocolate pairings. Click here to learn more.

February 2, 2011
Pasta Dave in high demand at local restaurants, market

RB Pasta Dave 4.JPGBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

"I don't know whether to thank you or hate you."

If not for Dave Brochier's wide grin, the greeting might have been misconstrued.

Brochier, aka Pasta Dave, has been working at hyperdrive pace since a profile on the popular pasta chef ran in a recent Food & Wine section of The Bee.

Brochier is the man behind the pasta at Mulvaney's B&L and the numerous Mulvaney ventures, including the Crocker Cafe; Taylor's Kitchen; and Taylor's Market.

Brochier said orders for his pasta are flying out of the restaurants and market. Demand - and his workload - have quadrupled, he said.

One customer drove all the way from San Francisco.

"It's been going through the register a lot more since the article came out," Janet Caddel, a checker at Taylor's Market. "There's been a lot more questions about how to cook it, have we tried it."

Click here to read the story and see more photos of Pasta Dave.

PHOTO CREDIT: Randall Benton, The Sacramento Bee

February 1, 2011
Would you pay $89 for a kitchen thermometer?

By Blair Anthony Robertson, Bee Restaurant Critic
brobertson@sacbee.com

I just got off the phone with the product rep from Utah-based Thermoworks, makers of a high-end instant-read thermometer called the Thermapen. Cook's Illustrated raves about this gadget, as do many others. When I recently spoke with Harold McGee ("On Food and Cooking") and asked him about his favorite kitchen gadgets, he immediately weighed in on the wonders of the Thermapen. Emeril Lagasse? Alton Brown? They're fans, too.

The standard instant-read gadget costs $12 to $25, and "instant" in many cases should be taken with a grain of salt. It should probably say "eventual."

In the days ahead, I will be putting this highly touted and very speedy device through the paces in the test kitchen. We'll try to determine if it's worth $89 and who should consider getting one. Beyond that, we'll be preparing a story on the importance of understanding temperature during the cooking process.

Apparently, there's not much understanding going on. Thermapen's makers recently did man-on-the-street style interviews at the Sundance Film Festival, asking folks how they determine if the meat they are cooking is done. They couldn't find anyone who uses an instant-read thermometer, let alone an $89 one.

I'm looking forward to seeing if the Thermapen lives up to all of the raves.

January 31, 2011
Two great recipes for any Super Bowl party

By Blair Anthony Robertson, Bee Restaurant Critic
brobertson@sacbee.com

Speaking of the Super Bowl, I had a little Super Bowl déjà vu Sunday when, on a whim, I decided to make ribs. Specifically, I made the ribs from the can't-fail recipe in the timeless cookbook "Joy of Cooking," And no, I wasn't hosting a Pro Bowl party.

This delicious meal actually comes together with two recipes - one for the barbecue sauce and one for "country-style ribs baked in barbecue sauce." I had been thinking about the Super Bowl and recalling that these were the same two recipes I used for the first Super Bowl party I attended in Sacramento (January 2000) after arriving from the East Coast the previous June.

The party was at the apartment of Matthew Barrows, who started at The Bee two weeks after I did and sat across from me in the newsroom. We were both general assignment reporters. Matt went on to become the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers, and now he pretends he doesn't know who I am. But back in 2000, all I knew about his interest in football was that he was a fanatical Redskins fan (he grew up in the D.C. area) and that he couldn't throw a tight spiral if his life depended on it.

Anyway, the ribs were a big hit at the party - incredibly tender, full of flavor from the meat and the sauce cooked into it, and most importantly, they weren't greasy. There are lots of fancy cookbooks these days, but this is a recipe that would be hard to improve. Best of all, you don't need a big outdoor smoker and thus, you don't have to wake at 3 a.m. to light your big smoker. The ribs are actually baked in your oven - very slowly over four hours.

Here's what you do:

First the sauce. If you have the "all new" edition, the recipe is on Page 90. There are plenty of ingredients required, but no technique. Dump everything into the pot and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes over low heat.
1 ½ cups of ketchup
1 cup cider vinegar or red wine vinegar (I used the latter)
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
1 cup packed brown sugar (scoop sugar into a measuring cup and gently push down until it is level)
2 tablespoons dry mustard
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 slices of lemon

Now you've got an excellent all-purpose sauce. Next, you need some ribs. Pretty much any kind of ribs will work. The way you choose will depend on personal preference and, to some extent, the nature of the occasion. I went with country-style pork ribs because they are very meaty. I bought them at the excellent meat counter at Taylor's Market, where they cut them to order. These are actually boneless, which is even better. But if you're looking for traditional rib eating, where you gnaw on the bones to your heart's content, go for spareribs or baby back ribs.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the ribs in a large baking pan. Mix 1 ½ cups of the BBQ sauce you just made with 1 cup of orange juice. Place the ribs in the pan, then pour in the sauce mixture, turning the ribs to coat. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

Bake for three hours. Remove the pan from the oven, take off the foil and spoon sauce onto the exposed ribs so they don't dry out. Return to the oven uncovered for 1 hour, for a total of four hours. Check on them a few times in that final hour and spoon more sauce onto the ribs or turn them over. The sauce will cook down and thicken.

By the time you're finished, you will have ribs so good and tender they will be a big hit at whatever Super Bowl party you attend.

A couple of tips:

Plan ahead. This takes four hours of baking, plus more time to make the sauce. So you will want to start at least six hours before the party.

The baking pan will be tough to clean, so it might be best to line the bottom and sides with aluminum foil.

Finally, if you're going to eat these ribs, don't wear a white shirt.

January 28, 2011
Del Paso Boulevard hosting free veggie food fair Saturday

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

The Del Paso Boulevard Partnership is hosting a free food fair Saturday, but one thing is not exactly welcome - meat.

VegFest Food Fair 2011
will feature vegan, vegetarian and raw cuisine, purveyors, exhibits and cooking demonstrations.

The fair, modeled after a similar event in Seattle, was initially intended to drive traffic to Del Paso Boulevard and showcase restaurants and catering businesses thriving in the area. But given the intense interest they've received already, organizers are considering holding VegFest twice a year.

"To be really honest, it's taken off," said David Plag, the partnership's executive director.

Several businesses will be at the event, including The Green Boheme, Sugar Plum Vegan Bakery and Happy Go Lucky Veggie Cuisine.

About 300 to 400 people are expected to attend.

The event will be held from 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Artisan Building, 1901 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento.

For more information, go to www.delpasoboulevard.com.

January 3, 2011
California kiwi a popular, nutrient-packed fruit

Couscous.jpgBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Kiwi is quite the popular little fruit.

California kiwifruit farmers reported a larger crop and stronger demand at the end of their harvest season, with farmers having sold nearly 9 million trays of the fuzzy fruit last year, about 2 million more than in 2009, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Weather in other Northern Hemisphere countries hurt kiwifruit production, but California's crop escaped most damage from frost and rain, leading to an increase in demand for California kiwifruit, the bureau's Food and Farms News report stated.

And if you're like the millions of others resolving to eat better this year, you may want to add kiwifruit to the mix.

Consider this: each serving of kiwifruit is fat free, has more potassium than a banana and about 2 1/2 times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and is a good source of antioxidants, the California Kiwifruit Commission reports on its website.

It's also high in fiber - two kiwifruit contain more fiber than a bowl of bran cereal.

California kiwifruit season runs through May.

For tips on selecting kiwifruit and ideas on how to use them, check out the commission's website.

Follow the link below to get a recipe for Mediterranean kiwi couscous.

December 20, 2010
The Top 10 list: Most popular Appetizers stories of 2010

AOC_FairFood_042w.JPGBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Upcoming food events, restaurant closings, free food. Those were the subjects of some of the most well-read stories posted on Appetizers this past year.

The Bee's food blog provided a Thanksgiving feast-sized bounty of information in 2010, from recipe contests to wine deals.

Here is a list of the Top 10 most popular Appetizer stories of 2010, complete with links to the full stories (click the "Full story" hyperlink to go to the original post).

We also want to hear from you about what you want to see us cover on Appetizers next year. What kinds of stories do you come to Appetizers for? What are we missing that you want to read more about? Post your thoughts in the comments area below.

Happy reading, and happy eating!

1. Early taste of new State Fair foods. Full story
2. Sacramento Beer Week coming in February. Full story
3. Bistro 33 Midtown closes to become Spin Burger Bar. Full story
4. Free mini sandwich @ Togo's on Jan. 14. Full story
5. Dave & Busters coming to Roseville. Full story
6. Midtown eatery Cornerstone facing closure. Full story
7. Amarin Thai Cuisine shuts down. Full story
8. Grand opening set for Cafeteria 15L. Full story
9. Recall of Parkers Farm products. Full story
10. Sacramento featured tonight on "Man V. Food." Full story

December 10, 2010
Citrus Heights boy's burger recipe doesn't nab grand prize

Dominic Staiti action shot.jpegBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Dominic Staiti gave it his best, but in the end, his burger creation for the Red Robin Kids' Cook-Off Championship was beat Thursday by a cheesy burger topped with lava sauce.

Staiti (shown here in a photo by (Jack Dempsey/AP Images for Red Robin)
was one of 10 finalists in the fifth annual competition, held Thursday in Denver. The recipe for Staiti's creation, a jalapeño cornbread chili burger, will be included in the Red Robin Kids' Cookbook, which will be available for free to download from the restaurant chain's site next summer, a company news release states.

The grand prize went to Donovan Duggins, 12, of Wichita, Kan. For Mt. Vesuvius Burger, a beef patty topped with crumbled blue cheese, bacon, provolone cheese and a lava sauce that includes sweet barbecue sauce, hot sauce, garlic powder and paprika, all between a sesame seed bun.

The burger will be sold in Red Robin restaurants nationwide in summer 2011, and 50 cents of every Mt. Vesuvius Burger sold will support the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's (NCMEC) child safety efforts, the release states. Duggins also won a family vacation to Universal Orlando Resort and a year supply of Red Robin gift cards.

For more about Staiti and his burger, check out this previous Appetizers post.

December 3, 2010
Holiday cupcakes, recipes abound

Festivus for the Restivus.JPGBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Sweet tooths rejoice - Saturday is cupcake day at Ginger Elizabeth in Sacramento.

The midtown chocolatier is offering four flavors: real red velvet, salty caramel, gingerbread and Opera, a rich chocolate cake filled with bittersweet chocolate ganache and frosted with coffee buttercream, according to the shop's website.

Cupcakes are $3 and pre-orders are available for six or more cupcakes.

Ginger Elizabeth, located at 1801 L Street, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Don't want to leave the house? Check out these holiday-inspired cupcake recipes we received from The Stuffed Cupcake Place, a New Jersey cupcakery to the stars and celebs.

Click here to get the recipes for The Festivus for the Restivus cupcake (shown at left) - a gingerbread cupcake with nutmeg custard filling and spiced cream cheese frosting - and they're Peppermint Twist cupcake, red velvet and vanilla cupcakes with peppermint cream filling and vanilla frosting.

November 26, 2010
Ideas, recipes for your leftover feast

turkey.jpgBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

It's the day after Thanksgiving - do you know where your leftovers are?

And perhaps more importantly, how you're going to prepare them?

While reporting our Thanksgiving food stories, I came across these handy tips for holiday leftovers.

Blue plate specials: If you're a traditionalist and simply want a replay of that fabulous meal you slaved over, Food Network's Melissa d'Arabian advises folks to make their plate and then cover it with a moist paper towel, which will help leftovers taste fresher.

"The trick there, and this is my Grandmother's, is to heat everything up and the last 30 seconds, toss on the turkey," d'Arabian said in an interview from her New York home last week.

For more of d'Arabian's ideas on how to reinvent leftovers, check out my story from this week's Food & Wine section.

Cold weather = hot soup: Don't throw that turkey carcass away. Use it to make the base for soup, suggested Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer Research and a food safety expert at UC Davis.

Cut all the meat up and boil the carcass down, making a delicious broth that can be used for turkey soup or as the base for a rich, heart split pea. Just add carrots, onions, ham hocks and split peas.

"It's wonderful for cold weather and turkey stock has such wonderful background flavor," she said

Appetizing appetizers: Home cook Valerie Reynoso Piotrowski, of El Dorado Hills, loves using her leftovers to make little appetizers in the days that follow Thanksgiving. She uses Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough, and rolls out squares large enough to hold a small dollop each of stuffing, peas, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Then she wraps them up like little bundles, brushes them with melted butter and bakes them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

"Fabulous!" she said.

November 23, 2010
Calling all bakers: Do you cookie swap?

Do you cookie swap?

For the uninitiated, a cookie swap is an event where home bakers get together and each bakes a specified amount of cookies (usually several dozen), then get to trade cookies with each other, thus leaving with a diversified array of cookies.

The tradition is even more popular during the holidays, when people can attend and swap and then use the cookies they take home as gifts for coworkers, family and friends.

The Bee's Niesha Lofing is looking for local cookie swappers to share their success stories or frustrations. E-mail her at nlofing@sacbee.com or call (916) 321-1270. Be sure to include your name, city of residence and a phone number where you can be reached.

Happy holidays!

November 22, 2010
Help is here! Bee live chat on holiday survival today

Thanksgiving is just three days away and for many of us, that means plotting, planning and, in some cases, panicking.

Never fear, The Bee's holiday experts are here!

We're hosting a live chat at noon today on all things Thanksgiving, from cooking that holiday meal to dinner conversation ideas.

The Bee's Niesha Lofing, food and family writer and author of Mom.Me, a parenting column, and Debbie Arrington, Home & Garden guru and food writer, will host the chat. Jessica Williams, a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Sacramento and Jodie Chavious, a pastry chef at Taylor's Restaurant and Market in Sacramento, also will be on hand to answer questions. Sacramento Connect blogger Ann Silberman, who writes "Breast Cancer? But Doctor....I hate pink!" also will be joining the discussion to talk about cancer and the holidays.

Join us and chime in with your pressing Thanksgiving questions at 12 p.m. today: http://www.sacbee.com/live/

November 18, 2010
Turkeys needed for local nonprofit's holiday dinners

turkey dinner.JPGBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Thanksgiving is just a week away, but Volunteers of America's Central Kitchen in Sacramento is lacking in one very big ingredient for the meals it serves to the hungry: turkeys.

Only 53 turkeys have been donated so far this year. The program usually cooks or distributes about 175 turkeys for Thanksgiving to the organization's emergency shelter, transitional housing and affordable-living senior facilities, according to a news release from Volunteers of America Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada. Another 125 turkeys are needed for Christmas holiday meals.

"A traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas is a treat for our clients, and looked forward to with great anticipation," Eric Nichols, the central kitchen program director stated in the release. "Maybe it reminds them of family, or just of a better time in their lives; but for whatever reason, I know they are truly thankful for the sacrifices made to bring it to them."

Community donations of fresh and frozen turkey are being accepted from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day through Nov. 25 at the central kitchen facility, located at 700 North Fifth St., Sacramento and its Mather Community Campus kitchen, 3587 Bleckely St., Mather.

Supporters also may donate money toward the campaign online at www.volunteersofamerica-sac.org, at either of the kitchens or by mail to Volunteers of America administration office, 1900 Point West Way., Suite 270, Sacramento, CA 95815.

November 9, 2010
Mountain Lions host tailgate cook-off Saturday

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Think you have a winning tailgating recipe?

The Sacramento Mountain Lions are offering you a chance to prove it - and win a season tickets for four and reserved VIP parking spot for the 2011 season.

The first ever Tailgate Challenge will be held at Saturday's game, the last home game of the 2010 season.

Prizes will be awarded for best food, best Mountain Lions theme and most original tailgate, according to a team news release.

Interested home cooks are encouraged to enter in advance by e-mailing sacmtnlions@gmail.com. Include the cook's full name and phone number where they can be reached on game day.

Check in and late registration will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. Saturday in the Tailgate Challenge tent in FanFest, the event that precedes the 8 p.m. kickoff against the Omaha Nighthawks at Hornet Stadium at Sacramento State University.

Celebrity judges will tour the parking lot to select a finalist in each of the three categories, who will then move on to compete in the main judging.

For more information, visit the Sacramento Mountain Lions' website.

November 8, 2010
Citrus Heights boy a finalist in Red Robin burger contest

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

An 8-year-old Citrus Heights boy's jalapeno cornbread chili burger recipe has been chosen as one of 10 finalist entries in the "Red Robin Kids' Cook-Off" contest.

Dominic Staiti's gourmet burger - which includes a beef patty, crispy jalapeno rings, crispy onion straws, pepper jack cheese, barbecue sauce, chili con carne and a drizzle of honey on a cornbread bun - was chosen from thousands of entries submitted by children throughout the country, according to a news release by the restaurant chain.

Staiti will head to Denver next month, where he'll make his burger for panel of Red Robin judges and Colorado-based culinary experts on Dec. 9. If Staiti wins, his burger will be sold at Red Robin restaurants next summer, with proceeds benefiting the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

It isn't the first time a local youngster has captured the attention of Red Robin officials. Eric Moore, of Roseville, had his recipe for a blackened avocado bacon burger included among the 50 recipes by 6- to 12-year-old chefs chosen or the fourth annual Red Robin Kids' Cookoff Cookbook, released this summer on the company's website. Click here to read more about Eric Moore's recipe.

Staiti's recipe is already guaranteed to make it into the cookbook based on this year's contest, which also will include safety tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will be published online in summer 2011.

Grand prize for this year's contest includes a family vacation to Universal Orlando Resort and a one-year supply of Red Robin gift cards, the release states.

Staiti and the other finalists also have a chance to be named "Fan Favorite" at the December event. Starting Nov. 15, supporters can vote for their favorite young chef by logging onto www.redrobinkidscookoff.com. The winner will receive a $100 gift card to Toys "R" Us and a $200 Red Robin gift card, the release states.

Fans also can watch the cook-off, which will be streamed live Dec. 9 on the cook-off website. The winner will be announced live around 12:15 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time)

Good luck Dominic!

November 2, 2010
Calling all cooks: Are you a traditionalist on Thanksgiving?

Experimenting with cooking technique or recipes has its place, but for many, the time is not on Thanksgiving day.

Many of us stick to the beloved, time-honored recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation or adapted to perfection from classic cookbooks.

We want to hear from you, dear reader, about your favorite dishes. What are the ones you turn to year after year? How long have you been using your recipes? Have you ever dared to stray from tradition and what was the result?

E-mail your name and contact information to The Bee's Niesha Lofing at nlofing@sacbee.com or call her at (916) 321-1270.

October 12, 2010
Tequila mixology class offers drop-dead twists

By Debbie Arrington
darrington@sacbee.com

A drop-dead bacon and egg cocktail? That could be an option during a special Dia de Los Muertos mixology class hosted by Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Lounge in Roseville.

Ashley Miller, Tres Agaves' executive beverage director, will lead three sessions on Oct. 22, featuring Tequila Espolon. Each 90-minute hands-on class will explore the many options and unique ways that bartenders create new specialty drinks.

The class - which costs $25 to attend - also will feature a tasting of Tequila Espolon's collection.

Student mixologists will be encouraged to try combining unusual ingredients with tequila including bacon, eggs, fresh fruit, herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and pepper.

Tequila Espolon is a product of Mexico's San Nicolas Distillery, based in Arandas, Jalisco. Introduced to the United States market in 2000, this brand recently got a makeover with new labeling featuring striking artwork inspired by Mexican folk tales and traditions such as Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The classes will be held at 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 22 at Tres Agaves, 1182 Roseville Parkway, Roseville. For reservations, call (916) 782-4455 or click on www.tresagaves.com.

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075.

October 6, 2010
Call to readers: Where do you turn for recipes?

Where do you get your recipes? Do you turn to food company websites like McCormick or Foster Farms for dinner inspiration? Have you ever tried the recipes included in the owners manual of your favorite appliance?

I want to hear from Sacramento area home cooks for a story. Email me at nlofing@sacbee.com or call me at (916) 321-1270.

Thanks and happy cooking!

October 4, 2010
Poor Girl going strong in food blogging contest

RB Kimberly Morales 1.JPGBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Sacramento's Poor Girl, Kimberly Morales, is going knife-to-knife (and keyboard-to-keyboard) with food bloggers nationwide in the hopes of winning $10,000 and some major bragging rights.

Morales, who pens Poor Girl Eats Well, ihas made it to the third round of Project Food Blog, a contest open to Foodbuzz Featured Publisher Program bloggers. One other area food blog, Spicy Green Mango, also remains in the running.

The contestant pool grows smaller each week as industry judges and readers cast their votes for the bloggers who most successfully navigate the 10 challenges, which are designed to test the bloggers' culinary knowledge and writing skill, the contest website states.

The latest challenge asks bloggers to host a luxurious dinner party for guests.

Morales had an added challenge, however - do it on an extremely limited budget.

It's not just that she's trying to stick to her blog's roots. Morales was laid off last week.

"I was lucky enough that one of my readers sent me a gift card for Trader Joe's, which helped me go shopping," she said.

Her feast, which she dubbed "For the Love of Chocolate" and featured savory and sweet dishes centered around white, dark and milk chocolate, cost about $16 per person. Voting is taking place this week and the 100 contestants who make it through to the next challenge will be announced Friday.

A $10,000 grand prize would mean many things for Morales, most of all a financial lifeline.

"It would mean getting caught up on my rent and being able to have a little breathing room. Not always living on borrowed time," she said.

Click here to visit Poor Girl Eats Well.

Click here to go to Project Food Blog, where you can cast your vote for your favorite food blogger in the third challenge.

*Bee file photo by Randall Benton

October 1, 2010
Library to hold free cooking class on cancer-fighting foods

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Carmichael Library will be offering a free cooking class this month focused on foods that may help reduce the risk of cancer.

Emily Webber, a Food for Life instructor with the Cancer Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cancer prevention and survival through nutrition education and research, will lead the workshop, according to a Sacramento Public Library news release.

The class will provide nutrition information no the power of proper foods in a cancer-fighting diet, demonstration of healthy recipes and samples of food, the release states.

The free lcass will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 23 at Carmichael Library, located at 5605 Marconi Ave., Carmichael.

To register for the class, visit the library's website or call (916) 264-2920.

August 27, 2010
Oroweat teams up with Food Network host for recipe contest

By Dan Berget
dberget@sacbee.com

Chef Claire Robinson of the Food Network's "5 Ingredient Fix" is teaming up with Arnold and Oroweat bread brands for the "Spin on Thin" recipe contest.

Readers and food lovers should submit their best recipes.

One Grand Prize winner will receive $2000 and an all-expenses-paid 3-day, 2-night trip for two to New York. Four finalists will receive $1000.

The contest runs through Nov. 29 and includes five different themes. The first theme, called Simply Delicious, lasts until Monday. Click here to get more information and to view official rules at the contest website.

Call The Bee's Dan Berget at (916) 321-4100.

August 27, 2010
Spinach, lemon chicken dishes soar in Foster Farms' contest

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Two California cooks are one step closer to $10,000 after their dishes were ranked the best in the Foster Farms West Coast Chicken Cooking Contest's regional finals, held today at Le Cordon Bleu in Sacramento.

The first annual contest, open to cooks in California, Oregon and Washington, garnered 2,000 recipes. The pool of entries were narrowed to 15 - five from each state - and regional finals were held to determine the top two dishes.

The final competition is scheduled for Sept. 17 at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.

I was among three of the judges who had to taste all five and decide which two would move on the final round. Adrienne Bankert, of KCRA, and Georgeanne Brennan, of The San Francisco Chronicle, also served as judges.

Hard day eh?

lemon chicken.jpgIt was difficult to settle on just two winners, but in the end it was the panko-crusted lemon butter chicken with Israeli couscous salad by Rebekkah Leber of Hayward (pictured at left) and spinach stuffed chicken breasts by Alexandria Boswell of La Jolla (pictured at right) that emerged victorious.

Brennan, of Winters, said the spinach chicken breasts were her favorite of the dishes we tasted. A spinach lover, Brennan enjoyed the fresh dill, cheese and spinach stuffing and the striking color contrast of the greens against the white chicken meat.

Thumbnail image for spinach chicken.jpg"It just put it all together for me," she said.

The other semifinalists from California included Megan Bailey, of Monterey, for her pumpkin seed and wild rice chicken fajitas; Sandra Keefe, of Fullerton, for her black orange pekoe chicken breasts and Vee Lark-Williams, of Los Angeles, who submitted a recipe for crispy feta chicken croquettes with a mandarin orange sauce.

Leber and Boswell will receive $1,000 and will get a free trip to St. Helena for the final round.

The grand prize is $10,000 and a year supply of fresh Foster Farms chicken.

The contest is hoping to fill a void left by the National Chicken Contest, the nation's premier chicken cook-off. The contest was suspended in 2009 due to the economy.

The contest, along with the Pillsbury Bake-off and the National Beef Cookoff, boasted one of the most lucrative purses in the country.

Click here to get Leber's recipe for the panko-crusted lemon butter chicken with Israeli couscous. Click here to the get Boswell's recipe for spinach stuffed chicken breasts.

August 26, 2010
Local cookbook generates so many sales that it gets 2nd printing

soup.jpgBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Looks like eating locally grown, in-season food is growing even more popular.

The "Placer County Real Food" cookbook is now in it's second printing, author Joanne Neft told The Bee this week.

'I'm awestruck," Neft said in an e-mail.

Neft recently attended a writer's conference and learned that some 500,000 books are printed each year in the U.S., but only about 5 percent of those end up selling more than 2,000 copies.

"And here we are in our fourth month and we've sold 9,000 (copies)," she said. "Who would have thought this could happen?"

We did. The cookbook not only supplies readers with recipes for delicious, rustic cuisine, but is arranged in a way that winds readers through each of the four seasons, providing tips and hints for using in-season ingredients along the way.

Neft and chef Laura Kenny, who co-authored the book, spent one year hosting a weekly dinner party and cooking meals with ingredients procured from the local farmers markets. The Monday night meals, held at Neft's Auburn home, became some of the most sought-after culinary events in Placer County (cinderella squash soup, pictured above at left, was the first course at one of the dinners in November. Bee photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.).

The cookbook is available at the Auburn, Rocklin, Roseville and Tahoe City farmers markets, as well as at many retailers throughout the region. Click here to see the list of retailers.

August 24, 2010
Sacramento cooking class caters to halibut enthusiasts

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

At upwards of $16 per pound, halibut can be more of an investment than dinner.

So when it comes to preparing halibut, knowing what you're doing is key.

Enter local chef Pajo Bruich.

Bruich, of Pajo's Boutique Catering, is hosting a cooking class Aug. 31 dedicated to teaching home cooks about the delicious flatfish.

Participants will learn how to select halibut and other fresh fish, the differences in fish's fat content, flavor and texture, how to cook various fish, how to properly sear and roast halibut, and how to pair local wines with fish, Bruich said in an e-mail.

Brand Little, of Wild Little Fish Company, is sourcing the fish and will be one hand during the class.

Participants also will feast on a halibut dinner (the menu is posted below), paired with local wines following the class.

Cost is $59 per person. Gratuity is not included. Reservations are required and can be made by clicking here. The class is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 31 at Steel Magnolia Kitchen in Sacramento.

Menu

Salad of Heirloom Tomato
Basil panna cotta, lemon verbena gelee, green zebra gazpacho, compressed cucumber, liquid buratta spheres, Lucero olive oil sorbet, marinated heirloom tomatoes, balsamic reduction.

Pan Seared Wild California Halibut
Local sweet corn, potato croquant, applewood bacon, red pepper relish, garlic pudding.

Chocolate and raspberry dark chocolate gateau, raspberry gelee, dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate sorbet.

August 20, 2010
Woodland firefighter's salad loses to ribs in cooking smackdown

By Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Cue the booing.

Woodland firefighter Tara Daniels and her smokin' pear salad recipe didn't win the "Live with Regis and Kelly" show's Coast to Coast Firehouse Cook-Off.

Daniels was one of two firefighters in the final round of the contest, which airs this morning, but in the end it was Ross Signorino's "Rossome Ribs" that nabbed the $10,000 grand prize.

"It's a bummer," she said.

Daniels described Signorino's ribs as having a really sweet barbecue sauce.

"I didn't think they were amazing," she said. "Obviously I'm partial, but I thought my salad was a lot better."

If she won, Daniels was planning to donate $1,000 to a children's charity and take her sister on vacation.

But she is coming home with a $1,000 consolation prize, the bulk of which will be used to cover travel expenses.

Daniels said the loss won't keep her out of the kitchen, although it may alter her cooking repertoire a bit.

"I won't make pear salad," she said, laughing. "I'm not making ribs either."

August 16, 2010
Woodland firefighter nabs spot in cooking contests final round

Woodland firefighter Tara Daniels is flying to New York today for a chance to win $10,000 and some serious bragging rights.

Daniels, 32, is one of two finalists in the "Live with Regis and Kelly" show's Coast to Coast Firehouse Cook-Off. She learned early this morning that her smokin' pear salad recipe helped her secure a spot in the final cook-off, which will air on Friday's show.

"I'm so excited," Daniels said in a phone interview while driving to the airport. "I was at my station when they called and I got to jump up and down and scream with my coworkers."

Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa will announce the final two contestants during today's show. Daniels will be competing against Ross Signorino and his "Rossome Ribs."

If she wins, Daniels will come home with the cash prize and her recipe will be published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

The recipe, which pairs grilled chicken and pears with blue cheese, glazed pecans and butter lettuce in a salad dressed with a flavorful balsamic vinaigrette and is served with a side of buttery grilled garlic bread, is easy to prepare, an attribute Daniels thinks helped her excel in the competition.

"It takes like 20 minutes," she said.

The dish has been well-received among friends, community members and her fellow firefighters.

"My coworkers who don't like vegetables very much like it," she said.

Click here to get the recipe.

August 11, 2010
Sandwich Shop flavored mayos bring zip to the party

By Allen Pierleoni
apierleoni@sacbee.com

In the creative world of sandwich-making, certain phrases have long been commonplace. "Hold the onions" is popular. "Extra pickles" is often overheard. And then there's the biggie, "With mayo."

With that in mind, mayo took on a fresh persona recently when Kraft introduced a new line of flavored mayonnaises. Sandwich Shop Mayo is available in supermarkets in Chipotle, Horseradish-Dijon, Garlic & Herb and Hot & Spicy ($2.99 for 12 fluid ounces). The first three are reduced-fat mayos.

Our panel of tasters liked the four so much that a mild post-tasting debate surrounded the question of who got to take which squeeze bottle home.

Some tasting notes:
Chipotle: "Sweet. Lots of flavor. A medium-hot tang."
Horseradish-Dijon: "A tasty marriage of the two. Piquant. Not too hot, given its heritage."
Garlic & Herb: "A mild garlic flavor dominates. Herbaceous, with basil, parsley and onion in the background. 'Reduced fat' doesn't mean 'reduced flavor.'"
Hot & Spicy: "Lives up to its name. Nice heat, especially on the back end. The boldest of the bunch, with cayenne pepper adding punch."

For sandwich recipes featuring the flavored mayos (including Bavarian Rhapsody and Maui Wowie), go to www.kraftfoods.com/sandwich. Our tasters suggested the mayos also be added to potato, macaroni and tuna salads, and used as a dressing on green salads.

Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni at (916) 321-1128.

August 10, 2010
Chili cook-off in Old North Sac -- and it's free

On Saturday, Del Paso Boulevard promises to be the culinary center of Sacramento, as contestants will be stirring the pot at the Old North Sacramento Chili Cook-off.

The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Renaissance Square Building lot at 1219 Del Paso Boulevard. Admission is free. There will also be free hot dogs and free chili. And as the event promotional poster says, "Hint: creat your own chili dog!" We're told there are 11 competitors lined up, so that could make for many delicious variations

A celebrity panel of judges has been lined up, including trick roper James Barrera. There will be live music by Blusion.

Afterward, the fun continues just across the street, where The Spazmatics will be in concert. Those who attend the cook-off can receive $5 off the ticket price to the concert, which is restricted to adults 21 and over.

August 5, 2010
Woodland firefighter to dish on "Regis and Kelly" Friday

Woodland firefighter Tara Daniels has made it to the final round of the "Live! with Regis and Kelly" firehouse cook-off contest and will appear on the show Friday.

Daniels is a finalist in the show's "Chicken Part 2" category of the Coast to Coast Firehouse Cook-Off, the city of Woodland's website states.

Daniels' recipe for smokin' pear salad - a combination of pears, blue cheese, candied pecans, chicken and balsamic vinaigrette - impressed the show's production staff and apparently her hometown, too.

Appetizers recently wrote about Daniels' attempt to garner enough votes to make it to the final round. Click here to read the story.

The city's website attributes her final round victory to her recipe, video, "supportive co-workers and an unbeatable combination of friends, family and our Woodland community."

Daniels' segment airs at 9 a.m. Friday on KCRA.

The studio audience and hosts will rate the recipe on taste and the top five studio audience-ranked firefighters will be eligible for an online vote. The two top semi-finalists may be invited back to New York for a televised cook-off at the end of the month.

The winner gets $10,000 and the recipe will be published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, the contest rules state.

Follow the link below to get Daniels' recipe.

August 2, 2010
Sacramento chef among finalists in Food Network video contest

Zócalo Chef Ryan Rose, 28, learned today that he's one of 15 finalists for the "Next Food Network Star YouTube Challenge," an online video contest that attracted about 250 entries.

The winner gets a free trip to New York, dinner at a Food Network star's restaurant and most importantly, a meeting with Food Network executives.

"It's super exciting," said Rose, who has worked his way up from bartender to head chef at the midtown Sacramento restaurant over the past six years

Rose was hunting online for casting information last month on how to apply for "The Next Food Network Star" when he ran across the YouTube contest. He quickly got a video together.

He's hoping the look of his video, set in Zócalo's kitchen, helps set him apart from the other finalists.

"I (taped it) through an actual Saturday brunch service," Rose said. "There were line cooks working and flames shooting up."

The video shows Ryan cooking paella, a dish he learned to cook while studying in Spain eight years ago.

The country fueled his love of food, but it was The Food Network that helped teach Rose how to cook. Now, he's hoping to return the favor.

"I'd love to be able to do that same thing for someone else," he said.

Online voting is being held through Aug. 16. The winner will be announced online Aug. 23.

You can see Rose's video at 6 p.m. today at Zócalo, where they're holding a viewing party and tequila and paella tasting. Or watch it here courtesy of YouTube (but you have to go to the online voting site to cast your ballot).






July 27, 2010
Roseville boy's burger recipe to be in Red Robin cookbook

By Debbie Arrington
darrington@sacbee.com

Eric Moore knows his burgers. Soon, the 9-year-old Roseville boy will be a published recipe author, too.

His creation - Blackened Avocado Bacon Burger - was chosen from more than 11,000 entries to be part of fourth annual Red Robin Kids' Cookoff Cookbook.

Moore's recipe along with 49 others submitted by young chefs ages 6 to 12 will be included in the cookbook, available free online at Red Robin's Web site, starting Tuesday.

With the Food Network's Robin Miller serving as judge, the cookbook recipes were chosen based on their inventive combination of ingredients, fun flavors and a 100-word essay on why this recipe should be America's next "gourmet burger."

Moore's recipe combines a blackened hamburger patty, sliced avocado, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, Cajun spice and thick-cut smoked bacon on a hamburger bun.
Top prize went to 10-year-old Emma Potts from Bonney Lake, Wash., and her Spicy Honey Glazed Bacon Burger. That burger will be added to Red Robin menus for six weeks with 50 cents from each purchase donated to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Got a great burger recipe? Red Robin is starting on its fifth annual cookbook. Young cooks ages 6 to 12 can submit their gourmet burger recipe entries online by clicking here, starting Tuesday.

The grand prize winner gets a family vacation for four to Universal Orlando Resort, Red Robin gift cards for a year as well as a burger on the menu. Deadline is Sept. 12.

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075.

July 23, 2010
Calling all cooks: What's your favorite tomato variety, recipe?

FL BGARDEN5 TOMATOES.JPGIt's tomato season in the Sacramento region and we need your help in figuring out what to do our Brandywines, beefsteaks and other varieties.

What is your favorite tomato variety? Why do you love it so much - easy to grow, easy to cook, low acidity, extra sweet?

Do you have a favorite tomato recipe? We'd love to see that too.

Click here to send your tomato recipes and thoughts to Bee staff writer Niesha Lofing.

July 23, 2010
Ugly kitchen contest offers chance to win chef's paradise

Do you have the worst kitchen in America?

The DIY Network and Food Network Magazine want to see it - and are offering one lucky cook a $30,000 customized renovation.

The contest launched Thursday and participants can post photos and video of their nightmare kitchens on DIY's website until Aug. 6, according to a news release from the network.

The winner and the renovation will be featured in a one-hour DIY Network special airing in January and be featured in the January/February issue of Food Network Magazine.

The winner also will receive a lifetime subscription to Food Network Magazine.

Click here for more information or to enter the contest.

July 20, 2010
Sweet competition brewing among local cupcake shops

cupcakes.jpgBy Niesha Lofing
nlofing@sacbee.com

Turns out Sacramento-based Cupcake Craving isn't the only sweet shop in the region to be approached by the Food Network.

Producers at "Cupcake Wars" also contacted Icing on the Cupcake, a Rocklin bakery, Babycakes Bakery and Esther's Cupcakes, both in Sacramento, and asked the owners to apply to be on the show.

"Cupcake Wars" is a weekly show that pits the nation's top cupcake bakers against one another in three elimination challenges. The winner gets $10,000 and the chance to showcase their cupcakes at a high-profile event.

July 13, 2010
Recipe from Sac County Jail

If you ever needed an incentive to walk the straight and narrow and stay out of jail, one look at the following recipe may have you singing "Ain't Misbehavin'."

A lawyer friend of mine passed this along. It is the legally approved diet for someone placed in disciplinary isolation. When I walk past the jail downtown and hear all the wailing and shouting, I imagine they took their first bites of this meatloat!

Feel free to try this recipe at home for the kid who doesn't make his or her bed..

Here it is:

1247. Disciplinary Isolation Diet.

(a) A disciplinary isolation diet which is nutritionally balanced may be served to an inmate. No inmate receiving a prescribed medical diet is to be placed on a disciplinary isolation diet without review by the responsible physician or pursuant to a written plan approved by the physician. Such a diet shall be served twice in each 24 hour period and shall consist of one-half of the loaf (or a minimum of 19 oz. cooked loaf) described below or other equally nutritious diet, along with two slices of whole wheat bread and at least one quart of drinking water if the cell does not have a water supply. The use of a disciplinary isolation diet shall constitute an exception to the three-meal-a-day standard. Should a facility administrator wish to provide an alternate disciplinary diet, such a diet shall be submitted to the Board of Corrections for approval.

(b) The disciplinary diet loaf shall consist of the following:
2-1/2 oz. nonfat dry milk
4-1/2 oz. raw grated potato
3 oz. raw carrots, chopped or grated fine
1-1/2 oz. tomato juice or puree
4-1/2 oz. raw cabbage, chopped fine
7 oz. lean ground beef, turkey or rehydrated, canned, or frozen Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
2-1/2 fl. oz. oil
1-1/2 oz. whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. raw onion, chopped
1 egg
6 oz. dry red beans, pre-cooked before baking (or 16 oz. canned or cooked red kidney beans)
4 tsp. chili powder
Shape into a loaf and bake at 350-375 degrees for 50-70 minutes.

Guideline: Regulations require that food will not be withheld from an inmate as a disciplinary measure for major infractions (Section 1083, Limitations on Disciplinary Actions). With respect to inmates who are on a prescribed medical diet, the responsible physician must be consulted prior to putting that inmate on the disciplinary isolation diet. This is to assure that the disciplinary diet does not result in any unanticipated health consequences. The regulation includes a meat substitute and the vegetarian disciplinary option can also be used for a lactose-free disciplinary diet. Both the meat and the vegetarian options for the disciplinary isolation diet meet the nutritional requirements of Section 1241, Minimum Diet. A nutritional analysis of the diet is available upon request to the Board of Corrections. This recipe was updated to comply with the new DRI requirements and the carrot portion has been changed from 4 ½ oz. to 3 oz. of Carrots.

The 72- hour limitation was moved to Section 1083, Limitations on Disciplinary Actions, because restrictions on the use of the disciplinary diet are a custody issue.


July 2, 2010
New Granite Bay eatery promises good food, despite tiny space

A new take-away style restaurant with a tiny kitchen is aiming to make a big splash at Quarry Ponds Town Center in Granite Bay.

Pullman Kitchen, set in the center's fresh market, is hosting a grand opening this weekend featuring a free pasta demonstration from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The restaurant is planning to repeat the event July 11 as well.

Chef and owner Sovy Medved said the 448-square foot kitchen is probably one of the smallest in the region, but it won't hamper her and Chef Christian Flood from turning out the best food at reasonable prices.

"We're going to concentrate on providing good food and good service to the public," she said.

The menu includes things like pulled pork or ribeye steak sandwiches served with fresh fruit and pasta salad for $6.95. Seasonal dinner items also will be available.

She's also not letting the previous tenant's failure to thrive or the center's chapter 11 bankruptcy filing sway her thoughts.

"We're determined to stay and produce the best possible food we can do at reasonable prices," she said.

Pullman Kitchen, located at 5550 Douglas Boulevard, Suite 140, is open 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

For more information, call (916) 370-3223.

June 30, 2010
Homemade ice cream made simple thanks to a few tips, techniques

stars.JPGI uncovered many tips and tricks while reporting my story on homemade ice cream. Now it's time to dish.

Those festive ice cream sandwiches gracing the cover of our Food & Wine section in today's Bee? They're amazingly simple to construct (and lovely to look at thanks to Bee photographer Lezlie Sterling) .

Bake your favorite cookie rounds, making sure it's large enough to fit a star-shaped cutter. Once the cookies have cooled (I let our peanut butter cookies cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then sit overnight in a zip-top bag), cut them into stars, leaving perfectly flat inner edges.

Heap your favorite homemade or store-bought vanilla ice cream in the center of one star, and place another star cookie on top. Flatten the cookies a little, so the ice cream squishes out the sides. Use a butter knife and follow the line of the cookie's edge, shaving off extra ice cream as you go.

Freeze for about 30 minutes to harden before serving.

Follow the link below for more tips and a recipe for chocolate gelato.

June 29, 2010
Bee readers share ice cream memories

scoopy with ice cream.jpgSometimes the memory of homemade ice cream is as sweet as the treat itself.

Such is the case the stories we received after we asked readers to send in their homemade ice cream stories. We're highlighting homemade ice cream and how to make it in tomorrow's Food & Wine section.

Consider Maria White's story a cautionary tale.

"When I was younger, three of my siblings loved making their own ice cream. We were a family of six and I'm sure my mother was very happy that they would entertain each other.

It wasn't until one day, one of my brothers came wailing from the ice cream making corner. He couldn't even tell my mother what was wrong, but he stuck his tongue in a cup of water while my other siblings were trying to hide.

It turns out that instead of using sugar, they had reached for the salt bin. It had been a very, very salty vanilla ice cream.

Now that I make ice cream with my children, I find myself checking it more than once, making sure I'm using sugar... not salt." - Maria White, 30, of Sacramento

Follow the link below for another reader's favorite memory.

June 28, 2010
Crowd pleasing fare for our virtual wine tasting fete

Participating in the virtual wine tasting Wednesday night with my colleague Chris Macias and wondering what hors d'oeuvres you can quickly put together after work?

Look no further.

Appetizers don't have to fussy and labor intensive to impress your guests. Think simple, both in preparation and execution, and you'll end up with an array of treats sure to please palates and afford you time to enjoy the party.

cheese.JPGOne of the easiest appetizers to execute is the cheese plate. I asked Felicia Johnson, cheesemonger at Taylor's Market, to guide us toward cheeses that would pair well with the wines selected for Wednesday night's virtual tasting.

Follow the link below to get Johnson's picks and other appetizer ideas.

June 24, 2010
Flay throws down green chile cheeseburger recipe

burgers.jpgA story in Wednesday's Food & Wine section featured how famous chefs are putting their spin on the classic hamburger.

Well another celebrity chef has ponied up a burger recipe in time for backyard barbecue season.

Bobby Flay's recipe for green chile cheeseburgers sounds delicious and (perhaps best of all) simple enough to whip up on a weeknight.

The recipe came to us courtesy of Hellmann's Mayonnaise, which has teamed up with Flay.

Follow the link below to get the recipe.

June 23, 2010
Pastured chicken farm adds Sacramento to CSA program

eggs.jpgA Vacaville farm that provides noted San Francisco restaurants with chickens and eggs is adding Sacramento to its community supported agriculture program.

Sacramento is the newest addition to the CSA program at Soul Food Farm, a 55-acre ranch that produces chickens for meat and eggs on certified organic pasture.

The farm, which also has CSA pickup locations in the Bay Area, sources chickens and eggs for Chez Panisse, Coi and Quince restaurants.

The monthly pickup for Sacramento CSA members will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month at the Epicurean Farmer, 4421 24th Street, a news release from the farm states.

June 22, 2010
One classic treat, countless possibilities

Thumbnail image for FOOD SMORES CS.JPGRound up the chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows - it's nearly time for the Great American Backyard Campout.

The campout, a fundraiser for the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation, is Saturday and what better an excuse to indulge in s'mores and sleep out under the stars?

While there's nothing wrong with the old-fashioned s'mores of our youth, a quick spin around the Internet yielded some interesting recipes on the beloved, gooey treat.

An Epicurious.com recipe suggests subbing caramel or orange-filled chocolate bars for the Hershey's milk chocolate bar. Other recipes used the flavors behind s'mores to create cheesecake, ice cream sundaes and pie.

Food Network star Michael Chiarello riffed on the classic by creating an Italian s'more, a decadent dessert that features biscotti, roasted marshmallows and a cabernet sauvignon chocolate sauce. Click here to get the recipe.

What's your favorite s'more recipe or method? Do you have another favorite camping food? Post your tips in the comment window below.

June 21, 2010
Silly names plague otherwise cool recipe contest

File this under cool idea, silly name.

The California Fig Advisory Board has launched the "Figlicious Fig Fest Recipe Contest" on Facebook.

Yes, figlicious. No, it's not a real word (at least not according to Webster's).

Here's how it works: hit the "like" button on the advisory board's Facebook page. Once you like it, the page will allow you to post comments on the wall. Post your favorite fig recipe until Aug. 7 and you'll be eligible for a drawing to win fresh and dried figs.

The winner will be announced Aug. 9.

But wait, there's more zany names to be had. The board's Facebook page lists the name of the same contest as the "Fig Fest Figatastic Recipe Contest."

As if one absurd name wasn't enough.

Click here to go to the California Fig's Facebook page.

June 14, 2010
Call to readers: We want your homemade ice cream stories

vanillaicecream.jpgI scream, you scream, haven't we all screamed (at least once) while making homemade ice cream?

The pride and delicious joy that accompanies homemade ice cream is lovely, but sometimes making it is a bit, well, humorous.

My first go-round with a Cuisinart ice cream maker was far from perfect. The appliance only spent a few minutes out of the box before I was eagerly skimming the instruction manual, paying attention primarily to the recipes.

Once I realized I had all the ingredients on hand to make strawberry ice cream, it was game on.

I mixed, poured and flicked the switch. After 30 minutes, no ice cream, just pink-hued liquid spinning in the ice cream maker.

I was oblivious to a very critical step - freezing the maker's chilling chamber (insert hand-smack to the forehead). That night, we resorted to Dreyer's, but since then I've learned to keep the chilling chamber in the freezer. Now I'm an ice cream-making addict. Coffee, mocha chocolate chip, berry frozen yogurt. You name it, I'm willing to make it.

Do you have a funny story about making ice cream or just love making your own ice cream at home? Send me your stories and recipes at nlofing@sacbee.com along with your name, phone number and city of residence. Your comments could be used in an upcoming Bee story.

*Bee file photo of homemade vanilla ice cream by Kevin German.

June 11, 2010
New cookbook, passionate TV kiss for wife of celebrity chef

In the Ramsay household, it's the world-famous, expletive-slinging celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, who tends to get the most press.

That's starting to change.

Ramsay's wife, Tana, made a guest appearance recently on the season opener of "Hell's Kitchen," disguised as a frumpy housewife who served up veal scallops with tomatoes that looked like "baby vomit," Gordon Ramsay proclaimed.

The dish was delicious, however. So much so that he planted a passionate kiss on the raven-haired woman, to the shock of the other competitors.

Then he revealed it was his wife, Tana.

The point was to show the competing chefs that it isn't experience but remarkable cooking that'll help them win the show's seventh season and the prestigious title of executive chef of Ramsay's new restaurant at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Tana Ramsay is about to reveal some more secrets too.

Her latest cookbook, "Tana's Kitchen Secrets" (Mitchell Beazley, $26.99, 288 pages), features tips and tricks that Ramsay uses to get meals on the table, as well as recipes they can't get enough of. The book hits store shelves next month.

The book itself is lovely to look at and the dishes appear beautiful and unfussy. The kind of food you'd make during the week or when friends are coming over for an impromptu supper.

Ramsay also included the recipe for breaded veal scallops with mozzarella, tomato and red pepper sauce that she cooked on the show.

Coincidence? Not so much.

June 10, 2010
Cooking classes help take the heat out of summer meal prep

Sushi.jpgThe summer is finally starting to warm up, which for many of us means scouting for dinner ideas that don't involve time over a hot stove.

Newcastle Produce
has the answer.

The gourmet grocery and specialty food store's roster of upcoming cooking classes features three courses on summer meals that require little to no cooking.

Chef Chelsea Federwitz will lead a class on raw summer food, summer salads and sushi in July, according to the store's e-newsletter.

The raw summer food class July 6 will feature lessons on how to "un-cook" and incorporate raw food into daily life. Participants will learn to make live cocktails, summer rolls, live pizzas and raw salads. Cost is $35 per person.

On July 8, cooks can learn how to chop, slice, grill, roast and marinate their way to amazing summer salads, as well as make fresh dressing. Cost is $25 per person.

Federwitz will teach a sushi "Rock and Roll" class July 16. Students will learn how to make sushi rice, small and large rolls and inside-out rolls. Spicy tuna, Philadelphia and California rolls will be featured. Cost is $35 per person.

The three classes all start at 6:30 p.m. and are "make and eat" classes, the newsletter states.

Federwitz also will be teaching classes on whimsical cupcakes, summer tarts and pies, tea parties, farm-to-table dinners and Asian street food this summer. She also is scheduled to teach children's classes on Italian food cupcake decorating.

Click here for more information.

June 8, 2010
Locally grown ingredients, cookbook inspire dinner event

PK_PLACERGROWN 0123.JPGA Loomis restaurant is holding a special dinner event next week to celebrate the recent release of a cookbook by Placer County locals Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny.

Cafe Zorro will be featuring a three-course menu based on recipes included in "Placer County Real Food" (In-Season Publishing, $28, 300 pages), according to an e-mail from the restaurant.

The cookbook will be for sale at the event and a book signing also will be held.

Diners may choose from a first course of either onion soup with creme fraiche and thyme or a pea shoot salad with citrus vinaigrette.

Main course choices are pan-seared halibut cheeks with an herb beurre blanc sauce, red quinoa with mushrooms and sauteed kale with mirin or barbecue leg of lambs, served with roasted sweet onions and fennel, sauteed summer squash and baby bok choy with crispy shallots.

Dessert is angel food cake with blackberry compote.

True to Neft's passion to eat locally-grown food in season, all of the food served, except for halibut, will be sourced locally.

The dinner will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. June 15 at Cafe Zorro, 5911 King Rd., Loomis. Cost is $35 per person.

Reservations are required and can be made by e-mailing matt@cafezorro.com.

Click here to read more about Neft, Kenny and their effort to help people connect with local food and farmers.

June 2, 2010
Chefs, and what else they can bring to the city's table

Following up on Rick Kushman's piece in The Bee today (and before that, Ann Martin Rolke's fine account at the excellent Sacramento-based blog "Sacatomato") on Chef Michael Tuohy's weekly guided tour of farmer's market across the street from his restaurant Grange.

It seems like an excellent idea in many ways. It's good PR for the restaurant. It's a good way for the chef to pass along ideas he believes in about cooking with local ingredients. And it's good for the city -- this kind of thing, on a larger scale, could be something of tourist attraction. Oh, and the farmers are happy, too, with the reminder that home cooks can actually save money by going the fresh and local route.

So, what else can chefs do to make it a win-win-win? Reading the recent issue of the magazine Food Arts, I noticed a brief item on a successful program in Houston that could work just as well here. It's called "Where the Chefs Eat," and it involves getting chefs to describe where they like to eat when they're not toiling in their own kitchens. What's more, the chefs then take groups of 16 or so on a tour of the restaurant, often a hole-in-the-wall joint or hidden-away ethnic eatery.

My round-up review last month on hamburgers revealed that more than a few chefs like to grab a good burger, usually late at night, when they don't feel like cooking? But where do they go for a little adventure or a little comfort? That's the idea behind the Houston program.

Since the farmers market tours show we have an eager audience for food and education, this seems like a great idea we can borrow for Sacramento. It would be good exposure for the chefs, their restaurants and this city.

By the way, I'm going to take the dining advice of the chefs over the nice fellow who sold me the magazine. What did he have for dinner? He had just returned from a break, where he dined at the nearby Old Spaghetti Factory. His meal? A plate of broccoli and a liter of beer.

May 19, 2010
Chipotle menu boasts more locally-grown produce

As if we needed another reason to enjoy Chipotle's addicting burritos, the restaurant chain is now increasing its commitment to locally source its produce.

Though it started serving produce from local farms two years ago, it's now working with about 50 local, family-owned farms to provide lettuce, green bell peppers, jalapenos, oregano, tomatoes and red onions.

For Chipotle outlets here in Northern California, sources include Abbate Farms in Merced, Bee Sweet in Fowler, Kenter Canyon Farms in Sun Valley and Taylor Farms in Salinas and Tracy, according to a Chipotle spokesperson.

While not exactly hitting locavore standards in all cases, Chipotle's produce does have less mileage than the other fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S., which on average, travel about 1,500 miles from farm to table.

The restaurant's produce usually comes from within 250 miles of Chipotle's distribution centers, and nearly 70 percent of that comes from within 150 miles. One-third of its produce arrives from within 50 miles, the release states.

May 14, 2010
Live fish catch attention, customers at farmers market

Fish doesn't get much fresher than this.

Shoppers at the Sacramento farmers market can now purchase live fish at the Sunday food haven under the freeway.

Michael Passmore, owner of Passmore Ranch - a sustainable aquaculture facility in Sloughhouse that's been raising and producing fresh water fish since 2005 - began selling live black bass, silver carp, catfish and sturgeon at the market about three weeks ago.

The booth's a hit. Passmore's fish sales have doubled since he started selling fish at farmers markets. He also sets up shop at the Florin Road farmers market on Thursdays and in Stockton on Saturdays.

"It's been fantastic," he said.

And yes, Passmore is well within the law in terms of having a booth of live fish at the farmers market (he should know - the Marine-turned-entrepreneur is currently in law school). He has cleared his booth with Sacramento County and operates at the market under its health permit.

Here's the catch: Passmore or his staff can't hand a live fish to a customer, a requirement attached to his registration with the state Department of Fish and Game.

"We give it a tap on the head, which stuns and/or kills it," he said, adding that the method is among the more humane ways to kill a fish.

Prices range from about $4.25 for catfish and carp to $7.25 for black bass.

Need an idea for a delicious fish dinner? Check out Epicurious' recipe for black bass with ginger and scallions.

May 12, 2010
It's deja vu for the Taylor's Kitchen crew

Fans of the former Mason's restaurant take note: a culinary reunion is taking place in Land Park.

Neighborhood hot spot Taylor's Kitchen features two members of Mason's original opening crew - chef Robert Lind and pastry chef Jodie Chavious - and has added a third to its line.

John Gurnee, who served as Mason's executive chef, will be working as Lind's sous chef this week, a role Lind filled under Gurnee at Mason's.

"John is just part-timing it for now," owner Danny Johnson wrote in an e-mail to The Bee. Johnson declined to speak to the chef's future plans.

Customer feedback about Lind's work since he joined the Freeport Boulevard restaurant in February has been "overwhelmingly positive," Johnson said.

"The changes put in place have allowed us to achieve a much higher level in the quality and presentation of the food at Taylor's Kitchen," he said.

It also doesn't hurt that they nabbed Andrew Willsen, formerly of Mulvaney's B&L, to manage the front of the house.

May 11, 2010
Burger month served with a side of freebies

It always seems to be National (fill-in your favorite food, cause) month and guess what? May is no different.

National Burger Month doesn't come with a wristband or a parade, but at least it has free food attached.

Smashburger is offering a trifecta of freebies, beginning this week with fries.

The chain, which has a location in Citrus Heights, is giving away free French fries with the purchase of a burger until Thursday.

A free kids meal follows from May 17 through 20, and a free 1/3-pound burger on May 25.

The "fast casual" restaurant, named for the cooking method of smashing balls of meat on the grill, is partnering with Heinz and Coca-Cola for the promotional celebration.

Here's the catch: you have to register your name, address and e-mail at Smashburger's site.

Wondering where else in town to get your burger fix? Check out Bee dining critic Blair Robertson's review of burgers, from counter joints to fine dining restaurants.

Want to hold your own burger celebration at home? Try James McNair's recipe for Napa Valley Basil-Smoked Burgers burgers (from Epicurious). Got vegetarians at your table? This recipe for bulgur veggie burgers with lime mayonnaise got rave reviews on Epicurious' site.

May 7, 2010
Sure it's flavorful, but is lamb nutritious?

lamb.jpgWith two stories in this week's Food & Wine section devoted to lamb and it's popularity, we couldn't help but wonder where the meat stands nutritionally.

Beyond being a good source of protein, it's also packed with vitamins, said Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC Davis.

Lamb is a little higher than other meats in its amount of B12 per serving, and has 40 percent of the daily need of niacin and zinc in a 4-ounce serving, she said.

"It has a wonderful nutrient profile," Applegate said.

But it is a bit higher in saturated fat than other meat, she said.

May 4, 2010
Entries due this week for State Fair cooking competitions

Care to test your cooking chops?

The California State Fair is looking for home cooks and professional chefs to compete in a host of culinary competitions and events.

The California's Kitchen Program includes food judging competitions, demonstrations, chef challenges and activities for children, according to a state fair news release.

There are seven food competitions to choose from: the jam and jelly show; soft spreads and fruit show; pickle, relish, sauce and salsa show; baked goods (bread); baked goods (cake show); baked goods (pie and pastry); and baked goods (confections and cookies). Each competition has multiple divisions.

Other competitions using products such as Guittard Chocolate, Malt-O-Meal, Ghiradelli, Fleischmann's Yeast and King Arthur Flour also will be held during the fair, which this year will be held from July 14 to Aug. 1. Those contests boast more than $4,000 in cash and prizes, the release states.

Amateur competitions are open to California residents 5 years old and up. Professional competitions are open to chefs and those working in a food-related career.

Food-related challenges "have an agricultural and nutritional focus relating to the fast-pace lifestyle of Californians," the release states.

Entry forms are due by Friday. Applications for chef challenges are being accepted through June 15.

For rules and requirements, follow this link to the State Fair's website or call Nancy Emelio at (916) 263-3194. Emelio also can be reached via e-mail at nemelio@calexpo.com.

May 3, 2010
Two Beard nominations, no award for local food blogger

Hank Shaw, an Orangevale food writer whose blog "Hunter Angler Gardener Cook," has twice been nominated for a James Beard Foundation award, lost once again.

Shaw attended the awards dinner at Espace in New York City Sunday night, but in the end, it was Ed Levine, who stirs up food enthusiasm on "Serious Eats," who took hom