Appetizers
March 26, 2009
Donate food, eat dessert

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

March 23, 2009
Local blogger nominated for James Beard award

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

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

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

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


March 20, 2009
Calling all California olive oil makers

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

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

March 20, 2009
Potato chips for SPRING

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

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

Herb Idaho potato wafers
Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 17, 2009
A personal chef for a week

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

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

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

March 14, 2009
Tasty bento

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

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

March 14, 2009
Southeast Asian food, at home


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

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

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

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March 6, 2009
The Wednesday Davis farmers market returns

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

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

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

March 6, 2009
Corned beef and cabbage

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

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

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

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

Cosmo Café corned beef
Recipe by Chef Scott Rose
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

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

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

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

INSTRUCTIONS

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

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

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

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


March 2, 2009
MMMM. Oatmeal.

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

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

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

Irish steel-cut oatmeal
Serves 4

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

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

February 26, 2009
Violets are in view

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I know spring has come to Sacramento when my forsythia blooms a bright yellow, announcing to my street that another winter has passed. Another marker of seasons turning is the sweet purple violets popping up all over - I've noticed it in midtown at least. They're brightening lawns as well as that no-man's-land patch of grass between sidewalks and the streets.

Find your inner Frenchie and candy them! The French use candied violets to decorate cakes and pastries. Here is a simple recipe to get you started.

Candied Violets
Recipe from Flora's Recipe Hideout
Makes 1 cup of syrup

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar, granulated
Almond extract or rosewater
Fresh violets (Note: Do not use African violets)

INSTRUCTIONS
Make a syrup by stirring water into sugar in a small saucepan. Boil until slightly thickened. Stir in almond extract to taste.
Let syrup cool slightly. Place violets into the syrup a few at a time and cover completely. Remove and place on wax paper to dry.
If syrup gets hard, reheat and add a little more water.

An alternative method is to coat petals with a lightly beaten eggwhite and sprinkle on fruit sugar.

February 26, 2009
Three-course meal for an Andrew Jackson

For one week only - March 2-8 - you can get a three-course meal for $20 at both Spataro Restaurant and Bar and Esquire Grill. Paragary Restaurant Group is offering this deal through its free online newsletter and we thought we'd put it on Appetizers to share with everyone else.

To redeem the offer, call the restaurant to reserve a table. It is available for in-restaurant dining after 5 p.m. Spataro: 916-440-8888; Esquire: 916-448-8900

Then use the code: iEat

Finally, clean your plates and make Andrew Jackson proud.

The menus, pick one from each category:

Esquire Grill
First course - carrot soup, cornmeal-fried asparagus or Caesar salad
Second course - grilled salmon, pan-roasted chicken breast, or shrimp fettucine
Third course - Esquire Grill sundae or New York cheesecake

Spataro
First course - mixed green salad, bruschetta or polpettini
Second course - breaded pork cutlets with roasted potatoes; Florentine-style crepes stuffed with chicken, spinach and fontina; linguine with Manila clams
Third course - gelato, tiramisu or cannoli

February 26, 2009
The birth of a bar

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There are so many bars out there promising to give you energy, stave off hunger, or provide you with enough protein for an active lifestyle. Veronica Bosgraaf, a mom from Michigan, doesn't promise that. She simply offers the mantra, "Eat pure. Live pure."

Bosgraaf invented Pure Bars after her 6-year-old daughter announced she was going vegetarian. Each bar is soft and chewy and jam-packed with flavorful goodness that makes you simply feel healthy knowing each bite is made from organic and raw ingredients without added sugar. The flavors include apple cinnamon, chocolate brownie, cranberry orange, wild blueberry and cherry cashew, and each is certified vegan and gluten-free.

Buy them for about $1.50 each at Whole Foods Market, Raley's or Trader Joe's.

February 20, 2009
Mushrooms for the masses

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It wasn't so long ago that when a recipe called for mushrooms, it meant those white button ones that could be purchased sliced or whole at the grocery store. Now, with growing interest in the hundreds of edible varieties out there, and busy foragers (sometimes former loggers whose livelihood now depends on trees remaining standing), many mainstream grocery stores are offering an increasing variety of the formidable fungi.

In homage to this welcome trend, I made a wild mushroom lasagne for dinner last night. It was a combination of cheesy goodness and melding flavors from the chanterelle, oyster, beech, trumpet and hedgehog mushrooms that were included. Look out for Wednesday's Food & Wine section for more on a day of foraging with Connie Green, owner of Napa's Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, which supplies some of the Bay Area's most talked-about restaurants and Sacramento's Ella and The Kitchen, and Todd Humphries, chef and co-owner of St. Helena's Martini House. We even end up back in Humphries' Michelin-rated kitchen to cook up some matsutakes.

In anticipation of Wednesday's coverage, here's the lasagne recipe to whet your appetite. And read more about lasagne here.

Wild mushroom lasagne
Recipe from "Mushroom" (First Lyons Press, $29.95, 160 pages), by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler
Serves 4
INGREDIENTS
For the béchamel:
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt and a little pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups parmesan, grated
For the spinach layer:
10 ounces spinach, washed, de-stalked, blanched and finely chopped
a heaping cup of ricotta
1/2 teaspoon salt
a generous grind of black pepper
For the mushroom sauce:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 ounces shallots, finely diced
1/3 cup olive oil
10 ounces mixed mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
a couple sprigs of thyme, chopped
a handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
a generous amount of black pepper
1 cup crème fraîche, or heavy cream
For the lasagne:
10 ounces fresh or dried lasagne sheets, or enough for 3 layers

INSTRUCTIONS
For the béchamel:
Heat milk and creme to a simmer.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan, add flour, and cook resulting sandy paste over low heat for a couple of minutes taking care not to burn.
Keeping heat low, slowly pour in a little milk. Whisk until thick and smooth. Then add a little more milk, again whisking until smooth, and so on, until all the milk has been added.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and sprinkle in half of the parmesan. Whisk until smooth. Cook slowly for 10 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent sauce from burning. Set aside, putting wax paper on top to prevent skin from forming.
For the spinach layer:
Mix together ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
For the mushroom sauce:
Fry shallots and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes over medium heat, then add mushrooms and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until they are cooked. Add the rest of the ingredients and, stirring frequently, reduce the sauce over low to medium heat.
For the lasagne:
Check lasagne package to see if it needs to be precooked.
Start putting the dish together by spreading a little béchamel on the bottom of a rectangular lasagne dish, then place a sheet of lasagne on top. On this, evenly spread the ricotta mix. Add another layer of lasagne and pour mixed mushroom sauce on top. Next comes the last layer of lasagne, and finally the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with the last of the parmesan.
Cook in oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. If lasagne needs a little more browning after cooking, finish off under the broiler.

February 20, 2009
Carbs reinvented

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When a big brown box came into the office the other day filled with packages of fresh naan, I figured I would like it. I am, after all, Atkins' worst nightmare. But I didn't realize how much I would like it nor how versatile it could be.

Tandoori Naan, made by Fabulous Flats in Canada, is hand-stretched and baked in a traditional tandoor, or clay oven, that heats to extremely hot temperatures. But beyond scooping up some Indian curry, the back of the package offers serving suggestions - as a dipper for hummus, as wraps, as a stand-in for sandwich bread, or cut into strips for salads. There are also a number of ways to heat it - on the grill, in the oven, on the stove, or charred over a gas flame like a tortilla.

I ate the garlic version plain with a little butter, after using tongs to heat it over my gas stove. But I was truly sold when I made the plain version as an accompaniment to a shrimp salad. I spread some butter on it, sprinkled on some fleur de sel, and popped it in the oven for a few minutes for a truly fabulous flatbread. More please!

The naan comes in regular, whole grain and garlic flavors, and contains no preservatives. It stays good for five days at room temperature, or keep some in the freezer for any carb craving. It comes in packages of two for $2.99 and can be found at Safeway, Whole Foods Market, Raleys and Save Mart Supermarkets.

February 19, 2009
Freeze-dried fruit fad

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My inbox is filled with emails hawking everything from "healthy" Crisco to happy hour frozen yogurt (TCBY offers half-priced smoothies everyday from 5 to 6 p.m.).

So I thought it was interesting there are two companies selling freeze-dried fruit packets - could this be some new fad? I had to wonder, "What's wrong with plain old regular fruit?" But, as it turns out, this crunchy, freeze-dried stuff isn't half bad, especially if you're trying to get the full requirement of fruit servings into a kid.

I tried the Funky Monkey brand that comes in flavors with radical names like Purple Funk (banana with açai), Jivealime (pineapple with lime), and Bananamon (banana with cinnamon). Each 1-ounce packet sells for $1.99 to $2.99 at Super Target, Whole Foods Market and AllergyGrocer.

The other brand, Crispy Green, has simpler flavors - apple, pear, pineapple - and sells for about $1.49 at Whole Foods.

Crunchy and flavorful, without added sugar, preservatives or flavoring, it's the most natural version of processed food there is. Plus, it contains no fat or cholesterol, and has a really long shelf life.

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February 18, 2009
Farm to table

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I've always been amazed at the food we have access to, simply because of our location. Right now, you can eat carrots, chard and spinach straight from local fields. I had an orange today plucked from a friend's yard, and made a salad dressing with the lemon from a tree down the street.

Learn about some of the local farmers who have dedicated their lives to this idea of sustainability. On Wednesday, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op will sponsor the first of a quarterly event series focusing on issues of healthy lifestyles and the environment. There will be farmers from most of the notable organic farms in the area, as well as an organic supper and winetasting preceding the event.

What: A panel of organic farmers
Where: Sierra 2 Center Theatre, 2791 24th St., Sacramento
When: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Feb. 25
Cost: $15 adults; $5 for children younger than 12; available for purchase at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
More info: A $10 per person supper will be held at 6 p.m. with wines costing $1 per taste


February 13, 2009
Pizza for a penny

Pizza Hut is celebrating Abraham Lincoln by offering an honest deal - buy a large pizza at regular price and get a medium one-topping pizza for a coin that bears the former president's likeness. The deal began Thursday, on Lincoln's birthday, and runs for a limited time, although the company has not set an end date. Pass the parmesan!

February 13, 2009
Martin Yan in person, for free

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Martin Yan, host of the pioneering television series "Yan Can Cook," will be demonstrating recipes from his newest book, "Martin Yan's China," next Sunday at Sacramento's Tsakopoulos Library Galleria. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and autographs, and seating is first-come, first-served.

What: Martin Yan in a live food demonstration
When: 2 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 22
Where: Tsakopoulos Library Gallery, 828 I St., Sacramento
Cost: Free
Information: (916) 264-2920 or Sacramento Public Library

February 12, 2009
Furlough breakfasts

Another freebie/discount for furloughed state workers - free breakfast at IKEA in West Sacramento. Just show your state ID card on the first and third Fridays of the month from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and grab your plate of eggs, bacon and potatoes. Add some coffee and get your day off to a good start.

And if you're looking for something to do after that, my yard needs mowing!

February 12, 2009
Don't go bananas

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I have a confession. I like bananas. But I like them to be slightly green; no ripe bananas for me, and forget it if they're overripe. So what do I do with bananas that have been sitting on the counter a tad too long? Peel them, throw them into plastic bags and store them in the freezer. They make the perfect smoothie ---- put frozen bananas in the blender, add a little orange juice and you have a quick pick-me-up. It's especially delicious after a sweaty yoga class!

The same goes for berries that are about to go south. And check out smoothie recipes for inspiration.

Do you have money-saving ideas? Share them at the SacBee.com forum.

February 12, 2009
Crowds for Spandex

If you're going to be among the crowds hoping for a peek at Lance Armstrong on Saturday, here are some spots for you.

- Buckhorn Grill, at L and 18th streets.
- Le Petit Paris, on 19th Street between L and Capitol, is taking reservations for $19. It includes the seat, lunch, dessert and champagne.
- Spataro, at L and 15th streets, will have bleacher seating, an outdoor bar, and the finish line displayed on big screen.

A list of public events can make it an entire day ordeal.

February 12, 2009
Taste olive oil for yourself

You learned all about olive oil (see previous post), and now you want to understand the differences for yourself. Slow Food Sacramento is sponsoring a tasting of oils from local makers at The Waterboy on Sunday. Dan Flynn, executive director at the UC Davis Olive Center will explain how to judge clarity, aroma and the flavor attributes. And chef Rick Mahan will serve light appetizers.

When: Sunday, Feb. 15; 1-3:30 p.m.
Where: The Waterboy, 2000 Capitol Ave., Sacramento
Cost: $25; $20 for Slow Food members

February 11, 2009
Frozen yogurt reinvents itself, again


Back in the 1980s, frozen yogurt was the dessert du jour for fat-free food enthusiasts (remember the SnackWells desserts that advertisers hawked as diet food?). But then everyone got smarter about calories and anything sweet equated to bad once more.

Frozen yogurt is back again in a big way. All the stars seem to be eating the Southern California-based PinkBerry, lured by tart flavors, fresh-fruit toppings and promised benefits of live cultures in every swirly bite.

Here in the Sacramento area, we've got Big Spoon, whose serious draw is the choice of more than 75 toppings you put on yourself, with the cost of your yogurt determined by weight. There's also Yogurtagogo in Midtown that draws from the high-end PinkBerry concept of fresh fruit and active cultures, along with the make-it-yourself experience. And then there's mochii yogurt, also in Midtown, that sells its concept of handmade yogurt.

There's even a Red Mango, the legitimate South Korean yogurt company that seems like the long lost twin of Pinkberry, at the Roseville Galleria.

I recently popped into yet another shop, Swirls Frozen Yogurt, 3328 El Camino Ave., Sacramento, next to the Chipotle at Country Club Centre. At 39 cents per ounce, I went with two kinds of yogurt, a tart mango and the always-necessary chocolate, and topped it off with Cap'n Crunch, mini M&Ms, and chunks of Reese's peanut butter cups. OK, so maybe it wasn't the healthiest of lunches, but I'm sure the good bacteria will outweigh any bad that was involved.

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February 11, 2009
Sae hae bok manhi badu seyo! The year of the Ox has commenced.

It's the year of the ox, and in my Korean family, that means ringing in the new year with a steaming bowl of duk gook - rice cake soup topped with egg and dried seaweed. Chinese families might celebrate with Beijing-style boiled dumplings known as jaozi; Nepalese eat potatoes and cauliflower cooked with tomatoes, cilantro, roasted cumin and coriander; the Vietnamese have sticky rice cakes with pork meat and mung beans.

Learn about Lunar New Year foods tomorrow with chef Thy Tran of The Wandering Spoon as she discusses the significance of dishes for the new year. Tastings are included.

What: A Tasty Exploration of Asian Lunar New Year
Where: Barton Art Gallery; 1723 I St., Sacramento
When: Thursday, Feb. 12; 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $45
Note: Asian beer will be served; attendees must be 21 or older

February 6, 2009
Cook your way through Southern Italy with Kurt Spataro

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Whole Foods Market and Paragary Restaurant Group have teamed up for monthly cooking demonstrations at the Arden Way store. Executive Chef Kurt Spataro will prepare some of his favorite dishes on Tuesday. The class costs $60 and includes wine. You must be 21 or older to attend. Get more information here.

Where:
Whole Foods Market
4315 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95864

When:
Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009; 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM

February 6, 2009
Furlough Fridays at Brew it Up

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It looks like the newest trend on the drinking scene is giving furloughed state workers a way to work out their beer-lifting arms. Brew it Up is another spot offering discounts every other Friday starting today - 25 percent off full-priced brews between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; $2 10-ounce featured draft beers and specials on wines by the glass and cocktails.

It seems a lot ot state workers will be drinking away their days off. Perhaps it'll inadvertently jumpstart the economy. We can only hope.

February 3, 2009
A bit of France in Granite Bay

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Bistro La Petite France, which former restaurant critic Mike Dunne gave three stars back in 2007, has moved from Roseville and found a new home at 8230 Auburn-Folsom Road in Granite Bay.

Mike's review discussed Chef Christophe Ehrhart's hearty approach to French cooking, and described the coq au vin as "dark and deeply saturating" with buttery croutons and accompanied by Alsatian spaetzle, tiny poached dumplings of flour and egg seasoned with salt and butter.

Um, yes please.

The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Dinner is served from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

January 28, 2009
Dining out on the cheap

Local food bloggers and Fleishman-Hillard employees, Sac Foodies, tipped us off to a great way to eat well and save bucks. Restaurant.com offers gift certificates for less than they're worth. Just enter your zip code and order the gift certificates for participating restaurants.

For instance, you can get a $100 gift certificate to Aura for $40. Or a $50 gift certificate for Vallejo's Mexican Restaurant for $20. Or a $10 gift certificate at Kathmandu Kitchen for $3. Happy eating!

January 28, 2009
Cheers at de Vere's

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Sacramento has lagged far behind other cities with the Irish pub concept - the one where there seems to be a bar on every corner with cardboard shamrock cut outs in the windows and Guinness on tap. De Vere's Irish Pub may change that.

De Vere's is the project of three Sacramento brothers - two born in Ireland - who believe an Irish pub should be the center of a community. And even in tough economic times, the pub is where people in that community come for a pint to celebrate the good and commiserate over the bad.

The spot at 16th and L streets is not only Irish in spirit, the furniture and bars were built in Ireland and installed by Irish workers brought over to make sure it was done just like the Irish do. And the decor has family ties - pottery formed by a grandmother, books written by a grandfather.

The pub has been open for a few weeks to get the staff out of the green, and the grand opening will be Friday. Read my story and I'll pass you your Guinness.
.

January 28, 2009
Football for cookies

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Someone once told me that my stock would go up if I actually liked football. Well, if these cookies were at the party, I might show up.

Ettore's European Bakery & Restaurant in Sacramento is offering sugar cookies with vegetable dye icing featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals logos, as well as one with the Tampa Bay Super Bowl logo. The cookies cost $2.25 each. Call ahead to order. And save one for me please.

January 26, 2009
My lunch was better than yours

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Midtown boutique Le Petit Paris has always been one of my favorite spots for a unique birthday or housewarming gift. One friend got a lovely Lagouile knife set I should have bought two of - so I could have kept one for myself.

Now, the boutique is also a cafe with delectable soups, a full espresso bar with French pressed coffee, wines, beers and a dessert case filled with mouthwatering creations like profiteroles, creme brulees and macarons.

I opted for a tartine with ham, brie and fig jam for just $5.95. I'll stop in for a breakfast of yogurt and granola soon, after a chocolate croissant appetizer of course.

January 26, 2009
Breakfast on IKEA

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OK, so the IKEA breakfast is actually only 99 cents, and the coffee costs another 99 cents, but when times are tough a dollar is a dollar. So head on over to the IKEA in West Sacramento on Friday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 1, and get a free breakfast until 10:30 a.m.

Maybe you don't really need anything for your home, but the 99 cent toilet brush is always worth the trip over. You can always use a new toilet brush.

January 26, 2009
Drowning in recipes

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There are the computer printouts for portabella mushroom sandwiches. There are the recipes torn from newspapers and magazines promising the easiest of lasagnas and the best way to poach eggs. There are the hand-written cards with your best friend's salad dressing and pomegranate relish. And they're all stuffed into cabinets, cookbooks and oddly, the silverware drawer.

Get a grip on your recipes. There are several online tools to help you upload and catalogue recipes. BigOven and MacGourmet charge for their software. But you can search, email and print recipes easily. WeGottaEat is free but there isn't a handy importing process.

January 21, 2009
Thunder Valley Casino chef competes nationally

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Alex Talledo, chef at Austins Steakhouse at the Thunder Valley Casino, placed first in California's National Pork Board competition at the Fancy Food Show, meaning he will represent the state in a national competition in June.

Here is his winning recipe:

CHILI MARINATED PORK LOIN
WITH AJI AMARILLO POSOLE AND BRAISED PORK BELLY

PORK STOCK:
· 7 pounds pork marrow bones, sawed into 2-inch pieces
· 4 pounds of pigs feet cut
· 8 ounces tomato paste
· 2 cups chopped onions
· 1 cup chopped carrots
· 1 cup chopped celery
· 2 cups port wine
· 1 bouquet garni
· Salt and pepper
· 8 quarts water
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Place bones in a shallow roasting pan. Roast the bones and feet for 1 hour. Remove the bones from the oven and brush with the tomato paste.
In a mixing bowl, toss the vegetables. Lay the vegetables on top of the bones and return to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes. Pour off any excess fat.
Place the roasting pan on the stove, over high heat. Using a wooden spoon, deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping the pan and loosening any brown particles.
Place everything in a large stock pot. Add the bouquet garni and water. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Season the liquid with salt and pepper. Simmer the stock for 4 hours.
Remove the stock from the heat and strain through a China cap. Save pork feet skins for garnish, when sliced they look like sliced shitake mushrooms.

CHILI MARINADE:
· 2 fresh whole jalapeños
· 4 dried aji amarillo (yellow hot chili pepper, available in Spanish markets)
· 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
· 1/2 cup minced onions
· 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
· 6 limes, juiced
· 2 cups vegetable oil
· Salt
· Bone in pork loin
TAMARIND GLAZE:
· 1/2 cup seeded tamarind paste, ingredients should specify 100-percent tamarind extract. (Available in Asian markets)
· 1 tablespoon crushed aji amarillo
· 1 tablespoon honey
· 1/4 cup ketchup
· 2 tablespoons water
· 1 clove garlic, minced
Place tamarind paste and other glaze ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
In a food processor with a metal blade, combine the jalapeños, aji amarillo, cilantro, onions, garlic, lime juice and vegetable oil. Process until smooth. Season with salt.
Season the loin with salt. Pour half the marinade into the loin. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove the loin, reserving the marinade. Allow the loin to come to room temperature.
On a very hot pan, sear and put in the oven. Baste often with reserved marinade.
Remove from heat and coat with the tamarind glaze and rest for 5 minutes in a warm place.

POSOLE:
· 2 tablespoons olive oil
· 1 pound pork belly, cut into 1-inch pieces
· 2 cups chopped onions
· 2 pound fresh hominy
· 2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped plum tomatoes
· 2 tablespoons minced garlic
· 2 tablespoon crushed aji amarillo
· Pinch of cumin
· 3 quarts pork stock
· 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
· Salt and pepper
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sear the meat for about 2 minutes. Add the onions and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
Stir in the hominy, tomatoes, and garlic. Season the mixture with crushed aji amarillo and cumin. Stir in the stock and bring up to simmer. Season the liquid with salt and pepper.
Reduce the stock to a simmer and cover with aluminum foil and put into a 300-degree oven, cooking for about 3 hours.
Put back on the stove degrease and reduce until the stew thickens. Stir in the cilantro.

TO ASSEMBLE:
Ladle broth into a shallow bowl. Garnish with red jalapeños, julienned onions and fresh cilantro. Then add 3-ounces of pork belly into middle of plate. Rest pork loin chop on top and serve.

January 21, 2009
Tea represents at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco

Tea was the next big thing at the Fancy Food Show that ended Tuesday - tea hot or cold, tea as mints (eat three and supposedly get as many antioxidants as a cup of regular green tea), tea for kids, tea powder, tea bars and tea for good health. It seemed there was a tea maker or purveyor on every one of the hundreds of aisles filling Moscone Center.

Look out for a Food and Wine story in the next few weeks breaking it all down.

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January 15, 2009
Korean BBQ satisfies all


The doom and gloom of the economy sure drives one to comfort eat, but with cash flow dwindling, what's a gal to do?

Head on over the rainbow to Oz Korean BBQ on Bradshaw Road for all-you-can-eat meat, rice and side dishes. It costs $17.99 Sunday through Thursday, or $18.99 on Friday and Saturday. And it's a carnivorous wonder of Korean favorites like bulgogi and galbi brought raw and heaping on plates to your table for you to cook up at the tabletop grill. The side dishes of kim chi, bean sprouts and pickled cucumbers get replenished as well, and expect to loosen your belt after the meal - although I still had room for the ice cream ball rolled in multi-colored crunchy flakes for dessert.

Leave your vegetarian friends at home, (sorry Carlos), everyone at the table is required to partake, otherwise everyone has to order off the a la carte menu.

Jal mokesumnida!


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January 14, 2009
How old is your olive oil?

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Olive oil is supposed to be good for you - it is known to lower levels of that bad kind of cholesterol. But how old is the bottle in your cupboard? If you say more than six months, you might want to toss it and educate yourself a bit more with some facts. You can also see how grocery store olive oils fared in a Bee taste test. And find out what Kurt Spataro uses at home.

If you really want to test your bravery, grab a couple of bottles and have a tasting party.

January 8, 2009
Vegetarian on Valentine's Day

It may be too soon to be talking about that day when all singles remember they are indeed single. But if you're a vegetarian and want a night on the town, Deneb Williams at The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento has got your best root vegetables in his thoughts.

Along with a regular Valentine's Day menu listed on the restaurant's Web site, Williams has come up with a five-course vegetarian and vegan menu with such treats as roasted beet tartare - oven-roasted beets wth olive oil and herbs served with garlic crostini; a honey-lavender Waldorf salad with a poppy seed vinaigrette; lentil croquettes - roasted root vegetables and lentils, along with mashed potatoes topped with a wild mushroom and miso gravy; and desserts such as a berry crisp or a chocolate-raspberry mousse cake.

The set menu costs a steep $115, the same as the regular Valentine's Day dinner, but broccoli huggers need love too.

January 8, 2009
Spend $30 and call it dinner

Starting Saturday, it's that time when you can eat in some of Sacramento's best restaurants for $30. Every year for a week in January, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership sponsors "Dine Downtown" - get three courses, as in a starter, main and dessert, and help generate business at a usually slow time for the restaurant business.

Add some wine, and it's not quite cheap eats. But it is a chance to check out some of the pricier restaurants for a little less damage to the wallet. Most of the participating restaurants offer choices for each course, while others have one set menu.

From the choices at 58 Degrees & Holding, I would pick the wild mushroom soup with parmesan foam and white truffle oil; baked ziti with broccoli, butternut squash, sage cream sauce and garlic bread chips; and the pistachio affogato. Mmm. I'll even wear jeans just to insult Blair (see posts below).

New hotspot, Grange Restaurant & Bar at the Citizen Hotel is also partaking - with a set menu of a farm lettuce salad with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and a fig balsamic vinaigrette; porcini mushroom risotto; and a bittersweet chocolate espresso and orange torte. (Check out Blair's review.)

And if you can't check out the Grange during the Dine Downtown week (Jan. 10-16), the restaurant is offering specials for lunch and dinner. A two-course weekday lunch goes for $17 with entrees changing daily such as grilled cheese on Mondays, cioppino on Tuesdays, and fried chicken on Thursdays. A three-course dinner will go for $45 with entrees such as cassoulet on Mondays, whole fish on Fridays and smoke-roasted prime rib on Saturdays.


January 2, 2009
Eat more, save bucks

Economic slowdown, bear market, turmoil. It's grim out there in the world, but eating is something that's non-negotiable. Save cash by knowing where to go and when. I wrote a story listing some cheap eats back in September. Who can beat dollar sushi?

Inspired by this, reader Darrel Ng put together a Web site listing about 50 happy hours around Sacramento, mainly Midtown spots. Search by day - so that, say you're meeting a friend after work on Wednesday, you can hit up $2 sliders at Dragonfly or $5 mac-and-cheese poppers at GV Hurley's. Check out the site here.

December 26, 2008
It's not what you wear, it's what you eat

Oh Blair. They might do things differently in Maple Leaf country, but this is Sacramento - the home of Sutter's Fort and a stop on the Pony Express route. While the gold panning days are long gone, the pioneer spirit remains and that means everything goes.

I am of the age where jeans always go. In fact, I complain every time I set foot in the dining room at my parents' country club where denim is banned - they allow shorts and tennis socks - complete with a decorative fuzzy ball, but no True Religion jeans?

But really, in an age where inclusiveness is the theme, who cares how people dress as long as they are dining out and appreciating it. And in a sagging economy, I'm just glad they are keeping restaurants in business. Especially as a former server, I can understand being frustrated by a loud and complaining patron. But being more irritated by what he is wearing seems misplaced.

If it's really ruining your dinner though, why not offer to lend him your wool sportcoat? It was Christmas after all.

December 24, 2008
Love and fruitcake

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Reporters love to get calls, e-mails and letters - even those telling us about a typo, errant use of grammar or a missed ingredient in a recipe. It means people are reading and care enough to let us know. But once in awhile, it's more than that. It's a connection, and readers want to tell us how we affected their lives.

Last year, I wrote about fruitcake and the memories that the hated-of-all-holiday-treats elicit for people. The recipe we ran was from a Dixon couple who had made more than 30 pounds of fruitcake every year since 1954, a year into their marriage that would bring six kids, 17 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren on the last count. It got tougher to keep up the fruitcakes over the years, once Coralie Granger became blind and required the use of a wheelchair. But under her direction, and the recipe he would read aloud to her, Leonard Granger would measure, mix and bake - and the tradition continued.

"You can't mix it with the electric mixer," Leonard told me then. "So it's mixing with your arm. And I'm left handed, but when that gets tired, I try my right hand. Then I use my left hand."

It was a sad day in late November when I received an obituary in the mail. Leonard's note said the tradition had been broken since Coralie was in the hospital when they normally would make the fruitcake, and then she died Nov. 11, 2008. She was 73. But Coralie was happy her recipe ran in the paper last year, even to the chagrin of their children who were never entrusted with it, Leonard said.

I wrote a card offering my condolences and hoping that Leonard would keep up the fruitcake tradition, if only in Coralie's memory. And I was incredibly touched today when I got a package in the mail, complete with two fruitcakes and a note saying that he went out and bought all the ingredients and got "Coralie's memory fruitcake" in the mail this year, if a little later than usual.

Here is their recipe:

Fruitcake
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
Makes 10 fruitcakes

This is Leonard and Coralie Granger's foolproof recipe for fruitcake. Since 1954, the Dixon couple have made more than 30 pounds of fruitcake each year, and they swear their friends and relatives who receive it as gifts beg for more.

Ingredients
1 pound butter
1 pound dark brown sugar
12 eggs
1 cup honey
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup brandy *
5 cups flour *
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pound mixed glazed fruit
1 pound dates
1 pound raisins
1 pound walnuts
3 large bottles maraschino cherries

* Additional amounts of these items are needed.

Instructions
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and beat well. Add honey, molasses and brandy; mix well.

In a large bowl, sift flour and spices together and add to batter.

Separately, coat the mixed glazed fruit, dried fruit, nuts and cherries in additional flour. Add to batter.

Mix well and then divide into 10 1-pound pans.

Place a pan of water in bottom of oven to keep cakes from browning. Bake at 300 degrees for 55 minutes, then check to see if a toothpick or knife inserted in middle of cake comes out clean. If not, check again every 15 minutes until the toothpick or knife comes out clean.

Cool overnight and then remove from pans and wrap in cheesecloths soaked in additional brandy. Place in airtight container with more brandy-soaked towels on top.

Allow to soak for two weeks or longer.

December 16, 2008
Tidbits

Unemployment is at record highs. The economy is in the worst shape since the Great Depression. And my dog chewed up all the decorations she could reach on my Christmas tree.

But we all still have to eat, right? This fact of life is why I'll be joining restaurant critic Blair Anthony Robertson in helping wine writer Chris Macias blog here on Appetizers. I'll be bringing all that I know and have yet to learn about food - where it comes from, how to make it at home, and its quirky histories (Did you know the birth place of cioppino is not Italy but San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf? All the Italian fishermen would make a big stew at the end of the day and each would "chip in" what he could.).

So you know a little about me, maybe I should reveal some of my beliefs: Dessert without chocolate is simply wasted calories; it's always a good time for pizza; Thanksgiving turkeys should be stuffed with Chinese sticky rice, not Stove Top; nothing cures a cold like my mother's homemade seaweed soup or spicy tofu soup.

Now do you think it might be a new trend to have a bare bottom third of a Christmas tree?



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