Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dawson's Delights with Wine Pairing Dinners

I bumped into a few familiar faces the other night when I was attending the monthly wine pairing dinner at Dawson's. Turns out that they are regulars at these prix fixe feasts. I knew my friend Kristy, AKA Cavegrrl was a regular with her boyfriend Andy. I also ran into Barbara and her extended family. She used to be a coworker at CalPERS but it turns out we are both retirees, now that I just worked my last day. 

It was nice to be able to be able to celebrate my last day of State work. I had just had my retirement cake a few hours earlier. I brought along another coworker to enjoy this four course meal. As a disclosure, I was here on the invitation of Dawson's and Hyatt and so the evening was comped. 

The wine dinners are monthly affairs. The cost is $79 and includes valet parking. This night the winery featured was Alpha Omega Wines from St. Helena. August's winery will be Silver Oak.

Here are the courses with photos courtesy of Dawson's.

Sun Gold & Heirloom Tomato Salad
with compressed cucumber and red onion relish

Hot Smoked Duck Breast
with fried hen egg/pickled red scallions

Mangalitsa Pork Tenderloin
with house smoked bacon/sweet corn puree
poached yellow peach/wilted mustard greens, blackberry reduction

Cow Girl Creamery Pierce Pt Cheese
local strawberries/pistachio sable

After dinner the wines were offered for sale. Based on the price of the bottles, I'd say the dinner is an excellent deal since you get to drink as much as you like of each paired wine. 

Don't hold me to this, but I was told that dinner alone, without wine, is $45. That's for those non-drinkers like myself. 

As some final notes, Chef Jason Poole will be one of the chefs at my Have an Offal Day event on August 10th.  His offal is already brining. He is also one of the two chefs heading this year's Tower Bridge dinner during Farm to Fork in September. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

San Diego Favorite, Sammy's, Arrives Locally

People who have lived in San Diego or Las Vegas will know, and even love, Sammy's Woodfired Pizza restaurants. For many of us in Sacramento, it's an unfamiliar brand.

Last month I received an email inviting me to a media dinner at Northern California's first Sammy's that is located in the brand new Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights. My first inclination was, "why do I want to go to some restaurant in a card room?" Luckily I did just a little bit of research first. As I read the press release I caught upon the fact that there are 20 Sammy's locations throughout Southern California and Las Vegas.  And looking a little closer, it seemed that it was a pretty popular brand at that.

I emailed back the PR firm and asked them, "Why is this first Northern California location going into a card room?!" It turns out that the owners of Stones Gambling Hall are from the San Diego area, love Sammy's, and know Sami himself. 

Since 1989, Sammy’s has been firing up award-winning cuisine that has taken Southern California and Nevada by storm. Recognized for its innovative, Healthy Global Cuisine, Sammy’s Restaurants offer menu selections made with local, organic and nutritionally balanced ingredients. Sammy’s at Stones Gambling Hall is the first Northern California location, featuring a modern touch on classic tavern fare, paired carefully with a local brew list and hand-crafted cocktails, making it an instant crowd favorite.

Sami Ladeki opened the first Sammy's Woodfired Pizza in 1989 in La Jolla. That means they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. Back then he was one of the first to bring Italian style wood fired pizza to the dining scene. He continued to expand and open more restaurants and add international favorites to the menu.

This event was, as I said, a media dinner that was overseen by Sami and his Executive Chef. Therefore, it cannot be considered a review so much as an introduction.  Who's to say the quality will be the same under the local staff?  We certainly hope so. And my San Diego transplant friends are hoping so too. When I Facebooked that I was at Sammy's, my friend replied, "I love that place!"

Here are a few of the menu items we tried. One entree that I didn't get a picture of and have to mention is the Pad Thai.  I judge Thai restaurants by their Pad Thai and this was better than many Thai restaurants serve! It had such a great amount of ingredients with a nice kick of heat that I ended up taking the leftovers home. Luckily it was one of the last items and everyone was so full that there was a lot left. Yum!

One more thing. Since it is in a gambling hall, this restaurant will be open 24/7 with limited late night menu.

Organic Arugula & Pear Pizza

love me some burrata!!

Burrata & Pesto Pizza

Organic Kale Salad

Mini Duck Tacos

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Southern Chow Chow Recipe

Chow chow is a Southern relish that is known for including green tomatoes and a variety of other vegetables. It's one of those recipes that every family makes their own version.  I happen to like the extra crunch factor with corn.

What can chow chow be used for besides the common uses on burgers and hot dogs? Here are a few great ideas:
  • Mix it into tuna, chicken, or egg salads.
  • Use it in deviled eggs.
  • Mix it with mayo for a tartar sauce for seafood.
  • Mix it with sour cream or Greek yogurt for a dip.
  • Serve it on a charcuterie or cheese board.
  • Serve it with meats and seafood.
  • Mix it into your ground beef for burgers, meat balls, and meatloafs.

This recipe almost made 8 pts (1/2 pint jars shown)

Southern Chow Chow with Corn

  • 3 medium onions 
  • 1/2 medium head of cabbage 
  • 2-3 medium green tomatoes 
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
  • 6 ears worth of corn kernels, cut from the cobs
  • 1/4 cup coarse salt
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 T mustard seed
  • 1/2 T celery seed
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • Chop all vegetables, except for corn and jalapenos, using food processor. Place chopped vegetables, jalapenos, and corn in a glass bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Cover and let stand overnight.
    Place the vegetables in large colander and rinse well with cold water.
    Drain thoroughly and place in large stockpot. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables. Heat to boiling and then boil 4 minutes. Ladle into clean pint jars which have been sterilized in boiling water. Seal with sterilized lids according to manufacturers instructions. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sac Chefs Heading to Heritage Fire Napa

If you are a carnivore there is one place to be on August 3rd. That would be Heritage Fire Napa at the Charles Krug Winery. Heritage Fire is put on by Cochon 555

from 2010 event
During this meat fest you get to dine on all sorts of proteins: rabbit, lamb, pork, beef, sturgeon, chicken, and more! All done over outdoor fire pits watched by over 20 of the best chefs out of the Napa valley and Sacramento. 

In fact, we need a Sacramento contingent to show up for two reasons.  First, to support our local chefs. Michael Thiemann from Mother  (he needs a break from veggies) and Michael Tuohy from Block Butcher Bar will be there.  Also representing Sacramento, Randall Selland from The Kitchen with help from John Griffiths and  Ravin Patel from Ella.  Finally, there is ex-Sacramento chef Kelly McCown. We all remember Kelly from his days at Ella, but now he's at Goose & Gander in St. Helena. 

The other is that Michael Tuohy and I were talking and we think they need to bring Cochon 555 to Sacramento next year.  The Cochon events are all about pork - 5 pigs, 5 chefs, 5 wineries. You can read about my visit to Cochon Napa last March. We both noticed that the attendance was lower.  Also, there is another Cochon event in San Francisco each year.  So why not spread them a little farther apart distance-wise and have San Francisco and Sacramento? We all know how much Sacramento loves pork because we go crazy with Baconfest in January and BLT week in July. To me that shows that we are capable of filling a Cochon Sacramento. 

There's plenty more to Heritage FireIn addition to the meat-laden feast, the event includes animal theatre cooking, butcher demonstrations, lawn games, live music and the opportunity to learn directly from the farmers and producers behind the great wines, brews and ciders of the event. Bring a cooler so that you can purchase some of the butchered meats to take home. Money raised from the butcher sales will benefit the students of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Come join me and our chefs and represent, Sacramento!

To purchase tickets, visit

Disclosure: I received a press pass for this post.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Goat Milk Ice Cream - Laloo's

Any good meal ends with a great dessert. So it seems to make sense that we end Goat Week with some goat milk ice cream. 

I was lucky enough to be sent a shipment of Laloo's Goat's Milk Ice Cream from Petaluma, Ca. They currently have four flavors: Vanilla Snowflake, Rumplemint, Capraccino, and Dark Chocolate. I hope they come out with more flavors soon because I'm more of a fruit flavored or swirl girl. 

As I mentioned earlier this week, goat milk is often an alternative for people that suffer lactose intolerance because the lactose level is much lower than cow milk. Therefore, after I tasted each one, I gave a couple of pints to Susan to taste test since she suffers from lactose intolerance. She was thrilled to help.

Even better is that Laloo's ice cream has about half the calories of the equivalent amount of Haagen Daz or Ben & Jerry's! Plus a lot less sugar and fat!

Susan and I agreed, the flavors were wonderful. I particularly liked that the slight goat milk flavor actually accentuated the vanilla for me. The chocolate is extremely chocolatey, made with Scharffen Berger's 77% dark chocolate. The ice cream is easy to scoop (not rock hard) and nice and creamy.  They were even kind enough to send a couple of pint coozies to keep the pints insulated while not freezing your hands when you eat.

So, as we end Goat Week, please be sure to go out and try some goat milk products. They are better for you than cow's milk, and really tasty too. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Redwood Hill Farm: Part 2 - The Creamery

Last post we learned a bit about goat raising from Scott Bice of Redwood Hill Farm. Now it's time to see what happens to all that organic goat milk that is collected each day from his farm and five others that Redwood Hill Farm works with. It all gets transported to their solar powered creamery on the outskirts of Sebastopol.

Goat milk products are becoming more and more popular as lactose intolerance, like so many other food allergies lately, is increasing in the population. Goat milk has lactose, but a lot less of it and so it can be tolerated by many people who can no longer drink cow milk. Goat milk happens to be closest in structure to human milk. The fat globules are smaller which aids in digestion and in a recent study of infants allergic to cow milk found that 93% of them were able to drink goat milk with absolutely no allergic reaction.

photo: Redwood Hill Farm
As early as 1972 Redwood Hill Farm started to branch out into new products with kefir, or drinkable yogurt. They now have three flavors of kefir and five flavors of yogurt. In 1990 they started into cheeses with a goat milk feta. Since then they have added four flavors of chevre, two cheddars, and five other types of cheese: Cameo, Camellia, California Crottin, Tetra, and Bucheret.

For my tour of the creamery I am met by Rich Martin, the Chief Marketing Officer. He's familiar with dairies as he worked previously at Strauss Family Creamery. 
installation of reverse osmosis system

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Redwood Hill Farm - Part 1 The Farm

There is no sweeter thing than playing with baby animals.  Especially if those babies are as young as four days old. 

I am visiting Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol. Redwood Hill is the first Certified Humane goat dairy in the country and is the where the goats are bred and raised for Redwood Hill Farm goat milk products:  cheeses, yogurts, and kefir. And it happens to be birthing season! Baby goats galore!

4 days old!
Redwood Hill Farm started back in 1968 when Kenneth and Cynthia Bice bought it so that they could get "back to the land" with their nine children. The children soon started to raise and show goats for their local 4-H and quickly they had a goat farm. Eventually the milk was sold to health food stores and the family started producing kefir. Eldest daughter Jennifer took over the farm and business and started to expand it by introducing cheese products. Now RHF includes not only the expanded farm property, but also a creamery/factory to produce the goat milk products, and a new company, Green Valley Organic, that makes lactose free yogurt, sour cream, and kefir.

In Part 2 I will talk about my visit to the creamery, but it all has to start with the goats. There are about 300 of them at the farm consisting of four different breeds. Along with farming the goats for their milk, Redwood Hill also takes them to national shows and often wins awards for best examples of the breeds. Scott Bice, the youngest sibling, gave me a tour of the farm and points out the four breeds...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Jamaica & Phillipines - Island Food

I realized that this week was island food week since I had eaten at a Jamaican restaurant one night and a Filipino one the next. I don't feel I can rightly post full blog reviews of either one since I've only eaten at each once. This is a double quickie review of both. Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to going back to each one.

Sari Sari Filipino Buffet

Sari Sari Filipino Buffet on Urbanspoon

We'll start with the Filipino because that's part of my heritage. I've mentioned before that I am half Filipino, but my mom never made anything but adobo, lumpia, and pancit. My Filipino culinary education is seriously lacking. While I've visited the Philippines many times as a child, I never got to know the other traditional dishes such as kare kare, sinigang, dinuguan, etc. It's also caused me problems when dining at Filipino restaurants because it means I've sometimes ordered the wrong thing trying to get something I was familiar with,  or not ordering things because I don't want to waste money by ordering something and then not liking it.

That's the beauty of a buffet!  Here you can sample about 20 dishes and not have to worry about wasting money.  The buffet at Sari Sari is only $8.99 for all-you-can-eat.

Let me start by telling you where it is because the address really doesn't coordinate well with where it actually is.  The address is 7909 Bruceville Road in South Sac, but if you go by your GPS, you'll be going around in circles, like I did the first time I tried to find it.  So let me tell you better directions.  There's a strip mall with a Big Lots at the corner of Valley Hi and Wyndham.  Go around to the right side (the Wyndham side) and that's where you will find it.  Why it has a Bruceville Road address, doesn't make sense to me.

The place is actually quite large and I'm kinda betting that on the weekends it gets full.  I was there on a Wednesday night, 7 pm, and so it was pretty quiet. One of the features that made me feel like I was back in Manila was that there was a hand washing sink in the dining room behind the buffet. A lot of times you eat with your hands to pick around all the bones and bits. Many restaurants that serve traditional Filipino food will have an actual bank of sinks on a wall of the dining room for patrons to wash their hands.  I don't know if Sari Sari intentionally put theirs in for this reason, but it brought back memories for me.

The buffet has a lot of items and there is a little label above each one. Unfortunately, it only names the item and doesn't describe it. Kare kare is oxtail stew, but non-Filipinos won't know that.  Or that dinuguan is pork in pigs' blood. Maybe in that case you don't want to know, but still, I would have liked a little bit of description, even if only to say chicken versus pork. 

I was there with two others that were not familiar with Filipino cuisine. All of us agreed we would come back. The food was hot and flavorful, as Filipino food tends to be. Filipino food does a lot of mixing of flavors - sour with salty is a big one. I was able to try the dinuguan and found that I liked it. It had always been a scary dish to me because of the blood and something I wasn't willing to purchase a whole order of. Here I was able to sample it and discover it wasn't so bad. Sadly they did not have the pancit or adobo.

slightly mixed halo halo
Drinks are extra as is the traditional dessert halo halo.  Halo halo means "mix mix" and is a dessert with mixtures of shaved ice and evaporated milk to which are added various boiled sweet beans, jello and fruits, and served in a tall glass parfait style. Sometimes there is also ice cream and flan. You mix it all up and enjoy.

If you are an adventurous eater who wants to sample many dishes at once, then give Sari Sari a try. 


Taste of Jamaica (Closed already)

Taste of Jamaica Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I had a Groupon that was expiring this week and that's why I made a mad dash to Taste of Jamaica on Tuesday. I've got too many expired Groupons and wanted to get my full money's worth from this one. 

ToJ is located at 3010 Florin Road. It's not the best area of town and a pretty lousy location if you ask me. But I'll bet the lease is cheap. The place is large because it has a dining side and a bar side. Don't expect it to be attractive either. It's just a basic place with a few Jamaican pictures taped to the wall.

The place has been open for about six months and the reviews seem to be a love it or hate it variety. I was therefore a bit wary. The owner was a friendly guy and helped me decide on the jerk chicken, of course, and the shrimp curry.

I'm no expert on jerk chicken and it seems to me that it's one of those dishes where every sister, mother, and uncle has a different take on a family recipe. All I can tell you is that the chicken was moist and well marinated. Not really spicy, but good.

I was more impressed with the flavors of the shrimp curry and ate the whole plate up while the jerk chicken went as to-go. My only complaints were that the shrimp were the small size, like in the 60 count range, and the price was high. The seafood dishes here appear to be the most expensive.  Considering the size of the shrimp, I would have felt better paying $10, $12 max, versus the $15.95 I was charged. Still, the dish was delicious.

Both dishes came with sides, including a stewed cabbage that was pretty spicy on its own. The plantains were sweet and nicely caramelized.

I'm interested in going back to try the oxtail stew, dumplings, and more.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Homemade Almond Milk

Almond milk and a blueberry smoothie

Some would argue that it's just simpler to buy a carton of almond milk at the store. But they've never seen how simple it is to make almond milk at home. It's really not so much effort for a fresher, healthier version. The steps below will look like a lot, but in actuality, they probably take no more than 10 minutes total.

First let's discuss why you should make it versus buy it.

Cartoned almond milk is not just almonds and water. There are extra ingredients to thicken and stabilize the milk. Such things as locust bean gum, gellan gum, sunflower lecithin, d-Alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E), Zinc gluconate, Vitamin A palmitate, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D2. Why would you want these additives when you don't need them?

Another reason would be the cost. It really is more cost efficient to just make it as you need it.  In Sacramento you can find raw almonds for $5-10 a pound at the farmers market. That pound of almonds could easily make a gallon+ of almond milk, depending on how thick you like it.

Prepping almonds

There are two things you will need to buy before you begin. Almonds and a paint strainer. Paint strainer? You will need to strain the milk and you could buy a nut bag at a health food store to do that. But it's cheaper and basically the same thing to buy a paint strainer bag from the hardware store. They come in quart and 5 gallon size.  You just need the smaller bag.  I like to take an added step of boiling the bag right before I make my milk to make sure it is sterilized. Also be sure to wash your hands well before squeezing out the milk.

Paint strainer
Making the milk does take a couple of days simply because the first step is soaking the almonds. So step 1 is simply putting the almonds in a bowl or jar and covering with tap water. You leave it out for overnight to 2 days. Apparently the longer the nuts soak, the creamier the milk will be. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Know Your Farmer - Sinclair Family Farm

I love this picture of the sheep and chickens together!
For many people a trip to the farmers market is just a produce oriented grocery run, quickly grabbing the items needed for tonight's supper or this week's juicing. Not many people pay much attention to who is certified organic, who is not, and which farms may practice organic farming, but just couldn't afford to get the certification.  The questions of how produce or livestock are raised require getting to know the farmers and, if you are lucky and able to, a visit to their farm or orchard. 

Sacramento is lucky in that we are within 10-50 miles of hundreds of farms, thus our Farm to Fork Capital designation. Many of these farms do provide opportunities for the public to come and visit for fun with a bit of education combined. Some of the well known farms with visitor days include Capay Organic, Soil Born Farms, and Twin Peaks Orchard. Each of these  provide opportunities to see where and how your produce is grown.

Sinclair Family Farm has a Day on the Farm as well (details at end of post), but their focus is on livestock and showing you an environment where pigs, chickens, sheep, and cattle are being raised in the best way possible.  They raise happy animals.

I was invited to go visit the Sinclair Family Farm in Newcastle. The Sinclairs are not multi-generational farmers with a history spanning 50-100 years. Instead, Karin and Keith got involved with farming first through participating in 4H programs when they were young. Once they met and married, they had children of their own and bought a 15 acre property in Penryn. Soon their children started raising animals for 4H as well. Their daughter, Tina, raised sheep and their son, Matt, raised cattle. Over the years they added more sheep and cattle, bought more property, and then added chickens and pigs.