Friday, January 23, 2015

SusieCakes opens at Pavilions

Got a sweet tooth? Then on Saturday, January 24, you should head over to the grand opening of SusieCakes at the Pavilions shopping center on Fair Oaks Boulevard.

The first SusieCakes was founded by Susan Sarich in 2006 in Southern California. She now has 13 locations, with Sacramento being her latest one in Northern California.

founder Susan Sarich

All of the items are made from scratch daily using only fresh, whole ingredients: butter, milk, eggs, flour.  The recipes were handed down via Sarich's two grandmothers on index cards. There are no preservatives, trans fats, or artificial ingredients.  

All the frostings are buttercreams. They do not use fondants or any of those food coloring printers that print photographs that can be used as transfers on the tops of cakes. All the decorations are done the old fashioned way, via piping and traditional cake decorating techniques. 

The menu stays the same except for a couple of seasonal switches. In the bakery case you'll find at least a dozen cupcake flavors, a pie or two, at least five flavors of cakes, cheesecake, and a variety of puddings, cookies, and bars.

We were given plates for cake tasting. My favorite was the Tropical Coconut which had a light accent of pineapple. 

SusieCakes is not able to name any items as gluten-free as there is likely to be cross contamination in the kitchen, but they do label a few items as made with gluten free ingredients: the peanut butter cookies, the flourless chocolate cake/cupcake, and the vanilla pudding.

Prices range from snack mini-cupcakes and cookies at $2 up to large multi-tiered creations in the hundreds of dollars. Yes, they are happy to make your wedding or party cakes as well.

I asked Sarich how long the cakes are good for and she said for 2-3 days. Asked what happens to unsold items and she said that they get donated to local food banks. 

You will find SusieCakes sort of across the parking lot from Cafe Bernardo at the Pavilions.


564 Pavilions Lane
Pavilions Shopping Center
Sacramento, CA 95825
Tel 916 865 2250
Fax 916 922 2155
Mon-Sat 10am-7pm
Custom Order Inquiries

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm busy at Guest Innovations

My new job has changed their company name from Dinnerwire to Guest Innovations.  That's because we will be moving into bigger digs and adding new restaurant industry products starting next month.  So far we have Dinnerwire for the consumer to search for restaurants and Rezku, a restaurant management and reservation system.

This is keeping me so busy that I haven't been writing many Munchie posts. That's because I'm busy writing blog posts over there.  But they are still great posts, so I'm going to share them here. Keep in mind that they are written for restaurants.

Claim Your Restaurant’s Dinnerwire Profile 
Calorie Counts and Your Restaurant
The Anatomy of a Good Restaurant Website
Planning for the Busiest Days of the Year
Increasing Business on the Slowest Days of the Year
There’s Money in Mocktails
Setting Restaurant Goals for the New Year
Maximizing Restaurant Email Campaigns Part 1
Maximizing Restaurant Email Campaigns Part 2
Put Your Best Dish Forward at Fundraisers
Making the Most of Food Holidays

Friday, January 9, 2015

It's not worth it to drive Lyft and Uber in Sacramento - updated

Update 1/9/15
Today they lowered rates again.  That means from Sept to Nov to now, the rate for midtown to the airport has gone from $33 to $22 to $17.  Totally not worth it anymore. Don't fool yourself. Don't sign up for either company. 

Another example. Ride from the airport to Chico is 83 miles. A driver took it and the fare was $97. But then he had to drive it back empty. Total is 166 miles.  Government mileage rate is 56 cents per mile. That mean's his expense was $104.16.  He actually LOST money on that ride.

Another.  A driver has a regular, weekly ride from Roseville to Emeryville (lucky him!). It used to be $250 and the rider did not complain. In just six months that fare has been lowered all the way to $110 and with Uber there is no tipping feature. That sucks!  And if he doesn't get another fare for the return trip home....

And read this: Hidden Cost of Being an Uber Driver

Original post 11/24/14
As if I don't have enough to do, I decided in August to start driving for Lyft. Not because I need the money, but because I need a social outlet on the weekends. I'm plenty busy during the week, but often get bored on the weekends. And if you haven't figured out by now, I like to stay busy.

I started Labor Day weekend and fell in love with the driving and the socializing. And the money was nice too! Then I went to Seattle for the weekend and when I had returned, Lyft had lowered their rates in Sacramento by 35%.  What once might have been a $150 week went down to $97.50.  So I got pissed and joined Uber.  All was good for a while again until a month ago they dropped their rate by 25%.

Yes, the low rates are great for the consumer and if I was wanting a ride, I'd be loving it. But for the drivers, it's a horrible situation.

During these few months I've met a lot of fellow drivers for both companies and learned that many of them actually drive as their means of support. Some have been unemployed forever due to the economy. Some feel unskilled for anything but driving. There are many other reasons as well, but the meat of the matter is that they depend on driving as a living and the rate cuts have severely impacted that income.

Lyft and Uber both look at drivers as totally disposable.  Grind em up and spit them out and then take on a bunch of newbies.  They don't look at drivers the way they should - as assets that are the faces of their companies. Drivers are who the customers see, not the corporate suits. Happy, good drivers are better than grumpy, crappy drivers. 

And it's not a price war that will find a victor in this war.  It's customer service and marketing. Guess what?  The first person for customer service is the driver!

Both Lyft and Uber keep recruiting drivers.  I often meet people who say, "Oh, I was thinking of signing up too!"  So here are a bunch of thoughts for consideration before driving in Sacramento. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lola's Lounge

When you hear consistently good things about a restaurant, you are tempted to go and check it out for yourself. This was the case for me for Lola's Lounge in old downtown Elk Grove.  Word of mouth had been good and this was the night before BAR's not so enthusiastic review in the Bee came out. I'm glad I ate there before I had read his review.

I've never been in the heart of old town Elk Grove. Like many small towns in the region, there's been an effort to revitalize these downtowns and try to get patrons to support businesses and restaurants in them versus the box stores and strip malls of the cookie cutter development areas. Lola's Lounge occupies a historic old building in the heart of old downtown. My friend told me it's one of those locations that has had a string of unsuccessful businesses in it. The building itself is a two-story brick structure and inside the restaurant has the bare brick walls and high ceilings. The left side is the bar area and the right side is the dining area, the sides divided by a low wall. 

The menu is made up of mostly small plates, or tapas style. There are a few entrees, but these were not much bigger portions than the small plates. My friend and I opted to share some items and ordered the following:

The special small plate for the night was a lobster roll. It consisted of a sushi-type roll of chopped lobster salad rolled in a wrap of avocado slices. I liked how light and fresh it was with the thinly sliced avocado carefully used as the wrapper.

Our other cold, seafood appetizer came out at the same time - the ceviche. This was a shrimp ceviche in a spiced tomato sauce. The shrimp was balanced out by the crunch of chopped cucumber. The large bowl of ceviche was all served with a generous portion of tortilla chips to eat it with. I thought it was a great value and pretty filling for $9.  I'd order this for lunch for myself.

I insisted on getting the empanadas because I really like meat pies of all nationalities. These had a shredded beef, hard boiled egg, and olives. The crust was blistered from being deep fried and they came to the table nice and hot. I liked the beef and crust, but would have preferred less egg and no olive. (That is only because I am not an olive fan and think their flavor was overpowering.)

We had selected one hot entree that came out along with the empanadas. The El Gaucho Beef was sliced and served with a cilantro chimichurri and small roasted new potatoes. Both of us really liked the chimichurri and wiped up every bit of it. The beef was cooked perfectly to a medium rare, as requested, and was sliced to make it tender. 

We liked all our items, some more than others. I worried, though, about the menu. How often was it going to change?  It's not a large menu and my friend had already been a month before and eaten some of the same items. The only special was a soup and the lobster roll.  I could see the menu getting rather boring if you came back often enough before it got changed. 

Overall, I'd recommend it. The service was attentive and friendly, the food tasty and served the right temperature, and the room was not so noisy that we had to shout to have a conversation. If they change up the menu more often and keep fresh and tasty tapas coming, they may be the success that this building has been waiting for. It's these sort of small, independent, different cuisine restaurants that the burbs need.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Asian Sweet Treats Part 2 - Frozen Delights

Back in 2012 I wrote a post about Asian Treats that could be found around Sacramento. In the last year there has been an explosion of new Asian frozen treat places.

Often it seems like Sacramento is one of the last to the party in terms of some food trends. In this case, we are the leader and these Asian treats will become more in the mainstream market - not just a favorite with Asians, but with anyone with a sweet tooth. Asian snack food chains Quickly and Lollicup have been spreading, so it's easy to imagine that more of these Asian snack trends will as well. 

courtesy of Vampire Penquin
The first one was Vampire Penquin, which opened in Little Saigon and quickly became popular as word spread of their new treats.  VP was not shaving ice and flavoring it, but instead making flavored ice milks and then shaving those. The result is a shaved ice snow that they then topped with things like boba, pearls, jellies, beans, and fruit. After the success of the first location, they are already opening four others and will surely conquer the rest of the State in quick order. 

courtesy of Chelo
Next on the scene was Chelo, located in the Filipino mall at 611 Mack Road.  This is a Filipino eatery which features silog meals (meat/rice/egg plates) and a large variety of halo halo. Halo halo means "mix mix" and is the Filipino frozen treat where a parfait is made with crushed ice, ice cream, evaporated milk, beans, fruits, etc. It's served in a tall glass in layers and then you take a long spoon to mix mix the whole concoction together before eating. At Chelo they serve a variety of halo halos instead of just one standard. 

courtesy of Snobites

Two more frozen treat places are Snowbee Tea Station and Snobites.  They serve boba teas, shave ice, and shave snow.  They add Taiwanese milk toast as well. 

I enjoyed one of the creations with the milk toast over at Snobites.  You can order a single or double slice, or if you are really hungry or willing to share, get a "brick", which is about a half of loaf of milk bread that's been hallowed out and filled with ice cream and treats. I talked to the owner who told me that the milk bread is a sweet, dense bread that is eaten for dessert in Taiwan. They toast it, which adds some time to your order, so be patient. It is served with ice cream, fruit, toppings, and syrup. At Snobites they even add macarons. 

That's quite a few frozen dessert places, all different, to open in the last year.  I see this as a sign and won't be surprised to see more of these Asian frozen treats spreading across the country.

You might also like to read my post, Not all Hawaiian Shave Ice is Created Equal

Friday, December 19, 2014

Finally! Dinner at the Movies - Studio Movie Grill

Studio Movie Grill on Urbanspoon

For ages I have been wanting Sacramento to get one of those theaters where you get to dine while watching the movie.  I was thinking more like the eclectic places like Foreign Cinema in San Francisco or Five Star Theater in Glendale. The new Studio Movie Grill has taken the concept mainstream and is opening up theaters across the country. Ours is in Rocklin at I-80 and Sierra College Blvd. 

The VIP event was last night and I was lucky enough to be invited. My first surprise upon entering was to NOT see the usual popcorn/snack bar. In fact, there is no snack bar at all.  What you do see is a full bar.  There's booth tables and bar seating for hanging out and socializing.

We were served drinks, appetizers, and there was a small 2-man band playing. Then there was the ribbon cutting with local movie-loving celeb Mark S. Allen. 

My friend and I chose to see Night at the Museum and got our seats early to snag good center seats. You can see the tables in the top picture that swing out. Each has a "call" button for service.  What I really liked was the seating.  The seats are large, comfy, and with lots of arm room.  There's no fear about knocking elbows or fighting for the armrest with your strange neighbor. There is also a lot of legroom. This is because the servers need to be able to walk to serve you without much danger of tripping over feet or purses.

I was also impressed with the menu. It was quite extensive and reasonably priced. A woman next to us summed it up well-- you normally get a large popcorn and a couple of sodas and you are at $12-$20 already.  Here you can order a burger for about $10.  I'd rather have the burger. 

The menu had appetizers (and this is where you order the popcorn, btw), salads, sandwiches, burgers, entrees, and desserts (where candy falls under). We were allowed to order an appetizer and entrees.  

We selected the ceviche lettuce cups for the appetizer and received 3 loaded lettuce cups. The ceviche was fresh tasting and good and the iceberg lettuce was super crisp. I really liked it. I also liked that it and our drinks arrived very quickly - like under 5 minutes.

The movie started and it was a much longer wait for our food. For some reason ours seemed to be one of the last served although we were close to the beginning of ordering.  I had bbq ribs and fries. Good, but I'm now thinking finger food such as lettuce cups and ribs is kinda touchy for in the dark. My friend ordered the pork chop and ate with knife and fork.

My assessment of the food is that it's on par with an Applebee's or a Chili's.  It's good, made to order, and a good value. It's nothing fancy, but what do you really expect from a movie theater?

early seaters
I had wondered how it would be to hear people eating around me, but that was a non-issue, at least this time and with these neighbors. You could end up with some slob seated next to you.  I also wondered about the servers coming through while the movie was showing. They have to crouch low and do a lot of squatting, but it turned out to not be too noticeable either.

As to Night in the Museum? It was nice and cute, but for a comedy, I didn't laugh once. 

Overall, I'm excited that Studio Movie Grill is here, just that for me it's too far away. Hopefully they'll open another close by someday. I think it's a great option for having the same price movie ticket, better and more food options, and for comfortable seating. Go check them out. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Brunswick Stew and a Giveaway

Never heard of Brunswick Stew? Maybe because it's a Southern dish and not seen on many menus. It's a stew filled with vegetables and lots of meat. In fact, that's the major distinguishing factor, lots of shredded meat, making it really thick. It's also a great recipe because you can do it in a slow cooker. 

Another interesting fact is that it was often made with small game such as squirrel, rabbit, and possum. But for those not into game, you can use chicken and pork. For the one pictured here, I used a rabbit and some chicken together. You can also alter the vegetables and the type of beans. I don't like lima beans and so I used cannelini beans instead. 

This recipe was perfect for me to use another bag of Tasteful Selections ruby red potatoes. They are the perfect size for this stew.

Tasteful Selections is sponsoring Katie’s Krops once again for another growing season. Katie’s Krops is a non-profit organization that empowers youth across the country to grow a healthy end to hunger in their communities, one vegetable garden at a time.

Tasteful Selections  potatoes can be found at Whole Foods, Nugget, Raley's, and Bel Air markets.

Brunswick Stew

1 teaspoon of oil

1/2 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
3 pounds of boneless chicken (thighs, breasts or both)
1 can of cannelini beans
1 can of corn
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 large onion, diced
1 pound of baby new potatoes, halved
2 Tablespoons of fish sauce
2 Tablespoons of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups of chicken broth 

On a plate mix together flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat them. 

Add the ingredients to the slow cooker in this order:  oil, dredged chicken, vegetables, then the fish sauce, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, thyme, bay leaf, and finally the broth.

Set your slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours. 

Optional: This stew should really have shredded meat, so it pays to take the time to pull out the chicken, remove the bones, shred and then put back into the stew and stir. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Krusteaz Blogger Bake-Off - Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Biscotti

While some people eat biscotti year round, I tend to associate it with the holidays and gift giving. Now that it's December, biscotti has been on my mind. Couple that with the cold weather, you also start to think about traditional comfort foods for cold, rainy days, like chili. That's why savory biscotti came to mind.

Disclosure: Krusteaz sent me some of their gluten-free mixes to try out and this recipe is an entry in their BLOGGER GLUTEN FREE BAKE-OFF CONTEST.

I decided to break out the Krusteaz Gluten-Free Honey Cornbread Mix. I had half a block of leftover cheddar cheese and some frozen jalapenos from the summer. I figured that would make the perfect biscotti to eat with a bowl of chili.  Of course you can switch the cheese, perhaps use a jack instead. It's all up to what you have around. 

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Biscotti
prep time: 10 mins
baking time: 45-50 mins
difficulty: easy
yield: 10-20 biscotti

1 box of Krusteaz Gluten-Free Honey Cornbread Mix
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup of jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup of butter, cold and cut into cubes
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the cornbread mix, cheese, and jalapenos into a food processor and pulse to mix. 

Add the cold butter cubes and pulse a couple of times to cut in the butter.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and oil. Add to the cornbread mixture in the processor and pulse several times until the mixture is thoroughly mixed and comes together.  

Remove mixture from the processor onto a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Form the mixture into a rectangle of about 3-4 inches wide and about 10 inches long. 

Bake the biscotti for 20 minutes or until it feels firm and the outer surface turns a pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

After it has cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the biscotti into pieces 1/2 inch thick. 

Take the slices and lay them cut side down onto fresh parchment paper lined baking sheets. Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Turn each biscotti piece over and bake an additional 10 minutes. 

Remove from oven and cool on racks.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cookie Exchanges - 20 Years and Counting

Plateful of Christmas CookiesImage via Wikipedia

I've been seeing cookie exchanges being mentioned a lot lately. I've been hosting them on and off twenty years now and so I definitely have a set of rules that I think work out really well.  Most of the time I've done these at my workplace where you can have as many as 20 people participating. It can get a bit unruly. Sure, there are plenty of ways to host, but this is what works for me.

The Two Basic Rules

1) Your contribution must be homemade, made from scratch. Shortcutting it with brownie mixes or slice and bake cookies just won't cut it in my world.

2) Festive cookies only. Which really means... no chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, or rice krispie treats allowed. I'm not interested in a cookie that I can get any time of the year at any bake sale or coffee counter. It should be something you only make once or twice a year that is associated with the holidays or special occasions.

How It All Works

I divide people into teams of eight people. That means that each person must make a total of four dozen cookies. You can vary the team sizes, but you want to keep it manageable for the participants. You don't want to ask them to have to bake eight dozen cookies - they wouldn't want to do it!

They make individual gift plates or bags with six cookies in each. They can provide the recipe if they wish, but it is not required. Some people do have their special, family recipes, so I don't push it. I've also asked people who want to to submit their recipes to me a week in advance by email. That way I can put together a little cookie book to give everyone the day of the exchange.

On the day of the exchange, each team swaps plates/bags so that you go home with eight different kinds of cookies. Now this does mean that you have one that is your own submission. Most of the time we take our own plates and donate them for eating there, on the spot. That way people can sample cookies from other teams.

Other Methods

There are other methods of doing cookie exchanges. For instance, everyone brings their plate of cookies and you set them out buffet-like. Each person goes down the line and takes one or two of each cookie. The reason I don't like this style is that people often want to go home with their cookies to share with their families. If there is only one of Sara's Kris Kringle balls, then my spouse/child won't get to try it or there could be fights among siblings.

Cookie exchanges are a lot of fun and the rules can be altered to fit your agenda. With holidays and cookies paired together, you can't help but be in a festive mood.

To see my post from my cookie exchange in 2008, click here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Filipino Caldereta (Beef Stew w/ Liver Sauce) done Sous Vide

I'm not well versed in my own heritage regarding Filipino food. I know the basics: lumpia, adobo, and pancit.  This recipe for Caldereta is one I did not grow up on, but have had to discover on my own as an adult.

For those unfamiliar with Filipino dishes, there is a complexity of flavors in each dish. Filipino food is not spicy, but instead relies of the blending of salty, sour, sweet, and umami in rather unique combinations. Vinegar is used a lot to give a tang to the dish. 

Another fact is that Filipinos love offal. They have no problem eating nose to tail including the oink. In this dish, there is a liver pate added in which definitely adds that liver taste, but this can be optional for those that don't care for it. 

Use whatever vegetables and meat you like. The stew's background is to be made with goat meat, but you'll most often find it this days with beef.  But you can use pork and even chicken if you choose. 

Usually the stew is simmered for 2 hours to tenderize the beef. I started by tenderizing the beef first by cooking it sous vide, and then assembling the rest of the ingredients.  The beef was wonderfully tender and the flavors didn't suffer from the difference in cooking methods. 

Check out the Cyber Monday SousVide Supreme special:


1.5 pounds of stew beef cut into 1" cubes
1/2 cup of vinegar
6 whole peppercorns, crushed
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, sliced
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 green pepper, sliced
1/2 red pepper, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of hot sauce (Tabasco or Sriracha)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons oil
1 8 ounce can of peas
3 ounces liver spread/pate

Marinate the beef in the vinegar, peppercorns, and garlic for 2 hours. Drain.

Fill the SousVide Supreme with water and heat to 130F.  While it's heating up, place marinated beef into a food pouch, vacuum and seal.  Cook in the water bath for 3 hours. When done, remove from the water bath.

Heat a Tablespoon of oil in a skillet on medium high. Saute the onions until soft. Add the cooked beef to the skillet and add the tomato sauce, bay leaf, salt, sugar, and hot water. Bring to a simmer. 

Add red and green peppers and hot sauce. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add liver pate and green peas. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve over rice.