Thursday, August 28, 2014

These Waffles Are Out of the Box

Korean fried chicken and waffles
We all know the phrase "out of the box thinking" whereby you think of new and innovative ways to approach a problem or idea. To say that Waffle Experience is out of the box definitely refers to their taking of waffles to a whole new level than just breakfast. It can also refer to the fact that we aren't talking about Eggo toaster waffles either.

No. At Waffle Experience the waffle universe has been expanded to a whole new level...even beyond just the savory and sweet distinctions. The owners are making you think of waffles in a new and exciting way. In fact, in a minor way, they want you to think of waffles as just a crater-filled piece of bread and, like bread, can be used in every meal of the day as a super versatile ingredient.

All this waffling started between two Marine veterans. Like so many military personnel, Jeff Belaski and Michael Donoho developed a brotherly bond that has stretched for 30 years. After their military stints, Michael started cooking and eventually ended up at the Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton, Florida. He's even cooked alongside some famous names: alongside Iron Chef Morimoto, Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, David Burke, Charlie Trotter, and Julia Childs.

Michael called up his buddy Jeff and sprang his idea - a waffle restaurant. But not some House of Pancakes type waffle place. No. Something bigger.

Waffle Experience is it and although less than a month open, it's already creating quite the buzz. Currently open just for breakfast through lunch, they will eventually open for dinner too.

Jeff sat down with me to talk about their plans...and they are many.

All of the ingredients are fresh, organic, farm-to-fork. In fact, they don't even have a soda machine and instead serve only all natural sodas. They've even asked the landlord if they can have a small empty dirt patch on the property to start their own garden and are also thinking of bee hives on the roof.

Each morning the waffle batter is made from scratch. This is the yeast risen Belgian style waffle batter that they let rise for two days.  Michael will split the dough for sweet versus savory waffles.  He will then take some and add sweet or savory ingredients. For instance, cocoa waffles, rosemary infused, cheese and jalapeno.

Here's a few examples of what they currently offer:
Jimmy the Greek

Jimmy the Greek: A fresh herb waffle topped with a farm fresh egg, feta cheese, dolmades, olives, sun dried tomatoes, arugula, micro basil, savory onion jam, aged balsamic drizzle, and vine tomatoes

Smor'tella (seen above): Cocoa waffle with Nutella, bananas foster, toasted marshmallow, graham cracker crumbs, and Nutella rum syrup

Cheeses Gone Wild: Sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, Fontina, Swiss, applewood smoked bacon, kale, heirloom tomato fennel confit, roasted garlicky basil aioli, caramelized leek waffles

Strawberry Fields: Lardon studded waffle with organic strawberries, applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese, strawberry cream cheese, arugula, candied almonds, and a balsamic glaze

Yes, there's even a burger, served with waffles as the bun.
Actually, of the four I've described, all but the Smor'tella will be on special for their Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week menu from Sept 13 - 28.

They are hoping to get everyone up to speed quickly so that they can open for dinner. And the dinner menu will be more formal, sort of like Mother does for dinner service. Dinner will feature things like lamb chops, duck confit, seafood, and more with the waffles taking a minor role on the plate or maybe not at all. Jeff says that they could up just being "the bread basket" component of dinner.

Because they are veterans, all military, veterans, and first responders get a discount on their orders.

You can find Waffle Experience at 4391 Gateway Park Blvd in Natomas. Currently open  T-S from 8am-3pm

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chow Chow Deviled Eggs

Back in July, when sweet corn was just coming out, I made a batch of chow chow, a Southern relish that often has corn and green tomatoes. I knew I would want to eventually make a batch of deviled eggs.

Well, here they are. They are some of the best deviled eggs I've ever had and only have a couple of ingredients.

Chow Chow Deviled Eggs

6 hard boiled eggs, split in half
2 T of mayonnaise
1/3 cup of chow chow
1/8 t salt

Scoop the yolks into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the mayonnaise, chow chow, and salt. Mix well until the mixture is nice and smooth. Scoop teaspoonfuls into the yolk voids in the egg whites. Sprinkle with a bit of paprika for color. Chill for an hour before serving.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If Wings Be Your Thing - Sactown Wings

I cannot think of one friend who does not like chicken wings. They are the quintessential appetizer in that they are the perfect finger food that can be flavored any way you like.  

I, myself, have never been a fan of Buffalo wings. Just don't care for the hot sauce, hate blue cheese, and can take or leave celery. I'm also not a big fan of messy wings. Too much sauce when it's the fatty chicken wing I want to enjoy. But that's the beauty of wings. There's a flavor and style to fit everyone.

If you are interested in going wing crazy on Saturday, then you need to head to Fremont Park for Sactown Wings. This first time event will feature wings from Bar West, Fieldhouse Sports Bar, Chicago Fire, Clark's Corner, the Blue Cue, and Walter'z Wing'z. Beer: Sudwerk, New Glory, Santos, Hoppy, Crispin, MillerCoors, and Lost Coast.

More importantly to me, it supports my favorite charity, the Food Literacy Center. They educate children on proper nutrition and eating habits. 

There's plenty of things to keep you occupied besides eating wings and drinking beer. XOSO Sports will have outdoor games to play. If you are not familiar with XOSO, read about my season of Dodgeball with them.

There's also music. The Golden Cadillacs, The Crescent Katz, and Riotmaker are all scheduled to play. I'll be bringing a blanket and chair to enjoy the late afternoon. Summer is coming to an end and you gotta milk every last bit of it.

Some important notes about the tickets, especially because I misunderstood myself.

You can buy a $30 and get 15 wings (BBQ/Buffalo) prepared by Chicago Fire, plus a souvenir beer mug, two beers, and $2 beer refills.  Note that this does not include wings from the other vendors, you would have to buy those separately.

There are 100 VIP tickets at $40 which get the above, a t-shirt, and up to 10 wings from the other vendors. A limited number of these tickets were left at the time of this writing.

Your last option is to buy an entry ticket for $10 and then buy wings and beer separately. Each vendor will be selling individually and it's probable that a single wing will be $1. And remember, that $10 entry fee goes to a good cause.

The event runs from 2 to 7, so I'll be pacing myself. I'll see you there. 

Disclosure: I received a ticket in exchange for this post.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sacramento Chefs Represent at Heritage Fire

If you are into the paleo diet than you really needed to be at Heritage Fire on Sunday. This meat fest is part of the Cochon555 series of events and basically includes any type of animal protein that can be cooked over open flame. There is everything from sturgeon, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, rabbit, and more.

The cooking is being done by some of Northern California's best chefs. And this year Sacramento had good representation. The Selland Group sent John Griffiths and Randall Selland with assistance from Ravin Patel (Ella) and other Kitchen/Ella staff.  Michael Tuohy was there representing Lowbrau/Block Butcher Bar. Michael Thiemann was there as a pre-view of his upcoming Empress, the new rotisserie place going in on K Street.  He had a crew of Mother employees with him. Michael Passmore was there with his sturgeon and other fish and had assistance from Bill Ngo and Tyler Bond from Kru.

Thiemann, Florence, Selland
There were other familiar faces as well. Tyler Florence made an appearance. If you recall, Florence had temporarily stolen Thiemann from us until Michael decided to come back home. Also, Kelly McCown, Ella's first Executive Chef. He was one of the main organizers of the event and hosted many of the chefs during prep and at the after party at his restaurant Goose & Gander in St. Helena.

So here are images from the event.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Volunteering at the American Cheese Society Conference

If you love cheese, then Sacramento was the place you needed to be. Over the last 10 days the American Cheese Society was in town to hold their annual conference. Along with typical seminars and mixers, they also determine the best cheeses of the year for the Americas, both North and South.

As soon as I heard they were coming to Sacramento I immediately emailed them to see if they would need volunteers. Turns out they rely heavily on volunteers and there were plenty of jobs and shifts to choose from.  I worked on three different days and got a good look at the behind the scenes in regards to the actual handling and judging of the cheeses.

The first two days dealt with the arrival of cheeses shipped overnight from all over the United States and other American countries. Over 1,600 cheeses from about 250 cheesemakers are arriving by the truckload in ice chests and other makeshift packaging. 

The sorting takes place in a VERY cold part of the convention center to help keep the cheeses cold. They had the air conditioning cranked! The trucks would come in and we would sort the boxes alphabetically. Someone opens the box and checks the inventory, makes sure the cheeses have arrived within an acceptable temperature range, and then the cheeses are sorted by type. Most of the cheeses had been well packed with ice packs and in Styrofoam coolers, but the most creative and "green" cheesemaker sent his cheeses chilled by recycled soda bottles filled with ice. 

The judging is split into 160 categories and so the cheeses need to be separated.  All of the cheeses have coding on them and are not supposed to have any names, brands, logos, or identifying marks on them if they want to be judged. The code indicates the category, the number assigned for the company, and then a number indicating the number cheese entry it is.  Let's say Cowgirl Creamery is the 152nd company to send in their entry registration months ago, they get a 2 letter code for the category, their number, and the number for the cheese. So an example would be XX-152-09, meaning they sent at least nine cheeses to the conference.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pear Harvesting is Almost Over...Already

Bosc pears
I was a bit naive last year when I sat down to dinner with members of the California Pear Board. It was last September and we were at the Tower Bridge Dinner. The Board had been kind enough to invite me to be their guest and I had promised to write about pears. The problem? Pear season was already over.

I had always thought of pears as a fall fruit. Like apples. I think most of us put apples and pears into the same mental basket in terms of their growing season. Turns out that pears get harvested in July and August and are kept in cold storage and shipped throughout the fall and into winter. Considering this, it's almost a year since that dinner before I could watch the pear harvest and write about it. Here in the valley the main pear harvest is ending this week. Starting in August the harvesting will move to the other pear areas of Lake and Mendocino counties. 

All along the Sacramento river, from Sac into the Delta, there are pear orchards. The first pear trees came with the settlers and were planted in the 1850's. My harvest visit was at the properties of David J. Elliot and Son and their Stillwater Orchards near Courtland. The family is now into their sixth generation with their oldest pear trees being 160 years old! That's right. They have 160 year old trees still going strong.

My visit started in reverse in that we started at the packing facility with a guided tour by Richard Elliot. He tells me they have 1,500 acres of orchards with 1,100 of those being pear. The other 400 acres have cherries, apples, and kiwi. But for now they are full swing into pear harvest season and the packing shed is bustling. 

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.

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.