This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.

They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

"SO, what is a French Yule Log and how is it different from a Buche de Noel that most people are familiar with?

In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type that most people are familiar with as Buche de Noel, or, what is more commonly purchased, which is a frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert. This also means that this recipe is not holiday-specific, it is also just a scrumptious dessert recipe."

This challenge was supposed to be done as a log, but I did not have the pan and so I did mine as a round cake. The picture above, though, illustrates all the different elements that were required in this cake. I chose to make mine with a vanilla mousse to cut down on the chocolate overload and I made the dacquoise layer with coconut, which I am really glad about because it really gave it extra umph.

I took the cake to my BFF's. They were having a combo birthday for her father (70) and brother-in-law (40), thus the 'Happy Birthday'. It was also my first time playing with gold leaf. Since I wasn't too happy with the gold leaf I kinda wished I had left it off. But people commented on the extra touch. The chocolate cookies I used to ring the outside were some wafer cookies that I had received from a gift exchange. Because my sides were uneven they seemed the perfect solution to tidy up the whole cake and embellish it at the same time.

Here I show you my coconut dacquoise layer which is made with almond flour and egg whites. It's like a meringue.

This is the praline feuillette. Basically you bake a gavotte which is a crispy, flaky pastry. You crush this up. Then I grated up some of my leftover hazelnut praline from a few months ago. Take both these and mix them with melted chocolate and then press into a wafer.

Here you can see the interior of my dessert.

The good and the bad of this recipe? First, I don't think I will make it again. It wasn't hard overall, but it still took two days with all the different elements. Plus, I wasn't all that impressed with it. It was just OK. I chose a vanilla mousse to cut down on the chocolate, but the recipe given to us was really thick and clumpy and not my idea of 'mousse'. My praline feuillete was too thick and difficult to cut through. I had never used gelatin before and the instructions in the recipes were very unclear on just how much water to use to soften it. And I would just make a ganache as the final icing instead of the icing recipes that were given to us.

Still, everyone oo'ed and ahh'ed over it when it came out and were excited to try it. Compliments were nice enough as well, but it boils down to how did I feel about it... Just OK.
Poor Dean. He gets all excited to show me something and then when I eat it I'm unimpressed and I deflate his sails. I need to work on that. When he took me to his home town in Michigan a few years ago he was excited for me to have a Coney Dog at a local chain and it turned out to be a chili dog - and I don't do chili dogs. Then we went across to Canada to have a "puffio", which seemed just to be a deep fried calzone. Although, in that case, THE restaurant was closed and so we had to settle for a competitor's and it might just not have been as good as the real thing.

So Dean wanted to make his grandma's Christmas cookies, which he called butter balls. He excitedly called up his mom and got the recipe. I looked at it and said, "oh, Mexican wedding cookies". NNNOOOOOO!!! I told him and showed him on the internet Mexican wedding cookies and Russian teacakes, which are basically the same thing. I finally told him that his grandma's recipe was different in that she included honey.

So here is the recipe for grandma's butter balls.

2 c flour
2 c chopped walnuts or pecans
1 c butter
2 t vanilla
1/4 c honey
1/2 t salt
powdered sugar

Cream the butter. Add honey, salt, vanilla, and flour. Mix thoroughly. Add in nuts and fully incorporate.

Scoop small amounts of dough with a melon baller and roll in your hands to form balls. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 30-40 mins.

Remove from oven and roll balls in powdered sugar once while hot and then again when cooled. (I used a sugar shaker to shake for the second coating.)

Makes about four dozen.

I stumbled across this recipe for making homemade poppycock. Some people know it as caramel corn, or the brand names of Crunch n Munch or Moose Munch. I popped the popcorn in the microwave in my Pampered Chef Batter Bowl with lid. Then I mixed it with peanuts and homemade caramel. You can put whatever kind of nuts you like. The recipe is not hard, just messy trying to mix it in a pan that's large enough. Because of the mess factor I'm not sure I will make it again. Taste-wise, though, it's great.


2 1/2 cups unpopped popcorn
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
1 cup peanuts
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. In a 4-quart pan, add 1 tablespoon of the oil , and heat over high heat. When oil is hot, add 1/2 cup of popping corn. Keep pan moving constantly. When corn stops popping, remove from heat. Spread freshly popped corn on a large shallow sheet pan. Put it in a very slow oven, 250 degrees F (120 degrees C), to keep warm and crisp. Place popped corn in oven to keep warm. Repeat until all corn has been popped, for a total of 5 quarts popped corn.

2. Cook and stir peanuts in 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Fold peanuts into popped corn.

3. Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a heavy 2 quart saucepan. Place over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue to boil to the firm ball stage, 248 degrees F (118 degrees C), about 5 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Syrup will foam. Take popped corn from oven and pour hot caramel mixture over it in a fine stream. Stir to mix well. Return to oven for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool and serve, or store. Store in an airtight container and set in a cool place.
Taylor's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I was lucky enough to get a sneaky peek at the new Taylor's Kitchen (associated with Taylor's Market on Freeport). This new eatery is not open to the public until mid-January. They are open for private parties over the holidays. Therefore, keep in mind that this review of the food/service is for banquet service and not for restaurant service. I will provide an update for that in the new year after they open.

Unfortunately the picture I took of the bar area came out really blurry. This picture shows to the right where the kitchen and serving area are. If I rotated left and looked straight on I would have faced the bar. The location looks lovely. They spared no expense to make the place comfortable and stylish. You can see the nice wicker chairs. We had banquet tables, so I am sure the future setup will be completely different. Along the streetside windows are eating counters and bar stools, so it appears there will be some light bites or quick and easy items. The bar is a lovely, dark wood wall unit. So far it is only stocked with wine, so I don't know if they are keeping to wine vs. full bar. They kept the stone tiles and the brickwalls and so it can get loud when all conversations are going.

We started with the bread and, as I've said before, it is an important first impression item. But being Taylor's, did you really have to worry? No. It was super crunchy crusted french bread and so good. We ended up making a joke that you could tell who ate the most by the pile of crumbs in front of us. I won. Along that line, can we doubt the quality of any of the ingredients that Taylor's will be using when they have such a fine reputation for their butcher counter and grocery? NOT!

Our luncheon had a choice of pasta, chicken, or pork. No one at my table had the pasta. As this was a banquet, their timing had been off. But you can't hold it against them, especially since they are new. They did have plenty of staff to wait on us. The pastas had come first and then there was a couple of minutes before the next entree. This is always so awkward at banquets because who wants to eat cold food waiting on everyone else. Luckily these days most people just let you go ahead.

My pork was the next out. The pork had an herb sauce, roasted potatoes, and the broccolini. I liked that everything was nice and hot, although the pork was a little overdone. Shortly after came the chicken. I asked if it had a Southwestern seasoning since it had the corn salsa on top. My tablemates said it was more of soy/teriyaki flavor. They said the chicken was done well - not over or undercooked.

My dessert cravings were completely satisfied with the generous portion of the amaretto cream cake they served. Yum! And it was doubly nice because it was something different than I've had anywhere else. Basically similar to tiramisu, but without the expresso. This made me happy because I don't do coffee.

I will leave this piece with some fun - the bathroom sink. In fact, I'm thinking I'll have to start taking pictures of interesting bathrooms and start a new webpage. We all know that Mason's would be included and I'd also throw in Fuzio's sink as well. Anyway, we were all impressed in the fun sink you see below.

I look forward to Taylor's opening next year. I'm sure it will be excellent!

Recently SacEats gave a negative review of Bella Bru. I'm thinking he went to the one in Carmichael, based on where he lives. I'm writing today to say I've had two great recent experiences at both the Carmichael and the El Dorado Hills locations.

I will admit that I'll just be commenting on food because I wasn't paying too close attention to the service. After all, I've always considered BB as a coffee shop more than anything else. I've never expected more than basic taking down an order and dropping it off.

Bella Bru Cafe on Urbanspoon

The day after Thanksgiving I ended up at the EDH BB for brunch. I ordered the quiche which I believe had ham and asparagus in it and a side of fruit. It arrived piping hot and was fabulous. I wish I could make a quiche like it. I still haven't figured out the secret to making quiche really light and fluffy instead of kinda curdly. (My roomie says I need to add sour cream to my egg mixture next time.) Anyway, it was good. My friend ordered the french toast and it was a huge helping with strawberries.

Bella Bru Cafe on Urbanspoon

Yesterday was my birthday and my BFF had invited me over for dinner because I share the day with her husband. She had the fun day of her plumbing backing up, so out to dinner we went - to BB.

I had been with her for lunch before and we had a great pepperoni pizza. In fact, I remember being impressed with the quality of the pizza because I had really low expectations.

I was expecting the same menu from lunch at dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a nice assortment of dishes, from crab cakes and pork sliders to duck and fig pizza. My BFF ordered the pork ragu pasta. It reminded me of dishes I had when I was in Florence, Italy. Rustic with the shredded pork shoulder tossed with a tomatoey sauce. I was very happy with my duck breast over risotto. The duck was perfectly cooked and the risotto was de-lish. Super creamy/cheesy. This was all drizzled with a bit of balsamic reduction.

All I can say about my BB food experience is, what was I thinking? They are more than just a coffee shop.
Scott's Seafood on the River on Urbanspoon

I went with my friend to the newest Sacramento Scott's Seafood. This one opened in February 2008 in the Rivage Hotel along the Sacramento river. I had been dying to see this new location.

When you arrive I would highly recommend the valet parking. I always prefer to park myself, but when we went in search of the parking lot we realized that, unless you get a lucky one of the few front spots, the primary lot is far away. Not fun on a cold, foggy winter night. We turned around and got valeted. Then we found out it was free anyway.

The hotel is on the left and, just as a quick note, is an individually owned hotel and not affiliated with any chain. The restaurant is to the right. It is lovely. The bar area is spacious. Off to the left is a lot of lounge seating with small tables and a couple of flatscreens on the wall. In the center is the bar which has a large horseshoe seating area. The whole establishment is long which gives plenty of window seats overlooking the river. There appeared to be a nice patio outside too, but it was too dark to see much.

One of my favorite things about Scotts restaurants is that they have great service. I always find the staff to be very friendly in a genuine kind of way. You know what I mean, when you come across people who are superficially friendly.

When I notified our server we were early she said she could seat us immediately if we didn't need a window. Since it was dark we opted to sit anywhere. We'll come back for the view in the summer.

We were told the specials which included Alaskan King Crab Legs. My friend almost got those until we asked the question - what is market price? It was $115! Hiccup! We steered away from those quick enough.

My friend had the crab bisque, which I've had before. Good, spicy, flavorful. I opted for the Oysters Rockefeller. I am not a raw oyster person but I do love cooked ones. Rockefellers are topped with a puree of spinach, celery, onion and seasonings and then cheese. These were very nice, but I thought it was sparse on spinach and too heavy on minced celery. The celery was all that I was tasting.

I would mention that they also have an appetizer called the Seafood Explosion. It is a pyramid of plates with a combination of prawns, crab, and raw and cooked oysters. A nearby table got one and it looked great. It was about $35. I think if you go with a friend for a light dinner you can share it and a bowl of soup or a salad and be quite content.

For my entree I had selected the jerk mahi mahi with coconut prawns. The dish came attractively plated. I loved this dish! The fish had a light spice jerk crusted on it and was perfectly cooked. It was topped with half an avocado and mango salsa. I found the avocado to be unnecessary I tried a bite with it to see if it added anything to the experience and I felt that it was really a distraction. The jerk seasoning and the sweetness of the mango salsa was all you needed for a delicious blending of flavors and textures in your mouth. The coconut prawns were served over a plantain sauce. They were large and crunchy. I would have liked a bit more of the plantain sauce. The fried plantain you see above is just for decoration. It was much too thick and hard to eat.

My friend had the Grilled Petrale Sole Dore with Lemon Butter Sauce. The fish was dipped in an egg wash before it was grilled so that it would have a nice, crisp coating. It was light and fluffy. It came with a side of perfectly cooked green beans and carrots. I found it satisfactory but my friend was very pleased, and that's what counted.

The dessert menu was pretty basic: cheesecake, a chocolate cake, an apple crisp, sorbets, and creme brulee. We opted for the creme brulee, which was well done but nothing exceptional.

I will be curious to see how well this location and the connected hotel will do. They are in a very separate location, although certainly lovely. Scott's certainly never has failed me for service and food, so hopefully it will find success with this new site.

I know. Thanksgiving was last week. But I didn't have any pumpkin pie! I went to my ex in-laws and their pumpkin pie isn't the same because they make it lactose free - with orange juice. I was requested to make it since we didn't get any and I had been wanting to try out the recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

I love Cook's Illustrated and Good Eats because they get into the science of cooking and why this works better than that, etc. Cooks will make hundreds of versions of a recipe until they get what they consider to be the perfect recipe. The current issue had a recipe for pumpkin pie. Because it is a copyright issue, I can only steer you to it.

Their version has distinct differences. First, they throw in a can of candied yams along with the can of pumpkin puree. Second, they cook the spices and the pumpkin/yam mixture on the stovetop in order to enhance the spices and reduce the moisture content. Lastly, they cook at 400 degrees and then reduce to 300 so that the custardy filling will not curdle.

I really like it and recommend it. It's not that much extra work compared to a regular recipe. I didn't even bother with one step where you are supposed to push the pumpkin mixture through a sieve to get rid of lumps. Anyway, grab the current issue before it leaves store shelves so that you can make it for Christmas.

This month's challenge was caramel cake with an optional addition to make homemade caramel candies.

I opted to make the cake into cupcakes and mini cakes. I had friends over for dinner last week and so I made three mini cakes for us, one of which is pictured. I had left over praline from the DB challenge a few months ago and so I grated that on top.

I enjoyed the texture of this cake, although I wasn't that big fan of the flavor. Caramel isn't a favorite. Many participants had complained that the cake and frosting were too sweet and so I did reduce the sugar in the cake down to only one cup. For the frosting it called for a pound of powdered sugar but I just made it to consistency, which was way less than a pound.

More interesting was the caramels.

I had two complications with the caramels. First, I didn't pay close enough attention to the recipe which said to use a large 3 qt pan. Turns out that the caramel boils violently up and I almost had it boil over my too small pan! Secondly, it took FOREVER to reach the 260 degree temp for soft caramels. Later I read others suggesting to stop at 248 degrees. Anyway, my caramels are a little harder than I would have liked (about the same as Brach's), but still great little morsels. They are sprinkled with fresh ground sea salt on top. Took them to work and everyone loved them.

Our host of the month is Dolores ably assisted by Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo), Jenny of Foray into Food. With gluten free advice from Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go. The recipe author was Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater . Shuna's recipe is for the cake with caramalized butter frosting is here.
Mulvaney's Building and Loan on Urbanspoon

For over two years I have had Mulvaney's on my dining to-do list. So many people have said that it is wonderful and equals The Waterboy, which I love. Lately I've been adding some higher end restaurants to my Meetup's calendar, so tonight we had a group of eight willing to pay up for a nice meal.

Mulvaney's is located in an old brick firehouse on 19th Street. I'm sure it used to have a pole somewhere, although it is not evident now. Prior to Mulvaney's it had been a coffee shop/bakery where I would indulge in fantastic black bottom cupcakes and cinnamon rolls. It is not very large. Part of the kitchen is out in the dining area with stools at the chef's block for four diners. In the back is very small bar area. I found that a little surprising because my BFF's brother-in-law is a head bartender and I would have thought it would have a big bar. There is additional dining out on the patio, which I've also heard much about, but the weather is getting too cold for that now.

We sat down and were presented with the day's menu. Each day is a fresh menu because M's is known for locally grown, organic produce and meats. They have both small plates and a selection of entrees. Small plates range in the $teens ($14, etc) and the entrees are in the $20-$35 range. On this day none of the entrees jumped out at me as being truly unique or different whereas quite a few of the small plates did. I ended up with a salad, small plate, and dessert. Eileen got three small plates and dessert! The thing is, the small plates are definitely ample entrees for lil ol me.

The server came out with an amuse bouche for us. It consisted of raddichio with some duck confit and apple chutney. I love getting amuse bouche. It's like you get a little something extra for free.

I got to try something new with my salad. I ordered the Frissee Salad with Duck Tongue and Poached Quail Egg. The idea of poor little ducks being plucked tongue-less is not a good one, but sometimes you need to put such thoughts out of your head. There were quite a few tongues and I was surprised to find them rather soft and salty versus what you would assume to be chewy. Not sure if saltiness is a trait or not. Anyway, the salad had plenty of those and homemade croutons with a perfectly cooked egg atop. Although I did enjoy the salad, I found that the addition of the egg made it just a bit too rich for me.

Sue was kind enough to share some of her house smoked salmon. It was served with a whole grain toast point that was rather disappointing to me. It wasn't toasted, for one, and it overpowered the very thinly sliced salmon. I had to bunch the salmon to the end of the point so that I didn't get too much bread. I was not impressed with the salmon either. I guess I just like it a bit more smoked.

For my main course I would have liked to try their homemade pastas, but the dishes were heavy with mushrooms. Yuck. I opted for the sweetbreads. Both Biba and Waterboy have sweetbreads that I would consider equal in deliciousness. This version was not in the same league. First of all the serving was about half of what you get at the other two. Then these were fried and then served with a polenta and mushrooms. So on their own they were dull. Perhaps if I had made a forkful with polenta, mushrooms, and the sweetbreads the flavors would have blended well, but on their own - dull.

Looking at everyone else I could see quite a variety of dishes. Sue and Christine ordered the cioppino which was full of seafood and gigantic scallops. Eileen and Rhonda had ordered the pasta with the mushrooms and it definitely looked delicious and rich.

Sue Ann was nice enough to let me taste her dish. We both couldn't remember the exact description but it appeared as kind of homemade raviolis stuffed with duck confit and then in a rich sauce with finely chopped veggies. I wish I knew more from the description because there was a wonderful blending of flavors that was a bit unusual, but delicious.

There were quite a few tempting things on the dessert menu. I was really drawn to the Ding Dongs, but opted for the Sticky Toffee Pudding. I've been wanting to make a sticky toffee pudding because it has become quite a popular flavor lately. I've never had an authentic English one, but from the descriptions it sounds like a pretty decadent dessert. I was a bit disappointed but am unsure as to whether it is to my ignorance or to a bad version of the dessert, so I'll refrain from too much comment. I'll just say that the 'pudding' was just a cake and had just a little toffee sauce on top. My impressions had always been that it was a moister and stickier (more sauce soaked in). I guess I'll have to wait til I try making my own.

Update: I did. Here is my version. Based on this, I would say Mulvaney's version is a sorry excuse for sticky toffee pudding.

The Ding Dongs certainly looked beautiful. But after seeing them I was glad that I had passed because it was just a mini-cake like the kind I've been baking so many of lately.

Rhonda had the pumpkin brulee. 'Brulee' means burnt and so it is the burnt sugar topping and has nothing to do with what is underneath. I make this distinction because Rhonda said that the filling wasn't what she usually associates with a creme brulee. Apparently it wasn't as creamy custardy. She still liked it, though, and said the accompanying huckleberries added a nice contrasting flavor. Certainly the presentation was nice.

We all enjoyed our meals very much and even though I wasn't overly impressed with my individual orders, I was impressed overall with the table's worth. I look forward to going again.

There's a new venture in Sacramento that is fun, affordable, leads to making new friends, and includes food! The Sacramento Grub Crawl. Started earlier this year, this new activity is worth taking note of.

The premise is simple. For your $25 fee you get to spend an evening checking out five or six local restaurants. You spend about 45 minutes at each location before moving on to the next. Each location puts out a spread of food and has drink specials. The food is included in your fee, the alcohol is not. During the evening there are also giveaways of wine or gift cards. You could easily recoup your $25 if you are a lucky winner.

We joined the Halloween crawl on Wednesday night downtown. The restaurants for the evening included: River City Brewing, Three Monkeys, Parlare Eurolounge, Sofia, Fuzio, and Zokku. Each place put out a great spread of food and we did not leave hungry, although this might not always be true.

Because it was a Wednesday and started at 5 p.m., the crowd was a bit smaller, about 25 people. According to Cline (more on him in a moment), some crawls have over 100 people and can be quite a rowdy bunch. Personally I was glad of the size because we did get plenty of food and I was able to talk to Cline about his venture. I'm sure the restaurants were a little disappointed, especially because a lot of food was left when we moved on to the next stop.

Cline Moore is your crawl host. On this evening he was dressed as a pimp. He explained that last week's crawl had been on Fair Oaks Blvd. and had included Ruth's Chris, Scott's Seafood, Zinfandel Grille, Piatti, and somewhere else I forget. That one had over 100 people. He's got other crawls planned according to themes and different areas of town like Roseville and Folsom. The restaurants are happy to work with him because it helps to promote their restaurant. In my case I had been to each of the locations before except for Fuzio, which only just opened. But in the group, many had never been to most of the restaurants.

At each spot Cline gives away bottles of wine or gift cards to the spot you are in. I highly recommend that you bring your purse/wallet. I had not brought anything but my license and so missed out on some giveaways. It was like Let's Make a Deal where he would ask you to find a credit card with the most #3's on it, or, be the first to pull out and show him $50. Bring your business card as well as a couple of drawings were picked from those. My friend and I ended up with a couple of gift cards, which was great because we don't drink wine. Lucky for us, the smaller group meant better odds!




Cline says that he's trying to expand this idea to cover company events. Why have a boring office lunch or dinner at one location where you are stuck sitting next to someone the whole evening. Instead you could move from spot to spot and mingle more with your coworkers. Other groups are booking them as well. He's got a fraternity doing it as an activity in November. I'll be skipping that one. LOL.

This is just the kind of activity I want for my meetup group, so I will be adding it to our calendar. I'm looking forward to hitting one a month myself.

October's Daring Bakers Challenge was pretty easy - pizza dough. But it was fun. I've done pizza dough from mixes and from frozen dough before, but not absolutely from scratch. This recipe is a good one, although it was a bit too stretchy for me, as you will see by the video. We were required to put a video showing us tossing.

Did you ever wonder why pizza dough is tossed? It's because by tossing and stretching you are stretching apart the dough molecules so that the crust is nice and tender. If you were to roll it out with a rolling pin, it would be pressed, condensed, and thus, tough.

Earlier this month I had actually posted my pizza creation, I just didn't mention that the dough was for the DB challenge. See my post about my fig pizza.

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled -
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast -
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar -
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
The airline industry is in a sad state. I've been on planes since I was three weeks old. I've traveled all over the world and gone on different airlines. Foreign carriers are still pretty good (I love Singapore Airlines the most) but domestic carriers are sad, sad, sad. Gone are all the freebies that were included in your ticket price. Now you have to pay to check your bags, for your drinks, for your meals (depending on each airline's new policies). A long time ago we lost the hot meals in the little trays. Flying is no fun.

I've really gotten to appreciate Amtrak. I've taken it a few times now and recommend it if you can deal with rail time, which I'll explain first. Rail time means you have patience and your schedule is flexible. You see, Amtrak has a lot of delays. So you have to be able to roll with it. The number one reason for delays is the fact that they don't own their tracks. The tracks are owned by the freight railroad companies. So if a freight train and an Amtrak need to use the same track or cross each other, the freight train gets priority. How stupid is that? Like a trainload of cars, vegetables, cows and ipods need to be on a schedule.

The second part of rail time is the schedule. There is only one train per day that goes along the route (we are not talking about commuter routes like the Capitol Corridor train). So each day in Sacramento there is one train going south from Seattle to L.A. and another one going north from L.A. to Seattle. Basically you need to make your schedule fit the train's.

Once you are on the train, though, you can relax and enjoy the scenery. If you pay the big bucks you can get a roomette which includes a little bunk so you sleep and some privacy. I've only traveled coach so far and it ain't that bad. Airline seats are jammed in there so that you have no leg room and you have to worry about the size of your seatmate in case they start invading your personal space. Not so on Amtrak. There is so much leg room that my short legs can barely reach the footrest on the seat in front of me. I can stow my smaller bags at my feet and still have room. Plus, the seats recline really far and have legrests that come up from underneath so that it's like an extended Barcolounger. Most of the time you can end up with a row (2 seats) to yourself so that you can really spread out. There are overhead bins as well and each coach car has five bathrooms below.

If you've got electronics, outlets are at a premium. The coach cars only have one each and so you have to try and snag that row. There are a couple of outlets in the Lounge car as well, that people compete for. There was also an arcade on the lower level of one of the coach cars, but the games were pretty lame.

Speaking of the lounge car (or observation car)... A lot of people like to hang out there for their entire trip. The upper floor has tons of windows for enjoying the scenery outside. There are different seating arrangements and there are some tables in case you want to play a game of cards. On one trip up to Oregon there were a bunch of volunteer ladies who got on at Klamath Falls and gave a history and trivia talk about Oregon all the way to Eugene. On the lower level of the lounge car is some more table seating and the snack bar. They carry items such as pizza, burgers, breakfast sandwiches, beer, coffee, and other snacks.

The first class passengers (in the sleeping cars) had their own parlor car. I imagine that it is very similar to the lounge car, but perhaps a tad more upscale. During each direction of my trip they offered a wine tasting in the parlor car. For the first class it was $5 and for the coach passengers it was $10.

Then there is the dining car. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A server will walk through the train to take down your desired reservation time. When you arrive at the car you will be seated at a table with other passengers, so it is very social. The tables are set with linens and silverware and you can even have wine with your meals. On my recent trip I went in for dinner. The special for the evening was crab cakes with a lobster cream sauce. The fish was ahi tuna that was fake grilled. (They put grill marks on it, but it is finished in the oven.) The pasta special was cheese ravioli with marinara sauce. There was also a flat iron steak with baked potato and veggies, but I opted for the half herbed chicken. Although the menu said it came with rice, I was given the choice of rice or either mashed or baked potato. We had a nice warm dinner roll, a small salad, and then our entree, which was piping hot. WAAAYYYY better than airplane food (or the lack thereof).

My coworkers might have had a 5 hour roadtrip in cramped cars dealing with traffic and construction, but my 8 hours was a nice relaxing trip where I could walk around, read, sleep, dine, and enjoy the scenery. I think I chose the better choice.
Kabul Kabob on Urbanspoon

My dad lives in Salem, Oregon. A very small city. So small that they don't have a Costsplus, Trader Joes, or other chain stores or restaurants that we have. So when he comes to visit he likes to eat out. It's from dad that I got my foodie ways. On Friday we had gone to L Wine Lounge, which I like and liked, but he was unimpressed with. (Probably cuz he just ordered a boring steak.)

I had offered to take him to an ethnic restaurant as well. He chose Afghani, so I took him over to Kabul Kabob on J Street. Boy, is downtown DEAD on a Sunday night! That is, any street lower than 15th. I was even concerned it would not be open, but it was, just very empty. I could see the owner way in the back, but the only person who worked the front the whole evening was his very Western teenage daughter. We chose a table and she brought out menus and water right away.

After we ordered we received a small salad with a cream dressing and herbs. Very simple. Then came samosas. This version was deep fried in a flaky crust, a bit on the greasy side. But that could be because it was completely filled with ground meat. There were no veggies in it. They were rather bland but were served with a cilantro chutney to add some spice.

We split our main dishes. The first was aushuk - raviolis stuffed with leeks and seasonings and topped with a ground meat and yogurt sauce. The half circle raviolis were very light. I really like this dish. My only complaint is that when they put the yogurt sauce over it, it cools it down. Cold yogurt on the hot raviolis. I'd rather the yogurt be room temperature so that it doesn't kill the heat in the dish so quickly. Our second dish was a chicken curry that came with a side of rice. Nothing special here. Just an Indian style curry. But it was a good choice to compliment the aushuk.

We then tried two Afghani desserts. First was ramalayee - Afghani cheesecake soaked in cream and cardamom syrup and topped with crushed pistachios. This was served in a goblet with little cut squares of their cheesecake. Their cheesecake is very firm and not that great on its own. But it is sitting in a goblet full of the cardamom cream, which was like sweet milk. You could drink the goblet down after finishing the few chunks of cheesecake.

The other dessert was firni - Afghani pudding with rosewater, cardamom and crushed pistachios. We both preferred this one. It was sweet and creamy with bits of cardamom and pistachio in it.

I will note that Kabul Kabob also has a weekday lunch buffet. Do not judge their dinner food based on this lunch buffet. The buffet is simply mediocre. I like Kabul for dinner and a friend keeps going for lunch and saying it stinks. I keep telling him that, yes, the buffet stinks. Go for dinner!
Biba on Urbanspoon

It's been at least 15 years since I last went to Biba. It was time for another visit. I set it up and six of our Meetup group went for a lovely dinner on a Monday night.

Biba is in the same location and still even looks just as I remember it. Hopefully there's been a coat of paint, lol. Seriously, though, it is bright and cheerful versus some other restaurants that are on the dark side. It still has a very tasteful elegance with beautiful flower arrangements and crisp white linens. So nice to walk into after walking through the dust and diverted traffic from the construction just outside its doors.

Laura and I were there first and took a seat in the bar to wait for the others. They had a pianist playing the baby grand piano, even on a Monday night. The bartender came out from behind the bar to serve us. All very nice.

We were escorted to a nice round table at a corner of the restaurant. During the evening I was surprised to see the place pretty much full - for a Monday! We did see Biba come out to greet some bigwig at the next table. Years ago on my last visit, she had come around and visited each table individually.

At the time of this dinner I am in the middle of a two-week detox diet. I haven't eaten carby foods, sugar, salt, fat, or dairy in seven days. But I had this already scheduled and had to try and pick the best thing I could off the menu. That meant I would have to at least take in the fat and salt for a night and probably consume more than my allotted size of protein for the day. Oh well. Besides, I was a Biba's! I had to make the most of it.

I started with a small plate of the sweetbreads. Sweetbreads are the thymus glands of lamb, beef, or pork. They are one of those items that had been on my "to try" list for years and when I had them, I really liked them. At Biba they were sauteed with smoked pancetta in a limoncello sauce. One of the best things about sweetbreads is that they are so tender, they just melt in your mouth. After being completely fat free for a week, the silky saltiness of the pancetta grease was to die for. I was in heaven.

For my entree, I chose the rabbit and vegetables, hold the polenta. It was braised in a roasted bell pepper, tomato, balsamic vinegar and fresh herb sauce. As you see, it was a generous portion with plenty of sauce. My veggies were delivered on the side, green beans and tomatoes. The rabbit was nice and tender and the sauce was full of flavor, a little too much. It was very salty. Of course, I've also been salt free for a week. But Carol had also ordered the rabbit and found it salty as well. It did not decrease my enjoyment of the dish though.

I had to be a good girl and pass on dessert. Laura was the only one who had a dessert there and she chose the tiramisu. I've never been a fan myself, but I will say that the slice was large and both Laura and Carol said that it was "light as air".

Our server had been great as well. She was pleasant and fun with a good memory for our orders. She checked on us just the right amount, not being too intrusive or too neglectful. As for price, I had always considered Biba to be on the high end of local restaurants. Actually it wasn't too bad. My sweetbreads were $13 and my rabbit was $29, and that was one of the highest priced entrees. So it's not a terrible stretch on the pocketbook.

I enjoyed my meal and only wish I could have had the added benefit of bread, pasta, and dessert. Guess that means I'll have to come back another day, just not fifteen years down the road.
A couple of months ago I had dinner at Sacatomato Ann's house. We had a look at her backyard garden and there were two things I took away from that day.

First was their great raised garden made from the concrete they had torn up from their backyard. I had been wanting to do a raised garden for some time but didn't have the extra money for all the keystones or bricks I would have needed. I loved the idea of free broken concrete. Later that week I just happened to see some men tearing up concrete. They agreed to deliver it to my house. So this is the raised garden I built.

The second thing I learned that day was about amaranth. They had quite a few amaranth bushes growing with the lovely purple flowers. Turns out that it is quite an interesting plant.

Aside from amaranth being such an attractive plant it is extremely adaptable to adverse growing conditions. It resists heat and drought, has no major disease problems, and is among the easiest of plants to grow. Simply scratching the soil, throwing down some seeds, and watering will reward you with some of these lovely plants.

Amaranth can be cooked as a cereal, ground into flour, popped like popcorn, sprouted, or toasted. The seeds can be cooked with other whole grains, added to stir-fry or to soups and stews as a nutrient dense thickening agent.

Amaranth flour is used in making pastas and baked goods. It must be mixed with other flours for baking yeast breads, as it contains no gluten. One part amaranth flour to 3-4 parts wheat or other grain flours may be used. In the preparation of flatbreads, pancakes and pastas, 100% amaranth flour can be used. Sprouting the seeds will increase the level of some of the nutrients and the sprouts can be used on sandwiches and in salads, or just to munch on.
(More info here.)

Turns out amaranth is a plant that many are trying to see cultivated in third world countries that have poor growing conditions. You can not only eat the seeds, but also the leaves and flowers.

I've been trying to get into new grains. I love quinoa and use it in place of rice whenever I cook at home. It's a healthy whole grain that is high in protein. It cooks the same as rice. So whenever I make anything that would normally have rice as a side, I use the quinoa instead.

I wanted to check out the amaranth and found it in the bulk bins at the Co-op. I took only 1/2 a cup home and cooked it the same way. Then I ate it as a porridge with a little soy milk, cinnamon, and stevia. Delicious. I've found another new grain to play with.

First, I'll explain the picture. I made these lamb meatballs and then packaged them all up for work lunches before I remembered that I needed pictures for the blog. Thus, the not so attractive presentation.

This recipe comes from the Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine. I liked it, but think it could use a bit more bite. BUT>>>> it might be because I had to do a workaround. It calls for ground cumin and I only had cumin seed. They are too little to put in my mini food processor and I don't own a mortar and pestle. (Note to self to get one now!) Veena suggested that I try crushing them on my granite countertop. She had me roast them in a pan for a couple of minutes first and then we put them on the counter. I remembered I had my Pampered Chef meat tenderizer.

This tenderizer is reversible and so I had it on the flat size and used that to mash the seeds as best I could. But it still wasn't a great solution. Suffice it to say, I went to the store a couple of days later and bought ground cumin.

All in all the meatballs were tasty. I did leave out the flour coating and I ended up baking them on my stone versus cooking them on the stovetop. I also made sure I got European style yogurt, which is zingier than the American stuff. I put lots of mint in the yogurt and really enjoyed it. I also no longer cook rice at home and so I served them with quinoa.