This month's challenge comes from the book "Great Cakes" by Carol Walter. When I first saw it I had a mix of thoughts. First, it seemed so similar to other cakes we had recently been making. Then, it's been damn hot in Sacramento. We had the heat wave last week with 105+ and my house does not have air conditioning. (I survive locked in my bedroom with the window unit.) So I had no desire to turn on an oven. I debated sitting out. But I love a good cake and who can argue with a hazelnut and praline flavored cake?

The heat wave finally cracked. Because I was again blessed with a recipe that could be done in stages, I went ahead on day 1 and made the clarified butter and the hazelnut praline paste. My only problem was that I couldn't grind down the finished praline as fine as I wanted. I only have a mini food processor and it could only do so much. This didn't effect the taste, but it just made the praline buttercream have chunks that were too large to go through icing tips for decorating at the end. The praline buttercream called for 1/3 cup of the praline paste but I thought it looked too light, so I added a 1/2 cup.

The layers of this cake are as follows:

-hazelnut gateau - although I cheated and used almond meal instead. got tired of nut grinding
-the cake layers are brushed with a kahlua sugar syrup
-praline buttercream
-whipped cream
-cake layer
-praline buttercream
-whipped cream
-cake layer
--caramel glaze
-chocolate ganache
Day 2 involved baking the cakes in the morning while it was still cool. Luckily it was still a low 90's day that day. So no ill effects of lingering heat in the house. I also made the sugar syrup. This was a near disaster because I forgot the first batch on the stove and soon had a houseful of smoke and near fire. Almost ruined my pot too.

Day 3 was making the buttercream, whipped cream, caramel sauce, assembly, and ganache. So you see the cake was very involved.

The recipe actually calls for an apricot glaze, but I hate fruit/chocolate as a combo. Don't give me a chocolate cake with a raspberry jam center. Yuk. I'm a nuts and chews gal. That's why I opted for the caramel glaze.

Overall review of this cake. Of course it was delicious, but I was not impressed by the cake itself. Seemed on the dry side. So if we piece together things we like from different cakes, I'd take the actual cake from the Perfect Party Cake and then I'd definitely use the praline buttercream again. In fact, I liked the base swiss buttercream recipe for this one a lot. And I have another cup or so of praline paste in the fridge for something else. You can see I crumbled a bit of the it on the top for decoration.

I've really enjoyed making good cakes lately. The Daring Bakers have had three cakes since I started in February and then I had taken the cake decorating classes. The Perfect Party Cake has been my favorite. But so far I had not baked a good chocolate cake. So I decided to give one of Dorie Greenspan's chocolate cakes a try. The titled cake happens to be the cover picture of her Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook.

The cake itself was fairly easy. I made it Friday night and then wrapped it for the next day. Today it seemed nice and fudgy when I leveled it off. But after eating my first piece, it's not living up to what I expected based on Greenspan's description, like "a super fudgy brownie". Or maybe it's just my personal definition of what "super fudgy brownie" means. I've tried the cake both chilled and room temp and I definitely prefer it room temp. It seems moister then. I was also disappointed because she says there is a lot of chocolate flavor. There should be for the three types of chocolate that go into it. But I was disappointed.

The frosting is just sugar syrup into egg whites. It's very frothy and would be best described as similar to marshmallow fluff. Not liking it either. There are a couple other chocolate cakes in her book. Hopefully I'll like one of those better.
Rudy's Hideaway on Urbanspoon

Anyone driving up Highway 50 to Tahoe has seen it on the side of the road. Big banners advertise lobster dinners. Surprisingly, many people will admit to never having been there. This came up at a Meetup months ago and so I agreed to put it on our Meetup calendar.

Over the 20 years that I've been in Sacramento I have been to Rudy's a handful of times. Sometime recently they did a remodel and the look is greatly improved, although not all that consistent. One room looks like a captain's dining room with wood paneling and pictures of boating. Another room is more typical restaurant look with contemporary, light-hearted paintings done on aluminum. This is where our small group ended up.

Lobster and seafood is, of course, the focus of Rudy's. There are choices of frozen tails or you can have a lobster freshly killed. Personally, I can tell the difference between live and frozen and therefore will only order live lobster. But at the same time I'm a tightwad and the live lobsters start at $32 at Rudy's. I can walk to my Asian market and get one to kill in the privacy of my own home for half the price. But this wasn't about me tonite and the others mostly did order tails and some ordered salmon.

The dinners come with a choice of chowder or salad. I had a cup of the clam chowder and found it disappointing. There was hardly any clams at all. It was super thick, which means lots of flour (carbs!). The flavor was nice, but you want clams or other seafood in chowder.

There was a pasta course next. It was a small plate of ziti with a meat sauce on top. Very boring and unappetizing. Some people didn't even bother to eat it.

My dinnermates were happy with their entrees. Their sides included a choice of rice or potatoes. The mashed potatoes were freshly made with red potatoes and garlic. I questioned how the salmon was cooked for those that ordered it and they seemed very happy with their meals.

Since I was budgeting I had just had chowder and a grilled artichoke. Nothing special there, the aioli was boring. Last year I had ordered my live lobster and had to put the bib on. I had the embarrassing experience of cracking my lobster claws and having juices shoot into my eye as well as clear across to the next table of diners. That doesn't happen when you order the tails and they are already split for you.

Service was good, just the right amount of attentiveness. All in all, Rudy's is mediocre seafood and pricey. I'll opt for Scott's Seafood instead for dishes that are more inspired, and my local market for that poor guy to go into my boiling pot.

This recipe was from the LA Times. So far it has been my favorite ice cream for consistency. It's not rock hard when frozen a few days.

5 Meyer lemons

1 tablespoon cardamom pods, crushed

1 cup half-and-half

1 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean

6 large egg yolks

3 cups whipping cream

1. Peel 1 lemon with a vegetable peeler, taking care not to cut into the bitter white pith. Place the peel in a nonreactive medium saucepan with the crushed cardamom, half-and-half and sugar. Scrape the vanilla pod seeds into the pan and drop in the pod. Heat over high heat to just under a boil. Remove from the heat, and allow to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, and then pour in some of the hot half-and-half mixture, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a bowl. Finely grate the zest of 2 lemons and add it to the mixture. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.

4. Add the cream to the mixture. Juice all 5 lemons and add the juice (you should have about three-fourths cup) to the cream mixture. Chill thoroughly.

5. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Makes 1 quart.)

Each serving: 490 calories; 5 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 24 grams fat; 24 grams saturated fat; 287 mg. cholesterol; 52 mg. sodium.

Meyer Lemon

Yesterday I got a comment on my review for Dad's Kitchen. Because I link my blog to, they have a direct link to my blog. Kinda cool because it means more traffic to my blog. Anyway, I get a complaint about Dad's Kitchen about how they were not kid friendly. So I checked the Urbanspoon site and they had posted the following review there:

"Rude Owner!!" by csdavis22
July 18, 2008 - We met some friends there recently. They were told to bring chalk for the patio to occupy the kids while eating from friends. So, the kids had fun drawing on the sidewalk. Well, the owner - young bald guy (Zack) with a serious attitude came out and inspected the sidewalk and gave us a dirty look and shook his head. I tried to apologize and he brushed me off with an even more of a rude glare. He could of just asked us nicely to stop drawing on the patio. But, he instead decided to glare at us and mumble obscenities. We heard from other people that it was a really kid friendly place. That is not the case. He seemed extremely put out. Chalk comes off with water. It is quite unfortunate. Everything else was good except for the attitude. We would never go back again. If you do go there, don't bring your kids.

Now at first I was surprised because whenever I've been to D's K there have been plenty of families around and things look just fine. But then I slept on it and thought this morning, did they ask permission to deface property? It says they were told to bring chalk by friends. Were they told chalk for the sidewalk or chalk for drawing on paper? I'm thinking there might have been some miscommunication there. And I guess Zach could have asked them to stop and I'm not sure why he didn't. Ok, so then his attitude was bad. Was the rest of the service bad or just Zach? They say everything else was good.

I'll actually give more credence to the poor review that just happens to be a day before this complaint. This other complaint has some valid(?) complaints about treatment, but I would key on one kid comment. That their kids were told to slow down when going to the bathroom. Gee, isn't that a safety issue? There are servers carrying heavy plates of hot food and drink and they don't need to navigate through running children. Lose children have no place in a regular restaurant anyway. Let them run around McDonald's, but at a restaurant kids should be well mannered, quiet, and kept at the table. Dad's, Chili's, Piatti's, or Biba's are not playgrounds.

It boils down to the age old issue of parental control. I'm not anti-kids. I just know that I was raised properly. And I observe my godson and his brother (7 and 10) and they have ALWAYS been well behaved and I am happy and proud to be able to go out with them. Same with my own nephew in Seattle. Angels, all three of them! And even though my family dislikes my brother's ex-wife, we do give her kudos for doing an excellent job of raising my nephew. For that we are extremely grateful.

So what does or should "kid friendly restaurant" mean? And does D's K fit that description? I haven't been in a while, so I can't say for recently. But I can tell you what kid friendly means to me. It means that kids are welcome, when they are well behaved. It means they should have some items to keep kids occupied. That usually means crayons at most places. It means they should have a kid menu or kid portions. And it means that the servers have respect for the family. But this can be very difficult to do if the families don't earn the respect. So although I can imagine some fault on Zach's and staff's part, I can also imagine that their patience might have been stretched to the limit depending on the kids and the parents.

Update 8/1/08 Loved this comment so much that I'm putting it right up on my blog - a witness to the events that day!

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Thoughts on Kids in Restaurants":

BTW: The children running to the restroom were unsupervised & using the restroom to host a water fight. The children who were allowed by their parents to deface the public seating area were drawing crime scene pictures of dead body chalk outlines. Most children and their parents have an enjoyable experience at DAD'S Kitchen. These children have parents with class who have had to work hard for their accomplishments and do not tolerate such poor behavior.

It took me years to visit Alcatraz. One of those cases where it is in your neighborhood, but you never go. I finally made the trip.

My first bit of advice is to take the night tour. It’s called a night tour, but, at least in Daylight Savings Time, it’s not when it’s dark. Anyway, the night tour is the best because it is the most extensive. After completing the regular audio tour you can then go to additional presentations/talks on things like Al Capone, The Birdman, Escapes, etc. The key though, is to get the first night tour boat—at 4:30. Your first reaction is to schedule the 6:30 or the 5:30 boats. In reality you want the 4:30 boat so that you have plenty of time to do the extra presentations. If you wait until 6:30, you will only be able to do the audio tour before the last boat back leaves at 7:50.

If you are interested in the Underground Alcatraz presentation, be sure to sign up as soon as you hit the Information Desk in the middle of your audio tour because they only take ten people.

We stuck around for the Cell Door demonstration. This is where they show you how the cell door mechanism works to close a row of 14 doors. A row of doors weighs a ton and a half and they are all moved by one clutch mechanism. You get to hear the clang of the doors shutting as if you were being locked up for the night.

The audio tour is given to everyone regardless of what time of day you take the trip. It is great because it has interviews with guards and prisoners and zigzags back and forth through the cell block. It covers a lot.

Tickets are $35.50 or $42.50 for the night tour.

The National Park Service only issues tour tickets through one official vendor:

Click here for more stories like this: Fun Things to Do 

Need a cool summer drink? Agua frescas are the answer. These fruit waters are popular in Central America and Mexico. You've seen them in some Mexican restaurants or sold by street cart vendors along Florin Road. They are usually in big barrel-like jars. They make many different flavors, but the easiest is the watermelon one.

I cut up a seedless watermelon and put it in a large pitcher. I then take my handheld blender to it and quickly liquefy it. Watermelon is so much water and hardly anything else. Some people will strain it, but to me it's fine the way it is. Now add about a third as much cold water. (That would be 2/3 watermelon juice to 1/3 water.) This is the way I like it, but many like it even more diluted. Now squeeze the juice from either 1-2 lemons or limes. If you feel it needs it, you can add a 1/2 cup of sugar. Delicious and refreshing. You can also add some chopped up mint in there as well if you like. Serve well chilled or over ice.
Chicago Fire Pizza on Urbanspoon

Artichoke Heaven is not what one expects as a title to a review of a pizza place, but today it is appropriate.

Today was my best friend's birthday and she had recently discovered Chicago Fire Pizza. The one downtown is actually the second restaurant, since the original is in downtown Folsom. I had been to the Folsom one before and so I love the downtown one just as much. Anyway, since it was her birthday I hadn't really thought to review CFP, but just can't resist raving about those artichokes. I did not have the camera with me, so no pictures.

The downtown CFP is in a restored brick building that is large and spacious. They have one large room sectioned off which is good for large parties. The problem, as in so many other restaurants, is the noise. With nothing but hard surfaces the sound just bounces. Why must restaurants be designed like that? Everyone just talks louder and louder to make themselves heard and you end up with a headache! We had a long table of 20 down the center and then there was another birthday party of 20-something gals as well. It ended up a competition to see who could sing "Happy Birthday" louder.

Now to those artichokes. Til now my favorites had been the grilled artichokes at Banderas. There's a new winner in town. CFP bakes their artichokes with Caesar dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, and stuffed with lots of melty parmesan cheese. It arrived at the table and it was love at first sight. There was no scrimping on the cheese and the tartness of the lemon juice and tanginess of the Caesar just came together with a wonderfully tender choke. Now I will be hard pressed to choose between ordering a pizza or the artichoke and a salad.

But what about the pizza?

First, what is YOUR favorite type of pizza? Do you like thick or thin crust? New York or Chicago style? Deep Dish? Stuffed?

CFP has it all. The thin crust pizzas is indeed very thin, with a nice crisp edge while the stuffed pizzas are decadently thick with cheese and sauce and double crust. I like all pizza, but my favorite is stuffed. I always order the Chicago Fire Combo, with sausage, onions, peppers, pepperoni, and I leave off the mushrooms. What I appreciate about their version is that they have a generous layer of tomato sauce on top of the second crust.

Some day I'll review my all-time favorite Sacramento pizza place, which also makes stuffed pizzas. I'll tell you why CFP comes in second - they are limited on their variety of toppings and combinations. CFP's combos are pretty basic and boring. Even if you look to build your own combo, the ingredient list is, again, basic and boring. But I suppose that when you are dealing with the scale of pizza orders that CFP is cranking out each night, you need to have some limitations.

I have yet to have (and probably never will) dessert at CFP. I always so stuffed by the stuffed pizza that dessert never even crosses my mind.

A note about service. Each time I've been to the downtown CFP I've been with a party in the set-off banquet room. It seems a bit of out-of-sight, out-of mind. Our server tonite did hustle to keep our glasses full, but did admit up front that he had to hop between our room and the other room. So sometimes there were long gaps. We also had a problem with the wine. One glass of red my friend ordered had gone bad and had to be returned. Then a bottle of wine was ordered and yet out came two glasses of wine that my friends didn't like and didn't match what they previously had. But the waiter did correct it by taking the glasses back and exchanging it for the bottle they really wanted.

I do recommend CFP, but be prepared to wait. It's become pretty popular. I'd also like them to get around to opening for lunch. I'd be taking my office there for lunches if they were open.

A final note. I had taken my Meetup group there last fall. There were 15 of us and we ordered 6 large pizzas of all styles and combinations. At the end of the night we were all sated and definitely happy when the split came to only $8.57 per person. For that alone we will be returning there for another future event.

Addendum regarding the Zelda's comparison issue.
I don't like Zelda's. Reason? They do more of a flaky pie crust. I like bread crust. Simple as that.

Warning: This is an extremely rich ice cream!

With the temperature at 108 degrees in Sacramento and a thick fog of smoke over the valley, what else would you think of but ice cream? I actually made this a while ago and am still enjoying it. But this version will clog your arteries!

1 c half and half
1 c sugar
6 egg yolks
3 c heavy cream
1 c pureed strawberries
1 t vanilla or seeds from half a vanilla bean

Mix together half and half and sugar in a saucepan and eat over high heat to just under a boil. Remove from the heat. Add vanilla. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, and then pour in some of the hot half-and-half mixture, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in heavy cream and pureed strawberries. Chill thoroughly.
Pour into prepared ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's instructions.
Akebono II on Urbanspoon

I will tell you right off the bat that if you are a true sushi lover, then don't read my review, read the Bee and SNR reviews. The reason is, I'm a novice sushi roll eater, only started eating them about three years ago. And I'm still not into the slabs of raw fish. Akebono II is known for having fresh fish that other sushi places don't have. So if you like the slabs of rawness by themselves and want to distinguish the flavor of each type of fish and their subtleties, then definitely go to Akebono.

As for me, I like rolls. I like the complexity of flavors and textures all rolled up together. But Akebono does not have much of a roll menu. They were willing to accommodate, though. I asked for a spiced/doctored up spider roll and they did oblige with the one here.

I also ordered the geso, deep fried squid legs. They had a nice peppery, crispy batter and were cooked perfectly. The amount was generous and the squid legs long.

George got a sushi and tempura combo plate and that came with a generous amount as well.

Jeni chose the soba salad. She enjoyed it except she said the dressing was a little too vinegary. She was unable to finish it, but for quantity, not quality.

Finally, Robert got the spicy beef plate. Based on the amount of red sauce I likened to Korean spicy kimchee sauce, I thought it must be firey. But he said it was on the mild side.

The servers were very attentive and friendly. I hear the sushi chefs at the bar are helpful in explaining the different fish and their flavors. But we were at a table and ably waited upon by a team of servers.