Are you ready to drool?

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

At first I considered passing on this month's challenge, mostly because I knew temperatures would be crucial and we are still hitting 100 degrees here. But as I read people's completed challenges I realized that it wasn't that difficult a challenge and that if I used the refrigerator as my friend, I could get it done. I did wait until the last minute, though. I was hoping for a cooldown. Today is 99 degrees and the last weekend of the month. Oh well. Time to get down to business.

My first obstacle was mixing the dough because the directions required a food processor, which I do not own. I did my best to mix it by hand and I guess I succeeded well enough. You then rolled the dough into a rectangle and put cold butter on the center, folded the sides over it, and then rolled. The idea is to roll the butter into layers with the dough to create the flaky layers that puff pastry has. You continued to roll and fold until you had done so for six 'turns'.

The final rolling is to about a 1/4 inch thick. Then you cut your vols-au-vents. These are the small puff pastry containers you often get appetizers or desserts served in. Most professionals would have the cutter sets available so that they would do circles with hole cut circles on top. I didn't have the cutters, so I did my best with squares. You stick the tops onto the bases with an egg wash.

Here they are fresh from the oven. I did succeed with getting the required layers, but not as high as I would have liked. You can see I kept the baby squares that I had cut out of the tops.

The nice thing about vols-au-vent is that you can use them for savory or sweet fillings. Here I filled one with Thai beef curry.

Here is my masterpiece. I made a rosewater whipped cream, sliced some strawberries, and drizzled everything with a reduced balsamic honey sauce. Deee-licious! And how could I not like it when my favorite pastry is a Napoleon? All the same ingredients, just different assembly.

Will I make puff pastry again? Perhaps. It wasn't all that hard. The thing is, why gamble on how high your layers may rise when you can take the easy way out by buying puff pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store? We'll see.

Taste of Sacramento is a big fundraising event for Easter Seals. In the past I haven't gone because I think they charged more. This year it was only $25 and included about 40 wineries/breweries and about 50 food vendors, so it seemed a good food to dollar value.

We arrived for the opening of the doors at 5:30. You have to be there right at the opening for these food events because food does run out and huge lines form. We were able to do one quick circuit around the hall before the lines started to really form. By the time we left at 7:45, the lines were huge and some vendors had already run out.

Unfortunately my camera battery ran out before I could get too many pictures.

I, of course, skip all of the alcohol tables and just focus on food. One of my favorite things about events like these is seeing small companies trying to make it with some food product that they were famous for. Like the woman I met who had the House of Chantilly table. Gena came from New Orleans with a family recipe for chantilly cream. She was famous for bringing it to potlucks or food events that she finally decided it was time to turn it into a business. Chantilly cream is a pretty generic term for a sweetened cream. Gena has come up with some combination of flavors or sweeteners to create a unique version. She sells the mix in liquid pouches and you mix them with sour cream. She was serving it with a variety of items. I had my taste with strawberry and biscuit. Chris tried his with chocolate and blue cheese. This sounded gross to me (hate blue cheese) but he loved it and thought it gave it a cheesecake flavor.

Here were the ladies from Kelli's Cookies.

And another small business, The Chocolate Architect, with a selection of her fudges.

Some of the food vendors were better than others. I liked the presentation here for the Classique Catering company. It was braised short ribs that were super tender on top of small onion tartlets. The only fault was that it was served cold. Another favorite was the raw ahi tuna and watermelon salad from Mason's. It was so light and refreshing. I also enjoyed a pot roast and mashed potatoes from, I believe, Hawks.

I will mention one winery because it is my chiropractor's, or, rather, his family's. I led Chris and Christina to try it and they really enjoyed the Pedroncelli wines they tasted, especially since they had just had one across the room that they hated.

We ended by going over to look at the items up for the silent auction. They were primarily sports and entertainment memorabilia. Things like picture/autograph/souvenirs framed together. There were a few jewelry items and other things, but mostly those big framed sets. The sad thing was that hardly any of the items had bids on them. Whether it was because people were waiting to the last minute or it was a statement of the poor economy or the poor selection/variety of items, who's to say? But I hope that they did get some money in the end.
I've been divorced for 9.5 years now. The first couple years were on/off with the ex trying to make it work. The last 7.5 have been dating with three long relationships in there. But now I'm single again and dating afresh.

A few years ago the book He's Just Not Into You came out and created quite a lot of discussion. The author, Greg Behrendt, spilled the beans on a lot of actions guys do that women just don't pick up on, all boiling down to the fact that he's just not into you. It was a revelation into how men think. It caused enough of a stir to be turned into a movie with an all-star cast acting out many of the scenarios.

Early on in my post-divorce dating I coined the phrase "disappearing into the ether". This is when you've gone out with a guy once or a few times, maybe even months, and then SILENCE! No calls to you, no calls returned. Which boils down to the "he's just not that into you" as he disappears into the ether.

OK! I don't have a problem with that. Not everyone is a perfect match and sometimes it takes a few dates to figure that out. But why can't guys (and gals) have the cojones to just say something instead of disappearing into the ether???

This is the most incredibly frustrating thing! It's just a matter of respect and courtesy. It doesn't have to be a long, drawn explanation with reasons about this or that. It can simply be "I don't think we are a match but thank you for your company." Is that really so hard?

Now I will admit to disappearing myself ONLY ONCE. And that was after I had already given the "I don't think it will work out" talk. It started getting drawn out and so I finally had to just disappear into the ether. But I did have "the conversation" first, so I'm exonerated from the evil deed.

Guys (and gals), be a bigger person and be honest and polite and just say it and then be done with it. Don't take the coward's way out. It makes you look like a schmuck for having no class.

I had a nice evening of people watching at the 17th annual Saca Ball for the Sacramento Food Bank. Cakegrrl Kristy had asked me to join her at this gala event held in Carmichael.

People were enjoying appetizers supplied by various restaurants when we were all told to look upward. A couple of well-dressed skydivers drifted down and landed in front of the Saca home.

There were photographers taking formal portraits in the main house. In the backyard pool and patio area there were bars and plenty of food. Some of the restaurants/caterers included were Aiolis, PF Chang's, Panera Bread, Java City, and Leatherby's. The basketball court was the main dining area where we were served from stations that included Ruth's Chris, Lucca's, Scott's Seafood, Roxy and others. Dessert was provided by Freeport Bakery, Tarts & Truffles, and other bakeries.

There was both a silent and live auction of donated items ranging from artwork to Hawaiian vacations. The money earned from the auctions as well as the $250/plate tickets will go to support the Sacramento Food Bank & Family services. With the lousy economy these days, they say they've seen a 37% increase in families needing help. Here you see Kelly Brothers acting as auctioneer.

We didn't stay long enough to find out the totals of how much was raised, but hopefully it was better than last year, even during these tough times.
Alonzo's Stuffed Pizza
Alonzo's Pizza Depot on Urbanspoon

My first house 19 years ago was in Citrus Heights. If you live in Citrus Heights you know Sunrise Blvd. pretty well. Go east past the mall and you'll come to the complex with the Hometown Buffet in it. Tucked into the corner of the complex is Alonzo's Pizza Depot. Even though I live in downtown Sac these days, I will actually make the trek to Alonzo's for their pizza once in a while.

My ex and I still love Alonzo's. Deon even said once (when we had moved to house #2 in Rocklin) that if he won the lottery he would want to have him open a second location nearer our new house. I met up with him last night at the familiar digs.

Alonzo's does regular, deep dish, and stuffed pizzas. We always get the stuffed. We have two favorite combos. The Instant Love, pictured, has sausage, mushrooms, and spinach. The Artie's has artichoke hearts and feta and sausage. We also always ask for extra tomato sauce on top.

Because the thicker pizzas have a long baking time we normally order in advance. The stuffed can take close to half an hour to bake. We ordered a small and only ate half of it. We each took a quarter pizza home for left overs. The stuffed is that thick and filling.

The crust is a yeasty bread crust, nice and chewy. It holds up for the support it provides to the heavy toppings. After all, stuffed slices are about an inch thick. Stuffed has the bottom crust, the cheese, sausage, spinach in the center, another thin layer of crust, and then the sauce and mushrooms on top. Alonzo's doesn't skimp on the ingredients either.

Tonite I'll reheat my leftovers on a baking stone in my oven. (I'm not a cold pizza/leftovers person.) It will come out just as great tonite as it did last night.

I've become a big fan of Masullo's for thin, Italian style pizza. And Chicago Fire does a good stuffed as well. Theirs are just boring though. In that, they don't have any unusual combos. They just have basic stuff like meaty or veggie combos.

So if you are in the vicinity, check out Alonzo's. I'm sure you'll be a fan too.

I found that I had a forgotton package of pork loin from our pig buy hidden in the back of my freezer. It's also fig season. How to put the two together?

I found a recipe for Citrus Grilled Pork Loin with Mint Fig Sauce at Seemed like a great solution, even though reading the ingredients made you wonder just a bit. But the reviews were favorable and so I gave it a go.

I ended up just grilling the pork on my George Foreman instead of on a BBQ. I'm not convinced that the bacon was really necessary - and it's an added cost. But if you did use a BBQ, I could see you losing some of the moisture of the loin without the bacon protection.

My friends said it was good but weren't overly enthusiastic. I thought it was delicious. But I am a sauce person. The orange juice and balsamic give the sauce some tang along with the mintiness. It was easy to put together as it just requires a blender. It is not a heated sauce, although, I suppose you could heat it if you wanted.

Minty Fig Sauce

6 fresh figs
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup orange juice
1 pinch sea salt and pepper to taste

Blender it all!