So every once in a while you go on Facebook and think about someone and do a search. This happened to me a few weeks ago because I had just seen one of my best college friends after 19 years. It made me think of other college friends and so I plugged a few names into Facebook.

One of the frat boys back then was Mark, aka Wags. I did a search for Mark Waggoner and, bang, I find Mark and send him a friend message saying, "Hey, Wags! Just saw Annie after 19 years. How are things going for you? Last I heard, you were still in Portland."

He approves me. I look at his pictures and see a nice family and that he's in the Midwest now. Hmmm.

About a week later Mark writes back and politely says he's having a hard time placing me. I hint him with college days. Few more days go by and he says things still aren't clicking. He says he went to Indiana State.

????? OK. If he isn't my Wags, then he was split from a twin brother at birth. I tell him I'll find a picture to show him. Luckily I have one shot of Wags.

Let's total up all these weird coincidences. Same name, same height, same nickname, same age, same eyes, same hair.....

So here are the pics. Doesn't it look like my Wags (first) could have been Indiana Wags (second) twenty years ago?

I was one who was not interested in seeing the Michael Jackson movie, that is, pay for it. But I won a ticket from a radio station. So then it was still pretty iffy because it required for me to drive across town to pick it up before the station closed at 5:30. For two days I procrastinated because I wasn't THAT interested. Then I thought to myself, "What are you gonna do tonite anyway? Watch TV?" I also dreaded the two hour running time. Would I stay attentive for the whole thing?

Well I must admit, This Is It was good, sad, inspiring, and more. I've got good and bad comments/observations.

First, it is sad because it is still close to his death. As you watch this incredibly talented person you can't help but feel the loss that you will never see or hear any new work from him again. The last artist that died prematurely that effected me that way was Heath Ledger and I also felt that way for John Lennon.

Then you are just in awe of how he moves! Even though there are 13 talented dancers matching his every step behind him, it just isn't the same because you realize that his body oozes rhythm and ability. He becomes one with the music.

The show would definitely have been a spectacular. Since it was so close to being finished, there were all the effects and filming they had done for different segments. If you've been to big shows like Madonna or U2, etc, you know how they have huge screens with videos, graphics, animations showing on them. All these elements had been done and are edited into the film. You get to see the new Thriller zombies coming out of a new graveyard. You see how they multiply the 11 male dancers into thousands via green screen and computers. It made me wonder how much the tickets were. Michael loved his fans. Did he keep the tickets affordable? I suppose they must have been still pretty high to recover all the overhead and production.

The bad things were nothing bad with the film, just thoughts I had running through my head. I mean, Michael looks like a skeletal freak. Sorry. He does. Although he is full of energy and doesn't look tired during his rehearsals, you know just by looking at him how unhealthy he was. Plus the plastic surgery. I don't care what he said, he had a LOT of work done. You don't change from 1971-child-African-American features that he had to super-chiseled-but-distorted-Caucasian features he ended up with. Honestly, he looked like The Joker from Batman to me. Certainly didn't help with some of his wierdly tailored jackets.

Another thing I noticed was how much clothing he wore. Concerts are physically demanding so that artists are often sopping in sweat. And yet Michael is wearing layers of clothing and barely breaks a sweat. What that tells me is that his skinny body wasn't holding any heat. I bet he was always cold.

Anyway, that's just some of the random thoughts that ran through my mind as I watched it. I would say that it would be worth it to watch it on the big screen to see it as the spectacle that Michael intended. That means you have only two weeks starting NOW to catch it. It is a fitting ending to a terribly shortened life and does give you a greater appreciation for Michael's artistry and attention to detail.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. of Baking Without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Aren't food trends interesting? Remember when yogurt shops were big in the early 90's? Then they all died out. Now they are back in vogue and sprouting up everywhere. The other thing that sprouted but I think is now on the decline is cupcake shops. What's the next 'big thing'? Some would argue that is the macaron.

Macarons are just becoming known and familiar in the United States. They are small pastry cookies made of a sandwich of almond meringue sides with a pastry cream, ganache, or other filling in the middle. They are light, sweet, and decadent. Usually they are small which can probably be attributed to the French preferring to show restraint on their portions. But, because they can run very sweet, it can also be likened to a chocolate truffle - to be savored and enjoyed.

I began my DB Challenge by doing some local research. In Sacramento there are two places that are known for selling macarons. One is Le Petit Paris cafe on 19th Street. They sell about about eight flavors of macarons that they receive from a baker in San Francisco. In the pictures theirs are the smaller macarons. From there I sampled the lavendar/apricot and pistachio macarons.

The larger macarons are made locally at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. I sampled the almond and passion fruit macarons there. I was able to ask Ginger for some tips about making them. She said to make sure to leave my egg whites out on the counter overnight and she suggested taking my almond flour/powdered sugar mixture and letting it dry in my oven overnight as well. One of the key things about macarons is to get out as much moisture as possible, so drying out the dry ingredients even more helps. Some even leave the egg whites out for a couple of days so that they lose some moisture as well. Out of the four macarons I sampled I liked the passion fruit flavored one the best.

Before we get to my finished product I wanted to point out what 'feet' are on a macaron. Macarons have feet and why it is called that I have no idea. Anyway, the feet is the little bit of separation or lip you see on the edge of each macaron - the side next to the filling. Here are a couple more illustrations of other people's because, unfortunately, mine did not have feet!

So now to my experience. My first batch flopped! This especially sucks because almond flour is not cheap and hard to find. The Co-op has it for $10.59 a bag! It takes half a bag for the recipe below. Some of the problems with batch one was that when I piped them out, they were too runny and spread out and melted together. The few that were successful in keeping shape and baking, stuck to the parchment paper so that when I peeled them off, all the innards were left on the paper. This after I had done all the tips that Ginger had given of leaving out all the ingredients and drying them out.

That had been on Sunday and now it was the work week. My intent was to leave the egg whites out a couple of days and bake the next attempt mid-week. But Monday was Columbus Day and for the locals who know, there was the big controversy over whether we State workers should show up for work or boycott. I went to work only to find that all my bosses didn't! So with that, I worked half day and went home to bake. This time I had not dried out the dry ingredients but decided to just go for it anyway. Above is the piped batter before I put it in the oven.

The second batch went much better but I was still worried as I tried to peel off the paper. It looked like I would have the same problem again, so I did one of the suggested fixes. I put the sheets back in the oven for the macarons to dry out even further. And this time I didn't put them on any sheet because I wanted the underneath of the paper to get as much dry air as possible. This worked out well.

The filling is chocolate buttercream left over from the Sans Rival I had made over the weekend. It worked great with the macarons.

I enjoyed the finished product a lot and will make macarons again. In the future I look forward to trying different flavor combinations. I kept it simple this time since I had that left over buttercream. Hopefully next time I will get feet!


Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 2-3 dozen.
The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

My friends know my sad tale of my last Kitchen experience. Basically, it was miserable and I called a cab home before my favorite course - dessert. Nothing to do with the restaurant, it was all my date's fault. Up there as my worst date ever. What I do remember about the food was good, it just got overshadowed by this awful date.

Suffice it to say, I needed to give The Kitchen another try under much better company. Paul organized his yearly event for the Epicureans. What better company than to go with a bunch of food lovers and friends so that I could sit with a group and discuss the meal and have a good time. That's why I stashed $20 bills into a piggy bank over a few months so that I could afford to go again.

After all, The Kitchen starts at $125 just for the food, before drinks, tax, and tip. This night the two wine flights were either $70 or $85. Then add possible sake, beer, coffee, etc. So if you drink alcohol, you will easily be over $200 for the night and maybe even reaching toward the $300 mark. Thank goodness I am allergic to alcohol! Cheap date = me. (Even my soda was $5!)

I had recently been telling a new friend about The Kitchen. He is new to Sacramento and has had experience with high end prix fixe restaurants in other cities. I explained to him that The Kitchen is different than any he's been to before. First of all, they let you wander around the entire facility. You can go into the freezers and kitchen and poke around if you want to. If you see a chef doing a technique that you would like to learn, you can go right up and help and learn. If you like a certain course, you can eat seconds, thirds, as much as you like til you make yourself sick of it. LOL. And if you have allergies or can't stand something, they'll accommodate. One of tonight's courses was a mushroom pot pie. I don't do mushrooms, so I requested a non-fungi one. My friend was surprised that they were so accommodating. But that's what you are paying for, the experience as well as the food. Consider that you can go to the French Laundry or other fancy Napa or S.F. restaurant, pay the same high price, and will you get to have as many servings as you like? I've never heard of any other restaurant doing that unless it's a buffet.

And, I should note, that the food is the very best quality of everything flown in from all over the world. I do remember thinking the last time I was there that I would be happy to take a trash bag of the tossings home. What I mean, for instance, is that they will cut a duck breast and give you the absolute choicest slices of it and the still (in my eyes) choice trimmings will be tossed aside. Hello! I'd still eat that! Nothing wrong with that bit there!

So off I went with high expectations and a little bit of anxiety. After all, the place holds a powerful bad memory for me. As I entered the place, which hasn't changed decor in the three years since I went, I was a bit uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that I got seated at the counter again. Wasn't too happy about that. But I sat between two nice couples who were good company. I had Jennifer and Phil on one side and Jim and Amy on the other.

Then the horror. Camera runs out of juice and we've just arrived. Note to self: Check your battery and bring the spare!!! Luckily Debbie agreed to share her photos and we are much better off because she had a real camera. Not the little pocket/purse one like I carry around that takes barely adequate shots. TY, Debbie!

Everything started a tad late - about 7:40. Noah, the head chef, began with his welcome and introduction of the staff. Then the activity started. Noah continued talking about each course with a lot of detail. Behind him the crew began a well orchestrated routine of plating 50 servings of each course. They would lay out ten heated plates on the right side of the counter and an assembly line would plate up and serve. Then they would move to the left counter and plate the next ten. Back to the right side for ten, etc. And even though it took about five minutes per set to add every little detail, your food still arrived hot. That is impressive.

Let me explain, for example, the plating of the first course... (Their explanation's are provided in the indented block quotes.)

- First Course -

Wood Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes
with House Made Pasta, Fresh Goat Cheese
and a Rock Shrimp-Panzanella Salad

This first course is a wonderful way to ease into a fall evening. Randall and Noah are preparing a warm broth-y heirloom tomato soup from the very best last of the season tomatoes coming to us first from Heidi Watanabe in West Sac, then, as the month progresses and the weather changes, from Patrick Hoover in Placerville. Both growers bring us outstanding tomatoes that are juicy and sweet with flavor that is simply phenomenal. We will be sad when tomato season is over, but we take solace in the fact that we can savor them for at least one more month. Our plan with this dish, which may evolve, is to take our fresh house made herbed pasta sheets and fold just-made goat cheese created by our favorite cheese-making husband and wife team out of Modesto at Nicolau Farms into them so that the cold cheese melts into the warm pasta sheet. Then we’ll take lightly crisped big, juicy Gulf Rock Shrimp, (the ones we’ve cornered the market on – you will not taste a better rock shrimp right now), and some olive oil soaked sourdough croutons to make up the Panzanella, or bread salad, portion of the dish. Randall says the olive oil we’re using from Tuscany will add a lovely hint of peppery spice to the dish. Little fresh cherry tomatoes finish the first course with a burst of sweet juicy flavor.

The first guy lays down a 3x3 inch square of cooked and oiled pasta. Next person puts a little dab of the goat cheese down. Then comes a little drizzle of some flavored oil. Next square of pasta over the top to make an unsealed ravioli. A small ladle of the tomato soup is poured atop. Another person comes and adds a small mound of the tomato and bread crumb salad. Another tiny sprinkle of more goat cheese. The addition of the rock shrimp, a squirt of aioli, and a few threads of chili that look like long saffron and it's off to you. About four or five people assembled it for you.

Noah made a point to explain the goat cheese because not everyone likes goat cheese. This is made to order for him locally. He says that he received the cheese a day after it is made so that it is super fresh and very mild. As it ages it would develop the sharper, gamier taste that some people can't stand. It was, indeed, very mild, soft, smooth, and fresh.

- Second Course -

Wild Mushroom-Black Truffle Pot Pie
with an Aged Madeira ‘Crème Brulee,’
Brussel Sprout Slaw and Slow Roasted Shallot Broth

Fall is a wonderful time for mushrooms, and our favorite mushroom lady Connie Green will be procuring the absolute best of the season for us, so the varieties will change weekly and perhaps even nightly, but you’re almost guaranteed some gorgeous Chanterelles. We’ll cook down the mushrooms and mix them with heavenly black truffle butter made from real Perigord Black Truffles from France and place the mixture in our own super-flaky classic potpie shell. A rich and decadent béchamel-like sauce sweetens the deal. To the side, we will also prepare a crème brulee of sorts, this being a savory version made with Madeira wine and porcini mushrooms dust crisped on top with parmesan cheese. This crème brulee component is a melt-in-your-mouth, creamy, earthy burst of flavor and a wonderful companion to the potpie. All the components will rest harmoniously in a soothing, robust broth of slow-roasted shallots.

I don't do mushrooms and so I had put in that request for a non-fungi pot pie. Mine had cauliflower and bean. This was the only course that I did not finish. I had to pace myself and I found the creaminess and the pastry from the pot pie to be too rich and heavy. I was no fan of the creme brulee either. It had the familiar texture of a creme brulee, but was rather bland of flavor. It had been topped with a crisp parmesan lace flake on top and that was what added the flavor.

It was now time for the half hour sushi/sashimi break. Everyone moved out to the patio where there were plates of salmon, hamachi, ahi, and a few rolls. They also served real wasabi, grated fresh off of a root, and some tempura shrimp and veggies.

- Third Course -

Grilled Patagonian Toothfish and Maine Lobster ‘Confit,’
a Medley of Clams, Mussels, Local Crayfish
and Clam Chowder Jus

Our third course this month features grilled Patagonian Toothfish, also known in the U.S. as Chilean Sea Bass. With the fish, we have a slow poach of Maine Lobster that is cooked down in its own juices, hence the “confit,” along with a little duck fat for flavor and depth. We also bring you a little medley of razor and East Coast clams and a main component sauce that is akin to a clam chowder broth or jus. The final fabulous touch is local crayfish from our friend Kelly, who you can find at the Farmers Market under the freeway every Sunday. He’s getting the big, fresh river crayfish that Randall loves and that look like little lobsters. They are much better than the small, grayish ones that burrow down in the mud that you may have experienced before. These ones are fresh and clean and delightful.

This course was fabulous for anyone who loves seafood. I was still having to pace myself, so I didn't order more, but now wish that I had. The fish was grilled to perfection over a wood fire grill so that you got a slight smokey char it. The mussels were packed with flavor so that we were curious what broth they had cooked them in.

- Fourth Course -

Mishima Ranch Wagyu Beef Tartare, Slow Roasted Piedmontese Tenderloin
with Fall Bean Pesto, Cabernet-Bone Marrow Glaze,
Thyme, and Carrot Butter

If you were with us in August you got to try this wonderful beef from Mishima ranch right here in Northern California. They are raising Wagyu cattle that is basically the American version of Kobe. It’s very rich and fatty but cleanly flavored beef that is actually packed with all the “good” fats and so is not necessarily bad for you - if you don’t eat too much of it! Of course, we encourage seconds. This beef tastes amazing and is grown antibiotic and hormone free for an all natural, perfect beef flavor. We are serving you both the tenderloin grilled and the rib eye cut served tar tar style. Randall and Noah have experimented with various preparations and cuts for this Wagyu Beef and have determined that the tenderloin is amazing simply grilled and that the fatty and ultra-rich rib eye is actually best raw. If you recall, we served it Carpaccio-style on the August menu and it was a huge hit, even making converts out of those who didn’t normally like raw beef. The accompaniments to the beef are simple and complementary – a fall bean pesto of whatever is best at the Farmers Market that week – green beans, black eyed peas, etc., and a deep and woodsy flavored cabernet-bone marrow jus. The subtle notes of a carrot puree with emulsified butter and fresh thyme finish this final savory course.

For this course the tartare was served in a small bread 'taco'. My friends and I found the bread distracting from experiencing the tartare, and so we ate ours without. This way we were really able to appreciate the flavor and texture of the ground up beef and pesto. The sliced tenderloin was an absolute perfected medium rare and so tender and delicious. The braised greens were delicious, but another distraction from the beef, and so I barely touched them. I ordered seconds of the beef course as we were now getting to the end of dinner.

During the beef course we were also served the optional upsell item of the foie gras. Noah slightly seared a two ounce portion just to get it some quick heat and to really melt the fats. It was served with a port reduction huckleberry sauce and it cost an additional $15. I had never had foie gras while my dinner partners all raved. I asked Jim on my side if he wanted to split one since Amy wasn't interested. I was concerned about paying that much and then finding out I don't like it. Jim graciously offered to buy it and still split it with me. I did, indeed, enjoy it. It was buttery creamy and paired well with the sweet tang of the sauce.

- Dessert Course -

Layered Milk Cake and Gold Raspberry Mousse,
White and Dark Chocolate, Peppermint
and Three Melon Sorbets

For a spectacular fall dessert, we are doing our version of the traditional Mexican Tres Leches cake that is moist, light, and sweet but not overly so. We will layer the cake with gold raspberries grown by Patrick Hoover in Placerville (find him at the Wednesday and Sunday Farmers Markets) and a rich white chocolate mousse. We will also have a cooling component of peppermint and then ultra-refreshing melon sorbets that will change varieties, but will probably usually be a mix of the French Charentais, watermelon, and a green Japanese varietal.

Since I had missed dessert completely on my last visit, it only made sense that I should have a double helping of dessert this visit. I did not care for the melon sorbets because I don't like melon. But the pastry was light. Jennifer and I had worried that we would not like the cake because we both think Tres Leches is too sweet and soggy. Luckily it was such a small element.

During dessert there was also coffee and tea service. The tea service was what was really interesting. They brought out a large assortment of fresh herbs, plants, and other tea elements so that you could have a freshly concocted tea as you liked. I asked another diner what she was getting and she said she got "Jeff's special" which had things like vanilla, lemon and orange zest, clove, elderberries, lime leaves, and some other things, but no actual tea. It looked and smelled fantastic and she enjoyed it very much. Jeff then was experimenting since he said that he was still trying to find a combination that would work well with rose. So he put some things together and Jennifer and Phil tried them out. They finally agreed it needed more work because the scent of the kaffir lime leaves overpowered their senses and the tea itself was too light and without any body.

Overall my experience was much nicer this time around. A companion would have been nice since I was the only solo person, but I was lucky to have friendly and generous dinner companions. Special thanks to Jim for letting me try the foie gras for the first time.

Yes, The Kitchen is expensive. But as I said in the beginning, you are paying for the best ingredients, gourmet cooking, excellent service, freedom to wander and to eat as much as you want. It's not a place that most people will ever get to try. But if you can splurge for a special occasion, you will not regret it.
Blue Dog Pizza on Urbanspoon
(original from Feb of 2008)

Lake Tahoe has a plethora of motels and restaurants. But how many times have we all chosen the easy casino buffet instead of checking out one of the other local establishments? Myself, I think buffets are a waste for my small appetite and the food is mediocre. I want to eat well!

So on our recent snowmobiling weekend we stumbled upon Blue Dog Pizza. If you are tied to casinos, this is within walking distance—at the Raleys shopping center next to Heavenly Village. They will also deliver.

Blue Dog only makes one size pie—14 inches, but their combos are creative and delicious. My friend tends to stick to Hawaiian, but I’m more adventurous. I chose the Hair of the Dog, which had pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, lots of garlic, jalapenos, and chilis. We couldn’t stop talking about the pizza all weekend! The crust was wonderful and the toppings generous.

My friend likes Hawaiians because of the pineapple. I told him next time he’ll have to try the Thai chicken pizza—peanut sauce, chicken, pineapple, red peppers, snow peas, and sesame seeds.

There are other menu items as well. They can make calzones, chicken wings, salads, and paninis. So, next time you are up at Stateline, be sure and go for the great pizza!
Did you see me on the news? LOL. I'm a background person in the News 10 story about Sactweetup. You can catch the clip here. They didn't interview me, thank God.

Sactweetup is a prime example of the social media movement. Most people are familiar with social media in terms being online with Myspace and Facebook. Then there is my other favorite,, where you can join any interest group you can think of and get out and mix with people who share those interests. Now add Twitter and an extra dimension of putting the online and offline personas together at a social gathering and you've got a tweetup.

Tweetups are gatherings of people on Twitter. My problem was/is that I'm not a full Twitter convert yet. I think it is very important for businesses or individuals who run their lives like businesses. The Average Joe/Jill though? What's the necessity of a Jill tweeting about picking up her kid at school or buying groceries?

It really boils down to there are the Tweeters and the Followers. And, although I do tweet a bit myself, I'm really more of a Follower. I get on Twitter on my pc (I don't like the annoyance of constant tweets to my phone) and I check it throughout the day because I Follow accounts that give away freebies. And that's an example of using Twitter as a marketing tool.

I could continue on a marketing discussion, but I digress. The Sactweetup is a chance for people on Twitter to come together, meet, network, make new friends/contacts, etc. Since I went to my first one last month, I must admit that I've gotten more into tweeting. After all, it takes some time to learn all the little codes and ways to make it work when you only have 140 characters to work with.

This month the event was at the penthouse of the L Street Lofts. Curiosity got this cat because I really wanted to check out these lofts. Urban lofts conjure up all kinds of images in your head, especially from movies. I think everyone wonders what it would be like to live in a loft. What is the lifestyle like? Are you a loft kinda girl/guy? Personally, I'm not sure that my decorating style would really fit in a loft. Then there are the more rough, converted warehouse style versus new construction like the L Street Lofts are.

There were four model lofts ranging from 700 to 2100 square feet. Prices range from $315K to $675K. You can see some of the shots I took, but you really can't get a feel for size/space. After all, the 700 sq. ft. model is really small. Gotta love the views from the penthouse though! You can't really see the Capitol dome here.

And this is looking down L Street.

L Wine Lounge, which is directly across the street, catered the event. Nice, but nothing special. Actually disappointing considering how much I really like L Wine Lounge and have eaten there several times.

I met several new people and I enjoy discussing with them how and why they tweet. You also find out about a lot of creative jobs that people have come up with. Last month I met a gal who goes to your home, looks at your wardrobe, then takes you shopping to add some key pieces, then shows you how to mix them with what you already own to restyle your look. This month I met a virtual assistant and another who uses Twitter to promote her at-home calligraphy business.

I also had a great conversation with the owner of Yogurtagogo (also across the street). They are my favorite yogurt place in town because they have that tart Japanese style yogurt, great flavors, and pour-your-own. Mochii is nice too, but I like being able to build my own yogurt. Yogurtagogo just got a gocart for downtown deliveries. We discussed flavors and fundraising opportunities. I mentioned my upcoming gourmet dinner challenge and told him he needs to try tamarind. So if you see tamarind flavor there in the next year, it's because of me!

It was another great tweetup event. Each month the crowd gets bigger and bigger. Then the organizers have been great about adding events. Last month they did a scavenger hunt that was posted about at Sacfoodies. This weekend we are getting a free brunch over at Hot Italian as they introduce their brunch menu. I'm definitely enjoying another avenue for meeting people and making friends.
This week is our annual United Way Cake Auction at work. Some people go all out and do fancy decorated cakes. I'm more in it for the quality of the cake. This year I decided to tweak the traditional Sans Rival (post from last year) to make a chocolate version.

I wanted a buttercream that didn't have eggs in it so that I wouldn't have to do the stovetop cooked buttercream. I found the recipe at Joy the Baker's site (up this year for a Foodbuzz Blog Award for Best Baking Site). It uses Ovaltine and it made a bunch! (Recipe below)

My problem this year was a near disaster with my meringue layers. Here was layer #2, which would not separate from the parchment paper. It sent me into a mild panic. But what do you do with failed layers? Eat them, of course!

Luckily I was still able to pull off four layers and was able to cover the mishaps with frosting and nuts.

The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

adapted from Delilah Bakery

1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup Ovaltine

Cream together butter, cocoa powder and salt. Butter mixture will be very thick. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add powdered sugar. Turn mixer on low and mix in powdered sugar while adding milk and vanilla extract. As the sugar incorporates, raise the speed of the mixer to beat the frosting. Beat until smooth. In a 2 cup measuring glass, stir together heavy cream and Ovaltine. Turn mixer speed to medium and pour cream mixture into frosting in a slow, steady stream, until you’ve reached your desired consistency. You may not need the full amount of Ovaltine and cream.

Last night I was treated to a 'cowboy feast' at Greg and Becky's. Greg had made some nice potato chips, some with chipotle spice and some were just salted with sea salt.

It reminded me that I used to make microwave fat-free chips for my Pampered Chef shows all the time.

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Using a mandoline, slice potatoes using the thin slice blade. I find that Idaho baking potatoes work the best.

Lay the slices out on your baking stone. This is the important part. You need to have a stone that will fit in your microwave and rotate. Salt and/or season the slices. I used our PC BBQ Seasoning. Microwave the chips for 10 minutes to start. You will need to watch your batches and try to put slices of the same thickness on the stone. Check them to see if all the moisture has been drawn from them. They will be crisp when they are done. You can see that they shrink considerably.

These are great snacks, they just take a lot of time because you only do a handful at a time.
Magpie Caterers Market and Cafe on Urbanspoon
This is another case of hearing plenty of good reviews in advance. I'm happy to say, my experience was good as well.

I met a blind friend there for lunch. It was a little tight for a person with their guide dog, but we were able to find a table in the corner where Yalie was unobstructive. I read the menu off to her and there were quite a few nice things for the day. There was also a deli case filled with delicious looking salads, which I should have taken a picture of. Next to the register were a bunch of tasty looking baked goods ranging from cookies to scones and carrot cake. The chocolate chip cookies were so delectable looking that I couldn't resist.

My friend is a vegetarian and so she chose the veggie panini. From what I saw it was filled with roasted peppers, onions, and spinach.

I chose the smoked trout sandwich, which turned out to be open faced. There was a flavored mayonnaise, the pieces of smoked trout, some cilantro, and chunks of heirloom tomatoes. I enjoyed it and the light salad underneath.

That chocolate chunk cookie was a winner as well. It was large, fresh, moist, and filled with slivers of chocolate versus chips. A quality cookie compared to some wrapped-in-saran cookies you see at other establishments.

I look forward to going back and try some of the salads in the case.

I think that anyone who has been given or used starters can relate to this: starters, if you're not careful, can multiply like fertile, wild rabbits. Starters such as yogurt, sourdough, or, in my case, Amish friendship bread.

Starters have some live culture in them where you have to care and tend for them, feeding them every few days so they grow. I was given Amish friendship bread starter from a coworker. It had started long ago with some yeast and grew and multiplied, was split and shared so that I had no idea how many generations down my starter was. Directions tell you to mix the goopy mixture every day. On day five, you feed it some fresh milk, flour, and sugar. Mix every day for another four days. Then on day ten you feed it again and then divide it into four. Give three away and restart the process with your kept fourth.

Problem is, after you've given all your friends starter, what are you supposed to do with your extras on day ten? One solution is to just freeze the bags until you need one to bake with. Or, if you just need to slow down the process, you can refrigerate them and it will slow the process down by about half.

What can you make with Amish starter? Everything from cookies, to breads, cakes, biscuits, waffles, brownies and more. A great site for all the variations you can make is found here. I made a chocolate bread when I first got the starter. It was OK, but nothing exciting. Then I saw a recipe for cinnamon rolls. I've been on the hunt for a good cinnamon roll recipe. Considering that cinnamon rolls start with a yeasty bread dough, I figured the starter was perfect for this.

I actually doubled the recipe which made three square pans of rolls. Here I've already rolled up the dough and about to slice.

I put extra butter and cinnamon sugar over the top before baking.

Here are two of my pans. The rolls can be frozen unbaked for up to a month. You just take them out to thaw the night before. Or you can refrigerate if you want to bake them the next day.

So how did they come out? First of all, I was really surprised by just how much they expanded. You see up in the earlier pictures how loosely I put the rolls into the pan - there was a lot of space left. They came out of the oven tight against each other.

Texturewise, the rolls were really tender and moist. I would have preferred a bit more chewiness of bread dough, but this was still an excellent dough. Everyone at work loved them. I'd say it is a very successful outcome using Amish starter for cinnamon rolls.

I am guilty. I don't listen to public radio. It's probably because it reminds me of my parents. They may have grown me in their images to watch documentary and news shows on television, but I revolted on radio in favor of music. Plus the fact that I only listen to internet radio at work. So I did not know that our own local Capital Public Radio had been doing a series on the cultural diversity on Broadway exhibited through restaurants. The series was called Broadway: Around the World in 30 Blocks.

Today there was a food crawl on Broadway based on the series. The Greater Broadway Partnership sponsored it to benefit the YMCA. We had 18 stops and the venues varied from Thai to Mexican, from Ethiopian to Nepalese.

We started the crawl at Broadway's newest restaurant, Iron Steaks. It is owned by the same person who owns Willie's Burger (stop #3). The inside decor is really nice and the staff were proud to point out some of the features such as the beautiful floor and the special tables.

They served skewers of their wagyu beef and lime chicken with a mashed potato cake and their limoncello pie for dessert. Great first stop. The beef was super tender and the lime chicken was a favorite with a few of the crawlers. The limoncello pie was pretty bad though. Maybe it was because they made a scaled down version for the crawl. I hope that's the case, but I still won't ever order it. I was more interested in the strawberry shortcakes on the menu since they are actually done with beignets, which they also make over at Willie's. They served a very tasty sangria punch for those of us not interested in wine. As I mentioned in my last crawl review, it's important for restaurants to put their best foot forward during the crawl in order to attract new patrons. Iron Steaks did this. I want to go for dinner now.

We passed by Javalounge (coffee), had chili burgers at Willie's, and then walked down to Andy Nguyen's. I had heard that they were a vegetarian restaurant and that was explained to us when we entered (also in the radio story). They made us some Vietnamese noodles and we were able to pick our ingredients. I opted to pass on the meat substitutes and enjoyed the refreshing lightness of this stop.

Los Jarritos was next and put out a pretty good spread of chips, pork and chicken tamales (featured in the radio story), taquitos, chili verde, and orchata. Then it was on to New Canton, famous for its dim sum. Unfortunately the dim sum was left out and so it was cold and there was no place to sit. In fact, the Chinese places did not put their best feet forward. Next was Panchos Mexican, a place I've noticed many times, but never gone to. They had chili rellenos and chips with beans. It was poor showing Chinese again next door at Panda House. The food was all deep fried and cold. Oftentimes hole-in-the-wall places like it can be hidden surprises, but this was not demonstrated by what they sampled.

Katmandu Kitchen was a great stop. Shown in the top photo, we were served naan, spinach paneer, samosas, a vindaloo, and a mango drink. They were generous and eager to serve. Next door was Mana Sushi. Mana's problem was they were understaffed to deal with all the crawlers coming through. But they served up some nice sushi rolls.

The most anticipated stop by every crawler we talked to was Queen Sheba because people were interested in trying Ethiopian food. In my case, I had Ethiopian 20 years ago in Portland and hated it. But Queen has an excellent reputation here in Sacramento and so I had been wanting to try it. The problem was, I was absolutely stuffed by this time. We went in and found their buffet table stocked above. I took the smallest amounts just so I could taste it only. I must admit, the tastes I had were full of flavor, so I am interested in going back and actually sitting down to a full meal experience.

We still had three more stops, but we just couldn't do it. The next two stops were two Thai restaurants. I love Thai food and I've eaten at both so I decided to skip them in anticipation of the final stop for Tower Cafe. People had figured Tower would have desserts, but they put out jerk chicken, Thai wings, and samosas. I was really disappointed because I had really wanted dessert, but I took some chicken for later because their food is always good.

By this time it was 3:00 and I was ready for a nap now that I was in a full fledged food coma. And we had totally skipped going to the two ice cream stops and Panagea cafe on purpose due to distance!

The crawl event ended officially with an event at Beatnik Studios celebrating the radio series. The reporter, Elaine Corn was there along with the photographer, editor, and producer. There was a nice discussion about the series - how it came about and how it was produced. Be sure to listen to it by going to the site here.

There really is so much diversity on Broadway. Lucky for me, I live right in the heart of it. Once again I was introduced to some new places thanks to a crawl. Some I'll try again, some I've always liked, and some I'll just pass on.

There are three more crawls this month. This group,, has another one on the 25th called The Big Nosh. We ran into Cline today and he's got two more crawls himself. On the 15th is Bikes and Brews to celebrate Oktoberfest. Then on the 28th is his Halloween costume crawl. Get more info at Grubcrawl USA.