As I said in my post about the Specialty Food Show, I got some samples from different vendors. Today I decided to take two of them to make dinner.

The lamb sausage is from Marcel & Henri. They are an award winning charcuterie based in the Bay Area. Here is a little of their history from The Nibble, which by the way, has a great summary of charcuterie and pates.
Charcutier Henri Lapuyade, founder of Marcel et Henri, started to make French pâtés in the United States in 1960. Beginning with a few recipes from his native France, he opened a small shop on San Francisco’s Russian Hill. Business thrived, his quality became renowned. In 1982 the French government awarded Henri the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole for carrying on the great culinary tradition in the United States, and in 1997 he was promoted to Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole.

So based on the above, you know it's gonna be good. The sausage I was given was already cooked but I used it in the recipe anyway.

The gnocchi came from an Italian exhibitor, De Cecco pastas. You would know the blue and yellow boxes of their fine pastas in the grocery stores. The gnocchi were wonderfully packaged with just a slight dusting of meal to keep them separated. The cooked up nicely.

The recipe is from Emeril Lagasse. Emeril's Lamb Sausage Ragout with Portobello Mushrooms Since I don't do mushrooms, they are left out of my version. Even though this ragout is really too chunky to go with gnocchi, I wanted to use the two samples together and it still worked out deliciously. The finished product was a great contrast of the chunky and still slightly crunchy veggies of the ragout with the pillowy softness of the gnocchi. I will definitely make this again.

Lamb Sausage Ragout
* 2 pounds Italian style lamb sausage, (substitute with regular Italian sausage), cut into 1-inch pieces
* Olive oil
* 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
* 1 cup chopped onions
* 1/2 cup chopped celery
* 1/2 cup chopped carrots
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
* 10 plum tomatoes, halves and pureed in the food processor (about 4 to 5 cups puree)
* 1/2 cup dry red wine
* 1 pound gnocchi
* 1/4 pound Pecorino Foje de Noce

Heat a large Dutch over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the sausage and cook just until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, celery, and carrots and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the crushed red pepper flakes. Add the fresh tomato puree and the red wine and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pasta pot of water to a boil. Season with salt. Add the gnocchi and cook according to package directions, or until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain well.

A couple of months ago I mentioned my dad's artwork of fused glass koi on slate. Here is the article from a major koi publication.

My brother had said that we should really learn dad's techniques because otherwise his knowledge would be lost if something should happen to him. I think Paul plans on videotaping him at work to document the process. I decided to take a glass fusing class via The Learning Exchange so I could understand the basics.

The class was taught at Rainbow Glass on Auburn Blvd. They have classes for all kinds of glasswork including stained glass, fusing, blowing glass, glass beads, and more. I did two projects - the picture frame above and the small wall vase below. I liked how the glass melts together into one piece. What I didn't like was the instructor. She was nice and all, but she didn't educate me about glass and the processes. She just taught us a couple of techniques, let us create what we wanted, and that was it. She didn't even go into any explanation of the business and what they offered to try and encourage us to take classes. So she wasn't a good marketer.

Still, I think I might take some more classes. After all, it helps me to learn what my dad does and if I really like it, like he does, I could some day get his equipment.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

In celebration of the Winter Games in Vancouver, we did a Canadian recipe. Here is the basic info:

Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh. These bars have 3 layers: a base containing graham crackers, cocoa, coconut and nuts, a middle custard layer, and a topping of chocolate. They are extremely rich and available almost everywhere across the country.

What particularly interested me was the gluten-free part of the project. I'm getting more interested in going to gluten-free baking. As I said a few posts ago, I dabbled in modeling back in the late 80's. At the time one of the agents had told me to lay off baked goods and wheat products because it added puffiness. Then if you think about people with celiac disease, most are thin. So I'm thinking it might be a beneficial way to go.

Below is the recipe for the Gluten-free Graham Crackers - which turned out to be pretty yummy! I'm saving the rest for future crusts, etc. The only troublesome thing was that the dough is so soft and sticky that it was hard to transfer to the baking sheets. Also, they puffed up quite a bit during baking and erased my fork pricks. Then they deflated a bit until I decided to take them out. You take them out still soft to the touch and then they crisp up hard as they cool. Because I was going to crush them up for the Nanaimo bars I did not bother to make them pretty and square.

The recipe is to put them in a square pan and then cut them into bars. I decided to be a little different and used my Pampered Chef mini-muffin pan and then the rest in a muffin pan. I put in the crust mix and then the custard layer. The custard layer is a pretty small amount so I added another half recipe to have enough for both pans. I then put them into the freezer. This morning I melted the chocolate and dunked the bottoms and drizzled the tops.

How do they taste? These are definitely rich, sweet, decadent desserts. You only need the bite size morsel. The larger muffin cup ones I cut into quarters. I really like the crust but would do more of a cheesecake middle in the future. Still, a nice new treat to try.

Gluten-free Graham Crackers

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.
2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.
9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia. You may have seen pictures or in movies how the Bedouin eat. They roast a goat and serve it on a platter of rice, sit on the ground, and eat with their right hands (left hand is for toilet). We used to call these 'goat grabs'. So goat is not something unusual for me. Besides, goat is really close to lamb and so if you like lamb, you'll like goat.

This month Mulvaney's Family Dinner was featuring goat. Patrick Mulvaney was thinking in terms of his wife's birthday and that she is a Capricorn. I booked a table for my Dining Galore group and we enjoyed a very tasty meal. The great thing about these monthly dinners is that for $45 (tax/tip included) you get an excellent four course meal, all you can eat, and you can even take leftovers home.

Upon entering the banquet foyer we were confronted with goat carving. One of the chefs was busy taking all the meat off the goat carcasses. While watching, John Bledsoe of Bledsoe Pork came up. Turns out he supplied the goat for the evening. I said I hadn't realized he was now offering goat. He said he doesn't to the public because he barely keeps up with the demand from the restaurants. We chatted for a while about his business and then I said I knew the goat would be as great as his pork always is.

Later I talked to Dan, bartender and family friend, about getting some of the bones for stock. He later came to my table with a bag of bones for me which I directly threw into a crockpot as soon as I got home.

During the cocktail hour there are waiters that come around with appetizers. It's hard to get them as they go quickly. Don't sit at your table and expect to get any. I had to nearly tackle a couple of waiters in order to get a few.

The first course was a chopped salad that featured goat meat chorizo. The sausages must be very thin because the slices were so small. The salad was topped with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette.

The pasta course was made by Mulvaney's Pasta Dave. It was agnolotti filled with a homemade fresh goat cheese ricotta. There were shavings of Pecorino cheese on top and then a light butter sauce with mint and thyme. Everyone loved this course and our Dave took the leftovers home.

The entree was the chili rubbed goat meat served with roasted potatoes and broccoli rabe. It was so very tasty! We did have two minor complaints though. The entree was virtually cold by the time we ate it and the goat meat was really hit and miss. One minute you would have a super tough, fatty piece and the next you would get a tender morsel. But they keep refilling the bowls til you are satisfied. Dan took those leftovers home and I took any ribs and threw them into my bone bag for stock.

The dessert was two part. The first was a pine nut cheese tart. I eat pine nuts in moderation, so eating a tart crammed full of them was not to my liking. I only ate a couple of bites. It was the least favorite thing for all of our table but Sue liked it enough to take the rest (half a pie) home.

The goat milk ice cream was another story. Yumm! I had seconds and thirds of that. They flavored it with just a tinge of caramel. It was so nice and creamy. You should really give goat milk ice cream a try because it has more calcium, less lactose, less cholesterol and fewer allergens than cow's milk. It's also more easily digestible than cow's. This weekend I even went to the Coop and asked that they start stocking it.

Anyway, almost all of us had some goodie bag to take home with us. As I said, my bones went immediately into the crockpot so that I woke up this morning to goat stock aroma in my house. I plan to add veggies and barley for a fabulous soup. But that's another blog entry...

Spamarind = Spam & Tamarind

How did I end up cooking a Spamarind dinner? Think Iron Chef or similar challenges where you are challenged to cook with specific ingredients.

But let's start with the group first. You see, I belong to a gourmet dinner group that has been going for about three years. The group consists of some Sacramento foodies and the object is to have a rotation of six households that host a fine meal for the rest. Our members include a couple of other food bloggers, a couple of leaders of dining groups, and a whole bunch of food lovers.

The first two years we cooked whatever we wanted. This last year we started by pulling ingredients out of a hat, two per household. Most of the ingredients were common enough - tea, ginger, cherry. The most unusual ingredient was mesquite meal. I had the idea to throw in Spam because I had read an article about famous chefs adding dishes with Spam at some of their restaurants. In the end, my teammate, Chris, pulled the Spam and I pulled tamarind. And so our Spamarind dinner was formed.

The requirement was that one or both ingredients had to be in each of the four courses. Luckily our turn was late in the rotation, so I've had over six months of contemplation for this dinner and time to test some of the dishes. Chris was responsible for the entree and I pretty much figured out the rest.

Two diners did have food accomodations. One eats gluten-free and luckily almost everything was so. The other preferred to only eat chicken and so we got her a chicken breast instead of the pork loin. In the end she did try every Spam item and was pleasantly surprised.

Let's start with Spam. The word 'Spam' is supposedly derived from either 'pork shoulder and ham' or 'spiced ham'. Either way, it's a pork meat product that has been shoved into a can since 1937. It became an important staple during World War II because here you had a meat protein packaged in a can that therefore had a long shelf life and was easily transportable. Since then there have been many different Spam products as it has gone in and out of favor. Often there is an increase in popularity during bad economic times. Such is the case now. My coworker went back to his home state of Minnesota this fall and said that the local Spam factory was working 24/7 because of the increase of demand.

Tamarind, our other ingredient, is a tree and the fruit from it is what is used in many dishes throughout the world, most commonly in Asia. It is usually found in a paste form that is a purplish brown in color and the flavor is an acidic sweet/sour.

So the challenge was to see if I could get both ingredients into all four courses. In the end I only skipped tamarind in the soup course and was able to use Spam in all courses!

My thought process was that Spam was just pork. Any recipe that had pork or bacon could surely be substituted with Spam, right? And so my menu was born. (I've opted to link to the recipes as separate pages in order to concentrate on an overview of the dinner here.)

* Chickpea ceviche with tamarind
* Spam lumpia with spicy tamarind dipping sauce
* White bean soup shooters with crumbled Spam
* Pork loin with tamarind BBQ sauce and roasted vegetables with Spam
* Spam truffles and tamarind macarons

I knew this dinner would be a perfect candidate for Foodbuzz's 24-24-24. To make it more interesting for all, I decided to create a scorecard for each diner to record their rating and comments for each item. I asked them to give a 1-5 rating for three categories: taste, appearance, and creativity. Then there was a spot for thoughts/comments. There were ten raters and I did not rate. Also, the chickpea ceviche was a last minute addition and so it wasn't on the rating form.

Chickpea Ceviche with Tamarind

Chris added this contribution and had found the recipe on the internet. We set it out while we were busy getting everything else ready. You can definitely see and taste the Indian influence of this dish. Chris dislikes cilantro and wanted to put it on the side but was outvoted. In the end he admitted that it was much better with the cilantro (after he'd been eating it all week without). I'm not a fan of chickpeas but did enjoy the freshness of it. Not sure I would have called it a ceviche when it's more akin to a salsa. It was served with flatbread.

Spam Lumpia with Spicy Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Taste - 4.5 Appearance - 4.5 Creativity - 4.5

Lumpia is the Filipino version of an eggroll. The difference is that Filipinos put meat in theirs along with vegetables. Most commonly it is a mixture of beef, pork, and shrimp. Vegetables can be anything non-juicy like cabbage, potatoes, peas, etc. At work we had a lumpia fundraiser and I was surprised to find frozen vegetables (you know, the carrot, corn, pea, lima bean combo) in them. I used the Spam and shrimp and then cole slaw mix, water chestnuts, and onion. A couple of my diner comments said that my mixture of meat to vegetables was "well balanced".

I provided both the tamarind sauce and the more commonly known sweet chili sauce. In the end everyone agreed that the tamarind was the better one. I believe it works particularly well with the saltiness of the Spam in the lumpia, which was agreed on by this comment - "The tamarind sauce with lumpia was spicy and rich and added to the salty fried goodness."

White Bean Soup Shooters

Taste - 4 Appearance - 4 Creativity - 4

This recipe I found in Food Network Magazine - even the serving of it as shooters. Again, I substituted Spam for bacon - although I did put in a lot more Spam than would have equaled the called for half strip of bacon. This soup is very flavorful thanks to the saltiness of the Spam and the good amount of fresh sage. It is garnished with a bit of goat cheese. The comments reflected an enjoyment of creaminess and flavor, but said the color was "a little off-putting" and unappetizing.

Pork Loin with Tamarind BBQ Sauce and Roasted Vegetables with Spam

Taste - 4 Appearance - 3.5 Creativity - 4

For our entree Chris chose pork loin and used the tamarind barbecue sauce from Perfect Puree. I prepared the side of roasted vegetables with Spam chunks instead of bacon. All agreed that Chris prepared a beautifully cooked, moist loin, but it needed additional sauce to dress the plate. He had doubled the recipe, but still ended up using it all on the glazing and for the chicken for our one diner. I'm sure our entree score would have gone up if we had more sauce. The pork "looked naked" and we "could have used garnish" were some of the comments.

The roasted vegetables consisted of cubed parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes that were tossed in oil. I cubed up the Spam and threw those in there, spread the veggies on a couple of baking sheets, and the roasted at 375 for an hour. I also parboiled a pound of Brussel sprouts, tossed them in oil, and then added them to the roasting pans at the half hour mark. What I heard most was that there needed to be more parsnips and Spam. "Negligible amount of Spam in veggies" and "would have loved more Spam in the vegetables" demonstrate this.

Spam Truffles

Taste - 4.5 Appearance - 5 Creativity - 5

The Spam truffles were the "winner" of the evening. I stole the idea from Garrett over at Vanilla Garlic. He had made bacon truffles and so I just switched the Spam for bacon again. I wanted to do something a little different than just rolling them in cocoa powder and so I used edible gold to decorate them.

There were the great comments like, "Loved em. Texture and gold took it over the top!" and "Wow!" The saltiness of the fried Spam was perfect with the dark chocolate, but it was the chewiness of tiny bits of Spam that threw off people a bit. This comment sums it up: "Taste fabulous. Texture a little weird. Chocolate melts away but the Spam is still in your mouth".

Tamarind Macarons

Taste - 4.5 Appearance - 4.5 Creativity - 4.5

I had made macarons back in December for the Daring Bakers' Challenge. I decided that these light, little cookies would go well beside the Spam truffles. I made a plain macaron cookie and then made a tamarind cream. I whipped up some whipped cream and added some tamarind paste to flavor it. Although I added a full tablespoon, I think it could have used even more. To stabilize the whipped cream I also mixed in some gelatin.

There were many "very good" comments. They weren't my best macarons though. I had made them almost a week in advance and stored them in the fridge. On Friday they were too crispy when I added the filling. I took them out to get a little moisture exposure and they went too far the other way. But the diners were mostly forgiving and enjoyed them as "light and delicate".

I'll sum up this whole Spamarind dinner experience with a quote I took from one of my diner's Facebook posts when she got home.

"Just home from the Spamarind dinner. I was a little scared but the results were fabulous! My favorite, Spam lumpias with a spicy Tamarind dipping sauce. Yummy!"

P.S. Foodbuzz 24-24-24 has the other 23 participants for January. Check out the other culinary adventures that took place the same time as my Spamarind dinner.

Related to Spamarind Dinner
(Tamarind sauce is the darker sauce. The orangier sauce is sweet chili sauce.)

For our appetizer I wanted to try to conquer both Spam and tamarind in one dish. I accomplished this with making lumpia. One of the ingredients in lumpia is ground pork. Again, a matter of substitution. I chopped up the Spam with my Food Chopper and added that in place of ground pork.

Also note that I shortcut by using cole slaw mix instead of chopping cabbage and carrot myself.

Spam Lumpia

4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bag of cole slaw mix
1 can of Spam
2/3 c cooked shrimp, chopped
1 can water chestnuts, chopped
1/4 c sesame oil
3 T soy sauce
fresh ground black pepper
1 pkg of lumpia wrappers
1 egg, beaten
vegetable oil

Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil to a hot wok and add garlic. Cook under a minute and toss in onions. Cook until tender. Add in cole slaw mix and tossed vegetables together until well mixed. Cook for about ten minutes.

In a separate skillet, cook the chopped Spam until it is nicely browned. Add chopped shrimp and mix well.

Take meat mixture and add to veggie mixture. Add water chestnuts. Mix them until well incorporated. Turn off heat. Add soy sauce, rest of sesame oil, and black pepper to taste. Mix well.

Line a cookie sheet with paper towels to catch drippings. Set a colander on top and pour cooked mixture into colander. Let it cool and drain completely.

While mixture is cooling, open lumpia wrappers and separating each sheet. It is important that you separate the sheets in advance of wrapping because they stick together and you want to be able to wrap at a constant pace. Place the sheets on a plate and cover with a damp but well wrung out towel.

To wrap, place one wrapper on the table or counter in front of you, with one of the corners pointing at you. Place a tablespoonful of the filling about 2 inches above the corner closest to you, spreading it into a mini log. Fold the corner closest to you over the filling, tucking it snugly against the filling so the corner lays flat. Roll the wrapper once and fold in the left and right corners. Dampen your fingers with some beaten egg and wet the top corner. Continue rolling so that the top corner seals the roll shut.

Pour oil into a fry pan so that you have a 1/2 inch of oil. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When it is hot enough to make a piece of the wrapper crisp and brown within seconds, it is ready to use.

Fry a few lumpia (do not crowd them) at a time until crisped and browned, turning them with tongs as they cook. Each batch should take about 2 1/2 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the lumpia to paper towels to drain. Repeat to cook all of the lumpia.

Spicy Tamarind Dipping Sauce

# 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
# 1/4 cup tamarind paste (found in Asian markets)
# 1 tablespoon canola oil
# 1 tablespoon fish sauce
# 1-2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
# 1 tablespoon sugar

Mix ingredients together.

On day two of the Specialty Food Show the NASFT announced what they saw as the top five food trends for 2010. They were: Good-for-you foods, Coconut, Gluten-free, Exotic citrus, Nostalgic foods.

As I said on my previous post, we also saw gluten-free as one of the trends. I've noticed many gluten-free blogs amongst my food blogger counterparts. More and more people are getting food allergies and celiac has been one of the big ones. Apart from that consideration, it made me think back to 20+ years ago when I dabbled in modeling. One of the bookers for sending models to Japan had told me that I needed to cut out eating wheat because it was what added chubbiness to my face. When you think about it, people with celiac allergies are a lot thinner. It makes me think that maybe I need to start looking more into gluten-free baking. After all, I'll never be able to give up my love of baked goods but at the same time, who wouldn't like to lose a few pounds? (As a side note, this month's DB Challenge involves gluten-free baking, so stay tuned for that post at month end.)

The coconut they mention would be mostly in coconut water. There were a lot of exhibits with it, but I wouldn't have said it was a big, new trend. Same with exotic citrus. The only exotic citrus I saw was about three vendors with blood orange juice. That's not indicative of a big trend to me either.

As far as good-for-you foods...well that's a no brainer. There is more and more emphasis on eating healthier, more organic, lower calorie sweeteners, etc. That's why almost one whole building was dedicated to Natural & Organic. The big thing I noticed was a lot of agave and stevia. For those that don't know, both of these are natural sweeteners.

Stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose levels and so that's why it is recommended for diabetics. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar and 0 calories! It comes from the plant found in Central and South America.

Agave is a plant also found in Central and South America. Agave has about half the glycemic level and effect on blood glucose than sugar does. Plus, sugar has no other benefits to the body while agave has vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and inulin. Inulin is a fiber that helps moderate blood sugar and enhances calcium absorption.

Anyway, the point is I think that in the next decade you will start seeing a lot of foods moving away from the artificial sweeteners and embracing the natural sweeteners. Boy, the sweetener dish at restaurants is gonna be a rainbow of packets with Extra, Sweet n Low, Splenda, and then add Stevia, and others!

The last NASFT choice confuses me as well. I really didn't see a lot of examples of Nostalgic Food. What exactly were they meaning? Or am I wrong in my thinking it's similar to Comfort Foods? I've actually sent an inquiry to NASFT to clarify what they mean.

The NASFT said that close behind their top five were preserved foods. This would include pickled, cured, and smoked. I would have switched Coconut with Preserved Foods on the list. There were definitely lots of smoked meats, loads of cheeses, and plenty of other examples as well. Look for this food trend to start appearing in more magazines.

NASFT is only one organization though. Sacatomato's Ann was telling me that she heard that gourmet doughnuts were gonna be the new cupcake. Maybe so. If you can think of a food trend that you see as gaining in popularity, please submit a comment.

Each year the NASFT holds the Fancy Food Show for food professionals. It is not open to the public, but to caterers, restauranteurs, food suppliers, grocers, etc. "The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade is a not-for-profit business trade association established in 1952 to foster trade, commerce and interest in the specialty food industry." The winter show is held in San Francisco and the summer one in New York City.

The event spans three days. Cakegrrl Kristy and I decided to go on Sunday so as to avoid weekday traffic and parking issues. We spent the whole day there and boy, was it packed! Not only with tons of visitors, but with tons of exhibitors trying to get their foods out there.

The show also tries to focus on upcoming food trends. What is gonna be the cupcake or pomegranate for the next year or decade? Which ethnic food is suddenly going to take off in popularity? For established companies, they show their newest products. For new companies, there is the opportunity to introduce their product to thousands of new potential customers. It's usually in this last group that you will spot the trends.

What trends did we seem to see? There was a section of the exhibit that focused on natural and organic vendors. It was here that we definitely saw a lot of gluten free foods. I also saw a lot of natural low calorie sweeteners too. That would mostly be agave and stevia.

In the general food area we saw a lot of ethnic quick serve food items. I would say that Indian food is definitely getting the spotlight with Asian close behind. I asked most of these vendors if they would send me samples to try and then blog about later. Hopefully they will follow through so I can play.

There was also gads of chocolate purveyors, cheeses, and lots of smoked/preserved meats. I was in heaven with trying all the fresh prosciutto and serrano. They would be carving it right off the bone and it was SSSOOOOOOOOO good, buttery, and salty. That was my favorite thing to sample.

Here was one of the chocolate vendors with Mexican spiced chocolate cakes for making cocoa. She was using a molinillo to froth the drink. I asked her why they used that tool and she explained that the Indians believed there was a spiritual element to the froth created and so this was a whisk-like device to help create the froth. My lesson for the day.

Keeping with chocolate, here was a chocolate sculpture being created by a student of a chocolate academy.

This section was where vendors could display their "What's Hot" products. It was concentrated in one small area so we could go through and circle vendor numbers on a sheet and hopefully they will send us further information and samples of their products.

And now I have to share the "Stupid Award" for the show. There were several vanilla companies there showing all sorts of vanilla products such as vanilla infused salt, sugar, syrups, etc. Many were giving vanilla beans away as samples. Kristy and I approached a vendor handing out the beans and talking to our winners of the award. These two women took the vanilla beans and were asking what to do with them while sticking the tips in their mouths like they were some sort of Twizzler! The guy was trying to explain how they were used in cooking, like scraping out the seeds from inside the pods or putting the beans in sugar or alcohol to make your own sugar or extract. These women were clueless as they chomped on their vanilla beans! Kristy and I were like, "Who let these fools into the show? Do they just let anyone in?"

Some exhibitors were very generous. One vendor had a spectacular array of gourmet sausages made with duck, lamb, and other great meats. I figured if I was gonna buy any product it was here and so asked about the price. The guy said they weren't selling any, only displaying. He said they give it away on Tuesday at show close because they wouldn't be able to take these meat products back or sell them. I told him I was from Sacramento and only here for the day. So he gave me a package of lamb sausage right then! At an Australian booth I had a conversation about some of the wild spices coming from the Outback. He gave me a scone mix made with some grain from there. We also got gnocchi from one of the exhibitors in the Italy area. There were also some of the stingy exhibitors who practically slapped your hand if you reached for something. Not a good way to make an impression.

We ended the day with very sore feet and lots of samples and literature to take home. I had three bags full of heavy stuff. It took me quite a while to sort through the things only to realize that I went a little overboard grabbing things I really don't need to be eating right now. But I think I'll just keep these for my movie going snacks and leave it at that. I look forward to trying some of things I actually need to cook, like spices, rubs, mixes, and sauces.

I look forward to going again next year and keep my fingers crossed that I get samples in the mail.

I've mentioned in past blogs about Twitter and some of the things that can be done with it as a business tool. Today was the first Sacramento Treasure Hunt (STH) done entirely via Twitter. And I was the number one finder of the treasure - although I didn't win it.

Matt, the creator of the hunt, does the marketing for the local Jiffy Lubes. He worked to get a bunch of other business sponsors for the first STH. Some of the prize contributors were: Round Table Pizza, Quick Quack Car Wash, Jiffy Lube, Rivercats, Kirkwood, and others. His plan is to have treasure hunts a few times a year and bring in more sponsors and make prizes even bigger.

Here's how it worked. Every weekday for a week Matt announced a clue via Twitter. You had to collect the clues and keywords each day. There was no need to go anywhere or buy anything. On Saturday morning he gave the final clue. The first ten people to arrive got a chance at the treasure chest. People from #11-99 would get some sort of voucher/gift card for solving the hunt.

The first ten who arrived were then given each a key to try to open the chest. So even though I was the first to arrive at 9:07 (last clue was 9:00), I still had to wait and try my luck at the treasure chest. Unfortunately, I did not win it. The runners up each got a gift bag with prizes. In this I got a free Jiffy Lube voucher, pizza voucher, Rivercats box seat tickets, and car wash vouchers. We then all enjoyed the cake (above) that Cakegrrl made.

So here are the clues and how I figured out to be the first person there.

Monday Clue: Channel Deirdre Fitzpatrick is on. Channel 3
Keywords "Quick Quack Car Wash"

Tuesday: Clue 2: A Nobel Prize Winner. marconi
Keyword "Sacramento".
I knew this clue would stall some people. Most people don't know that the major streets in the Arden area are named after inventors. All I did was go to the Nobel prize sight and look for Fulton, Watt, Howe, and Marconi since I knew it had to be one of them. Sure enough, Marconi won in 1909.

Wed: Jersey number of Zach Schrader. 4
Keywords "Round Table Pizza".
By this clue I started to look to see if there were any clusterings of the sponsor businesses near each other along Marconi. The best was in Carmichael. At this time I tweeted to say I was feeling pretty good about figuring it out.

Thurs: Clue: Where people watch.
Keywords "River Cats"
This is the clue that threw all of us. It was meant to. Matt meant that people watch their cars being worked on at Jiffy Lube.

Fri. clue: Synonym for street Avenue
(Marconi Ave.)Keywords: Jiffy Lube
I was still not sure. I did look at Google Maps to try to figure out what could be on Marconi that people watch. I also looked at addresses with 3 and 4 in them. But 3400 Marconi is in the middle of the stretch going by the golf course.

Saturday morning I got up and went to the Home Depot on Howe and then to the Starbucks at Town & Country to wait for the last clue at 9 a.m. Sure enough it was:

Sat clue: the square root of 2209 = 47
So I figured 3447 was the Jiffy Lube at the corner of Marconi and Watt. Remember, I had scoped out the Google map and so I knew there was a Jiffy Lube there. Sure enough, I was there at 9:07 and I was the first person!

We had to wait another hour and half to get 9 people there to try the chest. It took the seventh person to open it. The winner was a teenage girl and her mom. The girl had played all week but couldn't win because she was under 18, so she brought her mom. She got $1500 worth of prizes including $500 in AMEX checks and a Flip camera. I'm glad she won although I really felt I should have been given a First To Arrive prize.

View keys being tried on this Youtube video.

Matt says the next hunt will be in March. Now that the first one has been done and we are all blogging or tweeting about it, it will get bigger and draw more sponsors. I'll bet I'll be in the top ten next time too.

Ella Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

Update: 3/13/10
Dad and his new girlfriend were in town and so I took them to Ella. They opted for the $50 deal - entree and bottle of wine for two. The entree for the week was beef bourguignon and included a side cheese au gratin. They enjoyed it very much. I also introduced them to the bone marrow appetizer I mention below. New for them and they liked it too. But I can't say enough about my entree. It was a lamb dish with a stinging nettles puree with other root vegetables and it was FABULOUS! It was heaven in my mouth! I am now officially in love with Ella.

Original post: 1/12/10
Every January there is Sacramento Dine Downtown week. The idea was to take a traditionally slow month and pump up the dining attendance by offering a week of three-course meals for only $30 at many of the most popular restaurants downtown. Aside from generating business, it's a great way for people to try places they've been wanting to try. It's been so successful over the last few years that they expanded it to be ten days so that it overlaps two weekends. It's also being copied by other areas of town. Roseville will hold theirs soon.

I'm always on top of it and remembered to look up the dates and the restaurant lists back in November before it got publicized and places filled up. I wanted to choose somewhere I hadn't been yet and had been dying to go to - Ella. At the time the menus were not posted. As we approached the date, I took a peek of the other restaurants and all of the now posted menus. I was happy with my selection. Most of the restaurants keep to the usual fare to appeal to the masses - salmon, chicken, pasta, beef. OK, but boring. Ella had entree choices of duck and skate wing. That's what I want - different choices!

As I entered the restaurant my first impression was good. It was lovely with muted lighting and attractive, light decor. They had a coat check by the door, which was nice amenity. But one of my favorite things about it...the noise level! Because they use a lot of fabrics and sound absorbing materials, there wasn't the loud clamor that you hear in so many restaurants today. We could hold conversations without shouting! Why can't more restaurant designers get a clue? Brick, cement, and hard wood bounce sound to create a cacophony of conversations and serving noise.

We were thrilled to be seated at one of the kitchen tables, seen above. These tables are right by the kitchen service so that you can watch the chefs and staff at work. They are also just plain, nice, big tables. I also observed their private room for special parties and it looked lovely with a lot of drapery.

We had come for the prix fixe menu but also took a glance at the regular menu. Dangerous! There were so many tempting items. But the $30 deal was good too. In the end we ordered the prix fixe menu and added an appetizer from the regular menu. Many also chose to do the wine pairing.

I must say our waiter was attentive and talented in steering selections. He was suggesting the skate wing to which Ryan whispered, "they must be running low on duck". Whether that was true or not, he did sell it well, especially since he described how it was prepared and how it was a specialty item rarely seen on restaurant menus. It created the curiosity for one to try it. He also described the wine pairings explaining that the restaurant had gotten a fabulous deal on cases of these particular wines and they were sharing the cost savings with the diners. According to him, you were getting about $45 worth of quality wine for only $15. At the end I asked Ryan how the wine had fared and he said that he had been impressed with each glass.

So let's get to the food. First I'll repeat something I've said in posts before - a restaurant gets extra brownie points for introducing me to new foods and experiences that I haven't had before. Ella scored twice!

The first new thing for me was our extra appetizer we ordered from the regular menu. It was the bone marrow served with toastettes. I have had very limited experience with marrow mostly because I don't really come in contact with large enough pieces of bone. They took a beef bone and sliced it in half. Then it was broiled and served with a mixture of seasoning, capers, and parsley to spread onto the toast. Above is how it was served, but you can't see the bone. Below is the after photo. It was delicious! And rich! I could easily go and meet friends for drinks and appetizers at the bar and be absolutely content with this.

The first course from our prix fixe dinner included a choice of soup or salad. Most of us opted for the cream of carrot soup with creme fraiche. It was quite a generous ladleful and I knew if I ate all of it I would never make it through the meal. I ate about a third and enjoyed the creaminess without really sensing that I was eating carrots. It's probably because carrots are one of the vegetables that truly do change flavor with cooking. That's a big reason why some people like raw carrots but can't stand cooked and vice versa.

When it came to the entrees our choices were a duck confit or skate wing. The waiter successfully convinced most of us to try the skate wing. It was pan roasted with a mustard beurre blanc and served with potatoes. This was the second new thing for me. I mean, really, this is not a fish that I would normally think to eat...

But it was a very delicious fish. It was mild, soft, and buttery. With the beurre blance it was very rich and delicate. Everyone was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it very much.

The dessert was choice of pear tartlet or sorbet trio. I'm not big on cold desserts in the winter time so I opted for the pear tartlet even though I don't care for pears. The pastry was nice and flaky and the caramel sauce nice and creamy. I felt that the pears could have been cooked a bit more. Ryan said he liked that it wasn't overly sweet. We all loved the thickly whipped cream.

The sorbets were delicious as well. The lightest was the pomegranate. The dark red is the blood orange, which was my favorite for just the right balance of sweetness and boldness of flavor. The last was a super tart Meyer lemon. It had a real pucker factor.

We all left feeling very content with our meals. I felt that Ella did a fabulous job presenting a varied prix fixe menu for those more adventurous diners during Dine Downtown week. Their service and food were superb and I felt that I got real value for my money. Ella has joined the top of my dining list now and I look forward to going again to try some of the other interesting menu items they offer.
Udupi Cafe on Urbanspoon

above: Appetizer Combo

1/11/10 This is a repost because the food bloggers all gathered on Sunday for the buffet at Udupi. I didn't care to improve on this already good review, so I'm just reposting for those that might be new. Eileen mentions our gathering on her blog here.

Original post:
I like meat. It's rare for me to have a lunch or dinner without some sort of meat. Even when I have salad, I like it to have chicken, salmon, shrimp. Something. So I'm really not gonna jump at the chance to go to a vegetarian restaurant.

The reasons I went to Udupi? It's gotten rave reviews from everyone I know who has been there. Then my Meetup group has a lot of vegetarian members who have asked for more vegetarian friendly restaurants. So, I scheduled a dinner there.

Udupi is located on Sunrise Boulevard in Rancho Cordova in the same shopping center as 24 Hour Fitness. The decor is simple and sparse. There are a lot of tables and they easily fit our request for a table for ten. They were also doing a good business for a Monday night during a down economy.

I decided to split with someone else and so we ordered a couple of appetizers and then the Udupi Special combo. We probably could have cut out the appetizers all together, or, at least, ordered only one. The dishes were very generous and everyone ended up sharing with everyone else because there was so much! Our first appetizer was the Papri Chaat, flour chips with garbanzos and potatoes flavored with mint and tamarind chutney. We aren't too knowledgeable about Indian food and so were a little surprised that it was a cold appetizer. But it was yummy. I just skipped the garbanzos and ate the chips and potatoes. I loved the chutney sauce. The amount was enough to feed a crowd. We also ordered the veggie samosas which were quite large. Their version was filled with a mashed potato versus a chunky potato like some serve. (I prefer chunky.) But they were hot and delicious. At this point I'm already almost full!

There were three combo plates on the menu that definitely got our attention. If you want to try a lot of items, combos are a great way to go. Robert ordered the South Indian Thali and you see can see that it came with ten items as well as the rice and roti (bread) and choice of coffee or tea. We gave Robert kudos for finishing everything plus all the extra tastes he got from the rest of us.

I had opted for the Udupi Special. It gave you options. There was choice of soup, iddly or vada, dosai or uthappam, and then coffee or tea. I had chosen the Mulligathany Soup which was flavorful. But then something new for me came out. I had opted for the vada, fried lentil donuts. It was a mixed review for those. I liked them as far as texture and being really like a donut, only a savory one. Plus, it's healthy! Made from lentils. The flavor wasn't bad either, although a bit bland. That's why they are served with a chutney and a sambar for dunking. Dunkin' Donuts! If you are a dunkin fan, then you should have fun with these.

My next option was my selection of the dosa. Dosas are giant crepes with a filling inside. The menu had 13 choices of dosa and I selected the spinach one with onion, potatoes, tomato, spinach, and spicy chutney. By this time we were very full and only able to eat half of it between the two of us. The filling was a nice mash of the vegetables and the spicy chutney added an extra bit of zing. Woe is me, I forgot my leftovers! I wanted them for dinner the next night! We ended with a Madras coffee which was rich and creamy.

As I said, we all shared with each other and so this came by my plate as well. This is the Gobi Manchurian, batter fried cauliflower (gobi) stir fried with garlic, ginger, chili and soy sauce. It's a Chinese influenced dish, a bit of fusion cooking. It had the kick of the chili and reminded me of a spicy fried pork stir fry.

Eileen ordered the Channa Batura, a puffed bread with a side of masala (spice) and the Baigan Bartha, eggplant baked, mashed, and mixed with onion, tomato, and spices (below).

Everyone was happy and left feeling very full. The best compliment you can say about a vegetarian restaurant is when you can leave and say that you never missed or even thought about meat during the meal. Udupi met that goal with tasty and generous dishes.