What you are looking at is perfect strawberries.

They almost seem to be a fruit on the verge of extinction. The small, sweet, flavorful strawberry. It seems that today all you ever see are gigantic, flavorless berries. Who says bigger is better? Why must corporate farms be so focused on tasteless yield? That's why when I find gems like these, I can't resist buying them.

Keep in mind, I have small hands. Some of the berries were, seriously, the size of the tip of my pinkie. And yet they are flavor packed.

I found them at the Davis farmers market. Generally, I only buy a basket of berries at a time. Being single, I just can't eat farm fresh berries fast enough before they start to go bad. But today I couldn't resist and they had the three basket discount.

I was still faced with the dilemma of what to do with them. I was a bad girl today and overbought fruit and goodies (cupcake tasting again). I savored a few and then made spicy strawberry jam with the rest.

I look forward to making this jam again with more experimentation with chiles. Today was a case of having the best of intentions but the lack of ingredients. Still, it's pretty yummy.

Spicy Strawberry Jam

1 lb hulled strawberries (halved if they are large)
1 c brown sugar
1 pkg pectin
1/3 c lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
1 or 2 T of grated ginger (I used the puree in a tube, so 1 T squeeze)
2 t red pepper flakes

Put all ingredients into a pot and cook over low heat until jam becomes thick. Remove cinnamon stick. Pour into container(s) and store. This made about 1-2 pints of jam.
This week I had the lovely opportunity to Follow the Chef, as in, Chef Tuohy of The Grange. This is a educational lunch that The Grange hosts every Wednesday while the farmers market is available in Cesar Chavez park.

This is a great dining bargain for a delicious lunch at only $35. How the day rolls out is that you meet at the restaurant at 11:00 and have introductions to the chef. Each attendee gets a recyclable shopping bag with the hotel and restaurant's name. The chef leads your group across the street and proceeds to go around the market counter clockwise looking for the day's best produce. He gives advice, tips, and education about the farmers as you sample what is fresh for the day. At about noon you return to the restaurant and wait for your four course meal focusing on what he bought for the day. You can expect to be finished close to 2:00.

I had been a little worried due to our crazy weather and a prediction of possible rain. Luckily the clouds were friendly and we managed to snag bits of sunshine and remain dry during the day.

Chef Tuohy is well known for using local and fresh produce. That's why this tour is perfect for him. He gets to just cross the street on Wednesdays and get things directly from the farmers.

As we started our circle it was pleasant to see Tuohy's excitement at what was fresh to market this week. As it is spring with this crazy, cool weather, each week brings out a new crop. Today was the first time he found blueberries, nectarines, and a couple other items at the Wednesday market. One of the first tables was a blueberry vendor from I-5 in Dunnigan. They grow about a dozen different blueberry varieties and today they had a blend of three. We sampled very large, plump, and flavorful berries. The vendor explained that the cool weather has been good for the blueberries because they've been allowed time to develop more sugar. Chef bought a large container for $10.

We then came to a vendor that had quite a variety of vegetables. Chef pointed out the white radishes and was soon holding a bouquet of three bunches which he purchased. This vendor also had some baby fennel with small tender bulbs versus the large bulbs one usually sees. Chef bought four bunches of these and we did end up having a bit of that in our meal later.

When the other food bloggers had done this lunch a few weeks ago they all raved about the blackberry honey. I am not a honey fan. I just use it when it's called for in a recipe or in my morning oatmeal. But after the raves I had heard I had to try the blackberry. It was AWESOME! It was so good that I had to buy a small bottle. That will be stashed away for desserts only.

We came across big bunches of garbanzo bushes with the young, green pods attached. Now garbanzos are another thing I'm not fan of unless they are pureed up for hummus. Chef talked about how he likes to season them in a hot skillet so that the steam in the pods cooks the pea inside. Then he'll just sit and eat them as a snack. I plucked a pod off, opened it up and popped the green pea in my mouth. Not bad. Just shows you that you can not like a veggie prepped one way, but like it another way.

Another case, fava beans. We are getting to the end of fava bean season. I've never cared for those either as they remind me of lima beans, which I always picked out of the frozen mixed veggies I grew up with. But Chef prepared them as part of our entree later and I did enjoy them there.

All the vendors knew the chef and about his weekly tours. Some had tasters ready for us. We sampled cherries, peaches, blueberries, honey, and more. Most were on a first name basis with the chef. At one booth the vendor had six cartons of squash blossoms ready and waiting for him. He was so excited and asked that he be constantly supplied with them. We all hoped that the blossoms would later end up on our lunch table, but we were disappointed. At an apricot vendor's stall we were given the explanation of how pluots and apriums are created by either grafting, pollination, or both. He also told us that the reason you look for the rosy, darker color on apriums and apricots is because that shows that it got some of that sweet plum DNA in it to add more flavor.

We headed back to the hotel and sat at the table to chat about more things food while lunch was prepared. Our group had consisted almost entirely of retirees. This was a group of neighbors who live in Sun City, Roseville. They all go out for little gourmet outings. Besides myself, there was another young couple there. Wine was apparently included with the meal and so they were all offered a white or a red. I, of course, passed and was given a nice cherry spritzer instead.

Our appetizer was simple with toasted baguette slices with some goat cheese, chopped mushrooms, and a drizzle of olive oil. After that I was happily munching on bread with the lavender butter as we waited for the next course.

Out came a three beet salad with some Oregon blue cheese and the sprigs of fennel. Beets are something I have next to no experience with since we did not have them when I was growing up. They are something I need to experiment more with like I did with figs last year. And I don't like blue cheese. (By this time you are wondering what I do like that was gonna be served today.) This was a fresh and tangy salad that was complimented perfectly with the blue cheese. Even though I don't like it, I know that sometimes the flavors work well together, so I took tiny bits of cheese with my beets and found the combination tasty indeed.

Our main course was salmon atop a light ragout of asparagus, artichokes, snap peas, fava beans, morel mushrooms, and pancetta bits in a light lemon and white wine sauce. This was also very nice and refreshing and I did enjoy how the fava beans were cooked here. OK, so maybe I can be truly converted.

Finally we came to a dessert by pastry chef, Elaine Baker, where we were treated to two sides. On one side were two cherry fritters served with a creme anglaise. Each fritter had a cherry inside. On the other side of the plate was a spoonful of chocolate mousse with some small cake cubes and some candied cherries. The disappointment here - it was all gone too soon. I declared I wanted seconds. Oh, well. I was taking a long lunch from work and had to head quickly back to the office.

If you see my old Grange reviews you'll see they've been kind of hit and miss. I must admit, though, that the food tastes better when you have a little experience about where it came from. The meal was quite enjoyable when you looked down and were able to pick out some of the things we had just seen the chef buy across the street.

Since Tuohy really does focus on what's local and in season, I can see doing another tour mid-summer and again in the fall. What fun to see what he would come up with each time!

Learn more about the tour here.
Read Chef Tuohy's blog here.
Read Elaine Baker's (pastry chef) blog here.
Repost - It's crisp season!

I got this recipe many years ago from a coworker and it is all I ever use when summer comes. You can use any fruit base you want. I tend to do peaches and raspberries.

My dad is British and I got my love of cream from him. Give me cream puffs, napoleans, eclairs, creme brulee, etc. I follow the Brit style of pouring fresh cream over my pies and crisps. I'm lazy. Why bother whipping it?

1 c flour
1 c sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 egg, beaten
1 stick of melted butter

Mix together the dry ingredients. Take the beaten egg and cut it into the dry ingredients. Your mixture will be crumbly. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the fruit. Pour the melted butter over the top. Bake at 350 until golden and bubbly.
If you are on Facebook then you probably know that about every three months there's another flurry of messages about security changes and to change your privacy settings. I decided I wanted to share my philosophy on Facebook and privacy in terms of those Friend requests you get.

First, a story. I belong to a group of Brats. Although often associated with the military, our Brats are associated with oil. Our parents worked for an overseas oil company. We are a tight group with reunions of hundreds of attendees every odd numbered year. I happen to be the Class of 1980 rep so I have my personal FB page and then a special class page. I had a Brat (not in my class) who would repeatedly send me a Friend Request and I kept 'ignoring' it. After, seriously, like 20 attempts I got fed up and sent him a message. I told him that just because he was a Brat doesn't mean I have to grant him access to my profile. Please stop pestering me with requests. He got all pissed off, called me names, and said he was going to tell his sister (who was in my class) what a horrible person I was. Who cares?! Not like I was friends with his sister anyway. Whiny, little tattle tale.

For the rest of you, it could be - just because we went to XXX high school together, or lived in Podunk city together, doesn't mean I need to be your friend.

I know of at least two of my friends who refuse to even join Facebook. They have privacy, security, and waste-of-time issues. That's cool.

Some people will friend anybody who asks. Perhaps they think it's a popularity contest - those with the most friends win. Whatever. I know of another case of a Sacramento guy who friended one of my Brat classmates who lives in Texas. Why? He wasn't a Brat or had ever met her or anything. My opinion, he was collecting pretty blondes. Creepy. I, of course, notified said Brat about this weird behavior and she dropped him.

Honestly, I don't even see a need to be friends with all my classmates. The Class page was created as a way for everybody to find each other and share messages and photos. Besides, with the amount of status updates I do via Twitter, they would probably get fed up with me and 'hide' me anyway.

Another example, just because I met you one time at a social event doesn't mean you are now entitled to friend me. I need to know somebody for a certain amount of time to feel like I know them enough to grant them friend status. Oh, and the best example that everyone can relate to - coworkers! I don't need a whole bunch of work people knowing my personal business.

The point is, everybody has their own comfort level. Mine, I feel, is an appropriate middle-of-the-road approach. I'm not too worried that I wouldn't even join Facebook, but I am concerned enough to be choosy about who I want to grant access to. Anyone can follow me on Twitter. I've got no issues there. And anyone can keep up with what I'm up to by following this blog.

If you are a friend, consider yourself privileged. If I ignore/deny your request, please don't take it personally. I certainly don't when people deny my requests to them.
It's been no secret that I have a sweet tooth. My biggest problem with the dining scene in Sacramento is that we have a serious lack of good dessert places. Yes, there are a few good pastry chefs working at certain restaurants. What I'm talking about is specialty dessert places where you can take a date or go for an after show treat late at night. The choices with large dessert selections are Tower Cafe, which I do like, and Rick's Dessert Diner, which isn't that great but survives, in my opinion, because of this great lack of options in town.

Where are the great desserts? Try fifteen miles down the road in Davis. Somehow this college town has gotten the good stuff. I mentioned one place in an old post. Little Prague is a Czech restaurant with Eastern European food and a nice dessert carousel filled with lovely pastries. See that review for more on their selection.

Recently I went on a pastry trek to Davis. My mission - to try two places that beckoned me. One was Konditorei, which I've been aching to try for a long time. The other I had just heard about, a new gourmet cupcake place called Let Them Eat Cake. I read about them in the latest issue of Edible Sacramento.

My first stop was to Let Them Eat Cake. I wanted to compare them to my recent visit to Esther's Cupcakes. LTEC is hidden away and almost missable in an non-descript building on L Street. It's not even facing the street, but in a back door down the side area. Since I was there late on a weekday afternoon, some of the flavors were sold out and all that was left were their basic flavors. I got the last brown sugar cake that I think had a pineapple cream cheese frosting and their Dubliner a “Guinness Stout chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting”.

What I liked was that the cakes were good. As I've mentioned in other posts, the texture and flavor of the cake is more important to me than icing and decoration. Americans have become too complacent with fluffy cake mixes and store sheet cakes. A quality cake is denser and closer to pound cake than those awful examples. The brown sugar cake had a good crumb and nice, light flavor. The chocolate cake had just the subtle flavor of the beer that gave it a nice difference from plain chocolate. The pineapple cream cheese frosting was nice, but the chocolate buttercream was not as good as Esther's. I'm still in love with Esther's frostings.

A couple more things to mention. I will try to go back on a Saturday. Apparently they do a special, unique flavor every Saturday. I really want to try something truly different. Lastly, I'd like to see them use a different packaging. They are in Davis, after all. Get rid of the plastic and go with paper.

Off I went to my next stop, Konditorei Austrian Bakery. Konditorei is the German word for a confectionery shop and this one has plenty.

Konditorei Austrian Pastry Cafe on Urbanspoon

To one side was a cake carousel, then the pastry counter, a gelato counter, a chocolate counter, and another pastry/danish counter. I was in sweet tooth paradise.

In my book the best pastries in the world come from Austria (although some will argue France). Give me a delicate, flaky pastry filled with pastry cream and fruit and you will become my BFF of the moment. Let's not forget my Napoleon comparison.

I took two pastries home to try. The one above is the Manzana Verde - cookie dough crust with a layer of Quark cheese with raspberries and topped with a tart green apple cream. The one below is the Layla Torte - white cake layers filled with marzipan cream and chocolate Grand Marnier cream and then the whole cake wrapped in a thin sheet of marzipan. Of the two I preferred the Layla. I found the Manzana a little too sweet but had good apple flavor. But you do have to like marzipan to eat the Layla as the almond flavoring is very strong too. In fact, that would probably be my overall criticism here, tone down on the flavors and sweetness.

So, Sacramento, when are you gonna get it together with one or more quality dessert places? I've had the discussion with some of my foodie friends and they agree with me. We are seriously lacking considering how far our dining scene has come. There's a need, and if someone who has the skills could just find a great location in Midtown, I know they could succeed. Meanwhile, I guess I should count my blessings that those pastries are calling from Davis. Otherwise, my waistline and wallet would be in trouble.

When we used to go to the Philippines to visit my relatives I ate pretty basic stuff and not any of the crazy Filipino stuff. As I grew older I came to understand a bit more about my mom's upbringing. She was considered upper class Filipino even though by our standards her family would be middle class. She had a cook, maid, and driver. Her family spoke English and she had to learn tagalog in order to graduate high school. So she never learned to cook very much Filipino food, just the basics: adobo, pancit, lumpia.

One of the foods that I would eat while there was bangus (pronounced bong-oose with a soft g). This is a milkfish that has a delicate white flesh and a million tiny bones (or it seems like a million). If they don't remove the bones well, you can be constantly picking them out as you eat. My favorite preparation is the marinated fish and then it is grilled. The great thing is that you can find this fish here in the Filipino supermarkets. It's sold frozen and totally deboned.

I went over to my favorite Filipino blog, Burnt Lumpia, and found the marinade recipe. It really is probably the most basic recipe that is used even for my mom's adobo recipe: vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and pepper. You marinate the fish overnight or all day and then grill it. I just cooked it on a skillet on the stove. Perfect. This is light, healthy, and yummy. Bangus is still one of my favorite fishes. I'm sure this marinade would work great on tilapia as well.

P.S. Cold grilled bangus is just like smoked fish - delish.

Marinated and Grilled Bangus (taken from Burnt Lumpia)

Serves 2

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 boneless and butterflied milkfish (can be found frozen at Asian markets)

Combine the vinegar, soy, garlic, and pepper in a shallow dish. Place the fish, flesh side down, into the marinade. Spoon some of the marinade over the skin side as well. Cover dish with plastic wrap, place in refrigerator, and allow to marinate for 6 to 8 hours and turning the fish over during the last hour.

Place the fish, flesh side down, on a hot pre-heated and well-greased grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Brush the skin side of the fish with canola oil, then flip fish over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from grill and serve immediately.
Ten 22 on Urbanspoon
I had just bought a half off coupon for Ten 22 ($50 GC for only $25) when there was an awful review of the place in the Sacramento Bee. I mean, really bad. Interestingly this now famous bad review has been pulled from the site and can no longer be found. But trust me, it was bad!

Now a lot of people are hating the Bee critic. He admitted at the beginning of his tenure that he's not a food critic, just a writer who got the gig. In many ways I see him being similar to me. I love food, but I've also admitted that I haven't got a super palate to be able to pull out flavors, etc. What he and I can do, though, is give our opinions on dining experiences. And I have to give it to him for being honest, brutally so in this case, because I'd rather hear true experiences from unbiased diners before I go and spend my hard earned cash there. After all, I have plenty of other restaurants still on my To Do list to waste my time and money on a bad place.

But I already had my $50 gift certificate, had heard mixed reviews, and figured I might as well see for myself. I was a little concerned because I was reminded of how half my foodie friends loved Tuli Bistro and the other half had awful experiences there. A restaurant needs to be consistent - good. A bad day once in a while, understandable, but repeatedly is something to worry about.

We went for Sunday dinner on a very blustery and cool day. The restaurant is very spacious with lots of the historic brick and then light wood furnishings. We were there kinda early - 6:00, and so it was on the empty side. In fact I didn't see anyone sitting inside, everyone had opted for patio dining - and we did too. But what I liked in the interior was that they had a large private room to the side and in the main dining room the tables seemed nicely spaced. Perhaps it seems more crowded together when people are actually seated.

The outdoor patio was walled in to help with the wind. There were some giant umbrellas for shade and a very nice, large fire pit that was lit later in the evening. We were happy to sit in the sun to warm from the chill of the breeze.

We decided to share the bruschetta appetizer. It came with two with an olive/tomato tapenade, two with salmon, and two with pulled pork. We both agreed the pork was our favorite. It was piled high and the waiter told us that they made the BBQ sauce in house. It was on the sweet side with just a slight tang. But the pork was plentiful, nicely shredded, and not too wet. The salmon was also generous but rather plain. I would have liked it to have been smoked.

I wasn't too hungry after having greedily gobbled two of Esther's Cupcakes earlier in the afternoon. I opted for the small plate of two braised ribs over mashed potatoes. I enjoyed it very much, even though it was similar to the pulled pork I had just eaten. The ribs were tender and not overly coated with the BBQ sauce. I payed special attention to the mashed potatoes. Mashed is not my favorite, but I did find myself happily eating away. A big part being that they were definitely fresh with the tell tale signs of chunks and the consistency was thick yet creamy. I've had too many sad experiences of mushy/soggy mashed potatoes that are more akin to porridge.

My friend had the roasted vegetable platter that included spaghetti squash, beets, broccolini, potatoes, and onions. It had a balsamic glaze and shaved parmesan atop. She thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the beets. To me it looked like a huge platter and she couldn't finish it all.

Out of the desserts we were both drawn to the ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately, we were thinking cookies, as is the norm, when what we got were pastry puffs. They were good for what they were. There was nothing distinct about them, like an obvious clue of it being homemade ice cream(?) by texture or vanilla flavor. I did like that the chocolate sauce was provided in a little bowl on the side so that you could add as much as you liked.

We did have excellent service. The waiter made a point to stop by often, make recommendations, and give little tidbits of info like the bit about the homemade BBQ sauce. So all in all I can't find much fault with our experience. It was nice enough, though not exceptional enough to draw me back. Certainly none of the major faux pas like the Bee critic experienced (cold food, bad service).

Urbanspoon has a 77% Like rating, so I'd say go and decide for yourself whether you choose to hit the Like or Don't Like buttons. Myself, I'm not gonna pick either since I'm pretty much ambivalently in the middle.
Esther's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon
When it comes to food trends, the cupcakes are not only not in, they are pretty much out. Don't tell that to Esther. She might be behind the cupcake trend, but she's making cupcakes that say, "We're not going anywhere!"

The first word I had heard of this new cupcake shop was from Garrett at Vanilla Garlic. He tweeted that he was in love with her buttercream frosting. Another cupcake store only now opening in Sacramento? But that sweet tooth of mine insisted that if Garrett liked it, it had to be worth checking out.

I found the tiny store in the small shopping complex kitty corner from Loehmann's Plaza at Fair Oaks and Munroe. It's stilled draped in "Now Open" banners. The storefront and interior and nicely designed with an elegant flair built on her EC monogram. The glass display cases are nice and high so you don't have to bend over to see the flavors. The cupcakes are evenly placed out without cramming them on sheets.

The cupcakes are $2.75 each and range from the standard chocolate and vanilla to strawberry shortcake and Meyer lemon. The specialty flavors, though, are the standouts. Earl Grey with lavender icing and green tea with mochii icing. Everything is topped with buttercream frosting. Yum! They use nothing but all natural ingredients and everything is made from scratch. People don't realize that there are cupcake stores out there that are using premade cake batters. Not Esther.

Here's another big critique and pet peeve I have when it comes to cupcakes stores - I want cake! I get so angry when I'm expected to pay $3 for a cupcake and find that the cake doesn't even reach the top of the liner! Instead there is a gigantic pile of frosting on top. What a rip off!

Not so at Esther's. You can see from the pictures that the cupcake is high above the top of the liner and the frosting, while generous, is an embellishment to the cake and not the feature. Each of her cupcakes has a different decoration, swirl, or garnish atop. The strawberry shortcake, for instance, is topped with the strawberry buttercream, a little sugar cookie wafer and a sliced fresh strawberry.

I ordered the two tea flavored cupcakes since I always opt for the unusual flavors. They were placed in printed boxes with the cupcake supporter inside. That's another sign of a quality cupcake shop. There's no way that delicate buttercream is going to be messed up in transport.

Temptation got the best of me and I had to dip my finger to taste the frosting as I sat at a stoplight. I was hit by the sweet taste of the lavender buttercream and smiled. Thing is, up to now I have never really found anything where I liked the taste of lavender. And yet this lavender buttercream is the bomb! Silky, sweet with a strong, but not overpowering flavor of lavender. Better yet, these are cooked buttercreams, making them more decadent and rich than uncooked versions.

When I finally got to eat the two cupcakes I was happy as can be. Moist and flavorful in a subtle way. After all, tea flavored? Each was light and distinct.

If you like cupcakes and you demand quality in them as well, then you need to go to Esther's. It has my vote for the best in Sacramento. As for the dying cupcake trend... all I can say is, "Esther, why didn't you get here sooner?!"

Added gluten-free note: Esther introduced her gluten-free cupcake at SactoMoFo and it was delicious! Made with almond and coconut flours, it was grainy, yet moist, like a good European pastry. She topped it with chocolate ganache. I highly recommend it for any diet, not just those who go gluten-free.