I never knew that different ducks would taste differently until I met Hank Shaw. Apparently ducks that eat only seeds and greens will taste entirely different from those that eat bugs and fish. It was a conversation I remember as I was immediately taken and impressed by this local treasure. Yes, I feel we Sacramentans are lucky to have Hank Shaw in our midst as a valuable resource and champion for eating back to our paleolithic roots - hunting and gathering.

Unfortunately I've only ever met Hank three times. We're both busy people, but Hank is especially hard to catch because he's out and about the landscape and the country doing what he does. Last year he was traveling around the country on his book tour for Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. This successful and well reviewed book covered - you guessed it - hunting, foraging, fishing, and cooking. He was able to publish the book after years of success and two James Beard nominations for his blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

As children we all have foods that we would not eat. As we grow older, we change our minds on some foods and remain steadfast against others. I have a friend who won't eat strawberries and raspberries because he can't stand the amount of tiny seeds. In a similar vein, I love pomegranates but just can't swallow the seeds themselves. So I chomp on the seeds for the juice and then spit out the seeds. Yes, it's a disgusting foodie version of chewing tobacco and so I only eat pomegranates in private. I don't think I'll ever eat mushrooms, olives, or blue cheese, but I have started eating jalapenos, sushi, and bread pudding.

Even amongst puddings there can be varieties people won't eat. I love tapioca while others call it "fish eyes in glue". Yet I never cared for rice pudding, which is sort of crazy because it's a close cousin texture-wise to tapioca. I also hated bread pudding. I just didn't understand the appeal of soggy bread.

Heat Shabu Baru on Urbanspoon

It was still technically winter last month when we visited Heat Shabu Baru off Broadway. Apropos for eating a shabu-shabu dinner, apparently, as it is considered a winter dish in Japan.

Shabu-shabu is not a traditional Japanese dish as it was only introduced to Japan in the last century. Yes, the Japanese had a similar hot pot dish known as sukiyaki. Both sukiyaki and shabu-shabu have hot broths in pots where you cook thin slices of meats and vegetables. The difference is in the broths and in that with sukiyaki you take the cooked meat and then dip it into raw egg, which instantly cooks a thin coating on the meat. 

Heat Shabu Baru is the second shabu-shabu restaurant in Sacramento. It took over an easily missed spot vacated by a Burmese restaurant. The layout of the space is basically the same, although the furnishing are more contemporary and less Asian. Tables have electric burners in the center to heat the required hot pots.

I was here with a group of people as we gave Grubwithus.com another try. Grubwithus arranges family style meals with the restaurants and so we already knew what was in store for us. Almost all of my companions were new to shabu-shabu and looking forward to a new experience.

fresh from the oven

Today I figured I would piggy back with my last post on doing bone marrow at home. This time it's another hot restaurant trend - pork belly (and thus the piggy pun).

I've always said - my favorite meat is pork. This luscious, fatty, moist meat is so versatile. Pork belly is better known to most people as what bacon is made from. The pork belly is cured and then sliced into thin bacon strips. These days my preferred way to eat it as a big ol chunk, roasted in the oven. The beauty is that you can do it at home for pennies.

This is where I do get a little nervous actually. You see, I'm afraid that pork belly will become like oxtail - expensive. It used to be these more unattractive cuts were used for scrap meat or, in the days of slavery, given to the slaves to eat while the big house got the choice cuts. These days offal and the lesser cuts are getting used more and more by new chefs who like to butcher the animals themselves and use every piece of them. That's wonderful in a sustainable way, but once something becomes trendy, it is in danger of also going up in price. Such is the case with beef oxtails. These toss away pieces are now not so cheap in the grocery store. Oxtails at Safeway are about $5 per pound, and realize that a lot of it is bone. So a good 2 pound package is about $10.

Right now pork belly is cheap, at least if you get it at an ethnic market. I can generally find it for about $2.29 per pound in Asian markets. Contrary to the bony oxtail, pork belly is all usable, so a better dollar value. Please, oh please, don't go up in price!

The video shows you how I buy, cut, store, and prepare my pork belly. Generally I buy a slab of it for about $5-7, cut portions, then wrap them and freeze them. When I'm ready to prepare them, score the skin side, coat them in your favorite seasoning, and bake on a rack over foil in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. I then eat it on top of a salad or I saute some greens (kale, spinach, beet greens).  Super easy and delicious.

My first introduction to roasted bone marrow was at Ella restaurant. Chef Kelly McCown was the first chef to introduce it to Sacramento as a gourmet dish. Sure, humans have been eating marrow for millennia, but this was becoming a trend in high end restaurants. 

I fell in love with McCown's dish, which turns out to be pretty traditional, of roasted marrow bones served with a parsley caper salad. The great thing about his version at Ella was that the beef leg bones were cut down lengthwise exposing the marrow versus in sections as you see in the pictures. The lengthwise cut exposed the marrow so that they would place it under the broiler to cook quickly and it also meant it was easy for the diner to eat. 

Unfortunately, when you buy marrow bones from a butcher, they are usually cut in the sections unless you have called and special ordered. In my case, I got this package of marrow bones from Lucky Dog Ranch, selling at the W/X Farmers Market on Sundays. The package you see was $5 and was a good deal except for the fact that two bone cuts were actually ends of the bones where there was no marrow - they were solid bone.

To prepare marrow bones, you need to soak them. Take the marrow bones and cover them with water and mix in about 2 tablespoons of salt. I used kosher salt. Refrigerate and let them soak for about 12 hours, changing the salt water a couple of times during that time. The salt water soak helps to draw out any remaining blood in the marrow.

Roasted Marrow Bones with Parsley Caper Salad

beef marrow bones cut in sections or lengthwise
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped 
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
2 tablespoons drained capers 
Coarse sea salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
thick slices of French baguette, toasted
This was originally posted in An Irish Potluck in 2009, but I've cut/pasted it for you for this year. Sorry no pictures, but it IS good. 

I got this recipe from Irishabroad.com which had a LONG list of Irish recipes. (This compared to many other sites that only had a handful of the common stuff like colcannon, Irish stew, and soda bread.) The torte was made in layers, like a lasagna - potatoes, cabbage, cheese, potatoes, cabbage, cheese, potatoes. It was a very nice side and I will definitely make it again as a regular St. Paddy's dish. It doesn't hurt that it uses the bacon drippings to coat the potatoes.

• 1/2 head Savoy cabbage, shredded
• 3 tablespoons Kerrygold Irish butter
• 1/2 pound Irish traditional bacon, diced
• 4 baking potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 8 ounces Kerrygold Cheddar Cheese
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-inch quiche pan or pie plate.

In a pot of boiling water, blanch the cabbage for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Pat dry. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the bacon and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and toss with the cabbage. Add the potato slices to the skillet and toss to coat in the bacon drippings. Place one-third of the potatoes in the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and half the cheese. Top with half the bacon and cabbage mixture, salt and pepper, then repeat with one-third of the potatoes, remaining cheese, bacon and cabbage, salt and pepper, and end with a layer of potatoes. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes. Remove parchment for last 5 minutes to let potatoes brown. Slice into wedges. Serves 8

I hope you all remember my post last month called Going Bald for St. Baldrick's - Or, Star Trek Made Me Do It!

I decided to take the plunge and get my head shaved in support of the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which raises money for children's cancer research. I made a goal to raise $1500 and I did. In fact, I raised more than that, but they are still tallying in the amounts and accepting donations. You can still donate via my fundraising page.  

Here is my "before" picture. I was fortunate that it turned out that an old coworker's daughter was one of the shavers for the event. She did a super tidy job on me, which I thank her for. I've heard that they have to go through so many people that sometimes the shaves get a bit messy.

In fact, there were over 200 people that got shaved that night. I had waited for my friends to come and so when I got into the line for shaving, it was over a half hour wait! 

The shaving turned out to be a lot of fun. You can't help just laugh away as it is happening since you can't see it happening. Thank goodness my friend Rodney was there filming the whole thing for us. These are his pictures and video.

Here I am with event organizer and friend, Henry de Vere White. His pub, de Vere's Pub, hosted the event and has another one tomorrow night at their Davis location. The goal for Sacramento was to raise $150,000. They are still counting, but it should be very close.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, you can watch the whole thing:

Irish Lamb Stew
Rating: 4.5/5

Repost for St. Patrick's.

This is an adaptation from several recipes put together in a way that made sense to me with the ingredients I wanted. For instance, I wanted pearl onions but you can just largely dice regular onions too. I also wanted a bit of spice and so I've got thyme in this version. Normally any recipe from the British Isles is pretty void of spice. If you look at many Irish stew recipes they only have the meat and veggies with beer for flavor. Boring and flat in flavor. Even with this version it still required a good bit of salt at the end to promote the flavors more.

If I say "Chevys", what comes to mind? What memories? When was the last time you were there? I remember that in the late 80s Chevys was the place to be if you wanted to party it up with friends and have some great Mexican food. I remember watching the machine make fresh chips to go with their fantastic salsa. But somewhere around 2000 I realized that the only thing I bothered with was the chips and salsa and rarely did I order any food. How about you?

I recently went to a Chevys VIP event as they were introducing, or rather re-introducing, their original concept. The event was to award local, charitable heroes as well as to announce the brand's revamp. Sacramento has been chosen as the pilot market for this overhaul.

Chevys President Brian Wright was in town for this event and he explained the plan during his speech. Chevys was established in 1986 here in Northern California. Since that time the company has been bought and sold a number of times, each time with profitability and money as the motivator. Each new corporate owner would make changes here and there, tinkering with the concept. Somehow Chevys lost its way. Wright decided to sit down with the founders of Chevys, Warren Simmon Sr. and Warren "Scooter" Simmon Jr., to talk to them about its origins. What was the concept in 1986? What made it special and what had changed? So much had changed that the founder said that the current Chevys was unrecognizable to the 80s original. After hours of discussion, Wright came out of the meeting with a goal to go back to those 80s attributes that had made Chevys a hit.

I've been a little preoccupied lately. Part of the reason for less posts the last few weeks. You see, my idea is about to actually happen this coming Saturday.

The idea? A one-day, first ever, Sacramento Food Film Festival!

Over the last few years there has been a new generation of documentary filmaking. One subject matter that arises again and again is food! The first documentaries of note were Supersize Me and Food, Inc. They have encouraged other filmmakers to tackle the subject of food from the dirt to the table and all the steps in between.

I read about many new such documentaries on the internet last summer and wondered why I never saw them come to Sacramento. It's then that the idea was born. Since I had new experience just completing SactoMoFo, I called up Whole Foods first and asked them - "would you be interested in sponsoring such a festival?" When they said they would, I knew it was a go, especially when they agreed to do the concession stand with healthier movie snacks.

I connected with Slow Food Sacramento to be the charity sponsor. People weren't about to write checks out to me, but they would write checks to a charity. Slow Food has the perfect mission that goes along with the topics of the documentaries -  healthy, local, sustainable foods.

We then set about selecting the films. I'm proud of the diversity of the eight films. Topics range from school lunches to organics, food waste, plight of small farms, government bureaucracy, genetically modified foods, loss of farm lands, sustainability, and consumer rights. To see the time schedule and the summaries of each film, check out sacfoodfilmfest.com.

We are also lucky to have five farmers to sit on the panel to discuss issues raised in the films, some of which are even in a couple of the films. Channel 40's Andria Borba will moderate the discussion as we talk about some of the challenges they are facing in agriculture today. See the farmers bios here. 

Some food trucks will stop by as well. Coast to Coast will be from noon until 3 p.m. and Drewski's will stop by from 4 to 6.  We know everyone will want to stop by Old Soul next door for coffee as well.

I want to thank my biggest sponsor and the one who most alleviated my financial fears - Elise Bauer of SimplyRecipes.com. If you don't know, Simply Recipes is the #1 recipe sight in the world!  And it is based right here in Sacramento.

I also want to thank the Sacramento Co-op, Mikuni's, de Vere's Pub, The Grange, the Selland Family of restaurants, Local Roots Food Tours, KnowaCaliforniaFarmer.com, Yelp.com, and our venue, The Guild Theater.

And now, if you'll excuse me, you probably won't see a post from me until next week. See you all Saturday!!!

I used red Hawaiian sea salt.

I ate a lot of eggs last month. I was trying the Paleo (Caveman) diet which meant none of my normal breakfast fare that used grains - no oatmeal, cereal, toast, etc.  I pretty much resorted to eggs, either hard or soft boiled. I like a runny yolk and so for the most part I went with soft boiled eggs with fond remembrances of having them at British bed and breakfast places as a child. 

Last month another egg memory came to mind - baked eggs. My first encounter with baked eggs was via my mom-in-law. Anytime we had a brunch, but particularly at Easter, she would do a whole pan of baked eggs. It is an easy way to do eggs for a crowd without having to worry about serving people in batches. 

Tina's baked eggs would fill a 9x13 Pyrex dish. You can easily do a dozen in that size of pan. I'm alone, so I opted for ramekins. Either way, you grease the container and then add your ingredients. This dish is made for creativity and variation. Today I simply added onions, but you can definitely do shredded spinach on the bottom layer and top the eggs with slices of tomato if you like. Add your favorite spices or maybe do the bottom layer with a simple layer of salsa. Some people add a bit of cream, but I don't. It's really all up to you.

As for the Paleo variation, Paleo folks don't do dairy either. So they would eliminate the butter and cheese and use oil instead. 

Baked Eggs

chopped onion
chopped spinach
Parmesan cheese, shredded
salt, pepper, herbs to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease your container well with butter or oil. Place a layer of onion and spinach in the bottom of the container. Break your eggs carefully atop the vegetable layer. (In a large pan you will be breaking them side by side in a layout like when you do cookies on a cookie sheet.) Sprinkle the cheese on top of the eggs. Sprinkle herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.
Bake in oven for about 10 minutes. 

You will need to keep an eye on them to determine your preference for doneness. Keep in mind that they will continue to cook a bit when you pull them from the oven. I like a runny yolk and so I need to pull them when the whites are almost completely set but a bit jiggly.