The hot cookbook and Netflix show of the year is Salt Fat Acid Heat in which Samin Nosrat explains the importance of these four things to cooking and flavor. Last night I ate a meal by a chef that has these down pat. 

Disclaimer: This is not meant as a review as I know the chef and my meal was comped.

Oliver Ridgeway, formerly at Grange, has just opened Camden Spit & Larder last week. Last night I went to have a birthday dinner there and was blown away by my meal. Obviously chefs know the importance of salt, fat, acid, heat, but Oliver demonstrated it the best I've had in quite some time. Each dish was not only expertly executed, but often had an element of surprise.

Camden Spit & Larder is Oliver's homage to his English roots. If CalItalian describes Italian mixed with California, then this would be CalBrit. He's taking dishes anchored in his background and using the best of California ingredients and modern techniques to bring together great tasting English food. After all, UK food has had a notorious bad reputation over the centuries. 

We began with a non-typical bread service in that you receive a popover. They are very light and airy. I wish it had been served fresh out of the oven hot, but understand the difficulty of timing in a busy restaurant. I also would have liked more salt in the dough, but we were able to use the nice, salty butter to take care of that.

We ordered two of the small plates. The Raw Marinated Yellow Tail was popping with flavors from the EVOO, preserved lemon, pepper yogurt, and mint. The Wagyu Steak Tartar had fermented horseradish, cured egg yolk, and oyster aioli. I appreciated the fine grind of the meat and we loved the oyster aioli with it, as well as the oozing yolk. It came with Worchesteshire potato chips (or 'crisps' in England) which were quite salty, but I actually preferred to eat the tartar with my popover. 

Camden S&L is featuring a Caviar & Roe section on its menu, with the supplier being our local producer, Passmore Ranch. Here we have a smashed fingerling with some creme fraiche topped with caviar.

I ordered the salmon with spinach, cauliflower, raisins, almonds, and pears. The salmon was succulent - perfectly cooked. I especially enjoyed the textural elements with the sides with chewy raisins and crunchy nuts. The combination of sweet raisins and pears with the salt and fat from the salmon and spinach worked well. Everything on this plate was perfect.

My friend was curious to try the Chicken Fat Rice with chicken cracklins, black garlic, and green onion. Oliver came over to discuss the dish and said that they wanted to use the fat drippings from their rotisserie as well as some of the trim bits of chicken. The fat is tossed with the rice and some mirepoix and then topped with the chicken bits that have been deep fried to crispy.

My friend's entree was the half chicken with olive oil whipped potatoes, rapini, green sauce, and charred lemon. The olive oil potatoes won her over, especially with that hit of acid, in the form of some lemon juice, to cut the fat. 

We had two desserts. First was this vegan, gluten-free chocolate cake with coconut cream. It was almost like eating a chocolate bar. But our favorite was the lemon posset with ginger cookies (top of page). Lemon posset is a dessert I've made a few times to make use of my lemon tree. It's basically heavy cream, lemon juice, and sugar. I loved it with the chewy ginger cookies.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other British dishes will come on the menu in the future as I plan to bring my British dad here on his next visit. I'm hoping we might see some steamed puddings, both savory and sweet, some day. I have to imagine that trifle and bangers and mash will show up in some way too. Oh, and let's not forget about some offal, Oliver!

A few months ago I was watching a news segment on saffron growing in England. England?? I always thought of saffron being grown in places like Spain and Iran. The segment got me thinking. I could probably grow saffron in California. After all, our climate is similar to Spain and Italy. The only reason we don't seem to grow huge crops here is the cost of the labor to harvest the tiny saffron stems. That doesn't mean you can't grow your own though!

Turns out that saffron comes in corms. Corms are different than bulbs, yet similar. I'll let you get the differences of corms/bulbs/rhizomes here. Like bulbs, corms can be pulled from the ground and stored and then replanted again next year.  In the photo above you can see a corm off to the right. 

I purchased my saffron from a seed site on the internet. What you are looking for is crocus sativus, the plant that produces saffron. I got a bag of 25 for about $25. They arrived in late August, just the time that you are supposed to plant them. The flowers come out in October, when you harvest. The plant continues to grow through the winter, but you let them dry out in the spring.

The soil needs to be well draining and should get a lot of sun during the fall. They actually do not want a lot of water. 

I started to see my flowers come up one by one. Each flower has three of the saffron pistils that you pluck out with tweezers. You can pick them out of the flower while it's in the ground, or pluck the flower and then tweeze out the pistils. The pistils are actually attached together at their base, so I like picking the flower and then grabbing the pistils with one pluck at their base. Then you just let them air dry in a warm, dry place. 

Plucking the flowers is a bit sad as they are very pretty flowers. And, it seems, they do not come back with another flower behind it. The good news is that over the years, the corms will multiply so that each year you will have more and more! 

I probably got a gram of saffron this year. Saffron is more expensive than gold and sells for $8 per gram or at least $5,000-$10,000 per pound. Keep in mind that it is also one of the most adulterated food products out there. Fake saffron is made by using corn silks, dying them red, then cutting them to size. 

One should also note that Mexican saffron is not really saffron at all. It is actually safflower... like in safflower oil.

I found this video on growing saffron to be useful.

Yesterday my diva Bengal, Star, died of pancreatic cancer. I am devastated. My whole life I have had cats and yet she was the one who's had the most impact on me. She had the biggest personality, was a loud talker, and a diva. She was such a priss with her dainty little paws. She also loved me back so much. She loved to play fetch and would only play with certain types of balls. Star was very smart too, being a Bengal. I will miss her dearly. I wanted to put together a page of photos that I can return to when I want.

My beautiful Star, rest in peace.

I like to follow viral animal 'celebrities'. Animals on Instagram and Facebook can lift your mood with a simple photo or video. Whether you like cats, dogs, raccoons, or monkeys, there is probably some animal that has a following on social media.

One of my favorites to follow is Canuck the crow. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and became a viral sensation when he stole a knife from a crime season. He now has a huge following on Instagram and Facebook

But let's start at the beginning. When he was a fledgling, he was found by a young boy that raised him until he was able to fly. He then released him after first putting a red zip tie on his ankle so that he would be easy to recognize. Canuck is, therefore, a wild crow that is used to humans. After his release, he decided that the next door neighbor, a guy named Shawn, was going to be his human best friend. He has developed a bond with Shawn so that he greets him in the morning and as soon as he gets home for work. (Shawn is his official Instagrammer.)

Shawn @canuck_and_i
A couple of years ago there was an incident at their local McDonald's and while the police had the place roped off for collecting evidence, Canuck swooped down and stole the weapon, a knife! This made worldwide news and his local celebrity turned into global.

Over the last few years there have been more crow adventures. Canuck has been seen riding the buses and trains, stealing keys from the nearby fairgrounds, making his first nest, and attacking the postal carrier for a while until they became friends. He's also got a lady love, Cassiar, and they had their first family together, although sadly the chicks both did not survive.

Canuck has become so well known that every year there is an art showing featuring artwork by his fans. He has his own short documentary and this year he beat out Seth Rogen, Ryan Reynolds, and even Michael J. Fox in a bracket contest to become the Unofficial Ambassador for Vancouver's Metro. Makes sense. After all, Canuck actually rides the Metro.

I was determined to meet Canuck on a trip to Vancouver last month and so my friends and I went crow stalking. Luckily it's easy enough to do. First is the address of the McDonald's where the knife stealing took place. Then it was a matter of looking for Canuck's favorite landmarks and haunts. 

Our trip was not blessed with good weather, even though it was August. The first day of looking was rainy and we were out in the drizzle for an hour with no luck. The next day was not that much better, just no rain. We walked around for an hour and fed his crow friends with no luck. We still had one more day, so we decided to give up. Just as we were getting in the car (I had put my drink on the top of the car to open the door), when Canuck swooped in, landed in front of me, and said, "I hear you were looking for me! And you've got food!" We were even blessed with his gal, Cassiar!

Suddenly Canuck took off again. He had spotted Shawn and immediately flew to his friend. We talked to Shawn for a while as a posse of other crows surrounded him. He now has another he has named Junior that, a week after we were there, finally sat on his knee. Many other crows also hang out as well. Shawn is going to need to come up with more names as he continues to become the Crow Whisperer of Vancouver. 

Yes, I was in Vancouver for a mini-vacation with my friends, but I did have only one Vancouver site I needed to see. A crow named Canuck.

I've been keeping a secret because I wanted to be the first to break the news. There's a new dumpling place in town. Well, actually, it's been open for nine months. Somehow it's been a well kept secret and now I'm telling you. The best soup dumplings can be found in Old Sacramento at I-Shanghai Delight.

My friend and past coworker from CalPERS told me about it. She's Chinese and she said that word had already spread among the Chinese community when this new location (the first is in Fremont) opened up. Then my other friend is a soup-dumpling fanatic. I knew I had to go with her to try it out, especially when we learned there were at least three varieties of soup dumplings!

I-Shanghai Delight is located on Front Street in Old Sac. It's in the basement of the old set of buildings that are directly across from the railroad shed where Bali Kitchen is. As soon as you descend the stairs you see people making soup dumplings!

The restaurant is bigger than it first appears because the dining room wraps around the back of the bar and dumpling making area. It's bright and clean and you get excited about your upcoming meal as soon as you sit down. 

The menu is not lengthy, probably because the feature is the soup dumplings. There are five versions to choose from! Pork, shrimp, spicy pork, and crab roe and pork are the steamed selections. The fifth is a pan fired pork dumpling. Be careful because they arrive at your table piping hot. You also have to be very careful with how you bite into them so that you don't squirt the soup on yourself.

shrimp dumpling

We chose the shrimp, spicy pork, and the pan fried. First up was the shrimp and as soon as you bit in and slurped up that soup, you knew you had found the best dumpling place in town. The center dumpling has the shrimp peeking out so that the servers can tell the dumplings apart. Inside is some ground seafood and a whole shrimp, and, of course, the flavorful seafood broth.

spicy pork dumpling
Under that steamer tray was the tray of spicy pork. When you bite into these, expect an explosion of broth with chili oil. At first I thought they were mild, but the heat can sneak up on those who are sensitive to spicy food. I like spicy and would consider it to be at a low medium level. 

pan fried pork dumpling

The pan fried pork is just fried in a shallow bit of oil so that the bottom halves are nicely browned. While my companions liked them, I did not care for the bread-iness of the frying. It made the dumpling a lot heavier. Considering it was our last dish and I've been eating low-carb for eight months, the heaviness did me in. I had enjoyed the other dumplings as-is, savoring their ability to stand on their own without need of condiments such as the accompanying vinegar sauce or the nearby soy sauce. The pan fried dumplings were the only ones I used the vinegar sauce on and I think it helped to cut that heaviness.

I skipped directly to the dumplings, but in reality we had started with two appetizers. The first was sweet and sour pork ribs (no picture). These are the small, bite-sized pieces of ribs that you pop in your mouth and crew around the bone before spitting it out. These were covered in a sticky, thick sauce and the ribs were on the chewy side, making it a bit of a chore to munch on.

fried turnip cake

We were wowed by our other appetizer - the Fried Turnip Cakes. These are made with a mix of shredded turnip and green onions. I probably should have taken a picture of them cut in half so you can see the shredded nature of them.  While some might add a sauce to them, I liked savoring the oniony flavor and the texture of the crunchy exterior and soft (bit greasy) interior.

So there you go. THE BEST soup dumplings in town are conveniently in the center of the region in Old Sacramento at I-Shanghai Delight.

For about 15 years I worked for a boss who was raised in New Orleans. Just as any native is picky about their own regional/ethnic cuisine, so was he. It says something that Sandra Dee's had his patronage and the rest of us with him. In fact, it turned out that his wife and Sandra Dee both came from the same town. We were regulars at Sandra Dee's, coming to dine at about twice a month. Then again, that was 10 years ago.

This is what I know. I know I loved the ribs and the spicy barbecue sauce she has that I always get on the side. I still do. I used to sometimes order a quart of mac and cheese to-go. We all loved the fried chicken and I still think of the revelation I had when I first tried it. I had been ordering ribs and hot links forever while a co-worker would order the chicken. I finally decided to try it and  was surprised at how crisp the skin was and moist the chicken was. 

I'll admit. I haven't been to eat at Sandra Dee's in a long time. My boss retired, then I did. My new job doesn't allow for long lunches with coworkers like I used to do at the State. And with so many restaurants constantly opening, it's hard for me to keep up with the new ones, let alone frequent my favorites. 

Meanwhile, there have been many new barbecue restaurants that have opened: Fahrenheit 250, Tank House, and now Urban Roots. In the Southern category is South - walking distance from my house. I've never tried Tank House and the others I was unimpressed with. Keep in mind, I'm in it for the ribs. I'm not a chicken or brisket person. I'm all about the oink. 

I guess I'm in favor of Kansas City style, but with the sauce on the side. I like dry rub and then being able to dip my pieces of meat into a little bit of sauce instead of becoming a sticky mess trying to eat sloppy ribs. I don't care for mustard (So Carolina) or too much vinegar (No Carolina) and Texas BBQ is way too smokey for me. The point is, of all the places in town and all their different sauces, I like my ribs from Sandra Dee's. They are fatty, tender, and I get that great, spicy sauce to dip into.

When I heard that Gordon Ramsey had been in town in December to turn the restaurant over, at first I was miffed that I didn't hear about it or get invited. Then when the stories came out that she went back to her old menu the next day, I defended her. There was nothing wrong with her menu. I figured she just wanted the makeover of the restaurant and the publicity so that she would get back in everyone's mind. With so many restaurants opening up, I could see her lose business as everyone shifts to the newest places. 

Restaurateurs can get lazy over time and that appears to be what happened with Sandra Dee.  She was losing business and it appears that over the years her food quality had tanked, not to mention the service due to her daughter at front-of-house. Watching the episode a few days after it aired, my heart sank. I had been supportive by going by and picking up ribs that night. They were as good as I remembered. But to watch the episode and see how horrible the cleanliness (or rather, lack of) was is definitely sickening. Then there was the cussing, bullying, and rudeness of her and her daughter. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and that was evident in the episode. 

If she can keep going, I will try to stop in again to actually dine in the restaurant and observe. I'm curious to see if anything stuck from Ramsey's visit besides the decor. Did their service improve? Has the food gone back to how good it was those years ago when I went with my boss? We'll see. I'd love to hear from others that have been recently in the comments below. 

After months of waiting, it's open! Beast + Bounty opened this week and the wait has been worth it. Best friends are in the kitchen with chef Brock MacDonald heading the kitchen and Edward Martinez handling desserts and baked goods. Beast + Bounty is located in the Ice Blocks area of Midtown in an area exploding with newly constructed apartments and retail. (Note that it isn't in the actual Ice Blocks complex itself, but across the street next to Philz Coffee.) The restaurant retains one old-brick wall with modern touches of large windows, bright but muted colors, and contemporary furnishings. There's a small waiting area next to a staircase where they had a (occasional) DJ placed seen in pictures of their soft opening.

Attention to details were apparent when we were taken to our table. We were seated at a banquette of muted pink leather with leather 'belts' seemingly holding up the backrests. It's the place setting that really makes an impact. One thing for sure, anyone daring to swipe a piece or a setting would immediately be called out should someone see these unique pieces in your home! I had to wonder if that small knife blade would cut anything. (It does.)
bone marrow

wet aged ribeye w/ chimichurri (not the 60-day dry aged one)
mixed grill - flank steak, duck breast, pork belly (SStiavetti)
burger (SStiavetti)
The food is described in the name - Beast + Bounty. Brock MacDonald's menu is designed to appeal to all diners, from omnivores to vegans. Beast dishes include such items as a bright Bone Marrow appetizer to a 60-day dry aged Ribeye or a Mixed Grill plate with duck, flank steak, and pork belly. The burger was the last to arrive and was delicious. The meat was so flavorful and made to shine without being covered up the accompaniments. I look forward to it being part of the 2019 Sacramento Burger Battle. (Too late to be in this year's.)

cauliflower w/ vegan creme fraiche

roasted carrots
watermelon salad (SStiavetti)

The Bounty dishes will attract any veggie centric diner. The Cast Iron Cauliflower is atop a layer of a vegan creme fraiche. Roasted Carrots with multiple 'carrot' elements was our favorite veggie dish and the Watermelon Salad with Thai eggplant, and pickled radishes was a surprising win.
coconut tart

blackberry eclair
Martinez's influence sandwiches a meal with his soft, warm Parker rolls served with cultured butter aged for eight months. The dessert menu is sure to always be in flux, but includes five items to chose from, including a vegan Soy Milk Panna Cotta with blueberries and maple granita. The favorite among us was the Coconut Tart with a rye crust and a tarragon powder. Second favorite was the blackberry eclair with butterscotch. The peach 'donut' is actually a white chocolate donut-shaped shell filled with a gelee. We agreed it needed one more textural element, like a cake base.

peach 'donut'

smoked chocolate pudding

Martinez will be doing double duty in about a month or so as Milk Money will be located across the walkway from Beast + Bounty. This will be his artisan donut and ice cream shop and houses his ovens for doing the Beast + Bounty desserts. For the last six months Martinez has been hosting donut popups around town, selling out under an hour each time. Beast + Bounty is destined to become one of Sacramento's most popular restaurants, perfectly designed to showcase the City's title of Farm-to-Fork Capital.

Repost. Original date: 9/5/15
I'm reposting this because I recently heard a restaurateur talking about the lack of applicants responding to her ads as she starts to think about hiring for their new restaurant. This is no surprise to me as I predicted this three years ago and now it's all coming true.

You have to have been a coma not to know that there's a new Kings arena being built downtown. It's pretty hard to miss if you happen to be anywhere near the construction. With it comes all the talk and excitement of what the arena will mean to Sacramento, mostly in terms of economics.

My mind has been dwelling on one facet of those economic changes — the state of the Sacramento restaurant scene in terms of restaurants and their staffs.

You may think Sacramento has a fine collection of restaurants as it is. Well hold on tight because we are about to see an explosion of restaurants in the next 18 months. Some are already beating others to the punch. In June there were the openings of the remodeled Paragary's, Iron Horse Tavern, Roxie Deli, Dos Coyotes. In July we got the moved Magpie, Localis, Fish Face, and Metro Kitchen & Drinkery. The midtown Broderick's and the long awaited Empress Tavern just opened up.

Here's the thing. Competition is going to start getting fierce to not only hire all levels of staff for these restaurants, but also to hold onto them. The truth is, Sacramento does not currently have enough staff for all of these restaurants. There are not enough servers, chefs, line cooks, general managers, bartenders, bussers, dishwashers, etc. for the current number of restaurants, let alone the 30+ slated to open in the next 18-24 months.

Even less? QUALITY staff. Already restaurants in town are trying to lure quality servers, GMs, and more.  This has made me really think about what will be happening with restaurant labor over the next few years. 

This post is not meant to take any position on any particular method(s) but to point out some of the issues our local restaurants will be contending with over the next 18-24 months.

High turnover 

I worked for the State of California for 20 years and many of the last ten years were filled with hiring freezes and furloughs as the State tried to save money. Because of the strict hiring freezes, agencies and departments would end up hiring staff from other agencies because they couldn't bring in fresh new blood as new hires from the public. The problem is that when you have this much constant turnover of staff, work doesn't get done because it never gets learned. Before a hire has time to learn the new job, maybe even improve upon it and leave a legacy for new hires in the future, they were already being enticed away to other positions and promotions. The labor force was constantly moving.

Now imagine that in the restaurant industry. In Sacramento there are only so many restaurant staff currently available. We're not talking fast food staff, we are talking about seated, service restaurants from small cafes to fine dining establishments. Restaurant work is hard and low pay. Quality staff are going to be sought out, enticed, and hired away from competing restaurants. Chefs, GMs, and servers are constantly moving.

Recruit elsewhere

The best solution to look elsewhere and the most obvious is the Bay Area. What does Sacramento have that the Bay Area doesn't? Lower cost of living. It's time to start heavy recruitment of quality staff from San Francisco and vicinity. Local restaurant leaders should (and are) join forces to start an active advertising campaign and recruitment effort in the Bay Area and maybe even Southern California as well.  In order to get new hires to make the move, give them an incentive to encourage them to recruit their fellow restaurant coworkers to join them in the move. 


Did you know this blog, Munchie Musings, is over ten years old? And some might have noticed the less frequency I post on it and the not all that inspiring content over the last year or so. Blame it a bit on burn out. 

I'm one of those people who needs to get a real bee in her bonnet. For seven years I was really into Pampered Chef and earning prizes and trips. Then burn out. Then this blog became my focus and I am super grateful to it for the doors it has opened for me. You might have noticed that lately I've been a bit focused on the science of the keto diet and its health benefits. I decided to move these over to a keto focused blog where it will be more focused. 

I'll still be here on MM occasionally, but I'll probably be writing more often on the new one. If you have an interest in biohacking your body and maybe keto, then please check it out.

The new blog is called Keto so Easy because I think it's easier than some people fear. I also named it that because I practice lazy keto, as in not-so-strict keto. People with serious health issues like diabetes, obesity, fibramyalgia, etc. may need to be super strict keto. I don't. That doesn't mean they won't find helpful information on the new blog, but that I am going to be more forgiving than other keto advocates. 

Sooooo, that's the latest. I actually already have piqued the interest of several friends who have tracked my progress so far. I look forward to seeing if they find a benefit and love of keto too. Heal your body with food, not drugs!