Strawberries Romanov Revisited

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It's finally summer, or at least it is officially. However. here in Northern California, the seasons I loved most, Fall and Spring, and rushed. Just as they're about to unpack their back and grace with our presence they are given the bums rush like an unruly and unwelcome house guest. Then we Northern Californian's are swept into the frigid cold lower 40's (I don't want to hear any boo-hooing from you people in Michigan or whatnot, this is what I was raised with and to me it's cold), or as we are now, the sweltering heat in the 90's and 100's. Keep in mind now, that it's been that way since April.

Like a guest arriving to the party an hour too early, you don't know what to do with them. You smile and make nice, make them a drink and attempt to be friendly and formal all while still getting ready. Still, now that it's official, I'm not so much ready for summer as I am ready for it to be over.

Plus, you have to take into account that our summer so far has been marked by an adobe colored sun with a neon haze glazing through smoky skies. Lots of fires in California. Sparked by dry lightning, intense heat and winds, and tinder hills. If you move here, allow me to dispell a myth for you. We don't worry about earthquakes. We worry about fires. The air has a been thick with ash and smoke in what many would consider Biblical foreshadowing. Biking to work has no longer become an option as once I reach my destination my face is slightly greyed with two teary streaks running from my stinging eyes.

Hot and smoky, Nor Cal Summer feels like being stranded in a Mad Max film, but minus Tina Turner in a chain-link dress.

Still, I have my ways of escaping the heat. I rely on my ice cream maker a lot I admit. It's simple and requires so little work upon my part. However, I had left the bowl out overnight and I wasn't about to make it the old fashioned way without an ice cream maker since I'm lazy and all. I perused and found some strawberries on their last legs, how they made it that far is beyond me. Normally, they're all devoured within 24 hours. By all accounts they must have been hiding behind the milk.
An orange and some cream caught my eye and it dawned on me. Strawberries Romanov. A fancy but relatively simple dish that requires only the most basic cooking skills, it was one of the first f
or show dishes I ever learned. A dish that is rumored to have been developed by the pastry chef Marie Antoine Careme, who served it to Tsar Nicholas I of the royal house of Romanov. The dish was a supposed favorite of his children.

Not nearly served in such a regal manner, when I presented it it wowed people in the dorms and acted as a celebratory way to finish off a communal meal of curry and salad. But then again, who couldn't love a dessert such as this? Fancy liquors -which we loves-, berries glistening in their carbuncle hues, and billowy mounds of barely sweetened cream. It's a delicious treat, especially when served from nice crystal or wine glasses. A step up from when I used to serve it in a Lord of the Rings collectors cup from Carl's Jr.

In addition, just the name itself is pleasing. Strawberries Romanov. It sounds of regal history, of grande finishes to grander fêtes in Petrograd. However, in Northern California, for me, it's simply an indulgent way to stave off the sweltering heat.

Strawberries Romanov
Serves 4

What You'll Need...
1 1/2 lbs. strawberries, cleaned and quartered
2 tablespoons of Cointreau, Grand Mariner, or Triple Sec
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of orange zest
1/2 cup of cream
2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Combine the strawberries, liquor, sugar, and orange zest in a bowl and mix. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour to macerate.

2) Drain and reserve the juices. Purée about one-quarter of the strawberries with the reserved juices.

3) Divide the remaining berries into four glasses. Beat the cream and powdered sugar until soft peaks form, then fold in the berry purée. Spoon the berry whipped cream on to the strawberries and serve. May be refrigerated before hand before serving for up to 3 hours, be sure to cover.

PDA -or- Getting to Second Base Behind the Black Angus at 5 PM

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'm not exactly the conservative type, for the most part I'm pretty laid back about things, people, and what people want to be or do. As long as you don't inconvenience me or piss me off in the process, I don't care. I will laugh at your emo poetry jams. I will mentally beg the powers that be to curse you if take forever to order your coffee. I will smack you with a stick if you take too long trying to find pennies at the drug store to buy a stick of gum. I will get pissy if you make a damn fool of yourself or have bad manners that even a hobo would cringe at.

Still, I'm human. I put my elbows on the table at times (except when my parents are armed with a fork at the dinner table, ow) and I can burp the lyrics to Mama Mia thank-you-boy-scouts-and-ABBA. I also do not mind public displays of affection, or PDA. Holding hands, quick kisses, butterfly eyes, and passionate kisses all are awesome and encouraged. I think it's sweet and innocent.

However (and there is a however) there is such a thing as going to far. Trying to swallow each other's faces over dinner? Too much. Trying to get your date off under the table with your foot while you daintily cut your steak? Just wait for the check and take it home. Doing it in the restaurant bathroom? Don't, I have to pee.

I mean, given, we've all had our risque moments out in public. There is a certain thrill and fun about them. I know I did it in the UC Davis Library. And the arboretum. Twice. But still, they were places of discretion. Not broad daylight for an audience.

Take yesterday for example, Rob and I were taking the back exit from a shopping plaza here in Sacramento, near Arden and Watt. The back way out isn't nearly as busy, but it's hardly what I would call desolate. As we moved towards the exit to the street I looked to my side...

"Hey, look there! Are they...?" I questioned with a smile of surprise and a bit of shock.

"Wow. Look at them go. In broad daylight no less." Rob actually slowed the car down. What else would you do? It's California, people slow down their cars for a lone boot in the road.

"Honk the horn at them!!! It'll be funny!" Because I'm a nice person.

"No! But wow, second base. Still next to a busy street, it's not like it's a good hiding place or anything. Everyone who takes a second to look around will see them," noted Rob.

"Still, behind the Black Angus against the dumpster? Ew."

Rob agreed, "Yeah, a bit too trashy." (Very punny.)

Rob pulled the car our of the parking lot and onto the road. "Still," I said, "I hope I can be that kinky when I turn seventy."

"Seriously. Go them." Rob concurred.

Cool Dessert Class

Sunday, June 22, 2008

For those of you in the Sacramento area, I'll be teaching my first class. Well cooking class, at least. While I'm adept at teaching seventh graders about The Great Gatsby and comma usage, or ESL students about sentence composition, this is going to be my first cooking instruction to a group. I'll be working with two experienced and awesome chefs, Ann Rolke who has worked with great chefs and authors in restaurants across the country, and Shankari Easwaran a renowned chef. Both are also local food bloggers.

Thursday, August 7th

Cool Desserts for Summer Hot Days

With Sacramento Chefs and Food Bloggers Shankari Easwaran, Ann Martin-Rolke and Garrett McCord

6:30 p.m. $35

Demonstration Class; Open to all ages.

Summertime in Sacramento is HOT, and you certainly don’t want to use the oven. And as good as ice cream and fresh fruit are, sometimes you want something a little more unusual. Join three local food bloggers and cooks as they show you how to make a variety of delicious desserts without breaking a sweat. This unique format will give you the chance to see the different styles of three cooks as they work individually and together in the kitchen. Menu items:

Almond Sherbet- Ground almonds blended with chilled milk, cardamom and saffron

Indian Fruit Salad- Fresh season fruits in simple syrup infused with cinnamon and cloves, a sprinkle of rose water and garnished with toasted coconut.

Poached Pear Sorbet- A delicious dessert that takes a fine winter classic and gives it a twist. Pears poached in a syrup of vanilla and lemon and pureed, then churned into a silky sorbet. .

Coffee Granita- A low-maintenance dessert, with coffee, espresso, and a bit of sugar mixed and chilled, then raked into a snow cone–like consistency. Served with a bit of fresh whipped cream.

Berry-Mint Panzanella- A bread salad made with blueberries, mint, and an orange–brown sugar sauce; toasted bread cubes and almonds add crunch.

Kir Royello- Jell-o for grown-ups, using champagne and raspberry gelatin to copy the flavors of the classic summer cocktail Kir Royale.

To sign up call the Sacramento Whole Foods and register for the class. (916) 488-2800

Do I Really Sound Like That? -&- CLICK for Bri Update

Friday, June 20, 2008

The video from my first live cooking demo is up. It's a bit nerve wracking for me to put it up here, mainly because I kinda enjoy for the most part what is my anonymity, but what the hell, right?

Now keep in mind that Shankari doesn't say anything because we only had two microphones. Also, I am nervous as hell during this whole deal. Shankari had to grab my hands (off camera) to keep them from shaking. I don't recall any of this, it's just a blur to me, though I recall yelling in my head to myself at the end of it, "STOP LOOKING AT THE GROUND! LOOK UP AT THE CAMERA OR AT TINA. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? STOP LOOKING AT THE DAMN GROUND!"

On a personal note, I am shocked and upset at the fact that I apparently have the gayest sounding voice ever, and some limp fucking wrists. Goddammit. But maybe it's just me being self critical...

If you want the recipe for the cupcake featured it's right next to the video or you can go to it's original posting HERE.

Anywhose, the CLICK for Bri fund raiser is going great! We're more than three quarter of the way to our goal!!! If you haven't donated, I hope you'll take a moment to check it out. There are some awesome prizes up for grabs in our raffle from camera equipment to cookbooks to personal cooking lessons!

Honestly, I'm a better teacher in person... which you can soon see if you so choose. But that's the topic of the next post, so be sure to return dear reader.

New Meals in Old Sac (The Firehouse - Sacramento, CA)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I did an interview with the new chef of the Firehouse, Deneb Williams, for an E.S. article about a year ago. It was a whirligig of an interview to be sure. The chef whizzed ahead of me giving me a crash course tour and history of the building, bobbing and weaving through ancient wine cellars and bulletproof vaults of old tyme 400 year old brandies, and into the kitchen where I had to nimbly dodge cooks and trays of salad courses all while trying to listen and retain every word he said.

By the time we reached the second dining room I had abandoned the notepad as it had become futile. Still, the article was completed and resoundingly so. I was quite proud. I brought a copy of it over to the chef as thanks. As we sat down he questioned me about when I would visit for a meal.

"Yeeeeah, probably not soon..." I was fearing this question. In fact at this moment I was mortified. The Firehouse is a high end place. My bank would probably hunt me down if I tried to use my debit card here. I had to admit to the chef that my chances of dining there were slim to none, as one course can run around $45 dollars, not including wine. A full on meal can run about $100 per person easily on the low side of things.

However, thanks to, a recent Wine & Dine event was held in which The Firehouse was taking part. A three course meal with a separate glass of wine pairing for each course. $45 per person.

I made the reservations that day.

I attended with Rob and friend Kaiti and Dan, two good friends who were more versed in wine than me. We were all sat in the posh and formal dining room, large Victorian paintings, velvet, dark lighting, very "classic up-there restaurant." You know the type.

The main goal of this venture was to one: be voyeuristic into Hyper-High class dining (except for Kaiti, her work holds luncheons there regularly, lucky punk); and two: to see if the place lived up to the hype. Plus I wanted to see the chef in action after a year.

We started with an asparagus bisque paired with a 2003 Ironstone Chardonnay. The bisque was pure, the asparagus slowly circling around your mouth and then flowing away leaving a faint memory of fresh springtime tastes. A slight nibble on the sides of your tongue brought on by some spring leeks helped give the whole soup a piquant flavor. The wine was light and airy, and enhanced the flavors of the bisque and vice versa, like a little dance. A prosciutto-Parmesan palmier danced in the soup with a an asparagus tip. Enough to keep it interesting and give a bit of play. A win.

A Wagyu beef sirloin with a mushroom sauce was to-die-for. Perfectly cooked, perfectly balanced. The meat melted in your mouth and mushrooms meaty flavors backed up creating layers of flavor. Served with some squash and garlic mashed potatoes which were like potato-y air or silk. It made me wonder why I had stopped making mashed potatoes in the past few years when they can be this good.

The 2003 Shanandoah zin that was served was... heavy. A bit bitter due to the sweetness of the meat. While Dan appreciated it, I did not, and Kaiti seemed to fall in the middle (Rob doesn't really drink much wine).

The final course was a chocolate torte, a heavy cake base followed by a chocolate bourbon mousse, and a fine ganache. Topped with cocoa swirls, cocoa powder, and a bit of raspberry coulis. I was hesitant about bourbon, chocolate and raspberry, but it all played well. The bourbon's natural dark tones paired enhanced the chocolate. The raspberry coulis gave enough tartness to cut through all the overpowering sweet. The chocolate covered coffee bean on top was unnecessary, but that's my only fault to point out.

At first I wasn't enjoying the dessert wine, a Renwood port, but once sipped after a bit of chocolate it perked the senses and came a alive with flavors of berry and cocoa.

We were full and happy. Portions were fair, the meal well done.

The Firehouse lives up to it's reputation as one of Sacramento's cornerstone restaurants. With the Sac Food scene booming like never before, it's easy to lose sight of these classics. They remain because of their tenure, skill, and ability to preform perfectly time and again. I know the lure of each hip, new locale can be tempting, but try to find a chance to get away and dine in Old Sac. You won't regret it.

The Firehouse

1112 Second Street
Old Sacramento, CA 95814

On Eating Cheaply in Your Twenties

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wow, quite a response on that last post. E-mails really flooded in after that. All of which are appreciated and I promise I will respond to ASAP.

I feel I have left something out from that previous post. I want to relate to you how I actually do eat. One or two e-mails seemed a bit tetchy at me as I noted Easy Mac far too much and was a poor food lover to even have it in my cupboard. Actually, I don't, but I do keep a supply of Eggo blueberry waffles.

To be honest, I cook most every night. It's a mostly vegetarian diet consisting of a lot of stir frys, curries, soups, and bakes of various sorts; vegetarian not out of diet or morals but out of wallet. I actually keep my food budget to around $40-$60 a week plus on occasional lunch out if I didn't have time to prepare something for work.

My pantry consists of a variety of grains such as lentils, wild rice, pasta, udon and soba. Adzuki beans, cannellini, and canned black beans up the wazoo. LOTS of baking staples such as flour, various sugars and salts, and so on. Coconut milk is regular staple, tins of tuna, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, tomatoes, and corn are pretty basic as well. Various jars of canned delights from friends who give it a bit of color, but sadly are beginning to run low. A shelf devoted to tea, coffee, and hot chocolate is one of my favorite spots.

My spice drawer is eclectic, unorganized, and muddled. From ras al hanout to poppy seeds to powdered mace, it's a veritable treasure trove of one time use items. Jars, bottles, knobs, berries, and so on litter the thing, and it needs to be cleaned out as soon as possible. A jar of rosemary from the mid-90's I must have spilled water into smells like a meth lab when I open it.

The fridge is stocked with butter (Costco), milk, and eggs. Fresh veggies and fruits purchased weekly based on seasonality, basic staples however are cheap baby bella mushrooms, green onions, and white onions. Bricks of tofu exist for pan frying into tasty little chips or stirfry. Vanilla yogurt and a cheese or two are often on the list as well.

Freezer is packed with bacon, meats from Hank if I have them (yay!), and much frozen chicken breast tenders as they are easy to portion out. My ice cream bowl lives there as well in it's snug corner. Bananas, cherries, cranberries and freezer jams line the door. Frozen toaster waffles as well - very easy to eat while biking to work (which saves a lot more money from gas and I get a workout as well).

Honestly, I eat pretty well and cheaply at that. Plus some nights I eat with friends in a little commune meal or I am fed by people who cook better than I.

The roommate however has not taken well to cooking. My freezer is PACKED with frozen foods like jalepeno poppers, taquitos (very tasty btw), breakfast burgers. Top ramen lines the shelves, which isn't a bad thing if you know how to throw away the flavor packet and work the ramen. However, he does not.

Still, like I said, I have my emergency stashes. During finals I lived off of hot dogs and corndogs, both of which I love.

I think it's completely feasible to eat well on a budget to one extent or another. Still, fish and meat that was once a four legged creature are rare here. My meals see a lot of repetition, but thats because they're quick and easy, and I'm often quite wiped out from the day. I only post non-dessert recipes on this site if in fact they take less that 10 minutes of active work on my part. I'm a fan of the throw and go method to cooking.

I really do think one can be a successful foodie and eat well and on a budget in their twenties (or whatever age). You learn to work around a budget, how to shop, and how to cook. Substitution is key. Learning how to stretch a recipe from feeding four to feeding 10 is crucial, because damn it I hate having to buy my lunches when at work. Planning an entire week's worth of meals before you go shopping is vital to ensure you don't overbuy and nothing goes to waste.

The people I most admire in their budget gourmet savvy are Hank and Holly. I mean damn, these people have a veritable farm in their back yard, plus for the most part hunt and fish all of their own meat. It's amazes me to no end. I however, have a green thumb of doom and not sure I should have a shotgun in my hand else with my attention span I'll accidentally Cheney up someone's face.

Does anyone else have any budget conscious tips? I'd love to hear what everyone has to say and how they approach food in their own budget gourmet way.

Brandy and Bandages

Saturday, June 14, 2008

So I had some nightmare last night, and in it when I was being attacked by someone I started flailing in bed. Apparently, while sleeping, the cat (Cid, the normally good one) was sitting right next to me trying to wake me up as he had all morning since he insisted on being fed at 5 am. As he was sitting right next to my facing making his "wake up and feed me" noises at the moment I began to flail, he got a full blown freak out and tried to run away.

On my face.

I now have a four inch long cut slivering down the side of my cheek from ear to mouth. It took me a few minutes to realize what had happened, I was still half asleep and wasn't feeling any pain per se, but felt something amiss. I patted my cheek a few times but my still waking eyes couldn't see any blood. I flipped on the light and in my hazy sight noticed the rusty steaks on my hand. I jumped out of bed for fear that i just stained my new bedsheets which was actually my primary concern at that moment, and ran downstairs.

Realizing I had no first-aid kit I went to the kitchen and grabbed some paper towels and the first bottle of liquor I could get my hands on. I washed it, cleaned it with the brandy, then used some antibacterial cream on it, and have been elevating my face.

I'm not too worried about walking around looking like I've been in a Bangkok knife fight, but concerned about a scar developing. Would be very sexy in an Aragorn rogue-like manner, but still, I would prefer to keep face looking pretty. (Meal ticket and all.)

Breakfast this morning, consequently, were frozen waffles from the toaster and a small glass of brandy.

Unless, of course, they recall the tuna for mercury poisoning.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Coworker on the phone: Yes, yes you can eat the tomatoes.


Coworker: No, they are not infected.


Coworker: Yes, I know the news said that but ours are fine. Only the ones in the store are bad.


Coworker: *grabs her head* Yes, we bought the tomato plant at the store. That was three years ago. The tomatoes are fine.


Coworker: Then just make a tuna fish and not a B.L.T. I have to go, bye.

On Being a Foodie in your Twenties

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This is a bit of what I think is an essay that grazes over some touchy subjects. It's a little discombobulated as it's just a freewrite I sat down and sort of let flow. Still, I like how I felt where I decided to finish what seemed to be a bit of venting so I decided to post it as is with very little revision. Hope you enjoy.

Your twenties are a definitive part of your life, or so I'm told. I'm only halfway through them so there's still plenty of time to figure out exactly all the finer details, but still, it does seem to be the part of my life where I find myself trying to give ME a clear definition. Your twenties are filled with awkward relationships, bad apartments, even worse cars (or at times a lack of one), and jobs that don't pay you enough for epic amounts of shit you put up with, all while you go to school in the attempt to start your first career. It's a chaotic spiral with an uncertain center, where you end up dazed and confused but (hopefully) a bit smarter in the end.

While the world is your oyster and every experience is fresh and new, much of what you want in this world is out of your reach. Or if you find a way to reach it, you end up bending over backwards to obtain some grazing fingerslip of the prize, telling yourself you will have to settle. And settle you do. We console ourselves with reassurances that we are paying our dues, all while we volunteer and beg and cajole what few connections and networks we have. Not to say they are no victories, but they may not be the victories you were expecting.

However, this is what is to be expected in the world. You have to show your worth, earn your keep, prove your prowess to the older and experienced. Those above us are praised, looked up to, envied, and trusted. Still though, it upsets me how far and away some things are still.

This is part of what upsets me about Slow Food. Slow Food, a society of food lovers who promote sustainable and humane eating and agriculture, put on various activities and events throughout the year often raising charitable donations through their events. It's a noble group and I have no real qualm with them. I admire the Slow Food group. In fact I wish to join their ranks.

But I can't. It's financially untenable for me. I work a job in the non-profit sector that allows me to make my own hours (as long as it's 8 every weekday) so that I can go to school at night. The pay is self-descriptive for a non-profit. I work at the magazine, pull in a bit of revenue from ads on the blog, and write recipes and articles for free or for pay for whomever will have them. All of this so that I can have a career as an college English Professor / food writer. I call it paying my dues. Working my way up.

And I'm okay with that. Actually, I enjoy it. My parents raised me well. I know nothing is served on a silver platter, and I would not have it that way. I want to work my way up and learn as much as I can. Still, regardless, some aspect of education in the world of food will be out of my reach for quite some time...

I will continue with my Slow Food example. The price tags for these events make me laugh. I don't have $80 for a wine tasting; I have to pay for my internet and hot water bills. Taste3 is way out of my league with a price tag around $2000, not including your rooming, food, and transportation. The only way I am going is through a very generous fellowship I applied for and a friend who is letting me sleep on her floor.

I know that someday when I am more financially sound that this will all be available to me. It just takes time. Still, it's annoying. A large portion of food culture is cut off from those without money. The culture of good food is a bit classist. Let's all admit it to ourselves. The best food is grown and harvested by lower to low-middle class people and enjoyed by middle to upper class people. I know that statement is loaded and many of you are ready to argue, but lets face it, for a family of four with the bread winners on a low income salary or hourly wage job, it's easier and cheaper to eat from Wal-Mart. Caviar is from Venus, Easy Mac is from 7-11.

Food defines classes. It has the ability to separate and divide and has proven so throughout history. It's a loaded local, organic, heirloom zucchini I'm packing. It is not as readily available as we like to think. Yes, you can get some food cheaper at the Farmer's Market then from the store, and sustain local agriculture. I found cherries for $2 a pound this weekend. A steal from what Safeway would charge for 1/2 a pound! So yes, to some effect, it is doable. However honey, meats, cheeses, eggs, jams... well, it's cheaper elsewhere. And you will go elsewhere when on a tight budget. I'm just lucky I have mad budgeting skills. I can make a penny bleed like a hemophiliac. Still, I keep a box of Easy Mac and a box of frozen corn dogs on hand in case an emergency car repair eats up my paycheck.

But I digress, I have gotten a bit off topic, some aspects of food are beyond my position and means. I pinch and save to go to nice restaurants, I do my best to eat local and organic. Still, I know some of it will require my patience to rise up in the world.

I just have to work through my twenties and pay my dues.

If you agree or disagree, I would love to hear it in the comments section. No worries, I won't be blasting anyone. ;)

Baroness Grey

Monday, June 9, 2008

Baroness Grey, much like Dorian Grey, is a fruit based offshoot of Earl Grey. This simple black tea, while flavored with a bit of oil from bergamot oranges, also contain large shavings of lemon zest.A special blend by Hina's Tea here in Sacramento (which can be ordered online) notes: British legend has it that this Baroness of Grey, who lived sometime in the 16th or 17th century, was married to a man who was a Ship's Captain in the Royal Navy. As the story goes, his ship never returned from a trading voyage to China. Refusing to believe that her husband would never return the Baroness would walk to the port lands every morning to greet each ship hoping for news of her husband. Sadly, she continued this practice until the day she died. In honor of the loyal Baroness Grey, we blended this tea with the traditional bergamot and the addition of lemon to represent the bitter tears shed over her beloved. The dried lemon peels add an additional tartness to the citrus character of the tea making it a fantastic alternative to traditional Earl Grey.

The tea has piquant flavor that gives the tea a bit more zing to it. As a lover of black tea to wake me up int he morning, this extra little tingle of taste is appreciated, practical, and seems to simply match well with early Spring mornings. Flavor notes from cinnamon and cornflower give the tea a nice bouquet as well, which may be described as a bit grandmother-ish but pleasant as it subsides when steeped in hot water, allowing the scents of the actual tea leaves to take over. It can be a little overly floral for some people, including me on some days so it's not one I drink all the time.

A pleasant black tea perfect for early morning breakfast or after dinner tea paired with a bit of shortbread or lemon pound cake. The only downside is it brews poorly for further infusions, so while other black teas may make cup after cup, this one is a one hit wonder.

CLICK for Bri Update!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thank you for your overwhelming generosity in response to the CLICK for Bri fundraiser. We are truly grateful for your help. 46% down. 54% to go. Please help us keep up the momentum.

Attention Northern Californians: On June 5, 2008, Shankari and I will be talking about the CLICK for Bri event on CBS 13/CW31, Sacramento at the 12:00 noon news program. Be sure to check in for an easy and delicious summer cupcake recipe.

Whole Foods has agreed to donate the ingredients and use of its premises for a cooking class by Shankari to two lucky folks. See Shankari in action at ‘Good Day Sacramento’ HERE.

Ann of Sacatomato has also put up as a prize a copy of her cookbook.

You can bid for her cooking class or a host of other cool prizes HERE.

A couple of new prizes have been added to the raffle list, so check them out.

Making Nocino

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Using David's recipe, I am making some nocino for myself. Nocino is a dark, thick liqueur that is made from green walnuts steeped in alcohol. The walnuts are covered with vodka, then sugar and various spices and flavors are added. The result is a deliciously flavorful drink that has a slight maple syrup flavor to it (at least to me, Rob said it tasted like licorice but what does he know?). It takes two months to cure, so I'll give you an update in August.

Elise has put up a recipe over at Simply Recipes for those of you interested enough.

2nd Annual Food Blogger Potluck

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I didn't really take photos this time around and I'll have to ask your pardon for it. I was either too busy prepping or too busy socializing or too busy eating to really bother with a camera. Which, for a food blogger, is saying something.

Elise and I hosted the 2nd Annual Sac Food Blogger Potluck this last weekend. We moved it to Elise's backyard (read: orchard) in order to accommodate the 30+ people who attended. The last year produced a lot of great new food bloggers in the Sacramento area, all of whom are truly shibby people (links to their blogs can be found in the side bar). It was, as always, phenomenal.

The thing about food blogger potlucks is that they are intensely delicious events. Unlike the potlucks you may attend elsewhere, laden with store bought dips and from-a-box cakes, these are all original recipes. Portuguese salt cod, cherry crisps, grilled wild duck and antelope, rhubarb-rosemary spritzers, sans rival (a delicious Filipino cake), mind-blowing ceviches, and other tasty delights. I contributed a flourless chipotle chocolate cake which seemed well received and put a few people into anaphylactic shock due to it's intense richness but it was totally worth it.

A fun time with an awesome group of people. Honestly, it could not have been a better day. =)

*Pictures of the event by Fernanda

Reviewing Restaurants - Professional vs. Amateur

I've always mulled over restaurant reviews. These simple pieces of literature which dictates with a supposed authority the Good and the Bad of all that is served food. Here, an author invisible to not only his or her readers but their subjects of critique is given a modicum, or in some cases great amounts, of influence over the establishments in question and it's unassuming potential clientèle.

Still the (self)appointed judges have to play by certain rules which are blurry at best. They must be unbiased, even in cases of extreme distaste, and when in a place of distaste decipher a dish or glass by it's own variable, yet sketchy, standards and not their own. Assuming they can accomplish this task we then have to assess what qualifies them as a reliable source. Where were they educated? How were they educated? What background in food and, importantly as well, in writing does the critic have?

Furthermore there is the question of the Professional and the Amateur. I am lucky (or unlucky) to straddle the fence on this question. I review professionally for Edible Sacramento. I review as an amateur for my blog. Of course then there is judgment on if one position carries into the other, but then a whole new discussion is on the table. Regardless, our focus is on the defined positions. Edible Sacramento pays me a stipend. A straight fee. I pay for my meals and write about them, if I spend over my stipend, it comes from my pocket. If not, I have a small profit.
However, the Professional we are discussing are the all powerful ones, those with great sway over the masses and who have incredible financial backing. The Los Angeles or New York Times critics are prime examples - these are people who are paid to write their critiques up for mass distribution. What characterizes and shapes their reviews most is the financial backing, the company pays for their meals. That's meals plural. Repeat visits also allow them to brings guests in order for the critic to taste the entire menu.

In a scientific and practical way, this makes perfect sense for a restaurant review. The Professional, able to test the entire offerings of the kitchen, has the ability to get a feel for consistency, sophistication, skill, and diversity of each dish. They can evaluate nearly the entire menu. They can get a feel for the floor. They can better evaluate the service: Is it always fast? Is it efficient? Do they take care of their tables? Is the sommelier knowledgeable about the food and what wines to pair it with? What is the overall atmosphere?

Many Professionals argue they their review signifies parity with the everyday diner, however the only way to achieve true parity is to pay for the meal with their own money. By having a company cover expenses for them and their dining companions for multiple trips, they lose touch with that economic influence that gives a critique substance. While core questions for a diner are if a meal is well prepared or if the cuisine is one that will be enjoyed, another one of possibly greatest importance is is the meal worth it?

The Amateur reviewer can achieve parity with the reader on this crucial level. They attend a restaurant only once, maybe twice, or however many times they can reasonably afford based on their own financial situation. They carefully analyze the meal in relation to it's dollar amount. This key aspect is taken into great care for the diligent amateur reviewer.

For the most part, the average diner only goes out for special occasions and usually chooses a favorite restaurant, warily deviating from selections that may disappoint. Thus the reviews for the average diner are important. As a guide it has to be accurate and describe the everyday experience.

The Amateur describes this everyday experience. They go in for a regular meal and they can describe their experience. The drawback of course, is the one time experience. The kitchen may have had an off night, the head chef out sick, the oven was sketchy. Still, no one wants to go out for a special occasion and have a terrible experience.

The negative to the Amateur is that there is no reliability or editor governing their writing or verifying their qualifications. They must be accepted as-is. Furthermore, the Amateur may lack the knowledge or connections the Professional may possess from being in the industry needed to write up a detailed and complete review.

Of course, the Professional probably has a good background or education in writing and food, otherwise they would not have been hired in the first place. The Professional also is sure to meticulously take into account the atmosphere, wine, background of the restaurant, history of the head chef, locality of the ingredients, and knowledge of the cuisines and preparations. Still, if the Amateur is able to match the Professional on every one of these markers, then what give the Professional more standing aside from a public title? If placed on equal footing, then trust should be placed into the amateur for their economic dining parity to the everydiner.

It's an odd and fine line. There are good arguments for the reviews of the Professional and the amateur. The Professional offers a diverse, complete review that is outside parity with the reader. The Amateur has a sense of equivalence and relatibility with the reader. So, which one should be trusted?

In the end, I find that the best way to study for a restaurant (am I the only one that does it?) is to read up as much as you can about the chefs and the owners and read over any press. I try to study ahead for my reviews, I do my research, and I bring other mouths other than my own. I may not have been formally trained as a chef, but I study, research, and learn a lot on my own. I go out of my way to make sure that I am fully informed.

Still, in the end, one has to put faith and trust in the reviewer. Furthermore, their wholly unbiased sense of taste can be questionable. Myself, I hate raw tomatoes, still, if presented one in a dish, I'll eat it and attempt to describe it for those who do and attempt to keep my own prejudice on it excluded.

The reader, therefore is his or her own reviewer. The reader does so whenever they become a diner, they analyze and critique their experience, and put it out in a public forum through discussions with friends, family, or coworkers and so on. We trust these people for the most part and in turn give our trust, for the most part, to the Amateur.

The reader/diner is supposedly, in the end the only real reviewer that they can assuredly trust in all matters of taste. But then again, that would lead us to another post on why review restaurants at all...

Have your own ideas and opinions on the topic? Would love to hear them in the comments section (no judgment).

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