Plan A was Plan B (Plan B Cafe - Sacramento, CA)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Plan B Cafe is easy to remember. Partly because of the name. It's quirky. Questioning. You ask yourself, "Why not Plan A?" It also sounds like birth control, which makes me giggle and lends itself to a wide array of dirty jokes between you and your dining companions.

Plan B is the name given after Chef Tyrone Hunt, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, and Lionel Lucas a lithe, first-generation American's first plans for a restaurant fell through. In the end they developed a delightfully modest yet sleek restaurant. Nestled in a shopping center deep in Pocket, it's cradled between a tacky Mexican joint a a frozen yogurt store. Not a place you would expect to find a place like Plan B.

The white walls and crisp the dining furniture minimal and metallic. The open bad seating and the comfortable and well cared outside patio make you curious - if this was Plan B, what great concept was Plan A? the space is so efficiently utilized that it's able to accompany a sizable group of customers without fail. There is an issue in waiting for the bathroom (also sleek and chic, but an infinity mirror in the bathroom unnerves me for some reason) in that you have a choice of blocking the bar entrance for the waiter or standing behind a door which, when opened, may smack you in the face.

As I met up with my friend Amber, we sat down an perused the menu which is simple and straightforward, but appealing. various presentations of steamed mussles, tartlettes, fish, and a Plan B hamburger (that uses ham, not beef! dig that culinary pun.). They offer a few seasonal specials as well, and desserts are made in house.

After Amber and I ordered we sat down to a game of catch up, discussing work, farming (the girl grows EVERYTHING), and writing. After a while we noticed the bread service was tardy. Then late. Then we called a missing person's report. It seemed odd, as it was only 6:30, and less than a third of the tables were filled. Once the bread did come the four slices of tiny, hard as rock baguette were unappealing paired with the impossible to spread ice cold butter. We both dubbed it a fail and pushed it to the side.

The actual dishes however are resounding successes for the most part. The lamb chops were perfectly cooked. While the inside was delightfully rare, the outside had a nice bit of char to it and a delicious parade of spice that enlivened not only your meal, but energized your person as a whole. Delicately drizzled with a bit of mint syrup, the herbal cool flavor the mint kept the spice in check and created a taste that wasn't so much a melding of flavors but it seemed to translate in my mind as a wide array of beautiful colors. It's hard to describe, but delightful to eat.

It was served with a homey ratatouille that was artfully prepared. The vegetables were all perfectly diced, flavorful, and crisp, yet still hot. The trick to a ratatouille is to properly cook the tiny cuts of vegetables without them weeping into a revolting mash. This was balanced, flavorful, and allowed the vegetables to speak for themselves. The dish, in turn, spoke volumes of Chef Hunt's training and skill.

The mashed potatoes were a bit pasty for me. Way to much butter for me, it was almost like eating a spoonful of Brummel and Brown. Amber seemed to enjoy it, but I left it on my plate.

Amber, the dedicated vegetarian and tartlette fan, ordered the fennel-leek tartlette. The crème fraîche the smeared the tartlette was deliciously sweet and the perfect sour counterpoint keeping the leeks in place. The fennel was a bit weak, and the anchovies were invisible. Still, it was a crisp delightful tart that was pleased the palate in freshly green-French flavors. The actual tart was also a contemporary twist, being a light homemade, crisp flatbread rather than the traditional molded tart crust.

We finished out meal with a pear tart. A flaky tart with vanilla pastry cream, a lightly poached pear with a hedgehog cut, and a delicious glaze. Served near a bit of ruby-red raspberry coulis that perked the senses, a playful seasonal juxtaposition to the early pears that are slowly appearing in the market.

The only real problem I had with the night was when the bill came. The prices for most everything on the menu range from $8-$18. Fine, right? So when they told me the specials, I assumed that it would be about the same. Not so, it was about $25, which is about fair, but took me a bit aback. Seriously, this little financial trip-fall with zero warning kinda pissed me off.

And so Amber and I parted ways and paid our bill. We slated to make plans to dine again soon. And, I think, we both came to the final conclusion that Plan B should from this point on be our Plan A.

Plan B Cafe
7600 Greenhaven Dr # 23
Sacramento, CA 95831
(916) 392-7600

My Reasons for New Jars

Friday, July 25, 2008

See, my new jars? Shiny, new, orderly. A place for everything, and everything in its place. True, you may at first attribute this to a sort of obsessive compulsory need. That I may have indeed dozens of identical jars for all my spices and keep all my napkins in tight same-folded bundles (I do).

Still, this was out of necessity.

You see, I walked into my apartment tired from work and was suddenly stuck that something was amiss. My normally well vacuumed floor was blotched with white and speckled with tan grit everywhere. Immediately the cats took off up the stairs as fast as their four little death-row fuzzy feet could climb.

A quixotic look upon my face, and near panic and horror began to set in. This was obviously going to piss me off to near biblical proportions.

The entire floor was covered in what used to be the food in my pantry. The cats had found a way to get into my dry cupboard, grab the bags of food, and then apparently have a Sugar-N-Grain-Aggeddon in my living room.

I could follow the trail where evidently a chase for a bag of powdered sugar had taken place. A snowy path weaved through the legs of the dining table and chairs and over the couch, then back to the kitchen. A second set of paw prints imprinted themselves in the freshly marked white speedway.

Dessicated coconut was in small piles here and there. Apparently one attempted to eat it and when the other cat came to investigate he would pick up his tropical treasure and begin his grazing once again.

Bags of yeast had been gorged and vomited like a Kitty-Kate Moss with a sandwich. I worried that bits of yeast in their stomach would kill them before I had the chance to do so myself. Turns out it just gave them the runs, gas, and small kitty burps of sorts. FUN!

Lentils were everywhere, I could here them click and crunch under my shoes. They were invisible against the backdrop of my carpet. The cats apparently did not care for them, but insisted on destroying the bag anyway out of a sense of destructive totality. If you're going to do something, go all the way right?

Needless to say, there was much yelling. As I cleaned I chased them a bit with the vacuum, which only served to cause fear which apparently leads to more yeasty cat farts.

Afterwards I threw most everything away, went to World Market and bought some jars, restocked my basics, and packed everything away. My weekend project is also to install some child-locks on all cabinets.

They can't crack those, I hope.

A Surprise at My Door

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Walking in from Taste3, I nearly collapsed on the floor. My cinder block heavy luggage tumbeled out of my hand with slump and my body near followed. The jeering mewing of hungry cats (who had probably been overfed earlier) ran circles around and pawed at me demanding once more to fed, oblivious to my fatigued state. The weekend's activities, drinking, eating, and overall merrymaking had taken it's toll.

My roommate had moved out over the weekend and left earlier that morning before I had returned. The place was a mess, the floor had a silken spin of cat hair matting it, a skyline of dishes packed the sink in it's silver and bone white magnanimity, the stove top was stained and dotted with burned unidentifiable sauces.

As I fed the cats in order to quiet their incessant bleating I noticed a package sitting on the table. it was addressed to me. I was curious at the fact of the package. I hadn't ordered anything. My mother, a chronic sender of packages filled with attic finding, newspaper clippings, clothes from high school days and whatever what-have-yous she happens to find didn't inform me of anything.

I poured myself a glass of warm water from the sink as the roommate didn't fill the Brita pitcher before he left (bitch), and sat down to the table. I ripped the thing open with a bit of newfound strength, the kind any child has at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning.

Inside was a brand new copy of The Joy of Cooking. The tome of the kitchen.

I was enthralled and ecstatic. After recently losing all my books to The Unyielding, I was left in want. Here now, in my hands, was the book of books. I never owned a copy of TJoC, it was something I always wanted but never got around to buying or never received a copy for my birthday.

I checked the receipt and smiled, and immediately went to my e-mail to write my heartfelt and joyful thanks.

So thank you, Kalyn, for the delightful gift. I'm already through the intro and trying to decide the recipe to make, though the buffalo wings on page 80 seem to have caught my eye. I'll be sure to keep you posted. This is truly a gift I'll cherish and a book I can hopefully pass on to my future children.

Click for Bri Total and Prize!

Monday, July 21, 2008

We raised over $17,000 for Bri's treatment! That's $5000 over the goal, in fact. Thanks to all of you bloggers and readers out there who chipped in!

The raffle winners are listed here for those of you who bid on items, but I want to send out a thanks to Uma Budamagunta, who bid for the Vanilla Garlic prize, a copy of Cupcake Heaven! Uma, it's on its way!

From Taste3 - A Quick Update

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Finally!!! *Girlish Squeal of Joy*Me, Ashley Teplin (who let me sleep on her floor for Taste3) and author Michael Ruhlman. Photo by Elise Bauer.

From Taste3

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hello Dear Readers,

Today I address you live from the Taste3 convention in Napa. As you may already know I'm in attendance here on one of their fellowships, attending what may well be considered the leading innovative, creative, fascinating, and thought provoking conferences in the all encompassing intersection of wine, food, and art.I've actually been blogging for them over at the Taste3 blog, and am right now upstairs at Copia (dressed up I might add, very rare form for me) before the welcome reception typing to all of you. I will be planning to bring you updates throughout the weekend and after the event has passed over the next few days.

I say a few days because there is simply so much going on; it becomes difficult to find a moment to sit down a blog about it. The sessions and events are intense and satisfying and already I've taken a nap to recover from the sheer raw energy that the other guests, participants, staff, speakers and hosts all bring. It is awe inspiring to be sure. And I never, ever need a nap.

Today was filled with two winery tours, two tastings, and a lunch that just calmed any curiosities you may have about the Napa Valley myth that the world portrays. Let me address those curiosities. A wine paired luncheon, on a beautiful gorgeous day (in the 80's in Summer no less!) with amazing people who not only share your exuberance about food and wine but actually encourage and engage in the discussion about it. This place is simply breathtaking and everything you think it to be.

This valley has mystical/agricultural/intellectual properties that seem to celebrate the foodie culture and all it's facets, it nurtures them and allows you to grow and expand in your knowledge and sight.

I promise to bring you more updates as time allows, already I am running late. I will write soon about the day, and try to find time tomorrow between Michael Ruhlman *swoon* and Jennifer 8. Lee.On a personal note, be sure to pick up the new copies of Edible Sacramento for my Errant Gourmet section, and the new issue of Sacramento Magazine with a review of mine. Eat Local, Read Local!

Lemongrass Poppy Seed Scones

The original plan was to use fresh blackberries, lemon zest, and maybe a hint of basil syrup. It was to be the scone of scones! However, the blackberries I picked up were lacking in flavor, the back of the class blackberries, lazy, uninspired and without fervor. The lemon was hard as a rock, it's zest paltry. The basil went limp in the heat before I could even get it home, tired and impotent, I had no desire to use it. It may have been good flavor wise, but the stars just didn't seem to align.

Still, I was god damn hungry. Scrimmaging around the pantry I located some dried, finely shredded lemongrass and a bunch of poppy seeds left over from when I made cookies. The poppy seed's nutty and slightly citric pop seemed like an obvious choice, and since I had no lemon zest, lemongrass would be a fine substitute I wagered.

The result was surprising, the scones were nutty and delicious, but the lemongrass perfused the scones and seemed to create pockets of lemony and grassy (duh) flavor. The lemongrass became alive and really a pleasant zing, dressing up the otherwise nutty aroma'd scones and with a flare and flash of Asian flavor in an otherwise Euro-centric pastry. Poppy Seed Lemongrass Scones
These scones normally use dried currants and orange zest. I find using whatever the hell you want seems fine. The original recipe comes from the Zuni Cafe cookbook. Thank god that one survived Unyielding.

3 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of sugar
4 teaspoons of baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup of cold butter
1 egg
1/2 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of poppyseeds
1 teaspoon of dried, shredded lemongrass

1) Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift together the dry ingredients and spices.

2) Cut the butter into the flour mixture. I just went at it with a pastry cutter thingy and then two forks. When the butter is in lumps the size of peas, you're set.

3) Whisk together the egg and milk, then add to the flour and butter. Mix with your hands (squishy fun!) until it's all amalgamated together.

4) Pat the dough into two balls. Place a ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a small disc, about 6 inches wide and 1 inch in height. Cut into 6 triangular pieces (much the way you would cut a pizza). Repeat for the other ball.

5) Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for a moment or two then serve warm or save for breakfast throughout the week.

On Granita...

Monday, July 14, 2008

My lesson of the day: Eating an entire tray of sugary-syrup, high caffeine, espresso granita on your own will...

1) Make you buzz like a hummingbird.

2) Make you have to pee really bad in a few hours.

3) Crash harder than you ever crashed before (minus that one Spring Break we dare not speak of).

And yet, I plan to do it again because it's just that damn tasty.

Busy Little Baker

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life sadly, is starting to catch up with me. My eyes have been bigger than my stomach (is that the right part when it comes to food writing?) and I seem to have bitten off more than I can chew. The magazine is taking up quite a bit of time as I'm sweating out the research for a little piece, more so, a few other places have picked me up for some writing as well.*

And who knew? The stuff I put out on the blog is a little more seat of your pants, on the fly, rarely proofread, 3 am with Xena reruns on in the background kinda stuff. But then again, if I really sat down with it, it might end up killing me. Surprisingly I actually have the ability to put out some quality writing when I actually sit down and put some time into it.

Aside from that little announcement, I'm afraid I have nothing to really post about. No pictures of food, no recipes written, no stupids to report. Oh I have done new recipes, I've just been too tired to put them up and write them down. There have been stupids, but just the regular kind on the freeway and such.

Instead, I'll direct you elsewhere. The place my recipes do go for the most part nowadays. I've apparently been baking up quite a storm over at Simply Recipes. I never realized how many though until it was all laid out. I hope you'll try some of them out and leave a comment over there about how it all worked for ya'.

I will come back with a real post later. I swear.



*In addition, I'm preparing to teach a class, get some reading done ahead of time for when classes kick back in in September, and readying for Taste3. Plus, you know, my real day job. At some point I sleep, though I lose track of that.

Zucchini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

From the Cupcake Archives...

The title does sound a bit odd, no? This is slightly based off of zucchini bread, but this is a bit sweeter, and with a slightly different taste profile. The idea came after reading up on The Great Big Veg Challenge, a blog that, if you haven't read yet, you really should take some time and check it out. Especially you parents out there raising veggie-phobic ragamuffins. The woman's a genius I tells ya'!

The real key to this cupcake is turbinado sugar, extra cinnamon, and the addition of raisins to create a deliciously moist, dense, and courageously flavorful cupcake. The turbinado gives it a nice caramel flavor and appearence, while the cinnamon gives it that great spicy kick.

None of the flavors berate you, but instead talk to you softly, ask how your mom is, and then give you a backrub. It's really a nice summer cupcake, as it's a perfect chance to make use of all that fresh zucchini that'll be coming in soon. Currants or golden raisins would be great in this cupcake too, as would a variety of nuts, coconut, or maybe even some other spices like nutmeg or allspice. The cream cheese frosting just finishes everything off, and plus, it's cream cheese.

I like cream cheese. Don't you like cream cheese?

They have a reminiscence of maybe cinnamon raisin bread, or maybe carrot cake, but still very unique. If you take a bite, you'll know it's zucchini cake based on the fresh taste.

Zucchini Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes / 350 F oven

What You'll Need...

3 cups of all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups of turbinado sugar (muscovado, raw, and brown could work in a pinch too. white sugar will work I guess, but you will get a different end product than I did)

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 eggs at room temperature

1 1/4 cup of vegetable oil

3 cups of grated zucchini

3/4 cup of raisins, currants or sultans

What You'll Do...
1) Combine in a large bowl the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center.

2) Whisk together the oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Pour into the dry ingredients and combine together. Batter will be very thick.

3) Add the zucchini and raisins, currants or what have you. The batter will gain more moisture and will become more workable. Scoop into cupcake papers a little over 1/2 full.

4) Bake for 18-24 minutes, being sure to rotate the pan after the first 15 minutes of baking. If a toothpick comes out clean when testing the cupcakes, they're done. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz of Philly cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

What You'll Do...
1) Cream the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes. Scraped down the sides and bottom.

2) Slowly add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla to taste. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Se Chung Oolong Tea

Monday, July 7, 2008

Se Chung is hard to describe in a PG-rating manner. I will say this though, the way it looks and smells... well, as one co-worker put it after a long stare and big whiff, "Looks like I could roll it and smoke it."

Oh, those crazy, bra burning, flower children of the seventies.

I passed around the tea to a group of friends later, one was a bit more blunt (get it?) asking, "Is this tea made from pot?" The tea has become quite popular in this regard, a sort of new-age, new-herbal sort of tea that's still classically old school.

However taste wise, it's something completely different. It's very reminiscent of teas you might get in a Chinese restaurant. There is a light straw like flavor with airy hints of rice, it slips down with a spring in its step and reminds you of your favorite traditional sushi house. The tea is palate cleansing, clean and almost purifying, but still a pleasant reminder of flavor lingers with you that's almost cantaloupe-ish.

Oolongs require special brewing, as many of them require that you infuse them in hot water for just a moment, then pour off the water to get rid of the initial bitterness and impurities. This allows you to wash away the first harsh flavors and keep only the more subtle delicate notes.

Oolongs are basically a tea in between green and black teas and are between 10%-70% oxidized. In China, since these teas are neither green nor black they are called qīngchá or "green-blue" teas. Se Chung is a prime example of a basic oolong.

Still, it brings up an intrinsic and necessary tea cooking question... can I smoke with it?

Just Lounging Around (Lounge on 20 - Sacramento, CA)

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Special Note: This was a complimentary chefs tasting menu I went to. Whether that makes me biased or not I'm not sure, but I try to taste the food from a neutral standpoint (but it rocked any way you cut it). I had been here before while working on an article for Edible Sacramento, and after trying the food and the drink, I honestly don't think my review would be much different.Champagne. Delicious cocktails. Fabulous, earth shatteringly good food. Wonderful friends with whom to socialize, chat, and gossip with. My God... why can't all Wednesday nights be like this?

I had been invited by my friend Julie to attend a special chef's tasting event for a small private party. Also in attendance was Julie's coworker Jenna, the ever fabulous Kristy with beau in tow, Amber who is the prime Yelper for the Sac Food Scene along with parents, and the diva duo of Twin Soup, Sarah and Rachel.

We had all been gathered at Lounge on 20, the newest Sacramento hotspot by the people who created Restaurant 55 Degrees (the place I had my hooker incident and some damn fine risotto). It touts itself as the new local late night lounge, reminiscent of the kinds you find in San Francisco or L.A.

The decor consists of milk white walls and chairs with dark wood and laid back white sling back leather chairs. Accented with dark wood furniture, smooth upbeat music, and good lighting; flanked by a wall of champagne it has a very shibby feel to it.
The owner, Ali, came and introduced himself and the concept of his lounge. Inspired by other wine and small plate venues in more metropolitan cities, he wanted to open a small and simple champagne bar. Eventually the idea snowballed into a 5000 sq. ft. space in the heart of Midtown with fresh, seasonal cocktails and food. The main lure is the 30 champagnes that can be ordered by the glass and then enjoyed in the suavy-chic atmosphere. Did I mention that he started this concept back in December?

The man moves fast and efficiently.

As Ali gave us the background, he poured us a delicious Schramsberg Rose, a fine bubbly with a simple, slightly sweet spirit to it. It was served alongside some roasted olives and salted almonds, both equally yummy.

The cocktails we sampled were beyond delicious. The Feminine Mystique, labeled on the menu under the "Skirts" section (more feminine drinks), seemed a bit mislabeled in our opinion. While tasty, it was a bit harsh on the vodka, so it was more of a "Hike Up Your Skirt." However the Bella Fragola was divine; sweet, cooling, and fruity from strawberries and basil. (Expect to see more about the cocktails and the mixologists in the Summer 08 issue of Edible Sacramento.)The first dish we tried was a small leaf of leek with a strawberry and Asian pear salad, accented with some mint, basil, blue cheese and toasted almonds it was a pleasant little bite. Contained and equal in all of it's parts, the only thing I have negative to say is that there was far too little of it.

The deep fried risotto was rich, dreamy, you floated off of your seat into a place where only good things can happen. Warm and homey from the risotto, slightly crunchy outside, balanced in earthiness from the white truffle oil. Accented with bits of basil, Parmesan, and a creamy tomato sauce (which I, literally, wiped the plate clean of with my finger), the sweet little dream-puff was a miracle on a plate.Fennel-spiced seared ahi was served with heirloom watermelon and sea salt. While simply decent when eaten separately, the ahi and watermelon are elevated when paired together. The subtle anise flavor with the near totally raw ahi, and the salted watermelon excites your tongue. It's an engaging combo.

Served with the ahi was a Desante Sauv Blanc, 06. Like the ahi and watermelon, it was fine on it's own but had to be paired well for it to really let it's grassy notes flourish.

The scallop matched the fried risotto for pure god damn awesomeness. I mean this was some of the best food ever. Served with a quail egg, pancetta, truffled beets, and a turnip puree that was like pastry cream due to being cooked in cream it was seafood turned to dessert practically. The chef told us that it was his take on bacon and eggs, and what a take it is.

Then suddenly, three hours had passed. The time has slipped right by us, hazy with sweet dream-like foods and great quantities of delicious liquors. Afterwards we lingered a bit, indulging in further cocktails, regaling each other with a combination of wit and tipsy joviality. It was a fabulous night.

My advice? Go. Now. Gather friends and go. Its a delightful experience fueled by delicious liquors and dishes, a perfect spot for friends to gather.
Lounge on 20
20 & K
Midtown Sacramento

Pages Watered and Potential Lost -or- My Own Cuthulu Mythos for the Kitchen

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So recently we discovered a small leak coming from the bathroom upstairs. According to Murphy's Law, the leak trickled down into the kitchen cabinets. Specifically, the one I keep all my cookbooks.

Cookbooks that are now moldy, solid paper bricks of nasty stink.

Many have been ruined beyond use. The pages have melded together, adhered for eternity. Any attempt to pry the pages apart only makes them rip apart, tearing the paper and words into illegible confetti. Stinky confetti.
Oh yes, and the books that I can pry the pages apart? The mold. It's creeping, overpowering stench. A terrifying, organism of darkest pitch clawing across the pages. Nature's odorous blackwine. A black stench of death which causes men to weep, paint to peel, and priests to give up all hope. My roommate and I have given the mold a name and it is Unyielding (Apollyon was taken, as was Cthulu).

The cats actually back away from these decrepit and cursed culinary tomes. Unyielding is strong and I do believe saying it's name can cause you to spontaneously break out in rashes.

So goes it though. Demon mold in the kitchen. Potential destroyed, and that's what upsets me the most. The lost POTENTIAL.

A few of these cookbooks I never got around to using. Purchased at sales or obtained as gifts, they waited for the right moment. I kept them around for that one day of inspiration they might give. Sadly now, it's all lost. Some of them are no longer in print. 1000's of meals. Uncountable inspirations for other meals. Who knows? Maybe the next great recipe's secrets was hidden in one of those books.

But now the brine soaked papyral paperweights and their stinky clutch (we shall not say IT'S name) sit there. I've scoured through the pages, cutting out what few pages could be saved. They will soon be scanned at Kinko's and printed out in a last ditch effort to save them.

Then to the trash with them, and a check from my landlord (he damn better) to try to replace them.

But beware the stanky grasp, of IT. It may come for you. It may already be in your home...

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