Ally


3193 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95818.  (916) 475-1223.
http://cafevics.com

Mr. S. and I have a ritual that's been going for awhile now. Every other week after his haircut, we meet up at Vic's and get two coffees to-go, we then either walk around the Land Park neighborhood commenting on yards (we're always trying to get landscaping ideas for his yard) or head over to the WPA Rock Garden to chat and catch each other up on our days. It's a simple date but a nice one, a little downtime during the hectic week.

Up until recently we would always meet at the Temple Coffee on S Street, but our visits there have been tapering off. Sure, we still go there if we're getting some morning joe to-go but we rarely stay there and hang out anymore. The patio is always too full, the coffee shop is bursting with people camping out with their laptops for HOURS on end and the newer staff members just aren't as friendly. The coffee is still quite delicious though. Vic's, on the other hand, is peaceful, has plenty of seating and the staff always seems glad to see a customer. Best of all, they serve the Temple coffee that I love. By the way, I can attest that their barista, George, makes a mean iced Americano (my current fav summertime drink). In addition to standard coffee drinks, they also serve Italian sodas, loose teas and scrumptious blended drinks with homemade whipped cream.

If you're looking for some nibbles, this community coffee shop also offers a limited menu of breakfast burritos, salads, sandwiches and Old Soul Co. pastries. And of course- you can always pop into their wonderful, old-fashioned ice cream parlor next door afterwards to satiate your sweet tooth. Vic's is a terrific addition to the neighborhood. There's something for everyone. My only wish is that they would invest in some tables for outside. There's plastic patio chairs lined up in a row out there currently, but it's not a comfortable atmosphere for hanging out in and I love to chat while drinking my coffee. Inside though, they do have chairs, tables, booths, comfy couches...and the ever-essential Wi-Fi.

Ally
If you've ever spent any time wandering around the produce section of an Asian supermarket, you've probably run across these:



The ziziphus jujube goes by many names- but most commonly it's called a red date, Chinese date or jujube. It's part of the Buckthorn botanical family and has been cultivated by the Chinese for over 4,000 years. In ancient times, it was classified as one of the five celebrated fruits of China along with peach, plum, chestnut, and apricot.  



Jujubes are a smooth, oval-shaped edible drupe with a small stone in the center. The outer layer is a bit of a pale yellow-green color and the Styrofoam-like white flesh tastes like a bland apple. Most cultures put jujubes out in the sun to dry out and as they mature they turn a golden brown and take on a sweeter taste. Eventually they take on a red color and wrinkle up like old man testicles. The fruit is used to make a multitude of items- jams, tea, wine, lozenges, a variety of desserts and even jujube butter. (Also jujubes make a great substitute for dates in recipes.) The fruit and seeds are also used in Korean and Chinese medicine to alleviate stress, help with insomnia, lower blood pressure and to help treat colds, flus and sore throats. Jujubes contain twenty times more Vitamin C than any other citrus fruit. 



Jujube Tea

Ingredients

8 cups water
15-20 dried jujubes, cut in half and seed removed
1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup fresh mint, sliced
4 tablespoons honey (optional)

Instructions

1. Wash your dried jujubes in cold water. Discard the water.
2. Place 8 cups of water into your pot. Add in jujubes and ginger. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer.
3. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add honey and mint. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
4. Remove from heat. Allow to steep for a few more minutes.
5. Strain. Keep the liquid and discard the solids.
6. Serve hot or chilled.

* You can also make this recipe in a slow cooker for a longer steep.
* If you want to change up the flavor, you can substitute some cinnamon sticks for the fresh mint.
Ally
2130 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704. (510) 665-1969     
http://www.ippukuberkeley.com/

[Note: This blog post is long overdue. Sorry for being MIA and thanks for being so patient. The new job is going well and I'm beginning to acclimate, so look for me to start back up with my blog posts.]

A few months ago, my friend Misa and I took a mini road trip to Berkeley to try an izakaya called Kiraku. We had a fantastic time and the food was terrific. We enjoyed it so much we made plans to return with our friend Miki and check out the other izakaya (Ippuku) in town which specializes in yakitori and compare. After dining at both, I felt the food was much stronger at Kiraku but the ambiance at Ippuku was more refined.


Ippuku, which means a small break in Japanese, is set up to be a social gathering spot where one can eat, drink and chat with friends. Just past the small front bar is a narrow dining area with low lighting, divided into intimate compartments to afford some privacy. Some of the compartments contain a booth while others consist of zashiki seating. In the back is a counter where you can sit and watch the chefs cook the yakitori over bincho-tan (white Japanese charcoal). The minimalist décor (clean lines, high ceilings and grey concrete walls accented with stylish salvaged wood) throughout the restaurant and the smell of the smoke from the yakitori grill brought back many fond memories for me of my time in Japan.  There's also a nice selection of beer, sake and an extensive shochu list to choose from. Oh, in case you're wondering- no, they don't serve teriyaki bowls or Dynamite rolls (or any other roll by some ridiculous name) doused in "special" sauce; they only serve yakitori and izakaya fare (Japanese pub food).


Service was a bit slow. Our dishes came out one at a time which would have been okay except there were a few dishes we weren't sharing and it was awkward to chomping away on your yakitori stick while your dinner companions are sitting there without food in front of them. Our waiter didn't seem very knowledgeable about the menu offerings and was quite vague in his descriptions of the dishes, but overall service was fine. I did, however, feel a bit rushed toward the end. Even if you have reservations, they want you in and out quickly because there's a long wait so I'm not sure how great this place would be for a date- you wouldn't be able to linger at all.

Here's an overview of some of the tasty dishes we ate:
 
Izakaya Dishes

Goma yogoshi: Fava beans and asparagus in a black sesame paste
- wow, the sesame paste was exquisite. I would have licked the bowl given the chance.

Kani Korokke : Crab Croquette- lacked flavor and wasn't crispy.

Chicken Karaage - piping hot and seasoned well.

My favorite- Shishamo : Grilled Smelt

Kogomi No Tempura : Fiddlehead Fern Tempura


Yakitori Dishes

Nankotsu: Chicken Breast Cartilage

Rebā: Chicken Liver- meh, not one of the better rebā dishes I've had.

Tsukune: Chicken Meatball

Sasami no Ume-Shiso: Chicken Breast with Shiso & Umeboshi Paste
 
Kurobuta Bara : Berkshire Pork Belly with Spicy Miso Sauce
- the miso was overly salty. Pffffaaah!
 

Dessert

Sakura mochi - boring and had zero distinguishable flavor.

Matcha Tiramisu- delicious!
We ordered two and liked them so much we ordered one more.
 
If I return to Ippuku, there are a few other dishes on their menu I noticed and would like to try- their chicken tartare, squid ink fried rice and their bacon-wrapped mochi. Sound interesting, no?
 
Word of advice, don't come to Ippuku with a ravenous appetite, the izakaya dishes are small (think snack-size) and pricey. If you don't watch it, the cost can add up quickly. Also, if you decide to go, definitely make a reservation. Even on a Sunday night when we went, the restaurant was busy and carrying a lengthy wait time. According to their website, Ippuku currently offers the full yakitori menu Wednesdays through Sunday nights. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they offer a teuchi soba menu and limited yakitori options.
  
[PS While you're there, don't forget to check out the Japanese toilets (heated seats, flushing options and of course the cleansing and blow-drying of your nether regions). I love these and seriously wish I had one at my house. (Admit it- you do too!) ☺]
 
Ally
 
 
It's already June 1st! Can you believe it? Where did the month go? Heck, where did the last 5 months go? I know I've been slacking on my posts but I've been trying to get acclimated to my new job. I'm finally getting there, although the early mornings are killing me. When I get home, I'm like this:
 
 
All I want to do is sleep...and sleep some more. Anyhow, this weekend I was starting to feel a bit more like my sassy self and less like a sleep-deprived zombie, so Mr.S and I got dressed up and slipped out for a lovely dinner sans kidlets. Afterwards, we stopped by this little impromptu "goat farm" that Kidlet #1 had told us he had recently passed by during one of his extensive bike rides. It's just off Watt Avenue and American River Drive and it looks like the county is using the goats for conservation grazing. The basin was full of cute little goats (including little babies!), a handful of sheep and a giant dog along with a smattering of signs on the fence stating:
 
County of Sacramento, Department of Water Resources
 
We are pleased to inform you that KD Goat Ranch has been contracted to control the vegetation in the Wilhaggin Detention Basin. KD Goat Ranch has been using goats and sheep for over 10 years for a natural solution to weed and brush elimination. Our company is pleased to be able to serve your community. Goats are ideal to control the unwanted brush surrounding the basin. Using goats and sheep for vegetation control is a greener way to maintain grasses and brush, and also aids in vector control.
 
Expected Timeline
 
We are planning to start grazing in mid May, 2014. The expected grazing period is 3-4 weeks. KD goat ranch will be bringing 100 goats and 50 sheep accompanied by a livestock guardian dog. We will be onsite daily to check the livestock and care for and feed the dog.
 
Although I'm sure projects like this have been done in many other places and it's nothing new, I still thought it was really cool. We went down there as the sun was going down and the temp was cooler- the goats were closer to the fence at that time and more spread out. There were cute kids nursing on the nannies/does and of course several billies/bucks were head butting. Did you know goats have four stomach chambers? They also swallow their food, regurgitate it, then chew the cud thoroughly before swallowing it again. Crazy, huh?
 
If you get a chance, stop by and check them out. Just remember not to enter the grazing area, bring your pets or to feed the goats/sheep/dog. ☺
 
If you're interested in making your own chèvre, check out my blog post from a few years ago: Goaty Goodness
 
 


Ally

I have a little secret- I love those reusable bags that you buy at the grocery store. I have about a dozen of them. You know what kind I'm talking about- Raley's, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods-- pretty much every place sells them or gives them away. The problem is I never remember to take them to the store with me. Instead I use them for everything else- carrying food/ingredients to Mr.S' casa, transporting my laundry, returning books to the library, even throwing wet clothes in there after a day at the beach. Mr.S used to make fun of me when we first started dating because he thought the bags were pretty dorky (especially my purple one from Whole Foods with a giant eggplant on it and the enthusiastic statement of, "I Love Veggies!" but he confessed to me a few years ago that he started looking forward to those bags because it usually meant I was going to cook something delicious at his house. And last year, he even bought a few himself...now whether he actually takes them to the store or not, I have no idea...but who am I to judge?☺ Anyhow, I used the bags recently to bring the ingredients over to his house to cook Korean ground beef. Both he and Kidlet #1 gave it the thumbs up, as did my friend Michelle when I gave her some. This is a super versatile recipe and I'm pretty sure I'll be making it a lot now that I'm working. It's easy to throw together and you can use it in tacos, rice bowls (this works fantastically in bibimbap) or in lettuce wraps. You will need some gochujang sauce though- a Korean red pepper paste containing chiles, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt (and sometimes a sweetner). You can find it as most Asian supermarkets. It usually comes in a jar or a plastic tub and some brands are spicier/sweeter than others. Gochujang tastes great when used to make marinades, stir-fries or stew. Sometimes I like to mix it with peanut butter and few other condiments and use it as a dressing.



Korean Ground Beef

Ingredients

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 - 1.25 lbs. ground beef
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 scant cup brown sugar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced (I just use my microplane)
1 heaping teaspoon gochujang
salt and pepper
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

Instructions

1. In a large non-stick skillet, heat up your sesame oil over medium heat. Add your garlic. Cook until fragrant. Add your ground beef. Cook, stirring to break up the crumbles. When it's no longer pink, drain the fat.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together your brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger and gochujang.

3. Add the mixture to the beef. Simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste.


4. Sprinkle in green onions and toasted sesame seeds. Stir. Remove from heat.

5. Serve over rice, with lettuce leaves or with tortillas.
Ally

Are you looking for some fun food events to attend or get involved in? Here's a few that are coming up in the next few months that might peak your interest:

May 17th: East Sacramento Farmers' Market Grand Opening
8am-1pm
35th Street and Park Way in McKinley Park
info@eastsacfarmersmarket.com or check them out on Facebook

May 18th: A Day on the Farm
10am-3pm
"This event is to create an opportunity for families to visit the American River Ranch for a day of learning, eating, music, celebrating community and exploring the natural world. The Day's Events Include: farm stand  (purchase fresh, local, organic vegetables and fruit), organic plant sale, cooking classes, farm tours, workshops, kid's garden activities, and community education tables."
$5 general; free for children ages 2 and younger

http://www.soilborn.org/

May 24th: Berryessa Gap Wine's Springtime in the Vineyard
11:30am-3:30pm
"Back by popular demand, we will be serving BBQ Oysters, Carne Asada and Mexican Style Beans and Rice. New releases will include our 2013 Verdejo and the much anticipated 2012 Tempranillo. With ticket purchase you will receive a Martinez Orchards Grafted Grapevine to take home."
Wine Club Members $40 General Admission $50
http://www.berryessagap.com/News---Events/Events

Read more here: http://events.sacbee.com/rancho_cordova_ca/events/show/370216433-a-day-on-the-farm#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://events.sacbee.com/rancho_cordova_ca/events/show/370216433-a-day-on-the-farm#storylink=cpy

May 29th: DigIn! at the West Sacramento Farmers' Market
5:30p to 7:45p

Read more here: http://events.sacbee.com/west_sacramento_ca/events/show/370434577-digin-at-the-west-sacramento-farmers-market#storylink=cpy
"The DigIn! dinner series lineup begins May 29 with Michael Thiemann, owner and chef at Mother. This program offers up a three course meal right on the street. "
http://www.westsacramentochamber.com/events/DigIn!-Dinner-Series-Package-1309/details

Read more here: http://events.sacbee.com/west_sacramento_ca/events/show/370434577-digin-at-the-west-sacramento-farmers-market#storylink=cpy

June 7th: Sacramento VegFest
Red Lion Hotel, Woodlake Conference Center
11:00am - 6pm
"Sacramento VegFest is to showcase, promote, celebrate, and educate the community and visitors about cruelty-free food through the provision of a festival that will illustrate, in living flavor, the wide variety of plant-based foods and products available in the marketplace. There will be world-class speakers, live entertainment, and fun contests throughout the day in addition to the vast array of vegan & vegetarian food samples. We are happy to present Mariel Hemmingway as our Keynote Speaker. In addition, Doug Lisle, Ph.D. and Chef Brooke Preston will both be speaking and book signing."
Early bird tickets $10, Advanced Tickets $12.50, Door Tickets $15
http://www.sacvegfest.com

July 13th: Twin Peaks Orchards Open House
Summer harvest, demos, tours, tasting and activities for kids. Fun for the whole family!
http://www.twinpeaksent.com/events.htm 
more here: http://events.sacbee.com/sacramento_ca/events/show/370442296-sacramento-vegfest#storylink=cpy

July 24th-28th :- A Celebration of Huell Howser at the California State Fair
Buildings A/B Lobby
"Huell Howser’s enthusiasm for California elevated the simple joys of living in our great state by highlighting undiscovered nuggets of California on his television program, “California’s Gold”. This tribute to Huell Howser reflects the importance he played in promoting California and its counties through his syndicated programs shown on PBS, and features video highlights from some of his popular California’s Gold episodes, and personal memorabilia he collected throughout his travels."
http://www.bigfun.org/come-to-the-fair/attractions/celebration-of-huell-howser/#sthash.DMMehXTl.dpuf

July 29-August 1st : 2014 American Cheese Society Conference
"The 2014 ACS Conference will enhance the idea of local, to reflect the excitement and growth of the artisan and specialty cheese community throughout North America. Just as a good cheese plate brings together a variety of tastes, textures, and experiences, so too will the ACS Conference. Nearly 1,000 industry leaders will come together in Sacramento to celebrate, collaborate, learn from one another, and sample great products."
http://www.cheesesociety.org/conference/2014-conference/

Want to get in for free? The ACS is looking for volunteers for the conference:
"If you love cheese, or simply enjoy lending a hand, consider spending a few hours with us! ACS is seeking volunteers to support the 2014 Conference & Competition in Sacramento, CA from July 24 through August 2. Shifts vary in length. Volunteers must be 18 or older.
All volunteers receive an official volunteer t-shirt and a complimentary ticket to the Festival of Cheese on Friday, August 1 (where more than 1,700 cheeses will be available for sampling, alongside specialty foods from around the country!) as a token of our appreciation. Additional tickets for family or friends can be purchased online beginning on May 5, 2014."
http://www.cheesesociety.org/conference/volunteer/
Ally
 
So readers I have some exciting news. Next week I'll be starting a new job! I'm nervous and ecstatic about the whole thing. So, until things get settled in a bit, the ol' blog might slow down a skosh. I'll try to keep up though, I promise. However that said, you might see a lot more simple prep or one-pot weeknight meals as that's what I'll probably be eating for awhile. Trust me they'll still be just as delicious as the fancier stuff. Take this dish I made the other night for Mr.S. and Kidlet #1, called shakshuka.  Shakshuka is a North African dish that was brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews. The term "shakshuka" means "mixture" (in Arabic slang) and that's exactly what the dish is - a mixture of poached eggs and a spicy tomato-based sauce served in a cast iron skillet. It's similar in some ways to Mexico's huevos rancheros and Italy's uova al purgatorio (eggs in purgatory). Mr.S and Kidlet #1 loved the dish so much I'm sure it'll be our regular rotation. It's one of those dishes that's appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner and is extremely flavorful and satisfying. It smells heavenly when you're cooking it too! When I made it the other night, I served it over ground beef and crumbled Italian sausage because Mr. S wanted some meat with the dish, but it's equally great when paired with steamed rice or a crusty peasant bread for dipping.
 
Couple of tips:
 
- If you prefer, a bit of harissa can be substituted for the paprika and cayenne
 
- If you're feeling particularly ambitious, make a double batch of the sauce and freeze the extra portion. That way the next time you make the dish, all you have to do is thaw it out, throw it in the pan and add eggs.
 
- If you want the dish to be spicier, you can add some red pepper flakes while cooking or drizzle some hot sauce on the finished product.
 
- This is a great dish to be inventive with - add in your favorite ingredients like mushrooms, chard or cauliflower.
 
Shakshuka (adapted from the New York Times' Shakshuka with Feta)
 
Ingredients
 
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
 
1 large yellow or white onion- halved and thinly sliced
 
1 large jalapeno- stemmed, seeds removed, diced
 
1 large red or green bell pepper- seeds removed, cut into strips
 
6-7 garlic cloves, minced
 
1 teaspoon ground cumin
 
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
 
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
 
1 28-oz can whole plum tomatoes with juices (chopped or you can crush with your hands)
 
2 tablespoons tomato paste
 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
 
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
 
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, more to taste
 
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
 
1 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds
 
8 large eggs
 
1.5 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
 
hot sauce, for serving (optional)
 
a sprinkle of z'atar (optional)
 
 
Instructions
 
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
 
2. Warm olive oil in large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno and bell pepper. Cook until onion softens, about 15-20 minutes. Add garlic and sauté it for a few more minutes.
 
3. Add in cumin, sweet smoked paprika, turmeric and cayenne. Stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add in tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes thickened slightly. About 7-12 minutes (depending on your oven).
 
4. In a small bowl, mix your feta and crushed caraway seeds together. Add it to the tomato mixture. Stir together.
 
5. Using a spoon, shape shallow little wells in the sauce. Slip a whole egg into each well. Continue this around the perimeter of the skillet. (I found cracking each egg into a small bowl then slipping it to the well made it a bit easier for me.) You want to make sure you're leaving enough room between the eggs so they're not crowded. This helps the eggs keep their shape and enhances the presentation. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper across the tops of the eggs.
 
 
6. Carefully take the skillet off the stove and move it into the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on your eggs, you want to remove the skillet from the oven just as the eggs are beginning to set.
 
7. Sprinkle with z'atar (optional) and chopped parsley. Serve hot.