Lately I've been fascinated with ravioli. Not the meat-stuffed Chef Boyardee kind but rather homemade ravioli stuffed with veggies. I've been picking up fresh wonton wrappers at the Mei Mei Noodle Factory (the #7 dumpling wrapper) and making fillings from seasonal vegetables at the farmers' market. It's pretty fun to do and you can churn quite a few out in a short while and freeze them. I froze mine in small Tupperware containers and have been pulling them out for weeknight meals when I'm too tired to cook (or just too lazy and would rather watch Mad Men and The Good Wife). One of my favorite flavors I've made so far is beet and ricotta. The roasted beets have a slightly sweet flavor so they taste great paired with a quick butter and sage sauce.

                              "The beet is the most intense of vegetables" -Tom Robbins

Beet & Ricotta Ravioli  (recipe adapted from Bon Appetit)


2 large red beets   * do not use canned

1/2 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs

~100 fresh wonton rounds for full circle raviolis


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap beets individually in foil; place on baking sheet. Roast until tender (about 1 hour). Open foil and allow beets to cool. Slip off beet skin (you may want to wear latex gloves as the beet juice does stain).

2. Using a grater, finely grate the beet into a medium bowl. Add ricotta cheese, mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in breadcrumbs.

3. Place a small bowl of water next to your work surface. Lay out a few wonton rounds on your work surface and spoon about 1 teaspoon of beet filling onto the middle of each round. Dip fingertip into water and dampen edge of 1 round, all the way around. Place another round over the filling, pushing out as much air as possible and pressing edges firmly to seal. Repeat with remaining rounds. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and place in freezer until frozen solid, about 6 hours. Transfer ravioli to resealable plastic bags or airtight containers.)

3. To Cook: Working in batches, cook ravioli in large pot of boiling water until cooked through (usually the ravioli will float to the top), about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the ravioli from the water and place on a plate. Top with sauce and cheese.

Butter and Sage Sauce (recipe adapted from Mario Batali)
Yield: 4 servings


4 tablespoons butter

8 sage leaves, chopped

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)


1. While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a saute pan and continue cooking until golden brown color appears in the thinnest liquid of the butter.

2. Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice.

3. Gently pour over ravioli. Sprinkle on the cheese and serve immediately.

"Ain't no love, in the heart of the city...
I said where's the love?
Ain't no love, in the heart of town..."

1201 Grand Ave., Sacramento, CA 95838. (916) 922-7501.

There's something about Jimmy's that makes me want to play that old Jay-Z tune, "Heart of the City," as I roll up to it. The pistachio colored building in one of the rougher parts of Del Paso Heights has seen better days. It's weather worn storefront sits quietly back from Grand Avenue, almost like an observer to the neighborhood that surrounds it. There's a tired looking gentleman sitting patiently in the parking lot under the white "Jimmy's" sign running a recycling station and the front door is covered with a multitude of signs of what is and what is not allowed upon entering. Driving by you'd think it was like any other neighborhood quickie mart, only Jimmy's isn't...

Once inside, the front part of Jimmy's is a convenience store carrying a smattering of snacks, sodas, along with a few hard-to-find Cajun food brands like Blue Runner, Camellia, and Cajun Injector. The back portion of the store though is where the action's at. The back serves takeout to its customers- breakfast, lunch and dinner. The entree menu ranges from: fried/smothered chicken, catfish, red snapper, ribs, meat loaf, ox tail, chitterlings and gumbo. The sides menu is equally as impressive: grits, mac and cheese, red beans, black-eyed peas, yams, greens, cabbage and potatoes. I have a soft spot for homemade meat loaf so I ordered one of their personal sized meat loaves, a big serving of greens  and a whoppin' dollop of mac and cheese. (The meatloaf came with a choice of rice or potatoes, which I skipped.) The total for my lunch was $6.75 and I had more than enough for two meals. Everything was delicious...the meatloaf was seasoned well (and slightly peppery which I liked), the mac and cheese was thick and creamy and the greens were cooked perfectly. Next time I'd like to try some of their gumbo and perhaps one of their desserts- yellow cake, banana pudding, or sweet potato pie. (I'd also like to talk to the owners a bit, I'm almost certain that the place is run by an Asian family. An Asian family cooking up soul food in the middle of DPH? How unusual, but hey if it tastes great, it tastes great.)

So Jimmy's may not exactly be in the heart of the city geographically speaking, but it's definitely serving up some love to the city from that tiny little kitchen in the to-go container of soul food at a time.
Greens, Mac & Cheese, Meatloaf and Corn Muffin

* Additional article about Jimmy's :

Although you wouldn't know it by the murky weather we've been having, the first day of spring was a week ago. It might still be a bit chilly to bust out the shorts and BBQ but you can make a batch of this delicious, fresh garbanzo bean dip to celebrate spring. It uses fresh garbanzos, the kind you buy still in the pod in the produce section. It takes a bit more effort to sit down and shell the beans but the end result is worth it. This dip is great- it tastes green, it tastes tastes like SPRING!

Fresh Green Garbanzo Bean Dip


1 cup fresh garbanzo beans, shelled

3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

1/3 cup tahini

3.5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Pinch of ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Puree ingredients in food processor until desired consistency. Add more olive oil if the dip seems to thick. Season with salt/ fresh pepper, to taste. Give it a final zap.

2. Serve with your favorite dipper. Goes great with veggies, toasted pita and chips.

* Fresh garbanzos in the pod can be purchased at most large Mexican markets and sometimes at the farmers' market.

Growing up we never ate beets in our household, it was just one of those vegetables that my mom never cooked for dinner. Daikon, natto, gobo root- sure...beets? Nope. So, my first encounter with beets didn't come until I was well into college and unfortunately it wasn't on a was in a diaper. A rather full and overflowing diaper at that. Let me back up a bit.

When I was in college, I lived with my ex-husband (who was at the time my boyfriend) and along with going to school full-time and waiting tables five nights a week, I would pick up the occasional babysitting shift for my neighbor across the street. She was a nice enough lady, one of those hippie-ish types that ate a lot of granola and organic yogurt and unbeknownst to me liked to feed her baby beets---LOTS of beets. So one of the first times I babysat for her and went to change the kid's diaper, I opened the tabs and found what looked like a cross between massive hemorrhaging and a dump made by Barney. I completely freaked out...and you have to remember that this is before everyone and their mother was carrying a cell phone around 24-7, so I couldn't just call the woman up. I hosed the kid off in the kitchen sink and looked to see if he was bleeding still from any orifices and then called a friend who was in the nursing program at Sac first she was concerned and then there was a pause and she said, "Wait! His sh*t is PURPLE? Do you know if his mom fed him beets?" I looked in the fridge and sure enough, after some digging around there was a Tupperware container of some sort of chunky dark purple vegetable jammed in the corner. Mystery solved...and the start of my beet enlightenment. For the longest time after that though, whenever I came across the words "beets" on a menu or a recipe, I'd cringe and remember that diaperful of glowing burgundy colored #2. It wasn't until about five or six years ago that I allowed myself to be talked into trying the vegetable in a simple roasted beet and goat cheese salad. Since then I've gotten over my aversion and have had beets prepared in numerous ways but this simple salad is still one of my favorite ways to eat beets.

Roasted Beet Salad with Feta


4 medium beets, trimmed & washed

4 oz. feta cheese (I like to use Trader Joe's Feta Cheese with Mediterranean herbs)

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Trim and wash beets. Place beets in aluminum foil. Fold the foil over and crimp the sides closed. Place wrapped beets in a baking pan.

3. Bake for about an hour. Beets should be tender when done.

4. Set aside and allow to cool.

5. Remove from foil. When beets are cool enough. Slip skins off (you may want to wear latex gloves or do this under cold water as the beet juice will stain your hands).

6. Slice or cube the beets, depending on which you prefer. Lightly drizzle with olive oil (just enough to coat). Season with salt and pepper (optional). Toss. Top with crumbled feta.

Hope everyone had a great St. Paddy's weekend. Mr. S. and I spent most of it playing catch up. He was gone all of last week with his eldest son on a fieldtrip to the Marin Headlands while I puppysat this cute little guy at his house. (Yes, I spoiled the furball rotten. He's my baby.)

It was nice to have Mr.S. back in town again. We hung out with his kidlets on Friday night and then Saturday night we went to see our friend's band, Ghost River, play at Old I. The place was packed and a good time was had by all...and a lot of Jamesons was also had by all.

Sunday, I headed back to my cottage in the Grid in the afternoon and was welcomed by not one...but two hailstorms! The storms knocked all the blossoms off the trees in my courtyard and when intermingled with the ice pellets, it looked like it had snowed.

Anyhow, it was nice to get back into my normal groove with cooking this week and this recipe was the perfect recipe for two reasons. It fit the bill of being a nice hearty dish for the sudden cold weather we've been having and it turned out to be a superb hangover dish. I did tweak it a little by adding in some sliced baby portabella mushrooms to bulk it up more (and because Mr. S. is nuts about mushrooms) and I decided to use green lentils because I think they taste better. (Tip: buy your green lentils at your local Mediterranean store, it's much cheaper than the gourmet grocery stores in town and just as good.) Also, be sure you are using Mexican chorizo for this recipe not Spanish chorizo, they are completely different types of meat. The end result was- we all loved it. The dish is really flavorful. Even me, the "lentil hater," approved.

Crockpot Chorizo & Lentils (adapted from a recipe by My Kitchen Addiction)


1 pound of Mexican chorizo or Mexican longaniza, casings removed
(you can find this at your neighborhood Mexican supermarket. I buy mine at Mercado Loco)

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

8 oz. baby portabella mushrooms, sliced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound dry green lentils- picked over, rinsed & drained

1 – 15 ounce can tomato sauce

4 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper


1. Remove the chorizo (or longaniza) from the casing and brown over medium heat. Add in the mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and garlic. Cook the vegetables until they're tender.

2. Place the lentils, broth, tomato sauce and spices in the crockpot. When the chorizo and vegetables are done, add them into the crockpot too. Mix together well.

3. Cover. Set the crockpot for low and cook for 5-6 hours until the lentils are tender.

4. Stir ingredients well and serve hot.
3710 Franklin Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95820. (916) 452-4834

What's your favorite Mexican market in town? I know you have one. Mine? Mercado Loco at the corner of Franklin and Sutterville. I seriously love that place. It's nice and big, always clean and I've never left the place without at least one staff member offering a friendly greeting and a smile.

First things first, right when you walk in the store - to your left, just before the meat department- is a small soda fridge marked "salsa." Don't pass it up! Mercado Loco sells some pretty amazing fresh salsas- my favorite is the one marked, "Salsa Casera," (which translates to "homemade salsa,"...go figure). The Salsa Casera is slightly spicy and absolutely delicious on eggs.

In addition to fantastic salsas, Mercado Loco also has a great meat department with a large and varied selection of fresh meats. The butchers are young but helpful and have never steered me wrong when I've asked for assistance in choosing meats for recipes or how to cook some of the more unfamiliar kinds of meats. 

Salsa Casera, fresh garbanzos, chorizo

On the other side of the store is the produce, spices and tortillas. There's a multitude of tortillas to choose from (the kidlets seem to like the blue tortillas that I pick up) and there's practically an entire aisle devoted to dried spices. I love strolling through their produce department, everything is always fresh and so inexpensive! I usually will stock up on jalapeños, fresh garbanzos (in the pod), limes and cilantro during my visit. Oftentimes, there's a fruit or veggie that I'm unfamiliar with and the ladies at the checkstand are really nice about cluing me in on what it is and how to eat it/cook it if I ask. Like this one on my last visit- the xoconostle. It turned out to be the fruit of a cactus. The fruit looks similar to a prickly pear but it tastes super sour instead of sweet and it's usually used to make salsas, sauces and syrups.


Anyhow, Mercado Loco is probably not the fanciest Mexican market in town nor probably does it have the largest selection of Mexican foods in Sac, but it's definitely top three and I think the friendly service will definitely keep it number one on my list. So if you're in their hood, pop in and give it a looksie...and pick up some fresh salsa while you're there.

If you follow my blog's Facebook page, you've probably seen me post a status every so often to the effect of baking/making/cooking while singing along to Mamma Mia. It's one of my favorite musical soundtracks and is such a fun one to belt out while in the kitchen. Well, last night I got to get my ABBA on at the Community Center Theatre and see Mamma Mia live for a second time (the first time was a few years ago). This production was just as great as the first one and restored my faith in the musical (I was a bit brokenhearted after that craptastic film version with Streep came out). Anyhow, I'm looking forward to gettin' down to some more, "Dancing Queen," and "SOS" while making another batch of these ginger-shrimp potstickers. The first batch were so dang good (we paired it up with some Trader Joe's peanut satay sauce), they were scarfed up in a blink of an eye!

(This would be a good recipe to make a double or even triple batch can freeze them and cook as needed.)

Ginger-Shrimp Potstickers (recipe from Cooking Light, March 2008)


Pot stickers:

3/4 cup shredded green cabbage

1/3 cup chopped green onions

1/4 cup matchstick-cut carrots

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound cooked peeled small shrimp

Dash of hot sauce

24 wonton wrappers (fresh or store-bought)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon canola oil, divided

1 cup water, divided


1. To prepare pot stickers, combine first 10 ingredients in a food processor; pulse 4 times or until coarsely chopped. Working with 1 wonton wrapper at a time (cover remaining wrappers with a damp towel to prevent drying), spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons shrimp mixture into center of each wrapper. Moisten edges of dough with water; bring 2 opposite corners to center, pinching points to seal. Bring remaining 2 corners to center, pinching points to seal. Pinch 4 edges together to seal. (I used a gyoza press instead. You can buy these for under $2 at most Asian markets.) Place pot stickers on a large baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch.

2. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 12 pot stickers to pan; cook 2 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Slowly add 1/2 cup water to pan; cover and cook 4 minutes. Uncover and cook 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil, 12 pot stickers, and 1/2 cup water.

3. Serve hot with favorite dipping sauce.

I'm always surprised when I'm shopping at the farmers' market and the vendors ask me if I want the tops to my beets, why wouldn't I? They're delicious! Turns out a lot of folks have them lopped off right there at the stand and have the vendor chuck the leafy tops. Bizarre! In my opinion, beet greens taste so much better than the kale that everyone seems so hyped about and you get it for free with your yummy beets. If you haven't tried sautéing some beet greens before, try subbing them in for your kale next time, I think you'll be pleased with their mild taste (they're much less bitter).

Tip: I like to use the beets to make a roasted beet salad with goat cheese and then sauté the greens- two side dishes out of one purchase!

Sautéed Beet Greens With Garlic, Onions and Olive Oil


2 large bunches of beet greens, washed & dried

1 small yellow onion, chopped

2 T extra virgin olive oil (or 2 T unsalted butter)

2-3 garlic cloves, minced


Freshly ground pepper


1. Wash the beet greens in cold water. Drain. Tear leaves into large bite-sized pieces.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add in the chopped onions. Cook for about 5 minutes until they turn translucent and start to brown slightly.

3. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant and translucent, approx. 60 seconds.

4. Add in the greens. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the greens are tender. Remove from the heat and serve.


So, recently I bought a pound of fresh stir fry noodles on my excursion to the Mei Mei Noodle Factory. I couldn't wait to cook them up in some sort of tasty noodle creation. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to take one of my favorite recipes from the book, "Noodles Every Day," for gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) and beef noodle stir fry and vegetarianize it a bit by subbing in some oyster mushrooms for the beef. I figured with the oyster mushrooms' firm, meaty texture I could marinate them just like I usually do with the beef. Bingo! It worked like a charm and tasted delicious.

Gai-Lan and Oyster Mushroom Noodle Stir Fry (adapted from, "Noodles Every Day," by Corinne Trang)


3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or sake

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

6 oz. oyster mushrooms,stemmed

1 pound fresh noodles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 large garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

1.25 cups vegetable stock

1 pound gai lan (Chinese broccoli), cut into bite-size pieces

Freshly ground black pepper


1. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon each soy sauce, oyster sauce and sake (or Shaoxing wine). Add the sugar and continue to whisk until completely dissolved. Stir in the cornstarch and continue stirring until smooth. Add the sesame oil and oyster mushrooms, and mix well. Marinate for 20 minutes. Drain and discard the excess marinade.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles until 1 minute shy of done and drain. (We'll finish cooking the noodles at the end.)

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a skillet or wok over high heat and stir-fry the garlic until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and when hot, add the gai lan, stir frying so that the oil coats the gai lan. Pour in the 1/4 cup of the stock, turn the heat to medium-low and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook the gai lan until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the gai-lan to the same plate.

4. Add the remaining cup of stock and the remaining 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and rice wine to the same skillet and bring to a boil over high heat.

5. Add the noodles and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, leaving the noodles lightly moistened, 2 to 3 minutes. Return the gai lan and mushrooms to the skillet and toss to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Season with pepper to taste and serve.

1715 10th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. (916) 448-2938

* Cash only.

Isn't it amazing that you can live in a city for years and years and not know about all the cool hidden gems that it has to offer? Some of them practically in your backyard? This past Friday, I grabbed a coffee at Temple and took a mini-fieldtrip by myself down the street to the Mei Mei Noodle Factory. Calling it a "factory" might be a stretch as it appears to be quite the small operation but the place is seriously cool and I had no idea it existed in the Grid. Located on a quiet block of 10th Street, it sits right next to New World Co. (a fortune cookie factory) can't miss it, the warm smell of fresh cookies will greet you about half a block down and make you instantly salivate like Pavlov's dog.

When I walked into Mei Mei (I believe the name translates to little or younger sister in Mandarin?), I was the only customer. There was a small flour-sprinkled counter separating the front of the room from the rear work area. I took a few steps in and was greeted by a jolly gentleman. We chatted for a bit and I learned that the noodle factory was open 6 days a week (every day but Sunday) and had been there for about 30 years, the current owners had acquired it from it's previous proprietors about three years ago (from what I could understand, the majority of their business is commercial accounts and only a minute portion is walk-in customers like myself). He explained that they make several types of noodles and dumpling wrappers fresh daily. I took some time to look over the list by the counter and decided to order some stir-fry noodles and potsticker wrappers. I also wanted to pick up some wrappers that I could use to make some fresh raviolis, for this the gentleman consulted a woman who was busily working at one of the back tables cutting dough. She came over to the counter and after some gesticulating and describing on my part (there was a bit of a language barrier), she suggested the #7 dumpling wrappers which she thought would be small and thin enough to work for my raviolis. Both people were extremely helpful and friendly. I have to admit when it came time to pay, I was a bit astonished at how inexpensive the fresh pasta was! A pound of noodles was 99 cents and a pound of wrappers ranged from roughly $1 to $1.50 a pound (depending on what kind), you can't beat that. As I closed the front door and walked out into the mid-morning sunlight, I half expected the Mei Mei Factory to disappear in a magical puff of floury smoke behind me. It seemed too good to be true- a figment of my culinary imagination, perhaps? If it's still there next week, I'll be back for more dumpling wrappers. I have so many more recipes I'm anxious to try out!

Tips For Cooking Your  Fresh Noodles (posted on the wall at the factory):

1. Add the noodles into boiling water. Keep boiling for 5 minutes.

2. Drain the noodles, then put them into cold water. Drain again.

3. Serve with your favorite soup base or stir-fry.

2324 Arden Way, Sacramento, CA 95825. (916)924-3571

Last night after we exited the movies, Mr.S. and I were starving. We were a bit tired and didn't want to haul butt back down to the Grid for carnitas so we decided to live on the edge and grab Mexican food in (gasp!) the 'burbs. I drew the line at hitting up a Chevy's, El Toritos or anything else of that ilk and we settled on a place around the bend called Kico's. Lucky us, we were able to score a spot in the teeny parking lot off of Arden and waltzed into the joint. We were met at the entryway by several smiling faces and a cheerful host. We were seated immediately in a comfy leather booth and while we were taking in the sportbar-like atmosphere; we were given menus, water, chips, salsa and refried beans- Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Talk about lightening fast service. I ended up ordering the carnitas dinner, hold the beans, extra rice please. The carnitas were nice big, juicy chunks of beef and the meal was served with a side of warm homemade tortillas. Now Mr.S. tends to like what I call (in very un-PC-like terms) "Gringo-Mexican food," (which this essentially was) and he really liked his meal. I liked it too. It was tasty but nothing mindblowing. A good solid meal for the non-adventurous eater. I could see this being a great place to host a family meal, as the kidlets would enjoy it--nothing weird or too spicy, the portion sizes are quite generous and the prices are reasonable. Also, the service was very friendly and attentive. Now I won't be giving up all my taquerias in South Sac or the Grid anytime soon, but next time we take his kidlets to a kiddie flick we just may have to pop by Kico's and order them some enchiladas.
Relationships are about balance. You gotta give a little and take a little...isn't that how the song goes? Well last weekend I got spoiled a bit rotten by Mr. S. with a wonderful dinner at Mulvaney's, one of my favorite restaurants. It was a night of delicious wine, foie, sweetbreads, bacon cheesecake...and yes, we even squeezed in a main meal in there too! (And as always, the service was fantastic.) So when this weekend, he wanted to wear jeans, see Safe House and eat some messy carnitas at a taqueria, how could I protest? After all, I've subjected him to countless romantic comedies and dragged him to I-don't-know-how-many indie sure Denzel with a gun tonight it is (by the way, does that guy ever age?). In the meantime, this afternoon I'm going to make up another batch of these snappy Vietnamese style carrot pickles. The original recipe calls for half daikon and half carrots, but I like just the carrots. (I know, I'm a rebel.) They go perfectly with pretty much any warm weather dish (especially when I make homemade banh mi) but work well as a snack by themselves too.

Vietnamese Style Carrot Pickles (adapted from Eating Local by Janet Fletcher)


1 pound large carrots, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup water


1. Wash carrots and cut into matchstick sizes or rounds (about thickness of a quarter). Pat dry.

2. In a bowl, mix vinegar, salt , sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrots to the mixture and let it marinate for at least 1 hour before serving.

3. For best pickled flavor, store vegetables in an airtight mason jar for about 5 days in the refrigerator.

I've been hearing raves about the Brussels sprouts at David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar for what feels like forever, so I knew I just had to attempt a batch. After all, Brussels sprouts with fish sauce? What an odd pairing. Mr.S. on the other hand was a little less than enthralled with my newest recipe undertaking. In fact, last night when I was whisking up a batch of the sauce he was muttering something under his breath about it smelling like, "rancid feet."  Yes peeps, if you haven't cooked with fish sauce before it has a very pungent and very fishy odor...just be warned- it stinks to high heaven. I ended up tweaking the recipe a bit- omitting the butter (it seemed unnecessary) and skipping the puffed rice (only because we didn't have any in the pantry and it seemed like it would get soggy quickly in the dish); but overall we liked the recipe. I also shortened the recipe's cooking time considerably as 40-45 minutes would have left me with charcoal briquettes for sprouts. The end result had a sweet taste that's a bit hard to describe but was pleasing to the palate. And once he quit kvetching about the smell, Mr.S. agreed that the sprouts tasted good (although he still prefers when I cream-braise his Brussel sprouts) and we would probably make this dish again. I think it would taste good paired with some Vietnamese rice noodles next time.

Here's the original recipe that ran in the October 2007 Gourmet magazine:  Roasted Brussel Sprouts

And here's my adapted version:

Momofuku Roasted Brussel Sprouts


2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved lengthwise (nasty or ragged outer leaves removed)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (preferably Tiparos brand, it's not as strong or as salty as other brands)

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons finely chopped mint

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems

1 garlic clove, minced

1 (1 1/2-inch) fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts, toss with canola oil, and roast, cut side down on baking sheet, for 20-25 minutes. You want them somewhat firm and crispy, browned but not totally burnt.
3. In the bowl, stir the remaining ingredients. When the sprouts are done, add enough dressing to coat them (don't put too much on or you'll lose the crispiness of the sprouts) and serve warm.

Much like the blustery March winds that blew me through the front doors of the California Museum last night for the Fresh & Easy Market launch party, it seems like Fresh & Easy has blown into town at full speed. I'll be honest I wasn't too excited about going to a launch for a supermarket especially when my allergies were going crazy due to the impromptu Sacramento windstorm we had all day; however,  Mr. S. had expressed an interest in knowing more about Fresh & Easy since one was going in not too far from his casa and as a working dad he's always on the looking out for sources that offer healthy meals with minimal prep. So off we went and I'm glad we did. The night turned out to be quite informative.

Venturing over the pond, Fresh and Easy (a subsidiary of UK-based supermarket chain, Tesco) is looking to settle into Sacramento with the initial opening of five neighborhood markets in the month of March. Yep, we'll be seeing a lot of their green signs pretty soon in the City of Trees. At the launch event, F&E's Chief Customer Officer, John Burry, explained the reasoning behind Fresh and Easy choosing Sacramento as its newest location for expansion as being- "it's a city that loves food." Hmmm...ok. Well, they don't plan to compete with our beloved farmers' markets but do hope to provide another option to the Raley's, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's chains by providing a hybrid of the three. The company's main focus supposedly will be on nutritional, fresh meals that are affordable and taste good for the busy individual/family. They plan to deliver these pre-prepped ingredients and prepared meals by utilizing a manufacturing campus in California which will afford them quality control and quick delivery. In their house brand F&E products they promise that they won't use artificial colors or flavors, added trans fats, or high fructose corn syrup.
Check-in at the launch.
Also there was a photo booth you could go play in.

Anyhow, Mr.S. and I had an ok time at the the event. I got to try a few of their appetizers- the prosciutto wrapped shrimp, some pear bruschetta and the ahi poke. (I would have snapped some photos but there weren't many apps left on the platters by the time the servers got over to our side of the room and I knew better than to bother to snap pics of platters of crudites and dip, if you've seen one- you've seen them all...sorry, readers.) The apps were pretty good but I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty the wines and champagnes they served were (Trader Joe's you may have some competition in the affordable wines department!) There were a lot of business-y muckety-mucks there talking shop (I'll admit, we tucked ourselves away at a corner table and people watched) but their PR rep was quite nice, answered my endless questions (allergy medicine + wine makes me a bit chatty) and gave me the heads up that the F&E's tikka masala sauce is a fav of hers. I also found out these tidbits of interest:
  • For the last 4 years Fresh and Easy has been rapidly opening stores in CA, NV and AZ at the equivalent of about a store a week. That's a lot of jobs, folks!
  • Most of the seafood for the Sacramento stores will be from Santa Monica Seafood
  • 60% of their produce is grown in California
  • Although they primarily sell their house brand products, they will be selling some name brand products as well
  • They have do-it-yourself checkstands where you scan and bag your own groceries (to keep their costs down) but have staff to assist you should problems arise
  • Much like TJ's, some of their products are seasonal/limited so things will rotate through (holiday items, specialty food, etc)-- for example : Sparkling Pumpkin Spiced Apple Cider...mmm, can't wait!
But you can't judge a store on what a bunch of suits tell you, right? Right! Even if they are suits with 007-like British accents. So since I needed to pick up a few things for dinner anyway (and I wanted to try that tikka masala sauce the PR rep recommended), I decided to stop in today at the newly opened Fresh & Easy on Watt and El Camino, over by Country Club Lanes. The store itself was clean, bright, organized...and much smaller inside than I thought it was going to be. I did like that parking wasn't a hassle though...nix that---I LOVED that parking wasn't a hassle. The majority of the products were the F&E house brand. I did see some interesting items like a lime cilantro hummus, iced black tea and a tasty looking fresh baked challah bread.  Also, in the front of the store were two endcaps with meal sections for lunch (a choice of salad/sushi/or sandwich paired with a snack & drink for $6) and dinner (meal ingredients displayed so you can grab everything you need to make the dinner). They also had a designated gluten-free section and I noted that in their baking aisle they carried Bob's Red Mill line (nice!). There were a few things that turned me off at Fresh and Easy though : 1) when I walked in it reminded me of a cross between a grocery store and a convenience store, it was an odd vibe that I just couldn't seem to shake 2) the produce section is super small, the selection was pretty forlorn looking and everything was pre-packaged in plastic, which I personally don't care for 3) there was no deli, meat/seafood or bakery counter 4) the self-checkout wasn't too bad when I was there, but I could see it being a nightmare during rush hour if you were stuck behind a non-tech savvy blue-haired granny or DB yakking it up on his cell while slinging his groceries.

 Dinner Meal endcap at the front of the store

Overall, I think Fresh and Easy will fair well in the areas that are in need of a grocery store but for those areas that are already saturated with Trader Joes, Bel-Airs, etc., I'm not too sure they'll be able to lure away their competitors' demographic. It's a question of- what are they bringing to the table that makes them more desirable? There's a much more limited selection in their store than say, Safeway or Raley's, they've taken way the personalization of dealing with friendly associates at checkstands that you get at Nugget or Trader Joe's and their prices aren't substantially cheaper like at places such as Target or Winco. So why should I shop there on a regular basis? I for one will be curious to see how Fresh & Easy fares in Sacramento in 2012 with it's 5 store roll out. Like their CCO said, Sacramento, "[is] a city that loves food," and we do; however, we're also a city that's quite discriminating of the quality of what we eat as well as how it impacts our wallet and our environment. It'll be interesting to see how Fresh and Easy responds to that and how it acclimates its practices.
Absolutely no cooking this weekend. All my appliances are tucked away, the oven's turned off and my apron's hung up. I'm enjoying a date night out at Mulvaney's with Mr. S. tonight and a mimosa-heavy brunch tomorrow with the girls. You should take the weekend off too, it's good for the soul. In the meantime, enjoy this gorgeous Sacramento sunset (I took this photo just outside Mr. S.'s door last month, isn't it beautiful?).

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I'm on Day 2 of my Pickling-Fest at the cottage. Today I decided to do some crunchy Asian green beans with chili peppers (yum!). I cranked out a couple of jars while listening to some Lumineers and Avett Brothers (both bands which will be coming to Sac soon- The Lumineers @ Harlows on March 27th & The Avett Brothers @ The Grove on June 24th) which made the task go by super quick. Can't wait to eat them later this week!

Crunchy Asian Pickled Green Beans (recipe from ManMade)

  • 1/2 Lb green beans, washed and tops trimmed
  • 3/4 C cider vinegar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 dried chiles
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced

- Bring a medium sized pot with water to a boil.

- Once boiling, drop your green beans in the pot, return to a boil, and blanch for 1 minute. Then transfer the green beans immediately to an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process and keep the crunch.

- Once cooled, pack the beans vertically into a pint-sized jar.

- Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. This will help to combine all of the flavors as well as dilute the sugar into the pickling liquid. Boil for 1-2 minutes.

- Carefully, pour the brine over your pickled green beans so that they are well covered. If you need to, you can top the jar off with some water, but be sure to leave at least half an inch headspace at the top of your jars to accommodate any expansion.

- Let your beans sit in the fridge for at least one day, allowing the brine to fully soak in. After that they're ready to eat.