Ally

3621 Broadway, Sacramento, CA 95817.
(916) 739-1669

I'll let you in on a little secret, you probably won't see a whole lot of BBQ joints reviewed on A Girl and Her Fork. I'm not so much of a BBQ girl. Now before you launch into a giant diatribe of how there's a hundred different types of BBQ- I know. In fact, my parents live in one of the biggest BBQ capitals of the US (Kansas City) and I used to be married to a Texan. I've been exposed to all kinds of BBQ- Carolina, Texas, Chicago, KC, Deep South, you name it....and they're ok. I'm just not gaga over the stuff like most folks. Now Mr.S. and the kidlets LOVE the stuff, especially Kidlet #1. He's a die-hard BBQ rib fanatic and in hog heaven anytime we have BBQ. So every so often, I'll cook up some ribs or pulled pork - or even better yet, get some BBQ takeout...which is how we stumbled upon T&R Taste of Texas BBQ this summer. Yeah, I'm a bit overdue in writing this review....

T&R is located in Oak Park, just past the "Welcome to Oak Park" sign. Just look for a modest, mustard colored building proclaiming "BBQ," in large red lettering. The restaurant is clean but small, much more suitable for grabbing takeout then for leisurely dining.


I had Kidlet #1 in tow so we grabbed a menu and a seat and perused the offerings. T&R's menu is simple and does a good job of covering all your BBQ basics- ribs, pulled pork, wings, hot links, chicken...and even fried bologna sandwiches. We decided on two racks of ribs, 1 hot link sandwich (for moi) and a mish-mosh of sides (tater tots, cornbread, corn, baked beans, coleslaw). Hey- go big or go home, right? We placed our order with a stoic-looking but polite gentleman at the front desk and grabbed some wood in the dining room. Some sort of baby mama drama reality TV show was playing on the TV in the background, so Kidlet #1 and I took the time to discuss the interesting artwork adorning the walls. I, myself, was kind of partial to the portraits of Elvis and Tupac...the King of Rock 'n Roll and The King of Rap hanging in harmony--love it! (Being 14, Kidlet #1 didn't really have a clue to who either of these two music legends were nor did he really care. He did recognize the painting of Tiger Woods though and excitedly pointed that one out to me.) Our order was up pretty quickly, which was good because the sultry scent of BBQ wafting from the kitchen was making our mouths water (and was beginning to permeate our clothes and hair).


When we got home, Mr. S. and I unpacked the goods while the kidlets descended on the BBQ like a pair of starved wolverines. Everyone agreed that the BBQ ribs were top-rate. In true-Texas style they were predominantly smoky flavored with a hint of tanginess and the sauce was thick and sweet. The meat was tender, moist and just fell of the bone with a poke of the fork. According to the restaurant, they slow cook their meat over a mixture of woods (apple, mesquite, hickory and cherry) to achieve their deep smoky flavor. Our ribs were smothered in a sweet molasses-type sauce, which the kidlets licked off their fingers in lick smackin' appreciation. (Yes, we did have to hose off the BBQ-sauce covered gremlins after dinner. How they are able to get BBQ sauce all over their face, hair and even in their ears, I'll never know!) The one thing I would have liked to have seen was a little more char on the ribs, I tend to like some crunchy bits on my ribs- but they were still delicious. Now the tater tots were scarfed down in seconds but not before I received the thumbs up for crispiness and being well seasoned (maybe next time we'll try out the candied sweet potato tots). The kidlets were on the fence with the baked beans though. Kidlet #2 loved the smoky flavor of the beans and dived right into the bowl, Kidlet #1 was slightly turned off as he prefers his beans to be on the sweet side. The kidlets also demolished their corn on the cobs. On the other side of the table, I enjoyed my juicy hot link sandwich with spicy mustard (I opted to get it sans grilled onions). The porky goodness hit the spot but I found the accompanying coleslaw to be a bit bland. The slaw was nice and crispy as though it had been made fresh, but it was really dry. The square of cornbread was ok and no one touched the aluminum foil package of sliced white bread that was included with our order.


Based on their reactions, I'm pretty sure the kidlets and Mr.S. would most definitely welcome more takeout from T&R. The portions were Texas-sized (big), the food's reasonably priced and the ribs were tasty-- an overall good value. Being that it's not too far from the Grid, I could see it becoming a popular place to quench our BBQ fix on family dinner nights.
Ally


The inaugural Farm to Fork Festival was held Saturday from 11am-5pm in downtown Sacramento. Mr.S. and I stopped by to take a gander and were quite impressed by the large community turnout and how organized the festival was. Capitol Mall was closed off between Third and Seventh Street, allowing only foot traffic, and the festival was spread out so that people could easily maneuver through the various stations. Many Sacramentans took advantage of the lovely sunny weather to walk, bike or lightrail over to the celebration. Additionally, Atlas Disposal was on hand to ensure that the F2F festival was a zero-waste event.

We had a pleasant time at the festival. There was a cornucopia of things to see and learn about. Our first stop was over at the livestock area, where 4-H and the California Dairy Council had numerous cute farm animals to "ooooh" and "ahhh" over and pet.

 Some were small...
 
Some were large... 
 
 Some were just chillin'...

Around the corner from the livestock was Passmore Ranch's table. Their friendly staff engaged with passerbys, answered questions about their beautiful, sustainably raised sturgeon and talked about their new Provisions boxes (called Little Bounty and Big Bounty) that they plan on debuting in September.


On the main stage, there were some cool food demonstrations going on- like this one on butchering by Danny Johnson from Taylor's Market:


(Mr.S. was pretty excited to find out that Taylor's offers a class on how to breakdown/butcher wild game. Unfortunately, he'll have to wait until next August when they offer it again to take it. )

There were several tables highlighting local produce, gardening and nutrition education. You could chat with local chefs and farmers; as well as get more info on the potential Public Market project. Many companies such as Kaiser Permanente, the CA Rice Commission, Produce Express, and Green Acres had colorful displays, freebies/tastings and were happy to field questions about their products and services.

A rep talking about The Center for Land-Based Learning
 
Trinity Fresh
  
Slow Food Sacramento

 These nice folks from Green Acres were giving away free seeds
 
Home gardens are quite popular in Sacramento

We even passed by a giant shopping cart and a lady spinning wool. This F2F Festival had something for everyone!



Oh! And don't forget about the beer garden (featuring only local beers) and the delicious food trucks:


 
Way to go, Sactown, what a celebration! The Farm-to-Fork Festival really came together well and did a phenomenal job of bringing "awareness to the Sacramento region’s local food production, consumption and sustainability." Can't wait to see what next year's Farm to Fork week brings...but until then I could use a small break from the deluge of  "Farm to Fork" marketing.  ;-)
Ally
"Farm-to-Fork," "Farm-to-Fork," "Farm-to-Fork,"...if you live in the vicinity of Sacramento or it's outlying areas I'm sure you've heard a lot about "Farm to Fork," the last few months. Well, Farm to Fork week has finally arrived to the City of Trees and it started with a fresh wash of rain and several fun food-centric activities. The festivities kicked off with a Farm to Fork Train dinner, a Grape to Glass wine crush at the Old Sugar Mill, the Soil Born Farms Autumn Equinox celebration and Feast at the Fort. Who says Sacramento doesn't know how to party?



Mr.S. and I were gifted tickets to the Farm to Fork Train event Saturday afternoon hosted by Produce Express and were quite excited about a date night away from the kidlets. We were a little worried as the clouds still looked dark and ominous and it was pretty wet outside; but luckily, the storm broke up just before boarding time. The evening's itinerary included a 4 ½-hour train ride on the Sacramento River Train, a 5-course gourmet meal prepared by Chef Gabriel Glasier of Maranello Restaurant in Fair Oaks along with wine pairings and a tour of Peabody Farms (Del Rio Botanical) by Suzanne Ashworth. Mr.S. and I ended up running into some friends on the train and had a blast. I especially loved the tour of Peabody Farm. The grounds were just so serene and beautiful and Suzanne is a wealth of knowledge. She let us nibble on various herbs and plants from her garden and wander around. My favorite tasting was the Sichuan buttons (aka "buzz buttons"), they're a bright, little yellow happy-looking flower that when rubbed on your mouth/lip/tongue creates this electric "buzzing" sensation. It was totally wild!




I also fell in love with this little goat. If you know me, you know I'm a total sucker for baby animals. Mr.S. no longer allows me to look at cuteoverload.com or go to the zoo. I tried my hardest to steal the little guy but I just couldn't fit him in my purse!



There was a variety of organic produce growing at Peabody Farm including melons, cherry tomatoes and edible spineless cacti.




We enjoyed a few hors d'oeuvres then got back on the train to relax. During the rest of the ride, we got to view some gorgeous scenery from the train windows including some local farms (and a big fat rainbow). One of the farms we passed turned out to be owned by a friendly gentleman we had been chatting with on the train- Ray Yeung of Yeung Farms. He grows many of the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that Produce Express supplies our area restaurants.

For the dinner portion of the train ride, we were moved to a slightly fancier car.



Fresh cucumbers, pickled radishes and sea beans with toasted rice, sesame tuile, and basil seeds served with a cucumber consommé. The plate was beautifully presented and the pickled radishes and sea beans were tangy and refreshing.
 

Hops-smoked sturgeon from Passmore Ranch paired with quince marmalade, horseradish cream and a deviled quail egg. This was our favorite course. It was amazing! I wanted more- of it all!
 

Slow-roasted Martin Emigh lamb shoulder, Joe Parker Hatch chile, smoked shelling beans, charred chard, mesquite grilled plum. This was my least favorite course. It looked great but the lamb was cold and dry.
 

Spiced Mexican chocolate pots de crème, prickly pear dulce de leche, star anise spiced churro, Aleppo chili and pumpkin seed brittle. I said churro, chocolate and brittle in the same sentence...need I say more?

So that was your sneak preview. This should be an exciting week for Sacramento! I've heard a lot of buzz from friends who are eagerly anticipating Broderick's "Off the Bridge" dinner scheduled for Sunday night, the family-friendly (free!) F2F Festival being held on Capitol Mall Saturday and Restaurant Week, where dozens of participating restaurants will be hosting special events, menus and tastings. Which ones do you plan on checking out?



Ally

Last week,  I was at the grocery store and I was watching this couple in their 30's carry on an argument by the checkstands that was worthy of a TV reality show. Man, there was a river of tears, tons of yelling, gesticulating of mass proportions and it all culminated in the gal stomping away in a dramatic huff, yelling obscenities over her shoulder. Looking around at the other shoppers, I noticed everyone was watching the spectacle. I'm pretty sure like me- they had thought this women was going to throw herself down on the ground, kicking and screaming at any given moment, to throw a full blown temper tantrum. I'm not sure what the couple's tiff was about but it did make me glad that Mr.S and I aren't the type of couple to behave like that in public. Sure we have disagreements from time to time. In fact, he has this crazy idea that I have an issue with never admitting to being wrong ( as if!), but neither of us are screamers or drama queens.



In fact, I told him when we started dating- preschoolers scream, we're adults. We discuss. So far, that's worked well for us. Sure sometimes, we have to agree to disagree...but isn't that what mature adults do? I couldn't imagine pitching a hissy fit in a grocery store at my age or dating a guy who would engage in such jackassery as screaming at me on the street. Anyhow, I thanked my lucky stars and continued my grocery shopping and that's when I stumbled on some Hatch chiles! I'm pretty sure it was the universe's way of thanking me for not acting like an idiot. :)

Hatch chiles are quite delicious and are around only for a short while (typically August and September). So get them while you can. They're grown in the Hatch Valley in Southwestern NM and look like an Anaheim chile but have a distinct difference in taste from the other chiles available at the markets. The heat levels on the Hatch can vary, so make sure you check to see which kind you have before purchasing. Mr.S. was kind enough to roast a few pounds of them for me at his house and in the process perfuming his entire neighborhood with its strong, delicious peppery scent. We took the dark, blistered chiles from the grill and placed them in Ziploc bags and let them steam in their own heat. Once they cooled, I slipped off the skins, seeded the chiles, wrapped them in Ziploc again and popped them in the freezer. Until this week- when I was ready to get my enchilada on. I decided to make some spicy Hatch chile chicken enchiladas by modifying this recipe from Sunset Magazine with a few ingredients from my local Mexican mercado. The enchiladas came out wonderful. The ones I used were medium-hot, so Kidlet #2 pulled them all out (*sigh* he hates spicy) but I thought they lent a nice smoky, spicy flavor to the enchiladas.



Spicy Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas
(based on Sunset Magazine's Green Chile Enchiladas recipe)

Ingredients

1 lb. roasted peeled, seeded Hatch chiles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon each , salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken broth, divided
10 corn tortillas (7-8 inches wide)
1 cup Queso Blanco, grated
1 cup + 3 tablespoons sharp cheddar, grated
3/4 lb. Queso Oaxaca, shredded or sliced
2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
sour cream

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Heat olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add your chopped garlic and cook until fragrant. Add Hatch chiles, salt, and pepper. Cook, giving it a good stir once in awhile. After about 3-4 minutes add 1 cup of broth. Let the mixture simmer until it reduces by a third, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile in a small pan, bring the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth to a nice simmer. Quickly dip each tortilla into the broth to soften it and then transfer it to a baking sheet. You have to do it FAST or the tortilla will fall apart in the broth- so dip and skooch. Place the dipped tortilla on the baking sheet so that it is not touching any of the other tortillas (I used 2 baking sheets). You don't want any overlapping because they will stick together.

4. Place equal amounts of Queso Oaxaca, (1 cup) cheddar and chicken on each tortilla. Wrap tortilla around each filling and transfer, seam side down to a 9- by 13-in baking dish.

5. Evenly distribute the Hatch chile sauce over the top of the enchiladas. Top with Queso Blanco plus the 3 tablespoons of cheddar. Bake until cheese is bubbling and browned, 15-20 minutes. Serve with sour cream.

Ally


Can you feel it? Can you taste it? Can you smell it? (Ok, maybe not smell it, right now all I can smell is the dog tooting up a storm because I made the mistake of sneaking him a few bites of chicken last night after dinner.) Anyhow...Fall is almost here! Despite the fact that Target started trotting out Halloween decorations the minute 4th of July ended, it didn't really feel like autumn was approaching to me until this week. Just within the last few days there's been a distinct change in the feeling of the seasons.


The calendar says September 22nd is the official first day of fall but already I can feel the nights are getting crisper, soups are starting to show up on restaurant menus and cardigans are starting to be taken out of the closets by all the hipsters in Midtown. I'm excited, I love fall! It's the best season (and no, it's not because Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes are being sold-- truth be told, I don't even like them.) I just love how autumn feels. It's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears- all the other seasons are too hot, too cold, too wet...fall is just perfect. It could be because I was born in the fall and an autumn baby thus biased...but c'mon who doesn't love: hot apple cider, rainbow colored leaves, The Great Pumpkin and roaring fireplaces? I can't wait! In the meantime, I'm bridging the gap between seasons with recipes like this rustic shrimp and white bean dish that I adapted from a recipe I dug up from ol' Michael Chiarello (you know that really pompous Napa chef that was on Top Chef Masters awhile back. I was seriously hoping someone would have enough of his BS and stick a BBQ fork in his testicles at some point during that season). Anyhow, I made some tweaks to the recipe to suit my palate and the dish went over very well at the dinner table (aka no kidlets whining). The heirloom tomatoes bring about a nice taste of summer freshness to the dish but the heartiness of the beans and shrimp give the plate a stick-to-your-ribs quality that make it a good choice for the fall as well.


 
Rustic Shrimp and White Beans with Heirloom Tomato Sauce
(based on Michael Chiarello's Tuscan Shrimp and White Beans recipe)

Ingredients

2 cups canned cannellini white beans
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. med shrimp, peeled and deveined
4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 dried chiles de árbol (crushed)
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced fresh heirloom tomatoes
4 oz. Mexican chorizo (or Soyrizo)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup whole fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley-chopped

Instructions

1. Drain the cannellini beans and reserve the liquid.

2. Place the beans in a large skillet with 2-3 tablespoons of the bean liquid. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bring to a simmer. Set aside. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of your dish.

3. In a separate skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over high heat. Add shrimp. Season with salt, cook for 1 minute. Remove shrimp with tongs, set aside in a bowl. Add garlic to empty skillet. Sauté until fragrant, add chiles de árbol  and chorizo (or Soyrizo), cook for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and basil. Stir. Add lemon juice and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. 

4. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add in shrimp and cannellini beans. Mix well. Cook for another minute to reheat shrimp.

5. Spoon onto plate. Sprinkle with parsley.
Ally


Now that school has started for the kidlets, the pace has picked up and we're only one month in! There's been open houses for school, homework that needs to be checked and laundry that needs to be done...lots and LOTS of laundry. (I don't think there's been a time that I've been over at Mr.S.'s since August that the washer hasn't been running nonstop.) And now the extracurriculars are starting...Kidlet #1 has taken up biking this year with a vengeance and has expressed an interest in joining the school's mountain biking team. He goes on a bike ride almost every night (and comes back just drenched in sweat) and when time allows, Mr. S. tries to go with him a few times a week. Since he's burning so many calories biking, I want to ensure he gets a healthy meal with some protein. The kidlets both like chicken so I made this pan-roasted chicken thigh dish recently and it turned out quite well. I threw in some mushrooms, onions, fresh herbs and served it with saffron rice and a big green salad. Quick and easy. Mr.S. liked the fact that the cast-iron skillet made the thighs crispy even though they were skinless. I could see adding some lemon pepper next time or perhaps some rosemary and Herbs De Provence just to mix it up some. Definitely a winner chicken dinner!

Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs (adapted from a recipe by Bon Appetit)

Ingredients

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1.5 lbs)
1 medium-sized yellow onion, sliced
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
couple of fresh thyme sprigs
2 cloves of garlic, minced (you can sub in some garlic powder in a pinch)
1.5 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 lemon, cut in wedges (optional)



Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

2. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic.

3. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat until it's super hot. Gently place the thighs in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes. If you have a splatter guard, now is the time to use it. It'll keep the mess to a minimum.

4. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook for about another 10 minutes. You want the chicken to get a nice crispy golden brown color. Then flip the bird(s). Toss in your chopped 'shrooms, onions and thyme sprigs. Season with a little more salt and pepper if you wish. Give them a nice nudge around the skillet so the veggies get coated with oil.

5. Place skillet in oven. Cook for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

6. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate. Discard thyme sprigs. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

7. Serve with lemon wedges. (optional)
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Ally



Lately all this Farm to Fork marketing hubbub seems to be steadily driving up the pricing at my homebase farmers' market (the Sunday one at W and 8th). $5 for a small handful of blueberries? $6 for a basket of figs? Are you kidding me?! Your killin' me Smalls! In fact, a friend just told me this week that she can't afford to shop at the Oak Park farmers' market anymore- it's gotten too rich for her pocketbook! So to keep my wallet from feeling the sting but to still eat healthy, I've been driving out to the farmers' market on Thursday mornings on Florin Road were I can still get the reasonable prices on my fresh, local produce that I've grown accustom to over the years. Many of the vendors at Florin are the same ones that are there on Sunday at W Street with the same stock, just lower prices.

On a recent visit, I was intrigued by these spiky grenade-looking veggies with a rat tail. The vendor described them as being a cucumber and gave me a taste. He used a knife to carve off the outer skin of the "grenade" and told me the flesh was edible- seeds and all. He was right, the taste had some similarity to a cucumber, maybe a little less watery and it had a very slight citrus undertone. I bought a dozen for $1. I figured if I couldn't find a recipe to use it in, the kidlets could use them as weapons, Battle Royale-style.

When I got home, I researched my purchase and it turned out, my new spiny veggie buddy is actually called a maxixe. Maxixes originated in Africa and were brought to Brazil during the slave trade.  These days, they're quite popular in Northeastern Brazil and in the Caribbean. (In the Caribbean they're called the Burr Gherkin.) Most of my research turned up that the maxixe was best enjoyed cooked- mainly in stews or sautéed. Neither sounded very appetizing to me. So I decided to use it in making some Japanese style cucumber salad. It came out pretty good. Kind of a pain in the butt to peel but quite tasty and refreshing.

Maxixe Salad

Ingredients

8-9 maxixes washed, peeled and sliced paper thin
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
 
Instructions
 
1. Using a knife, remove the spiky outer skin layer of your maxixe. Then slice each maxixe into in half lengthwise; scrape the seeds out. Using a sharp knife, cut into very thin slices.
 
2. Gently press the maxixe slices in between 2 pieces of paper towel to get excess water out.
 
3. In a bowl, combine  together rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix together well and make sure everything dissolves. Add maxixe. Toss. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds. Serve.
Ally
"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato." - Lewis Grizzard


Shady Lady tomatoes...they're like the sexy, busty sirens of the farmers' market. With their deep lipstick red color and voluptuous shape, how can you resist them? You can eat them sliced on a plate with some buffalo mozzarella with a good balsamic drizzle or stacked with a thick cut of smoky applewood bacon and some creamy avocado on a fresh, hearty slice of sourdough. There's so many delicious ways to enjoy this heavenly fruit. One of my favorite ways to consume Shady Lady tomatoes is to oven-roast them and then make them into a sauce. The sauce is rich in flavor and smooth like butta', much too good to plop on a bowl of ordinary pasta. I like to use it to dress up appetizers like crostini or mini meatballs. With this batch, I used it to sauce some eggplant parmesan bites I made for some patio dining. We grew some wonderful Japanese eggplants in our garden this summer at Mr. S.'s which I sliced up into rounds. I dipped the round in egg yolk, then tossed them in a mixture of Parmesan cheese and dried breadcrumbs and fried them in some olive oil until they were nice and crisp. (I then placed them on some paper to absorb the excess oil.) Next, I spooned a tablespoon of my Shady Lady tomato sauce on the round and sprinkled some Parmesan on top and served the eggplant bite hot. They were a hit! Next year we'll have to grow more eggplants.

Our Japanese eggplants in the garden when they were about 1/4 of the way grown- don't they look like X-mas ornaments?


Shady Lady Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

5-6 big Shady Lady Tomatoes ( peeled*, cored, seeded, halved)

5-6 garlic cloves, minced

2 small yellow onions, sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

glug of dry, red wine

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 bay leaf

handful of fresh basil, chopped

1 tablespoon good-quality balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Place tomato, garlic and onion in a glass baking dish. Spread out in a single layer, don't crowd. You want them to roast, not steam. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 20-30 minutes until they start to caramelize (slightly browned and shriveled).

3. Place roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions in a food processor and give it a few good pulses. Place in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Add wine, sugar, sea salt, bay leaf, and fresh basil. Add a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar. Allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

4. Taste. Season with fresh ground pepper. Adjust seasonings if needed.

Marcella Hazan writes in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: "No other preparation is more successful in delivering the prodigious satisfactions of Italian cooking than a competently executed sauce with tomatoes."
 

* The easiest way to peel a tomato is to :

1) Slice a shallow "X" on the bottom of the tomato. Then submerge the tomato in boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Remove and plunge in an ice bath for 30-45 seconds. Remove from the ice bath. The skin should peel off.

OR

2) Freeze the tomato. Remove the tomato from the freezer and let it thaw. Once thawed the skin should slip right off the tomato.




Ally


One of my favorite childhood foods was clams- pretty much in any form but fried. When we were living at Yokota Air Force Base outside of Tokyo, my parents would take me to this small Japanese restaurant where I would eat bowl after bowl of miso soup laden with teeny-tiny clams the size of a nickel called shijimi. I see miso soup with clams on menus here in California but never with the wee clams that I had in Japan, instead a bigger, slightly briny clam called an asari (Manila clam) is used. On a trip back to Japan a few years back, my friend Mayumi, took me to the Tsukiji market at the crack of dawn and lo and behold they had my clams...the tiny ones! We bought a big bag...the fishmonger even gave us the "bijin discount" (the pretty girl discount) and Mayumi's grandma was kind enough to cook the clams for us for dinner. It's crazy how little things like that can bring you such happiness.

Even though, I can't get my hands on the itty-bitty shijimi clams here I do get some pretty small clams at Sunh Fish and at Oto's from time to time to make asari miso soup with. If I'm feeling particular grown up, I'll make asari no sakamushi (Manila clams steamed in sake). You usually can find this dish served in izakayas (Japanese pubs). The dish requires very few ingredients and minimal work. Mr.S. isn't too crazy about it...he tends to like his mollusks immersed in butter and garlic but the simplicity of the dish suits me just fine especially on nights when I don't want to spend too much time fussing in the kitchen. A bowl of asari no sakamushi, a glass of white wine and I'm set.



Asari No Sakamushi

Ingredients

2 lbs. asari (Manila clams), scrubbed well
sea salt
1 cup sake ( I used Sho Chiku Bai)
4 tablespoons mirin
1 cup water
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts)

Instructions

1. Place clams in a colander or a wire sieve. In a large bowl, add one tablespoon of sea salt and fill with cold water. Submerge the colander of clams into the salty water. (Make sure all the clams are covered with the salty water.) Leave in a cool place at least two hours (or up to overnight). The clams will spit out the sand and the sand should fall to the bottom of the bowl. Sometimes if there seems to be a lot of sand, halfway through I'll change out the salted water.

2. Drain the clams and rinse them well. Sometimes if they look a little bit janky, I'll use my scrub brush on them at this point. Throw away any clams that don't close.

3. In a large, deep pan- combine the sake, mirin, and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add the clams. Cover the pan.

4. Give the pan a good shake every so often. Cook, roughly 4-5 minutes, until shells open.

5. Discard any clams that refuse to open. You do not want to eat those.

6. Garnish with scallions.

* If you want to add a little more kick, sprinkle some togarashi on the finished product.

Ally


Did you know the California Pear Advisory Board is the first California commodity board to sponsor Sacramento's Farm-to-Fork program? To celebrate, many area restaurants like Hawks, Broderick and Michelangelo's will be featuring an appetizer or a drink highlighting the pear during the months of September and October. For more info check out: Farm to Fork-Cal Pear

In my own household and at Mr.S's, we've been eating a lot of pears as well (like in that delicious Blue Heaven Pear Tart I posted about recently). Pears are quite nutritious- they're low in calories, high in fiber and contain no fat or sodium. Most recently, I purchased a bunch of Seckel pears grown by Stillwater Orchards in Courtland. Seckel pears are little itty-bitty pears that are so cute that you almost don't want to eat them. These petite, chubby pears are an olive green color with a maroonish blush. They don't change color when they become ripe, they just get soft around the stem. They also have a delicate sweetness which makes them perfect for pairing with cheese.
 
Currently, I've been enamored with Nancie McDermott's cookbook, "Southern Cakes," which I checked out from my local library. The book is filled with all kinds of irresistible sounding sweets and delectable treats. One recipe in particular caught my eye- Cornelia Walker Bailey's Pear Bread.


I used my Seckels in this recipe and it came out perfect. Since the recipe makes two loaves I shared with friends and I received several compliments on the end product. The pear bread is moist, sweet and nutty- the trinity of perfection for a quick bread. According to my buddy Dave, this bread also tastes quite good when you're drunk. ;-)



Cornelia Walker Bailey's Pear Bread

Ingredients
  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups peeled and finely grated ripe but firm pears (Seckels, if you can find them)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
 
 
 

Instructions

 
  • Heat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease and flour two 9″x 5″loaf pans.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of this mixture and combine it with nuts to coat. Stir the coated nuts back into the flour mixture.
  • In a separate bowl, combine butter, eggs, sugar, grated pears, and vanilla. Mix it well then add the this mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until the flour disappears and the batter is evenly moistened.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the bread is browned and firm on top. A knife inserted into the center should come out clean.
  • Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, remove from pan and place top side up on a plate or wire rack to cool completely.