October 31: Mother Bear POP. A pop up collaboration between (Michael Thiemann's soon to open vegan/vegetarian restaurant) Mother and Golden Bear. For tickets: Golden Bear

November 2: Bike Dog Brewing Grand Opening. Details: Bike Dog

November 4: The salmon ladder at Nimbus Fish Hatchery reopens. Take the kiddos to learn about the spawning process. Learn more at: Yubanet

November 7: Captain Frank Ruhstaller's 167th Birthday Celebration and Release Party. Beer, food and old-fashioned carnival games. At the Beatnik Studio. For the scoop: Ruhstaller

November 7: Whole Foods Caviar Tasting and Pairing. Must be 21 or older. Further info and registration: Whole Foods Sac

November 8: Berryessa Gap presents the Pike Place Fish Guys for a meet and greet. There will be live music, local wine and fresh fish tacos. For more info: Yolo CVB

November 8: An Evening with Michael Pollan at the Veterans Memorial auditorium, Grass Valley. For tickets and more info: Center For The Arts

November 17: Twin Peaks Orchard presents "A Taste of Autumn" Harvest Festival, 11am-3pm. U-pick mandarins, tractor orchard tour, demos, vendors, and food.  Check out: Twin Peaks Orchard

November 22-24: 20th Annual Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn, CA. More info: Mandarin Festival

November 25: Guest Chef Night at Old Ironsides. 49ers vs. Redskins, free music and $5 dinner. For the deets: Old Ironsides

November 28: 20th Annual Run to Feed the Hungry. 10k Run and 5k Run/Walk. Help raise funds for the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services. Additional info: Run to Feed the Hungry

January 8: "The Naked Chef", Jamie  Oliver, will be rolling into town. As part of his food revolution, his Big Rig crew will be in Sac for a month offering "Learn to Teach" classes to area chefs and "Learn to Cook" classes for food lovers of all ages. For more info: Sactown Magazine

❖ So as much as I cook, I've never entered a recipe contest before...until now! I entered the Mushroom, Lamb and Farro Soup I made this weekend in Marx Foods Shrooms for Soup Challenge. The contest just went live (it goes through until 11:59pm PST Thursday 10/31), so if you could take a peek and vote that would be great. And if you vote for moi, that would even better! :) ❖


Here's the link:

There's some days when I have a ton of energy and feel like this:

And there's other days when it takes all my energy just to get out of bed and brush my teeth:

When it's the latter, I like to cook simple recipes that require minimal effort. Like the Spicy Thai Red Curry Mussels dish I made last week. Just throw a couple of things in a pot and slice up some crusty peasant bread. 20 minutes tops and you're good to go. And do these taste good? You bet your sweet bippy they do!

Spicy Thai Red Curry Mussels


2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 big shallot, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 stalk lemongrass,  trimmed, bruised and finely chopped
1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (I use a microplane)      
1 small Thai Bird chile, seeded and minced
1  (13.5 oz.) can of unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste (nam pla)
2 lbs. fresh mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
zest of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (stems removed)
1 loaf of crusty peasant bread or a baguette


1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, lemongrass, ginger and chile. Cook until the ingredients become soft, about 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and red curry paste. Stir well, you want to make sure that red curry paste mixes into the coconut milk.

3. Bring to a boil, then add in your mussels. Cover. Steam for about 5 minutes or until mussels are opened. I usually give it one good stir during this time so that the top mussels get to the bottom and vice versa.

4. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove mussels from pot. Place in a bowl to the side. Throw away any mussels that don't open.

5. Add your zest, lemon juice and cilantro leaves. Let it simmer for a minute or two.

6. Place your mussels in two shallow bowls and ladle the spicy curry broth over it. Serve hot and with several slices of crusty bread for dipping.

* Don't know how to clean and de-beard mussels? Click here for an easy how-to: How to clean and de-beard mussels

* If you'd like a broth that's a bit on the sweeter side, you can add a tablespoon of white or brown sugar.

If you follow my blog or have gone out to eat with me, you know I'm a die hard mushroom lover. I could eat them every day. Not only do mushrooms taste phenomenal, but they're low in calories, help lower cholesterol and are fat-free. Additionally, they are full of nutrients such as- B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), minerals (selenium, copper and potassium), and beta-glucans. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of Vitamin D. So when Marx Foods asked if I would like to participate in their "Shrooms for Soup Recipe Challenge," I just knew I had to enter. The premise of the challenge was simple. Marx Foods, a popular gourmet food purveyor, sends each contestant 3 kinds of dried mushrooms (matsutake, porcini and black trumpet). Each contestant needs to use at least one of the mushrooms in an original recipe. Then there will be a public poll...easy-peasy. (I'll let you know when it's up, so you can check it out.)

(dried shrooms clockwise, from top left: porcini, black trumpet, matsutake)
For my soup recipe, I opted to utilize the dried black trumpet and the dried porcini mushrooms. Black trumpets (also called the Trumpet of Death and the Horn of Plenty) have a bit of a ghoulish grey-black appearance, in fact they look like they could belong in an Edward Gorey illustration; however, they have a rich, buttery taste that makes them perfect for soups and risotto. The porcinis on the other hand offer up a meaty texture, an intense woodsy flavor and a wonderful earthy aroma. I thought these two mushrooms would compliment each other nicely and pair great with some chewy farro and freshly ground lamb. I've been trying to watch my weight lately so I decided to stay away from using cream or milk and instead I used a nice hearty homemade beef broth as a base and tucked in some shio-koji for added umami.

(Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies)

I know the list of ingredients seems a bit lengthy but most of the items are probably already in your cupboard and fridge. There's minimal prep work involved in this recipe...most of the "labor" is just letting the ingredients simmer.  Your end result? An exquisite, savory soup packed with robust flavor. The perfect meal for a chilly, autumn (or winter) evening.

Mushroom, Lamb and Farro Soup


1/2 oz. dried black trumpet mushrooms

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms

1.5 tablespoons of olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 lb. ground lamb

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 yellow onion, diced

1 lb. crimini mushrooms, sliced

3 tablespoons very dry sherry

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons herbes de Provence

6 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons shio-koji

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup quick cook farro (I used Trader Joe's 10 Minute farro)

sea salt and fresh ground pepper


1. In a medium sized bowl, place the dried mushrooms. Cover with 2.5 cups of hot water. Then cover the bowl with a plate and let soak for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms, rinse the mushrooms under running water, dice them up and then place in a small bowl.  Use a coffee filter or fine mesh strainer to strain the remaining mushroom liquid of any grit. Set aside 2 cups of the liquid for later use.

2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or large dutch oven over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until garlic becomes fragrant. Add ground lamb. Sauté until meat is almost cooked through.

3. Add carrots, onions and crimini mushrooms.  Cook for 7-10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

4. Add the dried mushrooms and the 2 cups of reserved mushroom broth. Add the sherry, red wine vinegar and herbes de Provence. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook for 10 minutes.

5. Add stock, shio-koji and bay leaf. Allow soup to simmer for another 20 minutes.

6. Add farro, simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper.

7. Serve hot. Garnish with a pinch of chopped Italian parsley (optional).

* Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post other than receiving the dried mushrooms from Marx Foods. All opinions are completely my own.


6401 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95831. (916) 391-7990.

If there ever was a restaurant that needed a Gordon Ramsay-type intervention, it would be Pocket Bistro. On a recent Sunday morning, I met up with a friend and her two adorable, well-behaved children for a brunch there. What followed was one of the more crappier dining experiences of 2013 for me. This wasn't a restaurant I planned to review, but after the sub par food and the even worse service we experienced, well, I just can't keep my mouth shut.

We arrived at The Pocket Bistro around 11:30 expecting a bustling eatery but what we encountered was more akin to a dimly-lit Ghost Town. That should have tipped us off right away, but we stayed anyway. Bad move. After standing awkwardly in the doorway for about 5 minutes while the waitress did everything in her power not to make eye contact or acknowledge us, the bartender in the next room came over, gave us a friendly greeting and seated us. There was only two other tables occupied in the dining room (a solo diner and a two-top), yet service was slower than molasses in January. We had to flag down our waitress to order. My friend ordered a sandwich, I went with an omelet and we got a grilled cheese for the kiddos to share. Not a complicated order at all. The only modification made was that I asked for no cheese on my omelet because I'm lactose intolerant. In a near empty restaurant, it took over 30 minutes to get our orders once they were placed. It was ridiculous. Honestly, I was amazed that my friend's kidlets remained so well-behaved as most children would have been kicking up a fuss with a wait like that.  When we got our food, my omelet was slathered with melted cheese and my English muffin was MIA. I pointed this out to the waitress, to which she gave me a look like I had two-heads, mumbled something about having told the kitchen no cheese and then walked off with my plate. About 15 minutes later, she returned with the same omelet with the cheese scraped off, now cold, and still no English muffin. (But there were jam/jelly packets and butter on my plate, go figure. Guess it was for my invisible English muffin?) To put it bluntly, the omelet set before me looked a bit like something that had been regurgitated. My friend and I looked at each other like, "WTF?" At this point, I stuck a fork in the cold omelet because I wasn't going to drag out this craptastic brunch any longer then we needed to. The omelet tasted as unappetizing as it looked. It was rubbery, dense, overcooked and looked like it had been stuffed with kitchen scraps. The accompanying potatoes had a hint of garlic flavoring, but they too were cold and tasted like they had been cooked in too much oil (they were not crispy, more like greasy and gloppy). Serving slop like this on a plate and calling it brunch should be a crime. Honestly, we would have been better off hitting up a Denny's.

As soon as we got our bill, we paid and got the heck out of Dodge. We didn't want to hang out at this place any longer than necessary, it was putting a damper on our Sunday. I did notice though that as we left, the bistro was just as empty as when we arrived...and now we knew why. Pocket Bistro failed to deliver on anything resembling a decent meal. Since life's too short to eat bad food or to put up with substandard service, I will be avoiding this place in the future.

Ahhh, with the beautiful autumn foliage and crisp evenings comes the sniffles, coughs, fevers and chills. Poor Mr.S. has been sick the last few days. I've been feeding him soup, liquids and Sudafed mostly but last night I decided to cook him and Kidlet #1 a "real" dinner. I made chicken marsala over a quinoa/wild rice blend and a side of spaghetti squash. I wasn't sure how the spaghetti squash would go over with the guys- but lo and behold, they liked it...a lot!

Spaghetti squash is quite the versatile winter vegetable. It's low in calories and carbs (one-half cup of cooked spaghetti squash has about 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates); not to mention, it's also loaded with fiber and beta carotene. Can't beat that! We ate this as a side dish but you can just as easily make it an entrée by adding some roasted chicken, cherry tomatoes and basil. If you have some fresh herbs and garlic on hand, by all means sub them in for the seasoning- parsley, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, sage...any of these would work great. Have some leftover summer pesto? Mix it in with the spaghetti squash, it'll make a great lunch dish.
Spaghetti Squash with Garlic and Pecorino


2 spaghetti squashes
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Pecorino
McCormick's Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb Salt-Free Seasoning


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Slice spaghetti squashes in half (lengthwise). Use a spoon to scoop out seeds and the stringy goop (I'm sure there's a proper name for this stuff, but we'll go with stringy goop.)

3. Place spaghetti squash halves on a foil lined baking sheet (use one with a lipped edge). Drizzle some olive oil on the squash and use your hands to make sure it's coated well.

4. Place the squashes cut side down on the baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 50-55 minutes. The flesh on the cut side should be fork tender.

5. Flip the squashes so that the cut side faces up and let them cool for about 20 minutes. Then drag a fork to scrape the insides out. The flesh will come up in long, thin strands that look similar to spaghetti noodles. Move the scraped flesh to a bowl.

6. Heat the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shredded squash and toss to get it coated with the butter. Add the Pecorino and sprinkle with the McCormick's Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb Salt-Free Seasoning. Toss well, cook for about 3 minutes.

7. Serve hot.


"There is nothing like soup. It is nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup from a can."  ~Laurie Colwin

Sorry, I haven't been blogging much lately. Fall is my favorite time to be out and about and I've been dining out with friends a lot. I did make a big batch of minestrone last week though! I gave a few jars to friends and then the kidlets and I scarfed down the rest over at Mr.S.'s casa.

I love minestrone, it's warm and filling but doesn't weigh you down... a perfect source of sustenance for a chilly autumn or winter night. Not to mention, it's a super easy way to get the kidlets to eat an entire bowl of veggies with no fuss! Now I'm a die hard fan of the minestrone recipe from Nick's an Italian café in McMinnville, Oregon  (my mom and Nick are friends, from back in her Japan days)- it's a fantastic recipe and I made it for ages, but these days I make a version that's nice and hearty and chock full of my favorite veggies. I like using a beef broth as my base and adding a handful of ditalini pasta to the mix...oh, and don't forget to throw in a Parmesan rind! That's what infuses your soup with flavor and there's nothing better than eating that ooey-gooey rind at the end.

Hearty Home-style Minestrone


4 oz. salt pork, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 small onions, peeled and chopped

1 leek: white and light green parts only (split in half, rinsed well and sliced thinly)

2 ribs of celery, chopped

1/2 green pepper: cored, seeded, chopped

6-7 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 large carrots: peeled, trimmed and chopped

2 white potatoes, cut into chunks

1/4 cup chopped parsley

6 oz. sliced crimini mushrooms

1 can (15 oz) crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste

5 cups of beef broth

1 Parmesan rind

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 can (15 oz.) of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (you can sub in Great Northern beans if you wish)

1 cup cooked ditalini

garlic salt and fresh ground pepper

grated Parmesan (optional)


1. In a large dutch oven, cook the salt pork for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add in your onion, leek, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until onions become translucent. Add in carrots, potatoes, parsley and mushrooms. Cook for an additional 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

2. Add crushed tomatoes and concentrated tomato paste. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add beef broth and Parmesan rind and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, immediately reduce the heat to med-low. Add oregano, bay leaves and basil. Cover and let it gently simmer for 20-30 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

3. Add 1 cup of peas, 1 can of cannellini beans and 1 cup of cooked ditalini. Season to taste with garlic salt and fresh ground pepper. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Remove bay leaves before serving.

5. Serve with grated Parmesan and a few slices of crusty peasant bread.

* Tip if you plan to freeze the soup, leave the pasta out (it gets soggy). Just boil some up and add it when you're ready to eat the soup.
5090 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95819. (916) 739-1348

Some restaurants seem to struggle with an identity crisis and in my opinion Les Baux is one of them. Is it a bakery? A coffee shop? A French-style bistro? I don't know and I don't think they really do either. Tucked away on a corner of a shopping strip near Trader Joe's in East Sac, it's easy to overlook it if you don't know it's there. The interior is quite cute- lots of natural wood, simple modern lines, large windows and loads of sunlight. There's even a lovely, small, sunny patio area outside for dining. My only suggestion? Spread the tables out a bit. They're so scrunched together that it makes it difficult for people to get to their table or make their way to the restroom. For patrons with a disability, the narrow maze of chairs would be a nightmare.

The first time I went was for brunch. Les Baux is owned by the owners of La Bou and when you walk in you're greeted by a glass case for breads and pastries. I was there early on a Sunday and there were only a smattering of breads, scones and cookies out. How odd. My friend and I decided to dine inside and were told to seat ourselves. The menu's pretty short but it has some nice variety and you can order breakfast or lunch items. I opted for the "3-day" french toast and my friend got a cup of the croissant pudding and a side of Applewood-smoked bacon. Her bacon looked great- thick slabs, cooked nice and crispy and she said the pudding was delicious. My french toast was quite good- nice, big slices of light bread and lots of fresh fruit, served with a side of maple syrup. What annoyed me though was the coffee situation- Les Baux doesn't give you refills. That's fine if you're running a coffee shop but if you're running a restaurant, refills should be free or at least cheap. My coffee was brought to me when we placed our order but by the time our food came, the coffee left in my mug was pretty cold...a warm up would have been nice. I kept waiting for our waitress to come back by but she never did until it was time to bring the check. My friend was the one who clued me in that the place doesn't refresh your coffee. What a crock! How am I supposed to get my morning caffeine hit? Their reasoning it turns out is that each cup is hand brewed...big whoop! I had some and though it may have been freshly made it tasted just mediocre. (Les Baux's coffee reminded me of Starbuck's coffee- slightly bitter...which I'm not a huge fan of. If you want excellent hand brewed coffee, try Broadacre or Temple. They know how to do drip coffee right.) Anyhow, if that's the coffee quality they're going to serve then they really should just ditch the individual coffeemaking process and just make a pot. And yes, I really think for customers who are dining in-house, coffee refills should be gratis. Oh and just a heads up to their staff, if you bring someone coffee and cream...give them a spoon, a stick or something to stir it with! (Reference Waiting Tables 101.)

My second visit there was to meet up with a friend for lunch. She was already there when I arrived so we sat indoors. Right off the bat, I noticed that the dining room was riddled with a ton of flies. Big black flies zooming around the customers and flitting around the food- it was extremely off putting. I ended up having to swat them away from our table throughout most of the meal. For lunch, my friend and I decided to share the calamari. For our entrees, she went with the moules frites (mussels and fries) and I went with the lunch special of duck confit salad. The grilled calamari wasn't bad, it was served with a garlic-infused olive oil, kaffir lime zest and capers. Although I could see a couple of garlic cloves thrown in the mix, I couldn't detect any garlic taste in the actual appetizer. It pretty much just tasted like baby squid pieces a top of a pool of olive oil. Eh. My major gripe I had with the dish though was that half the dish was shrimp. Nowhere on the menu did it mention shrimp being in this dish. Felt like a bit of bait and switch....

My duck confit salad was much better. It was well cooked and flavorful. The salad greens that accompanied it were fresh and crisp and I enjoyed the little green beans and large crunchy croutons that were interspersed throughout. My only complaint was that the dish was a bit dry; however, a little drizzle of vinaigrette on the salad would have rectified that. I'm not sure if the dish wasn't supposed to have a dressing or if they just forgot to put some on. My guess is the latter. For dessert, I thought for sure they'd blow us away in this category (after all, Les Baux is a bakery first and foremost) but the small apple pastry they brought out was quite unremarkable. Also, the service we received was spotty. Our waitress this time was friendly but seemed quite inexperienced and wasn't knowledgeable about the restaurant's menu or the lunch specials.

Overall, I wasn't wowed by Les Baux. I do love the space but both the food and service were unimpressive and the lack of coffee refills is a bit annoying. There's a multitude of better bistros and cafes in the Midtown/East Sac neighborhood and I just don't see myself frequenting this one.

What is with the overnight closures of restaurants in Sacramento lately? There seems to be a trend of restaurants closing up shop overnight - Blackbird, The Broiler and McCormick & Schmick's most recently come to mind.

Not to mention that it seems like it's now the "in" thing to inform staffs of their layoffs via an email it just me or does that seem like a pretty heartless practice?

Happy October! I hope you've all been able to get outdoors and enjoy some of this wonderful Sacramento sunshine. Yesterday, I attended a blogger luncheon in Penryn at Sinclair Family Farms where I got to learn more about the amazing agriculture in Placer County, take in some beautiful scenery and visit some cute farm animals. Wow- what a beautiful bucolic.

Did you know that Placer County has several hundred family farmers, 18 award winning wineries and 20 farmers' markets? I didn't! I was also excited to learn that this weekend kicks off PlacerGROWN Week, a weeklong celebration of the bounty of agricultural products produced by the Placer region and there's all kind of fun events planned. You won't want to miss it! There's festivals, farm tours, live music, tastings and lots of giveaways.

Here's just a few of the activities that are scheduled. For a full listing, check out: PlacerGROWN

Their mission statement:

Our mission is to connect Placer County’s residents and visitors with the local family farmers, ranchers and vintners whose passion is to produce the finest fruits, vegetables, meats and other agricultural products the region has to offer. Through community outreach, events and the collaborative efforts of Placer County and local businesses, our goal is to make known the abundance and quality of food and wine that we’re proud to say is PlacerGROWN."

PlacerGROWN Harvest Festival
Saturday, Oct. 5th 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 6th, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Johnson-Springview Park
5480 Fifth St., Rocklin, CA, 95677
Don’t miss the PlacerGROWN Harvest Festival, a FREE event of family fun including a pumpkin patch, pumpkin lighting display at dusk, movie in the park, scarecrow building contest, farmers’ market and more.

Auburn Wine & Food Festival
Saturday, Oct. 12th, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Downtown and Old Town Auburn
Don’t miss the 11th annual Auburn Wine & Food Festival, where you’ll enjoy Placer County wines and food to delight your taste buds. Tickets are $35 and a food-only ticket is $20. To purchase tickets, visit

PlacerGROWN Farm & Barn Tour
Sunday, Oct. 13th, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
A free self-guided expedition of farms, ranches, and vineyards in the beautiful countryside of Placer County.  Each venue will feature different activities, tours, and demonstrations.  Locally grown produce, wine, and more will be available for purchase.

Otow Orchard
6232 Eureka Road, Granite Bay, CA 95746
Activities: Pumpkin patch, Hoshigaki demonstration (Otow Orchard is renowned for preserving the Japanese art of hoshigaki — hoshi means dried and gaki is from kaki, the Japanese word for persimmon.), orchard tours, fruit sampling, hay stack playground, minature mule/donkey, photo ops (bring a camera), equipment display.

And that's not all, the kind folks at PlacerGROWN are also giving you the opportunity to win fresh, local food and wine prizes from Placer County. You can win:

- a month's worth of mandarins (3 winners)
- turkeys from a Placergrown meat producer (5 winners)
- $50 gift certificate from a Foothill farmers' market (5 winners)
- pairs of Placer County Wine Trail wine tasting passes (5 winners)

The contest starts Oct 1, 2013 and ends Oct 13, 2013 at midnight. Just enter below via Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway