Kitchen Creativity Unleashes The Genius In Us All

We recently had the pleasure of sharing an afternoon in the test kitchen of Melissa’s Produce with Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. We were treated to a tsunami of ingenuity through an introduction to their new book Kitchen Creativity.

This latest publication follows a slew of inspirational books by the duo, including The Flavor Bible. Here they continue the culinary creativity conversation by taking things to new levels of insight.

Armed with these secrets, the chefs at Melissa’s Produce foraged what they had in the pantry to craft Grilled “Chicken-on-the-Side” Caesar Salad, a bean based “Meatless” Meatloaf and Chunky Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp.  And you too can open your refrigerator and joyously manifest to your hearts content with the help of Kitchen Creativity.

The book is broken into three sections.  Stage 1 Mastery, where we learn not only how to taste and season, but also the history, famous dishes and pairings essential for kitchen proficiency.  Stage 2 Alchemy, is a beautifully illustrated showcase of flavor equations and dynamics that transform ingredients into extraordinary taste sensations. And finally Stage 3, the heftiest portion of the book, is where we can soar in play and inspiration while following our creative intuitions, allowing wisdom to flow from our own inner compass out onto the table.

Everything we have ever wanted to know about great food and how its prepared in the finest restaurants, by the most renowned chefs, is detailed for the benefit of all.

Thank you Karen and Andrew for always continuing to pull back the curtain and generously share what you have learned, not only from your own experiences, but also from the triumphs of the worlds most creative chefs.  Kitchen Creativity proves to be a valuable tool for anyone interested in exploring the magic that happens when passion, alchemy and a trained palate collide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secrets to Dazzling Food Photos Revealed

Are you as obsessed with food photography as we are?  If so, have we got a book for you.

The Food Stylist’s Handbook by Denise Vivaldo with Cindie Flannigan is such a fun read we almost decided to become food stylists on the spot. Their book has all the guidance necessary to begin or advance a food styling career. This how to manual explains exactly what the job entails, equipment needed, the different niches and of course, how to get started. But don’t overlook the fact that it also contains a ton of valuable advice for us regular folk looking to put out stunningly beautiful culinary masterpieces we want to shoot and eat.

We adore the Tricks of the Trade chapter that delves into topics as diverse as getting more height out of pancakes, which brand of egg to use for a flawless presentation and achieving the most gorgeous spiral cut from your ham. Above Cindie assembles the perfect Sundae, but this one’s made of Crisco not ice cream, so admire but don’t eat.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to configure fake or edible food, the tips in The Food Stylist’s Handbook help everyone present a better plate. Need some guidance in making that burger you’re about to consume more instagram friendly?  It’s in the book, showing how one can adorn with condiments found on the table, perfect for a restaurant blog post. Want to impress friends who come over for lunch? The magic to beautiful bacon for your club or BLT is in the cooking method, using skewers or foil to get just the right curl to your strips.

Edible flowers add a charming touch to any plate, especially white china laden with salad and chicken breast in need of a pop of color.

And a dash of just the right herbs and spices brushed around grill marks make shrimp irresistible.

Regardless of why you want a stunning presentation, the answers you are searching for abound in words and pictures throughout this sensational guide book.

And the ladies haven’t forgotten the importance of serving containers and utensil recommendations to insure that delicious courses get the best send off possible.

So take it from the women who have honed and mastered the techniques and get your own copy of The Food Stylist’s Handbook.  Who knows, you may become the next Picasso of the instagram world or at the very least of your own kitchen table.

Spaghettini Celebrates 30 Years of Success

Laurie Sisneros and Cary Hardwick, the charming owners of Spaghettini, have a lot to celebrate. They’re a few months shy of 30 years in business, have unveiled a lovely alfresco seating area and released a book of Spaghettini’s recipes in collaboration with their accomplished Executive Chef, Victor Avila, called From Our Home to Yours. All in all they have a lot to be proud of.

Their new outdoor space focuses on comfort first and foremost. The surrounding greenery and abundant shade umbrellas enhance the calming experience. So guests can now take full advantage of warm Seal Beach afternoons and evenings.

We sampled Spaghettini’s brunch menu and were duly impressed by the deconstructed Wedge Salad which has a history dating back to 1916. Not only is it beautifully presented, the flavors and textures of crisp cool lettuce and juicy ripe tomato play exceptionally well against the smokey bacon and full bouquet of Blue Cheese Dressing.

For starters, the fresh and healthy ahi tuna tartare is a meaty and supremely satisfying powerhouse that melts in your mouth beside the crunch of oil brushed, toasted baguette slices.

Another winner included in the book, is the Pommery shrimp which is a perennial favorite that has been flying off the menu since the restaurants opening back in 1988. The secret recipes for Pommery Mustard Sauce and Garlic Butter are generously shared, so you can create this crowd pleaser at home for family and friends.

Heirloom tomato bruschetta, on page 18, starts with the highest quality tomatoes elevated by a mix of garlic, shallots, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and fragrant basil.

Spaghetti and Meatballs is of course found here. It’s made from a recipe that accentuates the intensely porky flavor with lots of garlic, parmesan and onions.

For those looking for lighter fare, there is plenty to choose from including the Caramelized Salmon. Ginger and lemongrass incorporate a delicate Asian touch that aligns perfectly with the fatty fish. The crisp topping of  sweet potato strands add not only a burst of color but also a crunch that plays well against the brawny slab of heart-healthy salmon.

A combination of “Peas and Feta Cheese work exceptionally well together, especially if made with French Feta” according to Chef Avila, and we were tickled by this new commingling.

For a serious splurge, the Mac and Cheese is loaded with heavy cream , parmesan and gorgonzola and takes this childhood favorite to a very adult level.

The dessert section is loaded with house specialities and don’t miss the light, airy and supremely satisfying White Chocolate Cheesecake which we absolutely adore and would eat every day if we could.

2018 presents many great opportunities to celebrate life with a visit to Spaghettini for their world class Jazz and delightful California and Italian menu or a whirl around the kitchen under the excellent tutelage of From Our Home to Yours Cookbook. Enjoy the journey.

Katsu Sando’s Melt In Your Mouth Wagyu

Katsu Sando Pops Up on Sunday nights at Kura Japanese Restaurant located in the corner mall at Sunset and Crescent Heights. Katsu Sando translates to cutlet sandwich and that’s basically the entire menu, four Nama Panko crusted sandwiches and a couple of extras. But what extraordinary sandwiches they are.

Daniel Son, head chef at Kura fell hard for the Japanese convenience store snack in Tokyo and decided to craft his own elevated version. He has succeeded.

The A5 Wagyu-Katsu Sando is an expertly seared melt-in-your-mouth wonder that reminds us so much of the highest quality sushi, that we were officially awed. The marbling ratio of fat to tender meat in Japanese Wagyu beef is the secret, and the direct result of the immense care taken in the raising of the cattle.

In addition to the pricy but worth it Wagyu Beef-Katsu Sandwich, we strongly recommend the Mushroom Katsu Sando. It’s the perfect thickness for an unforgettable bite past the super soft House Made Honey Milk Bread slathered with Sando sauce, into a layer of Shiro-Wafu Frisee, through to the fried to perfection crunch of panko crust and deep into the meaty fungi. It’s a truly scrumptious journey.

Pork and Chicken are also in the line up and if you pull back the wrapping paper you are rewarded with a glimpse of the Pop Up’s name branded into the bread.  Very cool.

And don’t forget to indulge in the hot sauce found on every table. It adds a hit of heat that you may or may not feel inclined to incorporate. It definitely enhanced the pork, but we were resistant to even attempt it atop the flawless Wagyu or Mushroom Sandwiches.

For a taste of the real deal, elevated Wagyu beef and other varieties of Katsu Sando, you have to visit Kura on Sunday evenings (the rest of the time it’s their regular delightful Japanese menu) and let the flavors transport you straight to Tokyo.

It’s Worth Investing Time in Historic Old Sacramento

I was born in California and never made it to the state capital, until now. One crucial part of that oversight is missing out on the Historic Gold Rush Town of Old Sacramento. For those interested in avoiding the same mistake, it’s a good idea to invest some time exploring this spectacularly preserved piece of California History. A good way to start is by moving right in, with a stay aboard the Delta King Riverboat Hotel. This gracefully refurbished paddleboat floats on the Sacramento River adjacent to Old Sacramento State Historic Park and is the ideal home base to immerse oneself in the slower pace of mid 1800’s California.

First and foremost, don’t rush. Give yourself some time to explore because there’s a lot to see and do. Two days would be the minimum and try to include a weekend which preserves the opportunity to experience the underground tour.

Established in 1849, Old Sacramento is alive and well with the spirit and fervor of the gold rush. Handsome turn of the century buildings are well tended and house a variety of businesses you can explore. Traipsing through the streets and shops is a full day excursion in itself.

Rest assured if you need to revive anytime during your wanderings, they offer the illusive pineapple soft serve frozen treat, Dole whip, also available in mango. Unlike Disneyland, it’s self-serve here, so you can crank out as much of the icy concoction as you can handle, baring a serious case of brain freeze.

And of course no self-respecting gold rush town would be complete without an assortment of saloons. The River City Saloon claims to craft the best bloody Mary’s in Sacramento, but you need be the judge of that.

And Fanny Anns has to be one of the most captivating memorabilia stuffed bars in California. Stopping in for lunch, a cold one or just to browse the wild collection should be high on your to do list.

But the absolute highlight of Old Sacramento, is the California State Railroad Museum. This is a must see appropriate for the entire family.

Start you visit  with the informative movie which explains the back breaking labor and dedication that went into building the North American transcontinental railroad system. If you time it right, call first to be sure, the movie will be followed by a free half hour tour of the museum. No matter how you feel about trains, the amazing dioramas, restored trains, exhibits, dining car, heavy china display and simulation of a nighttime traveling sleeping car, are truly momentous experiences.

Recognition is paid to the workers who slaved through bone-chilling winters and blistering summers from 1863 to 1869 in order to make the dream of connecting the east and west coasts a reality.

Guest can pass through glistening trains of the era that look ready to hit the rails, reminding us of the romance and ease the railway system brought to U.S. travel.

Many cars are manned by costumed docents eager to share how their particular train was instrumental in facilitating everything from delivering mail to providing fine dining for guests.

Mannequin run kitchens and period china recreate the rigors and necessitates of a continually operational system of public transportation.

Be sure to search out the night train sleeping car simulation which is rigged to feel precisely like the real thing.

You can also hone your skills driving the same simulator used to train bullet train drivers. See how well you do manning the helm, followed by the challenging maneuvering of a speeding trains glide into the station.

The California State Railroad Museum is at the top of its game, being both technologically advanced, while also preserving their unique vantage point in the history of railroad travel and California’s involvement in its evolution.

We have to say that Old Sacramento offers such an inspiring glimpse into the past that we wouldn’t mind falling back in time over and over again.

Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.

The Quintessential Hostess Gift

While in Sacramento, we were introduced to Nothing Bundt Cake and we have to say it was love at first bite. The great news is that they are a nationwide franchise. That means you are most likely situated near a local shop.  But if not, you can always go online and have one dropped off right at your doorstep.  Or make life easy and have the distinctively shaped cake delivered to a very deserving friend as a house warming gift, Christmas present, birthday surprise, hostess thank you or any other event worth celebrating.  Wednesday sounds like a great reason for bundt cake to us.

The locations are charming and filled will all manner of inspiration. We sincerely hope you visit a bakery near you. Not only to sample the latest flavors (we love free samples), but also to get a gander at the exquisitely gorgeous cakes in a variety of sizes from bite-sized buntinis to personal sized bundtlets to 10″ full bundts serving up to 20 people.

We visited at Halloween when the Sacramento store was decked out with fun bundtinis all costumed and ready for little monsters to devour.

The shop addresses the confusing questions of how to honor someone at a major milestone. The answer is presented within a number of sumptuously designed displays that color coordinate their cakes with accessory options, making the gift even more special.

Of course the main reason to visit is to taste their supremely moist and flavorful bundt.  On our first introduction we were immediately taken with the birthday cake version, which is packed with a spray of multi-colored sprinkles nestled in classic vanilla cake. Another visit had us swooning for the Pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting. But if those don’t float your boat not to worry, they have red velvet, chocolate chip, lemon, pecan praline, cinnamon swirl and a long list of other delectable flavors to choose from.

We are tickled pink by Nothing Bundt Cake’s aesthetic, simple yet powerful design elements and cake shape which make for an impressive hostess gift sure to wow not only on presentation but throughout the savoring sure to follow. #IFBC17

‘Tis The Season for Gift Baskets

Yes, the holidays are definitely upon us.  Looking for a thoughtful gift sure to please everyone on you list? What could be easier than a  Melissa’s Produce gift basket?   Melissa’s Produce supplies the freshest seasonal staples and exotics.  Fruit, vegetables and fine wines can all be creatively arranged in any combination, from single stunning gift baskets to impressive monthly subscriptions. You choose whatever best suits your gift giving needs.

Vegans or vegetarians on your list? The baby vegetable medley is perfect for salads, roasting or soups.

And if you happen to find one of these bad boys in your fruit basket don’t be scared, it’s an  Ecuadorian dragon fruit and they are new to the US market. The uber sweet, soft inner flesh and seeds scooped out with a spoon are sure to tickle the palate and leave a lasting impression no matter which way your friends and family lean food-wise.

Melissa’s colorful gift baskets are perfect for everyone from the health conscious to those who have busy entertaining schedules through the New Year. The seasonal assortments are an impressive display that will always be appreciated as a lighter alternative to the holiday excess bound to occur.

Be sure to check out Melissa’s Produce Gift baskets for a carefree alternative to last minute holiday shopping.

Istanbul & Beyond Champions Uncharted Turkish Delights

Stunning, slice-of-Turkish-life photos by David Hagerman and recipes from remote regions of Turkey, are the focus of Robyn Eckhardt’s latest cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond. The two spent 18 months digging deep into “one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere”, as Robyn so eloquently states it. The diverse terrains combined with interactions with neighboring countries has produced a richness that can only evolve through centuries of experimentation with local ingredients.

The breath of the book is expansive and no single recipe defines the cuisine. We found it best to follow our whims through the dense contents. The purple basil cooler is a great place to start with its anise back-notes and cool, sweet refreshment. Robyn tips us off to the fact that alcohol enhancement produces a wonderful cocktail.

Turkish red pepper paste and flakes can be found piled high at almost every market in Turkey.  The liberal use of this important element of Turkish cooking requires chefs to decide on a preferred flavor profile from deep and smokey to fruity spicy and every combination in between. Red pepper flakes elevate the Spicy Egg Salad on page 260 to a dish that complements every meal or snack served throughout the day.

Do not miss Robyn’s green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, a pomegranate reduction, which can be found in middle eastern stores. The recipe is from Hatay in southeastern Turkey, which was just honored by UNESCO for its exceptional cuisine, and after tasting this salad we know why.

Frangrant Orange Cookies from page 75 are just that, and so addicting we are actually afraid to make a batch for fear of not being able to stop at just a few.

Istanbul and Beyond delightfully champions hidden treasure dishes that have made Gaziantep and Antakya cities of noteworthy gastronomy according to the United Nations Creative Cities Network. You are unlikely to find these gems in your local Turkish restaurants. So thank you Robyn for sharing these recipes that we hope to have the good fortune of tasting in Turkey, but until then we’re covered.

Easy Mexican Cuisine with Help from La Tortilla Factory

 

Looking to simplify your Mexican meals at home? The woman to turn to is Jenny Tamayo. As a 3rd generation proprietor and marketing specialist, Jenny is promoting her family’s traditions and recipes for La Tortilla Factory, which was started by her grandparents in 1977.

The reason La Tortilla Factory has remained relevant for decades, is first and foremost their loyal dedication to traditional Mexican flavors. They also keep current with contemporary twists such as hatch chili tortillas and by offering products that align with healthy lifestyle choices. La Tortilla Factory tortillas are thicker, stronger and hold up to a variety of applications without breaking. Try these plump tortillas in dishes such as, Hatch Enchladas Suizas. The recipe below was designed by Chef Marco Zapien of Zapien’s Salsa Grill, voted best Mexican Restaurant on LA’s Hot List for 9 consecutive years. Go Chef Marco!

Hatch Enchiladas Suizas by Chef Marco Zapien of Zapien’s Salsa Grill

2 lbs. Grilled chicken breast diced
2 TB Olive Oil
½ lb. tomatillos
1 clove chopped garlic
½ Diced Yellow Onion
½ each Green Bell pepper
½ bunch cilantro
3 Diced roasted hot hatch chiles
2 ½ cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to Taste
6 – La Tortilla Factory yellow corn and wheat tortillas
6 – La Tortilla Factory original flour Tortillas
6 – La Tortilla Factory smokey chipotle chile tortillas
2 cups shredded jack cheese
1 cup salad oil

Directions:
In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the tomatillos, garlic, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, and hatch chilies.
Add the chicken broth and cook until vegetables are tender.
In a blender, blend the vegetables until smooth. Return the sauce to the saucepot and bring to a simmer.
Add heavy cream and allow to reduce for 5 minutes
Finish with sour cream and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the salad oil in a sauté pan. Soak the tortillas to soften.
Fill the tortillas with diced chicken and roll.
In a baking dish place the rolled enchiladas. Top with Sauce and cheese. Place in 350 degree oven and heat for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve.

Yield – 4 cups

You can also stuff the soft, warmed tortillas with your favorite fillings and a protein or vegetable made in one of La Tortillas super easy Sauce Starters available at Ralph’s, Gelson’s, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons. These easy-to-prepare sauces and marinades take all the guess work out of conjuring traditional Mexican elements.

La Tortilla Factory also originated a line of crisps, which are a high intensity alternative to tortilla chips. Available in a a variety of flavors, be sure not to miss the churro crisp which adds a new dimension of joy to ending a meal.

The savory La Tortilla Crisps pair exceptionally well with Melissa’s Hatch Salsa, which is available through Amazon.

A Mexican meal is incomplete without a refreshing beverage. Dragon Fruit Agua Fresca adds an exciting new spin on the concept with its stunning blend of tangy citrus and sweet dragon fruit flesh. The recipe, designed by Chef Savannah Munoz of Melissa’s Produce  is super simple.

Dragon Fruit Mocktail

4 Melissa’s Dragon Fruit, peeled; rough chopped
2 cups of Your Favorite Lemonade
2 1/2 quarts of Your Favorite Lemonade
1 cup Fresh Mint Leaves

Place the dragon fruit and 2 cups of lemonade in a blender and purée. Transfer the mix to a 4 liter pitcher and add the 2 1/2 quarts of lemonade.

Bruise the mint leaves with the back of a knife or mortar and pestal, then add to the pitcher. Stir well and refrigerate overnight.

Strain out the mint leaves and stir. Serve over ice and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Makes 4 liters.

For a memorable finale, heat a can of dulce de leche (a caramel flavored dessert sauce available in most Latin markets or at Smart & Final) in a sauce pan, stir in fresh raspberries, let cool and serve as a smashingly unique fruit dip.

Thanks to Melissa’s Produce, Melissa’s staff and chefs, La Tortilla Factory and Chef Marco Zapien for the delicious recipes provided.