When I was a kid, I used to love it when my mom would slip a Fruit Roll-Up (aka "fruit leather") in my lunchbox. There was that satisfying, "Screeeeeeeeech!" as you ripped it off the cellophane and all the possibilities! It was the one time it was ok to play with your food. You could wad it up and shove the whole thing in your mouth, cut out eye-holes and make it into a mask or build unidentifiable creatures out of it. Well, with a bag of apricots languishing on my counter and a sense of nostalgia in my heart I decided to embark on making some homemade apricot fruit leather yesterday.  It turned out to be super easy and the kidlets loved it (as did the adults).


lemon juice
sugar (honey can be substituted)

[4 cups of diced fruit yields about 1 large cookie sheet of fruit leather]


1. Rinse the fruit. Set 2-3 apricots to the side (for fiber). Peel the rest. (* see directions at bottom).

2. Remove pits and roughly dice fruit (including the unpeeled apricots).

3. Place the diced apricots in a saucepan on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and lemon juice at a time, to desired level of sweetness. (I made 2 sheets of leather and used about 1/2 cup of bakers sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice).

4. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Allow mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes more.

5. Remove mixture from stove and puree in food processor/blender.

6. Cover a cookie sheet with plastic wrap. Pour the puree evenly onto the plastic wrap to 1/8" thickness. Make sure that none of the plastic wrap is folding over onto the puree.

7. Place on oven rack at lowest setting (ideally 150 degrees, but my oven only went down to 170). Prop oven open a wee bit with a wooden spoon so that air can circulate and dry it out.

8. Bake for 8-12 hours until the mixture dries out. (When the mixture stops being tacky to the touch and feels dry, it's done).

9. Slice leather into strips (I used a pizza cutter).Peel from plastic backing, roll it up in parchment paper and secure with a rubberband. Store in an airtight container.

* How to Peel Apricots Easily

1. Submerge apricots in boiling water for 20-25 seconds.
2. Remove and place in a bowl of ice water for 20-25 seconds
3. Gently slide skin off.

(photo by Munieca)

What a week! My friend C-Lo at One Smarmy Mama posted a wonderful blog about A Girl and Her Fork and then an email I had dashed off to the Sac Bee last week  turned up online.

One Smarmy Mama : Foooooooooood

Sac Bee: Letters to Living Here - Bok Choy Tipping Point
Labels: 0 comments | | edit post

Kids, God love 'em, have got to be the pickiest little eaters on the planet. Being around Mr. S.'s kidlets a good portion of the time these days, I'm learning that the less fussier the food the better the chance they'll eat it. Kidlet #2 loves chicken breasts, so one harried weeknight we went with a simple meal of grilled chicken, veggies (choice of peas or corn) and rice. Sounds healthy but boring, right? Well, we dressed it up just a wee bit so that our adult palates wouldn't cop a snooze from the blandness. So how can you jazz up a blah meal when you're exhausted on a Wednesday night? Simple...for the chicken we punched a few holes in the breasts and did a quick 10 minute soak in Soy Vay's Veri Veri Teriyaki then threw it on the grill. If you haven't tried this stuff, try it NOW! It's delicious and available at most local grocers. (I would like to add that the SV's marinade is even better if you leave it overnight; but hey, if you're in a time crunch then you've gotta do what you've gotta do and this stuff takes to the meat pretty quickly.)

For the rice, I decided to give the Food Wife's Yellow Lemon Rice a go. I hadn't worked with turmeric before and was pleasantly surprised by it's abundance of health benefits, when I Googled it. The rice came out a beautiful electric yellow color that popped on the plate. I thought it had a nice subtle taste but seemed to be lacking some.... je ne sais quoi. If I made it again, I think I'd add some diced onion or some scallions...maybe even throw in some pine-nuts. It's a good just needs some flair.

Foodie Wife's Yellow Lemon Rice (adapted from a Feast For The Eyes)

1 c long grain white
2 c chicken stock
1/2 t turmeric 
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 t fresh lemon zest
fresh minced parsley, chopped

(I tripled the recipe so we would have enough)

1. Rinse the rice in cold water several times, until it runs clear.

2. Place the rice in a pot and add in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes, covered. Remove from heat. (You can also do this in a rice cooker instead.)

3. Fluff with a fork.

4. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley.

Don't worry, it's not what you think!

Hamburger + Hot Dogs + Cheese + BACON ---> Oh my! Words simply cannot express what's going through my mind right now....

(Photo borrowed from Email From Grandma)
It wasn't a great season for tomatoes in Sacramento this year, but the tomato seedlings Mr. S. planted did bear us a decent amount of fruit. Seen below (being fondled by my lovely assistant) are some of the tasty salsa tomatoes that came in (one of two different varieties of tomatoes that were planted). I'm not a big fan of super-liquidy salsa, so I decided to make some pico de gallo with the tomatoes instead. Pico de gallo is ultra easy to throw together and is great with tortilla chips, atop a quesadilla or my favorite...sprinkled on an omelet.

I dug up a recipe on Simply Recipes and voila! In mere minutes, we had some fresh pico de gallo for a Sunday afternoon snack. (Note: I subbed in 5 salsa tomatoes and sprinkled in a bit of cumin to jazz it up).

Fast & Fresh Pico De Gallo


  • 2-3 medium sized fresh tomatoes (from 1 lb to 1 1/2 lb), stems removed, finely diced
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
  • 1 serano chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: oregano and or cumin to taste


1. Start with chopping up 2 medium sized fresh tomatoes. Prepare the chilies. Be very careful while handling these hot peppers. If you can, avoid touching them with your hands. Use a fork to cut up the chilies over a small plate, or use a paper towel to protect your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling and avoid touching your eyes for several hours. Set aside some of the seeds from the peppers. If the salsa isn't hot enough, you can add a few for heat.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Taste. If the chilies make the salsa too hot, add some more chopped tomato. If not hot enough, carefully add a few of the seeds from the chilies, or add some ground cumin.

3. Let sit for an hour for the flavors to combine.

Makes approximately 3-4 cups.
If you're a Top Chef junkie like I am, take note...Top Chef's new spinoff, "Top Chef : Just Desserts" will be hitting the tube on September 15 (on Bravo). The show will be hosted by Gail Simmons and feature judges Hubert Keller, (hottie) Johnny Iuzzini and Dannielle Kyrillos. Contestant bios can now be viewed on

Labels: 0 comments | | edit post

Who says Sacramento has no late night eats? Got the post-bar crawl munchies? Suffering from a bout of insomnia? Or just looking to top off an awesome date? Head to Marie's Donuts. Yes, yes the Marie's on Freeport Blvd...that's the one! Mosey on over there and grab a bag of warm, straight-from-the-oven donut holes at 1am when they open. Nosh on those and you're sure to have sweet dreams.

"Donuts is there anything they can't do?" - Matt Groening

(served here with baby bok choy and rice pilaf)

While lazily perusing the Sunday farmers' market recently, I stumbled upon some fresh champagne grapes. Did I need to buy any champagne grapes? No. Did I end up buying some champagne grapes? Of course, they're adorable!

Champagne grapes (also called Black Corinth grapes) have nothing to do with making champagne whatsoever. They are, however, miniature (the size of salmon roe), juicy and intensely sweet. I've heard them described as Nature's Pop Rocks ( maybe that description is going a bit too far but you get the point---they're bursting with deliciousness!). Usually they're dried and made into currants or used for decorative purposes; but you can simply rinse and eat them as well. Anyhow, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with with my wee grapes but then I stumbled across a recipe that sounded like a must make--Bon Appétit's Pan Seared Scallops with Champagne Grapes and Toasted Almonds. So tonight for dinner, I tried it out. Not only was it a HUGE hit with Mr. S. but one of his kidlets bravely decided to try a small serving and declared it "REALLY good." Pretty high praise from an 11-year old! The dish comes across as very "gourmet'" when you serve it up, but in actuality it's quite easy to make. Give it a go!

Pan Seared Scallops with Champagne Grapes & Toasted Almonds (recipe from Bon Appétit)


• 16 large sea scallops

• 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

• 1.5 Tablespoons minced shallots

• 2/3 cup Champagne grapes (4 ounces) or black grapes, halved

• 1.5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds, toasted

• 1.5 Tablespoons chopped parsley

• Salt and pepper


• Melt 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the butter until it is browned, about 2 minutes.

• Salt and pepper scallops before adding them to the pan. Cook 2 minutes on each side and transfer to a dish, covering to keep warm.

• Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and grapes; sauce until the shallots are golden brown, about one minute.

• Stir in fresh lemon juice and any accumulated scallop juice from the plate of cooked scallops. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Stir in almonds and parsley.

• Place scallops on individual plates and spoon the sauce over them. Serve immediately.

No, no these aren't your normal gingerbread men cookie cutters. These are swift, deadly and badass NINJAbread men cutters! And they're ready to take over YOUR kitchen...hai-yah!

(August 15, 1912 - August 13, 2004)

Bon appétit!
Labels: 0 comments | | edit post

Need a quick but tasty appetizer to bring to a potluck? Try whipping up some yummy bite-sized Peppadew treats. "Peppadew" is the brand name of sweet piquanté peppers grown in the Limpopo province of South Africa.  They're small (size of a cherry tomato), simultaneously sweet and tangy in taste and super versatile. For example, you can slice them up and put them on a sandwich, dice them and mix them into a salad or be a rebel and sub them into a poppers recipe. My favorite way to eat them is to stuff the little suckers with some delicious goat cheese.

* In the Sac area you can find Peppadews at Nugget Market. Depending on which Nugget you go to, they are located either in the cheese/deli department or the pickle aisle. They come packaged in a glass jar.

Not too long ago I was sipping coffee with a few friends and mentioned how I had been invited to my first canning party and how excited I was to attend. One of my coffee buddies smiled and replied, "That's funny how everyone is doing a lot of the old fashioned stuff like canning and knitting. It makes me think of grandmas and makes me feel old." The comment stuck with me for a few days as I mulled it over. True, canning, knitting, gardening, cooking, etc. are rapidly rising in popularity again (just look at sites like Etsy, The and Readymade if you need proof). I suppose the craft movement never truly disappeared but it has definitely reemerged into the spotlight in the past few years with the younger set. I think the resurgence in part can be attributed to the current economic climate. Without a lot of excess funds to fritter away, some people are turning to making their own products as a way to save pennies. Also for many, these activities are a great excuse to invite friends over and socialize while doing something constructive. I know these days I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, harvesting my own veggies and learning how to can...if that makes me a "grandma," so be it. :)

Anyhow back to the canning party...unfortunately, I fell ill the day of the event and had to skip. Left with several pounds of green beans and no canning supplies, I decided to pickle the beans "refrigerator style" using this great dilly bean recipe I found on  a blog called Hell Yeah, It's Vegan (don't you just love that name?). To be safe, I sterilized the jars in the oven and boiled the rings and caps.  I also quintupled the recipe to make 5 jars worth.

Spicy Pickled Green Beans
Makes 1 serving


1 clove garlic

1-2 chilis or 1 tsp red pepper flakes



1 lb fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed

1 c water

1 c white vinegar

2 tbsp kosher salt


- In a clean, odorless glass jar with a well-fitting lid, add garlic, dill, red pepper, and peppercorns to taste.

- Pack jar with green beans, fairly tightly, until full. In a medium saucepan, heat water, vinegar, and salt, stirring occasionally, until salt has fully dissolved.

- Slowly pour a small amount into the jar and shake it gently; the glass must be heated slowly so it doesn’t crack.

- Slowly add the rest of the liquid, leaving about ½” head space at the top of the jar.

- Let cool for an hour or two before placing the jar in the fridge.

- Refrigerate at least 1 week before consuming; they’ll get more pungent as they age, and can store just fine for months.



Sometimes I am such a procrastinator...
Last Christmas I attended a party at my friend Jenn's where I had the chance to taste some scrumptious lamb wonton appetizers. The lamb wontons were so delicious,in fact, that I googled a similar recipe the very next day intending to make them. Somehow days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and I never got around to whipping up a batch. Anyhow, I got to make up for lost time this month and make them twice! And yes, the little pockets of lamb deliciousness were just as good as I remembered them.

* The original New York Times' version involves deep frying the wontons but I opted to cook them in the oven/broiler (a much healthier method).


3/4 pound ground lamb (Taylor's Market will ground the lamb fresh for you if you ask at the counter)

2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons golden raisins  (I subbed in regular raisins)

3 tablespoons coarsely, chopped pistachios (roast them in the oven for a few minutes first)

34 wonton skins, 3 inches by 3 1/4 inches

1 egg (yolk removed)


* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Mix together the coriander, cinnamon, salt, pepper, raisins and pistachios until well combined. (I like to do this in the food processor so that everything gets chopped up and blended together smoothly). Then mix it in well with the lamb.

2. Place about a teaspoon of the filling in the center of 1 wonton.

3. Use your fingertip and brush the edges of the wonton skin with water. Fold into a triangle.

4. Bring each corner of the skin over each other (like in a hug over the filling) and press the edges together to seal tightly. This fold is called a crown fold.

5. Repeat.

6. Place the wontons folded-side up on a non-stick cookie sheet (or you can use parchment paper). Spacing them slightly apart.
7. Pop them in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 12 minutes to bake.
8. Remove, lightly paint each wonton with an egg white wash and them pop in the broiler for 3 minutes (this gives them their outer crunchiness and nice brown coloring).
9. Take wontons out of the oven and place on a cooling rack or platter.
10. Enjoy!

I'll be honest, I've never been a huge fan of eggplant. Although the deep royal purple has always captivated me, I've usually found it to be a rather bland vegetable. The only eggplant that had ever peaked my interest up until recently was a strange (now defunct) Japanese reality TV show called "Nasubi" (the Japanese word for eggplant). If you've never heard about it, check out the preceded the United States' "Survivor" series. All I'll say involved a naked guy, an empty room and several contests.

Anyhow, being a fan of David Lebovitz' recipes I thought I'd give his eggplant caviar a try. Surprisingly, this variation on baba ganoush is quite flavorful. Mr. S thought the puree to be a tad spicy but I found it to be a nice change from your typical tamer spreads like hummus and guacamole. I opted to sprinkle a little bit (ok, a lot) of sumac on mine which gave it a nice tangy finish.

Eggplant Caviar  (adapted from David Lebovitz' recipe)
Make about six servings

[If you don't own a grill, just oven-roasting the eggplant for a longer period of time, until they're soft and wilty.]

3 small Japanse eggplants
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for preparing the pan
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon chili pepper powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

- Brush a baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle it with a bit of sea salt. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

- Poke each eggplant a few times and place them over a gas flame on the stovetop or a grill, turning them every so often, until they get a nice char on the outside and feel soft and wilty. Roast them for five to ten minutes.

- When cool enough to handle, cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and place them cut side down on the oiled baking sheet.

- Bake the eggplants until the flesh is thoroughly cooked, which should take about twenty minutes.

- Remove the eggplants from oven and scrape the pulp from the skins into the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and chili pepper powder.

- Pulse the food processor a few times, until the mixture is almost smooth. Add the basil and pulse a few more times.

-Taste, and add additional salt, lemon, or other seasonings, as desired.

- To serve, spoon into a bowl and make a small hole in the center. Pour a bit of olive oil in the middle and sprinkle with chili powder, sumac, or some chopped fresh herbs.

- Serve with some pita triangles.

- Eggplant caviar can be kept refrigerated for up to five days.
Looks like there's a new store going in at the old Ebner Hotel/Empire House location in Old Sac.

Chef's Mercantile  
118 K Street
"A Full Service Cooking, Baking, Kitchen Tools and Accessory Store"


PMS always seems to sneak up on me like a mugger in the night. One minute I'm laughing with my friends, sipping a cup of coffee and cuddling up to Mr. S. Then WHAMM-O! The next minute I'm sobbing into a pillow while watching a Hallmark commercial, inhaling an entire bag of Kettle Chips and glaring daggers because someone drank the last Pepsi. We've all been there. There's no way to avoid the emotional roller coaster of PMS but there are ways to subdue the beast. My "neutralizer" has always been chocolate. Mmmm, chocolate! Dark, decadent and's like a magical elixir that smoothes things over. So next time your hormones are acting all 5150, you could just scarf down an entire Costco box of Hershey bars OR you could treat yourself to a batch of delicious Double Chocolate M&M cookies. Couple it with a glass of red wine and a couple of episodes of Glee and you'll be ok in no time.

*(Guys, if you're smart you'll have a batch of these cookies waiting on the counter every 28 days. Just sayin'.)

Mel's Kitchen Cafe Double Chocolate M&M Cookies
*Makes between 2 and 3 dozen cookies (depending on how big you make them)


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into eight pieces
3/4 cup M&M’s
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla


- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
- In a medium microwave-safe bowl, place the chopped chocolate and the butter. Microwave for one minute at 50% power. Stir. Microwave again for one minute at 50% power and stir well. If the chocolate is not fully melted, continue microwaving in 30 second intervals at 50% power until the chocolate and butter are well combined (don't overheat the chocolate or it can seize and turn hard and unusable). Let the mixture cool slightly, about 2-3 minutes until it is at room temperature or just slightly warm (but not hot).
- In a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer), combine the chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until combined. Gradually mix in flour mixture on low speed. Fold in M&M’s with a wooden spoon (don't use a mixer as the M&M's will break into pieces and not stay whole).
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper, silpat liners or lightly grease them with cooking spray. Drop dough onto baking sheets by tablespoonfuls (or use a cookie scoop) spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. If desired, place five or six M&M's on top of the cookie dough balls (even perched slightly on the rounded sides). Bake the cookies until they have slightly flattened and there are a few cracks on the surface, about 13-14 minutes.
- The cookies will still be soft. Let the cookies sit for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. These cookies will stay fresh in an airtight container for about 2 days. I freeze them between sheets of wax paper in a large tupperware container and they defrost beautifully at room temperature or for a few seconds in the microwave.