This weekend Mr. S. and I attended a friend's birthday party that had an interesting theme- Día de los Muertos. I made several standard appetizers but wanted to make at least one appetizer that went along with the theme of the party so I decided to try my hand at some mini spiced corn empanadas from my  "In The Small Kitchen" cookbook (by Cara Eisenpress & Phoebe Lapine). They turned out to be pretty easy to make although my pastry crimping skills left a bit to be desired (next time I just might use a gyoza press so it looks a bit more polished). Anyhow, the empanadas turned out tasty and we had a fab time at the party. The guests' costumes were fantastic and the hostesses did a great job decorating the house with colorful flores de papel, altars for the deceased, sugar skulls and miniature skeletons. What a night!

Spiced Corn Filling


2 T unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

One 15-ounce can corn kernels, rinsed & drained

1 t ground cumin

1 t salt

dash cayenne pepper


1. In a medium saucepan or skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and the shallot and cook until fragrant, being careful not to burn the garlic. 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Add the corn, cumin, salt and cayenne. Sauté gently until the corn is hot and the flavors are melded. 3 to 5 minutes.

Empanada Dough


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 t salt

8 T ( 1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 egg

1/3 cup very cold water

1 T white wine vinegar

1 egg, beaten


1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, stir the flour and salt together with a fork. Add the butter cubes, and with your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients. The mixture will start to look like crumbs. (Try to touch the dough as little as possible.)

2. In a small bowl, beat together the egg, cold water, and vinegar with a fork. Add this to the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated.

3. Lightly flour your cutting board or countertop, and transfer the dough to the work surface. Knead the dough with heel of your hand until it comes together. Form it into a flat disk and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for at least 2 hours.

4. When you are ready to use the dough, roll it out on a floured surface until it is about 1/2 inch thick, and cut it into 6 sections. Roll each section until it is very thin (about 1/8-inch thick) and using a 3-inch round cutter, cut the dough into rounds.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

6. Place a little less than 1 tablespoon of the filling in the middle of each pastry round and fold in half. Seal with a fork, then crimp the edges with your fingers. Arrange the empanadas on a cookie sheet. Combine the egg and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and brush the empanadas with this egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned on top.


It's that time of the year again, when little ghosts, goblins and ghouls go gallivanting throughout the neighborhood begging for treats and adult creatures of the night head for parties to imbibe in some witches' brew and to down a few tasty eats. If you're looking for something to bring, try this Devil's Food Cupcake recipe by Martha Stewart. I made a batch this afternoon and topped it with some orange cream cheese frosting and some zombie limbs and mini-bone sprinkles (leftover from last year's cake decorating kit). Voilà! A perfect Halloween snack for both kidlets and adults. Unfortunately, our resident "Batdog" can't have chocolate for doggies, no matter how cute they are.

Martha Stewart's Devil's Food Cupcakes - makes 32


3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

3/4 cup hot water

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter

2 1/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup sour cream, room temperature


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.

3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three- quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

Cream Cheese Frosting


2 (8 ounce) packages Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract

yellow & red food coloring


1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Add in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar.

2. Add food coloring to frosting until desired color shade is achieved.

3. Spread or pipe icing onto cupcake. Decorate.

Wow, readers I hope you were out this weekend enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather and all the wonderful activities Sacramento had to offer! Saturday, Mr. S. and I braved the crowds and cruised up to Camino to Apple Hill to enjoy some delicious apple cider donuts and pick up some treats but on Sunday we had the kidlets (who are at that age where they're "too cool for Apple Hill") so we planned some other fun family activities. We spent the afternoon learning about falcons and snakes at the Naturefest being held at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center. While we were there, we even met a "wild turkey" and got to make an abalone necklace to take home.

Afterwards, we came home and carved some pumpkins. They came out pretty cool, no?

Now don't go throwing away those pumpkin seeds when you're done carving, that's the best part of the pumpkin. Rinse them off thoroughly, pat them dry and set them aside---roasted pumpkin seeds are easy to make, delicious and quite nutritious!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds


3 cups pumpkin seeds, washed & patted dry

3 Tablespoons butter, melted

1 Tablespoon olive oil

5 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic (you can use fresh or dehydrated, I had a little of each on hand so I used both)

1 teaspoon salt (1.5 teaspoons if you like it a little extra salty, like I do)

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

* optional : a sprinkle or two of Morton Nature's Seasons Seasoning Blend for a little extra kick.


- Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

- Combine all ingredients with seeds in large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly then spread evenly on a baking sheet.

- Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
This reminds me of my Aunt Eleanor so much!

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Wow, after that jag of autumnal weather I thought for sure I'd be making roasts, soups and various comfort foods by mid-October but it looks like Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball and plop us into an Indian Summer. The weather in Midtown's been lingering around the comfortable high 70's/low 80's and the canopies of trees with their thick green leaves are holding strong. In fact most of the plants in my yard are still looking pretty joyous, take a look:

So going with the weather, instead of a typical October stick-to-your-ribs heavy stew I ended up making a refreshing dish of pepperfin for lunch today. It ended up being perfect-- light and quick and it tided me over until dinner time.

Viva la summer!



4 oz fresh albacore tuna, sashimi grade

2-2.5 t. lemon juice

6 tsp regular soy sauce (not low sodium)

2/3 tsp sesame oil

dash or two of chili oil (optional)

sliced fresh  jalapeño


1. Slice tuna into 1/8-1/2 inch pieces, against the grain.

2. Arrange on plate. Garnish with jalapeño slices.

3. Mix sauce ingredients in bowl. Spoon sauce over fish.  Serve.

* I will confess I did dump all of the sauce over the fish "Mikuni"-style after the photo was taken. :)

"The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age."
~ Lucile Ball

Sorry folks, I know haven't been posting any recipe attempts lately, but to be honest I haven't been trying anything new out lately. Been going with the tried and trueds as of late and doing a little bit of birthday celebrating; but I promise, I'll be back in the kitchen ASAP! This week in fact. Anyhow, yesterday was my "real" birthday and I turned the big 3-7. In honor of the big date, Mr. S. and his kidlets, booted me from la cocina and told me that THEY were cooking ME dinner for a change. How do you like them apples? :)  I showed up at 7pm and was greeted with an appetizer of juicy steak bites wrapped in bacon and for the main course- peppered tuna steaks, saffron rice and grilled asparagus and portabellos. It was delicious. The highlight of the evening was when I was presented with not one birthday dessert...but TWO! Yum! The kidlets (ages 9 & 12) had each baked me a birthday cake---a yellow cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate chip cookie cake bars. They were both delicious! Afterwards we watched a DVD of the animated kidlet movie, "Rio," which turned out to be quite adorable. If you haven't seen it, check it out...the Brazilian music will have you tapping your foot while the birds' crazy antics will have you laughing out loud. Tonight, it's off for a few drinks with a couple of friends and maybe indulging in some greasy-yummy bar food at the Hideaway. Here's to another year of tasty eats, cheers!
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2225 Hurley Way Ste 101, Sacramento, CA 95825, (916) 568-7171

“Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”
– Francois Minot

I knew something was up when Mr. S. copped a sly smile and told me not to plan anything for October 8th. October 8th isn't my birthday but it is the weekend before my birthday and it is the weekend that we wouldn't have the kidlets...what he was up to I wasn't exactly sure but I had my suspicions. I'm a horrible secret keeper (awful really) but I'm a great investigator...within a week, I had it figured out---Mr. S. had booked a night at the most exclusive restaurant in town--The Kitchen. To say I was excited was an understatement, I had been wanting to go there for quite awhile but at $125 a head it was pretty out of bounds for my meager budget.

What's the big fuss about this restaurant, you say? Well besides the ridiculously fab food, the major draw of The Kitchen is that they allow you access to the entire restaurant (and they only do one seating, so you never feel rushed.) In fact dinner takes over four hours, so don't make any other plans.

We got there about 7pm and were greeted with a warm smile at the door and the fragrant aroma of rosemary. From there we were given ample time to explore the extensive wine cooler, wander out to the patio garden and take a few laps through the bustling kitchen. The oenophiles had plenty of time to chat with Doug Nitchman, the charismatic in-house sommelier, and everyone got to mingle with Chef Noah Zonca and his friendly crew. At dinner time, everyone took their appointed seats and the entertainment began. Ingredients were introduced (some were even alive), flames quickly flashed in pans in various corners of the counter and everyone seemed mesmerized by the action. Mr. S. and I were lucky enough to have secured some of the best seats in the house (near the end of the counter)---we could see all of the cooking and plating inches from our faces and all of the kitchen goings on. In fact, we even got an impromptu performance of one of the cooks doing the cabbage patch in the back.

The menu for the night we dined (it changes monthly):

First Course
‘Thai Style’ Coconut Milk Soup with Local Crayfish, Walnut Flan and Cabbage Slaw

Second Course
Rabbit, Porcini Mushroom, and Vegetable Pot Pie with Tomato-Corn Butter and Aged Sherry Gastrique

Sushi • Sashimi • Crudo

Third Course
Maine Lobster Bolognese and Warmed Egg Yolk with Butter Poached Black Truffle Pasta and Red Wine-Parmesan Broth

Fourth Course
Naturally Raised Veal Porterhouse with Pan Juices

Dessert Course
Valencia Orange Custard Cake with Sorbets, Caramelized Marcona Almonds and a Caramel-Orange Glaze

Everything was quite amazing (I think the only dish that didn't completely wow us was the veal porterhouse) but I have to say the third course, the lobster bolognese, was seriously mindblowing. Both Mr.S. and I were still talking about it the next day. (In hindsight, I wish I had gotten seconds of that rustic third course but I was bursting at the seams at the time.) Oh, and that wonderful almond brittle that came with the dessert---good gawd, let's not forget that!  I also loved the fact that The Kitchen will accommodate any, and I do mean any, allergies or dietary preferences. They made every one of my dishes without dairy and every single dish was absolutely delicious. I appreciated that they didn't just sub in a different dish and that I got to eat what everyone else was eating. I noticed that they also accommodated shellfish allergies and those who didn't eat veal as well on the night that we were were there...and the chef didn't grouse once while he was plating ( I know because I was sitting just a few inches from where they were plating). The other interesting thing about The Kitchen is that you can have as many extra helpings as you want. There was a couple from Australia that was there the night we were there that was making their way through 3rds and 4ths of every dish---it was crazy. Neither Mr. S. nor I could figure out where they were putting it all. But hey, good for them---I guess they were getting their money's worth!

So five delicious mouth-watering courses, an amazing intermezzo of sashimi and sushi, a white glove tea service and a goodnight hug from the was a perfect way to close out my 36th year. Although it'll probably take my entire 37th year to work all those calories was worth every bite (and the company I was with was exceptional).  I can see why everyone's so enamored with The Kitchen, I am now as well. Thank you, Mr.S!

"It’s easier to keep a customer than get a new one.”
-Allan Keller

1809 Capitol Ave., Sacramento, CA 95811, (916) 444-2566

[I don't like to write negative reviews and I actually waited a week and a half before I wrote this, giving myself time to cool down before I started tapping keys. So you can only imagine how I felt right after the experience....]

With restaurants closing left and right in Sacramento, I would think those whose doors are open for business would be striving to retain their current customer base and looking to welcome new guests...but apparently not so at The Press Bistro (not to be confused with the Press Club, a dive bar on P Street). Case in point---a friend of mine and I decided to get together recently for a much needed girls' night out...we wanted somewhere nice where we could grab a few appetizers and chat quietly over a few cocktails. Neither of us had been to The Press so we thought we'd check it out. Right off the bat, things didn't fare well at The Press. We walked up to the hostess stand where we stood uneasily. After a few minutes, the hostess finally greeted us with her eyes still down, writing in her book. In fact she never once looked at us or smiled. She did walk us to a table though. I wish at this point, we had turned around and had just left because the service didn't get any better...or any friendlier. Our waitress appeared almost perturbed with us from the get go (and I'm a pretty lax person to wait on)...for some reason it seemed like it was a giant inconvenience for her to wait on our table. There were a few major things especially that she did that really rubbed me the wrong way---1) once the expediters dropped off the food, she never checked back on us to see how it was or whether we wanted another drink, 2) she reached her arm right in front of my face to clear plates, 3) and she actually walked away while we were in the midst of explaining to her how we wanted the bill settled. It was such an uncomfortable experience, we couldn't wait to leave.

Horrendous service aside, the food there was actually okay. We got three appetizers- the roasted beets with goat cheese, the fried meatballs with garlic-yogurt sauce and the grilled calamari with cherry tomato panzanella. We both really enjoyed the meatballs and the calamari (which was truly served grilled and not breaded and fried like most places). The sangria we ordered was less of a was quite bitter and mine had no fruit in it, which I found odd. Had the establishment's environment been more hospitable we would have probably ordered a few other cocktails (they had a pretty interesting looking drink menu) and maybe a few other dishes but being unpleasant as it was we decided to leave instead and take ourselves down to the Shady Lady where we had a couple of rounds of drinks (try their mojito or their Blood & Sand---Mmmm! Both are delicious!) and some dessert.

Based on my recent evening at The Press, it seems that they obviously don't want or need new customers. Or at least they're allowing their wait staff to convey the message that they don't. Although the bistro is quite close to my home, I don't think it'll be a place that I'll be returning to patronize again or suggesting it to others. I prefer to give my dollars to a place that exudes a welcoming vibe.
How cute is this? A wee little droid peeking out from your chamomile....
Available at ModCloth


Is it just me or did autumn seem to hit Sacramento overnight? All of the sudden leaves are changing color, stores are stocking Halloween candy (and in some places X-mas goodies) and the air...the air no longer seems to be carrying that smell of late summer nights, hot asphalt and damp green grass. In it's place is a brisk odor tinged with warm spices, crackly leaves and the pungent aroma of burning wood. As long as I can remember, autumn's always been my favorite month. That cool, crispiness has always seemed purifying (and even a bit magical) to me after the heavy, sticky heat of summer.

A few weeks back in anticipation of fall, a few friends and I got together to make some mustards. A few of us were making some in preparation for Oktoberfest, others as gifts for the upcoming holidays and some probably "just because." Our friend Katie had made mustards before and was kind enough to give a tutorial. It turned out to be pretty easy and super delicious. I can't wait to make more...and perhaps pick up some brats or make some homemade pretzels to dip in them next time!

German Whole-Grain Mustard aka "Beer" Mustard

2/3 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/2 cup brown mustard seeds

3/4 cup cider vinegar

3/4 cup dark ale

2 cloves, garlic minced

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons allspice

1/2 teaspoon turmeric


- In a non-aluminum pot or jar, combine the mustard seeds, vinegar, ale, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, cover and soak for 48 hours, adding additional vinegar and ale (in the correct proportions) if necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the seeds.

- Scrape the soaked seeds into a food processor. Add the salt, sugar, allspice, and turmeric and process until the mustard turns to a coarse grained but creamy mixture flecked with seeds. This takes 2 to 3 minutes, so be patient.

- Add additional vinegar and ale (in the correct proportions) as necessary to create a nice creamy mustard, keep in mind it will thicken slightly upon standing.

- Giving it time (a week or two) to develop in flavor before presenting it to a friend does make it even better.

- Makes 2 3/4 cups mustard.

Roasted Garlic Mustard (The Mustard Book by Jan Roberts-Dominguez)


3 heads (yes heads, not bulbs) – but we used 4 because we love garlic

1/2 cup dry sherry, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds

1 cup cider vinegar

2 teaspoons salt


- With a sharp knife or kitchen shears, trim away the pointed stem end from each head of garlic, exposing the bulbs but leaving them intact. Peel excess papery skin from each head, then place the heads in a small, deep-sided baking dish.

- Add the sherry and olive oil, cover the dish tightly and bake in a preheated 225 F oven just until tender, 50 minutes to an hour (the time will vary depending on the size and age of the garlic). Remove from the oven and let the heads cool in the cooking liquid.

- In a non-aluminum pot or jar, combine the mustard seeds and vinegar. Pour the cooking liquid from the baked garlic into a measuring cup and add enough additional sherry to bring the total volume to 1/3 cup. Add this to the mustard and vinegar, cover and let soak in the refrigerator for 48 hours, adding additional vinegar and sherry (in the correct proportions) if necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the seeds.

- Sometime while the seeds are soaking, finish the garlic preparation. Pry the bulb away from its head, to peel, snip the pointed tip with kitchen shears, make a slice along the flat side, then squeeze the bulb free from the peel. Refrigerate until ready to proceed with the recipe.

- Scrape the soaked seeds into a food processor. Add the peeled, roasted garlic cloves and the salt, and process until the mustard turns from liquid and seeds to a creamy mixture flecked with seeds. This takes 3 to 4 minutes. Add additional vinegar and sherry (in the correct proportions) if needed and process.

- Aging the mustard for several weeks improves the flavor even more.