I've been dying to make this recipe ever since I read about it in Maria Speck's book, "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals." Her book had some fantastic gluten-free recipes and has a way of making you want to incorporate grains more in your life without any heavy-duty food preaching. The tart sounded wonderful and I'm a huge fan of savory tarts, especially ones that use goat cheese. Did you know that fresh goat cheese has a third of the fat and calories of cream cheese made from cow's milk? It also has half the cholesterol and twice the protein. Plus for those of us who are lactarded, goat cheese is much easier to digest...not to mention, that it tastes delicious.

I pretty much followed Maria Speck's recipe as written but I did opt to throw in some shallots and garlic. (Is there anything I won't throw garlic into?) I also was out of Greek yogurt so I used organic, plain, lowfat yogurt in it's worked fine. I thought the tart came out great, but next time I might go slightly lighter on the rosemary (but that's just my personal preference). If you're looking for something a bit different from your average quiche or frittata to take to a brunch, this would be a good choice.  This recipe would also work well with asparagus.

Artichoke and Goat Cheese Tart with Parmesan-Polenta Crust
(slightly adapted, from Maria Speck's book, "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals")

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups polenta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly, and continue whisking for 30 seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every few minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the cheese, egg and pepper.

2. Grease a 10-inch tart pan or cake pan with olive oil. Have a glass of cold water ready. Spoon the polenta into the pan and press it out, pushing it up the sides. Dip a wooden spoon or your hands in the cold water to help the polenta along. Set aside for 15 minutes and then form an even rim about 3/4 of an inch thick with moist fingers, pressing firmly. Don't worry if the crust looks rustic.

3. Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 F.

Artichoke filling:

1 cup plain Greek yogurt or organic, plain, lowfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2-3 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 cloves, garlic minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces artichoke hearts, canned or frozen
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Sauté the shallots and garlic in a small pan.

2. Whisk the yogurt, eggs, scallions, parsley, rosemary, shallots, garlic salt and pepper together until well-combined. Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and distribute them evenly over the polenta crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the artichokes and pour the yogurt filling evenly over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

3. Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes, though 40 is better. The tart can be prepared up to one day ahead.

Last week, the weather here in Sacramento took a turn and became quite uncharacteristically hot for April. To escape the heat and to have some fun, my friend Amanda and I decided to head out of town for a day trip. Embracing Henry Miller's saying of "One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things," we decided to hit up the small town of Petaluma and learn how some of our favorite cheeses are made at the Cowgirl Creamery. We arrived a little early so we decided to wander about the little industrial area where the creamery is housed. While reading a flyer about the town's annual Butter and Eggs Days in the window of a small café (Aqus Café), we were approached by a friendly Irishman. He turned out to be the proprietor of the stylish coffee house and was kind enough to walk us over to our destination. Glad he did because we might have passed by the creamery completely--walking by on the road, it's easy to miss the inconspicuous sign jutting out high above.

Inside the creamery, we were greeted by Vivien Straus of the Strauss Creamery in Marshall. (Cowgirl Creamery gets a lot of their dairy from the Straus farm.) Vivien was the perfect person to guide our tour- she's sweet, enthusiastic and has a true love for her work. The tour started with a simple demonstration on how cheese in general is made. We then moved onto learning about how the Straus family got involved in the making of cheeses with Cowgirl Creamery, how the various artisanal cheeses are created and packaged and how the Marin Agricultural Land Trust was formed. This was followed by a guided tour of the cheesemaking facility and of course the tasting of an assortment of delicious cheeses (including the Mt. Tam in various points of the aging process). My favorites were the Red Hawk (a pungent triple crème with a washed rind, that is very full-flavored with a slight hint of tang) and the ever popular Mt. Tam (a smooth triple crème with an edible bloomy rind and buttery taste). Can you say cheese nirvana? Yum.

At the conclusion of the tour, we were sent home with a couple of issues of Culture magazine (a publication devoted to cheese) and little Cowgirl Creamery refrigerated lunch bags that included a wrapped round of Mt. Tam, a container of Fromage Blanc (a clean tasting creamed cheese) and a cute little cheese knife.

419 First Street,  Petaluma, CA 94952. (866) 433-7834

* Tours are held on Wednesdays at 11:30am and are about a hour long. $30
* Reservations required.
* This facility does not offer retail sales.
* More info can be found here: Cowgirl Creamery Tour

After our tour, we headed over to downtown Petaluma. We decided to have some lunch at Della Fattoria on Petaluma Boulevard. In hindsight, I wish we had chosen somewhere else. Although the décor of the bistro was quite adorable, the food was nothing to write home about and the service downright awful. To make up for our craptacular meal, we decide to walk down the street and check out the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Store. This store is housed in a gorgeous historic building (it was constructed in the 1920's and formerly housed the Sonoma County National Bank) and offers a plethora of heirloom seeds (1200 varieties!), plants, gardening supplies, books and gourmet spices.


If you go downstairs, they have various gardening gifts and a small room devoted to air plants. While the sheer choice of seeds will awe you, make sure to look up and check out the ceiling of the store. The architecture is breathtaking.

(Photo of Seed Bank interior by Amanda Blosser)

* 199 Petaluma Blvd. N, Petaluma, CA 94952. (707) 773-1336.
* Closed Saturdays and major holidays.

All in all, the town of Petaluma is quite charming. The weather was great, there's a lot of fun shops and businesses to explore and it's just a short drive from Sacramento. For those who are interested- the Butter and Eggs Days is coming up on April 27th & 18th. You can find out more info here: Petaluma's Butter and Eggs Days 2013
Last week was a great week for two reasons- I made Mr.S. and I the most wonderful dinner on Thursday night (yep, I'm tootin' my own horn) and then on Friday night we saw a fantastic play at the Sacramento Theatre Company. I'm going to take a moment to gush here a bit...if you haven't seen STC's production of Athol Fugard's "Master Harold...and the boys," get your butt off the sofa and go buy your tickets now! This is the second time I've seen this play (I saw it the first time when I was in college) and I have to say this version was amazing. Michael J. Asberry's performance as Sam was so moving that at times I forgot we were watching a play and felt transported to the St. George's Park Tea Room in South Africa. The play takes place in 1950 (during the apartheid era) and tells the story of a 17-year old white boy (Hally) and two black waiters (Sam and Willie) during a rainy afternoon. This timely story of Fugard's does a phenomenal job of discussing oppression and compassion on a large scale (universally) and also on a smaller scale (in our own lives). The content is quite poignant and thought-provoking and the ending will haunt your mind for days afterward (especially when you find out that the play is based on a personal account of Fugard's).

There's a great review in the Bee, if you're interested in finding out more : Master Harold...and the boys. (Btw, this production is not suitable for young children.)

Photo Source: Sacramento Theatre Company

Ok, now back to our regular programming...the awesome dinner I made Thursday night was: pan-fried halibut cheeks accompanied by Israeli couscous mixed with fresh asparagus and mushrooms. Mmm! Simple but super delicious. If you've never had halibut cheeks before, you should definitely try it. It's the sweetest most tender part of the halibut. The cheeks kind of remind me of scallops but flakier.

Now I had never cooked halibut cheeks at home before so I asked one of the friendly fishmongers at Sunh Fish for some direction, his call- just gently pan-fry them. I'm so glad I followed his suggestion  because this is seafood that definitely does not need any futzing. I also made some Israeli couscous to go with it but these cheeks would have been just as good on a bed of sautéed greens.

(If you're unfamiliar with Israeli couscous, it's a wheat-based pasta that's rolled into tiny balls that resemble Nerf pellets. It has a nice nutty taste when toasted.)

Pan-Fried Halibut Cheeks


1 lb. fresh halibut cheeks
2 tablespoons AP flour
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
fresh parsley, chopped (optional)


1. Gently pat your halibut cheeks dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

2. Spread the 2 tablespoons of flour on a plate then very, very LIGHTLY dredge the cheeks through the flour. Set aside.

3. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Place your halibut cheeks on the skillet. Space them out a bit so that they do not touch each other. Let them cook for 2 minutes.  Then using a spatula flip them over. Allow to cook for another minute to a minute and a half.  (Be careful not to overcook the cheeks.)

4. Repeat with remaining butter and fish.

3. Plate. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley (optional).

Israeli Couscous with Fresh Asparagus and Mushrooms


1 1/3 cup Israeli couscous
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch of asparagus (woody stems removed, sliced into 1-inch pieces)
1 8-oz. package of crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 small sweet onion, diced
3-4 fresh garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


1. In a medium sized pan , heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add couscous. Over medium heat, toast the couscous until it's lightly browned.

2. Add 1 3/4 cup of boiling water to the saucepan and couscous. Stir well to combine. Bring the whole lot to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed). Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a separate pan, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, add garlic and onions. Cook until onions begin to slightly soften, then add asparagus and mushrooms. Cook 6-8 minutes (depending on how crisp you like your asparagus). Stir occasionally.

4. Remove from heat. Add veggie mixture to cooked couscous. Add grated Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss. Serve.
For all you sleepyheads who can't get up on Sunday morning to hit the farmers market on W Street, Midtown is starting a farmers market on Saturdays at 20th and J Street. Perfect for stocking up on fresh fruit for the week or crisp veggies for a weekend dinner party. Starts April 27th and will be year round.
By the way, check out their cute poster. My friend Laura Matranga over at Asbestos Press designed the poster, logo and all the marketing materials for the Midtown Business Association. The graphics are so stinkin' adorable it makes me want a print to hang in my kitchen.


I recently came back into touch with a friend whom I had not seen or spoken with in several years. One of the first questions she asked me when we hung out last week was, "What new condiments can you recommend?" Now readers, I have to be honest with you...I have a severe condiment problem. I'm a condiment hoarder. I love them, my fridge is full of them and I use them all. It ranges the whole gamut: umeboshi paste to truffle salt to yuzu hot sauce and furikake; it's all in there mixed together with the Sriracha, Korean Gochujang, Maggi Seasoning, and good ol' Heinz Ketchup. It's nice, it's's also taking over my fridge! Anyhow..............I thought long and hard and emailed her back about "Nanami Togarashi." I totally have a spice crush on Nanami Togarashi right now.

Nanami Togarashi typically contains coarsely ground red pepper, ground sansho peppercorns, roasted mandarin peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger and nori. It's spicy (but not crazy-spicy) and has a lovely citrus-centric flavor to it. I love dashing some Nanami Togarashi on my udons, ramens, sneaking it into my dark chocolate desserts and even sprinkling some on pork products (ribs, mmmm!) ; but most of all, I enjoy pairing it with fresh avocado. One of my favorite afternoon snacks is- sliced avocado topped with lime juice, a bit of sea salt and a few shakes of Nanami Togarashi. Mmmmm!  I love how the simple seasonings enhance the natural flavor of the avocado. It's delicious and quite addictive.

If you're interested in trying it, you can purchase Nanami Togarashi at most Asian stores (Oto's carries it here in Sacramento) or you can get it on Amazon. A bottle should run you about $5, but a little goes a long way.


Lately all the talk shows, magazines and public relations companies are all atwitter about local foods this and farm-to-table that, repeating those buzzwords over and over and over, until you just want to say, "Enough!". Especially for most of us Sacramentans who have been eating seasonal, local foods for ages...way before the bandwagon rolled up. It's nothing new. I know most of my friends have been hitting the farmers' markets in town way before it became cool to do so. Regardless whether you became a locavore years ago or are just now coming around to it, it's still exciting when you're presented with beautiful veggies and sweet just-picked fruits. Recently during one of my shopping trips, I picked up some Chioggia beets. I love, love, love Chioggia beets! Not only are these heirloom veggies tasty but they're gorgeous and a bit milder then their purple counterparts.  Their vibrant, fuschia, candy-cane striped interiors are absolutely adorable; which makes it hard for me to just roast them up like I normally do with my regular ol' beets. (Note: Roasting Chioggias diminishes their lovely color and stunning concentric pattern.)  Yes, I'm quite smitten with them! So this time around, I decided to make a refreshing raw beet salad. I julienned my beets but you could also use a mandolin to create thinly sliced rounds with swirling bulls-eyes, if you wish. Quite hypnotizing and trés cute in my opinion!

Now let me warn you- raw beets are not for everyone. They have a crisp texture and sweet, earthy taste that you either love or hate. Now I'm in the love camp but I know lots of people who place raw beets in the "ick, yuck, phooey" category even though they like roasted beets.

By the way, beets are super nutritious. They have lots of potassium, fiber and iron and this salad is a great way to showcase beets in all their raw glory. Pairing the beets with Fuji apples gives the salad a bit of ying and yang  (earthy and sweet) and the Greek yogurt dressing rounds out the flavor profile by gives the dish a kick of tang. The salad is easy to prepare ahead of time (in fact I like to let it sit for awhile in the fridge, so that the flavors have a chance to meld together before I eat it).

Tip: When shopping for beets look for firm-skinned ones that are relatively blemish-free and on the smaller side with perky greens. Smaller tends to be sweeter in the beet world.

Crisp Chioggia Beet and Fuji Apple Salad


2 medium sized Chioggia beets (or 3 small)

2 medium sized Fuji apples

1/3 cup Greek yogurt (plain flavored)

3 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon orange zest

1.5 teaspoons honey


1. Wash beets thoroughly. I have a little scrub brush I use to get all the tiny bits of dirt off. Remove the tops and tails. Dry thoroughly.

2. Peel the beets and julienne. Do the same with the apples. Set aside.

3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine Greek yogurt, orange juice, zest and honey. Whisk it up.

4. Pour the yogurt dressing over the beets and apples. Toss until well coated. Place in refrigerator for 45 minutes to an hour so the flavors have a chance to intermingle. Serve cold.

Optional: Garnish with fresh microgreens or chopped flat-leaf parsley right before serving.