Friendship, Flowers and Food

I never take the day off to celebrate my birthday – ever. In fact I don’t really take many days off, so this was something new and different… and I loved it.

My girlfriend Carolyn and I started our morning off with a trip to Starbucks for a free birthday drink. I’m boring – Venti iced green tea, no sweetener. I made up for it later in the day with delicious eats.

Amador Flower Farm Oak Tree and Daylily Gardens

Our first stop was the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, CA … to get a sneak peek at their daylilies.

The flower farm hosted their Daylily Days event this past weekend. Their website claims to have more than a million flowers in bloom and after spending an hour plus walking the grounds, I believe it. The weekend festivities invited guests to join the flower farm family for picnicking, demos, wandering, free tram ride tours, garden art artisans and more. I would consider attending next year, but it was nice to have the entire place to ourselves… minus staff running around prepping for the event.

The farm is 14 acres of serene beauty – it was so peaceful to chat with each other as we wandered along the paths and enjoyed the shade of the huge oak trees.

Calla lilies and hydrangeas are favorites of mine and they had plenty on the grounds.

I was tempted to buy a bunch of things but refrained and instead took away some great ideas. I’m seeing a few Bergenia ‘Sakura’ –  in my future. When researching online I learned that if you place a Bergenia leaf between your thumb and forefinger and rub, you are rewarded with a very realistic pig squeak – for real? Now I really want some. The leaves also turn a deep plum tone in the winter – which intrigues me. While the plants at the farm didn’t have any of the pink flowers, the ones online are very vibrant and would add a pop of color to one of my more shady areas of my backyard.

Our next stop was a quick drive through Fiddletown, population 235 – I did say, “quick” – I had never been and it was fun to see the historic buildings.

Sutter Creek was up next, the home of my favorite garden store, The Antique Gardener on Main Street. If I won the lottery and opened my own little shop, it would certainly have the same type of vibe as this place. Every time I visit, I pick up more decorating and yard decor ideas. My take away this trip is that I need to find a rusty/old metal watering can and wagon that doesn’t cost $50-100. Hey Paul… I also might need your vintage stove 🙂 – just kidding. 

We then hit up the Sutter Hotel for a little lunch break. The hubs and I have previously enjoyed several meals at the hotel and I really like the overall vibe of the place.

Sutter Hotel

I ordered the Wedge Salad (Baby gem iceberg lettuce, applewood smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes, and Point Reyes blue cheese) – it was perfect! Crunchy, creamy, and very refreshing on a hot day.

Carolyn ordered the Crab Louie Salad (Baby iceberg, cherry tomatoes, crab, shrimp, avocado, deviled egg and Thousand Island dressing)  – which she enjoyed as well.

After lunch we strolled through a few more antique shops and the Fine Eye Gallery where we both wanted to buy a bunch of stuff… but again, refrained. Go us!

The drive home found us stopping in at Meadowlands Restaurant in Sloughhouse for some cocktails and cake.

Pineapple mojitos and a piece of zucchini cake with candied orange…pure heaven. I could eat that cake all day long. Our server named off the desserts, they weren’t on a menu, so I don’t even know what the sauce was and never asked. We enjoyed the deck patio and watched the band set up for their evening performance. This picture below was from a previous visit where we enjoyed the outdoor patio and live music.

Thanks Carolyn for being my birthday buddy and planning a fun day!

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An Evening With Chef Curtis Stone

Last week started with a text from my girlfriend (AKA my foodie-adventure-BFF, Kristen) “What are you doing on Friday?” ending in a string of text messages that contained a photo invite to an evening with Chef Curtis Stone. YES PLEASE, I’m in. My other foodie BFF Michelle was also on the group message. We were all set, our Friday night would include the ever-so-dreamy Chef Curtis Stone for a meet and greet and demo in the Bosch test kitchen at our new Delta Shores, Sacramento RC Willey store.

Chef Curtis Stone at RC Willey Sacramento

Kristen arrived early to grab seats in the front row – woohoo, score! I’m going to owe her forever because this was hands down my favorite celebrity chef encounter and sitting in the front row had a lot to do with that. Her reward was getting an early glimpse of Curtis getting things ready, so jealous I missed that.

I’ve met Tyler Florence and Kristen and I together have met Chef Fabio Viviani, Chef Guy Fieri, Chef Giada De Laurentiis, Top Chef’s Ryan Scott (Season 4), Jamie Lauren (Season 5) and the Fabulous Beekman Boys – plus a handful of local Sacramento chefs.  My signed cookbooks are definitely my most cherished in my ridiculously growing collection/hobby. 

Speaking of cookbooks, how is it possible that I didn’t already own a Curtis Stone cookbook? And WHY did I not think of that until Kristen mentioned it the day before the event? It was too late for a last minute Amazon purchase to guarantee delivery, so off to Barnes & Noble I went. Kristen and Michelle needed them too, so of course the one I went to only had two copies of What’s For Dinner? – thankfully they called another store and I was able to grab a third copy.

Chef Curtis Stone - What's For Dinner Cookbook

We sat with our cookbooks in anticipation as we admired the beautiful Bosch test kitchen… while also noticing a stack of his newer cookbooks on a side table. My immediate thought, son of a #!%@*, then we found out that those weren’t for purchase, they were going to be raffled off. Have no fear, my cookbook errand running wasn’t in vain after all.

Chef Curtis Stone - Bosch Appliance Demo Kitchen, RC Willey Sacramento

Fox 40 interview with Chef Curtis Stone

Fox 40 grabbed him for a quick interview and then the meet and greet started.

Chef Curtis Stone and Foodiddy

He was chatty as he signed my cookbook – then he asked about the name Foo – I told him it was my food blog persona and he was stoked that I was a food blogger – my interpretation of the positive things he said to me. If he only knew how infrequently I blogged.  Ha-ha. 

Signed Cookbook

Once everyone went through the line, the demo  portion started. The crowd grew to standing room only. He introduced his assistant Vanessa Garcia, head pastry chef at Maude, the twenty-four seat restaurant he opened in Beverly Hills in February 2014. He talked about how they have spent the last three years creating monthly menus (ten course meals stemming from a single seasonal ingredient) and how that almost killed them… so the restaurant has recently shifted to focusing on a seasonal set menu (four menus per year, inspired by different wine regions). He shared how they travel to each region to experience the culture, history, food, and wine to help them create the perfect menu.

He started things off  by toasting some bread with a little olive oil, salt and pepper that would be the base to the Gambas al Ajillo – shrimp appetizer he was making. As he cooked, he explained the different features of the Bosch Flex Induction Cooktop, which included answering the question: Why use induction? His answer… it’s faster, it’s way more accurate, takes less energy (so costs less to operate) and once you turn it off, there’s no lingering radiant heat – so it doesn’t heat up your kitchen/house. He’s been using induction cooktops in his restaurants for years.

Chef Curtis Stone

Chef Curtis started with olive oil and butter in the pan and then added chopped shallots – the next steps were to add dry chili pepper flakes and smoked paprika.

This is where things got crazy. Once the chili pepper flakes and the smoked paprika hit the hot oil, he started to cough… choking on the heat from the spices. He joked about it, asking Vanessa where she got the stuff from. 

Everyone was laughing… then it hit us in the front row. We all started coughing. There was no hiding it. Then the row next to us got it – 15+ people all coughing simultaneously. The next words out of his mouth “Chef Curtis Stone comes to Sacramento for the first time and kills the entire front row – I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…” everyone continued laughing, it was REALLY funny. Luckily they had passed out water, so we were all good within a minute or two of breathing it in. 

Next up, the large, raw shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails intact) were added to the pan followed by some more butter, sherry, lemon juice, prawns stock and parsley. People were invited up to taste the shrimp.  Kristen let me try a bite of hers, it was delicious.

This is Kristen’s photo of me me taking a photo of him passing around the finished plate. Food blogger in action. Thanks for the shrimp photos Kristen, mine turned out shitty because he moved at the last minute and I was all a flutter due to his close proximity. 

Chef Curtis also demonstrated the speed boost feature of the induction cooktop by searing some steaks. He got the pan super hot and used the side of his tongs to push the steaks down into the pan. After a few minutes he dropped the temp down – he was looking for a beautiful golden brown sear. He explained why he didn’t add any oil to the steaks or the pan. There is enough fat already around the edges and through the intermuscular fat, which melts, creating caramelization. The less you use fat as a cooking medium and more as flavor, the healthier it is.

One tip I learned was resting the steak midway through cooking. I always knew to rest the meat after it was cooked, had never seen it rested ½ way through the cooking process. When he finally cut into the steaks, there was virtually no blood on the cutting board since all the juices remained in the steak. I will definitely be trying that out with summer grilling.

He created a sauce for the steak using red wine and beef stock combined with the steak pan bits – reducing that down. He mentioned that you could also add butter to smooth it out or fresh herbs as a finisher.

The steak was plated on top of wild mushrooms that he cooked with olive oil, shallots, garlic and fresh sprigs of thyme.

He shared… button, portobellos, ceps or trompettes, the type of mushroom doesn’t really matter since they all cook in a similar way. He mentioned the importance of adding the garlic after the mushrooms had begun to sweat down a little – if you add it too soon, it will brown too quickly or burn.

I forgot to mention that there was a roast cooking in the oven when we arrived… he also demonstrated the steam/convection oven by roasting asparagus and potatoes – both cooked simply with olive oil, salt and pepper.

He plated everything and then invited people up to taste. I was able to get a slice of the roast, a piece of steak and a potato – they had run out of the little bamboo plates, so napkins it was. I split my haul with Kristen. Michelle and her daughter were able to grab samples as well.

Steak

The demo portion of the evening ended with chocolate filled cream puffs decked out with edible gold flakes.

We each got one and as I bit into it, the velvety/creamy chocolate and ganache melted in my mouth. Freaking delicious!

Dessert was followed up with a raffle drawing. We had all put our names in. They raffled off ten cookbooks to be signed by him right then and there… the Bosch mixer that he used during the demo, which he signed, and a brand new Bosch dishwasher with installation. Heck ya! I won his cookbook – Good Food, Good Life – I never win anything, so that was super exciting. He signed that one – Dear Kathleen 🙂 and we chatted a bit more.

I was super giddy all night. He was so personable and I loved how he interacted with the audience in such a friendly, relaxed way – and not many people can say that Chef Curtis Stone almost choked them out in a cooking demo. 

A fun evening with good people all around. It feels great to dust off the ol’ blog. The weather is getting nicer and I’m looking forward to more local events and creating and trying some new recipes. 

Foo

 

 

 

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The Art of Pizza Making at the Napoli Culinary Academy

Classes at the Napoli Culinary Academy popped up on Groupon over the summer. A girlfriend and I were having dinner and decided it would be fun to sign up for one. Classes fill up fast, the first “Art of Pizza Making” session with two seats available was four months out. Perfect, that worked with both of our schedules. Napoli also hosts a “Cooking with the Movies” series of classes where they teach students how to cook dishes inspired by favorite movies. Example: Gone With the Wind: Three Course Southern Class where students make Sweet Southern Cornbread, Chicken Brunswick Stew and Peach Cobbler. I’ve taken three other pizza cooking classes from chefs local to Sacramento and I was excited to take a fourth at a new place. They do offer the Art of Pizza Making paired with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, but we opted for the no movie class.

Fast forward to Friday, November 3 (the day we attended the Luke Bryan concert in the pouring rain) and being in the car when Michelle asked just after midnight – What time should I pick you up tonight for our class?

Me: Huh? Class?  What class?
Michelle: Um… our cooking class. Did you not put it on your calendar?
Me: Apparently not. 

How about 4:30 p.m.? Laughter ensues. 

We walked through the door and were immediately greeted by our instructor, Chef Hassi Sadri.

“The Napoli Culinary Academy was established in 1997 by Mr. Hassi Sadri. Mr. Sadri’s nationally recognized restaurant, Café Napoli appeared on the cover of Pizza Today Magazine naming the restaurant as one of the 100 most unique restaurants in the nation. This exposure and notoriety for Mr. Sadri in 1992 inspired him to open the Academy .”  – Napoli Culinary Academy Website

The interior was really cute. I kept comparing it to other cooking classes I had taken and I knew it would be a very different experience. The dim lighting, intimate setting and smaller instructor station intrigued me and also made me sad because I knew my photos would end up being dark/mediocre. 

We sat together at one of the side tables and looked through the drink menu. Our class fee included water, soda, beer or wine and tastes of all the food made that evening. 

We were given a dough and pizza sauce recipe to start things off. There were some introductions and then Chef Sadri demonstrated the art of preparing/throwing pizza dough. The dough recipe was similar to other recipes I’ve received or found in cookbooks and online. Bread flour, ice water, salt, butter, yeast. He stressed the importance of using a food scale, which inspired me to order a new one for myself. My trusty scale from my Weight Watcher days bit the dust a few months back.

Chef Sadri tried to catch people off guard by throwing the formed dough at students while he was talking to see if we had been listening when he explained the proper way to catch formed pizza dough using the back of your hands/wrists, not your fists or fingers and definitely not while wearing rings or other jewelry.  The first student did great. She nailed it with a perfect back of the hands/wrist catch. The second student stuck her entire finger through the dough and said it was because she got scared. He mocked her for a good 5 minutes after that, which I didn’t mind,  because this person was the same that probably asked “is this going to be on the final?” while attending school. Translation: she was annoying AF.

We learned about the importance of creating your own sauce and how all bottled, jarred or otherwise packaged pre-made “pizza sauces” are crap. Ha-ha, not going to lie, I’ve used Trader Joe’s and other brands many times. 

He first applied freshly chopped garlic to the raw pizza dough once formed on the  pizza pan/or board. He then used a sauce combination of (crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and optional crushed red pepper) directly on top of the garlic/raw dough. He used a ladle to spread sauce to the outer edges while leaving over an inch of space around the edges so the sauce/cheese lava flow wouldn’t jack up the pizza oven. I’m sure not his exact words, but pretty close. Chef Sadri had a lot to say about people that use too much sauce. He even sarcastically offered to bring students cups of sauce to drink so they wouldn’t flood their pizzas due to “their love of sauce.” Once the sauce was spread onto the dough, he sprinkled the pizza with more oregano, followed by a thin coating of Parmesan cheese. 

Then it was time for the toppings. The first pizza was a stuffed pizza. The toppings included sausage – a blend they order and actually sell at the cafe/academy, red and green onion, a three pepper (yellow, red, green) blend, mushrooms and lots of mozzarella cheese. He topped the dough with regular and black sesame seeds. The sausage was some of the best I’ve ever tasted on pizza.

Chef Sadri continued making pizzas for the class while demonstrating technique. The one above had lots of veggies, including broccoli. The white sauce was made with ricotta, heavy cream and garlic. I honestly can’t remember what else, but I know there was something. I’ll have to check with Michelle on that.

He used WAY more toppings than in my previous pizza classes. Those chefs all seemed to stress the importance of using very few toppings, while simultaneously dissing Americans for their love of piling them on. Chef Sadri did not shy away from toppings. He did talk about the importance of not piling them up in the center of the pizza. He used a few pieces of toppings for aesthetics, but explained that it allowed the middle of the pizza to cook more evenly and it was easier to cut and pull pieces apart without a lot of toppings falling off. 

It was really cool to watch him make the calzone. It confirmed that I’ve been doing it all wrong. He actually put the filling (in this case – ricotta, spinach, caramelized onion, mushroom, sausage and mozzarella) down the center of the circle of dough. After using egg wash around the edges, he brought BOTH sides up to pinch together. I always fold one side on top of the other and then pinch. Nope, this way was much smoother. He brought both ends together, creating space for the sauce which was something I’ve never done.

We didn’t get to taste the calzone since they turned it into the prize for the student that made the best pizza. We all washed our hands and then headed into the kitchen in our aprons to get to work. While there wasn’t anything for us to do prep wise (everything was already chopped, the sauce was prepared and the dough was portioned out into balls) we still had fun forming our dough on our pans and getting to choose our own toppings. I’m not going to brag – o.k., yes I am. Michelle and I definitely had the best pizzas of our group. They looked freakin’ amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been able to really get the dough thin enough and to the desired size without ripping it. I even managed to toss it in the air a few times staying very close to my hands, I wasn’t brave enough to toss it high over the table or floor. 

Now comes the lame part. The majority of the student pizzas went into the wood fired oven up front with Chef Sadri critiquing them as they went in and came out. There was only one sauce disaster that he sent back to do over.

Ours ended up in the kitchen oven, so yeah, they weren’t part of the contest. WTF? THEN, not only did we miss out on the contest and winning the calzone, they crammed our beautiful piping hot pizzas into styrofoam clam shell containers. 

Um, excuse me – why did we even bother shaping them into perfectly round pizzas? Michelle and I also think that something happened when they placed them in the back oven because there is no WAY our sauce was even close to the edges where it went over. I forgot to snap a photo of Michelle’s pizza, but it was fabulous too. 

Whatever, call us sore losers, fine. It was just a disappointing end to an otherwise very fun class. We were full from all of the pizza tasting throughout the class, so we didn’t even try our pizzas until the next day. I’m glad that I went all out with toppings (Pepperoni, sausage, olives, mushrooms, green and red onion and lots of mozzarella cheese) – making sure to not place toppings near the center of the pizza, just like we were taught in class. I learned some new tips and tricks and look forward to putting them into action during my next pizza making session.  I will definitely consider ordering sausage from Napoli, it was that good! They also sell the fresh mozzarella cheese by the pound and the dough too. 

The regular price for a class is $156 per person, but the Groupon deal was $21 per person plus a $6 gratuity charge,  so a great value for sure. I’ve got my eyes on an Egyptian, African or Persian class for round two. Thanks Michelle for scoring the Luke Bryan tickets and for signing us up for another fun food adventure, I really enjoyed myself.
foo

 

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