Saturday, March 15, 2014

A CHEESE "SKIRT" AT THE SQUEEZE INN




A CHEESE "SKIRT" AT THE SQUEEZE INN


 OK - many of you know I'm on a forever search for the perfect cheeseburger (full disclosure - I'm also a cheese junkie), so when my brother and sister-in-law in Sacramento (who know my food proclivities) reminded me about the Squeeze Inn, I had to go.  It's a dive, I found out, that Guy Fieri calls the best in Sac.  He loved it so much he did a piece on this "hole-in-the-wall" for his Food Network show, "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives."  So, since I covet cheeseburgers and love to eat in diners, drive-ins and dives... damn the diet, full speed ahead!!!

This is not one of Richard's favorite foods (I love him despite this flaw in his food character), but he agreed to go even though he'd actually been to the original Squeeze Inn some years ago w/ my brother.  Why I wasn't along with, I have no idea - probably because they'd been playing golf, but I digress...  He did tell me then, however, that  he thought this was a dive for me and that I would sing this burger's praises.

The "original" dive was named Squeeze Inn because if you wanted to eat there you had to squeeze in, as the restaurant, which many Sacramento-ites considered a city landmark, was no bigger than an average-size living room and was furnished with a counter and stools and a couple of picnic benches.  However, a few years ago after a frivolous law suit was filed against the restaurant (which was subsequently dropped), the owners decided to move and find a larger space.

The new location in a strip mall only a stone's throw away from the original dive is larger and can seat many diners comfortably.  The owners recycled the original counter and installed the old dive's storefront in the restaurant and made it into a private eating booth.  



In the entrance is a picture wall of patrons and framed reviews. 








But enough of the decor...

To say I've never had a cheeseburger (called a "squeeze with cheese") quite like this one is an understatement.  I could write a short essay on the grilled cheese skirt alone... in fact I will:

The trick to this squeeze with cheese is that its cooked over a 1/3 pound burger into this crispy and addicting cheese skirt by covering the burger in what seems like a pound of shredded cheese, then throw on some ice chunks and cover.  As the cheese melts partially off the burger and onto the grill, the steam from the ice helps the cheese form their crispy brown edges.  Cheese nirvana.


I always ask for the tomato, onions, lettuce, etc., on the side so that they don't mask the flavors of the melted cheese and grilled ground beef.  However - and it just may have been that the cook was having an off day - the burger itself didn't seem to be 1/3 of a pound and was way too well-done.  That said, the cheese skirt masked my disappointment in the meat.

Of course, we had to have a side of fries, which were adequate.  They could have been a tad more crispy... but they weren't bad.



And, though I disagree with Guy Fieri that the Squeeze Inn is the best dive in Sacramento (I think I would have loved the "original" hole-in-the-wall better), I will give it another try.  It had me at cheese skirt. 

SQUEEZE INN
5301 Power Inn Road
Sacramento, Calif.  95820
916-386-8599



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

THE NIVENS OF SAN LUIS OBISPO




THE NIVENS OF SAN LUIS OBISPO


Love my sojourns with Richard to Arroyo Grande (affectionately referred to as AG) - not only do we get to have a fun sleepover with good friends, but we get to explore the beaches and countryside... including new wineries.
Our last trip to AG was no exception as we discovered the Niven Family Wine Estates (no relation to the wonderful actor David Niven - at least to my knowledge). Founded by Jack and Catharine Niven, the winery is managed today by multi-generations of Nivens who have farmed the vineyards with a commitment to the surrounding environment and have been certified SIP (Sustainability in Practice) which makes me feel I'm doing my part in helping the environment when I sip their wine.

The tasting room is in the Independence School House, an 850 square foot, one room school house, with 18 foot ceilings, built in 1909.  








Garden tables and chairs are just outside the building for tasting under blue skies...


There are even lanes for a game or two of bocce...



Enrique, our barista, kept our "pour" flowing...

The 2011 tangent Grenache Blanc ($17.00) had a light melon-y taste w/ bits of caramel to balance the acidity.  This wine would go wonderfully with spicy Thai food.

Next was a 2010 Trenza Blanco - 64% grenache blanc/36% albarino ($20.00) - Trenza (Spanish for braid in case you're curious) is a winery which produces wines in the Spanish-inspired New World blends. The Albarino portion is citrus-y, while the grenache blanc is more full-bodied. I really liked it.

The 2012 Zocker Riesling is a new release ($18.00).  It was crisp and grapefruit-y with a taste of orange blossoms.  I'm not a big fan of wines w/ a grapefruit flavor, but if you are, this is a nice wine for the price.

Staying with whites, we moved onto 2012 Zocker Gruner Veltliner, also a new release ($20.00).  This wine also had hints of grapefruit with a lemon/orange finish.

Another new release was the 2012 tangent Albarino ($17.00), a wine that had notes of tangerine, ripe peach and grapefruit.  The winery recommends that this wine be paired with shellfish and I can see a glass standing beside a nice shrimp or lobster dish.

I enjoyed the 2010 Baileyana El Gordo Chardonnay ($30.00) - besides the obligatory tastes of fruit (melon and pears in this case), it also had a delish taste of vanilla and marshmallow. 

Moving to the "reds," we started with a 2009 Trenza Tinto - 50% syrah Edna Valley/33% tempranillo, Arroyo Grande/17% grenache Paso Robles ($30.00) - I liked this wine with its hints of fruit, tobacco (giving it some 'husk'), maple syrup, a bit of black pepper and an aroma that reminded me of autumn leaves on Long Island where I grew up.

The 2009 Cadre Pinot Noir - 32% Firepeak Vineyard, Edna Valley/28% Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley/22% La Encantada Sta., Rita Hills/18% Laetitia Vineyard, Arroyo GrandeValley ($50.00) - a mix of flavors including cherries, cola and vanilla, I thought this wine was a bit sharp for my taste.

My favorite wine in the flight was the new release 2011 Baileyana Firepeak Syrah ($30.00) - yes, I could taste the plums and cloves, but the undertone of chocolate just made this smooth as velvet.

Last, but not least, was another new release, a 2010 Baileyana Port ($20.00) - full-bodied with plum, boysenberry and cherry notes coupled with hints of vanilla, spice and cinnamon, this is a nice port for the money.

Our tasting over, it was time to head out to dinner.  But if you're ever in San Lus Obispo or AG, drop in at the Niven Family tasting room, you won't be disappointed.


NIVEN FAMILY WINE ESTATES
5828 Orcutt Road
San Luis Obispo, Calif. 9340
805-269-8200
Tasting Room Open Daily: 10AM - 5PM

www.nivenfamilywines.com

Check out the wine club online... it gives discounts.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE CELLOS ARE COMING! THE CELLOS ARE COMING!




THE CELLOS ARE COMING! 
THE CELLOS ARE COMING!


Alert the media!!!  The largest cello rock band in the world is coming to L.A.
We all know that jazz has its basses, well, stick a bow on it and play "Johnny Be Good."

I know, I know -- I'm not a total musical instrument illiterate - the cello is different from the bass... but you have to admit, they're both tall and cumbersome when traveling on a bus or subway.

Although the cello is traditionally a classical music instrument, 12 classically trained cellists from Yale decided to take a detour from Bach, Beethoven and Brahms and try a little Beatles... and the Eagles and maybe a little Johnny Cash ... by arranging classic rock, pop, metal and blues tunes exclusively for the cello.



They call themselves "Low Strung."


But they don't play music just for Baby Boomers.  Founded in 2004, the group is constantly changing its repertoire to include not only music from the 60's.... but music from the 21st century.  From The Who and Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga and Imagine Dragons. They mix Bach with Amy Winehouse, and Beethoven with The Eagles. Something old - something new.  A little bit classical - a little bit rock'n'roll.  Music for Baby Boomers and their off-spring and their off-springs' off-springs.

Here's a little musical sample:  http://www.youtube.com/user/LowStrungYale/videos

(My personal favorite - "Hotel California")

Simply said: They rock! 

Catch them at:

WHISKY A GO GO
8901 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310-652-4202

Date: March 11th
Show time: 8:45 pm
Set: half-hour
Tickets: $10


--------------------------------------

VITELLO'S
  Upstairs at Vitello's

4349 Tujunga Ave.
Studio City, A 91604
818-769-0905

Date: March 13th
Show time: 8:00 pm
Set: one hour
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at: www.ticketweb.com
 or by calling the box office (number above).  BO hours are 3-6:00pm Mon. thru Sat.

All guests should purchase a ticket to secure a reservation.





Thursday, January 30, 2014

CARR WINERY - I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU



CARR WINERY - I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU


It's been a few years since I reviewed the Carr Winery on the Urban Wine Trail...


My brother Bob and sister-in-law, Nguyen, were visiting us in Ojai for a couple of days and had never been - so it was time to introduce them to the "Trail"... Santa Barbara's "Sideways" tour of up and coming wineries.  First stop, the tasting room in the Carr Winery.

When we arrived, we discovered owner/farmer/vintner, Ryan Carr, and his wife, Jessica (general manager/sales), in the middle of a crush... 


Tons (literally) of grapes from his vineyard had been delivered, ready to be crushed (the technical term for "smashed") for their juice... the first stage of wine making (well, after growing the grapes, that is).


I could only think of one thing upon seeing those huge vats filled with grapes: 

Cue Lucy and Ethel!!!  Visions of them stomping around in those big wooden barrels in gypsy costumes in their bare feet wouldn't leave my head.


As they continued to prance and stomp on my mind's internal TV screen, I sipped some of the delicious Carr label grenache and cab franc, as well as the Harvest Gold label chardonnay and a viognier.  But, I was so lost in my Lucy and Ethel reverie, I forgot to take notes!

Alas, because of modern technology, I didn't get to enjoy what would've been the hilarious sight of Ryan and Jessica taking off their shoes to do the Lucy/Ethel thing. But, it was still fascinating to see them high atop the crusher "working it" as the grapes began their journey to becoming fine wine... I did miss the gypsy wardrobe, though.
 


the crusher
All you really need to know, however, is that Ryan makes some absolutely delicious wines... many of which are specifically reviewed in the link above, which includes his bio/backstory on how he happened to become such an accomplished winemaker.

By the time we finished tasting and watching, it was too late to visit any other tasting rooms.  That was perfectly fine with us.  What we had at the Carr Winery had delighted our taste buds and we were ready to head home.

So, the next time you're in Santa Barbara, drop in at Ryan's place - you won't be disappointed... and don't feel shy about visiting his website (link below) and the wine club if you're somewhere else in the world... He delivers.

Carr Winery
414 N. Salsipuedes St.
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93103
805-965-7985

Sunday, January 19, 2014

IT'S A WRAP - A Taste of Viet Nam

 IT'S A WRAP
A Taste of Viet Nam

As a foodie, I have to confess that my experience w/ Asian food is limited. Of course, as a New Yorker, I grew up eating Chinese food (well, 50's/60's Chinese sweet and sour food) but ventured into Chinese cuisine a bit further as I got older.  And, yes, I do eat Japanese food, Thai food and have been known to have Korean BBQ on occasion... but I'm clueless when it comes to food from countries such as Cambodia, Laos or even Viet Nam.

Well, to broaden by culinary horizon, the last time Richard and I were in Sacramento, my brother Bob and his wife Nguyen (yes, she's Viet Namese and I'm still Viet Namese food-challenged!!!) decided to start my Asian food education with a trip to Quan Nem - Ninh Hoa...



...a restaurant on Stockton Blvd. in "Little Saigon" (for those of you who know Sac)... 


...to have its House Special No. 1, a dish whose origins come from Ninh Hoa, a coastal region between central and south Viet Nam.

A kind of Mexican burrito-style dish (or a very pregnant spring roll) in that everything is rolled up into slim rice papers, but it's a DIY affair because you do the rolling...



...which includes 4 charbroiled pork skewers (which can be substituted w/ BBQ chicken kabob, BBQ pork kabob, or 1/2 lb. fried fish cake), 2 fermented pickled pork, 8 slim eggrolls, 8 rice papers, angel vermicelli; assorted veggies, an assortment of greens including lettuce, cilantro, mint... cucumbers, pickled carrots, daikon homemade sauce w/ roasted peanut topping... and a partridge in a pear tree (just kidding).


One $15.95 portion serves two (though there is a half portion available for $8.50).  We ordered two full portions and frankly, as full as I was when the plates were clean, I wanted more.

 
The blend of these fresh garden and charbroiled tastes made for one of the most delicious Asian meals I've ever had.  My taste buds did a happy dance, sooooooooooo...

...if you're in Sacramento, or plan to visit, don't walk, run to Quan Nem - Ninh Hoa and order House Special No. 1, and...

... Xin moi (let's eat)!!!


Quan Nem - Ninh Hoa
6450 Stockton, Calif. 95823
916-428-3748

Also on the menu is a variety of appetizers and spring rolls... noodle soups, rice plates, vermicelli, angel vermicelli, and vegetarian dishes.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THE LAST HURRAH - 2013 - Ibarra Chocolate Cake w/ Chocolate Glaze




THE LAST HURRAH - 2013
Ibarra Chocolate Cake w/ Chocolate Glaze


Selling our house in Studio City and moving to Ojai to start a new life adventure has been a whirlwind.  But we finally settled into our new home just in time to food binge through the holidays.

I don't know about you, but clear broth was beginning to sound appetizing after weeks of turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casseroles - prime rib, popovers, mashed potatoes, spinach souffles - lobster tails w/ clarified butter and an assortment of steaks and roasts and aged cheeses an pates all accompanied w/ single malt, cosmos, martinis, white and red wines.  I think I need to check into a clinic to dry out from holiday over-indulgence syndrome.

But before I hit the clear broth and bottled water, there was one more holiday to celebrate in 2013.  New Year's Eve.  Richard and I had planned to stay in and watch Kathy Griffith embarrass Anderson Cooper again this year as the ball fell in Manhattan, but we were invited to a pot luck dinner party at the beautiful home of new Ojaian (not to be confused w/ Ohioan) friends.  

Our choice of course:  Dessert.  To say goodbye to the 2013 food year we chose the most delicious, richest, chocolate dessert we could make as our last food hurrah... Mark Miller's Ibarra chocolate cake w/ chocolate glaze from his Coyote Cafe cookbook.


How rich is it?  Your head says stop after one bite, your stomach says "more!"   

Our stomachs won, and we all clamored for seconds... not bites, but whole slices.

Bring on the broth.

Mark Miller's Ibarra Chocolate Cake w/ Chocolate Glaze
Coyote Cookbook (page 130)

"Even though there's no  Ibarra chocolate in it, this cake contains everything that Mexican Ibarra chocolate contains --- chocolate, almonds, cinnamon and sugar.  Hence the name.  The glaze for this torte-like dessert has twice as much chocolate as the cake, making this concoction a choco-holics delight."

Yield: One 8 or 9 inch cake

Ingredients (cake):


1 T. cinnamon
zest of 2 oranges
4 T (2 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, grated
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) unblanched almonds, toasted and ground
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2 T fresh orange juice
2 T Grand Marnier (we used Triple Sec)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease, flour, and paper an 8 or 9 inch cake pan.  

Combine cinnamon, orange zest, grated chocolate, and ground almonds in a mixing bowl and set aside.  

Beat egg yolks w/ 1/4 cup sugar; stir in orange juice, and set aside.

In another bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks while gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar.

Stir egg yolks and orange juice into the chocolate-almond mixture, then fold in half the beaten egg whites.  Blend well, and gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan.  Let cool for 10 minutes and invert onto cake rack.  (Note from Richard:  watch!  He removed it from oven after 28 minutes.)

When cool, paint w/ Grand Marnier (Triple Sec), then cover w/ Chocolate Glaze (we pour the glaze over the cake from a gravy boat).

Ingredients (chocolate glaze):

10 T (5 ozs) bittersweet chocolate
1 T (1/2 oz) unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup softened butter
1 T corn syrup
1 T water
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel (optional)

Directions:

Place both chocolates, 1/2 cup of the soft butter, corn syrup, and water in a double boiler over simmering (not rapidly boiling) water.
 

Stir gently until just melted  Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/4 cup soft butter.

The glaze is ready to pour when it reaches the consistency of maple syrup (between 86 and 96 degrees).

Place cake rack over pan or wax paper, and pour glaze over cake, tilting to coat evenly (we never do the tilt thing because the gravy boat allows us to control the pour so that it's evenly distributed).




Decorate w/ candied orange peel, if desired.  (We decorated the cake w/ raspberries and a sprig of mint.)

Bon Appetit!!!

And a very happy 2014!!!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

LET ME EAT CAKE! (Citrus-Almond Cake)






LET ME EAT CAKE
(Citrus-Almond Cake)


As some of you know, after 22 years of dinner parties (many starring in this blog), annual Christmas Eve parties (yup, memorialized here), love and laughter, we’re selling our house (see “Diary of a Home Owner”).  We’ve been in escrow… out of escrow... in escrow... out of escrow... and in escrow, again (hopefully for the last time).  I’ve been euphoric… un-euphoric… euphoric… un-euphoric… and euphoric again. 

Please, let me eat cake!  And I don’t really like cake.

But, I do love citrus-almond cake…

Last night, friends came to say goodbye to our house, over dinner of course!  It was their final meal in the dining room where they’ve had so many other great Richard meals. The room will stay, but the memories will come with us to wherever Richard cooks again.  A moveable feast!

And for last nite's dessert… Let them eat cake!!!



Citrus-Almond Cake
(adapted from Molly Wizenberg)

Ingredients:

1 small-to-medium orange
1 lemon
6 oz raw almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 eggs
½ tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup olive oil

Confectioner’s sugar


Directions:

Place the orange and the lemon in a saucepan, and cover w/ water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and set a rack in the middle position.   Bake the almonds 10 to 15 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely.  When the almonds are cool, pulse them in a food processor until ground.  (TIP:  to save time, Richard uses dry-roasted and unsalted almonds from Trader Joe’s.  Saves roasting time.)

Set oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch springform pan.

When the citrus is cool, cut the lemon in half, and discard the pulp and seeds.  Cut the orange in half, and discard the seeds.  Put the fruits in the food processor and process almost to a paste.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder. 

Combine eggs and salt.  Beat until foamy.

Beat in the sugar. 

Fold in the flour mixture. 

Add the citrus, almonds and olive oil, and beat on low speed until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the pan, and bake for about 1 hour. (per Richard:  Check your oven.  He bakes for only 50 minutes).

Remove and dust w/ confectioner’s sugar.