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Sacramento and Surroundings

Wow. I was just about to reply that you're better off skipping Hawks, as I had the very worst meal I've ever been served in my life there...glad your experience was better! And thanks for the Ella review, too...been wanting to check it out.

Aug 15, 2012
tsfirefly in California

1979 Sausal Sonoma Zin?

Turns out both the Sausal and the German wine were FANTASTIC.

Here was the final menu:

Langworth Von Simmern 1971 Rheingau Eltviller Sonnenberg

Chesapeake Bay Soft-Shell Crab “Sandwich” with Tomato Confit, Radish Sprouts and Fried Capers, in a Cornichon Brunoise Sauce

Mousse of Sea Urchin with Ginger Vinaigrette and Frazzled Leeks atop a Crispy Pappadum with Kumquat Salsa

Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraiche in an Onion Seed Basket, with Warm Cilantro Panna Cotta


Sausal Sonoma 1978 Zinfandel (it was a 78, not a 79 as I originally reported)

Seed Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Dijon Mustard Blackberry Sauce and a Pommes de Terre William

Carpaccio of Rib Eye Steak with Firefly Farms Tomato Jam, Parsnip and Roasted Fennel Puree, and a Point Reyes Blue Cheese Wedge


I am, unfortunately, not qualifed to report on the actual qualities of these wines, but I can tell you both experts were absolutely thrilled with how well they both aged. Of course, they've been kept the entire time in a fabulous wine cellar, never moved, and just about perfect temperature conditions the entire time -- same owner, same cellar.

And to FrankJBN, I actually did think about buffalo, believe it or not! But then when I was buying the sea urchin the Japanese butcher had some gorgeous ribeye sliced paper thin...couldn't resist...and that, with the tomato jam, parsnip and fennel puree, and local blue cheese was perfect.

Thank you everyone -- your input was so appreciated! I'm hired indefinitely for these soirees...I'm sure there will be another one in the fall!

Jul 16, 2012
tsfirefly in Wine

1979 Sausal Sonoma Zin?

I'm catering a rather high end, small affair for some serious wine afficionados and wine judges. They are supplying the wine and it is up to me to create their menu based on what they're providing.

I have the first two courses are already paired just fine, but I am in need of two main courses to go with a 1979 Sausal Sonoma zinfandel and I'm having a hard time finding adequate information on what this will be like. Any input would be great!

FYI, the first two courses are going to be paired with a Langworth von Simmern 1971 Rheingau Eltviller Sonnenberg and will feature sea urchin and lobster. Each course is small, so two main courses are needed for that zin.

I always get such great wine advice here...thanks in advance!

Jun 27, 2012
tsfirefly in Wine

Cooking in a hotel room

WOW! I posted this two years ago and apparently the thread has resurfaced with lots and lots of comments...

Just to set the record straight...sorry, I should have been clearer in my original post. I'm a chef, fully food safety certified, and I obviously know and care about what is allowed and disallowed in hotels and other establishments. Combustible fuel, while I'd obviously prefer it (being the backpacking family we are...see my backpacking posts!), is definitely out of the question and electric is my only option. Also, because we're traveling to smallish-area cities where many, many people are also going (a national sports championship), there was NOTHING with a kitchen available by the time I tried to make our reservation. Oh, and we don't eat hot dogs. Ever.

Because we do this every summer, and because so many people chimed in, here's what we did in 2010 and 2011 and what we will be doing yet again...

1. The trip in 2010 by car meant I could take whatever equipment I needed. We took a rice cooker and I ended up purchasing a double electric burner stove that fit the hotel electrical limit requirements (yes, I checked first...knowing we were stuck in that city with very few other hotel options, I did NOT want to piss off any sort of management by doing something shady!). We also took a very large live basil plant that the kids nicknamed Victoria or some such thing, but that's another story (before anyone freaks out, we finished off the last leaf before coming back over the CA border :) ).

I don't remember exactly what we cooked that year, but since I broke down and bought the electric burners, we ate very well. Cleanup was not an issue because a) three of the four kids were teenage boys which meant no leftovers, and b) the management of the hotel was more than happy (after seeing my finally-useful food safety manager and instructor card. Who knew?) to allow me to use one of their industrial sinks because it sure beat the risk of me clogging up a room sink.

I turned an old but very lovely bead sorter (tiny aluminum jars with glass lids, 30 held in a small aluminum case about 8" square) into a spice and herb travel container. We used paper products, obviously. I packed my usual travel assortment of knives/cutting boards/other small implements. And a pair of REI backpacking wine glasses just in case things got ugly.

What I DIDN'T count on was the grocery store issue. An entire large freezer section devoted to non-dairy whipped topping, something I'd never seen before. Holy cow. Finally toward the end of our trip we discovered a store that was more suited to our tastes, lots of fresh fruit, dairy and such.

We camped our way to Nebraska and back, so we took the double burner backpacking stove to use along the way...we just didn't use it once we arrived at the hotel.

2. Moving on to 2011, I was able to get us a hotel room with an actual kitchenette, lucky because we flew that year so taking the double burner was out of the question. We took the same knives/cutting board/spice arrangement. We took only two kids this time, so financially we were in a slightly better place. We did not have any fish or seafood that week because a) I didn't want the smell to linger, and b) I'm a little weird about eating locally as much as possible.

No oven and a busy schedule meant everything was sauteed, seared, or poached. We steamed vegetables in the microwave until I figured out how to rig a steamer on the stove with a roll of foil and some barbecue skewers. I remember a very nice poached chicken with sauteed mushrooms, a lime curry pork chop, and to celebrate one kid's national championship title, filet mignon with bearnaise sauce. Sure beat what we would have had to spend had we eaten equally as well in restaurants.

I realize many people here think I'm nuts for doing this instead of eating out. Aside from the fact that we simply can't afford it on top of the other travel expenses we can't avoid (hotels, airfare, rental car, blah blah blah), we find that while it's simpler, it just isn't feasible for us. The places we can afford to go, with two to four kids in tow, usually serve food extremely over salted and full of other things we choose not to eat. Plus we're traveling with national caliber athletes who need foods that IHOP just can't provide. Finally, as a family we have actually grown to really love the challenge and the fun that cooking together in a tiny, tiny space provides. No stress about reservations or parking or deciding where to go or whether we'll be in traffic or if there will be time to get back to the hotel to rest or change clothes for late night practice sessions or brings a little bit of home to a very intense week, something the kids (and adults!) really do need and enjoy.

So we're going to Nebraska again this year. I made reservations 13 months ago so I actually have a kitchenette again! Thanks for your replies...I hope for the best for slackferno's challenge in a couple weeks :)

Apr 27, 2012
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

What's for Holiday dinner 2011?

This year we're ditching the entire extended family, grabbing our four kids and heading to the mountains for three days...snowshoeing into a tiny one room cabin without a bathroom or kitchen or even electricity (outhouse 20 yards away outdoors, huge stone fireplace for cooking), creating our own "Christmas tree" in the forest, etc...we'll take a 2-burner backpacking stove, but otherwise everything will be cooked inside the fireplace. We've done this before, but never with the kids...

Menu so far will be:

Six string-roasted game hens (which hang from the ceiling down in front of the fireplace and twirl for a couple hours)

Arugula, fig, ricotta, prosciutto and smoked marzipan salad

Shaved root vegetable gratin

Cranberries with figs and cabernet

Chestnuts (yes, roasted on an open fire...too corny not to do it)

Not sure yet about dessert. Definitely lots of very good wine, whatever we can carry. Probably a soup beforehand, and some hors d'oeuvres.

Dec 20, 2011
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Squid ink pasta?

Does anyone know where I can find squid ink pasta? Searching for a friend who lives in the Bay Area but can't find it anywhere...I don't need a restaurant that serves it, just the pasta itself for him to use in a dish at home...


Need advice about "catering" a party for 60

Caterer here!!

I'll skip menu suggestions because you already have many listed above...I'll stick to logistics and numbers. The only meal suggestion I'd make is to skip the soup someone suggested, unless you're going to serve it in cucumber cups or sake cups or something -- like a "sip."

People eat fewer hors d'oeuvres when passed than when stationary. Take that into account if, at the last minute, you are overwhelmed. Passed hors d'oeuvres need only a napkin and people take only one at a time; stationary or buffet hors d'oeuvres need plates and people tend to take a lot at once rather than one at a time.

For 60 people, you might be surprised but one day to prep probably won't be sufficient...see if you can do all your mis en place (cutting, mixing of creams/toppings/sauces, etc.) before your prep day.

If you have sufficient serving platters, place ONE (or pass one) of each type at a time. Prepare at least one other platter of each item and be ready to swap them out when they run low. Replenish the "swapped out" platter and you'll be ready for the next swap! Extra platters may be stored under the buffet table if your space is limited or if you do not have easy kitchen access. The more you put out, the more people will eat all at once...

As far as numbers...I plan on 20 bites per person if there is no meal served and your party is taking place during a regular dinner hour. Otherwise 12-15 is generally sufficient. For 60 people, 8-9 hors d'oeuvres is plenty, especially since dessert isn't included in that list. Older people tend to eat less than younger people, and people eat more when there is an open bar.

Best of luck and have fun!!

Aug 30, 2011
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Searching for nice grocers btwn Cleveland and Fort Wayne?

Our foodie family will be traveling to Fort Wayne this summer and will be spending a couple weeks in an extended-stay hotel. I'm a chef hoping to find some interesting grocery stores in the immediate area, or at the very least along the route between Cleveland (flying into Cleveland!) and Fort Wayne.

Any thoughts or suggestions of where to go/where to avoid? Ethnic grocers would be great, or at least a nice full-service grocer...


Jul 01, 2011
tsfirefly in Great Lakes

last minute favor doing wedding cake for nephew - could use some thoughts on approach?

As someone who makes a good number of cakes, wedding and otherwise, I tend to stay far away from freezing. I also stay far away from anything but fondant or marzipan coating when I have to transport that far, so you are a gem for agreeing to the buttercream! They are a very lucky couple...

My suggestion would be to definitely do what you can on Friday and get the whole thing good and cold. Build yourself a nice transport container...cardboard boxes, cut in half, with plastic lining and Blue Ice blocks work terrifically well...the boxes lined in plastic (cheap tarp material from Home Depot is great, or just white garbage bags...steer away from black) keep the moisture from the Blue Ice from ruining your car, and they keep the cake layers from overheating.

Since you don't know what sort of facilities you'll have, I'd suggest doing all the frosting at home rather than just a crumb coat...only because it will give you time to chill and set the buttercream overnight, rendering it much more "forgiving" should the cake be cut hours after you arrive. If you wait til the morning of the wedding and it doesn't have a chance to really chill, it won't last through the vows...

Definitely assemble there, though. Take extra buttercream for touchups. Flowers will cover any issues that arise during transport. If you're really really really worried about the weather and heat, you could give the layers a quick visit to the freezer right before leaving -- no more than an hour. That will buy you a little more time, if you have the freezer room...but make sure you don't have anything odd in your freezer, or the buttercream may pick up the flavor.

Good luck, and don't worry! Remember that you will be more critical of your cake than anyone else, and the bride and groom will undoubtedly be thrilled with it and with your efforts!

Aug 16, 2010
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Cooking in a hotel room

Thanks for the input...I actually run a backpacking camp for girls, so for five weeks following this Nebraska adventure we'll be eating food from camp stoves and avoiding the camp stove is sort of a priority :) Same with the foil meal packets.

Will be picking up an electric wok, something I've been loathe to do before now (not a big fan of excess electric cooking stuff here, and we already have a couple of very nice regular woks), but it sounds like it'll come in handy. I can take my bamboo steamers and use them as well.

Jul 06, 2010
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Cooking in a hotel room

Thanks...pot roast and I just don't get along. Holdover from when I was pregnant ages ago, I guess, but the smell of cooking potroast is not something I can handle :)

The hotel includes many units with kitchens, and cooking is definitely allowed...we just didn't make our reservations early enough to get a full kitchen.

Jul 02, 2010
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Cooking in a hotel room

I'm going to be stuck living in a hotel room for eight days with four kids and a husband on a very limited dining budget. We will have a microwave and small refrigerator in the room, and since we're driving there instead of flying, I can pack a rice cooker and (I suppose) a crock pot.

Here's the real challenge...we do NOT plan to eat out once we arrive. I am a chef but I was subjected to nasty crock pot stuff as a child and I think I was scarred for although I do own a crock pot, I never use it at home. We will be traveling from CA to the midwest, so I will need to use ingredients readily available in a standard, run-of-the-mill grocery store in Nebraska. I can take some ingredients with us, but would prefer to purchase all perishables and most non-perishables there.

So -- any ideas?! Breakfasts are available at the hotel, so I only need dinner ideas. The kids have been raised on every kind of gourmet food imaginable, and they have very eclectic I don't need food that is particularly "kid friendly" or anything. I just need ideas for what in the world you can cook in a crock pot/microwave that is not in any shape or form similar to pot roast.


Jul 01, 2010
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Roseville/Granite Bay

Well, we tried Hawk's tonight, and I've never been more disgusted by a meal in my life. Cold, tasteless, disgusting meatloaf (prix fixe menu, so it couldn't be avoided) filled with carrots, topped with carrots and peas, straight out of a 7th grade home ec class gone bad. Carrot soup that was tasteless and poorly prepared, with ginger cream that didn't even resemble anything remotely related to ginger. I could go on and on...but I've seriously never been so disappointed and downright disgusted by a meal, anywhere.

May 23, 2010
tsfirefly in California

Freezer meals for a father-in-law in mourning

Something else to think about...

When this happened to us, I didn't anticipate the fact that even with a freezer full of food, often the actual desire to eat is completely gone. We had food everywhere, everything you could ever want, yet what saved the day was a case of Ensure that someone kindly and anonymously delivered to our front porch.

Getting someone in mourning to open the freezer, defrost something, and heat it up is often just too much. After the devastating loss of a child, I was able to get family members to drink the Ensure when they couldn't bring themselves to actually eat anything. When I left for home, I knew that at least their basic nutritional needs would be taken care of, if nothing else.

Feb 10, 2010
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Pair with 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape?

THANK YOU all for your suggestions. As is my bad habit, I couldn't decide on one particular dish so instead I'm doing more of a tasting menu. Heavy on the shrooms, I know, but that's simply our personal taste. Here's the final menu:

Selection of seafood appetizers -- grilled deep sea scallops wrapped in peppered pork pancetta; Provencal baked mussels; Mushrooms stuffed with king crab in Bearnaise sauce; Pommes-fleurs with warm brandied calamari salad

Civet of wild boar with bitter chocolate and peppercorns (butcher couldn't hook me up with boar blood, but good chocolate is a pretty nice substitute)

Venison chops with wild mushroom port glaze

Seared elk with cranberry ginger chutney

Rosemary scented potato galette with morels

Trio of greens tart (dandelion, mustard and kale) in a shallot and chanterelle dijon custard

BayLeaf Gingercello with warmed ginger dusted walnut cakes (BayLeaf is my home label)

So...thanks again for all your suggestions -- I think I took a little something from everyone's posts!

Dec 25, 2009
tsfirefly in Wine

Wanted: Your best "Over the Top" appetizer for New Years

I do the same thing with the layers of apple slices, but instead of cheese I fill them with a brandied calamari sort of lose the floral effect (because I tend to fill the cup with probably a bit more calamari salad than necessary!), but they're still amazingly pretty and they'd fit with your seafood theme...You could use calvados instead of the brandy, but I think that makes the salad a bit too sweet.

Dec 25, 2009
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Pair with 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape?

Thanks... I did look up recent notes and unfortunately they weren't quite as helpful as I'd hoped. I like the duck cassoulet idea, though...I think that's the direction I'm going to go.

Thanks for the guidance!

Dec 21, 2009
tsfirefly in Wine

Pair with 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape?

It's the Pegau...

Dec 21, 2009
tsfirefly in Wine

Pair with 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape?

I'm a former chef, but husband is a former sommelier and unfortunately this is a surprise dinner for him so I can't exactly ask HIM what I should cook to go with this...

Difficulty is not an issue -- was thinking about lamb, but would appreciate any advice!

Thank you!

Dec 21, 2009
tsfirefly in Wine

Smores Variations?

I run a girl scout camp...I see more s'mores every year than I even care to recall.

While we make very shi shi s'mores at home with Valrhona chocolate, toasted marzipan squares and homemade marshmallows, the girls this summer created their own s'mores buffet, with several different flavors of those Ghirardelli filled chocolate squares -- raspberry, caramel, mint, etc... No mess, no fuss, really great.

The real artistry is in the toasting technique... :)

Oct 10, 2009
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Unforbidden Fruit

beth1, I'm laughing outloud at your Scarecrow sprinkler!! Too funny...

May 19, 2009
tsfirefly in Features

Unforbidden Fruit

I used to live in a house with quite a few amazing olive trees on the property, and I LOVED LOVED LOVED it when folks would come by and ask if they could response was always yes, pick what you can use, and thank you for asking. They were appreciative, they told me stories about their olive curing experiences, and I even came to look forward to their visits every fall.

What bothered me to no end were the people who would come and pick without asking -- I confronted a couple once who were picking olives in my front yard, and they told me that they "didn't think I knew how to cure the olives, so how dare I let them go to waste."

My point is that just seeing a loaded tree does not necessarily mean the owner doesn't know what he/she is doing. Of course I used gallons and gallons and GALLONS of my fruit, of course I knew what I was doing, of course I knew how to cure them and press them, but how dare they assume that a loaded tree meant I was a clueless ninnie? Some fruit and nut tree owners have reasons for not picking all their fruit (in my case I have a specific time that I pick, which happened to be 8 days after these pilferers came strolling by with their ladders and buckets), so don't assume otherwise.

Seems silly to me. Ask and ye shall receive. Or not. But then you're no worse off than you were before. Duh.

May 19, 2009
tsfirefly in Features

HELP! Need elegant gourmet menu for tonight...

THANKS for all the great ideas -- I ended up going with the following menu:

Oysters & Pearls (a la Keller)
Calamari tubes stuffed with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto
Cream of Walnut soup with truffle oil
Salad of arugula, Point Reyes Blue cheese, caramelized black walnuts and figs
Palate cleanser of rosewater sorbet
Anise ravioli filled with salmon, goat cheese and roasted fennel, in a Pernod-fennel frond cream sauce
Beef wellington

I would have done a chocolate mousse souffle for dessert, but darn it if I didn't slice my hand open with the stupid oyster knife, so that little diversion cost me about an hour of prep time. But otherwise the champagne worked perfectly with the whole dinner, which was the goal in the first place.

BTW, I'm making dhedges53's Smoked Salmon Chowder tonight :)

Dec 03, 2008
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

T-day dinner scorecard

BEST IDEA OF THE CENTURY IN MY HOUSE -- We have six kids (ages 8-17), and each kid was responsible for one dessert and one side dish...they had to research recipes, make grocery lists, and do the shopping themselves, too (and the shopping was absolutely hilarious, but extremely educational!). My husband and I did the turkey and gravy, but otherwise we sat back and answered questions when needed.

No one complained that they didn't like this dish or that dish, because they cooked it all themselves...they had a great time, and more important, I think they appreciate mom and dad a lot more for cooking for them every single day.

TONS of fun, and a new Thanksgiving tradition for us...

Nov 29, 2008
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

HELP! Need elegant gourmet menu for tonight...

I got married last weekend, and this is the first dinner my new husband and I have together without all six of our kids...:) We have a bottle of 1999 Dom Perignon, plus a lot of Corison's Kronos Cabernet... I'm a former chef so difficulty of preparation isn't an issue, but it's already 11:30PST and I need this menu for TONIGHT -- so my brain is a jumble of ideas and I need some clarity of thought!

Oysters, of course, but as for everything else, I'm totally open...

Thank you!

Nov 29, 2008
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

What is your deal breaker?

This is a hilarious topic!

Deal breakers for me: Ketchup...cream of whatever soup...margarine...any sort of processed-type foods...

Any recipe that assumes I'm an idiot -- I mean, I know I can substitute decent ingredients for some gross ones, but when the most difficult aspect of a recipe involves finding the can opener, I have to wonder...

Oh, and sorry, but anything using a crock pot. Baaaad memories from my ex- cooking goodness knows what in that darn thing. Gross...

Jun 11, 2008
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Cooking without Recipes

In addition to all the great suggestions here, I'll add just one thing -- check out the book "Culinary Artistry." A bit of a classic, it will give inspiration by providing some basic guidelines, thoughts on taste pairings, etc...

Jun 11, 2008
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Pairing suggestions?

Below is my menu for a dinner I'm preparing for a wine judge this weekend...I have the wine for the main course, but would LOVE suggestions for the opening courses and the dessert courses!

Oysters Rockefeller

Chilled sweet pea soup with minted ice and garlic blossoms

Sesame crusted oyster mushrooms with homemade goat cheese rounds encased in freshly picked herbs on a bed of arugula with chive blossom wasabi cream

Roasted herbes de Provence rack of lamb with zinfandel nicoise olive sauce, roasted garlic and ratatouille polenta, and Queen Sevillano olive-rosemary tapenade

Rose petal ice cream and prickly pear glazed fresh raspberries in a bittersweet Valrhona chocolate shell with raspberry coulis and hand crafted marzipan

Duo of ginger-mascarpone mousse and bittersweet Guaranda chocolate mousse with green tea creme Anglaise and crystallized ginger


Jun 10, 2008
tsfirefly in Wine

Snow camping dilemma

I just realized I forgot to post the report...

As luck would have it, we chose the one weekend with the highest snowfall and lowest temperatures on record for the past 35 years... The 2-hour walk in ended up being a 7-hour trek, with powder up to our waists despite our $300 snowshoes. We arrived in pitch blackness, but honestly what made the trip so worthwhile was the food!

Here is our final menu --

Cheese platter (don't remember, but probably a caramelized onion CA cheddar, a Shaft's Blue from the foothills, a mimolette, and an aged goat)
Arugula salad of roasted pear, walnuts, stilton and bacon
Lamb stew with figs and preserved lemons
Roasted and mashed chipotle yams, cooked in the fire
Guaranda and brandy chocolate fondue
Vino Noceto "Nutz" wine

Eggs Benedict with prosciutto and Bearnaise

Grilled NY cheddar cheese, caramelized onion, cilantro and chipotle cream sandwiches
Roasted tomato soup with serrano cream

Citrus marinated Sevillano olives (from our orchard) and roasted garlic
Salad of roasted baby beets and herbed goat cheeses
Pan seared sea scallops with tropical fruit salsa
Gnocchi with lemon cream and prosciutto
Triple ginger spice cake with meyer lemon and homespun local honey (baked in an orange shell in the fire)
Water's Crest gewurztraminer

Green tea muffins
Leftovers -- I don't exacty remember, but I think it was some sort of omelet with whatever leftovers we had!

So that's it! It was a fabulous trip, and thanks to everyone for posting suggestions -- which I obviously did use!

By the way, we did pack in water, but we ended up melting most of what we needed. Melting snow is a hugely time consuming and labor intensive project, but all in all, everything worked quite nicely.

May 21, 2008
tsfirefly in Home Cooking

Pairing challenge

Here are the details:

In a couple of weeks I'll be meeting and cooking for my fiance's best friend -- a rather world renowned wine judge. He's also a serious foodie on the side.

I am a chef, so cooking is not a problem...I am not so concerned with the dishes/wines I'll serve for other courses, but I'm a little stuck on the main dish because we're going to be pouring something a little odd -- it's a Dobra Zemlja zinfandel, 2005 ( I think I'll pour a Water's Crest gewürztraminer, a Corison cab, and a Spoto petite syrah for other courses.

Any thoughts? The Dobra is pretty darn powerful. Difficult of dish is not an issue.


May 20, 2008
tsfirefly in Wine