Ally
(Barbeque Shrimp over Cheesy Grits)
 
Over the course of the last six months, I've received numerous emails asking if the little Southern restaurant near Southside Park I mentioned late last summer was still going to open up shop. The restaurant, South, does still have plans to open its doors soon. In fact, I attended a small dinner party/private menu tasting at the home of the owners, Ian and N'Gina Kavookjian, just Sunday night and was lucky enough to sample some of the dishes that'll be on the menu. I walked in not knowing what to expect and walked out thinking, "Wow! South is the real deal." If the menu items I tasted are any indication of what we have to look forward to, then Sac's in for a serious treat. The Kavookjian's aren't amateurs throwing chicken bits in the fryer and slapping bacon on everything and declaring their menu "Southern," these guys know how to make food so good that you'll have no alternative but to say, "Screw it!" when it comes to your diet and order another round of gumbo.
 
"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him...the people who give you their food give you their love." ~Cesar Chavez
 
Their website boasts the mission statement, "South is traditional family food, unpretentious, with no gimmicks, and no crazy science. At South we are not trying to reinvent the wheel, we are just trying to express 200 years of our family’s story on a 12” plate." I couldn't have said it better myself. What I encountered in their kitchen was Southern hospitality and fare at its finest. Ian and N'Gina have over thirty years of restaurant and hotel experience between the two of them. They have the business stuff down pat but what sets them apart from a lot of the restaurants currently opening up in the Grid is that they know how to make you feel like family just in the span of one visit. From Ian's friendly chatter about the history of Carolina rice to N'Gina's brilliant smile and infectious laughter, you can't help but feel like you've known the two of them for ages. I have a feeling that South will be one of those restaurants that will be quickly embraced by the neighborhood. Simple, straightforward yet remarkable meals, passionate proprietors, and a relaxed atmosphere...oh, and did I mention that they plan to have a full bar? So add delicious cocktails to the mix. South most definitely has all the makings of a phenomenal neighborhood restaurant.
 
(Vegetarian friends don't despair, according to Ian and N'Gina, South plans to have an exciting, secret vegetarian menu for it's non-meat eating guests.)
 
Food-wise, here's a sneak peek at some of the delicious goodies South plans to offer:
 
Picnic Board- Country ham, pickled beets, deviled eggs and Farmhouse cheddar. The perfect accompaniment to a refreshing glass of wine or an ice-cold Southern beer. The deviled eggs were terrific, if I had had a bigger purse I would have snuck a few out of there. ☺
 
 
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo (over Carolina rice)- this dish blew me away. I'm pretty high maintenance when it comes to gumbo. I dislike it if it's too spicy, watery or oily. Seriously, I'm worse than Goldilocks. This gumbo was perfect. I loved the spicy rounds of Andouille and the sauce wasn't overwhelmingly hot. I even dipped my cornbread in the leftover gumbo sauce, it was too good to waste.
 

 
 
Spicy BBQ Shrimp over Cheesy Grits - plump, spicy shrimp over a base of silky, sinful cheesy grits - this dish will make your eyes roll back in your head. Who knew cayenne, homemade shrimp stock and onions were all you needed to make food magic?
 
 
Fried Chicken- perfectly cooked. Juicy on the inside, properly seasoned and crispy on the outside. (The chicken shown was sliced up into bite-sized pieces so we could share during the dinner party.) South exhibits some home-style cooking that's so good that you might need to peek into their kitchen to make sure your Memaw's not back there frying up the chicken herself.
 
 
We also had some Black-eyed Peas with Jalapeños, but I was busy enjoying my delicious Pimm's Cup and forgot to snap a photo. Sorry!
 
 
The proposed menu is as follows (a mix of old school and new school Southern cuisine):
 
 
 


 
NOTE

A definitive opening date hasn't been set yet; however, South will be participating in several culinary and community events over the summer. They also do private catering.
 
You can also keep abreast of their Indiegogo campaign (starting on April 16th) on their website: South
 
Ally

It's a bit hard to tell in the photo but the flan is actually more of a muted light green then yellow.

A few years ago, Mr.S and I took a little getaway to Seattle. We found a wonderful little rustic restaurant in the Capitol Hill neighborhood called Cascina Spinasse. We indulged in the chef's tasting menu and had a fabulous evening there. One dish that really stood out taste wise, was the roasted leek flan. I've enjoyed traditional flan on numerous occasions but a savory flan was something new to me. The leek flan at Spinasse was amazing and I fell in love with it. This winter, I ran across an asparagus flan recipe in an old issue of Gourmet (the recipe was adapted from a dish served at the Andrea Hotel Ristorante in Turin, Italy) and I bookmarked it. Now that we're in the midst of springtime and the locally-grown, vibrant green asparagus spears are readily available (and cheap) at the farmers' market, I thought I'd try my hand at making asparagus flan. I pretty much followed the recipe in Gourmet but I did opt to leave off the rich Italian Fontina sauce in an effort to be healthier. I also took note of a helpful tip on Orangette to push the pureed asparagus through a sieve to get rid of any woody bits. The asparagus flan came out great- it had the silky-custard like texture you'd normally find with flan but instead of sweetness you're greeted with an intense, fresh asparagus taste. Next time, I think I might tweak the recipe a bit by perhaps mixing in some lovely roasted leeks, cooking the flan in individual ramekins and adding a dab of sauce. I think it would be a perfect first course for a dinner party.
 
Asparagus Flan (slightly adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

Ingredients
 
2 lb fresh asparagus, woody ends removed
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Instructions

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

2. Butter an 8-inch by 2-inch round cake pan and line bottom with a round of wax paper, then butter paper.

3. Steam asparagus in a steamer set over boiling water, covered, until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes. (I used the steamer basket in my rice cooker instead.)

4. Purée steamed asparagus in a food processor until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. (You will have about 2 cups purée.)

5. Using a rubber spatula or spoon push the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove woody bits. This is a bit of a PIA but really makes a difference in the texture of the flan.

6. Whisk together eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl, then add in asparagus purée.       
                           
8. Pour asparagus mixture into pan.                 

7. For the water bath- you will need a large rectangular baking dish. Place a folded dishtowel in the baking dish. Place your round cake pan on top of the dishtowel. Add enough boiling-hot water to reach halfway up the side of the smaller pan. Bake in a hot water bath until flan is set and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. 
 
 
9.Transfer pan to a rack to cool slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.          
                               
10. Run a thin knife around edge of flan to loosen, then invert a serving plate over pan and invert flan onto plate. Remove pan and discard paper. Cut flan into wedges. (I served some grated Parmesan on the side for sprinkling.) Serve immediately.
 
 
Optional Fontina Sauce:
 
Ingredients
 

1/4 lb Italian Fontina, rind discarded and cheese coarsely grated (or cut into 1/4-inch dice if too soft to grate)
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs yolks
1 tablespoon butter
 
Instructions
 
1. Put all sauce ingredients in a metal bowl, then set bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.
 
2. Heat sauce, whisking until cheese and butter are melted, and then stirring with a wooden spoon, until sauce is slightly thickened and registers 165°F on an instant-read thermometer, 5 to 8 minutes.
 
3. Remove bowl from pan. Serve sauce with flan.

Ally
 
 
I'll let you in on a dirty little secret...as gung-ho as I am about making things from scratch in the kitchen there are times when I take the easy road (or as I like to call it the "sloth road"). Case in point, when the weather's warm the last thing I want to do is roast a whole chicken and have my cottage feeling like it's 100+ degrees so I buy a roasted chicken at Costco. Costco has crispy, golden-brown whole chickens ready to go for $5!! Can't beat that! Trust me, it can be quite the savior on a busy weeknight. Now granted you could go home and just eat the chicken as is but if you're feeling a bit more creative, you can use it as a base in a recipe. I do this often- I love chopping up the chicken meat and using it to make Curry Chicken Salad or slicing it up and using it in chicken pot pies, enchiladas, or even as a pizza topping. Store bought roasted chickens are so cheap and versatile.

Last week when one the kidlets was sick and stayed home, I made this terrific Saveur recipe that my friend Michelle sent me. I had a bunch of rotisserie chicken meat that I had thrown in a freezer bag that I wanted to use up and this was the perfect recipe to use it in. The original recipe requires you to do all the cooking on the stove top, but I just sautéed the veggies and herbs in a pan, then threw everything in a slow cooker and let it meld for a few hours. By the time the kidlets were ready to eat, everything was piping hot and ready to go! The kidlets liked it so much they both had second helpings. I liked it too but I think next time, I might toss in a cup of frozen corn to up the vegetable ratio. With all the time I saved using this recipe, Kidlet #2 and I watched Madagascar 3. Not a shabby flick! In fact, now I want to watch Madagascar 1 and 2. ☺
 
Note:
This is a great recipe to serve on a weeknight, potluck or on a game-day. Leftovers can be used in tacos and burritos.

Btw, don't shy away from using the jalapeno and the green chilies, this recipe is NOT spicy. Of course if you like heat, you could doctor it up a bit by adding more cayenne, hot sauce or not deseeding the jalapeno.
 
White Bean Chicken Chili (adapted from Saveur Cooks Recipe Journal)
 
Ingredients
 
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 seeded jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies
2/3 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 (15 oz.) can large white beans, undrained (I used Organic Great Northern Beans)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups store-bought rotisserie chicken, skin removed and shredded
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
 
 
Instructions
 
1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until tender, 4 to 7 minutes. Add in the garlic, jalapeno, green chile peppers, carrots, cumin, oregano, cloves and cayenne.
 
2. Continue to cook the mixture for about 3-4 minutes.
 
3. In the slow cooker, place your shredded chicken, beans and broth. Add in the recently sautéed ingredients. Cover. If you started with frozen chicken, keep it on high for 2 hours then switch to low for at least 2 hours. If your chicken was thawed, then cook on low for 4-5 hours.
 
4. About 2 hours in, mash the chili with a large spoon or potato masher, until half the beans are broken up. This will give the chili a thicker consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
 
5. To serve- spoon chili in bowl and top with shredded cheese. The cheese gets nice and gooey (which the kidlets loved). I served mine with a bacon-chive focaccia bread but tortillas or cornbread would work well too.
Ally
Sisigsilog

6115 Mack Road, Sacramento, CA 95823.

I'll admit I'm no expert when it comes to Filipino food, my experience has always been limited to the more mainstream stuff. I have had on multiple occasions the standard lumpia, chicken adobo, pancit,  and escabeche at Filipino friends' BBQs, dinners and potlucks. I've even made biko for dessert once when I had a vegan and a gluten-free guest over. But all that is just a drop in the bucket within the spectrum of delicious dishes the Filipino culture has to offer. Their cuisine is a terrific fusion of Spanish, Southeast Asian and Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques. In fact, I remember Andrew Zimmern commenting back in 2012, "I predict, two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about for six months … I think that’s going to be the next big thing." Hmmm, maybe that would be the case in Sac if we had more Filipino restaurants? I don't know. What I do know is my interest was piqued recently when I stumbled upon a new Filipino restaurant in South Sac, called Chelo. The name of the establishment comes from the combination of the words, "Che" (meaning dessert) and "Halo-Halo" (a type of Filipino treat).

Chelo had been open for about three weeks when I dropped in for lunch with my friend Lacy. The restaurant was a bit hard to see from the road. Look for the South Pointe Plaza (where Seafood City is) and Chelo is just a few doors down from Starbread bakery (where they serve the most amazing señorita bread). It's kind of angled and in a nook, so just look to the left of the bakery. When Lacy and I walked in, we were greeted by a bubbly young lady at the counter. I saw all the milk teas, smoothies and desserts listed and thought I had made a mistake...I wanted lunch not a drink or snack. Turns out that Chelo not only serves all those things but they also have an "All Day Silog" menu. What's a silog? Well, as I learned- a silog, is a Filipino breakfast combo consisting of garlic fried rice, an over easy egg, and your choice of a sweet or salty protein. I'm one of those people who loves breakfast foods...pretty much anytime except early in the morning, so I was pretty stoked to try their silog out.  The choices they had were:

 
I ordered the bangsilog which turned out to be four good-sized pieces of boneless milkfish, marinated in garlic and vinegar and then fried to a golden-brown. Lacy went with the sisigsilog, a combination of minced pork meat mixed with garlic, soy sauce, citrus, onion and some sort of spicy pepper. She gave me a taste and it was delicious. I liked my bangsilog but next time I would probably veer towards ordering the sisigsilog. I thought her dish was much more flavorful than mine and had several layers of flavors- sour, salty, garlicky and spicy (I could see this dish going perfectly with a nice, cold beer). The garlic rice that accompanied the orders wasn't what I expected, I guess I was expecting something more like Chinese fried rice. This was much more simpler- made only from rice, garlic and oil. The over easy egg rounded out the meal quite nicely. With my meal, I also had a freshly made fruit juice made from calamansi, a citrus fruit that's native to the Philippines but has started being grown in California. The drink had a very mild citrus flavor to it and was refreshing. It kind of reminded me of Crystal Light lemonade.

Bangsilog
 
We were too stuffed to try dessert but I gathered from the pictures at the counter they specialize in halo-halo. Halo-halo (which means "mix-mix") is a colorful layered creation typically made of shaved ice and evaporated milk, mixed with boiled sweet beans, coconut meat, jackfruit, and topped off with a scoop of übe (purple yam) ice cream. Mmm! Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

The restaurant itself looks brand-spankin' new inside- a cool contemporary design with exposed ductwork, fashionable tile, and bright red, roomy booths. The staff is friendly, although a bit young and informal in their service. Our waitress would check in on us by calling out, "You okay?" as she would whiz past our table. The place has a casual vibe though, so it was fine.

I would definitely like to go back to Chelo to try some of their other silog dishes. There are so many choices; not to mention- the prices are cheap, portion sizes are just right, parking's a breeze and they take plastic. Oh, they even do take-out! So if you're feeling a little bit adventurous, I would suggest heading out to South Sac and partaking in the national breakfast dish of the Philippines. It's a wonderful mélange of  fatty, salty, greasy deliciousness! (Ideal for hangovers.)
Ally

I love cooking, for me it's relaxing and enjoyable. I know not everyone feels this way. Some find it tedious, boring or even stressful. And even I'll admit, there's some nights that I find comfort in easy recipes...ones that I can slap together with minimal prep and headache. On nights like these,  I especially love "one skillet" recipes. The more unfussy they are, the more I tend to embrace them. Like this recipe for Pan Roasted Chicken and Mushrooms in a Creamy Dijon Pan Sauce. It's simple but elegant, one of those versatile dishes that's perfect for a weeknight dinner or for when you have company over. Also, it makes your kitchen smell delicious. When I made this Friday night, both Mr.S and Kidlet #1 kept wandering in and out of the kitchen murmuring about how amazing the simmering sauce smelled.


Chicken and Mushrooms in a Creamy Dijon Pan Sauce

Ingredients

3-4 chicken breasts (or 5 skinless, boneless chicken thighs)
1/4 cup AP flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
12 oz. sliced crimini mushrooms
1 medium red onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1.5 teaspoon dried tarragon (or 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh)
2.5 tablespoons good quality, whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons butter
slices chives (optional)

Instructions

1. In a shallow baking dish mix together: flour, sea salt and black pepper. Dredge the chicken through the mixture, coating both sides. Set chicken aside.

2. In a large cast iron skillet, heat up your oil. Once it's hot, add your chicken breast. Cook each side for 4 minutes over high heat so that it gets well browned and crispy. (Make sure you don't crowd the chicken.) You may want to use your splatter guard as the oil with be crackin' and hissin'.

3. Place the cooked chicken on a plate and set aside.

4. In the same skillet (keep the pan juices in there), add the onions, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and tarragon. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook for about three minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine and add in mustard. Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan so that it mixes in with the wine-mushroom mixture. Add your stock, half and half and butter. Reduce heat by half and stir frequently. Allow the sauce to reduce. After a few minutes, add the chicken back to the skillet and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes in the thickened sauce, basting occasionally.

5. Remove from heat and serve chicken with the extra sauce spooned over each piece.

6. Garnish with chives (optional)
Ally

5957 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121. (415) 387-8660  
 
On a recent trip to San Francisco, my friend Amanda suggested that since we were going to be in the vicinity of the Inner Richmond we should stop at a Polish delicatessen/butcher shop, that her boyfriend (a local chef) recommended- Seakor Polish Delicatessen and Sausage Factory. (Seakor has been making sausage in the Bay Area since 1977.) The shop was easy to find, a tiny storefront that looked like it had been a long time fixture in the neighborhood. As we made our way to the back of the store and to the meat counter, we passed a wall of shelves heavily laden with jams, Polish candies, pastries, various dried mushrooms, Vegeta seasoning and jars packed full of sauerkraut. To the left were cold cases, showcasing the housemade sausages, smoked meats, cold cuts and containers of pickled and creamed herring. The store also carries pierogis (frozen) and bigos.  At the rear of the store, we were greeted by a friendly butcher (Jerry) who kind of reminded me of a cross between Danny Aiello and Tony Soprano. Both Amanda and I ordered a pound of house-cured bacon (sliced to order) each. She also ordered some Polish sausage and I went with a smoked pork shoulder (baleron). As Jerry put our order together, we chatted with one of the regulars- a little old man (who assured me everything there was wonderful) and looked over the display of kabanosy, kielbasa, hunter sausage (mysliwska), śląska,  head cheese, veal, liverwurst, garlic sausage and summer sausage.

 
Amanda advised me that the bacon and sausage she brought home were terrific. I really liked the bacon but wasn't as impressed with the smoked pork shoulder. It was just okay. Next time, I think I'll stick to their bacon and sausages.

 
Seakorn has a great Old-World feel to it and the service is terrific. If you're in the SF area and like sausage and fresh bacon, stop by and check them out. If you're not in the neighborhood, the butcher also told us that from time to time they make their way to Sacramento to the Polish American Community Hall in Roseville to sell their products (at the Hall's Christmas eve dinner, Easter breakfast and Spring Festival).
Ally

 
I'll admit- I'm a klutz. People see Mr.S and me holding hands all the time, they often smile and think, "Awww, cute." In most likelihood though, Mr.S is probably holding on to me to:
 
a) make sure I don't fall over my own feet.
b) prevent me from bumping into innocent passersby.
c) keep me from falling ass over teakettle down an escalator.
d) make sure I don't wander off (this last one isn't klutz related, but it happens often).
 
There's no reason for my klutziness, it's just how I am. Always been. I ran into a wall once in the 4th grade while running at warp speed through the house. My dad still chuckles over that one. My proclivity for getting injured is why I try to be extra-extra careful when cooking in my kitchen. I don't know about you, but I feel like I need all ten of my fingers.☺ I still have a few battle scars though, like this one from a few years ago when I wrestled with my new oven while baking some spanakopita. The oven won and I ended up with this souvenir. It's faded somewhat but the burn was deep enough that'll it probably be there forever...a constant reminder to slow down just a tad in la cocina.
 
 
Mr.S told me once he tangled with a mandoline and sliced the tip of his finger. Egad! He had to go to the ER and get several stitches. This was before we started dating...and to be honest I've never seen him use a mandoline since. Coincidence? I think not. 
 
Anyhow being accident prone, mandolines terrify me...especially my Benriner. I'm positive that sucker is looking to lop off a digit or two. I could use my food processor but sometimes that seems like too much of a hassle. So when making slaw, I usually buy the pre-shredded crunchy broccoli and carrot slaw from the supermarket. This dish is super easy to prep and I like to use lowfat Greek yogurt in place of mayo. It keeps the calorie count low; but it's also high in protein and packed with calcium and live bacterial cultures.
 
Broccoli-Apple Slaw with Greek Yogurt
 
Ingredients
 
12 oz. bag of broccoli-carrot slaw
1 Fuji apple- cored, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup Trader Joe's candied pecans, pieces cut in half
1/2 cup lowfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
salt and pepper
 
Instructions
 
1. In a large bowl, mix together the broccoli-carrot slaw mix, sliced apple bits, dried cranberries and pecan halves.
 
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together: Greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, honey, lime juice and celery salt. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Mix thoroughly.
 
3. Pour yogurt mix over slaw and toss well.
 
4. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (I like to leave the slaw in the fridge for at least a few hours so that the flavors have a chance to meld together.)