Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to be Thankful for a Hard Year

So this holiday season I had to really look inward for what I was thankful for. To say 2009 was an easy year for me is like saying sitting down to dinner with Ann Coulter and not knocking her out after the salad course would be easy. This year was definitely a lesson in humility, that apexed on in the middle of November, when I found out that we lost the original location for our bistro. We had pined over the location for almost a year, having meetings with the real estate agent and owner of the building. My husband and I had taken his parents to see the location while they were in town from Colorado. We pulled up to the location and like drones around a hive, construction workers were swarming the site. The "for lease" sign was gone from the window and I slowly sunk back in my seat and stared out of the window. I choked back tears and could feel heat building inside me until I felt numb. It was like catching your lover cheating on you, and all you want to do is look away, but you are trapped in this trance. Wishing that what you are seeing isn't real. My ears were ringing so loud that I couldn't hear people talking to me. My husband repeated a question to me and I finally woke up. I cracked out a response followed by a stream of tears, apologizing to everyone in the car for my behavior.

Later my friend Jen D. rolled through giving me a much needed hug and asking, "What are you going to do now?" We had found out that the building was being renovated for a hair salon. The fourth one on the same block! I told Jen that I was going to bust in on opening day of the salon with my hair picked out and a hole cut in the back and yell, "You see what these bitches did to my hair! You don't wanna get your hair done here!" Jen laughed and retorted, "You are a hot ass mess!" And I was. I would never do that, it wasn't their fault that we lost out on the location. It's just how business goes. We will find another location.

So to digress, what I am thankful for this year is that I made it through. I met a version of myself that I didn't even know existed. I am a fighter. I got beat down by 2009 like it was Kimbo Slice and still got up and went back in the cage for more. When I had my son back in 2007, I was in labor for two days. Yes two full painful days. (And I even hosted a dinner party and cooked a fabulous dinner while having contractions) At one point I was in intolerable pain in my mother's arms on the way to the hospital. I was shaking and crying and she was whispering to me that I was "a Guyton woman" and that I was" strong and could handle this". I ,of course, whimpered back that I was "not strong"and "needed pain drugs NOW!". But again she calmly reassured me that I was, it was in my bloodline. Two years later I realized that she was right. Guyton women are some of the baddest bitches on the block. I am proud to be one. So "thank you" 2009 for being such a beast, because without you I never would have grown to the person I am today.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Psychics and Soup

So at the beginning of this month I participated in the Holistic and Healing Expo in Elk Grove, Ca. The theme for this year was the Caribbean and South America. It was fantastic! I had a booth and sold logoed hats and homemade pepper jelly. For those that had paid to hear the evenings speaker, they were treated with fare from my company. I had Creme de Calabaza y Cocoa Nib Soup, Skull Cake Lollipops (for Dia de Los Muertos) and homemade crackers.

I am not trying to brag, anybody that knows me knows that I am a pretty humble person. I don't work well with compliments, BUT people killed the food that I made for the expo. There was NOTHING left at the end of the day. Now the "Shug Avery" in me wants to say, "Oh hell ya I know what I'm doin! I can cook mama!" But the "Celie Johnson" wants to say, "Maybe everybody was just really hungry and they didn't care what they ate as long as it was hot." Anyways, I thought I would share the recipe for the lavash cracker because I got so many request for it. So enjoy this recipe, sorry everything else from the expo I'm keepin a secret. I am working with my design team that created my bistro's website to develop an online grocery store. We had talked about it a hella long time ago back in August, but as life gets in the way when you are the mother of a two year old, I put it on the back burner. Well now I've moved it to the front burner and turned that baby on high heat. So look for it soon. It should be gangster!

Lavash Seeded Cracker
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 3 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
  • 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. Using two knives, cut the shortening and butter in the mixture until in forms large course pea size or larger crumbs. Pour in the cream and mix with a fork until a rough mass forms.
Using a plastic pastry scraper, scrape the dough onto a clean work surface and gently squeeze together. Add a few more drops of cream to the dough if it does not hold it's shape. Gently press into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes or up to an hour.
Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough in half and taking one half at a time, roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a thin sheet. Be careful not to tear the sheets. You can trim the edges with a pizza wheel, I prefer a more rustic look and leave the edges as they are. Transfer to a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Once cooled break the sheets into shards and serve.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It WAS Finger Lickin' Good

Soooo sorry that I left ya'll hangin' for so long. Life got a little busy with gigs and new opportunities that have recently come my way. Exciting stuff that, I promise, when they start to materialize that I will keep you updated.
So the last gig that I did was a rehearsal dinner for some friends at a private home in Elk Grove. That bad boy went off with out a hitch. Rachel, my chef, again props to you. I'm gonna take a minute to talk about the baddest female chef in the Sactown area. The woman is gangster. Not only can she make the most delicate, rich and utterly delicious pastries and desserts this side of the Mississippi, she can simultaneously grill 60lbs of tri-tip and 40lbs of chicken with 3 foot flames surrounding her and make brussels so good that you thought they were collard greens that had been cookin' on the pot for hours. Gangster! On the back of her chef coat it should say, "Above average, potential classic!"

For that gig, my husband made a citrus rub for the chicken that we served. He modified it from a recipe from family friends that used to own a bed and breakfast up in Sedona. Everyone went crazy for the chicken at the rehersal dinner, so two days later I thought I would try a piece for myself with the extra rub that we had left over. I sat down with my son at the dinner table and began to partake in this fine piece o' meat in front of me. Forty five minutes later I'm still working on this one piece of chicken. I have now completely stripped it of all meat like a hyena on the Serengeti and am trying to suck the marrow out of the bone. Ridiculous. My two year old son who finished his dinner twenty minutes earlier, is pulling on me and yelling, "Mama stop eatin', you said I can have cookie! Put chicken down Mama now!" I'm ignoring him, trapped in a frenzy to get every bit of juice I can out of this bird. THIS was some good chicken. My son, now in a full tizzy, has broken my trance and brought me back to reality. The chicken is gone, my side dish is cold and I am so depressed that I only cooked one piece. Greasy lipped and longing for more, I get my son his cookie. At least one of us is happy.

So I feel that after having such an experience that I have to share it with all of you. This recipe was originally written the Garland's Lodge cookbook back in 2006. They are no longer there and sadly missed because their food was awesome. So here is the recipe for the rub. I strongly suggest that you use chicken that is bone in and skin on. I know that might not be the most health conscious, but it will provide you with an extremely more flavorful piece of meat. For novice chefs, it is important to get a good sear on the meat after you apply the rub. In a frying pan on med-high with a about two to three table spoons of olive oil, sear each side for about two minutes. Transfer to the oven preset at 350 degrees and roast for about 35-45 minutes. After chicken is done (when poked, clear liquid should flow out) let rest and with pan dripping create a jus. I like to transfer the drippings back to the original pan I used to sear the chicken, add 1 tbsp of butter and 1 cup of chicken stock. Simmer on high and reduce the jus down until it's a dark creamy caramel color. Pour over the chicken and enjoy.

Citrus Herb Rub
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 2 tablespoons sage
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary
  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup coarse ground pepper
Lightly toast the dry herbs and zest in a small skillet over medium low heat. Do not burn! Partially grind the herb-zest mixture in a spice mill and mix with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can't Always Get Whatcha Want

First off I want to start today's entry with a thank you to everyone that has taken the time to read this blog. I've loved all your comments, they've made me laugh and made me think. To Vanny, guurl I've already started planning the trip to Vegas 2010! Roberto's or bust. Es tiempo para un buen cerveza y comida. OoooEee!
So two nights ago was the Herncia bartenders competition at Zocalo. There were 9 bartenders competing for bragging rights over who had the the best tequila based cocktail. It was great to come out and support these men and women mixologist. Now let me tell you what wasn't great.
1.) The bartenders had to create their cocktails behind the bar, working simultaneously with the staff, creating a traffic jam of bartenders dancing around each other and spectators jockeying for space at the bar to watch the competition next to patrons that were there to watch the football game.
2.) When the competition was over they brought the bartenders into a private dining room with guest that paid $50.00 a head for a coursed dinner to announce the winner. There was a verbal uproar from supportive friends and family as management pulled the curtains closed shutting us out from the verdict. (Management quickly rethought their decision and opened the curtains.)
It was an aggravating night to say the least. When our homeboy Chris didn't even place, I felt like going into black girl pose #325. One hand on the hip, finger waggin' with the other, poppin' my hips back and forth saying, "Aaaw hell naw!" But instead I smiled sweetly and golf clapped.
Chris I thought your drink was fabulous. You'll get 'em next time. To Herncia, your tequila is delicious. It's bouquet was wonderful, it was smooth and had amazing drinkability as a sipping spirit. To Zocalo, one big thumb down. Love your restaurant, but don't love how you ran things the other night. It was clear who the VIP's were and who were not and for an establishment such as Zocalo I would hope that you would make all guest feel welcomed and appreciated, since they were supporting your business with their dollars.
p.s- R.I.P Gourmet Magazine. I will always love you and your sick recipes and articles.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More Than Just Beer in a Bottle and Whiskey on the Rocks

On Monday, October 5th our friend Chris Dooley is participating in his third Sacramento Mixology contest. The last two he won, so we are excited and anticipating a 3-pete. Dooley is highly creative in his ability to concoct beverages that have incredible balance, gastronomical imagination and a bit of whimsy. In his last competition he topped his drink with caviar made from Campari. The sickening part is that he doesn't even come up with the recipes for his creations until the night before.

When I go to these events it's such a sigh of appreciation. Molecular gastronomy is nothing new to the culinary world. But since Ferran Andria began making beetroot foam in the 90's, the game has never been the same. Though as many a Sacramentian know, culinarily speaking, trends and advances in technique arrive in Sacramento at about the same rate it takes the California legislature to pass a state budget.

In the early 2000's I remember reading an article about the shift in bartending. Bartenders in San Francisco taking five minutes to make a drink that was muddled with an ingredient list that looked more like a receipt from Whole Foods than a drink description on a Chili's happy hour menu.

I was working at the Sheraton Grand in downtown Sacramento as a Food and Beverage Manager in charge of the bar. I was determined that I was going to bring that same ideology on drink making to the hotel bar. I had a meeting with my bartenders and expressed that I wanted everyone to bring me a drink recipe following this new aesthetic within a week. The best recipe would be featured on the new drink menu.

Well, all but two of my staff looked at me like I was smokin' rocks at the meeting table and all but two of my staff ignored what I said. Aaaah the Sac town workforce on a union property. So cooperative. Of the two, one made me a drink so good, it made me wanna slap my momma! (Side note to my's just an expression. Love you girl!!!) She made the drink with fresh squeezed apple juice that she hand juiced at the bar. We called it the Natural Apple Martini. Ooh it was good! It was still like pulling teeth to get everybody on board after the success of the first new drink.

I remember shadowing bartenders at various establishments that said," Oh, we don't put Vermouth in our martinis." In which I quickly replied, "Then it's not a martini. It's just a shot and a half of gin or vodka." Their retort,"Well people don't like the Vermouth and send it back." And in an irritated tone I stated, "Then it's your job as a bartender to educate your guest. If what they're really asking for is a shaken, chilled shot you need to serve it that way. Don't put it in a martini glass if that's not what you are making and don't call it a martini if it ain't."

Since those frustrating days, the scene has changed drastically. Some long missing aspects of bartending have returned. Vermouth in martinis is back, I no longer have to request it in my drinks, educating the guest and bartender spirit knowledge has resurfaced. And with that the creativity and craftsmanship of old has come out of exile. Thank you baby Jesus! It ain't the same mixing drinks at home on the kitchen counter and pretending your husband is the newly hired sexy bartender that is slipping you free drinks...maybe that last bit was to much info? Anywho, I can't wait for Monday. The event is going to be like an episode of "Top Chef". The competitors won't know some of the required ingredients until they arrive. Oooh daddy! I love it. Dooley has given me a recipe to share with ya'll. Make it often and enjoy.

The Vanity
  • 1 1/2 oz. Leopold's Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
  • 1/2 oz. St Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
  • 4-5 Fresh Mint Leaves

Add ingredients together in a pint glass. Give a brisk shake, 2-3 shakes. You want to marry the ingredients not beat them together. Double strain into a Collins glass and top with soda water. Garnish with a lemon twist and fresh mint.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Non-Gold Digger Lookin' for Scrilla...Fo' Rilla'

So to those who may not know, since June of this year my husband and I got into the catering business. (By accident) OMFG! My husband warned me. He said, "Babe, you've never catered before. It's completely different from running banquets at a hotel or restaurant." And to those who may not know, I'm a hard-headed, self proclaimed bad ass. You can't tell me spit. I looked at my husband and with assuring eyes said, "Sure babe, I trust you." Who wouldn't, the man was in charge of 300 person caterings for Dean and Deluca. Meanwhile, my brain was saying, "Ppfft! Does he not understand what kind of experience I have! 1200 person holiday banquets, 15 years in the industry, and on top of that, bartending at the E40 after party at the Sheraton before the cops shut it down. (Now that was bananas. Take "New Jack City" and add a little "Coyote Ugly", that best describes that experience.)

To digress...long story short, on the night of our first catering my husband took pride and redemption in watching me run around cracked out on 5-hour Energy and Red Bull, barking orders, run/walking through the back of the wedding venue and generally losing my mind.

He laughed inside and out and later on the tailgate of our truck at around 12:15am, he passed me the flask of Jameson and said, "I love you, but I told you so." Through tears of exhaustion, embarrassment and joy of completing our first gig I just turned to him, quietly nodded and put my head on his shoulder.

As I said before we got into the catering business by accident. Our true goal is to open a bistro here in Sacramento, and literally we are almost there. What's the hold up you ask? MONEY! So that's been my mission for the past four months. Finding investors in this economy is like trying to find a plate of huevos rancheros at the Hauf Brau. It's frustrating. I'm starting to realize I might have to become part of the Sacramento glitterati to find someone who can invest in our dream. Uugh! Honestly, I don't want to have to go shake n' bake, bat my eyelashes, trade business cards and give fake kisses to acquaintances to get the inside track on somebody that knows somebody that possibly has money to invest. I want to have a genuine conversation with someone who sees that I have passion, intelligence and the were with all to be successful. Is that too much to ask, for no more phoney ass, cartoon, reality TV wanna-be's. Real people what's your 20! I'm lookin' for you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Got Full on This!?

So here's a question...Have you ever eaten a meal and afterwards wished you hadn't wasted your chewing power on it? Even contemplated, "Should I pull a Lindsey Lohan and barf this up?" I'm not talking about when you eat a bacon pastrami burger with a fried egg on top, when you should have had a watercress and radicchio salad with a wisp of sea salt. I'm talkin' about spending $16.48 on some tacos that tasted like Fancy Feast cat food with some ancho chile powder sprinkled on top, with a greasy taco shell that falls apart like white bread on Sloppy Joe sandwiches.

I should have known better. It's against my nature to eat at quick stop unknown taquerias, but I had just watched Anthony Bourdain and homie was talking about the exquisite simplicity of eating at the hole in the wall mom and pop joints. So I got brave.

The day before I made pancakes from scratch, hot deli subs for lunch and my yellow chicken curry for dinner. Last night, I spent five hours with my lil' sis just on the set up for this blog, I didn't feel like cooking. Sorry, my cape was at Swanson's cleaners. A girl can't be half woman, half amazing everyday!

As I sat on the steps of the deck in our backyard with my sister, I thought, "Why am I still eating this crap?" My sister who was giving me sideways glances was probably thinking the same, but since she just got a free meal, she wasn't gonna dare say anything. So we sat there in silence, giving each other sideways glances to see who would stop eating first. Finally I couldn't take it and turned to her and said, "These tacos suck!" She swallowed what she had in her mouth like it was broken glass and simply said, "yup". And with that, one and a half tacos deep, we were done. Thank God for the Jarritos to wash those bad boys down.

Lesson learned: No matter how tired I am, like He-Man calling on the power of Grey Skull, I need to pull the Susie homemaker from within and sack up and cook a decent meal. Or find a better taqueria. Any suggestions people?