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Bill Hogan/ MCT
Chili peppers likely became a cultivated crop in central-east Mexico, according to a new study by an international team including UC Davis plant scientists. (And, yes, that’s a tomatillo — not a pepper — propping up the jalapeño.)

Somewhere between Puebla and Veracruz in central-east Mexico rests the cradle of culinary inspiration: The birthplace of the domesticated chili pepper.

That’s the determination of an international team of researchers, led by a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis.

That fact is more than an interesting tidbit to spice up dinner conservation. Chili peppers now rank as the world’s most widely grown spice crop.

Rather than one geographically specific spot, the birthplace belongs to a fertile pepper-friendly region, determined the researchers. Extending from southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, that region is further south than was previously thought, the researchers found. It’s also very different than the origin of common bean and corn crops, which are believed to have been domesticated in Western Mexico.

Paul Sakuma/ AP
Alice Waters, who helped pioneer California cuisine and the slow-food movement, will co-host the Farm-to-Fork Capital Forum Series.

Sacramento’s farm-to-fork persona continues to evolve.

The latest incarnation is the Farm-to-Fork Capital Forum Series, to be held at 2 p.m. April 23 in the auditorium of the California Public Employees' Retirement System at 400 Q St., Sacramento.

Mayor Kevin Johnson has invited Sam Kass to the party. He’s the senior adviser for nutrition policy at the White House, reports Mark Anderson of the Sacramento Business Journal. Kass is also invited to the farm-to-fork dinner at Sacramento Charter High School, where the tables will be laden with bounty from Edible Sac High. It will be sponsored by California cuisine guru Alice Waters and restaurateur Patrick Mulvaney.

For the whole story, click here.

Wednesday, April 16 2014
Show your 'spear-it' at Asparagus Fest
Hector Amezcua/
Asparagus stalks from Jimenez Farms in Stockton await shoppers at the farmers market. Local asparagus is king of the annual Asparagus Festival in Stockton April 25-27, 2014. Patrons can take some home, too.

Time to get into the “spear-it”; the Stockton Asparagus Festival is almost here.

Next week, downtown Stockton will once again embrace its favorite locally grown veggie in a celebration of all things asparagus. But this year’s fest will look a little different. After a switch in contractors, the circus-style striped tents will be replaced by more sophisticated basic white.

After some speculation that the event would move, the 2014 Asparagus Festival will be held at the same downtown waterfront location. Featuring lots of family entertainment as well as tons of asparagus, the fest will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 25 through 27. The festival grounds extend from Oak Street to Weber Avenue with downtown Stockton’s Center Street transformed into “Spear-it Lane.”

Nicknamed the “Best in the West Food Fest,” the Asparagus Festival offers a wide variety of asparagus-based cuisine. Housed in a humongous white tent, Asparagus Alley will offer such fan favorites as deep-fried asparagus and asparagus ice cream as well as asparagus pasta, asparagus burritos and asparagus-beef sandwiches.

Jose Luis Villegas/

The SF Weekly’s “drink of the week” column generally focuses on a single standout libation, or gives props to Bay Area bars with standout cocktail programs. But in the most recent case, the “drink of the week” went to an entire city - and that city is our own Sacramento.

While giving the obligatory descriptor to Sacramento as a place to grab a quick bite on the way to Lake Tahoe, writer Lou Bustamante spotlights four Sacramento craft cocktail spots that are well worth an extended visit: Hook & Ladder, The Red Rabbit, Hock Farm and The Shady Lady Saloon.

Bustamante describes the drinks from Chris Tucker of Hook & Ladder (pictured above) as “on par with some of the best in San Francisco.” Of course, we proud Sacramentans already knew that, but it’s great to hear that from our cosmopolitan neighbor to the west. Similar accolades are given all around, and accompanied with pictures of such signature local drinks as The Shady Lady’s “Horse’s Neck” and Red Rabbit’s “Krakow Salt Mine.”

While beer and wine get much of the attention around Sacramento’s beverage scene, this SF Weekly piece continues in the string of press for our local cocktail culture. Imbibe magazine named Sacramento in its Top 10 “places to visit in 2013.” Bustamante also penned a story about Sacramento’s craft cocktail circuit for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2013.

Blair Anthony Robertson/
Before tasting honey, volunteers sniffed the aromas of all kinds of things in cups.

I am one of 20 people on a honey tasting panel at UC Davis whose feedback will help the the school’s Honey and Pollination Center create a flavor and aroma wheel.

Many of you may already be familiar with the Wine Aroma Wheel, another UC Davis creation, that helps wine lovers learn to identify the many aromas in wine in a more precise, systematic and user-friendly way.

The honey wheel will apply all kinds of words we use to describe what we are smelling and tasting. The panel had its first session on Friday, a three-hour event that began with a brief discussion of what to expect, how to go about the process with an open mind and what will come of all this sniffing and tasting.

We sat at tables in a large square along the periphery of the room. The tasting of 12 honeys was led by Sue Langstaff, an applied sensory professor who spends much of her time teaching beer-brewing students how to taste beer. She said she was relatively new to honey but that the approach is very similar. Also sitting in on the session was Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

Bee staff/
Mother is featuring three kinds of Dutch babies, a pancake/souffle kind of dish.

Mother, the hot new restaurant on K Street next to the Crest Theatre, rolled out its brunch menu last weekend for the first time.

Among other things, the restaurant is featuring three kinds of Dutch babies, a pancake/souffle kind of dish delivered to the table in a piping hot cast-iron pan. I haven’t seen a Dutch baby served at other local restaurants in recent years. But after tasting both a sweet and savory version at Mother, you’d have to think they are going to catch on elsewhere. Mother is on the verge of making these a quintessential brunch staple.

You’ve probably already noticed that brunch itself is already a big deal in Sacramento. With Mother throwing its hat into the ring, the quality has gotten even better, and the competition is intense.

Scores of restaurants are offering brunch and doing it well, including Hook & Ladder, Lowbrau, Capital Garage, The Porch, Red Rabbit, Orphan, and, of course, the eatery where the line is always long come Sunday a.m., Tower Cafe. On the other hand, a place where there is almost never a line but that serves a very good brunch is Bistro Michel. Throw in breakfast-y stalwarts like Harry’s Cafe, Cafe Bernardo, Crepeville and Chargin’s and Les Baux and we’ve got plenty of options.

Lezlie Sterling/Sacramento Bee
A cupcake from Icing on the Cupcake in Rocklin.

Icing on the Cupcake, the Sacramento-area gourmet cupcake chain started seven years ago and closed in January amid a bankruptcy filing and financial struggles, has reopened a single Rocklin store under new ownership.

A group of local investors, doing business as Icing LLC, reopened the store at 6839 Lonetree Blvd. in Rocklin on March 31. Listed hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The outlet employs about a dozen, including employees under the previous ownership, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 20 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California, listing estimated assets of $100,001 to $500,000 and estimated liabilities of $500,001 to $1 million.

Prior to closing doors in late January, Icing on the Cupcake also operated stores in Sacramento, Citrus Heights and Folsom. Icing on the Cupcake, started in 2007, was the brainchild of Christee Owens, her mother, Shirley Nagasawa, and family friend Chuck Meridith.

Thursday, April 10 2014
Feast on 50 dishes from 50 novels
Author-designer Dinah Fried has assembled 50 meals as described in passages from 50 novels.

Last year, writer-art director Dinah Fried posted five “photographic recreations of meals from classic and contemporary literature,” dishes she assembled and styled herself. As a result, her site got more than 200,000 hits and was mentioned on TV shows and blog sites, and in newspapers and magazines.

Now comes “Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals,” in which she expands the concept to include 50 pairings. They include the Mad Hatter’s tea party from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, cupcakes and chardonnay from “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen, apple pie a la mode from “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, and fried chicken with beans and tomatoes from “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

Each dish is accompanied by the relevant passage. For instance, this is from “The Catcher In the Rye” by J.D. Salinger: “When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn’t much, but you get a lot of vitamins in the malted milk.”

Sup on!

Harris Ranch
Tri-tip will be among the smoked offerings at Eggs Over the Capitol

Let’s be up-front about it: The upcoming Eggs Over the Capitol “Eggfest” is mostly an event to promote the Big Green Egg, a high-fiber ceramic grill with many add-on accessories. Its design has roots in the “mushikamado” cooker, used for centuries in Japan.

Look at it as a ‘cue tasting with the benefit of an “Egg”-ucation. Featured will be 24 cookers preparing beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, veggies, pizza and desserts on Big Green Eggs, along with mini-seminars, classes, demonstrations, tips and recipes. Oh, and plenty of ‘cue.

The party will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 26, on the roof of the “historic Sutter parking structure,” 824 L St., Sacramento.

Attendance will be limited, and registration is required (no walk-ins). For a program of events and other details, and to register to be a a “taster,” go to Cost is $25 if registered before April 19, and $30 after that.

Allen Pierleoni/
Thomas’ five new limited-edition baked offerings include Cinnamon Vanilla English muffins and Maple French Toast bagels.

Did someone light a maple-scented candle? That’s what the kitchen smelled like even before we opened the plastic bag of Thomas’ Maple French Toast-flavored bagels. Depending on how much you like maple syrup — or don’t — the overwhelming aroma could be a good thing — or not.

The maple-flavored bagels join Thomas’ Cinnamon Vanilla English muffins as part of the venerable company’s new Limited Edition offerings. They’re available now through July.

From July through October, look for Apple Pie Bagels and Apple Pie English muffins. Cranberry English muffins will be on store shelves October through January. Prices range from $3.99 to $4.69 in supermarkets.

We popped the bagel halves into the toaster and got puffy, softer-than-expected but flavorful rounds. The intense maple smell had backed off in the toasting process, making for a pleasant mini-breakfast. We were tempted to dip the bagels in eggwash and saute them in bubbling butter, but came to our senses in time.

Wednesday, April 9 2014
No surprise: Rice helps healthy diet
Randy Pench/
Rice helps a healthy diet, according to a new study. California grows short-grain rice, which is starchier than long-grain varieties. About 90 percent of California’s 4.5 billion pound crop grows within 100 miles of Sacramento.

A new study confirmed what billions of people know: Rice goes a long way in a healthy diet.

Americans who consumed rice regularly tended to have healthier diets overall, according to new research.

In a study published online in the peer-reviewed journal “Food and Nutrition Sciences,” lead author Theresa Nicklas of Baylor College of Medicine analyzed seven years of data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The sample included 14,386 adults and what they ate from 2005 to 2010. Nicklas and her team evaluated the association of rice consumption with overall diet quality and key nutrient intakes.

What they found: Consumers who ate more rice tended to get more nutrients while eating less fat and added sugar. They also tended to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Carl Costas/

As if nabbing a reservation at The French Laundry wasn’t tough enough, the landmark three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Yountville will be closing temporarily to undergo a renovation. According to the Napa Valley Register, proprietor and chef Thomas Keller is negotiating with Silverado Resort and Spa to host a series of pop-up restaurants while The French Laundry goes temporarily offline.

The construction timeline has yet to be confirmed, but if all goes to plan The French Laundry’s famed kitchen and garden will be expanded, among other renovations. But for those hoping the dining room will be expanded as well, which could theoretically make it easier to score a much sought-after reservation, don’t get carried away with images of “oysters and pearls.” The Napa Valley Register says the 62-capacity dining room will remain unchanged.

The French Laundry will meanwhile celebrate its 20th anniversary in July. We’ll keep tabs on these renovations, and for those who have TFL on their restaurant bucket list, don’t forget to follow @_TFL_ on Twitter. The restaurant announced a block of reservations in December to its Twitter followers. Sarah Singleton of Sacramento’s Undercover Caterer blog was one of the lucky ones to score a table. Click here to see how her lunch unfolded.

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

Appetizers Archives

Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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