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PostHeaderIcon Celebrating the American Cheese Plate in Sacramento!

Sacramento Hails The Big Cheese by Lisa Frank

Move over Cheese Whiz and Velveeta, for the first time in over 10 years the American Cheese Society (ACS) is coming to Sacramento with over 1700 craft cheeses.  Whey to go Sacramento! It’s quite a Feta in our cap.  (By Lisa Frank)

Celebrating the American Cheese Plate! will highlight the growth of the artisan and specialty cheese community throughout North America.  Nearly 1,000 industry leaders are expected to participate in the four-day event.  Tuesday, July 29 – Friday, August 1.  The conference also includes:
a cheese competition to be “Best In Show” from over 1700 cheeses entered in 20 categories like Cheese Curds, Rindless Blue-Veined Cheese, Cheese Spreads or Butters along with the usuals like Cheddar, Fetas, and Soft-Ripened Cheese;
the Certified Cheese Professional Exam – if you think you know enough to be a cheese sommelier;
Educational seminars from how to build a cheese cave to improving industry standards, to cheese spider grafts explained.

While most of the conference is for those in the cheese industry, the public is invited to several events:

Festival of Cheese, will feature the cheeses entered in the cheese competition, highlighting the winners. In addition to a staggering number of cheeses, the Festival will have artisan producers and local purveyors of cheese accessories, such as crackers, charcuterie, preserves, honeys, and craft beer.  It’s a Muenster cheese tasting.  Friday August 1, 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm at the Sacramento Convention Center.  Tickets for the general public are $60 via Brown Paper Tickets.

Cheese Sale, this is your opportunity to buy the best cheeses made in North America at a great price. Feeling adventurous, buy a $25 cheese grab bag and see what you snagged.  Proceeds from the Cheese Sale benefit the American Cheese Education Foundation. Cash is king, but credit cards are accepted.  Edam while you can, it’s a ewe-nique opportunity.  Saturday, August 2nd, 11:00 – 2:00 at the Sacramento Convention Center, admission is free.  Brie there or brie square.  Okay I’ll stop.

And if you think Sacramento is curd-less, think again.  While specialty grocery stores usually carry a nice variety of cheeses, we have several cheese-centric locations that bring you craft cheese every day!

The Rind,  1801 L Street, opened 11 am until at least 10 everyday.  916.441.RIND (7463)
The Rind is a cheese bar where you can taste unique artisanal cheeses paired with interesting wines and beers.  Cheese-heads can sample everything, from buttery to blue, nutty to stinky.  And if you need more than a taste, try their grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches or mac & cheese.  Definitely not a blue and yellow box with electric-orange powdered cheese.

The Cultured & The Cured,  3644 J Street opened Tuesday – Sunday, 11am until 9 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 10pm on Friday and Saturday; 5pm on Sunday; Closed Monday.   (916) 732-3600  This East Sac shop focuses on local and west coast cheeses and charcuterie, bringing to Sacramento the tradition of a cheese monger who will help guide you to find exactly what you’re looking for even when you don’t know what you’re looking for!  Soups, salads, charcuterie plates, grilled cheese, mac & cheese, sandwiches, and pantry items, this shop takes their cheese seriously and so will you.

The Block Butcher,  1050 20th Street, 916.476.6306 11AM to 12AM every day.
Block Butcher Bar is a boutique salumi, spirits and wine bar. The menu features charcuterie, fine artisanal cheeses and seasonal bites.  Choose from the “pickled, cured, fermented and marinated” selections; make your own charcuterie boards or cheese slabs; or salads and sandwiches.  With over 30 cheeses  (cow, sheep, goat and blues) to choose from it’s hard to limit it to 3/5/7 choices.  But they are there to help.  And over 100 different whiskeys – it’s kind of hard to leave.

Click for more cheesy details!

PostHeaderIcon 10 Reasons to Eat Locally Grown and Stay Healthy

Follow the chef farmers market toursFarmers Markets are popping all over the country this time of year.  Keeping it local and exploring your palate each and every week has its perks.  Here are 10 reasons why its a positive experience by shopping at your local farmer’s markets:

1.  You can Taste The Difference!   Most of the produce has been picked within 24 hours (supermarkets could be as long as a couple of months!).  It comes to your table ripe, fresh and full of flavor.  The produce is at its “prime”!

2.  You are giving back to your local community.  “Keeping it local” is a common trend in urban and rural areas today.  In areas with strong local markets, the family farm has been given new life.

3.  Discover New Flavors!  Ever wonder what the long white root vegetable is and what it is used for?  Flabbergasted by how many varieties of pears you can find at the market?  Shopping at local markets helps you think outside of the supermarket bins and explore your palate with so many varieties of flavors.  Small farms are keeping alive nearly 300 other varieties of particular produce; offering heirloom varietals and the good old fashion beef steak tomatoes!

4.  Helps to Boost Local Economy!  A US study showed that almost twice the contribution of a dollar stayed in the local economy when spent at a local food business compared to a supermarket.

5.  Save the World!  A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a diet based on food shipped across the country!  With gas prices on the rise, who wants to pay for transportation fees to a supermarket bringing in un-ripened fruit and vegetables when one could drive down the road and buy from Farmer Brown?

6.  Meet Your Neighbors and Farmers!  Local eating is social.  Studies show that people shopping at farmer’s markets have 12 times more conversations than their counterparts at the supermarket.  Sometimes shopping at your local farmers markets turns into a half day affair with all the friends and locals you run into.  Bring your chairs and make a day of good old fashion community fun!

7.  Be Healthy!  Eating fresh local ingredients with no processing, no additives, no pesticides…..the only end result is healthy eating!  Cooking from scratch makes you feel better; you are eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and fewer of the bad products that have turned our country into an obese problem.  Once you go fresh and local, you won’t want to go back!

8.  Get in Touch with the Seasons!  Many farming communities are lucky enough to have year round supply of fresh, local ingredients at their markets.  When you eat locally, you eat what’s in season.  You’ll remember the cherries are the taste of summer.  Even in winter, comfort foods like squash soup and sweet potato bisque just make sense.

9.  Create Memories!  Bringing back those fresh local ingredients each week, breaking out the cookbook and exploring your passion while creating some excellent dishes is all about eating locally grown.  Making jam, eating fresh local food and pairing it with a local wine with family and friends makes memories of a lifetime!

10.  Explore your local community!  Get out and about and visit local farmers markets.  Become a tourist in your own back yard!  One way of exploring markets is by participating in a organized tour.  Follow a chef thru a market and learn about unique vegetables and fruits you normally wouldn’t even think of buying.  Visit your local event calendar and find a farmers market tour and join in on the fun and education.  You will be surprised how much little you knew about your local farmers and artisans until you get one on one time with them on a tour!

Keep Your Family Safe -  Food Safety at Farmers Markets:

Farmers’ markets are the prime destination for fresh and local food, but they’re not immune to germs and bacteria. Farmers work hard to comply with state and federal food safety standards but patrons also have to keep their eyes peeled (and their produce washed). Use our tips to help avoid food safety pitfalls.

Produce
Whether it’s organically grown or not, produce needs to washed well. It’s a good thing that farmers’ market produce isn’t waxed like much of what you’ll find in the grocery store, but these local goodies are often covered with dirt. Rinse delicate items like berries, herbs and lettuces well just before use; rinsing them before storing them can cause them to get moldy or mushy. Sturdy produce like carrots, apples and potatoes can handle a good scrub. Thick-skinned foods like melons should be washed before you slice into them.

Some vendors turn their produce into drinks like apple cider. Look for pasteurized beverages, especially if you’re pregnant, elderly or serving them to young children.

Eggs and Dairy Products
Eggs and dairy (yogurt, cheese and milk) at the grocery store is almost always pasteurized, this isn’t always the case at the farmers’ market. Read labels carefully and if in doubt, ASK! Raw milk products and unpasteurized eggs are appealing to some folks but also carry a higher risk of food-borne illness from salmonella and listeria. Also, be sure that all dairy products are stored at the proper temperature – in refrigeration or on ice, especially on hot days.

Meats & Seafood
Fresh and frozen meats, meat products (such as bacon and sausage) and even seafood are popular farmers’ market finds. Use a specially designated shopping bag to avoid cross contamination and bring along an ice pack to keep everything cold on the ride home.

Free Samples
It’s become very popular for venders to give away tastes of their goods, especially prepared foods and specialty items. Baked goods, pesto and tomato sauce, jams and jellies, cheese, granola, yogurt, pickles, hummus, soups and grain salads are just a few of things you might come across. Bring along your own napkins (vendors never seem to have enough). Make sure perishable foods are kept on ice and have proper serving utensils before you sample them. Most importantly, beware of double dippers!

PostHeaderIcon Tips on Mastering the Melon

Prime melon season in the Sacramento Valley region is upon us and stretches into September.

There are some amazing melons to choose from.  The varieties are bountiful when it comes to heirloom varieties.

Next visit to your local farmers market try to find these various types of melons and ask for a taste before buying!

Watermelon Family:

Crimson Sweet: Crisp, sweet and mild with medium red flesh.
Mickey Lee: Red flesh w/ a clean taste and a slightly grainy texture.
Moon and Stars: Bright to pinkish-red flesh and a sweet-tart flavor.
New Orchid: Pale orange flesh and a rich, honey-like flavor.
Yellow Doll: Yellow flesh, slightly tart.

Muse & Late-Harvest Melon Family:

Ambrosia: Sweet, floral, and deeply flavorful orange flesh.
Canary: Dense green flesh with a sweet flavor that’s musky in a good way, like grapes.
Charentais: Deep orange and juicy with a flowery aroma.
Eel River: Super soft texture, gentle flavor, and elegant perfume; orange flesh.
Ha-Ogen: Chin-drippingly juicy, with slightly savory, tropical flavors and pale green flesh.
Honeyloupe: Hybrid that tastes and looks like a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew; bright orange, sweet and juicy.
Galia: As sweet, juicy and succulent as a summer peach, with soft green flesh.
Green Nutmeg: Tiny, single-serving melon.  A bit spicy, with bright green flesh.
Tuscan: Earthly, clean flavor with hints of cucumber.  Rich, amber-colored flesh.

How to choose a melon:
Give it the once over:  Is it symmetrical?  Check.  No bruises?   Check.  No soggy areas?  Check.
Find the Couche (coosh):  That’s the flat spot where the melon rested on the ground.  If it doesn’t have one, it was harvested too early.
Locate the “full slip” or belly button, where the melon attached to the vine.  It should be smooth and clean, a sign it was ripe enough to detach on its own.
Lift it:  Does it seem heavier than it looks?  Good!  That means its juicy!

MELON TIP: If your melon doesn’t smell strong and fruity, let it sit a day or two to ripen before you cut into it.   Watermelon doesn’t ripen after picking so you need to use the steps above to pick the ripest one right off the crate.

PostHeaderIcon National Heirloom Exposition is Coming!

Mark your calendars and get ready to go have fun and learn at the upcoming National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, CA

September 13, 14 and 15th @ the Sonoma County Fairgrounds

Come witness farmers, gardners, chefs and food organizations as they gather together in what will likely be the largest event for heritage agriculture ever held.  Learn from America’s top growers and food celebrities!  Dozens of seed companies and organizations will be present.  Workshops, demonstrations and great music!

See over 4,000 varities of heirloom produce on display showing the diversity of heirlooms.  You will be able to browse through over 200 exhibitors and purchase organic, natural and original food products, art and garden related items from many unique vendors.

You have the opportunity to learn from nationally renowned speakers, writers and farmers!  Guest speakers will be sharing their wealth of information and experience throughout the entire exposition.  Priceless knowledge and expertise with Dr. Vandana Shiva.

All profits from the National Heirloom Exposition will be donated to school garden projects and other food and garden-related charities.

For more information and further details visit:  www.theheirloomexpo.com

PostHeaderIcon Venerable Juice in Summer Cooking

Wondering what Venerable Juice exactly is?  What is so special about Venerable Juice?

Verjus or verjuice.   The word verjus derives from the French term vert jus, literally “green juice,” which refers to its source—the high-acid, low-sugar grapes that winemakers thin from the vines just when the crop is beginning to ripen. This early crop of unripe grapes is pressed, resulting in verjus.  While acidic, verjus has a gentler flavor than vinegar, with a sweet-tart taste that is often used to heighten the flavor of many sauces or mustards.  Unlike wine, however, verjus is not fermented, and is not alcoholic, meaning that its use in a salad dressing or sauce will not interfere with the flavor of the accompanying drinking wine.

It’s fairly new to the American culinary scene, but cooks in Europe and Middle East have been using it for centuries, to tenderize meats and as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including upset stomach, according to texts on early Roman cookery.  (Verjus is cited in what is considered the first printed cookbook in Europe, Platina’s De honesta voluptate et valetudine, dated around 1465.)

It can be red or white.  Red verjus has an earthier flavor, while white verjus has a crisper taste.   Red verjus, which is bolder than the white, pairs well with meats and sauces in which you would use red wine or red-wine vinegar.  White verjus which is a bit more delicate is lovely in a simple vinaigrette dressing, it enlivens rich sauces for fish and chicken.   Using verjus for deglazing pans can make some amazing sauces……add in some fresh herbs and voila…..dinner!

Exploring with this wonderful juice is a must.  Starting out with just a few teaspoons and adding more by taste is the best way to experiment in your recipes.  Finding the right balance is key.

HOW TO BUY

Verjus is available right out our back doors in the Sacramento Valley Region. Napa Valley Verjus is made from some of the best Cabernet and Merlot vineyards in Rutherford and St. Helena from such growers as Laurie Wood, David Abreu and Chuck Wagner. Napa Valley Verjus has been processed at Caymus Vineyards, Monticello Cellars, Robert Pecota Winery, Charles Krug Winery, and Napa Wine Company.  Look in your local gourmet food stores and see if you can locate Verjus.

HOW TO USE

Both red and white verjus can be used in salad dressing, with a proportion of 3 parts verjus to 1 part oil; red verjus is better suited for strong-flavored greens like arugula, while white verjus is better for tender greens, like butter lettuce. You can use red verjus as you would use red wine vinegar or red wine—it is particularly good in sauces for meat or spicy foods, as well as marinating. You can use white verjus as you would use white wine vinegar, lemon juice, or white wine—it is good in beurre blanc, or other sauces for chicken or fish.

HOW TO STORE

Verjus bottles are sealed with a cork; remove it gently so that it can reseal the bottle. Once opened, store verjus in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a month or two. For longer storage, pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze

Honey Roasted Pear Salad with Thyme Verjus Dressing
Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup verjus or 3 tablespoons white grape juice and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Pears and salad:

  • 3 bunches fresh thyme sprigs
  • 4 ripe but firm Bartlett pears (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved, cored
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 head of butter lettuce, coarsely torn
  • 4 ounces baby arugula
  • 6 ounces blue cheese, sliced or coarsely crumbled
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

PostHeaderIcon Sacramento River Delta Farm Sampler

Come out and visit your local farms and you will be able to buy some seasonal products from them. Featured farms are Steamboat Acres-Oganic pears, Fra…ncis Ranch- Organic Vegitables, Double M Farms-Free Range eggs, U-pick pears, Giacoma- Natural Honey, eggs, R. Kelley Farms- U-pick vegitables, Maggi’s Farm-pears, Ceccarelle Hood Ranch-pears

The mission of the Sacramento River Delta Grown Agri-Tourism Association is to promote agricultural sustainability and profitability of local farmers in the Sacramento River Delta area through agri-tourism and agri-education by providing public accessibility to local farms while enhancing the public’s awareness of production agriculture and the enjoyment of the rural farming experience.

PostHeaderIcon Jicama’s Unique Flavors Perk up Recipes!

If you usually hustle past the jicama in your market’s produce section, it’s time to learn how to make the most of this mysterious-looking root. Jicama, a brown-skinned, turnip-shaped tuber native to Mexico and South America, has white flesh that’s crisp, juicy, very mild, and almost sweet. A member of the bean family, the plant’s only edible part is its root, as the leaves and seeds contain a mild toxin. The root, however, is a fiber-rich find that’s also full of potassium and vitamin C.

When you find it in your farmer’s markets look for firm, dry, slightly shiny jicama roots without bruises or shriveled skin. Store whole jicama roots in a dark, cool place, like a cupboard; they’ll last a bit longer there than in the refrigerator. Unpeeled jicama will stay fresh in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To prep jicama, first remove all of the skin with a sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife, then slice the flesh as desired. Bonus: Jicama doesn’t turn brown or become soggy after cutting like avocados or eggplants.

Crisp jicama makes a refreshing addition to crudité trays and salads, and can sub for cucumber in sushi rolls. Like water chestnuts, jicama will stay crisp in quick-cooked dishes like stir-fries or sautés.

Jicama is underused in cooking — a real shame, since it’s such a wonderful root vegetable with a crunch, crispy texture. This salad (which is more akin to a “slaw”) highlights the best of the jicama’s characteristics and makes a nice side for any fajita or grilled meat.

JICAMA SALAD RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 large jicama (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and coarsely shredded
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely shredded
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, julienned
  • 1 lime, zested
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon ground pure ancho chile
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the jicama, carrots, onion, and pepper. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lime zest, juice, oil, honey, and chile. Pour over the vegetables and toss. Add the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate about 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8

Note: If you want to go with a more fun and varied texture, add a chopped avocado, cut slices of an orange, or even a couple of chopped tomatoes just before tossing.

PostHeaderIcon Apricot and Lavender Chutney

Apricot and Lavender together…..who would have thought!!

APRICOT and LAVENDER CHUTNEY

2 tbsp butter, 1/2 leek, diced

1 tsp. lavender flowers, chopped

4 cups apricots, pitted and sliced

1 tsp honey, salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, heat butter and lightly saute leeks, about 5 minutes.  Add lavender and cook until fragrant.  Add apricots and continue to cook until just heated through.  Season to taste with honey.  Add salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and set aside.


California Apricots are in season!  Local markets are offering some of the sweetest apricots in the area.  Are you ready to start using such an amazing fruit in your kitchens?

The apricot is one of California’s prized specialty crops.  In fact, California produces a remarkable 95+% of all the apricots grown in the United States.  There are over 300 growers producing apricots from orchards covering 17,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley with the leading production area being Stanislaus County.  California apricot growers produce a number of apricot varieties.  The most dominant variety planted and produced in California today is the Patterson developed in 1969 by Fred W. Anderson.  A consistent producer and very versatile, the Patterson is used for canning, freezing, drying, concentrate and fresh shipment. Eagerly awaited as one of the first summer fruits, the apricot has a relatively short fresh season.

APRICOT SHOPPING TIPS:

  • Look for plump, fairly firm fruit with an orange-yellow to orange color.
  • Fully ripe fruit is soft to the touch, juicy and should be eaten as soon as possible.
  • Keep apricots cool to prevent over ripening.  Store ripe apricots in the refrigerator where they may keep for up to a week.
  • Place hard apricots in a paper bag and let ripen for a day or two.
  • To freeze fresh apricots, simply half the fruit and place on baking sheet until frozen. Then pack in a plastic freezer bag.
  • Avoid green fruit which will not ripen.

DRIED CALIFORNIA APRICOTS
It takes about six pounds of fresh apricots to make one pound of dried apricots.   A concentrated source of fiber, dried apricots enjoy the distinction of being one of the most nutrient-dense dried fruits.  Sweetly tart, they are lauded for their flavor as well as their excellent snacking and baking possibilities.

PostHeaderIcon Fresh Asparagus Gratin Style!

Gratin of Green Spring Vegetables

Adapted from The Farm Market Cookbook
Serves: 6

  • 1 large bunch Asparagus
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup thinly sliced Spring Onions (white and tender green parts)
  • 2 packed cups finely shredded Cabbage
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/3 cups Heavy Cream
  • 1 TBSP grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/4 cup fine dry Bread Crumbs
  • 2 TBSP Butter, chilled

Instructions

Preheat the over to 350º F. Lightly butter an 8-cup gratin or a 10” soufflé
dish. Snap the cut ends off the asparagus at its tender point and cut the
stalks into thin slices. Lay the asparagus in the bottom of the prepared dish.
Pepper to taste. Disperse the onions over the surface, then the shredded
cabbage. Press the vegetables down as level as possible. Stir the salt into
the cream and pour over the vegetables. Mix the cheese and bread crumbs and
scatter over the top. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape the butter into thin
shards, then place them on the crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes.

Serving Suggestions:

Use as a luncheon dish, or as an accompaniment to a simple poach or sauté of
fish filets.

PostHeaderIcon Who’s Going for the Cherry Bing?

Just when we’ve had our fill of citrus and the apple bin is beginning to bottom out, the most wonderful event happens. Cherries, the first of the early spring fruit, begin making their showy appearance.

Farmers grow several varieties of sweet cherries here in California. The first to arrive are Burlats, a cherry used to help pollinate Bings. They are smaller and softer than Bings. Next to arrive are Brooks, which look like a cross between a Bing and a Rainier. Bings show up around the end of June, followed by Rainiers.

By far the most popular and most anticipated, however, are Bings. They are the largest of the cherry varieties and have a dark, mahogany red color. Rainiers are slightly smaller and have golden skin with a pink to red blush.

The Bing season is short so when the cherry sign goes up at the produce stand near your farmers market don’t hesitate to get in on this amazing fruit while it is available. The best way to enjoy them is fresh, right off the stems. Yum!

Fresh cherries will keep about two to three weeks in cold storage. No matter what type you buy, they should be firm with bright green stems and should look shiny. They are loaded with lycopene, which scientific studies have linked to improved heart health, vision and immunity and also a reduction in cancer risk. Some studies show that cherries might have a positive effect on arthritis pain as well.

Think about buying extra for freezing. It’s easier to use frozen cherries if they are pitted. First rinse them under cool, running water and use a cherry pitter that works like a paper punch. If you don’t have a pitter, you can use a sharp paring knife to slice the cherries in half. Twist the halves apart and remove the pits. To freeze them, just place them in freezer bags.  Frozen cherries make awesome smoothies. Simply toss them into a blender with some other fruit and a splash of soy milk and blend until smooth.

Chocolate-dipped cherries

Who says chocolate-dipped strawberries should get all the glory? Cherries are wonderful with a little dressing up.

If you have a pound or two of fresh cherries, you’ll need about six ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate or milk chocolate chips and 1/2 teaspoon of shortening. The shortening is optional, but it does help prevent the chocolate from crumbling when it sets up again. Wash the cherries and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Save any cherries without stems for another use. You can remove the pits before dipping or leave them in. If you use a cherry pitter, remove the pits from the side so that the stems stay attached.

Place the chips and the shortening in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over hot, not boiling water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the hot water. Stir the chips with a wooden spoon until they melt.

One-by-one, hold the cherries by the stems and quickly dip them into the melted chocolate. Place the dipped cherries on a foil-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm.

Dipped cherries should be stored in the refrigerator and used within two days. Note: If you did not pit the cherries before dipping, you should let your guests know before serving them.

Source: California Cherry Advisory Board

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