Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ghiradelli Outlet Store | Lathrop, CA

This past summer, when we learned that one of our favorite baseball players was the starting pitcher in a game featuring the Modesto Nuts and the San Jose Giants, we piled into the van and proceeded to make the 82 mile trip south on Highway 99. All along the way, we anticipated seeing a performance like no other. We envisioned catching foul balls and having them signed by the players who hit them. And we couldn't wait to indulge ourselves on hot dogs, cracker jack, and ice cream. Unfortunately, 24,000 other fans were feeling the same way.

There was not a parking space to be found. There was not a ticket to be sold. Disappointed? You bet. Sorry that we attempted the trip? Absolutely not! We were not yet ready to give up on a promising family night out. Not even close.

Banking on the hope of making lemonade from lemons, we turned our sights to chocolate. That's not to say that this new adventure made up for the sights and wonder that can only be found at the ballpark, but we weren't thinking about just any kind of chocolate. Rather, our senses were quickly "turned on" to the timeless pleasure that only Ghirardelli Chocolates can bring. Never heard of 'em? Please forgive me for being crass, but what rock have you been living under?

A San Francisco staple since 1852, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was founded by Italian-born Domingo Ghirardelli, who, after spending ten years in South America honing his dream of creating one-of-a-kind confections, immigrated to California during the Gold Rush. He struck it rich from the very start, and quickly turned his attention towards opening his first factory and storefront along the historic piers that overlooked the bay. Again, success was swift. Ghirardelli's use of high quality cocoa beans and extensive conching techniques earned him a reputation as America's premier chocolatier. There was no mistaking the unique taste of his candies, and the company flourished under his direction. Before long, the signature lights held high above the company's majestic brick facade "welcomed ships passing through the Golden Gate."

Today, Ghirardelli Square is home to numerous shops and eateries. It is also among the city's top tourist attractions with thousands having walked through the courtyard. Each stopping, of course, at the original Ghirardelli manufactory to make a purchase or to enjoy an unforgettable fountain treat. We've been there many times, but not on this day. If given the opportunity, however, we probably would have traveled down that road.

No, we didn't high-tail it to the city. Instead, we made our way to Lathrop, California, where, straddling one side of the I-5, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company built one of its distribution warehouses. And tucked in one small corner of the building, you can stop in to pick up a box (or bag) of their chocolate squares while enjoying a frozen dessert, just like the ones made special in San Francisco. For example, there's the Cable Car (Rocky Road Sundae), the Gold Rush (Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Sundae), the Haight Ashberry (Very Berry Sundae with Strawberries and Chocolate-Covered Blueberries), and the Espresso Escape (An Intense Dark Chocolate Sundae). There's certainly much more to choose from, but we had finally found our heaven that night ... We had finally found restitution from the earlier let down.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has a handful of locations and outlets throughout the United States that stretch from San Francisco to Miami, and their products are found all over the world in many fine grocery stores, specialty food shops, and gift boutiques. You now know where we go to satisfy our guilty pleasure. Where do you go to satisfy yours?

Ghiradelli Factory Outlet Store
11980 S Harlan Rd
Lathrop, CA 95330

Friday, November 11, 2011

OOTK Profile | Nicole Morgan of Nicole's Cupcakes

We met Nicole Morgan through a friend at work who was bringing in vegan cupcakes made by her 15-year-old daughter. She made every variety you can imagine. Not only did they look amazing, but they tasted just as great. And because they were vegan, folks who enjoyed these wonderful treats also knew that what they were eating had no animal by-products in the mix.

As self-branded foodies, we’ve had our share of cupcakes. But Nicole’s Cupcakes resonates with us because of her passion for what she creates and how she, at just 15-years-old, goes about picking her ingredients. A
ll local and as much as possible, organic.

As an aspiring cook and entrepreneur, Nicole is learning how to find her niche in the food world and getting her footing in an industry that she may or may not go into when she gets older. For now, she is a high-school student who enjoys tooling around in the kitchen, creating wonderful flavor combinations for her cupcakes, and creating a business she can call her own.

The following recounts a recent interview we had with Nicole this past summer.

OOTK: So why vegan cupcakes?

Nicole: I chose to make vegan cupcakes mostly because I'm vegan. I also firmly believe that consumption of food products derived from animals such as milk, eggs, cheese, etc., are harmful to yourself, the environment, and animals. I want a chance to show people that making decisions that benefit everyone can be delicious. You don't have to feel like you're missing out on anything. I decided to start specializing in cupcakes because I love how each cupcake can have its own identity.

They're fun to make and people love to eat them!

OOTK: How old were you when you started baking?
Nicole: I can’t remember a time when I wasn't in the kitchen! From the time I was old enough to walk, I would help my grandma pour the sugar for brownies or mix in the hot water for Jell-O with my stepmom.

OOTK: How do your parents feel about your cupcake business? They seem very supportive.
Nicole: My parents have been a huge help with starting up this business.
They've been very supportive in every way possible. Emotionally, physically, monetarily. You name it. They have been there for me every step of the way.

OOTK: Are you thinking about going to culinary school?
Nicole: Culinary school is not really something that has ever interested me. I think you can get all the knowledge you need from pure experience. In the long run, I may get a degree in business, or I may pursue my interest in the medical field.

OOTK: Where are you planning on going to school?
Nicole: I’m thinking about University of San Francisco. I’ve visited a couple times. I’m not sure what I’m majoring in yet, we’ll see. All I know is that, whatever I end up doing in my career, cooking and baking will always be something that I am passionate about.

OOTK: What is your favorite cupcake?
Nicole: I love the vanilla cupcakes topped with chocolate buttercream.
Despite the simplicity, the two flavors compliment each other perfectly.

OOTK: We’re fans of your Green Tea cupcake. What is your most popular cupcake?
Nicole: Cookies and Crème.

OOTK: What are your favorite restaurants around town?
Nicole: Thai Palace is my favorite restaurant by far. I love the tofu pangang and vegetable pad thai. Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe is my “go-to” restaurant if I'm looking for a good sandwich. Their Midtown Bacon Cheeseburger is to die for!

OOTK: How do people contact you if they want to purchase your cupcakes?
Nicole: People can reach me through my Facebook page or by sending an email, text, or simply calling me. Although I check my Facebook page and email every day, if you're looking for a quick reply, contacting me by phone would be the best.

OOTK: Thanks for time Nicole. It was a pleasure meeting you. We wish you luck wherever your future leads you.

Nicole’s Cupcakes


Monday, November 7, 2011

Naked Lounge | Sacramento, CA

I've said it before, and most likely, I'll say it many more times to come. The one thing that has really captured our imagination since we started sharing our food adventures with you has been meeting the people who make it all happen. The tireless owners, the accomplished chefs, the talented short-order cooks, the hardworking wait staff, the welcoming hosts, and ... well, the people. The every man, woman, and child who we've shared our story, and in turn, they have shared theirs.

Each of the adventures we've come to enjoy have become not just about the food, but about relationships. The euphoric feeling of being with someone who also shares in your passion, whether it's enjoying a time-tested burger that oozes with greasy goodness, an ice cream sundae that's piled to the ceiling with all the fixin's, or a volcanic chocolate bar that packs just enough heat to make you sweat and cry at the same time.

It doesn't take long to find this common bond. It can happen in just a split second, and then last for as long as the kitchen (or bar) is open. Take for example a recent visit we paid to the Naked Lounge-Midtown located on the corner of 15th and Q Streets. We had already heard so much about this converted house with its blending of neutral colors against recycled textures, its evocative paintings on the walls, and the owners' penchant to support new and up-and-coming musical acts. After all, the soothing and sometimes rockin' sounds were the only thing filtering out of the hidden speakers.

As I recall, it was a cold, rainy day in late Spring. Not enough to get one soaking wet, mind you, but enough to drive us indoors and call it a day for coffee or, in our kids' case, a good cup of hot chocolate. After commandeering a corner table near the front door, we surveyed the drink menu that was perched high above the counter where all the magic happened. The names were catchy, inspiring curiosity. There was the Press Pot, the Hammerhead, the Kerouac, and something called the Keith Richard. Each was described with an interesting flavor profile that had us pausing for a moment to say, "I think I can drink that."

In the end, however, we retreated to conservative wisdom. Two Mexican hot chocolates and two Mocha Thai drinks. Yes, we chose to be plain-Janes. We resolved to be BORING. The act did not go unnoticed.

"You should have tried their Bowl of Soul," came a friendly voice from the table next to ours. There sat two women, one dressed liked she had just come from a meeting, the other like she had just come from home. They sat side-by-side, taking comfort in not just each others' affection, but in the warmth that the Lounge offered. "We noticed that you both were having trouble deciding, and since you didn't order it, thought we'd suggest the Bowl of Soul for your next visit. We order nothing else."

The Bowl of Soul. A generous cup of camomile tea infused with vanilla soy milk, honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. This was a cup of yummy goodness that reminds us of those little Calgon moments of being swept away. No wonder our new friends repeatedly order this and snuggle up to each other. Relax, release, and let go.

And so the ice was broken between us. Next thing we knew, we were all talking like we knew each other since forever, like stopping into the Lounge was not just some random act, but rather a planned rendezvous with old friends.

So, go forward on your next food adventure and take umbrage of the people who share the space around you. Given the backdrop provided by the Lounge, it's a good place to start. Locally owned and self-described as fiercely independent, it is one of four locations housed under the Naked Coffee umbrella. The others include Tupelo, Orphan, and Naked Lounge-Downtown, which also features a live music venue. They pride themselves "on a belief of individualism rather than robot-ism, and strive to inhabit unique urban neighborhoods while promoting creativity, dialogue and individuality." Oh, the stories you'll discover and the new friends that you'll make.

Naked Lounge
1500 Q Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Out of the Kitchen Sacramento restaurants