Monday, August 22, 2016

Rosemary Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Parmesan and Smoked Paprika {Recipe+Travel}

Inspired by my recent trip to Capay Valley, this rosemary olive oil popcorn is a spicy variation of my classic stovetop version.

When it comes to salty snacks, popcorn is at the top of my list. Growing up, the smell of popcorn being made in the large lidded pot normally reserved for making a big ol' pot of frijoles de la olla would bring all of us girls streaming into the kitchen in anticipation of the salty, buttery, crunchy snack. To this day, I'm not particularly big on microwave popcorn, what with it's super high sodium and chemical additives. Gross. Instead, it's stovetop popping every time. And these days, it's made in my trusty, old hand-hammered wok. I learned that trick from an ex-boyfriend who made it that way the very first night he had me over to his place for dinner and a viewing of his favorite DVD ("When Harry Met Sally"). The great heat conductivity of the wok made for some light, crunchy popcorn and after that first fistful, I was sold. 

As a rule, I make my popcorn in a good quality extra virgin olive oil sometimes flavored with garlic cloves and finished with lots of cracked black pepper and finely grated Parmesan. But last month, while in Sacramento for the International Food Blogger's Conference, I was able to participate in two field trips a few days before the conference started. The one I'm sharing today was to the Capay Valley where we were treated to a lovely farm-to-table lunch and got a tour of Capay Valley Ranches' olive and almond tree farm. While there, we received samples of some olive oil, honey and balsamic vinegar. We also got to pick a full-size bottle to add to our gift bag. I picked the Rosemary Infused Olive Oil which inspired today's recipe. We'll talk more about the popcorn in a bit. First, let's chat about what I learned about olive trees and olive oil-making with some pictures and thoughts from our afternoon.

Rolling hills and farmland as far as the eye can see

The Capay Valley is about an hour northwest of Sacramento in Yolo County. (I'll mention here that it's also 10 degrees hotter than Sacramento and was 110 degrees on this day that we visited. Hello, and thank you, air conditioned bus!) It's a lovely drive through rolling hills, vineyards and farmland sporting a casino, golf course, tasting rooms, and plenty of opportunities to partake in farm-to-table dinners. 

Our first stop was Taber Ranch Vineyard & Event Center.
The event center grounds are charming with a converted barn playing host to weddings and big events (weddings are booked nearly a year out so if you're interested, plan early!).
We were treated to fresh lemonade, iced tea, local almonds and fruit to whet our appetites.
That was followed by this silky ice cream made with CVR's olive oil.  It was so bright, slightly citrusy and refreshing. A real hit and I'm anxiously awaiting the recipe. I might have to give up and experiment on my own. 
Once lunch was ready, we moved to the loft part of the barn and helped ourselves to food. Lunch was locally grown produce and chicken prepared with CVR's oils, vinegars and honey. 
The highlight of the meal for me was the grilled chicken with CVR's Mango Sriracha Infused White Balsamic Vinegar BBQ Sauce. I was afraid it would be too spicy for me but the mango tempered the heat just enough. 
After we ate, we hopped back onto the cool bus and headed to the CVR farm where they grow three varieties of olives (Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki) as well as three varieties of almonds (Aldrich, Nonpareil and Sonora).

Joe Armstrong, pictured below, is the lead farmer at CVR and was our tour guide. Some of the tidbits he shared was that they've had to rely on cutting edge techniques to keep the trees healthy and thriving during our California drought. They've mapped the soil throughout the ranch and developed a system to accurately measure the dryness of the soil so that they can give the minimal amount of water to the trees to keep them just at fruit bearing stage. If I heard correctly, these almond trees can get away with a soak just once every three weeks. Considering our drought, I found that very impressive.

Lead farmer at CVR, Joe Armstrong passionately shared his knowledge of almond and olive growing with us, encouraging us to pick nuts right off the three trees, removing the outer hull, then peeling away the shell to reveal the nut and trying them so we could taste the difference. 
The trees get a good shake, ripe nuts fall to the ground and are left to sun dry before being collected for processing.
Rows and rows of olive trees.

Some fun facts about CVR's olive growing practices:

  • Olive trees do best in the poorest soil. CVR will add lime to the soil, helping the olive trees to thrive.
  • CVR reclaims as much rain water as possible, filtering it to remove impurities before using it to water. They've found that the olive trees do best with frequent little shots of water totaling about a gallon of water per hour per tree.
  • The olives are harvested by a grape harvester which concentrates on the "fruiting" zone of the trees which is 8 feet and below. Harvesting is done mostly at night when the fruit is cool. Harvesting during the day in the heat would cause the fruit to begin fermenting almost immediately.
  • Last year, 128 acres of CVR olive trees produced 36,000 gallons of olive oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the only kind to use

Séka Hills Olive Mill processes the olives from several growers in the valley, CVR being one of them. Because the olives need to be processed immediately after harvesting, it's vital that mills are located as close to the farms as possible. During harvest, Séka runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure the freshest product.

Unlike the old days when olives were actually pressed in vertical presses, after grinding the olives, pits and all, modern day mills put the paste into a centrifuge to extract the oil. At Séka, the fruit is kept well below 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the extraction to qualify as a cold press extra virgin olive oil which is the only kind of olive oil produced at the mill. The spent paste is sold to local farms for hog and cattle feed supplement. As comparison, some growers and mills will sell that spent paste to other producers who then treat the paste with chemicals and heat to extract more oil. This oil is labeled as olive oil or light olive oil. These, because they've been heat and chemically altered, offer none of the antioxidant benefits of extra virgin olive oil. 

Something I also learned during the mill tour is that it's recommended that you buy your oil from sources closest to you or directly from growers with expedited shipping as the oil is only best up to 18 months from the fruit's harvest date in order to maintain any of the health benefits. Imported olive oil, though popular, has spent much of it's usable shelf life in transport or sitting on shelves. Personally, I'm addicted to California olive oil and have been for quite some time.  

Now that we've learned a little bit about olive oil, let's make some popcorn!

An already infused olive oil works great but you can also make your own by tossing a sprig or two of fresh rosemary into the oil with the garlic, then adding some fresh finely chopped rosemary to the popped corn to further carry that woodsy rosemary flavor. Also, you could use regular paprika but do look for the smoked kind. I use a Spanish smoked paprika which is my favorite. You can find it online or at your local Sur la Table. 

Serves 4

¼ cup plus 3 teaspoons Capay Valley Rosemary Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
Generous ⅓ cup organic popcorn kernels
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
¼ cup finely grated parmesan, divided
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Place a wok or heavy potted pot with lid on high heat. Add ¼ cup olive oil and carefully add the peeled garlic. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Pour in the popcorn, cover and shake vigorously every thirty seconds to ensure all the kernels pop. Remove from heat when popping slows to only a few pops every few 5 to 10 seconds. Total time should be about 5 minutes. 

Place ⅓ of the popcorn in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the paprika, and ⅓ of the cheese. Crack some black pepper over the popcorn to your liking (I'm fairly generous). Toss well. Repeat with two more layers. Store leftover popped corn in a resealable bag. Will stay fresh for about two days.


Taber Ranch Vineyard and Event Center

Road 81
Capay, CA 95607
Phone: 916.716.5333

Capay Valley Ranches

Highway 16 @ Road 81 & 82
Capay, CA 95607
Phone: 916.451.4477

Séka Hills Olive Mill and Tasting Room

19326 County Road 78
Brooks, CA 95606
Phone: 530.796.2810

Notice: As a Citizen Blogger for the International Food Blogger Conference, I received a reduction in my registration fees in exchange for agreeing to write a minimum number of posts related to the conference before, during or immediately following the event, topic to be of my own choosing. This is the second of those posts. As always, all photographs, recipes and opinions are wholly my own.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Roasted Cherry Vanilla Bean Frozen Yogurt {recipe video + product review}

Try this healthier frozen treat that is lower in fat with less cholesterol and sugar than a traditional custard-based ice cream.

Most cooks love kitchen tools that make prep easier. I'm no exception. I recently received a cherry pitter from Crisp, a line of tools created to promote healthy living. When our SoCal weather went from warm to hot, I knew that I wanted to put this new tool to the test with something cold, creamy and sweet. Originally, I thought of ice cream but since I'm trying to be good and get back on track with my diet after two indulgent vacations two months apart, I instead opted for a healthier frozen yogurt. 

I'm doing things a little differently today: I created this fun recipe video for you so you can see how easy this Crisp Cherry Pitter is to use.

Ready to try this recipe? Scroll to the end of this post for written instructions.

Until next time! xo, ani

Roasted Cherry Vanilla Bean Frozen Yogurt

This recipe makes a little less than a quart, perfect for four people. Use the leftover roasted cherries, in regular yogurt, oatmeal or even pancakes or muffins. A little bourbon is added to the cherries when processing which helps to keep them from getting rock hard in the freezer since alcohol doesn't freeze. That's also the reason why I called for 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract in addition to the vanilla beans as most extracts are alcohol based (I used my homemade vanilla extract). Use full fat Greek yogurt for a creamier texture or 2% if you must. Nonfat can be used but the texture will greatly suffer. Be sure to freeze your ice cream maker bowl for at least 24 hours for the best results. Optionally, also return the blended yogurt mixer to the refrigerator for 2 hours if there is time before churning.

Serves 4


for the cherries:
cooking spray
2 cups cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons erythritol, or two individual packets of no calorie sweetener
2 teaspoons lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon bourbon

for the yogurt base:
3 vanilla bean pods, split in half length-wise
17.5 ounce container of Fage Greek Yogurt
2/3 cups half and half 
2 tablespoons organic liquid stevia (I like SweetLeaf or Trader Joe's brands)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread the pitted cherries onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with the erythritol and 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice tossing to coat. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or to taste, being careful not to burn fruit. Remove from pan immediately. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Place the cherries into a zipper bag, seal and place bag into ice water bath to cool completely. When cool, place cherries in a food processor, adding the reserved lemon juice and the bourbon, pulsing to desired texture. Set aside.

Cut the vanilla bean pods in half length-wise. Working with half at a time, carefully pry the pod open then use the back of a knife to remove the beans and place them in a small prep bowl. Repeat for all pods. Scoop the yogurt into a blender. Pour in the half and half and stevia. Add the vanilla beans and vanilla extract. Blend on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and the vanilla beans are evenly distributed. 

Add the yogurt mixture to your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the churning process, typically churning for 12 to 20 minutes depending on the brand or until yogurt is firm. Transfer the yogurt to a freezer safe 1 quart container. Add desired amount of dollops of cherries to the yogurt, carefully folding them in. Yogurt can be served immediately or for a firmer texture, cover tightly and place in freezer for 2 hours. If yogurt is too hard, allow to rest on counter for 10 minutes before serving.

I received a cherry pitter from Crisp for review and post consideration. No other compensation was received nor was a favorable review guaranteed. All opinions, recipe, and photography are my own. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who help me keep this site going. 

Want a cherry pitter of your own? Click here.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Traveling to Sacramento? Visit Tequila Museo Mayahuel for a killer flan

California State Capitol Building
If you follow me on any of my social media channels, you might already be aware that I just spent a long weekend in Sacramento, California for my second attendance of the International Food Bloggers Conference. It’s also my second visit to California’s capitol, the last having been more than 15 years ago in which we only spent a little time visiting a few shops in Old Town Sacramento. This trip, however, I’m getting a chance to partake in some of the excellent food and wine that this city, located in the heart of the farm to fork movement, has to offer. 

Arriving in Downtown Sacramento a day before the conference events were set to kick-off, my friend Mimi (of Mimi Avocado), texted me to say that she, too, arrived early and would I like to meet up for dinner? She suggested Tequila Museo Mayahuel, a restaurant that strives to immerse it’s customers in the culture of Mexico through authentic flavors blended with a fresh and modern twist, drinks featuring some of the best tequila, a mezcal bar, art and music.

Mayahuel is located on K Street, just a quick stroll around the corner from the Hyatt Regency, our host hotel for the conference. It's proximity was a blessing since the days have been in the low 100s with the early evenings not that much cooler. The restaurant was about a third full so we were able to be quickly seated. The space, with it's bold paintings and gorgeous flower arrangements, had an overall comfortably welcoming vibe. There is also a shaded outdoor patio if al fresco dining is your preference, however, we opted for air conditioning.

Mimi had looked over the menu beforehand but I went in not knowing what to expect. We found our tastes perfectly aligned as both of us ordered the same items.

We started with their house special cocktail, the Así Sabe México which can be figuratively translated to “a taste of México”.

Created by their in-house mixologist, it’s a smooth combination of fresh watermelon, cucumber, lime, tequila, tajín chile on the rim and sells for $9. The menu states that the drink embodies the “true spirit of México” however, Mimi and I both decided to forgo the chile as both of us were afraid it would over power our palates. Well, that’s a half truth. I’m simply a chile wimp. Ok, I admitted it. Moving on.

I am a huge molé fan and make a few different kinds myself. However, I’ve never attempted pipian verde which is traditionally made from pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and gets a hit of tang from tomatillos and just a hint of spice from fresh chiles. When I saw Pipian Verde con Chuleta de Puerco (chuleta de puerco is pork chop), I knew I had to try it. The menu states that it’s a “mole verde made from sesame seed” which, in my experience is used in other kinds of mole, not in pipian verde so I was very curious to try it. The dish was described as being served with cilantro rice and a starter salad. Unfortunately, we never received our starter salad and our waiter was unfamiliar with the description of the dish and didn't seek to rectify the oversight when we inquired about a salad. So, in hindsight, the $23.50 price tag for pork chops and rice wound up feeling a tad high. It's a good thing we loved the dish as much as we did.

Mayahuel’s pipian was a little thinner than red mole, however, green mole does tend to be looser than its red counterpart. The first several forkfuls left a distinct tingling sensation front and center, especially on the lips, from the chile but it eventually fell to the back as the well balanced bite finished with a tangy brightness that complimented the perfectly grilled tender, ever-so-slightly pink, pork chops. The side of rice was a delicious way to sop up the sauce, and we used every last bit of grain to do so until nothing was left on our plates. Now that I have closed out five evenings of dinners during my time in Sacramento, I can say assuredly that it has been my favorite entree.

But the highlight of the meal was yet to come.

Looking over the dessert menu, Mimi and I both zeroed in on one called ‘Imposible’ – heavenly slices of flan atop a slightly spongey, very dark chocolate cake bottom served with fluffy whipped cream garnished with mint and strawberry slices along with toasted walnut pieces for a little crunch. Sometimes I have found flan to be too sweet or soft but this was just sweet enough with the texture of the cake nicely contrasting the texture of the flan. The cake was intensely chocolate, providing the perfect backdrop to the creamy custard. This $9 unique dessert, unlike anything I’ve seen or tasted anywhere, is wildly successful and the perfect ending to a lovely meal.

Next time you visit Sacramento, make your way downtown, stroll through Capitol Park, snap a photo of the iconic California Capitol Building and be sure to stop in at Mayahuel for a unique taste of Mexico.

Tequila Museo Mayahuel
1200 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 441-7200

Visit them on

Instagram: mayahuelsac
Twitter: mayahuelmuseo
Facebook: MayahuelSacramento
YouTube: mayahuelsac

Notice: As a Citizen Blogger for the International Food Blogger Conference, I received a reduction in my registration fees in exchange for agreeing to write a minimum number of posts before, during or immediately following the conference, topic to be of my own choosing. This is the first of those posts. As always, all photographs and opinions are wholly my own. 

As a side note, during this dinner visit, I only had my iPhone 6s Plus so all restaurant images where taken with it and processed with Snapseed. And no, Apple and Snapseed did not pay me to mention them. I just really love the products and wanted to share the information with you. :)