Saturday, August 15, 2015

Heirloom Produce

From my Petaluma Post column, August 2015:

Rhubarb, figs, quince.  If you are like me these fruits make me think of my grandmother.  She had
Rhubarb, black berry and apple mini pies for dessert at a wedding.
rows of canned fruit and preserves lining the back of her garage.  As I grew up I saw less and less of them in the market, but local farmers are bringing more and more of these back to farmers market and restaurants.  Back yard gleaning has become a popular group activity splitting up backyard crops to make jams and jellies.

I remember my mother-in-law not being able to give away rhubarb, and like zucchini it was left on neighbors porches in the dead of night.  But the bright red stalks now call me, there is so much you can do with them if you simply look to the past from some ideas.  We have been making lots of mini pies for weddings and events, and I can say that warm strawberry rhubarb pie is my current favorite (until Gravenstein apples are available).
The recipe is a little bit tricky; you have to judge the freshness of the fruit.  If the rhubarb is under ripe add a bit more sugar and a bit less flour and vice versa to balance the sugar and starch content.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
9” deep pie crust (homemade or store bought)
3 cups chopped strawberries
3 cups chopped rhubarb
¾ to 1 cup sugar
2 Tbl flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Toss together and place in the pie shell.

Streusel Topping
4 oz butter
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
Blend all in a food processor or with a pastry blender until crumbly, then top the pie.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 to 1½ hours.  I recommend placing foil or a cookie sheet to catch the drips.

Figs figs figs!  We all know when figs come in it is a windfall, so what can you do with them?  We don’t do a lot of canning at the catering company but luckily we have a huge freezer.  Our fig honey is a great pairing with cheeses and we make loads of it then freeze it.

Fig Honey
3 lbs figs, stemmed and quartered
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 lemon zest and juice
½ cup water
Place all in a heavy bottom pot on the stove, bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  If you choose you can puree for a smoother style.  Allow to cool.  It will hold in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks or it freezes well.

We know figs and we know rhubarb, but what exactly is a quince you ask.  It is a member of the apple/pear family. When ripe it is shaped similar to a pear and bright yellow in color.  The texture is quite hard and the flavor is sour; definitely not one to pick and eat!

It is valued for its high level of pectin and is often used as an addition in jelly and jam instead of traditional pectin.  Membrillo is a quince paste that is often served with cheeses in Italy.  With its pectin level it is harder than actual paste, but I love it.  The sweet tart combination is a star with a very rich cheese like gorgonzola.

Quince Paste
4 lbs quince, washed, peeled cored and chopped
1 vanilla bean, split
1 lemon zested
3 Tbl lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Place the quince, vanilla bean and lemon zest in a heavy bottom pot, and cover with 4 to 6 quarts of water.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until fork tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Strain the water and remove vanilla bean.  Next puree the quince pulp, and measure it; you will need a cup of sugar for each cup or puree (3 cups pulp, 3 cups sugar).  Return to stove and add lemon juice and simmer approximately 1 to 1½ hours until very thick.

You can use it as a jam at this time, or you can nine an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper, grease lightly, pour in the puree, and place in a low oven (125 degrees) for half an hours until firm; remove from pan and cut in to bars, slice when ready to serve.  A thin slice on a good cheese just can’t be beat, and the firm texture can make it a lot neater to serve than jam.

It is great to see heirloom produce taking the front seat in modern cuisine. Enjoy!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Sweetest Taste of Summer

From my Petaluma Post column, July 2015:

On a hot summer day there is nothing sweeter or more refreshing than watermelon.  You can’t have a
Compressed Tomato and Basil with Watermelon
with Sherry & Wild Baby Arugula
picnic or a barbecue without thick slices of red watermelon.  To me it just screams summer and hot days.  It is a healthy snack; low calorie, and like tomatoes the red color gives you lycopene, which is good for bone health, and most recently they have found
citrulline is an amino acid that is commonly converted by our kidneys.   But forget that, it tastes good!

Obviously the most traditional way is just to serve it as wedges.  When cutting wedges I like to cut the corners off the peel side, just to make it easier to eat; that way don’t really have to stick your face in it.  But I prefer to cut it into sticks, with the peel just on one end; it’s easy to handle and eat that way. 

But that is not all you can do with it.  A simple “watermelon salad” is easy by cutting it into chunks and finishing with lime juice, and maybe a little salt.   But for a more gourmet alterative try

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint
Serves 8 to 10
3 lbs Peeled Seedless Red or Yellow Watermelon
2 stems Mint
8 oz Crumbled Feta
¼ cup Sherry Vinegar

Cut the water melon into 1 inch cubes.  Chiffonade (very thinly slice) the mint and add to the watermelon.  Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently.  It is best prepared the same day.  Serve well chilled.

There are plenty of watermelon themed hors d’oeuvres, but one of my favorites is Watermelon with Chèvre and Basil.

Watermelon with Chèvre and Basil
Yield approx. 40 pieces
1 Small watermelon, seedless
8 oz Chèvre
1 bunch Basil, cut chiffonade
Balsamic Syrup

Peel the watermelon and cut into 1” cubes, then using a melon baller, remove a small scoop from the top of each cube to hold the Chèvre.  Place approximately half of a teaspoon of Chèvre in each divot, then drizzle with balsamic syrup and finish with the basil. 

As refreshing as watermelon is to eat it is great in beverages.  A perfect addition to a pitcher of water, just add cubed watermelon plus a few basil leaves.  Allow it to rest for 1 to 2 hours, and you have a great infusion.  You might also want to try

Watermelon Lemonade
6 cups cubed seedless watermelon, chilled (2 lbs after peeling)
4 cups cold water
3/4 cup fresh strained lemon juice, chilled
2/3 cup granulated sugar (more or less to taste)

For an added fresh touch try cutting extra watermelon in to cubes and freeze as ice cubes, which would also be a great idea for your watermelon infused water or cocktails.

Watermelon’s delicate flavor can pair well with so many things.  Add a little bit of citrus and cilantro and you have a great salsa, serve with chips or grilled pork or chicken.  Feel free to add you own ideas.

Watermelon Salsa
3 cups finely diced seedless watermelon, (about 2¼ pounds with the rind)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, (about 1/2 bunch)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix gently and allow to rest 30 minutes.
Did you know that the rind of the watermelon is also edible?  Have you had pickled watermelon rind?  Pickling is making a comeback, with the interest in heirloom foods, their processing is returning as well.

Pickled Watermelon Rind
4 lbs watermelon rinds, cut in 1” pieces
¼ cup salt
4 cup water
2 cup white vinegar
2 cup water
4 cup sugar
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 lemon, sliced

Soak the watermelon with salt and water over night, drain and rinse well.  Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil, simmer 5 minutes.  Add rind and simmer 15 to 30 minutes until tender.  At this point you can use as refrigerator pickles and keep in your fridge for 45 to 60 days.  Or place in sterilized jars, top with boiling syrup and process in boiling water.  Use them to round out a summer themed hors d’oeuvres station with other pickled veg and meats.  Or as the beginning of a watermelon relish.

You can also look for yellow watermelon to add some color.  And remember to be creative!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Chili, Chile, or Chilli?

From my Petaluma Post column:

Yes I mean Chili, summer time BBQs are a great time for Chili.  But there is so much controversy
over this simple dish.  Do you make Chili con carne (chili with meat)?  Do you put beans in it (heavens no)?  Is yours red or is yours green?  However you might make it, American’s love chili hot dogs to chili cook-offs.  It’s time to try your hand at a batch and create your own recipe

Chili comes from the root of Chile meaning chile peppers a key ingredient in the dish.  Originally chili con carne was made up of a combination of red meat, salt and chile peppers.   Introduced to the crowds at the 1893 Columbian exposition in Chicago by the San Antonio Chili Stand it spread through the south and west.  Every restaurant and “Chili Bar” has their own recipe and of course a secret ingredient, one of the most interesting is Cincinnati style chili, also known as 5 way chili.  Start with Spaghetti Noodles, then chili, kidney beans or corn, cheddar cheese and grated cheddar cheese.

I find chili to be a crowd pleaser and a great dish to do in large quantities.  I am not a traditionalist and will often be creative with my ingredients.  We recently paired a Lamb Chili with wine from Dutcher Crossing Winery during the annual Passport Weekend.  Dutcher Crossing is well known for big red wines often with a touch of Syrah grapes.  We paired their Cabernet Sauvignon with a Lamb Chili con Carne.
Lamb Chili (yield 1 gallon)
4 lbs Ground Lamb
9 oz Onions, diced
28oz Tomatoes, canned, diced
1 oz Chili Powder
½ oz Garlic Powder
¼ oz Cumin
¼ oz Paprika
3 grams Pepper Flakes
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock

Brown the lamb in oil with the onions, then add the spices and stock and cook for about 5 minutes.  Finally add the tomatoes and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

A few weeks later, to contrast with the lamb chili I went in the opposite direction for Cinnabar Theatre’s annual Chili Cook Off.  Let’s go green with “its good to be green”; we are a green certified company and proud of it, so when we entered the cook off here in Petaluma I decided to do a green vegetarian chili. Yes, I know a purist will say chili can’t even have beans in it, let alone be vegetarian, but chili is what you make it.  What do I mean by green?  First no tomatoes, instead we used tomatillos which add a great tang to the chili.  I used fresh chili both Anaheim chiles and Pasilla chiles to add texture and then also dried green New Mexico chiles.  Using green chiles also keeps the heat down.  Then we went with white beans versus the traditional red beans, and it came out a winner.  Winning both the People’s Choice and Judges Choice for best vegetarian chili.  – Thanks to everyone who voted for us.

Vegetarian Chili (yield 1 gallon)
1 lbs White Beans, dried
1 lbs Tomatillos, crushed, canned
8 oz Pasilla Chiles
8 oz Anaheim Chiles
5 oz Green Chili, diced, canned
12 oz Yellow Onion
1/8 cup Vegetable oil
2 gm Cumin
7 gram Chili Powder
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock
2 tsp lime juice
½ cup Green Enchilada Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

Start by soaking the beans for 12 to 24 hours, and drain them thoroughly just before use.  Sauté the onions, garlic and diced chiles in vegetable oil, and then add the cumin and chili powder.  Cook it for 5 to 8 minutes, until it becomes fragrant.  Next add the drained beans and cover with the roasted vegetable stock and add the tomatillos (smashed with juice) and lime juice.  Cook over medium heat for 1½ to 2 hours (until beans are tender). Finish with some of the diced chiles and enchilada sauce.  And to really make it pop, serve it with a dollop of Cilantro Cumin Crema and some more diced green chilies for color.

Cilantro Cumin Crema
1 cup Sour Cream
½ bunch Cilantro Tops
1 Tbs Fresh Lime Juice
1 tsp Cumin
½ tsp Vegetable Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

So red chiles or green chiles, beans or meat, tomatoes or tomatillos, spicy or mild, it’s time to grab a pot and create your recipe.  Enjoy

And in case you’re curious, because I was when my spell checker didn’t like “chiles”;  while chili refers to the above recipes, when it comes to the peppers chile, chili, or chilli, with or without an extra e when making it plural are all acceptable.  And an argument could be made that any of those spellings could be used for the above recipes as well.  Digging deeper, some of it seems regional and it has changed over time.  My advice is to go with what you like.  I like chile pepper because the spelling speaks to the word’s Spanish origin.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cheese, Bacon & Bourbon!

From my Petaluma Post column:

Happy Butter & Eggs Day!  What a wonderful celebration of Petaluma and our heritage.  I don’t often talk about myself in my articles; I am a home grown kid born and raised right here in Petaluma.  My family dates back five generations to my great great grandfather coming over from Holstein Germany to work a dairy ranch in Tomales.  I have lived in Europe, I went to college in NY and worked in the LA area, but I think the best place on earth is right here in Petaluma.  You cannot beat the quality of product and the pride that we have in it!

I recently got to participate in the Chef vs Chef at the Artisan Cheese Festival in March.  Being a local I decided to pair with two other locals for my entry.  Thanks to Larry Peters and Spring Hill Farms for the use of two or their cheeses; a two year aged white cheddar and a garlic jack.  These two cheeses are also featured on our Sonoma County Bounty display we often have at catering events.  A big shout out to Hoot and team at Kastania Winery for their 2011 Proprietors Blend that we paired with.

Now I know what you are waiting for - just what did we make? An adult grilled cheese with bacon.  It is a bite sized savory grilled pimento cheese cake with bourbon brown sugar bacon.  Yes I said bourbon brown sugar bacon!  At the writing of this I don’t know how we will do but I have my fingers crossed.

So where did Pimento cheese come from?  I love southern cuisine.  After a trip to New Orleans a couple of years ago my interest has increased.  I have always made a good fried chicken (my nephew will say the best) and have started adding more southern dishes to my repertoire.  The dishes of our southern states are considered by many to be the most quintessential example of American food, and certainly one of the most recognizable regional cuisines.

The origin of pimento cheese is not that elegant, it is the result of two processed foods.  In the early 1900 a food scientist was trying recipes to get more Americans to purchase prepared foods.  It was a combination of canned pimentos and cream cheese.  In its heyday each family would have had their own treasured recipe.  Many cookbook authors referring to it as the “caviar of the south”.  From dainty tea sandwiches to school lunches to workman it was a mainstay.  Now considered a retro dish it was fun to play with.

My recipe is a bit dryer and mixed more than is traditional in order to hold up to molding it in to little cakes and browning it.

Pimento Cheese Cake
Pimento cheese cake with bourbon, brown sugar, bacon, pickled baby peppers
1 cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar (I used white)
1 cup Shredded Garlic Jack
6 oz Cream Cheese
¼ cup Mayonnaise
½ tsp Dijon Mustard
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
¼ tap Cayenne Pepper
4 oz drained diced Pimentos (drain very well)

Place all ingredient except the peppers in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer.  Mix until it comes together, then add the peppers and mix until just combined.  At this point you can form in to a large cheese ball or just use as a spread.

To make the little cakes form it in to ¾ oz balls using a small ice cream scoop, and roll between your hands to make them round.  Then roll them in bread crumbs, and press into a patty.  Chill over night or freeze.

Heat a medium skillet over medium high with about 2 tablespoons of oil.  You will need to work fast so the cakes don’t melt.  Brown each on both sides then remove to a paper towel to remove any extra fat.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Bacon
8 oz medium thick bacon
4 oz bourbon
4 ox brown sugar
1/8 t salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
Pinch cayenne

Place the bacon in a heavy bottom skillet, add the bourbon.  Bring to a boil, and cook until the bourbon is gone and you have just bacon and fat.  The bacon will still be very limp.  Remove the pan from the heat and drain, and transfer the bacon to a bowl and allow to cool until you can handle it.  Next toss with the brown sugar, salt, pepper and cayenne.  Toss Well. Lay out on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until crisp.  When cool, julienne for topping.

To Assemble: Top each pimento cake with just a dab of whipped cream cheese as an adhesive.  Top with a pinch of the bacon bits, bit of diced pimento pepper and parsley for garnish.  Enjoy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Are you in a pickle?

From my Petaluma Post column:

Did you know that the third week of May is national Pickle Week?  In past articles I have mentioned
pickles on my Gastro Pub station, they pair well with so many things.  I love pickles; as a kid I loved the bread and butter pickles that my grandmother would make, there is nothing like a good kosher pickle on a cheese sandwich, and cornichons are a must on a charcuterie platter.

Pickling is defined as the preserving of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar.  The way this works is by the use of salts and vinegars to lower the pH of food to below 4.6 which will not allow bacteria to grow.  I have been experimenting with a number of different icebox pickles.  Icebox pickles as opposed to heat pasteurized pickles which are more shelf stable but have a different texture.  I am lucky that we have a large enough walk-in refrigerator that I can keep a couple of large buckets of my pickles around.

The first thing that I looked at is what to pickle. Cucumbers seem to be the first thought, yes I like those.  Then other vegetables, when searching the web I found a recipe for almost anything that you can imagine from carrots to cherry tomatoes.  You will want to keep in mind that the salt and vinegar can pull the color out of the vegetables making them a bit drab.  I have had great luck with cauliflower, carrots, onions and red bell peppers.  You might ask what about fruits?  Do you realize that sugar is an acid? So in a way making jam is doing the same change in pH.  I have had fun with Apples and Persimmons, but people do tend to think of veggies as pickles.

The big question is are you doing a sweet or sour pickle.  Although it is not an entirely fair question since my sweet pickles are still tangy.  All of the pickles that I have made so far are quick pickles meaning they are ready to eat within 24 hours.  These are prepared vegetables (washed and cut) that a boiling liquid is poured over then allowed to cool.  When cool (if you can wait) they are ready to eat or store in the refrigerator.

One of the first places I started experimenting was with Vietnamese food.  Bahn Mi sandwiches are a street food staple that pairs Asian tastes with French cuisine.  A crusty baguette, sliced pork loin, pate, cilantro, sliced jalapenos, chili mayonnaise topped with a pickled vegetable combination of carrots and daikon radish.  The pickled vegetables add a bright clean finish to the rich sandwich - try them on a burger some time.

Bahn Mi Pickled Slaw
4 oz julienne carrots
4 oz julienne daikon
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup white sugar

Bring the sugar, vinegar and water to a boil, then pour over the vegetables.  Allow to cool, then drain when ready to use.  A great addition to any sandwich for a tangy crunch.

The next direction that I went in was doing my own pickled cucumbers and at the same time carrots.  There is one major difference, I use the same brine (sugar, salt, vinegar combination) but with the cucumbers I salted them for 2 hours to help draw out moisture so the bine could be absorbed

Pickled Cucumber or Carrots
The veggies
2 pound Persian cucumbers – cut into ¼” slices, toss with 1 cup salt, rest for 2 hours, rinse well
OR 2 pounds carrots sticks
1 red bell pepper - cut into strips
1 red onion, small - cut into strops

Place in a food safe plastic bucket, glass jar or crock with lid.

The Brine
6 oz white sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 oz salt
½ tsp mustard seed
¼ tsp celery seed
Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, and then pour over the vegetables.  If the brine does not cover the vegetables, place a weighted plate into container to press them; they will shrink.  Allow to cool, then refrigerate.  Ready within 12 to 24 hours. Stores well for up to 30 days.

After you have tried the first recipe try other vegetable and think about adding different spices; one of my favorites was cauliflower with a bit of curry powder.

Moving on from there I tried changing out the water with beer to create our Hop Stoopid Pickled Cauliflower.  Hops often have a bitter after taste, but the combination in this pickle was just perfect for a rich beer flavor with no bitterness.

Hop Stoopid Pickled Cauliflower
2 heads cauliflower – broken into florets
1 – 20 oz bottle Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
1 cup water
3 cup vinegar
1 pound sugar
2 oz salt
1 tsp pepper corns
½ tsp mustard seed
1 Tbl chopped garlic

Clean and prep the cauliflower, then place in a food safe plastic bucket, glass jar or crock.  Bring the remaining ingredients just to a boil.  Careful, hoppy beer is a bit delicate, you don’t want a heavy boil.  Add the cauliflower in to the brine, bring to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Place in a food safe plastic bucket, glass jar or crock.

From carrots to cauliflower you’ll always be in a pickle (in a good way).