Thursday, December 31, 2009

Arugula Salad in a Whole Roasted Pumpkin with Chevre and Peppitas

I decided to be creative for Christmas dinner this year. For the past several years we have been going into SF for a special holiday dinner; this year I decided to cook at home. I had seen a whole roasted pumpkin in a South American cooking show and decided to give it a try. It was remarkably easy, and remarkably good.

I purchased one 14 pound hubbard squash (any hard winter squash with yellow or orange flesh is considered a pumpkin; that Libby canned pumpkin that you make your pie with is most likely butternut or banana squash).
I pierced the pumpkin about 5 times with a long skewer (so it wouldn’t explode) and then placed it in the oven on a cookie sheet. Not knowing how long this would take I started it 4 hours before dinner at 300 degrees. Checking every 30 minutes or so (I was actually curious too), it took approximately 2½ hours to be skewer tender. I set it aside till dinner. One very interesting thing was a clear “juice” that pooled at the stem of the pumpkin while roasting (Harry Potter pumpkin juice?) it was sweet with a nutty flavor.

Once everyone was seated at the table, I brought several bowls to the table - wild baby arugula, toasted pumpkin seeds, crumbled Chevre, and Pomegranate vinaigrette

I chose to cut open the top of the pumpkin much like you would do a jack-o-lantern, next time I will cut the top off straight across and a bit lower to give more mixing room. Then scooped all of the seeds and strings from the inside.

Then I put all the ingredients in the pumpkin to toss them. Starting with the greens, then the pumpkins seeds, stirring and incorporating spoons of the pumpkin flesh into the salad, last the Chevre and vinaigrette. Folding gently until the greens just wilted.

It’s one I’ll be trying again.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Kitchen time 2:08PM
8 hams
5 tarts
4 turkeys
3 emergencies
2 legs of lamb
Time to go home
1 Happy caterer

Happy Holidays to everyone

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stick out your tongue on New Years Eve

I am a foodie, yes a gourmand, but a foodie too. To me a foodie is not snooty in what they eat, we are willing to try it and appreciate it for what it is. Yes I eat at taco bell - 2 tacos and a bean burrito please. Yes my favorite all time dish is Foie Gras and French Toast – you have heard about that before.

However my friends often say that I'm scary to cook for, how many of you have cooked for a trained and awarded chef? My mother in-law will tell you that I am a magnificent guest and will eat and enjoy anything that is cooked for me. The point is I didn’t have to cook it!

For New Years Eve we will be dining at a friends house. This friend on a number of occasions has pulled out an old fashioned southern cook book and tried many a recipe, but for this special evening we will be having a family classic. Smoked tongue smothered in split pea soup. In this day and age eating tongue is not that unusual with return of the nose to tail movement in eating. However she was doing it long before then. The process is to order a smoked tongue, then boil it as you would for a tongue that you were going to slice or pickle (my mother often pickled them). Then allow it to cool and peel the outer skin off. Finally, slice and cover with split pea soup. So by now you may be swaying in your seat, but just think of corned beef with split pea soup. It is unusually good.

Yes they are our best friends and the only ones they will share with.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cookies, cookies, toys?

At three o’clock in the afternoon do you need a pick me up. Maybe a chocolate chip cookie?  For the last several years we have been donating the funds that come in from our self serve coffee and cookies to charities in Petaluma. Many of our staff no longer have little kids to by toys for, so when the call came in that Christmas Cheer needed toys for kids they went shopping, that was 8 years ago. For the past several years we've donated about $3,000 per year in toys and food, this year our cookie/coffee sales fell off when we moved (people are still finding us) but we still came up with $2,100 to help with food and toys.

The next time that you feel guilty about that afternoon snack... don’t, you're helping charity and that's good for you!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
A. and all the gang at PSC

Monday, December 14, 2009

To house or not to house, that is the question (Gingerbread)

So it's December 14th and you have promised the kids to build a gingerbread house… here are a few tips from a pro, you might have seen my gingerbread version of our new building last year or heard of the gingerbread towns I constructed when I was the Pastry Chef at the Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club.

Here's my recipe for gingerbread houses/men/bells...

     2¼ cup molasses
     1½ cup brown sugar
     1 cup water
     ½ cup shortening
     10 cup flour
     1 Tbs baking soda
     1 Tbs ginger
     ½ Tbs all spice
     ½ Tbs cloves
     ½ Tbs cinnamon
Bake at 350 degrees
15 to 18 minutes for gingerbread men and things that will likely be eaten
20 to 25 minutes for gingerbread which is going to be used for construction

If you have enough space roll out your gingerbread on the paper you will bake it on. Often when you cut out your pieces and try to move them they will shift or warp; this will help them keep their shape.

Right out of the oven when still warm, place your patterns on to see if they still match, if they do not, trim at this time before it hardens up too much – use a bread knife or an exacto knife.

When putting the house together, classically royal icing is used as the "glue".  It's a combination of egg whites and powdered sugar.  The down side of royal icing is that it can take hours to harden, even if cooled, which means you're stuck building a house of cards.  Professionally we have a trick- Chocolate! Melt chocolate and pipe it on to hold the pieces together, and to speed this up use a can of “dust away” (that canned air stuff) turned upside down.  It will come out very very cold (be careful, watch your fingers and face, and do not allow the kids to do this). The chocolate will harden almost instantly!  This will get the houses up and ready for the fun decorating.

This year there was no time for a big house to decorate at the shop –or a place to display it.  We had a lot of fun with a client ordering 125 Giant Gingerbread Boys and Girls for their employees kids to decorate at the company party and then take home.

Just the smell of baking gingerbread is reason enough to start baking.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Home Sweet Holidays (The Petaluma Post)

I've started writing a regular column for The Petaluma Post.  You can find the Post at shops all around town, and (of course) at my place when you pick up your daily cookie and coffee.  Here is a copy of this month's, I hope you enjoy it.

To me Sonoma County is one of the most beautiful places on earth, our rolling hills, the pacific ocean and green pastures make it a great place to live. I am lucky to have been born and raised right here in Petaluma, though my feet have wandered and I have cooked around the world, I still came home to stay.

Even when you live in such a great place there is nothing like the holidays to make you think of where you come from. When planning your holiday meal why not bring your longing to the table and add a regional flare to mix?

My husband’s family is from the east coast, they moved here 40 years ago, he loves to tell me that even though he is a transplant he has been her longer than I have, one month before I was born. One of my favorite recipes his mom does is a French stuffing reaching back to the French Canadian Border Area. It is made with Potatoes instead of bread. For the first few years I was hesitant, but I love it now. However I still want the stuffing from my family’s tradition, so Mom B knows that she has to make two kinds of stuffing; one just for me . Thanks Jan.

For an Elegant New England Starter why not try a soup course of New England Corn and Lobster Chowder

10 ounces cooked lobster tails, thawed
4 cups frozen yellow corn kernels (about 2¼ pounds), thawed
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
8 bacon slices, chopped
2 cups chopped onions
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
2/3 cup finely diced celery
3 cups bottled clam juice
1 ½ cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons (¼ stick) butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Place Bacon, thyme, onion and cerely in a heavy bottomed pot, saute till tender and translucent.
Add in the corn chicken broth and clam juice, bring up to a boil.
In a separate bowl combine vegetable oil and flour to create a slurry. Turn the soup down to a simmer and whisk in the slurry. Continue to stir as it will thicken quickly
Finish with heavy cream, slat and pepper to taste
Just before serving sauté the lobster in 2 T aof butter and top each dish
Garnish with chives

How many great things can we pull from the southern states?! Greens, peas, great desserts? One that has been a hit at my house is a Turducken. This creation has gained in popularity over the last several years. It is a turkey that is stuffed with a duck and a chicken. When done in proper southern style it should have 3 different stuffings layered in. The key to this dinner is lots of guests, the average Turducken weighs in at approximately 25 pounds, that is all meat and stuffing as all but the leg bones and the wings are removed. Jim, my husband, had always wanted me to make one, so one year of course I did. Being lucky enough to have a commercial kitchen I boned each of the birds and layered them with just the traditional celery and sage stuffing and tied and trussed it just like a traditional turkey. Taking it home the day before thanksgiving I put it in the over 18 hours – yes 18 hours before dinner. It cooks at a very low heat for a long time to get all the way through. As the family arrived I pulled it out and with a bit of help got it to the table, even I don’t have a tray that big. The breast of the turkey sinks a bit without the breast bone but it looked beautiful. The awe moment came when you cut across the whole bird to reveal the layers. If you are a good cook and want to try to make your own there are great directions on the web, if you just want to each you can order them too.

Do you miss seeing the pueblos lined with luminaries? Then I suspect that your thanksgiving dinner might also include some Chiles. A great addition to any table would be a Pablano Chile Born Bread to a bit of spice to the table.
1 medium Pablano Chile, roasted, skinned and chopped
2 cup yellow corn meal
1½ cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup sour cream

To char Pablano chile, place over an open flame or broiler until all sides are blackened, turning often. Enclose in a paper bag for 15 minutes, the skin should just slide off, remove seeds and chop.
Combine dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, mix well, and last add the chile. Place in a 10” oven proof pan. Bake at 350 degree for about 15 minutes till a skewer comes out clean.

Well, I’ve exceeded my allotted words, but from Hazelnuts in Oregon to cherries from Wisconsin , just remember to bring those tastes to your holiday table. For more regional holiday ideas see my blog ( Have happy and delicious holidays!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

When you think of winter most people think of snowflakes and Christmas carols, me I love the winter farmers market. The bright colors of summer may be gone but there so many wonderful things to find, so I picked up a weeks worth of culinary treats.

That night our dinner started with Brussels sprouts; young and fresh, roasted and then tossed with a bit of Point Reyes Blue.  Who needs mac 'n' cheese!

For a snack I picked up the first of the Satsuma tangerines.  I love the loose fitting skins that nearly fall off when you peel them.

The first Meyer lemons are already out, it seems a bit early, but I cannot pass them up when they smell just like perfume.  Those went in to a bit of a treat by way of a Lemon Drop cocktail; nothing beats fresh lemon in this and no lemon beats Meyers.  I haven't been happy with traditional lemon drop recipes, but Jim came up with a good one (he can't cook, but he can mix):
   2 parts Vodka
   1 part Lemoncello (an Italian lemon liquor)
   1 part fresh lemon juice
   1 Tbl spoon fine sugar
   1 part water
   lemon zest
Shake well with ice, and serve up in a sugar rimmed martini glass.

Inverness by Cow Girl Creamery (a hand made cows milk cheese in a Brie style) paired beautifully with the Lemon Drop.  The clean flavor of the cheese against the rich lemon flavors were an awsome combination.  Cheese is nor only for wine. Try it and enjoy.

I still have the Yellow Finn potatoes, one of my favorites.  I feel they lost out when Yukon Gold potatoes got popular. The yellow finns are a better roasting potato.  With just Olive Oil, Salt &Pepper you have home made fries in the oven –MMM dinner tonight?

For my sister the Pomegranates are out there - pretty for decorations or a snack.

After visiting Spain a couple of years ago my husband found a taste for fresh roasted chestnuts. Just place a small X slit in the bottom of each one and roast in the oven, or an open fire if you have one. Enjoy.

It might be nippy in the mornings but you will find great treasures there.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009


On a recent trip to Mexico we had the chance to visit a family run tequila distillery. From the freshly harvested piña, to the steamer, chopper and the distilling area.

It was neat to actually see the pinas in raw form. They had been carved down to just the hearts, the sap was a deep red color and slightly bitter. The pina is the heart of the agave plant and is the core ingredient in tequila; after they chop all the fronds off it looks a lot like a giant pinapple, in fact the distiller referred to them as "Mexican Pinapples"

They still had the old pina roasting oven from a 100 years ago, but had upgraded to a modern pressure cooker for production.  They had a guided tequila tasting with their Master Distiller.  We started with the standard three varieties of tequila (white, resposado, and anejo), they also had something I've never seen in the US, flavored tequilas; almond tequila liqueur, and a coffee/vanilla (esentially kahlua).  All very good.  We also had the chance to try their "moon shine", the distilled agave before it is turned into the final product; 190 proof!  I let Jim try that one.... he said "good, smooth, a little burn" ... then a moment later "still burning... burning more! still going!" He's good for tasting things ;)