Monday, November 29, 2010

My twisting mind

Thanksgiving has passed and we are all starting to look to Christmas for that next delish dish we'll prepare.  Plus, I'm starting to get the itch to write new menus for next year.

I can't rewrite the entire menu every year (I'd like to but the staff would string me up, and it's a long process as is).  I start with new ideas I've been filling away, add things that worked really well, and other improvements from this years experience.  It's a long list, from hors d’oeuvres (my favorites) to entrees and side dishes; so many things come to mind.  I love this, the creativity is revitalizing.

I start with a list of all kinds – sauces, cooking styles, crackers, shells. Then I look at the old menu and removed items that are dated or not top sellers.  Take the list and put together items that are needed for the menu.  Do I need more vegetarian, something with beef?  Is it more of a casual “bar” food item or an upscale canapé? ...

Then comes the fun part, by the first of January I want to be actually testing the items and tasting (the staff loves this aspect).  Any day we can have 3 to 5 items to judge.  Do they hold up well, is there enough flavor, how many steps to put together, and finally, is it cost effective?

From there we usually hold a staff “meeting” to bring all the Wait Staff in on all of the new items.

Today was Mac n Cheese day, a great way to start.  (Hubby is upset, he was busy and missed it.)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kunde Black Bean Chili

Served at Kunde Estate Winery this weekend for their holiday open house.  This is a special variation on our Petaluma People's Choice Award winning vegetarian chili; flavorful green chili with a unique spiciness that feels like it is going to burn, but doesn’t.   This recipe yields 4 gallons.

EDIT: Okay 4 gallons might no be useful in the home!  I've amended the recipe to 1 gallon. Enjoy.

1 lb Black Beans
8 oz Pasilla Chiles
8 oz Anaheim Chiles
12 oz Yellow Onions
2 c Diced Tomatoes
2½ T Vegetable Oil
1½ t Cumin
2 T New Mexico Chili Power
2 cloves Ground Garlic
1 T Fresh Lime Juice
5 oz Diced Green Chili
5 oz Green Enchilada Sauce

Roasted Vegetable Stock (to cover beans)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Soak beans for 12 to 24 hours
Drain thoroughly just before use
Sauté onions, garlic and diced chiles in vegetable oil
Add cumin and chili powder
Cook 5 to 8 minutes (until fragrant)
Add beans
Cover with roasted vegetable stock
Add tomatillos (smashed with juice) and lime juice
Cook over medium heat for 1½ to 2 hours (until beans are tender)
Finish with diced chiles and enchilada sauce.


Tuscan Chicken Stew

We created this recipe for Papapietro Perry Winery for their Wine Club event on the 14th.  We've had quite a few requests for it, so here you go.  I hope you enjoy it.

2 lbs boneless skinless Chicken Thighs
1 Tbs Italian Seasoning Herbs
Salt and Pepper to taste

Rub thighs with herbs and s&p, then bake at 350 degree for approximately 30 minutes, till cooked through.
Remove from pan, but save the juice (there is usually some pan gunk you will want to strain out)

½ cup diced Onion
4 cloves Garlic
2 Tbs Olive Oil

1 cup Artichoke Hearts
1 cup sliced Mushrooms
3 cups White Wine
½ cup Sun-dried Tomato strips

Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until tender
Transfer to deep baking dish
Add chicken, juice, artichokes, mushroom and tomatoes
Add enough white wine or chicken stock to cover
Bake cover 1½ hours, until very tender
Drain the juice from chicken

2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs Flour
Chicken Juice

Bring juice to a boil
Combine the oil and flour to create a slurry
Slowly whisk the slurry into the juice till it reaches the thickness you desire
Add back to the chicken mixture

Serve over creamy polenta. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


We found a great new lunch spot just over the river in First Street.  If you have not made it over to Luma – stop in for lunch or dinner.  We stopped by for an early lunch after a big breakfsast event (600 people!, but that's another story.).

I had a great stuffed pear as a first course. It was baked with walnuts, gorgonzola and dates then drizzled with a wine reduction- WOW!  Their arugula salad was tossperfectly with hazel nuts and pecorino.

Jim enjoyed a great pulled Asian BBQ Pork Sandwich with Mango Slaw.  Very good.

Ask to try the ginger beer- it was awesome.

We'll definitily be back.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey Day Prep-down

Here's this month's column from the Petaluma Post. 
Just in time for T-Day.

November has rolled in and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I thought I would try to help lessen the burden of that crazy day. You will have a house full of friends and family or be packing up the crew for the drive to dinner at someone’s home. Here are some pointers to help you through.

The menu scramble… what to serve this year? About now you have seen all of the most up to date magazines with the great recipes and ideas. How to choose which one to try? In my mind thanksgiving is a pretty traditional holiday. Your menu will likely have

Turkey (also ham if you are having a large group), Stuffing (the best thing on the table), one or two Vegetable Dishes, and probably yams or sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, bread and desserts. If you want to be daring and creative, I recommend changing only one or two dishes. Vegetables and starches are good choices. But keep to your family traditions for most of it. Thanksgiving comes once a year many people look forward to the traditional comfort foods that they know. This year even my dad told me “ I want your mom’s stuffing.” Hopefully she reads this and knows she is bringing stuffing this year!

The week before Thanksgiving your menu should be set, and it is time to answer the question many of your guests will ask; “what can I bring?” This is a tricky one. Try to keep in mind whether the maker will be traveling, does their dish need to be heated for a short or long time, will they be on time? We all know that family member that is always late, ask them to bring dessert, not the hors d’oeuvres. If you are asked to bring a dish remember to answer the same questions. Probably not a good idea to bring a dish that has to bake for 2 hours if you are coming from distance. But there is a good transport option for hot items…

Hint #1
Ice chests are for more than ice. In catering we are fortunate to have hot boxes; specially designed boxes that hold food hot for a length of time. But truth be told they are just big insulated boxes, just like an ice chest. Ice chests can keep the cold in, but they can also keep the heat in. Place your hot items in an ice chest and just resist opening to check on it. This is great for anything moist, your food will put off steam and stay warm, however anything with a crust will get soggy. Standard food safety protocol says food remains safe if it does not fall below 140 degree for more than two hours; I expect most ice chests can keep something that is hot from the oven above 140 degree for at least two hours. So whether you are holding dishes to help time your own dinner or bringing them to the family pot luck, this should help.

Hint #2
On Saturday before Thanksgiving plan to purchase your turkey if you are buying a frozen one. It takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds that your turkey weighs to thaw. So, if you purchased a 20 pound bird on Saturday it should be thawed on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning for prepping. Remember, this is thawing in the refrigerator; it is not safe to thaw it on the counter; it is too big, the outside will become unsafe before the inside thaws. This shopping trip should include all of your canned, dry storage and packaged items or things that you plan to prep during the week- your cranberry sauce, yams or snacks

We are now up to the week of the T-Day. Here at the catering company we put out 20 to 25 dinners for pick up that week so my prep time at home is limited. On Sunday I check dishes, linens, glassware and flatware- what do I want to use this year, do I have enough, do I need to borrow or rent anything

Hint #3
Renting dishes and glassware. Party rental places don’t do just big events. Most are willing to rent you as few as 15 to 20 plates, napkins, glassware etc.. And the big bonus, you don’t have to wash them, just rinse and return. No extra hours on the clean up.

Tuesday is the day that I plan to do a last run to the grocery store for any perishable items, green, vegetables, whipping cream. I try hard to avoid the market on Wednesday. My common thing to do if I run out of anything is to send the husband to the store, it keeps him out of the hors d’oeuvres before the guests arrive.

Tuesday night is a great time for putting together hors d’oeuvres or desserts; pies hold quite well and are often better a day later when the juices have thickened. Sorry I have not hints on how to keep the kids and husband out of those.

Wednesday I like to prep the turkey. Remember to remove all of the packets and bits inside the bird and rinse well. This is great to do on Wednesday when your hands are not full of other prep and you can clean up well after wards. Go ahead and season and prep the turkey (without stuffing) so it is ready to go in the oven. Vegetables can be cleaned and cut, ready to cook.

Thursday- the full day. Calculate the time it takes for the turkey to cook and add about an extra hour and a half. That way the turkey can come out and rest in the Ice chest; trust me it will stay juicy if you do not cut it, and you will have time for the final dishes to go in the oven, your yams, green bean casserole and mom’s stuffing.

Hint #4
Cooking the Turkey without the stuffing. We have all heard about not stuffing the turkey. It will take 45 minutes to an hour off the time it takes to cook your turkey if you do not stuff it. You can add the dish of stuffing to the oven in the last hour of cooking and baste it with the juices from the turkey. And the best part, there is more surface area so everyone gets the crunchy part.

Hint #5
This is not so much a hint so much as a shameless plug, but it might be helpful. Preferred Sonoma Caterers has both ala cart and pre-fixe Thanksgiving menus. Available on our website So for a full meal or just the parts you don’t want to cook, we are here.

The table is set, everyone is there, just remember that memories are not made by perfection, they are made by people.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lobster Burrito

We just returned from Belize (specifically San Pedro on Ambergris Caye); a great vacation spot with beautiful blue water, sting rays, cute little sharks and plenty of colorful fish.  With zip lining and Mayan temples to top it off!

The cuisine is mostly typical of a tropical locale, tasty but limited.  But a few places did standout and would be worth a visit if you're ever down that way.  The highlight for me was the Lobster Burrito at Warugamu; the place is a little hole in the wall, but with good authentic local cuisine.  Everyone in town recommends it.

This burrito is wonderful, the photo does not do it justice.  A whole large local lobster tail, split and sitting on each side of the plate, extra chunks of de-shelled lobster scattered around, and more lobster in the burrito.  Fabulous, and for only $13.  Try the Papusas too.

Another frequently recommended spot was Wild Mango, with a wide selection of ceviche.  Try the Ecuadorian Ceviche, it's made with roasted tomatoes and is perfect.

Also note worthy in San Pedro are The Blue Water Grill for the finest dining experience, and The Mohito Bar with a range of fresh muddled naturally flavored mohitos.

Bon Voyage!

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's Turkey Time!

We're having our annual special Thanksgiving menu.  Here's the pre-fixe, and the ala-cart can be found on the website.  Get your orders in by Sunday for pickup on Wednesday the 24th.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Classic Menu
Serves 8 for $170. 00

Herb Basted Turkey 12 to 14lb.

with choice of four sides
Celery Sage Stuffing with Golden Raisins
Buttermilk Mashed
Yukon Gold Potatoes
Tarragon Roasted Vegetables
Maple Yams with Brandied Raisins Roasted Squash with Apples, Onions & Thyme
Creamed Corn with Bacon & Caramelized Onions
Scalloped Potatoes with Fennel

choice of one accompaniment
Cranberry Orange Conserve
Pear Sauce with Cranberries

All with
Mixed Sonoma Greens with Pomegranate Vinaigrette & Pralines
Turkey Gravy
Dinner Rolls

and choice of one dessert
Apple Streusel Pie
Traditional Pumpkin Pie
Fresh Baked Cookie Platter
Chocolate Pecan Pie

Orders must be placed by Sunday, November 21st
All orders will be picked up cold with heating instructions included.
Orders available for pick-up on Wed 11/24/09 from 10 am to 5 pm
(Sorry, no pickup on Thanksgiving day)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here Chicken, Chicken, Chicken

Here's my October column from the Petaluma Post:
As October arrives the kids are back in school, soccer, dance and football are going on and you find yourself running from practices and games with dance shoes and sporting equipment. Knowing that the holidays are coming we try to eat a bit more at home (gotta be healthy before we splurge). Do you have the time to get dinner on the table too? Yes 30 minutes meals are great, but really who has 30 minutes when you are that busy? I tend aim for 15 minute or less meal (I know my way around the kitchen and can do them in 10 minutes). My secret ingredient is the oven roasted chicken from the grocery store. At $6.00 from the grocery store or $5.00 from Costco it’s a good deal, and I can make 2 to 3 meals for my husband and I. Chicken is the most popular protein in catering, these are selections that are creative and refreshing to me.
For the hotter Indian summer days I love to do Lettuce Wraps. A traditional Vietnamese item with a California twist. It is cool, refreshing and a great healthy vegetable laden meal. All of the ingredients can easily be had at the supermarket, most already prepared.

Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps
2 cups Shredded Roasted Chicken or Grilled Tofu
2 heads Butter Lettuce (cleaned and leafed out)
½ cup Grated Carrots
½ cup Red Pepper Strips
¼ cup Chopped Cilantro and Basil
½ cup Sliced Cucumbers
½ cup Any other Asian style veggies you like

Peanut Sauce
½ cup Peanut Butter
½ cup Soy Sauce
½ cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1 cup Vegetable Oil
½ cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

This peanut sauce is a great addition to the fridge, it stores very well, if it thickens too much just warm in a water bath or in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. I can get the husband to eat anything with this sauce on it!

Lay out all of the veggies on a platter, then take a lettuce leaf and fill with your favorite items. Drizzle with the peanut sauce.

For a wonderful homey dinner a classic chicken pot pie is perfect. Use the dark meat off the legs and thigh (it has the most flavor), chop and add any fresh vegetables that you have in the fridge. If you are really short on time, a bag of frozen vegetables can be substituted. I often make just a top crust so it bakes quickly.

Chicken Pot Pie
2 cup Chicken (chopped)
2 cup Vegetables (chopped)
2 cup Chicken Broth
2 Tbl Butter
2 Tbl Flour

Melt the butter in a sauce pot, add the flour and cook for approximately 2 minutes; this is a basic roux in French cooking. Then whisk in the chicken broth till thickened, by adding the broth/stock you have now turned the roux in to a veloute, one of the French classic mother sauces. Fold in the vegetables and chopped chicken and place in a deep pie pan.

Top Crust
1 stick Butter
1 cup Flour
¼ tsp Salt
2 Tbl Ice Water (approx)

Put the butter, salt and flour in the food processor, pulse 30 to 45 seconds till crumbly, add cold water until it just comes together.

This is a ready to go crust and does not need time to rest, just roll it out and place over the top of the pie filling. Bake at 350 degree for about 30 minutes, till golden and bubbly. You can also make them in Ramekins for personal pies for when you eat a different times. Don’t have time for the pie crust recipe? Just grab a package of puff pastry from the freezer aisle, cover and bake. The puff pastry comes out light and airy and will make a wow presentation.

Another great use is for lunch. We recently worked with a client that wanted strict health requirements for their staff. I created a yogurt chicken salad that was a hit and healthy too! I chose to use non-fat Greek yogurt (they double strain for a thicker creamier yogurt) in stead of mayonnaise and it was a huge hit.

Apple Yogurt Chicken Salad
2 Chicken Breasts from Roasted Chicken
4 Stalks of Celery
1 Apple
½ cup Low Fat Yogurt
1 Tbl Dijon
2 Tbl Honey
1 Lemon (juice of)
1 bunch Green Onions
½ bunch Parsley

Chop and combine. This is two portions. Per portion this is only about 315 calories,16.5 grams of fat, and 53.7 grams of carbs. Enjoy. Try serving in a whole wheat pita or on a bed of greens for a beautiful presentation.