Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Hors d’oeuvres

Here's my December column from the Petaluma Post:

Have you been asked to bring an hors d’oeuvre to a friend’s party, or are you planning a houseful of family?  This year I put together a collection of recipes to help with your party plans.  I specialize in catering but know that it is not right for every event.  Maybe you are just having a couple of friends over or you want a few minutes in the kitchen to play.  This set is created for the busy person to be able to make without dedicating the a big piece of the day to the kitchen.

Pesto Pine Nut and Parmesan Pin Wheel
These pinwheels are one of our most popular hors d’oeuvres.  They are great to do ahead of time; you can roll and freeze for up to 30 days.  Another great combination for this time a year is to substitute cranberry and blue cheese!

vegetarian and kid friendly - Yields 36
3 sheets puff pastry
1 c thick pesto
1 c grated parmesan cheese
1 c pine nuts
1 egg

Lay puff pastry out to thaw
Combine pesto, pine nuts and parmesan to create a paste
Divide and spread between the three sheets, leaving 1” lip
Whisk egg with 2 T water, brush on lip of puff pastry
Roll pesto inside sealing at the lip
Place in freezer 2-3 hours to firm up, wrap and store up to 3 weeks
Remove from freezer allow to soften 10-15 minutes till you can slice without smashing
Place on baking sheet, 2-3” apart
Bake at 350 till golden brown

Yam Rounds with Hummus and Caponata
These are a recent addition to our menus.  Yam rounds are a great stepping off point for a gluten free hors d’oeuvres and can be vegan too!

Vegan – Yields 36
2 lbs garnet yams, approx 1” in diameter
2 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 C prepared Hummus or Chèvre
1 C prepared Caponata or Tapenade
Wash yams, leave skins on
Cut ¼” thick sliced
Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper
Lay out single layer on a cookie sheet
Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, turn and bake approx. 10 more minutes
They should be golden brown but tender
Allow to cool
Top with 1 t Hummus or Chèvre
Finish with ½ t Caponata or Tapenade

Fudge Puff Tarts
This is a great quick sweet bite that you can keep handy to make anytime

Special equipment: 2 mini cup cake pans
2 sheets puff pastry
1 c sweet and condensed milk
1 c chocolate chips
2 T butter

Cut puff pastry into 1½” squares
Press lightly into cup cake pans
Melt butter, stir in chocolate chips till melted, add in sweet and condensed milk
Place approx. 1 T per tart
Bake 350 for 20-25 minutes till golden

Spiced Candied Nuts
These are too good to keep the extra around the house.  Fortunately they make a great gift with the addition of a little packaging.

Serves 10 to 12
1 lbs any kind of nuts
2 C sugar
2 C water
1 T cumin
2 t salt
2 t paprika

Bring water and sugar to a boil
Add nuts, bring to a boil and boil for 7-10 minutes
Drain completely
Place nuts in a bowl add in seasonings (you can get creative)
Toss to mix
Lay out on a lightly oiled cookie sheet
Bake 15-20 minutes till golden and crunchy, stirring a couple of times

Olive Cheese Pull Apart Bread
1 Bag of Fresh Pizza Dough, approx. 12 oz
1 c olive tapenade or roasted red peppers
1 c pizza blend cheese

Allow pizza dough to warm to room temperature
Place on lightly floured surface
Gently press to approx. ½” thick
Dust to remove excess flour
Use a pizza wheel or bench scraper cut dough into ¾” pieces or smaller
Place in mixing bowl with toppings
Toss lightly
Place in baking containers, mini muffin, muffin, bundt or loaf pan
Allow to rise 45 minutes
Brush top lightly with butter before baking
Bake appropriate to container (12-15 min for mini, or 35-45 min for loaf)

Rosemary Roasted Grape Focaccia with Blue
1 Bag of Fresh Pizza Dough , approx. 12 oz
1 c crumbled cheese, blue, feta or chèvre
1 large sprig rosemary
  c grapes cut in half
¼ c olive oil
Salt and pepper

Allow pizza dough to warm to room temperature
Very lightly oil a baking sheet
Turn pizza dough out on to baking sheet
Gently work till it covers the entire sheet
Allow to raise 45 minutes lightly covered
Using your fingers dock the dough lightly
Toss grapes with rosemary and olive oil
Sprinkle generously over dough
Finish with crumbled cheese and salt and pepper
Bake 15-20 minutes till golden


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fruitcake - The Good the Bad and the Door Stop

Yes we are talking fruitcake, but you don’t need to be afraid.  There is such a thing as a good fruit cake.

Fruit cake is an international dish with almost every country having their own variety.  In the Bahamas it is soaked in rum and has pineapple in it, the Germans have what they call "stolen" which is a dryer fruit cake that does not store well, the Italians have "panetone" which is similar to brioche, and the list goes on and on.  With different cultures and times attributing different uses, superstitions, and popularity to it.  Fruit cake is still often used as a wedding cake in both England and Australia; it was the original grooms cake, it was sent home with the guests as a journey bread that they could eat on the long ride home.  It is also said that if a girl puts a piece of grooms cake under her pillow she will dream of her future groom.  During the Victorian era, no proper tea time, any time of the year, would be complete without fruit cake.  Others saved the fruit cake to eat in the Spring, the last of the previous years harvest, as good luck for the new crops.  And it goes on and on.

The fruit cake that most usually feared, degraded or launched from special cannons is a recipe from England.  A very dense spiced cake that is made with candied fruit and nuts and stored for months.  The idea of the cake was that it could be made during the summer months when fruit was available and stored till the cold winter months to have a special treat.  The sugar preserves both the fruit and the cake, making it ideal for this.  Soaking in alcohol can give it a shelf life of years.  But what went wrong?  Why is it reviled by so many, but loved by so many others?  Over the years the use of out dated products, such as suet instead of butter, didn't account for changing tastes; other products changing, such as candied fruit (fruit simply dried and boiled in sugar) becoming the scary neon colored stuff it is today.  All this, plus a lot jokes over the years, gave fruit cake a very bad reputation, but fruit cake lovers will tell you there are plenty of recipes that make wonderful fruit cake. 

Mr PSC thinks fruitcake is okay, but loves my Mom's recipe.  My family has a great fruit cake recipe that mom found years ago.  Gone are the bright red candied cherries and pounds of dried citrons.  Instead there are lots of nuts and dried fruit, which is really closer to some of the more ancient recipes.  Our drying methods give us a much better quality of dried fruit than you could get in the middle ages when candied fruit cake was introduced.  Beside that long shelf life is irrelevant to us.

Batter (classic pound cake)
1 pound butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
12 eggs
1 pound  flour
1 tsp salt

Cream the butter with the brown sugar, add molasses, then beat in eggs and finish with  flour and salt.
Notice the Fruit/Nut to Batter ratio
Just enough batter to hold it together
Fruits and Nuts (approximately 16 cups)
1 pound blanched almonds- chopped (about 3 cups)
½ pound  pecans (about 2 cups)
¼ pound  walnuts (about 1 cup)
2 pounds golden raisins
1 pound dried currants
1 pound dried apricots (chopped)
2 pounds dried cranberries
1 cup dried or candied pineapple
½ cup brandy (or rum, or whiskey, or any full bodied spirit)
1 cup apricot jam

Fold the fruits and nuts into batter, it will barely hold all of them.  Then pour it into a well greased or papered loaf pans, I recommend mini pans if you have them.

Bake at 275 degree for 25 minutes in the mini pans, or for 1 hour in full size loaf pans, until a tooth pick comes out clean. Turn cakes out on to a cooking rack, then turn right side up.

While the cakes are still warm, melt the apricot jam with the brandy, and brush over cakes, repeat every 10 minutes till all the glaze is absorbed.

Allow to finish cooling, then wrap and store in an air tight container.
Yields 4 - 2.5 lbs. loaves (4x9)


Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Menu 2011

Here's our special Christmas dinner menu for this year, you can also find it and the ala-cart verson on our website at

Herb Roasted Turkey $190
 Honey Glazed Spiral Ham $208
 Herb Rubbed Prime Rib $223

Choice of 3 Sides
Gorgonzola Stuffed Pears with Pecans
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Prosciutto and Pignoli
White Cheddar Scalloped Red Potatoes
Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic
Cranberry Pecan Stuffing

Accompanied with
Arugula with Almonds & Sherry Vinaigrette
Roasted Winter Fruit Compote
Mushroom Gravy or Turkey Gravy
Dinner Rolls

Choice of One Dessert
Cranberry Apple Streusel Pie
Chocolate Decadence Torte with Raspberry Sauce
Individual Pumpkin Pie Puffs (8 per order)
Assorted Petite Pastries and Cookies

Please have your order in by
Noon on Monday, December 19th
Order pick up is December 24th before 2pm
All orders will be picked up cold. Heating instructions included.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Just Stuff It

Here's my November column from the Petaluma Post, enjoy:

In my family when thanksgiving rolls around the stuffing is just as important as the turkey, truth be told, probably more popular.  America being the melting pot that it is, our thanksgiving tables showcase some of this diversity in the most traditional way.  Stuffing is the perfect canvas for the flavors of the world.  From nuts and fruits to exotic spices this holiday shows them well.

In my family, the Runge side, the traditional stuffing is a classic bread stuffing.  Lots of celery and onions with plenty of sage.  It is baked in the turkey with extra crusties along the legs.  The other night we were discussing which was the best- the crunchy or the soggy part; I could not decide they are both so good.  But whichever way you like it, it reflects the Germanic origin of much of the county.  From my time in Austria I recognize this recipe is very similar to bread dumplings from Germany - my family heritage.

“Traditional” Stuffing
Stuffs a 12 to 14lbs turkey
1 loaf simple white bread - cubed
2 yellow onions - diced
1 small head celery - diced
2 sticks butter
2 Tbs dry rubbed sage
3 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 cups chicken or turkey broth

Sauté onions and celery in butter with the sage till tender.  Place bread cubes, sautéed vegetables and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Add broth till soft, then season with salt and pepper.  Stuff into a rinsed turkey cavity.  The just a standard roast of the turkey.

In Mr. PSC’s family, from the Otis side of the Balshaw side, there is a potato stuffing that I have come to love.  Part of their heritage is from French Canada and shows in this recipe for Tourtiere.  Traditionally this is meat and mashed potato baked in a pie pan with two crusts and served as a main dish.  But his Granny (or perhaps her Granny) decided it would be better used for stuffing a Turkey.  That is his family’s tradition.

 Tourtiere Stuffing
1 lbs breakfast sausage - browned
1 yellow onion - diced
2 lbs Russet potatoes - peeled & boiled
1 Tbs dry rubbed sage
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 to 1½ cups chicken stock

 Boil the potatoes till fork tender, then drain and allow to cool slightly. Brown the breakfast sausage and break up with a fork, and remove from the fat.  Add diced onions and spices to fat, sauté till tender.  Mash the potatoes, add the onions and spices, then season with salt and pepper.  Add chicken broth as necessary for texture.  Place in a rinsed turkey or bake in a pie pan (with or without crust) on the side.

You might be wondering about the difference between dressing and stuffing.  The only real difference is geography.  Northerners call it stuffing, while Southerner’s prefer dressing.  One of the most used components in southern dressing is corn bread.  Not what most of us consider corn bread, but a denser version that is cut and laid out to dry.  Corn bread has a much crumblier texture so the stuffing is much softer.

make up to 2 days in advance
2 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup plain flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking soda
1 1/3 cup milk
2 eggs - beaten
6 Tbs veggie oil

Mix the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients, then bake in a 9 x 13 pan for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  Allow to sit out and dry for 24 to 48 hours.

 Corn Bread Stuffing
1½ cup celery - chopped
1½ cup onion - chopped

4 Tbs butter
3 cups turkey or chicken broth
1 tsp sage - ground

Sauté the onions and celery in butter, add sage, then add to the crumbled cornbread.  Add liquid to soften.  Now it is ready to stuff in your turkey and roast.

Many of you out there might have the addition of a vegetarian to your Thanksgiving table.  The question is what to serve that they will enjoy.  What about stuffing a pumpkin?  Small sugar pumpkins are perfect for this.  When choosing your pumpkin make sure that is labeled as a cooking pumpkin.  Choosse one medium size and free of blemishes, wash, cut off the top approximately a third of the way down.  You will need to scoop out the seeds and string, the rub the interior lightly with salt and pepper before stuffing.

You can use the pumpkin as an extra vessel for more stuffing (more stuffing is always great), or make it a dish of its own, with another stuffing.

1 can garbanzo beans - drained
2 small tart apples - chopped 1” pieces
1 small onion - diced
4 stalks celery - diced
4 Tbs butter (or olive oil if vegan)
4 cups (or less to fit) diced butter nut squash
1 tsp dried thyme

Sauté the onions and celery in butter, add thyme to release the flavor.  Mix all ingredients together.  Place in hollowed pumpkin, and bake uncovered at 350 degree for 45 minutes to 1 hour testing stuffing and pumpkin with a knife till tender. Enjoy

COTS Breakfast / Broccoli Cheddar Bake

We catered the COTS breakfast for 600 this past Wednesday.  Breakfast was on the table at 7am and the whole event went off quite nicely.  For the event we create a Broccoli Cheddar Bake, which is a dense breakfast casserole that can hold on to its heat and texture during the 20 minutes it takes to plate up 600 meals.  We've had several requests for the recipe, so enjoy...

Broccoli Cheddar Bake
Yields 1- 9x13 pan

1 red bell pepper diced
1 small onion diced
1 broccoli crown, blanched and chopped medium
2 T vegetable oil
1 c grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 c frozen shredded hash browns
1 c milk
4 eggs
2 c biscuit mix

Saute onions and peppers in vegetable oil till tender
Fold together with broccoli, potatoes and cheese
Mix milk, eggs and biscuit mix together
Pour over potato mixture
Bake 350 for approx. 45 minutes to  1 hours

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Santa Barbara

With wedding season slowing down, I was able to get out of town for a couple of days.  A nice drive down the coast to Santa Barbara.  Mr PSC went to college there and we had our first apartment on campus.  I was the pastry chef at the Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club.  We walked the campus, looked up our old addresses and enjoyed the area.  Back in those days, as college students and newly weds, there was not extra cash to enjoy the many great restaurants.

This time however we took full advantage!  Hubby booked us a great room at the Canary Hotel, a wonderful boutique hotel, just 4 stories with a pool and lounge on the roof, and a nicely appointed restaurant/bar off the lobby.  An old building beautifully restored and modernized just enough.  The first evening there the restaurant was closed (for a special event) so they opened the bar by the pool to watch the sunset from the roof top; great way to start a vacation.

That evening we decided to walk down State street, the main shopping district.  After talking with our waitress on the roof top - always ask your servers where they go, they know the best spots - we headed out to her first recommendation, after strolling through the farmers market that just happened to be going on in the middle of State street.

Our first stop was Blush, a great night club and bar with patio seating in the perfect weather.  We love to sit at the bar to watch the cocktails being made.  They had an extraordinay tuna tartar that was drizzled with white soy, it truly was finger licking good.  Jim tried a Basil Strawberry Martini with Balsamic Glaze,  The strawberries had a perfect flavor and the basil came out in just a touch of the nose.  The hint of balsamic balanced out the sweetness.  Sitting next to us was a local couple enjoying the same sort of evening, who recommended our next stop Intermezzo.  Only a block off State street, but hard to find if you don't know about it.  The cocktails were well made, but the star of the show was the Seared Foie Gras with Plum Tartine and Saffron Ice Cream... OMG!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Turkey Day is Coming!

We're having our annual special Thanksgiving menu.  Here's the pre-fixe; both it and the ala-cart can be found on the website on the Thanksgiving Menu page, or in our office.

But if you're doing your own T-day prep you might want to see a few of my older blogs such as Turkey Day Prep-Down,  It's Begining to Smell a Lot Like TurkeyRoot Vegetables, There's so much to love, and Arugula Salad in a Whole Roasted Pumpkin with Chevre and Peppitas

Herb Basted Turkey 12 to 14lb.

with choice of four sides
Celery Sage Stuffing
Buttermilk Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Tarragon Roasted Vegetables
Brown Butter & Pecan Yams
Roasted Carrot Batons with Lemon & Honey
Green Beans with Roasted Fennel & Red Onion
Scalloped Potatoes with Fennel

choice of one accompaniment
Cranberry Orange Conserve
Pear Sauce with Cranberries

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

and choice of one dessert
Apple Streusel Pie
Traditional Pumpkin Pie
Cranberry Bundt Cake
Chocolate Pecan Pie

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Perfect Pear

Here is my October column from the Petaluma Post, enjoy:

I say it every year, fall is my favorite time of the year.  I am not a sun girl, I love the fog and cool nights, and I am starting to get the bug for the first rain.  By mid-August I begin looking for the first signs of autumn to arrive.  The first note is fresh pears in the market place.

The first to arrive is my favorite, the Bartlett pear.  I am lucky that my mom-in-law has a great old tree that puts out a ton.  They are a tender fruit and their season is short lived.  But it just tells me that there is more to come.  This year I took several pounds and dried them.  Mr. PSC and I enjoy hiking and I thought I would take a shot at it.  Nothing fancy, no special equipment, I just used cookie sheets lined with sil pads (those French baking pads).  Washed the pears, left the skin on for more fiber, cut them into eighths, let them soak in lemon water as I was working (about 15 to 20 minutes) then laid them out tightly on the sheet pan, but not touching.  Placed them in a convection oven with just the fan on and door ajar (not lit, not even a pilot light) for about 5 hours, then turned the fruit and let them continue to finish overnight.  They made a great light weight snack.

Seckel and Comice pears will be the next two to arrive in the market and be available through the end of October, perhaps into November with the cool year that we have had.  Both of these pears are better fresh eating pears than baking.  Their soft sweet flesh is a great pairing with cheese.  Locally I love it with Point Reyes Blue.  This cheese is very bold and robust and with the sweetness of the pears is a wonderful combination.  When choosing your pears it is best to choose them just a little bit on the green side, they will ripen well on your kitchen counter.  Look for even color without bruises.  They are ripe when they yield to pressure around the stem area.

Bosc pears are the pear with the longest season running from July through August.  A tan green pear with a rough skin, its flesh is very firm and crisp.  This is my choice for baking and cooking, it holds up very well.  It is also the hardest pear to tell when ripened, it does not soften like other pears, however it will begin to shrivel near the stem when ripe.

Pears are very versatile from savory to sweet dishes.  I can say that you could do an entire pear themed meal.  Including cocktails.

Pear Martini for 2
4 oz Absolute Pear Vodka
4 oz Pear puree
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz agave syrup

For the pear puree I used a hand blender to combine equal amounts of pear and pear juice, but you could just buy pear sauce.  I often use agave syrup in place of simple syrup, but either will do.  Just shake hard with ice and serve up in a martini glass.  I also experimented with other recipes and several other ingredients, which I mentioned in my mid-September blog post.

Wild Arugula Salad with Comice Pear and Crumbled Blue Cheese
Serves 6
8 oz wild baby arugula
1 medium Comice pear
3 oz crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese

1 lemon juice
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Core and slice the pear to about ¼” thick, do not go too thin, this is a very delicate pear and will break apart.  Whisk the dressing ingredients together, then place the greens and cheese in the bowl first, then place the pear on top of salad.  Drizzle with dressing to cover the pears (the lemon juice will help them not brown).  Finally, toss lightly.  This is a great salad to add to, toasted walnuts, pecans, almond or pine nuts are great additions. Chèvre is also a great alternative to the blue. 

Roast Pork Loin with Rosemary Pears
Serves 6
3 lbs boneless center cut pork loin
½ Tbs dry rubbed sage
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 Bosc pears, cored and quartered
2 sprigs rosemary
1 Tbs olive oil

Rub the pork loin with salt and pepper, then brown in the olive oil in a heavy bottomed oven proof roasting pan.  Toss the pear quarters with rosemary and olive oil, and arrange around the sides of the pork loin.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, till the internal temperature is 145; the USDA has recently lowered the cooking temperature or pork, and it may still have a slightly pink interior.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest 5 to 8 minutes on the carving board.  During this time, remove the pears and place them on the serving tray, dispose of rosemary sprig.  Add a ½ cup of white wine to the bottom of the roasting pan, stir to loosen the fond (those good baked on bits and brown stuff at the bottom of the pan).  Return the pan to the stove and reduce by half, thicken with corn starch if desired.   Then just slice the loin, display nicely amongst the pear and dress with the gravy.

Pear has two great uses in baking.  First they bake great in coffee cakes and pound cakes.  Second with the low fat movement many recipes have started to use apple sauce in the place of oils and butter, but you can make great pear sauce and use it there too.

Pear Sauce
2 lbs peeled pears (I really like the Bartlett)
½ c sugar
½ c water
2 Tbs lemon juice

Place in a thick bottomed sauce pan, start by using a potato masher to break up the fruit, then bring to a low simmer; be very careful it will scald easily.  Simmer 30 to 45 minutes till the fruit is tender and you can mash it easily.  From here cook to desired thickness, up to 1¼  hours for baking uses.

Pear Cake
This is a very rich pound cake that we made when I was an apprentice pastry chef in Austria.  It is great with any fruit!
9 oz butter
9 oz sugar
4 egg yolks
3 eggs
12 oz flour
2 Pears - Peeled Bosc are best, halved, cored each half cut into thin wedges

Cream butter and sugar well, add the eggs and yolks till creamy - go slowly.  Fold in the butter till just combined, then pour into a  prepared 9” baking pan (if using larger it will be thin, so just watch the baking time).  Arrange the pears on top, taking your time and be artistic.  Bake at 325 for 12 to 30 minutes depending on thickness.  Allow to cool. Enjoy

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great Northern White

Here's my September column from the Petaluma Post

As the Fall months start to roll in we are beginning to eat more comfort foods; I think that is nature calling, telling us to pack on some weight to survive the winter, but apparently nature did not get the memo, we have plenty of food 365!  We hear that we need more lean protein and to get more fiber (which is not generally comfort food).  Beans are perfect for just that, they are filling, can fulfill that craving for comfort food, but have good protein and fiber too.  If you are on a budget you can buy a pound for less than a dollar that will feed a family of four for a couple meals.  If you are like me and are always running, dry bean preparation is just not going to happen, but a can that serves two can be had for less than a couple bucks; and I believe beans are one of those things that are just fine canned.  Once prepared (or opened) they can be added to many daily dishes or stand on their own.  I really like white beans, they are small and add easily to a variety of dishes.  They pick up flavors and add texture as well as being filling.  Try adding them to you next green salad, and they are great in any soup.  You can even use them as an appetizer.

How to cook your beans
1/3 cup dried beans equals about 2 cups cooked beans.   There are two ways to start out if you are starting with dry beans, which need to be rehydrated.  If you have time, the best way is to cover them with water three times the volume of your beans and allow to soak overnight, then drain the water.  This process will give you a nicer looking end product with less broken and split beans.  However if you are short on time you can cover with the same amount of water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and allow to rehydrate for 1 to 2 hours.  Either way you are now ready cook, which is very simple.  I have always been taught not to salt beans until after they have been cooked.  Cover the beans with fresh water, about twice the volume, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook for approximately 1 to 1½ hours, till they mash between your fingers.  Drain and cool or use in your recipe.  Cooked beans can be held in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days or bagged and frozen for up to 6 months.  Cooking ahead and freezing is very cost effective. 

If you are choosing to use canned bean, open the can.  Big time saver.  In the following recipes I may indicate cans of beans, but feel free to substitute cooked beans in the same volume.

Cassoulet is a classic French dish, in a lot of ways it is the original baked beans.  It can be made ahead and allowed to slowly simmer.  It is usually made with fattier meats like duck and sausages; however it can be made into a great vegetarian dish that is hearty and filling too.

Vegetarian Cassoulet
Serves 4
1 cup dried white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini) prepared as above
or 2 cans white beans, drained
1 white onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 head fennel, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
4 sprigs thyme
1 small sprig rosemary
1 cup Crimini mushrooms, halved
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a wide topped oven proof skillet, you want it wide and shallow.  Heat the olive oil, add the garlic and onion, then sauté till translucent.  Add in the rest of the vegetables and herbs, and continue to sweat till juices are released.  Add in beans and vegetable stock, place into a 350 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes till the beans just crack open and the liquid is reduced.

½ cup bread crumbs
1 Tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped parsley

Combine all the ingredient and sprinkle over the top of the cassoulet, then bake for another 10 minutes at 350.  Till golden brown.

White Bean Hummus
This is a recipe that I created for making crostini.  So often a topping will not stay on the bread and you need just a little glue.  This is a tasty, edible, and mildly sticky; perfect.

1 can white beans (Great White or Cannellini), drained well
¼ cup roasted garlic (I always keep a supply on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil

Place the white beans and garlic into the food processor (you can do by hand with a fork in a bowl) pulse till it becomes a puree.  It should be quite thick.  Then slowly add olive oil to reach the consistency wanted (a quarter to half cup should do it).  Keeps 5 to 7 days.  We often add in sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, pesto.

Beans aren’t just for soup anymore, think of tossing them into salads or even pasta dishes to make them just a little bit more filling.  They taste great and really are very good for you - just like you mom said.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cocoa Cookies

I have written many times before about cocoa.  I have this incredible cocoa short bread cookie that I have been making at home.  I have to say thank you Martha, but I had to tweak the recipe a bit.  It's a very cocoa chocolate cookie but barely sweet that is great for a nibble.  Mr PSC calls them "hubby snacks".  It is delicate, but we love to take them hiking, even if we are eating crumbs. 

   1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
   ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
   ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
   ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
   ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
   ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process till it comes together to a ball
Then roll out to approximately ¼ inch thick, then cut in to desired shapes
Bake 20-25 minutes

You can add cocoa nibs- that is bits of roasted cocoa beans.  I like to add (at the very end) 1 teaspoon of coarse salt;  just process once or twice, it adds great little salt bits.  I also chop up bits of dark chocolate and add them in the last pulse.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Perfect Pear Martini

As I started writing this I noticed that 3 out of the last 4 blogs were on wine or cocktails, hope I'm not sending the wrong message here :)  Anyway, in writing my October column for the Petaluma Post I needed to develop a perfect pear martini recipe, which required some experimenting with recipes and ingredients, but was too much to include in the column, so here we are.

For the pear I selected Bartlett pears, they are my favorite, in season and work very well for this.

For the pear juice I purchased Kerns Pear Nectar and Looza Pear Juice.  After tasting I'd definitely go with Looza, it has a smoother texture and richer pear taste.  I also tried Sonoma Sparkling Pear Cider, not at all like a juice, but good potential for modifying the flavor and adding some bubbles to a cocktail.

I've sampled many pear vodkas over the years, but always return to Absolut Pear, it has the cleanest taste without that synthetic aftertaste many flavored alcohols can have.

The final recipe I settled on for my Perfect Pear Martini was (serving 2):

4 oz Absolute Pear Vodka
4 oz Pear Puree (made with the Looza and whole pear)
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz agave syrup

To make the pear puree I combined 1 chunked up Bartlett Pear and 1/4 cup Looza Pear Juice and pureed with a hand blender until it was about half the consistency of apple sauce.  Then simply combined all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shook hard.  Then served up in a martini glass.  It had an excellent pear flavor without being overly sweet, with just a touch of bite from the vodka remaining.

A note on agave syrup.  This is the agave (of tequila fame) based sweetener that I often use instead of simple syrup.  Despite its tequila association there is no alcohol in it, nor any tequila flavor.  It is very mild in flavor, the flavor typically disappearing into whatever it is combined with, and it mixes easily since it doesn't need to disolve.  In fact hubby uses this as his coffee sweetener.  Plus it has a lower glycemic index so it is better for you.

Another experiment which I think was even more drinkable, but not as quintessentially pear, was a Cranberry Pear Martini.

4 oz Absolute Pear Vodka
4 oz Cranberry Juice
4 oz Pear Puree (made with the Looza and whole pear)
2oz Sparkling Pear Cider
1 oz lemon juice

Very drinkable.


PS the Petaluma Post article "A Perfect Pear" will be out on October 1st, and features a discussion of pears and pear themed meal from cocktails through dessert.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cocktail Week / Working for a Living

Being in foodservice, I have never had what anyone would call a normal schedule.  Hours are usually very early.  When I started out I was a baker for many years with 4am not uncommon.  Now as a caterer midnight in not uncommon and weekends are a must.  In the entire year I might have 2 Saturdays off and those are when we're away on vacation.  This schedule is both good and bad.  On one hand it means very few concerts or shows and dinners out with friends are restricted to those that can adapt to our schedule, but on the other hand there are very few lines at Home Depot on Tuesday morning,  no wait at breakfast at our favorite restaurant, and cheaper hotel rooms when we take a "weekend" (ie Tuesday/Wednesday) away.

Which bring me to todays blog; Recently I was a bit bummed that there is an event coming up in September in SF that I really wanted to go to, but could not work the schedule around.  It is called Cocktail Week.  A festival of artisanal cocktails and mixes, this is very trendy in the culinary world and I would love to attend - though it is a week, it is mostly on , you got it, the weekend.  Luckily I discovered a special preview event that was being held just this last Wednesday, yes Wednesday!  It was at the Ferry building and it was just that, a preview tasting from the participating bars and restaurants.

There were 16 different bartenders pouring cocktails made with local fresh farmers market produce and the 16 different sponsored spirits.  The entrance fee got you 2 full size cocktails and 14 tastes plus 4 food tastings.  We put all of a weekend into one evening. 

Mr. PSC and I took the ferry over from Larkspur.  Always a pleasant trip across the bay and a nice responsible pause on the return trip before we got to the car.  I love the Ferry building in SF, full of great shops and vendors with wonderful selections of produce, meats, cheeses, teas... everything, plus several great places to eat.  So we arrived early and enjoyed a stroll around the market place, then a cocktail at Slanted Door, one our favorite places (which in retrospect was unwise being on the way to the a cocktail festival).  Then a lite dinner at another restaurant (see we're not totally irresponsible).  Then on to the festival...

There is too much to describe it all.  Great food and beverages, of course, but also expert bartenders who enjoyed talking about their creations and representatives from the sponsoring spirits who were also interesting to chat with.  But some just have to be mentioned...

The PBnJ, a pork belly and peach jam slider with arugula from The Monk's Kettle was our favorite.  And the Jambalaya Croquet won the voting for best of the night.

The winning cocktail was a Melon Milk Tequila punch.  Sounds awful doesn't it?  But very very good.

Also of note were two spirits.  We enjoyed the cocktails they made with them and if you ask nicely they'll give a small sample of the profiled spirit.  The new Belvedere Intense, an unfiltered vodka, was quite nice, a true sipping vodka with a little bit of a sweetness to the flavor profile.  Neither of us had ever had an unfiltered vodka before, interesting.  The other was the Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, an excellant flavor, something I'll have to track down and experiment with.

Belvedere Intense - a great unfiltered sipping vodka

The Melon Milk Punch with Tequila

PBandJ: Porkbelly and peach jam slider

Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

A very pretty cocktail with Templeton Rye, I'm not a rye fan, but Jim thought it was quite nice.

Tsukunes Grilled Skewers were very tasty and paired well with the cocktailes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taste of Petaluma

The 2011 Taste of Petaluma benefiting Cinnabar Theartre is this afternoon.  It's a great event hosted in series of shops and galleries in Downtown Petaluma.  Each venue has paired with a caterer or restaurant and a winery.  Walk about downtown sampling all the best Petaluma has to offer.  We will be at Singer Gallery on Western at the Blvd, serving a California Cheese Steak Sandwich (NY strip with Spring Hill Farms organic White Cheddar and Truffle Oil in an Asiago Pepper Piccolo).

See the Taste of Petaluma website for on-line or at the door ticket options.

Hope to see you there.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Room Temperature is Not Room Temperature

Last week we posted a link on our Facebook page to a short but interesting article in Food & Wine about wine pairing; it's worth a read.  Which brought us to today's topic, the proper chilling of wine.

We all know that white wine is served chilled, while red is served at room temperature, which has brought up a recurring discussion during our staff trainings, because not all wines are create equal and neither are temperatures.

Let's start with red.  We're Californians in wine country, we drink red wine and we're comfortable drinking it at any temperature.  Whatever room temp is, that is what we go with for our daily glass of red, but if you're having a party or a particularly good (or particularly bad) bottle, then chill it properly to get the most out of it.

That classic rule of thumb to serve red wine at room temp is from a different era, an era when room temp was typically in the low 60's, not 72 degrees, or (forgive us wine gods) a 95 degree summer day!  In catering the wine is coming out of the case at whatever the outdoor temp is that day, and we typically don't have much or any refrigeration at the event site.  So our rule of thumb is to place the bottle on top of a bed of ice for 15 minutes for the first 10 degrees of cooling, then an additional 5 minutes for each 10 degrees more.  Shoot for 60 as the room temp wine glass will warm it up a little bit.

White wine is more complicated.  It uses the same cooling technique, but the proper temp varies by type:

Dry White         50 to 55       About 20 minutes on ice
Sweet White     45 to 50       About 25 minutes on ice      Estimated cooling times are
Sparkling          40 to 45       About 30 minutes on ice      based on starting in the low 70’s
Port                   60 to 65       About 15 minutes on ice

Another good rule is that poor wine should be chilled further.  Making it colder will knock out some elements of a bad flavor profile.  The worse the wine, the lower the temp.

My favorite rule comes from my sommelier professor in college: "It's your wine, drink it however YOU like it".  The rules only help us get the most out of our wine, they don't dictate what we like.


Monday, August 15, 2011

The Apple of My Eye

Here's my August column from the Petaluma Post:

Not too long ago I was asked, if I could only have two things to eat what would they be?  This was not as a hard of a question as one would think, actually quite easy.  I said mac n cheese and an apple.  Some of the best things in life are the simplest.  I am picky about my apples and enjoy trying the great number of varieties that come available over the summer and fall months.  I think that is one of the things that I like best about apples, that they are always available.  I remember at Christmastime when I was a child our stockings would always have an apple and some mixed nuts in them.  They pack and ship so well we are able to enjoy them at any time of the year.  They can be used in savory or sweet recipes, baked, boiled, juiced, or more.

As August rolls around we are lucky to have one of the best apples in our own back yard, the Gravenstein apple.  To us it is “our” apple.  In the United States it almost exclusively grown in Sonoma County.  It is the one we used to pick in our back yards, or take that long drive as kids to Sebastopol for the first box of the season.  My dad loves a tart apple pie, which means Gravenstein pie.  I remember my mom always trying to get the earliest apples, which did not have a high enough sugar content to be eaten. We would head out to the corner produce stand on Bloomfield road, it would always be hot sitting in the back seat, but we would be rewarded with an apple juice popsicle.  Just a cup of frozen fresh pressed juice with a popsicle stick in it for the ride home.  That might be why today at the farmer’s market if I find the apple juice still is a little frozen I can’t resist it.

It is believed that the gravesteins originated in Denmark in 1669, so it is not surprising that so many of the German/Danish immigrants (like much of my family back in the 1800’s) brought them to our area.  The apple itself has a sweet, tart flavor profile and a very short shelf life.  It has not been engineered to last, making it a perfect apple for the heirloom produce movement.  It is at its best as a cooking apple and freezes quite well too.  I think of it as the pie apple.  They are small and irregular in size, so they take an extra bit of work to use, but worth it.  Their tender flesh cooks quickly, so you do not want to over stuff a pie with these apples.

Apple Pie Crust
 cups flour
1 cup salted butter (cold and cut into chunks)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ to ½ cup cold water

Place the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse it several times; you still want chucks of butter.  Add the water two tablespoons at a time with just a short pulse.  You don’t want to run the machine and warm the dough up.  You also still want to see butter bits.  Remove from the machine and split in half to make both the top and bottom crusts.

Gravenstein Apple Pie Filling
2 lbs gravenstein apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
1 Tbl butter (cut into small pieces)
¾ cup sugar
2½ Tbl flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
Juice of ½ lemon

Prepare the apples, then toss with lemon juice to insure they don’t turn brown.  Then mix the dry ingredient together, and toss with the apples and butter.  Place the filling in the rolled pie crust, topping with second crust.  Brush the top with a light egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Finally bake at 350 degree for 35 to 40 minutes; cover with foil for the last 15 minutes if too much color is developing.

Allow to cool for two or three hours before eating.  I know you want it sooner, but the juices need to cool.

Another great way to enjoy gravs is to make apple sauce, however I have another great alternative I prefer.  Roasted apples!  This is between a sauce and a baked apple.  Serves great on a roast pork loin or chops.

Roasted Apples
1 lbe gravs (or any firm apple like fuji, braeburn, or granny smith – these might need an extra bit of sweetener)
3 Tbl honey
1 Tbl canola oil
Pinch Salt and pepper

Peel and core the apples, the dice into medium chunks.  Toss with the oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish and bake at 350 degree for 12 to 15 minutes till the apples just start to turn color.  Remove from oven and the add honey, stir well and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes till bubbly and golden.

Remember an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  They never said how you had to eat it!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Martini Time!

Well Martini Glass time anyway.  It's the time of year for weddings, which means more showmanship in the presentation, and a martini glass is a great way to make a dish almost pop off the table.  It's been around for years now, but is still going strong.

Here are couple I liked from this past weekend.

On the top is our Peach, Honeydew & Mint with a Prosciutto Wrapped Crostini.

Below is our Lime Orange Jicama Salad with a Heart Shaped Cumin Tortilla.

Both are fresh dishes with a real taste of summer to them

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A night out on the town

Even in the middle of wedding season there has to be time to have fun.  Recently Mr. PSC had a birthday and we headed in to SF for dinner and a show.

It might be his birthday, but you know I am the one that choose the restaurant.  Of course with special attention to details that he likes, especially the bar menu.

My choice was Bix, a great little jazz restaurant near the financial district.  Had a very nice 1920's setting with waiters in white jackets, but not at all stuffy.  Set up in a club style with most of the tables are in a balcony to sit above and enjoy the music.

Wanting to see a show later we choose an early reservation, we were the first people in the door and decided to enjoy the ambiance of the bar till our table was ready.  Jim chose the Bourbon Cherry Smash to start, which he described as a refreshing alternative to a Manhattan, finished with club soda to make it mild.  I had the Meyer Lemon Colins with Gin (Meyers are my absolutely favorite lemon).

The appetizer menu looks so great that we choose to not do dinner, but just share a bunch of small plates.  Our server was excellent; she timed each dish to come out one after another, and set to order to follow the flavor palate.

Of 6 dishes I would say that my favorite was the Deviled Eggs with Summer Truffles, Romano Beans and Chives.  Light and delicate with just a touch of tang finished with finely grated white truffles.  We could have had 2 plates.  We also had Truffle Cheese and Sweet Onion Croques, which were simple and too good.  The Mini Lamb Burgers with Cucumber, Dill and Harissa were Jim's favorites.  The surprise of the evening were the Beer Battered Fiorelli Blossoms with Spicy Buttermilk Sauce, which were light and tasty and could be served by the bucket!


Friday, July 29, 2011

Fortune Cookies

For an upcoming client event we have fortune cookies with custom fortunes.  No we didn't make them; can you just imagine Mom handwriting and folding 2,500 fortune cookies!  That got us discussing the fortunes we did for our booth at the Lions Clud Taste of Petaluma a couple of years ago.  We all liked them and thought we should share them again (some original some poached from the internet).  Enjoy.

We see a fabulous party in your future.

Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?

Ahhh, we met again.

STRESSED spelled backwards is DESSERTS!

You’ve got good taste, we’ve got good taste. A match made in heaven!

We see braised beef short ribs in your future.

Mmmm…. chocolate fountain

You may pass hors d’oeuvres but never pass on an hors d’oeuvre

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?

We see good fortune and good food in your future.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Good Taste. Good Fortune.

All happiness depends on a leisurely meal.

Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.

He who eats alone chokes alone.

All sorrows are less with chocolate

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.