Monday, January 31, 2011

That Warm and Fuzzy Feeling

Here's my column for January from the Petaluma Post:
As January rolls around the nights are cold and you want to snuggle down on your couch with a warm cozy dish. What is better than mac ‘n’ cheese to hit that spot. It is an all-time classic American dish, but it is not as simple as it sounds; my generation grew up on Stouffers and Kraft mac and cheese, which can hit a nostalgic spot, but it can be so much more that. True mac ‘n’ cheese may require more than boiling water, but it is still easy to make. This classic is making a comeback, from weddings with a gourmet twist or just good comfort food with that rustic homey feeling.

The basic recipe is quite easy; it is what you do with it that counts.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese
3 cups raw macaroni
3 cup light bechamel
3 cup grated cheese (our regular mix is jack, cheddar and provolone)

Light Bechamel
4 cups whole milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbl salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Make a slurry of the oil and flour. Bring milk to a boil, then whisk in the slurry. Stir constantly till thickened. Season with salt and pepper. If lumpy, strain before using.

If serving the mac and cheese the same day, it is okay to use the bechamel hot; but if you are making it ahead, be sure to fully cool it before mixing with the cheese and macaroni. If you mix it hot but do not bake it off soon, the macaroni will keep absorbing the béchamel making the dish dry.

With catering we often make the Mac the day before and bake on-site at the event. I have found that if you slightly undercook the macaroni it allows it to absorb the sauce and not become mushy. Another note is that the macaroni needs to be completely cooled before you combine it with the other ingredients.

The bechamel is a classic French sauce, actually considered a “mother sauce”.

A quick culinary aside, a mother sauce is a starting point for classic French cooking; there are actually four or five depending on who you ask; they are Veloute (broth based), Bechamel (milk based), Demi-Glace (beef reduction), Mayonnaise/Hollandaise (oil emulsions), and the fifth in question is a basic Marinara (red sauce) which has been accepted by chefs even though its origin is not French.

But back to topic; when I say a light bechamel it should be fairly thin, almost the thickness of heavy cream, not thick like an Alfredo sauce. For this dish I use whole milk, not half and half; with the addition of the cheese the extra fat would break the sauce and make it look curdled, so no half and half or cream. On the same note, many of the low fat milks do not cook well and will also break. Stick with whole milk.

Then we come to the cheese- MMM, my favorite part. Here is where you can add in own your taste. I always like sharp cheddar, white or yellow. I have seen recipes with almost any cheese you can imagine. Havarti makes a very creamy sauce, the dill variety adds a delicate flavor. Smoked Gouda will add a full flavor. Blue cheese will make a powerful variation, but do not add just pure blue, cut it with another cheese. Jack yields a mild but good flavor.

Now to the add-ins. We take the basic recipe and can add in all kinds of things to make it gourmet, themed, to pair it with something, whatever your event or cravings need.

One of the favorites here is our Green Chile Mac and Cheese. We add diced green chiles and substitute half of the bechamel with a green enchilada sauce. It gives it a great warm flavor without being spicy, great with grilled steak for a Southwest touch.

White truffle oil is a gourmet addition that takes the classic uptown. White truffle oil contains a flavor profile that is the fifth flavor- umami, a very rich earth touch. Try this with a rich red wine as a great first course.

Add in chopped ham or turkey for a great lunch pot luck dish. What is better than a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, this way serving as a casserole everyone gets served a warm creamy plate at the same time.

Next come the toppings, that wonderful chewy or crispy touch that finishes it just right. Shredded cheese will guarantee that extra bit of flavor and a golden crust. French fried crispy onions for a flavorful crunch. Shredded prosciutto, when baked the flavor will melt into the mac and cheese and crisp up on top like bacon bits. Bread crumbs tossed with a bit of butter or olive oil and parmesan cheese, and maybe jut a bit of fresh chopped sage or thyme.

The next time you are in the mood for Mac n Cheese don’t go for the freezer or the box, take a few extra minutes to treat yourself to a heart warming dish.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sad News - P30

I just blogged a few days ago about how much I like P30.  Just read from Heather Erwin that they're closing.  Best wishes to their crew; they did a good job.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Cocoa Five Spice BBQ Sauce

Last night we had the pleasure of participating in the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting event at Fort Mason in SF.  BR Cohn asked us to pair with them.  I created a Cocoa Five Spice Smoked Pork Shoulder on Polenta with this BBQ sauce.  Boy was it a hit.  Many asked for the recipe, so here is our secret sauce.


Cocoa Five Spice BBQ Sauce
2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
½ cup apple cider vinegar
5 Tbs light brown sugar
5 Tbs sugar
½ Tbs fresh ground black pepper
½ Tbs onion powder
½ Tbs ground mustard
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke
3 Tbs Cocoa Powder
3 Tbs Chinese five spice, ground
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients and simmer 45 mintue to 1 hour


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Best of Petaluma

It's time to vote for the Best of Petaluma again.  A great way to recognize the outstanding businesses and service providers in our community.  I really mean that, this isn't just a shameless attempt at self promotion.  Really! :)  Anyway here's the link don't forget to vote in at least 25 catagories so your ballot counts.


Monday, January 24, 2011


For over a year I have wanted to head out west of Sebastopol to a cool little restaurant (P30) that I had heard about.  Situated between Sebastopol and Freestone on Bodega Hwy, you have to be careful not to just drive past it.

As you enter the front door and look around I was afraid that there may not be a table for four available but as we went to the back room by the wood burning stove there was plenty of room.  The ambiance is very nice and just a bit shabby chic, with white paper and crayons on the tables.

The food was really great, a good size menu.  Their food is not fussy, with a leaning towards local produce and a homey feel.

Our first course split with their house greens and roasted beet salad.  The beet salad came with a citrus Chevre mousse that was beautiful.

For our entrees we covered the menus well, I enjoyed the petrale sole with brown butter spaghetti squash, the sole was sautéed perfectly and I really cannot believe how good the spaghetti squash was, the brown butter just made it light up!  Another had the cauliflower soup and all I can say is that there was not a speck left in the bowl, the chicken pot pie was delish and, of course, the fried chicken and waffles. This was new for our friend and he decided to try it.  A huge chicken breast sandwiched between two Belgium waffle wedges was a huge hit.

It had a nice ambiance and good service.

That evening we passed on desserts, but the menu looked great.

A bit of a destination but well worth it, we’ll be back


Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Wine Land

Could you have asked for a more beautiful weekend?  We spent Winter Wine Land weekend with Dutcher Crossing Winery up on Dry Creek road.  After all of the rain the sun came out and made for a great event. By this morning (Monday) I have already had servreal requests for the recipe for our Truffle Mushroom Bisque that we served.

This bisque goes well with the richer red wines.  The cream on the palate and the touch of truffle oil add an earthy full flavor.  Look for the truffle oil at gourmet food stores and often at Trader Joes

2 tsp Thyme
4 oz Butter
4 oz Onions
8 oz Crimini Mushrooms
16 Tbs Flour
5 cup Stock – chix, veg or mushroom
2 cup Heavy Cream
3 Tbs White Truffle Oil

Sauté thyme, butter, onions & mushrooms.
Add flour & cook 2 to 3 minutes
Add stock & whisk well
After it starts to thicken, finish with the heavy cream and truffle oil
May be served chunky or pureed


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wayfare Tavern

Had a wonderful dinner out in SF this last week.  It's always hard to decide where to go, there are so many great places, how to decide where to go?  Do you go to a past favorite?  Try somewhere new?  Who is hot? Who is not?  After asking around I chose to go to Tyler Florence’s new place Wayfare Tavern.  Located in the financial district  about a 10 minute walk from the ferry building – I had to do some shopping.

Decorated in classic dark wood with a fire place it has a warm and cozy feel.  The menu is made of classic American cuisine with some modern touches.  One of the first things that caught my eye on the menu was the foie gras and French toast – a favorite dish every time; we also chose the ahi crudo that was prepared in a unique style as large pieces of tuna instead of the finer chop that you expect.

I had to ask what one of the itmes on the menu was – Poutine.  The waiter went to explain it as the national dish of Canada- aha, I thought, the French fries with cheese and gravy.  They dressed theirs up with a bit of white truffle oil.

And no American menu can be finished without having fried chicken.  Theirs is brined then rubbed with rosemary and finished with a very light fired crust.

As I headed toward the back of the stairs I look over at a table of chef’s that were having their daily meeting, and there was Tyler with his cooks.  Our wiater said that he is there often, between opeing restaunts in both Napa and Mill Valley in the near future.


Friday, January 7, 2011


Over the holiday season I had the chance to check out Francis Ford Coppola’s new winery and its restaurant Rustic.

Over the last several years he has remodeled what many of us knew at Chateau Souvereign in Geyserville.  A nice 45 minute drive up the highway from Petaluma.  Just long enough to feel like a getaway but know that you will be back in your own bed that night.

We went up with the in-laws for a celebration day, as we arrived at the winery you felt like you were in a magical place (even a bit Disney-esc).  From the entrance to the drive in he has looked at every aspect.  The grounds are beautiful, and the building perfectly restored.  We arrived the day after the pool was closed for the season, but they have a great area with outside dining and cabanas that is open to the public over the summer.  The staff (even at the closed pool and working in the gardens) were very accomdating and eager to discuss the facility.

The restaurant Rustic was comfortably rustic chic, with heavy wooden tables and leather banquets; all very comfy for settling in to conversation and a meal.  They bring out a fresh warm bag of Zeppole (Italian fried bread) that is lightly salted as you are reading the menu –I could have eaten 10 but shared with the rest of the table.  I had made reservations the week before and needed them even for a Wednesday lunch.

I felt the menu was a bit confusing as they have printed all of the daily menu items for every day on the week on the menu and then tell you which are for that day.  I had hoped for the lamb tagine but it was not being served that day.  The spaghetti was very tasty, the calzone that I had was enormous, it could have fed two.  The pasta bumbola was interesting; it is made with a red wine cream reduction and the pasta was almost rouge in color

We enjoyed our day and the meal was quite nice.  Next time I hope to make it up for dinner.