Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Visit to Your Farmer’s Market

Here's my May column from the Petaluma Post:

Spring time is here and the sun is shining, and we are all ready to through off the mantle of winter and jump out into the world. We are not the only ones that feel that way; the gardens are bursting with the first offerings of the season.

I do my best to make a habit of going to the farmer’s market once of a week; I probably make it three out of four times a month. I go not only to shop, but for inspiration and to see what is coming into season; one of my growers also sells at the Marin county farmers market so I can plan my ordering for later in the week.

As you can guess I cook a lot, yet like everyone I can have a hard time figuring out just what to cook for dinner. Is that not the age old question? A trip to the farmer’s market helps a lot. Just seeing what is fresh and new gets my mind thinking. Did you know that when kids help to grow or choose produce they are more likely to eat them. So, make it a family trip to the market. It does not have to be a whole day thing, depending on which one you go to it can be 30 minutes to 2 hours (with travel time).

There are many to choose from:

Petaluma has two farmers markets (same organization, but different feel). Saturdays in Walnut Park from 2 to 5pm (late May to October), and the Wednesday Night Market on 2nd Street from 4:30 to 8:00pm (June to September). The second one has more of a street fair feel.

The Sunday & Thursday morning (8am to 1pm) market in San Rafael is the one I most frequent. The time works for me, and they have a lot of producers. It is behind the Marin Civic Center.

Santa Rosa has two markets. Wednesday by Santa Rosa Plaza at B Street from 5 to 8pm, very street fair, a good place to wander and nibble. Or the more traditional market at the Veterans Building Wednesday and Saturday from 8:30 to noon.

And there are a lot more. Morning, noon and evening markets, and on just about every day of the week. Just Google Sonoma or Marin and Farmers Market and you will find them.

The market has so much to choose from, not just fruits and veggies. From fresh baked breads to organic meats and sea food. There is always local honey, and I’ve been seeing raw milk products lately. There is often music and entertainment. Grab a latte and just enjoy the stroll. My pattern is to walk the aisles looking at all of the booths, then to make a second round to make purchases. When I was little I was the only one that was willing to go to market with my Baba. It would be Sunday morning in Sacramento and we would go to the Roseville markets. We had to leave at 5:30 or 6 to be there when it opened. He knew so many of the vendors and enjoyed talking with them as much a buying. He never cooked a thing but would come back with crates of fruits and vegetables for my Grama to can and preserve.

On a recent trip to the market I picked up Red Frill Mustard. I had never seen it before and I fell in love. It is only in season for a short time, but that is what is great about going to the market, farmers will bring items that they cannot take to commercial stores. This delicate green is very similar to wild arugula with a deep red color. It was so delicate that I choose not to cook it, rather than that I simply let it wilt from the heat of the dish I plated on top of it. Perfect.

Seared Salmon with Wilted Red Mustard and Orange Fennel Relish
Serves 4
4 salmon filets (6 oz.), boneless, skin on
2 heads baby fennel, shaved
2 oranges, peeled and chopped
1 sprig of tarragon
2 T olive oil
1 T champagne vinegar
½ t honey
2 c red frill mustard or wild arugula
salt and pepper

Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Then heat a sauté pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until just before the oils smoke point. Add the salmon flesh side down, and sear 3 to 4 minutes, till golden in color. Try not to touch and move around. If it is sticking give it another minute or 2. Place the pan in a 350 degree oven for 8 to12 minutes, till cooked through.

Combine all the other ingredients but the mustard to make a relish. Place the mustard greens on a plate, place the salmon over the mustard, and then top with the relish. This dish would also work well with chicken breast, pork loin chops or turkey breast. Enjoy.

This is fresh, gourmet, healthy and delicious. Healthy eating can be really good and a family experience; we should teach kids to be excited by healthy foods (just don’t tell them it’s healthy until after they eat it ;)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Northbay Biz, Best of Readers Poll

We attended the Northbay Biz Best Of awards last night to recieve the Gold Medal for catering.  Thank you so much to everyone and Northbay Biz Magazine.  It's an honor to be included with such esteemed company.
It was hosted at the Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club; it was our first time there, a beautiful facility and they did a great job with the food.  Thank you for hosting, and thanks to all the great wineries there for the tasting hour.

Monday, May 16, 2011

PSC's PEP Benefit was a Blast!

 Our 20th Anniversary Celebration / PEP Housing Benefit went off incredibly well.  Somewhere over 300 people attending.

The classic car out front, and the strolling people in period costume added a great touch.

 The decor in the tent (where we closed off Erwin St) and inside went off without a hitch and really helped set a festive mood.
Green Chile Chicken in Sopes
with Cotija and Crema

 All the food was very well recieved.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
with Classic Creamy Slaw

The creme brulee was a hugh hit, and the whoopee pies to die for.

Thai Lamb Tacos
(Braised leg of lamb shredded with Bali BBQ Sauce)

Tomato Bisque Soup & Grilled Cheese Finger Sandwiches
Our award winning soup & Toasted Brioche with Havarti

The crowd arrived early and stayed late; the sign of a good party!

Thank you to everyone for all your support!

PEP Housing & sponsors
Wilibees Wine & Spirits
Kunde Estate Winery
Encore Events
Pure Energy Lighting
Vanda Floral
Laganitas Brewery
Dempsey's Brewery

(I hope I didn't miss anyone!)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

MMMM Butter

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

The grass is growing and the hills are turning green, the cows are in the pasture and the calves are on their way. Springtime means fresh milk and fresh milk means great butter. How lucky are we to live in an area that you likely drive past the cows that will give us our milk and butter.

Growing up locally my aunt had a cow; her name was Goldie (the cow, not the aunt). She put up with all of us kids growing up. We fed her, we chased her and a time or two we tried to ride her. But my best memory was of the butter. My great aunt would milk her and wait for the cream to rise, and then we each got to take turns churning the milk in to butter. Most kids got ice cream, I got butter. I think I can still taste it.

Butter has come to the forefront of the culinary world in the last few years. There used to be those bland white cubes at the market and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong it is still better than that other stuff people put on toast. But now the door has opened for all kinds of things.

Most people’s first question is about the color. Why does butter’s color change though out the year? That has to do with what the cows are eating. It is basically chlorophyll, (that stuff that makes grass green); the greener the grass the yellower the butter (and egg yolks for free range chickens). Grazing cows will provide butter with a richer color.

Should we use salted or unsalted butter? For simply spreading, this is very much a personal issue. I love the taste of sweet cream butter (unsalted); however I often add just a sprinkle of salt to it. For most baking recipes (cakes and cookies and such) I use salted butter, and just eliminate the salt from the recipe. But on finer desserts, like a butter cream or a lemon curd I like to use an unsalted butter. With this kind of recipe, the butter makes up the mass of the product, and the salt can be too heavy.

One big thing for me is how the butter is stored. Butter is great at picking up flavors, but that is not so great when the butter for your meringue has been stored next to an onion. Even though our commercial kitchen does not have a separate baking department, the butter is not stored in the walk-in with other items, it has its own little refrigerator. Butter easily absorbs flavors that are around it. This is good and bad, coming from the pasture with just a touch of grass. But if it sits next to a cut onion in the refrigerator it could be a disaster. I recommend keeping it away from foods that could influence the flavors. In my home refrigerator I just make sure to keep is wrapped and in a separate compartment.

I have created many recipes over the years, this scone is one of my favorites. It holds up great, the dough can be frozen so you can make a batch and use it as you want. It is not a traditional recipe, it uses buttermilk not cream. That makes for a moister product. We add lots of things in, you can do the zest of two lemons and a quarter cup of poppy seeds, for a more traditional one use the zest of two oranges and half a cup of currants. If working with fruit you can use frozen, fresh or dried. With frozen it is important to work with it when it is still frozen or it will add too much moisture to the dough. With any add-ins they should be added at the very end and only mixed till incorporated

½ lbs butter (cold)
6 cups flour
¼ cup baking powder
1¼ cups sugar
2½ cups buttermilk
1 cup flavor (e.g. berries or fruit)

Mix all of the ingredients, but the buttermilk till crumbly, then add buttermilk mix till just combined (do not use all of buttermilk, just add till it forms a soft dough.) Add berries or other flavor. Form into large round piles or roll and cut with round cookie cutter, and wrap and freeze. To bake, thaw, cut large rounds like a pie, and egg wash the top with sugar and bake till firm and brown.

There are some great new butter items out on the market to play with. For those that are pastry purists, Pulgra is now available at specialty stores. Butter is a is a emulsified combination of fat, water and solids, commercially (in the US) it is typically 80% fat and 15% water and solids. But when making very fine pastries, that water can make the dough tougher by allowing glutens to form; this is why some recipes such as pie crust, use shortening since it contains no water. Pulgra is a butter that is lower in water, so it will provide that good butter flavor and still make a tender crust.

Another great item is European style butter. This butter is considered Cultured (no it has not been to the opera), which means that bacterial cultures have been introduced to improve the shelf life and the flavor. The flavor has just a touch of a tang and the butter can sit out for longer on your table top.

So just remember- everything is better with butter!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Menu for the PEP Party this Friday (5/13/2011)

Our big celebration is this Friday (5/13/2011) from 5:00 to 8:00.  All the ticket money goes to PEP Housing, a great local charity.  The celebration is for our 20th year in business.

We'll have 10 different themed food stations, going for the trendy gourmet street food theme (see the menu below).  Wines provided by Wilibees Wine & Spirits (right next door to us) and by Kunde Estate Winery; Beer courtesy of Laganits Brewing Company and Dempsey's Brewery.

There will also be live entertainment. It will be lots of fun.

Guest Arrival
Truffle Parmesan Popcorn
Fresh popped popcorn drizzled with White Truffle Oil and Parmesan

Welcome Bar
Tart Summer Lemonade
Fresh Brewed Mango Iced Tea
PSC'S Coffee Blend
from Petaluma Coffee and Tea

Trays Service
Coconut Prawn Skewers with Mango Chili Drizzle

Mom’s Home Kitchen
Tomato Bisque Soup &
Grilled Cheese Finger Sandwiches
Our award winning soup & Toasted Brioche with Havarti

Thai land
Thai Lamb Tacos
Braised leg of lamb shredded with Bali BBQ Sauce
with Spinach Sesame Noodles
Fresh cabbage, cilantro and lime slaw on Chow Mein
noodles with Fresh Spinach, Garlic and Sesame seeds

Pomegranate Chicken Skewers
& Chunky Hummus Served on a Pita
Boneless chicken breasts marinated pomegranate molasses made in
house, with Roasted Garlic and Cumin, Herb drizzle, Cilantro and Olive Oil

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Classic Creamy Slaw
and our Green Chile Mac n Cheese
12 hour slow roasted pork shoulder rubbed with our traditional rub,
Diced Green Chiles, Spring Hill Farms Organic White Cheddar

Green Chile Chicken in Sopes
with Cotija and Crema
Sopes are handmade thick tortillas, filled with our roasted shredded chicken thighs
in a green chile sauce with Tomatillos. Not spicy.

Beer Garden
Soft Pretzels with Mustards
& Mini Ruben Sandwiches
Mini of the classic, rye bread, 1000 island, sauerkraut, swiss and corned beef

Crème Brulee
Mini Cookies
Cotton Candy


We have some tickets available in our office. Tickets are also available at
    PEP Housing, 951 Petaluma Blvd S, Petaluma CA
    Sonoma Bank, 201 Western Ave, Petaluma CA
    Online at

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Blown Away at the Farmers Market

Blown away, almost literally, after 4 weeks I finally got back down to the farmer’s market this morning to see what has come into season. The market is packed!

I made my way round with canopies lifting from the gusts of wind.  The first cherries and apricots have made it, although they could use a few more weeks, they are here.  The strawberries smell like perfume and are red and vibrant.  Strawberreis are not hot weather plants, so right now is the perfect time of year for Jams and freezing them for later (3 baskets for $8.00).  I bought some for Mother’s day to dip in sour cream and brown sugar.  Try it sometime it's wonderful.

The asparagus is everywhere.  One of my favorite preperation is stimply to grill it or roast it in the oven, however this week we did a great salad with quinoa, asparagus tips, lemon and crumbled feta.  Fresh and light, plus you get your whole grains.

Greens, broccoli and cauliflower the size of your head are ready and steady at market.  The baby Bok Choy was abundant.

Are you getting the itch to garden?  There are a number of vendors with heirloom plant starts for your garden.  I grabbed lemon cucumbers, a chocolate bell pepper (no hubby, not flavor just color) and tomatoes to add in.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Magnum, how do I love thee…

Magnum how do I love thee! (No, not Tom Selleck, better!)

Hubby and I love to travel, we have been lucky over the years to go to many incredibly beautiful places.  On a trip 7 or 8 years ago to Fiji, on the last day that we were there we found these incredible ice cream bars. They were ice cream , dipped in chocolate , then either caramel or fudge, and then dipped in chocolate again. Oh my god, just the perfect touch for vacation.

We came home on a mission to find more of these, but sadly found out some other ice cream bar had a copy right on the name in North America.  So these wonderful treats were beyond reach.

As we traveled more be began looking for Magnum ice cream bars anywhere we went. I have spent years introducing other travelers to this little bit of heaven.

Just the other night on TV there they are they have been introduced to the US.  Yes I got off the couch and had to go buy one immediately.  The variety is limited here but I am sure more will be coming.  I am personally a double caramel fan.

Now the problem, since they were not here I was able to keep to a couple per year.  Now I can see weight gain in my future!  Must. Be. Strong!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Dutcher Crossing / Honey Roasted Apricots

We just completed Passport Weekend for Dutcher Crossing Winery up in the Dry Creek wine area.  A very nice event, and lovely scenery.  Keep an eye out for special events up there, or just make it a wine tasting outing.  There are plenty of great wineries off that road.

Here's the tasting/pairing card we created for them, with our profiled recipe for the event.  (click to get a legible version), and enjoy the Honey Roasted Apricots.