Friday, June 24, 2011

Farmer's Market Report

Like everyone out there I have the best of intentions of making it to the farmer’s market.  But in the last month we have been so busy that I have missed several weeks.  But not this one.  I am happy to say that summer is really here.

Many of the growers that come to our area travel from sacramento or the valley, although we have not seen much summer heat yet, they have and it shows in the produce.  The booths are over flowing.  The stone fruits are in, I picked up rainier cherries (my favorites), apricots (a little early), and nectarines to make a tart. The summer squashes are all out there, it's time to go look for your favorite.  There are just the beginnings of tomatoes from a bit further south.  I only saw one booth with figs and the bell peppers don’t have much color yet.

The salad greens are great, and as we are all looking to put on those summer tops and shorts a great way to eat healthy.

The Sunday Marin market has so much going on that you are not only looking at produce.  Years ago I did my apprentice ship in Innsbruck Austria, and late at night after work we would grab a beer and go to the sausage cart ("da veiner vagon"), a very casual food truck.  The sausages were good but the bread they served them with was incredible.  I've been looking for it for years!  So today at market there was an authenic german bread booth, so I picked up a quarter loaf of german dark bread to try at home.  By the time we reached the car it already looked like a mouse was nibbling at it.  Now to find some sausage!

If you'd like a list of the farmers markets look at my Petaluma Post column from May, posted on the blog here


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Vinegar Chronicles (Rice Wine)

Why go Rice?  Rice wine vinegar is made from fermented rice, it tends to be much lighter and a bit sweeter than other traditional vinegars. For me this is a great balance for delicate flavors, especially fruits in salads and compotes. In most markets you will find Chinese and Japanese varieties, of the two Japanese is even lighter.

One of the most common uses of rice wine vinegar is in the preparation of Sushi, it is added to the rice for flavor.  This is where seasoned rice wine vinegar comes from, they have added sake, sugar and salt.  Since most of these ingredients are already in the pantry I like to keep to the more traditional plain rice wine vinegar.

If you are looking for a substitution in a recipe, you can use a half tablespoon of white wine vinegar plus a pinch of sugar to each tablespoon of rice wine vinegar

Here is a great Asian dressing recipe that we use often:
¼ c rice wine vinegar
¼ c soy sauce
¼ c lemon juice
¼ c brown sugar
1 c canola oil
1 T sesame oil

Shake and serve


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer Time Cooking

Here's my June column from the Petaluma Post:

As the months heat up all of us like to spend more time outside and far less time in the kitchen. We are pulling veggies out of our gardens and the farmer’s market and turning up the BBQ.

This time of year, just before the season hits I like to take time to make sure my pantry is stocked with what I consider the basics for quick cooking.

Seasonings and herbs are a great place to start; I always have my dry rub on hand for a quick flavor addition. This year I have been using a new rub for beef and pork, a combination of cocoa and five spice lends itself well to big red wines. Mix these up in advance and keep in an air tight container, so you are always ready to go.

Tri Tip with PSC's Dry Rub
PSC’s Traditional Dry Rub
8 cups Brown Sugar
4 cups Kosher Salt
1 cup Paprika
1 cup Chili Powder
1 cup Black Pepper
1 cup Granulated Garlic
1 cup Granulated Onion
1 cup Italian Seasoning
¼ cup Cayanne

PSC’s Cocoa Five Spice Dry Rub
1 cup Brown Sugar
½ cup Salt
¼ cup Cocoa
1 Tbl 5 Spice
As a special thank you to my blog readers, we have 2oz sample tins of this in our showroom.  Stop by and pick one up.  They were the favors we had for our big PEP event and have a few dozen left.

My favorite item from the spice drawer is cumin. I love to use it as a rub for fish and chicken. With a little bit of lime juice, honey and olive oil is makes a great vinaigrette. It adds a great kick to Mexican food. It has a touch of smoky flavor with heat without having the power of chiles. I often make my own refried beans at home using black beans and cumin.

Black Refried Beans
2 Tbl olive oil
½ small onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
½ tsp ground cumin
1 can black beans drained

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil till translucent add the cumin. Add black beans and a small amount of juice. If you choose to mash the beans, you might need to increase the juice. My preference is mash half the beans and keep the other half whole; that is the perfect texture for me.

A combination of oils and vinegars are a great additive, from tossing a quick salad to marinating meats. You stock of oils should include a nice vegetable oil (I like canola), plus a couple of different olive oils. It most of my cooking I use a nice olive oil blend, it is more cost effective and subtle flavor works better with many dishes. For finishing dishes, salad dressing and those special touches I like a nice green extra virgin olive oil, so the flavor will really pop out. When I say green it means that it should have a very grassy flavor and be just a bit peppery (this is a personal preference). An olive oil like this should never be heated because it would destroy the flavor, use it as a topper or bread dip to add flavor to a dish.

For vinegar I go all out. I usually I have six to seven different varieties on hand, each one has a different use. Red wine and white wine are a must for basic cooking. Two balsamic, usually a standard shelf brand and an aged variety for drizzling as a finish. White vinegar is there for pickling. Rice wine (unsweetened) for a sweeter gentler flavor in dressings and Asian dishes. And my current favorite is sherry vinegar. Sherry vinegar has a robust but lighter flavor than your traditional balsamic, try it instead of balsamic with tomatoes. Vinegars are a big topic and dear to my heart, I could write a book on just them; I’ll make a point to discuss all of these in more detail in my blog over the next few weeks ( The first installment of this is here:

Summer Garden Salad
1lbs haricot vert, i.e. petite green beans (blanched)
1 basket cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
1 can cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
1 handful of arugula
¼ cup good olives (I like picholine)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil (the good stuff)
1 Tbl agave nectar
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss and enjoy.

That takes me to the dried goods and canned foods. Yes we all want garden fresh all the time, but every kitchen has canned foods; they a must for quick cooking, and some canned items simply make sense. Would you remember to soak the beans the night before? We eat beans on a regular base, from tossing in salads (try garbanzo and kidney), small red beans for baked beans, cannellini for bean salads, black beans for Mexican touches.

Pastas and grains are also a staple for quick cooking. Great for quick sides and salads. Over the summer I like to use small varieties that will cook quicker. Try adding some pearl couscous, quinoa and orzo. All three can cook in about 10 to15 minutes.

Quinoa Salad
2 cup Quinoa (cooked by package instructions)
1 bu of asparagus (blanched and cut to bite size pieces)
½ cup crumbled feta
¼ to ½ cup olive oil (the good stuff)
4 lemons (2 zest and juice, 2 juice only)
1 bu parsley (roughly chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste

One item that I am hooked on is from Trader Joes. They have a great frozen crushed garlic. I use a lot of garlic, and I tend to cook very quick meals at home, and peeling and chopping garlic is one thing in the kitchen that I do not enjoy. The skins stick to you, it is a sticky mess, you have to change cutting boards… Blah. This garlic comes 20 cloves to a pack set up like an ice cube tray so I can just pop out what I need.

Hope this helps you start your summer cooking

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Vinegar Chronicles (Sherry)

Every chef has their cooking preferences, some like it hot and spicy, while I am definitely a sweet and sour.  Two of my favorite ingredients are honey and vinegar.  In my recent article in the Petaluma Post I promised to blog in more detail about some of my favorite vinegars.

On a regular basis you will find 5 to 6 vinegars in my cup board: Distilled, White Wine, Red Wine, Sherry, Balsamic (possibly 2 kinds), Rice Wine, and Apple Cider.  Why?  You may ask.  Because they all have very different flavor palates and their uses vary greatly.

My current favorite vinegar is Sherry vinegar.  Balsamic has had the lime light for many years and I think it is time for Sherry to come forward.  Made from Sherry in Spain it is considered one of the top gourmet vinegars.  It is aged in American oak barrels for a very full flavor.  Like most gourmet vinegars you can find quality and knock offs.  With some vinigars, the cheap one is usual fine, but with this vinegar I would recommend using a quality product.

When using a vinegar of this level you use it sparingly and just to dress or finish salads and dishes.  The flavor palate is sweet and delicate from the aging.  Having a wine base I find that it will blend better with wines than many of the others.

This summer when your tomatoes are in their full glory, slice up a few, sprinkle with salt and pepper, olive oil and then just a drizzle of Sherry vinegar.