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