Saturday, December 1, 2012


I just noticed we forgot to re-publish the October column from the Petaluma Post.  Enjoy...

Roasted Pumpkin
I love pumpkins; everyone that knows me knows that.  I love to decorate with them for the fall.  However, I don’t actually like pumpkin.  I am not a fan of pumpkin pie, not a pumpkin chai latte fan, but I have found a few recipes that I do enjoy.

What is a pumpkin, by definition it is a gourd like squash.  From a culinary stand point when you speak of pumpkin we think of the pulp that comes from steaming, or roasting.  Most of the canned pumpkin that we all use for our pumpkin pies is actually other varieties of hard squash, such as butternut or acorn.  So when planning a recipe if you have either of those to use you can substitute. Most pumpkins that are on the market are actually not for cooking, if you would like to cook from scratch you will want to look for a sugar pumpkin, they are smaller in size and will be heavy for their weight.  To yield pulp for cooking or baking I prefer to roast not steam.  By roasting you will end up with a dryer pulp that has more flavor.

Roasting Sugar Pumpkins
4lb pumpkin (should yield 1½ cup pulp)

Cut pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds (save the seed for roasting if you want), then place the cut side down in a baking dish and cover with foil.  Bake it at 350 degree for approximately 1½  hours or until tender.  Allow it to cool, then scoop out the pulp.  Then puree or mash the pulp, and for smoother texture you may push it through a sieve.

Now on to recipes that are my favorite.

Pumpkin Crumble
This is a great dish for potlucks, has the flavor of pumpkin pie, but does not have to be sliced; just served with a spoon.
3 eggs
2 cups pumpkin pulp
1 cup sugar
1 Tbl pumpkin pie spice
1 cup evaporated milk

Mix ingredients together and pour into a 9x13 baking dish.

1 spice cake mix
1½ cup melted butter
½ cup chopped pecans

Sprinkle the cake mix over pumpkin mix.  Then drizzle butter over the top.  Sprinkle with chopped pecans.  Bake at 350 degree for about 50 minutes.
In many ways pumpkin is a super food, with its orange color it is full of vitamin A, it is high in fiber, little to no fat and all parts of the pant are edible.  People often roast the seeds; we use the seeds in tossed green salads.  The seeds can also be roasted and pressed into a very robust oil very popular in eastern Europe.  The stems are also edible and are cooked in African cuisine.

Pumpkin Crumble Bars
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups oatmeal
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1½ cups butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla

Combine all of the ingredients in this group to create a crumble.  Then press about 2/3rds   in to the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Press firmly.

3 cups pumpkin puree
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbl pumpkin pie spice

Combine these next ingredients and spread over the crust.  Sprinkle with remaining crumble and a bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes till golden.  Cool and cut into 2x3” squares (also great when made with cranberry sauce).

One of my most favorite recipes is for roasted Pumpkin soup

Roasted Pumpkin Soup
1 sugar pumpkin roasted for pulp (see recipe above)
1 small onion diced
¼ cup celery diced
¼ cup carrot diced
½ tsp cumin
½ cup vegetable oil
4 cups roasted vegetable stock (or you can use chicken)
¼ cup flour
1 cup heavy cream

Sauté  carrots, onion and celery in a ¼ cup of oil till very tender,  approximately 10 to 12 minutes.  Add the cumin and sauté an additional 4 to 5 minutes.  Add in pumpkin and vegetable stock and allow to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.  Then, using a blender (counter or hand) puree the soup, and  return to the stove.  Combine the remaining oil with the flour to create a slurry, which is then used to thicken the soup.  Finish with salt, pepper and heavy cream.

You might also want to check out my blog for some past recipes. just search for Pumpkin and you will find recipes for Arugula Salad in a Whole Roasted Pumpkin with Chevre and Peppitas, and Pumpkin Salad, and Corn Bread Stuffed Pumpkin among others.


Christmas Catering Menu

Our special Christmas menu is now available ( for a full or ala-cart meal ready to pick up and heat.  And don't forget to fill out your holiday meals with selections from our Hors d'oeuvres page.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thanksgiving Tips & A Happy Pilgrim

We've been so consistently busy this year I've really been neglecting my blog, and sadly (or happily!) we're still busy!  So I thought I might borrow a cheap trick from the TV.... a clips espisode!  So looking back over the history of the blog I picked our best Thanksgiving tips blogs.  Now just imagine that TV special effect where things get all wavey just before jumping back in time....

Here are my top 5 hints for planning a smoother T-day party:

Here are four kinds of stuffing, and a stuffed pumpkin:

Some thoughts and recipes for regional flair on T-day:

Yams versus sweet potatoes:

Our test of prepareing a turkey three different ways; traditional, brined, and deep fried:

Also, don't forget to take a look at our Thanksgiving menu for 2012:

And last, but not least, a Facebook post for a great cocktail from last year, The Happy Pilgrim; but since linking to a specific post in FB is not obvious, here is the recipe:

Happy Pilgrim
1 shot wild turkey bourbon - must have turkey!
1 shot ginger beer
2 shots cranberry juice
1/3 shot orange bitters
Shake and serve over crushed ice
garnish with a fresh cranberry

Enjoy & Happy Turkey Day!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I yam what I yam

Here's my November column from the Petaluma Post:

Sweet Potato Coins with Chevre and Tapenade

I yam what I yam, but am I really?  Yes I am a yam, not a sweet potato, no really a yam.  So what is a yam you ask, not just an over cooked thanksgiving side dish covered with marshmallows.  I am so much more!

To really confuse things we rarely ever see a true yam in the US, they are a tropical tuber; sweeter than sweet potatoes and often with red or purple flesh, but can be white, with a brown or black skin. For our purposes let’s stick to our local definition.

In the US yams and sweet potatoes are both actually varieties of sweet potato, but are widely different in color and texture.  What we call “sweet potatoes” are usually a lighter colored flesh with a thin light colored skin.  The “yam” is the darker red skin with a vibrant orange flesh (full of beta carotene).  Both skins are completely edible.

For so many years the yam has been put aside to be eaten only one time a year.  My family on the other hand served them year round.  Mom would bake just them like a potato in the oven alongside a meatloaf or other dishes.  We would split them open with butter and a touch of brown sugar for a simple side dish.  But as I have expanded my own cooking I have add them to our regular repertoire.

Baking Sweet Potatoes
Baking a whole sweet potato (approx. 7 oz) will take 45 minutes to 1 hour to bake in a 350 degree oven.  Prick the skin and make sure to place it on a cookie sheet or foil as it will drip a bit.

But who actually has an hour to make dinner.  My favorite preparation is to slice into ½” to ¾ ” inch slices, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin and layout on a cookie sheet to bake.  They take about 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degree.

Using this method I have added them to several other dishes.  One of our favorites is Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yam croutons.

Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yams
1 large yam cut into ½” cubes, prepared as above
6 oz wild baby arugula
2 oz chèvre

¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl honey
Salt and Pepper to taste

Roast your yam croutons, turning often to allow to brown and crisp evenly (they’ll get brown and slightly crispy on the outside, but stay soft in the center).  While their baking make your vinaigrette by combining the sherry vinegar, olive oil, honey and S&P.  Allow crouton to cook 10 to15 minutes.  You can allow the croutons to cool or toss and serve immediately for a warm salad.  Just toss the arugula, Chèvre and vinaigrette, and finish with croutons.  I often serve this with grilled pork loin or ribs.

I have used the same technique to make yam coins for hors d’oeuvres, when trying to find ingredients for gluten free or vegan items.  Purchase yams that are approx. 1” around and cut at 1/4” and bake till firm.  Try topping with Chevre, tapenade, hummus or almost anything.

Pecan Yam Pie
One of my favorite desserts is made with yams Pecan Yam Pie
1 9” pie crust
1 lbs yams, baked plain, cooled and mashed (yield 1¼ cup)
1 egg
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp clove
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ cup cream

1¼ cup sugar
1¼ cup corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup pecans
3 Tbl melted butter

Place the pie shell on a foil lined baking sheet as this could get messy from bubbling over.  Combine the yams, eggs, cream and spices, and whisk well till smooth.  Spoon into the pie crust, spreading evenly.  Combine the topping ingredients, and pour over the yam mixture.  However if you want to get creative don’t put mix in the pecans, instead you can use whole pecans and lay them out in a pattern,  then combine the rest of the topping ingredients and pour over the top.  Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1½ hours or until a knife inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool well.

Factoid:  While the origin of the term sweet potato is obvious, it’s like a potato but sweet.  But what about yam?  The story I’ve heard goes, a European explore in Africa asks a native what that potato like thing was, the response was nyami, which means “it’s to eat”.  But the explorer heard Yam and assumed that was the name of the thing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Menu 2012

Here are our Thanksgiving menus for 2012.  You can also find them on our website at

Classic Menu
Serves 8 for $170. 00
We suggest for every 2 additional guests add 1 more side dish.

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



Ala Cart Menu
Each item serves 8 to 10 people
                                               $68.00  Herb Basted Turkey 12 to 14lb.

                                               $20.00  Buttermilk Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
                                               $20.00  Celery Sage Stuffing
                                               $20.00  Scalloped Potatoes with Fennel
                                               $20.00  Tarragon Roasted Vegetables
                                               $20.00  Roasted Carrot Batons with Lemon &Honey
                                               $20.00  Green Beans with Roasted Fennel & Red Onion
                                               $20.00  Brown Butter & Pecan Yams
                                               $14.25  Mixed Greens with Pomegranate Vinaigrette & Pralines
                                               $12.00  Cranberry Orange Conserve
                                               $12.00  Pear Sauce with Cranberries
                                               $12.00  Turkey Gravy
                                               $12.50  Dinner Rolls
                                               $15.75  Apple Streusel Pie
                                               $15. 75  Traditional Pumpkin Pie
                                               $15. 75  Chocolate Pecan Pie
                                               $15. 75  Cranberry Bundt Cake

Orders must be placed by Sunday, November 18th @ Noon All orders will be picked up cold with heating instructions included. Orders available for pick-up on Wed 11/21/12 from 10 am to 5 pm (Sorry, no pickups on Thanksgiving day)



Friday, September 28, 2012

Festa De Fondo

Here's the menu and photos from the Festa de Fondo, the gala opening night of the Gran Fondo at Paradise Ridge Winery.

Sweet Potato Coins with Chèvre and Tapenade
Zucchini Pancakes with Roasted Apple Relish
Fall Figs with Blue and Balsamic
Sundried Tomato and Cannellini Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms *
Fried Squash Blossoms with Chickpeas and Cashews
First Course
Compressed Tomato and Basil with Watermelon with Sherry & Wild Baby Arugula
Artisan Bread Basket
Marinated Olive Plates
Family Style
Carved Filet with Chimichurri
Pacific White Sea Bass with White Miso and Shitake Mushrooms
Green Pea Risotto *
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Rainbow Chard with Pine nuts*
Zucchini and Pepper Ragu*
Fall Pear Tart with Cinnamon
French Sipping Chocolate
Fresh Whipped Cream



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Big 5 Herbs

Here is my Petaluma Post column from September.  Enjoy.

Sweet Basil, Opal Basil and Thyme
One of the most common questions that I get asked is what herbs pair well with what foods.  It is such a broad question that it could take a book to answer properly.  Part of the answer is easy; herbs are often associated with dishes of certain countries, like cilantro with Mexican, basil with Italian, and dill for Mediterranean and Russian.
Fresh herbs will add a brightness and freshness to any dish, so remember to clip those pots that you have sitting on your windowsill and experiment.  Dried are fine, but fresh pack more pop.  But that being said, dried herbs are more concentrated, so as a rule of thumb use twice as many fresh herbs.
Cilantro, most commonly used in Mexican cuisine in salsas, is also known as coriander (the dried seeds) or Chinese parsley.  Another common use is in many Asian dishes.  Add a touch to a Chinese chicken salad or fresh spring rolls. Cilantro is very tender and most of the pant can be used down to the tougher stems, try chopping and adding to a green salad for flavor.
Basil well known for uses in Italian sauces and pesto is also used the world around. Originating in India over 5000 years ago is one of the most used herbs in the world.  It is very easy to grow and comes in a variety of hybrids.  Sweet basil is most commonly seen in Italy and the US, however Thai basil with a sweeter flavor and a purple hue is growing in popularity.  There is also lemon basil that can be a great addition to seafood dishes.  One concern when using basil is that it bruises easily, so when using fresh basil make sure to take care to cut it at the last minute, and into long thin strips (a chiffonade).

Lemon Basil Cream Sauce
1 small shallot, minced
2 Tbl olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbl Chiffonade of lemon basil
Salt and pepper

Sauté the shallot in olive oil until translucent, then add the cream and reduce by half, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Sauté your fish of choice.  Then, just before serving add the basil and season with salt and pepper, and Ladle over the fish.  Enjoy.

Dill, one of my favorites, is known for Mediterranean and Russian cuisine; however it is probably one of the most used herbs in the world.  From its use in Gravlox in Sweden to borscht in Romania, it is also heavily used in Vietnamese cuisine. We all know the traditional use of both the seeds and the fronds in pickles.

Dill Tomato Cream Sauce 
4 cups diced tomatoes (canned is fine)
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 tsp fresh dill
1 oz olive oil
¼ cup cream
½ oz honey
Salt & Pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the olive oil until translucent, then add the tomatoes and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.  Add the cream, honey and S&P and blend well with a beurre mixer.

Thyme is very underused here in the US.  With its earthy flavor it is often over looked.  Most people think to bring it out in the winter months to add to soups and stews.  Yes a pinch can add a great flavor to your French onion soup, but it is also a great addition during the summer to your fresh vegetables.  Just a pinch will add depth.  When using with meats it is great with both pork and chicken.  Unlike the other herbs that we discussed the leaves are edible, however the stems are not.  In my opinion it is ok the throw a branch in, allow the leaves to cook off, and then retrieve before serving.

 Summer Succotash
1 small yellow onion diced
½ lbs zucchini, small dice
3 ears of corn cut off the cob
½ lbs green beans cut into 1” pieces
2 to 4 Tbl olive oil
1 large sprig fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Sauté the onion and thyme in olive oil, then add in the rest of the vegetables and sauté will tender.  Remove thyme stem.  Season with salt and pepper enjoy.  We had this at home just the other day and everyone loved it.

Oregano another one of our popular Italian herbs is also commonly used in Mexican cuisine.  Often used in pasta sauces and stew.  It is a close cousin of sweet marjoram that is used more in the northern Italian cuisine. Try adding a touch to your stews and soups for a bit of added flavor

Here’s a handy cheat sheet.  Just don’t be limited by it.
Cilantro – Mexican, Asian and with chicken
Basil – Italian, Indian, and with seafood
Dill – Mediterranean, Russian, Vietnamese, and with seafood
Thyme – French and with vegetables, pork and chicken
Oregano – Mexican, Italian and with soups

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Peachy Keen

Sorry I've been a bit remiss about my blog lately; it has been (and still is) a very busy season.  But here is my Petaluma Post Column from August, I hope you enjoy it: 

August brings to Sonoma County one of the sweetest tastes of summer, PEACHES!

The cooler spring that we have puts us locally behind the valley by a couple of weeks, so our local peaches don’t come in until August.  Peaches are one of the fruits that are truly best the closest you can get them from harvest.  With their delicate flesh and short shelf life, fresh from the tree are the very best.
Peaches and nectarines are the same fruit, it is often thought that nectarines are a cross with a plum.  But they are actually peaches with a recessive gene that drops the fuzzy exterior.  However they are usually smaller and have a bit more color to the interior.
White vs yellow peaches:  Both fruits come in two flesh colors. The white is far tenderer, but usually very sweet.  Due to their delicate nature these should be handled very carefully and eaten quickly as they bruise very easily and have a very short shelf life.  The yellow flesh tends to hold up well and can be stored and shipped.
What kind of peaches?  wow this is huge.  With the increase in heritage varieties there seems to be a different peach at the farmers market each week, so get them while you can.  There are some fun ones to look for “doughnut” don’t actually have a hole but are very flat and round.  O’Henry are the classic canning peach used for years.
If you are canning, freezing or making jam another thing to look for are “free stone” or “clingstone” peaches though the terms sound opposite they are the same.  This refers to how easily the stone (aka the pit) will come away from the fruit.  With these types the pit should easily just twist out.
Peaches are a great cooking and storing fruit.  It was one of the first things that I learned to can.  My grandmother would can jars every summer while we were camping.  She would blanch the peaches to remove the skin, stuff them in quart jars and then add boiling hot sugar water to cover.  Top with boiled flats and rings then turn over to help seal the tops.  I remember lying awake waiting as the jars popped to signal that they were sealed.
One of my favorite recipes is for a Peach Cobbler.  This recipe is more cakey than the typical crumbly variety.  I’ve had it a long time, coming from the Culinary Institute of America where I went to school.  We served it in the American Bounty restaurant there with a Bourbon Vanilla Sauce.

Peach Cobbler
2 peaches, skins on cut into slices (any seasonal fruit will do)
1cup flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt

Lightly butter an 8” pie pan (or equivalent).  Place the fruit in the bottom.  Stir the dry ingredients together, and then add the wet ingredients.  Pour over fruit and bake at 350 degree till golden and firm.

A great summer cocktail that we often make for wedding is White Peach Sangria.  A great beverage for those hot summer events

White Peach Sangria
Serves 4-5
3 lbs white free stone peaches
1 cup lemonade concentrate
½ liter ginger ale
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 bottle light white wine or rose

A light white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.  Or use a Rosé to add touch more fruitiness to it.

Puree the peaches with grapefruit juice in the blender, and then combine all the ingredients in your serving container.  Serve well chilled, and garnish with fresh peach slices.

Peaches are sweet and delicate, and they won’t be around for long. Enjoy them today.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Bruschetta and Crostini

Here's my column from the Petaluma Post for July:

Whether lounging by the pool, picnicking at a winery or bring food to a potluck, bruschetta and crostinis are a great way to go.  You’re probably thinking that bruschetta is that great tomato concoction on top of a crostini, and you are partly right.  That’s the common American definition of this Italian classic.  Crostini is a toasted slice of bread, while technically the bruschetta is a toasted sliced of bread that has been drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Very similar, both are a great blank canvas for any ideas you might have.

How to make a basic crostini
Take one baguette; I prefer a denser bread that can be cut thin.  Slice on the bias, to get about 35 slices out of the baguette slice.  The thinner the slice, the easier it will be to bite through.  Place the slices on a cookie sheet and brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper if savory or sugar if sweet.  Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes till the edges just brown.

That first thing everyone thinks of is classic tomato bruschetta.  An Italian salsa of diced tomatoes, basil and more.  My favorite for this one uses cherry tomatoes.  Roast your cherry tomatoes with just a touch of olive oil to bring out the sweetness then toss with the other ingredients.

Tomato Bruschetta
2 cup small cherry tomatoes, if larger cut in half
2 Tbl olive oil
Pinch kosher salt and pepper

Toss together and layout single layer on a sided cookie sheet, then bake at 350 degrees for about 8 to 12 minutes.  The tomatoes should just begin to pop, the longer you roast the sweeter the flavor.

4 stems of basil, chiffonade
1 small onion, caramelized
2 stems Italian parsley, chopped
1 small spring rosemary, chopped
1-2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Allow to meld for 2 to 4 hours before serving

Grilled summer fruit is another great topping.  Peaches, figs, plums and apricots lightly tossed in olive oil and grilled, then served with a smear of Chèvre or brie will be a big hit.  For a sweeter side use crostinis that have been toasted with sugar and add a drizzle of honey.

For a party think of doing a bruschetta bar, toast 3 or 4 different crostinis, such as sweet, garlic, and olive seeded.  Then go for the smears, hummus or white bean puree, roasted garlic, goat cheese, blue cheese, brie, and pesto.  Then hit the toppings – this list can be huge! Roasted peppers, grilled eggplant, grilled summer fruits,  tapenades (black or green olives), tomato bruschetta, smoked salmon anchovies (I love the Italian white anchovy).  Let people have a great time and experiment.

White Bean Puree
1 cup dried white beans - Navy or cannellini
Water to cover by 3 times- allow to sit over night
Rinse and drain
Cover with water by 2 times and bring to a boil
Simmer till very tender
Cool and drain
From here have fun; season with salt and pepper, roasted garlic, pesto anything you want.

Crostinis don’t just have to be for nibbles and hor d’oeuvres, larger cuts of bread can be used as open face sandwiches.  Using a firm artisan bread slice ¼” thick slices, rub with olive oil and garlic and toast.  By doing this you are creating a barrier so the bread will not get soggy.  Think of spreading with some fresh ricotta, a few sliced of prosciutto and some arugula for a lovely snack.  Make it an addition to a bowl of soup.

Cheese Spread
1 cup grated hard cheese- parmesan, romano etc.
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Puree all together, and spread on a small or large crostini.  Then broil till golden and bubbly.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Can you say Vegan?

Last night we catered an incredible wedding at Hans Fahden Vineyard near Calistoga.  The Bride and Groom came in with a request of a vegan menu that no one would know was vegan.  Vegan is definded as no animal products, no butter, eggs etc.  They had spoken with two other caterers that had turned them down.  I took it as a challenge. 

They gave me a lsit of their favorite foods and we worked to creat the perfect menu.

We started with our Farmer's Market Crudites.  Simple enough, just lots of fresh veg with Cumin Hummus and Baba Ganoush, Artisan Breads, Roasted Beet Relish and Tapenade.  Plus our Vegan Spring Rolls of Avocado, Cucumber, Red Bell, Thai Basil, Tofu, Enoki and Bean Sprouts with Ponzu and Peanut Sauce.

Then on to dinner, this is were a vegan menu is most challenging.  We did it in two courses, everything served family style:

First Course

Wild Arugula Salad
with Heirloom Tomatoes, Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette

Artisan Bread Basket
with Caramelized Onion Mori Nu Spread

Country Style Marinated Olives

Second Course
Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters
Cashews, Chick-peas, Eggplant with
Horseradish Ceram & Avocado Salsa

Green Pea Risotto
Arborio Rice, Green Peas, Onions and Green Pea Puree

Wild Mushroom Ragu
with Oysters, Chanterelle, Crimini

Summer Vegetable Ragu
Sweet Corn, Bells, Haricot Vert
Lemon, Basil and Olive Oil

The highlight of the night was the squash blossoms, the filling had the perfect tooth to feel hearty plus a touch of Cumin in the tempura battered added a great smoky spicy taste.

Thanks to Geoff and Alannah for giving me a great menu and inspiration.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Living the Tart Life

Oops!  Forgot to post my May column from the Petaluma Post....

Here in Sonoma county we are blessed with one of my absolutely without a doubt favorite things: Meyer lemons.  This is a sweeter thin skinned lemon that is a cross between a Lisbon lemon and a Mandarin.  Their flavor is sweet (relatively speaking) and rich which makes it great for cooking, cocktails or just lemonade.  Our climate locally is just on the cusp of their region, but with a little care I manage to keep one alive in my backyard.  On many cold mornings you will see sheets covering front yards when there is even a chance of frost.
Lemons are the only plant that continues to produce year round.  When you are picking this season’s lemons it is already blooming to begin again.  Thanks to this we are fortunate to get two crops annually.  As you drive around this month, or hopefully walk or bike and enjoy the beautiful weather, you will see bushes just laden with both the beautiful golden fruit and the new buds for the Fall.

The crops can vary greatly due to the water that we get during the growing season.  Due to the very dry winter we have had I noticed my crop this month was much smaller than usual.  I am always on the hunt for anyone with a few extra.

The thin skin makes them perfect for making marmalade.  You typically have to remove some of the pith to make marmalade, but with Meyers you can use the entire lemon.  Not only is it low on pith, but the skin has more oil with a stronger flavor (which is why I also prefer these for lemon zest). 

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Makes about 2 pints
1 lb Meyer lemons
1 cup sugar
1½ cup water

Wash the lemons well, scrub if necessary. Quarter them and carefully remove the seeds.  Then put the entire lemon through a food processer or meat grinder to medium grind.  Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottom pot and stir well.  Bring to a gentle boil and boil 30 to 45 minutes, until thick and creamy, stirring often.  Refrigerate or freeze.

Another great and easy use for Meyers is in vinaigrettes; they make the most fragrant simple dressings.

Meyer Vinaigrette
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
2 Tbl honey
½ cup olive oil
Whisk together.  Done.

One of my favorite salads with this dressing is just a simple

1 head Romaine
1 ripe pear, sliced
¼ cup toasted almonds
3 oz crumbled goat cheese

Toss gently

But now on to more serious matters.  Cocktails.  If you need to use lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon oil in a cocktail, then use a Meyer if you can.  Especially if the lemon is at the center of the flavor profile, like a Lemon Drop.

Lemon Drop Martini
1½ oz good vodka (I like Belvedere)
fyi: one shot is 1½ ounces
½ oz triple sec (Stirrings is my choice)
¾ oz to 1½ oz Meyer lemon juice
Superfine sugar for the rim
Lemon twist

Combine the vodka, triple sec, and lemon juice in a shaker with a lot of ice.  Vary the amount of lemon juice to your taste; I like mine to be a bit tarter, so I use more juice.  Shake vigorously.  Prep the martini glass: make sure it is dry, then run a lemon wedge around the edge to wet it, then roll in sugar to coat.  Remember to use superfine sugar, also called bar sugar, or 5x sugar.  Do NOT use powdered sugar (10x), as it also contains corn starch to keep it from clumping in the box, but it will just turn to paste if it gets wet. Fill the glass without hitting the sugared rim.  Then finally take a strip off the lemon to get the twist.  Twist over the martini until just a drop of oil comes out, then float the twist on the top.

After publishing in the Post, I remembered that I have another Lemon Drop recipe I like even more, I even blogged about it.  You can find it here.

Enjoy (responsibly).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Green Papaya Salad

One of my favorite dishes is green papaya salad.  This is a south Asian dish (often found in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants) consisting of shredded green papaya, vinaigrette, chopped peanuts and more.  It is crisp and refreshing and great after a hot day.

Finding a green papaya in Sonoma County can be difficult, you can find them at the Asian market at the corner of Santa Rosa Ave and Petaluma Hill road - Thanks guys.  They are also very large, think small watermelon, a bit too big for 2 people; so I decided to try it with shredded zucchini instead.  Not grated, you will need a mandolin or peeler that shreds.  For a quick and simple replacement it was great.

2 lbs green papaya or zucchini - shredded, all but the seedy area
½ c cherry tomatoes, split
½ c green beans, raw cut into 1” pieces
1 small green chili- if you like heat
¼ fresh basil, chiffonade

½ T soy sauce
2 T vegetable oil
1 T fish sauce
3 T lime juice
1 T white sugar

¼ c chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

Combine all of the salad vegetable
Whisk dressing together
Toss with vegetables
Top with peanut

Goes great with Asian BBQ.  I really liked it with the Asian grilled pork steak I mentioned a few days ago.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Thank You Petaluma
for our 5th year as the
People's Choice Awards
Best Caterer!

And the winners are:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grilled Pork Steaks

Everyone asks if I cook at home, the answer is whenever I can.  I tend to work long hours - a standard day is 10 to 12 hours, and some days run long!  So when I get home dinner has to be quick and tasty.  Recently I've found a new use for an old item:  I bought a boneless pork shoulder roast, which was silly of me, as if I have time to cook it for 2 hours and still be awake.  So what do you do?  I cut it down into steaks and threw it on the BBQ.  It was awesome.  Just rubbed it with a dry rub and glazed at the last minute with BBQ sauce.  It was better then country style ribs and cheaper.  Grill both sides approx. 7 minutes, depending on thickness.

Of course a 4 pound roast is more than 2 steaks, so guess what we ate the next night, yes pork steaks.  This time I grilled again but rubbed with soy and garlic and finished with a teriyaki sauce.  To add a little wow to the plate I grilled a couple of spears of pineapple and made an Asian salad - dinner in less than 20 minutes.

The 4 pound roast cost about $12.00 ($3.00 per pound), yielded 4 meals for 2 (hubby had leftovers too) $3.00 per meal and quick.  I like it.  Hubby also commented that it was so tender that when he made a sandwich with it, the 3/4 inch thick slice he used was as easy to bite through as pulled pork.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Party at my Place

Here's my Petaluma Post column for June:

With all of the catering that we do I often get asked if we entertain at home.  The answer is absolutely.  I enjoy hosting our family and friends, often for holidays and special events.  I take a lot of cues from the catering company but do it in a much more laid back style.

When someone asks if they can bring something, I say yes!  I like my family events to be community affairs, and getting everyone involved is part of the spirit.  But my inner event planner does come out when answering that question… My first thought is to think of the person.  Are they always the first one to arrive (like most of my family), then ask them to bring an appetizer.  Are they coming from far away, then maybe help with paper products.  If they are the one that is never one time, suggest a dessert.  Take the extra help, they will feel like a part of the party.

At home, with teens in the family I feel you always need a nibble when they arrive; they are always hungry.  Our favorite starter is always a simple crudité; baby carrots, snap peas and cherry tomatoes (can’t get easier than that).  Then mix up your favorite dip, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy; ours is a ranch dip made with low fat sour cream and mayonnaise.  For the summer, fruit is always a great addition.

Of the classics Deviled Eggs have definitely made their come back to my table, and I’m even seeing them more and more on the catering side as well.  They are simple and can be served at room temperature.  But I have made a tweak I’ve found very useful.  Hardboiled eggs are slippery, and with a curved bottom the slide all over the tray (unless you have one of the special deviled egg trays).  I also don’t think that half a yolk produces enough filling.  So I do a three quarter medium sized deviled egg.  Stand the egg up on its fat end by slicing just a bit off the bottom to make it flat, then take just enough off the top to get the yolk out.  Now you have a whole yolk per egg to work with.  Remember, use a medium size egg instead of the extra-large, it makes it an easier bite.

Deviled Eggs
1 dz eggs - hard boiled and peeled
Slice the eggs and remove the yolks as described above
Fork smash the yolks
Add in 2 Tbl prepared mayonnaise
1-2 tsp of Dijon mustard
1 Tbl sweet pickle relish
Mix together
Refill eggs

Truffle Deviled Eggs are great gourmet alternative.  Simply replace the tablespoon of pickle relish with half a teaspoon of Diced Truffle Tapenade.  The tapenade is available at gourmet food stores, here in Petaluma Whole Foods carries it.  These are my favorite!

I love to mix it up on the salads, this is a place that you can pull out your favorite magazine and experiment.  Baby arugula is high on my list; it has great body and holds up well, and will not wilt the second that you dress it, making it great for warm days or extended serving times.  My favorite toppings are some fresh parmesan and toasted pumpkins seeds, with a sherry vinaigrette.  I never think you will go wrong with a fresh vegetable salad.  One of my favorites is an update on your classic three bean.

1 head celery, washed and sliced
2 red bell pepper, washed and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, washed and diced
1 red onion, diced
2 lbs green beans, cleaned, cut and blanched
1 - 14oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 - 14oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 - 14 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup sherry vinegar
2 cup olive oil
1 Tbl dried or fresh oregano
¼ cup agave syrup

Mix up the night before and allow it to sit overnight.  This salad travels great!

There are two favorites in our house for a summer BBQ.  Pork Ribs or Fried Chicken is always the debate.  For my ribs I like spare ribs, they are easier to cut apart.  I remove the silver skin next to the bones and rub with our house dry rub.  Then typically bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes the day before to blanch cook.  Day of the BBQ bring them out and grill 15 to 20 minutes, then slather with your favorite sauce, grill an additional 5 to10 minutes.  Cut and serve.  Great hot or at room temp.

PSC’s Dry Rub
yields 1 quart
2 cups Brown Sugar
1 cup Kosher Salt
¼ cup Paprika
¼ cup Chili Powder
¼ cup Black Pepper
¼ cup Granulated Garlic
¼ cup Granulated Onion
¼ cup Italian Seasoning
1 Tbl Cayenne

Mix it all together, and store in an air tight container, preferably in the dark.  Holds well up to a year.

Fried chicken is a family favorite, and yes it does make a mess.  But boy is it worth it!  It’s a great item that you can do a day ahead.  Reheat in the over or serve at room temperature.  I always double up with an extra package of drumsticks.  Can’t  beat food that’s already on a stick!  For a little extra flavor boost try adding a package of ranch dressing mix into the flour that you dredge in.  Also remember to season that flour with salt and pepper.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Mint Julep

It's Kentucky Derby day tomorrow, which is traditionally time for a mint julep, and May 30th is National Mint Julep Day, it seems like a good time for one.  For years I avoided mint juleps, for some reason I thought of them as a thick, creamy, sickly green colored concoction.  It turns out I was confusing them with a Grasshopper (which fits that description).  But now I love mint juleps!

There are many (many, many) recipes for mint juleps.  Some are tall refreshing drinks, others are as strong as any cocktail you could find, some need to be cooked, and others just need a quick stir.  I hesitate to even give a recipe for fear of raising the ire of some aficionado.  But I like my recipe, and it's easy and adaptable.

Start with fresh mint.  Easy to get at the grocery store, and even easier to get out of the yard.  Mint is beyond easy to grow, it's a weed!  If you like mint juleps and mojitos then I suggest you keep some in a pot in the yard; don't put it in the ground unless you want it to take over.  Take 5 or 6 leaves, plus a sprig for garnish.  I prefer regular mint, but some recipes call for spearmint.

Muddle the leaves in a glass.  I like to add a pinch of the sugar and little bourbon at this point; I think it helps the muddling process to get the most flavor out.

Pour this into a shaker full of ice, add 2 ounces of bourbon, a table spoon of sugar, and an ounce of water.  Shake hard.

Strain this into a glass full of ice.  Straining is important to get the bits of mint out.  Choose either a short glass for an intense cocktail, or use a tall glass which you then finish with 3 or 4 ounces of club soda.  Float the sprig of mint on top as a garnish; the garnish is for more than just looks here, with every sip your nose will be in the mint getting all that aroma.

Mint Julep
6 mint leaves
1 mint sprig
2 oz bourbon
1 oz water
4 oz club soda

Some notes about sugar:  Using a finer sugar (5x or bar sugar) will dissolve easier.  Don't use powdered sugar, it has corn starch in it.  You can use simple syrup instead of the sugar and water, just combine equal amounts of sugar and water, either boil it or shake it until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Use double the simple syrup for the sugar called for.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Greens of Spring

Here's my April column from the Petaluma Post:

The brightest season of the year is upon us, when you think of green what do you think of?   Trees in bud?   The rolling hills?  Spring flowers?  A chef thinks of all of the fresh young produce that is beginning to hit the markets.  Peas, asparagus, spring onions, green garlic, artichokes, tender frilled mustard, the first peek of what is to come.

I love peas! I have been known after a long day to sit down with just a bowl of peas with a bit of butter; sometimes the simple things are the best.  But which peas to choose and did you know you can eat the plant too?   Pea tendrils are often used in Asian cuisine.  Snow peas, snap peas, English peas.  Snow peas are thin and flat with the interior seed undeveloped, you will often find them in Asian cuisine and they are a great addition to salads.  Snap peas are the midway point, well developed seeds but the pod is tender enough for cooking.  This pea is great sautéed or raw, very popular on veggies trays.  English peas are the classic pea that you would get frozen in your local grocery.  The shell is not edible and only the seeds are edible, thus the term shelling.

Sautéed Pea Tendrils with Shitakes and Garlic
Serves 2
8 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 bunches pea tendrils – the youngest you can find- chop bunches into thirds
3 cloves garlic chopped
4 Tbl vegetable oil
2 Tbl light soy

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Make sure the skillet is about twice as big as you think you need.  Sauté the garlic, being careful not to burn it.  Then add the mushrooms and continue to sauté, adding additional oil if necessary.  When tender, then add the pea sprouts.  Turn once or twice with tongs.  Add the soy sauce and cover to steam 2 to 3 minutes.  This is a great side dish with miso glazed salmon.  See my 1/12/2012 blog for the salmon recipe.

Peas pair great with fresh mint, the sweetness of the peas is a classic combination.  A simple salad of snap peas with mint and carrot is a great dish to add to the Easter menu.

Snap Pea Salad with Mint
2 lbs snap peas - look for the string less variety or you will need to string each pea
1 lbs julienned carrots- you can also find these prepared in your grocers case
2 stems fresh mint
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbl champagne vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly blanch the carrots and snap peas for 3 to 5 minutes, then ice to chill to stop the carry over cooking.  Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper into a light dressing.  Just before serving shred the mint, and combine all the ingredients.  Serve immediately.

Green garlic is another spring joy.  The young tender sprouts from garlic often pulled when thinning plant for greater productions.  It has the same flavor but not as spicy and pungent, it looks much like green onions.  When cutting and preparing use the same techniques as leeks, cutting from the white up into the green as long as it is tender, wash very well for sand.  It is a great flavor for soups.

Potato Bacon Green Garlic Soup
3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup green garlic, thinly sliced
2 strips bacon, diced
2 Tbl olive oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Place oil, garlic and bacon in to a heavy bottom pot, and sauté till the bacon is crisp and the garlic is translucent, browning is ok but be careful not to burn.  Add potatoes, cover with stock and bring to a simmer.  Cook uncovered till the potatoes begin to fall apart.  Then puree with a hand blender.  Return to stove, add heavy cream and season to taste.

There is nothing that ushers in Spring like the thin crisp spears of asparagus, the queen of spring.  A favorite on the Easter table in my family.  With its delicate flavor and taste it is a great pairing with eggs.  A simple breakfast frittata is one of my favorites

Asparagus Frittata
Serves 2
½ cup chopped asparagus tips (also a great use for left overs)
4 eggs
½ cup crumbled Chèvre
2 Tbl olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Place the eggs, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well, being careful not to incorporate too much air.  Stir in the Chèvre.  Heat an 8” sautéed pan on the stove till hot, add oil, swirl to coat, then add the egg mixture.  Using a rubber spatula stir gently just around the edges.  As it be gins to set, turn off the heat, top with asparagus, and place in a 350 degree oven for 4 to 7 minutes, till set.  A great quick breakfast or serve with a salad for lunch.