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.