Friday, August 30, 2013


 From my Petaluma Post column.

It is the middle of August, your garden is going great and there is squash everywhere. Zucchini, Crookneck, Romesco, Pattypan, oh my!   What to do.  A vegetable sauté is nice, you just grill it with olive oil, it is always a hit.  But there is so much more.

One of my favorite tricks is to julienne the squash on a mandolin, a French grater.  I grate the squash lengthwise down to the seeds, leaving the seed area intact.  This gives you nice long strands.  I have never been a fan of raw summer squash, as I didn’t like the texture.  However with a little marinade or heat it turns out great.
Summer Squash Slaw
(serves 4)
2 lbs Zucchini, washed and julienned - yields about 4 cups
1 red bell pepper, cut in thin stips
¼ cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
½ cup celery, thinly sliced
4 oz kidney beans
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 Tbl Sugar
½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients, then allow to sit 45 minutes to allow it time to marinate and the zucchini to wilt. Serve cold.  This can be made 24 hours in advance.  This is a great salad, with no mayonnaise and will hold up very well.

Something else I found surprisingly good was using julienned zucchini to get a great carb free dish by substituting it for pasta.  Yes, I know that sounds awful, but it is actually quite good.

Zucchini Spaghetti
(serves 2)
2 lbs Zucchini, washed and julienned-  yields about 4 cups
1 Tbl salt
3 Tbl olive oil
2 cup Marinara sauce
Parmesan to taste

Place the zucchini julienne is a bowl with salt, toss well and allow to sit for 30 minutes, during which the zucchini will wilt and put off water.  Then drain it and rinse well.  Next heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, add in the zucchini and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until tender.  Add the marinara and heat through.  Serve with parmesan.

I love SomTom, a Vietnamese green papaya salad.  However finding the green papaya is not always that easy.  So I have made it with this julienne as well.

Zucchini SomTom
2 cups of shredded Zucchini
½ cup cherry tomoates, cut in half
¼ cup fresh green beans, cut 1”, then smashed with your knife
¼ cup chopped thai basil
Juice of ½ lime
¼ cup brown sugar
1 Tbl fish sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbl of toasted peanuts, chopped

Combine, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, and lime.  Set this aside.  Combine the zucchini, green beans, basil and tomatoes and toss well.  Next mix in the dressing.  Finally top with the chopped peanuts.  This goes great with barbequed pork or chicken.

Ratatouille is a very classic French stew.  While it is considered a peasant dish, it is normally a complicated dish that can take a lot of prep, but I have lightened up the recipe to make it quick and easy with things you might normally have in your garden.

Quick Ratatouille
2 cup medium chop zucchini
2 cup medium chop yellow squash
1 cup bell pepper, cut in thin strips
1 medium onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic
2 cup chopped garden tomatoes
¼ cup chopped basil
½ Tbl dried thyme
1 cup thick sliced mushrooms
½ cup olive oil

Prep all of your vegetables and set aside.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the garlic, onion and thyme, and sauté till golden brown.  Add the squash, mushrooms and peppers, sauté until wilted.  Next add the tomatoes, and bring to a simmer and reduce.  -Finish with basil and salt and pepper.  Serve with some toasted hearty bread.

One of my favorite recipes as a kid was a zucchini fritter, yes I even liked zucchini as a kid!  But, seriously, anything is good in a fritter.  This is a home style recipe.

Zucchini Fritter
2 cup Bisquick or other biscuit mix
1 cup zucchini
½ cup grated parmesan
1 Tbl dried Italian seasoning
2 eggs
1 cup milk (approx.)

Combine all the dry ingredients, stir in the eggs, then the milk.  You can make this batter as thick or thin as you like.  Thicker would be a fritter, but thinner would make a great pancake.  You might want to top with the ratatouille? Mmm

From here you can finish two ways.  Cook as a regular pancakes, for the thicker batter you might need to finish in the oven. Or you can drop in to a deep fat fryer and serve like a hush puppy.  If you are interested in a more detailed discussion, see my blog ( and search for “fritters”, there is a good article on the differences and how to make Hushpuppies, Beignets or Fritters.

And never forget your favorite zucchini bread recipe.  This summer enjoy the summer squash!

And when winter arrives don't forget this incredible Butternut Bisque!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


 From my Petaluma Post column:

Is there any other single word that makes you as happy?  Having dinner with friends last night we discussed how much everyone loves pie.  To me it is one of the easiest of things to bake.  It is just one unit, not baking a dozen cookies and unlike a cake you bake it and you are done, no filling, no frosting.  So with July upon us it is time for pie season!

The first and most basic part is the crust.  To many people a very daunting task.  I have a very basic recipe that I really love.  I have edited it from one originally from Martha Stewart; she had a very good crust to start with, I think this could be eaten plain!

Amber’s Pie Crust
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
2¼ cup flour, I use all purpose
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
4 Tbsp ice water, but could be up to 6 Tbsp

You will also want a food processor with cutting blade or plastic blade.

Place the flour in first along with the salt and sugar, then top with butter.  Begin pulsing, about 4 to 5 quick shots, until it is a crumbly mix.  Open the machine and sprinkle 3 table spoons of ice water, then pulse a couple of times, if necessary add up to 3 more table spoons of water and pulse.  The dough should be soft and crumbly; do not let it come all the way to a ball.  Remove from the machine to a floured table top.

Here is where many people go wrong; your dough does not need to be smooth and perfect.  It is better if it is still a bit rough. Cut the dough in half since this is enough for 2 crusts (Really? You’re only making one pie?)  Form it into a rough ball and roll out gently. Place in pie pan and save the second piece for a second pie or a top crust.

Now to the fillings!  My favorite fruit is apricots, jam, pies, bars… to me you cannot go wrong.  I love an apricot pie with a streusel topping.

Apricot Filling

1 9” pie crust, raw
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp flour
3 cup fresh apricots
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp lemon juice

Cut the apricots in ¼ pieces, and toss with lemon juice.  Toss flour with sugar then add to the apricot mix, pour into the pie shell.  Place bit of butter on top.  Top with streusel topping.  Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour; juices should be bubbly and clear.  You may have noticed that I choose to use flour over cornstarch.  In my opinion flour adds body and texture that you just don’t get with cornstarch.

Streusel Topping
2/3 cup flour
1/3  cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
6 Tbsp butter, cold

Place all ingredients in food processer and process till crumbly.

Another of my absolute favorites is Gravenstein apple pie.  A Sonoma county favorite.  The apples come into season late July to early August.  Making pies from these apples is a tradition.  I great note is that they freeze really well. It goes well with either a streusel or crust top.

Gravenstein Filling
1 9” pie shell
4 cup peeled, sliced apples
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp butter

Follow same directions as the apricot pie.

This piecrust is also great for refrigerator pies - that is a cold pie.  Prepare and roll out the same pie crust, and place in refrigerator to chill for approximately 30 minutes.  Then you need to “blind bake” your crust.  This means baking without filling.  Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork, then line with foil or parchment paper, fill with pie weighs or raw beans.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden.

Now time for a filling.  I love a tuxedo pie; a chocolate pie with whipped cream topping.

Chocolate Marquis Filling
10 oz chocolate chips
4 oz butter
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp sugar

Melt the chocolate chips and butter over double boiler.  Whip the egg whites with sugar to medium peaks.  Then fold together and go directly into baked pie crust.

Whipped Cream Topping
1 cup whipped cream
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whip to soft peaks, then spoon over chocolate and allow to chill for 2 to 3 hours.

I love pie, hope you enjoy!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sunday Brunch

From my column in the Petaluma Post:

Who doesn’t love a lazy Sunday morning, is there anything more relaxing than brunch? Fifty one weeks of the year the answer is no, until that one morning in May.  Mother’s Day!  You want to make that one person feel like a queen, so the pressure is on.  But brunch can still be simple.  Here are a few of my favorite and easy recipes to add to your brunch menu.

Personal Frittatas
This is a great item that you can make with the kids; by using a muffin pan each person can make their own.  Kids might like to stay with ham and cheese, but my favorite is asparagus and goat cheese.  This gets everyone a little involved in the kitchen and somehow that personal sized item just adds a little something extra to the impression.  Of course you could just make up a variety in advance and have them ready to go; they hold in the refrigerator well and be easily re-warmed in the microwave.

Start with a muffin pan well sprayed with Pam.

18 eggs, blended
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Use anything you like, but I’m always a fan asparagus tips, sautéed mushrooms, goat cheese, grated cheese, chopped ham, and prosciutto.

Allow each person to place their choice in one or two muffin cups, but do not overfill, then add the egg mixture to each up cup to about ¾ full.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes till fluffy and firm.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes then turn out.  You can return to the oven to keep them warm.

Corn Bread Waffles
with honey, mascarpone and strawberries

I’ve only recently been introduced to cornbread waffles, and I think I may like them better than regular waffles.  The use of cornmeal in these waffles adds a great bit of texture and makes them a bit more sturdy.   My sister came across them on Pinterest, topped with chili; which I tried for dinner just the other night.  But for brunch I’d recommend something a bit more breakfast like strawberries and mascarpone.  After the frittatas come out of the oven you can turn the oven off and use it to hold the waffles.

Cornbread waffles

Yield 3-4 waffles
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1Tbl baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup oil

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients.  You want it to be a bit on the thin side.  Preheat the waffle iron to medium heat, and place approximately ¾ cup of batter per waffle.

Strawberry Topping
4 cup sliced strawberries
1 orange zest and juice
2 Tbl honey
Mix together and allow the flavors to blend for 10 to 15 minutes.

Plus about ½ cup mascarpone, plus honey to drizzle.  Simply spread each waffle with mascarpone, top with strawberries and drizzle with honey.

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins
Yield 12-18 medium sized muffins
This is another great recipe to try with the kids.  The use of oil in the recipe makes it very quick to stir up, and can be used for muffins or coffee cake.  In fact this is the recipe that I use with the Rainbow Girls (the youth group I’m involved in) every year for their coffee cake fundraiser; if you been fortunate to get one in the past you know how good they are.  They also freeze very well, so keep it mind come the holidays in case you want to do some baking.

¾ cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup blue berries
If using frozen blueberries, toss in about 1 tablespoon of flour to coat to prevent their color from bleeding into the batter.

Combine the eggs, sour cream and vegetable oil, and mix until eggs are blended.  Combine the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients.  Fold in blue berries, and scoop into lined muffin cups.  Bake at 350 degree for 15 to 18 minutes.

Friday, August 16, 2013

To be or not to be VEGAN

 From my Petaluma post column:

Years ago people were vegetarian, now the trend is moving towards Vegan.  But what exactly is vegan?  This diet choice does not consume any animal product or anything produced by an animal (eggs, milk, cheese) I have even come across some that will not eat honey (produced by bees).  When you hear this you may be quick to think that there is nothing left but lettuce for them to eat.  But truly there are some great menu options out there.

When planning menus for vegan events it is important to consider how to make it a balanced meal.  In a balanced meal you need Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins.  The first two are easy but protein can be more difficult.  I usually start with it.  Some of my favorite ways to get protein are in beans, nuts and grains.  One of the best grains out there is quinoa. This Peruvian grain contains all of your essential amino acids.  It can be used as a hot dish in a pilaf or is great as a cold grain in a light salad.  Black beans are another one of my favorites.  I feel that along with a balanced meal it is important to feel sated, that full feeling. We make a black bean cake that has a great filling feeling.  Served with a cool avocado salsa is a great main course.

Black Bean Cake Recipe 
2 x 14 oz cans black beans, drained well
2 cloves garlic, ground
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup Masa

Place well drained black beans in a mixing bowl, using a potato masher begin mashing and add seasonings.  Do not over mash, it should be chunky and not soupy.  Stir in the masa, which should thicken to be handleable (more masa might be needed for wetter beans).  Form in to patties and chill 30 to 45 minutes.  Finish by sautéing on both sides in canola oil/

Avocado Salsa (a chunky guacamole)
1 avocado, medium firm, diced
1 roma tomato, diced
2 Tbl chopped cilantro
½ mango diced
½ lime, juice
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients (feel free to add additional items), then chill well.  Serve over warm black bean cakes.

When it comes to carbohydrates you need to think just outside the box.  Pasta contains eggs, mashed potatoes contain milk, mac and cheese- you just can’t go there.  One of our favorites is risotto.  Yes classic risotto contains cheese, but do the cooking method long and slow, and the creaminess comes from the rice and makes a great dish.  Last year we had a wedding and did this green pea risotto that was a total hit.  With a bright green hue from the pea pure and a roasted vegetable stock.  No one will ever know.

Green Pea Risotto

1 cup Arborio rice
½ small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
½ tsp thyme, dried
1 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock, heated  (several good ones are available commercially)
2 Tbl olive oil
1 cup fresh or frozen peas, pureed (a bit extra for garnish)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy bottom pot heat the olive oil on a medium heat, and sauté the onions and garlic till translucent.  Add the Arborio rice and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until the rice is glossy and well covered.  Begin adding the white wine, stirring gently; when the wine has been absorbed to a wet sand look then add your first cup of stock.  The rice should be simmering and not boiling rapidly.  Each addition of stock should take about 5 minutes.  Continue adding the next 2 cups of stock slowly, stirring continuously.  Test rice for doneness; the kernel should be firm but not crunchy.  If still to firm add the last cup of stock.  Just before serving test for flavor and add pea puree.  Garnish with a few whole peas.

To change your personal recipes to vegan, look if you can substitute olive oil for butter and vegetable stock for chicken or beef.  When making a soup, think of adding beans in place of the meat.  Don’t be afraid of vegan cooking.  Don’t think of it as meatless; think of it as a chance to try a new recipe.

 You can find some more vegan inspiration on Preferred Sonoma Caterers menu page,  And I'm particularly proud of this vegan wedding menu, especially the stuffed squash blossoms!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wedding Bells Are Ringing

Advice from my Petaluma Post column on planning your wedding...

Wedding bells are ringing, not yet for you, but loud and clear here at the catering company.  For actually catering events we are in our slow time of the year, but with the brides we are bustling.  Did you get you ring for Christmas, New Year’s or maybe Valentines?  You are wondering where to start to make your big day happen.  I have been catering wedding for nearly 25 years and thought I could help out with a few hints.  I tend to be very logical and a bit less bridal, perhaps it will help you start out.

The Date!  Very often this is the first thing that is set.  I recommend choosing a month vs an exact date, unless it has a sentimental reason.  Why you ask?  As you start looking you might pass by a great location or caterer if you are focused on a specific date.  Maybe the next weekend would work out too.  Choose a season that like and work within it.

First things to book are the site and the caterer.  You know the site can only take one event in a day, and many caterers like us can only take one or two in a given day. 

For your site, here are some questions to think about:  Can you have both the ceremony and reception in the same location?  How many guests do they hold? (this can help keep your guest list down if they are limited)  Indoors or out?  If bad weather happens is there a backup place on property?  Price, this can really be a decision maker.  Remember to think outside the box, family homes, parks and beaches can be a great settings.

For caterers, plan this to take up to 6 to 8 weeks to find, confirm and plan.  We have an initial discussion with our couples to create the event you have in mind.  I suggest you come with ideas, and a budget in mind.  Not every wedding is Lobster and Filet but it can still be yummy and fun.  What are your favorite foods?  Where did you meet?  This is a day for the two of you so add your special touches.  Then we create an estimate with menu, rentals and costs.  After that we often do a tasting.  I highly recommend at least one site visit with my clients to complete the plans.

The next thing to book should be what is most important to you.  Is it pictures of a life time, the bouquet you will carry down the aisle or rocking the night away to a hot DJ?

When thinking about your DJ or band there are many things to consider.  Bands have a great energy, but a DJ can play a wider variety of your favorite songs.  A DJ is more cost effective, while bands can sometimes have additional requests you will have to fill (stage, lighting, special food requirements).  When looking at DJs there are independents and DJ companies that might have several to choose from.  When working with a company I recommend that you meet your DJ, you want to make sure that you match well.  Also how active do you want your DJ to be?  Just play music?  Make announcements?  Some will even bring costumes and teach line dancing.

Photography can be very important, in 20 years you won’t have a piece of cake left, but you will have you photos.  A current trend is to have an engagement session with your potential photographer - this is a great idea.  Make sure their style and ideas blend well with you.  Maybe you don’t want to stand in a fountain or you are a bit more adventurous it is good for your photographer to know.  I always recommend that you make a photo list if there is anyone outside of traditional family that you would like photos with.  It is also a great idea to designate a helper, the photographer won’t know who cousin Tony is (is it a girl or a guy even).  But keep in mind you want to enjoy your wedding reception and keep your photos orderly and prompt so you can party!

Flowers are the delicate touch to your day.  When looking a bouquets look at the style and color more than flowers.  The flowers can be very delicate and seasonal.  Flowers that can hold up to an hour of photo shoot might not hold up to a 90 degree wedding day on the top of a mountain.  Be creative bring a bit of whimsy in - are you a country girl with wild flowers, a city girl with a bit of bling?  This is your day.

The piece de resistance is your wedding cake.  Here we can have lots of fun.  Most cake bakers can take a few to several cakes in a day, so this does not need to be on the top of your list to get done.  Do you like cake?  The tradition of cutting the cake can be done with any dessert.  It is supposed to represent the care that you will take of each other for the rest of your lives.  Assorted desserts are very popular.  Cupcakes and mini pies can be a lot of fun too.  What about an ice cream station?  Have you ever met a dessert you didn’t like?  Neither have your guests

The next few months are going to be very crazy and busy.  Remember to stop and take time for yourself personally and the two of you as a couple.  Turn off Pintrest, put down the magazines and breath.  It will be here before you know it.

You can get more advice from Preferred Sonoma Caterers website... I'd start with Cost Planning.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Do you fondue? A tantalizing Dinner for Two

 From my Petaluma Post column, enjoy...

Wow, you would think we were back in the 70’s, fondue is the thing.  Time to check the cabinets and pull out those fondue forks and set up for a romantic evening.  The barriers to what can be dipped and what you dip it in have expanded; all the old classic fondues are back, along with a lot of new options.  Here are a few of my favorites

Asian Peanut Fondue
½ cup Peanut Butter
½ cup Soy Sauce
1 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 cup Olive Oil
½ cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

Simply mix all the ingredients well.  I like to us my electric hand blender; it does a very thorough job.  Then warm.  I like to warm it on the stove first, but you can just put in your fondue pot over the flame; just remember to stir it a bit.

For dipping, try blanching some of your favorite vegetables, like from fresh cut bell pepper and snap peas, along with some chilled sliced grilled chicken breast.  You can reheat some shu mai that you can pick up frozen at the market.  This is one of my husband’s favorites - he’ll eat anything with peanut sauce.  This is also a great peanut sauce, hot or cold, to add on the side to any Asian dish.

Fondue Trivia: Did you know if you something falls off your fork into the sauce you have to kiss whoever is to you left?

Another great opener is also a classic cheese fondue, which happens to be my favorite.  I love cheese.

Classic Cheese Fondue
1 Tbl Vegetable Oil
1 clove Garlic minced fine
2 Tbl Flour
1 cup White Wine
8 oz shredded Swiss
8 oz shredded Gruyer
½ dry mustard

Place the olive oil and garlic in a heavy bottom sauce pan, and heat till the garlic is just barely cooked; you want to be cautious not to brown or burn.  Remove from heat and add in the flour and stir to make a roux.  Return to heat on medium low, whisk in the white wine.  This will create a thickened sauce.  Bring to boiling lightly for 3 to 5 minutes stirring often.  Turn the heat to low and slowly add the both cheeses.  I recommend using a wood spoon or spatula to keep the bottom of the pot clean so it does not burn.  Then just transfer to the fondue pot.

Dippers for cheese are typically chunks of crispy bread, fresh apple, blanched broccoli or cauliflower, grilled pieces of sausage or asparagus.

Trivia: All dippers should swirl their bread in a figure eight mention, just dipping is bad form (hint: it also helps to stir the cheese).

Classic Oil Fondue
Note:  Please remember that this is using boiling hot oil and should only be done with proper equipment, and should not be left unattended.

This is the type of fondue where you will actually be cooking the dippers in it, not just adding a warm sauce.  Start with a Fondue Pot using a White Gas Burner and 4 to 6 cups of peanut oil.  The reason we must use peanut oil is that it has a high smoking point.  Expect it to take 30 to 45 minutes to get up to temperature (about 300 degrees).  If it smokes, it is too hot.

For dippers here are a few of my favorites:
Tri Tip: Season 1 pound of cubed tri tip, remember to cut into bite size cubes, and marinate in 2 Tbl soy sauce and 1 tsp garlic powder for 1 to 2 hours before cooking.  Drain and pat dry

Crimini Mushrooms: Great additions for your vegetarians, treat the same as tri tip

Italian Meat Balls & Raviolis: Pre-cooked and cooled.  Serve with a side of marinara

Bell Peppers, Red Onions: sliced and raw

The top of the evening should always be a chocolate fondue; this is a great way to finish any dinner!

Chocolate Fondue
1 cup Heavy Cream
2 cups Chocolate Chips, semi sweet

Bring the cream to a boil in a heavy bottom pan, turn the heat off, and stir in chocolate chips till melted.  Yes it is that easy.  This holds really well and can be made ahead and just microwaved when needed.  If you make it ahead try not to eat it all before the party!

Dippers: Fresh fruit like Strawberries, banana pineapple*, kiwi*.  *Wet fruits will be harder as the chocolate will tend to not stick properly.  Cookies, graham crackers, marshmallows and anything you can think of.

You can have some fun here.  Lay out graham crackers with toppings that can then be pre-dipped in marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, almond butter, strawberry jam, and sweet cream cheese.  Your guests can spread then dip. 

For a party or just two, fondue is a lot of fun!