Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Happy Holidays! (Party Planning)

So you have made the decision to throw a holiday party this year, but where do you begin?

First – call your caterer, ha ha.  But, seriously, it is okay to ask for help for all or just part of your party.  But whether doing it all yourself or not, here are some planning tips from our 20 plus years of experience to ease your stress.

What you serve at your party will be determined by what time your guests arrive.  An open house can start at 2pm and just be light hors d’oeuvres, a snack between lunch and dinner.  If inviting guests at 5 to 6pm you should plan enough food to cover dinner; it might not be an actual sit down dinner, but plan on them eating that much.  Inviting guests after 7pm you can just do cheeses and desserts.

An open house is a great way to go for family and friends, especially if kids are involved.  Plan 3 or 4 hors d’oeuvres plus 1 stationed item.  By a station I mean a large focal point, such as an abundant fruit and cheese display.  For a dinner hour party (but not dinner) plan 2 stations plus 4 to 5 hors d’oeuvres, this way if the guests are hungry they can help themselves.  The late evening is a lot of fun, just do a nice cheese display, and make a couple of other items, and ask friends to bring their best dessert.

Don’t feel you need to be traditional just for the sake of it.  Of course, whatever traditions are important to your family you want to keep, but otherwise be creative.  For instance we always host Christmas Eve at our house, and for years we started with hors d’oeuvres, stuffing ourselves because we all love them!  Then waiting until we can barely fit any more to start dinner, and finally forcing dessert, which was a shame because we love dessert too.  But now we just put out a grand buffet of hors d’oeuvres and desserts and nibble all night long!  It allows a huge variety, plenty of food, and everyone can eat at their own pace between presents, conversation and cocktails.

Whatever type of party you are having, when planning your menu you should keep in mind three balances.  First is pre-prepped items versus things that must be done at the last minute (ala-minute). Second, hot versus cold items.  Third is purchased versus homemade.

Purchased versus homemade – what do you have time to make?  Can a part of something be bought and you finish it; semi-home-made?  Save making things to those items that are your personal or family favorites, where that homemade touch really comes across.

Now that you have decided what to make versus purchase, what is your prep schedule like?  Doing everything the day of party can get very hectic and leave you too tired and stressed to be a good hostess, and don’t forget you want to enjoy your party too.  What can be done a day or two before?  In part or in whole?  For instance most sauces and salsas can be made 2 days in advance.  Vegetable prep for sautés or crudités can be cut and bagged the day before.  Some great items to think about are puff pastry rollups filled with ham and cheese or pesto that you can just pull out of the freezer and bake.  Homemade meat balls can be made a week in advance and just reheated.

Hot versus cold versus room temperature items make can make a big difference.  How long can a hot item be hot and still be good and how will you keep it hot?  How long can a cold item be out of the refrigerator and how much refrigeration do you have?   Many items can be cooked in advance and just reheated, only tying up the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.  Spanakopita and empanadas can be easy hot items.  Buy smaller baking sheets that can fit side by side in the oven for a greater variety.

Keep room temperature items in mind if refrigeration will be an issue.  Baked goods, sweet or savory, are usually a good choice.  Some wet items can be safe at room temperature for hours; their key trait is usually be very salty or acidic; think dried salted meats, pickled items, or others in a high salt or vinegar environment.  For instance, although it’s odd to think about leaving fish out, cured salmon (lox), ceviche, and smoked oysters are safe at room temp for periods of time.  But, even these should be covered and out of the sun or particularly warm locations.

And lastly, do you have enough plates and glassware?  Or will some of your guests be enjoying that award will Pinot Noir out of a Flintstones glass?  Rentals are easy and can ease your clean up too.  I plan 2 glasses per person for a cocktail party.  For 30 guests with wine and cocktails I would order 25 wine glasses, 20 cocktail and 15 water to use for back up.  I use JRB Event Services and Encore Events (aka Cal-West) for rentals.  Just call them a week or two in advance to arrange what you need; for small amounts you can usually arrange to pick them up the day before and return the day after the party.  Larger quantities can be delivered.

Always remember your ice.  I have found that extra ice makes everyone happy.  When that guests asks what to bring - ask for ice; they can pick it up on the way and no one needs to find freezer space to store it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Caramel, ‘tis the Season

Here's my Petaluma Post article from September/October:

Is there any sweeter time of year than fall? My absolutely favorite time of year.  The chill in the air, the smell of falling leaves, the first rains.  It is time to be cozy and warm.  The perfect time to cook!

Whether dipping apples or drizzling on cobbler caramel is the essence of fall.  That deep caramelized sugar with notes of vanilla bring back child hood memories.  I am not talking those small plastic wrapped candies that you had to sit and unwrap, my memories are the wonderful smell of caramelizing sugar with butter and vanilla. There are so many ways to use caramel.

To caramelize - the browning of sugars.  This is one of the most used terms in cooking.  Don’t think just sugar.  It is usually the first step in most recipes, from searing beef to caramelized onions.  In meats it is the Maillard reaction, causing carbohydrates in meat to brown at 310 degrees.  In baking it is carbohydrates - sugars begins to brown at 260 degrees.  It is what makes toast brown and French fries golden.  And what makes sugar into caramel.

Today I want to talk about desserts. There are two ways I usually caramelize sugar, dry and wet.  Each one has its own uses.  Dry method is quicker and results in a hard crack caramelized sugar good for candies and flan.  Where your wet method stays soft and is great for sauces and soft candies.  There are some key elements that are essential to both; time, attention and a heavy bottom pan.  Remember you are boiling something to 260 degrees, that is hotter than boiling water and it is sticky, if you burn yourself it will stick to you and blister very quickly, please use caution.

For the dry method you will need a heavy sauce pan, wooden spoon, and an immediate place to put the hot caramel.  A heavy bottomed sauce pan is important to distribute the heat evenly, otherwise you will get burnt spots.  And remember the heat from the pot will continue to cook your caramel once off the stove, so you should transfer as soon as possible.

Dry Caramelized Sugar
Place your heavy bottom pan on the stove and add sugar.  The sugar has a small quantity of moisture and it will begin to melt and puddle.  Stir gently, it will go from clear to an amber color, once the color begins to turn reduce the heat to low, continue to stir and watch closely as the color increases. Remove at dark golden and finish your recipe.  What you do next depends on your recipe, but get it out of the hot pan.  If the sugar begins to smoke you have gone too far and it will be bitter, so just throw it out and try again.  Some of the recipes this can be used in is brittles, flan, spun sugar and croquembouches.

¾ cup Sugar
4 eggs
1 can Sweet and Condensed Milk
1 can Evaporated Milk

Caramelize the sugar as we did in the Dry Caramelized Sugar method, and pour it into a 9” round cake pan.  Allow to cool until hard.  Next, combine the eggs and milks, and whisk well, but to not whip, you don’t want too many bubbles.  Place the cake pan in a roasting pan, and pour the egg and milk mixture into the cake pan.  Add water to the roasting pan to about half way up the cake pan to create a water bath.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.  Remove the cake pan from the roasting pan and chill for 2 to 3 hours.  To release run a knife tip around the edge and invert on to your serving dish.

I love caramel sauce, not butterscotch, true caramel sauce.  And what could be better than adding just a bit of sea salt.  The intense sweetness cut with just that pop of salt - oh yeah!  This next recipe uses the wet method of caramelization.  This means that you will be starting your caramel with water to boil.

Wet Caramelized Sugar
1 cup Sugar
¼ cup Water
¾ cup Cream
3 Tbl butter
1 tsp Sea Salt

Combine water and sugar in a thick bottom pan, stir or swirl gently. Try to avoid splashes in the pot; sugar is a crystal and wants to go back to crystal form, not stay a liquid, so if you splash crystals up onto the sides of your pot they can fall back down into your liquid and cause it to recrystallize (in French is called masse), making your caramel look opaque and grainy.

Bring to a gentle boil, stirring gently.  As the sugar begins to color watch closely and turn down the heat to a medium low.  You are looking for a mid to dark amber color, since you are adding cream you need to get enough color out of the sugar for good color in the sauce.  One of my techniques is to drizzle caramel from the spoon into the pot, look at the thin stream for color, the pot will look darker than the drizzle.  Look to the drizzle for your color.

Remove from the heat.  This next step is tricky.  You are going to add the cream and the butter into the pan.  Remember you have boiling hot sugar at this time and you are adding liquid back in, it is going to boil hot and fast.  Using a long handle spoon, gently pour cream into the sugar stirring as you can, then add the butter.  If it begins to harden, continue to stir and return to the stove if necessary.  Finish with sea salt.

This is a great sauce for many desserts, like baked apples, pumpkin pie and is especially great with chocolate


Friday, August 15, 2014

Barbeque Challenge

Here's my August column from the Petaluma Post...

Can you believe that it is already August?  The summer goes by so fast!  But there is still time to get out and enjoy those beautiful evenings. There is nothing better than barbequing to do that.  Here is the challenge that I threw at a group of friends for dinner one night.  Everything on the menu must come off of the BBQ.  We had cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, salad, entrée and even dessert; all off the grill.

Of course, we started with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.  The cocktail was a grilled peach and bourbon splash with a charred oak swizzle stick.  Cocktails are no longer made with just your simple fresh fruit juices and sodas; there is a new area of flavors coming from shrubs and tinctures.  A shrub is a fruit and vinegar combination that is sweetened and can also be used to make sodas by adding seltzer.  A tincture is an alcohol extract from an herb.  I choose to make something like a shrub, although I omitted the vinegar for this particular recipe. First grilling my peaches on the BBQ, and then combining with lemon juice, sugar and water.  Simmer to release the flavors then stain to get just the liquid.

Grilled Peach “Shrub”
Grilled Peach and Bourbon Splash
5 peaches, split in half and pitted
1 cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
2 cup water

Turn your barbeque up to high heat and allow to heat thoroughly; the grates need to be hot for the peaches not to stick.  Place the peaches on the grill, and cook until all sides are well marked (some burn is ok) and the peach is soft.  Then transfer them to a cooking vessel add the other ingredients, bring to a simmer.  Mash the fruit when tender; I used a potato masher.  Continue to simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the desired flavor.  Then strain and chill.

Grilled Peach & Bourbon Splash
1 shot Bourbon
2 shots peach shrub
Club Soda to finish
Served over ice

Shake it well and serve over ice, with a slice of grilled peach on the charred oak swizzle stick for garnish.  It was quite good, but I think I’ll need to try it with a real shrub; I think a little acidity from the vinegar would pair well.

The hors d’oeuvre of the night was a lot of fun too.  Perfect match for the bourbon cocktail! Grilled bacon wrapped onion rings!  You’ve got to live Pinterest.

Bacon Onion Rings
2 lbs bacon - thinner strips 16-20 pieces per pound
2 or 3 large onions
2 Tbl or more Sriracha

Carefully clean the onions, careful not to cut through the rings.  Then cut the onions into half to three quart inch slices.  Break apart to create the rings, leaving 2 ti 3 layers together.  Brush well with Sriracha.  Wrap each ring with 2 to 3 slices of bacon, varying by the size of ring as appropriate.  Use a bamboo skewer to hold the bacon in place and the rings together.  Then BBQ on low, being careful since the bacon can splatter and give you flame ups.  Grill for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them, you want the bacon to be very crisp, but not burnt. Serve with a Sriracha mayonnaise. So, is wrapping something in bacon healthier than battering and deep frying it?  Not really the point of this, but interesting.  By the way, most people will only eat one or two of these; they are 2 to 3 pieces of bacon each.

Our salad course was a grilled romaine with lemon and parmesan. Yes, you can put lettuce on the BBQ.  Romaine heads work well, the structure allows you to cut the head in half lengthwise and have all of the leave stay attached.  Brush lightly with olive oil, place cut side down on the grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.  This will just lightly grill the edges and begin to wilt the center.  Drizzle with fresh lemon juice and sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese, yum.

Our entree of the night was grilled sausages (thank you Thistle Meats).  We tried their mild Italian and a fresh lamb sausage, which were both excellent.  Thistle Meats is a premium specialty butcher featuring locally sourced meats (and you can also get a very good sandwich there too).  They are located at 160 Petaluma Boulevard North, right in the first block of downtown.

How to finish off the evening with a grilled dessert?  No not s’mores, but angel food cake.  Cut the angel food cake into individual serving sizes, turning the grill down to low and toasting each slice.  The flavor was like fresh toasted marshmallow and pound cake.  Then top with strawberries and whipped cream.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Grill, Grill, Grill

Here's my July column from the Petaluma Post...

Summer time is here and the grill is heating up.  Steaks, chicken, and hot dogs, but there is so much more…

Have you ever thought of a grilled salad?  Both savory and sweet items can be a great addition.  Try adding some grilled fruit to a spinach salad, the sugars in the fruit will caramelize and add a great flavor.  Peaches are a favorite; figs, plums, apples and pears are excellent finished with a drizzle of Honey and Balsamic.  Dress your salad with a light fruity dressing, pair with Chèvre or crumbled blue for an added zing.

Spinach Salad with Grilled Fruit
2 peaches
1 apple
6 figs
Olive Oil, salt and pepper

8 oz baby spinach
2 oz crumbled blue or Chèvre
1/3 cup fruit vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Honey to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp Honey
1 tsp balsamic

Cut the peaches in quarters, core and slice the apple into ½ inch rounds, halve the figs, then toss lightly in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Next thread the figs on bamboo skewers to keep intact. Grill everything for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown and tender.  Allow them to cool, then slice the peaches, apples and figs into bite size pieces. Display on a platter.

Combine balsamic with honey, and drizzle over the  grilled fruit to finish

Combine the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and honey to create a vinaigrette, then toss with the spinach and cheese.

Grilled vegetables are a staple at our house; zucchini, yellow squash, and asparagus are some of our all-time favorites. In the last couple of years I have been adding some other great items.  Have you tried baby carrots?  Slices of butternut squash?  Tomatillos- have a great tang!  When doing vegetables for large events we often bring in a piece of diamond grate (expanded metal mesh) to make sure the vegetables don’t fall through the grill; you can pick this up at any hardware store.  When prepping our vegetables we sort into two categories, hard and soft.  The hard vegetable will take longer to grill, such as carrots, squash, cauliflower, ½ cut onions.  Soft vegetables are zucchini, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, and tomatillos.

Toss very lightly in olive oil, salt and pepper and your favorite herbs.  Do note, toss very lightly in olive oil, extra oil with cause flare ups which will cause smoke and you will get black soot on your vegetables.  We like to grill our vegetables first, just under done.  Then grill your meats and while they are resting, you can place the covered vegetable back on the grill to reheat and finish cooking.

Have you ever heard of a grilled cocktail?  Adding smoke is a great addition to your summer drinks.  Mescal is a typically smoky variant of tequila (technically tequila is a type of mescal).  Try using it in your next margarita to add a great smoky flavor.  To take that up a notch think about doing grilled limes for an added touch.  They are very easy to do, just split the limes and place on the hottest area of your grill for 5 to 6 minutes.  Juice as normal and add to you cocktail.  FYI: Mario & Johns has a good selection of Mescals (and everything else) and are happy to talk about them.

Mescal Margarita
1½  oz mescal
½  oz triple sec (or Cointreau)
1 oz fresh lime juice (fresh never bottled!)
Lime wedge for garnish
Salt the rim if the glass (optional)

I love the grilled peaches so much that I did it for our open house 5 years ago and I still get requests.

Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone
2 lbs peaches cut in half
8 oz mascarpone
2 Tbl honey
1 Tbl balsamic
2 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper
Crostini or crackers

Follow the instructions for grilling peaches, expect this time you will cut the peaches in thin slices.  For a display, mound the mascarpone in the center of the platter, surround with the grilled peaches.  Combine the honey and balsamic, and drizzle over the peaches then finish with the olive oil, salt and pepper.

For some more grilling inspirations see my blog ( and search for grilled.  You find grilled artichokes, pork steak (a great cut), and grilled delicata squash salad.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It’s hard to be humble... when you are the perfect chocolate chip cookie

Here's my June column from the Petaluma Post...

Is there any truer American dessert than the chocolate chip cookie?  You might say apple pie, but no we brought that with us from France and Germany.  You might say ice cream, but again that is French.  But the humble chocolate chip cookie was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn, in Whiteman, Massachusetts. It was a very popular restaurant that featured home cooking in the 1930s. 

Traditionally it is a drop cookie studded with chocolate chips in a vanilla laced butter cookie dough.  It sounds easy, what could go wrong?  Oh so much!  There is an art to it.

When making the simplest things your ingredients are essential.  You will hear chefs say that you should never cook with wine that you wouldn’t drink.  This is true with your cookies; with only 7 ingredients go with the best.

Here at PSC we have cookies on our counter for takeout, our Chocolate Chip cookies rock; that is just not me talking.  We sell close to 3000 cookies just from the counter, not counting all the lunches and parties that have them as well.  I have been asked many times for the recipe, this time I will share.

PSC’s Chocolate Chip Cookie

1 cup butter
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2¼ cup flour, all purpose
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cup chocolate chips

Mix flour salt and baking soda, set a side.  Then cream the butter with both sugars, add the egg and vanilla, mixing until smooth and creamy.  Next add the dry ingredient mix until combined, and finish with chocolate chips.  Chill the dough overnight (skipping this step will yield a very different cookie, 12 to 24 hours is preferable).  Now make the dough into 2” balls, and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

Butter - One thing I will say is yes butter, only butter.  I love butter.  Butter is made up of 3 components, fats, solids and water.  Each one of these is an important element, fat is for texture, the solids add great flavor, and the water works as a leavening ingredient.  If substituting shortening you will need to add approximately 2 tablespoons of water to the dough.  If using margarine, then use the stick variety not the soft serve.  But again only use butter!

Sugar - I am a believer in cane sugar, good old C&H.  Many people believe that brown sugar is less processed than white sugar, but in this day and age sorry to say no.  They take white sugar and add molasses back in.  You can use dark brown sugar if you have it but I would use less and add a bit more white sugar to keep the balance.  Sugar is one of the keys to a crisp or chewy cookie.  More white sugar a crisp cookie, more brown sugar a chewy cookie.

Vanilla - Pure and simple, keep it that way. 

Egg - Like most standard recipes this is one large egg.  The volume of 1 large egg is 2 ounces, with about 1.15 ounces of white, and .85 ounce of yolk.  Eggs are very important as they serve two purposes.  They are a binder, holding the cookie together and they also work as a leavener.  Too much egg and the cookies will spread and be thin.

Flour - I stick with all-purpose flour; here at the catering company we don’t carry cake and bread.  Flour will change the tooth of the cookie; cake flour won’t have enough tooth and bread flour with make your cookie too dense.  Your flour will also change throughout the year.  We may edit our cookies once or twice per year for both moisture in the air and the changes in flour. If your cookies are too thin, then add another 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour, and if too thick just the opposite.

Salt - To me it is very important as it accentuates flavors.  I use salted butter so I cut my salt in half.  So often when you have a dessert that just does not hit the point it is missing salt.  If you want to add a decadent touch, before baking sprinkle the cookies with just a few flakes of sea salt.  It will bring the vanilla notes out and sweeten the chocolate chips.

Baking soda - Sodium bicarbonate, this is your key leavening agent.  Baking soda needs an acid to react (this will come from the sugar).  If you use baking powder the cookies will come out with a more cake like texture.

Chocolate chips - I really am a fan of semi-sweet. I think the bitter notes show well against the sweet cookie.  Milk chocolate to me is just too sweet and dark chocolate gets lost.

You’ll see in my recipe that I say to chill your dough; that is one of our secrets.  We make cookie doughs 2 or 3 times per week and store them in a refrigerator, pulling out to bake just what we need at that time.  This changes the texture of the cookie.  By allowing the flour to sit with the moisture from the egg and the butter, gluten protein starts to develop.  That gives us a heavier and chewier cookie.

Now to baking.  We bake everything at 350 degree.  I would rather bake cookies a minute more at a lower temp than brown too much.  Our final secret (don’t tell anyone) happens when you remove you cookies from the oven.  The cookies have risen to a nice dome, and this is where the secret to a chewy moist cookie lies.  The dome is created by steam from the baking soda, butter and egg.  You want to capture that in your cookie, by thumping the cookie sheet, just a little rap on the counter will do.  This will cause the cookie to fall, the condensation will be held inside and add moisture to the cookie keeping it chewy.

Now all you need is a big glass of milk! Enjoy.

Are You Crafty? (Craft Cocktails)

Here's my May column from the Petaluma Post...

I’m not talking arts and crafts, I’m talking craft cocktails.  Bourbon and gin are not just for your grandpa anymore.  Don’t say yuck!  It wasn't that many years ago that I didn't care for either of these, but I was introduced to them in well crafted cocktails, then grew to appreciate the complexities of finely made spirits from small craft distillers.

Food and beverage have always gone hand in hand. What is an elegant dinner without a selection of wines?  However times are changing, and spirits are becoming a very popular choice.  Whether serving straight spirits to pair with the menu or mixing custom cocktails to complement each course or the theme of the meal, this is an increasingly popular trend.

What is a spirit?  This is distilled liquor aka hard liquor.  Most popular is Vodka, an American original is Bourbon.  There are local makers of Gin, Vodka, Bourbon and more.

I have had a great time the last couple of years playing with both Bourbon and Scotch.  I have paired with local non-profits to host specialty dinners.  We have worked with the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum on an annual Scotch tasting dinner for the past two years, and with the Petaluma Arts Center on a Bourbon tasting dinner last year.  This year was a sellout crowd of over 100 scotch enthusiasts.  I enjoyed working with a whisky master to choose the scotches by style and region.  Much like wine they can vary greatly by the region they come from, from clean and fruity to dark peaty and smoky.

At the last Scotch dinner we paired a Gorgonzola Mousse with a Lagavulin 16 year old scotch.  This is one of the smokiest of the scotches, and I’m not a fan of this one, as it is just too much smoke and peat.  But pairing with the Gorgonzola transformed it; the mousse was strong enough to both stand up to it and smooth it out.  The Cragganmore, a medium bodied scotch, was paired with Roasted Quail on an Apricot Almond Cous Cous Pilaf; the apricot just made this scotch pop.

Along with tasting and learning more about particular liquors, I enjoy the flavor profiles of creating cocktails.  From using locally grown ingredients and spirits to matching a menu that I am planning, I make it a part of my event menu.

One of my favorites is a Blood Orange Margarita
2 oz blood orange juice
½ oz fresh lime juice (always fresh, not the bottled stuff)
1½ oz tequila (I like an anejo for the caramel flavors)
1 oz orange curacao

Shake vigorously with ice and pour over fresh ice.  This margarita is great made in large quantities and served in a tall jar; just pour over ice at serving time.

I am often found looking for culinary inspiration in local watering holes.  Inspiration… really!  That’s why I’m there.  One of my favorite combinations is at Seared, their Latin Lover, a gin and cilantro based cocktail, served with their salmon carpaccio is a perfect combination!

The Farmers Daughters cocktail at the Social Club was made with fresh peaches and paired just perfectly with their fried chicken.

Located next to us on East D Street is Mario and John’s Tavern, just recently remodeled and reopened.  Nick and Micah have revived a great local location with a craft cocktail style.  Not a pretentious bar from the city, it is warm with Petaluma style, with one of the best collections of spirits I’ve seen.  They are bringing their experience to Petaluma and with a great cocktail menu.  If you get a chance, stop by for a Midtown Mule, an update on the classic Moscow Mule.

After you have enjoyed a drink at a local watering hole and tried a new spirit don’t hesitate to stop by Willabee’s Wine and Spirits to look for locally produced spirits.  I just purchased a bottle of Sonoma Spirit Works Gin- it is incredible.  Sonoma Spirit Works is a craft distiller located in Sebastopol in their new Barlow Center.

Don’t be afraid to add a cocktail to your dinner menu, be creative.  It is a great way to set the stage for the evening.  Recently we did a southern dinner with friends and started out with a Sazerac (a rye based cocktail with Absinthe) paired with fried chicken and waffles as the hor d’oeuvres.  Dinner was Shrimp Etouffee and dessert was peach cobbler

2 oz Rye Whiskey
½ oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes of Peychaud Bitters
A wash of Absinthe

Shake the Rye, simple syrup, and bitters well with ice.  For simple syrup you can substitute about half that much sugar (but make sure to mix it more thoroughly) or one third the amount of agave syrup. Next coat the inside of your serving glass with absinthe and drain most or all of back out.  Absinthe has a very powerful flavor so you only need a little.  Fill the glass with crushed ice and strain the rest into the glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Spirits can be very easy to pair with and will start the evening well.

The Hills Are Alive with Fields of Mustard

Here's my column from the Petaluma Post for April...

As April rolls into Sonoma County our hillsides glow with beautiful yellow mustard blossoms.  But did you
Dandelion Greens
know that you can actually eat them?  The wild mustard plant that we love so much can be found around the world from the Himalayas to Denmark, California to India. 

Growing wild around our area you would not think of eating what so many think of as a weed.  Being a member of the brassica family, like radish/ turnip/broccoli, all aspects of the plant are edible.  The yellow flowers can be picked, yellow, white or purple and tossed in salads to add a light peppery touch.  There are numerous varieties with greens that are eaten, and the seed has been ground for 1000s of years for condiments.  Many consider it a super food being high in vitamins A, C, and D, plus calcium, potassium and iron.

I am not suggesting that you run out to the field and pick your dinner, although many do.  However I would like to recommend taking a different look at your produce basket. Tender mustard greens are the first peek of fresh produce to hit the farmers markets. 

Baby red frill mustard is one of my absolute favorites. In the spring it is tender and lacy and a great addition for spicy salads.

Red Frill Salad
Serves 4
4 oz red frill mustard
1 head escarole (a very hearty leaf green, close in flavor to iceberg)
1 small head fennel, shaved
2 blood oranges, juiced
1 Tbl white wine vinegar
2 Tbl olive oil
1 tsp honey
Salt and pepper to taste
2 oz Chèvre

Trim off the end of the mustard and gently break in to smaller size if necessary.  Cut escarole to bite size pieces, toss with fennel and mustard, and set aside.  Combine, honey, blood orange juice and vinegar, whisk to combine, then whisk in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Toss as needed to coat the greens.  Top with Chevre

Another great use is as an uncooked green.  What do I mean by that?  When making a vegetable sauté I love to throw a hand full of greens in after I have taken the vegetables off the stove, just before serving.  The color just pops, but the integrity of the greens holds up well.  I also often toss my greens with just a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil, and then at plate up put them on the bottom of the plate and top with your hot items.  Grilled
 Salmon or other fish are my favorites, the heat of the meat is just enough to wilt the greens.

Another great spring green is dandelions.  Yes that weed that you pull out of your lawn is also very healthy and edible, but I suggest getting it from your grocer.  The long slender leaves are bright green in color and have a slightly bitter taste.  You want to look for young tender leaves without a thick back vein.  The have a lightly spicy flavor and can be added into many dishes or sautéed on their own.

When cooking greens I like to choose younger greens, usually from the bulk area not bunches. I have found that 6 ounces will be a pretty full bag and about what I need for dinner for 2 people.  It seems that I never have a large enough pot to hold that much; it will wilt down to less than 2 cups at the end, but keeping it all in a small pot is like heard cats.  I have found that if I take a large microwave bowl and place the greens in it and heat for 1 to 2 minutes, they will just begin to wilt and be much easy to handle.

Wilted Greens
1 small onion, sliced
4 strips bacon, chopped
2 Tbl olive oil
6 oz spring mustard, red frill, red rain or dandelion greens
1-2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Wilt greens in a large bowl in the microwave.  Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet, then add the bacon and onions, and sauté until onions are tender and bacon is cooked through.  Add greens to the bacon and onions, toss through until warm.  Finish with balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper

From flowers to dinner, don’t forget to stop and smell the mustard.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scotch Tasting / Pairing Dinner

We're sponsoring another Scotch Tasting Dinner for the Petaluma Museum with Wilibees Wines & Spirits and JRB Event Services

We did one of these a year ago, and then a bourbon dinner.  Both had great reviews!  Take a look at the tasting menu below and get your tickets soon.

Scotch Tasting Dinner
Fundraiser for the Petaluma Museum
Thursday April 10th at 6:00PM


Pairing Menu
Cardhu 12 Year
Shaved Apple Salad on Chicory with a Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Clynelish 14 Year
Seared Sea Scallop on Braised Leeks with Cheese Tuille

Cragganmore 12 Year
Roasted Quail on an Apricot Almond Cous Cous Pilaf

Caol Ila 12 Year
Osso Bucco on Roasted Baby Carrots

Lagavulin 16 Year
Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownie
plus Gorgonzola Mousse with Fresh Pear

$60 per person or $100 per pair
Call 778-4398
Stop by the Petaluma Museum

Seating is limited, so reserve your place soon.

Monday, March 10, 2014

But, But…, No. Butt! Pork Butt That Is

Here's March from the Petaluma Post...

I see lots of chicken, too much tri tip and even more pork loin.  If you can’t guess I am always looking for
Pork Shoulder aka Pork Butt
something new and this time that something new is not new at all.  I have fallen in love with pork butt.  Despite its name this cut does not actually come from anywhere near the butt, it is actually the shoulder. Also known as a Boston Butt, it is a very muscled and marbled cut from the upper shoulder.  Being an area that gets lots of use and movement the meat is a darker red color and has a bit more fat and lots more flavor

Most people use it for pulled pork, a great slow cooked dish that can be done in the oven or the crock pot and serve large groups.  We prepare ours in 70 pound batches cooking at a low temperature overnight.  There are tons of recipes from herbs to coca cola. I like to use a dry rub and cook uncovered long and slow.

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

Place a pork butt in a deep baking dish; there will be lots of run off fat to capture.  You can use a bone in or boneless shoulder.  Bone in will add 1 to 2 hours of additional cooking time. Rub well with the dry rub, and place in a 250 degree oven, and allow to cook overnight; about 8 to 9 hours.  To check for doneness, use tongs to twist the meat; it should pull gently apart.  If using the bone in variety, you can twist the shoulder bone, it should come away easily.  Then allow it to cool before pulling the meat to the desired size pieces.

At this point there are all kinds of uses.  For pulled pork sandwiches, dress with your favorite BBQ sauce and serve on a roll and serve with a classic side of slaw.  Or, simmer in a green chili sauce and serve in corn tortillas for fun tacos. Or, look for a great Asian BBQ sauce and serve with steamed rice.

But if 9 hours of cooking is too long for you, it is also great to slice up and cook on the grill.  Using the boneless shoulder, cut the short way across to create steaks (I like about ¾ of an inch thick).  There will be a few pieces that fall away - those are the chefs nibbles.  Rub with the same dry rub, or an Asian five spice, or event just salt and pepper.  Toss on the BBQ and finish with your favorite sauce. The great flavor of boneless pork ribs but at half the cost.

One of my most recent inspirations is a pork roast.  Cut the roast in half lengthwise and then rub with fennel, thyme and sea salt.  Using butchers twine tie it into long logs, then roast in a 350 degree oven for about 1¼ to -1½  hours, to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  For many years the cooking temp was supposed to be 160 and just last year the USDA lowered the safe temp to 145 degree.  The meat will still have a blush of pink and the juices will not run clear.  I like to pull it at 140 and allow for carry over cooking to 145.  Allow to rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving.  You will never go back to the classic pork loin.  Great carved for a dinner party and just as good for sandwiches the next day.

From pulled pork to the barbeque, take a new look at a classic and be creative.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Here's my next article from the Petaluma Post, enjoy...

We all rush off to work each day with a granola bar or bagel in hand.  Hardly the best way to start the day, but most of us do it.  Saturday or Sunday morning you might go out for brunch, but usually we just don’t have time for breakfast, but why can we only have it in the morning?  Breakfast food is great, so why not dinner.  In our house we call it “brinner”. 

You get home late from work, nothing is thawed and you’re hungry. Very likely there is a carton of eggs in the fridge; there are so many possibilities!  From a quick scramble to a frittata to French toast.  You can make a real and healthy (or not) meal, often easier than dinner, and it feels like a treat.

Frittatas are a great place to start.  This Italian egg dish can use up many of your leftovers in the fridge.  From chopped meats to veggies and grated cheese.

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 eggs, beaten
 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 oz grated cheese, you can use any you like, parmesan is great
1 cup of chopped filling

Broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, ham, sausage, mushrooms, and peppers all make great frittata filling.  The ingredients are endless.

Heat a 10 inch oven proof skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil.  Meanwhile beat the eggs with salt and pepper, then fold in cheese and filling.  Your pan should now be very hot (not smoking), so pour the egg mixture into pan, and stir with heat proof rubber spatula for 2 to 3 minutes.  Then transfer the pan to a 350 degree oven, and bake until the center is set.  If the frittata sticks, put it back on the stove top for just a minute of two and gently release with a rubber spatula.

Some of my favorite combinations are: Potato and Ham with Cheddar, Mushroom and Asparagus with Chèvre, and Cherry Tomatoes and Basil with Parmesan.

I love a tartine; this is an open faced warm sandwich. And to make it a bit more, I love to add a fried egg on top.

1 slice hearty country bread
“Refrigerator Relish” (again anything in the fridge that you can chop up)
1 oz grated cheese, I recommend Cheddar or Jack
1 egg fried

Brush the bread with olive oil and toast lightly in the oven, then top with chopped veg and/or meats, then finish with grated cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted (about 5 minutes).  During this time cook your egg over easy.  Remove the tartine from oven top with egg.  I like it best served with a lightly tossed salad; to me salad is perfect to cut the richness of the eggs.  It’s best with a light vinaigrette.  By the way, Topsy, a new restaurant on Kentucky Street has this on the menu; it’s very good.

I love salad with my eggs.  I find that it cuts down on the richness.  So whether is this is breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast, I like a very classic French salad called Salad Lyonnaise.  This is great at any time of day.

Salad Lyonnaise
2 strips bacon
1 T olive oil
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dijon mustard

2 eggs, poached or over easy (my favorite)
1 head frisee lettuce
1 slice toasted country bread

Cut the bacon into ½” pieces, then with olive oil sauté until crisp.  Set the bacon aside, and transfer the bacon drippings and oil to a mixing bowl, and allow to cool.  When cool add vinegar, sugar and dijon, whisk well.  Drizzle ½ of the this as the dressing over the frisee and toss well.  Place the frisee on the plate, and top with 1 fried egg
Top with cooked bacon and drizzle with remaining dressing, serve with toast.

When I was growing up I loved corn bread and one item my mom used to do was cornmeal pancakes.  A basic corn bread recipe (a bit thinner) cooked on the stove top.  Think of this with some bacon or sausages for dinner.

Cornmeal Pancakes
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk (add 2 Tbsp more if too thick)
1/3 cup veg oil

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients.
Add the wet to the dry and stir well.  Allow to sit 10 minutes, then check the thickness for pancake batter consistency; add extra milk if necessary.  Heat your pan or grill to a medium heat and scoop the batter to preferred size.  Once bubbles have formed turn over and cook 2 to 3 more minutes.  Serve warm.

And if you have a bit more time, a quiche (also a good way to clean out the fridge) with a salad it always nice, served warm or room temperature.  So, next time you get home late, put on your PJs and make some brinner.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Brunches, Lunches and Dinners

And now for the Christmas article from the Petaluma Post...

How do you celebrate Christmas?  I like to make my meals a bit more extravagant.  Thanksgiving is very traditional, but Christmas is time to play.  With family, in-laws and friends you are likely to be moving from house to house.  Maybe you are you are making dinner, maybe breakfast, or maybe just something to bring along.  But just because you are not making dinner does not mean it cannot be special.

I love brunch, anytime of the year, but with catering there are not a lot of Sundays off to enjoy it.  A relaxed Christmas morning is a perfect time for some great food.  Yes the kids are running around with toys and the house is full of guests, but with a little planning you can enjoy the morning too.  Your oven is your best friend. Ham is great hot or cold, travels well, and can be nibbled on all day long.

Cranberry Glazed Ham
9 lbs Ham, bone in, not spiral cup
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1 Tbl dry mustard powder
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 Tbl ground clove

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the ham in a baking dish, fat side up, and score the ham to create a diamond pattern, cutting to about  ¼” depth.  Place the ham in the oven, and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.  Meanwhile mix the remaining ingredients to create the glaze, and spoon liberally over the ham.  Continue baking for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour.  If the glaze starts to get too dark, cover with foil.  Carve and enjoy.

How about bread pudding for breakfast?  We think of it as a dessert, but it really is just bread, milk and eggs, just like French toast.  But it keeps and travels much better than French toast.

Breakfast Bread Pudding
5 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar (or to your taste)
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups cubed bread
¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup pecans

Combine milk, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar, and whisk together.  Pour over bread chunks, and allow to sit for approximately 30 minutes to absorb.  Pour into a buttered 9x13 baking dish.  Crumble the butter and pecans together and sprinkle over the top.  Finally bake 35 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees, until set.  Serve warm.

A midday meal can be a great place to change up a few of the holiday favorites.  What about pie for lunch?

My mother-in-law makes a great French-Canadian meat pie, a Tourtière, which is a very simple sausage and mashed potato pie.  Which I would serve with something like a Butternut Gruyer Tart and Tender Greens with Craisins and Pomegranate Vinaigrette.

2 pies crusts (top and bottom)
1 lbs russet potatoes
2 Tbl milk
1 Tbl butter
4 oz ground sweet sausage
4 oz ground beef
1 small onion
1tsp ground sage
½ tsp thyme

Peel and boil the potatoes, then mash with butter and milk; set aside.  Brown the beef, pork and onion with the herbs, the crumble and add to mashed the potatoes.  Place the pie crust in deep 9” pie plate and fill with the potato/meat filling.  Top with second crust, and egg wash to seal.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Over the years my family has enjoyed doing a wide variety of things for Christmas dinner.  At last we have landed a favorite, fondue and hors d’oeuvres.  We don’t sit down for a meal, this way we can nibble and talk throughout the evening.  It also gives me a chance to play with some fun ideas.

Truffle Devil Eggs

12 eggs
3 Tbl mayonnaise
1 tsp djion mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1tsp truffle paste or oil

Boil and peel eggs.  I like to cut the eggs in half the short way, trimming the ends to make them stand (they look like a shot glass), just to update the presentation.  Combine the yolks, truffle and mustard in bowl or food processor, and mix until crumbly, then add  the mayonnaise 1tablespoon at a time until thick but pliable.  Finish with salt and pepper.  For an extra bit of extravagance top with Caviar.

If your family is traditional or contemporary add just a bit of extravagance to your holiday, and have a very merry holiday and a happy new year!

And, of course, if you would like some help with your holiday feast we have our special holiday menu as well as all our regulars available at

A Modern Thanksgiving!

Okay, I've been bad, I forgot to re-post my Petaluma Post articles for the past few months, so let's start with Thanksgiving!

During the month of November we all seem to eat a lot of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, yams…etc.  We get together with friends, with our clubs, and with family, with all the menus being a very slight variation on the turkey day theme.  But, do you really have to do the same menu over and over?  Have some fun with it!  Use the “same” ingredients but in different ways; make it a play on words; use something in a different way

Here are a few of my ideas:

Of course you must have Turkey…..wild turkey… Wild Turkey BOURBON!  And of course cranberries.  Make a cocktail.  A couple of year ago I created a “Happy Pilgrim”, which made our thanksgiving very happy!  It was inspired when I couldn’t find a cocktail that really paired well with Thanksgiving, and this one fits the bill very well.

Happy Pilgrim
 1 shot wild turkey bourbon
 1 shot ginger beer
 2 shots cranberry juice
 1/3 shot blood orange bitters
 Shake and serve over crushed ice
 Garnish with a fresh cranberry

An extra note on this one: When I selected Wild Turkey it was just for the turkey theme; I didn’t have the best impression of Wild Turkey, it just seemed like a lower shelf product, but it is actually quite good, and I’ve found it getting increased respect from craft bartenders.

Let’s go to yams, I’m not talking marshmallow or even maple syrup.  Let’s talk salad.  Thanksgiving is a very rich meal, so cut it with some healthy greens. Tell your family you’re bringing roasted yams and pecan pie!  Well maybe don’t tell them that, I know hubby would be disappointed with salad instead of pie!  But it’s still a great addition to the holiday feast.

Baby Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yams Croutons and Candied Pecans
6 oz wild baby arugula
2 oz Chèvre
Candied Pecan (see recipe below)
Yam Croutons (see recipe below)
Sherry Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Just toss the arugula, chèvre and vinaigrette, and finish with the pecans and croutons.

Yam Croutons
1 large yam cut into ½” cubes
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper

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. 

Candied Pecans (aka Pralines)
¾ cup pecans
½ cup sugar
Water to cover

Place all in heavy bottomed pot and cover with water, and boil till small thick bubbles (10-12 minutes).  Drain and place on greased sheet pan, then bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until dark in color, stirring every 5 minutes.  NOTE: you only need about a third this volume for the salad recipe above, but hey, who doesn’t want extra pralines?

Sherry Vinaigrette
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
 2 Tbl honey
 Salt and Pepper to taste
Blend well

As for stuffing, if you have read my articles in the past you know I love stuffing.  But change it up by bringing stuffed apples for dessert.

Baked Stuffed Apples
8 large, Granny Smith Apples
4 Tbs butter
8 Tbs brown Sugar
¼ cup chopped nuts (recommend pecans or walnuts)
½ tsp Cinnamon

Place the apples in baking dish, if they do not stand up easily trim bottoms to balance.
Cut off the top quarter of the apple, then using a melon baller, scoop out the core with the apples.  Combine all other ingredients, and mix till crumbly.  Pack into apple centers.
Bake at 350 degree for 15-20 minutes until the apples are knife tip tender. Serve with vanilla ice cream

What about your pumpkin pie, does pie have to be dessert? What about hand pies, like empanadas.  Do an hors d’oeuvre and start the meal with the usual ending.

Pumpkin Empanadas with Truffle and Parmesan
1 batch of your favorite pie dough - or purchased pie dough sheets
Pumpkin Empanadas

1 cup canned pumpkin
4 oz grated parmesan
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp white truffle oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix pumpkin, parmesan and spices to for a thick paste; taste test, some pumpkin need more salt.  Using a round cutter, cut out 2½” circles from the pie dough, an place 1 tablespoon of filling in each circle.  Egg wash the edges, and seal with your fingers or a fork.  Chill for about 30 minutes (they freeze great if you would like to make them for the future).  When ready to bake, lay out on a cookie sheet, brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with parmesan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden.

Now let me think about mashed potatoes.  NO.  STOP.  My family will never forgive me if I mess with the mashed potatoes!