Sunday, November 8, 2015


Here's my November column from the Petaluma Post:

What fruit grows on an evergreen shrub, floats and bounces?  Yes it is our holiday staple turned main stream, the cranberry.  Considered by most as an essential on the thanksgiving table, this simple berry is now common year round; from turkey sandwiches, to vinaigrette, to cocktails, and even cookies. From craisins to juice, cranberries’ health benefits are numerous, being high in antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C, it is considered a super food.

Native to North America they were first commercially cultivated in 1816 in New England, but are now grown across the northern United States and southern Canada.  Now over 40,000 acres are grown each year, lucky for growers they are a hearty plant and some in Massachusetts are over 150 years old!  Harvest season runs through September and October so they are ready for the store shelves in November and December. Cranberries are one of only three fruits that can trace their roots to North America (the others are concord grapes and blue berries).

I have always been a cranberry fan, personally I like jellied cranberry sauce, it is a favorite snack; I’ll just grab a small can for a snack or even breakfast on the road.  It’s a great addition to trail mix, and our cranberry golden raisin oatmeal cookie is a signature for the catering company (it’s our most popular cookie, surprisingly even more than chocolate chip).  The tang of Craisins with the sweet of the golden raisins is a perfect match.

Cranberry Golden Raisin Oatmeal Cookie
1 cup Butter, salted
1 cup Sugar, brown
½ cup  Sugar, white
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Eggs
2 cups Flour, all purpose
2 cups Oatmeal, Quaker
2 tsp    Baking Powder
1 cup   Craisins
1 cup   Raisins, golden

Cream the butter and sugars together.  Then combine with the eggs and vanilla with the cream.  Next blend the flour, oat and powder with the mixture.  Finally combine th craisins and raisins.  Next you can either (the regular method) table spoon dollops on to a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes, OR you can use the super-secret professional method: scoop 2 to 3 oz balls of dough onto a pan (they can be closely packed to save room) and refrigerate them for a least a day (this allows some cooking chemistry to take place which will yield a better cookie), then space them appropriately on a cookie sheet and bake.  Another secret: once the baking is done (as soon as you take them out of the oven) give the sheet pan a good rap on the counter to make the cookies fall; they will stay chewy that way.

As a seasonal touch for lunches I love to add Craisins to salads.  Local greens tossed with Craisins and candied pecans is a great start.  Whole grains are very healthy and popular.  We recently did a barley salad with baby kale and Craisins

Barley Kale Craisin Salad
1 cup barley
3 cup Water
1 tsp salt

Combine ingredients in a sauce pot with a little extra room, bring up to a boil, then simmer 25 to 30 minutes, until tender.  Drain any excess water, and cool.  Then combine all with:
4-6 oz baby Kale or shredded Kale
½ cup Craisins
½ cup shredded carrot

And add dressing to taste:
¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together

This salad holds up very well and can be made a day in advance.

Those that know me, know that I do enjoy a cocktail!  For many years cranberry juice and vodka was my go to, cosmos are another favorite.  Several years ago my husband Jim and I hosted a nontraditional thanksgiving block dinner; you had to use a thanksgiving ingredient but non-traditional way.  We created a personal cocktail we call a Happy Pilgrim.  Yes it will make you a happy pilgrim.

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.

Now that we talked about thanksgiving what about Christmas?  Cranberries’ bright red color is a festive touch, Native Americans used crushed cranberries as a dye for clothing, use them for a pop of color in center pieces, and, of course, in food.  I think fresh cranberries are a great addition to scones for Christmas breakfast.

Cranberry Scones
4 oz butter (cold)
3 cups flour
2 Tbl baking powder
¾ cup sugar
6 oz buttermilk
6 oz cream
½ cup craisins

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the dairy and mix until just combined.  Mix in the craisins.  Next press into a disk about ¾ of an inch thick, and cut into pie wedges.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until firm and golden brown.

Remember to enjoy cranberries through the holiday season, and don’t forget to throw an extra bag in the freezer for later use.

Pop Goes the Popcorn

Here's my October column from the Petaluma Post:

After school for the kids, a snack at your favorite game or snuggled down on the couch for a movie it’s time to have popcorn.  A funny story, hubby and I while trying to eat healthy, avoiding simple carbs and adding lots of whole grains to our diet, where debating if popcorn was really a good choice since is all carbs; were they good carbs or bad carbs; then the ‘duh’ moment passed as we both looked at each other realizing that popcorn is literally whole grain!

It is a healthy snack, although if you go over the top with toppings it could go the other way!  But 1 cup of air popped only has 31 calories, and only 54 in oil popped.  Toppings can run a huge range, but you really only need a light coating to add a lot of flavor.

What makes popcorn “pop”?  A dense starchy center expands to release moisture when heated until the outer hull breaks and the starch puffs.  Did you know you can also “pop” amaranth, quinoa and millet?  I would not suggest trying it, like corn there are many varieties and finding the one with the right combination would be difficult, but it would be an interesting experiment.

Popcorn came in to popular demand during the great depression, being inexpensive it replaced candy that was in short supply due to sugar rations. To this day the United States is the number one popcorn producer.  We even have a National Popcorn day on January 19th!

But what can you do with popcorn?  It is one of my favorite canvases, you can take almost any flavor in the world and create a custom popcorn.  I love it at home, and the catering company has seen it as trend over the past few years of people wanting special popcorn at events.  However we need to start at the kernel.  I will be upfront I prefer Orville Redenbacher.  I have popped many different brands and find theirs is the lightest and pops up the best, leaving the fewest old maids.  Those last kernels at the bottom of the pot that have not popper are called “old maids”. 

I’m always surprised that so few people pop their popcorn in a pot.  I see lots of microwaved popcorn and special popping devices, but just a little and kernels in a pot is so simple and I think a better product.  But I suppose the biggest question everyone has is how much unpopped to use?  You don’t want it overflowing everywhere!  The rule of thumb is a quarter cup of kernels will yield 2 quarts of popped, a good serving for 2 people.

Stovetop Popcorn
3 Tbl vegetable oil
¼ cup popcorn kernels
2 quart pot with lid

Place pot over medium high heat and add the oil.  Allow the oil to heat about 1 minute, then add 2 or 3 kernels of corn to test it.  Once they hit the oil they should begin to put off a string of little bubbles (steam escaping the kernel) this is when you add the rest of you popcorn and put the cover on.  Popping should begin in 2 to 4 minutes; be patient and leave the lid on.  Turn the heat down to medium and shake the pot gently until you hear fewer and fewer pops; I usually count 10 to 15 seconds between pops at the end.  Remove from heat, and crack the lid open to allow the steam to escape, then wait 3 to 4 more minutes for any last kernels to pop.

Now for the toppings!  I am a butter girl and honestly the more the better, per 2 quarts of popcorn I use 4 tablespoons of butter.  The surface of the popcorn is dry and you will need some fat to help your flavors to adhere.  I have also been known to spray the popcorn with cooking spray to help. Drizzle the oil or butter component over the popcorn, then toss the dry ingredients well.

Some of my favorite flavor combinations:

Truffle Oil with Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Tbl Butter, melted
1 tsp to 1 Tbl Truffle oil (per your taste)
4 Tbl Parmesan cheese, grated
This produces a rich full flavored popcorn goes great with red wine.

Curry Parmesan Popcorn
4 Tbl melted butter
4 Tbl Parmesan cheese, grated
1 to 2 Tbl Curry powder
This is a spicy fun combination with a lot of zip.

Mexican Popcorn
3 Tbl Olive oil
4 Tbl Cotija Cheese, grated
1 lime zested
1 tsp to 1 Tbl Chili powder (per your taste)
Try a little cayenne if you like it spicy.

I won’t go into the sugary varieties, there are plenty of recipes out there on the internet for that, and they usually take a bit more time and prep.  Have fun, experiment with herbs and spices, the key is just to make sure they are finely ground.  Enjoy.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Heirloom Produce

From my Petaluma Post column, August 2015:

Rhubarb, figs, quince.  If you are like me these fruits make me think of my grandmother.  She had
Rhubarb, black berry and apple mini pies for dessert at a wedding.
rows of canned fruit and preserves lining the back of her garage.  As I grew up I saw less and less of them in the market, but local farmers are bringing more and more of these back to farmers market and restaurants.  Back yard gleaning has become a popular group activity splitting up backyard crops to make jams and jellies.

I remember my mother-in-law not being able to give away rhubarb, and like zucchini it was left on neighbors porches in the dead of night.  But the bright red stalks now call me, there is so much you can do with them if you simply look to the past from some ideas.  We have been making lots of mini pies for weddings and events, and I can say that warm strawberry rhubarb pie is my current favorite (until Gravenstein apples are available).
The recipe is a little bit tricky; you have to judge the freshness of the fruit.  If the rhubarb is under ripe add a bit more sugar and a bit less flour and vice versa to balance the sugar and starch content.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
9” deep pie crust (homemade or store bought)
3 cups chopped strawberries
3 cups chopped rhubarb
¾ to 1 cup sugar
2 Tbl flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Toss together and place in the pie shell.

Streusel Topping
4 oz butter
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
Blend all in a food processor or with a pastry blender until crumbly, then top the pie.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 to 1½ hours.  I recommend placing foil or a cookie sheet to catch the drips.

Figs figs figs!  We all know when figs come in it is a windfall, so what can you do with them?  We don’t do a lot of canning at the catering company but luckily we have a huge freezer.  Our fig honey is a great pairing with cheeses and we make loads of it then freeze it.

Fig Honey
3 lbs figs, stemmed and quartered
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 lemon zest and juice
½ cup water
Place all in a heavy bottom pot on the stove, bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  If you choose you can puree for a smoother style.  Allow to cool.  It will hold in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks or it freezes well.

We know figs and we know rhubarb, but what exactly is a quince you ask.  It is a member of the apple/pear family. When ripe it is shaped similar to a pear and bright yellow in color.  The texture is quite hard and the flavor is sour; definitely not one to pick and eat!

It is valued for its high level of pectin and is often used as an addition in jelly and jam instead of traditional pectin.  Membrillo is a quince paste that is often served with cheeses in Italy.  With its pectin level it is harder than actual paste, but I love it.  The sweet tart combination is a star with a very rich cheese like gorgonzola.

Quince Paste
4 lbs quince, washed, peeled cored and chopped
1 vanilla bean, split
1 lemon zested
3 Tbl lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Place the quince, vanilla bean and lemon zest in a heavy bottom pot, and cover with 4 to 6 quarts of water.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until fork tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Strain the water and remove vanilla bean.  Next puree the quince pulp, and measure it; you will need a cup of sugar for each cup or puree (3 cups pulp, 3 cups sugar).  Return to stove and add lemon juice and simmer approximately 1 to 1½ hours until very thick.

You can use it as a jam at this time, or you can nine an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper, grease lightly, pour in the puree, and place in a low oven (125 degrees) for half an hours until firm; remove from pan and cut in to bars, slice when ready to serve.  A thin slice on a good cheese just can’t be beat, and the firm texture can make it a lot neater to serve than jam.

It is great to see heirloom produce taking the front seat in modern cuisine. Enjoy!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Sweetest Taste of Summer

From my Petaluma Post column, July 2015:

On a hot summer day there is nothing sweeter or more refreshing than watermelon.  You can’t have a
Compressed Tomato and Basil with Watermelon
with Sherry & Wild Baby Arugula
picnic or a barbecue without thick slices of red watermelon.  To me it just screams summer and hot days.  It is a healthy snack; low calorie, and like tomatoes the red color gives you lycopene, which is good for bone health, and most recently they have found
citrulline is an amino acid that is commonly converted by our kidneys.   But forget that, it tastes good!

Obviously the most traditional way is just to serve it as wedges.  When cutting wedges I like to cut the corners off the peel side, just to make it easier to eat; that way don’t really have to stick your face in it.  But I prefer to cut it into sticks, with the peel just on one end; it’s easy to handle and eat that way. 

But that is not all you can do with it.  A simple “watermelon salad” is easy by cutting it into chunks and finishing with lime juice, and maybe a little salt.   But for a more gourmet alterative try

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint
Serves 8 to 10
3 lbs Peeled Seedless Red or Yellow Watermelon
2 stems Mint
8 oz Crumbled Feta
¼ cup Sherry Vinegar

Cut the water melon into 1 inch cubes.  Chiffonade (very thinly slice) the mint and add to the watermelon.  Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently.  It is best prepared the same day.  Serve well chilled.

There are plenty of watermelon themed hors d’oeuvres, but one of my favorites is Watermelon with Chèvre and Basil.

Watermelon with Chèvre and Basil
Yield approx. 40 pieces
1 Small watermelon, seedless
8 oz Chèvre
1 bunch Basil, cut chiffonade
Balsamic Syrup

Peel the watermelon and cut into 1” cubes, then using a melon baller, remove a small scoop from the top of each cube to hold the Chèvre.  Place approximately half of a teaspoon of Chèvre in each divot, then drizzle with balsamic syrup and finish with the basil. 

As refreshing as watermelon is to eat it is great in beverages.  A perfect addition to a pitcher of water, just add cubed watermelon plus a few basil leaves.  Allow it to rest for 1 to 2 hours, and you have a great infusion.  You might also want to try

Watermelon Lemonade
6 cups cubed seedless watermelon, chilled (2 lbs after peeling)
4 cups cold water
3/4 cup fresh strained lemon juice, chilled
2/3 cup granulated sugar (more or less to taste)

For an added fresh touch try cutting extra watermelon in to cubes and freeze as ice cubes, which would also be a great idea for your watermelon infused water or cocktails.

Watermelon’s delicate flavor can pair well with so many things.  Add a little bit of citrus and cilantro and you have a great salsa, serve with chips or grilled pork or chicken.  Feel free to add you own ideas.

Watermelon Salsa
3 cups finely diced seedless watermelon, (about 2¼ pounds with the rind)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, (about 1/2 bunch)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix gently and allow to rest 30 minutes.
Did you know that the rind of the watermelon is also edible?  Have you had pickled watermelon rind?  Pickling is making a comeback, with the interest in heirloom foods, their processing is returning as well.

Pickled Watermelon Rind
4 lbs watermelon rinds, cut in 1” pieces
¼ cup salt
4 cup water
2 cup white vinegar
2 cup water
4 cup sugar
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 lemon, sliced

Soak the watermelon with salt and water over night, drain and rinse well.  Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil, simmer 5 minutes.  Add rind and simmer 15 to 30 minutes until tender.  At this point you can use as refrigerator pickles and keep in your fridge for 45 to 60 days.  Or place in sterilized jars, top with boiling syrup and process in boiling water.  Use them to round out a summer themed hors d’oeuvres station with other pickled veg and meats.  Or as the beginning of a watermelon relish.

You can also look for yellow watermelon to add some color.  And remember to be creative!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Chili, Chile, or Chilli?

From my Petaluma Post column:

Yes I mean Chili, summer time BBQs are a great time for Chili.  But there is so much controversy
over this simple dish.  Do you make Chili con carne (chili with meat)?  Do you put beans in it (heavens no)?  Is yours red or is yours green?  However you might make it, American’s love chili hot dogs to chili cook-offs.  It’s time to try your hand at a batch and create your own recipe

Chili comes from the root of Chile meaning chile peppers a key ingredient in the dish.  Originally chili con carne was made up of a combination of red meat, salt and chile peppers.   Introduced to the crowds at the 1893 Columbian exposition in Chicago by the San Antonio Chili Stand it spread through the south and west.  Every restaurant and “Chili Bar” has their own recipe and of course a secret ingredient, one of the most interesting is Cincinnati style chili, also known as 5 way chili.  Start with Spaghetti Noodles, then chili, kidney beans or corn, cheddar cheese and grated cheddar cheese.

I find chili to be a crowd pleaser and a great dish to do in large quantities.  I am not a traditionalist and will often be creative with my ingredients.  We recently paired a Lamb Chili with wine from Dutcher Crossing Winery during the annual Passport Weekend.  Dutcher Crossing is well known for big red wines often with a touch of Syrah grapes.  We paired their Cabernet Sauvignon with a Lamb Chili con Carne.
Lamb Chili (yield 1 gallon)
4 lbs Ground Lamb
9 oz Onions, diced
28oz Tomatoes, canned, diced
1 oz Chili Powder
½ oz Garlic Powder
¼ oz Cumin
¼ oz Paprika
3 grams Pepper Flakes
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock

Brown the lamb in oil with the onions, then add the spices and stock and cook for about 5 minutes.  Finally add the tomatoes and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

A few weeks later, to contrast with the lamb chili I went in the opposite direction for Cinnabar Theatre’s annual Chili Cook Off.  Let’s go green with “its good to be green”; we are a green certified company and proud of it, so when we entered the cook off here in Petaluma I decided to do a green vegetarian chili. Yes, I know a purist will say chili can’t even have beans in it, let alone be vegetarian, but chili is what you make it.  What do I mean by green?  First no tomatoes, instead we used tomatillos which add a great tang to the chili.  I used fresh chili both Anaheim chiles and Pasilla chiles to add texture and then also dried green New Mexico chiles.  Using green chiles also keeps the heat down.  Then we went with white beans versus the traditional red beans, and it came out a winner.  Winning both the People’s Choice and Judges Choice for best vegetarian chili.  – Thanks to everyone who voted for us.

Vegetarian Chili (yield 1 gallon)
1 lbs White Beans, dried
1 lbs Tomatillos, crushed, canned
8 oz Pasilla Chiles
8 oz Anaheim Chiles
5 oz Green Chili, diced, canned
12 oz Yellow Onion
1/8 cup Vegetable oil
2 gm Cumin
7 gram Chili Powder
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock
2 tsp lime juice
½ cup Green Enchilada Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

Start by soaking the beans for 12 to 24 hours, and drain them thoroughly just before use.  Sauté the onions, garlic and diced chiles in vegetable oil, and then add the cumin and chili powder.  Cook it for 5 to 8 minutes, until it becomes fragrant.  Next add the drained beans and cover with the roasted vegetable stock and add the tomatillos (smashed with juice) and lime juice.  Cook over medium heat for 1½ to 2 hours (until beans are tender). Finish with some of the diced chiles and enchilada sauce.  And to really make it pop, serve it with a dollop of Cilantro Cumin Crema and some more diced green chilies for color.

Cilantro Cumin Crema
1 cup Sour Cream
½ bunch Cilantro Tops
1 Tbs Fresh Lime Juice
1 tsp Cumin
½ tsp Vegetable Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

So red chiles or green chiles, beans or meat, tomatoes or tomatillos, spicy or mild, it’s time to grab a pot and create your recipe.  Enjoy

And in case you’re curious, because I was when my spell checker didn’t like “chiles”;  while chili refers to the above recipes, when it comes to the peppers chile, chili, or chilli, with or without an extra e when making it plural are all acceptable.  And an argument could be made that any of those spellings could be used for the above recipes as well.  Digging deeper, some of it seems regional and it has changed over time.  My advice is to go with what you like.  I like chile pepper because the spelling speaks to the word’s Spanish origin.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cheese, Bacon & Bourbon!

From my Petaluma Post column:

Happy Butter & Eggs Day!  What a wonderful celebration of Petaluma and our heritage.  I don’t often talk about myself in my articles; I am a home grown kid born and raised right here in Petaluma.  My family dates back five generations to my great great grandfather coming over from Holstein Germany to work a dairy ranch in Tomales.  I have lived in Europe, I went to college in NY and worked in the LA area, but I think the best place on earth is right here in Petaluma.  You cannot beat the quality of product and the pride that we have in it!

I recently got to participate in the Chef vs Chef at the Artisan Cheese Festival in March.  Being a local I decided to pair with two other locals for my entry.  Thanks to Larry Peters and Spring Hill Farms for the use of two or their cheeses; a two year aged white cheddar and a garlic jack.  These two cheeses are also featured on our Sonoma County Bounty display we often have at catering events.  A big shout out to Hoot and team at Kastania Winery for their 2011 Proprietors Blend that we paired with.

Now I know what you are waiting for - just what did we make? An adult grilled cheese with bacon.  It is a bite sized savory grilled pimento cheese cake with bourbon brown sugar bacon.  Yes I said bourbon brown sugar bacon!  At the writing of this I don’t know how we will do but I have my fingers crossed.

So where did Pimento cheese come from?  I love southern cuisine.  After a trip to New Orleans a couple of years ago my interest has increased.  I have always made a good fried chicken (my nephew will say the best) and have started adding more southern dishes to my repertoire.  The dishes of our southern states are considered by many to be the most quintessential example of American food, and certainly one of the most recognizable regional cuisines.

The origin of pimento cheese is not that elegant, it is the result of two processed foods.  In the early 1900 a food scientist was trying recipes to get more Americans to purchase prepared foods.  It was a combination of canned pimentos and cream cheese.  In its heyday each family would have had their own treasured recipe.  Many cookbook authors referring to it as the “caviar of the south”.  From dainty tea sandwiches to school lunches to workman it was a mainstay.  Now considered a retro dish it was fun to play with.

My recipe is a bit dryer and mixed more than is traditional in order to hold up to molding it in to little cakes and browning it.

Pimento Cheese Cake
Pimento cheese cake with bourbon, brown sugar, bacon, pickled baby peppers
1 cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar (I used white)
1 cup Shredded Garlic Jack
6 oz Cream Cheese
¼ cup Mayonnaise
½ tsp Dijon Mustard
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
¼ tap Cayenne Pepper
4 oz drained diced Pimentos (drain very well)

Place all ingredient except the peppers in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer.  Mix until it comes together, then add the peppers and mix until just combined.  At this point you can form in to a large cheese ball or just use as a spread.

To make the little cakes form it in to ¾ oz balls using a small ice cream scoop, and roll between your hands to make them round.  Then roll them in bread crumbs, and press into a patty.  Chill over night or freeze.

Heat a medium skillet over medium high with about 2 tablespoons of oil.  You will need to work fast so the cakes don’t melt.  Brown each on both sides then remove to a paper towel to remove any extra fat.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Bacon
8 oz medium thick bacon
4 oz bourbon
4 ox brown sugar
1/8 t salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
Pinch cayenne

Place the bacon in a heavy bottom skillet, add the bourbon.  Bring to a boil, and cook until the bourbon is gone and you have just bacon and fat.  The bacon will still be very limp.  Remove the pan from the heat and drain, and transfer the bacon to a bowl and allow to cool until you can handle it.  Next toss with the brown sugar, salt, pepper and cayenne.  Toss Well. Lay out on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until crisp.  When cool, julienne for topping.

To Assemble: Top each pimento cake with just a dab of whipped cream cheese as an adhesive.  Top with a pinch of the bacon bits, bit of diced pimento pepper and parsley for garnish.  Enjoy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Are you in a pickle?

From my Petaluma Post column:

Did you know that the third week of May is national Pickle Week?  In past articles I have mentioned
pickles on my Gastro Pub station, they pair well with so many things.  I love pickles; as a kid I loved the bread and butter pickles that my grandmother would make, there is nothing like a good kosher pickle on a cheese sandwich, and cornichons are a must on a charcuterie platter.

Pickling is defined as the preserving of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar.  The way this works is by the use of salts and vinegars to lower the pH of food to below 4.6 which will not allow bacteria to grow.  I have been experimenting with a number of different icebox pickles.  Icebox pickles as opposed to heat pasteurized pickles which are more shelf stable but have a different texture.  I am lucky that we have a large enough walk-in refrigerator that I can keep a couple of large buckets of my pickles around.

The first thing that I looked at is what to pickle. Cucumbers seem to be the first thought, yes I like those.  Then other vegetables, when searching the web I found a recipe for almost anything that you can imagine from carrots to cherry tomatoes.  You will want to keep in mind that the salt and vinegar can pull the color out of the vegetables making them a bit drab.  I have had great luck with cauliflower, carrots, onions and red bell peppers.  You might ask what about fruits?  Do you realize that sugar is an acid? So in a way making jam is doing the same change in pH.  I have had fun with Apples and Persimmons, but people do tend to think of veggies as pickles.

The big question is are you doing a sweet or sour pickle.  Although it is not an entirely fair question since my sweet pickles are still tangy.  All of the pickles that I have made so far are quick pickles meaning they are ready to eat within 24 hours.  These are prepared vegetables (washed and cut) that a boiling liquid is poured over then allowed to cool.  When cool (if you can wait) they are ready to eat or store in the refrigerator.

One of the first places I started experimenting was with Vietnamese food.  Bahn Mi sandwiches are a street food staple that pairs Asian tastes with French cuisine.  A crusty baguette, sliced pork loin, pate, cilantro, sliced jalapenos, chili mayonnaise topped with a pickled vegetable combination of carrots and daikon radish.  The pickled vegetables add a bright clean finish to the rich sandwich - try them on a burger some time.

Bahn Mi Pickled Slaw
4 oz julienne carrots
4 oz julienne daikon
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup white sugar

Bring the sugar, vinegar and water to a boil, then pour over the vegetables.  Allow to cool, then drain when ready to use.  A great addition to any sandwich for a tangy crunch.

The next direction that I went in was doing my own pickled cucumbers and at the same time carrots.  There is one major difference, I use the same brine (sugar, salt, vinegar combination) but with the cucumbers I salted them for 2 hours to help draw out moisture so the bine could be absorbed

Pickled Cucumber or Carrots
The veggies
2 pound Persian cucumbers – cut into ¼” slices, toss with 1 cup salt, rest for 2 hours, rinse well
OR 2 pounds carrots sticks
1 red bell pepper - cut into strips
1 red onion, small - cut into strops

Place in a food safe plastic bucket, glass jar or crock with lid.

The Brine
6 oz white sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 oz salt
½ tsp mustard seed
¼ tsp celery seed
Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, and then pour over the vegetables.  If the brine does not cover the vegetables, place a weighted plate into container to press them; they will shrink.  Allow to cool, then refrigerate.  Ready within 12 to 24 hours. Stores well for up to 30 days.

After you have tried the first recipe try other vegetable and think about adding different spices; one of my favorites was cauliflower with a bit of curry powder.

Moving on from there I tried changing out the water with beer to create our Hop Stoopid Pickled Cauliflower.  Hops often have a bitter after taste, but the combination in this pickle was just perfect for a rich beer flavor with no bitterness.

Hop Stoopid Pickled Cauliflower
2 heads cauliflower – broken into florets
1 – 20 oz bottle Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
1 cup water
3 cup vinegar
1 pound sugar
2 oz salt
1 tsp pepper corns
½ tsp mustard seed
1 Tbl chopped garlic

Clean and prep the cauliflower, then place in a food safe plastic bucket, glass jar or crock.  Bring the remaining ingredients just to a boil.  Careful, hoppy beer is a bit delicate, you don’t want a heavy boil.  Add the cauliflower in to the brine, bring to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Place in a food safe plastic bucket, glass jar or crock.

From carrots to cauliflower you’ll always be in a pickle (in a good way).


From my Petaluma Post column:

Gastropub, "a high end restaurant and bar serving food and beer."  For so many years we have been
working on wine and food pairings, but let's take a step back in time and look at what came first; beer and cheese.  They are such a natural pairing.  They both start with the land; barley, wheat and grass, dairy cows are often fed the grains leftover from making beer - those are happy cows.  Both are fermented and aged. They both cover a wide spectrum from light and floral to rich and robust.

GastroPub Table
The idea of the Gastropub starts in the name of a pub.  Pub is short for public house a location that anyone could eat in England.  Traditional foods served were basic cold meals that you would enjoy with your pint or two of beer.  A ploughman’s lunch would have been made up of a chunk of cheese (usually a dry harder cheese), sliced cold roasted meats, pickles and bread.  Gastro pubs are a way for chefs to return to basic fare with a flair.  Often updating roasted meats for charcuterie and changing cheeses to pair with appropriate beers.  We have just recently added our own Gastropub Station to our menu, featuring charcuterie, cheeses, house made pickles and more; a great set of pairings with either beer or wine.

If you are putting together your own pairings, Sonoma County is the perfect place for a lot of local products.  Not only do we have fantastic array of local cheeses, but craft breweries are popping up all around.  And we’re seeing the start of local artisan meats too.

If you are in the mood for a lighter fresh or soft cheese like a chèvre or brie try looking at Petaluma’s Hen House Saison.  With fresh touches of grass and lemon the combination with both cheeses would be a great summer time pairing.  Try Marin French Cheese’s petite brie or Cypress Groves Humboldt Fog.

The aged and harder cheese are a classic pairing.  Dryer cheeses tend to have saltier, richer flavors accented with nuttiness and a high fat quantity.  With bolder flavors you should look towards a fuller beer with accents of cleansing hops, American Ipas, porters and dark ales work well.  Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale (the first one they ever brewed) has strong malty notes with a sweetness from the hops.  I would recommend Matos St George, a local Portuguese style cheese with cheddar accents and a buttery flavor.  Another favorite would be Estero Gold Reserve from Valley Ford Cheese Company.  This has been a favorite of mine from the time that I could only get it at the farmers market.  Aged for 18 months it has a crumbly butter texture.

Blue cheese will take things in a very different direction.  A local favorite Point Reyes original blue has a strong punch and blends well with a touch of sweetness.  On our cheese board I love to pair it with a bit of fig jam.  Try 101 North’s Naughty Aud Imperial Stout, with accents of bourbon and vanilla.  If you want to try something different try Dempsey’s’ Barley Wine, sherry flavors and touches of dried fruit would pair beautifully.

For those that say go big or go home I would look toward the washed rind cheeses. Stinky cheeses go with stinky brews.  Nicasio Square from Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is a washed rind cheese done in the Taleggio style, soft and creamy with a golden orange rind; it will hold up well against beers from Shady Oak Barrel House; they specialize in sours and artisanal ales.

To round out your plate I would add such things as salamis and other meats.  I recently had the pleasure of a tasting with Framani out of Berkley.  For a simple flavorful addition think of their rosemary ham sliced thinly; very lean with a clean finish and pungent rosemary.  To add a bit of spice add in Salame Calabrese with touches of chili and fennel from the south of Italy.  Also, look for Zoe’s Meats, who started in Petaluma, whose products can be found in local markets.  And don’t forget Thistle Meats in downtown Petaluma

For some final flair on the board we are making our own pickles in house from seasonal fruits and vegetables like persimmons and apples and carrots, cauliflower and cucumber.  Easy to do at home, or to find at the market.

Don’t forget to add your favorite crusty bread to finish out the meal.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Little Bit of Sunshine

From my Petaluma Post column:

In my mind January is probably the darkest month of the year, the holidays are put away, the days are short, the rain and maybe even snow are coming down.  You know that you have eaten too much.  How can we brighten these days?  How about a bright ray of culinary sunshine - citrus!

Funny to think that the brightest color crop of the year comes ripe at the darkest time of the year.  From lemons to grapefruits and tangerines, citrus can bring a bright flavor and healthy touch to your diet.

Right off the bat in January we start with Meyer lemons being in season.  As you drive around town you will see lemon bushes overflowing with fruit, most likely in our area they are Meyer lemons.  A hearty plant that can be grown well in both the ground and wine barrels (it does need to be covered from frost).  It is my favorite of the citrus world.  Thought to be a cross between a lemon and tangerine coming originally from china.  With a thin skin and sweeter juice and flesh it makes it a great cooking candidate.  One of my favorite recipes is Meyer lemon marmalade.  A great way to put it away to use year round.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
chevre buttons with meyer lemon marmalade
3 lbs Meyer lemons
3 cups sugar

Wash then lemons well, then juice them, and put the juice aside.  Then cut the remains in to 4 pieces and remove seeds (they have lots of seeds).  Next, thinly slice the quarters, including the interior.  Bring 8 cups of water to a boil and blanch the lemons for 1 minute; this will remove any bitterness from the skins.  Drain and place in a heavy bottom pot, and add the sugar and lemon juice.  Add just enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved, then turn down the heat to a simmer - watch carefully so you don’t burn it - simmer approx. 30 minutes until the rinds are tender.  Place in five ½ pint jars - can or freeze.

Serve on Chèvre with Crackers - Wow!

Another citrus that comes out the first of February is blood oranges. Very popular in the southern areas of Europe, it has an added health benefit of anthocyanin, an anti-oxidant.  The red flesh with just a bit bitter is a great mixer for cocktails. Try using it to brighten up your next Brunch or party.  Great in a mimosa, wonderful for Blood Orange Margaritas, although my favorite is in an Gin and Tonic with Blood Orange.

Clementines are just a handful of joy.  Their perfect size and loose skin make them a great grab and go snack.  This relative of the tangerine is seedless.  Keep a bowl on the counter for healthy between meal snacks.  Or peel and add to a salad for a bright touch of flavor.  A squeeze on a piece of fish is a great use too

But what are Mandarin Oranges you ask?  Clementines, Tangerines, and Satsumas are all varieties of the mandarin orange.  Nutritionally and in flavor they are very similar.  Satsumas are typically the easiest to peel; the fruit is almost entirely detached inside the skin, making them a very convenient snack.  However Clementines are almost as easy to peel and they are also seedless, which I really appreciate.  These are the ones often labeled as “Cuties” in the grocery store.  So why bother with a Tangerine?  If you want the full orange experience, with that little puff of orange oil when you break the skin, and the reward of well peeled orange, then this is the way to go.

Ruby Red grapefruit is an all-time favorite too (I have lots of favorites when it comes to citrus).  I remember my grandmother every morning having a half of grapefruit with just a little sprinkle of salt to bring out the sweetness.  High in potassium and vitamin C, and can help to lower Cholesterol.  With a very thick skin and bitter membrane, it is best to eat just the pulp or juice of this fruit.  Chefs often refer to cutting out of each segment as a supreme.  In the winter months when local crab is in season, one of our favorite dishes is a Crab, Avocado and Grapefruit Cocktail.

Crab, Avocado and Grapefruit Cocktail
2 oz local crab meat
4-5 grapefruit segments
½ avocado, diced

Layer in a Martini glass - a great start to any dinner party.

Citrus can brighten any day with flavor and flair.  Try something new today.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mash, Mash, Mash

From my Petaluma Post column: (ok, I'm a little tardy on posting again...oops)

What is the favorite dish at your holiday meal?  With my family it is the mashed potatoes.  Rich creamy buttery mashed potatoes plus lots of gravy.  One of the nice things about mashed potatoes is how simple they are and how well they hold.  It is a great dish to take to potlucks and office dinners.  They can be basic, fancy or speak to old regional traditions.

Let’s start with the basics.  What potato to mash?  There are two potatoes that we often use, Russet Potatoes and Yukon Golds.  I grew up on Russet potatoes, they make a nice light fluffy mashed potato.  They tend to be a bit dryer and take milk and butter well.  I wash and peel the potatoes, cut them into even pieces, usually thirds, cover with water and boil until tender.  Russets should be drained immediately.  If you are not going to mash immediately you can hold them drained on the back of the stove for 30 to 45 minutes.  Mash with butter, milk, salt and pepper.

Yukon Golds also make great mashed potatoes; they have a firmer texture and are a bit creamier.  Yukons are not usually peeled so they have a bit more of a rustic look.  The skins are tender enough to eat without difficulty.  Again, cut the potatoes into even pieces, cover with water and boil until fork tender.  However these can be held in their water for 20 to 30 minutes until you get to the mashing.  Milk, butter, salt and pepper are the traditional additions.

Mashed potatoes hold very well; if traveling or simply needing to hold them, place them in an ice chest wrapped in plastic and a table cloth to keep them warm and moist.  They will hold hot for up to 2 hours and free up space in your oven.  One trick that we use for the catering company to hold them in the oven is to cover them with plastic wrap and then foil.  The plastic wrap will keep the moisture in, and the foil will keep the plastic wrap from melting.

Now let’s get creative… when I married my husband I was a potato purest.  Don’t mess with the mash.  My mother-in-law always added carrots to hers for color.  By adding just 2 to 3 carrots at boiling, and finishing normally the carrots add a touch of sweetness and color.

There are others that can be fun too.  Yams are a great way to go.  Instead of boiling, just puncture the skin with a fork and bake on a sheet pan.  The sugars will dip out, once tender, allow to cool and then the peels will come right off.  Try mashing with just a bit of butter and brown sugar.  Great to serve with ham and turkey.

One more to try is cauliflower, with the gluten free trend (yes potatoes are gluten free too) this wonderful vegetable is getting tons of interest.

1 head cauliflower, cut up into 2 to 3” pieces
6 cup water
2 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Bring water to a boil, and add the cauliflower, boil until very tender.  Drain well, this holds a lot of water, so make sure to shake it to help drain properly.  Then return to the pot, mash, and add olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Now that you have mashes down, think about some add-ins.  Grated cheeses are great, you can add texture and flavor; chèvre adds a full flavor, sharp white cheddar is a favorite of mine.  For a rich and decadent variation try substituting mascarpone for the milk.  Roasted garlic can be used to add great creaminess when pureed and mixed in.  Fresh herbs can be added at the last minute for color and flavor.

One of my favorites is the addition of browned butter.  Brown butter is a French method that browns the solid bits in the butter.  It will greatly intensify the butter flavors; I love this approach. Place the butter in a thick sauce pan, melt and bring up to a boil, and immediately turn the heat down to medium.  Continue cooking until the butter begins to turn brown.  Take to a medium color, and remove from the heat.

For more options see my blog (  I love potatoes and other root vegetables and over the years have put quite few recipes out there that would be great for the holidays, or just the winter months.  When you get there try searching for “potato” or “yam” to find some good options.  Or search for “Tourtiere Stuffing” to find hubby’s Ganny’s traditional French-Canadian mashed potatoes which includes sausage.

So the next time you are asked to bring a dish, just say yes to the mash! Enjoy and Happy Holidays!