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!