Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Auction Dinner Review and… Lemon Tart?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Lovely Lemon Tart in Chartres, France

Lovely Lemon Tart in Chartres, France

This post isn’t really about the lemon tart I had in Chartres, France – but I don’t have any pictures showing what this post is really about, and I do mention lemon tart later. Let me start at the beginning…

I’ve written before about the annual auction and festival at our parish school that raises funds to offset the cost of tuition. “Dinner with the Pastor” is one of the auction items – the winning bidder brings up to six people to the parish house for a special dinner with the pastor and priests that live at the parish house, and our pastoral associate. Two of these dinners are auctioned off each year, and the first one was held last Saturday for nine people. Yours truly was the cook, and when all was over I had some reflections about menu planning and execution that I thought my readers might find useful as well.

First, no matter how much advance planning and preparation is done, there’s always a crunch time – that’s just the nature of fancy dinner parties, especially ones that aren’t given in your own kitchen! The best way to handle crunch time is to roll with it and keep focused on each step that needs doing, and to remember that eventually it will all pass! Some things can be done to minimize crunch time, and I neglected to do at least one of them . . . planning the stove top time and space.

I served a first course of French onion soup gratinee from Tyler Florence’s book Tyler’s Ultimate, and Coquillles St. Jacques (sea scallops in a mushroom cream sauce) from a Buena Vista Winery recipe. I made the soup the day before and re-heated it on the stove while the scallops were in progress. Much to my very helpful (and long suffering?) husband’s surprise, he was given the task of making the scallops while I scurried around on other things. I had prepped all the ingredients and knew he could do it – and I was right, the scallops were perfect.

So far, so good… the problem was that the one stove was taken over with making the soup and scallops, so the main course couldn’t be started until the first course was served and the leftover pans shuttled out of the way. My take-away… consider chilled dishes for the first course so the main course isn’t held up because the first course hogged the stove. Next time (in October), I’m thinking shrimp cocktail (I have a lovely recipe for cocktail sauce, and I’ll cook some beautiful shrimp in advance) along with an iceberg lettuce wedge, housemade blue cheese dressing and a few toasted spiced nuts. These dishes are kind of retro – I’d call them classics – and they’re also “in” right now. Besides, any dish that is made well is always “in”!

Some things that worked well with this first course were presentation, portion size and “user-friendliness”! I served the French onion soup in a small ramekin on the same plate as the scallops, which were served in a shell, and added a little flower for color. Instead of a solid slice of toasted bread and cheese on top of the soup, I made croutons covered with Gruyere which made eating the soup out of the smaller ramekins more manageable. I did small portions of everything so guests could enjoy a variety of dishes without exploding in overstuffed pain.

The main course was bacon-wrapped filet mignon served with a red wine reduction from the Michael Mina cookbook; scalloped potatoes from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008 (they’re called smokey scalloped potatoes and call for smoked Gouda, which I can never find, so I just use regular Gouda – and they are great potatoes); roasted carrots; and tomato salad (cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes halved and served with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar). This is where the stove top planning issue raised its ugly head – I first seared the bacon that was wrapped around the filets, and then seared each side of the filets – tapping my fingers on the counter, waiting for the electric stove top to do its thing to all 12 of my filets (I could count how many sides of bacon and filet searing that adds up to, but why?). Starting the searing 10 minutes earlier would have made the timing between the first and main courses better – but, those darn scallops and that blasted soup pot!

Surely, some things worked well with the main course? Yes – the red wine reduction was made the day before and then re-heated on the stove top, the scalloped potatoes were made the day before so they just had to heat up in the oven, the tomato salad was tossed an hour or so in advance and the roasted carrots took care of themselves in the oven as they roasted. In other words, these were basically “passive” cooking dishes – no one had to stand over them and baby sit them the whole time – and they could be prepped well in advance. We just had to remember at what time to put dishes in and take them out of the oven! That left us to focus on getting the filets seared on the stove top and then finished in the oven, while also clearing first course dishes and getting ready to plate the main course!

Once the main course was on the table, we could breathe for one minute before getting the coffee and tea going, and plating the dessert. Finally – the lemon tart I mentioned earlier! I served individual lemon tarts (The World’s Best Lemon Tart from Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts) with a dollop of whipped cream, along with two-bite sized dark chocolate truffles from The Truffle Kit (of course!). While I was glaring at the filets and waiting for them to develop a beautiful seared outside, I should have thought to take the lemon tarts and truffles out of the refrigerator to give them a little more time at room temperature. Plating them was a cinch, and we were basically home free.

One last thing I usually do is to make a timeline for everything that has to happen during “service”. That way, nothing gets fogotten in the heat of battle and you won’t reach to serve the hot potatoes that never actually made it into the oven an hour before!

The final good news – I don’t think the guests noticed or minded that we lagged a little between the first and main courses. They were enjoying good wine and good company, and seemed to think the food was worth the wait.

Bon Appetit!
Cathy

Summertime BBQ

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

SFPFS BBQ 2009 at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum

SFPFS BBQ 2009 at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum


I’m a member of the San Francisco Professional Food Society . Actually, I’m a board member – Incoming President – which means next year I’ll be president of the San Francisco Professional Food Society! That’s sure to be source material for lots of blogging which may or may not ever see the light of day (on my blog anyway!), but for this year it means I get to enjoy the incredible people and events that make up the wonderful Food Society without huge responsibility for any of it – a free ride!

The most recent treat was our annual BBQ last Saturday at the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum, a unique new facility and setting in Sunnyvale, CA. The museum is a replica of the original Martin Murphy family home and showcases displays about the Martin family and their significant involvement in the early history of California. In the very large courtyard in front of the museum, we sold new and used cookbooks and raffle tickets to raise money for important food-related organizations in the Bay Area (like Urban Tilth, Food Runners, CHEFS, and a scholarship for a Bay Area culinary student), listened to groovin’ music from The Blue Riders (“Rock & Blues & Classic Tunes”), tasted artisan foods from many special Savor California companies, ate BBQ, drank wine and enjoyed each others’ company.

The Blue Riders - Rock, Blues and Classic Tunes

The Blue Riders - Rock, Blues and Classic Tunes

There were so many incredible products to taste from the Savor California companies that I can’t cover them all here. I’ve highlighted just a few below, but check out Savor California for a more complete picture of the people and their creative products that are available online.

Sartain's Sauce and Marinade - Bright and Zesty

Sartain's Sauce and Marinade - Bright and Zesty

Sartain’s Sauce and Marinade: if you’ve shopped the supermarket shelves recently looking for a truly flavorful, well made sauce or marinade, then you know that many of the products have corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient – in fact, sometimes the very first ingredient! I’m not on a crusade against corn syrup – it has its place in the pantry – but not necessarily in my sauces. The Sartain’s sauce and marinade I tasted were wonderful. Full of bright flavor, with a nice balance between heat and tang – and no corn syrup!

Terra Sonoma SABA - Sweet Winegrape Syrup

Terra Sonoma SABA - Sweet Winegrape Syrup

Terra Sonoma Verjus and SABA: Verjus is similar to vinegar, but not quite as sharp. It can be used in place of vinegar or lemon juice for salad dressings or marinades – wherever you might use an “acid”. It was mellow and tangy, all at the same time. It’s created from wine grapes that are thinned from the vine during the growing season. SABA is a sweet winegrape syrup that can be used to flavor all kinds of foods – drinks, ice cream, breads, yogurt. I’m interested in trying it as Terra Sonoma suggests – in my spaghetti sauce in place of sugar to add a little sweetness.

Graziano Family of Wines - Bellisimo

Graziano Family of Wines - Bellisimo

Graziano Family of Wines: We tasted about five wines from the winemaker Gregory Graziano of Mendocino County. I enjoyed every one, but the Graziano Chenin Blanc was especially refreshing for a sunny summer afternoon; and the Graziano Zinfandel was especially good, too.

Fentimans Adult Sodas - Very Refreshing!

Fentimans Adult Sodas - Very Refreshing!

Fentiman’s Botanically Brewed All Natural Sodas: So many interesting flavors that actually taste like the real thing – because they are! Fentimans calls their beverages “adult” soft drinks, I suppose because they have a very slight amount of alcohol (less than 0.5%), but maybe also because the flavors are pretty sophisticated and more suited to an adult palate. They also make a Tonic Water mixer which I’m curious to try (in a mixed drink, I mean!).

Sweet Centerpiece with Cherries from C.J. Olson Cherries!

Sweet Centerpiece with Cherries from C.J. Olson Cherries!

As with any big event, the people behind the scenes did yeoman’s work so the rest of us could enjoy a fantastic day. In the San Francisco Professional Food Society, we are graced with many talented catering professionals, chefs, growers, marketers, producers and educators. For this year’s BBQ, Fred and Jennifer Martin of Fred Martin Events in Marin County, Deb Olson from C.J. Olson Cherries (they grow the plumpest, sweetest cherries you’ve ever seen or tasted right in Sunnyvale – their chocolate covered cherries are out of sight), and Rodger Helwig of Rodger Helwig Communications in San Francisco were the band leaders, and we were delighted to dance to their tune.

As summer winds down, I hope you’re able to gather in your favorite spot with a little food and drink to savor life’s simple pleasures – like time with family and friends on a warm afternoon.

Cheers,
Cathy

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake and Lemon Meringue Pie – Oh My!

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Every year, our parish school at Christ the King (www.ctkph.org) has an auction and festival to raise funds to offset the cost of school tuition. The auction is a major event, with dinner, dancing and silent and live bidding. One of the bid items is dessert for your table that night; a donator makes a dessert, writes a description and provides a photo to be displayed on the bid table – then, at dessert time, the winning bid takes the cake (or pie, or tart . . . ) for their table.

This year I donated a dessert for auction – actually three kinds of dessert, but all for one table. I applied my menu planning skills learned at pastry school and on the job, and covered all my bases. Knowing that some of us are “chocolate people”, some are “lemon/fruit people” and some are “custard” people, I did a little something for everyone. I figured if you can entice everyone at the table with something for each of them, then the WHOLE table REALLY wants your dessert and will bid accordingly. Plus, if you have a little bit of all of those “types” in you (like me), you’re especially happy because you get a little of everything! I made a lemon meringue pie, cheesecake with graham cracker crust (what other kind is there for cheesecake?) and a chocolate caramel tart.

For the lemon meringue pie, I used the Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust (the half butter, half shortening variation) from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Pie and Pastry Bible; the lemon pie filling from the Kingsford’s Cornstarch box – the one my mother and probably grandmother used, and I see no reason to change – the texture is great and it’s lemony perfect; and an Italian meringue recipe, also from The Pie and Pastry Bible, but I use 5 egg whites instead of 4 because the Kingsford’s lemon filling calls for 5 yolks!

There are 3 styles of meringue – Swiss meringue, Italian meringue and French meringue. I use Italian meringue because it’s very stable – sugar syrup is cooked to 236F degrees and then slowly poured onto whipping egg whites. This also heats the egg whites enough to pasteurize them, so I don’t worry about serving or eating raw eggs.

The filling for the chocolate caramel tart is a recipe from Good Housekeeping, with the modification of almonds instead of walnuts – plus, I’m careful to not make the caramel too dark. The crust for this recipe is another from – you guessed it – The Pie and Pastry Bible! This time, the Sweet Cookie Tart Crust, because I like my tart crusts to have a little sweetness to them.

And finally – the cheesecake. Both the crust and filling are from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax, which I’ve written about before. Okay, so I admit to a few little modifications on the cheesecake recipe: I use 1 teaspoon each of lemon juice and vanilla extract, and no zest – I don’t like the texture that the lemon zest adds to the otherwise super smooth cheesecake filling.

When I’m planning a party and dreaming about the dessert menu, I go through the same process of considering different desserts in the lemon/fruit, custard and chocolate categories. If I pick from each category, I’m sure to have a little something that every guest will enjoy.

So . . . back to the dessert auction . . . this is the way I described the selection:

Gourmet Dessert Trio – something for everyone, all made from scratch using the best of everything . . .
- Lemon Meringue Pie: flaky, buttery pie crust filled with perfectly tart lemon curd and topped with toasted sweet meringue
- Chocolate Caramel Almond Tart: sweet tart crust filled with a chocolate caramel ganache and roasted almonds
- Classic New York Style Cheesecake: graham cracker crust filled with creamy cheesecake made with a little sour cream

There were competing bids with some last minute back and forth, and the winners walked away happy. The losers? Well, let’s just say they walked away. There’s always next year!

What dessert “type” are you??

Sweet dreams,
Cathy

Peach Crisp and the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ Market

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Summer in a bowl - ripe peaches, cinnamon oat topping and ice cream

Summer in a bowl - ripe peaches, cinnamon oat topping and ice cream

It’s peak summer season at the farmers’ markets right now, and since I’ve written about the outdoor market in Paris I thought I should give my local farmers’ market in Pleasant Hill, CA a little love, too.
Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market nestled at City Hall

Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market nestled at City Hall

This market has been around for 27 years, and runs every Saturday from May until November. It’s found a real home in the city hall parking lot, surrounded by a pond, trees, grass and city hall itself. The beautiful produce, specialty products and live music all make for a warm, casual and comfortable atmosphere – definitely worth checking out. Even onions look amazing at the farmers’ market! I try to find things that I may not see in the local supermarket, along with the standards I can’t resist – like strawberries, stone fruits and tomatoes. Typically, the person you are buying from did the growing, and they are very knowledgeable about their produce and ways to enjoy it. If you have a farmers’ market near you, consider stopping by and taking advantage of a great opportunity.
Farmers' Market Bounty: Yellow and white peaches, plums, apricots, tomatoes, blackberries, strawberries and sunflowers

Farmers' Market Bounty: yellow and white peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, tomatoes, blackberries, strawberries and sunflowers

The peach crisp shown at the top of this post is an easy, quick, satisfying summer dessert – one of my husband’s favorites, and definitely one you can make with your farmers’ market haul. It comes together so quickly – I cut the peaches, sprinkled them with sugar to taste, mixed my crisp topping from The Crumble Top Kit – and still had to wait for the oven to heat up. I used to peel the peaches (the recipe that I wrote for The Crumble Top Kit box calls for the peaches to be peeled), but not anymore. I find that the peach skin softens as it cooks and does not compromise the texture in any way. Not peeling the peaches saves time and trouble, so I’m all for it. Give it a try and see what you think.
And that, as they say, is that . . .

And that, as they say, is that . . .

Best,
Cathy

Pavlova

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

A couple nights a week, I cook dinner at our church’s parish house. Last Saturday night, I made Chicken Paillard with fresh peaches from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Tyler’s Ultimate. This is a pretty simple dish to make, and it gives big flavor and presentation; with pancetta, blue cheese, honey and peaches, you get the salty/sweet combination that’s so satisfying. Plus, a platter filled with sauteed chicken breasts topped with crispy pancetta, crumbled blue cheese and drizzled with vinaigrette is an eye-popper at the table. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of it!

For dessert, I made Pavlova from one of my favorite cookbooks, Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. I first learned to make Pavlova in Australia, when I worked as a pastry cook at a hotel in Sydney. Wikipedia says there is debate about whether Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand; it is agreed, though, that the dessert was named for a Russian ballerina who was performing in those countries in the 1920s, and the dessert was created in her honor. I saw (and made) lots of Pavlova in Australia, but I don’t think I ever saw it in New Zealand when we lived there for several months after our year and half in Australia. We made Pavlova year round, and I don’t recall it being specific to any holiday period.

Pavlova is a meringue cake topped with sweetened whipped cream and lots of fresh fruit. It’s light, soft, sweet and satisfying. A great summertime treat . . . the fruit for this Pavlova came from the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ market. It’s not a fussy cake – I didn’t have my cake spatula when I put the whipped cream on the cake pictured above, so the finish is pretty “relaxed”; I just used a rubber spatula to spread the cream, and I don’t think the cake presentation suffered one bit. This cake would be very cute to do as little individual Pavlovas – one cake per person. I’ll have to try that some time!

The basic steps to make Pavlova are shown below. Enjoy!

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Put the meringue on a baking sheet

Transfer the meringue to a baking sheet . . .

Form the meringue into a cake shape

. . . and form into a cake shape

Bake the Pavlova

Bake the Pavlova

Pavlova with Fruit from Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Cover the Pavlova with plenty of sweetened whipped cream and top with your favorite fruits

Paris Spice Market

Sunday, July 12th, 2009
Spice Market at Galleries Lafayette

Spice Market at Galleries Lafayette in Paris

I recently discovered an enjoyable food blog called Cannelle et Vanille, written by Aran who is a food stylist and pastry chef – her pictures are extra special. One of her posts about French style macarons and pink peppercorns caught my eye, because I had just returned from France where I had enjoyed French macarons and bought some pink peppercorns! This is the comment I made on Aran’s post:

Hi Aran,

Your blog on pink peppercorns and French macarons really struck me. I just returned from a trip to France and loved the macarons in every flavor at the very special store Fauchon; plus, I bought some pink peppercorns! I knew I could get them in the U.S., but I wanted to buy them in Paris as a reminder of the beautiful spice market we saw on the second floor of the Galleries Lafayette department store in the Opera district. Since I’m a “foodie” by profession and passion, we tend to visit food spots when we travel.

At Galleries Lafayette, we headed past the perfume counters and clothes and made a beeline to the food emporium on the second floor. Beautiful produce, cheese, ice cream, chocolates, pastries, meats, etc., etc. That was very delightful, and there was also a spice market with fragrant spices piled high on trays so you could order whatever quantity you wanted – they weighed it and packaged it up for you. They had all kinds of peppercorns, but I got some of the pink ones. They’re in a clear pepper grinder on my kitchen counter, and when I see them they take me back to Galleries Lafayette in Paris! I also got a few chunks of crystallized ginger that also just make me feel good when I see them in my cupboard!!

As so many others have noted, your pictures are beautiful – they are noticably special and unique.

Cheers, Cathy
Posted on Cannelle et Vanille, July 10, 2009

I thought my own readers might be interested in the spice market at Galleries Lafayette . . . and below are the crystallized ginger and pink peppercorns on my counter at home in California.

My Pink Peppercorns

My Pink Peppercorns


Sweet Hot Crystallized Ginger from Galleries Lafayette

My Sweet Hot Crystallized Ginger