Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Salad Days Ahead! Salad Class Notes

Last Saturday was the day for salads! I taught two classes in two great communities, one in Santa Fe Springs and the other in Yorba Linda Public Library. With so many eager folks excited to learn about preparing healthy salads including; the care of greens, types of salads, dressings and preparation. I felt it would be good to recap some of the information and tips for a season of successful salad making at home. If you like these salads, recipes are in the book Cook like a Caterer, party sized recipes for entertaining!

First off lets go over the basic types of salad; There are 4 main types of salads: Appetizer, Main Dish Accompaniment, Dessert Salad. Most have alternative names you know them better by.

Buttermilk Dressing, Cook like a Caterer
1. Appetizer or Side Salad  Smaller side salad served before the main course conservative in size, most have some greens and 2 or 3 additional vegetables. The role of the Appetizer Salad is to serve as a starter to stimulate the appetite and is served at the beginning of a meal.
Make it with crisp greens, fresh or dried fruits or raw vegetables, and keep the servings small. A side salad is often served on a 7 inch plate be served in a small bowl. It is most often served with dressing over the top or on the side.
Mandarin Chicken Salad, Cook like a Caterer

2. Main Dish or Entree Salad Large salad with lots of greens. It may also have a pasta or grain base with or without greens. The Main Dish Salad can be made with meat, fish, eggs, poultry, vegetable, fruit or cheese and are usually a combination of these. This salad is served in a meal size portion and can also have warm components. Main Dish Salads are usually served on the main dish plate.

Broccoli Salad, Cook like a Caterer

3. Accompaniment Salad or Prepared Salad contrasts with the entree can be made with shredded greens, such as cabbage or vegetables, beans, pasta, grains or potatoes.
Potato salad, pasta salad, coleslaw, are all good examples of Accompaniment Salads.

4. Dessert Salad may also be considered a Accompaniment Salad - This may be a sweetened, molded or frozen salad made of fruit gelatin or fruit mixture in a binding dressing. If dressing is involved, it is usually whipped cream, yogurt or other syrup type and slightly sweet. This salad can act as a dessert or as another accompaniment to the meal.
A beautiful assortment of salad makes a stunning display for any gathering. Catering by Chef Renee, Fresh Ideas Events

Now we can look at basic salad structure. There are four main parts of a salad:
1. The base – in a green salad, this is usually either one lettuce, or an assortment of leafy greens.
2. The body – in a green salad, this is usually added vegetables like tomato or cucumber. It can also include protein like chicken of ham, tuna or egg or cheese.
3. The dressing – there are two main types, with many variations including, a mayonnaise base or a vinaigrette.
4. The garnish – this is any product used to finish or enhance the salad, like parsley, basil, green onion or olives.

Vinters Salad, Cook like a Caterer

The two most common presentations are composed salads and tossed salads. 

Composed Salads are arranged either in the serving container or layered.

Tossed Salads are usually greens and smaller size vegetables tossed together. A dressing can be either tossed with it or served on the side.

Lemon Basil Vinaigrette, Cook like a Caterer

Vinaigrette – a mixture of vegetable oil, vinegar, and seasonings. Mayonnaise – a thick, creamy dressing that is an emulsion of oil, vinegar, egg yolk and seasoning.

Vinaigrette is the most common salad dressing. It is a mixture of oil, vinegar (or acid) and seasoning.
The addition of even a small amount of mustard helps create an emulsion. Emulsion is mixture of one liquid with another with which it cannot normally combine smoothly, oil and water being the classic example.

The usual ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid Example: 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, 2 T. white wine vinegar and 1 t. Dijon mustard.

Other examples: Walnut, Sunflower seed, rape Seed oil, Canola oil. Red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar. Flavorings include; Herbs, spices, citrus zest, and berries.

 Mayonnaise Based Dressings-
Typically the base of the dressing is mayonnaise and seasonings are added. Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy dressing that is an emulsion of oil, vinegar and egg yolk. Some dressings have sour cream or yogurt in addition to mayonnaise. This type of dressing has a thicker and creamier consistency. Ranch, Blue Cheese,Thousand Island and Green Goddess are examples of mayonnaise based dressings.
South American Grilled Vegetable Salad with a Creamy Cilantro Dressing, Cook like a Caterer 


  •  Wash and dry greens thoroughly. Do this well before serving. Air drying tends to be the most gentle, spinning in a salad spinner and or towel drying is also alternatives.
  • Do no over handle or smash greens or they become bruised and wilted. 
  • Keep washed and drained greens wrapped in a dry paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic container or a large plastic bag. 
  • Protect greens from freezing. Store in the warmest part of your fridge. Wrapping a dry towel around the container can help insulate.
  • Crisp up limp greens by placing in cool or ice water for an hour before draining and drying. 
  • When preparing salad days ahead, tear greens instead of cutting with a metal knife. This will help avoid brown rusty edges.

Orchard Chicken Salad, Cook like a Caterer 


  • The dressing should complement the other flavors in the salad.
  • Handle greens as little as possible.
  • Choose fresh, quality products and prepare salad just before serving.
  • Prepare salad dressing 2-3 hours before serving and chill.
  • Avoid too much dressing. You will need nearly half as much dressing if tossing on the greens. 
  • Do not put the dressing on or salt a green salad until just before serving.
  • Salad Ingredients should be well drained and dry.
Happy Salad Days Everyone!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

10 Halloween Party Food Ideas!

How exciting... it's time for Halloween! It's so much fun making spooky decorations, dressing in clever costumes and really...are you ever too old to trick or treat? NEVER! (tricksters are ageless). For a creative food enthusiasts like me, the opportunity to theme food for parties is limitless!
Here are a few ideas that you can try to make your table "spooktacular."

 #ONE: Jalapeno Cheese Spread Skull
Mold a soft spread in a plastic mask or other party theme shape. Lined with plastic wrap, your spread will turn out easy after it's chilled. I used the Jalapeno Cheese Spread from my book... click here for the step by step "Jalapeno Cheese Skull," blog post... then garnish with olives to make it scary!

#TWO: Watermelon Brain
Carve rind from a small seedless melon and chisel grooves to mimic a brain shape. Perfect for the center of a fruit tray.

#THREE: Bat Wings
Straighten whole chicken wings and thread a bamboo skewer to hold shape and roast or grill. I used the Chili Lime Chicken wing recipe in "Cook like a Caterer" but you can choose any recipe or sauce.

#FOUR: Medusa Head
Cheese filled tortellini that is marinated and skewered for a tasty cool appetizer. Skewers are pushed into the cabbage head to serve.
(Yep, recipe in "Cook like a Caterer, under tortellini skewers.)

#FIVE: Meat-Eyeballs
Roll a tablespoon of seasoned ground turkey in to a sphere. Press in a stuffed green olive and bake until cooked through. Serve your "eyes" on top of a zesty tomato sauce for a tricky treat that's "easy on the eyes."

#SIX: Skeleton Salad
The Cauliflower Olive Salad in Cook like a Caterer, makes a delicious dish that will inspire guests to think your serving something scary! Leave some pieces of cauliflower larger and place on the side to look like bones.

#SEVEN: Finger Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese with an almond "nail" makes everyone laugh. Attach the almond with cheese spread and display it in a mini cup of V8 juice for tray passing. Pumpkin colored and shaped bell peppers make great dip holders for smaller platters.

#EIGHT: Spooky Ice Bowl
Place a smaller bowl inside a larger one and fill with water in between. Weigh down the smaller bowl with some ice cubes to keep it from floating. Add some small skeleton, bats or spider toys also in between for a creepy look. Freeze until solid then remove the 2 bowls and you have a "cool" serving vessel! Note: Place a platter under to catch drips.

#NINE: Ghost Squash
Turn a ghostly shaped vegetable into a cute centerpiece in just a couple of minutes.

#TEN: Handy Ice Pack
Freeze water in a clean food service glove (remove glove before serving) for a spooky frozen hand ice sculpture. Float a few in a punch bowl for a fright!

Chef Renee Weir -Fontes at the Yorba Linda Public Library Cooking Class October 2015

Hope you are inspired to create your own tricks and treats... Have a happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Playful Office Baby Shower

I found these amusing baby shower pictures from an office party Richard and I catered last October. The hostess, Sheri, has a delightful sense of humor which made it fun to create a "tongue in cheek" menu for the party.

To create a menu that is fun and entertaining, start with a list of dishes that will appeal to a variety of appetites. 

Here are some suggestions for success;
Be sure you consider "good taste," especially in an office setting. Re-naming dishes and select clever serving pieces to reinforce the theme, both are an easy way to have fun with the menu and guests love it.

 is the menu for Sheri's event if you can use to add some whimsy to your own baby shower!

Playful Office Baby Shower
Menu for 25 guests

creamy spinach lasagna with a plump belly

Brats in a Blanket
sausages wrapped in pastry served with grainy mustard

Baby Greens Salad with Baby Bottle Dressing
candied pecans, raspberries and Mandarin oranges

Conception Eggs with "Swimmer" Garnish
black olives top stuffed eggs 

Savory "Lollipops"
deli meats and cheeses in a wrap, sliced and skewered

Watermelon Baby Carriage
Fruit Salad

Fruit salad in a watermelon baby carriage

"Swimmers" decorated stuffed eggs

Lollipop Pinwheel Deli Skewers

 "Brats in a Blanket", brat sausages wrapped in pastry

 Raspberry Vinaigrette served in a baby bottle
I didn't find the picture of the "Lamazegna" I used the Spinach Lasagne from my recipe in Cook like a Caterer. I added some extra filling in the middle to make it look like it had a "baby bump" giving it a theme name (a play on Lamaze) is fun too. The stuffed eggs recipe, the quantity of fruits needed for the fruit salad and the raspberry vinaigrette are also in the cook book at

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fall Soups and Stews- Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Beautiful fall colors from our apple picking adventure last year
It's hard to decide what season is my favorite to cook in. Winter begs for baking, spring calls for salads and summer barbecue is a must. In Fall making comforting soups and thick hearty stews is what I most look forward to. The desire to whip up a soup must be instinctual because the weather has not actually suggested soup as yet. However with autumns calendar arriving it's good to be prepared.

At the recent cooking class for the nice folks at the Santa Fe Springs Public Library, time allowed for me to teach only three recipes. Narrowing it down was difficult, there are more great choices then cool days to enjoy them in the weeks ahead!

In the end I chose a Mexican Albondigas Soup, small seasoned meatballs in a light broth that can host additional vegetables and even a bit of rice to be a little more filling. Tuscan Chicken White Bean Stew, a delicious thick and healthy crock pot meal that can be made with simple pantry items. Finally Curry Butternut Squash Soup that is creamy rich, velvet smooth and is everything from color to flavor intensely fall.

Creamy, smooth Curry Butternut Squash Soup served in hollowed mini pumpkin.
Today lets explore my favorite Curry Butternut Squash Soup. Why, yes! The recipe serves 32, a "party sized recipe" from my book Cook like a Caterer. It makes a huge pot perfect for entertaining and to fill up the freezer for the cool months ahead. Cutting the recipe in half makes a generous amount, but don't shy away from making it... soup is for sharing!

Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Many first time tasters are surprised that the curry in this recipe is not overwhelming and the color is as delicious as the soup. Curry butternut squash soup is especially nice for a Fall party and is charming served from a mini hallowed pumpkin.
Serves 32

8 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups onions chopped
6 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 quarts butternut squash cubed
3½ quarts chicken broth
3 cups heavy cream

  1. Heat oil in large pot, add onions. Cover and cook over medium heat until soft, stirring often (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add curry powder, ground ginger and ½ teaspoon of cayenne, stir 30 seconds. Add squash and broth, bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until squash is very tender (about 30 minutes).
  3. Puree soup in batches, in blender, until smooth.
  4. Return to same pot. Stir in cream and add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.


  • Vent blender when pureeing soup to keep steam from building up.
  • The soup can be made in advance up to where the cream is added and will freeze well. 
  • You can decrease the curry for a milder flavor or substitute pumpkin pie spice if you like.
  • Serving in hallowed out mini pumpkins is great for a plated single serving... a larger pumpkin is great on a buffet.

Darling mini pumpkins and gourds make great vessels for soup and to add to your fall decor!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Catering 100th Birthday Party

I look forward to catering birthday parties. I know when I do, it will be fun occasion filled with family and friends reminissing and enjoying a meal together. A landmark birthday is even more cause to celebrate... but when someone turns 100 its time to it's time to do something extra special. 
At Elmers 100th birthday party he was the center of attention for an afternoon lunch and festivities to honor a remarkable man.

A menu of salads and sandwiches is appealing to any age group. At Elmers 100th birthday party the guests ranged in age between less then 1 to 100! Elmer requested German potato salad loaded with bacon and my favorite, Cheddar Macaroni Salad. Recipe can be found on the blog;

 Menu for Elmer's 100th Birthday
100 guests

Croissant Sandwiches
Turkey, Ham, Roast Beef, Tomato and Fresh Cheese

Paradise Fruit Salad
German Potato Salad
Cheddar Macaroni Salad
Vegetable Tray with Buttermilk Ranch Dip

Tres Leches Cake

A simple self service coffee, iced tea and water bar is a easy way to offer drinks to guests.

Guest of honor Elmer, loves yellow. His favorite flower is carnations which I used in the cheerful centerpieces.  Happy Birthday Elmer!!! And many more!