Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Wrap Up

Now that Christmas has settled on my thighs and waist. I believe it is time for a post holiday wrap up. A month ago the idea of putting up two trees seemed like a good one. Faced with the daunting task of packing up everything and tucking it back into the rafters, I am not so sure. Part of me would like to continue picking at the ham bone and wading through a tin of cup shaped papers for the last Danish butter cookie. The other part is ready to move on. I will miss the Christmas lights, but not the chaos of trying to do to much in to short of time.
Before I pack up the poinsettias, I will leave you with some observations, reflections and a fattening recipe. Then maybe balance will return to the universe, everyone can breath again, and go back to eating salads.

Lessons learned:
Before you seal your Christmas cards, put the letter in it.
If you provide a craft project for your child, be prepared to devote your whole day to doing it yourself.
You can be disfigured by 3rd degree burns from a glue gun.
Pump and Go scooters do not "assemble in just one minute".
Your child should not be present when your husband is putting a Pump and Go scooter together.
If you make it back from the store with the sugar you forgot, you will discover you are out of butter.
When you are back with the butter you will find 5 pounds of sugar you bought and put away a month ago.

Surprisingly:
I never went to the mall.
I did not stay up to wrap on Christmas Eve.
I attended a Christmas party as a guest and not as a Caterer.
I skipped "It's A Wonderful Life" on TV.

Things I' m not surprised about:
No Lexus in the driveway with a big red bow.
If given the opportunity, My mom would cook 19 entrees 43 sides and 27 desserts for just 6 of us.
At about 12 years of age, children learn that Santa will come even if they don't clean their room.
There is nothing on a child's list that costs less than $59.99.
In the end the toy that was $.99 at the dollar store is far better then any toy you payed $59.99 for.

Observations:
The cat really appreciated the milk put out for Santa.

And Wishes for the New Year:
May the coupon for sweetened condensed milk not expire before you finally get to use it.
Here's hoping the store you need to return that sweater at, is still there.
Best of luck getting that 7' tall tree back in it's 3' box.
May you go a full 11 months before you have to read another sappy Christmas letter.

Bleu Ball
Ingredients:
6oz. bleu cheese
8oz. cream cheese
1/2 cups toasted almonds or pecans
2 green onions
1 tsp hot pepper sauce
fresh ground black pepper

Crumble bleu cheese, stir in to softened cream cheese. Finely chop green onion and toasted nuts
add all but about a tablespoon(save for garnish) to the cheese mixture. Stir in pepper sauce and about 2 or 3 grinds of fresh black pepper. Line a cup shaped bowl with plastic wrap, press in cheese mixture and chill. When firm, turn out on a serving plate, remove plastic wrap. Garnish with remaining chopped green onion and nuts. Serve with crackers, bread or apples.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Christmas Project

Beginning the week after Thanksgiving I unpacked endless dusty boxes of decorations, patiently unsnarled garland by the yard, and buried the house in Christmas artifacts. I had plans to bake everything, send out cards with a heart warming letters in them and do all sorts of holiday stuff that people who don't cater for a living do. It could be my Christmas project list needs re-evaluating.

I realized that help from my family would be limited, my son, Zayne is 12 with the attention span of a 12 year old and my husband, Richard, doesn't do glitter. Zayne, had definite ideas on how the the decor should shape up, but his scooter was far more interesting then helping mom. While I dangled precariously from a ladder with a string of lights in one hand and a staple gun in the other, Richard pulled out the smoker.

The smoker was a gift I had given Richard on some special occasion years before. We had tried it maybe once, it took so long to make dinner it got put away and almost forgotten! Now in a bit of roll reversal, as I am risking life and limb hanging lights, my husband is making dinner.

Richard's project might have been as challenging as my decorating, he babied the smoker all day and into the night. He stoked the fire watched the temperature gauges and produced the most beautiful smoked pork and chicken I've ever seen. The taste? exceptional! sweet smoky mesquite, tender and juicy. We pulled the pork and ate it with spicy sauce on a soft bun. The smoked chicken was delicious as a topping on a white pizza later in the week.

Call me Scrooge, I' am not sharing the technique Richard used to make delicious smoked meals, just yet. We both agree more experience is needed before we can give out advice. I will however share a recipe that will make Christmas projects a little brighter. At least if you take time to make this recipe, the decorations look a lot better, and the must do Christmas list, considerably less pressing.

The beverage recipe below is fantastic. It is called the Candy Cane and I had first made it in one of my cooking classes during Christmas Season. Everyone loved it so much, I kept it on the back burner until I could share it again. It has all the minty and creamy flavors of the holiday and the alcohol for a great party.

CANDY CANE Ingredients:
¾ ounce Peppermint Schnapps
¾ ounce Creme De Cacao
¼ ounces Grenedine
half and half
7-Up
Directions:
In highbal glass filled with ice, combine peppermint schnapps, white creme de cacao and grenandine.
Fill Glass with half and half.
Top with 7-Up.
Garnish with a candy Cane.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back from Black

November 28 was the day I planned to do something big, something I had never done, something of which other women speak triumphantly about and my curiosity was getting the best of me. Lack of experience would not stop me, I went shopping on "Black Friday". Now the truth is I really didn't need anything. I merely got up predawn on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving to see what the hype was all about.

Friday, thermos in hand I set out in the inky dark, The roads were strangely quiet, and I wondered if I was the only crazy leaving a warm bed for a post turkey bargain. Pulling into the parking lot, one glance reveals, I am not alone. The entire population of the State of California was in that store.

Contrary to what I had heard, the shoppers were not barbarians, they were not beating each other with merchandise or swiping half off toys from strollers. But truthfully, I didn't belong. These were seasoned professionals, organized teams, pack hunters pouncing on door busting bargains. I was flying solo, a want- a -be bargain maverick , who honestly felt more like a shopping desperado. I stiffly moved through the throngs hoping to catch the fever, hoping that something would scream out to me, "hey here I am, you found the Holy Grail, and I'm 50% off"!

There is no competing with pros who have already placed a team member in line to guard their loot and push it along (I actually never saw the line move). So I tell myself,' there is no shame in keeping the few bucks you have for the things you really do need." There are sales and bargains to be had on another day". Most importantly," your thermos is empty, and your bladder is full".

In the end the paltry bag of bargains slung over my shoulder, couldn't convince me to tough out the line, or any lines at any store. Breakfast was sounding better then bargains any way, and I had a chunky monkey waiting for me back at home. Maybe with proper training, or a chance to join a "sale squad" or something, I will brave "Black Friday" again.

IT'S A CAKE!, What did you think I meant? Bake this morning goodie anytime you need something sweet and delicious to lure you back home!


CHUNKY MONKEY COFFEE CAKE
Ingredients: Streusel
1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips
⅔ cup brown sugar
½ cup walnuts chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon ground
CAKE
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
2 each egg
2 ⅔ cups mashed bananas
6 tablespoons buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour 12" round or 9x13 baking pan.
Stir chocolate chips (about 8 ounces), brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon in a small bowl (set aside for streusel).

Instructions:
Beat together sugar, room temp butter and egg until fluffy.
Beat in mashed bananas (about 6) and buttermilk.
Sift together all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Blend well.
Spread half cake batter in prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with half streusel mixture.
Spread remaining cake batter and sprinkle with remainder of streusel.
Bake cake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean (appx. 45 minutes)
Cool cake completely before cutting.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

15 Thanksgivings, And Counting

Richard suggested I tell you about turkey, but I decided to tell you about him, no pun intended. Richard is my friend, partner, and the love of my life. This Thanksgiving we will celebrate the day, 15 years ago, when we chose marriage over turkey and eloped on our only day off.
In the summer of 1991, I set up a lunch for a meeting at a large corporation. Same day, same business, different conference room, lunch was brought in by House Of Catering. When I returned for pick up, my equipment was missing. No surprise that House Of Catering took it, the surprise was that the owner, Richard, was really pretty nice.
Over the next year our professional interest changed and instead of referring and collaborating on business we were actually becoming friends. The change was so subtle I was halfway through dinner one night when I realized we were on a date.
Times got tough in the next year, both business were slowing with the economy and Richard suggested merging. I struggled with the decision of giving up sole propriety but I knew Richard was right. The decision to marry in 1993 wasn't nearly as difficult as deciding to merge, by this time, I couldn't imagine a day apart. He actually never asked me to marry him, he went to the library, looked in a Vegas phone book and got the number for marriage information. When I queried, "what is this about?" he replied, "well, you want to get married don't you?"
We traded a jeweler Christmas party catering for wedding rings. Drove to Las Vegas on a Wednesday night, married on Thanksgiving, then drove back so we could cater a wedding for someone else.
Why elope? because weddings are a lot of work. They were our work.
Richard and I started a tradition of going someplace special every year at Thanksgiving and try to dodge turkey when we can (too much catering of the bird). On the way back from our '95 Thanksgiving anniversary on Catalina Island, I couldn't shake the seasick feeling when I got off the boat. Nine months later, we were in another special place, a hospital where our son was born. Happy anniversary Richard, I love you, and for you, I couldn't be more thankful!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Galley Madness

I would like to meet the guy who designed the kitchen in my otherwise wonderful house. It had to be a man, because a women would know better. I imagine him sitting there thinking, "okay I got bedrooms bathrooms, living room...now what am I forgetting"? When he realizes the kitchen is missing he just pencils in a skinny slip at the back and... nothing more.

When the time came for some home improvements, my husband and I attacked the kitchen first. Our budget allowed for a cosmetic make over and nothing else, blowing out a wall to gain more space was not an option. Our solution for the tiny space? Stream line, modernize, and eliminate anything we could live without, like a second child. We removed cabinets, a section of counter and the pantry, creating a 9'x4' galley kitchen with the maximum capacity of one.

The updated kitchen is nice, a big improvement, but trying to cook in it is never easy. The fridge opens into the doorway thus blocking the entrance and exit, the same goes for the dishwasher. The micro got kicked into an area intended for dining which we gave up to gain storage for pots and pans. Still, many of my appliances are stored in the garage.

Really my biggest beef is with the stove/oven combo by Thermador. I wince every time I think about trying to cook anything on or in it because it hates me. A lighter is necessary to ignite the burners but only three, the fourth will never ignite no matter how much I curse at it. The lighter is child proof so my twelve year old son has to operate it or more curses. The oven refuses to kick on unless a burner is on first and when and if it does, it whirs, sputters, whoops and thumps. Did I tell you they have the nerve to call it"Professional"?

All of this whining about my kitchen only came up because a week ago I decided to bake a cake. Not just any cake, but my brother's favorite and my best catering seller, surprisingly named, "Chocolate Madness". The recipe is an old Hersey's Chocolate original, and is so easy to make unless you are working in a galley kitchen with an oven that hates you. After mixing the batter it dawns on me, I got rid of my baking pans when I closed my business, and had to bake in a spring form wrapped in foil. I can go on, but you get the idea.

I head off to my brothers, chocolate surprise and family in tow. We are celebrating three August birthday's, belated over a month. On arrival, my gleeful niece, Lily, proudly presents her cake, a professional Oreo creation she is ecstatic about. I laugh about my little amateur looking one and I sheepishly place it next to Lily's.

Cake time comes and Lily excitedly insists at running her cake out to the patio for the mandatory "Happy Birthday" jingle. Go ahead, try telling a ten year old to "be careful,"to "slow down", you know whats going to happen, it's" sit com" predictable. The cake, of course, flies gracefully out of her out stretched hands onto the waiting white carpet.

As luck would have it, we had another cake! The kitchen and the oven may conspire against me,
but the Chocolate Madness with"Happy Birthday" scrawled on it (and the carpet spotter )saved the day!

CHOCOLATE MADNESS CAKE (HERSHEYS) Ingredients:
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 each egg
1 cup milk
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 times makes 8" cake
3 times makes 14" cake.
Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

CHOCOLATE FROSTING: Ingredients:
3 ½ cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup cream
¾ cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions:
Sift together sugar and cocoa placed in a mixing bowl with paddle attachment . Mix in butter and vanilla.
Heat cream add and mix until smooth.

1.5 times makes 8" cake

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hide The Zucchini

I promised to bring you more fall, and I'm a woman of my word. Something about fall makes you bake. Most people find baking a glorious heart warming experience. I do not. Baking requires trust in the recipe, strict adherence to the rules of baking and has a "no taste as you go" policy in effect. It's not the trust thing I have a problem with, but the fact that you can't "wing it" in baking and turn out the product in the picture... Oh, and my oven hates me.

You are wondering what this has to do with zucchini? Well, this is the time of year when the abundance of summer squash crops can meet up with any ones passionate quest for creative baking material, and inspire the making of zucchini bread. I have seen this phenomena before, I was raised this way, it's a great trick to hide vegetables in yummy baked goods, and all the mom's are doing it.

I grew up on an urban farm. An urban farm is an acre or two in the heart of town where family size crops and barnyard animals abide. On our farm, my industrious mother always planted so much squash, we had to eat it at every meal and every day through the summer. Even our neighbors, saturated in squash, started turning it down.

Toward the end of September it was impossible to keep up, the zucchini grew as big as baseball bats and our protests about eating it grew louder. Mom got creative and ingeniously started sneaking squash into baked goods. Zucchini cakes, breads, muffins started appearing on the kitchen table. Neighbors answered their doors again, welcoming this well concealed version of the vegetable. The whole family loved moms zucchini creations, and though she may have not have fooled anyone, everyone ate more.

Take advantage of seasonal abundance of zucchini, and the natural inclination to bake. This is a recipe you can trust, I found it in Cook's magazine years ago. Follow it and it works! Give some to to your neighbors, fool your kid's and send some to me. I hate to bake, but I love to eat!

Zucchini Bread Ingredients:
1 pound zucchini, shredded
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled

Directions:
Pre heat convection oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9x5 loaf pan generously with cooking spray.
Shredd and squeeze zuchini to remove water.
Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder,cinnamon, allspice and salt in large bowl.
Whis sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice and butter inbowl until combined.
gently fold yogurt mixture and zucchini into flour mixture until combined.
Transfer batter to greased pan.
Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and skewer comes out with a few crumbs.
Turn out onto wire rack for cooling.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tastes Like Spain


One look at my passport and you would know I am due a trip. Last used in China in 1994, my passport gave up hope of travel and expired years ago. I realize I sound pitiful, who's fault is it any way that I chose to chain myself to a stove for a decade? China was great, I'm glad to have gone, but if I get away this century my choice is Spain.

Why Spain? Because the fact that is, it's beautiful, and old, and known for its amazing flavorful lifestyle and cuisine. Of course I don't have first hand experience, but I've heard stories of cities jam packed with restaurants, cervecerias, tascas, sidewalk terrazzas and bars. The scoop I got was bars stay open until dawn serving legendary "tapas", small plates and tidbits of things most delicious.

In an effort to learn more about tapas, I did the usual research, books, articles, internet. I must say however, experience is the best teacher, if I want to learn anything, I get in the kitchen and cook! Soon I was turning out albondigas (little meatballs), crisp bite sized breads topped with olives and chorizo and garlic sherry shrimp. Omelets with spicy sauces and potatoes, mushroom flan, saffron clams and fruity sangria.

Spain made its way onto my catering menu, drawing praise for it's flair and flavor. The small plates where easy for cocktail guests to manage. In a situation where there was no guest seating I developed the "Tapatini", a martini glass filled with bite size tapas instead of the usual beverage. I enjoyed teaching classes on "tapas parties", as well, the food was fun and the sangria...oh, the sangria!

I 'll keep itching to go to Spain for the real honest to God, in your face tapas experience. Until my plane leaves, I'm settling for my version of,"what Spain must taste like." If have a big enough suitcase I will bring Elton John as well, he sang ,"they say Spain is pretty though I've never been"... I can tell, he wants to go too!..

Albondigas - Spicy Spanish Meatballs ( makes a ton, you know everything I make is big!)
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound spicy ground sausage
8 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
4 tablespoon oregano, finely chopped
4 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon ginger, ground
½ teaspoon allspice, ground
½ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 egg, beaten
5 tablespoon flour
olive oil, for frying

Directions:
Combine all ingredients except flour and oil in large bowl.
Mix together well. Roll mixture into small balls and toss lightly in flour.
Heat oil in pan over moderate heat.
Cook until evenly browned and cooked through, turning often for about 12 minutes.
Drain well and serve. makes about 50-60 meatballs.
Something for the Spanish cheese plate...

Zamorano a raw milk cheese from said region of Spain. The cheese is made from the milk of Churra and Castellana sheep. Now I never met a Churra or Castellana sheep but I can imagine a happy fuzzy, four legged creature lazily munching on sweet grass. The cheese of these blissful sheep is remarkable. When it touches your tongue, you taste....fresh milk and sun. Zamorano is available at Frogs Breath Cheese Store, along with many terrific Spanish cheeses and wine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reunited with Red Dragon


Once upon a time... I created a Renaissance themed birthday party for a clients 70th. The menu was perfectly period, with bangers, prime rib roasted turkey legs. The show piece de resistance was the "Market Place" a table over 20 feet long laden with fruit, cheese and charcuterie. One of the featured cheeses on display was Red Dragon , a bit hot and feisty like its namesake. I loved this cheese but alas I couldn't use it enough to stock it and so we lost touch.

Working at Frogs Breath Cheese Store I have the chance to meet up with some old friends, like Red Dragon. Red Dragon is a rich flavorful Welsh cheese, one of the few still made in the farmhouse tradition. Red Dragon is a pasteurized, cows milk cheddar cheese aged 3 months. The cool thing is the tangy, spicy flavor it takes from brown ale, and mustard grains.

This is not a foofy French cheese, Red Dragon puts you in a pub, hugging your buds and slugging down pints. I steer guys, planning a game of pool or some other male bonding event, to its rustic bite. When mentioned it pairs with cured meats, pretzels and ale, there is love in their eyes.

I may never stage a "Renaissance Feast" again, I still like to indulge in a properly prepared stout cheese, as you may. If this inspires you to head off with your pals to the tavern, please don't ask me along. I'll be headed home to my own boys and a wedge of Red Dragon.
"Iiechyd da"!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fall out


Living in Southern California, its hard to tell, but there is a ever so slight hint of fall in the air. Its not in the middle, but on either ends of the day. I shouldn't act surprised, I'm back to stressing over my sons lunch box and fighting my way through the crush at school pick up.

Really you can hardly judge the arrival of the season by the store displays, fall items were already up on the morning of July 5. Since then, stores have been proudly featuring fall things like pumpkins and Halloween bric-a-brac. Also by this time anything "summery", sent to the 1/2 off bin. Try to find a swimsuit after July, I dare you.

It's time now to decorate with with dead leaves and shamelessly eat tiny candy bars and fist fulls of candy corn. I think of apples, dipped in caramel and squashes and how cool it is that cob webs are in. The oven replaces the grill, as savory roasts and sweet pies are on the menu.

In the spirit of staying ahead this fall I thought you might enjoy this entree. Mediterranean Pork Loin, is a dish that for me, bridges the seasons. Summery flavors tucked inside my favorite fall roast. As usual I have offered a recipe that feeds a crowd, but maybe I have given you a reason to entertain this season.

While I'm writing this I realize there are dozens of great recipes I want to share, all the colors, and tastes both comfortable, and rich. I must warn however, don't get too comfy with fall, before you can put away your tricks and treats, turkeys, pilgrims and Christmas will be up.



Ingredients:
5 lbs. pork loin
½ lb. french bread
1 cup artichoke hearts
6 garlic clove chopped
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices bacon chopped
2 tablespoons capers
½ cup shallots chopped
½ cup green olive chopped
1 ½ teaspoons rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons thyme
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
Butterfly pork loin by cutting length wise down 1 side pork loin 3/4 the way deep, spread open on cutting board, Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay plastic wrap over and pound with a meat mallet until 3/4 inch thick and set aside.
Cut bread into cubes and bake at 300 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes until dry.
In a heavy saute pan saute bacon in olive oil until brown.
Add shallots cook one minute.
Add Artichokes, tomatoes, garlic, capers, herbs and green olives, stir in bread cubes and chicken broth.
Pack stuffing mixture down center of pork and roll over stuffing overlap at closure and secure with cooking twine every three inches.
rub with salt and pepper place on rack seam side down in roasting pan and roast at 475 degrees for 10 minutes then drop down temperature to 325 degrees and roast approximately 1 hour until center reaches 150 degrees.
Cover loosely with foil, allow to stand about 30 minutes before cutting. Remove cooking twine, Slice one inch thick for serving. Serves about 12.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Cheese, Please



Frogs Breath Cheese is a grown-up toy store. I covet everything in the store. There are oodles of goodies that food lovers love. There are gourmet jams, jelly's and fancy sauces. Mixes for frilly scones, flavored honey and mustard, crackers and coffee. Tea and teapots, tools, trays, and towels. Chocolates, elegant bottles of oil and vinegar, fondue pots and picnic bags. There is a boutique collection of wine flanking the left wall and exotic salts on the counter.

Then there is the cheese, glorious cheese! Two big jam packed cases of cheese. France is well represented, as is Spain. Dutch, English, and Italian cheese as well as imports from all over the world. Creative American craftsman cheese are among the favorites. People visiting the store for the first time stare respectfully as if viewing fine art.

Priscilla Madrid is owner of a Frogs Breath Cheese Store. Priscilla is an example of a person who can successfully leave her dream to follow her passion, and do it well. I had the good fortune to work with her on a cheese exhibit where she graciously demonstrated the art of specialty cheese trays. After the project, I was restless and Priscilla let me come work in her store.

I am surprised, that though I'm surrounded by cheese it's people that I'm learning about. I meet people who have traveled all over the world, many are visiting from other countries. The most unlikely people I would have guessed as "just browsers", actually know cheese and have discriminating palates. I am amazed how many very young customers are gourmets and excited to share stories of their culinary exploits.

Last spring when I first met Priscilla she spoiled me with a glass of wine and a selection of fine cheese. Now for few hours at Frogs Breath, I get to be around all things unique and delicious. Located in a charming historic district of Orange, California, the store is a special find. While I'm there I'm like a kid in a candy store, only not candy... cheese and more cheese, please.

Frogs Breath Cheese Store
143 N. Glassell, Orange, CA. 92866 714 744-1773

My Cheese Affair

I have been planning on telling you what I did this summer, and here goes...I had an Affair. I'm not trying to keep it a secret, most people know, my husband knows, it was a cheese affair. I know, you think I'm joking, but it's the truth, cross my heart, and stuff like that, and I'm ready to talk about it.

The OC Fair and Events Center, formally known as the Orange County Fair, traditionally runs with a theme. This year the theme was "Say Cheese". The creative minds and Big Cheeses, at the fair, saw an obvious connection to the industry and an exhibit would be needed ...on cheese. With me so far?

This is how I got involved, I know someone who works there, who knows someone, who needs someone to do it. What I was thinking at the time was, "wow, a fun, easy project to do, now that my business is closed and I don't have any plans." So, I go see Joan, Community Relations Director, who eagerly and generously hires me. I wonder sometimes if its because shes thinking a 25 year event veteran and "fresh out of the kitchen caterer" could pull this off, or she had know idea how to post for a cheese exhibit job. Thus I became OC Fair Cheese Exhibit Coordinator.

The cheese exhibit was to take place in a large tent 160x 100 feet, over the last twelve days of the fair. With the name "The OC Cheese A-Fair" approved , I was ready to develop concept for the enormous area. I decide on a old fashion"fair-slash-circus theme" for the venue look and developed a mission statement for its direction. Joan is a half glass over full person, so any cheesy idea I came up with she whole heartedly agreed to. If my ideas weren't crazy enough, Rachelle, Exhibit Supervisor at the fair, and insanely creative, added more.

I had about 12 weeks to create a program, that would educate and entertain fair goers about cheese. My ambitious ideas included an arsenal of 15 different contests, professional as well as amateur demonstrators, these would run on the hour and total 104 stage presentations by the end. In addition, there would be hands on games and activities, an exhibit of antique cheese gear, and educational signs with a bevy of "did you knows"cleverly written on them. I punctuated the theme with circus props, and silly cheesy things like fun house mirrors, a full sized faux cow painted to look like cheese. One of Rachelle's ideas were to have giant cheese replicas made for people to climb and sit on, so we did. She also created the cheese fountain and came up with the idea to hang colorful streamers from the ceiling.

The venue was so big, an exhibit of antique farm tractors would help fill the space. The tractors graciously on loan from the Segerstrom Family were beautiful. In producing signage and meeting with the Segerstrom Farm Foreman, Oscar, I learned everything I ever wanted to know about tractors. To tie the farm theme with the rest of the look, a baby "Happy Cow", was on exhibit as well as a kiddie tractor ride called "Cheesy Rider". The hit of the whole tent, however was "The Mac and Cheese Bowl" a blue child's swimming pool I filled with foam float cut "noodles" instead of water.

The headliner of the "Cheese A-Fair", and truly the most unique, was a 650 pound block of cheese donated by Land O' Lakes, and sculpted by artist Jim Victor, of Pennsylvania. The very act of arranging for, delivery of , installation and elimination of a 650 pound block of cheese is a story itself. Another key feature was the gourmet cheese and wine counter, Joan championed. It was a source for fine cheese amongst a fair known only for junk food and produced by the fairs on site caterer, Ovations.

I realize I'm getting long, so I'll save more detailed experiences for another time. Should I forget to tell you about the "Iron Man Cheese Challenge", the "Easy Cheesy Contest", and the amazing chefs and demonstrators I worked with, remind me and I'll get back to it. Until then, just know I had an exhausting, stimulating affair with cheese,and I'm not over it yet.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

If Life gives you a case... Make Lemonade!!


Maybe everyone doesn't have a case of lemons begging for use or an over producing tree, or a neighbor does... and their not home, but if you did...Heres a big batch recipe for a party size punch! I have never tasted a suitable substitute for the real thing and I love to serve it in a giant glass dispenser. Can you believe I have actually made it to and from a events with this big glass dispenser without breaking it? The lemonade hasn't always been so lucky, and let me tell you, it isn't easy to clean five gallons out of a van.
  On one occasion for a wedding I catered , we set up a lemonade stand at the entrance. The wedding was held outdoors on the hottest summer day in history. Not only was it the best solution to hydrate the melted guests, it served as a great non-alcoholic cocktail time at the start of the event.

Ingredients:

4 quarts lemon
4 quarts sugar
Directions:
Squeeze approx. half case of lemons to get 4 quarts of lemon juice squeezed.
Add 4 quarts of sugar and cook until sugar is disolved.
Add water until 5 gallons is reached.
makes 5 gallons-105 8 oz. cups

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Black dress? No,but this is a dressy appetizer for your next party!

Looking for something elegant to enjoy at your next gathering? slip into this little number! A delicious filling of creamy goat cheese, sweet, crisp pear and candied pecan cradled in a crisp endive leaf.
A few years back I had a call from a client who wanted a fancy dressy cocktail party, but did not want me to use any meat or bread products in the menu. I love a challenge and this was one of the items I enjoyed creating for her evening. Endive with Chevre, Pear and Candied Pecan is so easy to make I love it's fresh taste and know you will too!

Endive with Chevre, Pear and Candied Pecan
Ingredients:
3 heads endive
6 ounces Chevre cheese
cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
1 pear
¼ cup pecans candied

Directions:
Remove leaves from endive heads. Wash and pat dry.
Cut pear lengthwise( seed but do not peal) and dice 1/2. Save other half for tray garnish.
Mix chevre with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, fresh cracked pepper and pinch of salt. Fold in chopped pear and 1/2 of candied pecans. Be very gentle when mixing, best to use gloved hands.
Top each leaf with chevre mixture and arrange on platter, sprinkle with remaining pecans and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, some salt and more cracked pepper.

New look for ...Layered Cheese Pesto Torte

Once and a while, I take a look at a favorite recipe and see if it is ready for a remodel... this one was! Layered cheese pesto spread and I have been friends for a long time. I first made it for a spring cooking class and used a tall flower pot to create it's shape. Get it? flower pot, spring? I thought it was cool at the time, don't laugh... . Now after making it for a few years, and years, it was due for a new look.
Originally the torte had thinner layers of the cheese mixture interspersed with the pesto layers and like I said, was molded in a taller cone shape. Re-styled with the pesto layer on top, the spread has a more dramatic look. Still popular at a party, the updated appetizer can make you popular too!
This recipe is for a large gathering and is very rich. Consider cutting the quantity in half if your having less then 25 guests or serving several other dishes.

Layered Cheese Pesto Torte
Ingredients:

½ lb. feta cheese
1 ½ lbs. Cream cheese
1 lbs. unsalted butter
30 ounce Pesto sauce, Prepared
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:
Strain prepared pesto over fridge overnight.
Bring cream cheese, butter and feta cheese to room temperature.
Beat cream cheese, butter and feta cheese until smooth, scraping occasionally from the sides of the mixing bowl as needed.
Separate 3/4 of cheese mixture and set aside.
Add strained pesto to remaining 1/4 of cheese blend in mixer.
Add 1/4 cup of parmessan cheese.
Blend together until combined
Prepare a 10 inch by 2 inch round cake pan by placing a 24" square plastic wrap on bottom and up sides.
Put pesto cheese mixture in bottom of pan, spread evenly.
Allow to sit refrigerated 30 to 60 minutes to firm.
Layer the remaining cheese mixture over pesto, chill until set.
Turn out onto platter. Remove plastic, and garnish, serve with sliced baguette or crackers.

Indian Chicken, For My Fair Friends

So I haven't had a chance to share what I did this summer, needless to say it was cheesy! I will have to tell the incredible story later, but the short is, I coordinated a cheese exhibit for the OC Fair .
This isn't a blog about the project, but about a few the people I worked with. Kimiko, Julie and Chris, Event Coordinators who work year round at the OC Fair and Events Center. These ladies are lovers of good food and enjoy a good recipe and to share ideas over lunch. They will trip you in the hall if your lunch looks good so they to can learn to make it too! Either that or they are messing with me and only pretend to like my cooking...So any way...Juile, Kimiko and Chris are hard workers and the I am not sure they make time to eat most days, but I finally wrote down the recipe for Indian Chicken to share. The day I brought it in as a leftover, it was one of those cook from the hip dishes I make. You know of course, I put lots of  ingredients in it to make it look really complicated that way you guy's think I work hard too.  Ladies enjoy the recipe, I enjoyed working with you!

Indian Chicken
Ingredients:
1 whole chicken fryer cut into 8 pieces
6oz. plain yogurt
1 tsp. corriander
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. curry
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. tummeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves fresh garlic crushed
1/4 cup cilantro chopped

Directions:
Mix all ingredients together and coat chicken. Allow to marinate 1 to 2 days before cooking.
Chicken can be cooked on a grill, with indirect heat or in a 375 degree oven for approxiamatley
45 mins. or until 165 degrees .

Savory Brunch Bread Pudding

Hey try this recipe! I was looking through my one dish recipes for one of the demos I did recently at the OC Fair. Remembering this as one of my favorite catering dishes, I revised it to fit regular home size pans instead of larger commercial pans. Savory Brunch Bread Pudding is the perfect hearty one dish morning meal.The great thing is it can be assembled the night before, and baked before serving, making it a great dish for holiday mornings. I love how the buttermilk adds a tang to the taste which works well with the other earthy ingredients. I have experimented with many other additions such as sausage, chilies and a variety of cheeses with much success.


SAVORY BRUNCH BREAD PUDDING
Ingredients:
8 each bacon slices
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces mushroom, wild sliced
4 each scallion chopped
1/4 cup chopped dried tomato
2 teaspoons sage dry
8 each egg
5 cups buttermilk
1 cup parmesan cheese shredded
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups french bread cubed, dry
1 bunch sage fresh


Directions;
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease individual custard cups or large 9*13 casserole dish. 
Sprinkle bacon with half teaspoon of black pepper and cook until crisp. Remove, drain and cut into pieces (reserve). 
Cook mushrooms, scallions and dry sage in remaing bacon drippings until tender. Remove with slotted spoon (reserve). 
Add bread cubes to skillet stirring to toast for about a minute. Add reserved bacon and mushroom mixture, stir together another minute or so,add in dried tomatoes . Place in prepared baking dish/dishes.
Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, parmessan cheese, salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Tear 8-10 sage leaves, stir into mixture. 
Pour over bread mixture in baking dish/dishes. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes for individual servings or 40 minutes for casserole dish until set and golden brown. Serve warm, garnished with additional sage leaves. Serves 8.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Goodbye Dinner At Eight!



I closed my Catering business, Dinner At Eight Productions Inc. after a successful 20 plus year run. I didn't sell it, how could I sell it? it was my baby! Catering is what I know and love but I couldn't run it any more either. The game gets harder and harder every year, it can wear you out before you know it. It was time to make a change and start work on new projects I only dreamed about doing, but found hard to do while working in the trenches.

I look back amazed at the thousands of challenging events I had a part in and the millions of things I learned, I know you can't go to school for that!
I have also had many wonderful experiences and worked with many great people clients, vendors and employees as well. You want to know the best part? Catering is how I met and married the man I love, my friend, partner my husband and father of my gourmet son. That's another story, lets cook!