Sunday, December 19, 2010

All I need For Christmas, I already have

Colander, a place to rest your chicken

I remember reading somewhere that before your children write a list of what they want for Christmas, it's good to have them write a list of what they already have. This hasn't been tried at my house yet, but maybe this is the year. I secretly hope that home, and being loved would top the list and not the Wii.

As I look at a copy of the Sur la Table Holiday Gift Book,( also known as cooks porn) resting next to me, with pages carefully marked to everything I want, I realize it's nothing I really need. So, I put together my own list of what I use to cook both professionally and at home. Just so you know, appreciative family, friends and clients to cook for are at my secret top.

Here is a few of my favorite kitchen things I find impossible to live without. Most items are simple, obtainable and affordable, just what a cook needs and what I remind myself I already have!
good stuff
Sheet pans - 1/2 sheet pans they are called fit home ovens. Restaurant quality available at a supply store.
Instant read thermometer - Never try to guess the internal temp of your chicken! 
Tongs - all sizes from springy heavy duty to light weight small pinchy ones. Can't have enough tongs!
Colander- simple stainless steel with feet for better draining.
Nesting glass bowls - I bought mine at Williams-Sonoma. I'm on my second set, wore the first ones out.
Standing Kitchen Mixer - I have a old white one a Kitchenaid, probably an antique by now.
High quality stainless steel measure cups and spoons - I like my set from Williams-Sonoma.
Glass measure cups - I love the 8 cup from Pampered Chef as well as Pyrex 1 and 2 cup.
Wooden spoons - classic tool, kind on pans and hands.
Neck timer - great for when you have to leave the room with cookies in the oven.
Wire whisks - wood handles are best for leaving it in a cooking sauce to keep from being burned.
Pastry brush - I don't like the plastic or silicon ones, give me a wood handle and traditional bristles.
Pastry bags and tips - I keep several sizes of each for cake decorating to filling deviled eggs.
Scoops - several different sizes, to perfectly portion meatballs, cookies and the like.
Food processor - large capacity is best, simple easy to clean is what your looking for.
Ceramic white platters, plates bowls - all sizes, best for entertaining in any season and for food photos.
Bamboo cutting board - I love how it wears.
Microplane - easy to use grater for fine zest.
Cheese knives - all sizes, essential tools for appetizer serving.
White flour sack towels - (no paper towels) a habit I developed from working in commercial kitchens.
Le Creuset -  51/2 Qt. nothing better for sauces, soup, stews.
8" Chef knife - my two favorites are Wusthof- Classic and a Shun. I had to get the Shun when prepping for a cooking demo for Alton Brown and ended up really liking it.
Le Creuset, birthday gift from my husband

My favorite item is in a class by its self a 13" old Magnalite skillet, well seasoned by daily use. Not sure where you can get a pan like that nowadays, (mine I nicknamed Serious Black) he's ugly but well loved, but has been with me about 30 years. If your reviewing your own needs, or looking for a gift for the cook in your life, I hope this list helps.
Serious Black in action

If I don't get another chance before Christmas, I wish everyone a happy and wonderful holiday season, Chef Renee. 
essential cheese knives make great gifts

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Catering Boat Parade Party

Big surprise, it's record breaking cold back east. If you are from any of the frozen states, you may not want to know that Saturday and Sunday were balmy and beautiful here. Not that it's unusual weather for Orange County, California, but in the middle of December, guests wanted to trade their Christmas sweaters for shorts! Though snow drifts and winter scenes are holiday inspiring, good things can also be said for eighty degree evenings under swaying palms at Boat  Parade Christmas Parties.

Catering a party Saturday and Sunday, was the best way for the host to accommodate their many guests in their home, that's a little tight. I set a cooking station with a butane stove on a stretch of counter space in the kitchen to prepare Black Jack Chicken Quesadillas, (tortillas filled with black beans, pepper jack cheese seasoned chicken) and fresh salsa.

Next to it, a paninni grill worked perfect to make Patty Melt Sliders with sharp cheddar, grilled onions on nicely toasted reversed french rolls. 

The other appetizers were served on the dining table decorated in festive gold and red.
- menu -
black jack chicken quesadillas
patty melt sliders
crab, green chili dip with red tortillla strips
endive leaf with candied pecans, pear and chevre
spicy sausages wrapped with bacon
ginger sesame pork loin platter with chinese noodles
tri-tip steak skewers with chimichuri sauce
twice baked mini potatoes
artichoke cheese cake

Working cooking station for patty melt sliders and black jack quesadillas

patty melt sliders with grilled onions
appetizer buffet in low light
ginger sesame pork loin platter sitting on a bed of Chinese noodles
crab green chili dip with red tortilla strips

My attempt at a boat parade picture in the dark
The hostess made macadamia torte dessert and the host took guests on his colorfully lit boat to parade around the lake.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Catering a Chocolat/Chocolate Birthday

At dinner with Sheri and Lucky weeks ago, we reminisced about Sheri's 40th chocolate themed birthday. Though it was a few years back, it prompted me to pull out these pictures of Sheri's party to share.

Sheri celebrated forty years on a spectacular summer night with special friends, music and food. The chocolate theme was not just about the food, it was inspired by the movie Chocolate (Mirimax Films 2000). Stars Juliette Binoche, who plays a woman who shakes up a French town with unique chocolate concoctions. There is a scene of a birthday party for the bittersweet landlord, played by Judi Dench,  where the food is served family style under a canopy of lights in the early evening. This is the feeling we were striving to achieve. Frankly, my dear... I think we got it!

- menu for 40 guests -

Appetizer Table
cheese, fruits and bread arrangement
bruschetta toast with fresh pomodorro sauce
tapenade, sun dried tomato baguettes
herbed fetta cheese spread, kalamata olive croustades
handmade sausage in pastry with thyme mustard
blue cheese torte with dried cherries

Dinner served family style
grilled vegetables over baby romain with pepitas and cilantro dressing
ribeye steaks with tarragon butter
grilled lamb chops with jalapeno cream sauce
ravioli with wild mushroom sherry sauce
peruvian potato salad
rustic breads with olive oil and vinegar

Desserts Table
Kahlua chocolate flan
chocolate dipped strawberries
flour less chocolate cake
chocolate cream puffs
chocolate madness cake
biscotti and other petite chocolate desserts

appetizers before sunset
The Dining table was set under an open canopy of lights covered in ivory and saffron with deep red and chocolate accents. The flowers were simple arrangements of rich red roses and chocolate colored cosmos in heart shaped glass vases. menu items were plated on terra cotta and ceramic platters, passed and placed on the table by wait staff. The menu featured summer fresh produce and simple preparation.

dinner served family style
A bountiful appetizer display featuring fine cheese, summer fruit, savory dips and spreads that compliment rustic breads and a favorite wine. The dessert was also served on a display table groaning with chocolate overload.

decadent chocolate table
For dinner ribeye steaks were roasted rare, then grilled and dotted with tarragon. Lamb chops, also grilled were served with a bit of heat from a spicy side sauce. Heart shaped ravioli sauteed in brown butter and served with shallots and wild mushrooms cooked in sherry and cream reduction. Latin flavors in the two salads were a nod to the culture of chocolate. But more than the dishes served, the act of bringing friends to the table made everything perfect.

under a spectacular lit open canopy
More often then not, movies and favorite scenes inspire great parties. Design, theme and style of service will compliment and complete the event. Bring out the swatches, pictures and ideas you love when you plan your next event and achieve delicious results!

Sheri is treated to music by a friend
preparing foods on site
guests arriving

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Better Off Red, colorful catered baby shower

I imagine my eyebrows lifted a little when Pat told me the colors for the lunch she was hosting were red and yellow. Not that there is anything wrong with the colors, having become so accustomed to the traditional pastel pallet for baby showers, I was pleasantly  surprised.

Red is strong, cheerful, a favorite for signs and the color of love. I find yellow equally charming, it makes me think of smiley faces which is a good thing, on the day of the shower, the weather wasn't a smiley kind of day.  With a moody sky overhead the choice of red, with bits of yellow, turned table linen, favors and flowers into bright welcoming beacons.

Overcast skies aside, family and friends gathered and enjoyed a lovely shower. Inside the kitchen of Pat's beautiful home, was the ideal spot to set out a simple fall lunch.

Fall Buffet Menu 
for sixty guests

orchard chicken salad with apple cider vinaigrette

dried cranberry, ginger and almond turkey salad on croissants

sun dried tomato tortilla pinwheels with deli meats and cheeses

orzo and wild rice salad

broccoli, cheddar salad with golden raisins

fresh fruit kabobs

lemon and red velvet cup cakes with cream cheese icing

Red table linens brighten the patio.
Color loves to show off, so I used white platters and glass bowls for the food for a crisp look. Glass bricks and a yellow flower pot are used to raise platters. Labels to identify dishes, are a nice way to make guests feel comfortable.

Cupcakes make dessert serving easy. To create a floating look for the lemon and red velvet treats, I used staggered glass squares over stocky cube vases for an airy stand. Glass bricks make small but pretty serving stands.

More ideas to add your event. When you entertain next, be daring, be brave, ditch the predictable shades and welcome red!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Setting The Scene For Halloween

Thank God, pasta has a long shelf life! I finally thought of an interesting seasonal idea for the fettuccine I got from the very kind Rachel at "bloggers can cook night" in September see Back In Blackmarket  and Blackmarket Magic

My friend, Chef Debbi, was kind to give me this huge butternut squash Saturday when my mom and I came to see her demo on Fall Gardens. Not to change the subject, but "The Plant Stand" in Costa Mesa hosts these great free classes, Chef Debbi is a regular, anyway, you have to get by and see this place it is cool!

So with my pasta, and my squash I made...

Cabernet Fettuccine with Curried Butternut Squash and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

12 oz Cabernet fettuccine
1 clove fresh garlic minced fine
2 tablespoons olive oil

8oz butternut squash (about 1 1/2 cups cubed)
2oz Spanish onion (about 1/4 cup)
1tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup chicken broth (low sodium/ home stock)
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon dry basil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
4 small (softball size) pumpkins for serving

serves 4

Peel and cube squash, chop onion. In a medium saucepan soften onion 3-4 minutes in oil, add squash, curry powder and basil stir over heat another minute. Next add broth bring to a simmer and cook until squash is soft 20-30 minutes, add brown sugar and salt (or to taste) process or blend squash mixture until smooth. Return to pan add cream and keep warm for serving over pasta.
Cook Fettuccine in salted water, drain and dress in 2 tablespoons olive oil fresh garlic (salt and fresh ground pepper optional)  If using Cabernet Pasta, only cook to 6 minutes.

Pumpkin Seeds
Cut away top, clean and empty small pumpkins. Separate the seeds, wash, pat nearly dry sprinkle with  a few pinches of salt, sugar and dash of cinnamon. Roast in a 375 degree oven 5-10 minutes until crisp.

You really want to know what's scary? Decorating for the season with two teenage boys and my nephew. They show no interest unless there's blood, preferring skateboard stunts to my plastic pumpkins. Obviously we have two different ideas of decorating, mine is "fall splendor" theirs is "Halloween mayhem"(according to them fall leaves are dead leaves) apparently all sorts of gore, fangs and severed body parts is where it's at.

When it comes to Autumn, best to decorate in layers. That way as the "scene" changes from fall leaves to goblins, it makes for a easy transition. If you lay down your fall leaves, seed pods, dry corn, acorns and pumpkins the first of October, you can bring Halloween decor to add to it by the end of the month. If you put the Halloween garnishes away by the first of November, you can add Thanksgiving decor in it's place.

Every year I hold the family and friends for the annual "trick or treat night" We have lot's of fun snacking on haunted treats and have begun making some of our own creative Halloween decor. I have learned a few things on Halloween entertaining;

Provide sturdy paper sacks or boxes with each guests name so they can put their costume pieces inside.

Food should be easy to eat, as many guests in costume.

Best to avoid food that require knife and fork action.

Make sure all candles are in covered containers and not in main traffic areas. 

Allow me to sample your chocolate first.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fair Food, Belgium Beer and Waffles, Now That's a Reception!

Trying to squeeze Cary and Sofie's wedding event into a single post was nearly impossible, see "Under a Canopy of Lights, a Mid Summer Night Reception." Maybe because this is probably the strangest assortment of ideas (that actually worked) for a wedding reception that I have done yet! Tropical/Pacific themed menu, deep fried fair food, Belgium beer, waffles and chocolates, Danish Meatballs, a photo booth, restyled traditional cake under an elegantly lit  open canopy. I'll take up where I left off after appetizer/dinner menu, on the last post and start with the cake.

Cary wanted me to bake a cake he remembered his grandmother making. Grandma Helen, gave me the family's old fashioned Oatmeal Spice recipe, (she had her doubts it would work for a wedding) but the recipe was easy and the cake, a piece of cake! I happened to be working as the Culinary Coordinator at the county fair this year, I ended up baking and decorating it as a stage demonstration the day before the reception. It was really fun having the family, bride and groom all in the audience watching their cake being made.
The wedding cake was decorated in the evenings tropical theme. Flowers on top are made of sugar and created by
Shaile's Edible Art
Before I go further, I have to back up and explain the fair connection. Cary's family has been involved in the organization and management of the Orange County Fair for at least 50 years, so it came as no surprise when arrangements were made to include some fair time favorites. An after dinner snack was planned that included deep fried treats by Chef /Owner, Charlie Boghosian of Chicken Charlie's, a fair food celebrity who's award winning goodies are a summer tradition. Charlie brought Oreos, Twinkies and White Castle Burgers and trained me on the finer points of deep snack frying.
Chicken Charlie and I with a soul satisfying fried Twinkie. Yes this is a burn on my arm, I earned it while baking the cake.
After dinner, we then went to work on Belgium Waffles, (forever to be known as waffles at midnight event) By this time, the make shift catering kitchen was more then a little dark we managed to prepare the Belgium treats from scratch and serve them with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Now the only problem was no one was hungry by that time and the waffles were both perfect and perfectly uneaten!
Waffle had to wait for a day time picture.
Sofie, the bride lent me her wonderful Danish meat ball recipe, which I made up to fry along with the deep fried snacks. In tribute to Belgium, imported beers were served in personalized stemmed beer glasses. Cary's fathers favorite statue was added to the beverage table, for a tongue in cheek final touch.
It's colored water, the lemonade was lemonade!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Under a Canopy of Lights, a Mid Summer Reception

The white lit frame of the open canopy was spectacular at night.

I've held off talking about Cary and Sofie's California wedding reception because I didn't know exactly where to start. My history with this wonderful family goes back at least 35 years, having known them professionally and as friends. Cary   announced his engagement to the lovely Sofie, whom he would marry in Belgium, where they work and live. The wedding reception was one of three,  events planned. The first wedding and reception in Belgium, the second reception in Denmark and Finally the third reception in California.
Greens and brown color scheme and natural wood chairs add a relaxed but elegant look to the table. Square white plates keep the table looking crisp, the white is carried through in the event drapes.

The California reception, two weeks after the wedding was to have a "Pacific Islands" theme. The plan included tropical plants, warm colors, relaxed atmosphere with spectacular lighting for the spacious tennis court.
The couple wanted the menu to be elegant and relaxed, so I created a tropical inspired menu with influences that stretch from the Caribbean to the Pacific Rim. This would offer guests a break from the norm and a chance to explore sweet, savory, spicy flavors, ingredients and preparations.
Buffet with bamboo accents, tropical flowers.
Two Week Anniversary Menu for 150 guests
california and imported cheese array
chicken negimaki with ginger wasabi dip
sliced fresh fruit with coconut rum sabayon
grilled chorizo with peppers
island shrimp gazpacho
tri-tip barbacoa with mojo mop
calypso pork with guava habanero sauce
grilled chili lime sweet potatoes
caribbean black beans with sofrito
creamy shell pasta with spinach and
yogurt dressing
peanut slaw
dinner rolls and butter
Grandma Baiely's oatmeal wedding cake
belgium chocolates
late night snacks
belgium waffles with strawberries and Cream
danish Meatballs
chicken charlies, deep fried treats

On an early visit to California, one of the couples first meals in the states together was tri-tip barbecue beef. Tri-tip is a bit of a family tradition, (Cary's grandfather Jim, is an accomplished pit master himself). I gave the beef a twist with a spicy mojo mop and Jamaican jerk spices were rubbed onto pork butts before slow roasting and serving with my special guava habanero sauce.  Other dishes carry out the island theme included; black beans with sofrito, chili lime grilled sweet potatoes and a creamy cool shell pasta dish.
Appetizer table  is set on a 66 inch round and loaded with flavors.
The appetizers included fruits such as melons, kiwi, pineapple, and papaya with a coconut rum sabayon.  Shrimp was served with a tropical gazpacho style sauce garnished with avocado and mango. A ginger wasabe sauce added a burst of flavor to the Chicken Negimaki, and the spicy chorizo sausage brought Latin flair to the table. 
The cheese assortment included many of my favorites like Rosey Goat, Port Wine Derby, White Stilton, Cotswold, Herbed Chevre, Brie in Puff Pastry, Fresh Mozzerella with basil and grape tomatoes and the slightly exotic Gorgonzola Picante among others. Not exactly associated with the sun-drenched beaches of the Caribbean, but cheese loves a party.
Hard to believe this was a tennis court just the day before!
Keeping this post from getting any longer, I will wrap up part 1 by saying "that's not all folk's!" There is a story behind the traditional, not so traditional wedding cake and a serious late night snack menu that includes guest chef appearances. There are also interesting logistics that go with catering on a tennis court. So more to come!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Christmas Countdown, Menu and Catering

Christmas is coming, I know this because stores are busy staging tinsel laden faux trees next to the horror masks for Halloween. It always happens just after my sandals are broke in and soon after I grow accustomed to stepping over school books.

Retailers are hard at work pounding innocent shoppers with mounds of candy corn, turkey platters and essential reindeer lawn decor.  I wonder if it's possible that events in October, November and December morph into a single event we will call "Hallowthanksmas"?

Any who, the other clue that were rushing head long into long lines and empty wallets is my clients, they are already checking party dates! This led me to reminiss at some of last years festivities, so I'll share this little holiday event held for the boat parade in Yorba Linda.

First, yes, Yorba Linda has a small body of water they call a lake and the tiny houses on the tiny lake have tiny dinghies, which are neat when decorated with lights and parading around for Christmas. Second, 50 guests can fit into a bulging little house provided you hold it on an early Sunday evening, so guests can find parking and don't mind being cozy.

Holiday Boat Parade Catering Menu for 50 guests

tortellini martini, porcini mushroom sauce with caramelized onion 

panini grilled Baby baguette sandwiches with artichoke,
prosciutto, capicola, genoa and provolone

lumpia with sweet chili sauce

spicy sausage stuffed mushroom caps

chicken negimaki with wasabi sauce

steak on a stick in bourbon barbecue sauce

baked brie in puff pastry with cranberry and walnuts

potluck desserts

When planning a holiday gathering, in small quarters focus on food that won't need a knife and fork, is filling but manageable. Keep in mind that some dishes are best made on the spot. It takes at least one chef to prepare any fresh menu item like these "Tortellini Martinis" cooked at a pasta cooking station. 

The tortelini is tossed in porcini mushroom sauce then topped with caramelized onions and parmesan cheese, (served in a martini glass, by the way, it is a great portable menu item). The same is true for Lumpia, crisp and delicious phillipine style eggrolls that do require last minute cooking.

Steak on a stick gets it's kick from the bourbon barbecue sauce, infused with fresh rosemary. The meat is marinated, cooks quickly and hold up well in a chafer, as do Spicy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms. Both the Stuffed Mushrooms and the Steak on a Stick are perfect at cocktail parties and they are great man food!

Panini grilled baby bagutte sandwiches are so delicious fresh off the griddle. Any filling is good but I especially like the combination of marinated artichokes, procuittio, cappicola, genoa and provolone cheese. I first spread zesty dijon mustard on a super skinny baguette, slip in the goodies then brush with seasoned olive oil before toasting. Cutting the sandwiches on a bias makes them easy for guests to handle at a stand up affair.
Chicken Negimaki is probably one of the best "cook ahead" dishes on the menu. Chicken breast is first rolled with green onion and peppers, then in toasted sesame seeds and seared in a hot pan. Once cooked, they are cooled and sliced into medallions, skewered and served with a wasabi ginger dipping sauce.
I am a huge fan of this brie made and perfectly flavored with cranberries and walnuts for the best seasonal flavor.
Going"pot luck" on the desserts is a great way to involve your guests and it helps shave some dollars from your bulging budget. Don't forget to hold some back for Santa, he likes mini cookies and milk from a shot glass (Santa has to watch his waist).
A final note, when dealing  with 50 very hungry guests, remember how fast a kitchen can fill up (everyone is always in the kitchen), even in a larger home, it can be difficult to cook, stage and move about when everyone wants to be in the kitchen. If opening oven doors, cooking with hot oil and lifting trays over your head to refill the dining room isn't what you envisioned for your time, hire some help or look to items that can be made ahead and hold well for several hours.
Wishing you well this Hallowthankmas season, God bless us all, through hectic months ahead! 
photo at top by Zayne Fontes