Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cook like a Caterer, October Pic's

Octoberfest fun with Beer Whipped Cheese- Cook like a Caterer page 54
Bleary totaled and with so much food in the fridge, my family is stuffed and ready to hibernate. Only 18 more... yes, 18 more dishes to make and their pictures to take, then I will have prepared and photographed all the recipes in "Cook like a Caterer, Party Sized Recipes for Entertaining" the E book version will be available soon, YEAH!

My goal is to finish this huge task by Halloween, which means blog posting has slipped to the back burner. But with the end so close, I'll break and share some  dishes that are fall savvy, delicious and fun!

We are only days from Halloween... here are a few recipes from the book;
Chili Lime Wings are a great trick  (recipe page 23)...
leave them whole and call them "Bat Wings" perfect for spooky theme parties.

Steak on a Stick with Bourbon BBQ Sauce is another great portable treat at a finger food event. The recipe is on page 43

It wouldn't be fall without pumpkins, so here is a cute mini pumpkin soup bowl. The soup inside is Curry Butternut Squash Soup, recipe page107

An easy fun dish for a child's Halloween party, is Tortellini Skewers page 45.
Arranging the skewers by sticking them on a cabbage head makes a "scary" tasty treat!

Just  a few days left, hope you have wonderful October!

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Catering Classic, Chicken Piccatta

Every caterer has at least one classic dish in their arsenal. A dish that's simple, delicious and appropriate for any occasion. My go to classic Chicken dish is Piccatta, a bright Italian piquant sauce  that stars lemon. The technique of pan frying cutlets and serving in a zesty lemon sauce is perfect for veal, fish, pork or even vegetables.
  Traditional recipes usually call for cooking in butter, I choose to stick with olive or grape seed oil to make it a bit more healthy. Chicken Piccatta can be made gluten free by subbing corn starch for flour when dusting chicken, and adjusting the sauce preparation. Gluten free sauce is made by leaving out the roux (butter and flour thickener) and thickening the sauce with a slurry of corn starch stirred in cold stock or lemon juice. Another way to thicken the sauce is to simply reduce the liquids, but I find that sauce a little thin for my taste.

Some suggestions for preparing Chicken Piccatta for a large group;
  • 5 ounce chicken breast are a ample portion. The flattened breast looks large on the plate, and the dish is rich. 
  • To make ahead, go through all the steps except for number 4. Instead of the oven, put the chicken in the fridge. Make and refrigerate sauce. Before serving, heat the chicken to 165 degrees. Heat sauce and thin if needed with stock or wine.
  • For buffet service, when other entrees are served, consider cutting breasts in strips for smaller portions.  

Those who know me are probably amazed that I'm actually sharing a recipe that makes only 6 servings. I do have the fish version that makes a comfortable 30 servings, Halibut with Lemon Caper Sauce. It's a delicious flavorful way to serve fish for a party...that recipe is in my book, "Cook like a Caterer, party sized recipes for entertaining."

Chicken Piccata                                                                               Chef Renee Fontes

A popular light dish great for any occasion. Quick cooking keeps the chicken moist. The delicate sauce is fresh flavored with lemon and briny capers. The recipe works well for veal, turkey and lamb cutlets as well. Makes 6 servings

1 teaspoon dried dill                                   additional olive oil for cooking
½ teaspoon white pepper                       6 boneless chicken breasts 5 to 6 oz
½ teaspoon salt                                       1 to 2 cups of flour
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil                               6 ounces sliced mushrooms( optional)   

  1. Butterfly chicken breasts, pound with a meat mallet if needed to make even. Mix together dill, 2 teaspoons oil, white pepper, salt and lemon juice, massage onto chicken.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large 12 inch saute’’ pan over high heat, add  2 teaspoons of oil.
  3. Lightly dredge chicken in flour, shake off excess (do this just as the chicken goes into the pan). Place as many breasts as fit comfortably, cook 2 to 3 minutes per side until light golden brown (do this in batches, adding oil if needed).
  4. Place chicken in a single layer on a oven proof pan. Bake until breasts reach 165°F (about 6 -12 minutes, depending on thickness).
  5. Using the same pan, quickly saute mushrooms adding a small amount of oil if needed. Remove and set aside mushrooms. Continue with sauce directions below.       


1 cups white wine                    1½ cups chicken stock
1 large shallots minced                2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons butter                1 to 2 lemons zested juiced
1½ tablespoons of flour               

  1. Add wine to saute pan. Scrape up any chicken cooking bits add minced shallot to saute’ pan, cook until wine is reduced to ½ cup.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour. Continue whisking over low heat for 2 minutes. Slowly add wine reduction and stock, while whisking. Add capers and  mushrooms, bring to low boil, cook until thickened.
  3. Add zest, lemon juice and parsley to sauce. Adjust to taste with additional lemon. Serve over prepared chicken.

Sherry works nicely in place of wine. Capers are salty, so be careful not to add additional salt until the sauce finishes.

For those who attended the Yorba Linda Public Library Mediterranean cooking class on September 8, 2012, thanks so much! I had loads of fun, (until it was dish washing time). The community room was so full, the host had to take out more chairs! Please check that your recipe copy reads 165 degrees on finished chicken breast, the 145 temperature was for halibut version in "Cook like a Caterer," page 152.

Whats your "go to"classic dish?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tapas for an Exceptional Anniversary Party

The same weekend we catered the perfect surprise birthday taco party, we had another gem. Since it's hard to believe we could cater two perfect events in one weekend... we'll call it an exceptional party.

This exceptional party had perky umbrellas dotting a neat stretch of lawn bordered by orange trees and garden roses.
Roses and oranges, oh my!... their scent lingering heavenly in the breeze-less afternoon.

The sun was very high, very hot and stayed put right over the backyard.While warm like a August summer day usually is, it offered in return the bluest sky ever. A cloudless canopy stretching endlessly overhead.

A setting as beautiful as the occasion...
Celebrating 50 years of marriage!

On the patio, stretched two draped and decorated buffet stations near a babbling waterfall and pond. Koi fish delighted the guests... especially the little ones! Food, beverage and dessert stations enjoyed a lush backdrop.

 When the hostess suggested a Spanish Tapas style menu, I was surprised, delighted and intrigued.

Tapas are snacks and finger foods, something that I would normally pitch for an afternoon garden party but rarely do I get the go ahead.
I got the go.
Planning a Tapas menu is creative  there is so many unique and tasty options. Even if some of the appetizers are labor intensive, they are every bit worth the effort.

50th Anniversary Tapas Menu
110 guests

Tapas Platters

 grilled vegetables, marinated lima beans, cured pork, marinated artichokes, chorizo, marinated mushrooms, pickled carrots, roasted peppers, spanish stuffed olives, manchego cheese, kalamata black olives,

 melon wrapped in cured ham, herb goat cheese, dried fruit, grapes and berries

Fresh Summer Fruit

Shrimp Gazpacho
with avocado, capers, onion, celery, dried chili, lemons and lime

 Chevere Torte with Red Onion Jam
cracker assortment

Chafer Items

Spicy Stuffed Sausage Mushrooms
Manchego Cheese Popovers
Spanish Albondigas
Chorizo and Black Bean Empanadas

Station Items

Bruschetta freshly Toasted and
with Three Tomato Pomodoro Sauce

Saffron Seared Chicken Skewers

Sherry and Garlic Braised Beef "Sliders" 

Dessert Cupcakes

Guests gathered to celebrate five decades of special memories. All were treated to a exceptional afternoon of music, good food and friendship.

 "An anniversary is a time to celebrate the joys of today, the memories of yesterday, and the hopes of tomorrow."  ~Author Unknown


Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Perfect Surprise Birthday-Taco Party

There are very few perfect parties.
Why? because something always goes wrong. Maybe you forgot the dip, an extension cord, ran short of ice or the sprinklers came on without warning. But last Saturday ... nothing like that happened.

The party was perfect.

First  the guest of honor was surprised. This is good because when you plan a surprise birthday party everyone is thrilled when the honoree is actually surprised! Next, the guests were genuinely nice. It's a pleasure having a part of an occasion when a big gathering of family and friends are eager to make it a special.

Lovely setting for a summer party!

The hostess (so sweet you can forgive her for having the most beautiful home in town and talent for decorating it) chose the "perfect" invitations.

A fresh and happy yellow in a hue that was ideal for a casual summer patio party.
The late August afternoon is very warm and balmy 85F, but no one seems to mind. With the sun comes big blue skies, lush lawns, sundresses and long evenings with cool drinks and lots and lots of friends.

Touches of, yellow, crisp white, and a little country were built into the presentation. Everything came together to compliment the relaxed backyard setting.

For dinner service we took advantage of the great new grill and bar island for the buffet.  The menu was family friendly, everyone loves Mexican! 


We assembled "street style" tacos  from seasoned grilled steak and chicken freshly cooked on the new grill and filling the air with a delicious aroma. The tacos were served with fresh salsas, home made traditional side dishes, and  appetizers.
Fresh Ideas Events,Tacos Party

 Surprise Party Mexican Menu
 for 70 guests

Jalapeno Cheese Ball with Crackers
Fresh Seasonal Fruit Platter
Crab and Green Chili Cheddar Dip
Red Corn Tortilla Chips

Grilled Vegetable Salad with Cilantro Dressing
Steak and Chicken Tacos
Cheese, Lettuce, Sour Cream, Cilantro, Onions, Pico De Gallo, Limes, Green and Red Salsa 
Mexican Rice
Pinto Beans with Sofrito
Tortilla Chips

Beautiful Home Baked Cookies and "Pie in a Jar" 
Made by a family friend

Fresh Ideas Event Services, Party Fruit Tray
Crab, Green Chili and Cheddar Dip, from Cook like a Caterer, page 57
Jalapeno Cheese Spread, Cook like a Caterer, page 62

 Recipes and more, Cook like a Caterer, Party 
 Sized Recipes for Entertaining
 Renee Weir-Fontes 

Carne Asada Steak Tacos, Cook like a Caterer, page 140

Self Serve Lemonade and Beverage Area

Grilled Vegetables for Salad, Cook like a Caterer, page 97

"To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle"-Walt Whitman

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"OH MAYO!" Catering a Mexican Fiesta

Personally, I love Mexican food, I always have. It's not just the flavor I love, it's the comfort feeling that tags a long...warm, relaxed, and colorful. When a event comes a long with an opportunity to put a Mexican theme to it, I don't just want to serve authentic dishes, I want guests to feel the party too.

Cinco De Mayo is a good reason for a fiesta, but don't stop there! Affordable ingredients, ease of preparation and wide crowd appeal makes Mexican dishes an excellent choice for entertaining year round. A Mexican menu can be as simple as tacos, beans and rice or can have the addition of favorites like; Enchiladas, Tamales, Taquitos or Quesadillas. When made with simple fresh ingredients any Latin inspired dish is a good fit for a fiesta.

At this fiesta theme birthday party for 230 guests, a staff member, made tortillas to serve with the meal. Tortillas are inexpensive to make, and watching them being freshly made adds interest to the buffet. 

Just like menu, the festive look is easy to achieve. Bold color, vibrant flowers, warm terracotta, rustic pieces in wood, iron and clay work well for decorations. Use new serapes as table runners, fresh chilies, tomatoes and limes make great centerpieces, and paper flowers or pinatas keep cost down.

Bigger pieces rented from a prop house can turn a backyard tennis court into a Mexican village. Live Mariachi music is a wonderful treat at a special event. Having service staff in costume, and asking guests to dress up, adds to the fun.

(It only looks like the donkey is having a bite!)
The best way to offer fresh food at a fiesta is to cook on site at cooking stations or to create an open kitchen. Guests enjoy seeing the preparation which is part of the entertainment. The vegetables for this salad were grilled first, then the grill was used for cooking the Ancho Chicken for the main course. Once the vegetables cooled, the salad was assembled and served with Cilantro dressing.

 Fiesta Menu 
 230 Guests

Black Jack Quesadillas 
with Salsa Fresca
page 16
Carnitas Soft Tacos
page 142 
Taquitos Poquitos 
with roasted garlic guacamole
page 40
Cabo Shrimp Cocktail
page 20
Crab Green Chili and Cheddar Dip 
with fresh made tortilla chips
page 57

South American Grilled Vegetable Salad with Cilantro Dressing
page 97
Ancho Chili Grilled Chicken with Verde Sauce
page 132
Mexican Red Rice
page 123
Pinto Beans
Handmade Tortillas
page 216
Sliced Fruit Tray
page 65

Apple Flautas
page 184
Kahlua Chocolate Flan
page 199 

Classic Margaritas
page 227

On Lulu or also on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LIVE EAT GROW, Design OC Fair '11

The opportunity to work with the community and a handful of talented and dedicated creative people was once again my pleasure for the 2011 OC Fair. The OC Fair held in Costa Mesa is Orange County, California's most popular summer event and has continued to impress for over 121 years.

My part in this yearly tradition is managing entries for the Culinary Arts Department, designing the exhibit and planning entertaining and educational programing for fair guests.

Creating the space where expert home bakers, eager children and talented table designers, show their efforts is my favorite yearly activity. It's hard to believe it takes eight months of preparation to put on a month long event, but the result is truly rewarding.

Why bring this up now? 


LIVE EAT GROW, OC Fair 2011 
Winner of-
Western Fairs Association Best Props and Decor Method! 

So... I'm pulling out the pictures to share.

Judges Chef Phil Knoke, Chef Anahita Naderi, Chef Harry Kho
Three words that defined the culinary 
exhibit space were;
 gardening, home cooking, 
 good food and enjoyment in sharing with the community. 

The giant letters at the front of the building and on the stage were hand made by Cy Vojak at CR Studios.

The title wall was like a big canvas for whimsical vegetables, garden hose, water cans and kitchen gear. Covered by moss, it helped shade the open ended building from the afternoon sun.

 The temporary tin structure was secured to empty canopy frames to define areas and cut some of the height from the buildings huge expanse. Collected props, artifacts and recycled urban artifacts decorated the building. Many were planted with herbs, plants, vegetable, fruit and citrus trees. Vintage aprons were suspended overhead as well as bird cages, globes, and decorative strings of carnival lights.
Herb planted piano is one of the larger props that guests love. The giant knife fork and spoon were in everyone's photos.

The Plant Stand just north of the Fairgrounds at 2972 Century Place  Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The Plant Stand created a beautiful corner where they offered culinary herbs and gardening advice to fair goers. Their high quality affordable plants and gifts are available year round

So many great things under one roof, one post isn't enough! Looking forward to a new look for 2012 "Home Sweet Home" Fair dates are July 13-August 12...Costa Mesa, CA. come by and say hi!