Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holiday Cheer with Friends (Recipe: Italian Sausage Meatball with Port-Fig Sauce)

An easy way to entertain during the holiday season is to throw a wine and appetizer party. You are able to expand from a simple gathering to an extravagant soirée. By picking a couple great bottles of wine and assorted hors d'oeuvres, your guests are guaranteed to have a terrific time. It is about having a strategy, so you do not get stuck in the kitchen or become a short order cook. Carefully plan your menu to include assemble ahead appetizers, easy to prepare and match the mood of the occasion.

Plan to have each guest drink a minimum of two glasses of wine and eat 3 to 4 of each appetizer. Keep the menu simple, and don’t be afraid to complement with store bought items. Choose dishes that compliment your chosen wines and pair well together. Speaking of wine, highlight two to three varietals of wine – for example: Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Have your guests bring a bottle of their favorite varietals that you are serving and you can have a tasting party.

Recently my husband and I hosted a small wine and appetizer get together with our neighbors to celebrate the holidays. The menu included:
  • Zucchini Bisque
  • Mini BLT Sandwiches
  • Italian Sausage Meatballs with Port-Fig Sauce
  • Roasted tomato-pine nut Crostini
  • Baked Brie with Dried Cherries and Fresh Thyme
  • Classic Crème Brulee
Italian Sausage Meatballs with Port-Fig Sauce

Port-Fig Sauce
2 1/4 Cups Port
10 Dried Figs, stemmed and chopped finely
2 Sprigs fresh rosemary
¼ t. Cinnamon
1 T. Honey
2 T. Butter
Salt and pepper

In a medium sauce pan, combine the port, figs, rosemary, cinnamon, and honey. Bring to a boil and stir the honey until dissolved. Reduce heat and gently cook, uncovered, until it reduces to 1 ¼ cup – about 30 minutes. Take the rosemary sprigs out and throw away. Cool the sauce and process in a food processor until
smooth. Return to the pan and add the butter and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Italian Sausage Meatballs
2 oz. Pancetta (6 slices)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 C. Buttermilk
1 T. Olive oil
1 ½ C. Panko Bread crumbs
2 slices of white bread, crust removed and torn into tiny pieces
1 t. Rosemary, finely minced
1 Lb. Sweet Italian Sausage Links, casings removed
1 Garlic clove, minced
½ t. Salt
1 t. Pepper

In a large skillet, cook the pancetta until crispy and then crumble. In a measuring cup add the buttermilk and torn white bread and let soak for 10 minutes. In a large bowl add the buttermilk mixture, panko bread crumbs, egg, rosemary, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper. Mix slightly. Add the sausage and cooked pancetta and mix well.

Shape the into one inch meatballs, which yields about 40 meatballs. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and cook half the meatballs first then the second batch. Meatballs cook for about 10 minutes until browned evenly. You can keep the first batch warm in oven at 250 degrees until ready to serve.

Happy Holidays and All The Best in 2010!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fondue Party with Friends (Recipe: Classic Cheese Fondue)

Fondue has come back in style with a vengeance. This very popular dish of the 50’s and 60’s has been reintroduced to both old and new generations as a simple yet sophisticated way to entertain. The word fondue comes from the French word fondre – meaning “to melt.” My husband and I like to call it “Fun-do”. Originally this Swiss national dish was made with cheese melted in wine. Endless variations exist which range from classic cheese with wine, cheddar with beer, meat cooked in hot oil or broth to decadent chocolate fondue.

Fondue brings back extremely fond memories from my childhood along with memories from our honeymoon in Europe. We ventured to six countries by various trains, including the Gornergratt Cog Railway to the town of Zermatt in Switzerland. We had a clear view of the Matterhorn from our balcony. We enjoyed authentic Swiss fondue at a small restaurant that was tucked away downstairs with dark wood and low ceilings.

Fondue can be served on celebratory occasions or just as a weekend treat. A fondue party offers many advantages from an entertaining perspective. It is creative, distinctive and can be prepared in advance for the most part. As a host, I cherish the ability to interact with my guests and the clean up is minimal.

For the past several years, we have our dear friends, Phil, Helen and Graydon, over to celebrate the holidays and host a fondue party. We enjoy a three course feast of classic cheese, filet mignon and chicken cooked in hot oil with assorted dipping sauces and finish with a decadent chocolate fondue. Helen makes her famous madelines, which are always a crowd favorite.

Fondue Tips:
  • Prepare the cubes of bread, meat, chicken and/or vegetables in advance.
  • Grate the cheeses and toss with the cornstarch in advance. Typically I will use the microwave to get the cheese fondue started and finish cooking in the pot with the flame.
  • For cooking with oil, the temperature should be between 350 to 375 degrees
  • Chocolate fondue is best served in a smaller fondue vessel with a small candle to keep warm and prevent burning.
  • Make sure electrical cords are placed safely aside, so they can’t be accidentally knocked loose or pulled.
  • Do not overfill with fondue fuel; you can always add more.
  • Protect your table with a large heat proof surface between the fondue pot and your table. Use a wood plank, marble slab, ceramic tiles or heat proof platter.
  • To avoid overcrowding, keep your guests lists to no more than six guests. Use color coded fondue forks for each course.
  • With the meat and chicken course, use separate serving forks to prevent contamination. In addition, make sure the sauces have a distinct section on the plate.
  • If the cheese becomes too thick, thin with a bit of wine or if too thin, add more cheese and cornstarch.
  • For the main course fondue of filet mignon and chicken, cut into one inch cubes and cook individually in the hot oil. Best to use canola or peanut oil. Serve with your favorite dipping sauces. A few suggestions: blue cheese dressing, Thai curry sauce, BBQ sauce and teriyaki sauce.
  • Dessert fondue is always a favorite. It is simply hot cream and chocolate which is melted slowly. You can add grand Marnier, espresso powder or vanilla to flavor. Serve with pound cake, rice crispy treats, strawberries, bananas, macaroons or marshmallows.
Fondue Etiquette:

  • Do not eat from the fondue fork that will be returned to the pot. Provide an extra fork for eating.
  • If you drop your bread into the fondue, traditions says you must kiss your neighbor. Alternatively, you must buy the next round of drinks. If you drop a second time, you must host the next fondue party.
  • With cheese fondue, it is recommended that only one person dips at a time. With an oil fondue, give two forks to each person, so you can cook simultaneously. Electronic fondue pots are ideal for oil fondues since you can maintain consistent temperature.

Classic Cheese Fondue
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 C. Dry white wine
1 t. Lemon juice
2 C. (8 oz.) shredded Gruyere cheese
2 C. (8 oz.) shredded Emmentaler cheese
2 t. Cornstarch
2 T. Kirsch (Cherry Brandy)
½ t. Nutmeg

In a large bowl, add the shredded cheeses and cornstarch and mix well. Set aside.

Add the minced garlic and white wine into the ceramic pot. Heat in the microwave until hot. Add the lemon juice, nutmeg, pepper and cheese. Heat on high in the microwave for about 2 to 3 minutes or until bubbly. Stir and place onto the ignited fondue pot. Serve with cubes of French bread.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Acorn Squash Soup

Nothing nurishes the soul, like a large bowl of piping hot soup on a cold winter’s night. When roasted, the flavor of acorn squash intensifies along with the rich amber color.  The scent that lingers through the house is amazing and sets the tone for the season.  I had some leftover Challah bread from the weekend’s French toast adventure and decided to make croutons to garnish the top of the soup.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tante Marie Cooking School

Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco has been an iconic landmark for the culinary enthusiasts since 1979. They offer classes for the culinary professional, novice or classic foodie who just loves to cook, talk about food and acquire knowledge. The classes range from professional programs, participation courses, guest chef demonstrations or cooking parties.

Tante Marie is located in the North Beach/Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Helen and I have taken classes at the school in the past and typically arrive early to enjoy a latte and bagel at the local café about a block away. Inside the school, it is divided into essentially two rooms with ample room to prep and cook amazing food. A few simple housekeeping rules exist and there is a wonderful person onsite to clean up all of the dirty dishes. Now how outstanding is that? All of the utensils, accoutrements, pans, knives and assistance are provided.

Recently my good friend Helen and I took “Italian Comfort Food” with Tori Ritchie. Tori’s approach to making wonderful Italian food is both simple and packed full of flavor. The class is designed around one hour of orientation and instruction with the remaining four hours to cook, learn and of course eat. We had a total of eleven students in the class with an aggressive menu of superb classic Italian delights.

Helen and I decided to conquer the Roasted Tomato-Pine Nut Crostini and Arancini. I thoroughly enjoy the process of gaining new knowledge and have always wanted to learn how to make Arancini. They are relatively simple and the secret is making tasty risotto and using panko breadcrumbs to coat them prior to frying.

Each time we attend, we meet such a wonderful group of people who love to learn and cook. Tori’s teaching style is very approachable and always provides such “real world” instruction and knowledge. We always leave learning several new techniques and recipes.

The “Italian Comfort Food” class was just that ….. pure comfort food with spectacular Italian ingredients such as: porcini mushrooms, pine nuts and rich olive oil. During the class we had a “hands-on” demonstration for making pasta from scratch. We made lasagna noodles from the pasta demonstration to use in the Porcini-White Truffle Lasagna with Fresh Mushrooms and Lasagna Bolognese. Once you take the time to make fresh pasta, you will NEVER purchase the dried lasagna noodles again. If you don’t have time to make, high quality food stores such as Whole Foods sell fresh lasagna noodles.

What Italian meal would be complete with out having Minestrone? We made one with large Cannellini beans and when ready to serve, fresh pesto was drizzled over each bowl. The extra punch of the pesto made the soup out of this world. Insalata Mista is the classic salad served with practically every meal. Typically has radicchio, arugula and escarole with some chopped chives added for extra flavor. The key is to dress the salad with lemon juice, great olive oil and salt, then toss with your hands. Taste along the way to ensure the proper allocations of acidity and balance are there. Finish with several grinds of pepper for a perfect salad.

A few other key dishes made in class were: Roasted Squash Risotto with Gorgonzola and Rosemary, Nonni’s Pot Roast or Ragu or Sugo, and Osso Buco Classico. With the pot roast we added a bit of cinnamon to the dish and it gave it a whole new dimension of flavor and served it over freshly made pappardelle noodles.

The finishing touch to any great meal is dessert. We made a Bittersweet Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato along with a Sacripantina Cake. The Sacripantina is a multilayered cake made with a vanilla sponge cake, zabaglione (a delicate custard made with egg yolks, sweet butter, marsala and sherry wine) cream, and rum. Stella’s Pastry and Café located in the heart of North Beach is the home of the Sacripantina Cake.

What a wonderful day of cooking, friends, learning new things and being in San Francisco. A certified “Foodie” day of perfection!

Tante Marie Cooking School
271 Francisco Street
San Francisco, CA 94133-2010
(415) 788-6699
Tante Marie

Friday, December 11, 2009

Annual Ornament Exchange Party - 2009

The holidays are such a magical time of year! This season is filled with festive parties, great food, celebrations and cheer. (aka: “adult libations”). For the past 15 plus years, a core group of my friends have had our “Annual Ornament Exchange Party”. The location rotates each year and new friends float in and out, but the core remains the same.

It had been about 4 or 5 years since hosted the party. It is so much fun to plan, decorate and host the event. This year, I chose to use Evite invitations, to simplify and track the responses effectively. We had about a dozen close friends attend, which was absolutely perfect - time to really visit and catch up with everyone.

Each person brought an appetizer or dessert plus a nice bottle of wine. We tend to limit the desserts to just a few or the host provides. Each person tries a new appetizer each year and by the end of the evening, we all want to swap multiple recipes.

Put together a champagne bar this year with pomegranate and tangerine juices along with peach nectar to flavor the champagne. Various liquors adorned a tray on the kitchen island, so each person could make their own creation. Provided red and white wine for everyone, along with waters, sodas and beer.

Never want my guests to go hungry – you could call me a certified “food pusher”, so I made multiple appetizers and desserts for everyone to enjoy.

Rosemary-Brown Sugar Cashews
Crostini with fig jam, caramelized onions and blue cheese
Caprese Skewers
Cranberry Cheesecake
Russian Tea Cake Cookies
Surprise English Toffee

Traditionally, we are all pretty competitive during the ornament exchange portion of the event and things get interesting. Couples tend to strategize together, to select the best ornaments, from their point of view. We draw numbers and a gift can be stolen 3 times and then it is “frozen” and off limits to everyone.  Figured out that being a middle number typically pays off.

A wonderful time was had by all and the last person left close to one o’clock in the morning.
Happy Holidays!!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Team Celebration Lunch

Let the celebration begin! One of my offices won a challenge and the reward was a lunch prepared and served by me at the office. The goal was to make it special for everyone, if just for one hour.

The key to cooking for a crowd is in the preparation, simplicity, while making tasty food for everyone to enjoy. I absolutely love appetizers – in my mind these could be dinner every night. Prepared two appetizers - Parmesan and Edamame Dip with Endive and Green Olive Tapenade with Fresh Ricotta Quenelles. A quenelle is an haute cuisine term for a food item that is formed into an egg or oval shape.

Main course was gourmet BLT’s with applewood smoke bacon, pesto aioli, tomatoes, avocado, red onion and arugula served on a fresh crusty ciabatta roll. Created a side salad of mixed greens and arugula, pomegranate seeds, candied pecans and blue cheese crumbles. Used one of my favorite store bought salad dressings – Brianna’s and the flavor is “Real French Dressing” with the distinctive artichoke on the packaging.

Dessert was a handmade lemon tart with assorted berries which adorned the top. Everyone was full from the lunch; so we had a “pick me up” later in the afternoon and enjoyed the lemon tart. (not a slice left in the office) A perfect way to end the day, to celebrate everyone’s hard work through accomplishing the milestone goal! Congratulations PHC Team!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Edamame and Parmesan Dip with Endive

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Are you looking for a super fast and flavorful appetizer, which is healthy at the same time?  Here is the answer: Edamame and Parmesan Dip with Endive.

2 C. Shelled edamame
1 C. Parmesan Reggiano – Cut into tiny cubes
1 T. Fresh thyme leaves
Grated zest of one lemon
1/2 C. Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
6 to 8 whole endive leaves separated

In a large bowl, mix together the edamame, parmesan, thyme leaves, lemon zest and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Separate the endive leaves. Place the edamame mixture in a decorative bowl on top of a platter. Arrange the endive leaves around. Serve with a spoon or just use the endive leaves as the vessel for the edamame dip.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Daddy's Birthday Dinner

What special gift do you give someone who has everything? What gift is better than any new sweater or wallet – a gift from the heart?

This year for Dad’s birthday, I wanted to put a different spin on my gift to him. Cooking and entertaining is a gift that I love to give. My parents are super busy people, but that keeps them young. We scheduled the birthday celebration for a few weeks ago, so they could be pampered and enjoy a four course dinner.

Pear and Proscuitto Crostini
Mixed Greens with Pomegranate, Blue Cheese and Candied Walnuts tossed with a French Vinaigrette
Asian Braised Short Ribs with Orange Hoisen Sauce and Creamy Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
Brownie Sundae with Rocky Road Ice Cream and Chocolate Ganache Sauce accented with Homemade Toffee

Great Parents...Great Memories....Great Times!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pear and Prosciutto Crostini

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Pear and Prosciutto Crostini

1 Sweet baguette
6 Slices Prosciutto
1 Pear
2/3 C. Crumbled blue cheese

1. Slice the baguette into 20 half inch slices. Lay onto a large cookie sheet. Using the broil setting on your oven, toast each side of the crostini until it is lightly brown.

2. In a large skillet, put the heat onto medium high and crisp up the six pieces of Prosciutto. Lay onto a plate lined with paper towel to drain the excess oil.

3. Slice the pear into twenty thin slices and squeeze a bit of lemon juice onto the slice to prevent browning.

4. To assemble: cover each crostini with blue cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven until melted. Let cool for a couple minutes. Place a pear slice on each one and a drizzle of honey on top of the pear. Top with a small piece of the crisp Prosciutto.

5. Arrange onto a platter and watch them disappear. Serve with your favorite bubbly or white wine.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Vine at Bridges in Danville

The Vine at Bridges in Danville is both a wine shop and casual hang out for the wine aficionado and novice who yearn to taste new wines and gain knowledge. The Vine sports a unique vibe that is casual yet sophisticated. Half is the retail side with a tasting bar and endless bottles of varietals of wines from California and the world. Boutique, limited production wines and intriguing and engaging for any collector. The other half is the wine bar with casual low leather seating ensembles, a long “L” shaped bar and multiple tall tables with bar stools. The walls are a golden color, awash with candlelight.  The concrete floors give it contemporary warmth.

My college friends and I decided to meet at the Vine at Bridges for wine and appetizers before attending a special pre-holiday shopping event in downtown Danville. Pam reserved the corner table which offered a 180 degree view of the place and a perfect position for people watching. Speaking of people watching, as the time passed, the population grew and it was a feast for the eyes. The pretty people abounded, sporting the latest designer jeans and expensive handbags. It was certainly a place to be and be seen. We are all married or taken, so we enjoyed the entertainment factor, good wine, food and spending time with great friends.

Speaking of wine and food, let’s talk! They offer three choices for the wine - 3 oz. taste, 6 oz. glass or by the bottle. Flights of wine were very popular and are delivered in an artistic metal carrier, holding three glasses. Tricia and I began the evening with a taste of the Frank Family 2007 Chardonnay - incredibly rich, buttery and smooth. Once Natalie and Pam arrived, we decided to share a bottle of the 2005 Bridesmaid Meritage from Napa Valley. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This wine ignited with flavors and aromas of rich berry fruits, currant, espresso, chocolate and oak tannins. The texture is velvety polished, elegant and luxurious.

Now onto the food – I looked around to see where the kitchen was positioned and realized that all of the food is produced at the Bridges Restaurant next door. There is a waiter who certainly gets his exercise, by bringing trays of food over as it is ordered. We pondered the menu and selected the Warm Phyllo Wrapped Brie Cheese with roasted pear, hazelnuts, toasted brioche and truffle honey. Our second appetizer was the Wild Mushroom Pizzetta with wild mushrooms, parmesan cheese, fines herbs, and truffle oil. The final selection was the Lettuce Wraps with Chicken and Prawns.  By far, the Phyllo wrapped brie was my favorite.

We had terrific service by the staff and they were extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  The wine shines in the spotlight. The food is tasty, but did not evoke the "wow factor" for us. Overall, if you are looking for a hip Wine Bar in the East Bay, head down to The Vine at Bridges for a nice evening with friends or that special someone.

The Vine at Bridges
480 Hartz Avenue
Danville, CA 94526

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Winter Vegetable Soup

What is better on a cold winter’s night than a hearty bowl of soup? It warms the soul and is extremely satisfying. The secret ingredient to this soup is the parmesan cheese rind – adds that extra richness and flavor. Enjoy with beer bread or your favorite crusty bread.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Artisan Beer Bread

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Beer Bread

I remember being a child and my Mom would make beer bread a few times a year. I just loved the yeasty, earthy and slightly dense texture of the bread. Last night it was a bit drizzly and cold outside, so I thought soup and bread would be a perfect dinner menu. A good friend of ours was coming over and a casual wind down kind of evening was in order, after a long week of work. Made a homemade veggie soup (blog post coming shortly) and enjoyed a bottle of Nicole’s Red from Lancaster Winery. In a word………Perfect!


3 Cups Flour
1 T. Brown sugar, packed
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Baking powder
1 t. Salt
1 Bottle beer (12 oz), Light colored
4 T. Melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9 x 5 loaf pan – I use a non-stick spray to make it easy.

Use a large bowl; add flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. Open the beer and add all of it at once. It may foam a bit. Stir quickly until combined and will be lumpy. Pour into prepared loaf pan and drizzle with the melted butter.

Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is crusty and golden. Let rest for about 5 minutes and then remove from the pan. Slice and serve with butter. If you have leftovers, it makes incredible toast!

Quick Note:  Depending on what type of beer you choose, the flavors will vary.  Try your own artisan beer bread today!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lemon Tart

My husband asked me last week if I would make something for him to bring to work for a potluck.  I was going to make my famous Orzo Salad, but atlas, someone was already bringing that.  My lemon tart is always a winner, so that was the selection that I emailed him with.  When we both got home from work, I asked him how everyone liked it, he said that there were several folks who thought it was store bought.  I guess that is a compliment?

This Lemon Tart is a quick and easy dessert that is a complete crowd pleaser, especially with the ultimate lemon lovers. I suggest serving with fresh assorted berries and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Lemon Tart

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
3 T. finely grated lemon zest
1 - 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 - 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 t. of salt
6 large eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy cream
Assorted berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the middle of the oven. Use a 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the zezt, and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk 1/4 cup of the sugar, pinch of salt and flour together in a bowl. Add butter mixture and stir with a fork. Continue until the dough begins to come together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers. Pour into tart pan and press with your fingertips evenly up the side and into the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes and let cool on wire rack while you prepare the filling.

Process the remaining 1 cup of sugar and the remaining 2 tablespoons of zezt in a food processor until the zezt is finely ground.

Whisk together the eggs, the sugar and zezt mixture, the lemon juice, and another pinch of salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Beat the cream with a whisk until thickened, in a seperate bowl. Sitr the cream into the egg mixture until blended.

Place a baking sheet in the oven, place the crust on the baking sheet, and pour the filling into the still warm crust. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the filling is just set in the center. Let the tart cool on a wire rack. Just prior to serving, decorate with assorted berries after you cut into wedges.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Entertaining with Wine" Class

Monica teaches “Wine Appreciation 101” classes in the East Bay cities of Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Pleasant Hill. ( We have been friends since college and I frequently assist her with the classes approximately once a quarter by pouring wines, preparing the food and answering questions during the classes.

Monica began her wine career over 20 years ago by running the marketing department of her family’s winery, Stony Ridge in the Livermore Valley. She worked as a wine buyer for Cost Plus World Market for about five years and then took a leap into the dot com world by joining as a buyer and manager of the wine clubs. Currently she is a busy Mom who loves to share her knowledge of wine with folks and teaches classes in Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Lafayette. She writes a monthly wine column for the Lafayette Today and Alamo Today Newspapers and is a regular contributor to Walnut Creek Magazine.

She recently hosted a class (October 29th) “Entertaining with Wine” in Walnut Creek and she asked me to speak and share my entertaining tips with the class. We had an intimate class of eight students, which in turn gave everyone the opportunity to ask questions and interact. Monica chose six wines to evaluate and learn about the flavors and varietals. It is important to evaluate each of the wines by: sight, smell and taste. Tasting Note sheets are provided which enable each student to detail the brand name, varietal, vintage date, appellation, sight, smell, taste and overall impressions.

The wines selected for “Entertaining with Wine” were:
  • Zonin Prosecco – NV Italian Sparkling Wine
  • Santa Cristina Antinori – 2008 Pinot Gris, Sicilia
  • Kim Crawford – 2008 Marlborough – Sauvignon Blanc
  • Clos Du Bois – 2006 Pinot Noir, North Coast
  • Montes Classic Series – 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
  • Flore de Moscato – 2008 California Muscat Wine

The food selections for the class were done appetizers style and would be perfect for entertaining and to pair with the wine selections chosen for the class.
  • Prosciutto wrapped bread sticks
  • Lemon – herbed goat cheese, endive leaves with pear and walnut
  • Rosemary scented polenta cups with gorgonzola and pine nuts
  • Crostini with roast beef and chimichurri Sauce
  • Cracker topped with manchego cheese, quince paste and marcona almonds
  • Toasted pita chip with shrimp and mango salsa

Ten Authentic Suburban Gourmet’s Entertaining Tips:
  • Determine date, location, venue, number of guests and type of invitations (paper or Evite)
  • Holidays can get filled up fast with parties all falling on the same days – think about having an Open House, so that if multiple parties are planned, your guests will be able to attend since it is more of a flexible event.
  • Balance the appetizers between hot and cold along with mixing up the flavor profiles to make it interesting. Think about meats, cheeses, seafood, crunchy, spicy and vegetarian.
  • Clean your house two days before the event and touch up the guest bathroom the day of the event. Purchase paper guest towels and have your favorite candle burning. Put a new roll of toilet paper on the roll.
  • YOU! Take your shower and get ready at least two hours prior to the event starting. You will be relaxed and able to finish your preparations and welcome your guests.
  • “People eat with their eyes first” – Food should have “negative” or empty space around it. Use over sized platters and be careful not to overcrowd.
  • Place cards – If you are having more than 6 people for dinner, mix up the seating arrangements to encourage conversation.
  • Set your cheeses out 30 minutes prior to your guests arriving. The flavors will peak at room temperature.
  • Signature drink – Serve one signature drink at your event and then supplement with wine, beer, bottled water and sodas.
If you would like to learn more about wine, I would encourage you to sign up for a “Wine Appreciation 101” class with Monica. Please visit her blog to learn about the classes and read great articles about wine.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pie Crust Cookies

When I was a little girl, my Mom would make pies for us. As a treat, she would take the extra pie crust pieces that were not used and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Once they cooled just a bit, we would dive right in. These are definitely a fond childhood memory.

Pie Crust Cookies

1 ½ C. Flour
¾ t. Salt
½ C. Shortening
4 T. Ice water
2 T. Melted butter
2 T. Sugar
1 t. Cinnamon

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt and shortening. With a pastry cutter, cut the shortening into tiny pieces and work until the mixture is in small course pieces. Add the water and with your hands form the dough into a ball. Be careful not to over knead, otherwise you will create tough dough.

Flour a large cutting board and roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thick. Use your favorite cookie cutters or cut into free form pieces. A two inch cookie cutter will make about 30 cookies.

Melt the butter in a small glass dish in the microwave for about 45 seconds or until melted. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Using a large non-stick cookie sheet lay the cookies out on the sheet. Using a pastry brush, paint the melted butter onto each cookie, and then sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container, if there are leftovers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Zuni Cafe in San Francisco

Yesterday the Restaurant Club went to the iconic San Francisco dining destination - Zuni Café which is set on the corner of Market Street and Rose Alley. We met in Marin and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, which had a spectacular layer of fog that barely let the red tips of the bridge pop through. One of the many reasons I love living in the Bay Area!

Our reservations were set for 11:30am with a line of hungry patrons quickly formed around the corner prior to opening. Several folks were having an early lunch before heading to the Curran or the Opera House for a matinee show. We were seated at a great corner table by the hustling kitchen, with a terrific view of the bottom floor of the restaurant. Zuni opened in 1979 and in 1987 Judy Rodgers became the chef. Shortly a large brick oven was installed and she begun to put her mark on the menu. The signature dish by far is the Roast Chicken with Bread Salad – takes one hour to prepare, so order immediately. Dining at Zuni is must do for any foodie’s bucket list.

The staff at Zuni Cafe is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. When we were waiting outside, the large expansive windows were open and the staff was prepping for service with tasting the food and wine. Lynette and I began with a glass of Hanzell Vineyards 2006 Chardonnay. It had an elegant fragrance of chamomile, lemon and grapefruit pith, with darker tones of honey followed by hazelnut and even savory elements of thyme and walnuts. Based out of Sonoma, this was a new find for the wine cellar. At $70 per bottle, it would be for special occasions. Brenley started with a tall glass of ice tea. The dark, crusty bread and butter arrived shortly and we purposely did not eat breakfast and decided to go family style for our lunch.

We began our first course with two salads, the signature Zuni Cesar salad and Frisee salad with pomegranate seeds, medjool dates and walnuts. Typically, I do not order a Cesar Salad, but since it is a signature dish, we had it on our list – this salad certainly did not disappoint! The dressing was amazing and the croutons were supreme. The Frisee salad was interesting but needed more of the goodies on the salad.

Our second round was the Pizza with ricotta salata, tomato sauce, and oregano along with the Fettuccine with chanterelle mushrooms and pistachio picada. Both dishes had good flavor and warmed up our taste buds for the main event – Roast chicken with bread salad.

I must exclaim that Zuni's chicken and bread salad is the most divine roast chicken I have had in a super long time. Each element is wonderful on its own, but when eaten together, they combine into one interconnected work of art. The salty and crispy bite of skin, the moist and tender meat, the crispy country bread cubes, (oh those bread cubes) and the tang from the champagne vinaigrette and not to mention the crunchy pine nuts, currants, scallions, and bitter greens. We asked for the pepper grinder to be left on our table to season the chicken and it just put the final checkmark on an outstanding dish. Well worth the $48.00 price tag and the hour wait.

We had just enough room left to share a dessert. After reviewing the menu, we chose the “Piccolo Meringata” with crème fraiche, wild huckleberry sauce and candied tangerine. It resembled a napoleon and I had NEVER seen a meringue that thin before. It was a magical dessert that was such marvelous creation. Another successful Restaurant Club excursion and next time it is my turn to select our destination. So far, I am inclined to choose “Dry Creek Kitchen” in Healdsburg or “Martini House” in St. Helena.

Zuni Café
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

Julia Child made this dish famous. Revived by the recent movie, “Julie and Julia”, this dish was highlighted and Julia’s un-canny pronunciation of the dish is incredibly memorable. My husband’s birthday was a few days ago and ever since he purchased a Regional French Cookbook with a photo of Boeuf Bourguignon on the cover, he asked me to make this. After looking at many recipes, I created the one below with all of the common ingredients.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Ingredients• 1 tablespoon good olive oil
• 10 ounces center cut bacon
• 2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound baby carrots, cut in half
• 1 large yellow onions, sliced
• 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
• 3/4 cup Cognac
• 3 ½ Cups dry red wine
• 2 cups beef broth
• 1 six ounce can of tomato paste
• 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
• 1 ½ pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate with paper towels for draining.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cook in batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to a plate and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

Toss the carrots, and onions, 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and cook for one minute to burn off the alcohol. Add the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.

Combine 1 tablespoon of flour with 2 teaspoons of water; stir until combined to make a slurry. Add to the stew and stir in. Sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter, over medium heat until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Handmade Gnocchi with Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce

Handmade Gnocchi with Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce

4 Medium Russet Potatoes
1 ½ C. Flour
½ t. Nutmeg
1 Large Egg
1 t. Salt
Rice Flour for dusting
Parmesan Cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake until easily pierced in the center with a fork, about 1 hour. Let cool. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop potatoes from the skins, into the ricer and pass through, into a large mixing bowl.

Spread all-purpose flour on a clean, dry work surface. Place potatoes on top of flour. Add egg, nutmeg and salt. Use your hands, mix together ingredients on work surface until well combined to form the dough. Gently knead dough into a 10-by-8-inch rectangle. Let rest for a few minutes.

Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with rice flour. Cut the rectangle into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch-thick rope. Cut each rope into 1/2 inch gnocchi. It is best to store gnocchi on a rice flour-covered baking sheet until ready to use and dust with rice flour.

Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce
¾ Pound Fresh Chanterelles (2 Cups chopped)
1 C. Leeks, Finely chopped
1/3 C. Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
1 ¼ C. Chicken Stock
5 T. Butter
1 T. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once melted, add the leeks and sauté for about 5 to 7 minutes until soft and translucent. Turn the heat to medium high and add the chanterelles. Season with salt and pepper and stir and cook until golden brown for about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat and add ¾ cups of chicken stock. Let simmer until the liquid is reduced to half. Add the remaining ½ cup of chicken stock and 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook on medium low.

To assemble:
Fill a large pot with water and generously add salt. Bring to a boil. When ready to serve, add the gnocchi and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until they float to the top. Using a large strainer, add to the Chanterelle sauce. Add the parsley and gently stir. Taste and season as desired with additional salt and pepper. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts – cut in half lengthwise (will make eight pieces)
4 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
½ cup flour
1 t. Lowery’s seasoned salt
1 t. pepper
3/4 c. dry white wine
½ c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. chicken stock
1/3 c. drained capers
¼ c. chopped chives or parsley

Slice each chicken breast in half lengthwise. Place chicken between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap. Using meat pounder, lightly pound chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Mix flour, seasoned salt and pepper in a bowl to dredge the chicken breasts. Dip chicken into flour to coat; shake off excess.

Heat 2 T butter and 1 T. olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breasts to skillet and cook until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to platter; tent with foil to keep warm.

Bring wine, lemon juice and broth to boil in skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in capers, parsley and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add chicken back into sauce and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the sauce thickens. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Slanted Door in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the greatest cities for unique, trend setting and outstanding food. It is almost impossible to have one single favorite place, so I have come to the conclusion that I have MANY favorites. If Julie Andrews were to sing “One of my Favorite Things” about restaurants, perhaps Slanted Door would be included in the lyrics.

Charles Phan is the executive Chef at Slanted Door which creates modern Vietnamese cuisine using local produce and ecological farms located in the Bay Area. The atmosphere is modern with a chic spin on the décor. A lively crowd mixed with locals and tourists alike. Highly recommend making reservations to this local hotspot – Open Table is my "go to" for reservations. (

My vacation week was filled with seeing friends and eating at great restaurants. Two of my great foodie friends, Monica and Jeanna planned headed to the San Francisco Ferry Building for a great lunch and catching up with each other. (Monica is pictured with me) We sat outside on the patio area, since the weather was absolutely perfect. Decided to share a bunch of dishes and try some new things.

We started with the Slanted Door Spring Rolls with Shrimp, Pork, Mint and Peanut Sauce. So refreshing and perfect for enjoying the bay breeze and sounds of the busy walk ways. Next we enjoyed the Grapefruit & Jicama with Red Cabbage, Pickled Carrots and Candied Pecans. This salad is simply amazing and the flavors meld so well together with a light crunch and sweet balance of the candied pecans.

For our main dishes we had Lemongrass Chicken with Red Onions, Jalapeños, Roasted Chili Paste and Peanuts. The jalapeños were soft, not hot and perfect with the lemongrass infusion. We also enjoyed the Caramelized Tiger Prawns with Garlic Onions and Chili Sauce. Absolutely delicious!

Just a quick note: A must try martini is the Phantasm – Lemongrass Vodka, Lime, Falernum and served up. It is very addictive and super tasty – you will want another!

(Wikipedia definition of Falernum: Falernum is a sweet syrup used in Tropical and Caribbean drinks. It contains flavors of almond, ginger, almond and/or cloves, and lime, and sometimes vanilla or allspice. It is used in cocktails in a manner similar to orgeat syrup or drunk on the rocks. The syrup form can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The consistency is thick, the color can be white to light amber, and it may be clear or translucent.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Panini with Roasted Pork, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar and Bacon

Panini with Roasted Pork, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar and Bacon

What a terrific way to use left over roasted pork tenderloin for a sandwich PACKED with flavor. Add your favorite mustard or even some blue cheese!


Ciabatta Loaf
Roasted Pork Tenderloin
Caramelized Onions
Cheddar Cheese
Crispy Bacon
Olive Oil

For each sandwich, cut about a 5 inch slice of ciabatta bread and then slice in half to open it up. Remove some of the excess bread if desired. Brush each outer side of the bread with olive oil. Start on the bottom slice by adding a slice of cheddar cheese, then several thin slices of pork tenderloin, then about 3 or 4 slices of the bacon and top with caramelized onions.

Place onto a panini pan or press. Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until all ingredients are hot inside and the bread is crispy. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Metro Lafayette

Since I have a week off from work, I thought it would be wonderful to catch up with friends and try a new restaurant each day, except Thursday, since I need a day to clean out my closet. Today my long time good friend John and I chose Metro in Lafayette.

Urban meets suburban at Metro in Lafayette, which is a local hotspot for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. (A must have if you go for brunch is the Zeppole - delicious fried puffs of goodness, similar to a Beignet, with a dipping sauce) If you are in the mood for a relaxing happy hour outside on the patio, check out their fantastic martinis. An eclectic menu consisting of California, French, Asian and Mediterranean flavors always having you want more on the menu than your appetite.

Executive Chef Kirk Bruderer creates innovative as well as staple favorites for every diner’s palate. He gained his experience at French Laundry, Olivetto and Manresa – which gives him the green light to have a fantastic restaurant located in downtown Lafayette.

Today was a warm day outside, about 90 degrees and we decided to enjoy the patio with an abundance of green umbrellas. We began with an ice tea and an Arnold Palmer along with a fresh baguette and butter. John selected the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter Crème Fraiche and I had the Crispy Brussel Sprouts with Lemon & Aioli to start. For our main lunch entrée we both chose salads. John had the Cesar with Anchovy, Shaved Reggiano, Garlic Crouton and Rosie’s Organic Chicken and I had the Chopped Salad with Crispy Bacon, Avocado, Egg & Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing.

Overall the service was spot on and the food was tasty and fresh. It was great to catch up with John and enjoy my first day of vacation with a good friend and terrific food.

Metro Lafayette
3524 Mt. Diablo Boulevard
Lafayette, Ca 94549

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oven Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

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Oven Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

When a tomato is oven roasted, the flavor profile takes a 180 degree turn. The sugars are more prevalent and there is an intense tomato essence that is so incredibly tasty. Along with the rich, buttery and flaky crust from the puff pastry and the earthiness of the goat cheese, it is true food experience. Add a side salad and glass of your favorite Sauvignon Blanc to complete a terrific meal.

2 Sheets Puff Pastry
2 ½ Cups of Assorted Cherry Tomatoes
Salt and Pepper
8 T. Herbed Goat Cheese
Olive oil

Defrost the puff pastry.

Preheat oven to 350. Cut the assorted cherry tomatoes in half until you have 2 ½ cups. Spray the bottom with non-stick cooking spray. On a large baking sheet lay all of the tomatoes with the seed side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes and remove from oven to cool.

Lay the first layer of puff pastry on a large lightly floured board. Using a rolling pin, lightly roll the dough. Cut 4 to 6 circles that are 4 inches wide. Use a biscuit cutter. Lay onto a prepared baking sheet with cooking spray. Continue until you have eight 4 inch circles. Using the next size down on the biscuit cutter, make an indent until you almost cut all the way through but be careful to not pierce all the way. This will enable the tart to have raised sides.

Brush the puff pastry with olive oil. Divide the oven roasted tomatoes among the eight circles. Keep the tomatoes inside the second circle. Place one tablespoon of crumbled goat cheese on each one. Tuck some of the crumbles underneath the tomato mixture.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the sides are golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes and right before serving, brush lightly with olive oil all over each tart for shine and flavor.