Team building, cooking events, catering, parties, and classes in the San Francisco Bay Area

December in the Kitchen

December 8, 2014

A Busy, Busy Kitchen!

Wow, what a holiday season we’re having! Barely a free moment to write. Here’s a note I just got from one of last week’s groups, a  big, festive Tapas Party complete with a Holiday Sweater competition. As you can see, they had fun!

“This past Wednesday, f’real foods hosted their annual winter holiday party at Paulding & Company. In their festive holiday sweaters, the group of 45 spent the evening with four chefs, learning a variety of recipes that featured seasonal and local produce, seafood and meat. Some of the highlights of the evening were the fennel avocado and citrus salad with fresh Dungeness crab, lamb kofta with yogurt dipping sauce and apple strudel with cider sabayon. f’real foods had a wonderful time learning new cooking techniques and expanding their culinary repertoire and dining together over their delicious creations. They had a friendly amuse bouche competition that entailed each team using one ingredient from each of their assigned dishes and creating a one bite taste for the Paulding Judges to taste and vote on. It was a very close call but one of the teams came out a winner with their mushroom and citrus glazed shrimp crostini.”


Holiday Gifts for Cooks

I know, I’m a bit late — but maybe you are, too, with your gift purchases. Here are a few of my favorite gifts for cooks, running the gamut from the incredibly inexpensive, to the moderate. Do buy something that your friends or family will use, especially if it’s going to take up cupboard space. None of us have enough of it.

So, in no particular order:

  • Siliconized light-weight baking sheet liners. My last year’s purchase of two super-cheap sheets is still working perfectly. Great for any baker. 
  • A pressure cooker. These days every cook needs shortcuts that work. I have the Cuisinart electric, and use it often. Yes, it takes up cupboard space, so if you are buying for someone who isn’t going to embrace it, don’t — converting people to new methods takes some work. I have taught many pressure cooker classes, and use it a lot at home. You can braise or stew in 1/3 the time, with great results. Email me if you want me to set up a class after the new year, I might just do it if enough people are interested in spending a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen with me!
  • Your favorite cookbook. The one you go back to again and again. The one you’ve actually cooked things from that came out the way you wanted. And finally, one that your recipient will like. 
  • Finds from the farmer’s markets. Big Paw Grub makes amazing vinegars, and sends gift sets. They come to Grand Lake, and you can of course taste before you buy. Olive oils, too. There are other great gift ideas at our many markets, from delicious cheeses to pottery and more. 
  • Things you’ve made yourself. My problem is, I keep giving the things I make away when I make them, so they are not left for the holidays. Nevertheless, some from-the-heart and your own oven Christmas cookies, or some well-seasoned roasted nuts would be a good gift. 
  • A good, large mortar and pestle. I have two at home and use them a lot. The first, a Thai granite one, is smooth, and I’ve had it for years. The second, Tracy bought me last year, and it’s softer, might be lava rock, and amazing for really grinding up spices and seeds. I nest them together, so they don’t take up twice the space. 
  • Hand-held “buzz” blenders are getting more sophisticated. For the lover of milkshakes, can’t be beat. Or for quickly smoothed sauces. 
  • Good knives. Do pay attention to the recipient’s tastes. Pair one with our Knife Sharpening Class, taught by master-sharpener Eric E. Weiss. There will be a new one online soon, so watch the website or next newsletter.
  • Little stuff like silicone spatulas, bamboo straight-bottomed stirrers, make great stocking stuffers.  
  • If you’re buying pots and pans, use All-Clad as the “benchmark” and then hunt around. There are a lot of brands of triply cookware that are less, and I suspect All Clad makes a lot of them. Things to be aware of: Do not buy “wedge bottom” pots, unless they are much larger than the burner you’re using them on. The sides are invariably thin, and burn. Also, be aware of the material the pot or pan handle is made of, and it’s shape. You want something easy to hold, and that doesn’t get super-heated. Seems like more and more pots have handles that are awful these days. 
  • Local wines or spirits are a can’t miss proposition, especially if you’re sending to people who might not even be aware of all our local wineries and distilleries. Fun to go taste, too.

Summer Camp News

Our award-winning “Best culinary camp in the East Bay” (Parent’s Press) camp is gearing up for next summer. Between working and caring for sick babies, Tracy is getting really close to posting the schedule online. If you want to be among the first to get the news, do sign up on the Cook! Programs part of our website for her announcements. In the meantime, she’s sent me this lovely piece that I’m excited to share.

How to Cook with Your Kids: Five Tips for Success

Involving your kids in cooking is a great way to bond and encourage your kids to try foods they might otherwise reject. All you need, to begin with, is a willingness to stay present, a bit of patience, and to allow for some autonomy. 

ImageHere are some tips to get you started:
  • Trust is key. Teach, keep them safe, and then step back a little. Using a knife is a great responsibility, one that most kids will not take lightly. Teach them how to hold the knife properly, and how to keep their free hand/fingers safe. Show them how you want them to cut, and then watch them follow your instructions, giving technical advice and safety tips. Once you feel confident that they've listened and are paying attention, take a step back and let them practice. Try to check in regularly, without hovering. 
  • Cooking is a creative process. The joy of doing is as important as the end result. Translation: Don't focus all your attention on the end product if your kids are having fun or are intently focused on technique. You can pay attention to knife safety (for example) and encouraging success, while letting go of your attachment to perfectly cut greenbeans. Or, if whisking the eggs is taking five times longer than it should because your child is inventing a new way to mix, hurray! Allow a few extra minutes before you explain that you need the finished ingredient. Depending upon your child's cooking ability and interest in learning, offer the option of learning a way to accomplish a task faster or more efficiently, but don't get so caught up in "doing it right" that you miss the fun they're having. 
  • Share the decision-making. You may have a dinner plan, but there are so many ways to make good food out of the same ingredients. If your child shows some initiative and has an idea, hear them out. If you know that it's not going to work, explain why and help them arrive at an idea that incorporates their interest but has a higher chance of success. 
  • Keep them involved in the entire process. There's nothing like making good food and then presenting it to your diners. Let your kids take pride in their accomplishments by presenting the finished product. At the same time, teach them that keeping the kitchen tidy as you go is the best way to make space for the great presentation. And remember (to teach) that dishwashing can be fun...
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect! Take this time to relax and have some fun yourself. 
  • Enjoy!


Eric Weiss will have another great Knife Sharpening Class on Monday, March 9th, a class I recommend to everyone who likes sharp knives in their kitchen, and wants to be able to make them sharp in a most professional way.

Rosetta Costantino has added many new classes for the new year, including Zuppe e Minestre (Soups from Southern Italy) on Friday, January 16th, Carnevale in Southern Italy (Fat Tuesday) on Tuesday, February 17th, A Taste of Sicily on Friday, February 27th, Making and Using Ricotta: From Appetizer to Dessert on Friday, March 13th, and A Night in a Neapolitan Pizzeria on April 17th. 

We’ll be adding some new teachers and classes in the new year, but right now we’re just too busy to think about it! Stay in touch, and you’ll find out all about them.

In the Market

I’m amazed that there are still beautiful peppers, a few people with decent tomatoes, and even the occasional zucchini and eggplant. I’ve found sweet peas here and there, too. Broccoli heads are huge and fresh, cauliflower is just lovely — I made cauliflower and leek soup for lunch today, pretty simple to do. Just sauté some onions and leeks (always season as you go), add the cauliflower and some chicken broth, cook until soft, purée, re-season, add a teaspoon of white wine to balance the flavor, and if you want, some cream. As good or better than leek and potato, just don’t make it with purple cauliflower.

Beets are marvelous this time of year. See the recipe below for a great idea for a salad using them. The greens are fantastic sautéed, if you get bunches, better than spinach. And very good for you. Salad greens are still good, as are the chicories if you like their slight (or sometimes more than slight) bitterness. And fennel is wonderful now. Again, see the month’s recipe, below, for a great salad combining the best of the current crops.

We’re nearing the end for persimmons, but there are still some in the market. Pomegranates are also good. I’ve seen a few strawberries, but with the rain, they may be scarce for a while; the raspberries are definitely done. Apples, Asian pears and pears are all still in the markets. Berkeley Bowl still has quince, and we’ve been using them quite a bit in the kitchen. Poach peeled and seeded wedges in a sweetened liquid (try water, sugar, vanilla bean, and a little lemon juice) until very soft. At least an hour. They are ambrosial. Use as-is, or in a tart, or as a garnish for a cake. Citrus is coming in strong. Pomelos, Oro Blancos (sweet grapefruit), Cara-Cara oranges, Satsuma mandarins are great. My Satsuma tree is having a banner crop, and an early one. There are still grapes in the market, and the nut crops are in. Prices for nuts are high, as there was a drought-driven short crop this year. 

Recipe of the Month

I made this fennel, cucumber, golden beet and grapefruit salad up recently — and it came out so gorgeous, and was so well-received, I thought I’d share not only the picture but the recipe. A great dish to bring to the party! Light, flavorful, and super-healthy, and nobody else will bring the same thing (unless they read the newsletter, of course). Keep in mind that you want golden beets, not red, or the whole salad will be stained red.


This being the final newsletter for 2014, I will wish you all happy holidays, and a joyous new year.