On a gorgeous summer afternoon friends and family gathered for a garden party by the pool to celebrate the birthday of a magical silk painting artist of international fame, tireless world traveller, and a beautiful woman Natasha Foucault.
Natasha’s art transforms everyone: the ladies were more beautiful than ever, wearing Natasha’s hand-painted silks, the men had her custom-made ties, and everyone was inspired by her art, her charm, and travel stories.
I had the honor to prepare the festive dinner for my art teacher and friend. Both Natasha and I were born and raised in Russia, and we love Russian cuisine, so we decided to start the dinner with zakuski, the traditional appetizer spread.
Natasha is a connoisseur of wild mushrooms, and an experienced mushroom hunter. She supplied a wealth of the finest wild mushrooms that she had collected in Northern California last season and saved in the freezer for the party.
Porcinis, chanterelles, slippery jacks – these mushrooms may seem rare and exotic to a modern Californian, but they are dear and familiar to any Russian mushroom hunter, and their aromas bring memories of childhood, of dark dense forest, sunny meadows, cool streams under shady trees, the far-away land that we still consider our own. It was such an exquisite pleasure to create both traditional and modern “fusion” dishes with these darling fungi!
For the main course we needed something simple, something that could be prepared and enjoyed while the temperature was still in the 90-ies. I opted for the grill. It is somewhat tough to grill meat, fish, and vegetables for 40 people in 95 degrees, with the sun shining straight on your back while the grill flares up in your face, but the pool made it much easier. As soon as everything was grilled and while the guests were helping themselves at my hot buffet, I got out of my chef’s coat and into the pool, and came to the table totally refreshed.
The tables were set on the lawn. While we were enjoying the meal, saying toasts and drinking wines from around the world to the health and happiness of our friend, the sun went down, the temperature dropped a little, and the host turned on the pool lighting to make our night under the stars even more magical. Then there was music, dancing, more wine, and simple and perfect seasonal fruits for the dessert.
Happy birthday, dear magician, happy birthday to you!
Russian potato salad (Olivier)
Chicken liver mousse
Exotic mushrooms pate, porcini topping
Chanterelle, goat cheese, and caramelized onion tartlets
Assorted cold cuts
Grilled marinated beef tri-tip
Grilled Alaskan wild salmon
Assorted grilled vegetable skewers
Raw fruit and berry crumble with almonds
Chanterelles, goat cheese and caramelized onion tartlets
For the mushrooms:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, fresh or frozen, thawed
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and stems discarded
For the caramelized onion:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
For the goat cheese filling:
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 sheet of purchased frozen all-butter puff pastry (Dufour), thawed in the refrigerator
For the egg wash:
1 Tbsp water
Heat olive oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, add thyme leaves. Sauté until all the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated. Let cool.
Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté till it starts to turn golden. Add balsamic vinegar, cook to reduce to syrupy consistency. Let cool.
Mix goat cheese with cream and egg to make the cheese filling.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out the puff pastry between two sheets of plastic wrap. Remove the top plastic, slice the pastry into 12 squares. Turn the squares oven onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, remove the plastic. With a 3-inch round cookie cutter, mark a circle in the middle of each square, taking care not to cut all the way through. Freeze.
Mix egg and water for the egg wash.
Remove the puff pastry from freezer. Spread some goat cheese filling inside the marked circles. Top with caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms. Brush the border with egg wash. Bake until the pastry has puffed and the border is golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Redwood City, CA
This year I will be doing a healthy cooking demo at corporate health and wellness fairs again.
Here is what I will be cooking this week:
Cucumber salad with yogurt and mint
Shrimp with mango-basil dipping sauce
For this month’s meeting of our Bay Area Chapter of US Personal Chefs Association, we went on a foodie tour, exploring food places of West Marin County. As often happens in our business, many of the chefs got busy at the last minute, and only five of us made it to the meeting, turning it into small, casual family gathering.
We started with an oyster farm tour at Hog Island Oyster Company. The farm manager showed us how they grow their oysters in submerged wire basket, told us about oyster’s life cycle, science and technology that go into farming oysters, and seafood safety. We were amazed to learn that even a simple Pacifica oyster takes two years to reach market size. For the tiny delicate Kumamoto oyster it’s three years. I will never complain again about the price of fresh oysters.
Then we sat at a rustic picnic table by the water, and were served fresh sweet water Pacificas, Kumamotos, BBQ oysters with the farm’s signature chipotle-bourbon-garlic butter, Cowgirl Creamery soft-ripened cheese rolled in fresh herbs and edible flowers, and Carneros Brut Rose sparkling wine.
Our next stop was Point Reyes Winery. We tasted their well-aged, medium-bodied wines made of grapes grown in cool coastal areas. One of my favorites was 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, and then I was tale that the winery gets it’s Cabernet grapes from a friend, who grows them in a small vineyard in Terra Linda, just blocks from where I live!
After unsuccessful attempt to engage the cows at the nearby dairy farm in a photo session, we proceeded to downtown Point Reyes Station to do our grocery shopping at the delightful Palace Market, and then to chef Garbo’s charming Inverness country house, to cook our dinner.
The menu was:
Chef Garbo’s Side Car cocktails
Crostini with fig jam and Brie by chef Dawn
Shrimp skewers appetizer by chef Kara
Wine-marinated cedar plank grilled salmon by chef Greg
Chef Greg’s green beans
Grilled butterflied leg of lamb with chimichurri by chef Polina
Chef Dawn’s sweet potato and wild mushroom gratin
We had to abandon all our dessert ideas, since no one had room for the dessert anyway.
We enjoyed cooking together, talked business and food, exchanged tips and tricks about grilling, knife sharpening, using kitchen gadgets, admired chef Garbo’s food styling studio and a beautiful collection of vintage styling props, and generally had a great time.
The next morning my boyfriend and I traditionally missed the chefs breakfast chez Garbo, and instead had coffee and last nights leftovers for breakfast on the beach in front of our hotel room. Then we went for a hike in the hills overlooking Point Reyes seashore, where we saw large herds of elk, a few deer, a coyote, and where I almost stepped on a snake.
On the way back I stopped at a butcher shop on Marin Sun Farms to get grass fed steaks for the grill.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
On a beautiful August day, when summer vegetables look their best and the vineyards are heavy with grapes getting ready for the harvest, Kendall-Jackson winery invited a local nature photographer Leagh Wachter to teach a photography class in their extensive vegetable garden and on the demo vineyard. The garden photography class was designed for those who are not content with just sipping wine and sampling fruits and vegetables, but who also want to capture their beauty. Of course, I am one of them! Having found out about the class at the last moment, I managed to get in.
I said it was a beautiful August day. Well, it was a good day for photography: the morning fog lifted a little by 9 am, but the sun never came out; it remained overcast (and cold!) all morning, giving us perfect diffused light for the duration of the class.
I arrived partially frozen in my convertible, and was greeted, together with other students, by Leagh, winery’s estate manager Robin, and Jack the cat, who, despite his impressive size, moves very fast, and is difficult to convince to pose for a picture. It wasn’t a wildlife photography class after all.
Behind the tasting room, on the outdoor patio, the kitchen staff had just started fire in their pizza oven. Later on I watched the chef taking temperature of the oven – it was 880 degrees then. In the morning it was just hot enough to help thaw my frozen fingers in front of the wood fire.
The day started with a sip of Kendall-Jackson new partially un-oaked Chardonnay, Avant, which they pare with fried green tomatoes topped with goat cheese, to highlight the tart and creamy aspects of the wine.
Then Leagh gave us a short lecture on specifics of outdoor lighting, sharing tips on when to shoot (early morning and early evening light are the best), how to select the light angle, use a diffuser (a cardboard frame filled with semi-transparent parchment paper) to tame harsh afternoon light, and a sheet of white paper held in front of the subject to fill in. He handled us printouts illustrating the same subjects photographed in different lighting, with different depth of field, and different composition.
After that all 25 of us, with our iPhones, point-and-shoot cameras and SLRs, were released to roam the garden and the vineyard. Leagh would go from one student to another, giving advise and ideas what to try.
Two hours later, we gathered for another wine and food pairing. The winery’s culinary staff pair their Monterey county Pinot Noir with brick oven pizzas with roasted tomatoes, either vegetarian Margherita, or topped with sausages, artichokes, and mushrooms.
Kendall-Jackson people are obsessed with heirloom tomatoes. Half of the vegetable garden is taken by 175 varieties of them, arranged by color, and the next weekend they have their annual heirloom tomato festival. Sadly, this cold year was not the best for tomatoes. Most of them, except the cherry varieties, are just beginning to turn colors. The rest of the garden is organized by flavor profile, grouping together vegetables, fruits, and herbs that would compliment the same wine.
After the class some of us went for a complimentary wine tasting that the winery threw in with the class, others continued experimenting with picturing vegetables and grapes.
It felt like a very relaxing experience, and i was delighted by the opportunity to see and picture my favorite foodstuffs in their natural setting, but I was nearly exhausted after all the hours of hauling my heavy zoom camera around, kneeling, crawling, bending and twisting, trying to get close-up and the best angle.
Now I am looking forward to the next class in fall, when the vines will turn colors. Please, don’t let it rain then!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Santa Rosa, CA
This month, the Bay Area Chapter of United States Personal Chefs Association meeting was hosted by Chef Garbo in her family’s beautiful summer house in Inverness, on the route to Roint Reyes lighthouse, and in the middle of the West Marin and Sonoma coast food paradise. The fine ladies with big knives went sampling oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company (the tiny kumamoto’s were salty and briny, extra-small Pacifics sweet and plump), then moved to Cowgirl Creamery to taste cheeses ( all the old favorites, plus the new Wagonwheel semi-hard cheese that everyone loved), and then had a cookout and games by the fireplace in Garbo house.
Your Chef Polina spent most of the night tending the old-fasioned kettle charcoal grill and grilling oysters, chicken, lamb, beef, and vegetables. The bruschetta, braised pork belly appetizers, vegetable risotto, and the berry tart were to die for. The hostess mixed her signature cocktails in a vintage shaker.
Back in the hotel, my boyfriend and I finished the evening with wine, water crackers, and a sampler of Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, in our patio overlooking the marina.
The next morning, R. and I went for what we thought would be a short stroll on the beach, and ended up doing a 4-hour moderate-sternious hike (our trademark extreme romantic walk), and so missed the breakfast at Garbo house. I am looking forward to seeng breakfast photos and reports of other USPCA members.
Thank you dear collegues for a great weekend, and for cute little gifts of spices that you left me!
Update: Here is Chef Garbo’s report on our September retreat, for the January issue of Personal Chef magazine.