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.
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Fruit: Black Mission figs
Cheese: Chevre rolled in fine herbs
Wine: Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium Blanc 2008
Summer, I’ll miss you! Long sunny days. The pool. Grilling in the park. Sitting outside on a warm evening, with the stars above me and a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc in front of me. Heirloom tomatoes. Bell peppers. Spot prawns with mango salsa. Peaches, nectarines, pears, melons. I’ll even miss the zucchinis, no matter how tired of them I feel now. But most of all I’ll miss the figs.
You just cannot get figs out of season: they have to be picked very ripe, they don’t keep, and they don’t travel. The season is short, and it is now.
Like all fruits, the only food created by the nature that was designed to be eaten, figs are great when you just eat them out of the basket. However, they really shine paired with cheese and wine.
I have selected Beringer Alluvium Blanc for it’s fruitiness and chewy texture, not unlike my figs. The wine is deep golden color, it smells of exotic flowers and sweet citrus, and the taste is lush and tropical. And it has a hint of fig! Composed mostly of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes and aged in oak, it has a creamy start and a long, spicy and herbal aftertaste.
A soft goat cheese is a natural partner for the figs. Usually, I don’t like any flavorings on my cheese, but for this pairing I picked a Chevre rolled in fine herbs, to honor the herbal character of the Sauvignon Blanc in the wine. And the wine supports it perfectly!
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Location:San Rafael, CA
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!
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Location:Santa Rosa, CA
Cooking and eating are the activities that naturally connect us with the seasons. Living in coastal California, I sometimes cannot tell what time of the year it is by just walking outside. It can be hot and sunny in the middle of January, and our summer fog and wind will easily trick you into reaching for your ski outfit.
But fruits and vegetables don’t grow and ripen in one day, their life cycles depend on the average temperatures, the length of the day, and rainfall, so they can tell you the time of the year for sure.
As a personal chef, I am not bound by a printed menu, so I can select whatever is the best on the market every day. And the best is usually what’s in season right now. I don’t have to buy cardboard winter tomatoes, ever. And if I happen to find a beautiful basket of figs, a handful of young fava beans, a rare boletus mushroom, or tender cute minu-squashes, anything with short season that’s good right now, I’d get it right away, and my clients would appreciate it.
Winter: the start of the year is the time of root vegetables, sturdy greens, cabbages, citrus fruits, pomegranates, and delicious wild mushrooms. It calls for slow cooked comfort foods. It’s also the sardines and Dungeness crab season.
Favorite vegetable: Brussels sprouts
Favorite meat: braised lamb shanks
Favorite seafood: broiled sardines
Favorite fruit: blood orange
Spring is probably the most exciting time at the market. The endless root vegetables of the winter give way to crisp young greens and fresh asparagus, artichokes, spring onions, young garlic, green peas and fava beans.
Favorite vegetable: fava beans
Favorite meat: rabbit mixed grill
Favorite seafood: smoked halibut
Favorite fruit: strawberries
I don’t have to advertise the summer. We all look forward to the grilling season, the heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, summer squashes of all colors and shapes, tender corn, and or course beautiful summer fruits.
Favorite vegetable: Cherokee purple tomato
Favorite meat: grilled tri-tip steak with chmichurri sauce
Favorite seafood: grilled California spot prawns
Favorite fruit: fig
I love California fall! The weather is usually the best of the year, most of the summer produce continues till the winter storms, so you still get your heirloom tomatoes and peppers, but the fall adds to them the wealth of grapes and fruits, winter squashes, new wine releases, and the beginning of the oyster season.
Favorite vegetable: kabocha squash
Favorite meat: duck leg confit
Favorite seafood: oysters with mignonette sauce
Favorite fruit: Fuyu persimmons
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Making fresh pasta is much easier and less time-consuming than most people think, it’s fun, and the taste and texture of fresh homemade pasta are wonderful!
For the basic pasta dough, I start with
1 cup semolina flour + more for dusting
1 cup bread flour
1 pinch salt
I mix the ingredients together to form firm, non-sticky dough. Depending on how dry the flour is, and on the temperature and humidity in the kitchen, you may want to add semolina if the dough is too soft, or a little water if the dough is too dry and doesn’t come together.
I then knead the dough on a surface dusted with semolina for about 5 minutes, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes to rest. I then roll it out with my pasta machine (can be done with a rolling pin, but pasta machine makes rolling out very thin pasta easier and more fun), cut to desired shapes, and cook immediately, or dust with more semolina and freeze in freezer bags for the future. Fresh pasta freezes very well. When you need it, drop it in salted boiling water – no need to defrost – and it’s ready in 2-3 minutes.
Pasta dough is very forgiving, and takes modifications well. It can be done with all bread flour, with water in place of eggs, with only egg yolks for a richer pasta. Recently I’ve been making colored pasta, replacing one or two eggs in the basic recipe with beet puree, pumpkin puree, and chlorophyll made from spinach (one at a time, not all at once!). I especially liked how if you roll two pasta sheets in different colors, then roll them together, you get a pasta that’s red on one side and green on the other. Kids must love this!
See the picture story “United Colors of Pasta” in my personal food blog “…and then we eat”.