California: Tomales Bay Oysters

Another of treasure in the North Bay Area (see Sonomic Vinegar) is the BBQ oysters at the Marshall Store in Marshall, CA. Just north of Point Reyes Station, the Tomales Bay Oyster Company farms and harvests exquisite oysters (along with clams and mussels) and their nearby family oyster bar, the Marshall Store, is grilling them to perfection. The self-described seafood shack juts out over Tomales Bay’s cool water, and doubles as a general store, selling local beer and wine to accompany your meal. I didn’t notice any indoor seating but it was not necessary given the picnic tables and casual, unpretentious outdoor bar offer a breath-taking view of the Point Reyes Peninsula, across the very waters that source your food. 

Although the Marshall Store’s other menu items, like clam chowder and dungeness crab sandwich are also outstanding and fresh from the bay, the BBQ oysters are a can’t miss. They are shucked and put on the grill in the half shell, where the plump meat simmers in the oyster’s natural liquor, along with an intensely garlicky butter and a splash of house made barbecue sauce. The half or full dozen portions are served with grilled bread, essential for sopping up the broth left in your oyster shells. Having previously only been exposed to the wonderful, salty oysters of the Gulf Coast, my usual appreciation for accompaniments like lemon, horseradish and tobasco was quickly forgotten. These oysters shined on their own and the meal was truly an eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head experience that I consider an absolute privilege.

Don’t forget to grab a cool bottle of crisp white wine or local beer from the Marshall Store to compliment your seafood. We brought a bottle of Twomey Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, from nearby Sonoma County, which had a nice balance of fruit and acid and paired very well with the oysters.

Posted in California, Restaurants, Wineries | 2 Comments

Oregon Filberts

One American crop grown almost exclusively in Oregon is the filbert nut, commonly known as the hazelnut. Thousands of acres of filbert groves thrive in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which stretches north to south along much of the state, providing not only commercial hazelnuts but also beauty to the already stunning countryside.

When I thought about uses for Oregon’s hazelnuts, making a homemade Nutella type spread was the first idea that came to mind. I have never actually tried Nutella, and because of its high sugar and palm oil content I probably won’t, but I have heard and read of countless people who adore the stuff. It’s crack-like addictive quality was commonly mentioned in reviews. I found several recipes online for healthier homemade versions of the chocolate hazelnut spread and after trying a few different ones, I settled on the recipe below to share. The nuts are quite oily naturally so I didn’t feel like any extra oil was needed, and I was happy with the final consistency. If in using this recipe you want the spread thinner, you could drizzle some vegetable oil (peanut might taste best) into the food processor at the end, but I found this to be perfectly spreadable on a banana muffin or chewy bread, even after refrigeration.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Ingredients: yields 1 1/2 cups

  • 2 cups shelled, roasted and skinned hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened 100% Cacao cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 small pinch kosher salt

To roast and skin the nuts start with ones that are already shelled. Spread them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 275 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, stirring on pan every 10 minutes to brown evenly. When done, the nuts will be very fragrant with the skins almost black and the meat a medium brown. To remove the skins I put the warm hazelnuts on a dish towel to cool and then rubbed them around in the towel until they were mostly skinned. This was a little messy and took about 5-10 minutes. There was still skin on some of the nuts, which is okay.

Add the hazelnuts to a high powered food processor. I do not think a small processor or blender will grind the nuts fine enough to make a smooth spread, so use a large food processor or wait until you have one to try this. Grind the hazelnuts until they turn to a mostly liquid form (that’s right, they release so much natural oil a smooth viscous form is possible), stopping to scrape down the sides a few times. The nuts will go from finely ground bits, to clumping in a ball, to liquid in about 5 minutes.

Add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and process until mixed thoroughly. That’s it!

Enjoy the spread on whatever your heart desires, which for me included simply a spoon. I also enjoyed it on bananas, apple slices, dried apricots, muffins, toast and mixed into hot breakfast cereal.

Posted in Oregon, Picking & Foraging, Recipes | 2 Comments

Sonoma County: Port and Vinegar…Almost

About 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, in downtown Petaluma, Sonoma Valley Portworks is quietly making pleasant port and a product that, in their words and mine, you’ve never tasted anything like. They call it Sonomic almost Vinegar, make it from 100% California cabernet sauvignon grape juice, and sell it at $18/bottle, which I consider reasonable for such a unique, unforgettable product. Sonomic Vinegar has an obvious relationship to balsamic vinegar but is sweeter, with less pucker, and more viscous than most young, grocery store balsamics. This concoction can easily play the role of a balsamic, splashed on traditional Caprese salad or wisked into a vinaigrette, but it’s also begging for creative applications like adding an exotic touch to grilled meats, or my favorite, drizzled on a pear crisp with vanilla ice cream.

Sonoma Valley Portworks is open most days of the week for free tastings. On one of my visits, the winemaker was our pourer and I was impressed that he took the time to talk in detail about each of his creations, of which my favorites, besides the almost vinegar, were easily the two Aris Ports, one made of 100% petite syrah and the other of 100% petite verdot.

Posted in California, Wineries | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Oregon Fishing: Two Amateurs and A Guide

It’s a real privilege when I have the opportunity to be close to the source of my food, and it doesn’t get any more local than going out catching/finding/growing/picking something that will soon sustain your body. For this reason I have always loved fishing. My desire to improve at fly fishing and our proximity to so many rivers and streams in Oregon,  led me to The Caddis Fly Angeling Shop to arrange a one day, guided trip down the nearby McKenzie River. Caddis is a full-service, well-established fly fishing shop that specializes in guided trips, but is also a retail store offering the best in fly fishing tackle and equipment, advice, and fishing reports. Our experience with them was a positive one and I would recommend going there to address your fly fishing needs.

The McKenzie River flows out of the Cascades and eventually into the larger Willamette River. The sister cities of Eugene and Springfield are nestled around the banks of both rivers. On our scenic drive east out of Eugene we passed through a few cozy towns and took special notice of several farms and orchards, and the beautiful Goodpasture Covered Bridge downriver from where we met our guide, George.

We set off in what George referred to as a drift boat, but probably goes by different names in other parts of the country. This boat’s design is characterized by an arched bottom from bow to stern that allows it to spin about its center for ease in maneuvering the rapids, and it was the only type of boat we saw on the river. George maneuvered the boat through smooth water and rapids with expert form, using two large oars. He was able to ease in and anchor us into any spot he wanted to on the river.

The McKenzie supports a summer run of Steelhead Trout and Chinook Salmon, but Rainbow Trout were what we fished for and, thanks to our guide’s direction, we caught plenty. The morning started slow, but we took direction and learned where the fish would be, and just in time for lunch caught enough trout for a feast. Along the river bank we stopped, learned how to gut, skin, and pan fry the trout, and refueled for the rest of the afternoon on the river. In the afternoon we both nearly caught our limit of 5 trout a piece, and during lulls in fishing we worked on improving our technique, and appreciated the perfect weather and scenery bestowed upon us.

It’s hard not to say the best part was eating the fish, because fresh Rainbow Trout is amazing. The slightly pink flesh is delicate, mild and flaky, but its flavor could easily be overpowered by heavy seasoning. It would be perfect with just a little salt and a squeeze of lemon, or brightened up with fresh herbs.

For dinner we enjoyed the fish cooked according to the following recipe:

Pan Fried Trout with Tarragon Brown Butter Sauce

2 cleaned, skinned trout (or another filleted mild fish)
1/2 cup flour
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 lemon
1/3 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Melt half of butter (2 Tbsp) in a pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the fish with salt, toss in flour, then shake off any excess. Add fish to the hot butter and fry for about 3-4 minutes per side. Fish should develope a brown crust and is cooked through when flesh is flaking from the skeleton. Remove fish and lay on a paper towel to drain any excess butter. In a clean skillet melt remaining butter and then add the tarragon. Heat until butter barely starts to brown, but don’t let the tarragon brown. Squeeze half the lemon into the browned butter and simmer for 30 seconds. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the fried fish. Add the half and half to the sauce and simmer until desired thickness is acheived, or just a couple minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spoon over fish. If you prepare the fish with the bones still in, like I did, after cooking the bones can easily be removed intact.

Posted in Fishing, Oregon, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Oregon Cheese: Rogue Creamery

Cheese is one of my absolute favorite treats. Soft, hard, stinky, blue, nutty, mild, I love them all. Well, I certainly haven’t tried them all but I rarely find a cheese I don’t enjoy. I especially love visiting local creameries that make artisan cheeses, and as a new Oregon resident I have plenty of opportunity to do this. The Pacific Northwest is teeming with talented cheese makers including those at Rogue Creamery, which I recently had the pleasure of visiting.

Located in Central Point, Rogue Creamery has been making cheese in southern Oregon since the 1930′s. They distribute their cheese nation-wide, specialize in an assortment of award-winning blue cheeses, and present their products in Whole Foods, specialty food stores, and at farmer’s markets in the Northwest. This well-established shop has two rooms. One is the showroom, packed with Rogue’s handmade cheeses and an interesting selection of aged cheeses from around the world. The other room feels like a quaint general store where you can purchase local wines, beers, breads, and fine Italian meats to accompany your cheese selections, while looking through a wall of windows at the crafting of curds and whey in progress. The cheesemongers were quite friendly and knowledgeable in answering our questions about their products and processes. They also offered us tastes of their house curds, cheddars and blues before buying.

After browsing the store with my family and talking to the cheesemongers we selected several cheeses and some accompaniments and headed to a community park down the street (within strolling distance) to enjoy our lunch. Noteworthy was Rogue’s Smokey Blue, which is cold smoked using local hazelnut shells, and displays a fine balance of nutty smoke and blue pungency, and would pair well with a big-bodied wine, like a zinfandel or an earthy malbec. We also really enjoyed their Chocolate Stout Cheddar, made with Rogue Ale’s Chocolate Stout beer, which was sold in the shop and was a nice, obvious paring with the cheese. From their selection of world-wide cheeses I was impressed by a four-year aged gouda called Noord Hollander, from Holland. It’s crunchy, caramelly characteristics were delightful with fresh bread and local blackberry honey.

If you visit Rogue Creamery, you might want to also spend some time in their wine-tasting room and Lillie Belle Farms artisan chocolate shop next door, which offers elegant handmade confections crafted from local, organic ingredients, in unique flavors like ghost chili pepper chocolate, lavender sea salt caramel, and the Smokey Blue Cheese Truffle (made with Rogue’s Smokey Blue).

The Oregon Cheese Guild is a great resource for more information on Oregon cheese and a list of the state’s artisan cheese makers.

Posted in Creameries, Oregon | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments