Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oysters at Nick's Cove, Tomales Bay - Marshall CA

Oysters aside, the drive up to Marshall is enthralling; a stark and beautiful coastline with a back drop of mountains and blue skies. You occasionally pass through charming, yet humble towns that appear to have been  untouched for decades: a small white clapboard church with its steeple reaching up to the sky, a general store, post office and little schoolhouse.
And then you arrive in Marshall: population 50. When we sought out a place to eat in Marshall last year most everything was closed. One place was being refurbished, another was for sale. This year nothing's changed. Nick's Cove is always opened and packed and along the road there are fisherman who are sorting through and packing oysters. In the area you will find the Hog Island Oyster Company, Drakes Bay Oyster Company and Tomales Bay Oyster Company.
Although oysters are the predominant business along the coast there are also many other small farms and cheese businesses speckled throughout the countryside: Cowgirl Creamery, Strauss Family Creamery, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Petaluma Poultry, Fallen Hills Ranch, Clover Stornetta, Rossotti Ranch, Bellwether Farms and Larry Wagner Farms.

There is an inn across the street from Nick's Cove with 12 cottages (five on the property and 7 with water views across Highway 1; all bookable through and then the restaurant and bar itself with seating indoors and outdoors all year round.

Nick's Cove has one quasi commercial vehicle parked outside, a fire engine red Willy's Jeepster from probably 1948 or 1949, that is more relic than utilitarian.

The central theme at Nick's is oysters, most of them locally harvested. In addition, oysters harvested in the morning on the east coast are flown in daily for lunch and dinner on the west coast.

We all had the mixed oyster platter of twelve local oysters: Hog Island Sweetwaters, Drakes Bay, and Preston Point, Bernal, TBOC.

We had another six barbecued Tomales Bay oysters apiece, made with homemade barbecue sauce and a garlic parsley butter.

We followed our oysters with a Tomales Bay clam chowder with applewood smoked bacon. This year there's been an excellent crab season so we also had Dungeness crab cakes with arugula, shaved fennel and a smoked paprika aioli.

It was gratuitous after all the oysters, but I couldn't resist dessert all the same: a prune tart with a caramel sauce and vanilla cream.

Before heading home we walked out to the Nick's Cove dock. Although the day was mostly sunny it was brisk, yet many diners chose to eat outside.


At the end of the dock there is a spectacular view of the bay. There are a few tables for diners who are willing to bring their meal out to the dock themselves.

 There's a cabin with a wood burning stove, one dining table and music piped in from the restaurant.

 It's the kind of place you can almost see yourself living least for awhile. A nice toasty fire, a three-sided view of the bay and the water, food back at the restaurant.

The red, white and black of the marble table and weather-worn red chairs with black leather seats captured my eye and convinced me that next time I'll be having my oyster lunch right out there in the cabin at the end of the dock at Nick's Cove.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Dinner

Two Christmas dinners this year: one with friends in Rome, one in San Francisco with family. The San Francisco meal is a wonderful collaborative affair with my sisters and extended family and the other a feast I offer up to my friends. 
I'll tell you about our Rome Christmas, starting with the table. A great meal involves every sense and this begins with where we all join together to share our meal. It's the Christmas season so reds and greens are an obvious choice. I love natural, homemade, preferably edible centerpieces so this combination of apples, walnuts, bay leaves and candles was perfect.

Individual plates echoed the red and green theme with a star formed from bay leaves and half a cherry tomato.

We had two starters, beginning with a lentil soup with mussels and clams.


We were just in Naples and since that trip I've been wanting to make a giant frittata di spaghetti. This is a simple but delicious dish usually prepared from leftover spaghetti.  One beaten egg per 100 grams of pasta and abundant grated pecorino and parmesan cheese is added to the spaghetti. The mixture is then cooked in a well oiled (olive oil of course) large, deep frying pan. I use the flat lid of a smaller pan to compress the frittata while cooking. It needs to be cooked slowly so the eggs cook thoroughly. Once done the frittata is removed and cooked on the other side.

We have meat lovers and fish lovers in our group of friends so I prepared both. Lamb is the traditional Christmas dish in Italy so we had a de-boned leg of lamb prepared with an olive oil, ginger, fresh rosemary, soy sauce and garlic paste. The additional paste is used as a dipping sauce for the lamb.

Our salmon was de-boned by the fishmonger and stuffed with mussels, clams, fish fillets, bread cubes, minced onions, parsley and fish broth. The salmon was then baked to an internal temperature of 170F. It makes a delicious, beautiful presentation which is very easy to serve.

Our potato side dish cooked stove top for 20 minutes, then 20 minutes in the oven, in a deep-dish, oven-proof cast iron pan. A stick or two butter is melted and drizzled on the layered potatoes as they're added to the pan. Once cooked through the excess butter is drained off and the potatoes inverted onto a serving platter. Buttery and delicious.

Our winter garden is exploding with vegetables. I served cauliflower and mixed dark greens sauteed in olive oil, peperoncino and garlic.

 Fresh mandarin oranges are a must at the Christmas table.


I spent last week making acorn flour from the acorns in our yard. I prepared a hearth bread from acorn and whole wheat flour.

We had three cakes and three ice creams for dessert. We started off with pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin souffles, which I love because they rise three or four inches out of the ramekin.

My favorite ice cream was the peanut butter and chocolate chip ice cream, which was served with a chocolate torta caprese.  

I used the acorn flour to make the torta caprese and although it was good it didn't compare to the original recipe which uses almonds.

Our final dessert combination was cranberry cake and torrone ice cream. For the cranberry upside down cake I used dried cranberries soaked for several hours in warm water and then drained. The cranberries were mixed with brown sugar and melted butter, poured into a baking paper lined spring form pan, topped with the batter and baked.

No Italian Christmas is complete without torrone, a nougat prepared with honey and egg whites and almonds. I made the ice cream with honey and cream. Five minutes before it was done I added chopped torrone to the ice cream.

Friday, December 23, 2011


 One of the signs that Christmas is around the corner is that panettone sales start popping up everywhere. I love them and I love looking at the vast array of packages, each one more beautiful than the next. It's true that Italians don't go in for a lot of holiday decor, but they do love their exquisitely packaged panettone.
No one really makes them at home anymore because although fairly simple the numerous risings render panettone making a lengthy endeavor requiring you to be on hand for eight to ten hours.
I didn't do so this year, but I often make small panettone to give out as gifts. I use old 16 oz peeled tomato cans for baking tins and it works out perfectly.
There is a constant changing of hands of panettone throughout the holiday season as whatever holiday party you attend it is de rigueur to arrive with a panettone in hand for your hostess.
Tre Marie is one of the better known panettone makers in Italy. Many shops (such as the specialty food chain Castroni) either make their own panettone, or have them custom made. Local bakeries all make their own panettone and I enjoy offering up an artisanal product at my holiday table or as a gift to friends rather than a mass produced panettone.
Do I like panettone? Actually, I do. Early on I envisioned the super sweet desserts like pumpkin and pecan pie as quintessential Christmas desserts. I've gotten over that and prefer the raisin bread-like panettone.

This year we're in the San Francisco area for the holidays once again, but we've stocked up on three panettone from a top Italian bakery: Emporio Rulli.
Whether in Italy or abroad you'll never go wrong giving a gift of panettone to friends and family. And should you find yourself with a massive inventory of panettone post-Christmas they make the best french toast you'll ever taste!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Smoking Salmon at Frantoio

When I'm in San Francisco my favorite restaurant is Frantoio in Mill Valley. I love it because it's genuine Italian food with wonderful fresh ingredients, mostly from the Bay Area.

Our first lunch upon arriving in San Francisco we had here: a simple pasta all'amatriciana, salad and fresh bread. We had lunch early with Sous Chef John and the frantoiano (olive oil maker) Patrizio who was in San Francisco for six weeks to press olives before heading back to Tuscany for the Christmas holidays.
Frantoio has a wonderful wood burning pizza oven that is used to make pizzas and bread and roast meats. John also uses it to smoke salmon, which is what we did today post lunch.
For two days before the actual smoking process John places the salmon under a mixture of two parts salt to one part sugar. The salmon is then weighted down using a baking sheet with heavier objects placed on top. Twice a day John bastes the salmon with the liquid the fish has cast off to keep it moist.
Once it's ready for the smoking process John gets a small fire going in the back of the pizza oven with about four logs. The wood used depends on the flavor he wants to achieve. He uses apple or olive or whatever else strikes his fancy.
The oven needs to be more than warm, but not hot, otherwise you will cook the salmon. The pizza oven has no thermometer, but I'd say we're talking somewhere around 150 F to 200 F. When the oven's ready John closes it until the flame goes out. The salmon is then placed in the oven where it will stay for 15 to 20 minutes. Once during the smoking process the salmon is very quickly turned to achieve a nice, even smoking process.

The flavor John achieves is amazing. There's nothing like smoked salmon and when it's freshly smoked it's unsurpassable. Why haven't I been doing any smoking in our pizza oven? I really don't know, but I will be doing a lot of smoking henceforth.


Monday, December 12, 2011


 Newly opened Aromaticus in the Monti area, Via Urbana 134, has set out to be quite a few things to its clientele and it remains to be seen if the owners Luca and Francesca can pull it all off: purveyor of specialty fresh herbs & greens, sales of garden supplies ranging from organic fertilizer to seeds to gardening tools, Monti area rooftop and garden consultants and last but not least restaurant service for light lunches showcasing the greens and herbal product line.
We visited Aromaticus Monday morning when alas the store is technically closed. Therefore we were able to explore Aromaticus and have a chat but were unable to try out the lunch. Next time....
We met with the affable and enthusiastic, albeit overwhelmed, co-owner Luca. Luca readily admits that Aromaticus is still in its start-up phase and that a lot of tweaking still needs to be done to the venue, product line and website. It's a charming concept and if the owners manage to juggle everything they've set out to accomplish it should be a very successful enterprise.
Check it out; it's well worth it. Here's a heads up on what you can expect to find at Aromaticus....
Lunch offerings will include salads, carpaccio (baccala' or anatra) and tartare fassone piemontese (a Piedmont beef tartare). Lunches are served at a bar decorated with a mini herb garden.
Lots of gardening tools and toys....

 Fresh greens and herbs....

Specialty salts and peppers, spices, and other types of condimenti. One that appealed to me was a tube of aromatic soy and wasabi paste.

Aromaticus is sparsely but harmoniously decorated with plants and herbs....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maira Kalman & Cake at the American Academy in Rome

Maira Kalman and American Academy pastry chef Mirella Misenti were co-conspirators in the creation of a delightful afternoon of pleasure to the palate and the eye. Maira briefly shared her reflections on Rome, her life, her career and what inspires her....cakes do. Illustrated edible cakes, and edible illustrations of cakes.

Our cakes were delectable: a three layer pan di spagna with two different fillings between each layer: lemon cream filling and whipped cream. We were also served bite-sized ginger snaps and tea.

There is no rhyme or reason as to what Maira illustrate; these days, she says, it's simply what appeals to her at that moment. She's illustrated an eclectic assortment of  publications over the years including the New Yorker magazine, The Elements of Style (a book originally published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr focusing on the rules of usage in literature), and most recently Michael Pollans' Food Rules. Maira has also published a number of her own adult and children's books.
Food Rules is a simple handbook of intuitive, numbered rules on how to eat sustainably, that can be just as easily understood by an elementary school student as an adult. Michael Pollan is a journalist turned culinary sustainability expert and spokesperson. Food Rules is his seventh book. I use Food Rules as a bible in my intro culinary sustainability classes. When the revised addition with illustrations by Maira Kalman was published last month I was no less than ecstatic. It's delightful! Make sure you pick up a copy; you won't be disappointed!