Monday, January 30, 2012

The Marin County Cheese Trail

In the rolling hills of West Marin County are the fields in which livestock graze and produce the quality milk used by the local cheese companies. The wine industry always comes to mind when in this region, but cheese making might just be a close second. In what is known as The Marin and Sonoma Cheese Trail are many good cheese companies, they range from small artisanal to much larger ones that produce on a national scale. A good place to start the tour is Marin French Cheese, which just happens to be the oldest cheese making company in America, dating back to 1865. They specialize in making French style Brie and Camembert. It's worth a visit with lots of other cheese selections and a nice picnic ground to enjoy them in. Another cheese maker a few miles down the country road is the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, it is a smaller operation with a more artisan style variety. Then of course there is the now famous Cowgirl Creamery located in the small coastal town of Point Reyes Station. This cheese company has become the grand queen of quality artisanal cheeses and a personal favorite of mine. I recommend trying the wash rind Red Hawk. It is amazing with its stinky musty aroma and creamy soft interior; wow it's really good! 
There are so many other good cheese companies and with good local wines nearby and it is perfect for a weekend road trip.

Marin French Cheese Company
7500 Red Hill Road, Petaluma,CA 94952

Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
5300 Nicasio Valley Road, Nicasio, CA 94946

Cowgirl Creamery
80 Fourth Street, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weeknight Chicken with Mushrooms

Basic foods like chicken and mushrooms are common in recipes, but when you use the best ingredients available it will change from boring to amazing!  So when ever possible buy the best; after all, you are eating it.  I always like to use organic free-range chicken because it's the best tasting and does not have all the harmful additives most supermarket poultry have.  For the mushrooms I also try to stay away from the normal white cultivated ones, which are like flavorless little sponges.  I choose to go with wild or exotic cultivated varieties. A friend of mine, and also the mushroom supplier to the chefs is Todd Spanier, owner of "King of Mushrooms."  He recommended that I get a few ounces of his beautiful Oregon Gold Chanterelles and with that, came the idea of serving them with chicken. I like to keep it real simple when ever I cook to compliment the natural flavors and the colors. Tonight I roasted the kosher salt-seasoned chicken breasts skin side down with a splash of extra virgin olive oil in a 400F oven 'till just cooked through. In the last few minutes of cooking, I tossed in cleaned Chanterelle mushrooms in the same pan to cook along with the finishing chicken. I made a quick asparagus risotto to go with it.  Five simple ingredients come together onto a plate in only about a hour.

Chicken Breast with Golden Chanterelles

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baja Mexico Trip, Part Four

The Sand Bar
The Cool & Funky Sand Bar

One of the cool and fun things about Mexico is that due to somewhat relaxed government agencies, the bars, clubs and restaurants can be pretty funky in a good way. Things that would not be allowed here in the US due to the many building codes are fine in Mexico. One example is the Sand Bar, a bar & restaurant on highway 19 in the town of Pescadero, Baja California Sur. The name Sand Bar is right because the floor is just that, sand.  A large living tree in the center is a focal point with a rustic palm-thatched roof built around it. The crowd is made up of locals, traveling surfers and the ever-present odd cat and dog, enjoying good drinks and a simple bar menu while maybe watching a game on the wide screen or live music on the weekends.  Another different funky bar and restaurant on the same highway but in the middle of nowhere, is Art & Beer ~ a simple bar surrounded by modern outdoor sculptures in the cactus-covered garden. It's fun to wander and look at the art while drinking a over-sized mug of blended fruit and tequila. One odd tradition they have is to hand you a beer as you are leaving so you can continue drinking on the road; is that legal in this country?  No way!

The Bar

Funky Art on the Highway

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Baja Mexico Trip, Part Three

Ponzi Tuna and Chili Sauce Tuna
Sushi might seem unusual for Mexico, but it's now a Global cuisine and has found it's way down South too. Carlito's Place is a restaurant that truly defines the term "off the beaten path." It was found after driving through a maze of dusty back streets in the very small coastal fishing town of Pescadero. Carlito's came highly recommended, and we briefly questioned that as we drove up to the sparse open-air restaurant. After being seated quickly we passed on the menu and just said "send us your best" and they did.  It was a truly amazing fresh sushi and Asian-fusion style meal.
I recommend to bring your wallet filled with lots of Peso's, it's expensive and worth it.  After the meal Chef/Owner Carlos Cham sat down with us to chat about the restaurant and shared with us what seemed like a endless stream of assorted fruit margaritas. The town is about a hour North of Cabo San Lucas, just 15 minutes South of Todos Santos.

Carlito's Place
Pescadero, Baja California Sur Mexico
(612) 137.94.19 (cell)

Tempura Banana Peppers Stuffed with Crab

Stuffed Panko Prawns in Sweet Chili Sauce

Friday, January 13, 2012

Baja Mexico Trip, Part Two

Chocolate Clam with Spinach, Mushroom and Cheese

Another first for me was the discovery of these delicious Baja Chocolate Clams, named not for the common sweet chocolate, but for the brown color of it's shell. These clams are found in the coastal Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez waters surrounding the Southern Baja peninsula. I had them both cooked and served raw, but feel that raw is the best way, with maybe with a dash of hot sauce; you can really taste the clean, briny ocean where they come from.

Baby Raw Clams on the half shell

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Baja Mexico Trip, Part One

Cerittos Beach Southwest Baja, Mexico

Taco Menu with Local Mexican Seafood

Baja Style Fish Taco
With the Winter cold comes frequent thoughts of warmer places and my thoughts turn to the warm region of Baja California, Mexico.  A short three-hour plane trip from San Francisco and it begins to feel like I'm already back in Summer.  The palm trees and the blue Pacific Ocean make it perfect. The second reason for me to being in this warm desert paradise is the food; Mexican food is a personal favorite of mine and I am in Heaven. Tacos are king here and made with lots of seafood in this coastal region. In Mexico a taco is basically anything put into a tortilla with maybe a salsa spooned over it, served with corn tortillas which are the most common. What I like is the simple, uncomplicated flavors of only using a few ingredients. Start with a warm corn tortilla, next a piece of simply grilled fish, meat or vegetable and then add the condiments that you choose, which often can include various forms of red or green salsas, pickled red onions, fresh chili peppers and fresh lime to squeeze over it. I want to go back really soon!!
The Perfect Drink for Tacos

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Salsa Verde

Chicken Salsa Verde
One of my all time favorite sauces is Salsa Verde which simply translates to "Green Sauce". This classic Italian sauce in it's basic form is a raw blend of olive oil, parsley and capers. It's common to serve this highly flavored sauce with more bland cooked foods such as Bolito Misto (Mixed Boil) I really like it with grilled fish or chicken. Tonight's quick one-pan meal of chicken breasts sauteed with dino kale included a generous serving of Salsa Verde spooned over the top.  Love it.

Salsa Verde
1-2 bunches Flat leaf Italian parsley
1/4 cup Capers, rinsed
1 cup Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves
Juice of one lemon

1. Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Specialty San Francisco Cup Cakes

Mini Cupcake Assortment

There seems to be a trend now in high quality cupcakes appearing just about everywhere, even in reality TV shows where pastry chefs compete in baking contests. The new, smaller cupcakes are a smart choice for someone that likes to eat cake but does not want to buy the whole thing. With mini cupcakes it's possible to try a few different flavors as well.  There is a local San Francisco company called Kingdom Cake who are making some of the best cupcakes in the City. If you cannot choose one of their many sweet or savory flavors they will even make a custom batch for you. I like all of their traditional flavors like Red Velvet and Chocolate but my current favorite is the Banana Salted Caramel; a little bit different but really good. Give them a try if you are in town or the Bay Area (they deliver too.)

Kingdom Cake
San Francisco, Ca