Food & Drink

Everything tastes better in Northern California

A recent trip to Northern California included a stop at a life-changing spice market.
A recent trip to Northern California included a stop at a life-changing spice market. Getty Images

How can it be that this weekend is Memorial Day already? This year is screaming by. I hope you have some fun Memorial Day weekend plans. We’ll be heading to Ellsworth for a family picnic with Randy’s family. It’s a strong Rathbun family tradition that’s more important to them than Christmas. I happily go, but for me, nothing’s more important than Christmas.

The two recipes I’m featuring this week come from a cookbook called “Celebrating the Seasons at Westerbeke Ranch.” I’ve never been there, but based on this cookbook, perhaps I should take a trip. It’s in Sonoma, Calif., and looks to be a lovely place to connect with nature and pamper yourself while you sip great wine and enjoy fresh eats. My friend Leah gifted me this cookbook, and it’s chock-full of fantastic, simple recipes I’ve made over and over.

I had the pleasure of going to Northern California a couple of weeks ago for a bit of work and a lot of pleasure. I had a speaking engagement for Sterling Silver Premium Meats about food trends and the changing grocery market scene, and boy does that keep changing. I’ll take any excuse to go to Cali. A dear friend who lives in Oakland drove to pick me up, and we were able to spend a few days together.

We enjoyed great food, visited an incredible spice shop called Oaktown Spice Shop, soaked up the California sunshine and even stopped at a pig farm on the way to Oakland. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been on a pig farm, and there were darling new piglets running around in the farrowing pens. You think puppies are cute? Go see baby pigs. I wanted to pick them up and cuddle them. My friend, Julie, is going to sell the pork for this specific farmer, and I was along for the ride. I really enjoyed meeting the kind, gracious young pig-farming family. I think it’s important to stay connected to our food chain and pay respect to the entire process.

Julie and I dined at many delicious places but, believe it or not, the place that really stands out is KronnerBurger. It’s an incredibly cool, modern space adorned with white marble everywhere that serves the most incredible burgers. They grind their own meat, make their own buns and serve their burgers with pride because, let me tell you, it’s the best burger I’ve ever eaten. They recommend you get it rare, so I went with it — although I “needed” a side of roasted bone marrow too, of course, because why not live it up? The fries were fresh-cut, tasty and served with house-made ketchup. They were good, but the onion rings still have me salivating. They were very lightly breaded, flash-fried and served with house-made pimento cheese. Holy moly, I’d buy a plane ticket just to eat those again.

Let’s chat about this fantastic spice shop, Oaktown Spice Shop. My friend told me to clean out my spice cabinet to make room for my goodies. I literally could have filled an entire suitcase full of the goodness I found there. To name a few things I purchased: a homemade tonic water kit (never made that before but can hardly wait to try it), Cyprus wild mushroom sea salt, shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice), New Mexican green chile powder, Marash Turkish chile, umami sea salt, urumqi lamb rub and honey powder.

I know we have the wonderful Spice Merchant here in town, and I love that store, but I found things I’d never seen before at this one. And luckily, you can purchase some online at oaktownspiceshop.com. Shop the Spice Merchant first for the things you can get there, but for the more exotic spices, hit this shop up online. You won’t be sorry. Until next time, I’ll be tasting my new spices. Perhaps I’ll write a recipe with one for next week.

Coleslaw with Spicy Cilantro Dressing

8 cups Napa or green cabbage, thinly sliced

1 ½ cups grated carrot

1 cup chopped green onion

Spicy Cilantro Dressing:

1 ½ cups chopped cilantro

½ cup chopped green onion

½ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 jalapeno pepper, roughly chopped (with or without seed, depending on spiciness desired)

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon lime juice

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced

½ cup canola oil

Place all dressing ingredients except canola oil in a blender and blend on high for 5 seconds. With the motor running, add oil in a thin stream until it’s fully emulsified.

Combine salad ingredients with dressing and serve.

From “Celebrating the Seasons at Westerbeke Ranch”

Classic Caesar Salad

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, divided use

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons anchovy paste or canned anchovies, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup good olive oil

3 hearts of romaine lettuce, washed

Garlic croutons, if you like

Place garlic, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, Worchestershire sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, egg yolk, anchovy (or paste), salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, about 10 seconds. With the motor running, add oil in a thin stream until it is fully incorporated.

Cut each romaine head in half lengthwise, keeping core attached. Slice into ¾ inch chunks. Discard core.

Toss romaine with dressing (there’s plenty for leftovers), ½ cup cheese and croutons, if desired. Serve immediately.

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