Today in Sonoma

Fresh Dungeness Crab off the boat

The Best Louis Dressing Ever

I have been making this voluptuous dressing since I was 14 or 15. I’ve never encountered a better one or one that, to my palate, even comes close. It is my favorite way to enjoy our local Dungeness crab. The column also has recipes for crab with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and a simple yet delicious crab soup. You’ll find all the recipes here. Later this week, I’ll roll out a feature of all of my favorite ways to enjoy Dungeness crab.

Sebastopol Farmers Market Customer Appreciation Day

The Good Cooks JournalFrom 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.–a little earlier and a littler later because this is, after all, Sebastopol–I’ll be serving bowls of delicious creamy polenta with a choice of three toppings, wild mushrooms with cream and fresh chévre, pomegranate-walnut gremolata, and toasted sweet chilies. Want all three? No problem.

I’ll have the Good Cook’s Journal available for sale, too, as the recipe for slow-cooker polenta is in this book.

Join in the fun!

Look Closely

If you look closely at the fence to the right of the round barn, what do you see? Someone has spray painted “Ramones!” Thank you, Gabe! I smile whenever I think about this, though I cringe just a bit, too, to think that this qualifies for vintage. But of course it does.

California Coast Cuisine Comes to West County

Handline is the second Sebastopol restaurant for Lowell Sheldon, who opened Peter Lowell’s in 2007 on the north end of downtown. Handline is on the south end, in the former Foster’s Freeze. Among the new restaurant’s charms is the original soft ice cream machine, at the far end of the little bar. Adjacent to it is the original white neon “cones” sign.

Handline’s executive chef and Sheldon’s partner in the endeavor is Natalie Goble, who has been farming for Peter Lowell’s for a number of years. Both Sheldon and Goble are Sonoma County natives. Sheldon’s father, Steven Sheldon, is an architect based in Sebastopol.

The restaurant has two kitchens, a production kitchen with a wide window, where customers place their orders. A second kitchen, on the street side of the building, is used exclusively for masa, which is integral o the restaurant’s food and philosophy. The corn is organic and grown in California. It goes through a traditional process known as nixtamalizing and is then ground and used to make tortillas. It is also available to the public, as raw masa and as tortillas to take home.

At the restaurant, the tortillas are perfect. For tacos, they are soft and ethereal but strong enough to hold ingredients without falling apart. For tostadas, they have perfect snap and don’t grow soggy. They make delicious chips, too.

The bar at Handline.

The bar at Handline.

The restaurant has an interesting design, with three discrete areas inside and lots of space outside. There is a narrow bar adjacent to the main dining area, perfect for solo diners or visiting with a friend when you don’t want a full sit-down meal. A wider, fully stocked bar, has a few seats. The main dining room is spacious, with tables that are not too close together.

Handline is off to a great start, no doubt influenced by Sheldon’s experience and success at his first restaurant. Goble is an outstanding chef, with a precise and subtle palate and a commitment to ingredients shaped by her experience as a farmer.

Handline is located at 935 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.

Is This the Best Bacon In World?

Tonight I made Spaghetti Carbonara for dinner, using a bacon I’d purchased a few weeks ago at the St. Helena Farmers Market. When I bought it, the vendor said to cook it in the oven, not on the stove, because sugar in the cure will caramelize too quickly in a frying pan. I decided to follow his instructions although, in my tests, bacon cooked in an oven rarely if ever has the right “snap,” a quality I consider essential (especially for BLTs). But this bacon is pricey and so I wanted to see how his instructions held up.

I cooked it first for ten minutes, drained off most of the fat, and cooked it for another 9 minutes or so, and then set it on a brown page bag to drain. Then I took a bite. And then I went to a brand new place, a special place, a bacon heaven I did not know existed. I was transported and tempted to bow down to this new bacon god I had discovered. The bacon was perfectly crisp but there was something else. It certainly had snap  but there was another dimension. After the snap, there was a secondary release, like a little explosion of a soufflé made of pure bacon.

The Carbonara was delicious, as it always is, but as I enjoyed bite after bite, I found myself wondering why bacon is never offered as a simple entrée. This bacon, from Contimo Provisions of Napa Valley, is, indeed, that good.

Three tacos, grilled onions, cilantro, and a bit of salsa

National Taco Day

In honor of today’s commemoration of tacos, here are links to some of my favorite taco recipes, from Seasonal Pantry, which I have been writing for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat since 1997.

Tacos al Carbon: skirt steak, with variations, including for tacos lengua

For tacos, you must have corn tortillas, heated until soft & pliable and never crisp. Yes, I am a taco purist.

For tacos, you must have corn tortillas, heated until soft & pliable and never crisp. Yes, I am a taco purist.

Tacos Hongos: Mushrooms!

Fish Tacos with Avocado, Radishes, & Lime: The perfect taco to enjoy with Sauvignon Blanc

A Taco Template, with 8 filling suggestions

Tacos with Chorizo & Potato Filling

You’ll find more of my taco recipes here. 

Macarons at Sebastopol Farmers Markets

Dominique Cortara of Dominique’s Sweets is a regular vendor at two year-round farmers markets, the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market (50 Market West Springs Rd.) on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Sebastopol Farms Market in the town plaza on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This Sunday, her selection includes the whimsically decorated watermelon macaron. Macarons, made with egg white and almond flour meringue, sugar, butter cream, and natural flavorings are naturally gluten free.

Macarons are frequently confused with macaroons, a type of small cookie, the most common of which is made with coconut and is also gluten free.

Watermelon Macaron

A Cool Day for Cooking

Fifteen pounds of conical cabbage had been sitting in my pantry for two weeks as I battled a virus during a heatwave, which seems to me like a double insult. It’s bad enough being sick when the sky is grey and misty but when temperatures hover close to 100 degrees, it’s hard to tell why you’re so miserable: Is it a fever or is it simply too hot? The chills that accompany most viruses are no help and there is very little comfort to be found, especially given that insomnia seemed to be one of this virus’s symptoms. Finally, as temperatures waned and a Black Moon rose on a clear night, the virus seem to pack up and move to another victim and I felt ready to tackle those two enormous cabbages.

First, I shredded all the cabbage, using a large cleaver to break it into manageable pieces and then using my food processor to slice it. My big stainless steel bowl held 11 pounds of it, another bowl held four. I added the appropriate amount of salt to both containers, pounded the cabbage a bit, and then spooned yogurt into a cheese cloth bag to drain. While the yogurt drained, I made a coffee-molasses marinade, poured it over pork spareribs, and put them in the frig. I’d already put a clay pot full of beans and a ham hock over low heat. You’ll find that recipe here. After the yogurt had drained, I put the resulting cheese–known as labneh and similar to cream cheese, but more tangy–into a glass jar. It is delicious on toast, bagels, and crackers.

This crock holds 11 pounds of cabbage, pounded with salt until it releases its liquid and collapses. Ceramic weights keep the cabbage submerged as it ferments.

This crock holds 11 pounds of cabbage, pounded with salt until it releases its liquid and collapses. Ceramic weights keep the cabbage submerged as it ferments.

When it came time to finish the sauerkraut, I used recipes from a column I wrote a few years ago, which you can read here. My large fermentation crock from Architectural Ceramic Design held the larger amount of cabbage, made using the salt-only technique. Because I didn’t have a half-gallon jar, I packing the remaining cabbage, now fermenting using the salt and whey–from the drained yogurt– technique, into a gallon jar.

I enjoy spending one day each weekend cooking, preparing things not just to enjoy at the moment but throughout the weekend and beyond, especially in the fall, when winter is imminent and so many foods are begging to be preserved.


Sunset at Sebastopol’s Handline

Handline, located in what was, not so long ago, Sebastopol’s Foster’s Freeze at 935 Gravenstein Avenue, has been hosting a series of lunches and dinners to be sure the staff has its sea legs for the restaurant’s opening on October 6. I stopped by on Friday evening and enjoyed Popotla Verde (halibut ceviche), El Coronado (rockfish tacos), and La Serena (tostadas of squid, avocado, and chipotle aioli). Stay tuned for more details about this new California Coastal roadhouse.

Melon Season!

Our fields are awash with melons, from tiny muskmelons not much bigger than your fist to enormous watermelons. And Leisen’s Bridgeway Farms is growing what may be the best variety of watermelon I’ve ever tasted, Sunshine, a yellow melon that Larry Fields grew until raccoons began taking most of them and a watermelon virus invaded his farm. I haven’t had Leisen’s yet but I’ll be getting one as soon as possible. You’ll find Leisen’s at the Santa Rosa Community Market at the Veteran’s Building at the corner of Maple and Brookwood in Santa Rosa on Saturday and at the West End Farmers Market in Depot Park in Railroad Square on Sunday.

You can read my column about melons in this week’s Press Democrat here. The column includes four recipes, Honeydew, Cucumber & Grape Salad with Absinthe, Cantaloupe and Prosciutto Salad with Black Pepper & Cheese, Watermelon Aqua Fresca, and Melon Bellini.

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