Eat Some Oysters Already!

If you love oysters, this is for you. If you don’t love oysters, even better – I’m on a mission to make you a fan!

Here in the Bay Area we have some of the best oysters around. While it’s true that I love ’em all and I’ll eat pretty much any oyster put in front of me – it’s also true that these beautiful Tomales Bay oysters are at the top of my list.

Their crisp brininess is, indeed, comparable to those briny, creamy tiny little Puget Sound guys that I also love so much… but I live here, and I like my oysters fresh as they can come. I rarely eat oysters that aren’t local, and at Tomales Bay they’re more than just local – they’re growing in the water you’re sitting next to while eating them. In fact, they’re so fresh, you sometimes get a little hitchhiker on your bag of oysters…

You can chow down at a picnic table on the beach and then take a walk along the sand next to the beds. It’s pretty much the best thing ever. If you live in the Bay Area and haven’t been, go. If you have been, go again. And if you don’t live around here – get your butt over here and go. Take a look at what you’re missing out on:

 

Those picnic tables you see there to the right are where you eat your tasty treats, there on the left is where you buy them…

The oysters’ temporary home, before I eat all of them and my belly is their home….

Just for reference on how my pals and I can scarf up some oysters – between 4 of us, we ate 62 oysters. Its a lot, but we were pretty happy campers, even considering a few more before we came to our senses. Once they all settled, I was pretty oystered out for a little while. (The next day I was fortunate enough to follow it up with tomato steamed clams for dinner. Oops on the mollusk overload.)

The key to eating so many oysters is taking a break in the middle for a stroll along the beach, throwing sticks for the dog to catch, taking silly pictures and viewing the oyster beds. (Some people even buy their oysters and carry the bags to eat on the beach)…

The second key is to have the most banging supply of treats and goodies you can imagine. There’re picnic tables, it’s sunny, you’re on the water, and surrounded by happy oyster loving people. Bring a huge cooler, a car crammed full of your most favorite people and stay a while!

Plenty of wine (champagne strongly suggested), bangin’ cheeses of all kinds (I prefer hard with oysters), tomatoes, mango, avocado, shallots, apples, lemons, grapes, fresh french bread – there’s also some hummus, salad greens, canned white beans. And plenty more. It’s this spread that will lead to the greatest oyster feast of all time; the feast that had led to some of the surprising recipes and combinations I am about to offer you; recipes and combinations for those who love oysters and will do anything with them, as well as for those who don’t, who need a little ‘umph to enjoy this beautiful mollusk.

The more items you have in your tasty treat box (cooler), the more tasty adventures you can have, of course. We took pretty much everything on the table and tried it with the oysters – in the shell, in a salad, on bread – we did the best we could to do it all. Take a look at just a few of the attempts we made. Some were amazing, some were less than that…

Green apples on top, with the brine in. Amazing!

Cucumbers. Also good, but not as good as the apples. The two mixed together – ohhhh yeah.

 Avocado – the smooth semi-sweet creaminess on top of the salty brininess: not bad. Mango – less than mediocre.

Sometimes, though, you just need a plate of plain old oysters. No funny business. (Well, maybe one…try out some tomato. It’s not too bad – tomato, hot sauce, lemon.)

But, of course, for those simple plates of oysters, you need some sauce.

You need lemon, you need hot sauce. Horseradish, cocktail sauce, mignonette are classics.  But, of course, I always encourage experimenting with as many as you can gather, and all the combinations in between.

Cocktail Sauce

  • Ketchup
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dash (or a big splash, depending on taste) of hot sauce (tabasco recommended)
  • Mix together to taste!

Mignonette

  • White wine or champagne (sparkling wine)
  • Finely minced shallots
  • Splash of acid: white or red wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Mix together to taste and pour over oysters!

Don’t forget that arugula and can of cannellini beans we had…..

Simple and Delish Raw Oyster Salad for Two

  • 2 fresh oysters, with brine from shell
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 1/2 can cannellini beans, plus 1/2 teaspoon or so of bean juice from the can
  • teaspoon or so of white wine/champagne mignonette
  • handful of arugula
  • pinch of salt and black pepper
  • Mix together and enjoy!
Just follow my simple guidelines, come up with some funky oyster recipes of your own, and you, too, will walk away with a bucket of oyster shells as full as this one:
Shuck and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Deconstructed Apple Pie (Apple Sauce and Ice Cream)

Somehow, my parents have managed to turn a one story, suburban Orange County home into a beach town mini-farm. Citrus trees, apple trees, a garden of herbs and veggies, a bay leaf tree bigger than my stupid city apartment, flowers, homemade sausage, vinegars and beautiful handcraftedfurniture that my dad makes in the garage. Whenever I visit, I spend a lot of time sitting the back patio, staring at their small pond and sighing to myself about my dirty white carpet, electric stove and monthly rent that is higher than their mortgage. I do, however, also get to reap a few benefits from their luscious harvests, including a few pounds of these beautiful apples:
Look at the varied colors and stripes. So pretty!

Last weekend, they sent me home with a couple pounds of these ladies. I was undecided about what I wanted to do – first I was going to make a jalapeno-mint-apple jelly, but I don’t really use jelly. I could make one or two pieces of toast, use it to experiment with an apple glaze for pork, can it and use it for x-mas gifts and thanksgiving din-din (uh, now that I think about it, actually, I have more uses than I though. Dammit!) I also thought of pies and crisps and having a pie party, or giving apple butter a try. In the end though, I decided on apple sauce. I’m not big into eating apple sauce, but I’d never made it before and I’m always up for something new. My parents have so many apples they don’t know what to do with them, so my dad makes apple sauce a couple times a month (seriously, they have that many) and gave me his recipe; I don’t know what they do with it all. I followed his instructions, but added vanilla and butter and used lemon zest instead of orange juice. I think the orange juice would be super yummy, but I didn’t have any oranges on hand. If you want to do it with orange, leave out the lemon zest and substitute with the juice of half a large orange just toward the end of cooking (no seeds, please). Another option for adding orange is to zest a bit on top of the finished dessert. The crumbled cookies are meant to replace the crust, so treat them as such, distributing it so you get a little bit in every bite and by all means, don’t be afraid to put some under the sauce and ice cream itself.

The absolute worst part of this recipe is that you most definitely have to peel and core the apples. I know it sucks, but just turn on an episode of Real Housewives or some other bullshit garbage and you’ll be done before the drunken bitch slapping turns into Teresa cutting her children with shards of broken martini glasses for the life insurance money. If you don’t have an apple corer, just cut the meat of it off the core into cubed chunks.

Deconstructed Apple Pie


For the sauce, you will need:

    this many apples

    (that’s about two lbs, peeled, cored and diced large)

    a little water in the bottom of the pot
    2.5 sticks of cinnamon, broken in half
    1/3 cup brown sugar
    bout a heaping T of butter
    cap full o f vanilla
    heavy handed pinch of salt
    zest of one limon

    1. Put about 1/3 cup of water in the bottom of a decent sized pot and add all the peeled, cored, and diced apples; place over medium-high heat, cover tightly.

    2. When the apples start to soften (5-7 minutes) add broken cinnamon sticks, vanilla, salt and butter, stir often to keep the bottom from burning, keeping covered when you’re not stirring.

    3. Toward the end of cooking (15 minutes) when the apples are really soft, add lemon zest and start smashing with a potato masher.

    4. Take it off heat and continue smashing til it reaches the desired consistency (I recommend fairly lumpy).

For the rest of the dessert, you will need:

    Delicious vanilla ice cream                                                                                                                                                                                                          Cinnamon graham crackers or some other kind of thin, crunchy, crispy wafer-like cookie

    Serve the sauce warm off the stove with a scoop of cold ice cream, crumble some cookie over top, and one or two whole cookie/cracker.

*note: you can easily substitute butter for earth balance (not margarine!) to make the apple sauce vegan, and substitute the ice cream for vegan ice cream.

BBQ Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy

I’ve been trying to expand these recipes to more “full meal appropriate” entries rather than small pieces of how to look fancy. In doing so, I’ve come back to my old homesteading ways. The ways of the farms in far away lands, the ways of the jam-making in Lower Haight,the ways of spending 8 hour chunks of time in the kitchen making everything from mustard and crackers to ice cream flavored with home grown fruit. Oh, those days…where have you gone? To where has all that youthful enthusiasm and energy fled? Perhaps to late nights of word scramble and Mah Jong? Perhaps to the new visual enjoyment of This American Life? (Thanks a lot, Ira Glass…) Wherever it went to, it’s on its way back for a (hopefully extended) visit, so lets go home.

Good ole fashioned meatloaf is the best way to negate the anger that is flooding all us San Franciscans just as the cold fog is flooding our Indian Summer. Now is the time for hot, heavy food – chili, roasted chicken, meatloaf – and this is the best recipe with which to welcome it back. I do, very very sincerely, beg of you – pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaase (on my knees) don’t use store bought barbeque sauce. Just don’t. I’m not going to lecture you on corn syrup, how it’s a disgrace to the intregity of food, how it’s bad for your body, agriculture, farmers or the economy of food. I won’t. I will just say that this barbeque sauce will taste better than any you can buy and you will feel so much better about your endeavors after a mere half hour (that’s not even a whole episode of This American Life).

Barbeque Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy MeatloafBBQ

For the BBQ Sauce

This recipe makes just about enough for the meatloaf, so depending on how much you might use in other items (perhaps a burger patty made from some left over ground beef?) you could want to double it. Another good use of this sauce is as a marinade for tofu.

      1c. canned tomatoes, or 2 heirloom tomatoes, smoked, and 1c. unseasoned tomato sauce*

 

      2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

 

      2/3c. red onion, finely chopped

 

      1/2 jalapeno, finely diced, with seeds

 

      2T brown sugar, or Mexican Piloncillo, grated

 

      1t tamarind paste**

 

      juice from 1/2 lemon

 

      1/8t curry powder

 

      1/8t smoked salt***

 

      1/4t cumin

 

      1/2t liquid smoke

 

      1/2t extra virgin olive oil

 

      1t cider vinegar

*This sauce is a great reason to shell out $40 and get a stove-top smoker from your local Sur la Table. Buuuut, if you don’t have the means to smoke the tomatoes yourself, I strongly recommend Muir Glen Organic’s Fire Roasted kind.

*If you can’t find tamarind paste (though its more widely available than you would think, just ask around – especially in the “ethnic foods” aisle, or at Asian and Mexican markets) it can be substituted with tamarind pods. Leave them whole and keep them in the sauce the entire time its cooking, then remove at the end.

***You can get smoked salt at some specialty stores (such as Rainbow Grocery here in San Francisco) or order it online. If you don’t use smoked salt, use regular sea salt and add 1/4t more liquid smoke.

1. Warm a medium sauce pan over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and jalapeno in olive oil until just softened but not browned.
2. Add tomatoes, then slowly add sugar and tamarind paste, stirring and watching to make sure it all dissolves well.
3. Once the tamarind paste and sugar are dissolved, add everything else slowly and reduce to a simmer.
4. Simmer for half hour or until the taste is right for you.
5. Remove from heat, cool, and puree in food processor. Don’t worry when it still seems chunkier than the KC Masterpiece your un-culinarily inclined roommate fills the fridge with, that’s just because it has real tomatoes in it. You definitely want it that way.
6. Enjoy with the following:

For the Meatloaf

      1/2lb ground beef

 

      1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

 

      2T red onion, finely chopped

 

      1 1/2T BBQ Sauce + 1t

 

      2T bread crumbs

 

      1 egg

 

      2 strips quality bacon

 

      Good amount of sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350.
2. Put all ingredients (saving the extra teaspoon of BBq sauce) together in a bowl and mix well by hand.
3. Here’s the key to making it right:

        Coat a small loaf pan in butter and pack the uncooked meatloaf into it, smoothing out the flat side, then gently shake it out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once out, the loaf is now coated in the butter. Now, coat it in BBQ sauce and lay the bacon strips gently over it.

4. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, remove and rise oven temp to 450.
5. Once heated, replace meatloaf for 10 minutes to brown the outside.
6. Remove bacon strips and serve on the side.
7. Serve with:

And the Mushroom Gravy

      2C. mixed mushrooms, coarsely chopped

 

      1/4C. butter + 1t

 

      1/2 small white onion, finely chopped

 

      1C. heavy cream

 

      1/2C. stock (veggie, chicken or beef)

 

      1T flour

 

      1/2 small garlic clove, finely minced

 

      1/2T balsamic vinegar

 

      Salt and Pepper

1. In a medium sauce pan, saute mushrooms, onion and garlic in 1t butter until just a little softened
2. Add stock and cream
3. In small amounts, add flour, whisking the whole time to make sure it doesn’t clump up (I like to add the flour later for this, because I don’t want it to brown)
4. Continue whisking!!! and add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Continue whisking until it is nice and thick and delicious
6. Remove from direct heat, but keep stirring it up until you serve it – otherwise it will thicken into a lumpy mistake.

Now, put ’em all together with some mashed potatoes (you’re on your own, here) and serve it in this order: Mashed potatoes on the bottom, then the meatloaf, maybe a little extra BBQ sauce, then the gravy. MMMMMMmmmmmmm Mama.

Mango’d White Fish

I think some of the most culinarily inspiring things one could do is travel. Even when the food is less than exciting (Haiti….) it’s still fun. One of the best meals that I’ll probably ever have was in Chiapas, Mexico. Now, I’m sure some of you are sick of hearing this story, but there are some out there that haven’t heard it. So bite your lip and listen (read):

A friend and I were living with the Zapatistas for a bit, and the first night we got to the municipio where we would be staying, the men killed a deer for us. Fresh, wild and so beautiful. The kids and men came up to us, excitement seeping out of their pores and since we had yet to learn any of their indigenous language (Tzetzal) we had no idea what was going on, so we just followed them until we saw it: A group of men with rifles standing over one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen, brought to the community in honor of our arrival. They tried to teach us how to clean it, and Alex lasted all of a half of a second before she had to turn away. I, on the other hand – always the one begging to learn useless abilities – made it almost a full 30 seconds, up until the point where …. well, I’ll spare you the details.

In the end, that deer was absolutely the best thing that has ever touched my taste-buds. And it fed the community of 20-something people for next couple of days.

But, I digress…. the point of all this is that I’m making an attempt to create more recipes using my international culinary experiences. Albeit that this recipe is certainly not fresh venison, it is still born out of delicious southern Mexican cuisine. For a little less than a quarter, you can get little sandwich baggies filled with sliced Mango, salt and hot sauce. Perhaps you scoff, but you best try it before you condemn it.

Fish is also, of course, hugely popular south of the border, so I decided to combine spicy mango and white fish, easily pan seared ’til golden brown. MangoFish

Fish with Mango Cream Sauce

    1 lb any white fish fillet (I used Tilapia)
    1/2 mango, well ripened, peeled and cut into chunks
    1/6c. cream
    1/4c. white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
    1/4c. green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
    1t minced garlic
    1/2t cayenne pepper
    1t hot sauce
    5T butter
    S&P to taste

    1. Saute onions, garlic and peppers in 2T butter until softened
    2. Combine all ingredients (except fish and hot sauce) in a blender and puree.
    3. Slowly blend in hot sauce, adjusting it to taste.
    4. Heat a pan on medium heat, melting 2T butter, salt and pepper both sides of the fish.
    5. When mostly melted, add fish and sear high heat, slowly adding the rest of the butter, until browned on both sides (about 5 minutes).
    6. While searing the fish, put the sauce in a sauce pan and heat until warm (about a minute).
    7. Plate the fish and pour sauce over it.

Eat it!