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Serendipity Farms


Wild Striped Sea Bass in Saffron Bouillabaisse Butter

healdsburg rainy day
chef drew wycoff
fish scales1
fish scales3

The conversation continues around here about serving farmed fish. A few months back we did a tasting of a farmed Striped Bass and we tried, we really tried, to love it. No luck. There was something slightly muddy in the finish that anything forced to live in containment water probably can’t avoid. We all know the oceans are straining, but in every way we prefer fish sustainably caught in the wide open seas. When Mike Torrise showed up last week with this gorgeous wild Striped Bass from California we felt vindicated: sweet smelling, eyes still lucid, flesh still firm.

Striped Bass has the most wonderful skin ~ it scores into neat diamond bands that crisp up like crackling. With fish this fresh each bite brings with it the taste of salt from the sea. A little butter and thyme and there is nothing between you and perfection, except knowing when to take the pan off the heat. And what to serve it with.

Mix Garden has been providing us with exquisite tiny young vegetables; time consuming to peel, pare and steam (each separately) but the flavors they pack are condensed, Shangri-la. The third component was a vibrant shellfish sauce ~ mussel, clam and fennel broth suffused with tarragon and saffron, reduced, strained and buttered out. Chef finished the dish with a light drizzle of first press virgin olive oil that just arrived from our friends the Pates at Serendipity Farm. A glorious dish to start the year.

healdsburg kitchen
chef ryans wild sea bass

Per our conversation about seafood sustainability, check out Studio Barndiva exhibitor Nader Khouri's beautiful photo blog Visual Appetite this week. It talks about a new food model called Community Supported Fisheries. Nader writes "CSF supporters say it’s a way to deliver local, seasonal, and mostly wild-caught seafood to consumers while shortening the supply chain and giving fishermen a more fair price for their catch. In the past year the number of CSF programs in the U.S. has doubled to 35." Not sure if it will reach us up here in Healdsburg, but it sure sounds like a good thing for the Bay Area.

All text and photos, Jil Hales.


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Chocolate Bomb ......

Dish of the Week

The Bomb: Dark Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Bavarois, Hazelnut  Praline Feuilletine, Coconut Ice Cream & Orange Gastrique

The Cacao bean is one of the oldest and most versatile spices in history with thousands of sweet and savory flavor profiles for a Chef to play with, but when it comes to eating it and satisfying that craving for chocolate that has been around since the Aztec's, your best bet is to go big or go home.  Scientists tell us our attraction to chocolate comes from a chemical reaction to the alkaloids in cocoa solids which produce serotonin and its trigger cousin tryptophane in the brain. Tryptophane is that very neat amino acid thought to regulate mood, appetite, sleep ~ all the stuff which can make or break your day. Sadly, it doesn’t matter if you get there after a virtuous ten mile run or a guilty session at the chocotelier, when tryptophane floods the system with endorphins, it's gonna feel a lot like happiness.

The fact that we mix chocolate with sugar to counteract its natural bitterness also inadvertently contributes to the psycho-chemical reasons we love it, as sugar also acts to slow down our fight or flight impulses. The thing to keep in mind if you plan to use the tryptophane angle to justify a chocolate jones is that it only occurs in cocoa solids. Quality chocolate can be as high as 80% cocoa solids at the top of the  ‘chocolate’ spectrum, but white chocolate, yummy as it may look and taste, actually contains no cocoa solids at all.

When I crave a brief out of body experience from chocolate I want primo bittersweet nibs pulverized into submission, mixed with cream and nuts and fruit. Which is why we invented The Bomb.

The first things Octavio makes is the last you eat: Caramelized Hazelnuts flecked with dark chocolate, rolled with a bit of flour and chilled. This praline feuilletine provides the base for a tower of  vanilla crème frâiche and whipped cream over which he pours  a shiny carapace of 80% dark chocolate ganache. Light meets dark, sweet meets bitter, crunchy meets heavenly soft. It's a chocolate dessert which has everything, even an historical pedigree as we are now using Guittard Chocolate ~ the only remaining San Francisco Chocolate company still family owned.

In summer we love to pair the bomb with the sweetest red berries we can find; in winter citrus is the perfect foil. When Vicki and Bruce Pate dropped off a bag of mixed oranges from Serendipity Farms, Octavio made a gastrique out of them using their tartness to play against the dark and light nuances already going on in the dish. It was a beautiful color. Chef trailed it like lattice work across the plate, connecting the bomb with the final element of this elegant romantic dessert ~ a house-made coconut ice cream.

Octavio has been working on a stellar recipe for coconut ice cream that will be part of our upcoming Oscar Night dinner where each course is inspired by the country of origin of an Oscar Nominee. That dessert will also have compressed pineapple and Kona Coffee mousse as the dessert course is themed to Hawaii, very much the heart of The Descendants.

We couldn't help but wonder how Big O's coconut ice cream would pair with chocolate. In a similar way that the flakes of Maldon Salt on top of the dome serve to extend the complexity of the dark chocolate, the ice cream momentarily stuns the palate, taking your mind away from chocolate altogether, making the return to its luxurious silkiness all the more decadent. It was so good, we decided to put the pairing on our Valentine's Menu.

Like I said, go big or go home.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).

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Dish of the Week.......Xmas In the Gallery.......A Holiday Greeting......

Dish of the Week

Serendipity Farm Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Crispy Lamb Neck Croquettes

This is the perfect Early Winter dish that delivers all the satisfying meaty flavors we long for as the nights turn cold. The persimmons and pomegranates come from Bruce and Vicki Pate, who graciously opened their farm in Geyserville to us last week. If you think a single leafless persimmon tree with its gloriously colored fruit is Christmas beautiful this time of year, imagine an orchard full of them.

Admittedly, the lamb aspect of this dish would be a bit tricky for the home chef unless you have access to whole animals or are a member of a meat buying club. The beauty of nose to tail cooking goes beyond honoring an animal (and value for money); in great part it's rediscovering cuts like this.  The first thing Chef did after breaking down the animal was to get a great stock going with roasted bones and cuts like the neck and shoulder. His braising liquid for lamb consists of white wine, fennel, tomato, rosemary and loads of fresh parsley.  After a few hours in this braise, the succulent meat all but falls off the bone.

Neck meat cooked this way has marvelous flavor, redolent of the braising liquid and the free range life of the animal. Our two lambs this week were raised at Lou and Susan Preston's biodynamic Family Farm on West Dry Creek where they played an important role fertilizing the soil as they grazed the fields and vineyards.  To make the croquettes, the meat from the bones was rolled in saran wrap and refrigerated just long enough to hold its shape.  Just prior to cooking, Ryan brushed the chilled 2” croquettes with Dijon mustard and rolled them in lightly seasoned Japanese breadcrumbs.

Because the meat is fully cooked before hitting the pan, the croquettes only need a few minutes in grape seed oil over high heat,  just long enough for the breadcrumbs to turn golden and crunchy.

Ripe but firm persimmons have an unusual flavor that isn’t sweet so much as fragrant, with a silken honeydew quality that pairs beautifully with the richness of the lamb. Use non-astringent varieties for taste and ease of cutting. I think Serendipity Farm’s persimmons were Jiros, but Chef was going with Fuyus, which are everywhere this time of  year.  Chef shaved the persimmon into semi-translucent overlapping slices which he used as a canvas for a composition of baby roasted artichokes, pickled red pearl onions, red and yellow endive and one of his current favorites ~ exquisite tiny radishes. A sprinkling of red pomegranate pips completed the dish. Pomegranates are lovely this time of year but always a bit fiddly. Ryan showed me a quick way to extract the pips from their membranes: slice them in half and, using the wider end of a big kitchen knife, whack away, holding the cut side over the plate. Depending on how your day went, you can have a nice therapeutic moment as pips rain down like a shower of rubies.

In the Gallery

We always try to fill the Gallery with unique smaller gifts at Christmas time, and this year is no exception. Besides a (rapidly diminishing) table of ornaments, we have cotton tea towels from Portugal, hand-loomed scarves from India and Ethiopia, Alpaca throws from Peru, votive holders made from cinnamon bark and a small but highly eclectic selection of books and hard-to-source cocktail bitters.

One of our favorite items back in the Studio after a long, post-tsunami wait are the exquisite hand-blown blue and yellow whiskey/cordial/ you-name-it glasses from Sugahara.

Out of time to shop? Not sure what to get for that certain someone you don't know all that well (or perhaps know all too well)... The ever popular Barndiva Gift Certificate may be the the most thoughtful gift you give all season. If you can't make it into the Gallery, call (707.431.7404) and we will be happy to take your information and send the the gift certificate anywhere you want. They can also be purchased at the bar, where you can have a glass of wine or a cocktail while you contemplate how clever you are  ~ really, how much easier can we make this?

The Countdown for 2011 has begun...

We are always fully booked for our fabulous New Year's Eve soirée, with the rush for tables coming right about now.  Last I looked, we were almost out of space ~ so book now if you are thinking of joining us for a "classic" six-course menu culled from what Chef feels are the best dishes he has cooked all year.  Don't say you weren't warned! If you already have plans for NYE but would like to join us for a glass of bubbly or taste one or two of the  dishes on the NYE menu, we will serving them à la carte from noon to seven.  Seating for NYE (dressing up not required, but encouraged) starts at 8:30. Take a look! 

And Finally...

Barndiva wishes all of you a joyous holiday season. We thank you for your continued support without which we could not and would not find the vision and resolve to do what we do. Make a joyful sound, friends, for truly we have no time to waste.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah from all of us at BARNDIVA

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).