Tag Archives: cacao

A World of My Imagination

One of my enduring happy childhood memories is watching Gene Wilder sing “Pure imagination” in the dark, sticky, dome-like movie theater south of here. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a pivotal movie in my littlehood, and the memory of watching Gene’s crinkly blue eyes and wild hair and groovy clothes while he strolled around his garden of confections clings hard to my subconscious. Hearing him sing this song during a current television commercial brought all those memories flooding back.

My wish then was that such a place was real, where red licorice ropes dripped from trees like Spanish moss, where daffy down dillies were actually tea cups of nectar and where the murky Delta water was a river of chocolate.

Seeing that scene in the movie made me feel safe and comfortable, deep down inside somewhere, with a sense that nothing could get at me or scare me or disrupt my innocence – just me and a giant meringue and jelly-filled mushroom and a suspension of time. The movie was just like the book, only better, and I wanted to crawl through the screen and nestle inside.

After-wards, my world seemed somehow lacking. The colors were murkier, not Technicolor, and the honeysuckle flower I sipped was sweet but not what I imagined. I wanted Gene Wilder’s twinkly eyes to look down on me forever, to take me away from “all this”‘. I had forgotten this feeling, this intense longing, my wish for a safe, happy place, until I heard that song on the television. Every time I hear it now, my heart lightens and for a moment I forget reality and feel uplifted.

I had the great pleasure of meeting and talking to Gene Wilder at a screening of Young Frankenstein. I brought my beloved copy of his novel, “My French Whore” and we chatted a bit. He looked just the same, just a bit grayer and more tired, but then so are we all. It is such an odd phenomenon to feel an emotional connection to an actor who was portraying a fictional character, to a man who won’t ever remember me but whose face is burned into my synapses.

Thinking of Gene and that lovely song brought back another memory I had forgotten. My maternal grandmother didn’t do much in the kitchen, but when I came to visit her and Grandpa as a young child she would always make a point to make me a special Angels food cake. She was not much of a cook. When my mOm was a little girl she had to do most of the cooking or do without, and when Grandpa was home from the Navy he loved to cook. Grandpa taught me quite a few handy things, which I will share with you sometime. But Grandma would cook once in a while and she would make candy occasionally too. She made the most marvelous divinity for my sister, and occasionally, very occasionally, my sis would share a piece. What heaven that little bite of candy was, airy and yet chewy, filled with nuts and so sweet. I think that Grandma’s divinity is why I love Sees Candy’s nougats so much.

I well remember her bread and butter pickles and watermelon rind pickles, and how silly I thought it was that she wanted me to save her the watermelon rinds, until I had a jar of what she had put up.

When I was a little older, I apparently was asking Grandma (and everybody) how to cook things even then, and she shared a few of her recipes with me. She would send me Hallmark cards with recipe cards tucked inside, her cramped, spiky handwritten, closely covered recipe cards with things I have yet to try – peppermint sticks, Swedish fried twists, fruitcake. These recipes, a gold cross pendant and a 70’s color scheme crocheted afghan are all I have to remember Grandma by. Sadly, the secret of her divinity and pickles are lost forever but my sister and I will always have it in our memories.

I haven’t seen anything like Grandma’s Chocolate Mint Sticks any where else, and here it is, just as she wrote it, on both sides of two recipe cards.

Chocolate Mint Sticks


2 oz (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 c granulated sugar
2 oz (generous 1/2 c) walnuts, cut or broken into medium size pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c all purpose flour
fine breadcrumbs

Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat to 350 F. Butter a 9″ square cake-pan, dust it with fine breadcrumbs. Invert pan to shake out excess. This has a tendency to stick to pan; using crumbs prevents this)

Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double-boiler over hot H2O on med-heat. Stir until smooth. Remove to of dbl boiler – set aside to cool slightly.

In small bowl of electric mixer beat eggs until foamy. Beat in salt, vanilla and sugar. Add chocolate mixture (may still be be warm) and beat to mix. On low speed, add flour, scraping bowl with rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Stir in the nuts.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread it to make smooth layer. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out.

Remove from oven. Cool in pan.

Prepare Mint Icing as follows:


2 T butter, room temp (unsalted)
1 T (or few drops or more) heavy cream
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c sifted confectioners sugar

Place all ingredients in small bowl of electric mixer; beat until smooth. It should be thick mixture, not runny. Spread evently over cake in pan. Will be a thin layer.

Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes – no longer.

Prepare glaze as follows:


1 oz (1 square) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1 T butter (unsalted)

Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double boiler over hot H2O on medium heat – stir until smooth. Pour hot glaze onto chilled icing and quickly tilt pan in all directions to cover icing completely with glaze – very thin layer, just barely enough to cover. Don’t worry if icing shows through in small spots.

Refrigerate 1/2 hour until glaze looks dull. Cut around cake to loosen edges from pan. Cut in half and then in bars.

May freeze and then serve from freezer.

Makes 32 small bars

I will be thinking of Grandma and Gene as I nibble these, and wish I was sitting on a candy lawn with my cup of tea and the soft splashing of the chocolate waterfall nearby.


A Whirlwind of Fun, Part I

The last week has been a dazzling schedule of tweet-ups, dinner parties, classes and gatherings that almost boggled my mind. I really can’t imagine a week where I have had more fun or ate more incredible foods 0r hung out with more fascinating people.

I could spend the rest of the year writing up my experiences of this week, but there are more things scheduled between now and then, so instead here some highlights:

Bay Area Food Bloggers Tweet-up

The newly formed Bay Area Food Bloggers group had our first meeting for a Friday night happy hour at Horizon’s in North Beach. Chef Christopher Lee (@iplaywithfood) is the Executive Chef and very kindly offered us space to meet, drink and feast on his incredible Kobe beef sliders, bacon and truffled mac’n’cheese and a plethora of fries. I have been dreaming about this burger and mac’n’cheese for quite a while and the reality was even better than my expectations. Chris treated us to an enormous platter of amazing cookies and mini pastries that blew my mind, and local ice cream and sorbet artist Flash Freeze kindly provided a half dozen of incredible flavors to try, my favorites were the Blue Bottle espresso, the salted dulce de leche and the pineapple thyme. Thank you Chris and Flash Freeze!

After the fun of BlogHer Food and Foodbuzz (which I sadly missed), it was incredible to meet the wealth and diversity of our local food writers and bloggers. Best of all, they are genuinely fun people that I am so pleased to count among friends. Attending was @sstiavetti, @Jeters, @inuyaki, @LunaRaven13, @Biggie, @TastyTwosome, @lettuceeatkale, @cookingwithamy, @m_quinnMy @singleguycooks. Apologies if I missed anyone at the evening, we were enjoying our cocktails, and the after party gathering was a blast too. Somehow we ended up walking around North Beach wearing false mustaches (and it might have been my idea?); much hilarity ensued.

Thank you, Stephanie, for organizing this great evening!

#bafoodblog the evening has deteriorated. We are in a candy store w faux mustaches

More silly pictures….  And more Mustache Brigade videos…..

Family Meal Collective Dinner

The following Sunday was the long-awaited Family Meal Collective early winter supper. This incredibly talented group of people organize informal dinners for their guests, with perfect ambiance and incredible food. The proceeds help with a local non-profit. Chef Kris with the help of Charlene and Yuka prepared a wonderfully comforting dinner for an extremely soggy winter night. I was joined by 9 convivial diners and we noshed and sipped the night away.

  • Amuse: Parsnips and “Coffee” with Dolin vermouth de Chambrey Blanc with cranberries and orange peel garnish. A few sips of rich creamy heaven and the vermouth was a perfect match.
  • Starter: Lumpia- Basah: spring rolls with miso salt crusted pork belly, pickled kumquats, paired with an Antech Limoux Cremant de Limoux. The crisp veggies and unctious pork belly was incredible. This was a sublime bite. Or two. Or…. Yes, we had seconds!
  • Intermezzo: “Trou Normande”, a delightful glass of apple cider with Humphry Slocombe pink apple sorbet floating inside.- A “stomach conditioner” of barley and oolong blend tea. It was remarkable refreshing and really did set the palate for the main courses.
  • Giagandes and Christmas Lima bean stew, roasted sunchokes, 24-hour braised beef cheeks, a “garden of grains salad”, cabbage and roast potatoes. The bean stew was so delicious I could have made a meal on this alone. The beef cheeks were meltingly tender,so much so that you could have used just a spoon, and you really needed a spoon for the decadent savory fig sauce to spark up the flavors. The grain salad had all my favorites, and some new, quinoa, barley, millet, and raspberries for tang. Served with these family-style bowls of heaven was a Casa Castillo from Jumila, Spain, 2007.
  • Dessert: Chocolate in a jar; hazelnut chocolate pudding with 40% cacao, nutella and cocoa nibs. They came in small canning jars and we ate them all! The “One for the Road” was a perfect last glass of Buffalo Bourbon, Faretti Biscott Famosi, rooibos and agave.

I am delighted to offer you the recipe for the amazing amuse from Chef Kris. I hope to make it for my family for Christmas dinner.

Family Meal Collective Parsnip Soup

Yield: approx. 2 qts.

1/2 Spanish white onions (sliced thin, julienned)
2 each. parsnips (cut in half, sliced)
1 quart half and half
1 bay leaf
a sprig of thyme
salt to season
olive oil


Sweat onions very slowly at low temperature without allowing the onions to caramelized. Add in sliced parsnips, allow to cook slowly at low heat, until softened. Add just enough half and half to cover the parsnips and add in bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a slow simmer and allow parsnips to cook for 10 -15 min. Strain parsnips and place in a blender. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs and add just enough cooking liquid to the blender to thoroughly emulsify both parsnips and cooking liquid. Strain parsnip puree thorough fine sieve and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Can be garnished with: coco nibs, rendered pancetta, double smoked bacon,tempura fried oyster, poached quail egg

I look forward to more of their dinners in the Spring!

FMC collage
(The menu, the table, the Trou Normande)

Liquid Alchemy Molecular Mixology Class Preview

Tuesday I had the rare pleasure of attending a preview of an innovative class for bartending professionals and others, like myself, interested in the technical arts of cocktail craft.  Douglas Williams, a molecular mixologist and a classic cocktail consultant, also known as @liquiddouglas, is a fascinating professional, deftly mixing his creative cocktails with the most modern of ingredients, liquid nitrogen, alginates and other gastronomic chemicals along the lines of Ferran Adria and Wiley Dufresne. I was delighted to have Seletta (@LunaRaven13) as a table mate during the class, where we watched Doug safely manipulate liquid nitrogen and his cocktail creations and elevate them to sublime cocktail bites. Doug’s class covered safe handling of liquid nitrogen, proper storage and disposal, how to make frappes and cocktail bites. He discussed the various chemicals used in molecular gastronomy and mixology, proper measuring techniques and tips on how to experiment. Airs, foams, powders and emulsions were covered, including his gorgeous Kir Royale with cassis pearls floating in the sparkling wine like a lava lamp of tastiness. The best part was that Doug’s class is very hands-on so you can get right in there and try it yourself under his expert tutelage. Not to mention that all of his concoctions were absolutely delectable. With the proper training and attention to weights and measures anyone can play with molecular mixology.

My favorite was the ball of Root frozen with a shell of cream. It was an adult rootbeer float, a mouthful of fun! Doug also introduced me to about a dozen artisan liquors I didn’t even know existed and I am now on a quest to upgrade my liquor cabinet, starting with Root!

Doug and Jen(Doug and his assistant Jen, a bartender at Rye)

Molecular Mixology collage
(Our first sip, a lime mojito slush; liquid nitrogen; Doug making freeform frappes; finished Aviation frappe)

Doug will be offering more classes in January so keep your eyes peeled for the announcement. Thank you, Doug, for allowing me to attend! And big thanks to Traca (Seattle Tall Poppy) for introducing us!

After the class, Seletta and I visited Rye and visited more with the lovely Jen who assisted Doug during the class preview.  Jen makes a delicious and dramatic cocktail called Out of the Box, with a flaming orange peel finish.  Watch ’till the end for the explosive finale!

Thanks Jen!  I will be visiting Rye a lot more in future!

So, that is Part I of my amazing week, and there is more to come….


My favorite chemical is theobromine, that magic happy elixir inside chocolate that makes you feel good *all over*!

When I get that first rush, I’ve been known to purr “caCAO!” like Lightning McQueen in Cars. Only my pal Lovi tops me in chocolatelyness by grating 100% cacao mass over her granola. I love her.

When the wonderful folks at Hershey and Scharffen Berger offered to send me some samples and information about their “Chocolate Adventure” recipe contest of course I said Yesyesyes and waited for the FedEx guy to come.

You know what happened, of course. On the expected delivery date, I was just out of the shower when my intercom rang! I scrambled to dry off and get something on. The FedEx guy knocked on the door, he needed a signature naturally, and I said, “Just a second, I just got out of the shower!” in my froggy deeper-than-Demi-Moore-not-quite-over-the-flu voice.

“Oooo!” he said through the door, “that sounds goooood.” (!!!!)

Gee, maybe I should try to keep this voice.

Anyway, back to the chocolate, I plopped the box on my bed, grabbed my mini-Swiss and opened the box like it was Christmas morning. Under the peanuts was nestled a chocolate-brown box with the Scharffen Berger Seal, oooo, pretty.

(Photo taken on my kitchen table, naturally)

Inside the box was a treasure trove of chocolates, four large spice boxes with some of the “adventure ingredients”, a velvet bag with a great 2 gig flash drive and the contest rules.

(a peek inside)

(the booty)

Matt Armendariz, who blogs at MattBites, is one of the contest judges and his great explanation of the contest is here. Scharffen Berger is challenging anyone to create either a savory or sweet recipe using their chocolate and one or more of the 16 adventure ingredients, such as coffee, smoked sea salt, paprika, papaya, rice powder, ginger, cacao nibs, and more. The prize is $10,000 per category. Tempted?

(clockwise from the top: black-eyed peas, crystalized gingerroot, bitter-sweet smoked Spanish paprika, applewood smoked salt)

Gaze upon the yumminess and let your imagination flow….

(look at all this chocolate! Thank you Scharffen Berger!)

I am not sure I will be entering the contest but I do plan to experiment with the chocolate and the “adventure ingredients” starting tomorrow, with Becky Selengut’s braised short ribs with coffee and chocolate, as blogged by Patricia Eddy.

All I can think of to say is caCAO!!

Update: the ribs were delicious and subtly spiced. I adapted it to the ingredients I had on hand and a few tweaks of my own.

Since I used the crock pot, I reduced the tomatoes by half, and added only one cup of Blue Bottle espresso. I used two dried ancho chiles as that is all I had, and a bay leaf, and cooked them on high for 6 hours. I then chilled the meat in the sauce overnight and removed all the fat.

The next day, after the ribs had reheated to a gently simmer, I corrected the seasoning (adding salt, pepper, paprika, cumin to taste) and folded in a shattered bar of Scharffen Berger’s 83% cacao.

It was fascinating to see how the addition of chocolate completely thickened the sauce. I was initially concerned that the sauce would be too thick as I had reduced the cooking liquids by half. However, the crockpot does not evaporate liquids during cooking so the juices were quite thin. The chocolate changed all of that and the end result was a thick, rich, glossy, spiced sauce akin to a mole but more elegant in texture.

I served the short ribs in a deep earthenware bowl, topped with sweet, juicy tomatoes and a handful of cilantro, and served sour cream on the side. Accompaniments: sour cream mashed Yukon gold potatoes, blanched green beans in a lemon tarragon vinagrette and juice (Menage a Trois red table wine), and milk for the kiddies. My dear friends were kind enough to let me experiment on them, and even the kiddies ate their portion and kindly refrained from making retching noises at the table. They are not a fan of the mole concept, whereas I want to try a more traditional mole next time, perhaps Rick Bayless’ recipe?

My deep thanks to Becky and Patricia for sharing the recipe I based my dish upon!