Winter in SoCal

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Sonoma County

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Just a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Sonoma County is a gorgeous winemaking region about an hour north (unless you’re me and have a horrible sense of direction and get lost…then it will take longer.)
But once you arrive, you’ll find that Sonoma boasts world-class cheesemakers like Ig Vella who makes Sonoma Dry Jack, a hard grating cheese whose exterior is rubbed with cocoa powder for ripening. There’s Craig Ponsford’s Artisan Bakery too, which won the Best Baguette in, gulp, Paris…of all places.
As you can imagine, that was quite an upset!

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The last of the persimmons, barely hanging on the tree.

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It isn’t California without Caesar Salad. But bread and butter alongside? Trés americain!

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This is ‘French’?
I’ve never seen taffy in France…or a goofy mug like that either.

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Just-harvested olives, to be pressed into California extra-virgin olive oil.

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Lucky plants…
Even they get chocolate too!

Menu For Hope

My other girlfriend Pim has organized a wonderful auction to raise money for victims in Pakistan and India of the recent natural disaster. As the chilly winter approaches, international aid is necessary and vital to the people of these regions.

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Visit Chez Pim for more details. Just a $5 donation buys you a chance for such wonderful gifts as having tea with Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini, a chance to appear in a video (although he didn’t say what kind, I’m sure it’s PG 13) with Adam, the Amateur Gourmet, and Sam of Becks Posh and Nosh has put together not one, not two…but three super food-related hampers of culinary gifts and cookbooks!

For my donation, the winner will get a personally autographed copy of The Great Book of Chocolate, and I’ll take the winner to Berthillon in Paris for ice cream!

The prizes just keep coming and coming and coming…

You can donate here to have your chance to win one of these amazing prizes.

UPDATE: The auction is over. Thanks everyone for participating!

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Seattle, con’t…

In case you’d like to read a first person account of my Holiday Chocolate Baking class in Seattle, Gluten-Free Girl came by to visit and posted about it at her site

And Sam posted about my class (and proposal) at Becks & Posh in San Francisco as well.

Seems like I’m leaving a few broken hearts in my wake!

The Best Chocolate Sauce Recipe

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I have to admit that this is my “Little Black Dress” that many women…and perhaps a few men (since I’m from San Francisco), consider their multi-purpose, never-fail-to-impress sexy black number hanging in their closet. I’m normally wary of recipes that call themselves “The Best” since often you make them, and they ain’t all that.

But of all the chocolate sauce recipes I’ve tasted over the years, this is the absolute favorite in my repertoire. I came up with it years ago when I was compelled to create a chocolate sauce that was rich, thick, glossy, and not loaded with butter or cream—this sauce has neither!)

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From golden profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream, to a warm wedge of tender chocolate cake, I can’t imagine any chocolate dessert that wouldn’t be improved by being doused with a nice drizzle of this. I keep a container of chocolate sauce on hand, especially during the holidays, to dress up a simple dish of ice cream after an impromptu dinner or for a little treat in the afternoon when I crave something very chocolaty.

But often I just sneak a spoonful direct from the container.

The Best Chocolate Sauce
About 2 1/2 cups

  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, agave nectar, or glucose
  • 3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
  • 2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup (or agave or glucose), and cocoa powder.

2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.

Serving: You should let the Chocolate Sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit.

Storage: Store the chocolate sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Rewarm before serving.

(For those of you who have asked, the chocolate cake is the G√Ęteau Racines, from Ready for Dessert.)

Related Recipes and Links:

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa Powder FAQs

Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Chocolate Biscotti

Very Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Scotcheroos

Coconut-Chocolate Macaroons

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

Chocolate-Dipped Florentines

Seattle

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Chicago Is My Kinda Town

I love Chicago.
Chicago is The Great American City. It’s a city that didn’t turn its back on it’s downtown, which is a modern, vibrant, and a beautiful metropolis marked by the great American invention: skyscrapers.

My favorite place to eat in Chicago is the Big Bowl. It was started by Bruce Cost, who I worked with several years ago as his pastry chef and I literally crave his food. (He’s cooked for me some of the most extraordinary Chinese food I’ve ever had. He’s perhaps the most naturally gifted chef I know.) I made sure to eat there at least once a day, chowing down on Kung Pao Chicken (which bears no resemblance to what’s served at your local Chinese place), slithery chow fun noodles, steamed dumplings stuffed with spicy chicken, and green tea mochi ice cream, a perfect little dessert, wrapped in a paste of rice flour.

I ate well no matter where I went and I met wonderful folks at the Sur La Table stores in Chicago and Naperville. One such wonderful folk-person/local I got to meet was Barrett of Too Many Chefs at the Bongo Room for a modern take on the great American hybrid; Sunday Brunch.
Crammed into this café with several hundred other people, we drank bottomless cups of Joe and I watched in awe as Mrs. Barrett polished off an astounding breakfast of French Toast with Toffee Butter, Creme Anglaise…topped with a scoop of ice cream!

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Later, of course, I paid a visit to the new Hershey chocolate store where I found the world’s largest Hershey’s Kiss….(which looked almost as dangerous as a giant M & M)…

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And there was some, er, yummy looking muffins which I, um, declined to sample…
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And tucked away in the corner of the store were bars of Scharffenberger chocolate, which was recently acquired by Hershey’s. It seems a bit out of place in this emporium of excess.

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I was very sad not to be able to get a bag of Garrett’s caramel corn.
The first time I stopped by, the line snaked out the door, and I said to myself, “No way!”

Then I sauntered around the neighborhood a bit, went to the Apple store, but the craving within me was growing to strong to ignore for a sack of their fabulous warm caramelized popcorn, so I got back in line. I waited 20 minutes, it moved very little, and when I heard the wait was over 2 hours, I decided to skip it and return back to my hotel, sad and empty-handed.

But the next day when I was across the street I noticed there was no line snaking out the door, just the people inside, and I practically got run over by a bus racing to get over there. Unfortunately after another 20 minute wait, I realized the line wasn’t moving this day either (they must employ French civil servants), and left empty-handed.

Coming back to America is always a bit of a culture shock. While I love going into Walgreen’s and finding everything from scrunchies to munchies, you come across something like this…

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…and as hard as I try, I’m unable to write about it.

Where does one begin?

(Long pause of silence)

At the airport, I found a Corner Bakery, which I’ve dubbed, “The Little Bakery That Should“. Scattered throughout America, these convenient ‘bakeries’ serve full meals, as well as coffee drinks and baked goods. Unfortunately the food isn’t very good and the pastries and baked items are sad reminders of what makes a true corner bakery so wonderful: fresh and wholesome treats, baked with pride.

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Just prior to take-off, on my way to Seattle, I spooned up their Swiss Yogurt Cup, which was the only thing on the menu that didn’t make my teeth chatter from excessive sweetness.

Time to put on my polarfleece and Teva’s and head to Seattle and Portland…

Thoughts From Richmond Airport, USA

-Does anyone really watch all the reruns of “Saved By The Bell” that run all morning on television?

-Why is the air-conditioning turned on full-blast, everywhere…in December?

-Why can’t they open a Rite Aid in Paris? I love a drugstore that sells yogurt, socks, and clocks with singing Bass.

-What insane person first decided to manufacture yogurt with gelatin in it?

-I am certain that Tyra Banks is a Vulcan.

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-I am certain that Larry King will one day peel off his head and reveal himself to be an alien intent on sucking the content from American minds.

-Does anyone actually finish one of those jumbo caramel-flavored coffees with a pile of whipped cream from Starbucks?

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My daily espresso, from Starbucks

-Does anyone actually buy a copy of USA Today or do the same copies float from person to person at airports?

-Why does Oprah appearing as a guest of David Letterman make national news headlines?

-It’s so easy to forget how vibrant and beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are when you drive around the east coast of America.

-Next year for Thanksgiving, I will give thanks there’s no French equivalent of Nancy Grace.

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-Thank goodness for Starbucks.
Say what you want, but before they came along, it was impossible to get a decent cup of coffee almost anywhere in America when on the road.

-Three arguments why Americans should be constitutionally prohibited from making “croissants”

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