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Good Food: Charles Chocolates Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar

Good Food: Charles Chocolates Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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By Kate Malin

Was there ever a more perfect combination than salty and sweet? In Charles Chocolates Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar, the salty (roasted whole cashew nuts covered in fleur de sel meringue and pure cane sugar) complements the sweet (rich, smooth milk chocolate) for a decadent and balanced bar so fantastic it soon became a best seller, winning over customers right from the start. Eat a square of this addictive bar as a sweet treat or pair with a latte for a treat sure to satisfy every flavor craving.

Chuck Siegel, founder of Charles Chocolates, taught himself the craft of making chocolate confections, making mistakes and learning from his successes until he perfected his creations, selling them at his store in San Francisco. Chuck is fiercely dedicated to sourcing the highest quality ingredients available and his obsession has led him to constantly seek out the best of each component to create the finest finished product possible. Each confection is crafted and wrapped by hand in small batches and delivered fresh, within a few days of creation, and will never include preservatives, stabilizers, or artificial ingredients.

Charles Chocolates Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar is available at www.charleschocolates.com and in stores across the country. Charles Chocolates is part of the Good Food Awards, a project to honor food and drink producers making the sort of food we all want to eat – tasty, authentic and responsible, and a proud member of the Good Food Merchants Guild, national association uniting American craft food businesses to connect, convene and promote Good Food businesses of all sizes.

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From her grassroots work at the Good Food Awards to her continued education at NYU’s Food Studies Master’s Program, Kate Malin brings an unparalleled passion for great food and good people.

More Good Food Finds:


Good Food: Charles Chocolates Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar - Recipes

Salt and chocolate is a beautiful combination that is all the rage in the artisan chocolate scene. We must talk it up a fair amount on our Chocolate Tours, because a customer recently asked me if I've had my blood pressure checked. (My acupuncturist continues to marvel at my low blood pressure, so there!) Salt enhances the flavor of most foods, but is a particularly nice match with milk chocolate - cutting some of the sweetness and adding complexity.

When I was growing up, the only salt my mom used was the blue Morton brand with the little blonde umbrella girl. Now the world of gourmet salt is vast and almost overwhelming. Using kosher salt in any good recipe is just about a given, even for my mom. Sea salt was the first artisan salt to capture the attention of American chefs, especially those with French training. Artisan sea salts are typically natural and organic, harvested from the sea with very little treatment or refining. The mineral content and quality of the water is what creates a fine salt. The most common salt added to chocolate is fleur de sel, a type of grey sea salt. It is harvested by hand by "paludiers" in France and named for the aroma of violets created when the salt dries. Like wine, different regions produce fleur de sel of varying styles. The best known are Britanny and the Camargue, where you can horseback ride through the salt flats.

Chocolatiers also experiment with pink salts. Michael Mischer uses a Murray River sea salt, whose pink flakes come from the largest river in Australia. And Katrina Markoff of Vosges likes pink Himalayan salt mined from the Himalayan mountains in Tibet. So enough of the history lesson. What are some of my favorite salty sweet chocolate creations?

1) Charles Chocolate Cashew Bar
I love filled chocolates from Charles, but his widely available bars have never made it into my shopping cart, until now. Chuck Siegel has developed a new "Emeryville Collection" of chocolate bars exclusive to Whole Foods. I guess if you don't live in the Bay Area, Emeryville sounds exotic. Each bar features organic Straus Family cream and butter, nuts and, of course, salt. My favorite is the Cashew Bar, a blend of roasted cashews, fleur de sel and 41% milk chocolate.

2) Domori Latte Sal
This bar has made me an unofficial member of the Domori "Cult Cacao." Domori is an Italian chocolate maker that actually owns their own plantations and focuses solely on the quality of cacao - without adding vanilla or even soy lecithin. At 44% cacao, its flavor is deep and rich. Like most of the bars listed here, the addition of salt (fleur de sel here) is not overpowering and makes the chocolate even more memorably satisfying.

3) Vosges Goji Exotic Candy Bar
This Vosges milk chocolate bar is a tribute to the Himalayas - with pink Himalayan salt and the goji berry, both harvested from the mountains of Tibet. A staple of health food stores, the goji berry (also known as the wolfberry) is believed to be full of astounding nutritional benefits. But whether or not the goji berry will make us live until 252, like a famous goji loving Chinese emperor, I'll still love this Vosges bar.

4) Rococo Dark Sea Salt Artisan Bar
I know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I loved Rococo even before trying the chocolate because of its beautifully unique packaging. Chantal Coady is the woman behind this British chocolate company. She specializes in unique flavor combinations (like basil and persian lime), but this simple sea salt and milk chocolate is one of her best. The bar is 37% cacao, all organic. The plastic wrapping displays various antique French molds Coady uses for her bars, and as a bonus, is re-sealable.

5) Michael Mischer Milk Chocolate with Toffee and Murray River Sea Salt
When customers on our Chocolate Tours say they like toffee, I won't hesitate to direct them to this bar. Toffee and chocolate is quite sweet, and so the addition of salt just makes sense. The bar is 38% cacao milk chocolate, made by hand in his small Oakland kitchen. Like all Michael Mischer bars, the clear packaging showcases the beauty of the bar within.

6) Recchiuti Fleur de Sel Caramel
Nearly every modern chocolatier makes a fleur de sel piece. But there are many ways to do this. Some are just too heavy handed with the salt for my taste. Others are quite goopy, when I prefer a thicker ganache center. That is why the Michael Recchiuti fleur de sel is my first choice when I'm looking for a salty sweet filled chocolate. It's a pretty little piece, enrobed in bittersweet chocolate and marbleized with Venezuelan white chocolate.


A Trio of Delicious Sweet Treats from “The Old Dominion”

Red Rocker Candy’s Cashew Brittle with White Chocolate. Where do I begin to sing your praises? To say it is simply good would be a gross understatement. It is really, really, really good. OK, now we’re getting closer to reality. Now I am not the world’s most passionate brittle fan. I like peanut brittle all right, I guess. I am a native Virginian, after all. But most of it is average at best. Too sweet. Not enough peanuts. Far too hard and dangerous for my somewhat fragile dental work.

Sue Charney, owner of Red Rocker Candy, is pictured above. I’m not sure what her secret is, but she has obviously found a winner in this particular brittle recipe. The soft layer of white chocolate on top is a perfect foil for the crunch that lies below. It is indeed a crunch. However, it is decidedly not a bridge breaker. The incredible, buttery candy brittle is generously spiked with cashews — one of my favorite nuts on the planet. Well, it’s actually a seed, not a nut. But that’s another story for another day.

Sue’s confections have recently been discovered by famous folks like TV’s Rachel Ray. This attention is certainly well deserved. I just mentioned on Facebook that Red Rocker’s Cashew Brittle with White Chocolate may be one of the best things I eat all year in 2012. Yup, I know it’s only January, but these crunchy, crackly beauties are a world class treat and without a doubt worthy of your immediate time and attention. Get some quickly before the entire world finds out — and order some for a friend. Order some for an enemy too. That person will not remain an enemy long.

Pistachio Brittle is just one of many irresistable varieties offered

Spice Rack Chocolates are made in Fredericksburg, VA. They’ve been making artisan chocolates since 2006. It’s a family oriented business founded on a “quality over quantity” philosophy. Their products are handcrafted in small batches and you can clearly taste the difference. The Belgian chocolate they use is excellent — pure and lacking in the waxy texture that plagues most mass-produced chocolates. But let’s not stop there — the chocolates are frequently goosed up with uniquely exotic spices/flavors like chipotle peppers, crystallized ginger, Jamaican curry, and Celtic smoked sea salt.

Spice Rack kindly sent us a variety of products to sample and enjoy — and enjoy we did! The dark chocolate chipotle peanuts (billed as “Fire Antz”) were spicy and superb. It didn’t hurt that they feature first class gourmet Virginia goobers grown just down the road by Belmont Peanuts. They’re not overly spicy, but they do deliver a pleasant afterburn. The Ginger Cubes offer a highly unique marriage of dark chocolate and crystallized ginger. I love ginger, so these little nuggets were a special treat.

Even better was the Spice Rack Collection. This attractive & informative (it suggests wine pairings) 15-piece gift box featured 3 each of the following flavor combos: Fresh Lemon with Sweet Basil, Celtic Smoked Sea Salt and White Ground Pepper, Key Lime and Jamaican Curry, Rosemary with Mint Leaves, and Spicy Cayenne and Chili Powder. The coupling of curry and chocolate (a first for this guy) was surprisingly noteworthy. My personal fave was the sea salt variety — I’ve long been a softy for that now trendy salty/sweet combo. Spice Rack offers 5 other, equally interesting 15-piece collections. Next on my list will be their On The Rocks mix, which boasts matches such as Rum and Cola, Pina Colada, Amaretto, Orange Cognac, and Butterscotch Brandy. Cheers, y’all!

Pretty much everyone loves banana pudding. Southerners certainly crave it. But how often do you actually prepare it at home? Probably not all that often. The slicing of the bananas part is pretty easy. So is the pulling the Nilla Wafers from the box part. So what’s the big deal? Most folks will tell you it’s the preparation of the pudding part. Well, Reggie Rodgers of Chesapeake, Virginia has solved that problem for you.

Rodgers Banana Pudding Sauce is smooth and delicious — and comes in refrigerated jars. How cool is that. Just layer your Nillas and sliced nanners, poor the sauce over top, and you’re done. It’s good too — creamy and tasting of pure vanilla extract. No baking required. The ingredients are all natural and you make as little or as much as you’d like — then put the rest of the sauce back in the fridge for later. How convenient! Reggie Rodgers — you are THE MAN. We love their logo too. The cartoony wafer and banana both appear to be thrilled about their pending collision course with the pudding bowl. Their ultimate demise will be your gain, that’s for sure!

We hear Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce makes a great shake too!

Red Rocker Candy – PO Box 1135, Troy, VA

Spice Rack Chocolates – 10908 Courthouse Road, Fredericksburg, VA

Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce – (757) 558-4964


In San Francisco, it’s amazing what one block will do. It’s the difference between sleeping soundly in a comfy hotel bed or being awakened at 3 a.m. by rappers and a one-person street protest. The one block differential also means that garbage trucks come lumbering by at 4 a.m. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Who doesn’t love a good adventure?

Bay Area hotel choices aside… next time, we’ll move one block over… our second round of hitting the trade show circuit turned up some fantastic foodie finds that we are excited to share with you!

STONEWALL KITCHEN BLOODY MARY MIX

We like unusual things. And these Bloody Mary mixes from Stonewall are a surprising twist on a classic drink. The zesty Peppadew Sriracha will totally startle your taste buds

MILTON’S GLUTEN FREE CRACKERS

It can be difficult to find a gluten-free ANYTHING that doesn’t taste like a roll of paper towels. So when we bit into these crispy crackers from Milton’s, we were all, “These are gluten-free? Heck yeah!” All of the flavors taste great (Multi-Grain, Everything, and Crispy Sea Salt), but the Sea Salt rocked our socks off.

What’s LOVE spelled backwards? EVOL… a company for people who care about where their food comes from. They have crafted some amazing new street tacos… seriously, they are crazy delicious… that include flavor-packin’ sauce pouches, so you get to spice it up just the way you like it. When your friends ask where the food truck is at, tell them to check the freezer.

Holding one of these heavy chocolate bars in your hand makes you realize that this is some dang fine chocolate! All-natural and handmade in small batches, these delicious chocolate treats come in tempting flavors such as Toffee Coffee, Caramelized Cocoa Nib, and Salty-Sweet Cashew. How much can you love a chocolate bar? Not enough, in our opinion.

Habaneros are probably the last thing on your mind when you think of honey. Think again! This fusion honey from Eugene combined the two to create something amazing. Sweet collides with heat in one tingling tornado of flavor. Imagine what this would taste like drizzled over fruit salad or brushed on grilled chicken just before serving!

O BRAND BALSAMIC VINEGARS

We love a good balsamic vinegar and how it wakes up the palate. And we love variety in our cooking… including our vinegars. O Brand Balsamics are some of our favorites and when we tried a few of their new flavors, Orange Blossom and Honey White Balsamic, our taste buds went into hyperdrive.

These tea- and spice-infused chocolates from Spicely are the freaking bomb! Each tin contains chocolate discs you pop in your mouth whenever you need a hit of flavor. We think good chocolate should be savored… and these babies do the trick.

Cookies for grownups? Awesome. These shortbread cookies from Lark totally wake up tired taste buds. That’s what we like so much about these savory treats. Not only are they buttery good, but they come in fabulous flavors such as salted rosemary and burnt sugar and fennel.

SOFT SHELL ICE CREAM BALL

Remember kicking the Folgers can around when you were a kid as you tried to make homemade ice cream? We’ve come a long way since then! This soft shell ice cream ball takes ice cream making to a whole new level. Add simple ingredients in one end (cream, sugar, vanilla) and ice and rock salt to the other end. The softshell exterior makes it fun to shake, roll and play your way to a pint of delicious ice cream in about 20 minutes.

We are useful camping gadget junkies! So when we saw these from Light My Fire, we knew we had to have them. The iconic Spork, a spoon/knife/fork combo, now comes in an unbelievable number of colors. No more fighting over what spork belongs to what person. And Grandpa’s Fire Fork? This clever gadget makes cooking over a campfire a cinch. No need to cut or sharpen branches. The fire fork attaches to practically any stick for a snug fit.

We love scouring the food shows and discovering the newest, tastiest, most eclectic specialty and hard-to-find groceries that delight our customers. To us, it’s all about good food… and we’ll walk miles of trade show floors to bring this to you.

Next time you are in our store, check out all of the new items overflowing the shelves.


: The Return of Charles Chocolates

San Francisco is currently going through a chocolate renaissance – new artisan chocolate makers and chocolatiers are popping up at every food festival and in every neighborhood. One of these chocolatiers, though, is actually a Bay Area classic making a welcome return – Charles Chocolates.

I’ve been a big fan of Charles Chocolates ever since he opened his Emeryville store. Fair warning (or you long-time readers with excellent memories might remember) – I even wrote a piece for Edible East Bay on his chocolates so I guess you can say I’m an original fangirl. When Charles Chocolates first opened the chocolate scene was bustling in the Bay Area but focused in a different direction- there were mainly chocolate makers like Guittard, Scharffen Berger, and Ghirardelli, and some small boutiques selling imported chocolates. Today the Bay Area is a chocolate mecca, with the bonus of much of it locally crafted. After a short hiatus from chocolatier-ing, Charles is happily part of the scene again with a new shop and cafe opening in San Francisco.

Charles Siegel welcomes all his new chocolate compatriots. “We’re no where near close to saturation for chocolate here,” he says. What I’ve always admired about Charles is his generosity of spirit and love for his craft. He’ll happily share the chocolate brands he uses in his creations, and he’s genuinely excited at the all the creative chocolate energy swirling through the city. He envisions San Francisco becoming like Paris, where every neighborhood has its local patisserie and chocolate shop, each with their own specialties and each a beloved part of life for the residents.

I finally had a chance to drop by Charles’ new store on Florida Street. Although their outdoor patio space was not finished when I went, it has been fitted out now with picnic tables so visitors can enjoy their hot chocolate outside, or some of the new pastries from their case. In addition to his chocolates, Charles is branching out and also serving up cookies, tarts, mini cakes, and other baked goods from their kitchen. They’ve also paired up with Samovar Teas and will start offering afternoon tea on their patio – starting this weekend. I have to admit one of the things I’m most excited about is that the patio will be dog-friendly. Charles is an avowed dog lover and said he’s made it his mission to get to know all the dogs in his new neighborhood. So the café patio will be equipped with water bowls and Charles’ own doggy treats to entice dog owners to stop by. Chocolate and treats for Fido – can it get any better?

Charles let me take a look around his kitchen space – it’s separated from the retail store and patio by glass so customers will be able to look in and see chocolates being made.

Copper pot goodness! Almost all of Charles Chocolates’ original items will be coming back, but I’m really looking forward to his pâte de fruits.

The tables where much of the chocolate work is done. The pastry team was off when I visited, but it’s easy to imagine them industriously working away, turning out boxes and boxes of chocolates. You can catch a glimpse of the retail portion of the store through the glass walls to the left – I didn’t get any photos as it was constantly filled with customers. Charles Chocolates has just started giving tours of the store as well, so you can learn about chocolate-making while sampling some of Charles’ chocolates at the same time.

Some more equipment Charles is very proud of – the one on the right is a panning machine, or panner, used to evenly coat nuts with a layer of chocolate – you can see the results here.

Chocolate bars ready for labelling. Charles has kept the same wonderful logo from Hatch Design, and worked with them to revamp the packaging for his new products.

Charles has greatly expanded his chocolate bar line, to my delight (and he’s planning still more bars.) One of his new favorites also became my new favorite – the Toffee Coffee bar, a mix of sweet almond toffee and crunchy coffee beans suspended in dark milk chocolate. Totally addictive. I also really liked his Peanut Praline bar, filled with the same peanut praline he uses in his signature Peanut Butterfly chocolates.

Charles is also particularly fond of his new Mendiant Bars: as he tells it, he loved the concept of mendiants (fruit and nut-covered disks of chocolate) but disliked how you could never get all the fruit and nut toppings in one bite. These bars are his improved version of mendiants – bars stuffed full with candied citrus and roasted nuts. Although mendiants are traditionally a holiday sweet, these bars are good any time of the year.

I’m so excited to see Charles Chocolates return to San Francisco with a beautiful new store – welcome back, Chuck!

You can buy Charles Chocolates at their Florida St store, at select retailers, and online.


BBQing

I mentioned barbecuing, it’s the end of July, how could I not? The Gallery Gourmet food corner carries a number of lip-smacking sauces. Two of my favorites are the Smoky Peach Whiskey Sauce and Boozy Bacon BBQ Sauce, both by Stonewall Kitchen. The Smoky Peach Whiskey Sauce has a seriously smooth spicy sweetness and turns plain old chicken into a whole other meat! While the Boozy Bacon BBQ Sauce does what it says on the tin… delivers a rich BBQ bang of flavors. Brush the thick sauces on whichever meat you choose while on the grill or as a marinade and use a bit for dipping too. You’ll mop up every sloppy bit!


Basic to Brilliant, Y'all & Spiced Sweet Potato Mash recipe

Virginia Willis is like the Southern cousin you wish you had. She's smart, funny and warm and has a mischievous sparkle in her eye. I finally got to meet her earlier this year in Monterey at Cooking for Solutions. She did a cooking demo where she had the audience laughing over a story about her appearance on the Paula Dean show (the story is in her latest book, by the way). But what I remember most is the spectacular dish she made with trout. I can still taste it in my mind. It was pan-seared trout drizzled with pecan butter and topped with an incredibly rich smoked trout salad. And the recipe is dead simple. That's the signature of Virginia Willis, amazing food that really isn't all that difficult but definitely something extra special.

Virginia's latest book, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all, is all about the 'something extra special.' Each recipe has a simple component--like the seared trout, and an optional brilliant flourish--like the topping of smoked trout salad. It's what makes this cookbook a real keeper (even if you have other Southern cookbooks). The recipes are fresh and modern and reflect both Virginia's Southern roots and her French training so you'll find recipes like Savory Monkey Bread, Coca Cola Cake and Creole Country Bouillabaisse. If you'd like a personalized book plate from Virginia Willis to go in your copy of the book, buy it within the next two weeks, then fill out this form.

I may be anything but a Southern girl, but like Virginia I am pretty much crazy about sweet potatoes. Basic to Brilliant, Y'all has eight sweet potato recipes in it, including soup, salad and spoonbread. But the recipe that caught my eye was Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. The reason I wanted to make it was because it uses sorghum as a sweetener (there are suggestions for other sweeteners if you don't have sorghum). I love the earthy flavor of sorghum and just got my first batch of it from Bourbon Barrel Foods earlier this year. The recipe is basically roasted sweet potatoes, mashed and spiced with just a tiny bit of butter and sorghum. But it still manages to be rich and comforting. The twist is to double bake the skins and fill them up with the mash then top them with pecans and bake them yet again. It's a great side dish, but I even ate one of these beauties for breakfast the other day!

Here is the recipe, printed by permission Basic to Brilliant, Y'all by Virginia Willis, Tenspeed Press, 2011

Spiced Sweet Potato Mash
Serves 4 to 6

Sweet potatoes are good and good for you. Most Southern recipes drown them in butter and sugar, but they are so good with a just a whisper of butter. In this recipe the potatoes are first roasted, then scooped and mashed. You can use the microwave if you are pressed for time, but roasting brings out the complex flavors.

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons sorghum, cane, molasses, or maple syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper. (This will help with clean up.) Using a fork, pierce the sweet potatoes in several places and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until fork-tender, about 50 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, discarding the skin. Place the pulp in large bowl. (If you really want them creamy, press
them through a fine-mesh sieve or food mill.) Add the syrup, butter, orange zest and juice, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper.

Using a potato masher, heavy-duty whisk, or handheld mixer, beat until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a warmed serving bowl. Serve immediately.

Brilliant: Presentation
Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes
Meme peeled hers discarding the skin, and Mama does, too, but I like the leathery skin. It's the extra step of stuffing these that makes this recipe Brilliant.
Using an oven mitt or folded kitchen towel to hold the cooked potatoes, cut the potatoes in half. Using a spoon, scoop the flesh from each half into a bowl,
leaving a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thickness of flesh in each shell. Arrange the shells on a baking sheet and bake until dry and slightly crisped, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the mash as in the Basic recipe. Spoon the still-warm potato mixture into the crisped shells, mounding slightly at the center. Sprinkle 1/2 cup pecans equally over the filled sweet potatoes. Bake until slightly brown and crisp on top, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 8.


With the plethora of gift guides that clog your social media feeds and inboxes (ahem, ours included!), we thought it would be nice to pull together a list of the things we are actually gifting and getting this holiday season! From tried-and-true favorites to much-needed upgrades, see what’s on our to-buy list. Warning: If you’re one of our close friends or family members, you should stop reading now, so we don’t spoil the surprise! But for everyone else, read below to help inspire and cross a few names off your own shopping list.

James:
FOR ME:
“I am currently in the middle of transforming what used to be a toy room into my home office—hallelujah! I have been working from the most random places over the years—my bed, the kitchen table, random coffee shops, cafes, and our office at our store, which is a 30-minute drive from my house, and more times than not, I prefer to stay put and work from the comforts of home. It will be so nice to have a dedicated space in the house to call my very own. We’ve already installed a wall of cabinets to keep all of my various work things out of sight, and I picked up a cool vintage tiger rug from my friend Alyssa of Relic Home for the space, and the new table from Floyd Detroit has been ordered and is headed my way. I’ve been eyeing this beautiful emerald green velvet couch to really pull the room together and make it feel warm, inviting, and inspiring.”
The Floyd Table, $595, Floyd Detroit Ms. Chesterfield Sofa, $1400, Interior Define.

“My friend Brooke introduced me to the wonderful world that is Cire Trvdon, and it has quickly become one of my favorite candle companies. I am dying to get my hands on this beautiful Holiday Edition red and gold candle. I have the perfect place for it—my new office.”
Cire Trvdon candle, $105, Amazon.

“Who doesn’t enjoy a little refresh in the underwear department? I stumbled upon the beautiful brand Negative on Instagram and quickly became obsessed with its sexy, yet simple pieces. Hoping to get a set for myself!”
Bra and Brief, Prices Vary, Negative Underwear.

“I am obsessed with these little face wipes from Ursa Major. They are great for travel or lazy nights when I can’t be bothered with my skincare routine. My stock is running low, so I need to replenish, stat.”
Ursa Major Face Wipes, $24, Amazon.

FOR THE KIDS:
“We have a family tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve. Every year it’s the same—a pair of new pajamas to sleep in, while we wait for Santa to visit, and an ornament that represents each of us and our interests that year to hang on the tree.”
Long John Pajamas, $25, Hanna Andersson.

“My daughter Birdie is American Girl doll obsessed, so of course, we had to include her doll Sophie, who has quickly become a member of the family in our Christmas pajama tradition.”
One-piece Pajamas, $24, American Girl.

“Our kids are super into Legos, as per usual. In fact, Sailor’s Christmas list consisted only of different Lego sets. This Star Wars set will definitely be under our tree this year.”
Star Wars TIE Advanced Prototype, $9.99, Amazon.

“My teenagers are both receiving new iPhones this year. Their old phones have completely bit the dust. These new ones will be coming with screen protectors and heavy-duty cases, for sure!”
iPhone 7, prices vary, Apple.

FOR AUBREY:
“Cold weather brings cold feet, and who can’t appreciate a cozy and warm new pair of socks for Christmas? My husband always does, so I plan on getting him this knit pair and stealing them for myself later on.”
Alpaca Crew Socks, $28, Cuttalossa.

“My husband needs a nice sports tee or two like no other. All of his are old, ratty, stretched out, and fading fast. I upgraded his worn out Hanes for a crisp, clean Acne—one in black and one in white.”
Basic T-shirt, $100, Acne Studios.

FOR MY GIRLFRIENDS:
“I love this little Rodin lip balm compact. It makes a great stocking stuffer, and I will be including it in a gift for our annual friend’s Secret Santa party next week.”
Lip Balm, $34, Rodin Olio Lusso.

“I am 100% gifting this new cookbook from The Beauty Chef this year. It’s beautiful and includes a whopping 150 make-at-home recipes to benefit the skin, gut heath, and overall well-being. I have a couple wellness-loving friends that I can think of that would love to receive it, especially with the “New Year, New You” motivation that’s just around the corner.”
The Beauty Chef, $29.82, Amazon.

“I have a friend who has mentioned trying out Daily Harvest many times, but she’s never pulled the trigger. She’s crazy busy with her kids and work every day, so I want to surprise her with the new Daily Harvest x Well + Good curated nine-cup box. The set comes with nine delicious smoothie cups, soups, and more to mix and match, plus a cute keytag for avocado lovers. P.S. the new Chai + Coconut smoothie cup is oh-so good!”
The Well + Good Edit, $69.75, Daily Harvest.

“For my workout partner is crime, I have to get her the new Monroe Bra from Girlfriend. I have a couple and absolutely love them!”
Monroe Bra, $48, Girlfriend Collective.

“This illustrated calendar is one of my all-time favorite gifts for the amazing women in my life every single year. It never fails to bring a smile to their faces!”
Twenty Four Hour Woman Calendar, $26, Two Son.

Katie:
FOR ME:
“Like James, I am super excited to start off 2018 with an office space, which is something I’ve been dreaming about (quite literally) for several years now. Mine is just a 7-minute walk from my house, which is key! My dear friend Susan Work of Homework is helping design the space and I’m excited to fill it with things I love, like—perhaps—this limited-edition print by my friend and Mother mother Jen Garrido. Psssst…someone tell my husband!”
Jen Garrido Limited Edition Print of CSS-6, $185, Jenny Pennywood.

“No matter what the holiday is, I ask for spa credit, because what I constantly crave above all else is a massage and a dedicated place and time to unplug. My favorite spot in San Francisco is actually right outside of the city—International Orange at Marin Country Mart. It has a wood-burning fireplace, great magazine selection, an outdoor deck for sunny days, and, of course, solid rubdowns. The surrounding outdoor shopping center also has a handful of tasty food spots and you can even take a ferry straight to the venue, which is really the cherry on top of a great spa day.”
International Orange Gift Certificate, International Orange.

“I’ve heard so many great things about this seamless everyday bra by the very chic Land of Women label. It’s a slip-on, full-coverage style and is also swim-friendly! Which is great for impromptu sun bathing and splash sessions at Ocean Beach.”
Full Cup Bra, $100, Land of Women.

“We just shot one of our Mother mothers (Katie Gong) at this beautiful new women’s wellness and co-working studio in San Francisco, The Assembly. It’s based in a former church and has beautiful stain-glass windows, soaring ceilings, and woodwork by Katie. It’s just a few MUNI stops away from my house (key for a non-driver like myself!) and a membership and opportunity to spend more time there would be heaven!”
The Assembly Membership, $250 per month, The Assembly.

“We’ve used the mama-owned Can Can Cleanse at so many of our events, and I’m always dreaming about the juices and nut milks afterwards. A gift certificate would be perfect for my stocking, plus it would be supporting a really great small business.”
Can Can Cleanse Gift Certificate, prices vary, Can Can Cleanse.

“My favorite chocolate bar in the world! Plus, it’s made in S.F..”
Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar, $7.95, Charles Chocolates.

“The whole fake news epidemic and tragic political situation is making me yearn for real journalism now more than ever. I keep getting stuck behind the New York Times’ paywall and I think it’s about time to pony up for the yearly subscription and support an institution that supports thoroughly vetted facts.”
New York Times Basic Digital Subscription, $8/month, New York Times.

FOR DIEGO:
“My 4 1/2-year-old son was gifted three DC Super Hero Girls dolls last year for Christmas and only just recently, over the last six months, has gotten really into them. It’s been extra exciting for me, since I was super into Barbies growing up and it’s giving me major nostalgia. He doesn’t have Bumblebee yet, and she’s one of his favorite characters from the series. Major bonus points that she’s a non-white character in the incredibly white-washed world of superheroes.”
DC Super Hero Girls Bumble Bee 12” Action Doll, $17.75, Amazon.

“Also on the Bumblebee theme, I’m trying to get more girl characters into Diego’s expanding Lego collection. This set looks fun. Plus, building it together is such a nice little activity for both of us.”
DC Super Hero Girls Bumblebee Helicopter Lego Set, $18.89, Amazon.

“Diego is obsessed with cats and really needs a new nightlight. This could be just the thing.”
Mini USB Cat Himalayan Salt Lamp, $29, Urban Outfitters.

“We love the intricately illustrated MAPS book, and this spin-off title allows curious kids to take the pictures from the globally minded book and put them on their walls. Great for all of Diego’s little friends.”
MAPS Poster Book, $15.39, Amazon.

FOR HORACIO:
“My husband and I will be sharing the new office, so we both need to agree on some thoughtful, timeless pieces for the space. Neither of us are green thumbs, but I’m thinking that if we work together we can tend to at least one beautiful (low maintenance) office plant!”
Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree, $399 (+ free delivery in Bay Area), Leon & George.

FOR MY GIRLFRIENDS:
“I recently heard about the new company Mari, which curates gift boxes specifically for new mamas. I definitely know a few brand-new mothers in my life who could use one of these sets. Also the case doubles as an eco-friendly container or lunchbox later on.”
Quartz Rose Gift Set, $65, Mari.

“Another local gift basket company I love is Bestowe. From welcoming baby to relaxing and restoring, owner Catherine Weis’ baskets are perfectly bundled for so many occasions.”
Bestowe Gift Basket, $80 and up, Bestowe.

“One of my girlfriends was recently complaining that although she wants to be a robe person, her sleeves always end up in her breakfast. I found the perfect solution in this cropped-sleeved robe that looks super comfy. I can’t wait to surprise her with it!”
The Long Weekend Robe, $95, Jijamas.

“My friend Natalie Bowen made some beautiful floral-embellished smudge sticks that she’s selling at The Podolls shop through the holiday season. They are $10 each and 100% of the proceeds go to the undocumented victims of the Northern California fires via UndocuFund. I will be buying a bunch for my friends.”

“I saw this book in Lena Corwin’s bedside stack during our shoot with Floyd. It reminds me so much of a specific girlfriend. I’ll be gifting it to her along with the smudge stick mentioned above, plus a stone or crystal I’ll let Diego pick out at the local shop Scarlett Sage. So very woo-woo California!”
Be Here Now, $12.12, Amazon.


Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas

People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.

I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.

Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.

Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.

My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.

Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.

And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.

I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.


Good Food: Charles Chocolates Salty-Sweet Cashew Bar - Recipes

I recently attended a cooking class at Tante Marie's entitled ' Cook Like a Chef '. The reason I was intrigued by this particular lesson was because of the assertion that there wouldn't be any recipes involved. And as anyone who has ever taken a class at this particular cooking school knows, no recipes is quite a departure from the norm.

For the first half of the one day class, our teacher Chef Malcolm Jessop walked us through the concept of taste and how achieving a balance of bitter, acid, salty and sweet will form the base of a successful recipe. He also outlined other flavour types heat, astringency, tannin, aromatics, pungency, metallic, herbs, spices and umami which, when used wisely, can further enhance good results when cooking.

Laid out on the kitchen island was a vast array of fresh vegetables, meats and seafood. Malcolm walked us through every item, explaining each one's flavour profile along with preparation tips and pairing suggestions including things we already know without, perhaps, rationalizing why we know it: Duck goes well with cherries or orange, but not with banana, for example.

My favourite part of the day was when we were finally let loose on the ingredients to make whatever we wanted to. The first and most natural reaction might have been to play it safe, make something we were already familiar with and in doing so hopefully hoodwink our fellow pupils into believing we were some sort of genius in the kitchen.

But where would be the fun, or the challenge, in that?

After mulling around some possibilities in my own head, I finally settled on the idea of little raviolis made with raw beet instead of pasta. Before you think me too creative, I will admit that this has most certainly been done before. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered reading about this technique on a blog a long time ago. I also had a feeling that there was a recipe for something similar in one of my favourite recipe books. [Later, when I checked, it turned out I was right, although unlike my version, the one in The Cooks Book turns out to be both vegan and raw.]

So - how to make them? A mandolin is the key: A good, professional quality mandolin that can produce wafer-thin, even slices of a very hard, raw vegetable. Since the class I have tried, unsuccessfully, to make this same recipe at home using my hand held Kyocera mandolin which, although it usually fares me well, is unfortunately not quite up to this more demanding beet-slicing task. If the slices are too thick or uneven, the beet slices will lose their magical sticking qualities and the daintiness you are trying to achieve.

I decided to sandwich each of my ravioli slices together with not one, but two, complimentary fillings. First of all, in the interests of respecting the whole beet, I blanched a bunch of their leaves until tender, squeezed all the water out, finely minced them and mixed them with grated blue cheese, lemon zest, salt, pepper and a little heavy cream for a thick, smooth consistency. Secondly I slow cooked a yellow onion in a little oil and butter to make a confit.

To assemble the ravioli, spoon a little of the cream mixture into the centre of a beet slice, add a little dab of the confit and then carefully place a second beet slice on top, pressing down the edges only, to seal the little parcel. The thinness of the slices and the natural wetness of the beet will ensure that the whole thing comes together with little effort.

I served these ravioli dressed with a simple vinaigrette made with toasted walnuts, lemon and olive oil.

I think if I had a decent mandolin, I would probably even make it again.

* In the class I also learned to make a quick, simple tempura (artichoke and asparagus) using egg whites and corn flour for a batter. [picture courtesy of malcolm]

* Check out the amazing array of dishes made by fellow pupils in the class. [Malcolm, who I'd like to thank for letting me use one of his photographs in my post, was a fellow participant, not to be confused with Malcolm, the teaching Chef of the same name.]

*This class will be repeated later in the year and there are still a few spaces available. If you are uncomfortable being left to your own devices in the kitchen or are looking for a less casual, solid, technique-driven teaching class, this might not be the course for you.


?What's your favourite Cooking Class in the Bay Area? I'd love, with your help, to be able to put a list of possibilities together?


Watch the video: Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Twix Bars (October 2021).