delicious discourse

chocolate transcendence

Posted in restaurants by delicious:discourse on February 24, 2009

A rare and dreary Monday about two weeks ago I found myself thankful to be inside my little car as the rain came down and I watched the outskirts of Austin turn into the somewhat green and definitely rolling Hill Country. Frankly, where I really wanted to be was back in bed, but there happens to be this little thing called work. And for some reason, it never goes away.

I was headed to a little, sleepy town, Northwest of Austin called Calvert, Texas. From door to door, Google Maps informed me I would drive 101 miles. Not too bad considering El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston. Calvert recently named itself the chocolate capital of Texas thanks for the recent opening of a cafe and chocolate factory by the name of Cocoa Moda. Opened by Houston-based chef Ken Wilkinson, who was born and breed in England and has a wonderful speech to prove it, Cocoa Moda sits in a restored 1874 former bank building on the historic Main Street in Calvert.

Ken who apparently is not only a genius in the kitchen, has an eye for carpentry and architecture and did the restoration work himself (and actually lost half finger to a saw in the process). The interior is simple, warm, inviting, and the perfect place to arrive on a cold and rainy day.

Leaning against the bar at the back of the restaurant and chatting with Ken about life, living, and the act of being alive, he looks up from fixing his coffee and says to me since I had politely declined a cup, “I know what you want.” I hesitantly replied, “Oh, you do?.” And he said, “Yes, hot chocolate.” When he said those two words, I knew he was right. As he headed back to the kitchen behind a swinging door he says, “I will be back in 2 minutes.” A few minutes later he reappears with a tray of a white teapot of hot chocolate, a bowl of fresh whipped cream, another bowl of sugar, and one teacup for me. A whole pot of hot chocolate? For me? I felt like royalty and after one sip, I knew it was going to take restraint from every cell in my body in order to prevent myself from finishing off the entire pot and begging for more. The thick, warm, rich liquid tasting of chocolate and cream, was unlike any hot chocolate I’d ever had. I felt sorry for myself and all those times I thought what I was drinking was hot chocolate and it was only a poor shadow of the real thing. When Ken later told me, and emphasized, that quality is never compromised, I didn’t think for a second not to believe him.

Quality and authenticity are what Cocoa Moda is made of. And of course, art. After studying and playing with chocolate for years, Ken says that he knew when he turned “blonde” he would start his chocolate business. For Ken, the chocolates, as he refers to them, are the highest expression of the arts.

Several cups of hot chocolate and many conversation topics later, Ken grabs a large plate, heads to the truffle counter, and proceeds to place one truffle of each flavor onto the Wedgewood porcelain plate. Twelve truffles, chocolate-covered candied ginger (that takes two weeks to make), and chocolate-covered orange peel are placed in front of me. Ken insists I try every flavor, even if it is just a bite. The first bite, white chocolate filled with a coconut confection and rolled in flaked coconut, takes me straight to the Caribbean, and the second bite secures me in the tropics – chocolate filled with key lime and dusted in a key lime sugar. White chocolate filled with passion fruit blissfully reminded me of my Hawaiian home. My favorite, was a dark chocolate filled with a white chocolate ganache with traces of anise – it was complex, unexpected, and divine. The others were a variety of truffles filled with caramel, espresso, praline, raspberry, orange, casis, a chocolate on chocolate made exotic with a pure cacao nib bit resting on top and one inside swimming among the creamy filling.

After the tasting, Chef Ken sent me on my way with a warm individual portion of his cassoulet. As I drove out of Calvert, I was almost surprised to find myself in still in Texas. For the past two hours I had been whisked worlds away to some small European town, sitting in a cozy cafe with a talented and enchanting patisseur.

When I finally arrived home and sat down to a bowl of cassoulet, the rich depth and flavor of the soup took me right back to Calvert. As it turns out, chocolate and cassoulet are the perfect antidote to a cold, rainy day—and I know just the place for both.

Cocoa Moda

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cowgirl cookies

Posted in recipe by delicious:discourse on February 18, 2009

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This past Sunday, per my Sunday baking itch, I found myself inspired by a sunny, warm winter day and an impending early afternoon picnic. I couldn’t think a more perfect picnic dessert than oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but feeling adventurous and exploring uncharted waters, I wanted to give them a twist. That is when I remembered the organic cacao nibs given to me as a Christmas gift. In the strange way that memory works, the cacao nibs triggered a cookie recipe I had seen in Paula Disbrowe’s Cowgirl Cuisine: Rustic Recipes and Cowgirl Adventures from a Texas Ranch. In her book, Disbrowe, a New York City gal who falls in love with the Texas Hill Country and relocates to enjoy the simple life, chronicles her adventures in food and ranch life while sharing great rustic, simple recipes that incorporate the local flavors in the region. Signed, “When in doubt, squeeze limes. Love & Lassos, Paula Disbrowe,” my copy of Cowgirl Cuisine has not lead me astray. I don’t think cacao nibs are exactly a “regional” ingredient of the Texas Hill Country, but because cacao nibs are crushed roasted cacao beans, and chocolate is made from cacao, and cacao has some Latin roots, and Texas has some Latin roots, I get the connection.

The interesting thing about this recipe is that the dough is refrigerated for 30 minutes before formed into sphere-like shapes the size of golf balls and baked. The pre-baking refrigeration helps the cookies retain a nice, thick shape while baking, which results in chewy cookies—my fave.

Loaded with chocolate and oats, these cookies not only have unique flavor thanks to the cacao nibs, they have substance and textural presence. After eating one, you feel like you have eaten a cookie—happy in body and mind, with satisfied taste buds. By the way, they go great with a side of sun, a Hill Country lake, a nice cool breeze, and a handsome companion to rave about how good they are. Things are as they should be—at least in the Sunday kitchen.

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Cowgirl Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (originally Milk Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies)

Courtesy of Cowgirl Cuisine: Rustic Recipes and Cowgirl Adventures from a Texas Ranch by Paula Disbrowe.

Yields 36 cookies.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup cacao nibs

Note: If you are like me, and only have one type of chocolate on hand, in this case semisweet chocolate chips, it works to do 3 cups of one kind of chocolate versus half of each. But you cannot substitute for the cacao nibs, they are key to the unique flavor of these cookies.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

In another goal, with an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture and mix at low-speed just until blended. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until no dry crumbs remain. Add chocolate chips and cacao nibs and stir until combined.

Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours. Use a spoon to scoop golf ball-sized rounds of dough and roll between fingers to briefly shape. Place on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes until lightly golden.

Cool on baking sheets for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Apparently they freeze beautifully. I wouldn’t know, they are all gone:)

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hearty & wholesome as always

Posted in recipe by delicious:discourse on February 16, 2009
Homemade Granola

Homemade Almond Raisin Granola

For this one, I really don’t know where to start. So, I guess I’ll have to begin at well, the beginning. For as long as I can remember, my mother has had a cup of granola with milk for breakfast. She would occasionally vary on the flavor, but usually the three jars with yellow screw-tops that always (and to this day) sat on the counter were usually filled with some variation on Super Nutty that she bought in bulk at one of the health food stores. When we teased my mother about this, her reply was always framed with a sheepish smile as she claimed nothing else could hold her over until lunch like granola. So, I guess you could say, I learned to love granola at a young age, though when I was growing up I usually opted for the Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, or some other variety of non-sugary cereal my parents would allow us to eat.

However, my senior year of college, I became hooked on granola. I wonder if these things are genetic. I love ice cream too and I grew up with a grandfather who is known for getting up in the middle of the night and eating ice cream straight from the carton, with a long-stemmed spoon, in the dark. His daughter, my mother, interestingly enough, eats her granola with long-stemmed spoons. My scientist boyfriend I know would argue that this habit is not genetic, but environmental. Either way is fine with me. Granola is a great, healthy, high-energy way to start the day, and if I look like my mom at 50, I am cool with that too. I could eat granola and yogurt with sliced fresh berries morning, noon, and night if I felt like it.

Anyway, then I met Matt, who at the time was drinking protein shakes for breakfast, which was just not going to do. Somehow, some way, I don’t recall the exact moment of the crossover,  but he began to start each morning with granola, with milk at first, I think. Then we discovered Fage, thick and creamy Greek yogurt loaded with protein (17 grams in one cup!) and he was straight granola doomed. Every week we were buying granola from the bulk bins at Whole Foods at first and then Central Market. I always tried to pick out the varieties with the fewest ingredients (and without ones I could not pronounce), but they were always the more expensive kinds. Granola is like ice cream, the fewer ingredients the better. For ice cream all you really need is cream and sugar, maybe some eggs, but if you look at a carton, the ingredients flow halfway down the page!

As for granola, or should I say granula, as it was called when it was invented in 1863 by Dr. James Caleb Jackson at Jackson Sanitarium, a prominent health spa, in Dansville, New York,  was just rolled oats with honey, baked until crispy. What is more natural than that? Fibrous oats and a natural sweetener. Muesli on the other hand, is neither baked nor sweetened. I had often wondered the difference between the two. Granula was originally sold under the name Our Home Granola Co. by the sanitariam and turned into granola after James Harvey Kellogg being the cereal king he is, developed a similar cereal and wanted to avoid all that legal trouble.

Continuing on its wholesome path, granola, with the addition of nuts and fruit to the oats and honey, was revived in the 1960s (maybe this is why mi madre loves it so much) as a health food targeted at the hippie movement. Apparently, granola made a major appearance at Woodstock 1969. Yes, granola just got a whole lot cooler.

Then in 1972, Jim Matson, an executive at Pet Milk, introduced Heartland Natural Cereal, the first commercial cereal and what many of us know today. Quaker, General Mills, and Kellogg, quickly followed suit.

Rooted in its revitalization, its healthy properties, its use in hiking, backpacking, and camping because of its lightness, calorie density, and easiness to store, and the conscious people that usually consume the more wholesome varieties,  the term granola has evolved to refer to someone who is hippie-like, a modern bohemian, or an environmentalist. For those of you who know me, I am not someone you would normally describe as granola. But if granola means I am a conscious individual, who makes thoughtful and educated decisions about what I put in my body, who cares about preserving the environment and its beauty, as well as a free spirit, bring it on. I will be as granola as you like.

In the true spirit of granola and this Green age, Bon Appetit (February 2009) featured making your own granola as one of their “50 Ways to Eat Green,” which was something I had been wanting to do for awhile. Why I hadn’t done it, don’t ask. BA focusing on the environmental aspects, suggested making your own granola was not only greener because it saved on packaging (especially if you bought the ingredients in bulk), but also less expensive.  I am going to add to the list of benefits that if you make your own granola, you will know exactly what goes into it, especially if you buy quality organic ingredients. There will be no funny ingredients with long names. It might not last for months on the shelf because it does not have preservatives, but a) it is better for you and the world you live in and b) it is so good it won’t need to last that long. Matt and I make a new batch every week. Not to mention, the flavors and varieties are endless. So, do something good for yourself and the environment, and have some fun along the way.

The recipe below uses honey for the sweetener, walnuts for the nut, and chopped dates for the dried fruit. Just yesterday, M and I swapped out the honey for maple syrup, almonds for the walnuts, and raisins for the dates. You really can use almost any type of nut or dried fruit. Just think of the endless combinations. To get ready for a tropical vacation – think coconut and pineapple, for more protein add a variety of nuts, or add some peanut butter into the honey with chopped dried bananas.

Hearty & Wholesome Granola Recipe
Courtesy of
Bon Appetit

Makes about 6 cups.

4 Tablespoons walnut oil, divided
3/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cups egg whites (usually 2)
1/2 teaspoon course kosher salt
3 cups organic old-fashioned oats
1 cups walnuts (or any type of nut)
1/2 cups flaxseed meal (ground flaxseeds)
1 cups pitted dates, coursely chopped (or any dried fruit, I have been using plump fire rasins)
1/4 cups honey

Preheat oven to 350F. Brush heavy large rimmed baking sheet with 2T walnut oil.
Whisk 2 T. oil, sugar, egg whites, and salt in a large bowl. Add oats, walnuts, and flaxseed and toss well. Spread mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Using a spatula, stir granola. Bake another 15 minutes. Stir again. Sprinkle dates and drizzle with honey. Bake about 10 minutes longer, until golden brown. Stir to loosed and transfer to a clean baking sheet to cool. Keep in an airtight container.

Yes. Really. It is this easy.

california dreaming

Posted in Uncategorized by delicious:discourse on February 6, 2009

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Hello there. It has been quite some time. My apologies, but I’ve been busy dreaming and adventuring. The Holidays were filled with Hawaiian sun, salty ocean air, fresh fruits, lots of fish, and the leisurely pace and passing of time on the islands. My latest adventure, or should I say our, took us up to San Francisco and Big Sur to celebrate a very special 3-0 birthday. (Not mine of course. Take another guess.)

Arriving Wednesday morning, after meeting up with two friends (B and R), checking into our Union Square hotel, and freshening up (which was hardly necessary with cool, infinitely sunny, clear as far as the eye can see, weather, which is refreshing all on its own), we headed to North Beach in search of a cozy cafe for some cappuccinos and some breakfast food. With impatient rumblings, we walked into Boulangerie. Any skepticism I may have had walking into a random cafe disappeared when they brought R’s large cappuccino in a bowl the size of my head, followed by my granola with fruit and yogurt proportioned to feed three. The homemade granola was fresh, nutty, and with big chunks of oat clusters and the yogurt was clearly Greek and so thick, creamy, and slightly sweet I contemplated painting the walls with it.

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Cappuccino & Croissant fron Boulangerie, North Beach

Granola w/fruit and yogurt from Boulangerie, North Beach

Granola w/fruit and yogurt from Boulangerie, North Beach

Later that day, Tartine Bakery in the Mission District proved the perfect restoration after a day of site-seeing (Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge). Small and packed, the place came recommended by a friend of a friend who knows his stuff after working in the Bouchon Las Vegas kitchen for a year. Deciding on hydration over caffeination, I skipped the coffee menu, which R, a connaisseur of sorts, opted for and I believe thoroughly enjoyed. The banana tea bread proved satiating with a thick and nutty crust. Matt and I shared the Jambon Royale & Gruyere pressed sandwich with Niman Ranch cured smoked ham and Dijon mustard, which arrived cut into three pieces and served with a whole, pickled carrot. Famous for their bread, the sandwich proved out of this world, with its thick crust and combination of flavors. For dessert, R, who diligently does not eat fruit of any kind, ordered a slice of the Passion Fruit Lime Bavarian cake, which is topped with coconut. The sponge of the cake was light, as was the sweetened cream frosting, all laced with the flavor of the passion fruit, and the flaked coconut adding texture. He does eat fruit after all. Needless to say, there was not a crumb left on that plate. Tartine, I will be back.

Tartine Bakery in the Mission District

Tartine Bakery in the Mission District

Jambon Royale & Gruyere, Tartine Bakery

Jambon Royale & Gruyere, Tartine Bakery

For the big birthday dinner we dined at Nopa for a casual, loud, energetic atmosphere and killer cocktails. Before I left for the trip, a wise colleague told me to stay away from the wine list, not because it wasn’t good (I am sure it is) but because they are known for their cocktails. The favorite among the several we tried was the Pirata, a brilliant concoction of tequila blanco, galliano, blackberry, creole shrub, lemon juice, and black pearl bitters. Boy, were they good:) The meal started with the warm goat cheese, pickled beets, frisee and crostini—a warm pot of goat cheese served with crostinis and pieces of beautiful pickled beets. Matt decided to celebrate achieving 30 (we are staying positive) with a grass-fed hamburger served with pickled onions and impressive french fries. However, it was evident that he was crazy with jealousy at the housemade cannelloni R and I both ordered, stuffed with sausage and cheese and smothered in a creamy tomato sauce. B swore by the Moroccan vegetable tagine she ordered accented with almonds and lemon yogurt, claiming she would eat it at least once a week if she could. Appropriately arriving with a single candle (to celebrate life instead of years), the pecan tart with “smoke and whiskey” ice cream proved comforting and intriguing. I had never had smoky ice cream before and it was oddly, with the combination of the pecan tart, like a take on a very different and much more complicated s’more.

The next day, 30 plus 1 as we were calling it, took us on a road trip to Big Sur and an inaugural sunset at Point Lobos. The following day after an 8-mile hike in the warm sunshine unusual for the time of year, we sought solace in another mesmerizing sunset and cold libations (a.k.a. painkillers) at cliffside-Nepenthe. I don’t know if it was the long day or if the bartender has major margarita talent, but the one I had went down just right and took all the aches and pains away.

Big Sur sunset from the patio at Nepenthe

Big Sur sunset from the patio at Nepenthe

Saturday sadly took us away from the big, serene beauty of Big Sur and back to the City, but not without a much needed stop at In-N-Out. My first fast-food burger proved to be a good one, maybe because I knew to order it animal style (grilled onions and special sauce), but I was more in awe as R downed two claiming he needed to stock up (they don’t have In-N-Out in Hawaii).

In need of a lite afternoon fix, at the recommendation of B’s sister who lives in the City, we took a walk up the Haight  to Coco Luxe, a hot chocolate bar. Thinking I was ordering just a regular latte, I accidentally ended up with a white-chocolate-hot chocolate with an espresso shot and I am glad I did. It provided rich warmth in the waning sunlight and its sweetness was pure and addictive. The Peanut Butter truffle was surprisingly not filled with just peanut butter, but a delectable blend of milk chocolate and peanut butter.

Truffles from Coco Luxe in the Haight

Truffles from Coco Luxe in the Haight

For our farewell-to-San Francisco meal, we drowned out sorrows at Mexico DF with good margaritas and strawberry mojitos. To accompany our drinks, we welcomed the Classico guacamole served with thick tortilla chips. Feeling adventurous, Matt and I split the Cabrito (goat) tacos made with Marin Sun Farms barbacoa-style, grass-fed goat. Never having had goat before, the flavor surprised me and I struggle to compare it to any other meat I have had. It is not sweet like lamb, gamier than beef or pork, and it has a very distinct flavor. The tacos were delicious and very unusual. Such a nice change form the Tex Mex we get around Texas.

The trip was filled with images, tastes, smells, joy, and freedom I will always remember. We did so much in four days, but there is still so much to do, discover, and inhale. I may be back in Texas, but for the time being, my dreams remain in California.

Big Sur, California (a.k.a. my current desktop background)

Big Sur, California (a.k.a. my current desktop background)