Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Charles Chocolates Factory

Charles Chocolates has a lot going for it, even without a Willy Wonka. Founder Chuck "Charles" Siegel first started making his own chocolate as a young man after his Italian girlfriend complained that American chocolates were just not on par with its European counterparts. (I don't know about you ladies out there, but any man willing to dig his hands into confectioner's sugar to make you happy is a keeper.) Chuck opened his first chocolate company in 1987 in San Francisco, then later on established Charles Chocolates.

I went for a tour and tasting on site in Emeryville, courtesy of the UCSD Alumni Association. What I especially love about Charles Chocolates is the company's perfectionist attitude. Each confectionary delight is handmade in their factory, using fine chocolate and organic ingredients. The resulting flavors and textures are simply decadent, and sometimes surprising. And all chocolates are shipped within three days of creation.

The factory ... where all the magic happens!

Our wine for the event -- 2006 Wente Merlot. This was a full-bodied wine that hit the palate with flavors of blackberry and smoky tobacco, so it paired very well with our gourmet chocolates.

And now onto the actual candy...

Far left: Blood Orange Yankees (blood orange marmalade, 65% bittersweet shell)
Far right: Kahlua Truffles (bittersweet ganache mixed with kahlua)

Lemon Marzipans (organic Meyer lemons, organic almonds, 65% bittersweet shell)

Marzipan is basically a sugar and almond paste. Here, it was mixed with lemons and then coated with bittersweet chocolate. As a result, the candy was both sweet and slightly tart, with a pleasant crunch from the nuts.

Ginger Truffles (bittersweet ganache blended with candied ginger)

Raspberry Hearts (raspberry ganache, 65% bittersweet gilded gold shell)

It's every woman's dream ... hearts, gold, and fruit filling! The company also makes a Passion Fruit Heart with a gilded silver shell, and a Mojito Heart infused with mint, lime, and of course, Jamaican rum.

Triple Chocolate Almonds

And if you're having trouble making a choice from their wide variety of candy, you can pick up one of their beautifully-packaged gift sets.

The Tea Collection

Tea-infused truffles, with Chinese characters indicating which tea flavor awaits inside. And even the box is made out of chocolate!

Wine-Infused Pate de Fruit

I like candy. I like wine. This is genius! Flavors included: Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Champagne.

So if you ever feel like having some gourmet confections, keep Charles Chocolates in mind. And feel free to send me a truffle or two!

Charles Chocolates
6529 Hollis Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 652-4414

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fruit Pizza Recipe

I've seen a few chefs on Food Network whip up a dessert pizza or two, so I decided to try making one myself based off a recipe in my Costco Creative Cooking book. I ended up improvising quite a bit, but that's part of the fun of home cooking, right?

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 prepared thin-crust 12-inch pizza crust
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas
  • 4 cups assorted fresh fruit
  • 1/4 cup of nuts
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
Cooking Instructions:
  1. In a bowl, blend the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until well-mixed and smooth. Set the mixture aside.
  2. Wash, peel, and slice the fruit however you like. I used fresh bananas, strawberries, kiwis, and grapes, but you can use any fruit that would make a good topping. Set the fruit aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Spray a 12-inch pizza pan with cooking spray. (I didn't have a pizza pan, so I just used a large baking tray. So my pizza ended up in a rectangular shape.)
  5. Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes. The crust should now be a golden brown color. Let the crust cool down for about 10 minutes.
  6. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the crust.
  7. Arrange the banana slices over the cream cheese. Then arrange the other fruit slices on the pizza, varying colors and shapes.

  8. Sprinkle the nuts and raisins over the pizza. I used whole almonds on mine, but you could easily use whole or chopped pecans or pistachios.
  9. For an added touch of decadence, heat up some chocolate chips in a small pan on the stove and drizzle the melted chocolate over the pizza. And if you have any chocolate left over, you can have some fondue on the side!

  10. Cut and serve your pizza. And there you have it - a quick and tasty dessert. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

NYE Dinner at Zuppa!

My necessities for an awesome New Year's Eve: (1) champagne, (2) festive decorations, (3) practical resolutions, and (4) a scrumptious meal with great company. This year, I decided to have my NYE meal at San Francisco's Zuppa, a cozy, intimate Italian restaurant with dishes that are as fresh as they are comforting. And at $40 for a prix fixe five-course dinner, it was well worth the money too!

As we entered the restaurant, we could immediately see the NYE cheer. Balloons bobbed playfully from chairs, and each table was decorated with confetti, party favors, and ridiculous hats that people would only wear for NYE, or maybe a bachelor's party.

Complimentary bite from the kitchen

I believe this was some kind of peppered smoked salmon and pickled radish? In any case, it got our palettes going with a mix of salty, smoky, and sour tastes.

I don't understand why more restaurants don't serve their bread with this simple cheese spread. Ricotta cheese by itself is already a creamy, fluffy treat, but the olive oil and pepper added another layer of flavor here.

Insalata - Insalata di Arugula
baby arugula, pecorino grand cru, shaved sunchokes, 15-year balsamic vinegar

I loved the pecorino (a hard, salty Italian cheese) and balsamic vinegar in this salad, but I was looking for an ingredient that would tone down the bitterness of the arugula, like tomatoes or a citrus fruit.

Antipasta - Zuppa di Sunchoke
jerusalem artichoke soup, aged goat cheese crouton

A great soup for the artichoke lover. The earthy flavor of the artichokes took center stage, accentuated by the subtle nuttiness of the goat cheese croutons.

Primi - Sugo con Coda di Bue
housemade egg pasta, braised oxtail, toasted breadcrumbs

Just like momma would've made! Wide strips of egg pasta cooked to al dente perfection and topped with shredded oxtail bits and breadcrumbs for a light crunch. The broth was a bit disappointing, though ... not enough salt or oxtail flavor.

Secondi - Osso Bucco di Maiale
niman ranch pork shank, black trumpet mushrooms, vin cotto

The pork meat was so tender that it just fell right off the bone. I thought "vin cotto" refererred to some kind of drinkable wine used for cooking, but upon research, I learned that it literally means "cooked wine." It's basically liquid made from slow-cooking and reducing grape must over a period of many hours. The resulting liquid is sweet and pairs well with meats.

Dolce - Spice Apple Cake
apple cider caramel, vanilla gelato

Dessert consisted of a soft apple cake with conspicuous cinnamon and nutmeg flavors, and a dollop of creamy vanilla gelato on the side. Orbiting the cake and the gelato were shiny rings of caramel that had been cooked down with a touch of apple cider. Delish!

Overall, this meal was a great way to commemorate 2008 and usher in 2009. For the new year, I'm going to try to make it a habit to write down what I'm thankful for each day (kind of like Thanksgiving for the whole year). And of course, I'm going to continue sharing my eating adventures here. Happy new year!

564 4th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 777-5900