Thomas Keller Debuts A Chocolate Bar

Four-star chocolate from a four-star chef.

Four-star chocolate from a four-star chef.

 

When Thomas Keller of the French Laundry makes a chocolate bar, you just know it’s not going to be your run-of-the-mill candy.

Not by a long-shot.

What makes this chocolate bar so different and special is that it contains extra virgin olive oil. And naturally, it’s olive oil by one of Italy’s most exclusive producers, Armando Manni. The Tuscan producer makes some of the most cherished and expensive olive oils around, beloved by illustrious chefs such as Keller and New York’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Their collaboration is K+M Extravirgin Chocolate. The premium cocoa beans are processed in a way that maintains their antioxidants that are normally destroyed in the chocolate-making process. A small amount of Manni extra-virgin olive oil is added to boost the level of antioxidants even more.

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Hola to Olla Cocina

Duck carnitas tacos -- a must-order at Olla Cocina.

Duck carnitas tacos — a must-order at Olla Cocina.

 

The weather outside may be wet and dreary at this time of year, but you’d never know it from the inside of downtown San Jose’s Olla Cocina.

The casual Cal-Mexican eatery opened last summer after the building was revamped, giving it a playful design that makes you feel like you’re sitting on the terrace of a hacienda even if you’re completely protected from the elements. On a beautiful summer day, though, the glass garage doors at the front retract to let the sunshine in.

The soaring space was designed by restaurateur Doug Washington of San Francisco’s Town Hall fame. The colorful dining room is set off by a patterned tile floor, a reclaimed wood pergola, painted cinder-block wall, shoes hanging from overhead wires, and eye-catching Dia de los Muertos wallpaper. There are even a couple of swinging rattan egg-shaped chairs that just beg to be sat in.

Day of the Dead wallpaper.

Day of the Dead wallpaper.

Bringing the feel of the outdoors in.

Bringing the feel of the outdoors in.

There’s also a private dining room upstairs with a massive wood table, an old church pew, and framed historical photos on the walls.

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Hominy Grill’s Shrimp & Grits

Artisan milled corn stars in this dish of shrimp & grits.

Artisan milled corn stars in this dish of shrimp & grits.

 

This Christmas, Santa gifted me my first bag of Southern grits.

OK, really it was my niece Stacey, who picked up the grits on her travels through the South.

The speckled white grits came from family-owned Logan Turnpike Mill of Blairsville, GA, which contracts with local farmers to grow the corn, which is stone ground, utilizing the whole grain. The mill also grinds the corn at a low temperature to maintain nutrients and flavor. It is shipped the same day that it is ground. To keep it fresh, store in the refrigerator or freezer.

White grits from Logan Turnpike Mill.

White grits from Logan Turnpike Mill.

I’ve made polenta many times before. But never grits. Polenta and grits are both made from stone-ground cornmeal, but often from different types of corn, according to online sources. As a result, polenta cooks up typically coarser and denser in texture, while grits are softer and more thick porridge-like.

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Start Your Day Like A Sherpa

Cherry Almond Cranberry Tsampa mixed with water makes a quick, good-for-you breakfast.

Cherry Almond Cranberry Tsampa mixed with water makes a quick, good-for-you breakfast.

 

You may never ascend Mount Everest, but you can eat like Sherpa climbers.

Those extreme climbers who lug gear and scout conditions at dizzying altitudes fuel themselves with Tibetan tsampa, a coarsely whole grain cereal made from sprouted, roasted barley.

The Dalai Lama apparently eats it regularly, too.

Now, Washington manufacturer Peak Sherpa, founded by Tibetans who were born in India, is making the cereal more widely available.

Sherpa Tsampa boasts more dietary fiber than oatmeal, is low in gluten, and boasts prebiotics to improve gut health. It is also low fat, organic and non-GMO.

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Berkeley’s Much-Heralded Mochi Muffins

My new addiction.

My new addiction.

 

Ever since discovering the joys of butter mochi in Hawaii a few years ago, I’ve been on a mochi kick.

I can’t get enough of the chewy, bouncy texture that sweet rice flour gives to baked goods.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to take a plane across the Pacific — only a drive to the East Bay to get my latest fix.

After hearing the praises of the mochi muffins made by Pastry Chef Sam Butarbutar, I finally had a chance to buy a few ($3.50 each) when I dropped by Catahoula Coffee Co. on Fourth Street in Berkeley. Read more

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