Happy New Year!
Monday, January 6, 2014
Sunday, October 27, 2013
|The International Team w/ the Italian Master Chocolatiers|
|Lecco, Italy, the home of ICAM|
I traveled to Italy in September to take the Ecole Chocolat’s Master Chocolate Training with Italian Chocolatiers at the prestigious ICAM Choco Scuola in Lecco. Our week began in Milan and included tours of top chocolate shops & factories in Turin and a visit to ICAM's state of the art chocolate factory, which produces chocolate from bean-to-bar in its impressive 538,000 sq ft world-class processing facility in Orsenigo near Lake Como. So immaculate it is that visitors and employees alike must wear protective clothing to enter the factory as though stepping into a scientific laboratory. Well, chocolate production is a science at the ICAM's cocoa bean processing plant, one of industry's largest, which includes a three-story roasting, mixing and grinding complex and a sophisticated computerized monitoring system. You would never think that the giant 10 ton steel tanks are filled with liquid chocolate or that chocolate flows through miles of steel pipes connecting various processing units if you weren't intoxicated by the overpowering smell of chocolate and you suddenly understand what makes all the employees there perpetually happy.
|Truffles made at the ICAM laboratory|
At the ICAM Choco Scuola laboratory I learned chocolate making techniques used by Italian Chocolate Masters and made an assortment of truffles using their recipes. It was a fascinating week full of chocolate adventures and culinary exploration in the company of six talented international chocolatiers from US, Canada, Kuwait, Ireland and New Zealand.
It was fashion week in Milan when we returned for our departure, so what better way to end an exciting, informative and oh, so sweet week than to go shopping. When my luggage was finally checked in at the Milan airport I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling no guilt whatsoever for paying the surcharge for the excess weight, part of it from shopping, the other part having made its way from my carry-on to make room for chocolates. Feeling a lot lighter I rolled my carry-on filled to the brim with chocolates towards a cafe for my last macchiatto of Italy. Arrivederci Italia! Grazie per i belli ricordi.
|Lemon Basil Bon-Bon|
We opened our current production season with this trip's inspiration of our new bonbon celebrating Italian flavors - lemon, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil - with a dash of pink salt added for balance, a fine mix of flavors that my father so appropriately called “salad”. Another inspiration? An espresso machine for our kitchen. The professional Chocolate Chefs in Italy couldn’t produce their mouth-watering confections without an espresso maker. It commanded equitable space in the Italian chocolate kitchen next to the high end automatic tempering machines, enrobers and other kitchen equipment and was utilized just as frequently. We believe a good macchiato routine alla italiano (i.e. before the start, half-way and at the end of each production day) will fuel our energy in the kitchen and inspire us to produce our fine confections. Not to mention that it will keep us on our toes and help to soften the effects of sugar, which could get quite substantial when two highly energetic ladies consume chocolate while working…
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Our beautiful chocolates were paired with some handsome wines to create a mouth-watering gourmet experience that can only come with such glorious pairings. Peter Nelson of Monopole Wine had expertly hand-picked from his incredible collection some high-end wines from around the world - a playful, Italian dry Lambrusco and Valpolicella Ripasso; Santa Barbara Pinot Noir & Sonoma Valley Cabernet; Grenache from France’s Rhone Valley; Kroatian Crljenak (Zinfandel); Hungarian Royal Tokaji and two types of vintage ports. While our guests sat patiently with a plate of assorted chocolates and truffles in front of them secretly drooling, Master Sommelier Peter delivered an educational presentation about wine characteristics and we gave a comprehensive introduction to chocolate from its origins and growth to processing and chocolate making.
Our choice of flavors for the evening included solid dark chocolates in raspberry, black tea blend and pink peppercorn flavors, truffles infused with lavender, rose, pomegranate and Grand Marnier liqueur and dry figs & apricots dipped in dark chocolate. We had an enthusiastic group of food savvy people with refined palates who tried the suggested pairings as well as offered their own suggestions while scrupulously recording their observations on a wine pairing chart provided, some of the participants doing it with such precision that we regret not having asked for copies. Of course there cannot be a shortage of laughter when there are wines and chocolates involved, especially quite a few bottles. Calories? Who’s counting, although collectively we consumed a few pounds of chocolate that evening. We appreciate the wonderful comments some guests left on our Facebook Page.
|Chocolate & Wine Gourmet Sets|
Our chocolates created quite a stir at a live auction to benefit the local Pasadena Christian School. Dinner guests from two tables had an opportunity to bid on a tray full of assorted truffles and a giant solid chocolate heart to enjoy as their evening’s dessert in what the auction committee calls the “dessert war” while the rest of the tables were served a brownie – tasty but not as exciting and artisan as the tray of hand-crafted fine chocolates. Yes, I ate the brownie because I could not bring myself to bid on my own chocolates! And yes, people would pay $200 for an exclusive chocolate dessert and pass the lovely brownie. As a Pasadena Christian School parent I was proud that our chocolates from the live dessert auction and from the silent auction of gourmet food baskets raised over $500! We thank our business partners The Cheese Store of Pasadena www.cspasadena.com and Romancing the Bean of Burbank www.romancingthebeancafe.com for their contribution.
|Pomegranate, Rose, Lavender, Raspberry, Caramel/Coffee|
Monday, February 4, 2013
|Chocolate dipped dried fruit bags in the front.|
A busy Saturday spent at the Spice Station’s cozy courtyard in Silverlake, CA. We featured our beautiful Valentine’s solid chocolate hearts, artisan bars, chocolate dipped dried fruits and our premium drinking chocolate, all setup in the center of an enchanting courtyard, right outside the store.
|lavender, raspberry & pink peppercorn flavors|
The visitors enjoyed ample supply of chocolate samples throughout the day and savored our premium drinking chocolate prepared right in the courtyard with fresh milk and served with a dollop of froth to nearly one hundred visitors.
A large crowd had come to spend a lovely Saturday at the Silverlake farmer’s market, restaurants and boutiques, among which, nestled in a tranquil garden off the beaten path is the Spice Station with its incredible assortment of fresh and fragrant spices and a pleasant and outgoing staff. You must visit the Spice Station in Silverlake if you haven’t yet and plan a gourmet meal around a unique spice. While there, pick one of our artisanal chocolates to serve as a dessert, available for a limited time during the Valentines season.
|Solid chocolate heart cakes perfect for Valentine's Day.|
Have a sweet Valentine!
Monday, December 31, 2012
During the year we have turned 400 lb of chocolate into 200 bars, 270 barks, 160 solid chocolate cakes, over 1500 truffles and over 130 lb of dipped dry fruit.
In the process we have consumed countless cases of wine, truckload of assorted cheeses and charcuterie, tens of dozens poached eggs, fine crops yielded from a few acres of coffee and tea plantations from around the world, nearby bakeries' collective half year supply of baguettes and pastries, and of course all the unaccounted chocolate products called "snacks" in the Culinary Institute's jargon. If it weren't for innumerable hours spent in the kitchen and all the energy put into tempering and keeping the 400 lb of chocolate in temper, and incessant venting and laughter, the residual calories would have put a far greater toll on us today.
It was an incredible journey of understanding the properties of one extraordinary fruit called cacao and combining our culinary savvy and creativity to create chocolate products that our customers enjoyed and appreciated. With deepest gratitude we thank all our family, friends, customers and business partners for your support, feedback and trust.