Made Paleo Almond Butter Cups (45/366)


“What could be better for you than eating the foods you love?”
~
Nick Yow-Woo


Nick’s favorite candy is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Ever since we discovered Paleo eating, we’ve tried to cut down on grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. Almost all of those things are in Nick’s favorite candy. He still has them occasionally, but I thought for Valentine’s Day, I’d surprise him by making a batch of more Paleo-friendly almond butter cups, made with dark chocolate which has less dairy and less sugar.

I started out with the chocolate. I chose three bars to make a blend for the shell – one from TCHO, a local company making chocolate right here in San Francisco, a raw organic dark bar, and a no-sugar-added bar I had discovered on our New York trip last year.

Here are my ingredients. We had creamy almond butter and chunky – I wanted to use just creamy, but brought the chunky out in case I didn’t have enough. The only thing I added to the almond butter was a bit of organic honey, which along with a little extra sweetness, added a different flavor dimension. Recognize the candy molds from when Nick made cakepops last year?


I chopped up the chocolate and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time I took it out. Then I poured a tiny bit into the bottom of each mold, so the almond butter filling would have a little base.

After letting the chocolate set in the freezer for a few minutes, I drizzled more onto the sides of each mold, put about a teaspoon of my almond butter mixture in, and spread that out a bit so it would fill the shape and the chocolate-to-almond butter ratio would be correct. Then I topped the cups off with more chocolate. Here are my three stages, and a shot of the tray almost full:


After topping each cup off with chocolate, I put the tray in the freezer to firm up. The finished product:


These are an awesome little treat out of the fridge or freezer – I don’t really care for Reese’s Peanut Butter cups because they’re actually almost a bit mushy for my taste. With these, the dark chocolate hardens beautifully, and the almond butter firms up nicely as well. I’m glad I was able to make these for Nicky. He loves his Reese’s cups so much, but these are so much better – because they were made with higher quality ingredients, and lots of LOVE. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Related Links:
Tcho Chocolate 8 Bar Taster Assortment (Pack of 6)
Freshware 30-Cavity Silicone Chocolate, Candy and Peanut Butter Cup Mold

Tasted a Bacon Chocolate Bar (15/366)

Pasted Graphic 9
“Yes, I’ll have a non-fat, decaf latte, please. Oh, what the hell? Look, make it a full-fat mocha with extra whipped cream. What the hell, put a slice of bacon on it!”
~ Dr. Frasier Crane,
Frasier


When Nick and I were in Chicago last year, we picked up some interesting chocolate bars for our family as souvenirs. One that caught my eye in particular was a dark chocolate bar with bacon in it. I picked up an extra one just for me and Nick.

Last year during one of our Tuesday night dinners, we made chocolate-dipped bacon and it was delicious. I wondered how a chocolate bar with bacon in it would be. Smoky? Salty? Bacon-y? Hopefully.

Here’s the wording from the package:
Breathe … engage your 5 senses, close your eyes and inhale deeply. Be in the present moment, notice the color of the chocolate, the glossy shine. Rub your thumb over the chocolate bar to release the aromas of Hickory smoked uncured bacon flirting with dark chocolate. Snap off just a tiny piece and place it in your mouth, let the lust of salt and sweet coat your tongue.

Hilarious. I opened the package. How cute! “Vosges Haut-Chocolat”, and drawings of ladies with Vosges shopping bags were on each square:


I broke a few pieces off to see how the bacon was incorporated:


This was promising! I smelled the chocolate – at first you do smell mainly just the chocolate, but as you keep inhaling, you can smell the smokiness of the bacon. I chewed the first bit, and to my surprise, the bacon was extremely crispy. It was a great texture. The bacon flavor was light, but the saltiness of the bacon is a great pairing with the chocolate. The second bit, I let dissolve in my mouth (the way chocolate connoisseurs do) to see if I could pick up more bacon flavor.

The verdict? Yum. A totally solid bacon chocolate bar experience. The chocolate is delicious, and the bacon crisps (I think that’s how they should be described in this bar) were nice bits of saltiness throughout. I was actually hoping for a bit more bacon flavor, but that’s probably partially because I was thinking more along the lines of the chocolate-dipped bacon we had once made. That and the fact that there were two huge bacon strips on the box design and just one small square of chocolate. I also read on the box that the original pairing was bacon and milk chocolate. I think this dark version could have stood up to more smoke and more bacon flavor. Now I’m gonna have to get the milk chocolate bacon bar to compare!

Related Links:
Vosges Haut Chocolat, Mo’s Bacon Bar (3oz Bar)
Vosges Milk & Dark Chocolate Bacon Bars

Tried a Kumquat (11/366)


“And the funniest food of all … kumquats. I don’t even bring ’em home anymore. They just go to waste.”
~
George Carlin, on “Foods Too Funny to Eat”


Kumquats belong to the citrus family, and they look like little oranges, but shrunken down to the size and relative shape of olives. They are native to China, and their English name “Kumquat” sounds like the Cantonese words for “golden tangerine”. They’re a symbol of prosperity, so kumquat trees are given as gifts around Chinese New Year and you’ll see them in Chinese restaurants.

I’ve always wondered about kumquats when I saw them, but we never got a kumquat tree at Chinese New Year, so I had never had a reason to try them until tonight. My mom’s friends have a kumquat tree, and they recently had a good amount of fruit, so they gave some to her. I saw them in her kitchen and told her I had never had a kumquat – how awesome that she had some!

I had never even seen the inside of a kumquat, so I broke one open. The pith on the inside of this one is hiding the meat, but unlike oranges, the pith of a kumquat isn’t bitter.


Kumquats don’t just look like little oranges on the outside, they actually have tiny sections, just like oranges – but you don’t have to peel them and eat just the sections – you eat a kumquat by just popping the whole thing into your mouth – peel and all (I put a blueberry on the plate for a little size comparison).


So, the verdict? Kumquats are delicious! Refreshing! I like oranges, but hate peeling them and getting juice all over the place – plus I’m not a fan of the bitter pith and the big ol’ mess the peels become. Kumquats take care of all those problems, plus although they are sweet, they also have an awesome tartness factor to them and the rind adds another layer of flavor as well – these two differences give the fruit this fantastically more complex flavor profile than an orange.

Kumquats grow well in California, and there are many dwarfed trees available that can be grown in pots. Supposedly, they’re actually one of the easiest citrus trees to grow indoors, too. We are getting a kumquat tree!

Related Links:
GrowCitrus.com – Tips on growing your own citrus trees
Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere:
(like lemons, limes, citrons, grapefruit, kumquats, sunquats, tahitian oranges, barbados … black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, and more)

Made Bok Jum Gai (White Poached Chicken) (7/366)


“Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.”
~
Frank Lloyd Wright


One of my favorite Chinese dishes is Bok Jum Gai, a very simple, poached chicken dish served with a ginger and green onion oil. It’s a humble dish, but absolutely delicious.

Today we had a birthday celebration for Nick’s grandma, and everyone brought a dish. Nick’s grandma is a self-taught master chef – last year, Nick was lucky enough to learn how to make her famous naw mai fawn (sticky rice) – but since it was her birthday, we didn’t want her to cook. She requested Chinese food, so it was fun for everyone to make a Chinese dish, and try to live up to Grandma’s quality of cooking.

Although Bok Jum Gai is one of my favorites, I had never made it before. It’s supposed to be pretty easy – if you ask any Chinese mother, she’ll say something like, “Oh, you just boil water with some salt, put the chicken in, turn it off and let it sit for an hour”. As for the sauce, “You cut up some ginger, add salt, green onion, and hot oil, and mix it all up.” A lot of Chinese home cooking is this way. “Cut up one green onion stalk” as opposed to “1 tbsp scallion, thinly sliced”. “About a palmful of salt” instead of “two tablespoons of salt”. As with all cooking, once you’re comfortable making a dish, you get a feel for it and don’t have to measure, and don’t need a recipe.

Well, since this was my first time making this dish, I wanted a recipe. I found one here:
Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
3-4 big chunks of ginger (1-inch thick), peeled and smashed
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons Kosher salt, plus more to season the chicken
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Dipping Sauce:
4 tablespoons scallion, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil

The ingredients were easy to get, and not complicated. I picked up the chicken, some ginger, and a bunch of green onions and I was set.
Pasted Graphic 19

To start, I rinsed the chicken inside and out and patted it dry. I rubbed the inside and outside with salt, and let that sit in the fridge for an hour while I prepped the other ingredients.
Pasted Graphic 18

The recipe calls for half of the ginger minced, and the other half grated, and notes a
Microplane is a great tool for this job. After peeling the knob of ginger I was going to use (a little trick: to peel ginger easily without waste, use a spoon!), I minced part and grated part. Then I washed, dried, and thinly sliced the green onions. The ginger, green onions, and salt all went into a heatproof dish.
IMG_4152-1 (dragged) 3 IMG_4162-1 (dragged)

I put enough water in a pot to cover the chicken, turned the heat on high, and added the smashed ginger pieces, garlic cloves, and salt. When the water was boiling, I put the chicken in, breast side up, and covered the pot. When the water returned to a boil, I turned the heat down to low and set the timer for 45 minutes. When the timer went off, I flipped the chicken over and set the timer for another 45 minutes. After that, it was done!
IMG_4164-1 (dragged)

I took the chicken out (lifting it with two wooden spoons under the wings so the cooking broth would drain out of the cavity) and placed it on a platter to rest. Then, I heated the oil for the sauce in a small saucepan. When that just started to smoke, I put the dish of ginger, green onions, and salt on the range as well, and poured the hot oil into the dish, releasing and melding the flavors of the other ingredients together and creating this magical topping that I love so much.

We were running late to the dinner, so we brought everything over as it was, and one of Nick’s aunties cut the whole chicken up for us, Chinese style. I have yet to do that (it’s really cool, but somewhat intimidating – you basically use a cleaver and chop straight through, bones, cartilage and all – it takes precision not to make a mess of an otherwise beautiful dish).

The finished product:


*Side note: In my haste to get to dinner, I forgot to rub sesame oil on the chicken after taking it out of its bath, as the recipe called for. I love the flavor of sesame oil and I think it would have made this even better. Next time I make it, I won’t forget that step. I’ll probably add just at touch more salt to the cooking water.

As I said before, I love this dish. It’s comfort food. It is made from simple ingredients, but they come together to form something fantastic. The tenderness of the chicken, the bite of the ginger, the freshness of the green onions, and of course the salt and oil enhancing it all – it’s just … good.

Tried Every Kind of Meat Offering at Espetus Churrascaria (6/366)


“Enough is as good as a feast.”
~ Joshua Sylvester


Espetus Churrascaria is a Brazilian steakhouse here in SF that boasts 14 different kinds of meat, skewered and prepared over an open flame. It is “Rodizio-style”, meaning the servers come to your table, cut your choice straight off the skewer for you, and keep coming until you say “stop!” (there’s a cool little red and green wheel you can use to signal when you need a break, or when you want them to bring on more meat!). They also have a great buffet with salads and a few other dishes, but since the meats are so good and the selection so varied, we jokingly say, “don’t waste your time on the buffet”. Usually, there are a few meat items we skip as well, because we want to spend our precious stomach space on only the our favorite cuts of meat.

We’ve only been to Espetus a handful of times, mostly because it’s not super cheap (about $50/person not counting drinks, tax, or gratuity), but tonight was a special occasion because it was our friend Russell’s last night in town on his holiday visit with us, and our other friend Brian’s birthday. A great reason to go somewhere fun like this, and a good chance for me to be able to try all their different meat offerings.

There was:

Parmesan Pork


Shrimp

House-made Sausage, Beef Rib (my favorite), Pork Loin


Lamb Chop, Sirloin, Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Breast,

Garlic Beef, Chicken Hearts, Top Sirloin,

and finally, Chicken Thigh, Filet Mignon, and Leg of Lamb


Everything was absolutely delicious. My favorite is still the beef rib – a succulent cut of meat marbled with just the right amount of fat – tender and juicy and salty. Perfection. The shrimp are cooked nicely, but because of the process, the shells tend to thin and stick to the shrimp, making them hard to remove. The Parmesan pork is a bit of a gamble – due to health code regulations most restaurants are forced to overcook their pork products and since a lot of pork cuts are actually relatively lean, the flavor and juiciness suffers when overcooked. Also, sausage, while tasty, is traditionally made of lesser quality meat/parts. I’d probably still save the room spent on those choices for some of my more favorite cuts like the rib and filet. But really, everything here is of wonderful quality.

If you like meat, you simply must feast here at least once. Although Espetus is all-you-can-eat, you don’t have to stuff yourself silly, but it’s hard not to when they have such fantastic food.