Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chocolate for Valentine's about a recipe for dark chocolate truffles-plain, lavender, balsamic and /or mint?

I am not a huge dessert fan...would rather have a little more of the main course...and my favorite way to end a meal is with a bit of chocolate with my last glass of red wine. These truffles fit the bill perfectly...excellent chocolate, either plain or subtlety flavored with my favorite herbs, fruit and/or balsamic vinegar. For Valentine's Day I thought I would make four of my favorites...a small assortment for those I love.

Please don't be put off by the thought of the herbs or balsamic vinegar...give it a try. As my husband Peter..a die hard plain chocolate advocate says..."They are surprisingly delicious".

My Valentine gifts this year are going to be dark chocolate truffles! I don't think it can be Valentine's Day without chocolate, do you? is the best part....homemade truffles are really easy...and they don't have to look perfect...I think the handcrafted look looks best anyway.

This recipe makes an equal amount of four flavors of truffles...pure dark chocolate, balsamic, mint and lavender. Use the proportion of 2 to 1 chocolate to cream to make fewer flavors...I like the variety! And,because there are only two main ingredients, use the best quality you can afford. The ingredients really do make the difference...

**IMPORTANT** if you are making more than one type of truffle be sure to label each bowl as you go...otherwise, they all look the same and you will need to taste to know which is which*** (not really a hardship)
Farmhouse Dark Chocolate Truffles
16 oz best quality (70% cacao) bittersweet chocolate (I use Scharffenberger) well chopped
1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp dried organic lavender buds
1 tbsp fresh organic mint leaves
2 tsp good quality pure balsamic vinegar
1 tsp pure Tahitian vanilla
best quality chocolate cocoa powder (I use Valhrona)
additional tiny mint leaves and lavender buds for garnish
1 tsp pine nuts, sliced in half lengthwise
finely chopped pecans

For lavender truffles:  bring 1/4 cup whipping cream and the lavender buds to a gentle simmer. Remove from heat and let steep for about an hour. Strain lavender buds from cream (discard lavender) and return to stove. Bring back to hard simmer. Place 1/2 cup chopped chocolate into small bowl. When cream is ready, remove from stove and immediately pour over chocolate in bowl. Let sit for a couple of minutes without stirring. After 2-3 minutes, whisk chocolate into cream until smooth. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.

**note...the lavender cream is delicious on its own...try it drizzled over pound cake and strawberries...or poured over any fresh fruit***

mint truffles:
Thoroughly wash all cooking equipment to avoid taste crossover. Follow exact same process as for lavender truffles, substituting the mint.

balsamic truffles:
Bring 1/4 cup whipping cream and the balsamic to a strong 1/2 cup chopped chocolate in a small bowl...when cream is ready, immediately pour over chocolate in bowl.  Follow rest of directions for lavender truffles.

pure dark chocolate truffles:  
Follow the balsamic truffles directions, substituting the vanilla for the balsamic.

Remove truffle mixture(s) from refrigerator after a couple of hours and allow to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes...the chocolate should just begin to soften. I use a mini ice cream scoop for the next step, but you can also use 2 spoons. Starting with one flavor of truffles, shape mixture into small round balls...whatever size you like. Place each ball on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Remember to label each flavor on the sheet...I just use a post-it. When you have finished with all flavors, refrigerate truffles overnight.

Remove from refrigerator. Place nuts on one plate and cocoa powder on another. I roll the lavender, mint and balsamic truffles in the cocoa powder and top each lavender truffle with a couple of lavender buds, mint truffles with the tiny mint leaves and the balsamic with 2 pine nut slices...looks pretty and identifies the flavor. I roll 1/2 of the plain truffles in more cocoa powder and 1/2 in the chopped nuts. The fun part of this step is you can be as creative as you want...roll in cocoa, nuts (any kind you like) powdered sugar, sanding sugar, melted chocolate...whatever you like...

Refrigerate truffles until ready to eat.

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Are you cooking or baking for loved ones this Valentine's Day? What are you making?

Happy Valentine's Day!

napa farmhouse 1885

I have started sharing my Taos experiences on my newest blog "California Girl in Taos". Please visit and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

what is "fancy food" anyway?

in my last post i told you i went to the fancy food show...and that i would tell you about it later. today, as i was sorting through the two bags of marketing materials i was given at the show, i figured it was time to write about the items that interested me...and pop the rest of the stuff into the recycling bin...

so..first of all...what is the fancy food show, you ask? the best way to describe it is a convention (you have all been to conventions, right? usually i would say insert groan here)...but this is the coolest trade show ever...where attendees spend three days tasting specialty food! the event is sponsored by the NASFT (national association for the specialty food trade, inc.) and they promote it this way"

"Produced by the NASFT since 1955, the Fancy Food Shows are North America's largest specialty food and beverage marketplace.
16,000 - 24,000 attendees
250,000 products including confections, cheese, coffee, snacks, spices, ethnic, natural, organic and more
1,300 - 2,500 exhibitors
81 countries represented"

ok...did you notice they said 250k products? and yes, they are all available for taste. so picture a massive convention this case moscone center in san imagine tables and tables and tables set up in no apparent order with tastes of chocolates, cheese, cookies, scones, olives, dips, oils, sauces, truffles, chorizo, teas, honey, chips, water, coffee, bbq sauce, salsas...etc. i cannot even list them all. then spend three days...each one from 10 am-5pm...doing nothing but tasting food? man...a tough job...but someone has to do it...(i did meet with a few of my organic ingredient suppliers, but honestly...that took very little time...really, i just ate...and ate)

in all seriousness...i was absolutely thrilled last year when i was able to attend for the first time.(you have to be in the trade) and i had a terrific time...this year was even better. i knew what to expect...paced myself (this is no time to even look at marginal food much less waste valuable space in your stomach) and had a game plan as to what i was looking to accomplish:

1. do i ever want to show my products there?

2. market research as to new trends and food items...what do i need to know to run a successful food business?

3. are there products that fit my brand's grown, eco-friendly, local and...most important...delicious?

4. what interesting items should i blog about?

well...there were so many ideas, concepts, business strategies and trends that emerged, i probably have a year of blog stories...and some interesting items to add to my "farmhouse food" assortment that i look forward to telling you about.

to avoid writing a novel in what is supposed to be a blog post...i am just using today's story to give you an overview...and to tell you about a couple of my favorites from the show...and one bizarre (in my opinion) item. some trends deserve their own handcrafted chocolates? gluten free everything? flavored waters? vegetarian/vegan? agave? sparkling teas?, eco-friendly items? small companies using only local ingredients? see what i mean? loads of stories to tell you.

one thing i am not going to do is tell you about the items i disliked...ones where the food was so bad i actually spit it out....first of all, i am not a trained expert...just because i did not like it, does not mean you won't...after all, they did get to the show...and just seems mean...oh well...what can i say? odd items...i will tell you about....just plain bad? we'll skip in this blog...

so today...just a couple of mentions...
#1 my favorite concept of the show could be titled "why did it take so long?" a company called glacia icebox water in a box is packaging pure arctic spring water in a paper a milk carton. i have been horrified the past few years watching stories of the damage discarded plastic water bottles do to wildlife and the environment. what a brilliant solution! milk cartons...the company says their packaging is "sustainable, biodegradable, recyclable, environmentally friendly, disposable...they say it reduces the amount of refuse in landfill by 97%!!..healthy and eco-sensitive. and, the water is delicious!.... i love this company...their people were knowledgeable, friendly and very funny....and the product is my favorite of the show (which is saying a lot...did i mention all the chocolate, cheese, oils and baked goods?) check them out at

#2 my most enjoyable experience was talking to the people at a company called flamous organics...they make organic falafel chips and hummus bottled dressing. the sales rep was good...but in the middle of his pitch...the founder took over and this guy was hilarious! i should start by saying the products are delicious...and could sell themselves....but he started talking about how to eat his food, how to serve, gave recipes, told us about the "unlimited uses" for the items (remember, these are chips and salad dressing) one point he asked me to "feel his hand" to see how soft it was...he proceeded to tell me it was due to the "organic ingredients in the hummus" and recommend addition to eating the dressing... i use it as a "face cream and hand lotion"! this man was very, very passionate about his products...and i love that.
hands down...the most bizarre was a company called "cupless joe". walking by their booth, i was handed a small packet of capsules. the sales rep started talking about how the convenience of a capsule of coffee and a glass of water would change my life...for a minute i thought this was some new type of instant coffee...nope. the capsules are full of dried, concentrated coffee which you take to "get the coffee high without actually having to drink coffee". their marketing campaign says"
"No Spills. No Taste. No Burns. No Stains. No Coffee Breath. Fewer Restroom Breaks. Coffee Without the Cup." maybe if you don't like coffee this is a great idea...but to me...a coffee lover...this just seems weird. are there that many people who dislike coffee and/or black or green tea...and need energy this way? most herb tea drinkers i know want to avoid caffeine in the first place. this one i just did not understand....what do you think? (btw...i thought that tag line was hilarous...but then wondered if it was supposed to be funny??)
alright...a brief overview of the fancy food show....i look forward to sharing details of the food trends of 2010 throughout the year. my favorite take-away from the show was discovering some cases...rediscovering some handcrafted organic local napa products...and the passionate people behind these small companies. i will be adding some of these brands to my website's collection of napa farmhouse foods during the next few months to complement my own handcrafted food and i look forward to telling you their stories.
in the interim...did you attend the show? what were your favorite items? and...if you didn't...what food trends would you like to hear about?
diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style™ "
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

waffles for dinner? a recipe for maple syrup waffles has been raining for the past seven days....cold, wet, windy, dreary... not fun. days spent clearing out storm drains to prevent flooding, picking up torn branches and bits of debris from the yard and...when you have a 115 pound golden spend a ton of time toweling him off every time he goes in and out. i drove to san francisco for two of the days (it was the fancy food show...really cool, and i will blog about that later) and the drive included a flooded out main road leading to a detour on a two lane winding road full of mud... zig-zagging throughout wine country...beautiful in nice weather...a bit scary in torrential rains...(the things we do for free chocolate and cheese!)

anyway, the weather had me craving comfort food....and after a week of chili, slow cooker food, roasted everything...oh, and did i mention all the food samples at the fancy food show?....i was at a loss as to what to make for dinner last night...nothing sounded good. i decided to ignore dinner choices and move to breakfast options.

do you like breakfast for dinner? i do...sometimes pancakes or omelets or scrambled eggs is the perfect choice for an easy, fast and delicious supper. last night i made waffles...what a perfect choice.

i love maple syrup on waffles (who doesn't) i developed a recipe that uses the syrup as the sweetener in the batter....this results in a waffle that has a richer taste than those with white sugar...and, because i use a combination of bread flour and whole wheat flour, these waffles cook up light, tender and just add bacon (of course!) and you are good to go....

maple syrup waffles
2 beaten eggs (organic if you can)
1 3/4 whole milk
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
1 c. unbleached bread flour
1 c. unbleached whole wheat flour
1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
**i use a large measuring glass pitcher to make the batter because it is easier to pour into the waffle iron**

preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions. add eggs, milk, oil, flour, baking powder and sea salt to pitcher of bowl. whisk just until liquids are incorporated into flour. add maple syrup and whisk again. pour batter onto hot waffle iron ( amount depends on the size of the iron so experiment until you get the perfect amount for your machine. you want to batter to just cover the waffle grid). waffles are ready when they look dark golden brown.

i top my waffles with sliced fruit (we had bananas last night), and additional maple syrup.

so...what is your favorite "breakfast for dinner" choice?

diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style™ "
follow me on twitter

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

another recipe for minestrone??

if you do a search for minestrone soup recipes you will get 165k hits (at least i did) why do we need #165,001??... a question i asked myself when starting this post. i guess my only answer is that i really, really like my version....i make it all the time...and i find it delicious, easy, comforting and incredibly works year round so fresh, local, organic/sustainably grown ingredients always make the best choice....and...because i have lots of vegetarian/vegan friends...i can make a big pot of this hearty, filling soup whenever friends want to stop by....

i did a bit of research regarding the etymology of the name minestrone... provided the following response:

"There are three Italian words corresponding to the English word 'soup': zuppa, which is used in the sense of tomato soup, or fish soup; minestra, which is used in the sense of a more substantial soup such as a vegetable soup, and also for 'dry' soups, namely pasta dishes; and minestrone, which means a very substantial or large soup, though the meaning has now come to be associated with this particular dish. "

my recipe certainly meets the criteria of "very substantial or large soup". you really only need a simple salad, good bread and some excellent cheese...a bottle or two of your favorite wine...and you have a perfect dinner anytime...but i am partial to sunday supper. there is something very comforting about chopping the vegetables, simmering the soup and enjoying an easy, comforting meal with family and friends....

feel free to experiment with whatever vegetables are in season...i mix it up with summer squashes, winter squashes, green beans, all types of onions, shallots, garlic, red potatoes, yukon get the idea...whatever you like. and, while your favorite hot italian sausage is perfect...i make mine with a vegan version that even the most committed meat eater will feel free to experiment...and let me know your favorite combination....
farmhouse minestrone
2 pounds italian sausage (i use vegetarian favorite brand is field roast try the chipolte...delicious!!)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 leeks, washed and diced (white and tender green parts)
2 carrots (chopped into bite sized pieces)
1 white onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 28 oz can whole peeled san marzano tomatoes
1 pound sweet potatoes or yams, unpeeled, cut into bite sized pieces
2 quarts, excellent quality vegetable broth (if not homemade, i recommend the imagine brand)
2 cups cooked cannellini beans (even easier, use organic canned beans)
2 cups chopped swiss chard
1 cup freshly shelled peas (or organic frozen in a pinch)
8 oz. small shaped dried pasta...i use the shape ditalini which are little tubes which i like with the broth of the soup.
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup italian parsley, minced
grey salt
freshly cracked black pepper
wedge of parmigiano-reggiano for grating over soup
very green "big" extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

cut the sausage into bite sized pieces. add to a large stock pot and cook over medium heat until the sausage in browned on all sides...stir frequently while cooking to avoid burning. when sausage is cooked drain off the fat and return sausage to stockpot. add the olive oil, leeks, carrots, onion and garlic to stockpot and sauté until onions are translucent. strain the tomatoes (reserve the juice) and rough chop into bite sized pieces. add chopped tomatoes, tomato juice, sweet potatoes and vegetable broth to pot and simmer over low heat until potatoes are just beginning to soften. add the cannellini beans and cook for another ten minutes. add the swiss chard, peas, pasta, red pepper flakes and italian parsley to soup and cook for another 7-11 minutes until pasta is al dente (follow package directions but do not allow the pasta to overcook). season to taste with the grey salt and black pepper... serve in large soup bowls with a drizzle of the e.v.o.o....pass the parmigiano-reggiano and a grater to allow your guests to add as little (or as much!!!)cheese as they like.

so....minestrone is on my list for a few football playoff sundays...what are you cooking?


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"
follow me on twitterto receive special offers only available to our preferred customers, please sign up for the mailing list on the right hand side of this post...