Tag Archives: California Gourmet Foods

Greenlee’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread

DSC01217I recently read that “cinnamon bites and kisses simultaneously”, which is a pretty good way to describe the warm, sweet taste of cinnamon.  It is equally at home in sweet and savory dishes, and many people attribute health benefits to this popular spice.  Cinnamon partners perfectly with bread in my book, whether in the form of simple cinnamon sugar toast or a tender homemade cinnamon twist.

Greenlee’s Bakery in San Jose, California raises the combination of cinnamon and bread to an art form.  Real butter, fresh milk,  eggs, and generous swirls of cinnamon make this a moist, tender, incredibly delicious bread.  The family owned bakery has been in operation since 1924 when Emmett Greenlee started offering baked goods in his coffeehouse  His son later assumed responsibility for the bakery.  In 1981, Norbert and Rosalinda Geldner purchased the business.  Norbert came to the United States from Germany in 1967, and Rosalinda immigrated from Mexico when she was 12 years old.  They brought their experience from a bakery they had previously owned, and also Norbert’s recipe for cinnamon bread.  As the word spread about the out-of-this-world cinnamon bread, the bakery’s operation shifted from a heavy focus on wedding cakes to a concentration on cinnamon bread. The bakery produces about 2,000 loaves per week to service local customers and farmers’ markets, and that production level escalates during holiday seasons.

We first tasted the cinnamon raisin bread right out of the package–heavenly!  The next taste test was buttered cinnamon raisin toast, which was also stellar.  The bread toasted beautifully with a crisp-tender texture and plump raisins.  I’ve seen several recommendations for Greenlee’s cinnamon bread French toast, and that may well be on the menu this week.


Greenlee’s website has a link to an ordering site, which sadly did not work as I was writing this, but hopefully it will be operating soon.  In the meantime, check with your upscale market to see if they have Greenlee’s bread in stock.  This cinnamon raisin bread should be on your must-try list!

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Chuao Salted Chocolate Crunch Bar

DSC01205We promise we’re not going to turn foodswelove.com completely into a chocolate blog, but it is the time of  year when exceptional chocolate is everywhere and we just have to share it!  The latest find came at REI, for goodness sakes, the last place one might expect to see gourmet chocolate.  The cashier’s enthusiasm when he saw we had picked up this chocolate bar was an early indication we were onto something good.

The Chuao Chocolatier website’s tagline promises “unusual, unexpected & delicious chocolate”.  The “unusual, unexpected” part was evident from the chocolate bar wrapping which identified breadcrumbs as the source of the “crunch”.  We only had “delicious” to confirm, and confirm it we did.  The 60% cocoa is decadently dark and exquisitely smooth.  Had it been only a dark chocolate bar, it would have been completely satisfying.  The addition of salted breadcrumbs to the chocolate was candy-making genius.  The breadcrumbs are so small and fine they are practically invisible in the chocolate bar, but their delicate crunch is divine.  The company logo and cocoa beans embossed into the chocolate make this one beautiful candy bar.

Chuao (chew-WOW) Chocolatier was founded in 2002 by Master Chef Michael Antonorsi and his brother Richard.  DSC01214These Venezuelan brothers’ ancestors grew fine cocoa on their family farm, so chocolate is part of their heritage.  Chef Michael loved food and cooking from an early age, but pursued a business degree, then established a successful high-tech firm with Richard.  In his mid-30’s, his love for the culinary arts won out over his business career, and he took his family to Paris so he could complete classic French culinary training.  After Chef Michael finished his education, he and Richard opened their first chocolate café and boutique in Encinitas, California.  With Chef Michael’s creativity and Richard’s business skills, the venture has flourished with additional cafés and a national wholesale business.  Their success is rooted in their respect for the family’s history in the cocoa trade and their commitment to using ethically sourced cocoa from their native Venezuela.

Chef Michael has some delectable treats to tempt the adventurous chocolate-lover.  The Honeycomb Bar is a combination of caramelized honey bits and dark chocolate.  The milk chocolate Maple Bacon Bar has crispy bacon bits with a touch of maple flavor and bonfire smoked sea salt.  YUM!  There are more selections of chocolate bars, bonbons and hot chocolate to delight friends, family or yourself.  You have to check out the stylish design of the website and product packaging, and order some of this delicious chocolate or ask for it at a fine retailer.

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Sconza Dark Chocolate Raisins

If the mention of chocolate covered raisins conjures up memories of an overpriced box of dry fruit covered in waxy chocolate at the movies, it’s time for a reboot.  Sconza’s Chocolate Caramelized Cashews rocked our candy jar, and it was just a matter of time before we tried another selection from their product line.  Allen isn’t a fan of raisins, so it fell to me to be the primary taste tester.  I’m always up to the challenge if chocolate is involved!

Dark Chocolate RaisinsSconza’s bag promises plump, oversized raisins and they deliver.  They are large, juicy, and delicious.  The chocolate?  Definitely dark, lusciously creamy and possibly addictive.  These candies bear no resemblance to their vending machine counterparts.  Although I enjoy a number of chocolate covered fruits, chocolate covered raisins have always been my favorite and Sconza’s Dark Chocolate Raisins are definitely the best I have ever eaten.  Not only are they delicious, they can also be part of a healthy snacking program.  Double bonus!  Raisins are a good source of iron, which is essential in producing hemoglobin to transport oxygen through the blood to all the cells.  They are a high fiber snack, so are a helpful digestive aid.  Women can benefit from the calcium and boron in raisins to maintain bone health.  Like other dried fruits, raisins provide beneficial antioxidants.  The oleanolic acid found in raisins destroys the bacteria that causes tooth decay.  To that impressive list, add the healthy aspects of eating dark chocolate (in moderation, of course), and this is a very low-guilt goody.

Three generations of the Sconza Family have been committed to providing high quality candies, following the traditions established by Italian immigrant Vincenzo Sconza in 1939 in San Francisco.  Visit the company’s website and order some treats for yourself or as a tasty stocking stuffer for someone special.


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Rumiano Family Organic Monterey Jack Cheese

Rumiano Family Organic CheeseThe packaging on this cheese tells the story, “4 generations of the Rumiano Family bringing you the best tasting organic hand-crafted cheese on the planet!”   I could probably end the commentary at this point and start enjoying some really exceptional organic cheese, but since I can’t share a taste with you, I will continue telling the story.  We were introduced to the Rumiano Family when we tasted their Garlic Jack Cheese, which was truly awesome. When Owen Rumiano contacted us to share some information on the family’s organic line of cheeses, we searched out their organic Monterey Jack at our local Whole Foods Market.

You might think the fourth-generation owners of the oldest family-owned cheese company in California would be resting comfortably on their laurels.  Instead, they are leading their industry with the only certified non-GMO cheeses in the world.  This video shows the justifiable pride the family has in its operations including sustainable farming practices, humane treatment of the “happy” grass-fed cows that produce milk for their cheeses, a robust recycling program, and energy efficiency that includes some of their employees riding bicycles to work!

However admirable a company’s business model is, it must also have a good product, and the Rumiano Family definitely delivers.  Monterey Jack is a Rumiano MJ platedlight-colored, semi-hard cheese with a mild flavor.  Rich Jersey cow milk gives Rumiano’s organic Monterey Jack a very creamy texture and buttery flavor.  We enjoyed it in a very simple presentation, cubing the cheese and serving it with slices of smoked sausage.  It was so very tasty!  As smooth and creamy as it was at room temperature, it would surely melt beautifully in a queso recipe or casserole.  A Cheesy Portobello Mushroom recipe on the company’s website looks like an excellent way to test that melting quality!

There is a store locator on the website so you can find Rumiano Organic Monterey Jack cheese in your area, or you can order directly from the Rumiano Cheese Company.  This cheese is guaranteed to please your palate and your social conscience!

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Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips

There is no way to know how many pounds of chocolate chips I have baked with over the years, but I know it is many…very many.  Until recently, I used the leading national brand of chocolate chips without a second thought.  Cook’s Illustrated  is a valuable resource in understanding the science behind good cooking, and their product reviews are great for choosing the best tools and ingredients.  I was more than a little surprised to learn the chocolate chips I had always relied on were on their “not recommended” list.  Since Cook’s Illustrated did recommend Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips, and I was already a huge fan of Ghirardelli’s brownie mixes, it was a no brainer to give them a try.

In a chip-to-chip visual comparison, Ghirardelli’s chips looked like better, darker chocolate than the national brand.  The taste test also proved Ghirardelli the better chip with smooth, clean taste compared to the slightly waxy, more artificial taste of the competitor.  I could hardly believe the difference, and couldn’t wait to try Ghirardelli’s chips in a recipe for Cappuccino Fudge I had seen on Annie’s Eats, a blog that Karen and I both follow.  I was interested in this recipe for several reasons.  My mom makes fantastic fudge that her grandchildren would probably fight over had not their parents taught them it was not nice to take fudge from a cousin’s hand, but I like fudge a little creamier than her recipe.  I like the consistency of marshmallow fudge, but the popular “Fantasy Fudge” recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar plus super-sweet marshmallow cream.  Really?  I also thought the Cappuccino Fudge recipe’s mocha and cinnamon flavors would add some depth to the chocolate.

Cappuccino Fudge

  • 1 7-oz jar marshmallow cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12-oz package Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips

Line an 8” square baking pan with aluminum foil; set aside. In a 2 qt. saucepan, combine marshmallow cream, sugar, cream, butter, coffee powder, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Place on cutting board and cut into 36 squares.

I was thrilled with the results.  The fudge was quickly prepared and popped into the fridge, with no candy thermometer madness (thank you!).  The heavy cream and marshmallow cream yielded a very satisfying creaminess factor, and with 1/6 the sugar of the Fantasy Fudge recipe, chocolate was the flavor star of the show.

This fudge probably would have been good if made with another brand of chocolate chips, but with Ghirardelli chips, it was great.  Yes, the Ghirardelli chips are more expensive, but if I’m going to invest my time to make homemade treats, why not use the best ingredients?  I’ll definitely be buying Ghirardelli chocolate chips from now on, and I’ve also found my go-to fudge recipe!

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John Kelly Chocolates

For me, every visit to a gourmet market involves an extended stop on the chocolate aisle.  Maybe I feel a tremendous responsibility to keep you informed of all the great chocolates available on the market today.  Maybe I’m just a chocoholic.  Yeah, it might be the latter.  John Kelly Chocolates caught my eye on a recent shopping trip.  The gold foil wrapping on the truffle fudge bars was just a hint of the decadent taste we were about to enjoy.  We chose their peanut butter and chipotle ancho chile flavors to try.

The silky chocolate coating on the handmade bars was beautiful.  We noticed the two bars had different designs, which is part of the John Kelly signature.  Each flavor has a distinct symbol swirled onto the top of the candy.  We sliced each bar to reveal a truffle fudge center coated generously with semi-sweet chocolate.  Both flavors were amazing.  Allen leaned toward the peanut butter (of course).  A thick layer of peanut butter fudge rested on dark chocolate fudge for a very classy upgrade of the ever-popular peanut butter and chocolate combination.  Because I love sweet and savory duos, the chipotle ancho chile was my first choice.  The dense fudge was a good match for the complex pepper flavors.  The wrapper indicated the peppers are “mild”, but some people might find them just a little too spicy.  Allen was one of those, so he happily agreed to finish off the peanut butter truffle fudge bar.  The 2-ounce bars we purchased are promoted as individual servings, but honestly, these chocolates are so rich they could easily be treats for two.

Of course, I was wondering how John Kelly got his start in the chocolate business.  I was surprised to learn there is no John Kelly; instead John Kelson and Kelly Green combined forces to create a luxury chocolate line, and combined their first names to identify their company.  According to a Foodcrafters video interview, they began with a friend’s usually smooth fudge recipe, elevating it almost to ganache status.  They have developed a very nice variety of additional flavors including cappuccino with walnuts, chocolate with walnuts, chocolate, dark chocolate with walnuts, dark chocolate, raspberry, white chocolate vanilla with walnuts, chocolate and caramel with Hawaiian alaea sea salt, dark chocolate with French grey sea salt, peanut butter with Himalayan pink salt, and walnut caramel clusters with Mediterranean sea salt.  Could you look through that list and honestly say you couldn’t find at least one you would love?  I don’t see one I wouldn’t love!

In addition to the 2-ounce bars, John Kelly Chocolates offers 8-ounce bars and 1-ounce “bites”.  Their products come in gorgeous packaging, which would impress your most discriminating business client or friend.  The candy is widely available in upscale retailers and gourmet markets, and you can also order directly from John Kelly Chocolates.

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Ghirardelli Triple Fudge Brownies

Karen’s mom makes some of the most awesome homemade frosted brownies ever, and I love them.  In spite of lots of attempts, I’ve never found my own homemade brownie recipe that delivers really deep fudge chewiness.  When I discovered Ghirardelli brownie mixes, I decided to stop looking for that elusive homemade recipe.  The tagline on the Ghirardelli brownie box says “Better Chocolate.  Better Brownies.”  And that, friends, is the truth.

There probably isn’t anyone who hasn’t heard of Ghirardelli (Gear-ar-delly) Chocolate.  Italian Domingo Ghirardelli came to the United States in 1849, hoping to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush.  When his gold mining attempts failed, he began selling supplies and confections to the miners from a tent.  That enterprise was successful, so he opened a store and hotel in San Francisco.  A devastating fire destroyed his businesses and in 1852, he restarted his career in a candy company that would become Ghirardelli Chocolate Company.  More than 160 years later, Ghirardelli is America’s longest continuously operating chocolate manufacturer.  The company is very selective about the cocoa beans they process; they roast the beans themselves, and have a proprietary system of processing the roasted beans to deliver smooth, complex chocolate taste.  No doubt, their chocolate candies are decadently delicious, but I love their baking products even more.

The Triple Fudge Brownie mix combines cocoa, chocolate chips and liquid fudge for a deep, super-rich, chocolate fudge taste.  These brownies are a stand-out on their own, but I like to top them with chocolate orange buttercream frosting.  I haven’t convinced Karen to try them, as she is not a fan of chocolate-orange combinations, but everyone else has given them rave reviews.  Finding a good chocolate buttercream frosting recipe proved to be more challenging than I would have guessed.  Since the name of the frosting is “buttercream”, I’m wondering why so many recipes call for shortening, milk or water instead of butter and cream?  I adapted a recipe from food.com, adding an orange essential oil which produces intense orange flavor.  I’m sure orange extract could be used to your personal taste.

Triple Fudge Brownies with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream Frosting


1-19 oz box Ghirardelli Triple Fudge Brownie Mix

Mix and bake brownies as directed for an 8″ x 8″ pan.  Remove brownies from oven and immediately cover with foil.  (My mom recently told me about this trick, which keeps the brownies moist and prevents the outer edges from forming a hard crust.  Pretty amazing.)  Let brownies cool completely.


3 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

4-5 tablespoons heavy cream (more or less)

1 teaspoon Sonoma Syrup Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”

3 drops orange essential oil

Beat butter in a small bowl until creamy.  Add sugar and cocoa, mixing well.  Stir in cream a tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition, until frosting is creamy and spreadable.  Add vanilla and orange essential oil.  Spread over cooled brownies.  Cut into 16 squares and store at room temperature.

Ghirardelli baking products are widely available, but there are some nice gift box selections on their website.

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Sconza Chocolate Caramelized Cashews

As we go into the holiday season, we may go a little heavy on reviewing sweet treats.  Finding stocking stuffers and thoughtful gifts for neighbors, teachers, friends and co-workers can be a real challenge if you want something a little different.  Our challenge is to provide you with some new options, from truly artisan, handmade treats to more traditionally manufactured goodies produced by family businesses.  One such family business is Sconza, a candy company established in 1939 in the San Francisco Bay area by Italian immigrants, Vincenzo and Maria Sconza.  The couple made and sold peanut brittle from their kitchen, and today a third generation of Sconzas is keeping the family promise to craft only the highest quality candies.  The Sconzas sell candy under their own label, but also contract with other companies, so we may have already eaten Sconza candies without being aware of it.  The company’s website features several videos about the candy-making process that are very interesting.  Watch them with your children!  It was also impressive to see the hands-on participation of Sconza family members in the day-to-day business.  Vincenzo and Maria Sconza would no doubt be proud of the way their tradition of quality has been upheld through the years.

We chose Sconza Chocolate Caramelized Cashews to try for two reasons.  First, Allen and I both really love cashews.  Second, I didn’t realize Sconza also offered Lemoncello Almonds:  roasted almonds covered in white chocolate and lemon cream!  I’ll be trying those soon..very soon.  The chocolate caramelized cashews were terrific, though.  The nuts are perfectly roasted and crisp.  They have a crunchy caramel coating, which seems similar a thin toffee shell.  The cashews are finished with a generous drenching in smooth milk chocolate.  Somewhere in the process, they receive a sprinkle of sea salt.  I don’t see how it could be possible to just eat one!

Sconza has a fantastic assortment of candies.  From premium chocolate covered fruits and nuts to their trademarked “Jordanettes” (Jordan almonds), there is something to appeal to every sweet tooth.  Their holiday candies include eggnog almonds, candy cane almonds, and spiced chocolate cranberries.  Yum!  The 5-ounce bags they offer are the perfect size for stocking stuffers.

Sconza does not sell products directly on their website; instead they direct customers to Groovy Candies online.  You can also purchase from Amazon if you can’t find them locally.

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Rumiano Cheese Company Garlic Jack Cheese

I’ve wanted to write about this cheese for a while, but I had to get into Nancy Drew mode to find the producer.  Karen and I picked up California Mission garlic jack cheese at Central Market.

After shooting a quick photo, we unwrapped it and let it come to room temperature.  This is one amazing cheese with a super-creamy texture and garlicky goodness.  Between the five “tasters” who were present that evening, we quickly devoured it all.

The fun began when I searched out the producer.  I started with California Mission.  Dead end.  Then I clued into the person’s name on the label, David Jacks.  That initiated an interesting history lesson on the origin of Monterrey Jack cheese.  Mr. Jacks was a dairy owner and cheese maker in Monterrey, California.  In 1882, he packaged his cheese with his name and point of origin, “Monterrey Jacks”.  The “s” was dropped and eventually, Monterrey Jack became the signature cheese of California.  But it wasn’t the Jacks family who produced this cheese.  I couldn’t read any of the small print on the photo of the label for further clues, so I had no alternative except to buy another wedge of cheese for more research.  Oh, the sacrifice!

Not only did we have more delicious garlic jack cheese to eat, I now knew that the Rumiano Cheese Company was responsible for it.  Italian brothers Richard, Fred and John Rumiano emigrated to the United States around 1900.  After working in mines, they purchased a small dairy in Willows, California, and by the mid-1930’s, the brother had built the largest cheese company in California. Rumiano Cheese Company is now the oldest family-owned cheese company in the state, and they use local milk from third and fourth-generation family farms.  Third-generation brothers Baird and John Rumiano own and operate the company, and they look forward to passing the family business to their own sons.

Today, the family business focuses on food service distribution, which means you might have enjoyed Rumiano fine cheeses in your favorite restaurant, and provides cheese for private labels (such as  California Mission).  Fortunately, you won’t have to search as hard as I did to find Rumiano cheese.  Their website offers online ordering, but also has a search function to find retailers in your area.  Now that we know where to buy, we will be trying more Rumiano family cheese varieties!

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Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”

My fascination with vanilla flavoring goes back to early childhood.  I can remember helping my mom bake cakes or cookies, and always begging to open and measure the vanilla extract.  I spent more time smelling it and imagining how good it must taste than I did actually measuring it.  Mom patiently explained on multiple occasions that the alcohol in extracts were important for good flavoring, but not so much for good taste, at least not straight from the bottle.  I was really sure she was wrong, and finally convinced her to let me taste it.  After a long anticipatory whiff of the aroma, I poured a little vanilla extract into a teaspoon.  My facial expression when I tasted it immediately prompted Mom’s laughter, along with a well-deserved “I told you so!”  We also ate a lot of vanilla bean ice cream when I was growing up, and I was addicted to the flavor in those tiny bean specks.

I was intrigued by Sonoma Syrup Co.’s combination of vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds in their Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”.  Madagascar bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans are the foundation for “Crush”.  This small batch product is made from beans ripened on their vines in the South Pacific, then carefully cured and shipped to California for artisan blending.  I have been using a quality Madagascar bourbon vanilla for several years, so I was anxious to compare the products.  “Crush” easily won the scent assessment, although I certainly don’t have a professionally trained nose.  My regular brand had more of an alcoholic edge to it, while “Crush” was mellow.  I could easily detect more complex aromas in “Crush”, I’m guessing from the blend of different beans.  Taste test?  Thank you, but no.  (See previous paragraph.)  The better test is how the extract performs in use.

Because I wanted something simple that would allow the vanilla flavor to shine, I chose Mom’s classic boiled vanilla custard recipe.  Whether it was the base for her meringue-topped banana pudding, the filling for my favorite cream puffs, or just served solo as my dad loved it, this custard has always been one of my comfort desserts.

Mom’s Vanilla Custard

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup flour

2 cups milk

4 egg yolks, beaten

2 teaspoons Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”

Mix the first 3 ingredients together in a heavy saucepan.  Stir in the milk (I use a whisk).  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil, then boil one minute.  Remove from heat.

Pour half of the hot milk mixture into a bowl with the beaten egg yolks, beating well.  Blend the egg mixture back into the remaining custard in the saucepan, return to heat and bring just to a boil.

Cool slightly, then stir in the vanilla extract.  Pour into dessert bowls and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard.  Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold.

The result was everything I had hoped for.  The vanilla flavor was warm and mellow, and more intense than custard made with my regular extract.  I’ve officially made the switch to “Crush”!

As you might guess, Sonoma Syrup Co. is based in California wine country.  Karin Campion established the company in 2002, adopting the wine-crafting principle of “terroir”, understanding the special characteristics of agricultural products that result from geography, geology and climate interacting with plant genetics.  Choosing exceptional ingredients and developing artisanal blends in the company’s extracts, flavored syrups, bar mixers and cheese drizzles has netted multiple industry awards and a very nice list of retailers.  You can buy the products directly from Sonoma Syrup Co.’s website, or choose from other online and traditional retailers.  The extract gift set (almond, vanilla, and lemon) available from the company website would delight bakers on your holiday gift list!

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