March Newsletter: Crazy About Beans

Posted on March 08, 2017 by Adriana Nelson | 0 comments

Singing the Praises of Beans!

What food is high in protein, has virtually no fat and has more fiber than most whole grain foods? The answer is beans! Now a new U.S. dietary guidance message says that diets including beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. See? They really ARE good for your heart! (We’ll deal with the other part of that equation in a moment!)

When it comes to beans, we are huge fans of Rancho Gordo Beans for MANY reasons. First and foremost is flavor. These heirloom beans pack a punch in that department that you just can’t get out of a can. Simply cooked with a little sofrito/mirepoix of vegetables and in water, you get an amazing pot liquor, or as Steve Sando calls it, free soup! We also love the fact that RG is a local company, and most of their beans are grown in California or Washington. They also work with small farmers in Mexico to protect both small family farming and specialty heirloom varieties of beans.

 And the love is mutual! From Steve Sando's blog:

"Chamba was my first unglazed clay that I fell in love with. It's from Colombia and I first saw it in Half Moon Bay at a great shop that has since morphed into Toque Blanche. They've become the leaders in supplying  the fanciful cookware, in their store and over the internet. The website even has information about how the unique pots are made."

Tip of the Month: 
Dealing with those “side effects”

 There are a few types of multi-chain sugars in beans that are harder for us to digest, and when these start fermenting it causes gas. The benefit of this is that it helps create more good gut bacteria, so eating more beans (increasing gradually) will help these effects decrease, and more good gut bacteria has been shown to help with many other health issues as well.

Question of the Month:
Why does rice go with beans?

Personally, we think it tastes great and helps “lighten” up the dish. (A bean burrito without rice just seems a little heavy.) But there is a real practical side Beans contain most of the amino acids to make up a complete protein. The few they are missing are found in seeds and grains. While research has now shown that the two complementary items don’t need to be eaten at the same meal, certain things have been combined culinarily in the past such as beans and rice or chickpeas and tahini (sesame seed paste) to make hummus. Which leads us to….

Recipe of the Month
Classic Hummus

Stuart has combined recipes and techniques from Paula Wolfert’s Clay Pot Cooking book, Laura Pazzaglia’s Hip Pressure Cooking and depending on the result you want, an Alton Brown recipe to come up with his take on the classic recipe.

 Book of the Month
Supper at Rancho Gordo by Steve Sando

Take a very beany trip around the world in this wonderful collection of recipes from the kitchen of Rancho Gordo’s founder, Steve Sando. 



 Bean-Making Made Easier!
Fagor Multi Cooker-
Have it your way: beans in 40 minutes (pressure cooker) or 4 hours (slow cooker)! From $129.95
Chamba Medium Soup Pot-
It looks and cooks like a bean pot should! Great size for cooking 1 pound of beans. On sale, $49.95
RSVP Veggie Masher-
For making refried beans you'll love this handy tool. $9.95 
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet-
What's the best pan for frying those refried beans? Nothing beats cast iron! From $24.95
RG Deluxe Gift Set-
Let's get started right away with a great selection of beans and the  bean book. $58.95
March Facebook Giveaway:
Rancho Gordo Cassoulet Gift Set

This sampler box features two pounds of new-crop Cassoulet beans, grown in the USA from French Tarbais seed, and a copy of the new book, Cassoulet: A French Obsession by Kate Hill, published by Rancho Gordo Books.

To enter the drawing, go to our Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz Facebook page and comment on the giveaway.

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Feb. Newsletter: Chocolate is not Candy; Chocolate is Food!

Posted on February 15, 2017 by Adriana Nelson | 0 comments

Valentine’s Day, when love is in the air and our hearts and thoughts are filled with chocolate. We carry a delicious variety all year long: whether you are looking for a quick pick-me-up (Chocolate does nice things to your brain!), a gift for a friend or loved one or for baking with, we have you covered in chocolate… so to speak. And no need to feel guilty, this year Chocolate is a Superfood! 

Question of the Month:
How do you pick the chocolate you sell?

Over the years our focus has become a bit more, well, focused. We have always searched out the good and the great and sometimes they find us. We go to the San Francisco Fancy Food Show (which unfortunately has some decidedly UN-fancy foods!) and we have to taste some bad chocolate to find the good stuff. We suffer through that for one reason only, because we love you. Like our selection of olive oils, we also prefer to keep it local, and we are very fortunate in the Bay Area to have some great people doing amazing things with chocolate, such as Kathy Wiley at Poco Dolce and Christine Doerr at Neo Cocoa. Stuart is also an occasional judge at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon. This year we did find some great single varietal chocolate created “farm to bar” by K’ul Chocolate based in Minnesota. And loved the bold statement on their website: CHOCOLATE IS NOT CANDY. CHOCOLATE IS FOOD!

Tip of the Month:
“Bloomed” Chocolate

Some chocolate will get light streaks in it during storage. This is just cocoa butter melting and coming to the surface, then solidifying again. It is perfectly fine to use in recipes, as the melting or tempering of it will make the streaks go away.

Book of the Month
Dorie's Cookies

Sweets for your Sweet! Dorie’s Cookies has been out a short while, but has already made several “Best Of” lists this year! It’s with good reason; Dorie Greenspan is a multi-award winning author and expert baker, but with a writing style that makes it easy even for the beginner.

Dorie Greenspan, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2016 

February Facebook Giveaway:
Swissmar Fondue Set

Staying in the love and chocolate spirit, our monthly giveaway is a Swissmar Chocolate Fondue Set, perfect for just the two of you.

To enter the drawing, go to our Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz Facebook page and comment on the giveaway post. 

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January Newsletter: A Healthy New Year!

Posted on January 16, 2017 by Adriana Nelson | 0 comments

A Healthy New Year!

This is the time of year we all strive to eat healthy--a desire that gets renewed each year after our overindulgence during the holidays. Whether it is a food item, like Rancho Gordo beans, great heart healthy olive oils from California or spices to enhance your dishes  or tools to make things easier like the kale and herb Stripper , the Fagor LUX Multicooker to make healthy meals in minutes or the best juicer we have found (which is great for making quick vegetable broths as well!) ; we have the stuff that will make it easier to help you stick to your plan.

Tip of the Month

Kale can get a bad rap, but there is no denying its health benefits. Our favorite variety is the Lacinato variety, sometimes called “Dinosaur Kale.” When juicing kale we recommend adding some lemon into the mix for two reasons: the vitamin C in citrus actually helps your body absorb the iron in the kale better, plus it hides that “green” and slight bitter flavor some people don’t like. When eating kale raw, we like to put a little olive oil and a small pinch of salt on it and then give it a little massage. This helps break down the fibers (you will see a noticeable difference in volume after a few minutes!) which makes the kale less chewy as well as a bit easier to digest.  Oh, and did we mention the kale stripper

Question of the Month:
What can I do if I’m not supposed to use salt?

If you are just trying to cut back, the number one source of high sodium is processed food, so cooking fresh will drastically reduce your intake. When cooking, salt can play an important function even beyond taste. If you season with salt as you cook it will get into the food, will help break down fibers and draw out moisture allowing other flavors to go in. When you cook with salt you actually use LESS than when shaking it on at the table. And the food will taste better. If you are trying to use no salt at all, then we recommend adding a dash of something acidic like vinegar or lemon juice or use an ancient salt substitute, sumac. Sumac is the dried berry of the sumac tree (no, the berry is not poisonous!) and has been used for centuries in place of salt on food because salt was very expensive. (Roman soldiers were paid in bags of salt, giving us the word “salary.”) Sumac actually hits the same receptors on the tongue as salt and its slightly tart flavor helps heighten the taste of food.

Entre Nous

2016 was a rewarding year for us, to say the least. In the spring our Half Moon Bay location was named “Best Homegoods Store” in the Bay Area in a readers poll and our Santa Cruz store received a similar honor as “Best Kitchenware Store” in The Good Times Santa Cruz. Our Half Moon Bay cooking classes were touted as one of the 5 Best Bay Area Cooking Classes. In February one of our products (the Chamba Comal) was featured in the Front Burner column of the New York Times!

The frosting on the cake was when our company as a whole was named the national “Retailer of the Year” Gourmet Retailer Magazine and concurrently the U.S. entrant in the international Global Innovator Award (gia).

Rather than rest on our laurels, we will strive to be even better and continue to be the best stores we can and keep improving and innovating in 2017. Thank you to all our customers for your support. You are why we do what we do.

Looking Backwards
Here’s a list of some of our top sellers in 2016.
  1. Oxo Spiralizer. The essential “play with your food” tool, we sold more than two a day throughout the year. $14.95 
  2. SCI Nylon Pan Scraper. What can you buy in a fancy kitchenware store for less than a buck? And, yes, they really work. $0.50 
  3. Rabitos Chocolate Stuffed Figs. Pure Decadent Bliss! Decadent brandy fudge stuffed dried figs dipped in chocolate. Imported from Cáceres, Spain. Our customers couldn’t seem to get enough of them. $19.95 (box of 9) 
  4. Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler. Best $5 bucks you can spend. Choose your color or collect the whole set! $4.95 
  5. Dream Farm Tools. Colorful, fun and functional, the tools from this Australian company solve everyday kitchen problems with clever, original designs. Our customers caught onto this right away and we could hardly keep them in stock.  
  6. Chef’n Kale and Herb Stripper. Sales of this took off as the demand for kale exploded. Works great for removing the stems from kale or smaller herbs like rosemary. Invite a stripper to your next party! $7.95 
  7. Chamba Comal. We couldn’t keep up with demand after this versatile piece was featured in a New York Times article. Great for heating tortillas and grilling vegies. $34.95 
  8. Lekue Popcorn Popper. Make healthy popcorn in just a few minutes with this microwave popper. Made in Spain. $19.95 
  9. Norpro Mini Whisk. Just the thing when you’re beating only a couple of eggs. $0.79 
  10. Kuhn-Rikon Paring Knife. A sheath, non-stick surface, inexpensive—great for picnics. $9.95 



January Giveaway

This month’s Facebook giveaway is a Chamba 6 Qt. Soup Pot (SS4), the perfect vessel for healthy soups, beans and whole grains. To enter, just go to one of our Facebook pages for Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz and follow the instructions for the giveaway post. Tag a friend in your post and if you win, your friend wins one, too!

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It’s Knife Month at Toque Blanche

Posted on November 02, 2016 by Adriana Nelson | 1 comment

Whether you need a new knife, some help keeping it sharp or a little brush up on your skills, we got you covered. (We also have covers for your knives!) One of the most important aspects of owning knives is the upkeep.

Question of the Month:
“What is the difference between sharpening and honing?”

As you use your knife you create burrs, a rounding (read “dulling”) of the edge that causes the knife to slip rather than cut.  Honing gets rid of these burrs and is something you can and should do at home on a daily to weekly basis (depending on the knife and usage). You can do this in one of two ways. The most common is by using a steel, (that long, rod looking thing in your knife block). It’s not difficult and our staff is happy to show you how to properly use this tool. (Ignore how you see people use them on TV!) Stuart shows you how in the video below. 

If you feel uncomfortable using a steel, then a pull-through device might be for you. With these devices, the angle is set for you making it much easier for novices and pros alike to maintain a great edge. Which pull-through device you get might depend on what knives you have, but here is one of our favorites that can work for a variety of knife types, the KitchenIQ Angle Adjust.

Sharpening is needed about every six months when the knife has flattened out some and honing doesn’t bring back the edge like it should. Many pull through devices can do this as well, or you can have it done at one of our stores (we are now offering inexpensive, while-you-wait knife sharpening at both stores). After sharpening, wash the knives in warm water and remember to be careful handling them because they are now sharper!

We’ll sharpen your knives for free on Saturday November 19th at our Half Moon Bay store! Click here for details.

Tip of the Month:
Selecting a knife

Selecting a knife is a very personal thing. The feel of the handle in your hand, the weight and rock of the knife as you cut, slice, mince and chop--all of these things can vary from cook to cook. However, if the knife you choose is well-made it will last you a lifetime and make your tasks a pleasure and not a chore. Our staff is here to help you select the right knife for you, but in the meantime here is a list of terms and tips that will help you in the process.

Holding a Knife– The best way to hold a chef knife is to pinch lightly with your thumb and forefinger where the bolster (see definition below) and blade meet, and then wrap your remaining fingers comfortably around the handle.  This gives you the best control because you are at the pivot point of the knife. 

Stamped vs. Forged Blades Stamped blades are punched from a single sheet of steel and a handle is attached; they often lack the balance, sharpness and tensile strength of the forged blade. They are typically less expensive, but may need to be sharpened more frequently than a forged knife. Forged blades go through dozens of steps to create a temper and shape that create a stronger, sharper knife. 

Bolster The bolster is a shaft of metal where the handle and the blade meet found on forged knives. It helps create balance, giving the cook better control in the knife.

Tang The tang is the shaft of metal that runs along the back spine of the knife and adds balance.  The tang should be at the very least three quarters through the handle, but preferably a full tang that goes to the end of the handle.

Metal Most knives today are made from High Carbon Stainless Steel, which combines the superior edge quality and maintenance of carbon steel as well as the stain resistant qualities of stainless steel.

Weight – The heft of a knife is a personal preference.  European knives tend to be thicker and heavier, letting the weight of the knife do the work for you, where Asian knives tend to be thinner and lighter, following the “path of least resistance” and reducing fatigue if you are cutting for longer periods of time.

Hollow Ground – This is a scallop that alternates on either side of the blade creating not only a fine edge, but the hollows help release surface tension, creating the ability to get very thin slices of meat or fish.

Cleaning – Hand wash your knives and towel dry.  Never put them in a sink full of water or in the dishwasher, as this could damage the blade and other items (and fingers).

Storage Keep knives in a block on the counter or in a drawer.  If storing in a drawer, make sure to use an edge guard of some sort; it protects the knife AND your fingers.

On the Surface of Things…

What you cut ON is just as important was what you cut WITH. Glass, marble, granite, porcelain and those cheap white plastic boards are BIG NO-NOS. These will dull your knives

Quality wood boards, or cutting boards from Epicurean Surfaces are what we recommend. 

Knife Specials

Wusthof Knife Sets – we have 2, 3 or 7-piece knife sets to meet your needs, and if those don’t work, spend $300 on open stock knives and get a free 7-Slot block with shears and a steel for free! 

Wusthof Classic Ikon Sale – ALL knives in the Ikon line are on sale! We have found the rounder handles of these knives feel better to people with either larger or smaller hands because of the fullness of the handle.

Shun Kanso 7SantokuKanso means “simplicity”, and that is exactly what this knife exemplifies. AUS10, a high carbon vanadium stainless steel with a rustic look for strength and durability and a simple contoured tagayason wood handle completes the look. Normally $114.95 now $89.95.

Shun Dual Core Kiritsuke The Dual-Core line from Shun uses two hard metals of various strengths, VG10 and VG2, so that the edge wears down at slightly different rates, creating micro-serrations to keep the edge razor sharp. Normally $299.99, now $239.99 

November Giveaway – Wusthof Studio Set

Go to our Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz Facebook Page and tell us which knife in your kitchen you absolutely can't live without. You’ll be automatically entered for a chance to win this 5-Piece Knife Set (a $199.95 value)! Winner will be chosen at random at the end of the month.



Posted in Articles

Pizza and You!

Posted on October 24, 2016 by Adriana Nelson | 0 comments


Pizza. A food that can be oh-so-amazing or can go horribly wrong. Soggy dough, rubbery cheese, dripping in grease; these are just some of the things that can go awry. (Sorry, New Yorkers. Not really...) But with a few tools, some technique and know-how, you can be whipping up pizza that is better than most take-out.

The hardest thing to replicate is the intense, dry heat of a wood-fired oven. A pizza stone will provide a decent facsimile. It will heat up, hold the heat and help pull moisture from the crust while cooking. The main issues with pizza stones are that they only get as hot as your oven, which is about 400 degrees cooler than a wood-fired oven gets. And the other problem is that most pizza stones tend to crack after some usage if you are not careful.

We have solutions to both these problems!

Question of the Month:
Why do my pizza stones keep cracking? 

The main reason they crack is that most pizza stones are made of coarse terra cotta, which is great for pulling moisture from the dough, but is also great for absorbing oils. When oil is absorbed into the clay, it expands at a different rate than the clay does during pre-heating, thus creating stress fractures in the stone. After doing this a few times, the stone will crack.

The solution? A better stone. Emile Henry makes our favorite pizza stone because it is glazed, yet still able to pull moisture out of the dough due to the crazing effect. Crazing is name for the small cracks that appear in the glaze. They won't affect the ceramic underneath, but will help increase the amount of moisture the stone can take in. So the more you use it, the better it gets! The 12 and 14 inch round stones even have ridges that lift the pizza up and help create air-flow underneath and more room for moisture to escape. These also have a raised lip on the rear of the stone to prevent overshooting it and causing a pizza disaster! They also come in a rectangular option for you non-conformists/pizza rebels.

As for the temperature issue, take your Emile Henry stone outside and use it in a Big Green Egg. The egg can get up to 900 degrees, and with ceramic walls and directional heat it makes an amazing pizza! If you want to use your Big Green Egg or regular grill for pizzas, we highly recommend the Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas Cookbook.

Now that we have the where and how to cook your pizza figured out, let's talk about the pizza itself.

Makin' Dough

Since it’s the base the pizza is built on, you should not give the crust short shrift. If the crust has no flavor, the whole pizza will taste flat. (See what we did there?)

Like most simple things, the ingredients are key. David, from our Half Moon Bay store, frequently makes pizza at home. He insists on using Italian Doppio Zero flour in place of the all-purpose flour prescribed in most recipes. Doppio Zero (or “double zero”) flour is very finely milled, and is the flour that by law has to be used in Naples to make pizza dough. This is his favorite recipe for dough, here.


Getting Saucy! 

A traditional tomato sauce is a great thing, a nice blend of sweet, acidic and herby flavors to counter the yeastiness of the crust and the mellow cheese. You could make your own, but if you make the dough ahead of time for quick weeknight meals, we suggest having some tasty but shelf stable sauces on hand, such as the Pomi Pizza Sauce. If you want to season it your own way, try the Contadina Passato di Pomodoro which is just tomatoes put through a food mill and a bit looser in texture than the Pomi Pizza Sauce. You can cook it down a little if you want, or leave it as is for a different experience.

Speaking of different experiences, why stop there?  Other options that make a great sauce are pesto with goat cheese, mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes; vinaigrettes, like an Italian herb and shallot vinaigrette with cheddar cheese and broccoli florets and even sweeter jams or compotes, especially when paired with sharp cheeses or salty meats.

Baby, You’re the Tops

Don’t go too crazy when adding toppings; just a few good things spread evenly over the pie, but not piled on. Remember, you gotta get this thing in the oven and you don’t want stuff rolling off all over the oven and burning! Leave about a ½” clearance to the edge of the crust.

For grating your cheese we recommend the Cuisipro graters. They have a laser-etched and grooved surface, resulting in very little drag especially when doing semi-soft cheeses like cheddar or mozzarella. Grating block cheese is better for pizza, as the anti-caking agents in pre-shredded cheese packaging can affect the flavor and texture.

The Ole’ In & Out

When using a pizza stone, you will need a peel to get it onto and off of the hot stone. Our favorite is the Epicurean pizza peel from the same people that make our favorite cutting boards. The thing we love about it is that you can cut on it without gouging it like wooden peels, and when you make a bunch of pizzas for friends and family, you KNOW you’re going to run out of cutting board space!

Once your dough is rolled out, lightly flour the peel and place the dough on it. Give the peel a little shake to make sure the dough slides, loosening it in spots where it doesn’t if needed. Top the pizza as desired. Give the peel another little shake to make sure the pizza still moves now that it is topped. Get the edge of the dough as close to the lip of the peel as possible. Open the (preheated) oven, and place the front of the peel just above the back of the hot stone. Holding the peel at a very slight angle, give it 2 or 3 little shakes to get the edge of the pizza onto the stone. When about a third of the pizza is on the stone, give the peel a good yank to get the rest of the pizza on the stone.

Use the peel during cooking to lift up the crust and check for doneness. When cooked to your liking, use the peel to get the pizza out of the oven. Let it rest for a couple of minutes and then cut. We like the Cuisipro pizza cutter for its ergonomic design, which allows you to get your hand over it giving you more leverage, as well as its easy-to-clean removable wheel. For something a little different, we suggest the Epicurean Pizza Cutter for quick and easy slicing of pizza and quesadillas. A quick rocking motion is all you need….    

Tip of the Month:
Cheese, please…

 When you try out a new pizza joint (for those times you don’t make it at home!) try the plain old cheese pizza. That gives you a chance to see what they put into the simple stuff: The crust, the sauce and the quality of the cheese they use. If they don’t get these right, chances are the rest of the pizzas won’t stack up either.

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Toque Blanche Named Kitchenware Retailer of the Year!

Posted on October 05, 2016 by Adriana Nelson | 0 comments

We just received some great news: The Gourmet Retailer Magazine announced today that it has named Toque Blanche / Chefworks Kitchenware Retailer of the Year and the U.S. Global Innovator Award (gia) winner! This is the biggest award in our industry so we are very excited.

I want to thank you, our loyal customers, for your on-going support and encouragement; without you there is no store. And of course the talented management team and staff at both stores who work so hard every day to make shopping (and cooking) more fun and worthwhile.

--Charles Nelson

This is what they said in their announcement

The Gourmet Retailer
, a co-sponsor of the U.S. gia for independent kitchenware retailers, selected Toque Blanche/Chefworks as the U.S. winner after soliciting and reviewing nominations from the industry.

“The Gourmet Retailer was not only impressed with Charles Nelson and his team’s ability to create a memorable shopping experience with compelling merchandise displays that inform and inspire, but also with the stores’ joint online presence and site’s mobile functionality,” says Anna Wolfe, editor-in-chief of The Gourmet Retailer.

In addition to its stellar stores that are staffed with knowledgeable and enthusiastic employees, Toque Blanche/Chefworks stores are active in their communities and support fundraisers that support public education. Other community outreach includes sponsoring the Half Moon Bay Farmers Market and HEAL, a school gardening program that promotes healthy eating in schools.

While other retailers are looking to establish an online storefront, Toque Blanche has sold online since its inception in 2006. Earlier this year,, which is the site for both stores, was redesigned so that it is easier to view and navigate on mobile devices.

The International Home + Housewares Show (IH+HS) and International Housewares Association (IHA), primary sponsors of gia, will recognize Toque Blanche/Chefworks and housewares retailers from more than 20 countries at the 17th annual gia awards in Chicago on March 18.

Toque Blanche/Chefworks will be profiled in the February/March 2017 issue of The Gourmet Retailer magazine.


Posted in Articles

Where’s Chefworks?

Posted on October 05, 2016 by Adriana Nelson | 0 comments

Chefworks is now known as Toque Blanche, just like its sister store in Half Moon Bay.

As you may already know, a toque blanche is the white pleated hat that a chef wears. The name was chosen to emphasize that the store exists to serve the needs of cooks—the home chefs as well as the professional ones.

Some background about the stores: Toque Blanche in Half Moon Bay was opened by Charles Nelson in 2006. In 2013, he purchased Chefworks in Santa Cruz from the original owner. Although each store is distinct, they share the same drive to find and stock the best cookware and accessories. And the management and staff at both stores are all enthusiastic home chefs.

We look forward to continuing to serve you under our new name.

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