Archives for the month of: February, 2012

Last night, I got a text that I could go into Sonic for a free hamburger in honor of Leap Day today. My plan was to go to Sonic after work, get the free burger, then take advantage of Happy Hour pricing to acquire an inexpensive Diet Coke. However, two things happened when I arrived at the menu.

The first thing that went wrong was that Sonic now has a few snack items on sale for $1.00 during Happy Hour. So we “had” to add a corn dog to the order, because D loves those suckers.

The second thing that foiled my “get out cheap” plan was seeing a POP menu card for Sweet Potato Tots. Sweet potato tots. For real.

There were more than this. I ate five of them in the time it took me to retrieve my camera.

At first, I couldn’t tell whether the tots were minced, like the regular tater tots, or just mashed and extruded.

Mushy perfection. After eating the whole order, though, I decided that they were, indeed, minced. It’s just that the “meat” of sweet potatoes is so soft that it kind of mooshes up when you bite into the tot. It is crispy on the outside (I can’t tell if there is some kind of batter/coating on the outside, or if the frying just bubbles and crisps up the outside of the tot.

Whichever, the outside held up and the inside was sweet and mashed. I didn’t salt or ketchup or enhance the tots in any way. They were perfect straight out of the fryer. They were also pretty greasy, but that was okay with me.

These are at least $1.50 more than regular tater tots, but I think that they’re worth it. I’m not sure whether these are a permanent addition to the menu; I plan to eat them so often that Sonic will be encouraged to keep them on permanently.

Yummmmm.

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It is extremely rarely in the middle-aged life (in mine, at leaste) to have a semi-formal event that doesn’t involve a vacation at sea or a really nice restaurant on the Disney property. My friends and I have been calling it “prom.” It’s less than a week away, and the preparation for an event of this nature draws a huge distinction between male preparation and female preparation.

The gentleman who is going did purchase an appropriate outfit for it. I, on the other hand, am wearing a dress I bought two and a half years ago for a steal at Belk or Kohl’s or somewhere like that.

Yup! Cheapskate! Sale queen! Whatever else you want to call it. It’s gorgeous, though; trust me. Ancient-Greek-inspired. Kind of like the bottom left brown dress here.

Beyond that: My friend is heading to this thing straight from work. That’s the guy thing: 1) Buy a suit. 2) Show up.

Here’s my thing: 1) Two weeks ago, I started a concerted effort to stop biting my nails so they’d grow out. 2) Last night, I painted my toenails so I’ll have a super dry base coat to paint them again later. 3) Today I put my dress in the bag so I won’t forget it and it won’t get dirty. 4) Tomorrow I have to go to the post office to get the hair styling implements I purchased online three weeks ago in anticipation of preparing for the event. I will do a dry run of the hair style, and then immediately pack up the hair styling tools, too. 5) Monday and Tuesday, I’m hitting the gym hard because that’s the only time this week I’ll have to get a bunch of exercise. 6) Wednesday, I will color my hair. I don’t want to do it Thursday because I need to wash it again Friday afternoon and that’s too soon. I do want it to look fresh, but I don’t want it to smell funky (which is why I can’t do it Friday). 7) Thursday, finish packing; early morning Friday, and everything needs to be ready to go. 8) Friday, I arranged for someone else to take Daphne to the gym, so I can leave from Enrichment Classes to give myself three hours to clean up, fix up, etc. 9) I also have to pick up a thing that I also ordered more than a week ago.

But I’m excited! Like, silly giddy excited about it. I’m going to prom!

Good thing there’s a pronunciation guide.

Yes, this is the last bar. I made them last for over a week, which is an incredible testament to my willpower. I’m sad they’re almost gone, but there are other bars to sample, and I think this has rekindled the chocolate romance that started about three years ago when I began planning to teach a class.

Here is another entry from Vosges Haut Chocolates. If you’re interested in their story, you can read about it here. Hopefully, you are more mature than I am and won’t want to bang your head against the wall or try to concoct some electrical charge conveyance device that will facilitate a “Freaky Friday”-esque changing of souls with one Ms. Katrina Markoff.

Interesting stuff, but, really, we’re all here for the chocolate, right?

First surprise: There is a coupon up in there! Yea! It is the closest thing to Willy Wonka’s golden ticket that I’m ever going to get, so I’m thrilled. Especially since, on the back, there is a rather sensual picture of a caramel-topped marshmallow dipped in chocolate and topped with nuts. *droooool*

This bar has hemp seeds, coconut, and macadamia nuts. I am not a giant fan of coconut. I love macadamia nuts, and don’t know that I’ve ever actually had hemp seeds.

First, there is a giant partial macadamia nut in this sucker!

Of course, that is the part that I ate.

First of all, the chocolate is very smooth. It is milk chocolate, but also has dark chocolate mixed in. So, there’s a bit of a snap to it, but it’s not extremely crisp. The macadamia nuts, which themselves have a pretty mild flavor, provide two things: some crunch, and salt. Both of these are so much fun in this chocolate. I adore savory chocolate, and there is palatable saline content to this one.

The coconut tastes like actual coconut, and not like coconut “flavoring.” Because of the balance of the salt and chocolate, I was actually okay and even enjoyed the tropical flavor. There is none of what Steve Almond refers to as “cuticle”-consistency coconut in here. It’s not at all discernable by texture; there is just a mild flavor of it throughout the chocolate.


The most fun thing was the hemp seeds. They practically pop, adding a fun little explosion to each bite.

Of the four bars I received, this one is probably my favorite. There is so much going on, and the flavors play against each other in an exciting way. The Blood Orange bar, which I loved, had all sweet notes. This one is salty and nutty and savory and sweet and just super enjoyable to eat. It’s also the only one about which I cringed giving any to my ten-year-old daughter, whom I think equally enjoys Hershey bars.

And then there’s this, which I can only assume is a rendering of Katrina Markoff, toting her bag as she globe-trots, learning from master chefs and sampling chocolate. Devouring her is ridiculously satisfactory.

Now, to shop for my 15% off chocolate…

Yeah, yeah, so more chocolate. I was expecting this bar to have some cake in it, so I was excited enough… Until I started ripping into the wrapper and found THIS:

The. chocolate. is. RED!

Not to mention the pungent cakey aroma that rolled off of this thing once the seal was broken. It smells like a bakery. You can actually see the swirly patterns from how the chocolate was piped into the mold. See? If you don’t, make the picture bigger so that you can swoon over this with me.

Because I’m always curious as to from where my chocolate comes, I do a little research on everything I eat. If I’m planning, then I research BEFORE I buy. Redstone’s is an area importer/distributor of specialty items. If you want to watch a badly-filmed, poorly-edited, boring video of their showroom, you can do so here. I don’t recommend it. If I had a business with such exciting product availability, the website would make you want to get up and dance. But maybe that’s just me.

Regardless, it’s neat that the company is semi-local, so that is one thing about this that makes me happy. In addition to the name brands they distribute, they also have a private line of chocolates, and this is one of them.

The ingredients in this bar are basically chocolate (of the milk variety; the first ingredient, even before cocoa mass, is sugar), marshmallow bits, red dye, and cookie dough flavoring. What is not to love about THAT?

See the marshmallows?

This is a smooth, sweet, soft chocolate bar. It is milk chocolate, and sweet enough that lots of chocolate snobs might turn up their noses at it. But it has good quality ingredients (i.e. vanilla and cocoa butter as opposed to vanillin and some less expensive fat), and even now, with the remainder of the bar wrapped up beside me (that’s right; I only ate 2 lines of the 5 line bar), I can smell the incredible cookie dough sweetness.

It just makes me happy. And that’s the best part of chocolate.

It's Fall! When a girl's mind turns to pumpkin. Wait. It's Winter.

This packaging just screams “Thanksgiving!” doesn’t it?

NO! THIS packaging does, though:

What?! Pop-Tarts CRAFTS?! Sign me up!

I do wonder what one does with the edge one would cut off to make a Pop-Tarts square. I presume one consumes said end.

Anyhoo… pumpkin pie. You either love it or you hate it. I love it. I love the texture, I love the taste of pumpkin. I’m really a fan of all orange vegetables; I can’t think of one that I don’t enjoy. Squash, yams, carrots… I like orange in nature. I have had pumpkin pie with whipped cream, but never with frosting. Will it work?

I didn't get around to eating breakfast until I was at the office.

Cute, right? The top is covered with fall-colored sprinkles. The filling is uber-pumpkin-pie-looking.

The taste is pretty spot-on pumpkin pie, too. If you like the pie, you’ll probably like this, too. Especially if you like the crust part of the pie. If not, you can always toast and then butter these puppies, so that the butter will melt down the sides, infusing the non-iced crust with a rich, fatty flavor. Mmmm… butter makes everything better. Even Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts.

Yes, you read it: hibiscus flowers, blood orange, and caramel. I always love the pairing of orange and chocolate, and super duper hate that the… is it Lindor? chocolate orange bar has almond slices. Yuck. I was looking forward to this, expecting a smooth chocolate experience. The bar did not disappoint.

Isn't the packaging purty?

This candy bar is like the Caramello bars in that there is actual caramel inside of each square.

Or outside, if the bar has seen some heat.

So, this one was messy but good. Just like little kids and your hair after… um… being in a parachuting simulator.

The chocolate was smooth and mellow. The hibiscus gave it a subtle almost berry fruit note, which played well with the orange citrus pop. The caramel was creamy and delicious, if inconsistently-distributed due to the leakage.

Mmm... caramely.

Apparently, the mess of this bar is not a fluke. You can read about it as well as other reviews here. Also, for the record, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “too sweet” when it comes to candy bars. I do like more bitter and darker chocolate. But I also think that super sweet fruity stuff is good, too.

In the end, this was the most fantastic-tasting mess I have ever had the pleasure to consume completely, thus rendering my promise to my bestie to save a bit of each candy bar a complete and utter lie. But I’m sure that I’ll make it down to the city to buy another one before I finish the other two bars, right?

This is my new wallpaper. Please click on it to see it in all of its glory. ❤

And, yes, I licked the packaging.

Because I have the best friend in the history of friendships, I received four of the excellent chocolate bars I saw during the Central Market festival last weekend! I’m going to review each one…

…starting with Mast Brothers Chocolate Vanilla and Smoke bar.

I love the optical illusion on the packaging! Mast Brothers is a company in Brooklyn. If you’re interested in chocolate production, here is a great short video shot at one of their suppliers in the Dominican Republic. Look at all of those beans drying!

Opening this package was reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

The chocolate is very dense and dark. There is only cacao, sugar, and vanilla in here. The “smoked” comes from the chocolate beans being smoked instead of just roasted. It lends a subtle smoke flavor that doesn’t come through in every single bite, but that does play around in the background.

A tip: When you eat dark chocolate, please don’t chew it. Milk chocolate is fine to munch, if you must, but the darker the chocolate, the thicker and ickier it is to masticate. It is like chewing on paste. If you let it melt on your tongue, you’ll get a lot more out of the bar, flavor-wise. If you just chomp into this bar, you might miss the smoke entirely.

This bar has a clean, sharp break. The chocolate is silky smooth and fairly bitter, closer to the natural chocolate taste than bars with more sugar. Because of the richness of the candy, it is easy to eat just a little and feel sated. Very interesting and enjoyable.

Yesterday, I bought a PBJ OMG bar at Central Market. This bar is produced by Patric Chocolate, a small producer in Missouri.

The bar was smooth and shiny. It smelled immediately of very intense chocolate, even before I got the clear plastic wrapping off.

See how pretty it is?

It broke off with such a clean "snap." That means you know it's going to be good!

May I ask a favor of you? When you eat high quality chocolate, and especially dark chocolate, PLEASE don’t masticate it to death! Just bite it once, if you have to, to break it off of the rest of the bar. Then let it rest on your tongue and melt, like God intended.

This bar is dark chocolate, so the first flavor is that intense chocolate that I’d been enjoying while taking pictures. As it melts away, the peanut butter comes through. It’s just peanuts and salt, so there’s no treacly sweet anything about this. After the peanut butter and chocolate is mostly gone, you get that berry flavor – which comes from the chocolate’s fruity notes; there’s no actual “j” in the bar. In fact, here are the ingredients:

 

And they work. The resulting bar is one that is rich, satisfying, and smooth. The label indicates that they conch the chocolate for a long time (which is basically slapping it around to develop the flavor and pulverize the molecules), and it works. I look forward to trying other bars from this company. The low ingredient count allows each of the flavors to shine through. I wish I had another one…

 

 

Today, for the third year in a row, I made my way to Central Market for their pre-Valentine’s celebration of all things chocolate. My nearest store is in Plano on Coit.

Sample-wise, I was disappointed. There were about 1/3 of the typical offerings; in the past, you could barely move because every 100 feet or so, there was another sample table. They had some good stuff today, but not as much as in the past. However, their increasing selection of chocolate bars is incredible. We’ll save those for last and go through the paltry samples first.

Chocolate-covered wine grapes.

The grown-ups liked these very much; the kids did not enjoy them. First of all, the chocolate is pretty dark and secondly, the grapes have a pretty intense flavor. They’re not fermented, but they’re a lot boozier-tasting than plain raisins. This is the perfect candy to purchase if you don’t feel like sharing; the children won’t want any, anyway.

German koo-KEEEEEES!

The gentleman dealing out these little bits of delight kept yelling, in a sing-song voice, “German koo-KEEEEES!” All of the kids got milk chocolate; the adults dark. They were light and crispy and yummy. A hit on all fronts.

Chocolate-covered strawberry in front of chocolate waterfall

Of course, this was good. But it wasn’t imaginative. They didn’t have any chocolate-coated cheese. Or any of the bacon Vosges bars they had the year before last. They had a *sign* about bacon and chocolate…

… but no samples. They also had a sign about beer and chocolate, but their booze samples were also notably missing. In the past, there have been wine and chocolate pairings, or chocolate bock shots.

But enough about that. Now, can we please move on to the good news? Great. Here it is…

The quality and variety of chocolate now commercially available has increased drastically, even just in the past three years. This time three years ago, I had this brilliant idea for teaching an enrichment class on chocolate, and I did a lot of research. Much of this involved driving into bigger towns to purchase something other than the Big Two (or Three, if you include Nestle with Hershey’s and Mars) I could find around here.

What I saw in Central Market today represented at least a five-fold varietal growth. There is some imaginative stuff going on out there, and with such simple ingredients. Research for that class made me a label-reader, and it is so encouraging to see a chocolate bar with the ingredients, “cocoa mass, pure cane sugar.” Thank you, chocolatiers of America (and elsewhere)! Now we’re cooking with… cocoa butter.

Dear Crusty

That’s the translation from Italian; I think it probably loses something transliterated, don’t you? I think it’s closer to meaning “sweet and crisp.”  The pat description I’ve found online is: “Sweet and crunchy, Caffarel’s Croccante Gentile is made solely with the best hazelnuts crunched within skillfully-made caramel. The resultant bar is covered with a layer of delicious milk chocolate, and then with a second layer 
of quality, extra-dark chocolate.”

Anthropomorphized truffles

Officially, these were things like “mocha nougat,” “Hawaiian sea salt,” etc. But they’re named after ladies. Why? Who knows. It’s pretty charming, though.

Single origin bars!

When you buy most mass-produced chocolate bars, you’re eating an amalgamation of cacao beans from all over the place. I love single-origin bars, and some of these are even traceable from bean to bar. You might notice that these cost quite a bit more than most grocery-store-check-out bars (for which I won’t pay more than $.50, and usually not that much). These are so much better, it’s worth the splurge. Plus, the darker the chocolate, the less the sugar, and the richer the bar, the less you have to eat before you’re sated.

There's a pronunciation key on the label!

This is the Vosges of the famous bacon chocolate bar (dark or milk chocolate). This is a little lighter chocolate than I typically enjoy, but I was intrigued by the contents: macadamia nuts, coconut, and hemp seeds. Anyone ever eaten anything with hemp seeds in it before? I wish I could have bought one of everything… Maybe I’ll try this one next time.

S'Mores and Red Velvet and Peppers, oh my!

My sister and I both bought La Azteca, which has cinnamon, chile, and cacao nibs. I don’t know how I feel about jalapeno, though I do know that chiles work with chocolate. The red velvet cake bar was super tempting.

PBJ OMG

Yes, that’s for real. Patric was at the Plano Central Market earlier this week. I’d read about the PBJ OMG bar online and literally squealed when I saw that they had it in the store (yes, I bought one). It’s dark chocolate and peanut butter, and the dark chocolate’s fruity undertones provide the “jelly” flavor of the bar. I haven’t tried it yet. You’ll hear about it when I do.

I don't even know what that means, and neither does the internet. (Hint, internet, it's a truncated colloquialism for "wild pepper.")

“Bold, fruity cocoa from our award-winning 70% dark chocolate bar meets the subtle ‘tsiperifery’ peppercorn, transforming into essence of dark cherry, peaches and cocoa – long lasting flavor with a faint spicy finish.”

Pink pepper? How adorable!

Oh, and that’s “lime,” trying to be clever. Also, “naturally organic forests” is ecology speak for “wild boars poop in there.”

Do you know the difference in forastero and trinitario?

This company sells both boutique chocolate and pepper.

Ingredients in the bar to the right: cacao, cane sugar, pecans, maple syrup.

Vanilla and smoke?! Don't mind if I do! (I didn't. Again... next time.)

Another imaginative Vosges bar!

Me, loving on all of the chocolate! ❤

So, those are some of the coolest chocolate offerings. I had to stop taking pictures, because some guy who was there shopping with his daughter came up and told me that he worked for Central Market, and offered to help me, and then said that they did not allow photography in their stores. (I did take one other picture after that. Just for you. Of this…)

Look at all of the flavored peanut and almond butters! Maple, honey, chocolate. They also had chocolate hazelnut spread.

They’ve also started selling hand-crafted marshmallows. FYI, you can make these pretty easily at home, and they’re a million times better than the extruded, corn-starched stuff they sell in the cooking aisle at the grocery store. Look at all of these choices!

Cinnamon, Valrhona chocolate, vanilla bean, and triple citrus. They also had coconut around the corner.

So, disappointing chocolate festival on the “hey, try this new thing!” front, but so foodie-happy-making to see all of the small batch bars making their way to the mainstream market. Steve Almond should be happy. I know I am.