Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cocova January Sample Day

Weekends in DC are packed with events, most of which I skip in favor of swimming, biking, and running. But when my favorite chocolate store has a chocolate tasting event, I’m definitely there.

Especially when they are featuring their brand new sign, with their new name, Cocova, prominently featured.

I dragged along the peanut butter-loving significantother, along with Marsea, which gave us a nice, small group to discuss the chocolates with. First up, the white and milk chocolates.

We sampled the Askinosie white chocolate with pistachios in hopes of finding a nice mix of creamy, salty, and nutty, but instead found a grainy melt and an off-putting sour milk flavor. My companions were skeptical of what I’d taken them to, but fortunately, my beloved Eclat milk chocolate Pennsylvania Dutch pretzel bar appealed to them, and they trusted me when we then moved on to the Patric signature milk chocolate, which I found to have a smooth melt with a pleasing flowery flavor. The others with me, however, were less impressed.

Then, despite their general distaste for dark chocolate, I conned both of them into trying the Pralus Caracas, and they found it delightful and not bitter.


We wandered into the shop itself, and I was delighted to find a few new additions to the shelves. Notably, Potomac Chocolate’s new bars: a nib bar, a sea salt and nib bar, and the Bahia bar, featuring cacao from an entirely new origin for their operation.

And another fine addition, Madre Chocolate, which make me recall the trip to Hawaii last summer.

I, of course, grabbed several of the popped amaranth bar.

A nice way to top of a nice afternoon of group chocolate tasting.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rococo Basil & Persian Lime

All this recent talk of chocolate and fresh mint – first in the John&Kira’s Urban Garden Mint bar, and then in the Rococo Moroccan Mint bar – has me on a fresh herb kick. Thankfully, Rococo has a bar with BASIL in it.Yes, BASIL in a CHOCOLATE bar. It’s the Basil and Persian lime bar, which was also inspired by the founder’s early days in Tehran.

The 65% cacao bar has a clear basil aroma and a subtle lime aroma. I was still skeptical of this combination, but broke of a small piece and enjoyed a smooth buttery melt accented by a sweet creamy flavor.

A pleasingly tart lime flavor emerged soon after the creamy flavor, and was not remotely  sour – it reminded me of lime oil more than lime juice. The basil eventually comes into play but remains subtle throughout. There is a very subdued coffee flavor from the chocolate in the background that blends well with the slight sweetness, the distinct lime, and subtle basil.

It’s an unusual but delightful flavor combination that doesn’t overemphasize any one flavor, and features a spot-on buttery texture to complement those flavors.

I rather like it. Somebody get me some more. It’s not available here in DC, perhaps I need another trip to San Francisco.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rococo Moroccan Mint

Yep, that ice sure hit us here in DC this weekend. You can check out my other blog for an accounting of what this meant for my weekend. But that’s just my weekend. What about everybody else’s? Was it cold and icy/snowy near you? If you are just about anywhere in the mid-Atlantic or northeastern U.S., it probably is. So you likely need to keep thinking of summer-like things. Such as real mint leaves. It’s too bad I already discussed the John&Kira’s UrbanGarden Mint bar on Friday.

Oh, but we’re lucky today. Because I have another bar with real mint leaves. This time, it’s Rococo’s Moroccan Mint, a bar that Rococo founder Chantal Coady designed with her birthplace, Tehran, in mind.

The mint for this bar is grown in a garden behind their flagship store in London, and the cacao is from the Grococo farm in Grenada. This 65% cacao bar has a very strong mint aroma that is more savory than sweet, and the mint flavor is present throughout, but is not dominant.

A bit of coffee and a hint of earthiness are evident in the flavor, as is a touch of vanilla. It’s a refreshing bar, with a cooling mint flavor and well-distributed whole leaves that are apparent but not distracting, as they are very finely chopped. The only mar in this creation is a slightly dry melt at the beginning, but redemption comes when the melt turns buttery at the end.

This bar is quite good, with a flavor of real mint and a balance between mint and chocolate. A nice introduction to Rococo that leaves me wanting more of their bars.

Friday, January 20, 2012

John&Kira's: Mighty Urban Garden Mint Bar

Hey, guess what? Remember how I said it wasn't at all summery in DC on Tuesday? Yeah, well, it turns out that chocolate covered dried mango, even if well-executed by TCHO, won't change that. It's still not warm here. And we're supposed to get ice tonight? OK then. 

You know what else can elicit summer memories? Fresh mint. Mostly because my mom let it grow out of control in our garden and by August, she was shoving it into everything (including lasagna, if I recall correctly). So a mint chocolate bar will also make me think of summer - especially one with fresh mint rather than mint extract or oil. Luckily, John&Kira's was obviously thinking of me when they put together the Mighty Urban Garden Mint bar, with dark chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar, and fresh mint leaves from a garden in Philadelphia.

A nice, simple ingredient list. The dark chocolate features an earthy aroma with a bit of cherry, and only a subtle mint aroma. This is unusual for a mint bar, as they usually need to be wrapped in an extra layer of plastic when stored near other bars to prevent flavor and aroma contamination in the other bars.

However, the mint is evident in the flavor, with an herby, rather than sweet, character, in a way reminiscent of basil. As this flavor builds throughout the melt, the chocolate flavors – a cooling vanilla with a bit of a caramel note – remain prominent and well balanced with the mint. The melt is generally smooth, though it turns a bit waxy in the middle. Overall, the bar is a delightful alternative to mint-oil laden bars, and does remind me of a summer herb garden.

A summer herb garden that would be taken out by tonight’s predicted ice.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

TCHO: Mango Morsels

It finally got a little cold here in DC. Not THAT cold, but cold enough that I actually had to pull out running tights this weekend and didn’t train in shorts. Wind chills in the teens will do that. Go figure. And while I like some nice, chilly winter weather, a small part of me longs for summer days.

Not a nasty, sticky, polluted DC summer day with 120 F heat index days. But a tropical summer day on the beach with mango-based drinks. So let’s get to the next big thing: Chocolate-covered mango. Specifically, TCHO’s mango morsels drenched in dark chocolate, described as “the best raisinets you ever tasted, but better.”

The pieces have a mild fruity aroma with a hint of citrus, and a coffee undertone.

The chocolate, with citrus, creamy, and nutty flavors, has a quick melt, revealing the tart mango below. This slightly sweet tart flavor is complemented by the ideal texture of the mango – not dry, and not sticky or chewy, but rather a bit soft and tender – so soft, in fact, that near the end, it nearly dissolves. The chocolate to fruit ratio is ideal, and the pieces are nice and small to allow for a prolonged enjoyment of these.

Sadly, TCHO is in San Francisco, and while you can find their bars in DC, I haven’t found these.

Also, it’s still not summer, and I am not at the beach. Tragic.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hotel Chocolat: Praline Puddles

Since it’s definitely not close to summer, I will be nice and not review citrus-inspired treats that could remind you of summer. But I will continue my review of Hotel Chocolat puddles, since they are just so adorable. Today’s treat is their praline puddle, a soft hazelnut praline in a 50% cacao milk chocolate.

The puddles have a nutty aroma that features a hint of cream, and the melt is thick and smooth.

A nutty flavor comes through immediately, with a coffee undertone featured as well. The earthy and coffee flavors of the chocolate are evident, and aren’t dwarfed by the hazelnut flavor, which is common in many praline-based creations. There’s a flavor in there that isn’t quite right, though – almost like poorly incorporated cream. It’s a shame, because the texture is divine.

Have you had any of Hotel Chocolat’s puddles? What is your favorite kind?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hotel Chocolat: Citrus Puddles

Did you miss me yesterday? Yeah, no Monday post. I posted about my training for last week over on my other blog instead. Go check it out. Or don't. Anyway, the current plan is to blog about chocolate here on Tuesdays and Fridays, and on the triathlon blog on Mondays and Thursdays.

So before I deserted you yesterday, I apparently scared a few people away from Brazil nuts after I mentioned that they are the most radioactive food on the planet in my review of Hotel Chocolat’s chocolate covered Bazil nuts.

People: radiation is everywhere. It’s fine. Really. Your orange juice has some sexy, radioactive Potassium 40 in it. Keep drinking it. And if you are still scared, read up on radiation hormesis; you’ll be joining me to down Brazil nuts and orange juice daily after you do.

Now onto less controversial Hotel Chocolat creations: Their citrus puddles, which have a 27% cacao white chocolate base, are lime scented and accented with tangerine pieces.

The puddles have a weak citrus aroma, and the most immediate flavors are vanilla and cream.
However, crunchy bits of citrus begin to dissolve as the chocolate melts, and a visual inspection of the puddles make it clear why the citrus flavor emerges a bit more slowly.

The chocolate has a rich melt which is quite creamy, and the combination of cream and citrus is delightful, even if the citrus is more generic than specific and the overall effect is a bit more sweet than tangy. They remind me of summer. Which it is not.

Do you like chocolate with tangerine? What kind of chocolate?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hotel Chocolat: Brazil Nuts (or, Get Your Radium Here!)

I don’t talk about work often here on this blog, but those of you who have been reading a while know that I work in the nuclear energy sector. So I know a thing or two about radiation, and I love to share these fun facts with friends, family, and strangers on the bus.

It’s a wonder that people find me slightly scary, isn’t it? The mysteries of the world are neverending.

One of my favorite radiation fun facts to share is that the Brazil nut is the most radioactive food on the planet. Really. The deep root systems of the trees result in incorporation of high levels of radium in the nuts.

Awesome. Now, what would be even more awesome? Chocolate covered Brazil nuts.

Why thank you, Hotel Chocolat, for reading my mind and taking these whole Brazil nuts, roasting them, and then covering them in 65% cacao dark chocolate.

Each piece has a strong coffee aroma with a subtle hint of vanilla, along with a slightly waxy coating that quickly dissolves to give way to a smooth, buttery melt. The flavor is nutty, with hints of coffee and vanilla, and just enough sugar to cut back on any bitter flavors.

The nuts appear to not be blanched, so there’s some skin to content with, but they are nice and fatty, just like they should be. The chocolate separates from the nut a bit, though if you chew these, the crunchy nut and smooth chocolate blend nicely. The flavors and textures blend nicely, and when I finished the package, I was left to ponder why chocolate covered Brazil nuts are so rare.

Do you like Brazil nuts? Did you know how radioactive they were?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wheat-Free Chocolate Chunk Banana Mini-Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

I’ve hinted a couple of times on this blog about some guy who may or may not be tolerating me on a regular basis, but haven’t really gone into detail. However, today, I will confirm that there is some kind of THING or whatever going on with that very cute guy who worked the knots out of my calves after I ran a marathon.

And guess what? It’s his BIRTHDAY today. Which means I have to bake something for him. Something with chocolate and peanut butter, both favorites of his.

And really, can I do anything besides make mini cupcakes? No. I can’t. Because what else allows him to take leftovers to his coworkers and explain that his significant other is a nutcase but likes to make up for it by baking delicious things? Nothing, that’s what.

Well, maybe a cherpumple. But I don’t want to scare him away. Yet.

I was having a tough time figuring out exactly how to combine chocolate and peanut butter, and was leaning towards using bananas since this wonderful fellow happens to like those, too. Inspiration came from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, a book my grandmother kindly gave me for Christmas.

And from there, I pieced together a recipe for chocolate chunk banana mini cupcakes – with peanut butter frosting – that are not-to-sweet, a bit nutty, and flavorful with a delightful texture.

Wheat-free Chocolate Chunk Banana Mini Cupcakes (inspired by Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Berenbaum)

1 ripe banana, peeled and mashed

¼ cup sour cream

1 egg

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons white sugar

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup chickpea flour

¼ cup almond flour

¼ cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

4 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

Mix chickpea flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Toss one tablespoon of mixture with chopped chocolate, set both mixtures aside. Blend banana and sour cream in a food processor, then add lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, blend until smooth. Transfer to a stand mixer, blend with sugars and melted butter. Add flour mixture, beat on low until well mixed, then add chopped chocolate mixture, beating until just combined. Pour batter into lined cavities of a mini muffin pan.

Bake at 350° F for 13-15 minutes, then remove and cool.

Peanut Buttercream (adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Berenbaum)

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

½ cup cream cheese at room temperature

¼ cup butter at room temperature

¼ cup sour cream at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ tsp salt

Combine peanut butter, cream cheese, butter, sour cream, 1 cup of powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt in a food processor until smooth, then transfer to a stand mixer and beat with a whisk attachment, slowly incorporating remainder of powdered sugar until fluffy. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Find a very sweet guy with a birthday to give them to.

Or just eat them yourself. Whatever works for you.

Have you ever made mini cupcakes for somebody to celebrate their birthday? Were they as adorable and compulsive about sorting M&Ms as the guy in the picture above? (If you say yes about either of the parts in the last question, you are lying)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Blog-tastic Fun

Even though I only post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on this blog, I have a new swim-centric post today on my other blog, which is much newer than and much different from this blog.
Go check it out. You know, if you care.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hotel Chocolat Raspberry Riot: There's Real Fruit

I’m sure you all have some profound New Year’s resolution or something. Probably involving eating healthier or exercising more. Since I already write about running too much on this blog, I’m going to help you out in case your resolution is to eat more fruit.

See? Raspberry! The Hotel Chocolat Raspberry Riot bar, that is. A bar of40% cacao milk chocolate with raspberry white chocolate, which weighs in at an impressive 28% cacao, quite high for white chocolate. The bar also packs some cookie bits, meringue, and real raspberry pieces.

Real fruit, folks. Real fruit. It’s evident the moment you unwrap the bar, as the tangy aroma emerges immediately along with some creamy notes. And

Milk! Calcium! This bar belongs in your diet.

The base raspberry white chocolate has a creamy melt and a tangy raspberry flavor, which nicely contrasts with the sweet white chocolate. The raspberry pieces, which are freeze dried, are even more tart, the meringue pieces, however, nicely balance that tartness with their crisp sweetness dispersed throughout the bar.

The cookie pieces add even more crunch than the meringue, but don’t overwhelm the bar with additional sugar, and resemble a chocolate cracker more than a cookie. With all of these tart and sweet components, the milk chocolate is barely noticeable in most bites, though it does offer some caramel and cream flavors. The raspberry white chocolate certainly dominates the bar, which is fine. It gives the overall effect of a rich frozen custard with delicious raspberry sauce, some thick chocolate fudge, and crumbled bits of cookie and meringue on top.

But it’s healthy, you know. Fruit.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Or are you cynical and bitter like me?