Chocomania: Easy to find, easier to eat

Part of an occasional series about chocolate

Oh my holy heck y’all, has it really been FIVE MONTHS since my last Chocomania post? Of course, it was Parisian chocolate, so that was a difficult act to follow…

Still, I have a couple of yummies to report on today and I think they’re worth the splurge for those of us who are being really careful with how we allocate our food calories. So brace yourselves, chocolate lovers, and try not to lick your computer screens.

Today’s featured chocolate is made by Ghirardelli. Those of you who’ve been reading for a while might remember that a couple years ago I took issue with Ghirardelli for adding high fructose corn syrup to some of their chocolates. I won’t eat that shit, no matter how good the chocolate in question might taste. So, for over a year, Ghirardelli was dead to me because I was pissed at them for adulterating gourmet chocolate with lab-produced offal.

What finally broke down my defenses was an email from my friend Heather last fall, who gleefully told me about a new Ghirardelli treat that I had to try, ethics be damned.

Pumpkin spice caramel squares, y’all. Can you imagine a more perfect concoction for the crisp days of October and November?

I started looking for the pumpkin spice crack chocolates here in my town, but with no luck. I griped about this hardship* repeatedly on Facebook, to the point that even my friends were on the look-out  for the pumpkin spice carameth chocolates too, just so that they could get me to just shut up about them already.

(* Yes, I know, first world problems, yo.)

Finally, a friend finally found the goodies at le Tarzhay and emailed me the news posthaste and I hied myself posthastier to Target in order to procure some. Once there, I was faced with the dilemma of how many bags to buy. On the one hand, these were rare treats that would be available for a limited time only, so perhaps I should stockpile? On the other hand, I had recently been burned when I had listened to friends’ food suggestions and found myself in Starbucks trying to drink a gingerbread latte that smelled foul and tasted worse and then, just a couple weeks later, back in a Starbucks again choking on a peppermint mocha that tasted like coffee laced with chemicals, so would the pumpkin heroin caramels would be yet another culinary disappointment?

I bought one bag, paid, and left the store. In the car, my hands were shaking a bit as I opened the bag, reached in, and pulled out one chocolate. I took a bite. Savored. Another bite. More savoring.

And then I got out of the car and went back into the store and bought several more bags of pumpkin spice cocaine chocolates, took them home, and stashed them wayuphigh in the pantry so that I couldn’t access them easily. And after that I doled them out very carefully for the next couple of months until my supply was depleted. (Updated to add: There’s no pumpkin flavor in these — it’s pumpkin spices that are mixed into the caramel. Just trust me and go buy some.)

So if Ghirardelli comes out with these goodies again this year, go buy some.

(Unless, of course, if you live in my town, in which case I encourage you to avoid them like the plague. They’re nasty, so just stay away. I’ll buy all of the bags at Target and will dispose of the chocolates on your behalf so that you don’t have to.)

Having dipped a toe into the Ghirardelli waters again, I was more open-minded this summer when I discovered the company’s new dark chocolate with sea salt caramel filling squares. People, they are GOOD.

The pumpkin spice crank chocolates are milk chocolate and, I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to be disciplined around them. I don’t remember if I read the ingredients list carefully or if I was already addicted at first sight, but clearly the Ghirardelli folks have laced that particular treat with something that’s going to land us all in a 12 step program. So, proceed with caution.

The dark chocolate sea salt caramels, however, appear to be drug-free. It’s easy to eat just one and be done.

One big difference between the two is milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate — a little dark chocolate goes a long way, while a little milk chocolate leads to more and more and ultimately leads to elastic waste pants and a possible need for Weight Watchers meetings.

The great thing about both chocolates is that they’re individually wrapped. You don’t open the bag and get a huge waft of cocoa scent up in your nose, so it’s easier to resist temptation. The dark chocolate sea salt yummies are 210 calories for three squares, so you could do what I do and have only one square and you really haven’t fallen off the wagon too far. And, as we all know, occasional indulgences are important.

So that’s the latest chocolate report. I’d love to hear other people’s feedback, plus suggestions for other goodies we should all be trying.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not employed by Ghirardelli — although I wouldn’t mind some sort of sweet (heh) consulting gig — and I was not asked to review their products. Blah blah blah, legal mumbo jumbo, etc.

Chocomania: When in Paris…

It recently occurred to me that I kind of gave Paris short shrift in my recent blog posts about our trip. It’s not because Paris wasn’t awesome, because it was, but it was more a result of us not having internet access while we were there and me then compressing three days’ worth of awesome into just one post.

Just one of several flower markets on the Ile de la Cite’.

An entrance to the Metro.

Carvings at Notre Dame.

Wisteria on a house on the Ile de la Cite’.

Anyway, one thing I didn’t tell y’all about was this amazing chocolate store we visited shortly before we hopped on the Eurostar back to the Mother Country. It was in the Opera District, actually within spitting distance of the opera house:

The window displays caught our eyes:

OF COURSE we had to go in.

The smell that enveloped us when we walked in was absolutely heavenly. We all gasped.

And everything was so beautiful. The chocolates themselves were gorgeous. The packaging was equally gorgeous. And even the displays were gorgeous. M&Ms would hide themselves in shame if ever in this exalted company.

Alas, the prices in this store were unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my chocolate explorations over the years. And believe me, I’ve explored chocolate that has caused me to blink over the price, reconsider the purchase, and then even calculate how much money is in our checking account and if we’ve paid the mortgage and all major bills that month.

Still, when in Paris…

We looked around and just admired everything first. The girls were well aware of the Euro-to-dollar conversion (about 1 for $1.40) and would pick up something, check the price on the tag, and then put down that item and move on. Really, there was pretty much nothing in the store that wasn’t jaw-droppingly pricey. Pete and I agreed that splurges like this are worth it, so as a family we chose two things to share, plus Pete and I picked up something else. After dinner that evening, we dipped into our new stash. We each tried a chocolate caramel that almost melted in our mouths on impact. The caramel was absolutely perfect. We also tried something else that I can’t remember the name for, but they were crispy wafer-ish type thingies with a little bit of toffee-ish stuff mixed in with the dark chocolate. There was also tiny hint of orange in them and each one was enrobed in dark chocolate. Divine. We tried one of those too and savored. Then we packed away the goodies to save the rest for later. In fact, we didn’t finish all those chocolates until our last day in England.

The other thing that Pete and I picked up was a dark chocolate bar with about 70% cocoa in it. It was smooth, oh so smooth. Like, WOW. One teeny tiny square is sufficient and we’ve been savoring this bar since we got back. Actually, I have. Because after deciding that we should really try one of these, Pete has only had one square and has left the rest to me. Love that man. There were six fours of four squares and, thus far, four complete rows remain, so that’s a lot of French chocolate left to savor.

I didn’t take any photos inside Foucher, but if you’d like to see more, check out this blog post I found.

So that’s the chocolate report. I wish I had gotten more, but maybe that means we’ll just have to go back for more in-depth research.

Happy Earth Day to everyone and also happy Easter this weekend.

Don’t forget to enter my post-vacation goodies giveaway and also the Earth Day giveaway at Eco Women!

Chocomania: Getting bulky

Oh y’all, it has been far too long since I’ve done a Chocomania post. It’s not because I’ve given up chocolate. Oh no. To the contrary, even though I’m being careful about what I eat (healthy foods, smaller portions), chocolate is still very much a part of my daily diet, but a little different  from before.

We’ve all heard that dark chocolate, eaten in moderation, is supposed to be good for your health. I have grabbed ahold of that fact and am clinging onto it with all my might. Here, let me show you something in the Jenworld pantry:

Those, my friends, are jars of different chocolates. There’s a great local grocery store here in my town that sells little ziploc bags of chocolates and candies for next to nothing. (Seriously local peeps, if you’re not shopping there, you should be: Excellent high quality foods for mostly great prices.) Yesterday, I stocked up on dark chocolate covered cherries, cashews, almonds, peanuts, raisins, coffee beans, and pretzels and now have them stored in the glass jars shown above. (I cut the labels off the bags and attached them to the jars with rubber bands so that no one mixes up the goodies.) The girls were DEE-lighted when they got home from school yesterday and both had a few dark chocolate covered pretzels after dinner last night.

These days, my absolute favorite after-dinner treat is a small amount — think 5 or 6 pieces — of some sort of dark-chocolate covered yumminess. The nuts/raisins/pretzels cut the dark chocolate a bit — it can be a bit too intense — plus, I am of the opinion that they actually make my dessert a little healthier. (Almonds are good for you, you know.) I’m not scarfing it down by the cup-full and a little bit goes a long way. Some mornings, I’ll even have one or two chocolate covered coffee beans if I’m feeling a bit daring.

The fabulous thing about these chocolate treats is that they’re not a splurge at all. Unlike many of the other chocolates I’ve talked about here, these yummies are quite inexpensive — $2-5/bag and those bags will last several weeks, even with three Jenworld females noshing on them nearly daily.

I don’t know if all bulk chocolates are this good. Probably not. But the point is that good chocolate does not have to be expensive or exclusive. The bulk aisle at your grocery store might just have some hidden gems in there.

What kinds of chocolate are you eating these days? What’s good? What’s crap? What should we all know about?

If you don’t like chocolate, click away

Remember a few weeks ago when I was giving away a Chocomize gift certificate?  The winner, Missy of Filed under Missylaneous, kindly wrote a review of her goodies.  Helping her was her most precious young taster/assistant, Miss Abby.  Wait until you see her photo!  Is it wrong of me to want to smooch some adorable toddler cheeks if I’ve never met the child in question?

Try not to drool over your computer/iPhone/Crackberry as you read this and see the photos.  Seriously.  Go grab a towel or something.

I was soooo excited when Jen told me that I won the Chocomize gift certificate! I thought the site sounded like lots and lots of fun and I couldn’t wait to get started. The certificate arrived by email and I was all set to go shopping for some yummy, yummy chocolate.

I went to the website and started clicking around. It’s really easy to put your customized chocolate bar together. Start by selecting your base chocolate (dark, milk or white) and then go through the tabs selecting ingredients to throw in. There are tabs for nuts, fruits, candies and more. Some are a little weird (Corn flakes? Edamame?? No thanks). I decided my best course of action was to start with a milk chocolate bar and add crap to it until I was satisfied.

My first bar was one that I affectionately dubbed “The PMS Special.” A milk chocolate bar with dark chocolate chips, mini pretzels and toffee bits. Sweet, salt, crunch and chocolate – sounds like heaven! The process was so fun (and I saw so many more fun ingredients I wanted to try) that I went ahead and made 3 more bars, effectively spending double the value of the gift certificate. Still $30 for 4 customized chocolate bars doesn’t sound too bad, especially if you give one or more bars away as gifts. You can even include “banners” in your bars – big pieces of chocolate that say things like “Happy Birthday” and the like.

My chocolate arrived only a couple of days later. Granted, I live about 45 minutes from the distribution center, but still, it was a nice quick turnaround. However, when my chocolate arrived, I was out of town on business. (Insert sad face here.) So it was in my personal possession a day after it was delivered. The box was HUGE, but that was to accommodate the ice packs that helped keep the package at a consistent temperature. Each bar was packaged in its own yellow Chocomize package. The back label included my name for the bar, the type of chocolate and the inclusions.

Now there are a few things you need to know in the spirit of full disclosure. Did I order this chocolate under the influence of PMS? Yes. Did I start eating the chocolate at 9:30 on a Friday night after a day of airplane travel? Yes. Did I wonder about pairing my chocolate with a fifth of bourbon? Yes, yes I did. Because I am a market researcher who does a lot of food testing, I decided bourbon might change the flavor profiles too much. So instead I tried my chocolate along with a Dunkin Donuts decaf coffee. With milk and sugar.

So how was the chocolate already?? I’ll tell you. I tasted each bar separately (and my Mom helped judge the first 3 bars before she gave up and went to bed).  I gave each bar some number of stars out of a possible 5. The results are below.

PMS Special – milk chocolate with dark chocolate pieces, mini pretzels and toffee bits

5 Stars!

This was my first taste of the “premium Belgian chocolate” and it did not disappoint. The milk chocolate was sweet and creamy. The pretzels added a nice salty crunch and the toffee was on the salty side too (pleasantly so, I should add). Taster’s notes: “This bar is not long for this world.”

Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch – dark chocolate with Oreos, caramel and toffee bits

3 Stars

My first thought was “Ummmm, this is not dark chocolate.” Somehow my order got messed up and I received milk chocolate in this bar too. The caramel was pleasantly chewy and lasted a long time and the Oreos were a rather inspired choice (if I may say so myself). This bar would have been *much* better in a dark chocolate bar – the milk made it just too sweet.

Peppermint Bark – dark chocolate with white chocolate chips and peppermint candy pieces

4 Stars

The first bite was inconclusive so I was forced to take a second and then a third to make sure I really liked this bar as much as I thought I did. Conclusion? Yes I did. The dark chocolate was EXCELLENT and the peppermint was nice and crunchy. This tastes like Christmas to me with the chocolate and peppermint playing together. A bit more mint flavor would have made this 5 stars, easy. (And this made me wish for the Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch that might have been. Sigh.)

S’Mores – milk chocolate with graham cracker pieces and mini marshmallows

3 ½ Stars

Fun! The graham crackers got a little soggy sitting in the chocolate, but this was a reasonable approximation of a really chocolaty S’more. All it needs is a campfire. Once again the milk chocolate is a *touch* too sweet with the candy in it. I think it stands up better to salty/crunchy inclusions. My three-year-old tasting assistant gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. This has now become Abby’s bar.

All in all, this was a totally fun experience. I’d definitely order these bars as Christmas or birthday presents if I knew the tastes and personality of the recipient. It’s a little pricey to keep on hand for everyday chocolate, but the quality is very good. Thanks, Jen for turning me on to the wonder of Chocomize!

Monday, Monday…

Even though it’s Monday and I’m bumming because school starts on Wednesday (but the open house is this afternoon), I do have one bright spot for Monday — the winner of the Chocomize giveaway!

Drumroll please…

It’s Missy of Filed under Missylaneous!!!

Woo hoo!  Congrats Missy!

I’m hoping that Missy will share the scoop about her chocolate after she’s ordered it, received it, wolfed it down in a chocolate frenzy sniffed it appreciatively and savored it.

If you didn’t win, I’m sorry.  You can still order your own, you know.  And if you do, I want to hear all about it afterward.  Vicarious living and all that.

Moving on…

Have I mentioned that school starts on Wednesday and that we here in Jenworld are seriously unhappy with this  turn of events?

Since time is at a premium, I’m going to cut this short, as I want to squeeze in as much fun in the next two days as time (and my work schedule) will allow.

I’d love to hear how everyone’s weekends went and what your plans for this week are!

Chocomize

My friends, it has been far too long since I’ve done a Chocomania post.  Whatever is wrong with me?

[Besides the fact that I'm on Weight Watchers, so chocolate is no longer a huge part of my life.]

Anywho, I have something for you to check out — Chocomize personalized chocolate bars.  You go to this website and design the chocolate bar of your dreams.

Can you imagine it?  You can get ANYTHING you want on your chocolate, starting with whether you want a milk or dark chocolate bar.  (White non-chocolate is also available, but since I don’t consider that to even be a cocoa bean option, I hesitate to mention it.)

Then, once you choose your base chocolate, you can add in whatever you want — nuts, dried fruits, herbs and spices, various candies.  You can even get GOLD on your bar.

I swear, you can get anything in this country.

Of course, there are a variety of chocolate-on-chocolate options.  (Which, I guess, is the middle-aged woman’s version of some guys’ girl-on-girl dreams.)

It’s a dream come true, I tell you.

I was all set to go hog wild and order up several variations of Dream Chocolate, but then I took a closer look at the prices.

Gulp.

Ummmm… Okay, so these bars are a bit pricey.  Like, in the $6-7 range.  Yikes.  Granted, this is a bar that’s meant to be savored over two or three sittings, but that’s still a lot of money, especially when you factor in shipping.  So, perhaps this is something that will be more of an occasional treat.

But… I really want someone to try this out, enjoy the experience, and then tell me how wonderful it was.  So, I’m giving away a $15 certificate to Chocomize, which should be enough for you to order two bars and cover shipping.  (Although, perhaps I should go check my math…) All you have to do is leave a comment here letting me know what flavors are looking good to you.  I’ll take comments through 9:00 EST this Sunday night, randomly draw a name, and then announce the winner next Monday.

Good luck!

Jen is not employed by Chocomize and was not offered any goods or services in exchange for this post.  This is all on her dime.

Chocomania: More from a favorite

I’ve revisited an old favorite — Lake Champlain Chocolates.  As I just happened to be walking down the chocolate aisle at Whole Foods, I noticed an assortment of LCC chocolate bars and the heavens were in alignment because they were on sale.  Clearly, someone in the universe loves me.

I chose two bars (didn’t want to be greedy) (although I seriously thought about it) and here are my chocolate-smeared thoughts on them:

mintPeppermint Crunch in dark chocolate — YUM.  54% cocoa, so a little more intensely chocolatey without being too bitter.  The peppermint was REAL (not some lab-produced stuff), so the flavor was amazing.  The crunch added a nice texture to the chocolate.  I’ll definitely be getting this one again.

caramelMilk chocolate with caramel — WOWZA.  34% cocoa, which is smooth and not too sweet.  The caramel was excellent — you can tell that LCC uses premium ingredients and doesn’t cut corners.  This is my new favorite chocolate + caramel product.

I haven’t sampled any of the other LCC bars, as I’ve recently cut WAY back on my chocolate intake (the horror, I know), but I’ll try to remember to pick up more the next time I’m at Whole Foods.

Just so we’re all clear:  I’m not employed by Lake Champlain Chocolates nor was I asked to review their products, but if Lake Champlain Chocolates wants me on their payroll, I am totally their Jen.