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: Maintaining a social conscience (+ a review)

My original plan for this post had been to tell you about some random different chocolates I’ve tried recently, but as I was writing, I discovered something that  had me almost foaming at the mouth in anger and general pissiness for several days.

I tried the Ghirardelli Intense Dark Toffee Interlude, which is a dark chocolate with toffee bits and caramelized almonds.  I liked the chocolate and also liked that there was something sweet to cut some of the bitter, but I couldn’t decide how I felt about the toffee itself.  I didn’t hate it, but the toffee seemed a bit off. I read the ingredients list to see what it could be that I was tasting and made the horrifying discovery that Ghirardelli uses high fructose corn syrup in this product.

High fructose corn syrup!?!?  This was completely unexpected.  I went to my pantry to check the rest of my Ghirardelli stash and what to my wondering eyes should appear but HFCS in the Ghirardelli Raspberry, Mint, and Caramel chocolates.  There was none in the Intense Dark chocolate bars, but it doesn’t matter because now Ghirardelli is ruined for me.

I actively try to avoid HFCS and refuse to buy products that contain it, even if I love the food in question.  HFCS is bad stuff — research is showing it has a number of detrimental effects on humans, including increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity, hypertension, and more.  Yet food companies continue to use it instead of sugar because it’s so much cheaper and therefore their profits are so much greater. Yes, sugar is also sweet, but if you can choose between it and HFCS in your food, you want sugar.

So now I’m pissed because a company that I trusted turns out to not  be trustworthy at all.  Ghirardelli — a company that sells upscale chocolates and which charges higher prices as a result — is putting HFCS in a number of its products.  There’s no flavor reason to do so, so when a company uses HFCS, it’s to cut corners and increase profits.

No true gourmet chocolate company would adulterate their products with that shit.  I checked all of the other organic and gourmet chocolates in my private stash and none have HFCS.  I went to several stores and read labels and found no HFCS in any other decent products.  Hell, even Hershey’s doesn’t put HFCS in their iconic chocolate bars.

So now Ghirardelli is dead me.

~ ~ ~

In the good news department, Cadbury’s is now using Fair Trade chocolate for their Dairy Milk products. And, once the company can find Fair Trade sources for nuts and raisins, they’ll include their other bars in the Fair Trade line-up too.

People, this is HUGE.  This means that one of the largest chocolate companies in the world is supporting the campaign to pay cocoa farmers a decent wage.  And they’re doing it without raising the prices of Dairy Milk bars.

So you can now eat Cadbury’s with a clean conscience.  I know I will.

~ ~ ~

sbmmsFinally, it’s taken me a while, but I finally tried the new limited edition Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms.  Unlike the Coconut M&Ms, I wasn’t terribly excited about this new iteration of M&Ms and didn’t rush out to the store to get some.  In fact, every time I saw them, my stomach heaved a little.  It finally occurred to me this week that I had a duty to at least try them and report back to you, so I did.

The short of it is that, while they’re not disgusting, they’re also not worth eating.  The peanut butter flavor is the same as Peanut Butter M&Ms, while the strawberry flavor is obviously fake, but not so strong as to make you want to vomit.  I had a few and then threw away the rest of the bag.

~ ~ ~

So that’s the Chocomania report for this week.  I’m still mulling over topics for next week, so speak up if you have a special request.

Chocomania: Candy with moxie

choxie_productsLast week I talked about World Market’s house brand chocolates.  This week, let’s take a look at Choxie, which is Target’s in-store chocolate line.  The first thing I always notice about Choxie candies is their packaging.  They come in fun, bright wrappers and boxes that practically leap out and scream to be noticed.

In terms of quality, Choxie chocolates are somewhere between mass-produced chocolates and high-end chocolates.  The ingredients are better than what you’d find in Hershey’s or Mars products, but definitely not as good as Ghirardelli or Green & Blacks.  Also, quality is sometimes spotty, as I’ll describe shortly.

Price-wise, I think Choxie is way too expensive, but since Target often has it on sale, it’s just usually only just a little overpriced.

But what about the chocolates themselves?

choxiecaramels01-smI recently had the chocolate caramel trio, which is an amazing combination of dark chocolate sea salt caramels, milk chocolate coffee caramels, and white so-called chocolate warm spice caramels.  The dark was absolutely amazing and I would have been happy with a bag of just those.  The milk was quite good too and was a nice complement to the dark.  As for the white, I was dubious and almost didn’t try them, but it turns out the that the warm spice caramel filling was quite tasty and almost made up for white vile-ness on the outside.

One complaint I have about the caramels is that while the overall quality was generally good, I occasionally had one that was dried out and hard.  That’s just not something that happens with the higher-end chocolates and is something that the Choxie people need to take care of if they want their products to be taken seriously.

The caramels come in a 5.85 ounce bag that is supposed to be around four servings, but I accidentally turned it into one extended all-day serving.  (Don’t try this at home; you WILL feel nauseous afterward).

I’ve also had the milk chocolate bing cherries, which also come in a 5.85 ounce bag.  Again, it’s only four servings, but the bag seems so small that you have to be careful not to inhale all 800 calories at once.  And believe me, you’ll want to.  The cherries are dried and smothered in milk chocolate, which creates this amazing blend of sweet + tart that is out of this world.  (But then again, I am on record as liking chocolate + cherries.)

Another one I’ve enjoyed far too much is the chocolate-covered pistachios, which I find to be highly addictive.  It’s this amazing combination of sweet milk chocolate + salty pistachios + something else I’ve never been able to define.  Luckily (or not, depending one’s perspective), I haven’t seen them at Target lately, so I don’t know if they’re still being made.  It’s probably just as well since this is yet another instance of a 6 ounce bag seeming far too small…

minibarsChoxie also makes a variety of bars too, but I’ll tell you now that I have yet to have one that I’ve actually loved or even liked.  Most were merely “meh” and didn’t interest me, largely because the chocolate was either too sweet or even a bit oily, not to mention the fillings were usually a bit boring.

For example, I’ve tried one particular dark chocolate coconut bar at least three times, because I didn’t learn from my first attempt that it was lame and kept coming back to it to see if I was somehow wrong in my original assessment.  I was not.

Choxie also makes truffles and my experience with those has also been mixed.  Some were quite good, but most were underwhelming.  But they’re so darn cute and colorful that I just want them to taste fabulous.

So my conclusion is that Choxie candies are a real mixed bag.  Some are good, while many are lame.  I think they are too expensive, especially given their spotty quality.  But if you, like me, find a product or two that you just love, then that is a good thing.

What about you?  Have you had any Choxie?  What did you think?

Chocomania: Chocolate + Caramel = Heaven

One of the flavor combinations that bring me to my knees in joy is chocolate and caramel.  That right there is pure bliss for my taste buds.

There are plenty of cheap versions of chocolate with caramel, but I am a believer in savoring the experience and therefore saving yourself for the Good Stuff.

squares_caramel_dark602One of my favorite versions of this treat right now is Ghiradelli’s dark chocolate with caramel.  The dark chocolate is that perfect combination of not too bitter and not too sweet.  The caramel is smooth and runny and makes a mess on your chin if you’re not careful.  If I buy the bar, one or two squares satisfies me, unlike cheap chocolate that keeps me wanting more.

Ghirardelli also makes a milk chocolate version, but it is a pale imitation of my beloved. I’m not a huge fan of dark chocolate, but I’ve learned that it is far superior to milk chocolate when paired with another flavor.

Hershey’s makes Hershey’s Kisses filled with caramel, which are merely okay.  Plus, they must be laced with crack or something, because they leave me wanting more instead of satisfying my sweet tooth.

I was at Starbucks this week and discovered a candy display by the register that included a dark chocolate, coffee, and caramel bar, so of course I had to try it.  The chocolate was so-so — a slightly more bitter version of milk chocolate masquerading as dark chocolate.  The caramel was almost non-existent, so the overall flavor was chocolate with coffee and only a hint of caramel.  Coffee was an interesting addition to the mix and, if the chocolate itself had not been so lame, I think the candy bar could have been quite excellent.

Since I’m an Eco Warrior, I’m always on the lookout for new organic chocolates to try. I had a Green & Blacks Organic milk chocolate with caramel bar recently.  I had heard nothing but rave reviews about this company’s products, so I had high hopes.  In short: Color me unimpressed.  The milk chocolate was creamy and smooth, but frankly I was a little bored by it. The caramel filling was also creamy and smooth, but had an odd aftertaste that I couldn’t quite pin down.  But, mostly, it was just a boring experience.  Frankly, I could have been eating a Cadbury Caramello and the taste would have been nearly the same and I could have saved myself some money in the process.

5starcar_featureOne of my favorite chocolate companies, Lake Champlain Chocolates, makes one of my favorite treats:  the Caramel Five Star Bar.  Wow.  That’s pretty much all I can say because now my mouth is full of drool just thinking about those chocolatey, caramely lovelies.

Here’s the ingredients list for the caramel:  fresh Vermont cream, butter, sugar, honey, and vanilla.  Then they mix in dark chocolate chunks and almonds and, after that, encase the entire shebang in some of the best milk chocolate I’ve ever had.  Believe me, when you bite into this bar, you can taste the quality.

Unfortunately, this particular treat is around $3.75 per bar and it’s not something that you can stretch out and savor because the caramel oozes out and makes a mess.  So, the Five Star Bar is an occasional treat and not something I’ll indulge in more than once or twice a year.

I’m sure there are plenty of other chocolate caramel options out there in this great big world.  People, what should I try?

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

Graceful and Elegant try out some new chocolate

MomCentral recently asked a bunch of bloggers to review Ghirardelli’s new Luxe Milk Chocolate.  Anyone want to guess how quickly I responded to the email and said “YES!  YES!  I’d LOVE to review this product!”?

Then, not long after I begged Mom Central to let me participate in this blog tour, a PACKAGE FULL OF CHOCOLATE arrived in my mailbox.  Check it out:

Huh, that’s SO STRANGE.  Why would there be an already-opened candy bar?

Now, I could have eaten the rest of all that yummy goodness myself, but I decided to share (plus, my scales told me loudly not to be a selfish pig).

Graceful, Elegant, and I had our chocolate tasting after school yesterday.  For such an important event, we set the stage accordingly.  We listened to Handel.  We drank an excellent vintage of milk to cleanse our palates.  And we even had a twinkling fire in the fireplace:

Yes, those are white Christmas lights.

Then we got busy.  There are FIVE new flavors of the Ghirardelli Luxe Milk Chocolate and we tried them all:

  1. Milk – Both girls gave this a 10 out of 10.  (The scale system was their idea, not mine.)  Graceful proclaimed, “Milk chocolate is by far the best chocolate.”
  2. Hazelnut – Again, both girls have this a 10 out of 10.  Graceful’s comment, “This is the perfect chocolate  for nut lovers!”
  3. Almond – Another unanimous 10 out of 10.  Graceful’s quip, “Even chocolate haters will adore this sweet treat.”
  4. Crisp — Ten out of ten.  This unanimous love is getting boring.  Graceful’s endorsement, “This is the ideal chocolate for someone who likes crunchy and sweet at the same time.”  Perhaps my child has a future in advertising?
  5. Duet — You’ll never guess — ten out of ten again.  And Graceful’s assessment?  “For people who like both milk and dark chocolate, this is the chocolate for them.”

Elegant was too busy eating to offer any verbal assessments.

It was hard work, but we slogged through.  I’m serious.  YOU try five different chocolates in short order and see how your stomach feels afterward.

Graceful with bulging cheeks:

And Elegant, who was VERY FOCUSED on the task at hand:

Both girls give Ghirardelli two thumbs’ up on this new line.

As for me, I usually prefer dark chocolate over milk — Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate with caramel is a current favorite — but I thought this milk chocolate had a nice flavor.  Not too sweet, which is often a problem with milk chocolate.  With a suggested retail price of $2.29, it’s priced comparably with other upscale chocolates. (Believe me, I’m quite familiar with chocolate prices.)  Yes, it’s a lot of money for just one eight-square candy bar, but if you think about those eight squares as eight different treats (which is the pace I’d eat them at), then the numbers don’t seem so bad.

But here’s the ultimate indicator of how good this chocolate is:  Yes, it’s true that the girls and I are known for our love of chocolate, but Pete does not have a sweet tooth at all.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him pass on some absolutely yummy decadent confection.  After dinner last night, he asked me where I’d stashed the rest of the Ghirardelli samples and then had a piece.  Then, he went back for more.  And then again.

So today I want everyone tell me what your favorite chocolate is or, if chocolate isn’t your thing, what is.