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March 27, 2006

Shopping for Chocolate

fun.jpgShopping for chocolate is, at best, a challenge. At least for me it is. I really don't know all that many places to get good chocolate so when I set out on a shopping expedition it is always some sort of crazy crap-shoot as to what I'll end up finding. More often than not the thing I'm looking for is not to be found, but instead I'll run across some other cocoa-infused wonder that I can't pass up. It's great stuff that I'm pleased as punch (as the phrase goes - personally I question how pleased punch actually is - it is a beverage after all) to have found such treats but it isn't that one special, magical, chocolate artifact that I had set out to find.

Yesterday is a good example of this. I was in need of a roadtrip to kill off some lingering stress so I jumped in the car and headed down to Cincinnatti and, of course, Jungle Jim's. I had high hopes of finding if not the new Kumasi Sambirano from Scharffen Berger then at least some of their chocolate-dipped matzos. I was also hoping for the organic Chocolove bars and an E. Guittard single origin tasting box but, alas, such items were not to be found. Of course this was a trip to Jungle Jim's and there are always interesting items to try there. I can always find something to buy.

I entered the store planning to resist temptation and not buy a dozen chocolate bars like when I'm on safari and I stuck to it pretty well. I was there for the trip and some power-browsing, not to buy up all the chocolate in the store. So, at the end of the day I walked out with some Mexican Coke (theoretically made with sugar and not corn syrup), some Moxie, an organic Valrhona bar (which I've been curious about for a while - the price has kind of kept me away from it - and for some reason I can't find it on their site), some dark chocolate covered ginger from Scharffen Berger, and - the grand prize of my little trip - a Dolfin Pink Pepporcorn bar! They had a lot of other wonderful things that I resisted the temptation to buy (a cache of Chocolatour bars, the entire selection of Dolfin bars, more Vosges bars) and I left the store having spent less than $40, which, for me, is a rarity.

Anyway, a trip like this illustrates a problem I have. I love to shop for chocolate. In town, out of town, it doesn't matter so long as I can get out and put my hands on some bars. The problem is that I have yet to find a good source of chocolate that I can count on to have pure gold on every trip (Jungle Jim's comes close and delivers on many other fronts in addition to chocolate). Without the ability to simply run out to the store and buy whatever I want I'm beginning to think that I'll have to start ordering my chocolate online which really isn't the same experience. I might never have tried Dolfin if I hadn't been able to see the pouch-style packaging first-hand. I'm very much a hands-on type of shopper and buying things online takes so much away from the experience. Of course you end up with exactly what you set out to get but that leaves out the option of the pleasant surprises you find on the way in the course of shopping.

This is having an effect on my long-term plans. I had been planning on a chocolatier/cafe style of business, similar to the chocolate lounge concept that Ethel's and Vosges have. The original (and long since changed) plan was to have a store with an wide assortment of chocolate nick-nacks and books. Now I'm thinking that maybe I want to add the store back in and carry an array of third party chocolate products, especially bars. A chocolate lover's candy store and cafe. It's still a few years off and will probably see more changes along the way, but I really like the idea of carrying a nice wide array of fine chocolate bars along with my own creations. Of course somebody else will probably do it before me, but that's my happy little vision.

March 23, 2006

Happenings at Scharffen Berger

scharffenberger.jpgThe Scharffen Berger email newsletter has come around again and this time it is packed with wonderful things.

First up, and most important in my eyes, is the introduction of a new limited edition chocolate bar: the Kumasi Sambirano. The bar is made with specially matched beans from the Ashanti region of Ghana and the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar. The combination of the two brings both earthy notes from the Ghana beans and citrus notes from the Madagascar beans. The bar has a 68% cocoa content and is limited to 1500 cases. I'm not sure how many bars that translates into, but I'm going to try and lay my hands on one before they disappear.

The rest of the newsletter is full of little wonders. First, they've brought back their Semisweet Dipped Matzo for Passover. I love matzo for some reason and I like the idea of it dipped in chocolate. Sounds darn tasty to me. Almost as tasty as chocolate dipped macaroons, which they share a recipe for. Rounding things out is a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake.

March 18, 2006

Mini-Review: Chocolove Toffee & Almonds in Milk Chocolate

I love a good chocolate bar that has stuff in it. I don't feel so much pressure to think about the chocolate, I just get to enjoy it. It's more of a eating bar than a tasting bar. Bars of this variety are pretty much guaranteed to yield short short reviews but short reviews are easy to write!

So, the bar with stuff in that I'm reviewing tonight is the lovely Chocolove Toffee & Almonds in Milk Chocolate and is it ever a treat. The bar features 33% cocoa milk chocolate full of toffee chunks and toasted almonds. The chocolate is nice and creamy and the toffee and almonds are excellent and quite plentiful. The toffee is nice and buttery and the almonds are tasty and the chocolate is good. Everything fits together perfectly. It's a simple eating bar and delivers a great experience you don't have to analyze - just enjoy. I've never really liked toffee a whole lot but this is just excellent stuff. It gets a 9 out of 10 and a spot on my short list.

March 14, 2006

Make Mine Chocolate

I've kind of been debating with myself over whether I should post this or not. It's not entirely chocolate oriented, but in the end I don't think that it hurts to do so and if it makes a difference at all or even just increases awareness of the problem then I suppose it's worth the effort. I don't want to be preachy, but as a rabbit owner and chocolate lover it's a cause I can easily get behind.

Make Mine Chocolate is a campaign organized by the House Rabbit Society against the giving of live rabbits as Easter gifts. People equate rabbits with Easter so what would be a more appropriate gift to give on Easter morning than a rabbit? It may fit the theme, but it really does an enormous amount of harm. People are often unprepared for the ten-year commitment of caring for a rabbit and the initial interest in a pet rabbit can dry up quickly. So, shortly after Easter, rabbits start to make their way from being Easter gifts to being unwanted and abandoned. Humane Societies and shelters see a huge influx of rabbits after Easter and it's not like they don't already have too many to handle. People adopt dogs and cats at an amazing rate compared to rabbits and rabbits come in right behind dogs and cats as the most abandoned animals to find their way into shelters. Right now there are more than twenty rabbits at the Capital Area Humane Society here in Columbus and many more in foster care.

The message of the Make Mine Chocolate campaign is that rather than dooming more rabbits to shelters (often leading to euthanasia) or abandonment in the wild (which is a death sentence) people should consider giving a traditional chocolate bunny for Easter instead. And if somebody absolutely has to buy a live rabbit as a gift then for goodness sake adopt one.

Give chocolate and save a life.

Make Mine Chocolate
House Rabbit Society Easter Message

March 12, 2006

Recipe Roundup

recipes.jpgThis week has produced a bumper crop of chocolate recipes so I figured I would put up a quick rundown of them. They're pretty much all on news sites so be sure to get them before they disappear. This site has only been around a few months and already I've got batches of dead links, so grab 'em while you can!

First up we have a stack of recipes from the Idaho Statesman including a tasty sounding Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse which just sounds awesome to me. Mmmm… orange and chocolate go so very well together.

Next we get a lovely pair of recipes from Delaware Online which, strangely enough, includes an Chocolate-Orange Mousse recipe using Grand Mariner! What were the odds of that?

The Sun-Sentinal offer up a recipe for Brenda's Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake. Can you ever have too many cheesecake recipes? As long as it’s good I’m always ready for one more.

CBS news gives us Bobby Flay's Triple Chocolate Cookie recipe which, in addition to using three kinds of chocolate (though I'm counting four), uses instant espresso powder to give them that extra zing. I love using instant espresso in cookies but I find it’s really important to eat them while they’re still warm – preferably with some ice cream melting all over them.

Finally my local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, dress up an old classic in some interesting new clothes with a recipe for Chocolate Crepes with Oranges in Grenadine-Orange Sauce.

Now if I just had more time for baking. I've got a lovely Kitchenaid stand mixer that I've only used like eight times sitting on top of my fridge and tons and tons of bakeware, some of which hasn't even been used. Not to mention a fat stack of chocolate cookbooks that I've only made maybe 15 or 20 things out of. It doesn't help that when I set foot in the kitchen I have to dodge a rabbit that believes that the only reason I go in there is to feed her.

March 8, 2006

Endangered Species Chocolate New Logo

endangeredspecieslogo.jpgEndangered Species Chocolate - makers of fine ethically traded (and sometimes Fair Trade Certified) chocolates supporting endangered species - has a new logo and a redesigned website! The animal imagery on the product packaging doesn't appear to have changed much but the overall look of the packaging has changed to match the new logo. Aside from the logo and website, though, the company remains the same delivering excellent chocolate while spreading awareness for and financially supporting conservation efforts.
The new site looks nice and is worth checking out.
Endangered Species Chocolate
Press Release

March 5, 2006

Melt Chocolates

melt.jpgThere is a great article in the Independent today about a new London chocolatier called Melt which is headed by a man who seems to be well and truly chocolate obsessed. Chef Damian Allsop works in an open kitchen in the store creating what sounds like some amazing works of chocolate art - like jasmine tea truffles (which I think sound fantastic) - using only the finest ingredients. He has some very interesting ideas (using water instead of cream – I cannot imagine that to be easy) and a true passion for chocolate that should make Melt a very fun place to visit. The open kitchen sounds like real a treat to me because I would love to watch a true artisan chocolatier at work. The article is a nice read and, even better, has recipes! The fresh mint truffle recipe sounds like a winner to me and I’m at least curious regarding the chocolate soup.
Article Link
Melt Chocolates