Thursday, February 28, 2013

Marini's Vegan's Nightmare - Feb. 28, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

Marini's Candies
Vegan's Nightmare Ice Cream
Good + - Very Good
Weight: unknown
Calories: 260 calories (estimate) for 1 serving
Cost: $3.50 (estimate) for single cup
Purchased from: Marini's, Santa Cruz, CA

Today was Day #6 of Chocolate and Umami or Bacon Theme Week.

Santa Cruz is a college town at the beach; and it's also a fun place to look for chocolates. I discovered a new cupcake place there today (more on Buttercup Cakes later), while walking to Marini's Candies (downtown Santa Cruz, CA). Marini's carried several chocolate and bacon offerings that were a good fit for this week's theme.

Before enjoying my single scoop of Marini's own "Vegan's Nightmare" ice cream in a cup, I ate a nice savory (umami) and healthy vegetable rice paper wrap from a nearby kiosk. (Seven years ago, I debated whether to start a site about vegetables/salads or chocolate. I chose chocolate, but, I still love fresh greens.)

Then it was time to shovel into my chilly little goldmine of fresh tasting, maple flavored ice cream with small pieces of chocolate covered bacon. It was good.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Marini's Dark Chocolate Bacon - Feb. 27, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

Marini's Candies
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 2 oz. (56 g.) (estimate) for 4 pieces, 2 strips of bacon
Calories: 290 calories (estimate) for 2 strips of bacon
Cost: $4.27 (estimate) for 2 strips bacon
Purchased from: Marini's at the Beach/Marini's Candies, Santa Cruz, CA

Today was Day #5 of Chocolate and Umami or Bacon Theme Week.

Dinner: Broiled fish; broccoli with tomato sauce, walnuts and parmesan cheese; sea vegetable treats with sesame oil; mushrooms; and other high umami foods and treats

For dessert: two strips of crispy, oven-baked, hickory smoked bacon smothered in dark chocolate from Marini's Candies (Santa Cruz, CA).

Marini's also offers Vegan's Nightmare ice cream (with bacon). Soon I'll return to single origin dark chocolate bars. But, this week, I've been enjoying these other fun, creative combinations.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hawaiian Umami Nuts - Feb. 26, 2013

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

Have a Ball Chocolate Factory

1.) Numb Nuts - Hot Buffalo
Weight: 0.10 oz. (2.8 g.) / 4 oz. (114 g.) total package
Calories: 15 calories (estimate)
Cost: $6.99 for 1 package
Purchased from: Have a Ball Chocolate Factory, Kealakekua, HI

2.) Numb Nuts - Wassssssabi
Good +
Weight: 0.10 oz. (2.8 g.) / 4 oz. (114 g.) total package
Calories: 15 calories (estimate)
Cost: $6.99 for 1 package
Purchased from: Have a Ball Chocolate Factory, Kealakekua, HI

Today was Day #4 of Chocolate and Umami or Bacon Theme Week, and this afternoon I focused on a range of umami-rich nut and spicy seasoning combinations from the Kona, Hawaii area.

The first two items came from the Have a Ball Chocolate Factory (that also carries coffee, Donkey Balls, Boar Balls, Monkey Balls, and, well you get the picture). I was excited about this company's dark chocolate covered peanuts with wasabi. Part of a "Numb Nuts" spicy chocolate covered nut line, today's two Numb Nuts packages were adorned with a crazed-looking squirrel, holding a flaming nut.

I enjoyed the wasabi and peanut flavors. However, after the first bite, I realized these contained wheat flour, something I can't eat.

So I moved on to the second flavor of Numb Nuts that I purchased: Hot Buffalo -- dark chocolate covered peanuts with Buffalo sauce. These were off-the-chart spicy hot. I suggest taking a small bite first. (Note: Warning sticker on the front of the package read: "Up to 350,000 Scoville Units.") Translation: very hot.

Four Seasons Inspired Bar Nuts

The Four Seasons in Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii is worth a visit. The offerings (including specially made bread) on their gluten free menu were the best I've ever tasted. With this recent visit in mind, I loved finding a recipe purported to be for the bar nuts at this resort.

I made my own version of this recipe with smoked macadamia nuts, and coated these (as well as pecans, cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc.) with butter, brown sugar, cajun seasoning, salt, smoked cumin, paprika, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.

Probably unwise to mess with a wonderful bar nut recipe like this, but if you're feeling creative:
Add a pinch of Hawaiian cacao nibs for a bittersweet accent. Or, for an umami-rich topping, try shreds of seaweed (nori) with brown sugar (from Annie Chun).

Monday, February 25, 2013

BlackTruffle Caramels - Feb. 25, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

Liddabit Sweets

Black Truffle Caramels
Calories: 175 calories (estimate) in 3 pieces
Cost: $5.00 (sale) for 1 box of 12 caramels
Purchased from: Liddabit Sweets, Brooklyn, NY

Bacon Corn
Good - Good+
Weight: 1.4 oz. (39.6 g.)/ 7 oz. (198 g.) total box/package
Calories: 158 calories
Cost: $12.00 for 1 box
Purchased from: Liddabit Sweets, Brooklyn, NY

Today was Day #3 of Chocolate and Umami or Bacon Theme Week.

Black Truffle Caramels

Extending Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week, from this past week, today I tried some Black Truffle Caramels, very subtlely flavored with Black Truffle oil, from Liddabit Sweets (Brooklyn, NY). Liddabit makes a variety of creatively designed and flavored treats with interesting and local ingredients.

Bacon Corn

I also enjoyed a small plate of the company's Bacon Corn -- not your parents' caramel corn. This batch was made with maple syrup, Bourbon whiskey, Crop to Cup coffee beans and kosher salt.

Described as "a salty, crunchy, smoky, boozy, bacony melange of awesome" on the packaging, the smoky bacon, coffee and bourbon flavors were overwhelmed by the sugar and corn syrup covering the air-popped popcorn. (I'd be curious to see how these other flavors taste if the sweetness was dialed back.) However, this doesn't disqualify this fun snack from being a "Breakfast of Heroes" -- another self-titled moniker on the box. Fun is fun. I respect that.

Oscar Night - February 24, 2013

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

1.) Poco Dolce 
Popcorn Toffee
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 1.2 oz. (33.96 g.) / 8 oz. (227 g.) in 1 tin
Calories: 180 calories (estimate) in 1.2 oz. (33.96 g.) serving
Cost: $16.00 for 1 tin
Purchased from: Poco Dolce, San Francisco, CA

Tonight a group of us watched the annual Academy Awards Ceremony. This event began with watching stars arrive and sashay up the red carpet on their way to an auditorium. And it ended when the last golden Oscar statuette was handed out three or four hours later (depending on when you tuned in).

Many chocolates were nominated to star this evening, but we enjoyed tasting small squares of Popcorn Toffee from Poco Dolce  (San Francisco, CA); nibbling on the head from a chocolate figurine; and munching on some smoked bacon popcorn.

All these items were part of Day #2 of Chocolate and Umami or Bacon Theme Week.

2.) Once Upon a Chocolate
Oscar Style Statue (golden chocolate man)
Weight: .75 oz. (21.2 g.) / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) (estimate) in 1 statue
Calories: 112.5 calories (estimate) in top part of of statue
Cost: N/A - gift
Purchased from: N/A - gift

What a delight to have a chocsimile (chocolate facsimile) of the golden man himself (Oscar style statuette) on hand for the ceremonies. Although he did lose his head during the after-party. He was last heard to say: It was an honor just to be nominated. Thank you Megan for this gift!

3.) Fabrique Delices
Natural Uncured Bacon Butter
(Bacon butter + popcorn + smoked Alderwood salt)
Very Good
Weight: .5 oz. (14.1 g.) / 3 oz. (84.9 g.) in 1 container
Calories: 50 calories (estimate)
Cost: $6.99 for 1 container
Purchased from: La Fromagerie, San Francisco, CA

Fabriques Delices (Hayward, CA) natural uncured bacon butter (made with fully cooked bacon) was a hit -- drizzled over freshly popped popcorn. We added a pinch of Alderwood smoked salt to this batch, and we were riding high on the hog.

Umami flavors (often called the fifth sense of taste -- and more recently discovered than the first four: sour, sweet, bitter and salty) include fat, smoke and salt. Expect to see this bacon butter and smoked salt in combination with chocolate again, in the next few days.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Espresso Roulade - Feb. 23, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

The Plant Cafe Organic
Espresso Roulade
Good + - Very Good
Weight: unknown
Calories: unknown
Cost: $4.50 for 1 piece/container
Purchased from: The Plant Cafe Organic, Strawberry Village, Mill Valley, CA

The Plant Cafe Organic got its start in San Francisco, CA. The company recently opened a new location in Mill Valley (Marin County). No surprise that this small chain is expanding, as they offer some of the freshest, tastiest food around -- including gluten-free items, like today's Espresso Roulade. I picked up this roulade in the company's "to go" section.

To produce this lovely creation, I'm guessing The Plant Cafe's dessert chef created a moist, lighter-than-air, chocolate cake layer, frosted with a thick layer of whipped cream, then carefully rolled it up and cut it into slices.

I barely had to chew this cake. Each bite was flavorful and airy, and melted in my mouth. Generally, gluten free items are relatively heavy or dense. Not this time.

Today's flourless, chocolate dessert (lightly flavored by decaf espresso) followed a two-course pasta entree that I made at home.

Mushroom and Truffle Linguini

Since today was the last day of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week, I made a truffle pasta dish with Viviana (gluten free) Wild Mushroom Linguini and two different sauces. The first, a white sauce, consisted of sauteed mushrooms, shallots and garlic, Fabrique Delices white truffle butter, and white truffle cream and parmesan cheese. The second was a red sauce with artichokes, walnuts and a bit of truffle butter. Fresh rosemary was a great flavor enhancer for both.

Today was Day #7 of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week, and Day #1 of Chocolate and Umami or Bacon Theme Week.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hagensborg Dark Truffle - Feb. 22, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

Hagensborg Chocolates
Truffle Pig - Dark Hazelnut (Noisette Noir)
Weight: 0.40 oz. (11.5 g.) in 1 truffle
Calories: 60 calories (estimate) in 1 truffle
Cost: $0.99 in 1 truffle
Purchased from: Oceana Market, Pacifica, CA

Today was Day #6 of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week.

I would like to honor truffle pigs everywhere -- especially live ones that help to root out black truffles. These fungi/tubers resemble chocolate truffles (the small, round chocolate variety).

I could not think of a better way salute to these pigs than a Truffle Pig'lette -- an individually wrapped, bite sized Dark Hazelnut Chocolate Truffle from Hagensborg Chocolates (Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada). Made with "All Natural European Chocolate," this little piggy had a smooth, melty texture. The hazelnut butter was very light; in fact, I'd say it was almost difficult to detect.

Love the truffle pig illustrations on the Hagensborg bars and chocolates. These pigs really do look like they're having the time of their life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Truffle Butter Truffles - Feb. 21, 2013

Romain, La Fromagerie, SF
Chocolate(s) of the Day: 

SunSpire (nSpired Natural Foods)
Organic Chocolate Chips
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 1.5 oz. (42.45 g.) / 9 oz. (255 g.) total bag
Calories: 210 calories (estimate) in 1.5 oz. (42.45 g.)
Cost: $ unavailable
Purchased from: unavailable

Today was Day #5 of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week. It was inevitable this week that I make some truffle truffles.

Yes, you're reading that correctly. I made some homemade chocolate truffles with Black Winter Truffle Butter from Fabrique Delices (Hayward, CA), that I found at La Fromagerie in (the Dogpatch area of) San Francisco. Thank you to Romain for truffle butter and cheese selection help.

I also made a small, semi-sweet, truffle butter chocolate cup (with a white chocolate and truffle butter center) -- topped with a drizzle of black truffle honey and a few grains of truffle sea salt.

The plate of tiny truffles and the chocolate truffle cup made a great late breakfast, and disappeared quickly. The truffle butter was good enough to eat by itself, or on warm toast (gluten-free bread for me). Fabrique Delices offers a line of charcuterie and savory butters -- e.g., black truffle, white truffle, porcini mushroom, and bacon. The truffle butters were made with imported French butter.

Sadly, SunSpire (nSpired Natural Foods) in San Leandro, CA, seemed to have gone out of business. I melted a few ounces of their organic, semi-sweet chocolate chips  -- that had been stored in my chocolate vault -- to make the truffles. They were quite good.

For those who do not like truffles (the fungi/tuber) -- my sympathies, and please forgive my rapturous delight over truffle honey this week. Soon, I'll be moving ahead to Chocolate and Umami Theme Week, where I'll combine cacao with seaweed, miso, kale, mushrooms, potatoes, parmesan cheese, and other fare. I hope you'll find something you like a bit more in this list. This month has evolved into quite a savory + sweet month.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Enric Rovira - Trufa Day - Feb. 20, 2013

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

Enric Rovira

Trencadis Gaudi - chocolate blanco con trufa al aguardiente de albaricoque
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 6.7 oz. (190 g.) in total box
Calories: 150 calories (estimate)
Cost: $34.50 for 1 box
Purchased from: Alegio Chocolate, Palo Alto, CA

Mini Hexagons
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.)/2.1 oz. (60 g.) total box
Calories: 148 calories (estimate) in 1 oz. serving
Cost: $ 12.95 in 1 box of 10 pieces
Purchased from: Alegio Chocolate, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #4 of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week.

Roundish dark chocolate truffles likely acquired their name because of their likeness to black truffles, the fungi found nestled underground in what remains of great oak forests. This week I'm combining both types of truffles.

Today I traveled -- virtually, via chocolate -- from Italy (yesterday's destination) to Barcelona, Spain, to sample two chocolates in Enric Rovira's (Barcelona, Spain) Barcelona collection -- heavily influenced by Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, who often incorporated tile and glass mosaic art into his work.

Proving that my Spanish is very rusty, I bought this creamy, Trencadis Gaudi white chocolate creation thinking it contained white or black truffle (the fungi). However, the "trufa" in the Spanish name here referred to an apricot brandy truffle filling inside this beautifully patterned square of white chocolate.

However, my "mistake" was quickly remedied, when I dipped a triangular piece of this white Trencadis (from the Catalan word, trencat, for broken) mosaic into some Italian truffle honey that I'd opened yesterday. If you want to try something truly decadent and wonderful, these two items were made for each other.

Mini Hexagons 
Since, I don't normally "count" white chocolate as my Chocolate of the Day, I also sampled some Enric Rovira dark chocolate (70%) mini hexagons, modeled after special six-sided pavement pieces that might be found on the streets of Barcelona. These would look very nice on any dessert plate or tray.

Thank you to Panos at Alegio Chocolate for pointing out the Barcelona Collection.

Le Veneziane, Truffle Cheesecake - Feb. 19, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

Molino di Ferro
Le Veneziane - piccoli piaceri croccanti con Cacao e Nicciole
(Gluten Free cookies with Chocolate and Hazelnuts)
Weight: .97 oz. (27.5 g.) / 8.8 oz. (250 g.) in 1 bag/package
Calories: 130 calories in 3.5 cookies
Cost: $5.39 for 1 bag
Purchased from: Miki's Farm Fresh Market, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #3 of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week.

Italy is a great place to find truffle-infused favorite foods. So, I attempted to travel there, virtually, with today's pairing.

First, I baked cheesecakes with (La Tourangelle) black truffle oil, and Ritrovo Italian truffle honey -- honey infused with black truffle. Then I combined one of these creamy little cheesecakes with today's crunchy, Italian chocolate cookies.

I crumbled one La Veneziane gluten-free chocolate and hazelnut cookie from Molino di Ferro (Italy), to use as a topping for the cheesecake -- along with some truffle honey and a dab of some creme fraiche -- and enjoyed two additional cookies by themselves.

These chocolate cookies made with corn flour were fairly light in flavor -- providing a nice crunchy texture, without overpowering the black truffle oil and the truffle honey in the cheesecake. The ground hazelnut flavor was very mild. (Molino di Ferro also makes polenta and corn-based pasta.)

Note to self: Try spreading a little Nutella or peanut butter on these; this might result in a tasty sandwich cookie.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jar Full of Cupcakes, Truffle Day - Feb. 18, 2013

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

The Grain Exchange
Jar Full of Cupcakes - Red Velvet with Vanilla
Good + - Very Good
Weight: unknown
Calories: unknown
Cost: $39.50 for total box of 6
Purchased from: Abe's Market, online

Today was Day #2 of Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week. Since it was a holiday in the U.S. (Presidents Day), I had time to experiment with an entire lunch flavored with black truffles.

Appetizer: Black Truffle Popcorn

First course was an appetizer -- a small bowl of Black Truffle + White Cheddar popcorn from 479 degrees Popcorn (San Francisco, CA) with an optional dark chocolate drizzle. The black truffle flavor was delicate and unique enough that I cut way back on the (melted) chocolate here. Cacao nibs might have been a better choice.

Main Course: Chicken Vegetable and Truffle Soup

The second course was a homemade bowl of chicken and vegetable soup with Infused Black Truffle Oil from La Tourangelle (Woodland, CA).

Dessert: Jar Full of Cupcakes with Truffle Salt

Dessert (Chocolate of the Day) consisted of wonderfully moist and delicious gluten-free, red velvet cupcakes and vanilla frosting in a small mason jar.

Surprisingly, this Jar Full of Cupcakes from The Grain Exchange (Doylestown, PA) was also quite good with a sprinkle of Black Truffle Sea Salt (Smith and Truslow). The salt balanced out some of the sugar, harmonized with the vanilla; and the truffle flavor provided a beautifully blended accent note with these cupcakes.

Truffle Cocktail: Heaven and Earth

Marginally successful first attempt: the "Black Cat Truffle" martini. The rim of the glass was coated with black truffle sea salt, and the drink included chilled cream, milk, vanilla, creme de cacao, and Kahlua (pictured).

Much more successful second attempt: the "Heaven and Earth": a combination of Frangelico liqueur, and honey, with a splash of milk (or cream or unsweetened coconut milk), served in a glass with the rim coated with black truffle sea salt (not pictured).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mast Brothers - Black Truffle bar - Feb. 17, 2013

Chocolate of the Day:

Mast Brothers Chocolate
Black Truffle bar
Very Good
Weight: .5 oz. (14.1 g.) / 2.5 oz. (70.75 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 75 calories (estimate) in 1/2 oz. piece
Cost: $12.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Miette Bakery, Hayes Valley location, San Francisco, CA

Today was the first day in a Chocolate and Truffle Theme Week. I may not be able to find seven chocolates with black or white truffles, but I will certainly enjoy trying.

I couldn't think of a better way to kick off this week than with a Black Truffle 74% cacao bar from Mast Brothers Chocolate (Brooklyn, NY).

The story behind Rick and Michael, the two American craft chocolate makers behind, and co-owners of, Mast Brothers Chocolate, embodies themes like the adventure of sailing, and the sober elegance of good design. One might be tempted to look at promotional materials and dismiss them as nostalgic hipsters. However, one would be wrong. Their voyage to make great chocolate has been a successful one, due to their focus on high quality ingredients and great process.

Likewise, you'd be wise not to dismiss the story of the humble black jewel, known as the black truffle, a fungus on the roots of oak trees, a delicacy that lends a unique and delightful savory/umami flavor to foods.

Along with a touch of Maine sea salt, the bright red fruit notes in this dark chocolate (from Madagascar perhaps?) harmonized well with the rich earthy perfume of truffle (Italy) -- that hit me when I unwrapped the pretty paper and gold foil on this bar. Heavenly. But do eat it soon, as the lovely truffle aroma and flavor may attenuate over time. Then you're left with "just" a great, plain chocolate bar.

Kona Origins - 75% Dark bar - Feb. 16, 2013

Chocolate of the Day: 

Kona Origins
75% Cacao Dark Chocolate bar
Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 2 oz. (56.6 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) in 1 oz. serving
Cost: $6.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Kona Origins table at Keauhou Farmers Market, Kona, HI

Most chocolates that people buy are made by confectioners or chocolatiers, who make truffles, bars, confections or desserts using chocolate that was made by a chocolate maker. A small percent of chocolate people buy chocolates directly from a chocolate maker, someone who makes their product from scratch, from the cacao beans.

An even smaller percentage of people buy chocolate from cacao farmers who are also chocolate makers -- those making chocolate from tree to bar.

All this explanation is a round-about way of introducing today's 75% cacao dark chocolate bar made by Kona Origins (Hawaii).

Discovering Kona Origins

During a recent trip, I was fortunate to stay at Green Gecko Coffee Farm in Kona. Friends there took me to the Saturday Keauhou Farmers Market in Kona, where we met Vheissu and Carolyn Keffer, of Kona Origins. In addition to selling bananas and cacao fruit, the Keffers were also selling cacao nibs and dark chocolate bars.

I was impressed with their cacao nibs which tasted smooth, mildly fruity, and uniformly fermented. Later, we tasted their cacao fruit (the white pulp surrounding the cacao seeds), and it had a mild apple banana fruit flavor.

Last, but not least, we sampled the Kona Origins 75% Dark Chocolate bar that we'd also bought at the market. Rich in flavor and texture, the bar tasted more like an 80% bar. It had a dark, earthy flavor. We called and arranged a tour of the Kona Origins farm.

Tree to Bar Chocolate Making

We visited the Keffer's farm in South Kona; and as we walked down to the area where the cacao trees were growing, Vheissu pointed out the original "mother" cacao tree that had been planted on the property almost three decades ago.

When we arrived at a small grove of Forastero cacao trees in the sun, Vheissu cracked open a ripe, yellow-orange cacao fruit pod on a black lava rock that was jutting out of the field. And, from there, we (literally) walked through the process of fermenting, drying and processing cacao beans and nibs -- into chocolate on the property.

Vheissu was making chocolate in true Silicon Valley start-up fashion -- having engineered some of his own equipment in his garage, including a fermentation chamber, that helped him achieve good results. In addition, he talked about stirring (uniformity) and adding some heat to the ferment. All in all, if the cacao nibs were any indication, the result was a good, complete ferment.

Chocolate making can be especially challenging in a semi-tropical climate. Warm temperatures are required for growing and for the initial fermentation; however, cooler, drier climes are often better for the latter stages of processing and bar-making. This dark bar seemed reasonably well tempered and textured given these challenges.

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