Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pondering Chocolates at CVS

It was a little over a year ago that I attended a chocolate tasting class outside of Boston. It was fun, and I learned a little about chocolate, its ingredients, and varieties. Then we did some tasting. Cool.

At the time I was just starting to branch out from eating Hershey’s and trying brands like Vosges, Café Tasse, Dolfin, Pralus, Chuao, and Green & Black’s. I liked them all, and once in a while I’ve been buying good brands either online or in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA) when I’m there.

It seems like I’m riding the wave of Americans who are buying more sophisticated chocolates, and now grocery stores and pharmacies are offering better selections and trying to cater to people like me. But unlike those people, I distrust the Hershey’s Reserve, the Russel Stover, and the others (even Ghirardelli). I’m okay with Lindt. I do buy it – it’s readily available, and I like the small squares, even if it is sort of mass-produced.

Just last week I was in the checkout line at CVS and I noticed they had a number of little Starbuck’s chocolate boxes filled with tasting squares.

According to Cybele at The Candy Blog, Starbucks and Hershey’s are collaborating in making this product line. I’ve also noticed recently that Hershey’s bought Scharffen Berger chocolates and I guess somehow they also own the organic Dagoba line of organic chocolates which a lot of people like.

I bought the Starbucks variety pack with milk, dark, and mocha dark chocolates. The box says they are “bite sized excursions to new realms of chocolate and coffee.” How tempting! The package weighs 2.64 ounces, and it was a little expensive at $4.99 for the 15 miniature tasting squares. But I decided to indulge.

While a little on the expensive side, for the most part, I enjoyed them. I’m really not fit to judge the milk chocolate ones. I’m much more into dark chocolate, and I only got the milk because it was part of the package.

The dark was nice and smooth, melted well on my tongue, and I liked the flavor. The squares are really thin (perhaps even wafer-thin), so there wasn’t much “snap” which people will tell you is important when judging chocolate. That is because “snap” indicates a good balance between cocoa and butter. Dark chocolate should snap easily and make a clean break. That all got me thinking that maybe it’s not good to produce the squares in such a thin style. It’s also hard to let it melt on your tongue because it’s so thin that it melts almost immediately.

Let me just say that all tasting squares are on the thin side, but these were thinner than most. Oh, but id did have a pretty picture on the chocolate of a chocolate pod growing on a plant.

It’s kind of funny, because at first taste I liked the mocha dark the least. But in the end, I think I liked it the most! It’s got ground-up coffee beans in the chocolate, which throws me. I like a smooth chocolate experience, and this one is grainy. But maybe because the chocolate is so thin, it needed that extra texture. It had good flavor.

Would I buy these Starbucks tasting squares again? Not the milk, but I might try the others again. And I guess there are other flavors that I didn’t see and they sound interesting: passion fruit tea, chai, and citron flavored chocolate.

I had another visit to CVS today.

I stopped there to drop of a prescription on the way to work and I got a bar of Green & Black’s 70% dark. The petite 1.2 ounce bar cost $1.49. It has 12 tiny little squares that break apart. The squares are chunky – thick and small.

I probably haven’t had any of Green & Black’s chocolate for close to a year now, so I was looking forward to it when I opened the little bar and placed a tiny square on my tongue to melt. The melting was good, the chocolate was very smooth, but the taste was all wrong. It was totally burnt. I don’t think I’ll ever buy Green & Black’s again! How sad.

Did I become a chocolate snob?

No! I still like M&M’s, so it can’t be that. In fact, I love M&M’s. I love the candy coating. I have a little routine where I put the M & M in my mouth, standing up between my top and bottom teeth. I gently cut down, and the coating breaks away from the chocolate. I crunch it in my mouth and then let the little drop of chocolate melt on my tongue. It’s a moment of pure heaven. And because there’s a bunch of little M&M’s (even in a little fun-pack), I get to have that experience over and over before the package runs out.

Maybe that bar of Green & Black’s was a bad batch? Or, more likely, I guess I just no longer like their chocolate. That was a surprise.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Taco-Making 101

I made these tacos with regular store-bought tortillas (Mission brand). But you can't just throw the ingredients in the center and fold them over. It just doesn't work that way.

I learned how to do it when I studied in Mexico for a summer. I went to Mexico to study Spanish. I began my stay with a family that I didn't care for. On top of that, the mother didn't cook! So when I asked my program for a family-transfer, requested to live with a family where the woman cooked. I am glad to say that I learned a little about Mexican cooking while I lived with them and studied Spanish.

Without a little taco-learning, you might just try to put your taco fillings on a corn tortilla and microwave it for a few. But it will break and fall apart when you try to eat it. It doesn't look pretty.

Here are some taco fillings on a tortilla:

Right after I took this picture, I folded the edge over, and this is what happened when I removed my hand:

This need not happen to you!

Here is one little trick I picked up in Mexico. Not only will your tortilla be more pliable, but it will taste better too!

  1. Heat up a small nonstick pan.
  2. Add maybe a teaspoon of oil. It should be just enough to lighly cover the surface of the tortilla when you put it in the pan.

  3. Put your fingers on top of the tortilla and glide the tortilla around the pan so that the oil underneath the tortilla spreads out its coverage on the bottom of your tortilla.

  4. to the left

    to the right

  5. Flip the tortilla over and repeat with the oil that is already in the pan.
  6. Cook the tortilla in that pan over high heat so it just barely toasts.
  7. Flip it back over and toast the other side as well. Here's the toasted tortilla:

The whole process only takes 2-3 minutes. Afterward, you will have a nice, tasty, pliable tortilla that you can fold over once your ingredients are on it.

When I folded these over, I put a plate on top for about a minute.

Then, when I removed the plate, the tacos held their shape. How awesome is that!

Here's my finished product:

Recipe: Quick Black Beans

This is a great, fast side dish for any meal. The Sazón Liquido adds a great flavor with just a small amount. If you like heat, either add more jalapeño or don’t remove all the seeds like I did.

Quick Black Beans

1 cup chopped onion
1-2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbs. Goya Sazón Liquido

Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. Add the onion and sauté ¾ of the way. Then add the garlic and jalapeño. Sauté till the mixture is to the color and consistency that you prefer. I prefer mine well-sautéed with nice color and carmelization.

Add the drained and rinsed beans and the Sazón Liquido. Heat and serve.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Battle of the Foil-Packed Salmon

Recipe: Tasty Salmon Salad

I eat this salmon salad for lunch several days a week. Not only is it tasty, but it's satisfying and loaded with protein and omega 3 fatty acids which protect your heart.

My favorite cracker to have it on is rye-flavored melba toast.

1 foil-pack of Bumble Bee premium pink salmon
Hellmann's mayonnaise (approximately 2 Tbs.)
ground black pepper to taste (I do 10 twists on a coarse grind)
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 scallion, finely sliced
2 Tbs. finely minced celery
dill to taste

Squeeze excess liquid out of the salmon pouch. Put salmon in a bowl and add all other ingredients. Mix it up well and chill until ready to serve.

We Will Never Buy Stale M & M's Again!

Thank you, Serious Eats, for educating the world on how to avoid stale chocolate candy!

After reading this article, I immediately ran to my pantry to check the date on the two fun-size packages of M & M's that I have. One of them was a little old, manufactured in the 40th week of 2007. The other one was made less than two months ago.

Oh, and if you are wondering, I do notice the difference in taste.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Recipe: Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Cream Sauce

The Bocado Experience

Last night my husband and I went to my very favorite restaurant. Our friends Dave, Karen, and Todd came with us. It was an awesome night!

My favorite restaurant is Bocado in Worcester, MA. Worcester is the closest city to where we live. It’s not a great city, but there are some good restaurants!

Bocado is a tapas restaurant. Tapas is a style of eating from Spain where you order little plates of food. In a tapas restaurant you can try a whole bunch of different tapas and share with everyone. You can also order a main course, but the tapas are so fun! And they offer flights of wine, which are like tapas because you get three small portions of different wines instead of just one larger glass.

So Karen, Todd, and I each got different flights of wine. Karen likes whites. Todd had one white, one semi-red, and one red. Mine were three wonderful dry reds – flight #7, the Rioja New to Old World Flight with these wines:

· Cortijo III Tinto(Tempranillo), Rioja
· Faustino V Riserva (Tempranillo/Mazuelo), Rioja
· Faustino I Gran Riserva (Tempranillo/Mazuelo/Graciano), Rioja

Then, as a group, we decided to get the Bocado Experience for Four. You get to choose four of their cheese or cold meat plates and 10 different tapas dishes. Then you get one pan of their paella, a plate of churros with a chocolate dipping sauce, and their house flan (pomegranate orange custard with fresh fruit). The Bocado Experience for four costs $125.00 and is worth every penny!

So, here are the plates we chose for the cheese and cold meat plates:

· jamón serrano (the famous ham of Spain - it is similar to Italy’s prosciutto)
· manchego el trigal (manchego is a Spanish cheese)
· cured pork loin
· smoked duck breast with balsamic syrup

Then came the tapas. We decided to order 2 additional tapas dishes since we had five people and it was the Bocado Experience for Four. Keep in mind that these are small portions on a plate. For instance, with the ham and cheese croquettes, there were four croquettes on the plate, each about the size of a jalapeño pepper. For the scallop dish, there were four bacon-wrapped scallops on the plate.

Here’s what we enjoyed:

· fried calamari with garlic, lemon, parsley & orange horseradish cream
· sautéed shrimp with garlic, parsley,& olive oil
· grilled Serrano ham wrapped asparagus with roasted garlic
aioli & shaved manchego
· ham & cheese fritters with remoulade & rioja drizzle
· a salad of lettuce, red onion, hearts of palm, tomato, avocado,

and manchego
· piquillo pepper stuffed with tasso ham, garbanzo beans & goat

cheese with grilled onion crema
· bacon wrapped scallops with white truffle honey & red pepper flakes
· kobe beef mini burgers (two little burgers)
· braised rabbit in tomato & roasted garlic sauce with rustic toast
· baked crab & vegetable filled savory pastry (empanada)
· sautéed mussels tossed with garlic, sun dried tomato, basil,

cracked black pepper, white wine & cream
· grilled lollipop lamb chops with rosemary mustard oil

They bring out the tapas a little at a time. Then, by the time you finish what they brought out, they bring more!

I don’t think Todd understood that we were still going to get the paella dish once the tapas had ended. We were all feeling satisfied by that time. So we tasted and took the rest home. Skinny Dave was chosen to bring it home, but he stayed at our house and left it in my refrigerator. I’ll enjoy it later!

Luckily, the desserts were small. The flan was the best flan I ever ate in my life! I think we all agreed on that. I'm guessing it was a 4" diameter flan. Oh, and the churros were wonderful.

The meal lasted almost three hours, so it was an entire evening of dining and great conversation. It was a real treat.

With our drinks included and the two extra tapas plates, the bill was $203, which came out to about $50 per person once we left a 20% tip.

If you are ever in or near Worcester, MA, you should try to get to this restaurant.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Anticipating Chocolate Again

I'm excited.

I placed an order for chocolates yesterday evening. This time I'm ordering from John and Kira' Chocolates. John and Kira are the owners of this community-friendly and responsible chocolate company.

Their chocolates look so exciting. Right now, as Spring begins, they have hand-painted ladybug chocolates. As much as I thought they were so beautiful, I went with the Drunken Chocolate Fig Tower. OMG! Talk about temptation! My mouth began watering as I read about those chocolate ganache and whiskey filled Spanish figs (dipped too).

The tower also has a box that contains all of their bonbon flavors: raspberry, pistacchio, honey lavender, coffee whiskey, lemongrass, bergamont, mint, ginger, strawberry, and something called starry night. Yum! I'm drooling!

Since it's still cool out, I went for the standard shipping which is so much cheaper than the overnight options. I think I'll put a little cooler on my doorstep and ask the mailman to put it in there instead of leaving it on the full-sun step.

The waiting is agonizing on one hand, and fun on the other. It only stinks when the chocolates arrive and don't live up to your expectations. But I just know this one will!

Photo: Shitake Mushrooms

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gimme Some Of That Less-Fattening Kugel!

Recipe: Meryl's Lightened Kugel

Don't Forget About Me!

Being an adorable little doggie isn't always easy or fun!

I took pics the other day for a post I will do later on a chicken dish. I was setting up the pictures of the chicken and Petey followed his little sniffer to my set. He definitely wanted in on the action. Don't worry people, I took care of him with some yummy chicken bites later when I it was time to eat!