Sunday, July 24, 2011

What you don't know won't hurt you...?

It is interesting how our palate can change over time as we become more aware, more knowlegeable and more exposed to certain foods.  For example, over the last 10 years, since I graduated from university and have spent much of my free time learning about  - and tasting - chocolate, I have developed an awareness of the variety of ways chocolate can, and should, taste.  Previous to that, I just ate any chocolate in any form and loved it.  If it had been melted in the sun, then solidified again, I never seemed to notice the change in texture and flavour from improperly storing it. 

I had not thought about this until I recently asked a teenager to taste two different 70% dark chocolate bars.  One of these chocolate bars had been improperly stored in direct sunlight in the small gourmet food store that I bought it from, so it was chalky with the tell-tale white film on the outside, tough to bite through and lacked any ability to melt in your mouth.  The other bar was shiny, had a nice snap and melted deliciously in the mouth, but was definitively more bitter because it had small pieces of cacao nibs in it.  The youth was not used to bitter chocolate, and primarily eats milk chocolate.  So when I asked her which one she liked better, she chose the dark chocolate that had been improperly stored because it tasted sweeter.  This caused me to stop and consider myself as a teenager and I realized that, although I would never pick that chocolate bar over the other now, I certainly would have made the same choice when I was a teenager and chosen the chalky-but-sweet chocolate bar. 

I envy the teenager in many ways. Sometimes I wish I had not gained all this knowledge of chocolate over the years so I could just happily enjoy a KitKat bar now, or any kind of chocolate with hydrogenated oils in the truffle centre, or simply enjoy some plain dark chocolate with an unknown bean source.  However, the knowledge that I have sought and gained has led me to a whole new world of chocolate that I might never have explored, and caused me to become addicted to tasting new and innovative flavours, while staying true to my belief that chocolate should be made from natural ingredients.  

So although I am happy that I have learned so much about chocolate over the years, I also believe (in a way) that what you don't know, won't hurt you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More "Deep Milk Chocolate" by Vosges...with more salt and fun flavour combos

Mmmmm....what can be better than snacking on plantain chips?  If you've never tried fried plantains, I feel sorry for you.  When I went to school in France, I had a wonderful friend from Africa who fried me up some plantain chips one afternoon in her apartment and it was one of the best snacks I have ever had.  So when I was shopping at Vosges in Las Vegas, and saw their Habana organic milk chocolate bar with plantain chips, I couldn't resist buying it (if you've read my blog before, you'll know that I couldn't resist much of anything at the Vosges store and pretty much bought every flavour of their chocolate bars!).  I also couldn't resist the mini "Barcelona Bar" with hickory smoked almonds, grey seas salt and milk chocolate. So today I am tasting both of those chocolate bars.

Yesterday I had the Vosges Organic Peanut Butter bar and was inspired to go through my chocolate cupboard and try the rest of the Vosges milk chocolate bars.  They all say "deep milk chocolate" on the packages, which somehow makes it more appealing than regular milk chocolate.  I suppose it is "deep" because it contains 45% cocoa solids, which makes it my kind of milk chocolate, since I usually like to eat 70% dark chocolate.  Normal high-end milk chocolate might contain 30-35% cocoa solids, and commercial milk chocolate candy would contain a lot less cocoa solids (15% to 25% if you are lucky), so this truly is "deep milk chocolate". 

The Habana bar is fantastic.  The chocolate just melts in your mouth but isn't really sweet and there is definitely a salty taste to it.  The plantains are not overpowering, just a little crunchy with a hint of banana-y flavour that doesn't sweeten the chocolate in a way that banana chips would.  The whole bar was 85 grams, and I had trouble stopping myself at the halfway point.  However, with the Barcelona Bar staring at me, waiting for its tasting turn, I had to stop and move on. 

The Barcelona Bar is really tasty in a similar way: the milk chocolate melts in your mouth and there is a salty aftertaste. However, I found the hickory smoked almonds to be almost too subtle in the chocolate.  The pieces were very small and, although, made the texture nice (I don't usually like huge chunks of almonds getting in the way of experiencing the smooth chocolate texture), it could have had a little more almond bits.  But overall, it was still a tasty chocolate bar and at only 0.5 oz or 14 grams, you can't over-indulge on this little treasure!

Some other good points about the Habana bar are: the cocoa is Rainforest Alliance Certified and organic too.  Also, the manufacturer has used sunflower lecithin instead of soy.  So if you are avoiding soy for whatever reason, then you can eat this chocolate bar.  However, see the package details below for the manufacturer's warning that they do make the chocolate bar in a facility that handles soy.  Oh and both chocolate bars are Gluten Free - good news for people who can`t have gluten!

Well, it was a good chocolate-tasting day, thanks again to Vosges Haut Chocolat.  I hope my chocolate cabinet has not yet been emptied of "deep milk chocolate" by Vosges, because I am beginning to enjoy my daily milk chocolate treats!

Here are the package details and manufacturer info on the two Vosges chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Vosges Haut Habana Made with Organic Milk Chocolate and Plantain Chips, 45% cacao, 3 oz (85g)
Vosges IP, LLC (Chicago, IL USA)
Ingredients:  *Milk chocolate (*sugar, *+cocoa mass, *+cocoa butter, *dry whole milk powder, sunflower lecithin-an emulsifier), 9% plantain chips, salt. Chocolate bar contains: 40% cocoa solids minimum, 15% milk solids minimum. *Organic ingredients. +Cocoa mass and cocoa butter from Rainforest Alliance Certified(TM) farms.  Contains: Milk.  Manufactured in a facility that handles tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soy.  Gluten-Free.  Certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

Vosges Haut Chocolat Barcelona Bar with hickory smoked almonds, grey sea salt, deep milk chocolate, 45% cacao, 0.5 oz (14g)
Vosges IP, LLC (Chicago, IL USA)
Ingredients: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, dry whole milk powder, soy lecithin-an emulsifier, vanilla), 6% smoked almonds (peanut oi, natural smoke flavor, salt), sea salt.  Chocolate bar contains: 38% cocoa solids minimum, 15% milk solids minimum.  Contains: Soy, milk, almonds, peanuts. Manufactured in a facility that handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soy. Gluten-Free.

Okay, okay! So I've tried nearly every flavour of Vosges' chocolate bars.  Want to read reviews of other Vosges Haut chocolate bar flavours?  Check these out:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mmmm....peanut butter, exotic salts and "deep" milk chocolate after a long stretch of peanut-free eating

I have pretty much dropped peanut butter for the last nine months because of my pregnancy.  I once read somewhere that if you have seasonal allergies or food/medication allergies and you eat peanuts during pregnancy, it can cause your child to be allergic to peanuts.  Of course, this is all without back-up research, since there still seems to be no solid research to explain the reasons why some kids are allergic to peanuts and others are not.  However, since I LOVE peanut butter so much and I do have seasonal allergies, pet allergies and allergies to some medications, I figure that dropping peanuts for a limited amount of time is much better than having to drop them from my life forever because my child is allergic.  So I have been living (mostly) without peanut butter for the duration of this pregnancy.  I say mostly because this is my second pregnancy and I am struggling more and more to drop all the things I love this time around.  I followed the rules very closely last time that I was pregnant, but this time it seems to be more annoying. So I have fell off the peanut-free wagon more than a few times during this pregnancy, but I suppose it is better than my non-pregnant days when I ate peanut butter ever single morning for breakfast.

Today, I have decided to treat myself.  Since my baby's due date was three days ago and there is still no baby, I feel like I deserve a treat and truthfully, I can't wait anymore to try the Vosges organic Peanut Butter Bonbon chocolate bar.  The package says it has organic peanut butter, pink Himalayan salt, Maldon sea salt and "deep milk chocolate". I would have been sold simply on the organic peanut butter and deep milk chocolate, but must admit that the exotic salts peaked my curiousity.

The overall flavour is awesome.  At first I felt that it wasn't a real sweet treat - which is fine with me since I usually prefer chocolate to be less sweet than your average candy bar.  But as I ate more of the chocolate bar, I found that the treat seemed to taste richer and more luxurious.  The salt was a nice touch and added a wonderful hint of crunchy texture to the otherwise smooth, melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate and peanut butter combination.

I not only loved the taste, but I like the fact that this chocolate is made from organic ingredients and is all-natural. It is not easy finding a peanut butter-and-chocolate treat that does not have hydrogenated oils or modified corn starch in it, but Vosges Haut Chocolat has done a wonderful job of making an all-natural and organic peanut butter chocolate bar with a big flavour kick.

So if you like peanut butter and chocolate and want to treat yourself with a high end product that includes exotic salts, the Vosges Organic Peanut Butter Bonbon bar is worth the $8 for 85 grams of chocolate indulgence.

Here are the package details from the chocolate that I tasted today:

Vosges Haut Organic Peanut Butter Bonbon, 45% cacao, 3 oz (85g)
Vosges IP, LLC
Ingredients: *Milk chocolate (*sugar, *cocoa butter, *whole milk powder, *cocoa mass, *vanilla powder), 22% *peanut butter (*dry roasted peanuts, *palm oil, *sugar, salt), salt. Milk chocolate (45%) contains 40% cocoa solids minimum, 25% milk solids minimum. *organic ingredients.  Contains allergens: peanuts and milk.  Manufactured in a facility that also handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, pearl dust (shellfish) and soya.  Gluten-free.  Certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

Want to read reviews of other Vosges Haut chocolate bar flavours?  Check these out:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Amano in Summertime

Well, the more pregnant I get the worse I get at eating chocolate!  I thought I'd eat more chocolate by the end of my pregnancy because the nausia is gone and my appetite is back. But, given the heat of the summer so far, I seem to be eating less and less chocolate (and more and more ice cream!).  So today I decided to sit down and taste some chocolate to get my palate back into it.  I wanted a little milk chocolate to go with the weather (I find sweeter chocolate to be tastier in the heat), so I pulled out some of my Amano Artisan Chocolate stash. 

Today I am tasting Amano's Ocumare 30% cacao milk chocolate bar and the Ocumare 70% dark chocolate bar.  Both are made from beans from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela. 

There is a nice strong flavour to the milk chocolate, with a bitterness that is reminiscent of dark chocolate but milky and sweet all at the same time.  With a slightly woodsy smell and taste, this chocolate could easily be a favourite milk chocolate of mine from here on forward.

The dark chocolate 70% Ocumare bar has a lot of strong flavour, and to me it is reminiscent of cedar smoke and tobacco all rolled into one dark chocolate. The colour of the beans are fairly light and the chocolate is shiny, smooth and tempered just right. Although the strong and bitter flavours seems harsh at first, it wears off quickly and you can find yourself just enjoying a flavourful 70% smooth dark chocolate.
Overall, I liked both bars, but enjoyed the milk chocolate much more.  It's hard to say if that would be my "normal" opinion, since I usually choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate, or if that is just the pregnancy and the heat heightening my cravings for sweeter treats.

The baby is kicking fiercely now in my belly, so I guess that is an indication that I've had enough chocolate!

For other reviews of Amano's chocolate, click here.

Here are the stats on the two chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Amano Artisan Chocolate "Ocumare" Handcrafted Milk Chocolate 30% Cacao, 2 oz (56g)
"Made from Premium Beans from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela"
Amano Chocolate, Orem, UT (USA)
Ingredients: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, whole vanilla beans. "Our vintage equipment is used to process milk chocolate and chocolate containing tree nuts, peanuts and soy lecithin...".

Amano Artisan Chocolate "Ocumare" Handcrafted Dark Chocolate, 70% Cacao, 2 oz (56g)
"Made from Premium Beans from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela"
Amano Chocolate, Orem, UT (USA)
Ingredients: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans. "Our vintage equipment is used to process milk chocolate and chocolate containing tree nuts, peanuts and soy lecithin...".