Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Instead of Fine Chocolate, How About Fine Ice Cream?


I choose my ice cream in the same way that I choose chocolate. I want to read the label and see the least number of ingredients possible. The list should be simple and short, which indicates to me that no funky additives, colours, artificial flavours or hydrogenated oils are in it. Cream, eggs, sugar, milk, cocoa powder - those are the ingredients that make up great ice cream. And of course, there MUST be real cream in it (otherwise, it should just be called 'ice').

So I can always rely on Häagen-Dazs® for a simple ingredients list, with real cream included. They use real vanilla for flavouring and real cream to create the rich flavour and texture that they are known for. How do I know this? For starters, by reading and comparing ingredients lists of many, many store-bought ice cream products over the years. And Häagen-Dazs®  nearly always wins me over based on ingredients when I am making a purchase decision at the grocery store.

Now Häagen-Dazs®  has introduced the most delicious of 'take-home' ice cream bars:  Chocolate Peanut Butter. If you are a fan of chocolate and peanut butter in general, you need to try this ice cream bar!  Personally, I prefer my icy treats in cones, rather than on a stick, but this bar is so tasty that I find myself thinking about it on a regular basis. And when I first read the ingredients, I knew this product was going to be a winner.

The best part about the Peanut Butter Ice Cream Bar is that Häagen-Dazs®  has used peanut butter that is natural, when most of the brand-name and no-name peanut butter that is available in jars at the grocery store almost always has hydrogenated oil and icing sugar in it. But of course, Häagen-Dazs®' philosophy is to: "find the finest ingredients in the world and craft them into our best ice cream available" (ref). So why wouldn't they use natural peanut butter?

You can learn more about this product on Häagen-Dazs® Canadian Web site at: http://haagen-dazs.ca/hd-en/products/take-home-bars/chocolate-peanut-butter.aspx.

For some reason, the American Häagen-Dazs® website does not have this product listed, but they do have a Vanilla Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar, which also looks delicious.  But for something more chocolaty, you can get Haagen-Dazs' Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream in the tub: http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2454 (U.S. Web Site).

***
As per usual, I am not paid by the brand, or enticed in any way with samples or other free stuff, to write such a positive article on this product (don't get me wrong, it does not mean that I don't want free stuff or samples! But I would mention it if I was given samples).  I just love this Häagen-Dazs® Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Bar so much it so much that I HAD to share.  After all, my philosophy is to connect fine chocolate (and fine chocolate treats) to fine people everywhere.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chatelaine's Delicious Salted Caramel & Chocolate Tart Recipe



Chatelaine Magazine is known for its fantastic recipes. And fantastic recipes, they have! Over the last several years, I have made many dishes thanks to the Chatelaine Magazine, which have all turned out wonderfully.

So when I saw the Salted Caramel & Chocolate Tart recipe on pages 79-81 in the latest issue (February 2014), I just had to tackle that deliciousness. The photo and recipe actually looked very similar to the Chocolate Truffle Tarts that I make for the Loco Beanz Coffee Houses here on Manitoulin Island.  However, I have not made a caramel-dark chocolate flavour combination yet (I usually make a Caramel-Milk Chocolate Tart and Dark Chocolate-Raspberry Tart, among a variety of other flavours), so when I opened the Chatelaine and saw the recipe title and photo, I just had to find out what this beautiful creation would taste like.

Luckily, I already had all the ingredients on hand. My only changes to the recipe were that I used unbleached all-purpose flour, instead of regular white flour, and I used raw organic cane sugar instead of granulated white sugar. Also, instead of 70% dark chocolate, I used Camino's 71% organic bittersweet chocolate chips, which added a nice chocolate chip flavour to the tart, without losing any of the bitterness of the dark chocolate.

The crust was pretty simple. With just flour, sugar, butter and an egg yolk, I found the dough came together easily. But by adding a little extra butter, I could roll it out, instead of pressing it into the pan as suggested.


Also, I only had a 6-inch tart shell (instead of 9" as the recipe called for), so I managed to get two extra small tarts out of the deal - which meant leftovers for me once my dinner guests were served! 

The caramel sauce was very tasty, but it turned out to be quite 'oozy' and most of it drizzled out while slicing the pieces.  So although not necessary, you could substitute with a thicker salted-caramel sauce from a jar, or a nice thick Dulce de Leche sauce, which would save you some time and lessen the number of dirty dishes.

The chocolate truffle filling was smooth, delicious and absolutely heavenly.  But definitely do not skimp on the salt!  Be sure to add a nice chunky sea salt or Himalayan pink finishing salt to the top of the tart.  That extra flavour punch was much appreciated. 

Since the small-sized tarts worked out so well, I think you could also make 4 to 6 small tarts using the same recipe, and freeze some (for your future cravings) or serve to dinner guests individually.

Overall, this tart was super delicious and I recommend the recipe!  Check out Chatelaine's February 2014 issue for a copy. 


For more chocolaty recipes, you can visit my recipes page (while playing around in my commercial kitchen, I regularly create my own desserts) or my check out my 'Piecaken' blog for very indulgent chocolate dessert recipes. (Hint: Try the Raspberry Pie in a Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe!  It is delicious!)

If you are looking for other great chocolate dessert recipes from Chatelaine, check out the 28 Decadent Chocolate Recipes section of their website: http://www.chatelaine.com/ingredient/28-decadent-chocolate-recipes/. They are amazing!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Canada's Growing Bean-to-Bar, Craft Chocolate Market

Updated July 19, 2017

This is real Canadian chocolate...
 
Bean-to-bar chocolate-making (also called 'small batch' and 'craft chocolate') is the latest trend in Canada's chocolate industry. It also seems to be the fastest growing segment of the artisan food market.

Just a few years ago, Soma Chocolatemaker of Toronto seemed to be alone in its quest to make chocolate in small batches and directly from the cacao bean (also called cocoa bean), using high-quality beans imported from various growing regions close to the equator.  In the last few years, more and more artisan chocolate makers have popped up in various cities across Canada.  In fact, since I started planning this article two years ago, more information has become available, chocolate maker websites have been launched and my list of chocolate makers has doubled, making my article a moving target, so to speak.

What is the reason that an entrepreneur might want to make chocolate directly from the bean?  For starters, the challenge. Most people do not know that it is quite simple to roast cacao beans at home and make chocolate in a coffee grinder, blender or juicer. But the challenge is to give it a smooth texture, remove the acidity, develop a good flavour profile, test recipes and create something entirely unique that no one else has. There is a sense of accomplishment in making something 'from scratch' and putting your own spin on it.

Other chocolate makers start because they are driven by an idea or belief.  For instance, some believe that chocolate made according to Fair Trade certification is not as helpful to farmers as it can be.  So they want to buy cacao beans through 'Direct Trade' and produce chocolate that directly benefits specific cacao farmers and their families. Often, chocolate makers develop these views because they have travelled and visited cacao farms on their travels.

Finally, some chocolate makers are driven by their belief in healthy eating or in an idea of dietary requirements or restrictions. An example is the raw food movement.  A handful of raw food enthusiasts have discovered benefits in eating 'raw chocolate' (i.e. chocolate made from un-roasted cacao beans), and after finding no packaged products on the market, they started making their own at home, and eventually turned it into a business.

Whatever the reason, for Canadians it means that we have more chocolate to choose from, and more choice when it comes to where we want to spend our money.  Do we want to spend it on large, foreign-owned commercial chocolate makers who produce brand-name chocolate bars or on small local businesses who sell hand-made chocolate and support the farmers who supply the cacao?

Our neighbours to the South (that`s right, I`m talking about the U.S.), have truly owned this bean-to-bar trend, with chocolate makers popping up in nearly every State and large city in America. But Canada is now getting in on the action.  And the best part?  You, the consumer, can buy true Canadian-made chocolate, including amazing gifts for any chocolate connoisseur, wannabe chocolate aficionado or any chocolate fanatic in your life.

Below you will find the list of Canada's bean-to-bar chocolate makers.  Since this is a growing trend, new chocolate makers are popping up all the time.  If there is a new craft, small-batch chocolate maker in your area of Canada that is not on the list, please feel free to tell us in the Comments section below. And click here to find out where to buy many of these brands.

List of Small-Batch, Craft Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers in CANADA:

Ontario:


  • Soma Chocolatemaker (Toronto) - Soma has, by far, the largest selection of any bean-to-bar artisan chocolate maker in Canada.  They make such a large assortment of flavours of chocolate bars and chocolaty treats, that I always seem to find something new when I make a purchase by e-mail or at one of their two locations in Toronto.With the feel of a relaxing café, but all the wonders of a great chocolate selection, Soma offers an experience like no other. Even their 100% dark chocolate (the Arcana bar) is tasty, and all their chocolate is perfectly smooth and well balanced, certainly making them Canada's finest chocolate maker. www.somachocolate.com. Owners David Castellan and his wife Cynthia Leung, started making chocolate in 2003, now two locations in Toronto (King Street West & Distillery District, you can order by e-mail).

  • Hummingbird Chocolate (Almonte, ON) - Hummingbird's chocolate makers started selling their products at a farmer's market in Ottawa and now have a small chocolate-making facility and tasting room open to the public in Almonte. Their chocolate is available at various retailers in the Ottawa area, as well as online (www.foodiepages.ca). Hummingbird's chocolate is very smooth, and they offer an excellent range of single origin bars that demonstrate the wonderful flavour differences of cacao from different growing regions. They also sell small bags of cacao beans, so you can try to make your own origin chocolate at home! www.hummingbirdchocolate.com

  • Habitual Chocolate (London, ON) - offers a full range of bean-to-bar chocolate. 
    Whether you like milk or dark chocolate, I recommend that you try the Sal de Mar 43% Cacao and Sea Salt chocolate bar.  It is salty, sweet and a real treat!  For those extreme dark chocolate fanatics, go for Habitual's Amazonas 80% Cacao dark chocolate bar, it is their smoothest and has low acidity. To order from outside of London, Ontario, you need to call their sister company (http://www.fireroastedcoffee.com/) and ask specifically for their chocolate to be shipped to you (that's how I got some!), as it is not yet available for order on the website. www.habitualchocolate.com 

  • Ambrosia Pastry This bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Southern Ontario makes an amazing 55% Milk Origin Ghana chocolate bar, which is one of the most amazing dark-milk chocolates that I have tasted! You can read all about it here. They now sell their chocolate on FoodiePages or you can learn more on Ambrosia's website:  www.ambrosiapastry.com.


  • ChocoSol Traders (Toronto, ON) - ChocoSol is in Toronto making chocolate bars and drinking chocolate without dairy, gluten, soy, or nuts, and it is listed as vegan. Their chocolate is minimally processed, so it has a great crunchy texture, much like the Taza chocolate brand in the U.S..  They also make some raw chocolate and an amazing hemp-based chocolate bar.  ChocoSol offers chocolate-making workshops, which are regularly available, and group/corporate bookings are also offered. They also sell cacao beans, nibs, hemp seeds, agave, vanilla pods and more - everything you need to make your own chocolate!  http://chocosoltraders.com/ 

  • Living Libations (Haliburton, ON) - Less a part of the growing bean-to-bar movement and more a part of the growing 'raw chocolate' movement, Living Libations is likely the most interesting and healthiest chocolate maker in Canada. Their chocolate is not tasty to the average consumer, but very healthy and great-tasting to raw food enthusiasts and others who are used to the added flavours of hemp, maca and a variety of other health-food additives. They have been profiled on a Canadian television show, and I like the chocolate makers' quirky personalities, and I also believe in their cause. Find out more in an article that I wrote, or on the company's website:  http://www.livinglibations.com/products/pure-source-raw-chocolate/raw-chocolate.

  • Soul Chocolate (Toronto, Ontario) - One of Canada's newest bean-to-bar chocolate makers, this passionate team has gone all out on gorgeous packaging. But that's not the only thing: they have the socially responsible goal of buying their cacao 100% direct trade. They are still small, but this is the one to watch! Their chocolate bars are available in select stores in the Toronto area, or online: http://www.soulroasters.com Twitter: @SoulRoasters  Read my taste review here.

  • Bruama's Artisan Chocolate (Cambridge, ON) - With a focus on organic and Brazil-origin chocolate, this chocolate maker offers a range of products made from bean to bar, including 75% dark-milk chocolate (it's delicious!), 100% dark chocolate, 75% dark chocolate bars, as well as really interesting traditional Brazilian truffles that are worthy of a taste. http://www.bruamas.com/ChocolateBars.html


  • Mairogold's Finest (Toronto, ON) - This chocolate maker offers a simple and attractive selection of stone-ground chocolate bars, which means a chocolate with a rustic texture, and core, pure ingredients. Taste a range of 75% single origin chocolates, or sample the sweet, yet savoury 60% dark milk chocolate bar, or their super fun Strawberries & Champagne dark chocolate, with popping candy sprinkled on the back for a 'bubbly' affect. Read a tasting review here. Twitter: @marigoldsfinest Web: www.marigoldsfinest.com.

  • DesBarres Chocolate (Uxbridge, ON) - One of the newest bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Ontario, this husband and wife team (Erik & Ariane) formally founded DesBarres Chocolate in late 2015. They seem to be working with a variety of beans, and I am excited to see what they offer. Stay tuned as I follow this new chocolate maker and their product offerings!  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/desbarreschocolate/.

  • Cócó Chocolate Company (Kingston, ON) - A brand new chocolate maker selling at the Memorial Centre Farmers' Market on Sundays in Kingston. Using organic cacao sourced at fair prices from Dominican Republic, this chocolate maker is committed to organic and fair trade. Business owner, Brendon McAleer, is making chocolate bars with inclusions like sea salt, large toasted coconut pieces, almonds and pistachios, as well as bonbons and truffles. Learn more o n Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cocochocolateco/.

  • Ultimately Chocolate (Manitoulin Island, Ontario) - that's right folks, this is my business! I am Lisabeth, the writer of this blog you are visiting, and I have been making chocolate confections, desserts and pastry for eight years under the Ultimately Chocolate name, which are sold locally through several cafes and restaurants. I have also been making chocolate from bean-to-bar for friends and family for the last few years, and for the purpose of writing about chocolate and learning more about it. My bean-to-bar chocolate is for sale locally, and is also sold online in Canada on my Foodiepages.ca store. (psst! The Buttermilk bar is delicious!!).  Contact me at info (at) ultimatelychocolate.com if you have questions. Visit www.ultimatelychocolate.com or follow on Instagram & Facebook ( @ultimatelychocolate ) or on Twitter with the handle @ultimatelychoc.

Alberta:
  • Choklat (Calgary & Edmonton, AB) - They make chocolate from bean-to-bar and chocolate truffles made to order. What's great is that they make four single-origin 70% chocolate bars with the same amount of sugar, cacao butter, cacao beans and vanilla so that you can taste and compare cacao from different origins (some chocolate makers use different amounts of sugar, which makes it difficult to compare origins). Flavourful and delicious chocolate with high cocoa butter content. Learn more at: www.sochoklat.com

  • McGuire Chocolate (Calgary, AB) - making a large variety of bean-to-bar chocolate, with different roast profiles and refining times. Read my review here. Visit www.mcguirechocolate.com for more information.

  • Moth Chocolate (Calgary, Alberta) - with a focus on ethically sourced chocolate, chocolate maker Geordan Spicer brings her passion for chocolate to Calgary. Current focus is on Bolivia origin chocolate, but stay tuned to Moth's social medial accounts (@mothchocolate) to learn more or visit the business website: www.mothchocolate.com.



British Columbia:    
  • Beanpod (Fernie, B.C.) - Beanpod has a cool logo that is imprinted on all their chocolate bars.  And although they offer a range of bean-to-bar chocolate, a MUST TRY is their Fernie BEAR Bar made with Milk Chocolate and Honeycomb chocolate bar.  It is often sold out and believe me when I say that it is out of this world! www.beanpod.ca

  • Coconama Chocolate (Vancouver, BC) - have been in business nearly six years creating chocolate bars and confections, and just recently began making some from bean-to-bar.  Single origin chocolate bars and seasonal bean-to-bar available. More to come on this chocolate maker, so stay tuned! In the meantime, learn more on the website: www.coconama.com.

  • EastVan Roasters (Vancouver, BC) - This is actually a not-for-profit organization, designed to assist women in need of valuable work skills. They make single-origin chocolate bars and truffles, as well as flavoured chocolate bars. They also sell baked goods made with their own chocolate and coffee beverages made from beans that are roasted in house. www.eastvanroasters.com 
 
  • Organic Fair (Cobble Hill, BC) - this Western Canadian craft chocolate maker began producing chocolate after they sold organic and Fair Trade food products from their organic farm in Cobble Hill, including some interesting chocolate bars made from couverture chocolate with unique flavour combinations.  But they recently made the step to becoming a true chocolate maker - roasting the beans, winnowing, grinding, conching and taking all the steps to make chocolate from start to finish that is both organic and Fair Trade.  They are one of the few bean-to-bar makers who also sell bakers' chocolate bars in various sizes, made from their own chocolate.  They also sell a range of origin chocolate, including chocolate made from Nicaraguan beans. www.organicfair.com

  • Sirene Chocolate (Victoria, BC) - a 'direct' trade bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Taylor Kennedy, has a background in economics, finance and cell and molecular biology.  He currently makes single-origin chocolate bars from Ecuador and Madagascar, including a 100% bar, and a Fleur de Sel chocolate. Sirene Chocolate is available in select stores, such as Cook Culture in Victoria. Find out more about Sirene Chocolate at: http://sirenechocolate.com/.

  • Take a Fancy Chocolate (Burnaby, BC) - This small-batch chocolate maker sells through farmer's markets and online.  The products are organic and fair trade, and Take a Fancy not only offers solid chocolate made from bean-to-bar, but also caramels and other chocolaty treats. You can buy online here: www.takeafancy.ca.

  • Wild Sweets by Dominique & Cindy Duby (Richmond, B.C.) - This is the up and comer that may rival Soma before long, winning awards these past few years at the international level for their bean-to-bar chocolate.  While being artists and artisans (some amazing chocolate creations can be seen on their website), they are also applying scientific methodology to their chocolate-making.  They have tested and retested each batch to ensure the very best chocolate. Wild Sweets offers a very tasty, very professional, and very smooth bean-to-bar chocolatewww.dcduby.com

  • Uncouth Chocolate (Victoria, BC) - Selling primarily at farmer's markets, this team of chocolate makers (Stephanie and Heidi) is focused on making stoneground 'unconched' chocolate with just two ingredients (cacao and sugar), "letting the beans speak for themselves". Find them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Uncouthchocolate/.

  • Kasama Chocolate (East Vancouver, BC) - making chocolate bars and truffles from bean-to-bar and selling locally at farmer's markets all around Vancouver.  Their branding and packaging is bright and colourful. Read my review of their chocolate here. Follow their Instagram account (@kasamachocolate), or visit their website at: www.kasamachocolate.com

Manitoba:

  • Aschenti Cocoa (Winnipeg, Manitoba) - Small batch chocolate maker, also making bonbons with their bean-to-bar chocolate. Website coming soon. More information here when available. www.aschenti.com

  • Popp Chocolates / Chocolatier Constance Popp (Winnipeg, Manitoba) - Self-described as "Winnipeg's 1st #BeantoBar Maker".  I'll update the info on their bean-to-bar chocolate once I have more information.  Notable: Just won 'Best Ice Cream in Manitoba' award. Looks like a great chocolatier & retail shop to visit while in Manitoba. Twitter: @poppchocolates www.constancepopp.com

Quebec:
  • Avanaa (Montreal) - A very new chocolate maker in the Montreal area, crafting chocolate from bean to bar. Learn more on their website at: http://www.avanaa.ca/

  • Chaleur B Chocolat (Carleton-sur-Mer, Quebec) - One of the newest bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Canada, this chocolate began within a successful coffee roasting company. So naturally they offer a signature 'Mokaccino' bar, as well as single origin chocolate bars that are smooth and cocoa buttery. The chocolate maker was inspired by a Swiss heritage to make chocolate that replicates the deliciousness of Swiss chocolate. Read more about this chocolate maker here: http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2015/02/chaleur-b-chocolat-delicate-and-buttery.html and on their website at: www.chaleurb.com.

  • Chocolats Privilége (Montreal, QC) - bean-to-bar chocolate made into couverture that is used exclusively for Chocolats Privilége's five locations in Quebec. They make beautiful truffles, caramels, spreads and confections, as well as origin chocolate bars (Mexico, Hispaniola, Tanzania, Madagascar, etc.) and bars with inclusions. http://www.chocolatsprivilege.com/en/


  • Olivia Chocolat (Gatineau, Quebec) - The bars are nicely packaged and presented in a thin, fine format, making them easier to taste and savour. I love the 'hint of maple' chocolate bars that they produce.  In addition to their original bean-to-bar chocolate, they also make raw chocolate, Canadian maple-flavoured chocolate, and hemp-milk vegan chocolate. Their chocolate is certified as Fair Trade. Olivia Chocolat is now available in perfectly portioned packages at Bridgehead Coffee Houses all over the Ottawa area, and their larger chocolate bars are available at other retailers. Olivia Chocolat can also be ordered online from outside of the Ottawa/Gatineau area: http://oliviachocolatiers.com/


  • Palette de Bine (Mont-Tremblant, QC) - This is a small-batch chocolate maker located in beautiful Mont-Tremblant.  They do everything from roast and winnow to aging the chocolate.  Find their single origin bars or blended bar on the La Tablette de Miss Choco site here or find out where to buy their products locally here. Twitter: @BinePalette  Web site: www.palettedebine.com

  • Chocolats Monarque (Montreal, QC) - One of the newest in Quebec, this bean-to-bar chocolate maker's products can be found in some Montreal-based stores and at the Candy Cabin in Toronto, and for sale online at www.latablette.ca (shipping to Canada and US). Learn more about this chocolate maker on the business Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/chocolatsmonarque/.

  • Rose Chocolat / Eau de Rose (Quebec) - This is a very new chocolate maker with two flavourful origin bars made of Columbian cacao. Read my review of these chocolate bars here. Visit http://www.eauderosechocolat.com for more information.

  • QANTU (Montreal, QC) - This is one of the newest chocolate makers, launching in November of 2016. They just won two Gold Academy of Chocolate Awards for their very fruity Peruvian origin chocolates. The website is coming soon, and there is a facebook page you can check for more information: https://www.facebook.com/qantuchocolate/?fref=ts. Follow on social media at: @qantuchocolate. Read my review here.

  • Rica Chocolat (Montreal, QC) - Making two-ingredient chocolate from bean to bar, with Costa Rican cocoa beans. They showcase different roasts and refining times using the same beans, an ultimate educational experience for any budding chocolate connoisseur. Find them online at www.ricachocolat.com or read all about them and my review by clicking here.

Nova Scotia:
    Petite Patrie Chocolate (Canning, Nova Scotia) - Nova Scotia's first bean-to-bar chocolate maker! Gabrielle Breault is the brain-child behind this new business, and focuses on organic ingredients, and plans to chocolate from local flavours of the Annapolis Valley. Discover more at www.petitepatriechocolate.com or on Facebook.

New Brunswick:


I have tasted nearly all of the chocolate on this list! If you are looking for recommendations, reviews, or have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to use the Comments section below or e-mail me at info@ultimatelychocolate.com.

For your viewing pleasure, below are more pictures of Canada's bean-to-bar chocolate.



Soul Chocolate in Toronto offers a nice tasting kit and gorgeous packaging!


OrganicFair offers a Coco-Milk chocolate bar,
which has coconut instead of dairy.


 
This is a great example of chocolate intended for a tasting party - three single origin chocolates from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Madagascar offer very noticeable different flavour profiles.



This picture shows how different dark chocolate can appear when made with different single origin beans (the Madagascar 74% dark chocolate looks just as light-coloured as a milk chocolate bar - yet it contains no milk!)



Toronto-based ChocoSol makes a fantastic Drinking Chocolate


 
This is Hummingbird Chocolate Maker's chocolate
 - smooth and delicious!



(updated April 20, 2016) 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fun-Flavoured Chocolate to Melt Away Your Winter Blues

If you live in California, or Florida, or any other warm-weathered place that leaves you confused when you hear the phrase "winter blues", then this article is definitely not for you.  Unless, of course, you just love fun-flavoured chocolate. In that case, read on with the rest of us folks who are experiencing the real-life version of Disney's movie Frozen right now.

In order to get through Canada's snowy, blistery, and cold weather for four months a year, little pick-me-ups are necessary.  Whether that be a trip to the spa, dishing up some warm winter comfort food or spending hours online reading about vacations in Southern France, is a matter of preference.  One great way to 'melt' away your winter blues is by tasting new and fun flavours of chocolate. Here are two that I have tried this week that can definitely be classified as 'fun' and great pick-me-ups on snowy days:


The Bacon with Almond chocolate bar by Araya Artisan Chocolate. This Texas-based chocolate company strives to "deliver an exceptional gastronomic experience in each of its creations" and I have to agree. At first glance, I thought "bacon and almond?" I am all for bacon and chocolate, thanks to Vosges' Mo's Bacon Bar, but I was not so sure about the almond flavour with the bacon flavour.  So I tested the theory by making a little meal of bacon and roasted almonds.  Surprisingly, they tasted great together!


And so did the chocolate bar.  With subtle hints of bacon flavour and a slight crunch from the tiny pieces of almond, this wonderful dark-milk Venezuelan chocolate is both rich-tasting and melt-in-your-mouth good.  If you want to experience this fun flavour, you do not need to go to Texas to get it - you can order online! Or see below for more details on this chocolate.



Vancouver-based chocolate brand, Zazubean, is known for its fun name and flavour combinations.  And what better mood enhancer than a chocolate bar called 'Cheeky, Be the Sassy Banana', with salted toffee and banana as the featured flavours in a 70% dark chocolate with Maca (a medicinal herb known as a natural aphrodisiac could certainly be considered a winter pick-me-up). This chocolate is dark, but with a slightly sweet crunch and just a hint of banana flavour. 



As a bonus, there is no artificial flavour in this chocolate bar, and the chocolate is both Fair Trade and Organic. Learn more details online: http://zazubean.com/chocolate/cheeky/. Zazubean can also now be found at Loblaw's Superstores!

Here are the package details of the chocolate bars listed here today:


Bacon with: Almond, 41% Milk Chocolate
araya artisanchocolate, Katy, TX, U.S.A.
www.arayachocolate.com
Ingredients: Dark milk Venezuelan chocolate, bacon flavoured chips, almonds, shimmer powder. Allergens: soy Lecithin, milk proteins and peanuts. May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.


'cheeky' Be the Sassy Banana, Salted Toffee & Banana, 100 g
Organic Dark Chocolate, Dominican Republic & Ecuador
Zazubean (Vancouver, B.C., Canada)
www.zazubean.com
Ingredients:  Cocoa mass*+, cane sugar*+, toffee*+(cane sugar*+, whole milk powder*), cocoa butter*+, bananas*, sea salt, Maca*, vanilla*+
+Fair Trade certified
*Organic
Contains milk.  May contain traces of nuts and peanuts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Ultimate Chocolate Diet...Does it Really Exist?

Let's face it, this is the time of the year when everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) is talking about eating healthy, exercise and dieting. Although I never paid much attention to the notion of New Year's weight loss resolutions in the past, I have found that since passing the age of 35, I seem to be more affected by the slightest change in my eating habits. And now I, too, am thinking about a healthier start for 2014.

As we age, we develop our own set of beliefs about diet and exercise. We learn what is right for our bodies, depending on our height, metabolism and body shape.  But sometimes, unexpected changes happen. Changes to metabolism for both men and women, and even greater concerns for women, like hormonal changes and changes in body shape from pregnancy and child birth can cause us to struggle. So we have to find new strategies that fit within our belief system, or throw out our old system altogether and start fresh.

Over the years, I have developed rules for myself about diet and exercise, based on knowledge of my own body and from my experiences with staying fit. There are certain facts that I have come to understand and accept. For instance, I am only five-feet-one-inch tall.  So I know that I need to be eating less calories than a woman who is five-feet-eight-inches (yup, this is depressing for us short people! It took a while into my 20s to realize it, after watching many other taller women consume much more than me and wonder why I couldn't seem to do the same). 

Also, having been an avid jogger for the last 14 years, I know that when I commit to longer jogging sessions (i.e. at least 30 or 40 minutes of steady jogging), I get leaner and my legs look smaller.  But if I choose biking as my exercise, my quad muscles get very large and I appear less lean because of my height.  If I add weights to my workout routine, I see great results.

And when it comes to food, I know that I always gain weight when I eat too many carbohydrates. I realize this may not be the case for everyone. But for me, it is. So one serving of bread OR rice a day is about the most that I will have. When I start to add in other servings, I have to be ready to increase my exercise time.

But what I also know about myself, is that I can lose weight while eating some chocolate every day.  I have managed it many times over the years, and I do believe it can work for everyone. I am not claiming to be an expert in weight loss or nutrition, because I am not.  I just want to share what has worked for me over the last 20 years, since I started eating chocolate every single day.

So if you really want to lose or maintain your weight while consuming chocolate daily and are looking for a new way to do it, you could try incorporating my rules into your daily routine and see if they work for you (I am not guaranteeing anything, you will need to find what works for you best!). 
Here they are:

1. Make changes to the food that you consume. Look at the rest of your diet and be sure that it is as healthy as it can be. Perhaps reduce your carbohydrates, or sugar or saturated fats (depending on what works for you), from your meals and snacks.

Tip: One easy change is to stop eating the 'fruit bottom' of your yogurt. The fruit mixture on the bottom has all sorts of added sugar in it (and other nasty things like modified cornstarch)! You will still taste a little of the fruit flavour in the yogurt that sits on top. Also, be sure to eat some fresh fruit or vegetables with that yogurt. The point is, do not eat unnecessary calories if you want to consume chocolate every day.
2. Plan the time of day when you will eat chocolate.  It will give you something to look forward to every day. What's more, by setting a rule for yourself, you may be likely to follow it. And by not designating a time? Well, you might just end up eating chocolate morning, noon and night!

3. Try out healthier chocolates, less processed chocolates and chocolates with higher %s of cacao (dark chocolate). See if you can find a new craving to replace your same-ol'-sweet-tooth cravings. I have always found that when I consistently eat dark chocolate (70% or higher) for at least a week, I reduce my overall sugar cravings.

4. Sit and savour your chocolate. If you take the time to enjoy it and eat it slowly, you are less likely to go back for more.  I know that when I am busy and quickly shovel chocolate in my mouth, I end up wanting more later in the day because I barely remember eating the first serving.

5. Exercise! I recommend 15 to 20 minutes of steady cardio (i.e. running, biking, skipping, etc. without stopping) in order to burn off the chocolate that you have consumed. If you think you do not have the time, make time.  I have to remind myself of this often, when things get busy with my business or with my kids.


Tip: If you work in an office, use your lunch hour to your advantage! Go for a walk or jog at lunchtime, then you can focus on your family in the mornings and at night. Or do crunches in front of your favourite t.v. show, instead of snacking. If you have no other equipment to use and cannot afford a gym membership - get a skipping rope and make space in your living room.  You can skip while watching t.v. at night for the first 20 minutes of a one-hour show, then rest and enjoy the show for the last 40 minutes.

6. Expend Energy to Create Energy - This has been my motto for many years. When you are feeling your lowest, laziest and most tired, get up and exercise. Drag yourself up and just start, even if your eyes are closing and your shoulders are slumping.  You will find that after a few minutes, you will get energized. This also works for mood.  Ladies, if you find yourself having a day where you cannot stop crying over the littlest things, go for a jog or some other form of cardio. It will improve your mood. And it will burn off some chocolate!
So that is my "Ultimate Chocolate Diet". It works for me (when I follow my own rules). There will always be times when I slip and watch the scale go up - doesn't that happen to all of us?  I am just getting past a phase like that now (the good ol' Halloween-to-Holidays eating season). But I have buckled down since January 1st, and yet I am still enjoying a variety of chocolate every day, and I am seeing great results.

Once you are in your 30s, have children or are busy in your career, it is not as easy to be consistent. The key is to find your own rhythm and the strategies that work best for you.

Good luck with 2014 and may you enjoy all the chocolate that the year brings!

Here are a few 'healthier' chocolates that I have enjoyed this year:


Are you currently eating 60% to 70% dark chocolate,
but want to further reduce your sugar intake?
Step it up to a 75%! This Chocolat Stella bar is a good choice,
and it is organic too.




The CacaoCookie is my own creation. With very minimal cane sugar in it, no butter, eggs nor flour, but all the feeling of a dark chocolate-covered cookie, it has worked for me many times during times of weight loss. You can e-mail me at info@ultimatelychocolate.com for more information.




Kaka'wa Cocoa Beans are handcrafted in Austin, Texas. 
My sister brought them back for me after she attended a conference
there and I am so thankful that she did!  These are delicious, and
with a cocoa bean as the centre, they are packed full of antioxidants too.



If you are looking for chocolate with no CANE SUGAR, look no further than Mast Brothers Dark Chocolate with Crown Maple.  This is a 70% dark chocolate bar and the only two ingredients are: cacao and maple sugar. It is tasty, smooth and has a wonderful toasted maple flavour. Plus, there is no added cocoa butter, fat or soy lecithin, artificial flavours or colours or any other additional ingredients, so you can feel good about the chocolate that you are eating.