Monthly Archives: August 2009

Chocolate Monday: Betty Crocker Warm Delights

Ok, the thought of microwave cake, doesn’t exactly thrill me. I remember years ago, not too long after we got our first microwave, my mom brought home a packaged cake which promised to have a fresh out of the oven taste, despite never touching the rack. Six minutes or so in the microwave was supposed to bring warm chocolatey cakey goodness to our apartment.

Instead, what it brought us was something brown and chocolate tasting that was rock hard around every edge and soupy in the middle. I was so upset because my hopes were high. Aside from birthdays, my mom didn’t take the time to make cakes (even the cuppy cake variety), but with the promise of mixing in some water and pushing a button, she was suddenly thrilled with the prospect of “baking.” Thankfully my mom learned from it and never bought another one. I went back to just getting cake on my birthday.

My childhood encounter left me so scarred that despite improvements in modern microwave technology, I haven’t fallen for microwave cakes, brownies or other bakery treats. Until last week.

On a whim I grabbed a Betty Crocker Warm Delights Chocolate Molten cake (or some such name). The picture looked good (like they always do) and it promised moist cake with a fudgy center in only minutes. I figured what the heck. The worst thing that could happen is I’d be out a few bucks and have cake batter instead of cake.

To my delight, after only a minute in a half in the microwave, the cake was actually done. And not overdone either. It was, in fact, moist. It was also chocolatey. The fudge I’d “kneaded” for 10 seconds before globbing on top of the batter melted into the cake and was warm and gooey, but in the chocolate lava sort of way I like. It wasn’t too rich. It was just what I needed for dessert.

Now, I’m not saying this is the second coming of baked goods or anything. But it was a blast of chocolate fudgy goodness that was ready in seconds. Sure, if I’d baked a real cake it would have been moister and tastier, but it also would have taken 20 minutes to bake, 30 to cool and 10 more to frost. Compared to the 90 seconds to cook and minute to cool, I’ll compromise a bit on quality.

Plus the portion was so big that I almost couldn’t finish it all…almost. Thumbs up!

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Chocolate Monday: Albanese Confectionary

albaneseFor years I passed a very cute, gingerbread looking house whenever I went to visit my parents. It always looked out of place on the side of a rather busy highway, especially since it was attached to what looked like a cold warehouse. During one visit, my step-mom told me that it was actually a chocolate factory. She was excited because it was soon to be opened to the general public. I’ll admit it, when I heard about it, I was a bit giddy. Even more so when she told me they were going to have a chocolate waterfall. My mind was filled with images of Willy Wonka and finally fulfilling my dream of eating my way through a chocolate factory.

I was a bit disappointed when Albanese Confectionary opened up and I found that while there were tons of edibles inside, they were all in bins and packages. No gummi bear trees or giant mushrooms with sticky cream lined my path inside. The chocolate waterfall, while technically warm melted chocolate falling down from some mysterious place above, could not possibly have sucked Augustus Gloop up, much less my two year old kid. No chocolate river flowed through the store.

Once my initial disappointment wore off, I took a moment to take everything in. Aside from the fact that everything in the room wasn’t eatible, I did sort of feel like Charlie when he stepped in that marvolous door. Everywhere I turned, there was candy. Bins line about 1/2 the store and are filled with amazing treats like giant peanut butter cups, seafoam candy, chocolate carmelcorn and more flavors of gummi bears than I’ve ever seen in one room. Not to mention loads of different nuts, dried fruits and prepackaged candies like Bit O’Honey and Tootsie Rolls.

In addition to all the bins, the floor is full of displays with unique and interesting prepackaged candies. Gummi breakfasts, suckers with insects in them, Pixie sticks, Hello Kitty hard candies and more. Around the chocolate waterfall (which is really a tube that runs from the ceiling to a counter), are freshly dipped fruits and packages the employees put together of their chocolates as well as gift items (like picture frames and teapots). The  ceilings are strewn with giant decorations like bees buzzing around vibrantly colored flowers.

Now for the candy itself. I’ll admit, I haven’t tried it all. Despite a dozen or so trips, I’ve only tried about 1/4 of what they have (and I’m only counting the candy, not the nuts). One of the great things about Albanese is that they will let you sample anything in the store. And not just one sample per customer. For me one of the biggest frustrations with buying chocolates is getting something that looks tasty but isn’t. I’ve had more than my share over the years, so I love the ability to try before I buy.

As for their actual chocolates, I’ve yet to have one I don’t like. My problem is actually that I like them a bit too much. It’s not hard to sit down with a bag vanilla creamof their chocolate covered raisins or their double dipped peanuts and realize I’ve eaten, well, let’s leave it at a LOT. I can rarely stop at one of their vanilla creams. Then again, I have a real weakness for these. Their vanilla creams remind me a bit of cake frosting. They are sweet and creamy. A thin layer of chocolate surrounds them, so it’s the perfect combination.

Another must have on every trip are their chocolate covered toffee pecans. They are large praline pecans covered in a thin layer of crunchy toffee and then covered in a layer of milk chocolate. They are amazingly sweet, but the nutty flavor at the center keeps them from being too sweet. They have a great crunch as well. I can eat an entire 1/4 and not even notice the bag is empty.

They also serve up one of my husband’s favorites, chocolate cherries. Not the overly sweet disasters I loved as a kid that are full cherries in that icky, sticky disgustingly sweet juice. These are large semi-dried cherries covered in chocolate. I’ve also had some tasty chocolate coconut haystacks, chocolate almonds and chocolate covered caramels.

One the best things about Albanese is that it’s tasty chocolate at affordable prices. A pound of vanilla creams is $8.99. A pound of chocolate covered raisins or double dipped peanuts is only $3.99 a pound. And it’s not cheap chocolate either. Now, I don’t think it’s as creamy as say, Godiva, but it’s a completely different taste sensation. I think of Albanese as comfort chocolate. It’s creamy, it’s tasty, and it’s full of flavors I remember from my childhood. Like the raisins…they are like the cheapo Raisinettes my mom used to get me every now and then, but only 10 times better. It’s quality chocolate in amazing quantities! Every time I go, I get at least half a dozen treats and spend less than $20. Plus, they have yogurt raisins, which I feel good about giving to my son. When I got to other chocolate places, he sometimes gets upset because he can’t get little cakes (what he calls truffles and fancy chocolates), but when we stop at Albanese, there’s always a treat I can get him and he LOVES them.

On a side note, although I know it’s not chocolate related, if you click the Albanese link, you will notice that they boast the World’s Best Gummies. There is no exaggeration to this claim. They are AMAZING! They have 12 different fruit flavored gummi bears, including peach, raspberry and Granny Smith apple. And each one actually taste exactly like what it’s supposed to. No random red or white flavor that you can’t quite place. In addition to the bears they have army men, jet fighters, worms, fish, butterflies and cola bottles. Plus, they are only $2.49 a pound. Every time I go, I am required to get my bff, who is a bit of an addict, a pound. She agrees they are the best bears ever. When I was a kid, I liked gummi bears, but I got burned out because whenever I’d get a package, the red ones always tasted like dish soap to me. The only distinct flavor I got from them was the yellow ones, which I think were lemon. Albanese gummis are the opposite. Each one is bursting with flavor. They are amazing. I can easily finish off a pound and still want more. And, no matter what you may think of the war or the politics behind it, Albanese made gummi soldiers, then sent 100,000 packages to the troops over in the Middle East. It wasn’t until the soldiers requested them for their kids that Albanese started making them and selling them in their stores. Pretty cool if you ask this humble candy connoisseur.


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Chocolate Monday: Neuhaus Createur Chocolatier

So once again it is Monday and chocolate is on my mind. A few weeks ago, I was in in our nation’s capital visiting family and checking out a production of King Lear (where I saw Stacy Keach’s hiney). My sister, brother-in-law and I had some time to kill after visiting the Folger’s Shakespeare Library (read my version of Mecca), so we decided to get a bite to eat. We wanted to eat in a trendy little area that had some amazing looking places, but unfortunately there was also some sort of open air market or art show or something going on and there was nothing even resembling a parking space for several blocks.

On a whim, my b-i-l suggested we go over to Union Station. I figured what the heck. I’m usually the least picky eater in a group and can always find something edible at a food court. Union Station didn’t have a food court per say. They had a food hall. See, I had no idea that it was anything more than a mall (we also have a Union Station downtown, which I understand used to be a train station like a zillion years ago, but my entire life it’s been a mall, growing lamer and lamer–and more and more abandoned–over the years). Imagine my surprise when I saw people rushing all over the place to catch actual trains! And my surprise that instead of  the standard burger, asian, steak sandwich and pizza joints that seem to come standard in most mall food courts, I had an amazing variety in front of me.

Right now, you are probably wondering when in the world I’m getting to the chocolate. Be patient, it’s coming, I promise. Anyway, the food gallery is located in the bottom of Union Station and after we ate a mediocre meal of bourbon chicken, we tried to find an elevator to get back up. Personally I was cool with the stairs, but my sis has some major health issues and can’t do stairs. We finally found an escalator that took us up the back end of the building. It was thanks to this little misadventure (it also involved a scary elevator we were pretty sure was an unmarked service elevator), we walked right past a little chocolate shop called Neuhaus.

The very nice lady working behind the counter with the very authentic accent told us all about the company, which has been making chocolates since 1857. According to our very informative sales lady (and confirmed by the website), the founder’s grandson actually created the very first filled chocolate candy, and called it a praline. She also told us that his wife created the first ballotin, which was a term I’d seen a thousand time on Godiva’s webpage, but had no idea was just a fancy name for candy box.

The very helpful lady also offered us a sample from behind the counter. I won’t lie, I don’t even remember what I sampled, but what I do remember is this: it was tasty, so I decided to buy more! I bought two boxes, one rather large box I haven’t broken in to yet. The other, is part of a special collection, the Discovery Collection.

Aw yes, finally I get to the actual chocolate. I actually grabbed a small sampler–it had one of each piece in it. For starters, I have to give Neuhaus a 10/10 for appearance. The chocolates are beautiful. Each one was uniquely crafted and truly pretty. The collection had a bit more dark chocolate than I usually like to see, but one thing I’ve noticed about fancy (and expensive) chocolatiers is that they tend to love their dark chocolate. I’m sure it’s a comment on the refinement of their clientel’s palates.

My first piece was the Grand Place which is a dark chocolate ganache with nigella. I had no idea what nigella* was, but that didn’t stop me from popping it in my mouth. The piece itself had a heavy layer of dark chocolate, which as I’ve mentioned is usually a bit off putting to me. It was offset by a creamy center. While not my favorite, I thought it was ok.

Next I tried the Louise which is described as Java milk chocolate ganache. Silly American I am, I read the word Java and immediately thought coffee. Boy was I happy when that wasn’t true! This piece had little crunchies all over the top that looked like Cocoa Pebbles. It was creamy, silky, smooth chocolate and it was delicious! It was by far my favorite piece. I had no idea that Java was known for chocolate, but I’m 100% on board! Get more chocolate from them!

My next piece was the Galerie, which is a caramel ganache. The piece itself had a layer of caramel over milk chocolate. The caramel was the squishy liquidy kind (my favorite) and quite tasty. My only complaint was that it was covered in dark chocolate. Had it been in milk chocolate, this would have been my favorite one. The dark chocolate outside just gave it a hint of bitter that I don’t like with my caramel.

I was really prepared not to like Jean, which is a 64% dark chocolate ganache. It was very dark, but still creamy. Although it was too rich for my tastes, it wasn’t too bad. It reminded me a bit of really strong homemade drinking chocolate. I can take a little of it, but more than a few sips and I have to get rid of it. Too decadent and rich.

The Adelson is the classic praline (it’s description is even in French). It had little bits of nuts on the top. The praline itself had almost a peanuty flavor, however it was completely overpowered by the heavy, heavy, heavy dark chocolate. I had real trouble tasting anything else. I had to make an effort to just get filling for a taste. Pitty, because I think the filling was good, but I wouldn’t eat this one again.

Frederic was a hazelnut ganache. This was probably the prettiest one to look at. It was a milk chocolate piece (yea!) with dark chocolate brushed on one half in an almost leaf-like pattern. The texture of the filling was that of a thicker squishy caramel, but unfortunately the flavor wasn’t very strong. I pretty much just tasted milk chocolate. It was a good, creamy chocolate, but nothing special.

Finally, the last piece was the Suzanne. I saved this one for last because I thought it would be my favorite. It’s a raspberry ganache and raspberry and chocolate is pretty much my favorite flavor combo. Even though it was yest another dark chocolate piece, I wasn’t worried. Most raspberry pieces I find are paired with dark chocolate and I ADORE them. They tart of the raspberry sets off the bitter of the dark chocolate perfectly. This one was not quite what I’d hoped for. I liked the bits of dried rasperry on the top, but the filling was only slightly sweet. It offset the dark chocolate, but only a little. It just wasn’t tart enough for me. Oddly though, despite being amazingly smooth, it did have a sort of seedy feeling to it, almost like there were real raspberry seeds I just couldn’t see in the piece. Good, but not great.

Overall, I’d give the collection a 7/10 for taste. Some of the flavor combos were great, but there was just too much dark chocolate for me. I’m hoping the ballotin I have waiting for me in my fridge will prove to be a bit more balanced. The company seems to have a real flair for creamy chocolate.

*According to Wikipedia, it’s a flower whose seeds are often used to flavor curries. It has a bitter oregano taste and can be used to pepper recipes. I did not notice anything that tasted like bitter oregano in the flavor.

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A little gingerale turns the tide

Sometimes I get kind of down on my husband. I let little things (and in moments of clarity, I do realize they are fairly little things) get the best of me. He often jokes that every time we have an argument, it’s going to end up on my blog. It rarely does, but every now and again, I have been known to let my anger out here. I rarely, however, write blogs in his praise, which I’m guessing gives a skewed perspective.

And I think it’s because sometimes I take the wonderful things he does for me for granted. So this blog, is in praise of my husband (and gingerale).

On Monday I felt ill, but I had to go in to work for a few hours. Although school hasn’t started yet, I needed to meet with my extra-curricular kids and get ideas rolling for this coming year. It was a very productive meeting, which ended up running over an hour longer than it was supposed to, and my stomach felt all funny. Now, I thought it was because I hadn’t had anything to eat. There was some confusion about lunch (we were working through it), and so I didn’t bring anything with me to nibble on. By the time we broke at 2, my stomach was flip floppy, so I went out to get some lunch.

Turns out, that wasn’t the greatest of ideas. My stomach wasn’t hungry mad, it was just mad. By the time I picked my son up and walked in the door, I was feeling awful. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch TV. Which, is actually what I did. My son was very sweet. He played trains and kissed my tummy when I told him it hurt. He even snuggled with me while I watched a little “My Life on the D List.”

When my husband got home about 90 minutes later, whatever was sending my tummy into fits was in full swing. As soon as he saw me sacked out on the couch, he knew something was up. He came over and asked what was up. I told him and he kept asking what he could do for me. Although there wasn’t much, he did keep our little one occupied, redirecting his attention as much as possible when he wanted to use me as a jungle gym.

He went out and ran an errand for me (two really–he had to go back out because he’d missed one thing). He got dinner for himself and my son. He tried to get me to eat too, but it wasn’t happening. He didn’t make a single peep as I played couch commando and watched a “Scrubs” rerun I’ve seen a zillion times.  He completely took over at bed time. All I had to do was kiss my little monkey and hand him off for pjs and stories.

When my son was snuggly tucked in, my husband sat patiently through both “True Blood” and “Entourage” (shows he doesn’t watch) which I had DVR’d, asking about me the entire time. When I finally figured something he could do for me–go to the gas station and get me some gingerale–he popped right up and headed out for the third time, telling me he was glad to do it.

He came back not just with a 20 oz bottle I’d expected, but two 2 liters. He poured it into a cup with ice and delivered it to me. Then he finally got to watch a show he cared about (because I wanted to) “The Next Food Network Star.”  After it was over, I turned the TV off, but couldn’t move from the couch. He made sure there was nothing else I needed before asking if he could watch the news. Of course, I handed the remote over.

A few minutes later, I’d gotten on the floor to pick something up, and found myself snuggled up to my son’s giant stuffed teddy bear. Even though I was laying on the floor, I was pretty darn comfy. I had no desire to get up, but my husband knew I’d be sore pretty soon. So what did he do? He turned off his show, came over, helped me up, got me to the bedroom and tucked me in. He even went back out to the kitchen to fill up a water bottle for me. He even tried to convince me that if I still felt bad, he would take our son to the sitters and pick him up so I could get a day of rest.

Then he gave me a kiss, told me to call if I needed anything and went back out to watch his news.

I know he didn’t do anything extraordinary for me. This is pretty much how he always takes care of me when I’m sick. It’s simple and sweet and what any good spouse should do. It’s love. Sometimes, I let the stupid dishes that didn’t get done or the card game that ran late cloud these moments. But all it takes is one bottle of gingerale to remind me just how great he really is.

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Savor the Summer Garden: A vegetarian delight

For anyone who happens to live in the Indianapolis area, wants a tasty lunch and likes the idea of trying something new (and supporting local chefs and veggie suppliers), might I suggest attending Savor the Summer Garden. Here is a link that gives you all the info you need (where to get tickets, where it is, etc).

Below I’ve included the tentative menu. I’ve been to a few of these in the past and they’ve been pretty good. I’m not a vegetarian, but I like, no, scratch that, LOVE food, so I’m always up for an adventure. My sources tell me that this year is shaping up to be the best one (read tastiest) so far, so if you aren’t busy and want some good food, this is the place for you!

Main Dishes
Oven roasted cauliflower
The slow roasting of this vegetable brings out the unique nuttiness and earthy flavors that often go unnoticed when steaming or boiling the product.  The cauliflower is rinsed and dried clean cut into quarters and rubbed with EVOO, S&P, smoked paprika, onion powder, pinch of cayenne pepper, ginger powder, cinnamon, whole garlic cloves, golden raisins, red currents, and dried dates.
Vegetables in curry sauce
Eggplant, potatoes, red, yellow, and green bell peppers, yellow and green summer squash , yellow or white onions, green beans, purple Thai basil, light coconut milk, lemon grass with a spicy red curry and a savory mild green curry.
Large Black eggplants, green and red bell peppers, portabella mushrooms, yellow onions, tomatoes, green and yellow zucchini squash, garlic cloves, fresh flat leaf parsley, and fresh sweet basil served on on a bed of whole wheat rigatoni pasta.
Quinoa with dessert fruit and legumes
Red quinoa cooked in vegetable stock and tossed with assorted dried fruits – apricots, cherries, golden raisins, dates, figs. Minced garlic, lemon and orange zest, ginger root, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, chick peas, kidney beans, fresh basil leaf, diced carrots, celery, onions, and blanched broccoli. Garnish with cilantro leaf and lime wedges
French Green Lentils with summer mushroom salad
Green Lentils cooked in vegetable stock and shocked to keep a bit firm. Sautee minced celery, and garlic lightly in olive oil with assorted summer greens – sorrel, frisae, arugula, spinach, lemon juice S&P. For the mushroom sauté assorted – crimini, portabella, shitake, oyster, and button mushrooms. Mushrooms are sautéed lightly in assorted minced fresh herbs –tarragon, flat leaf parsley, and basil
“Mini Burgers”
Smashed chick peas and medium soft tofu seasoned with S&P, garlic, minced onion, and A1 steak sauce, served on mini buns with crispy fried onions, and spicy whole grain mustard.
Assorted cold salads
Fennel and orange salad

Fennel bulb thinly sliced with orange segments, diced red onion, dill and mint, EVOO, S&P. Served on a bed of mixed greens. Marinate the fennel and oranges over night and emulsify the juices with EVOO and use as dressing.

Greek potato salad
Oven roasted fingerling potatoes, EVOO, balsamic vinegar, minced fresh basil and oregano, the pulp of roasted garlic, minced sundried tomatoes, grape tomato, cucumbers, celery, olives, banana peppers, and S&P.
Roasted root vegetable salad with almond pesto
Vegetables are oven roasted & partially steam to prevent drying – baby carrots, turnips, kohlrabi, yellow beets, celery root, baby radishes area allowed to cool. For the pesto puree almonds, garlic, walnut oil, lemon juice, S&P, and caramelized sweet onions.
Dips and spreads
Watermelon salsa

Cubed yellow and red melons, cilantro, red onion, lime juice, and jalapeño, serve with freshly made corn chips.
roasted red bell pepper humus
Sun Dried tomato Tapenade
Cold melon, cucumber, and mint soup with grilled pineapple relish

Miso soup with cubed firm tofu, chives, and mushrooms
Brown miso, firm tofu, chives and thin sliced button mushrooms.
Gazpacho soup
 V8 spicy flavor as base, cucumber, red onion, carrots, celery, red and yellow bell peppers, parsley, chives, garlic, red wine vinegar, EVOO, lemon juice, S&P, spicy pepper sauce, chives, and tomatoes.


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Chocolate Monday: Chocolate Barr’s

chocolate barr's candy

As apart of my recent trip to Canada, I had to check out the local sweet shops. Luckily even though Stratford isn’t the biggest town (pop. about 30,000), they have three different chocolate shops. The first one we went to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is a chain, but I still reviewed it a few weeks ago. The second one  is Chocolate Barr’s and it was convienantly located about three doors from our hotel. To sweeten the pot, during check-in at the hotel, we were handed a coupon for free chocolates at Chocolate Barr’s. For me, that sealed the deal!

Although it probably would have been smart to buy a box of prepackaged chocolates, when I see a chocolate counter full of delicious sounding flavor combinations, I can’t help myself, I have to create my own assortment. The problem with that is that when I actually sit down to enjoy my chocolates, I have no idea what I put in my box. Since there was no map to guide me through my purchases, I had to let my tongue (and my not quite as good as it was 10 years ago memory) try to sort it out for me.

Looking in the box, all I could figure out was that I’d gotten a variety of creams and caramels. The only piece that stood out for me was the one truffle I got. Not so much because the shape or size was any different from the creams, but because it had a really cool iridescent pink sheet to it. I won’t lie, I bought that truffle specifically because it was so pretty to look at. The flavor itself, a chili chocolate, is not usually a favorite of mine. It can be done well, and this one wasn’t too shabby. There was a slight chili taste that left a little burn, even after I’d had another chocolate. The chili flavor was embedded in a creamy chocolate center. Since it was in dark chocolate (as most chili chocolate is), it was a little stronger than I like. I’m glad I tried it though.

Looking back in the box, I was pretty sure the giant squares in the box were the peanut butter pieces. Having two of them helped me figure it out, since my husband is enamoured of peanut butter and I figured I should bring something special back from my travels for him.*Chocolate Barr’s peanut butter pieces were pretty big. They were thick and had creamy peanut butter inside, but it tasted a little artificial to me, and to be honest, not super peanuty, which made me a little sad. See, as part of my love for chocolate, I have several recipes of my own and put together my own chocolate treats for the holidays. My peanut butter chocolates are a favorite and I love how peanuty they taste. The ones I’d gotten at this shop tasted a bit too sugary for my taste.

I found the same was true for the coconut cream I tried. It had a mild coconut taste to it and a few flecks of real coconut, but for the most part, it was too sugary. And while the coconut caramel also had the flecks of real coconut in it, I didn’t think they added much to the flavor. In fact, the flecks were all that told me it was a coconut caramel.

The maple cream, which I figured would be a Canadian special, definitely had maple flavor to it, but didn’t exactly thrill me. It was decent, but not decadent.

On the flip side, the butter rum truffle was immediately identifiable. It tasted like a creamy, chocolatey butter rum lifesaver. Now, I know this is just one of the many things that made me kind of a wierd kid, but even from a very young age I have ADORED butter rum lifesavers. I would trade away my assorted flavors and even my cherry rolls for them whenever I could. There vanilla cream was also quite tasty. It was buttery and creamy and a bit like cake frosting. In short, everything a vanilla buttercream should be. Yum! The salted caramel is also pretty tasty. Then again, I really do like the satly sweet combo. There is just a hint of sea salt on the top of the caramel and it’s a nice balance. It’s also a really chewy, stick to your teeth kind of caramel, so if that’s not your thing, their caramels may not be for you. Oh, just a little hint, if you do get the caramels, make sure to bring them to room temperature if you want a shot at eating them without cracking your teeth!

chocolate barr's logoOverall, this collection reminded me of pieces I could get in a Whitman’s sampler. Perfectly fine for snacking on, and capable of filling a chocolate craving, but not really of satisfying that craving. If I went to Stratford again, I’d stop in and buy more, but this time I’d get a smaller box with only my scattered favorites. The price was very reasonble though. I got a half pound box for about $12. That was about 20 pieces (about .60 each). I’d give Chocolate Barr’s a 6/10.

*I did bring him plenty of treats–fancy peanut butter caramel bars, giant peanut butter cups and a few peanut butter meltaways.

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