Monthly Archives: February 2010

Chocolate Monday: Butlers Almond Praline bar

My husband’s family is pretty big on stockings at Christmas. They revel in the fact that while some people put bits of candy, fruits or small trinkets inside an oversized sock, they often need paper grocery sacks to hold the goodies. I thought this was a joke at first, but during our first Christmas together, I was amazed to find a bag from a local grocery about halfway full of smallish presents for me. Granted, some are a bit odd, like the rhino napkins my husband got in his this year (yes, rhino, as in the African animal). Some are very practical, like the purse-sized ultra hydrating lotion I got in mine (my hands are notoriously dry as soon as October rolls around).

Usually when his folks put edible treats in our stockings, they are things like steak rubs or fancy jams. They don’t usually drop chocolates in our stockings, so I was particularly excited to find a Butlers Almond Praline bar in mine. It wasn’t the brand that excited me, just the addition of a chocolate bar to my stocking.

Since my in-laws live several states away and were spending the holidays with my sister-in-law, we got a card with some notes about our presents. The Butlers chocolates (my husband got one too), came from their latest trip to Ireland. I couldn’t remember if I’d had any of their chocolates when I was in Ireland nearly four years ago or not. That was before the start of my chocolate blog and my fascination with recording the new and interesting cocoa goodies I sample.

I probably should have eaten the bar a bit closer to Christmas, but I had so many different and delicious chocolates on my plate, that it got pushed back a bit. Every now and then I’d glance at it and think about unwrapping it. However, when I looked closely and saw it was dark chocolate, my enthusiasm did waver a bit. I know I’ve said this quite a bit, but for those new to this blog, I’m not a big fan of dark chocolate. However, I do know lots of people, including a lot of Europeans, swear by it. I’m always a bit more reluctant to try anything that is dark, but I figured I’d be better for the experience, so today I dug in.

Thankfully the chocolate was not as bitter as I feared it might be. There was a hint of the usual dark bitterness, but not overly so, which made it easier to eat. The bar is divided into 6 pieces, each filled with almond praline and an actual crunchy almond in the center of each little rectangle. Unlike some nuts I’ve had mixed in to chocolate, this one was, in fact, still crunchy. The praline was creamy, but not overly “almond” in flavor. Now, that could have been because the chocolate surrounding it was so thick that it overwhelmed the praline flavor. In fact, the chocolate was so thick, it was actually hard to taste anything except the chocolate.

I’ll be honest, this is not a candy bar I’d buy for myself. It was basically just six pieces of dark chocolate with a bit of crunch in the middle. While it wasn’t very bitter, it was still dark chocolate. And sure, I like just letting a good piece of chocolate melt in my mouth, but aside from the bottom of a Godiva raspberry cordial (which I eat first), which has a hint of the heavenly raspberry goo inside of it, I haven’t really found a dark chocolate I want to just savour. This one was no exception.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10

Appearance: 5/10 (it looked like any old chocolate bar)

Price: 5/10 (I had to estimate a little, but it’s 18 Euros for 12 of them, which is about 1.5 Euro each. Not exactly sure of the exchange rate right now, but that’s gonna be about $3 per bar and I just don’t think it’s worth it).

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Chocolate Monday: Sweet Ass Cupcakes

Tonight I went out with some friends to an art show at my favorite local coffee shop. I’ll admit I had alterior motives for going. I mean sure, I like art and all, but this particular show had an additional draw: cupcakes! That’s right, the artist not only paints but makes adorable cupcakes, cakes and truffles as well. And let’s face it, my favorite kind of art is edible.

Considering this is a fairly small local coffee house which already puts out a pretty darn tasty variety of treats (scones, muffins, cookies, brownies, etc), I wasn’t sure sure what to expect. But Cory Shutters, the artist and creator of Sweet Ass Cupcakes had quite a spread for everyone. There were samples of every flavor of cupcakes she makes as well as most of her truffle flavors. While I generally have no qualms about making a pig of myself, since I was out in public and I knew other people would want to share in the sugar-coated goodness, I limited myself to four mini cupcakes and one truffle.

It was not easy to pick which flavors to sample. My choices were chocolate, white almond, lemon, yellow, Kahula, carrot cake, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Mojito, vanilla chai, spiced chai and red velvet. After looking at both tables, I went with Mojito, vanilla chai and red velvet. I also picked up a Bailey’s Irish Cream truffle.

I started off with the vanilla chai cupcake. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect . Usually when I pick a cupcake, I go for chocolate with some sort of fudge frosting. However, I adore chai. I grabbed the vanilla version because I didn’t realize there was a spiced version. Spiced chai is my drink of choice when I go to the coffee shop, so I knew a chai cupcake was a must for me. It was good, but it didn’t remind me nearly as much of chai as it did of spice cake, which makes a lot of sense since chai is a spiced tea. Now, I do like spice cake, so I didn’t mind that it didn’t taste much like my yummy hot beverage. It was a little drier than I usually like, but then again, I find spice cake in general to be a bit dry. I think it’s the nature of the beast. Plus, these were mini-cupcakes, and those are never quite as moist as their bigger brothers.

 My next cake was the red velvet. I make it a point to always try any red velvet offering. To me it is a measure of excellence. Not only do I think these cakes are pretty to look at, but I also am intrigued by anything that has a chocolate taste, but doesn’t look chocolatey. So many bakers claim to have a red velvet cake that ends up tasting like, well, nothing really.This particular cake was moister and fairly tasty. Not overly chocolatey, but I still liked the taste of it. The frosting was also tasty. It was creamy and not too sweet. It also wasn’t piled sky high, which is a mistake I think most makers of gourmet cupcakes make. They give more frosting than cake, and let’s face it, they are cupCAKES. This particular frosting really helped to balance the sweetness of the actual cake.

 Before I tried the next cake, I decided to nibble on the truffle. It had a really cute pink candy swirl on top. The inside was incredibly fudgey. The texture wasn’t as stiff as some truffles I’ve tried. It was a bit more liquidy, but it was quite creamy and even though the center looked like it might be a dark truffle base, it wasn’t a bit bitter. It also didn’t have an overwhelming alcohol taste that so many alcohol based truffles too. For example, as much as I love Godiva, their liquer based truffles have a definite alcoholic kick to them that isn’t flavorful, just powerful. This one, however, didn’t at all. It was just creamy and good.

 My final cupcake was the Mojito. This one was the cutest to look at. I loved that it was topped with a tiny slice of real lime. I had to taste that first and I’m glad I did, because it really set the tone for the cupcake. The cake was fairly moist with little bits of lime in it. The actual cake wasn’t nearly as limey as the frosting. When the frosting hit my tongue, I got a little bit of that sweet/sour lime taste. It was pretty yummy.

 Since my dear friend Eee was with me, she let me taste two of her cakes as well. I tried the lemon with the pink topping. The lemon cake was very lemony, but not in an artificial way. The frosting was a little higher than I’d like. For me the frosting on this one was a bit much, especially sincre it was that overly sugary decorator’s buttercream. I also took a taste of her spiced chai cake. It tasted very similar to the vanilla chai cake I’d had. I actually couldn’t tell a difference at all. Since my taste was so tiny, I didn’t get too much of a comparison. I would have liked more, but like I said, I didn’t want to make a pig of myself.

Not that my pig fears stopped me from trying one more cupcake. After all, this is chocolate Monday, so I had to actually try one of her chocolate cakes. I have to admit that this was my favorite. I know, I know, I’m a traditionalist. The fruity flavors are cool, but really, it all comes back to the chocolate for me. This little tasty treat didn’t have tons of frosting on it, which I liked. The frosting it did have looked like dark chocolate to me, but I was once again pleasantly surprised when I tasted it and it was not even remotely bitter. It was rich and if I’d had an entire one, I would no doubt have needed a big glass of milk. I do, however, have two small complaints about this cupcake. First, it wasn’t nearly as moist as I’d hoped it would be. Like most of the tiny cakes, it was a bit on the dry side.

My second complaint was that it was topped with a white fondant star. I am not a huge fan of fondant. I know how pretty it looks and I know that most real cake artists use it, because for them, the design is the art. However, I’m a taste person first and foremost. While I can appreciate a pretty cake, if there isn’t an amazing taste to go with the look, why bother? Fondant is fairly tasteless. To be fair, I nibbled it, but then pulled it off. With it came a lot of the frosting off the cake, which made me sad. I would have rather left the star off and kept the frosting on. It was what made the cake good. The fondant star did nothing for it.

Although I didn’t get a chance to try any of her full size cakes, looking at her website, her Facebook page and her brochure, they do look mighty pretty. Sure, they are fondant, but detail on them looks awesome. I specifically like the skull cake.

I wish I would have gotten to try one of her full size cupcakes. Don’t get me wrong, I like the option of variety, but for anyone who has ever baked mini cupcakes (or muffins or even cookies), they tend to be drier than their counterparts because the time to cook them doesn’t change much, but the surface area does, so they get a bit overcooked. I would be interested to know if all the cupcakes are a bit dry or if it’s just the mini versions. After all, I like a really moist, melt in my mouth cake, and I only really got that from one of the cakes I got to sample.

One downfall, is that if you aren’t local, the cupcakes might be out of your reach. If you are local though, you should check them out. Not only are you getting some tasty cupcakes, but you’ll be supporting a small business onwer (and artist).

 Taste: 7.5/10

 Appearance: 9/10

 Value: 7/10 (about $2 to $2.50 per full-sized cupcake, which is reasonble, but closer to $3.00 for a truffle, which is pricey)

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Warning: explicit pregnancy content

I feel I have to give a little warning here. I know several of my regular readers are dear friends with no intentions of having kids and who are easily freaked out by the term “nesting,” so I figured I should start with a warning. If you decide to read on, you do so at the risk of being just a little (or a lot)  grossed out.

For anyone who has never had kids or hasn’t read up on the subject, pregnancy is a really gross experience. All sorts of icky things can (and often do) happen. Many a movie has shown red-faced women huffing, puffing, cursing and threatening everyone around them out of sheer pain. The image of women walking down hallways with “water” pooling at their feet after their water broke, freaked me out more than once.

Before I had my son, I read horrifying accounts of things like mucus plugs, bloody shows and excrement expelled on the delivery table. Luckily, I knew I was going to have a C-section and would be able to skip all these delivery table nightmares. I also managed to make it through without experiencing a single contraction, which was a bonus.

This time around though, I’ve had a bit of a bumpier ride. It started with some hellacious morning sickness (which I did not have at all with my son). I’ve been exhausted just about every day (due, I think to the nearly three year old I’m chasing around daily). I’ve had headaches at least once a week (once for a stretch of two weeks straight). While this baby does not seem to have the hiccup issue my son did, she will be one heck of a kick boxer one of these days.

In addition, I’ve had a rather unique experience this time around. In the last week or so, I’ve started worrying I might have to start shopping for Depends. See, as I was driving to work, I swear it felt like a little foot (or maybe hand) was about to kick right through my uterus and exit my body through my, well, to be quite honest, my vagina. On the way out, however, the little booger was bound to also make me lose my bladder control. I had never had this experience before, and was quite sure something was horribly wrong.

After I dropped my son off at the sitter’s, I immediately called one of my friends who has had a child far more recently than I. Luckily we have one of those relationships where I can be blunt and ask if I should be frantically calling my OB because a little fist is about to bust out of my body and make me wet myself. When she finished giggling, she assured me that it was fairly normal, and that when she was pregnant she actually did have the same issues when she sneezed or coughed, and on more than one ocassion had lost it.

Of course, she continued to laugh at me all day. Not that I blame her. It’s not exactly the kind of question you expect to get at 7:15 on your morning commute. She was, however, fairly tactful and helpful.

Being the worrywart that I am, I still had to double check with my OB at my appointment later that day to make sure it was “normal.” He assured me that it was and even told me there was a good chance I might have trouble when I “pooped.” This was particularly amusing to me since he lowered his voice to almost a whisper when he said the “p” word. Here is a man who spends a good portion of his days looking up women’s who-has and yet he whispers the word “poop.” Ya gotta love the small nicities that still exist in society.

As a result, I had to go to the pharmacy and grab some panty liners. This to me, was fairly upsetting. Aside from the actual baby, one of the few “pluses” of pregnancy should be that you don’t have to buy any sort of feminine hygiene prodcuts, and yet, here I am, 32 weeks in, and buying some. It’s just not fair.

I know this might be a bit too much info, especially for those of you who are used to my chocolate Mondays, but I’m trying like heck to avoid doing real work and this is on my mind (and bladder) every day lately.

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Chocolate Monday: Albanese Confectionary Company

Yeah, I know I’ve already written a post about this company before, but for Christmas my folks got me a one pound box. Since I had so many goodies to try and no map to follow, I figured I might as well try each and every tasty morsel and report my findings back to you dear readers. Who knows when you might find a box in a pretty package under your tree?

Now, this box was absolutely crammed full of chocolates. I’ve gotten assorted boxes from other companies and they are never quite this full. I think a full review of every single piece might be more than anyone’s up for reading, but I will focus on the best (and worst) pieces in the box.

My favorite pieces were the vanilla buttercreams, their version of the Turtle, toffee, the caramels and the coconut haystacks. I’ve already reviewed the vanilla buttercreams in an earlier post, so I’ll start off with their version of the Turtle. I get really uppity about these particular pieces. These were a nice blend. None of the flavors were overpowering. They caramel in them were chewy, but not sticky at all. They also weren’t huge, like many companies make them. These almost seemed like a trial sized version, which I think is what makes them so tasty. If they were larger the nuts might have been overpowering.

The toffee pieces had bits of nuts on the top. The toffee was thick with hints of almonds in it. It wasn’t overly sweet like some toffees are. It was a real crispy toffee, more like a Heath than a Skor bar and although I like them both, I definitely perfer the Heath variety. This piece was a bit like a super stacked Heath.

Much like the caramels in the “turtle,” the caramel inside was creamy. It was also a bit stringy and gooey, which made it delicious. The box had both a milk and dark version. I’m definitely a bigger fan of the milk version, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who reads this blog. The dark chocolate is a tad bitter, but the sweetness of the caramel does help temper it.

The coconut haystacks came in both milk and white versions. The milk version was my favorite, but I also thought the white one was good. It was basically a big cluster of toasted coconut mixed in with the chocolate, then dropped and cooled. They definitely shouldn’t be eaten if they’ve been in the fridge, as they may tear up your teeth and gums. When they are at room temperature though, they are quite good. I think the toasted coconut really makes these pieces. They have just a slight hint of something smokey, which makes them yumz!

My least favorite pieces had to be the jelly piece, regular buttercream, the fudge/caramel hybrid, and the dark chocolate toffee. I’ll go from best to worst here. The best of these four pieces was the regular buttercream. I was a bit nervous at first because I thought it was going to be a lemon cream. AS much as I adore actual lemons (yes, I just eat ’em the same way I eat oranges), as a rule I’m not a fan of fruit creams. So I was relieved when I bit in to this one and got no hint of lemon. What I did get was creamy and sugary and tasted heavily of butter. It wasn’t exactly bad, but it hurt my teeth after one bite.

Unlike the milk toffee, the dark one had a really thick layer of dark chocolate on top. It was actually too thick to make it tasty. The toffee was completely overpowered by the bitter dark chocoalte. The milk chocolate helped sweeten the toffee flavor. When it was covered in dark chocolate, the toffee was dull and not ery buttery at all. A real let down for me.

The fudge/caramel hybrid (not sure what it’s actually called) was, well, odd. The caramel part tasted chalky. It really needed to be creamier. After the great caramels I’d had earlier in the box, this was a real let down. The fudgey part was fine, but nothing special. The dark chocolate that covered it though, was not great. The combination just wasn’t tempting. I did finish the the piece, but only barely.

The one piece, however, that made me actually made me cringe was a sort of chocolate covered jelly. My only real thoughts were: “Ick! Ick! Ick! Get it out of my mouth!” Biting into it totally freaked me out. I wasn’t expecting it to be squishy. I couldn’t discern the flavor of the jelly, but that might have been because I could only stomach one bite before the texture grossed me out entirely. I’m not sure why anyone would ever, ever want to eat these pieces and if I ever get a box again, I will nibble each piece extra carefully to make sure I never have to put one of these in my mouth again. Yeah, I hated it that much!

For those interested, the other flavors in the box include a few truffles (milk, chocolate, cherry  and white), chocolate creams, maple creams, mint, chocolate covered cherries and peanut butter.  I couldn’t find the exact box I  bought online, which makes sense since it was one of their Christmas packages, but considering how many pieces I got, the price is really low.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10

Appearance: 5/10

Value: 8/10

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