Monthly Archives: January 2011

Chocolate Monday: Healthy Choice Fudge Bar

I’m back on the diet express again. I won’t lie, I hate it. At this point in my life, the only memories I have that don’t seem to involve dieting in some way all seem to involve Strawberry Shortcake  and her Berry Patch friends. It definitely feels like I’ve been on some sort of diet longer than I’ve been off on–at least in the last 10 years that is.

I know that makes me sound like some sort of loser with no self-control, and I don’t have a stellar ability to refrain from eating things I love, but I’m also not entirely hopeless. It did take me about two years to lose 50 lbs and really keep them off. I managed to maintain that for a good two more years. Then, I got pregnant, which was nearly a year of putting weight on and then about a year and a half taking it back off. Five pounds from my pre-baby weight, I got pregnant again, which brings me to my current two years of gaining and now trying to lose it again. It’s some sort of vicious cycle I plan to break free of now that I’m out of the baby making business.

So, when my husband’s Call of Duty buddy brought over some Healthy Choice Fudge Bars to share, I saw a golden opportunity. Not only did they give offer up some potential chocolate goodness, but they did it for a measly 100 calories a pop. And they were decent sized too, not some teeny tiny three lick cicle!

I’m not sure how long they’d been in his freezer, but they had that classic bit of frost built up on them which initially threw me quite a bit. There is nothing quite so disappointing as expecting to get a lick of chocolate and having my tongue meet boring ol’ ice. So, I dug my teeth in and chomped a bit off.

The first bite didn’t leave me drooling for more, but it didn’t leave me gagging either. It took my a few licks to commit to it, since the flavor isn’t exactly one I’d call fudge. Which, is probably for the best since I had a nasty run-in with fudgesicles as a child and still avoid them. I probably shouldn’t hold a grudge, after all, it wasn’t the chocolate’s fault my best friend and I decided to split an entire box by ourselves. Thankfully we only made it through about three each before starting to feel a bit sick. But in the twenty-five years or so that have followed, I have pretty well Nancified all fudge bar-like products.

I wouldn’t really describe the taste as chocolatey. At least not in a traditional way. The bar was definitely creamy. Texture wise, it reminded me of a slightly thinner Frosty from Wendy’s. But, it didn’t have that creamy chocolate taste of a true Frosty, but rather a more generally creamy taste, that I know isn’t associated with actual real cream (not for 100 calories).

When I got about half way done with the bar, I had an easier time making a flavor connection: Jell-O pudding pops. But not the amazing ones of my past (which were actually manufactured by Jell-O), but the ones I found at a Meijer about five years back which claimed to be Jell-O pudding pops, but seemed like cheap, icier imitations. This was not the rich, decadent treat I once forced myself to eat an entire bowl of Spaghettio’s for (I DETEST those slimy fake tomatoey tasting rings of doom). This was more akin to that pale shadow which my  taste buds met with excitement, but quickly balked at when I found the box nearly two decades later. I mean, I could still eat the second batch of pops, but I didn’t really want to.

When I’d finished with the HC Fudge Bar, I had a slight after taste I couldn’t quite place in my mouth. At first I wanted to say chalky, but it wasn’t. And it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. It just sort of tasted artificial, which is no doubt what it was, some sort of aspartame or Nutra Sweet deal.

Now, I know it sounds like I hated these bars, but in truth, they weren’t so bad. The creaminess, while not exactly chocolate, was perfectly fine. Not my first choice for an ice cream treat, but when I’m limiting myself to under 1500 calories and I’ve already spent the bulk on my three squares a day, I found these bars perfectly acceptable. I know it’s not a rousing endorsement, but it’s diet chocolate. Try as I might, I can’t get super jazzed about the concept. They are a nice alternative for those trying to cut (or even just watch) the extra calories. Heck, I might even go to the store and actually buy a box, as long as I could put blinders on and not see the Ben and Jerry’s right next to them.

Overall:

Taste: 4.5/10 (for a diet food, I’d say 6/10)

Price: well, mine were free, so I’m not sure this counts, but based on retail 5/10

Appearance: 5/10 (I did like that they looked like Jell-O pops, I could mentally trick myself a bit)

*Nancified is a term used among my circle of friends to describe a basically irrational hatred of a food because of our own stupid over-indulgence in it. It was coined by my friend Che (I think) because our dear pal who the condition is named after has a nasty habit of obsessively eating a food, making her self outrageously sick off of it and never eating it again. She’s also afraid of milk, but that is another story entirely.

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Chocolate Monday: Holy Cow Cupcakes

I’ll admit it: I’m kind of a  Groupon junkie. If for any reason you don’t know what Groupon is, all I can say, is that it is amazing. It’s an online coupon service available in cities from Abilene, TX to Lancaster, PA to Roanoke, VA. Heck, they are even available in Hawaii and in parts of Canada. Basically, it works because people buy in bulk. The featured business decides what their minimum amount they want to sell is (they can also put a cap on the deal). Once that many people sign up for it, the deal “tips” and then consumers get wicked discounts on all sorts of goodies. I’ve bought Groupons for restaurants, massages, house cleaning, rock climbing and, of course, chocolate.

In fact, it is thanks to Groupon that I found out about Holy Cow Cupcakes. I’d certainly never heard of them. But, sure enough, they came up as my deal of the day, and when I saw it was a dozen gourmet cupcakes for $12, well, I couldn’t say no. When I bought the groupon, I was on a real cupcake kick. Lately, my enthusiasm has died down a bit (in part to the diet I keep starting and stopping to lose this baby weight that just won’t leave). But, as Groupons have a shelf life and my window to redeem the certificate I’d already paid for was dwindling, I figured I’d better hurry up and cash in.

When my BFF and I set off in search of the store, I figured it’d be easy to find. Although I couldn’t remember ever seeing the store, I knew the general area. However, after our first pass, we were stumped. So, we turned around and headed back. We darn near missed it the second time too, but luckily my darling BFF just happened to the left and boom, there it was: sharing space with the gas station. Well, not technically sharing space as it is its own little store, but the fact it was attached to the station didn’t leave us with high hopes.

When we squeezed in to the little store front, my hopes were again dashed a bit. There were only 7 flavors available, and one was a maple bacon. I had absolutely no desire for that one. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind when my pancake syrup spills over just a tad and hits my bacon on the rare mornings I actually go so far as to cook (or more likely order) such a spread for breakfast, but I’m not on board with this whole bacon for dessert trend. I’ve tried two different bacon/chocolate combos and have not cared for either. Bacon was meant to barely mingle with syrup on my breakfast plate, but it was never meant to be mixed with massive amounts of sugar and served as a dessert.

Since my Groupon was for a dozen, I figured I’d better get what I could. I got two of each flavor available, except for mocha, since there was only one of those available. I’m not a coffee person to begin with, but I thought my husband might like it. The problem was that even though there were 5 other flavors available, they were all very basic and, really not much of a variety.I ended up with two chocolate with chocolate frostings, two vanilla with chocolate frostings, two vanillas with vanilla frostings, two maple, three red velvet and that one mocha.

That night my husband tried the mocha and I tried a chocolate with chocolate frosting. It wasn’t looking good when he couldn’t finish his cupcake. He’s not really a chocolate connoisseur, but he does love coffee. After about half of it though, he said it was way too strong for him. As soon as he uttered the words, I was glad I hadn’t asked for a bite. I’m all for taking one for the team (read blogging world), even when I know there is a good chance I won’t like it, but I’d always rather be saved from a bite I’m going to really dislike. If Mr. Coffee didn’t like it, I knew there was no way I would.

Needless to say, I was even more hesitant to taste mine.

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised when I bit in to a moist, rich, chocolatey cake. Although it didn’t really look like much, the flavor of the cake was very pure. It was simple and downright chocolatey. The bakers didn’t try to much it up. They made a good cake and let it speak for itself. I tried a small taste of the frosting next. At first I thought it was going to be an overly sugary frosting. You know the type: the grainy frosting that grocery store bakeries are famous for using. That’s what it looked like. I was happy when I bit in to it and instead of nearly crystalizing on my tongue, it melted more like fudge. And that’s how I’d describe it: a slightly coarse fudgey taste. It still had a tiny bit of that sugary grain, but once again, a simple, fudge frosting taste. I was impressed and surprised by how much I liked it.

The next night my husband and I split a red velvet cake. I had planned on eating it all myself, but when I’d failed to bring one downstairs for him as well, I could see my options were either share or go back up and get him one. I was already snuggled under the blanket, so there was no way I was going back up, so I handed over a fork full.

He liked this one much better than the mocha. I was not as impressed. I felt lit had many of the same problems so many red velvets do: too much hype, not enough flavor. There was definitely a cocoa taste to the cake, but it was almost too subtle. The frosting was where I felt a bit let down by this cake. It definitely was a fairly creamy cream cheese frosting, but it was a tad too sweet. It left an odd aftertaste in my mouth that I didn’t care for. I was glad I ended up sharing it because I don’t think I could eat an entire one by myself. My husband loved it, but I was done after half.

The last one I tried wasn’t chocolatey at all. It was the maple cake. It was pretty good, but it was also two days old. It definitely tasted like maple, but not an artificial syrupy taste. The frosting was more like that of the chocolate cake (only obviously maple), which was good. The cake wasn’t as moist, but I don’t think that was the bakery’s fault. I think it was leaving it in my fridge until Monday. I definitely liked it; I just didn’t love it.

Overall, they were decent. Definitely not Gigi’s or The Flying Cupcake, but not bad. Since I have another Groupon for them, I’ll no doubt go back in right before it runs out to snag my other dozen. I’ll even use two or three of them as rewards for my students. I definitely won’t be drooling over them, saving back my diet calories for a much needed treat, but I could split one or two with my husband again.

Taste: 7/10

Value: 7/10 (with the Groupon they were only $1 a piece, but they usually sell for about $2 a piece and they are kind of small).

Appearance: 5/10 (nothing to write home about. Mine look just like them when I make them at home.)

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Chocolate Monday: Vosges Holiday Truffle collection

One of my true joys in life is a shopping trip with my best friend. While I’m perfectly content to spend our time tooling around one of the local malls or on nicer days heading downtown to hit some of the trendier one of a kind shops, my absolute favorite place to go with her is Armitage Street in Chicago. This is due in part to the absolutely fun shops and often great finds there. It is due in part to an amazing little pasta place we stumbled on one year (Pasta Pallazo–we go every single trip). And it is due in part to the 10-12 hours of pure bonding time we have. It never ceases to amaze me that even after something like 16 years of friendship (wow, it really has been that long), we can still spend that much time with each other and never run out of things to say. In fact, on this recent trip my voice actually gave out from talking so much (might have also been the cold I was in the grip of).

One major draw of Armitage used to be the dueling chocolate shops on the opposite ends of our favorite street. I’ll be honest, I looked forward to Ethel M’s far more than Vosges, but I learned to appreciate each for its unique contribution to our visit. I loved coming home absolutely laden with chocolate goodies.

Sadly, Ethel M’s closed up shop about two years ago. Each time we visit, we glance at the fading brown and pink awning, hoping our shop has miraculously returned. Each time, we are devastated all over again. I’d be nice if they could rent the shop to anything else so we wouldn’t have that bitter reminder of what we could have had. I’d actually be happy if they just took the awning down so it wouldn’t mock me. But alas, Chicago is a cruel mistress and likes to taunt me with precious sugary memories.

Now, we tend to save Vosges as our last stop. We stuff ourselves until we are nearly sick on fantastic pasta and even though we really want to try one of their delicious sounding desserts, we abstain, knowing that chocolate bliss is not that far away.

Not only does Vosges have some tasty combinations I love, but their shop is filled with little sample bowls. I’ve never been in there when there are less than three items being sampled. Plus, they’ll let you try just about anything boxed (except the truffles).  This last trip came just after the holidays, so they had some great sales and half a dozen samples, including two candy bars I was rather excited to try.

My goal wasn’t just the bars though (I did end up taking advantage of the buy 5, get one free deal). I was hoping to get my mitts on a small box of the holiday collection. I knew that since it was 3 days post-Christmas they might already be gone. And I was almost right. They were completely out of the “reasonably” priced 8 piece box I wanted to sample. They did have the 32 piece box left though. There was no way I was willing to dump that much change on a variety of four truffles I might not like.

Luckily they had something even better than my 8 piece box: a four piecer with one of each new truffle in it. I was stoked! This way I could try them all. If I found any new loves, I’d know what to stock up on next year. If not, I only had four chocolates to suffer through. I had the cashier add one to my bag and we were off.

We’d sampled so much in the store that I couldn’t bring myself to try one that same day. It was probably for the best as I was driving and had nothing to take notes on (yes, I do take copious notes over my chocolate consumption–I sometimes fear that if the wrong person finds them they will think I have a serious problem…wait, maybe I do).

Anyway, I started this collection with the Peppermint Candy Cane piece. Now, my best friend and I argue this all the time, but I have always been a save the best for last kind of gal (she gives in to her hedonistic pleasure and indulges in her favorite right away. I’m ok with delayed gratification). I like peppermint and chocolate just fine. Sometimes I love it (like in really squishy Junior Mints). However, this was a dark chocolate piece and if there is one thing I’ve learned about Vosges: their dark chocolate is very dark, and often rather bitter. I often do not enjoy it nearly as much as I want to.

This piece was no exception. The top was very pretty. I really loved the almost iridescent candy cane pieces on the top. Or at least I think that’s what they were. I’ve never seen a magenta candy cane before. The center was very creamy and the usual harshness of the dark chocolate was toned down a bit by the mint. However, the mint seemed less candy cane and more Schnapps to me (and I had a brief but icky flashback to a drunken party sophomore year of college). It also had an overly sweet after taste that to me seemed like the maker trying to balance the bite of the dark chocolate. It was ok, but not a mint I want to try again.

I tried the second dark piece next. Being a gourmet company (and a bit pretentious), Vosges really loves their dark pieces. I think over half of their pieces are dark. I know that many people claim you can’t really appreciate chocolate unless you like the dark stuff, but after all these years and hundreds of pieces of chocolate, I still struggle. To me the Holiday Plum Pudding had a very bitter dark chocolate taste. I thought the edible silver leaf on top was not only festive but also pretty. The truffle filling though had a taste that was almost alcoholic in nature. I think it might have been the marzipan paste. I’ve had marzipan before and I’m not a huge fan. What was most disappointing to me though, was the complete lack of plum sweetness. I think a bit more plum could have really softened the piece up. On the other hand, I’ve never had actual plum pudding, so I’m not sure how much plummy goodness one usually gets from it.

I knew things would look up when I lifted the white chocolate piece out of the box. The Eggnog and Jamaican Rum was appealing to me from the first sniff. As usual, the white chocolate was quite creamy. The eggnog filling added an even deeper level of creaminess to the candy. It reminded me of actually drinking eggnog, only without that overly sweet taste most store-bought gallons have. There was just the mildest hint of rum, which was fine by me as I am not a huge fan of the way many alcohols make truffles taste (far more like rubbing alcohol than the flavor they are going for). There was no alcohol aftertaste to this one at all. There was, however, a slightly odd textural effect. It reminded me just a tad of actual eggs. What I mean is that I got the slightest reminder of the scrambled eggs I’d had for breakfast as I was eating the candy. And not the taste either…just the texture. It was odd, but still pretty good.

My best for last pieces was the Marscapone and Ceylon Cinnamon Snap. I was right on the money; it was my favorite treat. The marscapone made the inside extra creamy. The cinnamon was not overpowering, although to be honest, I didn’t taste anything special about it and I have used Ceylon cinnamon at home many times. The taste of the truffle actually did remind me a bit of a cookie.

I’m glad I tried the new collection, although I wouldn’t say I found gems this year. I found tastes I liked, but nothing to rave about. I doubt I’d spend my money on it again, even if it was the small size. Afterall, those four truffles were a whopping $12 (although the box was very pretty).

Overall:

Taste: 6/10

Appearance: 8.5/10

Value: 5/10

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva White Chocolate Vanilla Bean bar

Yeah, I know, two Godiva posts in a row. I actually bought them as part of a 3 for $10 deal. I figured before I bust in to all the new chocolates I got this year for Christmas, I’d better finish up what I already have.

And what I have, is a sort of odd history with white chocolate. I think the first time I was really introduced to it, I was about 12. Nestle had an Alpine White bar that I adored. For a couple of months, every time one of my folks offered a candy bar, I snagged one. I continued to love them well into my teens, but somehow managed to miss them being discontinued. I was not nearly as enthusiastic about the next white chocolate bar I tried: Cookies n’ Cream. I loved the ice cream and the cookie sandwiches Oreo put out for awhile, but the bars were overly sweet and after I tried two, I was through.

These are not my only exposures to white chocolate, but it seems these experiences are pretty much par for the course: find a white chocolate I really like, find one I feel sort of, well, blah about.

At first bite, I thought this Godiva bar was going to fall into the “really like” category. I was initially impressed by the ingredients list: only white chocolate and vanilla beans. Even though I often love my chocolate chock full of tasty bits, I can be quite a purist as well. There is something very satisfying about just letting rich, unfettered chocolate dissolve on my tongue.

I was also encouraged by the fact I could see little flecks of vanilla bean in the chocolate. I know it may sound silly, but when I was a kid, my grandmother always had Breyers Vanilla Bean ice cream in her freezer and I’m not sure if it was the fact she served it in real ice cream cones or that I could have it whenever I wanted, but it just tasted so much better than the stuff my mom gave me. As a kid I knew it was those little magic flecks.

My first bite also put a smile on my face. It was very creamy, just like a good white chocolate should be. I also got a clear vanilla flavor. It didn’t overpower the chocolate, but it was enough to make it obvious these flecks weren’t just there for decoration.

The problem came as soon as the bit finished melting. I had a really sweet after taste in my mouth. Now, due to the cocoa butter content of white chocolate, it naturally tastes sweeter than regular milk chocolate. And one problem I have had in the past with white chocolate is the over the top sweetness of it. It can be tempered and lessened, but often times it leaves me wanting one or two bites and that’s it.

This bar fell into that trap. Of the 10 square bar, I could only finish one before wanting a drink. And, even after that drink, I didn’t want anymore. The roof of my mouth actually felt a little coated (although that could easily have been my imagination).

Now, I don’t know for sure that I won’t try another square or two in the future, but considering the other goodies I have stocked in my fridge, by the time I feel like giving this bar a second chance, I think it might have gone round the bend. This one may have to end up another snack for my husband’s lunch bag.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10

Appearance: 8/10

Value: 6/10

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