Friday, September 30, 2011

Watching "Top Chef: Just Desserts" 2.6

In the sixth episode of "Top Chef: Just Desserts" the nine chefs became eight and unfortunately it was one of my favorites chefs that got sent home this time but you'll have to keep reading to find out who.  Remember, leave your own thoughts and ideas in the comments, please.

Last night's Quickfire Challenge and the Elimination Challenge were a bit mismatched.  True, both used non-traditional dessert foods but the judge for the Quickfire did not stick around for the Elimination round.  Why is that?  What is going on?

The Quickfire was judged by Jordan Kahn a chef/partner at some place called Red Medicine.  Why don't they get guests judges their audience may have heard of?  Or am I the only poor person watching this show who can't afford to go traveling about visiting the most elite restaurants?  As I've learned here, the most expensive chocolate is not necessarily the best and think this is very likely true with desserts as well.

In the Quickfire they had to pick a root vegetable and use it to make a dessert for immunity and $5000 cash.  Sometimes the Quickfire has a prize, sometimes not, and there isn't a reason for the prize that I can decipher in the show. Maybe they are cutting out too much information in the aired parts.  They could cut out more of the chattering the chef do doing the cooking challenges frankly to save minutes.  Sally won this challenge, her second in a row but this time she pledged to us watching that she'd take more of a risk for the big challenge.

So far the Elimination Challenges have been more of a team effort but last night was a solo endeavor.  The guest judge was Adam Horovitiz (AD Rock) from The Beastie Boys a white rap group I recall from my teen years.  Apparently the chefs all loved them based on their reactions.  The challenge was to pick foods featured in the songs and make dessert for a community art event that was more "street" -- given the people who showed up at the event, it didn't seem very "street" to me, whatever that is supposed to mean.

But there was a twist. Each chef picked two ingredients then they went and picked one more and gave it to another chef.  Most people tried to think logically except for Chris who just went with crazy pesto pizza and pork & beans.  I won't go into all the foods and who had what, you need to watch so we can chat about this, Sisters and Brothers.

The chefs had four hours to cook/bake and then put things away for the next day when they had an hour to set up.  This is going to be a factor in who went home and again I think the choice was unfair just as I think this entire challenge was unfair and really odd.  These are dessert chefs, right?  Why are they being asked to do things that are not really desserts?

The biggest problem I see in the kitchen is too much talking and not enough thinking and definitely not enough tasting of what you are making.  Except some of the chefs were getting a bit too much tasting with all the various alcohols they had.  Who in their right minds makes food without tasting it along the way?  I don't do that and I'm not a professional who gets paid so damn, these people need to learn some basics.

I think I see who is being set up to be the final two chefs: Chris and Matthew.  We've seen more about their family lives now than anyone else on the show and we are constantly seeing clips about others saying what good chefs and what a big challenge they are.  Remember we are not watching a live show, this contest is over and they've edited it down.  I wonder how the show would change if it were more live and viewer opinions counted?

The top chefs for the challenge were Chris, Matthew, and Sally.  They had some of the strangest ingredients and they made desserts that looked like desserts.  However I disagree that Matthew won -- his dessert time and again was reviewed as tasting like mashed potatoes and that is not a dessert.   Or maybe I just want more chocolate!

Two chefs were not talked to at all by the judges as far as we saw. Carlos had a great dessert, frankly I think he probably should have won though the popcorn is really a dessert or snack item so maybe the judges thought that was too easy.  Orlando also was not spoken to and he is the only chef who used pre-made major component in his dessert -- cookies.  He was even called out on that at the event but this was ignored.  To be blunt, I think he should have been sent home for using a pre-made item basically as is.

The bottom three were the ladies who had been the stars last week: Katzie, Rebecca, and Megan.  The judges said that Megan's cake was too dry and didn't include the onions, others' had major ingredients on the side like the pizza stick so that was an odd criticism.  As for dry... they made these then stored them overnight so that might have had something to do with it and yes she should have considered that when she made it.  Katzie just made fries with sides... it was very little creativity and very little effort and should have resulted in her going home.

True, garlic for dessert is a nasty surprise and Rebecca Masson should have tasted her dessert more but given that she was creative, I think she did more than at least two others did for this challenge.  Plus I really like her attitude.  She has to be the most upbeat of the group and given her injury clearly she wanted to compete.

So now we are down to three women and four men in the show.  What are your feelings on the latest episode?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chocolate Holidays, October 2011

Obviously if you live in much of the English speaking world, Halloween is probably what comes to your mind in terms of candy of any sort.  It is a HUGE candy holiday but in general we think of cheaper, mass made candy.  Part of my hope for this month as in the two previous Annual Halloween Treat Challenges we host here on The Chocolate Cult, is to show that there are a lot of options out there for Halloween.

But yes, there are other fun food holidays that you can enjoy chocolate as part of your celebration.  Let's list these out.

October = National Dessert Month, National Cookie Month -- both?!
October = first full week is National Mental Health Illness Week -- see the post from yesterday about why I'm including this on our list
October 1 = National Homemade Cookie Day -- has to have some type of chocolate
October 7 = National Frappe Day -- frappe with chocolate or chocolate frappe?
October 9, 1797 + Birthday of Philippe Suchard, founder of what was once the greatest chocolatier in Switzerland, creator of the Milka bar -- I'll try to do a brief history post on this day about him
October 10 = National Angel Food Cake Day; World Mental Health Day -- chocolate angel food cake is yumm
October 14 = National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day -- never tried this...
2nd Thursday = National Dessert Day -- what will you make?
3rd Saturday in October = Sweetest Day -- we've talked about this in the past so look at earlier posts to discover a brief history of this holiday
October 16 = World Food Day -- yes, chocolate is popular world-wide
October 18 = National Chocolate Cupcake Day -- could we find another day?
October 28 = National Chocolate Day -- haven't we had this before?
October 30 = Buy a Donut Day -- the day before Halloween?
October 31 = Halloween; National Candy Apple Day -- this makes perfect sense together even if paranoia keeps homemade treats off most lists

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Chocolate Therapy

The first week in October is "National Mental Health Illness Week" and while that might not seem to have much to do with Chocolate, let's be blunt, Sisters and Brothers, a lot of us turn to food, especially chocolate, alcohol or other drugs, to help us with emotional or mental health issues.  I did this with Chocolate in my own life and I still struggle not to do it myself.  That's one of the reasons I started The Chocolate Cult.

But instead of bringing us all down, I want to look at a book I received two birthdays back called Chocolate Therapy: Dare to Discover Your Inner Center!

This is a pop therapy idea that the type of chocolate you like or love is a reflection of your inner mind or personality.  Murray Langham uses four categories listed in three layers to pop analysis your psyche.  The first layer is based on the shape and the type of chocolate you like. This primarily works for chocolates you buy by the piece from smaller shops.

The second layer is about what you add to your chocolate, what he calls the "centers" and he lists 25 of these.  Let's be blunt, sometimes we don't like anything but plain doesn't seem to have an entry.

The third layer looks at behavior or what you do with the wrappers or cups such chocolate is often offered in.

So this isn't serious, not really, no book can provide us with serious mental health help only ongoing hard personal work, family and friend support, and a trained professional can help, but it is fun so check it out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

National Chocolate Milk Day Again?!

Didn't we all ready celebrate "National Chocolate Milk Day" back on July 28th?  What's the deal with this day today, almost two months later?

This isn't the only fun food holiday that is repeated in a year but it sure would be nice if I could find some reliable evidence about when and how these days got started and why we need two of them.

Or are you all just happy to have a second reason to drink chocolate milk, Sisters and Brothers?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Watching "Top Chef: Just Desserts" 2.5

Sorry this is late to all the show viewers but I had a lot to do plus I got a virus and lost in my fight against it.  Today, Sunday the 25th of September, is actually my birthday but I will be unable to really celebrate because I'm still on the mostly BRAT diet.   Trust me, you do not want me to explain what this is.

The fifth episode of the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts and we have 9 challengers in the running.  At least now they all seem like qualified chefs though frankly the skills they are being asked to demonstrate appear to be beyond most of them because they all seem more specialized.  They are also being asked to do things that don't make a lot of sense for chefs with their skills such as in the Quickfire Challenge and the Elimination Challenge in this episode.

For example in the Quickfire Challenge the guest judge is Pichet Ong, owner of P*ONG & Village Tart yet they are to make a candy including wrapper and a name for it in 1.75 hours.  We see of the naming or wrapper making part of this, they just suddenly all have very generic wrappers and frankly rather silly names for their candy bars.  They hype about Ong is that he is "inspired by candy bars" in his dishes but does he have a candy bar?  Is he making and selling candy bars?  Why not have the chefs make a new dish using a group of candy bars of his choosing?  Wouldn't that make more sense?

Most of the "candy bars" don't look much like candy bars.  Sally's creation wins though I was not impressed by any of the choices I saw.  Too fancy over all and not enough like candy bars.  Complete failure as a challenge as far as I was concerned.

The Elimination Challenge wasn't much better.  These nine chefs none of whom have probably ever worked at an amusement park in their lives, are randomly placed in three teams to create a little bar to sell treats to the attendees at a waterpark.  At least one chef didn't know what a waterpark was.  Apparently many of them also didn't know that waterparks tend to be places you go when it is HOT and their desserts overall did not take that into consideration.

The all men's team of Orlando, Matthew, and Chris seemed the most perplexed about the crowds and the idea of eating with your hands or drinking as the standard treat choice for amusement parks especially from a kiosk.  If you want to sit down, you go to the little restaurants and probably watch a very cheesy but high energy show while you chow down on very overpriced less than ideal quality food.  While this was one of the least favorite teams, none of the men went home.

The all women's team of Rebecca, Katzie and Megan understood the idea of the waterpark and amusement park much better though again too many in cups food items there.  Katize I think deserved to win because something on a stick is what you want at a place like this.  However having to do a final touch to it before you hand it over that would never fly during the busy periods at a park.   You need to have things that are prepped or wrapped or super fast.  At least it only took a few seconds not a long time like the men's team where Matthew's attempt at some strawberry thing left teammates and judges bored.  How was he handing that out to people?

Finally the mixed gender time of Sally, Carlos and Amanda seemed to grasp the idea of the amusement park more than the men's team.  While funnel cake isn't a delight hard  at least it was based on something you might get at such an venue.  I think it was unfair to send Amanda Rockman home because she gave them something that got a bit hard instead of making them wait.  Yes, she should have thought it through but it was more thought out that Orlando or Matthew's offerings.  Carlos and Sally's treats were not nearly as bad as the judges acted.  If you paid attention to how the kids and adults at the park behaved and their comments, they really like Carlos' treat.

I'm seeing a trend -- the judges are not respecting the views and needs of the clients they are setting up these challenges with.  Other than the so-called "real housewives" episode, they seem to not be relying on the intended audience and the consumers who eat the products.  That is deeply disappointing to me.

I don't care what an "expert" says or a world-famous chef proclaims, at the end of the day if the buyers don't like it, they won't buy it for long.  Here on The Chocolate Cult none of us, not I for all my fancy title of Chocolate Priestess, or the volunteers who help me, claim any sort of expertise.  We are learning, we certainly know a lot more now, but like you, our dear readers, we want something that is good to eat or drink, that won't harm us, that fits our wallet, or that we can make in our busy lives.

What say you all about the fifth episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spice Rack Collection Revealed

Two years ago, back when we were all very, very young here in The Chocolate Cult, one of our readers and a friend of mine brought me a small collection of tea infused dark chocolates.  After doing a regular review of these with only a few senses discussed and over all feelings, I let the company she bought these from know about us. Many months later the people from Spice Rack Chocolates sent us their Spice Rack Collection which has five flavors in a 15-piece box.  With this box there was a small guide book that identified the chocolates but also offered advice for eating them and for using them with wine.  Given the spicy nature of these chocolates I think pairing it with a wine or a meal is a very good idea, complementing all the courses.  However, please note that if you have food or wine between bites or pieces of chocolate you really are not cleansing your palate merely replacing once set of flavors with another.  Water and time are still the best cleansers if you want the fullness of the individual flavors; that is how we review all chocolates here, giving you the chocolate and nothing else in our descriptions.

Let's start with the square chocolate with the purple stripes across the top: "Key Lime and Jamaican Curry."  My first thought was "yuck" when I saw the spice combinations here.  This is beyond just spice, curry is a complex dish and key lime is a product not one spice.  Neither of these are any where near my favorites but your Chocolate Priestess tries a lot of things just for you, Sisters and Brothers, so I kept an open mind.  The curry is the strongest scent here, easily overwhelming the cocoa though it is still there underneath the other essence when I take a whiff.  The first burst of flavor when I take a bite is a mixture of curry and dark chocolate, then the key lime cools my mouth down.  As I keep chewing the curry strikes back but ultimately the dark chocolate is what lingers in my mouth.  This really surprised me because I liked it and I really loved the way the flavors changed as I chewed.

Another square piece has white dots or splats on the top; the booklet inside says it is green but these looked very white to me, don't they look more white to you?  You can see that the chocolate itself has a different pattern as well here in this photo.  This is the "Crushed Mint Leaves and Rosemary."  This was the first flavor combination that Spice Rack Chocolates made.  Now I've had mint and I've had rosemary flavored chocolates before but never the two together.  There is a light rosemary scent but the smell is primarily dark cocoa.  This has a rougher texture than the other chocolates I notices.  The mint is really more of a cooling sensation than a flavor and the rosemary is equally balanced with that.  Both of these flavors allow the nice bitterness of the dark chocolate to come through with each bite and each chew.  An excellent piece of chocolate!

Sea salt has become a rage throughout cooking because of fears about sodium.  We've tried several sea salt chocolates in the past but this flower shaped piece with a white center goes beyond the salt as the "Celtic Smoked Sea Salt and White Ground Pepper" variety from Spice Rack Chocolates.  The main scent is the darker chocolate but my nose could also pick out the salt and pepper essence before I took a bite.  This had a smoother texture than the previous chocolate and the sea salt hit my taste buds hard at first.  Then the chocolate and light pepper started to compete with each bite until it was the dark cocoa flavor that finished off the bite.  Another excellent combination of spices in this piece of chocolate.

"Fresh Lemon and Sweet Basil" sounds like it should be a very soothing flavor combination, doesn't it?  You can identify this flavor by the six-petal flower and the yellow color on the top.  The cocoa scent is good but the lemon and basil really are the dominant fragrances for these pieces. Surprisingly the flavor is very different than the scent.  The lemon and basil are more subtle, toning down the bitterness of the chocolate which is much smoother in texture than the other four combinations in this collection.  It almost tones the chocolate down a bit too much but I still think this was a good balance that might appeal the best to the milk chocolate lover who wants to venture into the lighter dark chocolates.

Finally we end with the "Cayenne and Chili Powder" which I'm sure you are thinking "this must be a hot chocolate" -- you have no idea so let me take you on this journey and give you a bit of a warning.  Don't let the beauty of these flowers with red centers fool you; these are HOT.  The scent will fool you too, I had to keep breathing in and breathing in the fragrance to even get a hint of anything other than dark chocolate.  I only took a small bite, about 1/3 the flower because this is part of our ritual here for all of the volunteers who do the reviews for The Chocolate Cult.  The first think I noticed was a nice strong chocolate flavor with a slightly grainy texture.  With chew though the heat built up higher, higher, and higher.  I couldn't even finish one piece it was just too hot so much so that I can't say I recall much of the chocolate but the time I was done with the 1/3 bite I took.  Luckily I take notes as I go along.  The burning continued well after water and swallowing.  This was my least favorite combination of flavors or any chocolate from any company I have ever had because the heat burnt out all of the chocolatey goodness.

Here's the story.  I tried these at a convention.  As you may know from reading me here or reading my other work, I'm a published author and book reviewer.  I got to 6+ conventions a year, most of these from May through August. I often take offerings with me and what I don't need I share at my table where I sell and sign books.  When I had the 10 extra pieces from this box set out, people stopped, looked and then asked "what is this flavor" and they'd point to a piece.  All except for one guy who just picked up the flower with the red center and popped the entire thing into his mouth.  My eyes went wide and I asked what he just ate.  He told me as he chewed.  I informed him that it was a very hot flavor but he laughed for a moment then stopped.  He assured me that he liked hot food.  Within a minute he was sprinting for the water fountain.

Also ask what a chocolate is before you pop it into your mouth, Sisters and Brothers!

All of these chocolates are dark (54%) and well made, the cocoa content itself means that even milk chocolate lovers might be open to trying these.  Every one of them made a sharp snap when I took a bite, a sign of purity, but they also all had a bit of grainy texture to them probably from the added spices and flavors.  These are not chocolates to gobble down as the one man who put an entire piece in to his mouth above demonstrated.  The result is that these are not chocolates for everyone and you need to be aware of that before you buy or give these as gifts. But if you like spice, if you have an adventuresome palate and you want to try something very original, these can make a good Sacrament for you.

There is Spice Rack Chocolates for you all to consider.  Remember if you are eating spicy chocolate do not pig out on them.  Give your mouth time to adjust to each combination of spices and determine what you like best.  You might enjoy flavors you couldn't have imagined even went together if you take the time to slowly try them.  If you are thinking of adding spice to your chocolate please remember that the cocoa, the chocolate, still needs to be the last and lasting flavor.

Friday, September 23, 2011

National White Chocolate Day 2011

Regular readers should know by now that your Chocolate Priestess is not a huge fan of white chocolate.  Unlike other "chocolate connoisseurs" however I do not declare that there is no such thing as white chocolate but I do limit it to only that white substance that is made from 100% cocoa butter with no added oils or fats along with milk and sugar generally.  Be wary because much of what you may think is white chocolate is just plain old junk for your body.

Today though is the day to celebrate true white chocolate so let me see what I can say about it and if I can find something I really love but in very small quantities...

Oh, who am I kidding because today is also a personal holiday for me: My Dating Anniversary with my Husband.  Yup, back in 1989 we decided to start dating exclusively and over the course of a semester we fell in love.

We have plans to go out this evening and I was hoping to find something made from white chocolate.  But I'm not feeling well, my stomach is giving me big problems and to be blunt -- white chocolate will not help that.

Oddly growing up when my stomach acted up and I couldn't eat or keep anything down sometimes simple milk chocolate was the only thing that fueled me. Weird huh?

So tell me your feelings about white chocolate in the comments below.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Early Birthday Gifts 2011

The idea that The Chocolate Priestess could receive too many chocolate or chocolate related gifts is just beyond her way of thinking.  

 I have other interests; other loves, but chocolate is a good bet.  Of course it can be tricky to find me something I have not all ready tried.  Gift cards to places that have great chocolate or checking out my Amazon wish list is a good place to go.

One of my friends, James, gave me an early gift of a box of 15 chocolates from The South Bend Chocolate Company — I’ve reviewed some of their products before but again this isn’t a featured review so it won’t be in depth like those reviews are nor provide links to the company.  You can see that is a unique collection; my friend had them box up of their most popular chocolates.  That was very awesome of James because he knows I like variety.

He went a step further and the gentleman at the shop he bought it from labeled the pieces as you can see in this final photo.  I didn’t gobble these all up; I do work to practice what we preach here about moderation.  I take several days, enjoying a piece here and there, keeping track of what I liked to give you a list of these from my favorite to the least favorite.

1. Chocolate Cream
2. Jamaican Rum Meltaway
3. Caramel
4. Pecan Patty
5. Sugar-free Peanut Cluster
6. Butter Toffee
7. Mint Meltaway
8. Key Lime Cream
9. Sugar-free Amaretto Meltaway
10. Peanut butter Meltaway
11. Maple Cream
12. Raspberry Meltaway
13. Raspberry Cream
14. Coffee Mocha Meltaway
15. Vanilla Cream

So a big THANK YOU to James for this early birthday gift.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Bake Sale

Normally I review two types of books here on The Chocolate Cult.

Cookbooks where I try three recipes and then give my opinion about not just the book itself but also the clearness of the directions and ease in finding the ingredients.

Chocolate Books which are books related to the history, culture, or use of chocolate but with no recipes.

This review of Bake Sale is a new type of book for us to review here.  The target audiences seem to be older children to the very earliest tween years because to fully use this book the reader would need access to a kitchen.  The basic story -- hard work to achieve a goal and placing friends above said goal -- also seems geared toward this age group.

The story is laid out as a graphic novel in 158 pages.  The drawing is simple yet the tale is mature on many levels.  We get to see how a small business owner lives and works, how varied their lives need to be for fulfillment, and the challenges of having a good reputation that can be threatened day to day if you fall below your customers expectations.

The eight (one is inside another) recipes also range from simple brownies to difficult marzipan.  While we see most of these recipes twice -- first in the story as Cupcake our main character makes them -- not every recipes or treat in the bakery is laid out for us to try.  Only one of the recipes is explicitly for chocolate.

Over all is a good little book that could make a good gift I think.  I thank the Amazon Vine program and :01 First Second for sending me a copy to review.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another Study on Chocolate and Heart Health 2011

Have you heard about this new study that the mass media is saying proclaims the benefits of eating all types of chocolate?  Your Chocolate Priestess has heard it but around here we don't accept the mass media version of scientific studies if we can look at them ourselves.

The study is called "Chocolate ccnsumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis" and the title immediately tells us two things: This was not a new study but a review of other studies. We are looking at a wide range of medical conditions called "cardiometabolic disorders."

This review and meta-analysis seems like it was done in a thorough and objective fashion by they had criteria which means they didn't include every chocolate study out there.  This is their criteria: "Studies were included if they were randomised controlled trials or cohort, case-control, or cross sectional studies; carried out in adults (≥18 years old); studied the effects of levels of chocolate consumption; the outcomes of interest were related to cardiometabolic disorders (cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, ischaemic heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome); and had no language restriction (if necessary, local scientists fluent in the original language helped with translation)."  The results of this selection process were seven studies that collectively had "114 009 participants."

The studies chosen for analysis did not differ between the type of chocolate product used so the results of this meta-analysis cannot differ.  This does not mean that white chocolate is as healthy as dark or that different level of cacao content are equally healthy.  It merely means there were general trends from these seven studies that we'll now look at.

The six studies that looked at any cardiovascular disease measured an association of less risk among the highest chocolate consuming participants.  Strokes in three studies also showed less risk among the highest consumption participants.  But the two studies about heart failure were almost polar opposites in their findings.  Diabetes was only studied in one case and showed a decrease as well for higher chocolate consumption levels.

Overall this meta-analysis concluded that higher levels of chocolate consumption were associated with about 1/3 less risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  They wisely caution us to be aware that not all chocolate is created equal and that added sweeteners and fats may be harmful or at least lower the beneficial qualities of cacao.

So don't use this study as an excuse to pig out.  Indeed the amount that were considered higher levels of consumption varied widely between the studies analyzed and how often the participants ate the chocolate in a variety of forms.  In none of them was the consumption daily for example and I'm betting a lot of us here on The Chocolate Cult consume our Sacred Substance daily or multiple times a week, don't we?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Your Thoughts Please: Chocolate Cult on Best of the Web

A while back we here on The Chocolate Cult were approached by the folks who do this series called "Best of the Web" -- they said their homesite gets up to 2000 unique visitor a day so I thought it might be good publicity.

I gave them a short summary of our site as they asked for: "The Chocolate Cult is dedicated to the exploration and ecstasy of chocolate in all of its forms throughout all of society.  Our weekly highlight are our "Saturday Sacraments" that lead readers through a full sensory description of a product or through the use of a product in as objective fashion as our group of seven volunteers can manage.  Other posts look at various aspects of society as they relate to chocolate including books, politics, science, recipes, television and movies, and all forms of food or drink.  Our goal is to help our Sisters and Brothers make wise decisions about what to put in their bodies and where to spend their money.  We hope you take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate."

I sent them some photos -- they didn't use those at all.

I answered a question about why I started this site -- they used that along with a claim that The Chocolate Cult is "where fellow chocolate fanatics collect;" I don't ever know exactly what that means but the word "fanatics" worries me.  I reported that worry and was told it was removed but I still see it on this link that they gave me.  Let me know if you see that wording there please.

So now I'm wondering if I've betrayed you all by letting this site promote us this way. I think the quote is very me centered -- I really thought they'd be doing an article, you know, mentioning my reasons for starting this but certainly using the summary to describe us.  This blog isn't just about me. I have a group of volunteers who help me a lot from sampling chocolate and writing reviews to helping me try recipes to traveling with me. This leaves all those folks out as well as you who read and comment here.

But I also dislike the word "fanatics" because I cover him some harshness from you all.  I know, I'm supposed to be honest with you, tell you the truth, about chocolate I do.  We've received comments here and I've received them personally in my email and on Facebook that basically accuse us all of being pagans, of being anti-God/dess, and telling me that we are all going to hell.  Some people apparently do not understand why we use pseudo religious language.  That actually hurts me a lot personally because I am a Christian and I have been attacked before by others who think I'm "less than them" or that their Jesus is better than mine or some other crap.

I happen to know that several of our Acolytes and readers are Jewish or Christian or pagan or nothing or something else entirely.  I don't care any more than I care if they prefer White, Milk, Semi-Sweet or Dark Chocolate.  I write this blog to help us, all of us, learn about chocolate and evaluate how we spend our money on chocolate related products.

I could really use your feedback here because I may just be way over-reacting to all of this and if so I need to know that.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trio of Bars from Life by Chocolate

Life by Chocolate sounds great, doesn't it?  If you recall they were one of our Sacraments for Easter 2011.  While we sampled the other products they sent soon after we wanted to give them notice later in the year plus we got very busy.  Always odd to busy in the summer when chocolate is very expensive to ship but that's why we do pre-writes of many of our featured reviews.

This trio of their 1.6oz bars has uniqueness written right on the labels.  We'll start with "On the Vine" which has fair trade dark chocolate (73%), currants, almonds and royal jelly.  The chocolate bars have six sections the chocolate fully surrounding the fillings so with each bite you can get more filling.  As you can see to the left, the almonds are big.  This has a dark scent with a hint of fruity essence.  The chocolate makes a good snap when I break it apart to show you the inside but also as I bite; the almonds add crunch and sound with each chew.  The chocolate has a nice bitter edge to it and underneath it is a fruity flavor blended well with the almond and some unknown essence which might be the royal jelly though I'm not sure exactly what is meant by that.

"Red Dog" is one of their vegan bars and it's spicy so much as uniquely tart and sweet because it has molasses and peanut butter in the 72% dark chocolate.  This is also fair trade chocolate for those Sisters and Brothers who like to support businesses that support the cacao farmers.  Note the little doggie heads on the wrapper -- cute.  The scent is purely dark cocoa but when you break it apart the molasses tang comes through with a hint of peanut.  This is very chewy, almost like you might be eating partly solid molasses, it has a tang and an earthy, unsalted peanut taste but also the chocolate's nice bitterness comes through. Another great bar.

Finally let's look at the "Bee's Knees" bar, a 73% dark chocolate bar with honey and bee pollen.  Now I've heard that buying local honey can help with one's allergies but I'm betting after cooking being mixed with chocolate that isn't so true; but hey, what can it hurt, right?  The fragrance is really dark cocoa, even after I break it open with a snap, you can see the honey oozing out a bit in the photo, the scent stays strongly chocolate.  The creamy looking honey is sweet and a very good complement to the bitter chocolate making this a bar that people not used to such high level of cacao may also like.  This full sensory journey coupled with fair trade and organic made this a very good bar indeed.

A big thank again to Life by Chocolate for providing us with Sacrament worthy chocolate to share with all of you, Sisters and Brothers.  Check them out now that the price for shipping chocolate will soon fall again with the temperatures.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Watching "Top Chef: Just Desserts" 2.4

Wednesday night on "Top Chef: Just Desserts" episode 2.4, they mixed things up, changing the formula a far amount from the first three episodes.

First there was no quickfire challenge. Instead the competing chefs all found movie tickets in their loft and headed out.  They must have had money or an allowance because they all bought treats at the concession stand (one of the lowest stands I have ever seen at a movie theater by the way) and chowed down except for Matthew who was concerned this was a set-up for a quickfire challenge.

Inside they watched part of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Widescreen Special Edition)Family Films), the 1971 version with Gene Wilder.  The film stopped after the five children discover the forest or glen or whatever it was made of candy.  Then Matthew was partly correct: this was a set-up for a challenge but not a quickfire.

The two principal judges, Johnny and Gail, stepped forward and introduced four people from the audience.  These were four of the five child actors who had been in the film: Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde), and Paris Themman (Mike Teevee); Michael Bollner who played Augustus Gloop was not there.  Julie Dawn Cole seems to have have the most successful career of the five as an actor but I'm getting off the topic, aren't I?

The four actors described the scene this showed stopped after -- what was edible, what wasn't, how did it taste if it did.  The Elimination Challenge was then for the 11 chefs to create a similar setting in their display room.  They were given the basics and a lot of materials to work with. 

Initially the group talked together but I noticed that Matthew, Chis, and Katzie seemed to talk the most but that could have been the editing version.  The group split into two teams -- one to do the creative or decorating parts building the sets and displays while the second team was to focus on making the edibles themselves.  An immediate problem was Chris's waterfall display seemed far too big, took too much time, and pulled in too much chef power; I would have called him out on that myself if I'd been a judge.

The second big problem I noticed is that some people are more helpful than others.  Some like Megan and Orlando spent a lot of time helping with basic things -- Orlando melting all the chocolate and Megan doing a ton of little things to help everyone set up the room.

The third big issues was that the number of treats did not seem organized. Some of the chefs made two desserts, others only one.  Obviously they needed many displays to cover the room so why not assign each person to two sections of the room and require each to make their own props and treats and then everyone cooperate to put out the basics that they agree upon?  What do you think, Sisters and Brothers?

Johnny came to visit each chef and for the first time he was smiling.  However while he had no problem making critical comments to us the viewer on camera he had no advice for the chefs.  That is very disappointing.  Honestly he should have come in an hour earlier and given them honest feedback; that would have helped some of them rethink their approach and made the over all experience for those who visited the display better.

Let's talk about those visitors.  I think our chefs were misled into believing they were making this edible world for the four actors and the judges.  They came but so did a group of maybe two dozen or so children with some other adults.  I have no idea where those kids came from, it may have gone by too fast for me to note it.  Did you see the kids reactions to the food? Kids don't hold back, they had no problem dropping things, making faces or just plain saying "I don't like this."  However the chefs were not told that kids were coming and I'm fairly sure they might have made other choices had they known.

Ultimately Katzie was named the winner with her edible beehive even though the bees melted that were displayed around it.  That confused me because shouldn't what it looks like matter, too?  As some of you will know, your Chocolate Priestess is a feminist but still, I think that Carlos' or Matthew's displays were better over all.

I did agree that both Craig and Melissa were the ones to go.  I've felt that way since the first episode about Craig.  Melissa, well, I think she talked a lot of negativity about others and seemed inclined to make a lot of excuses.  I didn't want to see Megan go because I think she made an error in judgement by helping so many others.  Same with Sally who I hope will now shine without her former student, Craig, leaning on her. 

How were these competing chefs chosen?  How did Craig get into the competition?   Was he sat up to be the obviously unskilled chef?  If so, that was amazingly mean.  If not, their selection process needs work.

If you, like these chefs, love , maybe you should give it another viewing yourself.  Perhaps it will inspire  your candy making.  Which leaves us with today's question: Do you think the judges dismissed the least skilled chefs in episode 2.4?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Celebrate PopTarts

According to some Internet research your Chocolate Priestess did, it looks like the most common date cited for the introduction of the Pop-tart was on this date in 1964.  That explains why I grew up seeing them since they are older than I.

Pop-tarts are a treat that we buy only a few times a year.  We wait until there is a sale and we have a coupon, we try various flavors.  So today I want to share some of those we've tried over the past year.

We'll start with the Frosted Chocolate Chip variety.  The way these are packaged is insane -- 2 tarts per one foil bag and yet only 1 tart is a serving.  How many of you honestly eat just one at a time?  If you do you are getting 210 calories in this flavor with 2g saturated fat, 240mg sodium, <1g fiber, 18g sugars, 3g protein with between 2 and 10% of eight vitamins and minerals.  If you eat two of them, double those numbers.  Most people I know eat two since they are packaged that way.

This isn't so much frosted as it is drizzled with some chocolate as you can see in this photo.  I find I like them better if I toast them on one setting higher than the box recommends and I have heavy plastic tongs I can easily remove them with so I don't burn myself.  Don't worry, the drizzle didn't melt on the machine.  You can see the chips melted a bit and that's fine, I think they taste better warm.  These have cocoa butter, chocolate and cocoa in them and I actually was pleasantly surprised by how chocolaty they tasted.  They also have wheat, eggs, soy and milk if those are concerns for any of you reading.

We also wanted to review a second fairly new flavor, at least as far as I can tell, but then we do not buy Poptarts more than once or twice a year and it just didn't happen for this post.

So what do you all think of Poptarts, Sisters and Brothers?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Totally International Chocolate

Today is "International Chocolate Day" and in honor of that, your Chocolate Priestess would like to share a surprise she had.  For years I've seen Green & Black's chocolate in the organics section of stores around us. I'd never tried them because frankly they are expensive and until I began this Path with The Chocolate Cult I, too, was settling for cheap chocolate and lots of it.  It turns out that the Green & Black's bars I bought were made in Italy.  However, the company was founded in 1991in London and their first successful chocolates were created with some Mayan farmers in Belize.  Later they were bought by American company, Kraft.  How's that for truly international chocolate?

But how did these 3.5oz bars taste?

The "Toffee" is a milk chocolate bar of 34% cocoa with milk, soy and wheat for those of you with allergies.  I think the bark is a nice balance of smooth, creamy chocolate with a deep butter and even tangy taste to it when I bit into the crunchy toffee pieces inside which are very tiny and didn't show up with my camera at all.  With 30 sections I could break off with some effort it was easy to get small pieces but required my self-control to only eat a bit of it. 

The 60% cocoa content "Mint" bar had a strong mint fragrance to it and was also visibly darker in color than the "Toffee" bar.  The mint flavor was subtle, truly revealing itself after a few seconds and cooling down my mouth. It never overcame the nice dark chocolate essence so I really liked it a lot.

We'll end with the "Dark" bar that has 70% deep chocolate identity.  It smelled dark and it tasted dark plus at this level of cocoa content it is undeniably healthier chocolate you can indulge with. It's unique somewhat berry flavor is probably a reflection of the type of cocoa bean, trinitario, that they used.  Thus this is also a single-origin bar and not just fair trade or organic in nature.

Each of these bars was 2.5 servings so try to take if easy if you find one today or have one laying around the house you can enjoy on "International Chocolate Day" which is today.  Tell me how you celebrated, Sisters and Brothers?
Here in the good old USA we have another reason to celebrate, perhaps.  Today may be the birth date of Milton Hershey, the founder of Hershey which I suspect all of my American readers have eaten at some point in their lives.   His life is an example of the stubborn belief in one's self, a desire to do good, and an adventurous nature that pushed him to explore the world of chocolate and use everything the found to rise to the top.   For all the good or bad that Hershey's may do now, he is an important figure in chocolate history.

Monday, September 12, 2011

National Chocolate Milkshake Day 2011

It is almost the mid-point of the month and we have another fun food holiday, "National Chocolate Milkshake Day."

Now should we celebrate with a plain old chocolate milkshake or some fancier variation?

Fancier in this case could mean a dark or white chocolate versus the traditional milk shake flavor.  It could mean whipped cream and a cherry as in the photo but I think that's so common it shouldn't qualify as fancy.

Do mikshakes with added goodies like chips or cookies pieces or candies, do they still count as milkshakes?

I want you all to tell me what you think and then this evening, I'll try to find one milk shake that fits in with your ideas.

You were all pretty split on what I should do so the three of us in my house went to the nearby. Two of us got chocolate milkshakes -- one plain (the bigger blue container to your left) and mine which had added hot fudge mixed in with it for an extra chocolate kick (the smaller orange container to your left).   That's me being moderate -- added calories so get the smaller serving size. 

It tasted good but I am reminded now that I like malts better because they tend to be thicker or blizzards, cyclones, whatever name a shop uses for the thicker treats with mixed in things.  I like the thickness more and a milkshake is less thick.

How did you celebrate "National Chocolate Milkshake Day?"

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kallari Trio of Chocolate

The week started slow then picked right up in terms of posts, didn't it, Sisters and Brothers.  Since last Saturday we looked at a company that gives back to the people who grow and make their chocolate let's continue that trend and look at a company where every profit they makes goes to the growers and makers of their chocolate -- Kallari. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Kichwa families created a co-op of farmers in 1997 and in only 14 years they include over 850 member families who work together to protect the environment that allows cacao trees to flourish as well as empower their own communities to survive the onslaught of big companies who could come in and "develop" the area.

The red leaf box is their 70% cacao chocolate bar.  The ingredients are very simple: organic cacao beans, organic sugar cane, organic cocoa butter, and organic whole vanilla beans.  That's it, nothing else and these same ingredients are on each of the trio we were sent to review.  As soon as I unwrap the white cover over the 18 sections of chocolate, I am hit by a dark yet surprisingly sweet scent which increases as I break it apart to share.  The bar is dry but smooth in texture and for 70% cacao it is very smooth and somewhat buttery as well.

The 75% cacao bar is in the green leaf box.  Each of these boxes is made from 50% recycled paper by the way and each holds 2.46oz of chocolate inside.  You may be able to see that this bar is just a touch darker in color but it had an oddly less dark scent to it when I tore open the white wrapper.  This made a louder snap when I broke it into 18 sections but the scent didn't really change.  This too was dry and smooth in texture but the intensity of the bitterness was greater than in the previous bar but more than I would expect from a 5% increase.  There was also a very sugar cane flavor to this bar as well, completely unexpected.  This was my least favorite of the trio.

The purple leaf is the 85% cacao bar and I'm expecting something quite bitter based on the previous sample.  I apologize because it seems this photo was blurry for some reason.... the bar was broken, too, inside.  It was basically the same as the other two bars just a bit darker in color.  It had a strong cocoa scent though not as strong as I thought and hoped it might.  It snapped apart very easily and very loudly and that might explain why it out of the three bars was broken when I received it.  The taste was amazingly creamy, I was shocked but in a pleasant way by this fact.  The bitterness that should be such a high cacao content chocolate built up with each chew but never became overwhelming.  Let that be a lesson that not all bars are the same just from their percentage of cacao.

These bars tasted different in part because the amount of sugar changed in each one from 11g in the 70% down to 5g in the 85%.  The Kallari website tells us that they grow several species of cacao trees and they blend the beans together to create the different flavors.  There is no cholesterol nor sodium in these bars but they do have saturated fats, naturally more for the darker chocolate, and a decent amount of fiber per bar at 8 grams.  Low fat, no, but some fat is good for you and some is necessary to live healthy.  You'd do a lot worse with a lot of other bars of chocolate than this trio.

Would you like to help those who grow the cacao that turns into your chocolate, Sisters and Brothers?  Kallari is another company that does just that. Furthermore the bars they sent us are high quality, cocoa buzz inducing chocolate.  Kallari hires the title of Sacrament from The Chocolate Cult.  Figuring out where to purchase Kallari is a bit tricky since they don't sell directly to you, the buying public.  But you can find them online at Chocosphere or you can search for your state at this website.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Watching "Top Chef: Just Desserts" 2.3

Episode three of the current season of "Top Chef: Just Desserts" showed live on Wednesday, September 7, 2011, so you've had over 24 hours now to watch it so you can join our discussion here.  I want, no, I NEED this to be a discussion please.  I'm leaving my thoughts but I NEED you to leave your thoughts in the comments below.  OK?  Good.

After a recap of the previous week, this episode jumped right into the kitchen where the chefs found piles of Extra! Gum, the dessert line from them.  I believe we've reviewed the mint chocolate chip flavor gum before and it did taste like the ice cream.  They also met that week's special guest judge Hugh Acheson from Five & Ten, a Georgia restaurant so I've never heard of it nor been there.

The Quickfire Challenge involved making tiny desserts that fit in this range of tiny plates and bowls, a dessert that could be a good gum flavor.  Not only would the winner be safe from elimination but also get a change to have their flavor made into a gum and earn $25,000. 

I don't know about the rest of you, but these chefs chatter away and think out-loud far too much for my liking.  Yet somehow with all their chatter two people make a pina colada flavor.  Only two out of the 12 chefs made something with chocolate -- Katzie and Nelson -- so I only give thumbs up to them.

Surprisingly Craig won with his mini stuffed pancake.  This was a shock because he has seemed very weak so far, even by his own admission and by the judgement of others competing.  He got immunity and the right to chose two team captains -- he named himself and then Amanda.

The Elimination Challenge used another Bravo show, The Housewives of Beverly Hills, which I can never imagine watching because it seems even less "real" than much "reality TV" but I suppose it is easiest for a channel to promote itself in this way.    Back to the challenge, one of the husbands of one of these wives watched to have a special party for his wife so the two teams had to design a pitch presentation of what they would do.

Immediately it looked like one team had a strong start because Craig basically turned over the captainship to his former teacher, Sally, who acted like a leader and organized the event.  The other team was supposed to be led by Amanda but even after their planning time was over, that group was still debating what to do.  Craig knew he wasn't a good leader, he knew he wasn't the best chef there, so he did something simple and then helped out a lot.  Amanda let things go for some time and then on the second and their last two hours, had a chart she used to check in with everyone.

The winning team, chosen by birthday lady, Lisa Vanderpump, was "Chris's" who wasn't a team leader at all though to the guests seeing and sampling the presentations he appeared to be one because Amanda asked him to take on that role for the presentation.  I consider that a personal failure and I believe it also showed a lack of belief in herself as well as a lack of believe in women.  Isn't that weird because it the show really about the power these "housewives" really wield in many ways?  Or maybe that is just the commercials.

I'm sorry that I jumped ahead and told you who won so here is my opinion on the presentations and the real judges' reactions.  I think it was artificial to have the guests pick the winning team and then listen to them this time around.  That hasn't happened in the first two episodes where everyone was on the line no matter what we saw and heard either the judges or those eating and drinking thought during the event they prepared their desserts for.  I want more consistency.  Either it really is up to the team of 4 judges or it is up to the clients.

Secondly, I think if a team cannot be organized in the time they are given, they need to have points docked from them in the final accounting.  Perhaps they need to turn in a copy of their plan to the judges and then those plans are compared to the final results.

I was very confused by the tables.  It looked to me like both tables, but particularly the losing table, had a lot of things on them that were not offered as samples.  Why show your client something they won't be eating?  Along those lines, if the dog was to be included in the number of "people" who'd be eating, I think that should have been made very clear.  The team which won really pandered to the dog and that annoyed me.  I worry that the birthday lady picked that team because of the dog treat because listening to the comments it seemed like a draw.

Not that you would know it from the judges table.  Nope, they really ripped into everything as though it wasn't close at all.  The birthday lady said it was very close so why the torrent of negativity?  Now I agree with several of the judges comments but frankly there were misses on the other team along with lack of solid leadership.

There is an innate problem to group challenges.  Too organized and you have less flexibility and you can't see or don't feel comfortable speaking up and suggesting something else. Too little organization and you lack a vision though you can create one as you go and you may do fine... that 's more a matter of luck and I think luck really decided this third episode when Nelson was sent home.

Final question to you all: Which Chef do you think needs to check her or his attitude the most?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Recipe for National Muffin Day 2011

One of the best ways to celebrate today fun food holiday, "National Muffin Day," and to honor the month long focus on whole grains would be to make a whole grain chocolate muffin.  Wouldn't that be great, Sisters and Brothers?

Your Chocolate Priestess used the search feature on Foodbuzz and found a recipe I could start from.  I knew I'd need to make some adjustments but I wanted to also make sure this worked out.  You can find the original whole wheat chocolate muffin recipe from  Joseph's Grainery on their site.

First thing I needed to change was to increase the chocolate in the recipe.  That doesn't surprise you does it?  I wanted to also use mini chocolate chips called Nestle Toll House Mini Toppers because I think they blend better into the muffins better than regular sized chips plus I had bought these I found on clearance sale one day at Kroger.  Note these are semi-sweet so the darkness of the muffins starts here.

I also used more of the Double Dutch cocoa from King Arthur Flour that they sent us.  This, too, is darker cocoa so this is the second level of darkness I'm adding to the muffins.  Since the original recipe didn't specify dutched or not for the cocoa we'll see if this works but I know I'll need to add a bit more moisture over all because I'm increasing the amount of cocoa over all.  I'm also adding oatmeal so that will require more moisture.

I also have whole wheat flour but it isn't white whole wheat flour like the original.  I'm not certain if this will require enough more liquids or not but I know what a muffin batter should look like and feel like so I'll figure it out.  But it is also "National Whole Grains" month so I'm adding oatmeal as well. Does this help balance out all the extra chocolate?  Well considering I'm using other "healthier" version of many of the ingredients, I'm hoping that over all this isn't too bad of a treat for you to have.

Here's the recipe that I created via a lot of substitutions and consultation with a muffin recipe booklet I have.

TammyJo's Double Chocolate Whole Wheat Muffins
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar/Splenda (1:1 variety)
1/4 cup + 1 T King Arthur Double Dutch Dark Cocoa
1tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1.5 cups natural applesauce
1/2 cup melted Cisco baking stick
1/2 cup Egg Beaters
1 T white vinegar
1 T pure vanilla extract
8oz/1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly, I used a fork to keep the air in the mixing by hand.  Here you can see them all in the bowl but yet unmixed.  I don't like using an electric mixer for muffins myself or for brownies usually either.

Melt the Cisco baking stick while you stir in the applesauce and Egg Beaters.  Add in the melted Cisco baking stick and mix thoroughly.  Add in vinegar and vanilla and mix well.  In this photo to the left you can see the wet ingredients all mixed in and the chips jsut waiting to be added.  It will be thick but this was enough liquid and the muffins were neither too moisture nor too dry.

Spoon into regular sized muffin pan.  I used these cute monkey liners I found on sale and had a coupon for.  Bake at 375 for 19 minutes or so -- I used the sticking toothpick method to check them.

Take out of oven and cool them.  If you leave them in the liners, they are easier to store but we noticed that that lower part was a slightly different color and tasted just a touch flourlike.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate builds up with each chew and each bite so be aware of this.  The oatmeal and the mini chips were an extra texture and burst of chocolate in several bites.  You can see I made 22 muffins in total. Some were a touch smaller but I think stretching the muffins to 24 would have made them too small over all and cutting back to 18 would have been far too big.  So I get 22, I have no problem with that.

So how are you celebrating "National Muffin Day?"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Join Us for the 2011 Chocolate Walk

That's right, in just two months it will be time for an annual Pilgrimage here on The Chocolate Cult.  You can join me and at least one of our Acolytes, probably more, for this event that benefits the Humane Society of Brown County in Indiana.  Here is their news release so check it out and if you are planning to come, leave a comment.  We'll arrive a carpool again for people in our area.

Dear Chocolate Lovers,
The Brown County Humane Society's Chocolate Walk tickets are now on sale!  We hope you had a great time at previous Chocolate Walks and that you will be able to join us again this year.  Tickets are the same price as last year - $15 prior to Nov 1 and $20 from Nov 1-12.  There are 31 shops participating, each providing their favorite chocolates for you to sample. 
The event is on Saturday, Nov 12 from 10 am - 5 pm
Tickets are available online at  OR call 812-327-3016 OR purchase at the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau (10 N. Van Buren St ), the Brown County Art Gallery (Artist Dr & Main St) or the Humane Society (128 S SR135). 
Last year we sold out of all 1250 tickets and anticipate the same happening this year; therefore, don't wait until the last minute to buy
If you are coming from out of town, consider spending the weekend in Brown County and staying with one of our lodging partners: 
All Chocolatiers donate their time and products to this event so that 100% of the proceeds benefit the 1000+ animals that come to our shelter.  Your support of this important fundraising event is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

World Chocolate Day 2011

How should we mark "World Chocolate Day" this year?

First, let's see what your Chocolate Priestess could find out about the history of the day itself.

According to the folks at Chocolate World, the day began in 2003.  The date was chosen because it is the birthday of the founder of the fun holiday, Valeria Lo Iacono.  This "fact" is repeated numerous places around the Internet yet I coudn't determine who Valeria Lo Iacono really is or find evidence that she has done what these websites claim.  The most famous Valeria Lo Iacono I can find is a belly dancer or a professor at a Cardiff university.

So history isn't really be satisfied by these "facts."

Let's instead thing about chocolate's place in the world, shall we?

According to the World Atlas of Chocolate 16 of the top 20 nations who consume the most chocolate per person are European. Unfortunately no study or date is cited for this information.

Dr. Shock's website offers some interesting graphs about chocolate consumption in 2007.  In it the nation with the greatest consumption rate is Ireland and the USA ranks 12th. 

That's from 2007 though, has chocolate consumption changed in 2011?  I couldn't find updated statistics for us yet from any reliable source.

Finally if you are looking for chocolate you might like this Lonely Planet article that lists what it calls the "World's Top Choc Spots." Anyone want to fund me to go explore these places and report back to you all?

Ultimately though I'm betting most of you are just going to each chocolate today, right, to celebrate.  So tell me where did the chocolate you ate today come from.

Various news sources in the past year report that Chocolate is currently a 50+ BILLION dollar industry.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Askinosie Bars Help People

Usually I don't do our featured reviews so close together when they are from the same company or chocolatier but as I look over my stack of pre-written reviews, I just grabbed one.  Let me tell you, Sisters and Brothers, working on this trilogy has been some task for your Chocolate Priestess coupled with a busy convention year, and now a two-month period of intense family events.  So as I finally type out this review I have to smile because trying and sharing these two bars was not only a blessing to me but they are a blessing to the farmers who grow the cacao.

Askinosie really gets behind the idea of empowering the people who live in the areas where their cocoa is grown.  Their programs give living wages to the farmers but they also put money into the community through education and other programs. Each bar's wrapper shows the face of one of the people from the community that grows the cocoa beans used to make it.  Each bar tells you how the company is working to strengthen the people and their community as well as what is in each bar nutritionally and in terms of ingredients.  This empowers you to read and make a decision with far more information than any candy I've ever seen before and we've seen some very nice fair trade and eco-friendly chocolate.

The first bar I want to reveal to you is the 72% Tanzania Dark Chocolate Bar.  While this bar may have been featured in high profile magazines and on TV shows, we'll treat it exactly as we would any other bar or spread or ice cream we are sent to reveal to you.  The bar is two servings but let's be honest, how many of you will not eat the entire thing?  So in the entire bar you'll get 494 calories made of 18g saturated fat, 8mg sodium, 24g sugars, and 8g protein.  I'm very surprised that this does not have any fiber at all because I expect from high cocoa content chocolates.  Oddly it also has only 2% of the daily iron an adult needs again very low.  It has only three ingredients: cocoa beans, cane juice, and cocoa butter and that is it!  You don't get much more simple than that.

Inside the darker oily paper wrapper the bar was very closely sealed in a plastic wrap.   You can see that the name of the company is spelled out on the sections, 18 sections in all, in raised letters.  It was great fun to break these apart and have people take one, asking them, "What letter did you get?" then telling them what the bar was at the convention I shared this at.  When I managed to get the plastic wrap off, that was a bit of a struggle, I was shocked by how little cocoa scent there was.  What would this dark bar taste like if it lacked scent?  It had a surprising smooth flavor and texture at first that turned sharply bitter as I chewed it.  Each bite, each chew made a nice sharp snap and over the coarse of two squares, I was a bit of a pig I admit, there was also a definite sugar cane essence but the bitterness also intensified.  Everyone who tried it agreed it was quite different from the easily found candy bars in your check-out aisles.  If they liked darker chocolate, they liked this.  I did as well and often I'm not a sugar cane juice fan.

The second bar is the Davao White Chocolate Nibble Bar grown and formed in the Philippines.  Sadly the nutritional values are a bit more extreme in one bar.  The 500 calories contains 22g saturated fat, 8mg cholesterol, 40mg sodium, 4g fiber, 40g sugars, 6g protein, with 12% of the daily calcium and iron an adult needs.

Obviously white chocolate generally has more added ingredients and this has cane  juice, cocoa butter, goat's milk powder, and roasted cocoa nibs -- that's where the fiber is coming from.  Look, you can see those nibs right on the back but they are also inside the bar itself though unevenly spread throughout it. 

This bar also had the letters on the squares and again I had fun asking people which letter they took as I shared it.  It has a very sweet and creamy scent to it and this was the inverse of the first bar in many ways. Here the flavor was not as intense as the fragrance suggested and the chocolate itself was pretty silent though the nibs were crunchy and had a bitter kick that really surprised some folks.  This is probably best for the chocolate fan who like a much wider range of cacao content than the average person.  While I'm not a bit white chocolate fan, as you know, Sisters and Brothers, the nibs really made this a treat for me but one I also really needed to share widely to counter the nutritional content.

Beyond the flavor and the communities getting back from Askinosie, everything about the bar's wrapping and packaging was biodegradable or recycled or recyclable.  When a company goes to these lengths to take care of it's workers and it's planet, they are also taking care of us, the consumer so they deserve credit for that from us here on The Chocolate Cult.

So if you want great chocolate that is unique and which does more than line the pockets of a few Europeans or Americans, you need to check out Askinosie.  Once more, in terms of taste and business, we are honored to declare them a worth Sacrament for The Chocolate Cult.  Be wary of the nutritional values and eat in extreme moderation, perhaps sharing with several people like I did.

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