Chocolate and cheese

A sweet, savory combination

Really? Chocolate and cheese? I’ve heard of rather odd combos like chocolate and bugs (ewww) and chocolate and bacon (interesting?), but never cheese and chocolate. I mean, chocolate is a more sweet flavor while cheese a bit sharp and tangy depending on the brand. I wonder how this idea even came about. Then again chocolate and milk go together awesome – and cheese is kind of just old milk. But really, cheese has sort of moved beyond liquid milk to well, cheese. I just don’t get how this came about.

I bet it came to pass due to fondue. I mean fondue is awesome. And fondue with oil somehow led to fondue with melted cheese to fondue with melted chocolate. I mean people dipped odder things like strawberries and other sweet fruits. I bet one evening someone had a fruit platter from the store by their chocolate all heated up. Said platter was a combo platter with some cheese cubes in it. The people eating were like snacking and one person picked up the cheese onto their fondue spear by accident and bam: cheese covered in chocolate.
I mean it’s just so random for this to just come out of the blue yet think about it. The sharp taste of cheese, the cube slightly melted because of the heat of the chocolate fondue. The chocolate with its sweetness balancing out the cheese, giving the whole thing a sweet and savory taste? Mmmm. 
It shouldn’t work, yet it does. I’m beginning to think that chocolate is like ranch dressing – it goes good with anything. 

Cheap candy finds

Where’s the cheapest place to find your favorites?

I know mine! No matter what I’m doing—staying up late to study for a test, working the red eye shift, or simply satisfying a big craving—I often find myself turning toward cheap candy, which means I know where to get my sweets without spending too much.

If you turn to the gas station or the grocery store for candy, you know exactly what I am talking about! You might pay $5 to $8 for a simple bag of candy, depending on what you want (especially if it’s chocolate), which is just silly. When I lived in Spain I was spoiled with affordable candy shops everywhere, and I could just buy what I wanted since you scooped it out fresh by yourself. The candy shops we have here are much more pricey and, dare I say it, not as fresh.

So what do I do when I need my candy fix? Easy…I head to the dollar store. Not Dollar General, mind you (though you will sometimes find good deals there, like big hunks of taffy for 79 cents rather than the two bucks it costs at the gas station), but the everything is a dollar store. They have just about every kind of candy you could want, from fruity Now and Laters to chocolate bars to gummy bears, and none of them are more than a buck. In fact, oftentimes you’ll find them two for a dollar, and they are usually in generous portions.

That said, if I’m close enough, I will…

Go to Party City. You might think they would be expensive, but they have big specials on candy. Our local one, for example, sells individual pieces for 7 cents each, which is not a great price for Halloween treats to give out but it’s perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth cheaply! I usually only spend $2, sometimes $3, and get plenty of caramels, kisses, taffies, pixie stix, and other favorites. I actually have not been there in a while and thinking about it is making me crave some candy!

Another great way to get good, cheap candy, of course, is to stock up on post-holiday sales. We bought bags of Starburst jelly beans after Easter for fifty cents a bag, for example—these were big bags, too, and since my husband works at this particular store, we also got his discount—and we are just now running out of those in August! So if you play your cards right, you can do this twice a year—at Easter and Halloween—and have plenty all year round for just a few dollars.

Cacao seeds

The rawest chocolate

I’d heard a little about the origins of chocolate before traveling in Southern Mexico and Belize last summer. Before the conquest of Mesoamerica by Spain, chocolate was highly prized and exclusively drunk by the aristocracy. It was so valued that the seeds were used as currency by native peoples like the Mayans and Aztecs.Even today in Mexico, while of course you can buy milk chocolate candy like Snickers, the chocolate that is processed and served here is most often served as a drink, like hot chocolate. You can go to a little chocolate restaurant, get a cup, and dip some churros in it.

Down in the markets of Oaxaca and elsewhere, you can buy solid dried balls of cocoa for making hot chocolate. You cook it with milk and sugar and it’s excellent.

But last summer in Belize I met a guy who was volunteering at a cacao processing plant. He gave me a handful of raw cacao seeds from one of their many big burlap bags. The huge fruit is broken open, the seeds are laid out to dry, and later the seeds are cooked and processed into cocoa powder for chocolate.

But, according to him, the raw seeds are full of nutrients. They are a super food. And if you are like me and don’t mind bitter flavors, then they are delicious. They are a little hard to peel at first, but once you get the hang of it you can break three or four open for a snack anytime. If you can get over the bitter flavor, they taste like dark chocolate but with no milk or sugar. I bought big bags of them in the market and have a few every morning, either in something like oatmeal or just as they are. So it is possible to enjoy chocolate and be extremely healthy at the same time!

Chocolate frogs

À la Harry Potter

I’ve heard of many things that have been dipped in and made up of chocolate. Chocolate bunnies, chocolate eggs, chocolate chairs and chocolate bears. But chocolate frogs? The horrible thought of a real frog being made into a dipped chocolate treat grossed me out. I mean there’s a thing that involved bugs dipped in it! 

Apparently, I missed out on a Potter joke. A Harry Potter joke. In the wizard world, they too enjoy chocolates and sweets. Well, with a twist. Unlike muggles (i.e. us non-wizards), the sweets were magically created and were a bit more ‘active’ on your plate. Recall the first Harry Potter movie when Harry and Rob first meet on a train? They chat and order from a dessert tray full of sweet treats on the train. Harry opens a box to eat his treat, assuming it is ordinary chocolate, only to have it hop out and flee the box! 
This was one of the first signs (other than getting onto the train itself) that Harry wasn’t in Kansas anymore. It goes without saying that having that kind of a lively treat is not possible in reality. Or is it? As I looked up more info on this cute snack, I saw a recipe for a muggle version! Finally, chocolate froggy goodness. Just be prepared to have a lot of chocolates on hand, some good heat and easy-to-find frog molds. Soon, even a muggle will enjoy the chocolaty sweetness of frog candy – just with less jumping involved.  

Chocolate soy milk

Oh chocolate milk. You were my (not so) secret crush. I indulged in you with fervor. I drank you from mixing milk and chocolate syrup together, to the myriad of various pre-mixed drinks. Nestle Quick, PET, plain old store brand. I loved you straight from the carton to being mixed slyly in homemade milk shakes. 

But alas, you and I became incompatible. The gassiness. The - to put it kindly - farting of epic foulness. The horror lactose befell upon me. I had become, over time, lactose intolerant. Now I, at times, ate things like cheese anyway as I rarely ate such things filled with milk. But my, I could not live a day without my chocolate milk. But I had to in order to spare my surrounding roommates.

This made me so sad. 
Until one day where I saw right near said temptation that is chocolate milk, the soy section. I ignored the soy for the longest time. Nay, soy was for those grass-eating hippies content on eating horrible tasting cud to save those adorable cows. But I decided one day to be bold. I mean it wasn’t as if I’d lose much in this taste test.
Well, other than money.
But I picked up the unassuming carton and purchased it at the register. I took it home and poured a cautious glass. A swig. I …I tasted heaven. Chocolaty goodness, a bit of a slight taste of the soy but easily forgotten in seconds. I could drink and drink (within reason!) and not feel the need to rush to the bathroom or pollute the air. Chocolate milk! We can be friends again! 

Medicine for a chocoholic

During my middle school years, I was a self-proclaimed chocoholic.  I constantly needed a fix of chocolate.  Every two hours or so, I would need a taste of chocolate. Back then, my preferred chocolate choice was plain M&M’s—now labeled as milk chocolate M&M’s by the company.  I always carried the candy with me everywhere I went.  So naturally, I also packed it with me whenever I went to school.

I really did try my best to stock up on M&M’s.  Yet every now and then, I would run out of the awesome candy.  At that point, I could no longer be choosey about what chocolate I ate.  I just ate whatever edible chocolate flavored item I could get my hands on at the time.

My parents knew about my addiction to chocolate.  They saw how I always grab the bags of plain M&M’s whenever I go with them to the grocery store.  They also took note of how often I would buy chocolate ice cream or chocolate cake.  Yet one time I absolutely took them by surprise.

The house was out of my usual chocolate delights.  So I drank something I never really considered before.  No, it was not hot chocolate cocoa.  I did not have any at the time.  Instead, I drank a spoonful of chocolate syrup.  When I said a spoonful, I don’t mean it as an estimate. 

I really did pour the chocolate syrup onto a spoon before swallowing it.  My parents saw me doing that, and were caught completely off guard.  After a bit, they started teasing me nonstop about it.  From then on, they called the chocolate syrup my personal medicine.

Theo Spicy Chile Dark Chocolate

I have tried several chocolate bars that combine chocolate with chili flavor of one sort or another, and this one is by far my favorite. No great surprise, really, given the amazing nature of all Theo chocolate bars. 

I didn't want my impressions to be guided, so I tried my first bite without having read the label. (Beyond seeing the chili pepper on the front and thinking, "MINE.") I was surprised at the complexity of the flavor. The bars I have tried before have been very one-note flavors: you got your "chocolate," and you got your "spicy heat," and that is about it. But in this bar, the spice fades in and out depending on the bite. And at least once, I got a pretty good little kick from an extra-hot bit of chili.

When I finally read the ingredients label, I understood why: this bar is actually made with four different kinds of spicy (pasilla chili powder, guajillo chili powder, cayenne powder, and cinnamon), plus the intriguing addition of orange zest and orange essential oil. This gives it a bright finish, and really kicks up the flavor profile. Add in some vanilla bean, and you have yourself a real winner.

Pairing chili with chocolate is an ancient tradition, of course. I love adding a dash of cinnamon to my hot cocoa. Those Aztecs really knew what they were doing!
The pedigree of a Theo chocolate bar is impeccable. Their bars are organic and fair trade certified - a rare distinction in America these days. Even though Europe and UK markets have demanded fair trade certified chocolate, it is still a rarity in America. Which is too bad, because chocolate that is not fair trade certified has been produced with slave labor, much of it provided by children, and that's a fact (albeit a very sad one). Hershey, Snickers, Mars Bars, M&Ms… all made with a generous dollop of human misery, thanks to the horrors of the cacao trade.
These are some of the best chocolate bars on the market today, and it's a pity that they are not more easily found across the country. I count myself lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest, where you can reliably find them in upscale grocery stores. If you are having trouble locating Theo chocolates in your area, you can order them directly from the website. Or hunt down a Whole Foods store, as this is the nationwide distribution point for Theo deliciousness. 

Milk Chocolate PB&J Bars

Way too sweet for me, but I bet kids would love them!

Oh Grocery Outlet, what strange products you bring to my life! I have never seen these before, and will likely never see them again. Never having heard of them before, I obviously had to buy one of each flavor: grape and strawberry.

The idea with these is that it's the classic peanut butter and jelly combo, inside a chocolate bar. 
"But I have never wanted such a thing," I imagine you are thinking. I agree: I thought that, too. But hey, you never know, right? I recently learned that avocado and grapefruit slices is a thing, and boy is that a tasty combo! I was willing to cut this combo some slack.

After all, peanut butter and chocolate is tasty. And we often pair fruit with chocolate. Granted, I have never wanted to pair grape or strawberry jelly with chocolate. Nor have I wanted to try a three-way with chocolate, peanut butter, and jelly all together. But you never know. YOLO. Etc.
The package size and shape led me to believe that this would be one large tablet chocolate bar. Instead, when I opened it I found individually wrapped sticks of candy, much the same (in size and shape) as a single Kit Kat segment. 
Each stick is wrapped in gold foil, which seemed a bit pretentious given the contents. It also seems like an egregious waste of packaging, compared to just wrapping up a single bar. I am frankly befuddled as to the form factor here.
In both bars, the chocolate is similar to a standard Hershey bar. It is chocolatey, and (to my palate) too sweet for the jam inside it. I would prefer these in a dark chocolate, to cut the overbearing sweetness a little. But then again, kids are not known for being fans of dark chocolate, and these bars are clearly aimed at children. (The packaging features a cartoon grape or strawberry hanging out with a cartoon peanut, who is wearing a visor at a diagonal angle, Slim Shady-style.)
I thought the grape jelly was rendered more convincing than the strawberry. In both cases the peanut butter is satisfyingly gritty and just a bit salty. The peanut butter has a cake-like texture similar to that inside a Reese's Cup.
Overall, these were way too cloyingly sweet for me. And even after having eaten several of them, I am still dubious about the wisdom of pairing PB&J with chocolate. But I'm willing to bet there are a lot of people out here who would really dig these! (They can have mine.)

Chocolate covered pretzel in a glass

Now I’m not going to claim I’m a bartender of anything, but I do like to try fun things out every once in a while. It also helps that I know a few bartender friends. But aside from drinking out of the bottle, I do enjoy trying a mixed drink or two. I also think said experiments were prompted by drinks, but that’s another story.

I – being a chocoholic – have looked around for a drink that utilized chocolate ether as the drink or as the garnish. Sad thing is that many of the drinks were not exactly all that good. Or maybe I just suck and botched it. But this recipe using a chocolate pretzel just works.  Maybe it’s the salt, snap of the pretzel and the chocolate mixing in, but the drink tastes awesome no matter how tipsy drunk I am in its creation.
Note: Don’t chug these back to back. This is one of those ‘sneaky’ drinks that don’t taste like alcohol is in it, but there is.
The recipe calls for these items:
1oz Whipping cream flavored vodka
1oz Frangelico (Hazelnut flavored liqueur)
Shot glass
Chocolate dipped pretzel for garnish (optional)
1. Rim the class with a lemon wedge; dip the rim in salt.
2. Put vodka and the Frangelico into a shaker, blending them together. Heavy on the ice.
3. Strain the liquor into a glass. Don’t forget to garnish with the pretzel!
4. Now, just lick a bit of the salt and knock one back. Nibble a bit on the pretzel or let some of the drink sop into it. Either way you’ll taste chocolaty, alcoholic goodness.

Chocolate Busts

No, not the ones that sit on your chest. I mean a bust – the art form of a lump of clay, metal, wood, or what have you, that is worked to resemble an actuate reflection of a human head. Art galleries are filled to the brim with them, ships used to sport them and the Greeks and Romans loved the crap out of them. Go to any state or country capitol and you’ll more than likely see a bust. Schools even love their busts or that once dear dean and important future dean. 
What I’m saying is that busts aren’t new. 
What is new is that busts are made of more edible things.  Chocolate things. Considering that chocolate is notorious for being fragile, susceptible to melting, easily burnable and just in general a rather unwieldy thing to cook with much less to create things with, sculpting with it just seems insane! But it has been done.
In the above image is a trio of celebrity dads in full relief. Mind you, they were sculpted for charity, but the effort it must have required to sculpt out what are life-size heads of living people is rather neat. The sculptor, Kenji Ogawa, definitely has the skills to use more traditional materials, but where would the fun be in that? Of course all that sculpting must induce quite a lovely smell and an appetite. I wonder if Ogawa ate the shavings during the process, or collected them all and ate them after he was finished. His studio must also smell wondrous.

Carving Choc celebrity heads for the TODAY Show