Sunday, April 11, 2010

Missing in Action

Why haven't I been writing? I could blame it on a combination of a 7 year old, a messy house, and no pizza delivery in our neighborhood. It's all true, although there are plenty of other reasons. However, I've been thinking about tea and chocolate, indulging in tea and chocolate, and gee, I ought to be writing about it if only to clue you in on some of the yumminess out there in the great world! Ooh, that almost makes it sound like a noble cause doesn't it?

Anyway, today's chocolate is from Knoke's chocolates in Hudson, Wisconsin. It's a very cute shop in the downtown area near the St. Croix river. They make many of their products in the small shop, so often you'll step in and find yourself carried away by wonderful smells. The shop also sells ice cream which makes it a fun place to stop on summer evenings.

The chocolates pictured above are both dark chocolate truffles. One is cinnamon, and the other is described as blueberry balsamic. They were about $1 each. The cinnamon was delightful with a lovely bite of spice which only added to how good the chocolate was. After eating Easter candy earlier this month, I really appreciated that this wasn't too sweet! The blueberry was definitely fruity and less subtle than the cinnamon. I'm a fan of balsamic vinegar, but I wasn't picking up on that sort of flavor when I tasted this truffle. Perhaps it wasn't there so much for its own flavor as to enhance the blueberry? I did like the unique taste since blueberry isn't something I commonly find in truffles, but this truffle was a bit too sweet for me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Chocolate Critiques Without a License

Who am I to judge chocolates? I wanted to add a disclaimer before you start wondering that. I'm simply a chocolate fan. During my trip to San Francisco in July I went on a wonderful chocolate tour with Gourmet Walks. Ever since then I've gone from being a fan to being a wee bit obsessed: wanting to learn more about chocolate and chocolate tasting, seeking out new bars to try, and reading up on chocolate blogs along with the tea blogs I already enjoyed.

This page gives me a chance to babble about the new chocolates I try and it encourages me to eat chocolate in a new way. Instead of eating a bunch of chocolate thoughtlessly while I read, I eat less and really focus on what I am eating. After all, I need to write about it. It helps me appreciate it even more, and heck, it's a good excuse to have chocolate. It's also been a good way to cut back on sweets in general since I need to save myself for the chocolate. Yes, you can read the bit about saving myself with a smirk. I do. Oh, I should probably also say that besides being rather new to good chocolate (other than B.T. Mcelrath), I'm an equal opportunity chocolate fan. I appreciate dark, milk and quality white chocolate.

Honestly, I'm still wondering if they slipped us some sort of chocolate obsession drug along with our samples at that chocolate tour! I'll write about that later, and share some photos from the tour as well as my tasting notes. Future plans also include writing about a Jane Austen tea being held on October 24th featuring Kim Wilson as a guest speaker (the author of Tea With Jane Austen) and a market tour of the Twin Cities on October 9th sponsored by a local kitchen shop cooking school - Chef's Gallery. We aren't hitting any chocolate spots specifically, but included in the shops we visit is Golden Fig which I've heard has good chocolate, and I might be scope out some interesting finds at the Global Market as well. Let's see if I can talk the teacher into doing a Twin Cities chocolate tour in the Spring!

Actually, I don't think I have any local readers yet, but just in case I do, Chef's Gallery is doing wine and cheese samplings as well as chocolate tastings on Saturday, September 19th. It's part of their 10 year birthday celebration.

I've been bitten!

Today I went out foraging for chocolate to taste. We're fortunate to have some fantastic chocolatiers in the Twin Cities, and I was ready to indulge. I was considering B.T. McElrath's new Salty Dog chocolate bar versus his Prairie Dog bar. Decisions, decisions. Both were priced at $3.99 at an area grocery store Kawalski's. Turns out I didn't have to decide, because at the checkout counter they were selling "Dog Bites." These were small disk sized versions of both bars - perfect for tasting!

I tasted these together to compare/contrast. I started light to dark with the Prairie Dog. It's 40% milk chocolate with butter toffee, almonds and sea salt. My first taste was the sea salt, then the almond flavor started showing up even before I bit into the bar. I generally prefer to let chocolate melt in my mouth, but with the nuts and toffee this was a better bar for chewing. There was a slight bitterness contrasting with the caramel warmth of the toffee in a really good way before the chocolate finally stepped in. In the end it was so much like toffee, I realized I'd prefer to simply buy a bag of B.T. McElrath's awesome toffee instead. It's the best I've ever tasted, although the folks at Cocoa Bella insist Cary's of Oregon makes the best. Perhaps that calls for a side by side taste test!

Moving on to the Salty Dog - this is 70% dark chocolate with butter toffee and sea salt. The salt hits you at first with this one too, then the chocolate creeps in as well as the more complex taste of the toffee. I think the absence of nuts lets the chocolate shine more on this one -- it had a good strong cocoa flavor. The aftertaste of my bite was slightly bitter, but rich and flavorful, like I imagine the taste a good red wine would leave on your palate. If I was doing a blind tasting, I would have guessed this was a higher percentage dark chocolate.

Overall, I really preferred the Salty Dog, and I'm not a dark chocolate snob. The flavors just worked better together for me. I'd give this one 4 teacups on a scale of 1 to 5!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Images from Crown and Crumpet

Teatime in San Francisco

In July, I was able to visit Crown & Crumpet in San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square. The decor is very whimsical and cute with plenty of polka dots, floral prints, and vibrant colors. They even have their own line of china with humorous quotes. A little shop is next to the dining area selling china and small gift items, but the different candies for sale are displayed amongst the tables and they're wrapped with such care and distinction, you find yourself busy looking at everything.

I chose a black tea they call peach crumpet, and it was a lovely tea for a summer afternoon. Very sweet and refreshing even without sugar!

With the tea I sampled their tea sandwiches and mini sweets without getting the full tea since I can't manage all of that as it is, much less scones too. They served 6 tea sandwiches ranging from an open faced salmon on cream cheese to other teatime staples like egg salad and cucumber sandwiches. There were 7 tiny sweets including a chocolate chip cookie, a very cute wee cupcake, and a lemon tart with three blueberries. The food wasn't super impressive, but most items tasted good. At the end you were left with a gift of a sweet candy bracelet.

I was left feeling very relaxed. The atmosphere at the Crown & Crumpet is quite fun, and I'm sure it's an excellent place to entertain friends or host small parties or showers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Welcome to Tea and Chocolate!

Care for a cup of tea? Or a fine chocolate?

I've been reading and enjoying several blogs over the past year, and have often wanted to share finds in the realm of good chocolate, tea places, good books, and travel. Why not a blog of my own? Gulp. Because I'm inexperienced and frankly clueless? Good answer. But we all have to start someplace, so welcome!

Introductions must be in order. I'm a 40-something, mother of one and an aspiring writer living in the northern midwest United States. Currently, I'm keeping an eye out for a job I can do while my little guy is at school, and in the meantime there's volunteer work and trying to create order out of chaos at home. My 7 year old is a mad scientist in training and he really keeps me on my toes! Luckily, he's still young enough to enjoy a tea party since it involves treats.

Reading is essential to me. During my son's early days of life, I realized that reading meant more to me than sleep or food, so even when I was taking care of him around the clock, I still made a bit of time for books. My current favorites are travelogues, historical romance, cozy mysteries, and nonfiction. I also enjoy making cards and working on scrapbooks.