Monday, January 30, 2012

St. Louis Eats: The Art of Chocolate and Wine

During my visit to St. Louis, Missouri, I had the great pleasure of attending The Art of Chocolate and Wine event hosted by Robust Wine Bar. Who knew St. Louis had such a wide range of local chocolate makers!? Not only were the companies sampling their chocolates, but Robust Wine Bar had their entire bar area was set up with wineries (both local and not) serving up tastings of wines that paired well with your chocolates. A helpful sheet guided you through the tasting, but let it open for interpretation and your own choices. For example, they recommended Taylor Flodgate First Estate with any Dark Chocolate; a Segura Viudas Heredad with a White or Milk Chocolate. Whether I choose to have Toasted Almond Dark Chocolate or Bacon Dipped in Dark Chocolate, the guide was a great aid!

Pairing White Chocolate: which we all know isn't really chocolate, but a blend of cocoa butter, sugar and a few solids. Sure, the food snobs turn their noses to this chocolate, but in  my opinion, when well do,  it's enjoyable and has an amazingly smooth mouth feel. Recommendations for pairing with wines: buttery, full-bodied whites, sparkling, white dessert, and German wines. 

Pairing Milk Chocolate: one of my favorite types of chocolate, because of the fantastic balance of bitterness and sweetness, milk chocolate will be my downfall. Depending on the roasting, conching and eventual tempering of the chocolate, you'll find nuances of caramel, coffee, cream and brown sugar in this chocolate. Wine Recommendations by Robust Wine Bar are: sparkling wines, semi-sweet to sweet wines, fruit-forward, medium bodied reds and port.

Pairing Dark Chocolate: the ever healthy, antioxidant filled chocolate! The one your doctor recommends (at least mine does!...Or so I think?!), this chocolate has bold flavors, intense bitterness balances out with spiciness and molasses nuances. Wine Recommendations include: Port, Sherry, Madeira, full-bodied reds and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now, on to supporting local chocolate shops, even though they aren't local to you. All the shops showcased have either online shopping, and if not, you can always do it the old-fashioned way and pick up the phone and call in your order. Sharing these chocolates with your loved ones, specially for the upcoming chocolate overdose, why not choose to support one of these businesses? A few of my personal recommendations are: Oh Sheila's Bacon Dipped Chocolate, Mom's Original Pretzel Rods dipped in Milk Chocolate and Bissinger's Chocolate Covered Wine Grapes.

Below you'll find a list with the nine local chocolate shops showcased at the event. Shop around and support local shops in St. Louis. Any and all of these companies have great products that would make great Valentine's Day gift ideas...or actually, for any other day of the month!

Mom's Orginals
Phone Number: 314-616-6667

Little Dipper Chocolate
Phone Number: 314-775-4637

The Chocolate Affair
Phone Number: 618-654-9340

Oh Sheila! Chocolates
Phone Number: 314-681-8803

Kakao Chocolate
Phone Number: 314-771-2310

Phone Number: 314-345-1200

Phone Number: 314-367-7750

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company
Phone Number: 314-965-6615

Phone Number: 314-352-4770

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Slightly Silent Sunday: #baconlove

Bacon and Chocolate. We've got to come to terms that this combination is no longer a trend, but a way of life. And it's exactly what Baconery does. The brainchild of Wesley Klein, Baconery has found a way to combine both chocolate and bacon in a way that will tingle your taste buds. Sweet and Salty; it's the perfect combination. Here's a visual tour of what is in their sampler pack, 
as well as my tasting notes:

Bacon Brownies: Just want I'm looking for in a brownie! Cracked crust and a fudgy center. I enjoyed the fact that these were thicker then your usual brownie, meaning I could have more. As for brownies, we all know everyone has their favorite part. This is the perfect brownie for someone that loves corners, since you've got four crunchy corners to nosh on. I typically go for the side brownie, the one with one one crunchy edge and all around fudginess. That being said, this is a good brownie laced with bacon pieces throughout and not overwhelming at all.

Bacon Brownies
Bacon Marshmallow Bars: This is your classic Rice Krispie Treat, with the added cooked bacon and a drizzle of chocolate on top. Buttery treat with a definite crunch.

Bacon Marshmallow Bars

Cookies: Crispy on the edges and chewy in the center, this cookies serve 2 bacon lovers each! Huge in size and in flavor, I loved dunking them in my afternoon coffee.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies and Chocolate Bacon Cookies
Bacon Chocolate: Straightforward and to the point, thick cut bacon dipped in chocolate. I'm not a fan of consuming these straight (bacon overdose anyone?), but chop them up and sprinkle on pancakes or muffins. Slight bacon flavor and melted chocolate will make your morning even brighter!
Chocolate Bacon
Bacon Pretzel Rods: Perfect snack while watching the game, this could be eaten plain or do you dare dip them in some extra something called Nutella? I know, crazy... crazy delicious! Crunchy and salty, with that touch of bacony goodness.
Bacon Chocolate Pretzel Rods
Connect with Baconery
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Disclaimer: I received a sampler box from Baconery to review. No monetary compensation was exchanged and as always, my opinions are 100% my own. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spiced Berry Buckle

Craving a sweet treat but don't really want to spend an hour in the kitchen? Make this Spiced Berry Buckle with that random half-bag of frozen berries and a few pantry staples. If you don't have whole wheat flour, use all purpose; add some oats to the topping; use maple sugar instead of light brown sugar. It's easy to adapt to whatever you have at home and a sweet treat to end a meal.

This dessert fits into the winter comfort foods category that I crave during these cold months. A little bit of crumbly dough, sticky and gooey berries, naturally sweet and served piping hot from the oven might just be the perfect way to end your night. Top with whipped cream or your favorite vanilla bean ice cream. Oh and I promise that it takes less than 10 minutes to put together and throw in the oven! 

Spiced Berry Buckle
Serves 2

1 cup mixed frozen berries
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt

1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons shortening
pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two ramekins with butter or shortening. Reserve to the side.
  2. Toss frozen berries, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  3. Mix together flour and sugar and crumble shortening into it. Add a pinch of your favorite spices and incorporate to dough. 
  4. Spoon berry mixture into ramekins and top with crumbled dough. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until dough is golden brown.
  5. Serve alongside ice cream or whipped cream! Enjoy!
What's your favorite berry during the winter season?
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    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    My Current Addiction: Freeze-Dried Fruit

    Fresh Fruit, Dried Fruit, Frozen Fruit....Freeze-Dried Fruit? We consume fruit in every form possible to humankind, and now one of my current addictions is freeze-dried fruit. It's crispy, it's sweet and it's just a natural and intense fruit flavor that you won't find in any other fruit form. DO they convert slices of strawberries into those crispy freeze-fried morsels? Just like making astronaut food! Using a method called sublimation, Crispy Green takes fresh fruit, slices it and freezes it to preserve the nutrient content. Then the fruit slices are placed in a heated chamber where it receives heat from all sides and allows all the water to evaporate from the frozen fruit, WHILE it remains frozen. Sublimation causes a result of dry, crispy fruit that is as light as a feather. Learn more about freeze-dried foods over at How Science Works.

    This is definitely a great product to add to our Build A Better Me Healthy Blogging Challenge, because we're all looking for snacks that are actually good for us and are delicious. Because health and flavor should always go hand in hand!

    Other than snacking on them from the bag, here are a few tips on other ways to consume them:
    • Crush and add them to your morning yogurt or oatmeal
    • Make fruit cereal milk! Crush them into your milk and cold steep for an hour in the fridge. Strain and enjoy kiwi milk, strawberry milk, or even apple milk! Similar to the cereal milk process here.
    • Top cupcakes and muffins
    • Toss in your favorite trail mix for a burst of tart and sweet fruit flavor 

    FruitziO is one of their lines and includes: FruitziO Strawberries, FruitziO Peaches, FruitziO Apples & Strawberries, FruitziO Apricots and FruitziO Kiwi. My favorite are the Strawberries: their tartness, balanced out with natural sweetness from cane sugar, makes them the perfect snack. Much better than mindlessly snacking on greasy potato chips. And I'm no calorie counter, but these have only 100 calories per bag! They're also vegan, peanut/tree nut free, dairy free and gluten free!

    Disclaimer: I was sent product free of charge to facilitate this post. My opinions are always my own, and no monetary compensation was exchanged. I just thought this would be a great snack addition to the Build A Better Me Challenge.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Marzipan-Olive Oil Brownies

    Can you believe it's the end of our “A Tasty and Healthy New Year Resolution Challenge” hosted by California Olive Ranch and Bob's Red Mill? Seems like just yesterday it was the new year and now we're headed already into February. Time flies when you're cooking, baking and eating good foods right?!

    Today we'll be baking with olive oil and flours, and while researching the conversion from butter to olive oil, the first site that popped up was from one of our hosts! California Olive Ranch has an entire post dedicated to this topic and it's a must read for anyone wanting to bake healthier with olive oils. Here are a few excerpts from the post, but head on over to their site and read the entire thing:  How to Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Bake Instead of Butter

    Some cookbook authors such as Fran Gage suggest substituting 3/4ths of the butter called for in a recipe with olive oil – so one stick of butter (4 oz.) would equal 6 tablespoons ofextra virgin olive oil.
    Olive oil expert and cookbook author Carol Firenze offers an extensive conversion table for measurements of up to 1 cup of butter in her fine book, The Passionate Olive: 101 Things to Do with Olive Oil (Ballantine Books, 2005). For example: For a cup of butter, or two sticks, she suggests ¾ cup of olive oil.
    Using olive oil works great when using blending methods in baking, particularly for brownies, cookies and muffins. Here is my recipe for a chocolaty and nutty treat, with more health benefits than your regular piece of brownie. The marzipan gives it an added chewy texture, and toasts a little on top for that crispy feel.

    Marzipan-Olive Oil Brownies

    6 tablespoons Everyday Fresh Olive Oil
    2 ounces 70-85% dark chocolate, chopped
    3/4 cup brown sugar 
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
     1 tsp instant coffee
    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
    1/4 cup Almond Flour

    Quick Almond Marzipan
    1 cup almond meal
    2 cups powdered sugar
    1/2 large egg white
    1/2 teaspoon almond extract

    1. Whisk together egg whites and extract. Add powdered sugar and almond meal and combine until a pliable dough is made.
    2. Roll in plastic wrap and reserve until ready to use.
    1. Preheat oven to 350F. 
    2. Melt chopped chocolate and olive oil over a double boiler, careful not to burn the sides. 
    3. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, vanilla, instant coffee and eggs. Whisk until smooth and creamy. 
    4. Add flours and stir until incorporated. Spread in an 8x8 inch pan that has been previously greased and bake for 10 minutes. Pull brownie pan out and dot with slices of marzipan. Continue baking for 15 minutes.
    5. Cool, cut into squares and enjoy!

    California Olive Ranch and Bob's Red Mill 
    Week Four Giveaway!! 
    Enter to win a perfect pairing of California Olive Ranch Everyday Fresh
    and Whole Wheat Pastry Flour from Bob's Red Mill.
    • Visit either Bob's Red Mill or California Olive Ranch Facebook pages and retrieve this week's Virtual Potluck code word. Then use that code word in a sentence in the comments section of this blog post.
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      Friday, January 20, 2012

      Postmark Chef Review

      UPDATE: Use "CookingWithBooks"and you will receive 15% off your purchase at Postmark Chef!  The code will be valid until 3/20.

      Having a culinary and baking background, the words "mise en place" are drilled into my head. Preparation, thinking ahead, prepping every little ingredient you might need. And when you're not thinking "mise en place", you're probably "in the weeds", as the restaurant industry likes to call that moment (whether it lasts a minute or 4 hours) where you seem to never be able to catch up with orders. Having enough of the correct mise en place will (hopefully) help you avoid that horrible situation.

      And that's where Postmark Chef comes into the story. They're a company that prepares recipe kits able to make an entire menu from start to finish. Non-perishable products are measured and packaged, perfectly labeled for your understanding. Detailed instructions are sent, and an extra list with the perishable items you'll have to purchase, which makes it easy to just grab and go!

      This Postmark Chef Recipe Kit puts together an Indian themed cocktail party from recipes adapted from Monica Bhide's latest cookbook - Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen.

      The menu included great recipes for a perfect cocktail party! Since it's only M. and I at home, we chose a few of the recipess to try out one night for dinner and were delighted. We made the Spice, Crackle and Pop, the Garam Masala Chicken and ssipped on Pomegranate Delights.

      The complete menu included:

      Hors d'oeuvres: Pomegranate Shrimp; Garam Masala Chicken; Spice, Crackle, And Pop

      Cocktails: Chai Rocks and Pomegranate Delight

      The first thing we made was the Spice, Crackle and Pop. A snack easy to find on the street of Bombay, India, it contains exotic spices such as asafetida, black mustard seeds, dried mango powder and fennel seeds. Puffed rice, cashews and raisins add texture and sweetness. A touch of salt and it's probably our current favorite bar snack because the mix of sweet and salty makes us sip on our Pomegranate Delights even faster!

      Not only is this a bar snack, but I can see myself folding this into jasmine rice to add texture and flavors. Another idea? Stir into your afternoon Greek yogurt for a sweet & salty mid-day snack.

      Pomegranates. Not only are they a super fruit, but paired with ginger ale and rum, they're a super cocktail! Made with a splash of this 1883 Pomegranate Syrup, made with only natural sugars, no preservatives and made with water from the French Alps. We added frozen blueberries and cranberries, to add color and keep our drinks even cooler!

      Garam Masala Chicken, probably one of the most aromatic dishes we've made! Starting with one of my favorite oils, coconut oil, this dish is a great way to warm up on a cold winter night. Spices showcased here are cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and turmeric, all swirled together within coconut milk.

      The recommendation of serving this is on skewers, and they'd be perfect for a cocktail party. As dinner, we served the Garam Masala Chicken of rice perfumed with an extra dash of cardamom. Another great option is to serve inside lettuce cups! Healthy and spice infused!

      My final thoughts on Postmark Chef? Not only is the ordering process quick and simple, but the people behind it are true food lovers and definitely stand behind their product 100%. I had the pleasure of being in contact with Nalini, and she answered all my questions. Postmark Chef is a joint project of Joe Martinez and Nalini Sekhri Martinez.

      As a food product, there is definitely a market for these recipe kits because it takes the guessing game out of measuring spices that you might not be accustomed to using. Also, it's much more economical because you wouldn't need to buy all these spices separately. For both professionals as a laid back way to put a unique meal on the table, or for the beginning cooks (that KNOW how to follow instructions) and that want to impress their loved ones, this particular recipe kit would be a great treat. At $25.00 (shipping not included) for a Bombay Fusion Cocktail Party for four, it's definitely accessible!

      Check out The Queen's Notebook Postmark Chef review on Domenica Marchetti's - Three-Course Italian Citrus and Caramelized Pork Dinner.

      Like Postmark Chef on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter for more updates on the newest kits, ingredients and more!

      Disclaimer: No monetary compensation was received in exchange for this post; a recipe kit free of charge was provided for this review.