Posts Tagged ‘Vosges Haut Chocolat’

Nothing Compares To You

BarcelonaGoji

It’s been a little less than 2 years since I first became enthralled with the absolutely delectable chocolate from Chicago’s Vosges Haut Chocolat.

During that time I’ve come to love many of their varieties, but none more than the Barcelona, Goji and Mo’s Bacon bars.  Suffering from withdrawal last year, I even managed to find a Toronto source for Vosges that would order in the ones I liked after my mini library stash ran out.  But even the benefit of having a local vendor like The Mercantile to get my fix doesn’t come without its costs.  Firstly, the bars are quite pricy at $10 per, which is pretty much on par with what they sell for in the states.  Combine that with the current state of construction and disrepair on Roncesvalles (where The Mercantile resides) and you’ll understand why I stock up every time I go.  But, even though I savour the bars slowly, only allowing 1 or 2 squares (from a 9 square bar) at a time, there’s still something a little obscene about walking out of a store with $100 worth of chocolate.

So, over the last little while I’ve been contemplating potential alternatives to Vosges, focusing on the characteristics that I enjoy so much in them.  The one common denominator I’ve noticed between my 3 favourite bars is the fact that they all contain a savoury element.  The Barelona and Goji bars both contain salt (grey sea and pink Himalayan, respectively) blended with Vosges signature (but oxymoron-ish) dark milk chocolate, while the Mo’s bar combines it with Alderwood smoked salt and (also salty) bacon.  That being said, sea salt chocolate bars sounded like as good a place as any to start, so I started asking around for options.

First was Lindt Excellence’s A Touch Of Sea Salt bar ($3.99), one that I’d previously heard about but never seen at a retailer before.  It was sheer coincidence when I happened upon it during a pre-movie candy run to Shoppers, so I couldn’t help but buy one.  Snapping off a piece in the dark theatre, I found myself supremely disappointed.  For mass market chocolate, Lindt is usually decent, but A Touch Of Sea Salt was anything but.  The chocolate had a waxy quality that I didn’t enjoy as I scraped it against my teeth, and combined with the chemical-like bouquet of the “sea salt”, it made for an exceptionally unpleasant bite.  I spent the rest of the movie with nothing to nibble on, which made the whole experience that much more annoying, and at the end I went home with a full bar left over.

A few weeks later, while I was shopping at The Healthy Butcher, I noticed their display of artisanal chocolate next to the cash register included a sea salt bar ($4.99) by Montreal’s Gallerie Au Chocolat.  Clearly I’m not immune to the crafty wiles of impulse purchasing, because a bar of it came home with me, too.  After cracking open its rustic cardboard box, I was met with the lovely aroma of finely tempered dark chocolate and a bar that had a surprising amount of heft to it.  Breaking off a small chunk, I placed it on my tongue and waited.  Though the chocolate was rich, creamy and smooth, the salt was much too overpowering, situating the bar firmly in unpalatable territory.  After a few days I began to wonder if it might be a bar to chop into my next batch of chocolate brulee or chocolate chip cookies, allowing the extra salinity to be camouflaged by all of the other ingredients, but I have yet to test out this theory.  At any rate, unlike the Lindt, I have not yet completely written this one off.

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Love (And Gluttony) Can Make You Do Crazy Things

Like Manna From Shannon

Yesterday afternoon the Everyman was assisting me in my ongoing saga of learning how to drive.  Sometimes I think he must have the patience of Job in order to do this without breaking up with me.  I can fully admit I am not the easiest person to work with by any stretch.

Once all the knuckle-biting was over, I harangued him into stopping at The Mercantile on our way home.  Shannon had emailed me several times during the last ten days to advise that various things I’d ordered had arrived.  It’d been a busy week, and was shaping up to be a hectic weekend, so Friday afternoon seemed like the only opportunity.  Plus, they just so happen to be the closest place to get his favourite boutique potato chips…

As my go-to supplier for all things Vosges, I’d implored Shannon the last time I was there to order the one bar that was my most favorite (which seemed to be the only one she didn’t have).  This would be the Barcelona bar, which is a sumptuous combination of milk chocolate (which I normally hate), hickory smoked almonds and grey sea salt.  She was also completely out of the Everyman’s favourite, the Mo’s Bacon, which is exactly what it sounds like; an applewood bacon studded chocolate bar with alderwood smoked sea salt.  It’s a close second for me too, though I find the non-bacon Barcelona has many of the same smoky-sweet nuances of the Mo’s, so maybe that’s why I like them both.  Shannon had assured me she’d contact her supplier, who though notoriously difficult when asked for small orders, would nonetheless eventually come through.  In the interim I also happened to grow to love the Goji bar, and when I walked in last night I was a little disappointed that they had none of those left, either.

But then I saw the wall.  There were cases of bars as far as the eye could see.  Vosges is expensive, especially when it’s being imported from the states into Montreal and then taking a second trip to Toronto, so it wasn’t long before I was clutching $100 worth of chocolate bars in my sweaty, shaking hands.  In case you’re wondering what $100 worth of fancy chocolate looks like, that’s pretty much it.  If I had to guess I’d say that stash will probably last me 2-3 months, as long as I forget about it.  If I remember it’s there, I’d be surprised if it lasts me 2 weeks.  No doubt it’s an expensive habit, but I don’t have many (no $500 shoes in this girl’s closet), so it sort of balances itself out.  I know it’s still ridiculous though, but I just can’t help myself.

Such is the life of a career chocoholic.

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So What Are The Other 92, Then?

100 Mysteries

I stopped in to The Mercantile again this week to visit proprietress Shannon and procure a tin of (gasp) 100 Mysteries tea.  She’s all out of ‘Mo Bacon, but assured me there’ll be more by the time I visit next, and there may even be (fingers crossed) Barcelona bars!!!

I first encountered this glorious blend of tea about a year ago while having dinner at Cowbell.  Only, at the time, I didn’t realize it was tea.  It had been the flavoring agent for a creme anglaise accompanying strawberry shortcake, but because of the name I’d somewhat narrow-mindedly assumed it was some sort of artisanal liqueur.  I enjoyed the flavor profile, and filed it away in the delicious-things-to-revisit-later section of my brain, but then promptly forgot about it.

Until our last few visits to Cowbell that is, when I decided to finish the evening off with tea and recognized the name as it was being recited.  One small whiff of that heady aroma while the blend steeped reminded me how much I loved it and needed to find a source for home consumption.  It turns out that the company that supplies them is called Tea In The Sahara, and they sell it (and many other blends) at a bunch of fine food stores across the province.

The first time I ordered it at Cowbell, the Everyman decided to have a pot of it too, and after hearing our server rattle off the laundry list of ingredients, he wondered aloud to me, well yes, but what are the other 92 ingredients?  It turns out that the 100 mysteries is not a reference to the number of ingredients it contains, but something to do with Ayurvedic principles (I read it somewhere and now cannot locate the source).  It’s a very delicious blend, comprised of rooiboos, cardamom, coconut, almond, apple, cinnamon, ginger and pepper and a few other things, I’m sure.  It’s creamy, dreamy, and an all round fantastic drink for lounging around on a rainy afternoon and curling up with a good book.

I’ve been thinking it’ll be amazing for infusing into panna cotta, ice cream base, shortbread or even some chocolate brownies.  Updates to follow as I test those theories out.

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Guanciale – The Magical Mystery Meat

Shortly after the guanciale finished curing, it occurred that I had 5 lbs of cured meat sitting in my freezer (and I’m not even going to mention all the various sausages I have in there too).

Only a family of 2, (even with the meat maniac Everyman) I realized that it was going to take an awfully long time to burn through that much guanciale unless 1) I started giving chunks of it away (but really, do you know how strangely people look at you when you offer them homemade cured meats?) or 2) I started coming up with other ways to use it than just out of hand, on a burger or on antipasto platters.  Even though one of our cats loves to nom on prosciutto, I’d already ruled out the idea of sharing it with them after our vet told us that (the non-prosciutto-eater) our cat was obese.  Somehow feeding them snacks composed primarily of pork fat just didn’t strike me as a good idea…

If you travel around the foodie blogosphere, then you know that combining bacon with sweet things has become one of the haute new trends in food.  I have no doubt that this has been going on for some time (I mean, how long has Vosges been making that Mo’ Bacon bar?) but the trend has only recently started to gain traction in Toronto.  This article from Toronto Life’s website not only pointed me in the right direction for finding Vosges in Toronto, but also highlighted all the fun things retailers and chefs here are doing with bacon.

Now I’ll confess to owning a bacon-only cookbook (aptly titled Bacon) but it was purchased as a gift for the Everyman several years ago and (like most things I buy him) has never been used.  I too own Jennifer McLaren’s book Fat and I find the idea of Baconnaise revolting.  I already love the Mo’ Bacon bar, but bacon salt, while intriguing, just wasn’t turning my crank.  I may yet revisit that some other time, when I dust off the old box of flavoured salts I acquired.  I don’t need bacon bubble gum, and it’s too early still for bacon ice cream.  I’m undecided on bacon cupcakes and I don’t think I’d care for the candied variety.  That left some bacon toffee.  But instead of making it with bacon, I’d be making it with guanciale (the Roman bacon)!  I felt equal parts of promise and disgust, but I had nothing to lose except a chunk of guanciale so I dived right in.

It’d been a while since I made toffee, but the process is surprisingly easy, and easier still if you happen to have a candy thermometer lying around.  The main thing you need to remember is that no matter how ooey, gooey delicious that caramelized sugar might look, do not try to taste a bit of it with your tongue or on your finger.  Caramelized sugar is a few degrees away from molten, and if you get it on yourself, only bad things will happen.  Instead, just be patient and wait a few more minutes before sampling the finished product.

It turned out quite good, but (as I often do), I thought it would be greatly improved by the addition of chocolate.  I finally had an occasion to test out the mini chocolate dipper/melter that my mother in law bought me for Christmas a few years ago, though I’m sure the very idea of what I was making would repulse her to no end.  After chipping off a chunk of the 1 lb dark bar of Callebaut in the freezer (another Christmas gift from my m-i-l) I set to work melting and dipping guanciale toffee.  It was a messy (and delicious) job, but someone had to do it.  I kept half the batch of toffee unadulterated, and went whole hog with the other.  Please understand, this is not a treat for the faint of heart.  In a few more hours once the chocolate has set, I’m sure I’ll be a very happy foodie, though.
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We Are Accidents Waiting To Happen…

Several weekends ago whilst at the Cheese Boutique, I hastily procured a bag of goji berries for myself, the actual purpose behind buying them being somewhat of an afterthought.

The Everyman and I have been consuming goji berries for several years now, in overpriced smoothie-shakes from Booster Juice, deliciously decadent chocolate bars by Vosges, various juice and tea blends, and the divine fois gras pate/mousse from The Black Hoof. But, until I tried the fois gras deliciousness that they whipped up at The Black Hoof, I didn’t have any intention of incorporating them into my cooking repertoire.

The longer they sit dormant in my cupboard drawer (taunting me), the more anxious I get to use them. Now that I have them, several ideas spring to mind. Had I purchased them several months ago, I probably would have tossed a handful into the jar of preserved lemons I started on the windowsill in January, just to see what would happen.  Unfortunately they’ve been preserving for so long already that I’m sure the goji effect would be minimal at best at this point.  Another possibility would be to rehydrate them for a sorbet, which I imagine would be refreshing in it’s sweet-tartness.  I’ve also been toying with the idea of creating goji spirits – I mean, they make pomegranate liqueur already, and there is a company selling green tea liqueur (I should know, I impulsively bought several bottles of it once after falling in love with a drink I tried in Collingwood), so why not goji?  The more pertinent question is what sort of drinks would I make with it once it’s done?  Then there’s always the option to chop them up and incorporate them into a shortbread or sandie.  Or I could even take the safe route and mimic The Black Hoof’s preparation (albeit with chicken livers as opposed to fois gras; I’m not living that high off the hog!)  As I so often like to say, oh the pasta-bilities!

Have you had any success experimenting with gojis?  Once I’ve more carefully considered my options, I’ll post the results of my accidents, er… experimentations.

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Stinkheads

The Everyman (being a stinkhead) denied my attempt to get us to Cowbell for dinner last night, the charlatan!  Through a fortuitous accident at work regarding an inability to attend a client dinner, I ended up with a gift certificate to the restaurant of my choice as consolation.  There was no question that Cowbell was the de facto answer, since I’m almost positive that The Black Hoof does not do gift certificates, and sometimes I just don’t want to queue up for my dinner.  Alas, plans were thwarted and that story will have to wait for another post and another day…

Having watched an episode of the third season of Glutton For Punishment the other day, (in which Bob attempts to topple a Guinness world record in flapjack cooking) I had a mad craving for some silver dollars for dinner (a second choice to the aforementioned Cowbell, that is).  After flipping the batter fantastic on my griddler, I was duly sated by a stack of chocolate chip pancakes, stretched out and ready to dip into a good book. Sitting on the couch, sipping my champers and nibbling an after-dinner square of Mo’ Bacon, I thought to myself, this is what contentment feels like.  In reality it was probably a dose of tryptophan… :)

The book I’ve been devouring lately is called Heirloom: Notes From An Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark.  It chronicles the haphazard life of a man who doesn’t quite know what to make of himself, until one day he suddenly decides to pack it all in and become a crazed tomato farmer.  Being somewhat new to gardening myself, this story hits pretty close to home.  The more I garden, the more obvious it becomes to me that I would love to do this for a living (if I didn’t have to worry about making money at it) too.  And it’s a true story!  I haven’t gotten more than 100 pages into the book yet, but it’s one I just can’t put down, and have been known to read in bed until I fall asleep across the pages.  It’s also shaping up to be a nice tale of small-time farmer triumphing against the adversity of corporate farm USA; always a heartening message.  I suggest you check it out.

Until next time…

Success!!!

Some days I think Toronto Life is the greatest publication in the world.

Today is one of those days.

You see, I was reading their weekly foodie newsletter early this morning and there was an article about Toronto’s current obsession with sweets combined with bacon.  The bacon cupcake is nothing new, and neither is the piggy chocolate bar.  As previously mentioned here I’ve toyed with making pork jam in the past, but haven’t quite gotten the right consistency yet, plus I’ve also made porcine vodka.  What really got me excited was the fact that the article cites the Vosges Mo’ Bacon bar, and the note that a store called The Mercantile (which I loved when it was on College) carries them.

A quick email to the owner confirmed that not only do they carry Vosges, but they also have the majority of the bars I’ve been after.  I forced the Everyman to make a stop at the store after work, and not only did I manage to get myself a king sized Mo’ Bacon, but also the Goji Exotic, Black Pearl and Calindia.  Happy sigh! It really is the little things in life that are important.  And what’s even better is that the Everyman liked the Mo’ Bacon too, so whenever I want more, I’m sure he’ll take me back there.  As the Everyman succinctly put it; when you first think about the combination, it really doesn’t sound appetizing, but then, once you bite into it, all of a sudden it’s like, You Idiot!!! Of course it works!!! Shannon (the owner) also told me that the next time she places an order with her supplier, she’ll order some of my absolute favorite, the Barcelona bar, just for me.  Now that’s what I call great customer service.

Just wanted to share my good news with any other Vosges fans out there.

Until next time…

Chocolate Lovers Of The World, Unite!

Recently I discovered something so colossally delicious that I just had to share.

Actually, if we want to get technical, I discovered it last summer.  I’ve just been too scatterbrained to bring things to fruition until now.

You see, when the Everyman and I were visiting Chicago last summer, I picked up a delightfully quaint little souvenir from the Museum of Science and Technology gift shop; a 9 piece box of mini Vosges chocolate bars.  I’d heard the name Vosges many times in the past, but had never actually sampled any of their wares.  They are a small, artisanal chocolate company based in Chicago, renowned for their unique flavor combinations.  As with most of my good intentions, when I arrived back home in Toronto, the little box went into my chocolate drawer and was promptly forgotten about until  a month ago.

On a recent Sunday afternoon I was putting together an office care pack to use in case of emergencies, or gross coworker stupidity.  Naturally, my chocolate drawer was  the perfect place to start because it was brimming with unopened snack size chocolate bars and candies.  The Vosges chocolate box made it into the care pack, and was again forgotten about once it arrived at my desk drawer at work.

That is, until I had a nervous breakdown at work last week.  I began frantically digging through my desk for something to calm my nerves and spotted the mini library of chocolate bars.  Thumbing through the collection, I found one that sounded like it would suit my immediate needs; the Black Pearl bar.  The bar is a mixture of dark chocolate, wasabi, ginger and black sesame seeds that is simultaneously sweet and a little piquant.  At that moment I fell in lust and felt that I’d just discovered something I enjoyed even more than Godiva.

The next day I had to have another; all thought of rationing these precious chocolates went right out the window.  However, I still wanted to save the ones that sounded most interesting for last; it’s a little quirk I seem to have picked up from the Everyman over the years.  The next one I chose sounded vaguely intriguing, but I didn’t have very high hopes for it compared to the others; the Barcelona bar.  This one was deep milk chocolate blended with Hickory smoked almonds and Fleur de Sel, and it was literally like crack.  As soon as I bit into it I began cursing myself for not sampling these while I was in Chicago so that I could’ve brought more of them home with me.  It is the absolute pinnacle of sweet and salty combinations.  Yum!

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I’ve Been Everywhere, Man, I’ve Been Everywhere…

It’s been quite a whirlwind lately.

Last weekend was the Everyman’s birthday – (and being the most awesomest girlfriend on the planet) I decided to take him to Chicago for Lollapalooza – to see his most favorite band (that he’s never seen before) – Rage Against The Machine.

Only, a trip that was supposed to be about enjoying some really good music strangely turned into a trip about enjoying as much completely satisfying food as possible.  Of the 120+ bands that were playing at Lollapalooza that weekend, we managed to catch two.  Yes, twoRadiohead on Friday night and Rage Against The Machine on Saturday.  It’s funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it?  I guess I know how to Bogart things without even noticing it…

Anyhow, in some ways it was the impossible trip.  Our flight to Chicago was delayed by 3 hours, and by the time the plane came in we were told that it wouldn’t be going anywhere, because the crew couldn’t fly anymore due to flight regulations regarding their shifts.  These 2 crazy girls who were on our flight started freaking out about how they had a concert to get to and generally annoying the desk clerks.  Of course, we were also going to this concert, but we weren’t about to throw a hissy fit about it.  It all ended up working itself out in the end – the flight crew got back on board and flew us to Chicago double-quick, and we got free booze on the plane for our troubles.  Of course, by the time we got to Chicago it was almost midnight, but this was nothing compared to our trip home (more on that later).

Our first true meal in Chicago ended up being honey barbecue wings from room service at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart, and they were surprisingly tasty.  Honestly, at the time I thought my opinion might’ve been tainted by exhaustion and general frustration at that point, but we ended up ordering them again later on in the trip, and they were indeed delicious.  One order of wings is about 15 huge wings, which are both breaded and fried, and then doused in a tingly barbecue sauce.  They were unlike any wing I’d ever tried before.  The Everyman and I devoured the plate between us and then tucked in for some much needed shuteye.  We had a whole trip full of eating to get ready for, after all.

Like any good foodie, I’d researched the best places to eat in Chicago before our arrival, focusing mainly on downscale and delicious fare.  So when we woke up famished on Friday morning I knew exactly where to go.  Although, in hindsight, I might not have known exactly how to get there.  Overall during our stay I’d say I didn’t get us lost, but that I do have quite a knack of getting us to exactly where we needed to be based on hunches.  And when all else failed, we just grabbed a cab :)

Friday morning we headed to a diner called Lou Mitchell’s.  This place was a blast from the past.  When you walk in they offer you homemade donut holes and tiny boxes of Milk Duds to whet your appetite.  It was exceptionally busy, even though we arrived at 10:30 on a Friday, so I took that as a good sign that I’d made a solid choice.  I needn’t have worried.  I had a divine caramelized pecan belgian waffle, and the best chocolate malted I’ve had in years, with a side of smoky bacon.  The Everyman literally inhaled a stack of banana pancakes and a side of bacon (plus half of mine).  The one thing I began to notice about Chicago is that they love their large portions.  I was unable to finish more than half of my waffle or my malted, so when our waitress offered us complimentary homemade ice cream, I had to beg forgiveness.  She actually looked sort of insulted that I couldn’t finish my meal.  After the stuffening we hopped in a cab to our first tourist-y destination, the Shedd Aquarium.

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