Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Chocolate tasting

Years ago we went to the Museu de la Xocolata in Barcelona, a small piece of heaven where your tickets are chocolate bars and your taste buds fill with delight. The chocolate museum has all kinds of activities and opportunities for tastings, and it was there that I had my first ever experience with thick, rich, decadent Spanish hot chocolate. Tasting the drink was like falling in love.

Falling in love is what enjoying really good chocolate is supposed to feel like, according to Simran Sethi, host of my newest podcast obsession, The Slow Melt. In her podcast, she also says awesome things about being your own sexiest sweetheart, and buying the good chocolate for you. And while I love that sentiment and am most certainly not opposed to buying myself chocolate, I did have to buy some good stuff for Chad on Valentine’s Day (I just forced him to share with me 😉 ).

We’ve been doing a lot of chocolate tasting lately, especially since I received The Chocolate Tasting Kit for Christmas. I am already starting to see differences in chocolates as we try them, and have also learned a lot about how to taste chocolate and how it’s made. Pairing the kit with The Slow Melt, I’ve been gaining a lot of knowledge about chocolate, and I can’t wait to start working with specific coffee pairings as my palate develops! My favorite recent chocolate tasting? Black Salt Dulce de Leche Bonbons from Vosges Haut Chocolat. 62% dark chocolate sprinkled with black sea salt crystals = something I could melt into my chair over.

If you can’t get your hands on some good chocolate as soon as your taste buds would like, get some eye candy by checking out The Slow Melt’s Instagram, and enjoy some sweet listening by subscribing to the podcast!

Have you tried any wonderful chocolates lately? Please do share your favorites!

xx Caitlyn

PS: can you imagine being gifted Vosges Haut Chocolat’s Travel the World through Chocolate Steam Trunk!? A most indulgent, luxurious gift if there ever was one!

Uncategorized

My week in pictures (mostly)

We’ve had a pretty full schedule since last Saturday, enjoying festivals, good food, and a visit from an old friend. We also had training at work, and I’m happy to say I am now Medic First Aid Certified in the PediatricsPlus Program! I feel like I have a lot to share in general between this week, our time in Thailand a couple weeks ago, and more, but I suppose this is a good start! IMG_2616This was taken at the Otsuka Bon Odori Festival last Saturday. Below are a couple of videos I took that night. (If you’re interested, you can see another short video on my instagram.)

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On Sunday we went to Harajuku to try out Max Brenner, the famed chocolate restaurant. We had a nice time together, but the price was expensive and our desserts really didn’t blow our minds. Lesson learned, I suppose!
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Despite our rather mediocre experience at Max Brenner, the next day we more than made up for it when we went to Tsukiji and tried Chuka Soba Inoue ramen. Chad read that the ramen is well-known for being really delicious, and there was a good sized queue to get a bowl. Only one type was offered, but that all that’s necessary because it is oh-so-good.
IMG_2665After our ramen, we went to Kappabashi Dori, a street named after the fabled kappa that sells loads of kitchen goods. I had fun spotting different kappa up and down the road in between looking at the different kitchen supply stores. IMG_2667See the Tokyo Sky Tree in the background?  IMG_2670                                                             I made a friend.IMG_2676 IMG_2683This picture was taken before we went to a really great yakiniku restaurant Thursday with our old friend from Mie. (The restaurant, by the way, is called Kazu, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the Bunkyo area of Tokyo! Make sure you get a reservation.)
IMG_2757Today we tried a new (to us) Italian restaurant called Heinz Beck. The creme brulee dessert and cappuccino were lovely and everything else was well-presented, but the restaurant didn’t do much for me overall. (I’d much rather go to Chez Olivier again and try out their lunch special!)IMG_2717This was taken today outside the Imperial Palace Gardens, a great place for a walk even with the drizzling rain.IMG_2732
Imperial Palace Gardens
Excuse my wild hair (I told you it was a bit rainy!) 😉 IMG_2738After our walk we stopped for Starbucks and then headed back to Tokyo station to head home. (I think this side of Tokyo station is really cool.)

That brings us to this evening! I hope you enjoyed getting a peek at my week. I’ll be ready to share more soon, but in the meantime, what sorts of things have YOU been up to? I’d love to hear about your week in the comments.

xx Caitlyn

Around Town · Seen/Heard/Tried

Saturday Sights in Shibuya

Thank goodness for weekends. We had a lazy start today (like last weekend!), eating French toast, drinking coffee and watching Game of Thrones. Then when we were thinking of how to spend our afternoon, I remembered that Chad had said he thought Shibuya was a cool area, so I decided to see what we might be able to do out that way today. I chose three main places I wanted to go: Theobroma Musee du Chocolat, Nata de Christiano’s, and Streamer Coffee. We started our journey by walking through Yoyogi Park to Theobroma, where I purchased three chocolates for us to split later.IMG_1366IMG_1401

The one that looks like a mix between a miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and a tiny cupcake was hazelnut and milk chocolate. The one in the back right had a bit of framboise action happening (and was my favorite), and then the other (left) was a honey infused chocolate. IMG_1371After leaving Theobroma, we headed about a block over to Nata de Christiano’s. This tiny bakery specializes in egg tarts, and though I’ve made some decent ones in the past, I’ve never quite been able to make a perfect egg tart. I had to see if Nata de Christiano’s lived up to its reputation!
IMG_1392First of all, let me just say that when I write that the bakery is tiny, I mean tiny. But it is also adorable!
IMG_1390IMG_1372 IMG_1374 IMG_1375 IMG_1376They serve alcohol too!IMG_1377 IMG_1378The staff was very friendly, and the service was prompt.IMG_1380 IMG_1381Don’t they look amazing? THAT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE.IMG_1384 IMG_1386There is absolutely nothing tiny about how fabulous these tarts are, you guys. The puff pastry is just slightly burnt but super buttery and flaky. Contrasting with the crunch of the pastry is the sweet, silky egg tart filling. I just can’t tell you how in love with these tarts I am! Gahhh! I feel like Nata de Christiano would be enough of a reason to go to Shibuya, but after that, we had another great experience at Streamer Coffee.

IMG_1402Streamer Coffee is known in particular for its latte art. The owner, Hiroshi Sawada, was the first Asian to ever become a World Latte Art champion. If you know me at all, though, you know that I don’t care much about latte art if the espresso doesn’t hold its own. But um, you guys? The espresso at Streamers is absolutely awesome.    IMG_1397And I mean, awesome. As in, my latte was one of the best I’ve ever had. Streamers has created its own coffee blend, and the beans are also for sale in the cafe. #pleasegiveme #allthecoffee
IMG_1399 IMG_1400 We had such a successful day in Shibuya! After walking around for several hours, we were ready to go home for dinner. I captured a couple interesting shots on the way home (one is posted below, and the others are on instagram!). Then I worked on a super fun project I can’t wait to share with you tomorrow! (Hint: the project is part of something from my Spring Bucket List!) IMG_1406 Have a lovely weekend friends! I’ll see you back here tomorrow!
xxCaitlyn

Reviews · Tried

Review: Theo Chocolate

Gazing across the bars of chocolate in my local supermarket, I noticed quite a few bars I hadn’t seen before. It was exciting for me to see so much quality chocolate available, and I decided to choose a new kind to try! Although it was tough to decide between several appealing bars, this time I chose Theo Organic Fair Trade Coconut 70% Dark Chocolate. IMG_1435Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard anything about Theo Chocolate before coming across it in the candy aisle. However, I loved the simple packaging, the Fair Trade Label (among others) posted along the bottom, and the thought of coconut playing a role in the chocolate bar. IMG_1436Every time I try chocolate (whether it’s for the first time or what feels like the hundredth), I always begin by smelling it. As you would expect, this bar of chocolate smelled very much like dark cocoa with just a hint of sweetness. I couldn’t taste the coconut when I took a bite, but the coconut definitely contributed to the overall texture of the bar. Unlike bars that have crunchy nuts or soft dried fruit, the coconut in this Theo bar adds a texture in between the range of crunchy and soft. And although the coconut flavor isn’t especially pronounced, it seems to add a bit of toasty sweetness to the bar that breaks up what could otherwise almost be an overwhelming amount of dark chocolate. I would be interested in pairing the chocolate with coconut water to see if the coconut notes would become more perceptible. IMG_1437After trying Theo chocolate, I visited their website and decided I LOVE THEM. Here’s why: Theo Chocolate is passionate about the journey from bean to bar (and you know how passionate I am when it come to coffee and its journey from bean to cup!). On their fact sheet, Theo Chocolate touts that “Theo is founded on the belief that there is a common thread that binds us, from the cocoa farmer to the chocolate lover, and [they’re] devoted to making our world a better place.” YES!

The fact sheet also states that Theo Chocolate is the first and only bean to bar maker of Organic, Fair Trade, Fair for Life and Non-GMO Project verified chocolate in North America. That’s a reason to try Theo Chocolate if there ever was one, if you ask me! I am looking forward to trying out other flavors of Theo Chocolate in the future.

xxCaitlyn

Bookspiration · Food & Cooking

Bookspiration: Chocolate Temptations

And now the finale to all the fun I’ve had with Uncommon Grounds: An adventure involving coffee and chocolate, which are two of my favorite things on the planet. I found a recipe in 1000 Chocolate Baking and Dessert Recipes from Around the World for Chocolate Temptation cookies, and decided to give the recipe a try. They. were. GLORIOUS.

IMG_20140516_073130_495To start the recipe, you preheat your oven, grease a cookie sheet or parchment paper, and melt some chocolate, coffee and butter into a heat-proof bowl until the chocolate is almost melted.

IMG_20140516_073400_808 IMG_20140516_073751_979 Then, in a separate bowl, you beat some eggs until they’re fluffy before adding some sugar.

IMG_20140516_074136_356 IMG_20140516_074348_783From that point, you add in the chocolate, butter and coffee mixture, stirring until smooth.  IMG_20140516_075104_172Next up you sift a mixture of flour, baking powder, and salt into the mix, along with chocolate pieces and almond extract.

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Next, put tablespoonfuls of dough onto a greased baking sheet or greased parchment paper and stick them in the oven to bake!

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Once they’ve cooled, it’s time to pipe melted chocolate onto them (I used a ziplock bag!).

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I did the white chocolate first…

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…and then I did the milk chocolate!

The cookies turned out fantastic, though the coffee flavor was quite subtle. As you can see in the first picture above, I used Starbucks Breakfast Blend for my cookies, but that was just because that was what I had on hand. When I brought the cookies to work, we decided to do a tasting with a French press of Espresso roast, which goes well with nutty, chocolatey flavors. The pairing was FABULOUS, so I’m thinking that perhaps next time I make these cookies I’ll use a darker roast coffee brewed more strongly instead of the Breakfast Blend. Do you have a favorite recipe that incorporates coffee?

Chocolate Temptations (adapted from 1000 Chocolate Baking and Dessert Recipes from Around the World)

Ingredients

3 1/4 oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

12 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate

1 tsp strong coffee

2 eggs

scant 3/4 cup brown sugar

generous 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

2 tsp almond extract

scant 2/3 cup chopped walnuts

scant 2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts

1 1/2 oz. white chocolate

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large cookie sheet or parchment paper. Put 8 oz of the semisweet chocolate with the butter and coffee into a heatproof bowl and heat in 30 second bursts in the microwave, stirring in between each burst until chocolate is almost melted.

2. Meanwhile, beat eggs in a bowl until fluffy. Whisk in the sugar gradually until thick. Add the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir into the chocolate mixture. Chop 3 oz of semisweet chocolate into pieces and stir into the dough (or use semisweet chocolate chips to make things go even faster!). Stir in the almond extract and nuts.

4. Put tablespoonfuls of the dough onto a cookie sheet, transfer to the preheated oven, and bake for 16 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, or if using parchment paper, pull paper off cookie sheet and set aside to cool. To decorate, melt the remaining chocolate and spoon into pastry bags or ziplock bags with the ends cut off, then pipe lines onto the cookies.

Enjoy!
xx

Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Chuao Honeycomb Dark Chocolate

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about chocolate, but believe me: it hasn’t left my heart. It’s just that I haven’t had many opportunities to indulge in specialty chocolates lately. Fortunately, yesterday I went to World Market and came across Chuao chocolate bars. I saw a Honeycomb flavor and knew I had to try it!

20140416-195420.jpgOn the package, there is a description of the “experience” of eating this chocolate bar: “Crunchy bits of golden, caramelized honey mingle with deep dark chocolate, like secret lovers meeting on a warm summer night. Sweet and decadent, the Honeycomb bar will charm you, one nibble at a time.” Phew! Is it getting hot all of the sudden? I’m surprised a chocolate bar that sexy doesn’t melt just from the description! 😉

20140416-195428.jpgBefore trying the bar, I knew that I liked a couple of things about it: Firstly, Chuao ethically sources its cocoa. Secondly, Chuao chocolates are 100% natural, without hydrogenated fats, artificial preservatives, artificial colors and flavors or artificial sweeteners.

20140416-195435.jpgI broke off a hunk to split with Chad, and observed the little crispy bits of honey visible. I had sort of hoped there was going to be actual honeycomb covered in the dark chocolate, but upon reading more carefully I realized there were only caramelized pieces of honey. (Out of curiosity, I looked up how much honeycomb costs, and it can range from around $11 to $30 and up for just 8 ounces!)

Any tiny bit of disappointment at feeling misled by the picture was replaced with pleasure as I took my first bite. The dark chocolate was rich and lovely, and the bits of honey lightened the overall feel of the chocolate in my mouth. The texture actually reminded me a lot of sea foam chocolate, which of course got me looking up recipes for sea foam, which led me to finding this nice video with an easy recipe for honeycomb sea foam:

Overall, I enjoyed the Chuao chocolate. I’d be interested in trying their Pretzel Toffee Twirl Bar or their Whisky Pairing bonbons. Which would you like to try?

Bookspiration · Food & Cooking

Bookspiration: Chocolate Maple Roll Cake

I was thinking more about A Tale for the Time Being, and how it takes place with Ruth in Canada, and Nao in her diary in Japan. I decided to make some sort of recipe that combined something common in Japan with something common in Canada, and after a few sad experiments with my takoyaki maker I had to give up for a night. However, that was yesterday, and this is today. I thought some more about my fusion experiment, and decided I should make a roll cake!

The first time I ever had a roll cake was in Japan, and I loved how light and subtly sweet it was. So today I asked myself, “What if I made a roll cake that had the airy, softly sweet elements that the ones I tried in Japan had, and somehow incorporated maple into it?” I did a little research, and came up with a recipe that created a lovely cake. I hope you like it!

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Chocolate Maple Roll Cake

Ingredients:

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Chocolate Sponge:

butter, for greasing

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa

sugar, for sprinkling

rose from your hot husband (optional)

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Maple Cocoa Whip

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 Tbs cocoa

4 Tbs maple syrup

Directions:

IMG_03701. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and grease and line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Use an electric whisk to whisk together the eggs and sugar until thick.

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2. Sift together the flour and cocoa in a separate bowl before folding a little at a time into the whisked egg and sugar mixture.

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3. Once everything had been evenly incorporated, pour into your prepared pan and bake for 8-10 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched. (Be extra careful here–I got a bit distracted and cooked mine slightly too long!)

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4. Once the cake is finished baking, wring a clean dish towel in hot water and spread it on your workspace. Line the towel with wax paper or parchment paper (though wax is probably better! I used parchment and the cake stuck to it a bit). Sprinkle a little sugar along the paper, and then flip your sponge on top. Carefully peel back the parchment that was on the bottom.

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5. Cut off the edges of the cake.

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7. Carefully roll up the cake, “hamburger” style, and set aside with the seam facing down.

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8. Next it’s time to make some fabulous whipped cream! I was so pleased with how mine turned out. Pour the heavy whipping cream into a bowl and add the cocoa. Whip until fluffy peaks start to form and the cream gains a whipped consistency.

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9. Next, fold in the maple syrup. Try your best to resist sticking your face in the bowl once everything has been mixed together because the whip. will be. YUMMY.

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10. Carefully unroll the cake and spread ample amounts of the maple cocoa whip inside, leaving a little space at the edges so it doesn’t ooze out too much.

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11. Re-roll the cake, and add more of the maple cocoa whip on the outside.

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12. Drizzle a little bit of maple syrup on top.

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13. Sift a little cocoa powder on for a final touch (I got a little carried away on one end, but who’s going to complain about extra cocoa!?).

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14. And enjoy! My cake was cooked just the teeniest bit too long, so it wasn’t quite as spongy and light as I would have liked, but my maple cocoa whip cream was so heavenly that I didn’t mind at all. Let me know if you try the recipe and how it turns out! 🙂

xx