Chocolate Week #2: Trader Joe’s 70% Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramel and Black Sea Salt

In a sea of over 9,000 chocolate and sea salt caramel-flavored chocolate bars, you’d think another variety couldn’t possibly compare to the big league players like Recchuti, Eclat, Fran’s, or Vosges. However, you would be incorrect. Trader Joe’s hits it out of the park once more with its version of the now overdone favorite, eschewing Speculoos and going downright classic with its 70% dark chocolate, caramel, and black sea salt rendition.
I found this bar for a mere $2.00 at Trader Joe’s, fancifully decorated with the brightly colored Victorian stock images that make up the bulk of their Fearless Flyer. This was one of the busiest and most aesthetically pleasing package designs I’d seen on one of their candies. It had a beautiful combination of textures and art all over the package. The narwhals and whales dotting the box must have helped collect the sea salt used in the bar, or at least that’s what I like to think.
Inside, the bar is divided into eight neat squares. These are irrelevant as the squares implode at the slightest touch, releasing their caramel innards all over your plate…photo board…fingers. Regardless, it’s a bar that’s both beautiful on the inside and outside, with a buttery, brown sugar-dominated caramel aroma and pervasive salt tang. The thin, crispy texture reminds me of some of the Vosges caramel-filled bars.
It melds impeccably with the dark chocolate, a salty version itself with notes of molasses and coffee and a bittersweet, chalky aftertaste, cushioned by the sugar in the caramel. Although loaded with caramel, it’s not too sweet, which made it all too easy to eat the entire bar. For $2, I don’t even think you could get a large bag of Brach’s caramels, much less a high-quality bar like this, which makes it not only an excellent version of its popular cousins but a great value as well.

Chocolate Week #1: Sugar Plum Toasted O’s Milk Chocolate Cereal Bar

Well, you voted and the results are in: our March theme week is Chocolate Week! A very good choice if I do say so as I have a backlog of eclectic and fun chocolate treats for your viewing pleasure. Today’s selection, from BBF, kicks off the week with an appropriately early-morning treat- cereal and chocolate. Now, I know a few people who like cereal and know that the candy market is no stranger to the delicious marriage of breakfast and dessert. Just last week I was ogling the Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered Cheerios in the supermarket. Once this came in the mail, I knew it would be perfect for chocolate week.
Sugar Plum Chocolates boasts an impressive selection of chocolates ranging from the mundane to the magnificent, including a line of cereal-based chocolate bars. The box the bar is housed in is a bit large for the size of the bar, but super cute with a very clean, retro feel. Judging from the lightness of the bar, I expected this to be a sort of Rice Krispie treat and candy bar hybrid, where the Cheerios were held together with marshmallow or caramel and covered in chocolate. Instead, the bar was presented in a similar format to customizable bars- a plain milk chocolate base with a few scattered toppings.
Online, the bar’s beauty shot presents a treat densely packed with cereal on top. When I noticed the scant number of Cheerios in my bar, I was worried that their flavor and texture wouldn’t be easily detectable within the overall composition of the bar, but that fear was soon put to rest. The Cheerios added an airy, crisp texture atop the dense slab of chocolate and gave the sweet bar a lively malty overtone in addition to the caramel flavors within the milk chocolate.
The chocolate itself reminded me of gelt, with a slightly waxy bite but a smooth aftertaste. I would have liked to see more of a focus on the cereal and less of a focus on the chocolate, which, though delicious, took away from the novelty of eating the bar. Enjoyable, if not part of a complete breakfast, and it even comes with a prize inside the box. The company makes a few other flavors as well, and the bars can be purchased on their retail site or through BBF.

Sunland Creamy Thai Ginger and Red Pepper Organic Peanut Butter

I’m not ashamed to say it: I live in a town that caters to the 3AM drunk food scene. Compared to Rubinoff, food is an afterthought best paired with plastic forks. The pizza is overwhelmed by a deluge of microwaved toppings and the closest thing we have to steak frites is the McDonald’s on Route 9. Good Mexican isn’t terribly hard to find, but I can’t say we’ve been holding our breath for edible Chinese or Indian restaurants in the area. Luckily, when the BBF package arrived earlier this week, I immediately knew what we’d be repurposing for our latest Fauxian cuisine.
Sunland makes eight different varieties of organic flavored peanut butter with the Valencia peanut, ranging from sweeter ones like cherry vanilla peanut butter to savory selections, like smoked chipotle. BBF sent over the most mouth-watering of the lot, Thai ginger and red chili pepper peanut butter, along with a few squeeze packs for the road. The peanut butters are all-natural and have to be mixed up. We decided to make this into a sauce for some cold peanut noodles and also test it out as a marinade for grilled chicken.
Out of the jar, the color scheme looks inspired by a mid-eighties Laine Bryant peacoat- camel-colored and slightly lumpy, but is inoffensive and smooths out after a vigorous mixing. It has a delightfully short ingredient list- peanuts, ginger, garlic, mustard, and red chili pepper flakes, and is scant on sugar unlike most smooth grocery store brands. If you’re the type to eat peanut butter off the spoon and cry along with The Notebook, perhaps this isn’t for you. It has a very muted sweetness supplemented only by the ginger, making it absolutely ideal for savory foods.
This soaked up delightfully into the chicken breast and made a wonderful crust on the outside. After searing it and getting it crispy, and then cutting it into chunks to fully cook, it was tender, moist, and very flavorful with little preparation at all. It was possibly some of the tastiest grilled chicken I’ve had in or out of a restaurant. While calorically, it isn’t the best marinade, it provides a lot of protein and flavor with just a little bit.
For the noodles, we tossed roughly a quarter cup of peanut butter with a few tablespoons of ginger syrup, soy sauce, garlic sauce, and pepper, and it adhered well to the noodles, highlighting the natural flavor of the peanuts and providing a rather robust heat. A little went a long way here, although next time I’d tone down on the soy sauce to prevent it getting overly salted. This was a fantastic peanut butter in a great flavor and is definitely better than the commercial alternatives or the indigestable Chinese food around here. I’m looking forward to using this in bolder applications, like a Thai peanut butter and jelly or in some sort of savory cookie, or even in ice cream!

NEWS: Shake Shack to open in New Haven

Shake Shack is coming to New Haven in Fall 2012!
Holy crap. I cannot tell you how excited I am. This is comparable to an NYC In ‘n’ Out. Expect a massive comparison of the Holy Trifecta- Five Guys, Shake Shack, and if my man Rod loves me, a double-double from In ‘n’ Out.

Comment here on what you’ll order and I’ll post with more updates soon!

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Super Pop Cakes Collection

I’ll admit, sulkily, and only when it’s pried out of me, that I have a bit of a competitive edge. I’ve lost board game partners over it, gym buddies, and oddly enough, study group members, but by far the most annoyed with this habit is…me. You see, through a culinary lens, I see myself as an organic experiment. What will happen if I feed myself this? Or this?
One of my favorite games is to take a food I like and eliminate it from a meal, seeing if I missed it. This can range from the simple, where tofu crumbles replace meat in chili, to the more effort-intense. Vegan cheese? In my pasta? It’s more common than you think. By far, though, the most arduous challenge came up yesterday, and it all started with a timely delivery of Jeni’s Ice Cream. You may remember the name- I’ve waxed poetic on them a few times and have been anxiously awaiting their new flavors. This time around, I could tell they outdid themselves with their new Super Pop Cakes Collection– not cake pops…think a little more sophisticated, with five special edition flavors riffing around cakes from across the globe.
Like a child on Christmas, I opened the box, tossing the paper aside and briefly playing with the included dry ice, to reveal the five flavors. For this collection, Jeni’s has gone international with flavors like Hummingbird Cake to Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake, with funky flavor mix-ins from rhubarb to kiwi, all chock-full of cake. Of course, I could only see one thing. In the entire five pints of ice cream, not one was chocolate. Aware of my chocolate ice cream-loving status, I stared, agape. How could this be? And more importantly, could they pull it off?
I couldn’t stand the pressure, so I flung the lid off the nearest container and took a spoonful. Holy cream, chocolate who? That would be the Tres Leches Cake with Here ‘n’ There Cherries that I was trying, fully pushing any memories of cacao from my mind. My god, what a condensed flavor. Although I was initially worried that the coconut in this would be overpowering, it played beautifully with the creamy, caramely flavors of the condensed milk. My sole criticism with this was that the “here ‘n’ there” cherries seemed to be “nowhere ‘n’ there” as the pint (yes, we demolished it) contained a single lone candied cherry. Nevertheless, still packed a serious flavor.
Moving on, we opened the brightest and pinkest offering of the set, Magnolia Mochi. While I confess I initially raised an eyebrow at the Barbie pink, floral-scented offering, this was Keepitcoming Love’s soul in a pint of ice cream. Her favorite flavors are floral and mildly sweet and she adores all things Japanese, so to have an artisanal version including these components left her absolutely giddy. The flavor was fresh, imparting a hint of lemon and a slight soapiness at the end. While I did enjoy this, I’m afraid I’ll lose an arm if I try to wrest this one out of her grip.
While Miss Love devoured Magnolia Mochi, I had my sights set on the Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake, featuring a skyr ice cream base, sugary toasted oat cake crumbles, and a rhubarb compote. I was smitten with this ice cream and kept coming back to it after I’d tasted the remaining flavors. The skyr had the clean, light flavor of ricotta and the oat cake pieces were huge, crumbling on the tongue and still very crispy. In each bite, I got at least one large piece. The rhubarb compote was surprisingly not completely frozen and, despite its jammy, slippery texture, was pleasantly tart.
The visual showstopper of the collection was unequivocally the Mango Kiwi Special Cake, resplendent in bright orange and green with enormous chunks of fluffy angel food cake that remained surprisingly airy despite being frozen. I was impressed that this flavor, with so many typically sweet components, was one of the most restrained of the varieties. That may have had to do with the fact that this was not ice cream, but frozen yogurt, so it had more of a bite and less of an unctuous creaminess to it than rainbow sherbert.
I was excited about Hummingbird Cake because it contained coconut and mashed banana, two flavors I’d recently sampled in ice cream of a similar quality. Creamy and tangy in flavor, reminiscent of the fluffy cream cheese frosting atop such a cake, it carried an intense and authentic mashed banana flavor peppered with cinnamon and nutmeg, earthy and sweet. The coconut wasn’t as present in this one texturally, but offered another layer of richness unto the dessert. Purportedly, there were pineapple chunks in this one but I didn’t really get any of them.
These ice creams were diverse and exceptional, going past the birthday cake standards and pushing the boundaries of what it means to have your cake and lick it, too. Chocolate? Take a back seat. There’s a new scoop in town. You can purchase the Super Pop Cakes Collection starting March 2nd at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and in their scoop shops, too!