Monday, December 29, 2008

Russell Stover's "Urban" Chocolate Box

My husband and I received this box from a relative, who is well aware that we not only adore good chocolate, but I make some damn good truffles, if I do say so myself. Apparently Russell Stover is trying for the foodie audience by offering pseudo-high end chocolates with names like "Grapefruit Ganache," "Pistachio Nougatine," and "Key Lime" (Key Lime what, exactly, they don't say). We gave them a chance, truly we did. However, I wouldn't recommend these chocolates to people who want good chocolate, or even people who like a normal Russell Stover mixed box.

First of all, when we opened the box, we were rewarded with the smell of Lime. Not a subtle lime, either, this was Lime Jell-o scent at its finest. Knowing that chocolate picks up smells rather easily, we braced ourselves for tasting what were probably now "(Lime) Espresso Truffle" and "(Lime) Sea Salt Soft Caramel."

We were not disappointed.

The first to be tasted was "Espresso Truffle." Instead of being cylindrical, as shown on the box, it was more like they had taken the normal half-spherical chocolates and put a flat decorative circle pressed on top. Not very attractive. The filling was hard and crumbly, which I'm hoping was staleness and not intentional, because ew. It tasted nothing like espresso, and nothing like chocolate. Just kind of limey and crumbly and ew.

Next came the "Grapefruit Ganache", which really means "white coating over a pink filling that tastes kind of like lime and has the texture of Crisco". Yummy.

"Pistachio Nougatine" was chewy. It still tasted somewhat limey and had little bits of what I think were pistachios, except they didn't taste like pistachios and didn't add anything to the flavor, which wasn't pistachio anyway.

Since we'd already had three lime-flavored chocolates, we decided to try the actual lime chocolate. Apparently "Key Lime" means Key Lime Cream, and for some reason it had to be bright green, even though the smell coming off this thing immediately identified it as Lime, and it was more Lime-flavored than the aforementioned Lime Jell-O. Now, I don't like Lime Jell-o, I think it tastes like cleaning supplies, and I said so as I spit it into the trash. The husband then came in, spit it out, and said "thank you. I knew I recognized the flavor but couldn't place it until you said 'cleaning products'." Yeah, that flavor was a huge mistake. Key Lime that was not.

We saved the best for last, surprisingly. Now, I've had good Sea Salt caramels before. This was not really a good sea salt caramel, but it was decent. No lime flavor (or we had completely overblown our lime taste buds), soft, smooth caramel with just enough salt to offset the sweetness. Plus, it was covered in dark chocolate. Not great, not something I'd ever crave, but it didn't offend either of us.

The "60% Cacao Dark from Ghana" is sitting in the kitchen. We decided to give it some time to let the lime dissipate before we try it. 60% is pretty weak, and I'm sure it'll just taste like off-brand dark chocolate.

Today's Lesson: Just splurge on the good stuff. Russell Stover is NOT good stuff, unless you normally eat chocolate-scented candles. It's not worth the calories or the disappointment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Homemade Advent Calendar?

After reading this post on the beloved Tomato Nation, which led me to this article on Advent Calendars (and the crap that is called "chocolate" held within said calendars), I have decided to embark on a mission: Create a (relatively) easy-to-make homemade advent calendar.

The requirements:
  • Must be reusable or recyclable. One of the things that always bothered me was the waste involved in advent calendars. If I'm going to make one and take that much time and effort, it better damn well last more than one holiday season. Otherwise, if I can recycle it fully, so be it.
  • Must be able to hold good chocolates or small toys. None of that "heartwarming picture behind the little window" crap here. And by good chocolate, I mean good chocolate. Truffles, Lindt balls, etc. There will be no cutesy Christmas-shaped chocolates unless they are exquisite to eat as well. Toys would mean it's adaptable to children who should keep their mitts off my good chocolates.
  • Must not involve more than maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour to assemble, barring standing in line at the craft store during the holidays behind that woman who has 15 different silk plants, none of which have tags, and who wants to haggle with the poor cashier. Go shopping in May to make this stuff, I tell ya.
  • Must be easy to assemble. Not Martha-easy, I'm thinking more along the lines of "developmentally challenged monkey" easy.
This may not get done this year, but if you have any ideas or suggestions, I'm all ears!

Support your local Shelter!

Just a post to encourage people to donate, volunteer, adopt, but just do something to help your local animal shelter. I know our local shelters are packet to bursting, at least partially due to the high numbers of home foreclosures and abandoned animals.

If you can, adopt an animal, especially an adult animal. If you're being foreclosed on, please try to find a home for your pet, then try a shelter, but don't just leave it outside. Please.

We're seriously contemplating adding another cat to our three. We have the room and the resources, and we love our cats.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Craft Night

This last Friday was our monthly Craft Club. It's kind of a stitch-n-bitch, but with a broad range of crafts. We've got the requisite knitters and crochet-ers, plus some sewing, quilting, cross-stitch, scrapbooking, card-making, and even a remote-control helicopter. Someone set up a project for her elementary-school level class at the natural science museum once. It's all friends from college, though it covers a broad range of ages, but we're all childless, which in some ways makes it easier to get together.

Anyway, this month we also did a dessert potluck. I made this recipe for Chocolate Mousse, which I love, though you do already have to kind of know what you're doing to follow the recipe. I don't bother with heating the egg whites because I don't worry about Salmonella, but I do heat the egg yolks and beat them until they "ribbon" (basically, you lift up the whisk, and the yolks should fall in a thick ribbon against the yolks still in the bowl before being reabsorbed). I figured out a way to use less bowls: beat the whipping cream in the bowl you beat the yolks in after folding the yolks into the whole mixture. I also melt the chocolate in the microwave, since I use semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut, if you're interested) and it's less likely to burn.

I don't think this makes it into "my" recipe, which is why I linked to the real recipe. Clarification of directions isn't really changing the recipe, and I certainly didn't come up with the whole thing on my own. It's nearly impossible these days to credit the real original recipe for anything; everyone makes their own changes, albeit tiny, and then can call it their own. Of course, trying to protect "your" recipe is also impossible; cooking isn't about citing sources, it's about satisfying physical and/or emotional hunger. I recieved praise for the mousse even though it's not my recipe, because I took the time to make it.

And that's how it should be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cauliflower Soup!

This week's new recipe: Cauliflower Cheese Soup!

It's been snowy and cold, and when that happens, I have a tendency to make soup. Crockpot beef stew is a favorite, as are chili, corn chowder, and minestrone. I promise to post recipes for these the next time I make them. However, this time I happened to have a head of cauliflower already in the crisper, potatoes from the 10-lb bag I bought for Thanksgiving, sharp cheddar cheese, and leftover vegetable stock. Thus, no need to go to the store, and soup that doesn't require 2 hours of simmering!

Cauliflower Cheese Soup
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and rough chopped
Olive oil
2-3 medium Russet potatoes, cubed
1 head cauliflower (I had a pretty big one, but used it all), cut into bite-size florets
1 bottle beer (I used Shiner Bock but it's up to you what you use. You can also replace the beer with water if you swing that way)
Approximately 2-3 cups of Imagine Organic vegetable broth (this is important; it gives extra flavor and makes up for the lower amount of cheese by giving an almost cheesy taste. You may need to add more cheese if you use a different broth!)
2 American cheese slices
4-6 oz sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

I sauteed the onion and garlic in olive oil until they were soft and started to take a little color, then added the beer, waited until it stopped foaming, then added the potatoes and vegetable broth. I let these cook for about 10 minutes, then added all the cauliflower, about 1/2 tsp salt, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, put the lid on, and brought it to a simmer on what was probably med-high heat. Then I turned it down, and let it simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower were soft. It was probably half an hour, but it'll vary, so taste your soup! Add salt and pepper as needed, take it off the heat, and stir in the American cheese first (it helps with emulsification), then chunks of cheddar. Stir until combined. I served ours with just some reheated Italian bread and a Shiner Bock for each of us!

Friday, December 5, 2008

First Post

Well, hello there!

I'd love to say I started a blog to share insightful observations, tell amazing tales about my amazing life, or to showcase my writing skills.

But no.

I totally gave in to peer pressure.

So there you go!