Saturday, July 12, 2014

Product reviews

- I tried a new-to-me chocolate company called Madécasse. It’s the only company I know of that not only sources its cocoa beans in Africa, but actually makes the chocolate over there, too (Madagascar, to be precise). This is even better for local communities than fair trade! The bar I tried was Sea Salt and Nibs, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I usually have reservations with chocolate bars that contain solid bits, but this worked really well! And it was delicious to boot. It also won “Best in show” at the Paris Salon du Chocolat, apparently.

- I finally got to try chocolates from Jacek Chocolate Couture this summer. I’d heard about them a few years ago, when they were declared among the top 10 chocolatiers in North America – pretty good for what was then essentially a mom working out of her basement! Jacqueline Jacek creates collections of chocolates throughout the year, using fresh ingredients (which means that the chocolates don’t keep very long). I love the flavor combinations that she comes up with! That being said, the availability of those collections is what tripped me up at first: I could only order them when I was in Canada (you wouldn’t want to ship these across the border in the summer heat!), but the collection available at whatever time I was there didn’t always suit me (for example, one Christmas it contained mint, and I hate the combination of chocolate and mint, so I didn’t order any). And I have seen collections that I would have loved (I remember one involving saffron), but it was in the middle of a Texan heat wave, so that would have been a bad idea. This summer, though, it worked out perfectly: I got truffles from the colours collection, which suited my tastes perfectly! I ordered them during a week of cooler, rainy summer weather, so it was perfect (I was surprised not to see an option for insulated packaging on the website, I have to say).

First, a word about allergens: they are all over the place. Tree nuts, soy, gluten, egg and dairy. The truffles actually contain lactose, too, but because I only had one or two a day to make them last longer, it was fine for me. I’ll present a succinct description of each with a picture. And let me just say that I LOVE this collection!

The Daffodil (kalamansi muddled with coconut in dark chocolate) gave me an immediate burst of strong citrusy taste. For those who haven’t heard of kalamansi – and up until two weeks ago, I was one of them – it is in fact a citrus also called calamondin. It’s great!

Chartreuse (pistachio gianduja and milk chocolate ganache in a suit of dark) was smooth, with just the right amount of sweetness.

Tangerine (silky white chocolate swirled with fresh orange and cream) was way better than I thought! I was expecting an orange creamsicle flavor, which I’m not usually fond of, but this one is smooth, with a real citrus flavor, and is among the best white chocolate I’ve ever had.

Periwinkle (cassis coulis over smooth blonde ganache) was both smooth and sharp and made me exclaim, “Wow!”

Turquoise (blueberry jasmine tea steeped in milk chocolate, enrobed in dark) had real blueberry flavor and was so good! It was my favorite of the bunch.

Magenta (market beet reduction woven through red velvet ganache) tasted a bit less like either of the flavors I would have expected; the red velvet was almost ethereal, and the beet was very subtle. It was great nonetheless.

- I also want to give a quick shout-out to Hot Cakes’ vegan caramel sauce, made with coconut and hemp milks instead of dairy. It was really, really good. It’s great for people who enjoy caramel sauce as a condiment, though I would have to say that it doesn’t always adequately replace caramel in recipes (like these salted caramel brownies, which were better when following the recipe than when using pre-made sauce).

- I tried a dairy-free frozen dessert, Strauss Fantasia Chocolate Vanilla, which has wafers of chocolate throughout. It reminded me of an ice cream cake my parents occasionally bought when I was a child. Unfortunately, in this case, I liked the idea of it more than its execution. The dessert was somewhat bland.

- On the bright side, Tofutti has so many awesome products I hadn’t seen yet! I recently tried these caramel sundae cones that were awesome. It’s the kind of dessert that us lactose-intolerant folks get to miss: a waffle cone, covered in chocolate on the inside, vanilla “ice cream” with a core of caramel, dipped in chocolate and topped with crunchy bits… My only complaint (which may have more to do with my own freezer than anything else) is that the cone was a bit soggy. But it was delicious!

- The bowl of my food processor broke last spring, so I rushed online to look for new processors. I was very disappointed to see that of Cook’s Illustrated’s top picks, one had been discontinued and another was by a brand I dislike (user comments on Amazon confirmed my suspicions). What struck me was that I felt like none of the new models I looked at had all the functions of my trusty 12-year-old Braun! Since I didn’t have time to carefully consider options and do more research (I use my food processor a lot and needed a replacement quickly), I ended up just buying a replacement bowl. I had to find it myself on Amazon, because I admit that Braun’s customer service never got back to me, but it seems like the updated version of my model is the Combimax 650. The new bowl fits, and I’ve been very happy with my purchase, which was definitely less expensive than a new processor – not to mention, the processor itself still works just fine! I am curious to know, though, if any of my readers have a processor they really love? America’s Test Kitchen now recommends this one, but I’m skeptical.

- Finally, I want to share a line of jewelry I discovered, Chewbeads. It’s made of silicone and doesn’t have any detachable parts, so it’s safe for babies to chew on. I read comments online that the necklaces sometimes snag on long hair, so I ended up getting a bracelet and it’s basically the only one I wear around the Little Prince now. He does have a habit of chewing or pulling on jewelry, so I hardly wear anything I own anymore, but this is one cute accessory that he can pull on all he wants and I don’t worry one bit about him breaking it or swallowing something he shouldn’t. I love this line of jewelry!

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