Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shlameel! Shlamazel! Bring on the shugar!

It's been entirely too long. Many weeks have passed since my last post and many significant changes have taken place (not to mention many sweet treats enjoyed). The job interview I mentioned in a previous post? The one I thought I had bombed? Well it turns out that I underestimated how well I did. I got the job and am now living in a Milwaukee suburb. So within the span of a few weeks, I had to sell all of my furniture, pack and ship all of my other possessions, find a new apartment, buy a car, and adjust to a new life in a completely new (and drastically different) setting while working at a new library. Suffice it to say, I've been feeling overwhelmed.

But sugar helps.
Now, I've eaten such a variety of desserts during these last couple of months, that it would be impossible for my to remember and review all of them. But I think it's worth mentioning a couple highlights, and hopefully I'll be able to post on a more regular basis now that I've settled in a bit.

My dear friend Cris bought the Original and Ca$hew Cow varieties as a going-away present (with the understanding that, eventually, I'd write about them). They're made with all-natural, delicious ingredients; the Original contains: honey nougat, peanut butter, caramel, and peanuts drenched in dark chocolate. It's somewhat similar to a Snickers bar--but better. The nougat and caramel are sweeter and the dark chocolate is rich and robust. The Ca$hew bar was delightful as well but simpler in taste, with most of it being comprised of cashews (and cashew butter and cashew brittle). But I appreciated the fact that it's a unique bar with no major-candy brand equivalent (as far as I know, anyway). Now if I can make a trip to Madison, maybe I'll be able to locate Zingerman's What the Fudge? Bar at Fromagination. The name itself is worth the money!

And, just last night, I found heaven at the bottom of a Sil's Mini Donuts bag!

Wonderfully warm, sweet rings of perfectly fried dough covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon. The exterior of a Sil's donut is just the slightest bit firm yet immediately gives way to the incredibly soft, buttery layers of oily goodness found on its inside. The shop itself is an adorable mix of understated retro/modern-cute. And how can one not love an establishment that sells a half dozen piping hot donuts for $1.50? And you don't even have to leave your car! Ah, the wonders of the Midwest drive-thru. Big thanks to Nick for introducing me to Sil's!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Could I Have Sa-more, Please?

I have a selection of sweets to review this week.

First up: Necco's Easter Candy

1. PAAS Decorated Eggs Who doesn't have a positive association with that cute, retro-style PAAS bunny? Fond memories of dyeing Easter eggs and the happy, pastel-colored package art were enough to convince me to buy these little candies. Then I noticed that the hard, crunchy mini-eggs come in an assortment of five "smoothie" flavors: Blueberry, Banana Caramel (a flavor combination I've never actually seen available in smoothie form), Tropical, Peach, and Strawberry Creme. I was immediately intrigued by this exotic mix. I had mistakenly assumed that they would taste exactly like Necco's semi-spicy Sweethearts Valentine's Day candies (which I can take or leave, frankly).

The Strawberry Creme and Peach were my favorites: light 'n sweet. The Banana Caramel was good as well, though the caramel flavor was only slightly distinguishable as an aftertaste. The Tropical was, by far, the least appetizing of the bunch. It was extremely bland, having the flavor of cardboard--until, that is, I bit into it; the aftertaste was very bitter and had an odd, artificial pineapple essence.

Like the Sweethearts, the eggs are stamped (sometimes asymetrically or only faintly)--with the shapes and various lines with which you'd decorate an Easter egg, in this case--hence, the name. Super cute!

2. Mighty Malts Malted Milk Mini Eggs (try saying that five times fast!)
Yet another adorably designed box, perfect for any child's Easter basket. As you might guess, these tasted almost exactly like any other type of malted milk chocolate balls (i.e. Whoppers). The exterior shell, though, differed slightly in that it had more of a white chocolate quality to it: incredibly sweet and smooth in consistency.

With respect to the malted center/chocolate ratio, I think the shell may have also been a bit thicker than that of a Whopper. Plus it was pretty: brightly colored and flecked. The malted interior was small, crunchy, and rough in texture. Satisfying.

Russell Stover Truffle Easter Egg

Oh my goodness. The absolute excellency of this egg can not be entirely articulated by yours truly. To put it bluntly? It blew my mind. Though small, this egg packs a punch. It's incredibly decadent: very dense and rich. The shell is milky smooth, but its creaminess can't even compare to the ganache truffle center! My only regret is that I only bought one when I saw them at my local drug store. I'm not sure I can wait another 10 months to sink my teeth into another one!

Girl Scout Samoa Cookies

I will proudly admit that I am a former Girl Scout. I can't say that my troop really did all that much (beyond giggling and running around the basement of an old Protestant church in my hometown), and I'm not sure I'm a better woman for it. But I had a lot of fun and made some good friends. I dreaded cookie-selling season, though. I was shy with strangers and didn't feel comfortable going door to door. Not surprisingly, I didn't 'move' a lot of boxes. But eating GS cookies? Now that I relished! I loved every single kind (with the exception of Thin Mints--which are oddly GS' most popular). But the Samoa (or Caramel deLite, as I knew it as a child in the Midwest) has always been my favorite. (The Shortbread and Peanut Butter Sandwiches were close seconds). There are currently a few varieties that weren't available in my day, but that I'd kill to get my hands on: namely the Thanks-a-Lot (a shortbread cookie with a layer of fudge on it) and the Dulce de Leche.

But, ah, Samoas: "round doughnut-shaped cookies about two inches in diameter with a hole in the center, covered in caramel and toasted coconut, and then striped with chocolate." What is there not to love? Sadly, I haven't had the opportunity to buy a box of GC cookies since I was a child, so I ecstatically accepted a sweet old patron's offer to nab some Samoas from her granddaughter. They are as good (if not better) than I remember. The crunchy quality of the toasted coconut serves as a nice contrast to the slick, moist chewiness of the chocolate/caramel combo. (The chocolate and the coconut especially, overpower the caramel in flavor, but I suppose this is to be expected.) Though a bit on the greasy side, the entire cookie just melts in your mouth. Fantastic. My friend Holly recently informed me that Edy's makes Samoas Cookie Ice Cream! And get a load of this: the scrumptious Samoas swim in a sea of fudge-swirled caramel ice cream!! I have to get my hands on some. Unfortunately it's only available during the cookie-selling season (January-April) and isn't sold anywhere within 50 miles of me. Argh!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tre-MOO-ndous Milwaukee!

I just returned from a somewhat stressful visit to the Milwaukee area. The purpose of the trip was nerve-wracking in and of itself; I spent a few hundred dollars to fly to WI to interview for a job I probably won't get. Add to that the constant rain, unseasonably cold temperatures, lack of transportation, canceled flight, getting locked out of my hotel room (twice), and being pulled over by a cop on the way back from LaGuardia airport, and, well, you're left with an unhappy traveler who can only seek solace in consuming copious amount of sweets. In this regard, I was in luck.

While mindlessly flipping through channels on my hotel room's TV, I came across and was immediately mesmerized by a commercial for Dairy Queen--or "DQ," as it's often fondly referred to. Though I normally try to avoid chain stores and restaurants (especially when traveling, as I like to experience all the unique "local flavor" I can), I make an exception for businesses that create crazy-awesome desserts like those found at DQ. It's important to note that there are no DQs (to my knowledge) in the NYC area, so I've been in some serious Blizzard withdrawal for over six years.

Speaking of Blizzards...well, my being in Milwaukee in April must have been fate, seeing as that the Blizzard of the Month is the phenomenally fantastic Midnight Truffle Treat! You know how much I love truffles! I savored every single bite of that small-size, 12 ounce (and 765 calorie!) cup. Every single spoonful was chock-full of "rich truffle pieces blended with dark, decadent cocoa fudge and creamy vanilla soft serve." There were at least three sizeable and remarkably soft semi-sweet truffle chunks in every mouthful, in fact. The cocoa fudge (which appeared to be in powder form) wasn't thoroughly blended into the ice cream, yet the virtually untouched granular, gritty quality of the powder served as a dusting of sorts for the truffles. It also created a more interesting texture and greater variety in every bite. Verdict: best Blizzard ever. You might even say that's royally mind-blowing!

I chose Alterra as my go-to anti-chain while in Milwaukee. In addition to making a solid cup of java, they make some excellent baked goods. I chose the ambiguously named "Bountiful Garden" muffin, assuming that it would be similar to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Morning Glory Muffin. I was, for the most part, right--though a couple of the key BG ingredients differ. Based soley on my taste buds (which can be frustratingly poor at identifying flavors), I discerned that the muffin was comprised of: shredded carrots and apples, dates, and a walnut topping. There also seemed to be somewhat of a pumpkin essence and a few small bits of a green vegetable or fruit. Any ideas? I don't believe they were crunchy enough to be pistachios. Not surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed this hefty muffin. It was moist and dense--(though on the verge of being just a little too oily). I want the recipe!

Finally: The Original Mini Cow Pie!, a tasty little treat produced by the Baraboo Candy Company in Baraboo, WI that is deserving of its exclamation point. The flavor of crunchy pecans is strong and robust and quickly followed by the super-sweet stickiness of buttery caramel.

I think saying that they're "drenched" in milk chocolate is a bit of an overstatement, though. The chocolate is definitely smooth, creamy, and quite soft--but it's also a relatively thin layer. (But perhaps this is only true with the Mini version.) Overall, a yummy snack-size bite!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sweets Week

Easter is by far my favorite holiday for candy. In fact, some of my most beloved sweets are only available during Lent: Cadbury Creme Eggs and Mini Eggs, for example. Couple this with happy memories of hunting for baskets full of yummy treats and the explosion of bright pastel decorations that coincide with the beginning of spring, and you have one happy consumer--and believe me, I consume!

This year was no different. I horded my Irish Cadbury Eggs like a squirrel gathers nuts and have them safely stored in a jar in my cabinet. They're a valuable commodity and must be rationed out over the next couple months.

I did indulge in a few new sweets this past week, though:

1. Elmer's Heavenly Hash Egg (Yes, I said "hash.")

I came across these at my local Rite Aid and was immediately intrigued by the name. I know Rite Aid sells drugs, but really?! Turns out Mr. Elmer's egg consists of marshmallow and almonds coated with milk chocolate. I like marshmallows (especially in freshly made campfire s'mores), but I do not normally buy 'em because I like to avoid gelatin when possible. But this little egg convinced me I should give these treats a try more often.

The egg's 'mallow was soft, moist, and uniformly dense. It wasn't overly spongy (which I appreciated) but rather gooey--and sweet. The milk chocolate shell was thin and had a wonderful bittersweet, natural cocoa flavor. Very good. My only complaint is that there were only two roasted almonds embedded in the marshmallow filling.

(And look! The company has its very own mascot: Elmer Wabbit! How cute is that?)

2. White Chocolate Sucker

...courtesy of one of my co-workers, Ms. Conte. This lady's got talent, let me tell you. I've heard she makes a mean eggplant parmesan; however, I've only had the pleasure of sampling her desserts so far. She made chocolate suckers using Easter-themed molds this past weekend, and I was lucky enough to be at work on Saturday when she brought a handful into our branch. My first thought was: what does Yoda have to do with Easter?

Upon closer inspection, I noticed the sucker was actually modeled after a lamb's face. I've always been slighly apprehensive when biting into candy that resembles cute baby animals, but don't worry, I get over it pretty quickly. As I've mentioned in previous posts, white is my least favorite among the trio of chocolates (dark being my favorite). Don't get me wrong--I still enjoy it, but I find it tickles my throat in a somewhat unsettling way. Conte's sucker was great, though--just the right amount of white. The chocolate was creamy and broke apart easily in my mouth (no actual sucking involved).

Because I find the holiday's sweets so delectable, don't be surprised if you see me resurrect (bah-doom-ching!) the Easter candy reviews even after April is over.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This Economy Makes Me Happy

What to do in an economic crisis? Well, if you're a sugar fiend like me, you head to Rivington Street's Economy Candy! Or, as I like to call it, heaven. Rows and rows (and rows) of candy: handmade, well-known (Jelly Bellys, Jujubes, Swedish Fish), imported (Cadbury Crunchies, Nestle Yorkies, Kinder Buenos), and deliciously obscure "old time favorites."

The experience was overwhelming! I found myself walking through every aisle a few times, simply marveling at the store's selection. I somehow managed to restrain myself and bought only five items in the end: a bag of cinnamon bears (my favorite type of cinnamon candy); cinnamon Glee Gum (What can I say? I'm a big fan of cinnamon.); a Necco Sky Bar, a Joyva Joys bar, and two Wazoo bars (my most prized purchase--see 3/25 blog).

My selection criteria: the candies have to be difficult to find elsewhere and never before enjoyed by yours truly. Oh, and cheap. We are in a recession, after all. (I realize the bears are a fairly common bulk candy. But I couldn't resist.)

My plan is to pace myself and eat a bar only every week or so (let's see how that goes). First one up: the Blue Razz Wazoo, a colorfully chewy, fruit-flavored candy covered with what are simply referred to as "crunchies." As it turns out, the crunchies taste like Nerds and fall off the bar very easily. (Most were at the bottom of the wrapper before I even opened it.)

The verdict: the Wazoo was wonderful. The exterior coating was subtle in fruit flavor, while the two inside layers had the powerfully tangy taste of a Laffy Taffy and the consistency of nougat. The sensation of sinking my teeth into the bar was extremely satisfying. Soft and smooth at first (the coating is similar in texture to that found on a Snickers bar) and chewy in the middle--but without the annoying stickiness of taffy.

Wahoo! I can't wait to try the other Wazoo bar!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cookies, Cats, and Candy: Oh Yum! (Minus the cats.)

I have a habit of looking over a restaurant's dishes via Menupages before actually going to the restaurant. (Cris and I generally choose where we want to dine days in advance.) Doing this raises my levels of anticipation and excitement in much the same way watching movie previews or listening to a band's music before their concert would. So I already knew that I would be ordering either the chocolate souffle or the Little Devin sandwich cookie for dessert before walking through Westville's door. Thankfully, I didn't have to choose.

Cris ordered the souffle ala mode, and it was scrumptious--though just a bit soggy for my taste. (Can you tell I'm a fan of alliteration yet?) I love contrasts in texture and temperature, but in the case of ice cream and cake (or any other type of porous dessert), I like 'em separate. Westville places the scoop of ice cream directly on top of the souffle, the heat of which quickly melts the ice cream, which then permeates the already moist chocolate cake. As a result, the consistency of the cake becomes that of thick brownie batter. (Still tasty, of course, but not what you expect or necessarily want of a souffle.) The biggest negative, however, is that the coldness of the ice cream nearly froze the creamy smooth chocolatey goodness that is supposed to ooze out of the center of souffle. (And really, isn't that the best part?)

I loved my Little Devin: two buttery thin and chewy granola, cranberry, and walnut cookies attached by an equally thin layer of cream cheese frosting. Though the walnuts appeared to be absent, the combination of the remaining ingredients was fantastic--simultaneously hearty (like a classic oatmeal raisin cookie) and light. I could have eaten about half a dozen more.

After dinner and dessert, we stopped by Fat Cat to play an hour of table tennis, listen to some live jazz, and have a couple pints of beer. It was a good time! It had been awhile since I'd pinged or ponged, so it took awhile to warm up. But I definitely worked up a thirst for that delicious glass of Ithaca Apricot Wheat. In fact, it's my new favorite beer!

And finally: today. I ripped open my mini bag o' the new Twizzlers Tweeterz: "candy coated Twizzlers Strawberry Bits."

Like Nibs, they are tiny and extremely chewy--like rubber. But don't let the description put you off--they were actually quite good. (The blue was the best, and I'm not just saying that for alliteration purposes.) They are perfect for an Easter basket. Easter is, after all, the absolute best holiday for candy. (Cadbury Creme Eggs, anyone?)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Leave No Scone Unturned

Or uneaten!

I can't believe I've yet to mention The Corner Scone. It's my very favorite coffee shop and, as luck would have it, it's literally just around the corner from my apartment. It's the only place of business where I'm actually on a first name basis with one of the owners. They're such a nice bunch of people there that, after expressing my love of morning glory muffins, I walked into the cafe a few days later to discover a freshly baked batch on the countertop.

As you might guess, their scones are exceptional (as is everything else I've had there, especially their egg dishes). I bought a blueberry one today, along with a large, hot cup of my favorite decaf coffee, courtesy of Irving Farm, a micro-roaster based in the Hudson Valley region that makes a smooth French Roast. A CS scone is light and buttery but not greasy. Its exterior is firm and its interior, soft and dense. The flavor is subtly sweet with just a hint of lemon zest. The Irish know how to make a good scone, and my neighborhood is full of small bakeries that offer their own tasty takes on this classic baked good. But those that are made by the friendly folks at CS taste just a little sweeter.

I can't wait to check out the cafe's monthly open mic night! Maybe I'll compose a poem on scones in preparation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Theze Chocolates Be Poppin'!

I took it upon myself to pose a sugar challenge to...myself. In the mood for something sweet 'n new to my tastebuds, I stopped at a local gas station on the way home from work yesterday to peruse its selection of candy. The only treat I had never tried? The "poppin' tinglin' chocolate" of Wonka Tinglerz.

Now, my friend Holly and I long ago decided that the letter "z" makes any word instantly cooler, so this is what ultimately convinced me to buy this new, mysterious chocolate. I say mysterious because there was no indication as to what makes the chocolate tingle or pop. Until, that is, I looked at the fine print. Turns out that Mr. Wonka's magic ingredient is carbon dioxide!

I generally prefer my chocolate in bigger, more chewable and satisfying chunks, but I really enjoyed my Tinglerz once I adjusted to the sounds of, well, snapping, crackling, and popping emanating from inside my head--what I imagine it would sound like if my teeth had completely rotted and were slowly cracking apart and dissolving in my mouth (which would most likely be due to overconsumption of sugar, in my case). This sound was quite unsettling at first, as you can imagine.

The most accurate description of Tinglerz I can offer: they resemble Wonka Nerds, taste like Nestle Buncha Crunch, and have the same effect as Pop Rocks. The poppin' (not so much tinglin') effect is limited to the auditory. Actually chewing a Tingler doesn't feel any differently than eating traditional chocolate, really--still an exzhilirating experience in and of itself, though.

Speaking of z's, my next mission is to find the elusive Wazoo candy bar. A bodega near where I work used to sell them apparently (I spotted an empty box on their shelf this morning). Wazoo is one of my absolute favorite words, and the description of the bar makes it seem like a dream come true: a chewy, fruity candy sprinkled with crunches!! Rumor has it that I can find it at Economy Candy on Rivington Street. Cross your fingerz I can track it down!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Feel the Powder!

My friend Cris and I enjoyed a lazy (though not that lazy) and definitely decadent Sunday afternoon. We began by meeting at Fred's for brunch. The walls of this Upper West Side locale, which is named after the owner's black labrador retriever, are covered with canine collages; in fact, the doggie decor was the primary reason I chose this spot. The other? The $15 prix fixe brunch menu. Cris got the spinach, goat cheese, and mushroom omelette, while I chose Fred's French Toast (made with "New York's Best Cinnamon Raisin Bread from Orwasher's Bakery").
It had been awhile since I'd had french toast, so I was extremely excited. I indulged in scarfing down two hearty slices of scrumptious toast: thick and moist (but not soggy) in the center, and crispy crunchy on the outside. They didn't even need the syrup or dusting of powdered sugar, they were so sweet and lovely.

After leaving Fred's, we window-shopped (sans windows) at a flea market and farmer's market on Columbus Avenue. Cris had bought some unique, hand-crafted truffles from a shop near his hometown of Mahopac, NY, so we took a seat on a bench near the American Museum of Natural History to eat a few of 'em. The best of the bunch? The red wine infused truffle, with its rich, soft, and slightly bitter ganache center and cocoa powder coating. The hazelnut and caramel varieties were quite tasty too.
The most memorable, however, was the earl gray truffle. Cris and I both agreed that it was our least favorite. Its flavor was overpowering, and its aftertaste lingered long after the chocolate was consumed. There was certainly no mistaking it for any other type of truffle; it tasted as if I had shoved a fistful of Twinings tea bags in my mouth.

After meandering through Central Park, we walked 70 blocks (!) due south, to the 3rd Annual Manhattan Cask Ale Festival at the Chelsea Brewing Company at Chelsea Piers. We each had three small glasses of:
"unfiltered, unpasteurized beer brewed only from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. Cask Ale is also known as 'Cask-Conditioned Beer', and 'Real Ale.'"

Tired and slightly buzzed, we agreed it was time for a satisfying dinner. We ended our long day of delicious drinks and eats with steak (for Cris) and a burger (for me) at The Viceroy Cafe on 8th Avenue while brainstorming on what to title this latest blog-stallment.

How did we do?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Rose By Any Other...

...Would Taste Sweeter.

God knows I love cupcakes. In fact, I'd say they rank in my Top 5 Favorite Desserts. That is, provided, they're baked to perfection and frosted. Heavily. I've had the pleasure of trying a number of varieties at bakeries throughout NYC, including the popular Magnolia (the only bakery with a bouncer at the door), Billy's (a Magnolia rip-off), Buttercup, Amy's Bread, Sweet Revenge, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine (my personal favorite), and--last night--Cupcake Cafe.

I was en route to meet my cousin and aunt for dinner at the Film Center Cafe in Hell's Kitchen and, having some time to kill, took it as a sign when I spotted CC. It's a warmly lit, eclectically decorated, and all-around inviting space that more closely resembles a small-town antiques shop than your typical bakery. I ordered a "cuppa" joe (a hand-written note on the easel outside advertised it as the "best" in town)--decaf, of course--and headed back to the cupcake display case.

Let me start by saying that CC bakes some of the most aesthetically pleasing cupcakes I've ever seen--almost too beautiful to eat, in fact (almost). (Turns out they offer cake decorating classes!) The cakes come in mutliple appetizing flavor combinations (maple walnut paired with mocha, for example) and are adorned with delicately crafted, colorful flowers made of frosting. I unimaginatively chose the vanilla cake frosted with chocolate buttercream. Considering its bite-size (at a miniscule 2.25") and price ($2.50), I was expecting a taste explosion in my mouth. I was sorely disappointed. The cake was fairly bland and a bit dry, while the cream was spread thin and nearly flavorless. (It also had an odd whipped-like consistency.) Give me a $1.50 pistachio cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine over CC's selection any day.

Their coffee was good, though.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Kind of Town

This past weekend was one of spontaneity, nostalgia, relaxation, and over-indulgence during my whirlwind trip to the Windy City to see my best friend of 16 years, Nita. Despite the incessant rain, we made the best of our two days together.

Saturday we took a trip down to Hyde Park, a southern suburb of Chicago, with Nita's friend, Ben, to peruse the stacks at the Seminary Coop Bookstore. Afterward we stopped at Salonica, a Greek diner in the neighborhood, for a late lunch and--of course--dessert. We all shared a piece of baklava, a sweet pastry made of phyllo dough, stuffed with chopped nuts and honey. (As with many of my favorites, I have a sentimental attachment to this treat; an expert baker always brought a tray of it to our house when my mom hosted her bridge club.) Salonica's baklava was rich and flaky, though a bit on the oily side. Still lovely, though.

On Sunday, Nita and I made the obligatory stop at a Fannie May outlet, and I selected about a dozen assorted chocolates for my half-pound box, including: Classic and White Russian truffles, a Peanut Butter Button, Pink Lady, Raspberry and Strawberry Creams (the latter of which was given as a free sample when we walked through the door!), and a Chocolate Covered Raisin Cluster:

Fannie did not disappoint. Thick, velvety, and creamy semi-sweet chocolate contrasted against sweet, smooth fillings. Nita is not as candy-crazed as myself, but she loved her Milk Mint Meltaway and Chocolate Covered Cherry:

Last--but certainly not least--I grabbed a Morning Glory Muffin (glorious indeed--my friend Holly introduced me to this variety a few years ago) from O'Hare airport. I was excited to see it had been "freshly baked" by a local bakery, Sweet Miss Giving's (great name), a lovely store that donates over 50% of its profits to formerly homeless and disabled Chicago residents. This particular muffin included different ingredients than those of a typical MG muffin, yet its combination of cranberries, cherries, dates, figs, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed was absolutely incredible. Its consistency and texture was fantastic: the inside was moist and the top, crumbly but soft. Its flavor was more similar to a bran muffin than the traditional MG, but I loved it and appreciated the fact that it was also less greasy than other ones I've eaten. I wonder if Sweet Miss ships their baked goods to NYC...

Sweet treats with a sweet friend in a sweet kind of town.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Love at First Bite

Went to Cafe Condesa in the West Village for dinner last night. It's a cute and cozy (but not overly cramped) restaurant that serves American cuisine with a "Mexican influence." We ordered a bottle of Tomero Cabarnet Sauvignon (an excellent choice: warm and fruity) and dinner. In print, the vegetable plate doesn't sound all that appetizing, but after hearing the waitress' detailed description of it, I became intrigued. It was actually quite tasty: sauteed broccoli rabe, asparagus, brussel sprouts, spinach, and seasoned mashed potatoes.

But the best part of the entire dining experience by far was the dessert: a chocolate souffle with a scoop of Mexican cinnamon ice cream. (How is cinnamon from south of the border any different? I still don't know.) How on earth could I have never tried a souffle before last night?! It was truly a taste sensation. A softer, gooier version of a chocolate truffle--but in cake form. Warm, oozing dark chocolate that spills out of the light, airy, and moist cake that surrounds it? Absolute heaven. Really. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. My taste buds rejoiced in the contrast in textures and temperatures. And I'm just talking about the souffle. (The ice cream was delicious as well, though I'm not sure it entirely complemented the cake. Individually? Fantastic. But cinnamon + chocolate? The jury is still out.)

I fell head over heels for this fallen chocolate cake.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Taste the Rainbow...of Chocolate?

Yes! My first sugar challenge! One of my best friends, Holly, just sent me this email:

A challenge for you: the Chocolate Skittle! I am not making this up! Swear to God--I saw them in a gas station. So--Maura--the challenge has been set: how do you feel about Chocolate Skittles?!?! Happy tasting, H.

The gauntlet has officially been thrown. I have to say, I was excited. I am a fan of Skittles (surprise) and had been curious to try the new version since seeing a bag a few months ago. But yet I was also slightly apprehensive. Although the combination of fruit and chocolate can be quite delicious (chocolate-covered strawberries, for example), the idea of artificially flavored fruit and chocolate candies? But then I took a look at the flavors available in the bag: S'Mores, Vanilla (isn't that the opposite of chocolate?), Chocolate Caramel, Chocolate Pudding, and Brownie Batter. Sound yummy! No fruit involved, then?

My thoughts...
the smell upon opening the bag was, well, stinky. Not necessarily bad but not exactly appetizing. A definite waft of something not naturally chocolate. And I don't know if I bought an expired bag, but the candies were extremely hard and brittle--very difficult to chew. The original Skittle has a nice, thin, crunchy shell that gives way to a soft chewy inside. Not the case with the Chocolate Mix. I had to sort of suck on each one for a few seconds before being able to bite into it.

S'Mores: I could taste the marshmallow and a hint of graham cracker (I think) but, oddly enough, it wasn't overly chocolatey. Despite this, still yummy.
Vanilla: Pretty good. Tasted like vanilla (well, maybe not natural vanilla) and the aftertaste was strong (in an enjoyable way).
Chocolate Caramel: There was a slight caramel aftertaste, but it tasted mostly like faux-chocolate.
Chocolate Pudding: I found it unsettling that it had a mildly fruity quality to it, at least at first. I don't eat pudding all that much, so I'm not sure I could make a fair comparison. It didn't remind me of a spoonful of pudding, though. But it was fairly good, nonetheless.
Brownie Batter: It might be the power of suggestion, but this flavor did seem to have a thicker, fudgey element to it. If you like darker chocolate, you'd probably enjoy it. I did.

In conclusion: it was difficult to distinguish significant differences between flavors (with the exception of the vanilla, which I guess is to be expected). I think I'd opt for Jelly Belly beans if I was in the mood to have dessert-flavored candies. The Chocolate Skittles are still tasty, though in end, I think I'd have to give them a: C+ (Thanks for introducing me to a new candy, Hol!)

(Suggestion to the folks at Mars: consider selling these as a separate brand. Consumers will have a difficult time disassociating the powerful fruitiness of Skittles from their chocolate counterparts--and I think this has an overall negative impact. We don't quite know what to expect because Skittles have been synonmous with fruity fun--the rainbow--for so long.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Name Says It All

Chocolate Place. As soon as I saw this storefront in the Morris Park section of the Bronx, I knew I had finally found the perfect neighborhood in which to work. How could somebody, especially a sugar addict such as myself, not be lured in by the boldly colorful lettering on the exterior wall advertising candy--complete with cartoon illustrations?

I stopped in on my break and made a beeline for the glass cases, in which sit the most perfectly crafted truffles (my personal chocolate fave), handmade chocolate covered cherries, pretzels and graham crackers... I was overwhelmed. What to order? Thankfully the storekeeper--and her large German Shepherd, who dozed on the carpet while I deliberated--were extremely kind and patient. She (the storekeeper, not the dog) informed me that I could order any number of candies. Having only five bucks on me, I had to settle for six truffles. Tough, considering they have a great selection and each flavor is available in white, milk, and dark chocolate. I ultimately chose the amaretto in white chocolate; the coconut, hazelnut, and orange in dark chocolate (my preference); and a milk chocolate caramel.

The shells were firm and crunchy (though this may be due in part to the cold conditions the truffles were exposed to), and the ganache center thick and smooth. Wonderful. My beloved Fannie Mae has competition. There may have to be a Midwest/East Coast gourmet chocolate showdown at some point.

In the meantime, I plan on visiting Chocolate Place on a weekly basis.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Holy Cannoli!

Ah, cannoli. Tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with sweet and creamy flavored ricotta cheese. Cheese?! Yes, cheese. Thankfully I had my first cannolo (the singular form of the word) before I knew it included this important ingredient, or I would have surely been dissuaded from trying one. I'm not a big fan of cheese, with the exception of those belonging to the sharper variety (i.e. cheddar). I have somewhat of an aversion to cold and mushy foods: bananas (unless they're baked in bread), Jello, puddings, yogurt, and most definitely softer cheeses like brie. (I love ice cream and cheesecake, however--although I suppose that is not a surprise.)

I had my first cannolo after having dinner with friends in the Little Italy of the Bronx: Arthur Avenue. What an introduction! A sweet, crispy, flaky shell surrounding a wonderfully sweet, yet slightly tangy cheese filling in which dark chocolate chips swam.

I had my second cannolo today, from a bakery in the Morris Park area of the Bronx: a little Little Italy. The filling was creamier, sweeter, and more smooth (better, overall) but lacked those delicious chocolate bits. The shell was just as delectable, though. I think what I love most about the Italian treat is the contrast of crispy and creamy. What more can you want out of a dessert?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day is for the Birds

(Birdbath, NYC)

My friend Cris and I have a tradition of meeting every couple weeks to have dinner in Manhattan. We take turns picking the restaurants, our goal being to try a new, well-reviewed (but inexpensive) ethnic cuisine every time. Relying on Menupages, Yelp, and Citysearch, we have yet to be disappointed.

Last night, we attempted to try some authentic Spanish tapas at Las Ramblas, but--being Valentine's Day--it was completely packed. Damn couples. We didn't particularly feel like waiting, so we decided to roam the West Village in hopes of finding something equally good. We serendipitously came across Po and took it as a sign that there happened to be one (just one!) table available: a cozy one in the corner. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Colle Ticchio Cesanese del Piglio (it had been a long day at work) and perused the menu. Though I fancy myself a quasi-vegetarian, I ended up choosing the grilled guinea hen with pumpkin and scallion fregula with saba (still trying to figure out what the hell saba is), and Cris, the veal sweetbread hash. My dish (the sauce especially) was fantastic, and I think Cris enjoyed his as well.

And what is a delicious dinner without dessert? Heck, it's the whole point of this blog. Well, we decided on Birdbath for cookies. I had been there once before and had really enjoyed my organic oatmeal raisin cookie and coffee while my friend, Leslie and I chatted with the other folks in the store. Something I wouldn't ever feel comfortable doing on my own--but Leslie is definitely a character and has a knack for getting people to open up. On my visit with Cris, I chose an organic peanut butter cookie, and he bought a heart-shaped raspberry linzer one.

My cookie was good, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the oatmeal raisin. Its consistency was very different. It wasn't creamy but rather powdery. It almost dissolved in my mouth. But it definitely tasted thoroughly peanut buttery. Au natural! The linzer was better. The fruit jam was sweet and smooth, the cookie flakey (very flakey), and the powdered sugar dusting perfect.

I am going to have to hire Cris, an incredible photographer (he always has a camera on him), to start taking pics of our desserts to post on here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I have always found ranking incredibly difficult, especially with respect to those things that I love. Sweets are no exception. The only solution I have arrived at thus far is to be as specific as possible.

With this in mind, my favorite chocolate candies (subject to change on any given day):

American "gourmet"

Based out of Chicago, this company creates some of the most delicious chocolate assortments: Pixies (caramel, pecans, chocolate) and Trinidads (pastel coconut-covered chocolate creams), among others. I have fond memories of eating them as a child on visits to the suburbs of the city where my mother grew up.

American "non-gourmet"

  • Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
  • Butterfinger
  • Mounds
Non-American "non-gourmet"
Roses: What can I say? Creamy chocolately goodness and variety. My Irish grandmother introduced these to me, and I have been hooked ever since. I loved (and still love) pouring out all of the individually wrapped chocolates and sorting them into piles, to ensure that I am left with one of each to enjoy by the box's end. Thankfully I live in an Irish neighborhood, so I only have to walk up the block to purchase that wonderful blue box. I do have one bone to pick, however. It seems as if the Cadbury folks no longer include my two favorite types: the Chunky Truffle and Praline Moment. By default, then, the Brazillian Darkness is now at the top of my list. I am curious to try the deluxe version of my beloved Roses!

The Sugar Challenge

I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with all things sweet. To say I have a sweet tooth is an understatement. My teeth might as well be sugar cubes. Anyone who knows me, knows about my fixation. In fact, I once proposed a sugar challenge to my friends: I encouraged them to suggest the oddest, most obscure candies, cookies, cakes, and other desserts for my consumption. Did I refuse any? Absolutely not. Now, this isn't to say that there aren't sweets about which I'm more or less ambivalent. But, as long as there is sugar (or honey, or corn syrup) involved, I'll at least try it. And, chances are, I'll savor it and want two or three more of it.

The purpose of this blog? To continue the sugar challenge (suggestions welcome!), share my opinions on all types of sweets (although I'll warn you ahead of time: most reviews will be extremely positive), and indulge my love of discussing treats. Because I love talking about them almost as much as I enjoy eating them. Almost.