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.