Bouchard Chocolates 72% Cacao Fine Belgian Dark Chocolate

We are unabashed chocolate junkies in this house, and we usually don’t discriminate, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t discerning. There’s some really, really good craft chocolates out there, and some really, really bad stuff you can find at the supermarket checkout lane that shouldn’t (and sometimes even can’t) legally be called chocolate. But, in swoops Bouchard Chocolate to show you what’s good about good chocolate. And, sadly, what’s bad about a company looking to increase their presence in the U.S. but shot itself in the foot.

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To start, it’s a good chocolate, despite arriving during a now-customary California Fall heatwave. We’re talking 100+ temps in late September. I feared the worst, but most of the Napolitains arrived intact. More than a few were melted and toast, but I’ll use those for baking. The bag I received was simple cellophane, understated and all about the product within. It’s a dark chocolate (72% cacao content), but I can’t find a list of ingredients, nor did I get anything listing them, nor does the website list them…you kind of get where I’m going here. So, tastewise it’s pretty good. It’s comparable, favorably, to Green & Blacks, which is a pricey but good chocolate you can find almost anywhere. It’s smooth, not gritty, melts in your mouth without any lingering sugars after, and slightly bitter to the tongue, but in the way a good chocolate should be. The small morsels in the packet I got were good for a light snack when you’re needing that chocolate fix, but don’t want to gorge (yes, it’s happened here. Too often!).

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And that’s it for the good. The bad is that this company is doing a positively lousy job of getting to market. The company name and product has been around in some form or fashion since 1931. It’s roots trace back to the fine chocolatiers  in Ghent, Belgium with an award winning recipe for fine chocolate. But good luck finding a decent web presence, or price point, or e-commerce site for them. I couldn’t, and none was supplied for me to promote with. No ingredient list, no “Where to Buy”, just a lot of pretty pictures and florid prose, but no substance. In this country, we call that “All sizzle and no steak”. It’s a fine product, probably top 5 of all the chocolates I’ve had recently. And while they told me to mention that their product can be found in Costco Warehouses around the country, near weekly visits by Hubby has yet to locate any in the wild. Nothing on Amazon, Costco.com, no way to buy or even price. I can’t even tell you if it’s a value. And that’s a real shame. Since the company was acquired by Halloren Chocolate Group in 2014, they wanted to quickly get the name out there. That’s only a good strategy if you make your product readily available, and as of this writing, they have not. I’d love to recommend the chocolate, because it tastes divine. But I don’t know where to point you other than “Supposedly Costco”, and I can’t tell you how much it costs, what other types of products they have, what they’re made with… Ugh, so frustrating to see a good product doomed by terrible (or non-existent) marketing.

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Connect with Bouchard Chocolate:

I received the above product(s) free of charge from Bouchard Chocolate. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

Kitchen Hearts Silicone Baking Mat Set

I do more baking than anyone I know. As a result, I’ve got a wealth of tools to assist me and I’m always on the lookout for something new and innovative to help me along. Over the years I’ve graduated from wax papers and sprays to parchment and silicone mats. If you’ve used one, you know they quickly become indispensable. But Kitchen Hearts had something I’ve yet to try: A ROUND silicone pizza mat!! Oh, baby!

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Silicone mats are probably one of the most versatile tools in a kitchen. They can be used for a multitude of things, and be used hundreds of times before needing to be replaced. From a splatter-catcher in the oven, to making french fries, cookies, macaroons, or biscuits, there’s almost no limit to the goodies one can make on a silicone mat. They clean up with a little warm soapy water, need no oils or sprays to be non-stick, and virtually nothing sticks to them. Fats and oils bead up, and little crispy bits fall right away. They are also oven safe up to 475 degrees, so the limit is really your imagination!

Ideally. Sadly, 9″ Kitchen Hearts Pizza mat came with a critical defect. See, silicone mats are almost just that: silicone. The silicone, however, encases a fiberglass mesh weave that gives the mats some tensile strength and help to hold it’s shape better. But when you puncture the silicone, the fiberglass is exposed and it’s time to toss the mat, both for health and safety reasons. And my round mat had exposed fiberglass all around the outside edge. Not only would that let water in and ruin the mat, but it’s unsafe. One should never consume the fibers from fibergalss, and putting a sticky dough on exposed fibers a sure-fire way to do just that. So I didn’t even get to try it, sadly. The large mat (a now-standard half-sheet 16.5″ x 11.6″ size) did not have these issues. I may contact the company about this because I’m really hoping to a new tool in my kitchen!

Connect with Kitchen Hearts:

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from Kitchen Hearts.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

 

Dick Taylor Craft Handmade Chocolate and French Silk Pie Review and Recipe #DickTaylorChocolate

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Every once in a while, you run into a product that is a game changer. Someone who ups the bar so high that you don’t know who or if it can ever be topped. I really try to reserve some labels for a truly superlative product. Dick Taylor’s Craft Chocolate hits every metric for me to call it “The Very Best”. Nothing I’ve ever had before can even come close. It’s in a league all it’s own. I’ll go over why below, and even add a recipe that, should you have the willpower to not devour the chocolate immediately, will be dynamite.

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Chocolate in the United States has been done a great disservice. What was once an American icon, Hershey’s, can be held partly accountable for the woeful state of chocolate confections in this country. Because if you’ve only had Hershey’s, you’ve not had chocolate. Craftsmen like Dustin Taylor and Adam Dick are looking to right a terrible wrong with their small-batch craft Dick Taylor chocolates. With a hands-on approach that takes up to a month or more, it starts with selecting only the finest fair-trade raw cacao, all the way up to the pouring of this molten magic into it’s molds. You’ve not lived until you’ve treated yourself to a piece of Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate. The vintage machinery used belie the dedication and skill inherent to this labor of love, because one would think to make the best chocolate, you’d need the latest and greatest in automation and innovation. The craftspeople at Dick Taylor chocolates scoff at the notion, and impart a love and devotion to being the best that I could only strive for. Heart will take you far, it seems.

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The list of ingredients for the 72% Madagascar, Sambirano is so simple it’s almost as if they left out a step on purpose to keep anyone else from finding the secret to a truly superior chocolate. Ready?

Organic cacao and organic cane sugar.

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That’s it. No emulsifiers, no fillers, no chemicals, no artificial gunk, no waxes. The flavor envelopes your mouth immediately, with no harsh bitterness, no oily or overly creamy mouth feel, no grit. Impossibly smooth from first bite to final swallow, you almost never want the experience to end. There’s nothing else like it. It was almost transcendent. Our bars of Green & Blacks now sit in the pantry, lonely and wanting. The Guittard Dark baking chips that were my baking cabinet queens have been kicked to the curb. I’m fully and completely in love with Dick Taylor’s Craft lovelies. I mean, they even look exquisite. We were so fortunate that the weather was in our favor when the box arrived, as I’ve have been inconsolable to have had this chocolate adulterated by the heat. There’s 5 different types of “dark” chocolate with cacao percentages from 72% up to 76%, as well as 4 specialty flavors (Fleur de Sel?! You had me at “chocolate”, you devil!), drinking chocolate, and even a Father’s Day Gift Collection! Should I gift one to hubby despite not being a father? Hmm… At any rate, there’s truly something for everybody there!

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Located to our north in Eureka, CA, we have a standing invitation to tour their facility should we ever find ourselves in the neighborhood. I don’t know if I’d trust my self (or hubby) to not grab everything we could carry and run cackling like madmen out the doors at first opportunity, probably to the tune of “I’ve got a golden ticket”. There’s thankfully an authorized retailer just a short ways away, but I’m not sure if my diet thinks this is a good thing. We finished the first bar in 5 minutes after the first nibbles, and we just don’t do that in this house. Chances are, there’s someone to sell you a bar locally. And if not, they do sell direct from the website, shipped to your door.

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Not since the mythical Willy Wonka has there been something so magical available to eat. Nothing you’ve had comes close. Be forewarned, after you’ve had Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, nothing will ever come close again. You’ll be spoiled for all time, chasing a chocolate dragon until your end of days. Do it anyways. It’s sooooo worth it.

Connect with Dick Taylor Craft Chocolates at:

 

 

Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate French Silk Pie:

With Summer here and the weather finally warming up for us, I wanted to bring back a classic but a goodie.  A good pudding always allows you taste the honest chocolate notes.  With Dick Taylor’s Madagascar, Sambirano 72%, I found it to be like the perfect espresso without the bitterness.  A good chocolate will not add oils or large amount of sugars, so neither shall I.  My Husband has always loved this pie but disliked what time has done to it.  It went from a way to showcase a fine chocolate bar and having a cold pie on a hot day, which hits you perfectly like a car ride (of course top down) with a chocolate shake in hand.  We now get ready-made puddings out of a box and the custard pudding below is good and rich enough to eat by the spoonful!  Say goodbye to eating desserts out of the box and treat you and yours with real pudding made like other, with Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate.  If I could only find a way to transfer the design of their bars onto this pie…….life would be perfect.  I swear they should sell stamps of their bar’s imprint and of course paired with chocolate scented ink 🙂 Enjoy!

Lets Begin……

Filling (Custard Pudding)-

  • 1/3 cup of Sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of Whole Milk (at room temperature)
  • 1/8 cup of Corn Starch
  • 1/8 teaspoon of Kosher Salt
  • 2 Egg Yolks (at room temperature)
  • 5 1/4 ounces of Dick Taylor’s Dark Chocolate of your choice
  • 1/8 cup of Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 of teaspoon of Cocoa Powder (reserved as you sprinkle it on the crust before adding the filling)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of Vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of Butter (salted and used KerryGold)
  • 1 Pre-baked Pie Crust (search my recipes if you need one or you can use whatever recipe you desire)

You Start by pre-baking a pie crust.  The crust has to be fully cooked and cooled before you begin making the pudding for the pie.  Below is my crust, and I use a butter and shortening recipe.  I won’t judge if you even get a ready made pie crust, just as long as you make the pudding and you can just skip the crust and serve the pudding in cups with a graham cracker to dunk with!

Now, comes puddin’ time!  You first start by combining the dry ingredients.  This is the corn starch, sugar and salt.  I combine them in a bowl, whisk and then they go into the pot you wish to make your pudding in.  I use a non-stick for that added no stick insurance they have.  Next, combine the milk and the 2 egg yolks.  I use the same measuring cup I use for the milk and just whisk and set aside.  You then measure out your chocolate (break up bars **sniffle**), and you need 5 1/4 ounces.  If you go over, it produces a thicker product but trust me this is pudding that is as thick as it is and rich.  Add the 1/8 cup of Cocoa Powder to the same bowl you have your chocolate in.  If you opted to make this a pie, add the 1/2 teaspoon and dust the bottom of your pie crust with it.

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Now comes the cooking process.  Combine the milk and egg mixture to the sugar, salt and corn starch mix.  Combine with a whisk and turn the stove’s burner on low.  Keep mixing, whisking (get those edges too!) and continue whisking.  You can set the burner to a low-medium setting if you are a heavy whisker at this point and the mixture will begin to show small air bubbles around the 3 minute mark.  You will feel some heat on you knuckles from the steam but keep at it.  After all, we’re burning calories here!  As you whisk, you will feel at the 5 minute mark (if not sooner), the mixture getting thicker and thicker and when it truly bubbles, just before it boils, off the heat it comes.  Turn off the burner and add the chocolate to your custard, along with the Vanilla.  You got pudding!

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Then add the tablespoon of butter.  Now, you have a glistening and rich pudding.  Heaven!

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Now, pour the pudding into the pie shell or if making pudding cups, you can pour into a container to cool (uncovered).  Once cooled, you can then add a cover to not have a choco-smelling fridge, but then that’s not a bad thing either.

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You allow the pie (or pudding bowl) to cool on the counter for an hour and then into the fridge it goes (uncovered).  I let it cool about 3 hours to avoid that condensation you can get if you covered it.  After the 3 hour mark, I then cover the pie (or pudding bowl).  I allow the pie to cool over night and yes, it tortures my loved ones.  I figure they can salivate while it’s cooling and you really get the pie to settle and this is why that 1/2 teaspoon of Cocoa is added.  Any wetness gets absorbed and there is no sliding around from the filling when cut.  Now, topping time!

I have made several topping from whipped cream with mascarpone cheese to salted caramel.  This time I made edible fun-fetti.  It’s a sugar cookie batter but why use white sugar when you can add color!

Fun-Fetti/Confetti Cookie Crumb Topping:

  • 4 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter (cold)
  • 3/4 cup of All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon of Multi-Colored Sugar Crystals
  • A Dash of salt
  • A Sprinkling of Multi-Colored Sugar Crystals

Set Oven at 375 degrees and begin incorporating (cutting with fork or I use my hands) the butter and flour.  It’s cold and you want to create crumb with about pea sized crumbles.  Add a dash of salt (if wanted) and the 1 tablespoon of the sugar crystals.  Mix until incorporated and in it goes into the preheated oven for about 10 minutes.  When the 7 minute mark comes, add a sprinkle of the sugar if you want extra shimmer.  Then back it goes for the last 3 minutes of cooking.  You want the crumble set but not browned because it takes away from the appearance.

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Take out cooled Pie.

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Add whipped topping and Fun-fetti/Confetti topping and done………..well, you can do more and this is why I never decorate the entire pie!  You can also add red, white and blue sugar crystals for a 4th of July theme to the confetti crumble.

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You can opt for a Fleur de Sel Caramel topping with crushed Pistachios…….

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Or, you want it all!

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And, if you’re feeling nifty and want Fleur de Sel Topping with Maldon Salt Crystals (of course, Hubby fought me on not leaving the Fun-fetti out)……the possibilities are endless!

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Enjoy!

I received the above product(s) free of charge from Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

 

 

The Simple Baker: Premium Silicone Baking Mat for Macarons #Review #macaronmat

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Being a baker means I need products I can count on and a multi-tasker is a must in my kitchen. The Simple Baker does everything my expensive silicone baking mats do, plus as much as I did not appreciate the circle pattern at first, I became to really like the convince it provided. My cookies never touched each other, so I have to admit I’m not the best spacer I thought I was!

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The mat yielded the same results as my french branded mat and clean-up was a cinch. The mat cleans up instantly with a little soapy water and I just fill the sink 1/4 way up, make some bubbles and suds on top of the mat and this I find is the most gentle way to clean the mat with no sponge and/or sink brush needed. I simply roll the Simple Baker mat (without creating fold or creases) and use a silicone band to keep it in place.

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I wanted to test the silicone mat out with by making dark chocolate ganache cookies. The cookies are a butter base recipe and I tried both round shapes and heart shapes when baking. My baking time was adjusted, as these silicone mats provide even baking, which tends to accelerate the baking but produces what I call the “perfect cookie”. You get a soft flaky texture on the inside with a cookie top crust that stays in place and only crumbles until you take a bite.

 

Retail Price Point: $17.97 via Amazon

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The Simple Baker Mat will save you money in the long run and pay for itself. I use parchment paper and that gets costly over time and can be a wasteful expense. These silicone mats are reusable, do not hold odors, and are also safe because they are non-toxic. The silicone used is food-grade quality and no need to add extra fats or oils to make them non-stick……their finish stays non-stick time and time again!

Connect with The Simple Baker at:

 

I received the above product(s) free of charge from The Simple Baker.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

Grab Bags of Goodness from Gourmet Nut #Review

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A while back I got the opportunity to take a few Gourmet Nut’s products for a test drive, and boy howdy were they the belle of the ball. Great flavors in their salts and sugars that brought out the best of whatever dish they were added to. But Gourmet Nut wasn’t finished by a long shot. There was also the little matter of their “Gourmet on the Go” line of snack packs. I got to try 4 different varieties, some more than others thanks to the snarfing of a certain hubby who shall remain nameless.
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I’ll start with the mix that went “poof” first, the Cajun Hot Mix. A combination of sesame sticks, peanuts, cajun corn sticks, almonds, and tasty chili bits, this one was a tasty little number that had the added benefit of just a touch of heat. Fans of this blog know that in my house, the hotter the better. And while this mix some heat, it wasn’t so hot as to discourage the chilie-challenged among us from diving in, either. It wasn’t loaded with sodium either, like so many other savory snack packs from other “bigger” brands. All while being trans-fat free, cholesterol-free, and vegan. Not too shabby! This generous 8 oz. bag was gone, baby, gone within a calendar week thanks to Mr. Snack Vacuum over here, but the little bit I got, I loved.

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Next on the hit parade was Gourmet Nut’s “Body Boosting Antioxidant Mix”. Bursting with flavor from raisins, cranberries, blueberries, dark chocolate, pecans and walnuts, this all natural, gluten free treat went over like gangbusters here. Fruit, nuts, and chocolate? Yes, please! Also boasting 5 grams of protein per 1 ounce serving, and just 150 calories, this 6 once bag didn’t last kissing time either. At least I got more than a token handful this time. And every little bit was fresh, full and bursting with flavor. Not a bag full of broken bits and powder, either. Just a Bag of win.

 

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Number three is one that I’m sure will do well, Gourmet Nut’s “Energize Me” Protein Mix. 8 ounces filled to brim with dried cherries, raisins, almonds, cashews, peanuts and pumpkin seeds. All natural, vegan and gluten free, this is a satisfying mouthful for just about anyone. Hubby, usually in  staunch opposition to nuts of almost any kind, even grabbed a handful or three. The dried fruit isn’t overly sweet, and the nuts roasty, not salty. Each one ounce serving gives you a whopping 7 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber, and only 150 calories. A crunchy little snack like this goes well with this household, especially since we don’t eat lunch but can get “munchy” between breakfast and dinner. This plugs that hole perfectly.

 

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Last on the hit parade is Gourmet Nut’s Nature’s Mix. This one I loved, with raisins, cranberries, peanuts, pineapple, papaya, almonds, and cashews. It has everything but my name. All natural, gluten free, and vegan. This 8 ounce bag is only 120 calories per serving, and is another excellent mid day snack. It’s also cholesterol free, and trans-fat free. Hubby isn’t crazy about papaya and pineapple, so it didn’t get squirreled away and an empty bag just appear like some of the other varieties. So I got to take my time with the one and really enjoy it. And believe me, I enjoyed the heck out of it.

 

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Gourmet Nut has many more varieties in their “Gourmet on the Go” line,  like Veggie Chips, Mega Omega Mix, Almond Cranberry Crunch, and much more. With prices running as little as $3 and change per bag, up to around $4.50 or so (they’re sold in packs of 6), there’s a snack sack for every budget. Along with the salts and spice rubs I’ve reviewed for them, they also offer Health Seeds and Power Up Snack bags. And there is nothing in their line I’ve tried that isn’t quality. The salts are up there with some of my favorites, and the prices for everything are very reasonable. Too often snack mixes are loaded with salt, sugar, and fillers that leave you hungrier than before you dug in, and then filled with regret when you step on the scale. That’s just not the case here. What you see is what you get. You see pictures of fruit and nuts, and you get a   bag full of fruits and nuts. Very refreshing nowadays. Thank you, Gourmet Nut.

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I’m so tempted to throw a handful of some of these into a quickbread dough and see what happens. Power loaf, perhaps? But that’s a post for another day. Assuming I can hide these from that roaming muncher I married.

Connect with Gourmet Nut:

I received the above product(s) free of charge from Gourmet Nut.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

Healthy Surprise: Subscription Snack Box filled with goodies and delivered right to your door

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Healthy Surprise is a company, which delivers snack filled boxes to your door on a monthly basis. The company also offers specialty themed boxes, like their Chocolate Box that is filled with anything and everything having to do with that cacao bean we all love. You also have different box levels and they just get fuller and fuller as you go up the scale:

  • Starter Box- $40.00 a month and filled with snacks for 1 to 2 people. Each box has 11+ full sized snacks to enjoy.
  • Big Box– $60.00 a month and filled with snacks to satisfy 1 to 4 people. This box comes with 16+ full sized snacks to indulge in.
  • Combo Box– $95.00 a month and filled with snacks to satisfy 2 to 6 people. The Combo Box is huge and filled with 27+ full sized snacks that will satisfy any taste-bud and then some.

All treats are soy free, gluten free, natural to vegan. Snacks are corn free and even plant based. I also found they research very carefully what they offer in their boxes from products not made in China to the ingredients used. You won’t find MSG to High Fructose Corn Syrup. Worried about allergies? Healthy Surprise hunts for dairy free, peanut free, shellfish free, no artificial flavors, dyes, color, to even no artificial sweeteners used in their health friendly boxes. No Partially Hydrogenated oils or yeast extracts to upset your taste buds! It’s munching but at a higher level of quality and some can same say less guilt. I’m always for feeling better and less guilty about snacking!

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One thing I dislike about monthly subscription boxes is the wait. You miss that delivery window and you are waiting 30+ days to get anything. Not with Healthy Surprise!  They even have a count down and I ordered one day in the early hours and I am not kidding, I was opening up my box within 48 hours. Healthy Surprise is a California based company, so I got quick delivery and so can you, as they ship for free anywhere in the U.S. You can also set when you want a box shipped and I like that level of control when ordering.

Now to the box we go! I received the smaller box called the Starter Box and calling it small is an understatement, with 13 items but does it live up to it’s price tag? Let’s see….

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  • Hail Merry Macaroons Blonde– The bag comes with 1.75 of puck shaped macaroons. They are small but packed with flavor and no skimping on the coconut. I loved these and ate them with fruit, then dipped some in chocolate and two macaroons swam in an almost empty jar of Fleur de Sel Caramel that was too good to waste. Love these and they are addicting. The product is gluten free and Vegan friendly. Hail Merry uses top notch ingredients from organic maple syrup, shredded coconut, extra virgin coconut oil to raw almond flour. You add vanilla and sea salt and that makes up the entire list of contents. Simple and delicious and I’m a fan. A bag this size retails for about $4 to $5.

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  • Gorge Delights, Just Fruit Bar in Apple Cherry 100% grown U.S. fruit, this bar is sort of like the “fruit leather” you find at Trader Joe’s. A little thicker and it’s made of apple puree, apple concentrate, and cherry concentrate. The bar is simple but delivers more of an apple punch than a cherry one. Due to it’s ultra minced texture, the bar is a little on the gummy side but not satisfying in texture like a gummy bear is. It’s more gummy and smashed. Was not a fan of the bar and stopped at two bites because the cherry was just not there for me and it started to taste like fermented fruit. I really wanted to like this bar because it does satisfy 2 fruit servings of your daily requirements and I would try it again but in another flavor. This bar retails for about $1.16 when purchased in bulk sizes (for retail).

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  • Oloves in Basil and Garlic These are natural green pitted olives and they have a touch of salt, sunflower oil, basil, garlic, vinegar, and acidifiers listed as lactic and citric acid. The pouch weighs 1.1. ounces and safely keeps the green olives intact. No broken or smashed ones and I added them to a salad, which made my dinner look like a beauty and my taste buds were 100% satisfied when it came to the flavor and texture. You get a nice brine that is not over loaded with acids or too high in flavor when it comes to the marinade. Oloves found the perfect balance where the other flavors compliment versus taking away from the olive. A bag this size retails for a little over a $1.00.

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  • Hail Merry Grawnola in Orange and Cranberry– Another hit for the Hail Merry family and this raw nut and fruit blend is packed with flavor that is perfectly balanced. Many orange flavored items are over powered with a poor tasting juice that smells better than it tastes, but not here. You get the hints of citrus and the granola is crunchy and not coated with that honey/orange juice glaze that gives you sticky fingers. You have ingredients like raw almonds, maple syrup, buckwheat groats, fresh orange juice, dried apples, raw pecans, and cranberries. The blend continues with raw sunflower seeds, walnuts, flax seeds, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon and salt. Perfect and craveable, plus energy packed. Most ingredients are organic and this product is gluten free, Vegan friendly, grain free and packed with Raw Omegas. Hail Merry products make you look at the label twice and it’s not a trust issue, it’s that you can’t believe something so good is not doused in sugars and bad stuff! This 1.5 ounce bag retails for between $2.50 and $3.00.

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  • Buddy Fruits in Mango Passion & Banana– The drink comes in a resealable container and Buddy Fruits is simple in the ingredient list. You have pure blended fruit derived from Mango. Apple, Banana, and Passion Fruit juice…..that is all. The pouch delivers a taste just like you would imagine the fruit combination would be. Great product to drink as it is or even add to smoothies. I semi-froze mine to enjoy on a hot day and it got a nice slush consistency that made me wish I had 2 of these in my box. The 3.2 ounce pouch retails for about a $1.00 to $1.25.

 

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  • Freshly Wild Super Foods, Kale Joy in Jazzy Sweet Mustard– Healthy surprise sent me another thing I’ve been dying to try, kale chips. Because let’s face it, everyone gets “munchy” from time to time, but potato chips are all kinds of unhealthy and bad for any diet in excess. From Freshly Wild, a small Portland, Oregon-based health food company, comes Kale Joy in Jazzy Sweet Mustard flavor. Not just your average dehydrated kale chip, these are handcrafted and carefully dehydrated in a small kitchen “powered by renewable wind energy”. Cool. Gluten-free, non GMO, and vegan, three things that are quite popular right now. Using “… only the best juices, nuts, seeds and spices”, this little guy is coated in crunch and flavor, with little bits of nut and seasoning all over. Neat-o. In a resealable .75 ounce package to boot. Crispy without being crumbly, and a satisfying crunch that fills that “munchy” feeling I mentioned earlier. Tangy and sweet. Two things jump out at me: 1 is that unfortunately, a lot of the chips became “shards” at the bottom of the bag. And 2 is that for only an ounce, you’d be paying between $4.50 and $6.00 a bag. Yowza. Fortunately, a little bit goes along way.

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  • Snip Chips in Dill Pickle– This is a Parsnip and Coconut snack mix. I have never even sniffed a blend like this or much less had one but I’m a try it all and then decide type of gal. The product is parsnips, raw coconut, raw cashews, apple cider vinegar, dill, garlic and lemon, plus a touch of chipotle, mustard seed, and Himalayan crystal salt. I dive in and it’s not crispy but more of a dehydrated like texture, I have seen these at my local Sprout’s Market and they come in other flavors. I like dill pickles and found myself puzzled by the blend as I knew it.  I did go back for a second and third piece. The verdict is still out on this one for me as much as I tried to make-up my mind about it. I guess I’m in the middle about it, I don’t love them or dislike them but unsure if I will be having more. Sun Chips does have other flavors and maybe the cheesy one would be better. This bag at a weight of 2 ounces retails between $5.49 and $5.99.

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The Daily Crave Veggie Chips– Remember that “munchy” feeling I mentioned? The one that comes between meals and runs diets? Yeah, that one. Here’s another product that should make you feel a little less guilty about munching. Note that I said “should”. I’ll explain that in a minute. The Daily Crave is a snack food company that boasts on their website:

*100% All Natural
*100% Vegan
*No Artificial Ingredients
*No Dairy
*Non GMO
*No Artificial flavors
*No Artificial coloring
*No Hydrogenated Fats
*Perfect for Dipping

That’s a mouthful. And it’s got a neat package, a good price, clever marketing, what’s not to love? Well, a close look at the ingredient list reveals that these are not all that different from, say, those chips in a tube shaped can that stack so nicely. Potato flour, potato star hotel, and oil are the first 3 ingredients. And while there is salt and sugar, it’s thankfully in very small amounts. Almost as small as the amounts of actual veggies in these veggie chips. Now, that’s not to say they aren’t tasty, because they are. But for all they got right, they also got quite a bit wrong. Snazzy packaging and trendy buzzwords do not a great product make. A small filled bag at just 1 ounce retails for $1.33 (retail bulk price).

  • Snapz Premium Grilled Zucchini Crunch & Snapz Premium Pineapple Crunch– I hate being a snack buzzkill, so let me mention a couple of yummers that I loved. Snapz Crisps makes an entire line of gently dehydrated fruit and veggie crisps, so there’s something for everyone. They are a “Brand leader for non fried fruit and vegetable crisps, 100 % natural, not fried or baked. Using unique technology to ensure the products are very crisp (?) they combine the fun and enjoyment of crisps with the goodness of fruit and vegetables. Appealing to all ages groups — young and old alike.” I got to try both sweet and savory with their Premium Pineapple and Grilled Zucchini flavors. While I appreciated the subtle flavors of the grilled zucchini, a little touch of sea salt would have really livened it up. But the pineapple crisps were a hit all around. Too often there are added oils and sugars in dried fruit that completely drown out the flavors of the fruit, but not here. I love the one item ingredient list: Pineapple. Winner! Tasty, crunchy, tangy. Not oily, not overly sweet. What’s not to love? Fat free, gluten free, nut free, GMO free, sugar free, salt free, preservative free…can it be true? It is, but I came crashing down to earth when I went to buy some more: 12 bags (0.46 oz each) were over $17 plus tax and shipping at Amazon. That stings. I really hate that the closer you get to real foods the more it costs, but that’s the reality in America anymore. I will say I really, really enjoyed these and will be on the lookout for them when next I darken the market’s doorstep.

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  • Righteously Raw Chocolates in Mint, Rose, and Dark chocolate– The Dark has a nice creamy and intense cacao notes. It’s not perfume-y, just chocolate satisfaction all the way through at 83% pure cacao you can believe it’s good and no bitter notes at all. It’s the espresso of chocolates! The Mint version has 82% cacoa and it’s not your typical mint that is creamy, think more of a “dry mint” taste where your mint is derived from peppermint so you get the sharp notes combined with the dark chocolate. A good combination and I liked that it was different than the typical mint flavors I have tried before. Then comes the Rose. I love roses and have even indulged in pastries that contain rose water……I took a bite and the flavor was so off, that I quickly chewed and opened the Dark version for salvation. It tasted like something bad had been infused and not like any rose I have eaten or even smelled. The tricky part is the bar smells like just dark chocolate but when you bite, something bitter and sour just takes over your mouth. It says red raspberry powder, brown rice protein powder to red beet are mixed in with the chocolate. Rose hips is last on the list and maybe it’s the flavor combination but it’s a no-go on the Rose and I love chocolate and have even continued to eat chocolate that when asked how it is, I reply “ummm, it’s okay”, but continue munching. Could not do that with the Rose. Righteously Raw did well with the Dark and surprised me nicely with the Mint, so go there when buying this one. The 3 chocolates I received are considered “bite-size”, so finding a price point was a bit difficult but buying in bulk of a bag of dark was 16 pieces for $22.99 via Amazon, making it under $0.70 per bite size bar.

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  • A $25.00 gift card– was also included and can be used towards the purchase of a Healthy Surprise box, making the smaller one more than 50% off. Good company when it comes to continuing patronage with their customers.

I liked being able to try some brands I had never heard of, brands that I have seen but knew nothing about, and seeing the familiar ones like Hail Merry but trying new items from a company I know and purchase products from. Exploring is fun and The Healthy Surprise Company does the hunting while you do the munching. I believe every subscription company should at the very least be tried once and to get a good idea, try it a second time. I did feel some items were overly priced by companies but that is not Healthy Surprises’ fault. It did let me adjust my shopping list by making sure to add some companies to my list and knowing what products to just walk away from. If you are into exploring new items and new flavors, but in a “better for you” way, try Healthy Surprise. I found a great link you can use, which is via Groupon. For a limited time you can get the $60 box for $30!!!

Visit Healthy Surprise and get the Groupon deal at:

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I received the above product free of charge from Healthy Surprise. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

Almondina Cookies: No Bake Valentine’s Day Gelato, Sorbet and Ice Cream Heart Treats

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For those of you unfamiliar, Almondina is a thin cookie that is not only less punishing caloric (only 30 calories each) wise but absolute deliciousness!  Most dunking cookies I love more how they look than how they taste because the cookies are so dry, they suck the moisture out of your mouth.  You try to dunk them to soften them and then they fall apart, so now your hot coffee is not so enjoyable anymore with pieces of dissolved cookie with every sip!  Almondina has fixed the problem but I find them better than most packaged cookies I have ever enjoyed because they are so versatile!  You do not have to commit to one flavor because they are thin cookies that come in different varieties.  You have chocolate based to the original vanilla tasting ones, to cinnamon, to even pumpkin.  You want yogurt dipped, Almondina has it and even chocolate dipped, so again this is more than just a cookie you have with a hot drink.  It is a cookie that stands alone in it’s own class of thin (but delicious) crisp cookies.  I love almonds and it started with how the nut tasted but it is also a healthier alternative.  What I like is the amount of almonds and fruit you get too.  I am not cheated out of anything, just eating less fats!  It may be a “better-for-you” cookie but what makes this dreamier, is you get all the flavor and can’t believe one thin cookie could do so much! I will be reviewing the cookies later this week and will have a giveaway for my readers.  Yes, that means the sample pack I received could be yours! So, stay tuned and just a small hint, start following and liking them on Facebook 🙂

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Let Almondina Cookies make your Valentine’s Day treats not only easy and quick to make, but they will look like you dedicated all day to them. The cookies are toasted already so no need to toast in the oven. You can even add sprinkles, chocolate ganache or just the Almondina crumble itself.

I started by using Almondina Choconut, a delicious chocolate cookie that is studded with almonds and raisins. I take the cookie and break off some of the nuts to use later as decor. Using a food processor, I pulse until get a nice mix of fine and medium crumbs. In a small bowl, I add the crumb to be used for later. I again repeat the above process with the Original Almondina cookies and the Almondina AlmondDuo, a double nut cookie, which features not only almonds but also pistachios.

Take your Valentine’s Day cookie cutters (I have both metal and plastic) . Get your favorite ice cream, sorbet, or even gelato out of the freezer. I do one flavor at a time and if I do not have a flavor…..I make it. I had left-over boysenberry preserves I made a few days ago and folded it into vanilla bean ice cream to make boysenberry ice cream. You can use a cherry preserves or any flavor you desire. This not only saves money but also makes those flavors you dream of into reality.

I use a parchment square and under that place some plastic wrap. You can also use the plastic wrap by itself if you do not have parchment.  Take your cookie cutter and place it in the center of the paper/plastic. Stuff the cookie cutter with the above frozen treat of your choice and I find using a spoon and stuff by the “sliver” versus scooping is the easiest way to avoid air pockets. I use a small spatula to smooth out the Gelato and then simply use my hands to push the form out. You can also use the assistance of the parchment paper you used the cookie cutter on if you have enough overage, this also avoids getting ice cream on your fingers. Rinse and repeat!

*The above is Pistachio Gelato

 

*The above is Coconut Sorbet 

*The above is Dark Chocolate Gelato and the Boysenberry Ice Cream I made

I then place cover the molded treat and place it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. If you are making more than one, make sure to not allow your ice cream to soften too much. I suggest placing the pint back in the freezer to keep it from melting. This is why I like to work with different flavors because I can rotate as I work.  If I need to hurry up a creation, I place it in the ice cube tray for a fast chill.

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While everything refreezes, I start making ganache. Ganache is a simple recipe of 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 chocolate. I use a mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate and slowly melt it on the stove. For convince, I place my ganache in a glass dish with a spatula for easy scooping.

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Once the molded heart has hardened again, I take out one heart at a time and begin to decorate. You can use several ways:

  • Spread Ganache and then the Almondina Cookie Crumbs.
  • Stud the hearts with the nuts you recovered from the cookies before making the crumb and then only applying crumble to the sides.
  • Make a Mold of Gelato and fill only 1/4 of the way, add Almondina Crumble and then fill again with Gelato. This gives you a crumble in the center.
  • You can do half Ganache and half crumble, so you get different textures

Return the decorated heart back and allow it to set for 20 to 30 minutes. This will of course vary by size of cookie cutter and amount of frozen treat used.

I used some ganache and stencils to not only decorate the dessert but also my plate. You just smear a small amount of ganache and then some red colored sprinkles, or any color of your choice. Lift the stencil and then you have a cute design. Place the plate in the fridge and if the plate is freezer safe, it is much better because it then gets as cold as the hearts, This buys you time when you put everything together. Get your Love Bug and you have a gorgeous and delicious dessert that required no oven and just some opening and closing of the freezer ❤ This also a very kid friendly project, so make it a family thing too ❤ Enjoy!

To locate where you can buy Almondina’s Cookies or to view their large selection, please visit:

  • On-line– http://www.almondina.com/
  • Facebook– https://www.facebook.com/Almondina.Brand
  • Twitter– https://twitter.com/almondina

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I received the above product free of charge from Almondina Cookies.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

Betty Lou’s Organic Angell candy bar made with Dark Chocolate, rich cocoa and almond center

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I always love to find an organic alternative and especially when it comes to candies and/or chocolates. So many chocolates are so sugary and sweet that the last thing you can actually taste is the chocolate itself.

Betty Lou’s was running a nice little promotion via Facebook where if you entered your information, they would send you an item for free in exchange for a review. It’s chocolate so I was game!

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Soon after a candy bar arrives via mail and with California’s hot weather, I was worried it wouldn’t be intact but miraculously it was. I see it says dark chocolate that it has a rich cocoa and almond center, so I’m thinking it’s like a truffle bar and just richly filled with goodness. Being that it was early in the day and I’m an advocate that chocolate is good at anytime, I figured I wait and split the bar with my Husband later in the evening.

We have dinner and we are a “sweets family”, so we always end our meals with a small treat. I take out Betty Lou’s Angell bar and split it in half. I noticed the center of the bar, which stated was rich in cocoa and almond…..is not really visible to the eye and the nut pieces are spread throughout the bar. No matter, I take a bite.

Hmmmm……I don’t taste a rich dark chocolate outer layer or a rich center of cocoa at all and especially with it listing 72% on the packaging. My mouth fills with grit textured pieces that when I can focus on catching one, I decide to check-it out because I don’t taste almond. I also have not chewed sufficiently for the product to be this minced. Sometimes chocolate is not tempered right and maybe this why there is no center, maybe it got lost through out the bar versus staying where it should. I notice what I see is not what it should be, almond. It’s texture is to mush-like and flexible to be a hard nut that resembles almond so I do what I should have done before, check the label with the list of ingredients.

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The label starts with organic chocolate, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, organic tapioca syrup, followed by organic almonds and then the culprit……organic gluten-free OATS! Okay, it may be organic in nature but a filler even though it’s not positioned in the center of the bar, is a filler nonetheless. That grit that does not taste like a nut are minced up oats. Not what I expected and even if I get past the unfavorable texture, the flavor is not desirable. The chocolate’s intensity is just not present and after my first bite, I jumped ship and in my chocolate world, this is a rare action in my part. My Husband who is a severe chocoholic than I am, finished his 1/4 piece but said, “I’m not finishing it……something is really off”.

I wanted to love Betty Lou and her chocolate because we are so limited in selections at the market, which then means I have to drive over to Sprout’s or Trader Joe’s to find a good quality product through and through. I am for organic products but origin is one thing that should not alter taste. Most time organic products have delivered incredible results and especially if you get Fair Trade labeled products. I don’t like blogging with the intent to share something negative about a brand and product. This is the only Betty Lou product I have tasted and unfortunately it just was not a favorable experience. I saw they carry an array of goods from even powdered peanut butter, a product that I have been super curious about and I hope to taste and flip this review from a 😦 to a :).

 

The above product was sent free of charge from Betty Lou. I am not obligated in providing a favorable/positive review, just my honest opinion. My review is based on my experience with the product, which may differ from yours.

Chobani Greek Yogurt Bite in Raspberry with Dark Chocolate

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Greek yogurt is all the rage these days, so let’s look at a twist (or two) on the theme. First, these little Bite is a generous 3.5 ounces and only 100 calories.  If the flavor does not get your attention enough, this little Bite bites back with providing you 8 grams of protein that has ZERO percent FATS…..yeah, that also got my attention.
The Raspberry and Dark Chocolate has these morsels that resemble shavings and are not a waxy and bitter chocolate chip, like some other brands hide in blended products thinking you won’t notice.  The dark chocolate Chobani uses is of great quality and has a wonderful flavor that pairs perfectly with the fruit.  It finishes smoothly and you get a generous serving within the cup.  Think of chocolate-dipped strawberries no more, there is a new fruit in town and Raspberry has the spot light!!!
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The product is full of goodness too and not just pretending to be good.  Chobani uses all natural flavors, sweeteners, and even dairy derived from cows that have not been treated with rBST.  No preservatives, so the product tastes more like nature intended it to be and that is just perfect.  You also get 3 types of Probiotics and live and active cultures.  Too cool.
Let’s Analyze the Cup- 
I peeled open the top and was hit with zero sour notes like some yogurts hit you with but you smell sweet raspberries that is intense.  No fake syrup scent just how a small pint of FRESH raspberries would smell when washed.  The aroma is very pleasing.  I rocked the cup to get an idea of consistency and it is semi-loose as this is not a strained Greek yogurt but not even close to call it drinkable.  Think more of “light”.  I slightly mixed with the spoon and you quickly are welcomed by these chocolate shavings that are just riding the raspberry yogurt waterfall (whee!).  This is why I had to say I slightly mixed because I could not contain myself and took a taste test.  The chocolate can only be described as “honest chocolate” flavor.  It’s good and as real as dark chocolate gets.  The raspberry flavor is amazingly FRESH.  I know I said this but many manufactures skimp on raspberries like if they were the most expensive fruit but Chobani meant it when they put it on the label.  Also, you don’t get filled with seeds from the berry.  You get a seed here and there to remind you it’s the real thing but Chobani did not skimp on us.  Would I purchase it again?  Um……YES!
What Makes the Cup-
Ingredients-  Nonfat Yogurt (cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, Live and Active cultures: S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei), Evaporated Cane Juice, Raspberries, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Pectin, Fruit and Vegetable Juice (for color), Locust Bean Gum and Natural Flavor.
Coupons and More-
Save your wallet from getting bit (coupons): http://chobani.com/coupons/
Visit this Chobani Bite at: http://chobani.com/products/bite-raspberry-with-chocolate-chips/
Say “Hello” to Chobani on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Chobani
Say “Hi” in Greek, “Yassou (YAH-su) on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Chobani
See Chobani show it’s Cups on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/chobani/
Follow Chobani via Google+: https://plus.google.com/105549919806722403002/posts
Hashtag anyone: #tastereal
The yogurt cup even Blogs: http://chobani.com/community/blog/
I received the above product free of charge from Chobani.  I have no obligation in providing a favorable/positive review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and brand, which may differ from yours.

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