Chocolate Gets Weird – strangest chocolate combinations

Chocolate is chocolate, and we love it as-is. But we also love thinking of other things to put in it.

The-Chocolate-Tourist-Cucumber-Basil

The strangest combinations I’ve personally tried are Tifa’s Dark chocolate with basil (left) and Cucumber Vodka chocolates from L’Artisan du Chocolat (right). Not to mention The Chocolate Line‘s Pop Rocks and Coke chocolate… I don’t have a picture of that last one, but rest assured it tastes as spectacular as it sounds.

Going by historic artifacts, the original brewers of chocolate (since initially chocolate was strictly for drinking – mostly because no one had figured out how to make it stay solid) had a short list of additional ingredients for flavoring their favorite cuppa.

The Vosges Curry Milk Truffles feature milk chocolate richly flavored with Indian spices and coconut. Exotic and delicious.

The Vosges Curry Milk Truffles feature milk chocolate richly flavored with Indian spices and coconut. Exotic and delicious.

Anise seeds, corn, and chilies were on the list – surprisingly no one thought to sweeten it until Europe got its hands on the bitter beans. So the concept of adding funky flavors to chocolate is not altogether unoriginal.

Do you have a favorite “weird” chocolate?

Some of my most exciting combinations have been concocted in my own brain, many of which remain untested. Chocolate and pickles, anyone?

Anyone?

I’ll try it someday. In the meantime, we have a lot of options from bacon to pistachios right off the shelf, so you don’t have to go far in order to try a little something new with your chocolate.

What’s the weirdest chocolate you’ve tried? What did it do to your mind?



Artfully Chocolate – the hot chocolate gallery wine bar of your dreams

Artfully Chocolate is a funky mixed bag of anything you’d ever want to find within four walls.

Looking for an art gallery? A gift shop? A wine bar? No? Well how about ice cream? Or lunch? Coffee, tea?

While any and all of these offerings are tempting, you know what we’re here for. Artfully Chocolate delivers on this and more, set in the uptempo downtown district of Alexandria, Virginia. Within walking distance of the King Street metro stop, Artfully Chocolate is conveniently located just off Duke Street.

Artfully-Chocolate-The-Chocolate-Tourist

King-Street-Temple-The-Chocolate-Tourist

Alexandria-Virginia-The-Chocolate-Tourist

Artfully-Chocolate-neighborhood-The-Chocolate-TouristSurrounded by landscaped, bricked-in gardens of bushes and flowers, Artfully Chocolate is a gorgeous celebration of beauty and fun, with a madly colorful interior inspired by Hollywood glamour girls of years past and an impressive array of activities to enjoy. The gift shop to one side of the open space beckons us to relax and stay awhile as jazz plays in the background.

The decor appeals to my love of color and gives me a taste of the zest for life that goes into a place like this.

In keeping with the energy of the walls and decor, there is no end of flavors to try. Aside from the cafe offerings, there is a wide array of chocolate – chocolate confections, chocolate bonbons in a case, and… drumroll please… hot chocolate.

Artfully Chocolate’s prime offering is a collection listed simply as, The Divas. Fifteen different hot chocolate variations named for 15 Hollywood stars. From Charo to Gracy Kelly, all flavors of glamour are represented in these drinks.

Chandelier-The-Chocolate-Tourist Artfully-Chocolate-Gallery-The-Chocolate-Tourist Wine-Bar-The-Chocolate-Tourist Artfully-Chocolate-Marilyn-table-The-Chocolate-Tourist Artfully-Chocolate-menu-The-Chocolate-Tourist

But of course, who can choose?

Thankfully we also have the option to select The Golden Girls – a set of three miniature servings of three Divas of our choice. Also a challenge, but I managed to narrow down my selection and wound up with three gorgeous steaming drinks in front of me.

Artfully-Chocolate-Divas-The-Chocolate-TouristI settled on the Joan Crawford, the Lucy, and the Lana Turner. Let the sampling begin.

Joan Crawford
Don’t be fooled by the whipped cream! This semi-sweet chocolate contains a shot of espresso at its heart.

Well let me tell you I was not fooled. This drink is thin in consistency, lightly sweet, and tastes strongly of espresso – but still gives a power punch of chocolate in each sip. Like the diva she’s named for, this hot chocolate is sensational.

Think of a cafe mocha, but much more savory. A great choice for coffee lovers and those who like their chocolate deep, dark and true to its nature.

Lana Turner
White chocolate infused with fragrant cardamom and blueberry syrup. Topped off with whipped cream & dried blueberries.

Intrigued by the idea of a white chocolate, I had to give Lana a try. The cardamom pops out right away – makes you go, “Oo!” It’s a unique flavor to share with the white chocolate, which is very sweet, and the slight blueberry tinge.

Lucy
This fiery redhead infuses chipotle pepper with semi-sweet chocolate.Topped with whipped cream & cinnamon dust

Yum! Lucy is nice and spicy, giving an intense heat to the first sip that lingers as you gulp down more. The chocolate is dark and rich to compensate – the spice never gets out of hand, it is only a pleasant and exciting counterpart to the smooth chocolate experience.

Wow, what an experience. I need to come back here and taste the rest of the Divas!

But for now, it is a beautiful, colorful, delectable memory. Please visit. Please try something I didn’t try and tell me what it’s like. Please enjoy Artfully Chocolate.

Getting there: Artfully Chocolate Bistro is just off the 495 Telegraph Road exit in Alexandria, Virginia.
506 John Carlyle St, Alexandria, VA 22314
Street parking is readily available, or you can hop off the metro at King Street and walk across Duke Street.

Other local attractions:
George Washington Memorial Temple – a landmark in Alexandria, where even the parking lot offers a great view
Four Mile Run – a stream valley trail with twists, turns, and hills
Cameron Run Regional Park – a vestige of my childhood, with mini golf and a water park

Tell them The Chocolate Tourist sent you!



Monday Mug: Red Velvet Iced Chocolate

Red Velvet. A snazzy name for a snazzy flavor.

There’s something about red velvet that you can just feel. It’s a decadent, luscious vibrancy that immediately makes you say, “Ooo…”

So what do you say let’s make some.

Being something of a health-conscious nutrition nerd, I don’t love the idea of putting red dye in my food. So this drink’s rich red color will come from a natural source – beets.

At least that’s what I thought.

Do you like beets? I don’t. I know I should, but I keep trying and failing. So the idea of putting beet juice in your chocolate may be too much to buy. But suspend disbelief a little longer, because I promise you it will be delicious.

I know, because I tried it.

A word about the ingredients pictured: there are two tricky elements to this recipe. After visiting three different grocery stores, I discovered it’s impossible to find juice with just beets. You have beets plus a bunch of other things (I tried using one of these but it threw off the flavor).

If you are a happy juicer, you can easily make your own beet juice to naturally flavor your red velvet. What I did was blend up a pre-peeled, pre-steamed beet with some water. The red color is not very strong, but it looks nice.

Second, after three different stores all I could find was “low fat” buttermilk – like, what is that? I’m leery of any naturally fat-containing product with fat removed. Because you know what is added to make up for all the fat? Me neither, let’s look.

Butter granules, Vitamin A Palmitate, and Vitamin D3. I mean, why not just let it be?

So all in all, I’d rather use full-fat buttermilk (no additional butter granules, thanks) and maximum strength beet juice. But when it comes down to it, we use what we’ve got.

For your very own Red Velvet Iced Chocolate, you will need:
A mug
Enough milk to fill that mug about three quarters full
Buttermilk to fill bring it up to fill the rest of the way
Two ice cubes
A heaping spoonful of cocoa powder
A spoonful of sugar
A splash of vanilla
Beet juice (or red dye) – optional

Start by pouring enough milk to coat the bottom of a saucepan to heat. Over heat, whisk in your sugar, cocoa, and vanilla (a whisk is your best friend for this kind of mixing – a spoon won’t give you a smooth enough mixture).

When all is incorporated, pour the warm cocoa mix into your mug over ice. Mix in your beets/dye or whatever red thing you’re trying. Add buttermilk to fill. Give it one last stir and voila – your very own Red Velvet Iced Chocolate awaits.

Pray give it your full attention.

Red-Velvet-The-Chocolate-Tourist



Chocolate Tour in Beverly Hills

We initially set out to cover chocolate in its purest form. The stuff of beans and growing know-how and about a zillion years of experimentation with roasting and fermentation.

Beverly-hills-chocolate-tour-the-chocolate-touristThe sacred food of the gods from Mexico to Belgium that made it’s stamp on history and culture, leaving societies of adoring fans in its wake.

So when Great Food Tours recently took us on a chocolate tour of Beverly Hills, we were a little hesitant – we’re talking about candy, cake and cookies. Not chocolate. Is it inauthentic to write about things that only contain chocolate and are not strictly devoted to the thing itself?

It was a quandary.

And then we realized: without chocolate, brownies do not have much of a point.

So since chocolate makes these treats so amazing, let’s lay down our snobbery and embrace confections in the spirit of chocolate togetherness!

So we did. Two hours sampling the chocolate-flavored goodness of seven shops in Beverly Hills. Our friends Chocolate University Online were kind enough to feature the article on their blog – read a bit below and visit them at ChocolateUniversityOnline.com to get the full flavor:

August 29, 2014

Two hours, seven chocolate shops. This is the promise of Great Food Tours’ chocolate tour in Beverly Hills, California.

A premise that begs many questions: What kind of chocolate? What is the dress code? Will there be hillbillies? Can I eat chocolate for two hours and still fit in my pants? Among others.

And as is the case with all adventures, the only way to get answers is to go out and find them.

SprinklesCupcakes

As you might guess, CUO offers a variety of chocolate making and appreciation classes. Check it out – and tell them The Chocolate Tourist sent you!

Ready to go find some chocolate adventures?

Don’t let us keep you.



Monday Mug: Contessa Signature Blended Chocolate

Buongiorno!

I’m very excited to share with you a special Monday Mug, featuring Contessa Chocolate Collection – a charming Italian food shop in Pasadena, California. This is my first attempt at shooting a Monday Mug on location, going to a chocolate shop in an effort to show the concept of The Chocolate Tourist’s web series to better advantage.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my goal with this weekly series is not to simply improve my ability to talk to a camera, but to involve you – our first and most devoted viewers – in the process of turning a blog into a video series.

That’s what we’ve been up to since January when the blog began, and in just a few short months we hope to bring you The Chocolate Tourist web series! In its full, chocolate-covered glory.

Meanwhile, Luisa favored me with an interview and a demonstration – even as she was preparing to get out of town for a week. Contessa is closed this week, as its staff of two are overdue for a vacation! But you should definitely visit when the doors reopen – this blended drinking chocolate is awesome.

I love Luisa’s passion for food and community, and her strong desire to provide customers with wholesome ingredients of the very highest quality. And she is no less particular when it comes to chocolate.

Luisa presented a thought-provoking plea to begin changing the way we think about feeding ourselves, most of which did not make it into this video. But I will post clips throughout the week – make sure and follow us on YouTube to see when those appear.

But for now… chocolate.

This blended beverage is actually quite light, with a deep chocolate flavor enhanced by the wall of solid cocoa on top. It’s a delight for the eyes and the tongue is not disappointed. Do what I didn’t do and eat it with a spoon – you’ll enjoy it better and avoid giving yourself a chocolate mustache!

You will need:
A wine glass with swirls of chocolate all over it
A handful of ice
Enough milk to cover
2 1/2 spoonfuls of Cantinari chocolate chunks in milk and dark
cocoa powder
whipped cream
salted caramel sauce

Blend the ice and milk for about 15 seconds, until the ice is broken down. Add the chocolate chunks and blend another 30-40 seconds. Pour the mix into your chocolate-swirled wine glass (there should be a few bitty chunks intact).

Top with a healthy layer of cocoa powder, sifted, and whipped cream with caramel sauce.

Enjoy it with all your senses.

Contessa-Signature-The-Chocolate-Tourist



Virginia is for Chocolate Lovers

Virginia is a beautiful state, filled to the brim with history, natural beauty and culture – and it’s my hometown.

The-Chocolate-Tourist-Virginia-sunshine

I recently got to make a visit out there when a dear friend got married. The wedding took place in the north western part of the state – near the rolling Blue Ridge mountains. It’s just about an hour from the busy metropolitan areas, but it sure feels like the country.

Some friends and I stayed in a house together (courtesy of AirBnB.com - have you guys ever tried that site? You can stay in an apartment or a house and save a lot of money over hotel rooms!).

We had a wonderful time enjoying the tiny town of Millwood, the chickens in the back yard, and the rural woodsy quiet. I snapped this photo our first morning there:

Milton-deer-The-Chocolate-Tourist

Driving out Route 17, we passed plenty of farmhouses, cows and horses. The sky was clear, the road was open, and we were ready to vacate.

The-Chocolate-Tourist-Virginia-farmhouse

This was the last place I expected to discover artisan chocolate.

But sometimes chocolate finds you.

Locke Store is one of four or five charming establishments on the main drag of Millwood, Virginia. Don’t let the aged exterior fool you – this is a gourmet food shop guaranteed to make you drool.

Locke-General-Store-Virginia-The-Chocolate-Tourist

With fresh baked everything, sandwiches made to order, wines from around the world, and a freezer stocked with goodies you can’t find at any old grocery store, Locke Store is full of surprises. The staff is super friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about every single item they sell.

Locke-Store-cookies-The-Chocolate-Tourist Locke-Store-macarons-The-Chocolate-Tourist

But there’s more to this place than fresh chicken pot pie and gourmet ice cream sandwiches. It’s a whole shelf of chocolate.

Locke-shelf-The-Chocolate-Tourist El-Ceibo-The-Chocolate-Tourist

El Ceibo is a chocolate I first met at a farmer’s market in Lorton, Virginia. The Bolivian co-op grows, processes and sells their own chocolate bars and cocoa powder – and they fulfill orders online too!

I had never tasted El Ceibo and was intrigued by the intense smoky flavor of the heritage beans. This is an artisan chocolate that has traveled far and brings something unique to your taste buds.

Whether you’re hunting for chocolate or just out for a drive, stop by Locke Store! It’s easy to find and fun to explore. I was not really trying to rhyme that. Oh well.

Getting there: Locke Store is just off Route 17 in Millwood, Virginia
2049 Millwood Road, Millwood, Virginia 22646
Parking is scant, but you don’t have much competition – and if pressed you can probably find a spot on the street.

Other local attractions:
Skyline Drive – one of America’s favorite mountain drives.
Burwell Morgan Mill – tour one of the oldest working grist mills in the country.
The State Arboretum of Virginia – featuring 5,000 woody trees and shrubs from around the world.

Virginia is for Chocolate Lovers! Indulge.



Monday Mug: Chocolate Blast

It’s August! The summer heat is a-risin’ and it’s difficult to think about anything other than cooling off. I’ve been craving ice and cold things for a week straight. And this frosty chocolate treat fits the bill!

This week The Chocolate Tourist gets back into the habit of blogging with some Virginia chocolate offerings and some fun facts. But first – the chocolate.

This is a tremendously versatile recipe that you can add just about any flavor to – swap out the milk or sweetener to match your dietary restrictions, add spices or flavor extracts… experiment! One recipe, dozens of flavors.

It’s fun.

You will need:
A blender
About a cup of ice cubes (let them sweat a bit)
A spoonful of cocoa powder
A spoonful of maple syrup
A sprinkle of cinnamon
A dash of salt
Milk of your choice

Assemble the ice, cocoa, syrup, cinnamon and salt in your blender. Add enough milk to just about cover the ice. Pulse until the ice is broken up and slushy – careful not to overblend! You’ll end up with a bunch of foam.

Pour into a glass and enjoy! Double up to make two and share with a friend – it’s a great way to start, continue, or finish a day.

What did you do this summer? Got a favorite way to cool down? Leave a comment below and give us all some good ideas!

Chocolate-Blast-The-Chocolate-Tourist




Monday Mug: Iced Mocha (easy and delicious)

Good Monday, chocolate friends!

And a very happy August to you. Today’s post goes out to my friend and co-laborer in the chocolate mission, Leanne Westphal, who spent all weekend reigning over the 48 Hour Film Project in Los Angeles. Yes, that is as exhausting as it sounds.

We need caffeine. Preferably cold, seeing as it’s also a hundred degrees outside.

This month we get back into the chocolate swing, with a soon-to-be revealed facelift on our website, some shopping, some new chocolate recipes and excursions, and maybe even some new friends! More on that later this week, but first let’s get ourselves some chocolate.

Iced-Mocha-easy-The-Chocolate-TouristMany a mocha recipe have I tried, with little satisfaction. But this one delivers, and not only is it my favorite flavor, but it is also by far the simplest answer I’ve found to the dilemma of morning coffee.

I make mine with a pourover, and if you don’t have one please stop reading now, put on your shoes and go to the store to buy one. I’m no coffee snob, but even I can tell the difference between Mr. Coffee and the simple cone-shaped thingy that takes ordinary coffee from good to great.

Granted, it is only a single serving device, but if you’re single it’s swell.

On the other hand, you can also make this with a regular coffee maker.

a-Iced-Mocha-3-The-Chocolate-Tourist

You will need:
A mug
Enough ice to fill that mug
Enough water to halfway fill the mug
A spoonful of sugar
A spoonful of cocoa powder
Ground coffee

Measure about a spoonful each of sugar and cocoa into your mug, depending on how sweet you like it (I prefer a scant spoonful for a richer chocolate flavor and less sweetness).

If you ARE using a pourover, heat up the water and prepare your coffee grounds (you’ll need a cone-shaped filter and as much coffee as you would use for a regular mug of Joe). When the water is just hot enough to bubble around the edges, remove it from the heat.

If you are NOT using a pourover, make it double strength in your coffee pot – the ice will dilute the hot brew as it melts, so you will need less water and more beans. Turn off the heat as soon as the pot is finished brewing.

Pour a little coffee or hot water directly on the sugar/cocoa mixture and use a spoon to stir it until it dissolves. Then pile in the ice.

Iced-Mocha-ice-The-Chocolate-Tourist

If your coffee is already brewed, simply pour it over the ice.

Pourover people, get ready for the magic. Use a little of the hot water to dampen the grounds, then slowly begin to pour the water in a circular motion over the inverted cone.

Iced-Mocha-Pourover-The-Chocolate-TouristThe process will take a couple of minutes, but just be patient with it and pour a little at a time until all the water is processed through to the other side (I usually take this time to make toast or clean up last night’s dishes).

Give it a stir to incorporate, add your favorite kind of milk to your taste, and serve.

Yum, yum, yum. Monday has never tasted so good.

Try it and tell me what you think! And if you don’t like coffee, don’t worry, I’ll have a whole new flavor for you next week. Meanwhile, take a chance on variety this week. It’s good to be alive.



Miami Oasis – a storm, a room, a ganache

Miami, Florida – a place to find beauty, palm trees, bugs, and serenity.

Not to mention chocolate.

I’ve visited Miami several times for various reasons, most recently as the final destination on a one-week road trip down the Atlantic coast. It was an extremely satisfying, bewildering and exhilarating week, culminating in a 2-hour drive through the Florida Keys and witnessing the southernmost point of the USA.

When I drove through Miami, it looked like this:

Holy driving grannies, Batman - that sky is more conflicted than a hatmaker with two heads.

Holy driving grannies, Batman – that sky is more conflicted than a hatmaker with two heads.

And my bumper looked like this:

TCT-Miami-bumper

Let it be known: Florida freeways are where bugs go to die

My mission here was one of beaches, not of chocolate, so sadly this particular trip did not involve any chocolate hunting. But no sooner did I chow down on lunch, glance hastily around at the bits of Miami I could see, and hop back onto the Florida Turnpike, then water began gushing from the sky.

It was frightening.

Partly because of the thunder, lightning and decreased visibility. Partly because the median age of my fellow drivers was about 70. But mostly because the sky had been completely clear just moments before.

And it was completely clear as soon as the storm passed. Eerie.

I say all this to say that I need go back to Miami. And when I do, I need to stay here:

The view from just one of over 40 Oasis rental properties in Miami

The view from just one of over 40 Oasis rental properties in Miami

Oasis Collections offers a variety of upscale furnished housing currently in 11 cities in South America, Central America, and the United States. From jaw-dropping luxury to affordable comfort, Oasis properties are priced for every kind of budget, every kind of traveler, and every kind of trip.

Of their 40+ available properties in Miami, the Sunset wins. Yes, it is a beautiful property with a gorgeous kitchen in which I can spend all day concocting hot chocolate recipes. Yes, it has a pool. Yes, it is conveniently located near the Metro.

It is also three blocks away from Mr. Ganache – Miami’s Temple of Chocolate.

Master chocolatier Eric Girerd makes chocolates by hand, in flavors like passion fruit, champagne, jasmine and yuzu. From simple pleasures to more exotic delights, Mr. Ganache has something for every chocolate lover.

So next time you’re ready to vacate for some well-deserved R&R, keep in mind the relaxing rental apartment you can have all to yourself – and is only steps away from handmade chocolate.

Now that’s luxury.

Full disclosure: Oasis Collections recruited us to write about them in exchange for additional exposure to The Chocolate Tourist. We haven’t actually visited any of their rental homes. But we think it’s a fabulous idea, and if you do pay them a visit, tell us how it went!



Summer Vacations and Chocolate Celebrations

Good morning, chocolate friends!

Chocolate is really a celebration of life

Chocolate is really a celebration of life

It’s July 7, which means this is no ordinary Monday. It’s Chocolate Day.

Origins unknown, but the inspiration and method of celebration are pretty obvious.

Give chocolate to someone you meet today. Nothing is quite so welcome a gift, and even though you don’t need a reason, Chocolate Day is a good one.

This summer brings so many exciting opportunities. We’re focusing in on the video side of this chocolate endeavor, working like crazy to take The Chocolate Tourist to the screen with backstage tours of chocolate factories around the world, stories of chocolate makers, and more chocolate than anyone should be exposed to without great danger of busting out one’s pants.

This is also going to be my last post for a while. Given the demands of the web series – which we hope to begin filming in the Fall – I need to redirect my efforts for the month of July.

I’ll be back in August, with many stories to tell!

Three chocolate excursions in rural Virginia and Washington, DC.

A chocolate tour in Beverly Hills (visiting 7 chocolate shops in 2 hours)!

Lots of new Monday Mug recipe experiments, and potentially a few guinea pigs.

And probably more.

I’d love to hear your suggestions if you’ve found a great place or had a great idea for us to look into! We’re all about the stories behind the chocolate here at The Chocolate Tourist, and we’re just beginning to get started.

For now, please go to the beach and look at butterflies and call a friend. At the very least, savor a chunk of chocolate.

Enjoy your life.

See you soon! xoxo
The Chocolate Tourist