Garrison Dealer

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Sweets

Garrison Dealer 1Knowing of my love for quality chocolate, friends and family members have become enablers of my addiction, searching out unique treats to give as gifts on birthdays and special occasions. My latest dealer is my mother’s friend Pia, who surprised me at Christmas with a beribboned box of chocolates from Garrison Confections. I’d never heard of the company, but was delighted when I opened the box to see that it contained a ganache infused with Prince Vladimir Tea from Kusmi. However, it was their unusual series of chocolates featuring pâtes de fruit that won me over.

Garrison Dealer 2Pâtes de fruit are a classic French candy with intense fruit flavor and a consistency that falls somewhere between gumdrops and Jell-O (they are often referred to as “fruit jellies”). Garrison offers intriguing combinations like “cherry pâte de fruit on top of a pistachio ganache enrobed in dark chocolate” and “red currant pâte de fruit on top of almond marzipan enrobed in milk chocolate,” but the grapefruit version atop a tarragon-infused ganache was a standout, as was their hazelnut praline blended with fennel pollen. The chocolates are also lovely to look at with their whimsical screen-printed images.

Andrew Garrison Schotts, the creator of Garrison Confections, is a pastry chef who has worked at The Russian Tea Room in New York and Guittard Chocolate Company in San Francisco, among other renowned culinary establishments. He has written the book Making Artisan Chocolates and was named “Hottest Chocolatier” in America by The Food Network in 2007. Yep, he’s a pusher. You can get your fix with Garrison’s seasonal collection of boxed chocolates or with a variety of bars and chocolate-themed goodies.

If you’re a cacao junkie like me, try a line of chocolates from Garrison…and hope that nobody attempts an intervention.

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Garrison Confections


Making Artisan Chocolates can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.



“Oh, fuuuudge…”

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

Fudge 1If you didn’t have the “presents” of mind to consult our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide earlier, and now, with Christmas just days away, you’re empty-handed…or, you’ve been asked to bring something sweet for the holiday dessert table, but you still haven’t wrapped a single present, much less had time to bake…it’s O.K. to use the “F” word. No, not that one. The Queen Mother of delicious words. The “f-dash-dash-dash-DASH” word—fudge! As someone who enjoys giving and receiving gifts of homemade goodies from the kitchen, I’ve sampled and prepared my share of fudge recipes, but the best one I’ve tried also happens to be the easiest. The Five-Minute Fudge from My Sweet Vegan is not only vegan-friendly and gluten-free, it’s the richest, creamiest fudge you’ll ever taste.

Fudge 2

photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky

Unlike many fudge recipes that require a candy thermometer or become grainy if not cooked just right, this recipe is simple and virtually foolproof. Made with rich, thick coconut milk and powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar, the fudge comes out silky smooth every time. Whether nestled in tissue paper inside a decorative gift box, wrapped in cellophane as a stocking stuffer, or arranged on a platter and served to guests, this homemade fudge is a quintessential holiday treat that everyone will appreciate, including those with food allergies or dietary restrictions.

If you want to get creative, the recipe can easily be adapted for a number of variations. The original recipe is called Five-Minute Coconut Fudge and includes shredded coconut, in addition to coconut milk. At the holidays, peppermint extract and crushed candy canes can be substituted for a festive seasonal touch. I prefer the warm flavors of walnuts and vanilla, but the possibilities are as vast as your imagination. You can work in fudge the way other artists might work in oils or clay, producing original gifts in minutes that will be fondly remembered long after the last bites have been eaten…and that’s a Christmas story with a happy ending.

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FIVE-MINUTE FUDGE (adapted from My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky)

Fudge 31 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
3½ cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. dairy-free margarine†
½ cup regular canned coconut milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Lightly grease an 8×8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips, sugar, and cocoa. Separately, place the margarine and coconut milk in a small saucepan and stir together over medium heat. Cook the mixture until the margarine has melted and bubbles just begin to break at the surface. Remove it from the stove and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture. Fudge 4Let everything sit for a couple of minutes, and then stir vigorously to melt the chocolate and incorporate the dry ingredients. Continue stirring until a completely smooth mixture forms. Mix in the vanilla and chopped walnuts and quickly pour everything into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 32 small squares.

*To make the recipe truly vegan, use a dairy-free brand like Enjoy Life.

†I prefer Earth Balance. For a soy-free option, try their Soy Free spread.


Fudge 5Variations:

To make the original coconut fudge, omit the walnuts. After pouring the fudge into the pan and smoothing the top, sprinkle one cup of flaked coconut evenly over the entire exposed surface. Press the coconut gently into the fudge with the palm of your hand and let cool.

To make peppermint fudge, add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract with the vanilla extract and stir in 4 smashed candy canes. Omit the flaked coconut and top the fudge with the crumbs of 5 additional crushed candy canes instead.

History in the Making

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

History in the Making 1Readers of this blog know that I’m a chocolate lover, but I am simply carrying on a long-standing American tradition. Cocoa trees have been grown in the Americas for thousands of years, although it wasn’t until Cortés observed the Aztecs drinking chocolate in 1519 and introduced the custom to Europe that it began to take on the form we enjoy today. Brought to the east coast of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries by British colonists who imported it from Europe, chocolate was a favorite drink of the Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. At the birth of our country, these men all had a connection to Williamsburg, Virginia, and it was on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg several years ago that I first came across American Heritage Chocolate.

History in the Making 2Created using authentic recipes from the 1750s, American Heritage Chocolate includes spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, orange, vanilla, and even chili pepper. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, but when I saw that the chocolate was produced by the MARS candy company, I was a little dubious. I associated MARS with the kind of chocolate typically found at 7-Eleven, not with pricier artisan brands, but I was intrigued enough to purchase a block of it. I’m glad I did, because this is a truly unique—and uniquely American—product.

History in the Making 3

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

The chocolate comes in sticks, bites, and blocks, or finely grated to make a hot beverage. The sticks and blocks, which are lightly dusted with cocoa powder, have a look and texture that is best described as “rustic.” The flavor is fruity up front and finishes with a slight kick from the pepper, but the consistency is somewhat coarse and chalky. Part of the charm of this chocolate is that it’s made using 18th-century methods, so it doesn’t have the glossy sheen and smooth texture you expect from modern production techniques. For this reason, I feel that American Heritage Chocolate is best enjoyed in the colonial manner, melted in hot water for a traditional, full-bodied drink or mellowed with the addition of a little milk (or coconut milk), but I have snacked on the bites and taken a chip off ye olde block to use in recipes calling for semisweet chocolate. For a treat that’s an American original in more ways than one, chop the block or sticks into chunks and use them in chocolate chip cookies.History in the Making 4

It is often said that everything old is new again. The Historic Division of MARS was formed in 2006 “to educate consumers on the history of the Americas through the unique lens of chocolate.” While others are taking chocolate into the 21st century with additives like bee pollen, espresso powder, and craft beer, American Heritage Chocolate is looking to the past to give modern-day palates a taste of history in the making.

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American Heritage Chocolate


Visit the American Heritage Chocolate website to scroll through an interactive History of Chocolate and to find a merchant near you, or purchase directly from the Williamsburg Marketplace.

See more artwork by Melissa Elliott and read about her process on her blog, The Slipcover.

Ask for the Moonstruck

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Sweets

Moonstruck 1As a minimalist, I like to splurge on consumables. One brief, shining moment of glory and then they’re gone, leaving behind only a happy memory. As a chocolate lover, I’m always on the prowl for something fresh and unusual featuring the beloved bean. Because my browser knows me so well, it recently alerted me to this adorable coffin (do you think those two words have ever been used together before?) from Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Oregon. Packed with monstrously delicious truffles like Frankenstein Toffee, Popping Praline Mummy, Blood Orange Devil, and Crème Brûlée Werewolf, this collection is as delightful as it is frightful.

Moonstruck 2Since I was already splurging, I decided to add their 6-piece Flavors of Fall Collection to the mix. Fall is my favorite time of year, so what could be better than the flavors of fall interpreted in chocolate? Pecan Pie, Pfeffernüsse Spice, Harvest Almond Praline, and Pumpkin Pie—hold me! I wish I could tell you that I swooned over these chocolates, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to eat one yet. They are so beautiful that I may have turned into a filthy hoarder like Kirsti, unable to use things up and thereby end the anticipatory glee.

My order was delivered just days ago, but it appears that the company has already run out of Haunted House coffins, since they are no longer featured on the website. However, the individual truffles are still available, along with 4-piece Pumpkin Patch and Monster Mash Collections and a 5-piece Spooky Spider Collection. Moonstruck ships on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and offers 2-Day and Next Day shipping options, so there’s still time to get your monster truffles by Halloween if you order in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I plan to bury these chocolates in my mouth, so I hope that biting into a werewolf doesn’t have the same effect as being bitten by one, because I’ve been well and truly moonstruck.

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Moonstruck Chocolate Co.


10/30/15 update:

I am happy to say that, having sampled each of the offerings in the Haunted House and Flavors of Fall collections from Moonstruck, these chocolates are to swoon for. They have some of the creamiest truffles I’ve ever tasted. My favorite might have been the milk chocolate pumpkin, which has a touch of pumpkin pie spice in the dusting of sugar on the outside. The Frankenstein has so much detail and expression that I could hardly bear to bite into him…but I did, and it was electrifying.

You may have missed the opportunity to sample their Halloween and Fall collections, but their Classic Truffle Collection is available year-round, along with a variety of other chocolates. Be sure to keep an eye out for their upcoming holiday collections.


10/05/17 update:

Tonight’s rare Harvest Moon is a reminder that it’s time once again to Ask for the Moonstruck. Their Haunted House Collection usually sells out quickly, so get your coffin before these confections are dearly departed. 👻


Cute Sweet

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Sweets

Cute Sweet 1I consider myself something of a chocolate snob. I dislike the term “chocoholic,” because it implies the indiscriminate and uncontrolled consumption of any and all forms of chocolate, regardless of quality (although, there have been times, I won’t lie). An appreciator of fine wine is referred to as an oenophile, rather than a winoholic or an alcoholic, so I guess that would make me a chocophile.

My family and friends are aware of this and have been conscientious about searching out the good stuff when it comes to gift giving. Recently, my cousin presented me with a box from Mignon, a chocolatier in Glendale, California that was new to me. I’m sure she was gratified when I read through their selection guide and squealed with delight over the pictures and descriptions of the chocolates, which she had hand-selected. After all, a gift of quality chocolate must be given its proper due.

Cute Sweet 2I savored these beauties over the days that followed, taking care to store them properly in the infernal heat of late summer in Southern California. I know people (I won’t mention a specific name, but it rhymes with “thirsty”) who keep chocolates for weeks or even months, but these types of handmade confections without preservatives need to be consumed within a week, at most. Shockingly, this does not pose a problem for me.

Two things I look for in a box of fine chocolates are a good temper and pronounced flavor. I love to feel the snap of a glossy shell give way to a creamy center, especially when the ganache is infused enough that I can truly taste the essence(s). Kirsti and I are always disappointed when the flavors that have lured us end up being so subtle that you only get a hint. The temper of these chocolates put me in good humor and the flavors were both inventive and conspicuous. My favorites were the Ginger with Lime Sea Salt, Cuban Mojito, Earl Grey Tea, Lavender, and Triple Crunch, which had four distinct textures.

Although the name Mignon is a French word meaning “cute,” this business made its way to America from Ukraine by way of Iran through three generations of an Armenian family. Chocolate isn’t the only thing that’s melting in the pot. So if you want to experience a treat that has withstood the test of time, distance, and culture, get yourself a box of these delicious chocolates tout de suite!

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Mignon Chocolate


If you don’t live in the Los Angeles area, you can order Mignon chocolates from the company’s website, where their fun Build-Your-Box feature allows you to create your own assortment by clicking and dragging chocolates into a virtual box.


Hot Off the French Press

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Hot Drinks
French Press 1

Cabaret Brewed Chocolate

Several years ago, I was introduced to the concept of brewing chocolate when I read about Cabaret Brewed Chocolate in a magazine. Seduced by the description of brewed, whole, raw cacao beans blended with evaporated cane juice to produce a thick liquid the consistency of maple syrup, I quickly purchased a jar online. The label recommended mixing two teaspoons of the syrup in one cup of hot water as an alternative to coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, adding milk, if desired. I prepared a cup and was…disappointed.

My favorite online review of the product listed one of the cons as, “Misleading expectation of decadence.” Many reviewers commented that the brew tasted like weak chocolate tea, instead of the rich cocoa flavor they were expecting. To my palate, it was surprisingly tangy with a slight chocolate overtone. I put it on a shelf and didn’t touch it for a couple of weeks, until one night when I was craving something sweet and made another cup, doubling the amount of syrup and adding a little milk. This time, I enjoyed it and ended up drinking it over the next few weeks until the jar was empty. A while later, I decided to place an order again when I found that the product had been discontinued. My adventures with brewed chocolate were over almost before they had begun.

French Press 2Years later, my friend Ray—a fellow chocolate enthusiast—alerted me to a new brewed chocolate product he’d discovered called Choffy. Following a similar process as that for producing coffee, cacao beans are roasted, ground, and sealed in 12 oz. bags. The product looks and brews just like coffee. To prepare Choffy, the company recommends using a French press, but any method for making a cup or pot of coffee will get the job done.

Now, I know why they chose the name, obviously: Chocolate + Coffee = Choffee → Choffy. But that word. It’s a lot to take. However, nothing so trivial as word aversion will deter a true chocoholic searching for a new angle, so I ordered a bag. This time, with no false illusions about brewed chocolate, I liked it. That tangy quality is still there, but the chocolate flavor is much more pronounced. I also enjoy the flexibility of making a weak or strong brew and choosing my own sweetener. I have not yet developed an appreciation for “black” Choffy, so I usually add milk and always sweeten the pot (or cup).

French Press 3Choffy comes in five varieties: Ivory Coast, IC Dark, La Española, Volta, and Volta Dark. Ivory Coast is the original and classic Choffy, while La Española is recommended for coffee lovers. I prefer the IC Dark for its bold flavor, although I usually purchase a variety set containing all three grinds. Volta and Volta Dark are Choffy’s newest flavors, and I haven’t had the opportunity to try them yet, but they are described as “exceptionally rich” and smooth. Whichever bag I grab, the first thing I do before making a cup is to stick my face in the opening and inhale. The heady aroma of roasted, ground cacao beans never fails to give me a lift.

I’m not gonna lie to you, though: brewed chocolate is an acquired taste. At least, it was for me. It doesn’t have the familiar flavor of hot chocolate, nor does it taste anything like coffee. So what makes it a Sip Worthy Of Our Notice? For one thing, it has an intriguing and unusual profile for those who desire something different. The theobromine in cacao is a gentler stimulant than caffeine, so it makes a nice alternative to coffee for people who want to reduce their intake. As a nightcap, the brew is lighter than hot cocoa and satisfies a chocolate craving without adding a lot of calories.

If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll definitely want to add brewed chocolate to your repertoire. You may not switch to “Choffy” as your safe word, but if you want to make the switch from coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to a stimulating substitute, Choffy is a safe bet.

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In addition to brewed chocolate, the company sells its own set of French presses. Choffy can also be found at various retail locations using this map.

At Croissant Purposes

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

At Croissant Purposes 1Is there a more decadent way to start the day than with a cup of rich café au lait accompanied by a buttery, flaky croissant? This version is light, airy, and oozing with melted chocolate, but you don’t have to fly to Paris or even make a trip to your local bakery to get one. Prepare to swoon, because this perfect pastry comes from…
Trader Joe’s!

I went to Paris a couple of years ago and tried pain au chocolat all over the city. When I returned home, I wanted to recapture the experience, so when I saw the chocolate-filled croissants in the frozen section at Trader Joe’s, I decided to try them out. I didn’t have high hopes when I popped one in the oven, but my mouth watered as the smell of freshly baking pastry began to waft through the house.

At Croissant Purposes 2When the timer dinged, I was amazed to see that the nondescript blob of dough that went into the oven had emerged as the golden perfection of the pastries I’d enjoyed in France. And the similarities were not just skin-deep. For flavor and texture, these croissants from TJ’s can hold their own against anything in a Paris boulangerie. In fact, they might even be better, since they can go straight from the oven into your mouth.

Unfortunately, they are not something you can make on a moment’s notice. The frozen dough must proof at room temperature for at least 9 hours before baking, so you’ll need to remember to set them out the night before you plan to make them.

At Croissant Purposes 3I have been enjoying these croissants regularly for the past two years and they are foolproof if you follow directions. After proofing for 9 hours (or up to 12 hours in cold weather), put them in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet (My oven cooks faster in the back, so I turn the sheet halfway through baking). They are flawless every time. Since all ovens are calibrated slightly differently, you may need to tweak the baking time a little, but once you figure it out…oh là là!

And I can’t believe that, as a committed chocoholic, I’m saying this, but I think I like the almond version even better. The almond croissants are crispier than the chocolate ones and have a delicious filling that’s reminiscent of marzipan.

An employee at my local TJ’s told me that people are always raving about these croissants and the reason is that they are actually imported from France. So, if you crave the taste of Paris, but don’t have the time or money to hop on a plane, Trader Jacques* is at your service. Bon appétit!

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Trader Joe’s Chocolate Croissants and Almond Croissants


*Jacques is the equivalent of James—not Joe—in French, but Trader Joe’s uses the name Trader Jacques on most of the French-themed items that it sells.


Update 6/10/15:

Shortly after writing this post, I had an inferior croissant from Trader Joe’s for the first time. The texture was different and there was noticeably less filling. Thinking it might have been a fluke, I bought another package of both the chocolate and almond versions. Again, the quality had dropped significantly. They were drier and less buttery than they used to be (the almond was worse than the chocolate) and had just the barest hint of filling.

I mentioned this to an employee of the store, who gave me a sheepish look as he said that sometimes the company is forced to change suppliers and the product will be slightly different. I got the feeling that this wasn’t the first time someone had complained about the recent quality of the croissants.

This news has taken me from bon appétit to non appétit. Unless the situation changes, I will no longer be purchasing these croissants. I’ll keep you updated on the state of Pastrygate. Until then, I may have to change the name of this post from At Croissant Purposes to My Croissant to Bear. 😦


Update 9/24/15:

I was passing through the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s last week and decided to grant the croissants one more appeal. I purchased both the chocolate and almond versions and made them on alternate mornings for the past few days. I am happy to report that, upon croissant examination, these pastries have been cleared of all wrongdoing! Actually, while the chocolate croissants seem to have been completely rehabilitated, the almond ones still have some minor offenses on their record. The texture, while infinitely better than the criminals that caused me to lodge my complaint, is not quite up to par, and the filling is still a little sparse, but they’re on the path to redemption. Therefore, my former ruling has been overturned and these pastries have been granted a conditional pardon. They will be on probation for a period of time, but it is my conviction that this trial is over and you are now free to enjoy Trader Joe’s croissants again. Case dismissed!

Yes, Grasshopper

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits

I’ve always thought of Crème de Menthe and Crème de Cacao as the kind of alcohol you sneaked from your friend’s parents’ liquor cabinet at a slumber party. Syrupy sweet and not too potent, they were the type of thing that my underage taste buds and underdeveloped palate could tolerate and even enjoy. As I got older, however, I began to develop a taste for wine and what I deemed to be sophisticated cocktails. No candy-colored “mom drinks” for me. That is, until I came across Tempus Fugit Spirits.

Tempus Fugit 1I was initially drawn in by their packaging—sinuous bottles with sumptuous labels that would have been perfectly at home in a 19th-century Parisian bar. Tempus fugit (“time flies”), indeed. But then I read about their Crème de Cacao and Crème de Menthe, and reliable sources seemed to agree: these liqueurs were something new and special, a cut above. The Tempus Fugit website states: “Our goal is to source and recreate rare spirits and liqueurs from the pages of history to satisfy the demands of the most discerning connoisseur.” Being a lover of both history and rare spirits, I had to try them out for myself.

I procured a bottle of each and was delighted to discover that the praise was warranted. The Crème de Menthe is made with spearmint, in addition to the usual peppermint, so it’s cool and refreshing with a little bite that nicely balances the sweetness. And there’s no neon green in sight. The liquid is as clear and pure as the taste on your tongue. The Crème de Cacao, on the other hand, is the rich brown of its namesake, in contrast to the white version that is traditionally used to make grasshoppers. It is truly extraordinary. Thick and sweet without being cloying, it has an intense chocolate flavor that aficionados will adore.

Tempus Fugit 2Put these two together and you have a cocktail that will make your friends swarm…and swoon. This ain’t your parents’ grasshopper. People will plague you for the recipe, so here it is:


1.5 oz. Tempus Fugit Crème de Menthe
1.5 oz. Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao
1.5 oz. light cream

Mix together in a cocktail shaker, then strain into chilled glasses. Serves 2.

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Tempus Fugit Spirits


Tempus Fugit Crème de Menthe and Crème de Cacao can be purchased from K&L Wines.