Friday, February 10, 2012

An Easy Treat for Your Valentine: Cupid's Valentine Bark

Michael has been out of town this week, so I haven't been cooking dinner. I've been eating takeout and trying to rest up after my whirlwind weekend in Indianapolis. If I wasn't a food blogger? This would be no big deal...but I am a food blogger. If I don't cook, I don't have material to write about in here. So...I got into the kitchen tonight to whip up an easy Valentine treat to take to work tomorrow. We're having a Valentine candy exchange in my office, so I decided to make something fun and festive to share with the group. 

To me, it doesn't get much easier than homemade bark! For a short investment of your time, you can create something that is pretty to look at and fun to eat. For this particular bark, I wanted it to have all the bright colors of Valentines -- reds, pinks, and purples. I opted to go with white chocolate for my base, and I topped it with all sorts of fun Valentine-inspired goodies. The entire thing took about 15 minutes to pull together, then it went in the fridge for another 15 minutes to harden. Yep...it really doesn't get much easier than that!

Cupid's Valentine Bark
a Weekend Gourmet Original Creation

Step 1:  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment. Melt 16 ounces white chocolate or vanilla candy melts. Evenly spread the melted chocolate on top of the foil in a rectangular shape. Sprinkle with red sugar crystals. I used Strawberry Crystal Cane Sugar from World Wide Gourmet, but you could use any large crystal sugar and tint it with red food color for the same effect. I love how the red really pops against the white chocolate!


Step 2:  Add some conversation heats and Valentines M&Ms. I try to arrange the candy evenly so each piece of bark ends up with a bit of all the different toppings when I break it up. Finally, top with pink and white marshmallows. The ones I bought just happened to be vanilla and strawberry flavored, which paired well with the strawberry sugar.


Step 3:  Place the baking sheet in the fridge for about 15 minutes. This allows the bark to harden so it's easy to break into pieces. After 15 minutes, remove from the fridge and break into 3-inch pieces. This stuff is very sweet, so a little piece goes a long way. 


This bark is fun to make, it's very pretty from all the bright colors, and it tastes great! Not bad for 3o minutes of your time and a little imagination. The best thing about bark is that it's very versatile. Don't like conversation hearts? Sub in something else. Can't find pink marshmallows, then go with all white. The main thing is to have fun and use your creativity. I imagine this would be a fantastic cooking project to do with kids as well. 

Have a great weekend...I'm off to Houston to collect my husband and spend some time with our families. I'll be back in my kitchen cooking much more again next week, so I'll have some fun recipes to share. If you haven't entered my Woodhouse Chocolate giveaway, you have until noon on Saturday. You don't want to miss out on a chance to try this chocolate for yourself...trust me!





Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Just In Time for Valentines: Woodhouse Chocolate Review + Giveaway

Valentines is just around the corner...the most romantic day of the year! If you're like me, you like to celebrate Valentines Day with chocolate. I'm going to share some of my favorite chocolates with you today. But first? A little story...Michael and I took a belated 5th anniversary trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley in Spring 2009. Along the way, we had some amazing foodie adventures. We fell head-over-heels in love with the area...such great food, amazing wine, and wonderful scenery!! In fact, when the trip was over...we didn't want to leave. One of the places we visited while in Napa Valley was Woodhouse Chocolate, located in St. Helena. This amazing gourmet chocolate shop is family run and features some of the most amazing hand-made chocolate that I've ever tasted. 

I was lucky enough to receive a sampler of the Woodhouse Chocolate Valentine line to try at home! When I returned home from Indianapolis on Monday, the package was waiting for me. I expected to receive a few sample pieces to try, but they very generously sent me nearly all of their Valentines line to taste...and share my thoughts with you. My box contained all sorts of chocolatey goodies!! First up was the 12-piece Hearts & Domes Box. Inside a round, red box are 12 pieces of gorgeous chocolate shaped in hearts and domes. They're almost to pretty to eat! 


The flavors in this collection include 85% dark ganache, coffee-toffee and cocoa nib, Spanish Rose (saffron, cinnamon, and rose water), and white ganache flavored with passion fruit. This is a really nice collection that runs the gamut of flavors and textures. My two favorites in this group are the tangy passion fruit dome and the coffee-toffee cocoa nib. The passion fruit is bursting with fruity flavor that contrasts especially well with the very intense 85% dark ganache. The coffee-toffee cocoa nib has a creamy coffee-infused center with crunchy bits of toffee and cocoa nibs. The flavors work really well together, and the texture is crunchy without being hard.

The next item in my box was the 18-piece Pink Heart Box. This is a traditional Valentine heart-shaped box of chocolates: a pink heart with cheerful brown polka dots. Inside is 18 pieces of chocolate that are heart shaped, squares with Valentine designs, or domes. The flavors in this box are Heart of Darkness, Milk Chocolate Caramel Mousse, milk and dark chocolate caramels with sea salt, elderflower-orange blossom, and jasmine-green tea.


My favorite flavor in this collection is hands down the caramels. The caramel is buttery and luscious...not at all hard or sticky...that little sprinkle of sea salt on top is the perfect accompaniment to the sweet caramel inside. I also really liked the jasmine-green tea...it's slightly citrusy, with a floral undertone. The light-green color was a very pretty contrast to the chocolate shell. But wait...that wasn't all! My sampler box also contained two fun Valentine-themed filled items.

The first one was a Kiss Me Lips. These sassy dark-chocolate lips say Kiss Me on them, and they're filled with crispy toffee peanut. The top of the lips is decorated with a sheer hot pink color that reminds me of lip gloss. I'm saving this one for our Valentines celebration next week...I can't wait to try it!! This one is fun, sassy, and romantic. The size of this item is perfect for sharing with that special someone for dessert after a dinner!!  

The last item in my package was a four-pack of Cupid's Arrow. These are so pretty and romantic...each piece is embossed with a cupid on top. Inside each white chocolate shell is two layers of champagne truffle: one dark, one white. I LOVED these...the combo of white and dark chocolate pairs very nicely together. The dark chocolate doesn't overwhelm the white. Actually, I think the white chocolate helps soften the bite of the dark chocolate just a bit. These truffle would be perfect served with some sweet champagne as part of any romantic Valentine celebration!

Woodhouse offers all of these items via mail order, and there's still time to order for Valentine delivery if you're quick! But? One of you is going to receive a 12-piece Hearts & Domes box just like the one pictured above courtesy of Woodhouse Chocolate...and they'll even make sure it arrives in time for Valentines!! To enter, leave me a comment telling me which flavor in this collection you're most excited to try. Make sure to leave your e-mail so I can get in touch with you if you're the lucky winner. I will accept entries until noon on Saturday. I'll pick the winner Saturday afternoon and notify them via e-mail. In order to receive your chocolate in time for Valentine's, I will need the winner to reply with their shipping info no later than noon on Sunday. Good luck!!

Woodhouse Chocolate sent me their products to review. However, all opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quick Indy Trip Recap...

Hi all...I'm back home in San Antonio after an amazing weekend in Indianapolis to attend Taste of the NFL courtesy of the nice people at Red Gold Tomatoes! I'm going to share all the details later this week...but I wanted to pop in and share a few trip highlights and pictures today to tide you over while I write a longer, more detailed post!! But first...I want to quickly announce the winner in last week's Gourmet Texas Pasta 3-pack giveaway.  Per the random number generator, the winner is: #2: Amy Donovan from Fearless HomemakerCongrats...I just sent you an e-mail to verify your selections and get your shipping info so they can get your package sent right out to you!!

I knew that I was going to have a fantastic time in Indianapolis, but the weekend exceeded even my wildest dreams! The Reichart family, who own and operate Red Gold, were the nicest people you can imagine! Red Gold was an amazing host from the moment the amazing Monica from Marketing met us at the airport until they sent us off with hugs and goodbyes at the end of the weekend. In between, they treated us to a wonderful dinner...a personalized tour of their Elwood processing facility and their beautiful new headquarters...and a night of food and wine at Taste of the NFL.

I was the last blogger to arrive, and I found the rest of the ladies just outside baggage claim. Most of us had been chatting via Twitter and Facebook for the past couple of weeks, so we felt like we knew each other already. We made our way outside, where a stretch truck limo was waiting to take us to our hotel. This was how we rolled the entire weekend...in style!


The seven of us chatted with Monica like old friends the entire hour-plus drive to our hotel in nearby Muncie! We arrived at the hotel to meet Theresa, who works with Monica in the Marketing department. We ate some lunch, received some great Red Gold swag bags, and went over our itinerary. After some time to unwind in the afternoon, we met downstairs to have dinner with members of the Red Gold team at Bonge's Tavern. We had a spectacular meal and amazing, fun conversation.


After some much-needed sleep, we met downstairs Saturday morning to spend the morning with Red Gold. We visited the Elwood processing facility, where ketchup and tomato juice was being produced. We learned a lot about the care that Red Gold takes in growing their tomatoes and creating their products. Their pride in their product is evident in how much they love their company and its products! They fed us breakfast and lunch featuring Red Gold products and gave us a tour of the production line.

After the tour, we were the first official guests at their beautiful new corporate headquarters. We received a VIP tour before lunch...and even met their cute mascot, Stewie! We took lots of pictures, which I will share later in the week...but here's a shot of the outside of the headquarters.


After a couple of hours to rest up...and glam up...we were off to Taste of the NFL. I want to introduce you to my fellow blogger winners...all of them were fabulous and so friendly!! In a weekend full of wonderful things? Getting to know these six lovely women was especially fantastic...we talked and laughed like long-lost friends the entire time. In this picture, from left, are: Renee from Great Foodini, Lisa from Jersey Girl Cooks, and Cathy from The Dutch Baker's Daughter.


...and in this picture, from left, are: Sherry from Superexhausted, Deb from Just Short of Crazy, and Heather from Basilmomma. We were all dressed up and on our way to Taste of the NFL when I snapped these pics. I think this was just before we popped the cork on a bottle of celebratory champagne to get the party started!


Taste of the NFL was a spectacular good time: amazing food, great wine, celebrity chefs, and football players. What else could a foodie want? We met Ted Allen from Chopped, took pictures with the super-nice Cake Boss guys, and spotted several celebrities in the crowd! By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was just past midnight...and I even saw some snow flurries during the ride back. Folks, that is NOT something this Texas gal sees everyday!

The next morning, my friend Liz from That Skinny Chick Can Bake met Cathy and I at our hotel for some breakfast. She lives in Indianapolis...if you haven't visited her amazing blog, please do!! She is indeed skinny...and she is one great baker. She brought us a bag of cookies to eat during our plane trip home...and they were fabulous!! Here we are in the lobby after we had spent an hour or so chatting like old friends:


Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport...one last laughter-filled ride in the limo before it was back to our normal lives. We all hugged goodbye at their airport...happy for a fun-filled weekend together, and a little sad to say goodbye so soon. I know that we'll stay in touch via Facebook, Twitter, and each other's blogs! I hope you'll visit my new friends and check out their fantastic blogs. All of these ladies are fantastic cooks...and wonderful women!

I can't thank Red Gold enough for sponsoring this contest! Winning this contest was a huge honor for me, and I am now a Red Gold fan for life...and not because they gave me a fantastic trip. I love how passionate they are about their company and their products, and what warm and welcoming people they are. And their tomatoes? They taste amazing to boot!! I'll be back with more details and pictures later this week, but I hope you enjoyed this quick(ish) look into my weekend...

I received a trip to Indianapolis to attend Taste of the NFL and visit the Red Gold facilities courtesy of Red Gold Tomatoes. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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