February 28, 2005

February 27, 2005

a soup that took 2 months to get ready

French onion soup, such a lovely, hearty treat for a cold day. I made a whole lot of caramelized onions a few months back and kept it in the freezer with this soup in my mind.

Caramelizing onion is a time-consuming task (it took me a good one hour), but once you've got it, the onion soup is half ready; add some flour to the onions to make roux, add some wine (and I used brandy as well), followed by some water, bouillon, and herbs (I used thyme and a bay leaf), then cook for another hour or so. Ah I forgot to put garlic.

Place some lightly toast and butter thin slices of baguette on a bowl of the soup, top it with a plenty of grated Gruyere cheese, then broil the whole thing until the cheese melts.

I'd always be put off by this time-consuming way of cooking French onion soup, but whenever I actually make it and eat it, it makes me get my mind set; I'll do this again. Then it is only a matter of when I'd do it "again"...

February 24, 2005

tea break with costs and efforts

I am a big tea drinker. While I like to have a nice cup of coffee now and then, I find myself brewing a cup of tea a lot more often. I drink almost any kind of tea - from English to Japanese to Chinese, from black to green to white, and from flavored to herbal -, although I typically treat myself with a nice strong cup of brown tea (black tea with milk). My first and foremost favorite would have to be Taylors of Harrogate good and strong Pure Assam tea from Yorkshire, I am also partial to Mariage Frères black tea called Grand Bois Chéri (served with milk).

I got this mellow vanilla-flavored Mauritius tea leaves came in a beautirul dark blue tin this time. It is supposed to be desirable to keep the delicate leaves airtight in it, but - or maybe because of this - it is really hard to open once it's closed. Bad news for a lazy tea drinker.

Speaking of laziness, I am by nature a tea lover but not a tea connoisseur, and am pretty casual about making my cuppa; namely, I'd almost always go to tea bags rather than a traditional "leaves in a pot" method. So what I'd do when I got tea leaves like this instead of readily-bagged teas is to put a teaspoonful of leaves in an indivisual-sized cotton-woven tea bag and throw it in a cup, then pour fresh-boiled water.

This may not be an authentic or admirable way of brewing nice artisan tea leaves, but it at least doesn't put me off and thus keep me away from having nice teas. (And this, by the way, comes at a cost double of what it is in France, which is another factor that can keep me away from having this nice tea too often.)

February 22, 2005

the Very Best and "Better-Than-in-France Croissants aux Amandes You Can Get in Tokyo": 1st Annual Independent Food Festival

Every time you find a new shop/restaurant and step into it, there might be something that you would almost automatically try first, either to size up the shop and compare it against your "reference", or simply because it is something you just have to come back to. In my case, it would be green curry if that is a Thai restaurant, pizza margherita at a pizza shop, and croissants aux amandes or almond croissants at a French bakery. And in that last case, my long-standing reference croissants aux amandes are those from a Tokyo bakery called Aux Bacchanales. I have yet to find a better one than theirs, and believe me, I have tried a lot of places.

I can't remember when it was I tried their croissants aux amandes first time, but it must be ten years ago or so. They used to have a cafe/bar/restaurant/bakery/pastry shop at a busy corner of Harajuku, Tokyo, where I would go and drop by now and then to have a cup of good coffee or hot chocolate, or to buy good bread (and I was really sad when they closed the Harajuku shop because their building was to be reconstructed or something). Theirs wasn't the first almond croissant that I have ever had, but it was so outstanding I can't remember any I had tried before that time.

Croissants aux amandes would typically be a "recycled" product made using day-old croissants by filling them with almond cream and re-baking in the oven. So it used to be something you could only get when they do have some unsolds from the day before at the shop. Nowadays in some shop where almond croissants are a big thing, they might not "wait" for one day but just be baking some extra croissants for the almond croissants, I guess.

Like I have said, Aux Bacchanales' have become my "reference" croissants aux amandes over years, after eating countless almond croissants here and there, in Tokyo and in Paris and elsewhere - frankly, almost at every bakery where I found one. Good croissants aux amandes, in my opinion, have to be made using good croissants and almond cream as a matter of course, but they should also be re-baked in a perfect way; most almond croissants I have had are too often underbaked, making them rather soggy and shabby. They also tend to be too sweet and/or have overpowering amount of almond flavoring. Maybe that is the way they are supposed to be since so many of them are like that, but that's not the way I like them to be.

On that account, what I love the most about croissants aux amandes from Aux Bacchanales are that they have the generous amount of almond cream inside and on top of the croissants, and that they are well-baked so the whole thing is very crisp and tastes fresh, not to speak of the quality of croissant itself. I have tried and to some extent liked almond croissants from other bakeries including Poujauran and Maison Kayser and even Paul of Paris, but I would always come back to the same conclusion: I like Aux Bacchanales' better. They might not be the prettiest-looking croissants aux amandes in the world or even in Tokyo, but they are one of the tastiest, and definitely the very best I have ever had, and I love the most.

So here the 2005 Independent Food Festival Awards / Better-than-in-France Croissants aux Amandes You Can Get in Tokyo award goes to croissants aux amandes by Aux Bacchanales!

(And you are always welcome to tip me off about excellent croissants aux amandes that you know!)

*This year marks the very first Independent Food Festival Awards event, presented by TasteEverything. I am honored to be among the selected 30 jury members to create and give their own award, and have had this opportunity to recognize something I love and introduce it to the world. Go check out all the other awards if you haven't done so yet. Much thanks go to Hillel and his fellows who have made this possible... and my special thanks to Namiko, a long-time friend of mine in Japan who has helped me to get the stuff I needed to write this.

Aux Bacchanales Akasaka
Ark Hills Building, 2nd Floor
1-12-32 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Tel. 03-3582-2225 / Fax. 03-3582-8844 (Country code: 81)

There are some other locations in Tokyo, as well as in Yokohama, Hakata, and Kyoto.
They also have a selection of excellent bread/sandwiches and pastries.

February 20, 2005

experiment continued

This series of whole citrus experiments wasn't quite over yet, it seems. I made these tartelettes au citron, employing sort of the same technique: using whole citrus.

The recipe, called "whole-lemon tart", was one of those that instantly caught my eye in a book Paris Sweets: Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops by Dorie Greenspan (Broadway, 2002). The credit of recipe is to a Paris pastry shop called Rollet-Pradier, which I have unfortunately never paid a visit to, or actually never heard of. But it was so intriguing to me - for one thing, I love lemon tart; for another, it uses a whole lemon in the filling. What I love better than lemon tart is really tart lemon tart, really lemony one. As it happens, I have been looking for recipes of lemon tart that is like Bonne-Maman's, the one I really like among those lemon tart(elette)s I can buy from a store. I wasn't very sure if this recipe was it, but I tried it anyways.

As I have said, this recipe uses the whole lemon in the filling like in the orange cakes I have recently made, but this time the citrus doesn't get boiled but used fresh; also, seeds are removed. It looks like this:

Thinly sliced lemon and sugar went into a blender and pureed until liquified, like this:

It looked already yummy (!) to me, although I was petrified with the amount of sugar the recipe tells me to put. I cut it down just a bit, trying to ease a sense of guilt.

For the dough I used the one I had made some time ago and kept in the freezer, instead of the one given in the book. And the filling was pretty easy to make, so it should have been a very easy task to make these tarts... but I am so terrible at lining molds with tart dough, so it took me a while to have the tart shelles ready. Also, as I don't have proper tartelette molds, I used ceramic ramekins (!) because they were the closest thing I saw in my kitchen.

I managed to make (somehow awkward) tartelette shells ready, filled them with lemon-egg-sugar-butter mixture, and figured that I didn't have enough tart shells for this amount of lemon filling; I ended up with making rather deep tarts. Ah well.

So my tartelettes au citron came out of the oven, smelling wonderfully lemony, and left to cool. They didn't look nowhere close to those beautiful lemon tarts sold at fancy pastry shops, but at least smelled lovely. And the first bite into it - ah - oh - it really was lemony. I mean, tart, and bitter. I remembered that the lemon I used looked to have rather thick peel, a white, spongy part that primarily gives the lemon its bitterness. The high proportion of that bitter part might have made the filling bitter accordingly, I suspected... I regard myself as a hard-core lover of lemon and anything lemon-flavored, but these ones were a bit too much even to me, let alone the general public.

Now I am guessing that a sweeter Meyer lemon would make really sweet and luscious lemon tartelettes. Also, this time my tartelettes were a bit too deep-dishy kind and thus had a lot of filling per tart, making the bitterness even more intense; a bit thinner tart would make a better balance of tart shell and filling. Maybe next time.

February 18, 2005

whole citrus experiments

I like this idea of using whole orange in cake. By "whole" I mean everything - zest, peel, pulp, seeds, everything. I first came across this idea almost a year ago in Clotilde's post about her experiment with a recipe from a Trish Deseine book called mes petits plats preferes (2002, Marabout), which has now become one of my favorite cookbooks. (The basically same recipe, by the way, can be found in here by Nigella Lawson.)

Soon after reading the post I tried the recipe myself to find the cake was really orange-y yet its texture was a bit too grainy. There were several factors that I could attribute the failure to; I didn't grind the almonds fine enough, I didn't blend the batter well enough, etc. I resolved to give it another try, I meant it - and forgotten for quite some time, until a couple of months ago when I found another such recipe in Donna Hay magazine Issue 16.

In Donna Hay's recipe, the idea was the same - boil and puree the whole oranges and blend in everything else to it to make the batter - but the composition of the ingredients was somewhat different; this one's got butter and flour in it, whereas Trish Deseine's and Nigella Lawson's use only oranges, sugar, eggs, ground almonds, and baking powder. I was interested in how these two similar but slightly different recipes would turn out.

And at the beginning of this year, I made whole-citrus cake "Trish Deseine/Nigella Lawson version". I used kumquats that were just in season back in Japan; in fact, it was the first cake I made this year - and it turned out pretty good.

This time I used store-bought fine ground almonds, and processed everything in a blender. The cake was extremely dense and moist, and yet refreshing thanks to kumquats, with which I also made compote and served with the cake. I was happy with the results this time.

Then yesterday I tried Donna Hay's recipe using ugly but juicy tangelo, a hybrid of tangerine and grapefruit. The making of batter is, again, like a breeze - once the oranges are cooked, the batter will be done in a matter of couple of minutes, although I was a little nervous about processing flour along with all the other ingredients. To me, blending flour too much in cake batter doesn't sound a very good idea as it could make the cake chewy and glutenous. But I followed the recipe anyways and put everything, including flour, in the blender and ran it.

The cake, it turned out, was pretty dense like the other one, but a bit too chewy as I had suspected. It tasted fine, especially with some strips of candied orange peel which gave a nice contrast of texture.

I don't know if that was because of overmixing flour or something else went wrong... while it tasted good, I still don't think this was successful enough for me to compare to the other cake and determine which one would be better. One thing I can tell now is that, if one isn't significantly better than the other, I'd go for the one that doesn't use butter... without it, the cake would still be very rich and tasty.

February 15, 2005

on (the day after) Valentine's Day

Much love to everyone! :)

Over the years in Japan St. Valentine's Day has somehow become a day on which girls give chocolate to their sweetheart, or someone they want to be their sweetheart, or just about any guy around them. Anyways, chocolate-giving ritual is a excessively commercialized event that is said to have been first promoted by a chocolate company, but there's nothing wrong with having an opportunity to show your love to someone you love, and personally I won't complain about having another excuse to eat chocolate.

Yesterday I made Torta alla Gianduia, a.k.a. chocolate hazelnut cake based on a recipe from book How to Be a Domestic Goddess (2001, Hyperion) by Nigella Lawson. I mentally bookmarked this recipe as soon as I got this book, waiting for a chance to get the imperative ingredient, namely, Nutella.

Nutella is an Italian chocolate hazelnut spread that has fanatical fans throughout Europe, often spread over toasts or biscuits, but many would just stick their spoon (or even finger) into the jar and lick it straight. I am also a fan of it, but never had baked cake with it - yeah, why not?

The cake batter was fairly easy to make, and since I reduced the amount to one-third (otherwise I would have had to empty the whole 14-oz jar just for the cake, awful) and baked them in small ramekins, the cooking time was also very short, making the cakes ready in an hour or so. Cakes once rose pretty high, and then shrank - not just vertically but horizontally as well, making the cakes look rather ugly. Oh well.

Now I would normally skip most kind of frosting/icing/grazing to decolate a cake, but this time I did make something like chocolate frosting in order to enhance the overall impression of Nutella; I had been told by a friend who had already tried this recipe that the cake didn't taste too much of Nutella despite all that much of it baked into the cake. With this kind of thing, you have to use a lot if you want to taste it, a lot more than you'd think enough... that is a scary idea, but it is true. So instead of increasing the amount of Nutella in the cake, I whipped up Nutella-frosting by simply combining Nutella, rum, and a bit of milk (I didn't have heavy cream in my fridge).

Well, it worked good. The cake was just perfectly sweet and nutty, slightly fudgy, and the gooey frosting (sort of) added an extra Nutella kick. I liked the cake a lot.

(By the way, the postmark you see in the first photo is from a city called Loveland in Colorado. It is a sweet name of a place to send a card of sweet-sweet love, for sure...)

February 13, 2005

snow in hawaii

On Saturday we went up to the top of Mauna Kea, the highest point in the state, where it was all covered with snow, true to its name "white mountain". Snow in Hawaii, that sounds crazy, but it is true - it is also highly convincing when you think about its altitude (13,796 ft or 4,205 m).

It was my third time being up there, but first time when there's snow. Even if I had seen snow on top of Mauna Kea from the distance, it was still pretty amazing being actually there. When we got there it was snowy and foggy, scary as visibility was so bad.

We did a bit of snowboarding (my first time ever in my entire life!) and it was fun, but since there was no lift to take you up to the top of a hill, we had to walk up. And when it is so high up on the mountain, just a bit of uphill waking is killing you... I sort of did three runs, but that was enough.

On the way back, we made a brief stop by an unsual alpine plant called silversword.

It now can only been seen at higher altitude levels on the Big Island and Maui, or so I overheard (there were a few guided tourist groups coming by). Those spiky "leaves" were really silver and looked pretty sharp. Interesting!

Foodwise, I baked some cookies in the morning before leaving. It seems that I am always making cookies for picnics... well, there's nothing wrong about it, right?

I made oatmeal-raisin and white choc & pistachio cookies, using recipes from book Neiman Marcus Cookbook by Kevin Garvin & John Harrisson (Clarkson Potter, 2003). It was my first time baking oatmeal raisin cookies from this book, and although I have used its white chocolate & macadamia nut cookies before, this time around I used their regular chocolate chip cookie recipe, replacing chocolate chips with white choc chips and raw pistachios. I first made the butter-sugar-egg mixture, divided into halves, and then proceeded as instructed in each recipes by putting respective ingredients.

I tried to make oatmeal-raisin cookies rather chewy, while white chocolate & nut cookies pretty crispier. And so they turned out, to my delight, and they were both yummy, calorific and energizing to a body tired from doing some high-altitude exercise... (and I'm all sore today).

*note: the comment problem has been fixed - my apologies to anyone who has tried to leave a comment during the last couple of days.

February 11, 2005

music in my kitchen (and dining and living room)

Santos mercifully picked me for this chain blogging a while ago, just to worry me :P and I have been half wondering what I would choose, and half thinking I could just pretend I've forgotten ;), but this morning I found out that Dagmar also got me tagged, so I figured I should just do it...

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

Seems like in the region of 1.5GB

The CD you last bought?

I can't even remember which one was the last I bought... I haven't been buying new CD or downloading music for so long! Although I am probably buying Fosbury by Tahiti 80.

What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

Well it was more than one week ago when I read the post by Santos, but I sort of remember I was playing an album called Broadway & 52nd by Us3 - can't remember the exact track on play right at the moment, but one of them.

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

1. All My Loving by the Beatles (in album With the Beatles).

It was where it all began, for me. It opened up the door to the world outside of my own country. I first got to know this song when I was 10 or 11 years old (not in 1963), and would sing along - or at least trying to mimic what I was hearing (because it was in English!).

2. Drops Of Jupiter by Train (in album Drops Of Jupiter).

3. Who Will Save Your Soul by Jewel (live in album Spirit, Japanese edition).

Not the one originally recorded for her first album Pieces of You. This specific title is a bonus track for the Japanese release. Her singing is much, much fuller, bolder in this live version.

4. Album Bossa Hula Nova by Lisa Ono.

I know this isn't a song, but really, I don't get to single out one out of all the tracks, because I have never even paid much attention to individual songs - I just listen to the album as a whole as a set, like I do with her other albums that I also like. Lisa Ono is a Japanese singer born and raised in Brazil, and do both classic and original bossa nova numbers. In this album she does some classic Hawaiian tunes with a twist of bossa nova.

5. The Puppy Song by Harry Nilsson (in album You've Got Mail - motion picture soundtrack)

O it's really hard to choose just five songs, but this one gets my vote because it has been my favorite tune to sing (in my head, though) as I cook.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

I had some idea as to who I pass this to, but while I have been lazing around all of them have been named... and as far as I can see, a lot of food bloggers have already gone through this. I have quite a few fellow blogger who I'd like to know what kind of music they'd have in their kitchen, but they don't blog in English. So I decided that I stop this here. Period. Thanks someone whoever started this...

(This has nothing to do with my music, but for just in case someone comes here just to see a food photo; goat milk yogurt with June Taylor Meyer Lemon marmalade. Yummy!)

February 9, 2005

crepe or pancake?

It was Shrove Tuesday yesterday, a day to eat pancakes, so they say. Personally, I have never celebrated it by eating pancakes on this day, but this year I saw a lot of bloggers doing it, including my friend Naoko (her blog in Japanese) in Sheffield, UK, and she pointed me to an easy pancake recipe. It somehow didn't seem like a bad idea to celebrate some kind of seasonal event when I just missed Setsubun or traditional Japanese end-of-winter bean-throwing day (refer to this for further information), and it was also interesting to me that the thin and large pancakes they make are actually more like crepes. So I decided that it wouldn't hurt if I try.

Actually, I could hurt because I am so bad at making sweets in a pan/skillet. Pancakes and crepes have been among the things I would least want to try, as I have wasted a lot of eggs, sugar and flour in attempting to making them as a kid.

And this time, although the recipe was pretty straightforward and well-detailed, it didn't help me much when it comes to cooking a pancake; first, I might probably be really bad pancake maker by nature, and second, the skillet I have is basically as bad as I am at baking delicate things like thin pancakes. I followed the process with my every attention, but I ended up throwing away my first pancake, and the rest didn't even come out round-shaped; the batter of the first batch got burned and stacked right on the center of the bottom of skillet and wouldn't peel off, so I just used one half of the skillet, avoiding the burned part in the middle.

Even if they were semicircle instead of full-circle, my pancakes managed to survive as a decent nosh. It appears that sugar & lemon is what they traditionally have in the UK, I had mine with a bit different fillings.

One turned into a butter & marmalade pancake. I used June Taylor's Blood Orange marmalade, which was sweet and full-bodied, perfect to subtly sweeten the plain, unsweetened pancake.

Another one was dressed up with a simple delight of butter, sugar, and salt. Crystal-like cassonade and fleur de sel did a great job here, both in taste and as a visual effect.

I had five small semicircles in total, and other three were munched up with the marmalade, butter & cinnamon sugar, and nutella. All in all, it was a fun experiment making pancakes, but I'm not sure if I want do this very often... if I ever do, I should note that I should better add some vanilla extract to the batter (I didn't like the egginess of it), and I really should get better equipment.

February 7, 2005

a real Dutch treat (no, it was all on me)

If you happen to have read oneof my old (actually, oldest) posts (picture here), you might probably know that I love Dutch stroopwafels. Stroopwafel, sometimes called caramel wafer or syrup cookie, is a sandwich of two extra-thin, hard and crisp wafers filled with caramel-y syrup. It is pretty sweet, but irresistible - that's all I can say. It is highly challenging for me to restrict myself from buying stack of them every time I see them at a store, and to stop eating all up once I have opened a bag/box at home (but I manage to do so as a sensible adult).

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have some resources to obtain decent stroopwafels nearby, such as Shady Maple Farm's Maple Waffles or Lady Walton's, and I am fortunate enough to have a thoughtful friend who have sent me some Daelmans mini "caramel bites", which are delicious but not available in my neighborhood. On my last visit to Japan I got myself a package of Kanjers stroopwafels, which I manage to tightly store in a cupboard for a rainy day.

What I have already eaten is ones I got at Starbucks - not ones in the States but Japanese ones. I knew Starbucks's got quite different product ranges from a country to another, and I am not sure if American ones have those stroopwafels... I doubt it, though.

These are made in the Netherlands, and tasted just as good as most other ready-made stroopwafels, and although it suggests that you should put it on a cup of hot coffee (naturally) to warm up the waffle (that's the way to do it - wafers got a bit tender and full-flavored, while the caramel filling becomes soft and syrup-y, aaaaah), I had it on a cup of strong Assam tea with milk. It was a nice little afternoon treat, while I was lazily calling the day to my mind... the day in Prague when we got a large, hot, right-out-of-the-iron Stroopwafel from a street stall, shared it as we walked away, and aahed and oohed about how delicious it was, and went straight back to the line for more waffles...

(And he's got pretty large hands...)

February 3, 2005

all spiced up

As if I didn't have enough chocolate while in Japan, I brought back some more chocolate from there... this time a bit more luxury one.

I got this rather small box of chocolate called Les Quatre Elements at a Tokyo Godiva shop. I had seen it on their website since last autumn but could not find it in Hawaii - I suspect they don't have it in the US. In Europe Godiva does have one, although they simply call it Les Elements. I wonder why they added "quatre" to its Japanese version.

Anyways, as its name "four elements" indicates, there are four pieces of chocolate nested in the box, each representing one of the four elements: fire, water, earth, and wind. And all of them are designed and flavored inspired by the respective elements, as follows:

Fire - passion: bitter chocolate ganache with ginger and cayenne pepper
Water - relaxation: white chocolate ganache with dill
Earth - concentration: milk chocolate ganache with rosemary
Wind - vitality: bitter chocolate ganache with 13 spices of curry

As far as I can remember, this must been the first time for me buying a Godiva chocolate for myself to eat. Honestly, it is a "when I buy it it's for someone else, and when I eat it it's from someone else" kind of item to me at least. Besides, I have never really been tempted to buy a Godiva chocolate anyways (personally I much prefer Neuhaus if I'd choose a Belgian chocolate). But since it was a mix of spice & herb chocolate, I had been very much tempted to try.

So I tried everything of course (I did share them with him, though).

Frankly, they were all good, really got a flavor of respective heab/spices - even curry one. Chocolate with curry may not sound highly palatable, but it was only slightly curry-like; there was just a hint of all the different kinds of spices, and actually I wouldn't even have figured it was "curry" flavor if I hadn't known. Well I particularly liked "fire" and "earth", probably because I love ginger and rosemary. Only thing I would complain is a) they are a bit too expensive to buy a lot and b) they aren't available in here anyways.

And speaking of chocolate with spice, I got a bar of dark chocolate with wasabi, ginger and black sesame seeds called "Naga Bar" from Vosges in Honolulu, at Neiman Marcus in Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Well I bought it before heading for Japan and never even opened it, and it was right before leaving for Hawaii when I read Heidi's post about brownie using Naga Bar, and thought oh! I got this!

In the end I took it all the way back to Hawaii again, and just recently opened it, finally. When I opened the package, it didn't even smell of spice, but there was just an aroma of good dark chocolate. One bite, hum, it doesn't taste like ginger or wasabi... and then, all of sudden, a kick of wasabi emerged, and lingered on for a while. Now I could definitely tell the taste of wasabi, even if it was still a lot more subtle than I had expected. I didn't taste too much of ginger in it, either. It was very discreet.

Black sesame seeds were visible at least, and the chocolate itself was neatly designed by the way (mouse over the image). I browsed their website and was really excited with all the flavors they have, and nearly splurged on a box of exotic truffles, only to realize the shipping charge was just ridiculous. Twenty-five dollars for a box of truffle might be acceptable especially if it was for a special occasion, but a shipping costing more than that can't be an option for me... I will probably have to wait till next time I am in Oahu maybe.

So the wasabi-ginger chocolate is gone, but I still have a stack of spicy/herby chocolate from my last trip to the mainland. DAGOBA's got a pretty appealing line of chocolate of uncommon flavors, including lavender and blueberries I tried a while ago. This time I got more:

Chai (milk chocolate with chai spices and crystallized ginger bits), mint (dark chocolate with mint and a hint of rosemary), xocolatl (dark chocolate with chili, cacao nibs, maca, nutmeg, and vanilla), lime (dark chocolate with lime and macadamia nuts), and lavender. I have tried them all (eh, I got two of each) and they were all good - I really liked mint (w/rosemary) and xocolatl among others.

Since I read the above-linked post by Heidi, I have been wondering how it would turn out if I make chocolate cake/brownies using such herbs and spices instead of using readily-flavored chocolate bars. Chocolate cake with chili has been known to be good, then how about wasabi chocolate cake? Rosemary brownies, maybe? I should give it a try one of these days, as I happen to have more than 2 pounds of Valrhona dark chocolate!