2016: My Year in Travel

I try not to make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of every year. I don’t enjoy putting pressure on myself to lose X amount of weight or eat less of this or that. I try to live my life day to day and while I do make conscious efforts to go to the gym, maintain a healthy weight and cook (mostly) balanced food, I do my best not to wait until January 1st rolls around to do so.

nye-2016
New Years Eve 2015!

BUT, I knew 2016 was going to be a big year for me. Even before it started, I had quite a few travel plans lined up both work and wedding-related. So I made a secret resolution to try to escape from normalcy just once a month during 2016, whether it was by plane or car, just going somewhere different. Even if it was in my New Hampshire backyard or my home state of Massachusetts.

I’m happy to say I kicked that resolution’s butt.

I’m not a “travel blogger” by any means. In fact, I haven’t written much about my travel experiences, but I consider myself a traveler through and through. I love seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, foods, people. And if I’m being completely honest, I love the touristy crap as much as the next person (give me ALL the museums!)

I was very lucky growing up because my family traveled a lot. My dad worked for two international airlines during his life, benefiting my mom, sister and myself with European adventures most kids don’t get to have. I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences would instill in me a travel bug that would only get stronger as I got older. And while it’s true that I would almost always rather fly than drive (and lots of whining ensues if we do drive), I’ve never turned down an opportunity to travel.

Back to 2016. It brought with it new a country, a few new states, and a vast amount of cities I had never seen before. While I could write a post that goes on forever about every single thing I did and probably bore you to tears, here are the highlights over the course of the year.

January. 2016 started with my first ever trip to California. I knew I’d be hooked the moment I got there. My husband, who was my fiance at the time, joked that we’d probably not get married because I’d fall in love with Cali and never come back. (Spoiler alert: I did come back.) I headed to LA just after the new year for a business trip to the Golden Globes where my company took on the title of Official Confection for the awards show/ (I know, I know… my job sucks.) Though we did work almost the entire time we were there, we did have 1 extra day after the awards before flying home to do some site-seeing (and eating…)

  • wanderlust
    Breakfast at the Wanderlust Cafe in Los Angeles. It’s kind of out of the way, but trust me, it’s worth it.
gg-1
The Weinstein-Netflix Golden Globes After Party 2016

February. A low-key month. I surprised Sean with a quick trip down to Boston to have dinner at the Top of the Hub to celebrate his 30th birthday. It wasn’t exactly “jet-setting” off to a new place but later that month we also went back to Boston to attend the Boston Wine Expo, which many of you know, is one of my favorite local events of the entire year. We stayed at Aloft Boston, which was new last year (and has since gotten pricier) but it has a super modern vibe and comfy accommodations. Be sure to stay tuned next month here on the blog, as well as my Twitter and Instagram for chances to win tickets to the 2017 Boston Wine Expo February 18-19!

toth
The Top of the Hub is a great place for a special occasion, but if you’ve never been there, keep in mind it’s definitely high-end and on the expensive side.
bwe
A snapshot of the 2016 Boston Wine Expo!

March. I boarded a flight for another first: Nashville. My boss (who also happens to be one of my closest friends) has family there so we spent a long weekend at her dad’s house and hit all of the typical Lower Broadway bars and hot spots during the trip. We also had breakfast at the famous Loveless Cafe which was every bit worth the 2 hour wait. They have super cute shops to pass the time and I brought home Tennessee-made products as souvenirs which is always something I strive to do when I’m in a new place. No offense to those “Made in Taiwan” trinkets, but those are less my style. Her dad even got us tickets to the Grand Ole Opry where we sang along to Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Rock Me.”

Nashville 1.JPG

April. Yet another first: Salt Lake City. This was a work trip but work trips when you do social media and event planning for a chocolate company are never boring. We sponsored a lounge at a blogger conference and also hosted a special dinner for local influencers. It was a hit! I love planning these types of events because it brings so many cool people together and not only are we able to bond over the world of social media but also chocolate. Always a win-win situation.

slc-1
Highly recommend Bambara if you find yourself in SLC. Fantastic food and a wonderful staff. Our Lindt Influencer Dinner could not have been better.

May. Two words: Bachelorette Party. Two more words: Portland, Maine. And not just any bachelorette party, MY bachelorette party. My sister (who was my Maid of Honor) and my bridesmaids threw me an EPIC weekend in Portland complete with a low-key sleepover night in with pizza and games, a full day of beer tasting and touring and other special things at Allagash Brewing Company, an amazing dinner at The Old Port Sea Grille and night out where I danced my shoes off at probably the diveiest but most fun bar we could find , and then even more amazing food the next day at DuckFat (get the poutine!!) before rounding out the weekend getting coffee and The Holy Donut for the ride home. Brides, if you are looking for a destination for your bachelorette party, Portland is a must!

portland-1
Myself and my beer-loving, bachelorette-partying friends at Allagash Brewing Company at the end of our tour.
travel-post-holy-donut
Half a dozen donuts = #WeddingDiet

June. Then I got married. Yup, crazy. They tell you it’s the best day of your life and also the fastest and it couldn’t have been more true. Our wedding took place in my hometown church where I grew up and then our reception was at a country club in a quaint Massachusetts north shore town. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

© Jillian Knight Photography 2016 www.jillianknight.com
Wedding Photography by Jillian Knight Photography

We chased the wedding with 11 days and 10 nights at the all-inclusive Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. The smaller of the two Couples Negril resorts, it was intimate without being too small or cramped and we had a ridiculous amount of fun. We splurged on a suite which I highly recommend for a honeymoon in paradise. It opened right out to the gardens, was just a short walk to the beach and had a deck complete with a hammock that we laid in to relax and read during a few afternoon rain showers.

couples

hammock.jpg
Hammock time!
flag.JPG
Stick your flag in the sand, get a drink. I could get used to this.

In between laying on the beach every morning (bottomless mimosas in hand) and sailing every afternoon, Sean and I also got to explore some of the beautiful island of Jamaica. We spent one morning ziplining and visiting a local mineral spring and another entire day on a special excursion:the Black River safari, rope swinging into the stunning YS Falls and touring the famous Appleton Estate Rum Factory. I couldn’t recommend that all day excursion enough if you ever find yourself in Jamaica. It was quite a drive from our resort but our driver was not only super friendly but pointed out lots of interesting things during the day.

sailing

honeymoon

July. We headed down to Connecticut for a good friend’s wedding. I don’t get to Connecticut much even though it’s only a few hours and 1 state away, but we had a really fun time at the wedding and got to spend it with all of my wonderful dance friends, who by now, are more like family. Plus, we figured out that all of our dress colors made a rainbow. (Just missing the bride who would’ve been the perfect white cloud at the end of this rainbow!)

dp-wedding

August. Another trip, another first. Our good friends invited us to stay with them for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard and Sean and I jumped on the chance right away. Neither of us had ever been to the Vineyard before but after spending a few days there, I couldn’t believe I waited 28 years of my life to visit. We spent a day at Long Point beach, visited local brewery Bad Martha (which I loved), and enjoyed dinner at The Port Hunter, where the host came over and de-boned my friend’s whole fish dinner in 10 seconds flat. We had snacks and beers at Offshore Ale, late-night drinks at 20byNine, and visited the lighthouse at Gay Head. All recommended for a wonderful weekend away.

mv
The most perfect day on the Vineyard.

September. This was a crazy month, but not in the travel sense. I took on TWO new dance jobs and got promoted at Lindt. My life went from full time wedding planning to somewhat on the quiet side during the 2 months following and then ramped right back up again into the high gear, fast-paced life that I’m much more used to. But before all of that craziness kicked in, Sean and I got the chance to go down to the Newburyport/Salisbury area of Massachusetts, which is just south of the New Hampshire border, to visit one of our favorite summer spots, The Deck, which also happens to belong to an old friend of mine. They’ve recently expanded their main deck overlooking the ocean and we enjoyed beers, calamari and homemade guac during one of the last really nice days of the season.

newburyport
Not a bad place to spend the last of summer.

October. Back to Salt Lake City for work yet again, this time to sponsor the Better Blog Retreat with some of the most influential bloggers in the food and lifestyle space. This conference is much smaller than the one we did earlier in the year in SLC and we hosted a LINDOR Hot Chocolate Bar. It was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up and it was fun to see everyone’s chocolate concoctions. Pro tip: the best hot cocoa is hot milk and 2-3 LINDOR truffles melted and mixed in. Bonus points if you splash in some whipped cream vodka, because why the hell not?

slc-2
Just another day at the office.

November. Once a year, Sean and I drive north to spend a few hours in Ogunquit, Maine. It’s a really special place to us for a number of reasons: it’s the spot Sean took me on our first date back in August 2012. The following summer we went back just to walk around and enjoy the ocean and the town. No surprise by now, but it’s where Sean got down on one knee in 2014 and asked me to marry him and where we took our engagement photos in 2015. 4 years later, we took our 5th trip to the Marginal Way walk in Perkins Cove and while it was way colder than year than the 68 degree day when he proposed, it was every bit as special.

perkins-cove
Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquit-2
The same walk we took on our first date, the day Sean proposed, and for our engagement photos.

This year was also the first time that I did not spend Thanksgiving in Maine with my family. Instead, we took a road trip down to Maryland with Sean’s parents to visit my sister-in-law and her husband. I’m not really a car person and  dreaded the 8-10 hour drive the week leading up to it but thanks to downloaded movies, a few books, and my friend Dramamine, the drives down and back weren’t bad at all!

thanksgiving-in-pa
Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania and I didn’t even have to wear a winter coat!

We toured Washington D.C. two of the days were there, and had Thanksgiving itself in Pennsylvania with my brother-in-law’s family. We also stopped in PA on the way home to pick up my in-laws’ new Yorkie puppy, Tucker, so it was a multi-state trip and so much fun.

loc
The whole fam in the Library of Congress.

I got particularly excited about the Julia Child exhibit in the American History Museum. While the rest of my family explored the FOOD section, I hovered around the kitchen and all of the things that went along with it. Safe to say I was fangirling hardcore.

jc-kitchen
Julia Child’s Kitchen!!!

December. Maine & Rhode Island both for friend/family/Christmas-related things. Quick ttips in both directions, and nothing particularly huge to write home about, but still a fun few weekends to round out what was probably the busiest (and best!) year of my life so far.

travel-post-christmas
Our 1st Christmas (Eve) as Mr. & Mrs!

The big question is… how do I top this in 2017? Well, I may not have as many trips on the calendar (yet) but I have a few ideas up my sleeve. I think it’s high time I make my way back to Europe; 5 years is too long to be away. So far, here’s the line-up:

January. California!! Back to the Golden Globes for the 2nd year (we leave this coming Wednesday!) for more fun in the celebrity backstage lounge, throwing an influencer event in West Hollywood, and ending the night at the Weinstein-Netflix after party. Then, when my team flies home the following Monday, Sean is flying in to spend the rest of the week exploring LA, Anaheim (including a Ducks game and DISNEY LAND!), and San Diego with me.

February. No major traveling, but we are spending a weekend in Boston for the 2017 Boston Wine Expo (more details to come!) Be sure to check back in January for a chance to win tickets to this year’s event – it’s going to be another awesome year. And if you just can’t wait for a chance to win tickets, use code BLOGGERTASTE17 at your ticket check out for a special discount.

March. 2 confirmed trips this month! Going back to Nashville for the second year in a row and taking my college dance team to nationals in Anaheim at the end of the month. (GO SNHU!)

April. A trip to Texas for work that may or may not include a quick stint in Waco to visit my favorite HGTV couple, but we’ll see…

May. Down to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding!

June. One weekend we’ll spend in the seaside town of Gloucester, Mass. for a childhood friend’s wedding and then another weekend down in Providence, Rhode Island for a fraternity friend’s wedding. All the love!

Summer. Potential trip to Kansas to see Sean’s grandparents for a long weekend. Maybe a road trip to Burlington, Vermont to celebrate my 29th birthday and our 1-year anniversary?? TBD.

Fall. England?? Paris?? Buy a house in New Hampshire?? I guess we’ll see what happens!

At this point, I think I’ll make another not-so-secret resolution for 2017 to once again escape the everyday once a month. Even if it’s just to another corner of New Hampshire, I don’t foresee this travel bug going away any time soon.

2016, you were amazing. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

If you have LA, Anaheim or San Diego recommendations for things to see, do, eat, please send them my way!

Follow my adventures on Twitter, Instagram, and of course, Snapchat (@marietorto)!

Boston Wine Expo Then and Now (& GIVEAWAY)

I should probably rename this blog to “Better Late Than Never” given the amount of time that lapses between updates around here. I should take up blogging full time. (That would pretty great.) But then I remember I have these things called school loans and I quickly dive back into the corporate chocolate world, which, believe me, is not a bad world to live in.

But I digress. It’s time to talk about one of my favorite times of year that is rapidly approaching! Being a life long New Englander, I don’t really love the actual month of February because it tends to be freezing cold and snowy where I live. BUT my fiance’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and the Boston Wine Expo all take place in February so makes up for the fact that I’m pretty much an icicle the whole month. Sean turns the big 30 this year and I have a few things up my sleeve for that milestone. And while Valentine’s Day isn’t a huge holiday for the two of us, it is the same weekend as the Boston Wine Expo, so we turn it into a weekend in Boston and it’s a win-win all around.

My Expo partner for life.

The Boston Wine Expo is entering it’s 25th year and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of it. Winemakers from all over the world will set up in the Seaport Convention Center for two days, and even that doesn’t seem like long enough. The Expo also has a wonderful series of semimars that attendees can purchase ahead of time to learn even more about particular wine topics that may interest them. (Like the chocolate and wine pairing one? Um. HELLO.) I’ve also gotten to take part in 2 Twitter tastings with Hope Family Wines and it’s only amped up the excitement even more.

This will be my third year attending thanks to the wonderful BWE people. No longer a rookie to the Expo, I knew what to expect last year and already know what I’m looking forward to this year. Last year, Sean and I were given access onto the show floor two hours before it opened to the general public and we used that time hitting some of the larger distributors and vendors we knew would be swamped later in the day. We also started snacking early, after remembering from the previous year, our rookie year in 2014, how easy it is to lose track of how many wine samples you’ve had and forgetting to eat completely. That is probably the #1 downfall of participants at an expo of this scale – going too fast out of the gate and not remembering that food is key. And don’t worry, there are plenty of vendors on the perimeter of the floor passing out much-needed snacks.

BWE 15 3

Tickets for the 2016 Boston Wine Expo are on sale now and I highly HIGHLY recommend getting a VIP pass for BOTH days of the event. One day is simply not enough. Last year, our weekend was cut short because of a snowstorm so I am crossing my fingers that doesn’t happen again. I promise you will get your money’s worth in wine tastings alone, never mind the food and snack vendors on-site, and the invaluable information you will learn about wine and culture along with the rare varietals you’ll experience.

Would you like to attend the Boston Wine Expo on Sunday, February 14th this year?

I’m giving away a pair of tickets to this year’s event!

TO ENTER (Mandatory Entry):  Leave a comment telling me what your favorite wine of all time is. (Yes, I realize that is an extremely difficult question so dig deep!) It can be red, white, sparkling, whatever you’re go-to is or a wine that you had once and are dying to have again.

Extra Extries:

  1. Follow @ChocoAndWine on Twitter and leave a comment telling me you did.
  2. Follow @BostonWineExpo on Twitter and leave a comment telling me you did.
  3. Follow @MarieTorto on Instagram and leave me a comment telling me you did.
  4. Follow @MarieAnneTorto on Pinterest and leave a comment telling me you did.

Good Luck! I will choose a winner a random on Monday, January 25th.

Cheers to another Boston Wine Expo!
Cheers to another Boston Wine Expo!

#SpritzerSeason with Barefoot Wine

I am holding onto summer with every fiber of my being.

Every. Single. Fiber.

This summer was nothing short of fantastic and I’m not quite ready to let it go. I said goodbye to my mid-twenties (and hello to 27), tried disc golfing for the first time, Sean and I had our engagement photos taken (!!!), we went to St. Maarten to watch his sister get married, and then proceeded to watch 3 more sets of friends get married. For the most part, the weather was beautiful, and now that we live somewhere with a back porch (albeit tiny), we adorned it with two Adirondack chairs, a bistro table and a very expensive high-quality grill, transforming it into a little piece of #heaven.

Disc Golfing. I'm bad at it.
Disc Golfing. I’m bad at it.
Apparently this is what turning 27 looks like. It looks a lot like turning 22 to me....
Apparently this is what turning 27 looks like. It looks a lot like turning 22 to me….
I bribed Sean with beer to be good at engagement photos. It worked.
How cute are these chairs? More about the wine in a hot sec...
How cute are these chairs? More about the wine in a hot sec…

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love everything about fall. I love the sweaters, the boots, apple picking, cider, PUMPKIN ALL THE THINGS. I am a New England girl through and through. But after last winter (I see you Juno….) I feel the need to have summer a little bit longer. I will not let it go until the official first day of fall. Who’s with me?

Barefoot. Barefoot is with me. 

Heaven.

It should come as no surprise that I love dry wine. The dryer the better. Usually of the California or Italian variety. To me, there’s almost nothing better than that dusty mouthfeel after sipping the driest of reds. But sometimes, especially in the summertime, you need something a little sweeter, a little bubblier. Spritz-like. Enter Barefoot Refresh: cold, bubbly. The perfect addition to my wine collection.

barefoot 6

It’s rare that I forgo my tried-and-true reds, but this summer was full of hot days. And I mean H-O-T. When it’s 90+ degrees and I’m sitting by the pool or on the deck, nothing really compares to a wine that is both cold and refreshing. Earlier this summer when Barefoot introduced me to their Spritzer collection, I was immediately hooked. It’s the perfect sipping wine when you’re kicking back and enjoying the lazy days of summer (or clinging dearly to the few you have left.) Whatever you are in the mood for, Barefoot’s got you covered. Want something juicy? Their summer red blend will quench your thirst. Opting for something with a little more acid and bite? Their white is right up your alley.

There was no formal pairing here, but watermelton + white spritzer = real good.
There was no formal pairing here, but watermelton + white spritzer = real good.

My favorite may actually surprise you. This year has been a year of branching out for me. I enjoy beer now (what?) and I’ve also really gotten into whites. So in this case, Barefoot’s Sweet California Spritzer was the one I kept coming back to. And if you ask me, it’s never a bad time of year to enjoy this kind of wine. And luckily, there’s still a solid week of summer left, so you still have plenty of time!

If you need me, I’ll be on the porch with a bottle of Barefoot, soaking in the sun and holding onto summer for a few more days.

Excuse me while I make this my life.
Excuse me while I make this my life.

Did you get a chance to try Barefoot’s Spritzer Collection this summer? Which one was your favorite?

Disclosure: Barefoot provided bottles of their Spritzer Wine to me free of charge in return for my review. As always, all opinions here are my own.

Brunch at the Beat Brasserie

I love brunch. Everything from pancakes, to french toast, omelets and even the occasional burrito. All topped off with a mimosa. I mean, what could be better on a Sunday morning?

In addition to loving brunch, I also love trying new places for brunch. When the Boston Brunchers had an upcoming event at the Beat Brasserie (aka Beat Hotel) in Cambridge, I jumped at the chance.

beat sign

I used to go to Boston Bruncher events pretty often. When I got a job and moved to New Hampshire, they became further between, mostly because getting to the city on a Sunday morning is usually on the tough side. But this particular Sunday, which also happened to be the same day as the Super Bowl, it was perfect timing. Fiance (I love calling him that…) slept in, while I got up and headed to Cambridge. As I drove down, I realized the last time I went to a Boston Bruncher brunch was 2 full years ago!  Definitely not letting that much time pass between these brunches again!

I was the first to arrive at the Beat Brasserie and took in the atmosphere. It had an eclectic, yet cozy feel that I immediately enjoyed. Chandeliers of merlot-colored beads hung draped around the restaurant providing a warm glow, and there was an empty band set up at the very back of the floor that would eventually have musicians behind it to play for us while we ate.

I sat at a table with Lianna, Taryn and Melissa. We decided to order a bunch of things for the table and share, starting with the Caramelized Apple and Cranberry Coffee Cake.

apple cran bread

This cake was everything I wanted in coffee cake and more. It was super decadent and rich, but the flavors of the apples and cranberries really came through. I could’ve eaten the entire piece by myself with no problem. It also came with a dollop of cinnamon honey butter which was like an added layer of crack onto this already addicting slice of heaven.

I also went with a traditional mimosa as my drink of choice. Normally, I try to order a specialty house drink when I am at a new brunch place but was feeling like a tried and true brunch staple that day. It did not disappoint. I had two. And maybe four cups of coffee. And a gallon of water. I don’t think my water glass was ever empty. Needless to say, I was hydrated and the staff was really conscious and helpful.

 photo

It wasn’t long before we had an entire table covered in food.

pancakes

 Eggs Bene

omelet

Everything from Wild Flower Honey and Lemon Pancakes to Braised Short Ribs Eggs Benedict to a Mushroom & Fontina omelet with steak frites and a side salad. There was even delicious lamb sausage that was surprisingly spicy (in a good way) and what they called the Bowl Azteca with Faroe Island Salmon that I did not try. The four of us took a little bit of each dish to sample (after snapping photos of course!)

The pancakes were light and airy, and came with a sweet berry compote that complimented the pancakes nicely. There was also a spoonful of the same cinnamon honey butter from earlier on top, but the pancakes were so flavorful and pillowy on their own, I didn’t think they really needed any extra butter. However, getting a bit of pancake and berry compote together in one bite was pancake heaven. The omelet was good; I’m always a sucker for fontina cheese, but slightly underwhelming compared to the pancakes. By far, my favorite was definitely the Eggs Bennie, and it was a hit among my co-brunchers as well. The braised short ribs were buttery and rich, the egg perfectly poached, and the side salad was dressed just enough (no one likes soggy salad.) It was an innovative take on one of my all-time favorite breakfast foods and certainly did not disappoint.

The entire morning was relaxing, not one bit rushed, and I left feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle my Sunday (which included making these De-Pudged Piggies in a Blanket, screaming way too loud at the TV during the Super Bowl, and crying when the Patriots won the whole thing.)

Have you tried the Beat Brasserie for brunch? What was your favorite thing on the menu?

beat brunch

Disclaimer: Brunch was provided to me free of charge in return for my review. But, as always, all opinions are my own.

Life Lately (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Things have been pretty crazy over here since I last posted way waaaay too long ago. One of my goals for 2015 is to blog more so hopefully I will have lots to say this year!

And because I’ve been away for a while, I did want to give a quick (and very special) update to precede the amazing giveaway at the end of this post. (Don’t miss it!!)

In a blog post from January 2013 (wow, that seems like so long ago), I mentioned that I had met a guy and fallen for him hard during my summer in London. Fast forward 2(+) years from that summer, he stuck around. He made me happy. We even got a cat.

Then, this past October, he did something that made me cry harder than I ever had before. He got down on one knee in the place he took me on our first date (Ogunquit, Maine) and asked me to marry him.

ogunquit

It was a surreal experience. In the minutes, hours, weeks to follow there were hundreds of phone calls, texts, emails, social notifications, glasses of champagne, congratulations and a whirlwind of thoughts: “OMG I’M ENGAGED. WHAT NOW? WHAT NOW?”

I calmed down eventually.

We picked a date, a venue, a photographer, and I’m happy to say I have lots of time to plan, stress, probably cry once or twice or many times, and enjoy all of the champagne my heart desires. And being engaged to Sean also means I get an official drinking partner for the rest of my life. So awesome.

engaged

And speaking of a drinking partner, Sean and I will be attending the Boston Wine Expo for the second year in a row next weekend! The perfect Valentine’s Day excursion.

It’s no surprise that Sean and I love wine. Our love of red wine in particular was an early common thread between the two of us – Sean even brought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignion for us to enjoy on our first date (Fetzer) and it is still a tried and true favorite of ours.

Last year at the Expo, we sampled glass after glass of wine from all over the world and learned about each wine and vineyard individually. The Expo is a giant trade floor set up by country with each respective flag hanging over a portion of the floor. The wine booths are also flanked by different food vendors handing out samples so you can snack your way through the wine tastings.

Memories from the BWE14!
Memories from the BWE14!

SORRY, THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.

Want to go to the 2015 Boston Wine Expo? You’re in luck! I have one pair of tickets that I’m giving away for next Sunday’s Grand Tasting event! (Sunday, February 15th from 1pm-5pm at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.)

I promise this is an event you will NOT want to miss!

To enter:

Simply leave a comment and tell me what you’d look forward to the most if you got to attend the Expo. (Need inspiration? Check out their website and their Facebook page!) Make sure you include your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win!

Want 2 extra entries? Follow @ChocoAndWine on Twitter and @BostonWineExpo on Twitter, tell me you did in the comments, and I’ll give you an extra entry for each follow!

Good luck! I’ll pick a winner on Wednesday, February 11th.

Congratulations Nell! (Comment #18!)

Capture1

oysters

*The Boston Wine Expo sends Chocolate & Wine to the event, and provides the giveaway tickets, but all opinions are, as always, my own.

Chocolate Therapy

It’s no surprise that I love chocolate.

Heaven?
Heaven? Is that you?

I work for a chocolate company. Eat my fair share chocolate on a regular basis. And, oh yeah, my blog title is all about chocolate. And wine. Which is the perfect lead in for this post.

Chocolate Therapy: Sweet Remedies, located in Framingham and Dedham, Massachusetts, offers a workshop that pairs their handcrafted chocolate delicacies with different types of wine. Owned by husband and wife duo, David and Pam, the workshop was unique from other pairings I’ve taken part in, if not only for the innovative creations they are becoming known for. The obvious passion and love for their craft also shines through in their welcoming, chocolate-filled shop.

They were as sweet as the chocolates they make!
They were as sweet as the chocolates they make!

At Chocolate Therapy: Sweet Remedies, their mission statement is all about using chocolate as a healthy way to indulge your soul. And that’s what we got out of the workshop – a little bit of education, and a whole lot of indulgence.

All good things in this photo.
All good things in this photo.

First, Pam went through the differences of the different types of chocolate that were on our plates, explaining what makes white chocolate distinctly different from milk and dark chocolate. She also explained how their chocolate creations are made with Belgian chocolate, which was a fun departure from the Swiss chocolate I know very well.

I was also thoroughly impressed when I asked how long it takes for them to turn innovative ideas into actual physical creations you find in their storefront cases. Their answer? 2 days, sometimes less! That really blew me away.

This brick of Belgian chocolate is approximately 25,000 calories.... Yum.
This brick of Belgian chocolate is approximately 25,000 calories…. Yum.

After getting background about how and where cocoa beans are harvested and how she and David went into the chocolate-making business after spending years in the corporate world, we then dove headfirst into the pairing portion of the workshop.

The first chocolate was called a “Pom Balm” – dark chocolate ganache, pomegranate molasses, dusted in purple cocoa butter luster. It was paired with a crisp and light Pinot Grigio from Italy. Now, I am not usually a pomegranate fan. I don’t enjoy the effort it takes to eat the seeds from one, nor do I enjoy Pom juice. But this chocolate? I wanted more. It was sweet and silky and the taste really popped in your mouth when eaten with a sip of the Pinot Grigio.

The second pairing was a milk chocolate truffle and Californian Petit Syrah. This was the most familiar chocolate to me out of the group, except for the fact that it too was dusted in a cocoa luster, this time gold. The milk chocolate melted in your mouth, especially when the Petit Syrah was sipped along with it. A very interesting and complex take on milk chocolate.

The third was by far the most out-of-the-box for me. The chocolate itself, a Blueberry Lemon Basil truffle, was exotic and unexpected, with layer upon layer of flavor. I love blueberry and lemon together, but the basil really elevated the chocolate, and the whole thing was coated in dark chocolate ganache. It was paired with a Merlot from California, but I could’ve eaten a dozen of these truffles with no beverage whatsoever. If you love trying new things, this is the truffle for you.

Layers of complex flavors.
Layers of complex flavors.

Finally, salty and sweet come together harmoniously in the Sea Salt Caramel truffle that was set to be paired with a dry sherry from Spain. The buttery caramel, made with Tahitian vanilla, was dipped in dark chocolate and finished with a sprinkling of pink Himalayan sea salt. It really mellowed out the sherry, which I usually find to have a harsh flavor. The two married well together to result in a wonderful finale to the pairings.

After the tastings, the couple unveiled a fun secret: They had created a life-size chocolate goat for an upcoming event that was still in the back room of the shop. Yes, you read that right – a life-size GOAT made of chocolate. It was fantastic and incredibly realistic looking. Truly a chocolate masterpiece.

It was holding a real boot in its mouth. Hilarious.
It was holding a real boot in its mouth. Hilarious.

Overall, my time at Chocolate Therapy was educational, indulgent and well spent. I even bought a goodie bag to take home (which was gone the next day after dinner.) I would highly recommend Chocolate Therapy for a date night, girl’s night out or an after-hours work excursion.

Everything from homemade peanut butter cups to a milk chocolate truffle with champagne inclusions!
Everything from homemade peanut butter cups to a milk chocolate truffle with champagne inclusions!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Chocolate Therapy workshop at Sweet Remedies. All opinions are, as always, my own.

Del Terruno

Back in April when Sean and I went to the Boston Wine Expo, we were given access to the exclusive Vintner’s Lounge. There, we tried extra dry Italian red wines, shooters in the half shell and the most delicious beef tenderloin I’ve ever eaten: Del Terruno.

beef

So when the people from Del Terruno contacted me and asked if I’d like to try their product again, you knew I jumped on that chance immediately.

Del Terruno is juicy, tender beef from the world’s best breeds, chosen for the high quality of their meat – Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Because the animals are free-range and graze in the meadows of Uruguay, their beef is guaranteed 100% natural, with no growth hormones or steroids added, so you know you are getting premium meat every time. And all of it is USDA Process Verified. They even have a traceability function on their website so you can see exactly where your meat is coming from. A+ all around for Del Terruno.

You can only imagine my excitement when a (very large) piece of their finest Beef Tenderloin arrived for me.  Instead of cooking the entire tenderloin at once (there are only two of us living in our apartment after all), I decided to cut the loin into two individually portioned fillets. The smaller portions significantly decreased the cooking time of the meat and assured that I would get another chance to indulge in this fabulous product at a later date.

Use 1

Because I wanted the flavor of the meat to really shine through, I took a very simple approach to preparing it – a sprinkling of salt and pepper all over each fillet. I placed a baking sheet in the oven, preheated it to 425 degrees and brought a large skillet to high heat on the stove. I added a tablespoon of unsalted butter to the skillet and placed each fillet in the screaming hot butter for about 2 minutes per side. I then quickly seared the border of the meat before transferring it to the hot baking sheet in the oven to let the fillets finish cooking, about 20 minutes. I pulled the meat out and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes while I prepared the asparagus and baked potatoes.

Use 3

I must say I’ve never eaten better on a Monday night. The beef was tender and buttery; slicing through it took almost no effort at all. Because there was only a small amount of fat on the meat, I didn’t have to spend time trimming it or avoiding gristle as I ate. But it was the taste – the refined taste of high quality beef tenderloin – that really impressed me.

Sean and I sat in silence for a few minutes, slowly eating the juicy fillets that I paired with a simple baked potato and asparagus, baked in 425 degree oven with a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice for 8-10 minutes.

The next time you are having a fancy dinner party, or just feel like eating like a King and Queen on a weeknight, Del Terruno is sure to impress anyone who enjoys it. I know I will be again!

Use 4

Want to learn more about Del Terruno? Follow them on Facebook!

Full disclosure: Del Terruno sponsored this post and I was given a sample free of charge. As always, all opinions here are my own.