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Vosges Haut Chocolat owner Katrina Markoff, who scours the globe for the exotic chiles and berries that flavor her pricey, decadent truffles, is launching a not-so-haute brand of chocolates.

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The Chicago entrepreneur, who opened her first shop 13 years ago in her 20s, was at the Sweets and Snacks Expo at McCormick Place Tuesday showing off her Americana-accented Wild Ophelia line of chocolate bars that she says is aimed at "drug stores to truck stops to big-box."

In fact, the Wild Ophelia bars -- which will cost anywhere from $2.97 to $4.99, depending on the retailer -- won't even be sold in Vosges stores.

Vosges truffles are laced with ingredients like Krug champagne, aged Italian balsamic vinegar and black Hawaiian sea salt.

Wild Ophelia bars, by contrast, contain dried cherries from Michigan, chunks of Georgia peaches and beef jerky from Wyoming. Yes, kids, there is a beef jerky chocolate bar.

"A lot of times when you see 'Americana,' it's more kitsch," Markoff said. "We wanted this to feel hand-done . . . but fun, fashionable."

The bars are packaged in recycled paperboard. There are five flavors in the line: Beef Jerky, Hickory Smoked Almond, New Orleans Chili, Southern Hibiscus Peach and Sweet Cherry Pecan.

Check out the chocolates here.

Speaking of weird food and flavor pairings, the prominent topic in today's Food pages . . .

Feast points us to a doozy -- a Vosges bacon-chocolate bar-topped hot dog at Hot Doug's, 3324 N. California.

The base of the $7.50 creation is a pork sausage with hints of dried cherry and apple. Pear mustard and chunks of the aforementioned Vosges Mo's Bacon Bar round out the dog.

As with many offerings at Hot Doug's, this chocolate-topped dog is fleeting, available only through Saturday, according to Feast. After which, the shop will close up shop for a brief break, until March 2.

"It has often been said that wives, girlfriends and significant others complain that affection and attention shouldn't be limited to one day: Valentine's Day," the Hot Doug's website reads. "Hot Doug's wholeheartedly agrees: It should be two and a half weeks."

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[photo by John J. Kim/Sun-Times]

Before she was infusing ganache with wasabi and coating marshmallows in pretzel-and-beer brittle, truffle truffle owner Nicole Greene made a living as a Defense Department analyst, briefing policy wonks on high-level security sort of stuff.

So that diagram you see above, that's a little of Nicole Greene the defense analyst coming out.

She was briefing me the hows and whys of tempering chocolate, as background to her guest column and accompanying video in today's Food pages. It was selfishness on my part to ask her to show me; I'd never tempered chocolate before. But I also was hesitant, because what's second nature to chefs is almost always not so much to the rest of us.

"Tempering is really intimidating. In some ways, it still is to me," Greene acknowledged before adding, "It's mostly intuitive."

When you temper, Greene explained, you move chocolate through a temperature range within a compressed time frame -- heat, cool, heat again -- to achieve a certain structure.

Why do it? If you're making candies or truffles, and you want that nice, shiny chocolate coating that, when set, has that certain "snap."

Again, Greene empasized, the process was mostly intuitive; no two pastry chefs temper the exact same way. But she quickly showed me and of course, she made it look easy. And then I went home and did it and ... success.

A few points: A thermometer is key (for me and you, at least; pros like Greene can do without). Keeping even the tiniest drop of water out of the chocolate is essential.

Here's Greene's method, which I hope works for you, too:

Start with high-quality chocolate in a dry bowl; set aside a small handful or chunk of chocolate for later. You'll see why.

Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat until about 90 percent of the chocolate is melted and the temperature hits about 123 degrees for dark chocolate (118 or 119 degrees for white).

Remove the bowl from heat and stir gently to melt the rest of the chocolate.

Then take that unmelted chocolate you've set aside -- in pastry chef parlance, this is your "seed" -- and toss it into the bowl. This chocolate, which already is tempered, "is going to give the melted chocolate a way to behave," Greene said.

Stir until melted; check the temperature again. When the melted chocolate cools to around 90 or 91 degrees, you've reached the tempered state.

"Flash" the bowl over a burner just a few times to warm it a few degrees, and you're done.

The chocolate should look satiny and shiny and, when it sets, will have that snap.

by guest blogger Seanan Forbes:

Over the past few years, consumers have become more aware of the importance of regional goods. It goes beyond local borders; the regional - wherever the region may be - has prime place in the wine glass, the beer stein, the teacup and the coffee mug.

Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen, has always known that. Her menu - her philosophy - is all about the regional and the seasonal. Segal says that regions can shine in your chocolate every bit as strongly as in coffee or tea.

With single-region chocolate bars widely available online, the world can be in your mug. Sit in front of a stack of Amano single-region chocolate and the prospect can be intimidating. Do you use chocolate from Madagascar's Sambirano Valley the same way you do that from the Guayas River basin in Ecuador or the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela?

Segal's advice: find ways to highlight the chocolate's individual characteristics.

"Madagascar is vanilla and Venezuela is probably coffee," the chef says, "so you have to take the flavor profile is for that region and that's what you go with." What does that mean in practical terms? Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a glass of chilled Madagascar chocolate. Cut the Venezuelan, hot or cold, with coffee, making the dreamiest mocha imaginable.

Finding the flavor profile is easy: Taste the chocolate. After that, choose ingredients that will highlight what you found. hot chocolates.jpg

Outdoor temperature is no barrier to enjoying chocolate in a glass. In the winter, Hot Chocolate steams hot chocolate from a ganache base. During the summer, the steamed chocolate is iced in a martini shaker and served on the rocks. You can also strain it and add a splash of soda or a scoop of ice cream or (why not?) both.

Want an adult spin? Segal has a suggestion: Take your chocolate, "add a shot of stout and then a scoop of ice cream." (Here, adding the local is easy. Half Acre makes Big Hugs, a chunky imperial stout.)

Segal is a versatile, waste-nothing chef, so it's not surprising that her liquids are adaptable to dessert. At Hot Chocolate, Segal says, they take hot chocolate, chill it, pour it into pans "and put it in the freezer. Then, we shave it, and you have a chocolate slushie." It's easy to do at home; scrape the frozen mixture with a spoon. For an after-dinner tasting, serve three regional slushies in the cocktail glasses of your choice.

You can play with chocolate's flavors without leaving Chicago. Segal sells hot chocolate blends, each with a distinctive profile. The dark is a mixture of French bittersweet chocolate and cocoa butter; the medium and light, different combinations of French and Belgian chocolates.

If you want your chocolate with a twist, then go for the malted milk and espresso or the spicy Mexican. For proof that chocolate can have strong non-chocolate notes, try the butterscotch. There's no butterscotch in it; Segal chose and blended French chocolates that carry a clear butterscotch flavor. All are available at the restaurant or online.

If you're out to explore the world in a glass, then this is one sweet way to go.

photo courtesy Tim Turner

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Katherine Duncan, purveyor of caramels and truffles that will make you go, "OMGthoseareamazing" as you drool all over yourself, is back at the farmers markets this season, this year with an ambitious goal: She vows she will make a new, market-driven truffle every week.

But fie the cold Chicago spring weather and slow-to-come harvest. At last week's markets, "all there was was rhubarb!" she lamented (if you could even get your hands on some, and unless you showed up super-early to Saturday's Green City Market, you probably didn't). So she went with ginger-blood orange, rose and fleur de sel and (locally ground) peanut butter and fleur de sel truffles.

She's still experimenting with the rhubarb, so this week, expect the ginger-blood orange again plus a Champagne-raspberry number -- using raspberries frozen from last year's haul.

Find Katherine Anne truffles at the Andersonville market on Wednesdays, Daley Plaza and Sears Tower on Thursdays and Division Street and Glenview on Saturdays.

"Can't wait for strawberries soon," Duncan says. Same here.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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