Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bentley's Jasmine White Tea

I have tried white tea before, both in flavoured format, and in loose tea, and found it to be a very mild and pleasant form of tea, not for everyone's tastes, but still good. White tea is picked before the leaves open fully, when it is still covered with fine white hair, hence the name, then it is rapidly steamed and air dried. Because it is less processed than other black or green teas, it contains more anti-oxidants, a definite health benefit. This particular white tea comes from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, most white tea is grown in India or China, and is flavoured with jasmine. When one opens the package, the pleasant fragrance of the jasmine wafts from within the bag. A good way to enjoy the benefits of a good cup of white tea.


I have been reading about the mangosteen in various health magazines, the so-called "Queen of Fruits", supposedly well liked by England's Queen Victoria, it has various health benefits, and one can purchase mangosteen extract in health stores to obtain those benefits. But, I wanted to try the actual fruit, and picked one up the other day in a Chinese supermarket. The outer rind seemed very tough, so I determined to cut through it, and did, slicing the white fruit in the process, but now I read that you are supposed to press down on the flesh, if it is ripe enough, it will be deep reddish purple if so, the rind will crack, and you can open it up and reveal the creamy white flesh within. The one I had too was ripe enough, as it had some fairly developed seeds within, these are not edible unless cooked. How does it taste? The flesh is creamy in texture, with citrus flavours, quite delicious and refreshing. It makes me want to try more.

Update: I just read that the fleshy pulp that surrounds cacao beans in the pod has a taste similar to the Asian mangosteen. Cool.

Friday, December 29, 2006


I got this sample of this natural health bar in this health magazine, from a company called Humm Foods Inc. It's supposed to be raw, natural food, with no chemicals, no fillers, no medicinal tasting supplements, uncooked, unprocessed, no added sugar, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and kosher. A bold claim, the list of ingredients at least supports them, this Cherry Pie bar has as its ingredients only dates, almonds and unsweetened cherries.

How does it taste? Pretty good, chewy, and a very nice cherry flavour. I wonder, though, like all natural health bars, whether it is expensive, perhaps too expensive for the average person to switch to this from their chocolate bars and sweetened pastries.

What to do with leftover turkey

Having been given the turkey legs, which no one seems to care for, but has some good dark meat on them, if you take care to strip off the cartilage, I decided to improvise a dish to use up the turkey. I found a can of President's Choice Hot Thai Yellow Curry Sauce in my pantry, and so I fried up the meat, which also came with some bacon that had been used to flavour the turkey, and a whole orange bell pepper, cut up in chunks, till the pepper was soft. Then I added the can of yellow curry sauce and cooked the mixture for the specified 15 minutes. At the last couple of minutes, I added some autalfo mangoes cut up in large chunks. Then, I added some noodles, which I had earlier boiled, mixing the curried meat with the noodles well.

It turned out quite good tasting. The yellow curry was not that hot, and the mango went well with the turkey and bacon.

Some Pictures of our Christmas Tree

Here are some pictures I've taken this year of our Christmas tree and Nativity scene. The tree looks quite spectacular, wide and full, with lots of pine cones hanging from the top.

This is a view of the whole tree. The Nativity scene is down to the left.

Here is a picture from the side. The candles are lit, but I used the flash, so you have to look closely to see them.

Here is a closeup of the Nativity scene. It's quite crowded.

A side view of the same Nativity.

The Three Kings, with accompanying camel and elephant.

A closeup of the lake, with waterfall.

The stable, with Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

The tree, with the real candles lit.

The Nativity, with candles lit.

The whole tree and Nativity, with candles lit.

PC Suisse versus Toblerone

President's Choice here in Canada comes out with a number of products every year, a lot of frozen and prepared foods, but I want to focus on one of their offerings, which I believe has been made to directly compete, or capitalize on its popularity, with the more famous Toblerone chocolate bars, specifically its Dark version. I purchased their larger 400 g version of each of them before Christmas, and have been slowly nibbling at each of them, comparing and contrasting. Both are labelled similarly, the Toblerone is labelled Swiss Dark Chocolate with Honey and Almond Nougat, while the PC Suisse is labelled Swiss Dark Chocolate with Honey Almond Nougat, which led me to wonder how close a product they are meant to be. Both, too, are made in Switzerland. There is also a milk chocolate product from each company, for this discussion I am focusing on the dark version.

The Toblerone Dark and the President's Choice (PC) Suisse are both about the same price, I was able to buy either for about $5-6, though the Toblerone usually is the more expensive of the two. President's Choice tends to sell their product for a lower price at first, like most companies when they are introducing a new and competing product, so let us say that the prices are very similar.

If we examine the ingredient listing of either, we can see that there are differences, but that they are very similar. For Toblerone, the ingredients are dark chocolate (bitter chocolate, sugar, milk ingredients, cocoa butter, soybean lecithin), nougat (sugar, honey, almonds, glucose syrup, dried egg whites); for PC Suisse, the ingredients are unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa, honey, almonds, dried egg-white, natural and artificial flavour. President's Choice has chosen not to separate out their ingredients like Toblerone has, but we can see that the honey, almonds and dried egg whites with sugar make up the nougat in both products; Toblerone calls their chocolate bitter, President's Choice unsweetened, these terms are fairly interchangeable; what we are left with, excluding the lecithin in Toblerone's listing but not in President's Choice's, is the milk ingredients in the Toblerone product. I could not determine the cocoa content of Toblerone's product, not on their packaging nor on their website. The President's Choice states that it has 72% cocoa solids, whether the milk ingredients means that the Toblerone is less dark, less chocolatey, than the PC product, I can't determine. In other words, whether this means that Toblerone's product has less cocoa content than the PC Suisse, is up for debate. Visually, the PC Suisse looks darker than the Toblerone, it would lead me to believe that the PC product has a higher cocoa content.

The next thing that we can look at is the shape of the bar. Toblerone's familiar triangular wedge shape, made, some say, to resemble the Swiss mountains, is trademarked, President's Choice could not duplicate it, though theirs is wedge-shaped, two thinner wedges with their tops levelled off offset to each other. Because of this, the packaging is different, Toblerone's is diamond-shaped; PC Suisse's is almost rectangular.

What we are left with, if we can see that visually the two are quite similar and almost interchangeable, is which of the two is a better product, when one comes to eating it. As I've mentioned earlier, and as you can see in the pictures, the PC Suisse looks much darker than the Toblerone, it is dark brown rather than medium brown. Too, the nougat pieces of the PC Suisse are more numerous than the Toblerone, though you can see smaller pieces sprinkled throughout the whole of the Toblerone bar, while the nougat seems to be mostly concentrated along the bottom portion of the PC bar. In biting into the wedge, you can see that the nougat is more evenly distributed in the Toblerone bar, I think this makes for a better product, as the honey nougat is in each bite, rather than more chocolatey in some parts that the PC Suisse is. For you, it all depends on whether you like the nougat or the chocolate, whether this is better. Neither bars' nougat stuck in my teeth, which is good. Both bars are fairly easy to break off a wedge. The Toblerone's wedge is about a third bigger than the Suisse's; there are more wedges in the PC Suisse. The PC Suisse seems more chocolatey, it tastes darker than the Toblerone. On the other hand, the Toblerone is more creamy, this is likely due to the milk ingredients, and sweeter, but the chocolate still tastes good, and leaves a pleasant aftertaste in the mouth. The PC Suisse product is more fruity, more floral tones, in flavour, which is true of chocolate with high cocoa content. For me, it was hard to judge one better than the other, though I would give the Toblerone bar a slight edge, overall it was a better tasting nougat chocolate bar.

Now, it's up to you to decide for yourself.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Irises

My Dad decided to gift me this Christmas with some irises. They lasted quite long, and look beautiful.

Speciale Italia Santo Domingo

This ciocicolato monorigin, or single source chocolate, of cacao beans from the island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, comes from an Italian company called Speciale Italia srl. The cacao content of this chocolate bar is 75%. Too, the ingredients look pretty good, cocoa paste, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin as an emulsifier and natural aromas. It tastes pretty good too, melts in your mouth easily, with a good bitter chocolate taste.


Dukka, or Du'a, or Dukkha, may or may not have its origins in Egypt. Whether it does or not, what it is, is a good appetizer, spicy and crunchy at the same time. I've seen versions of this that use different nuts, such as almonds or macadamias, and sunflower seeds, with cayenne pepper to give it a little more kick. Feel free to experiment, and tailor to your guests. To serve, cut up a french loaf in small pieces, then place a bowl of good olive or sunflower oil next to the container of dukka. Dip a piece of bread in the oil, then into the dukka, and enjoy.

recipe from Sophie Grigson's Weekends
4 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1-1/2 Tbsp cumin seeds
1-1/2 Tbsp Black peppercorns
1/2 Tbsp coarse sea salt
30 g toasted hazelnuts (or roasted chickpeas)
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Heat a small, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Shake gently until they turn a shade darker and give out a nutty smell. Tip them into a bowl.

Repeat this process with the coriander and cumin seeds. Allow them cool and crisp up for a few minutes.

Place the sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, peppercorns and salt in a clean coffee grinder and grind finely.

Finely chop the hazelnuts in the grinder, taking care not to over-blend them into a paste.

Mix the finely chopped hazelnuts with the sesame seed mixture and the cinnamon. Store in an airtight container until needed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fudgy Figgy Brownies

I thought this was an interesting recipe, the addition of figs to a brownie recipe looked intriguing. I don't eat figs in their natural form, probably most people know them in bar format. They turned out quite good, tasty, a little chewier than normal brownies. I did use a 9" square pan, and they were thinner than they should have been. I also used semi-sweet chocolate, from Belgium, rather than the unsweetened chocolate that it originally called for. The dried figs I used are naturally dried Kalamata figs from Greece.

Fudgy Figgy Brownies
From a recipe from Robin Hood Flour
1 cup chocolate chips, divided in half
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
pinch salt
1 cup figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease 8" square cake pan.

Melt half of chocolate chips, the chocolate and butter in a large saucepan. Cool slightly.

Mix in sugar. Whisk in eggs one at a time, then vanilla. Stir in flour, salt, figs and remaining portion of chocolate chips. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick in centre comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool in pan on rack.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pocket Coffee

I found these chocolates at the Chinese supermarket, I've since found them other places, they are made by the same company that makes Ferrero Rocher and Mon Cheri, Ferrero. What I found interesting about them, is that they are filled with little espresso shots, liquid coffee, according to the ingredients. Wow.

How do they taste? The outer coating is more coffee-like than chocolatey, then, when you break through the thin wafer crust, you get a rush of liquid coffee that is not so intense like espresso should be, perhaps because it is not hot. Not bad.

Fried Lotus Root

While my brother-in-law made his normal dish of ribs and lotus root that my sister so loves, adding this time some chicken to make a better broth, he also fried some lotus root as well. The odd thing is, that it both smelled and tasted to me, like sour cream and onion flavoured potato chips. Odd.

Pickled Garlic

My brother-in-law decided to try making this in preparation for Christmas, normally it is made in the first month of the year in China, with the new garlic of the season. It's important to use the freshest garlic you can find. Eating one of these, you get an intense garlic flavor, the sourness of the vinegar combined with the sweetness of the sugar brings out the flavour. If the garlic is not so new, use brown sugar, otherwise use white sugar. You can also experiment with different kinds of vinegar, to achieve new flavour combinations. They are ready when they have turned the bright green-blue you can see in the picture.

Pickled Garlic
10-20 heads of garlic
white vinegar, to cover garlic
1/2 cup sugar

Remove the outside of the garlic heads, separating the bulbs. Leave the skin on the bulb. Place in a container, then add enough vinegar to cover the garlic. Sprinkle sugar into container. Leave for 2-3 weeks, well covered.

Insalata Caprese

The other dish I made for the potluck is called Insalata Caprese, or Italian Tomato, Basil and Mozarella salad. The dish looks incredibly visually appetizing, with the deep red of the tomatoes, the bright green of the basil and the white of the mozarella, all on a dark background of oil and vinegar. Apparently, too, the level of antioxidants in each of the elements, is enhanced greatly when they are combined, providing for a nutritious side dish. It is easy to assemble, and is delicious, too. Make sure to use the freshest ingredients you can to maximize the flavour.

Insalata Caprese
450 g cherry tomatoes
250 g fresh mozzarella cheese
10-20 fresh basil leaves
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
3-4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3-4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Cut some cherry tomatoes in half and some in quarters. Chop mozzarella into small pieces. Combine tomatoes and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Strew basil leaves over top of salad. Drizzle olive oil over salad, then balsamic vinegar. Toss a little to intensify flavours. Serve and eat immediately.

Gourmet Tomatoes

They were selling this package of heritage tomatoes at the supermarket, there were several varieties of cherry tomatoes in there, of different shapes and sizes and colours, including some yellow ones. I thought that these were the most interesting, they were kind of dark red with purple stripes, with a dark red flesh and an intense tomato flavour.

What I brought for potluck cookie-wise

Whenever we have a Christmas potluck at work, I get requests for me to bring in some cookies. Now, I did bring in another dish, a tomato salad with basil and mozarella that is quite delicious, that I will write about and provide a recipe for later, but cookie-wise I made several different recipes, two of which I had never made before. From left to right, the cookies are Hazelnut Macaroons, Vanilla Spritz Cookies, Tante Line Plaeztchen and Chocolate Expresso Hazelnut Shortbread.

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

The people at work really enjoy these, they are very chocolately, you would guess that would be so, with a pound of chocolate, and quite sweet. I confess, I find them a little too sweet, and only make them at special occasions. Every time I have made them for people who have never tried them before, they have raved about them, though they will give you quite a buzz, if you eat too many of them, or are not used to the amount of chocolate at one time. I decided to make them and bring them in a day ahead of the potluck, there is usually a surplus of good food, so people could enjoy these, without feeling too full.

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies
adapted from a recipe from Bon Appétit
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 lb. bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1-3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath or Skors), coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about five minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto sheets for very large cookies, or heaping tablespoonfuls for medium cookies; space 2-1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to the touch, about 15 minutes. Cool on sheets.

Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Makes about 18-30, depending on size.


I bought these at the Chinese supermarket last week, these tamarillos were from Chile. They come in a variety of colours, from purple to deep red to orange or yellow, and red and yellow. The skin and flesh close to the skin is not edible, the inner flesh is soft, with edible seeds larger than those of a tomato, and with a sweet and tart flavour. Interesting and quite good tasting.

Vanilla Spritz Cookies

In preparation for a potluck at our office, I decided to make these spritz cookies, from a recipe that came with the Kuhn Rikon cookie press. I have as of yet not mastered the art of the cookie press, while the final cookie looks pretty good, I removed those that did not work properly, putting the dough back into the remaining dough. It takes a little doing to get the rhythm going, by the end I was doing pretty good. They turned out pretty good, and tasty, too.

Vanilla Spritz Cookies
adapted from a recipe from Kuhn Rikon
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 375F.

Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy.

Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, cardamom and salt. Using a spoon, stir on the flour in two batches until well mixed.

Pack the dough in the cookie press. Fit with the desired disk design. Press the dough out onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing the cookies 1 inch apart.

Bake until lightly golden, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Makes about 4-8 dozen cookies, depending on size.

A Couple of Chinese Dishes

A week ago, my brother-in-law made a couple of interesting Chinese dishes.

One of them utilized some barbecue pork that I had bought earlier from the Chinese supermarket. He combined it with Suan Tai, or garlic stems, stir-frying them together. The combination of the two was quite good.

The second of the two dishes, he used winter melon, sometimes called east melon, he combined this with pork ribs, and added some red dates and some star anise for flavour. This was also quite an interesting combination, and also tasted good. Winter melon is more like a squash than a melon, it's normally sold in thick slices.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Shortbread

I though to improve on the already good recipe Chocolate Shortbread, and, as Emeril Lagasse is wont to say, "kick it up a notch". What better to add to the great taste of chocolate, than espresso and hazelnuts, the Trifecta of tastes. The elusive trifecta of tastes. I haven't got it quite right, but this is a good starting point. They're very tasty, and better than the original recipe.

Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Shortbread
2-1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup cocoa, sifted
1/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1 cup unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups icing sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp espresso powder
1 Tbsp boiling water
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 300F/150C. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Grind hazelnuts with a small amount of sugar until finely ground. Do not overgrind.

Whisk flour, salt, ground hazelnuts and sifted cocoa together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Add tablespoon of boiling water to espresso powder in a small bowl; whisk to combine, then set aside.

Beat butter with icing sugar on high until creamy. Beat in milk, espresso and vanilla.

Gradually beat 1/2 of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in second half to form stiff dough (If dough is sticky, knead in small amounts of flour until no longer sticky).

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheets.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until slightly firm. Cool on sheet 5 minutes, before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Spanish Black Chocolate

This chocolate bar, made by the Spanish chocolatier La Artesana, is labelled extra fine black chocolate, and contains a minimum of 70% cacao content. The cacao itself comes from the Coast of Marfil, or Ivory Coast, in Africa. I have tried chocolate from a number of European countries, mostly from Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, but never one from Spain. The list of ingredients looks good, only sugar, cocoa paste, cocoa butter, lecithin and vanilla. How does it taste? Very fruity, like dark chocolate should, the more cocoa content, the fruitier it should taste. It melts fairly well in the mouth, too. A good start to my Spanish chocolate experience.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shortbread Meltaways

I received this insert of recipes from Robin Hood, the maker of good flour, and other food products, and this recipe looked interesting. At one time, I worked for Robin Hood Multifoods, at least in their Technical Centre, though I did no baking, rather I worked with their computers. It is where I actually got my start in the computer field. There was fresh bread available everyday, good bread with no preservatives and few ingredients, they had to test their product based on customer complaints, and employees were able to take the day's leavings. Of course, one person could only eat so much, and I always had a surplus, and there was always more the next day. One gets spoiled. The other day, I drove by, and noticed that the Technical Centre was no longer there. I wonder what happened to it.

Shortbread Meltaways
Adapted from a recipe by Robin Hood
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn starch
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup toffee pieces

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, corn starch, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat butter, icing sugar and vanilla until creamy.

Stir half of flour mixture into creamed butter until combined. Stir in toffee bits and the remaining flour. Mix until just combined.

Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Place on prepared cookie sheets, spacing about 2" apart.

Bake for 15-16 minutes, or until lightly golden. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2-4 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Whole Filberts

Loblaws is selling one pound bags of nuts, in time for Christmas, they have peanuts and almonds and other nuts. Of course, the one I was interested in, was the bag of filberts. These filberts come from the United States, and cost only $1.99.

Shanghai-style Noodles with Barbecue Pork and Chicken and Broccoli

I picked up some Chinese barbecue pork yesterday at the T&T Chinese Supermarket, ostensibly to try it, and to use up the fresh Shanghai-style noodles I purchased last week. With this, I bought some broccoli, and decided to add some fresh basil to the dish at the end. Really, you could add almost any kind of vegetable, bell peppers would be good. The dish was tasty, a good lunch.

Shanghai-style Noodles with Barbecue Pork and Chicken and Broccoli
fresh Shanghai-style noodles
Chinese Barbecue Pork
Chicken thighs, cooked
Broccoli, 10-15 florets
2 star anise
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2" piece ginger, minced
1 Tbsp alcohol
8-10 fresh basil leaves
oil for frying

Cook noodles according to package. Cut up broccoli into small florets. Mince garlic and garlic. Cut up barbecue pork and cooked chicken thighs into small pieces.

Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok. Add ginger, garlic and star anise, and stirfry for a couple of minutes. Add dash of alcohol. Add the meat, and cook till warm (you don't need to cook this long, as it is already done). Add the broccoli florets and cook till tender, 2-3 minutes. Add cooked noodles and stir to combine. Serve, and enjoy.

Meyer Lemons

I have read about these lemons in various blogs, and even have seen a couple of recipes for them, so I wanted to try them, but, up until now, I've never seen them before in Canada. Like the blood oranges I found last Christmas, this year I discovered these in our local large supermarket chain the other day. A Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, which creates a fruit with the flavour of a lemon and the sweetness of an orange. The juice is richer, darker and more aromatic than a traditional lemon. It would make for a different tasting lemon dessert. The skins, as you can see, are more orangey-yellow, they are also much smaller in size. I believe that you can just substitute one for one in any lemon dessert requiring lemon juice. I tried it first in my fresh carrot-apple-lemon juiced drink, substituting two meyer lemons for one traditional lemon, it tasted quite good, slightly different, less tart, than how it normally turns out. Now, hopefully, people will buy these lemons, and our supermarket will continue to stock these and other new and unique food items.

Steamed Egg Cake

This dish is not what you think of when you say 'cake', it is more like a custard. The final dish is very easy to digest, and is often given to small children, even babies, in China. It is also good, if you have an upset stomach and can't eat anything else. If you want the egg cake to be a little firmer, add less liquid; add more liquid if you want it softer. The eggs wobble like jello does, when it is done, and come out a pale yellow. The trick to this dish is the boiling water, it doesn't work so well without.

Steamed Egg Cake
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
boiling water

Add salt to eggs, then scramble eggs vigorously for one. Add boiling water to eggs, stirring well to combine, to make 4-5 cups liquid. Steam for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are just set.

Harold McGee Blog

I had just finished reading this week Harold McGee's excellent book The Curious Cook, and I noticed, while posting a new entry in my blog, that he has a blog, which can be found here. I came by Harold McGee kind of backwards, I got his follow-up to his more famous book, On Food and Cooking, first, my sister-in-law and brother picked it up at this charity book sale, they know I'm a foodie and have an interest in science. Harold writes wonderfully (I believe I can use just his first name, he writes so intimately that it is if he is talking one on one with the reader, and you get to know him). He is driven to find out how things work, why and how certain foods are prepared in a certain manner, what is the science and lore behind the methods of cookery. There are separate chapters in The Curious Cook on searing and simmering meat, keeping salads and sauces green, making Jerusalem artichoke palatable, making persimmons palatable, fat and the heat, food and cancer, aluminum, and taste/gastronomy, among others. This blog is for the overflow from his writings of his newspaper column, things that he couldn't otherwise find a place for in his writings. Should be interesting.

Deep Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake

I made this the other day, and, while it turned out to be a good chocolate cake, and people at work liked it. However, I found that the raspberry preserves migrated to the bottom of the Bundt pan, sticking to it as I took the cake out, so that I had to scoop it out and spoon it on the top, rather than achieving a ribbon throughout the centre of the cake. It did call for putting only half the batter in before adding the raspberry preserves, I've upped that to three-quarters for the next time I make it, hopefully that will do the trick. If it does that again, I'll just skip adding the preserves and just glaze it when it's cooled, I would guess the preserves are just too heavy or the batter too thin for it to work. When you add the buttermilk, the batter will look "curdled", this is all right and normal, just continue on.

Deep, Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons espresso powder
2/3 cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease and flour a ten cup Bundt pan.

Whisk together in medium bowl, the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Stir cocoa, cinnamon and espresso powder into boiling water until dissolved, then set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and continue to beat until well combined. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed throughout the mixing process.

Add the eggs and beat until batter is fluffy and light yellow colored. Beat in buttermilk until combined.

Add the cocoa mixture and beat until smooth.

Gradually add to the batter the flour mixture while beating, until the batter is smooth and thick.

Spoon three quarters of the batter into pan. Using a teaspoon, drop in bits of the raspberry preserves, stretching them out into a ribbon through the batter. Finish filling pan with remaining batter.

Bake for 65 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for ten minutes, then remove gently from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Glaze with heated raspberry preserves, or sprinkle with icing sugar.

Sultan's Chocolate Ginger

My sister knows I like ginger, and I like chocolate, so, when she was in this store that sells "British" things, she bought it for me. How nice. The ginger in this candy comes from Turkey, prepared for a British company in Norfolk. The list of ingredients, on first glance, looks good, with 65% ginger and the rest plain chocolate. The crystallized ginger is made from stem ginger and sugar, while the "plain chocolate" is made from sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, lecithin and vanillin. The level of cocoa solids is 50%, so it's more than what would be labelled milk chocolate, but less than dark. How does it taste. Not bad. Not quite as gingery as I thought it might, nor hoped it would. I suspect that there is a fair amount of sugar in the crystallized ginger portion, so as to not make it too hot, to appeal to a broader clientele, as I find most people don't like it too hot or "gingery".

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I came across this recipe to make your own vanilla extract, from alcohol and vanilla beans, and of course wanted to try it right away. It is very simple to make, the hard part is waiting the six months for it to be fully mature, to have extracted the maximum goodness out of the vanilla beans. This makes a good gift for a foodie, you can make up fancy bottles, the one I used is a Tuscany bottle. Look for vanilla beans that are flexible but not brittle, and slightly oily to the touch. There are two types of vanilla beans that I have seen, the more popular, and less expensive variety of the two that I saw, is Bourbon, while the more expensive version is Tahitian. The best bourbon beans have a white "frost" of pure vanillin on the outside (this looks crystalline in direct light, while if it is mildew, it will look dull). These bourbon vanilla beans were imported from Germany, though they likely were not grown there.

Split four to six vanilla beans in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. Add to the vanilla beans in the bottle 375 mL of vodka, or any grain alcohol. Store at room temperature in a dark place for at least two months, six months preferably. As you use the vanilla extract, you can top up the bottle with fresh alcohol.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Another Tschibo Chocolate Bar

I wrote earlier about a couple of single-source chocolate bars from the German company Tschibo, known more for their coffee, which can be found here. I came across another one in that series, this one features 71% cocoa content, the cocoa coming from outside of the city of Quevedo, in Ecuador. According to the packaging, this bar is Made to a traditional recipe with premium cocoa from selected plantations and the finest ingredients. With a full, flowery and smooth taste and subtle vanilla overtones. I can say that the chocolate is very good, smooth, easily melts in your mouth, and very chocolately. The vanilla undertones are subtle indeed.

Ataulfo Mangoes

From my research, I found out that these mangoes are now grown in Indonesia, but they came originally from a variety found in Veracruz State, Mexico. I can say that the orange-yellow flesh is very sweet, almost buttery. Delicious! The ones I tried before had yellow skins, these are more green going to yellow, though I am going to sit them on my counter for a few days to see if they ripen some more, as they are quite firm now.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Flagrants Desirs Chocolate

This Belgian chocolate, available in Dark and Orange versions, is made with 70% cocoa content. The Dark version contains only cocoa paste and butter, sugar and vanilla, while the Orange version is a little less "natural", along with the cocoa paste and butter, it also contains orange peels, sugar, glucose-fructose, citric acid, sulphur dioxide and orange flavour. I have already consumed the Dark version, it was quite good. It melts-in-the-mouth as good dark chocolate should. The wrapping only says that the cocoa comes from a selection of fine cocoa beans, and not where specifically.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Liqueur Cookies

This recipe originally called for red wine, it's a German cookie recipe that I found somewhere on the 'Net. Inspiration hit me, and I thought that I would change the recipe, to make it into a liqueur cookie. Frangelico is the famous Italian hazelnut liqueur, while limoncello is a liqueur made from lemons, it is also Italian in origin. Both of these liqueurs are ones that I had read about and wanted to try, the Frangelico for obvious reasons, and the Limoncello because I like lemon, too. I thought that I would marry the lemon flavour with vanilla, while the Frangelico would go good with hazelnuts and chocolate. These turned out quite well. To make 1/2 egg, put the whole egg in a bowl, scramble with a whisk or fork, then divide in half. Or just double the recipe to use a whole egg.

Liqueur Cookies
250 g flour
2 tsp baking powder
125 g sugar
1/2 egg
140 g butter, at room temperature
Variation 1:
1/2 cup hazelnuts, ground finely
1 Tbsp cocoa
3 Tbsp Frangelico Liqueur
Variation 2:
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp Limoncello

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift the flour onto clean surface. Form a well with the flour. Add the sugar, baking powder, egg, butter and liqueur to the flour, then either the vanilla or the cocoa and hazelnuts. Mix all the ingredients by hand to form a dough. Let rest for a few minutes.

On a clean surface sprinkled with flour, roll out dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into shapes and place on the parchment paper.

Bake for 15-16 minutes, until the cookies are firm and slightly golden. Let rest on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.

Decorate with icing, if desired.

Makes 50-60 medium-sized cookies.

Limoncello Icing:
1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp limoncello

Mix ingredients together to make a thick icing. Add more limoncello or water if too thick, more icing sugar if too thin.