Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dried Limes

My sister-in-law gave me these a long while ago, she told me that I should just grate them over any food. Frankly, I forgot about them, in the back of my spice cabinet, for a long while, more than a year, until I made the Thai Noodles last week. A lightbulb came on in my head, and, I thought, this would go great on them! The limes, as you can see, are quite small, they are probably not made from their larger cousin standing next to them. But they certainly smell like limes, even after a year or more. I don't know where she got them, I'll have to find out.

Chocolate Chipper

If a recipe calls for chopped chocolate, the best instrument to have in your kitchen to accomplish this easily and quickly is a chocolate chipper. The slightly sharpened prongs not only easily slide through chocolate, it causes the chocolate to break up in little chunks. Not very expensive, this one cost under ten dollars, and can be found in specialty kitchen stores.

Ice Crystal Trees

We had a cold snap for a long while in February. Often, that causes moisture to condense on the inside of windows and then freeze, creating beautiful crystal trees, with many branches.

Edelweiss Milk Chocolate with Chopped Hazelnuts

The next chocolate bar I tried is from Switzerland, or at least I would say so, given its name, Edelweiss, the packaging only says it comes from Europe. This bar is milk chocolate. Hazelnut with milk chocolate is a good combination, as long as the chocolate is good tasting. The hazelnuts are small pieces, not as good as whole hazelnuts are. Its ingredient listing is fairly good, in that it is short, just sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, hazelnuts, whole milk powder, with soya lecithin as an emulsifier, and vanillin (both of these last two which I don't like, vanillin being artificial vanilla - is it there to cover up bad cacao beans?). This is a cheap chocolate bar, only one dollar. I would say that I would give this one another try.

Sauce for Chops with Sugar and Vinegar

My brother-in-law gave me this package of sauce the other week, I suppose it was what he thought might be what would duplicate the Special Pork Sauce from this Chinese restaurant we went to around Christmas, which I especially enjoyed. I did not use pork chops for this, rather I used pork tenderloin, and sliced it into medallions. The instructions on the back were fairly interesting, in that I had lots of trouble figuring out how to follow them in order to duplicate the picture. What I did, finally, after scratching my head for some time, was to fry the medallions in oil until they were browned on both sides. Then, I boiled the medallions in chicken broth till they were soft, adding the contents of the sauce package near the end, stirring the liquid till well mixed. The results? The sauce tasted good, though it was in way a duplicate of that Special Sauce, though perhaps I did not cook it long enough, leaving it too liquid. The pork tasted great, anyways.

Double Dark Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti

I don't know why I always wanted to make biscotti, never really liked it as a cookie, so I thought that this recipe, which came across on the Martha Stewart website. I've read that other people have had problems with her recipes, I've tried some, and they've turned out fairly well, though this one did not quite make me proud to say that I've made it. Not that it tasted bad, it just looks not quite like it should, it broke apart after the first baking, after I sliced it. Biscotti means twice-baked, the first time you bake it in a log shape, then you slice it along the diagonal, and bake it a second time. I changed the nuts to hazelnuts, you can imagine why, and changed the oil in it, it was originally canola oil, to utilize some of the roasted hazelnut oil that I have. The ginger and dark chocolate and hazelnuts work in this cookie.

Double Dark Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti
Adapted from a recipe from Martha Stewart
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup roasted hazelnut oil
1/2 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until well combined; set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg, egg yolk, and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in the vanilla and oil until well combined.

With the mixer on low, beat in dry ingredients until combined. Fold in walnuts, chocolate, and ginger with a rubber spatula (dough will be stiff).

With moistened hands shape the dough into 2 logs, each about 9 inches long and 2-1/2 inches wide. Bake until set on top, about 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

Transfer logs to a cutting board and, with a serrated knife, cut each log on the diagonal into 16 slices, each 1/2-inch thick. Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes, turning the biscotti over midway through. Cool 5 minutes on a baking sheet, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes 2-1/2 dozen biscotti.


My Dad and I were left to our own devices on Sunday, my brother-in-law cooked some interesting Chinese dishes, and then took them and his wife away to eat at friends of theirs. I don't hold it against them, I'm just pointing out that this situation allowed me to make something that I had been wanting to for a long while. I remember long ago, one vacation up north, eating at a restaurant that served some German-style cooking. And the dish I ordered had homemade spaetzle, which was delicious, and it stuck in the back of my mind for years, until I came across a recipe that seemed to duplicate the spaetzle of that day. The book is called Step by Step German Cooking. Normally when we make spaetzle, it is store-bought dried noodles, tasty enough, but nothing like freshly made noodles. The dough is very easy to assemble. What I would change for future times that I make this, is to cut each piece much smaller. Each spaetzle swells in size, so these turned out quite large. They too seemed a little heavy, in other words, dense. But tasty and worth making again. We made it with rouladen, or beef rollups, my Dad likes them plain, mine had bacon slices in it.

From Step by Step German Cooking
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 to 2/3 cup water

Set at least four cups of water on to boil. When boiling, add a small handful of salt and reduce temperature.

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the beaten egg.

Stir the egg with a spoon, gradually incorporating the flour. At the same time, gradually begin adding the water until the batter is stiff but smooth. If you add too much water, the dough will be sticky, add a little flour and gently knead in.

Spread the dough flat on a floured cutting board, and, with a sharp knife, cut off small pieces of dough. Drop dough pieces into salted boiling water. Cook only a few pieces at a time. The dough will sink at first, then rise to the surface as it cooks. You can encourage them with a spoon if they do not rise to the surface.

Gently boil the spaetzle for 5-8 minutes, or until the dough is completely cooked through to the center. Remove from water with slotted spoon and repeat with remaining dough pieces.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Numi Dry Desert Lime Tea

Having tasted and enjoyed some of Numi's other teas, especially the mint, I came across this variety. I like lime, and enjoy it in various Thai dishes and as a refreshing drink, so I thought that this tea, made from dried lime, would be interesting. The limes that are dried come from the Arabian desert, where they are traditionally harvested and dried in the hot desert sun. The smell of it steeping does not remind me, nor others, of lime, so it is a little disconcerting, but the taste definitely does, and is well worth it, despite the incongruity.

Sarotti No. 1 Sao Thome

The second of the single-origin chocolate bars I am trying from Sarotti, is made from Forastero cocoa beans from Sao Thome. The cocoa content is a minimum of 75% and it also contains 10% caramelised cocoa kernel splinters (I suspect because Forastero cacao beans may not provide the best chocolate flavour, and the sweetness might mask some of this). So saying, it still came out tasting pretty good, perhaps there is not too much mediocrity to mask, though I do prefer a solid bar when enjoying dark chocolate, as I find that I can not allow the chocolate to just melt in my mouth, I have the tendency to chew the chocolate because of the chunks in it. The cocoa kernels tasted sweet more than cacao, though it was an interesting counterpoint to the dark chocolate. The ingredient listing looks good too, just cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa kernel and soya lecithin as an emulsifier. Overall, a good bar, but not one I would choose again.

Thai Noodles

My sister saved a clipping from the newspaper the week before, it had a recipe for mole, and this recipe, both of which appealed to me, but I think this more than the other. I like Thai food, and the tastes of Thai, but, I must admit, I am not anywhere near a pro at making this kind of dish. I need more practice. Not that it didn't taste like it should have, it just didn't quite turn out the way that I wanted. I used Thai vermicelli noodles, they worked well, but I think that thicker noodles would work better. The combination of the vinegar-fish sauce and the lime juice works well together, the red pepper flakes give it a kick, but you can omit them if you don't like heat. This dish was fairly easy to make, though it pays to prepare all of the ingredients as I suggest in the first paragraph. The name of the dish too, strikes me as being uninspired, perhaps there is really a Thai name for this dish, I would hope so.

Thai Noodles
Adapted from Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Thin rice noodles (3 of the four bundles in a 198 g package)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
225 g pork cutlets
6 Tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
paprika and garlic salt, to taste
4 Tbsp peanut oil (divided)
340 g package cooked, peeled shrimp
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, chopped
2 baby bok choy, cut into strips
2 eggs, scrambled
1 cup bean sprouts
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup lime juice (juice of large lime)
1 lime, cut into wedges

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain in colander. Mix sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar; set aside. Cut bok choy into strips; set aside. Mince garlic and chop green onions; set aside. Whisk two eggs until scrambled. If shrimp frozen, run cold water over shrimp for 5 minutes until dethawed.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add pork cutlets to dry pan. Pour about a tablespoon of vegetable oil over each cutlet. Sprinkle with paprika and garlic salt. Fry for a couple of minutes and then turn over. Sprinkle again with spices. When browned, remove and cut into thin strips.

Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a wok on medium high heat. Saute shrimp for about three minutes, until browned. Remove from wok and set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of peanut oil, and fry the garlic and green onions until soft. Add the pork strips, drained noodles and the fish sauce. Reduce the heat and cook for about five minutes, stirring ingredients to mix.

Meanwhile, heat remaining vegetable oil in a small skillet and fry the bok choy until soft; add to the noodle mixture. Push noodles to one side and add eggs to wok; stir to cook. Add shrimp, red pepper flakes, bean sprouts, and lime juice. Cook for an additional two to three minutes.

Garnish with lime wedges.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year!

The Chinese or Lunar New Year occurs this year on February 18th, and ushers in the Year of the Pig. The holiday lasts two weeks in China. We decided to celebrate the Lunar Festival by making dumplings, or Jiaozi, similar to the ones that I wrote about earlier. Making dumplings is a family event, it requires a fair amount of work, several hours if one person had to do it, certainly lots less if the family sits around the table, assembling the dumplings, talking and laughing and sharing the celebration, what a New Year celebration should be. What kind of dumplings to make this time? I liked the pork and cabbage one, so we chose that one again, and my sister suggested making one from carrots, she had enjoyed these in China. There's more to it than carrots, I found out, thinking that it wouldn't be that interesting, crunchy perhaps, but it's really a combination of carrots cut very fine, scrambled eggs, and ground pork.

Instead of pre-made wrappers, my brother-in-law made some dough, really just water and flour and a little bit of elbow grease. He rolled out the rounds of dough, and my sister and I assembled the large number of dumplings that we made (there was lots of filling left, so my brother-in-law made some more dumplings later in the day), but this amount was for the three of us.

Into the water went the dumplings.

Here they are finished, awaiting us to eat them.

For more flavour, to drizzle over the dumplings, we made the garlic and vinegar sauce, very garlicky but quite tasty. Press about 10 garlic cloves through a garlic press, then mince everything, and pour Chinese vinegar over the minced garlic. Let steep for 30 minutes.

Another dish my brother-in-law made involved a vegetable from the bamboo family, really like very young bamboo, not woody at all, green in colour.

He stir-fried it with some cut-up pork pieces and ginger slices. It tasted quite good, and smelled quite tasty. It is a favourite of my sister's, but I have never seen the vegetable before, and don't know the English name for it.

Later on in the day, we ate another dish that is typically made and served at the Lunar Festival. I received this gift from one lady at work, it was a nice surprise on Friday.

It is a rice cake, made from glutinous rice, and taro root, and dried shrimp, a friend of hers makes them every year, and she gave me one to try, knowing that I am interested in different Chinese foods. There are different versions of these rice cakes, most of them are sweet, I have seen ones made with red beans, or brown sugar, or different fruits. This one was savoury, not really sweet at all, but quite tasty.

Overall, a great meal, hopefully ushering in a great year. Happy Lunar New Year to all!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dried Mangoes

I was paying for these at the checkout, and the cashier asked me whether I had ever tried these, I had not, and said so, and asked her why. She said that they were really good tasting. Having tried other dried mango slices before, and finding, like most dried fruits, them to be tough and chewy, I decided to take her statement as is, and see for myself whether they were any good. And they are. Really good. Not tough and chewy, definitely dried, but still soft and tasty, too. They smell wonderful, almost like fresh mango. These come from the Philippines, from a company called 7D, and are, according to the package, which I am reading as I am writing this, and long after I had tried several pieces, 'dried just enough to attain the chewiness that you desire and the great mango flavour that you savour bite after bite'. They are sweetened with cane sugar, with a little sodium metabisulfite as a preservative, and to keep the colour. I'll have to go back for more.

How to find Chocolatiers in Toronto

There are many talented programmers out there, creating new exciting applications, some of the technology comes from that search-engine-plus-more company called Google. They have something called Google Maps, that allow you to create interactive maps, marking various interesting places, shops, restaurants, or libraries, etc., based on street maps of almost any large city in North America. Now, someone has created a map of the several chocolatiers in the Toronto area, to allow you to fill that chocolate craving. Check out Yummy Baguette.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Book Review - Chocolate by Mort Rosenblum

I picked up this book, Chocolate - A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, the other week, having read about it in this review about books concerning chocolate, and I was eager to read it. Mort Rosenblum did not start out as an expert on chocolate and write a book, he was a complete novice, and learned about chocolate in his travels, from experts and individuals, exposing truths and fictions about this wonderful food we so love. In that, he mirrors my quest to find great tasting chocolate. Not that I would travel the whole world, as he has done, well, perhaps a few places, but my expectations of what chocolate is has changed, having myself grown up on sweet milk chocolate and candy bars, and only in the last few years, have seriously discovered and enjoyed dark chocolate, and have come to dislike milk chocolate, and have quite frankly turned into a 'chocolate snob'. I am eager to learn more, what to look for, how to tell if something is potentially good, or bad, how to find chocolate I really like and continue to like. I like the colour of the book binding, a medium-brown chocolate.

The meat of the book concerns chocolate, certainly, it starts out with a chapter on how cacao was discovered, how it was brought to the world, from the Ancient to the Young. Then it goes on with a chapter on how chocolate has influenced the world, what it means to people, followed by a chapter on the different species of cacao, and how they differ, where they are grown and what is better. There is a chapter on mole sauce, in which I found out that traditionally there are 27 ingredients, one of them being chocolate, and that the meat traditionally served with this sauce is not chicken, but turkey. A chapter on Hershey, so beloved by the American public, so despised by Europeans. Another on the Ivory Coast in Africa, where 50% of most cacao comes from, and most of it does not rank among the good stuff. Chapters follow on Valrhona; chocolate in France (are they the best makers of chocolate); chocolate in Belgium (are they better than the French); Godiva chocolate; chocolate in England (in which we learn about using different fats to replace cocoa butter); chocolate in Switzerland (where all chocolate seems to be uniform in taste and well loved - the Swiss eat the most chocolate per capita); Nutella (a wonderful product, how could I not like hazelnuts and chocolate together in the same product); chocolate for the body and soul (is it an aphrodisiac, is it good for your health); and chocolate in America (where we find makers of excellent dark chocolate). Each chapter is interesting and well written. Here, too, I have discovered the person with the best palate for chocolate, Chloe Doutre-Roussel, she has her own book, in which she reveals the secrets to enjoying good chocolate.

The lesson that I have taken from this book, is that chocolate is an individual thing, it is not a matter of facts and logic, but of opinion, and that what is good and tasty for one, might be horrible for another. Too, each cacao bean is unique in its taste, and how it is prepared can make it shine or fail, that one needs good cacao to make good chocolate, but you could just as easily make bad chocolate from those same beans. Finally, there is a whole world of chocolate to explore, and I am just beginning my adventure.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bacon-Egg Sandwich

This is bacon and eggs the way I like it, the eggs cooked 'hard'; I don't like sunny side-up style eggs, really I don't like eggs runny at all, a preference I share with my Dad, who has always asked for his eggs 'turned over hard, break the yolk'. This wouldn't be bad either, if you put a little cheese or chopped tomatoes on top, before you folded it. Bacon is normally fairly salty, so add only a little salt to the eggs.

Bacon-Egg Sandwich
3-4 slices bacon
3 eggs
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 slices toasted rye bread

Whisk three eggs, adding salt and pepper. Add bacon to cold frying pan and fry on medium heat until nearly done. Add eggs to pan, spreading out eggs into thin layer. Flip over when eggs are cooked through on bottom. Cook till eggs are stiff. Fold over, then fold again. Put between two slices of toasted rye bread. Enjoy.

The death of the Patriarch of the Oetker Family

I read last week about the death of the founder of the Dr. Oetker Company, Rudolf August Oetker lived to the ripe old age of 90. My life seems entwined with the Dr. Oetker name, as my mother was born and raised in the same city where Rudolf Oetker was born, Bielefeld, Germany, and thus many of her recipes came from various Dr. Oetker recipe books, made with Dr. Oetker products. Even now, many products of Dr. Oetker can be found in supermarkets in North America, including baking powder, vanilla sugar, various essences (rum, lemon, burnt almond and others), baking mixes, puddings, pizzas and the recently acquired Shirriff line of products. But the Oetker company not only dabbles in baked goods, they own various large ships (my Dad recalls seeing some of his ships down in the Welland Canal in the St. Catherines area, bringing Volkswagen automobiles to Canada), breweries, luxury hotels, a chemical factory, and even a bank. The Oetker name and company, from its beginnings after the invention of 'baking powder', has to grown to have 23,000 employees and revenues of over 7 million Euros per year, and is know world wide. I can't imagine my life without them.

Brown Sugar Sponge Cake with Caramel Icing

This recipe, along with several other similar looking delicious sponge cake recipes, came from Donna Hays magazine, the source of many inspired and inspiring recipes. The secret to sponge cake is the eggs, use the freshest ones you can get, and for even better results, make sure they are room temperature. This recipe calls for brown sugar, but the only sugars I had were of the muscovado type, which tend to be a little wetter in texture. They did not impact the results too much. Too, I did not follow the recipe as how I have written it, I used a cake pan, and the sponge decided to bubble over, which is why the next time, I will try making it in a springform pan. Overall, it tasted pretty good, the caramel icing was not too sweet, and the sponge cake was light and airy.

Brown Sugar Sponge Cake with Caramel Icing
From Donna Hay Magazine
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
1/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup light muscovado sugar
1 cup table (18%) cream

For caramel icing, stir in the light muscovado sugar into the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, until dissolved. Increase the heat slightly, till it begins to boil, then reduce heat and continue to simmer rapidly, making sure it does not boil over, for 8 minutes, or until the caramel thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 8 inch springform pan with butter and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder three times in a small bowl. Set aside.

Fit your Kitchenaid with the balloon whisk, or use an electric mixer, and beat on high the dark muscovado and superfine sugars with the eggs for 8-10 minutes, until it is thick, pale and tripled in volume.

Sift half the flour mixture over the egg mixture and gently fold in. Repeat with the remaining flour.

Pour the mixture into the springform pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cake is springy to touch, and comes away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool.

Spread the cooled caramel icing over the cake to serve.

Serves 6.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Yipy Vanilla Chocolate Bar

I noticed this in the vending machine at work, I thought at first that they had spelled vanilla wrong on the wrapper, it is spelled vainilla, as you might be able to see, the extra i giving it the 'I am extra good' vain-ness. When I paid the fifty cents for it, really it should have been no more than twenty-five, and examined it closer, I found out that it was manufactured in Costa Rica, and thus the word for vanilla was spelled correctly. The chocolate bar was not that good, it did smell very vanilla-y, there's a thin enrobing of chocolate round not-so-crispy wafers with some sort of, I guess, vanilla creme in-between. This vending machine is done by an independent supplier, I wonder where he bought these from, though I can see that they have a best-before date, at least. One wonders, sometimes, how long things have been in a vending machine.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Speciale Italia Ecuador

I got to try another of the single source chocolate bars from the Italian company called Speciale Italia srl; the cacao beans are from Ecuador. 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, very similar to the Santo Domingo version. I would eat this bar again, assuming I could find it again in stores.

Passion Fruit

I bought these based on them being labelled as Passion Fruit, though they are much larger than the fruits I am used to, small and purple, slightly sour in taste, which my Dad introduced us to when we were younger. He always suggested we put sugar on them, but I found them to be quite tasty, even with its sourness. The green one I found to be quite sour, the yellow-orange one was sweet but did not have a strong flavour. To stir the flavours, so to speak, I combined half of one with half of the other, which worked well, but still not as good as the purple variety.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Port Credit's Harbourlicious

The fourth year of Winterlicious is taking place currently, part of WinterCity, this is an event that allows upscale and trendy restaurants to offer three-course Price Fixe lunches and dinners, typically $15-25 for lunches and $25-35 for dinners. It is an interesting concept, driven partly as an attempt to drive up business in the lean winter months, when people are more likely to want to cocoon in their homes, avoiding the cold and snow, until spring and its accompanying warmer weather arrives. I would like to see some sort of Autumnlicious/Harvestlicious event, the same sort of deal, but featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak in the Fall. Following in the success of Winterlicious, some restaurants are difficult at best to get seatings, Port Credit, located on the shores of Lake Ontario mostly along Lakeshore Boulevard in south Mississauga, has introduced an event they call Harbourlicious, which runs much longer than the two weeks of its Toronto counterpart, it runs from February 1 to March 17, some 45 days. There are lots of events going on during this event, theme nights like Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day; Corkless Mondays, where the restaurant pays the corkage fee when you bring your own wine; live music; a Chocolate Lover's brunch; and, of course, the three-course Fixed Price meals. Participating restaurants include Breakwater Restaurant; The Crooked Cue; The Pump House Grill Co.; Snug Harbour Seafood Bar & Grill; The Brogue; Lake Effect Patio Bar & Grill; and ten Restaurant & Wine Bar. I must confess that most of these restaurants I have never even heard of, I live close to this area, but have never ventured down to the Lakeshore to check out the local restaurants and happenings. Perhaps this event will pry me out of my own personal cocoon.

Sarotti No. 1 Santo Domingo

The latest chocolate bar I consumed this week, was one of Sarotti's single source cacao chocolate bars, this being the 85% cacao content made with cacao beans from Santo Domingo. I found this bar to be pretty good, though I find that 85% cacao content bars tend to be a little chalky for my tastes, a little more sugar would make this a better bar. Still, it's fairly good tasting chocolate, with a fairly good snap, a pleasant smell, and it melts in your mouth fairly well. In the long run, compared to other single-source bars I have tasted recently, I would not select this bar again.