Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Saeng-shik Raw Greens

My best friend put me on to this product, he had received a demo of the whole range of the raw greens products from this company in this health store he visited. Intrigued, and finding it on sale, I decided to give it a try. I had read about the benefits of raw foods, and had previously incorporated "greens" into my daily diet. Raw food is food that is cooked below a certain temperature, to preserve the enzymes that help in digestion of the food that we consume, most food is cooked far above this temperature, which destroys or deactivates the enzymes. One could eat raw vegetables or fruits, but another choice is to buy a product that gives you these from various green foods. I chose the 14 day pouch offering from Raw Greens Inc., you consume one to two pouches per day, either as an additional part of a meal, or, if eaten with a banana or orange juice, as a replacement. Each pouch contains 40 g of such interesting ingredients as kale, white and black sesame, shiitake mushroom, sea tangle, Japanese chlorella, spirulina, millet, Job's tears, barley grass, wild parsley, pine needles, radish leaves, lotus root, burdock, cordyceps, ganoderma mushrooms, carrot leaves and mugwort. It's better to mix this with some sort of fruit juice, with water I didn't care for the taste. Did it do anything for me? I can't quite say, though it did improve my digestion somewhat. I'll see, too, whether my digestion reverts to its normal state after completing the 14 days.

Polish Imperial Chocolate with Hazelnuts

This large chocolate bar from Poland, filled with my favourite hazelnuts, I finally got to taste. The bar was milk chocolate with hazelnut pieces, the usual combination of these two ingredients, with an ingredient listing similar to many milk chocolate bars, sugar, cocoa butter, hazelnuts (this should be before cocoa butter), cocoa mass (which also should be before cocoa butter in the listing), whey powder, cream powder, milk powder, lecithin and ethylvanilla (or fake vanilla). The chocolate tasted pleasant enough, the hazelnuts were fairly large, enough to have a crunch at least. Not my favourite, and not likely to go on my list of repeatable bars.

Bella Italia Organic Chocolate

The idea of organic chocolate appealed to me, no artificial flavours or preservatives, good ingredients, but would its taste compare to other quality chocolate bars? This offering by the Italian company Icam S.p.a., I found for sale at Christmas, and only recently had a chance to sample it. The ingredient listing looked good, organic raw cane sugar, organic chocolate liquor, organic cocoa butter, organic dry whole milk, soy lecithin and organic vanilla. The chocolate within comes in two varieties, a milk chocolate wafer, made with 37% cocoa solids, and a dark chocolate wafer, made with 60% cocoa solids. And how did they taste? Fairly good, though the cane sugar taste came out fairly strong, a little too strong perhaps, it was an underlying flavour that threw me off initially, until I got used to it. The dark chocolate was more to my taste. The lesson here is, is that organic is not necessarily better, it takes more than quality ingredients, organic or not, to make a good chocolate bar - if the organic cacao beans are bad, if the process is flawed, bad chocolate results. Check these out regardless, you might like them.

Restaurant Review - Chinese Lamb and Beef House

My sister clipped out this review of a new Northern Chinese restaurant, which happened to be very close to where I work, and also happened to look interesting, so last week, I went to check them out. The Chinese Beef and Lamb House restaurant is on the south side of Sheppard Ave. in Toronto, a couple of lights east of Warden, in a nondescript strip mall. According to the review, the restaurant is more known for its lamb, a meat not normally found on many menus, and a meat that I have grown to really like. When the waiter noticed my clipping, which I had brought with me, he knew that I wanted to try their signature lamb dish, BBQ Lamb Chops, which I had determined to try, so I did not even get to peruse the menu for its other offerings. I would have to wait to determine whether the food lived up to its billing, and whether I would want to go again. I ordered a side dish of steamed rice to go with the lamb chops; oddly enough, this dish, probably the most expensive dish on the menu, is the only dish that does not include steamed rice. I determined, if I were to come again, to try some of the other dishes talked about in the review, the Fried Cumin Lamb sounded good, as did the Pan-Fried Lamb Buns, and Xian Style Lamb Soup with Pancakes. The BBQ Lamb Chops finally arrived, and I eagerly began to eat the tasty looking lamb chops. And tasty they were, it tasted too like they used cumin and salt to flavour the lamb, but the meat was very tender, and the fatty portions were quite good as well. The dish was good enough to forgive the slightly slow service, I waited a while before getting my bill to go. And now, I will have to go back to try one or two more of their offerings.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Speciale Italia Cuba

The third of the three chocolate bars I tried from the Italian company Speciale Italia srl contains cacao beans from Cuba. The cacao content of this chocolate bar is 75%. The ingredients look good, as the other two, cocoa paste, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin as an emulsifier and natural aromas. This one I did not like as much as the other two, the flavour was good, though it seemed a little too dry, a little chalky, rather than smooth melting. I would eat this bar again, though I preferred the one from Ecuador, and next the one from Santo Domingo. One odd thing about these chocolate bars that I had not mentioned, is that these are the only chocolate products that come in plastic bags rather than foil. It doesn't seem to affect the flavour. Now, let's hope I can find any of these bars somewhere again.

Tim Hortons Green Baked Goods

Another thing that my Dad looks for on St. Patrick's Day, is baked goods from Tim Hortons, that have some sort of green icing on them. He's disappointed if they don't have something, some years they don't. This gingerbread cookie he found for sale is some weird amalgam of a man with a frog's head, I don't know quite what to do with it.

Shamrock for St. Patrick's Day

A tradition my Dad has been keeping lately, is to buy shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. A little bit of green before Spring starts.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chorizo Chantarelle Garlic Pasta

What to make with the dried Chantarelle mushrooms that I had? At the same time that I bought the chantarelles, I had bought some chorizo sausage, spicy pork sausage. I cut up the sausage into small pieces, and added it and several whole garlic cloves to about a tablespoon of melted butter in a frying pan, and fried the two together for about five minutes, stirring constantly. I then added the reconstituted chantarelle mushrooms (placed in water and rice milk for 20 minutes) and fried for an additional two to three minutes. Lastly, I added the Singapore-style noodles and tossed to combine. Quite tasty.

Dried Yellow Chantarelle Mushrooms

I had read about these mushrooms in various blogs, they are supposed to be quite tasty and aromatic, and quite popular and common in Europe, found in Autumn in the damp conifer woods of many countries, not so much in North America. Of course, the best mushrooms would be ones freshly picked, but given that I don't have a ready source of them, then dried is likely second best, and I found these ones from Italy in the specialty store I frequent. With a little water or milk, and 20 minutes later, they are almost as good as fresh. Like most mushrooms, they are good in rice or pasta dishes, omelettes, and soups or stews. According to the package, they are also naturally rich in iron.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Book Review - The Chocolate Connoisseur

Having read about her in Mort Rosenblum's book Chocolate, and having seen her in the documentary Chocolate Confidential on TV, I was intrigued by the person described as having the finest palate for chocolate, Chloe Doutre-Roussel, and whether her wide experience could be translated well into book form. Unlike Rosenblum's book, which deals with the history and stories behind chocolate, this book deals with the way to become more knowledgeable about chocolate, thus raising your ability to distinguish between good and bad chocolate, and thus be able to enjoy chocolate more. To become, as the title suggests, a Connoisseur of Chocolate.

The book opens with a chapter on Chloe's passion for chocolate, acquired and cultivated from a young age, and what she does to maintain that passion. This is followed by a chapter on the history of chocolate, past and present, where we learn such interesting facts, that the top 10 chocolate bars sold, do not contain more than 20% chocolate, in a thin layer (Mars and Twix and Snickers the top 3); what good chocolate is - high quality ingredients, good production methods, and good level of cocoa content, and who you possibly could obtain it from (Amedei, Bonnat, Chocovic, Michel Cluizel, El Rey, Felchlin, Guittard, Pralus, Scharffen Berger or Valrhona are just some of the names to look for); and what kind of chocolate is favoured in each country. The next chapter gives detailed instructions on how to build your Chocolate Profile, by examining the kinds of chocolate you eat now (so that you can find other better chocolate similar to it); determining how much and when you eat chocolate, what it does for you; and how to eat chocolate and make notes about each new chocolate to build your own chocolate database, where to find it or clubs to join. This is followed by a detailed journey of cacao, from the trees where it grows to the harvested beans, to the fermented, dried and roasted cocoa, to making it into cocoa liquor, conching (which makes it smooth), tempering (heating and cooling rapidly, to crystallize the cocoa butter into a stable form), and finally to moulding. The next chapter details how one can taste chocolate, similar to how one tastes wine, how to use all of your senses to experience chocolate (look at it; touch it to see how it feels; hear how it breaks; smell it; and finally taste it), how to recognize the various and sometimes subtle flavours in different cacao beans, not only sour, sweet, bitter, acid or salty, but flavours in categories like spicy or fruity or flowery, and how you can change your own tastes, to develop your own chocolate palate. This is followed by a short chapter on sharing chocolate, through parties and games, and by cooking or baking with chocolate. Next is a chapter on how to distinguish the best of chocolate, what to look for, how to read the ingredient listings to determine how good a bar it is, and whether organic is worth it or even tasty. The seventh chapter deals with types of chocolates, bars and bonbons, what goes into these and what is good, and not so good. If you ever wondered whether chocolate is good for you, what effect it might have on your health, the next chapter deals on this subject, where we find out about chocolate and the heart, chocolate and obesity, chocolate and acne, chocolate as an aphrodisiac, chocolate and caffeine, and the myths and truths behind these. The second to last chapter deals with becoming a connoisseur, what it entails, what Chloe does in order to fulfill her passion. The last chapter deals with the future of chocolate, how good quality chocolate is finding its way to the consumer because they are beginning to demand it.

Did this help me become a Chocolate Connoisseur? I can say that I had already begun travelling down that particular path already, this just coalesced some of the ideas that I had been forming from information I had read here and there, and chocolate I had found and tasted and liked, or disliked. The journey continues.

Edelweiss Fine Bitter Sweet Chocolate

For only one dollar, this chocolate bar is pretty good. The ingredient listing is fairly short, the only two bad things I see about it, is that sugar is first in the list, and vanillin (fake vanilla) is last. In the middle is cocoa mass and cocoa butter (with soya lecithin as an emulsifier). The chocolate was fairly tasty, and melted in your mouth fairly well. Again, I would say that this is Swiss in origin, just from its name.

Banana Hazelnut Honey Cake

When the lady at work that suggested this version of the Honey cake that I made last week, Hazelnut Honeycake, gave me several what she called dead bananas, they were starting to get large brown spots, what I would call just ripening, I knew that I had to make this cake for her. I increased the time by 5 minutes, as I remembered from making the Banana Honey Cake, that the middle was a little underdone with 55 minutes. The people at work proclaimed this cake the best of them all, it was well received, save for one who complained of the amount or taste of hazelnuts, who was quickly shot down. You could probably cut down on the quantity of hazelnuts, but I think it went well, a moist, nutty cake.

Banana Hazelnut Honey Cake
225 g sweet butter
250 g runny honey
100 g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
300 g (2-1/4 cups) self-rising flour
175 g (6 oz.) ground hazelnuts
2 large ripe bananas (3/4 cup)
2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Melt butter, honey, and sugar slowly in a saucepan. Boil for one minute. Leave to cool (caramel will thicken).

Beat in eggs one at a time in the saucepan. Whisk in flour into egg caramel mixture in two batches. Mash ripe bananas; mix well into the flour mixture with a whisk. Lastly, whisk ground hazelnuts into batter.

Pour into the greased pan and bake for 55-60 minutes or until cake is golden brown and spring back when pressed.

Turn out the cake onto a wire rack. Warm 2 Tbsp honey in a small saucepan and brush over the top of the cake to glaze. Leave to cool.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sweet and Sour Pork Thai-Style

Having the taste of good Thai food still in my mind, I decided to try this recipe from my Thai cookbook. The combination of flavours is quite interesting, the pineapple and cucumber compliments the pork. I like the combination of colours too, green and red and yellow. As always, the key to stir-frying, is to prepare all your ingredients ahead of time, thus you can devote yourself to cooking the food quickly.

Sweet and Sour Pork Thai-Style
From Thai & South-East Asian Cooking & Far Eastern Classics
350 g lean pork
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
2 Tbsp Thai fish sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and sliced
2 plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
115 g fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
2 spring onions, cut into short lengths
ground black pepper

Using a sharp knife, cut the pork into thin strips. To make it easier, firm the meat by placing in the freezer for 30-40 minutes.

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until beginning to turn golden, the add the pork and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes. Add the onion slices and toss to mix.

Add the fish sauce, the sugar and ground black pepper to taste. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes more.

Add the red pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, pineapple and spring onions. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes more.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and sliced spring onions.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Restaurant Review - Thai Angels

On the recommendation of my very beautiful Thai friend, who happens to be friends with the owner, we visited the newly opened Thai restaurant called Thai Angels. One could well miss this restaurant, tucked between a convenience store and an electronics store, just steps away from the intersection of College and Spadina, west on College Avenue on the south side, but one should not miss this restaurant for its authentic Thai dishes. I had a little time to peruse the menu before I went in, and was intrigued by the many different and interesting dishes represented, the crab with Jasmine rice looked good, among others, quite a few different than the normal fare found on most Vietnamese-Thai restaurants. Seated at our modern decor table, we looked over the many offerings, and decided finally on several appetizers and a meal each. The area around the restaurant is mainly commercial, there were few patrons there when we arrived, though it did start to fill up the later it got. Thai Angels offers delivery and take-out, and lunch specials each day.

First out to our table was a special appetizer, small rice cakes with ground pork in a savoury sauce, which were delicious. I had a chance at that time to meet and talk to the charming and engaging owner of this restaurant, who delivered this special offering herself to our table. Next came out two appetizers, the first deep-friend Thai fish cakes, the other deep-fried Taro sticks. The dipping sauce that accompanied each of the appetizers was different than I was used to, it was not the Thai fish sauce and carrots, which is apparently a Vietnamese custom, to my surprise, but a far superior relish with cucumbers, toasted peanuts and garlic in a sweet rice vinegar sauce (at least, I am guessing at some of the ingredients). Both appetizers were deep-fried a little too much, for my and my friend's tastes, they were very thin, but were soon gone as we savoured them. Next came each of our meals. I had ordered a red coconut curry with red snapper, my friend had ordered the Thai-style Phat Thai. Phat or Pad Thai is a traditional dish of Thailand, and this offering again was different than the version I had consumed many times, it was not noodles-in-a-tomato-sauce, again which is more Vietnamese than Thai, it came with a darker sauce that I have read is made with tamarind. Again, the flavours were superior to the other Pad Thai dishes, with chicken, which my friend asked to not include, as she does not care for it, shrimp and bean sprouts and tofu as some of the combination of ingredients. The red snapper came breaded and covered with a coconut curry sauce and covered with carrots, bamboo sprouts and red bell pepper, and was very tasty, only mildly spicy. As we sat and enjoyed our meals, we were able to relax and enjoy each other's company in conversation. I learned that the dishes were mostly central Thai in origin, the cuisine in northern and southern Thailand is different. It certainly opened my eyes as to how good the food in Thailand can be. This restaurant is definitely worth a return to.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Isis Chocolates

I tried recently two offerings from the 84 year old Belgian chocolatier Isis Chocolates, from their Luxury line, a Dark Chocolate bar, with 70% cocoa, and a Smooth Dark Chocolate bar with Crispy Hazelnut Praline. Both were three dollars where I bought them. Of the two, I would say that I liked the Dark Chocolate one, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The Isis Luxury Belgian Pralinor, which is smooth dark chocolate with crispy hazelnut praline was the first of the two I tried. In opening it up, I noticed right away that the chocolate was soft, and, despite my misgivings, as I had stored this bar in the same cool spot as my other chocolate, I determined to give it a try at least. The chocolate too did not have a strong smell, and indeed melted easily in the mouth, it was already close to melting. Too, the Pralinor was odd, it had a mouthfeel like crispy rice, rather than toasted hazelnuts. The ingredients are fairly good, 50% cocoa with cocoa paste and [cocoa] butter, sugar, hazelnuts, vegetable fat, wheat (flour, malt, starch), palm oil, ammonium carbonate, soya lecithin, salt and flavour. The last few ingredients, from hazelnuts to the ammonium carbonate, I would guess makes the praline. Overall, not a great bar, odd really in flavour and texture, though another person I got to try it as well liked it.

The Isis Luxury Belgian Dark Chocolate bar I liked much better, it, for one, was not soft and melting when I opened it up. The ingredient listing is very short, just 70% cocoa, sugar and vanilla. The taste was good too, deep chocolate flavour, very smooth and the flavour lasted long in the mouth. Far better, and one I would try again.

Hazelnut Honey Cake

This is another variation on the honey cake recipe that I had made earlier, I thought the flavour would taste great, and it did, Banana Honey Cake. I found the original base recipe long ago, called Devonshire Honey Cake, it originally came, as I understand, from BBC GoodFood Magazine's 101 Cakes and Bakes. I had had in the back of my mind for a while to try it with ground hazelnuts instead of bananas, I thought it too would taste great. As to how much ground hazelnuts to use, I took the amount from another recipe I have, it called for 6 ounces and that seemed about right. The cake came out very nutty, with a honey-toffee underlying flavour, very nice. Again, it was well received at work. One lady at work gave me an idea for the next variation, that would be Banana Hazelnut Honey Cake. Hmm... Mmmmm...

Hazelnut Honey Cake
225 g sweet butter
250 g runny honey
100 g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
300 g (2-1/4 cups) self-rising flour
175 g (6 oz.) ground hazelnuts
2 Tbsp honey (for glazing)

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Cut a circle out of parchment paper and place on bottom of springform.

Melt butter, honey, and sugar slowly in a saucepan. Boil for one minute. Leave to cool (caramel will thicken).

Beat in eggs one at a time in the saucepan. Whisk in flour into egg caramel mixture in two batches. Mix the ground hazelnuts well into the flour mixture with a whisk.

Pour into the greased pan and bake for 50-55 minutes or until cake is golden brown and spring back when pressed.

Turn out the cake onto a wire rack. Warm 2 Tbsp honey in a small saucepan and brush over the top of the cake to glaze. Leave to cool.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Coffee and Hazelnut Cake

I came across this new recipe through Google Alerts, which I've been trying out for the last week or so, it's allowed me to find a few new and interesting food blogs. One of them is called Lucullian Delights, which seems to have lots of simple Italian-based recipes that look tasty. The recipe that I came across first was called Coffee and Hazelnut Cake or Torta Di Caffe'e Nocciole, it looked easy to make and probably delicious, and I knew I had to make it. I include the recipe in this blog as well, I have changed some of the instructions to suit how I would make it. The cake turned out great, moist and slightly heavy, while the coffee flavour comes through strongly, and the hazelnuts, from my point of view, taste great. Too, it's not too sweet, if you want a change from overly sweet cakes. Several people at work enjoyed it as well.

Coffee and Hazelnut Cake
3 eggs
150 g sugar
100 g sour cream
75 g butter, melted
100 g hazelnuts, chopped
75 ml very strong espresso coffee
300 g all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a medium bowl; set aside. Prepare espresso. Chop hazelnuts with a little sugar in food processor or blender.

Whisk eggs and sugar for 5 minutes, until pale in colour and thickened. Add the sour cream and the melted butter. Continue whisking until well combined and smooth.

Add coffee and hazelnuts; mix well. Add sifted flour into batter and stir until combined.

Pour the batter into a springform pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Allow to cool on wire rack.

LU Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Butter Biscuits

I decided this week to try the Hazelnut Milk Chocolate version of Lu's Le Petit Ecolier Butter Biscuits. Earlier, I had tried their Extra Dark Chocolate version, and I did not really like them. I must say that these taste better, perhaps they were fresher, though the hazelnuts and milk chocolate are a good combination, together and also with the butter biscuit. Looking at the ingredients, I wouldn't say that it is the best nutritionally, mostly sugar, artificial flavours and other chemical sounding additives; 3% of the ingredients is hazelnuts, 48% is chocolate. Not bad, worth at least a try.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Croatian Chocolate

One of the chocolate bars I tried this week, is a milk chocolate bar with coffee filling, made by a company called Zvecevo, from Croatia. From the label, it looks like they are an old company, around since 1921. From it's website, even though I can't read Croatian, it looks like they might have ties with Nestle. The ingredients of this chocolate bar do not look that good: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, whole milk powder, vegetable fat, fat-reduced cocoa powder, coffee (0.88%), skimmed milk powder, hazelnuts, soya lecithin as an emulsifier and flavouring. I was surprised by the hazelnuts, though they are not hazelnut chunks, more like hazelnut cream. The vegetable fat is not a good sign of quality chocolate. The milk chocolate contains a minimum of 33% cocoa solids. Overall, the bar did not taste bad, it does taste like coffee and milk chocolate and is creamy, but you can definitely taste the sugar. Apparently, Zvecevo has a large range of different chocolate products, though this is the only one that I have seen in stores, and tasted.