Sunday, April 29, 2007

Alphonso Mango Juice

I like juices that are natural, don't contain much added sugar, and are actually what they advertise (as opposed to mostly apple or pear or white grape juice with a little of the juice that the product is called). I came across this product, made from alphonso mangoes, considered, according to the package, to be one of the best and most sought after variety because of its unique tasted and variety. The ingredient listing is what I am looking for, just water (both filtered and spring), fruit juice from alphonso mango puree, sugar, concentrated orange juice (so, it's not 100% mango juice, but at least mango juice is the majority of juice), natural flavour, citric acid, pectin and potassium benzoate (a preservative). It tastes pretty good, a good mango flavour, not too sweet.

Bin-Bin Rice Crackers Seaweed Flavor

I like the flavour of salty rice crackers, this variety is manufactured by a Thailand company, and recommended by my beautiful Thai friend in a recent shopping expedition to a Chinese supermarket. The salty seaweed gives it a unique and interesting flavour.

Ghiradelli Espresso Escapade

I'm not a fan of American chocolate, especially the long-standing and well liked Hershey varieties, but there is another very old chocolate company, Ghiradelli from California, in business since 1852, purveyors of fine chocolate. Recently, they have joined the trend of making high-end dark chocolate products, this Espresso Escapade bar is one of three specialty Intense Dark chocolate bars. This one, which cost me about $3.50, has 60% cocoa content with finely ground espresso beans (really, so finely ground I didn't notice them). The ingredient listing looks good, bittersweet chocolate (made from cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, milk fat, soya lecithin and vanilla), milk fat, coffee, cocoa butter and coffee oil (an interesting ingredient). The chocolate has a good aroma, the chocolate is smooth (what they describe as velvety) tasting, but doesn't really linger long in the palate, nor is it what I would describe as really intense, I couldn't really taste the espresso parts. Not a bad chocolate bar, and it tasted good enough that I want to try the other two in this line, though it's not likely that I would buy this particular bar again.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Chocolate Coconut Honey Cake

I like coconut and chocolate together as a flavour combination, these Chocolate Drop cookies are really good and easy to make, and I've talked about my favourite Tim Hortons' donut, the Chocolate White, a chocolate cake donut with coconut frosting on the outside, which I've wanted to make in the form of a cake for a long while. This is my first attempt, though it will not taste like the donut, as it is another variation on the Honey cakes that I have made many different kinds of in the past. The smell of the chocolate and coconut wafting through my place as it bakes is amazing. And the taste was great too, I ate a slice still warm from the oven, like I hoped it would be, chocolatey, and coconuty, too.

Chocolate Coconut Honey Cake
225 g sweet butter
250 g runny honey
100 g dark muscovado sugar
175 g good dark chocolate
3 large eggs
300 g (2-1/4 cups) self-rising flour
1 cup sweetened coconut
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp honey

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

Whisk flour and cocoa together till mixed.

Melt butter, honey, and sugar slowly in a saucepan. Boil for one minute.

Add chocolate to hot caramel and stir till melted and mixed through. 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. Whisk coconut 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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Kidney Mangoes

There are, apparently, over 1500 varieties of mangoes, I have raved about my current favourite, the Ataulfo, this small mango has the same yellow skin and yellow inner flesh, but it is not near as creamy in texture, nor as flavourful. Plus, being small, and kidney-shaped (thus its name), it does not contain much fruit flesh, though the stone inside is very thin, and it is easy to scrape out. Like the ataulfo, too, there is little fiber in it. Worth a try, but too much work for little gain, in my mind, however.

Red Bean Sticky Rice Dumpling

To go with the Chicken and Ginger and Corn, I decided to try this glutinous or sticky rice product from the local Chinese supermarket. There are various versions of this, this one has red beans in it, there are others with chicken, ones with mushrooms, and ones with pork. They are wrapped in lotus leaves, and are generally glutinous rice, water and canola oil with the extra ingredient, in this case red beans. They last six months in the freezer or ten days in the fridge. To heat, all it requires, after defrosting if it was in the freezer, is to boil it in water for 8-10 minutes. Sticky rice is interesting, but a little too sticky for my tastes.

Chicken with Ginger and Corn

Very similar to the Ginger Chicken Bacon I made earlier, this added several new ingredients. First of all was green onions; as well baby corn. I first cut up into medium chunks two green onions, separating the white and stalk from the green bits on the top. I then cut up a 3" piece of ginger into thin slices, and cut those in half. To the green bits of the green onion, I added five garlic cloves. I heated some oil in a wok on medium high heat, until the oil was hot. I added the ginger and white part of the green onion, and sauteed for a couple of minutes. To this I added six chicken thighs, sliced into bite-sized chunks. I stir-fried the chicken, until it was near cooked through. I then added the green part of the green onions, the garlic cloves and a whole can of baby corn, first draining the water. To this I added a teaspoonful of sugar and a splash or two of rice wine vinegar. I cooked this for about five minutes more, covering the wok, until the chicken was cooked, and everything was heated through. Quite tasty.

Green Tea Bread

With the idea that green tea provides anti-oxidants and other good benefits, there is a growing trend in marketing products that contain this healthful ingredient. I have seen green tea in various new products, soy milk, noodles, and different baked goods. One must look out for the wannabes, the products that use green food colouring rather than green tea powder. This bread, found in my local Chinese supermarket, T&T, who have developed more than 25 different products with green tea, is basically white bread with green tea, but it is also laced with sweet red bean paste, lots of it, to make it quite tasty.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Golden Alps Bitter-Sweet Chocolate

Like the other bar in this line, I can only assume it is Swiss because of the flag on the wrapper, the best thing it has going for it is that it is inexpensive. Though, unlike the other Praline, its ingredient listing does not contain vegetable fat, and looks reasonable, except for the fact that sugar is ranked highest. Next are cocoa mass and cocoa butter, soya lecithin and a untasty sounding chemical by the name of polyglycerol polyrincinoleate (both used as emulsifiers), and the artificial vanillin. I would say it tasted better than the Praline, but it's not likely I would purchase this again.

My Basil Plant is Flowering

I left one or two stalks on my basil plant, having consumed most of those fragrant and delicious leaves, and one of them has just flowered. Hopefully, it will go to seed and give me more basil!

Carpet of Zilias

The zilias at my Dad's place have multiplied tremendously, there is now a thick carpet of them along his driveway.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

WaterBridge Belgian Dark or Hazelnut Chocolate

I found these large chocolate bars in WalMart, of all places, confectionary artisan chocolate from Belgium. They are made in the small Belgian town of Aarschot, made exclusively for WaterBridge. It can be debated, and is, that Belgian chocolate is among the best in the world, but the proof is in the tasting. With their large size comes a small price, surprisingly, about $4, but that could be a special introductory price. The Dark version, of 500 g, with cocoa solids of 54%, has a good ingredient listing, just cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soy lecithin. The Hazelnut version, of 400 g, is a milk chocolate bar, with cocoa solids of 33% and milk solids of 15%, also has a fairly good ingredient listing, sugar, hazelnuts, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, soy lecithin and natural vanilla flavour. From the graphic on the wrapper, the roasted hazelnuts look to be a good size.

Cebu Dried Mangoes

I found this package of dried mangoes at a Chinese supermarket, another product made from mangoes from the Phillipines. How did it compare to the ones that I raved about earlier, from 7D? Well, not as tasty, a lot chewier, not as fragrant, overall an inferior product. They do have going for them, that they are a third of the price as the other ones.

Strawberry Napkins

This weekend is the first warm days of the year, with temperatures over twenty degrees and sunny. It reminds me that soon summer will be here, and with that comes strawberries, in June. These strawberries on these napkins look almost good enough to eat!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lucky Ladybug

This little chocolate ladybug looks almost real, and ready to fly off any second. In European myth, ladybugs are considered lucky; in Asian myth, if it flies off, it will find your true love and tell them your name.

Sarotti No. 1 Java

The last of the five varieties in the No. 1 Series by Sarotti contains beans from the island of Java, and is presented as a milk chocolate bar at 33% cacao content. Like the others, the ingredients are quite good, as in a short list, just sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin as an emulsifier, and vanilla flavour. Java has had cacao beans since Colonial times. In 1560 Spanish conquistadors brought varietal Criollo beans from Mexico to propogate. This bar is a fairly good milk chocolate, it melts well in the mouth. There is something about milk chocolate that I have noticed lately, however, an aftertaste that I don't like, perhaps the milk itself. I don't think that I would buy this bar again.

Blood Oranges

Blood oranges are in season these days, they are quite sweet. I have bought recently from two different stores oranges from two countries, Mexico, pictured above, and Italy. The Italian ones seem juicier and sweeter, though less red-fleshed and red-skinned as the Mexican ones. Either one still makes for the best tasting orange.

Haw Flakes

Chinese hawthorn yields a large fruit similar to an apple, and its flesh is made into several sweetened products, including fruit leather, biscuits, ice cream, candied haw "apples" on a stick, and compressed discs of haw fruit, or haw flakes. They are kind of like a candy, with a unique taste that I like. Hawthorn has medicinal qualities, especially for the heart, though I can't see these candies having much nutritional value.

Vegetable Fridge Magnet

My beautiful Thai friend gave me this cute vegetable fridge magnet. What a sweetie she is!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Japanese Baked Goods

Before we went to our Chinese restaurant, my beautiful Thai friend showed me this small Japanese bakery called Grape Vine Bakery, located in Victoria Business Centre on Victoria Park in North York. There were many different baked goods, like any bakery, the smell was great. We selected two things to try, one a pastry filled with green tea filling with red beans, the other a crunchy rice snack, both unusual looking and tasting.

Chinese Gooseberry

My father used to eat these growing up in Tanganyika, now Tanzania, he called them in the local language, songwa. These were labelled physalis when I bought them, though I have heard them more commonly called Chinese gooseberries, sometimes Cape Gooseberries. These come from Colombia. They do not tasted like gooseberries, rather have a slightly sour-sweet citrus flavour, very refreshing and unusual. They are quite expensive, a small container, which contains about 20 of them, costs about $4. Quite different than what my father remembers, there were so many, they could make jam of them.

Restaurant Review - Congee Star

On the recommendation of my beautiful Thai friend, we went to this Chinese restaurant, Congee Star, which is located on the west side of Don Mills north of Wynford Drive in Toronto. I would think that they would be known for their congee, and we decided to have one of their interesting combinations, ones I have not seen in other restaurants. This congee contained salted fish and preserved duck eggs. With this, we had a dish from the Snack section, which was Chinese fried dough wrapped in rice noodles. My friend told me that Chinese fried dough, without the rice noodles, goes well with congee. The congee tasted good, and arrived very hot, the rice toned down the flavour of the preserved duck eggs. Then we ordered a soup, with crab and fish maw; my friend likes fish maw, though the Thai cut up the fish maw into larger chunks than the Chinese do. It tasted pretty good regardless, and arrived piping hot. Finally, we ordered a dish with fish and bitter melon over rice noodles. The rice noodles were the thick kind, rather than vermicelli. Again, quite tasty, though I find bitter melon to have an odd bitter taste, something I can't stomach too much of. The meals were reasonably priced and were quite generous in size, we could not finish all of the food. I would go back, especially to try the hot pot, a dish that my Thai friend recommended for me to try but ultimately I did not choose, she knows I would like it, but she is mostly vegetarian, and I wanted to select dishes we could both eat.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sarotti No. 1 Papua Neuguinea

I must confess that I don't like candied orange peel, never have, hot crossed buns at Easter don't do it for me, because of the candied bits in them, so I viewed this version of Sarotti's No. 1 series, the fourth one I have reviewed, with a little trepidation. This bar contains cacao beans from Papua New Guinea, of Criollo and Forastero varietals, and has a cocoa content of 72%. Like the other bars in this series, the ingredient listing is short, just cocoa mass, sugar, candied orange peel (orange peel, sugar, dextrose), soya lecithin as an emulsifier, and vanilla flavour. When it came to tasting it, it broke very well, with a good snap, smelled fairly good, orangey, but the taste almost immediately when chewing it, was overwhelmingly orange, the chocolate disappeared into the background, and, eventually, I was down to chewing the bits I don't like, the candied peel. I must confess, that I could not finish this, I only ate four squares of the ten in the package, so I gave it a fair try, I think. I did give it to another lady at work who enjoys candied peel, but I would not buy this again, ever.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Duca Degli Abruzzi Hazelnut Gianduia Pure Chocolate Nougat

This Italian hazelnut chocolate nougat, in Italian called Torrone di Puro Cioccolato con Guanduia e Nocciole, made by Mangiami SCarl in Rome, I found in, of all places, Loblaws, for about $5. The pure chocolate, or Cioccolato in Italian, only has a cocoa content of 25.5%, and whole powdered milk, so it is at best pure milk chocolate. The toasted hazelnuts, or nocciole in Italian, which comprise 15% of the total, are large and unbroken, which is good. Too, it also contains hazelnut paste, or gianduia in Italian. The rest of the ingredients are sugar, first in the list, and, last in the list, soya lecithin as an emulsifier, and flavouring, presumably vanilla. The guanduia combined with the milk chocolate gives it a consistency of a nougat, though I think it would do better with a little higher concentration of chocolate. Overall, I would say that this nougat is okay, but not worth the price.

Dodol Durian Malaysian Cake

I've had a fascination for the exotic fruit called Durian ever since I've read about it being the King of fruits coupled with its off-putting smell, that I've wanted to try it in the various forms that come from the countries where it grows. One eats it plain, presumably quickly if one is put off by the smell, or dried, in chip form, much like banana chips, or in baked goods. This form, from Malaysia, is prepared from a traditional recipe, I found it in a Chinese supermarket. When one opens the plastic wrapping, a sweet smell of coconut and durian wafts from the thick dark jelly. And it tastes sweet, but not too sweet, the chewy jelly is creamy in texture. Its ingredients are durian, coconut flower water, coconut milk, palm sugar and glutinous flour. I imagine this would be even better freshly made, just as eating the durian fruit just picked ripe from the tree would be far more delicious.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Poulain Noir Café

Another chocolate bar I tried from the French chocolatier, Poulain, owned by Cadbury, is part of their line of special chocolate bars called 1848, so called because they have been in existence since 1848. This selection, containing 64% cocoa content, is called Noir Café, or Coffee Dark. Its ingredients listing is short, just dark chocolate (made of unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, soy lecithin and natural flavour), caramelized cocoa nibs and coffee. There is no indication as to the origin of the cacao beans. The chocolate has a good coffee flavour, if you like the pairing of the two, and the caramelized cocoa nibs add a good sharp taste to this bitter tasting chocolate, far better tasting than the Ultime Noir I tried earlier.

Ginger Chicken Bacon

I have liked the taste of ginger for a long while, and over the past couple of years have increased the number of dishes that I enjoy it in. My brother-in-law uses it in most of the dishes that he makes, it is part of a basic set of ingredients that he uses, along with garlic and scallions and star anise. I had a good chunk of bacon, too, that I know pairs well with the chicken, in this case thighs, that I had bought earlier this week. I heated some oil in a wok, till it was close to smoking, then added some sliced ginger and four sliced garlic cloves, which I stir-fried for a couple of minutes, before I then added the cut-up bacon pieces and the sliced chicken thighs. I stir-fried this all for about 10 minutes, covering occasionally for a minute or two, until the chicken was browned and the bacon was cooked through. I served this over some noodles I had cooked earlier. Quite tasty.

Golden Alps Praline

The only thing I can see that this chocolate bar has going for it, is that it is inexpensive. Even at room temperature, it was very soft. That could be due to the ingredients, third in the list, behind sugar and cocoa butter, is vegetable fat. I have always thought that good chocolate should only contain cocoa butter as its fat, and I read now that there is a call to change the definition of chocolate in the United States to include substitute fats, palm or coconut oil, among others, to replace the cocoa butter. Not a good trend. This is a cheap milk chocolate praline, that doesn't taste bad, though I doubt that I will be buying it again anytime soon.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Two more La Tourangelle Oils

Having enjoyed La Tourangelle's delicious Roasted Hazelnut Oil, I decided to try two more of their oils, Toasted Sesame Oil and Roasted Walnut Oil.

The Toasted Sesame Oil, which is used in many Asian recipes, is made in Japan following 270-year-old traditional methods, which involve slowly roasting the sesame seeds, then expeller pressing and lightly filtering the resulting oil. They even include a recipe for an Asian style dressing, for use in salads, stir-fry or BBQ marinades.

Japanese Style Sesame Dressing
4 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients together.

The Roasted Walnut Oil is manufactured in California following 150-year-old traditional French methods. Again, the walnuts are slow roasted to perfection, expeller pressed and lightly filtered. Use this oil on salad dressings, pasta, grilled meat or to dip with bread. They included a recipe for a French vinaigrette.

French Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
4 Tbsp Roasted Walnut Oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
dash of salt to taste

Blend all ingredients together.

Nong Shim Instant Udon Noodles

My beautiful Thai friend showed me this interesting variation on the instant noodle packages found everywhere; this one is Korea in flavour, though manufactured in China, and is quite spicy, and thus, in my opinion anyways, far better tasting. The package consists of three parts, the udon-style noodles, which are thicker than those found in other competitors, a Powder soup packet, which contains the spices that give it its zing, and the Vegetable soup packet, which contains dried seaweed, dried mussel, dried squid cake, dried chives and dried carrot. Much like any of the other versions, this is easy to make. Boil some water, add the contents of the package, and boil for 5 minutes. I added some frozen cooked shrimp that I had to give it a little protein, but you could add almost anything; she suggested I add tomatoes, something she likes.

Sarotti No. 1 Ecuador

The third chocolate bar from the Sarotti No. 1 series contains cacao beans from Ecuador. The bean varietals that this country is well known for are Arriba Superior, Navida and Epoca. I have liked other chocolate bars with beans from Ecuador, and this one is no exception. Again, the ingredients are pretty good, cocoa mass, sugar and soya lecithin as an emulsifier, with a minimum cocoa content of 72%. The bar, though, was a less smooth tasting than the other Ecuadoran bars that I have tasted, a little to the chalky side. Still good, I'm seeming to like the beans from this country.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Chocolate Hazelnut Honey Cake

This is another variation on the Devonshire Honey cake recipe, I decided to add some chocolate to the mix. Now, when I made this cake, I didn't add the cocoa powder to the flour, and thus it didn't turn out as chocolatey as I wanted. It still tasted quite good.

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

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

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

Add chocolate to hot caramel and stir till melted and mixed through.

Whisk flour and cocoa together till mixed.

Beat in eggs one at a time in the saucepan. Whisk in flour into egg caramel mixture in two batches. 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.