Thursday, May 31, 2007

Handmade Tanzanian Spoon

My uncle gave me this traditionally made spoon; he bought it in a local market in Tanzania. It is quite large, but perfectly functional, and quite nice. I don't know what dark wood it is made of. The smaller spoon in the picture is there for size comparison.

Green Tea Almond Cookies

This is the second of the four cookies I made for my Hotpot dinner with my beautiful Thai girlfriend, her brother, her sister and two of her nephews. Green tea powder, or matcha, comes from Japan, and is what is normally used in 'Green Tea' baked goods. The green tea smells very good, and its scent comes out in the finished cookie. Almonds and green tea are two favourites of my beautiful Thai girlfriend, I hope she likes them. As I was making so many cookies, I cut the recipe in half from the original.

Green Tea Almond Cookies
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/4 tsp matcha (green tea) powder
1/2 cup ground almonds
flaked almonds, to decorate

Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift flour with baking powder, matcha and almonds.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fuffy.

Add egg and beat in well.

Add flour mixture in two batches; stir to combine.

Roll mixture into small balls and flatten slightly. Gently press a flaked almond into the top and place on baking sheets.

Baked for about 15 minutes.

Makes 48 small cookies.

Coconut-Lime Macaroons

This is one of four cookies that I made for my Hotpot dinner with the family of my beautiful Thai girlfriend. My intent was to find some combinations that speak Thai, but are Western cookies (of course, later, I was told that this particular combination, lime and coconut, would not really occur). I found this recipe somewhere on the 'Net, I would say that the 1/4 cup of lime juice, the juice of about 2 to 2-1/2 limes, is far too much, most of it remained in the mixing bowl. The macaroons did taste quite good, the lime combines very well with the coconut. Too, they are very easy to make.

Coconut-Lime Macaroons
3 egg whites
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
zest of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly. Form into small balls and place 1/2 inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

Cool on wire racks.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

My Vanilla Extract is Ready!

Yesterday was finally the marking point of six months for my Homemade Vanilla Extract, which means that it is ready, and it looks great! I can't wait to try it out!

Red Skinned Apricots

I really like apricots, especially when fresh Ontario offerings are available in the summer, they are sweet and juicy and wonderfully flavourful. I came across these unusual, to me, variety of apricot, with red skins, in a Chinese supermarket, and knew I had to try them. Tasting them, they did not evoke the same kind of flavours that I enjoy from the Ontario variety, and they are not as fresh, being flown in from parts unknown (the source was not labelled, or if it was, it was labelled in Chinese characters, which I can't read), but they were definitely apricots, and quite good.

Two Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate Bars

Ritter Sport produces lots of different chocolate bars in many flavours and combinations, well-liked in Germany, Europe and North America, too. Their tagline 'Quality in a Square', coupled with their unique packaging, or 'Knick-Pack', with which you 'break open' the packaging to get at the chocolate, makes them unique and stand out among competitors. But it really is the quality of the product that ultimately makes consumers decide whether to repurchase their products. Recently, they have created several chocolate bars that contain dark chocolate rather than milk, and these are two of them.

This is a straight dark chocolate bar, no added ingredients or fillings. The ingredient listing looks pretty good, though the cocoa content is only at 50%, it is sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, soy lecithin and vanillin (not so good). It tastes fairly good, though I doubt that I would purchase this one again.

This chocolate offering is dark chocolate with chocolate mousse filling. It has even less cocoa content, just 36%, and more sugar and less desirable ingredients, so I don't think that I would buy this ever again, despite the fact that it tasted good. The long ingredient listing is suar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, butterfat, milk powder, vegetable oil (palm kernel oil), hazelnut paste, soy lecithin and artificial flavour vanillin.

The conclusion is that these two products are a little disappointing in dark chocolate offerings, serviceable but not great, but there are two more that I also bought at the same time that are a little better, that I will write about soon.

7D Mango Nectar

Having enjoyed the Dried Mangoes from 7D, I was pleased to find another product from them. Of course, I was hoping that it shared the same quality and flavour. The bright yellow of the juice and the mangoes on the package looked a little too good to be true, but that's true of most marketing. The spot where you 'Insert Straw' was proof against my efforts to pierce it with the small straw with its sharp edge, I don't see the trick, so I cut the top off and poured the not-as-bright-the-picture-in-the-packaging orange coloured juice out into a glass and tasted it. And it tasted good. I've had fresh mango juice, which is more work than it's worth to do (the juice is excellent, but you don't get much liquid from a mango), and this is an excellent product, for being packaged and processed juice. Quite fresh, and not too sweet, the ingredients are purified water, mango puree, sugar, citric acid, vegetable gum, sodium benzoate (a preservative) and Vitamin C. I would say that the 7D company produces superior products.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Spaghetti with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Oil

I adapted this from a recipe by Jamie Oliver, his had marjoram and garlic, also good additions. Too, I added chicken, Jamie's recipe being originally vegetarian. Either way, it is quite delicious and easy to assemble, a good quick nutritious meal for a busy night.

Spaghetti with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Oil
1/2 lb. dried spaghetti
10-12 ripe cherry tomatoes, red and yellow
1 good handful of fresh basil, leaves picked
5-6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp hazelnut oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 chicken breast, grilled and sliced
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put your pasta into a large pot of salted boiling water and cook until al dente (7-9 minutes). While it's cooking, halve the tomatoes and put them into a large bowl, squishing several of them to get the juice out. Add the basil, olive and hazelnut oil and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste. Grill the chicken till done, 4 minutes per side. Drain the pasta, and while still steaming hot, mix well with the tomato mixture, check the season, add the cooked chicken and serve.

Chocolate Nutella Honey Cake

I have been in the mood lately to bake cakes rather than cookies it seems these days, I contemplated changing the name, just for a moment, to Filberts and Chocolate Cakes. I took inspiration for this version of the Devonshire Honey from Nigella Lawson's Nutella Cake, the amounts of Nutella, Frangelico (hazelnut liquor) and ground hazelnuts are from that recipe. To think, too, writing about hazelnuts, that this is only the second time I have mentioned Nutella, the beloved Italian spread made from hazelnuts, skim milk and a bit of cocoa, we've all seen the commercials, as part of a recipe. But there you are. This turned out quite moist in the center, which again collapsed, and drier around the edge (though perhaps I put it in for 5 minutes too long). All in all, quite delicious, and well received at work. Two things that happened, one is that one lady asked me if I was trying to make everyone fat, the other is when I got the empty container back, there was lipstick on the outside, I can only imagine that someone was so hungry -- well, I don't want to go there...

Chocolate Nutella 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
1 jar Nutella (400 g)
1 Tbsp Frangelico or water
100 g (3-1/2 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. Whisk in entire jar of Nutella, followed by the tablespoon of Frangelico into batter.

Pour into the greased pan and bake for 60-65 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.

Yellow Dragon Fruit

Pitahaya or Pitaya or Yellow Dragon Fruit is the fruit of a flowering cactus, which grows mostly in South America, and is related to the Red Dragon Fruit, though it is regarded as far tastier, and I agree. It is sweeter, and slightly tangier, a pleasant and refreshing fruit. I am still looking for the Dragon Fruit with the red flesh.

Shrimp and Chicken Greens

This is the salad that I have been making for lunch recently, though I added frozen cooked shrimp along with the chicken breast. The salad greens are a mixture of baby spinach, baby arugala, baby romaine and a mixture of mache, radicchio and frisee, you could use your favourite greens, and I buy different greens as the mood strikes. To this I added cut up tomatoes and cut up cucumber, with the peel still on, and some cubes of feta cheese. The chicken and shrimp, both already cooked, I stir-fried until they were crispy and hot. The dressing I used was a hazelnut oil vinaigrette. Quite delicious.

Alphonso Peach and Mango Juice

I noticed that there are three offerings for sale from the Alphonso Mango Juice Co., this one is Alphonso mango juice and peach juice, the third is alphonso mango juice and carrot. This tasted as good as the mostly mango with some orange juice.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Chocolate Toffee Honey Cake

I took my inspiration from these Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies. Though there should be more chocolate and less cake compared to that recipe, I thought the combination would be great. I know, certainly, that the cookies are always a hit. This is another variation on the orginal Devonshire Honey cake recipe I've made, now, six different versions of. And again, the cake smelled wonderful coming out of the oven. After a few moments, the middle of the cake fell, and later, more dramatically, though I suspect it did because of both the chocolate and the large amount of toffee falling to the bottom of the cake because the flour could not support it. How did it taste? Very rich and delicious, and well received at work, one fellow said it was 'to die for', and had two pieces.

Chocolate Toffee 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
5 chocolate toffee bars (like Skor® or Heath), broken into small pieces
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. Stir chocolate toffee bar pieces into batter.

Pour into the greased pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until cake is golden brown and springs 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.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Passion Fruit from my Dad

This is the purple passion fruit that I remember from growing up, that my father introduced me to, he recently went to the supermarket specifically to buy one for me. The taste is mostly sweet, with an underlying slight sourness that makes it delicious.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sticky Rice Dumpling with BBQ Pork and Lotus Seed

This is another wrapped, in lotus leaf, glutinous, or sticky, rice dish, it's a whole meal for one, convenience food, all you need to do is put it in boiling water for 25-30 minutes and then eat. This one contains BBQ pork, lotus seed (large seeds that are quite tasty), mung bean, salted egg yolk and pork along with the glutinous rice and spices (one of which is the ubiquitous monosodium glutamate). Fairly tasty.

Kras 60 Percent Finest Cocoa

This chocolate bar from Croatia did not impress me as much as the last tested bar, from Switzerland, though it tasted fairly good, and better than I imagined Eastern European chocolate would taste. The company, located in Zagreb, was established in 1911. The ingredient listing looks good, cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin as an emulsifier and artificial vanilla flavour (I wish companies would attempt to use real vanilla). The bar snaps well when broken, and smells fairly good, though I doubt that I would try this again.

Ginger Juice

The Ginger People create a number of products with, well, of course, ginger, and I have written about them before. This product is fresh pressed ginger, the essence of ginger in liquid form. I'm trying it in my salads, so far 1/2 teaspoon doesn't give much of a kick, I'll up it to one teaspoon tomorrow to see if that works. It smells quite gingery. You can probably use in any dish that normally has ginger in it, to give it an extra zing.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Some More Spring Flowers

Spring flowers are out in force, here are some beautiful examples.

A Profusion of Trilliums!

This must be a good year for Trilliums, at least in a forest near my Dad's house. These two pictures give you only a taste of the whole hillside of white flowers.

I learned today that when trilliums age, they last about 20 years, and mature after 8-11 years, they sometimes go pink in colour.

This oddly sharp, crinkly one is neat.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Monbana Hazelnut Flavored Chocolate Mix

Having tried their Monbana Dark chocolate bar and liked them fairly well, I came across another of their products, a sipping chocolate, hazelnut flavoured. And simply chocolate it is, just sugar with cocoa and hazelnut flavor (both natural and artificial). Easy to make, just add two teaspoons to a cup of hot milk, stir, and you're good to go. I had this with my Saturday morning coffee, it added a nice chocolatey touch to the black coffee, though the hazelnut taste was very subtle, perhaps overpowered by the coffee.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Villars Chocolat Noir

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by this chocolate bar, seeing as it is made in Switzerland, known more for milk chocolates, like Toblerone. The 72% cacoa content dark chocolate bar has a good ingredient listing, cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla flavour and artificial flavour. The company is over a century old, they started in 1901, and perhaps they have been doing something with that time, perfecting their way of making chocolate. If the packaging is correct, their using quality ingredients and good methods will bring a superior bar. The bar snapped fairly well, smelled really good, and tasted quite good, better than a lot of bars I've recently tasted, that cost much more. I would definitely sample this one again. I definitely like the cute flower on each piece!

Hershey's Special Dark

Now I know I have said that I don't like Hershey's chocolate much or at all, though I wrote that before I heard the news that Hershey and Barry Callebaut announcing that they were collaborating on chocolate products, 80,000 tonnes worth of chocolate and chocolate products initially going to Hershey's, and I know that such products are down the road, probably far down the road, and couldn't possibly affect this particular bar, but I reasoned that perhaps this trend to produce better chocolate, Callebaut provides excellent chocolate for a large number of well-known companies, had already begun, and that it had affected this particular bar, so that it would at least taste reasonable, and not like chocolate-flavoured milk. The bar itself contains 50% cacao content, a good step in the right direction, and its ingredient listing is fairly good, just sugar (remember, it's only 50% cacao), unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, milk ingredients, soy lecithin and artificial flavour (I'm hoping vanilla). It's a straight dark chocolate bar, and it tastes fairly good, passable, better than any other Hershey bar I've had in a long while.

Cebu Phillipine Mango Nectar

Along with the Cebu dried mangoes I reviewed earlier, I came across this six-pack of mango nectar from the same company. Each can is 250 mL, and its ingredient listing looks fairly good, just water, mango puree (at 37% of the total), sugar, citric acid and ascorbic acid (the latter two as preservatives). It tastes pretty good, though not nearly as good as the Alphonse juice I also bought at the same time, though that was not canned and presumably fresher.

Bin-Bin Coconut Milk Flavor Rice Crackers

These rice crackers are very similar to the Seaweed Flavor rice crackers from Bin-Bin I reviewed before, they have real coconut milk, along with coconut flavoring, to flavour them. I think I prefer them. What I don't like about these rice crackers, and it seems a lot of Asian food products have this in them, is the MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is used as a flavour enhancer, but affects some people, especially those with sensitive stomachs, as it could irritate the stomach and intestine, in particular my father must avoid it. Some people, too, get headaches or migraines from MSG, so examine the ingredient listing if you think that you might be allergic to it. Fortunately, I'm not.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mae Ploy Thai Yellow Curry

There are three common types of curry popular in Thailand, the red and green kinds are the most popular, though, for some reason, I prefer the least popular kind, the yellow curry. I recall about 20 years ago, eating at a Thai restaurant in Boston with a number of my friends, and ordering a yellow curry dish, it was just chicken. And, it was delicious, flavourful and slightly sweet, with a little kick to it. And, I sought it out since, trying it now and again at various Thai or Vietnamese restaurants. Now, I wanted to make my own yellow curry dish. Rather than make my own, a next step, I decided to try this brand from Thailand, Mae Ploy, who also make a red and a green curry version. It turned out quite good, very tasty, though not as good as that first taste of the yellow. I served it with vermicelli, and used chicken thighs for the meat.

Thai Yellow Curry
50 g of Yellow Curry Paste
2 cups coconut milk, separated
200 g of meat
100 g of potatoes
50 g of onion
100 g of carrots
1/2 cup water

Stir-fry yellow curry paste with 1 cup of coconut milk, until dissolved, then add the additional 1 cup of coconut milk, and heat until boiling. Add the meat, and continue cooking until done, about ten minutes. Add potatoes, onion and carrots and the 1/2 cup water, and cook until the potato, carrots and onion soften, about fifteen minutes.

bill's Coconut Bread

I've been meaning to make this, since the first time I saw it on someone's food blog, and now, more recently, in the book 'The Accidental Foodie', in which a number of influential, to the author, chefs are interviewed and provide recipes, and now, more importantly, as I have found that my beautiful Thai friend likes coconut, and wished me to make her a Western-style coconut cake. Bill Granger is an interesting chef from Sydney in Australia, and I doubt that I will ever be able to get to his famous restaurant, so I'll have to live vicariously through his various recipe books. So far, I've had success with this recipe, it was easy to make, and came out perfectly. Tasty, too. This is more like a coconut pound cake than bread, but it's still great toasted and buttered, as suggested. The recipe originally calls for 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, feel free to add it, if you like it more than I do.

bill's Coconut Bread
2 eggs
300 mL milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup superfine sugar
150 g shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease and flour a 8-1/4 by 4 inch loaf pan.

Lightly whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the coconut and sugar and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and gradually stir in the egg mixture until just combined. Add the melted butter and stir until the mixture is just smooth. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes clean.

Leave to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then allow to cool on a wire rack.

To serve, toast thick slices and spread with butter.

Abernethy Scottish Biscuits

The advertising on the package for these Scottish biscuits explain that they are 'light crumbly Scottish biscuits that melt in your mouth'. Well, that sounded good, and I was expecting more of a Scottish shortbread, it being placed next to the more famous Walker's line of shortbreads. That is where the similarity ends, unfortunately, while they are reasonably tasty, they are not terribly crumbly, do not melt in your mouth much, and don't taste like shortbread (well, that last one was my misconception, I'll grant them that). I don't think that I'll eat these again.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mama Shrimp Creamy Tom Yum Flavour Noodles

Tom Yum soup is a popular spicy dish in Thailand, with shrimp and tomato and mushroom, and chili powder to provide the heat, I had some on the weekend, very delicious. This instant noodle product from Thailand attempts to recreate the flavour of this soup, and does an admirable job, though it is a creamier version than the one I had on the weekend. Like all instant noodles, it is very easy to make, just add about 500 mL of boiling water to all the ingredients, the noodles and the spices, and let it sit for three minutes. To make it even better tasting, and heartier, add some extra ingredients, like cooked shrimp, or cut-up tomatoes, or other vegetables, or cooked meat. Makes for a good lunch, especially if you like the heat of chilis.

Ginger Black Sesame Seeds

My beautiful Thai friend wanted me to try this, she knows I like ginger, and this is a treat in Thailand. You can either eat them strewn on other dishes, or straight, as a snack. The black sesame seeds are toasted. Very tasty.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lux Red Sour Cherry Tea

The Polish tea company Lux has several loose tea selections, I picked this one because I like sour cherry. For ingredients, it has rosehips, wild cherry, dried apples, raisins, rowan, hibiscus flowers and natural flavours. I like rosehip tea very much, and rosehip and hibiscus are often the main ingredients for herbal teas, and thought it would be the dominant flavour, but this tea does tastes like sour cherry, though I wonder if it is the 'natural flavours' that make it so.