Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wonderfarm Dragon Fruit Drink

The second of the Vietnamese fruit drinks that I tried, from Wonderfarm, contains real pulp from Dragon Fruit. The ingredient listing is as good as the Passion Fruit one I drank earlier, or just a little worse, it is water, sugar, Dragon Fruit pulp (with small but substantial pieces), citric acid and calcium chloride. My beautiful Thai Bride tells me that Dragon Fruit is often served this way in Thailand, Dragon Fruit blended with a little water and sugar, I suppose the citric acid and calcium chloride are there as preservatives.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Vivani Edel Bitter Ecuador

I wanted to like this chocolate bar, as it contained beans from Ecuador, with which I had enjoyed a number of bars. But this particular chocolate perhaps proves the old adage that 'you can make bad chocolate out of good beans, but you can't make good chocolate out of bad beans'. Right from opening the package, the smell of the chocolate was just not there, and it looked like it had not been tempered properly, the bar did not look like good chocolate, certainly the bottom of it gave evidence of poorly mixed ingredients. Perhaps this was just a bad bar, one that got past quality control, the other one that I ate of there's, the Green Tea, was better tasting, if a little too green-tea-y, and certainly the ingredient listing is good, with a cacao content of 70%, made of Arriba beans from the rain forests of Ecuador, and an ingredient listing of cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter and cocoa powder, but I would certainly be reluctant to pay the premium price, $4.85, again just to try and see if it was a mistake.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Special Rose Tea

My brother-in-law was in China for a short visit, and he brought back as a present for me this incredibly fresh-smelling rose tea. Wow, does it ever smell good. And tastes excellent.

T.A.S. Mangosteen Juice Drink

Having tried and liked fresh mangosteen, I thought that I would try mangosteen in juice form. I know that this product from Indonesia is not really juice, it is only water and mangosteen puree (at 10% concentration), with cane sugar for flavouring, there are better products out there if you want the high health benefits of mangosteen, which is high in antioxidants and certain vitamins. So saying, this 'pop' tastes quite refreshing, the mangosteen flavour, peachy or nectarine-y, is there.

Ludy's Instant Ginger Brew

I have always like ginger, in its many forms, fresh and ground/dried, crystallized or juiced, and have now read that ginger is actually beneficial to my specific health, based on the Blood Type diet, if you believe in that. This instant ginger tea from the Phillipines intrigued me, I'm always looking out for new and interesting teas, and ginger products. It is only ginger, likely ground dried ginger, and sugar, and it tastes, well, I'm used to more intense ginger flavour, but it definitely is gingery, and only a little bit sweet, 2 calories per teaspoon, they recommend putting two teaspoons in a cup of hot water, just not enough zing for my taste. I found this in my local Chinese supermarket.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stone Circle Cake Method

When I made the Chocolate Toffee Honey Cake for our Wedding Reception, I decided to change the way that I mixed the skor pieces in the batter. This time, I decided to stand the Skor pieces up, and selected a pattern that resembled a stone circle, one of my passions.

It worked out quite well, as, in my previous method, most the toffee migrated to the bottom of the cake; in this way, it melted more in place.

Another Visit to Thai Angels

We recently visited my beautiful Thai Bride's friend, she has a very nice restaurant with good fairly authentic Thai food called Thai Angels near College and Spadina. There we had several dishes.

Deep Fried Taro, a favourite of my beautiful Thai Bride, with peanut sauce.

Thai Fish Cakes, with a cucumber and sweet and sour sauce, excellent but slightly different in taste to the ones we made.

Mango Salad, with Thai sticky rice of a beautiful purple colour.

Wonderfarm Passion Fruit Drink

This Vietnamese fruit drink, the brand name is called Wonderfarm, has a number of different flavours. Each of them seems pretty good in terms of ingredients, this one contains water, sugar and passion fruit juice, and tastes not bad.

Strawberry Milkshake Oreos

I normally don't like Oreo cookies, I find them too sweet, and thought, in the back of my mind, that these would also be too sweet, but I do like strawberry milkshakes, vanilla ones too, so, for a lark, I decided to give these limited edition oreos (others have included peanut butter, chocolate, mint and caramel) a try. Well, I must say, that these are not too sweet, and do indeed taste very much like the strawberry milkshakes I like, so thumbs up. The chocolate cookie outside is a bit disconcerting, though. And, I don't think that I will eat them again, not even to take a better picture. Perhaps, if they did something with hazelnuts...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Birthday Irises

These blue beauties were given to me by my Dad as a Birthday gift, they lasted most of the week.

Durio Crunchy Durian

I have had the Durian bug for a long while, having tried it in baked goods or shakes mostly, and smelled the frozen durian unfreezing in most Chinese supermarkets; some people don't like the smell, I do. I am waiting to try it fresh, when I go to Thailand, I think that it will be quite excellent. I have never seen Durian canned, I would think that it doesn't preserve well that way, and disintegrates, and the best way is to eat it fresh. My beautiful Thai Bride told me about how she used to eat durian chips, essentially dried or baked durian. We came across this product from Thailand, from Chiantavee Co., Ltd., which is similar, though less fresh than the market product she was used to. Opening up, it did smell like durian, and the ingredients are durian and a small amount of vegetable oil, they bake durian under controlled conditions. And it does taste quite good, very durian in flavour, crunchy. My sister liked it too, when I gave her some.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tod Man Pla

I first tried these Thai Fish Cakes (Tod is fried; Man is the richest or tastiest "fat" of the meat - in shrimp or Goong it's in the head; Pla is fish) at the Thai Angels restaurant, my beautiful Thai Bride is the friend of the owner/cook's, they were quite tasty, so we thought we'd try our hand at them. These too turned out quite tasty, we added a little more red curry paste to the mix. Finish them off with a Thai sweet and sour sauce (this and the fish paste can be found in most Chinese supermarkets), with chopped fresh cucumber and cilantro. Delicious!

Tod Man Pla
2 lbs. fish paste
2 Tbsp red curry paste, or to taste
5 fresh Kaffir lime leaves, sliced very thin
1 egg
1/2 cup long beans, diced very small
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp sugar
vegetable oil for frying

Beat fish paste with a mixer for 3 minutes.

Add egg, red curry paste, salt and sugar, and beat until all ingredients are mixed well.

Add long beans and lime leaves, mixing by hand until combined.

Shape the paste into balls, flattening them.

Fry in medium hot oil, until medium brown on the outside.

Lotte Dream Cacao

The caption for this chocolate bar from the Korean company Lotte says Cacao Polyphenol Chocolate, which made me look closer at the ingredient listing, wondering what the polyphenol means in this case, but it seems good, cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa preparation (cocoa mass 15% and whole milk powder 85%), lecithin and vanilla flavour; I can't see anything that would indicate that it's nothing more than the natural polyphenols found in cacao. The cacao content is 56%. The tagline is 'Dreams Come True!'; while the bar itself tastes reasonable, it didn't quite make my dream come true, of a good tasting chocolate bar, and at $1.20 for 45 g, it is too expensive to eat on a regular basis.

Individual Wild Blueberry Honey Cakes

I really love blueberries, especially the wild variety, they have more flavour and are more nutritious than their domesticated cousins. I find the larger farm variety to be less flavourful, they are merely bigger than the wild kind and don't always have a corresponding increase in flavour. The honey cake is just another variation on the honey cake theme that I have been on for a long while, this time I tried them as individual cakes, not really muffins. I essentially halved the recipe for a honey cake, this calls for 1-1/2 eggs, to get the 1/2 an egg, just whisk a whole egg, then take out as close to half as you can. These turned out very good, quite tasty, I'm pleased with how they worked out.

Wild Blueberry Honey Cakes
112.5 g sweet butter (1 stick)
125 g runny honey
50 g dark muscovado sugar
1-1/2 large eggs
150 g (2-1/4 cups) self-rising flour
1 cup wild blueberries

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin, or line with paper
muffin cups.

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 blueberries carefully into batter.

Spoon into individual muffin cups and bake for 50-55 minutes or until cakes are golden brown and spring back when pressed.

Turn out the cakes onto a wire rack. Leave to cool.

Makes 12 honey cakes.

Numi Rainforest Green Mate Lemon Green Tea

This variety of Numi Tea's line of organic teas contains Yerba Maté, a South American herb known for stimulating your mental state, think caffeine without its inherent problems. Too, the other Yerba Maté tea I drink, from Traditional Medicinals, is quite good, and is flavoured with Lemon; Numi flavours this one with Lemon, but uses Lemon Myrtle, a herb from Australia with high citral content, citral is the source of lemon odour. Too, there is green tea thrown into the bunch; green tea too has many health properties. Overall, the flavour was good, very lemony, though the Traditional Medicinals tea has more of the Yerba Mate flavour.

Alprose Bittersweet with Hazelnuts

Having tried one other of the Swiss chocolate manufacturer Alprose's chocolate bars before, and having not had good luck, though I did manage to try another exact bar and it did taste good, I was hesitant in opening this selection, one of their Premium line in case it produced the same results. Thankfully, this bar looked good (likely it was the store where I bought it, they were selling chocolate past due), though it did not quite have an enticing chocolate scent when I smelled it, and, being bittersweet, it did not have the same good chocolate taste of the Dark version. So saying, the hazelnuts were whole, a good thing, and tasted pretty good. The bar left a good aftertaste in my mouth. Too, the ingredient listing is good, at 74% cacao content, with cocoa mass, sugar, hazelnuts (at 23%), cocoa butter, fat-reduced cocoa powder, sweet whey powder, butter (first time I have seen this ingredient in a chocolate bar), lecithin and vanillin. This was a birthday gift, and I will treat it as such, but I think that I would buy this bar again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Restaurant Review - Sun Sun Chinese Seafood Restaurant

This restaurant, located in the Chinese Business Centre at 888 Dundas Street, looked good on the outside. There are three large statues of Chinese Gods in the foyer, popular in many restaurants and places, the first of Prosperity (Hok), the second of Good Health (Lok), the third of Longevity (Siew). Passing this, we entered the very large eating area, which sadly, was hardly filled, and soon we found out why, we should have had the wisdom to bypass this restaurant, we would have gotten better prosperity (or at least we wouldn't have had to pay for this food). I selected Ants Climbing a Tree for one of the dishes, which is a Szechuan dish I had read about, with ground pork as the "ants" and dry vermicelli noodles as the "tree". It was not bad, though normally it is spicy, and this wasn't, and it seemed very oily, which it shouldn't be. We also ordered a seafood fried rice, this is a Seafood restaurant we thought, but it wasn't very tasty, while the seafood was small pieces of fish. The third dish, a vegetarian one of various vegetables, was also not good. We were glad to get out of there, and we happened upon a better tofu store, just down the way, we bought some fried tofu and some tofu dessert, including one flavoured with pandang (a leaf they use similarly to how we use vanilla), both of which were excellent.

Philippine Calamansi Lemon Powder

Having bought their dried mango powder, I was intrigued by their Calamansi Lemon powder, which can be used in similar ways, as a refreshing drink, as a dip, as a marinade, as a flavour enhancer, in noodles or porridge, and as an ingredient in alcoholic drinks. Too, I think that I could make some interesting lemon shortbread cookies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Restaurant Review - Emerald Garden Restaurant

Located in the mall on the West corner of Eglinton and Hurontario, close to Spence Diamonds, this Chinese restaurant serves both inexpensive and tasty food. Our favourites include Shrimp fried rice, with lots of medium-sized shrimps, and Buddha's Feast, a vegetarian dish traditionally with 12 vegetables, though each restaurant's recipe includes 12 different vegetables. We have been back several times, we know now to avoid the Szechuan vegetables, which are rather bland, but most of the food has been good but not great.

Butter Tart Muffins

Another of the desserts I made for our Wedding Celebration was Butter Tart Muffins, a concept I came across flipping through this recipe book on sale, and then later found on the 'Net. These turned out pretty tasty, very similar to butter tarts in taste, but certainly not in consistency or mouthfeel. I substituted hazelnuts for the walnuts that the recipe originally called for, I am sure it will work with any nut.

Butter Tart Muffins
(Adapted from: Chatelaine Magazine - January 2001)
1-1/2 cups raisins
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla, rum or butterscotch extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1/4 cup corn syrup or maple syrup

Place raisins, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and extract in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until mixture is hot, slightly thickened and just beginning to bubble, from 4 to 5 minutes.

Cool slightly, uncovered, in the refrigerator while continuing with recipe.

Preheat oven to 375F (190 degrees C). Grease 12 muffin cups, coat with cooking spray or use paper liners.

Using a fork, stir flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl until well mixed. Make a well in center of flour mixture and pour in warm raisin mixture, stirring just until combined. Stir in hazelnuts until evenly mixed. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake in center of oven until golden and a cake tester inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, from 15 to 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately pour about 1 teaspoon corn syrup over top of each muffin. Cool muffins in cups for 10 minutes, then cool further on rack.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

I wanted to make some cookies for the Wedding Celebration, and had an extra banana, so I thought that I would try this recipe I had found long ago, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with banana. I made these wrong, I'll admit, I had the temperature set too low, as I had baked a cake previous to making these, I wondered why it took much longer than the recipe called for to make them brown. I don't know that I like them, they seemed very soft and stuck together too much, though they were tasty.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter, very soft
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup mashed banana (1 small/medium)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugars. Beat in egg and banana, followed by the vanilla extract. Gradually, on low speed or by hand, add in the flour mixture. Stir in by hand the oats and chocolate.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 11-14 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes on the pan before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

President's Choice Burgers First Buns

This new entry from President's Choice intrigued me, in that it features a flat bun, the idea is to concentrate on what people are more interested in anyways, the burger, thus Burgers First, and the condiments. My sister-in-law recommended them too, she had tried them before.

Wedding Celebration

To celebrate our recent Wedding, and to invite those people who could not make it to the Wedding, we invited them to a Celebration at my brother's house in Cambridge, he has a large backyard close to natural surroundings, with lots of birds and the occasional deer in the evening. We had a large amount of food for our guests, too much really, though my sister-in-law worried that we didn't. There was a mixture of Thai food, Chinese food (made by my brother-in-law) and Western food, with a large number of baked goods. We had burgers, both chicken and beef, and lamb and bison cooked on the barbecue, many drinks and chips.

For salads, we had mixed greens, a spicy Thai Carrot Salad, which was a big hit and made by my beautiful Thai Bride, and Insalata Caprese.

For noodle dishes, we had authentic Thai-style glass noodles and Pad Thai, and a mildly spicy noodle dish called Yati's Noodles.

For Chinese dishes, my brother-in-law made fried lotus roots, sweet and sour cabbage, steamed rice and Chairman Mao's Pork.

And, of course, we had many different baked goods, chocolate chip cookies and Banana Oatmeal Cookies (which I will detail later), Butter Tart Muffins (again, recipe to follow), two cheesecakes, one pumpkin, one plain with strawberry compote to drizzle over, a Chocolate Hazelnut Honey cake, a Banana Coconut Honey Cake, and a Chocolate Skor Honey cake. There was also a blueberry-cream cheese pizza.

We also had fresh Ontario peaches and sliced watermelon.

I am sure I forgot some of the things, but there was plenty of food, and lots to enjoy afterwards.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lindt Excellence Cuba

The third of the Lindt Excellence line was the one featuring Sierra de Baracoa cacao beans from the mountainous tropical forests in southeast Cuba, and a cacao content of 55%. The ingredient listing is quite good, sugar (not good being first), cocoa mass and cocoa butter (interestingly, not lecithin or vanilla flavour directly added). The dark colour was quite good, the smell of it good, and the taste of it pretty good. Of the three bars featuring single origin cacao beans, I would say that I liked the Ecuador one best, this Cuba one second, and the Madagascar one last. I don't know that I would buy this bar again, especially at the full price.

Lindt Excellence Madagascar

Another bar in Lindt's Excellence line, this features Sambirano cacao from the north-west part of Madagascar. The cocoa content is 65%. The ingredient listing is good, cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla. The smell of it I liked, the dark chocolate colour was good, it was the taste of it that I did not like, very fruity, ultimately I could not recommend this chocolate bar, and I don't think that I would purchase it again.

Lindt Excellence Intense Mint

One of the chocolate bars that I recently purchased at the Lindt Outlet Store, one of their Lindt Excellence line, was the Intense Mint. Now, I am a fan of the combination of mint and chocolate, I must say, and have enjoyed it previously on other chocolate bars. And I am a fan of the smooth chocolate that Lindt produces, though I would not put their bars into the 'must have if marooned on a desert island' category. So saying, I am not a fan of this particular mint chocolate bar. Perhaps it was not intense enough, or too intense, I could not decide, but the amount of mint paired with the dark chocolate did not suit my tastebuds. The ingredient listing is fairly good, 47% cocoa solids (which puts it into the dark category), the ingredients are sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, milk ingredients, soya lecithin, and natural and artificial flavour. I don't think that I would buy this bar again.

Yong Feng Supermarket

On the way home from our meal at the Chinese Vegetarian restaurant, we stopped at a supermarket called Yong Feng. The address is 1925 Sheppard Ave., it is right on the corner of Finch Ave. The reason for us going there, is that there are lots of different products available that come from Thailand, my beautiful Thai Bride's brother recommended it. We did find lots of interesting things, and even bought some, frozen banana cake, a frozen Thai dessert with coconut, chopped lemongrass. The prices were fairly good, in line with a lot of the Chinese supermarkets, which seem to sell things at cheaper prices than big chain Western supermarkets (though Asian products mostly).

Restaurant Review - Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant

One Sunday, I took my beautiful Thai Bride to Richmond Hill, to a Chinese vegetarian restaurant there called Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant, located at 280 West Beaver Creek Rd., near Leslie and Highway 7, as she had been there before, and noticed it again when we went to the Wasabi buffet restaurant located in the same complex.. First off, if you are expecting Gourmet, or even gourmet (small g), you will be disappointed. What this is, is a completely vegetarian restaurant specializing in Chinese food. Here you can find mock duck and pork, even the seafood was mock, the mock meat is made from bean curd. We were disappointed with the quality of food here, we ordered a rice dish with mock seafood, and it came out very dry and not very tasty. They did fairly well with standard vegetarian dishes, ones that you could find in other regular Chinese restaurants, so overall I would rate it as fair. I don't think that we will be going back here any time soon.

Peru Organic Cacao Nibs

I have eaten raw cacao nibs in my breakfast cereal for a while now, mostly for the very high antioxidants present, too for the chocolate taste. I had been using the Food of the Gods brand, which I liked, but then I came across this new version, featuring raw organic cacao nibs from Peru. The quality of these nibs seem on par with the Food of the Gods brand, with the added bonus that they are much cheaper, $10 compared to $17 (which used to be higher, perhaps they lowered it due to the new competition). I can't seem to be able to google them, the information on the package is scant, mostly its organic certification and its origin.

Thai Dinner

We recently had a meal at my beautiful Thai Bride's brothers place, he is a good cook and is always serving something tasty and interesting, this time no exception. Like most Asian meals, there was an abundance of food. Chilli and coriander are big elements of these dishes.

Rice with chicken and cucumbers, with fried onions and coriander, and sweet chilli sauce.

A very delicious special way of preparing pork.

A stir-fried green vegetable, again with chilli.

A chicken soup with fish balls and tofu, and coriander.

Spicy Basil Eggplant

This recipe, another wonderful dish prepared by my beautiful Thai Bride, originally called for chicken, though as we had some basil and fresh chillies and some eggplants recently purchased from the Farmer's Market, we decided to create this version. You could, of course use chicken, or even shrimp, just cook them to an appropriate doneness, the rest of the ingredients are the same.

Spicy Basil Eggplant
Adapted from a recipe from Thai & South-East Asian Cooking
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2-4 fresh red chillies, seeded and finely chopped (keep the seeds in if you want it hot)
1 lb. eggplant (use small Chinese eggplant)
1/2 red pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
3 Tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp granulated sugar
10-12 fresh Thai basil leaves (or more Italian variety)

Cut the eggplant into bite sized chunks. Wash and then salt and leave for 10-15 minutes. Wash again, and then boil for 2-3 minutes, until soft.

Heat the oil in a wok, then add the garlic and chillies and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, until the garlic is brown but not burned (or it will taste bitter).

Add the eggplant and red pepper and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, then add the fish sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar, and continue to stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the pepper is soft.

Add the basil and stir in for an additional minute.