Sunday, November 25, 2007

Walmart Natural Whole Filberts

I came across these at the local Walmart, I like how they sell them as filberts, rather than hazelnuts, though this likely indicates that these come from the States, rather than Turkey or Italy (where they would be called hazelnuts and never filberts). This is a 300 g bag, which cost between 5 and 6 dollars.


I had some quark on hand, and needed to make something, so I selected this recipe for pretzels (I also made some Club Teilchen). The original recipe called for coarse sugar, you can make it sweet, or make it salty as I did here. Too, there must be some art to making it the way the recipe calls for, I think the dough is too soft to braid two long dough pieces together, and ended up just rolling one thicker piece of dough to make the pretzel. They turned out okay, I think.

150 g Quark Cheese, liquid removed
6 tbsp Milk
6 tbsp Oil
75 g Sugar
3 tsp Vanilla Sugar
pinch salt
300 g Flour, sifted
3 tsp Baking Powder
condensed milk
coarse salt

Remove most of the liquid from the cheese (Note: weight of cheese is without liquid). Combine cheese, milk, oil, sugars and salt. Stir until smooth.

Combine flour and baking powder. Add half the flour mixture by tablespoonfuls to the cheese mixture. Knead in the rest of the flour mixture.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 2 mm and then cut pieces 30 cm long and 1 cm wide. Take two pieces and twist them around each other, then form into a pretzel shape. Place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with condensed milk and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes.

Chocolate Blueberry and Chocolate Ginger Honey Cakes

This is a hard one, I don't know whether I like ginger or wild blueberries more. And, after tasting several of them, I still don't quite know, other than that I like both of them, for different reasons. This is yet another variation on the honey cake theme, I think it makes a versatile and great tasting cake, with lots of combinations. My beautiful Bride preferred the blueberry one. I must admit, it does taste great together, chocolate and blueberries. I had already seen chocolate and ginger together in so many recipes, that I knew that combination would work. Use the best chocolate that you can; I used chocolate chips, as that was what I had on hand.

Chocolate Blueberry and Chocolate Ginger Honey Cakes
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
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup good chocolate (chips or broken bars)
1/4 cup crystallized ginger pieces
1 cup wild blueberries

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease two 12 cup muffin tins or fill both with paper muffin cups. Whisk flour and cocoa together until well mixed.

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

Add chocolate to caramel; mix to combine. Beat in eggs one at a time in the saucepan. Whisk in flour into egg caramel mixture in two batches. Divide batter into two equal portions. Stir crystallized ginger into one portion of batter, wild blueberries into the other.

Pour into the muffin tins and bake for 55-60 minutes or until cakes are golden brown and spring back when pressed.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taste of Nature Nougat Delight with Almonds

We received this as a sample at the Toronto Vegetarian Festival, and finally recently tried it. Taste of Nature, marketed by Shandiz Natural Foods, makes lots of healthy snacks, with nuts and seeds, mostly Organic. This is from their Nougat line. The ingredients are corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, roasted almonds, crisp brown rice, egg white and flavour.

It didn't taste too bad, not really my idea of a good snack, but probably a very healthy alternative to normal nougat bars.

Japanese-style Baked Good from Chinese Bakery

This baked good, filled with sweet red bean paste, is a Japanese-style baked good done by Chinese bakers (you can see both the Japanese characters and stylized Chinese characters). There is a vendor located just inside the entrance of the Dragon City mall at Spadina and Dundas, who sells what I always think of as Chinese waffles, I've never tried them, I believe it's a sweet egg dough, but the dough in this baked good reminds me of those waffles.

Regardless of it being Chinese or Japanese, it tasted pretty good.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lindt Individual Chocolates

In our recent trip to the Lindt Outlet Store, we picked up several small individual chocolates, each of them about 1/2 oz in size, perfect for a bite or two of good chocolate.

The Bianco is white chocolate. Fine if you like it, not for my tastes.

The Extra Bitter is a dark chocolate, or bittersweet, it tasted very good.

The Latte is a milk chocolate, it tasted not bad.

The Gianduja is made from a mixture of sugar, chocolate and hazelnuts, it tasted really good.

The Surfin is chocolate truffle, it tasted quite good. I would like to try a larger bar of it.

The Fioretto is chocolate mixed with crispy rice, inside is hazelnut paste. Quite good.

Ethiquable Dark Chocolate with Orange

I must remember that I don't like the combination of orange and chocolate, I keep buying new chocolate bars with that flavour, perhaps I hope that one day I will find one that I will like. I don't like especially the ones with candied orange peel, this chocolate bar from Ethiquable uses orange pulp instead of the peel, but also sadly suffers from a weak orange flavour. The cacao content is 60%, and the cacoa beans are Fair Trade from the Dominican Republic. The ingredient listing is good, cocoa paste, cocoa butter, cane sugar, candied orange (made of orange pulp, sugar, apple, pineapple fibres, dextrose, sodium alginate, dicalcium orthophospate, citric acid and artificial and real vanilla flavour) and soya lecithin.

How did it taste? I did not really find this chocolate bar tasty, the chocolate itself was not bad, but the orangey-ness did not do it for me. I won't buy this bar again.

President's Choice Dulce de Leche

Every year at this time, before Christmas, President's Choice comes out with a number of new and interesting food products. This year is no different, and the first of the bunch that I saw, that I was interested in anyways, was this caramel creme spread. Dulce de Leche is a milk-based syrup popular in Latin American (President's Choice sourced this dulce de leche from Argentina), one prepares it by slowly heats sweetened condensed milk (often still in the can) to produce something very similar in flavour to what North Americans call caramel. You can use it as a spread on bread or toast or waffles, as a crepe filling, or as a filling or sauce for various cakes and other desserts. The ingredient listing of this version is whole milk, sugar, corn syrup, sodium bicarbonate, potassium sorbate and artificial flavour.

Green & Black's Ginger

Wow, I like ginger, and if you like ginger too, and specifically the taste of dark chocolate and ginger together, then this is a great bar for you. Green & Black's is a British Chocolatier with a presence in the United States, they produce mostly Organic chocolate bars. This offering, with 60% cacao content, is one-sixteenth of their whole Organic chocolate bar line, they also sell cookies (biscuits, as they say in the UK), ice cream, cooking ingredients (such as baking chocolate, cocoa and hazelnut chocolate spread), hot chocolate, and cereal bars; though, a lot of these are available only in the UK, in the US, and Canada, there are fewer offerings, and some different. I see too, that they have a Cookbook, called Unwrapped.The ingredient listing of this chocolate bar is good, Organic Cocoa Mass, Organic Raw Cane Sugar, Organic Crystallised Ginger (20%) (Organic Stem Ginger, Water, Organic Sugar), Organic Cocoa Butter, Soya Lecithin (as an emulsifier) and Organic Vanilla Extract.

How did it taste? Very gingery, if you don't like ginger at all, then don't even try it (but then why would you even buy it...). The dark chocolate is smooth and tasty, with a good smell. The ginger pairs very well with the chocolate. I would definitely buy this bar again.

Purdy's Chocolatour

Purdy's Chocolates is a Vancouver, B. C. based Chocolatier, who has made recent forays into Ontario, opening 7 stores in the past while. I recall two or three years ago, when they first appeared, in Square One in Mississauga, where they opened a temporary booth just before Christmas to sell their chocolates, one of their competitors, Laura Secord, got all puffed up at their intrusion, and, immediately after Christmas, when Purdy's had left, they erected a very similar booth in the exact same spot.

We had heard about this Chocolatour they were having at the large shopping mall Vaughn Mills, only on till Nov. 14th unfortunately, we went there to check it out. The Purdy's store located near the Food Court, and as we got there, we were in time for a taste testing of their milk chocolate, they were comparing it with a competitor's offering. I must admit that the Purdy's did taste better, and was darker in colour, and less sweet than the competitor's, though I wished that they had taste tested their dark chocolate instead. We perused their store offerings, and came across some interesting things, one of them was this rather large three kilogram milk chocolate Santa, retailing for about $130!

The Chocolatour consisted of lots of statues and descriptive, including a huge cacao pod

a Spanish trading ship that was used to bring cacoa from the New World

lots of examples of molds used in making chocolates

and a temple used for ancient worship by the Indian tribes who provided the Spanish with their chocolate.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dufferin Grove Farmer's Market

My beautiful Bride and I had the opportunity to finally visit Dufferin Grove Farmer's Market. I had read about this Toronto Organic farmer's market somewhere and wanted to go see it; having sent her the link, she wanted to go too, so we set off one Thursday after work to check it out. The farmer's market is located in Dufferin Grove Park, across from Dufferin Mall, one block south of Dufferin TTC Station on the Bloor Subway line. It is every Thursday, year round; when the weather is nice, it is outdoors, in the winter, some of it moves indoors to the rink house. It seemed fairly small when we first got to it, but there were some great highlights. ChocoSol features chocolate from Oaxaca, Mexico, which is ground using bicycle power, I tried some of their samples, and they're quite tasty, though I did not purchase any. Nujima Living Foods has a whole variety of interesting nutritional grains and seeds and roots, I bought some Mesquite Pod Meal (which I had been looking for a lone while for) and some Chia Seeds (or Salba seeds), I was also interested in their Maca Root powder and their Cocoa Nibs (Raw Chocolate). There was a vendor who sold a variety of interesting dried mushrooms, we saw morels and chantarelles, lobster mushrooms and others, they also had black walnut meat. We bought some Dinosaur, or Black, Kale from a vendor, that was quite tasty.

I wish that there was a market like this close to my home in Mississauga, I would definitely come by more often, this one, unfortunately for me, is too inconvenient for me to visit more than once a year, but don't let that stop you from checking it out, there are some good finds there, artisan breads, organic fruits and vegetables, different kinds of honey, interesting cheeses, and lots more.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Restaurant Review - Latinada Restaurant

The Spanish restaurant Latinada is located at 1671 Bloor Street West, that's just two blocks or so east of the Keele TTC Subway station in Toronto, on the south side of the street. I like Latin American food, and enjoyed the food greatly in my two visits to Venezuela. Entering the restaurant, I hoped that they had some of the delicacies I fondly remembered. My beautiful Bride had recommended this restaurant, she had been there a year before with another friend, and she had wanted to go there again, to revisit it and to show it to me, so we took the opportunity when we were in town to go there. The inside is quite cosy and rustic-looking, we chose a seat next to the window, at the opposite end of the room sat several people enjoying good conversation and some alcohol, at the bar. This is a Tapas bar and restaurant, tapas are small dishes, or appetizers, we chose two, one being Yuca Frita, which comes with pico gallo on the side, the other a spicy chorizo sausage. Yuca, as I knew it in Venezuela, is prepared two ways, one of them deep fried, or frita, the other boiled; I'm not sure which I liked better, but I chose the Yuca Frita. We both enjoyed it. Chorizo is spicy sausage, though this version did not turn out to be that spicy. As our main meals, I chose the Camarones Al Ajillo, which is Garlic Shrimp, and comes with Cuban or white rice, Avocado Salad and Patacones. My beautiful Bride chose the Salmon, it is cooked with white wine and garlic, and also comes with those same three sides. Patacones are deep-fried plantain cakes, quite tasty. The Cuban rice was made with kidney beans, rather than black beans, which I am more familiar with. The Avocado Salad was quite delicious, I normally don't like avocado, but enjoyed it with lime juice and greens and tomatoes. Both of our entrees were delicious, I wonder why there were hardly any patrons, perhaps this was an off night. They do have live music a number of times a month, featuring Latin artists, it should be a happening place those nights. Upstairs, too, there is apparently an art gallery. If this was not so inconvenient for me to get to, I believe I would come more often.

Wild Blueberry Cookies

I like blueberries, as you might know, especially the wild version. When I came across this recipe, I knew that I would have to make it. Though, on closer inspection, I couldn't see how it would work, so I changed some of the flour to self-rising and some of it to spelt flour. Later, I saw that I missed that you were supposed to add a beaten egg, after the creaming of the butter and sugar, but it seemed to work just fine without it. I lowered the amount of blueberries, they did not seem to "fit" inside the dough, but feel free to add more. Too, the original recipe called for 1 teaspoon of lemon flavouring, I didn't add it, also, I suppose that you could add vanilla instead. These tasted pretty good despite, or perhaps because of, the changes, the consistency of the cookie was cakey, the blueberries, which I thought would burn or fall out, worked great.

Wild Blueberry Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup rice milk
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

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

Whisk together flours. Cream butter and sugar. Add rice milk alternately with the flour to the creamed butter. Fold in blueberries.

Drop 1-1/2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake 14-16 minutes.

Salzburg Sweets Haselnuss-Schnitten

These crispy wafers with hazelnut cream filling from the Austrian company Salzburg Sweets I far prefer over the recently reviewed Manner Haselnuss-Mignon.

For one thing, it's not overwhelmed by a coating of chocolate, the focus of the taste is the hazelnut cream. Too, the hazelnut flavour is stronger, there seems to be a higher percentage of hazelnuts (the ingredient listing is probably very similar in the two products, mostly sugar, of course).

Corn and Ham Egg Drop Soup

My beautiful Bride loves hot soup, and also corn, when she saw this recipe in a Taiwanese cookbook, she knew she had to make it. We used mock ham, I am sure that you could use regular meat ham. It tasted quite delicious, something like Egg Drop soup (there's an art to making that soup, I would say, she just whisked the egg into the hot water) together with the sweetness of corn.

Corn and Ham Egg Drop Soup
1 can creamed corn (15 oz.)
1 quart vegetable stock
1 Tbsp rice wine
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup minced ham
1-1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
2-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cold water

Add creamed corn, vegetable stock, rice wine and salt and pepper to a large pot, then bring to boil.

Add beaten egg to soup base, and whisk quickly, so that egg does not cook in one large lump.

Add ham and ginger and stir to combine.

Mix cornstarch with cold water, then stir into soup base to thicken.

Continue to cook until warmed through, one or two minutes.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Speciale Italia Caffe

One of my favourite chocolate bars is the Ecuador bar from the Italian Chocolatier Speciale Italia srl. This one, the fourth I have tried, a Spicy Chocolate with a cacao content of 68%, contains coffee as a flavouring (I have seen both ground coffee and espresso offered from Speciale Italia; no doubt they use their own brands in this chocolate bar). The ingredient listing is good, just cocoa paste, sugar, low fat cocoa powder, cocoa butter, coffee, instant coffee and soy lecithin (as an emulsifying agent).

How does it taste? Quite good, the underlying coffee is interesting and enhances the flavour of the chocolate. Notice, too, the plastic bag, very different than many chocolatiers, who normally use foil. I liked this almost as much as the Ecuador bar. I would definitely buy this again.

Manner Haselnuss-Mignon

The Vienna Austrian company Manner produces a number of baked goods, their line of wafers are seen in many European delicatessens. This one is a chocolate coated hazelnut wafer (though hazelnuts really are a small portion of the whole, there is only 4% in the cream between the wafers).

The chocolate coating accounts for 30% of the ingredient.

I liked the small individual wafers, though I thought that the chocolate flavour overwhelmed the faint hazelnut taste. These are fairly sweet, too. If I were to try this brand again, I would think twice before selecting this particular offering.

Kaoka Ecuador Organic Dark Chocolate

Given that the origin of the cocoa beans of this chocolate bar is Ecuador, you can see that I was looking forward to this, having liked most of the chocolate that is made from cacao from there. Kaoka is a small French chocolatier whose Bio Equitable promise means that they pursue a close partnership with cocoa producers, with the intention of working towards a sustainable relationship that includes economic and social benefits (similar to many Fair Trade chocolate companies). The cacao content is high, at 80%. The ingredient listing is fairly good, organic cocoa mass, organic raw cane sugar, sunflower lecithin and organic vanilla essence (good, but perhaps it would be better without the lecithin and vanilla - I've become convinced that you don't really need those, but at least they are better than artificial ingredients).

How does it taste? Not bad, a fairly good chocolate, though I think that it would have done better at 70-75% cacao content, something seemed either too strong or out of whack for me to really enjoy it.

Pringles Select Cinnamon Sweet Potato Chips

Pringles is more known for its uniform wavy shaped stack of flavoured and formed potato chips, this new line of theirs has lost the wavy shape, and taken on new flavours, and ingredients. I was intrigued by this one, enough to buy it, even though I don't really like cinnamon, and was not swayed by their attempt to market sweet potatoes as a dessert, as it contained sweet potatoes rather than the more ubiquitous cousin, the potato (albeit, it does contain potatoes, just not as the main ingredient). It also contains cornmeal, oat flour, rice flour, sugar, oil and spices.

How does it taste? Not bad, very cinnamony, and I could hardly taste that it is sweet potato rather than potato, so I doubt that I will try this again.

Korean Potato Pancakes

This recipe called to make eight in total, we managed only five, I guess we made them too big or something. They did taste really good, the sesame oil gave them a quite different flavour than other potato pancakes I've eaten. Serve them with soy sauce only, or with a sauce made from the pancake sauce below.

Korean Potato Pancakes
Adapted from a recipe from Korean Cuisine
2 potatoes
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup carrots, finely shredded

Peel and finely grate potatoes; squeeze out water. Place 1 cup grated potatoes in a bowl with sesame oil and salt. Mix well and divide into 8 portions. Soak 1/2 cup of carrots; drain, then divide into 16 portions.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil; sprinkle one portion of 16-portion carrots into frying pan. Place one portion of grated potatoes on top and then add another portion of 16-portion carrots on top to form a "sandwich". Fry until both sides are golden brown. Add a little oil as needed when frying.

Pancake Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp onion, minced
1 tsp green onion, minced
1 tsp red bell pepper, minced
1 tsp carrot, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp red pepper powder
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Mix all ingredients in blender thoroughly.

I never even thought about it - Waste Cacao as BioFuel

I guess I never even thought about it, but the Chocolate Industry creates a lot of food waste every year, that mostly goes into landfills, though I hope I'm wrong, but why not convert this waste into something that can be used. That is exactly what one company is doing in England. North-western English company Ecotech is taking waste from the chocolate manufacturing process and turning it into ethanol, which can be then combined with vegetable oil to make BioFuel (see here for the full article). This BioFuel can be used in replacement of gasoline to power vehicles (though don't try this at home, you'll need to convert your System first to accept this alternate fuel source). The resulting exhaust, and your car, will smell more like vegetable oil than chocolate, unfortunately, but it's a great idea.

Doing a little digging, I came up with some very rough numbers. It requires about 300-600 cacao seeds (from 10 cacao pods) to produce 1 kilogram of cocoa paste. Couple that with a consumption of more than 3.1 million metric tonnes of cocoa (so 3.1 billion kilograms) worldwide per year (figure as of year 2000). That's an awful lot of food waste produced each year, and something that won't go away soon, as that amount of cocoa produces over 11 billion dollars (again year 2000 figures) in export revenue worldwide. Makes you think when you're enjoying your daily chocolate.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Green & Black's Celebrates the Extra Hour of Darkness

To celebrate the change of time on the 4th of November in the US, as we shift from Daylight Savings to Eastern Standard Time, and the gain of an extra hour of Darkness (the clocks change in the middle of the night, usually around 2 am), Green & Blacks USA wanted everyone (or at least the first 5000 to register) to experience the dark, cocoa-rich flavours of their Organic chocolate free. This promotion (of two 1.2 oz chocolate bars) is over now, and, unfortunately for me, available only to US citizens (there also seems to be promotions available for UK citizens on the UK website, that still leaves us Canadians out). They set up a special website Appreciate The Darkness to provide some information about their chocolate, and allow you to register for this event (and further ones, if you should wish to).

Jacques Grand Cru Chocolat Noir

The Belgian chocolatier Jacques teamed itself with one of the premiere makers of chocolate for professionals, Callebaut to produce these Grand Cru (or highest quality) chocolate bars. This bar is their Dark Chocolate Bar, and features 72% cacao content, not of single origin, with no added vegetable fats (likely responding to the recent move in America to allow companies to replace cocoa butter with other fats and still call the product chocolate, of which practice I highly disapprove). The ingredient listing is good, just cocoa paste, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin and vanillin (though the last two should really be either omitted or replaced with something better).

How does it taste? Pretty good, dark and chocolatey, it melts in your mouth well, smells fruity and cocoa-y, snaps cleanly and sharply, and looks very smooth and dark, overall a very good bar. I would eat this bar again.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Larabar Pistachio

Having tried, and liked, Humm Food's Cherry Pie version of its fruit and nut bar, I got another sample, this one of the Pistachio flavour.

This one again is flavourful, sweet and chewy, quite good for a raw food bar. The ingredients are dates, pistachios and cashews.