Thursday, January 31, 2008

Restaurant Review - AM Africa

The Ethiopian restaurant AM Africa, located in downtown Kitchener, is one I have passed by lots of times but never ventured into. A lot of times, apparently, as it's been in existence since 1996. Having recently got a gift certificate for Christmas for this restaurant from my best friend, I took my beautiful Bride and met him for this excursion into spicy African food. The first unusual thing about this place is its location, you have to walk up a steep flight of stairs to get to the second level. We chose a table next to the windows, overlooking Kitchener's main drag. We had our choice of tables, as there were no other patrons at 2 pm, I guess we missed the lunch crowd, but my friend said that every time he had been here, it was like this. I don't know why, the menu looked interesting and appetizing, there were lots of intriguing dishes to choose from. Looking at the Dinner portion of the menu, we read that each of the dishes is served with the traditional bread, injera, though rice can be substituted. Both my friend and my Bride chose the Asha (Fish Silsi), tender fish (white code) stewed in red pepper sauce, flavoured with onions, garlic, thyme and exotic spices. The lamb dish not being available at that time, I chose instead the Tsebhi Tyel (Yefeyel Wot), which is goat meat seasoned with green pepper, onion and exotic spices. My fried told us that it normally takes them a while to prepare the food, and it did take more than what I am used to. I was suprised to see the very large dish that came out, the injera is a very large flatbread, like a roti, but much larger and thin. The bread tasted very good, and is made from barley flour. The main dishes though tasted delicious. The fish was great, though it had a slightly odd flavour that did not appeal to my Bride. The goat was quite good, though too many bones for my taste. All in all, a very good meal.


Much like American hash browns, the traditional Swiss dish Rösti is fried potatoes. The recipe is very simple. You can eat them as a side dish to your main, or combine your main meal with the rösti, like with a fried egg, or with smoked salmon or breaded fish on top. Serve them with sour cream or apple sauce.

1 kg yukon gold potatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons of butter
1 to 2 medium onions
salt to taste

Boil the potatoes in their skins till they are just soft, about 15 minutes. Cool the potatoes in the fridge. Peel the cooked potatoes and grate them through a coarse grater. Slice the onions thinly. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and add the onions and cook until they are transparent. Add the grated potatoes and the salt and stir through. Fry while stirring them around in the pan for about 3 to 5 minutes. Press together to form a flat cake and fry over medium heat until there is a golden crust on the bottom. Place a serving platter on the pan and turn the pan upside down, so the Roesti falls on the platter with the crust on top. Alternatively, toss the roesti into the air and flip it like a pancake back into the pan, cook for a minute or two, then slide it onto the serving platter and serve immediately.

Bernardi Cioccolato Fondente Tavoletta

This chocolate bar from the Italian Chocolatier Bernardi is an Extra Bitter Chocolate, with a cacao content of 70%, which is supposed to be Grand Cru, or of the highest quality. I like the outside packaging, and the goldish packaging surrounding the bar is stylish as well, the best about this bar. The ingredient listing is fairly short, cocoa paste, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin (as an emulsifier) and vanilla (as a flavouring).

How does it taste? It snaps fairly well, and smells fairly good, not so fruity but chocolatey, but it looks kind of dull. It is kind of hard chocolate, to bite into or chew, and doesn't melt so well in the mouth, though it doesn't taste chalky. Overall, I liked it, but doubt that I would purchase it again, as I don't think it lives up to the Grand Cru label.

Amatller Extra Fine Dark Chocolate

The second of the several chocolate bars of the longtime, since 1797, Spanish chocolatier Chocolate Simon Coll, S.A. is labelled as Extra Fine Chocolate, with a cacao content of 70%, though there is no indication of the origin of the cacao beans. The ingredient listing is short, just cocoa mass, sugar, soya lecithin and vanillin. The chocolate is wrapped in gold foil inside.

How does it taste? Again, like the Ghana chocolate bar from Amatller I tried earlier, I was struck by how fruity it smelled upon opening the wrapping. The chocolate snapped fairly well. Chewing on it, it did not taste chalky. It did not melt so smoothly in my mouth. Overall, I liked this one better than the previous one, a better than medium chocolate, one I would put on my list of "buy if I can find it and it's not so expensive" chocolate bars.

Dill Potato Salad

This looked quite tasty when we watched this program, another of Tyler Florence's Ultimate recipes. We played around with the recipe, halving the ingredients and dropping the onion it originally called for. The changes didn't affect the taste in any way, the potato salad turned out still quite delicious. The taste of eggs and potatoes together is quite good. You could substitute the green leaves from a fennel bulb, if you wanted. This would be good on a picnic, with burgers or with any grilled foods.

Dill Potato Salad
Adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence
1 pound small to medium Yukon gold potatoes
2 large eggs
1 sliced green onion
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 cups mayonnaise
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bunch dill, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

Put the potatoes into a big saucepan of cold salted water. Bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until a paring knife poked into them goes in without resistance, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let them cool. Cook the two eggs separately in a pot with water for 12 minutes (or cook with the potatoes, but remove after 12 minutes).

Break up the potatoes by hand into rough chunks and add them to a large bowl. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, green onion and capers, parsley, and lemon juice to the potatoes. Peel the cooled eggs and grate them into the bowl. Toss the potatoes to coat with the dressing. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil before serving.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cadbury Micro Mini Eggs

This version of Cadbury's Mini Eggs features small, small versions of the candy coated milk chocolate eggs. Very cute.

Durian Honey Cake

This is probably the oddest of the cakes I have made from this master Honey Cake recipe. Durian is not really a popular fruit, at least in Western culture, and not so much even in Asian culture. You either like it, and so far I do, or you don't, more than likely because you can't stand the pungent smell. I haven't really been exposed to the smell much, more from thawing frozen durian in supermarkets, not from fresh fresh durian, just off the tree, though I do not dislike that muted smell at least, and actually look forward a little to smelling what little I encounter. This cake turned out really great, the smell of durian comes out distinctly, but it taste more like honey cake than predominantly durian.

Durian Honey Cake
225 g sweet butter
250 g runny honey
100 g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
300 g (2-1/4 cups) self-rising flour
225 g frozen fresh durian
2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Allow durian flesh to thaw.

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 durian flesh well into the flour mixture with a whisk.

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

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

Frozen Fresh Durian

The idea of eating a fresh durian has been in my mind for a long while, but the opportunity to eat such is likely impossible in Canada, given the long distances the fruit would have to travel. The only other option is frozen, and I've seen frozen whole durian available in any number of supermarkets. What I also found too, is the frozen durian flesh. The advantage of this, is that they have removed any seeds and the outer husk. This particular durian is of the variety Morn Thong, which translates as Golden Pillow. I can see that a little, in the picture.

Though, here, wrapped up, it is a little less obvious a golden pillow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Restaurant Review - Tea House - Fo Guang Shang Temple of Toronto

Having been asked to google a good vegetarian restaurant, I found only a few listed, solely vegetarian anyways, one of them was auspicious, in that my beautiful Bride was looking to go to a Buddhist Temple for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations. Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto is located on Mill Creek Drive, just off of Erin Mills Parkway in Mississauga. One of its attractions, beyond what it provides for Buddhists as a Temple, is its Tea House, which serves vegetarian meals, snacks, and different teas and coffees. When we arrived there, we found a large bright building and parked at the back. A Buddhist Service was already in progress, so we decided to look around a little, then have lunch. Tours of the facility can be arranged; there is also a museum of Buddhist sculpture upstairs, and a Buddhist book store and library.

Having never been to the Tea House before, we were unaware that you needed to purchase coupons (essentially donations) for each food item that you ordered. Each coupon can be purchased for $5 in the hallway at one of the two information booths. On the recommendation of our server, we selected two dishes and a tea, each of these were very popular items. The first to arrive was a dish called Noodle in Red-cooked Soup, which had wheat noodles (spaghetti) in a red sauce, with baby bok choy, preserved mustard and imitation meat in a red-cooked soup (red cooking is a method of cooking, mostly meats, with certain spices such as Chinese five spice or star anise, the meat turns "red"). You could also have this dish with rice noodles, if you preferred. This dish tasted quite excellent, very simple, and was clearly my favourite of the two. The second of our dishes was a dish called Bean Sauce and Noodle, which contained cooked chopped red beans and more of the spaghetti noodles. This dish tasted pretty good, though not as good as the red-cooked soup. Last to arrive, a few minutes after the other two dishes had arrived, was our Fresh Fruits Tea, which was quite delicious when we tasted it. We've been to the Tea House once more, and had this again. The fruits in there are a mixture of orange and apple and some other ones, the tea itself was orange in colour, and more citrusy in flavour. Overall, it was $15 for two people, perhaps a little high for the amount of food, but, as it was a donation to the Temple, it felt good to pay that amount. They also serve good coffee (again $5 for a cup) and have desserts, including cheesecake. I think we would eat here again, especially if my beautiful Bride wishes to go to a Buddhist Temple.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cadbury Popping Mini Eggs

These were far more interesting than the Dark version I sampled at the same time. I remember Pop Rocks from when I was young, tiny pieces of candy filled with solid carbon dioxide that bubbled vigorously, popped even, in the moisture of your mouth. They even successfully banned them for a while, or so I heard, likely because some kid ate them in such a way, not the normal way, that endangered his life. They are making a comeback these days, I see them in a lot of stores. The trick to enjoying these, is to melt them on your tongue, then press them up against the roof of your mouth. Continue to press them as long as they continue popping. Quite interesting, though I don't see the connection of chocolate and the popping.

Cadbury Dark Mini Eggs

Just in time for Easter, er, well, long before Easter comes around, I found these in the store, a new version of Cadbury's Mini Eggs line, which normally has milk chocolate. These were not too special, really they tasted a little more chocolatey than the milk chocolate kind, and sugar is the first ingredient in the listing.

Durian Cake

This treat from Thailand end up tasting much like fruit leather, though my beautiful Bride told me that it should have been softer. The ingredients are durian and sugar. It certainly smells and tastes like durian, though it was not that tasty, even for a durian-lover like I am.

Pandan Essence

Pandan is a long leaf that is used in certain Asian dishes, both savoury and sweet. As an essence, it is used like vanilla essence is used in Western cooking. As it is a green leaf, the essence will be green, and any baked goods or drinks that you put it into will also be green. I can't really say how it tastes, even.

Brause Bonbons

These too I got a while ago as a Christmas gift from Germany, they are supposed to be bubbly candies, and rely on carbon dioxide to make it bubbly. We tried them, but they turned out to be too old to be bubbly any more. I like its tagline, "A Bubbly Experience". These are flavoured in Lemon, Cola and Raspberry.

Luigia Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts

This very large round dark chocolate "bar" comes from Italy, opening the box reveals a solid chocolate "pie" in an aluminum pie tin. This is on the low end of the dark chocolate scale, you can tell from the ingredient listing, sugar is first, followed by cocoa paste, cocoa butter, hazelnuts, soy lecithin (as an emulsifier) and vanilla. The chocolate tastes pretty good, and the packaging is interesting, but I didn't like that the hazelnuts seem to be just added after the fact, not incorporated, at least more, into the bar; they fall out when you break the bar. But that's just a small quibble. I doubt that I would buy this bar again.

Werther's Echte

This small package of Werther's Original cream candies come at Christmas-time from Germany (Echte is the german word for Original), long ago, I discovered it recently, hidden in a tin. They are apparently double creamy too, from the packaging.

Fennel Slaw

We saw this on one of Tyler Florence's episodes, the one about the Ultimate Steak Sandwich, which is not something that either of us would ever make, neither of us liking beef much or at all, but, as a side dish accompaniment, he made this enhanced or Ultimate cole slaw dish. Essentially, he jazzed up normal cole slaw with extra flavourful ingredients, fennel, tarragon and parsley, to give it a better taste. We used dried tarragon, if you use fresh, use 2 tablespoons. Too, we used yoghurt where the recipe originally called for sour cream, either works, I think. It tasted pretty great, though we both thought the fennel would taste stronger, have more of the anise flavour. This enhanced cole slaw would go great as a side dish in a picnic, or with burgers or hot dogs, too. It's a very healthy recipe, too.

Fennel Slaw
adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence
1 large fennel bulb
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 heaping Tbsp yoghurt
1 bag coleslaw mix
2 tsp dried tarragon
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the upper stalks of the fennel. Finely slice fennel using a mandoline, or the grater attachment on your food processor. In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, mayonnaise, and yoghurt and stir to combine. Add together the finely sliced fennel and coleslaw mix and herbs. Pour over the yogurt-mayonnaise dressing and the olive oil. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Do Matcha Green Tea

Another Christmas present I received, from my sister and brother-in-law, who know I like tea, and like green teas, is Japanese Do Matcha green tea. I don't have quite the proper tools to make authentic Matcha green tea, no whisk certainly, but you can make it using normal spoon and cup. Just mix 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp (depending on how strong you want it) with a small bit of hot water to make a paste, then add hot water to fill the cup, or as desired. Matcha green tea has a definite different flavour from Chinese green tea, for one the grinding of the leaves imparts a different flavour than whole leaf teas, also, the tea is a slightly different variety, grown in Japanese soil and weather (this one comes from Kyoto). This tea tastes pretty good, another good one to add to my already large rotation.

Brimfield's Dark Chocolate Crystallized Ginger

The American chocolatier Brimfield's Fine Confections produces a number of chocolate covered products, this one is dark chocolate cover crystallized ginger pieces. I've seen various nuts and other fruits covered either with dark or milk chocolate. I picked this one, as it was dark chocolate, and it contains another of my favourites, ginger. The cacao content is 70%, and the ingredient listing is fairly good, the ones at the bottom of the list are not so good, but are in smaller quantities; dark chocolate (made from chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin and vanilla), ginger, sugar, corn syrup, gum Arabic and shellac (confectioner's glaze).

How do they taste? The combination of ginger and chocolate is not for everyone, my beautiful Bride does not care so much for it, but I like it. I don't know that I could buy these again, as I don't really have a reliable source for them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ryvita Sunflower-Seeds and Oats

This new offering by the English company Ryvita is a whole grain rye crispbread, this one adds sunflower seeds and whole grain oats to its regular recipe. Other than whole grain rye flour and salt, there are no other ingredients. This produces a very crispy bread, which you can enjoy with cheese or meat slices, cream cheese, and almost any normal sandwich item. It's odd eating very crispy non-toasted bread, but once you get over that, they taste pretty good.

Pan-fried Balsamic Chicken

This is yet another recipe I found in one of the always interesting Donna Hay magazines, I adapted it to how I would like to have it, this time I had some fried rice with vegetables and tofu prepared earlier by my beautiful Bride. Being alone for lunch on a Saturday, I wanted to add some extra protein, and immediately thought of this recipe. The chicken comes out sweet and a little sour, very interesting flavour, and easy to make. This recipe might work with pork as well.

Pan-fried Balsamic Chicken
Adapted from a recipe from Donna Hay
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp olive oil
cracked black pepper
6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs

Slice the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces.

Combine the balsamic vinegar, garlic, oil and pepper and pour over the chicken thighs. Allow to marinate for 5 minutes.

Pan-fry the chicken in a large non-stick frying pan for 4-5 minutes, or until cooked through.

Amatller Chocolate Negro Ghana

I recently came across several of this Spanish chocolatier Chocolate Simon Coll, S.A., they have been in existence since 1797. There's not much to say about the ingredients, just cocoa mass and sugar, with a cacao content of 70%. The cacao beans come from Ghana, I would say, from the outside of the box. The chocolate is wrapped in a dark plastic rather than foil.

How does it taste? I was struck by how fruity it smelled upon opening the wrapping. Looking at the squares, they looked a little dull and not so deep brown as one would expect 70% chocolate to be. Too, the chocolate was not so smooth when I put it into my mouth. It tasted pretty good, a medium quality chocolate, though I don't think that it would become one of my favourites. Perhaps the Ghana beans are not to my liking.

Riceworks Sweet Chili Gourmet Brown Rice Crisps

I came across these chips from Riceworks in the Health Food section of Loblaws, they looked intriguing, in that they were chips made from whole grain brown rice, rather than the mainly corn or potatoes of any of the many available currently. Different, too, reading the packaging, no artificial flavours, additives, wheat or gluten.

Perhaps it's the additives that make the flavour in those other chips, though there still seemed to be a long list of ingredients for this product, some sounding not so healthful, these chips did not taste so good. The chilli was not so "chilli", more sweet, they were crunchy as advertised, but not very very crunchy, underneath the ton of spices, the chip itself was kind of bland. They also come in sea salt, I don't see how this one is going to have any flavour at all, and wasabi flavour.