Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lindt Excellence Chili

The idea of chili and chocolate together is not new, nor is this the first chocolate bar that I have eaten that contains chili as its primary flavouring, but it is the first from Lindt. From their Excellence line of chocolate bars, a few of which I've tasted before, this is a Dark chocolate, though likely is just meets the requirements to be called Dark chocolate, as sugar is the first ingredient in the listing. The rest of the ingredient listing is very similar to most Lindt bars, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, milk ingredients, soya lecithin, chili extract and artificial flavour.

How does it taste? Quite spicy, not for those who don't like spicy, though I would categorize it as being medium spicy but just above mild; definitely you could taste the spice, but it wasn't overwhelming, nor could you not taste the chocolate. I think I would buy this bar again, depending on whether it is popular enough to appear in the normal stores I see Lindt in.

Nestle Princessa Maxi

This white chocolate coconut cream wafer bar by Nestle Polska (Poland) we found appropriately enough in the Polish supermarket Sparsky's in Mississauga, my beautiful Bride wanted to try it, as she likes the combination of coconut and wafers. This is definitely a candy bar, with white chocolate coating, wafers and cream filling with desiccated coconut.

How does it taste? Not bad, I don't really care for white chocolate, but the coconut flavour was definitely there, the wafers were crispy.

Roselle or Hibiscus

Sometimes you take something for granted, don't really look at something, until you examine it from a different perspective. So it is with Hibiscus, also called Roselle, which my beautiful Bride wanted to introduce me to, in Thailand the dried Hibiscus flowers are steeped in hot water, then sweetened with a little sugar, to make a refreshing drink. We found that in the Caribbean, it is known as Sorrel, and we found some for sale in Kensington Market in Toronto. You may also be able to find it in good, or maybe bad, Chinese supermarkets, we've heard, but we haven't found it ourselves yet, but perhaps we're going to the wrong supermarkets. The best Roselle comes from the Sudan, but most of the World's production comes mainly from Thailand, and less so from China (Thailand has better quality).

Roselle is enjoyed in many countries, and by many names, Sorrel in the Caribbean, krajeab in Thailand, Jamaica in Latin America, mesta/meshta on the Indian subcontinent, rosela in Indonesia, asam paya or asam susur in Malaysia, the list goes on. It has many uses, including as a food colouring, the fibre can be used to make burlap, and the leaves can be used in making curries. It's also an excellent source of Vitamin C. But it is known more as a tea or fruit drink.

The recipe for Sorrel drink in the Caribbean is fairly simple, steep several of the dried Hibiscus flowers in hot water, with a chunk of bruised ginger, then enjoy.

You can see the bright red colour that results from the dark red of the dried Hibiscus flowers.

Let it cool and add a little ice for a refreshing drink, especially on a hot summer day.

What I learned from this, this brings me back to what I wrote firstly, is that when drinking the refreshing and slightly sour, which is probably why people sweeten it with sugar, is that it tasted very similar to my favourite tea of all, Rosehip tea from the German company Pompadour, which has as its ingredients Rosehip and Hibiscus Flowers, and that the taste that I liked in this tea, came from the Hibiscus rather than from the Rosehip!

Too, I had read, and didn't clue in, in the ingredient listing of several herbal teas that I have enjoyed, including ones from Celestial Seasonings, Hibiscus is somewhere, sometimes second or third, in the listing.

Saxon Chocolates Belgian Dark Chocolate Covered Hazelnuts

This bright Easter or Spring bonnet filled with dark chocolate covered hazelnuts from the Canadian chocolatier Saxon Chocolates caught my eye, it was on sale for about $6. Part of it was due to the pretty yellow colour of the packaging, though not so much by the over-sized waste in the packaging, but I guess you can re-use it as a box; of course, I was intrigued by the combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. The ingredient listing looked good as well, Dark Chocolate (made from cocoa liquour, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin as an emulsifier and vanilla extract), dry roasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder. There is no indication of cacao content, though it is likely to be higher than the minimum to make it Dark chocolate, as sugar is not the first ingredient.

How do they taste? Quite good, the hazelnuts are still slightly crunchy, the dark chocolate works well with the hazelnuts, the only part that was weird, was that they were dusted with cacao powder, though it ended up not being as weird as I thought it would be. I do think the $15 that it was supposed to cost, is a little expensive for these.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Restaurant Review - Ba Shu Chinese Restaurant

Wanting to eat something while being out and about, we ended up choosing this Sichuan Chinese restaurant over our first choice, it's a fairly new restaurant and we didn't know it was there. Located in the mall at the southeast corner of Hurontario and Eglinton, stuck in the middle of Pizza Hut and KFC and Quizno's and Harvey's, we entered to find a fairly large restaurant with pretty decor. Having initially wanting takeout, we decided instead to eat in, and chose a booth over a table, which was a mistake, we found out, as it seemed we were forgotten about, or perhaps that's the norm in terms of service, it seemed a little slow, despite there not being many patrons when we arrived. The other big thing I noticed, is that I was the only Lao Wai, or Foreigner, there; as the customers arrived as the evening progressed, there were only Chinese waiting for tables at the door. A good sign, if one wants to eat authentic food.

In looking over the menu with its huge number of offerings, I first read the bit about Sichuan cuisine. One statement I kept in mind, it would serve us later, it told us that despite being know for spicy food, who doesn't know spicy Kung Pao Chicken or Mapo Tofu, many dishes have little or no spice added. Sichuan is a province in Western China, its capital is Chengdu. Know for its spiciness, Sichuan cooking uses chili, ginger, and most importantly, the Sichuan peppercorn, with its unique, the fragrant, hot, one could even say numbing, citrusy, flower-shaped spice.

Having finally caught the eye of the waitress, we were told to write down the selection numbers of the dishes we wanted, a point of note for the next time we go there. One of the dishes that I found intriguing was called, in English, Chicken Braised with Fresh Chilies and Beer in Hot Pot, it is medium-spicy, I ordered that. My beautiful Bride wanted the Braised Diced Tofu with Fish Fillet, Shrimp, Scallop, Squid and Mushrooms. She also ordered the Basa Fish Fillet and Vegetables with Rice; the waitress couldn't tell us what Basa was, I found most of the waitresses spoke mostly Chinese and a little English (Basa is a type of white-fleshed catfish, I found out later, though one that feeds on plants, rather than being the typical "garbage"-eater). To drink, I ordered a Strawberry Milkshake; my beautiful Bride ordered a Red Bean Freeze, though they apparently did not have any red beans that day. After a few moments, the head waitress came back to inform us, that they did not have the Chicken Chili Beer dish today, a trend I did not care for, she suggested a Sliced Chicken Fillet with Sweet Bean Sauce and Green Chilies, apparently a popular dish, but rather I decided on pork, and specifically Poached Pork in Pungent Sauce, a high-spiced dish.

The first to arrive was the Basa Fish and Vegetables, which we found belonged to the non-spicy Sichuan dishes, and it seem non-tasty as well, bland even. The Strawberry Milkshake arrived as well, though I was shocked to see this small thin glass with light pink likely Bubble-Tea powder mixed with ice and milk, lesson learned not to order this the next time, not worth the $4.50. The Tofu and Seafood dish arrived next, this was much tastier, we could enjoy this one more than the Basa fish one.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, came the saviour of the whole meal, the pungent sauce immediately apparent as the dish arrived at the table, the Poached Pork in Pungent Sauce was very tasty, very spicy and filled with the taste of sichuan peppercorns and lots of oil, with green onions and soya beansprouts. It was even better the next day, over rice.

There are many items that look intriguing, including the Chicken and Beer dish that I didn't get, lots of Sichuan Dim Sum, Congee, and various Meat and Seafood dishes, that I think we will go back to this restaurant again.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cod Croquettes with Sweet Red Pepper Gravy and Mashed Potatoes with Spinach

My beautiful Bride wanted to make these, as soon as she saw Rachel Ray make them Sunday morning, so we went and bought all the ingredients and made them for Sunday dinner. And they tasted great! The cod croquettes were especially tasty, and different from salmon or crab cakes.

Cod Croquettes with Sweet Red Pepper Gravy and Mashed Potatoes with Spinach
From a recipe by Rachael Ray
For cod cakes:
1 lemon
1-1/4 pounds fresh cod
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons seafood seasoning blend (2/3 palmful), such as Old Bay brand
2 ribs celery and their greens, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (a few sprigs), chopped
3-4 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley (a handful), chopped
Black pepper
1 egg
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
For Sweet Red Pepper Gravy:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
For potatoes:
3 large starchy potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half
1 pound triple-washed spinach, stemmed and chopped

Place potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Put a lid on the pot and bring the water up to a boil. Salt water and cook potatoes until tender, 15 minutes.

Bring 1/2-inch water to a simmer in a large nonstick skillet. Zest a lemon and reserve. Cut lemon and season the fish with some lemon juice and salt and add to the simmering water. Cover pan and cook fish for eight minutes.

Remove and flake fish into a bowl. Add reserved lemon zest, seafood seasoning, celery, onion, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper to fish. Add egg and one cup of the breadcrumbs. Form eight fish patties and toss in remaining breadcrumbs to set the patties.

Discard water and wipe out pan, returning it to medium heat. Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to the pan. Cook the patties in the oil for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden. Reserve under foil or in warm oven.

Return skillet to heat again over medium heat. Melt in two tablespoons of butter, then add the red bell peppers and shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in flour and cook a minute more. Whisk in broth, thicken, then season with salt and pepper to make savory red pepper gravy.

Drain cooked potatoes and return to hot pot. Add in remaining butter, garlic and 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half. Mash and season the potatoes with salt and pepper. Fold in spinach leaves until they all wilt into potatoes.

To serve, pile spinach mashers on plates and top with cod croquettes and gravy.

Hale's Blue Boy Brand Red Sala Syrup

The Sala fruit is one of the many fruits available in Thailand, it is similar to Snake fruit, and has a unique flavour, smoky with a tangy aftertaste. This syrup, produced by Hale's, uses artifical flavour to achieve its Sala taste, though it does an admirable job. As a syrup, it is really only sugar and water, with red food colouring. Most of the time, I have it with mineral water, it tastes unlike any soda I have tried from North America.

Les Comtes de Provence Organic Black Cherry

Jam to me should be high in fruit content, with less sugar and few other ingredients, this particular one, made from black cherries (I have seen lots of other fruit jams they also produce), from the French company Les Comtes de Provence, is quite delicious. The only issue I had with it, is that there were still some stones in there. The ingredient listing is great, organic black cherries, cane sugar, fruit pectin and concentrated lemon juice.

Egg Yolk Roll

This crispy pastry roll filled with egg yolk cream is quite good, I must say. The pastry is made from several grains, namely rice, corn, black soybean, sesame, oats, brown rice, while the rest of the ingredients are used to make the egg yolk cream and the pastry, vegetable oil, egg yolk powder, salt, milk, sugar and glucose.

D'Arbo Fine Rosehip Spread

One of my favourite jams is made from the fruit of the rose, called rosehips or rose haw. The rosehip is very high in Vitamin C, and can be made into teas (I enjoy very much rosehip tea, really my favourite tea), jams or jellies, soup, and even mead. This spread from the Austrian company D'Arbo, is quite tasty, I enjoy it very much on bread, though my beautiful Bride thinks it tastes a little like tomato jam.

Lindt Cupid's Arrows

This milk chocolate offering from Lindt is made as a special gift for Valentine's Day; the tie-in with Cupid and his arrows of love is obvious.

Here's a closeup look at what's inside each of the foil packages. I think you pay more for the packaging and the arrows, than the actual chocolate.


Mozartkugeln, or Mozart balls, are very popular in Austria and Germany, and exported throughout the world. From my reading, I have found out that these are not the authentic Mozartkugeln, the authentic confections are made by the company Fürst in Austria, and are round; these are made by Reber in Germany, and because they are not authentic, one side is flat.

The inside of the Mozartkugel (not so clear in this picture) shows the layers of confection, typically marzipan, nougat, in various combinations and flavours, and chocolate on the outside.

Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate Praline Mini Eggs

I have enjoyed quite a few of Green & Black's chocolate, I found this in the on-sale section of Easter-themed products, this was $5, normally $10. Like the other chocolate bars from G&B's I've tried, the ingredient listing looks quite good, mostly organic ingredients, cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, hazelnuts (15%), whole milk powder, cocoa butter, soya lecithin (as an emulsifier) and vanilla extract.The chocolate in these praline eggs is made up of 40% dark chocolate, with a cacao content of 70%, and 42% milk chocolate, with 35% cocoa solids.

How do they taste? Quite good, everyone I've given them to has liked them. They did have almost a chunky peanut-buttery flavour or consistency at first, but this resolved into the hazelnut flavour after a couple. I would definitely eat these again.

Jones Clear Cream Soda

If there is a soda I was philisophical about, or remember fondly from my childhood, or more specifically my teenagehood, it is Clear Cream Soda, and specifically the one made by Canada Dry, a Canadian maker of soda products, now owned by Cadbury-Schweppes, and more know for its Ginger Ale. I prefer clear cream sodas over the more flavoured and/or coloured versions, too. This clear cream soda, from the Seattle, Washington-based Jones Soda, tastes pretty good, but nowhere near as good as what I remember the Canada Dry did (though I admit, that they probably were not trying to duplicate that flavour).

Droste Extra Dark Chocolate Pastilles

This dark chocolate, with 75% cacao content, made by the Dutch chocolatier Droste, produces its chocolate in pastille, or wafer, form; the hexagon shaped box the chocolate comes in is unique. The ingredient listing is good, chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (as an emulsifier), and vanillin (artificial flavour). This package was on sale for $2.

How do they taste? Pretty good, smooth chocolate, melts quite well.

Amatller Cacao Ecuador 85

Another of the chocolate bars, the last, I tried from the Spanish chocolatier Chocolates Simon Coll, S.A., this bar is made from cacao from Ecuador, at 85% cacao content. Like the other bars from this chocolatier, the ingredient listing looks good, just cocoa mass and sugar.

How does it taste? Good, but like all bars above above 80% cacao content, it tends to be a little chalky and what I can only describe as "crunchy", so not smooth and melting well. A decent offering from this Spanish company, but not their best.

Green & Blacks Dark 85%

I wanted to try this chocolate bar from Green & Black's, mostly because it is very dark chocolate, with 85% cacao content. Most chocolate bars with this high cacao content, I find suffer from being too chalky, 70-75% seems to be a better ratio of cacao to sugar. The cacao beans of this chocolate bar are the Trinitario varietal, and organic. The ingredient listing is good, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, fat-reduced cocoa powder, raw cane sugar and vanilla extract.

How does it taste? Fairly good, it doesn't suffer too much from the chalkiness problem, though I don't think that I would choose this particular bar from their offerings over other ones.