Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alpen Gold Nussbeisser Milk

This is the milk version of the whole hazelnut bars made by Kraft Foods in Poland, the Dark I reviewed earlier. Like the other I like how it contains whole hazelnuts, though I am more of a fan of dark chocolate with hazelnuts than the more traditional pairing of milk chocolate and hazelnut. As a milk chocolate, there is definitely less cacao (25% cacao content), and the ingredient listing lists sugar first, followed by hazelnuts, whole milk powder, powdered cream, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, powdered whey, lactose, vegetable oil, butterfat, soya lecithin as an emulsifier and vanillin.

How does it taste? Not as good as the Dark version, but not bad for a cheap chocolate bar, good whole hazelnuts. I think I might buy this bar again, but only if the Dark version were not available.

Scharffen Berger Extra Dark

Like the previous chocolate bar from Scharffen Berger that I reviewed, their Bittersweet 70% bar, while it is excellent chocolate, I find it not very eatable, rather I would say it could be used to make baked goods that ask for melted dark chocolate. The ingredient listing is even smaller, unsweetened chocolate, sugar and natural vanilla flavour. At 82%, the cacao content is very high, and it ends up being a little chalky to my flavour. There is a fruitiness to the chocolate, this is supposed to be dried figs combined with a mild peppery spiciness reminiscent of red wine (from the label); I do get the fruitiness and spiciness taste when I eat it.

How does it taste? Smells good, there is a definite crispiness when you break it, though it doesn't melt so well in the mouth, and doesn't taste so bitter. I would say again that this bar I would use for making, and improving, baked goods, I don't think that I could eat this as a bar on a regular basis.

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

The other cupcake I made comes from a recipe provided by Magnolia Bakery, the New York City landmark. This one turned out a little dryer than the previous, but still quite good tasting; it again pairs well with the buttercream, the recipe for this also comes from Magnolia Bakery.

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes
adapted from a recipe from the World Famous Magnolia Bakery and Allysa Torey's Home Kitchen
3/4 cup self-rising flour
5/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. In a small bowl, combine flours; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, and scraping down sides of bowl in between each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.

Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about three-quarters full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tins, and cool completely on rack. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Serve at room temperature.

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream
adapted from a recipe from the World Famous Magnolia Bakery and Allysa Torey's Home Kitchen
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, 3 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. If needed, gradually add remaining sugar, beating for about 2 minutes after each addition, until icing reaches desired consistency.

Honey Chocolate Cupcakes

At the second of two baby showers, this one held by my sister and sister-in-law, I was requested to make some dessert, so I decided to make some cupcakes, which my beautiful Bride could decorate beautifully. No pictures of the decorated cupcakes, my camera went on the fritz, but they did taste really good, the combination of chocolate and honey made for a moist cupcake; the pairing with the vanilla buttercream worked well.

Honey Chocolate Cupcakes
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup runny honey
1 egg, room temperature
1/3 cup skim milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until light; gradually add honey, beating until light and creamy. Beat in egg, vanilla and milk. In small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, mixing until well blended. Spoon batter into 12 paper-lined or greased muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full.

Bake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven to wire rack. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack to cool completely.

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream
adapted from a recipe from the World Famous Magnolia Bakery and Allysa Torey's Home Kitchen
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, 3 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. If needed, gradually add remaining sugar, beating for about 2 minutes after each addition, until icing reaches desired consistency.

Alpen Gold Nussbeisser Dark

I found this, and a milk version, in a European delicatessen, I see from the box that it is made by Kraft Foods, at least their Poland facilities. I like how it contains whole hazelnuts (at 23% content, it is far less than the 34% in the Lindt Grand Hazelnut bars, but at ½ the price, it is worth it). It looks like this just makes the Dark category (46% cacao content), the ingredient listing lists sugar first, followed by cocoa mass, hazelnuts, vegetable oil, butterfat, soya lecithin as an emulsifier and vanillin.

How does it taste? Pretty good, not bad for a cheap chocolate bar, good whole hazelnuts. I think I might buy this bar again.

Roshen Extra Black Chocolate

This Ukrainian chocolate bar from Roshen, making chocolate since 1996, is labelled extra black chocolate, I guess for Ukrainian chocolate it is extra black, or extra dark; at 56% cacao content, it does not touch most of the superior chocolate bars. Again, though, this is a cheap chocolate bar, with fairly good ingredients, sugar, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, lecithin and vanilla flavouring.

How does it taste? Very fruity, even too fruity, the chocolate was fairly good, but not great. I don't know that I would buy this again.

Too, I talked to a lady from the Ukraine who won't buy Ukrainian goods, mostly because of the problems with Chernobyl (and the radiation issue), rather she prefers Russian, or Belgian. I would say that the chocolate comes from outside the Ukraine, as most chocolatiers do, but perhaps the other ingredients come from local sources and thus potentially may be affected.

Frédéric Chopin Dark Chocolate

Frédéric Chopin is regarded as Poland's finest composer, whether this chocolate bar from Jutrzenka SA in Poland is the finest chocolate of that country is debatable, as is whether it is a fine tribute to Chopin. Certainly the ingredient listing is not bad, cocoa mass, sugar, fat-reduced cocoa powder (11%), cocoa butter, emulsifiers and flavouring, fairly common and straight forward bar. The cacao content is at 60%, that's good.

How does it taste? How does it compare to the music of Chopin? Not really a fair comparison, but this is not a great bar, just an average good bar that might serve to satisfy a craving. It's not a bar I would buy again; as to the music of Chopin, that I would listen to.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lindt Grand Hazelnuts Milk

I've already eaten, and prefer, the Lindt Grand Hazelnuts Dark, this is perhaps the more common version one can find with hazelnuts, a milk chocolate bar. Too, the ingredient listing between the two bars is very similar, sugar, followed by hazelnuts (comprising 34% of the total), cocoa butter (this and the next ingredient are switched in the dark version, thus the dark version has a higher cacao content), cocoa mass, milk ingredients, lactose (not in the dark version), soya lecithin, barley malt extract (also not in the dark version) and artificial flavour. Like the Dark version, some of the hazelnuts are whole, while others have been transformed into caramelized slivers.

How does it taste? Good, Lindt bars are easy on the palate, smooth and quite pleasing. I still prefer the Dark version, but this one, despite its expensive price, $5 or more, is worth the buy.

Kao Mok Gai

This is another recipe from the excellent book of authentic Thai recipes from the Australian David Thompson, and it turned out quite well, just as my beautiful Bride wanted and remembered, in other words, a dish she liked from Thailand. And I like it too, it's quite tasty. This recipe, being authentic, calls for Thai cardamom, which is white in colour, round and less pungent (use the green cardamom if you can't find it, we did); you can roast them by heating them in a dry frying pan until they turn fragrant. Cassia is very similar to cinnamon, use either one, but cinnamon is more common here; you can find cassia in Chinese supermarkets. Lastly, use bay leaves if you can't find cassia leaves.

Kao Mok Gai
adapted from a recipe from Thai Food by David Thompson
4 chicken thighs, each cut into 3 pieces (or 3 chicken legs)
oil for deep-frying
10 red shallots, sliced
pinch of salt
3 cups jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves (or cassia leaves)
1 small piece cinnamon bark, roasted (or cassia)
2 cardamom pods, roasted (use Thai cardamom if you can find)
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 Tbsp chopped turmeric
1 tsp coriander seeds, roasted
1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted
seeds of 2 cardamom pods, roasted (use Thai cardamom if you can find)
2 cloves, roasted
1 cm piece cinnamon bark, roasted (or cassia bark)

First make the paste: gradually pound the ingredients together using a pestle and mortar, adding one by one, until smooth. Marinate the chicken in this paste for a few hours.

Heat oil in a pot and deep-fry the shallots, remove and then deep-fry the chicken. Combine shallots, salt and chicken with rice and add sufficient stock to cover to a depth of the first joint of your index finger; bring to the boil. Cover pot and turn down heat to very low. When rice is cooked (about 20-25 minutes), so should the chicken be. Add bay leaves, cinnamon bark and cardamom pods and leave to infuse for 5 minutes before serving.

Virgil's Microbrewed Cream Soda

I picked this up in this local Health Food store, while I don't drink the mass marketed highly sweetened pops, I do occasionally like certain sodas, I find them refreshing, especially in the hot days of summer (though this year has turned out to be rainy in July, and not so hot). I like some things about this particular soda from Virgil's, the ingredients, for one, purified carbonated water, unbleached cane sugar, caramelized unrefined cane sugar, vanilla extract and natural flavours; that there are no preservatives, no caffeine and no artificial anything, for two; and lastly, the taste is a clean and clear cream soda, very good.

Our new Breadmaker

We got a surprise gift for our first wedding anniversary from my brother and his wife, a breadmaking machine. Thanks!

For our first attempt at fresh bread, we chose the Seeded Whole Wheat bread from the recipe provided (we added flax and chia seeds, and used 12 grain whole wheat instead of just whole wheat bread flour). It produced a dense, flavourful, tasty, huuuge loaf of bread (which rose too high and threatened to pop the lid right open, likely because of the high humidity in the air). We enjoyed it all week. Here's the recipe we used.

Seeded Whole Wheat Bread
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp grated orange peel (I did not add this)
2 tsp salt
2 cups 12 grain whole wheat flour
4 cups white bread flour
3 tsp active dry or bread machine yeast
2 tsp vital wheat gluten (optional) (I did not add this)
1/2 cup flax seeds
2 Tbsp chia seeds

Add all ingredients, first liquid, then dry (make sure yeast is added last) except for last two (added at "Add ingredient" stage). Make on Whole Grain setting or according to manufacturer's instructions.

Baby Shower Favours

As a thank you at our baby showers, my beautiful and creative Bride fashioned these chocolate favours.

Beautiful Purple Wanderer

We found this flower growing on the outside of my Dad's flower garden; we don't know how it got there, or what its name is.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ground Pork with Fresh Herbs (Laab Muu)

The flavours in this dish are so intense, the saltiness of the fish sauce, the sour of the lime juice, the spiciness of the chili powder, the onion flavour of the shallots, the intense mint and peppery thai basil, really compliment the pork (though one could use ground chicken - then it would be Laab Gai). This is also a fairly healthy dish, no oil is used to cook the pork, and the extra ingredients are not cooked, just added together at the end. It is easy and quick to make, but assemble all the ingredients except the ground pork, so you can add these quickly as soon as the pork is finished. A great dish.

Ground Pork with Fresh Herbs (Laab Muu)
adapted from a recipe from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
1/4 cup water
300 g ground pork
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots, slices separated into rings
juice of 1/2 lime
3 Tbsp Thai fish sauce, or to taste
1/2 cup packed equal parts mint leaves and Thai basil, coarsely torn, plus small sprigs for garnish
Spice blend made from 2 tsp roasted rice powder, 1/4 tsp chili powder, 1/8 tsp garlic powder and 1/8 tsp ground coriander

Add water and ground pork together and stir-fry until done.

Add spice blend, the shallots, fish sauce and lime juice and stir to combine. Add herbs and again stir to combine.

Lindt Intense Pear

This is another chocolate bar from the Intense line of Lindt, this one features pear flavours. The ingredient listing looks long for a Lindt bar, I think shorter is better, sugar, chocolate, almonds, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), pear, apple, pineapple(!), natural pear flavour, soya lecithin (emulsifier), sodium alginate and calcium phosphate (thickeners), citric acid and vanillin. It's a Dark chocolate, though the cacao content is likely down near 49%.

How does it taste? Fairly good, not one of my favourite of the Lindt bars, the pear flavour is fairly subtle (ie. not Intense), and I'm not sure I like the combination of pear and chocolate. The crispness of the almonds was good for mouthfeel. A coworker of mine enjoyed it, she liked the flavour, and the chocolate taste.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happiness Soup

This is a recipe that I knew would be good when I saw it, and, seeing yellow zucchini at the Farmer's Market last week, I decided it was finally time to make it. And, it turned out as good as it looked. The zesty lemon taste coupled with the turmeric along with the zucchini gives it a slightly sour flavour which is refreshing. I like the combination of the chewy rice and the slightly crunch zucchini. I would say that this soup could make me happy.

Happiness Soup
adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson
4 medium yellow zucchini
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 litre vegetable stock
100 g brown basmati rice
salt and pepper

Finely dice the zucchini. Put them into a pan with the lemon zest and oil, stir to coat, then cook on medium low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they've slightly softened.

Stir in the turmeric and pour in the vegetable stock and lemon juice and then drop in the rice. Bring to boil, then cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, or just until the zucchini and rice are tender.

Aromatic Lemongrass Patties

I've come across a few recipes, where you know it'll taste good. This one, I was not so sure about, but was intrigued enough to try it. And was pleasantly surprised, at the sweetness of the lemongrass, at how it paired well with the shallots and pork. I think it might do well with the addition of a little heat, and perhaps some fish sauce. My beautiful Bride doesn't think that this recipe is necessarily "Thai", she said that the recipes she remembers are different. I would say it's more Vietnamese. But, this is still good.

Aromatic Lemongrass Patties
adapted from a recipe from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
300 g ground pork
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Put the ground pork in a food processor, add the shallots, lemongrass, salt and pepper and process for about 30 seconds or until the mixture forms an even-textured ball.

Working with wet hands, pick up a scant 2 tablespoons of the pork mixture and shape it into a flat patty 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Place on a plate and repeat with the remaining mixture; do not stack the patties. You'll have 7 to 8 patties.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil and add the patties. Lower the heat to medium and cook until golden on the first side, then turn over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until golden and cooked through. As the patties cook, use a spatula to flatten them against the hot surface.

El Rey Chocolate Collection

The two El Rey chocolate bars I previously review came from a coworker, he brought me two of the six bars from their Collection, Mijao and Apamate, the others are Grand Saman (at 70% cacao content and supposedly a wonderful bar), Bucare (very similar to the Mijao), Caoba (a Milk chocolate with 41% cacao content) and Icoa (a White chocolate).

El Rey Apamate Chocolate Oscuro

The second of the two chocolate bars I tasted from the almost 80-year old Venezuelan chocolatier Chocolates El Rey, C.A. has a cacao content of 73.5%, called Apamate. The cacao beans are the famed Caranero Superior. The ingredient listing is good, save for the soya lecithin (which I have now read is used to reduce the conching time) and the natural vanilla flavour, the rest is chocolate liquour, sugar and cocoa butter. Like the other Mijao bar, there was a white sheen on the chocolate, though much less (likely because of the lower cacao butter content).

How does it taste? Much better than the Mijao bar, very good dark chocolate, it's been described as an earthy flavour. Makes me want to try even more of El Rey's chocolate offerings, I suspect there is even better chocolate waiting.

El Rey Mijao Chocolate Oscuro

I first read about Chocolates El Rey, C.A. a while ago, and found out more about the company before I even tasted any of their product. El Rey was established in 1929, and is almost a unique chocolatier, in that they create chocolate bars from cacao beans grown in the same country, in this case Venezuela, where the manufacturing plant resides (in other words, like a lot of wineries who produce wine from grapes they grow themselves, El Rey grows their own cacao beans and produces chocolate from them; too, like wine, each chocolate bar contains only cacao beans from one varietal, in this case, Mijao). Most cacao beans are bought up by a few large chocolatiers, who produce the chocolate to resell to smaller chocolatiers, they make the final product, so I admire El Rey for controlling the whole process. Despite this control of the chocolate-making process, it requires good cacao to make good chocolate, and the beans from Venezuela are some of the best in the world, the varietal available is the aromatic and flavourful Criollo bean, along with Trinitario and Forastero. At one time, in the 1920s, Venezuela was the biggest cacao producer in the world, though recently they have slipped to 13th; Jorge Redmond Schlageter, CEO of Chocolates El Rey, C.A., wants to bank on the quality of Venezuelan cacao to increase his sales, both within South America and into the United States and Europe, and Venezuela's standing in the world of chocolate.

Getting to the nitty-gritty of this particular El Rey chocolate bar, the cacao content is only at 61%. The ingredient listing is good, save for the soya lecithin and the natural vanilla flavour (which is fairly standard in most chocolate bars), the rest is chocolate liquour, sugar and cocoa butter. This bar suffered from the cocoa butter separating already, there was a white sheen on the surface, but this normally does not affect the flavour.

How does it taste? Pretty good, clean, dark chocolate with a good finish and a good fragrant smell, but certainly not wonderful. I would like to try more of this chocolate, and more of El Rey's chocolate.

Restaurant Review - Zen Gardens Vegetarian Restaurant

We were in Cambridge on the weekend for my brother-in-law's birthday, being late for his birthday dinner, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to try a restaurant we had seen several times but never gone to, the vegetarian restaurant Zen Gardens, located near the old City Hall on Water Street. The decor as we entered, and in the main room is designed to be soothing and calming, Japanese architecture. The tables were arranged prettily, each set of chopsticks lined up perfectly next to the menus. We perused the menu, seeing lots of choices, some with vegetables and tofu and rice (what I would call normal vegetarian dishes), and some with the "fake" soy protein version of chicken. There were also a fair number of interesting teas, some health-oriented, some green teas, some served cold. We decided each to take a lunch combination meal, I chose the Kung Po Soy-Chicken, while my beautiful Bride chose Enoki Mushroom balls. We each selected a Health-Tea, mine was something called Gynostemma Pentaphyllum (also known as jiaogulan or the Herb of Immortality); hers was Red Zizyphus-Longan tea (also more commonly known as Red Date). We found the service to be a little slow, at least in taking our orders, but, once they were taken, the food came quickly. First, that came as part of the Combination Lunch, was Wonton Soup, which, along with wonton filled with mushrooms and vegetables, has carrots, mushrooms and bok choy in a vegetable broth, very simple and delicious. Our teas were served next, the Gynostemma had an intriguing smell and a good taste, the Longan tea was quite sweet but good. The rest of our Combination Lunches arrived in Bento box format, there were several side dishes along with the main meal - 2 soy chicken nuggets with plum sauce (which I found to have an odd texture); a lettuce salad with grapes, cucumber and carrots, and a fruity, tangy dressing; and steamed rice made from wild rice, brown rice and red rice. My Kung Po chicken was very delicious, the "chicken" had the mouthfeel if not the flavour of chicken, there was also pillow tofu, celery and green peppers and bamboo chunks, and a very spicy sauce that was very good. The Enoki Mushroom balls were deep-fried, very interesting in flavour and texture, pretty good. My beautiful Bride also ordered a dish to go, to eat later, one that she was contemplating selecting earlier, Fried Bean-Curd and Veggies, a house specialty, which has beancurd with a seaweed crust, but ended up not tasting so good. We were served 2 complimentary desserts, one was an orange mousse cake, mine was a chocolate-coffee mousse cake, both tasted pretty good. After the meal, we perused the many teas available for sale, I selected a tea that smells wonderfully of peach, called Osmanthus Fragrance Dancong. Overall, we enjoyed our visit to Zen Gardens, and would go again, perhaps to the one on Augusta Avenue in Toronto, it's a little closer.


I was over at a coworker's house on the weekend, and we had some Turkish coffee, which I enjoyed very much, and it somehow turned out that I was gifted with my very own cevze, called kanaka in Egyptian, for making authentic coffee. This one is a single serving kanaka, one adds between one and two teaspoons of Turkish coffee, plus a desired amount of sugar (four grades of sweetness, from none to 1-1/2 teaspoons, in half teaspoon increments), then water is added just to the water level mark, and it is heated over a heat source till it boils. Seems simple enough, and I also got some Turkish coffee to try. Another trick I was told would help out, is to boil the water beforehand, then it won't take long for the coffee to boil.