Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chocolate Surprise Cake

The surprise in this cake, which, for me, is a total surprise that I really like it, is not really new, I’ve heard of it before; it’s adding beets to a chocolate cake. This recipe comes from the book Better Food for Kids, from which we’ve made a few recipes. As you might have guessed, I find this cake to be quite delicious, moist, and, the best part, it does not taste like a beet cake with chocolate, rather it is a good-tasting moist chocolate cake. If the idea of beets doesn’t turn your fancy, you can always substitute the beets with 4 bananas and 1/2 cup of milk. But, try the beets! The decoration on this cake, done wonderfully by my beautiful Bride, is for my young daughter’s birthday. We used natural colours, beet red (how appropriate!), turmeric yellow and blue from red cabbage. They worked out well, though are not so bright as the artificial colours.

Chocolate Surprise Cake
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 19 oz can beets, drained and puréed
1 cup granulate sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

Combine beets, both sugars, oil, butter, eggs and vanilla extract in a stand mixer. Beat on slow until blended, then on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until thoroughly mixed. Add flour-cocoa mixture in small batches and mix on low.

Pour batter into greased baking pan and bake for 40 minutes (check doneness by inserting a toothpick in the centre of the cake). Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dry Soda - Vanilla Bean

I found this soft drink in one of the health food stores I go to, I think Whole Foods. Dry Soda makes a number of interesting flavoured soft drinks. This one features vanilla bean, a flavour I enjoy very much, and it delivers on it. This is also a dry soda, which implies to me, that it is not so sweet, similar to dry, as opposed to sweet, wine; when you drink it, it does taste “dry”, ie. not sweet, which I think is a good thing. The ingredient listing is short, purified carbonated water, cane sugar, natural extracts and phosphoric acid. This last ingredient is the only problem I have. Phosphoric acid is there to help keep the bubbles of the carbonation, but it has effects on the body, including potentially leaching calcium out of your bones (to counteract the phosphorus). I will grant, that perhaps the amount of phosphoric acid in this product likely is lower than you might find in one of the commercial products, Coke or Tab, for example. Overall, I enjoyed the flavour, but don’t need the worry of what the phosphoric acid is doing.

Terra Sweet Potato Chips

I’ve tried Terra Chip’s Exotic Vegetable Chips - Original and Sweets and Beets, both of which contain sweet potato chips; this one contains only sweet potato chips. The chips look a little dark, perhaps overcooked a little, but taste very good, sweet and full of the good sweet potato flavour. We bought a second bag.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chicken Stir-Fried with Lemongrass and Chile

This dish I first tried in my favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Hung in Mississauga, and it quickly became my favourite Vietnamese dish. This recipe comes from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen; I was excited to see how it compared to Pho Hung's dish. The key to this recipe is the curry; use the Madras curry if you can get it, I used something from Japan called Oriental curry, and, while it had similar ingredients, it wasn't spicy enough - at least, that is what I like about this dish. We also added too much coconut milk; you need to "dry it out" in order to get the right consistency. But, still, it tasted similar in a lot of ways, and I'm glad to have another dish I can prepare myself. The second time I tried making it, I used some Madras Curry, as I finally found some, at this Chinese supermarket, I also used a more reasonable amount of coconut milk, and it tasted very much better, more spicy but not hot. We also found out, in talking to one Vietnamese restaurant manager, that this recipe is Chinese-Vietnamese, you would not find it on a strictly Vietnamese menu.

Chicken Stir-Fried with Lemongrass and Chile
1-1/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, well trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
2-1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 or 2 Thai chiles, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
1/2 cup coconut milk, canned or freshly made
3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped, as garnish
Thai Jasmine rice

In a bowl, combine the chicken, salt, sugar, curry power, and fish sauce and turn several times to coat the chicken evenly. Set aside to marinate at room temperature for at least 15 minutes or for up to 1 hour.

In a wok or large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shallots, chiles, and lemongrass and stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the chicken and the bell pepper; stir quickly to mix. Stir-fry the chicken for about 2 minutes, until they are nicely browned on all sides.

Add the coconut milk, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. Cook till the coconut milk is reduced and barely visible. Garnish with the cilantro and serve with Thai Jasmine rice.

Gluay Op Nam Puang - Banana Bake with Honey

I’ve talked about the superior flavour of Thai bananas, this is a snack that’s really healthy, just Thai bananas baked with honey (and only 1% of the total). Because these are fresh with little preservatives (honey is itself a natural preservative, and very little can grow in it), the shelf life is very short (compared to all the other snacks out there). The banana ends up being chewy with a honey flavour. Interesting, but I think I prefer the fresh banana.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Andrews Scenic Acres Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

Andrews Scenic Acres is a large farm with fruit orchards and other vegetables (a very large list); you can either buy from them or pick your own; they also have animals, wagon rides, playground and other fun things for a child to do. My beautiful Bride and daughter went there during the summer, to pick strawberries. When they were there, they also picked up for me some jams made with rhubarb. This one is rhubarb strawberry; they also bought one that has raspberry. The ingredients are just rhubarb, strawberry and sugar, so very little sugar, more fruit, and no added pectin, and I like that it is rhubarb first in the ingredients (normally it would be the other way). I thought, though, that they made these jams themselves, but I see on the label “Prepared For”; hopefully, they at least used fruit from the farm. The jam itself tasted okay, not really fresh, and not a strong rhubarb or strawberry flavour.

Ewenity Quark

Quark is a traditional unripened cheese in Germany, made by heating soured milk until the whey separates (the milk proteins are denatured), and then strained. It is a cheese that you can make at home. It is similar to ricotta, but is different, as ricotta is made from scalded milk. It is similar to cottage cheese, except that cottage cheese uses rennet to denature the protein. Most quarks are made from cow’s milk, this one is different in that it is made from sheep’s milk. Ewenity is a cooperative of farmers who raise sheep, they make many products, alongside just milk, from sheep’s milk, including yogurt (which my young daughter likes). This quark is quite good. I enjoy it spread on bread with a little jam, and have made other desserts from quark. The small tub cost $5, which I purchased at Riverdale Organic Farm.

Goldie's Premium Carob Bar - Plain

This is the third of the carob bars from Goldie’s that I tried, this one has no extra flavours or additions, a plain carob bar (and similar, to me, to a plain milk chocolate bar). Like all their other carob bars, it has no hydrogenated oils, no refined sugars, no preservatives, no chocolate, cocoa or caffeine. The ingredient listing is similar to their other bars, barley malt, fractionated palm kernel oil, carob powder, soy lecithin and milk.

How does it taste? Good, the carob is the center piece here, and I can see now what different flavour there was in the Hazelnut Praline (the hazelnuts). I don’t know how you can really make a dark carob version, whether that would work, adding more carob. Would be interesting, though. I think I would buy this bar again.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Traditional Medicinals Organic Lemon Yerba Maté

I’ve enjoyed this tea from Traditional Medicinals for a long while now, for the most part in order to get a jolt of caffeine on those mornings after late nights (and now with a toddler, there are more of those). Yerba Mate is similar to green tea in its range of antioxidants and health benefits, it also has theobromine (what is found in chocolate, what gives it its “kick”). I’ve read now that it has a darker side, down in South America, where they consume yerba mate in large quantities, more than a liter a day, there is a larger risk for certain cancers. The taste of yerba mate is supposed to be smoky, woody, bitter, but I find that the lemony flavour of this (which comes from West Indian lemongrass leaf and lemon myrtle leaf) combines and mutes the earthiness of the yerba mate. I quite enjoy the flavour of this tea (and they have a version that uses ginger, which I don’t like as much, which is odd, as I enjoy ginger), and find it does provide energy (given that it has about the same amount of caffeine as green tea), without any side effects of drinking too much coffee or soda. And, I only need to drink one large cup with one tea bag when I feel the need.

Traditional Medicinals Organic Rose Hips

Traditional Medicinals makes many different teas, mostly Organic, and, according to the box, they purchase and manufacture their herbs sustainably, buying from cooperatives of herb farmers, supporting Organic farmers, and using 100% Wind Power to offset their energy use. This one features rose hips, something that I see in many caffeine-free herbal teas, and in one of my favourite, but I have never tried them on their own (and the rosehip tea I like so much, I’ve discovered has the flavour of roselle). I must say, I like the flavour of this tea, fruity, tart and sweet at the same time, a pleasant tasting tea that tastes fresh too (some of the teas have been sitting on the shelf for a long while, and have lost a little, a lot, of their flavour). The tea itself is light red when brewed. This one cost $4, but I’ve seen it for much more.

Now I have another tea to enjoy.

Cote D'Or Passionfruit

I’ve tried the Belgian chocolatier ’s Pistachio, and didn’t really care for, but I do like passionfruit, and this bar was on sale. Cote D’Or uses cacao beans from West Africa and South American to make its bars. The ingredient listing indicates that it just meets the requirements of a dark chocolate bar; sugar, unsweetened chocolate, palm and/or coconut oil, cocoa butter, modified milk ingredients, passionfruit juice concentrate, cocoa powder, banana puree, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavours.

How does it taste? I was surprised that it was not a filled chocolate, like a jam, rather it was more like a dense mousse (likely the passionfruit-flavoured banana), though pleasantly surprised, as I find those types of bars too sweet. The passionfruit flavour was there but fairly subtle, and ultimately, I didn’t care for this bar, as there was some crunchy bits that I couldn’t identify as coming from the ingredients. I would not buy this bar again.

O.N.E. Acai Acerola Drink

This is the last of the O.N.E. drinks that I tried. Acai is a new fruit superfood that is finding its way into a number of drinks, both health-oriented and even commercial ones; these Acai berries are wild-crafted from the Amazon Rainforest. Acerola cherries are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Drinking it, the liquid has a fair amount of brownish-red pulp, a little off-putting, and the drink tasted somewhat sour (from the cherries, no doubt). Overall, I would say this was my least favourite of the O.N.E. drinks, my favourite being the Cashew Fruit.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Goldie's Premium Carob Bar - Hazelnut Praline

The second of three carob bars I tried (carob is made from the fruit of the locust tree) had hazelnut praline as its flavour. Goldie’s has been making carob bars for 25 years. Their bars contain no preservatives, refined sugars or hydrogenated oils. The ingredient listing looks like a milk chocolate bar, barley malt, fractionated palm kernel oil, carob powder, hazelnuts and soy lecithin.

How does it taste? Still good, I like carob in taste and smell, but the flavour of hazelnut was totally lost in this carob (it almost seems to me that I got a carob bar instead of one with hazelnuts). I liked their Banana better. I would buy this bar again.

Santa Cruz Organic Limeade

I’ve tried Santa Cruz’s Lemon Lime, Raspberry Lemonade and Mango Lemonade, this one features lime juice. Well, mostly lime, it also has white grape juice and lemon juice. It’s pleasant tasting, fairly good Organic with better ingredients drink, and around $2 for the near 1L bottle.

Goldie's Premium Carob Bar - Banana

Carob is a healthy alternative to chocolate; it’s lower in fat and calories and caffeine-free; it’s very nutritious, in some ways more than cacao. You can use carob powder 1:1 in place of cocoa powder in recipes. It has a different taste, chocolate-y but also sweeter (so you can cut down the amount of sugar). Carob comes from the bean of the Locust tree, commonly called Honey Locust (though, we have a honey locust in my Dad's front yard, been there forever, and occasionally it would have small fruit; never thought that it could be edible- likely not). I came across these bars in a health food store. Goldie’s has been making carob bars for 25 years. Their bars contain no preservatives, refined sugars or hydrogenated oils. This one is banana flavoured. The ingredient listing looks to me to be more reminiscent of a milk chocolate bar, barley malt (essentially sugar), fractionated palm kernel oil, carob powder, banana extract and milk.

How does it taste? I like the taste of carob, the smell of it, though it is by far a different experience to cacao, and is not a replacement. Though, you can still enjoy it on its own merits, and I did enjoy this bar, despite finding it a little chalky in texture, and also a little sweet (carob is naturally sweet, and you actually need less sugar in recipes than using cocoa). The banana is there, but not predominant (wonder what it would taste like with chewy banana pieces!). The bar cost about $4, and I don't have a ready source for it, but I would buy this bar again.

Whole Wheat Spaghettini with Scallops and Arugula

I had made this recipe long ago once, and had mostly forgotten about it, but we had some arugula, and it popped into my head again. This recipe actually calls for the larger sea scallops, which you sear until crispy and brown, but we had only bay scallops, and frozen ones at that, but the recipe didn’t suffer. We also omitted the capers that the original recipe called for; I think it’s an acquired taste. All together, even with these changes, the pasta tastes good, the pepperiness of the arugula comes out against the background of the lemon. Fairly easy to make.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Scallops and Arugula
Adapted from a recipe from Williams-Sonoma
1/2 lb. bay scallops, side muscle removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1 lemon
handful of Italian basil
5 shallots, minced
1/2 package whole wheat spaghettini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 large bunch arugula, preferably small leaved, stems removed

Rinse the scallops and dry well with paper towels. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy fry pan over high heat, warm the olive oil until it shimmers. In batches without crowding, add the scallops and sear until nicely browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn the scallops over and brown the other side, about 1 minute more. Return all the scallops to the pan, add the lemon zest and basil, and cook for a moment. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the scallops to a bowl. Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots to the pan, adding more oil, if needed. Sauté until softened, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the boiling water, add the pasta and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), 3 to 4 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, add the lemon juice and stock to the fry pan and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Simmer until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the pasta well and add it to the fry pan. Add the scallops and any juices that have accumulated, then add the pine nuts. Toss over low heat to finish cooking the scallops and mix the ingredients, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Transfer to a warmed large, shallow bowl, add the arugula leaves and toss gently. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Rustic Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce

We had a large number of cherry tomatoes we bought at Riverdale Organic Farmer’s Market, mostly from a momentary lapse of brain function (I forgot that I had bought some just five minutes earlier, but, in my defence, there are so many good looking and interesting fruits and vegetables at the Market, it’s hard not to take some of everything home). We also had some very nice basil, so we decided to make this pasta sauce. I call it rustic, because I left the cherry tomatoes mostly whole, only cut them in half, and did not blend them, so they have retained their shape. Not only are these cherry tomatoes good looking, but they are good tasting, and this pasta sauce was quite good. We enjoyed this on spaghettini with some vegetarian sausage.

Rustic Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce
1 medium onion
2 large cloves of garlic
1 tbsp oil
35-40 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh basil, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Dice onion and mince garlic and add to pan; sautée until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, cut cherry tomatoes in half. Add them to the pan, along with the basil, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are very tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Luna & Larry's Organic Coconut Bliss - Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge

I had heard about this new more-healthy ice cream before, but it was, apparently, mostly sold in the States. This past weekend we came across a Tasting at Organic Garage in Oakville, and decided to check it out. The idea of Coconut Bliss, is that, instead of cow’s milk cream, it uses coconut milk. Coconut milk is used to make ice cream in Thailand, so this is not a new concept, save for North America. Each of Coconut Bliss’s ice creams also contain other healthy ingredients; they use agave syrup as a sweetener, which is low glycemic; all of their ingredients are Organic. The one I selected was their Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge.

How does it taste?. Quite good, and not overwhelmingly like coconut (save for their Naked Coconut one). The fudge is a small strip of agave sweetened cocoa and not too sweet at all. The hazelnuts are quite large chunks, though soft, and not crunchy. This is a small container, similar to how Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s market their ice creams, so no large bowls. Overall, I would say I enjoyed this ice cream, and more so than Dark Chocolate one I sampled.