The 12 Days of Chocolate

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It’s Christmas-my favourite time of year for chocolate! The stores abound with a plethora of chocolate goodies, gifts and gems. Here are the highlights of chocolate I have sampled (so far…):

1. Divine
I found these aptly named chocolates at the Ten Thousand Villages fair trade store. The milk chocolate advent calendar and dark chocolate mint wafers are absolutely heavenly! Religion aside, I would like to advocate for an advent calendar every month of the year. Who doesn’t want to be required to eat chocolate every day?!

The  special edition bar ‘milk chocolate with spiced cookies‘ was good ole’ fashioned creamy milk chocolatey goodness. I didn’t detect much spice in the cookies which were subtle in size and taste. The crunch complemented the creaminess of the chocolate though. It was like eating milk and cookies in a bar.

I still have yet to try the dark chocolate fruit and nut bar. Stay tuned…!

2. Truffle Pig
How can you not love good quality chocolate in the shape of a happy pig?

Hagensborg Chocolates is a Vancouver-based company producing European-style chocolates and is responsible for bringing these piggies to market. They come in either bar form or individual bite size pieces and there are a variety of flavours from which to choose.

The chocolate is smooth and creamy and the fillings creamy and delicious. So far 2 hooves up for the:

  • dark and white chocolate raspberry-yum! antioxidants never tasted so good
  • milk chocolate and peanut butter which makes Reese cups look like a runt
  • milk chocolate caramel-chewy gooey goodness
  • dark chocolate peppermint-cool and refreshing like a chocolate covered candy cane
  • dark chocolate hazelnut-have yet to devour this one. Stay tuned…

3. Lindt
Deck the balls with chocolate from this Swiss master of chocolate. These balls of joy come in peanut butter, as good as a truffle pig, as well as milk, dark and white chocolate. I have yet to try the hazelnut. Santa and his sleigh of chocolate Easter bunnies are waiting patiently in my fridge until I can resist no more. Then there’s the Lindt Winterland Advent calendar.

Bernard Callebaut

 

4. Weal World Travel
Yes we make chocolate! Like so many good recipes this one was discovered by fluke. I had leftover blackstrap molasses and white chocolate plus an unopened bottle of anise flavouring. So what did I do? Mix them together of course and then rolled them in fair trade icing sugar! It tasted like a black licorice truffle-too good to share. I’m currently working on a recipe for my own version of licorice allsorts. Stay tuned…

5. Quality Street
I remember having these chocolates (and turtles too) at Christmas time and for reasons of nostalgia decided to get a box. It was a trip down chocolate memory lane with this British brand of assorted chocolates. It’s not so much about the chocolate itself as it is about the chocolate with the creamy centres. I admit that I like strawberry creams and couldn’t wait to dig in. I wasn’t disappointed. The chocolate and creamy centres are good, a sort of high-class version of Pot of Gold. 

6. Toblerone
The regular tobelerone bar is available year round but during the holiday season are 2 limited edition flavours-fruit & nut and the ‘Alps’. The fruit and nut is made with milk chocolate, raisins and bits of almond nougat interspersed throughout. The ‘Alps’ as I like to call it is just a regular toblerone bar capped with some white chocolate. It’s tasty but not much different from a regular toblerone.

7. Camino
Fair-trade chocolate from this Ottawa based company comes in baking, drinking and eating form. 

8. Soma
This bean to bar chocolate operation in Toronto has an assortment of fine quality chocolate.

 And for numbers 9-12, honourable mention goes to

9. Ritter Sport – all manner of chocolate bars, ideal as fuel for outdoor activities.
10. Bernard Callebaut – mainstream but still good quality baking chocolate.
11. UK based Choco. Chocolates made with sparkles.
12. Laura Slack, chocolate artist in Toronto with her signature dulce de leche skulls. 

Meatless Monday – Quick & Easy Middle Eastern Meal

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This week’s Meatless Monday is a recipe for a Middle Eastern inspired salad. It can be eaten hot or cold and is quick and easy to prepare.

Ingredients for salad

  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 ½ cups grape tomatoes
  • half red pepper
  • 1 shallot
  • ¼ cup bulgur wheat plus ½ cup water
  • 8 small falafel balls, store-bought or homemade
  • grapeseed oil and salt for roasting

Method

  1. Wash then chop the vegetables into bite-size chunks. Toss them in some olive oil and salt. Roast in a 350°F oven for approximately 30 minutes.
  2. While vegetables are roasting, boil the water then add the bulgur wheat. Turn temperature down to medium-low and cook 10 minutes. You should be left with a soft wheat mush and no water run-off.
  3. Heat falafel or make from scratch. See recipe.
  4. Let vegetables and falafel cool then mix together in a bowl.

Ingredients for dressing

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon of sumac (a dried lemon-scented spice made from a berry; popular in Middle Eastern dishes)
  • splash of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. If the mixture is too thick add a little bit more water.
  2. Pour on prepared vegetables and falafel and mix to coat.

This dish should take no longer than an hour to prepare. Adjust seasonings to your own taste and double the recipe if you want a huge batch.

This meal contains a full complement of vegetarian protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats and the ingredients provide a wide array of nutrients needed daily by the body.

A Throw Down Show Down

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If alien foodies from another planet were to land here on Earth and watch the Food Network for a whole week, what would they make of this channel’s obsession with competitive cooking shows?

From Cupcake Wars to Donut Showdown and Top Chef to the seasonal baking challenges (Halloween Wars and  Holiday Baking Championship) it would seem that cooking and baking are all about being the best and “taking the competition down“.

The spirit of these baking competitions seems to have rubbed off on my recent baking adventures too. My kitchen has become a whirlwind of splattered batter and flying flour as I run around frantically trying to create edible and appetizing dishes with a minimum amount of time, ingredients but a whole lot of innovation.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, food is more than just sustenance. It is social, cultural and healing amongst many other adjectives that characterize the human experience. A lot can also be learned through the culinary creation process so I’ve been inspired to create a new series entitled Lessons Learned Through Pastry.

In baking as in life there are lessons to be learned with every success and failure. Who knew that fat, sugar and flour could instill such enlightenment? In this series I bring you life lessons learned through the art and science of baking-when things go right and also when things go wrong. First up, A Lesson Learned Through Cake.

The Christmas season brings with it the dreaded fruit cake. This obese blend of flour, spices and candied fruit drenched in alcohol is the gift that keeps on giving and re-gifting. At times a little tipple, when consumed responsibly, has been known to help people cope in awkward social situations. In baking and in life, alcohol makes fruitcakes of all kinds just a little more palatable. Enjoy (in moderation) the health benefits of reservatrol in your mulled holiday wine this season as you navigate various social gatherings.

And just for fun…
In the spirit of a challenge, I encourage you to create a healthy, holiday party snack using…
clementines.
Let me know what you come up with…

Meatless Monday – Welcome Back

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After a long hiatus peanut butter is back in my kitchen. This ground nut (as it’s known in some parts of the world) is a versatile, portable and economical source of vegetarian protein. This Meatless Monday post is an ode to a legume.

Did you know peanuts are not actually nuts but legumes? Peas, lentils and beans are also members of the Fabaceae family.

Choose organic sources as this crop is often grown in a heavily sprayed environment. Peanuts are susceptible to mold which can produce aflatoxin so baking, boiling and roasting are ideal ways to prepare them. It can be chopped, ground and made into oil and flour and is happily at home in sweet and savoury dishes.

Nutrients
Peanuts contain many nutrients, most notably monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, niacin, folate, manganese and protein. Some research has found that peanuts also contain antioxidants including reservatrol. Due to its fat content, peanuts are calorie dense with 1 Tablespoon/15g containing 94 calories, 8 grams of fat and 4 grams of protein.

1 Tablespoon is about the size of your thumb.

Peanuts can withstand high heat and can be found in the following foods:
cookies, cakes, soups, stews, energy snacks

Recipe ideas

Meals

  • Peanut butter sandwich – with or without jelly. Opt for ‘fruit spread’ which tends to contain less sugar than jelly/jam.
  • Sweet potato soup or stew with peanut butter. Peanuts are called groundnuts in West Africa and figures in local  soup and stew recipes. Recipe from Moosewood Cooks.
  • A major salad with roasted peanuts, greens, sweet peppers, cabbage, carrots, onions and whatever else you want to throw into the mix.

Snacks

  • Cook oatmeal in coconut milk and mix in some peanut butter.
  • Toss a handful of roasted peanuts on your granola.
  • Spread on whole grain toast.
  • Make a savoury dip: peanut butter, soy sauce, water, sweetener, and spices (salt, pepper, cayenne) to taste. Eat with vegetables or spring rolls.
  • Combine with dried fruit and chocolate chips for a DIY trail mix.
  • Make ‘ants on a log‘ i.e. a rib of celery spread with peanut butter and topped with raisins. Or simply spread on apple slices.

Links
Peanuts
 Website: The World’s Healthiest Foods
The Hidden Truth About Peanuts: From Food Allergies To Farm Practices
Website: Environmental Working Group
Peanut nutrition facts
Website: Nutrition and You

 

 

Succulent Nectar

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Agave nectar is obtained from different varieties of the succulent family of plants (aloe vera is also a member of this family). The most popular variety is the same plant used to make tequila, the Blue Agave or agave tequilana. Agave is a mixture of fructose (sugar found in fruits and some vegetables) and glucose (‘blood sugar’). With a lower glycemic index than table sugar (sucrose), agave can be used in moderation as a natural sweetener.

glycemic index:
The measure of how quickly the blood sugar is raised after consuming a certain food item. The lower the index the better.

Similar to maple syrup, agave can come in variations of light to dark. Generally the darker the syrup or nectar, the sweeter the taste.
Agave can be used as a substitute for sugar or honey in recipes. As it is quite sweet, less can be used which means fewer calories added.
The Aztecs reportedly used agave as a balm for skin infections and applied it with salt to wounds.
Agave is considered to have anti-bacterial properties when used topically or taken internally.

Baking tips

  • Honey and maple syrup can be substituted with equal amounts of agave
  • Granulated sugar, corn syrup and brown rice syrup can be substituted with lesser amounts of agave. The liquid in the recipe may also have to be adjusted in making this switch.
  • Agave is still sugar so consume in moderation if you consume at all.
  • To balance out the flavours in homemade salad dressing and sauces, add a touch of agave syrup.
  • Use in hot and cold drinks, homemade granola and bread dough.

Links
All About Agave
The Truth About Agave – WebMD

Meatless Monday – One Stop Cooking

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Please sir, can I have some moe?

This week’s Meatless Monday is a recipe, just a little something I whipped up in no time flat with minimal equipment.

I remember as a child that sloppy joes, a messy and meaty sauce served oozing over a toasted hamburger bun, were in the same category of meals as Kraft dinner and peanut butter sandwiches. It’s quick to make, filling and full of protein. Here is the vegan version that I have renamed Sloppy Moes.

In a medium size pot, heat some water and oil on low-medium heat. Chop finely 1 onion and 1 clove of garlic; put into pot and cook a few minutes until softened. Add 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon oregano and some salt and pepper. Stir to marry the spices with the alliums. Add 1 teaspoon each of vegan Worcestershire sauce, prepared mustard, ketchup, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Continue stirring to combine. Wash and rinse ½ cup of dry lentils; add to the pot and stir to coat. Add 1-1 ½ cup of water or vegetable stock. Turn  heat on high and bring mixture to a boil. Give it a good stir then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook 20-25 minutes until lentils are cooked and sauce reduces. Check in 10 minutes to see if the mixture needs more water. Once lentils are done, pour in ½ cup tomato sauce and heat for 10 minutes. Serve over crusty whole grain bread, pasta or bulgur wheat to form a complete protein and meal.

Tips:

  • Brown or green lentils hold their shape after being cooked while the red ones turn to mush. Choose lentils accordingly for desired consistency.
  • The original recipe often calls for ketchup which is sweeter than tomato sauce. Either use ketchup only or tomato sauce with a lite brown sugar. Or omit the sugar all together. As with all casual recipes, amounts given can be adjusted to your personal taste.
  • Day-old bread gets revived in a recipe like this. No need to feed old bread to the birds.
  • Lentils are an amazing compact food. They are high in fibre and protein, low in fat and economical in price. See some of our previous posts on lentils:
    Lentil Me Your Ears
    Canada Day Special – Edible Gifts

By Any Other Name…

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MSG is still…MSG

Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a food additive used to enhance flavour and has been implicated in a number of health issues. It can be found lurking in various products under the following monikers:

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Plant protein extract
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Textured protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour

The next time you go shopping or eat out, read the label and ask questions. If you are sensitive to this substance, your research may save you a headache, feeling of nausea or any other symptom associated with MSG sensitivity.