Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Key Lime pie?

Dear Foodies,

I am off for parts unknown! Ms. Foodie and her little baby will be heading to the heaving metropolis of Orlando, then along the coast of Florida for a week of well deserved R&R. I had hoped to post a culinary story before my departure, but my organizational skills are not what they could be, so this evening I was forced to do packing instead of writing (boo hoo!)

Upon my return I shall regale you with tales of the fine Floridian food items (conch fritters! key lime pie! stale potato chips!) I will undoubtedly enjoy on my trip.

Hope you enjoy the pallid Ottawa sun!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Belgian Chocolates

A plate full of joy

Like everybody in the world, I love chocolate. Like every foodie in the world, I only eat the best!

I grew up eating those junky chocolate bars (more aptly called "candy bars" for the limited amount of real cocoa in them) from the corner store. Oh sure, they were tasty, but when I grew up and discovered there were chocolate bars out there with real chocolate in them, well, needless to say, I started turning my nose up at Mr. Big and his girlfriend Sweet Marie.

"Artisan chocolate" as these better quality bars are sometimes called, have less sugar and fewer fillers in them than the candy bars of my youth. What they lack in soy lecithin, glycerol, calcium chloride and modified palm oil, they make up for, what's it called again? Oh yes, cocoa!

My favourite gourmet chocolate bars are those that have exotic flavours in them. Dolfin of Belgium makes very cool bars with cinnamon, pink peppercorns, and even Earl Grey tea! My favourite is - hold your breath - masala!

Hello gorgeous!

Needless to say, these exotic flavours are not available at your local convenience store, so when I left work for maternity leave, and left behind the gourmet food emporium which was my cafeteria, I was a bit concerned. Where would I get my chocolate fix now?

I visited those old chocolate standbys, Godiva, Laura Secord, and even Louise's Belgian Chocolates in Bell's Corners. Yet somehow, none of these chocolates satisfied me. They were too sweet, sometimes stale, and the fillings were all so banal. And Lindt chocolate, that gourmet Swiss chocolate company which has expanded wildly and become a staple in every North American retail outlet, has never been a favourite of mine.

To my surprise, a most unlikely source came to my rescue - Shopper's Drug Mart! As you may know, a shiny new Shopper's recently opened up right next to the Coliseum Movie Theatre. I visited it last spring shortly after its opening, and ogled the enticing sale items: canisters of Easter eggs for super cheap, picture frames, plush toys, baby bibs (they have a wonderful baby section!), scarlet nail polish, chips, hairspray... all the staples of a well stocked drug store (on a side note, I made a trip there once with a visitor from India. He was shocked to see all the grocery and beauty items. Apparently, in India, drug stores only sell pharmaceuticals. Now what's the point of that?!)

As I have mentioned before, I visit Shopper's regularly for their extensive grocery section. Well, it turns out they have a superlative chocolate selection too! At Christmas the place really exploded with chocolate. They had the usual drugstore offerings - Whitman's, Hershey's (which taste like sand, in my opinion), Ganong, Pot of Gold...and then I saw a sweetly wrapped package of truffles that looked different.

The chocolates were, variously, white, dark and milk chocolate, and each one was prettily decorated: one with a red poinsettia, the other with ribbon and a bow like a Christmas present; one had a little pine tree on it, the other a snowflake. Le Chocolat was the name of the brand, and the box said they were premium Belgian chocolate. Well, I thought, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I went home and cracked them open. Ooh, was this ever a gain! The fillings were fresh - both flavour-wise and quality-wise. Brownies, ganache, coffee, toffee, marzipan and pralines, maraschino and florentines - these chocolates had them all! Dear reader, I intended to save them for my upcoming Christmas party because they didn't have any more at the store but....well, you know how these things happen!

I enjoyed them. I enjoyed them very much. And the best part was how nicely they were decorated! I went back and tried some of their other offerings - chocolate bars with two flavours (white & milk with strawberries, caramel with caramel cups and toffee chips) and liked all of them. At Valentine's the chocolates had heart and pink & white themes. I can't wait to see what they do for Easter!

Egyptian hieroglyph for happiness: a woman eating chocolate

And as for the guests at my Christmas party, who didn't get to eat those nicely decorated chocolates? Well, don't weep for them, dear reader. I went back to Shoppers the day before my party (not safe to keep chocolates in my house any longer than that!) and got a perfectly good ballotin of Shopper's Drug Mart Belgian chocolates. They weren't as pretty as the others, but they were fresh and delicious, which just goes to show what I said all along. Shopper's Drug Mart is a great place to go for chocolates!

Now, let me go raid my cupboard and see if any of the chocos from these pictures are still

Keep on munching!
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Monday, March 9, 2009

Kidney beans

Now isn't this a lovely looking repast? I had it for lunch one day and was thoroughly satisfied with myself.

The kidney beans are from "Brazilian Beans and Rice" which I had made the night before. I got this super fast and super tasty recipe from a baby care book. The author recognized that with a new baby, one needs healthy, fast recipes - and this one really fits the bill. Accompanying my beans are some Greek pita, buttered, from Damas Supermarket, and cucumbers and tomatoes sprinkled with pepper. I usually cut my cucumber in rounds but I was feeling daring that day so I cut it into sticks.

I grew up eating kidney beans in chili - and only this way! Since then my culinary repertoire has increased, and I now eat them in rajma masala (kidney bean curry) and this recipe. For me, kidney beans are comfort food - so soft and tasty, so quick to cook; the red skins concealing a flaky white interior. I'm sure sometime soon kidney beans will become the next big diet craze, with scientists extolling their anti-oxidant, pre and/or probiotic properties, and some other kind of blah blah. Until then I will just enjoy them cuz they're tasty!

I swore I wouldn't give you any recipes on this blog, but since this one is so fast and so easy, I will relent. Here you go: chop one small onion and two cloves of garlic. Sauté in 1 tb olive oil til soft. Add a big pinch of dried thyme, 2 tsp ground cumin, and 1 tsp chili powder. Fry a few minutes. Add 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and one can of kidney beans (540 ml), along with the liquid from the can. Add pepper and salt to taste. Boil until the liquid reduces and becomes thick. Add a handful of chopped coriander and serve over rice. Yummy and convenient, even if you don't have a baby!

Speaking of babies, mine is sick so this is all the blog post you'll be getting from me. My little angel has a cold and is restive. Pray for me that he doesn't keep me up all night, or else tomorrow's dinner won't be anywhere near as fancy as this!


Monday, March 2, 2009


January 2, 2002: it was my first day in India, after an absence of 17 years, and I was taking a stroll down a dusty New Delhi street with my aunt and two of my cousins. I had dreamed of visiting India for so long, and now it was actually happening! It was a wonderful feeling.

Walking around the neighborhood, I marvelled at the gaudy Hindu temple, the monkeys in the bougainvillea bushes, and the elephant doing yardwork. We reached a commercial area with a few shops. They were all closed as it was New Year's, but a lone fruit and vegetable seller had set up a roadside stand. I wandered over to take a look. There were bananas, oranges, carrots, onions...the usual kitchen staples.

But then my eye was caught by something special. They looked like small round dusty potatoes, but I knew better...

"Chickoos!" I squealed to my cousin. "Oh, Sita, look, it's chickoos!"

Yes, dear reader. I hadn't seen a chickoo fruit for over seventeen years - not since I had lived in Malaysia. I hadn't tasted one, smelled one - not even thought of one, until I saw them sitting serenely on this New Delhi vendor's wooden cart.

I scooped some up, paid for them with my cousin's rupees, and hustled them home for a bite. Once home I pressed their flesh carefully. It yielded slightly. They were round and unblemished, no untoward wrinkles or sagginess to their skin. Not much scent to them, but that was normal. Their sweet charms were all locked away inside.

I got a knife and peeled one carefully. Then, I took a bite. Sweetness filled my mouth, and then my tongue encountered a seed. I pulled it out and admired it. It was a small, black, flat and shiny thing. I cracked open the rest of the chickoo - it separated neatly into segments, like a Terry's milk chocolate orange. I then removed the rest of the seeds so I could munch on in an unimpeded fashion. It was great.

A chickoo has a delicate, delicious flavour. Its flesh has a rough brown sugary texture, and it has a sweet smell. I'm told they make a delicious milkshake, but I am yet to try one. Perhaps on my next trip to India?

Until then I shall have to be content with whatever specimens I can glean from my local Sri Lankan grocer. Yes, dear reader! Chickoos are available in my corner of Ottawa!

Although they're shipped from India, I have never seen one in an Indian grocery store here. I have, however, seen them for sale in two Sri Lankan groceries in Ottawa. Perhaps Sri Lankan-Canadians crave them more? The first time I saw them in Ottawa was at Thana Stores on Bank St. I bought about a dozen and generously gave some to my mother. She also hadn't tasted them for nearly seventeen years, not since we lived in Malaysia.

Upon moving to Carling Avenue, I was delighted to discover that Sree Fresh Market, a Sri Lankan grocery on Oakley Avenue, just off Carling, also sells chickoos. The first time I entered the store I wasn't expecting much. It has an unprepossessing exterior, with a handmade sign in the window, and a desolate air. Inside, my first impression wasn't much better: dim lighting, dusty crowded shelves, cracked tile floors and a variety of produce displayed in dirty styrofoam crates.

But as I got to know the store, I came to appreciate it better. There is a good assortment of produce, it is generally quite fresh, and all the staples of Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine are available: fresh curry leaves, chilies, Chinese eggplants, pumpkin, onions, banana buds, plantains, and a variety of fruit. In addition to my chickoos, one of the more interesting things I saw there one day were some purple carrots. Yes, purple! I had seen some of these in India, on an itinerant vendor's cart as he tootled around my aunt and uncle's neighborhood in Delhi, but not since then.

"Wow, purple carrots!" I commented to the shopkeeper.

"Yes," he said. "They are from India."

"Really?" I asked. "But why would you ship carrots from India? Aren't there lots of carrots here?"

"Yes," he replied. "And they cost much less. These carrots are $6.99 a pound, whereas these other carrots (he pointed to some ordinary orange ones) are $1.99 a pound."

"So, why...?

"Some people are willing to pay extra for the Indian ones. They say the flavour is different from Canadian ones."

That was interesting. I can understand paying extra for produce that can't be grown here, but to buy something just because the taste is different is quite amazing, to my mind. But then again, my husband has often said that the onions and tomatoes here in Canada have more water in them, and that's why our masalas never taste as good...

Well, I can't see myself buying the purple carrots anytime soon, but I will keep buying my luscious chickoos there! I hope you try them too!

Sweet (chickoo) dreams to you!