The Cooking Chronicles: Banana Chocolate Pancakes

I had no idea the Food Network show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives had an accompanying publication until I stumbled upon it while on Amazon one day. As Mack and I love the show (and have to make sure we’ve already had a meal prior to watching an episode), we ordered up the book right away, and were keen to see which recipes he selected to include in the book.

It arrived last week, and while I didn’t have time to sit down and read it, I was surprised to find that the book was filled with more than just recipes – two-page profiles of choice establishments provided a context for the recipe, and potentially bridge readers who may not be familiar with the show.

Flipping through, I was intrigued by a recipe for Chunky Monkey Pancakes, knowing that there were overripe bananas and a can of orphaned whipped cream begging to be used. I modified it a bit, however, as Mack doesn’t like nuts, we didn’t have chocolate chips on hand, and wrapping an entire banana with a pancake didn’t make sense to me.

Instead, I drizzled Nutella in place of chocolate chips on the dollop of batter (a great trick that I only just learned that works so well versus trying to incorporate additives at the batter stage). It burnt a little, but was manageable. Also, I sliced the bananas and heated the cinnamon-dashed fruit in a skillet of melted butter, and Clinton Street-style, sandwiched the slices in the middle. I finished the plate with a dusting of icing sugar, tower of whipped cream, and more bananas.

Banana Chocolate Pancakes

These banana chocolate pancakes were definitely too indulgent for an everyday breakfast, but were a nice weekend treat.

The Cooking Chronicles: Chocolate Truffles

Mack’s Grandma mentioned a while back that she liked chocolate truffles, so I thought this season would be a good time to try out the recipe I picked up at the Truffology 101 session I attended a few weeks back.

I bought milk chocolate callebaut chunks at Save-On-Foods, along with a bulk container of golden syrup. I measured out the ingredients on a small baking scale I have at home, and prepared the ganache as directed. I covered the resulting mixture with saran wrap and placed it in the fridge to cool overnight.

In the morning, I pulled out the glass bowl to discover that the mixture hadn’t really solidified into the clay-like consistency I was expecting – it was more like a thick syrup. As a result, I spread the mixture out onto a sheet pan, and put it in our equivalent of a “blast chiller” – out on our back step, hoping the –25 weather would help matters. Half an hour later, the mixture still hadn’t congealed to the necessary thickness. I did some digging on the internet, and found that the substitution of golden in place of corn syrup may have been the problem, though our scale was another potential point of failure.

My Mum, always quick on her feet, suggested that we mix in Oreo cookie crumbs to serve as a binder. While it helped somewhat, the “truffles” still didn’t quite hold their shape, and the dry crumbs made coating the external layer with cocoa, confectioner’s sugar, coconut, or sprinkles a little difficult. The final product, though less attractive than the truffles I had put together during the session, were a nice treat, as they had the added texture of crushed cookies in the mix. We put together enough to fill a small box, and poured the rest of the ganache into a freezer bag.


Chocolate Truffles

Other failed attempts as reported on the internet resulted in people having a ready-made fondue base, or at the very least, frosting for a future cake. So the bag I now have in the freezer will serve some concrete purpose at some point, in addition to reminding me never to use golden syrup in place of its corn-based counterpart.

Truffology 101 at the Edmonton Public Library

The Edmonton Public Library has an ongoing advertising campaign on with the slogan “More than just books”. It’s true – libraries are now the hub for many activities – gaming nights for teens, conversation circles for English as an Additional Language Learners, knitting clubs, photography workshops and movie screenings. Their program listings are available on their website, and in paper form as a seasonal guide that can be picked up at each of the 17 branches in the city.

I first saw a course titled “Truffology 101” in the catalogue last year, and though my interest was piqued, the time didn’t work out. When I saw that they were offering again this fall, I signed up immediately, and dragged my Mum along for the ride.

We headed to Strathcona Library on Saturday afternoon, and after paying our $2 course participation fee (for the materials) on the main floor, headed to the upstairs meeting room. There, Adrian, the friendly manager of the branch welcomed us, and shortly after, introduced her husband, John Canty, who would be leading the workshop. He is a hobby chocolatier, and seems to have taken a few courses here and there to learn about the subject.


Truffology 101 outline

While he wasn’t as energetic as Nina at the chocolate tasting at Kerstin’s, it was obvious that he is passionate about chocolate. The overview and background of chocolate making also wasn’t as detailed as the one I heard at Kerstin’s, but as this session was only an hour in length (with a different objective), that wasn’t unexpected.

After the chocolate introduction (and recommending Scharffen Berger brand bars, available at Shoppers Drug Mart), John reached the demonstration portion of the session, and while John explained the components of a basic ganache recipe, Adrian set about making it on a portable burner. He had adapted the recipe from one he had received from a course at NAIT (my Mum was wondering whether a sans-corn syrup recipe existed, and I did find one on the Times’ website).

Simple Ganache

300g milk chocolate
225g whipping cream
7 1/4 teaspoons unsalted butter
3 1/8 glucose or light corn syrup

1. Finely chop the chocolate and place in a glass mixing bowl.
2. Pour cream into small saucepan and bring to scalding. Remove pan from heat – do not allow cream to boil.
3. Add glucose/corn syrup to the heated cream and mix.
4. Pour cream-glucose mixture over chopped chocolate. Stir to melt the chocolate, adding butter slowly in small increments. If chocolate does not fully melt you may carefully heat the mixture in a microwave – use only low power settings for very brief periods.
5. Once all the butter has been added, and the mixture is smooth and homogenous, cover mixture and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours.

Adrian passed around the bowl once the homogenous mixture had been attained, to show each of us the consistency the mixture must be. Then, like the magic of cooking shows, they pulled out pre-made, cooled, plastic-wrapped ganache for each of us to roll in the plates of cocoa or coconut on our table.


My Mum making truffles

The truffles were beyond straightforward to make, and would be a great activity for children – with the consistency of playdough, they could be easily rolled into balls and dipped into a variety of garnishes – colored sprinkles, sugars, chopped nuts. Truth be told, the truffles were a tad to sweet for me, but then again, one alone was enough to cure my chocolate craving.


My truffles

A set of colorful truffles would be a great Christmas gift, so to facilitate this thought, John and Adrian are offering another Truffology 101 class at the Riverbend branch on December 6. It will also be repeated in the new year at the Sprucewood and Lois Hole locations. Be sure to call ahead to book a spot. Happy truffle making!

Service No Man’s Land: Sutton Place Hotel

I’ve written positively before about the Christmas buffet offered at the Sutton Place Hotel (10235 101 Street), so count me as surprised when a recent visit to their twice-weekly Chocoholics Buffet turned out to be a less-than-stellar experience.

Janice wanted to check out the dessert event as part of her birthday night out, and May, Annie and myself were more than happy to oblige. $16 per person seemed a small amount to pay for the right to gorge out on a variety of chocolate sweets, especially when the price included an alcoholic beverage.

We knew from the website that the buffet was open from 5-10pm, so we had a relatively large window to make it down there. After a bite to eat at Lazia, we walked over to Sutton Place and headed straight for the main floor lounge, where the buffet was supposed to be set up.

There is apparently live jazz to accompany the buffet on the last Thursday of every month. That really would seem to be the best time to visit, as the ambiance was lacking that night – the only music we could hear drifted down from the restaurant proper a floor above us, just barely overshadowing the natural buzz of a hotel lobby. The lounge itself was also extremely dim – there were a few peripheral lamps that did their best to make up for a lack of overhead lights, but we found ourselves wishing for a tabletop candle or two.

We hoped the food would make up for the aesthetics of the lounge, and the spread looked quite promising. There were over ten varieties of desserts, including cheesecake, creme puffs, chocolate shooters, a brownie pizza, and a mousse cake. A silver vessel also contained warm chocolate to drizzle over fruit, but best of all, they had a staff member available to make crepes. And like vegetarian entrees on steakhouse menus, they did have a few non-chocolate desserts, including a plain vanilla cake.

Chocoholics Buffet spread

We found a table and waited a few minutes for one of the two waitresses to acknowledge our presence, but our patience waned. At some point, we decided to be proactive and simply load up our table with plates, hoping that might alert the staff that we needed some assistance.

Crepes were up first for all of us. Kim, the chef on hand, provided a nice personal touch to the experience. We asked her about how busy the buffet was on a typical evening, as there was only one other customer dining alongside our group, and she said that during a busy period (such as CFR week), around 7-10 patrons would frequent the buffet. That seemed to me like an awfully low number (particularly if such busy swings were few and far between) for the Sutton Place to continue to offer such a spread twice weekly. She assured me that the food didn’t go to waste, and as employees were given a three-course meal after every shift, that all of the leftovers would be consumed by staff.

Kim busy behind her station

Back to the crepes – once she folded over the crepe, we were able to choose from a variety of sweet and savoury toppings. I decided to add strawberries, chocolate, and sliced almonds to my chewy crepe. It was quite good, and knowing we could go back for seconds and thirds was a reassuring thought.

My personalized crepe

We tackled the main dessert table next, and I attempted to taste a little piece of everything. After careful deliberation (and three plates), I decided I liked the flourless chocolate cake the best. It was moist, the texture was just right, and though it was fairly rich, I appreciated the dense chocolate flavour. The chocolate-dipped strawberries came in a close second.

Plate #2

After we had returned to our table with our first “courses”, the waitress did come to take our drink order. When asked if they had any dessert wine, she told us that we should be drinking a less sweet wine so as to not take away from the desserts. I would be the first to admit that I am by no means a wine snob, but all of us at the table knew that she was wrong. She poured us all a white wine, which ended up being quite nice, but we were off-put by her initial error.

The service didn’t improve over the evening, as by the end of our stay, just one waitress was left in the area. We actually felt really bad for her – I’m sure the short staffing was a product of the boom – but it made our experience less noteworthy on a positive level.

While the buffet is a good deal, and those who like chocolate should definitely look into it, don’t expect to get more out of it than a meal to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Us, ten pounds heavier

Sutton Place Hotel
10235 – 101 Street
(780) 428-7111 
Chocoholics Buffet every Thursday and Friday, 5-10pm

The Cooking Chronicles: Individual Chocolate Cakes

While my Mum was busy carving and plating a Greens, Eggs and Ham duck she had roasted, I started on a quick dessert I had caught on a segment of Martha Stewart Living for Individual Chocolate Cakes.

A run to the supermarket gave me all of the ingredients I would need, and though I probably should have included a Pyrex glass bowl on that list (I cracked yet another non heat-proof one), my second batch escaped similar oversights.

After I combined all of the ingredients, I poured the mixture into four ramekins and put them in the fridge for safe keeping until we finished with the main course. When the plates were cleared, I turned on the oven and baked the cakes for the recommended ten minutes.

While two of the cakes came out perfect, the other two were still a bit underdone in the centres, and oozed a thick (warm) chocolate batter as I inverted them onto plates. That was a good time to rework the word “lava” into the name of the cakes I presented to my family, and they didn’t know the difference. Done again, I would have left them in the oven a touch longer, though really, the cakes were fine moist, especially when served with vanilla ice cream.

This would be a great dessert for a girls night in or an evening in front of the fire – pulled out from the fridge and into the oven when indulgence is called for.

Individual Chocolate Cake

The Cooking Chronicles: Chocolate Fondue Night

Annie graciously hosted a chocolate fondue party on Sunday night, something she has been wanting to do for some time.

While Janice and Annie cut up fruit we had purchased that afternoon, I got to work on preparing the chocolate base in a double boiler. Using Rachael Ray’s recipe as a guide, I melted together milk chocolate melting wafers, squares of dark chocolate, some whipping cream, and a dash of Baileys. Having never tried chocolate fondue before, I wasn’t sure what consistency to aim for, but as we could add chocolate and/or cream to the mixture anytime, I wasn’t too concerned. I transferred the concoction to the ceramic fondue pot, and surrounded by bowls of fresh fruit, cookies and sweets, the dessert looked positively inviting.

Count me surprised that the tiny tealight was able to keep the mixture bubbling, even to the point where we were able to easily melt in more chocolate to top off what we had. Between the strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas, peaches, and apple slices, I liked the latter fruit the best – the crunchy texture suited the dipping exercise nicely. Chocolate-dipped Teddy Grahams weren’t bad as well, though the chocolate-chunk coated cookies were a bit too sweet, even for me. The fondue experience was not only fun, but I ended up feeling more full than I expected – it turns out one can eat quite a bit when everything is coated in chocolate.

Thanks Annie for hosting the party!

The spread

Annie posing with Black Cat Riesling (I bought it more for the novelty bottle than the wine itself)

Janice multitasks (again! and she was on call too!)

May and Janice

Me and Annie

Food Notes

  • Vintage (10124 124 Street), the new lounge that replaced Mangiamos, is now open. I peered in the windows on Sunday, (very Eater of me, I know), and it looks very much like Suede Lounge – movable ottomans and low tables – but about half the size. Pick up the NextFest program in this week’s See Magazine for a coupon that entitles you to a free tapa at Vintage.
  • I love this concept of  deVine’s “Taste the Season: A Traveling Tasting” event. Partnering with local eateries, guests will sample plates from Ric’s Grill, Characters, and TZiN, all paired with exquisite wine selections. $90 seems a bit pricey to me, but it’s a great way to walk your way through one of Edmonton’s great food districts.
  • Kerstin’s Chocolates recently started their own blog! The Cocoa Room will be offering a special $5 tasting plate on Saturday, June 7, with a sample of very special chocolate made from a rare variety of cacao, and as well as a new Chocophilia variety. They will also be offering free hot chocolate all day. Head to their shop at 10139 112 Street to check it out.
  • See Magazine released their annual “Best of” survey results this week. It’s a mixed bag of results to me (glad to see that Route 99 was recognized for the 2nd Best Poutine, and the Italian Centre for Best Deli, but the fact that Taco del Mar placed at all for Best Mexican, and  the Wok Box earned number one as the Best Take-out makes it hard to take too seriously). I did like Scott Lingley’s personal list, however, and many of the restaurants he included are on my hit list to try (Tau Bay, Handy Bakery, Viphalay).
  • Judy Schultz contributed to the Bistro section again this past week with a story on asparagus producers Edgar Farms. I’m not sure whose decision it was to have Liane Faulder start in the summer and not the fall, but it really does take away from her new take on things with Judy’s columns appearing on almost a weekly basis.
  • Mack sent this to me (who else would?) about a “BarCamp” style cupcake tasting called CupcakeCamp. Too cool.
  • Alex Witchel wrote a great nostalgic piece on those iced cakes of our childhood – reading it made me want to go to a bakery straightaway to relive the delicious magic.
  • Speaking of cake, has anyone tried the Tuxedo Truffle Mousse cake from Save-On Foods? I bought a small one for a dinner I attended recently, and though I find that cake and icing alone are enough to satisfy me, I loved the variety in this case.
  • I purchased a Fruit Flan from Sobeys Urban Fresh, hoping that it would be as good, if not better, than one I had from Sunterra. Unfortunately, it looked better than it tasted, though it may have been my fault for leaving it too long in the trunk of a car.


Fruit Flan from Sobeys Urban Fresh

Chocoholics Unite: Chocolate Tasting at Kerstin’s Chocolates

I really enjoyed my first experience at The Cocoa Room by Kerstin’s Chocolates, and having heard that they offered an inexpensive chocolate tasting every month for just $15, I jumped and registered for the next available date in April. So on Friday, Amanda and I headed to the subterranean Cocoa Room and joined eleven other people at this unique event.

I was happy to see that Nina, the clerk that made my initial visit such a positive one, would be leading the session. A former teacher from Germany, she was enthusiastic and eager to impart her knowledge onto the group. To start, Nina explained how the evening would unfold – she would open with a lecture on the history and process of making chocolate, and then we would be provided with samples to taste.

The lecture lasted about forty minutes, and was more detailed than I was expecting – from the very particular conditions the cacao tree (which apparently looks more like a tall bush) need to grow, to the European discovery of the beans and subsequent experimentation, and finally, the modern methods of chocolate creation. This last portion was most interesting to me – I had no idea the process behind chocolate making was so lengthy and labour intensive, from the initial harvest to fermentation, to roasting, crushing, grounding, conching, and finally – tempering by the chocolatier. Nina also said that although the trend is now towards fair trade chocolate, Kerstin’s has found such chocolate to be of poor quality at this time, but are partaking in direct trade with chocolate makers (they purchase Criollo chocolate from Swiss manufacturers).

Amanda was eager to get on with actual eating of chocolate, so by the time Nina brought out lemon water and crackers to act as palette cleansers, she was rearing to go. We were handed pencils and a simple chart to keep track of our initial impressions of the different chocolates, and were asked to record details regarding the chocolate’s aroma, flavour, and texture. Nina recommended that we incorporate air into our mouths as we chewed the chocolate (like with wine), and prompted us to consider hints of tobacco, fruit, and liqueur in the samples. Perhaps it could be attributed to the power of suggestion, but I did start to recognize subtle flavours like cherry and what tasted to me like blue cheese(!) in some of the different pieces.

Amanda and I had different preferences – she liked the milk while I leaned towards the dark chocolates. My favorites ended up being their in-house Chocophilia Venezuela (65% dark) and a very cool “2007 vintage” single-plantation dark chocolate from Trinidad & Tobago.

While I thought gift-wrapped toothbrushes would make ideal parting gifts, what they gave was even better – everyone at the tasting was entitled to a 15% discount on all products that day. I picked up bars of the Venezuela as well as the Hazelnut Crunch to try (while both are very good, nothing can top the aromatic Mocha Bean).

I would definitely recommend the chocolate tasting – it would make a great alternative date venue, night out for girlfriends, and of course, excite any chocoholic. Although the next available date won’t be until September (when it’s cooler, and a more ideal temperature for the tasting), it’s well worth the wait!

Our plate (we were told to keep bits of each piece to compare at the end)

Surrounded by Chocophilia

Kerstin’s Chocolates: The Cocoa Room

Kerstin’s Chocolates (11812 121 Street) opened its first store, The Cocoa Room, about three weeks ago. I have seen their signature Chocophilia bars at shops around the city, but had never purchased one to try. A random Wednesday seemed like a good time as any to see what all the fuss was about.

From the website, a quote from founder Kerstin Roos about what sets their products apart:

“There are three big differences between our chocolates and the majority of chocolates out there. We use only single-bean aromatic varieties from the top-end plantations in the world. We make our own products by hand for the best quality control and freshness. And we are exploring ways to connect with our local food culture by incorporating local products like organic Evans cherries grown just outside of Edmonton, or locally grown hemp hearts into our recipes.”

The Cocoa Room, tucked underneath a residential apartment building, is tiny. Clean white, with shelves neatly organized to show off its wares, the interior reminded me very much of the boutiques in the High Street area. As I walked in, I could hear pounding – not the sound of hammers, but of de-moulding chocolate.

A store clerk immediately came out to greet me, and once I let her know that this was my first visit, she started introducing some of their Chocophilia flavour creations. The website only lists 13 varieties, but as she gave me a sample to try that isn’t included in the online catalogue, I do believe the store has more extensive stock. The white chocolate lime was such an unusual combination, but worked, melding the richness of the high cocoa butter content with bites of citrus tang. Chocophilia Hot (with cayanne pepper) snuck up on me, needing a few seconds before releasing its heat in the back of my throat. I also tried Kerstin’s Chocolate Caviar – cocoa nibs from Venezuela dipped in 65% dark chocolate then rolled in cocoa powder. Kind of like a cross between a cocoa puff and a coffee bean, I’m not sure they’re as addictive as advertised, but I can see them being used as a unique garnish on desserts.

Beyond their house-made bars, they also sell imported, single-origin chocolate bars, drinking chocolate, melting chocolate, and yes, even books about chocolate (I spied Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!). The store will also begin offering monthly chocolate tastings (for just $15) in March, although that sitting is already fully booked.

I ended up with two bars – the Fleur de Sel (49% milk chocolate with sea salt) and the Mocha Bean (65% dark chocolate with crushed coffee beans). Chocophilia is not cheap – at $3.95 for a 43g bar, this isn’t your average corner store craving run. But with the undeniable appeal of being an Edmonton owned and operated business, and their admirable ideals for purchasing locally, it was a small price to pay for contributing to a home-grown company.

Back to the chocolate – the clerk said that because all of the chocolate is made in-store, freshness is guaranteed. I could tell this was true just from opening the packets – the aroma was unmistakable. The salt kernels in the Fleur de Sel were detectable, but not as a point of distinction. I much preferred the Mocha Bean – the crunchy additive of fresh Transcend Coffee-roasted beans was delightful, and of course, the tried and true combination of coffee and chocolate was a winner.

It occurred to me that incorporating locally-grown or manufactured products into a dinner party would be a subtle way of introducing friends to what is available in the city. From an Inspired Market Garden salad to organic vegetables from Peas on Earth, to beef from Spring Creek Ranch (Judy Schultz just published a story about the family behind the farm), it would be an interesting exercise to spur discussion about the locavore movement, and to share knowledge about the stories behind products – something that is almost always absent from groceries picked up en masse at the supermarket.

Check out The Cocoa Room for some great chocolate goods, and let me know your favorite flavours!

Kerstin’s Chocolates

Chocophilia galore!