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Posts Tagged ‘Bel Cafe’

Akemi’s birthday…

Picking up a selection of home made marshmallows at Achimallows pop-up stand.

Picking up a selection of home made marshmallows at Archimallows pop-up stand.

The selection

The selection

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Birthday lunch at Bel Cafe.  Banh Mi for me.

Birthday lunch at Bel Cafe. Banh Mi for me.

And spicy chicken salad and a matcha latte for Akemi.

And spicy chicken salad and a matcha latte for Akemi.

And some hazelnut drags to go.  I'm a sucker for those complimentary samples.

And some hazelnut dragees to go. I’m a sucker for those complimentary samples.

New running shoes, a.k.a. new chew toys for Lulu.

New running shoes, a.k.a. new chew toys for Lulu.

Then, over to Main Street to check out the Candy Meister truck.

Then, over to Main Street to check out the Candy Meister truck.

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And, of course, her favorites - and the reason we chase this truck around town - the handmade marshmallows.

And, of course, her favorites – and the reason we chase this truck around town – the handmade marshmallows.

An afternoon walk/roll with the dogs.

An afternoon walk/roll with the dogs.

Doggy bath time.

Doggy bath time.

Sushi dinner at Miku Restaurant

Sushi dinner at Miku Restaurant

Drinks.  For her, some sort of Yuzi liquor.

Drinks. For her, some sort of Yuzi liquor.

For me, the sake sampler.

For me, the sake sampler.

And the "lotus root salad" that was served, completely devoid of lotus roots.  When I asked about this, I was informed that they were out.  Really?

And the “lotus root salad” that was served, completely devoid of lotus roots. When I asked about this, I was informed that they were out. Really? On the bright side, our sushi was served with the expected fish.

And, instead of birthday cake, Akemi opted for birthday gelato at Bella Gelateria.  Yes, it's that good!

And, instead of birthday cake, Akemi opted for birthday gelato at Bella Gelateria. Yes, it’s that good!

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…The Prodigal!

1Another Carl Binder-san spectacular.  I loved this episode even more on repeat viewing.  It’s got action, humor, and high-stakes developments with all of our characters in play (even Zelenka, Lorne, and Amelia Banks).  Fast-paced fun!

And Akemi agreed.  She laughed out loud a couple of times, jumped at others, and seemed just as anxious as Teyla when she was in hiding with her baby.  The night time establishers of the city all lit up never fail to amaze, and the “really cool fighting scenes” in this one wowed her as well, especially the final showdown at the top of the tower (Again, thanks to Mark Savela and our VFX crew and James Bamford and our stunts crew).  Her only quibble with this episode: “I’m so sad I didn’t see any scenes with Jewel.  Where’s Jewel?”  I dunno.  Night off?

She was at her most animated when Sheppard almost tumbles off the tower and is left dangling: “Now Mike Dopud can take over team!”

When Teyla approaches Michael hanging on by his fingertips: “Kick him off.”

And when she does just that: “What?!  He isn’t really dead, is he?”  And when I informed her that, yes, he was: “Wow.  Michael die.  Are you sure?  Who will they fight?”  No one!  The last six episodes of the final season will feature scenes of them sitting around, talking about their feelings.

And a closing observation as the end credits started to roll: “Sheppard never die, ne?  Don’t you think so?  Why not?”

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Akemi and I tried to make the most of the last few days of the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival by checking out some of the more intriguing offerings we had yet to sample…

1Canadian Classic: 100% pure hazelnut with 38% milk chocolate served with four pieces of artisan chocolate.

At: Schokolade 2263 East Hastings Street, Vancouver

http://www.schokoladecafe.com/

Sweeter than most of the more bitter dark chocolate varieties we sampled and more straightforward than the sweeter, but layered, white chocolate entries.  Simply a nice, rich roasted favor.

1The Gold Medal: Salted Pecan & Maple Syrup (the gold medal winner from the 2012 Gelato Competition in Italy), served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

At: Bella Gelateria 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

An enormous serving of rich, premium dark chocolate served with fantastic banana bread for half the price of some of the festival’s high-end entries.  Bitter, sweet, salty, and incredibly satisfying.

1The Lumberjack: Bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup hot chocolate served with a Douglas fir-infused chantilly, maple & vanilla shortbread. 

At: Thomas Haas 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

I wasn’t sure about the Douglas fir-infused chantilly but, like other delicious instances during this hot chocolate festival, I was pleasantly surprised.  Also something else I discovered over the last few weeks: chocolate + maple syrup = killer combination.

1The King’s Cup – Ode to Elvis: Hot chocolate with peanut butter and banana served with a macaron or cookie.

At: Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

Inspired by what was purportedly Elvis’s favorite treat (fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches), this delectable drink combines all three ingredients to tasty effect.  The peanut crumble rim was genius.

1The Scandal of Singapore: Spicy dark chocolate with rice milk.

At: Beta 5 (http://shop.beta5chocolates.com/and The Juice Truck (usually found on the corner of Abbott and Water in Gastown).

I actually had it with almond milk instead and it was quite good, with just enough spice to catch the back of your throat but not linger too long.

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My final tally: 36 out of 60 flavors sampled.  Given that the festival was only 27 days long, I consider that a pretty respectable score.  And, now that it’s finally over, it’s time to pick my Top 5 Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival 2013 Favorites.  Drum roll, please…

Coming in at #5:

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Malteaser: Barley malt-infused hot chocolate served with salt caramel malt truffles.

Available: At Thomas Haas 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

Terrific!  I could have had two but I’m sure the sugar rush would’ve killed me.

A pleasantly surprising top five finisher – in the #4 spot:

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The Josiah: Basil drinking chocolate topped with housemade strawberry marshmallows.

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver
www.cocoanymph.co

Basil drinking chocolate?  Really?  Oh, yeah.  Really!  I was admittedly dubious but one taste thoroughly won me over.  The best hot chocolate I had that week.

A pleasantly unsurprising top-five finisher – at #3:

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Italian Honey Moon: Honey nougat and hazelnut made with Avalon Organic milk and Michel Cluizel chocolate served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available: At Bella Gelateria 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

I was leery at first.  Hot chocolate topped with shards of honey nougat? I love particulates (that’s what they call ‘em) in my ice cream, but in my drinking chocolate?  Well, they turned out to be a wonderful little textural addition to the drink.  I am now a hot chocolate particulate convert!

As a personal rule, fruit and chocolate don’t mix – and yet, inexplicably, defying all logic, it works perfectly here.  Coming in at #2 (and, incidentally, Akemi’s #1):

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Armoury Amour: Cocoa Barry  “Madirofolo”– a single plantation chocolate, kissed with raspberry and served with a mini lemon and basil ice cream sandwich.

Available: At Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

Well, damn, this was a surprise!  I’m not a fan of the fruit-chocolate combo and find raspberry a particularly reprehensible partner but this heavenly creation sang.  Akemi’s overall favorite so far and a definite Top 3 finisher for yours truly.  Loved the raspberry sugar rim.

Which brings us to my favorite hot chocolate of the festival.  At #1:

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Jasmine: 64% dark chocolate – origin: Ecuador. Infused with jasmine and served with choice of chocolate square.

Available: At Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Surprisingly spectacular.  Just the right chocolate married with the perfect balance of jasmine yields the most exquisite hot chocolate of the festival so far.

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And rounding out my Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival 2013 Top Ten: The King’s Cup – Ode to Elvis (Soirette), Pretty in Pink (Bel Cafe), Ohhh Canada (Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe)Blond Mystique (Secret Location), One in a Million (Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie, Cafe).

 

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1My Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival tour continues with visits to…

1Bengal Dream: Milk chocolate with sweet spices (chai) served with caramelized honey and orange palmier.

Available: February 2 – February 14 at Bel Cafe 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

A little sweet but some very nice flavors.  The palmier packed quite a sweet punch as well.

1Pretty in Pink: White chocolate with rose and raspberry, served with a vanilla bean shortbread.

Available: January 19 – February 1 at Bel Cafe 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

As Akemi pointed out, white chocolate-based hot chocolates are the toughest because, all too often, the sweetness of the white chocolate overwhelms the other ingredients.  Conversely, attempts to balance the flavors can result in overkill.  In this case, however, it worked – a perfect marriage of white chocolate and rose.

1Raspberry Beret: Raspberry-infused white, milk, or dark Belgian hot chocolate. Prepared fresh to order, by blending whole chocolate pieces into steamed milk, topped with vanilla whipped cream, served with a trio of Bittered Sling-infused meringue cookies by Kale & Nori Culinary Arts.

Available: Every day of the festival at Blenz 708 Thurlow St. (at West Georgia), Vancouver.  (Downtown Central).

http://blenz.com/

Fairly bursting with raspberry flavor but never overwhelming the chocolate, this one was a pleasant surprise although it was a little thinner than the offerings at some of the other places we’ve checked out on this tour.

1Shirokuma: White hot chocolate with Japanese matcha, served with a trio of Bittered Sling-infused meringue cookies by Kale & Nori Culinary Arts.

Available: Every day of the festival at Blenz 708 Thurlow St. (at West Georgia), Vancouver.  (Downtown Central).

http://blenz.com/

Shirokuma is Japanese for polar bear (shiro = white, kuma = bear) and is apparently, according to Akemi, a very popular flavor back in Japan. While good, the sweetness of the chocolate overshadowed the delicate matcha flavor.

1Both hot chocolates were accompanied by a tasty assortment of meringues compliments of Kale & Nori Culinary Arts.

1Cherry Bon Bon: Hot Chocolate with Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa and sour cherries, topped with house-made sour cherry marshmallows, and served with a pecan fruit crisp.

Available: February 1-14 at Terra Breads  2380 West 4th Avenue (@ Balsam)

Weak and surprisingly devoid of any real chocolate flavor.  I actually wondered whether real chocolate was used.

1Blond MystiqueRoasted white chocolate, candy cap, and cognac hot chocolate.  Served with a brown butter Caramelia financier. (Candy cap is a unique small mushroom, that when dried, has the aroma and flavour of earthy maple syrup.

Available: Every day of the festival at 1 Water Street, Vancouver (In Gastown)

http://www.secretlocation.ca/

Everyone else found it too boozy but I loved this incredibly flavorful drink.

1Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Smoked cinnamon mocha with chocolate marshmallows and caramel powder.  Served with Manjari chocolate brownie.

Available: Every day of the festival at 1 Water Street, Vancouver (In Gastown)

http://www.secretlocation.ca/

Fine but, ultimately, it just tasted like a flavored coffee.

111Aphrodite: Nyangbo and parsnip hot chocolate, topped with whipped chocolate ganache and parsnip milk jam.  Served with English Breakfast gelato.

Available: Every day of the festival at 1 Water Street, Vancouver (In Gastown)

http://www.secretlocation.ca/

A gorgeous, multi-layered drink.  A lot going on here.  This was everyone else’s favorite.  For my part, I couldn’t get past the parsnip flavor.

1Monty’s Heat: A spicy hot dark chocolate.

Available: February 2-8 at Gem Chocolates 2029 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver.

www.gemchocolates.ca

Some very nice, deep flavors that didn’t really pack a whole lot of heat. A very good drinking chocolate but a little weaker than some of the others we’ve sampled.

1One In A Million: Hot chocolate made with Maranon (the world’s rarest chocolate), served with a chocolate-dipped madeleine.

Available: January 30 – February 10 at Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

Delicious, possessed of a nice rich fullness, I only wish it had been a little thicker.

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Everyone has their weaknesses.  For some it’s drugs.  For others it’s drink.  For still others, it can be something as seemingly innocuous as surfing the internet, head massages, or shirtless albino guys.  For me, it’s ice cream and macarons.  I’ve never been much of a drinker and, to be honest, golf and drugs hold equal non-appeal as both expensive and uninteresting, but there’s nothing like the rush of partially melted vanilla Haagen Dazs ice cream with a spoonful of Nutella or the exquisite delight of a Pierre Herme pistachio macaron.

I’ve been a lifelong ice cream addict but it wasn’t until five years ago that I made the leap from casual user to manufacturer.  At first, it started with those quickie frozen dessert recipes I’d found online.  I soon graduated to actual ice cream makers with special freezer storage components,  motorized units and built-in timers that would allow me to produce 2 liter batches at a time.  I went beyond the gateway flavors and began experimenting with unique particulates and liquors: caramel popcorn vanilla-galliano, maple butterscotch schnapps bacon, bananas foster.  I tried to get my friends hooked, mass-producing three, often four flavors a week and bringing them into the office for lunch on Fridays.  I was out of control.

My wake-up call finally came on the evening my ex hosted a dinner party in which I served 13 different flavors of home made ice cream. Of course, I had to sample them all.  As if that wasn’t enough, one flavor so impressed, it proved to be my undoing because one bowl of the Michel Cluizel premium milk chocolate with crumbled Flake chocolate topped with Advokaat (eggnog) liqueur just wasn’t enough.  Neither was two.  I hit the wall at three – but only because I’d already sampled those thirteen other flavors.  By the time the party wrapped, I was physically ill.  I’d hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, with the support of friends and family, I’ve been able to overcome my addiction.  I still make ice cream, but rarely more than two flavors at a time, and now limit myself to a mere five bowls a week.

As for macarons, my passion for the little meringue and buttercream/ganache confections began during a business trip to Paris. It’s there I sampled one for the first time – the  Pierre Herme pistachio that still ranks as my favorite.  Since then, I’ve become a little obsessed, tracking them down in every city I visit, sampling flavors ranging from straight vanilla bean (revelatory in its simplicity) to foie grass and white truffle, and now – progressing to the obvious next step – making them myself, again graduating from recreational user to manufacturer.

First things first though.

THIS is a macaroon:

And THIS is a macaron:

They’re two very different things and yet people confuse them all the time.  They sound very similar, so I suppose it’s forgivable for someone who doesn’t know any better to refer to a macaron as a macaroon, but what drives me nuts is when professionals (a.k.a. people who SHOULD know better), can’t distinguish between the two.  In a recent episode of Top Chef Canada, one of the competing chefs won a challenge by making what he called a “macaroon” that was actually a “macaron”. When it came time for the judges to weigh in on his creation, not one of them corrected him.  In fact, head judge Mark McEwan even called it a macaroon!   On another Food Network show, Cupcake Wars, one of the judges (a pastry chef and Frenchman no less!) is introduced as the owner of Mad Mac Macaroons.  A 2010 Wall Street Journal article on the macaron’s rise in popularity concludes with a quote from yours truly. Asked if I saw a silver lining to its popularization, I answered: “”Maybe people will stop calling them ‘macaroons.’ ” [Macarons New Popularity Worries Fans - WSJ.com].

And then again, maybe not.

I was surfing the net a couple of weeks ago in search of untested macarons offerings in Vancouver, when I happened to come across the website J’adore les Macarons – French Macarons & Macaron Baking Classes …, a home/online business that not only sells macarons, but offers classes in macaron-making as well!  I signed us up and, yesterday, Akemi and I attended the class.

We were told to bring a big container to hold the 20 (in our case, 40) macarons we’d be making over the course of the four hour lesson. “And an apron,”Akemi suggested before we left the house.  I assured her that aprons weren’t required, but she brought one anyway – along with her fluffy dalmation slippers.

We arrived for our lesson five minutes early, met the two women who would be taking the class with us, one a parole officer (Great connection.  You never know.), the other the owner of her own custom cake pops and cupcakes business (Beautiful creations: http://www.carmensediblecreations.com/).  We were instructed to wash our hands and choose an apron.  “See?!”I was reproached.

Akemi - BYOA.

Okay, granted, aprons aren’t exactly manly, but I figured I might be able to salvage some of my pride with something remotely masculine like, say, one with a “Real Men Don’t Use Recipes” message emblazoned on the front or a “Hook ‘em and Cook ‘em” alternative or even a simple “Licensed to Grill.”  No such luck.  “Take the black one!”advised our instructor, Connie.  I grabbed the black one, put it on, and started toward the kitchen island when she stopped me with a: “Oh God!  Not THAT one!”.  I looked down.  It was plain black – with darling little white ribbons on the front.  I returned to the rack and perused the selection, passing on the pink cherry motif and “Will Cook for Bling” in favor a relatively inoffensive green and yellow lemon apron.

Beefcake!

 Some of the highlights of our instructive afternoon:

Waiting for each of us were samples of the chocolate options for our ganache (Valrhona) and two of Connie's macarons: a lavander-cassis (L) and a chocolate (R). They'd just come out of the freezer so we had to wait an interminable 45 minutes before we could try them. Akemi could only hold off for 44 and change.

It was decided to go with blue shells. Not that it really matters since the shell are never flavored. They're sugar, egg whites, and almond powder. And food coloring, if you so choose. A lot of macaron shops get fancy and mix shells - something I've never been a fan of, unlike Akemi.

We took turns using the piping bag. Akemi went first and everyone was very critical of her not quite perfect form. And then we all ended up eating our words when it came time for us to step up to the plate/pan.

I try my hand at pastry making. Think I'll stick to braising short ribs.

Akemi's words of encouragement: "It looks like a poopy."

Into the oven they go!

And out of the oven they come!

We use the (damn) piping bag again to top the inside of one shell with ganache/buttercream filling, then cap it with a twisting motion.

Et voila. Magnifique!

We topped the shells with crushed pistcahios, cocoa powder, and edible silver sparkles applied with a silver toothbrush ("It's what Britney Spears brushes her teeth with,"I told them).

Our fearless leader: Connie.

A great time was had by all.  We packed up our macarons and headed out, looking forward to sampling the fruits of our labor.  But only after the macarons had rested for 24-48 hours.

Or on the car ride home.

If you’re interested in taking the course, go here: http://www.jadorelesmacarons.com/index.html

And if you’re looking to sit down to some tea and Vancouver’s best macarons, might I suggest:

Welcome | Bel Cafe Bel Cafe

Soirette Macarons and Tea

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates and Patisserie, fine handmade …

With the fourth issue of SF comic book series, Dark Matter, poised to hit the shelves tomorrow, I give you the full preview of the opening arc’s final installment.  Say the gang at http://www.mtv.com/geek/: “DARK MATTER #4 wraps up an intriguing new scifi universe series with a rather big twist, that demands we get a Dark Matter #5 ASAP.”

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