2017 Year in Review

2017 Year in Review

I’m on a train travelling through rural Ontario as I write this, and staring out the window at the snowy country side is making me increasingly excited for the holidays. It has been quite the year and an admittedly absent one from this space. Mainly because I’ve been writing for other publications, but also because admittedly, I’ve lost my vision for what I want my own site to be about. Maybe that will change in 2018. Frankly, I’m not sure yet. In my other life as a PhD student in psychology, I spend the majority of my time researching, discussing, and trying to elucidate around topics pertaining to emotional eating and weight. I’d like to write about what I do in that field in a more informal way in this space (after all, the name “Because I Like Chocolate” always came from a place of wanting to help people have healthier relationships with food). Now that I actually do that in my day to day, it feels appropriate to have an online outlet to share about it. What do you think? Is that something that would interest you?

Because I like chocolate..I made Sarah Kieffer’s pan bang cookies (multiple times)

I did do a bit of food/psychology writing this year, like this piece for Eat North on emotional eating. Actually I did a lot for Eat North. I was super proud to be a part of this piece in celebration of Canada’s 150. Through the process of putting it together, I got to chat with some pretty cool Canadian figures, which lead to interviews with people like Gail Simmons and Jay Onrait. Interviewing is one of my favourite parts of what I do. I love chatting with people and learning about their stories. It’s fascinating and I only want to do more of it in 2018! You can check out everything I wrote for Eat North here (PS there’s a lot of it, 52 articles to be exact).

Probably my best meal of 2017 at Montreal’s Candide

I also began contributing more regularly to Eater Montreal, mostly putting together maps of local restaurants in certain areas or with specific offerings, like this one showcasing some of the best bakeries for bread in Montreal. Plus I had the opportunity to compile this map of the 18 Essential Calgary restaurants, which allowed me to showcase the ever-expanding food scene in my home town (I’m getting sappy now given that I haven’t been home in awhile and am clearly starting to miss it).

Beautiful bread from boulangerie Merci La Vie in the Laurentians

What else, what else? There was the usual writing for Culinaire (I always love getting to do their “Spice it Up” column, like this one from earlier in the year). And in between that, a trip to Japan happened (still figuring out how to write about that from a food perspective, because boy was there a lot of food), many weekends were spent up at the cottage, I wrote my doctoral comprehensive exam, and before I knew it, the year was almost over.

Japanese whisky tasting – the only sad part is that you can’t find most of it in Canada

Wishing you all the best this holiday season, with plenty of festive food and drink to be shared with those you love of course! I plan on making too many baked goods, roasting a turkey, and drinking all the BC wine I can get my hands on! If I can find a bottle of this, that would be the icing on the cake. Happy holidays!

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5 gift ideas for chocolate lovers

5 gift ideas for chocolate lovers

As the holidays approach, it’s time to start thinking about what to get all of the special people in your life. Here are 5 gift ideas for chocolate lovers (or anyone really), because what’s a better gift than chocolate? Nothing? That’s what I thought.

Pana

1. Pana Chocolate

If you are looking for raw, organic, handmade chocolate, Pana has got you covered. They offer creative flavours from hemp and cacao nibs, to rose, to fig and wild orange. Or for the chocolate purists out there, they also make both 60% and 80% unflavoured raw chocolate. Also, all of their bars are made with coconut oil so they melt on the tip of your like no other.

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2. Chaleur B Chocolat

This artisanal chocolate producer operates out of Quebec, Canada, producing single origin bars from Uganda and Madagascar to name a few. Their Ugandan milk chocolate is creamy and caramely beyond belief. If you can stop without eating the entire bar, power to you.

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3. Sirene Chocolate

Sirene’s bright yellow packaging alone is enough to perk up anyways day as we enter the wintery months. Sourcing beans primarily from Madagascar and Ecuador, this Canadian company produces a variety of single origin, bean-to-bar, award-winning chocolate. You could buy it for someone else, but I won’t judge if you save it for yourself.

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4. Spencer Cocoa 

Spencer offers only 2 bars; 42% milk chocolate and 72% dark chocolate, but it is a classic example of producing a limited amount of product and producing it really, really well. All of their beans are sourced from Vanuatu, a collection of islands in the South Pacific, so if you’ve got someone in your life that appreciates the unique, this is the chocolate for them.

Montezuma

5. Montezuma’s

This UK company is making flavoured chocolates that are well worth crossing the pond for (or if you can’t do that, order them online). From British flavours like eton mess, and treacle tart, to citrusy offerings like sea salt and lime, and white chocolate with lemon and sour cherry, Montezuma’s makes eating chocolate even more fun than it already is.

Holiday Cooking on a Budget

Holiday Cooking on a Budget

No time of year warrants sticking to a budget quite like the holidays, yet December is probably the most difficult month to be a penny-pincher; especially when it comes to food. First you’ve got the turkey. A good one will set you back at least $60-70. Then you’ve got to figure out what sides to pair with it. Everyone has their favourites so there really aren’t any you can eliminate. You can’t forget dessert either. Christmas chocolates? Yes please. But $15 for a box of Quality Street or Turtles, say what?

Thankfully good food doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are 3 dishes you can prepare to serve up to 6 people, for less than $30. If I did my math correctly, that’s less than $5 per person.

Your friends and family may throw a fit if you don’t have turkey for the holidays, so instead of cooking a whole bird, try opting for legs instead. They are dirt cheap – between $2.50 to $3 per leg – and braising them ensures they stay moist and tender, unlike that dry breast meat that no one likes.

For a side, try making a chickpea salad. Beans and legumes are a great way to add bulk to your meal and are a blank canvas to add a plethora of other flavours. The red and green colours of pomegranate and brussels sprouts scream “holidays” to me!

Finally, dessert is required at all holiday meals, regardless of how full you are. Grandma’s coconut snowballs are the easiest treats you will ever make in your life. You don’t even have to turn the oven on. Still they are a crowd favourite year after year.

I don’t know about you but that’s one tasty sounding budget meal right there. It will have everyone at your table saying “Merry Christmas”, your wallet included!

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BRAISED TURKEY LEGS

Serves 4-6 – costs $14.50

Ingredients

  • 4 turkey legs
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. dried herbs (I used a combination of rosemary, thyme and oregano)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Season the turkey legs with salt and pepper and brown them in a large skillet over medium-high heat. You are just looking to sear them, not cook them through.
  2. Remove the browned turkey from the skillet and place it in a large, oven-proof dish.
  3. Add the vegetables and dried herbs to the same skillet you browned the turkey in. Deglaze with chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  4. Pour the vegetables and stock over the turkey legs. Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 3-3.5h, or until tender. You can then use the braising liquid to make a gravy if you like, or you can serve the turkey as is. The turkey can also be braised a day ahead of time and just warmed up when you are ready to serve.

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CHICKPEA SALAD WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND POMEGRANATE

Serves 4-6 – costs $5 total

Ingredients

  • 1 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups raw brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2-3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. To make the dressing, whisk together the mustard and honey until smooth. Whisk in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Combine the chickpeas, pomegranate, and brussels sprouts in a bowl. Pour in the dressing and stir to combine.
  3. This salad is best eaten after a couple of hours because it allows the dressing to marinate the chickpeas and brussels sprouts. You can ever make ahead of time to serve the next day.

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COCONUT SNOWBALLS

Makes 20 balls – costs $7.50 total

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6-8 oz. chocolate chips (about 1/2 of a typical 350g package)
  • shredded coconut, as needed (about 1-1 1/2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Stir together all ingredients except the shredded coconut.
  2. Roll the mixture into bite-sized balls and coat each with coconut.
  3. Refrigerate if not eaten immediately.
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Touring the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut Factory

Touring the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut Factory

I will never, EVER turn down an activity related to chocolate. If I do, you will know I’ve gone senile so please commit me. Naturally, when I received an invite to tour the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and Cococo chocolate factory, I was on it faster than over-whipped cream turns to butter (good one, hey?).

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Greeted by the sweet smell of chocolate I knew it was going to be an amazing tour from the get-go. If they ever figure out a way to bottle that aroma without it smelling artificial, they will make millions from it, guaranteed. Anyways, I met up with Kristen, their wonderful marketing manager and once we got our coats and hairnets on, it was go-time.

First she showed me the aftermath of the 2012 floods and how it completely demolished their old production facility in the basement of the building. How they managed to get it from this, back up and running, cranking out chocolate like no one’s business, I cannot fathom. All I know is that the chocolate world is all the better for it.

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Then we moseyed up to the current production area and the real fun began. Given that it is just over 2 weeks until Christmas, they were busy creating their signature hand-dipped cherries. They start with organic BC cherries (and you know they are real because they still have the pits in them), which are soaked in Kirsch and then dipped in alternating layers of chocolate, fondant and more chocolate. When you bite into them, you get an immediate liquid burst of boozy, cherry syrup. Needless to say it wouldn’t take too many before you were over the legal limit, but considering they are only available during the holidays, one must splurge. Just make sure you find a DD if you intend to eat more than 5 or 6 of them in one sitting 😉

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From there we continued through the factory, walking by staff doing everything from filling and unmolding truffles, to mixing giant vats of their acclaimed sea salt caramel (used in milk chocolate covered caramels that recently won gold at the Canadian National Chocolate Awards). What really struck me was their commitment to using as many local, Canadian ingredients as possible. Obviously you cannot source Canadian cocoa beans, but they do use an assortment of native products including dairy, fruit, sugar, liqueur and even hazelnuts. In fact more than 50 of their ingredients are sourced locally and 11 other key ingredients are from other places in Canada.

I was also fortunate enough to get to chat with the master chocolatier, Chef Derrick Tu Tan Pho, that oversees the whole operation. I have never met anyone who knows as much about chocolate as he does, or is as innovative with it either! At Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, new products are constantly in the works but before they go to market, it takes anywhere between 6-12 months of testing to make sure they are absolutely perfect. I’m not sure how to describe how much dedication it takes to test something for up to a year, over and over again until you get it right. It involves a heck of a lot of commitment, that’s for sure.

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As the tour came to a close, I had mixed feelings. Sad that it was over, I was also thrilled to get my goodie bag to take home and taste a variety of finished products, having just seen how they came to be. I’m hard-pressed to pick favourites when it comes to chocolate, but I am of the mindset “the darker the better.” Their dark chocolate caraques are simple but delicious, although you can turn things up a notch with mint or orange flavoured leaves (all naturally flavoured as well, which is great because no one likes the combination of chocolate and toothpaste). Of course their speciality Calgary bar with habanero and sea salt is a long-time favourite of mine so you cannot go wrong with that either. Most interesting though was definitely the dark chocolate oregano fusion bar. Similar to their rosemary fusion except made with dark instead of milk chocolate, it is studded with habanero and sea salt for that sweet, salty, spicy, herbaceous kick.

So don’t just sit there, get out and try some of Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and Cococo’s delicious chocolate for yourself! For a list of locations across Canada and in the US, and to find one in your area, click here. You can also follow them on twitter @ChocBernCal.

Cranberry White Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles
Ok Christmas baking. I am officially on it. This week I’ve got cookies coming at you left, right and centre. By which I actually mean 3 cookie recipes but considering that prior to Saturday I had made nothing, it’s a pretty big step. First up, cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles!
Believe it or not, all three recipes are variants of the same (healthy!!!) cookie dough base. Applesauce is your best friend here. It adds moisture and chew without the fat. We make up for that by adding white chocolate but you can’t have it all, right? I love Green & Black’s white chocolate because it is laden with speckles of vanilla bean. That’s a double flavour whammy right there.
As for snickerdoodles themselves, until a couple days ago I had never made nor eaten a single one in my entire life. Blasphemy, I know. Apparently my family didn’t think it was important to include them in our Christmas baking traditions. My grandma is even German and according to the trusty source, Wikipedia, the word “snickerdoodle” originated from the German word “Schneckennudeln” which means “snail noodles”. What this has to do with a cinnamon sugar coated sugar cookie, I have no idea. Clearly the German connection was lost somewhere along the lines. Or Wikipedia is not telling the truth which is beyond my realm of comprehension. Wikipedia, not truthful? More blasphemy.
Well on that note, happy baking. Have a cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles-i-licious day! Unless of course you don’t have any snickerdoodles on hand, then I guess you can have a non-snickerdoodle-i-licious day. But what fun is that?
Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles
Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles
Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles

Cranberry White Chocolate Snickerdoodles
Makes 25-30 small cookies

Ingredients

1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or other neutral flavoured oil)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
50g (1/2 bar) Green and Black’s white chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries (I used blueberry flavoured ones)

1/4 cup white sugar sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Instructions

1. Heat your oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside to roll the cookie dough in later.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, egg, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
4. Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, chocolate and cranberries. Mix until the dough forms a ball and there are no pockets of flour remaining.
5. Using a cookie scoop, portion out the cookies and roll them in the prepared cinnamon sugar. Place the sugar coated dough on the cookie sheets, spaced out 12-15 cookies per sheet.
6. Bake at 350F for 9-10 minutes or until golden.
7. Cool and enjoy!

Variations

To make the cookies vegan, omit the white chocolate and replace the egg with 1 flax egg (1 tbsp. ground flax seed mixed with 3 tbsp. water, let stand 15 minutes).