Monday, June 29, 2009

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie

Have you heard of Thomas Haas yet? Perhaps you've seen him before on Martha Stewart, or maybe you remember him as the pastry chef at Daniel in NYC? Twilight fans will soon know him as the creator of Bella's birthday cake, appearing in the upcoming New Moon movie. Regardless of what you've heard, this award winning 4th generation pastry chef is sure to become one of your favorite chocolatiers!

During our trip to Vancouver last month, hubby Kris and I heard so much praise about Thomas Haas and his handmade chocolates, we decided to make a pilgrimage out to his patisserie in North Vancouver, oddly situated in an quiet industrial park on the northshore of Burrard Inlet (perhaps I'm being overly dramatic by using the word 'pilgrimage' - going to North Vancouver is not really that big of a deal, it's just across the bridge from downtown Vancouver).

Despite the busy lunch crowd (the patisserie also serves soup and sandwiches), we were lucky enough to find a parking space right in front:

Inside the patisserie (notice the gorgeous red damask-covered ceilings):

Some awards/accolades:

Handmade chocolates (a bargain at only $1.05 each):

Individual desserts ($5.25):

Hot chocolate (how cute is that heart on top?):

Goodies to take home (more about the award winning Chocolate Sparkle Cookies below):

We shared a double baked almond croissant ($3.75), #4 on
Vancouver Magazine's 101 Things to Eat before you die:

Toasted almonds, buttery soft interior filled with melt-in-your-mouth marzipan:

A sampling of 6 handmade chocolates/truffles (made in small batches and preservative free):

These chocolates were some of the best we've ever tried (and my chocolate snob hubby has tried a LOT of 'designer' chocolate, usually at double the price). Our favorites out of this bunch were the green cardamom (hint of whisky warmed you up like a cup of Indian chai) and the lychee (dark chocolate ganache with a thin layer of fresh lychee).

Hey, isn't that Thomas Haas behind the counter?

Ever the gracious host, he came over to say hello, thrilled that we came all the way from New York to visit his patisserie:

And then to our surprise, he treated us to a piece of his Manjari Chocolate cake - layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, and rum creme brulee, made with
Valrhona Manjari dark chocolate (Madagascar):


A sampling of chocolates, selected by Thomas Haas (lemon thyme, hazelnut lemon zest, cocoa nib, and aztec):

Seriously amazing, flavors were so fresh, especially the lemon thyme.

And for Kris, a cafe mocha made with Valrhona Guanaja dark chocolate (South America):

Chef Haas even brought out some Valrhona couverture for us to try (Manjari and Guanaja):

Honestly, we just meant to stop in for a couple minutes, only to be treated to a chocolate feast! Thank you to Thomas Haas (who so humbly told me to write "anything I want" about his chocolates on my blog, "good or bad!") for making our visit so special.

So why hasn't such a celebrated chocolatier opened a shop in NYC or in other foodie meccas around the world? Because he's perfectly happy right where he is, enjoying the customer interaction that comes with an owner-managed business, with his lovely wife/co-owner Lisa behind the counter (I only realized later on that it was Lisa who helped us pick out chocolates when we first got there).

And for those who still refuse to make the trek out to North Vancouver, Thomas Haas will be opening his 2nd location this August in Vancouver, next to Daniel Boulud's Lumiere and DB Bistro Moderne!

You can also order Thomas Haas chocolates and cookies
online, or find his creations at fine retailers throughout the Lower Mainland.

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie

Unit 128, 998 Harbourside Drive
North Vancouver, BC V7P 3T2
(604) 924 -1847

Thomas Haas Chocolate Sparkle Cookies, the Best Cookie in the World?

A week prior to our visit to Thomas Haas, we stopped at Granville Island Public Market. As we strolled by Edible BC, I couldn't help but notice this sign:

Who could ignore a sign like this?

The cookies are sold frozen and need to stay frozen until baked. So we quickly paid for them (6 for $8.95), abandoned our plans for the next few hours and headed for our friend (and fellow chocoholic) Liz's house. Her toaster oven would do just fine.

Here they are before being baked:

After 12 minutes at 350 degrees F:

And 'dusted' with powdered sugar as per instructions (OK, more like slopped on, who has time to look for a sieve?) Check out the molten goodness:


But is it the world's best cookie? Not exactly. Although delicious, they weren't very cookie-like, more like mini flourless chocolate cakes. But they certainly lived up to the claim on the packaging: "the only chocolate truffle in the world you can bake!" If I lived in Vancouver, I would always have these gourmet delights on hand in my freezer (perfect for last minute company). And good news for celiacs - these cookies are gluten-free! And if you don't live in Vancouver, order them online
here. Or make them at home with this easy recipe.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kumato Tomato Salad

Have you tried a kumato yet?

Although it's billed as the "brown tomato", the color is really more like a blend of dark greens and reds. I was craving a tomato salad but my local Wegman's was running low on heirloom tomatoes that day, so I ended up buying kumatoes (package of 5 for $2.99). They were hard and green when I bought them so I let them ripen for a couple days on my kitchen counter.

These tomatoes actually smell like tomatoes, not like the pale tasteless overbred tomatoes we are so used to finding in our supermarkets. You can even smell the natural sweetness emanating from these little beauties! And they didn't let me down, they were super sweet and delicious, definitely a good substitute for heirloom tomatoes!

Kumato Tomato Salad

ripe kumato tomatoes, chopped
kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
fresh mozzarella, cubed
red onion, chopped
fresh basil, chiffonade
garlic croutons (prepared or homemade)
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic reduction (simmer inexpensive balsamic vinegar in a saucepan until it becomes thick and syrupy)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss lightly. Plate and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Serve with a glass of your favorite wine!

Where to buy:

Mastronardi/Sunset Produce has recently added the European kumato to their Sunset brand, and are now distributing kumatoes across North America. Look for them in your local supermarket!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Dragonfruit

This gorgeous cactus fruit is also known as the pitaya or strawberry pear. But I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan. When people talk about dragonfruit, they're usually praising its health benefits rather than the taste. And while dragonfruit is a good source of vitamin C and high in dietary fiber, I'm not keen on paying high exotic fruit prices for something that's going to taste bland. Hubby Kris, however, is so mesmerized by the dragonfruit's beauty that he has to buy one everytime he sees it.

There are three varieties of dragonfruit: red skin/white flesh (most common variety), red skin/red flesh, and yellow skin/white flesh. We've tried the red skin varieties and in my opinion they both tasted pretty boring and a bit sour. I gave my dragonfruit-lovin' hubby a chance for his rebuttal here, but he eventually admitted to me that his main reason for liking dragonfruit is for its "good looks" (typical man response). But the brilliant magenta flesh of the hylocereus costaricensis variety is rather stunning, especially as part of an exotic fruit plate or used as a colorful garnish.

While on vacation in Vancouver last month, we found dragonfruit at several produce markets but I only let Kris buy one. Since we had no clue how to choose a ripe one, Kris just picked the prettiest one in the bunch, cradling it in his arms all the way to the cash register. We then forgot about it for several days, too busy being tourists in Vancouver. My mom finally reminded us to eat it before it went bad.

Very easy to eat, just cut in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon:

I was going to let Kris have the entire thing, but he convinced me to give it another try. I was pleasantly surprised - this was the first dragonfruit I'd had that was actually sweet. The flavor and texture reminded me of a juicy pear with crunchy edible seeds (like a kiwi). Good thing we'd forgotten about the dragonfruit for a few days, giving it time to properly ripen. The stem and a few edges of the outside leaves were starting to dry up, and the fruit had a bit of give when you pressed it. I guess most of the commercially available dragonfruit are sold underripe, which is probably why they've always tasted sour to me.

I found out later that dragonfruit is also known for its natural laxative properties. Good thing we only ate one!

Where to buy:

Specialty food markets/Asian food markets
or your local Chinatown


Friday, June 19, 2009

Richmond Summer Night Market

It was an unseasonably warm spring day in Vancouver, and a pesky mosquito had snuck into my cousin Emily's house and had begun to circle me, moving in for the kill (and I'm not just being overly dramatic here - I have 'skeeter syndrome' so this was a serious situation). Emily came to my rescue with what looked like a tennis racket except that it shot electrical sparks and electrocuted my tiny assailant upon contact!

"Where the heck do you buy something like that?!" I exclaimed. "Oh, the Asian night market", she replied laughingly. Obsessed with getting my own mosquito taser, I planned to visit the night market before I left Vancouver. But of course I didn't make it there that year, and pretty much forgot about it during subsequent visits to Vancouver. Recently, one of my friends mentioned that the major draw of the night market was the FOOD (oink, did someone just say the magic word?!). So finally, on our most recent trip to Vancouver, this little piggy went to market (the Asian night market, that is)!

There are actually two Asian night markets in the Vancouver area, the
Vancouver Chinatown Night Market (100 vendors) and the Richmond Summer Night Market (300 hundred vendors). Both are modeled after open air night markets found throughout Asia. In the last few years, the Richmond Summer Night Market has become one of the biggest attractions in Canada, featuring an 'international' food fair and live entertainment, attracting thousands of visitors every weekend from mid-May till the beginning of October. (note: prior to 2008, the night market was run by a different event promoter who lost his lease to the property. Since then he's filed a lawsuit against the current promoter for "hijacking" the event that he founded. Source: Asian Pacific Post)

Hubby Kris and I arrived at the night market around 11pm on a Saturday night. We headed straight for the action (food stalls), bypassing the lonely vendors hawking Asian knicknacks, cell phone accessories, and cheap clothing.

Granny panties, anyone?

How 'bout a giant tiger scroll?

OK, on to the food. Everything's cheap ($1- $5). CASH ONLY!

Grilled meat on a stick:

Curried fish balls:


Fresh coconut drinks:

Takoyaki (doughballs filled with octopus, topped with Japanese condiments):

Dim sum:

Waffles were a popular item, at least 1/2 dozen stalls were offering some kind of waffle variation.

Egg balls (tiny sweet waffle balls, Kris loves these):

Fish shaped chocolate and red-bean waffles (aka

Taiwanese wheel cakes/sugar coated strawberries on a stick:

Korean waffles:

Dragon's beard candy:

Bubble Tea:

"Love" Crepes:

Gourmet desserts:

Southeast Asian desserts (or what I call 'everything but the kitchen sink' desserts):

Deep fried marshmallow pockets:

And no, I never did find the mosquito taser :(
(I got distracted by the food, can you blame me?)

Richmond Summer Night Market
12631 Vulcan Way (behind Home Depot on Sweden Way)
Richmond, BC, Canada
Open May 15 - Oct 4, 2009
Every Fri and Sat 7pm - 12am, Sun till 11pm
Long Weekends Sun 7pm - 12am, Mon till 11pm