Exclusive visit of the Danone Headquarters in Quebec

On August 16th 2011, about 14 food bloggers went on a very special journey. Seated comfortably in a luxury bus we enjoyed catching up since our last crossing at past events as we we driven to the Danone Headquarters located in Boucherville, about a 30 min ride outside of Montreal.

Once on site we were greeted by a single group of paparazzi photographers….this was to be quite the media event. Once in the building we enjoyed a cocktail with snacks as the VP of Marketing chatted with us about the company’s history, current affairs and of course the reason why we were there: to represent Canadians as taste tester ambassadors for an exclusive avant-premiere tasting of the 3 possible new Danone Dessert flavors which are currently suggested to the public via the Activia site Vote for the new Activia Dessert Flavour.

Billboard example with my pic

If you vote, and you should, you can see the current voting results, get a coupon and even be the star of a billboard for a few seconds with your picture saying which flavor you voted for (must be a Canadian resident). So what were the flavors? Ah, you will have to be patient a tad longer as I want to take you on a tour of the production line of the Danone plant.

After the employees so lovingly covered us in scrubs, hard shoe covers, a hair nets, safety glasses and had us whas our hands as if we were surgeons going into the operating room we were ready to begin our tour. Do keep in mind such procedures are normal in an agrifood production plant where everything must remain as clean and sterile as possible. But we looked like idiots and I have to photo to prove it. So HAWT!

I am ready for my close up!

The production plant was huge. We saw all the different stages of the making of a yogurt, even the top secret areas (no cameras allowed) and then saw the final production line. Let’s look first hand as to how yogurt gets packaged…

DanActive Bottles zooming by

Labeling empty containers

Filling the cups with yogurt

Putting on the covers

Zooming Activia yogurt containers into groups

And finally boxing them up to go in the fridge

We did have a very special treat: we got to eat a yogurt right of the assembly line. It really does not get any fresher than this, well besides jumping into the vat of yogurt itself! Below you can see Janice of Kitchen Heals Soul enjoying her yogurt and here is a pic of mine: strawberry and rhubarb, delicious.

 

With our tour done we were whisked away to a conference room for our tasting session. Because we were a big group we were divided into a French group and an English group. I went into the English group and I LOVED the Danone employee who guided our tour. Her job is to invent and mix the flavors. How freaking cool is that!

The table was set up with each place containing a labeled white container indicating the flavor and one presentation plate giving us a visual of the flavors. I never ate a product from the Active Dessert line before but I fell in love with it. This line tastes rich and is really satisfying, like if you ate a real high calorie dessert, except it only has between 90 and 120 calories per 100 gr. Let’s move on to the taste test…

The contending 3 flavors

Angel Cake: when this flavor was mentioned I don’t think I was the only one with a puzzled look on my face. What are the flavors of an Angel Cake? Apparently it is Tahitian vanilla and coconut. Yogurt flavors are made like perfumes with a high note, a low note and a lingering one. Here you get the vanilla at first and the after taste is coconut. The flavor here invoke an image of lounging in a hammock but a Tahitian beach. For me it tasted like a fancied up vanilla yogurt.

Caramel Apple Pie: this was the most recognizable flavor, the one we could instantly identify with. There were bits of apple and raisin and the taste really was that of caramel apples spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice. The last note was the dough of the pie crust. YES you actually tasted the dough…like a nice soggy part. Eating this flavor really gave me the satisfaction of having eaten an actual slice of pie.

Caramelized Pear: I thought this was the most original concept flavor. I think pears are becoming more and more popular in baked goods. Again we find chunks of caramelized pears in the yogurt (not enough at least in my cup) and then a too subtle taste of pears, they should up it. After the initial taste it ends with a lovely hint of the flambeed caramel. But really the pear flavor part needs to be punched up a bit.

Now we were asked which one was our favorite flavor and which one did we thought the customer would go for. In my group we unanimously agreed the Caramel Apple Pie was the best flavor, the whole slice of pie experience was there. As for what we thought the public would choose….well if you paid attention earlier in the blog you can figure out my answer, go sleuthing! Which flavor would you Vote for?

The exclusive taste testing

As a food blogger, when you get invited to such media events, you wonder how real the smiles are and how perfect everything looks just for us sometimes. Well I can honestly say at this event I got nothing but genuine care when it came to making a quality healthy product without cutting corners. The claim to offering a stimulating work environment where enthusiasm and openness make a real difference on the job really seemed genuine. And I have a good instinct for such things. Make sure to go LIKE the facebook.com/danonecanada page.

Thank you Danone and Enzyme.ca for this opportunity.

Chocolate Matcha Cupcakes

Happy Easter and Happy Chocolate Day

I am not one to join the bandwagon of crazy popular food recipes sometimes. And that would explain why this is my first ever attempt at cupcakes. Got nothing against them, cute cakes in a muffin cups. Just did not bother making any. Until this week  as I had to bring a small dessert for 2 at a friend’s place for dinner. It seemed like the perfect thing to bring.

I also had no more milk and not much butter left so I had searched for a recipe that omitted these ingredients. Well surprisingly I found one quick enough and it is actually a vegan cupcake recipe. No eggs, no milk, no butter. And yes they are awesome and moist. The secret! The chemical interaction between the baking soda and vinegar which bubbles up and creates air pockets. Brilliant!

Chocolate Matcha Cupcakes

Chocolate Matcha Cupcakes adapted from Diana Rattray

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons matcha powder
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • your favorite white icing recipe
  • 2 teaspoons matcha powder
  • green food coloring

I made half the recipe for 6 cupcakes

Preparation:

1. Grease a muffin pan or line with cupcake papers. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Combine all wet ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Mix in the wet ingredients to the dry ones and beat on medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth and well blended.

4. Fill the prepared cupcake cups about half full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden pick comes out clean when inserted into the center of a cupcake.

5. Mix your icing with the matcha powder and green food coloring. Ice, decorate and serve. Makes 12 cupcakes

By the way the matcha flavor is quite subtle but it works with the overall taste. And no need to be fancy with the icing. I had leftover store bought icing from the Cake Pops challenge so just used that.

Ethical Chocolate Easter Egg

So it is Easter morning and you find a box of chocolates with your name on it. What do you hope will be inside? A delicious good quality chocolate or a cheap bunny shaped artificially flavored chocolate essence candy? Not a tough one to answer…quality for me. And how wonderful if this box could help out the planet and its people in an ethical way too?

I was lucky enough to receive a box of Green & Black’s Organic Butterscotch Mini Eggs to try and judge. These small eggs are created with delicious milk chocolate blended with crisp, crunchy toffee. There were 13 eggs in the box, all wrapped individually in foil. Now I am more of a dark chocolate kind a gal so milk chocolate does not knock my socks off but I do have to say these were quite tasty. And you can definitely taste the toffee. I loved them enough that I would buy them myself..probably in regular chocolate bar format during the year.

I am not at the point where I regularly seek out organic foods but trying and incorporating one slowly into your shopping habits would be a good thing. Chocolate is a great way to start. You can read below parts of the the Green & Black’s Eggcellent Easter Collection Press Release:

Known for its high-quality, premium organic chocolate bars, Green & Black’s — the world’s leader in organic and Fair Trade chocolate — offers a mouth-watering, indulgent Easter range made with fine, ethically sourced ingredients.  With Green & Black’s large Dark 70% and Milk Chocolate Easter Eggs and organic Mini Eggs, Easter will be more delicious than ever!

This year, when consumers choose any of Green & Black’s Organic premium, organic chocolate Easter Eggs they will be helping to improve the lives of farmers and their families living a world away.  Just in time for this Easter, the entire collection of Green & Blacks Organic Easter Eggs has been Fair Trade Certified.

Fair Trade has one of the leading product certification and labeling systems in the world. Green & Blacks Organic is recognized as the first company to ever launch a Fair Trade chocolate product, with its Maya Gold Chocolate Bar.  Fair Trade principles are simple:  farmers are paid a fair and guaranteed price for their crop, plus an additional social premium that is invested back into their communities.  The farmers choose where the premium is invested and the entire process is managed and audited by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO) International and its member organizations, including TransFair Canada.  All Green & Black’s Organic chocolate bars and Easter Egg Collection bear the Fair Trade mark, letting consumers know that the sourcing of the product meets rigorous standards.

You can follow this company on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/GreenandBlacksCanada and Twitter @greenandblacks

What is your Color TEArapy Mood Contest

Happy Saint-Valentine’s Day!

Alas like most of my fellow food bloggers I did not have the time to bake up a sweet red treat so I humbly offer you some luscious heart shaped strawberries. I am very much looking forward to tonight! I received a text from my beau wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day and that instructions were to follow. So far I have received 2 riddles to solve which indicate when to be ready and that I will be blindfolded to my destination lol. I love elaborate surprises!

So if I were to pick the perfect Tetley herbal tea for me right now it would certainly be clarity to calm me from the excitement and to give me a day of priming and pampering. A good thing it is one of the 4 colors I received to try from the new Tetley Herbal Tea collection.

“Tetley Colour Therapy identifies and associates moods and feelings with ten different colours and teas,” explains Sarah Molloy, Brand Manager, Tetley Canada.  “Whether you need energy, inspiration or calm in your life, Tetley has developed a herbal tea to suit your every mood.” To find the right herbal tea simply complete the questionnaire at tetleycolourtherapy.com and the Mood Meter will interpret your disposition and recommend the right herbal tea for you.

I am a firm believer in aromatherapy and I really believe certain scents and plants can influence your state of mind. The lovely Mojito mint and lime mix is wonderful on a weather gloomy day to transport you to a tropical island and refresh your senses. I loved the balance of the flavors a lot. For the Clarity mix, ginseng and ginko are know for helping you get your head on your shoulders and concentrate effectively. The blueberry tate is perfect, real and not overpowering, and is used to give mental acuity.  I did not try the other two…I am going those away to a lucky reader, see the contest rules below! Here is a look at the full  line of flavors…

Lime Green: Tetley Mojito – Need an escape? The bright aura that surrounds you when you’ve just got back from vacation can be found every day in a cup of Tetley Mojito Herbal Tea. Its new blend of mint and lime with a hint of honey is the next best thing to a vacation.

Turquoise: Tetley Calm – Stressed? When everything’s a bit frantic and you need to take a step back, de-stress with Tetley Calm Herbal Tea. Its balance of camomile and spearmint helps bring a moment of serenity at the end of the day.

Pale Green: Tetley Soothe – Slow down and take comfort in this delightful blend of warm ginger, lemongrass and cool mint flavours. Tetley Soothe Herbal Tea will help get your mind and body back on track.

Orange: Tetley Warmth – Need some “me” time? Embrace your Orange mood and cozy up with Tetley Warmth Herbal Tea. Its aromatic infusion of cinnamon, orange blossom and sweet licorice with spicy hints of cardamom and clove will help warm you up on the coldest of days.

Yellow: Tetley Cleanse – Balance out your stressful day at work and purify your mood with Tetley Cleanse Herbal Tea. Its blend of lemon balm, honey, nettle and elderflower clears everyday toxins.

Purple: Tetley Clarity – Too many things on the go? Refocus and energize with Tetley Clarity Herbal Tea. Its light blueberry taste is blended with gingko and ginseng to help clear your mind.

Blue: Tetley Dream – Feeling blue? Dream on and relax with a cup of Tetley Dream Herbal Tea. Its camomile and hint of lemon flavour will help you get the blissful rest you deserve.

Pink: Tetley Summerberry – The embodiment of inspiration, Tetley Summerberries Herbal Tea is a delicate blend of rosehip, hibiscus, apples and strawberry that will evoke the joy of summer all year round

Mint Green: Tetley Pure Peppermint – So fresh and so energizing! Peppermint is perfect for an uplifting experience. Now available in larger format of 40 tea bags.

Violet: Tetley Wildberry – V is for Vibrant! A joyful mingling of delicious berries, poppy flowers, hibiscus and rosehips – the perfect blend for an upbeat mood.

Want to win some Tetley herbal teas? I am giving away 2 teas, the Pink Summerberry and and the Violet Wildberry, to 1 lucky winner. How To enter:

– Leave a comment in this post telling me your tetleycolourtherapy.com color result.

Extra entry…
– Tweet about the giveaway, copy paste…1 entry per day
@cheapethniceatz CONTEST Tetley Herbal Colour Tea http://cultureatz.com/what-is-your-color-tearapy-mood/

You have till February 19th 2010, 7 PM EST to enter.

Taste buds, Molecules and Buona Notte

I have such a major backlog of food posts you will have to excuse me but I will do a combo here. I recently attended 2 absolutely wonderful foodie events here in Montreal. I feel so privileged to receive such invitations. I’ll go in chronological order!

A new program at Lasalle College: Wine and Bar Services Management

Taste buds & Molecules is one of the books that has made the sommelier François Chartier a world foodie phenomena. Chartier presents a revolutionary way of looking at food and wine, showing how to create perfect harmony between the two by pairing complementary and often surprising ingredients. He has collaborated with chef Ferran Adrià from the illustrious Catalan restaurant elBulli, with numerous dishes on the 2009-10 menu inspired by the work of the Canadian sommelier.

During a cocktail-tasting at the International School of Hotel Management and Tourism’s  restaurant, Le Fuchsia, LaSalle College’s administration announced that the great sommelier François Chartier has signed a 5 year collaborative agreement with LaSalle College regarding the use of his trademarks,  key terms and research projects as the College launches their all new program, “Wine and Bar Services Management”.

LaSalle College is the only establishment to offer such a unique training in wine and bar services management where courses in molecular sommellerie, flair bartending and food chemistry are offered. This training has been designed to respond to the needs of the industry where we see more and more connections between molecular gastronomy and molecular sommellerie. To learn more about the new program, get in touch with the College by dialing 514-939-2006 or by visiting www.collegelasalle.com.

This evening included a tasting led by Chartier himself and was followed up with a more intimate Q&A for us food bloggers. Here are some of the lovely bites we had. These were paired with a special green tea, a Porter beer and a wine.

Buona Notte’s 19th Anniversary Feast

This supper club has been a beacon phenomenon for 19 years amidst a sea of coming and going competitive neighbors. if you want to eat amazing Italian fare in a luxurious industrial posh setting then look no further. On a week night things are more quiet but on the weekend your fantastic meal is followed up by awesome cocktails, dance music and a dance floor. With its fabulous location, food and atmosphere Buona Notte is the place to possibly catch a glimpse of any stars working or vacationing in the city.

But I have a confession to make. This event was actually my very fist time there. I have passed the outside of this establishment a million times but I just never went. I also heard a few times it was over rated. Well after the feast I had there I can guaranty it is not over rated but fantastic. Let me say a quick thank you to Massimo, Lino, all the staff but most of all Anna who planned the whole event (and wrapped all the Panatones). Thank you all for an amazing night.

About 40 die-hard Montreal foodies were invited to tastes 9 services of the best of the fall-winter 2010  menu. Each service was accompanied by a specially chosen wine as well. Again, 1 cocktail, 8 wines, 9 services which turned into 10 services: 4 appetizers, 1 pasta dish, 1 risotto, 2 main course and 2 desserts. As services went along the portions were getting bigger. OMG, I am still full! The menu is long and all in Italian so please see the picture of it and of the meal. Keep in mind the restaurant is very dark.

Except for a little confusion of the set up for our table, the service throughout was exceptional. Every dish was presented by one of the owners, every wine was described by the sommelier, waiters were perfect and Anna was always nearby to make sure we were happy. Food wise I loved almost everything. The Polpette de Vitelo (meatloaf) I found bland and I have heard of al dente pasta but my Spaghetti was just not cooked. Exceptional were the Cotecchino (sausage), the Merlozzo (fish) and the Maialino de latte (suckling pig). And our surprise 10th service? Fresh baked Panatone and Zabaglione. It was simply orgasmic. I am not kidding we took a vote at the table if we had to choose between a man and the 10th service, WE ALL CHOSE the 10th service.

And we even had a celebrity citing. OK unless you are a bit older and French Canadian you will have no clue who she is but Soeur Angèle was there and came to chat with us, I even have a picture with her. Who is Soeur Angèle? Born in Veneto, Italy, she immigrated to Quebec in 1955 and became a nun 2 years later. She became a chef and later teached, was on the radio, on TV and published cookbooks. And this young 72 ball of Italian energy partied it up till midnight that night!

Granted we may have gotten a bit more of the royal treatment then someone off the street but I would recommend this special treat in a heart beat. We all left as well with a few partying gifts: a bottle of imported extra ripe tomatoes and a fresh baked Panatone.

The best Panatone EVER! But they are huge and I live alone so after 7 days of working on the top part I decided I better incorporate the rest in a recipe: Panatone Bread Pudding….oh yes that will do just fine!

Panatone Bread Pudding

About 6 cups of Panatone
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
3 cups of milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
optional: add 1/3 cup of Baileys, Brandy, Cointreau or what you like if your name is Claudia

Into a greased casserole dish break up enough bread to fill it 2/3 full. Mix sugar and cocoa together, pour the sugar over the bread and toss lightly to coat.  Beat eggs and add to the milk and the vanilla. Pour over the bread, make sure all the bread pieces are covered. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. Let it cool 2 hours before serving.

 

Camp of Cupcake Madness

Today was the day of a long awaited Montreal event: Cupcake Camp Montreal 2010. This event took place at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth. This was the second year this event takes place in Montreal. Cupcake camp is a 100% volunteer organization that sells cupcakes and has a cupcake competition for the soul purpose of raising funds for charities. This year the recipient charities are Kids Help Phone and Tablée des Chefs.

Last year it was a small event. This year the word got out and it was total madness. Last year it was held at a restaurant, 700 people showed up, 3,500 cupcakes were up for sale and $8,000 was raised. This year the event was help at a huge location, almost 20,000 cupcakes were up for sale, people came in the thousands (2,500 made it in, 2,000 could not get in) and over $34,500 was raised.

The 8 cupcake treasures I took home, see list at bottom

The doors opened at 1pm and we arrived around 1h30pm. We lined up for over 45 min (outdoors and indoors) to get in. There were so many people is was crazy. When we were inside the hosts would politely ask over the speakers for people to leave if they were done as there were 2,000 people waiting outside to get in and the room had reached maximum capacity. It was a madhouse and you had to fight with a smile to get to a cupcake table. It was not only a sugar rush but a cupcake adrenaline rush too! I know of 2 groups of people who gave up and did not wait to get in.

Double line outdoors, and it was COLD

Our gang

The 1,000s of people inside the room

This year’s event was a major success, bigger then possibly imagined. And there were cupcakes everywhere. We were a small gang and separated..the core foodie group sticking together. And we came up with a system: each take a bit out of our cupcakes. I tried a chocolate cinnamon chipolte cupcake; a blue yam and pistachio icing  cupcake; a curry coconut icing cupcake; a fig with blue cheese and violet cupcake; a double chocolate cupcake…those are the ones I remember. Lots of cupcake pics coming up!

Blue yam and pistachio icing

Sorry, but WTF????

A sweet Sheppard's Pie rendition topped with a sweet potato chip

So many cupcakes, I am seeing fuzzy

And here are a few competition entries. Clebretity judges included Chuck Hughes, Nadia G of the Bitchin Kitchen, food critique Leslie Chesterman, Bob le Chef,Ricardo and more.

Montreal themed cupcakes

It was such a madhouse I don’t know if I would have the courage to go again but I do think everyone should experience Cupcake Camp Montreal once in a lifetime. So next year go and get there early armed with patience. It does bring out the kid in all of us.

The 8 cupcakes that made it home:

  1. Chocolate and butter cream icing
  2. Apple something, can’t remember
  3. Vanilla and chocolate chips
  4. Matcha with a mochi on top
  5. Feta, zucchini and rosemary, only savory one I saw
  6. Vanilla with roasted marshmallow topping
  7. Chocolate and tofu
  8. Raspberry, pomegranate and blood orange jelly, white velvet cake and cream cheese icing!