Tag Archives: chocolate

Surviving Winter: Indulge at Ambiance Chocolat

13 Feb

Valentines chocolates heart plate

Jenny and I aren’t big on Valentine’s Day. We don’t buy each other gifts, and we don’t usually go out for dinner (although we’re making an exception this year for a cool Valentine’s Day-themed event). That said, the days leading up to February 14 do tend to get us thinking about our relationship; we met on Feb. 10th, four years ago. And thinking about our relationship inevitably gets us thinking of all the things and places that we’ve discovered, experienced and loved over our time together. One of those is a little chocolate shop in Toronto called Ambiance Chocolat.

Chocolates in display case

My obsession with good chocolate is pretty extreme. I feel compelled to walk into just about every chocolate shop that we walk by, wherever we are. This compulsion hit me one day about two years ago when we were walking through the Leslieville neighbourhood and walked by Ambiance. We were smack in the middle of planning our wedding, and were trying to keep our eating in check so we didn’t end up feeling like beached whales on the big day. So when I suggested we check out the shop, Jenny resisted, reasoning that since we’d never heard of the place, the chocolate must not be anything special.

How wrong she was (a fact she’s since admitted)…

Ambiance Chocolat counter

We’ve found a lot of great chocolate shops in Toronto, but Ambiance stands out for us. The flavour combinations all sound intriguing, and more importantly, taste amazing. Belgian-born chocolatier Patrick Smets made chocolate at the Belgian Chocolate Shop in the Beaches for 15 years, but decided to open his own shop three years ago. Patrick says that the Belgian Chocolate Shop was focused on traditional truffles and chocolate, and his desire to experiment with flavours was a key reason in his decision to open Ambiance.

Caramel chocolate oozing

During our first visit, the jalapeno caramel and rose truffles caught our eye immediately. One bite and we knew these chocolates were something special. The flavours are so fresh and real tasting – the jalapeno strikes the right balance between sweet and heat, but what we love most about it is that you can actually also taste the pepper itself. And the rose (one of Jenny’s favorite flavours) has an interesting floral taste without any of the extreme sweetness that can make other rose-flavoured truffles taste artificial.

Chocolates on pink background

We fell in love with these two flavours so much that they actually ended up at our wedding. Each guest received one jalapeno caramel and one rose chocolate, along with a card that explained why we thought these were perfectly suited to represent our relationship: “Just like love, these unique rose and jalapeno chocolates are sweet and spicy, filled with surprise, strange yet enticing, and slightly unexpected, while still making so much sense,” we wrote.

Wedding place setting with chocolates

Patrick says that he makes all the caramels, ganaches and other fillings from scratch using only natural ingredients as flavouring. Ideas for flavour combinations come to him from the notes he tastes in the various chocolate varieties he uses: if a particular chocolate has citrus notes, he knows it would make an ideal partner for lemon; chocolate with smokey notes might be paired with scotch and smoked salt. He says that experimentation and being able to identify notes in different chocolate varieties are important to making great chocolate, as the wrong combination or ratio of chocolate to flavouring will result in one overpowering the other in the final product.

Chocolate cream centre

Ambiance has several truffle flavours available year-round, and also features special ones for holidays. For Valentines Day, there’s a red wine caramel-filled chocolate, as well as a “light rose” flavour, which combines white chocolate ganache with grand marnier and orange.

Valentine's Day chocolates

Aside from the jalapeno and rose, some of our favorite Ambiance chocolates are the lemon-mint (mint-infused white chocolate ganache with a tart lemon caramel), pistachio (filled with a white chocolate pistachio cream) and the mousse, made with 72% dark chocolate.

They also sell that classic winter warmer, hot chocolate. We haven’t tried it yet, but listening to Patrick talk about how Ambiance’s hot chocolate starts with a  house-made ganache and then gets mixed with hot milk (a technique that ensures a rich and intense chocolate taste) convinced us that we need to have a cup on our next visit… and to visit again soon.

Ambiance sign

Holiday Giveaway #1: New PC Insider’s Report Products from Loblaws

30 Nov

One of the things I love most about the holidays is the excitement that builds in my mind around traditions. Over the years as my family circle evolved, our holiday traditions did too. My parents’ divorce, relatives passing away, my moving away from home and other events led to new ways of celebrating the holidays. But no matter what’s happened, some things that I’ve grown to look forward to at Christmas haven’t changed. My mom and relatives always put out far-too-indulgent feasts of delicious food, I always make sure to get in at least one viewing of A Christmas Story, and as far as I’m concerned, Christmas isn’t officially over until I get to hear The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York at least a dozen times.

Another holiday tradition I’ve looked forward to for as long as I remember is the President’s Choice Insider’s Report. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved reading through the pages of the Insider’s Report, with its descriptions of products reading more like stories than marketing copy. As a kid, I knew that the arrival of the Insider’s Report in the Saturday paper meant it was only a matter of time before delicious treats began making their way into our kitchen… PC Egg Nog, Chocolate Fudge Crackle Ice Cream, PC smoked salmon on Christmas morning.

So it seems fitting that Communal Table’s first 2010 holiday giveaway is a selection of products from the latest edition of the PC Holiday Insider’s Report. We have a package of goodies that would go great with a morning of opening presents… or would make pretty good gifts themselves. Here’s what you can win:

  • A 1 lb. package of of new PC 100% single origin Hawaiian fine-grind coffee (Jenny and I are currently working our way through a package of this stuff; it’s medium bodied and flavourful – perfect for weekends!)
  • A 425 g jar of PC The World’s Best Jumbo Cashews
  • A box of the new PC Gourmet Belgian Chocolate Collection (30 chocolates in six flavours)
  • A box of the new PC Chocolate Fruit Fancies, which  are milk or dark chocolate ganache and fruit puree enrobed in Belgian chocolate

This stuff all looks delicious, and to be honest I’d love to keep it and eat it all myself. But Jenny won’t let me, so we’re giving it all away to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter this contest is this: Leave a comment below this post and let us know what your favorite holiday traditions are (Canadian entries only for this one). That’s it. We’ll pick a name at random from all comments left on this post by Monday, December 6, and announce the winner here next Tuesday, when we’ll also announce our next holiday giveaway prize (yep, we have more holiday surprises coming!)

Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank… all donations made are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home.  Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

Fro-Yo Throwdown at Menchie’s

15 Nov

Menchies Bloor

As I stood in front of the toppings bar at Menchie’s, frozen yogurt cup in hand, one thought immediately crossed my mind: I don’t belong here.

It wasn’t because I don’t share a kinship to some of the famous faces that grace Menchie’s wall of Hollywood fro-yo fanatics (Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton). It wasn’t the fact that the store’s lime green and pink motive made me feel like I’d entered some sort of Barbies-meets-Care-Bears universe. No… I felt I didn’t belong there because I’m a food lover with self control issues, and Menchie’s offers more than 80 flavours of frozen yogurt (which rotate on a regular basis) and more than 50 toppings, and charges customers not by cup size or number of toppings, but by weight. In other words, there was nothing stopping me from loading up on multiple flavours and topping them with cheesecake pieces, brownies, fresh fruit, gummis, etc… And I was at Menchie’s new Bloor St. location as an invited guest to its inaugural Blogurtfest event, so even the threat of prohibitively expensive yogurt was missing from the equation.

Menchies frozen yogurt

Of course, I had Jenny with me, and she usually does a good job of keeping me in check. And we were facing off against 15 other blogger teams to create the ultimate Menchie’s frozen yogurt creation, so ensuring the right mix of toppings, flavours and sauces was essential. With a judging panel that included Adell Shneer and Annabelle Waugh from Canadian Living magazine and iconic pastry chef Joanne Yolles of Scaramouche, we knew we’d have to put on our thinking caps to impress.

Menchies Judges
Judges at Menchie’s Blogurtfest deliberating.

Team Communal Table decided to go with a creation inspired by Elvis’ love of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. We started with a layer of Menchie’s cake batter, which we topped with peanuts and peanut butter chips. Then, a layer of banana bread yogurt, topped with fresh banana slices and brownie pieces, caramel sauce, more peanut butter chips and a few chocolate chips. And finally, a banana chip on top for presentation. And what else could we name an Elvis-inspired, banana and brownie filled creation besides Chunky Hunka Monkey Love?

Menchies sauces
I’m into the sauce at Menchie’s.
Communal Table Menchies
Team Communal Table’s Menchie’s creation: Chunky Hunka Monkey Love

In the end, we didn’t win. Jenn at The Fashionista Foodie took 3rd place with her Tartin-ista, 2nd place went to Banoffee Pie by Irene of Kitchen Mischief, and Beverly and Sean of Potato Chops and Boneless Chicken took top honours with their Tropical Thunder creation. But we did win an honourable mention, as the judges were impressed by our flavour combination. And since honourable mention got us a VIP card good for one Menchie’s fro-yo with any number of flavours and toppings, it looks like I’ll find myself back at Menchie’s toppings bar with price as no deterrent once again. Darn.

%d bloggers like this: