February 22, 2010

(After Dinner) Nut & Ginger Chocolates


It's especially fun to learn new words when they concern my favourite subject- food.  In the case of these chocolate clusters they might be called, as the French say, mignardises; an after-dinner sweet typical in households and French restaurants alike – usually an elegant chocolate or delicate miniature pastry to accompany post-feast coffee or tea.  Mignardises, however small, do require some care and attention to detail; taking the time to do so may even transport your guests to a post-feast state of nirvana.

One might call these clusters mignardises, but in truth, although they’re quite cute, their easy-to-make nature does not quite befit the title.  The focus here is more on taste and texture than transporting people to other realms of being. 

Their crunchy, complex texture and energy-boosting quality makes these clusters an intriguing snack, and if offered to guests after dinner, can satisfy either a brief craving for chocolate, or a full-blown chocolate appetite if given the chance.

And, not to detract business away from local coffee shops, but they’re also small enough to keep in your purse for that panic-ridden time of emergency when you’re craving a little something sweet, but are faced with the giant, not to mention glutinous, coffee cakes and cinnamon buns on the other side of the sweet case.  I promise that despite it’s size, this subtle yet decadent treat will leave you feeling great…perhaps even a little naughty, and is best enjoyed mingling in the mouth with a meltingly hot drink.

Nut & Ginger Chocolates

3-4 pieces candied ginger
1 handful organic pumpkin seeds

100g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate at least 65% cocoa solids

Handful cashews (unroasted, unsalted)
Handful unsalted almonds or pistachios

Chop the ginger and pumpkin seeds together until very fine – this requires a few minutes of chopping but it’s worth it.  (I found my food processor couldn't get the pieces small enough, but if you have a small processor or grinder it just might work.)

In a heat-resistant bowl melt the chocolate – either in the oven or over a hot water bath.  When melted add the chopped ginger and pumpkin seed and stir thoroughly. Working quickly, add the cashews and, using your trusty fork, coat with the chocolate mixture.  Remove two or three cashews at a time and drop them carefully, so they hold together nicely, onto a silicone mat or baking sheet. Repeat with the almonds.  Sprinkle some cane sugar on top for a sparkly appearance and allow the clusters to cool until set.

February 13, 2010

Fragrant Rice Pudding with Rose Water and Earl Grey tea

I just finished watching the sappiest love film ever...and couldn't stop watching until the very end.  I've done the bad thing, and allowed myself to be consumed by the cheesy TV specials geared to warming everyone up for the big climax- the Valentine's weekend of l'amour.

And speaking of predictable...with Valentine's Day only a day away, one can hardly count the number of web and newspaper articles relating to chocolate.  I agree that really excellent chocolate tastes truly amazing; in fact I love chocolate and take it very seriously, but just like one's love for another, should it not be celebrated every day?

Amazing as it is, chocolate is not the only senses- arousing ingredient out there.  What about orange and rose water, saffron and tea, mint and honey, and the taste of a perfectly grown honeydew melon freshly picked in the morning sun?

Alright, now I might be dreaming of warmer days, but I do believe that my best friend chocolate well deserves to take the day off.

Now, perhaps it's because I've taken some time away from Asian and Indian cuisine that my past love of infusing food with teas such as jasmine and Earl Grey, and spices like fenugreek and mustard, has once more gallantly leapt to the fore of my attention.

For the last few days, I've been having a lot of fun playing with traditional Indian dishes and techniques, turning them into more modern, fresh, and (scary as this may sound) healthier meals.  I can't say it necessarily took much less time than creating traditional dishes, although I didn't go so far as to marinate or ferment anything for 24 hours, but the finished products tasted great, and made the most of the ingredients I had around me.  Dishes such as crêpes filled with south-Indian style turmeric potato and lentils topped with cumin-spiced Greek yoghurt, and lightly pickled cauliflower salad with cucumber and wild boar bacon bits, all made for an exciting return to Indian-style food, but this time using the classic recipes as a guide and not the rule.   

Inspired, I made a dessert that aroused the senses many more times than I believe the finest chocolate ever could.  So much so that I was quietly giggling at the table; luckily my boyfriend was equally enjoying it, or maybe he was just amused...  A simple rice pudding- who would have thought right?  But taken to the next level, infused with coconut milk and Earl Grey tea, cardamom and rose water, its perfumed essence was simply uplifting.

I recommend trying this, or something equally non-chocolaty, for something different this Valentine's Day.  Presented in a martini glass, topped with honey roasted nuts, or even a few organic red rose petals nestled on top, this exotic creamy pudding could likely transport you and your loved one to exactly the place where you want to be (wink, nudge, say no more!)

Earl Grey and Rose Water Rice Pudding

Big pinch (almost 1 tbsp) of Earl Grey tea leaves – put inside a square of muslin/cheesecloth and tie tight
1/8 cup cane sugar
1/2 a cap-full of rose water
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (from whole pods it will be almost 1/2 tsp once ground: smash open 3 green cardamom pods and remove the seeds- grind in a mortar and pestle until fine)
1.5 cups milk plus 1/4 cup coconut milk (optional- add extra milk if omitting coconut milk)

1/2 cup Basmati rice, cooked in 1 cup water (if you'd like it even creamier then use Arborio short-grain rice)

Bring the rice to a boil, cover with lid, and lower heat to just above minimum and cook for 10 minutes or until water has evaporated.

About 5 minutes into the rice cooking, place everything else in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Then remove the lid, add the cooked rice to the milk and reduce the temperature to medium heat- just high enough to keep the milk and rice at a low boil.  After about 7 minutes, reduce heat once more to medium low and cook for another 3 minutes.  Remove the bag of tea and stir to release some of the heat.  I suggest serving this fragrant rice pudding in small bowls, or alternatively, allow the pudding to cool a little and pour into clear serving glasses.  Garnish with rose petals, honey-roasted nuts, or dried rose hips and cardamom.

Enjoy and Happy Valentine's!