Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme

Moving is a lengthy process. It does not just include packing the belongings that you own, but also the immaterial baggage you know you are leaving behind. This is not the first time I have changed cities, but I find that it does not get any easier the next time around, no matter how much you are looking forward to the new experiences to come. That being said, there is little not to enjoy about New York, especially at this time of year. People seem to still be in the Christmas spirit (and by that I just mean that the city is a little more calm).

I am starting my culinary adventure very soon (in a couple hours that is) and I am a bubbly mix of terribly excited and terribly scared. Yesterday, I attended my orientation where I was introduced to the curriculum at the school. "Not to worry, the local hospital is only a couple blocks away, and the doctors there are used to our students coming in, especially in the first weeks! They always seem to have very clean and clear cuts", I was told by one of the orientation speakers. I was waiting for the pause, and the grin. But there was none. This is no joke. The serious cooking has begun. I get my knife set tomorrow which is undoubtedly a sign that I have been initiated to the professional culinary world...

Before leaving I did get a chance to make a last dessert. While this it was no last supper, it did feel like it would be a while before I got to cook in my student kitchen again. We ended our meal with a sweet touch: dark chocolate pots de creme. It's really one of the easiest recipes I have ever made. You just have to prepare it a little bit in advance to make sure the concoction has the time to set. The chocolate was very rich, so serving it in small portions is a good idea.

Recipe (for 4) Adapted from the Plantation House Restaurant
4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cups of whipping cream
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract
2 tsp of Grand Marnier
A dash of salt

Heat the chocolate in a double boiler, whisking until melted. Stir in the sugar and heavy cream, whisking until smooth. Beat a small amount of chocolate mixture into a bowl with the beaten egg yolks. Gradually add the egg-chocolate mixture back into double boiler pan. Whisk and cook for about 3 minutes over medium heat. Stir in the vanilla, Grand Marnier and salt. Strain through small sieve to remove any possible cooked egg lumps. Pour into small ramekins. Chill until firm (at least 2 hours) and top with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pear and Chocolate Crumble


I just spent a few days in France to visit my family and friends for some early holiday catch-up. Paris is an amazing city for all things culinary and I had a great time looking for new kitchen ramekins and some new cookbooks. I was happily surprised to get an early christmas present from my friend Olivia.. a cookbook filled with countless crumble combinations!

I hear that North Americans enjoy their crumbles with oats. I have had a few apple and peach crumbles topped with oats here and while I do enjoy them, they are quite different from the crumbles I enjoyed growing up. I have also been exploring some savory recipes for crumbles featuring cheese, spices and herbs... so I wil probably be sharing some of those with you in the weeks to come.

This crumble was really easy to put together. The bubbly chocolate, the sweet pears and the golden brown crumble topping were also quite enjoyable as a breakfast treat for early morning jetlag..


Recipe adapted from Heloise Martel (for 4 individual ramekins)
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
A pinch of salt
3 Bartlett pears
100 g semi-sweet good quality chocolate
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
100 ml of whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 410 F. In a pan, bring the cream to a simmer and add the chocolate in small pieces. Take it off the heat and stir until the chocolate is melted and add the vanilla. Set aside.
In a bowl, crumble the butter, flour, brown sugar and salt. The mixture should form tiny pieces of dough. Cut the pears into bite-size pieces and place an equal amount into the buttered-ramekins. Divide the chocolate between the ramekins and pour over the pears. Add the crumble pieces to each. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown. Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lemongrass Pork Riblets


My most recent cook-book purchase (on the advice of fellow food-blogger Holybasil) is Andrea Nguyen's superb 'Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.' It's one of those rare cookbooks that you can read almost like a novel. She details the ordeals of her family leaving Saigon in 1975 and establishing a new life on the West Coast, and she talks about how her mom persisted in preserving and recreating authentic meals despite the limited American grocery supply. I like this book so much because it really underscores the crucial role that food plays in the maintenance of cultural heritages, especially in expat communities.

My paternal family also fled from Saigon, probably a few short months after Andrea's, and I grew up in a thoroughly Canadian culture. I don't speak the language, and I've never been to Vietnam. Food, and the family rituals that surround it, remain as my strongest link to my cultural inheritance and I've learned to treasure that.

These little riblets are a real treat and they were really fun to make. The key ingredient is lemongrass, a long-stalk, husk-like vegetable that has all the aroma and freshness of lemon without the acidity. A medium-sized bunch set me back 99 cents at the local asian market. The other secret ingredient is a wonderful caramel sauce called Nuoc Mau, that Andrea Nguyen explains how to make both in her book and on her blog here. In a pinch though, honey will work just as well. The riblets are marinated for 24 hours and then roasted in the oven. They weren't quite as tender as I thought they'd be (I think I will try adapting this recipe by braising them beforehand) but they were packed with flavour. A warning though: they are really messy to eat!


1 rack of spareribs or babyback ribs, cut lengthwise into 2 inch pieces
1 cucumber, to serve

For the marinade
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of honey or Caramel Sauce
1 tablespoon of fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and minced

To prepare the ribs, carefully peel off the tough white membrane along the back of the ribs. This will take a bit of force, so be careful. Cut between the bones into individual riblets.

For the marinade, mix the garlic, shallot, lemongrass and oil and blend them in a mortar and pestle or small processor. Add to a large bowl. Add in the brown sugar, black pepper, soy sauce, caramel sauce and fish sauce and mix. Add the riblets and, using your hands, coat the meat in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

30-45 minutes before cooking, take the bowl out of the fridge to let the meat get to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and put a rack on the top shelf of the oven. Arrange the riblets on a foil-lined baking sheet with the meat side up. Reserve the marinade. Cook for about 7 minutes, remove from the oven and quickly brush with the marinade. Put them back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes depending on how big they are. Serve with sliced cucumber, some small chiles and some soy sauce for dipping. And, of course, a hefty supply of paper towels to clean up afterwards!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Walnut Torte with Rum Syrup


" I am looking for Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey please. I can't find it anywhere in the cooking section."
"Sticky... what? Are you sure it's in the cooking section? What a strange title!" The bookstore clerk was frenetically browsing the computer repertoire to find the book. "Ah, here it is - Sticky, Messy, Chewy, Gooey, you were right." Then, a man who I had seen look back at us a few times asked: "What kind of book is that? That just sounds too intriguing not to open." I'd like to think that in a couple days he will be getting his hands on a copy of the book too.

One of the great things about starting a food blog is being able not only to post about the recipes you've enjoyed, but meet, in a somewhat virtual way, a community of people who share your love for good food. Over at Taste and Tell, Deborah had mentioned this dessert book, and after looking up reviews on the internet, I knew I had to get myself a copy. The book really is a find: the pictures are decadent, and there is more chocolate and caramel recipes than I could every dream of making. I thought I'd begin with this walnut torte though, to try something a little different. My mother used to have this great recipe for a walnut tart, and it was one of the staples of my childhood eats. Going back to France in a few days for an early holiday family reunion, I will have to dig up the recipe. But since I have never been known to be the patient type, I tried this one out.

It's very different from most recipes for I've made before mostly because of the rum syrup that is dowsed over the cake straight when it comes out of the oven. It gives the cake an amazing texture and fills the batter with rum and sweet goodness. This cake was really a treat to make. I did find it a little too sweet though, and will test the recipe using less sugar when I make this again.


Recipe adapted from Jill O'Connor
(Will satisfy 10 hungry people)
3 cups of very finely chopped toasted walnuts (laid out evenly on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes)
1/2 of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch of salt
6 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 cups pf sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A pinch of cream of tartar
For the rum syrup:
1 3/4 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
2 or 3 tablespoons of dark rum

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix the walnuts, flour, baking powder and salt. Place the egg yolks in another bowl and the whites in a large stainless steel bowl mixing bowl. Whisk the egg yolks, gradually adding 1/2 cup of sugar, until the mixture is creamy (about 2 minutes). Whisk in the vanilla. Add the walnut mixture to the beaten egg yolks. The mixture will be very thick.
Using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until frothy. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to high and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar (1 tablespoon at a time). Beat until all the sugar is incorporated and the whites form stiff, glossy peaks.
Add a large dollop of the egg whites to the walnut mixture and fold in to loosen the batter. Carefully fold in the remaining egg white mixture.
Lightly grease a round springform with some butter. I used individually-sized springforms which cook for about 30 minutes, but if you are using a 10-inch round springform, bake for 45 minutes. Be careful to only fill the mold 3/4 of the way up as the torte will rise in the oven. The torte is ready when a skewer is inserted in its center and comes out clean.
Wile the torte is baking, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture has the consistency of maple syrup (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and add the rum. Let the syrup cool slightly.
Transfer the bakes torte to a wire rack and pierce with a wooden skewer to allow the syrup to penetrate the torte. Pour the syrup over the warm torte. Let it cool before you remove the springform. The cake might be a little difficult to move because of the syrup, so you might have to keep the base of the spingform under the cake. Enjoy with a glass of milk or scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cocoa Wafer Cookies with Mint Icing


It's that time of the year again: the snow has just started falling, the city has become quiet and the trees bear a thick white blanket. All I need now is a cosy fireplace, a wool blanket and a mug of hot chocolate... I wouldn't say no to good food either though!

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have been in a bit of a cookie-obsessed mood lately. Maybe it's the holidays, or maybe just the need for someting sweet, but either way I have been looking for new recipes to try out. I made these wafer cookies yesterday and they were such a wonderful treat. I had fun decorating them and could only wish I owned more cookie cutters. The ones photographed here are cocoa wafer sandwiches which worked well because the wafer cookies are pretty thin and delicious with the sugary icing.



Wafer Cookies:
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cupof icing sugar
6 tbsp of Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
A pinch of salt
A pinch of baking powder
Icing sugar, for garnish

1 egg white
1 cup of icing sugar, sifted
2 drops to 3 drops of peppermint extract for a mint taste

To Assemble
Beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Sift together the icing sugar and the cocoa powder over the butter and beat in. Stir in the vanilla, egg yolk and milk. Add the flour, salt and baking powder to the cocoa mixture and blend until incorporated. Shape the dough into a flat circle, wrap and chill for 20 minutes to harden it.
Preheat your oven to 325° F. On a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut it into 1 ½-inch circles (or any shape you like!) and transfer carefully to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the cookies can be lifted easily away from the parchment. Allow to cool on baking sheet.
For the filling, put the egg white in a bowl and beat in the icing sugar, a few tablespoonfuls at a time, until a soft dough forms. Decorate as you want!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Butter Chicken

For some reason, cooking Indian food has always proved an enigma to me. Even the cheapest, sketchiest takeout joints seem to serve up dishes that just sparkle with flavour and richness that I've found really tough to replicate in the kitchen. I used to secretly attribute the discrepancy to the fact that these cheap takeout joints have some magical access to ingredients I don't have. Or maybe they just use an obscene amount of oil, salt, and butter? Or maybe I'm just not cut out for cooking Indian food?

Happily, it was none of the above! I dug up this butter chicken recipe while browsing the internet and a couple parts of it appealed to me. The chicken is marinated for 24 hours in a salty yogurt marinade, and then roasted and finished off by simmering it in a buttery, fragrant tomato sauce. The spices weren't exactly just sitting in the pantry, but they weren't so exotic that I'd couldn't find them at the neighborhood grocery store.

I realize that 'Butter Chicken' maybe isn't the most authentic or challenging of Indian dishes, but I'm really glad this one came out well and I'm looking forward to trying out some more exotic dishes. My favourites including palak paneer, chana daal (chickpea curry), and, of course, naan, which will hopefully be on Chocolate Shavings in the near future!

A couple notes: For the marinade, make sure you avoid low-fat yogurt. For the coriander, cumin and fenugreek, try and use freshly ground spices. Grind them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Use good quality chicken, and don't be afraid to use all thighs, or all legs, depending on what you have on hand.



Adapted from Vijay Bist's Recipe in Secrets of Success Cookbook
by Michael Bauer

One chicken, cut up into 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, skin is optional
Juice of 2 lemons
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon of curry powder
Pinch of garam masala
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
Fresh Coriander, for garnish

Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Place the pieces in a large, heavy duty ziploc bag and add the lemon juice and salt. It looks like a lot of salt, but most of it will be discarded with the marinade. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, making sure it's well covered by the marinade. While that's in the fridge, mix together the yogurt, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons of cream and the garam masala. Add the yogurt mix to the ziploc bag, agitate it a little to mix it in with the lemon juice. Refridgerate over night.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Take the chicken out of the marinade and discard the marinade. wipe off any excess marinade and place the pieces on a rack in the oven with an aluminum coated baking sheet underneat to catch the fat. Elevating the meat helps to cook the chicken uniquely by dry heat without having it simmer in its own fat. Cook for about 30 minutes until the chicken is almost entirely cooked through.

Mix together the ground ginger, brown sugar, curry powder, garam masala, nutmeg, and pepper. For the sauce, mix together heat up the butter in a large saucepan. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the spices, the tomato paste and the water. Turn the heat up to medium and simmer for 20 minutes before removing from the heat.

When the chicken has cooled off, cut it into bite size pieces and get rid of the bones. Keep the drumsticks if you want. Add the chicken, cream and fenugreek to the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with basmati rice or naan bread and garnish with minced coriander.
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