Sunday, December 20, 2009

Light Chicken Salad with Autumn Fruits & Nuts

While I enjoy your standard mayo-drenched chicken salad as much as the next person, I have a tendency not to prepare mine with mayo but with plain yogurt instead (or sometimes a combination of the two). This salad can easily be adapted to whatever fruits and nuts you have on hand.
  • 6-8 oz leftover cooked chicken or turkey, diced or shredded
  • 1 Fuyu persimmon, cored and chopped (substitute apple or pear)
  • 1/2 cup cranberry relish/sauce (not the jellied kind, but with whole cranberries, or sub 1/3 cup dried cranberries soaked in 3 Tbs warm orange or apple juice until plumped)
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted almond slivers, pistachios or cashews
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp fine prepared mustard
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger or 1/4 tsp dried ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and serve on rolls, sandwich bread or in butter lettuce leaves.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Persian-Style Jeweled Rice

The Persian way of cooking rice (Polow) differs fairly significantly from the standard American way (or any other way I'm familiar with), and as it turns out, there are variations among Persian cooks as to how to prepare the rice foundation. . It is a two-step process at a minimum, but the resulting texture and other attributes are worth the effortThis pretty variation of polow is a stunning addition to either a holiday table or humble dinner.

  • 2 cups Basmati rice*
  • 1 medium pomegranate (or substitute dried cranberries, soaked in the orange juice while the rice is cooking)
  • 2 medium oranges
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • Dash turmeric powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large-ish or 2 small-ish potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

Section oranges, reserving any juices. Remove arils (seeds) from pomegranates, reserving any juices. Toast pistachios gently in a skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until just fragrant. Combine orange sections, pomegranate arils, pistachios and any reserved fruit juices with a pinch of saffron threads. Add coriander, parsley, turmeric, salt and pepper and stir until combined. Set aside, but keep at room temperature.

Start the rice by rinsing until the water runs (mostly) clear; just pour the rice into the pot you will cook it in, draw enough water to cover, swish the rice around, drain and repeat 3-4 times. This process rinses the excess starch away from the rice which will make it fluffy instead of gluey. Next, cover the rice with 2 inches of water and add 1 Tbs. salt (yes, one TABLEspoon). Bring the rice to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 8-10 minutes; the center of the rice grains should still be a little crunchy as the rice is only partially cooked at this point. Remove from heat and drain rice. Rinse well to rinse the salt off and drain again. Wipe out the pot and pour enough olive or vegetable oil in the bottom of the pan to a depth of not quite 1/4-inch. Place the potato slices in a single layer across the bottom and pour the drained rice back into the pot (you can opt not to use the potatoes here and you will just end up with a layer of crispy rice). Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes (it is often recommended to place a paper towel or dishtowel between the pot and the lid to prevent any water from dripping back into the pot); reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes, until rice is tender. Spoon the rice into a serving bowl or platter, trying to avoid the bottom layer of now-crispy potatoes and rice. This layer is the highly sought-after delicacy called 'tadiq' and should be served on a separate dish. Spoon the fruit-nut mixture onto the rice, adding a little juice as you go--you may not need to add it all--and stir gently to combine.

*Traditionally Persian polow is made with white Basmati rice. To substitute brown Basmati rice, extend first cooking time to 35 minutes and second cooking time to 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Eggplant Preserved in Oil

Eggplant ready to be preserved in olive oil and spices.

I have made this recipe several times and L-O-V-E it. It's a *bit* of trouble, but mostly passive waiting time, and is a great way to use up quite a bit of eggplant in one fell swoop (read: eggplants for $1 each at the farmer's market and I couldn't resist)...and you also get a bonus out of this recipe: flavored dipping oil (due to the large quantity of olive oil required). The finished product makes an excellent pizza topping, pasta or salad add-in, or can simply be placed on top of toasted bruschetta (with a little goat cheese, too). You can also mash or puree the eggplant and some of the oil and additional salt and pepper together to make a quick dip. I suggest dried herbs and garlic as fresh ones can often lead to premature spoilage; feel free to adjust the herbs/spices to suit your taste. It is also very important to make sure as much excess water is expressed from the eggplant (NOTE: if you decide to roast or broil the eggplant, don't let the "dry" appearance fool you...let cool and squeeze with a clean towel.) I have had jars of this last over a year, but I suggest 3-6 months in a cool, dark place for optimum quality.
  • 4 lbs eggplant
  • 6 Tbs cider, wine or balsamic vinegar*
  • 2-4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil (approx 4 cups)
Trim eggplant of stem and blossom end and rinse well; you can peel the skin off at this point, but the end product will be much softer and probably even disintegrate quite a bit--the skin actually becomes rather soft so I always leave it on. Slice or cube (I prefer slices as they can be left whole or chopped up later on). Layer in a large bowl or pan, and sprinkle layers liberally with salt. Let sit at least 2 hours or overnight. Blanch eggplant for 2-3 minutes in boiling water (alternatively, roast or broil at 450 deg. F for 6-8 minutes on each side, careful not to burn). Drain in colander and press or squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible. One good way to do this is set a plate on top of the eggplant and weight it down with something heavy, a stack of bowls, a jug of juice, but also press down on it; alternatively, squeeze COOLED eggplant pieces in a clean tea towel (not your nicest one, though, as it will stain).

*This is merely a flavor preference, although the balsamic will definitely darken the final product more than the other options.

In a large bowl, combine vinegar and spices. Toss drained eggplant pieces in vinegar mixture to coat. Spoon into sterilized jars (do not pack!), leaving 1/2-inch headspace (note: these do NOT have to be sealing canning jars). Pour olive oil over eggplant to cover by 1/4-inch. Carefully slide a butter knife along the edges of the jars, pressing inward gently, to release any air bubbles.
After eggplant has cooled, place lids on jars and leave jars in the sun for 10-12 days, shaking gently each day to distribute the flavorings.
Finished prodcut used as a pizza topping with artichoke hearts and onions.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer Tomato-Cucumber Salad with a Twist

This salad (or some incarnation of it) is pretty standard fare in the summer, what with our easy access to farm fresh heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers, not to mention local feta cheese. Sometimes it is as simple as this, other times fresh herbs (parsley, thyme), garlic or onions or shallots, olives, marinated peppers or artichoke hearts, slivered almonds or pistachios, orzo or quinoa or wheat berries accompany the vegetables. Add some salt and cracked black pepper, a splash of olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar and it's delicious. Sometimes I substitute lemon juice for the vinegar, but I've never tried it with lime juice until now. Let me tell you, it elevates this salad to a whole other level. The lime juice really brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, not to mention the fact that lime juice is a pretty standard mate to cucumbers.

Since this recipe (like any salad recipe) is so open to interpretation, there is no recipe, only inspiration. Serve with crusty bread or pitas for a light summer meal.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Frangipane French Toast

OK, so this morning I didn't actually cook this for breakfast because my girls made me breakfast-in-bed! But this would be a great treat for Mother's Day (or any day)! I love stuffed french toast. Usually we use cream cheese mixed with a bit of orange marmalade or chopped apricots, cranberries, or something along those lines, but I also love frangipane--that luscious rich mixture of almond meal, butter, sugar and cream (although it can be made from other nuts as well). It suited the sweet Challah bread we used for the french toast amazingly well.

  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup softened butter (please do not use margarine!)
  • 2 Tbs. half and half or cream*
Note: you can substitute 6 oz. of sweetened almond paste for the almonds and sugar if desired. You can also use this recipe, plus one egg, for a filling for tarts, sweet rolls and other BAKED goods. I have left the egg out here due to the fact that the filling does not get cooked, only warmed through; plus it would be too runny for this purpose if it had the egg.
*If you don't have or don't want to open a whole container of cream for 2 Tbs. worth, you can substitute rum, brandy, cointreau, Gran Marnier, or other liquer of choice. You could probably even use a spoonful of yogurt or apple juice if liquer for breakfast isn't your thing...

For the French Toast Batter:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
Slice sweet Challah or Brioche bread into thick slices (1-inch PLUS). Slice each piece again as if making two thin slices from one thick one, but do not go all the way through the bread--leave about 1/2-inch from the bottom unsliced--you are essentially making a little pocket to fill with the frangipane (see below).

In a wide bowl, beat egg, milk and flavoring until uniform in color. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Butter or oil skillet/griddle if necessary. Dip stuffed french toast slices into egg mixture, coating both sides. Cook until browned on both sides, 3-4 minutes each (longer cooking time than regular french toast is needed so as to warm the filling). Remove to low oven to keep warm (if you can resist eating them out of hand!). Serve topped with desired fruit topping or syrup (our favorites: apple, pear, or blueberry) or simply dusted with powdered sugar.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Homemade Ricotta

This recipe/technique comes from Mollie Katzen's "Sunlight Cafe," and excellent book full of both unique and tried-and-true breakfast/brunch recipes. The recipe is very simple and an excellent way to use up an abundance of milk. It is a bit on the time-consuming side, but it is mostly all "passive" time, waiting for the milk to reach desired temperature, waiting for curds to separate, waiting for whey to drain off, etc. .

The final product was far different from other fresh cheese I have made (which tends to be more on the rubbery side), I think in part from the addition of yogurt. I also think using whole milk is important, both to the flavor and the texture. The end result is creamy and delicious, unlike any storebought ricotta I've ever tasted. There is a very subtle lemon taste to it from the lemon juice used to curdle the milk, but it is oh-so-slight and was not, in my opinion, undesireable. And, you can adjust the salt (and really any other seasoning you might want) to your tasteIt lasted in the fridge for several days (4 or 5?) without any problem.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (Mollie Katzen):

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk

  • 1 cup yogurt

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Pour milk and yogurt into a non-reactive pot and whisk until combined. Heat over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the mixture, but do not boil. Remove pan from heat and pour in lemon juice without mixing. Let stand one hour to curdle.

Layer 4 layers of cheesecloth over a fine-mesh strainer (minimum 2-cup capacity) or colander over a large bowl (at least 2 quart capacity), allowing edges of cheesecloth to drape over the sides. Slowly pour the curdled milk mixture onto the cloth, allowing the whey to drain into the bowl and the solids (curds) to stay in the cloth. Katzen recommends NOT pressing or squeezing or hurrying the draining process along at all, which helps keep the texture of the cheese fluffier, and reduces the amount of solids that will make their way through the cloth. Allow the whey to drain off at its natural pace. After about an hour, lift the corners of the cloth gently coaxing the cheese into the middle a bit, and lay the corners over the top of the cheese. Let it stand and continue draining for up to 3 more hours, checking it every hour or so for desired consistency.

Remove the cheesecloth from the colander and carefully turn cheese into an airtight container. Stir in salt to taste and refrigerate.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sweet Potato Latkes with Black Bean Caviar

Quite a fancy name for a truly simple dish. I modified a basic latke recipe substituting sweet potatoes for regular and made a simple "caviar" salad to top them off. Everything came together in less than 30 minutes, and if served with a good-sized salad, could be a main dish, but they work great as appetizers as well!

For the latkes:

  • 1 large sweet potato, shredded
  • 2-3 scallions, minced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika or chipotle powder

Using a standard cheese grater or food processor with a shredder attachment, grate the potatoes (not too finely!). Stir together with remaining ingredients (note: there is no need to squeeze the excess water out of the sweet potatoes as some latke recipes suggest as there really isn't much excess water--in fact, I had to add a Tbs. of water.) Spoon batter onto heated griddle with several Tablespoons oil and fry on both sides until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

For the caviar:

  • 1 cup black beans, cooked
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 3 Tbs. scallion greens
  • 1/4 cup diced tomato
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 minced jalapeno, seeds removed
  • 2 Tbs. minced cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 Tbs. lime or orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Adjust seasonings to your taste. Spoon mixture on top of latkes and serve with plain yogurt, sour cream or queso seco.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Five-Spice Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Pineapple

This is one of my entries into the Sweet Potato Recipe Contest; it didn't take long at all to throw together since I used leftover sweet potatoes and pineapple, but if you were making it from scratch, you can used canned crushed pineapple for a shortcut!

Makes 1 pint of ice cream

  • 1/2 large sweet potato (or 1/2 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes)
  • 1 cup coconut cream (if you use coconut milk, the texture will be icier and less creamy)
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 3 Tbs dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground red chile powder (pure chile powder! or flakes)
  • 1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger, finely minced candied ginger, or 1/2 tsp dried ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground caradmom
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped or crushed pineapple (does not need to be drained, but should be mostly fruit)
  • 1 Tbs. dark rum (optional but helps keep it from freezing too solid)
For the sweet potatoes, you can either boil or steam and mash them, or roast them first and then mash them. I think roasting them first yields a better (smoother) texture, but they do have to be fully cooked. Also, if you're using fresh pineapple, roast the chunks first for deeper, sweeter flavor! (Roast sweet potatoes chunks tossed with a tiny bit of olive or sesame oil at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the edges start to brown--time needed will depend on the size of your chunks; roast pineapple chunks at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes, turning once, until they start to caramelize/brown slightly).

Puree all ingredients (except pineapple) together in a blender until smooth. Stir in pineapple and prepare in an ice cream maker per directions. Alternately, you can pour the mixture into a shallow dish and freeze, stirring with a fork every 20-30 minutes until completely frozen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Congratulations! You (almost) won!

I guess winning really is in the eye of the beholder. OK, so I didn't *win* the Scharffen-Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest of 2008, but I sort of feel like I did. One of my entries was picked as one of 18 finalists (out of over 1400 entries)! That in and of itself is something to be proud of, and I must say, I'm very flattered, and excited to try again! The contest was open to anyone and everyone (except employees of the sponsors, their parents, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies, printers and judges, and immediate families and individuals residing in the same household with any of these employees, are not eligible to enter or win....), including professional chefs, and truly, I'm pleasantly pleased that my recipe held up in the sponsor's test kitchen! While I've gotten over being "so close" to the $5000 cash (plus all kinds of other goodies) mega-prize, I do feel a bit let down that finalists didn't even get a chocolate bar as a reward...but, like I said, it is a reward simply to have been chosen against such odds.

You can view the contest results here (unfortunately they don't have the finalists' recipes yet):

You can view my winning (and other) entries here:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Meyer Lemon and Squash Stuffed Shells

I got the idea for this dish after I made a wonderfully simple dish of mashed sweet potatoes with meyer lemon juice and a bit of cream, as the squash is similar enough in taste to the sweet potatoes. I also managed to use up several containers of leftovers from previous pasta dishes, and as such, filling quantities are estimates...

Makes about 1 dozen shells

  • 12 cooked jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 cup cooked squash (I mashed some cubed cooked squash I had, but you could use puree as well)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cooked spinach
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 small Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
  • Dash nutmeg
  • Garlic, basil, salt, pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients (except shells!) and stuff shells. Bake in covered casserole dish 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired, or a simple lemon-cream sauce.

I made a simple roux with olive oil, flour, wine, lemon juice, basil, garlic and salt that dressed the shells lightly, and actually presented fairly well too!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Olive Oil Carrot Scones, or A Happy Accident

Ever since happening across the Carrot-Rosemary Scones recipe at C&Z I have been aching to try it. I even had the chickpea flour, but I also had some levain I wanted to use up. Strike one: chickpea flour has gone rancid...and after the barrage of holiday baking, I have pretty much exhausted all of my "interesting" flours. But I had semolina...not all that "interesting" but moreso than all-purpose flour, so I continued to pursue the recipe. So far, I've found that you can modify just about any recipe in order to use levain (to use 1 cup levain, substitute for 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup liquid). But this recipe (I was making a half-batch for our family's dinner) only requires a small amount of liquid to help bind the dough together, so that part of the plan was challenged as well, strike two (almost). I didn't have parmesan, but did have a nice firm white cheddar, which actually worked quite well paired with the carrots and the rosemary.

But the real "oops" of this endeavor occurred when I started putting it all together. I measured out the levain into a bowl first, then the dry was I now supposed to cut the butter into the wet, floppy dough with any success? Having discovered a local olive oil that is divine I opted to substitute the olive oil for the butter and approach the whole thing from a batter bread perspective. I'm not sure if this removes them from the "scone" category or not, but I don't think it matters what you call them--they were delicious! And honestly the dough was manageable enough to make drop-scones out of them. By omitting the butter and cream (via the liquid from the levain) they are also a bit healthier as well. If you don't have levain on hand, you can revert to the original recipe for flour and liquid quantities. I got 8 palm-sized scones from this recipe.

  • 1/2 cup levain (sourdough starter), refreshed
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup semolina flour (although I think the chickpea flour would be excellent too!)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded cheese (parmesan, romano, sharp cheddar, or crumbled chevre would be great)
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed lightly
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp mustard powder or 1 Tbs prepared fine mustard such as Dijon
Combine all ingredients and stir briefly with a fork, just until combined. I never bother with patting and cutting biscuits or scones, and this recipe might be a bit too messy to do so; drop by spoonful onto baking sheet (or however big you want to make them--mine were about a 1/4-cup worth per scone). Bake 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chocolate Adventure Contest Entries

It was a mad scramble to finish testing my ideas for the Scharffen-Berger Chocolate Adventure contest this weekend as I realized last night was the cutoff date--I thought for some reason that I had another week still! So, between using what I had on hand, going from memory for what I have tried so far, and test-batching all of my entries, it was a whirlwind of chocolate and matcha and coconut and coriander, to name a few. In the likely event that none of my entries are chosen, I still wanted to share them as I think they all turned out great, and some of them will likely become part of my regular (or not) repertoire (in particular, the salad dressing, Thai Iced Mocha, Atole and Stuffed Anchos)! Since the contest rules delineated that the Scharffen-Berger chocolate variety be specified, the recipes below include such specifics. In reality, almost any type of good quality chocolate can be substituted per your taste (mostly, I use dark chocolate). Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of all of them.

Jicama-Mango Salad with Chocolate Tamarind Vinaigrette and Pepita-Sesame Crunch

3 cups mixed salad greens
1/2 cup julienned jicama
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1 avocado, cubed
2 blood oranges (or 1 ruby red grapefruit), sectioned (reserve leftover membrane “rosettes” for juicing)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, packed
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup Pepita-Sesame Crunch

1/4 oz Scharffen-Berger 82% Cacao Extra Dark chocolate
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup blood orange juice
2 tsp tamarind paste
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground ancho chile
1/4 tsp mustard powder or 1 tsp prepared fine mustard
1 tsp agave nectar or 1 Tbs honey
1 tsp molasses

Pepita-Sesame Crunch:
1/4 cup pepitas
1 Tbs black sesame seeds
1 Tbs cacao nibs
2 Tbs raw sugar
2 tsp water
1/4 tsp ground ancho chile
1/8 tsp ground cayenne
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander

Prepare vinaigrette: Using microplane zester or rotary cheese grater, grate chocolate as finely as possible. Squeeze reserved grapefruit membrane to extract remaining juice. Combine juice with remaining ingredients, except chocolate, in small pan and heat briefly over low heat, stirring until combined. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate shavings and let cool. Whisk just before serving. (Note: dressing can be made up to a week ahead of time, stored in the refrigerator. Chocolate and oil may harden slightly; to return to proper consistency, place in a pan of hot water for 30-60 seconds and shake vigorously.)

Prepare Pepita Crunch: Combine all ingredients in a small, heavy-bottomed pan or skillet. Heat over high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar coats seeds and water has evaporated. Transfer immediately to a piece of parchment paper and break into bite-sized pieces if necessary. Let cool completely. (Note: crunch can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time, simply store cooled crunch in an airtight jar.)

To serve, layer salad greens, jicama, mango, avocado and grapefruit in serving bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish with pepita crunch and cilantro leaves.

Fried Plantain Cakes with Coconut-Corainder Chocolate Sauce
The plantain cakes is a spin-off of an African fritter called Kaklo that uses bananas, onions, ginger and chile. The onions clashed too much with the chocolate in my opinion, so I omitted them from the recipe. Depending on how ripe the plantain is, you will need more or less water (going for a stiff, but not dry, dough). If you like the banana flavor, you could always substitute green-tipped bananas, or half banana, half white potato. For an easier version, just use slices of fried plantain, too.

1 ripe plantain
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs black sesame seeds
1 Tbs unsweetened coconut
1 tsp lime zest, divided
1/4 cup semolina flour plus additional for dusting
2 Tbs water
1 cup cooking oil for frying
Salt and Lime wedges for garnish

2 oz Scharffen-Berger 62% Cacao Semisweet Chocolate
3 oz coconut milk
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp grated palm sugar
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp tamarind paste
Pinch salt

Slice plantain into 1-inch pieces. Steam 5-10 minutes or until tender. Mash in small bowl with semolina flour and water to make a stiff, but not dry, dough. Add remaining ingredients including half of the lime zest. Form dough into patties about 2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. Set aside.

Heat coconut milk and lime leaves over low heat until bubbles start to form around edges. Stir in chopped chocolate and sugar, stirring until chocolate is melted and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in tamarind paste, salt and coriander. Meanwhile, prepare plantain cakes by frying in heated oil until crispy and browned on both sides (approximately 1-2 minutes per side). Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and lime juice and set aside. Arrange plantain slices on individual plates and spoon sauce over fried plantains. Sprinkle with unsweetened grated coconut and lime zest if desired. Serve immediately or keep plantains warm in low oven until ready to serve.

Dark Chocolate Mango Medallions

I actually made this up as a chocolate "bark" for my sister for Christmas, which is much easier preparation-wise, but thought it would be wonderful to do medallions, as that way you are guaranteed a little bit of everything in each bite.

6 oz Scharffen-Berger 82% Cacao Extra Dark chocolate
3 slices dried mango with chile-sugar, chopped*
1 Tbs whole coriander seeds, toasted
2 Tbs pepitas, toasted
2 Tbs cacao nibs

Melt chocolate in double boiler over barely simmering water. Spoon chocolate onto parchment paper-lined baking tray and form small disks (about the size of a silver dollar, or 1.5-inches in diameter, 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick). Place one piece of mango and small pinches of each remaining ingredient onto each disk. Place tray in refrigerator or freezer to expedite cooling. Once set, remove from parchment and store in airtight container, separating layers with parchment paper.

*Trader Joes sells chile-spiced dried mango, or you can make your own by soaking plain dried mango slices in warm water for several minutes and then dipping into a mixture of 1/8 tsp cayenne powder, 2 Tbs fine sugar and 1/2 tsp fine sea salt. Set aside on wire rack and dry in warm oven (200 degrees F) for several hours or 6-8 hours in an electric dehydrator.

Chocolate-Mustard Glazed Sweets n’ Beets

1.5 lbs sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cubed into 1-inch cubes
1.5 lbs beets, peeled and cubed into half-inch cubes
2 Tbs walnut or hazelnut oil
2 tsp salt, divided
1 Tbs prepared fine mustard
1 Tbs mustard seeds, bruised
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp ground pink peppercorns
1 tsp ground coriander
2 oz Scharffen-Berger 62% Cacao Semisweet Chocolate, finely chopped

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. In large shallow baking dish, toss beet cubes with oil and half the salt. Roast 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until beets start to soften at the edges. Remove from oven and toss in remaining ingredients except chocolate, adding more oil if needed. Return to oven and cook 20 minutes more, until beets and sweet potatoes are tender. Immediately add chocolate, stirring until evenly coated.

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Matcha Caramels

Wow, I could not stop eating these, even before the chocolate! The garnish was an afterthought, so it doesn't appear in the picture, but this recipe can be modified to make a caramel sauce as well, for topping ice cream or whatever. The sweetness of the caramels is offset by the extra-dark chocolate (which I didn't actually use, but I used 88% dark because that's what I had)!

1 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups grated palm sugar
1/4 cup water
1 Tbs + 1/2 tsp matcha powder
2 Tbs finely grated unsweetened coconut
4 oz Scharffen-Berger 99% Cacao Unsweetened Couverture Chocolate, melted and tempered

Line rimmed baking sheet or sheet cake pan with parchment paper. Bring coconut cream, whipping cream, salt, sugar and water to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture registers 245 degrees on the candy thermometer (just past “soft ball” stage. Pour onto prepared paper and cool for at least 30 minutes. In a small jar or bag toss coconut with 1/2 tsp matcha powder. Shake to coat coconut. Cut caramels into 1-inch pieces (easily done with a pair of kitchen scissors). Dip in melted chocolate and sprinkle with grated coconut. Allow to cool and set 30 minutes. Caramels will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container.

Ancho Chiles with Chocolate Spoonbread and Sweetened Crema

Again, I took the photo before it was finished...what can I say, it was late, and actually, once I started eating it, I didn't bother to stop for the crema. I think next time I will try to make the filling a little more pudding-like (in the vein of Indian Pudding), although it was quite runny as it was and I am at a loss as to how to contain an even runnier filling...but the tobacco-cherry notes of the Anchos really highlighted the chocolate with just the right amount of spice, so the combination was great!

4-6 dried Ancho chiles, rinsed
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 cup amaranth flour (or substitute semolina or other flour of choice)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or substitute milk + 1 Tbs lime juice)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
1 Tbs pepitas
1 Tbs cacao nibs
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbs grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar + 1 tsp molasses, packed
4 Tbs Scharffen-Berger 62% Cacao Semisweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped

Sweetened crema: 1/2 cup crema Mexicana or creme fraiche (or sub 1/3 cup sour cream mixed with 2 Tbs cream or half and half), juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 tsp), 2 Tbs grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Stir all ingredients together until combined and sugar is dissolved.

Boil dried chiles in water for 5-10 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Remove from water and pat dry. Carefully cut a slit lengthwise and remove the seeds. Set aside.

Combine cornmeal, amaranth, salt and buttermilk in saucepan and bring to a boil. Recuce heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, stir in melted butter, spices and sugar. Let cool 15 minutes. Quickly whisk in eggs and baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp water. Fold in chocolate chunks. Spoon mixture into chiles and wrap carefully in parchment paper or greased aluminum foil like a burrito to hold chile and filling together.

Bake in pre-heated 325 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes. Remove wrappers and transfer chiles to serving platter or dessert plates. Spoon sweetened crema over the top. Garnish with additional chocolate shavings if desired.

Mole Atole

Like a thick, creamy hot chocolate, especially if you strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the coarser cornmeal bits; but it is more "rustic" unstrained! It was delicious!

3 Tbs masa harina or very finely ground blue corn meal
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup half and half, divided
1 small whole ancho chile, rinsed
1/4 tsp cinnamon or 2-inch cinnamon stick, bruised
1/8 tsp cloves, ground or 3 whole cloves, bruised
1/8 tsp allspice, ground or 4 whole allspice berries, bruised
1 tsp black sesame seeds, toasted and ground
1/8 tsp ground pink peppercorns or 4 whole pink peppercorns, bruised
10 grams Scharffen-Berger 70% Bittersweet Chocolate, broken
1 Tbs dark brown sugar

Whisk together masa harina and water with 1/2 cup half and half. Stir in chile, spices and sesame seeds. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens slightly, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid lumps and occasionally pressing on chile pod to release flavor. Remove from heat and remove chile pepper; if using whole spices, strain mixture through medium-fine sieve. Stir in broken chocolate pieces and sugar until both are thoroughly incorporated, reheating briefly over low heat if necessary. Stir in remaining half and half and serve in mugs, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Boba Style Thai Iced Mocha

The chocolate played off the Thai coffee flavor amazingly well. The original idea was to do a layered drink with a matcha-coconut-kaffir lime layer, but that didn't work as I expected (although the matcha-coconut-kaffir lime combination was a winner for future boba drinks!) Had I had the time, I might have mixed some arrowroot into the chocolate mixture to make more of a pudding and then topped it with matcha caramel syrup!

2 Tbs Thai Oliang coffee powder
1 Tbs black sesame seeds, toasted and ground
1.5 cups hot water
1/4 cup or sweetened condensed milk (or coconut milk + 1 Tbs sugar)
1 Tbs palm sugar
5 grams Scharffen-Berger 41% Milk Chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup large tapioca pearls (1/4-1/2 inch diameter)
3 cups boiling water
Black sesame seeds
Crushed ice (or snow!)

Prepare tapioca pearls by boiling in water for 15-20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and let stand another 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Drain and set aside.

Brew coffee powder and seeds in boiled water for 15 minutes. Strain and discard solids. Whisk in remaining ingredients until chocolate is melted. Cool.

Spoon tapioca pearls into a tall glass. Add 1/2 cup crushed ice. Pour chocolate mixture over ice to fill glass. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Serve with boba straw and a long spoon.

This certainly was an adventure! Now it is back to the real world...although thanks to Mother Nature, we get 2 extra hours of reprieve!