Sunday, 22 February 2015

Almond Panna Cotta with Lychees, Mandarins and Honeydew

Almond Panna Cotta with Lychees, Mandarins and Honeydew

This exotic dessert is simple and easy to make.  We made it for our Tai Chi New Year’s banquet for 130 people, and luckily I got to take some leftovers home.  Beautiful Granddaughter gave it her stamp of approval, and she’ll take a little in her lunch tomorrow.  The flavours are floral, sweet and creamy.  Silly easy too!

If you like the texture of egg custard, you’ll like this.  The amounts are somewhat peculiar, as this recipe is adapted from banquet cooking, but I’ve been thinking of what to do with an extra ingredient, which I’ll explain at the bottom of this recipe.  The panna cotta can be made in a pretty serving bowl, or in a cake pan if you want to slice it into cubes and then serve it in small bowls.  This recipe serves ten people, and preparation time is about fifteen minutes with at least three hours of chilling and setting time.

2 ½ packets Knox gelatin
¾ cup boiling water
2 ½ more cups boiling water*
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk*
1 teaspoon pure almond extract (or to taste)

1 can lychees, quartered
1 ten ounce can mandarin orange segments
½ small honeydew lemon, finely sliced
½ teaspoon fresh lime zest
1 teaspoon dried rose petals (available in Indian groceries)

For the banquet, I made huge amounts of this in industrial pans, and we measured and sliced the dessert into cubes that were served in tureens, family style.  At home, I make this in one pretty serving bowl.

Put the first amount of boiling water into a serving bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Let soften for a few minutes and stir.  Add the rest of the boiling water, stirring to make sure all of the gelatin is well dissolved.  (If you like, you can substitute some of the juice in the canned fruit for boiling water, but be sure you have enough hot liquid to dissolve that gel.)

Sweetened condensed milk is sticky stuff.  Use a spatula to get it into a measuring cup.  You could use the whole can, but be warned it might get overly sweet.  Taste the mixture as you go.

If you do use all the can, you can add an extra half cup of boiling water, and the entire third pack of gelatin, if like me, you can't bear waste.  Whatever you do, don’t throw the extra condensed milk out, more on that later*.  

Stir the sweet sticky milk into the hot gel mixture, being very careful to smoothly mix it in.  Once it’s well combined, stir in the almond extract.  A little almond extract goes a long way, so add it in small amounts, tasting it.  You can add a little extra, but be careful because you can’t make it go away if you’ve added too much.

 Let cool and cover with plastic wrap.  In the meantime, combine the fruit, juices, lime zest and rose petals in a separate container.  Cover the fruit mixture and then chill both the panna cotta and the fruit for at least three hours, till the gel has set in the middle.  When serving, pour the fruit mixture and juice over the panna cotta and enjoy.  So tasty and so pretty!

The next time I make this at home I'll have time to take pics of the process.



*Leftover sweetened condensed milk can be greedily licked out of the can, like Kip did in The English Patient, or you could put the opened nearly empty can into an oven while you’re cooking something else.  Peek at it from time to time, and when the milk turns golden, use oven gloves to take it out and put it somewhere safe to cool.  You will have made a few tablespoons of dulce de leche which you will appreciate later, I am sure. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Apple Ginger Muffins

Apple Ginger Muffins

Winter lingers on, mornings are late and evenings are early, and only something hearty and comforting will lift my soul.  Warmly baked apples spiked with cinnamon and a whack of ginger, nestled into sweet muffins are the answer.  Whole wheat, bran and walnuts ensure they’re way more healthy than commercial muffins, and avocado oil makes them even better.

This recipe makes two dozen cheerful muffins, takes about thirty minutes to eating time, and cooks at 425 F.
Slice thinly then chop.

2 large ambrosia apples
1 cup walnuts
4 to 6 pieces candied ginger

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups bran
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground dried ginger 

1 egg
2 cups yogurt
2 tablespoons avocado oil
½ cup molasses

Preheat oven to 425 F and line muffin tins with paper cups.  (I’ve recently found that parchment paper cups work better than plain.  Muffins easily slide away from the parchment so you’re not obliged to scrape your teeth against paper, frantic to consume every last crumb.)

Quarter and core the apples, then thinly slice, then chop into pieces.  Chop walnuts.  Set apples and walnuts aside.  You can use commercial candied ginger, or make your own.  Home made candied ginger is the bomb!  Place candied ginger into blender and reduce to small bits, mostly powder.  You need about three tablespoons worth, once powdered.  Set aside.

My bowl was a little too small eventually.
In a large bowl, combine flour, bran, salt, soda, cinnamon, powdered ginger and powdered candied ginger.  Mix well with a large slotted spoon.  Add apples and walnuts and combine again. 

In a smaller bowl, beat egg.  Add yogurt.  Pour oil into a half cup measure, then add to egg and yogurt.  Pour molasses into the measure and it will smoothly pour into the egg mix.  Combine well.
Adapted from 1971 "New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook"

Stir the wet mix into the dry as briefly as possible.  Spoon into muffin cups.  Bake approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, till they smell great and are no longer shiny or wet looking. 

Cool a few minutes, then place on racks to cool.  You can eat these while they’re still warm.  If you’ve used parchment cups, you can enjoy them more easily, but if you used plain paper, they will glue themselves to the paper till they’ve completely cooled.  I am regretting my cheapskate ways this morning…


These muffins are healthy and delicious.  If you adore ginger like I do, you could double the ginger amounts, and be even happier! 

I've never had too much ginger, have you?

Parchment would have made eating these easier!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Crack

Christmas Crack

Some say the name is because this luscious confection’s made with crackers.  Others say it’s because it’s addictive.  Both groups speak the truth.  Crunchy, toffee sweet, salty, oh, it’s irresistible.

This ridiculously easy recipe is tweaked just a little from the many 'originals', but relies on real butter and jaggery, that raw Indian cane sugar also known as Punjabi shakkar.  Oh deliciousness.

Jaggery is also Shakkar, available in Indian groceries.
1 sleeve Stoned Wheat Thins
2 cups jaggery, or Punjabi shakkar
1 ½ cups butter
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
a sprinkling of Himalayan salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Arrange crackers on two parchment lined cookie sheets.  My crackers became somewhat bejumbled. No problem: the goo flowed over, around and underneath the crackers, beautifully glazing them all over.  Other recipes call for plain saltines, or salted soda crackers, but I never liked those, not even when I was a child.  Way too bland and boring!

Hot and dangerous!
Put jaggery and butter into a large saucepan.  Turn on to medium to melt butter and dissolve jaggery, about five minutes.  Turn heat up to medium high, and hover, stirring with a wooden spoon for about three minutes.  Remove from heat and gently pour over crackers.  Push molten sugar around with the back of a wooden spoon if it doesn’t nicely oblige you, so it covers every molecule of exposed cracker.  Molten sugar is dangerously hot, so be extremely careful!

Pop covered crackers into the oven for about ten minutes.  Stay with them toward the end to watch they don’t get too dark.  Remove from oven onto safe places to cool.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips. 

In a couple of minutes it’s time to use a metal knife to carefully smooth out the melted chocolate.  Distribute so every molecule of sugar is covered in a skiff of chocolate.  Sprinkle with a little freshly ground Himalayan salt if you’re really bad.
Spread with a knife within a few moments.

Walk away and leave these alone to cool.  These are still molten hot and dangerous, so no fooling around, you greedy thing!  Oh, would you regret that!

Several hours later, you may need to refrigerate these to harden the chocolate, or if the room is cool enough, you may be in luck.  I needed to refrigerate.  When the chocolate is hardened, crack apart with your fingers. 


This stuff is getting tucked into cookie tins, to be distributed as gifts and treats for our pre-Christmas dinner tonight.  Oh, happy day, I’m turning the entire family into cravin’ addicts.  What fun!

These crack easily with your hands.  You will become addicted, guaranteed!





Sunday, 21 December 2014

Masoor Dal with Kale, Mint and Cilantro

Masoor Dal with Kale, Mint and Cilantro

I will confess to substituting meals lately with Christmas gingerbread and nuts-and-bolts.  I am beginning to crave a vitamin, or two.  While lentils and kale don’t sound like a fair comparison to gingerbread pastries, they too can be made delicious with enough ginger, garlic, chilies and perhaps a little butter.  After all, we can’t live on just Christmas treats.

The spice blend for this dal has its own complexity, but the addition of tons of fresh mint and cilantro kick this dal up many notches.  This cooks within the hour, and can easily serve four to six, especially with basmati rice or chappatties.

2 cups masoor dal
water to wash, then fresh water to cover

5 Kashmiri dried chilies
Gently roast till they barely smoke.
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon black ajwain (black celery seed)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
3 cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 black cardamom pods, well bashed, husks removed
1 green cardamom pod, bashed, husk removed
1 small flake mace
3 pieces cassia 

1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Wash and remove mint stems!

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 extra teaspoon cumin seed
1 large red onion, sliced into thin but short pieces
2 inches ginger, matchsticked
1 teaspoon extra oil, ghee or butter
1 can tomatoes (28 ounce size)
7 garlic cloves
2 fresh chilies, or more to taste
4 kale leaves, ribbed and chopped
3 cups fresh mint
3 cups fresh cilantro
salt to taste

Wash the dal till the water comes clear.  Cover with fresh water, and bring to a boil.  Lower to simmer and cook till soft.  Masoor Dal, the orange lentils, cook up in about fifteen to twenty minutes. 

Chop cilantro leaves with tender stems.
While the dal is beginning to cook, roast the first set of whole spices in a large pot, (but reserve the extra cumin seeds.)  When they start to smoke and fill your nose with fragrance, pluck out the cassia pieces, and brush the rest of the roasted spices into a grinder, adding the turmeric.  Set aside to cool.

Add oil to the big pot, and return cassia to the pot.  Set on medium high, and when the cassia starts to sizzle a bit, add the remaining cumin seed.  Let that sizzle for a few moments, then add the onion and ginger.  Turn heat down to medium, stirring, and let cook till onion is translucent and golden. 

The spices need the extra bit of oil, ghee or butter.
Grind the warm spices to a powder.  Add them to the onions, with a bit more oil, ghee or butter, if you prefer.  Stir and cook the spices for two or three minutes.  In the meantime, place canned tomatoes, garlic cloves and fresh chilies into a blender and buzz till smooth.  With a closefitting lid nearby, pour the tomatoes into the onion mix and quickly cover. 

Let cook till it sounds like the furious boiling has settled a bit.  Carefully lift cover and add the cooked dal.  Add the kale, stir, and cook another twenty minutes.  This is a good time to wash the mint and pluck the leaves from the stems.  The stems are too wiry to cook, so remove them carefully. The cilantro needs a good wash.  Trim just the nubby ends of the cilantro stems.  Chop the cilantro, leaves and tender stems.  

Once the kale is almost tender enough to eat, add the mint leaves.  Cook about five to ten minutes then add the chopped cilantro.  Taste for salt and add now.  Cook for just a few minutes, to keep cilantro as green as possible.

Serve with basmati rice or chappatties, and contratulate yourself for rescuing yourself from malnutrition.  After eating silly junk for several days in a row, this will taste magnificent.  But don’t get too self-righteous, because next up will be my Christmas Crack recipe, made with unusual ingredients, of course. 

This will tide you over till you get into the Christmas Crack...

Friday, 19 December 2014

Ginger Bread Men

Ginger Bread Men

These ginger bread men don’t mess around.  A heavy dose of ginger fills them with fiery bravado that will have you begging for mercy.  Not for these boys the lacy patterns and funny clothes.  They go commando.

These filled three cookie tins, and took about two hours, including chilling time.

1 cup candied ginger (home made is best)

½ cup butter plus one teaspoon butter
Adapted from allrecipes.com, Eileens-spicy-gingerbread men.
1/3 cup molasses
½ cup jaggery (raw Indian sugar), or brown sugar, if you must
1 egg
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger (or more if you use commercial candied ginger)
7 green cardamom pods, husks removed and ground to a powder

1 candy cane, bashed into bits with a mortar and pestle
½ cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon silver balls (optional)

Toss candied ginger into your blender and buzz till ground.  If some slightly larger bits remain, be happy.  Set aside.

Place  all but one teaspoon of butter into mixmaster, and whip till soft.  Add jaggery and whip till well combined, just a few minutes.  Put that last teaspoon of butter into a measuring cup and rub around to coat the cup.  Pour molasses into the cup, then slide that mix into the egg mixture.  Whip to combine.  Add egg and whip to combine that. 


My chilling area.
In a second bowl, combine dry ingredients, along with the ground candied ginger.  Turn off mixmaster, and add one third of the dry mix.  Turn on to 'slow' and mix in, then turn off and add next third.  Slowly mix in, then final third with a final mix. 

Chill dough about 30 minutes (I used the great outdoors for my chilling, and it got cold fast!)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Divide dough into two balls, keeping one chilled.  Roll out to about an eighth of an inch thick.  I like these men crackly and crisp, but you may prefer them more thick and robust.  Cut out shapes.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets, about an inch apart. 

Decorate as you see fit, with candy cane bits, chocolate chips or silver balls.  Don't ask me how or where. 

I did all my little guys in one batch and bigger guys in another batch, because the larger ones require longer baking times.  The little fellows baked in about seven minutes, the big galoots, about ten.  Watch carefully.

Remove from cookie sheets when mostly cool, then place on racks to cool completely.


Beautiful Granddaughter wanted to gussy them up with icing outfits, eyes and smiles, but I felt I’d been in the kitchen too long.  She’d been busy making snow globes with water, Easter egg dye, and glittery stuff.  I poured myself a glass of wine and closed the kitchen for the evening.  It’s not too late to make icing, I suppose.  We’ll see.

A plate of well behaved ginger bread men, fit for public consumption.