mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

it’s been a weird april here in ontario. cloudy days and snowy, wind-chill factor nights are keeping the flowers at bay and prolonging that sweet anticipation that spring will, eventually, arrive. that’s just how it is here. spring will come, and so will the heat of summer.

it’s also monday.

so how about some chocolate, with a hint of spicy chili, no less?

one of my favourite things to enjoy in hot weather is a cold cup of drinking chocolate. these little desserts combine classic chocolate pots de creme with the flavours of an icy mexican drinking chocolate, flavoured with a whiff of cinnamon and an ever-so-subtle ht of chili spice.

best of all, this takes 10 minutes to prepare.

mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

250g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half or 18% cream
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup whipping cream
shaved chocolate and cinnamon for dusting

place the chocolate into the bowl of a blender. in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together the whole milk, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon. cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula, until mixture is thick and custard-like, and coats the back of a spoon. scrape into blender bowl. carefully blend until smooth, holding a towel over the opening and allowing steam to vent. pour mixture into dessert dishes. chill until cold.

whip the 1/2 cup of whipping cream and spoon over pots de creme, and garnish with chocolate shavings and cinnamon. makes 6-8 servings.

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good stuff #7- spice blends

spices are the soul of cooking. they are deep and rich and complex, with the ability to infuse the simplest and blandest of ingredients with a deep and authentic taste-of-place. if you’ve never made your own spice blends before, it’s as easy as anything. think of chili powder and curry powder, or herbs de provence. these blends have become so familiar that you can buy them at every grocery store, but do you know what is in them? what if you like your blend a little spicier, or like to go easier on one spice or another? i accept i’m a tad weird but i adore the alchemy of making spice blends. i can taste and smell each component and know exactly what spice is adding a sweet or hot or earthy note.

making your own also guarantees a higher level of freshness, and if you have a mortar and pestle, or a small electric spice grinder, even better: you can keep the blends whole and grind as needed. i guarantee you will notice a big difference in flavour from pre-ground spices.

ras el hanout
1 broken up cinnamon stick  – 1 tsp sesame seeds 1 tbsp ground ginger  15 black peppercorns – 1 tsp. ground nutmeg – 1 tsp. fennel seeds – 1 tsp. coriander seeds – 8 whole cloves – 8 allspice berries – 8 cardamom pods – 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes – pinch of ground mace

 

this is the beautiful and aromatic blend from north africa that gives moroccan tagines their fragrance. the name translates to “top-shelf”, meaning these are the best spices the merchant has to offer. use in the aforementioned tagine, or stirred into couscous or rice. i especially love to make a moroccan-style salad of cucumber, tomato, mint, and ras el hanout.

 

 

berbere
5 tsp. chili flakes – 1 tsp. ground ginger – 4 cardamom pods – 1/4 cinnamon stick, broken up – 1/2 tsp. each fenugreek, ground nutmeg, black peppercorns, coriander seed, allspice berries, ajwain, and whole cloves – 5 cassia buds

similar to ras el hanout, baharat is used in turkish dishes and very often mixed with olive oil as a marinade. i like to rub it on tofu steaks or add a pinch to hummus, and it’s great with any eggplant dish.

 

 

berbere is one of the distinctive spice blends of ethiopian cuisine, a rich, dark-red blend that gives shera wat and other slow-cooked dishes their fire. also try it tossed with fried potatoes alongside your morning eggs, or mix up with olive oil and tumble some cauliflower before roasting.

 

 

baharat
1 tsp cardamom pods – 3 tsp allspice berries – 3 tsp whole cloves – 4 tsp. black peppercorns – 4 tsp. cassia buds – 3 tsp. coriander seeds – 4 tsp. cumin seeds – 3 tsp. ground nutmeg – 6 tsp. ground sweet paprika

 

 

similar to ras el hanout, baharat spice blends are used in turkish dishes and very often mixed with olive oil as a marinade. i like to rub it on tofu steaks or add a pinch to hummus, and it’s great with any eggplant dish.

 

 

 

 

andalusian spices
equal parts smoked paprika – fennel seed  cumin seed – coriander seed – granulated garlic – peppercorns – oregano leaves – crushed bay leaves – and a pinch of saffron threads

 

 

in spain, tapas-sized skewers of meat called pinchos are rubbed with this blend before grilling, but it’s also a wonderful seasoning for short grain rice, or rubbed with olive oil and lemon juice on peppers and tomatoes before roasting or grilling.

 

 

 

chinese 5-spice blend
equal parts cinnamon bark – star anise  sichuan peppercorns – cloves – fennel seed

 

 

it seemed that for a while there, 5-spice had a bit of a bad name. it had been over-used and the powdery blends at the grocery store were truly bad. but freshly made 5-spice is great, perfect for dusting on fried tofu or seasoning rice.

 

 

 

 

shichimi togarashi
equal parts red chili flakes – ground sancho (japanese red pepper) – dried orange peel  black sesame seeds – white sesame seeds  brown sesame seeds – hemp seed – ground ginger – dried nori

 

i use this japanese pepper blend everywhere. it’s used in this recipe for tofu with spicy salt, and i scatter it over rice and noodle bowls, or sprinkle it onto kale leaves massaged with olive oil and baked for kale chips. you can buy it, but it comes in such small little containers, it’s much more worthwhile to make your own.

 

 

 

 

 

panch phoron
equal parts fennel seed – nigella seed – fenugreek – black mustard seed – cumin seed celery seed

this spice blend is found in bangladeshi, bengali, and nepalese cooking. it’s always used in it’s whole form, and a common dish is simmered lentils made with this blend. it’s aromatic and distinct; i love opening the jar and freeing it’s lush aroma! one of my favourite things to do is heat some ghee, toast a teaspoon of these spices and cook until they “pop”, before adding peeled cubed potatoes and some coconut milk, and simmering until done. so good.

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rainbow ratatouille

this pretty version of ratatouille is called confit byaldi, made famous by that chef of beautiful masterpieces, thomas keller. here, my version, maybe a bit less impressive but still quite edible! thinly sliced vegetables are layered in a spiral pattern over super-easy oven-roasted tomato sauce, and slowly baked. i finished mine with chopped garlic and fresh thyme, both sprinkled on top before baking.

the result is meltingly delicious, and despite it’s complicated appearance, the only skill needed is to slice the vegetables thinly. i bought my plastic mandoline for $29.99 at my local asian grocery 8 years ago. It’s still razor sharp. you can also use a sharp knife or the slicing attachment on your food processor.

i made this up in a large, straight-sided stainless steel pan. this way, i could bake it up, then put it over a flame to reduce the juices, which I found a little too thin for my liking at the end. i finished it with a little vinaigrette made with some of the sauce mixed with olive oil and vinegar, which added a nice acidic hit.

ratatouille is essentially a peasant dish, so don’t be too finicky about the presentation (unless you want to be). i would also think it would be delicious to finish the plate with a bit of gremolata or a drizzle of pistou sauce.  Next time.
we ate this up with some sage/garlic buttered baguette, loaded with some good mozzarella and broiled until crispy, and ate it on a cloudy sunday. and despite the fact it wasn’t baked in a lovely aga, it was pretty perfect!

rainbow ratatouille

rainbow ratatouille

1 recipe oven roasted tomato sauce
1 large green zucchini
1 large yellow summer squash
1 large eggplant
3 tomatoes (i used a mixture of green, orange, and red from the garden)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

make up the sauce, or pull a jar you’ve already made. heat oven to 450f. using a mandoline, thinly slice the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and use a sharp knife to thinly slice the tomatoes. spoon sauce into a large, straight sided stovetop and oven-safe pan, and arrange the vegetables in concentric circles, making sure they are tightly fitted, and standing up straight, leaving only about 1/8 inch of each slice exposed. sprinkle chopped garlic and thyme over the vegetables, and drizzle with the 2 tbsp. of olive oil. bake for 20 minutes. reduce oven to 350F, and cover pan. bake 1 hour longer, or until vegetables are tender. uncover and bake for 30 minutes more.transfer pan to stovetop and bring to a boil. reduce liquid until it nicely coats the back of a spoon. remove 2 tbsp of the sauce from the ratatouille and place in a small bowl. whisk in oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. to serve, remove nice stacks of the vegetables and arrange in a pasta bowl. drizzle vinaigrette around plate.

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chocolate ginger sparkle cake

chocolate ginger sparkle cake

i really do have a thing for cake. i should probably start posting some different desserts. more pies and tarts, or maybe a torte or crumble or a custard or even a fool. i’ll put that on my to-do list. today though, it’s all about this rich and decadent chocolate ginger sparkle cake.

i don’t remember where this recipe came from, but i have it written in a recipe notebook i started in 1991, when i really started getting into food. it’s written in point form, which leads me to think i was watching a cooking show and frantically wrote it down. i’ve made this so many times since, for special occasions and catering jobs, and it’s always a hit. the ginger was an addition i made later, because i think ginger and chocolate get along famously and that it makes this cake even more special.

pay attention to the times for beating the eggs, and don’t skimp. this cake contains no chemical leaveners, so it relies on incorporating air into the eggs for volume. fold very carefully too, so you don’t deflate your egg whites. is a dense cake, but it shouldn’t be stodgy. the plus side is that it’s easy to handle the layers, and it comes out very straight.

chocolate ginger sparkle cake

chocolate ginger sparkle cake

12 ounces grated semi-sweet chocolate (the best you can wangle)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
pinch salt
8 eggs, separated
3/4 cup + 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 lb + 2 tbsp. very soft butter
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger

for the icing:

1/2 lb softened butter
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup half and half cream or milk
4 cups sifted icing sugar

butter 2 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment, and set aside. preheat oven to 350F. place the egg whites and the 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. using the wire whip attachment, whip on high speed until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. scrape into a bowl and set aside. switch to the paddle attachment. place the yolks in the mixer bowl with the remaining 3/4 cup sugar. beat at medium-high speed until very light, about 4 minutes. add the butter to the egg yolks, a little at a time, until incorporated. reduce speed to low, add flour and mix until just blended. remove bowl from mixer, and using a rubber spatula, gently fold in half the egg whites until still a bit streaky. add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until incorporated. it may take several passes, as the batter is very dense. gently fold in the grated chocolate and the ginger. divide into the two pans, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean of any raw batter (there will be melted chocolate on it)

cool on rack for 20 minutes, then turn out onto the rack, remove parchment, and cool completely.

meanwhile, prepare the icing by placing all ingredients in a food processor and blitzing until smooth, scraping the sides down once or twice. scrape into a bowl, cover, and chill for 1/2 hour.

to assemble, split each cake round in half lengthwise. spread each layer with about 1/2 cup icing, then coat the whole cake with a very thin layer (this is the crumb coat, which seals the cake for further frosting) chill for 15 minutes. at this point you can either slather on the rest or add another smooth layer and pipe the edges.

makes 1 serving. (ok, 12-16)

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good stuff #6: finds from the road to key west

Avocado Toast at the Collins Quarter

happy sunday friends!

returned from vacation and happy to back at ebta. guelph –> nyc –> key west –> savannah was such a wonderful break. we met some lovely people and for some reason, a disproportionate number of lovely dogs!

the combination of 33 degree celsius weather and a bunch of margueritas got me all philosophical. when i travel i do so as frugally as possible, driving, bringing food for the road, and staying with friends. but i’m really grateful for these little getaways, and for my lot in life in general.

working with food you realize that, like moments in a southern getaway, by its very nature its pleasure is fleeting. once it’s made and consumed, it’s gone, and never to be seen again. documenting it on a blog doesn’t count! remembering all the food i’ve had the pleasure to enjoy, i wonder if i have the right to things that are so good, so good for me, filled with warm colours and spice and soul. my wish for today is that everyone, everywhere, gets to taste even a fraction of the bounty i enjoy daily.

a few discoveries from the road

  1. the wednesday market a the pier in st. augustine, florida. i’ve been to the saturday market at the ampitheatre but this one was a surprise we found after a cat-nap on the beach. after driving all night we used the outdoor shower at the beach and wandered down to find fresh strawberries, bluegrass musicians, and the best shrimp and grits for breakfast. i’m a bad blogger for not getting the name of the chef at this booth but i will!

  2. kitchens on the square in savannah, georgia. the cutest little kitchen boutique ever. hard-to-find and vintage kitchen stuff, all in beautiful colours and quirky patterns. picked up some great props and the prettiest tablecloth ever.

  3. speaking of savannah, we had breakfast outside at the collins quarter and it was perfect. breaking news: avocado toast is not dead. again with the shrimp and grits for my special brit friend, but when you’re in the south it’s what you do. awesome food and service all around.

  4. fishs eddy in NYC. i’ve browsed this shop online but for all my time in NYC i’d never been until now. purveyors of every fantastic dish, glass, and platter you can imagine. stocked to the gills with new and old, including old hotel and food service dishes. cutlery from an old prison, anyone?

  5. key west. if you’ve never done the one-lane drive over the ocean from the top of the keys to the bottom, do it! i was driving, so no photos, but at the end of the year we’re heading back and sailing to cuba and the camera is coming. this is where the car’s thermostat hit 33c in march. oh yes.

  6. the paris market in savannah. there’s a cafe, but then attached to it is a collection of new and old, french-inspired bric-a-brac, jewelry, soaps, french market bags, silk shawls, and treasures from the sea. one section sells loops of silk velvet ribbons for $2.75 a yard and bags of vintage costume jewelry for $7.00. my brit friend scored a sweet pair of mis-matched enamel-inlay cufflinks for a few bucks. so much more online too.

  7. and finally, the housing works in NYC. this organization champions for those affected by hiv/aids and homelessness through its many programs and services, including the operation of 13 upscale thrift shops across the city. i love to get behind social justice champions, and they truly have really great stuff. a woman i was chatting with picked up two french country chairs upholstered in pink for $20, and  a few pieces of mismatched rose-patterned noritake china are going to be making some appearances under some of my food very soon.

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crochet some circles, and the design will follow, right?

crochet circles

i’m a crochet newbie, picking up my first hook less than a year ago, but when i did, i found i preferred it to knitting, which i have been doing since i was a child.

call me impatient, but i like the immediacy of it, that each little square or circle or hexagon is a tiny project i can finish in a few minutes. starting a new colour makes me so happy!

i remember well the hippie-style crochet of my childhood, and i still like it. but lately i’ve been drawn to more graphic motifs, the work of french designer Sophie Digard and modern patterns using simple shapes and solid swaths of colour.

over new years i headed to nyc to visit my special brit friend, and he happily accompanied me (or was dragged, depending who you ask) to purl soho to pick up a few skeins. i only sometimes know what a purchase will yield in the end. my M.O. is to buy the yarn first, and wait for the project to reveal itself.

i decided to just start crocheting little circles in grapefruit pink, acid green, lichen, and ballet pink, and square them off with a white border. thanks to Magda de Lange over at Pigtails for steering me in the right direction for a pattern.

i’m thinking this will be a throw for my bedroom, due for a redecoration in the spring. i’ll probably pick up a natural linen shade and another couple of colourful yarns, vary the sizes and shapes of the circles and squares, and group them together in blocks. when i say it like that, it sounds like i actually have a plan!

stay tuned…

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