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Chocolate Chocolate Truffles Food General Recipes

A Hand-made, Delicious Gift for your Grown-up Friends

This post is also about truffles. I thought I should just make that clear right at the start. If you’re tired of all my truffle-y posts, skip this one; my next one won’t be about truffles, or even chocolate. It’ll probably be about this delicious, spicy Hyderabadi-style fish I made yesterday; or it might be about a nice little Persian restaurant that I visited last week. Either way, it probably won’t be about chocolate.

Although, it just occurred to me that if you’re bored by chocolatey posts, you’re not really my key demographic, are you? (Really, what are you doing here if chocolate doesn’t make you ever-so-slightly unhinged?)

Anyway, this is a post about a great gift-idea: assorted chocolate truffles. This is usually an ideal little present because truffles are delicious (to most people), make people happy (quite literally (read my previous post for more on this)) and they’re very personal (you can custom-make flavours to suit your friends’ tastes). They’re also pretty easy to make, once you’ve gotten the hang of it.

The first step involves choosing flavours. You could choose from so many different kinds! Here are a few:

1. Dark Chocolate truffles (go here for my recipe)

2. Cointreau Dark Chocolate truffles (go here for my recipe)

3. Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles with Cream Cheese Centers (go here for my recipe)

4. Dark Chocolate Truffles with Orange-Cream Cheese Centers (go here for my recipe)

5. Dark Chocolate Truffles with Strawberry Cream Cheese Centers (go here for my recipe)

6. Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles (recipe in this post)

7. Mint Chocolate Truffles (recipe in this post)

8. Dark Chocolate Truffles with Brazil-nut butter centers (recipe forthcoming)

I could go on and on, but I’ve got my whole life to invent truffle recipes. For now, I am going to stop thinking about truffle flavours and get on with this post.

Here’s what I chose for my first truffle-gift-experiment: Cointreau chocolate, mint chocolate and hazelnut. I chose these flavours because they’re really easy to make, easier than truffles with flavoured centers.

What you will need:

200g dark chocolate (At least 70% cocoa solids)

1 cup heavy/whipping cream

Two pinches of salt

About a teaspoon of mint essence

2 teaspoons Frangelico (or some other hazelnut liqueur)

1 teaspoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier

A handful of hazelnuts

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

50g chocolate to dip the mint truffles in

3 sheets of parchment paper or foil

3 post-its

Coloured paper cups to place the truffles in

Method:

Chop up the chocolate with a knife and place it in a bowl:

How to make chocolate truffles/chocolate ganache

You could also use a food processor. Next, warm up the cream until it just begins to boil and pour it over the chocolate:

Making a chocolate ganache for chocolate truffles

Try and make sure that all the chocolate is covered. Let the bowl stand for a few minutes. Add the salt, take a whisk and gently mix the cream and chocolate. Now your ganache is ready.

Bring out two more bowls. Spoon about one-third of the ganache into one of these bowls and another third of the ganache into the other bowl. Now you have three portions of ganache in three separate bowls.

Making assorted chocolate truffles as a DIY gift

Mix in the mint essence in the first bowl, Frangelico in the second bowl and Cointreau (or Grand Marnier) in the third bowl. I would start by adding a little of each flavour and then adding more to taste. It is especially important to use the mint essence sparingly. For one thing, different brands of mint essence have varying levels of strength. Also, mint as a flavour very easily overpowers chocolate.

Let the ganache(s) cool to room temperature and then, place the bowls in the fridge.

In about an hour, check if the ganache has firmed up. If it has, take all three bowls out of the fridge. Place three sheets of foil or parchment paper on three separate plates. Take three post-its and write the names of the flavours of the truffles down, one flavour for each post-it. Now, stick a post-it underneath each plate. Next, scoop out tablespoon-sized portions of the mint flavoured ganache on the correspondingly labelled plate. Use an ice-cream scoop if you have one.

Making assorted chocolate truffles

Repeat this with the other two flavoured ganaches. Place the plates in the fridge.

After about 20 minutes, take the plates out and begin to roll each scoop of ganache into as perfect a sphere as possible. Make sure not to confuse the different flavoured truffles; place all mint truffles on the plate labelled ‘mint’ and the Cointreau ones on the plate labelled ‘Cointreau’ and so on.

Making assorted chocolate truffles

Once you’ve rolled all the ganache into balls, place all three plates back in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Now comes the last step, coating the truffles.

For the hazelnuts truffles, I decided that the most appropriate coating was toasted and crushed hazelnuts. This is a simple enough coating to make. Just pop a handful of hazelnuts in the oven (preheated to 375 farenheit (that’s 180 celsius)) for about 10 minutes, tossing the nuts once during this time. Let them cool and then place them in a tea-towel and rub them against each other until they lose their skins. Then place them in a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind them. I suggested a mortar and pestle rather than a grinder because this way you can make sure you break up all the nuts without reducing most of the nuts to a powder.

Coarsely ground toasted hazelnuts
And now for the final touch, just roll each hazelnut truffle about in your hand for a bit to make the outside of the truffle sticky and then roll it in the crushed hazelnuts. Lightly press the nuts in to make sure they stick to the truffle.

For the Cointreau truffles, I decided on a simple coating: cocoa powder. Just take a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in a bowl, warm the outside of each Cointreau truffle by rolling it about in your hand, and then lightly roll it in the bowl of cocoa until it is completely covered.

Lastly, I decided to dip the mint truffles in dark chocolate. This looks and sounds more difficult than it is, and it’s actually a lot of fun 🙂 It is also undoubtedly messy.

Making chocolate truffles is fun and messy!

Carefully melt 50g dark chocolate (using either a double boiler or a microwave on a very low heat setting). Let the chocolate cool a bit (we don’t want to wait for it to harden, but we don’t want it to be too warm either).

Once the chocolate has cooled somewhat, take a truffle and dip it into the chocolate. Roll it about in the chocolate until it’s completely coated and then fish it out.

Dipping truffles in chocolate

Place the truffle back on the foil/butter paper. Repeat this process with all the truffles. Once you’ve dipped all the truffles, take a toothpick and trace a circle around the bottom of each truffle. This is so that we don’t have a lot of excess chocolate stuck awkwardly to the bottom of the truffle once the outside chocolate has hardened.

Place each truffle in a paper cup. Preferably, use paper cups of different colours that compliment the truffle flavours. For instance, I used green for mint, orange for Cointreau and light brown for hazelnut. Let the truffles sit somewhere cool to cool. They should be ready in 20-30 minutes.

Since the idea was to make assorted truffles as a gift, I wanted to pack them in a nice box. I hunted all over my neighborhood for a cute gift box, but couldn’t find anything appropriate. I finally stumbled upon an arts and crafts store, and they were nice enough to cut some beautiful coloured paper for me so that I could make little bags out fo it:

Custom-made gift bags for assorted chocolate truffles

I placed the truffles in these bags once they were ready and sowed on little message cards on the front that not only gave my friend my regards, but also described the different flavours of truffles included in the bag on the back.

Custom-made gift bags for assorted chocolate truffles

Needless to say, my friend won’t mind taking care of my plants again 😉

Categories
General

How to Live Happily AND Forever By Eating Chocolate

Delicious Dark Chocolate
Delicious Dark Chocolate with 85% cocoa solids

Chocolate, actual chocolate, is good for you! It turns out that it’s all the other stuff that can be found in an average bar of milk chocolate that is bad for you, like added fats and of course sugar. On the other hand, eating some dark chocolate (like the chocolate in the photograph above) everyday can put you well on your way to immortal happiness.

Don’t believe me? Read this article.

Okay, I realize that it doesn’t really say that chocolate makes you immortal. But chocolate does seem to help you live longer. Apparently, studies show that dark chocolate is rich in anti-oxidants and that it helps prevent heart disease and high blood pressure. According to one medical researcher quoted in the article, “the chronic consumption of cocoa may be associated with improved cardiovascular health”. This has to be one of best sentences I have ever read!

The article also talks about chocolate’s mood-enhancing impacts. Apparently, and this is probably something that most of you have heard about at some point, chocolate also contains phenethylamine, which “triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins and potentates the action of dopamine, a neuro-chemical associated with sexual arousal and pleasure.” 

A lesser known chemical in chocolate is ‘anandamide’ which binds to the same receptor site in the brain as the psychoactive constituent of marijuana. Anandamide produces feelings of elation and exhilaration. The article asks: “If this becomes more widely known, will they make chocolate illegal?”. This is inarguably the WORST most frightening sentence/question ever to be published in the history of human publication.

Also, chocolate increases the levels of serotonin in your brain.

I found this article through a friend (thanks Minni, if you’re reading this) and got so excited that I wanted to scream out loud in my office, or run around hugging people in the library (my office is in the library). You see, I have always maintained that chocolate is the Answer. “To what?” you ask?. “To Everything” I answer. For instance, handing out delicious chocolate bars to angry dictators will bring about world peace. This is a Fact. While mad dictators will probably need a truckload of chocolate instead of a bar or two, I don’t see why this wouldn’t work, in principle.

My point is, I always knew chocolate was the panacea, but now I have scientific backing 🙂

In other news, “anandamide’, derived from the Sanskrit word ‘ananda’, is my new favourite chemical. I mean isn’t that the cutest name ever?

Categories
Food General Reviews

Macaroons at Dusk

I wouldn’t say that I am tremendously fond of macaroons. I mean I like them, sure, but I’ve never woken up in the middle of the night and wanted one. I have woken up in the middle of the night craving all sorts of other foods. Some of the things I have had midnight cravings for include:

1. Chocolate

2. Chocolate Ice Cream with Fudge on Top

3. Chocolate Fudge

4. Fish Tacos

5. Re-fried Beans

6. Yummy Thin Crust Pizza

7. Fish Curry (and this is an umbrella term I am using to refer to about 6 kinds of fish curry)

I could literally go on for hours, and this is just what I craved over the last week or ten days.

But, I’ve never ever craved a macaroon. My point is, I was never into macaroons, that is until recently. The other day, a friend brought me some assorted macaroons as a gift and since then, I’ve developed a taste for them. It isn’t that I’ve never had them before, it’s that these were particularly delicious macaroons. Unlike chocolate, which I enjoy eating even when it’s of average quality, I only like macaroons if they’re particularly well made, and these were yummy! They were from MoRoCo, a little chocolate-themed store and restaurant in the Yorkville area of Toronto. Go here for their website.

The macaroons were light and airy and I loved all the different flavours they had.

They made the most delightful little snack last evening along with a ginger-white chocolate cookie. You see, I set them on my bedside table late in the afternoon, and my plan was to take a break from working to eat them, when I was done reading this important chapter of an important book for my even more important dissertation.

Colourful macarons and a ginger chocolate cookie

It turned out to be a rather engaging chapter, and I kept on reading. Evening had turned to dusk before I realized I hadn’t eaten them yet. (This, by the way, is proof of the fact that I am only reasonably fond of macaroons, whereas I am unreasonably obsessed with chocolate. I’ve never left uneaten chocolate by my bedside and forgotten about it. That’s unheard of! If I did that and it became known to my family and/or friends, everyone who loved me would be very worried about me indeed.)

Macarons at dusk

I needed a drink at this point, so I made myself a colourful drink (fresh, pulpy watermelon juice) to go with the snack:

Fresh watermelon juice

Needless to say, I had a nice, rewarding study break. I did of course also dig into some of those truffles I made yesterday as well 🙂

Categories
Chocolate Chocolate Truffles Food General Recipes

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Gooey Strawberry Cream-Cheese Centers

Yesterday, the weather was lovely. Although the sky was cloudy and the sun managed to peek out only once or twice, the air was warm and breezy. In the evening, after a grueling Pilates class, I went out for a little stroll in the neighborhood. As I was walking past a green-grocers, it occurred to me that I ought to be healthy and buy some fruit. “I could make myself a healthy fruit shake”, I thought to myself. Going to yoga or Pilates sometimes does this to me; it inspires me to be uncharacteristically open-minded about eating healthy fruit. (It has yet to have any effect on my general aversion to veggies though; THAT would be a real miracle!)

There were several pretty, colourful and bright fruit in the store, but a little basket of strawberries drew my attention the most, and so I bought it. On the walk home, my mind did what it usually does, it wandered to chocolate. “What about strawberry chocolate truffles?” I thought to myself. “Or wait! What about strawberry cream-cheese centered chocolate truffles” I asked myself. Ooooh that sounded delicious, wonderful, so good in fact, that I set about executing my devious plan right then and there. I rushed over to the yucky supermarket across the street from my apartment and bought some cream-cheese. Three hours later, I ended up with this (I took a bite out of it so I could show you the delicious creamy center:

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Strawberry Cream Cheese Centers
Dark Chocolate Truffles with Strawberry Cream Cheese Centers
And here I am chronicling my adventure.

Since my last cream-cheese truffles (brown sugar-coated truffles with orange cream centers) came out so well, I decided to follow a similar process for today’s project. I began with a traditional dark chocolate ganache (made with cream) which I used to make the truffles themselves. Next, I incorporated the cream cheese and strawberry flavours I love so much into the recipe by making cream cheese centers for the truffles. This is the one fairly tricky part of the process. Actually shaping the truffles with the cream cheese centers can be messy and it requires patience. Finally, instead of coating the truffles in brown sugar (as I did with my last batch) I dipped the truffles in dark chocolate. They were pretty good, and if you like strawberries, you will like these EVEN more, so give them a try, why don’t you?

Ingredients for the Truffles:

100 g dark chocolate (since the strawberry cream cheese filling was a little sweet, I used chocolate with 85% cocoa solids)

1/2 cup heavy/whipping cream

A pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence (at room temperature)

50 g chocolate to coat truffles with

A sheet of butter paper or foil

Ingredients for the Cream Cheese Centers:

50 g cream cheese (at room temperature)

3-6 tablespoons of icing sugar

6 medium strawberries

Method:

Chop up the chocolate into small pieces (you could also process it in a food processor) and place it in a bowl. It’s important to chop up the chocolate into little bits so that it melts evenly when you pour the cream over it. It should look like this:

Chopped up chocolate to make a ganache
Chopped up chocolate to make a ganache
Heat the cream in a pan until it just begins to bubble and then pour it over the chocolate:

Making a ganache

Let the mixture stand for a few minutes. Then very gently mix the chocolate and cream:

Gently mixing the chocolate ganache

Add the vanilla and salt and mix until you have a smooth ganache:

Chocolate ganache

Cover the bowl and let the ganache cool to room temperature, then place it in the fridge.

While the ganache is chilling, let’s make the cream cheese filling. The first step is making some strawberry juice. Wash the strawberries thoroughly and then hull them (for instructions on how to do this, go here). This is what they should look like:

Hulled Strawberries
Hulled Strawberries
Chop up the hulled strawberries and then process them in a food processor or mixer:

Making strawberry cream cheese filling

Isn’t this a beautiful rich colour?

Strain this pulp to get strawberry juice. We’ll be using this to flavour the cream cheese.

Strawberry juice/extract for chocolate truffles

Set the juice aside. Take another bowl, put the cream cheese in it, and whip it up with a mixer, until it’s smooth.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles
Softened cream cheese
Now, add two tablespoons of icing sugar and whip it all up.

Making cream cheese filling for chocolate truffles

Taste the mixture. If you think it needs more sugar add some more. When it tastes right, add strawberry juice to taste, one teaspoon at a time. You should add as much juice as you think tastes good, however, remember that the more juice you add the thinner the filling will become, and the thinner the filling, the more difficult it is to work with when shaping the truffles.

Strawberry cream cheese filling for chocolate truffles

I had to add some more sugar at this stage to thicken it. It tasted good even with the sugar, but it was more than I would ordinarily have added. When the filling tastes just right to you, pour the cream cheese filling into an icing/frosting bag or a sandwich bag and put it in the fridge.

Once the ganache has been in the fridge for about an hour, take it out and see if it’s firmed up. It should be firm but not hard. Take a large plate and cover it with foil or butter paper. Portion out the ganache on the foil or butter paper, with each portion measuring about a tablespoon full.

Making strawberry cream cheese truffles

Place the plate in the fridge. In about an hour, take it out along with the cream cheese filling. Now you’re ready to begin shaping the truffles.

Pick up a scoop of ganache and shape it into a ball. Flatten it on your hand like a mini-tortilla or chapathi. Next, squeeze a bit of cream cheese filling out of the frosting bag (if you were using a sandwich bag cut off one of the bottom tips of the bag) on the center of the ‘chocolate chapathi’:

Shaping strawberry cream cheese truffles

Fold the chocolate over the cream cheese filling and roll the whole thing carefully into a ball. I don’t have a photograph of this because by this time my hands were covered in chocolate. Repeat this until all the ganache has been used up.

Making chocolate cream cheese truffles
Almost Ready-Truffles!
For the final step, carefully melt 50g dark chocolate (using either a double boiler or a microwave on a very low heat setting). Let the chocolate cool a bit (we don’t want to wait for it to harden, but we don’t want it to be too warm either).

Once the chocolate has cooled somewhat, take a truffle and dip it into the chocolate. Roll it about in the chocolate until it’s completely coated and then use a fork to fish it out. Place the truffle back on the foil/butter paper. Repeat this process with all the truffles. Once you’ve dipped all the truffles, take a toothpick and trace a circle around the bottom of each truffle. This is so that we don’t have a lot of excess chocolate stuck awkwardly to the bottom of the truffle once the outside chocolate has hardened. Place the truffles somewhere cool to cool. They should be ready to eat in 20-30 minutes. Serve in little paper cups. Enjoy!

Strawberry cream cheese truffle

Categories
Chocolate Chocolate Truffles Food General Recipes

Sugar-Coated Dark Chocolate Truffles with Orange Cream Cheese Centers

Brown Sugar coated chocolate truffle with orange-cream cheese centerThis is my favourite kind of truffle so far. In fact, I can honestly say that I’ve never eaten a more delicious chocolate truffle. Mmmm.

It all started with me wandering into my kitchen last evening. I went through my fridge and cabinets, trying to think of a new combination of flavours that I’d never tried in a truffle before. All sorts of ingredients caught my attention, but my eyes kept returning to the block of cream cheese in my fridge. As I wrote in Sunday’s post about dark chocolate cream cheese truffles, I absolutely love the flavour of cream cheese. So I decided to stick with cream cheese, and see if I couldn’t come up with a slightly better version of Sunday’s recipe.

Sunday’s truffles were cream cheese truffles through and through; not only did they have cream cheese centers, the truffles themselves were made with cream cheese. While I liked Sunday’s truffles, what I found was that the texture of the truffle changes when you use cream cheese instead of heavy/whipping cream (this is what is used in traditional truffles); the texture isn’t as velvety and creamy. Generally speaking, this is an acceptable compromise to me because I love the flavour of cream cheese. But Sunday’s experiment taught me that if you’re willing to go to the extra trouble of making cream cheese centers, you don’t need to make this compromise at all! In fact, I thought that the cream cheese in the chocolate didn’t add much in terms of flavour, it was upstaged by the intense flavour of the dark chocolate and by the cream cheese in the center. I could reduce the amount of chocolate I added, but I wanted to make dark chocolate truffles, not milk chocolate ones.

Therefore, for today’s project, I decided to use a traditional dark chocolate ganache (made with cream) to make the truffles, and then incorporate the cream cheese flavour I love so much by making cream cheese centers for them. But that wasn’t all, I added a twist or two to the recipe. You see, I wanted to play around a little with the flavours in my kitchen; it would have been boring to simply recreate, with a small modification, Sundays recipe.

First, I wanted a citrus flavour to the cream cheese, so I added some orange liqueur (Cointreau). Second, I thought it might be fun to coat the truffles with something I’ve never tried before, large brown sugar crystals. But since they’re sweet, I decided to make the chocolate a bit bitter. So I replaced some of the dark chocolate in the ganache recipe with unsweetened chocolate. Here’s what I ended up with:

Brown sugar coated chocolate truffle with orange-cream cheese centerAnd boy am I glad I played instead of sticking to what I know. The truffles were just right in terms of texture and flavour! They were creamy and squishy and the cream cheese centers were gooey, soft, and a little orang-ey. To top it all, the sugar-coating was literally the sugar-coating, it balanced the bitterness of the chocolate perfectly. Here is a shot of half a truffle after I’d bitten into it. I think it illustrates the squishiness and softness I am talking about:

Brown sugar coated chocolate truffle with orange-cream cheese center

The flavours danced together on my tongue with just enough complexity to be intriguing; they acted in perfect concert, I had to close my eyes and savour it. I haven’t felt this excited since I discovered chocolate brazil nut butter.

If you’ve been sold by my mad ravings or these pictures, go ahead and give it a go! The only tough part of the process is actually shaping the truffles with the cream cheese centers. This can be a little messy and it requires patience.

Update: Another important thing to note is that the sugar-coating absorbs moisture. So the outside of the truffle can get wet and sticky over a day or two. The solution that I have found for this problem is to roll the truffles in brown-sugar right before (or even a few hours before) serving them.

Ingredients for the Truffles:

2.5 ounces dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup heavy/whipping cream

A small dollop of butter

A pinch of salt

Brown sugar to coat the truffles

Ingredients for the Cream Cheese Centers:

50 g cream cheese (at room temperature)

A dollop of butter

2-4 tablespoons of icing sugar

2-3 teaspoons of Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Method:

Chop up the chocolate into small pieces (you could also process it in a food processor) and place it in a bowl. It’s important to chop up the chocolate into little bits so that it melts evenly when you pour the cream over it. It should look like this:

Chopped up chocolate to make a ganacheHeat the cream in a pan until it just begins to bubble and then pour it over the chocolate:

Making a ganache

Let the mixture stand for a few minutes. Then very gently mix the chocolate and cream:

Gently mixing the chocolate ganache

Add the butter and salt and mix until you have a smooth ganache:

Chocolate ganache

Cover the bowl and let the ganache cool to room temperature, then place it in the fridge.

While the ganache hardens, let’s make the cream cheese filling. Take another bowl, put the cream cheese in it and whip it up with a mixer, until it’s smooth.

Chocolate Cream Cheese TrufflesNow add the butter, two tablespoons of icing sugar and a teaspoon of Cointreau and whip it all up.

Making cream cheese filling for chocolate truffles

Taste the mixture. If you think it needs more sugar or Cointreau add some more. When it tastes right, cover the bowl and put it in the fridge.

Once the ganache has been in the fridge for about an hour, take it out and see if it’s firmed up. It should be firm but not hard. If it’s firm take it out along with the cream cheese filling. You will also need a bowl with a few tablespoons of brown sugar in it and a large plate covered with foil or butter paper. Now you’re ready to begin shaping the truffles.

Portion out the ganache onto the foil or butter paper, with each portion measuring about a tablespoon. When you’ve scooped out the lot take the first portion and shape it into a ball. Then, flatten it on your hand like a mini-tortilla or chapathi:

Shaping chocolate cream cheese trufflesNow scoop a bit of cream cheese filling onto the center of the ‘chocolate chapathi’:

Shaping chocolate cream cheese trufflesNow fold the chocolate over the cream cheese.

Shaping chocolate cream cheese trufflesFinally, roll the whole thing carefully into a ball. I don’t have a photograph of this because by this time my hands were covered in chocolate. Repeat this until all the ganache has been used up.

Making chocolate cream cheese trufflesFor the final step, start with one of the first few truffles you shaped. (When you work with the truffles they will get a little melted and squishy from your body heat. This is why i suggest picking up one of the first few truffles you worked on; by now it will have cooled down and firmed up again.) Gently roll it about in your hand to make the surface a little sticky. Roll the truffle in the bowl of brown sugar so that it is completely coated.

Brown sugar-coated chocolate truffles with orange-cream cheese centers

Repeat until all the truffles are coated. And there you’re all done! Enjoy your delicious truffles, I know I did 😉

Sugar coated chocolate truffle with orange-cream cheese center

Categories
Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

Heavenly, Healthy Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

I made some absolutely delicious truffles today, and I was all set to write a post about it. Then I looked at my blog home page and realized that my last post was also about truffles. (In fact, a LOT of my posts are about truffles.) Also, Easter was just the other day, so it occurred to me that some of you are probably feeling a little stuffed, maybe even a little ill from all the chocolate eating. In thinking about how guilty and sick you might be feeling, I began to feel somewhat stuffed myself. I’ve been eating loads of homemade, delicious but cheese covered pizza and of course, tonnes of chocolate. It was time, I decided, to eat something yummy but healthy. And so, I made myself the healthiest dinner that I am capable of eating. I have difficulty eating leafy vegetables you see, they literally make me feel unhappy and hopeless. But this particular magical recipe for spinach lentils that I am about to share with you is as spicy and flavourful, as it is good for you. I am no doctor or nutritionist, but I think you’ll all agree with me when you see the ingredient list.

Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils) with RiceOh and as you can see from the title, this is a Hyderabadi recipe. Hyderabad is the capital of a southern State in India: Andhra Pradesh. It was the seat of the Nizams, who ruled Hyderabad for about 2 centuries. The word Nizam or Nizam-ul-mulk means ‘administrator of the realm’ or ‘governor of the nation’ in Urdu. This is because the first Nizam was originally appointed by the Mughal emperor to oversee and govern Southern India on his behalf. As the Mughal empire began to crumble (for a brief overview of Mughal history go here), Asaf Jha who was a Mughal noble and a Nizam, declared independence from the Mughals and founded his own dynasty, the Asaf Jha dynasty, also known as the Nizams.

The history of the Nizams is of course more complex than this little paragraph intimates. It is full of battles, intrigue and all the other stuff that good history is made of. But this post is about food, also I am not a historian. I just wanted to give you this brief little background so you can understand Hyderabadi cuisine better. I would recommend reading more about the Nizams though, about their food, jewellery and architecture in particular.

Because the Nizams were essentially nobles from the Mughal court, their food was strongly influenced by Mughlai cuisine. But South Indian food, more precisely Andhra food, i.e. the food the locals ate (and continue to eat today) before the Nizams came to Hyderabad, is also delicious and distinctive. Typical Andhra foods include: spicy peppery Rasam; Chappala Pulusu (fish curry); and Erra Avakaya. So it isn’t surprising that Hyderabadi food blends Andhra and Mughlai styles. Andhra food itself can be broken down into several different types based on different regions of the State. There are also hints of Arab, Turkish, Parsi and other influences in Hyderabadi food. So you see, it is bastardized, pluralistic, and historically rich.

It is also amongst the most delicious cuisines on earth. I kid you not. It’s as spicy as South Indian Andhra food, its magnificence equals Mughlai food (like dal Makhani), and it’s as rich and flavourful as Italian food can be.

(And while I am not appointing myself final arbiter of the best food known to man, I think a woman who has a blog (mostly) about food, a woman who goes into raptures about food, a woman whose very mental stability depends on the availability of a delicious meal, in short a food-crazed woman, should be taken very seriously.)

Anyway, now that you’re sold on its deliciousness, here it is, a spicy palak dal- Hyderabadi style:

Ingredients:

1 cup of moong dal (a type of lentil, native to India)

1/2 teaspoon haldi/pasupu/turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic

About a medium sized bunch of spinach

1/2 tablespoon dried mango powder (Amchur)

5-6 green chilies cut in half lengthwise

2-3 sprigs of coriander/cilantro

Salt to taste

(The following are the ingredients for the tadka baghar or popu)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

5 dried red chilies

5-6 fresh curry leaves or about 10 dried ones

4 peeled whole garlic cloves

2-3 tablespoons of ghee (you can get ghee at an Indian store; if you want to make south Indian ghee, you can read my recipe here)

Method:

The first thing to do is to prepare the dal (lentils). I use moong dal for this recipe. You should be able to get these lentils at an Indian store, if you don’t live in India. I normally soak lentils for about 20 minutes before I cook them. If you don’t have the time to do this, you can skip this step. This is how the lentils look soaked:

Moong dal (lentils native to the Indian subcontinent)The easiest way to cook dal is to cook it in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, just boil the dal in water until its cooked. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric and some salt to the dal before you cook it. Once it’s cooked it should look like this: Cooked moong dalNext, heat one tablespoon of oil in a saucepan. When it’s hot add the ginger and garlic. Fry the ginger and garlic until cooked (slightly browned, but not burnt). Add the spinach to the ginger-garlic and let it cook, stirring occasionally. Once the spinach is tender, add the lentils.

Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

Let this cook for about 10 minutes. Then add half a tablespoon of dried Mango powder (Amchur), the green chillies and the coriander sprigs to the pot and again, let the dal cook. After about 5 minutes we’re ready to add the tadka or baghar (tempering of spices in oil).

The baghar:

Heat a tablespoon or two of ghee in a little saucepan like this:

Hot ghee

Let the ghee get hot. To test if it’s hot enough, throw a single cumin seed into the pan. If it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the cumin along with the mustard seeds and stir them about until they start to pop. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves, garlic cloves and red chilies.

BagharOnce the red chillies darken like this:

Baghar, tadka or popu

Add the baghar to the lentils.

Making Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

and immediately cover the pot.

The dal is now ready! Serve it with some hot rice, yoghurt and a papad.

Categories
Chocolate Chocolate Truffles Cooking Food General Recipes

Rich Dark Chocolate Truffles with Soft Cream Cheese Centers

This afternoon I was out grocery shopping and I saw a box of truffles in the chocolate section that caught my eye- they were ‘cheesecake truffles’. “Hmm that sounds delicious” I thought to myself. The thing is, and you may not know this about me, as much as I am a chocolate-lover, even a chocolate-addict, I am so much more when it comes to cheesecake, I am in fact, a chocolate-cheesecake-fiend.

Don’t believe me? Well it’s true and the following tale will prove it to you. You see, there is a coffee shop quite literally below my apartment and they have delicious chocolate-almond cheesecake. This time last year, I was eating one slice of cheesecake per day. Soon, things got so bad that the owner of the coffee shop, his wife and two employees of theirs, independently of each other, expressed genuine surprise bordering on concern, when they noticed how often I was running downstairs for cake. When your cheesecake supplier stages an almost-intervention, well you know things have gone too far, so I quit cold turkey.

But of course, I still have a soft spot for the cheesecake-chocolate combination. So when I saw the box of cheesecake truffles, I rushed home like a woman possessed and researched recipes. It turns out one has to first bake a cheesecake, then let it firm up in the fridge for several hours and only then can one use this hardened cheesecake as a filling in truffles. This seemed like far too much waiting, so I decided to make chocolate cream cheese truffles, which are close enough.

Chocolate cream cheese trufflesThe process was fairly easy, and what I really liked about it was that one could add sugar and chocolate to taste. Traditional chocolate truffles are made from a ganache (you can read more about this in my previous posts about basic dark chocolate truffles and Cointreau truffles), and you can’t really add more or less chocolate, with intermittent tastings while making ganache (to be accurate, you probably could, but I think it would be a complicated process and you’d run the risk of breaking the ganache). So this really is something unique about this cream cheese truffle recipe. I’d recommend giving it a go, you might get hooked 😉

Ingredients:

100 g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) (the better this chocolate is, the better your truffles will taste)

150 g cream cheese

5-6 tablespoons of icing sugar

1/2 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

Some cocoa powder or a handful of hazelnuts toasted and ground

Equipment:

4 Bowls and several spoons

1 large plate

A hand-held or stand-alone egg-beater/mixer

1 sheet of foil or butter paper

Method:

I began by placing the cream cheese (at room temperature) in a bowl

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles

Next, I melted the chocolate in the microwave. (When you do this, be sure to do this on a low setting as you don’t want to burn the chocolate. Ideally, you should melt the chocolate in a double boiler to avoid this, but I find that if I am careful, I can do it in the microwave.

While the chocolate was melting I began whipping the cream cheese up with the mixer (egg-beater). When it was creamy and softened, I added 2 tablespoons of icing sugar and whipped this into the cheese. I tasted the mixture and thought it needed a little more sugar, so I added another 2 tablespoons. (You should also taste the mixture intermittently and see if it needs more sugar; add as much as you think is appropriate.) Once it tasted just right, I scooped out about a third of the mixture into another bowl and place this bowl in the fridge.

To the rest of the cream cheese mixture (the 2/3rd remaining in the first bowl) I added the vanilla essence, butter and about three-quarters of the chocolate and mixed it all up with a spoon (don’t whip this). Then I took a little taste. It tasted like it needed more chocolate, so I added some more.

Cream cheese and chocolate mix I repeated this until I was satisfied that it tasted just right.

Now I was ready to start shaping the truffles. When you’re trying this, make sure you have enough works-space on your kitchen counter. I like sitting down while I do this, because it takes some time, so I usually move over to the floor because I feel more comfortable sitting cross-legged. You could move over to the dining table if you prefer. So I set the cream cheese mixture and the chocolate cream cheese mixture side by side on the floor.

Cream cheese and chocolate mix for trufflesI also placed a sheet of butter paper on a large plate next to these bowls.

Now I was ready for the fun part! I scooped out some of the chocolate mixture and shaped it into a sphere in my hand. Then I flattened it out on my hand like a mini chapathi or tortilla.

Shaping chocolate cream cheese trufflesThen, I scooped out a bit of the plain cream cheese mixture on to the centre of the ‘chocolate chapathi’:

Shaping chocolate cream cheese trufflesand carefully rolled the chocolate layer over the cream cheese centre, shaping the truffle into as perfect a sphere as possible. (I don’t have a photograph of the sphere-shaping bit because I needed both hands and by this time my other hand was covered in chocolate.)

Shaping chocolate cream cheese trufflesI repeated this until all the chocolate was used up:

Making chocolate cream cheese trufflesI was almost done…the last step was rolling the truffles in ground, toasted hazelnuts (you can also use cocoa). To do this, I placed the ground toasted hazelnuts in a bowl:

Then, I took each truffle and warmed the outside up by rolling it about in my hand. Next, I rolled the truffle about in the ground hazelnuts. Once its outside was coated, I placed the truffle in a little paper cup:

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffle

I repeated this until all the truffles were coated, here they are:

Chocolate Cream Cheese TrufflesTa DA! They’re ready to be devoured! Rich dark chocolate truffles with soft cream cheese centres!

Chocolate Truffle with a Soft Cream Cheese Centre

Mmm..what a cheesy, chocolatey evening I had.

Categories
General Recipes

How to Look, Feel and Smell Like a Schockolade Scheherazade

Dearest readers, I have missed you. Because I’ve been gone so long, I decided, even before I sat by my laptop, that today’s post ought to have something to do with chocolate. Given my general obsession with the stuff, it seems appropriate. “But which specific chocolate-related adventure shall I write about first?” I wondered. After all, since my last post, I’ve made three new kinds of truffles, baked a new type of cake and discovered a new chocolate store. After thinking about it for a long while, I decided to write a DIY guide to a delicious chocolate themed facial.

You see, the other day I was sitting on the couch bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t had a facial in a while. I love going to day-spas, where one can get massages and facials, sit in a sauna, jump into a cold plunge pool and/or relax in a hammam (turkish bath), amongst other heavenly activities. But being a poor grad student (who is trying to get her doctorate in something non-chocolate related) (not that this has anything to do with my story), I can hardly ever afford to go to a nice day spa, or even, for that matter an ugly, dingy one. So I decided I was going to give myself a spa-treatment at home. It felt so wonderful and the process was so relaxing and easy, that I thought I’d share it with you.

Sidebar: I have avoided writing about ‘beauty stuff’ on this blog so far, partly because I think beauty is a loaded and complicated issue. I write about ‘silly’ things here, silly things that I am oddly passionate about; this isn’t a blog about how to save the world after all, unlike my 400 page dissertation which is (about saving the world I mean) (I should have said “which will be about saving the world'” instead, that would have been clearer, because I don’t mean that my dissertation ‘is”, although, I wish it  were ‘is’ because that means it would be all written…god I hope neither my supervisor, nor a grammarian is reading this!). The real problem is that I write in superlatives, with a great deal of energy and well, I don’t think I’d come across like I had a lukewarm take on any issue. So if I write about some cream that I believe will prevent me from getting wrinkles, or about how one could lose weight, I’d feel like I was endorsing a pre-occupation with these concerns. This would cause me to clarify my position and present feminist critiques of contemporary and perhaps even older conceptions of beauty. I might even feel tempted to refer to post-colonial critiques of the same. I do worry about wrinkles and things on and off, but I don’t obsess and more importantly, I don’t want this blog to be about those sorts of things, things I don’t want to be worrying about I mean.

This post however, fits squarely within the mandate I have defined for this blog, it’s weird, it makes me happy and/or it involves chocolate.

Disclaimer: Now bear in mind, I am no skin care expert. This entire blog post is based on internet research and years of going to spas; I’ve had absolutely no training as an esthetician or dermatologist.

Now that I’ve got those clarifications out of the way, let’s get to my yummy spa afternoon:

I think a facial has three important stages, exfoliation, a treatment mask and then of course hydration.

Step 1: Exfoliation

Ingredients: Green or black tea from a used tea-bag and yoghurt for the face scrub. Also, wine, chocolate and a good book as accompaniments in the bath.

Method: I think the best way to steam your face and open up your pores at home is to draw a bath and sit in it. So that’s what I did: I drew myself a nice warm bath with lavender perfumed epsom salt, and settled into the tub with a good book, a bar of delicious dark chocolate and a glass of wine. After about 20 minutes, I very gently and carefully scrubbed my face with a mixture of tea and yoghurt. I got the tea out of a bag I’d used earlier to brew up a cup of tea. This is important because I find that fresh tea is too rough on my skin, whereas tea that has absorbed moisture is less like sandpaper. It’s a great scrub because the caffeine gives me a little kick. It might do nothing for habitual chain coffee drinkers though.

Green or Black tea face scrubStep II: Treatment Mask:

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon of organic cocoa powder, about a teaspoon of honey (make sure it’s organic, raw and un-pasteurized), the juice of a strawberry and a lot of self control. (For strawberry juice, mash up a strawberry with a spoon and then get the juice out of the pulp with a strainer. You could also process a strawberry or two in a mixer or food processor and add the juicy pulp to the mask.)

Method: I mixed the above ingredients. I recommend using as much honey as you need to get the consistency you’d like.

Chocolate face treatment maskNext I applied this paste to my face and then, I spent the next 20 minutes trying NOT to lick it off.

Image from catworld.com, available at: http://www.cat-world.com.au/chocolate-poisoning-in-cats

To relax and distract myself from the chocolate, I gave myself a massage with my homemade delicious cocoa butter body butter, the recipe for which you will find here.

Step 3: Hydration

The final step was washing the mask off and applying some toner and moisturizer.

I felt and smelt pretty good for the rest of the day 🙂