If you’ve already read a few of my blog posts, or you’re a friend of mine, you probably know that I am not thrilled by the prospect of eating fruits and vegetables. Usually, I only use fruit and vegetables (with the exception of spinach, tomatoes and butternut squash) on my skin and hair! In fact, if a serial-killer were to abduct me with the express intention of torturing me, his/her best bet would be to force me to eat some fruit, or worse veggies.
But, I am getting old and well, wrinkles and the prospect of some debilitating illness (in that order) are also beginning to cause me some concern. This has prompted me to consider eating some fruit.
I tried at first to eat berries, specifically, strawberries, blueberries and such, but found them to be too sour. So then I began coupling them with slices of cake, specifically, cheesecake, Nutella cake and such. This worked, except, I also got horrendously fat ( not quite horrendously, but I did put on some weight). I found I was eating more cake and less fruit; not only did this make me fat, it sort of defied the purpose of eating fruit, namely to try and be more healthy, if I ended up eating more sugars and fats along with the fruit, in order to be able to consume the fruit.
But finally, I might have a solution! I’ve begun making fruit smoothies every morning and they’re quite refreshing! I’ve been told they’re pretty good by some of my friends who’ve tried them. For me, as you know, all good food has to be spicy and buttery or in the alternative, chocolatey, so while it’s really difficult to even think about raw fruit as yummy, I will say this, this smoothie is quite a bit better than edible, which makes it one of the best fruit smoothies in the world, I assure you.
If you want to try making one, all you need are 6 medium strawberries, a banana, yoghurt, milk, and a food processor or blender. Start by culling the strawberries:
If you don’t know how to do this, watch this video about how to cull strawberries fast:
Next, throw the berries and the banana (cut in half) into a processor or blender and process until smooth. Then add 2-4 tablespoons of yoghurt (depending on how tart you like your smoothie to be) and about 3 tablespoons of milk. Process some more until everything is blended and pour into a tall glass.
Drink immediately, and give yourself a pat on the pat for doing something healthy 🙂
Last week, two old friends invited me over to their home for dinner. It was a lovely evening which ended with them bringing out this super pretty cake. On a side-note, the friend who baked this cake is so serious about baking that she is actually taking a cake-decoration class! Don’t you think it’s very intricately decorated?
It looked so ornate and perfect that I almost couldn’t eat it. Almost. Needless to say, I ate more than I should, and brought a whole lot more home with me 😛
I think ALL evenings should end like this, with a beautiful, and perhaps as importantly, large cake, being shared amongst a few good friends 🙂
Last week I was to meet an old friend for dinner. He said I could pick the restaurant and because I really wanted to try some place new, I spent hours researching restaurants in Toronto. I wanted to find a great place that served something unusual, something that was relatively new to me.
You see, I’ve been feeling more than a little restless lately; these past few months, I haven’t been traveling as much as I usually. One great way I’ve found to satisfy my wanderlust when I cannot afford to spend time traveling, is to try out a restaurant that serves food from some interesting part of the world. This ‘coping mechanism’ is particularly effective if the restaurant serves cuisine from a part of the world that I haven’t visited yet.
So I googled and yelped away and finally decided on a Persian restaurant called The Pomegranate. It is, oddly enough, situated in Little Italy. I rang the restaurant the next day and managed to get a dinner reservation for the same night.
The restaurant itself was cozy and the decor was somewhat cute. I have to be honest though, it wasn’t anywhere as nice as the review on blogto.com led me to believe. Some of the furnishings and fixtures were bordering on shabby and it wasn’t half as gorgeous or interesting as I expected it to be, given its Persian association. It reminded me a little bit of the scores of Indian restaurants I’ve seen, with kitschy Indian decor; in short it looked like it was trying far too hard to be what it thought westerners wanted it to be.
When the food arrived though, I forgot all about the decor. It was delicious! I should point out in no uncertain terms here, that I have never been to Iran, nor have I ever had ‘persian’ or Iranian food anywhere except in India. Also, I use the term ‘Persian’ to describe the food and the restaurant because this is how the restaurant owners have chosen to describe the place and the food. The term is fraught with political, cultural and historical connotations and tensions, but this post isn’t the place to go into all of this, and I am certainly not informed enough on the issues involved to wax eloquent on it, so I have decided to simply stick with the term that the restaurant owners have chosen.
Getting back to the food, I had the fesenjaan (they had a vegetarian version with mushrooms). It came with a generous serving of rice and salad (of course I didn’t touch the salad 😉 )
Described as a stew of walnuts and pomegranate syrup, the fesenjaan was flavouful and creamy with a detectable but subdued nutty flavour. One of the reviews of the restaurant I came across described this dish as syrupy (and the menu hinted at this by describing it as a stew of pomegranate syrup) and I must admit I almost didn’t order it because of this, but in fact it wasn’t syrupy. It was delicately sweet and in terms of texture and consistency resembled a typical mughlai sauce/gravy (which of course entirely makes sense as mughlai food was deeply influenced by Persian cuisine). So it was more like a sweetened shahi paneer or butter chicken than it was like a syrup.
In conclusion, I recommend the place. It’s cute, the servers are friendly, the food is good and the decor is pleasant and cosy enough- it’s just not breathtaking or as unique as it could be.
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
Coloured paper cups to place the truffles in
Chop up the chocolate with a knife and place it in a bowl:
You could also use a food processor. Next, warm up the cream until it just begins to boil and pour it over the chocolate:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Needless to say, my friend won’t mind taking care of my plants again 😉
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:
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)
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:
Heat the cream in a pan until it just begins to bubble and then pour it over the chocolate:
Let the mixture stand for a few minutes. Then very gently mix the chocolate and cream:
Add the vanilla and salt and mix until you have a smooth 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:
Chop up the hulled strawberries and then process them in a food processor or mixer:
Isn’t this a beautiful rich colour?
Strain this pulp to get strawberry juice. We’ll be using this to flavour the cream cheese.
Set the juice aside. Take another bowl, put the cream cheese in it, and whip it up with a mixer, until it’s smooth.
Now, add two tablespoons of icing sugar and whip it all up.
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.
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.
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’:
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.
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!
Loads of people I’ve met and blogs I’ve read tell me to buy a can of re-fried beans at the store when I am making burritos or quesadillas or whatever else I might be making that call for re-fried beans. Not being Mexican myself, and never having researched the issue, I assumed it must be difficult to make good re-fried beans at home, that there must be some secret to it.
Then, I talked to one of my best friends who happens to be Mexican and she told me that I was most certainly misinformed. This friend of mine happens to live in a wooden hut, a-top some wooden stilts, in a little village in Panama, with an indigenous community called the Embera-Wounaan. I shall write more about this later, I promise.
Here is her house:
While I was visiting her in Panama, we talked about re-fried beans and she even suggested making some right there in her little hut. And so we did!
We had the beans with eggs for breakfast, and they were delicious, even though we had no cheese (there is no electricity in the village and hence, no fridge). Oh and we also had fried sweet plantains, which in my opinion, are overrated.
This homemade re-fried beans adventure really encouraged me, so when I was back in North America, I did some general research on making re-fried beans, namely, the process, spices etc., and then proceeded to make some myself.
You should try it too! Here is my recipe!
(I based this recipe off my friends’ recipes, but I tweaked the quantities of the spices (you guessed right, I increased them) and incorporated some of the useful tips and information I got from my internet research.)
What you will need:
1 cup beans (you can use kidney beans, pinto beans or black beans)
3-4 tablespoons ghee
1 medium sized red onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 small (or one large) jalapenos
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon red chill Powder
1 tablespoon cumin Powder
Two handfuls of (I use either cheddar or Chihuahua (this is one aspect of the recipe I need to do more research on. I need to find out what cheese is best for this recipe!))
Cilantro/Coriander for garnish
Preparing the beans:
Soak the beans in plenty of water (at least tree times as much water as beans) overnight or at least 7 hours. This soaking is important; if you don’t soak the beans, they won’t be soft enough and the result won’t taste as good. There are allegedly short cuts to this, but I don’t believe they can produce the same results.
The next step is to cook the beans. Here’s a little tip, don’t use the water the beans were soaking in, to cook them. This water contains ‘oligosaccharides’ released from the beans, and they cause.. eerm.. flatulence! If you don’t follow my advice, there is always this yoga pose:
Pavanamukta Asana (Wind-relieving pose)
(Image by The Holistic Care Yoga Wiki. The above image is CC licensed, for more information go here.)
It’s a pretty easy pose, but it’s also easy to just throw the water out 😉 . So with fresh water, cook the beans in a pressure cooker until the cooker whistles about 4 times. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can simply boil them, it’ll just take longer. If you’re cooking them in a pot with water, the beans will be done when you can take one out and squish it between your fingers. I suppose you could use canned beans instead of going through all this trouble, but I am somehow not a big fan of things in cans. I feel, and obviously this is subjective, that beans from a can don’t taste as good as beans that have been soaked and cooked.
Finely dice the red onion, crush the cloves of garlic, and chop up the jalapenos.
Now we begin cooking! Start with some oil or ghee (Indian clarified butter) in a frying pan. (Apparently, what makes really great re-fried beans is cooking with lard. Since I am a vegetarian, that was not an option for me. But, it turned out quite well when I used oil, it also worked well with ghee.) Since I believe in Ayurveda (an ancient system of Indian medicine see here for more) I actually prefer cooking with ghee; it’s supposed to be healthier than oil. If you’d like to read my recipe, go here.
Of course a Mexican might be bemused or even annoyed by this bizarre substitution, but I think fusion and playfulness in cooking are good, as long as you are aware of what you’re doing, and acknowledge how the recipe or method has been changed. This ensures that you are more aware of how these changes affect the end product and this makes you a better cook. (I didn’t mean to sound preachy here, it’s just that I feel strongly about the difference between being playful and creative on the one hand, and being just, well, plain lazy, on the other.)
Anyway, I really ought to get back to writing about the beans eh?
When the oil is all heated up, add the diced onions and cook until slightly browned.
Now it’s time for the Jalapenos and garlic.
Once they’ve cooked for a few minutes, add 1 tablespoon each of cumin powder and chilli powder and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Mix it all up and fry until you smell the spices. Mmmm the fragrance will make you hungry!
It’s time for the beans! Add the cooked beans to the pan and let them cook for a while. Until they go from this:
Add salt to taste.
Now taste it and see how you like it. If the flavour is rich and intense, you can stop cooking the beans. If you think the beans taste like they could use a little more cooking, add a little of the water left over from cooking the beans to the pan, and let the beans cook some more. When you think the beans are done, turn the heat off and add a handful or two of grated cheese to the pan. Mix it all up until the cheese is melted and evenly mixed in.
Your beans are ready. Garnish with coriander/cilantro and enjoy!
I’ve use these re-fried beans in enchiladas, burritos and tacos, I’ve even made a re-fried bean-pizza. But most often, I like to just scoop some beans onto a plate and go at them with a spoon 🙂
The newest addition to my apartment! Beautiful red tulips!
The odd thing is, I almost don’t want all the flower buds to go into full bloom! To me tulips are the prettiest when they are half-open like the two little flowers on the plant in the photograph. I know, it’s a cliched and tired metaphor, but it’s really true, half blooming tulip buds make me smile and think of the lovely summer to come. Sometimes, that anticipation is a more wonderful feeling than the joy the actual summer brings, not least because when I dream of summer during the long cold winter, I don’t usually think of how sweaty and stuffy and painfully bright it can get in June 😛
Don’t get me wrong though, the summer is great and I can’t wait to barbecue and swim in a lake and do yoga in the park!
Yay! Spring is here and it’s warm enough to grill already! To celebrate, we grilled salmon burgers from Whole Foods (some day, i am going to make burger patties at home, I’ve decided!) for dinner this evening.
Mine was served with whole wheat bread, fresh basil from the indoor potted basil plant (pictured in a previous post) and, goat cheese. I thought about the sort of cheese we should use, and decided I would give goat cheese a try. So I used soft, fresh goat cheese.
Mmmm! Despite some opposition to goat cheese that my friend offered, the burger turned out well and went perfectly with a Belgian white beer. The beer had notes of coriander and a citrussy flavor as well, so it was very fresh and went with the ‘spring is here’ theme of the evening.
The truth is, the burger was so good that I ate two! I also drank 2 beers. It didn’t help that I’d had a pre-dinner snack that consisted of Denali Extreme Maximum Fudge Moose tracks ice cream with hot fudge on top. I felt bloated and ill for 2 whole hours after dinner. I am a disturbingly greedy person. Sigh.
Anyway, I can’t wait for the summer! More burgers, salmon steaks and, most importantly, I can make paneer tikka, achaari fish tikka and tandoori fish again! You can make these awesome Indian dishes indoors in an oven, but they just don’t taste right that way. They need to be grilled in a type of Indian oven- a tandoor, and I it turns out a BBQ grill is the next best thing! So, for the summer I can hardly wait!
Spring is finally here! I happened to be in Ann Arbor today and was overjoyed when I saw the sun out and shining with a little touch of actual warmth. Even this evening was gorgeous! The light was absolutely beautiful at sunset and dusk so I took some pictures around town while I ran errands.
I thought they turned out very well considering I used an iPhone and took them from a moving car while my friend was driving.