Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rice & Rabbit for Chinese New Year

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year! 

The Year of the Rabbit begins on February 3rd according to the Chinese lunar calendar.  The Year of the Rabbit is said to be a year to catch your breath and calm down after the ferocious Year of the Tiger.  

To mark the New Year, the Chinese eat certain foods to symbolise good fortune and prosperity. For example, long, uncut noodles are eaten for longevity. Whole fish (from head to tail) or whole chicken (head and feet intact) are served to symbolise completeness.

In northern China, steamed-wheat bread (man tou) and small meat dumplings are the traditional eats. They are served in copious amounts to usher in abundance and wealth for the household.

In southern China, a typical New Year's dish is sweet steamed glutinous rice pudding. Red bean paste makes the rice as sweet as candy. Preserved fruit -- such as sugared lotus seeds, honeyed dates, ginkgo nuts, canned lichee, brandied white raisins, peaches, or figs -- dapple the rice with colour and texture.

8 Treasure Rice Pudding 

In AK's Kitchen, there's almost always leftover rice, either jasmine or basmati. I make a scrummy rice pudding with cocoa and coconut milk. You can easily alter this recipe by adding your favourite spices and candied fruit, like the Chinese version.

Chocolate Coconut Rice Pudding 
A-K's Chocolate Coconut Rice Pudding

1 can coconut milk
2 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional) 
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 Tablespoon agave or maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon grated coconut for garnish

In a medium sauce pan, heat coconut milk.
Whisk in cocoa, agave, cinnamon, nutmeg.
Add coconut oil for extra richness.
Stir in rice until well blended.

This recipe will take you less than five minutes to make. 
My kids always add a little extra soya or almond milk and chocolate chips. 
Garnish with a sprinkling of grated coconut.
This recipe will yield six small desserts cups.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Tropical Chill

My red toenails are wiggling in the white powder sand. I take in the ocean breeze and inhale the warm salty air. Not the frigid Ottawa air that makes your nose hairs stick. Javier, the pool boy with his boulder shoulders, is moving toward me with a mango papaya daiquiri. "A dreenk? A massage?"

I've escaped the deep freeze in one of the coldest capital cities on the planet. The mercury plunged to -31degrees celsius this week. Just 10 minutes outdoors was enough to freeze exposed skin.

My skin is comfortably warm and browning. I'm a climate away in the South China Sea, on the island of Boracay, Philippines...

in my dreams.

I'm trying to fool my brain and block out the frigid cold reality. A blast of Cuban music in the kitchen helps conjure up images of palm trees, sun-kissed bodies and a barbeque pit. There'a special smell of the tropics. The lush vegetation, the sweetness of the wild orchids, the sugary scent of ripe pineapple searing on a hot grill. And who says you need to go south for the treat?

A mouthful of soft, caramelised pineapple will take your senses to warmer climes. It certainly puts me in a sunnier disposition. You can grill the fruit a few hours ahead and serve at room temperature. Or serve it chilled with coconut ice cream and dark chocolate. Or spruce up a chicken or tuna sandwich with grilled pineapple. The options are endless.

Grilled pineapple with rum
Grilled Pineapple
1 Ripe Pineapple
1/4 cup Rum
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Peel and slice the ripe pineapple into thick rings, about one inch in thickness. 
Combine rum and cinnamon and set aside.
Oil your bbq or grilling pan to prevent the pineapple from sticking.   
Heat the bbq or grilling pan until very hot.
Place pineapple rings. After about a minute, you'll smell the caramelising sugar.  
Flip and grill the other side of the pineapple for about a minute.  
Place on a plate. While warm, brush the pineapple with rum mixture.
If you have any leftover rum, just pour over the pineapples.  

If you can't get to the tropics, cook it up in your kitchen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cognac Truffles

In my post-holiday funk, I forgot to add the recipe for the truffles. (Thanks for the reminder, AMP.) When I make the truffles for myself and other dairy-free eaters, I use coconut cream in place of dairy milk. 
Take a can of coconut milk and place it in the refrigerator for an hour so, enough to harden the fat. Then scoop out the thick, flavourful fat and measure out 1/2 a cup for this recipe. If you don't have enough of the solid part, just top it up with the liquid coconut milk. 
For the chocolate component, use the best quality you can get your hands on. I use 70% MINIMUM for a luxurious, intense chocolate taste. 
If you prefer to go non-alcoholic with the truffles, try balsamic vinegar. I know it sounds strange, but the acidic sweetness gives the chocolate a nice zing. 
This is the simplest, most fool-proof truffle recipe you'll ever find. You can experiment with the alcohol to suit your palate.
Cognac Truffles
8 ounces 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup whipping cream (or coconut cream)
pinch salt
1 Tablespoon diced softened butter (omit if you're dairy-free) 
1 ounces cognac or aged scotch  (omit if you prefer non-alcoholic, try good quality balsamic vinegar) 
1/4 cup cocoa powder or grated coconut

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. This will safe you a tonne of time later.
Place the chocolate in a bowl.
Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat.
Add salt. Stir well. Remove from heat. 
Add liquor.  
Pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute.
Stir gently. Add butter and keep stirring. (If you're dairy-free, skip this step.)
Pour the mixture into the lined pan. Smooth the top.
Let set at room temperature for at least three hours.
Lift plastic from pan and place on a cutting board. 
Using a hot, dry knife, slice chocolate into tiny cubes. 
Coat truffles in cocoa powder or coconut flakes.
Yields about four dozen truffles.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Post-holiday Funk

Happy 2011 everyone. I don't know about you, but I've been in a post-holiday funk. It's taken me a little while to get back into the daily swing.

Truth be told, I haven't been inspired enough to post a blog. Between the kitchen, laundry room and basement reconstruction, a Christmas tree infestation (for which the store refunded our money and threw in a $25 gift card), visitors by the dozens (to see us, not the flying bugs in our tree),  chocolate and wine, and more chocolate and wine, I exhausted brain and my body.

Ever since the holidays, I lost the urge to cook. I didn't make the big Christmas turkey with all the trimmings. Instead, we called a hotel and ordered our bird. It was roasted and delicious. Best of all, the take-out turkey saved us time and stress. Plus we had loads of leftovers, which meant no cooking for days after. 

Since the beginning of the New Year, I've been preparing fresh, quick meals for the family. But it's become a chore. (I'm sure I'll get my groove back by Valentines Day.)

One thing I don't mind doing is making chocolate. I just love the smell of melting chocolate. It conjures up memories of my friend sucking back churros. And Johnny Depp in his weird androgenous look in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  But I digress. I love the smooth, shiny texture of liquid chocolate. And I don't mind the mess I make because I get to lick it clean.

Here are some of the chocolate delights we had during the holidays.

Cognac Truffles
When I first made cognac truffles, my husband gasped at the site of me pouring good cognac into a bowl full of melted chocolate. Then he tasted the perfect marriage. The truffles above were rolled in grated coconut and cocoa powder. 

Grand Marnier Yule Log
The pièce de résistance was, hands down, the rich yule log. We ordered a medium size because we thought we could stretch it to serve 12 people. It was so rich, that a dozen eaters barely made a dent into a quarter of the cake. I brought leftovers to my sister the following day.  Next Christmas, we'll go for a small size. And maybe, just maybe, I'll consider making the turkey. Or not.