Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Splurge: Halwa Truffles

These were... amazing. Yes, I mean it. They fall into the "left-overs" category for me b/c there was a one-pound thing of halwa with just about a cup left, although I realize that some people may have trouble even finding halwa. First, what is it? It's a Mediterranean sweet (I used the Arab version) that's made from a base of sesame tahini. Wikipedia's take on it is here. It's something I was introduced to in Tunisia, and it's very sweet, but very good. If you like that kind of thing. If there is a Turkish/Middle Eastern/Arab grocery near you, I bet you could find it there.

While looking for North African dessert recipes, I stumbled across this recipe, posted by an Algerian woman now living in Malaysia(?) and knew I had to try it. That's her picture of them above. She calls it a truffle, and I like that so I'll stick with it, though it is a bit unusual. Instead of being chocolate coated with chocolate, it's a bunch of other tasty things coated with chocolate. She used orange flower water in the original, but I didn't feel like searching for it, so I used just plain water. She says you can replace the honey with jam if you want, which could add some interesting flavors as well. She used butter cookies but, not being able to find a good option, I went with graham crackers and upped the butter a little. It worked well. She also used almonds, and I went with that, but there is a store near me that also sells pecan and hazelnut meal, so I may have to try those sometime, too...

Halwa truffles
Makes: About 30 truffles Time: about 40 minutes, plus chill time.

1 cup of almond meal (or almonds -blanched or not- processed to a sand-like powder)
1 cup of coconut, processed into little bits (unsweetened would be good here, some stores sell it as "macaroon" coconut and it's already in small bits)
1 cup of halwa
3 graham crackers, crushed (doesn't have to be as fine as for a crust, but can be)
1/4 cup butter
3 Tablespoons honey (or jam)
water, to make dough stick
About 8 oz of good chocolate, to coat

- In a large bowl, blend the almond meal, coconut, halwa and graham cracker crumbs with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse sand. (Or mix them all in a large processor.)
- Add the melted butter and honey, mix thoroughly. Taste at this stage - if you think it's too sweet, add more graham cracker crumbs.
- Add water, one tablespoon at a time, just until you get a dough that will hold together in a ball. The texture will change quickly, so really do it just a bit at a time.
- Form into bite-sized balls. Freeze for about 20 minutes to solidify balls.
- Before removing from freezer, melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler. When melted, remove balls from freezer, coat, and place on wax paper to cool.
- Can be served more or less immediately, or kept in an air-tight container for up to two weeks, layers separated by wax paper.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Coupes Moka

Well, I'm going with the French title on this one, because it's pretty and doesn't sound quite as... unusual as the logical American translation. It's a gelatin dessert made with coffee. As long as the texture doesn't bother you, it's REALLY good. For my non-coffee readers, I have this suggestion: try it with hot chocolate. I kid you not; I think it would be worth trying. Whatever you choose to make this with, make certain that it's a drink you honestly enjoy, since the flavor will be center stage.

I served this one at my crepe party, too, and I think that 6 out of the 8 people liked it. I can't be sure, of course, because maybe some people were trying to be nice. I told them I wouldn't be at all offended b/c it was an experiment and I just wanted to try it because I had never seen such an idea. One person didn't finish it, another finished but kept making faces and couldn't get past the texture. I think that part of the success with the rest of us, me included, was the whipped cream on top. Since I was serving it with coffee, I flavored some with irish cream and some with amaretto, but plain would work, too.

If you would rather have a low-fat version, add some flavor to non-dairy whipped topping or decrease the amount of whipped cream each gets. I made my gelatin in a silicone muffin pan. If yours is metal, you should probably spray it with cooking spray to avoid headaches later. It was about 1/4 cup each, the right amount for a 2nd dessert, like mine was. You could easily make this 4 or 6 as well. If you have enough matching mugs or martini glasses, either would be a fun way to serve it. My gelatin was a little thick because I skimped on the coffee, but I am going to play with an even thinner version to get rid of the "hmm, a little odd" factor.

Coupes Moka
Serves: 8 Prep time: 10 minutes, then chill for 2 hours, then 10 more minutes

For the cups:
2 packets unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups GOOD fresh brewed coffee

For the whipped cream:
2/3 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon liquor OR 1 tsp vanilla

To make the cups:
- Place water in a medium bowl. Sprinkle both gelatin packets over water and allow to set for at least 5 minutes.
- While gelatin is sitting, brew coffee. Yes, you want it super fresh for best flavor.
- As soon as coffee brews, pour in a steady stream over gelatin, mixing constantly until all gelatin is dissolved.
- Pour into super cute little cups, or a muffin tin. Chill at least two hours.

To make the whipped cream:
- Place cream in a large bowl (this is to avoid spattering, I know it's a small amount). With an electric mixer, preferably with whisk attachment(s), whip until cream starts to thicken (took mine about 30 seconds).
- Add sugar and flavoring, whipping until the cream forms soft peaks (you can see the tracks of the beaters a little) but not too much past that or else it will get too stiff and start to separate (=yuck).

To serve:
Place each individual gelatin, upside-down, onto a small plate and top with whipped topping.

Nutrition info (for 1/8th recipe including cream): Calories: 105 Fat: 3.5g Carbs: 17g Protein: 1.5g

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bell Pepper Tapenade

Well, you asked for an appetizer, so here it is! This one is from my new French recipe book. I served it at my crepe party on Saturday, and I think people liked it. I liked it. If you use two colors of bell peppers it's pretty, too. The part that sounds difficult is roasting the bell peppers, so let me get rid of any concern: you put it in the oven and leave it alone. More details are below, but don't let it scare you off. The recipe does tell you to use a processor, and for this one if you don't have it, use one of those cool Pampered Chef-style food choppers. Or do it the old-fashioned way and chop it all, but then that quickly negates the "fast" part of this. I would also let it sit for an hour if you can. When I first tasted it, I was sort of disappointed by the strong salad dressing taste, but I covered it and continued cooking other things. When I came back an hour later, the flavors had all blended, the dressing taste was completely gone, and it was just good.

You could probably eat this on about anything. I put it on whole wheat baguette for the party, but had some left-overs with pita chips, and someone else had some on a sandwich and said it was really good. It is somewhat filling because of the almonds, which is also the main source of fat. (We still agree that nuts are 'good' fats, yes?) I'll have to see if there's still more, because this picture is REALLY sad.

I made a few other new recipes for the crepe party, so I will be sure to post those for you the rest of this week, and maybe next.

Bell Pepper Tapenade
Serves: 12-16? Hard to say! Time: 25 minutes, tops

1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cup almonds (preferably blanched, but mine were not)
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette dressing (mine was a lite version)

- Rinse bell peppers, cut in half length wise and put on an aluminum-lined baking sheet. Place on the highest rack in the oven and broil about 10 minutes (or until they have black spots on top) while you continue with the recipe.
- If you have a toaster oven: Toast almonds for about 3 minutes.
- If you don't have a toaster oven: Turn on a medium frying pan to medium (you don't have to wait for it to get hot.) Pour in almonds (JUST almonds) and stir occasionally for 4-5 minutes.
- After toasting almonds, chop roughly
- When bell peppers are done, cut into wide strips.
- Dump all ingredients into a food processor and process until it looks pretty to you (maybe 30 seconds? Will depend on the capacity of your processor, I did mine in two batches.)

Nutrition info (for 1/12th of recipe): Calories: 58 Fat: 4.5g Carbs: 3g Protein: 2g

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Splurge: Easy Molten Lava Cakes

Well, I have decide that as part of posting more, I'll allow myself one really non-healthy recipe per week. Because we all want something just amazing and non-healthy now and then, and in small quantities, why not? I won't put the nutrition info for you in the spirit of needing to give in now and then.

Some of you may not believe me for the "easy" on this recipe, but I swear it is. One of my kitchen helpers saw me make it and was just stunned at how fast it went together. In France, I got a recipe book called "Moelleux et coeurs coulants" - which means little super moist cakes and cakes with a runny center. Like many French desserts, these are made serving-size, so it's easy to portion them. I had half of one and was content. (And if anyone tells you I ate part of the batter while waiting for them to cook, they're lying!) I tried one recipe on Tuesday, but it was not very impressive. My friends still ate it, and thought it tasted good, but it just wasn't what I was hoping for. So I insisted on trying again on Thursday (with a different recipe from the same book) and had real success! The result, instead of being called "good" was instead named a "mouthgasm." That's as much of a compliment as I need.

This recipe is really two things: milk chocolate ganache and the dark chocolate individual cake. Yes, I repeat, both are easy. I'll list the ganache recipe second because it is way more than you need for the four cakes the cake recipe makes. If you want to go an easier route, buy some truffles that are rolled in cocoa (not with a hard shell) and drop those in the middle instead. It does take a little bit of thinking ahead, but this is something decadent enough that you'll want to plan a reason for it anyway. I may play around with this more to see if I can decrease the butter a little because it left a greasy spot on the plate and that's not attractive. But the taste is worth it, even as-is.

Easy Dark Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes
Serves: 4 Time to make: less than 30 minutes, plus chill time for the ganache

To make the cakes:
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used 5 squares of Baker's semi-sweet)
7 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 Tablespoon flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs

- Preheat oven to 400 (Yes, really preheat it, this is important!)
- Butter and flour (or sugar, I think it's prettier) 4 ramekins (mine are 3 3/4 inch, or 7cm)
- In a medium bowl, beat the heck out of the eggs and sugar. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the egg mixture and beat until fully blended.
- Melt the chocolate with the butter and cream in a double-boiler, stir til all smooth.
- Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and stir until the batter is smooth
- Fill the ramekins 2/3 of the way, add a tablespoon of ganache, and fill the ramekins the rest of the way.
- Bake for 6-7 minutes, until they look done on top. They will be VERY soft. Run a butter knife around the edge of the ramekin to be sure it won't stick, flip over, and serve immediately.

To make the Milk chocolate ganache:
2 1/2 oz GOOD milk chocolate or GOOD milk chocolate chips (for a 12 oz bag, this is just over a quarter of the bag. For Guittard milk chocolate chips, it was 1/2 cup, but they are pretty large.)
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons butter

- Put the cream in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 20 seconds.
- When the cream dings, immediately add chocolate and butter. Stir until both melt and the mixture is completely smooth.
- Cover and chill (in fridge) at least 2 hours, or until you are ready to make the cakes.

Since this is a microwave recipe, you may need to adjust the time. If you mix in the chips and butter and after a minute or two they won't melt any further, microwave for 5 seconds and stir again, continuing (just 5 seconds each time, you don't want to burn it!) until the chocolate and butter are fully incorporated.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pistachio Cherry Teacakes

Hello again! I got busy toward the end of last semester, and then went out of the country, but now that I have told more people about this blog, I have great motivation to update :)

So to start, I am going to cheat a tiny bit in order to get back in the habit - a very good one from CL that you can find here. The picture is theirs, too. They call them 'wedding cookies' but I always learned them as teacakes, so take your pick. I admit that, for me, the dried cherries are a bit of a splurge, so if you can find them in a bulk foods section, that would make it easier. I upped the pistachio, used only regular flour and didn't coat them in powdered sugar, because it always makes me cough when I go to eat them. Maybe I could slow down instead, but that would be boring. Be careful when measuring the flour here, to really spoon it lightly into the cup and then level it because if you have too much the cookies will fall apart.

Pistachio Cherry Teacakes

Makes: about 32 cookies Total time: around 40 minutes, but the last 10 is just waiting for them to cool.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tsps cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbs ice water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped dry-roasted pistachios

- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Combine flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor; pulse to combine.
- Add butter, a few pieces at a time, to processor. Process about one minute or until mixture looks like coarse sand.
- Combine ice water and vanilla in a small bowl/cup, sprinkle over processor mixture (or add through chute, if you have one). Process one minute, or until well combined - but it will still be very crumbly.
- Add cherries and pistachios, pulse until just combined. Put mixture into a bowl.
- Gently press into a level tablespoon, packing with the heel of your hand. (If you don't pack these, they WILL fall apart.) Turn onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Continue until all dough is used.
- Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until bottoms are golden. Remove from oven, cool 10 minutes on baking sheet.

Nutrition info for one cookie (if 32 are made): Calories: 82 Fat: 3.9g Carbs: 9.5g Protein: 1.2g