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Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

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Now that I’m back in the US, I am much more wary of the food I buy at the supermarket, and I have been doing a bit of research, some of which I will be posting in the next few weeks.

So I was thrilled earlier this week when I found organic strawberries at Whole Foods. Strawberries are more susceptible to harboring pesticide residue than many other crops, so it’s worth paying the extra dollar per pound if you can. After I brought them home, I placed them on the counter to mull over their fate. But the strawberries were looking at me from behind their plastic cage, and I just couldn’t take it so I decided to eat them that very day.

For those who have not been to Las Vegas in summer, let me tell you: it’s effing hot. I wanted something refreshing and light.

At first, I thought of strawberries and cream with mint. But, I had no mint in the house, and I haven’t planted any yet. However, I have recently planted some basil, which is in the mint family. Basil, and especially sweet basil, is an exceptionally versatile herb and can complement sweet as well as savory dishes. A little voice in my head told me to just go for it.

So. I took inventory of the types of cream I had in my fridge–Devon double cream (an imported cream from the UK that is high in butterfat content), creme fraiche, sour cream and heavy whipping cream.

As much as I love creme fraiche, I wanted less of a sour taste and so I opted for the double cream and the whipping cream (making what I call a “triple cream”–hehe). I added in some cinnamon, brown sugar, and lemon elements, and voila! This was the tasty result:

Skill Level: EASY

Preparation time: About 10 minutes.

Servings: Varies. I just made one for myself.

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Springtime brings us one of my favorite faux fruits: the strawberry.  This “accessory fruit”–or vegetable, depending on how you define it–is, in fact, the swollen tip of the stamen, or the base where the flower grows.  The seeds, or more accurately, the achenes, that attach themselves to this swollen bit are more than just annoying specks that get caught in our teeth–they are, in fact, the ovaries that house the real seeds of the plant.  So, just as the avocado is a delectable undercover fruit that is commonly treated as a culinary vegetable, the strawberry is a tasty summer vegetable that is almost always considered as a culinary fruit.  For more information than you ever wanted to know about the strawberry, click here.

So.  Maybe I went a little bit overboard by buying one kilo when I live alone.  But, in any case, I had this kilo of fresh, delicious, real–and I believe wild–strawberries (the multiple sized kind filled with juice and not genetic copies of some aesthetically “perfect” model).  And I was determined to eat them all.  So… I began by grabbing some and eating them simply, first by themselves, then with creme fraiche, then with regular cream.  If regular cream is difficult to find where you are, just use heavy whipping cream.

Preparing Strawberries:  To prepare strawberries for these simple dishes, as a general rule I cut off the caps, then quarter the strawberries, then sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over them and mix it in.  (This amount of sugar can be adjusted depending on the natural sweetness of the particular strawberry.)  A very light syrup should start to form from the juice of the berry and the sugar.  Then mix with the cream or creme fraiche, if desired.

These were small and sweet enough that I didn't have to quarter and sugar them; but it's generally a good idea if you're getting the larger, "American" variety of farmed strawberry. With creme fraiche.

With regular cream

And after all that eating… I still had at least half a kilo left. So I began to search through my fridge and pantry, trying to come up with ideas to use the rest of the strawberries.  There was a bottle of cava (Spanish champagne) staring back at me, having been bought a week before and seemingly upset that it was sitting there, still unopened.  And I thought… wouldn’t a cheesecake that had both the strawberries and the champagne in it be simply divine?

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Produce as dessert can be as tricky as it is temporal. There are plenty of vegetables we consider fruits, fruits we consider vegetables, “accessory fruits” that don’t really fit into either category, and, of course, other parts of the plant that we may or may not desire as dessert. Presenting produce as dessert can be as simple as rinsing, chopping, and mixing fruits as a salad, to blending them into a shake, to adding other ingredients and boiling, baking, and/or chilling them as a more complex dish.

Then there is the matter of marrying the textures and tastes with “accent” ingredients such as cream or chocolate. Or making a new texture by adding the fruit as the accent, such as in cakes, pies and other pastries, ice creams and sorbets, mousses and puddings. So, we can have one fruit and have endless ways to make it into something unique and delicious, if we just keep in mind the capabilities and boundaries offered by that particular fruit.

Apart from applying our creativity to the process of going from plant to sweet treat, the short shelf life of produce demands that we think relatively quickly after, if not during, purchase. Many fruits don’t last more than a couple of days after arriving home, especially if they are not stored in the fridge. Some of the “tougher” fruits, like bananas and granny smith apples for instance, stay up to a week out of refrigeration; on the other hand, berries and thin-skinned fruits such as plums don’t last quite as long.

The typical food patterns we usually associate for fruit-based desserts include:

Flavor: pineapple and melon, strawberry and banana, orange and strawberry, apple and pear, and berries generally go well together (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackberries, etc.). The red currant and its cousin, the lingonberry, go well with other fruits, in preserves, and they also complement meats very well, as we tend to see in Nordic cuisine. Cloudberries and gooseberries, also prominent in Nordic dishes, are less common in the middle latitudes and lend subtly sweet overtones to a dish.

Texture: fruit and cream, fruit and bread, fruit and honey, fruit and ice, the list goes on and on. However, how the fruit is added makes a difference. For instance, lemon-flavored Italian ice sounds good, but why does the idea of drizzling honey over lemon wedges 1) make me want to grab my Vicks Vapo Rub and 2) sound like a rather unappetizing dessert for most? Replace the lemon wedges with baked apple, pear, or even banana, and the dessert is suddenly divine. While we value the lemon for its juice and occasionally its zest, most folks do not like to bite into the meat of the lemon itself, which, admittedly, may have something to do with the bitter taste. But the acidic citrus flesh also simply doesn’t work with everything (again–this is for most people; there are always exceptions). Using lemon with cream is a great idea; but again, you probably wouldn’t serve the lemon itself with the cream; you’d blend the lemon juice or grated zest with the cream and perhaps a few other ingredients in order to neutralize the tartness and offer a smoother texture.  But strawberries with cream is a whole ‘nother story.

Keeping in mind flavor, texture, and longevity, it’s fun to play around with new ideas and push the envelope by investigating and experimenting with the various cooking options for almost every edible plant out there. To help us along, we can look to world cultures for inspiration. We can also borrow (or else fully adopt) the vegan and vegetarian options that have been developed in many parts of the world and that offer us new possibilities for almost any type of cuisine out there. Even if you’re not vegetarian, the techniques cultivated in this branch of culinary thought are very useful in applying to other dishes. And it’s always helpful to have a few recipes on hand if you have vegetarian or vegan friends or family coming to dinner. In the coming weeks I am hoping to flesh out the vegetarian/vegan section of this site (poor pun) with the help of a friend who has already done a lot of the leg work to modify old favorite recipes–stay tuned!

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Tomatoes and Avocados as sweets?  Yes, these “faux veggies” deserve a second look. Their versatility practically begs us to play around and find new ways to use them. Who’s to say there aren’t other potentially fantastic “double agents” just waiting to be discovered?

Another of my favorite tapas from Mercado de la Reina (see Sobrasada with Brie) is a slice of toasted bread topped with a sweetened tomato jam and a slice of soft goat cheese. Given that the tomato is, in fact, a fruit, this shouldn’t have surprised me the first time I tried it. But, it did. Cherry and grape tomatoes tend to be the sweetest. The recipe for my recreation of this yummy tapa coming soon.

For now, I bring you some ideas for cool concoctions with that clandestine fruit, the avocado.

Idea #1
-Moroccan Avocado Shake
When on a walk through Marrakesh with a friend a few years ago, we passed a fruit shake shop. These shakes were not made with ice; simply the fruit, sugar syrup, and water or milk. I was surprised to see avocado on the menu. Avocado, like tomato, is actually a fruit, although we typically see it salted and prepared with vegetables and/or meat. I decided to go for it and asked for a water-based shake. The resulting product was what I have since referred to as the “Guinness of fruit shakes.”

Thick, sweet, and retaining its avocado flavor, I can say I have never tasted anything quite like it. All in all, I liked it. If only I had stopped drinking when I was full instead of challenging myself to the full glass. I have since thought of other ways to incorporate avocado into mousses and other desserts with less… avocado-ey intensity (see below), and I highly recommend it as a daring and different addition to your home menu. If you don’t want to mix the sugar and water to make the syrup, you can substitute honey. And I recommend adding ice cream or yogurt. And maybe a banana if you’d like.

Idea #2 + Recipe
-Avocado Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Frozen Custard
The Moroccan avocado experience opened my eyes to utilizing the remarkable dexterity of the avocado is as a dessert.  The Philipines, Brazil, and many other countries also know the secret bliss of the sweetened avocado in shakes as well as in ice cream.  There are also some intriguing recipes online for avocado lime pies and avocado chocolate mousse and pudding, but I wanted to do something different. Something that combined the elements of avocado, banana, chocolate, and frozen summer treat. With chocolate chips. Maybe this isn’t the most surprising thing, since my favorite gelato flavors are mint chocolate chip and double chocolate chip.

So avocado chocolate chip it is. By far one of the most delicious things I have ever made. And the only equipment I used included a fork and a bowl. Of course, if you have a blender or processor that would make the texture slightly more consistent. But it’s absolutely not necessary.

The one thing that surprised me–and made me kind of happy in a weird “Look at me, I’m a crazy cook” sort of way–was that I could not find any recipes like it already on the internet! Mousse, pudding, ice cream, yes, but not everything together.  (This is also a lot easier than the ice cream because you don’t need a machine.)  It’s the little things, right?

So this is how it goes, I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is! If you want to make it less chocolatey (although I can’t imagine why!), use either less cocoa or omit the cocoa altogether. Play around with it!

And this time… I have tons of pics!

Skill Level: EASY
Preparation time: About 10 minutes to mix ingredients, plus freezing a few hours or overnight.
Servings: 2-4, depending on how large your serving cups are.

1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 banana, not yet mushy and relatively firm

1 tsp lemon juice
3 heaping teaspoons of cocoa (unsweetened)–knock this down to 2 to moderate the “chocolateyness”
1/8-1/4 cup sugar (I eyeballed it; you may want to add slowly, to taste)
About 3-4 Tbsp. dark honey
150-175 grams (5-6 ounces) of creme fraiche (sour cream can substitute)
4 or 5 Lindt dark chocolate thins (70% cocoa)

Mash the avocado, banana, and lemon juice in a bowl with a fork or else in a processor.

No, it's not guacamole. It's avocado and banana mush.

Add the cocoa, sugar, and honey and continue mashing/processing.

My favorite honey in the world

Add the creme fraiche last.

Adding the creme fraiche. OK, maybe I had a little too much fun with it.

Grab the chocolate thins in one hand and break them into little bits by squeezing your fist a few times (yes, it really is this easy). Fold them into the mixture.

Lindt 70% cocoa dark chocolate thins

The most nutritious chocolate treat... ever?

Pour mixture into parfait cups or, if you are at a loss for pretty display glasses like I am, just use regular old drinking glasses, if they can be frozen. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Ta Da!

You should end up with a gelato-like, nutritious, delicious banana double chocolate chip frozen custard. I am in love with it. Enjoy!

NOTE:  The frozen gelato-like texture may be somewhat difficult to achieve as the ingredients can tend to “overfreeze,” making long thaws necessary.  I am going to play with some ingredients (no milk though) to see how to improve this.  For now, my suggestion to get the perfect frozen texture is to pop it in the freezer for about 3 hours after making to achieve the texture, then transfer to the fridge for 3-4 hours for storage before serving.  Longer freezing time may require longer thawing time.  If you only keep it in the fridge instead of freezing, you will achieve a very rich pudding instead.  Could also be used as pie filling–seems to have gone over well that way according to other recipe blogs!  However you serve it–it’s delicious!

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The slightly burnt crust didn't stop us

One of the easiest things I’ve ever made.  Can be made into a 9″ pie or 6 individual ramekin mini-pies.

Skill Level:  EASY
Preparation time:  About 10 minutes.
Cooking time:  10-15 minutes to cook, plus about 20 minutes to cool to room temperature.
Servings: 6-8.

4 eggs, separated and yolks beaten
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 1 lemon (see below for alternative)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. corn flour
2 1/2 cups of graham crackers, or digestive cookies (half a box is usually the right amount)
another tablespoon or so of sugar to match with the cookies
1/2 stick of butter or so
whipped cream (optional)

If you don’t have a grater (like me), just slice the rind of one lemon as thinly as possible.  Boil the water, sugar, juice, and rind for a few minutes.  If you have bits of rind because you couldn’t grate it, run it through the strainer to recollect the rind and pour the rest of the mixture back into the pot.  Add the corn flour slowly, trying to minimize any clumping.  Once the corn flour is blended in, remove from heat and stir in egg yolks.

Take the graham crackers or digestives and place in a ziploc bag.  Beat the living daylights out of it until you get nice even flour-like crumbs (some slightly larger crumbs are okay).  I like to use a large spoon or even a mallot to help me along.  Pour the pulverized cookies into a mixing bowl, and add the 1 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in slowly, to taste, so that you sweeten it but not too much.  Melt the half stick of butter and pour into the mixture.  You’re basically trying to achieve a moistness that will allow you to press the crumbs down into the pan (or mini-pans).  It will not become a dough, however.  If you are using an aluminum pie pan, you may want to lightly butter the pan before laying down the crumbs.  In any case, cover the rim of the crust with aluminum to prevent burning.

Take the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.  Then mix in two teaspoons or so of sugar.  If you don’t like merengue, skip this step and store the egg whites for breakfast tomorrow.  Pour the lemon mixture into the pressed crust.  Bake at 450˚F (we did 250˚C, which is 482˚F) for 10-15 minutes or until either the merengue is slightly browned or, if there is no merengue, until the top of the pie filling has formed a skin and gives a little resistance.  You can, of course, lower the temperature to say 350˚F (150˚C) and cook a bit longer.  The important thing is to keep your eye on the top of the pie.

Remove and let cool.  If you did not add merengue, you can add whipped cream to the top of the pie, especially if it’s been chilled.  However, we enjoyed the pie without anything at all on top.  In fact, it was gone by the next day!

I love how easy, quick, and minimalist this pie is.  I plan on playing with some variations in the near future and will post them!

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