Tag Archives: chocolate

CHOCOLATE BUDDHA’S FINGERS

Buddha’s hand may be the strangest looking fruit or vegetable in the produce section at the grocery store. It is easy to see how it got its popular name: Buddha’s hand looks like a many-fingered hand or a misshapen lemon with long finger-like projections and dark ends that could be fingernails. In fact, it is a member of the citrus family and one of the fruits that are lumped together as citron. Unlike a lemon, Buddha’s hand has neither flesh nor juice, only skin and pith. It does have a wonderful fragrance, sort of a combination of lemons and flowers. With no flesh or juice, about the only options open to the cook are to use the zested skin for flavoring or the pith for more substance.

If you have ever baked or eaten the notorious Christmas fruitcake, you probably have encountered citron. It is the sugary chunks that glisten in the cake, often in alarming bright colors of yellow or green. And that seems to be the breadth of culinary options, candied. Baking a fruitcake that would sit in someone’s refrigerator uneaten for a year or more seemed like a poor use for this interesting fruit. It occurred to me that cutting a Buddha’s hand into “fingers”, candying them, and then dipping them in chocolate might be a better option and more fun.

As you can see, the end result was not as attractive as I had hoped. For one thing, the chocolate bloomed under my amateur hand.  Even at that, the candied fingers tasted good, and the almost exotic lemon/floral flavor added to the richness of chocolate.

RECIPE

Chocolate Buddha’s Fingers

Ingredients
  • 1 medium-sized Buddha’s hand
  • water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces mini chocolate chips

Method

  1. Wash and dry the Buddha’s hand. With a sharp paring knife, cut between the individual segments of the fruit to form “fingers”.
  2. Place the fingers in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Boil slowly until the white part of the fingers becomes translucent, about 20 – 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in the sugar and continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to a thick coating. Watch carefully so that the sugar does not burn. Transfer the sugar-coated fingers to a sheet of waxed paper to cool.
  4. Dry the candied fingers until the sugar coating is firm. This may take overnight.
  5. In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips until they can be stirred to a smooth consistency. Stir in the candied fingers. When they are completely coated with chocolate, transfer them individually with tongs to a sheet of waxed paper. Cool until the chocolate is completely firm, at least 3 hours. Store in an airtight container.
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CHOCOLATE BIRDS’ NESTS

Whenever grandchildren visit, we try to find something that they can help cook. They enjoy being in the kitchen, and it is fun to watch them having a good time. For 18-month- and four-year-olds, the recipes need to be fast and simple. Attention spans aren’t long at those ages. The recipes should also be mess-less, but that is usually not possible.

We have made these candies for years, going back to when our own children were little. Simple they are; mess-less they are not. I guess that licking fingers is part of the fun. The candies are always a big hit and disappear quickly after they have set up. The recipe should make about 30 candies,, more if you can make them smaller. You can add nuts or use other flavors of baking chips, but at least with our kids, nuts are not a big seller and they can be dangerous for very little ones.

RECIPE

Chocolate Birds’ Nests

Ingredients

  • 2 12-ounce packages chocolate chips
  • 2 5-ounce cans chow mein noodles
  • miniature marshmallows (optional)

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate chips over very low heat in a saucepan large enough to hold added chow mein noodles, stirring frequently to prevent scorching of the chocolate.
  2. When the chocolate is completely melted, remove from the heat, add the chow mein noodles, and stir until the noodles are completely coated with the chocolate. Stir in some miniature marshmallows if desired.
  3. By tablespoonfuls, drop the mixture into piles on sheets of wax paper. Cool for at least 2 hours or until the chocolate has become firm.
  4. Eat. If there are any left over, store in an air-tight container.

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SEA-SALT-SPRINKLED CHOCOLATE SABLÉS

Rich Table changes its dessert menu almost on a weekly basis, so chocolate sablés are on and off the list. But they are never off for long because they are so popular, and the restaurant regulars insist on them. These tasty little sandy cookies (Sablé is the French word for “sandy”.) are a great way to end a meal, especially when combined with ice cream, a light mousse, crème brûlée, or panna cotta.

The texture of the cookies is sandy because the ingredients are mixed together very lightly so that the crystals of sugar do not completely dissolve, so be careful not to over-work the dough.

This particular version adds a light dusting of smoked sea salt. I used smoked Halen Môn, a Welsh sea salt harvested on the Isle of Anglesey from whence my great-grandfather and great-grandmother migrated many decades ago.

It is interesting how well chocolate and salt seem to go together. You certainly see the effective combination in these cookies, but also increasingly in ice cream and chocolate bars.

Unfortunately, this is not Sarah’s authentic recipe, but it is pretty close to the real thing. The cookies are fairly easy to make, although there are several steps, and there are a couple of tricks along the way. These were a big hit at our recent potluck birthday party.

RECIPE

Sea-Salt-Sprinkled Chocolate Sablés

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • water
  • smoked sea salt (Halen Môn or your favorite brand)

Method

  1. Place chocolate in freezer compartment of refrigerator for 10 minutes. Then grate onto a sheet of waxed paper using the fine side of a box grater. You will generate static electricity with the grating, so “ground” the gratings by touching them before you pour them into a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sea salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until just combined. Do not over-beat. Then mix in the egg yolk.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and mix together briefly until just combined. Do not over-beat.
  5. Fold in the grated chocolate with a spoon or spatula.
  6. Squeeze the dough into a ball with your hands. The warmth of your hands should melt the butter slightly so that the dough comes together.
  7. Place the dough in the middle of a 16 inch long piece of waxed paper. Shape the dough into a log about 14 inches long,  3 inches wide, and 1 inch high, along the length of the paper.  Fold the waxed paper over the log, pressing the paper firmly against the dough. With the palm of your hand, flatten the log slightly so that it forms an oblong in profile.
  8. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more.
  9. While the dough is chilling, heat the oven to 350°F,  and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  10. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut into 1/3  inch thick slices with a very sharp knife. The dough will be very firm, so you will have to use some pressure on the knife to cut the slices.
  11. Arrange the cookie slices on the two cookie pans with at least 1 inch between them.  With a pastry brush, and in batches, moisten the tops of the cookies with a few drops of water. Sprinkle each moistened cookie with a few grains of sea salt. Chill again in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  12. Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool on the pans for 5 minutes, and then transfer to baking racks until completely cooled.
  13. Serve. Makes about 24 oblong cookies.

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TAORMINA, SICILY AND CANNOLI

Sicily is such a beautiful place with deep blue seas and fleecy clouds The surf pounds against the beaches, and the mainland of Italy is just across the Straits. The island traces its history back to Greek times when Syracuse was one of the great city states. Since then it has had a tumultuous history as its own country  as well as under the dominance of many other countries and empires including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Arabs, and Italy.

That rich history has produced amazing archeology, architecture, food, and customs. The beautiful sunlight has produced a sunny population that seems to take everything in stride.

In the USA, many think of Sicily as the home of the Godfather. That stereotype annoys the locals. At the same time, they often feel obliged to mention it – mostly so they can dispel the myth.

Messina is the port city at the straits, and it is filled with beautiful old buildings and famous churches. Undoubtedly, one could spend days exploring, but the highlight of our trip was a drive along the coast and up a narrow winding road to the town of Taormina. The port is beautiful. with the Stele of the Madonna greeting and saying farewell to vessels as well as wishing a blessing for the city and for all sailors. The mainland of Italy is just across the Strait of Messala which is 1.9 miles across at its closest point and 3.2 miles from Messala to the mainland. Plans to build the world’s longest sing-span suspension bridge are well along.

Taormina has been a tourist destination since Grecian times. The town looks down on the coastline far below, and in the distance, clouds play around the summit of Mount Etna. The air is clear and sunny, and the town streets are lined with interesting shops, ancient palaces, and vendors of all kinds.

One of the required visits is the Greek amphitheater on a hill overlooking the town. The walk is steep but not very long. It is well worth it. The ruin is very well-preserved, and the views from its upper heights are spectacular. It is impossible to visit without thinking of the countless people who have been here before you.

After the visit, the walk back down the hill leaves most tourists either hungry, thirsty, or both. There are plenty of vendors in little stalls to accommodate, and the choices seem limitless, ranging from soft drinks to pasta.

Among the most popular items for sale are the cannoli. There are different sizes and different flavors, and they make great treats to enjoy on the stroll back to the center of the town. The recipe that follows is my take on the pistachio cannoli that we bought on our stroll down the hillside. To make your own, you will need some special aluminum cannoli molds for shaping the shells. Molds should be easily available at a well-stocked kitchen store. A 4 inch cutter is also handy. You may find a nest of cutters of different sizes another useful purchase.

 

RECIPES

Shells

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons limoncello or other citrus-flavored liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons madeira
  • 1 egg white whipped lightly until it is slightly foamy

Method

  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa.
  • Cut in the butter with a pastry blender so that the mixture resembles coarse meal
  • Add the liqueur and wine and combine with a fork until the mixture comes together as a firm ball
  • Wrap the ball of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.
  • Divide the dough in half, and roll out each half on a lightly floured surface to about 1/16th inch thick and large enough to cut out 4 4 inch circles using a cookie cutter or a cardboard circle as a template.
  • Using a rolling-pin, roll each circle into an oval.
  • Wrap each oval around a cannolo mold, long side parallel to the mold. Seal the seam with a dab of the egg white.
  • Fry each cannolo shell  in a heavy pan containing about 2 inches of canola oil and pre-heated to 375°F, turning until the shell is well browned and crisp.
  • Transfer to a pad of paper towels to let cool enough until you can easily remove the mold without burning your fingers.
  • Continue to fry the shaped shells until they are all fried. Set in a dry place ready for filling.

Filling

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces fresh ricotta
  • ¼ cup baker’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips + more to sprinkle on the filled cannoli
  • ¼ cup ground unsalted pistachio nuts + more for dusting the fille cannoli

Method

  • In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing well.
  • Transfer to quart-size zippered plastic bag and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to fill the shells
  • When you are ready,  cut a ¼ inch corner off the plastic bag so that it can be used as a pastry bag
  • Fill both ends of each cannolo. Dust with ground pistachios and sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each end
  • Serve immediately so the cannoli don’t get soggy.

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CHICKEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE WITH MOLÉ ROJO

The other night we were aware that LSU was playing for the national championship in football. As former Louisianans with direct ties to LSU, we should have been planning a big TV watching party complete with gumbo or that Monday night standby in New Orleans, red beans and rice. Instead we watched an old movie and enjoyed the last of some molé rojo which one of our daughters had sent to us as a Christmas gift. To be honest, we enjoyed the old movie more than watching the drubbing administered by the Crimson Tide, and the molé made a quick meal outstanding.

Pot of freshly made molé rojo

Classic molés have the reputation of requiring many ingredients and a long cooking process. Indeed, Rick Bayless presents his “streamlined” version in his excellent cookbook, “Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico,” William Morrow and Company, New York, 1987, pp 201-203. For the recipe, go to the book, but I thought it would be interesting to provide the list of ingredients. The process involves many steps.

Ingredients

4 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined

2 medium dried mulatto chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined

1 medium dried pasilla chile, stemmed seeded and deveined

1½ Tablespoons sesame seeds

⅓ Cup lard

2 heaping Tablespoons unskinned peanuts

2 Tablespoons raisins

½ medium onion, thickly sliced

1 clove garlic, peeled

½ stale corn tortilla

1 slice dried, firm white bread

1 ripe medium tomato

3 medium tomatillos

¾ ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf 8 peppercorns

3 cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick

5 Cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

Clearly, the real thing is a labor of love and considerable skill. If you can’t or don’t want to go to all the trouble, bottled versions are at hand. But you will have to be satisfied with second best. Still a handy jar serves as the basis for a quick meal.

Here is my version of quick chicken enchilada casserole – certainly not authentic – but a good supper dinner for a chilly winter evening.

Chicken enchilada casserole ready for the oven

Ingredients

2 chicken thighs

4 Cups chicken stock

1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 ounces cheddar cheese, coarsely grated + more for sprinkling on top of the casserole

2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, coarsely grated + more for sprinkling on top of the casserole

½ medium onion, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

8 fresh corn tortillas

2 Cups molé rojo Sour cream for topping

1. In a medium sauce pan, place chicken thighs in the stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a low boil, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Strain the stock and reserve for another purpose. Cool the cooked chicken, remove the meat from the bones, and chop coarsely.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken, oregano, cumin, cheeses, and onion. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and heat for about 10 minutes at 180° in the oven until soft.

4. One at a time, fill the tortillas with the chicken mix, roll, and place seam-side down in a greased 8 x 8 inch baking dish.

5. When you have filled all of the tortillas, cover them with the molé rojo, sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 300° until the enchiladas are completely heated and the cheese has melted.

6. Serve immediately with a generous tablespoonful of sour cream.

Chicken enchilada with molé rojo and sour cream ready to eat

Serves 2

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