Saturday, November 10, 2001
got your tickets yet for the chocolate show? i hope i can find the time to go. . .
speaking of chocolate, as promised previously, i'm working on the recipe for this thing that combines all the best elements of chocolate panna cotta, chocolate firnee, and chocolate pastry cream. i decided to start today with the firnee. i thought to make just a regular sort of firnee first and then deviate from there.
now an average firnee recipe would be something like:
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 teaspoon rosewater
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 c. pistachios
1/8 c. almonds
of course you'd add all the cream but 2 tablespoons, add the sugar, stir constantly over low heat until the sugar dissolves (2 minutes or so), add the salt, then sift the cornstarch into a small dish, add the 2 tablespoons reserved cream, mix until perfectly smooth, add the cardamom, pour that into the cream and sugar and stir for 3-5 minutes until the cream thickened so much you could pretty much stand the whisk into it. then you'd mix the rosewater in off the heat, pour the firnee onto a plate to cool and dust heavily with almonds and pistachios that you've ground into a coarse sand in the food processor. the entire recipe takes 15 minutes if you're dawdling.
this will give you an over-thick goop that mr. right says "tastes like cold cream." (did he eat his mother's pond's as a child???) and it's true, many people find rosewater too perfume-y. but you can sense there's something good that lurks in the essence of this idea. . .
how can we take this recipe and improve it? today i did it thusly:
3 c. heavy cream
1-1/2 c. sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons Neilsen-Massey vanilla bean paste
4 oz. scharffenberger 70%
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 c. pistachios
1/8 c. almonds
i wanted to have half the stuff vanilla and half chocolate, for contrast. i also like it thinner in body than the standard recipe. you may not, so you might want to revert to the lesser amounts of cream and sugar. whatever.
i melted the chocolate in the microwave (1-1/2 mins at med-high heat; your oven may cook differently, so start with 1 min and then stir. the chocolate fully melts as you stir it.) then i made the firnee as usual, adding the vanilla paste about 1 min. after the cornstarch went in. once it had thickened, i poured a little more than half (say, 1-3/4 c.) into a bowl. that's the vanilla portion. then i stirred the chocolate into the remaining part, which was difficult, because it had continued to thicken quickly, even off the heat. the chocolate didn't want to incorporate with the whisk. i was also afraid of scorching the chocolate! but i did finally mix it all in and i put that into a separate bowl. then spread the tops of both thickly with the finely-crushed nuts, and covered with plastic. let cool 2 hours.
or you could have poured them in alternate layers in individual serving cups -- vanilla and nuts, then the chocolate and nuts. however.
this turns into a quick-making and extremely delicious dessert. mr. right liked both flavors and expressed surprise that this was firnee. it's not quite as luscious as chocolate pastry cream (no egg) and doesn't have quite the delicate texture of panna cotta. but you may find that you'll have trouble keeping yourself from eating it all at one sitting!
still, since i want a more delicate texture, my next experiment will feature gelatin as the thickener. check in next week. . . if i'm not all tied up at the chocolate show, that is!
Friday, November 09, 2001
although we don't have an espresso machine at my office, that doesn't stop up from having some serious coffee. . .
that's right -- i just bought your basic bodum chambord french press (or cafetiere to you coffee snobs!), an electric kettle, and a can of medium-roast medium-grind illy. this i shared out today among the four of us in my workgroup. and i must say i didn't drink more than half of it!
my starbucks-enslaved co-workers actually gave the illy a try and seemed to have liked it. so i think we may soon be having illy every day. it might make the illy by mail order plan a good idea (i like the concept of no charge for shipping or handling, but how many cans are in a case???). . . at least until the alderwood-roasted coffee comes next week from caffe d'arte!
i suggest those of you suffering silently with your average office coffee try this method yourselves. you'll be glad you did!
Wednesday, November 07, 2001
rodney yee is famous for his clear and helpful yoga videos, but those of you who haven't had a chance to see him teach in person may not know that he's also tremendously inspiring, down-to-earth, and funny. . .
it's no secret that rodney yee's a great yoga teacher in an eclectic iyengar-based style. last evening i had the luck to take a 2-1/2 hour workshop with him at jivamukti yoga. the class, all 150+ of us, focussed on hip work, lotus preparation, and backbends, particularly full wheel. the workshop started very late, but people were relatively patient and seemed to endure the crowding well.
rodney began by speaking on the subject of ahmisa, and then moved into a quick sun salutation series before settling down on his areas of concentration. with 6 people to assist him, most people got some help during the workshop with their alignment.
before the workshop, i felt like i had a quarter-decent wheel, but i certainly could not approach lotus. after the workshop, i still had no insight into lotus and a good wheel seemed farther away than ever! this despite his very up-lifting and encouraging outlook.
rodney emphasized his view that you shouldn't have very much weight in your hands in full wheel. rather, he stressed the importance of the legs: moving the kneecaps towards the hips, the pelvis toward the feet, and placing most weight directly over the center of the back heel. he demonstrated how with this technique it was easy to come into a standing position from the pose! he also explained how this technique protected the wrists and lumbar spine from injury.
alas, those of us whose pelvises are frozen in place and won't move toward the feet could only look on in the hopes it would happen for them someday. the lotus series was different than i had ever seen before. after warming up in two sets of pigeon preparation poses, he then went into a repeated cycle of staff pose, boat pose, cobbler's pose, ankle-to-knee pose, and half lotus, all done double-time. i was down with it, except for tha half-lotus!
all in all, if you can enroll in a workshop with rodney yee, i highly recommend it!
Monday, November 05, 2001
took a moment yesterday to ponder the concept of chocolate pastry cream. . .
little tarts are often filled with delicious pastry cream, a luscious concoction of cream, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and a thickener. just slowly boil it down until it thickens, let it cool, and voila! fluffy heaven.
then it also dawned on me -- d'oh! -- that panna cotta is a luscious concoction of cream, sugar, vanilla, and a thickener. just boil it down until it thickens, let it cool, and voila! fluffy heaven. finally, the indian/middle eastern pudding called firnee is. . . you've guessed it. . .
panna cotta is normally thickened with a soft gelatin; firnee normally with cornstarch or rice flour; pastry cream with cornstarch or arrowroot. how can we take the best of these things -- pastry cream's can't-stop-eating richness, panna cotta's silky texture, and firnee's pistachio topping -- and add the crucial ingredient, chocolate? what marvel could we produce?
what indeed! an experiment must soon be undertaken. recipe will shortly follow. . .
this must wait until the wekend. . .i can't do it tomorrow, as i'm going to jivamukti to take a workshop with rodney yee. you'll hear all about that on wednesday, i promise!
Sunday, November 04, 2001
now let's take a moment to discuss a small vermont chocolate maker. . .
for those who like a darker chocolate but find european chocolates too much, lake champlain chocolates might be for you. i brought home a bar of the dark chocolate and the milk chocolate with almonds.
i was intrigued with this chocolate when i saw that it was made from a base of callebaut, the industrial warhorse of belgian chocolate, which has been owned by the swiss corporate giant suchard toblerone for about 20 years. (iirc, suchard toblerone is in turn related to the german division of kraft foods. . . now i remember why i try to buy artisan products and still love those wackos at slow food!)
it's certainly an american-style chocolate. it comes in smallish but thick bar. it breaks cleanly, has a lovely finish and shine and a fresh, delicious smell. but alas, once in the mouth it feels gummy and the taste quickly goes flat. it's just too sweet. sadly, it also lacks a lingering intense chocolate aftertaste. i was left with just a sticky sensation.
however, i realize not everyone adores the european chocolates, and so a high-quality american-type chocolate should find a nice market. if you are basically a hershey or mars lover, but recognize that their chocolate has lost its quality and style over the years, you will probably be overjoyed to discover lake champlain.