Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate truffles

Um, yeah… I’m not sure if I need an introduction to this one.  I really just recommend skipping ahead to the recipe and starting to make this ASAP because it takes a little while to chill between making the ganache and rolling the truffles.  Let’s just say there was only about an hour between me reading the recipe in Edible Santa Barbara and starting to melt some chocolate (I was covered in dirt from the garden and had to shower… otherwise the time lag would have been zero).  I recently gave up any semblance of self-control when it comes to chocolate confections.  Two weeks ago it was chocolate peanut butter cups and last week it was chocolate truffles.  Please feel free to send me more suggestions so I’m not forced to make these truffles over and over and over and over and over… again.

Chocolate Ganache Truffles (from Edible Santa Barbara with a few minor tweaks)
Makes 10-15
5 ounces dark chocolate (recipe suggests 50-60% cacao, I used 80%)
3/4 ounce butter
1/3 cup milk (recipe prefers cream… probably helps the structural integrity a bit)
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cocoa powder to coat the truffles… maybe 1/2 cup?

1) Chop up the chocolate into chocolate chip-sized pieces to help them melt faster.  It will be about a cup of chocolate.  Cut the butter up and add it to the chocolate.

2) Mix the honey, vanilla extract, and milk or cream in a small sauce pan.

Now do only 3a OR 3b:

3a) Original instructions: heat milk/honey/vanilla to a boil and pour over chocolate/butter pieces in a heat-proof bowl.  Let sit until chocolate has melted (1-3 minutes?).  Then stir it all to combine.  It may look grainy, but keep stirring until the chocolate and milk mixture is perfectly smooth.  Blenderize if all else fails.  You just made chocolate ganache the traditional way!

3b) The way I did it: heat the chocolate/butter in a heat-proof bowl in an inch of water in a large pot (a double-boiler would be better, but I don’t have one of those) with heat on low.  Keep stirring the chocolate until it is mostly melted, at which point you can move the bowl to the counter ON A FABRIC THING (like a pot holder or dish rag) and continue mixing until the chocolate is all melted.  Bring the milk/honey/vanilla mixture to a simmer and pour over the chocolate.  Then stir it all to combine.  It may look grainy, but keep stirring until the chocolate and milk mixture is perfectly smooth.  Blenderize if all else fails.  You just made chocolate ganache a weird way!

4) Let the ganache cool in the bowl for either 24 hours at room temperature, which worries me because of the dairy, or 1-2 hours in the fridge.  To speed the cool-down time further, float the bowl of ganache in a larger bowl of ice water before putting it in the fridge.

5) When the ganache is pretty darn firm, form balls of it one by one and roll in the cocoa powder to coat.  You will have to work fast so the ganache doesn’t melt.

6) Eat immediately.  Or, cool down in the fridge again and re-roll in cocoa powder before serving, as the humidity in the fridge will “melt” the cocoa.  The original instructions suggest keeping the truffles in the fridge in a covered container to minimize humidity only as a last resort.  I think this is code for: invite your friends over and enable them into a chocolate-induced coma!  And believe me, I did my share, giving chocolate truffles to no less than 3 friends (in addition to Peter).

More chocolate truffles

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Arugula

Arugula and chickpea salad

In December we had an epic frost that killed all the summer plants in the garden: tomatoes, peppers, beans, and squash all wilted and died on the same night.  Now the beds are brown and barren, and there’s nothing much I can do until a new round of seeds can sprout.  Until then, I rely on a small patch of arugula for last-minute salad fixings.  The arugula is sharp and peppery, having been planted too many months ago.  I finally found the perfect salad for it, an addictive blend of garlic and lemon flavors, so here is a recipe to enjoy in the middle of winter.  It is a salad that depends upon only peppery greens and a lemon for freshness, both of which are plentiful in California this time of year.  Better yet, mix it up with different greens (lots of finely chopped parsley is fantastic) or another type of bean that will hold its shape.  Feta is a fine addition.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Arugula
(serves 2)
1-2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon butter
1-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 cups arugula, washed and cut into salad-appropriate pieces
The juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (a tart spice)
Salt and pepper to taste
An extra drizzle of olive oil if desired
Optional: feta cheese

1.  Cook the chickpeas in butter in a frying pan or cast iron skillet until the skins are golden brown in places.  Add the garlic to the pan and cook with the chickpeas until done.  Pour the chickpeas and garlic into a salad bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir, and set aside.

2.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients while the chickpeas cool and then put them in the bowl with the chickpeas and garlic.  Taste for salt (use less if including feta cheese since it’s so salty) and lemon juice.  If you don’t have sumac, just omit it, or add more lemon juice.  Eat the salad as soon as you’ve added the lemon juice so the greens don’t have time to wilt.

A Citrusy Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving is normally my excuse to make stuffing.  There’s just something about savory soggy bread that rocks my socks.  Peter doesn’t share my convictions, but I haven’t given up on him.  The first time I made stuffing, he almost wouldn’t try it.  This year, when I asked him in the morning where stuffing ranked from 1 to 10 he said 4.  By the end of our Thanksgiving meal?  Stuffing was a 6.  Lucky for Peter, my new favorite Thanksgiving-themed food is not nearly so soggy (or 100% soggy, depending on how you look at it): cranberry sauce.  There are several reasons to love this simple condiment:

1) It takes only about 30 minutes to make.

2) There are about a million slight variations to be perused online in case you ever get tired of the old standard: cranberries, sugar, and water.

3) In this case, sauce = jam, and you may have realized how much I like jam!

For an accurate depiction of what a cranberry sauce obsession looks like, consider the following.  The first batch of cranberry sauce was a quarter of the way gone by the time company arrived for Thanksgiving dinner.  Then we consumed the rest of the cranberry sauce between four of us, forcing me to make another batch of it yesterday.  You may not be too surprised when I tell you that the second batch is over half gone…

Citrusy Cranberry Sauce
(Makes about 2 cups)
1 12 ounce package of fresh cranberries
1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
Dash of salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon or orange

Pick through the cranberries, discarding the occasional stem or any that have large soft spots.  Put all the ingredients in a pot with 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.  Let the sauce cool for another 10 minutes in the pot before transferring to a glass storage container.  And that’s it!

So Many Greens!

I may have gotten a little carried away with the kale.  And the China choy Chinese cabbage.  And the swiss chard.   What on earth will I do with 13 kale plants in my garden?  At least the Chinese cabbage grows quickly so I feel less guilty eating the entire plant at once.  Just don’t remind Peter that there are also tons of beet greens too, because after over a week of eating greens almost every day, he may be ready to “accidentally” leave the garden fence open and let the bunnies have a holiday.  All of this is just to say that help is always appreciated in the eating greens department.

Here are some recipes for using up lots of leafy greens.  Many of them are untested, so if you get the chance to try them, let me know.  Or, if you have a brilliant idea of your own for transporting massive amounts of leafy greens into tummies, don’t keep it to yourself.

1.)  Spinach with olive oil, garlic, and lemon: Saute spinach (with water from washing still clinging to the leaves) in a bit of butter for ~10 min or so on med-low heat until cooked down completely.  Remove it to a serving dish and squeeze a little lemon juice over it.  In the pan, heat olive oil and garlic for a few min, until the garlic browns (but doesn’t burn).  Pour the olive oil and garlic over the spinach.  Whenever I make this I always think the 2 T. olive oil called for is too much, but it’s so delicious!  It also takes away that weird filmy feeling on ones teeth after eating spinach.  Salt and pepper to taste, of course.  Recipe from In Late Winter We Ate Pears.

2.) Potatoes with spiced spinach (but couldn’t one use sweet potatoes here?  or some other root veggie?). This recipe calls for yogurt, but perhaps coconut milk would do?  The recipe for this in my Indian cookbook calls for only 3 T of cream, so perhaps you could also get away with a less creamy mixture in general?  Also, now that I think of it, a mixture of coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and spinach sounds really good.

3.) Spinach with raisins and pine nuts, in case you get tired of lemon and garlic…  Or  Spiced coconut spinach or sweet potato greens in coconut cream.

4.) Wilted spinach salad with caramelized onions and bacon: caramelize onions until sweet and golden, then put the washed spinach only briefly in the pan with the onions until a few leaves are wilted (literally seconds), then put onions and spinach into a bowl, sprinkle with pieces of bacon, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or perhaps red wine vinegar?).  This salad is great with a sprinkle of salty cheese, and doing a quick google, someone suggested putting a hard-boiled egg on top (in slices).  This is a great way to have an interesting spinach salad and a great balance of sweet from the onions, salty from the bacon, and sour from the vinegar.  This also makes me think that more bitter greens might do well just sauteed or steamed until nice and soft and served with caramelized onions and bacon (and maybe a pat of butter for good measure).

5.) Greens mixed with other veggies: Saute kale until soft and mix with cooked corn (or add raw corn to the pan and mix with the greens, cooking until soft); good with garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil for seasoning.  Or kale with roasted peppers and olives.

6.) Minestrone soup with greens: you can even leave out the noodles (my least favorite part anyways) and just call it vegetable soup.  Greens in soup with other veggies, especially the tomato-broth based soups, is one of my favorite things.  One of my favorite lentil soup recipes call for chopped up swiss chard added at the end — just eat the soup as soon as the swiss chard is tender (while not the recipe I use per se, here’s one example of lentil soup with swiss chard).

7.) Green soup with ginger or in the opposite direction Sweet potato soup with sausage.

8.) Quiche: I usually make my quiches without a crust (laziness is a huge factor).  In a related direction, there’s always a frittata.  It must also be said that sauteed greens in scrambled eggs is delicious, especially swiss chard or spinach.  Also, I should say that I never make quiche with cream or cream cheese as in the recipe I linked to, but usually use plain milk.  And finally, wouldn’t bacon be good in this too???

9.) Greens with garlic, soy sauce, and brown sugar: while this may seem strange because of the sugar, the sweetness wonderfully balances the salty soy sauce.  Begin by sauteing some garlic in olive oil in a pot.  You can add an onion to this too, although you’ll want to saute it a bit before adding the garlic.  Then add the greens to the garlic and olive oil and cook until nice and soft.  Depending on the green, you may want to add a tid bit of water to help things steam.  Once the greens are pretty much done, add a generous splash of soy sauce (I use low-sodium soy sauce and don’t shy away from salt in the first place) and between one teaspoon and one tablespoon of brown sugar.  Mix the greens with the sugar and soy sauce and cook another minute or two.  This is especially good eaten over rice because the salty-sweet juices flavor the rice too.

10.) And finally, how about braised chicken with kale.

Hamburgers with Sir Kensington

One of the problems with living in an apartment complex is that the drifting scent of bbq and hamburgers can send one into a meat frenzy.  Usually this happens on the way home from work, when fatigue and the lack of any meat in the freezer lead to a predictably vegetarian dinner.  However, for some strange reason this was not the case on Saturday night.  First, we were walking to the store when we turned into meat zombies and second, we had one package of ground beef in the fridge.  Why was the store necessary?  We didn’t have bread, lettuce, or ketchup, and a burger is very very sad without any of these.

While the local grass-fed beef (blah blah blah) was good, it bowed before Sir Kensington, a gourmet scooping ketchup.  That may sound a bit absurd, but traditional ketchup was ruined for me when,  a few years ago, my friend Karen sent me a box with homemade canned yellow ketchup.  Karen’s ketchup was the stuff of dreams: tangy, slightly sweet, eat-it-on-a-spoon yum.  This is a reminder Karen, I want that ketchup recipe!  Until Sir Kensington I had forsworn eating non-homemade ketchup (except on fries out of the house) and, let’s face it, burgers are just not the same without it.  So thank you, Sir Kensington, for enabling me to eat an entire jar of ketchup in less than a week, you saucy minx you.

I wish I had a recipe for hamburgers for you, but I did exactly the opposite of whatever the Commonsense Kitchen suggested (by accident mind you).  It suggests handling the ground beef as little as possible (I mixed mine ferociously) and not salting it until after cooking (how the heck does that work???).  So yes, go buy good beef, do as little to it as possible, and top it with ketchup.

Pasta with Leeks and Parmesan

Yet another shamefully easy recipe from In Late Winter We Ate Pears, but what can I say, I seem to be addicted.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to cook leeks until they’re sweet, soft, and melty and then to top them with cheese and pasta, because who are we kidding, the pasta is just an excuse to eat the rest of the dish.  But it didn’t occur to me, and now I can’t help but think of all the leek-eating I’ve missed out on, and I’m more than a little crazed to catch up.  The hard part of this dish is getting parmesan that tastes good.  I have two answers, neither of which is very sustainable (and please let me know if you have any suggestions here): Whole Foods expensive parmesan from Italy that tastes amazing OR send your boyfriend to Italy “for work” and have him import it for you.  Unfortunately the second method relies on your significant other (or even a distant acquaintance) finding a conference in Italy to attend, which problem I’ve solved for the immediate future by being sent to a conference in Italy myself this summer.  This is only a temporary fix, however, and come September I have no doubt we will be out of parmesan again.  Cheese-god help us.

Pasta with Leeks and Parmesan
4 leeks (1 inch in diameter)
2 tablespoons butter or less if you’re careful not to let the leeks burn
1/2 pound of pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put some water on to boil for the pasta.  Then wash the leeks well.  My favorite method of leek-washing is to cut off the bottom and green leaves of a leek and then to slice half-way through it length-wise to open up “sheets” of leek-flesh.  You can now rinse between the leek sheets to get out that tricksy dirt.  Keeping the leek-sheets as together as possible, cut the leeks into coin-shaped pieces or whatever is easiest.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan and let the leeks cook, covered and with a bit of salt and pepper, for about 8 minutes or until extremely soft and delicious-smelling.  Once done, let the leeks sit in their pot with the lid on to keep them warm while you cook the pasta.  When the pasta water is at a rolling boil, add a good amount of salt to the water (maybe a teaspoon or two for a medium-sized pot) and then add the pasta and cook for the amount of time indicated on the pasta bag/box.  When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the leeks, mixing carefully to coat.  If the pasta seems too dry, add a drizzle of olive oil.  Add the parmesan and stir again.  Serve with perhaps a bit more parmesan on top and add salt and pepper to taste.

We eat other things, too.  Sometimes they involve Thai curry, which I adore eating as a soup with lots of vegetables–especially a couple months ago when I was so tired of root vegetables that I could have shot all the ones in my fridge if I weren’t so darn hungry.  I finally tried something else with Thai curry, which was to make a sauce for left-over baked fish.  I’ve tried a few times to write a post on making something to this effect, but since I never measure anything, it never goes well; the end result is a list of ingredients to be added in some order in arbitrary amounts: that is, the worst kind of recipe for someone who’s never made Thai curry before.

We’ve also been enjoying sugar toppings on muffins based loosely on these and these.

Asparagus with Fried Eggs

After a very hectic winter quarter, there is finally time to cook good food.  Not that we haven’t been eating, or even that the food wasn’t good, but cooking hasn’t been at the forefront of our lives for many weeks now.  Of course, there was the Thai food phase, something that has happened every so often ever since I bought my first cookbook (Quick and Easy Thai), usually resulting in an overdose of spicy curries and Paht Thai.  And Peter has been absolutely incredible at producing four whole wheat baguettes every week so that we can make sandwiches for lunch.  Beyond that, however, I wouldn’t say there was much going on, the occasional vegetable steamed or sweet potato baked, but nothing to write home about.

In an effort to find some cooking inspiration I looked again at the wonderful Italian recipe book by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, In Late Winter We Ate Pears.  When I say that the recipes range from trivial to intense, I am not joking.  One recipe is simply to eat pears with slices of parmesan.  That’s it.  Another is for making egg pasta from scratch.  I have yet to make a single recipe from this book that hasn’t been an immediate favorite (meatballs with orange and mint, chocolate ricotta puddings, simple green beans with olive oil and lemon, and over a dozen others).  What constantly surprise me, however, are the simplest of recipes: fresh figs with balsamic vinegar and mint (the recipe that made me realize I liked fresh figs after all), a number of extremely easy pasta recipes (usually involving copious amounts of parmesan), a simple chicken breast sauted in butter (unbelievably good), and of course the subject of today’s recipe: cooked asparagus topped with a fried egg.

Asparagus has always been one of my favorite vegetables, and for a majority of my life I have been content to eat it with butter and salt and nothing else.  Then there was the discovery of Hollandaise sauce, which is a mixture of 3 egg yolks, 3/4 cups butter, 1-3/4 tablespoons lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons water.  Needless to say only a fraction of a batch is enough to feed two people, but it is so very good…  Asparagus with fried eggs is like a healthier version of this: steam asparagus, toss with a bit of butter, fry eggs only until the whites are set, and place the fried eggs on the asparagus, letting the runny yolk create a creamy sauce for the asparagus (and don’t forget to sprinkle a little parmesan over everything for good measure).  So easy it deserves a Simple Saturdays tag.  For those of you addicted to the usual recipe format:

Asparagus with Fried Egg
(Serves 1)
1 small bundle of fresh asparagus
1 egg (or 2, if you’re hungry)
1 tablespoon butter (or less)
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Wash the asparagus and cut off the tough ends (perhaps an inch?).  Steam the asparagus only until the ends are tender; don’t overcook! You could alternatively boil the asparagus in lightly salted water.  Melt half of the butter in a pan and add the cooked asparagus, mixing gently to coat and seasoning with salt and pepper.   Place the asparagus on a plate.  Rinse or wipe out the pan before heating the other half of the butter at medium-low heat.  When the butter is hot, add the egg and fry slowly until the whites are set and the yolk is still runny.  I usually cheat and flip the egg over just to make sure the whites are cooked.  Put the fried egg on top of the asparagus and let the yolk break, creating a sauce.  Finish with a light grating of parmesan cheese and serve hot.