Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Confession: I hadn't even heard of cornstarch pudding until a few weeks ago. And now I'm obsessed with it. It's easy and versatile, adaptable to dietary needs and whims: Make it with cream, whole milk, or skim milk, or dairy-free substitutes including soy and rice milk. You don't need much sugar, and butter and eggs are strictly optional. Where has this been all my life?!

I have my friend Heather to thank. She pointed me to an online recipe from The Joy of Cooking (I may be the only food blogger in the world who doesn't have that cookbook), and mentioned she likes to prepare it with chai mix.


I couldn't decide if I wanted to make chocolate or chai pudding, so I tinkered with both. My kids don't like the chai infusion, so it's more of a treat for me. And I'm OK with that: From the run-up to Halloween through the end of the year, much of our family life seems to revolve around kid-oriented seasonal delights, edible and otherwise, and so I savored this simple pudding for myself. They'll get their vanilla and chocolate versions for now, but someday I suspect a warm dish of subtly spiced chocolate pudding will taste like home.

If a child hasn't sneakily devoured all the sweets in your baking pantry, as seems to have happened in my house, you could swap semisweet or dark chocolate for the cocoa powder (be sure to cut back the sugar a bit to compensate). Anna suggested the perfect topping: the Best Spiced Nuts. These also would be delicious with a dollop of whipped cream or a sprinkling of chopped toffee.

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Use whatever kind of milk you like. (Soy goes especially well with chai and yields the rich-looking pudding pictured at the top, but dairy versions are creamier.) You may want to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. If you're feeling really indulgent, stir in a bit of softened butter at the end.

This makes 6 servings — dish them out in tea cups for maximum cuteness.

3 cups milk, divided
2 chai tea bags
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch

In a saucepan, warm 2 1/2 cups milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from heat, add tea bags, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags.

Add sugar, salt, and cocoa to chai milk and reheat over medium heat. In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and remaining 1/2 cup milk until smooth. When the chai milk mixture begins to steam, stir in cornstarch mixture. Continue stirring about 5 to 7 minutes until mixture just comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir until pudding is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Spoon pudding into serving dishes. Serve warm or chill for up to a day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Playdate Special: Be Bim Bop

Have you ever thought  about rice? It's present in almost every cuisine of the world, and is the main ingredient for many delicious meals. That's why it was chosen to represent the sense of unity of most cultures at my kid's school cooking club's classes. So the first dish to be prepared at the Cooking Club this year was a colorful dish from Korea, Bi Bim Bop.

I first fell in love with this idea when I saw a kid's book in my local library, called Bee-Bim Bop!, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee, few years ago. Later I had the chance of trying some of the original plate in a Korean bowl place in Palo Alto.

The book is amazing — so cute and so full of rhymes that it turns the task of preparing the dish into almost a musical experience. After four rounds of making the dish with kids at school, I finally got to invite our playgroup to make it, this time using beef instead of tofu.

The key element to get the school kids and our playgroup involved was reading the book before cooking, and getting them used to the idea of "chop chop chop," as in the book,  with a  safe (plastic) knife. Then, the process used with the school kids: While kids at one table were prepping the vegetables, kids at another table were cutting tofu and preparing the marinade. The third table's kids were working with the eggs for the egg pancakes.

The final result was amazing and put together the work of every kid: after watching us cook the veggies and tofu on the griddle, they all had a colorful bowl full of rice to be mixed. For many kids it was the first time to try some different vegetables, tofu, and soy sauce. And some of them were just following what the book suggested — mix mix mix — and eat!

Be Bim Bop

Any rice will do a great job here. If choosing beef, put the fresh steak in the freezer for about 15 minutes to help with the slicing. This recipe is adapted from Linda Sue Park's and also has some inspiration from recipes around the Web. If you are really daring to try something else, you can add a recipe of kimchi (as in this good recipe here).  

Cooked rice
1 English cucumber, peeled
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 pound aduki bean sprouts or alfalfa
4 medium shitake mushroom (optional)
4 medium white mushrooms (optional)
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups fresh organic baby spinach, chopped
Extra-firm organic tofu, diced (or 8 oz. sirloin steak, finely sliced)

Marinade for tofu or beef:
6 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
Sesame seeds (optional)
4 drops sesame oil (optional)
2 stalks spring onions (scallions)

Preheat electric griddle to 370F. (You also can use a large skillet, over medium-high heat.) Chop the vegetables and set aside, each in a different bowl. Mix ingredients for the marinade in another bowl. Add the tofu or beef to the marinade.

Beat the eggs lightly and prepare mini-egg pancakes in the griddle. When done, set them aside on a plate to cool down. Add carrots and tofu (or beef) to the griddle and keep an eye on them, turning periodically.

Cut egg pancakes into half-inch strips and set aside on a plate. Now add mushrooms, bean sprouts, and spinach to the griddle, keeping them separated. At the last minute add cucumber. When the carrots are cooked but still al dente, start removing vegetables, transferring each type to its own bowl. Removed the beef or tofu from the griddle.

Serve all ingredients over a bowl of rice, to be mixed by the person being served. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spiced Fruit Crisps

We're snacking happily on these simple fruit crisps, dried in the oven until crunchy. I've seen a lot of versions that add sugar, honey, or maple syrup, but really there's no need to add sweetening: These apple and pear crisps are delicious on their own, and a sprinkling of spices or vanilla bean makes them an irresistible treat.

Isn't that sunset blush color gorgeous? These are Pink Pearl apples, a beautiful tart variety. My favorite stop at the market these days is a stand overflowing with countless varieties of apples and pears. The farmer is generous with samples, and the kids love to taste-test — we usually leave with at least a half-dozen  varieties.

Spiced Fruit Crisps

Use organic fruit, if possible. I get three to four baking pans' worth of crisps from 1 1/2 pounds of fruit.

apples or slightly firm pears
fresh lemon juice
ground spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, or ginger

Wash, core, and slice fruit 1/8-inch thick (a mandoline makes quick work of this). Fill a bowl with water, add lemon juice, and soak fruit slices for 10 minutes.

Prepare baking pans with silicon mats or parchment paper. Drain slices and lay out in a single layer on prepared pans.

Sprinkle with your favorite spices. Bake at 225 degrees for 2 to 3 1/2 hours until dry. Watch carefully after the first two hours to avoid browning.

They should be fairly dry to the touch but still a little pliable when done — they'll become crisp within a few minutes after removing them from the oven. (If they don't crisp quickly, return them to the oven for a few more minutes.) Once cool, store in an air-tight container.

Variation: For vanilla crisps, drain fruit and return to bowl. Split and scrape a vanilla bean over the slices and very gently mix in before baking. 


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