Pearl Couscous Pudding w/ Poached Fruit

While names may be confusing, if you have never tried ‘pearl couscous’, you should. Because of its size and shape, Israeli couscous is sometimes marketed as pearl couscous. Yet in Israel, it goes by neither of these names … its called ‘ptitim’ which roughly translates to ‘little crumbles’. To make it even a bit more confusing … although it is called couscous, technically its not but more like a pasta.

Unlike the finely grained North African couscous made of semolina, Israeli couscous has larger granules, resembling tiny pearls. They are made from a paste of moistened, finely ground, hard wheat flour which is forced through a machine to make round pellets and then toasted dry in ovens. The toasting process seals in the starch to prevent the ‘pearls‘ from falling apart when later cooked in liquid. It also gives the pasta a bit of a nutty taste.

Whatever name you prefer, it is a tasty alternative to rice or pasta. Not only will it serve as a base for vegetable and herb packed salads, it can be stirred with stock to make creamy risottos or use it as a replacement for tapioca or rice in dessert puddings. Its even good just as a side dish tossed with oil or butter, lemon and fresh herbs.

I was able to buy just a small amount at the bulk store so I could make this pudding. The poached fruit makes such a nice topping for it as well.

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Pearl Couscous Pudding w/ Poached Fruit
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Pudding
Poached Strawberries & Rhubarb
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Ingredients
Pudding
Poached Strawberries & Rhubarb
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Instructions
Pudding
  1. In a saucepan, combine coconut oil with cardamom spice over medium-low heat. Add couscous & toast, stirring occasionally, just until the couscous has turned a light golden brown.
  2. Add coconut milk, making sure to get all the fat from the can, along with the sugar & salt. The pan should be hot enough that the coconut milk will bubble up & fizz a little then add vanilla.
  3. Bring mixture to a simmer then turn the heat down to low & cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. After 5 minutes turn off the heat, cover & allow to sit for 5 minutes then remove the lid & stir. Pudding thickens as it cools.
Poached Fruit
  1. In a large saucepan, place water & sugar over high heat & stir until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low & add strawberries & rhubarb. Simmer for 10 minutes or until fruits are softened but still retain their shape. Cool.
Assembly
  1. Serve pudding at room temperature otherwise it becomes a solid mass when cold. If it's too thick you can stir in a bit more coconut milk to help thin it out, adding a tablespoon or so at a time until you have the desired consistency. Divide pudding between serving dishes & top with poached fruit to serve.

Spiced Kumquat & Greek Yogurt Tart

It’s that time of year when in our part of the country we start seeing kumquats in the grocery stores. If you have never tasted them, they are a little deceptive. Like many things in life, its all about expectations. Their diminutive size makes them seem harmless, but they have an intensely tart flavor. Kumquats have a sweet skin with a very tart flesh and are filled with a lot of seeds. The skin is often times more appetizing than the flesh itself making them perfect for candying.

This kumquat tart is such a beautiful presentation at Christmas gatherings. Thick Greek yogurt is an ideal filling to mellow the intensity of the candied citrus.

Yogurt often surpasses whipped cream as a topping for all kinds of sweet and spicy desserts. Greek yogurt has a smooth, rich and thick consistency. Part of what makes it different from regular yogurt is that it is strained to remove the whey. When whey is removed, so is water, which creates a thicker, more substantial yogurt product.

I blame it on inheritance, but I’ve always been one of those people who need something sweet after dinner. Doesn’t need to be fancy, just something to satisfy the craving. Of course, anything that seriously satisfies that craving isn’t going to be the epitome of a ‘healthy meal’. That being said, enjoy the tart.

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Spiced Kumquat & Greek Yogurt Tart
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Tart Pastry
Tart Filling
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Tart Pastry
Tart Filling
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Instructions
Tart Pastry
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt. With fingertips, cut in cold butter until mixture resembles small peas. In a measuring cup, whisk together water, egg & vinegar. Make a well in dry mixture & pour wet mixture into it all at once. With hands, mix until JUST combined. Roll out pastry to about 1/8-1/4" thickness Cut out 8 - 6-inch circles with a pastry cutter. Press into tart forms. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce the tarts with a fork across the bottom, line with parchment paper (paper should overflow the edges) & fill with pie weights to prevent dough from rising. Bake for 10 minutes, remove weights & paper & bake another 5 minutes more. Cool completely.
Tart Filling
  1. Make sure the yogurt has any extra liquid strained from it by using a cheesecloth if necessary Do this before making the candied fruit.
  2. In a small, heavy bottomed pot, place sliced kumquats, Grand Marnier, sugar, honey, water, star anise, cinnamon stick & vanilla extract. Bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat slightly & cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until the syrup thickens & the kumquats are very soft. Remove from heat & discard the anise stars & cinnamon stick.
  4. Arrange a sheet of parchment paper over a cooling rack. Using tongs, remove fruit from sugar solution & lay flat on the parchment paper to cool.
  5. When ready to assemble dessert, add a tsp of sugar solution per 1/2 cup of strained yogurt. Divide yogurt between the tart shells, spreading evenly. Arrange the candied kumquats on top & sprinkle with chopped pistachios.

Spiced Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Over forty years ago I tasted my first ‘poached pear’. We were having a beautiful dinner at my sister Loretta’s house. It was a special occasion and she had made poached pears for dessert. They were so elegant and wonderful tasting, I can remember it clearly to this day.

What’s not to love about this match made in culinary heaven. The pears are fruity and light, while the chocolate sauce gives a touch of indulgence not to mention the little surprise tucked in the center.

There is really no set answer to the question of ‘how many ways can you poach a pear’. Of course, the classic way would be in red or white wine, which certainly has eye appeal. But, besides wine, there is always cider, bold and flavorful beers or ales and even espresso.

I decided to go with pear juice, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and honey. I think the look is gorgeous not to mention the wonderful flavor.

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Spiced Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce
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Instructions
Pears
  1. Core & peel pears, leaving stems intact. In a small saucepan, combine juice, cinnamon sticks, star anise, honey & vanilla. Add pears; bring to a simmer. Cook, turning pears occasionally, until easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, but not falling apart. The length of time will depend on the ripeness of pears. Remove pears from liquid using a slotted spoon & transfer to a large bowl; drain well.
Filling
  1. In a small dish, combine walnuts, powdered sugar & milk; set aside.
Chocolate Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, combine chocolate, heavy cream & butter. Turn heat to low & melt chocolate, stirring until smooth.
To Serve
  1. Spoon nut mixture into pear cavities. Place on dessert plates; drizzle with chocolate sauce. Serve with ice cream. Garnish with a spring of fresh mint if you wish.

Sour Cherry Custard Buns

Fall is that time of year that we can enjoy some more of those wonderful cherries from our own little tree. The fact that we live in the northern part of Alberta, Canada and can eat cherries fresh from our tree is such a bonus.

Even though these cherries are classed as a semi-sweet variety, there are still endless ways to enjoy them. When I was growing up, I remember my mother making something she called ‘dampfnudeln’. The taste was wonderful and as I recall, these were sweet yeast dumplings in a vanilla custard sauce. I’m not sure if they had anything in the center or not.

It seems there are endless recipes and preparations, variations on recipes and variations on variations …. ROHRNUDELN, HEFENUDELN, GERMKNODEL, DAMPFNUDELN, BUCHTELN and on and on. Basically they are all yeast dumplings, sweet (or savory) but the preparation varies somewhat. Some are poached in a milk/sugar liquid, whereas others are baked. Some are filled, some not. Most seem to be served with a vanilla custard.

For mine, I’m trying to incorporate some of our cherries in a soft, sweet yeast bun with some vanilla custard. I think I’ll call them ‘dampfbuchteln’. Buchteln are a typical Bohemian dish from the region in the middle of Europe that was formerly German. It was from there that recipes like this made their way into German and Austrian kitchens. That name seems fitting, having the characteristics of both kinds of buns.

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Sour Cherry Custard Buns
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Sweet Roll Dough
Vanilla Custard
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Sweet Roll Dough
Vanilla Custard
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Instructions
Sour Cherry Compote
  1. In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch & salt; add juice & stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, simmer until thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Immediately remove from heat. Gradually fold in cherries. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. I found it easier to make the compote a day ahead of the buns.
Sweet Roll Dough
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture, 1 cup at a time combining well after each addition. Once the flour has all been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic & a tea towel. Allow to rise for at least 1 hour in a draft free place until dough has doubled in volume.
  4. Punch dough down & turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal sized pieces & roll each into a ball. Place under a tea towel so they won't dry out. Take one ball & shape it into a flat circle large enough to hold a spoonful of compote.
  5. Fold over & pinch the edges, then carefully shape into a ball again. Place in a buttered 12-inch spring form pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Cover with tea towel & let rise for another 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake buns for about 20-25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven; cool for just a few minutes then pat with butter. When completely cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.
Vanilla Custard
  1. Sift together cornstarch & flour. Using a whisk, combine the beaten eggs & the flour mixture until powders are dissolved. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together milk, sugar & salt. Once sugar & salt are dissolved, add in the egg mixture & keep stirring everything until the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat & stir in butter & vanilla. Nice to serve warm under the cherry buns.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I have to be honest, I don’t really know a lot about Norwegian cooking as of yet. Since food history is always top priority for me, I seem to find my way into every country at some point. You might have known, another rhubarb recipe would catch my eye.

This one is a very traditional summer cake, more of an everyday cake as opposed to a party cake. It seems Norwegians prefer creamy cakes for parties instead of light fruity ones. Many old Norwegian cookbooks and newspapers featured rhubarb cake on their weekly menus. Nothing fancy or anything that requires an extra step or two. No layers of cream, custard or crumble on top. Just merely a simple and incredibly delicate cake with a bit of tang from the rhubarb.

You don’t need to make these little cakes inverted. If you prefer, place the rhubarb on top of the batter instead. Using pure vanilla gave such amazing flavor and the incredible texture of the cake is provided by the addition of sour cream. I’m sure this recipe has been updated from the original but it is certainly good.

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Norwegian Rhubarb Cake
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter bottom & sides of 4 (1-cup) mini bundt cake pans.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cups flour, baking powder & salt. In a larger bowl, cream together butter & 3/4 cup sugar for about 2 minutes until light & fluffy. Add eggs & pure vanilla extract; stir to combine.
  3. Alternately stir flour mixture & sour cream into the butter mixture, beginning & ending with the flour mixture, stirring well after each addition. Toss chopped rhubarb with remaining tablespoons of flour & sugar. Divide rhubarb evenly between the 4 mini bundt pans. Top evenly with cake batter
  4. Bake cakes about 20 -25 minutes until golden & a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven & invert on a cooling rack for a few minutes. Remove pans, replacing any of the rhubarb that has stuck to the pans.
  5. Serve warm or cold with whipped topping or just a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Peach Melba Ginger Cakes

For those unfamiliar with Peach Melba, it is a classic dessert that was invented around the late 1800’s in honor of an Australian soprano opera singer named Nellie Melba. The flavors are always raspberry and peach and was traditionally served with vanilla ice cream. Melba is actually the nickname for Melbourne, her Australian hometown. Her real name was Helene ‘Nellie” Porter Mitchell but everyone called her Melba. She was internationally famous for her remarkable ‘crystal’ voice.

French chef, Georges Auguste Escoffier, not only created this special dessert but also developed what is known as the ‘kitchen brigade’ system or ‘Brigade de Cuisine’.

The next time you enjoy an elaborate meal in a hotel dining room (on a special occasion) that is perfectly executed, don’t presume this was just by accident. The brigade system revolutionized the way diners eat, allowing people to have meals, whatever their order, arrive at the table at the same time. This system was instituted to streamline and simplify work in hotel kitchens. It served to eliminate the chaos and duplication of effort that could result when kitchen staff did not have clear-cut responsibilities.

Today, most restaurants use some simplified variation of Escoffier’s original system. It is this foundation of kitchen organization that made way for the ‘a la carte menu’ we know so well today.

I have added a chart at the end of the blog showing the basic hierarchy of authority in this kind of system. I realize I got a bit removed from my peach melba dessert but — . Having spent so many years in the commercial world of cooking, I have a great appreciation for this gifted chef’s contribution to the food industry.

I decided to use the classic peach and raspberry ingredients in some mini upside down bundt cakes. The ginger spice adds a bit of unexpected ‘zing’ to its flavor.

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Peach Melba Ginger Cakes
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Course dessert
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Ginger Cakes
Course dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Ginger Cakes
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Instructions
Raspberry Coulis
  1. In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar & cornstarch. Add raspberries & water; cook over medium-high heat until thickened & clear. Remove from stove & press through a wire mesh to make a puree. Discard seeds. Add extract if using. Set aside.
Peach Sauce
  1. Drain peach juice into a measuring cup. Set peaches aside. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp peach juice, sugar & cornstarch. Cook, stirring, until thick & bubbly. Add the peaches & vanilla. Stir to blend, set aside until ready to use.
Ginger Cakes
  1. Preheat over to 375 F. Butter 4-5 mini bundt pans. In a bowl, combine all cake ingredients & beat only until smooth. Divide between bundt pans. Place pans on a baking sheet & bake for 15 minutes or until cakes have risen & test done with a toothpick is inserted. Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes then turn over on serving plates. Top with warm peach sauce & raspberry coulis. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you wish.

Madeleine Cookies

HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!

Valentines day is a romantic occasion which calls for special meals and desserts. Quite a while back I saw a very unique idea for some ‘Madeleine’ cookies. It looked to me like it had valentines dessert written all over it.  Before I get into the actual recipe, I thought it might be nice to share a little food history on this unofficial national cookie of France.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to try them yet, they are a little cake-like cookie, baked in a shell-shaped mold. The first recipe for the cookie in France with the name Madeleine, appeared around 1758. People began using metal molds to bake Madeleine’s during the 18th century, however, these molds and cookies did not receive commercial success until the 19th century, when culinary writers began mentioning them in cookbooks.

There are several legends that exist in regards to the creation of the Madeleine cookies. In one version, Madeleine was a young servant girl who had been requested to create a special treat for the deposed king of Poland who had sought refuge in France. In another version, a different Madeleine created the special cookies in the shape of a scallop  to feed the pilgrims making their way to Saint Jacques burial site. The scallop shell was a sign of protection which has long been associated with St. Jacques of France.

Madeleine’s have always been associated with the little French town of Commercy, whose baker’s were said to have paid a very large sum for the recipe. Nuns in 18th century France frequently supported themselves and their schools by making and selling the particular sweets. Commercy once had a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdelen. Historians believe that when all the convents and monasteries of France were abolished during the French Revolution, the nuns sold the recipe to the bakers.

In any case, no matter who created the first Madeleine, it was a great idea as their popularity has only increased over the centuries. Today, this unique tea cake/cookie is sold in bakeries and cafe shops around the world. 

The original basic ingredients consisted of eggs, flour, butter and sugar. Over the years, Madeleine’s have been elevated into the realm of gourmet delights. It has become very common to customize the recipe to include nuts, lemon zest, chocolate, citrus juice and sprinkle them with powdered sugar.

For my valentine dessert, I’m making some very petite ‘shells’, filling them with sweetened cream cheese and decorated with ‘edible pearls’. They make such an elegant presentation for the occasion.


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Madeleine Cookies

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Cream Cheese Filling

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Ingredients
Cream Cheese Filling

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Instructions
Madeleine Cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, cream together butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add the egg & vanilla; combine then stir in flour & dry pudding mix. Blend well but DO NOT over mix.

  2. Using non-stick, petite Madeleine shell cookie pans, fill each 'shell' level with cookie dough. Bake for about 5-6 minutes. When baked, Madeleines should be only have a hint of golden color. Remove from oven; allow to sit for a few minutes. Carefully remove cookies from pans. Cool completely before filling.

Cream Cheese Filling
  1. In a bowl, beat cream cheese, milk & pudding mix until smooth. Using a piping bag with a 'flower' tip nozzle, place a small amount of filling on half of the cookies. Top with remaining cookies & decorate with pearl candies if you wish. (Fill only the amount of cookies you need at the time. Keep extra filling & cookies refrigerated in closed containers for later in the week).