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Posts tagged ‘cinnamon’

mayan spiced dark chocolate ice cream

You know it’s been a good 10 days when you’ve made five consecutive batches of ice cream and the freezer is empty.

It began with a friend in training for a half-marathon and a recipe for gorgonzola dolce ice cream with candied walnuts. Ready to indulge after our run we took to the kitchen with milk, cream, sugar, and a small but very expensive slice of cheese, only to have the base boil over during a moment of enthusiastic negligence. I should mention here that Lauren and I are optimists by trade, the kind who declare that burnt walnuts are “masked by the gorgonzola,” and ice cream that refuses to thicken “just needs another hour in the freezer.” After two hours it was still sweet, delicious sludge, but we slurped every last drop from the Tupperware in five minutes flat.

I’ve learned a few things about “optimistic cooking.” It frequently involves substitutions, additions and overhauls. It renders recipes suggestive rather than imperative (“this was supposed to be made yesterday and sit overnight? I can put it in the fridge for an hour…”) and it infuriates the precise cooks among us (“you mean you only have one tablespoon of cream cheese? This calls for three!”). The outcomes generally waver between mediocre and transcendent. In my own optimistic way I’ve come to see it as a metaphor: even when you follow a recipe to the Nth degree, sometimes it still turns out wrong. In food as in life we have no ultimate control, and that can be annoying, terrifying or the source of all our best discoveries.

So it was that I began making chocolate ice cream (“The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World,” if you must know) only to realize I didn’t have nearly enough cocoa. What I did have was a packet of Mayan cocoa, a blend of the original with chilies and cinnamon. With a small (mental) shrug I made the switch, and when I tasted the results I made a rather earth-shattering discovery—I am no longer a vanilla person. Chocolate ice cream this good necessitated a second batch, then a third. It was consumed alone (guiltily from the Tupperware) and with Lauren (from the Tupperware, but not as guiltily—oh the joys of friendship!). And it led to a small epiphany—ice cream can get you far (say, re-tweeted by your favorite celebrity) but optimism can get you farther.

Mayan Spiced Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

My favorite cookbook of last year? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home (yes, this is probably the fourth time I’ve mentioned it). I adapted her recipe for “The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World” using Mayan spiced cocoa, but you can use good quality unsweetened cocoa with cinnamon and cayenne or ground Mexican chiles. And in case you’re wondering where that beautiful slab of chocolate comes from… Trufflehound’s in Ventura is my new favorite spot!

For the chocolate syrup:

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup Mayan cocoa powder (unsweetened cocoa plus a teaspoon of cinnamon and cayenne or chile powder to taste)

1/2 cup brewed coffee

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (I like 70-85%)

3 Tbsp. cream cheese. softened

For the ice cream base:

1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch

2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

pinch of salt

1/3 cup brown sugar

To make the chocolate syrup, combine the regular cocoa powder, Mayan cocoa powder,  brewed coffee and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 30 seconds, stirring frequently until thick. Turn off heat and break the chocolate into the sauce, letting the pieces sit for a minute or so until they melt. Whisk the sauce until smooth. Pour into a large bowl and add the cream cheese, stirring until completely combined.

To make the ice cream base, dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of milk in a small bowl. Combine the milk, cream, salt and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the mixture begins to bubble, set a timing for four minutes and simmer while stirring to prevent the base from boiling over. After four minutes turn off the heat and add the cornstarch, then return to a boil for one minute more. Pour the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the chocolate syrup and whisk to combine.

Chill the ice cream base until completely cold, then freeze in your ice cream maker. Store in the freezer, and beware of cracking the bottom of the Tupperware as you dig for the last few bites.

sautéed zucchini with cinnamon and currants

Eating seasonally is a fraught issue. Even as someone who lives within spitting distance of California’s fields and worked on a farm in one of the biggest agricultural communities in the US, I still find myself standing in a supermarket aisle realizing seasonal eating can easily fall in the “it-sounds-so-nice-but-what-does-it-mean” category.

But the last two weeks brought fresh insights, most of them born from the sweat of my mother and grandparents’ brows and my own tendency towards frugality. It’s not that I don’t love grocery shopping—one of life’s true joys–but with the rest of my family out of town (and an accidental purchase of a $17 bag of cherries from Whole Foods) I decided I was going to embark on several weeks of eating close to home.

I admit—I held off on this post for a while because the things I was eating just seemed so simple. I should get more creative, I thought, come up with something special tonight. My resolve held firm through the morning, but come 11:30 a.m. I’d be standing at the stove sautéing the same slices of zucchini, and by dinnertime I’d be wandering beer-in-hand through the garden snapping off leaves of kale to make my favorite kale slaw with our ripe avocados.

My conclusion? Eating seasonally, healthfully and startlingly cheaply really just requires three things: a bulk supply of a bountiful fruit or vegetable from your garden or nearby market, a great simple recipe (think six ingredients or less), and the willingness to enjoy (many) variations on the same meal. It may sound silly, but the prospect of dozens of zucchinis per week for the duration of the summer actually excites me to no end—I love crispy slices of spiced sautéed zucchini hot from the pan, and I’ll eat them daily much in the same way that I ate roasted cauliflower with lemon and tahini in the spring, or will eat grilled cherry tomatoes tossed with grains and salads next month. And yes, when I desperately crave cherries I won’t berate myself for indulging in a bag from the store. I’ll just check the per pound price first.

Sautéed Zucchini with Cinnamon and Currants

This recipe is endlessly adaptable – once you’ve sauteed the zucchini with the cinnamon and currants, feel free to get creative with your favorite grain. If you have good cheese like ricotta salata on hand add that in as well for a tasty lunch or summery side.

2 medium zucchinis

olive oil

cinnamon

handful currants

1 cup cooked Israeli couscous

Heat your pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Slice the zucchini into thin ribbons and add to the hot pan, doing your best to arrange the strips so they don’t overlap. Sprinkle with salt and cinnamon.

When the first side is browned flip the zucchini piece by piece (or, if you’re lazy, just give the pan a big shake) and sprinkle with a bit more cinnamon. Cook until the other side is done, then add the currants and cooked Israeli couscous and stir fry with the zucchini for a few more minutes. Enjoy hot from the pan or cooled to room temperature.

strawberries dipped in mexican hot chocolate

One of my fondest memories of my early college days was late-night Mexican hot chocolate in Wallach 9C. Our 11-person suite—which included a Chinese physics genius, a Russian pianist, two Cross Country runners and a reclusive boy by the name of Dante—would gather in the common room most nights around ten, when Homer’s poetry had lost its muse-song and a vague yearning for an (absent) TV set was communally felt. It was then that Matt would emerge with thick tablets of Abuelita hot chocolate from San Diego, dissolving them in half a gallon of cheap milk. We drank it steaming from mismatched travel mugs while playing a finicky card game that involved multiple decks, listening to—dare I say it—old Disney tunes. It was privileged nerd-ism at its best.

Here in Santa Barbara it’s been such a warm winter that even strawberries have become year-round fare, and whenever I go to Shepard Farms I marvel at the plump berries tucked in with the kale and butternuts. But even a California winter is an excuse to make hot chocolate, and though I’m still a fan of Nestle’s Abuelita (and her Hispanic Foods aisle cousin Ibarra) I’ve begun experimenting with Mexican hot chocolate rich enough for dipping winter strawberries. Make this spiced, chocolatey base as a decadent sauce for fruit and ice cream, or whisk it into hot milk for a warm evening treat. Want hot chocolate to rival Juliet Binoche in Chocolat? I’ve been coveting this milk frother for some time, and who knows–my birthday’s coming up.

Mexican Hot Chocolate for Dipping or Drinking

The following amounts are for a single serving, but they can be easily doubled or tripled if you’d like to share.

1 small square dark chocolate

1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)

3 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp almond flour (or ground almonds)

milk

In a small saucepan, melt chocolate over low heat. Add cocoa with a small splash of milk and whisk to combine, then add cinnamon, sugar, and almond flour with an additional splash of milk and whisk until chocolate base becomes thick and shiny. At this point the sauce is ideal for dipping.

For hot chocolate, add 3/4–1 cup milk to the saucepan and whisk to heat and combine. Taste and add additional milk if necessary, and enjoy steaming in your favorite mug.

spiced tomato eggplant stew

It was 12:24pm. I was watering the hillside when Cynthia approached from across the garden, leading a visitor on a tour of the farm. “Give it three more minutes,” she called up to me, “You need some lunch.” Five minutes later, hose coiled, I was sprinting up the hill to the cottage with the kind of ravenous look one generally associates with lost backpackers emerging from the woods (or maybe seagulls).

As a farm apprentice you don’t feel like lunch, you don’t even want it—you need it. Sometime after noon the seven of us converge on the cottage kitchen, grabbing food from the fridge and unceremoniously clattering plates and cutlery in our haste. Leftovers are the golden ticket—a quick spin in the microwave and you’re through your first three bites before you’ve even taken a breath.

My history with leftovers is rich and varied, beginning with classmates’ wrinkled noses when I opened my Tupperware at school and carrying all the way through college, when I cooked Fridays and Mondays and ate my curries and soups with relish for three days straight. I’ve always been of the opinion that the worse leftovers look the better they taste, and it’s only a handful of times (notably the week-old burrito incident) that my theory has proved wrong. Today, however, I can proudly declare my leftovers have entered a new chapter. Gorging on cold eggplant stew was a sort of food heaven, the kind where every bite restores mental and physical acuity. Full disclosure: I plotted my lunch escape five minutes early. When cold stew’s involved, I take no chances.

Spiced Tomato Eggplant Stew

Adapted from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium eggplants, diced

½ cup carrots, chopped

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon cloves

1 28-oz can of tomatoes

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup farro

½ cup sultana raisins

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant, carrots, cinnamon and cloves, stirring occasionally until the veggies begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, broth, sultanas and farro, bringing to a boil before decreasing heat and simmering until the farro is cooked and the carrots are tender (depending on how thick you would like the stew to be you may need to add additional chicken broth or water). Season to your liking with hot sauce, sugar, salt and pepper, and enjoy warm (or cold the following day).

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