Category Archives: Dessert

Mediterranean Dinner, Part 2

I’m a little delayed in getting to this, but here is a description of the other treats that I prepared as part of a Mediterranean dinner I hosted last month. As you’ll recall from the previous post, the main dish was a beef and lamb stew served over creamy eggplant.

I started the meal with a beet and lentil soup, recipe online here – I made it without the dumplings since it was for an appetizer.

shorba

Along with the main dish, I also served a warm zucchini and yogurt salad, recipe online here.

zucchini

And for dessert, I used shredded phyllo dough, or kataifi, to make a dessert from “Baking at Home” cookbook by the Culinary Institute of America. You can find kataifi at some middle eastern grocery stories (including Neomonde here locally in Raleigh). Out of the box it basically looks like fresh vermicelli noodles.

kataifi box

The dessert started with a classic pastry cream. Dates and pistachios were folded in, and the filling was rolled into a kataifi crust and baked until crisp. It was served on a plate with a light lemon sauce, which added a nice tang.

filled kataifi

It was a fun and unique meal, and I think everyone enjoyed it!  I know I had fun putting together the recipes, and I always appreciate guests who are willing to be guinea pigs for some new concoctions :)

dinner guests

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Walnut Ice Cream

Asian cuisines often have limited dessert options, so when I saw this recipe on a Korean cooking blog for walnut ice cream, I had to try it.  It probably wouldn’t be considered ‘traditional’ Korean, but any excuse for ice cream works at my house :)

The ice cream base for this is quite simple to put together, and turned out very creamy and delicious. Not a low-fat recipe for sure, it made less than 1 quart of ice cream that worked well in my smaller ice cream machine. The batch would probably serve about 4 people as a dessert on its own. Or a few more if you just add one scoop on top of a slice of homemade apricot pie, like I’ve been doing this week, yum!

walnut ice cream

The recipe was followed directly from what is posted on Aerie’s Kitchen blog, except that I didn’t bother straining any of it along the way. If you feel like your custard got lumpy, I’d definitely strain that part, but mine seemed smooth. And I rather enjoy a bit of walnutty grainy-ness in the ice cream itself, so I didn’t strain it after adding the walnuts either.

I used a small capacity Cuisinart ice cream freezer to get a really smooth texture, but there are directions in the recipe about how to make it if you don’t have an ice cream machine. I’m going to hang onto this ice cream custard base recipe – seems like it could be used for a lot of other flavors too!

Malva Pudding

In my quest to search out new recipes for our 20th Anniversary International Festival cookbook, a South African friend recommended Malva Pudding. Apparently, it’s a very popular dessert in the country, and publicized in the U.S. by Oprah a few years back. The recipe that was given to me was actually a link to oprah.com – so I tried it!

As with other “puddings” in the U.K. and related countries, this is not the dairy-based custard that we typically call ‘pudding’ in the U.S.  Rather, it is a moist baked cake.  I followed the Oprah recipe and baked it in a 9-inch square casserole (the size of pan wasn’t really stated in the recipe), which seemed to work well.

A cream mixture is poured onto the cake halfway through baking, and you can see from my photo that it kind of pooled in the middle of my cake. I maybe should have waited just a bit longer for the middle of the cake to be more cooked through so that the cream would have distributed more evenly. But it was all very delicious. There wasn’t a strong flavor to it, just kind of a warm, sweet, moist, yummy-ness to end the meal. Definitely best eaten soon out of the oven, though I was able to warm up a serving or two for the next day in the microwave.

Peppermint Eggnog Ice Cream

I realize this isn’t international, but I made up such a tasty and simple recipe that I have to share it :)  Typically if you’re making a creamy smooth homemade ice cream, you’ll start by preparing a type of custard with milk, cream, and often eggs. Conveniently enough, eggnog is already a similar base and worked great all by itself without requiring the extra work.  To give it an extra holiday kick – I added a shot of bourbon and peppermint – the outcome is worthy of any holiday festivity!
Peppermint Eggnog Ice Cream
1 quart eggnog
1 Tbsp. bourbon
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1/4 c. crushed peppermint candy
Mix together the liquid ingredients and chill in the refrigerator 4-6 hours (if already chilled, you can proceed to the next step). Place in an ice cream freezer and follow manufacturer’s directions to make ice cream. Towards the end, mix in the peppermint candy. Note: if you add the candy earlier in the process, it will melt into the ice cream – that’s ok too. I added half of it early in the process and the other half at the end and that worked out well.
Once ice cream is frozen to soft-serve consistency, either eat immediately or place it in a container in the freezer to become a hard, scoopable ice cream. It actually turns out to be a very smooth ice cream, since eggnog is already a type of custard similar to most ice cream recipes. And much easier!

Moroccan Desserts

Most Moroccan desserts seem to be flavored with orange blossom or rose water, and many also involve almonds or less frequently pistachios.  Here is a platter of desserts, my last installment of recipes from a Moroccan dinner party that I hosted a couple of weeks ago.

The orange squares on the plate are actually a pistachio nougat covered with dried apricot puree – or apricot ‘leather’, we would have called it when I was growing up – kind of like a natural fruit roll-up. This is a sweet that I purchased at Neomonde (Lebanese) bakery and grocery store. Most of my friends thought they were too chewy – but that’s ok, I didn’t make them! :)  The other two items were ones that I made for the meal.

Moroccan ‘snowball’ cookies were the only cookie I could find that didn’t involve nuts – which is important when you’re inviting someone with a nut allergy! The recipe is again from the website cookingwithalia.  Basically it’s just a sugar/shortbread type cookie, dipped in jam flavored with orange blossom water and rolled in coconut.  I used pear jam which I already had in my pantry, and rolled the cookies in sweetened coconut flakes.  I looked for the unsweetened flakes, but they don’t seem to carry those in the grocery stores around here anymore.  But the sweetened coconut worked just fine too!

The chocolate covered treats are Almond-Stuffed Dates.  Large, good quality Turkish or Medjool dates are sliced open, pitted, and stuffed with an almond paste. Then they’re dipped into melted semisweet chocolate and refrigerated to harden. They can be garnished with sanding sugar as I did, or other glittering edible garnish like gold flake. Here’s the simple almond paste recipe:

8 oz. almonds
4 oz. sugar
1/2 tsp. orange blossom water
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter

Blend together the almonds and sugar until very pulverized. Then add orange blossom water, cinnamon and butter to make a sticky paste.

Finally, I made a watermelon salad to serve with dessert along with some green grapes and Moroccan mint tea. This salad wasn’t as well-received by my guests, and I have to admit that I didn’t like it as well as the other dessert options either.  The salad is simple, watermelon chopped into pieces and mixed with rose water and fresh mint and lemon balm, plus just a little bit of honey.  But even though I reduced the amount of rose water that the recipe called for, it was still very perfumed, which is not really what I look for in a dessert.

Overall though, I think my guests were pretty happy by the end of the meal, we had a nice time and great conversation! Even little Heidi enjoyed the phyllo dough from the chicken bastilla and tried some of the other foods :)

Italian Cooking Class

I occasionally enjoy attending a cooking class at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, or more easily at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  Last week I attended a class by Chef Guiliano Hazan, whose mother Marcella Hazan wrote one of the cookbooks I used during Italian cooking this summer!  Chef Hazan showed us how to prepare a complete Italian meal, 4 simple dishes with really good flavor. I apologize for the quality of some of these photos, we were sitting in a room without a lot of light. Also, by the time we got the food towards the end of the class, I was so hungry I just wanted to eat it!! :)

Our first course, or “Primo”, was Leek and Chickpea Soup with pasta, pancetta and pecorino cheese. I actually found the full recipe posted on Hazan’s own blog, so you can make it for yourself. The soup was tasty and smelled delicious while cooking, but I found it to be the least exciting of the dishes we tried at the class – even though I really enjoy all these components together. What I found most useful about this demonstration was the chef’s treatment of leeks. If you’ve ever cooked with leeks you know that they can be very dirty, and the dirt is within the inner layers so it can be pretty hard to clean. Chef Hazan showed us how to slice the leeks to the desired size and just swish them all around in a large bowl of cold water.  As it sits for a few minutes, the dirt is washed out of the leeks and drops to the bottom of the bowl. Then you can lift the leeks from the top of the bowl, shake them off to drain and add them to your dish.

That’s one of the best benefits of attending a cooking class, not the actual recipes (which you can find online or in cookbooks), but the many tips and techniques that chefs have learned through cooking school or from their own experience.  The other great tip I learned at this class was how to wash parsley. It sounds like an easy thing, I know, but washing and chopping parsley can be a very messy job if you don’t dry the parsley completely before chopping. Chef Hazan showed us how he picks off the flat-leaf parsley leaves from the stems, then briefly rinses the parsley leaves.  He then places them on a layer of paper towel, covers with another paper towel and rolls them up into a cylinder.  He then rolls that cylinder back and forth on a cutting board or other surface to aid in absorbing all the extra moisture from the parsley.  After it is dried in this way, parsley is clean but dry and can be chopped very finely for use in various dishes.

Our “secondo” or second course, was Beef Chuck Braised in Milk, and Zucchini Sauteed with Fresh Mint.  The beef recipe was absolutely delicious, and I will DEFINITELY be making this one at home this winter!  It turned out like a very tender and savory pot roast, the milk making a lovely carmelized and flavorful brown sauce. I’ve included the link above to this recipe from “Every Night Italian” – available in Google books.  The zucchini recipe is similar to a recipe I made out of Guiliano’s mother’s cookbook earlier this summer, the full recipe is also on their blog.

Finally, our dessert for the evening was a Chocolate and Amaretti Custard.  This was a homemade egg custard with crushed Amaretti cookies and semi-sweet chocolate stirred into the hot custard to incorporate prior to chilling.  A deliciously sweet end to the evening. This recipe is also available on Google books from the link above. Overall, it was a great evening and tasty meal!

M’Hanncha

Well, you know I can’t go long without baking a dessert – especially from a culture that involves phyllo-based pastries! M’Hanncha is a coiled pastry made of phyllo stuffed with almond paste and topped with almonds.

The almond paste is flavored with orange blossom water. I’ve used rosewater before for Greek and Lebanese desserts, but this was my first time working with orange blossom water. The 2 Tbsp. in this recipe is a bit strong for me, so if I make it again I’ll probably cut back a little bit. I didn’t add the extra flavoring to the honey syrup that I poured on top either.  The perfume-y fragrance of those flower waters is something I can handle in moderation, but it’s still a little strange to my Western palate. It’s funny, I was at Neomonde to get some supplies for my Moroccan kitchen earlier this week, and a tween was telling her mom that she thought the baklava tasted like soap – no doubt because of the rosewater. The amount of rosewater in Neomonde’s pistachio baklava is just perfect though, I have to say :)

A video of the recipe is actually available online, from Cooking with Alia – that’s the recipe I used. So I’m not going to retype the recipe here.

I bought the little recipe booklet that comes with a full DVD of her recipe demonstrations. The repetitive background music is a little annoying, but she does a good job of showing all the steps to make your own m’hanncha, and many other fun dishes that I hope to try. So many recipes, so little time!