Tiramisu

Here’s a confession: I don’t really like sweets. Anything with too much sugar is a real turn off. Pop Tarts, doughnuts, cakes caked with fondant, hard candies, even flavored yoghurt bothers me. It just doesn’t taste good. These foods, while delicious are overwhelming, They tend to coat my whole mouth in one single even sensation- not a flavor, just a strange numbness. This doesn’t mean that I live a sad boring life (though my college roommate whose daily diet of Skittles and Sour Patch Kids would beg to differ). I love ice cream but I tend to like darker flavors, dark chocolates, essentially things where there is complexity. Where the sugar has to compete with other elements in order to have any kind of representation.

This realization, or rather development in my personal palette led to me to Tiramisu: a cake based dessert that blends a silky cheese, sugar, alcohol, and coffee into a layered concoction of happiness and satiety. Tiramisu and I have a long history that weaves with various facets of my life: past romantic relationships, travels, and a start of my culinary endeavors. In the ninth grade, I watched a movie called No Reservations. A mediocre rom-com starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart, where the actress plays a head chef with skeletons in her cupboard and Eckhart plays her ambitious sous chef. While the story is not really that memorable, there was a scene that I loved. Eckhart and Jones are in an apartment dimly lit with candles with the chef rushing to leave before the scene becomes more intimate. The sous chef stops her while simultaneously opening his fridge and offering Tiramisu to which Jones has a quite retort, “I am not a dessert person.” This cuts to them on the floor of his drawing room taking generous servings of the decadent dish and with Jones saying, “I guess I was wrong.” I loved this scene because of its simplicity. The cake wasn’t plated beautifully. In fact, it was a square plastic tupperware, but there was passion in the food that converted into passion for Jones.

High school Archit, who was in the thick of love with a beautiful high school girl, found this as his relationship mecca. Something to elevate the way he shows his love through a personal gesture that while was unique was also genuinely simple. Sadly, I was never really able to make this dessert for beautiful high school girl and something that may or may not change anytime soon.

Fast forward to my first winter back home from college, I saw the movie again and this time I decided to give tiramisu a try. Like a true aspiring student of the liberal arts I embarked on deep research into finding the best recipes. After referencing what seemed like days of delicious recipe mining, I created my own recipe which was a convoluted hybrid of Martha Stewart, Deeba Rajpal, and Sanjeev Kapoor’s concoction. I got the ingredients and commenced towards creating a true mess. The egg whites split, the sugar never dissolved, the coffee was so hot that the ladyfingers melted, and to top it off a six hour power cut converted my pastry into a chunky milkshake. I gave up. The ingredients were too expensive, especially to make something sweet. What changed this perspective was my trip to Italy where I loaded up on as much Tiramisu as I could consume until my blood turned to coffee flavored sugar. I tried concoctions made with a sponge cake, white chocolate instead of dark, with rum instead of marsala wine, and what I thought was the best of them all, a gelato with chunks of rum soaked cake. These variations gave me the hope that unlike French, Italian food can have variations. You can make it the way you want, a positive push that allowed me to give this dish another try. By this time, I had been cooking other things as well so a general knowledge about the kitchen helped me as well. I made many variations myself but the one I share below is the culmination of a lot of trial and error. It retains a sweet taste but what overpowers you is the flavor of coffee and dark rum that is succeeded with the fresh aroma of lemon achieved through zest between the layers.

IMG_2441

Food tends to always have a history. Tiramisu has an amazing story of its own but I like the story it weaves in my life. At the end of the day, that is what I think of when I cook: The ability to share my stories with people. And hopefully with the right people.

Tiramisu-2Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think of it!

Ingredients

Serving Size: Should serve a party of 12 (idk weight)

4 large egg whites

5 egg yolks

250 g plain mascarpone cheese at room temp (in India, Flander’s makes the best version)

1/2 cup caster sugar

4 shots of fresh espresso

24 semi sweet Italian ladyfingers

4 tablespoons dark rum (old rum is best)

1 tablespoon of lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence or seeds of 1 vanilla pod

sifted cocoa powder

Preparation

Step 1

Start by slow cooking the egg yolks. In a saucepan, boil water. Place another saucepan above it. The pan on above should be slightly bigger in order not sink in the water. Add yolks and sugar. Whisk until the sugar has mixed completely. It should take about 3 minutes. Don’t over cook. Once mixed set aside to cool.

Step 2

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until you achieve stiff peaks. This takes some time. About 7 minutes but also depends on the weather and size of the eggs. Don’t over beat or the protein in the egg might split.

Step 3

Mix the now cooled yolks with the cheese. Mix well and add vanilla essence. Once mixed slowly incorporate the whites. Be gentle here. The idea is to incorporate the lightness of whites.

Step 4

In a shallow bowl, add coffee and rum and then dip each ladyfinger. Place half the lady fingers as one layer. Then add half of the cheese and egg mix. Add half the zest and then follow the same steps for another layer. Once set, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 2 hours, or the fridge for 4 hours before eating.

Lemon Garlic Chicken with Mushroom Wild Rice

My favorite restaurant in college was Northstar Cafe. It’s a chain of homey little eateries found only in Columbus, Ohio. The food is locally sourced and the menu is small but each dish is made to perfection. The casual atmosphere is inviting to a mixed crowd of both young and old(er) patrons. As a college student it was definitely on the pricier side. My best friend Morgan and I loved this place. We would come here all the time and usually get the same things. One of us would get a flatbread, either chicken or veggie; a fish sandwich; a couple of ginger ales and a dark chocolate truffle giant cookie (for starters).

While I loved all the food, the one thing that always made me happy was the side dish that came with the fish sandwich. It was called a wild rice salad. A rice with a husk covering giving it the texture of oatmeal, along with a sweet dried currents, a silky acidic bite because of added dry wine, and a crunch delivered by slivered roasted almonds. The complexity of flavors and the simplicity of its appearance baffled me. I wanted to recreate this but give it my own twist.

Wild Rice

Lets start by talking about wild rice. A dark blown/ black colored rice indigenous of North America packs a lot of flavor. Unlike basmati or other polished rice, it doesn’t take in flavors but contributes its own to the dish. That’s also why it cannot be the only thing you serve. It has to accompanied with other flavors and perhaps even a protein. I decided to do both. For flavor, I substituted the currents with caramelized onions which provides the sweet profile but still is savory and I added thinly sliced button mushrooms that are cooked in a white wine reduction. This removes all the alcohol from the wine but flavor is soaked up by the mushrooms which compliment the rice amazingly well. For the protein, I chose the chicken breast that I sliced laterally and marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and dried rosemary for a quick 30 mins. Once the flavors were soaked in, I pounded the chicken thin and lightly coated in flour. The flour makes sure the chicken remains moist and also prevents the garlic and rosemary from burning.

What you end up with are well seasoned fillets of chicken with juicy outer layer and charred edges with just a hit of burnt garlic flavor. The rice is smooth and silky and mushrroms melt in your mouth while the rice gives some resistance but the kind that gives you the satifsfaction that you are eating something healthy. And to be honest, this is quite healthy. The rice is rich in fiber, chicken breast has no fat and we use very little oil. Though, there are ways to make it unhealthy too. Add butter in the rice and then dress it with raisins and roasted almonds for a decadent yet satifying side.

Go ahead and give this recipe a try and let me know how you like wild rice!

Ingredients

Serves 1

For the marinade

250 g Chicken Breast

2 tsp dried rosemary (1 tsp if you are using fresh rosemary)

2 tsp dried thyme (1 tsp if you are using fresh thyme)

2 cloves of garlic, minced finely

1tbsp olive oil

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

For the rest of the meal

2 tsp of all purpose flour

1/2 cup of wild rice (follow packet suggestions. Usually takes about 30 minutes to cook)

350 g of any fresh mushrooms finely sliced (3 cups chopped)

1/2 medium red onion finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced finely

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup of dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)

6-8 fresh basil leaves, tightly rolled and finely chopped

Salt, pepper, and lemon juice for taste

Preparation

Step 1

Start with the marinade. Take the chicken breast and cut lenghtwise. Add to the bowl with olive oil, garlic, dried spices, lemon juice and a lot of salt & pepper. Leave it in the fridge for 20 minutes and no more than 30.

Step 2

Take out the chicken and wrap in plastic wrap. Then with a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin (I used a rolling pin) beat the chicken until its about 1/4 inch thick. Place the tenderized chicken on flour and lightly coat both sides of the meat.

Step 3

Take a medium skillet, heat on high and add 1tbsp olive oil.  Add chicken and cook each side for 1.5 minutes. Remove and place on paper towel.

Step 4

Reduce the pan to medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft but not steaming. Add garlic, onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes and then add basil and wine. Lets the wine bubble off and cook based on the amount of liquid you want. I cooked for 30 seconds until no actual liquid was draining but the rice was still moist. Add butter if you want a shimmering look and a silky texture.

Pesto Pasta

I LOVE pasta. I mean it’s not something rare but I genuinely have a deep appreciation for how simple ingredients like flour, water, and eggs can make something so delicious and versatile. Pasta comes in a multitude of shapes, colors, and sizes. However, there is one thing intrinsically about any pasta– It can absorb flavor. The reason why we love pasta is never just the pasta alone, it’s the flavor that we infuse it with (though there are some people like my roommate that can eat it with no flavor and if he is really hungry, raw). It’s the sauce that has made Italian food so versatile. With a base like a flavorless noodle, the real magic is in giving the base character.

My go to sauce is Pesto. It’s traditionally a basil, pine nut, and olive oil infusion that has a variety of new combinations. Its fresh, light on the palette and works extremely well with long strand pastas such pappardelle or linguine. While its light on the palette, both the olive oil and pine nuts give it the fat content of a filling meal. Which means, that it really doesn’t need an accompaniment of a protein (such as chicken or shrimp) or veggies. I usually cut the fat with lemon and fresh cherry tomatoes, as a way to introduce some fresh elements to the dish.

When to make this dish?

  1. When you are alone, hungry, and are in the middle of a master of none binge session.
  2. Date night: its easy enough that you don’t get into a fight with your boo thang but intricate enough that you don’t think it was take out.
  3. When you have a lot of people coming over: It’s not hard to find the ingredients to make a large quantity of this dish and its very filling. Only caveat, you might have to add veggies or protein because not everyone can appreciate a simple dish.

Pesto Senior Year 2

Give the recipe a try. It’s a little different and based on my taste. Being an Italian sauce you can literally change any of the elements. Let me know how it was!

Ingredients

1 Cup Fresh Basil

1/3 Pine Nuts

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

2 Cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 Cup Parmesan (though I have tried it with Gouda, Manchego, and Mozzarella all tastes good)

1/2 a lemon

A fist full of your favorite pasta cooked according to the cooking instructions

Salt and Pepper to taste

Optional: 10 cherry tomatoes cut in halves, 1 tbsp of toasted pine nuts

Preparation 

Step 1

Wash the basil well rinsing about 3 times and submerge water as you prepare all the other ingredients. In the mean time, start boiling water and cook pasta as per the instructions.

Step 2

Start by emulsifying the fats. Add the pine nuts, olive oil and garlic into a food processor and pulse until the nuts are well ground into a paste

Step 3

Add the basil lightly draining the water, along with cheese, salt & pepper. Pulse until a thick green paste is formed. Approximately a minute. Check in the middle for consistency. Finish by adding lemon juice and mixing with a spoon

Step 4

Add 2 tablespoons of pesto into your pasta and mix well. Add some pasta water if the mixture looks too dry. Garnish with fresh cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts