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February 2009

19 February 2009

Cardamom Custard with Caramelized Oranges


Cardamom, the second most expensive spice next to saffron, is one of the world's oldest spices. Originating from the forests of India's Western Ghats mountain range, the little green pod has traveled far and wide.

Over the centuries cardamom has been used as a tooth cleaner, a perfume and even as a cure to obesity. Today the spice is used more commonly in cooking to flavour both sweet and savory dishes and drinks such as coffee, mulled wines and some liqueurs. 

I often cook with the aromatic spice but mostly in curries (although I do use it in rice puddings too). This week I went a step further and used cardamom in a sweet custard with oranges caramelized in palm sugar. The sweet, subtle scent of the cardamom pairs wonderfully with the smooth egg custard. The caramelized orange imparts a hint of citrus sweetness however its main contribution to the dish is  aesthetic rather than flavour.

I recommend giving the custard time (overnight) to develop its heady flavour. It's well worth the wait.

Continue reading "Cardamom Custard with Caramelized Oranges" »

14 February 2009

Himalayan Truffle Pasta


The truffle, a highly prized subterranean fungi, may be the last thing on people's minds in these troubled economic times. With a one ounce truffle costing up to $165, you can imagine my shock to see a basket of fresh black truffles at South China Seas Trading Company selling for $10 each. This must be some kind of mistake!

I tenderly picked a truffle up and sniffed it. While the tuber did have the smell of damp earth, that distinctly pungent truffle musk was missing. It turned out that the truffles were of the Chinese variety, grown in foothills of the Himalayas.

Himalayan Truffles look like your average truffle on the outside. They are knotty and knobbly, a dirty black-brown color, a little smaller than European truffles -- about the size of a walnut. On the inside, they are jet black, with cream-coloured, marbling.

French and Italian truffles grow symbiotically with trees such as the oak, beech, hazel or chestnut while Himalayan truffles predominantly grow near pine trees or other conifers.


It is said that unscrupulous restaurants sometimes pass of Himalayan truffles by enhancing them with  truffle oil or butter. Don Dickson, owner of South China Seas Trading Co, opined that this masquerading has "resulted in Himalayan truffles being negatively regarded as fakes rather than just being appreciated for what they are".


I tasted a sliver of the truffle and decided that it wouldn't hurt to saute them. If anything, it heightened their delicate flavour.

First, I sauteed some onions in olive oil and butter, I added finely chopped garlic, followed by slivers of truffle which I seasoned with flor de sal and then sauteed them for several minutes. I added a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and gave the pan several flips. Finally, I threw in the cooked fettucine and tossed it around to coat it. Simple and delicious.

Continue reading "Himalayan Truffle Pasta" »

03 February 2009

Ricotta Ravioli with Dark Chocolate Sauce


A few months ago I wrote about my first experience with chocolate pasta. Since then I've often thought about the endless possibilities of sweet flavour combinations.

After a recent pasta-making class at Quince cooking studio in Vancouver, I promptly raced out and finally bought a pasta machine.

The cooking class was taught by chef Adam Pegg of La Quercia restaurant. Pegg studied in Italy for several years and spent much of his time studying pasta-making techniques in the Emilia-Romagna region. Emilia-Romagna is considered by many in Italy to produce some of the country's finest fresh pasta.

Pegg recalled his good fortune in spending many a day with little old ladies in their homes learning how to perfect their craft. Even as a young man Pegg couldn't keep up with the dexterous workings of those seasoned veterans. 

During class we learned how to make orecchiette (little ears), mini gnocchi, fettucine and ravioli. I've been wanting to make my own ravioli for a while, especially paper-thin sheets, which I think, makes for the best ravioli.

So I bought my new machine this Sunday morning past and set it to work as soon as I got home. Our glass dining table became a mini pasta workshop. The flour was flying. Several happy hours later I was serving ricotta and lemon zest-filled ravioli topped with a dark chocolate sauce, followed by fettucine served with shaved Himalayan truffles (the poor man's truffle, but more on that next week).

The ravioli was sublime. If you don't have a pasta machine and can't be bothered making your own then you could always substitute the pasta with Chinese dumpling wrappers but there's just something about freshly made pasta that cannot be topped.


Continue reading "Ricotta Ravioli with Dark Chocolate Sauce" »

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