Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee

It's the most wonderful time of the year. The time when I don my sole Anthropologie apron and a schmata, roll up my sleeves, and hole myself up in the kitchen for hours in an elated state of chocolate-covered bliss. Literally, when I emerge, I am covered head to toe with chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, and could not be more happy about it. It's time for holiday chocolate bark!

Now, although I am fiercely and loyally dedicated to my Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Dried Cherries, this Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee proved irrisistable as it is basically my beloved recipe on steroids. Brought to my attention by Lousia Shafia (my new favorite cookbook author) via Saveur (my trusted ethnic recipe source), this bark had more nuts, more dried fruits, more caffeine (I am a sucker for coffee in any form, especially coffee and chocolate) and finally mulberries, which were totally foreign to me, but upon some research are funny-looking berries resembling tiny pine cones with a name that roles nicely off the tongue and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. (I found them easily at Whole Foods, but you can substitute with more commonplace dried figs if desired.)

Aesthetically, the bark is beautiful. Warm hues of various toasted nuts, jewels of dried cherries, and the ensuing dusted bronzed crumbs make the vivacious bark indisputably attractive. Taste-wise, it was a totally new experience to me. Unfamiliar with both caradamom and mulberries, I set out in eager anticipation.

The cardamom, which Louisa describes as "peppery-sweet", is deliciously exotic; adding a whole new depth of flavor to the festive bark. It's potently aromatic, with flavors akin to cinnamon and ginger, and melds wonderfully with the bitter coffee and chocolate. Louisa explains that adding cardamom to coffee and tea is a commonplace Iranian practice, which helps to explain my final assessment of the nutty chocolate bark: it tastes like a coffee shop. Pointed, distinct flavors—pungent coffee, assorted nuts, tart cherries, rich cocoa, chai-like cardamon—create a remarkable, sophisticated concoction that's as unique as it is exceptional. You want to inhale all the flavors, over and over again, with a heartfelt appreciation for the bark's fancy, delicate bouquet.

As for the mulberries, what a treat! Crunchy and granola-esque, they were fruity and sweet but not cloyingly so. The mulberries acted as a lovely foil to the sharp coffee grounds. I thoroughly enjoyed this bark, and despite the amount of work (all that nut chopping gave me a hand cramp—next time, will use a blender!) the elegant outcome was undoubtedly worth it. I leave you with just one piece of advice: if you are sensitive to caffeine, I wouldn't eat this too close to going to bed: it delivers quite the buzz!

Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee (from The New Persian Kitchen)
Makes about 1 1/2 lbs bark

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli) 
1 tsp. ground cardamom
¾ cup almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
½ cup pistachios, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
¼ cup dried mulberries, chopped (or finely chopped dried figs)
¼ cup dried tart cherries, chopped
2 tsp. coffee beans, roughly chopped
⅛ tsp. kosher salt

1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until melted, 8 minutes. (Alternatively, microwave in spurts of 20-30 seconds each, mixing in between, until chocolate is fully melted.)
2. Remove bowl from pan and stir in cardamom and half each the almonds, pistachios, mulberries, and cherries. 
3. Spread mixture onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet into a 10” x 7” rectangle, about ¼” thick.
4. Sprinkle evenly with remaining almonds, pistachios, mulberries, cherries, the coffee beans, and salt. Gently pat down the toppings into the bark with a spatula.
5. Chill, uncovered, until bark hardens, about 2 hours. Break into pieces to serve.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Adam's Favorite Chili

Chili is one of those dishes that I think everyone associates with fond, cozy memories. For me it's the highlight after a morning of skiing (with a cup of hot cocoa, of course), the food for good company, or a delicious end to a lazy, wintery Sunday. We've shifted types of cold in New York recently—from pleasantly chilly to bone-numbing freezing—and this chili is the type you start on the latter's weekend morning. The kind when its too cold to leave the house, and the chili's slow-cooking aromas waft from the stove, permeating your home and warming you up, body and soul.

Now, the prerequisites for Adam's Favorite Chili were no small order. The chili had to evoke these positive memory associations, boast plenty of heat and spice, and retain my reputation as lead Kveller of the Kitchen. Eek! I set out on the task with the bar set high. There are so many chili recipes out there, which one do I pick? Is chili powder spice ok, or should I grind my own? On to the secret ingredients: Between beer, cocoa, cinnamon, and coffee, which ones really elevate the recipe from good to the best!?

Thank you, Food52, for providing me with the answer. I chose this recipe because it was interesting, unique, and most of the ingredients—even the more obscure ones for a chili—were pantry items. Using three types of tomato (diced, crushed and sauced) evoked a prominent tomatoey base, and two types of heat—from chipotle peppers and cayenne pepper—really pack a fiery punch. 
The standard chili spices are in here too; ample chili power, cumin, a bay leaf. But they are accompanied by newcomers cocoa powder and instant coffee granules, and here's where this chili starts to transform from tasty to wow. The acidity from the tomatoes make the chili almost sweet; but the intense, chocolate notes from the cocoa and bitter undertone from the coffee deliver a rich, full-bodied complexity that picks up the smoky notes from the chipotle, too. Adding the beer thickens the broth from a soup to a hearty stew. So all your expected flavors are there...and then something deeper. Seriously yum.
As is the nature of chili, a taste-as-you-go method is foolproof for this dish as long as you've got the basics: onions, peppers, garlic, a tomato base, ground meat, and beans. This one falls more in the Cincinnati-style category, while my Texan friend makes a slightly sweeter version with tomato paste, allspice, cinnamon and cornmeal: same level of deliciousness; slightly different spin. It's hard to go wrong. However, make sure not to skimp on the toppings: grated cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, diced red onion, and tomatoes—plus cornbread and/or fresh baguette—are a must to accompany your chili.

Adam's Favorite Chili (adapted from Food52)
Serves 5-6


1 1/4 pounds ground meat (lean grass-fed beef or turkey) 
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons diced chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce 
1 29-ounce can tomato sauce
1 29-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
5-6 ounces dark beer, such as Guinness (about a half can)
1-2 dried bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cayenne red pepper
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee grounds
For toppings: Chopped cilantro, red onion, tomato; grated cheddar cheese, sour cream
To serve with: Cornbread, baguette, or rice

  1. In a large pot over medium high heat, sauté the ground meat in 2-3 tbsp olive oil until cooked. Drain the meat and set aside.
  2. In the same pot on medium low heat, sauté the onions and peppers until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chipotle peppers and cook for another 2 minutes. Add spices, mix in thoroughly, and then all remaining ingredients.
  3. Loosely cover the pot with a lid and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue to cook for another hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove bay leaves before serving; serve with toppings of your choice. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Brazilian Black Bean Soup

I know its time for a post-Thanksgiving-detox, but Turkey Day's hearty fare has won over my heart. Though probably way overdue for a Blueprint cleanse, winter is officially here, and the thought of a green juice right seems somehow sacrilege. In a quest to find a middle ground between pumpkin pies and a cayenne lemon drink, I introduce to you this Brazilian Black Bean Soup. If you've been eating a steady diet of butternut squash, thyme, sage and brussels sprouts comme moi, this soup's spicy, ethnic flare will do you good.

Although it utilizes mostly pantry items, you'd never guess how simple this "soup," (its really more of a stew once you add the rice) upon tasting its robust, tangy flavors, is. Peppered generously with spicy cumin and hot sauce, the earthy black beans and tender onion, pepper, and carrot mingle harmoniously amongst a secret ingredient—orange juice—which delivers a subtle sweetness and perfect acidity in every bite. These fiery, citrus undertones elevate what could be a standard black bean soup a mega cut above the rest.
I use orange juice in cooking a lot more often than expected; most often to substitute vinegars in salad dressings. To keep a steady supply on hand, my secret weapon is a can of orange juice concentrate: it lasts months in the freezer, and defrosts in seconds. I highly suggest making the investment!

A cross between a burrito bowl and glorified, brothy rice and beans; this soup embodies comfort without being boring. The original recipe called for overnight cooking dry black beans, but I simplified the version by using canned—and I was more than satisfied with its abundant spice and flavors. Top generously with cilantro and chopped scallion for garnish, and finish with a heaping dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt—the creamy consistency folds perfectly into the savory rice and beans.
Brazilian Black Bean Soup (from The Moosewood Cookbook)
Serves: 6 to 8

1 15 oz can black beans (about 2 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cups chopped onion
8 medium cloves garlic, crushed (adjusted)
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1/2 cups orange juice (can be from orange juice concentrate)
black pepper, to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tbsp hot sauce
1 1/2 cups brown rice
Optional toppings: sour cream/plain greek yogurt, cilantro, salsa, or chopped scallions

1. Cook rice according to package directions.
2. While rice is cooking, heat olive oil in a medium sized skillet. Add onion, half the garlic, cumin, salt, and carrot. Saute over medium heat until the carrot is just tender. Add remaining garlic and the bell pepper. Saute until everything is very tender (another 10 to 15 minutes). Add beans.
3. Stir in orange juice, black pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce. Puree soup with an immersion blender until a chunky consistency is reached.
4. Serve over rice, with a generous sprinkle of your favorite toppings.