Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coconut Tapioca Pudding

If I were a superhero, my kryptonite would probably be anything custard or coconut. And if the two merged into one glorious dish (coconut cream pie, coconut crème brûlée, etc.) I’d be done for. This tapioca pudding fits snugly into that category.

Tapioca seems to be one of those things that befuddles people in that it's not an actual plant but rather the extracted starch of the cassava root. Cassava, also called manioc or yuca, is native to South America and is one of the top sources of carbohydrates consumed around the world. The woody tuber contains a naturally occurring toxin and therefore must undergo processing to become edible. It can then be boiled, steamed or fried and used as a starchy side dish, in soups and dumplings or baked into sweet cakes.

The familiar tapioca pearl is produced by drying the processed cassava. The result is a virtually protein-free starch which happens to be very digestible (it was actually considered a healthy food for the young, old and infirm in 19th century America).

These days I mainly consume tapioca in the form of bubble tea, thickened fruit desserts, or my personal favorite, pudding. 

Bob’s Red Mill has a fabulous recipe on the back of their small pearl tapioca package, one that involves whipped egg whites. You saw what they did for pancakes; you won’t believe what they can do for pudding.

So I experimented a bit and came up with this version, which uses coconut milk in addition to regular milk. The result is quite nuanced, not at all over the top. What IS over the top is the texture. The whipped egg whites elevate it from the pudding category to more of a whip.

Have you ever eaten a cloud? Well here’s your chance.

Coconut Tapioca Pudding
I like serving this pudding topped with fresh mango or pineapple. For a more intense coconut flavor, increase the ratio of coconut milk to regular milk, or try folding in some unsweetened shredded coconut. Inspired by the tapioca recipe on the Bob's Red Mill package.

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca (not instant)
2 cups whole milk
1 14-fluid ounce can coconut milk (light is fine)
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, separated 

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, soak the tapioca in the milk for 30 minutes. Add the coconut milk, salt and lightly beaten egg yolks; stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the sugar until soft peaks form. Slowly fold about 1 cup of hot tapioca into the egg whites, then gently fold the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir over low heat for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. 

Serve the pudding warm or chilled (if you choose to chill the pudding, cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lemon Yogurt Pancakes

Every year over the holidays my mom and I watch The Sound of Music and, subsequently, get the songs stuck in our heads for weeks. I always enjoyed the scene where Maria calmed the children by singing about her favorite things, but I have to admit, my lyrics would be a heck of a lot different than whiskers on kittens and cream colored ponies:
“Thin New York pizza and dry apple cider
Custard-filled cream puffs and wine by the fire…”

Ok, Tristan said I have to stop before everyone knows that I'm a dork. But if I were allowed to continue, I would certainly work savory pancakes in there. Zucchini, sweet corn, green pea, you name it. But the love ends at the standard buttermilk flapjack. I like the idea of ordering a piping hot stack but they're just too starchy and inevitably leave me feeling 10 pounds heavier.

That said, I recently had an inexplicable hankering for sweet pancakes, and my cravings don't go away until they're satisfied. To avoid the infamous flour-induced coma, I decided to make a version using yogurt, lemon zest and whipped egg whites. The result? Seriously fluffy, light-as-a-feather, uncommonly good pancakes.

The key here is separating the egg yolks from the whites. You could easily skip this step (simply mix whole eggs into the yogurt) but you'd be missing out on some incredible texture. Folding in whipped egg whites produces a batter that's impossibly airy and delicate. 

Requiring only 7 tablespoons of flour per batch, these lemony little cakes will simultaneously satisfy your pancake craving and perpetuate it.

Lemon Yogurt Pancakes
A lighter version of the American breakfast classic, these are made with yogurt instead of milk and a bit of lemon zest for freshness.

Makes 14 3-inch pancakes

1 cup plain yogurt (I use organic whole milk yogurt)
2 large eggs, divided
Zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, egg yolks, lemon zest and vanilla. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined (do not over-mix).

Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter, being careful to retain as much air as possible.

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat (err on the side of lower heat to avoid burnt outsides and raw middles). Add enough melted butter to lightly coat the bottom of the pan - you can do this by brushing, swirling or, as I do, running the end of a stick of butter over the pan's surface. Pour in the batter in scant 1/4-cup-fulls. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip carefully and cook another 1-2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.

Serve in a stack with butter, yogurt and real maple syrup.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Look Back

 New Year's Eve dinner at Tristan's family's home in Arlington, VA

Happy New Year everyone!

I couldn't jump into 2011 without paying a bit of homage to 2010. It was an eventful year of cooking experiments, dinner parties, culinary classes, new cookbooks and a good deal of travel. But one of my favorite parts was going to New York over the holidays. Why? Because I got to spend time with my family and eat some darn good holiday food.

As tradition dictates, we always make an Italian Seven Fish Stew on Christmas Eve. It has a spicy, flavorful broth of clam juice, stock and tomatoes and is chock-full of scallops, haddock, flounder, shrimp, calamari, mussels and clams. The only necessary accompaniment is a loaf of good bread (I strongly suggest making some No-Knead) to sop up all those glorious juices.

Unlike the anticipated main course, dessert on the 24th is up for discussion. This year my mom made mini pavlovas with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Named after the Russian prima ballerina, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s, the dessert lives up to its muse: light, airy and elegant (the meringue shells were meant to simulate her tutu). 

Christmas morning at our house always begins with a breakfast of Züpfe, the beloved bread of Switzerland. Back in the home country it's eaten on Sundays with butter, honey and jam and perhaps a soft boiled egg. Nowadays, for those of my family in America, it only makes an annual appearance over the holidays.

No two Züpfe recipes are alike and in my humble (and certainly biased) opinion, my grandmother's was the very best. She took great pride in her work and guarded her recipe like a Swiss Guard in front of the Vatican. When she passed away, it took years of experimentation and refinement for my father to develop his version, which, we all concur, is the closest we've ever had to the original.

Our traditional Christmas dinner is unabashedly English-themed: roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. My favorite part, hands down, is the pudding. Similar to a popover, it has a puffed, golden exterior with an eggy, custard-like middle. Back in old England, it used to be a filler dish for poor people who couldn't afford much meat. Also called "dripping pudding," it was made by placing a simple batter of flour, milk and eggs under the roasting meat in order to catch all the savory drippings. Despite its humble beginnings, it's easy to see why Yorkshire pudding has found a place at a New York Christmas table. 

No English meal would be complete without a proper trifle. My mom makes a wonderfully traditional version with sherry soaked cake, layered with egg custard, fruit and whipped cream. If this doesn't say festive, I don't know what does.

I can't think of a better way to end a year than with family, food and friends. I'm already looking forward to repeating it in 2011.