Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chillies: Hot Chocolate & Pasta

Every once in a while I find myself lacking in inspiration when cooking. Sometimes I have no idea what to make, and am bored to tears by the thought of family favourites. I also become very tired of the thought of attempting to re-introduce (for the 20th time), a food my kids don't like. I now know I have to stick with it as my finicky daughter has eventually eaten pretty much every vegetable I have put in front of her: minus tomatoes. The key is serving a particular type of food many, many times. A family dog would have come in handy for all the wasted food.

Thinking about food has occupied my mind steadily for years as no other subject can, and without my primary motivator I feel a little bit lost. A great food blog, of which there are many, help animate me, as do beautiful food magazines such as Delicious. I also try to latch my brain on to a particular food, spice or herb that does not usually find itself in my cooking. This inspiration usually comes from work. Work forces me out of my comfort zone again and again as I must tackle ingredients I don't usually use.

Hot chillies have pulled me out of a recent slump. Right now I am working on a cooking show that uses a lot of chilies. When in my early 20's and still a student at McGill University I worked at a Cajun, Creole restaurant where I built up quiet a tolerance for hot chillies. I got hooked on the heat and was using habanero sauce like salt. I also liberally sprinkled my food with our in house Cajun spice blend. It had to be mixed up while wearing an apron as a mask.

Over the years my tolerance for heat disappeared, and of course cooking for a young family doesn't help. I am not a 2 meals momma. We all eat the same dinner together...point finale. Through work my tolerance for all things spicy has lately been growing. I find that spicy food aids digestion and enhances flavor. I have become a fan of finger hot chillies (Holland Chile), and have become reacquainted with an old love: the Habanero. When processing a habanero take the time to wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water. Its a lesson I have yet to learn properly.

Spicy hot chocolate

This Spicy Hot Chocolate, in my opinion, is the only hot beverage that rivals a good cafe latte. The deep chocolate flavor derived from quality cocoa powder and the lively heat from the dried chillies make this a most satisfying drink. I first enjoyed one at the lovely La Chocolaterie Marie-Claude in Ste-Adele, Quebec while breastfeeding and trying to stay away from coffee. It was love at first sip. Quality cacao and "fresh" dried chilies are key. I use my spice grinder (really a coffee grinder committed to spices), to turn my dried chilies into a rough powder. Just forget about store bought ground cayenne.

spice/coffee grinder: essential kitchen tool

Spicy Hot Chocolate (serves 1)

In a small sauce pan place 40ml (2 heaping tablespoons ) of good quality unsweetened cocoa. Add a large pinch of ground chili peppers. Add 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of milk, and with a fork form a paste that is lump free. Whisk in 250 ml ( 1 cup) of milk until well blended. Bring to a gentle simmer then remove from the heat. At this point you could froth your hot chocolate or drink as is. Add sugar to taste and add more chili powder if desired. You could also add a dash of cinnamon.

Pasta and chilies are old friends:

Spicy Rapini Pasta (serves 2)

  • 225 g / 1/2 lb pasta of choice, al dente
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) olive oil
  • 75 ml ( 1/4 cup) pancetta, small dice or thin strips
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh finger hot chili*, small dice
  • 1 l (4 cups) rapini, woody stems removed, sliced into bite size pieces
  • 75 ml ( 1/4 cup) 35 % cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
In a frying pan add olive oil and cook pancetta over medium high heat until crispy and golden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Then add the garlic and hot chillies to the pan and saute for 1 minute. Add the rapini and saute for 3 minutes or until rapini has wilted. Add the cream and cook for 30 seconds more. Remove from the heat, season and toss in the pasta. Sprinkle the pasta with the cooked pancetta and serve.

*Finger hot chillies which come in green (unripened), red, orange and yellow are not the spiciest chili but they have a nice heat that builds up pleasantly (but doesn't overwhelm), as you eat.

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