Coconut Almond Pannacotta

here is the promised recipe for the coconut and almond lovers among you (and the vegans who want to try a simple, elegant dessert):

2 Cups Coconut Milk (or cream, if you can find it!)
2 Cups Almond Milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split (or 1 Tbs vanilla paste)
1 Cup evaporated cane sugar
1Tbs agar agar powder
1/4 cup cold water

- Dissolve agar agar with cold water until for about 10 minutes.

- Meanwhile, cook the coconut and almond milk, sugar and vanilla bean until they reach boiling.

- Strain the milk and reserve or discard the vanilla bean (you can use it for infusing sugar!)

- Pour some of the hot milk into the cup with the agar agar

- Pour back into the pot

- Grease 7 ramekins with a little bit of bland vegetable oil (I use almond oil or grapeseed oil). Best way to do this is with a paper towel or a pastry brush.

- Pour the hot milk mixture into a saucer or a spouted dish. Divide evenly among all the containers. I like to place them all on one big tray, pan or tupperware - so nothing spills, and also for easy transportation in and out of the fridge!

- Let them cool, uncovered, in the fridge. Once they stop steaming, you may cover them with a plastic wrap or a close with the tupperware lid.

- Serve after at least 4hrs of refrigeration. This pannacotta is a little more on the jelly-side, as there is not a lot of fat content. It's very delicious, light and refreshing - great to serve on warm spring days, and even on hot summer days.

- Best served with an accompanying compote of your choice, i.e.: Rhubarb Flower Compote.

Rhubarb Blossom Compote

Fresh Rhubarb by Ayala Moriel
Fresh Rhubarb, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

This rhubarb compote brings the freshness of both the Canadian and Mediterranean spring, combining the rhubarb tartness with cheerful orange blossom aroma.

1kg fresh rhubarb
1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar
2 Tbs orange flower water *

Rinse rhubarb and discard any green parts (they are poisoneous). Cut into thick slices.
Place in a sauce pan. Sprinkle sugar over top. Cook covered on a medium heat until the rhubarb is soft, about 5 minutes (check on it often to stir and to make sure it does not get scorched, stuck to the bottom, etc.). Add the orange flower water at the end of the cooking, to maximize its flavour.

Bring down to room temperature and pour into an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator up to one week (you can also eat it warm, but it won't taste as "fresh").

Serve with vanilla ice cream, frozen yoghurt, fresh yoghurt or unsweetened whipped cream with a hint of vanilla.

* Orange flower water is the distillation water from making neroli essential oil. It is a very popular ingredient in Middle Easter, Persian and East Indian cuisine - where it is used in countless desserts such as ice creams, confections and pastries.

Rosy Rhubarb Crumble

Summer Fruit, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

As promised, I’m sharing with you my rhubarb crumble recipe. I couldn’t help but add something perfumey to the otherwise quite simple North American classic of rhubarb and summer berries bake – probably owing to the fact that I’m a Middle Easter perfumer, the pairing with rose was just inevitable.

Rosewater and rose sugar complement the tartness and slightly floral nuances in the rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries in this otherwise easy and laid-back recipe. It’s a heavenly summer treat and with reduced sugar comparing to other rhubarb recipes I’ve seen. I think the tartness is refreshing and overdoing the sugar takes away from the flavour (this is true for many recipes – and in fact, I usually cut the sugar in half in most North American dessert recipes – sugar is way overrated and overdosed in our continent!).

For the fruit "filling":

4 stocks of fresh rhubarb

2.5 lbs fresh garden strawberries

0.9 lbs fresh raspberries

2 Tbs. rosewater

2 Tbs. corn starch

½ cup raw cane sugar

1 Tbs. butter for the pan

- Butter a large and deep rectangular pan
- Clean and stem the strawberries and cut into half
- Place in a bowl and add the raspberries
- Slice the rhubarb and add to the berries
- Sprinkle the rosewater and sugar and toss well
- Sprinkle the cornstarch and toss until evenly spread within the berry and rhubarb mixture, and spoon into the prepared pan.
- Preheat the oven to 350F.

For the crumble topping:

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 oz. butter (about 2 Tbs.)

¼ tsp. salt

2 Tbs. rose sugar (reserve 1 Tbs. for topping)

2 Tbs. Demerara sugar (reserve 1 Tbs. for topping)

50 gr. Sliced almonds

- Stir the oats, flour, salt and half of the sugars together.
- Cut in cold butter and mix with fingers or with a hand blender, until large crumbs are formed
- Mix in the sliced almonds
- Sprinkle the crumble topping onto the rhubarb and berry mixture in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbs. each of rose sugar and Demerara sugar on top of the crumble.

- Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, on its own or with vanilla ice cream, crème fraiche or whipped cream.

P.s. A little note about the crumble topping: since these fly out of the pan pretty fast, I actually double the recipe for the crumble and reserve half for the next batch. The crumble is the only “pastry” like part so that makes the next crumble a no-brainer to whip up even on short notice, as long as you got some fresh fruit around!

Rhubarb and Beyond

Rhubarb, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I admit: I was always a bit skeptical about rhubarb. The stalks look like nothing more than overgrown Swiss chard stalks, and when cooked I was never overwhelmed by the flavour OR texture. It always seemed more of a kind of a filler for strawberry baked goods than an entity of its own.

But three weeks ago, I found rhubarb at the West End Farmer’s Market that was so plump, red and thick that I overcame my prejudices and got 4 stalks, along with a basket of strawberries, all from the same farmers. I looked up a few recipes but it wasn’t until the morning of the following Saturday that I actually did anything with them (summer berry & rhurabr crumble, recipe will appear here soon).

When I set to slice the ruby-coloured stalks, I expected nothing besides a 2 minute long kitchen chore. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. As the knife’s blade cut through those stems, a fragrance was released – so peculiar, and strange yet appealing – that my jaw dropped right to the kitchen floor. It smelled like crisp grass, unripe berries or fruit and ozone. The latter element is what makes it every so slightly repulsive and ever so much more interesting and not at all like its earthly Swiss chard friends.

I baked my crumble, and although I enjoyed it quite a bit, there was very little of the fresh rhubarb aroma left after the baking. So I thought – why not leave rhubarb in the raw and eat it this way?

My research for raw rhubarb recipes did not lead to much, except for a little vague recipe for a “fresh rhubarb compote” that the author had at Rendevouz.

One word of caution about rhubarb in general though, is that you must remove all leafy parts, as these are toxic (regardless of cooked or raw). The stalks are not toxic when raw, but most people do not appreciate the distinctive flavour and aroma of this peculiar vegetable and add plenty of sugar and cook it to death. I think that raw rhubarb feels like eating a modern perfume, only better because there are no synthetics involved.

Below is how I made it, two days ago. It finally was ready today and I had it for desserts and enjoyed every crispy, crunchy bite of the fragrant and tart rhubarb. And another good part is the bejeweled appearance of this salad - with ruby-like cranberries and citrine slices of apricot.

Rhubarb Salad, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

First of all, be sure to select the freshest, most plump and brightly red rhubarb stalks for this recipe. This is important for both the flavour and the texture, as this rhubarb will not be undergoing any cooking whatsoever. The following recipe will make 4 people curiously satisfied.

2 Fresh Rhubarb Stalks, thinly slices
6 Dried Apricots, sliced
2 Tbs. Dried Cranberries
2 Tbs. Honey
2 Tbs. Cointreau or Grand Marnier liquor
1 Tbs. Gin
1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves

Rinse the stalks and scrape any unsightly browned bruises they may have.
Slice very thinly.
Add cranberries, sliced dried apricots, the honey and liquors. Sprinkle rosemary leaves all over the rhubarb and fruit. Seal in an airtight container and marinate in the fridge for 2 days. Be sure to shake and container twice a day for the flavours and juices to thoroughly flavour the entire salad.

Serve chilled, on its own or with a dollop of Crème Fraiche on the top.

Hibiscus Rhubarb Iced Tea

P1070149, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Late discoverer of rhubarb, I'm having a blast this summer playing with the possibilities that this tart red stalk has to offer.
After pondering the possibilities of a rhubonade - a tangy refreshing infusion a-la-lemonade, I set on using freshly sliced rhubarb to a summery iced tea - rather than cooking them up with sugar and strawberries (as I've seen in some recipes).

Hibiscus flowers create a deep red infusion when steeped in boiling water. They usually form the base (along with rosehips) for fruity-flavoured tisanes. On its own, hibiscus tea is very popular in Egypt as well as South America. While it can be served warm, it has a far more appealing character when chilled, making it a wonderful, refreshing summer drink. I added a tad of honey to balance the tartness, and also the goji berries contribute their own flavour and sweetness, yet without being toothachingly sweet.

1.5 L fresh water
30 gr dried hibiscus flowers
2 Tbs. honey
2 Tbs. dried goji berries
1 stalk of fresh rhubarb

Place hibiscus flowers in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add goji berries and honey, and transfer to a pitcher. Bring down to room temperature. Slice the rhubarb thinly, and add to water. Refrigerate overnight and serve either strained or with a couple of rhubarb slices and some goji berries in each glass.

Rhubarb Hibiscus Iced Tea, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

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