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This Valentine, my love goes to, besides my family and friends and cats and dogs, to all my readers. Couldn’t have imagined a few clicks of the mouse could so dramatically add a new dimension to my blogging experience. I posted a picture in foodgawker more than a week ago, at the insistence of Numero Uno [my first born] and my site visits have spiked dramatically. The first day of the posting, I had almost 2000 more visits. Like the gift that keeps on giving, this single picture still brings in an average of 500 sites visits everyday.  

I have seen picture gallery badges in many blogs, but had never clicked on any of them. Just reading my favorite blogs and working on mine, even though it is very intermittent and keeping up with life and my cooking classes has kept me too busy to spend any time on photo sharing sites. All I can say is Wow! My picture was also consistently featured on the first page of the most favorited on foodgawker for a whole week since the posting! I might even venture to say it has gone viral at least by my standards!                                 

The posting also brought tons of interest from Pintrest and tumblr. It was stumled upon and even tweeted a few times! Oh, the power of social media. I have made it very hard for anyone to know that my blog exists, though not intentionally. My blog is very basic, no Facebook page, no postings on any other site, I am not on twitter nor on Pintrest, certainly no picture gallery of my photos exist, nor do I comment much on other blogs even though I love visiting them. This past week and a half has been like a shot in the arm, making me reevaluate things. May be I should be more active in the social media front, because frankly it does wonders to your vanity! So thanks to all of you who have visited from Foodgawker, Pintrest, tumblr [thanks to the charming witandelight site which directed about a 100 visitsors so far] and to all those who have posted and pinned and repined. Special thanks to all my regulars for being so loyal and most of all thanks to you my love, for harassing me for the longest time ever to post in foodgawker.                               

Keeping with the Valentine’s Day color scheme of chocolate brown and pink, I make these chocolate cups with strawberry/raspberry mousse especially for all of you. Literally from my heart to yours. There is no cooking or baking involved. No chickens were prevented from hatching! Just four ingredients, three of them primary. Simple, fun, delicious and good for you too, though who cares about that on Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate cups with Strawberry / Raspberry Mousse.

Makes about 12-14 small cups

Ingredients

6, 1 ounce squares of semi-sweet baking squares [chocolate chips will also work]

1 1/4 cups of strained yogurt [homemade or Chobani / Fage, any fat content OK]

Either 10 medium size strawberries or 15 raspberries, depending on which fruit you prefer to flavor your mousse with

5 tablespoons of icing sugar

Some strawberries / raspberries for decoration.

Equipment

Mini muffin pan

12-14 mini cupcake liners

1 pastry brush or a sponge brush

Prepartion

For the chocolate cups

Line a 12 cup mini muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Take 4 oz of chocolate and chop into smaller bits with a knife or grate it, whichever is convenient.

Set up a double broiler. If you don’t have one, improvise. Place a shallow and wide pan on the stove. Fill with water. Set a narrow and tall dish in the pan in which the grated chocolate will go. This is to prevent water condensation mixing into the melting chocolate.

Heat the water in the double broiler or the improvised pan. Let the chocolate melt in the indirect heat. When most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat off. [ You can also melt chocolate in the microwave]

Work with 4 cupcake liners at a time. Spoon 1/2 a tablespoon of melted chocolate into each liner. Coat the bottom of the liner thickly and evenly with the melted chocolate. Then with a brush, drag the rest of the chocolate and paint the liners making sure the sides are coated evenly. Touch up any gaps.

Then work on the next 4 cup cake liners. The chocolate is still of melting consistency in the double broiler as it is sitting in the hot water. Once you have used up all the chocolate, refrigerate the pan for about 10-20 minutes to allow the chocolate to set.

Now for the second round. This can be optional.

Take out the muffin pan with the liners from the fridge. Melt the remaining 2 oz of chocolate in the same dish as before. With the same pastry brush go over the cups especially the sides of the liners to get a thick coating. Refrigerate for another 10-20 minutes.

Remove the filled liners from the fridge and gently peel the paper off the chocolate cups. Voila you have perfectly ridged solid chocolate cups.                                

                 

For the strawberry /raspberry mousse filling,                                                                      

Take the 10 strawberries or the 15 raspberries, which ever you are using and put in a small blender like Majic Bullet and pulse till it liquefies.

Add the five tablespoons of icing sugar.

Then add 1 1/4 cups of strained yogurt. Mix thoroughly. Check and adjust for sweetness. This is your mousse.                                                                                                                                                        

Bet you didn’t think it would be this easy. You won’t miss the cream or the eggs or the gelatin. This mousse sets perfectly to a thick creamy consistency. Divide the filling amongst the chocolate cups. Decorate with rasperries /slices of strawberry.

Set it in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.

I adapted this recipe from my “No Cook’ themed cooking class that I taught a while ago. The participants ranged from 10 years of age to 60 +. Everyone enjoyed the simplicity of the process and the ensuing results and if people of all ages and all diets [except vegans of course] can enjoy this I thought it would be the best way to send my blog love to my readers.                        

  • Food Notes
  • The mousse cups hold up for a day or two in the fridge.
  • You can make the chocolate cups ahead of time and store in the fridge. For a week, why not?
  • I would recommend that you put the store bought strained yogurt in a cheese cloth for a couple of hours to remove some more of the moisture content as the fruit juices will thin it out a little bit. While not much whey will drain, the cheese cloth will absorb enough moisture. You can skip this step, but I think you will like the creamier consistency of the mousse.
  • I filled the raspberries with melted chocolate scraped from the sides of the pan it was melting in. A last minute idea that occurred to me while I was cleaning up, an idea I am sure to use in the future. You can see it in the picture.
  • I also made chocolate coins and glued starawberry slices to it, again another idea that just came to me. Drop some melted chocolate on the liner and spread it out with the back of the spoon. Set it in the fridge. Remove and brush some melted chocolate onto the chocolate coins and place slices of fruit. The melted chocolate acts as a glue and holds the fruit slice in place. Isn’t that cool?

Thanks for dropping by,

Happy Valentine’s Day, S.

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                             

        

Peru is still on my mind even though it has been almost a month since our return. How can I forget the majestic misty mountains, the terraced landscapes, my visit to Machu Picchu on a spectacularly bright and beautiful day. The mighty Amazon River and its verdant jungle and the sightings of Pink Dolphins, yes Pink Dolphins. I had not known about their existence until then. I loved Lima, the very modern capital city accented with colonial churches and Spanish architecture, old world charm blending in with a hip cityscape. Not to mention the wonderful people of Peru, so warm and easy going and so very helpful. Peru, I truly heart you!       

Not even the food was a problem as it can be in many countries if you are a vegetarian. Most of what we ate were simple meals, heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables. On the lodge on the banks of the Amazon River, at every meal we had a different variety of beans cooked to a creamy consistency in just water and seasoned only with salt. Then there was salad steamed to a perfect crunch, a raw salad and fresh fruits from the jungle. Once we were served shaved heart of palm which was beyond delicious and so fresh tasting, it had me seriously thinking about a simpler way of preparing food. But who am I kidding, I have already gone back to my old ways since my return. But it is good to punctuate once in a while what we eat, with fresh, simple and not too doctored food just to remind us of the taste of purely grown produce.          

I can’t say I made any serious observations about non vegetarian alternatives but I got the sense that even with these options they kept it simple and fresh. There was plenty of ceviche which is raw seafood marinated in citrus juices and tossed wih raw vegetables, corn and fruit.

I think the simplicity of the Peruvian food comes from the geography. Most of the country is either jungle or mountains and such people generally live in a close symbiotic relationship with nature. They most probably eat seasonally and regionally as it would be difficult to procure stuff from other parts due to the terrain. Even though times have changed and with easier access to food from other parts, I think philosophically they respect nature and live and eat in sync with what is around them.

Like the Avocado Salad or Palta a la Jardinera, a very typical Peruvian dish. Avocado which grows in abundance is split open, the seed removed and served with a mound of vegetables with a minimal amount of dressing. When I had it for the first time, a salad of red peppers with steamed carrots, green beans and peas was piled high onto an Avocado half and served with Rocotto, a red pepper sauce .

The standard dressing for the salad is mayonnaise and I’ve used sour cream instead. You can add any dressing or seasonings you want but I kept it simple in honor of the tradition of how it is served in Peru

Of course you don’t need a recipe but here is how I made it.

Palta a la Jardinera or Avocado Salad

For the dressing

2 tablespoon sour cream

1/2 tablespoon light olive oil

A good squeeze of lime juice

A few dashes of hot sauce [I used habanero sauce]

Salt to taste

The salad

1/2 cup mixed, diced peppers

1/4 cup frozen corn, thawed

1/4 cup cooked black beans

2 scallions [only the green part] chopped

I ripe Avocado

Salt to taste

Lime wedges

Some cilantro for garnish

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing well. Season with salt.

Mix the peppers, corn, beans and scallions. Add the dressing to the salad and adjust for seasoning. Set aside till serving time.

Just before serving split open the Avocado into two. Remove the seed. Remove each half of the Avocado from its skin. Cut a small slice off at the curved bottom of the Avocado to stabilize it. Squeeze some lime juice on the cut up side to prevent discoloration. Sprinkle with salt. Pile with the salad and garnish with cilantro.     

Here is a tip for prepping the Avocado that I picked up at this vegetarian restaurant called Govinda in Cusco, Peru. It makes a lot of sense to cut up the Avocado this way and pile it with the salad so it is much easier to serve yourself small portions of it. I served the salad with corn tortillas and quinoa. Corn tortillas however are not a part of Peruvian cuisine which I found surprising considering so many varieties of corn have been grown in Peru for thousands of years.

                                                                                    

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

Just back from my recent trip to Peru, I can whole heartedly certify that it is a very vegetarian friendly country. Potatoes, quinoa, rice, corn and avocados are everyday staples in Peru. There is also an abundance of exotic  fruits that will bowl you over and keep you happy. One of my favorite Peruvian dishes was ‘Sopa de Quinua’ or Quinoa Soup. Though I love Quinoa and make it quite often, I never thought to make a soup out of it till I visited Peru.  

In the Andean region of South America where Quinoa has been grown for thousands of years, this soup is a staple in every household. When we were visiting Cusco which is at an elevation of almost 3400 m above sea level, we were encouraged to have Quinoa soup. While the body is getting used to rarified oxygen levels due to higher elevation, quinoa soup was recommended for its nutritive value and easy digestibility.

Quinoa, a grain like seed is a complete protein, unlike rice or beans. It is also gluten free. It is the best source for a plant based protein and being high in fiber and iron it should have a place in every vegetarian kitchen. In Peru, in the most basic form of the soup, Quinoa is cooked with potatoes, onions and garlic in lard or oil and flavored with native oregano and annatto seeds. Whatever vegetables or greens are at hand are added to the soup. The soups I had ranged from a clear pale yellow soup to a thick creamy one, chock full of vegetables and greens. It was served with a local chili sauce, Aji Amarillo, made with a fruity yellow pepper native to this region.  

Recreating it at home, the vegetable I added were potatoes carrots and peas, for the greens I added rainbow chard and beet greens. I skipped the garlic because I don’t like it. This soup is rustic and hearty and very mild tasting in keeping with the simple way they make it in Peru. I stirred in my new favorite Peruvian discovery, the Aji sauce, for a more robust taste.

Sopa de Quinoa or Quinoa Soup

1 tablespoon light olive oil and some extra for the greens

1 cup finely chopped white onions

1 cup peeled and diced potatoes

1/ 4 cup diced carrots, both carrots and potatoes diced into 1/4 inch cubes

1/4 cup washed and rinsed quinoa

1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano  [or any herb of your choice]

Salt and pepper to taste

2- 2 and 1/2  cups water

1/4 cup frozen peas

1 cup of chopped swiss chard + beet greens

1 tablespoon Aji Amariilo sauce [or any  hot sauce of you choice]

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Optional accompaniments. Avocado slices, freshly prepared pepper condiment and Queso Fresco or similar type of crumbled fresh cheese.

Preparation

Warm oil in a soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes. If using garlic add it now.

Add the potatoes and carrots and stir till well coated with oil. Cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the un cooked quinoa, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.

Add the water and let it come to a boil. Add the peas.

Reduce the soup to a simmer put a lid on the pot and cook for about ten-twelve minutes till the vegetables are cooked al dente. The quinoa will be done as well.

Meanwhile stir fry the greens for a minute and add to the finished soup.

Add the Aji sauce or the hot sauce of your choice and chopped cilantro. Check for seasoning.

Serve with accompaniments of avocado, fresh pepper condiment and crumbled cheese.

To make a fresh pepper condiment; Chop yellow or orange pepper very finely [as the Peruvian pepper is not available here] add a glug of oil and vinegar and season with salt, pepper and some dried oregano.

Hope you enjoy this nourishing soup which is probably also well balanced in terms of protein and carb values.

  • Food Notes
  • Jars of Aji Amarillo sauce are available in Latin stores or Latin sections of some grocery stores. In the Washington Metro Area it is available at Shoppers Food Warehouse.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

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