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Thursday, February 12, 2009

What To Do With... Avocado

There are few foods that rival the utter joy of diving into a buttery, creamy avocado. It is both sinful (oh those calories...) and sublime. It is a study in contradictions in nature being both fruit and fat.

The ripe avocado is a bit of a diva. To enjoy one, it requires a little forethought and planning. Usually sold rock hard and too unripe to eat immediately, the avocado must be coaxed into ripening by sitting at room temperature on your kitchen counter for at least a day or two. An avocado at its peak, is utterly brilliant, but forget about it for an extra day or two and the avocado fades into a squishy, unpleasant mess. Even at its peak, this diva doesn’t travel well (she's a fragile little thing) and once exposed to air quickly turn an unappetizing brown. This diva waits for no one.

How do you know when an avocado is ripe?

Give it the slightest squeeze and if the flesh underneath the skin yields, it's ready to eat.

How to cut an avocado (safely)

To reveal an avocado’s fruit, work your way around the avocado with a sharp knife, its globe-like pit marks its center as illustrated below:

Once you have made your way around the avocado once, twist and gently pull apart one half from the other. Its bright yellow flesh is revealed. A ripe avocado is yielding but not mushy and mellow yellow that fades into a pale green the close you get to the skin. To remove the pit, lean your sharp knife into the pit, until the knife is wedged into it. Twist your knife slightly, and the pit should pop right out:

To cut the avocado into pieces, run your knife across the avocado in length wise, then cross-wise. To remove, take a large spoon and scoop out the flesh out:

Prepare an avocado only as you need it... It's beautiful yellow and green flesh quickly gives way to an unappetizing though edible brown.

Outside of guacamole, here is one thing I that really like to do with avocado:

Avocado milkshake: Perhaps it may seem unusual to see something normally associated with savoury food served as a sweet. But this is quite popular in Asia and your local Vietnamese restaurant probably has one on the menu. (I drank plenty of these while backpacking through Asia and there are few things as refreshing as that cold, creamy, green milkshake.) It is easily one of my favourite things to sip on in the summer. If you open your mind to trying it, I guarantee you won't be disappointed. It's velvety, creamy, sweet and distinctly avocado.

Traditionally avocado milkshakes are made with condensed milk. To make it with ingredients you already have on hand at home, take: 1 ripe avocado, 1.5 c milk, 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add ice if you like it extra cold (reduce the milk.) Blend until smooth. Add additional milk to loosen, if necessary. Serve immediately. If you really want to do it local style, consider a shot of espresso (or Vietnamese coffee if you can get your hands on it.) This drink is really quite special.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ten Minute Dulce de Leche Pudding

Daydreaming leads to distractions...

We invited friends over for dinner this weekend and I had planned to make these lovely dulce de leche pots de crème. The recipe involved heating, whisking, straining a custard then delivering it to a gentle bath in a warm oven followed by some cool down time in the fridge. Alas, weekends are too short and the first day of our weekend was warm. We found ourselves lingering over brunch with good friends we hadn’t seen in a while and strolled along our merry way, popping into local shops for a little bit of this and little bit of that for our dinner. By the time we got home, I realized my carefree strolling had cost us several hours… So instead of making this slightly laborious little custard which is absolutely worth it on any other given day, I decided to present the same flavour in its simplified, ten-minute version.

While my husband loves gooey chocolately things, I’ve always held a preference for wobbly delicate custards and puddings. If time permitted, calories weren’t a consideration and desserts were left entirely up to me, we would slip into crème brulees, pots de crèmes, panna cottas and my absolute favourite, Iles Flottantes (a heavenly convergence of custard and poached meringue) nightly. The combination of cream, milk, sugar, eggs whisked over gentle heat transform into a quivering, velvety smooth, creamy sweet ending to a meal. Bliss.

I had thought about making a butterscotch pudding but we had some lovely dulce de leche in our fridge and I will take any excuse to eat it. Dulce de Leche is Argentina’s gift to the culinary world: a slowly simmered mixture of milk and sugar stirred lovingly until it develops into thick golden, caramel spread. While it is great on toast, it is even better here.

Although this pudding takes no more than ten minutes of cooking time, it is so flavourful and light that you’re hardly miss that pot de crème.

Dulce de Leche Pudding

1c heavy cream
2c whole milk
6 tbsp dark brown sugar
3 tbsp dulce de leche
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter

icing sugar
toasted almond slivers/flakes

1. Add cream, 1 1/2c of milk, and brown sugar to a heavy saucepan. Whisk over medium-heat.
2. Bring to a slight boil, turn down to low. Whisk in the dulce de leche.
3. Mix cornstarch with remaining milk until smooth. Pour cornstarch slurry into the pudding.
4. Turn up the heat slightly. Continue to whisk well.
5. Once it thickens, remove off heat immediately and pour in vanilla and butter and whisk until fully incorporated.
6. Working quickly, ladle pudding into ramekins or cups and cover loosely with cling film so the heat can still escape. Once cool, fit the cling film tightly over the ramekins and refrigerate until ready to serve.
7. To serve, top with whipped cream slightly sweetened with vanilla and icing sugar and toasted almonds.

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