So the move to Twin Cities (Minnesota) is officially official. For the past year we’ve been going back and forth from NY to Minnesota to NY to Pakistan to Minnesota, and it was taking its toll. Living out of suitcases, constant packing and unpacking, working remotely on a 15 inch laptop, not having access to my car, not having access to my mixer… well it was just as stressful as it sounds. But alh things have finally (sort of) settled down. I’m still unpacking, but at least I’m in a space that’s MY home.
People keep asking me how I could move from a place like NY to something so small time like Minneapolis / St Paul, and I don’t quite know how to respond. I’m actually really liking it here. There are a ton of coffee shops, great food spaces, a pretty cool art scene, and everything is manageable. I can drive just about everywhere, nearly every spot is kid friendly (I’m talking baby changing stations in the bathroom, high chairs, crayons readily available for kids), and it’s not overwhelming. I’m pretty excited to start really exploring spaces and sharing them with you all. The only thing that gets me down is how hard it is meeting new people. We have a few friends that we’ve made and I’m actually going to brunch with a great group of women tomorrow so let’s see how that goes. Feeling grateful for the few random interactions I’ve had that have panned out so well.
The chocolate world is quite a divided one. You have the snooty dark chocolate lovers that crave the bitter and complex flavor profiles, the average Joes who want the simple flavor of milk chocolate with the caramel undertones, and those in the white chocolate camp that just want something smooth, light, and barely sweet. I usually fall into the hoity toity dark chocolate world, whereas my husband and mom in law lean more towards white chocolate.
For the most part, I’ve never bothered to waste money on white chocolate so I’ve only ever been subjected to the overly sweet mass produced kind. You know the ones I’m talking about. The white chocolate that you find in cookies from Subway or your local grocery store bakery, or the stuff that they layer with peppermint for peppermint bark during the holidays. I don’t know what it is, but it just tastes like sugar to me, and that’s not what chocolate is about.
Then something happened. My husband and I have a few fancier-than-the-local-takeout-spot date night dinner spots we like to visit. I usually always go for a crème brulee (because nothing beats crème brulee that uses real vanilla beans mmmm) and my husband will favor a tiramisu. One night we ended up getting a slice of vanilla cheesecake, and it arrived as a cheesecake and white chocolate mousse combo. I was skeptical, squinting at it with distrust, hoping it didn’t overpower the cheesecake portion.
A few weeks ago Maheen and I started watching “Mind of a Chef”. It’s a great show hosted by Chef David Chang as he visits different restaurants / meets with different chefs and culinary geniuses to see what’s going on in the culinary world. We are in love with the show, mainly because of how much emphasis is placed on what’s going on in Asia, but also because of how hilarious Chef David Chang is. Watching the show, you’d never guess he was the mastermind behind the crazy popular Momofuku brand. On one of the episodes he brought in his head pastry chef Christina Tosi, who talked about Liquid Cheesecake. I’m sorry… what? Come again? Yea. That’s right. Liquid Cheesecake. Sounds crazy awesome? Yea, I thought so too.
Right around this time, I also took the tart class at ICE, and couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to fill the tart with this liquid cheesecake instead of pastry cream? It would be like a cheesecake… but better.” So off I went to make a the liquid cheesecake and my tart shell. Now I know this blog doesn’t reflect it, but I love cheesecake. (one of) My only issue(s) of making it at home is that I can never get the consistency right. It’s either completely under done and rawish, or overly done so that it’s just a little dry and has the telltale crack on top. Liquid cheesecake sounded like the answer to all my concerns!
But I think I messed it up. It just never set up right for me. I was expecting something with the consistency of a really thick pastry cream, but the taste of cheesecake. Maybe I didn’t let it cool for long enough, or maybe I didn’t let it bake for long enough. Either way the cream was just too liquidy and not enough cheesecakey. A quick google search shows people using it as part of frostings or fillings for cakes. I may just try it again some other day, because the taste was just fantastic. Since I followed the recipe to the letter, I’m going to just include the source from where I got it – Liquid Cheesecake recipe from Tasting Table. Let me know if you guys give it a try and how it works out for you!
I have a love / hate relationship with tarts. I adore how they look and taste. That you can fill them with anything from a pastry cream to a ganache (the stuff you make truffles with); they can be sweet or savory; and they come in so many different sizes and shapes. How adorable are mini individual tarts that you can just pop into your mouth? They are perfect for summer garden parties, any sort of baby / bridal shower, and I have no qualms about eating a boatload of them while watching a rom-com. Love. Them.
But whenever I’ve attempted to make the tart shell at home, I’m met with disastrous results. Alh my apartment hasn’t burned down or anything, but the shells are just a wreck. Tasteless, dry, cardboardy things that may as well be mini bowls for the filling and not much else. So when I saw the Summer Tarts class on the ICE class roster a few weeks ago, I immediately signed up. I mean here was a class being taught by an award winning chef (The James Beard award. Yea. THAT level of fancy), it covered one of my most dreaded topics, and I still had gift certificates that my awesome husband had given me as part of an anniversary presents years ago. Done.
Now all the pastry dough recipes I’ve used in the past, from my culinary go to sources like CIA and Martha Stewart, to the general blogoverse, have all had me cut in the butter to form the dough. The butter, flour, water, and everything else are chilled multiple times during the course of putting it all together to keep it at the right temperature before you bake it. And this is where the problem lies. I somehow overwork the butter so I’m left with a leaden tart shell not worth anything.
There’s a certain comfort in hot chocolate. Not the fancy adult hot chocolates that are just melted chunks of chocolate with a splash of milk. No, you know the type I’m talking about. Think back to when you were about 14 or so. Autumn or Winter has started to set in. You’ve got your knit cap and gloves ready to go when you go out with your friends, whether it’s to an amusement park, or a walk down to the local pizza spot, or to the swings at the park down the street after school, or the basketball courts. At some point while hanging out, your nose is red and practically frozen off, you’d need something to chase away the chill. Remember? It’s that delicious hot drink you’d sip on before coffee came into your life – sweet, milky, and definitely chocolaty. It would help melt you just enough so you could keep cracking up with your friends about the silliest things.
That feeling of nostalgia has never quite left. At least not for me. I no longer reach for a packet of Swiss Miss, but I still crave the innocence of hot chocolate; the innocence of childhood or young adulthood, as cheesy as that sounds. When I think about the world we are living in, and worry about how I’m going to protect my daughter, sometimes it becomes too much. Or if it’s been one of those long days where people can’t seem to find an end to their long list of demands, and all I want to do is just take a nap. But then there are days that remind me of 14. The last days of Winter that are holding on strong, but you know Spring is right around the corner. You still have to wear your thick coat, but now you don’t have to button it up.
That’s what this pudding is for me – as simple as hot chocolate, with the comfort of pudding. With only four ingredients (three of which are pretty much hot chocolate), and ready in less than 15 minutes, it’s something simple to escape into whenever you need a hug. Trust me. Make it today, or this weekend, and pack it up in a little bowl. Then head to the nearest park with a swing set, and swing as high as you can. Let yourself fly for a few seconds with a spoonful of hot chocolate pudding melting in your mouth.
Stovetop 'Hot Chocolate' Pudding
- 6 ounces (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3 cups whole milk
- Mix sugar and cornstarch in a small sauce pan or pot. Pour enough milk into the same pan to create a paste. Pour the rest of the milk into the pan and stir.
- Heat the milk, sugar, cornstarch mixture on medium heat until warm. Add chocolate. Watch the pot, stirring intermittently to melt the chocolate.
- Stir continuously once the pudding begins to bubble and thicken (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, and spoon into ramekins or small bowls. If you like a skin on your pudding (like I do), let them cool as is. If you don't like a skin, cover with plastic wrap, pressing wrap directly onto the pudding.
For winter break Maheen and I did quite a bit of traveling. Rajasthan. Delhi. And! We finally got to see Malaysia, which has been on our list of ‘Places to See’ since we started the list. The beaches of Langkawi and the island hopping tour; the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands and specifically the Boh Tea Cafe; Kuala Lumpur and the Islamic Arts Museum. It was amazing to see a Muslim country that wasn’t bogged down with poverty or having an identity crisis trying to balance a religion and keeping up with the times. Everywhere you turned, there was a sense of balance. Women were as likely to wear a scarf and long skirt as they were to wear a tanktop and shorts. Billboards and ads on buses showed a world where science labs and boardrooms were equal opportunity spaces for women in general, but more importantly (for me), they were equal opporunity spaces no matter how you dressed. Hah Maheen’s favorite advertisement was actually on a bottle of Coke – a Muslim woman doing her thing as a DJ, but was also wearing a scarf. The best part? It was all normal. No one blinked an eye.
Most who know me know that I go through (frequent) periods of self reflection / re-invention / basic doubt. Trying to put together pieces of my identity while maintaining a balance. My faith feeds my soul and lifts me up, but so do chocolate, things of beauty, music, theater, books, and traveling. Yes I’m Muslim. And yes I’m South Asian. And yes I’m a New Yorker. Through and through. I keep a close group of friends and have built up a community where I never have to choose between these identities – they all work together. But being in Malaysia was different. It was eye opening. A space where all my identities could cohesively exist without having to explain myself. It was freeing in a way.
Want to know something? I didn’t like cream puffs growing up. Or eclairs. I never understood what the fuss was about. I couldn’t figure out why someone would want this thing that looked like a roll that was stuffed with a custard filling when you had options like ice cream sundaes, and cookies, and cake. Mmmmm…. cake. But then something happened. I had a profiterole from Choux Factory.
Oh. My. Word. It’s like I was reborn. Why had no one told me about this before? What WAS this filling? Swoon. Floating. Wonder. Now whenever wonder strikes me, the next thought is usually, “I can make this. How hard could it possibly be?” Sigh. Ladies and gents, this thought applies to everything. I think I can build coffee tables, sew my own clothes, fix my car. Hell I don’t put it past me to get it in my head that I can renovate a gorgeous old school brownstone in BK. Usually I can’t. But this. This cream I could do. It took me a few recipes, a few trials and a hell of a lot of breakdowns and tears before I found a recipe and technique that didn’t congeal the minute I came near it.