Caramel Hot Cocoa

caramel hot cocoaThis past weekend, the Tokyo area was hit by a “blizzard”. I put it in quotations because I grew up in the Northeast U.S., where 4 inches of snow is not even worth mentioning. But here in eastern Japan, snow is unusual – once or twice a year at most – and usually just a dusting. Anyway, all usual transportation stopped for a day or two, and everyone was finding alternate ways to get where they needed to go, and doing a lot of walking in the snow and slush in shoes that were not intended for that kind of use. It seems like everything has been cold and wet, and when I come home to my non-heated house, the first thing I want is hot cocoa. This caramel hot cocoa is my recent favorite – if you want it to taste more like “salted caramel”, you can add a little extra salt!

Ingredients (serves 1)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp cocoa
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of salt (or more to taste)

Instructions

Put the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat until it begins to melt. Let the sugar melt and caramelize into a brown liquid. Don’t stir – but you can swirl the pan a little if it doesn’t melt evenly. Don’t walk away – it happens very quickly and the caramel can burn in an instant.

When the sugar is melted and has turned a reddish-brown, turn off the heat and add the cream carefully. It may splatter a little bit. Immediately whisk or stir, but don’t worry if it hardens up on you.* Add the cocoa and mix it into the caramel.

Add the milk and turn the heat back on medium-low. Whisk until the milk heats up and begins to steam. Then add the vanilla and salt.

* If the caramel completely hardens, just add the milk first, turn the heat on, and the caramel will melt into the milk. Then you can add the cocoa powder afterwards.

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White Bean Chili

white chiliThis chili is great in the winter. In Japan, beans can be hard to find, but you can buy them at import stores, or online. This recipe is adapted from here.

Ingredients
450g (1 lb) chicken breast
1 onion
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp oil
2 cans white beans (or 4 cups cooked white beans)
400mL (14oz) chicken or vegetable stock
2 cans green chiles (In Japan, these are not easily available. Instead you can use fresh peppers, such as togarashi, or a small amount of dry pepper flakes.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream (this amount can definitely be reduced)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion and chicken until the chicken loses its pink color.

Add the garlic powder, beans, stock, chiles, salt, cumin, oregano, pepper, and cayenne. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Add sour cream and cream, and reheat just until simmering.

Serve with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, avocado, tomato slices, etc.

Avocado Cheesecake

avocado cheesecakeIf you’ve never tried avocado in a sweet recipe, I highly recommend it! Avocado milkshakes, cheesecake, ice cream, etc., have a really nice delicate flavor. The original recipe for this cheesecake was from here. I made a tiny version, 1/4 of this recipe, in a 15-cm (6″) round pan.

Ingredients (makes 16 2-inch squares)
Crust:
150g (5 oz) plain vanilla or shortbread cookies
1 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt (if your pistachios are salted, leave this out)
1 tsp lemon peel
57g (2 oz) melted butter

Cheesecake:
1-1/2 tbsp powdered gelatin
120mL (1/2 cup) water
450g (16 oz) cream cheese
2 ripe avocados, peeled and with the pit removed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
200g (7 oz) yogurt
240mL (8 oz) whipping cream
2 tbsp pistachio for garnish, optional

Instructions

In a food processor, blend cookies, pistachios, sugar, salt, and lemon peel until finely ground. Add melted butter and pulse to combine. Press into an 8-inch (21cm) square pan.

Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes at 180C (350C). Allow to cool completely before adding the cheesecake mixture.

For cheesecake:

Combine gelatin and water and heat in a double boiler or microwave until the gelatin dissolves. Let cool slightly.

Cream together cream cheese and sugar. In a food processor, blend the avocado and lemon until smooth. Add to the cream cheese and mix until well-combined.

Add the gelatin mixture to the avocado and cream cheese. Whisk until combined. Add the yogurt and mix.

Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold into the avocado mixture.

Pour onto the prepared crust. Place in the refrigerator overnight until it sets completely. Once chilled, cut into 2 inch (5cm) squares. Top with chopped pistachios if desired.

Creamy Pasta with White Beans

pasta with white beansThis recipe is quite adaptable. As I’ve written it, this is a vegetarian pasta dish, but you can add chicken as well, and you can change the vegetables to fit what’s in season or on sale. It also includes some protein from the beans.

Ingredients (serves 2 with leftovers)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
700mL (3 cups) vegetable broth (chicken broth is okay too)
200g dry penne pasta (1/2 lb)
1 cup cooked white beans
1-1/2 cups vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, and spinach or a mixture are all great)
125g (4 oz) sun-dried or salted tomatoes
120mL (1/2 cup) cream (in Japan, I use 35% cream)
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until softened. Add vegetable (or chicken) broth and pasta. Bring to a simmer.

Cook pasta for the time directed on the package, plus 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. If too much liquid evaporates, add a little more water. With five minutes remaining, add the tomatoes, beans, and vegetables and stir.

After the pasta finishes cooking, add the cream. Stir and cook until the cream thickens into a sauce. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with Parmesan cheese.