Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chili Chocolate

I think it was about a year ago that I discovered Lindt's chili chocolate, and have been addicted to it ever since. It is a smooth dark chocolate infused with chili, so it is sweet and rich, and has a wonderful after-burn.

But recently I've had a problem (other than keeping up my secret stock in the pantry) - I've gotten used to the chili burn, so I don't really "feel" it enough anymore. So I've been toying with the idea of making my own chili chocolates, to make them hotter.

So when I came across an "Easy White Chocolate Mint Truffles" recipe in the April 2010 issue of Canadian Gardening, I immediately thought of trying this recipe - but substituting chili for the mint, and dark chocolate for the white.

Well, it took two tries, but tonight I really succeeded in making a really hot chili chocolate.

Here's the original recipe, thanks to the Canadian Gardening magazine (which I should mention, I subscribe to, and would highly recommend):

Easy White Chocolate Mint Truffles

1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup 35% cream
1/2 cup whole fresh mint leaves
1 lb best quality white chocolate
2 oz (1/4 c) unsalted butter, chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopping mint leaves

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the tiny black seeds. Add the seeds and pod to a small saucepan along with the cream and the whole mint leaves. Heat the mixture over medium heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain, pressing the mint leaves and vanilla beans against the sieve to extract the most flavour.

Line the base and sides of a 8" square cake pan with parchment paper. Using a large serrated knife, chop the white chocolate into small, even pieces. Place the chopped chocolate, infused cream and butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir mixture frequently to melt the chocolate and incorporate the butter and cream. When the mixture is smooth and creamy, remove from the heat and stir in the finely chopped mint leaves. Pour into the cake pan and refrigerate for 2 hours, until set. Remove from the pan and cut into small squares.

The first time I tried my hand at it, I tried one batch of ginger, and one of chili. The ginger one turned out really nice. The recipe is something like this:

Easy Ginger Chocolate Truffles

1/3 cup whipping cream
3 or 4 slices of fresh ginger root
1 lb (8 oz or 454 g) pure white or milk chocolate (I used Chipits, and roughly half white & half milk)
2 oz (1/4 c) unsalted butter

Slice the ginger and add it to the cream in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat for 1 minute (I think I heated it for longer). Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Press on the ginger slices with a spoon to release more juices. Add the butter and melt it in.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. Add the Chipits to the butter and cream mixture. Stir mixture frequently to melt the chocolate and incorporate the butter and cream. When the mixture is smooth and creamy (although it thickens up to a paste toward the end), spread it thinly and evenly onto the cookie sheet and refrigerate (or freeze) until set. Remove from the sheet and break into squares.

I pressed some of the chocolate into a silicone ice cube tray (as shown above), which worked out fairly well.  Some of it, I rolled into little balls in my hands, which was pretty messy, but also worked out okay.  I also spread some on wax paper, and broke it into pieces later.  The little balls I rolled in cocoa after they were cooled, and that looked nice.  See photo left, of some of the finished product.

I tried the same method using chili peppers, which I sliced and heated in the cream, but the heat really didn't bring out the chili flavour, so even though it ended up as good dark chocolate (I used the Hershey Special Dark Chipits), I was very disappointed.

When I shared my disappointment with my friend Lily, who actually cooks with chilies, she told me that the heat in the chilies comes out by frying.  Ahah.  So I resolved to try again, which I did tonight.  This is my chili chocolate recipe.

Easy Chili Chocolate Truffles

1/3 cup whipping cream
2 or 3 thai chilies to taste (I used 4 tonight)
1 lb (8 oz or 454 g) pure semi-sweet or dark chocolate (I used Chipits, and roughly half semi-sweet & half dark)
2 oz (1/4 c) unsalted butter

Slice the chilies (being careful to wash your hands afterwards) and fry it in the butter in a small saucepan. Turn down the heat, and allow the chilies to continue to fry lightly (I left them for about 5 minutes, at which point they were starting to become tender).

Add the cream and continue over low heat, stirring occasionally (at this point, I left it for another 5 minutes). Strain the cream mixture into another saucepan over low heat. Be very careful not to allow any of the seeds to pass through. I also changed spoon, just to be sure I didn't transfer any seeds across, because they are deadly hot.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. Add the Chipits to the butter and cream mixture. Stir mixture frequently to melt the chocolate and incorporate the butter and cream. When the mixture is smooth and creamy (although it thickens up to a paste toward the end), spread it thinly and evenly onto the cookie sheet (I also pre-scored the chocolate with a knife so it was easy to pull apart in pieces afterward) and refrigerate (or freeze) until set. Remove from the sheet and break into squares.

This time, the chocolate was VERY hot, like a 4-chili rating in a Thai food restaurant. I think if I did it another time, even 2 chilies would be enough. I am very pleased. It will be fun to find friends to try it out.

I am thinking that a good Mayan (cinnamon) chocolate may be another adventure I may try.  Or maybe lavender chocolate.  But I should give it a break for a while, as this will not be good for my resolve to live and eat healthier!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mosaic Monday : Fruit Blossoms

I love this time of year when the fruit blossoms are bursting open, so I thought I'd combine fruit blossoms in my first attempt at a mosaic (clockwise from top left - Missouri currant, Asian pear, Frost peach, espalier asian pear (three varieties in horizontal cordon form), cherry buds getting ready to pop).

Spring photo mosaic of fruit blossoms
If anyone has some tips on how to mosaic, I'd love to hear.  I found some sort of photo-collage feature in Photoshop, but I didn't like how it worked, so I'd like to try different software - or methods - next time.

For more wonderful Spring mosaics, but sure to visit the Little Red House.

I wanted to also share my yellow and blue spring flower arrangement (the colours of the Ukrainian flag), which I prepared from my garden this weekend, to match the Ukrainian themed birthday party my sister Rose planned and prepared (and we hosted) for my Dad's 75th birthday on the weekend.
Beautiful sister Rose
I love to underplant the fruit trees with spring flowers such as daffodils, which are in bloom while the fruit trees are just "waking up" and budding.  And a few of them came in handy for the arrangement.
Daffodil underplanting
The other yellow twigs were from the Ribes odoratum (Missouri currant) bush which is living up to its name with a wonderful sweet fragrance.  Here is a photo of my sister Rose visiting the bush during her walk-about through my garden (I treat - or, as my husband thinks, torment - nearly all my visitors with a "tour of the garden").

Ribes odoratum
I should have spent a moment to lighten up this next photo, which shows my miniature irises popping up below my cherished granite bench.  I'm very pleased with this effect.
Mini irises and granite garden bench
I just bought this gold-laced primula this Spring, and it looks happy in the garden.  A tree peony (it has wonderful white blossoms, and I think I counted at least 5 buds this year) is visible in the background.
Goldlace primula
I am super excited that the "weeping cherry" (Prunus "snofozam" or "Snow Fountains") is already budding and starting to flower.  It looked pretty dormant when I planted it a few weeks ago.
Weeping cherry
The fairy garden has survived two winters now, and looks none the worse for wear.  I guess I'm a pretty good builder, on a small scale anyhow.  Its stone path, though, is almost completely covered in sedums.  (The blue bowl is supposed to look like an outdoor "hot tub".  The little miniature "Christmas tree" is next to it.)
Fairy house
So many signs of Spring.   Even the Gunnera is waking up, and sending up a hand-like shoot from beneath last year's crumpled foliage (In the Fall, I fold the leaves over the crown to protect it from the Winter cold).
Gunnera in early Spring
All the best of Spring gardening to everyone!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Paralympic Curling

Sumi, the 2010 paralympic mascot
The 2010 Olympics may be over, but the 2010 Paralympic Games are in full swing this week. Unlike the Olympics, the tickets are very economical and quite available. So tonight our company bought some 80 tickets to a wheelchair curling event, and enjoyed an evening out together.

My daughter got to meet her favourite mascot, Sumi (as you can tell by her shrit and keychain - she also has a stuffed toy Sumi which I didn't let her bring). (Click any photo for a larger image.)

I am not big on watching sporting events, so amused myself by watching the crowd, and taking photos with our pocket digital camera. But as the evening progressed, I found myself more and more drawn into the game, especially with the exciting ending.

Here are some of the photos from the evening.

The venue is a new facility, near Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.

Paralympic curling
My daughter and I got into the spirit with some face tattoos.  My son didn't want to play along.
I have never seen wheelchair curling before, so it was interesting.  The person throwing the rock locked their wheelchair, but then was stabilized by a team member behind them.  Here is a photo of the Swiss team - they were unmistakable with their decorative wheel covers.

2010 Paralympic curling
Here is a photo of the Canadian team.  In the next lane, the German team sports their colourful wheel covers.

2010 Paralympic curling
In the curling event, there were 4 matches in parallel, each playing 8 sides, and 8 rocks per side. Canada was matched up against Italy. It turned out to be the closest match, as you can see from the scoreboard, with it tied up after 7 sides.  In the 8th side, Canada started, so Italy threw the last rock, overtaking Canada in that very last rock.  So the fans got their money's worth, and even though the crowd was primarily Canadian fans, there was hearty applause for Italy's performance, and I think we all went home pleased with the entertainment.
2010 Paralympic curling

Amazing Dragonfly Photos

I love dragonflies, and can never view too many photos of them.  So tonight, after finding the Ixia photo on the TrekNature site, I kept browsing (staying up too late again!) through the wonderful photos, and then was really struck by this photo, entitled "Wings of Gold", by Su & Brenda (I'm not sure which one took the photo), a husband & wife photography team from Malaysia:

I little while before that, I had paused at another dragonfly photo.  I wish I could find it again.  But here are a few other great photos I found on that site while looking for it - click the links below the "thumbnails" to see the real thing.

I have not had the same success with my couple of attempts at dragonfly photos.  This one was discovered while out walking with the family, but although the dragonfly is stunning, my photo is very flat and unexciting:
One time when I was trying to photograph some frogs, I had a dragonfly "check me out" - he kept hovering nearby.  I tried, and got a few shots of him in the air, which was exciting, but the depth of focus is very unflattering, and didn't produce a good photo:
This summer, I think I will make some more attempts at dragonfly photos.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seed sowing

Magnolia closeup
There are so many signs of Spring here.  The daffodils are in full bloom.  The forsythia have been a glorious yellow for about a month now.  Magnolia trees are in their glory - and there are a few really amazing ones I need to photograph, whenever I remember to take my camera with me.  Many of the flowering cherry trees lining the streets are in bloom.  I spotted some tulips blooming today, although I'm guessing mine will need another 3 or 4 weeks.  In my yard, the fruit trees are bursting with buds, and will soon be in bloom.  Mini irises are popping up, my Bergenia "Baby Doll" is blooming, and the weird flowers of Petasites Frigidus are extending up from the hillside of my garden.

Underplanting of daffs, and seed containers
This year I was inspired - or should I say tempted? - to buy a number of seeds.  I'm not usually enthusiastic about seed starting, but there are so many neat plants which I have discovered - many by wandering through other bloggers' gardens - which are either not readily available, or not at a price which I am willing to pay in the garden centres.  I was also inspired to try winter sowing this year, from one of the blogs I follow.  I am a big hoarder of plastic containers and such, and was happy to discover a way to reuse some of my containers (see photo right, the containers sitting on the edge of our giant chess board).

The seeds I winter-sowed in January are sprouting now, some very very tiny, but almost all show some signs of sprouts.  Good thing they are in the container, since we recently had a late round of frost (considering we hardly had any all winter!), and even a small dusting of snow:

 Goji berries
 Platycodon grandiflora "Komachi" (Komachi balloon flower)
 Dodecatheon clevelandii (Shooting star)
 Cortadeia selloana "rosea" (Pink pampass grass)
 Heuchera americana "Marvelous Marble"

I am thankful for my Mom offering her windowsills (and patience with daily watering!) for my seed starting.  I potted up 12 tiny pots tonight, and hope to buy more potting soil and pot up more soon.  I started (sorry I'm a bit lazy on the names) :

 Helichrysum (straw flower) - salmon colour
 Canary bird vine
 Aristolochia (Calico flower)
 Asclepias tuberosa
 Ixia viridiflora - I am really excited about this one - I hope it sprouts! (see photo on right, "borrowed" from the site
 Himalayan blue poppy
 Yellow pear tomato
 Stripey green tomato
 Purple Russian tomato
 (ha ha - no red tomatoes yet!)
 Papyrus grass

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Garden Project : Bellflower Path Lighting

The weather and my schedule finally cooperated, so I was able to assemble all 6 of my new Bellflower path lights, and set them out in the new garden area. I have yet to set out the 3 spot lights I bought from CSN also. Then I need to buy the transformer and low voltage cable, to connect these up. But in the meantime, I am already enjoying the lights, even when not lit up.

Ever since I placed the first light in the garden one month ago, I can't get enough of visiting and looking at them, and taking photos. While most of the garden is just starting to wake up, these beauties are already in "full bloom". Here is one of the lights, with a white bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis "alba") in front, and a couple of peonies pushing up on either side (not to mention some horsetails - also taking advantage of the newly cleared area!).
Bellflower path light
Normally, I would choose simple black fixtures, and I was unsure about this "Antique Brick" colour. (The other option would have been "Patina Green".) But I have come to really love the colour. The colour is reminiscent of well-seasoned rusted wrought iron, and the rough texture creates that feeling too. It blends really naturally with the soil, and constrasts nicely with the pretty frosted & fluted glass, which glows nicely when the sun hits it. I can't wait until these little beauties each glow with 10W halogen light at night.  I think the effect will be very romantic.

I can easily admire the 6 bellflower lights from the house:
Bellflower path lighting
They show really nicely, rising above the new flagstone path.  I can't wait until the peonies and other perennials grow up around the outside of the path, and see how the foliage will fill in around the lights.  Here are a few more views from the upper yard:
In the photos, you may be able to make out my new weeping cherry in the center of the circle, behind the bench.  The tag near the top of the tree is visible, if not the branches.  Next year it should be in full white bloom by now, but being fresh from the nursery, the blooms will be delayed, maybe even absent, this year.

With the 3 matching Antique Brick spotlights I also bought from CSN, I plan to shine one on this new weeping cherry, and the other two on my sweet gum and coral bark maple trees, which are outside the path opposite the bench (somewhat visible from the first of these three photos).  We'll see how that looks when they're all connected up.  The lights each come with a quick-connect connector, so it should be easy to run a low-voltage cable out there, try out the configuration, and move them around until I'm happy with the lighting, and then bury the cable (close to the path, so I won't as likely dig it up) when it's just right.  I can't wait.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

More Neck Troubles and Weeping Cherry

A few weeks back, I was trying to prune the butterfly bush at the top corner of our yard (in the "hummingbird" garden). The branches were thick, my pruning shears dull, and I was trying to be careful not to spend too much time looking up, since I know this is something I must watch out, for my neck. But by the time I gave up on it (I couldn't reach or cut through all the branches I wanted to prune), I knew I was in trouble with my neck. I could feel an odd burning sensation on the back right side of my neck.

Sure enough, it didn't go away over the next couple of days, and somehow I knew I had thrown it out of alignment. Unlike the first time, where I was in severe pain for weeks before I found out what the problem was, this time I quite quickly made an appointment with Dr. Davis to work his wonders on my neck.

So two weeks ago Friday, I went for my adjustment. As before, I was stiff for a couple of days afterward, and then felt generally better. But by the time I had my follow-up appointment the next Friday, the burning sensation had returned, and sure enough, I needed another adjustment. Perhaps I had not rested enough the first time, to allow my neck to settle correctly.

But it appears I have done it again! I was feeling better by Monday, but then Tuesday I felt a sort of pinch in the right side of my neck/shoulder. I had hoped it was from the usual stiffness, and I had my regular (approx every 6 weeks, to avoid being in pain) massage Wednesday, my therapist being very careful to avoid the neck. But although that helped to relax the shoulders and back, the pinched feeling continued, and the pain has progressed into my shoulder and top of my arm also.

I'm a bit discouraged. I will see Dr. Davis tomorrow afternoon, and I am expecting that I will need another adjustment. I am hoping and praying that this time, I will be able to rest adequately afterwards, and that it will "hold", and I will be pain-free again. I will appreciate any of your prayers also, for me.

As an attempt to cheer myself up a bit, yesterday I went out on my lunch break and bought the weeping "cherry" tree which I have been dreaming of for my new garden area. When I first went looking for a weeping tree about a month ago, I was recommended to the Prunus 'Snofozam' (Weeping Cherry "Snow Fountains"), and was preparing myself to pay the $120 price tag at the tree nursery where I found it. Good thing I also checked at Gardenworks (which is usually fairly pricey, in my opinion), since I found a beautiful - taller - one there for only $69, and I also got 20% off with a coupon. The trees had recently arrived, and no more stock was expected, so I seized the opportunity. I will post photos as soon as I have a chance to take some.

The photo on the right is not mine, it is from this site, but shows the white flower colour and weeping habit of "Snow Fountains".  The weeping tree is actually top-grafted onto another standard cherry, which is bottom-grafted onto dwarf root stock, so it will not grow vigorously.  It is considered a good variety of weeping cherry for a small space, since it stays quite narrow - perfect for my new garden area.
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