Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Beauty of Everyday Things... and Chocolate Yogurt Pots de Creme

One of the most extraordinary experiences of my life was spending a week in Tibet when I was 24.  For those of you new to my blog, I had already been living in China for three years after graduating college, teaching English at a technology university in Dalian, China.  Before moving back to the U.S., my friends and I took a trip to the Szechuan province, then into Tibet, finally finishing the trip by boat down the Yangtze River.  While in Tibet, though, I was hospitalized after developing HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) when my lungs filled with fluid from the extremely high altitude.  I was on oxygen for two days to rid my lungs of the fluid, before being allowed to travel again, and while I was in the hospital, mostly sleeping my way to recovery, my two best girlfriends who I was traveling with e-mailed my parents to let them know what had happened.

I remember when Jessica and Robin came back to my room, they said my mom had responded to their e-mail, full of motherly concern and advice, and with a list of healthy food she wanted me to eat to aid my recovery.  They hadn't wanted to worry her more by telling her that it would be next to impossible to get any of those food items in that rustic mountain town.  Rice and yak meat were our main food options.  After all, in my hospital room I was sleeping on little more than a cot, and the door to my room had a big hole where the doorknob should have been.  And the nurses didn't actually provide any care, other than to check on my IV and the gauge on the oxygen tank.  Mainly their visits to my room were simply to stare at me, touch my curly hair, and wonder to each other if my eyelashes were real.  Yes, I have had my eyelashes pulled on several times while living in Asia.  I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.  Living in China, experiencing their culture, getting to know the people...  it opened up a new world of living to me.

On my mom's grocery list was Greek yogurt, since it's packed with protein and probiotics.  I've recently come to love Greek yogurt - it's amazingly thick and rich, even the low-fat yogurt with 2% milk fat tastes very decadent - and it's wonderful with berries or used in baked goods as a substitute for milk or sour cream.  Jamie likes to mix Greek yogurt with tuna for an afternoon snack before an evening workout at the gym.

I admire other cultures who take the time to appreciate good food so much that it's part of their philosophy of good living, as they do in Greece.  Good food and fine taste is their foundation of enjoying a healthy, positive life.  Too often, I get caught up in problems at work, I worry too much about bills, I scarf down my lunch while checking e-mail, with no idea of what I'm even eating.  Since creating this blog, I have a self-imposed challenge of learning more about food, cooking and baking, and it's a challenge I've come to love.  Not everything I make is a success, but I learn from those experiences as well.  Yesterday, I learned that leftover pancake batter, when baked, becomes sort of spongy.  And as interesting as I thought my idea was of spreading it with leftover cream cheese frosting and creating little cake sandwiches sprinkled with powdered sugar, the execution of it was lacking.  On the other hand, today I discovered a fantastic and addicting little treat made from pizza dough that is completely amazing...  but that's another post.

During our vacation week, I was so glad we decided not to travel anywhere.  Instead, we enjoyed many stress-free day trips around Denver, and it allowed me to slow down and see the beauty that's all around me.  The red and gold leaves of autumn.  A sea otter doing back-flips in the water.  Huge "baby" tigers wrestling and playing.  The shapes, sizes and colors of so many varieties of pumpkins.  The warm tickle of a goat's tongue against my hand.  The tartness of freshly pressed apple cider.  The buildings in the music and arts center of town.  The way I feel when Jamie tells me he loves me.  The feeling of accomplishment after cooking something both pretty and delicious.  Dark chocolate in a beautiful vintage cup.  These are the things that make me happy.  These are the things that make life good.

A few months ago, I made for Jamie a chocolate sour cream pie, and for something new today, I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream in that recipe and made Chocolate Yogurt Pots de Creme with a layer of Chocolate Ganache on top for a pretty shiny appearance.  A sprinkling of coarse sea salt adds the final finish.  This chocolate dessert is only slightly sweet, but very rich, intensely dark and chocolatey, so a little bit goes a long way.  Although I didn't have any berries on hand, this would be delicious topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a few raspberries.

Make someone you love happy by making them something delicious, simple and elegant.  Just looking at this luscious dessert will make you happy, even before you take the first bite.

As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here:

Chocolate Yogurt Pots de Creme

chocolate cream:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup FAGE Greek yogurt (2% milk-fat)
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (62% cacao)
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (99% cacao)
chocolate ganache:
  • 4 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (62% cacao)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or Fleur de Sel
  • whipped cream
  • fresh berries

Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and set on the stove to come to a gentle simmer.  In a heatproof bowl that's big enough to sit on top of the saucepan without touching the water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, yogurt, vanilla and cocoa powder until smooth.  Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Set the bowl on top of the saucepan of water.  Hold the end of an instant read thermometer in the mixture and whisk constantly as the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes smooth.  Continue whisking constantly and cook the pudding until it becomes very thick and the thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  This process should take about 10-15 minutes.

Remove bowl from the heat and immediately pour into 4 ramekins, small bowls or cups.  Smooth out the surface of the pudding, and cover each dish with plastic wrap, so that the plastic is resting against the pudding (to prevent a "skin" from forming as it cools).  Place in the refrigerator to chill while you make the ganache.

Place the 2 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl.  In a clean heatproof bowl, pour the 4 tablespoons of whipping cream.  Place over the saucepan of simmering water and heat the cream gently, stirring constantly with a whisk or spatula, just until the cream is about to bubble.  Remove from the heat and pour the cream over the chopped chocolate.  Let sit for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until completely smooth and shiny.

Divide the ganache between the 4 serving dishes and smooth out the top.  Sprinkle with the sea salt.  Refrigerate uncovered for 1 hour before serving.  Serve with whipped cream and berries, if desired.

Yields 4 servings.