I was lying at the doctor's, staring at the ceiling, with several needles stuck all over my body. The ones in my ear pinched the most. But it was all bearable - I just felt like a helpless porcupine lying on its back. Funny what people will do to "feel good". I do this on my own will - once every two years or so - simply to rejuvenate myself. Acupuncture is something I like to put myself through to relieve pain or to simply lift my spirits. My doctor introduced me to it a few years ago and ever since then I have become a believer.
I often have trouble with my neck, shoulder area. It's not excruciating pain, just simply the feeling of having the weight of the world lying on my shoulders. Do you know what I mean? I can't describe it any better than that. It's uncomfortable, hurts and gives me slight headaches every now and then.
In December I decided to start a new treatment. My last one was back in 2006 and last year was not the easiest for me. Especially after loosing my grandmother, things were in a bit of a turmoil. It took toll on the weakest part of my body - my neck and shoulder area. I consulted with my doctor and she also recommended to treat the blues I was having. In a treatment of 10 sessions over a period of 10 weeks, you get needles stuck to all types of points and meridians. Each point stimulates a different part of the body.
I had my last session today and although I knew the effect of what acupuncture had on physical pain, it was the first time I experienced how it helps with other issues, deeper in the mind, heart and soul. I was not in deep depression, I was just feeling uneasy, not eating or sleeping well, feeling drab and simply reflecting the time of year we were in - gray and dull. Most of my Europeans friends go to the solarium - some doctors and trainers recommend it as it has the same effect on us as sunlight does.
I am not the solarium type of person though. I take on a weird color and do not like the feeling of being trapped under all those tubes and volts. So, instead I prefer to have needles stuck into me and feel like a helpless porcupine. For 45 minutes I close my eyes and allow my thoughts to run free.
The consequences of these free, wild thoughts are often new food creations. I play with flavors and aromas in my head. Pairing ingredients and experimenting with different products. When I get home I write my thoughts down, then I take the theory into the the kitchen and put it into practice. One of the dishes that came to be was this lovely risotto.
Most of you know my affinity for risotto. I love the texture and the creaminess of the rice, tasting totally different each time depending on the ingredients it is paired with. What I wanted to do was try my hand at a sweet risotto. Pair it with spices and complement it with a fruity side. I used coconut milk to cook the rice in and spiced it with flavors of cinnamon, vanilla and star anise. The cherry compote also has the aromas of cinnamon and star anise - the secret ingredient in this dish.
Star anise is a spice native to China and Vietnam. Today it is almost exclusively grown in southern China, Indo-China and Japan. As the name suggests, the star anise is star shaped, with about 5 to 10 segments and a deep brown rusty color. It is an unusual fruit of the Illicium verum, a small native evergreen tree of southwest China. The fruit is harvested between March and May and picked before it can ripen, it is then dried and sold either whole or as a powder.
Star Anise has a very distinct flavor very much like licorice. It is powerful, pungent and stronger then anise. Both get their distinctive licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol, but both spices are not related with each other.
Purchasing, Storing & Preparation
When purchasing star anise, look for whole pieces that aren’t broken or wrinkled. Stored whole in airtight containers in a cool dark place, it keeps for well over a year. Discard once the flavor fades.
Whole stars can be added directly to the cooking dish. Pieces of star anise are referred to as segments, points or sections. These are discarded once the dish is ready. Whole stars can be grounded into a powder and used as required. Use small amounts, as the powdered form of the spice is powerful.
Come on over with your casseroles, crockpots or baked dishes. I am looking for innovative and creative one-dish meals. Looking forward to having you all over.
Share your fresh produce with us. Show us your weekly bounty from the Farmer's Market, grocery stores or CSA box.
Printable version of recipe here.
For the risotto
200 - 250 g Arborio rice
600ml coconut milk - unsweetened
30-50g sugar - depending on the sweetness you like
1 vanilla bean - seeds scraped and reserved
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise
For the cherry compote
1 kg sour cherries - I used some of the cherries I had frozen from last summer
150 ml Port wine
300 ml red wine
6 tablespoons sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 lemon - juice and zest
For the risotto
Melt butter in a large pot. Add the rice and stir while it cooks and takes on a glassy color - approx. 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the vanilla pod and seeds, the cinnamon and the star anise. Pour in a ladle full of the coconut milk and stir until the milk has incorporated into the rice. Add some of the sugar and stir until dissolved
Once the rice starts to get dry add more of the milk and sugar. Repeat this procedure and keep stirring at regular intervals. This "massages" the rice to release the creamy starch for a perfect consistency. This process should take about 15-20 minutes. The rice grains should be soft but still have a slight crunch to them.
For the cherry compote
Bring cherries, Port, wine, sugar, cinnamon stick, star anise and lemon zest to a boil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat.
Stir together cornstarch and lemon juice until smooth, then stir into boiling liquid. Boil for 1 minute the remove from heat and cover. Allow to rest for approx. 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Tip: You can make the compote 2 days ahead. Allow to cool completely then cover and chill in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Tom who is not a huge fan of the regular "rice pudding", simply adored this. He found the flavors of the sweet, spiced rice perfect with the fruity, slightly tart note of the cherry compote. Soeren - well he is the biggest fan of such warm milk and rice dishes and the cherries always add a great color and touch to the dish. I love the subtle coconut flavor that one tasted in the distant. The licorice aroma of the star anise is certainly present but also perfectly subtle on the tongue. All in all this was a great sugar and spice dish and I certainly will experiment with different flavors - acupuncture or not!
You might enjoy theses creamy desserts too:
|Coconut Mousse with Mango Coulis|
|Panna Cotta with Blackberries|
|Strawberry Mascarpone Millie Feuille|
|Tropicana Cream with Summer Berries|
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