Sunday, September 24, 2006

World Blog by Mail

I participated in a worldwide Blog By Post organised by The Happy Sorceress and eagerly awaited my parcel whilst pulling my own together to send to the States.

It is a curious concept to send a food parcel to someone whom one has never met or even been in touch with. It is akin to being given a pen pal whilst at school and writing that very first introductory letter. I visited the blog of my designated recipient to gain a flavour for her tastes and life and decided to send a thoroughly traditional British packet which I hope Nicole will enjoy, despite being on a nutrisystem diet (of which I am completely ignorant). And so my little pack of England contained:

Tiptree Little Scarlet conserve, pack of Williamson earl grey tea, tube of Coleman’s mustard, bar of organic Rococo chocolate flavoured with cardamom, disc of Gentleman’s Relish (I know that no-one ever eats this curious paste but it wouldn’t be a true traditional parcel if I had omitted this essential item), pack of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets for that taste of an English childhood and a pack of sugar flowers for decorating cakes as Nicole loves to bake.

And what did I receive? Chris Church from had thoughtfully packaged up the following:

Wheat, gluten and dairy free bread and brownie mixes
Buckwheat flour
Toasted carob powder
3 organic fruit and nut bars
Sheets of toasted nori
Sindhi biryani masala mix
Cardamom pods
Garam masala

I can’t wait to get baking with the mixes and to see how American allergy-free compare to ones available in the UK. I have already nibbled the bars and they are truly scrumptious – great for those mornings when you have already tried on three pairs of shoes, have yet to chose the matching outfit and ‘oh my god’ you only have five minutes to run for the train to work. The rate with which they disappear from my cupboard will indicate just how indecisive I am (and how many times I am late!).

Chris’s parents hail from Saudi Arabia, hence the variety of spices. The only one that is completely new to me is za’atar which Chris informs me is a lovely accompaniment to bread and olive – even more reason to try out the new bread mixture.
Sumak is a herb that is often used in Lebanese cuisine when lemons aren’t available and so I will be sprinkling that on a variation of the vegetable moussaka I made for girlfriends this week (marvellous, tonight’s dinner is taken care of).
I have to confess that I have already consumed the nori – one of my absolute favourite foods – which provided me with a couple of lunches of handrolls (minus the rice) in which it encased strips of cucumber, avocado and slices of marinated tofu.

Thank you Chris and thank you to the Happy Sorceress for organising the blogging event. What a fantastic way to travel the world – with one’s tastebuds. Lord knows that may be the only way I’m to achieve it until I have more work confirmed…………

A Feast of Friendships

I wanted to not only anoint my new flat with a home warming party, but also to thank those girlfriends without whom I would not have survived the last few months of pain and hurt in one piece. A true feast of friendship.

Five women, all of whom are battling with their own problems and yet have found the time and the space in their hearts to cherish me at the time when I have most needed it. The least I could do was to cook a meal for them.

All of us are interested in food and like to taste different cuisines and I realised that I have eaten in Lebanese restaurants with each and every one and so I let the Lebanon flavour the dishes. As ever I tweaked recipes that I have digested to make them my own and conjured up the following:

Nigella Lawson's Aubergine Moussaka (veggie option)
Moroccan-ish Chicken
Green salad
Saffronjeweledd rice (white basmati cooked with saffron threads and dried cranberries, decorated with toasted flaked almonds and flat-leaf parsley)
Chocolate crusted lemon and cardamom tart

I promised to post the recipes for the first and the last of the above dishes and will include the chicken for good measure, purely because it is such a simple main course to create. The tart is rather time consuming but from the licking of lips and pleas for leftovers to take home for husbands/fiancees, I surmised that it have been worth the effort.

Aubergine Moussaka (serves four as a main course, six as a side dish)

500g aubergine (two decent sized vegetables), cut into 11/2 cm cubes
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
10 small cloves garlic, peeled and thickly slivered
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
500g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered (do this before you embark on the rest of the recipe)
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon or one stick
½ tsp ground allspice
200ml water
Pack of feta
Mint leaves

In a large pan, heat a good amount of oil and fry half of the aubergine until golden brown. Remove to a dish and repeat with the remainder aubergine.
Splash in some more oil and add the onion and garlic and fry until soft and pale.
Add the chickpeas, the molasses and return the aubergine to the pan. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with the spices and add the water. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for around an hour.
Serve warm or cold, strewn with torn mint leaves and a crumbled pack of feta.

Moroccan-ish Chicken
(serves 4)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1tsp each salt and ground black pepper
1tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
1kg chicken thigh fillets (I remove as much fat as possible)
150ml freshly squeezed orange juice
Pared rind of one orange
150g organic dried apricots (organic ones are darker in colour as they aren't dried with sulphur dioxide)
¼ tsp saffron shreads
150ml sherry or white wine (whatever you have to hand)
3tbsp sherry vinegar
2tbsp oil
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
3tbsp plain flour (I make a cornflour paste, being unable to eat wheat)
300ml chicken stock or bouillon
Two or three preserved lemons
Flat leaf parsley

Put the first five ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the chicken, orange juice and rind and stir to ensure that the chicken is well covered. Chill for at least four hours or overnight.
Put the apricots, saffron, sherry or wine and vinegar in a bowl. Cover and leave to marinate at room for temperature for the same length of time as the chicken.
Heat the oil in a large casserole. Transfer the chicken (reserve the marinade) and brown over a high heat then remove. Add the onion and cook until soft (around five mins).
Add the flour, stir well and cook for one minute (or make a cornflour paste and add). Add the marinade, stock, the apricots with their soaking liquid and the preserved lemons. Stir and bring to the boil. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer.
Cover and either cook on the hob for around 30 minutes or in the oven at 180C for around 40 minutes.
Serve with chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Chocolate Crusted Lemon and Cardamom Tart
(serves approximately eight)
175g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
25g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg yolk
2tbsp cold water

75g dark chocolate (the higher cocoa content the better), grated
3 unwaxed lemons
150g caster sugar
4 large eggs
150ml double cream (or a 142ml pot - for some reason it is not possible to buy 150ml)
Six cardamom pods, crushed to release the black seeds. Throw away the pods.
Icing sugar to serve

To make the pastry put the first five ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Don't over process - this is very short pastry!
Mix the egg with the water and add to the mixture to make a soft dough. Gather the pastry into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Roll out the pastry (between two sheets of greaseproof paper is best) and line a 23cm (9 inch) tart tine with a removable base. Prick the pastry with a fork in several places and chill for at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.
Line the pastry case with foil and baking beans, put on a baking sheet and bake blind for 15 mins. Remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for five minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the grated chocolate over the base. Leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/gas 3.

To make the filling, finely grate the zest of the lemons into a bowl. Squeeze the juice from the lemons and add to the bowl with the sugar. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved then whisk in the eggs, cream and the cardamom pods until the mixture is smooth.
Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry case and carefully return to the middle of the oven. Bake for 30-35mins until just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the tin.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with a few raspberries for a contrast of flavours and colours.

Ginger Nuggets

My very good friend Goody recently let slip that she sometimes like to nibble ginger nuts whilst chilling out in front of the TV of an evening. A gorgeously domestic and indulgent picture but one with a few additives and other nasties. As a thank you for all her love and support, I resolved to knock her up a batch of my ginger nuggets and to christen my oven in the process.

This recipe is one that I’ve tweaked and reworked over the years until I think I’ve got these sparkly little gems just right. They are unbelievably easy to make and have been known to cure my eldest sister’s morning sickness.

Ginger Nuggets (makes approximately 16)
4oz plain flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1- 2tsp ground ginger (according to personal taste)
2oz butter
2oz golden caster sugar
2oz golden syrup
1 knob of stem ginger in syrup, chopped finely
2-3 tbsp golden caster sugar - extra

Sift the flour, bicarb of soda and ginger into a mixing bowl.
Weigh the butter, sugar and syrup directly into a little saucepan – a good trick when measuring syrup is to run the spoon under a hot tap first and then the syrup glides off with ease.
Warm the saucepan over a gentle heat until the butter has melted and the mixture is runny without getting too hot. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, add the chopped stem ginger and mix well to form a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm in a long sausage shape and chill in the fridge for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Unwrap the dough and slice into 16 pieces.
Put the extra sugar into a plastic food bag and toss each slice so that they are well coated in sugar. Arrange them on a baking sheet, leaving plenty of room for spreading. Flatten them a little with a palette knife.
Bake in the middle of your oven for 10 minutes, leave the biscuits on the tray for one minute and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

Whilst they may not be the prettiest of biscuits, I'm assured that the taste more than compensates for their aesthetically challenging appearance!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Moroccan Mystique

It has been an age since my last post. I've been adapting to my new single life, me new flat and I have to admit, I have yet to use my new oven. I'm still not particularly enamored by the thought of cooking anything exciting for one, and so I am satisfying my food porn needs by helping out at the cookery school.

Saturday evening found me at La Cucina Caldesi, helping out a Moroccan themed cookery course for the tamest hen party I have ever encountered, with possibly the largest appetites I have ever witnessed amongst a group of women. How very refreshing.

The chef for the evening hailed from Essaouria(where I had to admit I suffered the worst food poisoning of my life so far) and having been taught to cook by his mother, he holds the secrets of the honeyed flavours, rich spices and silky flavours that make Moroccan food so wonderfully appealing. One of the most memorable flavours I have ever encountered was a fresh date, warmed by the shimmery heat of the sun and picked fresh from a tree on the banks of an oasis in the Moroccan desert whilst stroking the rough hair of a donkey.

On Saturday I learnt a couple of very useful lessons. The first - how to make preserved lemons in a hurry. In theory these citrus ingredients should take a minimum of three weeks to develop their flavours, however if you have run out or cannot find them in a local shop, this is the fast-track recipe:

Preserved Lemons in a Dash
Two lemons

Make four cuts into each lemon as if you were going to quarter them but without cutting right through the flesh so that the fruits remain intact.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and add a good handful of salt. Add the lemons and boil for approximately 30 minutes or until soft but not falling apart.
Remove from the heat, sprinkle with more salt and drizzle with a good glugging of olive oil. Leave to infuse for an hour.

The hen party sipped their champagne, rolled up their sleeves and started to dip their fingertips into the ingredients. Between them and with our direction they made the following sumptuous feast:

Baked aubergines with paprika and preserved lemon dressing
Kefta balls with a hot tomato sauce
Lamb tajine with prunes

The long list of ingredients for the meat dishes belie how easy they are to prepare. Never have I smelt such a jumble of spices to tickle one's nose in one room, the air of which was heavy with the fragrant fug. Try these delicious nuggets and see if you agree.

Kefta Balls (serves 4) - Ghalid Assyb's recipes
500g minced beef
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 onion, grated
1 red chili, finelychoppedd
1 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 bunch of flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon

It couldn't be easier. Tip all the ingredients into a bowl and use your hands to mix everything together until well combined. Roll the meat into equal sized balls (roughly the size of a walnut). Fry in a pan for a matter of minutes, ensuring that they don't overcook.

Healthy, fast and delicious food which couldn't be simpler to make.

And the second lesson I learnt that night? I'm afraid that only readers of my other blog are privy to that little revelation............