Search My Blog

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chocolate & Star Anise Soufflé


It's funny how those seven letters strung together in that order inspire so many feelings. Fear. Challenge. Determination. Perseverence. Hunger. And the one feeling that usually wins this battle is fear. The fear of failure. After all, it's so delicate. It might not rise. And if it does rise, it will surely fall. And if it doesn't fall, it might not taste good anyways. So, why bother?

I'll tell you why.

Not only are soufflés easier than they are perceived, but they are light, versatile and tasty, and if you just try one, I am sure you will find ways to do it again and again and again.

So, don't be afraid. Just go for it! And to inspire a little confidence while you are following this recipe, I'll tell you a little about my experience.

I almost gave up. Yep, almost threw in the towel. Why? Because there were so many times during this recipe when I looked at what I had made so far and thought that surely, I must have messed up! But, I kept going, and the end result was fab! I will admit, there is not much to look at during this recipe, and that's mostly because it's a recipe for two. But I promise you, once you add the egg yolks, the batter will loosen up and you will feel more confident in your efforts. So, don't be alarmed with what you see and most of all, don't give up!!

And just to help you along, I did this recipe with pictures, so you can see what it really looks like step by step.

So, before you start, you need to choose your bakeware. Usually, soufflés are baked in about 5-6 ounce ramekins. For this recipe, I used small bowls (because to be honest, that is all I had in this hotel room... see previous blogs for an explanation of why I am stuck in a hotel room kitchen...) but you can use whatever small dish you like. Just remember, whatever you choose to bake in is what you will serve the soufflés in, so choose something that you would like to see on the table. Whatever you choose, the batter should fill the vessel about 3/4 of the way up.

Oh, and one more thing. A soufflé is the kind of dessert that needs to be put in the oven immediately and then eaten right after coming out of the oven. So, does this mean it's not a good entertaining dessert? Nope, because you can prepare about 3/4 of this recipe in advance. You can grease and sugar the baking dishes and make the soufflé base all the way up to the adding of the egg yolks. Then, when you are almost ready to eat the souffles, preheat the oven, whip the egg whites, fold them into the chocolate base, spoon into the prepared dishes, and bake for 15 minutes! Easy as pie! Or is it?? Why don't you try for yourself...

I chose to make this chocolate soufflé with subtle hints of anise because it adds another layer of flavor to this dessert. And because I had some star anise kicking around...

If you want the souffle to be light and fluffy with a mild taste, make the recipe as is, without the chocolately addition. If you want the souffle to be rich with pockets of dark chocolate molten goodness, make the recipe and be sure to poke in the chocolate bits before baking. Yum yum!

Chocolate & Star Anise Soufflé
Serves 2

1/3 cup milk
1 tbsp Sugar plus enough to line the ramekins
4 whole star anise
1 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Flour
1 ½ tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 Large Eggs, Separated
Optional: Dark Chocolate Pieces
Optional: Icing Sugar for Dusting

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

Grease ramekins and dust the insides with white sugar

Place milk, sugar, and star anise in a saucepan and heat on med-high heat until it just starts to bubble. Turn off heat and let sit while you continue to the next step.

In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cocoa powder and stir while cooking for about 1 minute. Remove star anise from the milk mixture and pour the milk mixture into the butter/flour/cocoa mixture. Stir quickly until combined. Remove from heat. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Once cool, beat in the egg yolks. This should loosen up the batter.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Don’t worry if you see white speckles in the batter.

Spoon the batter carefully into the ramekins.

(For an extra rich and chocolately option: Poke a few dark chocolate pieces into the soufflé batter right before you put it in the oven. They will melt into little chocolate pockets in the middle of your soufflé!). Bake at 190 degrees for 15 minutes.

You will know when it’s done when it has risen sufficiently and the batter is set. You can also tell that it's done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean of batter. I say almost because you do not want the souffle to be too dry.

Dust with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tender Oat Crusted Chicken "Schnitzel"

So, for those of you who have been following my blog, I am in Damascus, living in a hotel, shopping at the local street markets and using what I find to cook with. I am basically relying on simple, no fuss ingredients, which I guess is the way cooking should be.

But that doesn't mean you need to live on pasta, bread and rice (not that there is anything wrong with that). If fact, you would be surprised what you can cook up with a few basics. I already cooked up the Tomato & Egg Skillet, recreated my mom's Soy Sauce Chicken, and made a healthy, gourment Tuna Salad from stuff bought off the street.

Today, I cooked up a Chicken "Schnitzel." I use the term schnitzel very lightly to mean a thin, pounded piece of meat which is coated (usually with a mixture of flour and breadcrumbs), then browned in a pan (like the Beef Schnitzel I made earlier). In this case, however, I used chicken breasts and since I didn't find any commercial breadcrumbs in the street market and I don't have a blender to make breadcrumbs, I coated these chicken breasts with a mixture of quick cooking oats and flour.

The results were fabulous! It was a quick and satisfying meal, and quite healthy because they were coated with oats, used very little oil, and were finished off in the oven. The pounded chicken breasts were so tender, I didn't even need a knife to eat them! The best part, the leftovers! Straight out of the fridge, you can enjoy these leftovers as part of a sandwich, sliced over a salad, or just as is dipped in a little honey mustard! Now that's what I call easy cooking!

Tender Oat Crusted Chicken "Schnitzel"
Serves 2
(but double or triple the recipe so you can have "leftovers" for meals to come!!)

2 large Chicken Breasts, bonless & skinless
Vegetable Oil for cooking

Dry Mixture
1/2 cup Quick Oats
1/4 cup Flour
1 tbsp Dried Herbs (Herbs de Provence, Oregano, Thyme.. whatever you like)
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper

Wet Mixture
1 Egg, beaten
1/4 cup Milk
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Butterfly the chicken breasts, by using a knife to gently cut the breast from the curved side inwards, being sure not to cut all the way through. Open up the chicken breast to create a "butterfly" shape.

Place the chicken breasts, one by one, in a plastic bag or between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using a heavy bottomed pot or a rolling pin, pound until they are about 1/2cm thick.

In a large dish, combine the wet ingredients, mixing well. In another large dish, combine the dry ingredients, mixing well.

Dip each chicken breast into the wet mixture, and then in the dry mixture, ensuring that the breast is completely coated.

Heat a large pan over high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place both chicken breasts flat into the pan. Let cook for about 3 minutes per side or until each side is crisp and golden brown. (If your pan is not large enough for both, cook the first one, then add another coating of oil to the pan and cook the second one.

Place the browned chicken breasts on a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 200 degrees for about 8 minutes (when cut in the middle, the chicken breasts should no longer be pink).

Serve with a selection of mustards. Goes great with mashed potatoes!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not Your Plain Old Tuna Salad

What comes to mind when I say "tuna salad"?

Perhaps the sloppy, mayonnaise based tuna mush from your childhood sandwiches? Yep, that's the one I am talking about. The one that soaked straight through the white sandwich bread by lunchtime. The soggy one that was wrapped in plastic with a juice box imprint smooshed right into it.

Or, if you had it good as a kid, a more interesting version of the aforementioned mush perhaps on wheat bread or a kaiser roll with the addition of any of the following: mustard, onions, celery, lettuce, tomato.

Regardless of which one you are thinking of, you've got another thing coming to you today. Yes, that's right. Today we are making Tuna Salad. But not just any tuna salad. It's a mayonnaise-free, kicked up, healthy, flavorful kind of tuna salad. The kind that you can eat as a balanced meal, stick in a sandwich, fold in a wrap, and feel good about afterwards.

Not Your Plain Old Tuna Salad
Serves 2-4 people depending on how you serve it

1/2 White or Red Onion, Finely Sliced
2 Large Tomatoes, Diced
3 Small Cucumbers, Halved and Diagonally Sliced (about 1/2 large English Cuke)
1/2 can (410g can) Corn Kernels, Drained
1 can (185 g can) Tuna, drained
2 tsp Dried Herbs (Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, Italian, Provencal)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
3 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
100 grams (about 1/4 cup) Feta Cheese, crumbled
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
Handful of Kalamata Olives, optional

Place all ingredients in a large bowl or ziplock bag. Toss together.
It's as simple as that!
Serve as a salad with your favorite bread, toast, roll, or cracker on the side. Make it pasta salad by cooking 2 cups of your favorite shaped pasta (short pastas like fusilli, penne, or macaroni work best). Or turn it into a sandwich, pita, or wrap.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Memories of Mom's Cooking: Soy Sauce Chicken Legs

Being so far away from home makes you crave certain comfort foods. For me, it's usually my mom's homecooking that I am thinking about. Those distinctive aromas coming from the kitchen and that great familiarity as the dishes were placed in front of me. My mom's Spaghetti Bolognese, Black Bean Spare Ribs, Fried Rice, Steamed Salmon... the dishes and memories are endless. But today, one particular dish came to mind as I walked through the spice souk and came across some star anise. My Mom's Soy Sauce Chicken Legs.

Salty, sweet, and spicy all perfectly balanced in this simple to make dish. Now, I am not saying that my version lives up to my mom's, but it certainly is a good try at recreating a dish which I so fondly remember eating frequently as a child.

Soy Sauce Chicken Legs
Serves 2

1 tsp Cooking Oil
2 Whole Chicken Legs (back, thigh, and drum)
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Medium Onion, finely diced
1/2 cup Light Soy Sauce
1/4 cup Dark Soy Sauce
3/4 cup Water
1 tsp Brown Sugar
4 Whole Star Anise
1 tsp Fresh Ginger Root, chopped finely
Steamed white or brown rice for serving

Heat oil in a large sauce pan on medium heat. Add the chicken legs and brown lightly on each side-- about 2 minutes per side.

Add the garlic and onions and stir with chicken for about 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar, star anise and ginger. Stir until combined. Cover and simmer on low-med heat for about 20 minutes. Turn the chicken legs over. Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes.

Check that the chicken legs are fully cooked. When pierced by the bone in the thickest part of the thigh, the juices should run clear.

Serve chicken with steamed rice and drizzle with the sauce.

If you want to make the sauce lighter: make ahead and remove the chicken legs. Let the sauce cool, then place in the fridge until cold and the fat solidifies on top of the sauce. Remove the layer of fat. Reheat the sauce, and place the chicken legs back in the sauce until warm. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quick Tomato & Egg Skillet

So, for those of you who aren't aware, I have moved. And I am not just talking about down the street, I am talking about across countries and continents. My new home? Damascus, Syria.

I really love the Middle East. And there are really a lot of great things about the city of Damascus. It's old (actually, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world!) and that means it has character and culture and tradition! Street markets, locally grown produce, freshly baked bread, and all the yummy street food that we have come to know in other parts of the world... shawarma, mannekish.

The bad news? Well, I have moved from the comforts of my old home into a hotel (temporarily of course if you can call 2 months temporary). Some might think this a dream. I mean, having your bed made everyday, your laundry done for you, your bathroom organized and restocked, and of course, room service. But for a passionate kitchenista?? A nightmare. How can anyone live off room service and restaurant food for weeks on end, three meals a day? Yes, the food is excellent, and anyone who has ever visited Damascus will vouch for that. But sometimes, you just want simple, home cooked food.

So, this whole hotel thing has been difficult for me. Well, that is, until we changed rooms recently to a "residential suite." What does that mean? Well, the short version is.... wait for it..... IT HAS A KITCHEN!!! Okay, it's certainly not large, but it's a kitchen nonetheless. With 4 electric burners, 1 small oven, a fridge and a dishwasher!! Now the challenge lies in the equipment. No measuring cups, limited utensils and pots, but who cares! It's a kitchen and I can finally cook!

Now, out to the streets to pick up some food! It's a fun experience as I buy, in my broken Arabic, an assortment of fresh produce, eggs, herbs, and pantry staples. But it is so worth it! First, there is the sense of pure accomplishment at having just purchased groceries in a foreign language in a foreign country. And then there is the thought of what I can do with it! Yay! My life in Damascus has officially begun!

I decided to showcase the freshness of this produce by making something quick and simple today with ingredients that I bought of the street this morning: Quick Tomato & Egg Skillet. Once you are comfortable with this recipe, there are tons of variations you could make, by adding cubed ham, sausages, other vegetables and cheese!

Quick Tomato & Egg Skillet
Serves 2

1 large ripe tomato, cut into 6 wedges
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 large eggs (depending on how hungry you are)
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1 1/2 tsp Olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a medium sized skillet (non stick is best), heat olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic, onions, tomatoes and oregano and cook for about 4 minutes, until the onions are browned and tomatoes are softened and hot. Season with a couple pinches of salt and pepper.

Spread the mixture out evenly in the pan, leaving space between the tomatoes for the eggs. Crack the eggs into spaces between the tomatoes. Place a pinch of salt on each egg yolk. Cover the pan with a lid or tin foil and let cook for about 3 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are just cooked and the egg yolks are still soft to the touch. If you prefer your eggs cooked medium or hard, cover and cook for and extra 2 to 4 minutes.

Serve and enjoy with toast.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Easy Pork Chops with Tomato & Herb Sauce

Okay, I have to say this... I absolutely LOVE Giada! She uses fresh ingredients, simple preparation, and her recipes are just amazing.

To be honest, I don't usually follow recipes very well. I usually get inspired by them and then like to add my own little twist, but Giada's recipes are to die for and there is really no reason to improve them at all.

Here is one of my favorites. It's so simple, yet could have your husband, wife, friends and family thinking that you slaved in the kitchen for hours because it's so so so good. It goes very well with some plain pasta tossed in olive oil, creamy polenta, or steamed rice.

Easy Pork Chops with Tomato & Herb SauceRecipe from Giada de Laurentiis called "Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola"
Serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (1-inch thick) bone-in pork loin center-cut chops (about 12 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, in juice
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle the pork chops with salt and pepper. Add the pork chops to the skillet and cook until they are brown and an instant-read meat thermometer inserted horizontally into the pork registers 155 degrees F, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the pork chops to a plate and tent with foil to keep them warm.

Add the onion to the same skillet and saute over medium heat until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, herbes de Provence, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend and the juices thicken slightly, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes

Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and more red pepper flakes. Return the pork chops and any accumulated juices from the plate to the skillet and turn the pork chops to coat with the sauce.

Place 1 pork chop on each plate. Spoon the sauce over the pork chops. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dark Chocolate Dipped Citrus Biscotti

As the summer comes to an end and the temperatures start to drop, it's time to say goodbye to all things frappucino, mochacino, iced- this and iced that, and say hello again to big mugs of warmth. Gone are the afternoons of sipping refreshing summer beverages...

Yes, it's sad in some ways. But in some ways, it is a joyous occasion when we can welcome back chilly days and warmer drinks. After all, there's nothing better than enjoying a warm, comforting caffeinated beverage of your choice with some of your closest friends and a yummy biscotti!

Okay, I understand that this may sound like a bribe. Give up summer and you can snuggle up to a warm cup of jo and something sweet. Well, it's not really a bribe. It's just a small reminder of the great things to come. And nothing pairs more perfectly with a steaming mug of coffee than a biscotti. Why?

Well, let's start first by talking about biscotti. What is it? A biscotti is an Italian cookie that is baked twice. It is characterized by having a drier and harder texture and usually does not have any oil or butter in it. They can be made in a variety of flavors, from chocolate to cranberry to hazelnut to coffee flavored.

So, why is the biscotti the perfect accompaniment?

1. Because it is the perfect texture for a dipping cookie. If you are a "cookie dipper," then you know how important it is for your cookie to have enough structure so that when you dip it, it doesn't fall apart into soggy, crumbly bits

2. You need crunch! Whether you are a dipper, or someone who alternates between bites and sips, you know that you need an accompaniment that retains some crunch.

3. Not too sweet. Some accompaniments are far too sweet that the sugariness just coats your mouth and you almost lose the coffee taste that you crave

Well, thankfully, the biscotti meets all of our coffee accompaniment's expectations. It has the ability to be dipped without falling apart, it has great crunch (especially because of the cornmeal component in the ones we will be making) and it has the perfect balance of sweetness.

Now that we've made the case for biscotti as the perfect accompaniment, we need to discuss flavors. As I mentioned before, you can make biscotti in all flavors, just like any other cookie or cake. But in my opinion, there is one particular variety that really outshines the rest, and that is the one we will be making today. Citrus Biscotti.

I love these Citrus Biscotti because, first of all, anything citrus just wins my heart. But besides my love for all things citrus, they are just so simple and clean tasting. You are really able to enjoy the cookie as it is, with a hint of citrus just to make it interesting.

In this recipe, there is also the option to dip these biscotti in dark chocolate. This is not mandatory, but it sure is delicious! I mean, hey, dark chocolate, coffee, citrus.... these are 3 flavors that just excel together!

The best part about biscotti is that they are a naturally dry cookie, and can last up to 3 weeks in an airtight container. So be prepared to make a lot and have them available to entertain your friends!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Citrus Biscotti
Recipe from Giada de Laurentiis

Makes about 36 biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 3/4 cup Dark Chocolate, chopped into pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together and then add orange and lemon zests. Beat the eggs and sugar in another bowl until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat just until blended (the dough will be soft and sticky). Let stand for 5 minutes.

Transfer the dough to parchment lined baking sheet. Moisten your hands with water and shape the dough into two 11 by 4-inch logs. Bake until lightly brown, about 35 minutes. Cool the logs for 5 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick diagonal slices. Bake, cut side down, on parchment until the biscotti are pale and golden, about 25 minutes. Cool the biscotti on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, transfer to a rack and cool completely.

Melt 1 3/4 cups of dark chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Dip biscotti into the melted chocolate, shake off the excess, and place on the baking sheet. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes.

Store in an airtight container up to 4 days, or freeze in resealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.