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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Spinach and Sundried Tomato Dip

There is nothing easier than making a dip for a party. You can make it ahead and put it in the fridge... in fact, it tastes even better the earlier you make it! This saves you plenty of time to do other things in preparation for your guests.

This Spinach and Sundried Tomato Dip is both healthy and super easy. All you need is a few ingredients, 5 minutes and a food processor.  It doesn't get easier than this. Plus it tastes good and is full of vitamins. You could substitute light cream cheese and non-fat sour cream, and it would taste just as good. No one will ever know how simple this really was!

Spinach and Sundried Tomato Dip
Makes 1 large bowl of dip

1 package Frozen Spinach, thawed and drained
2 cups Sundried Tomatoes, drained
1 package Philedelphia Cream Cheese (200 grams)
1 cup Sour Cream
Salt and Pepper
Drizzle Olive Oil
Sliced Green Onion, for garnish

In a food processor, mix together spinach and tomatoes for about 2 minutes until all chopped and mixed. Add the cream cheese and sour cream and pulse until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scoop the dip into a bowl, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and garnish with sliced green onion. Serve with tortilla chips, pita, or veggie sticks.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Crisp Ginger Spice Cookies

Whenever I need some inspiration, I go to Martha. What can I say? She knows everything! So, anyways, I was flipping through her baking handbook, more looking at the pictures than really reading, when I saw a picture of some cute gingerbread men. Yes, that is what I decided to make. Gingerbread men. A classic right?

And then, I remembered these... a cross between gingerbread men and gingersnap cookies. My mom's favorite. My mom actually doesn't like gingerbread. I am not sure why, but it has never really been her taste. Then one day, a family friend brought over a batch of these lovely, crisp ginger spiced cookies, and my mom could not get enough of them. And now I have decided to adapt them into my own repetoire.

Nothing says Christmas like the smells of ginger and spice!

Crisp Ginger Spice Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen cookies

1 cup Unsalted Butter
1 1/4 cup White Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Molasses
3 cups Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
2 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
2 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, eggs, and molasses.
Sift together all dry ingredients and stir into the wet. Pour the dough into a baking dish lined with plastic wrap (20 by 20 cm). Press the dough into the pan, and cover with plastic wrap. (This will make square/rectangle cookies. For round cookies, divide the dough into 2, form into logs with plastic wrap). Place in the freezer overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit).. Remove the cookie dough from the freezer. For the square cookies, remove the dough from the pan, and cut into thirds so you have 3 square logs. Or for the round cookies, just unwrap the logs of dough. Cut the logs into thin slices (about 2 mm thick), place on lined baking sheets, and bake for about 12 minutes until brown. Let cook on a wire rack.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chocolate Nutella Fudge with Sea Salt

I often read recipes to get inspiration. Then, I use this inspiration to create recipes and dishes of my own. However, there are times when I come across something that I just have to try. And this recipe was one of them. Chocolate Nutella Fudge with Sea Salt from the Cookin Canuck. How could this not be delicious! Besides the fact that it sounded so simple. So, I added it to my “To Make” list and decided to try it out for Christmas.

Boy was I in for a treat! It was so easy to make with ingredients already kicking around in my pantry, and it was just as perfect as it sounded. In fact, it was absolutely divine and a huge hit with my friends. Try this one, you won’t be disappointed. Thank you Cookin’ Canuck!!!

Chocolate Nutella Fudge with Sea Salt
Recipe from the Cookin' Canuck
Makes 4 dozen fudge squares

Butter, for greasing pan
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk (395 grams or 14 oz)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
250 grams Bittersweet Chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
1 cup Nutella, room temperature
3 tbsp Unsalted Butter, cold and cut into pieces
Sea salt, approximately 1/2 tsp

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with butter. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overlap on the sides.

In a medium glass or stainless steel bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate and Nutella.

Form a double-boiler by setting the bowl on a medium pot of gently simmering water. The water level should be low enough that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir until the chocolate chips are melted and the mixture is smooth, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the cold butter. Remove the mixture from the heat and scrape into the prepared pan, spread the top smooth with a spatula, and sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate until the fudge is firm, at least 2 hours.

When the fudge is set, run the sides of the pan under hot water for just a few seconds. This should loosen the fudge from the pan. Lift the fudge out of the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and place on a cutting board. Cut the fudge into 3/4-inch squares. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Duck Breast with Balsamic, Honey & Ginger Reduction

I don't know what it is about duck, but I am hooked! Perhaps because it is hard to get over here, and you know how we always want what we can't have, or because it just has a great, rich, meaty, addictive flavor.  Whatever it is, I wish I could eat duck more often.  

Especially duck prepared like this. With a simple balsamic, honey and ginger reduction. So easy. So flavorful. So addictive. Try it. You'll see.


Duck Breast with Balsamic, Honey & Ginger Reduction
Serves 2

1 Duck Breast (about 400 grams)
3/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 tbsp Honey
1 tbsp Fresh Grated Ginger

Score the duck breast by using a knife to cut diagonal lines about 1 cm apart through the skin and the fat, then cutting another set of lines at a 90 degree angle.

Heat a pan. Cook the duck breast skin side down on medium low heat, draining the fat every so often (you can reserve this fat to make yummy sauteed vegetables or potatoes later!). After about 10 minutes, turn the breast over and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the breast from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan over medium- low heat, add the balsamic vinegar. Stir in the honey and fresh ginger. Let cook for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens.

Put the duck breast into the pan and turn just to coat in sauce. Remove the duck breast to a cutting board and let rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Classic Apple Pie

My grandfather was a chef. I didn’t really have a chance to appreciate what that meant. What I mean is, his professional chef days were long over when I entered this world.  However, just the same, he always reminded us kids of his trade when we came for a visit. His apple pie. One of my favorite memories of my grandfather. He would bring it to the table and offer us kids a slice. And it was always the same. Warm, moist, cinammon-y and just darn good.

Now, I am not sure that I could ever replicate his pie. Maybe it's because it holds a very dear place in my heart, one that will never be replaced. Or maybe it's because I just can't do it.

Anyway, here is my version. It may not be exactly the same as his, but when I eat it, I feel at ease.  As if I am taken back in time to one of the hundreds of times in my childhood when I sat with my grandparents at their dining table and ate Apple Pie.

Classic Apple Pie
Makes 1 pie

6 large Apples, peeled and sliced
Juice of 1 Lemon
1/3 cup Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 Whole Cloves
1 tbsp Butter
1/2 tsp Cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp Water

Pastry Crust
2 cups Flour
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Butter, cold and cut into chunks
1/4 tsp Salt
4-6 tbsp Ice Cold Water

For the Pastry Crust: In a food processor, combine the flours and salt. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Add the water, 2 tbsp at a time, until the dough just comes together. Divide into 2 and form each half into a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap and refridgerate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, dissolve sugar in lemon juice. Toss in sliced apples and sprinkle in cinnamon.

Melt the butter in a pan and add apple mixture. Cook for 5-8 minutes until apples are soft. Remove cloves. Stir in the cornstarch/water mixture. Remove from heat and let cool.

When you are ready to make the pie, roll out the refridgerated pastry dough, making 2 rounds. Place 1 on the bottom of a pie tin. Fill with the cooled apple mixture. Place the second round on top of the filling. Trim the edges of the crust and using a fork, press down on the edges of the crust to seal.

Bake in preheated 180 degree oven for 25-30 minutes until crust is golden.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pho Ga- Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

I love pho. To be honest, I don’t remember eating it until I moved to Austin, Texas. Sounds like a strange place to start eating a vietnamese dish, so let me explain. I was just flying back to Texas after a vacation. I had quite a cold, and after hours and hours of flying, I was a congested mess. My boyfriend (now husband) picked me up at the airport late that night and recognized the signs, and prescribed for me a steaming hot bowl of pho. Thankfully, he knew the right place. One of his previously favorite hangouts by his old pad on Burton Drive. Yes, it was kinda a cliché, poorly decorated dive. But it was simple, cheap, delicious, and, despite the time of the night, it was open.

I am not sure if this was my first pho experience or not, but it certainly was the most memorable. As I slurped down the limey, spicy broth (recommended as the way to “sweat out” a cold), I couldn’t help but feel surprisingly better. My sinuses cleared, my throat felt soothed, and as I sat across the table from the love of my life, I felt ready to conquer the world.

Since that experience, every time I feel a little under the weather, I order myself a big steaming bowl of pho. I load it with crunchy bean sprouts, sliced chilis, basil, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime and slurp away.

Fortunetely, since arriving in Damascus more than 1 year ago, I haven’t really fallen ill. That is, until last week. And I found myself thinking about pho. Unfortunetely, I haven’t seen any little vietnamese restaurant around here. So, I had to try to make it myself.

I know the list of ingredients may seem a little intimidating, but it is really just the stuff for the broth, the rice noodles, and everything else. Someone told me once that blanching off the bones for 5 minutes first makes a clearer, tastier broth. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s true because I started doing it that way and since it tastes good, I stick to it and haven’t tried the alternative.

So, next time you are feeling under the weather or just want a heart warming, steaming bowl of soup, try this one. You’re gonna love it!

Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup )
Makes 2 steamed bowls of Pho

To make the broth:
1.5 kg Chicken carcasses
2 Large Onions
2 pieces Ginger, 2 inches each
2 tbsp Coriander Seeds
6 Star Anise
6 Whole Cloves
1 tbsp Sugar
2 tbsp Fish Sauce
Stems of 1 bunch of Cilantro
2.5 Liters of Water

The rest of the ingredients:
2 Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts
400 grams Dried Rice Noodles
1 cup Fresh Bean Sprouts
Cilantro Leaves
1/4 cup Red Onion or Shallot, thinly sliced
1 Whole Lime, cut into wedges
Sliced Chili
Fresh Thai Basil

Char the ginger and onions on a gas element, grill, or under the broiler. Let cool and peel. Cut both the onion and ginger into chunks. Set aside.

Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil. Add the chicken carcasses and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse the chicken carcasses and the pot. Place the clean carcasses back into the pot and add 2.5 liters of water. Add the onions, ginger, spices, sugar, fish sauce, and cilantro stems. Simmer for about 2 hours, skimming every 20 minutes or so.

Add the chicken breasts to the broth and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.

Taste the broth. Adjust seasoning with more fish sauce and or sugar. Strain the broth and throw away the solids. Then, my mom’s broth trick… cool it off, put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, skim off all the solidified fat and skum and you will end up with a pretty nice broth. If you don’t have time to do this, you don’t have to, but I think it gives a broth with a better finish and less grease.

Boil water and prepare the rice noodles as per the package instructions. Divide the noodles into two soup bowls, shred the cooled chicken breasts, and place on top of the noodles. Pour the hot broth over top. Add desired garnishes and enjoy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lentil & Chick Pea Salad with Dried Cherries and Creamy Lemon Yogurt Dressing

I pride myself in a well stocked pantry. I could say it's because I like to be prepared for a natural disaster, but in fact, it's because I like to be prepared for whatever culinary adventure strikes me at any given moment.

Of course, there's the dried stuff.... the pasta, rice noodles, egg noodles, rice, couscous, cornmeal, oatmeal, bulgar, lentils, chickpeas, and other beans and pulses. Oh, and don't forget the flours and sugars. Then there is the canned stuff... the chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk.  Then, the essential sauces and oils. I mean, I like to make most things myself, so I am not referring to add and toss pasta sauce or meat sauces, I am talking about seasoning sauces like worchesterchire, tobasco, soy sauce, hoisin, oyster sauce, sesame oil, truffle oil, vinegars, etc.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the spices!  That would take hours.

But then there are times when it is necessary to do a "pantry clearout." Those are the times when I feel up for a challenge, or when my husband and I finalize a move to a different country and we realize we have far too much stuff in our pantry. So, for some number of weeks, or months (yes, it can take me THAT long to clear all the stuff in my pantry), we survive on what we have, plus the essential fresh stuff that we allow ourselves to buy.

And let me tell you... dishes can get mighty creative! So, here is one of them. A salad made from beans, dried fruit, and other stuff.

Oh, and as a note, I used dried lentils and chick peas rather than canned. I find that the texture of dried is far nuttier than canned and that each individual pulse stands up to being tossed in dressing and never gets that mushy texture. That is why I prefer to take the time and cook my own.

Lentil & Chick Pea Salad with Dried Cherries and Creamy Lemon Yogurt Dressing
Makes loads

2 cups Chick Peas, cooked
3 cups Lentils, cooked
3/4 cup Dried Cherries
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped

For the Dressing
Zest and Juice of 2 Lemons
1/2 cup Yogurt
1/2 cup Olive Oil
2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
Salt and Pepper

In a jar or container with tight fitting lid, add add dressing ingredients. Place on lid and shake, shake, shake!!

Then, in a large bowl, toss together chick peas, lentils and dried cherries. (Everything can be done ahead up to this point).

When you are ready to serve, pour the dressing over the chick peas mixture and toss. Then stir in the cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Twice Baked Honey-Soy Chicken Wings

This is an awesome recipe for chicken. I used it to make some kick a** chicken wings, but it can also be used as a marinade for a roasting chicken, chicken legs or even chicken breasts.

Sorry to use such strong words, but these chicken wings were really super amazing. I made them for my 30th (gulp, yes 30th) birthday party and they were a huge success. In fact, I would say that they were the hit of the party!

Sweet and sticky, my guests had to force themselves to STOP eating them! Now that's what I call a winner!

Twice Baked Honey-Soy Chicken Wings
Makes a whole lot of wings

4 kg Chicken Wings, wing tips removed
8 cloves Garlic, minced
3/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
1 cup + 1/2 cup Honey
1/2 cup Dark Soy Sauce
2 tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tbsp Chili Powder
Vegetable Oil for pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken wings. Separate the wing from the drumette and place the wing parts into a large bowl or ziplock bag.

In a bowl, mix together garlic, hoisin, 1 cup honey, soy, sesame oil, and chili. Pour half of the mixture into the chicken wings. Massage the marinade into the wings. Set the other half of the marinade aside.

Line a baking sheet with tin foil, then rub vegetable oil all over the foil. Place the wings, skin side up onto the baking sheet then pour the marinade that was with the wings over top. Bake for about 8 minutes, then flip over and bake for another 6 minutes.

After 14 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Place the wings into a bowl. Drain the fat and excess marinade off the baking sheet, change the foil, and rub again with oil.

Add 1/2 cup of honey to the remaining half portion of marinade. Toss the wings in the marinade and place on the baking sheet skin side up, and drizzle with leftover marinade as before.
Bake in the oven for another 12 minutes until the wings are sticky.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Potato & Calamari Salad

There are so many versions of potato salad. And most are the mayonnaise drenched, rich kind that accompany fried chicken at a picnic or German sausages.

Well, not this one. This potato salad is colorful, healthy, light (well, by light I guess I mean in comparison to other potato salads), fresh, and full of veggies.  There is the crunch of the vegetables, the tender chewiness of the squid, the freshness of the lemon juice.... it is just so delicious.

So, try this salad. Not as an accompaniment to other picnic favorites, but on its own as a lunch or light dinner or a starter before other great dishes!

Potato & Calamari Salad
Serves 2 generously as main dish

3 Large Potatoes
1 Shallot, chopped
2 Small English Cucumbers
1 Large Tomato
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 sprigs Fresh Rosemary, destemmed and chopped
500 grams Squid, cut into rings
Juice of 1/2 Lemon

2 tbsp + 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and boil or steam until fork tender. Cut into large chunks and place in a bowl, along with the chopped shallot, cucumber and tomato. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large sautee pan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the garlic, chopped rosemary and squid and cook for about 1-2 minutes, until squid just turns opaque. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Pour the entire mixture into the bowl with the potatoes and vegetables. Toss. Drizzle with about 2 tbsp of olive oil and season to taste. Enjoy warm or cold.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Home Brewed" Vanilla Extract


Real vanilla extract is so darn expensive that it makes me want to scream! Why does it cost so much when it is so easy to make?

This frustration has led me to start making my own. With just 2 ingredients, you can make as much as you want!  Then, you just use it in recipes as you would store bought vanilla extract. Combine that with the satisfaction of making your own, and you have a winner!

"Home Brewed" Vanilla Extract
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup Vodka
3 Whole Vanilla Beans, split or about 12 used whole pods

Place the vanilla beans and vodka into a sterilized jar. Let sit for about 2 weeks in a cool, dark place until the vanilla infuses into the vodka. Use in recipes that ask for vanilla extract.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chinese Beef & Green Bean Stir Fry

One of my favorite Chinese dishes is Beef & Brocolli Stirfry. And somehow, my mom's is always the best. Everytime I go home, I ask her to tutor me again on this dish. And everytime I go back to my house, I try it and it never tastes the same. I don't know why. Must be that thing about your Mom's cooking.

Anyway, for my birthday, I decided to try it again. However, since brocolli isn't very common over here, and my husband isn't really a fan, I made it with green beans. Served with steamed rice, it was delicious, but the reality is, it will never be as good as Mom's.

Chinese Beef & Green Bean Stir Fry
Serves 4-6 people

1 kg Beef, cut into thin slices across the grain
1 kg Green Beans, trimmed and cut into 2 1/2 inch pieces

Marinade Ingredients
2 tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Water
2 tbsp Corn Starch

Other Ingredients
1/4 cup Oyster Sauce
1/4 cup Dark Soy Sauce
2 tbsp Cornstarch
1/3 cup Water
5 cloves Garlic
1 inch piece Ginger , cut into slices, then sticks
Vegetable Oil
Salt to taste

Place the beef in a bowl or ziplock bag. Add all the marinade ingredients except the cornstarch. Massage into the beef. The sprinkle in the cornstarch, ensuring the beef is coated with it. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

In the meantime, blanch the beans in boiling water until they turn bright green. Drain and rinse under cold water so they stop cooking.

In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and water to make a slurry (Chinese method of thickening).

Heat a wok or large sautee pan on high heat. Add about 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Add the beef and cook for about 3-4 minutes until browned on all sides. Remove the beef from the pan and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Add the blanched beans and fry for about 1 minute. Add the beef back into the pan. Stir in the oyster sauce and soy sauce. Then add the slurry. As soon as the mixture thickens up, it is ready to serve. Add salt to taste. Serve with steamed rice.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Black Bean & Corn Dip

I love to throw parties and make a huge spread! And to make these get togethers as stress free as possible, I always make a menu that has a mix of things that can be made in advance and those that need to be put together at the last minute. 

This black bean and corn dip is definitely one that can be made ahead. In fact, I think it gets better with age as the flavors meld together.  Also, it is a crowd pleaser! Easy to munch on, healthy, and packed with flavor, it is a winner everytime!

Black Bean & Corn Dip
Makes about 3 cups

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large Onion, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Small Red Chili, seeded and chopped
2 tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Dried Crushed Red Chili
1 can Corn Kernels, drained and rinsed
1 can Chopped Tomatoes
1 can Black Beans, drained, rinsed, and slightly mashed
Juice of 1 Lime
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium pan. Sautee the onion, garlic, and chili for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the cumin and dried chili and cook for another minute. Stir in the corn, tomatoes, and beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice and cilantro. Serve warm with tortilla chips

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guilt Free Dark Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate pudding is a creamy, decadent indulgence that has the ability to satisfy a person's every need and craving.
I remember the little chocolate pudding pots that myself and many other kids would eat at school, packed in our back packs by our mothers as part of a balanced lunch box.

Then of course, there are the uncountable chocolate puddings and mousses that have found their ways onto various restaurant menus. 

Both are essentially the same. Pots of "feel good" chocolate served in a creamy, mouth coating, comforting sort of way. 

However, not all puddings are alike. And my version is one that you do not need to feel guilty about eating.  This recipe is for a delicious, creamy chocolate pudding without the guilt.  And, even better? It is so easy to make, that you could whip this up at any time of the week. Double or triple the recipe, and keep it in the fridge for those times when you need a little comforting.

Guilt Free Dark Chocolate Pudding
Makes 4 portions (about 1/2 cup each)

1/4 cup White Sugar
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
3 tbsp Cornstarch
1/4 tsp Salt
2 1/2 cups Skim Milk
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium sauce pan, combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the milk and the egg yolk. Heat gently over medium-low heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens. This should take 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Spoon the pudding into serving containers then place in the fridge until cool, about 1-2 hours. To serve, you can top with a piece of chocolate, grated chocolate or a dollop of whipped cream

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Asian Fish Fillets

Nothing goes better with fresh fish than simple and clean flavors. This fish is seasoned with just a little garlic, spring onion, and soy, letting the fish really shine. This recipe would work well with any fish, but which fishes or salmon are best.

Just make sure that the fish is nice and fresh and that you don't overcook it. The fish should be nice and moist and glossy in the middle.... If it is completely opaque in the middle, it is overcooked.  Really, about 3 minutes on each side should be enough for any fillet.

Serve with some plain steamed white or jasmine rice.

Asian Fish Fillets
Serves 2

2 Fillets of Fish, skin on
2 cloves Garlic, whole but crushed
1/4 cup Spring Onion, chopped
3 tbsp Soy Sauce
Vegetable Oil
Serve over rice

Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add garlic and let cook slowly for about 1 minute. Place the fish in the pan, skin side down. Cook for about 3 minutes, until skin is crisp. Turn the fillets. Add the spring onion and soy and cook for another 2 minutes. Serve over rice.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Homemade Chili Oil

I love a little bit of spice. And so often I find myself sprinkling chili flakes onto my pizzas or dipping bread in olive oil flecked with chili.

But besides dried chili flakes, I have a new favorite pantry staple… Homemade Chili Oil. It is so easy to make, and you get a much more intense and dispersed chili flavor. Drizzle it over your pasta before serving or spice up your garlic toast. I think you will find this oil indispensible in your kitchen!

Homemade Chili Oil
Makes 1/2 cup

2 tbsp chili flakes
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil

Sterilized jar (boil in water for about 10 minutes to sterilize).

Heat oil to about 225 degrees. Add chili flakes. Let cool to room temperature and pour into sterilized jar, straining if desired.

Store in fridge for up to a month. When the oil starts to become cloudy, discard.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies


I am always looking for new and interesting cookie recipes, but somehow, I always revert to recipes with oatmeal, cocoa and of course, chocolate. But it's never the exact same recipe. Despite similar ingredients, I am always amazed to find how a slight twist or different proportion of ingredients yields a completely different cookie.

This cookie was chewy with the heartiness of the sunflower seeds, yet all the chocolately goodness of any other cookie. And the best part? I made a big batch and froze half. And let me tell you, they were just as delicious frozen!

Chewy Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen

1 cup Butter
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Milk
1 Egg
2 2/3 cup Quick Cooking Oats
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup Cocoa
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Sunflower Seeds
1/2 cup Chocolate Chunks

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit)..
Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and milk. Add all dry ingredients except sunflower seeds and chocolate chunks. Mix until combined. Gently stir in sunflower seeds and chocolate chunks.

Drop by tablespoon onto cookie sheet.
Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simple Seafood Spaghetti

I really love seafood. All of it. Fish, shellfish, crustaceans, you name it. Anything that smells of the sea and reminds me of home.

However, living in Damascus, I never really get all the fish I crave. The fish in the market place scares me, sitting in the sun over crushed ice for who knows how long. The freaky thing is if you go into the fish store and ask what came in today, the fish guy doesn’t point at anything on this ice block. Nope, he pulls out big Styrofoam ice boxes from the depths of his store and shows you what he’s got. I can only imagine the perils of the people who buy the stuff on display. And I wonder how long it will take for today’s fish to get there.

Anyway, all this is history now since I have “my fish guy.” By my fish guy, I mean my connection to the fresh fish markets of Syria’s coast. The guy goes up to the fish market almost everyday to buy what is fresh and delivers it to my door. It is in fact, so fresh, that he is often seen with a small, freshly caught fish in his hand, munching as he drives to make his deliveries…

Simple Seafood Spaghetti
Serves 2

400 grams Calamari & Octopus, cut into chunks
150 grams Spaghetti
1 tbsp Fresh Rosemary, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 tbsp Butter
Olive Oil

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until just al dente as per the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

In a large pan, heat about 2 tbsp olive oil on low-med heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook slowly until garlic is soft. It is important to keep the heat low so that you do not burn the garlic.

Turn the heat up to medium, and add the octopus. Cook for about 1 min, then add the calamari. Toss for another minute until the calamari becomes just opaque. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta, lemon juice, and butter. Toss together and that’s it!

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bacon, Pearl Onion & Rosemary Quiche

Homemade pastry crust really isn’t that hard. My recipe which uses a food processor takes literally 3 minutes to whip together, and since all the ingredients are out and ready, I usually make multiple batches in a row and place them in the fridge for later use.

That was the case today. I had a disk of dough waiting in the fridge, and wanted to do something with it. After scavenging in the fridge, I found the items to make a great quiche with lardons, pearl onions, and fresh rosemary from the balcony garden.

Of course, you can follow this recipe and make the same, great quiche, or you can whip up your own with different fillings. Are you craving a chicken and cheese quiche? Do you have extra zucchini in the garden? Turn it into a great quiche by following the steps in the recipe below

Bacon, Pearl Onion & Rosemary Quiche
Makes 1 Quiche (about 10 inches round)

1 cup Lardons or Bacon cut into chunks
1 cup Pearl Onions (or chopped onions)
1 tbsp Fresh Rosemary, chopped
3 Eggs
2 cups Milk
1/2 cup Flour
Salt and Pepper
1 Pastry Crust/ Tart Shell

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit).

In a pan over medium high heat, cook the lardon or bacon for 3-4 minutes. Add the onions and fresh rosemary, and continue to cook until the onions start to caramelize. Remove from heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, flour, salt and pepper. Stir in the cooled lardon and onion mixture.

Pour into tart shell.
Bake for 10 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Then lower the heat and bake for another 35-45 minutes at 165 degrees until the filling is set.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chicken Curry with Basil and Coconut

I felt like having a curry. Not a burn your mouth kind of curry, but a rich, flavorful, heart warming kind of curry. Oh, and I didn't feel like going shopping for ingredients. So it needed to use stuff I had kicking around.

Luckily for me, I had a great combo of ingredients on hand, including coconut milk, fresh basil and chilis on the balcony, chicken legs, spices and some veggies.

So, I made this delicious curry sauce that is perfectly spiced, but not spicy. The coconut milk adds richness, the basil keeps it fresh, and the vegetables make this a well balanced meal.

As for the chicken, you could use chicken breasts, bone-in thighs, or even all drumsticks if you want. It is completely your preference. Me personally? I prefer dark meat and meat on the bone, but since I also cook for others, I like to use a combination of boneless thighs and full bone-in drumsticks.

Anyway, the resulting curry was amazing, and took practically no time at all to cook. This would be a great meal for a week night or for entertaining!

Chicken Curry with Basil and Coconut
Adapted from recipe at
Serves 4

Spice Mix (combine all in a small bowl)
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Coriander
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/4 tsp Turmeric

Other Ingredients
750 grams Chicken Legs & Thighs, skinless with bones removed from thighs
2 cups Eggplant, cubed
2 cups Zucchini, cubed
2 Medium Onions, chopped
5 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Ginger, finely chopped
1 Red Chili Pepper, seeded and minced
1 14-oz Can Coconut Milk
1 tbsp Fish Sauce
2 tsp Cornstarch
1/4 cup Water
1/3 cup Fresh Basil, chopped
Olive Oil
Steamed Rice for serving

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Cut the boneless thighs into cubes and keep the drumsticks whole. Place into a bowl and toss with the spice mixture. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.

In a large pan over medium high heat, cook the chicken pieces until brown. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add another drizzle of olive oil. Add the eggplant and zucchini and cook for a few minutes. Then add the onions, garlic, ginger and chili and cook until the onions soften.

Place the chicken back in with the vegetables, and stir in the coconut milk and the fish sauce. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and the water to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the chicken and vegetable mixture. Bring up to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover, and let cook for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir in the basil. Cook for a few more minutes, then serve over steamed rice.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tarte au Flan (French Custard Tart)

Flan is essentially custard. Therefore, a tarte au flan is custard baked in a tart shell. And it’s my husband’s favorite!

Now for those of you who have been following my blog, you are starting to wonder if all things are my husband’s favorite, but I assure you, they aren’t. In fact, my husband is the guinea pig for all my experiments, successful or not and he rarely makes any food demands. So, it is only fair that every once in a while, I recreate his childhood favorites. And this is one of them.

A piece of tarte au flan can be purchased at any French boulangerie and you can find whole tarts for sale in pretty much every French grocery store. I only know this because every time we land in France, on the way home we are forced to stop to pick up a piece for my husband. You can get a variety of different qualities from the really rich and eggy boulangerie types, to the light, made-from-powder, grocery store types. But in the end, all are flan, and my husband loves them all.

I have attempted many times to recreate this favorite. I have tried many different recipes, some which were dense and lumpy, and others which didn’t set in the oven. After much experimenting, I think I have finally found “the one.”

So, here it is. I hope that whoever eats yours gets as much pleasure from it as my husband does!

p.s. The tart shell is so easy to make in a food processor, but if you don't want to do it from scratch, you can buy a frozen tart shell or roll of tart pastry.

Tarte au Flan
Makes 1 tart (10 inches or 26 cm)

For the Pastry
1 1/4 cups Flour
1/8 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, cold and cut into pieces
2-3 tbsp Ice Water

For the Flan
300 ml Milk
3 Eggs
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Flour
2 tsp Vanilla
Icing Sugar for dusting

To make the pastry:
In a food processor, mix the flour and the salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles grains like oatmeal. Add the water, 1 tbsp at a time, pulsing until the dough just comes together in a ball.
Form the dough into a disk, wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

To make the flan filling:
Heat the milk until warm (can do it in the microwave). In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the flour, then the warm milk and vanilla.

Roll out the dough and place in a relatively deep tart pan (I used the classic pyrex 26 cm tart dish). If after this process, the dough is very soft, place the tart shell into the fridge for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit).

Pour the flan filling into the tart shell and bake in the preheated 180 degree oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to about 165 degrees and bake for another 30-45 minutes until the filling is set.

As an option, you can dust with icing sugar. Or, you can dust with icing sugar, set the oven to broil, and caramelize the top of the tart.

Let cool completely before serving.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peach Jam

I am really into jam right now. Actually, more into making it than eating it to be honest.

I did make some strawberry jam a few months ago without pectin. This works very well, but I still prefer the consistency with the pectin. I just didn't have any at the time.

Then, I got my hands on some and made Fig Jam. I decreased the sugar, doubled the pectin, and found it to be a nice consistency and overall, very tasty. I would prefer the jam, however, with even less sugar. That's just my preference. My husband would probably disagree.

So, I made some peach jam today. Decreased the sugar, threw in a cinnamon stick, and it turned out beautifully. Like I said before, I had to use 2 packages of pectin to get the consistency I like. This could be because of the amount of sugar I use. You will need to try for yourself.  Most jams use equal amounts of sugar and fruit. I use less than half. You can start with however much sugar you like and 1 package of pectin. Once you boil it, taste it, then test the consistency. Add more sugar or pectin as necessary.

Once you have the method, I think you will find yourself making more jam that you can eat! I hope you have a husband like mine that eats his way through jars at a time!

Peach Jam
Makes about 4 jars of jam

1 1/4 kg Peaches (to make about 1 kg of pitted and cubed fruit, pitted and cut into pieces--not necessary to peel the peaches)
1/2 cup Water
2 packages Pectin
3/4 cup Sugar (about 165 grams)
1 stick Cinnamon
4 Sterilized Jam Jars

Place peaches and water into a large pot. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Mash gently.

Add about 1/4 cup of sugar to the pectin. Stir the pectin/sugar mixture into the peaches. Cook for 5 minutes.

Stir the remaining sugar into the peach mixture. Add the cinnamon stick. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Take a small amount of jam out with a spoon and let it cool. If the jam is too runny, add in another 1/2 package of pectin, boil for 2 minutes, then check the thickness again.

Once you are satisfied with the thickness of the jam, skim the foam from the jam, stir the jam, and proceed to fill the sterilized jam jars. Fill the jars until they are about 1/2 cm from the top. Wipe the top of the jar clean and close with the lid.

Place the filled and closed jars into about 5 cm of boiling water and boil for 7-10 minutes. Pull the jars out of the water and let cool in a draft free place. Do not touch or move. Once they are cool (usually takes 1 day), check that the jars are properly sealed (the lid should be sucked in).

Store for 12-18 months in a cool place. Once opened, place in the refrigerator.