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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.