Video Recipe: Smokin' Impressive Appetiser for Entertaining

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Snack Delicious With These Home-made Smoked Almonds

I will not be telling you about nutritional value or the infinite health benefits of almonds, the internet is full of such content. I will however, be telling you about flavours and memories, which are my absolute favourite things and are my ingredients for #FoodForSoul


There is a specific sophistication in the palate of smoked foods and I always find it delightful. From the popular smoked salmon to less popular smoked foods such as a most wonderful smoked basil ice-cream which I recently had at a restaurant in Barcelona and anything that resides in the levels in between the two, smoked foods are very interesting to say the least.

Therefore I chose to post a recipe for a smoked snack, because these days I am munching all the time and happily snacking away like they will disappear tomorrow!! And most delightful of snacks are those amazing smoked almonds. So I chose to share with you the recipe here and hope you love them as much as I do once you give it a try.
With that said and as you will read in the description below, I am also showing you how you can adapt this recipe to your preferred flavours and even type of nuts. 

Before jumping right into the recipe
Here is a bit of 
Levantine Entertaining & Love of Snacking

When we entertain guests, it is very common for the hostess to have placed a few bowls of assorted toasted nuts - in a variety of flavours - on the centre and side tables, so guests munch on them along with their drinks and until dinner is served. Sometimes even when friends visit, it is popular to serve these nuts among the other snacks and dips... In less formal and humbler societies nuts and seeds are very popular snacks that are usually taken for picnics and many people back in the day will have spent the whole afternoon and a big chunk of the night munching on these nuts and ceaselessly cracking seeds for the delicious little pearl of heart inside.
A little more back in time, people even took those same snacks to the much humblers forms of movie theatres that were present at the time. Once the movie was over and the lights were on the floor will have become no more and shells will have taken over to decor the ground of the theatre! Just imagine what amount of seed crackin will have taken place if there was any suspense in the movie!! :))

While back in the day it most likely was toasted, salted nuts or (less popular then than now) the raw nuts especially almonds, which are among my favourite snacks ever; in the recent decades many new flavours have emerged, from BBQ, to even cheese and I even once found a Mexican Jalapeno and cheese flavoured nuts... The variation is fun and allows you to play with themes, where even your choice of nuts can go with your whole menu or event's theme.

My favourite flavour is smoked almonds, however, you can choose to go with BBQ flavour, chili flavour or even cumin. Really any spice mix you prefer works well here. Also you can carry out the same recipe using walnuts, macademia or even cashews..
You might have to break the pieces apart as at home you do not have a revolver to revolve the nuts in order to keep them coated yet separate. But that is not such an issue really.

You Need
500g Unblanched almonds
1 egg white
2 tsp smoked spices*, BBQ spice mix or red chili for spicy almonds...
1/2 tsp unrefined salt (optional for more savoury flavour)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Preheat the oven to (325F/160C).

Slightly beat the egg white in a large bowl, then add the almonds and toss to coat them well with the egg white. Add the salt and smoked spices and rub the nuts between your palms (you can wear gloves if you must! or wash afterwards!) Make sure each nut is coated with the spice.

Spread in a single layer over the lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes making sure to turn twice throughout.

Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper over a wire wrack and leave to cool completely. Once cooled, break any stuck pieces and place in an airtight container. Store for up to 1 month.

Serve these almonds in small bowls for guests to munch on with their drinks, or as a snack for your family.

Smoked Spices there is a special mix called "Smoked Spices" that you can buy from spice markets and specialty stores that gives the exact flavour of spiced nuts you buy from vendors. However if you are unable to find this mix you can simply smoke your spices at home. A very easy way to do this is to place them in a foil bowl in a smoker with lit smoking chips (of course in a very well ventilated area) and smoke them until the chips burn out and the smoke fades. Another one is to use a smoking gun and place them under a smoking cloche and smoke them that way.

Go Nuts! Why not!
If you prefer to go smoked then check out the recipe on this link, you will love it!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Asabe' Zeinab - The Popular Traditional Palestinian Cookies

I have received many requests for this recipe and have always kept it on my task list to make, photograph and post. However, partly being very fully scheduled, and partly because I have limited making sugary foods to almost none (I always end up convincing myself to have more, and really could do with eating less lol) ... ! I have finally managed to get myself to tick this recipe off my task list :)

So here you go, the recipe for this best loved and delicious (however naughty) Palestinian cookies the name of whic literally means Zeinab's Fingers...

You Need
1 recipe sugar syrup
Flavorless vegetable oil for frying
2 cups fine semolina
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp ground fennel seeds
2 tbsp ground anise
1 tsp ground mehlepi (Mahlab)
1 tsp nigella seeds
2tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup water

In a large bowl, mix well together the semolina, flour, baking soda, seeds and ground seeds. Add the olive oil and rub the mixture well between your palms to moisten all. Gradually add the water and mix until you have a firm dough. 

Place the dough in a bowl, cover and leave to rest for a few hours.

After resting, line a large baking sheet with baking paper. And start shaping the finger.
To shape, take 1 tbsp of dough and roll into a thick finger (sausage) between your palms. Roll the dough back and forth over a firm large holed sieve to creat impressions over the fingers as you can see in the picture above. Line the rolled and impressed dough over the lined baking sheet and continue to shape the rest of the quantity as such.

Once done, heat the frying oil. Meanwhile place the prepared sugar syrup in a pot next to you. Once the oil is heated add a few fingers at a time and fry them over medium heat until golden.

Once golden remove the cookies and dip them straightaway in the sugar syrup pushing them in to make sure they are fully covered with the syrup. Repeat the process with all the quantity.

Line on a serving plate and serve cold with tea.

Have a very sweet day :)

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Ghraybeh - Ancient & Traditional Arabic Cookies

For those of you who emailed me regarding posts and recipes please see my note below :-)

And here is a regularly requested recipe...
Perhaps an ancient Arabic dessert the recipe of which may have slightly been altered from time to time, however, remains with an unforgettable flavour from childhood for those who grew up in the Levant. Ghraybeh is a type of cookies famous all over  the region, however eternally residing in the cuisines of Falasteen, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the area from which these cookies originated.

Give this recipe a try and serve these to your families with tea in the afternoon and taste the flavours of our childhood's afternoons.

You Need
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp powdered vanilla
1/4 tsp baking soda
Shelled pistachios for garnish

Beat the soft butter for 1 minute, add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla powder and beat until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and baking soda and beat on slow speed until the flour is all incorporated, then increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until you achieve a dough.

Place the dough in a bowl and cover, then leave to rest at room temperature for one hour.

Divide the dough into equal sized balls, roll each into a tube then pinch the edges together to form a loop like in the picture above. Press a shelled pistachio at the tip.

Line the shaped cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated (325F) oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms are firm and slightly darker.

Remove from the oven and completely cool in the baking sheets, then line on your serving plate and serve with tea.

Happy Baking!

RE: Ur Emails
I am receiving your emails, and agreed, between family time and my work projects I have not had the time to regularly post, especially recipes!! And I know you love those, but you guys know I am not a 100% dedicated blogger as I mainly work on other projects (food related of course, however not all public projects) and blogging is what I do on the side. Some projects are more forgiving and allow me time, but somehow the projects I have been working on lately have been so demanding and leaving me no time to post regularly. I am saying this here as it is easier to post one answer than answering all the emails. Lol one month out and my inbox is jammed!!
Love you guys! :))

Saturday, 31 January 2015

My Take On Flavour Development & Matters Of The Palate (a quick cooking class)

Going straight to the point...
The Very Mysterious Talent of Tasting!

Often times, when we taste food, our palate can tell if something is missing, or if there is too much of anything. We can immediately tell if the food needs more salt, less garlic, or even a squeeze of lemon... At times, you might even think, “something is missing”, without really knowing exactly what the food is missing! You see, "cooking is innate and the palate is the expert" as Sir Gordon Ramsey Says, therefore, allow it to be your guide.

Despite the world over complicating matters of the palate, by insinuating that one must know every flavour under the sun, and must be able to tell what is what without looking, furthermore, that the palate must be of professional experience; it is all not that complicated really! We all can taste food, and anyone who likes food and enjoys eating knows exactly what they are looking for. That is precisely why we reach for that lemon wedge, add a sprinkling of salt or pepper, or even add nuts to a dish, not only for flavour but also for texture. So, yes, there are palates that are more sophisticated. There are individuals whose palates are extremely sensitive to flavours and others who are naturally talented in creating unusual flavour combinations... but those are not the only ones who can cook. Each one of us knows a good eating experience, and we all have a vision or a memory that we are trying to replicate and we all have palates that can taste and tell whether a combination works or doesn’t.

Flavour Development

There is no better judge to help you achieve good flavours than your own individual palate. Therefore, and most importantly, in order to cook flavoursome concoctions
you must get in the habit of attentive tasting and smelling of your food while cooking as well as eating. There is no two ways about it: Season, taste then adjust. Add aromatics, taste and adjust. 
Also note that tasting the food after each addition will, overtime, make you an expert in creative flavour combinations. Because that exercise will show you how the flavour changes after any addition, as well as how different ingredients taste when combined.

Tasting does not happen only in the mouth, smelling is half the tasting experience.

Smell your food, smell the ingredients and smell the combinations, then taste. This is how you teach your palate the art of tasting. This is your only guaranteed path to flavour success.

Non-Professional Yet Effective Training

With that said, training your palate makes a huge difference. Approaching food open-mindedly and continuously trying new ingredients, flavours and textures always helps. Use your eating experiences as training opportunities.
Be aware of the food you eat. Notice the overall flavour palate and try to figure out which flavours are present. Is the food spiced (not necessarily hot)? If it is, then try to figure out which spices have been used. Are there hints of lemon or vinegar - sour? Is there sugar, honey or hints of cinnamon - sweet? Can you spot olives or zest – bitter? How about the seasoning – salt? Is the food well seasoned, over seasoned or under seasoned? You will find that the more conscious you are about the food you eat, the more expert your palate becomes.

In Conclusion

Experiment continuously with ingredients, flavours and combinations to find out what goes with what.
Keep in mind, that while we all cook somewhat similar recipes, the outcome always varies from one cook to another, as when we cook for others, we are sharing our vision and take on the recipe. Therefore, don’t be overly anxious about changing the recipe and adding your own touch and flavour to the dish. After all, it is your vision and you are generously sharing it with others through the food you cook and serve.

Have a flavourful day ;)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Traditional Arabic Cookies Recipe: Oyoun Al Maha ( Eye Of The Gazelle)

This recipe belongs to the traditional Arabic desserts section. As such, it depends on sugar syrup for the sweet flavour. You can find the sugar syrup recipe on this link. If you wish to reduce its sweetness, add 100g of sugar to the ingredients and omit the sugar syrup.

You Need
1 cup semolina
1 cup flour
100g butter, softened
1/2 cup yogurt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Mix all the dry ingredients together then rub them with the softened butter. 

Add the yogurt and mix well into the dough, then knead. (This step can be carried out using the stand mixer with the dough hook)

Divide the dough into small balls, then roll into small tubes or as I tell my kids: little snakes! Press the edges together, keeping the centre separated to form a shape that resembles an eye.

Line the shaped cookies on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven (350F/ 180C) until golden.

Remove from the oven and drench with sugar syprup while still hot, then leave to cool completely. Once cooled, line on a serving plate and keep covered. 
Lasts up to 1 week.

Devour with tea :)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Quick, super easy & delicious - Lady Fish my flavour of the week

I love lady fish and can never get bored with this almost dainty fish! Super easy to make but fantastic to have! 

Clean the fish well, pat dry then rub with a wedge of lemon. Coat with flour and fry golden. Make sure not to overcook, there is nothing worse than overcooked fish!

Serve hot with Tahina sauce: Tahina mixed with lemon juice to form a paste thinned slightly with water. Season with salt and black pepper and for extra zing add finely chopped green chilies to the sauce. 

Dip and eat. heavenly!!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Are You Bored Already??!! 15 Ways To Have More Fun Cooking!

My bistro twist on an otherwise old and forgotten Arabic classic!

Everything is more fun when it’s your choice, and not something you feel forced to do. This also applies to cooking. So instead of carrying out this "chore" Daily, why not think of it as your special time everyday, where you relax, shut the world off and enjoy an activity that is so rewarding. You will see that cooking is an amazing De-stress Activity!

Here are some tips that might help you enjoy a tad more...

The most fun in cooking is how it lends itself to your creativity. Try your own recipe variations and new foods. Cook a familiar dish in a completely new way. I like having my class participants add just one new spice or ingredient to something they already know how to make. You won’t believe the excitement that practice generates! A very familiar soup tastes really different with a teaspoon of curry instead of the same old all spice. You can experiment with less common herbs such as rosemary, lemongrass, lavender, tarragon or sumac. Or you can experiment with spices…etc. try the same recipe with different flavours and see how it completely transforms, giving you many options out of 1.

Enjoy the aromas, colors, and textures of your cooking. Not only will this make cooking more enjoyable, but over time this increases your understanding of ingredients, textures and flavours, which will allow you to create more interesting meals after all. Sample the foods as you cut and cook them... Smell the spices before you add them and taste before and after to learn the difference.

Take a cooking class. There is nothing like acquiring new skills and know how to ignite your passion for cooking. The more you learn the better you cook and the more interested you become.. It is a cycle that can only lead to better food. Classes are also a fun way to meet 'common-interest' people and share cooking knowledge and tips.

Make your kitchen the centre of your home, where everyone wants to gather. This will make you feel less isolated in the kitchen and will keep it as the family hub, which will eventually get your kids even more enthusiastic about food and less fussy as they are more involved. A fun kitchen is always a happy place where memories are made.
Make a day a week for cooking with close family members or friends. There is nothing more fun than
cooking with people we love. I cook with my husband everyday and cook with my sister almost every week. I frequently invite a few friends over and we cook together, am telling you there is nothing more fun. You get to socialize, catch up and not only that, but cooking in a group takes away from the daunting time required by demanding recipes such as making Kubbeh or pastries for instance. This means you can produce more food for later use and still have fun making it.

Always turn up the volume when in the kitchen, don’t cook in silence! Music really lifts up your spirit, puts you in the mood and instantly transforms the experience to more fun. When you are in a good mood you cook great food. So turn it up like no body’s business! You might even want to sing at the top of your lungs, why keep your talent confined to the shower curtain and walls!!
Cook the food that excites you. There is no rule that you should stick to any specific cuisine or food type. Change is always exciting both to you and your family.

Cook for others. The act of preparing a meal for friends or family can make cooking feel more fun as well as meaningful. Even if it’s not a special occasion, inviting a couple of people over to share your home-cooked meal can give you some incentive to make something fabulous. Also throwing a bash for the family and gathering over food is perhaps the most fun activity ever.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Even if you think you are not a good cook, everyone starts somewhere and no one was borne already a Chef! The more you cook the better you become, and the more you mess up, the more you learn about what works and what not! Don’t be too serious, cooking is fun and is not meant for scoring! Although you will hit the Jack pot once you reach a point where you can whip up amazing flavours once you become experienced.

Cook a theme dinner. Really, this is one of those things that gets me super excited about cooking. Pick a fun cuisine like Spanish tapas or Thai and go home with it. You will enjoy the process and the planning and your family and guests will have a great time too!

Create a signature dish for yourself, something you perfect and become known for, this usually creates enthusiasm as you get excited about people’s reactions and usually leads to more signature dishes.
Cook seasonally. Boredom and repetition are what take the fun out of cooking. Take these away by challenging yourself to cook only what’s in season. This way you force the creative juices to flow and who does not enjoy a challenge?! Besides seasonal flavours are not matched with thawed flavours that are jet lagged from long travel!!!

The fun of cooking starts way before the actual chopping and mixing! Make grocery shopping fun by allowing yourself to be inspired instead of planned. Try the farmers' market, where you get to sample the produce, meet the farmers, and ask them for tips on how to best use their produce… Farmer markets are so much fun and really inspiring, there is no way the food you cook with those ingredients is going to be boring!

Ask your mom for a favourite childhood recipe from when you were little. Not only will it bring back so many memories and get you excited, but it will also make your mum happy for showing her you appreciate the meals she cooked for you as a child :)) Mums love it when we ask for their advice.
Take your cooking to the next level. Get motivated and excite yourself with planning a whole menu that works together! Nothing excites me more than thinking of the flavours and matching the courses and planning a memorable meal that my family and guests will enjoy and most importantly make them look forward to the next time they come over!

Gather, Cook, Eat & Enjoy the company of those you cherish...