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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Mac & Cheese Please!

Serves 4 | Medium
who does not love the great Mac & Cheese?! If the fussiest eaters go for this one, then you too will surely love it. This is the most delicious one of the 'safe option' variety! A cheesy dish that is sure to warm your hearts and comfort your souls. This is comfort food at its best.

If you are more into mild cheese flavours, use a very mild cheddar cheese. If you like your cheese and prefer it sharp, then go for aged cheddars or better still go for blue cheese. However, push that envelope and do take this dish to the next level. Go for the gourmet side of things experiment with a different variety of cheeses, makes, countries, artisans and go wild with cheese, for instance think smoked cheeses.

This dish is very easy to make and the best thing about it is that it's open for your creativity. Really, the sky is the limit!

This recipe is the classic, just so I keep it up to you to modify to your own mood ;)

You Need
 250g either dried Rigatone, manicotti, or maccheroni (otherwise known as macaroni or elbow pasta)
1 onion chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded strong aged cheddar cheese
1 cups shredded American cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Black Pepper to taste
a pinch nutmeg
a pinch garlic powder
a handful parsley, chopped
1 cup your favourite flavoured breadcrumbs

Cook pasta until Al dente.

While Pasta is cooking, start with the cheese sauce by making a roux:
In a saucepan, cook the onion in hot butter until tender but not browned. Stir in the flour, powdered garlic and pepper. Add the milk at once and keep stirring over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Add the nutmeg, and stir, then add the cheeses and stir until they are melted. Add the drained cooked pasta over the cheese sauce and mix to coat.

Transfer the macaroni and cheese into a casserole dish and sprinkle the top with the breadcrumbs.

Bake uncovered in a 350F- 180C oven for  25 mins. let the dish rest for 10 minutes before serving. right before serving sprinkle with chopped parsley.

If you do not wish to bake the Mac n' Cheese, then prepare in the same way, except, immediately after draining the macaroni return it to its empty pan and pour cheese sauce over it and mix to coat. then cook stirring for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. sprinkle tops with chopped parsley.

Serve warm!

Let's chat - I have always thought about the foods that we categorise as comfort foods. What makes a food more comforting than the other? Is it the temperature of the food, the texture, the aroma, or the association with memory?

What to you resembles comfort food? Is it the stuff associated to the childhood home, or is it a specific type food? To me definitely the food I ate growing up, especially at days when I feel home-sick or miss my parents who live in another continent... but also comfort to me comes in carbs!! Unlucky for me if rice, pasta or potato are not part that dish is not the comfort category!! finally it definitely has to be at least warm if not served hot. Cold foods are fun, but not comfort foods to me!  Tell me about you, anything specific?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Tagliatelle With Spinach & Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Tagliatelle Pasta is one of my favourite pastas to cook. I like that it is wider than fettuccine, it adds a fullness to the bite, with more ground for sauce absorption. This pasta is fabulous with tomato sauce, and also great with white sauces as well.

I find pasta dishes to be really comforting, and give me a warm feeling. I like to go for pastas on days when I am tired and looking to unwind. I also like to offer at least one pasta dish on many of the menus I go for when hosting a dinner at home. I find that most people enjoy eating pasta, and by including it they will definitely find something they like.

I have gone tomato sauce with this one, and find the flavours to mesh really well together. The green earthiness of the spinach, against the sweet-sour notes of the tomato sauce with the mildness of chicken and the hint of a bite from the pasta, all coated with Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black peppers make it a heavenly experience. This recipe is one that my guests love, and one that I always enjoy eating. For a different presentation you can layer the pasta, spinach and tomato sauce with chicken as shown in the picture. However, this dish can also be served with the pasta, sauce and chicken all tossed together, and served in a nice big bowl.

You Need
250g dried or fresh Tagliatelle
2 cups Tomato Sauce (click the link for the recipe)
2 Chicken breast fillets, sliced into strips
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
100 g baby spinach leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp dried oregano
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
dried Bird's eye chili flakes (optional)
Parmesan cheese shavings

Slice the chicken breasts, and rinse with water. Pat dry and slice into strips, then sprinkle with Balsamic Vinegar and set aside.

Cook the pasta in boiling water with the dried Oregano and crushed garlic until Al Dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a wide and deep saucepan, add the chicken strips and brown slightly on all sides. Add the tomato sauce stir and heat until bubbly. Cover the pan and cook until the chicken slices are cooked through. Add the dried chili flakes if using and mix.

To serve, drain the pasta and place on the serving plates, sprinkle with black pepper. Top with the fresh baby spinach leaves then with chicken and tomato Sauce. Sprinkle with black pepper and parmesan shavings.

Serve warm.

Let's chat - When designing a menu, I find these two options to be the most popular: 
1. to create and stick to a theme and think of the overall flow of the menu, where everything matches and pairs well.
2. to go for a full mix and match where there are completely different options but guarantee that each palate finds a favourite.

When hosting a dinner at home and designing your menu do you think of the whole menu as must be flowing together, or do you prefer different bits and pieces that appeal to different tastes and palates?

Let me know as I would like to know which menus I should post for you here :)

Fettuccine Alfredo with Mushrooms - the true story revealed

Serves 4 | Easy
My Italian friends will not be very happy with this post!

Why? Well because Fettuccine Alfredo is not Italian cuisine! Yes I know we all know it and categorise it as such, but it really isn't! As The Italian Master Chefs have informed me: Fettuccine is not an authentic Italian cuisine dish, however with the years became one of the most popular "Italian" dishes in the world. This concoction was devised by an Italian American man, Alfredo,  for his wife who was pregnant and nauseous all the time, and who could not keep any food down for a while. In his many attempts to cook food for her that she will enjoy, the only one that she actually ate and enjoyed was this, which he referred to as 'Fettuccine Alfredo'! Obviously, not just his wife enjoyed this concept of cream sauce, cheese, mushrooms, herbs and pasta... well, it's safe to say the majority of the world did! However, because it is not an authentic classic Italian dish, and rather a creative concept on Alfredo's behalf, most Italians don't know it, and authentic restaurants don't serve it!

With that said, the dish still is a well loved one and as such I want to share with you the recipe and the story because I know many of you out there love this one, and also because it is only fair to set the story right About Don Alfredo and his unique Fettuccine pasta!

I remember the first time I had Fettuccine Alfredo. To my very young palate it tasted utterly creamy with hints of sweetness that was much appreciated at that age. The whole experience was easy, effortless, and comfortable. That made it for me! I liked it. And I guess this is one of the main reasons why it appeals to many young palettes and popular with kids. Growing up, I have tried many variations of this 'Fettuccine Alfredo' concept. Some added nutmeg, some added basil, some used mushrooms, some went without. Every time I tried one, I always found something I liked. I have decided that this is one dish, very open for additions, and can make a good base to many other pasta dishes.

Fettuccine Alfredo, is a rich dish, but a very delicious one nonetheless. It can be had on its own, or served as a side to meat or poultry dishes. It can even be served as part of an appetiser, like the Trio of Pasta Appetiser, where you serve small portions of 3 kinds of pasta to start a meal (also a non traditional or authentic way to serve an Italian meal but a very popular one among the Arab diners in Italian restaurants). I must say it is a genius way to sample different pastas instead of committing to one!

The Classic Fettuccine Alfredo is done the same as in this recipe, except without the Mushrooms.
For this recipe I used 2 types of Mushrooms available in my area- the white button mushrooms and the brown mushrooms - but you are not limited to these types, you can choose any type of Mushroom that you fancy or that is available near you. You can even take the dish to another level by adding shavings of black truffles on top. Or you can simply drizzle some white truffle oil to finish.  The flavours of Fettuccine Alfredo are very open for additions, as I mentioned. This is a good place to experiment with different flavours and textures. You can even use it as a vehicle to create a whole new recipe like Portabella Mushroom and Pecans Pasta in White Sauce (now my Italian friends are really going to kill me!!), or Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken and sage... Let your imagination be your guide!

Here is how this Fettucine Alfredo with Mushrooms is made...

You Need
250g dried Fettuccine (can also use spinach Fettuccine)
1 tbsp butter (can substitute with the same amount Extra virgin olive oil)
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250g button mushrooms, peeled & halved
250g Swiss brown mushrooms, peeled & quartered
3/4 cup half-and-half, or light cream
1/2 cup chicken broth | stock
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Cook Pasta in a large pot of boiling water until Al Dente (as explained in the earlier post: Understanding Pasta, All There is To Know).

Heat butter or olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sautee until tender but not browned. Add the mushrooms and cook stirring until the mushrooms are browned and softened. Stir in the Broth and simmer uncovered until reduced by half. Stir in the cream and 1/2 the amount of Oregano bringing to a boil. Simmer uncovered on low heat for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the cream sauce and toss to coat. Add the parmesan cheese and stir to mix. Transfer the fettuccine into a serving dish and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and the rest of the chopped Oregano.

Serve warm as a starter or next to a grilled meat, fish, poultry option.

Let's chat - How cool is a guy who cooks? And how amazing is the one who actually cooks until you find your favourite version of any dish!!! You can count on the Italians to be romantic :) Does your other half cook? what do you cook for each other? Come on give us ideas to surprise our partners :))

Did you know that before I ever decided to start cooking it was my husband who would have cooked for us? It's true, and he is still an inspiration to me on all things food. He loves this pasta dish and every time he cooks for us or says he is craving something, it is always a pasta dish of some sort. He also loves steaks of course but I am lucky because he always loves new interesting foods and flavours. So I get to do most the experimentation with him and I can always count on his feedback because he really knows his food and flavours. Do you experiment on special occasions or do you go safe and leave experimentations for other less important dates?

Understanding Pasta - all there is to know

is essentially made out of flour, water, oil, eggs (could be without), seasoning and herbs. It could be any combination of those ingredients, which are then mixed together to form a dough. The dough is then rested, after which it is rolled thin and cut into different shapes (rectangles for lasagne, long narrow strips for spaghetti, and long flat strips for linguine...etc). These are the main traditional ingredients used in making Pasta, but of course there are other variations.

Forms, Shapes and Flavours

There are many forms of Pasta. Most are categorised as Italian or Oriental. The Italian variety is classically durum-wheat based. The Oriental pasta, on the other hand, is made out of different flours and starches and is usually long strips of pasta, known as noodles.

There is a good range of Italian pasta that is non-wheat based and made with other flours instead. These are mainly for health food markets in order to cater for those who are wheat intolerant for instance, or eliminating wheat products from their diets. Whole-wheat and Buckwheat are to name a few, but with the increased interest in grains and other starches, nowadays you can find many other varieties.

There are many different shapes and types of Pasta

Pasta is either fresh or dried. It can be shaped in a variety of shapes. It can also be flavoured with an array of aromatics, herbs, and flavourings.

The earliest known reference to Pasta (in Italy) is traced to Middle Ages Sicily and has been a basic food in Italy ever since, especially in Naples and Rome. However contrary to common belief, Pasta did not originate in Italy, it is in fact An Arabic creation that moved to Italy by means of the Arabis through Sicily (but that is a full independant discussion, that I will dedicate a separate post for). Because Pasta was globally popularised from Italy, it is therefore most known and referred to as 'Italian-Pasta'.

The industrial manufacturing of pasta replaced home-made pastas and made it available everywhere. Since then Pasta has become a part of many cuisines, who have adopted this ingredient into their offerings.

Fresh Pasta (Pasta Fresca) - is the same product as dried pasta (Pasta Seca), only it has not been hung - after rolling and cutting - on pasta hangers and left to dry. The hard form of pasta is used and cooked in the same manner as fresh pasta. The only difference is that it might require a few minutes longer to cook. However, dried Pasta has a longer shelf life, whereas fresh pasta has to be consumed within a few days. Also worthy of notice that fresh pasta is mainly made using durum wheat and at times regular wheat flour, however the dry pasta is best made using semolina.

A wide variety of ingredients could be used to flavour fresh or dried pasta some of which are vegetables such as spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and recently sweet potato. Herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and sage are also used in flavouring pasta and so are some spices such as nutmeg, allspice and at times even saffron (a very common ingredient in Sicilian cuisine, which is very well influenced by the historic Arabic cuisine)!

The most traditional Flavouring ingredients used with Pasta are: Spinach and Tomato. But other ingredients can be used as well not only to flavour but also to colour Pasta! Beetroot for example gives pasta a strong colour and a mild flavour. Black pasta is essentially made using squid ink, and green pasta comes from the use of spinach. This kind of treatment in colour and flavour is what allows you to create signature dishes that are unique and stand out from the rest. Black Pasta, for instance, is gorgeous and adds a dramatic touch to your plate. After all, when constructing a dish, colour is an important aspect to take into consideration; just as important as flavour and texture. The same applies to flavour. If you can incorporate pesto into the pasta dough, that will add a layer of flavouring and make your pasta way more interesting. This is why making your own pasta is far better than buying the ready made generic ones. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying pasta, we all do, and there are very good quality pastas in the market. But for more interesting pasta concoctions, and for more unique dishes, making your own will definitely step up the play. It becomes a whole different ball game!

Pasta Categories and Names
The term 'Baked Pasta' refers to dishes that contain Pasta and are baked. The pasta in those dishes had to be boiled then assembled in a dish with the rest of the ingredients. These days manufacturers are producing baking pastas - like lasagne, tortiglioni, bucatini, conchiglie and caravattine - that do not need to be pre-boiled before baking. They can rather be stuffed or layered dry then baked in generous proportions of sauce. The liquids from the sauce, and being covered with foil at first to build steam, will all cook the pasta without the need to pre-cook.

Another dimension to pasta and just as important is: stuffing. Stuffed pasta varieties include: Raviolli, Tortellini as well as Agnolotti, Cappelleti, Cannelloni, Lumache, and Manicotti...etc. Some will be available stuffed dried or fresh. Others will have to be boiled then stuffed by you. Stuffing may consist of cheeses, vegetables and |or meats. Obviously, the ready stuffed ones cannot even compare to those made at home! The work, the patience and creativity that goes into making your own stuffing makes it way better than the generic, and usually poorer manufacturer's stuffing.
Remember, manufacturers have to think in terms of profit and loss, as such sometimes the margins are determined in terms of the generosity in quantities as well as quality of the ingredients. Using 2 cheeses and a variety of mushroom types in the filling, is much more expensive than using 1 cheese and an herb. Also using the real Parmigiano Reggiano is more expensive than the processed simulation of Parmesan cheese... and so on... you get the drift!
Another variety of pastas, just as important as all the previous ones are, 'Soup Pastas'. These are fairly small in size and are added to soups towards the end of cooking. These mini pastas have also become very famous in Salads. Soup Pastas include: Vermicelli, Linguine, Pennette, Stelline, Risoni, Anellini and Conchigliette.

Cooking and Serving Pasta
Pasta is cooked in a heavy bottomed saucepan, 3/4 full of salted water. You can, if you wish, add flavouring to the boiling water, such as  freshly cracked black pepper, herbs, spices, garlic, Parmesan shavings...etc. Flavouring the boiling water this way, will eventually flavour the pasta.
The pasta needs to be able to move freely in the boiling water, therefore use a big pot and enough water for large quantities. Otherwise, it will become too starchy and sticky. 
But you do not need massive amounts of water to cook your pasta in. A general rule of thumb is that the pasta must be sealed with the boiling water. Long dried pastas, like spaghetti, need to be gradually pushed into the water. You will put the pasta in the pot and wait till it softens, then push it in slightly, and so on until its covered.

The perfect doneness of pasta is called 'Al dente'; which is when the pasta is softened and no longer hard to chew, yet still retains a slight bite, and is still firm and holds shape. With fresh pasta, Al Dente is hard to achieve. So cook it until it is still firm and holds shape, but not and too soft because that is when it becomes overcooked. Fresh pasta never has a proper bite. But make sure you do not overcook the pasta - until it is too soft and loses shape.

The cooking time depends on the quality of the pasta, the type of wheat used in its making, its size and the amount of pasta being cooked. As a general guide (but do check your pasta while cooking to make sure): Dried vermicelli takes 4-5 mins; dried long pastas like spaghetti take 11-12 mins; and large pastas take about 12-15 minutes. All fresh pastas take from 3-8 minutes, depending their size.

Timing for pasta cooking begins when the water returns to boiling after the pasta had been added.

When using Pasta in a salad, immediately after removing from the water, drizzle it with Olive Oil so it doesn't clump as it cools down. If the Pasta is to be served hot, then drain it after the cooking has finished, and do not rinse. Then add the sauce it's served with immediately, and serve it hot. In some recipes, you might have to allow 1-2 extra minutes of cooking with the sauce. In this case, reduce the first cooking time.

One trick to make the sauce stick to the pasta is to add a little bit of the boiling water to the sauce. The starches released into the boiling water will act as adhesives allowing the sauce to stick to the pasta.

There is a huge variety of sauces to be served with pastas. Many are tomato based, but there is also white sauce, flavoured white sauces, browned or burnt butter sauces, creams, cheese sauces, Bolognese, Milanaise...etc. Pasta dishes often include meats, fish, shellfish, ham...etc. They are often served with herbs, cheeses, vegetables...and Fillings include: Meat, spinach with white sauce and cheese, mushrooms, sausages, livers...etc.

Pasta is usually served as a starter to a meal, usually followed by a meat/poultry/fish dish, but could also be served as a side to a main dish or as main at times.

Pastas and Their Commonly Used Names:

2. Mini Bow Ties     
3. Gnocchi
4. Spaghetti       
5. Manicotti             
6. Penne
7. Ravioli           
8. Linguine               
9. Fine Egg Noodles
10. Mafalda    
11. Orzo (rosamarina)   
12. Fusilli
13. CousCous   
14. Small Shell Macaroni  
15. Rotini
16. Capellini       
17. Wide Egg Noodles     
18. lumache

19. Long Ziti
20. Capellini (angel Hair)
21. Lasagne Noodles
22. Ziti
23. Ruote (Wagon Wheel Macaroni)
24. Cavatappi
25. Acini di peppe
26. Mafalda
27. Gemelli
28. Tortellini 
29. Ditalini (tiny Thimbles)
30. Rigatoni
31. Vermicelli
32. Cavatelli
33. Fettuccine
34. Nested Vermicelli (Nested Spaghetti)

Let's chat - Which is your favourite pasta dish? Are you the tomato sauce type or do you prefer white sauces? 

Also did you know that there is a huge Italian movement out there whose aim is to reclaim Italian cuisine? 
Yes there is! And reclaim the cuisine is in the sense that because Italian cuisine is the most popular and loved cuisine in the world, all people cook their own versions of Italian cuisine concoctions. As such and with time, these "Italian dishes" became very far off from their original and authentic source, at times not even Italian at all, except for the use of an Italian ingredient such as pasta or Parmesan cheese or truffles to name a few. 
Restaurants not following the authentic Italian way of making the food have led to many people around the world being confused what real Italian food and cuisine is. So much so that when in Italy tourists complain that the food they have in the restaurants there is not Italian! The Italian chefs and people took this to heart and started a movement to reintroduce authentic Italian cuisine and "real" Italian food to people all over the world.

What do YOU think? Are you a purist who looks for the authentic experience? Or are you OK with fusions, mixes and matches so long as they taste good? Do you feel that the authenticity of cuisine should be preserved? Or are you with the view that supports the notion of 'leaving the things of the past in the past and today the world is a global village and everything goes'? 
I really love to hear your thoughts so do please chat with me :)

Buon Appetito x

Friday, 23 April 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes - An excellent treat, any time & for any Occasion

Serves 12 | Easy

For the purist these cupcakes only go with cream cheese frosting. But try them with vanilla cream as well; they will melt in your mouth and soften your heart :)
Top the cupcakes with swirls of cream and your desired mini decorations for a celebration look.

For the cake batter 

You Need
2½ cups all purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (preferably Madagascar Bourbon)
Red food coloring (optional, quantity optional to required shade)

Preheat oven to 350°F- 180C.

Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix all to blend.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the oil and mix to blend.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add buttermilk and vanilla to the mixture as well as food colouring if using. Whisk to combined.

Pour into cup-lined cupcake tins and bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on wire racks for ten minutes and remove from pans.

For the cream cheese icing 
You Need½ stick butter
180g cream cheese
450g  powdered sugar
1/4 tsp of salt
½ tsp vanilla essence or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

Mix the icing ingredients together until light and fluffy.
Use to frost and fill the cupcakes.
If desired, top cupcakes with edible decorations (try fondant ribbon flowers, leaves, mini butterflies, mini animal shapes... etc).

Let's chat - Many people don't like red velvet cake or cupcakes. I for one have tried some versions of this that were honestly inedible, some were even too dry, and some were flavourless... But when done right, I find it to actually be a treat! This recipe here is a good one, and as my husband says: "The only red velvet cake I like"... Are you one of those who do not like red velvet cakes? Or have you found a unique way to make red velvet appeal to more people?

Also I know I don't like to use food colouring at all. I am always weary of the chemical additives and their effect on our health. Sometimes on occasion and especially when it comes to decorated food, I look the other side and say on rare occasions it's fine, but only when a natural substitute is not available. Red, can be achieved by using beetroot powder, however colours such as blue are really hard to achieve. Do you know a natural substitute to blue food colouring?

The simplest, easiest and most delicious gingerbread cookies

I was grocery shopping and got a flyer in the groceries bag with a Gingerbread Cookies recipe. I loved how simple the recipe is; not many ingredients and just really easy. I know my friends always ask me for simple recipes that don't require much to do. So I know that you will like this one.
I have added a bit to the recipe, as I felt it needed a little something extra. But it is still a simple, easy and fast one to make.

You Need

500g sifted flour
150g butter
175g dark brown sugar
150g honey
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Rreheat your oven to 350F - 180C.

In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (flour, soda, baking powder and spices), sift and set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the honey and egg, then beat until combined. Gradually beat in the sifted dry ingredients, on low speed,  until the mixture comes together.

Divide the dough in 1/2 and wrap each half separately and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make gingerbread cookie cutouts:

Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper (roll the dough to aprox. 4 mm thick).
Using cookie cutters, cut the required shape (gingerbread men and women are the classic choice, but you can do all other shapes as well, why not? Go for the change).

Place the cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (keep the cookies at least 3 cm apart, to allow room for expansion).

Bake for 5-7 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch (be careful as they will be hot).
Cool for 5 minutes in the sheets, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

These cookies will keep fresh in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Let's chat - When I was pregnant, especially during the first trimester, I used to get very nauseous. Yes specific smells triggered it more than others, but I was generally nauseous, and if you have been pregnant and nauseous you know how annoying that was. One of the things that used to make me feel so much better was the smell of ginger. I used to actually sniff on ginger roots all the time. It really worked. I also started eating loads of gingerbread cookies, because they seemed to stay in my stomach at times when nothing else would! Have you tried ginger to treat nausea? If not really do, it works. Do you have any other go to natural tricks to treat annoying ailments?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Back To Basics: Basic Sauce Recipes

For an in depth understanding of sauces, take a look at the previous post:
Understanding sauces - a background and all there is to know

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 Cups | Easy
Always use really ripe tomatoes for preparing tomato sauces as they are sweeter and fuller in flavour. This sauce is the base for many recipes and is very handy to make in advance and freeze.

You Need

12 Tomatoes, peeled
2 small onions, chopped
1 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup red wine or red grape vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano, basil or marjoram
Freshly ground black pepper & salt to taste

Blanch your tomatoes and peel them (score tomato skins, place in a saucepan of boiling water, cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and place in cold water for 30 seconds. peel skin off.) 
Chop the tomatoes reserving the juices.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan over medium- high heat. Add crushed garlic and onion and cook till tender. Add the tomato, herbs, salt and pepper then cook for 2 minutes. Add reserved juices and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and leave sauce to simmer for 35 minutes.

Remove from heat and place in a clean non-metal container, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. 
If you want to store tomato sauce for longer, divide into portion size and freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw and use when needed.

  • After cooking the tomato sauce, do not store in any metal container or saucepan. the acid in the tomato may react with the metal.
  • Some prefer removing seeds from the tomatoes before cooking. it is entirely up to you to keep or remove the tomato seeds.
  • If the tomatoes are sharp or acidic in taste add a pinch or two of sugar and they will taste a bit sweeter.
  • Do not let garlic and onion brown as that will affect the final flavour and colour of the sauce.
  • You can use canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes if desired. canned tomatoes make for a sweeter and thicker sauce and take less time to prepare as you do not need to blanch and peel them and they simmer for 20 minutes instead of 35 minutes.

White Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 cups | Easy

White Sauce is a base for many recipes. This recipe is a white sauce recipe with medium consistency used for creamed dishes and is also a base for other cream-based recipes.

You Need
2tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups Milk
Salt and pepper to taste
a pinch of nutmeg

Make a Roux: Melt butter in a saucepan (make sure it is all melted before adding the flour). Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook and stir over low heat until well combined.

Once butter and flour are combined without lumps, slowly add all the milk in a thin continuous stream constantly stirring to evenly blend the roux and milk.

Cook and stir the mix over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbling across the entire surface. Cook stirring for 1 more minute to completely cook the flour in the sauce. Sprinkle the nutmeg and stir to infuse.

  • To prevent lumps from forming make sure the butter is all melted before adding the flour and keep stirring constantly. If lumps do form, beat the sauce briskly with a wire whisk or using a rotary beater.
  • Never leave the sauce during cooking, and if you must make sure you take it off the heat.
  • Cook sauces over medium-low heat for no longer than the specified time. High heat and long cooking cause the sauce to curdle or separate.
  • To thin a white sauce for use in cream soups or creamed vegetables add 1/2 cup of milk to the recipe above and prepare in the same way as the above recipe.
  • Flavour sauces with spices, cheeses, herbs...etc. according to the final dish flavours.
  • Nutmeg and powdered white pepper go especially well with white sauces.

Let's chat - These two are the most basic and most used sauces across the board. Every Cuisine uses one of these or a version of either in their cooking. Do you have another sauce that you are always using? Do you and your family have a go-to sauce that you love and use to make a quick and easy recipe? I have Tahina Sauce to thank for that. When am stuck for ideas, or when am looking to quickly make a dish or change a dish I just cook it in Tahina Sauce. This way yesterday's leftover chicken becomes today's all new Chicken and vegetables in Tahina Sauce! What's your quick sauce cheat?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Understanding Sauces - A background and all there is to know

Sauces comprise the honor and glory of French Cookery. They have contributed to its superiority... Sauces are the orchestration and accompaniment of a fine meal, and enable a good chef or cook to demonstrate their talent..."      
Curnonsky; Cuisine et Vin de France

A little bit of kitchen talk today.

A read into the background of sauces is a good way to understand the liquids that flavour our dishes! Afterall, if sauces could do that to the French cuisine, just think of what they can do to yours!! Once we grasp the understanding of ingredients, their functions, textures and flavours it becomes easier to construct our own dishes and come up with signature food creations.
the definition... Sauces are seasoned liquids that can be hot or cold. they are either served with, or used in the making of a given dish.

the functionality...
Sauces are used to add flavouring that is compatible with the ingredients used in making a dish.
The Evolution of SaucesThe early versions of French sauces such as the Cameline, poivrade, Robert... were either very spicy or sweet and sour due to their dependence on condiments which produced such flavours.
They were basically made using hot stocks/broths, which are mainly wine based, also using other cooking juices and were sometimes mixed with dried breadcrumbs.

In the 17th and 18th Century more refined and aromatic sauce preparations were created including sauces like: Béchamel, Soubise, Duxelles and mayonnaise sauces. However, the real start of the whole sauce classification process was the work of the renowned French chef and pastry cook Carême.

There is a great amount of finesse, talent, and knowledge involved in the preparation of sauces. therefore; the Sauce Chef of the kitchen staff had always been considered to be a great technician and this position as a prestigious one. This goes to show what mastering this part of the cooking process can do to your cooking at home. After all a simple steak or as simple an ingredient as asparagus can be transformed with as simple as a good Hollandaise sauce with a sprinkling of good fresh dills for instance. Even you images will look better than simply pausing a bear steak!

the classification...Sauces are classified into 3 main categories
  1. Hot Sauces: have numerous versions and preparation. 
They are subdivided into Brown Sauces and White Sauces 
Basic Brown Sauces include: Tomato Sauce, Espagnole and Demi-glace.  
Basic White Sauces include: Béchamel and Velouté: the two have innumerable variations. 

     2. Cold Sauces: have many variations and are usually based on mayonnaise or vinaigrette.

     3. Dessert Sauces: these can be hot or cold. They can be poured over the dessert or served separately. Custard cream is a popular dessert sauce, there is also chocolate sauce and fruit sauces. Dessert sauces may often be made out of fruits in the form of a puree, jelly or juices of baked fruits.

Chateaubriand with Bearnaise Sauce & Chunky Mustard Sauce
The repertoire was gradually increased by introduction of new sauces derived from different cuisines and their ingredients. Hence the namings: Sauce à la Russe, Sauce à l'Italienne, sauce à la Polonais...
Also added to the repertoire of sauces are those based on the use of a specific ingredient like:
Red or White Wine  :    Bourguignonne Sauce
Fresh Cream           :    Normande Sauce
Fresh Butter           :    Beurre Blanc
Mustard                  :   Dijonnaise Sauce
Shallots                  :   Bordelaise Sauce
Onions                  :    Lyonnaise Sauce
Garlic                   :    aïoli
Then evolved the tendency to produce lighter sauces, and nowadays chefs use a mixture of sauces derived from curd cheese, yoghurts... Names of sauces can often reflect its ingredients; like Paprika Sauce, Truffles Sauce...etc

the conclusion...
A sauce can be thick or thin. Sauces can be clear, strained or with visible ingredients in them. They can be used to season raw food such as tomato with vinaigrette in a salad, it can be served with a cold dish like mayonnaise on the side of cold cuts, it can also be served with a hot dish like chateaubriand with béarnaise, or sole normande. Some sauces can be part of the dish like coque au vin and ragouts, or can be separate accompaniments to a dish...

the preparation...Ideally, deep heavy saucepans should be used to prepare sauces, as they evenly distribute heat and prevent sauces from burning or curdling. The techniques used in preparing sauces are: deglazing, reducing, thickening, emulsifying, thinning with liquid, enriching with cream or egg...etc

The 4 Classic Methods of Sauce preparation
  • Mixing together the cold ingredients like in the preparation of a vinaigrette.
  • Emulsification: mixing together liquids that do not normally stay mixed. in this method an emulsifying agent is used to hold the ingredients together. This method is used for cold sauces such as mayonnaise, tartare..etc.
  • Making a roux is widely used. It involves heating butter and flour together to form a paste. this method is used in sauces like Béchamel.
  • Cooking a stock | Broth and thickening it is a widely used first stage to prepare a variety of sauces. these sauces may be thickened by butter or cornflour, or a brown or white roux could be added to them...etc

Some Sauces that you might want to try (click the links for the recipes)

A wide variety of ingredients can be used in the preparation of sauces, and it is the perfect place to start your experimentation. Mastering sauces can transform any dish from simple to sophisticated. It will transform your cooking for sure and will be your way to reflect a new you in the kitchen.  Whether to simply garnishing a food, or to place on the side for a more interactive eating experience, to even setting the mood of sharing on a communal table... sauces allow you to do so much with your food and overall eating experience. Go for it, and start experimenting with sauces... 

Let's chat -  Most my friends enjoy their burgers with Mayonnaise, I always prefered mine with mustard and ketchup instead. I am not a huge fan of Mayonnaise, I only like to use it sparingly, and perhaps only with certain cold cuts. My friends laugh and think am crazy!! Are you a Mayo fan or a Mustard lover?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Let's get Back to Basics - Broths

The Base to soups, stews and many dishes. Many recipes call for broth, and broth makes for most of the flavour. Starting with a good broth is the secret to successful cooking that is packed with good flavour. Broths are the base of flavour layering and creating deep flavours in your cooking. 
To me, this is the base of all cooking.  All Good foods start with a good broth... 

What is broth?
It is a liquid food preparation that consists of water or already flavoured stocks in which meats, bones, vegetables or legumes have been simmered. The strained clear liquid in which the bones, meat, poultry or fish have been simmered is what we call broth. The bones or meats can be simmered with vegetables, spices and / or herbs. The layering of flavours comes from the use of these ingredients. The choice of spices, herbs, vegetables and even the type of meat depends on the preparation in which the broth is going to be used and the overall desired flavours of a dish. Therefore, there is no rule to stick to when making broth, it all relies on the use.

Broth is similar to stock and can be used interchangeably with it. Reconstituted Bouillon can also be used when broth is specified. With that said, home-made broths and stocks are far more superior in flavour to those that are store bought. Needless to say how much healthier and better for you the homemade ones are. Remember the bouillons and store bought stocks are most likely filled with flavourings, food colourings, and /or preservatives.

The homemade broths make all the difference to the flavour of your food. To begin with, at home, you will be using all fresh and good quality ingredients, which is always key to good quality, flavourful food. When you make your own broths and stocks you can control the flavouring from spices to herbs, and even the vegetables that go in it. This way you can guarantee that no flavours clash or overwhelm the preparation you are making. Most important of all, is that you know exactly what is in your broth. You won't include artificial flavorings, preservatives and any health risking ingredients such as MSG among others.

Homemade broth is healthier and guaranteed to tremendously enhance the flavours of your food.
Therefore throw away those stock cubes, and go for fresh, home-made broth, and listen to your family and friends rave about your food. Goodness starts here.
TIP - If you lead a busy life, and think that making broth is time consuming; worry no more! Broth takes at most 30 minutes to make. Once you have made your broth, strained it and let it cool, you can pour it in ice cube trays, and freeze it, then use the cubes instead of those processed ones. One broth recipe can make you lots of cubes, which can last up to 6 months in the freezer!
 Please feel free to experiment with spices, herbs and vegetables to change the flavours for different concoctions.

There are many ways to prepare broth, as mentioned above, and many flavours to broth. Here is how you can make a basic Beef/ Lamb/ Chicken broth:

Make Your Own Beef Broth
This is the basic Beef Broth Recipe. You can experiment with different herbs, spices and vegetables according to the flavours you are after. Changing those will give your final broth the flavours and aromas of the ingredients you have chosen to add to your recipe. (this applies to chicken and lamb too)

You Need
Makes about 8 cups of broth; 
2kg meaty beef soup bones (you can use beef shank cross cut, or short ribs)
3 carrots, chopped
2 medium onions, quartered chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, roughly chopped
2 fresh springs thyme
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 tsp salt
10 whole black peppercorns
Fresh Parsley springs
3 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled, halved
10 cups water

Place Soup Bones in a large shallow roasting pan. bake in 450 F oven for 30 minutes or until well browned. Turn once throughout.

Place browned bones in a large pot. pour 1/2 cup water into the roasting pan and scrape up browned bits; add water mixture to bones in the pot. stir in carrots, onions, celery, basil, salt, peppercorns, parsley, bay leaves and garlic. add the 10 cups of water. bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 1/2 hours. Remove soup bones. Strain broth, like in the photo above.

Line a large colander with 2 layers of 100% cotton cheesecloth. Set Colander in a large heatproof bowl; carefully pour broth into the lined colander.

Discard bones, vegetables and Seasoning.

Fat Skimming Broth Jug
For a lower fat version of broth
You can skim the fat from broth using the fat skimming ladle, or by placing it in fridge for 6-8 hours and removing the fat layer that forms on top.

you can cover broth and chill for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 6 months. Freezing broth is very useful as making it could be time consuming. you can make a large amount of broth, and freeze it in 1 cup portions, or as ice cubes, which you can use as you cook.

Note that: thawed foods cannot be refrozen, therefore it is best you freeze in portions that you regularly use.

Other useful broth recipes
Chicken broth Recipe

Let's Chat - It seems we are always complaining about having no time to prepare food at home. I run a very busy schedule and totally understand that. However, small changes to my day and the way I organise my time have done wonders for me. My go to tips for gaining more hours a day are: 1. think and plan ahead. Dedicate a day for prep and use that day to prepare your veg, stocks, and all the make ahead parts and store them ready to use. 
2. don't wait until you completely run out. keep building on your pantry and freezer stock for ready options whenever needed. 
3. stock up from brands I trust when I don't have the time to prepare myself. 
4. I have dedicated slots in my day for many things including social networking, answering emails, returning phone calls. 

I found that if I do not organise my time, I get overwhelmed and hardly ever find the time to do anything really. This had been life changing to me as this is how I manage to get so much done everyday and still manage to cook a home cooked amazing meal for my family each day.

Any time management tips saved you? Share with me, as I really always look for these :)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse
Serves 8 | Easy
There are very few people who do not like chocolate. Very few and to those I say, no judgement, but really you are missing out on a lot!! I for one am a chocolate fan in all ways and forms! from the lush and mouthwatering chocolate sauces, to the decadent chocolate fillings, to those chocolate pralines, and anything that chocolate touches... to me, it's an irresistible world!

For my first chocolate recipe, I am keeping it simple. Starting with the basics. So am going for this chocolate mousse recipe. Simply because if you are a kitchen type of person, if you are a foodie, or a baker or even simply love to eat, you have got to make chocolate mousse at some point. So I want to make sure that you can! Not only is this chocolate mousse delicious, but it also looks very attractive served in cups. A very easy snack to grab that pairs very well with almond or hazelnut biscottis. It can also be used as a filler for chocolate mousse cakes. This succulent, seductive lusciousness of chocolate is a recipe everyone must have!

You Need
200g dark chocolate
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon coffee flavored liqueur, or 1 tbsp of strong prepared coffee, cooled
300ml thickened cream

Melt the chocolate in large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

If you are just starting in the kitchen, this is what is called a double boiler 
Remember when melting chocolate in a double boiler, it is a rule of thumb that the water in the bottom pan, should never touch the bottom of the top pan. The chocolate must be melted by the steam resulting from the simmering water, not from the heat of the simmering water itself.
Once melted, remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, slightly beat the egg yolks with the liqueur or coffee. Pour the egg mixture in a thin stream over the melted chocolate while continuously whisking.

Beat the cream in a small bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the cream, in two batches, into the chocolate mix.

Beat the egg whites in small bowl with electric mixer until stiff peaks form; fold into the chocolate mixture.

Spoon the mousse into eight mini cups or glasses.

Refrigerate, uncovered, about 3 hours or until mousse is set.

To serve,
Top the mousse with sliced fresh strawberries, or candied strawberries. Also fresh Raspberries pair well with chocolate. You can add a mint leave and sprinkle top with a dusting of icing sugar for a frosted finish. Or you can make thin biscottis or wafers and place them on the side. For a fancy finish, add a small piece of gold leaf on top of the chocolate mousse....

Dima’s TipsTry substituting crème de menthe for the coffee-flavoured liqueur – another way of serving after dinner mints!
Always think outside of the box, bring a bit of this and a bit of that to the food you serve. Why not top your sliced roasted duck with this luscious chocolate mousse? Remove the vegetables and serve with a handful of blueberries roasted parsnips and some strawberries too. Why not try this chocolate mousse with your beetroot wafers? Don't get stuck with your thoughts, be adventurous and open all the closed doors.

Chocolate lovers, this is a treat you are going to love, served any time!! Just dive in and forget the world! But before you do,

Let's chat - Since I can't indulge in chocolate all the time (how I wish I could), these are my go to tricks to put a chocolate crave at ease on the days when am watching what I am eating: I go for a small spoon of my organic hazelnut butter, it always does the trick and makes me feel like I had a spoon of hazelnut chocolate! Or I go for dark chocolate which I must say I have acquired a fondness of over time. Mixing both together (the hazelnut butter and the dark chocolate really makes me feel like I got a treat and for 1/4 the calories!!! Do you have any such tricks to cure a crave? Do share them, dying to hear...!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Love Kusa - Two Zucchini Dishes, to make you a zucchini fan!

These kusa recipes and shakshooka recipe are also included in my cookbook "Plated Heirlooms"

Zucchini (AKA Kusa) is very famous in Arabic cuisine. We like to cook it in every form or way imaginable. Personally, zucchini takes me back to childhood. It reminds me of when I would come home after school; the smell of it just filled the house. Therefore, to me, it definitely belongs to the comfort food category!

There are many ways to cook kusa. I have chosen my favourite recipe to share with you today: Stuffed Zucchini in minted yogurt sauce. This dish makes a delicious and comforting family lunch that pleases both grown ups and children alike. We all struggle, from time to time, with feeding kids their vegetables, but not this one! The children love it so much that their vegetable intake that day is guaranteed.

This concoction is based on cooking the cored and stuffed zucchinis in a yogurt sauce - a sauce very commonly used in Palestinian Cuisine, specifically in Hebron, where my family comes from. Over there most yogurt-based sauces are made with the addition of tomato paste. Therefore if you haven't heard of it or cooked it this way before, don't panic, as the use of tomato paste in yogurt sauces is very specific to this city! I find that it adds depth and an extra layer of flavour to the overall dish. It is quite unusual to those who are used to cooking in a plain yogurt sauce, but once tried, it is always met with great admiration. Give it a go and I assure you that it will become a family favourite.

When coring Kusa for the stuffing you get the byproduct, which is the cored flesh. Why waste good food? A question that the Palestinian people had obviously asked and devised a solution for. The flesh is usually stir fried with olive oil, chilli (optional for spicy), salt and black pepper along with thinly sliced garlic cloves. The whole mix is seasoned with cumin to add an earthy aroma that pairs very well with the green flavour of kusa. This is known as Allayet Kusa Spicy Zucchini stir fry. I am posting both recipes because I know you will love both flavours and also to minimise any waste and give you more value for the same ingredient.

This Allayet Kusa  makes a perfect snack, light dinner with toasted bread or even an excellent and very interesting dip for your crudites and bread sticks. Also this can be used as an amazing base for shakshooka instead of the same old tomato shakshooka.

Yalla, lets get cooking...

Stuffed Kusa in Minted Yogurt Sauce
serves 6 | practice makes perfect
You can control fat intake, by using low fat yogurt, and lean veal mince instead of the traditional choice of lamb mince. This recipe requires a bit of extra work, but worth every bit of it.

You need:
 20 medium kusa/zucchini

For the yogurt sauce
1.5 kg Fresh Yogurt
3 heaped tbsp cornstarch
4 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp dried mint
3 tbsp tomato paste

For the Stuffing
500 g lamb mince
4 cups short/medium grain rice
2 tbsp Dima Sharif Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp Dima Sharif Meat & Poultry Spice Mix (or your preferred spices, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom...)
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste


The Coring:

Wash the kusa and dry them.

Remove the spiky cap on top and the dry small round bottom.

Core each piece using a corer like in the picture above - to create a cavity for the filling.

Rinse  the cored Kusa and set aside.
Tip: To core, you just need to place the corer in the middle of the top part and gently rotate the zucchini around it; pulling out the flesh regularly.

The Stuffing:

Wash and drain the rice, set aside.

Place the minced meat in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, the olive oil, add the spices, the minced garlic and season with salt and black pepper. Mix all well together. Add the rice to the meat and mix until well combined.
This Rice stuffing is a basic recipe that is very frequently used in Arabic cuisine. It is the base for many dishes and is used very widely in recipes that include stuffing vegetables, rolled leaves as well as stuffing birds and meats.

Fill the cored kusa with the rice stuffing. Make sure not to overfill or the kusa will burst during cooking. It should be very lightly packed with stuffing. Repeat until all the kusa is stuffed. 

In a large pot, bring 3 cups of meat broth or lightly salted water to a boil. Place the stuffed zucchinis inside, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the minted yogurt Sauce: 
In a blender; place yogurt, cornstarch, fresh mint, dried mint, tomato paste, garlic cloves, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. blend until all are well incorporated. Pour the minted yogurt over the simmering broth and zucchinis. Stir gently so not to break the kusa, but continuously for 5-6 minutes. Then simmer on medium-low heat until the rice and kusa are cooked through (about 45 minutes-1 hour).

To serve
Place the Kusa in a serving dish and pour the minted yogurt sauce into a sauce bowl.

Tip: to savour the flavour of both the stuffed kusa and the sauce, I like to cut through the centre of the kusa vertically and top with sauce.

Absolutely Divine!
These are two seriously good zucchini preparations. I am hoping you will try them and see for yourself. Remember with any new technique a little bit of practice goes a very long way. It is easier than it seems, so go for it. Also what good ever comes out of quitting and never trying? Meanwhile think of the gains of trying and never quitting!

Let's chat - We all struggle from time to time, feeding our children their daily veggies. What are your best tricks to feed your children their veggies? Do you prefer disguising the vegetables, using them creatively, or using tough love techniques? Or do you discard the whole issue all together? I love to hear your thoughts, let's inspire each other, leave a comment before you go :)

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Welcome to My Kitchen

The kitchen is the heart and soul of every home. Mine is definitely that for my family. But my kitchen serves more than just the core of my home. It is a bit more of : the centre of me! It is my hobby centre, my reflection time and my connection place, my therapist and my business! 

In my kitchen I have had my friends spill their lives out to me, and I to them. I have discovered a talent there, as well as a passion for food creation, expression and connection. Out of my kitchen came the very things that make my and many other peoples' memories, occasions and expressions. I have moulded many pieces in the kitchen that eventually moulded me into who I am today. My kitchen has that effect, not only on me, but on everyone who has stepped into it, or experienced it - (as told by those who did). 

I have always been inviting people into my kitchen, sharing secrets, recipes, thoughts, opinions, ideas and essentially sharing a bit of myself with whoever is up for it. With this website, I invite you to my kitchen, hoping to help and inspire you to create and pump life into your own kitchens, to experience all the joys that come with it. I invite you to my open dialogue about life and all it includes as inspired by the ingredients, the foods and the flavours in my kitchen. I invite you to chat, share, learn, teach and really connect as we miss nothing more than a real connection these days!

I will be sharing some recipes, tips, tutorials and kitchen chats.  I will also share some thoughts, real life experiences and causes in here. I will also be telling you stories, I love nothing more than the stories of peoples and places. Also telling you forgotten food-inspired stories that I dig from a very distant past, nothing is more fascinating to me than food history. I will share with you bits and pieces of the projects am working on, the people I meet, the inspirations I encounter and of course will be telling you about my brand's products, the old favourites and the new additions.

Hope you enjoy this online space, my online kitchen and all that it brings you. 
Most importantly, hope I will inspire you SOMEHOW :)