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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Creole Cuisine of the Mauritian Islands - Chicken with Coconut Milk

How amazing is Africa. It is beautiful and abundant in everything. Everything about this great continent is colourful, alive and unique to its character. From nature, to the food to people, everything over there is distinctive and diverse.
I Love Africa!

Mauritius is one spot over there that I find to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I think it is an earthly window to heaven. It is beautiful! The white sandy beaches, being caressed with the intense turquoise ocean, backed with the ever so green Volcanic Mountains, kissed by a strong sun, then showered with extra cold rain drops making the whole experience so surreal... Funny because every time I think of Mauritius I remember it exactly like it was yesterday! I even remember how the whole place smelled like: It literally smelled like vanilla!! It is remarkable!

Mauritius is home for numerous sugar cane, tea and vanilla plantations and produces several other things like cocoa and coffee beans. It is also home to some real good RUMs made out of sugar cane. It is therefore originally rich with flavours. When it comes to cooking the Mauritians are known for their Creole cuisine. Creole cookery reflects the full-flavoured combination of the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines, and intermingling amongst those cuisines while being very much influenced by Asian flavours due to the Asian Immigrants who have made homes over there. Derived from previous colonial influences Mauritian creole cuisine had been evolving through the years to what is now specific to the Mauritius. Usually tomato-based, seldom creamy, yet the few cream-based dishes are just divine as they are based on coconut milk. I find coconut milk to add that depth of flavour with an intensity of the exotic, especially when spicy. The combination of sweet and hot makes it so appetising and keeps your palate asking for more. Coconut Stews and curries are usually served with steamed white rice in the Mauritius, which adds a comfort factor eventually rounding up the flavours and experience into a fully satisfying one.

When I was at Mauritius I stayed at the Hilton Resort in Flic en Flac, a very relaxing spa resort atmosphere in one of Mauritius quieter neighbourhoods. The Chef was creating brilliant Creole dishes all the time, but this one was just great! I had to have the recipe, so he very generously agreed to share it with me. There you go many years later I share a little piece of my Mauritius with you...

Creole Spices: Mild Curry spice mix, Powdered Saffron, Hot Curry Spice Mix, Hot Chili Powder....
You Need
4 Chicken breasts (washed & pat dried), cubed or largely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can Coconut Milk or fresh coconut milk
2 Cinnamon leaves or if not available Sticks
1 tsp Turmeric
Salt & Black Pepper to taste
1” Ginger root, crushed
Spicy Masala
Handful of chopped coriander
Can add chopped green chilis if desired for more spicy flavour

In a large Bowl place chicken cubes, salt, pepper, Masala, Tumeric, Garlic & Ginger and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil, add chicken, cinnamon leaves or sticks and stir to seal chicken. Once sealed add coconut milk and stir to mix. Bring to a boil, reduce and let simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with chopped coriander. Serve warm with Steamed white rice and enjoy. I close my eyes and think of the Mauritian Islands every time, takes me right back :)

Which Cuisine did you come across while Traveling? Has any cuisine influenced your everyday cooking by trying to fuse its flavours into your own cuisine? Share with us, we love to hear your experiences...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Home-made Chocolate Spread & the 'Halloween Special' Course

Super Easy
Is there anything better than toasted bread with home-made chocolate spread?

"Be Careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."   -  Mark Twain

A little chat before we dive into the succulent world of the chocolate spread... How about you make yourself a cup of coffee, or tea and hang out with me and my blog for a while this evening? I know some of you already do that;) Yes that is what my trainees have told me today. They said: "We hang out with your blog"! How cool is that?!

Today was the last session of the 'Halloween Special Course'. What fun was this course?! It went so well and we had some great gooey gruesome fun! In this course I showed participants how they can carry out the Halloween theme on food. We did cookies, cupcakes, Cake pops and all their decorations. We even worked out many Halloween themes and styles, colour schemes and lots of food-presentation ideas...

 'Halloween Special Course' by Dima Sharif

It is funny how towards the end of every course I kinda get a little sentimental! I mean they all come here saying, I don't know this, I don't know that, I can never do this, it never comes out right, or I just have to tell you that baking is not a strength of mine... then they leave here with fabulous creations that they made themselves! You can see it grow on them, and you can see them get more confident, and I could not be more proud of each one of them. But the real sentiment is that we get used to seeing each other every day. I get used to having them over, working with them, chatting, sharing and forming what eventually becomes more of a support group, a friendship or even a sisterhood. The last day of every course, is always sentimental! And evidently for myself and them!

Cupcakes & Cookies from 'Halloween Special' Course by Dima Sharif

When I first started these courses, I was thinking more along the lines of helping others to discover the rewards of cooking. Little did I know that I was the one who will be helped to discover the rewards of sharing - of completely and totally sharing the recipes, the secrets, the tips and the inside information... The best reward of all is witnessing the very moment all this clicks for one of the trainees and she finds her passion :) Priceless!

Meringue ghosts and yukky fingers from 'Halloween Special' Course by Dima Sharif

These courses have taught me a lot and I have come to appreciate them way beyond being another thing I do. These groups and every person in it had taught me something, had shared something with me and had made all the hard work, the prep and the classes real worthwhile. For that, I am grateful to everyone who joined my classes and who will join in the future :)

I have sold out today on all DK Courses for 2010 ... YAY!!

So thank you all for your continued support and admiration for my kitchen and everything that comes out of it. Hearing the reviews and the feedback makes me even more grateful to all of you!

Meringue fingers springing out of earth! from "Halloween Special'
Course by Dima Sharif

At the end of this hectic day, I came to unwind with a new post and thought what am I going to share with you today? Then decided to go for a better looking and softer food. I have been looking at gruesomeness for a long time, that all I want is something soft and smooth on the eye!  

And what better food than chocolate to ease the ye, sooth the soul and please the palate? I am sharing with you today a Home-made Chocolate Spread (Home-made Nutella if I may lol) because at the end of the day, and despite our differences we are all the same. Nutella Kind of expresses that because I am not sure if there is anybody who did not enjoy Nutella or a chocolate spread while growing up. I am sure that most of us still do (have a chocolate spread) as an occasional treat. So here is how this super delicious spread is made...

Home-made Chocolate Spread Sandwiches

Both kids and grown-ups will enjoy this very simple recipe. Store it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. Use as spread, dip or to frost cakes...etc Don’t be taken back by the amount of butter, that is what gives it the spreading consistency.

You Need
1 can Condensed sweetened milk
225g butter, melted
4 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
2 tbsp Hazelnut Essence, or vanilla essence (optional)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until fully incorporated. Place spread in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
As simple as that!

Hope you enjoyed this post and that you will give this recipe a try. It is Super easy!! So there is No excuse, give it a try and indulge in the goodness :) Spread your love and share this website with your friends. Also do leave me a comment before you go, I love to hear from you :))

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Chocolate MudCake & Dark Chocolate Ganache

Serves 12  | Easy
Serve this luscious rich chocolate cake toppd with Chocolate Ganache and fresh fruits. The fresh fruits cut away from the richness and lend their freshness and tang creating a wonderful balance on your palate, making this cake irresistible.

Mudcake is also a good base for cake decoration as it is firm enough to hold its shape, and is threfore easier to manage especially if you are a beginner in decorations. Most my trainees find it easier to layer, level and fill mudcakes in comparison to sponges. Both are good bases, and since this is a seductive velvety rich cake, I thought I will post it here for you to try yourself :) If you are more into the flavours than the look and do not wish to decorate with flavour altering material such as sugar paste | Fondant or Marzipan then below is a Ganache recipe for you that will help you achieve the shiney finish like the look in the picture. You can use Ganache as a filling too. In the filling you can also add chopped fresh fruits for extra tang and a gorgeous layer of colour in betee cakes. As we say at DK Courses, these are the basics, and there is no limit to what you can do from there... So here you go:

Chopped Chocolate
You Need
675g dark eating chocolate, chopped
400g unsalted butter, chopped
1 ¾ cups (260g) plain flour, sifted
1 ¼ cups (310ml) water
1 ¼ cups (275g) firmly packed brown sugar
4 eggs
½ cup (75g) self-raising flour, sifted
1 ½ tbsp instant coffee granules (optional)
1/3 cup coffee flavoured liqueur (optional) if not using then use 1/3 cup strong coffee instead (you can do without the coffee if ou prefer.

Preheat oven to 325°F 300°F for convection ovens. Grease 9" square cake pan or round pan. Line with baking paper and set aside.

In a large saucepan combine: chocolate, butter, coffee, the water & sugar. Stir over low heat until smooth. Cool mixture for 15 minutes. Whisk in sifted flours, eggs & liqueur. Pour mixture in prepared pans. Bake 2 ½ hours. Cool in pan completely. Turn cake.

Make dark chocolate Ganache, & spread all over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle top randomly with berries: Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and/or cranberries.

For Dark Chocolate Ganache
Spoon this versatile chocolate icing over a single cake layer on a wire rack so the excess can drip off. Transfer the cake to a platter once Ganache sets. Ganache can be used as filling if thickened, or poured over baked goods as glaze.
You Need

1 cup heavy or whipping cream
360g dark Chocolate, Chopped
In a medium saucepan, bring whipping cream just to boiling over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolates (do not stir); let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool for 15 minutes. Spoon evenly over desired cake layers.

Here are some Cakes covered with Poured Chocolate Ganache for you to get an idea of what can be done with this amazing chocolate Glaze...

Cake Covered with Poured Chocolate Ganche
Topping Buttercreamed cake

Cakes Covered with Poured Chocolate Ganche
Topped with Chocolate Tiles to create Mosaic effect

More Mosaic Effect
Cakes Covered with Poured Chocolate Ganche

Ganache is one of those amazing icings that can be poured, piped, spread with an offset spatula and even at times molded. Give this recipe a try and see for yourself how it works out. If you get interested and want to learm more join Dima's Chocolate Truffles Course and learn all there is to know about Chocolate, and ganache :)

What is your favourite experience with chocolate? Would love to hear your love for chocolate .... Don't shy away, leave a comment :))

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A Coffee Morning with The Ladies & A Crêpe Suzette

I finally got the time to get together with the ladies this morning. It was a wonderful gathering and just great catching up with the girls :) The best thing about these get togethers is that you get to see the inner greatness in all of these wonderful women who would stop at nothing to support their families, loved ones and children. You get to hear the great things that they silently do each and every day to provide the best in their homes without the slightest bit of expectation for anything in return. They just simply Give! There is power to unconditional love! And that is the kind of love that makes these women so capable of giving, making them the makers of homes, the makers of each one of us and all to follow.
Funny enough they do not even realise the enormity of their giving and its greatness! They just simply do it, and feel the need to continuously improve it and add to it! They are the true HEROES...

We all want our diners to be
On another note, among the things that came up, was a discussion about 'Complaints in Restaurants': Who are with, and who are against? It seems that some people are comfortable complaining about the food they order in a restaurant if it was not good, or if it was not the same as they have had before in the same restaurant. While others are very uncomfortable, and would just have it, thinking that they don't want to be 'difficult'.
My personal take on this is that it is OK to complain in restaurants for several reasons: Firstly it's a head up for the Chef. Chefs or cooks want their diners to enjoy the food they prepare! None of us likes to deliver something unsatisfactory to our diners. On occasions some Cooks stop being so motivated, or maybe going through something that eventually effects their cooking. A complaint mayact as a reminder to those that they need to step it up and get back in shape. Also in some occasions the problem may be a misunderstanding. You may order a blueberry pancake, but get a buttermilk pancake instead! Most probably this was the mistake of the waiter's. So instead of having the food and vowing never to return, try telling your waiter as maybe they can fix this miscommunication. I also believe that when you are paying for a service, you are expecting to get that service, and it should be up to standards.

With that said though, you need to make sure that you are being fair before complaining, and that your complaint is in place. You canot expect a 'fine dining' experience from a simple fresh juice kiosk! So you cannot exactly complain there about the use of plastic serve-ware! It will also be rediculous to complain about the use of white sauce in a Fettuccini Alfredo, because you think it should be with tomato sauce! Therefore do express your concern when dining out, should there be any. Most eateries welcome the criticism as they care about their customers' satisfaction, and will most probably work on fixing it. Do also be nice about it.

As it seems the ladies all are in favour of Crêpes. I have therefore promised them to blog the Crêpes suzette recipe here so they can prepare it at home. So here we go:

Crêpes Suzette
Regular & Flambé

Crêpes are pancakes. They belong to the pastry- breads category. They are made by cooking a thin batter sparingly in a very thin layer. Crêpes are cooked in a frying pan or a special Crêpes pan. The batter is usually prepared in advance, and left to rest so that the flour swells and any air bubbles created during preparation have time to dissipate. After standing a little liquid can be added if batter has become too thick. This 'Standing & Thinning' Procedure ensure the batter doesn't rise, and is instead cooked into a perfect even thin layer.

Crêpes are usually made using Wheat orBuckwheat flour. Liquids are usually water, milk or beer. Just bear in mind that beer makes Crêpes rise slightly. Also the use of eggs, lends itself to the liquifying process. As a general rule, Crêpes batter must always be or pouring consistency. They are usually fried in oil or butter, and can be made either savoury or sweet.

A crêpe Suzette is a sweet crêpe flavoured with tangerine and coated with a tangerineflavoured sauce. The sauce is used to mask the Crêpes and is made using tangerine juice and Curaçao in addition to melted butter & sugar. Many recipes have come about and different people prepare it differently but for the classic recipe:

For the batterYou Need2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup milk
a pinch salt
Juice of 1 tangerine
1 tbsp Curaçao
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and make a well in the middle. In a seperate bowl mix all dry ingredients well together. Add dry ingredients into the well you created in the centre of the flour mixture. Mix all to a thin batter, let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.

For Tangerine ButterYou Need1/4 cup melted
Juice and zest of 1 tangerine
1 tbsp Curaçao
4 tbsp caster sugar

Mix all ingrdients well together to create tangerine butter.

To Assemble crêpe Suzette
Make some thin crêpes in heavy-based frying pan by lightly greasing your frying pan and heating it. Remove the pan from the heat add 2 tbsp batter. Lift and tilt your pan to spread batter into a thin layer. Return pan to heat and brown on 1 side only. (you can use specialised crepe machine and spread the batter using the crepe scraper)

Coat your crêpes with Tangerine butter, fold them in 4 (they will look like a triangle), returning them to the pan to reheat them. (you can - if you like - refry folded crêpes in a little bit of Tangerine butter).

Arrange the cooked crêpe-folds on a warmed plate slightly over lapping each other. top with tangerine rind and a little melted tangerine butter. You can also serve these crepes with a side of ice cream.

For flambé Suzettes:
Please be careful when attempting a flambé, Alcohol is highly flamable. keep your face away from  the pan when lighting the alcohol. If in doubt, it is better not to use this method. This is totally optional and suzettes can be served without flaming them.

Use 1 0z Cointreau. Add the alcohol to the folds when you are refrying them. To add the alcohol, carefully pour it to the side of the pan, and never the middle in case it lights up, then you can simply move your hand away. Let the alcohol warm up for a couple of seconds, then light using a long lighter or by tipping it ever so slightly to the side till alcohol catches fire. Once the alcohol had evporated it should go off on its own.

Place overlaping on a warm ed plate and serve.
So there you go ladies, Crêpes Suzette :)

You can pile crepes on top of each other and serve as a cake - these are usually sliced like cakes.

Hope you like this recipe. It is a retro recipe that was very famous back in the day. Just because it is retro, does not mean it is not super delicious! In fact, it is really flavoursome and must be brought back to the kitchen. Do let me know what you think of Crepe Suzette :) Leave me a comment before you go...

Come back again soon for more... Meanwhile enjoy these crepes

Sunday, 17 October 2010

From Sctach - Home Made Italian Basil Pesto

Makes 3/4 cup pesto
Basil Pesto can be made into a thick paste or
a thin sauce for dpping depepnding the amount of oil you use
This spring bright green sauce is wonderful with Pasta. It is great as a base to pizzas instead of the Tomato sauce, especially if topped with grilled chicken strips, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. This makes for an amazing green pizza, full packed with freshness and great flavours - a change from the regular tomato sauce-based pizzas. Pesto is also great as a snack with some cherry tomatoes, roasted or fresh. Try it with rice cakes for an extra healthy snack. Pesto can also be used as dip for cocktail parties, with olive, cherry tomatoes and baby buffalo mozzarella rounds.... This sauce is also good with grilled meats as well as a dressing for some salads... There is really no limit to what you can do with Pesto.

Fresh Basil
Contrary to common belief, Pesto is not hard to make at all, it is in fact on of the simplest things. It does not require Chef status to master! so go on and get your jars ready. This recipe will make enough to chill or freeze for another time. Instructions for canning are also included here :)

You Need
1/4 cup Extra Virging Olive Oil
1/2 cup toasted Pine nuts
2 cups firmly packed fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
3 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch salt
black pepper

In a food processor, combine oil, nuts, basil, cheese, garlic, and salt. Cover and process till almost smooth. Scrape thesides and process one more time to make sure no big chunks remain. Add black pepper to taste.

Image from the purple foodie . com / Pesto Jar
Canning Pesto
If you are not using Pesto immediately, and for long time storage, you need to sterilize your jars. Boil 3 small airtight jars and covers to sterilize them. Pour the Pesto inside the sterilized jars, top the pesto with Olive oil so non of it is exposed to air. Close the lid tightly. You can now store your jars in the fridge or even freeze them.

These jars are a good idea for small home-made gifts to give to your friends, neighbours, hosts...etc. Just top the cover with a nice cloth and tie with a nice ribbon. Pesto is a gift from the kitchen that is always appreciated.

For Simple Pesto Pasta Dish
Cook 180g Pasta like spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine according to package instructions. Toss with 1/4 cup Pesto. Top with roasted cherry tomatoe halves and grated parmesan cheese, you can also top with grilled chicken strips. Serve warm.

Hope I inspired you to start making your own pesto instead of only buying store bought ones. Making your own is so good and you can make sure to add that extra bit of cheese and black pepper! Yum..
Don't forget to leave me a comment and let me know what you think....

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Eggplant Parmigiana with Spinach cheese stuffing

This is an all-time favourite. It is hearty, delicious and so satisfying Italian concoction. A superb dish!

I make this evrytime I miss home. It reminds me of the cold winter days, coming back from school and my fingers almost freezing. Diving into these cheesy, tomato drawned eggplants was so warming and comforting it was great...

If you roll these eggplant slices up, then you will get the famous Eggplant Parmigiana Rolls. If you serve these rolls in neat small plates with a mini spoon, then you can serve them at a cocktail party too! How much more can we really expect?

Here is how they are done...

You Need
3 medium eggplants (about 1 kg), cut into slices, deep fried in vegetable oil and drained on paper towels
1 large brwn onion, finely chopped
Stuff Eggplant Slices and roll
Serve for cocktail Parties
3 medium ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
400g canned chopped tomato
1/2 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
500g fresh spinach, chopped coarsely
1 egg, beaten lightly
250g ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt & Black pepper
1 clove garlic crushed
60g Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
150g toasted pine nuts

For Cheese Sauce
You Need
50g butter
2 tsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup Shredded Mozzarella

Serve whole for dinner

In a heavy saucepan heat a dash of extra virgin Olive Oil, cook onion and garlic stirring till softened but not browned, add fresh tomato , cook stirring until tomatoes are soft. Add undrained canned tomatoes, oregano, and sugar. Simmer, uncovered until mixture is reduced by 1/2 (becomes 1/2 the original size)
Meanwhile, stir roughly chopped spinach leaves in a dash of olive oil, till just wilted. In a large mixing bowl, mix ricotta cheese, spinach, egg, nutmeg, seasoning and 1 clove crushed garlic. Mix all till well combined.

Grease the bottom and sides of your heat-proof oven dish and place 1/3  of the eggplants on the bottom. Top with tomato mixture and another 1/3 of the eggplants, top with spinach mixture. Top with the remaining eggplant and cheese sauce*. Sprinkle with the 2 cheeses. Bake mixture, uncovered in moderately hot oven about 30 minutes or until browned lightly.

* To make Cheese Sauce
Melt Butter in small saucepan. Add flour, cook stirring until mixture thickens and bubbles. Gradually stir in milk, stir until sauce boils and thickens. Remove from heat, stir in cheese.

All my guests enjoy this dish, and my family loves it too. To me it is a perfect dish to serve anytime! Do you have one favourite dishe that you always love to serve, which your family and guests always rave about? Share with me, leave me a comment :)

Monday, 11 October 2010

Pumpkin Pie

 Serves 8  |  Easy
I like the rustic look of this pie, the country feel...
when sliced top with a dollop of cream and serve... Heavenly!

Autumn and pumpkin go very well together! I love everything pumpkin, and this recipe is just super delightful and presents you with everything good about pumpkin. A fabulous Thanksgiving dessert, which is also good any other time!! This is an all-time favourite Pumpkin Pie recipe. My friends and family love it! Give it a go as am sure you will like it just as much :)

Pie plate Lined with pastry with edges crimped
You Need
1 small pumpkin,
1/2cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsps DS Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix or your favourite pie spice mix
3/4 cup light cream
1 recipe pie crust (find recipe on this link)

Preheat oven to 375F.
Make your pie crust according to the recipe on this link.

For Filling
Roast the pumpkin till the flesh is very soft.
In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin sugar, DS Pumpkin Pie spice mix. Add eggs, beat lightly with a fork, just until combined. Gradually add light cream, and stir till all are combined.

Place pastry lined pie plate on oven rack. Carefully pour filling on pastry shell. You can cover the edge of the pie with foil to prevent over browning (optional). Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil if using. Bake 25 minutes more or until knife comes out clean when inserted near centres. Cool on wire racks for 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, thicken some cream. Top each slice with 1 tbsp thickened cream and serve.

This is a very simple recipe with amazing flavours. Hope you enjoy making it and your family loves it ;)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Blueberry Scones - Excellent snack and a wonderful breakfast

Makes 12  | Easy 
Blueberry Scones with Drizzles of Lemon Icing
If you have been reading my blog regularly, you would know by now that I am in love with everything blueberry. I love blueberries in all their forms: fresh, cooked, baked, smoothies, jams, fillings, sauces...etc. To me blueberries are the ultimate food. Blueberries are high in anti-oxidents, which help your body detox. They are also full of vitamins and packed with the sweet fresh flavour.... What more can any tiny bite offer you?

I was at the beach on Friday, enjoying the sun, and the beginning of the beach season. It is still somewhat hot in Dubai. The perfect weather hasn't fully kicked in yet. Nontheless, we were determined to be outdoors, and the beach was just too appealing. So I got the kids all ready and in no time we were all soaking in the warm salty water lol

I was munching on some cold blueberries and catching up with my friend who just got back from a long summer vacation in England. Among the many stories we shared she was telling me that she learnt her mother in law's scones recipe and is just madly in love with these little treats. She said that she just wants to make scones, and that she keeps telling everyone to come over for scones. As I am listening to her love affair with scones, the cold blueberries were bursting in my mouth and I was all the while thinking it would actually be wonderful to have a blueberry scone just about now. So today I woke up with a scone fever, and decided to actually put an end to this crave and make Blueberry Scones. So here you go in case I have passed this crave on to you... Blueberry Scones like you never had them before... + Lemon Icing

You Need
50g butter
300g self-raising flour
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries (it is always better to use fresh ones,but if they ae out of season or not available you can use frozen ones)

Preheat oven to 450F. Line round pan or jelly roll pan with baking paper, set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour and sugar. Rub the mixture with the butter (simply add the butter and start rubbing with flourmixture between your palms, like you would to warm your hands on a cold day). Rub till you feel that the butter is binding with the flour mixture. add the sour cream and half the berries then mix all together. Add enough milk to make for a soft sticky dough.

Cut Scones into mini loafs
Turn dough onto a floured surface, knead the dough till it becomes smooth. Press the dough out to 2-3 cm thickness. Youcan either cut the dough into squares or mini loafs, or you can use a 5cm round cutter to cut the dough or you can cut into triangles as in the photo above. Place the cut dough into prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden. You can serve with thickened cream, whipped cream and honey or you can drizzle with Lemon Icing.

To make Lemon Icing  stir 1 cup sifted icing sugar and 1 tsp finely shredded lemon peel together in a small bowl. stir in 2 tbsp lemon juice and mix all till you reach a drizzling consistency. if the icing is too thick, add a little lemon juice to thin the icing.

In case I made you crave, at least I gave you the recipe to make it!! Hope you like it, don't shy away, leave me a comment!

Be a Good Guest - Just as important as being a good host :)

 When you are the guest, it's easy to feel like you have little responsibility for the success of a party. But that could not be furthest away from the truth. There are major elements to the success of any party, and one crucial element is the guests. After all, the hosts have thrown the party for those they invited. There is nothing worse than a guest who is critical of everything, is ungrateful for the effort put in the party, and who disrespect other guests.
So if you'd like to be a guest who is always invited back to the next bash, read on for tips to make you always welcome at anybody's table.

1. R.S.V.P. ASAP Respond to your invitation as soon as you know (and no later than the stated RSVP date) whether or not you can attend the party. That way your hostess can make her plans knowing the exact number of guests who will be attending.

2. Ask Your Hostess How You Can Contribute Ask if you can contribute anything to the party such as food (an appetizer, side dish or dessert), Baby sitting the day before, last minute shopping for the host...etc. The host may be relieved to have someone else take charge of something for her. However, don't bring a dish without running it by your hostess. She may be making something similar or it may clash with her carefully planned menu. Similarly, if you bring a bottle of wine as a hostess gift, you shouldn't expect it to be served with the meal. The hostess may have planned the wines to complement her meal. The same applies to other gifts.
3. Offer to Help Dress Up the Table Not a cook? Then offer to bring a table or buffet centerpiece or decorations. Once again, don't bring this if your hostess has declined the offer. She may already have her own specific decorating scheme planned. If you have the time, offer to come a little earlier than the other guests to help with pre-party setup. But if your offer is accepted, don't be late your hostess will be counting on you.

5. Be on Time Arrive at a dinner party on-time. Some hostesses plan the timing of their meals very precisely, and you wouldn't want to hold up the meal and spoil the food for everyone else.

8. Chat with the Other Guests Do your part to be friendly and make conversation with other guests. You're part of the chemistry that will make the party a success. But don't raise a conversation topic that you know will cause dissension among that particular group of guests. Save that for when you're the host in your own home.
10. Drink Responsibly Your hostess may be serving alcoholic beverages to complement her meal, but it doesn't mean she wants to have a group of sloppy drunks on her hands at the end of the party. Nor does she want any of her guests to be hit with a DWI violation, or worse, on their way home.

Always take a gift to your hosts, thank them for inviting you and remember if you genuinely are a good guest, you will appreciate all the effort that has gone into every party no matter what! Keep in mind people’s ways are different!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Understanding Fish & Seafood Part 2 - Methods for Cooking Fish & Seafood

Having Read Understanding Fish and Seafood part 1, you now know how to purchase, clean, prepare and store your fish and seafood. In this part we move on to exploring the most common methods for cooking the fish seafood you have purchased. 

The methods described in this post are also commonly used for preparing other foods, these terms are therefore good to know :)

An ideal method of cooking whole fish, and also excellent for large fillets, steaks of fish, Shellfish like prawns and lobsters...etc. Baked fish should be cooked in a preheated moderate oven (300F). A whole fish simply seasoned and stuffed with some herbs is a delicious example of this method.
To bake whole fish, you need to slash the skin in 2-3 places to ensure even cooking. Lay in a shallow dish and bake uncovered for 45-60 minutes according to the size of the fish. Baste once or twice with the baking juies throughout the baking process. (Basting is either brushing or using a spoon to pour baking juices over the fish to keep it moist and to have the flavours incorporate within it). Fillets and steaks will benefit from the addition of a little liquid in the form of stock or wine. They should also be covered with a lid or foil in order for them not to dry out.

Be careful not to overcook the fish! there is nothing worse than overcooked, dried fish. Test frequently and take it out as soon as the flesh flakes easily. As a rough guide allow 6-10 minutes per pound + 6-10 minutes over depending the thickness of the fillets. Fish and seafood are so delicate and 30 seconds is all it takes to overcook them! So keep a close eye.

Whole fish cooked using this method makes for an attractive centre piece. It can also be used in the appetiser section of the buffet; often served cold, skinned and attractively garnished after cooking.

Fish Stew
Because fish cooks quickly, it might sound unusual to prepare a fish casserole. It is however a good moist way to cook fish.
In this method, large chunks of fish are cooked on top of a selection of chopped root vegetables which have been stir-fried in a little butter till softened and slightly browned. Liquid is added in the form of stock, cider, wine or apple juice just to cover the fish. Then the casserole is seasoned and fresh herbs can be added to round up the flavours. The casserole pot or pan is then covered with a lid and left to cook over gentle heat till the fish is tender. You can serve the stew with chunks of bread which your guests can use to soak up the juices.

Because fish and seafood cook easily and quickly, they are among the best foods to be cooked this way. Nothing beats the open fire, the aromas of food barbecuing, while socialising with friends! Just bear in mind that fish barbecues really fast. Oil the BBQ grill rack, the kebab sticks or grids. before barbecuing, either marinade the fish or brush with oil. You can also add a little seasoning and herbs to flavour the skin of your fish.

You can BBQ firm fish that will not disintegrate during cooking. These can be cut into thick fillets or large chunks for kebabs. You can also BBQ a whole fish with the cleaned filled with herbs for example. don't forget to slash the skin in 3 areas. Small whole fish will benefit from being wrapped in a sort of a parcel (baking paper parcels, banana leaves, damp newspapers or even foil...) before grilling. You can add herbs, lemon juice, seasoning...etc to the parcels before closing them. You can also Marinade the fish before grilling. Another way to flavour your grilled fish and seafood is by adding damp wood chips to the coal, as they burn, they will produce smoke which in turn will smoke your grilled food adding that smokey flavour to the final outcome. (cherry wood chips are most commonly used)

Deep Frying 
This is a fast metod of cooking small whole fish like whitebait, lady fish... These are my personal favourites! Served hot, straight from the fryer, alongside a Tahina dip (Tarator)! Divine!!

This method is also fabulous for cooking breaded prawns, battered fish fillets or shellfish...etc. In general the oil should fill 3/4 the frying pan and must be heated to 360F before frying. It is important that the oil is new (not reused) and of sufficient depth to cover the food. If the oil was not heated to required temperature the result will be soggy fish, as the heat of the oil will not have sufficiently coated the outside of the fish to seal everything in, and will therefore sog.
With that said, be careful of extra heated oil as it will burn the outside before the insides having the chance to cook. You can use a Candy thermometer to check the exact temperature of the oil to ensure success, or you can set the exact temperature of your electric fryer. Because oil cooks food very quickly, and because of the delicate nature of the fish, it needs to be coated before beng exposed to extreme heat. The coat will serve as both a protective layer from heat, and a flavor seal that will keep the flavours sealed inside. So seasoned flour, batter or eggwash and breadcrumbs are all coatings that are great for fish.
Fry small quantities at a time, so the oil temperature is not reduced. Once the fish is cooked it will be golden and crisp. remove immediately from heat, and drain on paper towels.

Shallow Frying 
A quick method of cooking small amounts of fillets, steaks or small whole fish. The fish must be protected with some sort of coating. A diverse and good coat for shallow frying is oats, it also gives an appetising finish and texture. The oil should come just under half way up the pan and must be preheated before adding the fish. Add the fish then quickly seal on both sides, then reduce heat slightly and cook until crisp and golden, turning once or twice. (you can cover the pan with a splatter guard to prevent spit burns) Once cooked the fish must be drained well on paper towels and served immediately.

Stir frying 
Done in a large shallow pan or a wok. This method is especially good for cooking small pieces of fish or shellfish quickly. Start with stir-frying prepared vegetables (onions, peppers, snow peas, cabbages....) then add fish pieces and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. The most important factor in stir frying is that all items are prepared and assembled before the oil is heated. Vegetables must be cut in even sized strips. Stir frys are usually served accompanied with steamed or fried rice. The food is simply cooked by stirring continuously over high heat using a slotted draining spoon. Soy sauce is often added before serving but you can use many other sauces such as oyster sauce, fish sauce, mirin which are all very tasty.

Poaching Fish    
Is cooking fish gently in a liquid such as milk, wine, water, or stock. Heat the liquid first then add the fish and cook in a single layer, allowing the liquid to cover 3/4 of the fish. Season and cover with a tightly fitting lid and poach small fillets and cutlets for about 8 minutes. Whole fish may take 15-20 minutes. Just like with all the other methods, check regularly and remove from heat as soon as flesh flakes easily.
Usually, the poaching liquid is used in making an accompanying sauce or reserved to use for a fish soup.

Steaming Fish 
An easy method that ensures the fish stays juicy as it is surrounded by moisture while cooking. Be careful not to overcook the fish. The fillet will take about 10-15 minutes to cook. Serve steamed fish with freshly cooked seasonal vegetables accompanied by a light sauce like: parsley sauce, mustard sauce or cheese sauce. You can add herbs and seasoning to the water before steaming, this way the finished fish will be subtly flavoured with those herbs and spices.

Understanding Fish and seafood parts One and Two, should be a comprehensive read on purchasing, cleaning, preparing, and methods of cooking this fabulous food type. They are meant to help you better understand how fish and seafood are prepared and cooked. Having read the 2 parts, it should be easy for you now to follow any recip handling fish and seafood, and you should also find it easy to create your own recipe and flavour combination. I hope that you have become more familiar and inspired to carry out cooking fish and seafood at home. It really isn't hard, and everything comes with practice, so make sure you do.
If you have enjoyed this Understanding food post, check out the Understanding Food Links to the right of the post for Understanding other food types and preparations.

Here are some Related links that you will enjoy making at home

Would love to hear your thoughts on this post, leave me a comment :)

Monday, 4 October 2010

Understanding Fish & Seafood Part 1 - Purchasing & Preparing to Cook

"Fish should smell like the tide. Once they smell like fish, you are too late!"
Make sure your fish has a straight from the ocean smell when you purchase them. They have to be moist and fresh. This makes all the difference to the final texture and flavour.

If you are looking for renewal, for inspiration and for variety in your kitchen, head towards the sea. There is a whole world happening in the ocean. A whole world of varieties, flavours and textures. The sea creatures are delicate, naturally moist and flavoursome. Think of it this way; you know how we sometimes brine meats in preparation for cooking? The ocean is a large container of brine, out of which comes the most tender and moist food offering. When cooked properly, fish and seafood are succulent, moist, and noticeably tender, almost dainty. What better way to start a dish, than with an ingredient of such characteristics?

Whole Sea Bass
(White Fish)
Nothing beats Fresh Seafood, and nothing tastes like it! There is a tremendous difference in flavour between fresh seafood and those frozen or the ones that have gone a little old. With fresh seafood there is no odors, no unpleasant flavours, only the sent of the sea and the buttery smoothness of the flesh. Various Seafoods have particular flvours not found in other foods, making them unique and identifiable.

When eaten raw some fish and seafoods are buttery with an almost melt-in-your- mouth experience, like salmon, Ahi Tuna or Scallops. Others have a distinguished flaky texture like eel. Some are crunchy like prawns and others are tender and fleshy like White Dori and Tuna. Whatever the texture you are after, you will surely find it in one of the ocean's offerings. This allows you to unleash your creativity when it comes to conceptualising a dish and choosing ingredients and deciding on texture.
Fish is not only delicious but also nutritious. It is full of body-building proteins while being low in calories. White fish contain almost no fat at all. Oily fish on the other hand contain from 0.5% - 20% fat. However, these fats are the sorts of healthy fatty acids as they are believed to assist prevent coronary heart disease. Fish also contains almost no carbohydrates and is an excellent source of vitamins. Oily fish are full of vitamins like A, D thiamin  and riboflavin. With all of these health benefits, as well as for the mere deliciousness of this food type,it is obvious why we should make more use of this super food. We must incorporate it more often in our diets. To do that it is essential to learn how to buy, handle, store and cook this food type.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about fish and seafood. Most believe that it is hard to cook and prepare. This is totally false, as cooking fish and seafood is surprisingly simple. I will be sharing with you tips and recipes that make preparing seafood a breeze. Until you get accustomed and comfortable in preparing fish and seafood, follow my instructions and you will not go wrong.

Another misconception is "Fish smells and makes my home smell bad!" !! I was surprised at the amount of people who told me they don't like cooking fish or seafood because they believe it is smelly!! Seafood is not smelly, and should not be smelly. Fish and Seafood must smell like the ocean, like a sea breeze; and must never have any unpleasant odors. If you make sure to buy fresh fish and shellfish, you will never be faced with bad odors, you will only smell the sea. When fish stinks or has what is referred to as "a fishy smell", then it is most probably old - Not Fresh! You don't want to buy that.  In fact you want to stay clear from that! (read on for how to know if fish is fresh)

Just like with eggs or chicken...etc once you are done cleaning fish, you need to wash the work surfaces with warm water, soap and detergent. This way, your kitchen will not smell and you will ensure that work surfaces are clean and no cross contamination will take place when preparing other foods. This is very important as food must always be handled safely or it can be hazardous. Unpleasant smells occur when residue of foods start getting old and bacteria is forming, which means that smelly area has not been cleaned properly! Cleaning up well after your done, will take care of that, and will keep your family safe from food borne diseases.

Clams (Shellfish)

Choosing Your Fish or Seafood
When it comes to choosing your fish and seafood, it helps to know the different types and their characteristics. Knowing if a fish is meaty, oily, fleshy, full of bones...etc will help you determine the method of cooking. For instance, if you are after searing a fish you should go for oily fish types, like Tuna for instance. If you are after crock-pot-cooking scallops are not your answer and so on... Here are general guidelines to fish types:

Fish and seafood are often ctegorised according to the type of flesh:
  • White Fish  has a distinctive white flesh. Examples: cod, sole and sea bass. These are very good types for baking, grilling and frying. Most of these are also good for stewing.
  • Oily Fish      has oil distributed through its flesh, giving it a grey or red tinge. eg salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. Most oily fish types are great for searing, smoking, and preserving. These are also good for pan frying, grilling and baking. 
  • Shellfish        This group is enclosed within a shell. Shellfish are further classified into 2 groups:
      1. Crustaceans   usually have  limbs and a shell, like crabs, crayfish and lobsters. These are good grilled, baked, boiled, steamed and are often used in stews. Prawns for example can also be fried.
      2. Mollusks           having a shell only, like oysters, clams and mussels. Mollusks are fabulous in stews and soups. They are usually either steamed, shortly boiled and can at times be baked shortly like in the Oyster Rockefeller
Skate Fish
From Flat Fish Category

Fish can also be classified into groups referring to their shape:
  •  Round Fish  have a rounded body and eyes on either side. This category is large and includes a wide range of fish from freshwater salmon to sharks. Methods of cooking fish in this category vary according to the fish itself.
  • Flat Fish      have both thir eyes on top. Thisgroup includes skate and flounder.  

Buying Fish
When selecting fish to buy, the most important thing is its freshness. It has to be the freshest possible for best results. Whole fish is easier to judge when it comes to freshness and it is often cheaper than prepared cuts.

To know if the fish is fresh:

  • It must look moist, the flesh firm, the eyes should be bright, the scales should sparkle, the gills must be red, and there should definitely be no unpleasant smell
  • Some fish have natural slime, which is easy to remove by rinsing. 
  • The same principles apply to buying prepared cuts, fillets, or fish steaks. The flesh must be firm, moist and look fresh, without any unpleasant odours
  • White fish must be really white not off-white or any other colour.
 Once bought it is always preferrable to cook on the same day. If it must be refrigerated till the next day, then it must be cleaned, washed, pat dried and kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container till the next day. If you want to freeze fresh fish, then clean and wash it, pat dry it, and wrap tightly with nylon wrap then immediately freeze it. If you do not clean your fish before freezing, you allow for odors to build up when thawing.

Shellfish on the other hand, deteriorate rapidly, and must therefore be used on the same day.
There is a wide variety of fish and seafood to choose from in most supermarkets. You will find different shapes, cuts and preparations. For best and freshest fish head to your local fish market. You are definately going to get the freshest, and most probably going to find a wider variety.

Scaling Whole Fish
Cleaning and Preparing Fish & Seafood
Despite everyone's shared anxiety, preparing fish and seafood for cooking is not difficult at all. There are precise methods with specific types like oysters or mussels, but nothing too complicated that you won't be able to peform at home!
Follow these step by step instructions and you will find it easy and quick to clean and prepare any fish or seafood. Also keep in mind that most recipes will give you instructions on how to prepare your fish for the specific recipe. You can also ask the fish monger to scale, clean and fillet your fish so it's ready for cooking at home!

Hold body of fish firmly and cut through the underside towards the tail
 Preparing and Cleaning Whole Fish
Scaling a round fish : 
  •  Hold the fish firmly by the tail. Using the blunt side of a knife scrape the scales moving at an angel towards the head removing scales as you scrape.
  • Rinse fish thoroughly under cold running water to remove any remaining scales that are clinging to the skin.
  • With a pair of kitchen cissors, trim the dorsal fin, if you want to remove the whole fin, snip through it with cissors and pull.
To clean the fish
  • Hold the body firmly with one hand, and cut down the underside of the fish to the tail.
  • Remove the innards. Innards should be easy to take out. Just simply pull them out.
Pull innards out of fish
  • Cut the head if desired, just behind the gills. (Note that the head maybe used in making fish stock)
  • Filleting Fish
  • Clean and remove any remaining residue by rinsing the fish with cold running water.
  • Then fish is now ready for filleting
Holding the fish firmly, cut along the backbone from just behind the head towards the tail. Cut across the fish and slide your knife between the ribs and the flesh. carefully lift the flesh away, making sure not to break it.

Fresh Oysters
Preparing Shellfish
  • Opening and preparing Oysters
Place oyster on top of kitchen towel, fold the kitchen towel on top of the oyster leaving the hinge side uncovered. Place your hand on top of the towel, holding the oyster firmly in 1 hand, insert the oyster knife with the other hand into the hinge and twist till the shell opens. Slide the blade of the knife under the oyster and cut through the connecting muscle in order to seperate the oyster from its shell.

Perform this task with extreme caution as oyster have super sharp edges that can cause deep cuts.

  •  Preparing Mussels
Scrub mussels to remove sand or any residue. Debeard the mussels by pulling the byssus which protrudes from the shell. (beards are strands of seaweed that help the mussels stick to the rocks) Beards can be easily pulled off.
Discard mussels with broken shells, or that do not close when tapped. Place all musseld in a basin full of  cold water and a handful of flour and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the mussels then follow through as recipe requires.

  • Preparing Prawns
Remove the legs of prawns and break off the shell by bending both sides backwards. If desired you can leave the tail intact. Cut down the back of the prawn. Cut deep enough to expose the intestinal vein which must be removed. Removing the vein is called deveining prawns.

Butterflied Prawns
You can also butterfly prawns, which refers to opening up the sides of the prawn's flesh while keeping the tail in place. You just have to cut the opening for deveining a little deeper, open up the flesh by gently pulling both sides backwards. Place the flesh opening side down and give it a knock around the middle to keep the sides in place. This technique makes your prawns look better for some presentations. Works very well with tempuras and frying for instance.
    Cut through the lobster with a sharp knife
  • Preparing Lobsters
 Using a sharp Knife, cut the lobster down the centre, beginning right behind the head. Cut right through the lobster from head to tail to seperate into 2 pieces. Remove the green liver or roe from the lobster.
Holding the body of the lobster seperate the tails from the body. If you want to shell the tails, then remove the meat by breaking the shell apart. Cut the large part of the claw away from the bits which don't contain meat, then crack claws oprn to removethe flesh from inside them.

Freezing Fish
Fresh fish can be seasonal and  limited to geography. Frozen fish are available a all times and almost everywhere. Before fish is frozen, it is usually prepared and cleaned ready to cook. This makes frozen fish particularly easy to handle.
To freeze fish these are the general guidelines:
  • White fish may be frozen for up to 4 months.
  • Oily Fish maybe frozen fo up to 3 months.
  • Shellfish must be consumed within 2 months of freezing.
For best results defrost fish and shellfish in the fridge overnight.

By now, you should be able to select fish and seafood, clean and prepare them for cooking. You also know how to freeze and defrost fish. So you are ready to take Seafood :)
Happy Fishing !! :))

Hope you enjoyed this post and found all this inform useful. I am hoping this will encourage you to take on the ocean and all its offering. Most importantly encourage you to go for it and try these techniques out...
If you liked this post, check out part 2: On Seafood Cooking Methods ...