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Monday, 31 October 2011

Golden Kiwis & The Ultimate Breakfast (pancakes, Whipped cream cheese, Kiwi Salsa and Kiwi Bonbons)

About a month ago, Chef and Steward had announced a Fresh Basket Challenge in which participants had to go grocery shopping without a list or a recipe in mind, and go according to what they find in the supermarket. Kind of like creating a spontaneous recipe based on what fresh products are available. I took on the challenge for a couple of days, and went shopping without predetermined lists in mind. The first day I went for savoury:  Mediterranean Focaccia Bread with Fresh Halloumi, and for the second day I chose sweet: Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Hints of Rosemary, which was then featured on Foodista. I was thrilled to learn that I had won Chef and Steward's challenge and was to receive A Basket of Fresh Golden Kiwis from Zespri as my prize :)) How wonderful it is to win!
2 hats, 2 tshirts, 2 Kiwi to go boxes,
1 water bottle, magnets and Special
Kiwi Spoons that make scooping kiwis
so much easier!

A few days later, I receive my Zespri prize, and they explain to me that they have sent me a sampler of their Golden Kiwis and another of their Green Kiwis. I had never had Golden Kiwis before! Can you believe it? Well it's true, so I was super excited to try them! Boy, do those Kiwis taste good?! They are sweet and touch on a honey flavour, with hints of lemon and Mango! There is no other way I can put it! It was a symphony playing all my palate's favourite notes, which together created an adagio from an orchestra of flavours!
I had also come to know that these amazing fruits are super good for you, they have anti oxident, anti aging, anti cancerous properties among the many vitamins and nutrients! (visit Zespri's website and learn more about these fabulous fruits, and many recipes for using them in desserts, drinks, smoothies...)

There it was right in front of me, when I had - for a while now - been looking for a new flavour to inspire me. I was inspired! The looks of it, from the perspective of food prep, was amazing. Your brain processes Kiwis are green, but you see the brown seeds and the look of Kiwi in gold, is yet another dimension for presentation. The flavours of this fruit are already layered, you get hints of many different flavours, a fact that will only add depth and layering to any preparation! I was truly inspired and will definitely be using these more often! PS, next to Golden Kiwis, they kind of fell off the table, but not to underestimate Zespri's Green Kiwis, they were delicious, in fact the best Green Kiwis I have tasted so far! From now, on I choose Zespri. Try them, you will know what I mean...

I had thought of many recipes where I would use Golden Kiwis and have tried many that I have loved, but the winner recipe for my family and friends was the breakfast option. They all thought it was fresh, delicious and a fabulous way to start the day! Therefore I am posting this breakfast recipe for you to try at home, and am telling you it was super Delicious, and looked great too :))

Menu of the 3 way Kiwi Breakfast
Buttermilk Pancake Rings
Golden Kiwi whipped cream cheese with Grated white Chocolate
Duo of Kiwi Salsa
Maple Glazed Kiwi BonBons!
(Serve with Coffee or tea and a glass of minted fresh Kiwi Juice)

Pancakes are great, and they are all time winners with most people. You are guaranteed to win some hearts and heavy clouds of compliments when serving pancakes. The secret to super gorge pancakes is dry frying in a cast iron skillet or or griddle. They will look awesome and will have a uniform golden brown look on both sides. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than greasy pancakes! Dry fried pancakes are so delicious, I can munch on them plain all day! Having got the right texture and consistency of the pancakes, why not change a little bit in presentation? Go for rings stacked in a tower instead of the same old look. Change is good and eye catching, so please the eyes of your guests with these mini pancake towers.

For my breakfast, I already had a handful of flavours to work with, so I did not want any one flavour to overwhelm the others, I wasnted them to mesh together. Therefore, I did not want to over stress the strawberry wafers, and so I had placed them just on top of each tower. But you can alternate a layer of pancake then a layer of strawberry wafer, then a layer of pancake and so on...

To Make Butter Milk Pancakes
You Need
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk (or soured milk if not available)
2 tbsp flavourless vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt & sugar. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, beaten egg, and buttermilk and mix well. Add the buttermilk mixture to the well you have created in the centre of the flour mixture then stir to combine. Stir just until combined, the mixture should be relatively lumpy.

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle, when hot, add 1 tbsp of batter and shape into a full circle. When the batter bubbles on top and is browned on the bottom, turn and cook on the other side till golden brown.
TIP If you have heat proof cooking rings then place them on the skillet and pour the batter in them, this way you can get uniformly shaped and sized pancake rings.

Once a pancake is cooked, brush lightly with softened butter, set aside.

Whipped Sweetened cream cheese, goes very well on the side of pancakes (or slathered on top). Since this is a Trio of Kiwis prep, I have folded finely chopped golden Kiwis into the whipped cream cheese. Since I was at it, I have also added some finely grated white chocolate to the mix, and to tie it all to the Kiwi Salsa and the Strawberry wafers, I have also added mint Chifonade, and a strawberry wafer to garnish. If you carefully scoop out the flesh from the kiwi skin, you will have a small container to place this delicious golden Kiwi whipped cream cheese in, for presentation. This whipped cream cheese, also makes a perfect filling for cheesecake or fruit tarts! So instead of the classic cream filling, you can use this one instead and infuse any flavours in the same way as I have done the Kiwis. Here is how I made it...

Golden Kiwi Whipped Cream cheese
You Need
250g Mascarpone cheese, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 Golden Kiwi, finely chopped
3 tbsp finely grated white chocolate

Place the cream cheese and icing sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer, and mix on low, till combined. Raise the speed to high and whip for 1 minute. Fold in the chopped Kiwi and grated white chocolate, then pour the mixture into the Kiwi skin, top with chopped kiwi pieces, white chocolate shavings, mint chifonade, a strawberry wafer and cookie wafer as in picture.

Place these kiwi cups standing on a plate for your guests to pick.

The Kiwi Salsa, is kind of like a fruit salad made out of Kiwis. It was delish! You can have this in the afternoon on its own, or you can serve it with this breakfast menu. If you or one of your guests wants to go for a lighter and fresher version of the breakfast then you can choose to top your pancake rings with this salsa instead of the heartier cream cheese side. The addition of the mint makes it very refreshing and kind of like a palate cleanser after breakfast. This salsa is an excellent treat however way you look at it.

Duo of Kiwi Salsa
You Need
3 of each Golden and Green Kiwis, finely chopped
Juice of 2 Green Kiwis and 1 Golden Kiwi, passed through a sieve to get rid of the pulp.
6 mint Leaves, Chiffonade

Place all in a large bowl, and mix to combine. Transfer portions into mini glasses and place them on a tray for your guests to pick.

As for the Kiwi BonBons, scoop out Kiwis using a melon baller, and brush them with maple syrup. Place these next to the pancake towers for your guests to pick.

And there you have it Zespri's Golden & Green Kiwis in a variety of ways, each one of which is a treat on its own, and when put together make an ultimate super fresh breakfast :) Make sure to try it this weekend ;)

Check this link for making fruit wafers

I have found my new flavour, How about you, have you come across a new flavour that inspired you? please share with us, don't shy away, leave a comment :))

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thai Baked Fish on a Rack of Lemon Grass

How good are baked fish? Fish are very healthy and are super delicious. Packed full with nutrients and easy on the digestive system, they make an excellent option for lunch/dinner. I am often asked for good fish recipes, and usually hear "but there isn't much you can do with fish!"! But no, there is a million ways to cook fish! For the basic cooking methods, check out my earlier post on Methods of Cooking Fish & Seafood. There you can see there are many ways to cook a fish. It is totally up to you what the outcome of the cooking is, in terms of flavouring, and overall construction of the dish. In simple terms, choose the method that you fancy: baking, grilling, pan frying... then work out a dish in your head: what flavours are appealing to you today? Spicy, mild, Asian, Arabic, Mexican... then work out the type of overall dish (next to roasted vegetables, noodles, rice, risotto...) Once you have figured out these options, it becomes easy to carry out the  idea you have.

Cooking: It is a open Slate, waiting for the colours of your flavours and textures
You see, when you break cooking down to the basics, you will find that the concepts become easier to carry out. You can cook and flavour food in whichever way you like. You can think and contemplate the flavours, textures and overall experience, and carry them out. Just break it down to steps: Cooking method, Flavours & Textures, Overall experience! This is the though process for creating food.

Instead of going for the flavourless baking wire rack, why not go for an edible rack that will
lend its aromas to your finished dish? Cooking is beautiful!

I eat fish regularly, and to keep it interesting, I always experiment with new flavours, combinations and textures. I have to also think of the family, who tend to get bored of repetition. Therefore, I continuously cook fish in different context. This Thai Baked Fish dish is mainly from my love of all things Thai! Thai flavours are so diverse, and delicious, they simply inspire me! If you have read my post Summer Baked Whole Fish, you will see that I like to elevate the fish to prevent it from touching the baking dish. I find that this creates kind of a steaming effect while baking and results in more drippings (therefore more baking juice, which can be used to flavour rice, pasta, sauce...). I also found that this method results in firmer fish that that when the fish is soaking in the juice, a result that is welcome when looking into serving whole fish and don't want it to break in transfer to serving dish. In the same effect, for this recipe I thought why not create an edible rack, and since the inspiration is Thai, what can be better than the aromatic, super Thai : Lemon Grass? Lemon grass is very Thai and very delicious, it will create an aroma for your whole dish. That thought made the whole dish right there. It was the core of the concept. From there, I went on adding red Thai Chilies, finely grated ginger, finely chopped coriander, Sea salt, garlic, Thai spice mix, and sprinkles of sesame oil. That was the base of my dish. The aromatics & the flavouring. I had already decided on my cooking method (oven-baked). I was good to go.

On top of the Lemon Grass rack I placed the whole fish. I had rubbed each with cumin and Thai spice, black pepper, and placed lemon sliced together with a Thai Basil Leaf, sliced garlic and red chilies inside the cavity of each fish. Placed on top f the lemon grassed, I sprinkled the lot with a little more sesame oil, and sea salt shavings. The dish looked gorgeous and smelled so fresh and aromatic, I could not wait till it was ready to eat! I had covered it, as I wanted it baked. Placed it in the oven and prepared a side of Thai flavoured Noodles to serve with it.

I had run out of rice Noodles, but went and used Spaghetti Noodles nontheless, what's available in my pantry!
I flavoured with Asian flavours, and worked like a charm!

Before I jump into the recipe,
This was my first attempt with Halwayu Fish. I always saw this fish at the market, but never thought to try it! This time I did, and it did not disappoint! What a fabulous fish it is, the flesh is white and firm. It flakes easily, but remains intact, it was super delicious. The best thing about it though is that it is very mild in flavour, therefore very receptive to flavouring and aromatics. It totally absorbed the flavours of lemon grass, ginger, cumin, lime...etc Yum! If you need more help in selecting, preparing, cleaning and storing fish, please read my post on Understanding Fish & Seafood from purchasing to preparing to cook.

For the Thai Baked Fish on a Rack of Lemon Grass
You Need
3 whole Halwayu Fish
6 stalks fresh Lemon Grass
2 large Red Thai Chilies
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 inch Fresh Ginger, finely grated
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
3 Thai Basil Leaves
2 lemons, sliced into thin circles
Juice of 2 lime
1 1/2 tbsp Sesame Oil
Sea salt
Thai Spice mix
cumin powder
Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350F.
Sprinkle the baking dish, with a little of the sesame oil, and some sea salt. Place the lemon grass stalks on top. Sprinkle the surface with a little Thai spice mix, and sprinkle on the grated ginger, sliced garlic, chilies and some coriander.

Rinse & pat dry your fish. Rub cumin and thai spice mix, together with black pepper on the skin of the fish. Place Thai basil leaf, garlic slices, sliced chilies and lemon slices in the cavity of each fish. Place the fish on top of the lemon grass stalks. Place the left of the lemon slices under and around the fish, sprinkle all with chopped coriander, and sliced chilies and then sprinkle on lime juice, sesame oil and sea salt. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the fish is tender and flakes easily.

I placed the fish Under the broiler for 5 minutes to slightly brown as well. Served it with a side of noodles. It was a hit, and everyone loved it. Try it, and hopefully you will like it too :)

Hope this post helped you get inspired with cooking fish, and breaking down the cooking process in general. Together with the links, purchasing and preparing, fish & seafood cooking methods and summer baked whole fish, am hoping that you will choose to have fish more regularly as it is very healthy and good for you.

Would love to hear from you, so go on and leave a comment :)

More Thai Recipes:
Pad Thai
Tom Yum Soup

Sunday, 23 October 2011

How to Cover A Cake with Fondant & Make the Easiest Halloween Themed Cake

Practice Makes Perfect

Just in time for Halloween, here is how you can cover a cake with Fondant.

Covering a cake with fondant instantly transform it into an elegant and eye catching cake. Kind of like painting the blocks that make a wall with coats of colour to seal the inside. Fondant & Sugar paste give a velvety finish to the cake, making the overall appearance look clean, tidy and appealing. A covered cake no longer looks rustic (unless it is part of your design to give it a rustic look), it looks elegant and ready for interpretations.

The thing about covered cake is that they are an open slate for your artistic talents to shine through. You can add all sorts of decorations, create different themes, and even show case your painting talents as you would on canvas! It is a perfect medium for artists to express themselves.

With that said you do not have to be Picasso to decorate cakes!! Everyone has an artistic side, with a bit of practice and brushing, you will be making amazing cakes in no time! Remember that everyone has a unique style, and different cake decorators get known for their unique style.

Just mind you, fondant, Sugar paste, Icing, Frostings...etc are all made out of sugar and make up for a super sweet cake! Decorated cakes are not a healthy option whatsoever, and should be kept for special occasions. Make sure to allow kids to have these cakes, only Occasionally as they are heavy on the sugar!

I have posted earlier, How to make Fondant & Sugar Paste at home, if you live in area where you cannot purchase ready made fondant, or if you like to make it yourself, check it out. This post is to show you how to use this fondant or sugar paste to cover a cake.

Essentially you will need to have a cake to cover. The best cakes to cover with fondant are sponges. The cake has to be dense and able to carry the weight of decoration - Decoration including the fondant cover, the added elements and other tiers if going for tiered cakes. Therefore a cake mix won't cut it! Should you go for a soft cake, it will collapse, that is why you need to start off with a good and dense cake. For more on cake types and cake flavours, join Dima's Course All About Cakes & Cupcakes.

The cakes must be completely cooled before you can attempt dressing them and covering them. You should also cut off the dome (the top uneven part of a sponge) in order to keep the surface leveled for decoration.

Each tier of a decorated cake usually consists of 2 layers, with a filling in between. The filling can be cream, jelly, fresh or candied fruits, chocolate shavings, rice crisps....etc or a combination of them.

Place the first layer over a cake board spread with a little butter cream to hold the cake in place, then top with your desired filling, then another layer of cake. Ideally you should add enough filling to make for 1/4 a layer, you would want to see the filling layer when the cake is cut. Then you will cover the whole cake (2 layers) with butter cream, frosting of your choice or as in old school decoration a layer of boiled Apricot Jam. Then place the iced cake in the fridge to firm up. This step is crucial as it helps hold the cake together and in place, ready for covering.

Picture by Wilton

The fondant,
you can use the fondant white or tinted. The white fondant can be tinted using a an air brush (I will dedicate a later post to air brushing), or it can be tinted by brushing with powdered colours...etc. If you decide to tint your fondant, then make sure to tint a bigger quantity than you think you would need. This is because it is very difficult to get the same shade of the colour, should you run short for any reason.

To tint fondant, use gel-based colours for best results. Powder colours also work, but will take quite a bit to get the right shade. Liquid colours - not a good option - can work in very small amounts as they affect the consistency of the fondant making it too wet and therefore sticky.
Remember: go a drop of colour at a time, then work your way through to the right shade. It is easy to go darker, but once dark it is hard to go back. Colours like reds, black, royal blue...etc are hard to achieve and take a lot of colour to get to the right shade, don't forget you are starting with a white base, there are all shades of pink to go through before white turns into Red!!
So to tint, add a few drops of colour to the white fondant as in picture above, spread the colour by pulling and kneading, until uniformly coloured and no streaking is visible.

Rolling out the fondant,Fondant is made out of sugar and sugar starts melting when heated. In the same effect, too much handling of sugar paste and fondant transfers the heat of your hands to the paste, making it sticky and hard to handle. Therefore, you want to minimise handling. The paste can get sticky when rolled straight onto a work surface. You need to sprinkle the work surface with equal amounts of icing sugar and corn starch. The easiest way to so this is by placing equal amounts of icing sugar and corn starch in a small piece of cheese cloth, tie the top and use it as a duster. Or you can purchase a dusting pouch from decoration specialty shops. Dust the surface then roll out the fondant into the size you need (a little bigger than the cake. Don't forget that you have the top and the sides of the cake to cover.

Top Tip, if you roll out the fondant too thin, it will be hard to handle, and will also be easier to tear. Ideally you want the fondant to be 1/8 of an inch thick.

Transfer rolled fondant to the cake, fold the fondant over the rolling pin, and starting at the bottom nearest to you, unfold the fondant onto the cake. You want the fondant to be centrally placed to cover all of the cake.
With your palm, smooth the fondant by rubbing the top side, to make sure it is smooth and no bulges are visible. Then using fondant smoother, smooth the top part, just like you would when ironing a shirt.

Then you want to start lifting the bottom and smoothing the sides down with the palm of your hand in a downward motion. Turn and repeat till you have covered and smoothed all sides.

Any time you get creases, you just need to lift the bottom bit and smooth down with your palm while holding the bottom bit. You should now have covered all the sides of the cake too. Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess fondant from around the cake. Don't over cut, or you will end up cutting through the cake, or revealing bits of the cake as you cut. With the excess removed, start smoothing your fondant, starting from the top, down the sides, till you end up with a smooth finished, fully covered cake.

This is one of those things that you have to practice over and over, and with practice it becomes perfect. Just before you promise your BFF to make her wedding cake, make sure you practice a bit, as it could get a bit tricky!

TIP if you get air bubbles, use a very thin pin to prick it, and then smooth out with the palm of your hand.

Since it's Halloween, it is a perfect time to practice, as this is one occasion where you can get away with almost everything! It does not have to be perfect for Halloween! One of the simplest ways to theme to Halloween is to use a food colouring brush and a black edible gel colour and draw a spider web on top of the covered cake. Then you can use black fondant to make huge spiders and place them on top of the web.

To make a fondant spider, just roll black fondant into a ball, place on top of cake. Then either pipe legs using royal icing, or roll out thin snakes from the black fondant and stick to the ball in the shape of legs! Doesn't get any easier! Scatter the spiders around the cake, and write HAPPY HALLOWEEN in funny spooky fonts!

Cool Tip, if you cannot find edible markers or pens, you can make your own!! Use a bamboo skewer like you would a pen, just file the tip a bit so it doesn't scratch the cake or edible surface. then dip in colour and use like you would a pen. for lighter shade colours: either thin the colour with alcohol (best methos) or with clear vanilla essence or if nothing else works with a little water (for liquid colours) 

The Recipe
If you are into decoration and want to take your skills to the next level try out the Wilton Cake Decoration Classes at TAVOLA. These classes will definitely make a cake decorrator out of you :) While you are at it, buy all the cake decorating supplies you need from their cake decorating section at Jumeirah Beach Road branch.

Every Decorator likes a good Buttercream, this is the classic English Buttercream recipe, that not only helps in decoration, but also tastes divine! This cream is open for flavouring: Vanilla essence, Almond Essence, Orange rind, Lemon rind...etc. Here is how it's made

You Need
500g Icing sugar, sifted
500g Butter, room temperature
1 satchet Vanilla powder, or seeds of 1 vanilla bean

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix on low speed till fully incorporated. Turn the speed up and beat for 2 minutes.

Your icing is now ready to use. To store, place in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Beat again before using.

Hope you enjoyed this post, and that you will try to make your own celebration cake :)) 
For more on Cakes and Cupcakes, Join Dima's Best Loved Specialised Baking Course: 'All About Cakes & Cupcakes', which teaches you the base : making the cakes, different cake types, flavourings, frostings, icings...etc. If a cake doesn't taste really good you can decorate it all you want, the base will remain rubbish! It really has to have the best taste and texture! Learn baking with All About Cakes & Cupcakes.

Let me know what you think of this post, don't shy away, please do leave a comment ;)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Weekend Family Meal - Okra Casserole

Serves 6 | Super easy

On the weekend, especially for Family Day, I love to cook food from home, mostly Casseroles. I like to gather up the family, and whoever is free from the extended family on the day along with some close friends, over a nice home cooked meal. For me nothing says Family Day like Arabic food. I guess it is in part because I grew up in Amman, a city where people celebrate home-cooked Arabic Cuisine. It is customary for family members and close friends to gather up on weekends to savour varieties of home-cooked Arabic food. The kids, get together with their cousins, and spend all afternoon running outdoors, playing, climbing trees and fences, while the adults catch up and gossip about everyone in the city lol

The Simple Joys of Life: Good Company & Good Food

Since weekend is hours away, and since Sunday is the first day of my Arabic Cooking Basics course, I thought to put you in the mood and give you a taster of Arabic casseroles. I have chosen Okra casserole, because it is a tricky one to get right. When done right, it is by all means a treat! When not done right, it can put you off the whole thing! I know many who thought they did not like Okra Casserole, but then they tried this recipe and fell in love with it.

Okra, as you may know, can get slimy, which is not very appetising. I have come to find that if you saute the okra along with some garlic in a little olive oil before you move on to cooking it as by the recipe, it will have better texture, taste way better and will turn out less to non slimy. Just simply use this step before you go on to cook okra like you normally do, then carry on as always.

Contrary to common belief that meats must always be cooked, blanched or browned before being added to food; in this casserole specifically, I do not pre-cook or brown the meat. I let it cook - in the oven - with the rest of the ingredients, in order for it not to be overdone. This way it will remain super tender, with a melt in your mouth consistency. I do however, cook the tomato sauce before adding to the meat and Okra, to have it only reduce in the oven. This way, nothing gets over cooked, yet the sauce is reduced and and thickened enough to go fabulously with either: Pita bread or rice on the side.

Taster's Choice This is a great dish to be served with just some bread and some Arak (similar to Ozo) for an elongated chat over food, like in the Mezze tradition. Traditionally Okra casserole is served with a side of fresh white or spring onions, green olives and cucumber pickles.

You Need
1Kg Fresh or Frozen Okra (best fresh, but if not available frozen will do)
500g cubed lamb meat
1 large onion sliced, I use red onions, but any type would do
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 green chilies, thinly sliced (optional)
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
500g finely diced tomatoes (tomatoes should be peeled before chopping)
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 cup fresh Tomato juice
Salt & Black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf

Start off by sauteing the Okra, along with 1 tbsp of sliced garlic, in a dash of olive oil. Do not stir, rather toss, as you don't want to break up the Okra. Also do not brown, just saute for about 10 minutes, tossing regularly.

Place the meat cubes in a colander, sprinkle with 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar, and set aside, till ready to cook.

In a large sauce pan, gently cook the onions, garlic slices, and chopped chilies in the 2 tbsp olive oil. Once translucent but not browned add the chopped coriander reserving 1 tbsp for garnish when done, stir to mix.

Then add the finely chopped tomatoes and stir to mix. Cook for 5 minutes, then add bay leaf, sugar, seasoning, tomato paste and juice and stir to mix all. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, Place the sauteed okra and  meat cubes in a casserole or baking dish, top with the prepared tomato sauce, and gently fold to incorporate all. Sprinkle 1 tbsp coriander on top, and place in preheated over - 450F - for 30 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and the sauce is reduced by half.

Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve immediately. You can serve with rice on the side or with Pita bread.
You can fry some Okra coated with flour and use it as garnish to this dish along with some toasted nuts. Flour coated, fried Okra is delicious, even on its own as a snack! It adds texture to the other wise very soft textures of this dish.

Don't push okra to the 'Don't Like' list until you have tried this recipe. I am telling you, you will love it. When we have guests over and I haven't planned a dinner, this is one dish, I can whip up in minutes, yet serve a fabulous dinner, that they will rave over for long! Try it :)

Hope you like today's recipe :) If you haven't tried cooking Arabic food, go on, try it! You will love it. There is nothing better than learning and trying something new... If you like Arabic food and want to learn more, then Join my Arabic Cooking Basics Course, where you will learn the makings of Arabic Cuisine. When you go back home, you will take a piece of the Middle East back with you, to help you tell stories for years to come :))

Meanwhile, would love nothing more than hearing your thoughts on this post, so don't shy away and leave a comment :))

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

On Healthy Cooking and Eating - The Myths & The Facts

Cooking healthy, doesn't mean second grade food! Sounds like a cliche or a tag line from a magazine? It is very true. There are many ways to cook and many food choices to make that will help you remain healthy, yet savour good food. In this post, I want to dispell some myths, and move on to how that applies to everyday cooking. I hope it will inspire you to adopt healthier eating habits.

Food choices & daily Diets - The Myths & The Facts
When it comes to healthy eating, the most basic approach is to increase fibre, reduce fats & sodium, choose complex carbohydrates - instead of simple, processed or refined carbs - as well as choose right - ingredients for their healthy properties, kind of what we call super foods. In essence these are the general guidelines. But these guidelines are very open ended and within them lies a variety of options and ways to go to help you cook and eat healthy.

Most people would choose to drop certain food types when thinking of cooking healthy. There is a common belief that if you drop fats altogether, for instance, it makes up for a healthier meal. This cannot be further away from true! Your body needs fat to burn fat! It also needs fat for a proper digestive function. The key thing here is what type of fats? There are those that are actually good for you, and needed by your body, and there are other choices that are best avoided. Essentially, you want to steer away from Saturated Fats and compound fats. Go for polyunsaturated fats, and fish oils instead.
Examples of healthy fats include: Extra Virgin Olive oil, Sesame oil, Peanut oil...etc. When it comes to animal fat, then oily fish types - Tuna, Salmon, Trout, Macarel... - are extremely good for you. They contain what is known as Essential Lipids or Essential Fatty acids that are super good for your body. These fatty acids cannot be manufactured by the body, and therefore have to be obtained through our diet. These include the OMEGA-3 & OMEGA-6 fatty acids.

There are many benefits for these super fats, amongst which are: 
- Reduction of bad cholesterole levels & blood pessure
- Prevention of some fatal diseases
- Make for a healthy heart and circulatory systemme
- Reduce the risks of developing depression, and promote healthy psyche

When it comes to carbohydrates, do go for complex carbohydratess instead of the simple ones. Choose Brown Pasta, for example, instead of white. The only difference between the two is that brown or whole wheat carbs include lots of fiber, which is very good for you, and much needed by your body for healthy digestive function. Fiber, helps you feel full as well, which takes away cravings, and necessary snacking. It also aids your metabolism, as you body has to work extra hard to break it down, which leads to burning more calories. Complex carbs include: whole wheat, bran, potatoes, legumes, unrefined cereal grains, whole meal, seeds, sweet potatoes...etc

Sodium, and salts Should be limited and reduced whenever possible. They should not be fully omitted as they are necessary for your body's fluid circulation, but must be limited.

Proteins, being the building blocks of our bodies, they are a very essential food type. Protein exists in every cell in the body. It is the building block of our muscles, bones, blood and tissues. Our body uses protein to repair tissues, make enzymes, hormones and body chemicals. Unlike fats and carbs, the body does not store proteins. Therefore we must consume the amount of protein needed by our body on daily basis. Excess consumption of protein though is not healthy! Stay away from high protein diets, and go for a well balanced healthy diet instead.
High protein consumption leads to:
- Loss of calcium (released into blood stream and out of the body through urine), which eventually leads to osteoporosis.
- An elevated level of Ammonia in the body.
- Animal proteins also include saturated fats, which are not healthy for your heart. So excess consumption will elevate these fats and bad cholesterol levels in the blood.
- Excess protein consumption, causes the body to release fluids into urine, eventually causing water weight loss rather than actual weight loss. This also means that you can get dehydrated.
High Protein diets, do help you lose weight, but the effects are short term, and have many consequential results on your health in the long term.

Fruits & Vegetables are super foods that can cause no harm. In fact they include all things good for your body. They are high in fiber, minerals and vitamins essential for proper functioning of your whole body. They help your body stay hydrated, and each type has direct effects on many of the body functions. Fruits and vegetables are essential to have in varieties in your every day diet. They can be consumed as snacks as well, which will not harm your diet at any point.

You see, just because the fashion industry had been promoting size zero, and ways to achieve it, under the insinuation that 'Being Fit & Healthy = Size Zero', does not really mean it is "healthy". Don't drop food types from your daily diet, in order to lose weight or confuse that with making healthy choices. In the same effect don't adopt any specific food type to be your main or only type you consume, as it can have consequences that will negatively affect your health.You have got to consume all food types each day, in order for your body to function properly, as it is meant to be. With that said, you have got to be moderate. Just because oily fish is healthy, doesn't mean you get to have lots of it and get away with it. Bring back the good fats into your diet, the complex carbs, the lean proteins, the fruits and vegetables... all in Moderation.

How does that Translate into cooking?
Meal Planning  Take all this information into account when planning your family meals. Make sure that you are offering your family a well balanced diet each day, and base your choices upon that. They have to consume all food types in moderation, so if breakfast was high in carbs for instance, choose a lunch option that includes less carbs and more fiber and proteins, and the same applies to dinner.

Cooking Ingredients  Understanding the facts, allows you to make better choices. When you read recipes and decide on the type of food you would like to cook, substitute the good stuff for the bad stuff. i.e. Instead of using vegetable oil to sautee your fish fillet, go for sesame oil, olive oil...etc. Follow the techniques in the recipe, just play around with the ingredients, choosing those that are healthier.

Alternative Cooking Methods  While some fats are good for you, excess is still bad! The method of cooking, say deep frying, determines whether or not you are consuming healthy food. It is one thing to sautee fish in 1 tbsp of oil, and completely another thing to deep fry the fish! Stay away from deep frying, and use alternative methods to cook the same food. My recipe 'Baked Chicken Tenders' is a perfect example of alternative cooking methods. You are still getting the same eating experience as you would with fried chicken tender, the flavours are there and delicious, but you just took out the "unhealthy Factor" from the equation. Another excellent example is Oven Roasted Potatoes, which if cut like you would french fries, would give the same experience of eating french fries!!

Go Fresh  Cooking from scratch at home, ensures no additional fats, artificial flavours -chemicals - are being used. You know exactly what went into your food, and exactly what you are offering your family. Home cooked food is safe, healthy and packed with love. Take those extra 10 minutes to make the sauce yourself. Most store bought sauces, stocks, mixes... contain additives and preservatives. They are usually high in saturated fats, sugars and sodium. It is best you make it yourself!

Remember, food is about balance, nutrition and living well. Your health is important, and so is the health of your family. Don't poison your minds with the marketing slogans that are created to derive sales of products and fashion. Yes be fashionable, and be fit by all means, but do it healthily. A balance is all there is to all things good in life. Size zero deprives your body of all the nutrients, that is why it is at zero! Don't get desperate to look like a runway model, enough to follow the shams and schemes of the dieting industry! Omitting food types, ingesting pills and simply stop enjoying the simplest and best of life's pleasures: FOOD!!

Cook & Eat in moderation. Find your balance, and be happy. Enjoy the simple pleasures in life, they turn out to be the best!

PS Download My Parent's Guide to Healthy Eating for Kids - FREE. It is an interactive guide on healthy eating habits and raising kids with healthy attitudes towards food.

Hope you found this post helpful. Please let me know if you need any further help RE Healthy Cooking.
Check out my healthy cooking recipes, and I continue to post new ones.
Meanwhile, would love nothing more than hearing your thoughts on this post, so don't shy away and leave a comment :))

Sunday, 16 October 2011

What to do with Leftover Cakes? Top 10 Tips

When it comes to leftovers, there is always a way to turn them into fabulous treats. They do not have to go to waste! When the leftovers are actually cake, there is a million things you can do! What you can't do is let those go to waste!! So here are the

Top 10 Tips to turn leftover cakes and cake crumbs (the byproduct of cake carving) into scrumptious treats
Crumb Cake Photo
From Martha Steward
1. Make A Crumb Cake (recipe Below)
Crumb Cakes are the most ingenious way to turn potential waste into something fabulous! This is a trick that every bakery utilises to minimise waste! Crumb Cakes are delicious. You will love them. You can even flavour crumb cakes to honey, cinnamon, fruits...etc. The options and varieties are endless!

Use Crumbs to make Cake Pops or chocolate dipped Cake Balls

2. Turn left over cakes into Cake Pops or Cake Balls.
Cake Pops and cake balls are so IN right Now!! (not to be confused with chocolate truffles*, Chocolate truffles are very different from pops or balls) They are on every cooks menu, and are nowadays found on every party menu. They are delicious, and can be made to look fabulous. They can even be themed and used for various occasions.

*Chocolate Truffles on the other hand are made out of chocolate. Usually containing a soft chocolate or praline  filling at the centre and a hard chocolate coating on the outside. Chocolate Truffles can also be left soft without the hard chocolate coating.

Bride & Groom Cake Pops
The difference between pops and balls, is that pops are mounted on lolly sticks, while balls are left as balls. You can shape the balls then dip them in melted chocolate, you can coat them with nuts, cocoa powder, coconut, edible rose petals...etc. If you dip them in melted chocolate then let them dry out, you can pipe decorations on top of them if desired for theming or just for the sake of decoration.
To Make chocolate Balls, you need to have leftover cake, reduced to crumbs. Mix that with sufficient amount of any kind of cake frosting - you just want to make sure that frosting and cake match in flavour - then mix all till incorporated. The mixture should be able to hold shape when rolled into balls. If you add too much frosting, the mixture will be wet and won't hold shape. In the same effect too little frosting will also not work. Add a little at a time, and mix, then try to roll the balls, if they hold shape you are good. if not, add more frosting. 

Once the balls are rolled, place in fridge to firm - 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile melt the chocolate. Dip the cool balls into melted chocolate to completely coat. Place on a tray lined with baking paper and leave to dry in room temperature over night. Your cake balls are now ready. If you want to roll the balls in nuts, it is best to do so as soon as you lift them out of the melted chocolate. The chocolate will work as an adhesive to stick the chopped nuts to the cake balls.

3. Make a variety of Cake balls, place them in a nice box and gift them to friends.
Gifts From The kitchen are very nice. There is a lot of effort that goes into baking and cooking, that when gifted, they make for a thoughtful and effort-full gift. You can even top each with a different topping making for a whole box worth of scrumptious treats. You can welcome a new neighbor with this box, gift it as a get well, thank you, good day or any sentiment you like. They will fly in seconds, and will make you a star!

4. Dress the left over cake differently and it will make up for a whole new dessert.
If you change around with the appearance, or flavours of the leftover cakes, they will feel new and would be willingly had as today's desserts. Adding fresh fruits, Jams, syrups, chocolate shavings, frosting...etc will all transform the cake into a new dessert. Here I had leftover Vanilla Fairy cakes and I just topped them with Home-made Orange Marmalade and served them for tea time. The addition of the Orange Marmalade, made these taste very different, and my neighbor had no idea it was the same Cupcake she had yesterday! She even said, "When do you get the time to bake everyday?" lol

5. Use the left over Cakes in Making a Loaf or muffins and use them as sweet bread for breakfast.
The thing about Loafs & Muffins is that the batter is usually lumpy. Which makes it work very well with cake crumbs. Reduce the amount of flour in the recipe by the same amount of cake crumbs and use the crumbs together with the reduced flour in making the batter. Serve these for breakfast as sweet breads. Sweet breads are great with cheeses, butter or jams. Another way is make the loaf or muffin as in recipe, then top with cake crumbs. Kind of like the crumble effect.

6. Use the Crumbs as base for cheese cakes or fresh fruit tarts.
You can use cake crumbs like you would cookies to make a shell for cheese cakes or fresh fruit tarts... Just mix them with some butter, spread along the bottom and sides of tin and place in fridge to firm. Delicious, and adds variety to your cheesecakes.

7. Use Cake Crumbs and left over cakes to make Trifel.
Trifel is an amazing and very underrated dessert. It is simply delicious! Whenever you have leftover cakes, use them in making a trifel, and you will please everyone in the family.

8. Use Cake Crumbs to dress the sides of another cake.
Once you have baked and frosted a cake, you can use the leftover cake crumbs to spread along the sides. It looks good and adds another layer of flavour to your cake. Kind of like spreading nuts on cake sides.

9. Cut left over cakes with a cookie cutter to make for new individual cakes.
This will also be helpful in adding variety to your desserts buffet, without the extra hours required to bake from scratch. Just cut the cake into individual portions and top with your desired topping and offer as dessert variations. Note that the same cake can make many options if each portion is dressed differently.

10. Use Cake crumbs to create a sand effect when decorating Cakes.
If you decorate cakes, you can use the crumbs in creating the sand effect, like you would with brown sugar. If you do not decorate cakes, but do food photography, you can use this trick to create the illusion that you are shooting at the beach or over sand.

Things to keep in mind when using leftovers of any kind
Food is to be eaten, therefore make sure it is safe. By that I mean, make sure that it is within shelf life and not expired. Also make sure it is clean, and had been kept in proper safe conditions. If it has been out on the counter while it should have been kept in the fridge, then it is a bad idea to use it!

Also consider the expiry date of the new product. When does it expire? If you gift it, make sure to tell the recipient that it has to be consumed within...amount of time.

Think of the overall outcome when planning the use of your leftovers. Think of how the flavours are going to match. Just because it is leftover doesn't mean the kitchen sink can be used in making it!
You can place Leftover cupcakes in a nice basket and offer to a neighbour, a friend...etc. Choose your favourite basket, and fill with treats and ship off :) As an added bonus to this post, here is an excellent article on making your own baskets!! If you like DIY, and have ample time on your hands, you will love this.

Recipe - The simplest Crumb Cake Ever!
You Need
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp butter
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk
left over cakes, broken into pieces

Cream together the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add all ingredients and whisk well. Pour over a lined 9 inch tin and add the cake pices over the batter. push the cake pieces half way into the batter, keeping some exposed on top.

Bake in 350 oven for 20 -25 minutes or till tooth pick comes out clean when inserted near the centres.
Cool in pan for 5-7 minutes. Turn and cool completely on wire racks. Once completely cooled, sprinkle the tops generously with icing sugar.

Hope you found these tips helpful. You see there are a million ways to turn leftovers into delicious treats, so try some of these suggestions out the next time you have leftover cakes :)
Would love nothing more than hearing your thoughts on this post, so don't shy away and leave a comment :))