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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Starting A Career In Food - Make That Dream A Reality

Welcome to the world of food

Your words to me...
"I have always dreamed of having my own small bakery..." , "I love baking, but it never works with me..." , "I want to start a food blog..." , "Why is my blog not getting good readings?..." , "I hate my job, wish I could do something I love... like you..." , "You are lucky to have found your passion, I too love food but don't know where to start..." , "I want to start my own business in food..." , "I am a very good cook, maybe I should start a food business..." , "It was always my dream to start this business, but somehow it is not working..." .... etc.
                                                              -  words by my friends, readers, trainees, fans and followers

You have asked, and I have listened. I am putting together this post to answer some of these questions for you, and ultimately to inspire you to really follow your dream, and make it a reality. I aim, in this post, to explore with you how you can move your dream from being just an idea you think about anytime you have a free minute, to a reality. Remember that dreams do come true only if we do the work! Although I am exploring this topic from a food-related-dream perspective, I think that the same concepts are universally applicable.

I have compiled these tips from my experiences, and from having repeatedly spoken about this with many of my friends and food industry professionals. There are many resources out there on establishing businesses that are worth exploring. However in this post I am exploring the dream with you, as a first step on the road to reality. I cannot cover everything in one blog post, and I do not intend on making this a thorough business plan. On the other hand I will share with you some facts without which your dream will never come true!

This post is quite a read, so grab a cuppa, read on and enjoy...

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I Have a Dream...
We all have dreams... In fact, we all spend a very good chunk of our day dreaming! But as I told you before: dreaming is cheap, doing the work is what gets you there! by that I mean, we can all dream, we can spend all day, dreaming. In fact we can spend a life time dreaming. But that is all it will ever be: A dream! However, it does not have to necessarily remain just as a dream. Your dream can become a reality if you put it into action: If you do the work.
It is a false notion that dreams become a reality with no effort. That those who have achieved did it only because they are lucky! No, anyone who has ever achieved or even started to realise their dreams, did so because they worked hard.

From Dream to Reality you must:

  • Have something unique to contribute to the market (an idea | dream). 
  • Focus this idea into a defined and workable concept. 
  • Acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills to put this dream into action. 
  • Invest time, effort and resources to materialise this idea. 
  • Work extra hard to get that idea up and running. 
  • Once your dream had become a reality you will continue to develop, improve and deliver this concept in the best practice possible
  • Have a competitive edge by continuing to be unique, original and armed with real skill. Your concept has to add value or once the buzz is out your concept will be out too.

Having a dream is, therefore, the first step, from which we move to work, mostly very hard and very demanding work to get that brilliant idea to reality mode. How do you do that or what does it take?

Step 1 -  The Dream...
What is your food-career dream? 
It is funny how most people think that Chefs are the only food industry professionals! And therefore need to have that title attached to their names to prove that they belong to the industry. While 'Chef' is the title most synonymous with the food industry, there are many other titles to consider. The CEO of a food consultancy is just as part of the food industry as a Chef is! So is a food supplier, a food writer, a food photographer, a food publisher, a restaurateur (who are not always Chefs by the way)...etc.

So what is your dream? Is it to become an author of a food blog? To become a Food Photographer or a Food Stylist? Are you a wonna-be Caterer? A Restaurateur?  A Chef? A Food Critic? Does your dream include a specialised bakery? A specialised cookery supply shop? A Franchiser? Or a CEO of a food consultancy?... there are a million and one fields in the food industry that you can work in! The first and foremost important thing that you have to do, is focus your ideaWhat is your dream? Which part of the food industry do you wish to belong to?
While we all love to, non of us can be everything at once! You can start somewhere and if you work hard enough you can possibly grow into the different roles, or grow into a multi-functional operation. But first you must have one unique, very good concept that is defined and workable.

The brand that came to life
from a dream

Step 2 - The concept: Focused, Defined and Workable
Now that you have a dream, what do you do with it?
If your dream is to cook for your friends and be a star, then that is a hobby. Nothing wrong with that! You can learn cookery, you can practice, you can share recipes and you can realise becoming the go-to-kitchen-diva amongst your friends, whose known to be the host with the most. Do the work: get to know food, cook and practice, join courses, and be creative in your kitchen. Follow resources such as blogs, books, cook shows and build your knowledge and skills. These are the makings of your dream.

However, if your dream is to bring something unique, original and a concept that adds value to the market, where this concept generates revenue, then you are talking about joining the industry's task force. This dream is not a hobby, or just something that you like to do occasionally and with big breaks and times off in between. Your dream in this case revolves around a business concept. Business concepts are all about filling a gap in the market, adding value to customers, and offering a real good service with a very strong competitive edge. In business it is all about revenue, and you will do all the work required to make sure your business makes the cut, that it survives and is profitable.
While this all sounds nice, what you need to know here is two main things: First; this is a job! Just because you are following your dream, does not mean that you are about to lead an easy life! It seems that most people think that doing something you like means doing nothing, except smiling!! No, it is a job, however a job that you love doing. Starting a business requires a lot of hard work. As the name suggests business is about being involved, about working hard, about making sure that you are achieving your objectives, that your business is growing, that you do not go out and become outdated! Second; as a consequence you cannot be stubborn about your concept! If your concept is not well received, you have to have the capacity, the originality, the creativity and the ability to redefine this concept.
In the market, it is not about what you like. It is about service, cost and revenue. This is the bottom line. This is what you must keep in mind when focusing (defining) your concept.  
Once you have defined your dream, into a focused and workable business concept that aims to achieve specific objectives, it is time to put all that into action. It is very necessary to have a business plan, one that clearly defines your concept, your mission, goals and objectives. One that includes an action plan designed to achieve those objectives, and one that does the math! Before you jump to the conclusion of whether or not your concept is hot commodity, you have to do the math for the bottom line. To make sure that your concept is feasible.

Knowledge & Skill are a pre-requisite
Having read the above, and if you find yourself in neither category; where you are a step beyond cooking for friends as a hobby, yet way not into the hard work or resources required for starting a business, then you my friend are someone who is keen to work in food as a day job. Either you can go for an internship at a restaurant, bakery, food consultancy...etc. Or if you are a talented writer, photographer, stylist...etc you can seek jobs in those fields which are still related to food. Whichever category you belong to, all three require the knowledge and skills to move forward...

Step 3 - Acquiring the required Knowledge & Skills 
A pre-requisite in order to put your concept into action

If you are at the beginning of the road, just finished with school, young and about to head to college then your option is easy: join culinary school. You will be properly trained to take up any field of the food world. You will have the knowledge, will be trained to acquire the necessary skills. You can even learn food business management and all things food related.  While, if you are someone who is changing paths, and following a life-long dream and think it is a tad too late for you to join the Culinary Institute of America to start working in the industry, to climb the ladder to become a Chef, and move forward... It is still never too late to join the industry towards which you lean the most.
However, it is very necessary that you know here: whether a Chef or a CEO, you will never make it in the food industry without food knowledge! The food supplier and the food writer alike, both have to know what they are talking about. They both have to know the need of the recipient, from quality of food, to applications, to even shelf-life, safety and handling, they have to know what they are offering the market, or they will forever be behind and will never make it in the industry. For example, a food critic who knows and understands the complexities, the techniques and the different outcomes of 'brown sauce' for instance, can give a better critique than one who has no idea what the difference between thin and thick sauce is! The first will always have better critique, more reliable reviews, and will always have a better competitive edge over the latter.

It is not the question of whether or not you need to know food! It is a matter of the details to which you need to know. If your dream is to become a Chef, then you must know it all in great details. Unless you are a proven extra talented cook who conjures up concoctions that are extremely good and is thinking of running a restaurant the concept of which depends on your knowledge, then you most probably have to go the classic route of culinary education. However, each field has specific knowledge and skills that are required for it, and you can start there. You can start by acquiring this relative basic knowledge, then go on and build on it as you go. But do not be fooled into the notion that you can become a stock broker even if you do not have basic financial knowledge, or even more basic: math knowledge!! food is to the food industry what basic math is to the stock market. Do the math and acquire the basic knowledge, make sure that your knowledge continues to grow in line with the requirements of your defined and focused business activities.

Specialised Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to help you achieve your dream

Step 4 - Invest time Effort & Resources
"Dreaming is cheap, doing the work is what gets you there"
By now you know that nothing falls from the sky as a goose that lays golden eggs!! You have a defined concept that is workable, but you are still in theory phase: Dreaming! It is now that you have to put it into action. Now you have to do the work. It all starts with investing your time, effort and resources. From getting the knowledge, to establishing a business it is all an investment of time, hard work, perseverance  patience, and allocation of resources. Make wise choices, don't invest in anything that does not serve a purpose: look for opportunities that help you move a step forward in your action plan. Look for long-term gain instead of short-term fixes. Having a fabulous lasagna recipe does not a catering company operate! Understanding Italian Cuisine, on the other hand, opens up a world of opportunities: Italian restaurant, Italian cookbook, Italian food catering company, Italian cuisine cook show, Gourmet Italian Products...etc. you get the drift...

You might reach a point that you are already out there, say you have started a food blog. The market can become glittery with so much promise and so many opportunities. But you know the work that needs to be done from your side to achieve the defined goals that you have set for your business. Do not deter from your objectives just yet, do the work, and you will most likely get better opportunities at a later stage, because you actually are more experienced and qualified than when you first set out. The same applies to a small bakery, as another example. Don't go offering every single baked item on earth, wait test the market, create your specialties, find your niche! Be good at it. In fact, be the best that you can be at it! Then put it out there...

Short Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to increase your knowledge in a specific food topic: say a product.

Step 5 - Work extra hard for your concept to be up and running
Originality comes from truly having something to offer.
This step might sound very similar to the previous one, and while both pour into the same jug, they are slightly different.
Here, I am referring to your concept.. Your dream...
So you have worked extra hard, gone through all the steps, got the knowledge, and you feel that you have all it takes to make it in the market. You are about to hit the market with your concept... if your concept is a borrow-all from all resources, or copycat kind of concept that has no originality and depends on other businesses for ideas, then you honestly have nothing to offer, and are better off without an original business! Because establishing a business is just the first step in a very long journey. The market changes, and you have to adapt. You have to be able to come up with strategies when the market is down. You have to evolve develop, and continue to improve. You have to deliver! Remember there is a responsibility in starting a business. A responsibility towards your customers, towards your allocated resources and towards the market within which you operate!
If you are borrowing these ideas, you will eventually be side-lined and out. You will not be able to manage crisis, to be innovative, to bring in more customers, or to even offer real added value to the market.
Keep in mind, when you work super hard on your dream: you have done all the work you have what it takes, and only you know how to run it inside and out.
If you cannot relate to this, and believe originality is not necessary, then you are better off as a franchiser: someone who does not have to come up with concepts, rather one who carries out concepts that have already been created, and just do it well. Franchises usually have a set formula for work, that is guaranteed to work, all you need to do is follow it. Don't get me wrong, Franchising is a very good business practice. However and since you are riding on people's original ideas, you will have to have bigger capital to pay for their ideas and hard work. So if your allocated capital is not sufficient, you must find a way to be creative!

Step 6 - Continue to develop, improve & deliver your concept in the best practice possible. 
You have come this far, now you show the world that you mean business.
Just because you had a soft opening, just because you were covered by press, just because you have a few clients or many walking through your concept's doors, or just because some people are talking, does not mean that your job is done! It does not even mean that hard work is over! No, now is when you need to show the world that you mean business. That you are here to stay, to leave a mark, and to deliver the promise!
You must continue to develop your concept, you service and your offerings. You must continue to improve and offer the best service possible. You must continue to deliver and therefore to make revenue, in order to continue to exist as a business.
You must walk the talk.

Step 7 - Have a competitive edge by continuing to be unique, original and armed with real skill. Your concept has to add value or once the buzz is out your concept will be out too.
Finally, you must always have a competitive edge. Business is a very competitive arena, and its everyone's game. The customers are the final judge, so make sure to offer these customers a real good service. Don't ever assume that you can talk your way through offering a bad service! You have to offer in service the same miles in talk! The quality of your offering and service is what makes all the difference between one provider and another.

Quality is reflective on all aspects of your business. Quality reflects, strong focus, knowledge, skill, consideration, management, clear objectives, real effort to guarantee quality, originality, understanding of the market need...etc. This step is reflective on all that you have worked hard to achieve.
Quality is not necessarily offering foods made with pricey products. Quality can be in convenience, in customer service, in flavour, in experience, in credible reviews, in photos that speak...etc.
When you know what you are doing, where you are heading, what you are offering, and exactly how to do it all with flair, only then does your dream become a reality. It becomes your vehicle to achieve, then to evolve from Good to Great! Otherwise, a dream will remain as a very cute thought you can pass your time with every time you need a break from reality. Kind of like that chocolate bar in your office drawer!

Short Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to increase your knowledge in a specific food topic: say a product.

I know this was a heavy post, with a lot of reading involved! Not what you would expect in a food blog, however even in food there is work that needs to be done. For those of you who have asked me how to make your dreams come true, I hope that in this post you have found some answers, and that I was able to inspire you as well as point out the facts for you. Nothing is easy, but it is all worth it in the end.

My aim is to start a conversation here, I have put it from my perspective and set off with exploring some facts. I would love to hear from you guys, whichever end you are at: Industry Professionals or Aspiring Industry Professionals, and/or Dreamers. Please do share your experiences with us, give us any tips or advise from your experiences. Share your dream with us or any relative questions that you can think of... lets get this conversation started. You will be doing a huge favour for all those who have a dream and looking for ways to make it a reality. So please join the conversation and leave a comment before you go...

Hopefully your dream will also come true and you too will realise all your objectives ;)

Specialised Courses by Dima Sharif are designed to help you achieve your dream
Arabic Cooking Basics Course
I do explore all this and more in depth in my courses, so take that first step and join my courses. Click here for course details and currently available courses :)
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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Banofee Pie - A Classic that will brighten up your desserts buffets and delight your Palates...

Banoffee Pie is a dessert that will lighten up any desserts Buffet :)
Succulence and pure indulgence is the best way to describe this superb dessert

When talking about Succulence, pure indulgence, creaminess, smooth melt in your mouth goodness and all things rich and creamy, then the throne is by far for the Banoffee Pie. There is nothing richer, creamier, and more scrumptious than the combination of the melt-in-you-mouth bananas against the richness of caramel, the creaminess of whipped thickened cream and the flavour of dark chocolate shavings all in one bite! Heavens!

Balancing out the sweetness for a better experience...
I have had - on many occasions - an overly sweet Banoffee Pie that made me feel over sweetened and the experience wasn't exactly tasty! This dessert tends to be very rich and overly sweet, so to balance out the flavour, I season the caramel sauce by sprinkling some salt shavings on the sauce before adding the bananas. The salt brings out the flavour and balances the sweetness as it slightly cuts through the sweet caramel. I do not sweeten the thickened whipped cream as I find the pie to become overly sweet when the cream contains sugar. I simply whip it to soft peaks in a chilled bowl and whisk, then spread it over the already sweet pie. I also go for a puff pastry crust instead a short crust or a rich pie shell. Puff pastry is not sweetened, therefore allows you to savour this dessert without leaving you feeling overly sweetened! You can go for unsweetened Cocoa Powder dusted on top, or for dark chocolate shavings as I have done in the picture above. Remember the lighter the chocolate, the sweeter it tastes.

Mini Banoffee Pies
Presentation Matters...
As ever, you can serve this dessert in full pie portion, or in mini pies. Excuse the picture quality on the right, it is a very old photo, however, you get the drift. Just bake the cups in mini pie pan, or in a cupcake tin. You can also go for a deconstructed version of this pie in dessert cups.
It will turn out delicious however way you serve it. Just make sure to serve it cold with extra dark chocolate shavings on the side for those who wish to top up.

I make my Banoffee Pie using my Caramel Sauce Recipe. However you can go the traditional route of making Caramel sauce using condensed sweetened milk mixed with Golden Syrup.

Banoffee Pie
Serves 12
You Need
1 puff pastry sheet
1 recipe Caramel Sauce
1 pinch of Salt Shavings
3 ripe Bananas, Sliced
300ml Thickened Cream, Whipped
Large Dark Chocolate shavings or unsweetened Cocoa Powder for dusting

Place a large mixing bowl and the paddle attachment of your stand mixer in the freezer to chill.

Preheat your oven to 450F.
Roll out your puff pastry sheet to the desired size. Line the bottom and sides of a removable bottom pie plate. Carefully Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, without creating holes that go through the puff pastry. Holes will make the Caramel Sauce run out of the shell. Weigh down with baking beans and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes (unlike blind baking the duration is longer because this is puff pastry, and we don't want it to rise).. Remove the baking beans and cook for a further 7-10 minutes or until the shell is slightly golden. Cool the shell on a wire rack.

When the shell is cooled, make the Caramel sauce. Follow the instructions in this link. Fill the cooled shell with the caramel sauce and sprinkle lightly with salt shavings. Set aside.

Place the thickened cream inn your chilled bowl. Using the chilled paddle attachment, whip the cream on medium moving up to high speed until you reach soft peaks.

Arrange the bananas in any manner you like, and don't forget to salt the caramel first

Slice the bananas, and place over the salted caramel in any fashion you fancy. Immediately top the Bananas with the whipped thickened cream, spreading all over and covering all the bananas. This quick coverage will prevent blackening of the bananas.

Sprinkle thickly shaved dark chocolate or dust with unsweetened coco powder and serve cold with a cup of coffee! Ah! Goodness, creaminess succulent indulgence!

Goodness had never been better than that of a
Banoffee Pie!
Thanks for coming back, and hope you enjoyed this recipe. Give it a try, the bananas, caramel and sugar are just a classic combination that never goes out of fashion!

Serve this to your friends you will see the indulgent looks, hear the compliments and share the goodness. Don't forget to tell them about this blog. They will love you for it.

Let me know what you think of my version of this classic and very popular dessert, leave me a comment before you go ;)

Have a Caramel-Bananalicious Day!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Oreo Cheesecake - 2 treats in 1

Press this link for this Recipe in Arabic

There is the cheesecake and the Oreos: 2 treats in 1 dessert :)

I remember going back to Amman one summer and the whole city was raving about Oreo Cheesecake. At that time only one cafe was offering this succulent dessert, and people made the cafe a destination for devouring this cheesecake. Oreo Cheesecake is a delight by all means. It is two treats in one dessert. The Oreos, and the cheesecake are succulent on their own, when mixed together this dessert is just phenomenal!

For making this cheesecake I had gone for a cold version cheesecake instead of the baked one. But for the baked version, follow my Baked Cheesecake recipe, except substitute the Oreos for the biscuits in making the shell, and add quartered Oreos to the cheese filling before baking. I also always like a thick crust for my cheesecakes. This is a personal preference really. Feel free to go for a thinner crust if that is what you fancy. Finally, I prefer dark chocolate, but you can go for dark or milk chocolate to finish the cheesecake.

Oreo Cheesecake in individual Portions
Presentation & Variations

You can go for serving this cheesecake whole as in the picture above, or you can serve it deconstructed in mini dessert cups. You can even serve this fabulousness in individual portions as in the picture to the right.

For individual portions all you need to do is stack the layers inside a deep kitchen ring, and leave to set in the fridge. When ready to serve, heat a spatula and run it through the edges for easy release. Of course, it has to be served cold :)

TIP This is a fabulous recipe to make with the kids. It does not include any raw eggs, or other ingredients that can be threatening, nor does it require heat or any such potentially hazardous activity for kids.

Oreo Cheesecake
Serves 12
You Need
500g Oreo Cookies (or 250g for thinner crust)
2 tsp Gelatin Powder
60 ml warm water (not hot)
350g Mascarpone cheese
300 ml Half & Half or Light Cream
180g melted white chocolate
110g caster sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
200g mini Oreo Cookies
50g dark or milk chocolate, melted for drizzling

Feel free to go for a thinner crust if that's how you like your cheesecake

Line the base of your springform pan with baking paper. Set aside.

Place the 500g Oreos with their cream filling in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs that hold shape when squeezed. If the mixture appears too dry, and won't hold shape add enough softened butter to bind it.

Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of your lined springform. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the gelatin into the warm water and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

Oreo Cheesecake with Milk Chocolate Cover
Using an electric mixer, beat the mascarpone cheese, cream, sugar and vanilla until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the melted white chocolate and gelatin mixture until all is well incorporated. Then Add the mini Oreos and fold them into the cheese filling. Pour the cheese filling onto the cookie lined pan. Cover the pan and refrigerate for 3 hours. Drizzle the tops with the melted dark or milk chocolate. You can go for light drizzling or you can go for more chocolate to almost cover the tops. Place a few fresh berries on 1 side for garnish.

You can serve this cheesecake with caramel sauce if desired.

Serve cold and enjoy.

For a super easy Oreo Pudding Cups recipe follow this link.

Thank you for dropping by and reading this post. I hope you liked it, and that you will try it out. 
You know I love to hear from you so let me know what you think of this recipe...

Have a delicious Day!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Caramel Popcorn - How to Make & Elegantly Serve It...

Garnishing with Caramelised sugar lends an elegant touch to even the simplest desserts

"Do you happen to know how caramel popcorn is made? This might sound like a bizarre request, but it is my favorite.  I want to serve it to my friends, can you suggest how to make it look more attractive?..."                                                                                        -    Rasha S. email  

A few days ago, I received a request for posting a Caramel Popcorn recipe (parts of the email above). I thought it was a very good idea for a blog post, because who doesn't like Caramel Popcorn? It is delicious and you don't have to have it only when in the movie theater! I also happen to have some cool pictures of Caramel popcorn that is very well presented. So here is how you can make this delicious snack and how you can transform it into a beautiful dessert that you can serve in afternoon teas, or cocktails receptions as an out of the box option! 
Caramelised sugar
So read on ...

In my previous post, I had explored with you Caramelised Sugar and how using it to garnish desserts will transform even the simplest desserts to elegant and sophisticated ones. This is especially true in today's post. If you simply place your Caramel popcorn in mini cups, or even cones, and top it with a caramelised sugar shape, it will look fantastic, and you can serve it as part of your desserts buffet, or even as pass around in a cocktail event. 
Follow this link, for how to make Caramelised sugar shapes, make these shapes, and let them set, then use them to garnish your Caramel Popcorn.

Your Caramel Popcorn does not have to be the main dessert - while it still can be - it can also be part of the dessert or part of the dessert's garnish. For instance, you can use caramelised popcorn as a twist on Croquant; instead of using nuts, go for caramelised popcorn. This can be used as a filling or garnish for cakes & Cupcakes, pies or tarts, puddings and desserts in cups. This is a very versatile ingredient that only requires a bit of imagination to offer you such a unique twist to an ordinary dessert.

Caramel Popcorn
Serves 7 main or makes 7 cups of garnish
recipe adapted from Country Living Magazine

You Need

7 cups prepared popcorn (regular popped popcorn)
6 tbsp butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp baking soda

Prepare your popcorn as you normally would. Discard any kernels that did not pop and keep the popcorn warm while you make the Caramel.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter. Cook stirring over medium heat until the mixture boils. Stop stirring and continue to boil for 5 more minutes over medium heat. Once the 5 minutes are through, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sifted baking soda. Pour the caramel mixture over the prepared and warm popcorn and stir to coat.

Place the coated popcorn on a lined baking sheet in one layer and bake for 15 minutes in a preheated oven, 300F. Stir the mixture and return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Remove from the oven, and slide the baking sheet with the caramel over a wire rack. Leave to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, break up the caramelised popcorn, and place in mini shot glasses or dessert glasses, top with caramelised sugar garnish and serve as part of your desserts buffet or in a pass around fashion for cocktail events.

For another presentation option, make ahead a bownie pudding. Using a mini ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of the pudding and place in a mini ice cream cone. Drizzle the brownie pudding with simple chocolate sauce or ganache. Sprinkle Caramelised Popcorn on top of the chocolate sauce or ganache, and place a caramelised sugar garnish piece on top to finish. Serve cold. 

This is a dessert that works both for adults and children parties. It is one that everybody will love!!

Hope you enjoyed today's post, and that you will give it a try. Do leave me a comment before you go and let me know what you think. You know I love to hear from you :)

Come back again soon for more deliciousness and kitchen goodness...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Caramelised Sugar - Transforms desserts from simple to elegant & Sophisticated

Image Courtesy of La Vida en Buenos Aires

Let's talk caramelised sugar...
Even the simplest of desserts, can be transformed into an elegant and more sophisticated one simply by garnishing it with caramelised sugar shapes. I usually do this when I want my desserts to be very impressive. I caramelise some sugar, and either thread it over a lined baking tray for a free-form thread look, or even drop it in predetermined shapes. Sometimes, I even go the length of creating cages and sugar boxes to encase the dessert for a more sophisticated presentation. You won't believe how a simple dessert - even as simple as a chocolate cake - can be transformed into an upscale patisserie style dessert once caramelised sugar comes into the equation!

This is especially true for my upcoming recipe (as per request: How to make and serve Caramel Popcorn in events). So before posting the caramel popcorn recipe, I thought to write a post about Caramelised Sugar first, which can really change the look and feel of your desserts, and which I will later on use in creating a more exciting and elegant looking caramel popcorn fit to serve in Afternoon Teas, and even Cocktail Parties & Receptions!

So read on, I know you will love this post...

Nothing more beautiful than caramelised sugar. I find it fascinating!

Making Caramelised sugar
TIP  Do not let the idea of a thermometer throw you off! Most people are intimidated by recipes that call for using a thermometer, but you really shouldn't be. A thermometer like a knife is a very basic kitchen gadget that you need. From candy making to doneness of meats, a thermometer is one of your good friends in the kitchen. It can help you take your cooking to the next level. So make sure you own one, and go for recipes that call for specific temperatures, they usually produce foods that are perfectly done and consequently impressive.
Candy Thermometer

In the case of Caramelised sugar, we are talking about a candy thermometer as in the picture on the right.

With that said, you can still make caramelised sugar without the use of the the thermometer, rather using the colour to judge the desired doneness. However, if you are going after specific sugar stages, using a thermometer is your safest bet.

The caramelised sugar we are referring to for garnish in this recipe is a basic melted sugar, no additions, no water, no flavourings... just sugar granules in a pot heated to thread consistency (indicated by candy thermometer) or light caramel colour.

To Make  You will simply place the sugar in a heavy saucepan, and place it on medium heat until it melts and starts to get darker in colour.

Make sure to 

  • Be very careful when working with hot sugar. Sugar burns are very dangerous and painful.
  • Swirl the saucepan to  move the sugar, and do not stir it. 
  • Use a damp pastry brush to water down the sugar that gets stuck on the sides so it does not burn, or affect the consistency of your finished caramelised sugar.
  • Work on days that are not humid, humidity affects the sugar and the caramelised sugar won't turn out or will become too wet and melt on days when humidity is over 60%.
  • Sugar continues to cook even after removing from the heat therefore continues to darken. Make sure to remove it from the heat a few minutes before reaching the desired colour.
  • Work fast with caramelised sugar because it is very temperature sensitive and sets very fast.
  • Be very careful with set sugar, as it is very fragile and easy to break.

How to wash sown sugar with a damp pastry brush

Once your sugar is caramelised, and reaches the thread consistency, you can go ahead and drizzle it (very carefully into the desired shapes - onto a work surface lined with baking paper. Leave the sugar to set in a cool and dry place, then use these shapes to garnish your deserts.

To make a caramelised sugar cage  use a muffin tin. Turn it upside down and spray the bottom-side-up muffin holes with oil spray. Drizzle the caramelised sugar all around the hole in what looks like a woven bowl of sugar threads. Leave to set, carefully remove and use for garnish.

Once set and done, the sugar will be very fragile, so be careful when handling it. Use it to top desserts, or place on the side of desserts for a unique presentation. You can use these caramelised sugar shapes to garnish, cakes & cupcakes, desserts in cups, pies & tarts, or even ice creams..

Free-form dropped caramelised sugar

Very simple, but very impressive. I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about caramelised sugar and how to use it in creating unique dessert presentations. Make sure to drop by again soon for more fabulous foods, presentations and of course mouthwatering recipes. Meanwhile do let me know what you think of caramelised sugar? Do you think you will be using it to dress your desserts from now on? Keep the conversation going, leave us a comment :))

My next post will be on :  How to Make & Elegantly Serve Caramel Popcorn. 
Yes! Making a favourite classic even the more fabulous!!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Caramel Sauce - Sweetness!

Home-made Caramel Sauce

I have received a few emails requesting a Caramel Sauce recipe that can be used for desserts and especially for ice cream. I use this sauce for making my home-made Caramel sauce which I use to drizzle over any dessert to transform it from really good to succulent.

This sauce is perfect for ice cream, and ice cream desserts such as a Banana Split. You can use it in Bannoffee Pie too. Or to drizzle over cupcakes, bakes, loaves, baked fruits... I even use it as a caramel topping for my Chocolate Fudge Pie, which you are going to love..
A must have recipe for all the sweetness lovers :)

Use this sauce as a topping to Chocolate Fudge Pie
Caramel Sauce
You Need
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/3 cup double cream
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp Salt

Tips Use a heavy saucepan, because sugar tends to burn fast and heavy saucepans have better heat distribution qualities and usually no hot spots. Also go for a pan that is lightly coloured on the inside so that you can see how dark your sugar gets.

In a medium sized heavy saucepan combine the brown sugar and cornstarch. Add 1/4 cup water and mix, add the cream, the corn syrup and the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until the mixture boils and is bubbly. Continue to cook, stirring for 2 minutes extra. Remove from heat and cool slightly. You can store in jars and refrigerate for 3 days.

This sauce can be served warm or cold.

Goodness, Sweetness just typing this recipe makes me want to go make some and devour it with Pecan Ice cream or over chocolate cake!! Aha, what was my mantra again?! 'Shall eat no sweet'?!!!!! :(

Give it a try and you are going to be holding on to this recipe, I tell ya! 
Meanwhile and before you go, do leave me a comment and let me know what you think of Caramel Sauce? Are you the Chocolate Fudge type or the Caramel Sauce one?

Enjoy your day :)

Monday, 10 September 2012

Brown Lentil Salad - Absolutely Marvelous!

Brown Lentil Salad

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere." 
                                                                                                                                 - Carl Sagan

Lentils are a regular on my menu! I have always liked lentils and always went for these dried beans for variation in my menus. I am hoping that with today's post, I can inspire you to use lentils in your cooking more often. Because lentils are super foods that are super good for you and also because they taste delicious and offer variation to the same, repetitive, everyday food prep, which causes you to get bored of cooking and your family to be bored of having the same foods over and over. Better still is the fact that lentils can be a super stylish part of your plate. Instead of placing your sliced fillet of any meat over the old and plain mash, why not go for a more creative bed of brown or green lentils that will look gorgeous underneath but will also taste Divine?!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Send Your Love In A Lunch Box - Back to School Lunch Box Planner

Back to School Lunch Box Planner

The past week had been all about getting the kids in the mood for school. Creating back to school excitement, is not easy especially when the kids grow enough to understand that school means routine and work, while vacations are all about doing fun things! So we try... we take them to choose fun school gadgets, the bags, fun pens and pencils, cool shoes and trainers, the uniforms... and what have you... I remember when I was a student, this was the most fun part of the going back to school and readjusting to routine bit. But somehow today's kids are not as easy to please. It seems that if the pen has no buttons to click, no HD screen, or a smart option where it writes what you say, the children are simply not interested!!

'A pencil is lame mum" my son told me as we shopped! "Why do we need a pencil, when we can swipe on an iPad?"... I can understand where they come from in the sense that this is what they are growing with. Life is different. For us, no such option was available, and therefore such conversation was non-existent! How do you convince a child with iPads, iPods, PlayStation, Smart TVs, and all things electronic and smart that a pencil is important? Their whole perspective is very different from ours that an ordinary conversation and our for granted thoughts are simply not animated enough! Therefore, not interesting, lame and make no sense!

It is in the Lunch box that I found refuge from all the smart conversations. I am glad that we do not look for a talking apple, or a battery charged piece of cheese to make the lunch box interesting! And I am hoping that such day is not upon us anytime soon. Because if the cow was to become a smart dispensing machine, then we are in trouble! If we will feed on an electronic swipe bread that needs not be ingested, and goes straight through to our brain we will become idle to say the least! And if food was no longer a necessity as part of our social existence, then what would keep the notion that people are social? Virtual realities and social networks?! I am glad that somethings remain good. I am glad in this sense that we have the non-so-smart lunch box!

The lunch box, is to many parents a stressful part of the school routine. 'What shall I put in the lunch box?', 'They never eat the food!', 'Looking for new ideas to keep the lunch box interesting.'.... For that reason, a couple of years ago, I wrote an article for E-zine as part of their back to school special. In this article I have put together a 5-day planner for the lunch box. I have put down a collection of recipes that are very easy to make and convenient as in, they can be made ahead, frozen and reheated when needed. I have also included tips on how to keep the kids interested in the food in their lunch box, so that they actually eat it. I have decided to share that article with you here this year, because like the pencil argument, good food is important and the lunch box is a very good place to start reinforcing this thought. Instead of always going for the packaged, coloured, all-attractive processed foods, it is very important to teach kids the importance of home-made food. The goodness of good quality and natural foods. As well as the the importance of choosing healthy foods over the packaged, colourful, processed and high in sugar counterparts. So where do we start?

Lunch Box General Guidelines 
  • Keep it Balanced   
You need to make sure to include a balanced meal and snack for your kids to enjoy at school. Balanced means including all food types, focusing on vitamins & proteins, and less on fatty & sugary foods.

  • Keep them Hydrated  
Water is essential, and so is a bit of juice. Juice keeps kids stay hydrated and also provides for energy needed to carry on through the day. Opt for natural juices that have no added sugar.
(Sugary foods ruin kids palates, making the natural sugars in fruits not sweet enough for them and therefore always choosing confections for sweet instead.)

  • Pay Attention to Presentation  
Kids are drawn to colours & shapes. Take the extra step and use cookie cutters for instance to cut out sandwiches. Make sure that their lunch looks visually as appealing as processed foods are.
  • Prepare small finger foods   
Children prefer smaller size foods. They do not like diving into huge portions, or messy food for that matter. So keep it small, less messy and fast to eat. Remember they have to juggle eating and playing at break time. They are most certainly going to choose playing over eating. If their meal does not require a lot of work, time and effort to enjoy, then they are most likely to have it all. However, if eating their food is going to mean missing out on playing, to sit and spoon feed themselves, they are most likely to skip it. 

Guaranteed success – there are 2 ways to guarantee lunch box success: 
  1. Let the kids choose   Give them some options and have them choose what they like. Children are more likely to eat their food if they are not surprised, and if they were in on deciding. Discussing the options with them ahead of time, means they know what to expect, and therefore will eat their choice. 
  2. The ‘Something New’ approach  Make a deal with your child to include ‘Something Old/ Familiar’ that they really like, if they promise to have ‘Something New’ that you choose. This is a good approach for getting your children to try new food. Go easy on them, and introduce new flavours, realistically and gradually.
For more on raising kids with healthy eating habits and positive attitudes towards food, please press this link to my 'Parents Guide for Healthy Eating'. With all these tips and guidelines, you are definitely going to see results. Add a message in the lunch box like “Enjoy :) - Love You :) - I am Proud of You :) - Yummy :) ...etc” and you will be reminding your child how much you love them.

Dima's 5-day Lunch Box Meal Planner

This is my suggested 5-day lunch box Meal Planner, which you can use as is, or use as a guideline and a reference. Feel free to to mix and match and go for options that you know your kids love and enjoy. In this planner I have included 9 recipes that are popular with kids for you to try out, hoping that lunch boxing will become an enjoyable activity rather than a dreadful chore! All these recipes are simple to prepare and do not require much effort. They are good enough to serve at lunch for the rest of the family, which takes that off your backs too!

The Recipes ...

Simple Pizzas  
Cut through large burger buns and separate bottoms & tops. Spread with 1 tsp ready-made pizza or tomato sauce. Top with black olives, sliced fresh mushrooms. Sprinkle with Oregano and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in preheated oven till cheese is melted. You can add any sliced vegetables to this pizza for a vegetarian delight. You can even add shreds of chicken, chopped salami, chopped turkey...etc for a meaty pizza.

Egg Rolls
To make 2 egg rolls, in a small bowl, beat 2 eggs add 1 tbsp milk or cream, add chopped chives or dried oregano. Sprinkle with salt & little black pepper. Heat 1 tsp butter in a skillet, and add ½ egg mixture, spread like would a crepe or pancake. Cover and cook till cooked through. As soon as egg is cooked through transfer to a plate, top with turkey & shredded cheese, and roll. Repeat with the remaining half.

Chicken Spring Rolls
Make chicken filling: heat 2 tsp vegetable oil, add 1 crushed clove of garlic, 2 green onions finely chopped and stir until softened but not browned, add1 small carrot shredded finely (optional) and 150g chicken mince and stir. Cook till chicken is cooked through. 
Place 1 tbsp across 1 square spring roll sheet. Tuck sides in and roll out. Deep fry or oven bake rolls until lightly browned, drain. Serve with ketchup or sweet & sour sauce. 
You can prepare ahead, by preparing the rolls and filling them, then freezing them, till needed. Fry or bake the quantities needed only. 

Sausage Rolls
Use cocktail sausages for this recipe. Cut 2 ready-rolled puff pastry sheets in half lengthways. Cut squares big enough to cover a cocktail sausage. Place sausage in the middle of square, brush one side of pastry with beaten eggs and roll pastry to cover the sausage. 
Line a baking sheet with baking paper, spray lightly with oil. Place prepared rolls on baking sheet and brush tops with beaten eggs. Bake in preheated oven (400 F) till golden. Serve with ketchup.

Mini Chicken Pies 
Worth all the little extra work!! Preheat oven to 375F. in a saucepan combine 200g chicken breast fillets with 1 ½ cups chicken stock. Cook, covered about 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat, reserve ¾-cup stock, and chop the chicken finely. 
In a saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter, add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and 1 celery stalk, finely chopped. Cook until soft. Add 1 tbsp plain flour and stir to mix. Gradually add stock stir till boiled and thickened. Add chicken and chopped parsley, and stir 1 tbsp cream. Let cool. Grease 2 (12-hole) muffin pans. Cut 48 rounds (about 6 cm diameter) from 6 ready rolled puff pastry sheets. Press 24 rounds into each of the muffin tin holes. Divide chicken mixture into them. Brush cases with eggs and top with the remaining 24 rounds and press edges with fork to seal. Cut a small cross on top of each mini pie to allow steam to get out. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned. 
Can be frozen and reheated.

Sheppard Pie
The same as the chicken pies, except change the filling. 
For Sheppard’s Pie filling: in a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil , add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and 1 clove of garlic, crushed. Cook till soft but not browned. Add 300g minced meat and cook stirring occasionally until browned all over. Add 1 can peeled chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh parsley, 1 tbsp tomato paste and 1 small cup of chicken stock. Cover the pan and bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, and cook for a few minutes until liquids reduce. 
Transfer to blender and blend ever so lightly (to give the meat a smoother texture that is more appealing with toddlers). Divide the mixture between the pastry cases as in chicken pie. Top with boiled potatoes & carrots (finely chopped). Top all with pastry round. And continue as in Chicken pies.

Zaatar & Cheese Swirls 
Zaatar can be bought in most supermarkets at the herbs section. You can use cheddar cheese or parmesan & mozzarella cheese for the cheese swirls. 
Preheat the oven to 375 F, cover a baking sheet with baking paper & spray lightly with oil. Brush a ready rolled puff pastry sheet with olive oil. Sprinkle top with zaatar or cheese or both and roll into a large sausage. Cut the roll into circles. Place the circles, swirl side up onto prepared baking sheet , press lightly to show swirls. Brush tops with little olive oil. Bake till puffed and golden. 
Store in an air-tight container.

Chocolate Dipped Fruits
Melt some chocolate over double boiler, but do not over heat. Once melted remove from heat, and stir to cool for 3 minutes. Dip desired fruits ½ way through in melted chocolate and place on baking paper sheet to dry. You can sprinkle dipped fruits with desiccated coconuts, or crushed cookies. Can be done with white, milk or dark chocolate.

Raisin cookies
The ingredients: 100g butter, 100g cream cheese, 100g caster sugar, 75g flour, handful raisins, 65g white chocolate chopped (optional). 

Preheat the oven 350 F. Top a baking sheet with baking paper & spray lightly with oil. 
In large bowl, cream butter & cream cheese together. Add sugar, and beat until fluffy. Gradually add the flour. Fold in raisins & chocolates if using. The dough will be soft. Drop heaped tsps of the mixture on to prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. 

Cool cookies on the sheet 5 minutes before removing. (you can substitute raisings with any dried fruits)

I hope that you have enjoyed this post, and that it will help you plan the lunch box meals for your kids in a more fun and exciting way. 

The Grown up's back to school Special
Learn all about your Kitchen & Cooking

Since it is back to school season, I did not want you to miss out. So staying in spirit, I have started posting a 'Kitchen Classified' Series on my facebook page, where I introduce you to your kitchens and basic cookery. From ingredients, to techniques, cooking methods, variations to even pots and pans, and different ovens...etc, all are explained there, one item at a time. So make sure to like my page and check it out regularly, am positive you will find the information useful and will help you tremendously in your kitchens. Don't forget to like and share ;)

As ever, I love to hear from you, so do leave me a comment before you go and drop by again for more kitchen fun...

Happy Lunch Boxing!