Showing posts with label Kitchen Tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kitchen Tips. Show all posts

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Interesting, Interactive, Fun & Sweet. Isn't that what entertaining is all about?


Interesting eating experiences will be carved in memory. So why choose to be forgotten?
Experiment and serve unique eating experiences and you shall never be bored preparing... and everyone will have fun eating ;)

That night at Bushman's I also tried kangaroo meat for the first time and have to say it was delicious. Do try the Kangaroo loin, definitely different!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Set A Beautiful Table In Less Than 5 Minutes - Simple, Natural & Gorgeous! + a list of charities to support

Simple yet gorgeous table set up
by Fiona Archibold

Setting the table is the one place where you show your personal style, where you transform the hard work that took place in the kitchen into a painting of sorts, painted by the colours of your food, plates and gorgeous set up. This is after all where you will display all your tasty masterpieces and set the mood :)

Some like elaborate, full, with a gazillion detail tables, and some like it simple, clean and minimal. Everyone has their own style, and at times, different occasions, themes and moods demand different styles. However when it comes to cutlery and crockery, some can really limit how we set the table, while other types are easier to work with. Watch as food stylist Fiona Archibold shares her tips on choosing cutlery and crockery and while she is at it, she will also demonstrate a simple yet gorgeous table set up that you can have all ready in less than 5 minutes, and which is adaptable to different moods and styles. She explains how we can find inspirations and ideas for gorgeous table set ups simply by....
Let's watch together and see...

Monday, 23 June 2014

A - Z of Minced Meat & unfortunately including Pink Slime!

has your mother ever told you that if you want to use minced meat (AKA ground meat), you should mince your own? I know many people (myself included) whose mothers are against buying ready ground meat from supermarkets, and instead instruct us to mince the meat ourselves, or at least, pick a proper cut of meat and ask the butcher to mince it in front of us. In fact, I was chatting with a friend yesterday who happened to tell me that her mother insists she does not buy ready-ground meat and instead grind it herself. What is the big deal? Well, there is a reason why many people are not too excited about purchasing ready-packed minced meat, however that does not mean we should steer away from minced meat sold in supermarkets. We just have to choose right. Read on as I explain...

Before we begin - and since we are at it - why don't I let you in on all things minced meat in this post? If you are beginning in the kitchen, this will be useful information, and if you have been cooking for a while, you might find some useful information here too...

Minced Beef / Ground Beef
The Mince
Minced meat is simply a meat that had been passed through a mincing machine to break it into small pieces. Ground meat and minced meat are eventually the same, however some argue that technically there are a few minor differences because the two processes are different (grinding and mincing). You really do not need to worry about such details, because functionally the both are the same and used in the same manner for cooking.

Why and what do we mince?
After the animal is slaughtered, it is cut up into different pieces (known as the cuts), these different pieces and because they come from different parts of the animal, have different properties especially where cooking is concerned. Some cuts are fattier, some meaty, some with bone, some are tougher and others are tender... Therefore, the different cuts have become synonymous with different preparations, for instance it is a crime to use a tenderloin in stews, because this is the most tender part of the animal and you do not want to overcook it. While tougher cuts of meat can benefit from prolonged cooking and so on. As mentioned in my previous post (Your Guide to Cooking Meat To Perfection - Answering your most frequently asked questions) mincing is one way to tenderise meat, therefore it is usually made out of the tougher cuts (again not the tenderloin!), which enables us to experience such tougher meats more pleasantly. Minced meat is also in a way a means to maximise on the meat content of a recipe, as less quantity goes a longer way when using mince (and we are already using the less expensive cuts to create the mince). This is especially true in the case of using the mince in soups, with rice, in lasagne with spaghetti...etc. Therefore minced meat had become a main cut that is very frequently used.

Ready-packaged mince is usually made using the cheap cuts of meat, such as the front shoulders, the flank, and at times could also include scraps of trimmings from other parts that are leftover from creating other cuts such as steaks. That is of course provided that you are dealing with a trusted butcher, and the meat comes from a trusted source, because other things can certainly be used in the making of mince, especially true when you consume meats that are not organic (more on this below) .

Mince comes in different grades and therefore in different prices. These grades are usually determined by the fat content of the mince, as you know there is the full fat version and the other low fat version. It is important to know that fat has to be part of mince as there is no naturally fat-free meat. Fat usually adds flavour to meat, and in the case of minced meat, it is important as it prevents the meat from clumping together as you cook, because the fat will help keep the meat small and separated. Lower fat versions are desirable though for creating meat balls, that you want to clump together and not break. On the other hand, excessive fat content, does no good for flavour nor texture, and with such meat, you are most likely going to have to drain the meat while cooking and so on. Because using less fat in the mince mixture means using more meat, the lower fat versions are more pricy than the fat-laden counterparts.

With that said, by lower fat mince I mean mince that's created by mincing real meat, where the fat content is determined by how much of the excess animal fat that surrounds the meat is actually minced with the meat. I am in no way referring to processed low fat meat here!

Then you will find the organic minced meat, which is becoming more and more in demand these days, especially for people who are more health conscious and do not want to consume chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, additives and so on. The "certified-organic" label means that the animal was reared to organic standards (which include all aspects of the animal life: rearing, feeding, conditions of life, health care, transportation, slaughter and any post-slaughter handling). Organic meats can be slightly more expensive than other meats (not always), but as mentioned above organic meats are real natural meats, where they do not go under any chemical processing nor do they include any additives or processed food alternatives, therefore are in fact more expensive to produce, however are the most trusted for purchasing from the supermarket. Bear in mind that here is a situation where 'you get what you pay for'.

(please note that I do recommend you go organic, at least where meat is concerned, and also recommend OBE Organic meats, including their minced meat as they are clean and really outstanding.)

Uses of Minced Meat
Delicious Kofta rolls made with OBE Organic Minced Meat
Minced meat is used in a variety of applications. Perhaps the most popular is in making hamburgers, as well as a variety of sauces such as chilies, ragus and meat sauce for pasta (lasagne, bolognese...), meatballs, as stuffing for various leaves and vegetables, topping for pizza, famously used in tacos as well, and in meatloaf, as well as being regularly used as a garnish in Arabic cuisine, where it is pan fried and poured over many rice dishes, hummus...etc. Not to forget the best loved Koftas and Kebabs. The cut is also used in soups, and mixed in with rice... Really one of the most versatile cuts.

How to mince meat?
While a meat grinder is the most optimal way to produce excellent ground meat in a variety of textures (rough ground, medium ground and fine mince), some do not own the machine and some find it too laborious. Really it is a matter of passing the meat through the grinder, and it allows you to control the content of the mince, and ensure using better quality cuts. However, and to a certain extent, I do understand the modern fussiness about time, ease of prep and magically appearing dishes on the family table. If it makes it any easier you can use a food processor to grind your meat.

You must cut the meat into smaller cubes before processing, this ensures a more homogeneous texture to your mince. Also part freeze the cubes before processing to ensure you do not end up with a paste. So lay the cubes onto a lined sheet and freeze right until the edges firm up and start to freeze (about 20 minutes in the home freezer). Once ready, process the cubes in batches (not all at once), pulsing instead of continuously processing. About 15-20 pulses should do the job. Then either use the mince immediately to cook, or immediately wrap and freeze for a handy option later on.

Safety First
When it comes to meat, safety is of the essence, because meats can become contaminated and pass on many diseases that can at time be life-threatening! Therefore when handling meat, you should always make sure:

  • Not to refreeze thawed meats.
  • Keep meats cold in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
  • Never allow meat to come to room temperature except once, if you must, right before cooking.
  • Always make sure all work surfaces are clean, as well as your hands before, during and after handling meats.
  • Cross-contamination is usually the culprit of most foodborne illnesses. This means using utensils and boards for handling raw meats, then for handling vegetables, or foods that are not going to be cooked. Therefore always use separate boards for meats, vegetables, raw and cooked foods. Knives have to be thoroughly washed in hot soapy water after handling meat and before being used for cutting anything else.
  • Meats have to be cooked thoroughly, 72C / 160F to ensure all bacterial contamination is killed.

Now that we have the facts and perfect scenarios covered, let's get back to the real world! And allow me to say, without any introductions, What The Hell is wrong with today's food industry? The other day, I was appalled to read that "Pink Slime" is making a come back! The industry are justifying that by saying that meat prices are rising and therefore they have to supply cheaper alternatives!! Focus here is on the word "alternatives"! No wonder many people are going vegan these days. I know most look at those as buzzwords, however to some the issues are so severe that they prefer to go off meat than to support such ludicrous industry! Hormones, antibiotics, post-antibiotic era, chemicals, pink slime.... all that is left really is for them to feed us manure and blame it on rising prices! And who knows we may just have! And this alone is reason why we should not consume anything that is not organic.

Pink slime, otherwise known as LFTB (lean finely textured beef), is a beef product that produces what is referred to as the lean finely textured beef. This product is an additive that is used as a filler to reduce the fat content of ground beef. It is produced by processing low-grade beef trimmings and other meat by-products such as cartilages, connective tissues and sinew that contain fat and a small amount of lean beef. The process mechanically separates the fat from the lean beef, and the recovered beef is then heated and treated with gaseous ammonia, or citric acid to kills bacterias such as e-coli, salmonella and others... This gassing process when in contact with water produces ammonium hydroxide which wreaks havoc in our bodies!
Pink Slime!

Pink slime is believed to have been used as pet food and cooking oil, and then been approved for the public "in limited consumption" in 2011 before it became used everywhere, without the need for any labeling!! The whole issue was brought to public attention in 2012 when ABC News ran a series of reports about the product, including statistics that approximately 70% of ground beef sold in the US supermarkets contained pink slime. Not only that, but that many ready-sauces and products that contained beef were in fact using the pink slime alternative. From then on, the whole issue spiraled and the whole industry was debating the issue, and ultimately many companies and organisations discontinued use of pink slime and manufacturers had to shut down 2 of their 5 production units and law suits were all over the place, some of which continue. It is really a shame that such practices are not yet brought to the forefront and confronted. 

If we are to consume any alternatives, we have the right to be notified! And we have the right to choose whether or not we want to consume any!

There really was nothing wrong with the way
our mothers and grandmothers cooked.
But there is a world of wrong in our food today!
If that is advancement, call me backward thinking!
No wonder our mothers keep telling us to grind meat ourselves, and only purchase meat from trusted butchers and farmers. They want to make sure that we are actually consuming meat (if we must) and not some reconstructed alternative of rubbish perfumed with chemicals, sounding like the perfect health option, when it in fact is hazardous!

This is all the reason why organic is really not a buzzword, a trend, or a stylish fashion statement! Organic today is a must, and we must take back charge and be in control of what we eat. So yes, I do understand the modern fussiness over time, but I also understand how the shortcuts can have severe consequences. 

Slow down and cook from scratch, go organic, know the people who grow your food, go to trusted sources and support them to continue, and take charge of your and your family members' health!

If you are living in the UAE, then you don't have to worry about purchasing minced meat from the supermarket. Because OBE Organic beef which are sold in Carrefour (both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi), as well as Geant and Le Marche... are all organic and do not use any such additives. With organic meats you don't have to worry about such practices and OBE Organic farmers care about your health which is why they are adamant about supplying the market only with "organic beef". With a trusted source such as they, you can rest assured that you are eating clean!

Read more about pink slime, I am not sure what is the status of its use here in Dubai, would love to know if any of you have any information about that. Also stay on the safe side and make your own sauces, they taste better anyway, and the process is actually fun! When it comes to meat, always best to consume organic meats and in moderation.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Your Guide to Cooking Meat To Perfection - Answering your most frequently asked questions

OBE Organic Halal is an Australian meat brand that offers our market
a choice for excellent quality, 100% organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, halal beef.
You can find their amazing meat cuts (variety of steak cuts, cubes as well as minced meat)
in Dubai & Abu Dhabi (Carrefour, Geant, Le Marche...)

I love brands with a story, a philosophy that becomes their mission. I have huge respect for such brands, and they become my brands of choice. Because while the industry today is all for mass-production, ill-practices and inhumane approaches, which are far easier and more profitable to follow; these brands operate in such a market with their eyes on tomorrow (what becomes of the world and us if we continue with those practices), and therefore go about their business responsibly. OBE Organic are such brand that I absolutely admire and personally recommend to you, because they are determined to remain organic, to treat the animals humanely in the set up that nature intended them to be. Most importantly, because while they are a brand specialised in meats, they understand that eating meat is a personal choice and always recommend that meat is consumed responsibly. That is something I respect, as just because we do something for business it does not necessarily mean we do it at all costs! Ethics, responsibility and the wellbeing of all should never be over looked.
Watch the video on this link and see for yourself.

Therefore and while I am their brand ambassador, I want you to know that when it comes to OBE Organic, they are the brand of my choice and one that I personally (not just as a business brand) recommend that you choose too.

OBE Organic not only want to supply you with superior quality organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, Halal beef, but they also want to help you cook the meat to perfection and give you a collection of recipes that are delicious and good for you which you can easily replicate at home. They also want to assist you with general tips on healthy eating to empower you to take charge of your health, and since Ramadan is just around the corner, they also want to help you remain healthy and not sacrifice your health during Ramadan. Therefore we are teaming up again to do just that, and will be posting health tips, along with fast and easy recipes on my and OBE Organic's Social networks (see their links below this post) hoping that you will enjoy and benefit from them. And today we start with this post on how to cook your meat to perfection, as many of you have asked for advise in that regards.

So in today's post I will be giving you some information about cooking meat and how to perfect it. Included are the doneness stages and how to judge each, different cuts and best cooking methods, as well as tenderising meats (which is really not necessary, but among the questions you guys have sent me). I will use steaks as an example here, but these tips work on any other cuts of beef.

Do read on, and I hope you find the information useful. Do please let me know if any more information is needed or if you have any further questions regarding cooking meats...

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic
There are many elements that control the cooking time and the resulting doneness and texture of cooked meats.

The cooking time of meat is affected by:

  • The starting temperature - this refers to both the actual temperature of the meat right before cooking (room temperature of course cooks faster than cold meat), and also refers to the actual temperature of the cooking pans and/or oven) Searing hot pans will cook the meat faster and caramelise its natural sugars (which if prolonged charr the meat) and the same applies to ovens.
  • The number of times the meat is flipped during cooking, as well as the number of times the oven door is opened, or lids are lifted - all affect the heat and cause drops in the temperature of meat. (Of course this is sometimes required and necessary, it all depends on the final outcome you are looking to achieve. (more on this below)
  • The meat's fat content - you might think the meat's fat content speeds up the cooking process, when on the contrary, in this case it slows down the cooking process as it is less conductive than the meat's muscle fiber. Therefore fattier cuts will require longer time to cook, and mature fatty animals are more tolerant to over-cooking than young lean ones.
  • Filleted meats VS meats on the bone - while the minerals in the bones double its conductivity, the hallow or honeycomb interiors of the bones make it less conductive and work as an insulator. Therefore meat cuts on the bone take more time to cook. Usually we find that the most succulent pieces of meat are those closest to the bone, this is because closest to the bone the meat cooks slower and is usually less done due to reduced subjection to heat and therefore come out more tender and juicier than any of the surrounding parts.
  • How the surface of the meat is treated - Basted or naked, the meat evaporates its moisture through the surface. This evaporation cools the meat and slows down the cooking process. If the meat is coated by a film of oil, this forms a barrier which will hold back the evaporation and slightly speeds up the process.
Say the temperature is covered, and you have made sure all is hot and sizzling ready for the meat to start cooking, how do you judge the doneness of the meat?

While there are many gadgets to tell you the exact temperature of the meat (indicating the exact doneness), such as internal temp. thermometers, these actually work best on big cuts of meat and not so well on the smaller cuts. Thermometers are best used for roasts, while your eyes and fingers are your best bet when it comes to the smaller cuts. Another method is cutting through the meat and checking its colour and the flow or loss of fluid. Yes the most traditional methods are the best methods for judging the doneness.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic

Stages of Meat Doneness:
As meat cooks, it goes through 4 main stages of doneness. All four stages are ones where the meat is cooked, but different people choose their preferred doneness differently. These are the main stages of meat doneness:

  • Blue Meat - the surface is cooked but the centre is just warmed through, remaining more or less unchanged. This meat is soft to the touch, feeling exactly the same as the muscle between your thumb and index finger when its totally relaxed. The meat is red at the centre and secretes little to no coloured juice, except some colourless fat that had melted during searing. Note that when tasted the centre feels warm to the mouth and never cold. Cold is raw meat, not blue.
  • Rare Meat - will be more resilient when poked, as some of its proteins will have coagulated. when poked, it will feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when the two are stretched apart. As it cooks, red juices will start to appear as they begin to be secreted from the meat. The centre will be red, slightly lighter than that of blue meat (not a huge difference though) and will also be slightly warmer than blue centres. This stage is the most popular doneness, while still considered raw or too "bloody" for many. 
Note that the juices that run out of meat are not blood, therefore "bloody" is not a literal term. Meats are always drained after slaughter, therefore do not contain substantial amounts of blood when purchased. The red juices are the meat's own fluids. Meat contains fluids, which are a mixture of water and myoglobin (which is a component of its proteins). These are secreted during cooking. Myoglobin is responsible for the meat's red colour. Therefore, as it is secreted with the fluids during cooking, the juices are tinted red due to its presence. So these juices are not blood, but in fact a mixture of water and proteins.

  • Medium - done Meat - will be firmer to the touch as the collagen in its connective-tissue will have shrunk during cooking. When poked it should feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when the two are squeezed together. You will start seeing red juice droplets appearing at the surface. When cut through the centre will be pink and hot. Many people, prefer this stage of doneness, although many cuts of meat such as the tenderloin (fillet) tend to be drier at this stage and are best experienced a little less done. However, it is worth knowing that at this stage the meat will have reached the required temperature for most microbes to be killed. It is therefore safer to have meat at this stage especially when not sure of the source.
  • Well-done Meat - at this stage, all of the meat's proteins have been denatured and is therefore evidently stiffer to the touch. Little juices, if any, are visible and both the juices and centre of the meat are dull in colour (dull brown or grey). While all the microbes will have been killed at this stage, the meat is dead too! The only way to revive this meat and restore a certain degree of its tenderness is prolonged gentle cooking which will loosen up its connective tissues.
Note that microbes are not a huge concern when the meat is purchased from a trusted source and is in good condition. As long as that is true and that it is kept in proper conditions after purchase (refrigerated, consumed within a couple of days; or frozen and consumed within a couple of month; never defrosted and refrozen; and never allowed to reach room temperature except once, right before cooking) then microbes should not really be a concern. This of course is more controllable at home, than when dining out.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic
What about the texture? 
We all know texture is of the essence to any eating experience. It is one of the make or break factors for a good eating experience or a bad one. Who wants to chew on a piece of dry meat, or a chewy piece that will chew forever in the mouth?! Who chooses a piece of wood for meat? No one!

We all want to enjoy our food, we love textures that work with us, that are not difficult for our mouths. We like juiciness, tenderness and even a crunch, but we do not enjoy the in-betweens or the over the border! So when we cook meats, we have to think of texture, and texture is affected by the condition of the meat, however, more so by the cooking and doneness of meat. Not all cuts tolerate over-cooking, and some will be ruined by such practices. You will not have tasted meat properly, until you have tasted it at the right doneness. A tenderloin for instance should never be had a tad over rare, maybe medium rare if you must but best savoured blue. Otherwise it will be too dry and it will lose its characteristic tenderness. Until you have tried it that way, you have not yet enjoyed a fillet steak. A ribeye, for example, is one of the most flavoursome cuts, because of its marbling (the internal fats) that lends it some extra flavour. However because its a naturally fattier cut, it benefits from being cooked well. However never well-done, max medium-well. While the rump is best treated like a fillet, had rare, or max medium-rare. A striploin is best medium-rare to medium and always best to start the cooking on the fat side, then turn and let it cook in its own fat. You see, this is how steaks are delicious, and you must have noticed that no cut of steak should ever be had well-done! In fact, red meats are best never had well-done, except when cubes are used in slow cooking! Slow-prolonged cooking is not abrasive and therefore does not require the meat to shrink abruptly, which allows it to stay tender and relatively moist.

Photo Courtesy of OBE Organic
How about tenderising?
Personally, I never use meat tenderisers, especially those poor quality, chemical-laden stuff. What is the point of eating healthy and going organic if I am to use additives! However, I do believe in the traditional and natural tenderising methods, especially when it comes to tougher cuts.

Good quality meat, hardly ever needs tenderising, especially when cooked right. However, should the need arise I advise you to opt for the traditional healthy methods, rather than the use of the processed stuff.

Traditional Tenderising Methods:
These are the natural methods traditionally used to tenderise meats. Tenderising is basically used to minimise both the cooking time and the drying of muscle fiber, which are responsible for creating tough textures.

  • Physically changing the structure of the meat - by that we fragment the muscle fiber and the sheets of connective tissue. This is usually done by pounding the meat, or cutting or grinding. For instance, when we pound pieces of veal to create the escalopes or scallopini, what we are doing is making the pieces thinner, which requires less time to cook, therefore sparing them the loss of fluids and the pounding itself makes the meat more tender. The same applies to ground beef, and cutting smaller pieces such as the cubes.
  • Marinating Meats - While most people think that marinades are only for flavouring meats (which is also true), however they are also tenderisers. Marinades are usually acidic liquids in which the meat is immersed for hours (sometimes up to days) before cooking the meat. The acid cuts through the fat and weakens muscle tissues, as well as increase the meat's ability to retain moisture. The most common use of this method is in making stews, where the meat is usually immersed in a mixture of aromatics and an acidic liquid such as wine, left to sit for a while and then cooked in the marinade. The only draw back to this method, is the marinade usually takes long to penetrate the meat, which is why it is not an instant process and needs to be done ahead of time. As well as the fact that the marinated meats can be slightly sour in flavour especially with the use of lemon juice, vinegars and wines; but that is why you have other options for acidic liquids, such as: fruit juice, natural fig's extract, buttermilk or yogurt, all of which are traditionally used to soak meats. 
Did you know that meat marination goes back in time to the Renaissance, where it was used primarily to slow the spoilage of meat as well as give flavour? Today we use this method to both flavour and tenderise, but if the need should ever arise, it is good to know that marinades extend the shelf-life of meat, as acid kills microbes!
  • Brigning Meats - is one of my favourite methods, especially when it comes to turkey! (Off-topic but you must try brigning your turkey, it will never be more succulent, moist or tender. Furthermore, brigning your turkey takes away the need of rubbing it with massive amounts of butter!) Brigning is basically immersing meats in a liquid that is 3-6% salt. What this does is that the salt disrupts the structure of muscle filaments, making them weaker, so they can't coagulate into the dense aggregates as they cook, which makes the meat more tender. Moreover, the interaction between the salt and protein of the meat make it able to retain more water in the muscle cells, which makes for juicier meat (the osmosis effect). This whole process also increases the meat's absorption of aromatics molecules from any herbs or spices placed in the brine. What is not to like! The only disadvantage to this method though, is that drippings will be quite salty, which some would balance by including sugar or fruit juices...
  • Larding Meats - A more labourious and less likely method for you to use (but worth mentioning here to cover all) is the traditional French method referred to as 'larding'. Which is the insertion of slivers of fat into the meat by injections. Here you are changing the meat's fat content and the injected fat will break some of the fibers and connective tissue sheets, all of which will make for more tender meats.
It is worth mentioning here that there is another method to tenderise cooked meat. Say you have accidentally overcooked the meat and it became too dry, you can salvage the situation by shredding the meat and pouring the collected cooking juices over it. This will coat the meat with a film of their own lost juices. Juices cling better to cold meat, so allow it to cool, covered, before reheating. And the smaller the shreds the more liquid clings to the surfaces of the meat. Another method is to slow cook the shreds in their juices for prolonged time, which will always create more tender meats.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic

For Successful Grilling & frying of Meat:

Because grilling and frying are cooking methods that involve high heat, they tend to overcook the outer layer of the meat while the interior cooks through. This can be minimised by one of these two methods:

  • Pre-warming the meat - the warmer the meat before you cook, the less time it requires to cook through, which means less time where the outer layer is subjected to heat therefore less dry.
  • Flipping the meat during cooking - If texture and moisture are more important than creating the perfect grill marks on your meat, then flip the meat every 1 minute. This reduces its exposure to heat, and allows it to cook faster, which lessens the drying of the outer layer. However, if you do want to have those beautiful grill marks, you should not flip the meat more than twice.

Always Remember: The key to cooking meat properly is knowing when to stop!


Relative links:

Organic Beef Recipe Links:

OBE Organic Social Networks:
Do follow them and show them some love, they are after all looking after YOU.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Modernising Old Recipes - Cauliflower-stuffed Leg of lamb With A Side of Cauliflower & Pine Nut Salsa

Cauliflower-stuffed Stuffed Leg of Lamb 

When it comes to classic recipes, while most people love the flavours, a lot feel bored with serving them thinking they are not elegant enough and therefore not exactly impressive. Understandably, the modern table requires a bit more imagination and the look of classic foods sometimes does not fit the occasion, especially if we are going with an overall fancier look and feel. So, when I developed this recipe, I had that notion in mind, and wanted to give you a recipe that keeps the original flavours of a classic and best loved dish, but upgraded to the modern style. Because some recipes are just too good to become forgotten!

I have drawn inspiration from the traditional Palestinian dish Yakhnet Zahra (stew of cauliflower) which classically is cooked with lamb pieces on the bone and all cooked in lamb broth then served with rice and a squeeze of lemon. While the communal look of the classic dish is fine for everyday cooking, when it comes to entertaining, you would want the food to look a tad more elegant on the table. Therefore, I had changed the whole look and experience of serving this dish, but kept the integrity of the classic dish's flavour and textures, because I wanted everyone to know the dish from the flavours, yet feel like it was completely new and worthy of serving on a modern table.

When it comes to modern cooking, today we are much better informed about food and its health effects. A modern recipe has to take this knowledge into account and therefore I have also adapted this dish to the modern healthier eating requirements. So instead of frying the cauliflower, I went for roasting in minimal amounts of olive oil for flavour. I had trimmed all excess fats from the leg of lamb and had roasted it covered, in a pan half-filled with broth to ensure it does not dry. The result is absolutely succulent, melt in your mouth tender meat, full on flavour and in no way compromising your health. Furthermore, instead of serving this dish with the traditional white rice - which we all know as a complex carb has its adverse effects, and with the massive rise in the number of diabetic patients in this region - I had chosen to serve it with an equally delicious side, with textures that will simulate the rice experience, however healthier for us. So I serve this dish with a side of cauliflower and pine nut salsa. Basically the same filling I am using for the stuffing, but with a tad more pine nuts and an acidic dressing of lemon juice and olive oil, which enhance the flavour of the cauliflower and are true to the original squeeze of lemon in the classic serving.

I had cooked this recipe on multiple occasions, every time without fail, this recipe impressed everyone, raised many eyebrows in good surprise and became the talk of the occasion. It does taste very good and no one could ever stop eating. Am telling you this, because I really want to encourage you to give it a try, and you will see how you too are going to love it.

Saying is not like seeing, so here are the pics of our producer stealing bites during the shoot of the recipe videos!!! We kept on telling him off because we needed to photograph the dish for you to see, but he kept sneaking back for another bite!!! lol

Hermann the producer stealing bites of the dish during the shoot of the recipe video for
cauliflower-stuffed leg of lamb

Hermann the producer experiencing a moment of bliss after sneaking a few bites and right before being told off again!!
during the shoot of the recipe video for cauliflower-stuffed leg of lamb

Cauliflower-stuffed Leg of lamb 
With A Side of Cauliflower & Pine Nut Salsa
serves 4
You Need
For the leg of lamb
1 whole thigh of lamb, deboned but left whole
1 litre lamb or chicken broth
4 cloves garlic quartered, lengthways
Black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp olive oil

For Salset Zahra Mashwyeh1 head cauliflower, cut into very small flowerets
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp cumin powder
black pepper to taste
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup lemon juice

Start by rubbing the thigh of lamb, inside and out with the olive oil, then season with black pepper. Score the thigh all over with a sharp knife creating small incisions and fill each with a garlic piece. Sprinkle freshly cracked black pepper all over and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Cut the cauliflower into small flowerets and wash well. Place the flowerets, reserving 1 cup, over a baking sheet and sprinkle with the olive oil, black pepper, garlic and cumin powder. Roast in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden, making sure to turn twice throughout. 

Meanwhile, boil, covered for 15 minutes, the reserved 1 cup cauliflower and the cauliflower stem along with the chopped onion in the broth. Then drain reserving only the liquid. Set aside until ready to use. 

Once the cauliflower is finished roasting, remove from the oven and place into a large bowl. Top with lemon juice, lemon rind and toasted pine nuts and mix to coat all. 

Spread out the thigh of lamb and place as much cauliflower filling as possible in the centre, then roll the thigh and secure with kitchen string (see the method in the video below). Sprinkle some olive at the bottom of a deep roasting tin; place the rolled meat in the tin and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper. Add the cauliflower broth, cinnamon stick and bay leaf then cover and roast in a hot oven for 1 ¼ hours, then reduce the heat to medium and continue roasting for 1 hour. 

Once done, remove the cover and broil to brown. 

To Serve, carefully remove the lamb from the roasting tin and remove the kitchen string. 

Place the meat over a large dish. Place the roasting liquids in a sauce boat and serve next to the lamb along with the cauliflower salsa  (the remaining cauliflower filling dressed with olive oil and lemon juice).
Sprinkle all with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately with a side of yogurt and a tangy salad of mixed leaves. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Why Do We Not Address this?! - The Best Food Advice for Parents

Using food as reward or punishment never promotes healthy eating, better food choices, nor does it create empowered children. All it really does is create emotional eaters, who as adults, will continue to reward or punish themselves with food.

This might not be the most delightfully light food topic, but it is one overly practiced everywhere, and has serious consequences! So really, why do we never address it?!
Well today, we are going to...
Do read on...

Photo from one of my "Little Chefs" Session: baking for young children

Let me please first establish that I am not in anyway saying we should completely omit sugars, chocolates, candies, cakes and all similar foods out of our children's diets! What I am saying is: we must stop using these foods as rewards / punishments to alter children's behaviours or enhance children's performances. And while we are at it, we must refrain from referring to only this section of food as "treats"; instead we must view all food types as a whole and not dissect them into desirable foods and the other, must eat foods! Ask yourself what are you most likely to choose desirable or must eat? We pass on our attitudes to our children and therefore they are, then we think they are developing bad eating habits. But as the saying goes, there are no bad children but there are better parenting practices.

Eating Healthy for Children
To begin with, all food types are food; each of which have essential nutrients needed by our bodies. Some more beneficial than others, including a mix of nutrients, while others less so including a few essentials needed by the body. The least desirable of foods are those that carry empty calories, which can do nothing for our bodies, even at times can cause illnesses. So if we look at a cake as a type of food that includes, carbs and sugars, oils and fats, dairy and fruits as well as vegetables at times....etc we detach this cake from being devil food. Instead a slice of cake can be viewed as a full meal. With that said, because cake is more heavy on sugars, carbs, fats and so on - and because a very small serving of cake is a full meal - furthermore in comparison to a salad it becomes less healthy and therefore less desirable. Does that mean we should omit cake from our diets? Not at all, but we certainly must consume it less frequently than we do a fresh fruit for instance. These are the types of facts that we must empower our children with. And we must separate our understanding of "healthy" as equal to "weight loss regime", the two are very different things!

Photo from my son's 6th birthday: trying a new flavour in making our pizzas activity

Research shows that children, since their bodies are still growing and building, need a bigger variety of food types than adults do. As long as we make sure that their diets are balanced and that their bodies are taking their need to grow and develop from food, without having so much excess that the body does not need, they are then eating healthy. Children do not need to go on an all vegetable (salad) diets - neither do adults for that matter - nor do they need to eat grilled meats all the time... in fact that is very unhealthy for them. However, they also do not need the excessive amount of sugar, fried food, and junk snacks that they usually consume. The problem with these food types is that when they are had in excess they can lead the way to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure as well as cavities and other problems.

As long as we are offering our children a varied diet where no specific type of food is omitted or overly focused, our children are then eating healthy and developing a good appetite and palate for different flavours and textures.

Raising Children with Healthy Attitudes Towards Food
"Healthy" for kids is really eating a balanced diet. But most importantly "Healthy" for kids is developing the right attitude towards food. Children raised with the right attitude towards food grow to become healthy eaters and tend to make better food choices as adults.

Photo taken at one of my "little Chefs" Session: Cooking & Healthy Eating Attitudes for Young Adults

Raising children with a healthy attitude towards food can only be done by removing the emotions from food types! Because as long as they believe that crisps are a "treat" ... cake is for "special occasions" only....  junk is "special food" ....  chocolate is a "reward" for eating a healthy lunch ... broccoli is "punishment" for not finishing the plate.... and all these connotations that we continuously tie different foods with, they are most likely to continue to treat themselves with chocolates, comfort themselves with ice-cream and request junk on special days as well as avoid broccoli because it is only for punishment! This is what is known as emotional eating.

Examples of commonly used phrases that tie foods to specific emotions and promote using food to feed these emotions:
  • "If you eat this food, I will give you a chocolate." (reward)
  • “If you pick up the toys, I will give you each a cookie.” (reward)
  • “I know you got hurt when you fell down, here is a piece of candy.” (comfort)
  • “Eat all of your sandwich or we will not go to the playground.” (punishment)

According to Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Co-Director, Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders:
“Rewarding children with unhealthy foods undermines our efforts to teach them about good nutrition. It’s like teaching children a lesson on the importance of not smoking, and then handing out ashtrays and lighters to the kids who did the best job listening.”
You see, we must never use food as a reward or punishment and avoid this method as though it is the plague! Instead we must take out the emotions from food and reward / punish behavior with non-food-related actions. We must follow the words with supporting action, when we explain to them what is healthy and what is not, we should not offer them a chocolate when they eat their healthy meal. When we tell them all food is equally good we must not offer treats in the form of sugary or junk foods!

Photo from one of my "little Chefs" Sessions about 
introducing new flavours & textures to toddlers and young children

Dealing with Fussy Eaters
We all have to deal with fussy eaters at some point or another. Sometimes, fussy eating can lead to this whole reward/punishment with food scenario. There are many ways to deal with fussy eaters, but this method is not the solution. Food as reward / punishment method is nothing but a temporary fix that will keep the fussiness alive throughout these children's lives and set them up for unhealthy eating habits.

These are some links that will help you deal with fussy eaters:

Photo from one of my "lilttle Chefs" sessions fussiness is all in the textures for toddlers

Don't forget that learning best happens in a fun environment. Turn everything into a game and your young children are most likely to play! 

Come back soon for more of my food adventures,
Meanwhile we will always remember together that we should make our children's food moments memorable and we must always empower them with skills that facilitate their lives as adults, these are the better parenting practices!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

How to make Shishbarak (The Arabic version of Tortellini), A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Nothing beats fresh home-made Shishbarak

"I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish"   - Michelangelo

I woke up very early this morning... loving how quiet the house is. I figured to get this post going before everyone wakes up and the rest of the weekend continues :)
A recipe post since it's been a while, and coming back with more adventure soon.

Shishbarak is a Levantine cuisine preparation, that is believed to have originated in Syria. However many people believe that it's real origin is Turkish. As with most Middle Eastern food the origins are very tricky to confirm, but whichever origin Shishbarak stems from, it is delightfully delicious and making it, to me, is very therapeutic.

Making Shishbarak is very similar to making pasta. It is essentially a dough casing, that is filled with a classic meat filling. It is very similar to the Italian Tortellini, in concept and final shape. Once the dough is rolled filled and shaped, it is then slightly baked in prepare it for freezing. Or cooked straight away if having it fresh. Making the Shishbarak is the first step, then using this Shishbarak in the making of a vriety of stews is the final product (check out the Shishbarak & Kubbeh Stew 'Kubbeh o Shishbarak Bilaban' on this link).

Making Shishbarak is very similar to making Pasta

The dough used for making Shishbarak is a basic and very simple dough. Consisting only of water, flour and salt. No leavening agent, no improvers... no additions. The idea is to achieve a slightly sticky dough, that will encase the filling. The dough does not need to rise, and in fact it has to be somewhat thin as to not overwhelm the flavour of the meat filling. Shishbarak is easy to make however could be slightly time consuming. But hey... if you are relaxed in your kitchen, and listening to your favourite tunes, clearing your mind and producing delicious fresh food, then I'd say this time was well spent.

Yalla let's get rolling...

I prefer to roll dough on a 100% cotton cloth
Check the tip for rolling

The size of the Shishbarak is optional. Some like it big, others prefer it small. I always go for smaller sizes, I find them to be more elegant and easier to present... for that, I use the standard 3 inch round cookie cutter.

You Need
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
Salt to taste

1 recipe Arabic Meat Filling (meat filling recipe on this link).

Start by making the dough. here is a quick tip:

Tip 1 The moistness of dough is highly dependent on environmental conditions. If the weather is humid, you will find that you need less water. If the weather is dry, you might need more water. All you need to do is add the water gradually and mix until you achieve a slightly sticky dough. If the dough is too sticky add more flour, if the dough is dry, add a little bit more water and so on.

Gradually add the water until you achieve a dough slightly sticky in consistency. Do not over work the dough or
it will toughen up

Place meat filling in a sieve over
a bowl to get rid of excess liquids
Place the flour in a large wide bowl, or on a clean work surface. Gradually add the water and mix using your finger tips. Once the flour and water start binding start gathering and pressing them down in a knead-like motion as in picture 2 above. Continue to add water and knead until a slightly sticky dough is achieved as in picture 3 above. Where the dough will stick slightly to your fingers, but not enough to cover them.

Cut the dough into 2 portions, roll into a ball and place into a bowl. Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes as in the last picture above (numbered 3 by mistake lol).

Meanwhile make the Arabic Meat Filling. Once the filling is finished, place in a sieve over a small bowl in order to get rid of any excess liquids. The liquids are not desirable here because they will affect the consistency of the Shishbarak dough. Placing the meat on the sieve is also good to cool it down, which makes it easier o handle.

Now you are ready to start rolling the dough. Rolling Shishbarak dough is best done using a pasta roller. It facilitates rolling dough into very thin sheets, which is what we are looking to achieve. You can use a traditional Italian Pasta Roller, or you can buy the Pasta rolling attachment for your stand mixer (Kitchen aid and Kenwood both have pasta rolling attachments). Set your pasta roller firmly on the table or hook the attachment to your kitchen machine. Set the roller on size 4 and sprinkle the tops - where the rollers are - slightly with flour.

Tip 2   I usually like to roll pasta, sticky doughs, cookie doughs most doughs really on a clean 100% cotton cloth instead of a work surface. I find this to give me the best results as it does not require the addition of a lot of flour to avoid stickiness, which eventually makes the dough dry. The cotton is stick-free :)

Rolling the dough for making Shishbarak
Cut each one of the 2 dough balls into 4 balls. Place the balls under a 100% cotton cloth - as in picture 1 above - to keep them from drying. Work with 1 ball at a time. Slightly roll the ball with a rolling pin as in picture 2. Take the disk of dough to the pasta roller and roll it as in picture 3. The dough will come out of the other end in the desired thickness as in picture 4 and 5. Super easy.

Cut out 3 inch rounds from the thin sough sheet using a cookie cutter
Once the dough sheet is rolled, place on slightly floured surface, and cut rounds using a cookie cutter as in picture 2 above. Place all the cut out dough circles under the cotton cloth to prevent drying out. Now you are ready to fill the dough.

Shaping the Shishbarak is what most find difficult. It is like shaping a ravioli
follow the instructions fully and you will have no problem at all
Place the dough cutout on a slightly floured surface. Top one half of the round with meat filling as in picture 1 above. Stay away from the edges or the dough will open up after cooking and that is the worst thing to happen! Fold the empty half of dough over the filling as in picture 2 and pinch the centre to seal the 2 dough sides together. Pinch all around the edge to seal the dough making sure no openings remain. The case would look like a crescent as in picture 3. Hold the crescent from either end and fold the right side over the left side and pinch the dough to hold the shape as in picture 4. Place the dough on the work surface and slightly press the top to flatten ever so little, as in picture 5. Place the finished Shishbarak piece on a floured tray, and keep uncovered to slightly dry. Continue the same process untill all dough and filling are consumed. :))

Once done and having placed all Shishbaraks on the tray, sprinkle the tops with a little more flour. Let stand for 15 minutes.

If going to freeze the Shishbarak, bake in 400F oven for 10-15 minutes to firm up and prepare for the freezer. If you freeze the dough without baking slightly, they will become soggy when thawed and might break up during cooking. Once baked, cool completely. Place in freezer safe containers, separated by wax or parchment paper. Otherwise you can just use them fresh for cooking.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Thyme flavoured Crown Rack of Lamb with A side of Potato & Pumpkin au Dauphinois

Rack of Lamb with Sweet Potato & Pumpkin au Dauphinois

The flavour of lamb is very unique, no other meat has the same depth in flavour. It can be cooked to an almost melting - most people's preferred lamb texture - if roasted in a slow oven over an extended period of time, and then it just falls off the bone and gives you the most tender and succulent rich experience. It can also be had slightly pink, especially good using young lamb or what is known as spring lamb. Here the lamb is seared then finished in a hot oven to give you firm meat that is still succulent and rich. Two very different results and experiences, yet both very decadent, lamb is one type of meat that is very versatile. You can cook it in sauce, marinate and roast it, BBQ it, stew it and whatever you do with it, it always turned out good.

While my absolute favourite cuts of lamb is the shank, another really delicious cut is the rack. Whether you crust it with assorted spices or peppers, herbs or even nuts (pistachio is a classic and fabulous pair to lamb), or if you simply bake it in the oven, the rack is always a glorious cut to serve. As I am one who likes to cook with real ingredients, I never use meat tenderisers, but also like tender meats. The trick is that meats on the bone are always more tender (and more deeply flavoured), cooking meat on the bone always results in more tender results. Fats also aid in more tender meats, so the combination of some kind of fat and the bone works just as well as a meat tenderiser. The rack comes with the complementing fats, however because no one wants to consume too much fat, when trimmed and kept to a minimum this natural fat component aids the tenderness of the meat and really compliments the flavour. These also create drippings from which you can make a sauce or gravy to dress the meat or its sides.

photo by Meat & Livestock Australia

For a dramatic an impressive presentation of a rack of lamb, you can make what is called a crown rack of lamb. This is basically a whole rack of lamb (or two racks), french cut (read below) and curled into a circle. If you are using two racks you will curl and attach the two then secure them with a kitchen string. This is excellent presentation especially if you have a side of vegetables or rice...etc. as these can be polaced in the middle as filling. A crown rack is a beutiful dish to serve and since December is a month when you will most likely entertain, especially if you celebrate the festive season, this dish will always look glorious on your table.

I have made a smaller version crown rack (see the post picture), not big enough to enclose a filling, however it still looked good and impressed my guests, so even if you are not entertaining a big group of people you do not have to miss out on the glorious festive food. And since it is a festive season and we all want to go a little out of the box with presentation, do try these smaller versions of crown rack. In fact, these make for an interesting presentation of the rack if you are plating the dinner individually or serving seated courses.

During this time of year, I really enjoy cooking and eating sweet potatoes, butternut squash and pumpkin. Therefore, my festive dinner will always include at least one dish with some of these ingredients. Here I went for a potato and pumpkin au dauphinois, which I flavoured with thyme that works especially well with cream and lamb. This is one extremely delicious dish, but I have to worn you it is quite the rich one as well. This is not the type of food you want to cook and serve very regularly, but hey this is what celebrations are for! Occasionally it is fine to let go and indulge, and if you are to do that, then do it right and really enjoy some succulent flavours :))

French cut rack of lambphoto by Simply Recipes

Before I jump right into this mouthwatering recipe, I thought why not get to know how to french cut a rack of lamb?

In case you are not familiar with the technique and do not have access to a butcher who can prepare it for you. I found this link, and it includes a step by step tutorial on french cutting a rack of lamb. Make sure to check it out, it is always good to know how things are made ;)

Thyme flavoured Crown Rack of Lamb with 
A side of Potato & Pumpkin au Dauphinois 
Serves 4

Dauphinois is a method of preparing potatoes that is the speciality of the region near the French/Italian border. This is a type of gratin, where the potatoes are usually cut into thin circles and arranged with single light cream and baked in the oven. Some types of gratin Dauphinois can include the addition of milk, butter, egg and grated cheese. 

You Need
For Potato & Pumpkin Au Dauphinoise
1/2 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into very thin disks (best achieved with a mandolin)
1/2 Kg pumpkin, peeled and sliced thinly using a mandolin
Light Cooking cream to cover
3 tbsp butter, softened
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 spring fresh thyme,
Shredded cheese

For the Thyme Flavoured Rack of Lamb
4 racks of lamb (6-8 chops), French cut
Salt & black Pepper to taste
3 Fresh thyme Springs
¼ cup butter
2 cups vegetable stock

Start by making the dauphinois. Preheat oven to 350F.

Blanch the sliced potatoes and pumpkin in salted water until ever so slightly softened. This reduces the baking time. Drain and set aside.

Place the softened butter in a bowl and mix with the crushed garlic, salt & pepper. Brush your gratin dish with the butter mixture. 

Layer alternating the potatoes and pumpkin slices, sprinkling each layer with a little black pepper and adding a few thyme leaves. Cover all with the light cream.

Cover and bake in the preheated oven 35 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Remove the cover, add a layer of grated cheese and cook uncovered until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

To make the Crown rack, heat ¼ cup butter in an oven proof pan, then add the trimmed and seasoned lamb racks and seal for 4-5 minutes or until slightly browned on all sides.
Remove the lamb from the pan and pour away the fat then deglaze the pan with the vegetable stock. Add the fresh thyme springs and reduce the stock slightly.

While the stock is simmering, curl the rack into a circle and secure with a kitchen string to hold the shape. Return the lamb to the pan of reduced stock. Add a few fresh thyme springs extra and cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes in very hot oven 475F.


Serve and enjoy! Hope you enjoyed this post and that this recipe is tempting your taste buds enough to give it a try. Do because I know you will like it.

It is the Season
So make sure to be JOLLY !!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Why should I go for Grass-fed? - 100% Grass-Fed & Grass-Finished Beef VS Grain-Fed Beef (including a Labels Glossary)

If there is one place where going Organic is really important, then it is consuming Organic Meats instead of the chemical, hormone and antibiotic laden non-organic meats.

The choice of eating meat is very personal. With that said people who do eat meat will benefit from eating only Organic meats and will double that benefit when consuming only Grass-fed, Grass-Finished meats. I have been exploring organic in depth throughout my whole #GoOrganic series, and if you have missed the posts (full of information and resources), then make sure to take the time and read these posts (links at the end of this article) to know the risks of consuming non-organic meats.

In this post however, I want to focus on the labels that we see everywhere and most of us don't know what they really mean (check out the Glossary of terms below). I also want to focus on Grass-fed beef, exploring its benefits with you and encouraging you to try it, because this is where flavour takes a full new dimension besides the health and ethical benefits. So read on and enjoy, and please feel free to discuss any of this further, share some resources and ask if you have any questions.

Monday, 30 September 2013

10 Easy Steps To Make The Transition To Organic Lifestyle

We deserve health, quality and flavour.
What we do not deserve is junk, gene mutations, illness and replicas of the real thing!
Demand what is rightfully yours, #GoOrganic

No transition is ever challenge-free, that is why we usually need to take baby steps towards achieving a big change. If you are not already one, then Going Organic is a change and could come with challenges. For instance, there is a ton of information to learn, the challenge of finding organic products, and another of keeping with a budget... the question of whether or not to eat out, what to do when organic is not available...etc. These are just some of the questions I have been receiving from you, so I thought why not put together the 10 best practices for making the transition to Organic?

Here are my top tips:


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