Monday, April 30, 2007

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Crepe Cake



What do you get when you put 30 enthusiastic, gorgeous and passionate girls together with a challenge and a blog?

A lot of raving, ranting, chitter, chatter, venting and in some cases hyperventilating!

The challenge, which was picked by Brilynn, was not the easiest. A chocolate crepe cake as created by Martha Stewart. It has always been Brilynn's dream to make this cake and so she decided to get the entire Daring Bakers team to share the dream.



The Daring Bakers blog (a private blog only for the privileged LOL!) was alive with lively chatter. Tom's birthday was earlier this month so I had the perfect occasion to experiment with the cake. I think I was one of the first to give the challenge a try.

I was a bit intimidated by the challenge. It was my first after all and I really did not want to let any of my team mates down. The challenge as set by Bri, was to make the crepes and the glazing but the filling and the toppings could be changed as desired. Well at first I thought to use Nutella for my filling, but my thoughts did not let me rest.

It must have been a sign from the Cake God - the doorbell rang and the mailman brought my copy of Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé written by Dorie Greenspan. As I opened it, the first recipe that I saw was for a wonderful, rich chocolate pastry cream. It took me a millisecond to decide. This was my crepe cake filling.

However, it did not rest there. I just could not help myself and I had to tweak with the Holy Meister of Desserts' recipe too. I dared to make a slight change to this - I am a Daring Baker after all!

The recipe below is the one of my tweaks and changes. In some cases I was forced to make a few minor changes to avoid catastrophe!







Ingredients:

For the chocolate crepes:
200g all-purpose flour
150g semisweet chocolate - finely chopped
50g fine sugar
170g cold unsalted butter - cut into pieces, plus melted for pan
620 ml whole milk - room temperature
6 large eggs - room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate orange pastry cream:
adapted from Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
500 ml whole milk
4 large egg yolks
75g sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch - sifted
200g bittersweet chocolate - melted. I used Sarotti's No. 1 with orange peel
40g unsalted butter - room temperature

For the chocolate glaze
295 ml heavy cream
250g semisweet chocolate - finely chopped
30g unsalted butter - cut into pieces

For the candied orange peel
470 ml filtered water
380g sugar - some for rolling the peels in
1 medium sized orange






Method:
For the chocolate crepes:
In a small saucepan bring approx. 60 ml water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking to combine after each addition. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate until completely melted. Set aside.

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the milk, vanilla and eggs together in another medium bowl. Using an electric whisk/blender, gradually add milk mixture to flour mixture, whisking until smooth. Finally add chocolate-butter mixture and whisk until it has incorporated - do not overmix. Pour through a fine sieve into a pitcher or a container with a pouring spout (I used my lemonade glass pitcher) and rap the pitcher on the counter to burst any air bubbles. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to make the crepes, whisk the batter gently just to re-blend the ingredients. The batter should have a consistency of heavy cream. If it is too thick add some more milk, just a tiny drizzle at a time.

Lightly coat a crepe pan or nonstick pan with melted butter. I used a small 19 cm non-stick pan for this. Place the pan on a medium heat until just starting to smoke. As soon as the pan is hot, lift from heat and pour about 3-4 tablespoons batter into pan, swirling to cover bottom. Reduce the heat to medium-low and return pan to heat. Cook for approx. 30 seconds. Run a icing spatula around the edges of the crepe and check the underside - it should be golden. If you are happy with the coloring flip it over - yes, I used my fingers - and cook the other side till golden. This side will cook faster than the first one so make sure it does not get too dark.

Although crepes are supposed to be paper thin I quickly discovered that this was not going to work that way. The original recipe from Martha asks us to use 2 tablespoons of batter to make the crepes. However, this caused me two problems:


  • My first 5 or 6 crepes ripped easily
  • When spreading the pastry cream on the first one caused the crepe also to rip


So, I needed a new plan of action and decided to make them a bit thicker. This worked really well and I had no trouble flipping the crepes.

Slide the crepes onto a plate, stacking them on top of each other in stacks of 5 or 6 and separating each one with a sheet of baking paper to avoid them sticking to each other. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, coating pan with butter as needed. You should yield about 25 crepes.

Storing tip:
When packed airtight you can refrigerate them for a day or frozen for a month.





For the chocolate pastry cream:
adapted from Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

Preparation
Fill a metal bowl with ice cubes and cold water. Set aside a smaller bowl that fits into the ice bath and will eventually hold the pastry cream. Set aside a fine meshed strainer too.

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. In a heavy-bottomed medium sized saucepan whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together. Whisking all the time, slowly drizzle a quarter of the hot milk into the yolks. Still whisking, pour the rest of the milk in a steady stream into the tempered yolks.

Strain the mixture into the saucepan. Place the pan over a medium heat and continuously whisking, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep the mixture at the boil - whisking vigorously - for 1-2 minutes. Still over the heat, stir in the chocolate, then remove pan form heat. Scrape pastry cream into the small bowl set aside.

Place the bowl in the ice-water bath. Stirring frequently, to keep the mixture smooth, cool the pastry cream to 60 degrees Celsius. Remove the cream from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter in 3 or 4 additions. Return the cream to the ice-water bath, set aside, stirring occasionally until it has completely cooled.

Storing tip:
Cover tightly in plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the cream's surface to create an airtight seal, the cream can be refrigerated for 2 days.




For the chocolate glaze
Bring the cream to a boil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Swirling the pan around allow the chocolate to melt. Add the butter and allow to melt mixing occasionally. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth.

For the candied orange peel
For once I followed instructions of a recipe!! eHow is a fantastic website that shows you how to do 1001 things. This includes making candied orange peel.

Assembling the cake
Place a crepe on a wire rack or a large wooden board. Using a spatula spread about 2-3 tablespoons of pastry cream on the crepe. Cover with another crepe. Spread another 2-3 tablespoons of pastry cream, then cover with a crepe. Repeat this process until the pastry cream and crepes have been used up. In my case I ran out of cream on about the 18th crepe.

Spoon the glaze on top of the crepe cake and spread across so that it is evened and smooth. Allow the glaze to run down the sides of the cake, smoothing and evening with the spatula.

Decorate with the orange peel and if desired some hazelnut brittle. Allow the cake to set then move to a serving platter an refrigerate for a few hours.

Storing tip:
When covered loosely in plastic wrap the cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If you would like to try out the original recipe from Martha Stewart you will find it here. A helpful visual step by step of the cake can be found here.

Whichever version you do try - I wish you all the very best of luck. Make sure you cut out a big piece for yourself - after all that effort you deserve it.






Verdict:
I was expecting the crepes to be a bit rubbery as I made them slightly thicker. But they were not they were smooth and fluffy. I made this cake for Tom's birthday and although it was not enjoyed on the very same day, we dug into big pieces the next day for dessert. It is a very filling cake but the delicate flavor of orange really zests this cake up adding a slight zing to the cake. All that chocolate makes it a chocolate lover's dream come true. I preferred the idea of the light pastry cream to the filling hazelnut cream of the original recipe. It was just perfect for this type of cake.

To see the other Daring Bakers' experiments simply click here and work your way down the list.

Have fun!




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Friday, April 27, 2007

Spinach and Chicken Lasagna



Who remembers the animated cartoons of Popeye the Sailor? He would save his sweetie Olive Oyl from the hands of the villain Bluto after he got his dosage of super spinach. As soon as he downed that can of spinach his muscles would pop out and he would get mega superpowers, which would allow him to lift huge tree trunks, iron bars and beat Bluto black and blue.

All this from just a can of spinach?



So, what is behind spinach anyway? I remember mummy telling me to eat up my spinach - "it's healthy and full of iron!"

Well now I am 34 and although I know that spinach is a powerhouse, I also know that spinach has somewhat of a shady side to it too.


Spinach
Spinach contains oxalic acid which inhibits the absorption of its calcium and iron. It also contains other nutrients that are not fully absorbed when it is consumed raw. However, this is not to say that spinach is not good for you.

It's loaded with calcium, folic acid, vitamin K and iron. What's more spinach has a low calorie count and has more protein than many other vegetables and is abundant in vitamins and minerals. It has been researched that certain carotenoids found in spinach and other green leafy vegetables may help fight human prostate cancer. It helps to make bones stronger and healthier, as one cup of fresh spinach leaves provides about 200% of the daily value for vitamin K. Heart health may also be strengthened by the folate content of spinach.

There are 4 basic types of spinach:

  • Savoy is dark green with crinkly and curly leaves. It is sold in fresh bunches in most supermarkets.
  • Flat/smooth leaf spinach has broad smooth leaves. This spinach type is often grown for canned and frozen spinach.
  • Semi-savoy is a hybrid. It has slightly crinkled leaves and has the same texture as savoy, but it is not as difficult to clean. It is grown for both fresh market and processing.
  • Baby spinach is a smaller Flat-Leaf variety. It is very tender and desirable for salads.


Spinach originated in Persia, where the earliest records of its cultivation go back 2,000 years. In the 600's it was introduced to China and brought to Spain around 1100. The Spaniards brought it to America. By the 16th century it was well established in Europe.

Selecting and Storing
When buying spinach choose leaves that are vibrant deep green and stems have no signs of yellowing. The leaves should be fresh and tender, and not be wilted or bruised.

Fresh spinach should be loosely packed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. It will keep fresh for about five days. Avoid washing it before storing as the moisture will cause it to spoil. Cooked spinach does not keep very well.

So, with this wealth of knowledge on spinach you understand why I have been going spinach mad lately with a Spinach Salad, a Spinach Bread and now this delicious Spinach Chicken Lasagna. Have I got little Popeye type super muscles yet? No, not yet, but I know I am serving a super powered vegetable for my family and myself. Being so versatile, spinach is one of my favorite foods and I always feel really satisfied after a nice spinach meal.



Reminder!


Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!








Music while cooking:



Beautiful Liar - Shakira & Beyoncé

Listen to it
Buy it







Ingredients:

500g Spinach leaves - you can also use frozen spinach here
2kg ground chicken meat
2 garlic cloves - crushed
3 slices bacon - chopped
450g canned tomatoes
120g tomato puree
120 ml tomato sauce - use your favorite Italian style tomato sauce for this. Homemade is best but store bought is fine too.
120 ml chicken stock
Fresh lasagna sheets - you can use dried ones here to but don't pre-cook them.
120g Parmesan cheese - grated
olive oil

For the cheese sauce
60g butter
40g flour
600ml milk
120g Parmesan cheese - grated






Method:

Pre-heat oven at 180 degrees Celsius. If using fresh spinach chop off the stems and clean thoroughly. Frozen spinach should be thawed completely and drained of all access water. In a large pan heat up some olive oil and sauté the spinach gently, jut enough so that it falls together. Take out and place in ice water so that it retains its color and does not cook further. Take out and allow to drain.

Add some more oil to the pan and brown the meat, bacon and garlic on a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce, tomatoes, tomato puree and chicken stock and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat, place the lid so that it covers half of the pan and simmer until the sauce thickens - approx. 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium sized pan and sprinkle with the flour. On a low heat, gently cook the mixture for approx. minute until it takes on color and has a smooth texture. Remove from heat and slowly mix in the milk. Place back on a medium heat and under constant mixing warm through for approx. 4 minutes. The sauce will thicken and foam slightly. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.

Now it's time to assemble the lasagna. Grease a deep oven proof form and pour 1/4 of the chicken/tomato sauce onto the base of the form. Cover with enough lasagna sheets and then pour in 1/3 of the cheese sauce. Cover this with more lasagna sheets then add the spinach and cover again with lasagna sheets. Pour in another 1/3 cheese sauce, lasagna sheets and then the chicken sauce. Once again cover with lasagna sheets. Repeat this until all the ingredients have been used up, leaving the top layer covered in cheese sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

Place in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is nice and golden. Serve with garlic bread and a nice Chianti!




Verdict:
On your marks, get set ....GO! This dish has my men ready to dig in with forks in their hands. Even I can hardly wait to cut out a nice big, steaming piece of this lasagna. Satisfying and fulfilling to the core. Not convinced? Take one last look at the picture. Now tell me ... want a bit? ;-)

Enjoy!

Jihva comes a full circle and is back home at Mahanandi with it's creator, Indira. She chose to celebrate Leafy Green Vegetables. This is my offering.




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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pink on Blue

This photo as a card: See my gallery at Zazzle





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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spinach & Fennel Loaf



Ever since I got my hands on Sophie Dudemaine's Sweet and Savory Loaves, I have been going somewhat mad on making loaves and cakes. The sweet loaves are really nice but what's really getting me all zinged are the savory variations. If it was left to me I would be baking a new savory loaf everyday of the week.



That is why when dear dear Andrew announced the theme to this month's Waiter There's Something In My - Bread, I was excited to say the least.

What's in my bread? You'll be surprised at the ingredients used in this loaf. When I am making one of Sophie's loaves I am not always sure that it is going to work. It's easy to understand why I think this.

When I start putting all the ingredients together according to the instructions I just cannot imagine that they will combine so well. I mean after all many of the recipes in this book, defies all laws and guidelines of traditional loaves, as I know them. OK, she uses the basics to make a cake like batter, but the stuff that goes into the cakes leaves me rather stumped! I also keep thinking "Can a loaf contain so many ingredients?" This thought keeps me running back and forth to my oven to check if the loaf has not exploded in there.

No, they do not explode. The only explosion that takes place is in my mouth, when I taste these creations of wonder. They always turn out moist and depending on the ingredients some are dense others are fluffy. And they always taste just incredible.

I picked this one because it was the perfect Spring like loaf. Even Sophie categorizes this loaf in the Spring chapter. See, her loaves are organized not according to courses or ingredients etc. They are organized according to the seasons and months. This way you can always make a scrumptious loaf using all the fresh produce available in the current season. I find this so clever.

I made a few changes to the way the loaf is prepared, other than that I kept to the directions. I present to you a wonderful loaf adapted from Sophie Dudemaine's Sweet and Savory Loaves. A must have on every kitchen shelf!



Reminder!


Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!










Ingredients:

500g fresh baby spinach
1 fennel bulb - chopped coarsely
1 tray/bunch cress
25g butter + a bit of olive oil - The original recipe calls for 50g of butter
approx. 1 teaspoon salt
approx 1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2-4 teaspoons sesame seeds - double use
150g all-purpose flour
2-3 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs
80ml sunflower oil - I do not use sunflower oil - instead I used organic rape oil
125ml luke warm milk
100g Appenzeller cheese - grated - The original recipe calls for Gruyère, but I had the Appenzeller on hand.






Method:

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a loaf tin.

In a large pan heat the olive oil and 25g butter until melted. Add the spinach and sauté for a couple of minutes, just until the spinach slightly falls together. Add the cress. Sprinkle salt, pepper and the fresh nutmeg and allow to cook for approx. 5 minutes.

Add the Fennel and 1 teaspoon of the sesame seeds to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl mix together flour and baking powder. Add the eggs and rigorously beat with a whisk. Drizzle the rape oil and the warm milk into the batter, beating constantly. Add the grated cheese and fold in. Now add the vegetable/herb mixture to this and mix well.

Pour out into the loaf tin, sprinkle with the remaining sesame seeds and bake for 45-50 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick is inserted into the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.

Take out and allow to cool. Take out of the tin and cut thick slices. Enjoy with your favorite spread.






Verdict:

These kind of loaves are so perfect for warm days. I served mine with some flavored quark. A refreshing glass of chilled dry white wine for us grown-ups and for Soeren some white grape juice. The evening was perfect. The loaf still warm, tasted exquisite. The aroma of the fennel lingering in the air and the flavor of the spinach dwelling on the tongue. This loaf is packed with ingredients that harmonize perfectly with each other.

Daily Tiffin News:





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Friday, April 20, 2007

Mousse de Truite



Sounds so much more elegant than ... Trout Mousse, or Trout Dip. Doesn't it? The French just have a way with words. I just love the way they make the most monotone conversations, texts or articles so lively with the mere sing-song harmony of their language.

I remember when I was back at school doing my A' levels I had chosen both French and English literature as my subjects. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shakespeare, Keats and co. in my English Lit. classes, it was actually Maupassant's wonderful short stories like, Mademoiselle Fifi, that had me captivated.


After all these years I have terribly neglected my French and really am annoyed with myself for letting go of this wonderful language. I still try to keep up a little with my French reading though. I might not be reading Maupassant in French today but I am certainly reading my, one or the other favorite French food blogs!

Keeping it French on WFLH I thought I would dedicate this one to the sweetest French girl I have had the pleasure of meeting in Blog-o-World! She also happens to be hosting this month's HHDD #11 where she appropriately chose Mousse as the theme.

I had already made Chocolate Mousse even a Chocolate Mousse Tart and just wanted to try something different. Not sweet but savory. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to try my hand at and the original recipe was a Salmon Mousse I found in a German cooking magazine. However, I played around with it so much that this is what became of it.

The salmon turned into a trout!

I present to you my result - Mousse de Truite!



Reminder!


Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!










Ingredients:

400g smoked trout filet - without skin and fish bones
200g plain cream cheese
1 lemon - zested and juice reserved
bunch of parsley
2 trays/bunches cress (in Germany they are sold in little trays)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil






Method:

Put the fish, cress, lemon zest, 2/3 of the lemon juice, olive oil and the cream cheese in a blender (or you can use a pureeing machine) and puree the ingredients for a minute. The mixture should be nice and creamy - mousse-like!

Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill into small bowls or one large bowl and serve with warmed crispy brown bread.

My tips:
If you are preparing this mousse for a party or cocktail this recipe allows you to prepare in advance. Placed in a the refrigerator this will keep fresh for two days. It's just very important to keep it covered and cool.

Variations:
You can use any smoked fish for this mousse, e.g. salmon or mackerel.
You can also replace the herbs I used with dill or tarragon for example, giving a completely new flavor each time.



Verdict:
Trout in general is a healthier type of fish to eat. It is leaner than most other fish and provides a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. It is also an excellent source of Niacin and Vitabin B12.
So, I was happy to be serving a "lighter" version of this mouse. It takes approx. 20 minutes to whip up and tastes just heavenly with slightly toasted dark German bread. Tom, who enjoys fish extremely, had never been served trout in the form of a mousse. He found having fish this way, without the usual potatoes and veggies on the side, just spectacular. Soeren is a fan of anything he can dip or spread and this was just perfect to get him to eat healthy fish.
The herbs add an extra flavor to the dish and the vibrancy of the lemon reminded me once again of the vitality everything French has.

Bon Appétit!


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Arabesque: Baba Ghanouj with Warm Vegetable Salad



Here we are standing in front of the large villa protected by the huge white walls. The gates open and the security guard waves us in with a huge smile, the gleaming white teeth matching the walls.

If I had ever imagined what heaven would look like I think this would be the perfect picture of it. The luscious green grass is still moist and dripping from the sprinklers that were probably on all morning. In the right corner the branches of the date trees sway gently in the warm breeze. On the left a small stream flows snaking its way all the way to the impressive villa. Several trees, greener than any green I have ever seen, tower high above the banks of the stream creating a sort of natural canopy.


Beyond the stream I see the green grass speckled with red and yellow flowers, like paint blotches on a painters palette. Although the air is heavy with the desert heat, the perfume of oranges linger in the air. I find it hard to believe that this haven is in the middle of a desert. An oasis set in between the sandy brown dunes of Qatar.

We are invited to a feast. My father's good friend has invited us to join his family and other friends for lunch to celebrate the engagement of his oldest daughter.

The women of the house have probably gathered into the kitchen and have been preparing pastries, scented rice, and spiced meat since the early morning hours. In the courtyard musicians fill the air with their drum beats and songs of the old Bedouin folk. As we approach the huge wooden door of the villa we are greeted by my father's friend.

"Ahllan! Welcome, welcome! I am so honored that you can join us with your family!"

My mum and I are greeted by his wife, the Sheika. Covered in her black abaya she smiles at her husband, showing her pleasure at our presence. She takes us away to another room - a different room where only women are present. As we enter the huge room, she takes of her abaya and reveals the latest haute couture dress.

"Come come, sit down. Have some tea!" She pours hot tea into beautiful arabesque glasses and the aromas of mint waft into the air. With a movement of her other hand, she summons her help, who balances a large metal tray covered in mouthwatering baklava and other pastries. Another brings silver bowls filled with pistachios, almonds, cashew nuts and other delicacies.

Soon we are all chattering away, in the background we can still hear the drums and singing and far away I hear the gentle swishing of the stream.

As we finally gather around to eat I almost have to rub my eyes to really believe what I am seeing. The longest table covered in colorful silk tablecloth decorated with equally colorful food and mezzehs. There is an assortment of vegetables, rice, hummus, salads, meat, each dish sitting in delicately designed silver bowls and plates. A real feast ... fit for an Emir!


Warm Vegetable Salad



Ingredients:
1 large aubergine - cut in half, lengthwise
1 large green bell pepper - cut in half, lengthwise
1 large red bell pepper - cut in half, lengthwise
1 yellow zucchini - cut in half, lengthwise
2 onions - finely chopped
4 garlic cloves - finely chopped
1 bunch parsley - finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika powder
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin powder
salt and freshly cracked pepper

Method:
Pre-heat the oven at 250 degrees Celsius.

Place all the vegetables with the skins facing up on a baking tray. Roast the vegetables in the oven for about 20 minutes. While the skins of the peppers and aubergine will begin to char and bubbles will build below the skin, you will need to keep a close eye on the zucchini. Take this out as soon as it is nicely roasted and slightly brown.

Place a tea towel on the peppers to allow it to sweat. Peel the peppers and aubergine. Cut all the vegetables in cubes.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently sauté the onions and garlic for 3 to 4 minutes on a medium heat. Sprinkle the sugar over the onion and garlic and caramelize for a further few minutes until they are golden. Mix in the paprika powder.

Add the vegetables and half of the parsley into the pan and allow to warm through. Pour in the lemon juice and spice with cumin powder, salt and pepper.

Serve warm with the rest of the parsley sprinkled on top.



Baba Ghanouj



Ingredients:
2 small aubergines (approx. 500g)
3 tablespoons Tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves - crushed
salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 bunch parsley
1 tablespoon black olives

Method:
As described above roast the aubergines on the highest level in the oven for approx. 20-30 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly then peel them well.

In a blender or using a puree machine, place the aubergine together with the tahini, lemon juice and olive oil in the container and puree until smooth. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and pulse again.

Spread the aubergine cream into bowls and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkled with parsley.






Verdict:
These dishes will add a bit of the Middle Eastern mystic to the evening. Whenever I want to be taken back to that one day where I found a heavenly oasis in the midst of a desert, I whip up this quick meal. Served with warmed pita bread it is a real treat and a healthy one at that. Both my boys are big fans of this and there can never be enough of this to go around.

Thank you for coming away with me on this little Arabian adventure. I hope you enjoyed the past few days filled with some delectable delights from this wonderful region.


Reminder!


Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!







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Monday, April 16, 2007

Cooking School: Refreshing Minty Hummus


For this session of Cooking School I am keeping to the current Arabian Theme that has dawned on a few blogs ;-).

What I realized while doing the roundup is that many of you tried your hands for the first time at this kind of cuisine.

So I thought, although we had a few recipes for Hummus for the Monthly Mingle round-up, I could share a recipe for those who could not take part and are not familiar with this cuisine just how easy it is to make a simple and healthy Arabic style dip.

When I make hummus I am forever experimenting with herbs and spices. This time I chose a refreshing herb to complement the rich texture of the chickpeas.



Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are not very easy to photograph!



Actually they are rather boring to photograph. There is no zazzy color nor do they have an interesting outer texture to them!

However they have a fantastic nutlike taste and are very versatile legumes. They are often found in many Middle Eastern and Indian dishes and can come in the form of falafels, in curries or as dips. While I picked chickpeas that are beige in color, there are varieties that feature black, green, red and brown beans.

Above all chickpeas are fiber All Stars! they are rich in soluble and insoluble dietary fiber and can lower cholesterol.

You'll find more health benefits for chickpeas here.

Selecting and Storing
Chickpeas are available dried in packets or canned. When selecting dried chickpeas make sure that there are no signs of insect damage or moisture and that they are not cracked. If you store dried chickpeas in an air tight container in a cool, dark and dry place they will last for up to 12 months.

Unlike many canned vegetables, chickpeas do not loose much of their nutritional value and their is not much difference in the nutritional value of canned garbanzo beans and those you cook yourself.




Mint/Peppermint
The mint in this hummus lends it wonderful aroma to the entire dip, making it refreshing and cooling for the warm weather. Mint is a herb known for its healing qualities and used often in Indian and Middle Eastern foods and medicine. Mint is well known for its ability to sooth the digestive system and reduce the severity and length of stomach aches. You can use mint in a variety of ways, however the most common is brewing mint leaves in a soothing mint tea.

Selecting and Storing
Buying fresh mint is better than the dried variety. If possible always go for the fresh leaves as it is in these leaves that you will find the true aroma and flavor. The leaves you buy should be vibrant and be a rich green color and they should be free from dark spots or yellowing.

The best way to store mint leaves is to wrap them in a damp paper towel and place this in a plastic bag. Close loosely. In the refrigerator this should keep fresh for several days.


Reminder!


Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!











Ingredients:

480g canned chicpeas - drained liquid reserved
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves - crushed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 bunches of parsley - finely chopped
3 bunches of mint - finely chopped






Method:

In a pan roast the cumin seeds until they are fragrant. Take out and allow to cool.

In a large bowl or blender puree the chickpeas, cumin seeds tahin paste and lemon juice into a fine paste. If the paste is too thick use some of the reserved liquid from the chickpeas. The consistency should not be liquidy but thick and creamy.

Place in a bowl and fold in the herbs.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and toasted pita bread sprinkled with thyme.






Verdict:
An enjoyable dip for all occasions - parties, cocktails, picnics or just an evening in front of the TV. Hummus is one of the very common things we make at home. As a matter of fact we make this so often that Soeren can actually make it too. Every time we try a little something different. This minty hummus gives a real refreshing zing to your taste buds.


Don't forget to give your vote to WFLH and The Daily Tiffin for the Blogger's Choice Awards!




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All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2007 Meeta Albrecht unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Arabian Nights Roundup and Monthly Mingle 10 Theme



Wow! What a spread! Fifty one bloggers from around the world were cooking up Arabian food in their kitchens. Everywhere you went you were greeted with delectable dishes with aromas of spices, honey and herbs lingering in the air. It was as if we were all taken back into time, walking the streets of an old bazaar in Turkey, Morocco, Oman or Dubai.

I am so proud of you all. Many of you tried this type of cuisine for the first time, the rest of you were daring enough to go for something more challenging. Just fantastic.




As always though, before we get on with the roundup let me present you with the theme for the next Monthly Mingle. Ready?

As the weather gets warmer outside we all want to spend more time outdoors. Enjoying the warm weather, the blooming flowers and the happy feeling we get when the sun rays warm up our faces. It is also a lovely time for wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. We say goodbye to the heavy stews and soups that kept us warm during winter and embrace the quick and lighter methods of cooking.
Your challenge this month is to go to your local grocer's or Farmer's Market and buy yourself a basket load of fresh Spring fruit and vegetables. Then get back home to your kitchens and create the ultimate Spring Dish. Asparagus, Spinach, Avocado, Summer Squash, Strawberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Apricots. The variety is exquisite and the ways to prepare them tantalizing.

Folks, "Spring Is In The Air" and I want you to feel it, hear it, smell it and taste it.

Here's how it works:
  1. Create a dish that fits this theme. Blog about it anytime from now till May 9th, 2007.
  2. Email me your entry with your name, the name of your blog and your permalink by May 9th, 2007.
  3. In your post please include a link to this post and/or the MM logo, so your readers get a chance to mingle with us.
  4. Please send only one entry per blog. If you do not have a blog, simply email your entry, with a picture (if you would like me to add a picture) to blogmeeta@gmail.com.
  5. Although it's great to get entries from all over the world I have to insist that they be in English. If you have a Blog in another language I would kindly like to request you to post your entries in English as well.


Just one more thing. I'd like to toot my own horn if I may and I hope you bear with me.

WFLH has been nominated in two categories:
Best Food Blog

Best Photography Blog

and The Daily Tiffin has been nominated in the category:
Best Parenting Blog

I remember when I started the blogs last year I would look at the other blogs nominated back then and think "Wow! That must be a great feeling!" I can hardly believe today I am standing on the other side. So, I sincerely thank all my readers and also those who nominated me for this and I urge you all to vote for me here:
Blogger's Choice Awards

Now drum roll please - I present to you our very own Arabian Nights.



  1. Maiapapaya - Kofta Yogurtlu Kebab "Henning and I are both big fans of middle eastern food, and it rivals Indian food for ethnic-food-most-commonly-cooked-at-home."

  2. My Food Freak - Falafel
    "While I’ve snacked on falafel numerous times in the past, this is the first time I have ever made them from scratch. It surprised me how easy they were to prepare and how much better they seemed to taste than the local pita shack."

  3. Hooked On Heat - Spiced Lamb Pilaf
    "It’s funny how every fond memory I have of my childhood always has some connection to food. But what’s even more surprising is my craving for particular food at any given time."

  4. Neivedyam - Konafah
    "Kataifa or Konafah is an Egyptian dessert dish for feasts and everyday during the fasting holy month of Ramadan."

  5. Live To Eat - Kibbeh
    "Kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon in its simplest form is oval shaped nuggets made with a mix of ground lamb and bulgur, and can be made grilled, boiled or fried. I love everything fried, and my book had the recipe for Fried Kibbeh balls,..."

  6. Un Tocco Di Zenzero - Morrocon Cuisine
    Sandra talks about Moroccan cuisine and bakes a Moroccan specialty. In Italian!<

  7. Liberal Foodie - Harira
    "...the other half of the beans were used to make my version of Harira, Moroccan stew, eaten after breaking fast on Ramadan. It is made on the stove in a watched pot but because it was harira, my way I changed the recipe and cooked it in the slow cooker."

  8. An Italian in the US - Lahmacun
    "Apparently some people say pizza was invented by Turkish..."

  9. Aroma! - Umm Ali
    "When I took my first warm bite with a scoop of cold Vanilla Ice Cream ,YUM! My daughter said "it tastes like Heaven mommy"

  10. Almost Chef - Baklava
    "If you have never made Baklava, it seems like a complicated undertaking. You must be organized, work quickly, and protect the phyllo. Fortunately, the only required demanding physical labor is restraining yourself from eating the entire baklava when it is finished."

  11. Spice Corner - Falafel, Hummus and Pitas
    "First time I had falafel was in Bangalore during some food festival. It was crispy deep fried balls of seasoned ground chickpea in a soft, chewy pita along with some fresh vegetables."

  12. Big Cook Tiny Kitchen - Chicken Bastilla
    "I am no stranger to homemade hummus, tabouleh and curry, so this was a chance to try something new."

  13. A Foodie Froggy In Paris - Psal ou Manouch - Sauce for Barbecues
    "To accompany the poor lonely grilled meat, I have my little secret that makes everyone ask for a refill even when they are "oh soooo full" : The Arabian barbecue sauce!"

  14. Eating Out Loud - Kibbeh
    "The recipe I found is baked, but I don't know if it really saved me any calories. It turns out pretty dang rich in the end."

  15. Spices Of Kerala - Batata Harra
    "Batata Harra is one of the most common Lebanese dishes. It makes a side dish or an appetizer."

  16. Mele Cotte - Spinach Turnovers/Fa’toy’yeh B’sbaanegh
    "For this event, I went with a simple, healthy Lebanese recipe that features a medley of greens. I have eaten each member of the trio (spinach, parsley, & mint) individually, but never together. This intriqued me."

  17. Always Room For Dessert - Egyptian Lentil Stew
    "I have never cooked with lentils before; it's just not in the Asian food repertoire. For a while now, I have been in the habit of buying interesting ingredients with the intention of learning how to cook them"

  18. My Chow Chow Bhath - Coconut Dates
    "This is very simple dessert and one of the popular snacks with a hot cup of tea from Saudi Arabia."

  19. Saucy In The Kitchen - Mujadara
    "Arabic food itself has dual virtues of simplicity and complexity. Many of the ingredients are simple, (like legumes and grains) combined in a way that add depth and complexity to the meal, and are a real treat to the Western palate."

  20. Homemades - Lahmacun with Lamb, Red Capsicum & Eggplant
    "I did love reading tales when I was a kid. They often took me to a place of magic lamps, camels, gold coins, veils, urns, beautiful palaces, desert, dates, silks, flying carpets, and handsome princes with pretty princesses."

  21. Delectable Victuals - Moghrabiyah with Zaatar Chicken
    "Zaatar, to me, in concept, is like Garam Masala: each family, each chef, has their own special proportion of spices so that, despite using the same ingredients, each batch can turn out different."

  22. 1 x Umruehren Bitte - Chick peas salad with Orange and Parsley
    "Chick peas are low in fat, and are a significant source of calcium. It is often used as an alternative protein product with vegetarians and vegans and is one of the plants with the highest amount of protein. Oranges are a good source of vitamin C as well as parsley."

  23. 64 sq feet Kitchen - Chicken Bastilla
    "Although the recipe calls to use meat, many versions are made throughout the world using only nuts with an egg filling and spices, or only nuts, honey and spices such as ginger, coriander and cinnamon."

  24. Confessions of a Cardamom Addict - An Easter Feast
    "Apart from the "usual suspects" -- hummus, tabouli, baba ganouj--I've not really done a lot with Arabic-inspired foods. Well, one thing led to another, and I ended up with a hodgepodge of dishes from--or at least inspired from--various areas of the Mediterranean."

  25. Desert Candy - Djaj ala Freekia (Chicken with Roast Green Wheat)
    "Soon, dishes were ferried to the table, and the feast began: steaming platters of saffron rice, stuffed vegetables, roast spicy chicken, salads, bulgur pilafs, stewed okra. The “laziza” truly lived up to its name. There was coffee and tea, then there were chocolate eggs with trinkets inside, and little cakes. By the time the date-filled biscuits were passed around, I was stuffed, but they were so good I found myself reaching for one after another anyway."

  26. Feed Your Vegetarian - Vegetarian Bastilla
    "I can remember the first time I tried Bastilla. The combination of savory, sweet and cinnamon was unforgettable."

  27. Jugal Bandi - Falafel
    "Our home is generally a no deep-fry zone. There are a few exceptions and falafel is one of them."

  28. Morsels & Musings - Khabeesa - Omani Delight
    "At Meeta’s advice to people more familiar with this cuisine, I decided to
    go for a country whose cuisine I knew nothing about and a dish I had never
    cooked before."

  29. Porcini Chronicles -Lamb and Vegetable Tagine
    "Our Moroccan grocers around the block are the only Halal butchers to carry
    Merguez sausage (my favorite!), cracked Moroccan green olives and preserved lemons, so I go to
    them a lot."

  30. Vegetarian Concoctions -Doodhi Kofta
    "Originally Persian, Kofta, köfte, kafta, kufta or kafteh are quite a tradition throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. I presume it travelled to India with the Mughals."

  31. La Mia Cucina - Baba Ghanoush
    "...nothing was going to keep me from joining in on the fun! Not even having absolutely, positively no farkin' idea what to make. None. Nada. The big goose egg. Zilch. This gal doesn't venture much past the Italian, Mexican, Asian, Southern regions of cuisine very often and hoooo baby! did it ever become blatantly apparent when Meeta announced the theme!"

  32. Veggie Cuisine - Muhallebi - Milk Pudding
    "This dessert is ready in 10 minutes flat."

  33. Paulchen's Foodblog - Chicken Tajine with honey, pears & cinnamon
    "I love the taste of fruits with meat it’s sweet and savoury and unusual to an austrian tongue."

  34. Trembom - Balil Hummus with Crushed Chickpeas and pine nuts
    "I picked this recipe because a) I love hummus and b) it was hummus with a twist."

  35. Feeding My Enthusiasms - Feta,Pita and Mint
    "It is a wonderful combination with the salty feta, the wheaten pita and the zing of mint joining forces in your mouth."

  36. A Cook At Heart - Ruz Wa BanadouraI
    "Ruz Wa Banadoura... if that has confused you, how does Rice with Tomato
    sound? That's just what this is!!"

  37. Indian Food Rocks - Bedouin Mensaf Lebeneh and Sambusik Cookies
    "Bedouin Mensaf Lebeneh is best when made with goat meat or mutton, as it is called in India. I made it with lamb, the more readily available meat in these parts of Colorado."

  38. A Mad Tea Party - Pita and Labneh
    "Labneh is simplicity itself. I had never before tried olive oil with it. Simply superlative and hardly any work."

  39. Technicolor Kitchen - Donna Hay's Hummus
    "It was my first time making hummus and the result was great."

  40. My Khazana of Recipes - Couscous "The very first time I ever heard about this wonderful grain, I was fascinated by the mearge sound of
    it"

  41. Akshayapaatram - Mediterranean Birthday Feast<
    "This was for two of my dearest friends' birthday. Me and my roomies and the b'day boys' roomie got
    together to prepare this superb spread for them"

  42. Swad - Tabbouleh "My Geography knowledge got a lift when I learned that Lebanon is the smallest country in the Middle East; it is about 30 miles wide and 135 miles long. Lebanon produces almost all of its food. The farmers cut flat fields out of the steep hillsides and mountain slopes."

  43. Columbus Foodie - Chicken Schwarma and Hummus
    "The chicken schwarma is made with a thinly sliced chicken breast, the better part of a can of diced tomatoes, and a packet of SPYSI schwarma seasoning."

  44. Bounteous Bites - Peanut Halva<
    "For me the definition of halva (or halvah, halava) has always been peanut halva. In Estonia these shiny packages with Ali Baba on them are known to everybody."

  45. Rachel's Bites - Chicken with Caramelized Shallots
    "While the recipe calls for an entire chicken, I decided to use about 8 chicken thighs because those are my favorite part."

  46. Tartelette - Harissa from Oujda
    "If you are familiar with the hot sauce ‘harissa’, do not ask me why this particular pastry is also called this way as there is nothing hot about it."

  47. Ahaar - Vegan Kalam Polow
    "Whether it is falafel with hummus, tahini and baba ganouj dip, chicken sahwarma or kebabs, I enjoy all of them. But I was ready to experiment, so I set my foodie radar working. I looked around for one recipe which captures all the elements of Middle Eastern cooking. Then I came across Kalam Polow (or Polo) or we can say Persian biryani."

  48. Saffron Trail - Eggplant and Red Bean dip
    "Sometimes, you just want something light to nibble for dinner. While I've labeled this recipe under Party Starters, you need not necessarily have a party to enjoy this kind of finger food. This is perfect stuff to share with your partner while watching your favourite movie on a Friday evening."

  49. Ô Délices - Pear Baklava
    "I'm just back from Morocco myself. It's been 8 blissful days of eating and sightseeing. The first thing that comes to my mind to qualify this cooking are spices"

  50. Yambalaya - Peanut Butter Hummus
    "Years ago, when I was still living in the Netherlands in a little town (well it was more of a large village but it had obtained town rights in the middle ages, so a town it is) we did not always had tahini (sesame paste) easily available. No problem, we would use peanut butter."

  51. Jumbo Emanadas - A Four Course Arabian Meal
    "Why try one new recipe in an evening when I can try 4? That means I have 4 times the chance of messing something up. To throw another wrench into the machine, I’ve also ventured into the unknown territory of Arabian cuisine. Let me apologize upfront for the bastardization of any recipes that I try in my attempt to make new things. I mean well."

  52. What's For Lunch, Honey? - Spicy Arabian Chicken with Couscous
    "...as we pureed hummus, rolled kibehs and roasted pine nuts for one of the many Arabic weddings, he would narrate many wonderful tales of the origin of Arabic cooking, in specific that of the Persian Gulf countries"




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All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2007 Meeta Albrecht unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Spicy Arabian Chicken with Couscous



I am fashionably late for my own event. I do apologize! I had trouble starting my camel and the belly dancers were just not ready.

But I am able to give you a rough count of of how many guests are turning up - 45! So, expect a huge party this weekend.

My own dish for the Arabian Nights is something I experimented with and created using my own experiences from living in the Middle East countries for almost 14 years! Ever since I was a child I was exposed to foods from around the world. It was a wonderful experience. However, the Arabic cuisine is one that I truly enjoyed with huge enthusiasm.

Whatever it was, a quick Lahmacun at the Lebanese bakery down the road, a chicken shawarma drenched in tahini sauce at the busy souk or a healthy Fattoush at the Pirates Cove on the private lagoon of the Sheraton hotel, nothing kept me from indulging in one of the many favorite dishes the Arabic cuisine offers.

As I went on to complete my management training program at the Sheraton hotel, I was lucky enough to get an inside view of the what happens behind the scenes in a five star luxury hotel. Believe me it was the most exciting 2 years of my life! What I enjoyed the most was the 3 months in the kitchen and the 6 months in the fine roof top restaurant. Here I learned the secrets of the cooking trade and I think it was also here that the first seed of the "Foodie" addiction was planted. I had the true pleasure of training under one of Middle East's finest Arabic chefs. He was in charge of the Arabic food section in the kitchen and as we pureed hummus, rolled kibehs and roasted pine nuts for one of the many Arabic weddings, he would narrate many wonderful tales of the origin of Arabic cooking, in specific that of the Persian Gulf countries.

There are three major influences that shape the food and the cultural values shown in the Persian Gulf cooking: the Bedouin, the ancient Arabian dominance of the spice routes and of course, the restrictions that the Qu'uran implemented. The Arabs of today inherit their cultural values from the nomadic Bedouin. A folk who prized their honor, chivalry and hospitality. These principles were strengthened by the ancient Arab dominance of the spice trade, which brought travelers to the region who would stop to rest. Hospitality is written big with the Arabs. The tradition of hospitality, handed down from generation to generation, continues unchanged to this day. It is believed that how well one treats their guest is directly reflected on the character of the host or hostess. It is very common to cook an extra portion, for the unexpected guest. Entertaining is a joyous occasion and it is an honor for the host/hostess when the guest remains for another meal.

With this little insight I hope I can persuade you to remain for a few meals. I promise you a lot of entertainment and some exquisite food.





Ingredients:

300g Couscous
600g Chicken breasts - cut into stripes
3-4 garlic cloves - 1 chopped finely rest left whole
1 red chili - finely chopped
1 lemon - zested and juice reserved
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon saffron powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
small bunch of parsley - finely chopped
small bunch of basil - finely chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 red bell peppers - cut in thicker slices
150 g cherry tomatoes - halved

You'll find these food articles at the WFLH Mall:
Organic Whole Wheat Couscous
Epicure Garden Saffron Powder





Method:

Put the chicken slices into a large bowl and add 3/4 of the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 of the chili, the chopped garlic, cumin, saffron, coriander powder and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper. Mix well and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven at 250 degrees Celsius. Place the bell pepper slices and whole garlic cloves on a baking tray lined with baking paper. In the oven roast the peppers and garlic until the skins of the peppers are slightly charred and bubbles build up under the skin. Take out and place a kitchen towel on the peppers to allow them to sweat. Now peel the skin off the peppers. Set both garlic and peppers aside.

In a large pan or wok, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the chicken with the marinade . Allow to cook for 7 to 8 minutes until the chicken is golden brown. Add the tomatoes, peppers, garlic cloves, parsley and basil and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes.

In the meantime place the couscous in a small saucepan and cover with approx. 350 ml of boiling water. Cover the saucepan and allow to steam for 5 minutes (please read the packet instructions). Mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the couscous and loosen any big lumps with a fork. Generously salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the chicken with the remaining lemon zest and chili. Serve with the couscous.

Vegetarian Tip:
Use aubergines instead of the chicken. Simply place sliced aubergine into the oven with the bell peppers and allow to roast.
Interesting reads:
Middle Eastern Cooking




Verdict:
Spicy, lemony, and full of flavors. I was rather chuffed when I served this dish to a few of my friends and they were "ohhing" and "ahhing" to the very last bite. A mingling of zesty and spicy aromas in perfect harmony.


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All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2007 Meeta Albrecht unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First