We went to see Sting play the other night and he was Amazing. Despite looking like an young Santa with a robust, bushy, scruffy beard that collared his face, he stood on stage for an hour crooning and fore-playing with his bass to a nostalgic crowd of Everyone from Everywhere.
Did I say he was AMAZING?
Which got me thinking, he’s a family man right? He has a wife, kids, in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles – the whole familial Sumner-Yates kit and caboodle. Right?
So what would they eat?
In fact as he started with “Englishman in New York”, I thought ‘Wow, how totally fitting for the crowd at the concert since ninety nine point nine nine percent of us were ‘legal aliens in Dubai’, and would have loved to be munching on a cold, creamy, crunchy lobster slider in a soft, buttery roll at that exact moment.’ For sure. With a foamy lager.
The whole concert was Sting is ridiculously sexy. When he launches into “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, I know he’s talking about me. I also know that my hubbie, who gives me a big squeeze during the chorus, is also thinking about me. How everything I do is magical. So true. Just like this baked camembert I make, with brandy and raisins. One minute it’s just cheese in a box, then ‘abracadabra!’ the next minute it’s a heavenly, hot, hearty fondue.
The band that played with Sting were all amazing musicians. There was a pianist, violinist, drummer, guitarist and a back-up singer. What a wonderful spread of talent. Just like my favorite Big antipasti & mezze platter. Perfect for a lazy weekend where friends want to drink slowly, nibble endlessly and chat about everything that they know nothing of. Knowing that all the craziness in the world is worth fighting for so that humankind can continue to have weekends like this. The kiddies run in and out of the house pretending to fight wicked witches, monsters and save the day with concocted potions of olive oil and soap and glitter. As they dash in and out they make a detour for the garden table spread with the nitbits and tibits of the platter grilled halloumi & blackened tomatoes, potent veal polpettini, buttery shrimp with garlic and halabi paste, olive bread, grilled eggplant with tahini sauce, toasted pita and pumpkin hummus.
A complete opposite form the opening act where Crazy Lindsey Stirling the Dancing Violinist – more like the Bouncing Violinist in her shiny vinyl outfit just like the metallic ball in the arcade machine; A big confetti of flavors and energy. The Shrimp curry pilafwith diced vegetables – a fantastic one-pot dish perfect for any day of the week or And my roasted kale and quinoa salad. Both bold, brash, and bursting with color and flavor; orange, pink, green, saffron, and red. Heck, even tabbouleh with all the global arguments over ingredients and origins and what not, is as zippy as Lindsey and her violins.
If you felt dizzy after her show, the classics of “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon” calmed the senses but kept you perky because in a live show – there’s always a variation from the radio version, the DVD version. That’s why you still want to hear the song again. Even if you’ve heard it a hundred times – at the concert when the first few bars are strummed – you freak out with anticipation, not satisfaction. Like my Stuffed tenderloin with brie, date honey and roasted pecans. Or my Braised lamb with saffron and crusty rice. Classics with a twist. They come to the dinner table in a normal package but one you slice into them, bite into them your palate is flooded with comfort and new experience.
“Shape of My Heart” the tender, delicate honesty of a cake. Because at the end of the day, when all is said and done, cake is just cake. And in the Middle East the Victorian sponge is actually a lovely fragrant aromatic loaf with gentle breezes of cardamon, pistachio and orange. Just as if you’re sitting on a Lebanese hill staring into the blueness of the mediterranean and these aromas float gently into your nostrils, the cardamon from the coffee, the orange from the orchard and the pistachios from the peddler.
Along with cake there must also be “Desert Rose”; the beautiful calmness of Arabia captured in a spectacular cool, refreshing dessert, the namesake for this natural pannacotta with a crispy caramel blanket under which are bananas, honey, nuts, rose water, orange blossom and preserved rose petals.
And finally rounding off the serenity of the evening with a melodic violin solo telling us all, “J’aurais toujours Faim de Toi,” a steaming shot of cardamon infused Turkish coffee, an ingot of dark chocolate, and platter of glistening peaches, nectarines and tangerines all hand-picked that morning; left to sun-bathe for the day then chilled for the grande finale and served with an icy grenadine syrup.
Yeah – that would be my banquet table forSting et famille.
Gordon – if you ever read this – it’s an open invitation.
Voici les recettes de mon ‘galumpf’ instants – ce que c’était ce que j’ai essayé pour la première fois et est tombé en amour.
I was 27 when I first tasted blue cheese. It was one of those anti-serendipitous moments. My mother hated blue cheese – so it was just something that I was never interested to try until it ended up accidentally in a green salad and it was love at first bite. I called my mom the next day and chided her for never letting us taste blue cheese. She just laughed and said that I must have inherited my grandmother’s obsession. My grandmother Nelly (r.i.p.) apparently had had a drawer in the fridge full of Roquefort that she would nibble on all day. So I set on a mission of ‘Blue Cheese’ discovery. My favorite way to eat blue cheese is with a glass of buttery Shiraz, in these warm cheesy Gougères and in this delicious salad.
Blue Cheese Gougères
These are cheesy eggy puffs that is a 1 pot prep before being baked in the oven. You can of course use the whole quantity for blue cheese, but I found that adding some soft cream cheese like créme fraiche or pinär, gives each gougère an amazing texture.
Preheat oven to 350 deg F/ 180 deg C. Combine 150g butter and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then add 200g flour (1 1/2 cups) stir quickly until smooth and combined (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat, add 5 eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then stir in 50g crumbled blue cheese and 80g cream cheese. Spoon heaped tablespoons of mixture onto a baking-paper-lined oven tray, bake until golden and crisp (8-10 minutes). Serve immediately.
Beautiful Beet Salad with blue cheese and walnuts
The secret to this beautiful salad is to drain the beet so it doesn’t stain the rest of the salad when you toss it.
Wash a pack of mache leaves(about 200g) and pick them at the node. Shred 2 belgian endive and mix with the mache. Julienne 2 cooked beets and let them drain for about 10 minutes on paper towels. Spread the greens on a flat platter. Sprinkle the beets over the greens. Make a vinaigrette by whisking 1 tsp dijon + 1 crushed garlic + 2 Tbs red vinegar + 2 Tbs lemon juice and slowly whisk in 4 Tbs olive oil. Toss with the vinaigrette and them sprinkle on about 50 g of your favorite blue cheese, I love Gorgonzola with this salad along with 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts. It’s delicious with a beautiful roast or just on it’s own with a crusty loaf.
Many years ago when I had just started my culinary expedition, I bought this crazy cookbook called Taste. It was written by an Indian cookbook author and was about the different tastes of our tongue Salt, Sweet, Bitter, Sour, Umami as well as various examples of ingredients that had naturally evolved. Anchovies were categorized under Salt which was like categorizing cat food as dessert. It was so bizarre that yet again I had to experiment and invariably, it ended with a phone call to my mom. “Anchovies are delicious! Why didn’t we ever eat them?” At which point my mother would just sigh and say that I had to accept that my taste buds had changed since my childhood.
Where I can in my salad dressings I sneak in some anchovy. The Broccoli and my Caesar salad are good examples. But the Roi des Plat d’Anchois, the King of Anchovy dishes is hands down this delicious pungent flat bread from the Mediterranean; known along the Cote d’Azur as Pissaladière, or bruschette des peches, or khobiz bi bassal el bahr. It’s all the same recipe, except this one is made better with fusions of pomegranate syrup because of course, el asel libnaneh*.
For the topping, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a very large saute pan over medium heat and cook 4 large brown sliced onions, until the water is released and they start to soften, about 10 minutes. Mind that the onions don’t brown, not for this recipe. Then add 1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme, 1 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper, and 2 whole garlic and lower the heat and cook for a further 30 minutes, until the onions are sweet and cooked but not browned. Toss the onions from time to time. After 30 minutes, take out the garlic, chop it roughly, and add it back to the onions. And add 8 roughly chopped anchovies and 2 Tbs pomegranate syrup. Stir them together breaking the anchovies into smaller pieces until they basically dissolve into the onions, maybe another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the onion mixture cool.
In a bowl stir 1 envelope active dry yeast (7g or 2 1/2 tsp) with some flour (a 1/4 cup is fine), 1 tsp honey (a squirt really) and 1 Tbs olive oil. Add the same amount of warm water (1/4 cup) then let it sit for about 5 minutes until it gets foamy. (If the bowl is cold, start with warmer water so it’s at least 100 degrees F / 37 deg C when you add the yeast). In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, slowly combine 3 cups of bread flour and 1/2 tsp salt with the yeast mixture and mix on medium-low speed. But this is a quick recipe which means make sure it’s come together and all mixed for no more than a couple of minutes. Transfer it to a bowl, oil it with some olive oil then cover it and let it rise for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 450F / 230 C.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it’s smooth and springy, or put it back in the dough mixer, for about 5 minutes. Divide it into 4 equal portions. Roll each porting into a ball then roll each one out into a long oval about 9 to 10 inches long. This is the traditional shape but there are other shapes out there and if say, you’re having a square day, then by all means… 🙂
Prick each oval with a fork then transfer to a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.Drizzle with olive oil then spoon the onion topping onto the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Traditionally, more anchovies are added as decoration and these are arranged in a decorative pattern either checkers or diamonds with a black olive on top. This is so that when the pissaladière is cut into serving pieces, each piece has a ‘X’ of two anchovies with an olive in the middle. But hey, it’s your pie. I actually don’t decorate with more anchovies, just the olives but I keep a small bowl on the side with extra anchovies for les amants.
Scatter with gorgeous black olives, not the sterile watery kind, but the shiny, satiny kind that have been painstakingly de-stoned and sliced. Brush the edge of the dough with olive oil, and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp. Drizzle with a vinaigrette of pomegranate syrup and olive oil. Serve hot on a cutting board.
In France and Quebec people eat insects, gastropods and amphibians just like they eat chicken and lamb chops, with nary a thought to the repast being weird or bizarre. Nary. The first time I tried snails I was 10 years old and we were on a family vacation in Europe. I had no idea that I was ordering snails. We were sitting in a small brasserie in Paris not too far from L’Arc du Triomphe and a waiter waltzed by with a delicious smelling plate meant for another patron. So when he came to take our order I simply pointed and said “Je voudrais ça.” My parents raised their eyebrows and babbled something to each other in Arabic. I gauged it was along the lines of “Let her eat it and we’ll tell her later.” Well I ate it and I ate it all and I ordered another one. It was so delicious! The memorable dish? The Escargots En Croute, a delicious parcel of crusty pastry with an unctuous bubbly creamy present. Divine!
Escargots Souflée en Croute
First make the super decadent and super important Herb butter.
In a mixer with the paddle, blend 1 stick room temp butter, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 tsp. dried tarragon, 1/4 cup bread crumbs, fresh or dried, pinch of salt & pepper until fluffy.
Then take 24 large puff pastry vol-aux-vents and bake them according to the instructions until they have just risen.
Now make the stuffing. Chop 2 shallots and saute them in a little butter and olive oil, add 1 punnet of chopped brown mushrooms and toss until just releasing their moisture then add in 24 snails (without shells – so a can of drained snails is just fine) and turn off the heat. Let them cool a little then stuff each vol-aux-vents with the mixture and top with a generous amount of the herb butter. (Imagine that you are icing a cup cake.) Place in a shallow baking dish or several individual casserole dishes and bake at 375°F until tender, about 15 minutes. This is schizophrenically delicious with either a glass of cool, crispy chardonnay or red, unctuous Bordeaux.
This is the classic escargots dish cooked and presented in most french restaurants and households worldwide. The escargots can be presented with or without shells, which roughly translates to the gastronomes or the squeamish. You should make sure that all the ingredients are made in France.
First make the ‘erbed butter: In a bowl, mix together 200 g chopped soft French butter, ¼ cup minced French parsley, 1 Tbs French white wine, 1 tsp French cognac or brandy, 3 cloves minced French garlic, and 1 minced French shallot. Season with sel & poivre and a pinch of nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the ﬂavors meld.
Heat oven to 400 F / 200C.
Buy the snails already brined because that will save you an era in preparation just to get to the end result which is your starting point. It’s like curing ham or making cheese. Say what?
So buy a can with at least a dozen large snails, hopefully with the cleaned shells in a separate package. Spoon about ½ tsp of butter mixture into each snail shell – you will need a couple of dozen shells and snails. Push a snail into each shell then ﬁll shells with remaining butter mixture. Cover bottom of baking pan with a layer of rock salt, or a muffin tin, or a special escargot ramekin. Arrange snail shells butter side up on bed of salt and bake until butter sizzles, 10–12 minutes.
Alternatively if you have no shells and no escargot ramekin, just toss them into and oven proof dish with some of the butter and bake. Serve snails in the dish with crusty rustic bread to soak up the butter if you like. Heck – one likes indeed.
Liver & onions
Beef liver with caramelized onions and lots of black pepper was a specialty my mother used to make in the winter all the time. It took me years to understand what the heck that beef stew with the onions was. And then I realized much later in life that it was beef liver and I was besotted with replicating it. This isn’t the European liver and caramelize onions sweetened with balsamic vinegar. This is a hearty warming buttery stew you dip your pita bread into and serve with a simple green salad on the side.
Gently slice off the thin membrane from the beef liver then chop the liver into 1-inch chunks. Slice 1 large white onion and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of salt set in a colander for about 10 minutes. Rinse the onions and pat dry. In a pan start melting 50g of butter with a drizzle of oil and add the sliced onions. You just want them to soften not turn brown. Increase the heat to high and add the liver with 1 tsp of ground black pepper. Sauté on high heat for about 5 minutes until the liver is cooked through. Serve with a dash of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice and lots of your favorite comfort bread to mop up all the buttery juices.
There are 2 boils you need to make to cook tongue. First you have to boil it for a half hour to remove any bristle and gristle. Throw out the water and wash it well. Then boil it again but this time with stock flavoring (carrot, onion, celery, bay leaf, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon stick). I do the second boil in a pressure cooker so it takes 15 minutes to cook through. Otherwise, you have to put it on a soft boil for about an hour and a half. Either way, once it’s done let it cool then peel off the outer membrane and veins, discard them, and then you are ready to eat the meat.
This is my favorite fateh of all time. If you have the ingredients ready as you should in general whenever a plan materializes to make [any] variance of fateh, then this is a very simple dish to put together. And pay attention to the temperatures of each ingredient – it’s part of the experience.
In your serving dish, evenly spread 1 cup warmed pre-cooked short-grain rice. Layer 500 g sliced (cooked) hot beef tongue and season with some salt. Sprinkle with 1 can warmed chickpeas over and drizzle with a vinaigrette of chickpea jus, 2 crushed garlic, a squeeze of lemon. Just before you are about to serve, pour over 2 cups of cold laban, sprinkle with 2 Tbs fried pine nuts and almonds, 2 tsp dried mint and 2 Tbs chopped parsley. Serve with pita croutons on the side for added crunch.
My sister and I were maybe 6 years old when we first tried brains. We were living in Sharjah at the time and I’ll never forget coming home from school and our mother saying “Girls, I made you chicken nuggets!” This was a huge surprise because my mother never fried anything at home. So we eagerly sat down to eat these nuggets and I noticed that they were a different shape. I galumphfed anyway, though my sister took a bite and spat it out. I don’t think she’s touched them since then. Brains have a unique texture that if done properly and wonderfully creamy. If not, then go to a thesaurus and look under ‘squeamy’.
Lebanese brain salad & Lamb fries
Soak 4 cleaned brains (i.e. membranes removed but kept whole) in some milk. It helps removes any iron taste. 10 minutes or so is fine. Then put them in a saucepan with cold water and some aromatics; carrot, celery, parsley, allspice berry, cinnamon stick and a splash of white vinegar.
For the brain salad: Bring to a boil then lower the heat and poach gently for about 15-20 minutes until cooked. If you poke them with a knife – it should slide in an out.
Remove the brains with a slotted spoon and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange on a platter and squeeze lots of lemon juice over them. Make a vinagrette with garlic, mustard, apple cider vinegar and olive oil, then drizzle over the brains. Lay down sliced boiled eggs and plenty of choppedparsley with toastedpita.
For the Fried brains: Bring to a boil and immediately remove the brains and discard the water. Slice them about 1/4 inch thick and drizzle with lemon juice, chopped parsley and olive oil. Roll the brains in flour, dip in egg, repeat the roll and dip, then cover with breadcrumbs and fry in a skillet with 4 Tbs oil for 8 minutes or so, turning once until golden on each side.
We had had about 3 of these each before my sister and I realised what they were. My mother kept saying they were “baydaht” which in arabic means ‘eggs‘, but it also means “testicals” in colloquial arabic. Think “balls” in the same context. At eight years old, there is no reason any kid will cue to any context related to eating genitals. No reason whatsoever.
When you buy these, make sure the butcher removes the outer membrane so you have a very delicate pink meat. Season with salt & pepper, and gently fry in butter until the flat side is crispy, Gently turn so the whole gonad is cooked through – it takes about 5 minutes on medium heat. Eat with bread.
Great Advice Moment: With my kids I tell them all the time that they are eating weird stuff: worms not spaghetti; slugs not okra; bat-gum not mussels. It works. They love it. One day…
I eat everything. This is not an understatement nor an exaggeration. This is just a fact. Way before Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmerman munched their way through inedible stuff made for Reality TV to be edible – I thought I was the only person in the world who quite happily would quite stupidly ‘galumphf‘ food.
1. to willingly eat unknown things defined by anyone (even complete strangers) as ‘edible’.
2. to eat now and ask questions later
Most people I know surgically vet any potential morsel. In fact most of the people I know that do this very well are between the ages of two and twelve years old. But the questions, the scrutiny and the skepticism are universal.
What is this? Is it good? What’s in it? Do I like it? Have we eaten it before?
If we’re in restaurant or any place where I haven’t prepared or cooked the food and the questions are being directed at me because I’m already galumphf-ing away, I try hard to share honest feedback for the sake of everyone else’s hungry appetites and also because I’m the center of attention. Unfortunately I’m quite useless:
What is this? No idea.
Is it good? Yup, quite yummy.
What’s in it? I taste meat.. and something crunchy.
Have you ever eaten it before? Nope – first time.
And inevitably my husband will flag a waiter and ask the same questions, with an exasperated look in my direction:
Excuse me, can you please tell us what this is?
Of course sir, this is the beef roll with scallion in pistachio oil.
Is it good?
Yes it’s quite delicious. People order it all the time.
What’s in it?
Thin slices of beef tenderloin, wrapped with scallion and then sauteed with freshly made pistachio oil and garnished with pistachios.
Have you ever eaten it before?
Of course sir. It’s the chef’s signature appetizer and it’s actually my favorite.
And as the waiter flutters off I roll my eyes at my husband. “Honey what difference does it make? I told you it was yummy.”
“It makes a difference.”
“Well okay then. You want the last one?”
If we’re sitting at home and I have actually prepared and cooked the food, the idea that my food is about to be vetted exasperates me from the onset. Nevertheless, I still try to provide plenty of encouragement for my mini-patrons.
What is this? It’s your favorite.
Is it good? Yes, it’s your favorite.
What’s in it? All your favorite food.
Have I ever eaten it before? Yes, I make it all the time because it’s your favorite.
Really? Yes, now can you please eat it.
I’m not sure why my husband, my friends, my kids, my sister and most everyone else I know, need to do this vetting. You could say it’s a necessary caution but I’ve never regretted galumphf-ing anything and I make it a point to eat it all.
In fact the first I could consider where this point was first made was when my sister and I were maybe about ten years old, and we were invited to dinner with my parents. Now at ten years old, we never had dinner with our parents outside of Easter or Christmas. Our routine was school-home-bedtime. My parents would often go out for dinner well after my sister and I were in bed, so to be invited to dinner late at night and to a business dinner (the invitation was from my Dad’s key vendor) was like Cinderella going to the Prince’s ball. My sister and I were very excited to be trusted enough to be invited along to this very important, grown-up dinner. It seemed that finally the years of etiquette training (usually delivered by my mother hissing at us and my dad glaring at us) had finally paid off. All those hours of squirming at a table, being told to use a fork not a french fry, to chew on the food not gulp it down, to use a napkin not my sister’s dress, was made worth it with this invitation. Even my mother’s last minute instructions in the car were met with ‘Yeah, yeah, ya. We know!”
And so there we were seated at table, doing our best to be prim and proper, to make our parents proud of the table manners we were about to showcase. The food was being put on the table and the wife was bustling around and fussing over us. My parents had told them that my sister and I had never had Indian food and so she was very nervous that my sister and I would like it and kept apologizing for the potential lack of flavor. “Your mummy told me that you never had Indian food, so I put very little spices. But I hope you like it.”
I had no idea why she was saying that. My sister and looked at each other and giggled. Since when did a grown up care whether or not a couple of kids liked the food? What a weirdo.
So dinner was served and my mother served some food on each of our plates. So far it looked pretty familiar; there was rice, some brown things on top that looked like meat. Yummy. My mom added a couple of spoons of potato and something like looked like cauliflower. Again so far so good. The food was very colorful. Very bright and busy; orange with black polka dots, white with flecks of brown and green. Great aroma. So I galumphfed away to the words of the son complaining to his mother “But mummy, the food is not spicy enough.”
Next to me my sister started coughing and food flew out of her mouth. I was also having an out-of-body experience. I could feel fire blow inwards down my mouth towards my throat.
The wife was quick to the rescue. She handed as both two glasses of yoghurt. “Here yar, you drink this yoghurt it is good with the spicy.”
So like parched desert travelers my sister and I grabbed the glasses and gulped them down. We looked at each other in complete horror. It was also spicy!
My poor sis had tears brimming in her eyes. She held the yoghurt in her mouth not swallowing- completely motionless. What do we do? Burn in etiquette hell? Or let our innards burn in hell?
Well, we each picked one and burned something. To this day she still doesn’t eat Indian food. Me on the other hand, well I think it’s academic.
So as a homage to all the galumphing that I’ve done that was well worth it, here we go with the consequential out of body experiences:
Liver & onions
Lamb testicles (lamb fries)
Raw liver, kidneys with arak
And it wouldn’t be a complete homage without telling you a bit about the galumph-ing that ended on the table.
Pour rendre nos vacances en famille plus spécial, j’aurais aimé à préparer et cuire le repas pour le barbecue sur la plage. Cela aurait été mon menu pour cette soirée spéciale, et que je l’ai fait quand même.
This gorgeous menu is typical of any barbecue I plan. A lot of meat variety in type, texture and presentation, with loads of interesting salads and a couple of sauces. The sauces are perfect with the meats; one is a cold sauce deliciously light and refreshing, and the other is an earthy classic. The desserts are rich in their ingredients, but light and airy and a perfect ending for picnics or lazy days.
Les Viandes: Chateaubriand with scorched tomatoes and truffle oil, Skewered lamb with Zanzibar spice rub, Shrimps with chili garlic butter, Mini duck & turkey burgers with seaweed crusts
Les Salades: Charred Corn salad, Simple Green salad, Grilled Summer salad with Pesto dressing, Baked potatoes
Les Desserts: Pistachio Cheese-cake, Îles flottants à Prosecco
Chateaubriand with scorched tomatoes and Truffle oil
Start by rubbing the Chateaubriand with salt & pepper, American mustard and olive oil. Chateaubriand is the name for the center cut of beef tenderloin which is evenly thick and about 6 to 8 inches in length. It usually weighs about 500 g or so and is perfect when you want to up your presentation ante. The mustard adds a subtle french essence and ironically I find the American mustard is a better marinade for the beef and brings out the deep umami flavor. So when that’s done, wrap it in baking parchment, then wrap that in aluminum foil. Put it on a hot grill or indirect heat for about 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Remove and let it rest before drizzling with truffle oil and slicing into 1/2-inch slices. You should get about 8 slices. Tradionally it is served with grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, the truffle is the fungii substitute here, and as for the tomatoes, throw some vine cherry tomatoes on a very, very hot grill pan until they start to burst. Then remove and serve with the meat.
Skewered Lamb with Zanzibar Spices
Dry heat a small pan, and when hot add 2 Tbs fennelseeds + 2 Tbs coriander seeds + 2 tsp cumin seeds + 1 tsp white peppercorns. Toast until you smell something which should take 30 seconds at most. You just want the heat to activate the oils, then quickly put them in a spice or coffee grinder and grind until coarse. Cut 500g of lamb leg into cubes about 1-inch thick. Put them in a plastic bag and add 1/4 cup of red wine, 1/4 cup of kecap manis, and 2 Tbs of the spice rub. Keep the leftover spice rub in a sealed jar – you’ll be using it later. Let the lamb marinate overnight. Then remove the meat draining and pat dry. Skewer onto 8 skewers – one for each person, adding pearl onions here and there. Rub the skewered meat well with olive oil, then season with salt and sprinkle about 2 tsp of the remaining spice rub. Grill on high heat until the lamb is medium. Serve on an open faced pita bread.
Shrimps with Chili Garlic Butter
Take 1 stick of salted butter and bring it to room temperature. In a mortar and pestle bash 3 cloves of garlic until they’re very smooth. Add the mashed garlic to the butter, mix in 1 Tbs finely chopped fresh thyme and 1/4 tsp of chilli powder. Mix it well with the butter then chill the bowl for about 15 minutes until it firms up a bit. Take about 20 cleaned medium shrimp (20/30 size), skewer 3 or 4 on each skewer and spread a healthy dollop of the mixed butter on each side. Grill on medium so they are still juicy and plump- about 5 minutes in total. Serve with a squeeze of lime.
Mini Duck & Turkey burgers with Seaweed crusts
Take 1 duck breast and 1 turkey breast and ask your butcher to remove the skin and mince the breasts together. Keep the duck skin for later. When you’re back in the kitchen mix the mince with 2 Tbs saltedbutter, and 1/4 tsp of chinese 5-spice powder. I’m not doing an asian spin on the burgers, but the 5-spice mix of star anise, removes any fowl odor. The breasts are very lean so you have to add butter to keep them juicy. Mix the mixture very lightly until just mixed then form them into meatballs the size of golf balls, then flatten them out by patting lightly and sticking your thumb in the middle. In a small bowl mix 1 Tbs sugar with 1 Tbs of crushed seaweed and 1 tsp ground black pepper. Sprinkle the patties with this mix on each side. Slice 2 red onions and caramelize them adding a splash of balsamic vinegar towards the end. Make the spicy sauce by mixing 3 Tbs Dijon mustard with 2 Tbs wholegrain mustard, 1 Tbs prepared horseradish and 1 Tbs honey. Grill each patty. Serve each patty on a burger bun with an oakleaf lettuce, the caramelized onions, the mustard spread and a final sprinkle of the seaweed.
Scrub 8 medium potatoes very well and when still damp and wet, poke them with a knife and wrap them in foil. Add them to the coals and remove them when all the cooking is done- like 40 minutes later.
Grilled Corn Salad
In a small frying pan, heat some olive oil then add 1 chopped shallot, 6 chopped green onions, 1 crushed garlic, 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, 1 tsp of dried oregano. Add 1 cup of frozen or raw corn, mix a bit then leave it on medium heat for about 15 minutes. You want a bit of charring on 1 side. When that happens, remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of quartered cherrytomatoes and a bunch of roughly chopped coriander. Leave it to cool to room temperature. Just before serving, season with salt, drizzle with more olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh coriander.
Buy a bag of organic baby spinach. Toss it with ribbonedcucumbers, fresh mint leaves, avocadoes, and pithed persian limes. Sprinkle with pomegranateseeds. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.
Grilled Summer Salad with Arugula & Pistachio Pesto dressing
Pick 4 vegetables you like – mostly for color like carrot, green zucchini, yellow zucchini,baby corn, cauliflower, broccoli. Cut them into sexy slivers of the same thickness, and if you’re using the florets cut them so the florets are the same size as your thumb. Grill the vegetables on an oiled flat iron plate until they have nice grill marks. The vegetables should still have a nice crunch to them. Make an arugula and pistachio pesto by whizzing 1 big bunch of organicarugula (not the wild one), 1/4 cup of shelled pistachios, 1 crushed garlic, 1/4 cup of gratedparmesan. Then slowly add olive oil until it’s nice and soupy. Then stir in 1 Tbs ground sumac. Spread the vegetables on a flat plate and spoon the dressing over them.
Peppery Yoghurt & Shallot Sauce
Chop up 1 small red onion into tiny mince. In a small bowl mix 1 cup yogurt with 1/4 cup of mayonnaise and stir in the onion. Season with plenty of black pepper, salt and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours until the onion permeates the dip.
Mustard & Pink Peppercorn Sauce
Lightly crush 1 Tbs of pink peppercorns with a rolling pin until just cracked. Then toast in a dry frying pan for 1–2 minutes until fragrant. Pour in 1/2 cup of cognac or brandy, 2 Tbs of dijon mustard and 1 tsp sugar. Bring to the boil then simmer until reduced by half and it’s a thick sauce. Stir in 1/2 cup of thick cream and let it simmer until thickened. Whisk in 1 Tbs of butter and season with a pinch of salt.
Whizz a 500g of wholewheat digestivecookies in a food processor. The last blitz add in 1/4 cup of shelled pistachios and 3 Tbs granulated sugar. Pulse for about 5 seconds. The pistachios should still be chunky. Mix in 200g melted butter then press into an 8-inch spring form pan that has been buttered and lined on the bottom. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 325F / 170 C. In a stand mixer, mix 500g room temp cream cheese, 250g mascarpone, 3 egg yolks, 3 whole eggs, 2 tsp vanilla essence, 1/2 cup of ground pistachio, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tsp orange rind, 1 tsp lemon rind, a squeeze of lemon, and 1/4 cup of sour cream or greek yoghurt. Do it in the order listed while gently mixing to avoid any lumps in the filling. The cheesecake will come out pale with some green specks. Please try to avoid adding any food coloring. Please. The beauty off this dessert is in the subtleness of the presentation and the taste. Pour it into the pan and bake in a water bath for 1 hour at 325 F / 170 C. Remove it but let it cool in the water bath so it doesn’t crack. Serve it dusted with more ground pistachio and cold berries. And maybe whipped cream.
Îles flottants à Prosecco
I did this dessert because I had all the egg whites left over from the cheesecake. Take the 3 egg whites at room temperature and add half of them in a mixer with the whisk attachment. Add the 1/4 cup sugar, a couple of drops of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and whisk until snow white. Add in the rest of the egg whites and continue whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks when the whisk is removed. Gently drop eight spoonfuls of meringue into a large pot of simmering water and simmer for a few minutes or until they are slightly puffed up and just set. Remove with a slotted spoon and place onto a sheet of baking paper until needed. Usually this is placed on top of a Creme Anglaise custard and dressed with spun sugar or flaked nuts for texture. Imagine it with Champagne instead. Oh no wait – no need to imagine. Pop open a bottle of Rosé Prosecco or Rosé Champagne and pour into a wide glass. Gently place a meringue in the centre.
We were out this weekend having a much needed family vacation in one of those resorts for Couples Only.
It was a really beautiful location, gorgeous sea-facing bungalows each with a fully stocked bar, a private pool and copious quantities of ice. The resort host was one of the wisest people I had ever met. Upon Check-In he pleasantly sized us up and gave us three adjacent bungalows far, far away from everyone else. How he figured out we wanted privacy, beats me. Maybe he took his cue from our older kids as they divided up the hotel; “Last one to the beach has to sleep on the floor”, “I got shot-gun for the buggy.” Or maybe it was the endless sighing of couples waiting to check-in while he patiently answered our questions then patiently ushered us to the patient golf-carts, that drove us impatient lot to our awaiting bungalows.
Within minutes we had the whole place scoped out: food menus were open, massages were being booked, jet-skis were being negotiated. And then my sister’s eyes opened wide “Oh wow,” she exclaimed. “They do a barbecue on the beach.”
“They do? That’s awesome!”
“Let’s do it,” she decided.
And so just like that we organized the barbecue for the next day. The rest of the family were thrilled. They were even more thrilled when the resort agreed to let us cook it ourselves.
… beat …
When we recounted the weekend to our friends, most just shook their heads in disbelief. Why would anyone want to cook a barbecue in those conditions? Are you all mad? Were the babies with you? Are you mentally fit to be parents?
The conditions being: the middle of summer, in the middle of a coastal desert, and the mercury stuck at 42 deg C day & night.
We’re sure the kitchen staff cheered when our offer was made.
So why do it – with the whole kit and caboodle?
Actually, ‘Why’ never crossed our minds. In fact, apart from wanting a more upscale menu the whole dinner was perfect. The table was beautifully laid out under the sea-facing gazebo. The sunset along the horizon was magical. My hubbie and niece cooked the meats perfectly. There were copious quantities of Prosecco, breezers and cold water. The beach shower had plenty of cold water and the babies loved playing in the sand, rinsing in the shower then toddling back to the sand. And most importantly – it was just us.
Beach Barbecue for a family 300 feet from the sun, 500 billion feet from anyone else.
BBQ on the beach. Everyone was sorted out for drinks…
Our Idyllic Upscale Menu
Chateaubriand with scorched tomatoes and Truffle oil, Skewered lamb with Zanzibar spice rub, Shrimps with chili garlic butter, Mini duck & turkey burgers with seaweed crusts
Grilled corn salad, Green salad, Grilled veggie salad with Rocket & Walnut Pesto, Baked Potatoes.
White Onion Sauce, Mustard & Pink Peppercorn Sauce,
Pistachio Cheese-cake, Îles flottants à Prosecco
Great Advice Moment: When on vacation, have a vacation.
À la suite de la quadrature le cercle avec mon Vulcan, je partage humblement avec vous la plus grande des recettes, les miennes et les autres est devenu le notre.
Swiss Cheese Fondue
If you want to do a cheese fondue it’s a labor of love. So if you’re not too crazy about your dinner buddies, buy the pre-packaged stuff. But to those 6 or 8 that make your heart skip a beat then: Take 2 Swiss cheese, not French or Italian, Swiss like Swiss Gruyere, Swiss Emmenthaler and a third cheese that’s your secret weapon. Like Fontina, manchego, sheep kaskaval. Grate 200 g of each into the same bowl. Then rub the inside of a heavy- based cast-iron pot or your fondue pot all over with sliced garlic. Mix 2 tsp of cornflour with a bit of milk, and then add it into 1 cup of milk. Pour that into the pot and over the stove bring it to heat gently. DON’T LET IT BOIL. I repeat, don’t stand over it texting or tweeting or messaging or kissing. You can have a glass of wine to keep you company but DON’T LET IT BOIL. This means that the minute you see some bubbles on the side, take a handful of the grated cheese and stir it in. Keep stirring. Once that has mostly-melted, while still stirring, take another handful and do the same. Whatever you do, keep stirring on gentle heat. Yeah it takes a while and a lot of elbow grease – about 20 minutes of calorie-burning. Like I said earlier, this is a labor of love. Once it’s all melted you can transfer it to your fondue stand with the cute burner underneath. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve it with chunks of bread, pickles, chorizo and loads of red wine and grapes.
As you may have noticed, I don’t put any wine or alcohol in my fondue. I don’t like it – I find it makes the whole thing bitter. The best part of the fondue is the crust that forms at the bottom of the pot after you’ve been fonduing for a while. Any alcohol becomes quite bitter when the cheese has crusted from the bottom up. Plus we have kids and teetotalers whom we love. But hey, plenty of room in my glass…
Love mussels. They’re a doozy to cook and perfect for last minute guests. Chop up some parsley, shallots and garlic. Have all your ingredients ready because this whole thing takes 7 minutes from start to finish.
In a large wok or Creuset melt 50g of butter then add in 4 sliced garlic, about 1/4 cup of thinly sliced or chopped shallots, and 4 sprigs of thyme. Gently saute them until they are soft but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of wine and 1 cup of light cooking cream. Raise heat to HIGH and bring to a boil. Add in about 800 g of cleaned mussels and close the lid. After 3 minutes remove the lid – the mussels should be open and salivating. Sprinkle on a bunch of chopped parsley and give the whole thing a good stir. Now eat.
It’s delicious with crinkly fries or crusty bread.
This is how I make my Boeuf Bourguignon. The extra step of marinating and stewing the beef separately means the flavors really develop and I can prepare everything the day before, then ‘cook it for the cameras’ the day I want to eat it. It makes all the difference in presentation and turns an ordinary beef stew into an extraordinary meal.
Part A – Marinating & stewing the Boeuf (2 days):
2 kg beef shoulder cut into 1-inch chunks
1 bottle red wine
Leeks/ green onions / carrots / celery cut into large chunks so you have 2 cups of chopped veggies.
bunches of thyme – 6 sprigs each
Put all the above in a re-sealable plastic bag and marinate overnight. Just use enough wine to drown the meat.
Next day: Drain and separate the 3 components; meat, wine, veggies. Throw away the thyme.
In pressure cooker: heat about 2 Tbs veggie oil , season meat and in batches sear off meat then remove with slotted spoon. When all beef is done, do the same with the veggies until they get nice and brown also. Then add the wine in with the veggies and reduce down (by half – about 15 minutes) until the alcohol is all gone. Now add beef back with some new thyme (about 3 sprigs), salt and 2 -4 cups of beef stock. Close Presto for 15mins.
When done discard the veggies and thyme, and store the beef in the reduced sauce overnight covered so that flavors develop.
Part B-Making a beautiful & photogenic Boeuf stew (45 minutes)
2 Punnets of Brown mushrooms whole or halved so they are same size
1 cup pearl onions whole & peeled
2 cups turned carrots (the same length as your pinky)
1 bottle red wine
Maybe 4 cups beef stock
Slowly melt 50g butter with a little oil and add the pearl onions and gently brown, then add the mushrooms and carrots and brown all slowly on MED heat. When browned sprinkle 1 tbs flour and cook for about 5 mins then add 2 -3 cups red wine (about a bottle) and a thick sprig of thyme. Reduce down by half, then add the all the meat & sauce from Part A. Heat it up, add some salt and black pepper then top up with beef stock adding just enough to just cover. Simmer for about 40 mins. The sauce should have a thick and runny consistency. Serve with steamed basmati rice.
‘Turning’ carrots for this dish is like getting your nails done to go to the movies. That extra bit of effort makes you feel glamorous. There are plenty of videos online showing you how to turn carrots. It’s super easy.
Guava BBQ Topside
This Topside should be served medium rare. It can also go on the BBQ for about 1 hour with indirect heat, or in the oven.
Make the Guava BBQ Sauce first.
In a small saucepan, add 2 Tbs oil then saute 1 chopped medium onion, 4 crushed garlic and 1/2 tsp of crushed chili. Cook until the onion is soft. Add in 1 Tbs paprika, 1 cup guava paste, 1/2 cup non-alcoholic beer, 3/4 cuppassata, 2 Tbs cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of brownsugar, 2 Tbs dijon mustard and 1/3 cup Worcestershiresauce. Let the sauce simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes until its thickened. Season it and let it cool. Then whizz it with the hand-held whizzer, strain it and set it aside. It should be smooth and a deep burgundy color.
Now make the Spice Rub for the topside. In a bowl mix together 1Tbs paprika, 1 Tbs cocoa powder, 1 Tbs sugar, 2 tsp cumin powder, 2 tsp allspice powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp chili powder and add enough oil to make a thick paste (about maybe 1/4 cup).
Take the 1.5 kg beef topside and rub it first with some oil and season with salt and black pepper. Let it sit for an hour. then rub the spice mixture all over. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it marinate for a couple of hours or overnight. Take it out about 2 hours before cooking to let it come to room temperature. Get your BBQ going for medium indirect heat. That’s a temperature between 170-180 C / 325-350 F. Unwrap the beef and place it in the middle of the barbeque and cook it for 20 minutes covered. Then brush it with the guava BBQ sauce and cover for another 10 minutes. Repeat 2 more times until the beef has been cooking for 1 hour. Remove and let it rest covered for about 10 minutes. Slice it thinly and serve it with all your favorite BBQ accouterments.
Curry Salt-baked branzini.
You need 2 super fresh branzini / sea bass / louqoz (same same). They should be gutted but with the scales still on. WIpe them and place them on a baking sheet. Cover each with about 1 cup of sea salt / rock salt that’s been mixed with 1 cup of curry powder. Don’t worry too much if the nose and tail aren’t covered, but make sure the salt is about a finger thick. Sprinkle the salt with water using your fingers. Bake at 180 C / 350F for 17 minutes. Remove and let it rest for a minute. Using a spatula and a knife, gently crack the salt and remove it. The skin should come off too. Remove the filet to a plate, remove the bone to the cat, and remove the bottom filet to the plate also. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.
This how I like my tabbouleh. Pick the leaves from 3 bunches of parsley and 1 bunch of fresh mint as well. Make sure they are washed and completely dry before you start this salad. Chop 6 green onions, and dice 2 large tomatoes. Soak 4 Tbs of brown bulgur in some water then drain and squeeze out all the water. Chop the parsley not too small and not too rough, and put it in a bowl. Chop the mint and add it too, then the tomato, green onions and bulgur. Mix well. Now add the dressing: equal tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, canola oil and fresh lemon juice. So for the above that’s 4 Tbs Olive oil + 4 Tbs Canola oil + 4 Tbs Lemon juice. Season with salt and mix well. You should always mix it about 20 minutes before serving.
Take 2 cans of chickpeas, drain them – wash them a bit and put them in a small saucepan. Add a quarter of an onion still attached to the stem and cover it with water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so until the chickpeas are ridiculously tender and some of the skins are peeling off. Remove from heat and let it cool a bit.
In a food processor add the drained chickpeas reserving the water and a small handful of chickpeas for decorating later. Add 3 Tbs Tahini,2 crushed garlic,juice of 1 lemon,1 tsp of salt and 4 Tbs of the chickpea water and whiz. If you do this while the chickpeas are still warm you will get a much finer hummus. Taste and adjust a little bit with the salt or lemon juice. Then with the motor running add in about 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. The hummus should be smooth and have a depth of flavor that is unreal. This is why countries are still at war. Spread it out on a plate and decorate it with the extra chickpeas, a drizzle of olive oil, paprika, parsley and pomegranate seeds. Serve it with plenty of pita and toasted pita with olives.
This beautiful dish requires 4 different components to be made separately, then assembled just before serving.
Eggplants: Take 6 medium eggplants, cut them in half and de-salt them in colander. Then brush them with plenty of oil and grill them on medium heat in an oven or grill plate until they are they are just soft. In a pan. heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and add 3 whole lightly crushed garlic. Once you smell the garlic, add 3 Tbs passata and lower the heat. Gently nestle the eggplant until they fit snugly. Top up with about 1/2 cup of water and a squeeze of lemon. Stew them for about 30 minutes then turn off the heat.
Chickpeas: Take 2 cans of chickpeas, drain them – wash them a bit and put them in a small saucepan. Add a quarter of an onion, 1 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 whole garlic and cover it with water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so until the chickpeas are ridiculously tender and some of the skins are peeling off. Discard the onion & garlic. Crush in 2 new garlic and half a lemon juice into the chickpeas & the water. Season with a litle salt. Leave them to cool a bit.
Yoghurt sauce: Whisk 2 cups of yoghurt until very smooth and creamy. Mix in 3 Tbs Tahini, 1 crushed garlic, some salt and a couple of tablespoons of water.
The garnish: Cut some pita into 1/2 inch squares and toast along with pine seeds and almonds until they are golden brown. You will also need chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds.
To assemble: In your serving dish that is flat and also has sides about 3-inches high, lay out the eggplant evenly and try to avoid too much of the passata. With a slotted spoon, add the chickpeas on top, also trying to avoid any cumin seeds and as little water as possible. Scatter the toasted pita on top. Then working quickly pour the yogurt sauce all over and top with the nuts, parsley and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately while the pita is still crunchy.
There have been Disasters with Meals and then there have been Disastrous Meals.
By far if I could pick one to happen any time, I’m okay with the Disasters with Meals. Like the time I invited 2 people over for an impromptu dinner and hubby got so excited he invited 3 more though I had exactly enough food for 4 people (we were 7). Then hubby dropped the entire pot of cheese fondue! So the rice burned because I was busy cleaning up the cheese… but hey, we opened another bottle of wine, made some quinoa instead and the Moules Mariniere and Boeuf Bourguignon were licked clean.
Or the time my son who was 18 months old at the time, turned the oven OFF while zooming past in his tricycle. I only found out an hour later after I had showered and the guests showed up and I thought to myself “Hmm, how come I’m not smelling the roasted beef… (beat)… oh, that’s why.” Of course I had no time, so I took the Guava BBQTopside out of the oven, sliced it and ended up doing a pan sear & oven instead. Kind of defeated the purpose of dressing up but hey, we opened another bottle of wine…
With my kids still young and as much ragamuffins as I used to be, I’ve learned to always have a Plan B somewhere in the back of my mind or in the back of my fridge.
But what gob-smacks me, what flummoxes my brain, what mystifies my mind is un-Twisting out of a Disastrous Meal. I get catatonic. I get brain freeze. And I just want to stick my head in the oven and get smoked.
For example, last summer I found these amazing branzini at the fishmonger so fresh and glistening and immediately I thought to myself “Salt-baked with Curry“. So I got home, pulled out this plastic bag I had found once full of chunky salt, poured it over the branzini and chucked the whole thing in the oven. I quickly made tabbouleh and hummus all the while sipping on arak and bragging to my guests about how amazing salt-baked fish was, how often I made it, how lucky they were to try it today, here in my house in the middle of the mountains. How juicy and luscious the crust kept the fish. how amazingly crusty the salt became because of the steam from the cooking fish, and on and on and on and on and on. Lordy, I find myself cringing retelling this tale of woe…
Until my senses picked up a strange smell, an acrid scent and I swear – a bit of shimmering in the air. Like seeing a mirage… it was very weird. I opened the oven door and had to cover my nose and mouth. The cloud of smoke which puffed into my face stung my eyes and my throat started to burn. But strangely, there was no “burnt” smell. My hubby followed me into the kitchen “What the heck is that?!”
“I don’t know, it’s so weird. It’s coming from the fish.”
At this point all the guests had strolled into the kitchen to see what the fuss was about, but when I opened the oven and the smoke escaped they practically evacuated at top speed clutching their mouths and gagging. I opened all the windows and looked down at the guilty dish. I could swear there were more mirages. My brain started to deduce possible options: Was this fish special? Was it genetically modified as a biological weapon? Had I inadvertently stumbled across the fauna that would expose a secret nuclear arms facility?
I racked my brain for a possible explanation. In my mind there was upheaval in the corridors of my Knowledge. Shelves were being ransacked, books torn apart, vaults were unlocked. Then the acrid scent wafted up my nostrils and a distant chemistry ‘A’ level memory ran silently up the corridors until it threw itself roaring into my face and I gasped.
“Oh no! That’s not salt! That’s acid!”
Like an idiot… actually no similarity there. I was the Real Thing, the Real McCoy, the real Bonafide Idiot:-
When I had found the ‘bag of salt’, I assumed it was rock salt because it looked like rock salt even though there was a slight lime taste, yes I had tasted it too. Did it occur to me why (oh why) would a bag of rock salt be sitting in the store cupboard in a cheap blue plastic bag? Or the right question to ask was perhaps: Was this ‘rock salt’ sitting in the back of this store cupboard, in a cheap blue plastic bag, actually waiting for me to use it in cooking? And the answer would have been: “No doll, it’s Potash salt.” And that same sensibility would have reminded me that Potash Alum salt + water = Sulphuric acid ++++
Luckily my guests were good-natured (aka Dad, hubby, my step-mother and my cousins) and they made some popcorn and opened another bag of nuts to munch on, while they staved off hunger. But I was mortified at my stupidity (and thankful to my ‘A’ level background for not resulting in serious injuries). Lunch was going to be tabbouleh and hummus. I had nothing to serve them. I ended up making a stupid pasta with pesto which on any other day was a great meal. But not on the day when I was a Bonafide Idiot. On that day lunch was tabbouleh and hummus and stupid pasta.
The other day, a similar thing happened. I had bought these gorgeous eggplants from the market. They were so beautiful and perfect that I knew immediately that I would make my famous Eggplant Fateh, a delicious vegetarian dish fit for meat lovers. Cold, creamy, & crunchy perfect for the summer, easy to prepare and always a hit. I had made this dish a million times before to rave reviews and please-tell-us-the-secret-for-the-eggplant and so on.
So I did all the prep that goes with the fateh; the pita croutons, the yoghurt and tahini sauce, the poached chickpeas, pine nuts, almonds and all that and assembled the fateh; lovingly placing the eggplants in perfect alignment, evenly ladling the chickpeas over them, artistically scattering the pita so that each serving would be a perfect bite of all these textures & flavors. My fateh was perfectly handcrafted.
But all the while there was nag in the back of my head; a little voice tugging at my concentration; my Jiminy cricket bouncing up and down on my shoulder: “Can you please taste the eggplant? Why haven’t you tasted it yet?”
Because it’s perfect! had been my retort.
So I didn’t.
Then I served it, and I was already gloating in preparation for all the compliments that would come pouring out, again in perfect rendition to the Bonafide Idiot that I am. Until I bit into it… and almost spat it out. Instead of the gorgeous mushiness of eggplant, the crunch of the croutons and nuts, I tasted flippers and garlic. Blech! The eggplant was awful. It was hard, it was rubbery, it was bitter, it had no flavor. I gasped and peeked at my guests. I could see a couple of them had politely pushed it to one side and helped themselves to something else. My husband though, always a trooper, swallowed – nay, gulped it down.
And again – catatonia befell. I froze. I was humiliated.
“You’re own doing,” said the nagging voice in my head.
“Get lost,” was my immediate reply.
“You can just say you’re ‘Sorry’ and I’ll unfreeze you.”
“What! It’s you! Why are you doing this?”
“To teach you some humility. To clean your ears. To calibrate your swagger.”
“Rubbish. I’m humble. I’m clean. I don’t swagger.”
“You’d better hurry… people are looking..”
I tried to say something to my guests. But my mouth just opened and closed like a codfish.
“Okay, okay,” I relented. “You win. I’m sorry. I will listen to you from now on.”
“Yes you will and you will also say ‘Thank You’. I noticed the last time with the Topside you didn’t credit me for saving your dinner party.”
“It was my idea!”
“No actually it was mine. I give great advice and when you listen it happens naturally,”
“Fine. ‘Thank you for the Topside‘, ‘Thank you for the quinoa.'”
“You’re welcome! Now go open another bottle of wine.”
Great Advice Moment: It takes a mind-meld with a Vulcan Ego to unfreeze a Bonafide Idiot. You can find plenty in the back of your head.
My first language was Greek. Hilarious isn’t it? No one believes me. It’s like telling everyone the Earth is round.
“Hey! Guess what! The Earth isn’t flat! It’s round!”
Except the conversation goes more like this;
“Yeah so my first language was Greek.”
“Really? That’s so cool. Say something in Greek.”
“Errrm… The funny thing is that I don’t remember any. Ha… ha…”
So unless I have my parents around re-telling greek anecdotes- any corroboration is tough.
But while i don’t remember any of the language I remember a lot of other things; I remember the house we lived in, I remember the nursery we went to, I remember slicing my kneecap with the serrated saw while trying to rescue a kitten caught behind it. I remember that all the food we ate in restaurants looked weird and was new but was always delicious. And I also remember that if my sister and I hinted at liking a particular dish, my Mom would always make an effort and a few days later whatever it was ended up on our dinner table.
There’s also a lot of things about Greece that are also in a memory limbo. Now that those memories are decades old, it surprises me that every once in a while one still gets dislodged and makes it over to the Other Side. And more often it’s certain smells and tastes that seem to jolt these cloudy ones to center point.
Like Stuffed Calamari.
I know I’ve eaten it and loved it. I know that because whenever I see a recipe for Stuffed Squid, my reaction is Pavlovian; I start to salivate and I say something like “Oh yummy!” I just don’t remember where or why I have this instinctual response – I just do.
For years I would read various recipes about seafood and if I came across a stuffed squid version; just a glance through it I would know that that particular version was not the one that I had an inclination towards. There was an ‘It’ version that I was on a subconscious hunt for but my conscious self kept coming up short.
Then one day ‘It‘ happened.
I was at my in-law’s house and my Mother-in-law was ‘having fun’ in the kitchen. In Arabic this is pronounced as “3am bitsallah“, which direct interpretation means that one is amusing oneself for the purpose of biding time rather than for a specific objective. But knowing my mother-in-law what probably happened is that she was bored and started rummaging around the kitchen looking for something to do, and upon finding a pack of flour, decided it was on Freshness’s deathbed and so made some home-made bread dumplings with shredded onions and chili paste. Then because she had leftover onion paste, she made a lamb soup and with the extra tomatoes she chopped up for the soup, she made the Stuffed Squid.
Like I said earlier, ‘It’ happened. I walked into the kitchen and as is always the case when my in-laws are around, I was met with a fork, inches from my nose that had a white lump at the end of it.
“Taste it, my dear, see how delicious it is.”
So I did.
And instantly I was blown back to Greece, to a trip we had done to see a bunch of yellow stones. But bored to bits we were, my sister and I and after scrambling up and down said bunch of stones a hundred times, going to have lunch was like exploring the moon. And in the restaurant the only thing I remembered eating were these white moist packets of rice, with french fries.
And now, standing in the airy kitchen in Beirut with the fork still in my mouth I felt a memory packet jolted out of its limbo and lodge itself firmly back on my ‘To-Do’ list.
“See how good it is?” My mother-in-law snapped me out of my mental catatonia.
“It’s absolutely delicious.” I agreed. “How did you make it?”
“It’s so easy… I had some tomatoes leftover – what am I going to do with them? Then I had some rice, not even a finjan – so what am I going to do with them? Then I remembered I saw these squid at the fishmonger this morning, so I sent the driver back to get me six of them then I mixed with not even a small onion – you know just for taste. And I also added wine. Very easy.”
“Very,” I agreed, except of course I was completely baffled by her explanation.
But when I came to, here was the ‘It’ Stuffed Squid; lovingly known as:
You need about 10 medium sized squid. Each body should be no longer than the length of your hand. Ask the fishmonger to clean the the tubes, and save the tentacles but discard the skin, the cartilage the head and the beak. You could do this yourself, but Why?
Start by heating 1/2 cup of scrumptious olive oil and adding to it 1 chopped medium onion, 3 crushed garlic and the chopped tentacles, Stir them about then add 1/3 cup chopped tomatoes and 1/2 cup of wine. Let it come to the boil and throw in a couple of tablespoons of parsley. Once the wine has bubbled out add in 1 cup water and bring it to boil again. Throw in 2/3 cup of long grain rice, cover and turn off the heat and leave it for 20 minutes. The rice will absorb the liquid and expand but still be hard and grainy in the middle. I like to use Jasmine rice because it’s not as delicate as Basmati and holds it’s texture better.
Transfer the rice to another bowl to cool down. Then take each calamari tube and stuff it with the rice mixture shaking the rice so it falls to the tip of the tube. Pack them about 2/3 of the way only, then secure each opening with a toothpick. With these quantities there should not be any left over, but if there is stuff a tomato and add it to the dish. Lie each stuffed squid flat in an oven proof dish and pour 1 cup of water over them. Bake them at 170 C /325F for 40 minutes. Then remove and eat them right away.
Great Advice Moment: Squid is bi-polar. To avoid them being rubbery you have to cook them on high heat for 2 minutes or on low heat for 40 minutes. Those are the magic numbers. Anything in between and they feel like you’re chewing on elastic bands. Anything out, and they are gorgeously tender and you understand what all this fuss is about.
Eh bene, mon mari m’a dise que je suis fou. C’est vrai. Et je suis reconnaissant pour cela. Oopah!
Les Amuse-Gueules: Basil & Soy Turkey rolls with mint dipping sauce
Les Salades: Palestinian Spinach & Date salad, Charred broccoli with anchovy dressing, Spicy lentil salad with pomegranate dressing,
Les Entrees: Lobster & shrimp curry with Prune and Pistachio pilaf, Slow-roasted lamb with Hasselback potatoes and carrots,
Les Desserts: Goldie Chocolate cake, Berry Crumble for Dummies
Basil & Soy Turkey rolls with Mint dipping sauce
I cooked the mince the day before then rolled the wraps a couple of hours before the party. I had them waiting to be roasted and threw them in the oven once the guests arrived.
In a large pan, heat 2 Tbs canola oil then add 6 finely chopped green onions (about 1/2 cups worth), 1 minced garlic and 2 tsp minced ginger. Keep the heat on medium and cook stirring a few times until the onions are soft – about 3 minutes. Then add in 1/2 tsp of your favorite curry powder (Madras or Korma are best – medium heat) and 1/2 teaspoon of mango powder (amchoor). Stir until the spices are fragrant then add 400 g of turkey mince and sprinkle witha pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder (or a pinch of nutmeg if you can’t find 5-spice). Stir well breaking up the meat until no more pink parts remain, and add in 2 Tbs soy sauce and the juice of half lemon. Keep stirring until the turkey starts to brown. Taste and if you need seasoning add salt not soy sauce. But be careful, salt amplifies the saltiness of the soy so add it in a pinch at a time.
Remove from the heat and transfer the mince to a bowl. When it’s cools down a bit but it’s still a bit warm stir in 3 Tbs light cream, 1 Tbs soy sauce, 1/4 cup of bean sprouts, 2 Tbs chopped basil and 2 Tbs chopped chives. It should be good for seasoning.
Roll about 2 Tbs of the Turkey mince in a whole wheat wrap. The ones I buy here are about 9 inches in diameter so I will make about 7 to 8 wraps. Cut off any extra wrap and place the rolls on baking sheets. Secure them with toothpicks if you need to stop them unwrapping. Brush the wraps all over with canola oil and bake them in a moderate oven (180C/350F) for 30 mins or so until they are nicely crispy on top and slightly browned. Cut each wrap in half and place them cut side up on a serving dish with the mint dipping sauce.
Mint Dipping Sauce
Make this whenever you want. The most time-consuming part is cleaning up. And the dip holds well for a day or two in the fridge.
In a food processor add 2 cups mint leaves, 1/4 cup yogurt, 3 roughly chopped dates, 2 Tbs date honey or dark honey, 1/4 tsp of crushed pepper flakes, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Whiz until the mint is nicely minced. Taste for salt then pour into a pretty serving bowl and garnish with some mint.
Palestinian Spinach & Date salad
I made the 3 components of this salad in the morning and kept them aside in 3 separate bowls. Then i just mixed them together and put it on the table.
Cut a big pita loaf into small squares about the 1/2-inch square and toast them in the oven until nicely browned. You will need about 1 cup of bread squares. Do the same with 1/4 cup of flaked almonds. When the bread has cooled put it in a bowl and drizzle over it 2 Tbs of your favorite olive oil and 2 tsp of sumac. Toss the bread then add the almonds and put the bowl aside. In another small bowl, slice 1 small red onion and quarter 6 dates (de-seed them too). Add 1 table spoon of red vinegar (malt, apple cider, grape, red wine – whatever you have) and mix them for a few minutes. Drain the vinegar out and add 3 Tbs lemon juice and salt and pepper.
In a big salad bowl, put 1bag of washed and spun baby green spinach leaves, 1 bunch of red spinach leaves and 1 bunch of parsley leaves. Cover and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Drop the dates and onions all over and toss the whole thing with 6 Tbs olive oil. Taste and add more dressing to your liking. Garnish with 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds and with the bread-nut mixture and a final sprinkling of sumac.
Charred Broccoli with a Zesty Anchovy dressing
This broccoli is a doozy to make. Just have them cut and ready on the baking sheet, water still clinging to them, with the dressing on the side and it takes 15 minutes from start to finish – most of which is just roasting time.
Cut 1 big head of broccoli lengthwise down the florets so you have them looking like broccolini. Yes of course by all means if you can find broccolini then just use them. Wash them, and drain then put them on a roasting pan and sprinkle with l’huile d’olive and 1 Tbs of lemon rind. Roast in a hot oven (420F / 240C) or under the salmander for 10 to 15 mins until charred but not burnt. The difference being that charred is lightly blackened and burnt is mostly blackened.
Make the dressing by mixing 4 anchovy (yuuuum) fillets with 1 crushed garlic, juice of 1 lemon , sprinkle of chili flakes, 1/4 tsp of sugar and 2 Tbs olive oil. Drizzle over the hot broccoli then put them on a pretty platter and serve with fresh lemon rind sprinkled all over.
Spicy Lentil Salad with Pomegranate dressing
I make this well in advance to let the lentils soak in the delicious dressing in the fridge. I took the salad out an hour before dinner-time so it can get to room temperature. Plus I had piled it in a mound on a square glass platter – It was quite tantalizing to look at.
Boil 1 cup of brown or green organic lentils with 1 clove-pricked turnip and a brown onion with the skin on. They add luscious flavor to the lentils. After about 20 minutes or so the lentils should be soft but still have a bite, if not keep them going for another 5 minutes and check again. This may happen if you’re living in the Alps. Drain the lentils, discard the onion and turnip, and put the lentils in a bowl still steaming hot. Mix into them 1 crushed garlic, 2 Tbs pomegranate molasses, 1 Tbs lemon juice, 4 Tbs olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. The lentils should continue to soften and as they do, the soak up the dressing as well. If this doesn’t happen then your lentils are probably too old or you should move to the seaside. Just before serving mix in 1 Tbs something green; chopped coriander, parsley, chives or mint.
Lobster & Shrimp Coconut curry
In a food processor whiz together 3 large shallots, 8 crushed garlic, 6 tiny dried chilies, 2-inch ginger chopped, 4 kaffir lime leaves, and 4 Tbs canola oil. You should have a smooth paste.
Heat 2 more Tbs canola oil in a heavy based pot and add the paste stirring over medium heat until fragrant and starting to stick, about 10 minutes. But don’t let it brown too much – the paste should stay a pale color. Add 2 tsp yellow curry powder (Madras or Korma) and throw in a branch of curry leaves (say it’s got about 10 leaves on it). Stir for a couple of minutes then add 4 grated carrots and 1 thinly sliced large fennel. You should have equal volume of both so I get 2 twin bowls about 4-cup capacity each and slice the fennel first in one, and grate the carrots one by one till volume-wise they’re equal. Then add them into the pan and stir them around a bit. Finally add in 3 cans of coconut milk, 4 more kaffir leaves, another smaller curry branch, and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and let it simmer gently uncovered for 30 minutes.
For the dinner party I made the curry 2 hours in advance up to this point, then I let it sit on the stove covered until I was ready to serve. I could have done it the day before also. So the next bit just requires reheating of the curry, adding the seafood and serving. You’ll need about 10 minutes to do this.
Just before serving bring the curry back to a gentle boil, add in partly cooked chopped lobster meat from 1 lobster tail then a few minutes later, a baker’s dozen of pre-blanched medium shrimp (size 15/17). Let them simmer a minute then add in a big bunch of chopped coriander. Cook for a few more minutes until the lobster and shrimp are cooked and serve immediately garnished with some more chopped coriander.
Prune and Pistachio Pilaf
Fry the onion mixture as early as you like and keep it in the pan until you are ready to make the rice. You can make the rice up to an hour before serving, keep it in the pan covered with a dishcloth, but only mix it with the onion just before serving.
Soak 2 cups of fragrant basmati rice in lots of water with 1 Tbs of salt for as long as possible at least 1 hour or up to 3. Drain and wash well.
While the rice is soaking, pour 1/2 cup of sesame oil into a pan and gently fry 2 medium sliced red onions, 2-inch piece of ginger minced, about 6 or 8 star anise pods and 1 tsp turmeric powder or 1/4 tsp crushed saffron, and let it fry gently until the onions are very soft and brown on the edges. Set aside to cool, remove the pods then go make yourself beautiful.
An hour before serving, bring 5 cups of water to boil then add the drained and washed basmati rice, 1 tsp salt and a couple of bay leaves. Bring the rice back to boil then cover and simmer on the lowest heat setting for about 20-25 minutes. Fluff the rice then cover it for another 3 minutes.
Heat the onion mixture again and add 6 pitted chopped prunes and 1/2 cup of roughly chopped unsalted pistachios. Then dollop the whole thing over the rice and give it a good gentle mix because you don’t want to break the rice grains. I usually put on kitchen gloves and do this by hand. I love doing this!
Spread the rice mixture on a silver platter and sprinkle with more silvered pistachios. Serve immediately.
Slow-Roasted Lamb with Hasselback Potatoes & Carrots
This is a one pot dish. Plus it needs 3 hours in the oven so it’s the perfect party food.
Have the butcher trim 1 whole leg of lamb (about 2-2.5 kg) from the bulk of fat and even better if he can tie it for you. Rub it generously with salt, ground black pepper and your favorite fruity olive oil. Make slits all over and stuff each slit with a sliver of garlic and rosemary. About 30 slits is what it normally comes to. So that’s about 5 garlic cloves sliced and 3 long sprigs of rosemary. You’re welcome.
Preheat oven to (160 C / 315 F). Heat some oil in a large grill plate and sear the lamb on all sides so there is a nice light brown crust. In a large oven pan, add 2 headless heads of garlic, 2 large onions halved, 5 medium potatoes cut in half along the width and 4 large carrots cut into chunks, all further sliced Hasselback style. Toss them with olive oil, rosemary sprigs, thyme sprigs, bay leaves and salt. Set the lamb on top and squeeze 2 whole lemons over the lamb. Add the lemons to the pan. The last thing you do is pour over your favorite whisky or brandy and then pop the whole thing into the oven and time it for 2 1/2 hours or 30 minutes per 500g for slow roast. About half way through pour some boiling water, no more than 1/2 cup into the pan. This will become your gravy-jus.
When the lamb is ready it should sparkle and the meat so tender it’s falling off the bone. Very carefully remove the lamb from the pan and let it rest covered for about 15 minutes. Remove the potatoes and carrots into a serving dish and keep covered with foil until ready to serve. Remove the rest of the vegetables and discard or use as garnish for the lamb. I love to put the roasted lemons and garlic on the lamb platter. You should have some browned bits in the bottom of the pan that is still quite viscous, thinner than a gravy but thicker than a jus. Add some more boiling water if you need to loosen it up but just a drizzle until it comes off. Pour that into a bowl.
Remove the foil from the lamb and carve into slices. Pour over the gravy-jus and serve immediately with the extra on the side.
Goldie Chocolate Cake
Make the chocolate cake the day before and store each layer separately in the fridge. Assemble them on a cake platter when you’re making the rice and leave it covered with the glass dome cake cover to come to room temperature. Why? I pour the ganache over it in front of the guests. Yeah, it’s hopeless to fight it. Even if you’ve just had a huge meal, you still want chocolate cake. Plus my kids are the ones who make this cake. I delegate well to my young Padawans.
Take 2 bowls, one for the dry ingredients that’s bigger than the one for the wet ingredients.
In the Dry ingredients bowl: Sift together 1 3/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 tsp baking powder,2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt. Add 3/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder. Mix gently.
In the Wet ingredients bowl: Crack 2 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla essence, 1/2 cup canola oil, 1 cup buttermilk. Beat them with a fork until well mixed.
Add the wet ingredients slowly to the dry ingredients. You can use a cake mixer with the paddle. Mix a little then add 1 cup of instant made coffee that’s cooled a bit. In fact I make the coffee first and by the time I’m ready to use it, it’s cooled down enough.
Pour into two 8-inch cake pans that have been greased, floured and lined with buttered parchment and pop into a moderate oven (180C/350F) for about 45 minutes.
When the cakes are done and cooled spread some apricot glaze on top of one and sandwich the other one on top. Ina flips them over which is a great idea.
Make the ganache by warming up 1/2 cup of cream and adding 1 cup of chopped semi-sweet chocolate (250 g) and a pinch of instant coffee. Stir until it’s smooth then take it out in front of your guests and pour over the chocolate cake. I also decorate with edible gold paper.
Berry Crumble for Dummies
My repertoire of desserts is about 10 lines long. This was the first thing I ever learned to make and I make it all the time. It makes me feel like I’m Queen of the Dessert Dummies.
Buy the granola mix. Mix 2 cups of granola mix with 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tsp baking flour, 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. Gently pour over 1 stick of melted butter (113g). Take 1 1/2 cups of the mixture and pack it down in a buttered oven proof dish. Bake for 10 minutes at 180C/350F. Remove – you can let it cool or get going with the rest of it. I love desserts that are considerate of your time!
Defrost 800 g of frozen berries. Mix them with juice of half a lemon and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. Spread them over the pre-baked granola. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup granola mixture on top and bake again at 180C/350F for another 15 mins.
Remove and serve hot with the most expensive, most luxurious ice cream in the world.
After almost two years, we decided to throw a dinner party for Adults Only.
We have plenty of parties and we have them often for no reason at all. But from Easter (which was amazing no matter what) I had pulled out the silver, the porcelain, the table setting, the flowers -all because I wanted an Elegant Easter. I thought if I aimed for Elegance, I could in the worst case scenario achieve Sophisticated Casual.
What was achieved was a slight degree above Chaos; 2 legs of lamb picked clean, eleven dishes licked clean, 8 bottles of wine sucked clean, two kilos of ice cream wiped clean, 3 dozen Easter eggs cracked clean all from 18 adults and 400 kids (I exaggerate – they were 7), who also had an Egg Hunt, left egg shells all over the floor, ate under the table, hid chocolate rabbits in the rice…
Lots of fun, lots of Kodak moments, definitely memorable. But Elegant…? Nya’ah.
So you can see why I was craving some semblance of je ne sais quoi; Normalcy? Nostalgia? Nobility?
And besides, I also really wanted to pour myself a glass of wine and sit down, finish it, pour myself another all while telling a full anecdote then, just listening to one – with no interruptions for iPads, lost Pocoyos, misplaced cars, water, juice, water-in-that-cup, the pink juice, honey, tea, the mystifying boo-boo at the end of the finger and of course, sharing.
So we pulled it together, invited some new friends along with some old friends and kept it within reason- 3 couples and us.
I could do this – i could do Elegant & Simple that was really Elegant aka no kids, and Simple, aka 4 dishes on the table. So right away I wrote down my menu and then changed it on the way back from the TV room. It was too little food. So I put together another menu, slept on it then scratched it out in the morning. I tried again but crumpled it when I worked out the time I needed to be in the kitchen versus ancedote-ing. After all, I was doing this so I have as much fun as the guests. I don’t mind prepping for a couple of hours but no risotto or last minute frying or what-not. When the party was on, plating the dishes and tossing a salad was my limit. Foot down.
My husband was adamant. “Just make One Big Thing and One salad and dessert. That’s it!”
I scoffed at him. Don’t be ridiculous. That’s so rude. My ancestors would roll over in their graves.
“Okay two dishes a salad and dessert.”
I rolled my eyes. Men. So lazy.
I shook my head and told him about Menu No. 5.
My husband rolled his eyes.
“I thought you wanted to be sensible. That’s not sensible. That’s ludicrous. ” He was referring to 9 dishes and 2 desserts…
I gave up. Was I crazy? Could I really only relax about a dinner party when the food count was north of 6 dishes? Is that what crazy people do?
So I thought I would get advice from the Food Network Goddesses: What was Ina making for her New York friends? Pot-Roast, broccoli gratin and a salad. That’s it? What if someone didn’t eat red meat? What about Debi Mazar and her Italian hubby? Italians love food – what was he making for twelve people? One leg of lamb, one veggie dish and a cocktail. WTF!?
What’s wrong with these people? I asked my hubbie.
I gave up.
Okay fine, I told him. You all win.
Dinner Party Menu No. 6 (made to the tune of Keisha’s ‘Crazy Kids’)
Basil & Soy Turkey rolls with mint dipping sauce
Palestinian spinach & date salad, Charred broccoli with anchovy dressing, Spicy lentil salad with pomegranate dressing,
Lobster & shrimp curry with Prune & Pistachio pilaf, Slow-roasted lamb with Hasselback potatoes and carrots,
Goldie Chocolate cake, Berry Crumble for Dummies
Great Advice Moment: When identified as ‘Crazy’, stay that way.