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Russian Honey Cake







“Two weeks away it feels like the world should’ve changed
But I’m home now
And things still look the same…

Try to forget for one more night
That I’m back in my flat on the road
Where the cars never stop going through the night
To real life where I can’t watch the sunset…”

- Sand In My Shoes by Dido

Last evening we received a very generous gift from our friend, a Samsung 32” LCD TV that is almost as long as our dining table.

It was a genuinely nice surprise, and because it can read digital channels as well, I saw a funny Japanese variety show dubbed in Italian. I used to be really hooked on that program, where contestants have to face challenges like crossing an unstable bridge with a ball while being shot at with other balls by the incorrigible hosts. I think I was still watching it up till the early 2000s. How funny that time just slips away like that.

Anyway, while out to run for 8km yesterday, I saw my favorite dog of the moment - a purebred Japanese Akita! She gave me a little doggie kiss and it really made my day, enough to spur me to bake a Russian Honey Cake when I came back.

I love the simplicity of this cake. There’s no butter or margarine or oil involved, so it is almost without fat. Really great for that diet I’m still just daydreaming about.

One thing about this cake is that because it uses so few ingredients, the quality of each ingredient really counts. I used the best Tuscan honey, the finest rice flour, the most exotic Mauritian brown sugar and the plumpest, sweetest Australian golden raisins.

The biggest pleasure is when we offered a piece to our friend, and he liked it so much that he requested for another piece. I love being appreciated :)

 

RUSSIAN HONEY CAKE

Ingredients

1 1/2 egg
50gr brown sugar
50gr rice flour
1 tsp vanilla baking powder (lievito vanigliato)
70gr all-purpose flour
3/4 cup good honey (I used acacia)
10ml lowfat milk
1 tsp oil (olive, rice, or multigrain) (OPTIONAL)
2 tbsps raisins
1 tbsp almonds, toasted and crushed

Method

1. Beat the egg lightly in a small bowl with a fork and mix with brown sugar.

2. Sieve the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the vanilla baking powder and then the egg mixture. Stir with a wooden spatula and then add honey and oil (optional). 

3. Using an electric whisk, cream the mixture on low speed for 3 minutes. Switch to high speed and cream for another 2 minutes until it becomes more voluminous and lighter in color, with a smooth texture that isn’t too dense. Add the raisins and milk and stir briefly.

4. Grease the bottom and sides of a plumcake mould with butter and flour. Discard excess flour. Pour the dough inside the mould and sprinkle the crushed almonds on top.

5. Bake in a preheated gas oven at 170C for at least 50 minutes, or until it becomes dark brown in color. Note that the raisins will sink to the bottom when it bakes due to its weight.

Chicken Yakitori







“Will you hold me sacred?
Will you hold me tight?
Can you colorize my life I’m so sick of black and white?
Can you make it a little less old?

Will you make me some magic, with your own two hands?
Can you build an emerald city with these grains of sand?
Can you give me something that I can take home?”

- I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) by Meat Loaf
 


I don’t know if it’s like this in every country, but over here anything that has the word “Japanese” in it means money. Japanese restaurants here cost a lot, as do all kinds of Japanese food and products. It’s the main reason why I learned to do my own sushi, and yesterday, my own Chicken Yakitori at home.

The traditional Yakitori means grilled chicken on skewers (like Malaysian satay or Middle Eastern kebab), but I have neither a grill nor the skewers so I grilled it on my pan instead.

Here two sticks of Chicken Yakitori can cost 9 euros. I mean, 9 FREAKIN’ EUROS FOR A FEW PIECES OF CHICKEN BREAST??!!

That’s the main reason why people hesitate to go to a Japanese restaurant. In any other restaurants we pay 9euros or more, but we get a huge plate of chicken to eat to our heart’s content. In a Japanese restaurant, 9 euros is enough only for an appetiser. They are extremely stingy with their food.

Now I can understand if raw seafood cost a great deal, because seafood in general is expensive. But chicken as well? Even a normal fried rice, just because it’s called Japanese Fried Rice, costs more than double the price of a Chinese Fried Rice, and I can bet my money that they put monosodium glutamate as well. And in Europe, the cook of a Japanese restaurant is more likely to be mainland Chinese than a real Japanese.

For now, I’ll stick to eating Chicken Yakitori at home instead. We ate this with brown rice yesterday, and it was sublime. Easy and healthy.


CHICKEN YAKITORI

Ingredients

1/2 cup soy sauce (I used Yamasa)
1/2 cup white wine or mirin or rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsps ginger syrup*
320gr chicken breast, cut into medium-sized pieces
1 green onion stalk, chopped
Salt to taste

Method

*For the Ginger Syrup*

1. In a small saucepan, put 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar. Cut a 2cm piece of ginger and slice into 6 pieces. Put in the saucepan and heat on a medium flame until it boils before tranferring to a smaller flame over low heat. When liquid thickens after a few minute, remove from heat.

For Chicken Yakitori:

2. In a mixing bowl, mix the soy sauce, wine, garlic and ginger syrup together. Add the chicken pieces and coat well with the marinade. Cover and keep in the fridge for at least an hour.

3. Before cooking, drain the chicken pieces with a sieve and reserve the marinade for later.

4. In a heated pan, brown the chicken on one side for 4 minutes on medium-high fire. Flip chicken pieces to other side and continue browning for another 3 minutes. Be careful not to overcook as chicken pieces can become too dry.

5. While the chicken is cooking, heat up the reserved marinade in a small saucepan over a gentle flame. When chicken is ready to serve, drizzle the marinade over the chicken and add the green onions. Season with salt if preferred.


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Coq au Vin






“Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait,
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal.
Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
C’est payé, balayé, oublié,
Je me fous du passé.”

- Je Ne Regrette Rien de Edith Piaf

image

Time just flies, cliche as it might sound. Cooking this French dish for dinner yesterday reminds me of the biopic film I watched in 2007, La Môme (La Vie en Rose), starring the inimitable Marion Cotillard.

It was a core-shaking movie as one witnesses with eerie realism Edith Piaf’s joys and delusions in love and life. Her magical romance with Marcel Cerdan ended in tragedy as he died while on the way to see her. Eventually her life ended in ruin as she succumbed to the devilish sweet embraces of alcohol.

Cotillard turned in a fine Oscar-worthy performance; she didn’t just portray her role as Piaf, she was.

There are a few other notable French films that I adore, like Jeux d’Enfants (Child’s Play), Audrey Tautou’s Hors de Prix (Priceless) and L’auberge espagnole (The Spanish Hostel).  

The song of which the lyrics I quote above belongs to Edith Piaf. It’s similar to “My Way” in the sense that the persona reflects on the pleasures and disenchantments of life, and decides that she doesn’t regret anything.

Back to the cooking.

Coq au Vin (or rather, Poulet au Vin) is a dish cooked with the French trinity of onions, celery and carrots, in a homely country stew of herbs, broth and red wine. I normally don’t consider French food very highly, but this dish is a good one, simple and satisfying.

Call me middle-class or ignorant or whatever, but things like caviar, escargots and such appeals as much to me as Mexican fried grasshoppers or Thai fried cockroaches. I think they are disgusting.

I enjoy food, I love ethnic cuisines, and I take pleasure in learning a new culture, but I stop short at eating my favorite animals (in Italy, they even eat rabbit meat and horse meat!) or insects.

French sandwiches made with just vegetables, cheese, fish or chicken is great, though. Not forgetting the Flan Nature ;)

My coq au vin is cooked without bacon, as I don’t eat that.

COQ AU VIN

Ingredients

350gr chicken breast, cut in medium-sized pieces
1 white onion, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, cut in half each
Celery leaves and stalk, cut
2 carrots, sliced
300gr white button mushrooms, washed
100ml chicken stock
100ml red wine
Dried parsley (prezzemolo)
Dried oregano (origano)
Black pepper (pepe nero)
Salt
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tbsp corn starch

Method

1. Heat olive oil and butter in a nonstick pan. When it heats, add the onion and fry them until they become fragrant.

2. Add the chicken pieces and brown them one side for around 5 minutes before flipping over and browning them on the other side.

3. Add the celery and carrots and cook for 3 minutes. Put in the garlic cloves, sprinkle some salt and pepper and the dried herbs. Stir them to mix the ingredients. Pour in the chicken broth and red wine. Cover and bring to a slow simmer for around 15 minutes.

4. Scoop out the chicken and onions from the pan to a bowl. Cook the mushrooms in the wine broth mixture for 5 minutes until they become softer and browned. Put back in the chicken and onions and stir.

5. To thicken the sauce, add corn starch to the wine broth and let the Coq au Vin cook on high heat.

6. Garnish with fresh celery or parsley leaves. Serve with white rice or bread (baguette, anyone?).


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Kaya Puffs




“Street life
You can run away from time
Street life
For a nickel, for a dime
Street life
But you better not get old
Street life
Or you’re gonna feel the cold…”

- Street Life by The Crusaders
 


A small confession: I just gobbled up the smaller piece of Kaya Puff I made for brunch, and licked my lips in delight after it was all finished.
 



Not only did it satisfy my appalling hunger (I woke up as usual at 5.37 am on a misty Monday morning), it also healed my haunting nostalgia for home (I dreamt about my family last night). The taste was definitely Singaporean, and yet I am a million miles away.

I still had about one-third of the pandan kaya (pandan coconut egg jam) I made one month ago, so I decided to make some homemade Kaya Puffs. The pastry skin was a bit of a hassle to do, no thanks to my inexperience and lack of organization. The oil dough and water dough refused to stick together well, until divine intervention in the sense of sunflower oil entered the picture.

It was a tricky situation: I had to roll the pastry dough with a wooden rolling pin, making it smooth and homogenous but not sticky. So I kept digging my hands into the flour and sprinkling it over the dough and the rolling pin.

The secret was to squeeze and rub the dough with my hands first, to ensure that the dough reaches the kind of consistency I wanted.

I forgot to grease the baking sheet, so the side facing downwards on the tray was a little burned. Oh well, I guess it’s a lesson learned for the next time. Seeing how good it turned out, there will most definitely be a next time!

I love it when a few flakes fall out from the Kaya Puff; I remember there are many delicious Singaporean pastries like this one. I think my journey to being a real culinary goddess is gonna be a long one, given the number of amazing food that exist in the world.

Anyway, it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes it worthwhile, right? ;)

KAYA PUFFS

Recipe adapted and modified from The Star Online Kuali

Ingredients

For Pastry Dough:

(A)

75gr all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp salt
35gr water
1/2 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp lowfat milk powder

(B)

75gr all-purpose flour
33gr butter, softened
1 tbsp sunflower oil

For Filling:
2 tbsps kaya (coconut egg jam)

Method

1. In a bowl, combine together the milk powder, water and salt.

2. In another large mixing bowl, sieve the flour of (A) and make a hole in the center. Pour in the water mixture of step 1, and add the egg and butter. Mix well with a wooden spatula until all the ingredients are blended in a runny dough. Set this dough (A) aside for 15 minutes.

3. In another mixing bowl, sieve the flour of (B). Add the softened butter and sunflower oil and mix with hands until smooth. If the dough doesn’t stick together, put a little more oil at a time (but not excessively). Continue mixing until a smooth dough is achieved.

4. Sprinkle flour generously on a large worktop (I used my clean plastic chopping board) and a wooden rolling pin. Scoop a ball of dough (A) and place on the worktop. Scoop a similar sized ball of dough (B) and perch on top of dough (A). Sprinkle more flour over the two doughs, then roll up and down with the pin.

5. If dough sticks to worktop, use a wooden spatula to detach it and mix the dough mixture with dry hands. Add two drops of oil to the dough if it is too sticky, and continue squeezing and rubbing the dough. Shape it into a ball.

6. Lay the dough ball on the worktop and roll it out a few times till it becomes wide. The shape may be oblong. Sprinkle some more flour on the dough if it sticks.

7. Place a tablespoon of the kaya in the centre of the dough. Fold up into a semi-circle and pinch the edges together to close. Make 2 or 3 puffs, following the same steps before.

8. Line a baking sheet on a baking tray and smear it with oil. Place the puffs on the sheet and gently spread the beaten egg glaze on the exposed side.

9. Insert the tray in the middle section of a gas oven, preheated to 190C, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls






“Spread your wings and prepare to fly
For you have become a butterfly
Fly abandonedly into the sun…”

(Butterfly by Mariah Carey)


Spring rolls are found in many parts of South East Asia, but the Vietnamese have their own unique and healthy method of doing it.

I love Vietnamese cuisine because it concentrates on the natural flavor of fresh herbs, spices and meat, without letting any one upstage the other. For people who can’t tolerate spicy or oily food, Vietnamese would be the best solution.

These fresh spring rolls I made for dinner yesterday are wrapped with boiled rice vermicelli, cabbage leaves, carrot, bean sprouts, diced chicken, shrimps and crabmeat. No sauce is included inside the spring roll; you can dip it inside a dipping sauce later at your own preference. Personally I like it fresh with just a drizzle of sesame oil and light soy sauce.

Ideal as an appetizer, it is perhaps Vietnam’s answer to the famous Japanese sushi. In terms of presentation I think it is definitely a sight to behold.

I would love to go on a trip to cities like Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang, and Ha Long Bay one day. Not just for the scenery and culture, but also to feast upon the Vietnamese cuisine :) I can be such a pig sometimes!

Here is my personal recipe below, but you can add other things such as mushrooms (cook them in a little oil before) or if you find the rolls a tad plain, put some of your favorite sauces inside before you roll them up.

VIETNAMESE FRESH SPRING ROLLS

Serving size is 4 rolls.

Ingredients

4 sheets of rice paper
100gr chicken, cut in tiny pieces
8 shrimps, medium-sized
4 crabmeat
40gr rice vermicelli
4 cabbage leaves
100gr bean sprouts

Dipping Sauce:
Sambal Belachan
Hoisin Peanut Sauce
Sesame Soy Sauce
or any other sauce you prefer

Method

1. Boil shrimps, crabmeat and chicken together in a pot until fully cooked. Scoop the meat out onto a plate. Now, boil the rice vermicelli and cabbage leaves till they become soft.

2. Put warm water in a wide bowl. Dip the rice paper inside for 2 seconds, remove, and dip the other side for another 2 seconds. The rice paper will become softer, with a few stiff edges.

3. On your worktop or any clean surface such as a chopping board, lay the rice paper flat. On 1/3 of the rice paper nearest to you (the bottom part), put a cabbage leaf.

4. Put the rest of the vegetables on top of the cabbage leaf in a neat manner. Place small portions of the shrimps, chicken and crabmeat in the middle section of the rice paper.

5. Roll the rice paper from bottom to top carefully, tucking in the sides when you reach the middle, and then continue rolling until it forms the shape of a spring roll.

6. Serve with the dipping sauces.
 

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Chettinad Chicken Curry






“It’s important to be real
You were born to be yourself
So no matter how you feel…
First be a woman”

- First Be A Woman by Gloria Gaynor

Coming from a culturally diverse country, Singapore, my favorite food were mee soto, roti prata, laksa, nasi lemak, hainanese chicken rice, cai tao kway (carrot cake), otak otak and satay. Some people may say that there isn’t really a ‘Singaporean cuisine’ because we are such a melting pot of cultures, but I beg to differ really. That makes our cuisine even more intriguing and varied, as we have capitalized on the strengths of each race and made dishes that are entirely our own.

I did this Chettinad Chicken Curry yesterday, and though I’ve eaten more curries in my life than I can count, I haven’t tried this particular one. Chettinad is apparently a place in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India. I found a recipe on About.com and since I’ve always been a great fan of curry, I tried it straightaway. Unfortunately I didn’t have all the ingredients, so my version was slightly altered (but still tasted awesome, thankfully). I also added a spoonful of garam masala in the paste because no curry, I think, is complete without that ;)

This curry is definitely in a league of its own - it doesn’t taste like any other curry, perhaps because instead of using a pre-prepared curry paste, I roasted, blended and grinded my own paste.

A red hot chicken curry with the unmistakable aroma of garam masala, cinnamon and onions. Best served with steaming white rice or bread.

CHETTINAD CHICKEN CURRY

Recipe adapted and altered from About.com

Ingredients

1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp garam masala
2 dried chillies, deseeded
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon powder or 1/2 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods (I didn’t use this because the smell of cardamom makes me sink)
3 cloves
4 tbsps grated coconut (or coconut flour)
4 tbsps garlic ginger paste

2 tbsps sunflower oil
6 curry leaves (I omitted this)
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
2 tomatoes, chopped into cubes
1 tsp chilli powder (optional, reduce if you are spice intolerant)
350gr chicken breast, cut into medium-sized pieces
2 potatoes, peeled and boiled
Salt
2 tsps lemon juice or lime juice
Coriander leaves, chopped (for garnishing)

Method

1. On a medium flame, roast the first 10 ingredients for 3 to 4 minutes until they become aromatic. Allow to cool before grinding the mixture in an electric blender until they become a coarse powder.

2. For those who do not have the garlic and ginger paste, chop the garlic and ginger in small pieces. Then, mix them with some water in the electric blender. Blend until the texture seems like a paste.

3. Now, mix the powder in step 1 with the paste in step 2. If it is too dry, add 1 teaspoon of sunflower oil and mix well until you get a smooth paste.

4. On a nonstick pan, heat some oil on a high flame and then add the curry leaves. Next, add the sliced onions and fry until they turn light brown in color.

5. Blend the spice paste with the onions and mix well for 2 minutes. Put the tomatoes and chilli powder and continue stirring.

6. It’s finally time for the chicken to make an appearance. Put in the chicken and distribute them well with the sauce before covering and simmering for 15 minutes, or until the chicken becomes tender.

7. The interminable wait is over. Squeeze some lemon or lime juice, mix well and remove from heat. Garnish with the coriander leaves.


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Condensed Milk Pound Cake





“Sooner or later in life the things you love you lose
Just like before I know I’ll call on you
Occasionally my thoughts are brave and friends are few
…But you’ve got the love
I need to see me through.”

- You Got The Love by The Source & Candi Staton

If there’s one thing I love to lick off my fingers, it’s condensed milk. How on earth did something so simple like milk became so heavenly?

In Singapore we use it frequently, especially in my childhood beverages Milo and Ovaltine. They use it in Thailand as well, for my current favorite tea of all time, Thai Iced Tea. It adds that sweet flavor and creamy texture in an instant. Isn’t it just a miracle product? I’m so glad I can find it also in Europe.

I’ve been watching my extended family make the typical Italian desserts and cakes for the past year, such as tiramisu, fried rice balls and crostata. Watching is definitely not a waste of time, because I observed all the tips and tricks in action, and when I made my first cake two weeks ago, I already had a rough idea of what to do.

Yesterday was a seriously rainy day in Italy, after two days of exceptional sun. I did a long run of 1 hour on Tuesday and yesterday I dedicated all the day to cooking and baking. I’m turning into a mini version of my grandmother in her heydays ;p

This condensed milk pound cake is really better than a normal pound cake. In fact, we’ve already gobbled it all up in less than 24 hours. What can I do? I just can’t resist the temptation of condensed milk! ;D

I also used 2 teaspoons of pandan essence which perhaps wasn’t enough to make it turn into a nice light green color. However, it did have a slight perfume of pandan leaves, which reminded me of home sweet home. I was inspired by Pandan Chiffon Cake, which is something I will try at another time.

CONDENSED MILK POUND CAKE

Ingredients

200gr prepared Cameo 9 Torte flour
(OR: 190gr all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt)
50gr white sugar or powdered sugar
75gr unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 small packet of vanilla powder
2 tsp pandan essence (optional)
60gr sweetened condensed milk
20gr reduced fat milk

Method

1. If you don’t have the already prepared 9 Torte flour, mix the ingredients of all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt together. Sieve two or three times to make the flour super fine for better consistency to the pound cake.

2. Put sugar in a big mixing bowl. Add the room temperature butter and beat with an electric whisk for 2 minutes. Pour in the condensed milk and continue beating for another 2 minutes.

3. In another small bowl, beat the egg lightly with a fork and set aside.

4. Add the flour in step 1 to the butter and sugar mixture in step 2. Mix well with a big wooden spatula.

5. Pour in the egg, vanilla powder and pandan essence and continue mixing well until the texture and color become smooth and uniform.

6. If it is too dry, add the milk, a little at a time, and continue mixing the dough.

7. Rub the poundcake mould with butter and sieve some flour inside. Distribute the flour evenly on the bottom and also on the sides. Discard excess.

8. Pour the dough inside the mould and bake in a preheated gas oven at 180 degree celsius for 30 to 35 minutes, on the middle section.

9. Enjoy the paradise! :) Feel free to add even more condensed milk on the cake or generously sprinkle icing sugar on top. Great with tea or coffee in the afternoon.


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Nasi Goreng






“It feels like springtime in winter
It feels like Christmas in June
…To think of all the nights
I’ve cried myself to sleep
You really oughta know
How much you mean to me”

- Everytime I Close My Eyes by Babyface

If garam masala is the magic spice of Indian cuisine, then sambal belachan must be that of Indonesian cuisine. You can find it in 1 out of 2 typical Indonesian dishes, and in my opinion one of the best chilli sauces in the world. I also love the chilli sauce from Reggio Calabria, a region in the south of Italy.

My grandmother used to do her own sambal belachan at home, sending waves of smoke in the air, and suffocating me with the deadly spiciness of hundred dried chillies. I remember having to lock myself in the bathroom to have some air to breathe. But it was because she did an insanely huge amount; she filled up a 1 litre jug with sambal! We lived in a family of 6 people - my grandma, my uncle, my two sisters, the maid and I.

I did a very modest quantity of sambal belachan, following a recipe I found on the cookbook The Food of Singapore.

Nasi Goreng reminds me of another Indonesian/ Malaysian dish I love called Nasi Lemak. In primary school, there was a stall in the canteen with an endless queue which sold Nasi Lemak or Mee Soto for only 50 cents. I rarely queued up to buy because the lunch break was only 20 minutes and I wanted to play at the field for a few minutes ;)

I love Nasi Goreng as much as I love Chinese Fried Rice, Thai Pineapple Fried Rice and Japanese Omurice. It’s my lunch favorite :)

NASI GORENG

Ingredients

For Sambal Belacan:
10 red chillies (fresh or dried)
2 scallions/green onions, sliced
1 tbsp toasted dried shrimp paste
3 tbsp lime juice (or lemon juice)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

For Nasi Goreng:
1 cup cooked rice
1 tbsp sambal belacan
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp oil
1 egg, sunny side up
6 almonds, chopped (optional)

Method

1. To start, heat up 1 tablespoon oil in a small pan and lightly fry the dried shrimp paste until it emits an intense aroma.
2. In an electric blender, mix all ingredients for the spice paste together until you get a smooth paste. Store in a container and keep any unused paste in the fridge for up to a week.
3. Break an egg in a nonstick pan with one teaspoon oil. Wait until it becomes firm and quite cooked before flipping over to brown on the other side. Remove from pan.
3. In the same pan, heat some oil until it becomes hot. Add the sambal belacan and stir for a few seconds before mixing in the rice. Stir well for a minute to blend the rice with the sambal.
4. Pour in the sweet soy sauce and let it boil on high heat. It should sizzle for a few seconds. Add in the sugar. Stir for two minutes and remove from heat.
5. Place the cooked egg on top of the rice and serve. You can also add in some chopped almonds. It’s not in the original recipe but I tried it on a whim and found it to be even more delicious.

 


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Chicken Shawarma







“That kind of lovin’
Makes me wanna pull
Down the shade, yeah
That kind of lovin’
Yeah now I’m never, never, never, never gonna be the same”

- Crazy by Aerosmith

Chicken Shawarma seems like the Middle East version of the classic American burger. You know, I was thinking that with all this talk of fine cuisine, American cuisine is probably the least suspected but most famous cuisine worldwide. Who hasn’t heard of a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets? Actually, who hasn’t eaten a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets? American fast food chains are so ubiquitous in this globalised world.

I used to adore McDonalds and KFC when I was a kid. For kids it was like a big treat, a trip to sugarland and calorie zoo. I finally saw the light a few years ago and reduced those potentially deleterious visits to fast food chains.

But I’m human after all and don’t everyone need fast food from time to time, if only to save precious time? :)

Chicken Shawarma is the Arabian version of fast food, with chicken pieces wrapped in hot pita bread and served with tahini sauce. Traditionally it is made with a rotisserie, which means roasting the meat on a skewer. Evidently in a normal house it’s quite impossible to have a real rotisserie, so I cooked the chicken on a pan instead.

Many of the ingredients used can be found also in Indian cuisine, probably due to previous Arabian rule that imparted cooking methods.

CHICKEN SHAWARMA

Ingredients

350gr chicken breast fillet, cut into thin strips
150gr plain yogurt
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
1 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cardamom pods

For Tahini:
50gr white or black sesame seeds
1 tbsp sunflower oil

For Sauce:
1/2 cup tahini
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp unsweetened yogurt
2 tbsp lemon juice

For Pita Bread:
1/2 red or white onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
A small bunch of fresh parsley leaves


Method

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients of marinade and blend well with chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

2. In a nonstick pan, cook chicken on a medium flame for 15 minutes. Add water if chicken becomes too dry.

3. To make the tahini, roast the sesame seeds on a nonstick pan for 5 minutes. Stir them occasionally.

4. When it has cooled, transfer to an electric blender. Add the oil and blend well until it becomes a paste. Scoop out into a bowl or container and set aside.

5. Combine tahini with the other sauce ingredients to make the sauce.

6. When chicken is ready, place inside the pita bread. Then, add the vegetables and the sauce, at your preference. And there you have it, easy fast food ;)


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Moroccan Chicken with Lemon & Olives






“When you’re safe inside your room you tend to dream
Of a place where nothing’s harder than it seems
No one ever wants or bothers to explain
Of the heartache life can bring and what it means…”

- The Voice Within by Christina Aguilera

The scent of spring misleadingly greeted my nostrils two weeks ago only to be replaced by the long surviving blast of wintry cold air this Wednesday. I was almost fooled into believing that spring had arrived in anticpation.

I’ve often found it unfair: summer can pass in one instant, from 28C today to 14 tomorrow, plunging me straight into deep autumn. But winter never passes swiftly, it always creeps past with extreme slowness, meaning 9C to 12C to 15C to 18C to 21C…and you get the idea.

I’ve been cooking up a storm this winter because it’s not like I’m tempted to go outside in this cold anyway. I did this Moroccan Chicken about two weeks ago, adapted from a recipe on SimplyRecipes, and it was so good, really warmed up my tender soul and icy heart.

Diverse spices and vegetables enliven this chicken dish - ginger, cumin, tumeric, olives, and raisins.

Olives have never been one of my favorite food, not least because it’s usually soaked in a vast quantity of the most foul-smelling vinegar ever. This time I rinsed them thoroughly under cold running water to get rid of the acidity.

Ideally and traditionally this dish should be cooked with a Moroccan tagine, an earthernware cooking and serving pot, but I didn’t have one so I cooked it with my normal nonstick pan.

If I can go to Morocco one day, I would surely chug home a nice cheap little tagine ;)

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH LEMON AND OLIVES

Ingredients

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp olive oil
350gr chicken, cut into medium sized pieces
Salt

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, chopped

The peel from 1 preserved lemon, peel cut into thin strips OR a normal lemon
1 cup green olives, pitted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Method

1. Combine all the spices in a large bowl. Combine the chicken pieces well with the spices. Cover and let the chicken marinate for one hour.

2. On a nonstick pan, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the chicken pieces, sprinkle lightly with salt and brown on one side for five minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and onions. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Flip the chicken. Add the lemon slices, olives, raisins, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, then lower the heat to low, cover, and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

4. Garnish with fresh parsley and cilantro and serve. Ideal with plain white rice, rice pilaf or couscous.


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