Friday, 29 April 2011

Macaroni with Broccoli



When I was in first grade, we had a ritual called ‘Student of the Week’. Basically, every week, the teacher would have a mini-interview with the lucky first grader, take their picture with a Polaroid, and hang up a poster with the information and picture on the class wall. Everyone had a turn, and you were told a week before it was yours, so your mom made sure you wore something ‘nice’ that day, and that your bangs were straight. They were the same questions every week, and were important ones for first graders. The ones I remember are: What is your favorite color? What is your favorite animal? What is your favorite food? 

When my turn came up, I was very nervous. My favorite color? I have to choose only one? I asked my mom what was hers and if I could use it. It was blue, well blue was nice. But what about my favorite jacket, it’s red, does that mean it can’t be my favorite jacket anymore if I choose blue?  You get the picture. The whole week I was afraid to commit to a color. When my turn came, the teacher asked me what my favorite color was, then my favorite animal, and I was very nervous having those written down on this poster for ever, this eternal bond. But when I was asked what my favorite food was, I beamed, and replied without thinking “Macaroni with Broccoli”. The teacher’s jaw dropped, since hamburgers and ice cream were the norm. “Are you sure?” she said.  I replied, “Well, have you tasted it before? ”



Ingredients:

- 1 bag of Macaroni (Any shape, I like to use Fusilli (screws) or Farfalle (bows) because they are fun)
- 1 head broccoli
- 1 clove garlic minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup olive oil




Preparation (Aprrox. 30 mins):

Boil the macaroni, when using fancy shaped pasta, try to undercook to prevent pasta from breaking and losing its shape. Drain.
Chop the broccoli heads off the stalk. Leave as much stalk as you like, I prefer to actually chop most of the stalk in, since I love broccoli. However I suggest to cut the florets (heads) with minimal stalk if cooking for company or if trying broccoli for the first time. The stalk can cause some stomach discomfort if too much is eaten. Boil the broccoli for 10 mins. The broccoli should remain green, but a knife should score through it easily. If the broccoli turns a brownish green then you have over cooked it.

In a pot, heat the olive oil. Add in the garlic and stir until the minced garlic is no longer translucent and becomes opaque white. This takes only 30 seconds approx. This step is critical, if the garlic is left to brown, it have gone too far and will have a bitter taste. Throw in the drained , boiled broccoli. Add your salt and pepper. Stir well. Add in the pasta. Give another couple of stirs. Voila! 

If you like, serve with fresh grated parmesan cheese. This pasta can be eaten cold, and is perfect for picnics. It will not go bad quickly, since we use no animal fat.



Enjoy!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Mean and Green: Oreo Mint Cake




I try to accommodate my friends as best I can when having them over for lunch or desert. Remembering who has the peanut allergy, or who hates mushrooms. But on my birthday, to be honest, I couldn’t care less.
For my birthday, I made myself my favorite flavored cake. Mint, chocolate Oreo mint to be precise. I had never made it before, so it was somewhat challenging trying to get the recipe right. I am still tweaking it so it may change in the future, but for now this one works, and works well.

For icing, I covered the cake in a chocolate Ganache recipe inspired by the Joy of Baking one.  The green icing is exactly the Joy of Baking’s Buttercream Icing recipe, but I warn you, if you do not have a good egg beater or kitchen machine, please do not attempt to do the icing. The single whisk mini-kitchen machines really do not have enough power to make the icing nice and fluffy, and you will be wasting all the ingredients.



Ingredients:

Cake:

- 2 cup Flour
- ¾  cup Oil
- 1½ cup Sugar
- 3 Eggs
- ½ cup Milk
- 2 tsp. Baking Powder
- 1 tsp. Mint extract
 - ½ cup Crushed Oreo cookies (about 6 cookies, Borio local brand works just as well)
- pinch of salt
- Green food coloring (optional)

Chocolate Ganache:

- 200 gm dark chocolate cut into small pieces
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 150 ml Milk



Preparation (Aprrox. 20 mins):

Cake: 

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

In a bowl, blend the eggs, sugar and mint very well, until smooth and airy. Add food coloring.  This will take about 3 mins on high speed with your egg beater. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, crushed cookies and baking powder). Slowly add in the dry ingredients, oil, and milk to the egg mixture, alternating each, whisking gently while doing so. Do not over beat or use your electric beater for this part. When everything is incorporated, the batter is ready.

Pour the batter into a well greased round cake pan.   

Put in the oven for about 30 mins. Allow to cool before cutting or frosting.

Ganache:

Heat milk in a saucepan. When hot, take off heat and add in chocolate, and half of the butter. Allow to sit for 5 mins, then slowly mix. When all is well incorporated, add in rest of butter. Ganache is ready  to  use. If it hardens before you are able to use, you can re-heat, over a pot of boiling water, or using a heat distributer. Do not heat over direct flame.


Enjoy!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Mighty Burger and Baked Veggie Fries






Summer is around the corner, and everyone is trying to shed those extra winter pounds, but there are things we just can’t resist. Burgers, we love them, we need them! I love a good burger, but if it’s not homemade then probably it’s a hazard to your hips! I was never a fan of fast food restaurants; the burgers taste like plastic to me, but I do enjoy burgers at certain cafes. Either way, the calories are just a nightmare.

Well, I’m not prepared to give up so easily on burgers so I will share with you my homemade burger recipe and my baked fries. These burgers are extra big, they are filling and they are perfect for a game night.

 This recipe is made for large burgers, roughly the same size as the Mc D’s Quarter Pounder (a.k.a Mc Royale in Egypt). As per the Mc Donald’s website, the Quarter Pounder sandwich is 500 calories, and a large fries roughly 500 calories as well. That means the Combo without the drink is 1000 calories! My recipe uses very lean ground beef, whole grain bun, and baked fries and veggies. The sandwich is roughly 380 calories and the fries (same size as Mc D’s large) are only 160 calories giving us a total of 540 calories. Now did I get your attention?   

I am not turning this into a diet blog, but I just wanted to emphasize the calories we consume without noticing, and how much we can save by turning to easy, delicious, homemade alternatives.

Do yourself a favor, and the next time you are craving a burger try this. Thank me later.


Ingredients:

The ingredients are all available locally in Egypt. First of all, stay away from ‘mystery meat’. Frozen ground beef, ready packed ground beef and pre-made raw burger patties all contain very high fat percentages, not to mention other ‘trash’ components like bone, cartilage and scraps. This applies even to high end supermarkets. To ensure your meat is lean, I suggest picking out meat cubes, also called stew meat, which are usually lean, and telling the butcher to ground that for you. You can even ask him to trim off extra fat if you see visible chunks. This can be done in any supermarket. Also, Carrefour sell ground beef with different fat percentages. I have seen 20% and 10% fat, which are both labeled low fat. The lower the better, so 10% would be the best choice. Another alternative is to visit the Australian shop Gourmet, which sell lean Australian ground beef and is actually cheaper than grinding stew meat by about 10 L.E.

For the buns, luckily now in Egypt we have many options. Carrefour has a very wide selection of buns to choose from. They have whole wheat (brown) buns, and they also sell Multigrain buns (labeled farmers bread sometimes). I would go with the multigrain, as it has whole grains and oats in it, so more fiber, and is chewier than the normal brown buns. Metro have brown buns, but not as tasty. In any supermarket you will also find Rich Bake brand brown hamburger buns, but be careful as these super soft buns are not as high in fiber, and don’t give the same benefits of the chewier ‘homemade’ style breads. If you want a treat you can visit the German Bakery in Maadi (road 9) or Fino Bakery in Degla, Maadi for the real deal. My favorite is the Vollkorn Bun from Fino.

The fries here are way tastier than normal deep fried French fries. The idea is based on Ellie Krieger’s  Garlic "Fries" recipe from her show Healthy Appetite. Also, along with the potatoes, I have carrots and zucchini fries mixed in, which are very low in calories but burst with flavor. This way you end up with a third of the potatoes, but the same amount of fries, so you didn’t skimp on the meal. Did I also mention that the whole batch (enough for 4 large servings) uses only 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil?




Burgers:

- ½ kg Lean Ground beef
- 4 Cloves garlic
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1 Tbsp BBQ Sauce
- ½ Tbsp Black pepper
- ½ Tbsp Salt
- 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

Fries:

- 1/3 kg potato (about 3 medium potatoes)
- 1/3  kg Carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
- ½ kg Zucchini (about 4 medium zucchini)
- 1-2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
- Salt


Preparation (Aprrox. 45 mins)

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Burgers:

In your food processor, add the peeled garlic cloves, onion, the BBQ sauce and start at a slow speed. Add in the ground beef through the top attachment, and raise to medium speed. Add in the rest of the meat slowly, ensuring all is incorporated. When the meat is ready you will notice it form a big ball. Now it’s ready and all mixed.

This could be simply mixed by hand, adding in chopped garlic. However, I prefer this way as it makes the meat sticky and doughy, easy to form the patties and prevents them from crumbling without having to add any fat, breadcrumbs or egg, as commonly done.

For large burgers as mentioned before, divide the meat into 4 equal parts, and form 1 cm thick patties. Be careful not to make them too thick, as they will not be able to cook through the middle.

In a pan, add 1 Tbsp of Vegetable Oil, and heat. Add in the burgers. For well done burgers, leave for about 5-7 mins on each side.

Fries:

Cut the potatoes, zucchini , and carrots into long approx ½ cm thick slices. In one baking pan, put all the potatoes in and in another the zucchini and carrots. This is because of the different cooking times and we don’t want the carrots to burn. Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil in each pan. Spice with garlic powder (or fresh garlic), paprika and salt. Mix well and spread evenly on pan. Put in oven for about 30 mins. The zucchini and carrots will be ready about 5-10 mins before the potatoes.

Enjoy!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Spring Zest Appeal: Orange cake





April is my favorite month of the year. The weather is perfect, the days get longer, and colors look brighter. It’s time to shed your winter mode and embrace spring. Tell me a better way to celebrate Spring than to make this deliciously light and fragrant orange cake.

This cake is perfect for company, if you want to break free of the usual vanilla or chocolate, since I have rarely seen a person who dislikes oranges. Add a light topping of whipped cream, and you have the perfect spring desert.

The recipe is one I made up, using variations of my simple vanilla cake recipe. It is pretty simple and I recommend it for beginners. The most important part is beating the sugar and eggs enough, as this allows the cake to be light and airy rather than dense. Again, using oil here, rather than butter, reduces cholesterol and does not compromise taste or texture.


Ingredients:

- 2½ cup Flour
- ¾  cup Oil
- 1½ cup Sugar (If your oranges are bitter or not sweet, you may need to add ¼ cup)
- 4 Eggs (Make sure they are not very small, Medium to Large size preferred.)
- 1 cup Orange Juice freshly squeezed (about juice of 4 medium oranges)
- 2½ tsp. Baking Powder
- 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp Orange zest



Preparation (Aprrox. 10 mins):

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

First you want to grate the oranges to collect the zest. Do this before you cut them open and squeeze out the juice. For 2 Tbsp, you will need to grate about 2 oranges. In a bowl, blend the eggs, sugar and vanilla very well, until smooth and airy. This is VERY important to ensure the cake is light and airy.  This will take about 2 mins on high speed with your egg beater. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, and baking powder). Slowly add in the dry ingredients, oil, orange zest, and orange juice to the egg mixture, alternating each, whisking gently while doing so. Do not over beat or use your electric beater for this part. When everything is incorporated, the batter is ready.

Pour the batter into a well greased round cake pan. 

Put in the oven for about 30-40 mins. Allow to cool before cutting or frosting.


Enjoy!


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Coriander- Broad Bean Rice (Fouleyya)





This vegan dish is so easy to make, but looks very fancy on the dinner table. This dish is filling and full of flavor, always a hit at dinner parties.

I want to say this is a traditional Egyptian dish, but if it was, it’s nearly extinct. Sadly, never seen on a restaurant menu, this savory rice dish is almost unknown to the general public. Probably originating in the country side, I suspect Fouleyya was lost along the way to the city. One alternative recipe for the rice I have tasted used lots of garlic, rather than onion. I still prefer my family recipe. As for the name, it’s not to be confused with the sweet candy Fouleyya (Peanut Brittle). Again, I am not even sure if that’s the proper name, as almost no one knows what I am talking about until I explain it, but that’s what we used to call it at home. A name is just a name when it comes to food, call it Yummy Rice for all I care, just try it out! 

The ingredients are so simple, but combined make a surge of exotic flavor. The coriander is the star here, with the onion’s sweetness complimenting it without being overpowering. The beans add a filling wholesomeness to the dish, making it a meal on its own. The fava bean or broad beans, as they are commonly known, are a staple in the Egyptian diet. Foul Medammes, Taameyya (Falafel), and Besara are the most common dishes that use this legume.



Ingredients:

2 Cups short grain rice, washed (Egyptian or Calrose rice)
3 Cups water
1 bag (400g or 14 oz) Frozen Broad Beans (Fava Beans)
1 cup Chopped spring onion or leeks [Regular onions work]
1 cup Chopped fresh coriander (aka cilantro)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation: (Approx. ¾-1 hour)

In a pot, heat the oil and add the chopped onions and half of the chopped coriander. Add in the salt, but not the pepper. We add in the pepper later because it can get bitter when heated in oil for too long. The salt however is added now, since it allows the onions to release their water (Biology/ Chemistry 101- Osmosis) and this helps sauté the onion without letting it burn and not having to add water. When the onions are translucent, add in the bag of beans, black pepper and the water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then cover the pot, allowing the beans to cook a little. I like the beans a little soft in this recipe, so we need to let them get started cooking first, or the rice would be ready before the beans are soft. After 10 min, add the washed rice, bring to the boil, and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting on a medium/small burner. Cover and let sit for about 20-30 mins. Be sure not to stir the rice before that, it’s important to allow the rice to steam.  
After the rice is done, fluff in the rest of the fresh coriander with a fork. It adds a fresh taste and the green contrast is beautiful.


My Experimentation:

- This recipe is just as good with peas. It’s a great variation to my basic Rice and Peas dish.

- Typically any type of rice could be used. Short grain (Egyptian) rice has a mushier texture, and along with the soft beans it’s great. But Jasmin or Basmati rice with the beans a little firmer gives a whole other experience.

- Turn it into an Asian dish, use jasmine rice and peas, and top it off with my Thai Lemongrass Chicken recipe.

- Not into beans? Or peas for that matter? Forget them!