Saturday, 28 May 2011

The French Pancake: Crêpe





Blueberry Crêpe with Frozen Yoghurt and Raspberry Sauce

Pancakes were a Friday morning special in my house as a child. There was always a little bit of batter left in the end, not enough to make two pancakes and too much to make one, so my mom would make a big thin one. She would then eat it with honey and cinnamon, or jam, rolled or folded, and told me this was a ‘French pancake’. This was my first encounter with crêpes.

Original crêpe recipes have egg in them, and are almost identical to pancakes in the ingredients, although they differ in the ratios. However, I prefer to eliminate the egg in my recipe, to keep a distinction between pancakes and crêpe. Also, it is a very handy recipe if you are in the mood for something simple and sweet and do not have any eggs in the house, also for people with egg allergies.

Crêpes are one of the most versatile deserts, and you can also turn them into a savory dish by eliminating the sugar in the batter. In the pictures I show very simple fruit crêpes, Apple Caramel Cinnamon and Blueberry with Frozen Yoghurt and Raspberry Sauce. Whipped cream is an easy way to fill the crêpes, and adding cocoa to the cream will turn it into a light and airy chocolate dessert.


Ingredients:

- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 1 1/3 cups Milk (I prefer skim)
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 1 cup Flour
- pinch Salt
- Vanilla extract

Cinnamon Apple Crêpe with Caramel Sauce


Preparation (Aprrox. 20 mins)

Mix the dry ingredients then add in the liquid. Mix until its incorporated. Allow the batter to rest for 15 mins (although the original recipe calls for a 1 hour wait, I can never wait that long!)

In an omelet-sized non-stick pan, add a few drops of oil and rub around using a paper towel. Keep this paper towel for rubbing the pan in between crêpes as needed. Allow pan to heat on medium. With a ladle, pour some batter into the pan and immediately lift the pan and rotate as to cover the whole bottom. For a 20 cm pan, you only need about ¼ of a cup of batter to make nice thin crêpes. I use 1/4 cup scoopers to make the sizes consistent. When the crepe starts to bubble and the sides start lifting from the pan slightly, use a thin spatula and flip. Leave it on the other side for about 30 seconds then remove. Repeat until batter is finished.



Tips for beginners:

- If the crêpes are too thin to handle, start with using more batter just to practice. They will be a thicker, but still perfectly edible.

- Make sure to lift the pan while you pour in the batter, this will prevent the batter from cooking too fast before you cover the bottom of the pan.

- If the crêpe is stuck to the pan, loosen lightly with the spatula around the edges moving into the center slowly. This means your pan isn't greased properly. Use a little butter if oil is no working for you. But do not let it brown too much or the butter will burn.

- Do not use too much oil, or the crêpes will be greasy. The oily paper towel is enough, unless you are making double the batch.

- You can store the crêpe batter in a Tupperware and use a day later. You will need to add some more liquid since it will thicken.

- Crêpes stressing you out? Check out Alton Brown’s take on the French pancake in his show Good Eats,  in the episode Crêpe Expectations.


What is your favorite crêpe filling?


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Meat Lovers 101: Kofta (Egyptian ‘Meatballs’)




Every country has their own twist on what to do with ground beef.  Meatloaf, meatballs, shepherd’s pie, are all innovative ways to use ground beef. In the Middle East, a well known ground beef recipe is Kofta. To find one Kofta recipe is impossible, since it differs from country to country, region to region. Here in Egypt, I can mention 4 Kofta recipes off the top of my head. . Even though I have translated Kofta as a Meatball, most Kofta in Egypt aren’t round, but rather finger-like. One type of round Kofta, Koftat Daoud Basha, is infused with crushed rice, and simmered in a spicy onion sauce. Of course, there is the variable of ‘family recipes’ as well. I bet that everyone’s grandma will swear that her version of Kofta is the ‘right’ one.

Being always in a rush while cooking, my Kofta recipe is the simplest of the many versions out there. A small variation on the way my mom used to do it, I find my way a little more effective when shaping the Koftas. I prefer to chop the onion, garlic and parsley with a little oil in the blender, so it turns into a well mixed emulsion, and then slowly add in the meat, rather than mixing in the onion mixture by hand, while the processor is still on. This keeps the Koftas very moist, and prevents crumbling both while shaping and after cooking; which is a problem when using lean meat.

Ground beef is generally a more popular meat choice for most people, since it is easy to use and usually much cheaper than other cuts of meat. However, very cheap ground beef usually is very fatty and I prefer lean ground beef. To ensure your butcher is giving you the real deal, ask him to grind lean stew meat. You could even pick put the stew meat you want him to chop. This helps you control the amount of fat you have in your ground beef. No longer do you have to settle with the ‘surprise meat’ in the ready-made plates in the supermarket.




Ingredients:

½ Kg lean ground beef
1 medium sized onion
3 garlic cloves
1 cup of chopped parsley
1 Tbsp Olive Oil 
1 Tbsp Salt
1 heaping tsp. Black pepper

 Preparation: (Time: About 20 mins total)

In the food processor, add in the onion, the garlic, parsley, olive oil, and the salt & pepper. After the mixture turns into a creamy emulsion, add in the meat slowly while the processor is on through the top attachment. It should all mix nicely, and turn into a big ball.

Take out the meat, and mold using your hands into finger-like shapes.  The Koftas shouldn’t be too fat, to prevent them from being under cooked in the center. The best size is an amount the size of a golf ball or a little larger, roughly the inner part of your palm, and work from there to mold. The half kilo of meat makes about 10 Kofta. It’s also important to try to keep them about the same size, so they take the same amount of time to cook.

In a frying pan or grill, add about 3 Tbsp of corn oil and heat well. Add in the Kofta one by one. It’s ok to crowd them a little, since the meat shrinks anyway. When browned on one side, turn them over on the other side. They should take no longer than 10 mins total, 5 mins on each side. If using less oil and a non-stick pan, and they start to smoke, you can add about 3 Tbsp of water and lower the heat. Make sure to wait until all the water evaporates.




My Experiments:

- This basically works for any combination of spices; Garlic and parsley only, coriander instead of the parsley. For a different twist, use green pepper and chili instead of the parsley.

- Prepare the Koftas and shape them, then freeze in portion sizes; Always good for a long day with no prep time. Just be sure to cook them after they’re thawed.

- In the summer, grab a bunch of skewers (flat ones are the best), and shape the Koftas a little longer and flatter. Throw them on the grill and you’re in for a treat! Not to mention a big hit in any BBQ party.

Enjoy!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Vintage Love: Chocolate Pudding



While flipping through my cookbooks to try to find a desert to make for my sister who was coming to visit, an old piece of notebook paper fell out of one of the books. It had no title, but I immediately recognized the chocolate stained paper (and the bad handwriting).  It was written by me sometime in 1995 maybe, copied from the Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook, using the conversion table to convert from “Chocolate Squares”, which were never available where I lived as a child, to Cocoa and butter. The cookbook is a 1971 re-print of the original 1934 edition. If you love chocolate, you must try the recipes in the book. It’s simply chocolate done right.







My sister isn’t a fan of chocolate, but one chocolate dessert which I remember making many times with her when we were children is the Hershey’s Cornstarch Chocolate Pudding. I love this recipe for so many reasons, mainly the simplicity and the wonderful memories of standing with the whisk or wooden spoon and stirring endlessly in hope of having this heavenly desert before bedtime.

Grab your children, friends or neighbors and try this. You will not be disappointed (at least until there is no more left).



Ingredients:

I have used less sugar than called for, since it is a bit too sweet for my liking with a full cup.

- 9 Tbsp Unsweetened Cocoa
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 3 cups Milk
- 2/3 cup Sugar
- ¼ cup Cornstarch
- ¼ tsp. Salt
- 1 tsp. Vanilla extract



Preparation (Aprrox. 10 mins)

Mix cocoa, sugar, corn starch and salt in a saucepan. Add in milk, and 1 ½ Tbsp of the butter and turn on heat to medium. Stir or whisk constantly for about 5 min or until mixture starts to boil vigorously. Lower heat and continue stirring until mixture thickens. It should be thick enough that if you dip a spoon into it, and swipe your finger down the middle, the cleared space remains clear with no chocolate seeping in.

Take off the heat, add in the vanilla and the rest of the butter. Give it one final stir.

Put in small bowls. Serves about 6.  Place plastic wrap on top of each bowl, allowing it to touch the surface of the pudding. This prevents the film or ‘skin’ from forming.

Allow to cool for 2-3 hours.

Enjoy!