Friday, 20 January 2012

Biscuit au Chocolat [Baskoot bil Chocalata]


Who can resist?


 When taking requests for a dinner party, my brother in law had this look of urgency on his face.
“There’s this thing, my aunt used to make, but I don’t know what it’s called”. I rolled my eyes, the ‘I love it but I don’t know what it’s called’ issue is a hard one due to the fact that I don’t read minds. I told him to give me basically what it tasted like. “It’s like chocolaty, but gooey, with cookies in it!”.

 My eyes lit up , I knew exactly what he was talking about. Baskoot bil chocalata in Arabic, or Biscuit au Chocolat. This fudgy dessert was a childhood favorite of mine as well.

“Yes I know it!”

 “Errrm, can you make an extra one for me to take home?” he replied.



Looks like a cake!


 I first encountered this refrigerated dessert in the lazy summers we used to spend when I was younger. We had a bubbly neighbor who was an amazing cook, and had introduced me to this no bake ‘cake’. Fast forward to 2011 on a business trip to Lebanon I found it there, everywhere. Apparently it is a childhood favorite of most Lebanese people as well! I didn’t actually attempt to make it until this special request came along, and had to tweak what I remembered from memory, and after a few attempts, I was there.

A cup of cold milk and a slice of Biscuit au Chocolat had me back when times were simpler.


Ingredients:
Cookie fudgey goodness

400 gm tea or Maire biscuits (This is approx, depends on what you find)
1 stick of butter
1 cup milk
½ cup cream
1 cup sugar
¾ cup cocoa

Preparation:

In  a large bowl break the cookies with your hand. Do not use a food processor we don’t want to make cookie dust, only cookie pieces.

Heat the milk, add in the butter, then the sugar, allow to warm but not froth. Stir continuously. Add in the cocoa.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the broken cookies, and mix with a spoon until incorporated.  Allow to set for about a minute.

Line a loaf pan (or any other pan, but make sure it’s not too big for the mixture) with cellophane (cling wrap).

Make sure you use enough for it to hangover all sides about half of the size of the pan. You might need to use two pieces next to each other.

Now pour in the choco-cookie mixture, cover with the pieces of cellophane that are hanging over the sides, and press down on the loaf and wrap it tightly.

Put in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Slice and serve cooled.

Enjoy!


What dessert takes you down memory lane? For me its this and Chocolate Pudding!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Let it Freeze! How to properly freeze foods and keep a handy dinner stash



There are days when I wish there was a cooking fairy to come and whip up a batch of my favorite lentil soup, and clean up before she leaves. Of course, until I find this fairy, I will have to do the task myself, or resort to take out. Now my friends know that I rather cook with an arrow in the arm, writhing in pain than order sub-par food... But there is a solution.


The next best thing to the fairy is having a ‘fresh’ meal frozen, and it's just up to me to re-heat. No dishes, no cooking, just eating required. This is especially useful for late work days, or days which I am travelling and want to have some good food in the house for my husband, whose culinary skills consist of making coffee and putting a sandwich together in front of the fridge while holding it open with his foot.  

Now, not everything can be revived to its former fresh self after freezing, so here are some tips and tricks to keep your freezer well stocked for the winter with food that will resemble what it should after thawing, and also keeping the food safe for your family to eat.

1- It's Only ‘Fresh Frozen’ if you Freeze it Fresh:

Don’t wait to freeze your leftovers 3 days after it has been sitting in the fridge. You should freeze your food the day it was made, after it has cooled down. Fresh frozen gets its name from that, it should be as good as fresh after freezing. I sometimes will freeze day old leftovers if I have to, rather than throw food out, but it isn’t always top notch taste-wise.

2- Package Food in Portions of Two's:

Once thawed, food must be warmed and eaten. Make sure you freeze your food in proper portions so you are not stuck with too much thawed and re-heated leftovers. I stick to packaging portions of two. Try to avoid very large portions while freezing; it will not freeze fast enough and remember you will have to wait for it all to thaw.
3- Freeze Foods in Proper Containers/Bags:

When storing the food you need to make sure you are using freezer friendly containers. I use the freezer line from Tupperware. You don’t want to use cheap plastic containers as they can become brittle and break.
Ziplock bags are good for when you don’t have enough containers. But don’t skimp out on quality, I have had cheaper bags rip open in my freezer, not a pretty sight.

Try to make sure there is as little air as possible when freezing; this will help prevent freezer burn

If buying meat in bulk, either re-package the meat by tightly wrapping and sealing it using cling wrap, aluminum foil, or freezer bags. Or simply wrap over the existing wrapper. This allows the meat to last longer in the fridge in case there are any tears or holes in the cellophane.

Before packing food, allow to cool to room temperature. This is vital to prevent bags breaking and regulate pressure. 

4- Cook Large Batches:

Large batches of food serve perfectly for busy weeks, as you will have at least 2 days worth of food. Also, keep an extra two portions on the side and freeze it. You never know when it will come in handy. After a while you will have a nice collection of ready frozen meals, and if you are coming home tired from work, it’s a life saver. 
 
5- Safe Ways to Thaw Food and Can I re-Freeze?

The USDA recommends 3 ways of thawing: In the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave. I personally do not like to thaw meat in the microwave because it actually starts cooking process. I don't even like microwaves...

We have all heard the warning about re-freezing foods, but if they have been thawed in the fridge and been there no longer than 2 days, you are safe to go. Be sure to re-freeze in proper packing. Also, the re-frozen foods will be less fresh after the following defrosting.

6- Label

Label your packaging because, 2 months later you won’t remember what’s in that reddish jar. Basics for labeling are mentioning the food in the package, the date, and if it is raw or cooked. Be sure to include any special instructions if needed, especially if you are leaving food for people other than yourself. ‘Remove plastic before heating’, is a handy one to prevent a mess! 

7- Not All Foods are for Freezing:

Almost anything can be frozen, but not all will be palatable once thawed.

Fruits and Veggies:

Potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce are things which fail after thawing. As well as most fruit, unless it is diced or pureed and will be used in smoothies.

Now I have frozen soups and stews with potatoes in them, which is fine, but be prepared for mushy potatoes. I would avoid freezing things like potato gratin or baked potatoes.

Fresh veggies freeze best if you blanch them first. Just get a pot of water boiling, add in a Tbsp of salt and squeeze half a lemon in. Drop in the veggies for about 5 minutes, and then remove. Run under cold water in a cauldron until they are cooled. Freeze. My favorite veggies for blanching are carrots, broccoli and green beans. Be sure to wash and cut them to your preferred sizes first.


Dairy:

Block cheeses, and crèmes don’t do so well either. The textures are too odd after thawing to really use.
I have however, frozen shredded cheese before, which is great for pizza or topping casseroles.

Butter is one item I buy in bulk, since I do not always find the salted butter I love. I freeze them by the block.

Rice:

Contrary to popular belief rice also freezes well, if you do it properly. Makiko Itoh, a Bento enthusiast and Japanese food blogger, has a very nice step by step way to freeze and thaw rice. You can see her method here

Herbs:

You will find some lentil soup in my freezer anytime!
I love freezing herbs, like parsley which I go through a lot and cannot always find. Basil, rosemary and corianders are others which I freeze. Frozen herbs wilt and will not look good in salads, but are great when cooked in dishes.  Rosemary tends to become a bit bitter.

To freeze herbs, keep them in bunches, wash them well, and shake dry. While still moist, put them in a plastic bag and freeze. To chop them after they have frozen, do not wait for them to thaw. The iced water makes them stiff and easy to chop. When thawed, you have a mass of wilted herbs, and will then need a food processor to get the job done.

Also you can chop lots of onion and garlic, and keep them in ice cube trays. Once frozen transfer to plastic Ziplock bags for storage. This comes in handy, but the onion changes flavor slightly and become more subtle. If you don’t want to buy a special ice tray, just make little balls and freeze them individually in sandwich baggies.

Pasta:

Freezing boiled pasta is not a good idea since it basically falls apart when thawed. This shouldn't be a problem anyway since it takes only 10 minutes tops to boil a bag of macaroni. But if you have elaborate pasta dishes, you might want to make an extra tray.

One thing I love to freeze is Lasagne and baked macaroni (Like macaroni béchamel). If you know you will freeze it beforehand, make sure to have extra sauce and bake it ¾ of the way. Lasagne freezes raw very well also. If you just have an extra cooked tray, and it will go to waste, freeze it anyway. It may be a little dry, so on the day of re-heating just be sure to make the heat low not to scald the bottom.

Meats:

Burgers and kofta freeze well if packages properly, although freezing it raw would be better.

You can keep leftover chicken or turkey meat, clean off the skin and bones, and this can be added to quick casseroles or chopped in sandwiches. Leftover BBQ meats keep very well frozen. Cooked steak freezes poorly, so try to avoid that. I have however frozen cut up pieces of steak which went into a soup later one and it was ok. Beef cubes freeze very well if they are in liquid, and you can also keep the beef stock.


Baked goodies

Most cookie doughs are great frozen, but do not forget them there for months, as they tend to get freezer burns easily. Use this method before holidays or a big party when you want to start a week or two before. Wrap your dough in cling wrap and make sure none of the dough is showing, then wrap in aluminum foil tightly. Or just pack in an airtight container. For even easier use, freeze the dough in pre-sculpted balls, so all you have to do is flatten them a little.

Baked muffins, cinnamon buns and loaves are good frozen as well. But as mentioned with the cookie dough, to keep them in top tasting quality, you don’t want them in the freezer for long.

Nuts 

Nuts, shredded coconut, or raisins is another favorite of mine to store in the freezer. After Ramadan, I always have lots of leftover mkasarat, or assorted nuts. Freezing them prevents them from going rancid in the cupboard.



Foods should last indefinitely in the freezer, if they are frozen at the optimal temperature (0 F or -17 celcius) but they will lose quality with time. A rough guideline can be found here on how long to keep things in the freezer, with minimal quality loss, from the FDA.

I know this is a lot of information, but if you use the tips mentioned here, maybe it will encourage everyone to go into the kitchen and start cooking! [and save a little extra for the freezer stash!]

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Oriental Rice with Nuts [Rozz bil Khalta]




Irresistible Oriental Rice


At any big occasion or dinner party in Egypt you probably will find this scrumptious rice dish there. This is my second favorite flavored rice dish, second to my coriander-bean rice

Rice ‘with the mix’, which is the literal translation, is a vamped up rice dish that accompanies usually some kind of meat. Turkeys stuffed with this rice are the most common, or a nice grilled shoulder of lamb.

‘The mix’ is basically toasted nuts, and soaked raisins, sautéed to a golden sweet heaven that are added to the rice, as well as used in garnishing. The rice has a distinct flavor, which is thanks to the slowly caramelized onions, added cinnamon, nutmeg and Egyptian Boharat. Bohar or Boharat, which literally just means spices, is a spice mix which is distinct to the region. It consists mainly of the following, although I am sure each area/ brand will have a different ratio and slightly different ingredients: bay leaves, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, paprika, wild oregano, and cardamom all ground together to a fine brown powder.

Traditional garnish includes chopped sautéed liver mixed in with the nuts and raisins. I prefer not to add the liver inside the rice, just because some people not like it.
The garnish adds character, and flavor, to the rice

I use short grain, Egyptian rice. It is also named Calrose in other parts of the world. However, I am sure this would work with other types just as well.

To brown the rice, I rely solely on the onions and the spices. Some people use ½ cup of sugar, caramelized, to give a dark brown color. I prefer not to add any sugar and empty calories as the dish is not your normal rice dish as it is!

Try this for your next turkey dinner, and you will be surprised how fast it goes!

  This recipe is enough for about 6-8 servings


Ingredients: 

3 cups short grain rice
2 large onions chopped finely
1 Tbsp Black pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp Egyptian Boharat
¼ tsp nutmeg
3.5-4 cups water (or broth if possible)
2 Tbsp oil
3 Tbsp butter
125gm Liver (depending on the dish, use chicken or beef liver)
100 gm raisins, soaked
1 cup hazelnuts (unsalted)
1 cup almonds (unsalted)


Preparation:

Wash the rice, drain and set aside.

Soak the raisins in boiling water. Boil the nuts if they have their peels, and then cool them in running water and peel off any peels. Then break the nuts into halves or quarters.

Sautee the onions in a large rice pot, in the oil. Add in salt, about 1 Tbsp, and lower the heat to lowest setting. This will let the onions release their water, helping them brown rather than burn. Add in the cinnamon, and the Bohar. We do not add in the nutmeg or black pepper until later, because they turn bitter and lose their original flavorings.

Once the onions are very brown, and starting to burn on the edges, add in the rice and give it a stir. Allow it to absorb some of the color. Add in 1 Tbsp of butter, and stir again. Add in half of the nuts and the raisins. After about 2 minutes, add in the water or broth, stir, bring to a boil, and cover. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
The rice will take about 30-40 minutes. Do not uncover or stir, it will prevent the rice from being too sticky and will allow it to steam properly.

In a small frying pan, add in 2 Tbsp of oil, and allow to heat. Take the liver, sprinkle salt and pepper on it, and place in the hot pan. Sear on both sides, then reduce heat and allow to cook through. Once done, set aside to cool, then chop the liver finely without mashing it.

In a different frying pan, add in 2 Tbsp of butter, and add in the rest of the raisins and nuts. Sprinkle in a dash of Bohar, and stir. Allow to brown, but be careful not to burn the nuts or the raisins in the butter. Once done, turn off the heat, and add in the chopped liver, mixing it well. This is the top garnish.


Check on the rice at about this point, by using a fork to ‘fluff ’ it. Try to get a forkful of the rice in the middle, and taste to see if it is ready if you can’t tell by the looks of it. Cooked rice is lighter and less opaque than raw rice. Also if there is no water, but the rice needs a lot more cooking, add in ¼ cup and allow to sit for another 10 minutes.

Plate the rice, and garnish with the prepared liver and nuts mix.

Enjoy!

 What is your favorite exotic rice dish?