Pineapple Mango Jalapeno Salsa

Now that our BBQ is all spruced up and ready to grill, we seem to be cooking on it every day again. I am sure this is what helps us forget the blues of the winter until it comes back again in a few months. There’s plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables around, so whilst I am on my fruity Salsa phase, I thought why not make one with Pineapples and Mangoes too?

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This literally was made up with a little bit of this, and a little of that. Everything was based on contrasting colours rather than flavour but it came together rather well in the end. I had to make another batch again, as it left that spicy sweet ‘zingling’ taste that needed some more. I did make one batch without the Jalapenos for the kids and they loved their version too. Funny bit was, they called it a Fruit Salad and just enjoyed it by the spoonful with their hot dogs.

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PINEAPPLE MANGO JALAPENO SALSA

Half of a fresh pineapple, diced
1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
2 Jalapenos, deseeded and finely diced (optional)
4 red radishes, finely diced
1 small sweet red pepper, finely diced
1 small sweet orange pepper, finely diced
A small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tsp of Spicy powder (or use Chilli powder)
Zest and juice of 2 limes

Combine everything really well and refrigerate until ready to use. I kept mine in the fridge for about half an hour before serving and it worked beautifully. I’m not sure how long it would last in the fridge, but it was refreshingly cool when we took it out from the refrigerator.

Goes amazingly well with some Tequila too – our second version was spiked with a little dash of Tequila ;)

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Watermelon Pico de Gallo

Every time my dear husband goes to the grocery store, he returns with watermelons, cantaloupes and mangoes. By the time we get through the fruits by making smoothies and fruit salads, we have another batch waiting for us. Hence, it was time to start experimenting with these fruits to try to use them up in other ways.

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We were having a BBQ so what better way to use some watermelon than by making a Pico de Gallo or Salsa. I had picked up a little bottle of ‘Spicy Powder’ for fruits and vegetables from our trip to New Mexico, so it was the perfect opportunity to test it out.

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WATERMELON PICO DE GALLO / SALSA

Half of a small watermelon, diced into small cubes
2 fresh Jalapenos, finely diced
Half of a small green pepper, finely diced
Half of a small yellow pepper, finely diced
A small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 2 limes
A heaped teaspoon of Spicy powder (or Chilli powder seasoning/ Taco seasoning)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground Black pepper to taste

Simply combine everything and serve in a chilled bowl.

It is best to make this Salsa fresh and serve immediately, as it gets a little watery after a while. When the pico de gallo was fresh, cold and crispy, the taste was amazing. A little sweet, a little spicy and the zing from the lime just hit the right spot.

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Chicken Biryani, raw meat method

For someone who has not enjoyed a real, true Biryani,it is impossible to actually imagine how luxurious, fragrant and indulgent this dish actually is. Every grain of rice is light as a feather yet loaded in flavour. The colourful rice grains make the dish look aesthetically pleasing, but is not necessary if you don’t want food colouring in your rice.

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Biryani’s are made in lots of different ways, but there are two distinctive methods that are broadly used. In the method that I am describing in this post, the chicken or meat (we prefer lamb or goat when we make the biryani), is marinated and then cooked on low heat with the rice. It is imperative to use meat that has the bone in for the Biryani, as it adds the flavour and richness that the rice require to carry the flavour to every morsel.

To make things a little simpler, for this recipe, I am using a ready made dried spice mix that is readily available at all ethnic grocery stores. I have no specific preference for any particular brand, as they are all equally good nowadays. However, the reliable brands for masala blends are MDH, National and Shaan.

Make a wet paste, using the following ingredients:-

Green chillies x 10
Coriander 1/2 bunch
Mint 1/2 bunch
Yogurt 1 cup
1/2 cup friend onions
Turmeric 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Lime Juice x 2 tbsp
Oil 1/2 cup

This paste is sufficient for around 2-3 lbs of chicken.

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This wet paste works as a marinade for the chicken. Ideally, I would have marinated the chicken in a ziploc bag at this point and left it in the fridge overnight. Massage the marinade into the chicken well.

The layering of the Biryani for this type of Biryani is quite simple. Its just in the technique of getting things together on time and it works beautifully. However, it is imperative to have everything prepped and ready, as everything moves really fast once the rice is ready.

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Try to use the best quality Basmati or Sello rice that you can find, as you don’t want them to mush up or break during the cooking process. Wash the rice well and rinse out the excess starch. Put a large pot of water to boil, just like you would for pasta. Add 1-2 large brown cardamoms, a couple of bay leaves and a couple of tablespoons of Black cumin in the water. As the water boils, it will start changing colour and I like to reduce the heat at this point and let the spices cook in the water so the water is a light brown in colour. This will all get absorbed into the rice grains.

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Sprinkle a handful of salt into the water, followed by the rice. Cook the rice on medium high heat, uncovered until the grains are around 70% cooked. The best way to check this is by pressing a grain between your thumb and forefinger. If the rice breaks into pieces, it needs more time. If it lightly mashes but has a little bite to it, it is done.

The timing on this should be such that your pot of chicken should be ready for the rice at this point. You need to immediately scoop the rice out of the boiling water using a large flat slotted spoon and don’t worry about some of the water going in with the rice. You must move fast as you don’t want to overcook the rice and you don’t want to lose too much of the steam.

So for the meat, first take a cast iron dutch oven, and put this on low heat to start warming things up. Heat 3-4 tbsp of clarified butter in the base, and spread the chicken pieces evenly on top. Spread some of the dried spice mix on top of the meat and turn the pieces over to spread some more spice mix on the other side. Let the chicken heat on very low heat whilst you wait for the rice and then spread the rice immediately on top of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 300F.

Once the rice is spread, sprinkle some rose water on water. Spread a layer of fried onions, some almonds, cashews or any other type of nuts that you would like to add. I like to add some green raisins at this point too. If you want to add colour, now is the time to sprinkle some at different places on the top, but not too much. A little bit of colour goes a long way. Generously sprinkle a large ladle of clarified butter on top. Unfortunately, yes, it is worth the calories.

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I like to add some coriander leaves too, but that’s not necessary. Once everything is loaded, seal the lid with some wet flour paste.

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I didn’t use a cast iron dutch oven here as I was in the middle of teaching a class and we used the pots and pans that we had. This flour paste ensures there is no escaping whatsoever for the steam and it cooks on low heat in its own juices.

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I have never tried a slow cooker for this, but I can imagine that would work equally well to create the perfect biryani.

But, we haven’t finished yet!!

Now, we boil some eggs. Hard boiled for about 7-8 minutes.

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Remove the shell and whilst they are cooling down, slice another onion. Heat some clarified butter in a pan and add the onions.

600_336810842 Make thin and long slits along the length of the eggs, and rub them in some of the biryani spice mix. Then add them to the onions and clarified butter in the pot.

600_336810902These slits help the eggs absorb some more flavour and prevent them from bursting (just in case!). Let these cook until the onions are nice and brown and the eggs have a cooked spice layer on their skin. These will be our garnish for the Biryani.

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Now, the biryani cooks in the oven for at least 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let it sit for another 20-30 minutes. Then, taking a flat spatula break off the dough surround and the trick now is to spread the rice on a flat platter using a big flat spoon without breaking the rice. Gentle movements and spreading the colour and flavour all over. The meat pieces are buried in between the rice layers, and this helps keep the flavours locked in too as well as work as a surprise as to who gets what piece of meat (if any!).

We served our biryani with some cucumber and tomato raita, and some freshly chopped onions for photo purposes only! There is so much flavour in this biryani, that it didn’t need anything else, and the yogurt was just the perfect accompaniment to cool everything down a little for those who find the spices a little strong.

THESE PHOTOS WERE TAKEN BY BERNICE HILL (Dish n’the kitchen) and other participants at the cooking class. 

 

Butterscotch Chocolate & Almond bars

Every time my husband goes for grocery shopping, a huge packet of cookies (I call them biscuits) seem to magically appear in his shopping trolley. Sometimes, they were on special offer so he couldn’t resist them and he has even tried, “I don’t know how they got there!” amongst the many excuses. The fact is, he has a sweet tooth and he loves his tea. The huge packets of cookies aka biscuits, are great for dunking in tea.

The good bit is, he usually forgets or is embarrassed to ask where the cookies are when he wants them with tea. I always hide the packets and I often forget myself where I have hidden them until I accidentally stumble upon them in the pantry or tucked in at the bottom of a container.

Today, I stumbled upon a  huge container of chocolate fudge cookies that magically appeared in my pantry as I was searching for some pecans. Had I left the container on the kitchen counter, I know lunch would have been tea with dunked in biscuits for someone. So, had to think quick as to how to dispose of them without wasting them. Hence the creation of these bars.

This is a no bake recipe, so it was super quick and my son and I had a lot of fun putting these together.

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BUTTERSCOTCH CHOCOLATE AND ALMOND BARS

20 Double Chocolate Fudge cookies
1/2 cup melted butter
1 packet of Butterscotch chips
A small packet of pecan crusted sweet Almonds (or use plain ones)

Line a baking sheet with two layers of cling film and set aside. Blitz the cookies in the food processor until they are like crumbs. Pour these onto the baking sheet with the melted butter and mix well. Pat them down and spread them to form the base of the bars. I put this into the fridge for a few minutes whilst I melted the butterscotch chips.

Heat the butterscotch chips in the microwave until they have melted but be careful not to burn them as they will burn really quickly. It took me 1.30 minutes but I checked them at 30 second intervals to give them a quick stir and make sure they were not burnt at the bottom.

Pour this onto the chocolate cookie base in the pan and sprinkle smashed up almond pieces. Whilst I was melting the butterscotch chips, my son was smashing them with a rolling pin. We did put the almonds in a ziploc bag first, to keep them safe from the thrashing he was going to give them. He did go a little overboard with the thrashing and spreading them onto the bars but they came out really good.

As a last minute garnish, we drizzled some chocolate fudge syrup on top.

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These bars were then distributed to a couple of our neighbours and a plateful was also taken into work by my husband. I have a hidden container of these in a secure place in my kitchen for emergencies.

The bars are quite sweet, so its not easy to eat more than one little piece at a time which is wonderful for my boys would have demolished the whole container of cookies in one afternoon!

Lime Honey Yogurt & Walnut Muffins

I love Lime and I love Yogurt with Honey. Topping these up with Walnuts just made them purrfect!

These are scrumptious sugar free muffins that my son and I made for his lunch box. They are not overly sweet, since they have been sweetened by honey which could easily be replaced with Agarve Nectar or Coconut Nectar, but there is something about Lime and honey that I find really appealing. I even had to glaze these with some extra lime and honey, which gave them a little sticky glaze on the top. I wish I had saved some lime zest to go with the glaze on the top too, but we were little over-enthusiastic with our lime in the muffin batter. This makes a batch of 24 medium size muffins, or if you prefer them large, there it would be sufficient for a dozen large muffins.

Lime Honey Yogurt Muffins

Lime Honey Yogurt & Walnut Muffins

 Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 7 tbsp honey (or more if you prefer them sweeter)
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 1/2 cups of plain flour (I used half wholewheat flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp English all spice (nutmeg, cinnamon)
  • Walnuts for topping the muffins
  • Glaze made with some honey and lime zest and juice
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Combine the flour with the baking soda and the all spice in one bowl.
  3. Mix all the wet ingredients in one bowl, and combine.
  4. Scoop out into lined muffin trays and bake for 12-15 minutes.

 

A comforting bowl of Soup

There are times when only a bowl of soup works the magic. For me, it was one of those days. We have had a bit of a traumatic few days, hence the absence of food blog posts recently.  I recently had Carpol Tunnel Surgery and during the process a rare tumour was discovered in my finger tip. It led to a few additional things and the big C scare, which is still not eliminated as yet. The first surgery is a couple of months away now, so instead of letting this bring us down I made a comforting bowl of Soup. Unfortunately, that means living on strong painkillers for a while, but at least it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I set my mind to!


Comforting Soup

This kind of started out as a ‘cleaning out the fridge’ kind of soup, hence making it uniquely comforting and more of a stew than a soup.

I started off by sauteing off some celery and onions in a little Grapeseed oil and whilst they were cooking, I started adding other things into the pot. I found half of a Chorizo sausage in the fridge that needed some attention, so roughly chopped that up and added to the pot, along with some baby carrots that I found. My freezer is usually stocked up with chopped up vegetables, so chopped green beans, frozen corn and peas joined the pot. Added a carton of chicken stock along with some Vegeta seasoning and let the stew simmer on low for half an hour. Halfway through, I added a handful of pasta into the pot.

It was a quick and easy stew or soup, that we enjoyed with some fresh crusty bread and butter that was desperately needed to calm our insides.

Leaving the health scare behind, I am now reverting my attention back to the more important things in life that somehow seem a lot more important now, if that makes any sense. I have a Cooking School opening in a couple of weeks and I am in the midst of the decorating and planning. So much to do, in very little time.

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Owning the recipe and playing with food

When my interest in cooking started, I would follow recipe instructions meticulously, whether they made any sense or not. I blindly followed the cooking instructions and was too afraid to change anything from the ingredients list, even if it took me hours to find one silly ingredient that in reality, I could have easily omitted. I read cookbooks from cover to cover and unfortunately, treated them more like legal practice directions than cooking instructions. I was more comfortable challenging words written in the practice directions than I was in making any changes to the recipe that I was following.

As a result, many cooking disasters ensued to say the least. It was frustrating at times when the recipes never produced what they were supposed to! I began doubting my own cooking skills at times and was close to packing up all the books and jars of spices, when R helped out. He taught me how I needed to create my own style of cooking from these recipes and instructions and not blindly follow them. But I had serious reservations about my cooking skills!

I’d organised a Summer BBQ at my new house and slowly, the list of invitees grew a little out of my comfort zone. This was the first time I was attempting to cook everything myself from scratch so it was a little daunting. I pulled out my trusted recipe books but R closed the books and put them above the cabinets where I couldn’t reach them. We were going to cook ‘freestyle’! Oh my dear God. He wanted me to do all the seasoning but he did offer to mix the meat and knead it into kebabs for me. How am I supposed to do this without my book? I was all prepared with a calculator to tell me how much each ingredient was going to be for this large batch.

So, I learnt. I learnt how to smell the spice and taste each one individually. Some were painful to taste, yes, but a glass of milk did wonders to clean the palette. Then I had to close my eyes and try to visualise the kebab I wanted to create and what it would taste like. I wanted freshness in my kebab, so let’s add more fresh coriander. For spice, I don’t want it too spicy for everyone, so we reduced the heat. Seasoning with salt and black pepper was going to take a while to practice and perfect, so definitely needed some guidance on that one.

What did I learn? That as long as I have the key ingredients for a recipe, I could make it. In fact, I could create a mishmash of recipes by mixing a couple of recipes into one or even 3 into one. I learnt to play with food.

I smelt and tasted everything raw ingredient, except for the meats and raw fish of course. I taught myself how to make sauces and chutneys. They seemed the easiest at first, before I realised how complicated the balancing of flavours could be if it wasn’t done right. I had amazing fun making these but since I didn’t recognise any of the fresh herbs properly yet, it created a few little accidents along the way. The best one I remember was making a Mint Chutney with leaves that my sister picked out from my mum’s garden, and not realising that the leaves that went into the blender were infact the overgrown weeds from the back of the garden instead of the fresh mint I was expecting. Let’s just say, the taste of weed chutney is not one that could be easily washed out with a little bit of milk!

Why is my cooking style and technique so different even today?

I didn’t learn cooking from an early age. I had no interest in cooking at an early age. I have had the luxury of experiencing a lot of cuisines and have eaten at a lot of different places in different parts of the world. I appreciate cooking. I cook with my heart in the right place towards the cooking experience and for producing the best I can, but I also use the logical side of my brain. I need to know why, how and what for?!

My need to understand the role and purpose of each ingredient in putting together a dish, drives me towards creating different flavours and dishes all the time. Its not just a case of, ‘a little bit of this, and a little bit of that’. For me, I need to understand why I am adding that ingredient into my dish and what will it do to the food that I am trying to create?

As a result, I continue to read cookbooks as if they are stories. I wish more cookbooks had more background and historical information or creative direction behind the instructions in creating dishes. For now, I visualise imaginary dishes and places as I read these cookbooks and they get locked in a part of my brain somewhere. Whenever I am cooking, one of these recipe ingredients or directions will pop out of nowhere and change the course of what I am cooking by taking me into a new direction. This is how I ‘own’ my own recipe.

I cannot follow recipes very well. I follow practice directions well, and make sure all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed. I have made trillions of checklists to make sure I follow procedure and directions properly and have taken pride in being able to follow complicated legal directions. However, when it comes to cooking, all that goes out of the window. Completely!

I own my recipes by transforming them and creating them as part of my own experience. I share that experience with everyone that I cook for and teach. Anyone who has attended any of my classes will affirm that even though I hand out a list of ingredients that I am using, I encourage people to write their own instructions as to how to create the dish. It’s not about following a recipe, and I am so grateful to my friends who directed me and sent me down this path. I don’t think even they envisaged I would keep on going down this path though.

I would encourage everyone to read recipes, follow them to a point but use your own direction to create your own dish. I would love to see more stories behind recipes from cookbook authors and more than accurate recipes, their reasoning behind using particular ingredients would stick in people’s minds for a lot longer.

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Playing with ingredients is fun. It is mesmerizing to watch kids play and experiment with food. They pick up the piece of food very carefully, examine it for a few seconds in their hands before popping it straight into their mouth. One little nibble and the expression on their face says it all. Following the same technique, play with real food. Explore their taste and texture and try to incorporate it into everyday foods. Play with herbs and spices the same way. I learnt to love vegetables this way, appreciate the aromatic herbs that transform our food and the balancing of spices.

I am seriously considering to stop writing recipes, and just post photos of what I make with brief descriptions of what is being created, how and with what objective. What do you think? Or am I the only one in this playground at the moment?