Mar 19, 2008

My favourite thing with ice cream...

Along with the colourful sweets I had received from Syria (posted about just recently), I also received amazing delicious snowballs of "ghazl al banat". Ghazl al banat is Arabic, and it means something along the lines of "girl hair locks". It's very very similar, if not even identical, to the maybe more reknown "Pashmak" from Iran. So whether we are referring to Ghazl al banat or Pashmak, the easiest way to understand them is that they are a sort of cotton candy from the Middle East except that... well...

1) They don't come in gigantic volumes around a wooden stick (but rather come packed in small plastic bags) (sometimes the packaging is quite amusing too, you can see my previous post here)


2) The taste and texture is very different to the "Western world" cotton candy, and in this I mean that Ghazl al banat/Pashmak is way silkier and has a nuttier taste (because one of the principle ingredients is sesame oil) .
This is what ghazl al banat looks like...

Very often topped off with almonds and pistachios...

All nice and bundled before it goes POOF!

and becomes something like 3-4 times bigger then it's initial size...

I'm not sure if people ever use it as a "topping" to anything- most of the time I notice people just eat ghazl al banat on its own... but I've always LOVED topping it off on ice cream! It adds an interesting look to ice cream, and the blend of textures is like a delicious experimentation in your mouth!

Because of it's nutty flavour, I thought it would be best to serve it with pistachio ice cream. I love serving this when we have friends or family over because it has a special "wow" effect and on top of all that takes less then 10 seconds to add a distinctive touch to a scoop of ice cream.

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Mar 17, 2008

Candied walnuts, cucumbers, and other things!

Hello everyone, here I am again with another "show & tell" blogging story! I recently received a very colourful and interesting collection of sweet delicacies from Syria. My eyes were enchanted in front of the intriguing items- some that I was familiar with, and some that were completely new to me. The above photo includes all the items, with the details below (you can click on the picture in a seperate window too for a clearer view!) :

1. Pistachio nougat
2. Layers of marzipan, "amardeen" (which is dried apricot fruit paste), pistachio paste, crushed pistachios (I have to add that this one tastes very very good!)
3. Candied prickly pear
4. Marzipan with a pistachio filling
5. Same layers as in #2
6. Candied baby pear
7. Candied mini cucumber (!!)
8. Candied apricot stuffed with pistachios
9. Pistachio & "raha" (raha is a bit similar to loukoum)
10. Rose & "raha"
11. Candied orange
12. Candied walnut (!!)
13. Candied pumpkin (my personal fave)
14. Pistachio "raha"

FYI- numbers 1, 2, 4, 9 and 14 are very commonly offered at weddings or important events and can also be an accompanying sweet with a cup of Turkish coffee.

Amongst all the sweets, two caught my attention- the candied walnut(below)

And when open looks like this:

The first thought that came to my mind is how on earth does one candy a walnut? Did they keep the shell? And if yes, how can you bite into a rock-hard shell? And how did it become black??? All these questions with the answer being that apparently the way that this is made is that the walnuts are picked at a very very early stage of their "development" before they become too hard. Then they are soaked in a kind of calcium based water to make them even softer. That's also when their colour changes into this blackish colour you see above.Then they are candied in a special syrup for at least 24hours.I tasted it and it does taste good, very sugary with still a bit of a walnut-y crunch.

The second sweet that caught my attention was this rose covered "raha". I thought it's pink delicate exteriour looked beautiful, and with each bite there is a wonderful smell of roses too!

I love regular raw prickly pear, but when it's candied it just looks a tad bit cooler!

But in terms of taste my really favourite one is the candied pumpkin. My grandmother does a home-made version and I remember eating it straight out of the jar and being sent off to another planet because it is just terribly good with an incredible crunch! She (my grandma) also made a lot of candied eggplants- which as strange as it sounds- is one of the best things I've ever tried!

Mar 14, 2008

Show-and-tell : Mastica

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid back in lower school we had « show and tell » days where you would bring something preferably new and interesting to introduce to everyone in the class to develop public speaking skills. I remember that most of my show-and-tell items were food related… and now many years later I’m not surprised considering how passionate I am about food!
So a while back I had spoken about “mshalalĂ©” cheese and “za’atar” and today I want to do a blog version show-and-tell on mastica (which is in the photo above). If you’re anywhere from Greece, Turkey or the Middle East you probably know what mastica is- a resin from the mastic tree with a distinct (and I should add fabulous) taste and smell. It’s very commonly used in desserts, especially cream/milk based ones and also is a popular chewing-gum flavour (anyone know the Mastic Chicklets??)
And so the other day I was wondering what to do, when in the kitchen I spotted a bunch of pistachios, almonds, a new pack of eggs…and mastica I had brought over from Greece. What did I end up doing with all of this? Pistachio-Mastica financiers. Financiers are delicious almond-based French pastries (they are sublime!) that can come flavoured with oranges, chocolates, etc. Well mine now have a Mediterranean influence, with a recipe I’m more then happy to share below!
Recipe for Pistachio-Mastica Financiers:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 60 g fine sugar
  • 10 g flour
  • 10 g fecule
  • 40 g ground powdered pistachios
  • 10 g ground powdered almonds
  • 25 butter
  • 1 well filled teaspoon of mastica
How to make it:
Preheat oven to 180C. In a bowl whisk the egg whites and gradually add the sugar (as if you were making a meringue). Then add the flour, fecule, powdered pistachios and almonds. Mix well. Follow with the melted butter and mastica, mix. Fill in your moulds with the batter and bake for 15 mins.
P.S: For decoration, I strongly recommend adding crushed pistachios, it looks prettier and you get an amazing crunch followed with a soft moist melt-in-your-mouth financier bite!
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Mar 11, 2008

17 mins and 10 seconds

What to do when you have some simple basic ingredients lying around in your kitchen ? Whip-up a quick dessert that doesn’t need sophisticated techniques but that can satisfy almost anyone’s sweet tooth? Sometimes it’s nice to be simple and make something that looks warm and inviting, like this layered dessert full of different textures mainly composed of mascarpone, apples and speculoos. Three colours, textures and tastes were whipped up, chopped or broken down into crunchy pieces.

On the very bottom pieces of famous Belgian (and also Northern France) biscuits “Speculoos” (picture above). I also just found out via a comment posted by Linda that Speculoos are also typical in the Netherlands but go under the name "Speculaas"- thanks for the info Linda! In France they are very easy to find and are often served alongside a coffee (instead of a square of dark chocolate). Going in the middle layer are some warm diced apples then topped off with a cool swirl of mascarpone that has been incorporated into some whipped cream. The result is something between an apple-pie or crumble but in a glass with Belgian sweet & spicy tastes (from the Speculoos) and Italian smoothness (from the Mascarpone). A trip for your tastebuds ready in less then 20 minutes!

Recipe for Apple-Speculoos crunch in a glass:

  • Red or pink apples
  • Speculoos biscuits
  • Liquid cream
  • Mascarpone
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon & caramel (optional- for decoration)

How to make it:

  1. First whip up the cream – 5 minutes (you can add sugar here too, but I personally did not)
  2. Then add in the mascarpone and whip very briefly – 1 minute
  3. Place in fridge and let it rest there until everything else is ready – 10 seconds
  4. Dice the apples – 2 minutes
  5. Heat a pan and place the apples with some sugar over heat until they become warm but still have a bit of crunch – 4 minutes (you can add butter, but I’ve gone with a “low fat” version, plus I try to avoid butter when possible, not only for health/weight reasons, but I also feel it tends to cover the real flavours of fruits. Also, you can add a dash of cinnamon here too)
  6. Pull out your verrines/glasses – 30 seconds
  7. Break the speculoos biscuits into small pieces – 1 minute
  8. Place on the bottom of each verrine/glass a layer of broken speculoos – 30 seconds
  9. Follow with a layer of the warm diced apples – 1 minute
  10. Top off with a swirl of the mascarpone-whipped cream – 2 minutes


P.S: you can decorate with sprinkled cinnamon and small cubes of soft caramel (that will take you an additional minute)

Mar 9, 2008

When mango meets risotto, and mint meets shrimp...

If I continue this way, soon my blog will have to be called "Under the Sea", or something like that...Here I go posting about seafood again. I can't help it really, I love fish and seafood...and I love risotto, and I love mangoes and heck I love everything and I am being terribly random. Let me organize my thoughts ehem.
1) Shrimps & Mangoes- I tend to see that combination quite often, and from personal experience it's one that I really like. So I decided to use that duo but put mangoes in...risotto! Definately a first for me, never tried or tasted that before, but after this trial I have to say that I definately like it and enjoy the sweet subtle taste from the diced mangoes.

2) If I could give one advice for anyone who may want to try this recipe- try to find the fattest zucchini you can, so that the slices are big and wide enough as a shrimp. As you can see in my photos, the zucchini look quite shy near the shrimps, and I would had liked the slices to be bigger for proportion and also to occupy more "dish space". It's funny now that I come to think of it, on the left you have a very fresh-fishy taste with the zucchini, shrimps and mint; and on the right you have sweet smoothness and creaminess with the mango and risotto. So if you're into those kind of flavour-complimenting, you'll find the recipe below!

Recipe for mint shrimps & mango risotto:

Ingredients for the shrimps:
  • Shrimps
  • Mint leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Zucchini

How to make it:

This is super duper easy. Just marinate your shrimps for a few hours in a bowl containing olive oil, lemon juice and chopped mint leaves. When ready for cooking, pull out a pan and place on heat. Throw in the shrimps and cook on both sides for a few minutes. That's it! If you wish to accompany with zucchini as shown in my photos, then slice some zucchini and place on a baking pan. Brush the zucchini with olive oil & mint leaves and bake for 10 mins then grill for 10 mins.

For the risotto, please follow my recipe previously posted here

Just make sure to add in some diced fresh mangoes (I recommend to add that at the very end, and you can save some too for garnishing).

Mar 2, 2008

Like a fish in water...

Well, I think anyone who reads this blog will soon realize that I love fish and seafood. Those alternatives to meat and chicken that come out of the sea just do something to my senses- really they do, and I don't want to sound ridiculous when I say that they "do something to my senses". Their colours and smells just scream seasides to me, and maybe that adds a touch of nostalgia as I'm very attached to mediterranean regions...being near the beach, near the water, sunshine, etc.

So with the salmon, asparagus and basil I had just bought I thought of doing something classic but presented in a (hopefully) nice way. I'm not sure if this dish has a name, but in all my years that I've lived in France, I've always noticed a usual item that appears on most restaurant menus is salmon with pasta in a creamy-lemony sauce, and it's delicious indeed...except that... well, from my personal experience, I always found the presentation of this dish to ressemble something a baby would eat, sort of baby foodish-like. Shreads of salmon swimming in a gigantic dish of creamy pasta, like someone had to cut the fish for you because you can't do it yourself...don't know if I'm making any sense when I talk about a baby-food styled dish here. But anyway.
I went ahead and did pretty much that same classic dish, but added some basil and veggies on the side, and put some extra effort into the presentation, which I hope turned out to be appealing :-)

Recipe for salmon, tagliatelle in basil-lemon cream sauce & asparagus:

  • Salmon filets
  • Tagliatelle
  • Liquid thick cream
  • Lemon peel
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Asparagus
  • Olive oil
  • Pesto
  • Salt & Pepper to season

How to make it:

I would recommend that you start with a mise-en-place. Leave the oven on a very low heat. Remove the little "spikes" from the asparagus, cut the bottoms and set aside. Peel some lemon zest and dice very finely, set aside. Chop some basil leaves, set aside. Then bring out the salmon, dry with a clean tissue and season before cooking it. Start off by boiling the tagliatelle, and when ready set aside. Immediately after cook the asparagus and heat a pan with a dash of olive oil for the salmon. Place the salmon and cook according to your taste (I personally don't like it too raw). When the asparagus and salmon are ready, place them in the low-heat oven so they stay warm. In the meantime, heat some cream in a pan, add the lemon peel, basil, some salt & pepper and throw in the tagliatelle. Mix well until all the tagliatelle is covered with the sauce. Pull out your plate and place all items that should logically be at the right serving temparature.

If you wish to decorate the dish, you can paint a thick stripe of pesto (dip a brush into pesto and paint), and fry basil leaves and add some ultra thin lemon peels.

P.S: you can also replace the asparagus by snap peas, which are equally delicious with salmon and pasta.