Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Little Foodies Arabia - Lebanon

In the book Arabesque, Claudia Roden explains why Lebanese cuisine is so well known. Representative of food throughout the Middle East, often when a Syrian restaurant opens in London it calls itself a Lebanese Restaurant. This is possibly because most people will have heard of Lebanese food but she puts this down to the Lebanese being great entrepreneurs, making the best of their food heritage, and they were first people in the Middle East to develop a restaurant trade which spread to Europe and the rest of the world in the 70's and 80's. Both books (edited to include links to Amazon so you can see what I'm talking about), Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf and Arabesque make fascinating reading.

Sambousek Bi Jibne - Little Puff Pastry Cheese Pies
Taken from Claudia Roden's Arabesque. I halved the recipe as didn't want 32 pies. If you want the full recipe and instructions then please refer to the book. Below is what we used.

250g puff pastry, flour for rolling out, beaten egg for brushing the pies prior to cooking.
For the filling: 125g mozzarella, 125g feta, 1 egg (beaten)

I took the pastry out of the fridge about an hour before we used it.
Blend the mozzarella in a mini food processor. With a fork mash the feta in a bowl. Add the blended mozzarella and mix together using the fork. Add the beaten egg and mix well.
Heat the oven to 200C.
Roll out the pastry very thinly on a floury surface. It's easier if you cut the pastry in two and work with them separately. (We cut out an even number of medium size hearts and then larger circles using a cereal bowl.)
For the circles place a spoonful of filling on one half of each circle. Dab water around the edges of the pastry with your finger. Then fold over the pastry to make a half moon shape, matching up the sides and press down firmly to create a seal. Transfer to a baking tray.
The hearts needed a top and a bottom. If you're doing shapes that need a top and a bottom then put a little of the filling in the middle of your shape, dab water around the edges of the pastry with your finger, then place the top pastry over the filling, making sure that the edges match up with the bottom. Press the edges firmly together to make a seal. Transfer to a baking tray.
You can use a fork to press around the outside. Beat an egg then brush the tops . Bake in the oven for approximately 12-20 minutes until puffed up and golden.
Some of the filling spilled out on a few but we just trimmed them off to neaten them up a bit.

120g bulgar wheat
Half a large red onion, peeled and VERY finely chopped
Approximately 8 medium size tomatoes, finely chopped
Large bunch of flat leaf parsley, washed and chopped
Bunch of mint, washed and chopped
Juice of two lemons
6 tablespoons of olive oil

Cook the bulgar wheat in a pan of 600ml of boiling water for 15 minutes, pour into a sieve then rinse with cold water. Let it sit to drain as much as possible. When ready to use, squeeze out any excess water by pushing down in the sieve.
In a separate bowl mix the red onion, tomatoes, flat leaf parsley, mint, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper then when ready to serve add the bulgar wheat and mix thoroughly. (I forgot the flat leaf parsley this time and it was still good so if you're not a mint fan it doesn't matter, add whatever you like).

I just wasn't in the mood for following a recipe so we made our own slow cooked lamb dish using flavours inspired from the Middle East.
Pomegranate and Red Pepper Slow Roasted Lamb
Approx 700g diced lamb
1 tin chopped tomatoes (and water to fill the tin)
1 large onion peeled and chopped or two small
1/2 an onion peeled and chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 roasted red pepper from a jar
1 tablespoon of lime juice
1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses
1 heaped teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of oil for frying
Small handful of chopped fresh coriander to add on serving

Turn the oven to approx 175C, medium heat.
In a mini blender/processor add the pomegranate molasses, smoked paprika, lime juice, roast red pepper, ground cumin, garlic and the half of an onion. Blitz to a fine paste.
In a large heavy bottomed pan gently fry the large onion. Move to one side and add the lamb to brown. When the lamb is browned add the paste from the blender, let it bubble for a couple of minutes, keep stirring. Add the tinned tomatoes, fill the empty tin with water and then swill this around the blender to get the last bits of paste out then tip into the pan. Bring to the boil then cook in a medium heat oven for approximately 2 hours. Just before serving add the fresh coriander and stir through.
We served this with the Tabbouleh above. It got very big thumbs up from all!

Strawberry Jam Tarts with rose water and orange blossom water
Now these would have been a triumph if I hadn't totally messed up by putting too much jam in. Also I should have used shortcrust pastry and not puff but I was trying to be economical and use up the puff pastry from the cheese puff pies... Oh well. they still tasted great and as Little said 'Minus infinity looks but top tasting'.
I wont bother with a recipe, all I did was add a few drops of rose water and orange blossom water to some jam, mixed it up well then filled some pastry cases. You can see the disastrous results below. I like to show you my mistakes too!

There will be more Arabian inspired food later in the week.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Little Foodies Around The World

A while back Little asked when we could carry on learning about food from around the world. I said soon, but at the time the thought of researching countries and their food wasn't that appealing. I did ask them both what they liked about our virtual travels. Small (who remember is only three) said he liked cutting up the baking paper and stuffing it with food and covering it up. I think he might not have understood the question and he didn't like it much that Little and I fell about laughing. Little said he liked tasting all the different foods and thinking about the children in other countries and what their lives are like. Small said 'I feel like that too.' More laughter...

So finally we're back on track for our virtual travels around the world and our next choice will be flavours of Arabia, starting with Lebanon today. I'll be drawing on inspiration from Claudia Roden's lovely Arabesque, Greg and Lucy Malouf's very beautiful book Saha, a chef's journey through Lebanon and Syria. We'll also be making up a few of our own recipes.

In the meantime here's something I made last night which was really very good. I'm not sure what we should call it... Harissa Chicken with Marsala Wine? It's no bad thing that you can take inspiration from all around the world, mix it up a bit and make something great.

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Handful of fine green beans, trimmed
6 chicken thighs
Cup of passata
Cup of marsala wine
Half a glass of flat Cava (optional, I'm sure it didn't change the taste that much)
1 dessertspoon of rose harissa (if you know it's a really hot harissa and it's for children I'd add less)
1 pint of boiling water
tablespoon of oil for frying

In a large heavy bottomed pan, fry the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes. Take the onion and garlic out, putting in a bowl to one side. Add the chicken thighs and brown on all sides. Add the cooked onions and garlic back to the pan, turn the heat up, then pour in the Marsala Wine. Let it bubble for a few minutes then if you have a spare half glass of dry white wine or cava add this too and let it bubble again for a couple of minutes. Add the boiling water, passata, harissa and green beans, then let it cook on a medium heat for about 45 minutes. You could add other vegetables. We served this with steamed white rice and we all loved it.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

AWOL in the Little Foodies veg patch

Fading bluebells which were absolutely beautiful this year.

Now I hadn't intended to leave it a whole month without posting but before I knew it weeks had passed. I'm sorry that I haven't been actively reading or commenting and I do really appreciate all of your comments and e-mails, thank you and big hugs to all. I can't sit at the computer for too long (woe is me). Also, I've only really been cooking old favourites and had lost the enthusiasm for taking pictures. (Although I have cooked a couple of new things from the very controversial cheating Delia book... More of which another time.) As for my spine - I now can't wait for the hard physio to start as I know then that it wont take long to strengthen the old girl and everything will magically feel better. It does rather feel that Tinkerbell visited while in one of her naughty moods and cast a spell of doom and gloom on the house for a period of time.

Anyway, the weather has turned, along with our emotions and we are basking in sunshine. This morning Little and Small packed, prepared and consumed a picnic very early doors. On the strict understanding that it doesn't interfere with their other planned picnic, scheduled for this afternoon. In other words "Mama, if we have a picnic now we can still have another picnic later yes?!" For their impromptu picnics the boys are happy with anything. This morning they had whole raw carrots, sultanas, bread, thinly sliced chorizo and apple juice.

I love the whole adventure of a picnic, even ones consumed in the garden. Though I do believe that the rug (or blanket) spread out on the floor is what makes a picnic a picnic and not the food. I've had some very fancy picnics but if there hadn't been a rug then it just would have been food eaten outside.

Hubs has been working hard in the garden. Clearing out of control areas and generally tidying things up. I've been growing things from seed. I'm super proud of the pumpkin plants. The tomatoes are possibly a little late but hopefully if we get a late Indian Summer they'll be alright.

My old herb patch is going to be turned over to vegetables so Hubs has prepared a new area that will become my herb garden. So far there's just rosemary, bay, thyme and lavender. Soon, and all grown from seed, there will be mint (I'll try and contain it this time as in our last house I sort of let it run wild and it took over - lovely memories of the many mojitos it made, along with it's culinary uses of course). There will also be tarragon, flat leaf parsley, oregano, chamomile, hyssop, basil, coriander and chives.

The strawberry plants survived the winter and seem to be thriving.

We finally planted the apple tree which I bought from a nursery that was closing down last year.

One of the blueberry bushes.

The pumpkin plants, grown from seed. These have been great fun for the children and me. We planted the seeds in compost and then sealed the pots in plastic freezer bags. Within 10 days little shoots appeared and now after only a few weeks they look like this.

A chive flower.

We're growing the potato plants in tyres this year.
These are almost ready to be topped with another tyre and then filled with more compost.

The thyme is starting to flower.

This elderflower really makes me smile.
I thought we'd lost it as it was growing entwined with an old apple that we had to have cut down a few months after we first moved here.
I can't wait to make things with it.

Fairy flowers

...and despite the fact that after the children have blown them all over the garden we know that more dandelions will grow, because Small picks them all and gives them to me with such a delighted look on his face makes me not mind at all. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and trophy lawns can wait. Though Hubs did stick a sign on the gate when we had a family party last year which said 'RHS gold medal winner - best kept lawn.' If only you could have seen it, having had the tree house built and numerous other work it looked dreadful, it still does. Thank goodness for a sense of humour.

For now my friends... I'm off back to the garden for a little potter around. My inner sloth is now definitely my outer sloth!


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