Cooking Class: Making Fresh Pasta From Scratch

fresh raviolis picture

Fresh raviolis ready for cooking!

Last week, I attended a cooking workshop to learn how to make fresh pasta from scratch.

The class was held in La medina Hotel in Maameltein. My sister and I arrived at 10 in the morning and met Chef Hanaa Issa who was supposed to tutor us during this 3-hour session. After a small introduction about Italian cuisine in general, we started the experience.

On the menu: how to make fresh raviolis stuffed with spinach and cheese, how to make fettuccine Alfredo and how to make chocolate mousse.

Chefs for a day :)

Chefs for a day 🙂

We started with the dessert, since it needed some time to cool in the fridge. We wanted it ready for lunch, of course!

The Chef used regular milk chocolate bars to show us that this dessert is convenient for unplanned occasions, when you don’t have the time to run to the grocery store.

Then was the part we’ve all been waiting for. Let the pasta making begin!

The chef prepared an easy spinach and cheese stuffing, using Double Cream cheese. Yeah, no ricotta or other fancy cheese!

She also added a boiled potato that she grated, and insisted on avoiding the food processor for such a preparation, since it ruined the different textures of the filling. And to spice the mixture up, she added a pinch of nutmeg!

Once the filling was ready, the fun part of our day was about to start!

Fresh pasta dough picture

Done with the kneading!

Every attendee had a small bowl with eggs, fine semolina and flour. We kneaded the ingredients together until we got a ball of dough, then we flattened it using the pasta machine, numerous times on different levels, until it was really thin.

Ready to shape!

Ready to shape!

We piped the filling on the dough and, using cookie cutters, we shaped our raviolis into squares, flowers and circles.

For the remaining dough, direction pasta machine again, to form long strips of fettuccine.

Fresh fettuccine pasta picture

When are we gonna eat?!!

Once cooked, the chef showed us how to prepare Chicken Alfredo sauce for the fettuccine. Alfredo sauce is a cream and parmesan cheese basic sauce that is usually served alongside different kinds of pastas, on or pizzas as well.

It was finally lunch time! We all gathered around one table and tried the Fettuccine Alfredo first. The pasta was really delicious. Can’t wait to get my pasta machine and try the recipe again!

As for the sauce, and since my sister and I are big fan of spices, we thought it was a bit mild so we added a lot of salt, pepper and cheese.

The raviolis were served in a pink sauce. The filling was amazing, and it was very pleasing to feel its different textures inside our mouths.

The overall experience was great, and we were told that many new cooking classes will be held soon. I am quite excited about them. Actually, I am a fan of workshops that teach you new techniques and not only how to prepare some dishes.

Grazie mille e a presto!

 

Everyone is super focused!

Everyone is super focused!

The pluses:

  • The introduction was brief and interesting: bravo!
  • Everything that we did during the class can be easily replicated in a normal kitchen.
  • The chef only used small appliances that are usually at hand in a housewife kitchen.
  • Even the pasta machine that we used was a small one, and it can fit in anyone’s kitchen.
  • 30 $ is a very acceptable amount you can pay for a cooking class, making it among the most affordable ones offered in the country lately.

 

The Minuses:

  • The 17 slides should be printed on 3 A4 pages instead of 17 useless pages.
  • I think that people who are willing to make pasta from scratch are not beginners. Alfredo sauce is for beginners.
  • Whatever problem there might be, it can be postponed and dealt with later on. Attendees should not have to listen to fights happening in the kitchen (this happened more than once).

Lurpak Baking Studio: Tips & Tricks For Perfect Sweets!

I was invited to attend the “Lurpak baking studio” last Thursday, so I went with a colleague of mine to discover some new recipes and baking tricks. The cooking class was held in Soufra Daiemeh offices, and it was led by Paul Frangie, a Dubai-based celebrity chef who was born to a Lebanese father and Dutch mother.

Chef Paul kneading the dough

Chef Paul kneading the dough

During the class, we were introduced to the new Cook’s Range products, and we used them in the recipes that we prepared. But I still don’t understand why Lurpak is only launching 3 out of 5 products in Lebanon.  Both clarified butter and baking butter will be interesting for any foodie here!

Anyway, we prepared 4 desserts on that day: shortbread cookies with dried apricots and white chocolate, chocolate cupcakes, baklava and banana pancakes.

The recipes should be shared with us soon, so I’ll share them with you as well, but let’s talk about the techniques and tips that we learned during the class for now!

With Chef Paul Frangie who happens to be a model as well :)

With Chef Paul Frangie who happens to be a model as well 🙂

Shortbread cookies

First of all, we prepared the shortbread cookies. I loved the idea of adding dried apricots and white chocolate, but I’d get white chocolate chips to avoid the hassle of chopping the white chocolate.

Shortbread cookies roll picture

Shortbread cookies rolls, ready to chill

Preparing the dough was not an easy job, because you need to incorporate the cold butter to the dry ingredients in order to have sand consistency. This should be done with the tips of the fingers, to avoid warming the butter with the hand palms, and, believe me, you won’t get the right consistency before your fingers hurt. It happened to all of us!

Shortbread cookies picture

The dried apricots add a twist to a classic recipe

Once the dough is ready, it should be rolled in cling film without touching it, again, to be chilled in the fridge and cut afterwards. Making perfect round cookies was not an easy task at all, and the final results that we all got were not very satisfying… I think it take a lot of practice to get to the perfect shortbread cookies.

Chocolate cupcakes

Our second recipe was chocolate cupcakes, frosted with chocolate buttercream. Preparing cupcakes is not an unusual task for me, but I could still learn some new stuff.

Chocolate cupcakes in molds picture

Cupcakes are ready… let the fun begin 😉

First of all, the Chef used some silicone trays: no need for paper cups, and no need for greasing. Once out of the oven, the cupcakes were safely removed from the mold. I use individual silicone molds, but since they are ribbed, I can’t skip the paper cups. As for the metallic trays, they always need greasing.

chocolate cupcakes on rack picture

Oh! They need to cool before we frost them!

When is a cupcake ready? To make sure your cupcakes are ready, press their top with your finger. If they bounce back, then you can remove them from your oven. As simple as that!

How do you prepare your chocolate buttercream? If, like me, you use chocolate, butter and sugar, you should consider adding some cream. The result is way better!

Chocolate cupcakes picture

When you have no tips to pipe, you do the spiky cupcakes 🙂

Once you fill your piping bag, you need to make sure there are no air bubbles, so you should give the bag a good squeeze over the frosting bowl to remove any unwanted bubble.

Baklava fingers

That was the most interesting recipe, even though it was the easiest.

I’ve done baklava in a tray before, but I never tried finger baklavas, which was the recipe we did all together.

I remember preparing baklava would take forever since you have to melt butter and brush every pastry sheet (and you usually use a minimum of 10 sheets). But this time, we were saved by the new Lurpak mist!

Baklava fingers picture

Baklavas finger, right out of the oven

Preparing the sweets was very easy: you take one phyllo (or filo) sheet, spray it with the butter, cut it into four, stuff it and roll it. Yeah, that simple!

Careful, the baklava sheets are very fragile! They should be thawed before using them, and then they should be manipulated with caution. If a sheet breaks, get rid of it. Unused sheets should be covered all the time with a damp cloth.

Once ready, spray your baklava fingers with more butter and bake until golden and crispy, then soak in syrup while they’re still hot. Voila, they’re ready!

Banana pancakes

Once done with the baklava, we started whipping the pancake batter prepared with mashed ripe bananas. Once we got the right batter consistency, we cooked our pancakes then stuffed them with Kashta, honey, bananas and strawberries. I think that was too much banana for me. For next time, I wouldn’t use them for the stuffing. But Kashta was an excellent stuffing idea!

Kashta Pancake picture

It’s all about how you decorate your dishes!

It was a very fun morning, I enjoyed all the cooking and new tips, and I left with more of the new range products that I’ll be using soon, for a full review of each product!

Annette’s low-carb products: living normally with diabetes

4First of all, let me introduce you to Annette!

Annette was a Lebanese “teta” (meaning grandmother) like mine and yours. She loved life and she loved food of course. Who can remember his “teta” anyway without food crossing his mind?

Lebanese “tetas” always prepare the best sweets in the world, they are ready to spend hours to prepare a dish that your mother would rather skip, and most importantly, they always think that you’re starving, which means they will feed you for at least 2 days before you get the chance to say goodbye!

Note: For those who don’t know, we, Lebanese, are known for being generous, and we express this through offering food to our visitors.  

Annette, as well as my grandma, and a lot of others – I am sure many of you can relate – were diagnosed with diabetes, and their lives were supposed to turn upside down, with the new precautions they should be taking. Unfortunately, their love for food was always winning, and they could never follow a healthy and strict diet.

After long years of struggle with diabetes, they finally rested in peace.

Crackers and guacamole dip picture

Crackers and guacamole dip

My grandma’s death was not that easy, she suffered a lot. That’s what I hate most about diabetes. I’ve seen a lot of diabetic people suffering – a lot, before passing away.

Seeing Annette’s struggle inspired Anthony Torbay, her grandson, to work alongside an international team of endocrinologists, nutritionists, dieticians and food technologists to develop a type of flour, low in starch, and that would help in creating bread and other products suitable for diabetics (type 2) and pre-diabetics. That’s how Annette’s low-carb flour saw the light, followed by all the products’ range that includes today white and brown bread, pain de mie, toasted bread, flavored crackers and pasta!

Let the cooking start!

When invited to a session to cook and try “Annette’s products”, and after I did some research, I was excited. Having a stepmom that is currently suffering from diabetes makes me more interested in the products.

pasta with tomato tapenade sauce picture

Low carb pasta with tomato tapenade sauce

Chef Rima el Khodr was already waiting for us at the KitchenLab where we started the cooking. We only had one task: to prepare a “zaatar man’oushi” with Annette’s flour. Kneading the dough was not that easy for the beginners, but it was fun, and all managed to have it ready, covered and left to rise.

I will be posting the recipes and more info about diabetes in future posts this week.

Meanwhile, the chef prepared some tart dough – pâte sablée. Once in the oven, the crème pâtissière was also ready, before finally preparing a healthy yet tasty simple tomato sauce to pour on the cooked pastas. The ingredients? Garlic, strained tomato sauce (Pomi), oregano and tapenade.

Bresaola canapes picture

Bresaola canapes

The tasting was – of course, the most interesting part. The pastas are good. I wouldn’t mind having them regularly instead of the common pastas. With a good sauce like the tomato-tapenade the chef prepared, or the creamy dressing with the salmon that we had as a salad, you can’t tell the difference.

In addition to the above mentioned foods, we tried many other items all prepared with Annette’s products: the Roquefort salad with the crackers was just delicious, the crackers themselves being excellent to serve as a snack with any dip you like, from hummus to guacamole or Labne.

The mini-pizzas, cheese pies and kechek fatayer were also yummy.

For the pain de mie topped with bresaola or salmon and cream cheese, you couldn’t even tell the difference.

Even the tart tasted excellent. Many won’t even notice that it is made with special flour.

Salmon & capers canapes picture

Salmon & capers canapes

The only challenge is the bread. The compromise here is big. I am not saying it is not good, but it is very different from the bread we are used to, making it therefore harder for people to adapt quickly. My stepmom thought it was dense, and my answer was “good, you’ll eat less”. It’s more here about realizing that regular bread is not an option anymore. This bread is not alternative bread; it is the best available option for diabetic people!

For the love of food… and chocolate!

For 3 days, it was all about food & chocolate in Beirut! The 4th edition of “Beirut Cooking Festival”, held at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center, BIEL, looked more like heaven for any Gourmet in town – and even for the gourmands, and the reason? The first “Salon du Chocolat”, the world renowned salon, finally arrived to Beirut as part of this festival!

The chocolate fashion show

Lebanon chocolate fashion show

Dresses from the Chocolate fashion show – credits to Atyab Tabkha Facebook page

The inauguration was with “The magic of chocolate”, a sweet fashion show, where 11 Lebanese designers collaborated with top pastry Chefs and chocolatiers in town to present 11 exceptional dresses. Some were fully made of chocolate while others mixed it with some other fabrics. Personally, I loved two of them, the first one designed by Saro Jacques and executed by Chef Chady Karam from Chocolatine, and the second one was Tony ward’s collaboration with the famous Charles Azar, executive chef at Four Seasons Hotel.

The live demos

After the show started a long journey of cooking & chocolate making demos, where foodies and excited housewives gathered for 3 days to learn how to prepare some recipes and get in direct contact with the chefs. From Alexis Couquelet’s famous “confit de canard” – duck confit, to George El Kik mouthwatering “Turkey à l’Américaine”, you could see all the attendees interacting with the Chefs, taking notes, asking about where to find a certain product or if another healthier fat could be used…

I’ll be posting later the recipes from the demos that I attended in the upcoming posts.

 

The Salon du Chocolat

Now back to the stands, let’s start with the Salon du chocolat. I loved the all-edible chocolate Christmas tree at the Sofil catering stand, but the truffles didn’t really appeal to me. (I did not try them).

Chocolate Christmas tree

All-edible Chocolate Christmas trees at Sofil Catering stand

I fell in love with 4 chocolatiers:

  1. Nougatini:

This chocolate house was really famous when I was a child. It was considered amongst the top chocolateries in town, and then I didn’t hear of them for like 10 years. It was a pleasure for me discovering that they are still operating in Beirut, selling some of the best classical chocolate. I loved the 4 pieces of hazelnuts completely covered with chocolate, as well as the small chocolate discs decorated with walnuts. A delish.

They were selling some nicely wrapped chocolate boxes, for the very affordable price of 26$, which makes it an excellent choice for a gift, whether you are invited to a dinner or if you are visiting a friend in hospital.

There were also some “Nougatella” jars displayed – 20000LL per piece, the house’s own version of the chocolate spread. I resisted the temptation of getting it for 3 days, just because I know I need to lose weight. I’ll be trying this after Christmas, I am sure of that.

  1. M de Noir:

Why not try some exquisite mint chocolate at M de Noir stand? I am not a usual fan of this combination, but believe me, they are just worth it! Recently honored with the “L’espoir Etranger” award at the “Salon du Chocolat”, Maya Maalouf Kanaan, owner and chocolatier, offers delicious creations to please everyone: chocolate balls with a small toy inside for the small ones, marshmallows prepared with fruits, lollipops prepared with milk and “brun” chocolate… in addition to some “baguettes” and “rochers” for the older ones.

  1. Remiel:

This chocolaterie was featuring some wedding and Christmas collections. Chocolate lollipops, biscuits dipped in chocolate, macarons… I loved the chocolates I tried there: two pieces of milk chocolate with different toppings.

But I really have a question. Why do people invest much in the ornaments for their chocolate wrappings, while everyone will just want to get rid of them… My personal advice: always opt for bigger piece of chocolate, with a nice simple wrap – even nylon works when the chocolate is decorated itself! – And then you can choose all the decorations you want for your trays!

  1. Arisons | Truffle – Chocolate Maker

From what I understood – and I might be totally wrong, these are 2 different places. The first one is a chocolaterie, and the second one only does truffles.

I only tried one piece of milk chocolate flavored with orange, and it was really awesome. My sister tried another kind, covered with French crepes bites, and she loved it as well. This chocolaterie is definitely on my must-visit list.

The food stands

dairy delicacies

The delicacies at the Jaber & Jaber stand: mini goat labneh covered with rosemary, chili, mint or thyme, sundried tomatoes, grape leaves stuffed with labneh…

As for the Beirut Cooking Festival’s stands, I only have one favorite: the Jaber Jaber dairy company. I have to confess that the “Bekaai” so cherished accent of the owners might have influenced my choice, but it was much more than that: the delicious goat labneh mini-balls rolled in rosemary, mint, chili and thyme, the grape leaves stuffed with labneh, the capriccio cheese – that I fell in love with last year – but preserved in oil and chili slices this time, the sundried tomatoes… the smoked cheese, the assortment of Majdoule, Nabulsi and other white cheeses… And it was not only the food, but the generosity of the exhibitors, their proudly smiling faces, and their insistence on everyone to try all the products… without mentioning the happy crowd gathering around the food, that left this very pleasing impression. I left with jars of pickled cheese and grape leaves, and promised myself to pay them a visit in Chtaura in my next trip to Bekaa.

I also got some truffle olive oil and sundried tomatoes and olives tapenade from “House of Zejd” specialized in olives and all their derivative products.

One thing was missing though: the interaction created at the Maggi and Nestle stands of the 3rd edition of the festival, with the live all-time cooking and baking.

The Pluses

Chocolate fountain

The chocolate fountain, at the Lurpak stand

  • The atmosphere was really positive in the festival.
  • The foodies and housewives showed a lot of enthusiasm for taking part in the festival and its activities.
  • The cakes at the stand of cakes & cookies were really exceptional and especially the wedding dresses themed ones, adding a “grandiose” aspect to the salon.
  • All the chocolate gave the festival a delicacy and fineness touch.
  • The cooking & choco demos were exceptional. I just wish the all the recipes were written with their step-by-step cooking method.
  • The new disposition of stages and chairs allow a bigger number of people taking part in the demos, compared to last year. Bravo.
  • The increasing number of stands featuring diet sweets and centers – even if I am not a big fan of them, helps in raising awareness around the main health challenges.
  • The instagram manager was doing a good job, liking and commenting on all the pictures posted from the event… even though I believe he/she should have answered my negative feedback as well.
Lebanese pickled foods

All kinds of traditional pickles and preserved foods at “Ma’koul al Hana”, a home-based business

The Minuses

  • Come on! You can’t have some ladies watching a celebrity chef cooking and not expect them to draw near and try to see what’s happening in the pot!
  • In the era of Instagram and Facebook, you don’t let people take pictures of the dishes that the chefs are cooking? Seriously guys? And with all the rude girls wearing the USEK shirts and preventing even the media from taking some nice shots?

Now let’s get this straight. When you invite media people, you are expecting them to write a nice coverage about your event. Be mean to them and they won’t even mention it!

And one small advice: The Lebanese market is known, even for the biggest brands, to be completely depending on the “word of mouth” factor. And what’s better than Social Media to help you promote the event? So again, no, you should not be rude to anyone trying to take a nice picture to publish it on Instagram, but you should be thanking them!

  • When you promise – on the first day – that you will send the press kit by email on the same night, you just have to do it. I still did not receive it yet by the way.
  • I personally think that brands should be investing in some samples to offer to the exhibition’s visitors, or that they should at least have some exclusive offers and promotions. Nothing would make me buy the new Lurpak products from there, if they tell me they are available, for the same price, in all big supermarkets.
  • A small message to some exhibitors: you can’t have people who don’t fully understand the Arabic language at your stands, and if you are launching a new product, any one selling it should be able to answer all the basic questions related to your new innovative product!
  • The host of the cooking & choco demos should not be there to intimidate people or make them feel uncomfortable.
  • In a cooking demo, I personally think that a chef should only use products that are available in the market. In the end, you are cooking for an audience that is expecting to be able to do the same dish at home, so you can’t just tell them that this product is not available locally, and that you import it, without mentioning any other product that can be used as a substitute.

Tefal Clipso + Precision: the newest innovative pressure cooker

DSC_5625

The newest Tefal innovation

The new Clipso+Precision pressure cooker was launched last week by Tefal and Group Seb, in the Top chef cooking studio in Dubai.

I had the chance to be in the UAE for some other event, and my stay was extended to attend the launch. Even though I wasn’t very excited about staying in Dubai – for too many reasons, I have to admit that I enjoyed the event.

It started with a small brief about the history of pressure cookers, followed by a description of the new product and its features.

My experience with pressure cookers

I am not familiar with pressure cookers. I do not own one at home, and therefore I do not use it, except for some rare occasions where I was cooking at my parents’ house.

I never felt it was a must-have, until I tried cooking meat in a regular pot. The result was some very hard-to-chew meat chunks. The next time, I did them in the pressure cooker, to get some delicious tender meat.

But a pressure cooker is not only for boiling. It can be used for stewing, simmering, browning and even steaming – in the steam basket that comes with the product.

Back to the event now, we were asked to create few groups and cook some ginger chicken, a simple recipe where the poultry is marinated in a yogurt garlic sauce, and then cooked with cream in the pressure cooker.

Preparing the Ginger chicken

Preparing the Ginger chicken

With Chef Bruno Blancho and Chef Mar Abed’s tips, the experience was more than pleasant. We were a bit – or a lot late in my group, so our sauce didn’t have the time to thicken, but we managed to have a nice-looking platter in the end, decorated with a tri-color bell pepper flower.

ginger chicken platter

My group’s decorated ginger chicken dish

The Clipso+Precision features

– The foldable handles are ideal for space saving

– The one-hand opening system makes it easier to open and close, compared with other pressure cookers

– Its high security system makes it very safe to use

– A recipe book of more than 40 middle-Eastern recipes

– An integrated smart timer that guarantees perfectly timed meals through an alarm that starts counting down once it detects the right temperature

The Benefits of pressure cooking 

– Cooking time is shorter

– Flavors are infused into the food

– Aromas, colors and taste are better preserved

– Nutrients are preserved due to short cooking time as well as minerals and vitamins that are evaporated or diluted when cooked in large amounts of water for longer periods of time

– Cleaning is easier