30 things to do in the kitchen before I turn 30

I turn 30 next October, so I thought it would be fun if I challenge myself into 30 things to do before my birthday.

 

I’ll work on 2 separate lists, because I need a cooking to-do-list to make my regular non-cooking list even more challenging (this one will obviously have items such as losing weight, reducing my cholesterol & triglycerides levels, etc).

 

Today, I am sharing my food list.

 

Eggs Benedict Picture

Eggs Benedict just like these (Le Pain Quotidien – Dubai)

 

  1. Prepare a Hollandaise sauce

On top of some eggs Benedict, bacon (or salmon) and a muffin. Because why not?

 

  1. Prepare Puff pastry at home

The cheat one (keeping the challenge realistic!).

 

  1. Pickle something

Maybe some Lebanese cucumbers. Or almonds. I love pickled almonds. Have you ever tried them?

 

  1. Prepare Jam

Strawberries for sure, once they are a bit cheaper.

 

  1. Prepare Chicken Madghout

Chicken Madghout is a Khaliji dish, very similar to Kabsa, but prepared in a pressure cooker.

 

  1. Prepare pancakes

Never made these at home (I prepared them at work though)… I always intend to prepare pancakes but change my mind at the last minute and opt for thinner crepes.

 

  1. Cook Boeuf Bourguignon

Following Julia Child’s recipe. Of course!

 

  1. Cook Pork Cassoulet

I already cooked Wild Duck Cassoulet once, but I so want to try the pork version, especially that I have a cast iron pot now.

 

  1. Cook Roast beef

It’s already in my freezer…

 

  1. Prepare a Thai curry

I fell in love with Thai cuisine during my last trips to Dubai, so I brought back with me all the spices I need to cook some delicious curries from scratch at home.

 

  1. Cook a Gigot D’Agneau Pleureur

Seriously. How beautiful is this recipe?

 

  1. Prepare a Blood orange cake

I should be doing this very soon, now that it’s the season.

 

  1. Try Oysters

I never did. I confess I always told everyone that I am not a big fan, to avoid trying them.

 

  1. Use Lavender in a recipe

Maybe in a milk pudding? Any other suggestions?

 

  1. Prepare 20 recipes using Moulinex Companion

I got it as a wedding gift and I used it today for the first time to prepare a Poulet Basquaise. Very practical for busy moms. And guess what? It’s dishwasher safe! I’ll be telling you all about it in upcoming posts.

 

  1. Prepare Kibbeh b Laban from scratch

I have to use all the kibbeh (that I did not prepare) that’s in my freezer first…

 

  1. Try a wine & chocolate cake recipe

I love wine and I love chocolate, so let’s combine them in one cake and see what we get!

 

  1. Cook One pot pasta

I really need to know how these taste. And why would anyone do this to pasta…

 

  1. Prepare a Lemon Meringue tart

For my pride.
 

  1. Prepare a Kodrat Kader cake

And succeed in taking it out of the mold. For more pride.

 

  1. Host a pizza night at home

One night. A vegetarian. A pepperoni. A four cheese. A Margherita. A Quattro Staggione. Heaven!

 

  1. Try rabbit

I’ve heard it’s pretty good…

 

  1. Reduce food waste

I’ve been throwing a lot of food lately. I think I can reduce it a lot by planning my meals more carefully, and more importantly, by buying less.

 

  1. Cook a Stuffed Turkey Breast

Stuffed the American way. Or even “à l’Orientale”.

 

  1. Bake a Brioche

With chocolate chips inside…

 

  1. Try Zucchini Flowers

Never knew these were edible until very recently!

 

  1. Bake cinnamon rolls

With extra cinnamon. And drizzle them with cream cheese frosting of course!

 

  1. Go for a new #30Days30Salads Challenge

Because I should get back to clean eating… and because we’re not eating much vegetables. I think spring is the best season for such a challenge.

 

  1. Watch all the food movies I downloaded

The list includes Babette’s Feast, La Grande Bouffe, The Lunchbox…

 

  1. Cook & Eat healthier

This might not mean a lot after all the above, but seriously, I should try. Reduce the amounts of oil and cream. Avoid butter and Ghee (and that clarified butter that’s in my fridge!). Maybe cook healthy for the whole week and have a cheat day. Avoid ready-made sauces. And fast food of course!

 
So, anything you think I should add to my list?

Lebanon: Traditional Villagers’ Winter Foods

ablah under the snow

Beautiful snow

It’s been snowing for a week now in my village. I was stuck in Beirut for the first days, but then I managed to get there with my dad for the weekend.

I love the snow, and to be more accurate, I love to see the snow falling. It’s magical. And I was lucky!

Let me tell you about the snow in my village.

When the snow is occasional, it becomes more desired. And when you’re a child and your school closes on snowy days, you learn to love the snow. Especially when you know that you’ll be allowed to go outside and build your snowman when the sun will shine. Nowadays, in my village, you rarely see kids playing with the snow. It’s a shame. Did they really stop to wait for it? Do they sleep the night before the storm without visiting the window a thousand times? Don’t they pray for snow anymore?

When you’re a teenager, the snow takes a completely different meaning. At this stage, you can enjoy a warm night with your friends, next to the soubya, playing cards and drinking some wine or vodka: some cheap alcohol mainly, because a bottle costs more than your weekly allowance. We didn’t have DVDs in the village, and the satellite TV channels would stop working after the first thunder. But we’ve always managed to have fun.

Village under the snow picture

My village this morning!

And then you probably left the village, looking for more opportunities, a better life, some independence, your own revolution to start. And when there is snow, you rarely get the chance to be in your village. And the storm won’t wait for you for the weekend. And you miss all the falling snow. And it makes you sad. Sometimes, you even cry when you see all the pictures posted on Facebook or instagram. We didn’t have social networks back then. And all our pictures were printed. A picture used to cost money when we grew up.

And you wait for the weekend, and just go to what suddenly re-becomes “your home” and “the village where you belong”, with all the danger on the roads. And most of the times, you’ll only get to see some remaining snow on the mountains, and some dirty snow that lost all its splendor, forgotten on the sides of the road.

And if you’re lucky enough, it will snow on the weekend, like it did this time.

What do villagers eat when it’s cold?

Food-wise, snowy days have their own rituals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are not to be missed on such cold days. All we do is eating anyways.

Fatty dishes are prepared to help fight the cold. Neighbors still gather together and share meals. When was the last time you just knocked on someone’s door and sat to their table?

What are the must-have meals when there’s a storm in the village?

Eggs, sunny-side up, with awarma:

eggs and awarma picture

Bayd bi awarma

My ultimate comfort food! The fat in the awarma gives the eggs a unique savory taste. Quick & easy to prepare, these eggs can be served either for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Keshek:

Keshek is a cereal usually prepared in the villages, early autumn, following the harvest of the wheat crops. It can be easily stored, making it among the favorite foods of the villagers during wintertime. Preparing keshek is not an easy process, and this is why we see less and less people doing it nowadays.

This cereal is made of bulgur (cracked wheat) fermented with yogurt for many days. During this period, the mixture is thoroughly kneaded with the hands, on a daily basis. Once the fermentation is complete, the keshek is spread on a clean cloth and left to dry, before finally rubbing it between the hands to transform it into a powder. But the result is truly worth the long process!

Keshek is usually eaten in a soup, or in manaquish and fatayer (pies and flat pies). My favorite is, without any doubts, the keshek prepared with awarma (another typical village food: meat preserved in lamb fat), potatoes and garlic. It’s a heavy soup, I know. But it is just delicious. I’ll share the recipe with you sometimes soon. Did I mention that we have it for breakfast?Another way of preparing keshek is with fried kebbeh. Delicious as well!

Manaquish:

Zaatar manoushe picture

The famous zaatar manoushe

Once the village is awake – a bit late when it snows – women start to prepare their mix of zaatar (thyme with sumac, olive oil and sesame) and keshek (keshek powder, olive oil, water, onions and tomatoes). The morning walk is a must, to get to the usually bakery and have our manaquish – flat pies – ready. “Did the dough rise?”, every woman will ask the baker, referring to the cold weather.

Once back home, the tea will be prepared in a big jug on the soubya as well. Manaquish are always served with tomatoes and olives, in addition to mint and cucumbers when available. On the breakfast table, you will always find a plate of Labne, and some pickled eggplants – makdous – as well.

Baked potatoes:

Stouf baked potatoes

Stouf baked potatoes

Baked in the stouf, potatoes are really different. Eat them without peeling them, just add some butter, black pepper and salt and enjoy!

Grilled chestnuts: So you think you’re a fan of chestnuts… but wait, did you ever try them, roasted on a soubya or in a stouf? If you didn’t, then you’ve missed the best part! To prepare them, you just need to cut a cross in the skin of each nut and bake / roast them until the skins open and the insides are tender.

Grilled meat:

Sizzling grilled meat cuts picture

Sizzling grilled meat cuts

We do use our babour a lot! Another tradition to do on a cold day: grilling meat cuts on the babour! This is just delicious! All you need to do is to sprinkle them with some salt and pepper before eating!

American Style Roast Turkey Recipe

American style roast turkey picture

The American style roast turkey

Merry Christmas people, it’s been a while!

I was very busy, cooking & baking of course, and even if I did not share these recipes with you on time for this Christmas, you can still use them for next year, or for any other occasion.

I’ve wanted to do a turkey for Christmas for 3 years now, and every time I mentioned it, my dad would object, saying that turkey is hard to chew.

But this year, during the Beirut Cooking Festival, Georges Kik, executive chef at Sofil catering, prepared his American-style turkey, and it was really delicious and tender, so I felt the urge to try it.

I decided to do it at my uncle’s, for dinner, two days after Christmas, to avoid the stress of trying a new main course for the first time Christmas Eve.

Preparing the turkey was not really hard, even though the recipe looks huge. Using a kitchen needle and string was fun, and stuffing the turkey was even funnier. Preparing the garnish was very easy. The only hard part was the cooking… the turkey is really heavy, and removing it from the oven every time to inject it with its own sauce was a hassle, this without mentioning the smell that sticks on you… And, well, it takes time…. four hours in the oven!

I changed the recipe a bit. Since I was told that the liver of a frozen turkey is removed, I decided to replace it with some paté. But then I discovered that it was inside a paper bag in the turkey, so I added both. I also added some more herbs and spices to the initial recipe.

Anyway, once the sauce was ready, we served the turkey with the veggies and a sauce we prepared, based on a roux (a mixture of equal amounts of butter and flour) and the vegetables stock.

It was amazing. The stuffing was delicious, the meat was very tender (even dad said that!), and the garnish was extraordinary. This turkey recipe is a keep… would you try it?

American turkey garnish picture

The Garnish!!!

American Style Roast Turkey Recipe

Serves: 8-12

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole turkey, 6 Kg
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Mixed spices

To prepare the stuffing:

  • 100 g diced onions
  • 100 g mushrooms, cut into cubes
  • 6 slices pain de mie, cut into small cubes
  • 500 ml cream
  • 50 g dried cranberries
  • 50 g chopped parsley
  • 100 g chorizo, chopped
  • 120 g paté, crumbled with a fork
  • 1 piece of turkey liver, chopped
  • 200 g granny smith apples cut into small cubes
  • 50 g butter
  • 100 ml whiskey
  • Bouquet garni
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Mixed spices

To prepare the garnish:

  • 2 Kg of roasted chestnuts, peeled
  • 1 Kg big Frankfurters, cut into 4
  • 600 g bacon
  • 2 liters of chicken stock
  • 500 g frozen baby onions, thawed
  • 2 kg medium carrots cut into 3
  • 500 g celery branches, cut into 3
  • 500 g mushrooms
  • 2 kg baby potatoes
  • 500 g broccoli, cut into florets and boiled for a minute
  • 250 g butter
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

To prepare the sauce:

  • 50 g flour
  • 50 g butter

To roast the turkey:

  • 50 – 100 g butter at room temperature
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

Preparation:
1- To prepare the stuffing: soak the pain de mie in the cream in a big bowl. Leave aside. In a skillet, heat the butter and fry the diced onions until tender. Do not let the onions brown. Add the chorizo and cook for 2 minutes, then add the mushroom cubes and cook for another 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Cut the apples into cubes without peeling them. Add the cranberries to the soaked pain de mie with the chopped turkey liver, the apples, the crumbled paté, the chorizo mix, the bouquet garni and the parsley. Season with salt, black pepper and mixed spices. Add the whiskey to give your stuffing some additional flavor. Leave aside.

2- Prepare your turkey for stuffing: rub it with lemon wedges, salt, black pepper and mixed spices from the inside and the outside without washing it.
Tuck the stuffing inside the cavity of your turkey. Using a kitchen needle and string, sew up the cavity of your turkey with a few stitches and seal the cavity with a whole lemon. Make sure not to sew the skin of your turkey with the meat.

3- To cook the turkey: since the thighs need more time to cook than the breast, cook the turkey on each of its sides in a pot over medium heat for 5 minutes. Attach the thighs together with a kitchen string. Repeat with the wings.

Mix the butter with the herbs and put the mixture between the turkey skin and meat, for some extra flavor. Put the turkey on a roasting rack in an oven pan and put in a preheated oven – 180 C.
After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and cover the turkey with baking paper then foil.
After 1 hour, remove your pan from the oven again. Using a syringe, remove some of the roasting pan juice from the bottom of the pan. The fat will be floating on the surface, make sure not to use it. Inject the juice inside the turkey. Repeat for 4 times at least . The turkey took around 4 hours to cook. It will vary depending on your oven and its size.
10 minutes before removing your turkey from the oven, discard the baking paper and foil and let your turkey get a nice reddish color.

4- Meanwhile, prepare the garnish: preheat a pan and fry in the bacon in its own fat. Add the frankfurters until they change in color. Remove from heat and set aside in a big pyrex or oven pan with the carrots and celery.
Heat some butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms for one minute and a half. Remove and add to the previous ingredients. Heat some more butter and add in the chestnuts. Fry for a minute and a half and remove from heat. Put the chestnuts on top of the other ingredients and fry the onions in the same pan for 30 seconds, without adding any fat. Add the onions to the pyrex with the broccoli. Pour enough chicken stock over the garnish to cover the ingredients and add some butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with baking paper then foil and put the pyrex in another oven pan. Put on low heat, on your stove.

5- Boil your potatoes until they are almost tender, then sauté them with butter in a frying pan for 4-5 minutes. Put the potatoes in an oven pan and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Cook until golden and tender.

6- When the turkey is ready, remove from pan. Discard the fat and keep the juice.
Prepare a roux using butter and flour (same quantities). Add the vegetables stock (from the garnish pan) and the turkey juice and mix well until you get a thick sauce.
Serve the turkey with the potatoes, the garnish and the sauce.

When a francophone visits “Fransa” for the first time

Christmas Markets in Strasbourg pic

Festive Christmas Markets in Strasbourg

It’s been a while…I was on vacation with my sister last week, and we visited Paris (my first time there) and passed by Strasbourg to see the famous Christmas Markets or “Christkindelsmärik”.

I loved Paris of course… like any francophone would do I guess. Wherever you go, there’s place you’ve heard of, some history you’ve studied, a breathtaking monument that will make you understand why all the BIG revolutions you’ve read about have started… You will always see a painting that was in one of your many French reading books, you will meet at least one child singing one of your favorite childhood songs…

Everything in Paris is big, everything is history, and everything is culture.

All these childhood concepts

Going to France is like finding the missing part of your childhood. Let me explain. At school, we studied a lot of things and concepts that remained, well, concepts. It is strange how your memory works in France.

The forest is one of these concepts. Sitting next to the river or the pond is another one. Saying goodbye to a lover or your family on the train station is a third concept we never get to try. The TGV itself… and the list goes on and on.

Long live the queen

The Versailles Castle picture

The Versailles Castle

Remember how many times you were the king or the queen while playing? And how many times you dreamt of marrying the prince and living in a big castle? You visit the Louvres and Versailles, and everything is clearer in your head. Now these games make sense, now you understand a big part of your fantasies.

When I grow up, I’ll marry the prince of France, and live in the Château de Versailles

Hop! A cheval!

And the “manège”! It was supposed to be everywhere, the books said: in the market, in the fairs… we waited a lot to ride our first horses in Lebanon. Even the fair… we’ve had some experience with local fairs, but it never explained the excitement that the children in our books had for the “foire”… until I visited the “feria de Malaga” last summer,  and the Christmas markets two days ago. A paradise for any child. Literally.

Food & memories

All this might also explain why I thought Strasbourg was more interesting than Paris. All my favorite childhood books were about adventurous children living in some villages. This is how you get all these concepts fixed in your memories.

Pain d'épice and chocolate and bredle picture

Pain d’épice, chocolate, bredle and more

And the food… my favorite part! The “madeleines”, those of Proust of course… but of  Pierre and Jeanette’s mother as well, Pierre and Jeannette being 2 of the seven detectives of the “Clan des sept” books that were my favorite when I was a child. They always arrived home and it smelt great, to discover that their mom had prepared their favorite madeleines so they can share them with their friends during their reunions! Some other sweets you’ve heard of in your books and that you get to see and try: the berlingots, the calissons, the real “pain d’épice”, the “biscuits de Noel”, called “bredle” in Strasbourg, and that do not look at all like the Christmas cookies we started to see in our country few years ago…

The Alsatian surprise

And what about all these canned foods we’ve been having without ever trying the authentic dishes? Getting to try two of my favorites since I was a child, the Cassoulet and the Choucroute, means a lot to me. And hell they were good!

Alsatian delicacies picture

Alsatian delicacies

If you’re a foodie like me, the Christmas market of Strasbourg is a must. Don’t be fooled by Paris’ reviews, the Alsatian cuisine is the must-try there. Less-marketed maybe, but it is just WOW. I thought the gastronomical part of my visit to Paris will be unforgettable, but it turned out that Strasbourg had many surprises, and a much more interesting cuisine to discover.

Many foodie posts will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

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!