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I hope everyone’s doing well – I just wanted to say that I will be at ELLICSR Kitchen on Thursday, July 11 from 12:15 pm – 1:15 pm at Toronto General Hospital (200 Elizabeth Street, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C4 -ELLICSR Kitchen in the basement).  Chef Geremy Capone will be preparing a few of my dishes and I will speak about food blogging.  It would be great to meet anyone in Toronto and I will be back to food blogging soon!

http://ellicsr.ca/content/virtual-ellicsr/nutrition-health-wellness/kitchens-corner

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It finally feels like Spring is around the corner.  The days are getting longer and the sun is shining a little brighter.  I can’t wait until we’re basking in the sun of summer and eating al fresco and drinking some refreshing mint lemonade.  I felt winter was long and brutal this year.  Not much exciting went on in my kitchen.  Just cranking out dishes for the daily grind – a few moments of deliciousness, but overall I can’t recall anything very special.

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Sometimes you feel the same way about life, you get in the doldrums.  I’ve felt this way this winter so I am very excited about the onslaught of spring.  By doldrums I mean that I felt stagnant – not going anywhere – in the same place.  That is not always a bad thing, but I wanted more.  I started a new job, which is fun and interesting.  I’ve also stepped back in the kitchen a bit more.  I’m glad about that because I’m always so inspired by cooking, recipes and food.

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Additionally, there are times I wish my sister lived close-by.  We are quite similar and love to cook together.  I always say “if” we lived close we “could” do something together, a business or catering or anything…I need that push and support from her.  We always talk about what-ifs and never follow-through.  Sometimes you have to just take that leap.  Sometimes you weren’t meant to succeed and that’s the scary part.

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But at the end of the day what’s important is that you have a passion for something and you can share it with your loved ones.  I consider my blog readers my loved ones and I really enjoy sharing recipes with you.  Sometimes I need a little push to get myself posting, but at the end of the day I always feel satisfied sharing a little of my kitchen with you all. 🙂  I wish we could have one long table dinner party and eat, talk and celebrate for no reason.  🙂

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I want to share this phyllo cigar appetizer with you all because it is really tasty!  I find it quite easy to make as well.  Phyllo can be annoying to work with, but I just keep it covered with a damp cloth and fudge any mistakes I make and it all comes together alright in the end.  It’s just food, it doesn’t have to be perfect!  I’ve made these a few times now and people always enjoy them.  I love them hot out of the oven – flakey, crunchy and savory.  If you’re bored on a weekend, make a bunch and freeze them for later.  You’ll be glad to have them on hand when a sudden hunger pang comes upon you!

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Feta, Dill and Red Chili Phyllo Cigars

Makes about 8 rolls

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing the phyllo and 1 tablespoon for the feta mixture

1/2 a 16 ounce package of phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

6 ounces of feta cheese

2 long red chilies, chopped, seeds removed

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

2 scallion, white and light green parts, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon nigella seeds

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a food processor, add the feta cheese, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, red chilies, dill, scallions, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse a few times until everything is combined.

Each roll will require 6 sheets of phyllo, so layer 12 sheets of phyllo and brush each sheet with olive oil.  Keep the sheets stacked on top of each other and cut the sheet into four equal-sized pieces.

Next, take about a tablespoon of the feta mixture and drop it into the quartered 6 phyllo sheets.  Roll the phyllo like a thin burrito, fold the long ends over the feta mixture and roll the rest like a cigar..  Repeat with the rest of the feta mixture and the remaining 7 quarters of phyllo dough.

Place the cigars onto a cookie sheet seam side down and top brush with a little extra olive oil and top with the lemon zest and nigella seeds.  Place in the hot oven and back for about 15 minutes, or until the cigars are golden.  Serve hot.

I hope the holiday season is going well for you all! I will be back with a new post soon. I have let the dust settle here for a few weeks and am missing you all!

Love, Nadia

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving.  Even though I’m not currently in the US, I decided to make a mini Thanksgiving for my husband and myself.  We had a small chicken roasted with cranberries and herbs along with some Yukon gold mashed potatoes with buttermilk and chives, and some brussels sprouts with bread crumbs and lemon (my husband wasn’t a fan of these.)  Do share what you had for Thanksgiving so I can live vicariously through you.  I hope everyone has a great holiday season-Thanksgiving being the kick-off of joyous times ahead!

 

My Dad on the right and his two buddies

Happy Father’s Day to all the Fathers out there. My Dad is the quintessential self-made man. Although he came from a long line of academics, he paved his own destiny. He broke the family tradition of studying in England and took a chance on a full scholarship to the University of Hawaii. From there he went on to a PhD not only enlightened his students but his daughters.

As children, my sister and I would practice world capitals with my Dad and we were more interested in playing 20 questions than the usual childhood antics. He also gave us a love of food and pushed us to go outside of our comfort zone. Back in the eighties, my Dad used to cook us mussels in white wine sauce, quiche, beef stronganoff, and other dishes that were not cooked in the usual Pakistani household.

Now, we do not really let my Dad into the kitchen and he jokes with us and says he is always being ganged up on by three women (my sister, my mom, and I). Nowadays his palate craves traditional Pakistani dishes. His favorites are chicken curry, koftay (meatballs), and nihari (stewed beef). We always tease him about his food choices because they are not our favorite dishes in Pakistani cuisine.  Regardless, we have learned innumerable things from our Dad and wish him a great Father’s Day!

Me, my husband, my mother-in-law, my sister, my Dad, my Mom

photo credits: Andre Blais http://www.riphotographer.com

There are some foods that you always say you don’t like, and then when you haven’t had them for a while you really crave them.  I remember when I first moved to Montreal for Grad School, I had not eaten Pakistani food in over a month.  Luckily, I made a Pakistani friend who had done her research and knew of several Pakistani restaurants.  I did not cook at my apartment, simply because I was grossed out.  I did no prior research and just opted for Graduate Housing and thought it would be fine (at least the pictures online looked fine).  When I arrived, I was almost in tears, looking back it wasn’t thattt bad, but still.  When that lease was finished, I moved out of there and into a new place like it was no one’s business.

That is why I never cooked, and lived off of takeout or meals that did not require cooking.  So, when my friend asked if I wanted to go out for Pakistani, I was so incredibly excited.  Thank God, she took me for a buffet.  That was one time that I was in the mood for “all you can eat.”  I don’t even remember what exactly we ate, but I do remember we were both extremely satiated.

I think it was during that dinner, we started talking about our moms’ cooking.  Most Pakistani moms do cook quite well, or so their kids say.  Even though my mom doesn’t look like the typical Pakistani mom, her food is always great.  My friend and I started talking about when our moms throw big parties and what their cooking specialties were.  It turned out that both our moms thought their maash ki dal (white lentils) was something special.  It’s different than the more soupy dals out there, and is “party-worthy” food.  My friend and I laughed so much thinking about how our moms thought their dishes were something unique.  My friend was saying that her mom makes the maash ki dal because it is everyone’s request.  It was the same story with my mom.

I never really paid maash ki dal much attention before.  But, there are those few times that I crave it.  Luckily for me, it is a snap to prepare and my husband will eat just about anything without being overly picky, so he enjoys it as well.  It is a different dish to add to your repertoire and you can also make this dal soupy, if you chose to.  The recipe here is a dry version.

White Lentils with a Sizzling Oil (Tarka) Garnish

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup maash dal sometimes called Urad dal, available at Indian/Pakistani grocery stores (soak the dal in water for 1 hour and then rinse away the old water a few times)

2 cups water, scant

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon turmeric, optional

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste

1/2 a tomato, chopped finely, optional (I just used one because I had half of one in the fridge)

for garnish:

3-4 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2  a small onion, sliced thinly

2 branches/stems of curry leaves (removed from stems), available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores

4-5 whole dried red chilies

handful chopped cilantro

a few mint leaves, chopped

2″ piece of ginger, julienned

1 green chili, sliced in half length-wise

Method

In a medium-sized saucepan bring the water to a boil on medium to medium-high heat.  Add in the maash ki dal, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, and tomato.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the water has evaporated and when you press on the dal with your finger it mashes easily.  The grains should be separate, not mushy.  Place the dal into your serving dish.  Next, in a frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat.  Add the onion and begin to fry it.  After 3 minutes add in the cumin seeds, curry leaves, whole dried red chilies and fry all of the items together until the onions turn golden brown.  You may want to run your exhaust fan during this process because it may cause you to cough a bit. When the onions are golden, pour the hot oil mixture over the lentils.  Then finish the garnish with the ginger, cilantro, mint leaves, and the green chili.  Serve with roti or naan.

I was planning on posting a recipe for Mother’s Day and I could have made the maash ki dal (lentils) that I will be posting for Meatless Monday into a Mother’s Day post.  But, knowing my mom she will say, “Nadiaaaa, maash ki daal is not a Mother’s Day food.”  Yes, you must remember that my mom is sophisticated, hip, and trendy.  If you know my mom at all this is what she strives for, hehe.  I am glad my mom is a hip and trendy mom and 9 times out of 10 people think she is my sister.

But jokes aside, my mom is really a great mom to my sister and myself, she (and my Dad) have raised us to be balanced and open-minded.  I am grateful for this and I always tell my husband I am really happy my parents are the way they are.  We are close and not formal at all.  We have a very frank relationship and my parents values and perspectives have passed down on to us.  It can be hard raising kids in the West, will they “go out of control,” as they say or become too closed off.  Hats off to my Mom (and Dad, but the Dad tribute will come on Father’s Day) for always being there for us and helping us become the people my sister and I have become.  Eternally grateful.

Lately my routine has not allowed me to update my blog as frequently as I would have liked to.  I have come up with a bout of forgetfulness.  Not to say I forgot about my blog, but I have been misplaced from my apartment and have had a very ill-regimented schedule.  I really missed cooking but now I’m ready to forge ahead with full force!  I was staying at my in-law’s house in Toronto and my sister-in-law is a great cook on her own, so I was not really needed in the kitchen.  Not that I’m complaining, this was easy for me. Not to say that my sister-in-law’s purpose is to cook for me.  She is very sweet and I am lucky to have her as a sister-in-law. But, my time off from the kitchen had something to do with my absolute absent-mindedness.  With no responsibilities, I became somewhat aloof.

My husband and I were going to drive back to Kingston to drop off some stuff I had accumulated on my US trip.  After sitting in two hours of traffic I suddenly realized I forgot the apartment keys at home.  As you can guess my husband was not amused.  That’s was when I got the lecture about, “my irresponsibility.”  I became a little paranoid, was I showing early signs of dementia?  When I mentioned this you should have seen the glare my husband gave me.  He was already angry with me forgetting the keys, and my ridiculousness put him over the edge.  Thankfully, my husband is a calm person and got over it quickly.  Mistakes happen!

I also forgot my camera at my in-law’s.  I am quite upset about this, because though I was going through a cooking drought I did manage to make one Spring version of a potato salad.  Me being myself, did not upload the pictures beforehand and cannot post the recipe until I get my camera back.  These are the two major things I have forgotten recently, but there are countless other things I will not bore you with.

Had enough of my rambling yet?  Let’s get on to the chicken, to be honest, I started writing the post for the chicken skewers in green marinade more than a month ago and forgot about it.  Then as I was looking through my posts I saw this and wondered why I never finished the post.  I guess things always come around to full circle.  I really wanted to get back into my blog and thankfully, I had some uploaded pictures on my computer.  So here I am now bringing this to you.

This chicken dish is a staple of mine.  One thing I never forget to do is to use herbs.  My dishes are naked without them.  This exemplifies my use of some of my favorite herbs: cilantro and mint.  The flavors meld into one.  I really think someone should make a hybrid of mint and cilantro.  Maybe I should get going on that idea.  🙂  The marination process really allows the chicken to moisten.  This also has something to do with the addition of cream into the marinade, indulgent, yes, but well worth it.  It also is also a variant from the traditional Pakistani food I cook most of the time.  I love using similar and familiar flavors but with a twist.  This keeps cooking and eating fun.

Chicken Skewers in a Green Marinade

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless chicken in chunks (breast or thigh)

4 cloves of garlic made into a paste

1/2 cup packed mint leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1 long green chili, finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon  crushed red chilis, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder

1/4 cup heavy cream

Method

Combine all ingredients except the chicken in a blender or food processor.  Place the chicken in a bowl and pour the marinade over it.  Allow it to marinate for 3-4 hours.  After 3-4 hours place the chicken on skewers and bake on a  lightly oiled baking tray in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.  Now that the weather is getting better, this would be great on a charcoal grill.  Serve with lime wedges and garnish with mint and cilantro.  Accompany with rice or naan.

There are just some foods you always use.  If I am eating a sandwich, 9 times out of 10 it has arugula in it.  I do not usually buy steaks, but this day I was feeling it.  I mean I love red meat, juicy, tender, and flavorful, but I am not that confident cooking it at home.  Therefore, it is usually reserved for restaurants.  This should change.  After making this steak sandwich I realized it is not hard at all.  Yes, this should be reserved for an occasional splurge, but I had to share it for the times you are feeling carnivorous.  (Sorry, vegetarians and vegans).  Yes, you can substitute chicken or eggplant, or tofu, but in this case I choose not to!  Yes, that was a little mean.  I promise, I am not mean.  All in good fun!

I used strip loin steak, which served its purpose well here.  I smothered it with a chipotle, feta, herb, and roasted garlic dip.  I realized this is a signature move of mine: making a dip full of herbs in my mini food processor.  I swear, it is so easy and so yum!  Plus, the combinations are endless.  I must say, I love making dips.  I am a mad woman with my food processor.  Honestly, I do not know what i would do without it.

I should stop gushing about my food processor, you might get the wrong idea.  This post is supposed to be about my steak sandwich!  I caramelized onions (another “habit” of mine) with yellow peppers, jalapenos, and mushrooms.  This steak sandwich does have a few identity issues.  Does it want to be Southwest, Philly, Mediterranean style?  Does it really matter?  I do not think so.  All the combinations taste good together and that is what is important to me.

Also, be warned, this sandwich is messy!  I love to eat messy.  It is more fun.  There is a time and place is be civilized and dainty, but not when it comes to a steak sandwich.  I will leave the proper decorum to the finger sandwich and scone crowd.

New York Strip and Caramelized Onion, Mushrooms, Peppers and a Chipotle Feta Dip Sandwiches (what a mouthful!)

makes 3 Sandwiches

Ingredients

extra virgin olive oil

1 pound Strip Loin Steak

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 a red onion, sliced thinly

3 sprigs of thyme

handful of cilantro leaves

1/2 a bell pepper, sliced (any color you prefer)

1 jalapenos pepper, seeded and julienned

10 mushroom caps, kept whole (any variety you like)

fresh baby arugula leaves

1 avocado, sliced

1 multigrain baguette

For the dip

1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons lite mayo

1-2 chipotle peppers (1 for medium spicy, 2 for extra hot)

10 sprigs of chives, roughly chopped

1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

5 cloves of roasted garlic (Take the cloves of garlic, add salt, pepper olive oil, wrap them in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until they are soft and spreadable like butter)

1/4 cup feta cheese

juice of half a lime

dash of extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

kosher salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Heat an oven safe pan on medium heat.  Add a little olive oil to the pan.  Season the steak generously with salt and black pepper.  Sear  the steak for about 2 minutes per side.  Transfer the pan to the oven for 8 minutes for medium-rare.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.  After resting slice on a bias against the grain.

In a pan on medium-low heat sauté the onions with the thyme for about 10 minutes until they begin to caramelize.  Add in the mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add in the bell peppers and some cilantro and allow the peppers to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Set aside.

For the dip, in a mini food processor add all the ingredients and pulse until combined.

To assemble the sandwiches, spread the dip on the baguette, lay the steak, avocado, caramelized onions, peppers, mushrooms, top off with the baby arugula and dig in!

December is here and the cold has arrived!  Today I kept my earmuffs with me just in case the walk home would yield frostbite :).  No, I wasn’t going to wear them, but just in case :).  I’ve been thinking about making some chili for a few days now but today it felt right.  I needed the warmth and the comfort it brings.

I know when some people think of chili they think of Wendy’s 99 cent menu or some tailgating party.  But, I find it to be more nourishing and satisfying and actually quite healthy.  I mean, unless you use fatty meat and pile on the oil, I think chili could be considered a health food.  It’s full of protein and you can doctor it up any way you wish.  Use lean ground beef, or ground turkey/chicken, keep it vegetarian, or even vegan.

The chili I make is not a traditional chili con carne made famous by chili cook-offs and the like.  Mine is just my own take on a somewhat iconic American dish.  I love that there’s no hard and fast rule to chili and that’s the way all cooking should be.  If you like it add it, if you don’t leave it out.  There are no precise measurements here, don’t fret if you add 1 teaspoon more of cumin, don’t worry everything will be alright.  Even if you think you can’t cook, you CAN cook chili,  even without the “XYZ chili seasoning packet.”

Chili

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

1 onion, roughly chopped

6-7 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (seeds removed if you like)

4 sprigs of thyme

1 pound lean ground beef

1 cup black beans

1 can kidney beans

1 chipotle pepper with the adobo sauce

2-3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes chopped finely or crushed/diced tomatoes

2 heaping tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock if the chili gets too thick

Handful of chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons olive oil

Method

Heat a large pot to medium heat and add the oil, sweat the onions for about 5 minutes.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and add in the jalapenos, garlic, and thyme and allow to cook for about 10 more minutes or until the onions or almost light brown.  Add in the meat and all of the spices and use a spoon to break up the meat so it can distribute evenly and be smooth.  Stir for a minute or two and add in the tomato paste and chipotle peppers and combine them with the meat.  Add the beans and the large can of tomatoes.  Mix everything together and allow to simmer on medium-low for about an hour.  Check occasionally, if it gets too thick add the chicken or vegetable stock.  The consistency should be like a stew.  At about 45 minutes throw in the handful of cilantro and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.  Before serving remove the thyme stems.

Garnish options:

red onions, cilantro, scallions, jalapenos, limes, avocado, sour cream, creme fraiche, cheese (monterey jack, cheddar, cojita, or anything you like), tabasco, salsa, and the list could go on.

I’m all about the garnish!  Don’t feed me chili without garnishes or I will be throughly disappointed!