Archives for category: Vegetarian option

I got a new camera, a dSLR.  Yes, I know it’s quite exciting.  I have been a nag (even nag would be an understatement) to my husband about this for several months.  I would intentionally show him blurry photos with my point and shoot just to show him the inadequacies with it.  So, on my birthday last month he took me to Best Buy, probably just to shut me up for a little while.  I must admit, I love my camera, but I’m back to yapping about something else now. *hehehe*

The point and shoot was the birthday gift I got from my husband over 4 years ago.  When I opened the box, I was expecting something totally fab and girly but instead it was a Canon Powershot camera.  At that point our relationship was in its early stages and still blossoming, so I was nice about and said I loved it, I mean I loved it in a way but for my birthday, not so much.  You see, I’m a girly girl.  Give me bags, shoes, accessories and I will be in love with you.  But looking back now I appreciate my husband’s gesture immensely.  At that point he was a graduate student working in a lab and he did go out of his way with the camera.  Don’t worry, no need to feel bad for him, I used that point and shoot to its full capacity *even* after drowning it in the ocean a few times and resuscitating it many times.  Needless to say, I feel a little guilty now that I am not using it much anymore.

I spent 2 weeks taking pictures with my new dSLR of random things, like a vase of flowers, or a mirror hanging in my living room, or my lunch.  Then one day, I decided to go to my fridge and make something.  What I had no idea.  One way or another I ended up making ricotta fritters and began shooting away, making myself more comfortable with all the functions on the new camera.  I’m glad I ended up make these on a whim because they were delightful and so very easy.  They tasted like mini airy doughnuts and though I can’t say I eat doughnuts often, (haven’t since childhood).  But they are a staple and my husband requested I make them again and they were delicious again-all warm and comforting.  They make you feel all warm, they way only cinnamon-y goodness can.  These have been added my frequently-made dessert list.  Just talking about them is making me want to make some now!

my husband, taste tester *and* hand model

Sweet Cinnamon and Almond Ricotta Fritters

inspired by Gale Gand

Makes about 12

Ingredients

canola oil, for frying

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1/2 cup ground almonds (ground in a spice grinder is fine)

1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

small pinch fleur de sel or any fine sea salt

confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

fruit preserves, for dipping (or anything you prefer: caramel, chocolate ganache, melted white chocolate, nutella)

Method

Have a frying pan ready on medium heat and add about 1/2 inch of oil to the pan and allow the oil to heat to about 350-375 degrees.

Mix the egg with the sugar, vanilla extract, ricotta cheese, and cinnamon together using a rubber spatula until combined.

Next, add in the ground almonds, flour, and baking powder until mixed into the egg and ricotta mixture.

Take teaspoon-fulls and drop the batter into the oil and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes.   Drain excess oil from the fritters and allow to dry on a rack lined with paper towels.  Serve warm with preserves (or any of the other choices specified above) and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

*you can deep-fry these in oil at 375 degrees, but I didn’t find it necessary.

Growing up, my family was all about food.  My parents would drive us 3 hours to New York City to eat “real” Pakistani food.  On the weekend, we were travelers in search for the next delicious meal.  My sister and I would be ever so excited to explore new places and see the hustle and bustle of different cities.  Our eyes were always wide-open, ready for these experiences.  Whether, we went to Newport for fresh, straight from the ocean seafood, or to a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we still frequent to this day, we were set to feast.  We learned about other cultures this way, too.  What better way for parents to expose their children to different cultures than through their food.  Food welcomes you into a new culture.  The tastes of the cuisine transports you to a new place, somewhere less familiar than what we are used to, but at the same time we are ready to embrace the novelty.

Tucked away in the back seat, my sister and I would peer out of the  windows with utter enthusiasm waiting for a new exploration.  If you remember, we were the two sisters who played in the woods and pretended we were pioneers, Indians, French, you name it-we pretended it (the joys of childhood!).  These excursions took our make-believe world into reality.

I have very fond memories of attending the Greek Orthodox festival in Rhode Island.  As many of you are probably aware, Greeks (like most of us) are completely immersed in their cuisine and take great pride in hospitality and serving their traditional dishes to others.  There was food galore.  Souvlakis would be sizzling on hot coals, my sister and I would stare in awe at the roast lamb spinning on a spit with the juices dripping down and coating the lamb with deliciousness, and flaky phyllo pastries such as baklava and spanakopita.  This festival was overflowing with sensory delight.  We would also watch the Greek dancers in amazement.  My sister and I would “choreograph” Bollywood dance skits at home, so the Greek dances piqued our interest as well.

We would walk around just take it all in and we loved every minute of it.  Our main purpose was eating, of course.  Our favorite thing to indulge in were the spanakopitas.  To this day I love them, no matter how introductory they are to greek cuisine.  The flaky and paper-thin phyllo layers were (and still are) so fun to break off layer by layer and in the middle you would meet the spinach filling full of feta, parley, and olive oil.  This is one way to get your kids to eat spinach.  I make spanakopita from time to time and each time I do I am reminded of the Greek Orthodox festival and every time I think it would be so nice to go again.

Spanakopita with Kalamata Olives and Pine Nuts

Serves 8

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

crushed red chili flakes, to taste

2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces spinach leaves, stems removed and chopped

4 scallions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4-1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

16 ounce package of phyllo dough, if frozen defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the shallots.  Allow the shallots to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they become to soften and add in the garlic and red chili flakes.  Once the garlic perfumes the oil, add in the chopped spinach.  Let the spinach wilt and cook down.  Add some salt, black pepper, and the pinch of nutmeg.  Once the spinach is all cooked, set it aside and allow it to cool slightly.  In the meantime, grease a 9″ by 13″ baking dish.

Once the spinach has cooled, add in the remaining ingredients (except the phyllo and remaining olive oil), there is no rhyme of reason to the order.  Mix to combine all the ingredients, make sure they are well incorporated.

Next, take the phyllo dough (make sure to cover it with a damp kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out) and cut the sheets so that they would fit into the baking dish.  I had to simply cut the sheets in half.  Once the sheets are the right size, divide the phyllo into two equal stacks.  One stack will be for the bottom layer, one will be for the top layer.

Take the phyllo dough two sheets at a time and layer into the baking dish.  Every second sheet should be brushes generously with olive oil.  Once the first stack of phyllo is finished layer all of the spinach mixture over the phyllo.  Then, repeat the process so that the spinach is covered and in the middle of the two stacks of phyllo dough.  Make sure the phyllo layers are well oiled so that they become crispier.

Bake the spanakopita in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown.  Once slightly cooled, cut into squares or diamonds.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

My younger sister and I are practically in constant contact.  She is half a world away from me in Dubai, but we use all forms of communication whether it is Blackberry messenger, MSN messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail chat, and Skype to keep in touch.  Sometimes we have multiple conversations going on at the same time through these various messaging programs.  We are even known to chat with each other online while in the same room.  When we all come to my parents’ house we call our dining room table the “IT Center.”  My sister, my husband, my sister’s fiancé, my cousin, Henna, and myself all have our laptops open  on the table doing our own thing and also chatting with each other.  If anyone else ever walked in, I’m sure they would think we were not completely “normal.”

The reason I mention these vast forms of communication is because my sister has been asking me to make a Middle Eastern platter, so my husband and I can eat the same sorts of things she is enjoying in Dubai.  For the past few weeks, she has been messaging me about labneh (thickened yogurt cheese) and if I bought it yet.  My answer is always no, because I can’t get any in Kingston.  So, she told me to make it.  My attempt to make it failed miserably, because I went to the only kitchen supply store in Kingston to get  cheesecloth to drain the water out of yogurt and they were sold out and would not be getting any more for two weeks.  I told her this and she was quite upset.  As you can see, we are extremely passionate about food.

Shanklish Cheese- a semi soft sheep's milk cheese popular in Syria and Lebanon. The cheese balls are rolled in sumac, chili, oregano, and spices.

The first thing we ask each other everyday is what did you eat so far today.  Notice, the “so far” because we are never really done eating.  You can imagine my sister’s joy when I told her we were going to Toronto for the weekend.  The first thing she said was if I was going get the things for the Middle Eastern platter.  I got reminder after reminder, just in case I could ever forget.  My husband tells me to shut the sound off on the BB because of all the alerts I get from my sister’s chats.  When I finally was able to go to the Middle Eastern market, I was on BBM with my sister.  Mind you, I am not the type of person who is constantly on my BB, it’s not even mine, it’s my husband’s and I borrow it when I want to talk to my sister.  I actually get annoyed when people are out with you and spending more time with their phone than you.  Eating my own words, I became that person in the Middle Eastern Market.  I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me and just in search of what my sister was telling me to get.

I love Middle Eastern food, so I enjoyed this “quest .”   I have not travelled extensively in the Middle East, only to Egypt and the UAE, though I would love to. I went to Dubai recently and the food there was just amazing.  Ever since my return from Dubai, I have been hooked on it.  My husband also grew up in Saudi Arabia, so he has the taste for Middle Eastern food as well.

As I mazed through the market, I filled my cart with all sorts of different foods.  I stocked up because some things are hard for me to find here.  My sister, half way across the world was content with my purchases and satisfied with the incognito pictures I was taking of the cheeses, olives, nuts, and sweets.

The thing I love about this food is that it is fresh and easy.  I didn’t do much cooking at all, it was all just assembly.  A platter like this is fun to serve as an appetizer when you have people over because it is like a bounty of food in the middle of the table for everyone to share.  Individually plated formal dinners can be nice too, but there’s nothing like breaking bread together and enjoying fresh delicious food.

Middle Eastern Platter

There are no set rules here.  Use whatever you suits your taste-buds  This time I used a bunch of radishes, Lebanese cucumbers, mint, tomatoes, lemons for squeezing, grilled sujuk sausages, labneh topped with za’atar olive oil and pine nuts, Lebanese black olives, shanklish rolled in thyme, sumac, and oregano, crusty grilled bread drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Other options could include herb roasted nuts, dried fruits such as apricots and dates, phyllo pastries, hummus and other dips, salads such as fattouch, tabouleh, halloumi cheese, manakeesh, roasted vegetables, mixed greens.

Use a large platter and bunch the different items together in clusters and arrange everything in an attractive manner.  Let it be messy and organic.  I do not like a platter to look too perfect.

By the looks of my blog it seems like I like to indulge in fattening foods, ALL THE TIME!  That’s not the case, I splurge once a week, but on a daily basis I’m a healthy eater (so I’d like to think).  Everyday food for me, is soup, salads, grilled chicken, you know the whole shebang.  I like to jazz up my food a bit for my blog.  It’s my food’s alter ego, my Sasha Fierce, take that, Beyonce!

Leeks I had frozen 🙂

However, I would like to invite you to my daily eating world.  This soup exemplifies it.  I know, I did add the crispy leeks and the creme fraiche, but those are entirely optional.  Sometimes I add them sometimes I do not.  But, my husband will always add them.  Boys will be boys, I guess.  Speaking of which, I am suddenly reminded of that commercial where a woman said she gave up sugary drinks and did not lose an inch and husband did and lost 10 pounds.  I am quite careful with my eating habits and I have noticed many guys are not and they do not gain a pound. Grrrrr…I’m sure that is not the case with everyone, but an observation I have made.

Anyway, back to the soup.  Simple, easy and flavorful!  This is why I love soups.  Thousands of combinations and they can be so hearty and warming.  The taste sensations from this one are so bright because of the herbs and the lemon zest.  There is also a smooth and silky component that really soothes the soul.  For an easy weeknight meal, do try it.

White Bean Soup with Crispy Leeks and Herb Creme Fraiche

Serves 3

Ingredients

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 cups of white beans, soaked overnight and cooked (use canned beans if it’s easier for you)

1 cup leeks, chopped (white and light green parts only, washed thoroughly)

1 shallot, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 sprig of rosemary, chopped

3 1/4 cups of homemade chicken stock (or vegetable stock,) warmed

kosher salt, to taste, about 3/4 of a teaspoon

red chili flakes, to taste, optional

a few cranks of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons milk, optional

Method

Cook the leeks, shallot, and rosemary on medium heat in olive oil until translucent.  Add in the garlic and allow it to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Toss in the salt, black pepper, and chili flakes.  Add the beans and allow them to heat up.  Pour in the warmed chicken stock and allow it to come a boil.  Let the whole mixture boil for about 7 minutes.  Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a regular blender and strain through a sieve.  Put it back in the pot, and stir in the milk.  Bring to a boil and then serve.

Garnish Options

Crispy leeks:  Take 1/4 cup of chopped leeks and shallow fry them in olive oil until they become golden brown.  Drain excess oil on a paper towel.  Sprinkle them with a little kosher salt at end.

Herb Creme Fraiche:  Take 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 5 sprigs of chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary, zest of half a lemon, kosher salt, fresh black pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil and combine them with 2-3 tablespoons of creme fraiche.   Dollop on top of the soup.

I added a little extra lemon zest and some chives for some garnishes.

I have been thinking about making sweet potato poutine for some time now.  I love, adore, (basically insert any positive word here) poutine.  Imagine, I had no idea it existed until I was 22 years old!  How did I survive all those years without it?  When, I moved to Montreal for grad school, I discovered this Quebecois delight and have been a die-hard fan ever since.  There is a tiny place on St. Laurent and Rachel called Patati Patata that makes delicious poutine.  When my husband and I spent my birthday weekend in Montreal, despite overeating to no end, we HAD to make a stop there to get some poutine.

Let me tell you, poutine is an indulgence!  Fries slathered in gravy and covered with ooey gooey stringy cheese curds is not exactly classified as a health food.   So, when you are able to eat poutine, enjoy it, enjoy every last bite.  Because you will most certainly be in food euphoria.  It is an absolute street food, nothing fancy or pretentious, though many have tried escalating it to haute cuisine.  If you are interested in foie gras poutine then definitely make a stop at Au Pied Du Cochon or with lobster at Garde Manger.  That is all well and good but there is just something about the street version that is on its own level.

Listen to me lecturing about authentic street poutine, when I myself have adulterated the original version here.  I mean, there are no special occasions for me at least until Valentines day.  Thus, I have to hone in the indulgences, just a bit.  Not to say that I have made diet-friendly poutine.  This is still a treat, but just slightly better for your health.  I bake the sweet potatoes in olive oil and herbs and make a chicken stock based gravy.  There is no compromise on the cheese curds.  I was so happy I found them this week because I see them very sporadically at my grocer.  I wanted to get the white curds, but they only had orange.  I guess beggars can not be choosers.  The cheese curds have an almost squeaky, rubbery texture but when they fully melt with the fries and gravy they become absolutely divine.  Once you have poutine once you will surely be hooked.

Sweet Potato Poutine

No Recipes has a version here

Serves 2 (by itself or 3 as a side)

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes, cut into fries (soaked in ice-cold water and then dried with a paper towel)

2 tablespoons olive oil

kosher salt, to taste

fresh black pepper, to taste

1 sprig rosemary, chopped

1 sprig thyme, chopped

Handful of cheese curds (as much as you like)

chives, for garnish

For the gravy:

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 sprig of rosemary, chopped

2 sprigs of thyme, chopped

1 tablespoon cornstarch (or flour)

2 cups of chicken stock (homemade is best, if you are vegetarian you can use vegetable stock)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel, or to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the sheet tray in the oven.  Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.  When the oven is ready put the sweet potatoes on the preheated sheet tray and cook for about 10-15 minutes.  For the last 2-3 minutes put the oven on broil so they can get crispy.

Make the gravy by heating a small saucepan with the olive oil and then adding half the butter and shallots.  Allow to sweat for a few minutes and then add the garlic and the thyme and rosemary.  Mix the cornstarch or flour with one cup of the chicken stock and pour into the sauce pan.  Mix it all together and add the remaining chicken stock and Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to boil and allow to thicken.  Turn to low heat and cook for 15 minutes.  Strain the gravy through a sieve, twice.  Add in the remaining butter so that the gravy glistens.

It is nice to use a cylindrical shape serving vessel for the poutine.  Assemble it by putting some sweet potatoes on the bottom and putting half the cheese over them and pouring half the gravy on top and then layering the rest of the sweet potatoes and cheese curds and then the rest of the gravy on top.  Sprinkle with some fleur de sel and chives.  Serve hot.