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A nice cuppa British tea

There is something that feels so wintery to me about scones, although maybe that’s just because scones are quintessentially English, and English weather is notoriously rainy (ironically, I hear that the weather in London today is sunny and the temperature 20C). In any case, on this cold and rainy day in Amman, scones felt very weather-appropriate.

My last few posts have been very health-conscious, and while I continue to enjoy my healthy streak, I felt the need to fatten up my 5’8″ 105lbs mother, who just so happens to LOVE scones. She’s not much of a sweet tooth (why did I not get that gene?!), but occasionally really enjoys desserts with a lower sugar content, so scones are perfect.

A recipe for orange-raisin scones caught my eye in the February issue of MSL, and I’m not sure why I didn’t get around to trying it sooner (oh right, my crazy work sched). The original recipe actually calls for candied orange peel in addition to orange zest and liqueur, but I’m not a fan of orange peel so I decided to leave that out. The verdict? (I may be on a healthy streak but I at least had to take a bite!). The scones were not too sweet (ie- perfect) and just the right flaky texture. However, I thought they could benefit from being just a liiiittle bit more moisture…hmmm, perhaps a bit of sour cream or ricotta in the batter? I’m not sure how much this will affect the texture of the scones, but it’s definitely something I plan to experiment with…stay tuned.

And for all you fellow sweet-toothed foodies (like me!), the homemade strawberry jam adds the perfect touch. The tart Granny Smith apple trick comes from this month’s Bon Appétit, and I must say it is genius because apparently apples are a great natural source of pectin, the chemical that gives jam its gel-like quality. Serve with clotted cream and brew yourself a cuppa (naturally, try something uber-British like PG Tips), and you’d think you were in a British tearoom. Nom.

Dusted to perfection

For the orange-raisin scones:

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup candied orange peel (if desired)
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 stick cold butter (unsalted)
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp and 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Combine raisins, orange peel if desired, orange zest and liqueur in a small bowl or mug, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Swift flours together and place half the amount in a food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter over the flour. Pulse just until combined (mixture should look like small peas) and be careful not to overwork. Add sugar, salt and baking powder to remaining flour, then slowly incorporate the flour-butter mixture until integrated. Whisk cream, one whole egg and one egg yolk together (reserve white for later). Create a well in the center of the flour mixture, and pour half the wet ingredients in. Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients using a spatula, making sure to incorporate flour at the bottom of the bowl. Add the remaining cream and mix just enough to incorporate.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and gently roll using a small pin into a rectangle shape. Scatter raisins and orange peel evenly over the surface of the dough, then fold dough onto itself in three parts (like folding a letter). Roll the dough out again and repeat folding and rolling step to distribute fruit evenly. Finally, roll dough out to 1 or 1 1/2 inch thick and cut to desired shape (I made circles). Place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, brush with egg wash, sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on top, and bake for about 20-25 minutes. The sugar will caramelize during baking and add a bit of extra crunch. Transfer baked scones to a cooling rack, sprinkle with more confectioner’s sugar, and take a bite.

The first dusting of sugar (pre-baking) will dissolve almost immediately, but it will caramelize in the oven, adding extra crunch

For the chunky strawberry jam:

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (approx 1 lb)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Very simple natural ingredients, no chemicals or preservatives

Combine strawberries, sugar and grated apple in a medium skillet over medium heat, until sugar dissolves. Stir occasionally to break up strawberries and cook for 15-20 minutes until the jam thickens. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Transfer to a jar or bowl and cover, allow to cool and set for at least 2 hours.

Cook until sugar dissolves, strawberries are mostly broken down (there will still be chunks) and jam is thickened

In good health,

F

* Tea party image (top) courtesy of Candyfloss Curls, Cupcakes and Couture

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Salad for dinner

In keeping with my healthy eating streak (see here for yesterday’s post about Food&Wine’s 4-week diet), here is a great find that I couldn’t resist sharing: Tasha DeSerio’s new cookbook, Salad for Dinner. DeSerio’s career began at the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and she has long been a big advocate of simplicity in food. According to the tag line, this cookbook is a collection of “simple recipes for salads that make a meal” and has been recommended by both Martha Stewart in the April issue of Martha Stewart Living, AND by Alice Waters on Twitter…so it can only be amazing, right?!  The cookbook was published just yesterday, March 13th, and will be in stock on Amazon by the 15th. Are you ordering your copy yet? I know I am!

In good health,

F

* Image compliments of Amazon

Countdown to summer: Food&Wine’s 4-week diet plan

Grilled shrimp with avocado and orange salad - lunch, week 2, day 7

Back in January I blogged about Bon Appétit magazine’s new year cleanse, a healthy 2-week plan for post-holiday detox. The best part about the plan – aside from the detailed meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and the user-friendly shopping guides – was the fact that every recipe on there looked absolutely delicious, so it was hardly a “diet” in the usual sense of the word.

Well, if any of you are looking for something similar to get you bikini-ready, you’re in luck. Food&Wine magazine has put together a 4-week diet plan with similarly delicious-looking and healthy but wholesome recipes. Capped at a daily intake of 1,400 calories, this plan was originally created as January diet, but it seems to have re-surfaced in the latest F&W newsletter in preparation for the impending arrival of spring and summer.  And it’s so much better to get started now in order to tone up gradually, rather than resort to metabolism-busting crash diets at the last minute. The objective is “to show it’s possible to eat something delicious every single day and still lose weight.” Agreed. It’s possible, it’s easy, and it has never tasted better!

In good health,

F

Weeknight dinners: deconstructed sushi

When I saw this picture of “deconstructed sushi” on Pinterest the other day, I found myself giddy with delight about how clever and original I thought it was. For those of us who lack the patience, sharp knives and skill of a sushi chef, this seems like a great home-made alternative…All the same ingredients, except served as a salad. And it’s so easy to put together, so it makes for a great outside-the-box weeknight dinner. Genius.

Given that I don’t have the recipe, I have tried to guesstimate the proportions of ingredients based on the picture and common knowledge of Japanese ingredients. But unlike baking, this is by no means an exact science, so feel free to play around with the proportions of the ingredients or even with additions, omissions, or substitutions. You can also cut the ingredients into any kind of shape you like; what I’ve said below is merely a suggestion.

  • 3/4 cup brown rice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 large avocado (medium ripeness)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 3/4 cup shelled edamame beans
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 sheet nori seaweed
  • 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 3/4 to 1 cup cooked prawns, shredded crab, thinly sliced tuna or salmon, or even grilled chicken breast- optional
  • Nobu’s yuzu dressing (click here for recipe), to taste

Follow cooking instructions on the packaging of brown rice. Once cooked, toss with rice vinegar to give it that sushi “feel” and set aside.

Remove skin from avocado and cut into thin wedges. Squeeze a little bit of lime or lemon juice on the avocado to prevent browning, and toss with black sesame seeds. You can also add some white sesame if desired. Julienne the cucumber and nori and add to avocado and sesame mixture. Combine all ingredients except protein (if using) in a medium bowl and toss to mix evenly and dress to taste. If adding a protein, place on top of the tossed salad before serving.

My dressing suggestion for this salad is Nobu’s yuzu dressing that I blogged about a few weeks ago. The dressing contains soy, which is a staple with sushi, but dressing it rather than simply dipping in soy makes it feel more like a salad. Best of both worlds I say!

In good health,

F

Spaghetti and guac come to life

I recently came across these videos by PES and I just thought they were too cute not to share.

“Western Spaghetti” – 2009 Sundance Film Festival Winner; voted #2 Viral Video of the Year by TIME Magazine; 2009 Audience Award, Annecy Animation Festival

“Fresh Guacamole”

In good health,

F

Perfect tiramisu

Little known factoid: the name tiramisu derives from the Italian verb tirare which means “to lift” or “to pull.” Mi is a reflexive personal pronoun, and su means “up.” Put it all together and the name of this fabulous dessert adds up to lift me up. And indeed, it is the perfect go-to dessert when you are looking for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up to lift your mood and energy levels. All that delicious mascarpone creme, the coffee and of course, the rum..perfection.

Speaking of perfection, I am actually quite picky about my tiramisu. We have a good Italian family friend (affectionately referred to by my parents as The Godfather), and when we visited his home in the coastal Roman suburb of Ostia, his wife prepared a sumptuous seven-course dinner that concluded with the most decadent, fluffiest, finger-licking-delicious tiramisu I have ever had. And that ruined it for me. It has forever set my tiramisu bar so high that I am now a little bit (ok a big bit) of a tiramisu snob. It’s not fluffy enough, it doesn’t have enough coffee, it’s not moist enough, it’s not sweet enough…on an on goes the list of possible critiques. It’s shocking how many things can go wrong with a dessert that is so simple (no fancy cooking techniques or baking is required!). Anyway, a bit of good news: after much experimentation, I have discovered that Ina Garten’s recipe is actually pretty great. Maybe not quite as perfect as Anna Rosa’s heavenly version I had in Rome, but close enough.

You will need:

  • 6 extra-large egg yolks (save the whites for making meringue!) – they HAVE to be at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup good-quality dark rum
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups brewed espresso
  • 500g mascarpone cheese
  • 30-40 Italian lady fingers (aka savoiardi)
  • Block of bittersweet chocolate, for shaving
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Whisk egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer at high speed for about 5 minutes, until very thick, fluffy and pale yellow. Add 1/4 cup rum,1/2 cup of espresso (Ina says 1/4 but I like my tiramisu to taste strongly of coffee), and all the mascarpone, and whisk at medium speed just until combined and smooth.

Line a medium (approx 9×12 inches and at least 2 inches deep) with a layer of lady fingers. Mix remaining espresso and rum and pour just enough over the lady fingers to make them pretty moist but not completely mushy. Ina suggests dipping each biscuit into the espresso-rum mix and then lining the dish, but since I like my tiramisu on the moister side, I find it easier to first line the dish then pour the liquid on top. Next, create a layer of espresso mascarpone cream on top of the cookies using half the mascarpone mixture, followed by another layer of espresso-rum moistened lady fingers, and finally another layer of mascarpone cream. Refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, sprinkle top with shaved chocolate (make shavings using a vegetable peeler) and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Buon appetito!

In good health,
F

* photo credit: foodnetwork.com

Fennel, beet and blood orange salad

This gorgeous winter salad quickly became one of my favorites after I discovered it in Bon Appétit’s January detox issue. As excited as I am for spring’s imminent arrival, I must admit that winter has some pretty fantastic ingredients to offer (think of all those luscious dark leafy greens, squashes, and oranges), and I will definitely miss them come spring and summer. Plus, blood oranges and beets may be classic winter produce, but the light citrus feel and the colorfulness of this salad definitely has a touch of spring in it..so this may just be the perfect winter-spring transitional salad. To top it all off, this salad has fennel in it, which is probably my favorite vegetable, so anything with fennel in it makes my list. I adjusted Bon Appétit’s recipe slightly in terms of proportions and preparation method (mostly to increase the quantity of fennel in the salad!), but used all the same ingredients.

I particularly love this salad because not only is it gorgeous to look at and delicious to eat, but it’s also virtually guilt free…and who doesn’t love guilt-free food?! Low calorie, low fat, low sodium, and packed with nutritional benefits. Beets are a rich source of anti-oxidants that lower the risk of blood platelet clots and therefore reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Both beets and oranges are packed with immunity-boosting Vitamin C, great in the winter and during this transitional period for fighting off illnesses like the flu, as well as fiber which promotes digestive health. According to Bon Appétit, this recipe makes 4-6 servings, and each has under 100 calories.

You willl need:

  • 3-4 small blood oranges
  • 1 large or 2 medium regular oranges
  • 1 medium bulb of fennel
  • 2 red beets
  • 2 golden beets
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Cilantro leaves, for garnish
  • 1 small red onion, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400F. Wash beets and pat dry with a paper towel, but leave the skins a little damp. Wrap each beet in foil and place on a baking sheet in the oven until beets are tender (about 1 hour). Allow beets to cool.

In the meantime, thinly shave fennel and onion using a mandolin and place in a medium bowl. Toss fennel with 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Using a sharp knife, cut and peel skin and pith from all oranges. Slice the blood oranges cross-sectionally into slices, and cut the regular orange into wedges by cutting between membranes with a knife. Do the same with the beets; cut 2 cross-wise and 2 into wedges. Arrange oranges and beets on a flat dish, avoiding layering as much as possible to minimize staining. Drizzle remaining lemon and lime juices on oranges and beets. Do not combine ingredients until ready to serve, as the oranges and beets will stain the fennel.

When ready to serve, place a generous amount of shaved fennel on individual plates, top with orange and beet slices. Garnish with cilantro and red onion, and drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top as desired. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper if needed. Allow salad to sit for a few minutes so that the flavors combine.

Another great variation of this salad that I love has spicy rocket or arugula leaves the tossed with the fennel, oranges but no beets, and mint instead of cilantro. Yumyum.

In good health,

F

* Photo credit: bonappetit.com. Recipe adjusted from Bon Appétit, January 2012 issue.

Are cupcakes the new currency?

Well, just when I thought the boutique-cupcake-shop-mania had started to die down (I still remember the 3-hour queues when Sprinkles first opened near Stanford a few years ago), the infamous Sprinkles has gone and done it again.

Sprinkles' first 24-hour "cupcake ATM" in Beverly Hills

If you are a resident of Beverly Hills, the home of the very first Sprinkles store -or anywhere in the vicinity for that matter- and you wake up at 3 am with a sudden craving for cupcakes, despair not: Sprinkles now has a 24-hour cupcake-dispensing ATM machine. I’m not kidding. And this curious invention dispenses not only cupcakes, but apparently all sorts of Sprinkles merchandise as well, including cake mix. While I wonder how much extra business this will actually create for the company, one thing is quite clear already: the genius marketing idea seems to have very successfully put cupcakes back in the headlines. Well done, Sprinkles.

Midnight snack, anyone?

In good health,

F

Snow-day grilled cheese

Well, to quote the popular Christmas jingle, the weather outside is frightful. It’s March already, which means spring is almost here, but somehow there is a foot and a half of powdery snow blanketing the streets of Amman today. Not to say that I don’t love frolicking in the snow occasionally, but I definitely did not see this one coming.

Anyway..one of my favorite childhood memories of snow days – aside from all the snowman-making and makeshift sledding down the stairs of the garden on sheet trays – is roasting food on the embers of our fireplace. So today, I decided to do just that. It’s almost like a wintery version of a barbeque. Traditionally, we always used to roast cheese and chestnuts, but it could work with almost anything roast-able…sweet potato or marshmallows are also good candidates. Today it was cheese and sweet potato.

Sweet potato wedges roasting on our fireplace embers

The cheese we usually use for this is Akkawi cheese, a special white cheese made of cow’s milk that comes from the town of Akka in Palestine. It is similar to Halloumi cheese, but slightly saltier, creamier and stretchier, but Halloumi is certainly a great substitute. Simply place slices of cheese inside a grilling rack (I’m not sure if this is the proper technical name for it..see here for photo) and place on embers of the fire place. You can do the same with wedges of sweet potato, boiled for 5 minutes, brushed with olive oil and lightly salted before going on the embers. Alternatively, you can wrap the entire potato in tin foil and “bury” it inside the embers for 10-20 minutes (depending on size of potato and temperature of coals). Mmmm

I love the slightly charred and smokey flavor of cheese grilled on the embers of the fire place...slices of tomato and cucumber go so well with it, and help break the saltiness

 

In good health,

F

* Top photo credit – Associated Press via Daily Mail

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