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Summer entertaining: tarte tatin

As I patiently count down the minutes until sunset when I can finally break my long fast, I find that -oddly- one of my preferred ways to pass the time is to think about food. It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but somehow, browsing through my favorite recipes or watching Ina on Food Network gives me something to look forward to. My mom keeps telling me off for “torturing myself”, but this really isn’t, as she seems to believe, a torturous, masochistic way to obsess over what I cannot have. The way I think about it is that if my tummy has to stay hungry for a few more hours, at least my eyes can feast on something yummy. Also, being busy in the kitchen – my favorite pastime bar none – is a great way for me to keep myself distracted, because I find it hardest to persevere through my fast when I am idle and bored. Soooo, right now I am salivating over memories of the tarte tatin I made for my friends before going on vacation a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I’d spread the joy. There really isn’t anything better to salivate over in my current low-blood-sugar fasting state than sweet, decadent, caramelized French apple pie.

You will need:

For the crust:

  • 1 stick butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice or apple cider
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 1 stick butter, cut into small chunks
  • 6 apples, halved (I like to use a mix, such as 3 tart Granny Smits and 3 sweet Golden Delicious apples)
  • French Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Combine butter, flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse until the mixture looks like pea-sized chunks. Add the egg yolk and pulse a few times, then add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time and pulse just until the mixture comes together into a ball. You do not need to use all of the water. Avoid over-pulsing. Knead the mixture on a lightly-floured work surface about once or twice until you have a smooth ball. Place ball on a cookie sheet, and using a rolling pin or gently roll the dough out to form about a 30-cm (~12″) circle. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

In the meantime, make the filling. Preheat oven to 215 C/425 F. Place a round, non-stick, ovenproof skillet or pan on the hob over high heat (make sure pan doesn’t have any plastic handles that could melt in the oven!!!) Place sugar, apple cider, lemon juice, and vanilla seeds in the pan and stir to combine. Brush the sides of the pan with cold water using a pastry brush to avoid sugar crystallization, and bring mixture to a boil. Occasionally swirl the mixture around the pan to distribute evenly, and cook for about 10 minutes until it is a deep, rich, caramel color. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, 1 knob at a time. It is ok if the mixture starts to bubble up, just make sure to avoid contact with your skin as it will be very hot. When all of the butter has been incorporated, turn heat down to medium and return pan to heat. Arrange the apple halves (rounded side down) in concentric circles in the sugar mixture. You want to do this as neatly as possible so that you have a nice-looking end product. Cook for about 20 more minutes, then remove from heat. Place your chilled pastry on top of the apples, tucking in around the pan edges. Place in preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry turns golden. Allow tarte to cool to lukewarm before flipping onto a serving dish. Slice and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (I love French vanilla, which is basically like regular vanilla but made for more egg yolks).

This may just be the perfect summer dessert!

In good health,


* Recipe adapted from Anne Burrell, courtesty of Food Network


The Holy Fast

Hello foodies! I am finally back from my Turkish vacation and happily several shades darker than my pre-holiday color. Doesn’t a good tan just make everyone look better?!

My thoroughly-tanned self is currently back home in Amman, lazing around the house and salivating about all manner of yummy food that I cannot have for another 3 hours. Last Friday marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan – the Muslim fasting month – which requires abstaining from all food and drink between dawn and dusk. Because the Muslim lunar calendar is slightly shorter than the standard Gregorian calendar, Ramadan shifts back about 11 days every year. As a kid, Ramadan was always a wintery occasion, but over the years it has shifted back far enough that it now arrives smack dab in the middle of summer…which means fasting through hotter temperatures and longer days. Quite the challenge. For me, the most difficult part to handle is the thirst, not the hunger, although I must admit that when the worst of my hunger pangs hit, I do find myself daydreaming about stuffing anything and everything I can think of into my mouth. Funnily enough, when the time to break my fast finally comes (dusk), I usually find that I have very little appetite left after having fasted for ~16 hours. Not the worst problem to have, I suppose. After all, Ramadan is intended to be a month of simplicity and modesty; a time to sympathize with the poor, to purify one’s body, and to tune away from one’s bodily needs and focus on spirituality instead.

Done right, Ramadan is meant to detoxify the body and, by extension, purify the mind and soul. I guess the mechanism by which this happens is similar to the science behind juice fasts (see my previous post here). Since the average human body expends about 70% of its daily energy on digestion, taking a break from eating frees up a lot of spare capacity for our bodies to do other “chores” that it does not always have time to do, like cell renewal and detoxification. Traditionally, Muslims are urged to break their fast with some water and a few dates so as not to shock the body with too much food. Admittedly, I do see a lot of evidence around me that most people do not seize this wonderful opportunity to give their bodies a break, and for many people, Ramadan has sadly become synonymous with over-indulgent fast-breaking feasts…not ideal. But the spirit of the month remains intact, and I must say that Ramadan always manages to conjure up a very special atmosphere here in Amman and throughout much of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Aside from being a very holy month in the religious sense -a month of prayer, spirituality, and thanksgiving- Ramadan has very much become part of the culture as well; a month that revolves around family, food, social get-togethers, and many a long night of very competitive card games.

What religio-cultural holidays do you love most?

In good health,


Photo of the day: shark life

As I am about to spend my afternoon at the beach in Bodrum, I thought this was a very appropriate beachy photo to share with all of you….although I do hope there will be no sharks for me today!

In good health,


Photo courtesy of it’s the life

Photo of the day: lemon tart with rosemary

I’m currently on vacation in Bodrum, Turkey (which, in case you were wondering, explains my absence from the blogosphere these past few days) but I could not resist sharing this delectable-looking photo. I love dishes that combine unexpected flavors, and this certainly sounds like a very good example: lemon tart with a rosemary crust. Rosemary is not a flavor you’d expect to find in your dessert very often, but in this case can’t you just tell that it would taste delicious??

In good health,

* Photo courtesy of happyolks.com

Summer entertaining: grilled beef and pineapple skewers

There are a few things I love more about summer foods than the flavor of grilled fruit…all the more so when it is part of a savory dish. So, naturally these juicy beef and pineapple skewers are high up on my list of summer favorites, and they’re shockingly easy to put together.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh (flat leaf) parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Approx. 1 kg beef fillet, cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 1 medium pineapple (~1kg), peeled, cored, and cubed
  • Wooden skewers for grilling

Combine parsley, mint, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and chili flakes in a food processor and pulse a few times. Gradually whisk in oil, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce while the food processor is still running, until mixture is smooth.

Place beef fillet cubes in a large bowl, and toss with half the herb mixture, making sure the meat is evenly coated. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, tossing occasionally to ensure even marination. Reserve the remaining herb mixture in the fridge for later.

About 30-40 minutes before you are ready to grill, take the meat out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Soak wooden skewers in water for 20-30 minutes to prevent burning/charring during grilling.Preheat your grill to medium-high.

String alternating pieces of beef and pineapple on the skewers, about 4-5 pieces total on each. [I find that cutting the beef and pineapple cubes to roughly the same size makes the skewers look more visually appealing and easier to eat].

Brush grill lightly with olive oil, and grill the skewers a few at a time, about 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare or 5-6 on each side for medium-well. Arrange cooked skewers on a serving platter, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and drizzle with reserved herb mixture.

In good health,



Meet TasteSpotting

Have you all seen this fabulous pinterest-like website dedicated entirely to food?! Self-described as a “community-driven visual potluck,” TasteSpotting is all about sharing delicious recipes, complete with equally delectable-looking photos. One word: AMAZING.

In good health,


Summer entertaining: roasted chicken with quinoa stuffing

Yesterday I posted about the homemade peach and basil ravioli that I served as a starter at my latest dinner party. As a main course for the same dinner, I served roasted whole chickens with a pomegranate molasses glaze, stuffed with lemon-herb quinoa.

Roasted chicken is definitely my go-to dish when I want a foolproof and unfussy but yummy dinner, and I hardly think I’m the only cook who feels that way. The beauty of roasted chicken is that it is a really difficult dish to fuck up, and the possibilities for how to prepare it are endless. Of all the times I have made roasted chicken (and there have been quite a few), I think my end product was always slightly different every single time – but it has always been good. I am very much an improv type of cook, so I usually get my inspiration from recipes, but I rarely stick to them. Unlike baking, when I cook I always find a way to tweak the recipe, to mix-and-match several recipes, or to cook without a recipe altogether. And with something as classic as oven-roasted chicken, I always end up seasoning it based on my mood, the weather, and whatever is available in my kitchen so the outcome is always unique. This time, I decided to brine my birds first, to ensure extra moist and juicy chicken. I then stuffed the birds with a healthier version of bread stuffing, made of lemon-herb quinoa, and then brushed them with a pomegranate molasses mixture to give them a glaze. I made two chickens for this dinner party, but depending on the number of people you are cooking for, you can always scale the recipe up or down.

You will need:

For the brine:

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 2/3 cups honey
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 lemons

Combine brine ingredients in a large stock pot and whisk until salt and honey dissolve completely.

For the stuffing:

  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • handful chopped basil
  • handful chopped mint
  • handful chopped parsley

Place quinoa, water, and 1/4 cup lemon juice into a medium pot, and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to bring pot down to a simmer, cover with a lid, and let cook for 10-15 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed. In the meantime, combine remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs. Fluff cooked quinoa with a fork and stir in the lemon-oil-herb mixture, tossing to combine evenly.

For the chicken:

  • 2 medium chickens (about 2.5 kg each)
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly-ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • handful chopped parsley
  • handful chopped mint
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used a mix of red, orange, and yellow ones)

Wash chickens thoroughly with water, including inside cavity, and place into pot containing brine. Refrigerate pot for 4-6 hours.

Remove chickens from brine and drain liquid from inside cavity. Pat dry with paper towels. Place 1/2 tbsp butter into the cavity of each chicken, and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper. Next, loosely spoon quinoa mixture into the cavities. Place chickens in a roasting pan.

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Combine pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, chili flakes, minced garlic, and chopped herbs. Pulse in a food processor to combine well. Brush outside of each chicken with the mixture using a pastry brush, making sure to coat the entire surface. Place roasting pan in oven, and immediately turn down oven temperature to 120C/250F, and roast for about 60-90 minutes, basting occasionally using pan juices. About 20 minutes before the chicken is ready, add cherry tomatoes to the pan in the oven. Roast chicken until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh.

Take chicken out of the oven and cover in aluminum foil. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving.

(You can use the pan drippings to make a gravy for your chicken: over the hob, de-glaze the roasting pan with 1/4 cup white wine. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, and cook until it reduces by about 1/3. Add flour as needed to thicken the gravy, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a gravy boat.)

In good health


Summer entertaining: cute outdoor setting

What a delightful little nook for a festive outdoor summer party!

* Photo via Pinterest

Summer entertaining: peach and basil ravioli

My favorite thing about summer -even more than tanning- is those balmy summer nights that just beg you to throw a garden party. Here in Amman, no matter how hot it may be during the day (and believe me, it has been HOT lately), you can bet your bottom dollar that sunset will always usher in a cool, easy breeze that sets a truly perfect scene for a night in good company. Of course, an easy, breezy, balmy summer’s night demands equally refreshing food, and I have spent the day today dreaming up dish ideas for exactly this kind of occasion. Some of my friends and I have been talking for ages about having a dinner party, but between our busy work schedules and travel plans, it has been easier said that done. I finally managed to convene this long-overdue dinner party tonight, and given how long we have been planning this, the pressure was definitely on for me to put together an impressive meal that lived up to the hype that my interest in food had generated.

To start, I served homemade ravioli stuffed with peach and basil, with a vanilla and brown butter sauce. It might sound like a weird combination, but if I do say so myself, it was delicious. It was sweet, tart, rich, and unexpected all at the same time. I am a huge fan of sweet-and-savory food, and all this luscious summer produce makes it all the more tempting to “play with food.”

You will need:

For the ravioli:

  • Homemade pasta dough (see recipe here from a previous post)
  • 3 medium to large peaches
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tbsp ricotta cheese
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milk

For the sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • Handful basil leaves
  • Handful chopped walnuts

Blanche peaches in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove from boiling water and place into ice water immediately. Remove skins from peaches and slice each one into eighths. Toss peach slices in 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, until very tender. Allow peaches to cool until they are tepid.

Combine cooled (but still warm) peaches, chopped basil, chopped walnuts, ricotta, and honey in a food processor and pulse no more than 3-4 times to mash slightly. You can pulse the mixture more if you want your filling to be puréed, but I prefer it slightly chunky so it doesn’t feel like mushy baby food. Season filling with salt and pepper to taste.

Roll prepared pasta dough into 1.5mm sheets on a generously-floured work surface. Whisk egg and milk together to create an egg wash, and lightly brush the top of one sheet of dough with it to coat. Spoon 1-tsp portions of filling onto your pasta sheet, keeping big enough spaces between each spoonful to fit the size of your ravioli mold (you can also simply use the rim of a glass to cut out the dough if you don’t have a mold). Brush one side of another sheet of pasta dough with egg wash, and place (egg wash side down) onto the ravioli filling. Gently trace around the filling with your fingers to remove air bubbles from between pasta sheets, and cut to shape. Sprinkle ravioli with flour to prevent them from sticking together, and line on a large plate or baking sheet. The recipe makes 18-24 ravioli, depending on size.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and generously season with salt and olive oil. Once the water boils, plop the ravioli in, about 5-6 at a time, and cook for about 5-8 minutes until al dente. In the meantime, place butter cubes in a skillet and heat until the butter starts to brown. Scrape seeds of vanilla bean and add to butter sauce. Place cooked ravioli on a serving platter, and drizzle brown butter over them (you can drizzle the butter through a fine-mesh sieve to get rid of the small red specks that form when the butter is browned). Garnish with walnuts and chopped basil leaves, and serve warm with a glass of crisp, fruity white wine like Sauvignon Blanc.

In good health,


Photo of the day: stars and stripes

Happy 4th everyone! As America turns a year older today, I wanted to share Ina Garten’s very occasion-appropriate American flag cake with all of you who might be celebrating this holiday. All you need is a simple sheet cake, and some white icing, blueberries, and raspberries to make an impressive-looking yet easy holiday themed dessert. Not bad last-minute inspiration or Independence Day entertaining!

Find Ina’s recipe here.

In good health,


* Image courtesy of Food Network

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July 2012
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