As we begin to wake up to brisk mornings where even the sun isn’t up quite yet, and our morning cups of coffee have become warming and soothing, instead of just a caffeine boost, the desire to feel the warmth of the oven and the scent of spices in the air, burns bright.
A switch is flipped when the cool mornings set in and the chilly nights fall upon us. All of a sudden, the bananas ripening on the counter become crumbly muffins or a rich cake in your eyes, the peaches are bubbly cobblers dripping with melted ice cream and the apples turn to a buttery and flaky pie. All of a sudden, no fruit or vegetable is spared, all can be baked into a seasonal treat.
We don’t stop at fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry inspire pies, slow roasts and braises. The aroma of a piece of slow roasting meat with fragrant spices is just as enticing as the smell of cinnamon rolls baking for a weekend treat.
I wanted to start off by thanking all those who commented on the last post with words of encouragement, support and love. It has been difficult lately as the atmosphere every where is one of uncertainty. Violence, hate and suspicion are running rampant and I have to say, it makes me quite sad and afraid.
For the first time ever, I fear the scarf I wear on my head may bring harm to my children. They do not look foreign, my girls and my son are all fair skinned. I wonder if they are treated differently once they see I am their mother? They haven’t mentioned any negative incidents and I pray they don’t encounter any hateful actions towards them.
I have never been worried about my scarf because it has never mattered before. I have, maybe in total, encountered about 4 negative attitudes and comments about my appearance. Even after 9/11, when other Muslim women were taking off their scarves, I decided to put mine on. People asked me back then, “Aren’t you afraid?” I answered “no” because what happened then didn’t represent me or my faith. I wore my scarf proudly.
What’s happening now doesn’t represent me or my faith either, but the atmosphere is different this time. I still wear my scarf proudly but at the back of my mind, there is this nervousness for my children.
What happened at the restaurant last week was definitely a wake up call; a nasty reminder of the reality these days.
However, I will say again, I haven’t encountered anything else other than that one incident. My experience with coworkers, clients and regular people I encounter day to day, has been nothing but supportive and encouraging. I like to concentrate on these people; the ones who make an effort to smile and make conversation.
Last week, a snow fall that was predicted as “just a few inches” dumped close to a foot of snow. I was woken up at 5:30 am with my cell phone buzzing and upon answering it, found out it was the school district issuing a Snow Day. Through the sleepiness, I pull the curtain aside and see something short of a blizzard! Snow was coming down hard, swirling in all directions in a frenzy. I was really happy that I didn’t have to get up and drive kids to school in that snow storm. My husband ended up staying home too since it would’ve taken him 2 hours to get to work. The roads were bad, the motorways were piled high with snow and the snow plows were not effective.
He and I worked side by side from home sitting at the dining table. It was really nice to have him home unexpectedly. Of course, Snow Day meant that all the kids were off from school so they all went off to hang with friends. Trace and I decided to get some lunch at our local Pho place. Went down a treat with the cold weather.
The snow makes everything so festive; like gingerbread houses with a dusting of powdered sugar. Though ours was more than a dusting! One of these evenings we headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens for their Blossoms of Light festival. They decorate almost all their trees and shrubs with LED lights; SO, so beautiful. A cup of hot cocoa in one hand and a bag of roasted nuts in the other, we were quite cosy and mesmerised by the lights glittering on the trees. The cold air was invigorating and the hands did get a nip, but it was worth the little bit of cold to enjoy such a beautiful sight.
These rolls are fantastic. They are a big favourite at my class demos, and one of my most requested recipes. I haven’t had a chance to post them until now. I have made these with different cheeses and fillings. Usually, I serve these as the appetiser with sides from the olive bar or a fresh salsa. The guests enjoy these with a glass of wine before the class begins. I am always asked for the recipe and I have promised it to many wonderful folks and finally have a chance to post it.
These rolls are amazing out of a steam convection oven. If you’ve thought about getting one, my recommendation, GET ONE! They are simply great for many, many things but especially for breads.
Some variations: Piquillo Pepper and Asadero Cheese (this one is a favourite), Cheddar and Pickled Jalapeños, Roasted Red Peppers and Mozzarella, the combinations are endless. They are incredibly easy to make as well.
Thick and chewy bread rolls filled with Piquillo Peppers and Goat Cheese.
4 cups all purpose or bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups warm water
12oz/340g jar grilled Piquillo peppers
10.5 oz/300g goat's cheese
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter for brushing (optional)
Mix the flour, yeast,salt and sugar in a bowl of a mixer.
Attach the dough hook to the mixer and run through the mixture to aerate a little.
Add 1 cup of warm water and mix on low.
If the mixture looks too dry, add more water a little at a time.
You may use all the water and need a bit more, or you may not use all the water.
I used exactly 1 ½ cups but Colorado is dry so our flour runs dry as well.
If you live in a humid place, you may need less.
Just gauge the consistency; you want a nice soft, pliable dough, not sticky or dry.
After the dough has kneaded into a ball, drop it on the counter and hand knead for a couple of minutes.
Knead the dough into a nice smooth ball and place in a greased bowl to proof in a warm area of your kitchen.
This will take about an hour at high altitude or 1 ½ -2 hours at sea level.
While the dough is proofing, prepare the filling.
From the jar, chop about the 8-10 peppers into small dice.
How fine you want the peppers is up to you, but I don't keep the pieces too large.
Smaller bites of the Piquillo pepper helps to roll better and your get more per bite.
I used 10 peppers but you could use more, or less.
Grease a 9" x 13" pan, a cake pan works great, you need something with sides.
I have used a 10" round ceramic quiche/tart pan with 1.5" sides before as well with good results.
Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a clean counter.
Knead a couple of times to slowly deflate.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle of 11" x 15" (the size of a ½ sheet tray)
Sprinkle the chopped Piquillo peppers evenly over the rolled out dough.
Drop crumbles of creamy goat's cheese evenly over the peppers.
Sprinkle the parsley and drizzle the olive oil over the filling.
Slowly lift up the long side of the dough and begin to roll up like a Swiss roll.
Slowly roll the dough up evenly and making sure all the filling is tucked inside.
When you get to the end, pinch the edge of the dough together in a long seam.
Carefully cut the dough roll in half using a serrated knife.
Cut out six pieces from each half to make total of 12 rolls.
You can make bigger rolls by cutting in 6 or even 4.
Carefully place the rolls into the greased pan, leaving a little space between them.
Keep in a warm corner to rise a second time, about 20 minutes.
Once they have puffed up a little and are touching each other, they are ready to bake.
While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to:
Conventional oven : 375F
Convection oven : 350F
Steam Convection oven : 350F
For a conventional oven or a convection oven, place a small cake pan filled with ice cubes on the bottom rack.
Place the rolls on the rack above the ice cube pan.
Bake the rolls:
Conventional oven : 40 minutes
Convection oven: 30 minutes
Steam convection: 30-35 minutes
Check to see if they are brown, if they are to your liking, remove and cool on a rack.
If you'd like them a little more brown, add a couple more minutes.
The filling will make a difference in the time as well.
This filling isn't too wet, so it took 40 minutes to brown nicely.
Different cheeses and other wet fillings will add to the time.
Just add time in increments until browned and also done in the centre.
**Thermador or Bosch steam ovens: Use Steam-Convection mode and set temp to 350F **JennAir Steam oven: Use Steam Convection mode and manual entry, set the temperature to 350F, steam level to medium and time for 30 minutes. **Wolf Steam Oven: Use Auto Steam Bake for bread and set temp at 350F
I would like to end by wishing all my readers and friends very happy holidays, a Merry Christmas and an amazing New Year. I am thankful for your support of this blog and me. I am also very thankful for your friendship and hope that it will only grow stronger in the coming year. Wishing you all the very best this holiday season, filled with much joy, happiness and prosperity from my family to yours.
It has been a hectic week! I don’t know how I’m still standing but I know it’s with much difficulty! I haven’t been able to visit my favourite blogs but I will catch up today! I’m also posting on a totally different day because my whole posting schedule has gone awry.
I worked 3 events back to back and one was a big grilling event for 75 people. I did that one while fasting on the most humid day Denver has seen so far! I am quite beat and I still had to cook and work yesterday (still fasting) I am questioning my choice of a job at the moment.
First and foremost, it is that time of the year again where the days seem endless and the nights fly by, also known as the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. The ninth month of the Isalmic calendar, the month of fasting, charity, good deeds, prayer and intense worship.
This is the month when the Holy Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and it’s the month where we try to finish reading the Quran as many times as we can. The Islamic Centres have evening prayers where a portion of the Quran is recited every night for all the 30 nights, that way finishing the Quran in congregation.
The Quran is written in Arabic and that can be difficult for many and sometimes it is easy to go and join the congregation every evening. I try and read as much as I can in Arabic but since it’s not my first language, I struggle a little too. But the struggle is the reward.
The month of Ramadan is a reminder of the hardships that many face. We don’t eat from dawn to sunset. No water, no food, no cursing, no smoking, no sex and no fighting. It’s an exercise in self control. It’s a way to put ourselves in others lives who may not be as fortunate as us. We feel the thirst of the thirsty, we feel the hunger of the hungry, we feel the despair of the desperate, and the hopelessness of the oppressed. We volunteer as much as we can, we donate as much as we can, we pray for ourselves and for others, we also spend time reflecting on ourselves.
It is surprising, when we stop eating and stop thinking about food, how much time we have to focus on other things. It really does make you stop and think of others when the hunger pangs radiate throughout your body or your parched throat feels like sandpaper. It is humbling and heart breaking.
It is always an emotional time for me. I really try to focus on my hunger and thirst and try to feel what so many experince on a daily basis. It is enough to bring tears to my eyes. I cannot imagine how they survive, how little children feel this pain everyday, some for the entire length of their short lives.
We don’t have to go overseas to think about the less fortunate, here in America we have our own hungry and homeless. It’s unbelievable.
The pain of hunger and thirst also forces you to focus on your relationship with God. We increase our worship, our knowlege and strengthen our faith. This month is a time for renewal of our bodies, minds and souls.
Of course, 29-30 days of hunger and thirst then makes for a great celebration when it ends! Ramadan is not only about struggle and worship, it’s also about family and community.
It’s one of the best times for children and adults alike. The community dinners every night at the local Islamic Centres are a great unifying and fun nights for the whole family. We eat together, pray together and socialise together. I haven’t made it to any this year yet but I enjoy them when I go.
Since Ramadan is a celebration, a 30 day celebration, I wanted to post a sweet recipe today. We always celebrate with sweets.
These Jalebi are some of my favourites. They are a little bit like funnel cakes but crispy and syrup soaked and filled. Divine.
I’ve wanted to post this recipe for a long time now but getting around to making them and photographing them is where the struggle lies! The original way of making them is fermenting a flour and water mixture overnight and then frying the batter the next day.
I can’t plan that far ahead. It’s been crazy busy for me with events, work and Ramadan so planning anything more than a few hours ahead is impossible! Many people make a quick batter fermented with yeast and I decided to go this route. I had a few hours of free time so I mixed up a batter, went out to do some shopping and then came back to fry these babies up.
When sundown rolled around, I could finally try one! They were perfect. Crunchy, syrupy, heady with a saffron scent. These yeasted ones tasted just like the traditional ones and I was happy I could get them done in half the time.
In the spirit of Ramadan, I would like to wish all my readers and my blogger friends, peace, prosperity and much happiness. The true mesage of Islam has always been one of tolerance, equality, justice, love and respect for all lives and I strive to be the best example and representative of Islam. Thank you for reading and for all your love and support. I wish you all much love and peace.
Oh, and it is Father’s Day so Happy Father’s Day to all the hardworking dads out there! We appreciate you all!
London makes quite a few appearances in this blog purely because that’s where I grew up and have, not only my fondest memories, but the most vivid ones. I moved to London at a young age but since I was old enough to be aware and spent my school years there, I have wonderful memories.
I don’t talk too much about my time in Saudi and only because I have flashes of my time there. I was born in Saudi and though I only lived there for a short time, my memories are happy ones. I have no Middle Eastern ancestry, but happened to be born there because my parents moved a few years beforehand for work.
Mostly it was hot, and I believe it still is! But for all the heat, I still played outside in front yard of our house with my sister, enjoyed picnics in the date groves and BBQ’s at the beach. It maybe a sandbox, but it has its own beauty.
To accommodate our big family back then (there were 8 of us) my dad ordered a huge 1976 Cadillac Deville straight from the factory in Detroit. I remember the day it arrived, beautiful, silver with red leather and big, boy was it big. It still had the temporary Michigan plates and as a youngster, I was just gob smacked. I have photos which I would’ve loved to share but they’re all back in Houston with my dad. I will remember to get them when I go back later this month.
The boot of this thing was massive. So massive that when we went on our picnics, my dad would open up the back and all us little kids would climb in and that’s where we ate, sitting in the boot of the Cadillac. I think there’s a photo of that too!
I’d just like to say that this car moved with us to England where it was way too big for the little English countryside roads. When we moved to Houston, it travelled with us then too. In fact, I learned to drive in this beloved Cadillac. We finally laid it to rest many years ago but it was my companion for many, many years.
Apparently, good food was important to me back then as well. Many of my flashes of memory, are food memories. The juicy rotisserie chicken spinning away at the bakery where my dad would pick up some hot loves of Arabic bread and a chicken for dinner. I can still taste it to this day, moist and tender with a hint of lemony flavour.
The shawarmas are ingrained in my taste buds too; slices of tender chicken or lamb, stuffed inside a warm pita bread with pickles, potatoes, tomatoes and lots of tahini sauce. And let’s not forget the famous lamb and rice kabsa; a whole lamb, spit roasted sitting atop mounds of glistening, golden rice. What made it even more fun was digging into this huge tray of food alongside others, communal style, all pinching off meat with our fingers and shaping a little mound of rice with our right fingers to scoop up to our mouths. Food tastes so much better when fingers are digging in, feeling the food, grasping it and transporting it to the taste buds.
I have vague memories of the family who lived across from our house, they were Arabs and wonderful people. I can’t remember them at all really, but I know there were grown children, sons and daughters. My sister and I would spend time at their home and we were always welcome. We would just walk across to their house unannounced and they would include us in their day and we would sit with them to eat. Their courtyard had an overhead trellis were bunches of grapes hung, dangling from amongst the leaves. I remember this because I was fascinated by how the grapes grew, in masses draping themselves through large leaves. They were incredibly sour and I realise now that they weren’t grown for the fruit but for the vine leaves. Stuffed grape leaves are some of the best things on this planet.
Our neighbours to the left were an American family, My very first friend was the boy who lived next door, John. For years and even to this day, my uncle asks about my “boyfriend” John. So, John, if you happen to be reading this and you lived in Saudi in the 70’s next door to a scrawny Indian looking girl, that’s me!
So many wonderful memories of family, friends and food. The best apples and pears I ate were in Saudi, they actually smelled like apples and pears and their fragrance was intoxicating. Even today, when I pick up a pear to buy, I smell it, trying to get a hit of that fragrance I remember. The seafood, the kebabs, the sandwiches….In fact, one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten was at a fancy restaurant there.
Just as we were getting ready to leave Saudi for England, my aunts and uncles moved there and so began a tradition of family members living in Saudi. I had opportunity to return a few more times and I hope I get to go again since Saudi houses two of the most important Islamic holy sites.
My uncle and a few cousins still live there and my brother just returned from Saudi a few months ago. So, even though there is no Middle Eastern blood coursing through our veins, the Middle East is very much a part of our ancestry now.
That probably explains my love for all Arabic food. I have grown up eating it, and it is present at every family gathering and it’s one of the first things we cook after Indian.
These delicious spinach fatayer or pies, are common throughout the Middle East and the Levant. My children love them and I always used to buy them because they’re not expensive, and buying them fresh from the bakery they were still warm and so good. Of course, this was in Houston.
The Denver stores have them too but they are not warm and fresh out of the oven. I did pick up a couple of bags of spinach pies last time I was at the Middle Eastern store and they were done in a day. I decided to make my own variation with feta.
These were wonderful, warm and soft bread with a lemony filling of spinach and feta. I used part white and part whole wheat, just to make them a bit healthier. I also don’t like my filling overly tart, so I dialled back the lemon a bit, but feel free to increase the lemon (not too much because you don’t want the filling too wet) These lasted about 3 days. They are a great snack and a wonderful picnic or lunch bag idea.
Soft, fluffy and tangy Middle Eastern spinach and feta pies
2 cups/300g bread flour
2 cups/300g white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons (or 1 package) yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups/355ml warm water
1lb/455g spinach, fresh or frozen
4 green onions, chopped fine
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt, to taste
½ cup Feta cheese
In the bowl of a stand mixer mix the flours, salt, sugar and the yeast.
Add the olive oil and the warm water, a little at time until a dough forms.
You may need more or less water depending on the flour.
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl, cover and place in a warm area.
Allow the dough to double in size, about 90 minutes (45 minutes if high altitude)
While the dough is resting and rising, make the filling.
If using fresh spinach, place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for about 5 minutes until soft and wilted.
Or, place in a pan with a drop of water and allow to steam and wilt.
Drain the spinach and squeeze out all the water.
You may need to wrap the spinach in a towel to get out all the excess water.
Once the spinach is dry, chop it into small pieces.
If using frozen, defrost and squeeze out all the water.
Place the dry spinach in a bowl, add the green onions, feta cheese and lemon juice.
Check to taste for salt and lemon juice.
Don't make the filling too wet, it will be hard to seal the pies.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C
Once the dough has doubled in size. slowly punch down the dough.
Place on a clean counter and knead gently.
Cut the dough into 16 pieces.
Roll out one piece of dough into a 5 inch/13 cm circle.
Drop a rounded tablespoon of filling onto the centre of the dough.
Pull up one side of the dough and seal.
Pull up the other side and make a tri tip seal.
I didn't need any water to seal but if you're having a problem getting the edges to seal, use a bit of water or flour paste to seal.
Keep the pie aside.
Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Place on a couple of cookie sheets and place in he oven
Bake until golden brown and puffy, about 20 minutes.
See warm or room temperature.
They store really well in the fridge for a quick snack or packed lunches.
You can use all purpose flour for all or part of the flours. White whole wheat is great to use because it is soft but is still a while wheat flour. This dough makes great pita bread if you decide to make only a few fatayer and a few homemade pita bread. Just bake the pita bread on a hot pizza stone or a heated cookie sheet. It has perfect pita pockets!
I hope spring or fall is making an appearance in your part of the world. Colorado spring is very much like winter so we really see no difference! Lots and lots of snow signifies spring for us, so I guess spring might very well be here! I haven’t been able to see any new blossoms or buds yet though, but maybe the several inches of snow might possibly be covering them up.
My dearest friends and readers, I have missed you. It seems like an eternity since I’ve been on my computer, on WordPress, typing away. First of all, I’d like to thank all those wonderful friends who have left comments on my Facebook, have chatted with me and sent me emails. I so, so, appreciate your love and thoughtfulness.
It has been a busy summer for me. I celebrated the end of Ramadan in Houston because I really needed to see my family and to feel the comfort, love and support only family and close friends can bring. It was a bit of a sad Ramadan for me and I really wanted to trade my tears for smiles again. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m never without a smile on my face. My thought on this matter is that I just don’t have time to be in a bad mood. It takes entirely too much energy to be grumpy.
We had a wonderful mini vacation to Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth. It was exhilarating to be with family again and laugh too much, eat too much and sleep not enough! I came back energised and ready to get cooking, baking, photographing and blogging.
At least that was the plan. Ever since I’ve been back, happy busyness has been keeping me otherwise occupied. The end of the summer events have been keeping me busy as far as cooking goes, I had a few dinner parties that went fabulously and I’ve also been working every Saturday as the Thermador cooking demo person.
In all this busyness though, I have missed one thing, my blogging friends, my lovely readers and I’ve missed the friendship that only a blogger knows. It was time to come back.
I, honestly, still don’t have time to cook and my family has been sorely neglected. I may be on the brink of a mutiny. But I manage to get food on the table; whether it is edible or not!
Since I cook every week on Saturdays for Thermador, I am going to start featuring those recipes until I can find a break to do my own blog cooking. I will tell you now, to excuse the bad photos because of the lighting in the showroom.
So, onto this Heirloom Tomato Pizza; it was supposed to be a tart. When I was heading off to the showroom for the demo, I left the tart shells in my freezer. Yep, big fail. However, I was also making a BBQ Chicken Pizza that day and had two rounds of pizza dough. I figured that a pizza was just as good as a tart, and you know what? It was pretty darn delicious.
A creamy, ricotta and mascarpone cheese pizza topped with seasonal heirloom tomatoes.
3½ cups/500g all purpose/plain flour
2¼ teaspoon/1 sachet instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1½ cups warm water
1 15oz/425g container ricotta cheese
1 8oz/225g container mascarpone cheese
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
⅚ sprigs fresh thyme
4-5 large assorted Heirloom Tomatoes, sliced
extra thyme for springing over top
There are many ways to make pizza dough.
I usually dump all my dry ingredients into the mixer and mix,
Add the warm water, 1 cup first and then drizzle as necessary.
Let the mixer do the work, knead and become nice and smooth.
Place the dough ball in a greased bowl abc cover with a towel to rise.
About an hour at sea level but about 30-40 minutes at altitude.
However, when I do this, I know my yeast is fresh and will rise.
If you are unsure of the quality of your yeast, then let it proof with the water and sugar until light and fluffy.
Then add to the flour, olive oil and salt.
While the dough is rising, work on the tomatoes and the cheese mixture.
Slice the tomatoes in a ¼ inch slice.
Mix the ricotta and mascarpone together, add the thyme, salt and pepper.
Be generous with the salt, but taste to ensure you don't over salt!
Preheat the oven to 500F/250C
Once the dough has risen, spread out the dough into a large sheet pan, I used a half sheet size.
You could also divide the dough into ¾ pieces and make individual pizzas.
Smear the cheese filling all over the dough and arrange the tomatoes over the top.
Sprinkle a few thyme leaves but reserve some to place on top after baking.
Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
The tomatoes should be shrunk slightly and the crust and cheese lightly browned.
Pull out of the oven and let cool a little before slicing.
So, this was the first time I made this and though I usually like to try it out a couple of times before posting, I thought it was very good like this. I chose to use ricotta and mascarpone because I don't like the graininess of ricotta cheese. I figured, mixing a bit of mascarpone would tame the gritty feeling and sure enough, I got all creamy and not grainy. Creamy is good and this was really very good with the tomatoes being the star. However, I think a tad drizzle of garlic oil or even basil oil could elevate this even more. Maybe even an addition of a garlic clove in the cheese mixture could zip it up a bit. But like I said, it is very, very good as is. I just have a tendency to not leave things well enough alone.