28 January 2011

Slap-Dash Biryani in the rice cooker

I have always loved Biryani. I suppose it comes from all my childhood memories of cinnamon, and of course where it was used - apple pie, with sugar on pancakes, mixed into Mum's banana custard - all wonderfully sweet and heart-warming dishes. So now the use of it is always associated with comforting, warm moments - and I am doing my best to add it to my own children's sensory memories.

True Biryani is made by pan-frying a spice, onion and meat mix, then adding to par-cooked rice and finally baking the lot in an oven. All this takes about 2 1/2 hours. In these days of gadgets, I make mine in (gasp!) a rice cooker. I cook the meat seperately, because I like to keep it browned and crispy, and although you could serve this spiced rice with anything, from barbecued lamb kebabs to garlic tiger prawns or even on it's own, I like it with chicken.

20 January 2011

Green means hot

I am a very fortunate lady. Not only have I got a husband who very cleverly got us an expat stint in the centre of the world, but I also have Mary in our household. The title of "housemaid" does not fully describe her position or influence. Some days she is Maid, others Nanny, but my favorite is Chef. Mary is Tamil Sri Lankan, and so much of her food is in that vein, but she is also an exceptional study and has a remarkably good palate, so anything she finds lying in the bottom of a fridge drawer or at the back of a pantry can be added to other flavours to make something wonderful. The only underlying theme - chilli, and boy oh boy, she does like it hot!

The other week she made what she calls "herb relish". It has leafy herbs and onion and green chili, and is amazing next to her curried eggplant. It inspired me to make the sauce below - I love the fresh flavours, and imagined it without the rice, but with cucumber in it to cool that chili a little. So here we have my spicy green salad:

Cooking with Sunrise

Living in the Middle East does wonderful things to ones spice cabinet. Where we might suffer from a dearth of fresh local meat and vegetables , it is made up for in spades by what can be bought not only at the spice souq, but even out of sacks at the local Carrefour (we get plenty of imports, so don't think for a moment that I'm starving over here - it's quite to the contrary). My favorite of all is saffron - the gold of spices. Back in Melbourne, it's actually costlier than gold and here only a little less, so yes, it's a guilty pleasure. However only a few strands will do the trick, making the investment worth it.

Saffron is the stamens of the crocus  flower, and carries with it the aroma of sweet nectar and floral plains of Iran. When used in cooking it lends a flavor of honey on toast, and the color of sunrise to the sauce. It is used extensively in Persian, Arabic and North African cooking, but also anywhere the spice routes delivered it across Asia, and for so long, that many cultures argue they were the original producers - although it does appear it was actually Greece.

When buying Saffron, ensure you are buying the genuine article - there are many poor substitutes, including safflower, which looks almost identical - ensure that the colour is vibrant crimson, with hints of deep yellow-orange. The strands should be slightly moist and surprisingly strong. When moistened, they will leech bright yellow - the colour of tumeric, but never substitute turmeric in a recipe - the flavours are not the same.

19 January 2011

Bananaberry muffins

I'm not much of a baker. As you might be able to tell from the blog description, I abhor measuring and weighing and being pedantic - it's just not me. Added to that, in Dubai, bread is cheap. I can buy 10 perfect little iced cupcakes from Spinneys for 10 Dirhams - that's less than $3US. I couldn't even do shake and bake for that price. Added to that, I'm overweight and my husband is wheat intolerant, so even if I make something gorgeous, only the kids eat it - and they would prefer the Spinneys cupcakes. Why would I want to bake?

Two reasons - the first is that it makes us feel good. Baking is an old school activity, from way back in the day when Mother didn't work, because Mothers were mothers. They had time to bake, and their families expected it because there weren't any such things as Spinneys cupcakes. And when kids came home from school on the local horse and cart, they would run inside and eat Mother's delicious baked thingies and think she was the most wonderful thing in the world. Then they would eat liver and brussel sprouts for dinner. Baking makes us feel like accomplished domestic goddesses - we can do everything Granny did, and we can "Facebook"...

18 January 2011

Rainbow Stir-fried Vegetables

Stir-fries didn't exist when I was a child in Australia. My vegetables were served up in steamed to the devil gray mounds in unidentifiable varieties - probably a good thing, because quite often they contained broad beans, cabbage and brussel sprouts. I remember rejoicing when my Mother took a six week Thai Cookery course, and she came home at the end of it with stuff like coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass and chili. Until then curry had meant a bechamel sauce with Keens Curry powder stirred into it.

The wok became the most desired piece of kitchen equipment. Not only did it make a wonderful hat, shield or striking implement in war games with my younger brother, but it also meant that if Mum got it out of the cupboard it meant we were eating colour for dinner.

Tips with cooking veggies in the wok. Cut all the vegetables into slices that will cook in the same amount of time. Snow peas only take two minutes, so make sure you cut the carrot thin enough so it's not raw when you take it out. Secondly, you want cooked, but crisp - otherwise the colour and moisture leaves the vegetable and ends up in the bottom of the wok.

Barbecued Pork Tenderloin

five spice
You know that smell when you walk down a Chinatown strip - sort of sweet and gamey - honey and spice and smoke and roasting meat? Part of it is Peking Duck, and the other part is Barbecued Pork. It's one of ten key smells in the world that makes me hungry, even if I'm so full I can barely waddle (along with things like Sri Lankan curried eggplant, fresh bread etc, etc.)

Now the real stuff has things like maltose and shaoxing wine in it, involves cooking a caramel sauce, then marinating overnight and then cooking pork belly for about 45 minutes. Funnily enough, it doesn't even involve a "barbecue"...

My version has umpteen less ingredients, uses a very lean cut of meat, and cooks in 10-15 minutes.

17 January 2011

Smoked tuna spaghetti

When I was single, this dish kept me alive. If I had not found this combination, I would have existed entirely on toast and red wine, so we can thank it for my healthy heart and buttocks today. Back then it was far less gourmet - simply "tuna spaghetti", but now in the modern era, we can get lots of lovely little gourmet things in tins, and smoked tuna is one of my favourites.

Renewed Croissants

As my first lazy post, I would like to talk about my favourite pastry treats from the Boulangerie. We have escaped the Dubai heat during summer for the last few years by going to a cottage in the French provincial countryside so we can eat the real thing (I know, it's a bloody expensive bit of pastry). We travel with a couple of Melbournites who love their pastry a little too much, and when they arrive at the boulangerie, their stomachs take over their mouths, and instead of asking for "seess cwahsons" (6), they ask for "sayz cwahsons" (16). Result? Ploo cwahsons kay nessessaire. (more croissants than necessary).

Croissants have this habit of petrifying overnight, and there is nothing to be done about this - they are basically made of butter and air, with a little flour thrown in, and oxidation and time are not a croissant's best friends. 

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