Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In The Spirit Of Awarding

I want you to know something. It's important. Sophie from Sophie's Foodiefiles is a real sweetheart! Trust me on this. She is one of those people who, were she not living in beautiful Brussels (that's Belgium y'all), and happened to be living in my neighborhood, I'd be regularly dropping in on and pestering for nummy goodies. And she'd probably indulge me. So Sophie, good for you that you're thousands of miles away from me! But even from that distance, she was kind enough to pass on this lovely award to me.

Thank you Sophie! This is my second award, just like it was for you!

Inspired by Sophie's spirit of giving, I'm paying it foward by giving this award to some folks who I likey very much:

- Just LOOK at her blog and you'll know why. She got me hooked on Tyler Florence, and has always been encouraging and generous in her comments. Plus she has puppies! And she used to live in Toronto. Go Leafs!

- Because she's got time for some amazing writing and cooking, while being a mom to FOUR kids. There's a method to her madness ... and it's hilarious.

- Another lovely girl who keeps encouraging me and cooks the most fantastic nummies! I have a separate list of recipes I want to try that just come from her blog.

- This young woman has a wonderful variety of goodies on her blog, that are always worth checking out. Oh, and she has a saffron apron - nice!

- ohhhhhhhhhh she's good this one! Lovely pics, I tell you. Her blog is really well presented and also has a wide variety of all kinds of recipes.

The Almond Halva Disaster Of '09

This post mourns the sad passing of a friend. My Cuisinart SmartDuet Blender / Food Processor. A constant companion since I first became my own woman (i.e. moved out of my parents' house in Canada to fend for myself here in the US). At least it went out with a bang. Well, more like a slow burn. But at a MOST inconvenient time.

Let me recap for you, dear readers, the last few moments of its very productive life.

There's this Almond-Semolina Halva (Roat Halwa) recipe that's been in my family for decades, if not centuries. The original dessert is very popular all over the subcontinent (India-Pakistan-Bangladesh), and most families have their own take on it. My mother passed it on to me, but she got it from an older cousin of hers, who got it from her mother, who definitely got it from her own mother (or mother-in-law or family cook). So this recipe originates from an era way before my birth-country Pakistan was even created, back when my ancestors were nawaabs and princesses who lorded over the royal state of Hyderabad, India. Huh, no wonder, only they could've afforded to use all the saffron that goes into this recipe! Oh, and on a separate note, I'm sending this recipe in to Scrumptious at In My Box, who is hosting Sugar High Fridays for this week, with the theme "Test Of Time".
Anyway, so halfway through this recipe, I'm supposed to blend the whole fragrant mixture of ground almonds, semolina, saffron etc. Silly me goes ahead and tries to blend all of it at once, instead of half at a time. That's when IT happened. In just a few seconds of turning the blender on, I start getting this metallic burning smell. At first I'm in denial as to where it's coming from. Then I start to see the actual smoke, slowly seeping out from the base of the blender. *Groan* ... what should have been a cheerful whizzing sound became a melancholy buzz that faded into nothingness. And that's all she wrote.

Ignore the dirty floor, ok?

After multiple futile attempts (mainly me jabbing every button on the machine) at starting it up again, I knew this was the end of my blending / food-processing days with this little guy. However, that still left me with a whole lot of lumpy Almond-Semolina Halva. So out came the hand-mixer, and what should've taken me a few minutes with the blender, took me an HOUR with the hand-mixer! Coagulated cooked semolina takes a loooooooong time to mix properly. On the bright side, my right arm is now quite well-muscled. (owee, typing hurts)
Hyderabadi Almond-Semolina Halva (Roat Halwa) - thanks Mom ... see, I'm giving props to my heritage!
Serves a crowd

10 oz semolina (sooji)
22.5 oz confectioners/powdered sugar
5 oz almonds (boiled for a minute, peeled then ground)
8 oz unsalted butter (melted) OR ghee
2 cups milk
15 oz milk powder (mixed in a 5oz glass of water)
1/2 tsp saffron, or more if you like

1. Bring milk to a slow boil with the saffron sprinkled in, then slowly add the semolina, stirring continuously. When all the milk is absorbed and the semolina cooked (it turns color from a greyish-white to a pale gold), take it off the heat and let it stand for at least 2 hours.

2. Add all the rest of the ingredients to the now-cold semolina mixture. Blend it in a blender, in parts, till you no longer see any lumps. NOT all at once like I did! Taste to check for satisfactory sweetness and saffron flavor - add more if needed.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F.

4. Pour the mixture into a 9" springform pan (slightly smaller or bigger is fine too). Place it on a baking sheet, then put it in the middle shelf of the oven for 45 minutes. It may need more time, depending on your oven. You're looking for the edges to turn a golden brown and come away from the edges of the pan. I like to brown the top as well, so I turn on the broiler for a few minutes at the end. (the original recipe doesn't use the oven obviously)

5. When it's done, take it out of the oven, let it cool then refrigerate it overnight. The next day you can take it out of the pan, and cut it into 1-inch pieces (it's pretty rich). It can keep in the fridge for almost 2 weeks, so it'll keep your sweet tooth happy for a long time!
Verdict: This dessert is quite rich and decadent. But I love it. No let me rephrase that, I luuuuuuuuuurve it! The edges turn crispy, the inside is tender and buttery. The saffron and almond flavor is pronounced and just permeates all your senses. You just want to place each piece on your tongue and let it melt slowly. But the minute you put it in your mouth, it's gone because you gobble it up in less than a nano-second! *sigh* ... I don't know what makes me sadder (more sad? saddier?! Oh f--- it), the death of my Cuisinart or when I see the last piece of this dessert.

Oh, this story has a happy ending. Lookie lookie ...
My new baby, the KitchenAid 9-cup food processor (with a mini 4-cup attachment)!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Italian For Breakfast

I hate seeing perfectly good ingredients go to waste. Why does store-bought basil start to go bad so quickly? Can't supermarkets sell them in smaller quantities for those of us who use it only once in a while? After all, not every recipe calls for a whole bunch of basil. And it isn't cheap! Ditto for parmesan cheese. Most recipes call for the good stuff, then ask you to only use a 1/4 cup.

Well, there I was, with my leftover basil and "good" parmesan (as opposed to the stuff in the green bottle), thinking "dammit, now what?!". And then it came to me. I would solve two problems in one go. Breakfast! I'm always having issues with coming up with something interesting enough for breakfast. I'm one of those people who can easily skip brekkie if I can't think of anything exciting to eat. But that's where my love for Italian food helped. More than any other cuisine (just in my opinion folks, I'm allowed to have one!), I think the charm about Italian food is its simplicity. The freshest of ingredients are allowed to shine through without messing around with them too much.

So come with me, and let's pretend that we just woke up to a lovely summer morning in the Tuscan countryside (if it helps you can imagine waking up next to a scrumptious young stud, called Lucio or Fabio or some such moniker that makes your lips pucker up every time you say it). For breakfast you wander outside to your villa's garden and pick the fresh basil growing there. Then Paolo saunters into the kitchen, while you whip up this tasty little morsel.

Breakfast Bruschetta

Good bread, sliced
Fresh plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
Fresh basil leaves
Parmesan cheese (yeah, the good stuff), grated
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast your bread.
2. Lay some basil leaves on each slice.
3. Put on a layer of tomato slices.
4. Sprinkle some black pepper over them.
5. Grate the parmesan all over the tomatoes, and be very generous. Have Alesandro do it - you'll enjoy watching.
6. Put the slices on a baking sheet and straight under the broiler for 5 minutes until the cheese has mostly melted. Buon appetito!
It's ready to enjoy straight out of the oven, and you can savor your little Italian fantasy right up to the last bite. Make it last. Because after that it's back to suburbia, the farm or a cramped city apartment. Unless you're actually in Italy as you're reading this, which in that case, makes you one how-dare-you-be-so-lucky duck, and me one crabby jealous woman.

Oh, I'll get over it - DH may not be called Rafaello but he does look better than I do in the mornings, and he makes the best coffee, just the way I like it. I know - DH wins.

Since fresh basil is key to the taste of this Breakfast Bruschetta, am also submitting this entry to the lovely Yasmeen over at Health Nut (I can only admire anyone who is - I'm just a nut) for the next Weekend Herb Blogging round-up.