Friday, August 28, 2009

Making It Work!

Tim Gunn from Project Runway is the uncle I wish I had. If I could, I'd adopt him, seriously. If any of the designers from this season snap at him, or are rude to him, they deserve to be aufwiederzehn-ed (or "off-with-his-head!" as DH likes to yell). But so far so good with this season. No serious cattiness coming to the surface just yet, and I hope it stays that way. Lots of pretty things coming down the runway. A couple of uglies, but I think the judges are getting rid of those early on. If there are any Project Runway fans reading my blog, I'd like to hear your take on this season. Do I think Mitchell should have gone instead of Malvin? Why yes, yes I do. Those shorts were hideous.

Last week also saw the return of my other favorite reality show, Top Chef. The cheftestants on that show don't need a Tim Gunn fatherly figure. No, they have Tom Colicchio, and they deserve him - he whips the arrogant ones into shape, and I enjoy watching how some of them turn into guilty 5-year-olds when they're being questioned by him. I'm going to miss those Top Chef Masters though. What class, what style, what panache! I had been rooting for Anita Lo early on, had a real soft spot for Hubert Keller, but am
really happy that Rick Bayless won. What a sweetheart he is, and it's a wonderful thing he does with food. Those Mexican flavors are right up my alley! I actually met him in person once, when he was giving a demonstration at some annual international food festival in NYC. He is a wonderful teacher; funny, informative, creative and completely engaging. I'd like to hear from my fellow Top Chef fans too!

Since I began this post by sending out some love to Tim Gunn, I'd like to feature a recipe in his honor. It's a hard-working recipe, that would "wow" those judges, even Nina! I've got "grrrreat!!!!" scribbled in the margins of this recipe in my folder, and have lost track of how many times I've made it already. I took this Zucchini, Tomato and Herb Tart from the fierce and fabulous Dragon's Kitchen, and tweaked it for my own convenience. The result is a dish that's so versatile. It's great for ladies-who-lunch, a light dinner for two (perfect for DH and I these days, after we pig out on fried goodies for Iftari), elegant appetizer, and a delightful brunch option.

Zucchini, Tomato & Herb Tart (original Dragon's Kitchen recipe found here)
Serves 2 as a main; 4 as an appetizer

Click here for printable recipe

1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
1 large zucchini, cut into thin rounds
1 medium ripe tomato, cut into thin rounds
1 heaping cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1.5 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Sprinkle of dried thyme
1 garlic clove, minced OR 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 egg, beaten
2.5 tbsp heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Use a 9" or 10" tart pan, with a removable bottom for this. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the sides of the tart pan liberally. Place the thawed sheet of puff pastry over it, pressing it down lightly into the grooves. Use the scraps to cover the sides and any holes in the bottom. Set aside in the refrigerator.

2. Combine the grated Parmesan cheese with the dried herbs and garlic. Mix with a fork.

3. Mix the beaten egg and cream in a bowl and set aside.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

5. To assemble: Take 1/3 of the cheese and herb mixture and sprinkle all over the bottom of the tart. Then take half the zucchini rounds and lay them in a circular pattern over the cheese. Season with a dash of salt and pepper. Time to layer another 1/3 of the cheese, followed by the last layer of zucchini rounds.

6. Arrange the tomato slices over the zucchini layer, and dab the extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper.

7. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the tart at this point, and swirl it around so that it sinks in. Finally top off the tart with the remaining cheese and herb mixture.

8. Bake in the oven for about 35-40 mins, till puffed and golden brown. Let it rest for 10 mins before you take it out of the tart pan (thank goodness for removable bottoms!) and serve. Leftovers are great the next day, as long as you warm them up in the oven, not the microwave.
Verdict: Folks, you know that neither DH nor I are vegetarians. We're not even related to any vegetarians. But we love this dish. Okaaaay, so it's a little on the frou-frou side, because you have to eat it with a knife and fork. But it's just so good, fresh out of the oven, it makes me weep with joy every time. It's fresh and summery and sits well in your tum-tum. It also happens to be cheesy and buttery and fragrant and satisfying! Makes me wish I had my girlfriends living close by, so that we could get together once a week and enjoy this - in my imagination, this works perfectly for those girl-bonding moments.

I haven't participated in the Weekend Herb Blogging event in a while. But with so many dried herbs and fresh veggies in one dish, I'll be sending this to Rachel over at The Crispy Cook.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ramadan Nibbles

It's that time of year again for me, dear readers. I think it's great how many people in the West now know about fasting in the month of Ramadan. For me personally, Ramadan is a time to be more conscious/aware of our relationship with God and with the people around us. To put in that extra effort towards becoming a better person, and being truly appreciative for everything positive in our life. Showing love, generosity and charity to those in need plays a major role. It's a time to set bitterness, jealousy and hatred aside for good, and start afresh. Sort of like rebooting your internal spiritual computer once a year! And yes, the fasting from sunrise to sunset is supposed to help with that. I say "supposed" because I can see how it can work a bit like meditation - you shut out the material world and focus inwards. Honestly though, that's easier said than done. Especially if you're a working individual in this part of the world. Here, a job is a job, and there's no excuse for you not performing a 100% at work. But I suppose that's the test. If it was easy, there wouldn't be much of a point to the whole thing!

The part that many people end up focusing on, however, is the food. It's like when something you took for granted is taken away from you, it's all you can think about! I confess to being guilty of that many a time. But a big part of what makes Ramadan fun is getting together with family and friends every weekend, and cooking the highly-anticipated Iftar (sunset) meal together. This is my very first Ramadan when I'll actually be at home, instead of working long hours at an office somewhere - and I couldn't be happier! I have all the time in the world to plan out what variety of little bites (it works somewhat like tapas) I can prepare for DH and I for the Iftari. Then there's dinner too, which comes later, but is obviously lighter fare than on normal days) Here are a couple of new items that I've incorporated into my Iftar menu this year; they're quick and easy and pretty darn fabulous!

Hummus (got this great recipe from The Sassy Foodie)
Serves 6

1 medium can chickpeas, washed & drained
3 tbsp tahini (sesame) paste, or to taste - you might find this in the "international" section of your grocery store
2 garlic cloves
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil (about 4 tbsp)
Sprinkle of hot paprika and ground cumin

Dump the chickpeas, tahini paste, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper into a food processor. Start to blend, and pour the olive oil in a thin stream through the spout, till the mixture inside reaches a smooth paste-like consistency. Taste for salt, pepper & lemon. You can even add more tahini if that's what you want.

Take this entire mixture and spread it out in a circle on a plate, using the back of a spoon. Make a fairly wide indentation in the middle. Sprinkle all over with paprika and ground cumin (or in a pretty pattern if you have the patience). Just before serving, pour more extra virgin olive oil into the indentation. Serve with warm pita bread.

I've been seeing fresh figs in the grocery store lately, and have to grab a bunch every time, even though they are a bit pricey. When I was a kid growing up in the Middle East, we used to get these gigantic black figs once a year (about the size of my kiddie fist), and they were a real treat. My dad and I adored them. So eating these small ones now are the next best thing, and bring back lovely memories. I just eat them as is usually, but thought I'd change things up a bit this time.

Soft, dark and mysterious on the outside ...

Ruby-red and bursting with sweetness on the inside! You eat the whole thing, skin n' all.

Fun With Figs

Fresh figs, any kind
Thick Greek yogurt OR ricotta cheese OR mascarpone cheese
Chopped pistachios

Cut each fig in half, and place them pretty side up on a platter. Put a dollop of yogurt or cheese on each half. Drizzle lightly with honey. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Then pop the whole thing into your mouth and let the juices flow! Nature's candy, folks.

More delicious bite-sized recipes to come. It's only been 3 days of fasting so far - 27 more to go, so I better keep cranking out more foodie ideas. A happy and healthy Ramadan to all!

These recipes will be going to Lubna over at Kitchen Flavors, who is currently hosting Joy From Fasting To Feasting (Season II).