Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Eggs in Purgatory - Shakshouka

Warning - the following excerpt contains sensitive material.
Not for the faint of heart.
Nor for fans of free range chickens.

She shivered again, and wrapped her beige coat tightly around her. The air was heavy and stale. The chill cut through her, even her tough exterior could not provide her respite from the bitter cold.
She was tired. She had been up for days. Wondering. Waiting. When?

"It will come soon, little one".
The deep voice stirred her from her mangled thoughts.
It was Him. The Wise One.

He shifted slightly in his perch. All the way in the back he sat, in his corner. He was afforded the best view of her and all the others. The empty spaces of the ones who had left. The sallow faces of the ones who remained. The ones who sat by dejectedly. Awaiting their Fate.

She shifted to peer at him once again. Now that most of her fellow inmates had left, snatched by the Evil Guard and whisked away to their end, she could see him clearly now. He was damaged. He had the grace of a wizened warrior, and he bore his battle scars with an almost arrogant flair.
Amongst hushed whispers from the others, she had learnt that he had fallen once, whilst in the grasp of an Evil One, and the fall had somehow saved him from his Fate. They had tossed him back and left him to slowly bleed to death.

"Do not resist. It will break you and earn you a worse fate. They will throw you in the dungeon to rot. Accept it. And Breathe."
He spoke like a sage. His words heavy like the chill around her. She struggled to breathe again, the dank, musty air enveloping her like a shroud.

The sudden noise startled all of them. It was swift. The Light came, piercing at first and she squinted hard, rubbing her sore eyes. There was a gush of sweet air and it caught her by surprise as the Evil Guards grabbed her. She gasped and swallowed the air in, drinking it in madly and furiously as she flailed her arms around in a new found freedom. She was caught in a warm wave and magically placed on a cold surface. She quickly surveyed her new surroundings, her eyes failing to adjust to the light and brightness around her, but finally resting on a giant steel contraption with circular bands that lay next to her. Drops of perspiration had accumulated all over her, but strangely, she felt free.
She had arrived. At last.

Excerpt from "..And Then There Were A Dozen..; Cautionary Tales from Within the Styrofoam Carton and Behind The Refrigerator Door". All rights reserved. Copyrighted material. (c) Split Pearsonality.

Everyone and their yenta knows how to make a mean shakshouka, a spicy tomato and pepper sauce dotted with perfectly poached eggs. Except I don't have a yenta.

So when the Walima Middle Eastern Cooking club profiled this dish from Tunisia, I was all for trying it out. The lore is that the Tunisian Jews introduced this dish to Israel when they migrated there, and now it seems to have attained cult status as the breakfast dish to be had. It is an awesome brunch dish and fairly easy to put together.

Make a piping hot sauce with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and paprika, then slowly add eggs into the hot mix and allow them to poach. This lovely stew-like dish is best eaten with some crusty French bread or pita bread.

I've seen Mediterranean versions of this dish labeled as Eggs in Purgatory, which for the longest time had me imagining rows of rows of eggs chanting "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned..." - but for now, you may have figured, is the premise for my "fiction" above.

.....And please do not let my terrible pictures dissuade you from trying this dish! My poached egg looks like it got into a battle before it made it out. But the dish was delicious!

Shakshouka - (from Walima Middle Eastern Cooking Club - Celebrating Tunisia - Arlette @ Phoenician Gourmet)
This dish, with many variations, is a popular breakfast in North Africa, especially in Algeria and Tunisia. Most recipes include the eggs, but they can actually be left out if you like.

Olive oil -- 3 tablespoons
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Coriander powder - 2 tsp
Paprika -- 1 to 2 tablespoons
Onion, thinly sliced -- 1
Garlic, minced -- 2 to 3 cloves
Potato - 1, diced
Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced -- 3
Green and red bell peppers, diced -- 2 to 3
Water -- 1 cup
Eggs (optional) -- 4

1. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the cumin seeds, let them sizzle and then add the coriander powder and paprika and cook slighly to color the oil, about 10 to 15 seconds.
2. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add in potatoes and fry.
3. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to reduce down a little bit. Add the peppers, water and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add more water as needed to keep it from drying out.
4. Using a spoon, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. One by one, crack the eggs into a small bowl and slip each from the bowl into an indentation. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
5. Serve with crusty bread, pita or rice.

  • For a little spice, sauté 1 tablespoon of Harissa paste or a minced Chile pepper with the onions.
  • Sometimes fresh shrimp or a spicy lamb sausage called merguez is added to the simmering peppers along with the eggs.
  • Add 1 small, diced eggplant along with the peppers.
  • Sprinkle the top of the cooked dish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
  • Add a few olives and capers and eliminate the eggs.
  • Chill and serve garnished with hard-boiled eggs or tuna.
This dish is heading over to Padmajha at Seduce Your Tastebuds for the A.W.E.D African Event. The A.W.E.D Culinary Journey event was originally created by DK of Chef In You.

And this is also trotting off to Aquadaze at Served with Love for the food fiction event "Of Chalks and Chopsticks".

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Traditional English Steamed Pudding - Ginger and Marmalade

The British Invasion.
They came.

They poured custard.

I conquered.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

Unfortunately, I was a little intimidated by the use of suet (fat rendered from animal kidneys), and so I opted to make a butter based steamed pudding. I have never made a steamed pudding before, and it came out absolutely delightful. A really rich, moist and spongey cake-like pudding, which sent me into swoons when accompanied with the most basic and simplest of custard sauces.

The only issue I had was with tying twine around parchment paper used to cover the tops of the pudding bowls. I must have two left-thumbs because after numerous attempts I was left with yards of cut twine, crumpled up paper and no decent covers. So I took a short-cut and covered the ramekins with aluminium foil. I also baked the puddings in a water bath in the oven, as opposed to steaming them in a steamer, because I did not have a pan big enough to hold all my little ramekins! Just some notes that I found along this adventure:
  • Do not fill the ramekins to the top with batter, they will overflow as they rise. And trust me, they do rise!
  • The puddings turned out of the dish better when warm and a few minuites out of the oven. The ramekins I left to cool completely fell apart when unmoulding.
Thank you Esther for a lovely challenge - a great introduction for me to the Daring Bakers group - this is my first attempt! Do check out the site for other fabulous creations that members came up with!

Orange Marmalade and Ginger Steamed Pudding (from Gourmet Traveller magazine).
I halved the original quantities

100 gm soft unsalted butter
100 gm light muscovado sugar or light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 orange rind, finely grated
30 gm glacé ginger, coarsely chopped
100 gm self-raising flour
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp for each ramekin - orange marmalade
Butter for greasing ramekins

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then add eggs, beating well after each addition.
3. Add rind and glacé ginger, then gradually sift flour and ground ginger over egg mixture and fold to combine.
4. Spread a teaspoon of marmalade among the bases of 6 lightly buttered ramekins. Divide batter among ramekins, cover each ramekin with a piece of baking paper (folded with a pleat in the middle to let the pudding rise during steaming) and secure with kitchen twine or a rubber band (or cop out and use lightly greased aluminium foil).
5. Place in a roasting pan, pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up sides of ramekinss and bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through when tested with a skewer.
6. Remove from water, stand for 5 minutes, turn onto serving plates and serve with custard.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roasted Spinach and Potato Cake

Desperate for something starchy, but bored of the same-old same-old mashed potatoes, I found this little gem of a recipe on Whole Foods website yesterday. An added incentive to make it was the chance to break in my almost one-year old brand spankin' new never-been-used-before (OK, we GET it!) Lodge Logic 10-1/4-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet.

Lodge Logic 10-1/4-Inch Pre-Seasoned SkilletThis is my second piece of Lodge cookware and I'm pretty impressed and tickled pink at the very reasonable price. I held out for Le Creuset for the longest time, and realized
a) I'll never afford it, except for their one set of salt and pepper shakers that always seem to be on sale and
b) I ain't winning no Le Creuset giveaway ANYTIME soon.

The original recipe called for roasting Swiss Chard, but I could not get my hands on any ('tis not the season?). My eyes fell on the next green looking vegetable in the grocery aisle, and it was baby spinach!

Superbly simple - a layer of potatoes, spinach and cheese, enhanced with some caramelized onion and garlic, thrown into the oven in a skillet to produce a wholesome, earthy, bubbling "cake" with a gorgeous golden crust.

I think I could make a meal of it by itself now. Move over, Mr,.Steak....

Roasted Spinach and Potato Cake (recipe adapted from Whole Foods Market)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp EVOO
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin circles
salt and pepper to taste
a large pinch oregano,rosemary and dried mint
4-5 cups baby spinach, washed ( or 1 whole box pre-washed salad baby spinach found in US groceries)
1 cup grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and spicy habanero cheese)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Heat butter and oil in a seasoned cast iron skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook till onion turns translucent.
3. Add baby spinach, the spinach will wilt rapidly, toss lightly with a little salt and pepper and the dried herbs if using, Cook for about a minute. Remove skillet from heat. Transfer spinach to another dish and try to keep most of the onions and garlic in the skillet.
4. Layer half of the potatoes in the skillet. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Top with the cooked spinach. Scatter half of the cheese on top.

5. Complete a third layer with the remaining potatoes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

6. Cover skillet tightly with lightly oiled aluminium foil, bake until potatoes are easily pierced with a knife (about an hour). Remove foil and return skillet to oven and bake till cheese is bubbly and golden-brown.
7. Set aside to rest, slice into wedges and serve.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Chocolate Antidote

An apology to my readers.....*cough*....reader.
I am sorry. I have been away on one of my unexplained absences again. Playing traunt.

The reason, your honor, would be spring. For the first time in my life, I, of the no-green-thumb variety, suddenly and inexplicably opened my eyes to the wonders of spring. Flowers blooming, birds tweeting, green grass a-growing underfoot. I over-enthusiastically threw myself into my backyard, and to the garden stores that dot our main street. Much to their joy *ka-ching*, I now have this.

Spring Sprang Sprung
But then, your honor, I did not intend to incur this...just picture grubbier, un-manicured nails...
Full blown dander, pollen and even afore-mentioned green grass ALLERGIES. Which led to copious consumption of this.

And as a result, I have no sense of smell or taste. For a week.
I'm getting nervous, people. Will I ever taste again? My once daily regimen of 4 cups of milky, sugary tea came to a grinding halt when I realized all that hype was just for a stream of warm, brown water flowing down my throat. Not so appetizing anymore. As was the case with any other food.

I once worked with a gentleman who suffered a serious fall from a high beam in his youth. He landed on his ear, and along with losing some of his hearing, he magically lost his sense of smell. For life.
And the ramifications of that will be in another post. Or Hollywood movie plot. The Man Who Could Not Smell...Errrmmm...Through His Nose.

So before I star in a B-grade movie, let me pay homage to
Divya who profiled this luscious, chocolate cake, when I was hunting down recipes to make one (of two) birthday cakes for my little boy, who turned three this past week.
So first off, thanks to
MalluGirl at Malabar Spices who originally posted the recipe because this is a chocolate cake that will blow your socks off, even if you can't smell or taste it. Now, THAT's a recommendation that just can't be beat!
I made this cake for the first "family" party we had for my son, based on his exacting requests for chocolate and strawberries. Which was odd, because he doesn't even like strawberries. Future bakers and gourmands out there, do not take explicit cake requests from three year olds. Be warned.

So I followed the recipe verbatim save for the slight modification to make it a two-pan cake, so that I could add a layer of strawberries in whipped cream, and ice the cake with chocolate ganache and piped whipped cream on top like Divya. And of course 10 family members showed up all at once, so I had 15 minutes to decorate the cake, so do not ding me for the sloppy decor.
Only to have my son say when I was all done "But I didn't want the strawberries". See, I warned you.
Everyone who ate a.k.a. devoured the cake, could not stop raving about it. It was moist, it was rich, it was soft, it almost had healing properties. OK, I exaggerate. But even I thought it, uhmm, felt good in my mouth.

Malabar Spices' Rich Chocolate Cake (adapted slightly from Malabar Spices blog)

3/4 cup All purpose Flour
3/4 cup white wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking soda
Salt – a pinch
3 heaped Tbsp Cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
8 Tbsp melted Butter
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp Vanilla essence
1 1/4 cup Yogurt
1/2 cup ground Almonds
1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Sift the flour with soda,salt and cocoa powder.
3. Beat the eggs slightly and keep aside.
4. Mix the sugar with the cinnamon and beat with the melted butter till the sugar dissolves.
5. Add in the beaten eggs and vanilla essence and beat well.
6. Blend in the oil and yogurt till well mixed.
7. Add the flour slowly blending it in as you go.
8. Now add the powdered nuts- do not overmix after this stage.
9. Grease two 8’ round cake tin and sprinkle with flour. Divide cake batter between two pans.
10. Bake for ~35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Optional - Strawberry Filling
1 cup hulled and chopped strawberries
1/2 cup whipped cream
1 Tbsp icing sugar

Mix all three ingredients together. Spread on top of cooled cake, place second cake on top.

Optional - Chocolate Ganache (these measurements are approximate)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream

Mix both the chips and cream in a double boiler (over steam), let the chocolate melt compeltely. Remove from heat. Once cooled, stir and use to coat cake. If the mixture is too thick, thin out with more cream.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

About a Girl and a Chocolate Cake

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in Africa. She whiled away her carefree days playing in the dusty backyard, flanked by jacaranda and mango trees, whose dark, green canopy of leaves provided respite in the long summer afternoons. One day, a truck appeared at the vacant house next door and a prim, bespectacled woman, modestly dressed in beige, alighted.
The little girl stared at the new neighbor and flashed a toothless grin, only to be met with a stern, reproachful look from the newcomer. 

As days past, the neighborhood children gathered new info on the stranger in their midst. Her name was Miss Cole*, and she had arrived from Britain to teach English at the nearby high school. Ms. Cole was unmarried and for all intents and purposes looked like a modern day Mary Poppins, complete with parasol.

One late afternoon, there was a knock at the door, and Miss Cole appeared with a cake in her hand. The little girl watched as her mother and the neighbor exchanged pleasantries and made small talk, but she was far too fascinated with the cake, a dark brown chocolate cake which sat on a light blue plastic platter and was covered in a dusting of the most magical looking tiny snowflakes.

The ladies made their way to the kitchen, and the cake lay in regal position at the center of the dining table. The little girl tip-toed closer to the cake, brushing against the white voile curtains that billowed softly with the afternoon breeze. She straightened her red cotton dress and leaned closer, inhaling the heavenly scent of the chocolate and vanilla that wafted from the warm cake. The smell was intoxicating, and some of the little white flakes that dusted the cake stirred and whirled around, dancing to the wind.

They wouldn't notice, thought the little girl, as she carefully stretched her arm and swiped it across the top of the cake, leaving a gorge-like trail in the middle of the cake and quickly popped it in her mouth.....just as the kitchen door opened and Ms.Cole stepped out.

* True Story - name changed slightly

A couple of months ago, the Barefoot Bloggers (of whom I am no longer a part of) set about to make Ina Garten's Baetty's Chocolate Cake. I actually made the cake along with them, but never posted it, because along the way, the little girl with the red dress grew up with a classic case of procrastination and sheer laziness. But one slice of that cake sent her hurtling back into the memories of Ms.Cole's cake - a dense, deep and rich chocolate cake made even more moist with buttermilk. As I munched on the cake, I realized that Ms. Cole's chocolate cake had been doused with white coconut flakes, so I proceeded to do the same and discovered cake nirvana.

Chocolate cake + crunchy dessicated coconut = Bliss.

And a little girl in a red dress went about her way, giggling after a stern rebuke from her neighbor, who had just introduced her to a life long addiction. To cake.

Cook's Note - there is a lot of internet buzz that Ina Gartens recipe (Beatty is apparently her friend's grandmother) is actually a riff of an old Hershey's Cake recipe called Black Magic Chocolate Cake. I haven't seen this recipe, but I'll let the pundits duke it out.

Baetty's Chocolate Cake - from Barefoot Contessa at Home

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
3. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
4. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
6. Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Frosting -I did not use the Ina Garten recipe for buttercream frosting because I got a little queasy with using raw eggs in the frosting. Instead, I hopped on over to Sheba at Art, Food and Travel Chronicles and copied her easy-peasy chocolate frosting instead!

2 tbsp melted butter
6 tbsp cocoa
1 cup sifted icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
3 tbsp hot water

Mix the melted butter, the vanilla and the cocoa. Sift the icing sugar and add it in. Mix and add the hot water little by little until you get the desired spreading consistency. Spread on cake and allow to set.

For the Ms.Cole Effect - Sprinkle dessicated coconut flakes over the cake!

I am sending this in by the skin of my teeth (T -30 minutes to deadline!) to Divya's Easycooking event - The Best Chocolate Cake Ever in honor of her second "bloggiversary".

And in hindsight, I am also sending this in to the food fiction event "Of Chalks and Chopsticks" hosted by the uber-talented Aquadaze at Served With Love.