Saturday, April 13, 2013

Middle Eastern Inspired Chicken

I've talked about my messy, but well stocked spice cupboard before... It's full of various spices that I've collected as I've tried various dishes. There are a few I use every day and a few that get forgotten for a long time. I don't date my spices, you just need to open the jar and you can tell if it's worth keeping. Besides, I tend to buy whole spices for the ones I don't use that often, because they last longer.

One of my recent finds is Zaatar (pronounced Zah-tur). It's a spice popular all over the middle east and usually contains dried thyme, dried oregano, sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. It lends an amazing flavor to grilled meats roasted vegetables and you just need lemon juice and olive oil and you've got a great marinade for chicken.

I'd been making some heavy meals lately and I thought it would be good to have something lighter today.

I cooked this middle eastern inspired chicken and some purple potato fries. Wait you say, fries? Yes, they are cooked in my t-fal actifry, so they are light, just a tablespoon of olive oil for 4 big servings, so we didn't get a lot of grease.

Now on to the chicken. You can keep it simpler than I did, I simply can't help putting just a little more spice when I cook stuff. It's yummy and gluten, nut and lactose free which is great in my family!

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon Zaatar spice mix
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red chili flakes (Omit if you prefer less spice)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala or sebah baharat
1.5 tbs olive oil
Juice of 1 small lemon
Juice of 1 small lime
3 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 tsp honey

Method 1 (Grilling)
1. Mix all spices with olive oil, honey, chopped garlic and lemon and lime juices,  and marinate chicken thighs in a large zip lock bag for at least 30 minutes but preferably overnight.
2. Grill over hot coals or over gas bbq and serve hot.

Method 2 (Oven roast)
1. Mix all spices with olive oil, honey, chopped garlic and lemon and lime juices, and marinate chicken thighs in a large zip lock bag for at least 30 minutes but preferably overnight.
2. Pre-heat oven to 400C and put chicken pieces in a large oven proof dish in the oven for 15 minutes
3. Remove from oven and drain juices into a pot to reduce.

It should look like this at this stage:

After 15 minutes of baking
4. Change oven setting to broil and put in oven for 2 minutes while the juices and marinade are thickening in the pot on the stove.
5. Baste chicken with thickened marinade and put under broiler for 1 minute
6. Turn chicken over, baste again and return to oven again for 1 minute.
7. Remove chicken from oven, drizzle remaining marinade and serve
It should look like this now:

After being basted and placed under broiler

And here's my 4 year old's plate of  "Zaatar Chicken" with purple potato fries! Yes, I know veggies are missing, but we started off with kale soup. I'll post a recipe of that another day.

No prizes for Plating, but this chicken was yummy with the purple potato fries!
You can buy sebah baharat (7 spices) at most middle eastern stores. If you can't find it, use garam masala. It's not the same but is a good substitute.
This is a good dish to cook with kids... there's some measuring, but not much else to it and he or she can feel helpful.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Human genome typing and Cauliflower Fritters... there's a connection !

My mother is a good cook, but like many of her generation she believed that all vegetables needed a good stew... and some vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli etc. really don't smell good because of the sulphur compounds that get released when they are overcooked. I remember walking into the kitchen as a kid and getting hit by an invisible wall of cabbage :-(

We do try to get a lot of cruciferous vegetables in our diet ever since my wife got herself tested at 23 and me. If you haven't heard of it, check it out, it's an easy way to get genotyped and find out about your ancestry, health and genetic tendencies. Anyway, among the fun things we found out... like she is 2.3% neantherthal (most people of northern European descent have a significant % of neantherthal in them) and that she's genetically inclined to be a good athlete, we also found out that she has a higher risk for breast cancer. And that's where cruciferous vegetables come in, their amazing cancer fighting properties.

Have to still make them tasty though, or my family of picky eaters will not eat them.

I find cauliflower the easiest of these vegetables to make a tasty dish out of, like a gratin, curry roasted cauliflower, an aloo gobi or even mashing them up along with potatoes and parmesan for a healthier, lighter mashed potatoes. But absolutely nothing beats cauliflower fritters, they are easy to make, need just a few ingredients and look and taste amazing.

Here's the recipe:

Cauliflower Fritters

1 medium cauliflower (riced)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp chili flakes (Omit if you don't like spice)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped parsley (You can also use 1 tsp dill)
3 oz (about 1/2 cup) mozzarella, in small cubes
1 oz (2 tbsp) grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs (beaten)
1/3rd cup flour (I use a mixture of almond flour and a gluten free flower mix)
1/4 cup oil for frying

1. Prepare riced califlower by microwaving cauliflower in a microwave safe bowl. To do this cut the cauliflower into florets, pop into bowl, cover in clingfilm and microwave for 5 minutes on high. Use potato masher to mash the cauliflower until it resembles rice. See picture below

Riced Cauliflower

2. Add salt, pepper, chili flakes (if using), chopped parsley (or dill), cubed mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
3. Add flour and stir again and then finally stir in the beaten eggs.
4. The mixture should resemble a thick batter now.
5. Heat oil in a shallow pan and pan fry spoonfulls of batter for 2-3 minutes on each side

Cauliflower Fritters

In a hurry, you can use pre-shredded mozzarella, but it is worth cubing it if you have the time. The larger pieces of mozarella melt and some hit the hot oil and form caramalized bits of goodness, yum!

I serve these with a quick sauce with a 1.5 tablespoons of ketchup, 1 tsp of shriracha and 2 tsp of mayonaise.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

From Gardening to Eating Vegetables

My son eats a few vegetables in their undisguised form now. They are green beans, eggplant and peppers. You'd think that was all due to my awesome cooking :-), but you'd be wrong. It was my wife's doing.

She had the idea of getting our son involved in planting herbs and vegetables in our back garden. He's taken a real interest in it and willingly spends hours digging and planting seedlings. We purposely left a the vegetable patch without a drip system and he makes sure the plants are watered. My wife and he are in the garden now and I'll get a picture of him tottering around with a watering can that weighs almost as much as him watering the plants he's just planted.

It's amazing how much you can get from your own back garden in California. We don't plant that much, but we still have more tomatoes than we can consume fresh and usually jar some for later. And I tell you, there is nothing like home grown tomatoes.

So if you want to get your kid to eat vegetables, try getting him or her in the garden helping you plant them. And start young when he still prefers your company to his friends :-) It worked with my son, he eats 3 of the 4 vegetables we grow in our back garden. And I could claim he eats the 4th as well. He eats ketchup and pizza doesn't he?

Cook an Exotic Steak Dinner on a budget

There are many versions of rolled beef and all of them use a cheaper cut of meat and cook it in a way to make it tender. The Italians have braciola, the Germans rouladen, the English, beef olives. My favorite by far has to be “Matambre” which is rolled and stuffed flank steak that is popular in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

The best thing about it is that it’s a very easy dish to make and is quite spectacular looking when served especially if you pick brightly colored vegetables to stuff inside your flank steak.

Because the flank steak is so large, you can get quite a lot of vegetables inside it and it looks so appetizing even the pickiest eaters will want to give it a try.

Matambre also a fairly economical dish because flank steak is still relatively inexpensive compared to other cuts of meat. This cut of meat needs usually needs to be cooked really rare (so it doesn't dry out). In this dish, the steaming that happens inside the foil, makes this often tougher cut of meat stay tender.
Unlike many steak recipes, leftovers keep quite well in the fridge and the dish tastes good the next day even as a cold appetizer.

Here’s the recipe:

Matambre or Rolled Flank Steak


I large flank steak (2-2.5 pounds)

1 large or 2 small carrots, cut lengthwise into pencil thin

1 large red bell pepper, sliced

½ green bell peppers

1 cup spinach leaves (I use baby spinach)

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp red chili flakes

1 teaspoon dried organo

4 cloves garlic chopped fine

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

Large sheets of foil to wrap the


1.       Trim flank steak of excess fat and silver skin and pound using a meat mallet or rolling pin until the thick areas are thinned down. Try to maintain a rectangular shape

2.       Lay the flank steak on a large cutting board and squeeze lime all over it. Then sprinkle the salt, pepper, cumin, red chili flakes, dried oregano and garlic all over it. Use fingers to rub spices into the meat.

3.       Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on the meat and then layer the spinach leaves. Leave ½ inches on all sides of the meat uncovered.

4.       Layer the vegetables in the center of the flank steak.

5.       Season vegetables with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and place in a large foil so it can be wrapped tightly.

6.       The steak should be rolled up so that when you cut the roll, you cut the steak against the grain of the meat.

7.       Drizzle with olive oil and wrap tightly in foil.

Here it is just before I rolled it up.

Rolled up, seasoned and ready for the oven

8.       A couple of hours before serving, preheat oven to 450C and cook for one hour.

9.       Remove from oven, let rest for 15-20 minutes then put foil wrapped steaks in a large dish to catch the juices and open. Slice in ¾ inch slices and serve along with juices.

So what happened to the picture of the final product?

When I came home from my game of tennis, my wife had hacked into the matambre and it looked like a dog's dinner!

I have to use a picture I found on the web:

  • The Matambre should look like this! 


For more flavor you can add sautéed bacon or sliced up smoked sausage (I like linguica for this).
You can throw the foil packets on a grill and cook for 45 minutes, turning a couple of times to brown evenly
A good accompaniment with this dish is mashed potatoes or pureed parsnips especially with a sauce made with the juices.

To make a sauce you can add a cup of beef stock to the juices that are released when you open up the foil packets and reduce in a pan. Use a little cornstarch or buerre manie to thicken the sauce. I use a gluten free buerre manie made by mixing Bob’s Red Mill All purpose Gluten Free flour with a tablespoon of butter in my hand. It thickens the sauce without any lumps. Add only a little at a time so the sauce does not get too thick. Cook for 2-3 minutes and then serve the Matambre with a drizzle of the sauce and more over the mashed potatoes or pureed parsnips.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cooking shrimp with my 4 yr old

My son is at home with the nanny this week while his pre-school is shut down for Spring break and is a little bored because the day revolves around my 10 month old daughter.
So I've been trying to do something with him every morning before I go to work. Today, I am cooking shrimp with him. It's a really easy dish to cook with kids because the only chopping involved is a couple of cloves of garlic and I can get him helping with that too, by asking him to peel the garlic skin after he's given the cloves a good bash with a rolling pin. Then he gets to stand on his stool by the counter and "help" daddy measure. My son is a bit of a mama's boy, but he knows the kitchen is daddy's area and it's the best one on one time I get with him.

The recipe is modified from Kylie Kwong's "Simple Chinese Cooking". I bought it because the recipes seem simple and there was a good section in the front of the book on stocking your pantry for chinese recipes. I'll blog about that later... I had to do that twice, the second time was when I had to find gluten free alternatives to the sauces needed.

Honey Garlic Prawns


Quick Marinade

3 tsp corn flour or potato starch (I use potato starch)
1.5 pounds large prawns or shrimp
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil for sautéing
Honey and garlic sauce
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1. In a large bowl combine soy sauce, egg yolk and toasted  sesame oil. Add cornflour/potato starch and toss to coat.
Here's what it looks like at this point:
Prawns in the quick marinade
2. For honey and garlic sauce, combine ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a wok or skillet and add half the prawns. Cook for 1 minute on each side and then set aside on a plate. Add remaining prawns and repeat. 
I've cooked one side and flipped them over, and here's what they look like at this stage:
High heat will get them nicely browned
The batter is a bit runny, so careful to shake off the excess when you saute. The original recipe calls for a deep fry and you can also do that if you like. I prefer not to deep fry, so I always modify recipes if I can.
4.  Wipe the wok/ skillet clean and add the honey garlic sauce and simmer for 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens and darkens. Add prawns and cook for an additional minute. Serve immediately.
And there it is: Yummy sweet, salty and garlicky shrimp. Kid approved!
Honey Garlic Prawns
I'm picky with shrimp... it's best to buy shell on shrimp and peel and clean it yourself or if you can't be bothered with that look for frozen, deveined shrimp. Don't buy the already thawed out deveined shrimp that you see at the meat/seafood counter in your local grocery store. It's rarely fresh.
When using frozen shrimp, thaw it in a bath of salted water. It helps keep the fresh seafood flavor. Just use 3 cups of room temperature water per pound of shrimp and stir in a tablespoon of salt. Once the shrimp is thawed out drain in a collander and pat dry before using in any recipe.

I used Trader Joe's Argentine Red Shrimp today for my recipe. It's shelled and de-veined so it's easy to use in a recipe and delicious.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sneaking Veggies into Dishes

As I've mentioned before, my son doesn't like eating vegetables and it's a real struggle to get any in him.
He's obstinate about not eating them and I know where he gets it from... it's me. I didn't like them either as a kid and used to either stuff them down my throat quickly before I ate the rest of the meal or whine about the quantity that was put in my plate until my mother in exasperation picked them up from my plate and put them in hers. Yes, we didn't throw them out... I grew up in a third world country and my sainted mother would have had to light candles in church if we ever wasted food.
Anyway, the one way I can get my son to eat some veggies is to sneak them into dishes that disguise them well and one-pot dishes are great for that. I especially like shepherd's pie, stews, thai curries and of course chili.
Today's recipe is about chili. Besides the usual bell peppers and tomatoes and onions that usually go into this recipe, I suggest adding finely chopped up shitake mushrooms. They are meaty and when cooked, blend well together with the ground beef so that they are not even discernable, but make for a very healthy chili.

 Chili with 'Sneaky" Vegetables


1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 lb ground beef

6-8 large shitake mushrooms chopped fine or processed to the size of the ground beef

1 tsp salt or to taste

½ tsp pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro (coriander) stems

1/2 Tbsp chili powder

½ Tbsp paprika (this will give your chili a vivid red color)

1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder

One 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes (Use a good quality one here)

1 cup beef stock or ½ beef bouillon dissolved in a cup of water

One 28-ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed




Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat

Add the onions, green pepper and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes

Add the cumin, and stir for a minute until you get the aroma from the toasted cumin

Add the meat to the pan, season with the salt and pepper and brown well

Add the chopped shitake mushrooms and continue to brown

Add the tomato paste, the rest of the spices and the canned tomatoes

Smash the whole tomatoes down using a potato masher

Add the beef stock

Stir in the kidney beans

Cook the chili covered for 15 minutes on medium-low heat

1. It is worth taking the time to toast the cumin. In fact, when I have time, I toast whole cumin seeds separately and then grind them up to add to dishes. Chili is meant to have a smoky flavor and the toasted cumin helps with this.
2. My family can take heat, so I often add more chilies, you should adjust to your own taste. Note that paprika does not add much heat, but it does add a lot of flavor and color, so don't skimp on it, cut the chilies instead.
3. You can serve this over rice, or as a hearty soup, with your choice of toppings. I like cheese, green onions and diced avocado on mine!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Home made Baby Food

I've mentioned the many allergies in my family before, so we were quite careful introducing new foods to our daughter.

She doesn't like the jarred baby food and it was a real struggle to get her to eat it. Our nanny, who is middle eastern, said that in her home country, everyone just boiled bone in chicken, carrots and potatoes together and then mashed or pureed it to make baby food.

It doesn't sound very appetizing does it? But have a taste of any of the jarred food available and you'll see how awful it tastes.

We did try our nanny's recipe with our daughter at 8 months and she loved it. Since she is now almost 11 months, we're being a bit more adventurous and adding more vegetables. Here's a picture of the food we made for her today:

Baby Food before Being Mashed up. It had carrots, celery root, leeks, potatoes and chicken

and here it is pureed:

Pureed! Looks less appetizing now, but baby will love it!

Here's the recipe:

1 skinless chicken drumstick (I buy organic packs and freeze them in individual sandwich bags)
1 medium celery root diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium carrot diced
1 medium potato diced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 a small leek chopped
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1/2 teaspoon butter or olive oil
2 cups water (You may need more if you want a thinner consistency

Put the 1/2 teaspoon butter in a non stick sauce pan and drop in the chicken drumsticks in the pan and allow them to brown a little. Season them with the salt and pepper as they are browning.
Add a couple of tablespoons of the water and add the chopped leeks. At this point, you may also want to add another 1/2 teaspoon of butter. The idea is to sweat the leeks and get them really soft.
Add the rest of the chopped vegetables and stir to prevent from sticking to the bottom of the pan for 2-3 minutes.
Add the rest of the water and bring to boil.
Cover and simmer until chicken and vegetables are soft. The chicken should be falling off the bone at this point. Shred the meat and pull out the bone once cooled.
The food should be thick from the starches in the vegetables. You can now puree it and store it in jars in the fridge for up to 3 days and in the freezer for a month (use ice cube trays as an easy way to store the pureed baby food).

Since our baby is older at the time of the post, I also added a few spices like a clove of garlic chopped fine and a little coriander powder for flavor. You can experiment with different herbs. Thyme and bay leaves are a good addition to this kind of food.

If you like, you can also replace the water in the recipe with a low sodium, organic chicken stock. This will make it even more tasty, but make sure you use a low sodium stock, because baby's kidneys are not yet equipped to deal with a lot of sodium!

You can also add various kinds of vegetables as a variant. I did green beans and kale as well the last time and our little one loved it! The broth from the chicken leg makes all the vegetables taste yummy!