Friday, 21 December 2012


It is time for a buddy check; my trusted buddy & best friend comes over for a quick check on my gear and surprisingly she asks “where are your weights?”. It seems everything else is in place, except for one tiny little issue; really who’s to say it’s a big problem… well apart from the fact that I won’t be able to go down at all, but I forgot to put on my weight belt! If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m talking about scuba diving, any other insinuation is in your head. It must have happened to all divers at one point in their life; at least I hope I am not the only one. But truth to be told: my memory sucks.

Photo courtesy Moni

Absentmindedness; what a common sign of the era we live in! With all the run-in-circles all day, one errand after the other, working everyday of week including weekends most of the times, not getting enough rest and also not always eating the proper food for us. I am definitely not the person to advocate on what foods have best sources of vitamins or minerals; or how many kiwis you should consume per day. I’ll leave that to The Doctors, Dr. Oz, health magazines, gym flyers, etc… However when it comes to the numerous times my poor memory contributed to burning food I left too long on the stove top; or going out and en route realizing that my mobile phone is still home on the couch; or worse: when I actually forgot how barracudas look like! Yes it happened, I thought they were cute looking fish that are worth admiring and was very astonished why my diving buddies were reacting so weird and out of fear under water! Only in those moments I start vowing more care towards what I devour.

Photo courtesy Rob Umphray

Some say, he eats fish everyday… Oh wait, that’s The Stig intro line… correction: Doctors say we should eat food that contains more Omega 3 fatty acids everyday as it strengthens our memory, fights Alzheimer’s and is good for the heart. The list includes numerous varieties such as walnuts, cashews, pecans, flax-seed or oil; Edamame and/or cold oily fish to name a few. Adding nuts to everyday food consumption is one easy step as it can be added to any salad, or eaten alone as a snack.

But when I like to add more than just cashews to my salad, I go for fish, such as herring, anchovies, sardines or salmon. I enjoy eating fish frequently, not only to increase my memory efficiency for I’m afraid that is a hopeless case, but also for they are simple to cook, don’t require too much preparation or lots of clean-up afterwards; and are low on calories.

The star of my favorite fish-dish is steak cooked in a ginger, lemon grass & lemon sauce. There are different sides that could accompany it: steamed veggies, plain/with salsa pasta, steamed rice or with spices… and it can be with mashed potatoes like in this recipe.
Another beauty of this meal is: it is dairy-free! The parsley butter is totally optional; you can omit it from the recipe and it won’t affect the exquisiteness of the salmon.

Oven baked Salmon steak with mashed potatoes & parsley butter


2 x 200 g salmon steak
4 x lemon grass, chopped into pieces
300 g fresh ginger, peeled
100 ml lemon or lime juice (more or less according to your taste)
1 oven roasting bag

Mashed potatoes
5 medium sized potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
100 ml of ginger-lemon juice (leftovers from cooking the salmon)
Salt and pepper to taste

Parsley butter
50 g unsalted butter, softened
3 sprigs fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves with skin on (more or less according to preference)
Salt and pepper to taste.


Parsley butter
Preheat oven to 160°C and position rack in the center of the oven. Wrap the garlic cloves in aluminum foil, place on a baking tray and bake for about 10 min until they are soft and fragrant. Take out and leave to cool a few minutes before peeling off their skin.
In the food processor; mix butter, parsley and the garlic until well combined, season with salt and pepper.

If you have shaped ice cube molds that you can use, add the soft butter mix to it and set in the freezer. Alternatively wrap butter in cling film and roll to form a tube, about 2 cm in diameter, so you cut it into disks before serving.

Increase heat to 200°C. Prepare a baking tray and add the oven roasting bag on it.
Finely grate the peeled ginger, move to a sieve and squeeze the pulp until all juice is extracted from it, about 200 ml. In a medium size bowl add the ginger juice, lemon juice, chopped lemon grass and marinade the salmon in it for about 15 min before cooking.
Layer roasting bag with the sliced potatoes first (while on the baking tray), and then add the salmon steak face down on top of them. Add all the juices, tie bag well. Bake for 10-12 min until salmon is almost cooked.
Take out the salmon from the bag and put on a roasting tray, cover with foil & keep aside until the mashed potatoes are done. Keep leftover juice to use.

Mashed potatoes
In a medium sized saucepan put the potatoes slices, mash them with a fork as fine as you prefer, I like to keep them a bit chunky. Place pan on medium heat and slowly add 2/3 from leftover juice in small quantities, not all at once; while whisking until it reaches the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Right before serving, heat up the remaining 1/3 juice and allow to thicken. Uncover the salmon and put under a broiler until it browns.

Plate up salmon steak and pour the thickened sauce on top, add mashed potatoes and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hot December

It’s not easy for me to write about Christmas. Because making all those heartwarming recipes; having a hot-chocolate or nibbling on  some Lebkuchen doesn't really match the weather outside that is  warm, humid and sunny! It's 28°C outside and almost everyone is wearing t-shirts! I am aware that half the globe has seasons opposed to mine and that a lot of countries have their summer time now, but I don’t live there! It should be colder by now so I can enjoy sitting on the couch, snuggle in my lovely Christmas-y blanket, sip hot cocoa in my Christmas-y cup and eat my chocolate Santa while gazing at our lovely decorated tree, even if it’s mere plastic! Damn global warming!

“Will it ever snow?” asked my son the other day, same question I asked several times when I was a kid. But that is never likely to happen. Yes we have hail storms once or twice a year, but they melt as soon as they touch the ground. I remember when I was a kid (probably 4th grade) I had invited a school friend over and we were talking about how lovely snow is; that we got a lot of white sheets, cut them all into small squares & threw them out of the window. They covered the pavement in a beautiful white mosaic art, which was soon followed by a loud “what did you do?” scream from my mum. Wasn't very pretty either when our neighbours were annoyed at us for littering our street…

Years later when I grew up, I still wanted to fulfill my dream of seeing snow; being there when building tops are covered in white, walking down the streets while flurries fall down on me, yet every attempt failed. The 2 or 3 days preceding my arrival, there would be a heat wave that causes the snow to melt away, the sun comes out and it suddenly has warmed up. Yes, 3 attempts failed! New York during Christmas last year: the temperature rose to 14°C in the morning and it was sunny that I no longer needed thermal garments and the down jacket was too warm to wear. Vienna a few years ago during the early week of February, which is like the coldest time of the year, still about 12°C and sunny as well... Not only did it not snow both in Vienna and NY but it didn't even rain. Of course I got to see snow on mountain tops, had a chance to hold it in my hand, make a snowball and throw it, but it’s not the same experience. And no, please don’t invite me over just so I can clear your skies J

New York City 
New York City

Nevertheless I am not giving up on my dream yet. Next time I will choose wisely, I’ll forget about Europe and go straight to the source of unlimited snow: Canada. It snows there as early as November and keeps this way up until April. And if that doesn't work out... no, no, no, I won't even think of this...

So every year we put our tree on, light it every night till January 8th to celebrate Coptic Christmas, bake cookies & cakes, place gifts under the tree, and open one door of the Advents calendar every morning. 

This years’ baking started earlier than usual. My first recipe is a traditional cinnamon cookie sandwiched with apricot jam. We usually make these cookies for Bairam, our feast holiday right after Ramadan and they are an adapted version from sugar cookies. The ingredients might differ from a recipe to another, but I find this one to work out best. The cookies are not too sweet which works fine with the jam.
My son wanted different shapes this time and we decided to cover those in coloured sugar icing and sprinkles.

Cinnamon Cookies with apricot jam filling

(makes about 20 medium sandwiched cookies)
380 g all purpose flour
225 g unsalted butter, room temperature
200 g granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
3 tsp ground cinnamon (more or less depending on your preference)
½ tsp ground cloves (could substitute those with cardamon)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

100 g apricot jam or any kind you prefer
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and baking soda. In the bowl of your electric mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Now the traditional way of doing this is to remove one half of the chilled dough and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 cm. Cut out two different shapes in equal amounts, one using a normal round cookie cutter and the other could be any shape you like as long as it has a hole in it. Because those two will be sandwiched together using apricot jam and it's always nice to have a peak at what's inside the cookie.

However this time I used the tips offered by Nancy Bagett from Kitchenlane on the best and easiest way to roll out cookie dough. And it worked perfectly, it couldn't have been easier or yield better results than this. Check out her link to know the different tips available.

Bake cookies for about 8-10 minutes (depending on size) or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once they have cooled, spread ½ tsp jam on the round whole cookie and sandwich the top cookie with it. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

Alternatively cookies can be frosted using sugar icing or with powdered sugar & a stencil. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A trio to WIN

What are the 3 items you can’t live without? Take a moment to think of it; your boat crashes and you are stranded on an island alone like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”. But instead of Coconut, Fish and Wilson; the volleyball companion you get to choose 3 items of food or drink, what would yours be? Away from the rationale behind body’s needed nutrition to survive, or what medication would save your life; think only of what your heart desires…

If I ask my mum, she’d say coffee, yoghurt and jam! My son on the other hand would definitely choose chocolate corn flakes with milk and raisins, all three choices combined in one.

Chocolate, cheese and coffee… those are mine! I can honestly live on those 3 and be perfectly happy. They are my comfort zone; my escape from stressful situations and definitely to kick start my days ... coffee in the morning & afternoon; cheese on almost any type of food & the self restrain needed not to eat chocolate daily.

So naturally my mind wanders off to any recipe that contains those ingredients. Yes I cook & bake outside of my “box” but whenever I search for new ideas online or go to the bookstore my eyes catch those first, then intentionally I force myself to check others. And I couldn't resist the temptation of trying a coffee & chocolate infused  cheesecake, they are for sure a trio to win. The idea crossed my mind while watching one of the food shows, not sure I remember the name of it or who was presenting (all goes back to my poor memory); anyways the lady added melted dark chocolate to the filling. That clicked in mind in a split of a second; seriously faster than my reaction to avoiding maniac drivers closing in on you on the highway. Usually I bake plain cheesecake with vanilla flavor; it is a light, airy and slightly sweet recipe without the dominant cheesy taste to it.
The original recipe of this cheesecake is from my mum’s memory. She doesn't know where she got it from, and admits to having substituted ingredients for they were not available in Egypt 20 years ago. Over the years, I kept modifying it and still do, hence trying this new blend out.

The outcome is wonderful; the smell is that of chocolate flavored cappuccino while the taste is rich & intense; thus hard resisting a second portion. It has a creamier texture than the plain one and if you want a stronger tang of cheese, simply swap the ricotta quantity with that of cream cheese and vice versa.  I admit it is heavy; my mind always calculates how many calories there are & often feel guilty for the workout needed to burn them off at the gym… but trust me every bite is worth it.  

Coffee-Chocolate Cheesecake

125 g unsalted butter, cold cut into small cubes
125 g sugar, white or brown
235 g all purpose flour
15 g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

500 g ricotta cheese
250 g cream cheese
250 g fresh cream
250 g sour cream or yoghurt
200 g melted dark chocolate, room temperature (use good quality as it does make a difference in taste)
50 g sugar, white or brown
5 large eggs, separated
50 g corn flour
2 tbsp espresso/coffee powder (can use coffee extract)
Pinch of salt
Chocolate topping
100 g dark chocolate (use good quality as it does make a difference in taste)
25 g unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter/spray and flour a 28 cm or 30 cm (11 or 12-inch) spring form pan. 

In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together, and then add the egg. Add the butter cubes, working quickly with your fingers until the mixture starts to crumble and begin to form dough. Make sure there are no butter lumps; cover in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. Press dough onto the bottom of the prepared pan and up to the sides, about 3 cm (1 inch) high.

Using a hand-held mixer or kitchen mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, set aside. In another bowl beat the egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cheese, cream/yoghurt, corn flour and coffee powder, mix until incorporated. With mixer on low speed, slowly pour the melted chocolate, scraping the sides as necessary. Finally fold in the egg whites gently as not to deflate all the air in it.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 min or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Don’t worry if surface is cracked, it will be covered with the chocolate topping. 

Take out of the oven and place on a wire rack to cool down completely before removing it from the pan. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edges before releasing the spring form.  Refrigerate until chilled.

Chocolate topping
Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a bath of simmering water. Let cool before spreading on the chilled cheesecake.

The beauty of this cake is that you can make it 1 or 2 days ahead, the longer it stays in the fridge, the more the flavors blend in to form an unforgettable experience.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Debut of a new LIFE

I quit my job! Just like that, after 12 years of carefully establishing my career in Human Resources, reaching the managerial level, I decided to stop, take a detour and start in a totally new direction. Some call me crazy and some call me bold, but I want to be doing what my heart desires.
“Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it” – Julia Child

And I've always been passionate about two things in my life: photography and baking!
I remember my first camera, a small black Kodak with a film in it; where you have to roll the knob until it clicks to be able to take the next picture. Where you would wait patiently for 3 days until the film is developed at the store and only then do you get to see what photos you took. Sometimes they were nice, and oh the heartbreak when they were hazy or not clear on this boat trip you had and cannot go back to. Then my dad gave me his camera - my first SLR – a Yashica. It was a beauty, and it took really good pictures. Et voila ; I had a new obsession. I would take my camera anywhere, to all trips, outings, travels, school performances… It was always there, part of me. And then came the day with my first digital camera, Toshiba 2 MP with an internal memory card and a changeable cover (don’t really know why, never cared to change it). Things moved faster ever since, with new technology being invented every minute and currently I am a proud owner of a Canon 550 D with various lenses. I still use the same tripod my dad gave me till now.

My passion about baking started later than my photography obsession. I always watched my mother do all our birthday cakes, decorating them beautifully (to my young eyes and mind). Most of the early recipes I learnt were from her, she has a great memory remembering measures of different cakes; I on the other hand rely on written recipes. My first attempt at doing a business out of my baking was end of high school/beginning of college. I was doing cheesecakes and selling them to friends. It wasn't a success as the concept of “cheesecakes” was fairly new to Egyptians and not really a jump-in taste experience for them, even though it was a baked cheesecake, moderately sweet and light in texture as the recipe calls for Ricotta Cheese as a main ingredient.
So one night, not long ago, I decided to take pictures of my baking, to show off to my friends, to maybe have another attempt at selling my treats or just to have a reference of all the things I am capable of baking/cooking. I tried and failed miserably as it doesn't matter how great they tasted, the pictures never served them right. They all looked repellent and even disgusting “sigh”! That was it for me; I needed to learn how to style and photograph the fine and exquisite taste of my delightfully baked cakes, cookies, pies, etc…
Researching online for “food photography” courses I came across the talented, charming and lovely ladies of Plate to Page team. Meeta from "What's for Lunch Honey?", Ilva from "Lucullian Delights", Jamie from "Life's a feast" and Jeanne from "Cook Sister!" are rare to find these days, they invest so much time and spare no effort in teaching and making sure the knowledge is transferred, stopping at nothing and coaching non-stop. I was blessed to have met them, learn from them, and even be courageous enough to start my own blog!

Now the only problem is rising to meet their expectations! The bar is just set so high, that every picture I take and every post I attempt to write, I get butterflies in my stomach thinking if will they like it? What would their “positive critique” be? Do I make them proud?
The very first post is a “Thank you” to my mentors for opening my eyes to a new world of possibilities and challenges.

Thank you Meeta, Ilva, Jamie and Jeanne!

P.S. Learning is a never ending process, the start is always so much different than the end, so stick around as I evolve from the beginner stage to one day a more professional one.