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.