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A Bag of Lemons

By Ms.Gourmet on September 2, 2010 12:06 PM
Lemons have always played an integral role in my cooking and I find that they are a constant companion in my kitchen. I'm continually using lemons in salads, dips and dressings or preserving them to use in Moroccan dishes such as tagines. I also tend to use lemons in sweet tarts, crostata and sorbet.

The other day I was given a rather large bag of unwaxed, organic lemons from one of the mums from school. I might add that there were close to eight kilos of lemons in that bag. I kid you not, just take a look at the photo below.

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Now this is where you come into the picture. I was hoping to get some of your lemony suggestions and ideas. So, what do you think I should do with this bag of lemons? Do you have a particular recipe to share with us, that involves lemons? If so please leave your suggestions and recipes in the comments section below.

I was thinking about making Alison's famed local Limoncello or maybe some of Bron's lemon and blackcurrant syrup shot popsicles - but I am open to your suggestions. 
 
Come now, don't be shy. I need your help as these lemons are begging to be transformed into something bracingly brilliant!


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Mushroom and Spinach Pie with Baharat Spices

By Ms.Gourmet on August 3, 2010 9:28 PM
Baharat is an exotic North African spice blend that is also used in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan. This popular spice blend is added to recipes in much the same way, as Indians would use garam masala. Getting the balance of spice is important in baharat as no single flavour should stand out and dominate, but rather each spice should make it's own distinct contribution. Hence, the end result should be aromatic and sweet, yet at the same time warm and pungent.

Typically you would use baharat as a dry rub to season lamb prior to grilling or roasting. It is also used to enhance the flavour of fish and chicken or you could add it to lentil dishes, pilafs, soups, tagines or vegetable casseroles.

In this instance I added it to some mushrooms that I had softened gently in olive oil, before tossing through some fresh spinach. I could have eaten these sweet smelling, aromatic mushrooms on some lightly toasted sough dough bread, but instead I chose to make a coiled filo pie similar to this one. Alternatively, you could also make individual filo cigars as opposed to one big pie.

How about I leave it for you to decide.

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How to make Preserved Lemons

By Ms.Gourmet on June 22, 2010 9:15 PM
What's the one indispensable ingredient you simply can't do without in your kitchen? For me it's quite simply lemons as they have always played an integral role in my kitchen. Hence, I find that lemons are absolutely necessary and I just don't feel complete unless I have a bowl of fresh lemons sitting on the bakers stand.

In summer I'm constantly using lemons in salads, dips and dressings. Alternatively I'm using lemons in sweet tarts, crostata and syrupy cake, sorbet and not to forget my all time favourite - lemon ricotta cream.

Another way I love to use lemons is in savoury Moroccan dishes such as tagines. In these instances I tend to use preserved lemons. Hence, you can either go and buy yourself a fancy, overpriced jar of preserved lemons from a boutique gourmet food store or you could have a go at making some for yourself. All you need is several thin skinned, unwaxed lemons, some coarse rock salt and a sterilized glass jar.

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Pasta And Its Uses

By Ms.Gourmet on March 17, 2010 2:00 PM
Have you ever wondered what pasta is best suited to meat based ragù sauces or what pasta to use with fish and shellfish based sauces? Hopefully the list below will help clarify some of the confusion surrounding pasta and it's uses.

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1. Tripoline Nest, have a curled shape on one side and are said to originate from the Campania region. The curled part has an important role in holding the majority of sauce onto the pasta. Hence, Tripoline is excellent with meat ragùs.

2. Risoni, is used most traditionally in soups and is also suitable for light and tasty broths. It is also recommended with thick creamy soups.

3. Penne, is a specialty from the Campania region and their ideal sauce is meat ragù of pork, veal, sausage, stew or mushrooms.

4. Capellini, is typical of the areas surrounding Genoa, Rome and Naples. Very simple sauces such as butter and cheese, or melted butter with cheese and sage typically suit this kind of pasta. Other perfect matches are egg based sauces or fresh tomato based sauces.

5. Spaghetti, this cut comes from southern Italy, specifically from Naples. The perfect match for this pasta type is a either cold or warm fresh tomato, vegetable or herb based sauces. Excellent also with quickly made sauces, with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chili and anchovies. Also superb with fish and shellfish based sauces.

6. Rigatoni, originally come from the Campania region and it is an adaptable cut and is suitable with tomato or vegetable based sauces. Rigatoni is best suited to meat based sauces such as meat and mushrooms, veal and pork, sausage and fowl ragùs. Best are liquid based sauces able to cling to the pasta's ridges.

7. Angels Hair Nest, is one of the most delicate formats among the long nest pasta cuts. Angel Hair characteristically is recommended for children from nine months onwards because of its ability to help young children to adapt to adult food. It is also suitable for broth-based recipes and white egg, butter and cheese sauces, melted butter with sage, Parmesan and smoked ricotta. 

8. Orecchiette, is the most typical pasta cut of Puglia and in traditional recipes Orecchiette are blanched together broccoli or potatoes and dressed with a tomato based sauce, sprinkled with Pecorino or they are great with just oil and garlic. They are also called "Recchie" and served with vegetable or lamb ragu and ricotta cheese.

9. Casareccia, is said to originate from Sicily and the delicate sheltered design makes it ideal for sauces to huddle inside. Perfect with traditional Mediterranean sauces, Casarecce also exalts the delicate vegetable sauces.

10. Tortellini ai Formaggi (cheese), are made with a layer of pasta and are filled with a  blend of Emmenthal, Swiss and Grana Padano cheese. Tortellini is ideal with classic seasoning such as cream, ham and peas, or more particular sauces with a base of aromatic sour cream subtly scented with chopped chives, or with a Mediterranean flavour of sole fish and dried tomatoes.

11. Conchiglie Rigate, belong to the creative shaped pasta cuts and are typical of the Campania region and are named after their shell-like shape. They are excellent with light tomato based sauces, with ricotta and pesto Genovese.

Information courtesy of De Cecco and Barilla.
 

Sumac

By Ms.Gourmet on July 23, 2009 8:12 AM
I love using sumac with grilled meats, chicken and fish. I also like to add it to salad dressings, za'atar, pomegranate butter and fattouche. Although sumac is common place in the Middle Eastern kitchen, it is essentially unknown outside of the Middle East. Rather than ramble on about sumac I thought I'd share a little passage from Arabesque by Lucy and Greg Malouf as it's a far better read.

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'Sumac is usually purchased as a coarse powder. It is ground from the dried berries of a shrub which grows widely all around the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. Sumac is particularly popular in Lebanon and Syria, but it is also used in Iran, Iraq and Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.

In Iran and Iraq sumac is used mainly as a tangy seasoning for sprinkling over kebabs- Iranian restaurants will nearly always set it on the table as a condiment to accompany grilled meats. Elsewhere, sumac is used in marinades - its tangy flavour works well with grilled meats, poultry and fish. It is often added to vinaigrettes and other dressings, or added to salads such as the refreshing bread salad fattouche. In Lebanon, sumac's greatest use is in the ubiquitous spice mix za'atar, in which it is combined with thyme and sesame seeds and used as a topping for fabulous freshly baked breads.

Sumac is a pretty deep red-brown colour, rather like rich loamy soil, with a sour, salty flavour. When you use it in Middle Eastern recipes, it is often a good idea to wash it in a little water first - heap it into a tea-strainer and run it under the cold tap for a few minutes. This helps to intensify the flavour even further.'

Malouf (2006, 288).
 

Vincotto Originale

By Ms.Gourmet on March 10, 2009 7:41 AM
I briefly mentioned yesterday that I often serve those 'Chocolate Puddles' with fresh berries that have been drizzled with Vincotto and then realised that some of you may not be familiar with Vincotto. I have only ever used 'Vincotto Originale' so here is a little bit of information about the Calogiuri family's Vincotto and how to use it.

Vincotto is made by the Calogiuri family in the very Southern part of Apulia in Italy. It is obtained by using the locally grown Negroamaro and Malvasia grapes which have been allowed to further mature and wither on the vine for an additional 30 days. After the grapes have been pressed the must is then cooked and allowed to reduce and then aged in oak casks for at least four years. Vincotto has no alcoholic content and is free from added colours or preservatives.


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The end result is a full bodied sweet, sour, velvety vinegar that goes well with roasted meats, fish and poultry. You can also drizzle Vincotto over fresh berries, ice cream, panna cotta, zabaglione, baked peaches, natural yogurt or even pancakes.

The Calogiuri family have been producing Vincotto since 1825 and have since expanded their range. Vincotto is now available in orange, lemon, raspberry, carob and fig flavours.
 

A glass of wine in one hand and a silicon spatula in the other

By Ms.Gourmet on March 4, 2009 7:24 AM
Most meals I cook generally start with onion, garlic, carrot, celery and fresh parsley sautéed gently in some extra virgin olive oil. With a glass of wine in one hand (that's if it's after 5pm) and a silicon spatula in the other I gently stir, wait and hope for inspiration. With two ravenous children chomping at the bit hurling dinner requests at me faster than the speed of light, I fossick through the pantry and fridge to see what else I can add to this finely chopped aromatic blend. Like a resounding gong, Hoover and Fussy cry out every three minutes or so wanting to know - 'what's for dinner Mama' and 'is it ready yet?'

The end result is greatly determined by how successful my reconnaissance mission was. Hence, dinner could be - thick minestrone, Maltese minestra, chicken, fish or lentil soup. Or a rich bolognaise or Napoli sauce that I can then toss through some fresh pasta. Maybe even a rich, flavoursome slow braised beef ragout or cassoulet if the children can hold out that long.

There is a method to this seeming madness, which in turn serves as a flavour base and foundation to most meals eaten in this house. The foundation of course is 'gli odori' which is the fancy name for that earthy, heady mix of finely chopped onion, garlic, carrot, celery and parsley sautéed in good extra virgin olive oil. I often throw in fresh rosemary, bay and thyme as I find that this particular flavour base elevates the most humble of ingredients to surprising greatness.

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From the Camel drivers of Egypt

By Ms.Gourmet on March 3, 2009 7:45 AM
Dukkah is essentially a dry blend of roasted hazelnuts seasoned with aromatics and lightly toasted sesame seeds and is a much loved speciality in Egypt. Some have suggested that Dukkah originated with the camel drivers of Egypt, who after a long day's journey would dry roast nuts, spices and sesame seeds and then crush and eat the spice blend with bread generously dipped in oil.

Hence, today Dukkah is commonly served this way as an appetizer where one dips pitta or Turkish bread into the spice blend after it has first been dipped into some good extra virgin olive oil. Dukkah also goes well with soft boiled, poached or fried eggs, grilled cheese such as haloumi or can be used to season grilled fish, chicken and vegetables or simply sprinkled over a salad.

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In Australia it would appear that the art of dipping your oil soaked bread in an aromatic blend of dukkah has superseded the once fashionable trend of dipping bread into a shallow bowl of balsamic vinegar. Thus in Australia dukkah has become so popular that there is now a glut of  Aussie, Outback, Bush and Native dukkah available in selected gourmet food stores, delicatessens and can even be found on supermarket shelves.

The dukkah I am currently using is Greg Malouf's 'Classic Egyptian Dukkah' a little on the pricey side, but well worth it I think. If you are feeling adventurous you could always try and make your own dukkah as there are a plethora of recipes out there. One of the better recipes I think is Claudia Roden's one which you can find in her book Tamarind & Saffron.
 

Lovely Levantine

By Ms.Gourmet on February 17, 2009 7:16 AM
Pomegranate molasses or pomegranate syrup is a thick, sweet, tart, reddish brown syrup that is commonly used in Levantine cuisine. It can be used as a marinade and is often used to deepen the flavor in savory sauces. Hence, it is great in meat, fish and vegetable or pilaf dishes. You can also make salad dressings with it, drizzle a little over some fetta or Gorgonzola cheese, or use it to sweeten a beverage.

Pomegranate molasses is basically a reduction of pomegranate juice that has been boiled down with lemon juice and sugar. If you are interested in making your own Elise at Simply Recipes has an easy to follow recipe. Otherwise you could try a good quality one like Cortas as this brand does not contain additives or preservatives just pure concentrated pomegranate juice.

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Pomegranate molasses is one of those things that I have only recently discovered, and if truth be told I am a little peeved that it took me this long to find out about it! The other day we added a little pomegranate molasses to some good extra virgin olive oil and then dipped crusty pieces of Ciabatta bread into it - the same way you would with balsamic vinegar. If you have yet to experiment with pomegranate molasses this is a good introductory way to get your palate use to the distinct flavour.

Probably the most famous Persian dishes that contain pomegranate molasses would have to be Fesenjan which is a poultry dish with walnuts and Muhammara which is a spicy red pepper dip.
 

Nutella Day is everyday!

By Ms.Gourmet on February 5, 2009 9:35 PM
As far as little Miss Hoover is concerned 'everyday' is Nutella Day! We may not look a like, in fact she does not look like my child at all as I am a brunette and she is a red head. The only real indication that we do in fact share genes is that we both love chocolate and both adore Nutella!

Hence, there is always a *large* jar of Nutella tucked away in our pantry. We love it on crusty bread and on our pancakes and fruit toast of a morning. Most times we prefer to eat it 'al naturale' - that is straight out of the jar by the spoonful.

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I find that Nutella not only tastes wonderful but if used correctly it has the power to persuade the most stubborn of children (my Testa Rossa included)! Consequently, l can get Mr Fussy to eat all manner of fruit (well almost all) if I serve his strawberries, bananas and apple chopped nicely in a bowl with a blob of Nutella on the side as a dip.

Both my children have an uncanny knack of running in the opposite direction of my voice. They also both suffer from selective hearing on and off throughout the course of the day. Yet surprisingly enough I have found that if I preface a set task or a request with the option of dipping into the Nutella jar they immediately transform into cheerful little helpers willing to pull their weight and work as a team. And so you see that is why every day is Nutella day at our house!

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Ilma Zaghar from the Orange Blossoms of Seville

By Ms.Gourmet on February 3, 2009 7:33 AM
One of my favourite things at the moment is Orange Blossom water which is made from the fragrant blossoms of Seville oranges, common in the coastal regions of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Hence, Orange Blossom water is popular in both Persian and Arabic cooking and is used to flavour rice and milk based desserts and pastries. You can find Orange Blossom water from most Middle Eastern grocery stores or specialty shops.

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Use it sparingly as you only need the smallest amount to give a hint of fragrance and flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes. This summer I have been adding a little to our fresh strawberries as I find it enhances the flavour. You could also add a splash to your poached fruit, custards, crème brulee or summer puddings. Of late I have been adding it to fresh ricotta which I then sweeten with sugar. This 'orange ricotta cream' is a great accompaniment to summer fruit.

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