Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Chocolate Mousse

Today was the first time I realized that Julia Child shared the same birthday as my now 9 year old stepdaughter. If there's one thing I've noticed about Talia in the kitchen, it's that she doesn't tire. While her older brother, Youssef, has no patience for laborious baking, Talia can knead for as long as she can if you let her, she'll whisk until her arm goes stiff and she'll be sure to eat every last bit of whatever it was she helped with. 
So this August 15th, it was appropriate to whisk aggressively, to get out the tension of today, a day that reminds me that we haven't been able to speak to them, to see them since January 2011. Happy birthday Talia, may you grow to be a master baker and one that we know. Happy birthday, Julia, it would have been nice to have you around a little longer. Egyptian custody laws, may you be reborn fair to both parents equally.  
This is Julia Child's recipe for chocolate mousse adapted by David Lebovitz. Airy, gummy magic. 

Here's my column for The Egypt Monocle featuring this recipe:

I’ve just returned from the north coast, where my days learned to slow themselves down, to breathe to the beat of the sea. There, all that pressed me was the urge to pick off those white specks of sand that had plastered themselves onto my now darker skin.
Leaving the beach has left me with only one thought that is really nothing new. We are so rushed in Cairo and so stuck in traffic that there is time left for little. It has affected me faster than I would have imagined and I fell for a short while into the deep dark hole of quick recipes and shortcuts that will allow me more time in other domains.
When I first got back to Cairo, I started watching Fatafeat, a food channel held in high regard by many in the Middle East. Ignoring all the English-speaking shows I was familiar with — Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Rachel Ray — my focus stayed on the Arabic shows to catch up with the chefs, trends and techniques pleasing the Arab world these days.
At the next big Cairene family lunch, I then easily fit into the trivial chit chat on favorite TV chefs and finally found myself familiar with names I had heard of when I was away but found no easy access to in Southeast Asia. My input was that I liked Nermine Hanno. Crickets, silence, then finally collective input — the final word was that she was good but slow and too elaborate. Slow being the key word, a fault in production.
Watching her show, every move is deliberate, clean and precise; every slice identical to its predecessor, every plate consisting of minute details that make her dishes truly beautiful on screen. Because of the channel’s understanding of Hanno’s skilled interpretations of both modern and classic cuisine, they have boxed her into a slow-paced show that gives way only to the softness of her voice and the occasional saxophone playing hotel lobby music. The average viewer, with a million and one things lined up on their to-do list, doesn’t care to make their home cooking so detailed and may easily tire of the languid manner of the show.
We are becoming a culture that won’t wait it out for a better end result and it is for this reason that you see Egyptians following Emeril’s “Bam!” instead of Nermine’s subtle and sophisticated flavor combinations, the same Chef Nermine Hanno that left a career in English literature at the University of Alexandria to attain the Grand Diplome in cuisine and pastry at London’s branch of Le Cordon Bleu and later apprenticed under Michelin-starred chef Chris Galvin at The Orrery. She’s also the chairman of the World Chefs without Borders, helping to send trucks, along with the Egyptian Chefs Association, filled with bags of food to the Salloum border where people were crossing with their heart-wrenching stories between Libya and Egypt.
While Hanno continues to achieve, many Fatafeat viewers I’ve met see her as a television personality with much talent and a flat show;  a shame because they’re missing out on a lady that will teach them that labor-intensive recipes usually yield spectacular results if followed correctly with the utmost discipline. A little bit of Julia Child in an Egyptian woman’s body.
This recipe below belongs in essence to Julia Child. It uses up many bowls and lots of butter. It will take time to make. It will take time to set. It will force you to appreciate the simple ingredients it contains. But if you make it right, it will be a recipe you’ll hold close for life.

Chocolate Mousse
You'll need:
170g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
170g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) dark rum (You can make it without adding extra vanilla.)
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick, as shown in the photo above. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

Cakes & Careers

There is usually that one thing you wished you were when it comes to your career: bolder, smarter, luckier. I have none of those desires but feel that it might have been easier to climb that ladder in the male-dominated food industry if I was born a man.
“So, what’s next? Knitting?” asked a friend, a previous colleague who could not wrap his head around the idea that I had left a well-paid job in advertising, in selling fantasies to people, for a career in, according to him, frosted cupcakes. The fact that I did not have a single published cupcake recipe mattered little. If I was an Egyptian woman who chose a career in food, it must be cupcakes, cookies or both. In his mind, I had unexpectedly transformed from Destiny’s Child’s independent woman in 2000 to a 2012 cross between Betty Draper and Martha Stewart, a meek and modified version of me that wears a pink polka dot apron tied neatly around her waist.
Upon receiving news that I had started a food blog early in 2010, my mother urged me through phone calls from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur to start looking for a job in my field, advertising that is, so as “not to let it go to waste.” My friends encouraged me through a sympathetic click on Facebook’s like button to cheer on their friend who had recently become domesticated.
A little while later, my family and friends embraced this new identity of mine but only when I got a job to write a weekly column about food, to share my recipes in a reputable printed newspaper, ink stained fingers and all. After returning to Cairo, I was contacted to develop recipes for a new product line at a popular local chain. Being a lady, I was graciously allowed to work in my own home until the time came to train the staff — chefs that had been in the business for years, who had worked in the kitchens of restaurants like the ever popular La Bodega.
Entering the factory where I would be teaching, I was asked what I wanted to drink then was offered the only seat in the room. These guys had never worked with a woman in a professional kitchen and in reality, didn’t like it much now that they were. The knife was pulled out of my hand several times. I was asked how I wanted the lettuce chopped in their lingo, them wholeheartedly believing that I wouldn’t understand their fancy badly pronounced French terms. It was also decided that I would have the owner accompany me throughout the day to make sure that I, the lady, would not be bothered much.
Weeks later, I attended a private dessert tasting at a crowd-pleasing Zamalek restaurant. Getting to know the chefs afterwards, I asked what I would need to do to study at the Egyptian Chefs Association, previously having completed a few short courses with the French Culinary School in Malaysia. One of them eagerly suggested that I register for the “housewife diploma.” I didn’t know there was such a thing and quickly changed the subject trying to shake off the thought that I was still perceived as a housewife.
It seemed that I didn’t fit into many Egyptian restaurant kitchens because even if there were women in those kitchens, they were always underprivileged, seen as workhorses with no creativity. There was no space for me, except as an intern at a cupcake shop.
I could say that it is much easier today to break into the Egyptian restaurant industry as a woman, especially with the right connections, but it almost always revolves around catering, becoming a pseudo-celebrity and getting your photo taken at every gig, becoming a television persona that cooks to teach people who don’t know much about food or becoming a food writer who works to bring a unique voice to the scene. For a city packed with places to eat, a female chef isn’t a common sight in Cairo. What’s also disappointing is that when a female cook gets the recognition it is usually for being a woman, for contradicting the norm and not at all for the food she’s plating up.
By all means, be enthusiastic about finding yourself in the Egyptian culinary field as a woman but prepare for the awkward answers you’ll receive, the challenges you’ll be presented with. Understand that you might be seen as a pretentious socialite who has nothing better to do with her time or that your profession may be considered menial and that it is unnecessary for you to place your hands in the cavity of a chicken if someone can do it for you. It takes much effort and a lot of time to get anywhere in Cairo regardless of the traffic.
Walnut Caramel Cake
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, January 2008
You’ll need
2 cups + 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
Caramel glaze
1 cup cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Candied walnuts
¼ cup of sugar
¾ cup of walnuts
A pinch of salt
Heat oven to 175°C. Butter a medium cake pan. Line with baking paper. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then add the vanilla. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches until each addition is incorporated.
Spread batter in pan then rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean — 40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert on a wire rack then cool completely for one hour.
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil for 7-10 minutes depending on how thick you want it then stir in vanilla. Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan. Pour glaze over top of cake. Cool until glaze is set — 30 minutes.
In a pan toast the walnuts then set aside. Pour sugar into the pan and cook on medium heat. Stir when the sugar begins to melt and continue until it turns a medium amber. Add the walnuts to the caramel to coat each one. Once done, spread onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper and separate the walnuts using two forks. Sprinkle with salt, cool then arrange on the cake.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Samosa, Sambusak

Thinking back, samosas may have been the first food to confuse me, a never-ending love affair that was tedious to understand. Never knowing what I should call them when chatting with people hailing from different places, never understanding just what were to go in them, I went on a mental hunt quite early on in life to find out just what a samosa was.
Stuffed with curried potatoes and peas then folded into tight triangles, these were the samosa I was first acquainted with. Popping them straight onto my tongue from the bubbling oil without a second thought would have me letting off the steam with my gaping mouth between grins and greasy stained fingers from the turmeric stirred into this magic mix. These were general fixtures in my Indian grandmother’s house served with a side of mint chutney and later, dominated Ramadan as a simple accompaniment to soup in my Egyptian mother’s home.
At many oriental iftar buffets and at homes of friends from the Levant, I’d spot these little lovelies, shiny skinned and crisp to the tooth, next to others — soft half moons and the doughy tetrahedrons, sported in many contrasting pastry crusts and fleshy fillings to suit the various cravings of those breaking their fast. If I had given in to my whims, I don’t think I would have eaten anything during Ramadan but fat stacks of these Indian-influenced vegetable samosas and Lebanese crescent-shaped sambusak, filled with ground beef and made lively with pine nuts. In fact, I enjoy these pastries, Asian and Middle Eastern alike, so much that I would probably eat them in secret and in defiance if the Middle East decided to adopt Somali group Al Shabaab’s fatwa banning samosas that, according to them, are too western and resemble the Christian Holy Trinity.
Believed to have originated in Central Asia before the 10th century, the Uzbeks still call it somsa, similar to its original name, samsa. The Iranians, as my friend in Malaysia introduced me, call them sambusa these days, but were once recorded in Persian history as “sanbosag”. Similar to the pasties that were eaten by tin miners in Cornwall for their easy handling, samosas were also thought to be injected into Indian culture by the Muslim traders and soldiers who carried them in saddlebags on long journeys after preparing them, many at a time, during their rest stops.
This is a simple recipe, given that you’re fine with the heat of frying. In essence, all you need to do is begin preparing early, make large quantities at a time and freeze them in between layers of baking paper to avoid them sticking to one another as they love to do. There are recipes for all kinds of dough and the filling may be used to stuff your own homemade dough. I chose the easy way out with these store-bought wrappers because I can use Ramadan as an excuse for a little laziness as most of us do.
Beef & Pine Nut Samosa
You’ll need:
30-35 samosa wrappers
500 grams of ground beef
1 large onion
2-3 cloves of garlic, depending on strength
¼ cup of beef stock
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of cumin
¼ cup of pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg + 1 teaspoon of flour, beaten to make a paste
Keep the samosa wrappers covered with a damp towel while preparing the beef to keep them soft. In a large pan on medium-high heat, add the onions and garlic until fragrant and translucent then the ground beef. Stir the beef into the onions and garlic until combined then cook, stirring every few minutes, until browned. Add the cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper and mix then pour in the beef stock and stir in the pine nuts. Lower your heat and leave to cook until the stock has been absorbed. Turn off your heat and leave to cool.
At the bottom of each samosa pastry strip, brush the bottom of the side closest to you with egg wash then fold over the pastry from the opposite corner to create an open-sided triangle. Spoon some of the beef filling (1 full teaspoon to 1½ teaspoons) into the pocket you’ve created. Tuck the filling into the pocket and fold it over more than once until you reach the end of the wrapper. Before sealing, tuck in any protruding samosa paper then seal the edge by brushing with egg wash. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers. Freeze the ones you won’t fry for later at this stage. Deep fry in hot vegetable oil (not olive oil) for a minute then remove when golden and crispy. Do not crowd your oil with samosas to allow each one adequate space. Drain well from the oil before serving.
Related Posts with Thumbnails