Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soup for the soul...sort of

Christmas also comes at the time of year when many of us are getting sick. The same is true in Cairo, people drop like flies as soon as the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius. And truly, how many of us don't crave Chicken soup?

I always mix and match with my soup, but there's still a general pattern that I follow. It's really easy to make, very filling, and full of good stuff :D

What you'll need:

1 package Knorrs instant chicken soup (Or anything similar - instant chicken or veggie soup package)
1 Chicken stock
3/4 cup rice
3 large carrots, chopped.
2 potatoes, chopped.
1/2 cup sweetcorn.
2 Chicken breasts, sliced.
1/2 tablespoon olive oil.
1 tablespoon oregano.
Salt and Pepper.

The package soup with generally call for 1 litre of water or so. Add an additional .5 litre or so (if you don't want a chunky soup, add a little more water). Stir well, and set to boil. While this is boiling, add your olive oil and chicken to a saucepan. It's important to add the meat and the oil at the same time, although many of us have let the oil warm up in the pan. Truth is, it won't cook through the meat if they are not added together. This help keeps the meat lovely and tender ;).

Add the oregano to your chicken, and let cook until whitened around the outside. By this point, your soup mixture should be boiling. Stir in your chicken stock to the mixture to make sure it's completely dissolved. Add your chicken and remaining ingredients to the soup, let simmer over a low heat until the potatoes are cooked through. Usually takes about 40 minutes or so. And salt and pepper to taste.

I also love adding some peas to this soup, but of course, that depends on if you're into your greens or not :p

Rice Pudding!!!

This has always been one of my favourite desserts. I remember when I first started trying to make it in California at the ripe age of 18 lol. The threat from Dale to "not try that," and "do NOT leave the rice alone," ended up in me using the wrong rice and burning it all to the bottom of the pan. Fortunately since then, I have wizened up a little bit (just a little ;) ) and can now make a deliciously tasty rice pudding.

It's important to not use instant rice in this recipe, it doesn't cook long enough to absorb the milk. Most rice pudding recipes will call to boil the rice in milk from the get go, but I don't see the point burning off so much milk.

I take about 2 cups of rice, and 3.5 cups water or so. Cook the rice until fluffy (but not fully cooked), then drain. Add about 2 cups of milk to the rice and finish cooking until tender. You may or may not want to add more milk depending on how creamy you like your pudding. I prefer using full cream milk for this, it's a creamier taste.

Once the rice is cooked, add about 1/4 a cup brown sugar, and 1/4 a cup white sugar. Mix into the rice, with about 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Voila, perfect rice pudding! :D

Sweeten to taste, but one of my favourite ways to eat this is with Jam, or with melted chocolate! Can't go wrong, and a little bit of warm rice pudding can be the perfect comfort food for a cold night outside.

Ginger goodness :D

Ok, as promised, I've been baking all week. (Ok perhaps slight exaggeration, but you know...lots of cooking in one night should count too :p). Friday this week rolls around, and as per usual, most of us had stayed out too late on Thursday, and didn't want to go anywhere on Friday. I fell back on my trusty plan B, head to someone's house for a night of cooking and movies, and maybe throw in a glass of wine there.

Friday night the venue was Charlotte's house. Optimal, because not only does she have a lovely large kitchen, and sound system for Moby to play around on ;), her two dogs Vicky and Bennie provided the perfect training tool for my new wonderdog "Sookie" (I'll have to blog about her too! lol). Sookie is a gorgeous Belgian/German Shepard cross, and now that she's gaining some weight, looks quite healthy. Looking at her, you'd think tough dog. That's the farthest from the truth though, Sookie is a huge "Fraidy cat." lol. I figured the over-excited antiques of Charlotte's "Dober-hund" Vicky would help quiet Sookie down around people. (Plan executed...plan 50 % success rate >.<) Anyhow, enough about the dogs. On to the recipe. On tonight's menu, we had Sparkling ginger cookies. Deliciously spicy, they are definitely a Christmas tasting cookie. Definitely a huge success on Friday. I found this recipe online, but made a few changes to it. Having already made these cookies, I think that coating them entirely in sugar takes too much away from the ginger flavour. Next time, I would only coat one side. :D The ingredients are as follows.

1/2 cup / 3.5 oz / 90 g Brown sugar
6 ounces / 170 g bittersweet chocolate (We forgot to get this at the store - haha - so substituted with regular chocolate chips - 3/4 a bag)
2 cups / 8.5 oz / 245 g whole wheat pastry flour ('m in Egypt...totally only used regular flour ;) )
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup / 4 oz / 113 g unsalted butter
1/4 cup / 2 oz / 60 ml unsulphured molasses (black honey)
2/3 cup / 3.75 oz / 100 g fine grain natural cane sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, peeled (We didn't grab this either, so just used ground ginger again)
1 large egg, well beaten

We also added around 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, Moby is a cinnamon addict. :p

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking soda and salt (and in my case, cinnamon). Set aside.
Heat the butter until it's just barely melted (ie. slightly more melted than "soft") and mix with brown sugar, molasses and fresh ginger. Whisk in the egg.

Pour this mixture over the flour. Stir until mixed.

Fold in the chocolate (I learned here that folding it in is important, if you "mix" it with your hands, the butter gets too warm and the mixture too sticky).

Now take your white sugar, and put it in a bowl. Scoop out small portions of the mixture (about a teaspoon full) and roll in your hands. Roll this mixture in the white sugar, and place on the cookie tray. - This is the part that makes the cookies really sweet, next time I won't coat the whole cookie, i.e. roll the whole thing. Instead, I would dip one side. Depends on how sweet you like your biscuits ;) )

Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes, is what the original recipe called for. But, working on an Egyptian oven, is slightly different lol. We baked them for about 15 minutes. Once cool, grab a glass of milk, and enjoy!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas in Cairo

Christmas in Cairo is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Whereas the Holy Month of Ramadan is accompanied by music, decorations, traditional foods, and gift swapping, Christmas is a silent affair in Egypt.

When I first moved to Egypt, my experience during Christmas living in a Muslim country was unique. I had grown up in many different countries, but all with a Christian background. Christmas was always everywhere, it exploded in front of your eyes in supermarkets, street lights, people's houses and gardens, Christmas music was on every radio. I was lucky enough to have been living with my family in Cairo at the time, so I still had the traditional big tree, and our Christmas day celebrations were always the same. It was just lacking the image of Christmas outside.

Now that I'm on my own in Cairo though, Christmas is of a different sort. I still fly "home" to the family for two weeks over Christmas itself, but until then, it's as though the season has almost disappeared. I actually walked into Metro supermarket the other day, and was surprised to see a small display of overpriced Christmas decorations. It was a sudden, "Oh yes! Christmas is coming!" My friend Charlotte and I were discussing her experiences in the Christmas Bazaars in Cairo yesterday, at which point she noted her surprise when realising that Christmas Day is only 20 days away! Presents! I have to get presents!

In the spirit of this time of year, I try my best to recreate at least some of the traditions I was used to in my house growing up. I have a Christmas tree, albeit a whopping 0.5 meter tall little thing. I have a set of Christmas lights up (woohoo), and hopefully this week I'll be venturing out to find some tinsel that's both decent and affordable. I'm also making it my goal this year to fill both mine, and my friends time, with copious amounts of baking. This time of year goes hand in hand with good food, so in keeping that in mind, I'll be baking, and subsequently posting, some of my favourite recipes on here! Yummmyyy.

Anyhow. With this in mind, Happy Christmas to everybody, for those of us surrounded by it everywhere, and for those trying to remember that here in Cairo!