I have never been keen on slaving over hot stoves, cookers, burners, hobs and ovens…….this includes hot pressing irons….which is why I am happy to pay to get my clothes ironed……but I digress….

A quick easy way to prepare meals is to use a variety of complementary spices in making the dish. Pilau rice is a fantastic example; it is big on flavour and requires minimum effort to throw together.

The spices I used in making it comprise of cloves, cardamon, pepper corns, cassia bark, cinnamon, cumin and dry coriander and ginger. Some mixes may include, chili and turmeric. It sounds like a lot but with balanced proportions these aromatic ingredients lend themselves beautifully to the dish.

In some parts of East Africa such as Tanzania, pilau is served only at special occasions like weddings. This so because spices like cloves are highly valued in that region and in fact are exported globally as cash crops.

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice
2 cups chicken stock or water
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 onion
1 tbs pilau spice mix (ensure that all spices are represented)
1 tbs vegetable oil.
1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes or cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste ( adjust quantity depending on stock or if using using plain water)

The “How To”

Using a shallow skillet wide frying pan ( that has a lid) heat the pan dry and then add your spice mix as well as the chili or cayenne. Toast them in the dry hot pan for about a minute; this “activates” the spices, releasing their oils and intensifying their flavours.
Next, add the vegetable oil and chopped onions, garlic and green pepper stir for about 2 minutes until the onions are translucent; be careful not to burn them. Add the rinsed basmati rice to the pan and coat it completely with the spice and onion mix.

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Pour in the stock/water, turn the heat down and put the lid on. Minimise opening the pan until,the rice is cooked. When it is cooked (between 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the quality of the rice) let it sit for a few extra minutes with a dish cloth over the pan, fluff with a fork before serving.

I was feeling extra lazy the day, I made this meal so it went with some grilled beef sausages and a coconut cream sauce.

For the sauce you need 50 grams of butter, 1 cup coconut milk, 1 tsp corn flour, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste.

Mix butter and corn flour in a sauce pan over medium heat until you have a roux. Then slowly add in the coconut milk stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. It is ready when you have a homogenous sauce that lightly coats the back of a spoon.

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When a dear friend and her daughter came round to lunch the other day, I was frazzled because the munchkins were running me ragged. My guests needed nourishment for their tummies.

Rice and fish came to mind but I wanted it to look like I made an effort. The result? Sunny bright saffron rice and lemony herby fish.

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Ingredients
For the fish
2 large white fish fillets (I used cod)
2 tbs herbed butter
1 lemon
1 1/2 Black pepper
1 1/2 cayenne pepper
1 tbs butter
3/4 tbs salt.

For Saffron Rice
2 cups Basmati rice
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 good pinch saffron threads
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbs butter (optional)
Salt (to taste)

The “How To”

Heat the oven to 175 degrees Celcius
Place the the fillets on a shopping board and pat them completely dry with a paper towel. You may halve them or leave them whole depending on your preferred portion size.

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Sprinkle the fillets liberally on both sides with black and cayenne pepper. Then carefully, and evenly season both sides with salt.

Line a roasting pan with foil ensuring that you have an over hang on the sides to allow to allow you wrap the fish up in a parcel as it cooks. Heat a skillet with the table spoon of butter and sear the fellows for about a minute on each side then transfer them to the roasting the pan and squeeze half a lemon over them. Place a couple of slices of lemon on them and distribute the herbed butter as well. Wrap them up and place in the oven. After 17 minutes take them out and leave them to rest for a further 5 minutes stilled wrapped.

For an accompanying sauce, use the recipe described above for the pilau rice but add the pan drippings to it to infuse with the lemon and herbs.

To make the saffron rice simply add all ingredients except the butter in a skillet, bring to a boil, put the lid on and simmer until the rice is cooked. Least the rice sit for a few minutes in the pot for a few minutes then add the butter and fluff with a fork.

I added a small salad to garnish the plate and cleanse our palates as we dined. It was essentially sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with a wasabi dressing (it’s purely optional).

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Dessert was a berry treat. In my next post I will share the recipe for the 2 berry poke cake that promptly vanished after lunch.

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It was a delightful day and I enjoyed playing hostess.

FFF tip of the Day

Instead of using better as set out in the recipes here, you could replace with olive oil for a healthier alternative. Even your fresh herbs can be preserved in olive. Simply place washed herbs in ice trays and pour oil oil over them. Freeze and use as desired.

On this lazy Saturday morning, after an exhausting week of living in the gloom and doom of a nationwide petrol shortage,……..pause……for any reader who is not Nigerian, I live in wonderful country where issues like petrol scarcity and low electricity supply are just a few of the issues we contend with regularly……I decided that the pate brisee that had been languishing in the back of my fridge should come to good use. I blind baked it a few days ago and just hadn’t had time to do some thing with it.

Remember it was a lazy Saturday morning so there was no question of going out to shop. As I rummaged through my cupboard, fridge and pantry I gathered the following items

10 Eggs
1/2 cup Dried shiitake mushrooms (you can use fresh)
1 small White onion
4 pieces of Cheese (I used a cheese spread that comes in small triangular parcels)
4 tbs Cream
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 tbs chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 tbs chopped chives (from my herb garden)
2 tbs chopped basil (from my herb garden)
2 tbs butter
1 blind baked pastry crust (please see my Easy as Pie Part 2 post if you’re making your pastry from scratch and to learn about how to blind baked pastry)

The whole thing was easy enough to throw together.

Preheat your oven to 140 degrees centigrade.

Chop the onion and stir fry in a pan with butter until tender. Follow the instructions for rehydrating the mushrooms (usually boiling for a few minutes) drain chop and add to onion; if using fresh just wash, chop and add directly to the pan.

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Chop sun dried tomatoes and add to the happy family being established in your pan. Stir for a minute ensuring that the pan doesn’t burn or over heat. Season with black pepper and salt. Turn off the heat and set aside.

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Break 10 eggs in a medium sized bowl and add about 4 tbs of heavy cream, whisk well. Then add chopped chives and basil to the egg mix and incorporate properly. Now carefully add the happy sautéed mushroom, onion and tomato family to the bowl and stir.

Pour the mixture into your pie crust, careful not to overfill it as the egg will rise slightly. Next, scatter the cheese (roughly crumbled) over the surface of the egg mixture in the pie crust. I used my son’s cheese spread which is all I had on hand. On a good day I would use a more civilized soft mild cheese but today was not the day.

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Put in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the egg is just set in the middle. Allow the cool slightly and dig in! 🙂

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I must say that the first mouthful delivered a burst of flavours! The earthiness of the mushroom paired with the onion and chives beautifully and the tomatoes and the basil were just so happy to connect with each other; the floral herby basil was nice ying to the yang of the sweet intense sun dried tomatoes. And to cap it off the mild soft cheese tied it all together by adding extra creaminess and balance. Let’s just say that I had a savory party in my mouth.

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In case you were wondering, I didn’t have time for my usual fancy shmancy plating. I scoffed the piece very ungainfully. Hey! Hubby is out of town so there was no need for the bells and whistles. Besides, with the little ones swarming around me it would have be a futile exercise 🙂

FFF Top Tip: when making pate brisee or short crust pastry for savory dishes such as a quiche leave out the sugar or reduce the quantity.

May 26, 2014 Update

Over Easter I made another quiche basically using the same recipe. But for a fun take I made mini tarts too. They were pretty and tasty. In fact they were pretty tasty! 🙂

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The versatility of ingredients is one of the things that fascinates me about cooking. One ingredient can be transformed to make so many delicious meals that the possibilities are almost endless.
In this food lab exercise, I applied the everyday tomato in 3 different dishes and the results yielded truly gastronomic delights but don’t take my word for it, ask my hubby :)…..
Here we have fresh chicken (broiler), mince beef, eggs, bread crumbs, spring onions, tomatoes, red onions, green peppers, scotch bonnet peppers, eggs, mild cheddar cheese, cucumbers, herbs (chives, rosemary, basil, bay leaf) and spices (chilli flakes, black pepper and suya pepper)
Ingredients set out With these ingredients, I prepared meatballs in tomato sauce, lasagna and herbed chicken (which was incorporated into a stew (Nigerian tomato sauce).
Prepping for italian menu
In a blender, add the tomatoes, red onions and scotch bonnet peppers. Reserve some tomatoes for garnish. Blend until completely liquified. Cook mixture for 30 minutes; bring the mixture to boil then let it simmer. I don’t usually add a great deal of water when I am blending tomatoes so 30 minutes is enough time to get the consistency I am looking for; you may need to adjust your cooking time to suit your preference.
Then using about 1.5kg of mince beef, in a bowl, add 3 eggs, 4 finely chopped green peppers, 1 teaspoon of chives, 1 teaspoon of basil, 1 teaspoon of sage, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of black pepper and one cup f bread crumbs. Mix with your hand until all ingredients are fully integrated then form even sized balls and set aside.
Pasta and meatballs Meatballs ready fro cookingIn skillet heat, 4 table spoons of vegetable oil (I used corn oil) and add meat balls, brown and take out of the pan without cooking the meatballs through.
Cooking meatballs
Using the same pan that was used to brown the meatballs, add, 3 table spoons of vegetable oil, some chopped onion and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Ladle in about 3 – 4  cups of the cooked blended tomato. Let simmer for 8 minutes, add 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of dry sage, 1 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt then re-introduce the browned meatballs to the pan.
To boost the flavour profile of the sauce, I char grilled some local green peppers. Blitzed them in a blender with olive oil and added the paste to the sauce in the last stages of cooking. You may use red, yellow or orange bell peppers, which are usually imported in Nigeria. I chose to use locally grown peppers because I try support the use of home-grown produce when possible.
Cover the pan with a lid and let simmer for a further 12 minutes. Serve with pasta!
NOTE: After char grilling the peppers, put in a bowl and cover with cling film for a few minutes or wrap in a clean tea towel to facilitate peeling before blending.
IMG_8710Pureed green peppers
For the herbed chicken, I simply cut up two whole broilers and used a dry rub composed of chives, rosemary, dry ginger, salt, black pepper, chilli flakes, sage and some suya pepper.
IMG_8718Spread the chicken parts on a baking tray and drizzle with oil and put in a 250 degree pre-heated oven for about 35 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear.
Lasagna and herbed chicken in the ovenNow for the lasagna. I used oven lasagna sheets so there was no need to pre-cook them. These are readily available in most major grocery stores and super market. I bought mine at Spar (Park N Shop).
Grate 250 grams of mild cheddar cheese and set aside. You may also use some parmesan cheese but I used a mild soft cheese instead to counter balance the cheddar. In pan add 3 table spoons of oil, some chopped onions and saute for a couple of minutes. Add 3 cups of cooked tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 cloves of crushed garlic and 200 grams of mince beef; stir for about 8 minutes on a medium heat. Set aside and prepare to assemble the lasagna. Get an oven dish, spread some of the tomato/mince sauce at the bottom and layer on some lasagna sheets, sprinkle with both the cheddar and parmesan, ladle tomato sauce over it and cover with lasagna sheets. Repeat process and be sure to end with lasagna sheets covered in cheese and tomato/mince sauce. Put in 250 degree heated oven and cooked for about 30 minutes (Read the guide on the packet of the lasagna).
I opted to serve the lasagna with fried plantains and a simple tomato and cucumber salad.
Lasagna plated
I hope I have helped bring some italiano inspired cuisine to the Naija table.
Bon appetito!