Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I moved

I moved to another blog: Saffron Pudding
I feel that the new name represents me more. All the content of this blog will be there, just a new name and look. I will eventually redirect or delete this blog in the future. Hope to see you all there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chicken Biryani : The Bridge to India

One can't really talk about Kuwaiti/Khaleeji cuisine without mentioning Indian food. It just has a strong presence and a big influence on our diet. We eat chapati for breakfast, biryanis and tandories for dinner and samosas for, well, anytime snack. Indian restaurants are all over the city, from high end to small street little shops. 

The relationship with india is as old as Kuwait its self. Before discovering the oil, people in Kuwait used to rely on going in the sea collecting pearls and then selling those to the nearby countries. And many of those business relationships were made with India; selling them their precious pearls in exchange for  spices, textiles , tea and other goodies.

When the oil was discovered in Kuwait in 1936 and the country was transformed from just a tiny town on the shore of the Persian Gulf  to a modern city with all kinds of buildings and businesses the relationship with India did not stop. Kuwait, now needing more human workforce to run the country started to welcome indian people in need for jobs. Nowadays we have a large indian community and Indian men and women fill jobs from hairdressers in saloons to CEOs of large companies and banks. And their flavorful, aromatic cuisine continues to influence our diet. 

Essentially a protein stir fry sandwiched between two layers of rice, biryani is one of those dishes that are created, recreated and reinterpreted again and again. And there is possibly hundreds if not thousands of recipes for biryani. I don't claim any authenticity or superiority to this recipe, but whenever my mom is asked to bring in a dish for a potluck or a family gathering she is often asked to bring in one these dishes: her meat stew, stuffed zucchini or chicken biryani. I think this says a lot about how delicious this recipe is.

If you find yourself liking spicy Indian food then you should check out Kulsum's recipes on Journey Kitchen. She is an Indian living in Kuwait and she shares Indian food recipes on her blog along with beautiful stories about her childhood and gorgeous photography. 

Chicken Biryani 

serves 4-6


2 cups basmati rice
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp saffron leaves soaked in 1 Tbs hot water

1 whole chicken
2 medium onions thinly sliced
1/4 cup oil
1 large tomato finally chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 whole hot pepper * ( use jalepanio if you don't want it too spicy, or use red chili if you want it spicy)
2 Tbs chopped and minced fresh ginger
7 whole cardamom ( plus more for rice and chicken boiling)
3 bay leaves (plus more for rice and chicken boiling)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole black pepper corn
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
2-3 Tbs dried cilantro
1 Tbs tomato paste


For the rice

- Measure rice in a ball. Wash and rinse 7 times then cover with water and set a side.
- In a large sauce pan bring 6 cups of water to boil. Once boiled, add the salt , 2 whole cardamom and one bay leaf. Rinse the rice and add to the boiling water. Cook on medium for 5-7 minutes until rice is cooked but still has a bite *. Take off the heat and rinse the rice in a colander. Set a side.

- Wash chicken and transfer to a large sauce pan. Cover with water. Add a dash of salt, 2 whole cardamom and one bay leaf. Cover and bring to boil. Turn off the heat to medium-low and cook until the chicken is cooked and tender. About 30-40 minutes.

- Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan add the oil and sliced onions. Cook on medium heat until the onion turns golden brown. Set a side.

- Finally chop garlic cloves and hot pepper. Combine with minced ginger and set aside.

- Combine whole spices in a small bowl and set them a side.

- Combine ground spices with the salt  and set them aside.

- After 30 minutes check the chicken for tenderness. If tender, turn off the heat, reserve 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and drain the rest. Let the chicken cool for a little bit. Then, with your hands, cut it into pieces. Discard most of the skin and the bones, but not all.

- In a wide pan, heat 2 Tbs of the onion oil, add whole spices and continue to heat the oil for 2 more minutes until you can smell the fragrance of the spices. Add chicken pieces and sauté until golden brown. Add ground spices, garlic, ginger and pepper mixture and continue to cook. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, dried cilantro and chicken stock. Continue to cook until everything in incorporated and tomatoes have softened. Add sliced onions.

- At this point, taste for salt and spiciness. If it is too spicy, add more tomatoes and tomato paste. If not as spicy as you like it, add more chili powder.

- In the same saucepan that you cooked the rice with, add 1 Tbs of the onion oil. Add half the rice, then add the chicken mixture and then the remaining of the rice. Add the saffron water on top. Cover and on medium-low heat let everything cook until steam comes out of the pot. About 7-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and serve.

* How many hot peppers  to include is up to you and how spicy you like your food to be.

* How long the rice needs to cooks will depend largly on the time it has been soaked in the water. The longer it has soaked, the shorter the time it will need to cook. If it's your first time making basmati rice, once the water and the rice comes to boil again check on the rice, and continue to check until it has reached that stage where it is cooked but still has a bite. Not the time it took for the rice to cook and how long you have soaked it in water before. Make that your guidline for next time you make basmati rice.

how i like it: we often serve biryani with achar, hot sauce and yougurt. Adults who like their food super spicy will eat their biryani with hot sauce and achar. And we will add yogurt to kids's plates to take off the heat a little bit.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Where have I been? What I've been doing..? And my come back

It's been a while since I last posted on this blog. Six month! A lot happened during that time. We moved from the States, started a new life in Kuwait; new home, new schools, new job for my husband. I went to Hajj, which was such an amazing transforming experience.

The reason I haven't posted something for a while, aside from the move and the new home, is that I was having doubts about me having this blog and this life. I wan't sure if this is the right thing for me to do. I wondered if there could be something else that I could be doing that is more thoughtful, more giving to the community and more purposeful. What if I volunteer at a daycare? Pursue my master? Apply for a job?  The questions and the possibilities were endless, and they were puzzling my mind.

Then I met two people that changed my perspective. First, a women that I met in Hajj who studied energetics ( the science of healing with energy). I noticed that whoever she speaks to , she gives them a little bit of information about the science she learned; enough that they could use it in their lives. When I was having a conversation with her she told me that she has been doing this for a few years now. She was convinced that, for her, this was the best way of giving what she learned back to the community. She is a housewife. She doesn't give lectures, doesn't write books or anything; she just informs people by interacting with them in small conversations. She also told me that knowledge has spread and reached us from the Prophet and Imams via these means : small circles and gatherings that took place in the mosque.

Seconde is Penny De Los Santos and I haven't really met her in person, but I purchase this course from Creative Live : food photography with Penny De Los Santos and it was such a good course to watch. Penny is so inspiring because she doesn't think of food photography as just "Food Photography", but instead she thinks of it as more of a food, culture, people, history all mixed in. And that's exactly what I think of food photography and it is the reason I like food photography; other than from being a foodie:). Amazingly I haven't heard this from any food photographer before.

I started this blog because I like to cook, bake, taste and test recipes. But I quickly figured that I can't post about every recipe that I test and every cake that I bake, this is not the place for that. I wanted my blog to be more than a collection of recipes, because you can find tons of recipes all over the internet. I want my blog to tell stories. To be a gateway to Middle Eastern, Khaleeji food, culture and lifestyle. I want to give you a taste of what it is like to be living in Kuwait, and this this my new plan and resolution for the new year. Another resolution of mine is to get better at food photography so I can better convey my stories dishes.
So no recipe today, just a little story but I hope that  you stay tuned for the  upcoming posts and recipes.

Note : Instagram is probably the only social media that I am keeping up with at the moment. If you are not already; follow me @moonface20. I am quiet active there. If you don't have Instagram you can watch my feed online here

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Goat Cheese, Lemon and Pea Pasta : DHSPC #9 and The Last Post Before We Move

House is almost empty . A pile of boxes and unwanted stuff are in the center of the living room. Suitcases are laying open around the rooms waiting to be filled. And my back is aching from sleeping on the floor. We are finally ready to move for good.

My mood and feelings are all over the place. It's not easy leaving somewhere you lived in for 9 years. A place I came to a 16 years old newlywed girl. So naive and inexperienced. Now leaving a 25 years old all grown up women with two kids and a life experience that can fill a book. It won't be easy  adjusting to the fact that  we won't be coming back anymore.

Still, with all that that is going on, I am well determined to improve my food photography. I've been sleeping with "Plate to Pixel" by talented Helene Dujardin by my side for the past week. Trying to take every bit of it slowly and reflecting on it with my pictures. And I wasn't going to skip this month's Donna Hay styling and photo challenge hosted by lovely Simon from Junglefrong Cooking.

Recipe taken from Donna Hay magazine issue #55
Photo taken by William Meppem. Styling by: David Morgan

The dish and picture she chose seemed easy to replicate. The dish is goat cheese, lemon and pea pasta. Very light and perfect for summer. I followed the recipe except for a few things. I didn't use arugula because we don't eat this kind of green, so I substituted that for fresh mint. And instead of lemon I used lime juice and lime rind because that's what I had and I am trying to empty the fridge. Did I mention that we're moving?!  Done. And it only took me about 20 minutes.

Now to taking the picture which is the real challenge. A few days ago I was ironing clothes and I notice how the light  coming from the window was so soft yet crisp and beautiful. I took a note of the time      ( 6:48 p.m) and I decided that this is where and when I am going to take the picture for the challenge, and I planned it around this time yesterday. Unfortunately yesterday was cloudy and gloomy and not a bit of that golden sunlight was coming through the window. But I set up the shooting anyways because I didn't have much time to submit . I just had to adjust.

I set the the white balance to cloudy and increase the exposure in the exposure compensation by a full mark to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Window on the left, reflector supported by an empty trash can on the right.

My setup, taken with iPhone camera in the same position as my dSLR

As for the props, I didn't have a small pan similar to the picture on hand so I substituted that for a white ramekin bowl which I think enhanced the light airy feeling of the picture. The thing I struggled with the most was getting the right crop for the picture. Since my setup  was so small and narrow and everything around it is a  chaos.

Choosing the lens is also a big decision. I kept alternating between my 50 mm 1.8 and my newly purchased 100mm 2.8. My 50mm is very light and easy to work with even without a tripod especially if I set it to the biggest aperture 1.8 and it gives crisp pictures and honest representation of the scene. The 100mm is very powerful. It gives the right crop from far behind and because it streches the scene I can get away with the narrow set up and not show the mess around it. Both gave me nice pictures. But I am still in the learning about which lens to choose for which picture. I know for sure that for nature and landscape photography I am better with a wide angle lens and for portrait  I am better with a telephoto lens. But I am still not sure what to choose when it comes to food photography.

Styling was very easy and simple as well. I layed a white pillow case all over, and then put an ironed and folded one underneath the bowl. I really liked the fold in the original shot , so I made sure that it is visible in most of my images. Since the styling is very plain and simple things like a fold in the cloth can add a lot of virtual interest and texture. For even more interest, I added a fork in some of the images.The only thing I don't like about my pictures is how the cheese is melted and all over the pasta instead of crumbled on top. That made for a not so clean feel.

Post processing I adjusted the exposure even more. Did some retouching to very few spots that were on the sheet beneath the bowl. I didn't want a very contrasty picture so in some of them I actually decrease the contrast. And then there was this blue tint that is in the original picture. I tried to replicate that by adjusting the white balance and apply a mask around the food. It looked nice but not quiet like the original.

Of the few pictures I took I liked these three:

I like the lighting in this picture, but the angel is not quiet right. More bowl is showing than food. I didn't apply a blue tint to this one since I liked the lighting so much.
Lens: 50mm 1.8.  ISO 800,  f 3.5,  1/25

Angel is better in this one. I liked this one and the one beneath the most. It was a hard decision choosing between the two. Ultimately I chose the other one for submission because of the added visual interest of the cloth fold and the fork. Although I like the simplicity of this one very much.
Lens: 100 mm 2.8. ISO 800, f/3.5, 1/15

My winning shot. I chose it because of the better angel on the food. The soft light hitting the pasta and the added interest of the fold and the fork.
Lens: 100mm 2.8. ISO 800,  f/5, 1/6

Recipe : 

Goat’s cheese, lemon and pea pasta
Serves                          4
Prep time                    5  minutes
Cook time                  12 minutes
Total time                  17 minutes
Dietary Meal type    Vegetarian Main Dish
 From magazine        Donna Hay magazine
400g penne
420g frozen peas (2 cups)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 tablespoons lemon rind (finely grated) 2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
240g goat's cheese (crumbled)
50g rocket (arugula, chopped)
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes, adding the peas in at the last minute, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Add the garlic, lemon rind, lemon juice and olive oil and toss well to coat. Add the goat's cheese, rocket, salt and pepper and mix until just combined. 

how i like it: I really like this dish. It's very fresh and light yet satisfying at the same time. Lemon, garlic and olive oil is a winner combination for any dish and meal. I think this is perfect for lunch and supper and I would recommend eating it cold instead of room temperature.

So this this going to be my last post from the U.S. Yesterday after I finished shooting, I packed my lenses, reflector and tripod so they are ready to travel. Next time I blog will be in about a month  inshallah . I will be at my parents' house posting about delicious (and hopefully better photographed) Ramadan's food, dishes, recipes and traditions, so stay tuned. Until then..Good Bye!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Simple Iranian Salad: The highlight of the meal

I was nine years old when I visited Iran for the first time. We stayed there for about a month. Coming from industrialized, deserted Kuwait, this was the first time in my life that I see mountains, rivers, flowers and greens as far as the eye can go. I never experienced such a beauty before, it was like stepping into a fairytale , a story or a movie. For most of you that may seem like an ordinary/everyday scene but we really didn't get to see these things except in  movies and read about them in poems.

My brother looking at the street shops near our hotel

On the way to the Haram ( the holy shrine of Imam Ridda) in Mash'had, streets are full of small shops selling everything from ripe, delicious fruits and vegetables, Bastani (traditional Persian ice-cream) , aromatic spices, colorful dresses and hijabs, freshly cut meat, jewelry and gemstones, books, souvenirs  and everything in between.

The streets leading to the Holy Shrine, so busy and packed with people 24 hours a day

I entered the sanctuary of Imam Ridda, and everything ; all the noise from the street, people talking, beggars begging, women fighting who to enter first, kids crying: everything seems to get quiet…I am in the Holy Shrine of the Imam…where wishes are granted and quests are answered…..such a peaceful place…yet full of energy.

Very blurry image, but the  blue dome of the Mosque near the Holy Shrine is visible
A car that has been parked near my Granma's apartment in Mash'had for ages

After we are done from our prayes and dua's, we take a taxi to the many restaurants in Mash'had. Dinner is as usual ; hot delicious saffron rice with some butter melting on top,  grilled marinated meat or chicken kabob, and soft drinks. But it wasn't  that that I always looked for..it was the small things…the appetizers they bring even without  ordering them: Mass' O Moussir ( thick tangy yogurt with mountain garlic) , freshly baked Barbari bread and this salad ( fresh ripe vegetable with some kind of a mayonnaise  dressing). We would actually be half full by the time the real dinner arrives.

Mariam trying out Chador at a fiend's house

Iran was so cheap at that time. We felt instantly so rich because we could afford things  we couldn't back home. We could ride on first class airplanes and trains, and we probably would have afford the whole candy store by our place with only our weekly allowance.

Unfortunately I don't have many pictures to show you. The few pictures here are from 4 years ago when I last visited Iran with my family. I will make sure though that I don't' miss any photo opportunity the next time I am there, which I pray not to be too long from now.

What's your most memorable vacation?