Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mary's Lebanese Sfoof Cake...and a whole lot of love.

An 'out of the blue' incident that made my day!

My neighbor, Mary, is from Lebanon and doesn't speak much English but we communicate happily with a few words, sign language and exchanging food & fruit.

Mary brings some of this cake over every time she makes it and I love it...when she brought it last Friday I asked her if she could have one of her grandchildren write down the recipe as I loved it (all this with actions and a few words). She nodded and left.
On Saturday when I got back from my walk Bob said Mary had been over. His smile was that of a man who's embarrassed.
"What did she bring?" (You can tell Mary's spoiled me/us.)
"Nothing. She wanted you. She said something that sounded like receipt."
"Ah!" I caught on. "She wanted to give me a recipe I asked for! Where is it?"
"She didn't give me anything. I told her you'd gone out." He made the motions of turning a steering wheel, looking at me hopefully.
" You did great. I'll walk across and get the recipe. Be right back!"
I rang the bell and Mary opened the door. "Come in! Come in!"
I followed her to the kitchen and she took out a piece of plastic and spread it on her counter (smart move). Then she took out baking stuff and all the ingredients. I wanted to object but wondered if that would be rude. She had it all planned. It had taken fifteen or sixteen years for us to get to this point.
She looked at the surprise on my face and as I'd voiced my protests said, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
I know a determined woman when I come across one and no one knows better than me it is easier to watch how a dish is made and learn than to try it out alone.
The end result was a beautiful cake, a delicious cup of coffee strong enough to make me want to come home and clean my house till it looked as good as hers.
When she had the cake in the oven I looked out the window.
The back garden is immaculate...I mean immaculate.
"Very nice." I said feebly vowing not to let her see mine till the gardener put some work into it.
Mike her husband is 82 and she is 78 (first she said 87 but when I wrote it down and showed her she reversed the numbers). I told her Iw as 66. "Yes?" she said. "You baby!"
A baby who apparently wasn't able to keep everything as neat and tidy as well as Mary could. She watches her 7 grandchildren; the youngest of whom is turning 3 and a regular little Denis the Menace according to her and has so many aches and pains. I didn't dare tell her about the pain in my back. The 'you baby' remark was painfully fresh in my mind.
The cake was ready, I ran home for my camera. I told her son who had come downstairs that I would put it on my cooking blog if that was okay. There was a lot of smiling and excited talk after that while I took my pictures.
I refused the whole cake, thanked Mary and came home with a few deliciously warm pieces on a plate.
I was so touched I was almost ready to cry.

P.S. My house is in the same condition as it was yesterday!

Mary's Sfoof Cake

Grease a 9 by 11 glass baking dish (It has to be glass).
Mary poured olive oil into her hand and greased the dish with that.

Into a mixing bowl she measured:

4 cups all purpose flour
1 heaped tsp Anise powder (Mary had the container from Costco, our wholesale place but I'm sure fennel/somph roasted in the microwave and powdered would give as great a flavor. I put this in before I researched the word fennel and realized what Mary had used was star anise powder not somph/saunf powder as I first wrote about. The powder in her container was dark brown)
11/2 tsp baking powder.
Separately she mixed and added to this:  
3/4 to 1 cup sugar ( Mary used 3/4)
1/2 tsp turmeric

3/4 cup corn oil

water (Mary used less than 3/4 cup water)

White sesame seeds (for topping only).

Mix the turmeric and sugar with a spoon and then add to other dry ingredients in the bowl.
Mix well.
Add oil and mix.
Add water and mix gathering dough to middle gently.
The end result has to be slightly more watery than cake dough.
She poured it into the pan, took some more oil in the palm of her hand and used it to spread the dough to the corners of the pan.
She sprinkled a generous amount of sesame seed on the top and baked it for ten minutes on the lower shelf of the oven...after seven minutes she kept taking it out and looking at the bottom of the cake.
When the bottom of the cake was as brown as the top looks in the picture, she turned the oven to broil for three minutes, moved the cake to the top shelf watching carefully till the top was a deep golden brown too.
When it had cooled a bit (five minutes), she cut it into large diamonds. This cake was about 1/2 an inch thick...the pieces she gave me with my cup of coffee are on top just to show what the pieces look like. The corner pieces were slightly darker brown and crunchy...truly amazing.
In all such a great experience.
Language isn't a barrier unless you let it become one and I'm so happy to know Mary and her family.

From Wikipedia: Anise also called aniseed, is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. Its flavor has similarities with some other spices, such as star anise, fennel, .... Therefore, the same name ( saunf) is usually given to both of them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


This is healthy and delicious and tastes better the next day.
I got the recipe from a cousin, years ago. As HD loves it, I've kept improving on it till it found a place in the family 5 star cookbook.
This is what I used today as our ripe tomatoes aren't really juicy...they've travelled a long way in refrigerated trucks and are beautiful and shiny red but flavor wise I had to use other ingredients to get the taste I wanted.
If you have great tomatoes use about eight.
2 cups Basmati rice...cook and cool.
3 Tbsps Olive oil
1 oz butter or ghee.
Bay leaf, cloves, elaichi, cinnamon.
1 huge tomato, chopped.
1 16 oz can peeled chopped tomatoes.
2 ozs tomato sauce.
1/2 cup frozen peas (optional).
1 large/2 medium onions, chopped.
I really good, firm, tasty, tomato. (Chop and set aside.)
1/2 cup chopped haridhania/fresh coriander.
5 mint leaves chopped fine.
1/2 cup haridhania, 4 cloves garlic...ground fine.
1 tsp biriyani pulao masala or garam masala powder.
Salt, chilli powder and pepper taste.
!/4 tsp haldi.
Heat oil. Add bay leaf, cloves, elaichi and cinnamon. As you get the first whiff of spices, add the butter or ghee and lower the heat.
After 2-3 mins when the smell is great, put in chopped onion. You might have to remove the spices first, if you are making this for folk not used to eating 'around' our spices.
Fry onions golden brown, remove 2 Tbsp and set aside.
To the rest, add ground masala and the huge chopped tomato.
(If using all fresh tomatoes, add them now.)
Fry for about five mins on medium heat.
Add the canned tomatoes and sauce, frozen peas, chopped haridhania, salt, chilli powder, biriyani masala powder, pepper powder and haldi.
Cover and let it cook on medium for ten minutes. It should thicken to the consistency of thick dosa batter.
(I usually make extra so this is a large quantity. It freezes well and tastes great on it's own with dosa or chapati)
Mix rice lightly with your hand to make sure grains are separate. Pour tomato mix over rice (I used one cup mix for 1 cup rice but it's your choice whether you want the rice barely or richly coated...both versions taste good).
Mix well, then place on stove on low for 5 mins or while you fry the vades.
You can dot the top with a little more butter before you do this. 
Place in bowl, surround with freshly chopped tomatoes, sprinkle with reserved fried onion and finely chopped fresh mint.
The fresh chopped tomatoes were done by a chef at a catered party and are really a great idea. If the rice is a bit spicy, the fresh tomatoes cool your mouth so well.
The chopped mint gives a really good taste as well, but it really has to be fine.
The tomato rice pairs really well with the channa dal vases (especially the chill one HD says) and it tastes better the next day.
Tomato rice freezes and reheats well but I prefer freezing the mix and then adding freshly cooked/day old rice to it.

Tips: You could blanch the tomatoes first if you like.
Also chop them small or cook them longer so they disintegrate in the cooking.
I add a few pieces at the end and cook for a couple of minutes as HD likes that but that's just my twist on it.

When you can, try a recipe/veggie totally different from what you are used may surprise yourself.
I've watched chefs on cooking shows use celery bulbs so many times and talk so highly about the flavor. Finally picked up one and a few hours later was wondering why I'd waited so long.
After the photo shoot (for pic 1), I washed and sliced the bulb, removed the leaves and chopped those and stored them for future use in soups.
I sprayed a frying pan and put the sliced fennel and sliced carrots, turned them over when brown and covered lightly to make sure they cooked through. I put half the amount of salt I would normally use and pepper to taste. Then I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese and pepper on top and put it in the toaster oven for the cheese to melt. (Remember the earlier comment about half the salt...that's because the cheese might make it too salty). After sprinkling some finely chopped fennel leaves on top, I served it with hot sauce on the side and it was gone in a few minutes!
The fennel did not have a strong anise/somph flavor, looked like onion slice but melted in the mouth like only fennel can...the carrots made a nice contrast. Chilli powder would go great with this too but I was making it for someone who cannot have any because of diet restrictions.
Some shortcuts for busy folk who still want to present the best dishes possible. These are made and stored in my Food Bank and I get a good return on my investment on days filled with other demands on my time.
1. Fry some rai, urad dal (use jeera instead of dal or with), karipata and red chillies with hing in oil and keep this 'agar/phodni/talchu' in a bottle in the fridge. When mixed with any cooked/steamed veggie, you have a side dish in mins. Proportion for rai is 1 to 2 urad dal for this.
2. Dry roast the above ingredients, grind and store in a small jar in the fridge. When I'm making coconut chutney, I add a spoonful and it enhances the taste.
3. Clean, cook veggies and freeze them in small bags when they are fresh and they are ready to be cooked alone or in a curry as needed. PLEASE NOTE: I also serve something fresh at the meal to compensate for the loss of any nutrients and encourage those who worry about frozen food to take a vitamin.
4. My most used ingredients are peeled and grated ginger and garlic that is frozen on a plate and then cut into cubes and stored in the freezer. The juices from the fresh ginger and garlic help 'bind' it to burfi like cubes. Ration I use is half a piece of ginger to one piece of garlic.
5. Slice a batch of onions in the food processor, fry them golden brown and bag them (one tablespoon per bag). Freeze this and use as needed.
6. In a little oil but mostly pure ghee, I fry 10 bay leaves (ours are small), 5 1 inch cinnamon sticks, 30 cloves (buds removed of course), big and small elaichi and 10 anise. This has to be done on medium till the aroma is really strong. Bottle, cool and store in the fridge.
7. In summer when it is raining tomatoes, I chop these too and freeze the surplus neighbors give me. One to two tomatoes per bag...they are easy to separate.
8. ditto with all herbs.
Having a 'no free time day'? Take out one bag of onions, one of tomatoes, ginger, garlic, cilantro and a bag of frozen fried cauliflower and some peas. Add garam masala, chill powder, haldi, salt and any other masala you use. Simmer ten mins. If you like you can finish with a tablespoon of each or all of the following: coconut milk, ground khus khus/cashewnut powder.
If you're not making chapatis, cook some rice in the rice cooker with a tablespoon of the ready bay leaf/spices mix and salt. I add fried onions to this too.
While the rice and curry are cooking, chop up a salad or make a chutney/raita to finish the meal. i usually start the rice and I'm done by the time its ready or sooner. All this prep means I have fewer dishes/gadgets to wash too.
Now all you brilliant chefs, share your shortcuts here...

Try this:
When making idlis I sometimes pour half the batter in the pan (has to be thick), then put a tsp of thick chutney in the middle and then pour the other half of the batter on top and steam.
Here I've used coconut chutney (brown because of the tamarind paste plus there has to be a color contrast), but using different, red and brown would make for a colorful and surprise presentation. 
I serve extra chutney on the side for those die hards who need to drown their idlis in chutney.
Saba Rahman and Florence Graves, the recipe link is here for the idlis:…/Payt%20Puja%20Presents%205%… 
If you don't get to it please Google and then a search for 5 star idlis. My blog is where the best family recipes are.
Idlis depend on so many things though, the weather, the fermenting, the kind of rice...even mine don't come out the same twice in a row so it needs a little experimentation.
Re-reading my recipe I have to point out I use a Kitchen Aid blender now as I no longer have the stone electrical grinder. With the Vitamin I don't seem to get as good results as it heats up the dough while grinding it.
Pre-made powder for chutney: I have this powder ground and ready and a spoon of it goes into fresh coconut chutney. 1 rai, 2 urad dal, 1whole jeera, 1/3 methi seeds, red chillies.
Roast each in a pan or in the mic if you are familiar with that method. Grind, cool and store.
Fresh chutney: 1 cup grated coconut, 2 Tbsps fried channa/pottu kadalai, roasted gram ( ready to eat kind without the skin) 1 green chilly, 3 cloves garlic, 1/2 tsp tamarind paste (its a concentrate so err on the side of caution and use less first), salt to taste. Halfway through I put in a tsp of the powder.
I add another red chilly here after I take out some chutney for me as HD likes chutneys spicy. This was ground in the Vitamix as it does a good job when very little water is used.
Curd chillies...a delicious accompaniment to a meal.
We are in the midst of summer here with temperatures in the high nineties/low hundreds. The heat got me trying this very old recipe from my mother and in laws, with a new twist in the way of additional spices from Aayi'
Curd chillies have been preserved for ages in the summer and my in laws made them at home. These salted chillies are delicious deep fried. They are not just an accompaniment for Indian meals...when the kids were young we had spaghetti once a week and these fried and crumbled on top of the sauce would just make the dish so much better.
They are made in large quantities but as I was experimenting with the dish for the first time, I made a small amount. For those who don't want to bother with the process they are available in all supermarkets in South India.
For 10 chillies:
Powder 2 tsps cumin seed, 1/3 tsp fennel seeds, pinch of hing (aayi'
Mix the above powder with 1/2 cup salt
Green chillies (use serrano if you can get them otherwise jalapeƱo are fine).
Wash, pat dry and slit.
Stuff with salt mix.
Soak in 2 cups curd whipped with 1 tsp salt or use very thick buttermilk.
Soak chillies for 3 days in this curd. (I refrigerated it).
Remove chillies from curd and place on plate to dry in the sun reserving curd mixture.
Every night place the chillies back in the curd and dry the next day till all the curd is used up. I just did this for three days and then let the chillies dry completely in the sun till they are really crisp.
Some people lightly fry them, store them and re fry them. 
I store them and fry them in a very little oil before eating. They have to be fried well...note the dark one (fried) on the plate below.
Mine seem to have a thick coating of curd that the store bought ones don't have...I guess they use thin buttermilk.
First picture was half way through the drying process when I just had to fry and taste one. Second pictures shows color of finished product.
Summer Bounty: Fig Jam and Mascarpone tarts.
A generous neighbor who keeps giving me figs, Sabena Winkle's comment about figs and link to a post, Sonal Gupta's help in finding her friend's recipe for mascarpone all added up to some new, delicious tarts for the granddaughter's party. What would I do without my good friends?
Crust for tart shells (can be made 2 days early and stored in an airtight container after cooling): I used the ready made pie sheets, defrosted them and rolled them out to about 1 mm thin. Cut them to the size you want, place the circles in muffin pans, dock them (prick the bottom with a fork) and bake according to package directions. You might have to gather up the sheet into a ball and re-roll to get the proper thickness.
Mascarpone (can be made a couple of days early too):…/06/30/home-made-mascarpone-che…/
(only change in the making was I heated the cream in the microwave.)
Before using: Whip two table spoons of heavy cream into peaks, add mascarpone, 1/3-1/2 cup honey, 1 tsp lemon zest and 1 Tbsp lemon juice and mix well. (do not over beat.)
Fig Jam:
I follow the instructions on the Sure Jell pkt for making jam. For this recipe the jam has to be thick. When I want to use it as a topping I make it thinner and always freeze both versions. I make the jam with less sugar than the recipe calls for as the Sure Jell makes sure it jells.
Some assembly required: On cooled shells place half a tsp of refrigerated mascarpone cheese and top off with fig this just before serving.
My picture shows the reverse as I took the shells topped off with jam to the party and then just before serving added the refrigerated mascarpone.
The taste of the mascarpone and the combo of pastry, jam and cheese are worth trying these tarts for. You can use any jam to make this.