Smoked salmon, cantaloupe and mozzarella salad with lemon juice and mint

This might seem like a strange one, but trust me, it works. The more conventional pairing would be prosciutto and cantaloupe, but for those of us who don't eat ham, smoked salmon and cantaloupe might be an interesting combination to try. I'm sure there will be some who find this combination too wild for their tastebuds though. In any case, this is a very loose recipe, as salads go, so feel free to make adjustments based on your preferences.

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Ingredients (serves 2):
¼ of a small cantaloupe, sliced or in chunks, to your preference
10-12 small, fresh mozzarella balls
100g smoked salmon
some leafy greens of your choice
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
some fresh mint leaves, shredded

Preparation:
Arrange and layer the cantaloupe, mozzarella balls and smoked salmon on the salad leaves.
In a small bowl, combine the honey, lemon juice, olive oil and fresh mint. Whisk and then drizzle over the salad. Scatter some more fresh mint on top if you wish.

Avocado, cream cheese, tomato and alfalfa sprout sandwich

So this is my favourite sandwich to make at the moment. Avocado, cream cheese, tomato and alfalfa sprouts. I love the creaminess of the avocado (and cream cheese, of course), the sweetness of the tomatoes, with the crunchiness of the alfalfa sprouts. Being a big meat eater, it's hard to believe that it could be so yummy.

Surprisingly, it's also quite filling. But I'd happily eat one of them even if you woke me up at 3am and randomly passed me a sandwich. Just saying.

Alfalfa sprouts + avocado = an awesome sandwich

I've also been adding them to tuna sandwiches and egg sandwiches, which also taste great. What can I say, the crunchiness adds a new dimension to your sandwich and somehow makes it more satisfying to eat.

Cooking Stories

Before I left Jordan, I had this project in mind that I really wanted to do. I wanted to make videos of Arab women, telling their stories and cooking a traditional Arab dish. I had some trouble finding willing participants and fitting it around my studies. But I'm grateful that I managed to film two Arab women, one of them - my Arabic teacher who went above and beyond to help me film this, and the other, the sister of another amazing Arabic teacher who taught me. I really hope I get the chance to create more of these videos and explore deeper into the stories and find more personalities, in Jordan or perhaps another country.

The Simple Things in Life

So, I made a video with a similar idea a few years back, called The Joy of Simple Things. It was a short and half-baked video. But I revisited this idea, built on it a bit more and made it my video project for Level 2 Classical Arabic. It's about my love for capturing the small moments in life, like how the light shines through the trees, the sound of the leaves when the wind blows, or how the birds fly over me. I'm quite proud of how it turned out, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I loved making it:

My love for food photography

So at the institute that I'm studying at, sometimes our final project is to create a video which shows your speaking ability. 

This is my Level 1 video for Classical Arabic. I'll admit I made quite a few mistakes in grammar and pronunciation, but to be fair, I had only been learning Arabic for two and a half months at that point. It is titled "حبّي لتصوير الطعام" which translates as "My Love for Food Photography".

These are the images that I ended up with after shooting the video:

Stay tuned for the next post, where I'll be sharing the video I did for Level 2!

The move to Amman

So this has been a long time coming. So much has happened since my last post in May 2013. I went to a Ace Camp video-making workshop with Tiger in a Jar in Asheville, NC (which I should really write a post on) and made a video on it. I quit my job in London. I moved back to Singapore. I went to China and also made a video of the community work we did in a village there. Lots of big, life-changing events. The biggest being my move to Amman, Jordan, earlier in March this year, to study the Arabic language with not much prior knowledge of it, apart from a vague and dusty memory of its alphabet/characters. Fast forward six and a half months and I'm almost halfway through my 15-month course, having learnt lots but barely scratching the surface at the same time. I haven't really recorded much of my time here, but it's been amazing and a huge blessing, to be learning Arabic from some really great teachers and to have met lots of interesting people and to have made some really good friends during my time here.

I have not been taking as many food photos here in Jordan as I usually do, as I don't have all my props, clothes, plates, cutlery and such, to be able to style as I would like to. And in the beginning, I took quite a few photos at the places we ate at, but then I lost my phone, and after that, I really didn't take that many photos in general, especially with my DSLR. Mostly, I didn't want to constantly look like a tourist, in a country where people have no qualms about staring at you. And that's really quite strange to me, having lived in London, where people avoid eye contact on the tube. But here are some photos that I managed to dig out from the past couple of months.

 Mansaf - Jordan's national dish, a rice dish with lamb and yoghurt.

Mansaf - Jordan's national dish, a rice dish with lamb and yoghurt.

 All buildings in Jordan are pretty much the same colour. Sandstone.

All buildings in Jordan are pretty much the same colour. Sandstone.

 One of the first pictures I took when I first arrived in Jordan.

One of the first pictures I took when I first arrived in Jordan.

 Arabic sweets at Habiba.

Arabic sweets at Habiba.

 In Petra.

In Petra.

 A meal we had after a field trip to Ajloun Castle.

A meal we had after a field trip to Ajloun Castle.

 Our trip to Wadi Rum, back in May

Our trip to Wadi Rum, back in May

Marmalade making

I made marmalade for the first time this year. I wanted to make it last year, but missed the Seville season. This year, armed with a copy of Salt Sugar Smoke, a bunch of Seville oranges, blood oranges and grapefruit, I finally made my first batch of marmalade. I struggled a fair bit trying to get it to set properly, I think I might not have scraped off enough pectin from the muslin bag. Strangely enough, it seems to be fairly set in my flat, but when I bring it in to the office, it starts to melt. Probably because it is considerably warmer in the office kitchen.

Regardless, it seems to be quite popular, with the jars lasting only a day or 2 when I remember to bring them in. And amazingly, it seems to convert marmalade haters too. So if you want try possibly the best marmalade in the world, check out this recipe by Nick Selby of Melrose & Morgan.

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Dinner with friends

I recently bought this book, The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage. I'd been browsing through it at Waterstones a while back and one recipe caught my eye immediately. The photo in the book was just beautiful. Vibrant, red pomegranate seeds and coriander sat on top of chicken breasts in a pool of pomegranate sauce. I didn't buy the book then, but knew I wanted to cook that recipe. So I looked it up online and to my joy, the Daily Mail had posted it as an accompaniment to the book review.

I cooked it once. I cooked it twice. Then I cooked it a few more times. For myself. For others. And I fell in love with it. The sauce is heavenly and I found myself craving for everything pomegranate. By the second time that I made that dish, I'd ordered and gotten the cookbook and spent ages just looking at the food photography, all the amazing textures, colours and incredible looking food. All I wanted to do was just to cook from the book.

And so I had the chance when A came up from Falmouth to stay at mine for a day, before flying back to Czech for New Year's. We wanted to cook, so I thought I'd invite a friend of mine and her mum, seeing as they invited me to join their Christmas dinner. And here's what we ate:

Starter
Zucchini and dill fritters with dill yoghurt dip
Pumpkin hummus with toasted pita bread

Main
Chicken with pomegranate
Saffron rice
Monk's salad / eggplant salad / el-raheb

Dessert
Apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream

Well, only two of the things we cooked came from the cookbook, the rest from a bunch of different websites and the saffron rice I kind of made up myself.

Recipe from SBS food
Ingredients for zucchini fritters (serves 5-7):
600g zucchini
sea salt
1 small onion, grated
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
100g feta, crumbled
¼ cup finely chopped dill
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup plain flour
2 tbsp rice flour
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Preparation:
Grate the zucchini coarsely and put into a colander. Sprinkle lightly with salt and toss, then leave for 20 minutes to drain. Rinse the zucchini briefly, then squeeze it to extract as much liquid as you can and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Mix the zucchini with the onion, garlic, feta, herbs and eggs in a large bowl. Sift on the flours, then season with pepper and stir to combine.

Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat until sizzling. Drop small tablespoons of batter into the hot oil and flatten gently. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve piping hot.

Recipe adapted from The Lebanese Recipes Kitchen
Ingredients for dill yoghurt dip:
Dill yoghurt dressing
200g carton Greek-style yoghurt
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
1 garlic clove, crushed

Preparation:
To make the dill yoghurt dressing, combine the yoghurt, dill and garlic in a small bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Recipe adapted from The Lebanese Kitchen cookbook
Ingredients for pumpkin hummus (serves 8):
500g pumpkin, peeled, seeded, diced
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
400g (before draining) can of chickpeas, drained, with ¼ cup of the juices reserved
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tbsp tahini
juice of 2 lemons
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp chopped coriander

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Put the pumpkin into a roasting pan, drizzle with a little oil and roast for half an hour or until tender. Remove from oven and let it cool completely. Drain the chickpeas, reserving ¼ cup of the can juices, and rinse. Put the chickpeas into a food processor, add the garlic cloves, tahini and pumpkin and process for a few minutes.

Add the reserved can juices, followed by half the amount of lemon juice and the sea salt and process until smooth. Taste and add more lemon juice, if you like. Scrape the hummus into a serving dish, drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with coriander and serve.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Beirut
Ingredients for eggplant salad (serves 3-4):
2 large eggplants, roasted over a flame or in the oven till skin is blackened, then peeled and drained and diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced or several spring onions, chopped
several tablespoons of chopped parsley
½ cucumber, diced (optional)
½ green pepper, diced (optional)

Dressing:
One or more tablespoons of pomegranate molasses mixed with double the volume of olive oil; add a clove or two of garlic, mashed with a dash of salt.

Preparation:
Wrap the eggplant with 3 layers of foil and roast it over the your gas hob, turning it every 5 minutes to get it even. After roasting, cut it in half, remove the flesh from the skin and drain it to get rid of the juices. Dice the eggplant once drained. Put aside some of the chopped tomatoes and parsley to layer on top of the salad. Mix the eggplant with the rest of the ingredients and assemble the salad.

Recipe from The Lebanese Kitchen cookbook
Ingredients for chicken with pomegranate (serves 4):
4 chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
2 spring onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
100 ml pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon clear honey
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
3 tbsp lemon juice
5 thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh coriander, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Brush the chicken with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet or frying pan, add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until golden brown, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put into an ovenproof dish. Put all the remaining ingredients, except the pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander into a food processor and process until thoroughly combined. Pour the sauce over the chicken and cook in the oven for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander and serve.

Ingredients for saffron rice (serves 3-4):
2 cups basmati rice
2½ cups chicken/vegetable stock
pinch of saffron threads
½ tsp turmeric
1 cinnamon stick

Preparation:
Just cook how you'd normally cook rice, but with stock instead of water and the extra ingredients.

Seeing as she now bakes for a living, I told A she was in charge of dessert. Put on the spot, she couldn't make up her mind on what to make, so I suggested these apple dumplings, which I hadn't eaten in more than 2 years.

Recipe adapted from stacy newgent's at design*sponge
Ingredients for apple dumplings (serves 6):
3-4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
almonds, crushed
    
Pastry:
300g flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
85g butter + extra for the filling
180ml milk

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Work in butter and add milk- then mix until dry ingredients are well moistened. Turn out onto a floured counter and knead until smooth. Roll dough out to 1/4” (a little more than ½ cm) thick and cut into 6 squares, or smaller squares to make more.

Put a few apple pieces onto each square along with a dash of sugar and a pat of butter. Fold the corners inward to make a square, making the corners overlap in the center. Put into a baking dish.

Sauce:
300g white sugar
80g brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
½ tsp salt
350ml boiling water
85g butter
1 tsp vanilla

Stir sugars, salt and flour together in a pan.  Stir in boiling water, add butter, vanilla and place over low heat until the sauce begins to thicken a bit. Pour ¾ of the sauce over the dumplings and bake at 205C/185C fan covered for about 30 minutes - then pour the rest of the sauce in and sprinkle with crushed almonds- bake uncovered for another 15 minutes until brown. Serve right away with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

And so that was our big, big dinner. I went slightly over the top with the amount of food, but at least I don't have to cook for the next 3 days.

Summer berry tarts

Along with the grilled peach crostinis, I also made some berry tarts that day. The stores seem to be trying to get rid of all the berries, so there's a lot of offers going on. I bought a whole kilo of strawberries for £3.99! So I ended up buying a whole lot of different types of berries and planned to photograph them.

But I couldn't let them go to waste, so I made some tarts with crème pâtissière, topped with these lovely summer berries.

Sweet Pastry Crust:
195g flour
113g unsalted cold butter, diced into squares
50g icing sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Mix the flour and icing sugar. Add the butter and work lightly into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. You can do this using a food processor or by hand. Add the beaten egg and gently work the dough just until it forms a ball. Flatten the pastry into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200C and place rack in center of oven. Lightly butter and flour your tart pans. Roll the chilled pastry on a floured surface and line the tart pans with it.

Prick the pastry with a fork and blind bake with baking beans/rice/whatever your fancy for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180C and continue to bake the crust for another 10-15 minutes or until dry and lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely before filling.

Crème pâtissière:
1 cup whole milk
3 tbsp cornflour
⅓ cup caster sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
50g butter
½ vanilla bean

Dissolve the cornflour in ½ cup of cold milk. Add eggs to cornflour mixture.
Combine the rest of the milk and the sugar, and if using the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from half the pod and add to milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and slowly drizzle hot milk mixture into the egg/cornflour mixture, whisking constantly. As the eggs become more comfortable with the hot temperature, you can add the milk more quickly.

Pour this back into the saucepan and cook, over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the cream comes together. It will take a while, but once it starts, it will move quickly. Keep stirring until the cream has become thick. Cook until you see one or two bubbles pop from the cream, to make sure to cook out the chalky texture of the cornflour.

Transfer the pastry cream to a clean bowl. Beat in softened butter and if using the vanilla extract, add it here. Place over a bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Cover with plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from building up. Keep over ice or in the refrigerator until use.

I like to add whipped cream to the crème pâtissière to make it lighter and more mousse-like. To assemble these tarts, simply fill the cooled tart cases with the pastry cream and top with your choice of berries. Garnish with mint leaves and serve. If that doesn't say summer, what does?