Chicken and Tortilla Lasagna

Chicken Tortilla Lasagne

Well, I just realised that this my second back-to-back lasagna recipe on the blog! Though this is not “techincally” a lasagna, I’m calling it that because a) it has layers; b) there’s lots of cheese; and c) its so comforting! In fact, this is one of my all-time favourite comfort foods, so I thought I’d share it with you all today.

Speaking of “comfort”… Can I take a moment to point all you lovely readers to a post I’ve written on another blog on a rather uncomfortable subject: 8 Things No-one Tell You About Having a C-Section. I am currently three months post partum and it’s been quiet a journey! Along with my other friends, I’m trying to document as much of it as possible, mostly for selfish reasons (its very therapeutic!) but also in case it can help any body else in a similar situation. You can find out more by clicking on the “Being Us” tab at the top of this page.

Anyway, I first tried this recipe when my Aunty was in Pakistan, and I asked her to teach me something new.  She pulled out this recipe and told me it was from her trusted “Best of Bridge” cookbook. This was the second time she had introduced me to a recipe from it (the first being Banana Bread) so I decided I needed to get my hands on the book the next time I was in London.

But no matter how high and low I searched, it seemed it wasn’t available in the UK! Eventually, she sent it over for me from Canada and I’ve been flagging up recipes to try from it ever since.

Best of Bridge Cookbook

If you like lasagna (who doesn’t?!) then you will love this. Its perfect as a meal on its own, but quite heavy! So you could also serve it in smaller slices as a side dish (and it can easily be made ahead and baked on the day, so its a good one to flag up for a dinner party).

Ingredients: (adapted from “The Best of The Best and more”)

8 flour tortillas
1 roast/rotisserie chicken, shredded
3/4 tsp cumin powder
2 cups sour cream
1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups hot salsa*

*Please don’t use mild salsa. The sour cream really mellows out the overall taste in this dish, so anything milder than hot salsa will be too bland. If you live in the UK, see this link for the Asda one I use.

First of all, use your hands to roughly shred up the chicken. You should end up with about 3 cups worth. Put this into a large mixing bowl, and add the cumin, sour cream and 1 cup of the cheese (keep the remaining half cup aside for now).

You can make this in any casserole dish, but I prefer to use my 9″ cake pan, lined with foil.

Now, spread about 1 heaped tablespoon worth of salsa on one side of each tortilla. To layer up, place one of the tortillas in the cake pan salsa side down, and top with some of the chicken mixture. Again, put another tortilla on top of the chicken, salsa side down, and top with more of the chicken. Repeat this until all the tortillas are layered up. Pour over the remaining salsa on top of the last one, and sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

Chicken Tortilla Lasagne

Just before hitting the oven

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for approximately 25 minutes, or until the cheese has browned.

Chicken Tortilla Lasagne

To serve, use your sharpest knife so that you can slice it up like a pizza without the layers getting messy! This can generously serve four people as a main meal on its own.

Salad

Served alongside a simple, fresh salad

Vegetarian Lasagna

This overdue blog post comes in time for Meatless Monday, and is one of my favourite vegetarian recipes. First introduced to me by my good friend NK, I love that it can easily be tweaked according to whatever your favourite vegetables are. I’m sharing my recipe (inspired by one I found in Delicious Magazine), but feel free to adjust it according to your tastes, and let me know in the comments section (below) about your own version!

Vegetarian Lasagna

If NK had a blog and wrote this post, it would go something like this: Chuck in veg. Make sauce. Add sauce. Bake. Eat! :-)

To me, even my post is written a little haphazardly this time! For one, I’ve been really lazy with the photos and taken them with my phone. My camera is tucked away upstairs and my 8 month pregnant legs just can’t be bothered to go get it, or even do more than point-and-shoot right now!

But this recipe needed to be shared so here we are:

Ingredients:

1 large (or 2 small) aubergines (eggplant to my North American friends)
2 courgettes (zucchini)
2 peppers, 1 red 1 yellow (or whatever combination you like)
1 medium-sized onion
3-4 closed cup mushrooms
1 large (or 2 small) tomatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
1 level tablespoon minced garlic
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper

2tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
Buffalo Mozzarella cheese, approximately 200g
A handful of fresh herb leaves, such as oregano and basil
Fresh egg pasta lasagna sheets (such as these)

For the white sauce:

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp plain flour
900ml milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (approx. 390 Fahrenheit).

Cut all your vegetables into bite-size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Separately, mix together the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and pour over the vegetables. Mix everything together well, and transfer to a baking tray.

Vegetables to be roasted

Roast these in your hot oven for about 30 minutes. I like to give everything a stir every 10-15 minutes, just to make sure nothing is sticking to the tray. You’ll know the vegetables are done when they are all soft and just beginning to char.

Remove from the oven, set aside and make your white sauce. Melt the butter and add the flour, stirring with a whisk for a minute or so. Then gradually add the milk, bit by bit, continuously stirring as you do so. Once all the milk has been added, keep stirring and cooking on medium-low heat, till the sauce has slightly thickened (there are some tips on making white sauce in my Chicken Pot Pie post. As this can take some practice, if this is your first time, have a look at this guide as well).

White sauce

Cook the lasagna sheets according to the instructions on the packet. How many you need will depend on their size (I used about 6 altogether).

To layer the lasagna:

Step 1: put a few spoonfuls of white sauce at the bottom of your dish. Cover with lasagna sheets. Add half of the vegetables.

Step 2: top with half of the white sauce, and sprinkle over 1 tbsp of the Parmesan.  Then cover with another set of lasagna sheets.

Step 3: top with the remaining vegetables, the remaining white sauce and the remaining Parmesan. Now tear over the Mozzarella, and sprinkle the fresh herbs, if using. If you want, you can pour over 1-2 tbsp of olive oil at this stage too.

Lower the oven temperature to 180 degrees, and bake the lasagna covered with foil initially for about 30 minutes. Then, uncover and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.

Vegetarian Lasagna

Halal Food Festival 2013

As this will be probably be my last post from London for 2013, I thought it would be fitting to write a review of London’s first Halal Food Festival which took place this past weekend!

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I was very excited about going, and my friend (SK) had booked us tickets over a month in advance. Overall, we ended up having a great time but the festival was… how can I put this… a bit of an anti-climax?! But let’s start on a positive note:

The Pros

The whole concept of a Halal Food Festival is such a great idea. Food lovers who only eat halal meat are often limited to restaurants and cuisines originating from Muslim countries (Pakistani, Arab, etc.). Most of the time when dining out, we have to skip things like Jamaican jerk chicken served at street-side joints, the best of haute cuisine such as that featuring veal, Italian desserts that feature alcohol, and the list goes on. The idea of an entire festival at which we could try whatever we want and therefore hopefully get a chance to taste cuisines we otherwise would not was very exciting!

Undoubtedly, Gaucho probably walked away the biggest “winner” out of this festival. The line for their famous Argentinian steaks swerved around about a quarter of the hall, and we stood in it for our burgers for over 40 mins!

Gaucho at the Halal Food Festival

Pic credits: @chittakookar on Instagram

Depending on who you talk to, the burger was either amazing or disappointing. I quite liked it, and especially liked the accompanying chimichurri.

Gaucho at the Halal Food Festival

The overpriced but pretty good Gaucho burger up close. Pic courtesy of @kiswaali on Instagram

Unfortunately, SK really disliked it so she had to fuel herself from the Maison Touareg stand.

There were lots of cake stands, presumably more to showcase young Muslim entrepreneurs rather than the non-existent category of “Halal Cakes.” There was one that stood out for me the most (The Enchanting Cake Co.) that had gulab jaman cupcakes! It was that kind of unique, fusion cuisine I went there to see… Another one that stood out was The Apple Blue Patisserie:

Apple Blue Patisserie at the Halal Food Festival

Pistachio Opera Cake from the Apple Blue Patisserie.

Similarly, there was a crepe stand, waffles and of course, halal sweets (free from pork gelatin).

Waffles at the Halal Food Festival

I would’ve been interested in trying the elderflower cream, but the wait was just too long…

The Creative Kitchen showcased some beautiful Eid inspired cakes, I was seriously tempted to buy some gourmet fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge to take back to Pakistan, but decided not to incase it melts on the way…

I did buy some Bee Mercy honey for my mama.

We also did some light celeb-spotting: Pearl Daisy was there in the flesh, manning her stall. Ali from the Great British Bake-Off was also there, and we caught the end of a baking “competition” he seemed to be running. Finally, Rachel Allen did cooking demonstrations and book signings!

The Cons

Let’s start with the vouchers debacle; it was made to seem like most (if not all) stands would only accept payment in the form of “Haloodi Vouchers” so we all bought some. Except most stands were not accepting them and only taking cash! As the vouchers were non-refundable, we ended up selling them to other people queuing up to buy them. What a hassle.

Secondly, the prices. I was expecting a lot more “tasters” or smaller portions at small prices, so everyone could try as much as possible. Not so. I paid a whopping £4 for a glass of lemonade! Ok, freshly squeezed. But still… £4?!

Lemonade at the Halal Food Festival

Fresh Lemonade Co.’s extortionately priced lemonade

Finally, and I think this is what disappointed me the most… the lack of variety. I can eat cake anywhere. But I can’t eat alcohol-free tiramisu everywhere! I wanted to see more variety of cuisines… For example, I know there are halal Brazilian restaurants in London; why weren’t they showcasing at the festival?

Instead, there were too many lifestyle stalls, in my opinion. I spotted a stall selling massage equipment (like chairs) and there was art, jewellery, calligraphy, and book stalls too. As well as that, there were live nasheed artists, so it was much more like a “Muslim Festival” than a “FOOD Festival”, which would’ve been fine if that’s what it had been advertised as…

All in all, I did have a great day with my lovely friends, but the best part of the day was sitting in Costa afterwards OUTSIDE the festival (which says it all really), kindly treated to lattes by NR’s husband :-)

But unless there’s more stalls, more space and lower prices next year, I probably won’t revisit.

Pastel de Tres Leches (Daring Bakers September Challenge)

This is my first ever Daring Bakers Challenge (woohoo!)

For those that aren’t familiar with it, The Daring Bakers is a online community of bakers that come together once a month to try out a new recipe (in secret!). Everyone makes the same thing, and reveals it at the same time (on the 27th of the month).

Inma of la Galletika was our Sept. 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and WOW did she bring us something decadent and delicious: “Pastel de Tres Leches” or Three Milk Cake, creamy yet airy, super moist but not soggy…

I have to confess, when I first saw the challenge I thought it seemed “easy” enough and was relieved as this was my first time participating in one! However, my first attempt was a complete flop, and if you follow my blog, you know I’m prone to cake disasters!

So the second time around, I calmed my excited-self down, read not only Inma’s recipe but also any others I could find on the Internet, and tried again.

I am beyond glad I didn’t give up; this is probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever had! As I made this in my mum’s house, there was a good five minutes where the two of us just sat there in silence eating our slices, with no other sound in the room apart from “mmmmmm!”

Daring Bakers Sept Challenge Tres Leches Cake

Its so moist, you can see some of the “three milks” at the bottom of the plate when serving!

A few things to note:

  1. Make this cake when you’re not in a rush, as you need to give the sponge enough time (preferably overnight) to soak in the milks.
  2. While making the sponge, take EXTRA care when folding the ingredients together. This was the hardest part for me: overfolding will ruin your cake. Underfolding will ruin your cake! You need to strike the perfect balance, which is totally do-able if you just pace yourself and concentrate…
  3. Don’t be put off by the very large amount of liquids in the recipe! I was sure it couldn’t be right, surely it would be too much, but trust the recipe and make it exactly as directed. You will not be disappointed!

Classic Three Milks Cake
(Servings: 12)

Ingredients for the vanilla sponge cake:
5 large eggs (separated)
½ cup (120 ml/4 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) of vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml/5 oz) plain flour (sifted)

For the three milks syrup:
1 can (14 oz) (400 gm) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 oz) (340 gm) evaporated milk
1 cup (240 ml) double cream

Topping and filling:
2 cups (500 ml) double cream (whipped)
Canned or fresh fruit (to decorate the cake)

Making the sponge:

  1. Preheat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a square 9”x9” (23cmx23 cm) pan or 9” (23 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Beat the egg whites till soft peaks begin to form, then slowly add the sugar in small batches.
  3. Keep whisking until you get stiff peaks. Set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks for 5-6 minutes until they are pale-coloured, creamy and puffy. Then stir in the vanilla
  5. Pour the egg yolks over the whites, gently folding until just combined. Try not to lose any volume from the mixture.
  6. Fold in the flour little-by-little, and mix until just combined (over-beating will result in a denser, flatter cake).
  7. Pour the batter into your prepared cake and bake for 25 minutes (or until the toothpick comes out clean).
  8. Let the cake cool while you prepare the three milks (see below)

Three milks syrup:

  1. In a saucepan, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk and double cream, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue simmering for 5 minutes (gently stirring). Remove and let cool.
  2. Using a fork or toothpick, poke holes all over the cooled cake. The gently and evenly poor over the three milks liquid, and refrigerate overnight.*

*Note: if you use glass bakeware, you could pour the liquid over all at once. However, as I had removed the cake onto a plate, this would’ve resulted in a lot of liquid falling down the sides. Therefore I did this step in stages (i.e. poured a third, let the cake absorb it while in the refrigerator, then poured another third, and so on).

To decorate:

Evenly spread the whipped cream over the cake, and decorate with fresh fruit. I choose the last of this summer’s strawberries, but you could use any soft fruit you like, such as mangoes or cherries!

La Boqueria, Barcelona!

This time last year, I was in the sunny, welcoming, and all-round fun city of Barcelona! Since then, I’ve been meaning to blog about it, but time seems to have taken lessons from Usain Bolt these days, and here we are writing this a year later.

So you can’t visit Barcelona and not visit La Rambla (a famous pedestrian mall) and you can’t visit La Rambla without visiting La Boqueria–a huge food market! In fact, having grown up in London (home to the likes of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Sq.) I wasn’t blown away by La Rambla to be honest. But the food market made visiting it totally worthwhile.

Here are a few photos from what was my favourite spot in the city:

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria... quite a mouthful right? Fortunately its referred to simply as La Boqueria!

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria… quite a mouthful right? Fortunately its referred to simply as La Boqueria!

From a side entrance that we went in from, the first thing we saw was this fresh juice stall.

We strolled around the market for ages, grabbing snacks as we went along. Even if you’re not a “foodie” you’ll still enjoy being there and soaking in the hustling bustling atmosphere. But as a foodie, this place is even more fun!

La Boqueria Market

The most exotic selection of fruit! Check out the red mangoes in the upper left corner. The middle row includes star fruit, dragon fruit, and then in the bottom row there’s lychees, rambutan and much more!

La Boqueria Market

Spanish olives, anyone?

La Boqueria Market

Saffron (just look at that price tag!)

Fish section in La Boqueria

Fish section in La Boqueria

I’m actually not a huge seafood fan, but even I couldn’t resist a bite to eat from the neat little take-away stall pictured below. This was right next to the fish section in the market. There was a huge crowd there, being served freshly made variations of cod.

Fish n chips, Barcelona style

Fish n chips, Barcelona style

So fresh and delicious, even for a non-fish fan like me!

This photo was featured in my last blog post too, check it out for an easy mushroom “bundles” recipe!

One thing I must note is how nice and hospitable Barcelona’s residents are. I was a little unprepared in terms of how little English was spoken, and knew not a single word of Spanish! But no-one ever irritably brushed me aside as Londoners sometimes do to tourists :-/

One evening I was desperately craving a glass of milk and ventured into a nearby supermarket, but couldn’t find the milk aisle! I asked a shopper, and eventually a little crowd gathered, all listening with utmost concetration trying to figure out what this strange lady (me) was saying. Suddenly one man lit up and seemed to understand and led me to an aisle with the biggest selection of chocolate milk I’d ever seen! He was so proud of himself I really didn’t have the heart to tell him I wanted regular milk :-)

Note to self: stop travelling without Google translate

Note to self: stop travelling without Google translate

I’m not the only one who fell in love with this market! Here are some other blog posts you might want to have a look at if you’re planning on visiting it too:

Rambling Through La Boqueria
La Boqueria in Barcelona – A Place to Photograph Beautiful Food
The Barcelona Food Market Scene
Barcelona – A Food Odyssey

Mushroom Surprise!

I LOVE mushrooms!

Mushrooms in La Boqueria, Barcelona. This was a sight right up there with the likes of Sagrada Familia for me!

I had to adjust to a lot of things when I first moved to Pakistan (worthy  of an entire blog on its own!) and one of those things was the lack of fresh mushrooms (I kid you not, this was an actual problem for me). Ok, “lack” is not entirely true; you do get fresh mushrooms in Pakistan, BUT:

a) only in select grocery stores, which run out pretty quickly (I sometime phone up in advance and ask them to hide a box for me!);

b) being a novelty item, you get a handful of mushrooms for the price of a box of mushrooms in London; and

c) you don’t get a variety, just your regular closed-cup kind.

I was faced with the prospect of eating tinned mushrooms for months. Yuck. So my amazing mum asked around and helped me hunt down a market famed for expat foods before she left which, along with extortionately priced exported goods from Tesco, also sells mushrooms! And so my slight obsession with mushrooms began. I mean, I’ve always loved them, but you know when something isn’t easily available you suddenly you become obsessed with it? Yep. That’s me all over.

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When in London (as I am right now), there is a box of mushrooms ALWAYS in the fridge. It gives me a sense of calm to open the fridge door and see them there. Seriously.

So the other day I also had some filo (phyllo?!) pastry lying around and threw together this recipe for dinner with a friend. They looked pretty cute on our plates, next to roast chicken, vegetables and a leafy salad!

You could try these if you’re doing finger food for a party… And you can vary the recipe by chopping up the mushrooms as the Pioneer Woman does, who even adds some parmesan cheese. I’m going to try that next time. You could also make bigger bundles with larger mushrooms, like portobello (as a side note, WordPress is telling me it doesn’t recognise the word “portobello.” Um, what?! The nerve!)  so there’s definitely room for playing around with the recipe, and if you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

DSC_0759

Ingredients:

8 mushrooms (whatever kind takes your fancy. I went for organic closed cup. Try and choose something you can easily wrap the filo around. So chanterelles, for example, won’t really work)
150g filo pastry (about half a standard pack)
1tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp minced garlic
Generous pinch of garam masala*
Salt to taste

*see the ingredients section in my Fusion Pasta recipe for more info on this spice. You can use freshly ground black pepper instead if your prefer.

First of all, preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celcius (approx. 340 degrees Fahrenheit). Mix your garlic and butter together really well. It should be of an easily spreadable consistency. Set aside. Grab your mushrooms and season them well with the salt and garam masala. Don’t just sprinkle it on top; really rub it over the mushrooms well.

Now, open out the filo pastry and cut it half lengthways, so you’re left with two, long rectangular stacks. You’ll only need one these halves, so put the other back in the fridge. Then, cut the pastry into thirds, so you have three small stacks of square-ish shaped filo (see photo above).

Take a sheet at a time and brush on some of the garlic butter. You don’t want to go overboard and soak the sheets, just a light brushing. Top with another sheet and repeat, then repeat once more. So altogether you’ll have three sheets of filo.

Put a mushroom (stalk facing upwards) into the middle, and scrunch up the pastry around the mushroom. To do this, I like to put the stack in my palm and then use my other hand to bring up the filo around the sides of the mushroom.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and lay your bundles onto it. Then, use some of your remaining garlic butter to brush the tops. This will make them go a gorgeous brown colour when baked. Bake for approx. 12 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked and the tops have browned. In my oven this took 12 minutes, but take it up to 15 if necessary.

Mushroom bundles in filo

Fellow mushroom lovers, here are some other recipes with this ingredient that sound really good:

Crispy Baked Portabello Mushroom Fries (Closet Cooking)
Mushroom Kale Lasagna Rolls (Tara’s Multicultural Table)
Mushroom Tikka (Veg Recipes of India)
Mushroom, Onion & Thyme Galette (Lea & Jay)

Turkish-Style Tortilla Pizza (and an Ode to Istanbul)

A few years ago, I got the chance to visit Istanbul for an unforgettable week. I absolutely loved the city and am itching to go back again some day. From the breathtaking architecture, to the delicious food, to the unique activities you have to put on your “to-do” list (like visit a hammam, for example!), Istanbul is one of the best holiday destinations.

Foodie-to-foodie, there are three things I urge you to try if you ever find yourself there:

  1. the mastic ice-cream (proper name being “dondurma”). You can’t miss it during the summer months; street vendors bang spoons against the steel ice cream containers to catch your attention!
  2. get off the beaten path and head to Ortaköy, famous for baked potatoes (Kumpir) but these are nothing like the British “canteen” fare with baked beans; these potatoes are stuffed with a multitude of ingredients ranging from sausages, to pickles and sweetcorn to ketchup and mayo, and so much more.
  3. finally, you can’t go to Turkey and not try Turkish pizza!
Pide, also known as Turkish pizza with pomegranate juice in a random Istanbul cafe.

Pide, also known as Turkish pizza with pomegranate juice in a random Istanbul cafe.

As I’m yet to master bread-making, I was really excited to try this well-known twist on Turkish pizzas, made using store-bought tortillas. It kind of reminds me of Lebanese “kibbeh” served in flatbread. Super easy to make and deceptively filling! Allow one tortilla per person as a snack, cut into “slices” like a pizza, and enjoy!

Turkish pizza

About to hit the oven

You can play around with the ingredients and add some more chillies if you like (I actually used some harissa, technically making this dish a fusion of Turkish, Mexican and North African cuisine!) Use good quality mince (I prefer lamb) and don’t worry about the short cooking time; as the layer of mince is very thin, it WILL cook, provided the oven is very hot when you put it in.

DSC_0760

Ingredients:
(makes 8 pizzas)

500g good quality mince (such as lamb)
1 small onion, chopped very finely
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp harissa 
1 tsp salt, or adjusted to taste
Black pepper to taste
Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped 
8 flour tortillas

First of all, mix the lamb, onion, tomato, garlic, harissa, coriander and seasonings together. Use your hands to really mix it all together well, then set aside for about half an hour.

Now, preheat your oven (preferably grill setting) at the highest temperature it can go to; you want it to get very hot while you prepare the pizzas.

Spread equal amounts of the mince on each tortilla, using the back of a spoon to carefully spread it out in a very thin layer. Cover the entire tortilla, then place onto a baking sheet greased very lightly with a bit of olive oil. You will probably only be able to fit one pizza on a baking sheet, and so you’ll have to make these one at a time. But don’t worry, each one only needs about five minutes in the oven!

After five minutes, they will be ready to eat (you can tell when the mince has browned and “shrunk”) but the tortilla will still be relatively soft. I like mine like this, but if you want them to crisp up more, leave them in for a further 1-2 minutes.

Turkish pizza