Friday, 29 May 2015

Islamic Art & Architecture in Egypt



Outside Sultan Hassan mosque

As well as seeing the pyramids and other ancient Egyptian sites, while we were in Egypt we also enjoyed visiting some more recent (but still historic) buildings.

One such was the mosque and madrasa of Sultan Hassan, dating back to the Mamluk period. I particularly loved the carved calligraphy, and the black-white-and-red patterns of the door frames and floor tiles. The open air, courtyard structure was also new to me, and not something that would really work in a rainy country like England! In Egypt, though, it makes a lot of sense.

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Minarets


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Sweet Potato & Jalapeño Enchiladas



Sweet potato enchiladas

The lovely folks at Old El Paso asked me if I'd be up for trying out one of their recipes to celebrate their range of "separates". When I learnt that the recipe in question contained so many of my favourite things (sweet potato, refried beans, jalapeños) my mouth was already watering.

I adapted the recipe slightly to make it vegan, basically by removing the cheese; I then served the baked enchiladas with a large spoonful of cooling guacamole which worked really well to offset the heat of the chilli.

I did find the eventual texture a bit samey, as the filling was all very smooth. Next time I might chop the onions a bit less finely, and maybe include a few peppers or extra beans for some contrast. But I really loved the smokey flavour of the seasoning, and it worked so well with the sweet potato and the beans. I actually could have eaten the filling just by the spoonful.

Below you can see the original recipe card, as well as my write-up. There are loads more inspiring recipes over on the Old El Paso site, too, if you're now craving a tex-mex evening.

Sweet potato enchiladas


Sweet Potato and Jalapeño Enchiladas
Serves 4

1 large sweet potato
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2tbsp jalapeño peppers
1tbsp olive oil
½tsp cayenne pepper
1 tin refried beans
2½tsp Old El Paso smoky bbq fajita seasoning
8 flour tortillas
1 jar Old El Paso smoky bbq fajita sauce*

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Peel and chop the sweet potato.
  3. Boil or steam the sweet potato for 10 minutes, until soft.
  4. Mash the sweet potato and set aside.
  5. Dice the onion, garlic, and jalapeños.
  6. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and sautee the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, until the onion softens.
  7. Add the jalapeños and cayenne pepper, and sautee for a further 2-3 minutes.
  8. Combine the onion mixture with the sweet potato mash, refried beans, and fajita seasoning.
  9. Divide the filling between the eight tortillas, folding each one into a small parcel.
  10. Grease a large baking pan, and arrange the tortilla parcels (folded side down) in the pan.
  11. Cover evenly with the fajita sauce, and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  12. Serve with homemade guacamole.
* The recipe suggests using the Chilli Con Carne sauce (which is also veggie, despite the name), but the Fajita sauce is what they actually sent me to try out


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Brownie & Blondie Layer Bake



What could be better than brownies? Or blondies?

It occurred to me that the answer might be "both". Together. They're similar enough recipes that I figured it should be fine to just chuck both mixtures into the same pan and bake them together.

I made up two-thirds of a batch of chocolate brownie mix and half a batch of cranberry blondies (but with cherries), and this was the result. It's a little bit more work than making just one or the other, but I think it's well worth it.

Brownie & Blondie Layer Bake

Brownie & Blondie Layer Bake
Makes 30

For the brownie mix:
120g dark chocolate
120g butter
240g soft brown sugar
3 eggs
½tsp vanilla extract
90g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
90g walnut pieces

For the blondie mix:
125g butter
125g soft brown sugar
70g white sugar
1 egg
½tsp vanilla essence
165g plain flour
¾tsp baking powder
100g dark chocolate chips
100g glace cherries (chopped)

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).
  2. Grease and line a large, deep baking pan (23x33cm, 9x13in).
  3. To make the brownie mix, first melt the chocolate over a bain marie, and set aside to cool.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar, and add the eggs and vanilla. Beat together.
  5. Add the chocolate to the beaten mixture, and stir until combined
  6. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder, and stir in the walnuts.
  7. Pour the brownie mix into the baking pan, and spread out with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
  8. Make the blondie mix, beginning by creaming together the butter and the sugars.
  9. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  10. Fold in the flour and baking powder.
  11. Stir through the cherries and chocolate chips.
  12. Arrange dollops of blondie mixture on top of the brownie mix, and smooth down as far as possible (the blondie mixture is thicker than that of the brownie, so this won't be neat, but it will all level out in the oven).
  13. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.
  14. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin, before cutting into pieces and removing to a wire cooling rack.



Monday, 11 May 2015

Pear & Walnut Salad



Pear and Walnut Salad

This was a quick lunch I made last week: I was recovering from a bout of sickness, I'd been eating nothing but heavy comfort food, and I needed something a bit lighter. Plus, the sun was shining, and nothing says 'salad!' like the first of the summer sunshine.

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
Using reduced fat mozzarella, this comes out at about 170 calories per plateful, so it's eminently suitable for a low-calorie day (while feeling indulgent!)

Pear and Walnut Salad

Pear and Walnut Salad
Quantities per person

2 handfuls mixed leaf salad
¼ large conference pear
30g fresh buffalo mozarella
10g walnuts
a drizzle of high-quality balsamic vinegar

  1. Arrange the leaves on a medium-sized plate.
  2. Chop the pear into bite-sized pieces, tear up the mozzarella, and chop the walnuts.
  3. Arrange the pear, mozarella and walnuts over the salad leaves.
  4. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the top.



Thursday, 7 May 2015

Postcards from the Pyramids



Sunset over Cairo with the pyramids

I was extremely lucky to have a paper accepted at a conference in Cairo last month. It's not every day you get the chance to go to Egypt, and get paid for it! (In fact, although the results are also going to form a key part of my final PhD thesis, I only managed to force myself to stop procrastinating and write this paper on the basis that I "could win a trip to Egypt" by it. I'm not sure if this is standard academic thought process, but I imagine it's not so uncommon.)

This was the same conference series that took me to Samos a couple of years ago, and they're always really good at arranging a cultural program to run alongside the academic presentations. Of course, in Cairo, that had to include the pyramids.

Actually, one of the most amazing things we saw on our tour of Cairo's ancient monuments wasn't a pyramid at all: it was a precursor style of tomb known as a mastaba. In this case, the mastaba of Ti. The interior of the tomb is completely covered, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, not just with heiroglyphics, but with detailed carvings depicting all kinds of scenes from everyday ancient life. It was the kind of simply mind blowing, incredible place where you want to stop and stare for hours... and I'd never even heard of it before arriving in Egypt.

Inside the mastaba (tomb) of Ti

Inside the mastaba (tomb) of Ti

Inside the mastaba (tomb) of Ti

Inside the mastaba (tomb) of Ti

The next stage in the evolution of the pyramids can be seen at Sakkara, a step pyramid developed by the ancient architect Imhotep. The step pyramid is currently undergoing extensive renovations, so it was covered in wooden scaffolding, but you can still see very clearly the developing style of pyramid construction.

Sakkara step pyramid

Sakkara step pyramid

Finally, of course, we come to the later and most famous pyramids, at Giza. There are actually a lot more pyramids scattered across Egypt, but these are the most well known, along with the towering figure of the Sphinx. The great pyramid at Giza is one of the traditional seven wonders of the world, and I did wonder if it would be disappointing after all the hype, but actually it joins the Great Wall of China on my mental list of massively famous landmarks that are still by no means over-hyped. Just an incredible feat of engineering.

We had the opportunity to go inside the great pyramid, which is an experience in itself: the inside of the tomb itself is plain, but the steep climb up through the pyramid's interior makes you feel like a very small creature indeed. Unfortunately photos weren't allowed inside the pyramid, so I can only share the outside views with you. If you ever get the opportunity, though, I highly recommend it.

The Pyramids at Giza

The Pyramids

The Sphinx and the pyramids




Monday, 4 May 2015

Barazek - Sesame & Pistachio Cookies (Secret Recipe Club)



Sesame and Pistachio Cookies


My assignment for Secret Recipe Club this month was to cook something from Sawsan's blog Chef in Disguise.

Having just returned from Egypt, looking around Sawsan's blog was an absolute delight for me. She's a Palestinian who grew up in Jordan and has recently moved to UAE. Many of her recipes reflect these influences, and lots of the middle eastern techniques and ingredients were familiar, both from my recent Egyptian trip and from previous studies of Turkish cuisine.

I was extremely tempted by this cinnamon bread, which reminded me of one that was a breakfast staple in Egypt - but looked a little time consuming for the time I had available this weekend.

In the end I settled on making some cookies instead. Pistachios are among my favourite nuts, and I love sesame seeds, so Sawsan's barazek recipe jumped out at me. As well as sounding utterly delicious they're just so pretty, with the sesame coating on one side and the pistachios embedded in the other.

I found that I needed to use a spoon to persuade the sesame mixture to adhere properly to the cookies. I also had quite a lot of pistachio and sesame left over, when I ran out of cookie dough, so I might start with slightly smaller quantities of the toppings next time.

Cookies ready for dipping

Cookies in progress

Barazek - Sesame & Pistachio Cookies
Makes 30 cookies

For the cookies:
200g (1 cup) butter
215g (1¼ cups) icing sugar
2 eggs
2tsp vanilla extract
2tsp white wine vinegar
500g (3 cups) plain flour
1tsp baking powder

For the toppings:
130g (1 cup) shelled pistachios
200g (1 cup) sesame seeds
3tbsp honey
  1. Cream the butter and sugar together (you may need to slightly soften the butter, first, but don't melt it).
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat into the butter mixture.
  3. Stir in the vanilla and vinegar.
  4. Fold in the flour and baking powder, and bring together to form a dough.
  5. Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour or more.
  6. Meanwhile, mix the honey and sesame together on a large plate. Chop the pistachios and place on another plate.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  8. Divide the dough into 30 walnut-sized balls.
  9. Roll each ball between your palms and flatten to a round cookie shape.
  10. Press each cookie into the pistachios first, and then coat the other half in sesame using a spoon.
  11. Arrange on a lined baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  12. Cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.




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