If you’ve come across Sawsan Abu Farha from Chef In Disguise, you’re sure to be as intrigued as I was when we first met. Not only is she a fantastic cook and baker, she’s kind to everyone she meets. Her food is amazingly good and we get to peek into what life is like for a young mother living in Jordan.
Most of us have never been to Jordan but reading her blog definitely makes you wish you had. Sawsan Abu Farha is a strong, well-educated and confident woman and I’m honored to call her a friend. Keeping up with her blog gives me a much different perspective of what goes on in the Middle East than I get on the nightly news.
She makes terrific cakes like this little train complete with animal car. It must have been an immense amount of work that went into this cake. I’m not sure I’d have the patience but it’s very cute.
In her post she takes her readers through every step from making the cake to shaping all the circus animals out of fondant. It’s an amazing post.
Another post that caught my eye was her recipe for Nabulsi Cheese, one of the most popular white brined cheeses made in the Middle East. She says it’s a great cheese for grilling or frying and I do hope to make this one day soon. Okay, what I REALLY want to do is make this cheese and invite some friends over and casually mention, “This is a recipe from my friend Sawsan who lives in Jordan.”
One of my favorite posts are the travelogue ones like the one she did earlier this month about Petra, The Rose Red City Half as Old as Time where we see photos she took of this historical city. I’d love to see those buildings cut into the rock. They’re just beautiful.
When asked what recipe she’d created that she was most proud, she certainly chose one that I love, her Cinnamon Sweet Bread. She admits that before this bread she’d had trouble with yeast and had dumped heaps of dough in the trash but when she made peace with yeast, this gorgeous bread was the result.
Like many of us who care for a family, work AND produce a blog, it’s always juggling commitments for Sawsan but she does it really well. I enjoy her photographs. She taught herself how to photograph this beautiful food.
I asked her what tips she could share withnew food writers to help them produce food photos that honor the dishes they’ve created.
My tips to anyone interested in food photography are:
- Read up on the topic.
- Know the places in your house that have the best light and the best time of day to take your pictures to make the best of that light (and the way to do that is to take pictures in different places and different times of day)
- Eliminate the background, one of the biggest problems I had with my earliest pictures was the busy background. Use things as simple as a white wall or a sheet to neutralize the background. That makes the thing you photograph receive the attention it deserves without the distraction of the background
- Step back! getting too close to the dish can do more harm than good
- Think of the colors in your dish and use that to style your photo. I have a whole board on pinterest for color swatches to see what colors work with each other and which don’t
- Last but not least, practice, take as many pictures as you can, practice makes perfect
As a food blogger who posts what she eats and rarely plans ahead (I know, it’s bad), I’m impressed by Sawsan’s approach to her blog. She cooks and photographs five or six dishes and then posts the photos on Facebook and surveys her followers as to which they’d like to see first. I bet it helps to whet their appetite.
I was interested in which holiday was her favorite food-wise. The American in me instantly thinks Thanksgiving but what does someone in Jordan think? It’s Eid which comes a month after Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Eid marks the end of Ramadan and Sawsan has fond memories of making maamool with her mother. Maamool is a type of stuffed cookie that is imprinted with hand carved wooden molds before baking.
Surely I’m not the only one who is curious about what dish must be included in every family gathering.
In my house the dish that is in every family gathering is lasagna http://chefindisguise.com/2011/10/04/four-cheese-lasagna/ and I am the one who makes it. In my parents house it is Kabseh http://chefindisguise.com/2011/08/21/you-say-kabsa-i-say-kabseh/or mixed vegetable rice topped with nuts and meat http://chefindisguise.com/2011/03/26/my-vegetable-rice/
Something that may sound crazy but I never cooked anything in my parents house. I was busy with school and then university and mum doesn’t really like anyone making a mess in her kitchen so I never made these recipes before getting married. I do make them now on a regular basis because they are family favorites
- 1 kg all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- I usually half the recipe to get 4 squares, you can double or half the recipe according to your needs
- 3 cups of nabulsi cheese (or any firm salty cheese that holds its shape during baking) cut into small 1 cm cubes
- 2 tablespoons anise
- Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl , set aside
- In a ¼ cup of warm water dissolve the yeast and sugar and wait for the yeast to bubble (this is called proofing the yeast, if the yeast does not bubble and foam, it has gone bad and you need to buy a new one)
- Add the salt to the flour, whisk to combine, add the yeast/water mixture and start kneading adding water gradually till you get a soft sticky dough consistency (I needed 2 cups of water but the amount varies with the type of flour)
- Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, allow to rest , covered in a warm place for half an hour
- In a bowl add the vegetable oil and olive oil and keep it next to your working area.
- Wet your hands with a little oil and cut the dough into 8 balls , brush each ball in the oil mixture and allow to rest for another 10-15 minutes
- Brush a pan or your working surface with a little oil, start with the first dough ball you cut and spread it into a circle roughly 25 cm or 10 inches in diameter
- Brush the top with a little oil then fold one-third of the circle onto the middle third of it (as you can see in the picture)
- Spread your filling onto the folded part of the dough then fold the other third over the filling (the dough should now look like a rectangle)
- Fold one-third of the rectangle over the middle third, cover it with your filling of choice.
- Fold the other third over your filling (now you should have a square dough)
- Allow this one to rest while you start working on the next one.
- Once you have stuffed and folded all the dough balls, go back to the first square and brush it with oil and spread it into a larger square using a rolling-pin or your hands. Then do the same with the rest of your squares.
- Note: The larger and thinner you spread the filled dough, the more crispy the final bread will be. If you would rather have a soft and chewy bread, don’t spread the filled dough squares too much
- Transfer the dough to a baking sheet that you have brushed with oil and sprinkle them with anise.
- Bake on the middle rack of a preheated oven (270 C or the highest temperature your oven will go)
- Once the bottom is golden brown, turn on the broiler till the tops are golden brown too.
- Don’t leave this bread unattended, it browns quickly because it is thin
- Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack for 7-10 minutes and then cover with a clean dry cloth to keep it from becoming dry.
This bread can be frozen for up to 3 months, just wrap well in a freezer bag. When you want to eat it, put it frozen into a heated oven for a few minutes.