Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Southern Style Coleslaw

photo courtesy of everystockphoto.com 1

Ever notice that your homemade coleslaw never tastes quite as good as the slaw from your favorite BBQ restaurant?   Not anymore!  The secret is using an old-fashioned cooked salad dressing as well as mayonnaise.  Go ahead and have your favorite grill-master get the (beef) ribs ready--its BBQ tonight!

What you need:
1 head cabbage (red cabbage looks very pretty in this dish, though green in more traditional)
1/2 medium onion (or more, if you like)
1-2 carrots (omit if using red cabbage)
1 egg
1/4-1/3 cup (60-80 ml) sugar (depending on how sweet you like your slaw)
1/4-1/3 cup (60-80) white or apple cider vinegar (amount depends on how tangy you like your slaw) 
3/4 to 1 scant tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper or less
1 Tbs flour
mayonnaise to taste (I usually use an equal ratio of mayonnaise to cooked dressing)
mustard to taste (Optional.  I've lately been using a spoonful of fresh ground mustard seed and am thrilled with the results.  You can use your favorite bottled mustard)
1 Tbs celery seed  (optional)
Paprika  for garnish (optional)

What you do:
Slice your cabbage using a knife or the slicing (not shredding) blade of your food processor.  If  your machine comes with two blades, use the larger. 
Shred the carrots with the larger blade
Slice, chop, or shred your onions (I prefer mine sliced very fine.  I use the smaller slicing blade on my processor.  Its worth cleaning two blades to me)
Mix together in the serving/storage bowl you will be using remembering that the salad will shrink in volume as the vegetables soften.  Use a bowl that is big enough to toss and mix the salad but not so big that you will be wasting space.

In a small saucepan beat your egg with the sugar.  Sprinkle the flour, salt, pepper, and ground mustard if using evenly over the egg mixture and beat in.  Beat in the vinegar.  Cook and stir on low heat until the mixture thickens--it may begin to "plop" as well.  If it hasn't thickened in a few minutes, just turn the heat up to medium low stirring all the while.  When completely cooled add mayonaisse and bottled mustard and celery seed if using (all to taste).  Mix with the cabbage and chill until the vegatables have softened. Garnish with paprika if desired.

1. http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=11138748&searchId=5c51492941376641d7bfc2d45bf157dc&npos=162

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cook Like You

I'm going to teach you how to cook like you.

What do I mean "cook like you"?  Why didn't I say "cook like me" or "cook like a pro" or "cook like Nigella Lawson"?  Well, I can't teach you to cook like me any more than I can teach you to dress like me, act like me, or look like me.  Like a perfume wears differently on each person, every dish is different depending on who makes it.  In fact, some of you might know that perfume can even smell differently on the same person depending on mood, hormonal balance, or even weather.  Real cooking is like that.  It's what makes a five star-chef owned restaurant or an amazing family owned and operated Italian joint different from a national chain.  Real cooking has personal flair, like fashion or make-up or decorating.  Real cooks often don't follow recipes, though they might if the dish is unfamiliar or has a complicated spice list.

I will be sharing some recipes with perfect and precise ingredient lists and, let me tell you, you had better appreciate those.  I am truly a spoonful of this--taste, taste--pinch of that--taste taste--"Ahh, yes!" kind of cook and for these exact measurement recipes I had to force myself to catch each pinch and handful with a proper measuring spoon.

But there will also be recipes with no measurements more than "a handful of, a little bit of, a big pinch of, a little pinch of".  Those are the really valuable recipes, the ones "like Mama used to make".  Don't worry, you can do it.

Sometimes you will be able to go out and taste a good and authentic example of what you are trying to make.  When you are eating, immerse yourself in the experience.  Don't necessarily try to pick apart the different spices, as that is something that takes time, but do try to get a feeling for the experience of what you are eating.  Then, when you work on that dish in your own home, you will be able to say, "Now, that's biryani!"  Your biryani will probably never taste the same as any other biryani you ever had--and it shouldn't--but it should be recognizably biryani.

Other times, I will teach you to make things that rarely can be found outside a home.  These are family style meals.  They are either not considered fancy enough to serve at restaurants or don't work well in a restaurant environment (see note 1 ) Unless you have a dear friend who shares the same cultural heritage as the dish I'm teaching you, it's going to be difficult to find a good example of those types of foods.  But don't worry, I'm going to hold your hand.  I'm going to immerse you in Mama Hen's kitchen.  I'm going to let you smell and taste the food til your hearts content.   When we're done, you're going to be able to get out there and make some real food.

So, go on over on to you tube and watch your favorite Sesame Street clip or Barney episode or  whatever you used to watch.  Pretend you're eight years old again.  Pull up a chair so you can reach the stove and get ready to listen to Mama.   I'm going to teach you how to be a real cook.  I'm going to teach you how to cook like you.

1. risotto, for example, is a delicious and beautifully presented Italian rice dish, but it doesn't hold well and as such is difficult to serve in a restaurant. You will typically only find risotto at individually owned Italian restaurants where it is made to order for the individual customer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

30 Ways to Eat Chicken and Rice

When I was still a new revert to Islam and still a new bride, my husband, our 4 month old baby, and I moved about six hours away from my hometown.  It was a big move for our little family but important so that my husband could complete his degree.

It was there that I met some of the people that I call my best friends, there that four of my six children were born, there that I matured from a young wife to the woman I am today.  It was also there that I spent some of the most memorable Ramadans I have had.

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in the Islamic lunar calendar.  It is the month when the Quran was revealed.  It is the month when the devils are locked up.  It is a month for contemplation and growth and purification.  A month for doing good deeds.  And, for my brothers and sisters who grew up in Muslim households, it is a month for being with family.

In our new town, a small college town with a respectably large Muslim population, local mosques each hosted a nightly iftar or dinner for breaking the fast.  This is a common practice at many mosques around the world, but normally frequented only by those who cannot afford to feed themselves.   In contrast, the iftars in our new town were jam packed with students and their families--people who could afford to feed themselves, but hungered for a taste of family.

These iftars were hosted by a different person every night.  One night might have seen Lebanese food served, another night Moroccan, another Egyptian, yet another Palestinian or Somali, or Turkish, or Kenyan, or Guyanian, or Pakistani, or Indian.  American and Latin reverts also relished in sharing their culinary heritage.  I can even recall Chinese food being served.  But, unbelievably, it seemed every meal centered around a different way of preparing chicken and rice.

One evening towards the end of my first Ramadan in that little town, we sat after such a meal, relaxed and chatting.   Our bellies full of food and warm with tea, a dear friend and I convulsed with laughter over some of the happy moments we had shared that month.  And wondered if we'd ever be able to look at chicken and rice again.  We decided that "30 Ways to Eat Chicken and Rice" would be an brilliant title for a book.

And so, the concept for this blog was born.