Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cold, Frigid, Chillly, Soup, Soup, Soup!

Way back in September 2002, a family of five arrived in Columbus, Ohio, ready to settle down in a new town. They didn't know anyone, and the university family housing apartment they wanted to move into was not yet available. They were put on a long waiting list, and were told that the apartment would be available sometime in October. So they decided to find a temporary place until they could move into their new humble abode. Intown Suites, an extended stay, replete with a kitchenette was where they checked into and stayed until an apartment in the University Family Housing was available, alhamdulillah, a week later, way before October, sooner than expected.

We are that family. No longer a family of five, mind you, but a family of seven minus one, and we're still living in that humble abode. Been here for more than six years now, alhamdulillah.

But what does that have to do with the chicken soup in this post?

Well, it was at that kitchenette that I came up with this dish. I had a few dry ground spices, oil, raw chicken, and the usual onion and garlic. I wanted to make chicken soup, like here, but I thought I'd give it a new twist instead. So, I slathered the chicken pieces with the oily paste I concocted from the spices and oil I had on hand, and fried them. Then I proceeded to make the chicken soup as usual, except this time, I dunked in these fried chicken into the soup. The resulting soup was one that was pregnant with aromatic coriander and cumin specks floating in a thin clear steaming soup.

Suffice it to say, I was exhilarated with this new dish, whipped up mostly out of boredom and an intense need to settle down. This chicken soup has undergone a lot of changes throughout the years. This is the one I've carefully measured and noted down the ingredients for, and to this day, it is still unnamed. I suppose I'll call it the 'Unnamed Chicken Soup' until I come up with a good name for it (which might be never).

Unnamed Chicken Soup

Combine to make a wet paste:
2 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoon olive oil

10 chicken drumsticks/ equivalent of chicken parts, bone in

1 -3 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 medium - large onion, finely minced
4- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced or finely pounded
1-2 inch ginger, finely minced or finely pounded
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick, broken
3 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods

4 medium carrots, thickly sliced/ 1 1/2 cups thickly sliced carrots
4 small-medium sized potatoes quartered
1 large round tomato, quartered
12 cups water
1 bunch vermicelli bean thread
1 cup roughly chopped parsley
salt to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Line a pan with aluminum foil and brush with about 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
  3. Arrange chicken drumsticks/chicken parts on lined pan, and brush with wet paste until generously covered with it
  4. Bake uncovered until juices run clear/chicken are done
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 -3 tablespoons canola oil and toss in onion, garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pods
  6. Saute until fragrant, about 2 -3 minutes, to coax the flavor of the onions, garlic and ginger out
  7. Pour in the 12 cups of water and bring to boil
  8. Dunk in the potatoes and carrots, immediately followed by the baked chicken pieces. (Soup will turn from crystal clear to brownish clear). Leave bubbling for 2 -3 minutes
  9. Simmer until potatoes and carrots are fairly soft/done
  10. Throw in a bunch of vermicelli bean thread and quartered tomato, keep heat on low
  11. Salt to taste
  12. Garnish with chopped parsley
  13. Serve steaming hot in bowls with no accompaniments or with hot white rice

Serves 5 - 6 (with second helpings)

Cook's notes:

  • Instead of frying the chicken, I bake them uncovered instead. It's inshaallah healthier and more merciful to the surface on your stove. Translation: less clean up! (Always a good thing)
  • You can garnish with sliced green onions as well
  • You can experiment with your own spice combination to make the wet paste
  • You can also omit the vermicelli bean thread if you don't have it. It merely adds more texture and interesting content to the soup; floating transparent strands of soft vermicelli
  • Eggy variations:
  • Egg Strand: If you wish, you can add a beaten egg to the soup to produce a soup with strands of egg whites swimming amidst the many schools of vegetables and poultry
  • To do so, beat one egg lightly and pour into the soup at Step 10, Stir soup to create the strands of cooked egg
  • Poached Eggs: If you wish, you can also poach eggs directly in the soup, resulting in the addition of floating eggs as your additional source of protein.
  • To do this, crack the desired amount of eggs into a bowl, and gently slide them into the soup one by one, 1 -3 minutes apart, in Step 8. Do NOT stir soup. Eggs will cook.
  • This soup can be eaten alone, with white rice, or with noodles.

This soup is a welcome dish to ward off the chilly and somewhat gloomy aspect of winter in temperate climates. To have a continuous flow of hot soup laden with aromatic spices trickle merrily down your throat, sending much needed warmth to your almost frostbitten extremities ... has to be heavenly

Friday, December 26, 2008

Of Chickens and Weddings

When I told my stepmother, "Ayam Masak Merah," I remember her going through her 'recipe book' in which she had amassed a collection of recipes cut out from newspapers and magazines, neatly glued onto the lined pages. She had asked me what I wanted to eat for lunch, or dinner, so she would have an idea of what to cook that day.

The first thought that came to my mind was a chicken dish that is often served at Malay weddings. Even though Malaysia is a tropical country, with only monsoons as a variation for its hot, humid, and sunny season, I have to say that it teems with more than enough seasons to occupy everyone's time. There is Durian season. Rambutan season. Manggis season. Circumcision season. Khatam Quran season. Then there is the wedding season. Wedding seasons require you to attend wedding feasts after wedding feasts, which to single hungry people, can mean days of free lunch. But to a teenager who just wanted to be left alone at home, it meant social torture.

Sometimes there are so many weddings going on on the same day that you can just drive by a neighborhood and attend two separate wedding feasts one after the other thereby saving yourself some lunch money. Of course, if you have no shame at all, you can blatantly attend a wedding feast for the sake of free lunch without even being invited. I don't think you will be kicked out.

Growing up, I attended my fair share of wedding feasts. My father would drag us each time there was one. I never could escape them. I deemed (notice the past tense?) them dull, fit only for adults who have nothing better to do than eat and make small talk. However, one particular wedding feast actually made the cut as the 'Most Memorable Wedding Feast' to a sulky, moody teenage hormone-raged me.

The wedding feast was held at one of the many huge halls in the Istana Budaya (if my memory serves me correctly, I believe this was where it happened), and that night, there was more than one wedding going on. We entered a hall that was filling up with invited guests, and as invited guests ourselves, we found ourselves a table and seated ourselves. As we turned left and right and smiled at strangers, my father realized with chagrin that he didn't know the bride and groom or their parents. Grinning, almost laughing, he turned to us and whispered that we were at the wrong wedding. I think I remember my stepmother giggling in return, and slowly, without attracting too much attention, we got up and made our way to the entrance and slipped out. I doubt we did it without attracting too much attention though, as who would not notice a family of five getting up from the table and leaving the table all at the same time. No family goes to the restroom together. No, I don't think so.

Once out of earshot, we burst into laughter. Yes, even the sullen teenager (moi). That was my best wedding feast ever! Of course, we ended up in the right room a few searching minutes later, which ended the fun immediately, though we couldn't stop giggling for quite some time.

The Ayam Masak Merah that came to mind when my stepmother asked me what I wanted her to cook for lunch was a plate of moist chicken coated in deep red, almost brown glistening thick sauce, garnished with thickly sliced rings of white onions. The chicken parts, though moist, are slightly crispy or toughened on the outside, thanks to the deep frying, and this perfectly enables the thick and viscous sauce to cling and adhere to them. The sauce is mostly sweet, with some hint of pungency from the chilli. Eaten with Nasi Minyak (rice cooked in with ghee), Ayam Masak Merah is a typical chicken dish usually made for special occasions such as weddings and Eids.

Wedding feasts were the only occasions in which I had the opportunity to eat Ayam Masak Merah, the properly made one that is. The one my stepmother ended up making was quite far from what I had in mind, but then again, so are my many versions of Ayam Masak Merah. To this day, I have not quite recreated or tasted a homemade Ayam Masak Merah that holds the top spot in my memory of great food.

I have made so many versions of Ayam Masak Merah throughout the years, but I have never bothered to jot down the ingredients, much less their measurements, as I have started to do recently. This one though, I did take measurements, but alas, was whipped up with whatever ingredients I had in my kitchen pantry, which has undergone some massive decluttering.

From the list of ingredients below, it may look more like a recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken than Ayam Masak Merah. Tomato puree is usually a main ingredient in Ayam Masak Merah, which I didn't have, so I used tomato ketchup instead. A friend told me that she knows of a Malaysian sister who would sneak in a few tablespoons of smooth peanut butter in her Ayam Masak Merah, and her Ayam Masak Merah always tasted great. That said, there can be many versions of Ayam Masak Merah. In this particular version of mine (and I say this because I do believe I have other versions which do not seem to come to mind right now), I have sprinkled it with black cumin seeds towards the end of cooking for a personal touch.

Ayam Masak Merah

Prepping the chicken:
10 chicken drumsticks/ equivalent amount of chicken parts, cut up
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 tablespoons canola oil

Blend to a fairly smooth paste:
5 cloves garlic
1 medium - large onion, cut into chunks
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom half cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons chilli paste
3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons Yeo's Sweet Chilli Sauce

To make the sauce:
3 - 5 tablespoons canola/vegetable oil
1 bruised stalk lemongrass (only bottom half)
1 cinnamon stick, broken
3 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 star anise
salt to taste
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit

Prepping the chicken:
2. Sprinkle chicken pieces with turmeric and salt,making sure they're evenly coated
3. Arrange chicken drumsticks on a pan lined with aluminum foil, and brush them with oil
4. Bake uncovered until chicken are cooked (juice is clear, and not pinkish or bloody), and somewhat crispy/slightly browned on the outside

To make the sauce:
5. In a wok, or a wide shallow pan, heat the 3 -5 tablespoons of canola oil and toss in the blended paste with the bruised lemongrass stalk
6. Add in the whole spices and keep stirring on medium - medium high heat for about 5 - 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Finishing up:
7. Add in the baked chicken and stir to coat the chicken pieces with the cooked sauce
8. Sprinkle black cumin seeds, and serve with steaming white rice and an accompanying dish of freshly cooked or raw vegetables

Serves 5 -6 (with second helpings)

Cook's Notes:

  • Traditionally, the chicken pieces are deep fried, but for health reasons, not to mention avoiding the hassle of deep frying (which I really abhor), I bake them uncovered instead. I have found that this produces equally moist chicken pieces that are healthy and equally crispy on the outside

  • Instead of brushing the chicken pieces with oil, as instructed in the recipe above, I have adopted a lazy method of doing this, which you may adopt as well, if you wish. I merely pour about the same amount of oil on the aluminum foil-lined tray/pan, and slip slap the chicken pieces in the oil, turning them over so all sides are coated with the oil, and spread the oil evenly in the pan using the chicken drumstick as my 'brush'. No need to wash a brush and an extra bowl. Easier clean up!

  • You may garnish with fresh green chillies split lengthwise, slices of green onions, and quartered tomatoes that are tossed together with the baked chicken in Step 7, resulting in the photo below. This version was made for an MSA (Muslim Student Association) Iftar years back. I made two big aluminum tray of it. Practically cooked the whole day, baked the chicken pieces in batches before coating them with the cooked sauce.

Here is a version of Ayam Masak Merah on Hooked On Heat.
More information on Malay weddings on Pahang-Delights.
A video on how to make another version of Ayam Masak Merah.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I swear we don't eat cake for dinner. My latest baking fascination might've given you the impression that that's all we've been eating :D. I haven't been able to try anything new except with cakes/cookies. I managed to experiment with bariis (rice) and leave my white rice comfort zone. I used the spices that I like (and not necessarily the spices normally used for bariis) and kept trying until I liked it! I've always felt that the normal Somali bariis has too many spices for my liking and usually kick starts one of my tension headaches. So I tried to balance it out by using ingredients that I don't normally use, with my usual favourite.

Here's what I came up with :

Here's what you'll need:

3 cups of basmati rice
1 large tomato, or 2 smaller ones
1 onion, chopped
3 minced garlic cloves
handful of parsley
2 bouillon cubes (chicken stock cube)
5-6 cups of water
1 tablespoon of xawaaji (a Somali spice)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup of vegetable oil


1. Preheat your oven to about 350 degrees. Sautee your diced tomato and onions until golden brown, in 1/4 cup of vegetable oil.
2. When onions are golden brown, add your minced garlic, parsley, and your xawaaji. Mix well... keep heat on medium low to avoid burning your ingredients. Add your 2 cinnamon sticks after this step.
3. Add your bouillon cubes and allow them to melt, stir well.
4. Bring to a boil, and add your 3 cups of basmati rice.
5. Leave heat on medium-high and stir the rice well. Leave on stove for about 5 minutes, then transfer to your preheated oven. It should be ready in about 25 minutes depending on your oven, or until rice tastes ready.

Enjoy :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pound Cake

If you're like me, you've been eating pound cake ever since you were a little kid. I remember my mom bringing it back each time she went grocery shopping. It's ridiculously easy to make, I almost didn't believe it when it turned out so good. I say this all the time, but if it worked out for me, it'll work out for you.

I was browsing the Joy of Baking website and eyeing some recipes I'd like to try out in the future. I came across a pound cake recipe. The picture on the site was drool worthy and brought back a rush of memories. I quickly read through the ingredients and noticed that I just happened to have everything, including a lemon (zest from 1 lemon is needed) in my pantry. I also needed an excuse to use my new bread pan :)

Enough of that, the recipe I followed can be found here. Don't underestimate the measurements, follow them exactly. I remembering thinking, oh well, what difference will it make if the ingredients aren't at room temperature, or if I add the eggs in at once (as opposed to 1 at a time). Follow the recipe entirely.

*The recipe mentioned to wrap the cake well, so I sliced it, and saran wrapped the slices, and refrigerated it.
*Mine was ready in 45-47 minutes, even though the recipe says 50-60. Don't let it mislead you so keep a close eye on your cake.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Buttercream Icing

Finally, an icing recipe that worked for me! Though I'm sure my prior mess ups were due to my own errors, this time I was sure to carefully watch my measurements.

Thinking back to the last time I tried to make icing, I realize what an importance icing sugar (as opposed to granulated sugar) can make!

The recipe I followed is by Wilton and can be found here.

  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.)
  • 1 teaspoon of Vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk


(Medium Consistency)

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.

For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter; substitute an additional 1/2 cup shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.

NOTE: Changes in Wilton's traditional recipes have been made due to Trans Fat Free Shortening replacing Hydrogenated Shortening.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Eid Cookies Part II

In deciding which cookie recipes to try for Eid from my new cookbook, I had decided off the bat that I would try home made chocolate chip cookies. Not the pre made Pillsbury cookie dough I've been making my whole life, this time I'd try from scratch.

These unfortunately didn't last until the morning of Eid! They kept disappearing, one by one.

I present the 2nd of 3 recipes, Chocolate Chip Cookies. This recipe is slightly different from this one.

3/4 cups butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate pieces or miniature candy-coated semisweet chocolate pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) - [I skipped this part]

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, and salt. Beat until mixture is combined, scraping sides of bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour. Stir in chocolate pieces and, if desired, walnuts.

2. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until edges are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack; cool.

* Don't try to mix the chocolate chips into the dough using a blender! Stir them in using spatula

Monday, December 8, 2008

Eid Cookies Part I

Having prepared a large iftar yesterday, I was in no condition to cook again today. Instead, we went and enjoyed Somali cuisine at Hamdi Restaurant here in Toronto.

I did manage to bake some Eid cookies though. I figured since I've never made cookies from scratch, I thought I'd give it a try. I was also really excited to use my new cookie cutters :D. I picked 3 recipes that appealed to me from my new cookbook and started on them last night.

I present the first of three recipes, Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies. I was in quite the rush so please excuse my low quality pics! (There's one cookie without glittery sugar... I have no idea why!)

The recipe is as follows:

1 cup of butter, softened
1.5 cups of sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon cream of tartar (I skipped this... didn't have it, not even sure what it is!)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour

1. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1.5 cups of sugar, beat until combined. Beat the eggs, cream of tartar, baking soda, vanilla, and salt until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour. Cover and chill for 2-3 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls.

3. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes or until light brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

* I sprinkled some glittery sugar on them that I had lying around.


Good Company for Eid

I thought I was going to lay off cooking for a while, but as it turns out, I had picked the wrong time to do so as Eid was just around the corner. Apparently (as I've come to realize a few days ago), we, the Aal Hamzah, have somewhat established our biannual Eid Open Houses in the past years, such that when I didn't email the sisters about it for this Eid, I received questions. Not in email, but on the forums!

Here is some of the exchange:

"I'm also wondering, are we coming over yaa UmmSakinah?" asks my dear K.

"Why don't you girls just call if you can come over? I don't have anything prepared though...got really fed up with cooking," I respond.

"You don't have to cook UmmSakinah... we just like chillin' with you and the family on Eid though..." she replies back.

"Then you all are very welcome to come over, but call first just to make sure,"I write back.

And somehow, it all percolates into,

"Fantastic...the time sounds great..see you girls tomorrow inshaallah!!"

And here I am, with renewed vigor, after having cooked up a 13 x 9 oval casserole dish of stir- fried Farfalle, replete with accurate measurements (an effort to train myself to write proper recipes) and of course with photos (which I truly enjoyed taking).

After spending days of tension headaches and crazy mood swings, I really look forward to having some good company.

Eid Al Adha Stir Fried Farfalle

You will need:

1 lb. box Farfalle (or any kind of pasta), cooked al dente
3 Tablespoons Canola oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 yellow onion, minced
1/2 Tablespoon chili paste*
3 Cups ground beef
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce (I used the Lee Kum Kee brand)
2 Tablespoons light salty soy sauce (I used the ABC brand)
5 Tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 Maggi cube
1 Cup sliced carrots
1 Cup bean sprouts
2 Cups thinly sliced bok choy/nappa cabbage/cabbage
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

You will have to:

1. Heat the canola oil in an open wok or wide saucepan, and toss in the minced onion and garlic
2. Saute for about 1 minute before dumping in the chilli paste. You can add more if you wish to kick up the spicometer
3. Saute for 1 minute more before adding the ground beef. Keep stirring.
4. Add in the oyster sauce, Maggi cube, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, and sliced carrots, and stir until carrots are soft and ground beef are cooked
5. Add the bean sprouts, bok choy, and Farfalle
6. Stir well, making sure to turn the mixture over several times such that the pasta are evenly coated in the ground beef sauce, and the bok choy and beansprouts are slightly cooked (not too cooked).
7. Sprinkle evenly with lemon juice and enjoy it with some good company.

Serves 8 - 10

Cook's Notes:

  • You can omit the chilli paste if you wish
  • You can omit the beansprouts and substitute with other vegetables if you wish
  • It's best to use a flat metal spatula to cook this with as it's easier to shovel the pasta and flip it over in the last step
  • * You can make the chilli paste by soaking some dried chillies in hot water to rehydrate them, and then blending them with just enough water until they come together as a wet paste. Refer to this post.
  • I mix the smaller dried chilli peppers with the larger sweet ones so as not to make a chilli paste that is too pungent. (Rule of thumb: the smaller the chilli pepper, the hotter it is)
  • You can keep this in the fridge for other uses, though be careful not to let it sit in the fridge too long without using it, as it can get moldy. If you don't use it a lot, either keep it in the freezer, make only enough for the dish that you are going to cook (but it's more energy efficient to make a big batch).
  • You can also buy the ready made chilli paste called Sambal Oelek at Asian grocery stores.
  • More information about dried chilli peppers on Cook's Thesaurus.

And, mashaallah, such good company it was too! Having these sisters over for Eid really made my Eid extra special. Jazakillah khair K, for asking me,

"Are we coming over, yaa Ummsakinah?"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

No recipes this time. My kitchen's not as bustling as it usually is around Eid time. Let's just say I've had quite enough of cooking, and will take a much needed and deserved break for a while. Nevertheless, to all those who have honored Joy Luck Kitchen by dropping by, who are Muslims, no matter where you are,

Eid Mubarak!

Taqabbal Allah minna wa minkum

May Allah accept it from us and from you.

Friday, December 5, 2008


This was my 2nd time attempting naan, and it wasn't nearly as bad as the first time! I can't really remember what went wrong last time, but I know it didn't puff up as much as I would've like it to. Perhaps I didn't add as much yeast as I should have, I don't know, but I'm not complaining this time :D And as usual, when something doesn't turn out right, I keep trying until I get it.

I figured butter chicken would go perfect with naan, but I wasn't feeling up to it tonight. I made my 2nd favourite side with naan, which I will reveal in a few days when I type up the recipe :)

Until then, try naan out for yourself and serve with your favourite side!

I shopped around for recipes and eventually decided to use this one. If you do a search on youtube, there are multiple videos showing you how to make naan. This video led me to that website. Here is the recipe, courtesy of the website above.

3 cup All purpose flour
1 tsp Instant dry yeast
1 cup milk (optional)
1 tsp Oil
1 to taste Salt
1/2 tsp sugar
50 ml Water to knead approx

  1. Sieve the flour
  2. Now add 1 cup warm water into dry yeast and set aside.
  3. Add sugar, oil into salt and mix well with yeast and water.
  4. Now add water little at a time to make a soft dough.
  5. If dough sticks to hand too much then use little bit of oil on hand and then punch into dough. .
  6. Now to make naan, set oven at broil and roll oval shape out of dough. Then place it into oven and flip it after 2 min. after taking it out apply some butter on them. And they are ready to eat.

* I took it out of the oven earlier than the recipe states just because I prefer it to be golden brown rather than dark brown/blackish.
* I also spread my naan out too thin... so it wasn't as fluffy on the inside as it should've been... but I have some dough left over and will try again soon!


Spanish Rice

A few days ago my husband surprised me with my very first cookbook. I was extremely eager to try it out, and even though I was taking a 'break' from trying new recipes that day, I couldn't help but notice the convenient prep time of 15 minutes for Spanish Rice. I've been craving Spanish rice lately even though I've never had it before! So I removed page 87/88 from the Beans, Rice & Grains chapter and into the kitchen I went.

The recipe is as follows:

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 6-8 side-dish servings

1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped green sweet pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup of water
3/4 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 4-ounce can diced green chile peppers, undrained (I skipped this part)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce (optional)
I tossed in some frozen veggies I had in my freezer. (carrots, green beans, and corn)

1. In a large skilled cook onion, sweet pepper, and garlic in hot oil until tender. Add chilli powder; cook 1 minute more. Stir in undrained tomatoes, water, rice, undrained chile peppers, salt, black pper, and, if desired, several dashes of hot pepper sauce. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. If desired, sprinkle with shredded cheese.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

BBQ Chicken Bites

When people ask me about my mom's BBQ chicken bites, I don't have much of answer for them cause I've never tried it out- until now. To be honest, I didn't even know my mom could make this until she opened up her restaurant and began to experiment. I grew up disliking barbecue sauce and anything that tasted like it. I don't even remember ever seeing a bottle in the fridge. We were more ketchup people than anything else. So when I tasted my mom's BBQ chicken bites, that was all I ever ordered at the restaurant.

There were a few times I went back to the kitchen and took a glimpse at my mother making this. She even asked on multiple occasions that I stir the chicken and add in the BBQ for her. But I felt I had no reason to learn at the time, I had my wonderful mom who would make this for dinner and other occasions, so why learn, right? Wrong :)

Long story short, I've been craving this lately and determined that I could make it on my own. I phoned up my mom and jotted down the ingredients and steps to this recipe.

What you'll need:

1. 1/2 pound of chicken sukhaar (bite sized chicken pieces)
2. 1 egg
3. 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
4. 1/2 of a chicken maggi square
5. 1 cup of Kraft's Original BBQ Sauce (you can use any brand I suppose...)
6. 1 cup of vegetable oil
7. red and green bell pepper, sliced (or veggies of your choice)


- take your chicken pieces and mix 1 egg in them, mix well.
- add 1/2 cup of all purpose flour and mix well
- pour 1 cup of vegetable oil into a skillet and let it heat up for a few minutes
- pour your chicken pieces on the skillet, continue turning for 10 minutes, making sure the chicken pieces don't stick to the skillet.
- 10 minutes later, add your 1/2 chicken maggi cube and stir well
- then add 1 cup of any BBQ sauce of your choice and add your veggies at this point
- fry for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent stickage (I made this word up, but you know what I mean!)


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Peanut Butter Lovers

I may be the biggest peanut butter lover on earth. I can eat anything made with peanut butter, so it's no surprise that I would try this very easy recipe. This was my inspiration. The only thing I did different was dip one half of the cookie in chocolate and peanuts instead of both sides. I also only baked it for 10 minutes and let it cool down for 10-15 minutes. Preparation time was no more than 5 minutes, and then kept the batter in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.

What you'll need:

1. 1/2 cup of sugar
2. 1 cup of peanut butter
3. 1 egg

- Mix the sugar, peanut butter, and the egg until the batter is smooth.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Remove from the refrigerator and shape into small balls, and place them 1 inch apart on a cooking sheet
- Bake for 10-12 minutes (depending on your oven)
- When the cookies cool down, dip the cookie in chocolate (I used chocolate ice cream syrup) and then into a bowl of peanuts
- Let it dry for a few minutes
- Enjou :)

Enjoy with a cold glass of milk. Let me know how it works out!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rich Concoctions

I'm good at following recipes, but not at coming up with my own, especially where baking is concerned, since baking is more of chemistry than art, unlike cooking. But I can say that this is an exception. I came up with this recipe on my own, and to this day, (I'm embarrassed to say) this is one of the very few dessert items that are actually of my own concoctions.

The inspiration came from a cream pie from McDonald's a sister was serving at a gathering. As I devoured the smooth and velvety pie, I thought to myself, I can make something like this. I know the properties of most of the baking ingredients I have been using all these years.

So, I ventured on that experimental path, using heavy cream as the main ingredient that will provide structure, well, somewhat of a structure. My original recipe was raspberry cream cheese layer topped with a whipped cream chocolate layer, but in this one, I was out of raspberry puree, so I changed the flavors a little bit.

I cheated too. I used the pre-made graham cracker pie crust instead of making my own. Oh well. Maybe when I'm feeling 'from scratch' I can make my own.

The bottom cream cheese layer is tangy and embodies whatever flavor I have incporated into it, in this case, plain and chocolate. One recipe make two 9 inch pie plates of Luscious Trifle Pie. The top layer is a whipped cream layer, yes, this one from scratch. I have never used the ready version. So the top layer is both creamy and somewhat light. A combination of the two, along with the crust is pure richness! Rich, rich, rich! I call it my Luscious Trifle Pie. Though, because I was out of raspberry puree, I alternate the flavor for the bottom layers, since one recipe makes two pies (or you can half it and just make one). One is chocolate flavored on the bottom and plain on top, and the other is the yang of the yin.

Luscious Trifle Chocolate Pie I and II

The bottom cream cheese layer:

2 8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 14 oz sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 C heavy cream

5 Tbs cocoa

The whipped cream layer:

1 1/2 - 2 C heavy cream

1/2 C powdered sugar

3 Tbs cocoa

2 9 in pie crusts

Cream Cheese Layer
  1. Beat softened cream cheese till there are no lumps
  2. Add condensed milk , vanilla
  3. Add flavoring (the 5 Tbs cocoa for one of the pie, and none for the other one)
  4. Drizzle in heavy cream
  5. Beat till smooth and thick
  6. Pour this onto the premade crust

Whipped Cream Layer

  1. Beat heavy cream , sugar, and cocoa (for one of the pie) till it reaches the consistency of whipped cream
  2. Spread on top of the cream cheese layer
  3. Garnish with grated chocolate or drizzle with chocolate syrup if you wish
  4. Refrigerate overnight to firm it up

Cook's Notes:

  • Don't overwhip the heavy cream. If you overwhip the heavy cream, it will curdle. To rectify this, add some more heavy cream and beat till it reaches the whipped cream consistency and STOP whipping, especially if you have no more heavy cream left.
  • It's best to refrigerate this overnight to get a firm slice, otherwise, you will just get a blob of a slice.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Grandmother's Legacy

I grew up getting used to eating animal organs, such as intestines, lungs, and liver. But that's about it. Tongue, brain, hooves, and others, that's where I draw the line, or is it because I was never served those growing up?

It's pretty common to see animal organs cooked in many ways in both Malaysian and Indonesian dishes, but I would say that I see more of animal's internal organs in Indonesian cuisine, most probably because of Indonesia's rich cultural diversity. My father says,

"You can find more good food in Indonesia than Malaysia."

By that he meant more variety. And of course! Because Indonesia is comprised of so many islands, thus many tribes, ethnic variations, cultures and food compared to Malaysia. My father was also born and raised Indonesian, which would explain the indignant loyalty. In some ways, I feel a sense of loyalty to Indonesia too, because I was raised mostly eating Indonesian food, as my grandmother was the main cook for quite a number of years during my childhood.

I have to say I love the texture and chewiness of cow's intestines. Cubed, they are actually the main ingredient of this dish my grandmother would make for occasions like Eid when we held our open house events. I don't think people balked at the prospect of eating cow intestines, for Indonesian food is also now pretty common in Malaysia. For the record, I personally don't like to draw a definite distinct line between Indonesians and Malaysians, because I believe that we're not that different, but when discussing food, cultural differences, (in my humble opinion) have to be discerned, for it adds to the appreciation and knowledge of the discussion.

Soto is a dish mainly comprised of clear thin soup with meat and vegetables, eaten with vermicelli and compressed rice cakes. In Malaysia, Soto Ayam is well known, and is what I remember purchasing for some of my iftars at the evening bazaar in Malaysia while I was in college. There are many kinds of Soto, but Soto Ayam is the only Malaysian Soto I ate in Malaysia. Years back, an Indonesian sister made Soto Betawi, which I still crave now (not knowing how to make it myself). That was my second Indonesian Soto, but I have come to realize that Indonesia is really rich and abundant with many varieties of Soto, most of which sound and look delicious!

I have to admit, I don't know how to prepare animal organs for cooking, and I can just imagine my children's disgusted expressions if I do, seeing that they already feel weak in their knees watching me handle raw chicken. So, in my years of living far away from family, here in the United States, I have substituted cubed beef for the cubed intestines, and the Somali Global Mall's Halal Store, which sells beef cut sukhaar-style makes it even more convenient for me, as I don't have to spend time cubing chunky slabs of meat.

Fill your bowl with some vermicelli and a few rice cakes, and ladle the steaming soup, making sure to get a generous amount of cubed potatoes, carrots and meat. Garnish with fried shallots, and a small but potent dash of hot and spicy kicap sambal (mainly comprising of sliced bird's eye chilli swimming in sweet thick soy sauce and made tangy with lemon juice), and you're good to go.

This remains one of my favorite comfort food.

The measurements below are merely estimates, but the ratio of the meat, potatoes, and carrots to each other should be about the same.

Soto Madura

Beef cut sukhaar (as much as the potatoes and carrots) - boiled in 8 cups of water till fairly tender to your taste (keep the stock)
4 potatoes, peeled and finely cubed and soaked in water
4 carrots, peeled and finely cubed and soaked in water
2 onions cut into chunks
7 cloves of garlic
1 -2 lemongrass stalk, bruised
2 -3 dried asam gelugor
2 bay leaves
3 tsp ground turmeric
2-3 Tbs ground coriander
squirts of lemon juice
5-6 bird's eye chillies
sweet thick soy sauce (llook for Indonesian brands)
Nasi Himpit (compressed rice cakes) - a good explanation and recipe on Pahang Delights.

1. Blend 1 onion and 3-4 garlic cloves with turmeric, coriander, and lemongrass
2. Pound or blend the remaining onion and garlic separately
3. Heat oil in tall stock pot, and saute the blended onion and garlic in Step 2 till fragrant
4. Add the blended mixture in Step 1, and continue sauteing to draw out the flavor of the spices and bulbs
5. Dump in the potatoes and carrots and and saute them along for about 5 - 7 minutes
6. Add in the beef, and water and bring to boil
7. Add in the bay leaves, a few squirts of lemon juice, and salt to taste
8. Prepare the vermicelli by submerging them in hot water until they're soft, then drain them and set aside

To prepare the spicy Kicap Sambal:
9. Put in a blender the bird's eye chillies and enough sweet soy sauce so they would blend smoothly. Blend till chillies are thoroughly broken up, and add a few squirts of lemon juice

How do you eat it? (Like you would chicken noodle soup!)

  1. Using a spaghetti server/tong, scoop one serving of vermicelli in an empty individual soup bowl. Add in a few cubed rice cakes.
  2. Ladle the Soto, replete with potatoes, beef, and carrots over it, such that the white thin rice noodles are swimming in the pool of yellowish soup.
  3. If you wish, top it with a teaspoon (or less, depending on your hot and spicy tolerance level) of spicy Kicap Sambal. (It is like the Somali Bizz Baazz).
  4. Eat it with fork and soup spoon, or if you're feeling dexterous, chopsticks.

Baked Ziti

My older sister is our resident Italian cook in the family. I had my sister's baked ziti for the first time a few months ago. I attempted weeks ago to make her baked ziti recipe. I changed a few things around for this one. Instead of ziti, I used rotini. You can also use penne or any other kind of pasta you like. I just happen to love rotini!

Here's what you'll need
- spaghetti sauce (baked ziti is delicoius with a really good tomato sauce. You can use your favourite recipe or you can use my recipe posted here.)
- 1 lb of rotini pasta
- 2 cups of mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese (next time I'd omit this... I'm not a cheese person, so more than 2 kinds of cheese is too much for me)
- around 150 grams of ricotta cheese
- whatever spices you prefer (I add spices in my sauce and not directly on the pasta)


1. Make your sauce and sit it aside.
2. Make your pasta. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees at this point.
3. Mix your pasta with as much sauce as you prefer, and mix it really well.
4. Add your ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, and only 1 cup of your mozzarella cheese and mix well.
5. Top with 1 layer of your sauce and your remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.

6. Bake for 35 minutes.

Serve with a nice salad and a slice of garlic bread.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chicken Sukhaar

I've already shared my beef sukhaar recipe here. My chicken sukhaar recipe is exactly the same except I use small bite size chicken pieces. I normally add more spinach but ran out so that's why there isn't too much in the above photo. Follow the recipe here!

Enjoy :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Soup for A Wintry Day

Nothing like a hot soup to take the edge off the biting cold of winter. This soup brought back memories of a wintry day years ago. If I'm not mistaken, it was during the blizzard of '04. I love blizzards. We got a lot of them in Iowa. I loved it then because it usually meant classes were canceled, though since it's Iowa, it took a really bad blizzard for them to cancel classes. I love it here because it meant family time, since we would all be stuck at home, especially hubby.

There is something tranquil and calming, not to mention sentimental, about being in the middle of white. It's the purest white you could ever imagine, making you forget that there's filth and dirt underneath. It gives you a sense of calm and hope, not to mention utter serenity.

Physiologically, I'm not too joyful about it, because to be honest, I can really do without the frigid temperature, but ahh..such is life. We don't always get what we want. It's all in the package. You can't pick and choose. Take it or leave it.

A bowl of steaming hearty soup is a welcome food item in such a condition. Especially when your kids have spent minutes outside building ice castles with slabs of ice and your husband has shoveled packed and dense snow from the walkway and around the van. Dashing in the door, exhaling puffs of little dragon breaths, the kids squealed with delight that there was something hot to come inside to. Hot cocoa is their favorite. There were times when I found myself making cups and cups of hot cocoa again and again while they dash in and out again and again. Imagine the hot hearty soup traveling down your throat, warming you inside out all the way to your almost numb extremeties. A welcome item indeed.

The first time I had red lentil soup was when we were invited to a Jordanian friend's house. I personally am not used to thick soups and don't really care for them. But as soon as I put the spoonful of soup to my lips, I knew I had fallen in love. There was no turning back. I asked her for the recipe. And here is my version.

Red Lentil Soup

1 lb packet of red lentils
1 onion, minced/pounded
5 cloves garlic, minced/pounded
1 stalk celery - sliced
1 carrot - sliced
1/2 Roma tomatoes, cut into small chunks
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 Tablespoons ground coriander
2 Tablespoons black pepper
1 Tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 Cups water

1. Soak the lentils for about an hour or so (some packets say they don't need to be soaked though)
2. Heat oil in a deep saucepan and saute the onion and garlic for about 2 minutes
3. Add the carrot, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, coriander and continue sauteing till they're soft and fragrant
4. Add the drained red lentils and water and bring to boil
5. Simmer until lentils are cooked
6. If you have an immersion blender, blend the soup until you have a smooth consistency (or if you like it slightly chunky, stop before it's smooth)
7. Season with salt and black pepper

Cook's Notes:

  • The longer you saute the first few ingredients before dumping in the red lentils, the more flavor you're going to get, because sauteing extracts the flavor of the ingredients.
  • I didn't have an immersion blender, so I blended the hot soup in a normal blender. If you do this, be very careful because blending a hot soup can create a red lentil soup volcano. What I did was to hold down the top of the blender with a wad of cloth so if the contents do threaten to spurt out, there is something between it and my hand or face.
  • The amount of water I gave above is an estimation. You can adjust your soup's thickness, but try to keep it on the thick side.

Other versions of red lentil soup

Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen
Red Lentil Soup from Cream Puffs in Venice
Spicy Red Lentil Soup from Vegetarian Times

The red lentil soup I recently made (to finish up the packets of lentils sitting around in the bin under our dining table), I ate with tortilla that I reheated by way of steaming. It almost tastes like roti canai (paratha) eaten with thick non spicy curry. Even Zeyoudee loved it. And there I have my allergy free roti canai breakfast (MalaysianFood.net).