Ma’amoul (Shortbread Cookies With Dates)

What a wonderful time of year! A time in which many feel enormous gratitude and happiness. The long, yet too short month of Ramadan is over, and its time to celebrate with family and friends. Ma’amoul is a traditional dessert served. It goes perfect with tea, as I am enjoying the combination right now. Eating it is as important as the preparation stage. In some places, droves of women will gather in common areas and spread their blankets out and together, prepare the dish. While I didn’t have the pleasure of such, my experience this year was surely just as nice.

As a new wife, I am happily getting to know new family. Family with rich experiences, stories, and skills, have only just begun to unfold around me, and my heart is wide open. I vow to never let trivial squabbles ever come between us, we will not argue over money, and let’s never hold a grudge.  This is my Eid wish for me and my new family, and yours too! Now for the Ma’amoul courtesy of a beautiful woman, my new friend,  hard-working mother of three.

Pictures provided at the end of the recipe come from the oldest son(age 8), who borrowed my phone to snap some pictures, lending well to the atmosphere of our particular experience.

Enjoy and Eid Mubarak! (Happy Eid!)

Dough ingredients

9 cups semolina flour

3 cups Butter (or Crisco, yellow with butter flavor)

3/4 cups Mazola oil or canola

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Day Two Dough Ingredients:

Freshly ground anise

A couple of pinches of yeast

Warm water

Filling ingredients

Date paste (You can make your own using dates, but we used a package):

One teaspoon of butter

A pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg

Step One: Prepare the dough one day ahead

Combine the dry ingredients, then add melted butter (not hot) and oil. Mix the ingredients very well, cover, and let stand. Your dough should feel very powdery to the touch and somewhat dry. The next day,  it is ready to be used.

You will now add your Day 2 ingredients (a couple of pinches of yeast, a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg and a splash of warm water.

Step Two: Add Day 2 ingredients to your dough

The water should only be slightly warm, not hot. Now you are ready to mix the dough with your hands. Add water until your dough can be easily molded. Set aside for two hours in a warm place.

Step Three: Prepare your pliable dough and let sit for 2 hours

While you wait for your dough to rise a little, you can make the filling. Add the ingredients and mix together.

Step Four: Prepare your date filling

Mold your filling into small balls about the circumference of a nickel.

Step five: Shape your filling

When your dough is ready, it’s time to mold your cookies. Pluck a bit of dough, just enough to cover your filling. Roll into a ball and then press an indent with your thumb.

Step 6: Shape your cookies around the filling

Round out the cookie and press your forefinger into the middle and rotate.

Rotate your thumb around while keeping your forefinger in the middle until you have a small ring

Fill an entire pan, and let sit covered for 20 minutes.

Step 7: Cover your cookies and let sit for 20 minutes

Now they are ready for the oven.  Pop them in at 350 degrees for about 11 minutes. If they seem to be able to use some browning, turn on the low broil for a minute or two.

Once they are completely cool, dust powdered sugar over them or leave plain.

Powdered Ma’amoul

Another option for molding your cookies is to use a cookie cutter that is traditional and recognizable. Ma’amoul can have other fillings, so this shape help identifies your favorite one when it’s time to enjoy.

Shape cookie and flatten into cookie cutter, pound out by tapping table

Traditional shape: Date cookie

Extra Step (Walnut Filled Cookies)

Other traditional fillings include walnuts or pistachios, and also have a particularly recognizable shape. We also made a couple of pans of walnut cookies, using the same dough.

Mix dry ingredients for walnut filling

The filling is very sticky, it includes walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, honey, and simple syrup. Do not add anise, as this is only for the date cookies.

Mix wet ingredients into walnut filling

Mold your dough, press into your cookie cutter, and bake

Well, what a day making such delicious  cookies, I hope you enjoy making them in your home. Don’t forget to take time and enjoy your company. Until next time!


Plan a Funky Graduation Party!

Someone you know is probably graduating soon from something. After all its that time of year again. If you’re lucky its you or someone you love and a party is in order! Why settle for a boring old BBQ when it is easy to spice it up?

First you will need a funky theme, and I have got just the one for you:

Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up!?

Invite guests to dress up as whoever they want to be deep down inside. You will end up with guests dressed as artists, firefighters, seamstresses, spies, beach bums, cowboys, gardeners, and if you’re lucky one will come as a bobsledder for team USA.

Give guests the chance to participate and celebrate the dreams they have. And remind them that they are never too old to do what you want to do!

You will end up with an array of dreams mixing and mingling. Things can get quite imaginative, and you will have fun coming up with just what it is that you were born to be!

Give those dreamers something to do on a warm afternoon. Prepare a garden box, pots, or a spot in the yard, with rich soil and provide a bed of various plants. Set up the scene so guests can come and go as they please, adding new growth to the earth. This is a fun and symbolic activity that will remind your guests of the growth they still have ahead of them. The kids will love it! If you do pots, guests can take home their creation.

Another activity that will be sure to please, is a makeshift graduation ceremony complete with a keynote speaker and a speech from your new graduate. Most of your guests won’t make it to the real ceremony, so give them a down home taste. Make sure the graduate has a hat so he or she can throw it in the air to signal the end of the ceremonies.

Supply corsages for your special guests to wear for the party. Moms, grandparents, fathers, and anyone else noteworthy to the graduate’s life make for great choices.

Food can be anything simple and music for spontaneous dancing is a plus.

Keep it light and simple. Live the dream!

Chicken and Bread (Imsakhn) & Jews Mallow (Molukhia)

Here are two great recipes to combine for one complete meal. Of course you can make these recipes separate, though they do lend very well to one another.

I have started with the main course, the Imsakhn.

Basically it utilizes the twice cooked chicken technique, not unlike Kebsah. (Boil and broil!) This means of course that you can get some of that lovely chicken broth that you can use for whatever you wish.

With that broth I made Jews Mallow (Molokhia) which I have shown below the Imsakhan recipe.

Imasakhn

(Twice cooked) chicken on bread, & onions

Supplies

Large pot for boiling chicken

Deep Pan (about 1-2 inch vertical), the bigger the better

Medium Frying Pan

Strainer (for straining broth)

Ingredients

4-6 Onions

2 slices of large flat bread (enough to cover the pan you use with two layers)

A whole chicken cut into about 8 pieces (A lot of supermarkets will do this for you, just bring them the chicken you find in the case and ask them to cut it up.)

Spices and Flavorings

A combination of a couple of simple spices is all you need.

Olive Oil

LemonSalt

Pepper

Sumac

Recipe

Let it boil!

1. Fill a pot up with enough water to cover your pieces of chicken.

2. Add your cleaned chicken and an onion and boil for about 45 minutes – 1 hour or until your chicken is cooked thoroughly.

3. Fry up your remaining onions until they are nice and browned4. Line your deep dish pan with a layer of bread, olive oil, 1/3 of your onions, and a lot of Sumac! Broil this first layer for a few minutes until nice and golden brown.

One layer down, now add another, and don’t be afraid to really pour on that Sumac. (Next time I will put even more than this picture shows.)

4. Take your first layer out of the oven and add another bread/onion sumac layer, so that you will have two layers. (You will have 1/3 left of your fried onions.) Now it’s time to layer the chicken on top.

5. Take your pot of boiled chicken and strain the broth into another pot. This should leave you with a strainer full of chicken and a chopped onion.

6. Tip the strainer over letting your chickens and onions fall on to the bread. Add the remaining fried onions alongside the chicken and arrange the pieces to be broiled nice and crispy.

Sumac, the deep berry red spice you see on the chicken, has a delightful somewhat tart taste.

7. Generously add all your spices and oil/lemon over the chicken. Don’t be stingy with that Sumac! Throw it under the broiler until browned and serve.

Now that you have some wonderful broth from the Imsakhan, why not add a side that takes only about 7 minutes to make? You can even do this while your chicken broils, and put everything out on the table at the same time. (I love when that happens.)

Jews Mallow (Molokhia)

Supplies

1 Soup pan/pot

1 Ladle

Small frying pan

Ingredients

One package of minced Molokhia

Chicken Broth (About 5 ladles)

One diced tomato

Spices & Flavorings

Diced garlic to taste (I like a lot so I used 4 cloves)

Lemon wedges (To serve alongside the dish)

Salt (Couple of pinches)

Recipe

1. Open up your package of frozen Molokhia and put into a pot with a ladle of chicken broth.

3. As it melts down add broth one ladle at a time until you have the consistency you want. (You won’t need much broth, it should be very cloudy with green.)

4. When it is melted, add a chopped tomato into the broth (Without this step, the consistency will be slimy.)

5. Let it simmer while you brown the garlic over the stove. (It needs only simmer  a few minutes.)

6. Sprinkle the  browned garlic into your pot of Molokhia and add a few pinches of salt.

7. Serve like soup with fresh lemon wedges to encourage diners to squeeze over the finished product. (Also great on rice.)

Delicious.

Dinner on the patio.

Fat Farm or Fab Fresh?

For the first meal of the day, I had only two viable choices:

Smoothie or day-old donut balls…

and….The VERDICT?

Phewww. Made the right choice today….

Smoothie Recipe:

Frozen papaya (couple of small pieces)

Frozen pineapple (2 big chunks)

Frozen strawberries (handful)

Watermelon (a triangle hunk)

Pineapple pulp juice (couple of pours)

Apricot pulp juice (couple of pours)

The above picture shows the estimated ratios. This amount made 24+ ounces. If you don’t have the ingredients, remember smoothies are easy, you can pretty much put anything together. There is really only one cardinal rule-don’t mix your citrus fruit with milk, always use juice as the citrus tends to curdle the milk and give it a bad taste.

Also, spinach and kale are good ingredients to sneak in there because they are really don’t change the taste but give you all that green goodness. Another thing to keep in mind is that frozen fruit can be expensive, I find it best to buy fresh whatever is on sale and cut it up and store in the freezer.

Great for moments just like these when it would be so easy to reach for those donut balls!

How the Rich Get Tricked (10 Ways to Avoid the Trap)

The rich are the prime target for commercialism.  You are scouted out and hunted down, and if you are not careful, you can be drained to the last drop. In today’s market the success of products and experiences are not based on quality. They just need cunning people pulling the strings. To money makers, money spenders are the puppets in a comic tragedy.

Don’t be a puppet.  Take control of your own strings, and make your own happiness. To this end I have provided 10 ways in which the rich get tricked, to help you navigate the world around you and live your true life, rather than one that is packaged and maintained by somebody else.

  1. Restaurants priced as $$$$ often have savory, prime cuts paired with delicate desserts.  However sometimes the restaurants that don’t get the acclaim online serve much better food at needless to say a fraction of the cost. Think 5 giant, savory won-tons bought for a buck down the street in Chinatown, NY. Or a belgian waffle at Perkins. Surely you will run into a lot of duds, but its the adventures that make a life interesting. Seek out the hidden diners and discover the best kept secrets in your neighborhood.
  2. Vacations, There’s nothing like walking the halls of Caesar’s Palace like Julius himself. Or padding down the hallway of a luxury cruise liner. However sometimes the best vacations, ones that you don’t have to take a vacation from, are the ones where you spend quality time with your family. Period.Think a tent on the Mississippi River, watching the sun set over the bluffs.
  3. We know that money can’t buy us love, but when we are rich, sometimes we think it can.                                                                                                                               
  4. We get in the habit of looking up, and forget to look down. The sky’s as beautiful as the ground, keep lookin’ around.
  5. Birthday parties for children are big business these days.  In order to have fun, parents rent moon castles and take groups to the mall to speciality glitter stores or make your own stuffed animals.  Sometimes, parties get so big, the innocence of simple childhood delights are lost. Teach your children that it doesn’t take extravagance to have a good time.
  6. The art of keeping it simple can be thrown by the wayside as we get lost in stuff that we buy to make us happy.  No matter how fresh the Ferrari is in your driveway, its luster will fade every day, and it won’t take long before it will become just part of the scenery
  7. There are innumerable treasures to be found at rummage sales and thrift shops.  You can find a pair of never before used Italian leather shoes going for $400 for a measly $3. Thrift stores will give you a wider variety of styles to pick from, when an expensive boutique might offer limited, only modern pickings.
  8. We often think money is required to experience art. The symphony and priceless pieces of art for your home are all great luxuries.  However, art is everywhere and we cannot forget to experience it in all of its forms. Sometimes the best art is laying on the curbside waiting to be taken to the trash.
  9. Notice what you want is not what you need.  Patience is gained by not always giving into instant gratification and patience is something we all need to keep us sane.
  10. And FINALLY…always remember

Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Discover Your Inner Chef

As you can tell by my banana bread fiasco, I am not a cook.  Just like the original Miss Corrigan, I too tend to burn whatever it is I am trying to put together.  But, I gotta eat, and I gotta feed my family, so I better learn quick!  So I turned to my cooking confidant, Miss Beaucoup, who always excites me with her love for all things food, except for grapefruit, which we have proven I love the most. I have asked her to light a fire under me so i can light a fire under a good meal.

Without further ado, I present to you Miss Juju Beaucoup:

How to Discover your Inner Chef

Don’t love cooking?  No problem . . . you don’t HAVE to love cooking in order to find the chef within, though it does help.  To start, you simply must love eating food, and when I say food, I mean REAL, fresh-from-the-earth food.  What better motivation to cook than the delightful reward of eating something homemade and delicious?

Though it may come more easily to some than others, every one of us has a chef within that is dying to come out and play.  The key to unlocking your inner chef is a simple as the three L’s:  LEARN, LIVE, and LOVE.

1. LEARN:  As with anything in life, the art of culinary creativity starts with learning. 

There are so many ways to get inspired to find your way in the kitchen.  To begin, just start exploring.  Have a conversation with friends or acquaintances about their experiences with food.  This is a great way to get recipes and tips, or you might even find a cooking comrade.

For those who don’t really love cooking, it is always more enjoyable spending time in the kitchen when you are there with someone you appreciate.  There are also many classes available through community resources that might offer the opportunity to learn with others—check out your local papers or stores for workshops.

Otherwise, find a cooking show you enjoy watching to learn some basics about ingredients and preparation techniques.  Watch before you start or while you’re cooking to stimulate your appetite and get you in the mood.
Jamie Oliver is a great host for those who don’t want to spend too much time cooking; he demonstrates casual, minimalistic and healthy techniques while adding some British wit and charm to the mix. There are endless videos to be seen online, not to mention entire television channels dedicated to food and the culture therein.

The next step to learning is to start trying.  Don’t worry if you feel like you’re going to fail.  Every failed attempt is a learning opportunity to get it right the next time.  When you are first starting, start slowly.  Pay attention to what steps you may have missed or where you went wrong so you can start over or try again another time.  Add ingredients little by little, cook at a lower temperature than suggested (if possible), or eliminate unnecessary ingredients so you can focus more on the interaction of the necessary ones.  Just keep it simple and pay attention to what HAS worked for you.  Success is a great incentive to keep at it!!!

     2. LIVE:  The best thing about cooking is that you can adjust your chef style to your lifestyle. 

One big misconception of cooking is that it has to be time-consuming and impossible to fit into a busy schedule.  With a little planning ahead, the tasks of shopping for and preparing fresh food can be done rather quickly and efficiently.

The best way to do this is to think about your tastes—what do you like to buy at the grocery store, what do you like to eat?  Once you have figured this out, find a couple of recipes that use these ingredients (hello, Google!)  and plan out a few meals for the week that will incorporate them.  Use recipes with few ingredients whenever possible.

A great place to start for simple, quick meals is pasta, sandwiches, tacos or even a good stir-fry.  Virtually any ingredients can be turned into a tasty version of these dishes.  They are all quick to prepare, complete meals, can easily be made with extra leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, and are much more satisfying than yet another frozen dinner.

Once you have your footing with these basic meals, start to be a little daring and try something new.  Maybe you love that coconut curry you always get at your favorite Thai restaurant—go online and find yourself a simple DIY version to try at home.  Chances are you will be able to find the ingredients easily and it might even lead you to a new, specialty grocery store that you’ve never visited or even knew about.

Be creative about where you buy your food. The process itself is an incredibly engaging way to bring out your inner chef.  Finding food locally is much more motivating and rewarding than going to the same supermarket you can find in Anytown, USA.  Going to the farmer’s market to buy your produce and meat for the week is a pleasant activity that will excite you to get home and get busy using the wonderful things you just purchased.  If you don’t have access to a good farmers’ market year-round, try your local-food co-op, health store, or ethnic food stores for some basic ingredients.  Sometimes these stores are more expensive, but without a doubt, the quality of the ingredients you will find here is worth the extra cost.  In any case, being imaginative with where you find food can really help you lively up your chef-self.

     3. LOVE: It’s an age-old idea that the secret ingredient to good cookin’ is love.

This is absolutely true!!!  Cook when you are in a good mood, and if you’re not, then find a way to set the mood.  Put on some good music and relax.  Think of someone you love while you prepare your food, and if possible, share with them when it comes time to enjoy your finished product.  Without a doubt, the more love you put into cooking, the more love will come back to you and the more you will love to cook!  If you don’t love what you’re doing then it’s not even worth doing it—find a way to add some love to your food and the rest will take care of itself.

The bottom line is that we all have our own obstacles that keep us from cooking.  If you think you don’t have time to prepare your own food, you do.  It takes more time (not to mention more money) out of your busy day to run and grab something at the store than to plan ahead and bring something with you before you start your day.  There are endless options for quick dinners and it goes even faster if you have a little help (kids, roommates, husband . . . gasp!).  If you think you simply don’t like cooking, think again.  Think of the satisfaction that comes from eating and allow yourself to take pride in the food you make, especially if you didn’t really want to make it.  If you think you are no good at cooking, then keep learning.  Skill can come from knowledge and knowledge is empowering—with some initial effort on your part, your ability will expand and become effortless in time.  Whatever your excuse is, ask yourself this:  Why do I eat?  That reason in and of itself is a good enough reason to start making your own food, if only once in a while.  I promise you that the more joy you seek in cooking, the more joy you will get out of it!

HAPPY COOKING AND BON APPETIT!

COMING NEXT FROM JUJU BEAUCOUP:

The new chef’s guidelines to using great ingredients!