Gibnah Baydah – White Cheese with Blackseed

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh – Peace be upon you, and the mercy of Allah and His blessings!  It’s easy to say once you get the hang of it and the blessings of sharing this phrase are immense!

Good morning!  It’s a sunny Saturday morning here in Virginia.  Very cold, but the wind is not blowing so it’s not too bad if you are well bundled and stay in the sun.  Or if you stay inside, which is where I am right now.

I woke up this morning with thoughts of making yogurt and cheese.  For once in my life, I had everything I needed at hand, so I was able to get started right away.  Well, right away after I started the coffee brewing.

Last night I was watching an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and Guy Fieri was visiting a restaurant where the man was making international cuisine, including Middle Eastern stuff.  He made a delicious simple cheese that I’ve made several times before so I decided I wanted to make it this morning.  And so here it goes:

What you will need:

1 gallon whole milk
juice of two lemons
1 cup of all natural yogurt (I use Dannon All Natural if I don’t have home made in the house)
herbs such as black seed (haba soda), mint, oregano, dill, etc. (optional)
strainer or colander
cheesecloth or finely woven cloth such as a pillowcase
large bowl

In a large, tall-sided pot, heat one gallon of milk to the boil.  You will either need to use a really big pot or watch the pot like a hawk to avoid having a messy boil-over.  I suggest watching it like a hawk.  As soon as the milk starts to foam up and rise, add the juice of two lemons and the cup of yogurt.  Give it a quick mix with a wire whisk.  Allow to boil for a minute or so – the risk of boil-over is gone once the milk starts to break up into curds – and then remove from the heat.

I put a big stainless steel bowl in the sink and then rest a big stainless steel colander inside that, and line the colander with cheesecloth or my personal favorite, a (clean, never used for a human head) pillowcase.  Very carefully, using pot holders, grab the handles of your big pot and pour the contents into the colander.  Set pot aside.

Raise the colander a bit because probably the amount of liquid will be a lot and it will “float” the colander unless you empty most of it out.  DO NOT THROW AWAY THE WHEY.  Or, DO NOT THROW A-WHEY THE WHEY!  Pour it into another container and then put the colander back into the bowl.

Allow the cheese to drain for about twenty minutes.  You can twist up the pillow case to squeeze out the last bit of liquid if you want to, but I don’t bother because I like my cheese a bit moist and I don’t want to burn my hands.  Once it is drained to your satisfaction, dump the cheese into a bowl and put the pillowcase in the laundry.

Now you can add salt and whatever herbs you like.  A classic addition is blackseed, know by names as nigella sativa, habat al barakah, or haba saudah.  I mix it all in with my hands.  Try adding salt a little bit at a time, starting with one teaspoon and mixing well.  Taste before adding more so you don’t make it too salty.  Mix well and then enjoy!  My teenage son LOVES this cheese and it’s a good thing I got pictures before he woke up because it will probably be gone soon!

Bil hana wa shifaa.


Biscuits and Turkey Sausage Gravy – a Stick to Your Ribs Breakfast

Okay, so this morning I woke up and decided to make biscuits and gravy for breakfast.  It’s a really sturdy breakfast, preparing you for a long day of lumberjacking or folding laundry while chasing a toddler who likes to knock nicely folded clothes off the bed.  You know, heavy work.

My first confession is this:  I used store-bought biscuits.  There, I said it.  I have yet to find a good, tasty, toothsome, fluffy biscuit recipe so I simply break out the can from the fridge, crack it open, and stick them in the oven.  No muss, no fuss, don’t tell Martha Stewart.

The gravy I make from scratch.  First, in a large shallow pan, I fry up one pound of turkey sausage. Being Muslim, of course I don’t eat pork, so I will always use a turkey, beef, or lamb substitution for any sausage or bacon that a recipe calls for.  Since turkey sausage is usually very low in fat, I put a couple of teaspoons of oil in the pan before frying it up so it won’t stick.  When it’s nicely browned, I set it aside and save it until I’m ready to put it in with the gravy.

For the gravy, you will need to make a roux.  I know some people are intimidated by this but it’s actually very easy.  Use equal parts butter and flour.  That’s the rule of thum.  I use a medium size pot, put in 1/4 cup of butter (or in this case, leftover beef bacon fat from a breakfast earlier in the week), and let it heat up over medium heat.  When the butter has melted and it has stopped foaming up, add 1/4 cup of all purpose flour and whisk it in briskly until combined.  It might be a little clumpy but it will smooth out.  Allow it to brown for two to three minutes so the “floury” taste cooks out of it.  It should start to turn color just a bit and it will have a nutty flavor.  Then whisk in about two cups of cold milk.  Keep whisking briskly until everything is well combined and there are no clumps of flour in the mix.  Turn the heat up to high.  Whisk in another two cups of milk and then use a mixing spoon to get into the corners of the pot since bits of flour get trapped in there that the whisk cannot reach.

You can set aside the whisk now and just use your spoon.  Stir lightly but constantly as the mixture heats, being sure to get into the corners.  The gravy will start to thicken as it approaches the boiling point.  As soon as it does, to avoid having little volcanoes popping off and splattering you with gravy lava, reduce the heat.  Keep stirring and then add salt and pepper to taste.  You will need more salt than you think you do, but remember you’ll be putting somewhat salty sausage in in a minute so don’t put too much.

Once the gravy has thickened, add in the crumbled sausage and stir to combine.  Lower the heat to a bare simmer and put on the lid, allowing everything to come together for a few minutes.

That’s it.  You just made gravy!  Now you just have to split open a couple of biscuits and ladle the scrumptious sausage gravy over it, and enjoy.

Bil hana wa shifaa!

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Published in: on January 15, 2012 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Challah Cinnamon French Toast

Ah, french toast. Warm, toasty, French. Well, maybe, maybe not. I don’t know if French toast actually originated in France. Don’t care, actually. All I know is that it tastes good. I just finished wolfing down a portion in a most unladylike fashion. I did restrain myself enough to not lick the leftover syrup off the plate.

2/3 cup of milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use alcohol-free)
cinnamon sugar mixture (optional)
four thick (3/4″) slices of challah bread

Heat up a large skillet or griddle to medium (about 325 on a griddle). Crack two eggs in a bowl, add milk, salt, and vanilla, and whisk to break up the eggs very well. Pour this mixture into a shallow dish – I just used a small frying pan but you can use a cake pan or pie pan. Put one piece of challah in the batter. Count to ten to allow it to soak up the liquid; flip and repeat. Pick up the bread carefully by a corner and allow to drain into the dish. Be careful! The bread is wet and may try to fall apart. I usually hold it gingerly with my fingertips. When it has drained, put it into the heated nonstick skillet or on the griddle which has been buttered or sprayed with cooking spray (I used cooking spray). If you have room for all four pieces, continue until they are all in the pan. I used a pan that could fit two or three pieces so I did mine in stages. Allow to cook for about two to three minutes on one side. While the first side is cooking, sprinkle the tops with a cinnamon sugar mixture. This is optional but I really like the taste, and it’s better than putting cinnamon in the batter because it tends to float on the top of the batter and get completely taken up by the first piece of bread, leaving the other pieces deprived and depressed.

When the first side is browned, flip to cook the other side for another two to three minutes. Remove from heat, place on plate, top with a dab of butter, then syrup. Add berries or bananas or whatever you like, and DIG IN!

Why challah? Well, challah is a rich egg bread. It holds together well and the inside has an almost “custardy” consistency when it is done. If you like a drier French toast, you can cut the bread a bit thinner or use a different type of bread. It depends on your personal taste and you can fiddle with this recipe as you like.

Bil hana wa shifaa!

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Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Foccacia Bread With an Arabic Twist

I just finished making this recipe for foccacia bread:

It was a pretty simple recipe. I didn’t have honey so I used sugar. Instead of using the herbs he suggested, I used zaatar. I also let it rise a second time after I had punched it down and put it in the pan to bake. I heated water in a kettle, put the hot water into a pan in the bottom of the oven, then put the dough in for about half an hour to rise in the warm, moist oven (with the heat OFF). Then I took it out, set the oven to 375, and baked for about 25 minutes.

The bread came out lovely and delicious. The chopped onions in the bread give it a tiny bit of sweetness when you chew. It is soft but toothsome, not a wimpy bread at all but not something you have to rip at like a vulture on a carcass. Here are some pictures of my method:

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bil hana wa shiffa!

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Home Made Cinnamon Rolls – Rich and Decadent

Is this sweet enough for ya?

Okay, someone asked for my cinnamon roll recipe. Now, I used to work for a country style fried chicken restaurant called Grandy’s back in the day. I learned how to make the world’s BEST dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls under the tutelage of a Hawaiian lady named Lelani. She was a tough customer, let me tell you! The only way was the right way. I got over being intimidated by baking really fast. I used to make rolls and cinnamon rolls for up to 400 customers a day. You get big Popeye biceps doing that! Here’s how I made the ones I made yesterday that are causing a stir on my Facebook page :).

I should warn you that I use my KitchenAid mixer to do the mixing and folding of the dough except right at the end. You can do this all by hand but it will be more work.

Basic Sweet Dough

3-1/2 to 4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs

In a small pot, heat the milk and the butter. Remove from heat and cool until it is warm enough for you to put your finger in for ten seconds without burning, between about 86 and 103 degrees for you technical types. It is VITAL not to use the milk while it is too hot, or you will kill the yeast and your dough will not rise. While the milk and butter are cooling, in the bowl of your mixer combine the 1-1/2 cups of the flour, all the yeast, and the sugar and the salt. Attach the mixing paddle. Turn the speed to one and slowly add the milk and butter mixture, then add two whole eggs. Mix to combine and then raise to medium speed and allow to mix for about three minutes. This starts activating the gluten in the flour so you’ll get a nice texture. Okay turn off the mixer and then change from the mixing paddle to the dough hook. Add two cups of flour and start the mixer on LOW speed unless you want to have flour in your face, eyes, and up your nose. Allow it to work in and see if the dough starts coming away from the sides of the bowl and creeping up the dough hook. If it is too sticky, add more flour about a 1/4 cup at a time. The dough should be slightly tacky but not too sticky. It is more towards a firm dough than a loose dough. When it looks good, allow it to mix in the mixer for about ten minutes. This saves you from having to knead it by hand. Go have a latte or something….

Okay, turn off the mixer, remove the dough from the hook, scrape all the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, and knead for just a few minutes to bring it together into a nice ball. Place in a greased bowl, grease the top and sides of the dough ball nicely, and allow to rise undisturbed in a warm place for probably at least an hour. This is not a super-fast rising dough and you do want to give it time to work. It should be doubled in size when it is ready.

Punch it down and plop it out onto a floured surface. Flatten it as best you can with your hands and then grab the rolling pin and be ready for battle! You will need to roll this out to about a 12×12 square or 14×12 or so. I actually didn’t measure but just went with what looked right. The dough will want to spring back so you’ll have to put some muscle into it.

For the next step, melt a stick of butter, and get out cinnamon and sugar and raisins (if you like raisins; if not, just omit. Also, you can toss in ground walnuts or pecans also). Using about 3/4ths of the melted butter, pour it on the dough and then lightly spread it with your fingers so the entire face of the dough is covered. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon, sugar, and nuts; toss raisins on. Then you start to fold the dough away from you until it is rolled up. Now, my mom used to make something called a tea ring, which means she did up to this point, then made a circle of the dough, tucked it in on the ends, then snipped about 3/4ths of the way through all around the ring, laying over the pieces like flower petals. You can do that, or do like I did and cut out 12 cinnamon rolls. Place on a 1/4 sheet pan. Brush with some of the leftover melted butter. I boiled a kettle of water and then poured the hot water into a deep pan and put it on the bottom shelf of the oven (turned OFF), then put the rolls in this steamy environment to proof until they are doubled in size. Take them out – gently so as not to bump and deflate them! – then take out the water pan and heat the oven to 350 degrees. When it is at the proper temperature, put in the rolls and bake for about 15 minutes (check at 13 to see if they are done in case your oven runs a bit hot). Bake until light brown on top and then remove from the oven. Allow to cool for about fifteen minutes. I used store-bought (gasp!) cream cheese frosting on mine because I happened to have it in the cupboard but you can make your own or make a simple powdered sugar glaze. Frost or glaze the rolls, then step out of the way because your family WILL trample you on the way to get them.

Bil hana wa shifaa!

Published in: on September 28, 2011 at 9:57 am  Comments (2)  
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Split Pea Soup with Potatoes

Well, winter weather is not yet here,  but it’s not too hot so I decided to make a big pot of split pea soup.  It’s actually very easy and makes a nice meatless meal.  Here’s what you need:

1 pound bag dried split peas

1 medium onion, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

1 pound of potatoes, waxy or russet, peeled and diced

2 teaspoons olive oil

salt, pepper, and spices to taste.

Heat oil to medium.  You want to gently sautee the onions until translucent, not brown them.  Add the onions and stir to coat.  Let them cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.  Add garlic and sautee for five more minutes.  Add potatoes and peas, then add water to cover plus about one inch.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I also add 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon mild chili powder (my kids can’t handle the heavy-duty stuff) and one chicken bouillon cube.  Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cook until the peas are broken down and the potatoes are tender.  Waxy potatoes will hold together better if you want them to be distince in the soup; mealy ones like russets will break down more for a thicker soup.

You can serve this on its own with some toasty bread, or over rice, or, if you are a starch fiend like my husband, both.

Bil hana wa shifaa!


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Published in: on September 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Read to Feed – A Program for Masaajid


Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah

Okay, so I was a good girl and got up promptly when the alarm went off this morning.  I made a nice suhoor (pre-fast meal) of eggs, turkey bacon, toast, and dates.  Yes, I buttered the toast, but no jam.  The baby woke up with us, which makes preparing food a challenge.  I can’t really trust my drowsy husband to keep track of him because, well, let’s just say Sherif is not terribly effective when he first wakes up (translate:  he’s a zombie).  So I did suhoor then fajr came in and then Zaid was wide awake so I stayed up with him while everyone else went back to bed.

Eventually the little monster – uh, sweetheart – slept and of course instead of going to sleep myself I went on Facebook.  Yeah, pitiful, I know.  So I was catching up on Project Conversion and my friend Andrew Bowen had written a new blog post wherein he challenged Muslims to put our money where our mouth is in regards to feeding the hungry.  Go read the post.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait….

Okay, back?  Good.   Well, his post inspired me.   I decided to start a program in our masjid called “Read to Feed”.  Last year, my son’s elementary school instituted this program.  Students read books.  Students take a test on each book and then are awarded points based on the size and complexity of the book, from one point for a beginner book read by a Kindergarten student to up to forty points for a multi-chapter book.  The school kept track of all points, and for every 10,000 points, they donated $500 to a local food bank.  Now, sure, they could have just solicited donations from families, but by tying the money to the accomplishments of the children, they were able to teach the kids the value of reading and the value of helping out in the community.  I know my son felt very proud of his contribution to the effort, and indeed he was recognized and was given an award for most points at the end of the year, masha Allah.

So.  How about it?  I think it would be a noble cause and it can easily be adapted to our masaajid.   I also started A Facebook page so people all over the world could share information, give ideas, and perhaps start programs in their own communities.  Not bad for an idea that arose out of sleeplessness, huh?  See, there is a real blessing in staying up after fajr :).

I hope you will join me as I try to establish this program.  I’ve never done anything like this before so I will need all the input and creative criticism I can get.  So mosey on over to Facebook and join the page, will ya?  Jazaak Allah Khair.

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 7:47 am  Comments (1)  
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Totally Awesome Mango Frozen Yogurt – 3 Ingredients

Delicious Mango Frozen Yogurt

The simple things are often the best things. Fresh mangoes, all natural yogurt, sugar. These are the three ingredients for happiness, at least according to my children.

I have an ice cream machine, the kind with the liquid filled canister that you freeze so you don’t have to use ice and salt. With this machine I can make ice cream in a pinch. I usually make frozen yogurt, actually, because I enjoy the tang it gives to my favorite frozen fruit.

Here’s what you need to make the frozen yogurt. Bear in mind that I had to do this in two batches because my machine couldn’t hold all the mix in one go, but each batch takes only about 20 minutes and the machine does not need tending so you can go read a book or soak in a nice hot bath while it’s going:

3 cups of yogurt (I use Dannon all natural with active cultures
3 mangoes
3/4 cup of sugar

Cut up the mangoes and peel them. If you feel this is a messy task, you can use frozen mango chunks from the store, but let them thaw completely because you’ll need to puree them. Puree the chunks in a blender or food processor. Pour into a large bowl. Add three cups of all natural full-fat yogurt and 3/4 of a cup of sugar and mix to combine. Pour this mixture into a big measuring cup or another container with a lip as you will be pouring it into the ice cream maker.

Assemble the ice cream maker, including putting the dasher (that’s the arm that actually mixes the ice cream) and the lid. Plug it in, turn it on, and pour half the mix into the machine. Put the other half in the fridge. Set a 25 minute timer and go relax if the kids will let you. But of course they won’t let you because they’ll be bugging you about the ice cream.

When the timer goes off, turn off the machine, take off the lid, and remove the dasher. Scrape off any frozen yogurt adhering to the dasher and set it aside. DON’T lick it – I know you want to, but there’s one more batch to do! Scrape the frozen yogurt out into a container – I pop it into a used clean yogurt container. Put on a lid and put it in the freezer. This allows it to set up and be harder. If you simply can’t resist, you can eat it right away. Process the second batch in the same way and then you are done. Don’t forget to clean the liquid-filled canister and return it to the freezer because your family is going to want you to make more ice cream / frozen yogurt tomorrow… and the next day… and the next day…and the next day….

Pricing is very reasonable. A container of yogurt costs about $2, so you are using $1.50 worth, mangoes were 4 for $5 at the store, so that was $3.75, and let’s just say the sugar was about 25 cents. So for a total of $5.25, you are getting about a pint and a quarter of delicious frozen yogurt with no artificial colors or ingredients. If you make your own yogurt or find mangoes on sale, you can make it even less expensive. I would say this will make six servings, so less than $1 a person for a VERY happy family.

Bil hana wa shifaa!

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Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mmmmm… Ice Cream….

Okay, so I haven’t posted anything in a while. Blame it on being crazy busy with visitors from overseas, busy with work, and feeling somewhat uninspired in the kitchen. I haven’t lost my mojo, but when you have to divide your day between children, housework, work-work, and cooking, sometimes you just have to resort to simple foods or even – Gasp! – something out of a box.

I did manage to make this ice cream a couple of days ago. Hubby was a bit irked that the children finished of the tri-color sorbet I bought from the store. I felt sorry for him, even though he usually is content crunching his pumpkin seeds in the evening, so I whipped up this treat. It’s actually frozen yogurt, not ice cream, but don’t send the ice cream police along to seize my ice cream churner.

Okay, this is super simple and if you have one of these ice cream freezers (available for anywhere between $20 to $100 in retail stores and on eBay), you can whip it up in about thirty minutes, and the machine does 25 minutes of that.

Make sure the canister in your ice cream machine has been in the freezer overnight so the liquid that is in it is completely frozen. Set the machine on the counter.

In a bowl, combine three cups of yogurt. I use Dannon Plain All Natural. It’s just milk with active yogurt cultures. Use the full fat version, not low fat or fat free. Trust me on this. Add 3/4 of a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of vanilla (I use an alcohol free fake vanilla) 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder. Yes, chili powder. Mix that all together with a wire whip (why is that not written wire wip or whire whip? Hmmm….). Make sure your ice cream maker is fully assembled except for the dasher and lid and turn it on. Quickly pour in the mixture, using a rubber spatula to get all the goodness in. Put in the dasher and put on the lid and then allow it to churn for about twenty minutes. At the end of that time you’ll have frozen yogurt (there I didn’t say ice cream, are you happy?) of a soft-serve consistency. You can scrape it out into a container (it fits neatly back into the 32 ounce yogurt container the yogurt came out of). Freeze for however long you can keep your hands off it. Serve and enjoy.

I tell you, when I took the first taste I thought “cheesecake”. The flavor had that cheesecake tang and the flavor of the cinnamon and chili powder enhanced that. I finished the last bit off today, being proud of restraining myself and letting my hubby actually have TWO servings. I do have more yogurt, and I had Abdel Hamid put the canister in the freezer, so maybe I can make some more tonight. Well, better not. I baked a cake so ice cream on top of that would be overdoing it a bit.

Bil hana wa shifaa!

Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Retiring My Redneck French Press

Okay, before anyone gets offended at the use of the term redneck, be aware that I own this label with pride. My dad is from Alabama. He was one of eight kids who grew up so poor that his family didn’t have indoor plumbing and they shot squirrels to supplement their diet. He joined the army and saw the world, and then after I came along we moved to Oklahoma, the Buckle on the Bible Belt and the heart of Redneckia. I have worn camouflage pants and shot at LPs with a shotgun, I have gone camping in the woods and I had a next-door neighbor who had plants potted in a commode in her front yard (which horrified my German mother to no end). I watch NFL football and NASCAR. I came by my redneck honestly and just because it’s covered with a scarf now doesn’t mean it’s not still there. So, now that we have that out of the way….

For the longest time, I’ve made my morning coffee by boiling water in a kettle on the stove and then pouring the water over coffee grounds in the bottom of a Pyrex baking cup. I let the grounds steep for a bit and then strain them through a beat-up mesh strainer into our mugs. My husband has brought me many coffee makers; when you have a hubby who goes to lots of auctions, you get tons of small appliances. The fancy ones we’d sell on eBay. The cheaper ones I’d test out but ultimately reject because they were a pain to use or clean. I didn’t mind my impromptu setup, but it did look a bit, well, ugly. Okay, a lot ugly.

Out with the old....

I started looking for a French press, which did exactly the same thing I was doing but in a much prettier manner. I actually found one at the store for only about $20. Simple to use, glass and stainless steel, not too big, perfect for two travel mug sized cups of coffee. I’ve been using it now for several days and I’m happy. It’s easy to use, easy to clean, and actually looks decent sitting on the counter. It only took me about five years to graduate to this new more evolved form of coffee production. If I am able to keep the press intact – it is made of glass and I am made of klutz – I plan to use it for a long time. Cause with my family, coffee is the lifeblood that keeps my husband and me on our feet. If I didn’t have a way to make the coffee, no doubt I’d be chewing on the grounds.

...and in with the new.

Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 11:16 am  Comments (1)