October 25, 2009

Pizza Night

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

I grew up in a house where "from scratch" meant "from box" and "homemade" meant "home pre-heated". Once I was married and cooking for myself, I started reconsidering the meaning of terms like the ones above and learned a whole new way of cooking. Making your food from scratch automatically cuts out loads of sodium and calories, not to mention all the unnatural things like preservatives and artificial flavors. Once you go scratch, you never go back!

The very first thing I made from scratch was pizza dough. I spent so long kneading that dough by hand, not sure exactly what it was supposed to feel like. It was hard work and I was only half confident it would turn out something edible. But Alhamdulillah, a few hours later we were biting into warm, home made pizza.

Since then pizza has become a weekly staple in our home. I've experimented with several different recipes only to find that tweaking it to my own taste is what works best for us*. I've made it for out-of-town guests, assembled it and taken it on the road to be baked at our destination, frozen batches of dough for friends to bake at their convenience and even baked mini-pizzas for a Ramadan Iftaar party. This is a very forgiving recipe and seems to be a real crown pleaser. Personalize it with your favorite toppings** and flavors, just have fun with it!

Pizza Dough
* this makes for a large and thick crust pizza. Divide in half for a thin crust, or do what I do and lop off 1/3 of it and freeze for calzones or bread sticks later in the week.
** sneak in a layer of grated zucchini for an extra vitamin boost for kids - and adults!

4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese (I've been omitting this and it still turns out fine)
2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water, set aside.

2. In a large bowl (or an electric mixer) add flour, salt and oil. Mix to combine.

3. Add yeast mixture and continue to knead for 7 minutes by hand, 4 minutes in mixed (add more flour if mixture is too sticky).

4. Cover and let rise in an oiled bowl until doubled (1 1/2 hour)

5. Punch down and roll out to appropriate size (this is were I lop off 1/3 to freeze for later).

6. Dimple dough with fingers and brush entire dough with olive oil.

7. Pile on toppings of choice, saving the cheese for last (it will "glue" everything in place).

8. Bake in 400 preheated oven for 20 minutes, checking to make sure cheese is bubbling and crust is golden (you may need to turn the pizza half-way).

October 11, 2009

On The Subject of Apples..

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Remember h0w I mentioned I don't like apples? Well with my kids, it's a different story. They love any type of apple, tart or sour. In any form, raw or baked. But their hands down favorite is apple sauce referred to in our house, simple, as Sauce. This is one dessert that I as a mom don't feel bad giving seconds (thirds?) of to the hungry kiddos.

Homemade Apple Sauce

1. Peel and core any variety of apples you have on hand or are in season (this is a great way to use up the last of the bunch that may be getting a bit bruised and old).

2. Slice and chop into 1" cubes.

3. Place in a deep, heavy bottomed pot (so it won't scorch) on medium-low heat. Add just enough water to come half-way up the apples. Keep a pitcher of water by the stove, you will constantly be adding water as the apples cook down.

4 . At this point you can add some flavorings if you like. I'm a fan of the natural stuff, but a cinnamon stick, a sprinkling of brown sugar or a handful of frozen berries is great too.

5. Place a tight lid and let apples cook. Check on them ever5 15 minutes to make sure there is still some water left. The apples will start to break down and get softer, slowly getting darker in color also. When it looks like the water is almost gone, add the same amount as before.

6. Depending on the amount of apples you have, this will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. A slow constant method is better than dumping a whole bunch of water and letting it simmer to ensure the most flavorful and smooth apple sauce. Make sure to continue cooking until there are no more lumps. Be patient!

7. When all the apples have broken down, remove the cinnamon stick and pour into bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature before dividing into individual portions. This freezes well also!

October 10, 2009

How about 'dem apples

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

There are a few things that leave you feeling more fulfilled and satisfied than having hand-picked your own food. As fall approaches, so do the warm flavors of the season and right now apples are in season. We've had the opportunity to go picking for a variety of produce at different times of the year, but there's something about apples that gets me, and I'm not even a fan of apples! Maybe its the cool, crisp autumn air or the varying shades of gold, green and bright red hanging off the tress. Or maybe its that intoxicating aroma that fills every crevice of your home whenever you bake one of these beauties up. Apple cobbler, apple turnovers, apple pie, the possibilities are almost endless!

Strolling through the rows and rows of trees heavy with fruit, the reality of the words of Allah strike you in a whole new way:

" O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan. Verily, he is to you an open enemy"
[al Baqarah: 168]

" Then let man cosider his food, How We pour water in showers, and We
split the earth in fragments, and we cause therein the grain to grow, And grapes and green fodder, And olives and dates, And gardens, dense with many trees, And fruits of grasses: provision for you and your cattle" ['Abasa : 25-32]

October 3, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes (aka, Just For You, Umm Dawood)

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

A belated EID MUBARAK to all my readers!! May Allah accept from us our deeds, ameen!

I love celebrating Eid with a batch of homemade chocolate cupcakes. I also enjoy celebrating the new arrival of a baby with a batch cupcakes as well. Or whipping up a batch as a hostess gift, or making some on any random night of the week. Or afternoon. Mornings also. Really, I make these for no good reason at all, and can you blame me? They're light and moist and getting better with each passing day (no more than 4 days, though!). In fact, I intentionally make them the night before for any occasion just to eat them when they taste the best. Below are some pics of the cupcakes in their many different appearances in our home. Hope they'll become as frequent in yours!

Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes about 30 cupcakes)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/ 2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup softened butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup milk

1. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together in large bowl. Set aside.

2. Using an electric mixers, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).

3. Add eggs and vanilla and continue mixing.

4. Using a spoon, alternately add flour mixture and milk until just blended.

5. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

6. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

White Cream Frosting
I never measure this, but just use as much as I think I need. Start out with 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and 1 cup powdered sugar. Beat together, use a couple drops of milk to make it smooth. Add more of each ingredient until you have enough to frost all your cupcakes. Keep tasting along the way to make sure it doesn't get too sweet. Refrigerate left over frosting for up to 5 days.