March 27, 2011

Lagan ka Murgh (Slow Cooked Creamy Chicken)

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Comfort food can mean so many different things to so many different people. Personally for me, comfort food is are those dishes that remind me of my mothers cooking. And not just the taste of her food, but everything that went along with it: the warmth of the stove-top light against the rising steam of whatever was bubbling away on the stove, the sounds of the metal pots and pans, and the smells, oh those smells. The freshly ground spices, toasted aromatics and swirling fragrances seemed to fill every corner of the house and even though I use all the same spices in my own cooking, they just don't seem to smell the same when she's not here.

But every now and then when I'm cooking, and the stove-light is on and metal lids are clinking and clanging away, I get a whiff of those old-time memories and it makes me so happy. This dish did that for me. I don't know if it was the traditional slow-cooked method of the chicken or if I was just really missing her at that moment, either way, this was my comfort food.

All the heavy memory-lane references aside, this is actually a very easy 'beginner-Indian-cooking' meal as the main technique is slow-cooking over a low flame. I'm blessed to have my mother visit often, alhamdulillah but for those in-between times when I'm really craving her food, at least I know I can turn to some of my own comfort food.This recipe comes from my dear friend at Zaiqa who's recipes almost always makes my mouth water, masha'allah. Make sure you take a look over there for lots more delicious recipes!

Lagan Ka Murgh (Slow-cooked Creamy Chicken curry in Aromatic Spice)
White Poppy Seeds1 tbsp (I used the black ones I had on hand)
Cashews – 1/8 cup (confession, I didn't do this and it was still delicious!)
Warm milk – 3/4 cup
Chicken – 8 chicken leg pieces ( boneless chicken cut into bite size pieces)
Thick Yogurt – 1/2 cup
Ginger garlic paste – 1 tbsp
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Salt – 1 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Canola oil – 4 tbsp
Onions – 3, medium sized, finely sliced
Cloves – 4
Green cardamoms – 4
Dried Bay leaf – 1
Tomato – 1, large, pureed
Garam masala powder – 3/4 tsp
Cilantro – 2 tbsp, finely chopped

1. In a small cup, add poppy seeds and cashews. Pour in warm milk and let soak for 20-25 minutes. Later puree it into a smooth paste.(I didn't do this step but wish I had, and plan on doing it next time insha'allah. That being said, the dish was still delicious)

2. Marinate the chicken with yogurt, ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, salt and red chilli powder. Mix well and keep aside for 30-40 minutes.

3. In a lagan or any thick bottomed vessel at medium high heat, pour oil and as soon as it is hot, add the sliced onions, two pinches of salt and fry while stirring constantly until they are golden brown in color. Add cloves, cardamoms and bay leaf. Add the marinated chicken along with the marinade and mix well. Add the prepared cashewnuts+poppy seeds+milk puree, and the tomato puree and mix well. Simmer, cover and let it cook slowly for 30-40 minutes. Keep stirring it every once in a while. You will see the oil will start to leave and the gravy will get thicker. Once done, sprinkle garam masala powder and chopped cilantro. Mix well and serve immediately.

March 21, 2011

Cheese Crackers

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

(warning: all pictures in this post are downright horrible; my camera was out of commission and I had to resort to my grubby camera phone. I'm hoping to make this recipe again in the near future and promise to get better pictures insha'allah, until then, these will just have to do!)

I was never so much into those little yellow gold fish crackers...they just didn't taste cheesy enough for my liking (and its no secret how much I like cheese), and I've never understood how kids seem to be addicted to them either.. Cheez-its were a bit more up my alley but its not like I was crazy about them or anything.

But now I have kids of my own and though they don't each goldfish crackers(too much doubt about it being halal) they do love crunchy little snacks. So when I first saw this recipe, I thought of them. When I first tasted it, I thought of only myself eating the whole bowl. Only kidding (sort of)!

Don't get intimidated by the idea of making crackers from scratch, they come together so easily and have so few ingredients you'll really be amazed. I suggest rolling them slightly thinner than the recipe calls for to decrease any major puffing. Skewering holes into the pre-baked crackers also keeps puffing to a minimum, you can see I went a little crazy with my holes; one or two per cracker would be just fine, too.


I originally made these for a play date but I gotta say, the adults seemed to enjoy them just as much as the kiddos. They kept well for a couple days in a sealed container but remember, they're homemade meaning no preservatives or chemicals so don't expect them to stay crisp and fresh for so many days. Happy crackering!

Whole Wheat Crackers

6 ounces (1 1/2 cups coarsely grated) sharp cheddar
4 tablespoons  softened butter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used an entire 3/4 cup of white whole wheat flour)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon onion powder (I didn't have any and used garlic powder instead)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon table salt (your cheese will be plenty salty on its own so only add a pinch)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, running the machine until the dough forms a ball, about two minutes.

If the dough feels warm or worrisome-ly soft, wrap it in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes. This also makes it easier to transfer shapes once they are rolled out.

On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/8-inch thick. Form shapes with a cookie cutter, dipping it in flour from time to time to ensure a clean cut. Gently transfer crackers to an ungreased cookie sheet with a 1/2 inch between them. Bake the crackers on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are barely browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

March 14, 2011

Cheesy Loaf

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

It's no secret I love this dough, I mean, who wouldn't? It comes together so quick and doesn't even need to rise yet still yields soft and fluffy rolls, alhamdulillah. I've already done one spin-off, figured another wouldn't hurt! This ooey, gooey cheesey loaf of bread was the result of last minute company and the best thing to accompany the boiling pot of pasta on the stove I was getting ready for them. I had intended it to be a braided-bread type of thing, but it rose while cooking and spread out, resembling nothing of the original breading it went into the oven with. The middle of the loaf looked so empty and sad that I had to fill it with something and what better than some cheese? I sprinkled on some in the last 5 minutes of baking and there you have it: a very easy cheesy loaf.

Cheesy Loaf
1 batch of 40 minute roll's dough
1 tsp of seasoning/toppings of your choice (I used poppy seeds and Italian herbs)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Prepare dough according to directions. Roll out into a log and slice lengthwise into three strips. Connect strips together at the top by pressing dough together and begin to braid, tuck ends in underneath. Allow to rest on baking sheet.

2. Brush with an egg wash and top with your seasoning (optional). Bake 25 - 30 minutes (keep an eye on it!).

3. In last 5 minutes, remove loaf and sprinkle the middle with cheese. Return to oven and continue baking until cheese is bubbly and melted. Allow to cool 5 mintues before cutting.

March 6, 2011

General Tso Chicken

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Back in college, my cousin and I would zip across the street to a little hole-in-the-wall Halal Chinese restaurant between classes. This place was good and cheap, the two most important things for any college student. My favorite was the General Tso chicken and would order the same thing each and every single time I went there.

The restaurant has long closed down and I've moved far away, but oh how I have missed those crunchy chunks of chicken coated in that sweet sauce. Since Halal Chinese restaurants are so hard to come by (at least in my neck of the woods) I've had to accept either bottled sauce versions, complete with their deathly amounts of HFCS and sodium, or vegan/vegetarian versions and well, I'll just say that General Tso chicken was meant to be made with chicken.

So I got to work looking up different recipes and reviews. I wasn't happy with a sauce recipe that contained only hoisin and sugar, or soy sauce and honey. I needed some more balance of flavors than that. And the coating of the chicken was probably the most important part of the whole dish; it needs to be crispy  and crunchy, but not in a chicken finger sort of way. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Cooks Illustrated had the answer to my General Tso dreams, and also not surprised that it was a bit of a lengthy process as per the Cooks Illustrated tradition (or so it seems). But don't get intimidated by the list of ingredients and multi-step process, some times it takes a few extra steps to get that authentic flavor you can't find out of a bottle. So in conclusion, this isn't a quick meal to whip-up on a weeknight while the kids are whining for dinner but rather something you can spend some time on for an occasional treat. And you can trust that it'd be worth every minute insha'allah!

Though this recipe doesn't come close to recreating the laughter and good times with my dear cousin, as far as taste goes, it's even better. This one's for you S, I love you, chica!

General Tso Chicken
(taken from Cook's Illustrated)

Ingredients for marinade:
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Ingredients for coating & frying:
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups vegetable oil
1-2 green onions, thinly sliced on a bias for garnish


1. Prep the chicken breasts by cutting them into 1 inch pieces.

2. To make the marinade & sauce, whisk the hoisin, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and water in a bowl. Of this mixture, place 6 tablespoons into a zip lock storage bag and add the chicken; seal and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Set aside the remaining marinade in the bowl.

3. While the chicken is chilling in the marinade, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Sauté the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes until fragrant. Add 2 cups of the hoisin marinade to the skillet and simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture is dark brown and thickened.Remove the pan from heat, cover to keep the sauce warm.

4. To prepare the chicken coating and frying, whisk the egg whites in a shallow dish until foamy; set aside. Combine the cornstarch, flour, baking soda, and remaining hoisin marinade in a second shallow dish; mix until it resembles coarse meal.

5. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and from the marinade. Pat the marinated chicken dry with paper towels. Toss half the chicken into the foamy egg whites until well coated, then dredge the chicken in the cornstarch mixture, pressing to adhere. Transfer the coated chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken.

6. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat until the oil registers 350 degrees. Fry half the chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning each piece halfway through cooking.  Transfer the cooked chicken onto a paper towel lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining chicken if needed.

7. Warm the sauce over medium heat until simmering. Place the sauce in a large bowl and add the fried chicken pieces. Toss to coat and serve.

March 2, 2011

Pecan Sticky Buns

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

I did a bad thing. A really bad, bad thing. But oh my, did it taste wonderful, alhamdulillah! I took Ree's famous cinnamon roll recipe and threw in some chopped pecans before rolling up the dough. Next, I scattered about 1/4 cup or so of brown sugar and couple tablespoons of softened butter pieces along the bottom of the pan before placing the rolls in. Turn out onto a serving dish after baking and letting cool for about 5 minutes or so (which was so hard to do!),  and you have the softest pecan sticky buns you can imagine!