Mother’s Day: The Recipes

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all my mamas out there!

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I was really struggling to find a dish to make that really represented my mama – or at least the memories I had of her cooking. After flipping through her cookbook over and over again and talking to anyone I could who might have remembered, I got a phone call from my dad.

Kousa Mahshi.

Now, I’d thought about making this dish. I had planned to tackle it at some point, I was just apprehensive because it is so time consuming. But, mahshi seemed to come up more often than any other meal I considered, so it won!

And, instead of trying to fit a million thoughts and images into one post, I’m going to break things up a bit over the course of this week. There is a lot I want to say and I need time to process it all out into words that aren’t all sappy and sentimental. There is a lesson somewhere in all of this; I just have to find it.

Today’s post will include the recipes for the kousa mahshi (Stuffed Squash) and this dessert I used to love when I was a kid. I didn’t have a recipe for it, so I went off of my hazy memory. If anyone, ANYONE has a recipe for this dish, please share. I think we (family/friends) all kind of deduced that this dessert recipe probably came off the back of a Jello pudding box. Gotta love the 70s!

Kousa Mahshi

4-5 lbs of yellow squash (about 15-20 pieces of about medium size)

1 1/2 -2 lbs. of lamb (preferably leg of lamb, but you can use shoulder)

3 1/2 rice

2 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce

Water

salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg to taste ( I think we did 1 tbsp. salt, tsp. pepper, 3/4 tsp. of allspice, tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg)

Wash the squash and cut off the tips just enough create a hole large enough to core the squash. Save the tips to cook along with the mahshi. Use a vegetable corer and core out the squash until it is a thin, but sturdy shell. Wash and rinse the cored squash in water and salt.

The meat for this dish can be done one of two ways. If you don’t have the time to cut meat, you can use ground lamb or beef that is more coarse (as if using for a chili). If you do have the time, prepare the meat by cleaning the leg of lamb (removing fat, skin, etc.) and cutting into small, pea-sized pieces. This is really time-consuming, but the difference in taste and texture is worth the effort.

Once meat is cut, add it to the rinsed rice and mix. Add spices and a little butter if the meat is really lean – say 1-2 tbsp.

Fill the squash about 3/4 of the way. Don’t pack the mixture down inside the squash and don’t overfill. Lay side by side inside a large pot in stacks. Add the squash tips and the cans of tomato paste. Fill the rest of the pot with water and let it come to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes before reducing heat and cooking on medium for about an hour.

(Make sure to save the the squash pulp to make Lub Kousa – see recipe below)

Lub Kousa

Squash Pulp (from squash you carved)

Onion

Olive Oil

Salt, pepper, lemon

Saute the onions in a couple of tbsp. of olive oil until. Add the washed squash pulp and cook together for another couple of minutes before adding the spices (we added a serrano pepper, whole just for some additional flavor). Mix everything together and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes or so. The squash needs to be really soft – almost like mush. Serve hot or cold as a side with the Mahshi.

Pudding Dessert (because I have no clue what the actual name of this dessert is!)

1 large box of Cook and Serve Chocolate Pudding (should make 3 cups)

2 small boxes of Instant Pistachio Pudding (should make 4 cups)

Tea Biscuits(about 3 packages)

Make the puddings and while you are waiting for the chocolate pudding to cool, roughly crush the tea biscuits and place the crushed biscuits at the bottom of a glass pan. Just enough to coat the bottom and make a crust of sorts.

Add the chocolate pudding and then another thin layer of the crushed biscuits.

Add the pistachio pudding and sprinkle a little bit of the crushed cookie on top and some crushed pistachios for garnish.

Put in the fridge for a couple of hours to set and then serve like cake.

Baking 101: Sometimes The Cookie Doesn’t Crumble

Although I am beginner when it comes to cooking, I am somewhat of a veteran to the baking world.  My sweet tooth led me to baking long ago; we’re a natural fit. Cookies, pies, cakes, brownies – they are all filled with heaping spoonfuls of processed sugar and that makes my tummy happy. Beyond the obvious though, I love baking cookies for people and giving them as gifts. I get, usually, a great deal of satisfaction from being able to bake homemade cookies for the people I love. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something worthwhile and I’m genuinely good at baking most things.  So, when Easter rolled around, I figured now might be a good time to try making a dessert. I felt confident that I could conquer the recipe and provide my family with something yummy to eat on a significant holiday day.

A few weeks back, I’d stopped by my cousin’s restaurant to grab a bite to eat. While we were hanging out talking, one of my cousins offered me a bag filled with rock cookies. She’d brought them back from a trip to see some of our family in Tennessee and they were just as yummy as I’d remembered.

Rock cookies are nothing fancy. They look bland and uninteresting, but the taste is so addictive. I’m pretty sure they aren’t a traditional Arabic cookie, but one that has been embraced and perfected by my aunts and one I was excited to be able to tackle.

I followed the recipe almost exactly – with an exception of adding a bit more cinnamon to the final mixture – and was satisfied with taste of the batter. My main concern was making sure the cookies baked in the shape of bite-sized mounds. I wanted the texture to be a little dry, but crumbly with just the right amount of sugar to spice.

Well, that’s not exactly how the baking of these cookies went down. All three trays came out exactly the same – flat, spongy and dry as hell.  I’m still trying to figure out what went wrong. We considered the role humidity may have played in the baking process, whether using baking soda was necessary, and even tried adding a bit more flour in the last batch to see if that would make a difference. I could really use some insight from anyone who bakes regularly.  What could I have done differently to get the texture I wanted??

Needless to say, I had a really difficult time accepting my baking defeat. I know it’s merely a hiccup, but something about this experience left me emotional and, ok I’ll admit it, a tiny bit irrational.  I guess part of my reaction stemmed from the Easter holiday being such a symbolic holiday, and while I’m not exactly what one would call devout, the idea of rebirth and second chances was really resonating with me this time around.  I guess the cookies were a symbolic offering of sorts to my family (especially because it was my uncle’s 75th birthday, too) and I feel like I failed at making it a memorable one. My dad kept trying to insist that we take the cookies anyway; that they tasted fine. I refused.

It’s odd. When I cook and don’t such a great job, I am usually pretty forgiving of myself.  When I bake and fail, I go into complete hysterics. I know I was acting like a bratty pre-teen and my family was being encouraging despite the bad attitude.  I’ll also say that I was overcome by how encouraging my extended family has been about this project. You all have been so amazing for taking the time to read and share this endeavor with me.  And I’ll end this post with the words of encouragement from my awesome Uncle Vic: ” Just remember, none of us are born knowing anything. We learn by practicing.”

Y’all better get ready to eat some cookies, because I’m gonna make these suckers a hundred times until I get them right.

Butter...and plenty of it!
Flour with all the fixins'
Changing Batter - One Egg at a Time
Batter + Flour
+ Raisins and Walnuts
Batter Complete!
Final Product

Recipe of the Week – Cookies!

Since Easter is this weekend, I thought I’d make a dessert to take with me to our family get-together.  Initially, I thought I’d tackle one of my favorite cookies – Ghraybeh. Ghraybeh, or “S” cookies, are kin to shortbread cookies, only more buttery and soft. If done right, they melt in your mouth and sing in your stomach and they are one of my most favorite things ever.  They aren’t difficult to make, but there was another cookie I wanted to try out – one that seemed more festive.

I don’t know what the Arabic word is for these cookies, but my cousins call them ‘rock cookies’.  They are delicious mounds of cookie goodness and every mama, aunt, cousin I know that makes them has a different twist to them. Here’s my mama’s version:

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 cup butter

4 cups flour

1/2 cup white corn syrup

1 1/2 cups walnuts

2 cups golden raisins

tsp. baking soda

tsp. cloves

tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. allspice

1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

dash of salt

Mix flour and spices together. Mix butter and sugar together.  Add egg one at a time to the butter/sugar mixture and then add syrup.  Slowly add the flour to the mixture until it’s cookie-dough in consistency. Stir in chopped walnuts and raisins.  Bake at 375 until golden brown.

They should come out like misshapen lumps that have a more on the crunchy,crumbly texture vs. soft and chewy.

Mmm…Mmm…Muglee

I decided to follow another craving this week and picked a simple but super yummy dessert-ish type dish. Muglee is essentially a supercharged version of cream of rice. My mom would make it often and usually during the winter time because it’s hearty and perfectly nourishing when it’s cold outside.

I realized I haven’t had muglee since I was a kid – like most of the dishes I’ll be making over the coming months. There isn’t much to the making of this dish, but I had a hell of a time obtaining the ingredients. I guess cream of rice isn’t a popular item around these parts. My dad, who really is such a trooper with all this cooking/blogging experimentation, scoured 4 different stores only to come home with rice flour vs. cream of rice.  I have no idea if rice flour could be an adequate substitute and I had no intentions of finding out this time around.

Journey number one led me to a nearby specialty market where I found a box in seconds. Excited, I got back home only to discover we didn’t have sugar (who doesn’t have sugar??) anise or caraway seeds.

Ugh.

Back home and 20 bucks poorer than when I decided to make this dish, I was ready to get cooking. There isn’t much to making muglee – you throw all the ingredients into a pot and stir until the mixture boils. What starts out as a bland-looking, watery concoction transforms slowly into a thick, aromatic hot cereal of sorts. It’s muglee’s aromatherapy that brings back so many memories for me. The combination of cinnamon, anise and caraway hit my long-term memory  in a way that transported me right back to the kitchen where my mom cooked.

I was a kid again, chubby and pumpkin-toothed, sitting impatiently at the kitchen table waiting to be fed. My mom, as  short in stature as I am, stood over the stove stirring away and most likely yelling in Arabic at either me or my equally chubby and pumpkin-toothed brother.  I remember the little glass bowls we used to pour the muglee into and the antiquated nut-grinder-funnel-thing that barely worked.  I remember waking up in the morning and grabbing one of the cellophane covered bowls of muglee to munch on for breakfast.

There’s just something really warm and nurturing about this dish and I couldn’t be happier that it turned out exactly as I remembered it – a considerably different experience from last week’s attempt.

I even got my dad’s stamp of approval!

Check out the recipe for muglee in my previous post. I’d love to know what you think or if any of you have ideas for tweaking the flavor.

The stars of the show
Stirring that pot
Guess a mortar & pestle will have to do!
Mmmmuglee!

Comfort Foods – I Heart You

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days trying to figure out what I’d like to make next. To be honest, there’s  a lot I’d love to try, but I don’t think I have the time or the skill to tackle them just yet. For example, the other night my cousin stopped by – because I hounded her repeatedly until she did so – to drop off her mom’s shushbarak bi laban. Shushbarak is probably my favorite Arabic dish and one of my favorite meals period. It’s essentially meat dumplings swimming in a tart, creamy yogurt soup of sorts. It is an incredibly time consuming  dish to make, and I think I’ve maybe had it a dozen times over the course of my lifetime. This dish is responsible for my relentless obsession with dumplings of any kind.

I will make this dish some day. But today is not that day.

: )

This week, I’m going to cook  a simple dish – a dessert in fact. One that always reminds me of winter, comfort and my childhood home. It’s nothing fancy and every culture probably has their spin on this recipe. I figured with winter close to being over, it would be a good time to try making it.

I’m just offering my mother’s recipe this time around.  Give it a try some night when you want  the edible equivalent of something warm and snuggly. It  happens to be just as yummy when it’s cold.

Muglee

1 cup Cream of Rice

7 cups of water

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. anise seed

1 tsp. caraway seed

1 cup sugar

Garnish –

Chopped nuts (use walnuts or pistachios)

Golden raisins

Pinch of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon

Mix and stir above ingredients. Place on medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce to low heat and cook until the liquid mixture thickens slightly. Pour the pudding into small dishes and garnish with nuts, raisins and spices.

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