#notevenwater? Dispatches from Ramadan 2017

We’re already a third of the way through Ramadan, and I’m thanking God for the mild weather in New York City thus far. When it’s hot, chugging hella water is just as important, if not more important, than what you eat for suhoor, the meal you have before dawn breaks – because you can’t eat or drink when fasting. The first thing I grab when I get up at 3 am is my big Nalgene bottle and I fill it with water, making sure to finish it before I go back to sleep. When breaking my fast, either at home or with others at the Islamic center, I have the same bottle by my side, and I’ll usually try to have another glass before I go to bed. Yes, our bodies can do amazing things under some duress, but water plays a very important role in their general functionality (think muscles – that means the brain!). So don’t stress it if you don’t have to. Stay hydrated folks, fasting and otherwise.

As far as this diet goes, I will say it’s been exciting to cook both hearty and tasty food for myself. And I was feeling great about avoiding sugar and empty carbs, appreciating life and all, until yesterday when I was arranging those jam-in-the-center sandwich cookies on a platter for the bake sale at my Islamic center and started considering a weekly cheat day for the rest of the month. But then I thought about how amazing the first cookie to hit my tongue will taste, and how impressed and content I will be with myself for my self-restraint. To make up for the lack of sugar, I’ve been eating sweet strawberries from the market straight from the pint, and popping back dates like chocolate chips. Dates are the traditional food to break one’s fast with, as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said to do so, around the 6th century. Lucky for me, dates have a lot going for them: fiber, potassium, magnesium and copper. I used to dislike dates like I dislike figs, but now I love them. Besides, when you haven’t been eating for 16 hours, there’s an extra dimension of taste once your lips touch food again.

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One dish I learned to make from my friend Rebecca is chicken and bulgur. It sounds unfortunate, but Rebecca fed it to me for dinner a couple weeks before Ramadan, and I asked for seconds. It’s super easy, filling, and good to boot. Here’s my adaptation; check Rebecca’s wellness blog for the original recipe!

 

Chicken Bulgur
Makes over 4 servings

Ingredients
3 cloves of garlic
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 lb ground chicken or other meat
Oregano, garlic powder, and other Italian seasoning to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup bulgur
24 oz pasta sauce

Heat cooking oil in a large pot and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the chicken and season with the spices/herbs, salt, and pepper. Add the bulgur once the meat has browned, a few minutes. Stir the bulgur and the pasta sauce. Season again to taste. Let simmer until the bulgur turns soft, about 10 minutes. Serve with vegetables.

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If you’re wondering why this month’s photos have some questionable lighting, recall that I cannot eat during the lovely daylight hours #nothingisstaged #reallife #realdark 😛

Come back later for more communiqués, vis-à-vis fasting in this blessed month of Ramadan!

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Butter: On Browning

For the second installment of “Butter”, we’re going to chat about brown butter. I’m obsessed with the stuff, and usually try to sneak it into any recipe that requires butter. But what’s the hype? Why does it smell so good? Why is it so hard to do? Read on to demystify the secrets of this mystifying ingredient.

The Science
So what does “brown butter” mean? The part of the butter that’s browning is the milk solids, once they’ve separated from the butterfat in the beginning of heating process. You know when you melt butter in the microwave and white seafoam-type stuff floats around the bowl? That’s the milk solids. When you heat butter past this point on the stove, the milk solids sink to the bottom and start to toast up and brown. This is the milk solids caramelizing, creating an amazing smell in your kitchen that most describe as “nutty”, while I personally prefer butterscotchy. It’s just so warm and enveloping, sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t go any further with the recipe; I can stop right there. During this process of browning, the water in the butter also evaporates, creating the bubbling and spitting that you’ll experience. Once the milk bits have browned, you have brown butter.

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The Trick
Browning butter is not that hard. I repeat: browning butter is not that hard! And I’ll tell you why. There are different degrees of brown butter. You’ll notice when the milk solids start to get darker, and you’ll wonder “Is this it? Do I have brown butter?” Well, you sure could have it. Brown butter does not discriminate. You can have light brown butter, you can have dark brown butter, and anything in between. I think scientifically speaking we can say that if you’re smelling good things, you have brown butter. But 7 seconds later, the solids will be even browner. Are you getting nervous? “Oh no, is this what the internet warned me about? Will I have burnt butter in a matter of moments?” If your solids are not black, you’re safe. My point here is that there is a reasonably sized window for removing the butter from the heat that will give you brown butter before it burns. It all depends on how brown and aromatic you want to get. As long as you’re paying attention, you’re in good shape. After some practice, you will feel more comfortable leaving the butter on the heat for longer until it’s just about to burn. That’s my personal b.b. preference, but it will also depend on why you’re browning the butter in the first place.

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2 hours later….back to room temperature and golden yellow.

The Usage
You can use brown butter in any place that you would use normal butter. For me this means browning butter for my baked goods. For others, it may mean as a sauce for fish or pasta, or simply on toast. I prefer the brownest of butters for baking because that butterscotchy flavor will come out the best. When cooking anything with brown butter, be sure to get all of the bits in play with a rubber scraper (obv.) so the flavor is at its maximum. If you answer “yes” to wanting a warm, umami-enhancing flavor added to your dish, using brown butter is a good choice.

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See that’s it’s not completely solid.

The Recipe
The following procedure is how I brown butter, and it works like a charm every time.

Prepare a heat-resistant bowl near your stove or in the sink to pour the butter into once it has browned. Put your butter in a large skillet and place on medium heat. When the butter has melted, turn the heat down and stir constantly with a spatula (this keeps the milk solids from sticking to the skillet and makes for easy cleanup later). After the butter has finished spitting, pay close attention to the milk solids at the bottom of the skillet. Use the spatula to help clear the bubbles from the surface to see better. Once the solids have browned to your liking, take the skillet off the heat and carefully pour the butter into the prepared bowl. If you have a heat resistant rubber scraper, use it to scrape the sides and bottom of the skillet to catch all the butter. Use immediately for hot dishes or let cool for baking.

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The dark and browned milk fats at the bottom are the most important part!

Sometimes I have enough time to wait for the brown butter to solidify to room temperature before I start to make a dough, and other times I’ll throw it in the fridge for a few minutes to cool it off enough to keep the eggs in the dough from cooking. It’s usually a little easier to work the dough when the butter has cooled, but either option will give you delicious results.

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Dumped into a large mixing bowl. If you could smell this lump of fat…

Go forth and brown! What other butter questions are you dying to have answered? Leave them in the comments below ⬇

Beach Baguette

This is a simple yet incredible sandwich I made my mom and myself for the beach. The inspiration came from a nearly identical sandwich I had at Whole Foods, and even though I try to avoid shopping there whenever possible, sometimes their lunch is very convenient and occasionally worth the price.

The sandwich I bought was in a baguette which was the first sign of greatness. In the sandwich was brie, apple slices, and thick cold cuts of turkey. Sounds simple, which it is, but it has all the texture needs and flavor combos: soft and crunchy, savory and sweet. Easy to make and easier to pack for the beach. No fuss, no mess. There was leftover grilled chicken in the fridge, so we used that. Here it is:

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BAT (Brie Apple Turkey) Sandwich

Makes 2

Ingredients

One baguette

About one wedge of brie cheese

1 granny smith apple

4 slices smoked turkey or whichever white meat you have around

Dijon Mustard

Mayonnaise

Cut the tips off of the baguette (save for Nutella scoopers later). Cut in half vertically and horizontally, making two sandwich shells. Coat the bottom slices with dijon mustard and the top slices with mayonnaise. Cut thick slices of brie, about 1/8 inch thick, and lay onto the bottom halves of bread. Next, cut the apple into slices slightly thinner than the brie, and lay one layer above the brie. Lastly, add two slices of turkey to each sandwich, then close it up. Pack in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready for the beach.

Of course, feel free to adjust the proportions to your liking, my own seem to be a good average. If you’re wary of apples with cheese, thinner slices will be a good gateway into a whole new world.

Enjoy the beach! The water is perfect rn.

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The Evils of Snacking/Trail Mix

Too often I find myself “hungry” in the middle of the day; usually between lunch and dinner. By “hungry”, I’m talking about when you’re:
a. suddenly not busy and looking for something to do
b. looking for a new flavor or taste to occupy your mouth, or
c. just feel like eating for no apparent reason.
It takes willpower not to submit to the temptation of the mind to eat when you don’t need to. It’s a battle between the brain and the body. Mindless eating is a dangerously easy habit to get into, which is why mindful eating is very important to understand and get friendly with.
I’ve heard multiple time that 6 small meals are better than 3 large meals, but I’m of the belief that 3 meals with a small nutritious snack in between is totally acceptable, and a healthy habit. Some of the best snacks are nuts. They are full of nutrients and good, natural fats, and extremely filling. One handful of almonds (skip the jalepeño/honey roasted/hickory smoked additions for best results) will alleviate any case of the nibbles. Personally I go for cashews because I think they taste the best, though they have the most fat (definitely a correlation there). Another prime snack is fruit, dried or fresh. Be wary of dried fruits with extra sugar added and preservatives. Apricots and mango are a good example of where this happens.

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My favorite way to combine these power snacks is in trail mix. Do you ever get trail mix and end up with a bunch of peanuts, or raisins at the bottom of the bag? Trail mix is so easy to put together and so customizable that, well, why would you pay more money to buy a prepackaged one? While snacking shouldn’t be constant and should be nutritious, it must always be enjoyable, right? I like to add corn nuts/snacks/fried nothings for some crunch, and dried soy beans for flavor. For the last batch, along with these fillers, I used lightly salted cashews and raisins.

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With this combination of individual snacks, you get the 1. filling effect 2. natural sugars 3. yum-ability. Other non-reversible trail mix bits you can add are dark chocolate chips for sweetness and anti-oxidants, other dried fruit, any nuts without crazy flavors,  and pretzels! I love adding pretzel stick chunks to a trail mix for a different variety of salty crunch.

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It’s super easy to make. Here’s a “recipe”

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2 cups each of what you want to add: chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, etc.

Throw everything in a big tupperware container, for plenty of room for shaking around. Shake the contents of the tupperware, and serve.

 

Any tips for mindful eating? Share below, and happy snacking!

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Skillet S’mores

I’ve seen this idea floating around the internet, probably on Tasty or Buzzfeed, and I had the perfect size (read: smallest) cast iron skillet to try it in, so here’s a great way to prepare for the summer in the safety and warmth of your kitchen while waiting for the March Nor’easter to pass.

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This is a good and fast thing to whip up if you have people over and are trying to keep them happy – but for that, you’ll probably want a bigger skillet…

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Just load up the components of a s’more, minus the graham cracker, into a cast iron skillet. So, that’s really just the chocolate and marshmallows. Use milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or both, hi), depending on your taste. Add the marshmallows on top until you can’t fit any more. Pro-tip, which I did not do: cut the marshmallows in half so it’s easier to get to the chocolate once everything is melted. It will also allow the marshmallows to melt more, before the chocolate seizes.

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Needs more padding
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Perfect

 

Throw it in the top half of the oven and broil for a few minutes – go nowhere! Keep a close eye on the marshmallows and take out the skillet once the marshmallows have browned to your liking.

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Now! Grab your graham crackers and dig in. But really, you’ll need some wrist pivoting and finagling to get up under the marshmallows for the chocolate. Not that it’s difficult, this is just fair warning for you and your friends. Actually, speculoos biscuits may be the true pro-route here.

Disclosure: Graham crackers are prone to snapping under pressure.

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Enjoy your premature summer treat with the crew while we wait for the 60° weather to return in New York.

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Leave any more pro tips you come across in the comments!

Keep in the Kitchen: Tortillas

The flour tortilla is a blank canvas for a customized piece of art. They’re great things to have around in case you’re in the mood to repurpose the week’s leftovers in a wrap.

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You can go as simple or complex as you want. I usually start with refried beans, ground meat, vegetables, and cheese.

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Other good additions like tomatoes, salsa, rice and lettuce can beef up the burrito, but sometimes you just have to work with what you got. The best part for me is making the burrito as big or small as I want – no need for 1,000 calorie lunches. Sorry, Chipotle.

 

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White, wheat, corn, spinach, whatever – tortillas are a handy and versatile vessel for all sorts of food. Burritos are just one example of a quick on-the-go fix that will satisfy.

Easy Udon

When I was in college, I would often buy a pack of dry udon noodles and miso soup pouches to keep in my room. When I was hungry, I could make a quick snack…though I somehow found it acceptable to cook the noodles in the microwave for a couple minutes…#college.

Questionable choices aside, I still find myself in time binds these days, trying to find a fast way to dinner before I fall asleep at the kitchen island scrolling Google for recipes. This is definitely an easy dinner to keep in your back pocket, and also fast if you have a few things prepped or hanging out in your fridge to add. I made it up off the cuff and it came out great. You’ll be nourished and full by the end of it.

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Grab some things in your fridge – I had purple kale (I could eat that stuff raw, and I did), tofu, mushrooms, chives, radish microgreens (spicy), and ginger and lemon for flavor.

 

I sautéed the mushrooms and tofu instead of cooking them into the broth, because I didn’t want them to get too soggy.

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I used chicken broth for the soup with lemon and ginger root for extra flavor, but miso paste is a great thing to have on hand for any time you want to make a quick broth for noodles, or a flavor addition to a dish. Boil the noodles as it says to on the packaging. Once you have the noodles, combine them with the broth and other flavor-aids (ex: soy sauce). If you’d like, you can add everything else you gathered to the pot, or add to individual servings. That’s what I did, because 1. soggy, and 2. aesthetic. Amirite?

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If you end up using tofu, don’t forget to drain it before frying.

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Next time, I’ll be using miso paste for a more exciting broth. Go crazy and add what you like, and season as needed!