how to

Smoked Laban

My husbands grandmother is in town as of now and like most older people she is very set in her own ways of what she likes to eat. She lives in the Southern region of Saudi Arabia where they eat very simple foods such as fruits, aseeda, dates and drinks like laban. We went to a local Yemeni restaurant that has the same old traditional foods that she likes and bought her a few things. One drink that we bought for her was smoked laban. A southern favorite here in Saudi. The smoked laban was amazing so smooth with the perfect smokiness. I fell in love right away with the drink and asked my mother in law how to make it, the how to was quite easy so I knew I had to share it.

The laban is smoked using an Arabic coal that is used for bukhoor or the shisha. This is the same coal used in smoking food as I have previously showed you. I prefer to buy the smokeless coals. You can order these online or visit a Middle Eastern store to buy a box. They are pretty cheap. You can use as much as you would like to make in the below recipes its really up to you. You need to have everything ready to make the smoked laban because you will need to work fast.

Laban (also called butter and sour milk)
1 coal
1 teaspoon flour
1 jar

1. Place flour on top of the hot coal. Hold jar upside down over jar and fill with smoke and quickly place the lid on top. Pour laban very quickly into jar and place lid on top again. Allow to sit for a few hours at least.

*udpate: I left it in the fridge for two days. I was curious if it really would taste smokey since only a but of smoke was in the jar. Amazingly it was the exact replica of the stuff we bought and was super smooth and smokey.

Pumpkin Spice Latte and Syrup

Oh how I miss Fall! Hayrides, football (Go Vols), hot apple cider, horseback riding through the colorful mountains, roasted nuts, The Apple Barn, Fall festivals, fairs and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I have never really been a huge Starbucks fan (you can get much better coffee at other places) but their pumpkin spice lattes just have me. Every year I patiently wait for them to come out and when they do I am all over them like white on rice. I wish the Starbucks here carried this perfect pumpkin drink but sadly they do not and I have always wanted to make one myself. Canned pumpkin is extremely pricey here since it’s imported but I had to buy it anyway. I need some pumpkin in my life I am telling you. I topped my latte off with some store bought maple syrup made especially for coffees. Perfection I am telling you, now I can start every day off great even if it’s only Fall in my head.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup:
2 cups water
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a 1-1/2 quart saucepan on high heat add water and bring to a full boil.Reduce heat to medium. Add pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, made, cloves and ginger. Stir continually until sugar is thick. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate in glass jars.

 Yields: 3 cups

 Pumpkin Spice Lattes:
1 cup strong coffee or espresso
1/2 cup hot milk
 pumpkin spice syrup, to taste
whip cream, for topping
maple syrup, for topping
ground cinnamon, for topping

1. Add coffee into a large mug. With a stick blender froth milk until foamy. Add pumpkin spice syrup into coffee, stir and add frothed milk. Add whip cream, maple syrup and cinnamon on top.

Yields: 1 large mug

* The current world record for biggest pumpkin ever is a massive 1,725 pounds!

Homemade Grenadine Syrup

When I was a young my mother and stepfather took me out to eat with them at a nice restaurant and told me that I could order a mixed drink from the kids menu. I ordered a Shirley temple and loved it, since that day I have been drinking them religiously and my own son as well. This week my mother in law sent over a bag of plump and ripe pomegranates and the first thing I thought of was grenadine syrup. I have found grenadine here in Saudi but since its imported its ridiculously expensive. Homemade is always better anyway, right?

If your unsure how to cut a pomegranate its extremely easy. Have a large bowl ready half way filled with cold water. Cut the fruit in half them emerge into the water. With your hands under water pull the seeds out of the membrane. The seeds will sink while the membrane floats and you can easily discard.

2 large pomegranates, seeds only

1. In a 4 quart saucepan add seeds and cover seeds with water. Bring heat to a full boil then reduce heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes. With a stick mixer pulse. until seeds have opened.

2. Place strainer over a large bowl and pour juice into bowl. Take a large coffee coffee cup and mash seeds and pulp until all seeds have busted and pulp goes into bowl. All that should be remaining is seed covers, discard.

3. Measure reserved pomegranate juice. In a 4-quart saucepan on high heat add juice and add the same exact amount of white sugar. Bring to a full boil then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow syrup to cool then add in a jar.

*Now go make a Shirley temple with sprite and some fresh grenadine syrup.

Becoming a Successful Food Blogger

Success is defined differently within each person. We should all try to succeed to our own limits not someone else’s. When I first started my blog I really did not have a good idea of what a good food blog would be, I had not researched or looked around what so ever. I just knew that I was tired of not being able to find all the recipes that I was looking for and I wanted to change that. Who knows maybe there was someone else out there like me looking for all the same recipes in one place.

I first started Ya Salam Cooking back in 2007 a few months after my son was born. When I had first started out I had the old Blogger sand scribe template, do you all remember that one and how ugly it was? I had no idea you could design a template yourself or hire someone else to do so. Honestly I did not even think the blog design, food picture or writing was important. I just thought the recipe was the only thing that mattered. Boy, was I ever wrong? My blog was a total mess. Although I had good ideas and recipes everything else was just bad. Around that time I happened to come across another food blog that had a Blogher ad on it. Interested I immediately went to the Blogher website to check it out. It was an ad agency for female Bloggers only. I went through the entire process to sign Ya Salam Cooking up and they accepted me. They must have saw the same hope in my Blog that I had because I am telling you my Blog was bad back in the day.

I started looking through food blogs that I found inspiring and would take note of how they set their blog up and all of the things they had on their blog. I added some of those things to my own blog. I think it was a year later that I had a semi decent design and that really helped but I was still holding back my blogs full potential. Through the years I realized that every little detail on a blog matters. I became a better writer, I had a good blog design and I tried to take better pictures. I think pictures really are one of the most important things a good food blog has. I was able to get a professional SLR in January of this year (2011) and it has truly helped my blog and the vision that I have had for it.

As I said another key element is writing. Try your hardest not to have any spelling or grammar mistakes. Give a little information or history about your dish and the ingredients. Type out the recipe so that it is easy to duplicate in steps and never place name brands in the recipe (ex: Nestle Chocolate). Always remember to write just chocolate and sure in your introduction you can write what brands you use personally. If you use someone else’s recipe give them credit (ex: adapted from Ya Salam Cooking). I am constantly finding other Bloggers who use my recipes and do not give me credit. It’s frustrating because I put a lot of effort into my recipes. The foodie rule of thumb is that if you change three or more of the ingredients or steps then you can call it as your own. Do not forget the rest of your blog though like the about me section. People love knowing more about the Blogger and feeling a connection with them. If a visitor does not feel that personal connection they probably will not stay very long or become a frequent visitor.

Another mistake I see food Bloggers constantly making is that they just start a blog and think people will come flooding in. It just does not work that way. If people do not know about your blog how will they come? You have to market your blog so that people can find it. Some ways that you can do that is Blogher, Foodie Blogroll, Baking is Hot, Food Gawker and Foodbuzz. A few of these have ads and I am constantly getting asked why I choose Blogher over the rest. My reason is that I have just been with them for so long and they have really got to know me on a personal level and I respect that. I like being able to ask someone a question if I have one. If you find a company that treats you and your blog that way they stick with them. All of the work I have put into Ya Salam Cooking has made me feel successful at what I do. I have several visitors per day, I get tons of emails of people showing me pictures or telling me stories of my food that they have made, I am lucky enough to have been asked to write for some very successful papers and magazines. If I can do this surely any of you can as well.

A few years into my blog I purchased the book “The Recipe Writers Handbook” and this past year I purchased “Will Write for Food”. These two books are a definite must for a Food Blogger. I was taught how to write well just from reading those two books alone along with some of the tips that I have provided you with in this article. In the end, you should really measure your Blog on if it is something that makes you happy, if not change it. You should continue studying writing, food, photography and design throughout your Blogging career. Times and style are constantly changing and a good Food blogger is expected to change with them. Write what you know about for me I love all different types of food that has to do with mixed cultures that I have in my life. You do not have to stick to one genre if you do not want to, do what you want and always have FUN.

And one last thing, if you’re a blog reader please always let the Blog you follow know how much you appreciate all the work they put into the blog. You would not believe the work it takes to run a food blog. We write, photograph, design cook, we do it ALL. I will leave you with some links that will further help you and your Food Blogging career, they did me anyway.

The Pioneer Woman (what can she not help you with? She’s a great photographer, writer and the design of her blog is top notch)

Taste Spotting

Simply Recipes (besides being amazing at it all she has a great list provided for you as well) and of course you can check out my own personal blog where I offer tons of tutorials.