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Ask the Chef

In this hot new kitchen series, food expert Yvonne Maffei answers all your burning questions

Q. “What are the rules of hosting a dinner/party?” – Saleha D. B.

A. There really aren’t any set rules of hosting a dinner party, but one should be reminded of Islamic etiquettes towards guests as well as the social norms in the society in which one lives that do not come into conflict with Islam.

The one thing to keep in mind at all times is the comfort level of your guests. That could mean everything from air temperature, type of food being served or even where they are seated. For example, if you have a small space that heats up quickly, be sure your guests aren’t as warm as the food in the oven. If they or their children have special diets that you should be aware of in order to serve food they can or will eat; it is up to you to ask ahead of time.

One last addition is to remember that when you’re hosting, it means you are doing all of the leg work to make your guests the centre of attention and afford them a good time in your home. If they ask what they should bring, don’t give them a list of food items they can make or pick up along the way, as usually it’s a polite question that no one really ever wants to have to do – unless it’s a potluck. Assure them that all you want is their good company.




Q. “What can you use as an alternative to alcohol in cooking?”  – Maria S.
A. Just as there are many types of alcohol, there are also many types of substitutes for alcohol in cooking. The trick is to match the flavour profile of the alcohol minus the alcohol content and find a substitute thereafter. For example, if a recipe calls for red wine, I like to use a high quality grape juice by using the same amount called for in the recipe. For recipes that call for calvados, for example, I would use a high-quality apple juice since calvados is made from apples.




Q. “How do you prevent a cake from shrinking or cracking? It always happens when I bake. I just want a nice soft spongy cake.” – Kat Teeja
A. One of the main reasons that cakes crack is due to high oven temperatures, which causes cakes to rise faster than they bake. To ensure that doesn’t happen, place the cake in the centre of the oven and follow the exact recipe instructions for proper baking temperatures. Over-mixing cake batter is another reason a cake will crack because when doing so you’ve allowed too much air to get into the batter. When the cake bakes, the air flows out the top, leaving spaces on the surface (i.e. cracking).




Q. “Please guide me on the best ways of storing various cooked and uncooked foods to last longer.” – Jamilah
A. Different types of food have varying storage times. For example, organic foods don’t last as long as foods with preservatives because they are meant to be eaten fresh. Most dairy products don’t freeze well and don’t last as long as fruits or veggies in the freezer, either.


For any type of food to be stored well and to maximise freshness, proper packaging is the key factor. Here are a few tips on properly packaging different types of foods:

Meats – Use freezer paper to wrap meats tightly before putting them into freezer bags or other types of containers that won’t crack.

Vegetables – Blanch thick vegetables like carrots, green beans or turnips before freezing. Things like corn don’t have to be blanched. Place in freezer bags and remove all air from the bag before storing.

Fruits – Most fruits freeze really well and doing so is an excellent way to preserve summer bounties way into the winter. Use freezer bags or plastic freezer-safe jars with tight-fitting lids to maximise freshness.

Dried goods – Things like rice and legumes should be stored in airtight containers such as glass jars. Add a few bay leaves in the jar to prevent any insects from infesting them.

Note – For refrigerated or frozen goods, it’s imperative that they are sealed airtight, as air invites bacteria into the food. If you’re using bags, jars or paper, try to get as much air out as possible before storage by using tight lids and compressing plastic bags before sealing.




Q. “How to prevent rice from sticking and clogging the holes of the fine mesh metal colander I use to strain boiled rice for biryani? It is such a pain to wash it afterwards.” – Umm Zaid
A. If you want to prevent rice from sticking to anything at all, increase the amount of oil used during the cooking process. Rice that has very little or no oil will usually stick to any surface, worst of all a colander with holes.

When you drain the rice, use a fine mesh sieve instead of a colander, which is much easier to clean. If you don’t have one and find yourself in the same situation, use a vegetable brush to clean out the colander, then place in the dishwasher (if you have one) to finish off the cleaning.



Yvonne Maffei is a food writer, recipe developer and culinary consultant at MyHalalKitchen.com.