28 December, 2010

Garlic Green Beans

Is it time again again to bring up the topic of New Year resolutions?
I have never really been a big believer in New Year resolutions. In fact, I don't really give much about the New Year fuss itself, as my life does not happen in 365-day-slices. There is projects that take longer or shorter than this. That's how I count my life.
However, I was just checking my blog posts from a year ago to see if I had any New Year resolutions that I could recap now. In fact, I had!!! Even food blogging related: I wanted to improve my food photo skills in a way that they would be accepted at Foodgawker etc. 360 something days later I can proudly say I have succeeded. Honestly, I think I learned a lot about how to shoot food in an aesthetic and appetizing way. And I can proudly say, it's all self-taught. Or in a more down-to-earth-way: I learned from my mistakes.
One other New Year plan was running my first ever full marathon in 2010. Unfortunately, that didn't happen as I chose a too fancy place. And out of purely logistic reasons we couldn't go there with the whole family at that time of the year. I had to cancel it 2 months in advance.

Now what is the New Year supposed to bring if I had three wishes? Well, I registered for the Dubai marathon which is on 21 January 2011. I can almost walk to the starting line, so nothing will stop me to get there. I hope I will complete this race (first wish), and I hope I will finish it in a good time (second wish) for a first-time marathon. And otherwise, I just want my family, friends and myself be happy and fulfilled with whatever we do or aim to achieve (third wish).

Alright, all this being said, how am I gonna turn the subject to the actual recipe of this post, Garlic Green Beans? Perhaps, another New Year resolution for 2011 should be to improve my writing skills. I sometimes feel that my posts read a bit like a bumpy road, but I don't have the patience or creativity in me to change that on the spot. I should work on that.

I don't think there is an elegant way to turn the conversation from New Year resolutions to Green Beans. So let's forget about that and let's just talk about the Green Beans. It's been one of my favorite side dishes over the last few weeks for several reasons. It's cooked in 5 minutes. It's full of color. It's full of flavor. I love the combination of garlic and green beans supported by salty olives and tart sun-dried tomatoes. It is a great side dish to any grilled meat or fish. Or if you want to go vegetarian (in this case even vegan), have it on top of brown rice, bulgur wheat or buckwheat.

250g/8oz green beans, trimmed and cut in halves
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes (ca. 4 pieces)
2 tablespoons black olives, pitted and sliced
salt to taste

Serves 2-4
Place sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over them and let stand while preparing the rest of the dish.

In a large pan (that can be covered with a lid), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook for a minute while stirring constantly. Make sure the garlic does not get burned. Add the green beans to the garlic oil and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Season lightly with salt.
Add 4 tablespoons of water, put on the lid, and increase heat to medium high. Let cook for 2 minutes stirring occasionally, until beans are tender. Take off the heat.

Drain the tomatoes. Cut into slices or chop. Add them along with the olives to the green beans. Transfer to serving bowl. Serve immediately.
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25 December, 2010

Walnut Prune Truffles

Merry Christmas to everyone! I wish you all some lovely holidays and the best for 2011.
Our Christmas is as good as over. That's me at 8pm at night, with the kids being up just after 6am and the giving of the presents starting at 7am.  It was a nice and relaxed day. The children loved their presents, and as we had no guests we just went through the day as it happened, without pressure to perform. Our Christmas lunch cooked all by itself in the oven, apart from a few side dishes, some of which could be prepared in advance. That's the way I love it, and that's how Christmas should be.
Because we live in a Muslim country, it is pure luck that Christmas Day is falling on a weekend and we can be at home together. Tomorrow life goes on as usual and back at work, as weekends in the Middle East are Friday/Saturdays.
Most probably the rest of the world will celebrate Christmas a little longer than us. That's why I will hold back my healthy salad recipes today and save them until we talk New Year resolutions in a few days time :-) Having said that, I actually don't think that Christmas meals are unhealthy in general. To me it's more a question of portion size/portion control.
Instead I'd like to share another dessert with you: Walnut Prune Truffles. They are rich and sweet. I love the tart flavor of the prunes mixing with sweet dates and some dark cocoa. They are raw, they are vegan. I made them about a year ago for the first time. Every few months I get a craving for them. I've made a box of them just before Christmas. And when this post is published I will settle down with the rest of it on the sofa with a nice Christmas movie and treat myself. Merry Christmas again. Let peace and happiness come to all of you.


1/2 cup prunes, pitted
1/2 cup dried dates, pitted
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder + more to coat
2 tablespoons honey or agave syrup

Ground walnuts to coat (optional)

Yields 20-25
In a food processor, combine all ingredients. Pulse until mixture is well combined. Form cherry-sized balls out of the mixture. If it seems too dry to form, add a little water (no more than a teaspoon at a time) and pulse again in the food processor. Roll balls in cocoa powder or ground walnuts. Place in mini muffin liners. Keep in airtight container in the fridge. Leave at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.
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21 December, 2010

Gingerbread Cookies

Four more sleeps until Christmas. My son is counting the days. Yesterday, we had a Christmas party for the children in the neighborhood. The kids were decorating Christmas cookies and writing their letter to Santa. One granddad dressed up as Santa and brought little presents.
The kids love it, and I enjoy them having so much fun. A friend of mine told me that on Christmas Eve they put a plate with Christmas cookies and and a glass of milk onto the window sill or balcony for Santa, in case he would be hungry. In the morning on Christmas Day, the glass of milk would be empty and Santa had a bite or two of the Christmas cookies, and of course, he left the gifts under the tree. I love that. I think we will do that too.
I will offer Santa my Gingerbread cookies. These cookies put me back to the times when I was a kid waiting for Santa. I baked numerous batches in the last few days, as I chomp down half a dozen myself with a glass of milk, just like Santa.


2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground nutmegs
1/2 cup palm sugar
100g/4 oz unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons unsulphured molasses 

Yields 20-30 cookies (depending on size)
Sift together flour with baking soda and spices. Stir in the sugar. Cut butter into small pieces. With your fingers,  rub butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the molasses and stir until combined.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and knead until well combined. The result should be a rather firm dough. Form a disc out of the dough and wrap tightly in cling film. Keep refrigerated for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Take the dough from the fridge and let it soften at room temperature. Once it's soft enough to roll, remove cling film.
On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until its about 1/4 inch/5mm thick. Cut cookies with your favorite cookie cutters and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until golden. Let cool completely on wire rack, before decorating with your favorite icing. Or eat them just plain.
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19 December, 2010

Indian Spice Nuts

 Before I pester you with yet another Christmas cookie recipe (be sure it will come BEFORE Christmas), I'd like to offer you an alternative to the notoriously sugary and buttery things that we eat in huge amounts BECAUSE it is Christmas. I don't blame anyone. I can say for myself that Christmas cookie baking and eating is contagious. Everyone does it, the shelves in the supermarkets are full, and I even get a little competitive when trying to bake THE BEST EVER Christmas cookie, in the hope for praise for my exceptional baking skills. And once they are baked, you can as well just eat them, right?

However, here is an alternative. Since my childhood I have always associated Christmas with nuts. Only at Christmas we would have nuts in their shells and we would spend afternoons in the living room cracking nuts with a old-fashioned nut cracker and eat them together with small pieces of marzipan.

Nuts are full of goodness, and prepared in the right way, can be a truly amazing and delicious dessert or snack. These nuts are roasted in a pan and coated with the thinnest layer of sugar, just enough to make the most exciting spice mix hold on to them. Be prepared for a snack that is sweet and salty, savory and spicy at the same time. A delicious, satisfying and healthy snack that can surely keep up with all the other healthy and not so healthy Christmas treats.

(Print Recipe)

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 cup almonds
1 cup hazelnuts
2-3 tablespoons palm sugar
In a small skillet, toast coriander, fennel, mustard seeds, peppercorns, sesame and cumin seeds for a few minutes, or until they start to pop. Shake continuously throughout this process. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Place in mortar and pestle (or spice grinder) and process until coarsely ground. Place in a small container and stir in  salt and cayenne pepper.

In large pan, combine nuts and sugar over medium high heat. Stir frequently until sugar starts to melt. Lower heat, and stir continuously for 10 minutes, or until sugar starts to fully melt and cover nuts. Add spice mixture and continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds, until nuts are well glazed and pepper is well mixed in. Pour onto sheet of wax paper on a cooling rack and spread out. Allow to cool. Store in tightly-sealed container.
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15 December, 2010

Snowball Cookies

Less than two weeks to go until Christmas!! I am still struggling a bit to get into the festive mood. Perhaps it's because we have to combine so many traditions. Germans, for instance, put up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in the morning. The German Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve in the evening (so from Christmas Day on we can focus on food). Germans also celebrate the four Advent Sundays before Christmas by lighting a candle of the advent wreath each Sunday. Here in Dubai you only get wreaths with three candles. As everything is ready-made and out of plastic (as conifers don't grow in this region), there is no chance you can do one yourself with four candles. My husband is South African. They pretty much do what the English do (if I may say so) for Christmas. But husband has got Portuguese roots too. Apparently they put up their Christmas tree on 16 December. That's tomorrow.
Over dinner tonight we have agreed on this: Christmas tree up tomorrow according to Portuguese tradition. Santa will come on Christmas Day according to South African tradition, but actually more for practical reasons, as the kids will get outdoor toys or stuff that needs time to set up. Better to be done in the morning than at night. 
No idea yet what we'll have for Christmas lunch. I'll make some simple Christmas cookies as we have organized a little Xmas party for the kids in the neighborhood, that the kids can decorate with icing and sprinkles. 
For the parents I'll make another batch of these highly addictive snowball cookies. It's an amazingly simple recipe with no-fuss ingredients, little sugar and amazing in taste. These delicious cookies deserve to be baked and eaten by as many people as possible. To me they are the ultimate must-try Christmas cookies.


(Print Recipe)

1 cup whole wheat flour (or buckwheat flour if you want it gluten free)
1 1/2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons palm sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g/4oz unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Yields 20-25
Preheat oven to 160C/300F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 
Mix flour, walnuts, salt, sugar in a large bowl. Add the vanilla extract. Cut butter into little pieces. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Form the dough into small balls (approx. size of a walnut) and place on the baking sheet. Leave some space between the cookies on the sheet.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. While they are still warm, but cool enough to touch, roll the cookies in some powdered sugar. Set aside on a rack to cool completely. When cool, dust again in powdered sugar.
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12 December, 2010

Pasta with Arugula Pesto

Hey, do you want to know how my Dubai winter veggie and flower garden is doing? It's going great. The usual suspects are up and about, like basil, tomato plants and sunflowers. Those are the plants that I know would grow under any circumstances (which include days of neglect). Others are having are difficult start, but seem to decide to bear with me: mint, chilis, green and fava beans, water melon and a few flowers. Yet others will not bear fruit during my lifetime if they keep on growing so slowly: oregano, thyme, strawberry, rosemary. 
But the most rewarding vegetable so far was arugula. I have about a square meter of arugula growing in my garden, far too much to just put into salads. So I made pesto out of it some time back and kept it in the fridge. The other day, I had an incredible appetite for a pasta lunch (it was the day after my Half Marathon race and I was obviously still needing carbs to help my tired muscles recover from the race). What's easier than mixing pasta with a little pesto that is waiting to be used!!! Throw in some sun-dried tomatoes for some zing and toasted pine nuts to add some nutty sweetness. In less than 15 minutes you'll have the most delicious pasta meal.  Definitely a keeper, especially the pesto in the fridge. I made enough pasta for 2 days and had leftovers the next day. Good and healthy enough for any lunch box. Bon appetit!
250g/8oz wholewheat spaghetti
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Arugula Pesto
1 1/2 cups arugula  leaves (tough stems removed), packed
1 cup walnuts or pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Pesto serves 6. Pasta serves 2-3.
Arugula Pesto
Combine arugula leaves, nuts, garlic, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese (if using) and blend in a food processor until it becomes a smooth paste. Slowly blend in the olive oil (only taking small amounts at a time) until fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. If you don't use the pesto immediately, keep the pesto in an airtight container, covering it with a layer of olive oil to prevent it from going off. Keep in the fridge.
Cook spaghetti according to instructions. 
Pour boiling water over the sun-dried tomatoes and let stand for 5-10 minutes until they become plump and soft. Drain and chop. Set aside.
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts for 5-7 minutes. Set aside.
When the pasta is al dente, drain and immediately mix in the pesto until pasta is well coated. Stir in chopped tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Transfer to serving plates.
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09 December, 2010

Chocolate Crinkles

My current marathon training allows me to chomp down cookies like there is no tomorrow. Carbs is what my body needs, right? Well, not only, of course. In fact, I went to a seminar about nutrition and pacing for runners the other day. They quoted a few successful long-distance runners and triathletes saying, that a diet (too) low in fats and proteins has a negative impact on their performance. So bring on the butter and eggs too :-)
Because I can/have to eat a lot more with this training,  I am very conscious about what I put into my body. As a result, I only eat homemade foods. The good thing is, I never get tired of baking cookies. I love doing that first thing in the morning, or last thing at night. These chocolate crinkles have been on my list for a very long time. I love their rustic look. They look a bit like German breads, perhaps that's why I feel so attracted by them. The ingredients list is simple and straightforward: chocolate, butter, eggs and flour with a hint of cinnamon guarantee a simple and delicious cookie.
Tomorrow morning I run my first Half Marathon of the season. The finishing time will be a good barometer of how well I did with the training for the full marathon. I am feeling good and confident. For the first time ever, I have a pacing strategy, that the running coach on that seminar suggested: Get the average pace of your goal time. Run the first third a little slower. Run the second third at average pace. Run the last third as fast as you can/want. He promised PBs with this tactic. We'll see. Wish me luck!!

4oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

1/4 cup palm sugar
1 egg

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Yields ca. 20
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Remove from heat once melted.
Beat sugar and egg until fluffy.  Stir in the chocolate mixture. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the flour mix to the chocolate mix. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, so that the batter is firm enough to shape into balls. 
Preheat oven to 165C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a shallow bowl with powdered sugar. Form balls size of a walnut. Then roll the dough balls in the powdered sugar until they are completely coated.
Place the balls on the baking sheet about 1 and 1/2 inches apart. Bake for about 10 minutes, or  until the edges are firm but the centers are still soft. Cool on wire rack.
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06 December, 2010

Rosemary Mixed Nuts

I often get annoyed when the regular available portion sizes are much too big of what one can use up or eat. For example, ice cream. My kids are still small. They would be happy with an apricot-sized scoop. Instead the smallest scoop size available is apple size. They never finish it, soon it starts dripping all over them and me. The big mess ends with us throwing at least half of it away.
The other day, my husband came home from shopping with a prepacked bunch of fresh rosemary that looked like half a kilo. What on earth can you cook with that amount of rosemary before it dries up?  I put it into almost everything: savory breads, onto grilled fish and chicken, potatoes. Everyday we had rosemary with something. But the bunch didn't seem to get any smaller. I went to search for more recipes that included rosemary, and found this little jewel: Rosemary Mixed Nuts. I am crazy about homemade spiced nuts. Never thought of putting in rosemary as the usual recipes just call for spices, not for herbs. The flavor combination is heavenly: savory from the salt, a little sweetness from the the nuts and the sugar, spiciness from the cayenne and earthiness from the rosemary. These are addictive.The perfect thing to impress with as an appetizer or party snack.
I only made one batch of these nuts which didn't last long. However, the rosemary dried in the meantime and I had to throw it out. Shame, I hate doing that. But whenever I will have rosemary int he house again, a couple of tablespoons will be saved for these nuts.

1 cup whole almonds
1 cup whole blanched almonds
1 cup whole cashews

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar or palm sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast for 8 minutes, until they become fragrant.
Meanwhile, mix the rosemary with pepper, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Transfer the mix into a bowl that is big enough to hold the nuts.
When the nuts are done, transfer them into the prepared bowl immediately and toss with the rosemary mixture while they are still hot. Let cool. Keep in airtight container.

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02 December, 2010

Banana Hazelnut Upside Down Cake

Recently, I've been finding myself fancying bigger cakes. I feel like I've done all possible loaf cakes and got a bit tired of them. Don't get me wrong, I love them still and they are good for breakfast or a picnic in the park. But sometimes you want something fancy looking. Something to impress people with.
Now here is the story of my Banana Hazelnut Upside Down Cake: My kids seem to be a bit off bananas these days. Many very ripe ones end up in the freezer for future banana cakes. For this cake I used the basics of my Banana Date Loaf. Instead of putting the nuts into the cake, I put them on top and used some more bananas for extra sweetness.
The result: an utterly delicious and beautiful cake, naturally sweetened with dried dates and bananas, and just a little palm sugar for the hazelnut topping. It doesn't taste like a guilt-free cake, but it is (if you don't have a problem with the amount of butter being used, that is :-)

1 cup pitted dates, finely chopped
1 cup milk
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup butter

1 egg

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Hazelnut Topping
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 cup palm sugar
1/3 cup butter

2 bananas, sliced

Yields one 9 inch cake
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Grease 9 inch cake tin with closed bottom (don't use one with removable bottom or a spring form). 

Cake Base:
In a small pot, place finely chopped dates with milk. Cut in the butter and slowly bring to a boil. Stir occasionally. When all the butter has melted, take off the heat and let cool a little. Once it has cooled, stir in mashed bananas and the egg. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Set aside.

Hazelnut Topping: 
Melt the butter. Stir in the palm sugar. Chop the toasted hazelnuts and stir into butter sugar mixture.

Assembling and Baking the Cake: 
Spread hazelnut topping at the bottom of the greased cake tin. Cover with slices of banana. Pour the cake base batter on top of the sliced bananas. Bake for about 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool for 10 minutes before inverting.
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