30 September, 2010

Apple Cranberry Cake


Welcome, autumn. The nights are officially longer than the days now in the northern hemisphere. It's getting cooler and the time is right for warming foods. It's a season when many of the most versatile and delicious fruit and vegetables come into season. Like pumpkins and apples. Or Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Or chestnuts...... yum, yum, yum! 
By the way, do you know the difference between fruit and vegetables? What makes a fruit a fruit and when is a vegetable a vegetable? It's not the sweet or savory taste that defines it. Neither will the fruit and vegetable section in your supermarket put you in the right direction!!
From a botanical point of view, a vegetable is the root, stem or leaf of a plant. Think of spinach, carrots, potatoes.  Fruits bear seeds, e.g. apples cherries, grapes. But also cucumber, avocado, zucchini. All nuts are fruit too. Interesting, isn't it? Something that you never really spend much thought on, but nevertheless good to know.
Anyway, as the weather in Dubai is not very autumny yet ( like it would be in North America or Europe), I prefer the light and fresh autumn fruits. These days, I simply cannot resist apples. They make great cakes. Full stop. Like this Apple Cranberry Cake. It's great for breakfast, for tea or a slice as a snack on the go.
Once again, I used palm sugar which is my latest discovery of alternative natural sweeteners. I'll continue advertising it here on my blog as its health benefits are amazing: it is a unrefined whole sugar that contains lots of minerals and vitamins. It consists mainly of sucrose. It's a good source of magnesium, iron, manganese, selenium and potassium. Therefore it helps maintaining low blood pressure, it helps relieve muscles tensions,  asthma, and migraine. It has got a low Glycemic Index of about 35.
Its taste is a bit like brown sugar, slightly on the caramel side. I love it and would put it into anything that needs to be sweetened!!!
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APPLE CRANBERRY CAKE


1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup (ca. 60g) butter
1/3 cup palm sugar (or Jaggery)

1 large egg
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup grated apple (1 large apple)
1/2 cup cranberries

Serves 8-10
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Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a loaf pan or line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine oats and palm sugar. Pour over with boiling water. Slice the butter and place on top of the oat sugar water mixture. Let stand for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, beat the egg lightly. Stir  beaten egg  into the oat mixture and until well combined and butter is fully melted. Combine wet with dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the cranberries and the apple.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan. Cut into slices to serve.
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27 September, 2010

Couscous Salad with Arugula and Pomegranates

Seasons are a little upside down here in Dubai. We are situated in the northern hemisphere, but when it comes to growing your own fruit or vegetables in the garden, it resembles more the way plants would grow in the southern hemisphere. One and only reason is the incredible heat that we have to endure from May til September. During that time nothing grows.

Now at the end of September, one can feel the end of summer coming. After 4pm it is not as hot as it used to be, although still well in the 30C/90F.
Since my son has been 2 years old, we have the tradition of planting tomatoes in our little garden patch. Tomatoes have always been a success. Other veggies or herbs were not consistent in their development.

10 days ago, we planted our seeds again: radishes, tomatoes, arugula, thyme, mint, basil, sage, oregano, lavender, and some flowers. Apart from the lavender, everything has sprouted. Radishes and arugula look very promising. The sunflowers are about 2 inches above the ground. I can't wait to pick a handful of my own arugula to throw in a salad. The wait won't be long. From what I read, it takes about 4 weeks from planting the seeds to harvest. The radishes will take about the same time.

This couscous salad started with a punnet of pomegranate seeds that I found in the store the other day. Pomegranate is now in season in the northern hemisphere. I couldn't resist the bright color and arranged the rest of the salad around it. The Flavor Bible was once again my big help in arranging exciting flavors: sweet and fruity pomegranates, bitter arugula, fresh cucumbers and earthy almonds combined with mild couscous. A light lemon dressing brings all these strong flavors into one great harmony. This salad is filling and healthy. It keeps well in the fridge, so will be good to pack for lunch the next day.
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COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ARUGULA AND POMEGRANATES

3/4 cup whole wheat couscous
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup boiling water

1 medium cucumber
2 cups arugula 
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup toasted almonds

1/2 lemon, juice of
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Serves 4
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In a large bowl, combine couscous with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour over boiling water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. When all the water has been absorbed, fluff up the couscous with a fork.

Quarter the cucumber lengthwise, then chop each piece into bite sizes. Wash and pat dry the arugula and roughly chop it. Chop the almonds. Stir cucumber, arugula, pomegranates and almonds into the couscous.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour dressing over the salad and stir. Ready to serve. Keeps well in the fridge for one day, when covered with plastic wrap.

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs
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24 September, 2010

Nutty Fruit Bars

Guys, I am training for a marathon again!! I did so about one year ago, but had to cancel the whole adventure after 8 or 10 weeks of training. This time, I am training for the Dubai marathon in January 2011. I will have my sister from Germany over to watch me running my first ever marathon. That should be reason and motivation enough to pull me through. I've got two goals: I want to finish and I don't want to finish last.

I've got some running experience. I have finished a few half marathons and many 10k races in quite reasonable times. I feel confident that I can do it. Apart from the actual running training, the nutrition side during the training period is also quite important. That concerns my diet in general, but also the foods that I eat before, during and after long runs.

Everyone's stomach reacts differently on the strains of a long run. I have to find out what works for me. I prefer to do 10k races on an empty stomach, Half Marathon with one banana before the race. Now 42k is a different league. I believe that simple and natural foods, with some fast available sugars and some long-lasting energy will work best. Like granola or energy bars. They work perfectly before AND after a long run.

This nutty fruit bar is a grain-free and gluten-free energy bar. I have been playing around with the ingredients and like the ones listed below the most. However, the most important ingredient is the dates as they provide the fundamental sweetness and stickiness to hold everything together. The nuts can be exchanged, the seeds could be omitted. Any dried fruit can be thrown in.

They certainly satisfy any sugar craving. Therefore, they fit the bill for a healthy mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack (even if you do not train for a marathon). I guess the size is what matters here. I guess I don't need to mention that mine are rather large. The marathon training is a good excuse for their largeness.
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NUTTY FRUIT BARS


1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup dried dates, pitted and roughly chopped

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts

1/4 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dried figs, roughly chopped

1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds 
1/4 cup desiccated coconut


Yields 8-10
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Preheat oven to 150C (300F). Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour fruit juice over dates and let soak for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place nuts, apricots, and figs in a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Add dates with orange juice and pulse until mixture starts to stick together. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add cranberries, coconut and seeds, kneading the batter until all is well incorporated.

Use the prepared baking sheet as surface and fill large cookie cutters with the batter. Gently remove the cutter to keep the bars in shape. Repeat until all batter is used up.

Bake 10-12 minutes. Using a heatproof spatula, gently turn bars over and bake another 10-12 minutes, or until nuts are toasted (but before fruit begins to burn). Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
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20 September, 2010

Nectarine Oatmeal Muffins

I recently discovered palm sugar as alternative sweetener.  For those who stop by my blog occasionally, will know that I try to use no refined sugars and flours in my recipes, but at the same time try and put some delicious foods on the table.
I read about palm sugar in some sugar-free food blogs a few times, and always thought that this is far too exotic to be available in Dubai. By coincidence, I found it in the Thai food section of a regular supermarket the other day. I was jumping even more with joy when I had to pay it and realized it is about 1/4 of the price of agave syrup. Brilliant stuff in every way!!

Now here are some facts about palm sugar. Most people will know that refined white sugars are bad, as they are deplete of any minerals and vitamins. Their glycemic index is in the high 60s. The GI of palm sugar is around 35, which means they don't have the blood-sugar spiking effect. Agave syrup has a similar GI as palm sugar, however it contains a lot of fructose. There is also a lot of controversial opinions to be found about agave syrup, as it can be highly processed and you'll never really know when reading the labels. Not so with palm sugar. In India, palm sugar (in the rock-sugar jaggery form) is actually used in traditional medicine, since it contains many minerals and has been found to heal throat and lung infections. Jaggery is rich in magnesium, potassium and iron.

In Mexico & South America, it is also known as panela. One good thing about Dubai is, that it is very close to India and the Dubai expat population is about 70% Indians. So it didn't really come as a surprise when I found jaggery in another supermarket that caters more Indian foods. Wherever you live, check the Thai or Indian section of your supermarket on your next shopping trip. I got to buy it in big rocks, but these are easily chopped with a knife or can be blended into powder form in a food processor. I couldn't wait to try my new discovery in some cake, muffin or dessert.

What do you do when 4 pounds of the sweetest nectarines at home? Of course, you'll eat most of them straight out the box. For whatever is left, use them for these muffins. I used my Apple Oatmeal Cake Recipe and basically just swapped the apples with the nectarines. I recommend you only use really sweet and juicy nectarines. Anything bland or hard does not work in these muffins. Make these when nectarines/peaches are in season and you'll get the fruitiest muffins on the planet!!

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NECTARINE OATMEAL MUFFINS


1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup butter, chopped into small pieces
1/3 cup agave syrup or palm sugar 

1 large egg
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt

2 medium ripe and sweet nectarines, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins

Yields 10
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Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Grease a muffin tin or line with muffin liners.

In a large bowl, pour boiling water over the quick cooking oats. If you use solid palm sugar, chop it up and stir it into the hot oatmeal water mixture. Slice the butter and place on top of the oat water mixture. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
Lightly beat the egg. If you use agave syrup instead of palm sugar, combine with the beaten egg. Mix well. Pour over the oat mixture and stir until well combined and butter is fully melted.
In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Combine wet with dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the raisins and the nectarines.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire racks.
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17 September, 2010

Spicy Prawn Stew

Is it allowed to be addicted to chickpeas? Like being addicted to chocolate? I think I am. Addicted to chickpeas, that is. I panic when my dried chickpeas are finished when I had plans to use them for dinner. Low level panic, but still.
What I like about chickpeas (apart from their health benefits) is that you can make them at home faster than most other pulses (apart from lentils perhaps). They don't need to soak in water for as many hours as other dried beans. Once they have soaked for a couple of hours, they cook quite quickly. So if you decide by mid-afternoon to have a chickpea dinner, there is still plenty of time. You surely won't be needing those far too soft canned chickpeas. Once you make a big pot of homemade chickpeas, they keep well in the fridge for a week or so and can be used in forthcoming dinners, salads, etc.
If you have cooked chickpeas at home, this prawn stew is put together in no time and can easily be done on a weekday night. It will be a true journey for you taste buds: The stew is given some depth with bacon, some spiciness with chili paste. The prawns will still preserve their texture and light flavor, supported by earthy chickpeas and green leafy spinach. An all-in-one pot of goodness and tastiness!

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SPICY PRAWN STEW

2 oz/50g bacon, cubed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon red chili paste
1 can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (either home-cooked or from the can)
1/2 lb peeled king size prawns, tails on
2 cups baby spinach, loosely packed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2-3
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Place the bacon in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. When the bacon starts releasing the fat, add chopped onion and minced garlic. Stir regularly and cook until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili paste and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Now add chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock and chickpeas. Bring to boil, then cover pot with lid and turn the heat to medium low. Let simmer until sauce has thickened, about 8-10 minutes.
Now gently place prawns on top, cover again and cook until prawns are just done, about 5 minutes. Gently stir in spinach and cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with bread or over rice.
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14 September, 2010

Avocado Chocolate Truffles

Fat Does Not Make You Fat! This is the title of a post of a fellow Dubai food blog Bon Appetit! It is a beautiful summary of why fat is an important part of everyone's diet. It explains in simple terms what it does to your metabolism. She discusses the health benefits of common fats. A worthy and eye-opening read!!
One fact that I wasn't quite aware of before is that the fat in your foods "triggers the brain to recognize that you are full, once you've eaten a certain amount of fat then it sets off a chain reaction that tells your body to stop eating. Carbs and protein do not have the same effect which is how you can easily overeat them, particularly carbs." When I read this I saw myself shoveling bowl after bowl of pasta for dinner, wondering where all the hunger comes from! It wasn't hunger. There was just no-one to tell my brain that I was full.
Of course it is important which oils and fats you put into your body and that moderation is still the key. I love the vegetarian, vegan and raw cuisine as it incorporates lots of healthy and natural fats in a very natural way. Many dishes contains nuts and seeds, naturally oily foods are standard ingredients.
Now here is my contribution to an "Eat Your Healthy Fat" diet. Raw and vegan truffles that contain ground almonds, raw avocado, cocoa powder and low GI dried apricots. These truffles are full of good fats and do not overindulge in natural sugars. They work just the way they should by telling the brain when you had enough. I promise you will not overeat on these, but savor those few with full relish.
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AVOCADO CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES


1/2 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder + more for coating
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey
1/2 ripe avocado

Yields 15-18
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Combine almonds, apricots, cocoa powder and cardamom in a food processor. Blend until it becomes a fine meal. Add syrup and avocado and blend again until well combined.
Form balls (size of the walnut) from the batter. Roll each ball in cocoa powder for coating.
Keep in airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. Freezes well.
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10 September, 2010

Barley with Broad Beans and Peas

I regularly read the BBC Good Food magazine. A few weeks ago I was paging through the August issue hoping to get some inspiration for a Saturday night dinner. I found a Gordon Ramsay recipe of marinated lamb steaks with barley salad and thought that was it: lovely whole grains, broad beans (I must admit, I never had before, and they are absolutely delicious) and grilled lamb.  Within a month this barley salad has become one of our favorite side or main dishes. It goes well with any kind of grilled meat or fish. Any leftover salad is good enough for a tasty, wholesome and healthy lunch, either heated up  or at room temperature.
Barley is an amazing grain. I love its chewiness, something between brown rice and wheat berries. It has a low GI, and doesn't take much longer to cook than brown rice. 
I find this salad open to many variations as you can swap the veggies or increase the veggie amount according to season and your taste, or whatever your fridge is providing.
I made this salad so often now that I tweaked it a little to accommodate our taste. Below is the recipe with these little tweaks incorporated. Bon Appetit!
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BARLEY WITH BROAD BEANS AND PEAS
adapted with some changes from BBC Good Food)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, cut into fine rings

1 1/2 cups barley
1 cup frozen broad beans
1/2 cup frozen green peas

1 lemon, juice and zest of
pinch of dried chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 4
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Cook barley in boiling, salted water until tender, but not too soft, about 20-30 minutes. Cook the peas in the same pan for the last two minutes. Drain of excess water and rinse. Set aside.

Cook the beans in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and let cool a little. Take the skins off the beans and add them to the pea barley. 
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Cook the red onion until softened. Add the barley with peas and broad beans and heat through. Add lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper and chili flakes. 
Serve warm or at room temperature.

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07 September, 2010

Flourless Almond Honey Cake

We moved to a new house a few days ago. Actually, just down the road. Everything had to be packed anyway, no matter how far the truck was going in the end. I was trying not to buy anything unnecessary in the days before the move. Even food. However, we still had to eat. What could be better than a cake with only three ingredients?
I had a couple of half empty honey jars in the pantry, so they had to be used up before the move. The rest is simple and straightforward: freshly ground toasted almonds combined with the honey and held together by a few egg whites (these also needed to be cleared from the fridge before the move). That's all it takes. The result: the most delicious nut cake I had in a long time. Honey and nuts are a match made in heaven. Honey and nuts is all you taste in this cake. Gluten free, no added sugar and simply yummy at the same time!

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FLOURLESS ALMOND HONEY CAKE


1 cups whole almonds, toasted
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt

Topping
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Serves 8
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Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Grease or line the bottom of a wide loaf tin with parchment paper.

Process toasted whole almonds in a food processor until finely ground. It will make about 1 1/4 cups ground almonds. Combine ground almonds with honey until it has become a thick paste. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff enough to hold peaks. . Gently fold the egg white into the almond honey mixture. Then transfer to prepared loaf tin. Sprinkle batter with sliced almonds. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cake has turned golden brown and inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on wire racks. Cut into bars or squares.
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04 September, 2010

Whole Wheat Chapati

Nothing tastes better than homemade bread. Period. I have often read about the therapeutic effect of baking your own bread. I can proudly say I can approve that too. Although my bread baking skills go not much further than these Indian flat breads, I love kneading the dough with my hands, until it becomes smooth and springy. It only takes a few minutes, but it feels really good. My husband would now acknowledge that I have finally  become a true hippie (which I am not). But I take this as a compliment!
Bread kneading and baking takes some practice.  I was inspired to make these chapatis (or rotis if you want) by Food and Whine's Chapatis and Indian Simmer's Roti. Amounts and proportions of bread ingredients pretty much depend on the flour you are using, as any all purpose flour or whole wheat flour reacts differently. It took me a few trials to get my proportions right, and you probably have to do the same. But as there is only flour and water involved, it doesn't take too long. I must say, there has never been a failure. You just end up with more dough to bake. Kneading the bread is another part of the experience, and the more often you do it, the better you will understand how it works and when the dough is ready to be put in the oven or the pan. Give it a try: it's feeling good. In any way!!
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WHOLE WHEAT CHAPATI

1 1/2  cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water (or more - depending on the flour you are using)

Yields 8
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In a medium bowl, sift together flour and salt. Add water little by little, and knead into the flour. You will have to add more water if the dough remains crumbly. If the dough seems too wet, add a little four. Once all flour is taken up, knead the dough with your hands on a floured surface for a few minutes. The dough should be smooth and springy. At the end of the kneading process, NO dough should be sticking to your hands. Wrap the dough in a damp kitchen towel and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Form golf ball sized portions out of the dough. On a floured surface, roll each ball to a flat bread with a floured rolling pin. Use more flour as you roll or the dough may stick to the pin. If you want your chapatis round by all means, and proves too difficult with just the pin, use the lid of a pan to cut the right shape.
Put the chapati into the hot dry pan, and cook until bubbles puff up in the dough and it gets little brown spots, just a minute or so. Flip the chapati and cook for half a minute on the other side. Transfer to a plate and repeat procedure with the next chapati.
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02 September, 2010

Guacamole


Guacamole is a well-known avocado dip. Many of you will agree. I agree too. I serve it as a dip when we have visitors. However, when I am alone, I like to have my guacamole as a one inch thick spread on some crisp bread.  A couple of those is one of my favorite summer lunches.
Guacamole is one of those foods that surprised me by their simplicity when I made the first time. It's something that you can't get wrong. Even on your bad kitchen days. 
I have never tried any other recipe than Ina Garten's. I found this one so good right from the beginning that there was no need to experiment. Guests have praised this guacamole too.
Perhaps there is just one thing I like to point out: raw onion and garlic I can only have in tiny amounts (especially when I eat it at lunchtime) as I will have their taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. I go a little easier on them when eating it earlier in the day. But otherwise it is just what you need: full of flavor, still raw with all the ingredients. Filling, yet light on the stomach. Extremely tasty and healthy. Just right up my alley. For all these reasons, I put the guacamole inch-thick on my crisp bread.
In her book and on the Food Network website the recipe uses 4 avocados. I found that too much (even when we have guests who would only eat it as a dip) and made adjustments toward one avocado. It can easily be doubled or tripled or use the original recipe with 4 avocados.
In any way, it will be yum!! That I can promise you.
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GUACAMOLE 
adapted  from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook


1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 dashes hot sauce (I use Tabasco)
2 tablespoons fresh tomatoes, deseeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 1-2
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Cut the avocado in half, remove the pips. Scoop the flesh out of their shells into a medium bowl. Mash with a fork. Immediately add lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir well. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 
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