31 March, 2011

Lemon Rosewater Pistachio Granola

Rosewater is one of those ingredients (and I will not even name the other ones, in case they never make it to the daylight), that has been sitting in my pantry for months, if not years (regularly replaced if it was past the expiry date), waiting for the big day. I have been convinced all the way that the use of rosewater would be an enhancement to the dishes I would use it in. Yet, it took me forever to get started. And now has happened what I knew would happen: I throw rosewater into wherever I can. It all started with the pistachio cake. I took all its flavor-giving ingredients from the cake and put it into the granola: lemon, rosewater and pistachios. Simple as that.
Rosewater is a great way of flavoring foods without adding a whole lot calories. I love its subtleness, while at the same time providing an invigorating freshness. Combined with lemon, this granola will surely help you wake up in the morning and have a good start of the day.
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LEMON ROSEWATER PISTACHIO GRANOLA


1 lemon, zest and juice of
1/4 cup date syrup or honey
1 tablespoon rosewater

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup flax seeds
1 cup chopped pistachios

1/2 cup of raisins (optional)

Servings: 10-15
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Preheat oven to 150C. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, rosewater and syrup/honey in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Take off the heat and let cool a little. Set aside.

In a big bowl, combine oats, flax seeds, and chopped pistachios. Pour the lemon syrup mixture over the oat nut mixture and stir until well combined. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Spread the granola evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely. Stir in raisins (optional).

Keep in airtight container.
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29 March, 2011

Gingerbread Almonds

Our family is blissfully saved from any sort of food allergy or food intolerance. Only once I became a foodie, who reads lots of blogs and meets lots of other foodies and who has friends that can be questioned about foods and allergies, I have become aware of many who want to or have to avoid gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, sugar, etc.
I always wonder where the allergy or intolerance may come from. Then I wonder how people live with cutting out a certain food or food group from their diet. This is where my challenge begins: I like to test yummy-sounding vegan foods, because they have no dairy. I like to make or bake something gluten free, to find out if gluten-allergic people can have a treat like every one else. I like to cook and bake without added sugar or with natural sugars only.
I find it very interesting that Northern and Western Europeans have a much lesser intolerance to lactose than native Americans, Mediterraneans and Asians. I wonder where nut allergies stem from and why the number of allergic people has increased so dramatically and if nut allergy and gluten intolerance are a Western phenomenon that will pick up in the rest of the world just a little later.
Here is my take on a gluten-free and low-carb snack. I love my nuts and the sky is the limit when I want to spice them up into either sweet, salty or spicy directions. I call them Gingerbread Almonds as I used the same spice mixture from my beloved Gingerbread Cookies: molasses combined with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Many spiced nuts recipes use big amounts of liquid sweeteners like honey or oil to make the spices stick to the nuts. It is quite a balance act to use the right amount. If you use to much the liquid will not evaporate enough and the nuts will remain very sticky.
A different way is to use egg whites. The results are wonderfully non-sticky spiced nuts. And healthy too. A great snack that keeps me happy at any time of the day (or night).

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GINGERBREAD ALMONDS

3 cups whole almonds

1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons molasses

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
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Preheat oven to 160C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine all spices and mix well.
In a large bowl, beat the egg white lightly. Stir in the molasses. Then add spice mix and beat until well combined. Add nuts and stir until well and evenly coated with the spice egg white mixture. Spread almonds in one layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, turning them over after 10 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in airtight container.

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26 March, 2011

Thai Chicken Lemongrass Soup

With a multicultural neighborhood like ours here in Dubai, we get to celebrate all sorts of festivals. The Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring with Holi, the festival of colors. People throw colored water at each other. The majority of my kids' friends are Indians. So we were invited to a kids' Holi. Honestly, I had no clue what I was in for. Especially the "long term effects" of colored water being squirted at my two blonde kids were undeniable. Something that could not be seen on their Indian friends. But I had two pink-haired children for almost a week until it finally washed off.
Spring, otherwise, didn't do us much good so far. A constant change in weather from cold to warm and back is making us sniff and cough and it just doesn't seem to go away. The sound of sniffing noses is driving me mad by now, probably aggravated by being less patient due to my own little cold attacks.
Chicken soup is what is supposed to help in this case. I felt that an extra portion of chili with the soup would help chase those nasty bugs out of my system. I made this Thai Chicken Soup that took me less than 30 minutes. Indeed, it ticked all the boxes that I expected when making it: a soothing chicken soup, with a refreshing hint of lemongrass to awaken my weak and tired body while the  chili cleared my blocked nasal passages. Brightly colored veggies added the crunch and some extra vitamins to it. This soup is surely invigorating and a very pretty dish to serve.
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THAI CHICKEN LEMONGRASS SOUP


2 cups chicken stock
1 can 400ml/16oz coconut milk

1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed finely chopped
1 teaspoon red curry paste

2 chicken breasts, cut into small and thin strips
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into small and thin strips
1/2 cup broccoli florets
2 spring onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
fresh cilantro

Serves 2
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In a pan and over medium heat, bring chicken stock and coconut to a boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes, then add fresh chili, ginger, lemongrass and curry paste. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add chicken, bell pepper, broccoli and spring onions. Cook for 10 minutes.
Season with a tablespoon of lime juice and garnish with fresh cilantro. Ready to serve.
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21 March, 2011

Rosewater-Scented Pistachio Cake


Ain't I a lucky girl? Just before my husband's birthday and our first Dubai Food Blogger's picnic I make this incredible cake and realize: this is one you can impress with. The flavor combination of pistachios, rosewater and lemon is something typically Arabic. The cake itself is universal, and so versatile when it comes to the styling.
My husband is usually the guinea pig for my baking adventures. He had this cake before, so it will not be utterly new to him on his birthday. On the other hand, who wants to be a guinea pig on his birthday. But for the first time ever, I will make a birthday cake myself. To make it impressive enough to be a birthday cake, I will make it a layer cake with the cream cheese frosting between and on top the layers. I know it will be good.
One day after the birthday, I am attending a potluck of Dubai food bloggers. We have been meeting for more than six months, usually doing a monthly meet-up with something food-related: attending cooking classes, visiting Arabic sweets factories, checking out hole-in-the-wall fish restaurants at the beach, etc. Our group is ever-growing and this time we will just sit down, eat, chat and get to know each other. I cannot keep this cake from them. I am sure I get lots of brownie points when I bring this. And I want the brownie points from my husband too.

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ROSEWATER-SCENTED PISTACHIO CAKE


1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel, finely grated
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon rosewater

1/2 cup pistachios, finely chopped


Frosting
1/2 cup cream cheese
3 tablespoons honey or agave syrup
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped

Serves 6-8
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Preheat oven to 175C/375F. Line bottom of 8 inch spring form or flan form with parchment paper and/or lightly grease the sides with olive oil.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon peel. Set aside. In another bowl, combine yogurt with sugar. Stir in olive oil and rosewater. Add wet and to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in chopped pistachios. Pour batter into prepared spring form. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before taking out of the spring form.

Just before serving the cake, whip together the cream cheese and honey/agave. With a spatula, spread evenly over the top and sides of the cooled cake. Then sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Ready to serve.
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17 March, 2011

Chicken Coconut Curry

Did you know that Pluto is not considered a planet of our solar system anymore? Yes, in 2006, its career ended as a full-on planet after more than 75 years (as it was only discovered in 1930) because it doesn't fulfill the criteria of a planet. It's now considered a dwarf planet. My 5-year old son is learning about our solar system in school these days and Pluto was not part of it anymore.
The other day, the last question before my boy went to sleep was how the earthquake in Japan came to happen. Fortunately, geography was one of my favorites subjects when I was in school, so I managed to explain that off the cuff. But I was at a total loss with the Pluto question. Was that on the front pages of the newspapers back in 2006? I wonder.
My mom is a teacher for biology and chemistry. She recently explained to me the biochemical background and connection between low kidney function and potassium levels.
It feels like I am sitting on the school bench again. And you know what? I am enjoying it. It's random things that don't seem very important in everyday life, as you run your errands. But it makes me sit down for a moment and engage my brain with something different. Something that goes beyond remembering what groceries need to be bought, the husband's weekend work schedule, or organizing the family's summer holiday.
It makes me stop and realize it is nice and cozy in my little cocoon. But there is a whole world out there that is amazing and full of wonders. You just have to open up to it. It's not even a question of time. Changing from tunnel view to a wider outlook is all it takes.
I remember that I felt empty in the months after I finally got my university degree after years of studying. Suddenly there were no more book piles on my desk, nothing to research. At that moment I understood those middle-aged people and pensioners that I saw at university every now and then. You need to do something, or rather, you should always learn something. All your life. Hopefully,  I will be one of them in 15 or 20 years time when my kids are grown up, studying psychology,  a science that always fascinated me.
Something that can be very psychological, are food cravings. For instance, if you always want something sweet after dinner, always need that caramel popcorn at the movies, as well as eating out of boredom or because you are under stress, these are psychological food cravings.
However, if you crave meat, your body probably tells you it needs protein. Craving veggies can point to a deficiency in vitamins. Those are physiological cravings. I am having a meat phase. It's so severe, I even went to a local restaurant PR event with a burger tasting, to get my meat. I don't know where my craving stems from. My running training has reduced itself to a minimum for various reasons. But since I had children, I stopped asking myself for reasons: it's all phases. We don't know where they come from, we don't know when they go. But they will be over at some stage.
The chicken coconut curry probably ticks all boxes to satisfy physiological cravings: chicken for the protein, beans for the vitamins, and coconut milk and ground almonds for the fats. All good. Dig in.
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CHICKEN COCONUT CURRY


2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green chili, de-seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup ground almonds

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt 

400ml/16oz coconut milk
1 1/4 cups vegetable stock
4 chicken breasts, cut into to bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut in halves

2 tablespoons peanuts, shelled

Serves 4
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In a small bowl, combine onions, garlic, chili, curry powder, ginger and ground almonds. Mix and set aside.

In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. Cook for one minute while stirring. Add the onion mixture and fry for 2-3 minutes while stirring. Add coconut milk, chicken and vegetable stock and let simmer, without a lid for about 45 minutes. A few minutes before the end of the cooking time add the green beans. Season with salt and stir in shelled peanuts. Serve with rice.
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12 March, 2011

Cumin-Scented Chickpea Soup

Just come home after a long day's work and realized the fridge is empty? No energy left to go and buy some groceries to fix a quick dinner? Well, if you can find a can of chickpeas in your pantry or get one from the neighbor, then dinner might be saved.
I avoid canned foods with one exception: chickpeas. In fact, I recommend to always have canned chickpeas at home. In no time, they can be made into something extraordinary, like hummus or this cumin-scented chickpea soup.
Chickpeas are very filling, while being low fat and a good source of protein. Other health benefits include having a low GI, lowering cholesterol, being a very good source of fiber.
The spices used in this soup, are equally beneficial for health. Cumin is known for improving digestion, strengthening the immune system, helping with insomnia and helping a healthy metabolism.
Turmeric is said to be a natural pain reliever that also helps keeping flu at bay. It has cholesterol-reducing proerperties and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
What else can you ask for than a delicious, warming and filling soup that is whipped up in 15 minutes and that is so overtly good for you? This soup ticks all the boxes of a health-conscious meal.
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CUMIN-SCENTED CHICKPEA SOUP


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 400g/16oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt to garnish

Serves 2-3
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In a medium-sized pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and fry until onions are translucent. Add cumin and turmeric and fry for another minute. Add the chickpeas  and vegetable stock. Bring to boil, then simmer covered for 10 minutes. Let cool a little before blending the soup until smooth. To get the right consistency, add more vegetable stock to thin the soup, or simmer another few minutes to thicken. Stir in sour cream or yogurt. Ready to serve.
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06 March, 2011

Quinoa Granola Bars

I want to sing an ode to my grandfather who came over to Dubai from Germany to spend two weeks with me, my husband and his great-grandchildren.
My granddad is 85 years old. He can handle computers, mobile phones and digital cameras. He runs a little delivery service company in his small town and has six people employed to it. We email regularly. His latest plan is to set up Skype so we can speak more often and see each other.
He is very proud that he is still so switched on. While he was here, we had many conversations about our takes on life. He surely had a life full of experiences, good and bad. Bottom line in his life has been to always look forward, always learn from his mistakes, always look at the bright side of life, always make the most of any situation, always be positive, never give up, and never lose curiosity. And he always knows to tell a joke, corny ones, but a joke nevertheless.
The reason for my granddad's longevity lies in his active interest in life, his energy and his hunger for adventure. I want to be like him when I am 85, which is another 50 years from now on. I can't even grasp that.
My granddad survived WW2, and a 3-year imprisonment in Russia after the war. This still haunts him in his dreams. He lived in East Germany for 40 years, before the wall came down. Nutrition and knowledge about nutrition was not on the agenda in all those years, as one had to eat whatever was available. Surely, nutrition and lifestyle can prolong someone's life. But my granddad proves that there is more it. It's all in the head, in the mind and in the heart. Let's not become complacent, ignorant and lazy. There is always something to learn that will broaden our horizons.
Nutritious and healthy food shall help us keep our senses alert. The basics can be covered by that. The rest is yet another step that everyone of us should go to live our lives to the fullest. Opa, I am sure you will live 100 years!!

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QUINOA GRANOLA BARS
 inspired by Food and Whine


1 cup rolled oats
1/4 uncooked quinoa
2/3 cup nuts (almonds, pecans and/or hazelnuts have been tested and approved)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup cranberries
1/3 cup prunes
2 very ripe bananas, mashed

Yields 12-15
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Preheat oven to 160C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients except bananas in a food processor. Pulse until ingredients are finely chopped and stick together. Add mashed banana and pulse again until 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 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.



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01 March, 2011

Sesame Almond Crackers with Rosemary

While people in most parts of the northern hemisphere are waiting for the winter to end, here in Dubai the end of winter means unbearable heat and the end of many activities. My pretty successful running season is almost over. I ran my first ever marathon, and did amazing PBs over the 10k and half marathon distance. Now there is only a couple of 10k races left. By April, outdoor activities will be only bearable if spent in the swimming pool. In other words, life will be over and we will go into some sort of summer hibernation.
Is that the reason why I struggle to write introductory posts for my recipes? Have I exhausted myself over winter? Am I emptied out? I really don't know.
Fact is, nothing comes to my mind that would be worth writing or entertaining enough to introduce these gluten free crackers to you in a blog post. This is not a temporary thing: I've been trying to think something up for several days. To no avail. Although I have never considered myself a writer, this might be a writer's blog block. Haha, nice typo.....
There is no fool-proof way to create a great or at least decent blog post. Most often I just write something off the cuff and connect post and recipe more or less elegantly. This time I am at a total loss. Sesame....... no associations. I can only think of "Open Sesame" and the story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. A lesson in Arabic story-telling, reconnecting to gluten-free crackers? Sorry guys, that goes beyond my limits. Almonds....almonds......almonds....... Marc Almond! Remember him from the 80s band Soft Cell? It's getting hopeless. Crackers....crackers.....nope, nothing happening. Rosemary....... I wish that stuff would grow in my garden like basil and mint does. Instead all rosemary seeds in my garden unanimously decide to not even pop up......
Perhaps I just blame David Lebovitz and his post about proper blog posting: no exclamation marks, leaving out the stuff that no-one reads, checking the times that people spend on my website and then deciding how much of my post they might have read. According to my statistics, people spend an average of 1min 43sec on my site. In that time they look at little less than two and a half pages. Is that enough time to read through a post, or even two? You tell me, if you got to read this until here. Now here comes the recipe, without any introduction. I warned you.
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SESAME ALMOND CRACKERS WITH ROSEMARY 


2 cups almond meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 egg white
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Yields 18-20
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Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, combine almond meal, salt, sesame seeds and rosemary. Stir until well mixed. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg white. Stir in water and oils.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir until mixture holds together. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the dough to 1/8inch (1/4 cm) thickness. With a cookie cutter, cut crackers into desired shape and place onto prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden. Let cool completely before storing in airtight container.
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