29 May, 2011

Chocolate Walnut Crispy Cookies

Last weekend, I got final confirmation that I am living on another planet. Foodwise, that is. I am going overboard with my "healthified" alternatives.
I attended Dubai's 2nd community baker's "Bake Fest Dubai (BakefestDXB)". Only on that day in the morning, I decided to participate with my own baked goods. Among other sweet stuff,  I made these crispy chocolate cookies. I was convinced, these are the best chocolate cookies I have ever made. I was sure, they would be a hit at the bake sale. I also made my Almond Honey Cake and a vegan version of my Banana Date Loaf.
But no, they weren't a hit. Quite the opposite actually. Perhaps, people expect a more unified look when paying for something. I admit, these cookies were not even in shape. Some were square, other rectangle. Perhaps it was wrong to label my baked goods with "vegan", gluten free" or "sugar free" labels. When people decide to have dessert, they want the full package and don't care about healthier alternatives. Although, I have to admit that the "sugar free" label was the most accepted.
I had a few nice chats with people who are conscious of gluten or their diet in general. But those people are not of that kind, that decides that they would stuff their faces with desserts for one whole afternoon because it simply tastes good. So they didn't buy my cookies either.
It probably didn't help that I told everyone (still proudly at that time), that they were made with chickpea flour. Not the most commonly used flour when baking.
In the end, I gave a free tasting to the other bake sellers around me.
Am I totally deluded? I really believe these are absolutely great cookies. Thin, crispy, chocolate-y with some nut crunch - and from a health perspective, gluten-free, grain free and with very little sugar. I don't get it. Please, foodies, readers and fellow bloggers: If you make these, please let me know how you liked them.
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CHOCOLATE WALNUT CRISPY COOKIES


1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup palm sugar
2 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Yields 20-25
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In a large bowl, sift together chickpea flour, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat melted butter and sugar until creamy.
Combine wet and dry ingredients. Gently fold in the lightly beaten egg whites. Form a disc out of the dough and wrap in cling wrap. Keep refrigerated for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 175C/375F.

Between two sheets of parchment paper roll out the dough as thin and even as possible, 1/8 inch or less. Remove the upper parchment paper. Sprinkle the walnuts over the dough and gently press in. With a knife, cut through the dough lengthwise and crosswise every 2 inches or so. You will break the dough into cookie sized portions after the baking. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges start to brown. Let cool. Then break into portion sizes at pre-cut edges.
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26 May, 2011

Baked Yogurt Tartlets with Strawberries

Will you believe me that these strawberry tartlets are a complete by-product from a therapeutic kitchen session that I allowed myself? After a week where I spend several hours each day in the car driving around like a madwoman, I needed a day at home, just pottering around in the kitchen, cooking for my family and taking pictures for my blog. During this session, I made these Asparagus Parmesan Tartlets, but ended up with too much crust dough. By just adding a little sweetness to them, I thought they would be the perfect base for a dessert tart. From there on it got even easier: Filling the pre-baked tarts with some honey-sweetened strained yogurt, baking them and topping them with some seasonal fresh fruit . Done. Ready to eat.
You can pretty much put any fruit on top. I had fresh strawberries at hand, but can imagine blueberries, raspberries, sliced kiwi or even a mixture of fruit. Make it look pretty, and those little cakes will be a success at any tea party.
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BAKED YOGURT TARTLETS WITH STRAWBERRIES


Crust
1/2 cup gluten free flour mix (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons palm sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Filling
1 1/2 cups full-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced lengthwise ( or other fresh fruit, eg. blueberrries, raspberries, kiwi)

Yields 6
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Start these tartlets by straining the yogurt. Put yogurt in a sieve or clean kitchen towel over a bowl and strain out the whey for about two hours. Mix the remaining yogurt with honey. Set aside.

 Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Lightly grease small (3-inch) tart molds.

In a bowl, sift together all dry crust ingredients. Add olive oil and knead. Add water in small amounts and knead until dough holds together. A good indicator is, when your hands stay clean while you knead. Neither dry flour nor wet dough should be sticking to it.
Roll out the dough and cut out pieces big enough to fill each tart mold. Prick each mold with a fork a few times to avoid rising. Prebake for 10 minutes at 200C/400F.

Fill each tartlet with the prepared yogurt honey mixture and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool a little before decorating each tart with sliced strawberries. Serve immediately or keep in refrigerator.
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23 May, 2011

Vanilla Buckwheat Granola

I have been trying to keep my diet gluten free for some time now. Not rigorously, but as a general rule I tried to avoid it to see what it does to my body, although I was convinced that I was not gluten intolerant or even allergic. The list of symptoms that can point to wheat intolerance is long and vague. It reaches from regular cold symptoms over bloated stomach and vomiting to arthritis.

I assumed, that if I ever had any symptoms, they were mild and would have affected my digestive system. For the time that I have had no or very little wheat and gluten in my diet, I have been feeling much lighter, less bloated after the meal. After a meal that included gluten I felt that my body was somehow much more preoccupied with digesting the food. Something that I wasn't actually aware of while gluten was still part of what I ate on a daily basis. Little discomforts that have been with me for years/decades, to an extent that they became part of normality. But now that it's gone, it feels great.
My good old granola in the morning is now an oat-free version, consisting of roasted buckwheat (kasha), millet and quinoa and a selection of nuts and seeds. I must warn you, it turns out very crunchy, and you probably don't sprinkle as much as an oat-based granola over your breakfast bowl. But the roasted kasha gives it a deep flavor, with a hint of vanilla, that I cannot get enough of.

I got a few comments on other posts in this  blog, where readers mention that they don't like millet. I actually think that buckwheat is pretty more a matter of taste, more so than millet.  The buckwheat that I use in this recipe is kasha, the brown roasted groats. It is widely used in Eastern European cuisine for all sorts of sweet and savory porridge. The idea of having kasha in my granola came from a store-bought roasted seed mix containing kasha, that I usually have over my salads. Give it a try. I just love it.

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VANILLA BUCKWHEAT GRANOLA


2 cups of roasted buckwheat groats (kasha)
1/4 cup uncooked millet
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey, maple or agave syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


Yields ca. 20 servings
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Preheat oven to 160C/360F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine kasha, millet, quinoa almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds. Set aside.

In a small pot, gently heat all wet ingredients. Take off the heat and let the flavors merge for a few minutes. Pour wet over dry ingredients and stir until well coated. Transfer mixture onto baking sheet and spread out in single layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until millet and quinoa seeds have turned golden. Let cool completely before storing in airtight container.
If the granola still feels a little wet, let cool. Then bake in the oven at lowest temperature for another 5-10 minutes.


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18 May, 2011

Stuffed Goat Cheese Balls

With summer approaching fast (at least here in Dubai), my appetite for no-bake and no-cook dishes, bits and bites increases proportionally to the growing heat.  We already had around 45C/113F the other day. Although we all live in air-conditioned houses, shop in air-conditioned malls and drive around in air-conditioned cars, I often don't feel like heavy and hot foods. On more than one occasion I threw ambitious dinner plans overboard and simply served a refreshing salad and sandwiches, or crackers and veggie sticks with a dip.
These little balls fit the bill perfectly for the hot summer months. I felt like making goat cheese at home the other day, for no specific purpose. It was sitting there, next to a bunch of big olives and I thought they would go well together. The pistachio coating gives an extra crunch. While I was making these (believe me, every other ball disappeared straight into my mouth) I realized that a sweet and fruity filling would be as good. Grapes and cheese are a well-known combo and they don't fail to deliver here. I couldn't say which one I like more: the sweet or the savory. I know one thing: these will be a hit at any party, picnic or potluck.

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STUFFED GOAT CHEESE BALLS


1 cup goat cheese (chevre)*

25 pitted green olives (best quality you can find) OR
25 big grapes (either green or red)

1/2 cup pistachios

* make goat cheese at home - recipe here

Yields ca. 25 balls
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In a dry pan, roast the pistachios for 5 minutes or so, shaking the pan regularly to avoid burned spots. Let cool a little. Chop finely and transfer to a shallow bowl.

Take about a teaspoon of goat cheese and cover one olive/grape with it. If you use homemade goat cheese, it will be a pretty clean affair, as the goat cheese will have the texture of soft plasticine. Roll each goat cheese ball in the finely chopped roasted pistachios. Keep in the fridge until serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.
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15 May, 2011

Asparagus Parmesan Tartlets

Do you know the TV show Come Dine With Me? Well, our (actually not so) little Dubai Food Blogger community came up with the idea to do a Come Dine With Me amongst ourselves. Obvious thing, since we are all foodies, right? You'd expect several separate parallel groups contesting as you'd think this would cause huge interest.
Interestingly, just four out of 40-something people committed to it. To some people's defenses, I have to say, they do restaurant reviews mainly on their blogs, or do baking stuff only, or live in Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai (which is 120km away), or are traveling often (as a fact, Dubai residents travel a lot). However, some people chickened out and admitted it openly. 
In the moment I committed to participating, I related to those who have chickened out. I have had Come Dine With Me dreams or nightmares about every night.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to it, but I also feel a lot of apprehension. To be honest, I have never hosted a dinner party before. I mean, we have had friends over for a meal or a BBQ but that’s different. I usually would not buy flowers to decorate the table and they get paper napkins instead of fabric ones.
To get down to the point: at this stage, I don’t even own fabric napkins or napkin holders. I don’t have a tablecloth and I only have one vase. I actually have to go and count my plates and cutlery to see if I have five of the same kind. The good news, my fellow diners took a pity on me and put me last in our dinner party round. 
For those, who (want to) know us Dubai Food Bloggers: it's Sarah from The Hedonista, Sally from My Custard Pie and Sukaina from Lick My Spoon (who is going to have her blog name changed sometime this week). And then there is Jonathan, our non-foodblogging token male (who is known to have taken part (and even won) a Masterchef competition....... Wouldn't you be scared?

Apart from tackling my props problem, I am practicing my menu dishes like crazy. My starter includes asparagus, so I bring home all sorts and sizes of asparagus home these days. I am not only cooking my Come Dine With Me starter dish, but make other ones to to get to know the vegetable as best as possible. I made these little gluten-free asparagus tartlets and found they would be the perfect lunch bite in spring/summer: light, fresh, yet filling enough to get you through the afternoon. Since they are little tartlets, they actually don't take long to cook. A lovely seasonal dish.

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ASPARAGUS PARMESAN TARTLETS

(Print Recipe)

Crust
1/2 cup gluten free flour mix (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Filling
250g/8oz green asparagus spears, cut into 2" pieces
1 egg
1/4 cup goat milk
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped (or half a teaspoon dried tarragon)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Yields 6
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Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Lightly grease small (3-inch) tart molds.

In a bowl, sift together all dry crust ingredients. Add olive oil and knead. Add water in small amounts and knead until dough holds together. A good indicator is, when your hands stay clean while you knead. Neither dry flour nor wet dough should be sticking to it.
Roll out the dough and cut out pieces big enough to fill each tart mold. Prick each mold with a fork a few times to avoid rising. Prebake for 10 minutes at 200C/400F. Take out and set aside.

Meanwhile blanch the asparagus for 3 minutes in salted boiling water, until bright green. Remove asparagus and pout into ice cold water to cool. This will stop the cooking process and retain the color. Drain well and pat dry with kitchen towels.

Whisk the eggs. Then combine with goat milk, salt and tarragon.
Place the grated Parmesan at the bottom of each pre-baked tartlet. Fill each with asparagus pieces. Gently pour the egg mixture over each tartlet. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until egg has set.
Let cool for 5 minutes before taking out of the molds. Serve immediately.

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13 May, 2011

Crispy Ginger Chocolate Cookies

Does anyone know who invented the chewy cookie and when? I am asking, because in my childhood, all cookies were crispy. Anything soft or chewy was cake. Period.  It must have happened in my twens, when I was busy doing naughtier things than eating cookies.  Now I am a 30 something mother, and cookies can suddenly be chewy.
As a creature of habit, I still prefer the crispy ones. These cookies here are inspired by Joy The Baker's Chewy Ginger Chocolate Cookies. I would have never tried them, if fellow Dubai Food Blogger Sally of My Custard Pie wouldn't have told me that they turn out crispy when she makes them. At a recent Dubai food blogger picnic, my kids gobbled them down like there was no tomorrow.
This morning, my three-year old daughter wanted to bake something. I pulled out the original recipe, made a few changes to make them a little healthier. The result: a wholesome crispy cookie made with whole wheat flour and olive oil, palm sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder. My kids are gobbling them down like the originals. Mission accomplished.
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CRISPY GINGER CHOCOLATE COOKIES


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

1/2 cup palm sugar, grated
1/3 cup olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons molasses

granulated sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Yields around 30
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Preheat oven to 175C/375F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, sift together flour, soda, salt, cocoa powder and spices. Mix well and set aside.

Beat sugar and olive oil until creamy. Stir in egg and molasses. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Drop teaspoons of the batter on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown at the bottom. Transfer to wire rack after a few minutes to cool completely.
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09 May, 2011

Vanilla Oatmeal Almond Cookies

Here is a long overdue recipe of mine: the recipe that saves me at 10pm at night when my baking experiments result in disaster, or when I feel like something sweet, but not in the mood to blend, mix and stir for hours and wait for another hour to get the result out of the oven. The savior on these occasions: my good old Vanilla Oatmeal Almond Cookies. I have made them so often,  I could be half asleep (either late at night or too early in the morning), and still get them right without even checking the ingredients list.
Years ago, my mom used the original recipe as Christmas cookies. I remember that I took the recipe from her over the phone and I wrote it down in a notebook on the first page. That notebook stayed with me for a long, long time and kept my notes for just about everything: recipes, work-related to-do lists, car rental prices, phone numbers, complaint reference numbers, arrival times of visitors at Dubai airport, etc.
Over the years I have changed so many ingredients and proportions, that I don't even remember the original recipe. The notebook is gone too. But the cookies are delicious as ever.
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VANILLA OATMEAL ALMOND COOKIES


1 egg
1/3 cup palm sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Yields 20-25
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Preheat the oven to 175C/375F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine egg and sugar and beat until creamy. Add melted butter and vanilla and stir until well combined. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine oats, flour, and baking powder. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until well copmbined.
Drop teaspoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2-3 inches space between the drops. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Bake for about 10 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Let cool completely on wire rack, before storing in airtight container.
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05 May, 2011

Asian Cucumber Salad

I can't believe it's May already. Only two more months and I will leave Dubai for our annual  one- month summer holiday and escape from the heat.
I wonder what have I done in the first four months of 2011? One thing is for sure, I never think that I have been lazy. Having said that it's easy on my part because I have two kids. Most people with two kids won't be able to be lazy, even in their faintest dreams.
Apart from looking after my kids, which I do by going non-conventional/alternative routes (at least here in Dubai I seem to be part of a minority), I did all this:
- completing a full marathon and running all available races of 10k and 21k in Dubai
- landing myself a few photo-editing related freelance jobs
- having visitors from overseas for a couple of weeks each in January, February and April
- having great business ideas to follow-up on (well, husband and I think we have the right to get rich one day.... soon....)
- planning our family summer holiday which is equal to a 2-week full time job, as holiday places need to be found and booked, planes, trains, cars, to be hired, and family that we can pester or are entitled to pester us during our well-deserved holiday have to be contacted.
- last but not least: some of you may know how much time it takes to maintain a food blog: all the cooking, photographing,  food writing, etc.

In fact, I wish the day had a few more hours, especially in the evenings, when the kids are asleep. But tiredness is catching up with me after dinner, often sooner than I had wished for. Example: I went for a late afternoon 45-minute run at about 30C outside temperature. Bathed the kids, had dinner, and at 8.30pm I was sitting on the sofa like a vegetable, only able to watch the most mindless crap on TV before I wobbled to bed at 10pm.

I guess, the heat is getting me as it is already pretty hot. But after seven years in Dubai, I got used to it. Or rather, found ways, of making the most of it as long as I can. However, at this time of the year my mind IS preparing for the long, never-ending summer heat. I find myself searching for No Bake desserts. Any raw salad recipe is worth checking out.
I love the crunchiness of cucumbers, their cooling effect in a body. This cucumber salad is spiced up by the Asian dressing: Simple and straight, a no-fuss refreshment. Have it as fresh as you can or keep it in the fridge before serving for a few minutes for extra cooling effect.

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ASIAN CUCUMBER SALAD


1 English cucumber OR 4 Lebanese cucumbers
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Dressing
1 piece of leek (about 1 inch long)
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon clear honey or agave syrup
1 garlic clove, crushed

Serves 4
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Finely chop or mince the  leek. In a small bowl, combine the leek with all other dressing ingredients. Stir until well mixed. Let sit for 10 minutes for the flavors to combine.
In the meantime, finely slice the cucumbers. Sprinkle with salt. Let sit for a few minutes, than pat off excess water with paper towels.
In a serving bowl, combine cucumbers and dressing. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Ready to serve.
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02 May, 2011

Pasta Puttanesca

Finally! That's what I need to say first when writing this post for my Pasta Puttanesca recipe. It's been on my list from the moment I discovered this amazing pasta sauce, but for some reason I hadn't made Puttanesca for ages. My appetite for its bold flavor was caused by an upcoming cold, that didn't quite know to what part of my body it would go.

I discovered the Puttanesca only a few months back, and I wonder how I could live without for several decades. Its bold flavors come from tomatoes, capers, olives and salted anchovies fillets. It's the perfect, cheap and simple pasta sauce that you can make from staple ingredients in your larder.
So picture me last night: feeling sick as a dog, yet hungry, but to weak/tired to stand in the kitchen for an elaborate dinner. Apart from feeling sick, this probably applies to most working people who come home after a long day. This meal can be whipped up in less than half an hour. In fact, I had all ingredients at home, and I even made a second batch today.

I am not feeling as sick as I did yesterday, although the bug has decided to settle down in my nasal passages. I am sure with regular doses of pasta comfort foods (and a little self-pity) I will overcome this in no time.

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PASTA PUTTANESCA

500g uncooked wholewheat pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 salted anchovies fillets
1 pinch of chili flakes

2 cups fresh ripe tomatoes, finely chopped*
2 tablespoons tomato paste*
1 tablespoon black olives, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
salt and pepper to taste

* Instead of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste, you can use one 400g can of chopped tomatoes.

Serves 4
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In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add finely onions, garlic, anchovies fillets and chili flakes and fry while stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, olives, basil leaves and capers. Bring to boil, then simmer on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Cook pasta according to instructions. Drain and pour into sauce. Stir until well coated, then transfer to serving plates. Serve immediately.

30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray (Volume 4): Entertaining Made Easy   Jamie's 30-Minute Meals
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