29 August, 2011

Homemade Oven French Fries

Have you ever checked the ingredients list of regular store-bought french fries? In the "best" case it only has gluten and sugar in it, in the worst case, the list is longer than my arm with all sorts of hydrogenated oils, additives and flavor enhancers that you can imagine. If they have any nutritional value left, it's probably gone after deep-frying them.

Now, all children seem to be drawn to french fries. My kids are no exception. I admit they get french fries when we eat out, so the kids are happy and I can enjoy my meal in peace. But otherwise I avoid it. I remember, I once observed a mother trying to feed her 2-year old french fries on a playground. She was running after the kid, calling out to her: "Have some potato!" It made me cringe. Those french fries did not have much in common with potatoes anymore.

Now here is a version of french fries that I am happy to serve my kids: Pure potato, no hidden extras, oven baked. The key is to cut the potatoes as thin and as even as possible. The rest does the oven and 30 minutes later you will have lovely crispy crunchy fries that are as healthy as can be. Those can still be called potatoes. We still treat them as a treat. The rather long cooking time doesn't allow us to cook them more often. Apart from that, potatoes have a rather high GI. But they are no. 17 of a list of foods with high amount of antioxidants. Who would have thought.

4 cups Russet potatoes
salt to taste

Serves 4
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Peel the potatoes. Then cut potatoes into small slices lengthwise, not thicker than 1/4 inch/ 5mm thick. Cut each slice into strips, no thicker than 1/4 inch / 5mm thick. Take your time while doing this, making sure that the fries are cut as even as possible.

Spread fries onto the prepared baking sheet. Don't overcrowd. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until edges are crispy brown. Season with more salt if you like. Serve immediately.
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26 August, 2011

Gluten-Free Orange Date Bread

I tried a new sport yesterday. I went climbing on an indoor climbing wall. I  always wanted to try it, because I figured it would come easy to me because I am smallish and light and flexible. And I run. But running only trains your muscles from bum downwards. Never in my life did I have any upper body strength. Never in my life did I manage just one pull-up.

Now visualize this: I booked a class that allows 6 people maximum. As it is summer in Dubai (most people are on holidays) AND Ramadan (people are fasting and a full-on workout in the middle of the day is not quite what you should do/want to to do). Therefore: I was the only one in the climbing class. The instructor was even smaller and lighter than me, and seemed to have big confidence in me as she was chasing me up the walls, with just little breaks in between. After a few minutes I was sweating, after 30 minutes I could feel my energy levels go down drastically, especially in my upper body. After the class, my whole upper body was shivering. I couldn't quite make out where I would be sore today. But I knew I would be sore. Very sore.

Today I am feeling muscles that I didn't know I had. All in all, I am sore from my bum upwards, even my abs have to get used to the new way of workout. Shoulders and arms are most critical, to an extent that I found it difficult to cut even veggies for lunch.

But it was fun, and I'd do it again. I wouldn't mind getting some more upper body strength. And what I also liked about the climbing is the mental side of it. While most of my running doesn't require much thinking, climbing needs me to focus and to think a couple of steps ahead. Coordinating arms and legs, finding the next grip, while trying not to fall off. A true challenge!

I hope I can do the climbing on a more or less regular basis. I must admit, that my free time is already pretty packed with running, especially from October on when I will be training for a marathon again. I have registered for all sorts of races, starting September. Hopefully I'll manage to add a running section to my blog, an idea that I have had in my head for half a year. The idea came when the season here was almost over. Now with all the training and races lined up, I will have something to post.

But let's not forget that this is a food blog, after all. Healthy foods that are good for you. After my climbing session I came home to a freshly made gluten-free and sugar-free Orange Date Bread. Just the kind of carbs that you need and that you want to reward yourself with after a workout. I love the dark flavor of the dates combined with the orange zest. A flavor combination that fits just perfectly into the approaching autumn.

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt 
pinch of cinnamon

1 1/2 cups dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup rice milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest, finely grated
1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup almonds, chopped

Yields 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 175C/375F. Line or grease loaf pan. 

Place chopped dates, milk and baking soda in a pot. Bring to boil over medium heat. Take off the heat and let cool a little. Blend in a food processor. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg. Stir in vanilla, olive oil, orange zest and orange juice. Fold in date mixture.

In a bowl, combine buckwheat flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on wire rack.
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21 August, 2011

Buckwheat Almond Crackers

Dubai is not known for selling health foods to affordable prices. I should know that after 7 years.
But some things you have to learn the hard way. I recently bought a 1lb bag of buckwheat flour for a whopping 43 Dirhams (that is more than 11 USD or 8 Euros). It won me over immediately, as everything I put it into turned out really very well. Before I could blink, my family had gobbled up everything that came out of the oven. Never in my life have I been baking so much in one week. Never in my life did I love baking so much.

It makes me happy when my family likes my food. They don't care about sugar-free and gluten-free options. They usually are not even aware of it when presented to them. The only thing that counts is taste. In a nutshell, buckwheat flour was a huge success. But still, having spent 11USD for it bugged me.

How happy was I when I discovered a different brand of buckwheat flour for just 4 USD in another shop. It looked a little darker, but hey, so what. I took it home, and immediately started baking our current favorite gluten-free Buckwheat Almond Crackers with it. Now the dark color turned into something blackish when combined with wet ingredients. I rolled out the dough, I baked them, trying to ignore the strange color. I told myself, it's buckwheat flour: It will taste the same, it just looks different. Although I already doubted that I could sell these black things to my family.

No, it wasn't the same. The taste was entirely different. And the whole batch landed in the bin.
After a quick google I found out: there is light and dark buckwheat flour. Depending on how much of the dark hull has been left on, buckwheat flour is either light or dark. Light buckwheat flour (sometimes called fancy buckwheat flour) is made from hulled buckwheat while dark buckwheat flour (also called supreme buckwheat flour) is made from unhulled and has dark specks throughout. The dark variety is higher in fiber *.

Now I am stuck with a whole bag of dark buckwheat flour. I haven't quite found a rcipe to use it in yet. Meanwhile I will have to go back and by another 11 USD bag of light buckwheat flour. The light version works beautifully in these crackers. It adds an earthy flavor to the crackers. So good, that we snack on without any dips or spreads.

3/4 cup light buckwheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1/2 cup water

Yields ca. 20
Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the water and knead till the dough is smooth. Form a disc and wrap it in cling wrap. Let rest for at least 30 minutes (and up to 8 hours) in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 180C/375F.

Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the dough evenly and as thin as possible, to 1/8 inch thickness (or less if you can). Remove top baking sheet. With a knife or cookie cutter, cut the dough into desired shapes. Poke each cracker with a fork to prevent puffing. Transfer onto baking sheet (with bottom parchment paper).
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until edges turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Break crackers at pre-cut edges. Serve immediately or keep in open bowl.
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18 August, 2011

Flourless Peach Yogurt Tart

Despite all the health foods that I am surrounding myself with, I cannot deny that I have a sweet tooth. That's no secret, just look at my list of desserts in my recipe index. We always have a cake of sorts in the house.
I am very strict by not using refined flours or sugars in my recipes. This peach cake is naturally sweetened with dates in the crust and a hint of honey in the filling. It uses rolled oats instead of flour in the crust. Natural unsaturated fats of the nuts replace butter that is usually used in tart crusts. The yogurt peach filling gives a light freshness to the cake. A perfect summer cake.

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/3 cup walnuts
1-2 tablespoons water

2 cups full-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons honey
3 cups fresh peaches, pitted and cut into wedges

Serves 8
Preheat oven to 175C/375F.

Combine oats, dates, and walnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until sticky. If the texture is too dry, add a tablespoon of water. Then pulse again.
Lightly grease a tart pan with removable bottom with olive oil. Press the oat mixture into the bottom and sides of the pan. Pre-bake crust for 10 minutes. Set aside.

Strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel for two hours. Discard the whey. Mix the strained yogurt with the honey. Spread the yogurt honey mixture evenly over the crust. Lay out the peach wedges onto the yogurt, starting in the middle with a small circle of wedges.

Bake at 175C/375F for 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.

Gluten-free, Sugar-free Cooking: Over 200 Delicious Recipes to Help You Live a Healthier, Allergy-Free Life       Sugar-Free Gluten-Free Baking and Desserts: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Cookies, Cakes, Muffins, Scones, Pies, Puddings, Breads and Pizzas   Eat Free: No Gluten. No Sugar. No Guilt.
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15 August, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini Roll-Ups

After a month of vacation in Germany, I couldn't wait to be back in my kitchen. Although I cooked a lot in Germany, I was not very inspired to try out new things, and my photography motivation was even worse, as lighting was often dull and I didn't have the right props and tools at hand to make the food look pretty for a picture.
Now back in Dubai, I spent the whole last weekend pottering in the kitchen, creating bits and bites, cakes and crackers. Very therapeutic. I took some pictures, and they turned out satisfactory, without much ado. There is no place like home. A kitchen stove, some kitchen props and nice light was all I needed to be at total inner peace.
As the weather is hot, I made us lunches that turned out to be more of a buffet of light foods: crackers, hummus, veggie sticks and salads. And these zucchini rolls. Grilled slices of zucchini filled with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh thyme and roasted walnuts. They are perfectly sized, each one not much more than a mouthful. I love those bite sizes especially in summer, when you can just take one if you feel like it, instead of having a whole plateful of food in front of you. Bon appetit.


2 medium zucchinis
2 garlic cloves, minced
dried chili flakes
olive oil

1/2 cup feta cheese
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons walnuts
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
black pepper, freshly milled

Yields ca. 15
Place sun-dried in a small bowl. Pour over with hot water and let stand for 10 minutes to rehydrate. Then drain and finely chop. Set aside.
In a dry pan, roast the walnuts for a few minutes. Chop finely. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the feta cheese until softened. Season with black pepper. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and walnuts. Set aside.

Preheat grill.
Cut zucchinis lengthwise into thin slices. Discard the parts that are mainly skin. Apply a little olive oil on both sides, season with salt, some minced garlic and chili flakes. Grill for a few minutes on each side, until softened and lightly charred. Remove and let cool a little.

Place a half to one teaspoon of the feta mixture onto the zucchini slices. Roll up and tighten each with a toothpick. Repeat with all zucchini slices. Serve at room temperature.
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11 August, 2011

Buckwheat Date Muffins

I have a new love: buckwheat flour. For several months I have been eying the packet in the supermarket, not quite knowing what to do with it and how it would behave in cooking and baking, not knowing what the taste would be like. On top of that, it is very expensive here in Dubai.
A few yummy looking recipes at Healthy Foodie and Healthful Pursuit finally convinced me to give it a try. And what can I say: I have been baking and baking and baking. Mainly these muffins, but also crackers, and some other ideas are lined up.

The reason I have always been eying buckwheat flour is because it has a low glycemic index AND it is gluten free. Usually it's one OR the other. I have just spent a month in Germany where breads and wheat flour are part of at least two out of three meals. Upon my return I wanted to get back to my normal self by going gluten free for some time. My buckwheat flour discovery was perfectly timed. My family is gobbling up both muffins and crackers. I haven't even told them what's in there. They don't care anyway, as long as it tastes good. On top, these muffins are sweetened with dates only. The nuts on top can be exchanged or omitted. If I want to get all fancy about these muffins, I'd throw in some dried cherries or apricots.
Bon appetit!


1/2 cup dates, chopped
1 cup non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup almonds, chopped

Yields 6-8
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Grease or line muffin tin.

Place chopped dates, milk and baking soda in a small pot. Bring to boil, then let simmer for another couple of minutes. Take off the heat. Let cool a little. Then blend to a paste in a food processor.

Beat the eggs. Whisk in vanilla and olive oil. Stir in the date paste until well combined. Finally add buckwheat flour and mix until just combined. Transfer batter to prepared muffin tin. Top each with some chopped almonds.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire rack.
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09 August, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

We are back in Dubai after a month of vacation in Germany. Still a little tired from the night flight, and our 80kgs of luggage evenly spread in the house (why is it so easy to create a mess??), we are happy to be back home. Despite 38C outside temperature and high humidity. We are trying to get our smells back into the house, which was abandoned for several weeks. A list has already been made of things that broke in the meantime and need maintenance, e.g. non-cooling air-conditioners, non-flushing toilets, etc. I never understood the logic, but in our house things break more often when not in use.
I went to the shops to fill up the fridge, and probably spent the most time in the fruit and vegetable section. I announced to my family that I won't eat any bread and processed foods for next few weeks. After a month of heavy German food, I need veggies. It's not that I didn't like the foods but it's too heavy for my stomach.

I don't want to blame the German food as such. In fact, I consider these sensitivities an age issue. Because it wasn't only the food that was hard to stomach, but also the alcohol, which I, admittedly, still like to enjoy when in good company. I made the mistake ( although I still do not regret it) to go out with my old friends from university, and we behaved and drank like we were still in our mid twenties. After an amusing evening with 5 Gin & Tonics I went home to have a 48 hour hangover, which is highly inappropriate when being with your family and attached duties. Things need to go back to normality, please.

My kitchen counters and fridge are full with cauliflowers, broccoli, carrots, avocados, bean sprouts and olives. Detoxing is probably the right word to describe my body's needs.  The cauliflower I bought is to make today's recipe to be my lunch tomorrow. Low-caloric foods with the fats coming from the right places whereby flavors are not being left behind.

I never hated cauliflower, but I surely prefer it roasted as it summarizes everything you c an get out of cauliflower. I'd bet any time, to convert a cauliflower-hater when presented a roasted cauliflower with the right flavor combination. Pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and some crumbled feta cheese are all you need to do the trick. I bet you. Give it a try.

1 medium sized cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Serves 4-6
Preheat oven to 180C/380F.

Trim the cauliflower and cut into to bite-sized florets. Coat with the olive oil and season with salt and thyme. Spread out on a baking sheet or in a roasting dish and roast in  the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until tender.

In the meantime, rehydrate the sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water. Roast the pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.

Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a serving dish. Drain the tomatoes and chop. Add tomatoes, pine nuts and crumbled feta and mix gently. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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04 August, 2011

Lentil Pilaf - Stuffed Peppers

Our 1 month holiday in Germany is slowly coming to an end. We have been here for 4 weeks, and have another few days to go. Every year, after being away for 3-4 weeks we crave our comfort zones at home, less excitement, no more family members to visit, and especially for me, no more heavy foods and cakes to eat on a daily basis. My body screams for veggies. Don't get me wrong: I like German homemade food. In the end of the day, I cannot deny my German roots and the foods that I grew up on. But as I get older I cannot stomach them anymore. It's been too many breads, potatoes, gravy and meats. So far I have been trying to keep control over the heavy foods by portion control. However, I can feel my system struggling with digestion. The foods seem to slow me down and make me tired. Time to go home.

Today's recipe is two recipes in one post. The lentil pilaf is a meal in itself: wholesome and filling, full of spices and flavor, yet vegan, gluten-free and rich in proteins. Any leftovers are good to eat in stuffed peppers. Stuffed peppers are one of my favorite way of using up leftovers. It's easy, doesn't need a lot of attention and the freshly roasted peppers add some extra fruity freshness and lightness to a dish. This is exactly what I crave now. Can't wait!

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
6 cloves
2 bay leaves

1 red onion, finely chopped
1 cup brown rice
1 cup mixed beans and lentils ( I used black eyed peas, green lentils red lentils and puy lentils)
1 cup mixed fresh vegetables (e.g carrots, cauliflower, peas, potatoes)
2 cups water

1/2 cup almonds roughly chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 large red capsicum peppers

Serves 6
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, cloves and bay leaves and fry for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Add chopped onions and cook until softened. Add the mixed lentils/beans and rice and stir until lentils and rice is well coated. Stir in the chopped vegetables, raisins and nuts and salt. Now add the water. Put on a lid and simmer over medium low heat until all liquids have been absorbed and the rice and lentils are cooked. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 180C/380F.
Prepare the peppers by cutting off the tops and de-seeding the insides of the peppers. Fill each pepper with the pilaf, and replace the tops. Place the filled peppers in a roasting dish. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until peppers are softened but still firm. Serve warm.
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