27 May, 2012

Grain Free Chocolate Banana Muffins

Muffins have moved up on our priority list in the last few weeks. Summer is arriving in Dubai. The heat and humidity have an impact on our appetites. Meals are getting lighter and fresher. And probably even smaller. There is exceptions, of course. When I come home from a long or fast training run outside, I favor a solid chicken curry over a salad. But as a general rule of thumb, smaller bits and bites are being favored. Like muffins.

I enjoy experimenting with grain free recipes in my baking these days. As a matter of fact, we ALWAYS have some muffins or loaf cakes in the house; to be eaten for breakfast or as a snack.

Going grain free means I am left with almond meal, coconut flour and chickpea flour. I am proud to announce that I seem to get the hang of it now. Today's recipe is a double success as I seemed to struggle with chocolate muffins/loaves in the past. These chocolate banana muffins are moist and spongey, bursting with chocolate flavor. With an impeccable ingredients list that lets you eat them without any guilt. Simply good for you. Enjoy.

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GRAIN FREE CHOCOLATE BANANA MUFFINS


3/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3/4 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium ripe bananas)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup dates, finely chopped

1/4 cup pistachios, chopped

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

In a bowl, combine almond meal, coconut flour, cocoa and baking soda. Stir until well combined. Set aside.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in coconut oil, honey and mashed banana. Add finely chopped dates. Make sure they don't stick together in big lumps.
Spoon the batter into muffin molds. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
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22 May, 2012

Spicy Steamed Bok Choy

I have hopes that my son is becoming a runner. He is 6 years old. For the past two weeks he has been running with the junior group of my running club, the usual lap around a park which is 3.4k or 2 miles. Both times, he beat the 8 year old daughter of a friend which made him incredibly happy. I love the innocent and fun-filled competitive edge that kids have at that age: enough to spur them on, but not too much to spoil the fun if it doesn't turn out so well.

On the way back in the car, I explained to him what a PB and a SB is. He was also looking forward to seeing the results and his name published on the club website. And when asked about his running, he announces with all the coolness of a 6 year old, that he lowered his PB by over a minute.

I am incredibly impressed by his determination to run this distance. I remember from my school years that 1000m was already long and 3000m was to be avoided by all means. Now he, at the age of 6, runs it as if it was the most normal thing on the planet.

It also shows that kids are impressed, influenced and formed by what their parents do. My kids have seen me running all their lives. They often come and see me finish at races throughout the season. It's part of our lives. And it rubs off.

Same applies hopefully for the healthy eating and cooking habits. While grocery shopping the other day, my son remarked: "I always know which is our shopping trolley, because we don't have any junk in it." You can imagine how proud I was. I also suspect that he slowly comes to an age where he knows how to pull the rights strings.

The other day, there was a book sale at his school. He bought me a cookbook that focuses on the use of herbs and spices in cooking. I was touched by his thoughtfulness of getting it for me. Once again, I am just hoping that I do the right thing as parent, by leading by example: emphasizing on homemade foods and cooking foods from scratch. This recipe is inspired by a recipe from this book. I still love my big bowls of veggies for lunch, quick to make and light on the stomach. It surely can accompany any meat or fish as a side dish. Some sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and chili is all it takes to spice up these green leaves. Enjoy!
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SPICY STEAMED BOK CHOY


4 baby bok choy

1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Serves 4
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In a small bowl, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, cloves and chili flakes. Set aside.

Cut bok choy lengthways in halves. Place into a steamer, cut-side up. Steam covered until tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl. Drizzle over the dressing. Garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
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17 May, 2012

Grain Free Spice Cookies

My 4-year old daughter seems to go through a creative kitchen phase. Every morning, she tells me she wants to bake or cook something. She loves to sit on the kitchen counter, pour measured ingredients into the bowl and then stir them carefully. She loves to lick the honey spoon or sneak a tiny piece of grated jaggery (palm sugar), and would then go: Mmhhh, this is very yummy, mama! She is very curious about the ingredients, asks about the name of everything, and if something is new to her she repeats it until she gets it right. Like molasses.

For her, the actual cooking or baking is more interesting than eating the results. By the time, I pull the cake, muffins or cookies out of the oven, I get no more than a quick glance from her. Only seldomly, she wants to eat our creation straight away.

One of our regular recipes in our morning cooking sessions has been these Grain Free Spice Cookies. The kids love to nibble them in the afternoon, and without the nuts on top, my son can even enjoy them in his school lunchbox as a little treat every now and then. Little cookies are the perfect snack for kids to just grab and run off with, as opposed to cakes and muffins whose size makes it more necessary to stop what you were doing in order to eat it. Not so with these tiny cookie bites.

I love the use of chickpea flour in here. I can assure you, you will not taste it as the flavors of the spices and the molasses will be much stronger. Enjoy!

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GRAIN FREE SPICE COOKIES


1 cup chickpea flour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves

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

3 tablespoons almonds, finely chopped

Yields ca. 20
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Preheat oven to 165C/350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine chickpea flour salt and spices. Set aside.
In another bowl whisk together, coconut oil and palm sugar. Stir in molasses and beaten egg. Combine wet and dry ingredients.
Put teaspoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet, setting them 2-3 inches apart. Sprinkle each with some chopped nuts. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown at the bottom. If you want them extra crispy, turn them upside down, put back on the baking sheet and let them dry out in the switched off oven.

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09 May, 2012

Citrus Salad with Pomegranates and Mint

A group of runners will run a 46-47k run through the streets of Dubai this coming Friday, starting at 6am. They do it to raise money for the treatment of an Iraqi friend and former rugby player, nicknamed Moe,  who has been diagnosed with cancer. While this group runs, another group will kayak around The World just off the Dubai coast. The runners and kayakers will meet at 12pm at an agree spot on the beach. This coming Friday, Moe will also get his 5th chemotherapy. (If you want to read more about this and support the cause, please check here).

While I have never met Moe, I am truly impressed by the initiative and motivation of people to support him, by giving money and running either the whole distance or just parts of it. For everyone not familiar with Dubai weather: it's boiling hot, the temperatures while they run will be between 35 and 40C, and there is hardly any shade.

It seems a dangerous undertaking to run that far in this heat. I don't deny this. Most people who will run, are experienced runners. Most of them will have some experience of running in extreme heat too. They do it as a group and it's not a race. Their motto is, if Moe can fight cancer, we can run, walk, crawl 47k.

My little contribution on the day will be to set up a water station at the 25k mark of the route, where I provide cold water, sports drinks, bananas, orange pieces, GU gels and cold sponges/towels when the group comes past sometime around 9am. Anything refreshing and cool is probably all they will want. If I could set up a bathtub full of ice cubes, they'd most certainly jump in it. I'll be on a public parking lot of a post office, so cooler boxes full of ice cubes is all I can do.

Today's fruit salad is nothing fancy really while all the way refreshing. Chunks of grapefruit deliver the tartness while oranges bring in the sweetness. Pomegranates add another flavor and some texture. Drizzled with a lemon honey dressing and sprinkled with a handful of fresh mint leaves, it is as simple and invigorating as it can get.
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CITRUS SALAD WITH POMEGRANATES AND MINT


2 pink grapefruits
2 oranges
1 pomegranate

1 lemon, juice of
2 teaspoons honey (or agave syrup for vegan option)

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Serves 4
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Peel grapefruit and oranges carefully. Get rid of as much white skin as possible.
Cut the top off the pomegranate and gently break the fruit in halves, then in quarters. Carefully separate the arils from the membrane. Keep the clean arils aside.

With a sharp knife, cut all grapefruit and oranges into thin horizontal slices. Arrange in serving bowl or plate. Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds. Mix lemon juice and honey in a small bowl. Pour over the the fruit salad. Garnish with fresh mint leaves. Serve cold from the fridge.
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04 May, 2012

Sun Dried Tomato and Almond Dip

BBQing in Dubai in May can be quite a torture. Over the the last week, summer has finally arrived and blesses us now with 40C during the day, and not much less than 30C during the night. You want to know what's the safest sign that summer has come? You can switch off the geezers, as the water coming from the cold tap is hot enough to have a hot bath.

Nevertheless, we decided to use our garden (probably for the last time before October) and invite a few friends over for foods and drinks and chats and laugh. Dubai is as multi-cultural as can be, and our friends happen to come from Japan, England, Serbia South Africa, Germany and Portugal, to name just a few. Instead of throwing on the BBQ grill, we'll have multicultural tapas-style bits and bites: hummus and other dips, crackers, breads, and poppadums (my latest gluten/grain free addiction), parma-wrapped pieces of melon, sushi and sashimi, some Mediterranean salads. Perhaps I will make a frittata. And for dessert we'll have a very international chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.


Todays's recipe is a dip that I had at a Lebanese restaurant recently. The base was sun dried tomatoes and the crunch came from finely chopped nuts.  A lovely mezze dish, that can be eaten with crackers, breads or veggie sticks. I kept it simple by adding some fresh basil from my garden only. But I can even imagine it with some olives or capers. I love the chunkiness of this dip, but it can easily be blended to a fine smooth paste, bursting with flavors either way. Enjoy!

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SUN DRIED TOMATO AND ALMOND DIP


1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/2 cup boiling water

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
chili flakes (optional)

Serves 6-8
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Pour boiling water over the sun dried tomatoes and let stand for at least 15 minutes. Drain well.

In a food processor, combine rehydrated sun dried tomatoes, basil and about 1-4 cup of olive. Pulse until smooth. Add almonds and pulse until finely chopped. Add more olive oil until the mixture reaches desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes.
Keep in airtight container in the refrigerator.
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