29 July, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

I have mentioned more often than not that the Dubai summers are very very hot.  This year is no exception. However, it seems that after 8 years that I have been living in this place, I seem to get used to it. To an extent that I even go running outside, 4 to 5 times a week, up to 90 minutes.

This is not just for fun, you might have suspected that. The Dubai race season is having a reasonable summer break. So I thought it would be nice to get my fitness level analyzed. Through an analysis of my breath while running on the treadmill at various paces  I learned about my fat and carbs metabolism while exercising, very useful information especially for long distance runners. When running, your body draws the energy needed from quickly available carbs in the muscles, but also from stored fats which are more difficult to break down and convert to energy. Logically, when you run fast with heavy breathing, your body will resource energy from more easily available sources - the carbs. However, when you go for slow easy run, a higher percentage of the energy will be taken from your fat resources. People who want to loose weight are often told to run slow (or just walk fast). By running slow, you might use less energy altogether than in a tough workout, but you are tapping the fat resources that you want to get rid off instead of just using up the carbs stored in your muscles that will be replaced with your next meal.
For long distance runners it is of huge advantage to run on a high fat metabolism to make the stored carbs last as long as possible. The reason is that there is only a limited amount of carbs stored in the muscles, something around 1700 calories, whereas the fat resources are almost unlimited. When running distances like a marathon, an average person might have used up the carbs reserves somewhere around the 30k mark. From then on, running will be getting a lot more difficult and you will slow down drastically.

In the preliminary questionnaire I was asked what my goals were: I want to run faster. Any distance, especially the 10k, but I also feel I can do a marathon faster if I do it right.
In order to achieve that, I need to run slow in order to boost my fat metabolism. The recommendations were to run at least 3 times a week for 75 to 90 minutes at no more than 70% of my maximum heart rate, in order to increase my fat metabolism. By running so slow my body will be trained to use more energy from fat resources. In the long run, I will be able to run longer AND faster, as the proportions of used up carbs and fats will have changed. It's pretty scientific, but it makes sense to me. In the end of the day, it's all down to biochemical processes in our bodies.

I have been very disciplined with these long slow runs over the past 2-3 weeks. Because they are so slow, they don't leave my leg muscles as tired. More often than not, I am ready to go for another training the very next day. However, I can feel the increased energy consumption, which leaves me still hungry after meals that used to be sufficient. I get hungry between meal times. So snacks and desserts are needed.

I have been making these chocolate cherry cookies a few times over the past few weeks, and kept the cookie jar right next to my computer. I love the combination of tart cherries and chocolate. To me,  nothing is more satisfying and  filling than nuts. Therefore, the cookie jar often emptied quicker than I thought. In the process, I could refine the recipe, now ready to be shared with you: Another guilt-free cookie, grain free without added fats, full of nuts and antioxidants from the cocoa and a lovely tart sidekick from dried cherries. Enjoy!

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CHOCOLATE CHERRY COOKIES


1 1/4 cups almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons apple sauce
4 tablespoons honey (or agave or maple syrup for a vegan version)

1/4 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries, finely chopped

Yields 25-30
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Preheat oven to 160C/350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine almond meal, baking soda and cocoa powder in a bowl. Mix well.
In another bowl, combine apple sauce and honey. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Stir in finely chopped walnuts and dried cherries.

Roll balls of the size of a walnut and place them on the lined baking sheet, leaving 2-3 inches space between each one. Repeat until all batter is used up. Using your finger tips, flatten each ball into a disk. Bake for 20 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.

If you want them extra crispy, turn the cookies over and leave them in the switched-off warm oven for another 10 minutes.

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21 July, 2012

Berry Frozen Yogurt

It's Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. For 29 or 30 days, depending on the lunar cycle, Muslims refrain from dawn until sunset from eating and drinking. It is at the toughest time of the year this time, at the height of the summer when temperatures rise above 40C during the day and hardly drop below 30C at night. In addition, the days are the longest now, and the fasting people are required to fast for more than 13 hours, here in on the Arabian Peninsula.

While I am not fasting, I very much enjoy the quietness of this month. By law, the fasting people have shortened working hours. At around 3pm everyone goes home. By law, restaurants and cafes are not allowed to serve food during the day (while delivery is still allowed). In fact, non-fasting people are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during the day. There is no blaring music in the shopping malls. It's a very subdued atmosphere during the day that highlights how stressful, hectic, rushed and noisy our lives have become outside Ramadan.

We don't eat out a lot for various reasons: the kids are not very experimental when it comes to new foods. I find myself in the kitchen cooking for them as soon as we get home from a restaurant or cafe visit. I had one too many slight cases of food poisoning. The food is often very expensive and the dishes don't live up to the expectations, either taste-wise or portion-wise, or both.

All that adds up to have even more reasons to rely on homemade foods. Now that the summer is here full blast, the cravings for cooling ice creams and sorbets have dominated over all other dessert requests. I still make all our ice creams with an ice cream maker. Looking at the ingredients lists of store-bought ice creams alone, justifies the investment to be able to make ice cream at home. The amount of ice creams eaten in this house will make the money spent worth it.

So here is another three-ingredient recipe: yogurt, berries and honey. That is all you need. With a little extra work it will make perfectly fine and delicious ice cream, even without an ice cream maker!
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BERRY FROZEN YOGURT

2 cups Greek or strained whole milk yogurt*
1 cup mixed berries (I used blueberries, red currants and strawberries)
4 tablespoons honey (or to taste)

* If you use regular whole milk yogurt, strain about 2 1/2 cups of whole milk yogurt through a cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel for two hours. Discard the whey.

Serves 4-6
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Roughly chop the berries, so the juices can ooze.
Mix strained or Greek yogurt with honey and chopped fruit. Pour the yogurt mixture into a shallow bowl or pan. Freeze until almost solid, about 1-2 hours. Take out of the freezer, and thoroughly stir it with a fork. Put back into freezer and freeze until solid.
Scoop out the frozen mixture and place it into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Transfer frozen yogurt to airtight container and return to freezer until ready to serve. Pulse again in food processor if necessary, before serving.
Scoop into serving bowls. Garnish with fresh fruit. Serve immediately.
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13 July, 2012

Soba Noodles with Chives and Walnuts

Chives are associated with summer in my life. They remind me of my childhood where I spent countless weekends in the gardens of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. We would be eating fruit straight from the bush or tree. I could eat overripe gooseberries or plums until I had tummy aches. We would harvest green beans or carrots, pull weeds or just water plants. We would have BBQs with the greater family. Inevitably, in one corner of the garden, chives would grow with their purple flowers and the distinctive flavor: garlicky. Or peppery. Or both.

I had a strong craving for chives recently. Must be the time of the year. Chives have to be eaten raw, or just added to a dish right at the end. I didn't want to mask the flavor with lots of other ingredients. Chives had to be the star.

It cannot get much simpler than this: some onions and garlic fried in butter and seasoned with nutritional yeast (which has a slight cheesy and nutty taste), when the chopped chives can be added. Toss in some soba noodles and sprinkle with chopped roasted walnuts. It will be one of the fastest dinners or lunches you can make, as it doesn't take more than 10 minutes from start to finish. Enjoy.
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SOBA NOODLES WITH CHIVES AND WALNUTS


100g/4oz soba noodles, uncooked (or regular spaghetti if it doesn't have to be gluten-free for you)

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

4 tablespoons roasted walnuts, finely chopped

Serves 2
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Cook soba noodles according to instructions.

In the meantime, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small pan over low heat. Add chopped onion and fry until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and chives and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Stir in the nutritional yeast and season with salt. Add the remaining butter and take off the heat as soon as it is melted.

Drain the soba noodles and add them to the chives sauce in the skillet. Toss gently to combine and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Transfer to serving plates. Serve immediately.
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07 July, 2012

Pavlova with Summer Berries

We've got reason to celebrate: Today is the 3rd birthday of Anja's Food 4 Thought.
I remember my daughter's third birthday. It was the date when she suddenly was not a baby anymore. She could talk, voice her opinion, and got herself a place in the kids neighborhood.
With my blog, I kind of feel the same. It's getting more sophisticated, more demanding. The days, where I quickly post another cake or salad recipe, are over. I often feel I've done them all and I don't want to repeat myself. After posting 355 recipes (as this is what I have done in the past 3 years), I feel more obliged to justify another cake or salad recipe. It needs to be different. Another angle of looking at food. Another criteria to improve nutrition. And, of course, it needs a pretty picture, to convince you readers that healthy food doesn't have to be boring.

As for the pretty pictures, what a coincidence is it that some of my breakfast recipes were published in the July issue of Shape Magazine Middle East. I am quite proud of it, so let me share it with you:
Now back to my little blog.
Over the years, many disasters have struck my kitchen while trying to "healthify" traditional recipes. Today's Pavlova is no exception. Good I remembered this year's blog's birthday a week in advance, so I had time to get it right. Let me tell you so much: I wasn't very hopeful after the second trial went straight into the bin. I herewith apologize to the all the chickens, whose eggs I have wasted in the past week.

Some things, especially sweet things cannot be messed with. I sometimes get blinded by pretty pictures. More than once, a recipe that came with a mouthwatering picture didn't work. As for the Pavlova, forget about putting stevia in there, or jaggery, or a honey mixture. The texture or taste will not be the same. You'll get horribly tasting cardboard, but no pavlova. And while we are at it, Pavlova also doesn't need cornstarch, vinegar, arrowroot, etc. A Pavlova is egg whites and sugar. In the right proportion. NOTHING ELSE. Now to make it justifiable for this healthy food blog of mine, I used raw turbinado sugar. Copious amounts of it, I admit, to get the right proportion between egg whites and sugar. But hey, you are not supposed to eat the whole thing by yourself and in one go, right? I am so glad I got this right. If you master the art of making meringues, it's the easiest and finest dessert on the planet, with as little as four ingredients. Enjoy!
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PAVLOVA WITH SUMMER BERRIES


3 egg whites, from fresh large eggs
120g turbinado sugar

20cl whipping cream

2 cups of fresh mixed berries (e.g red currants, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)

Serves 6
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Preheat oven to 150C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In an electric coffee of spice grinder, pulse the turbinado sugar a few times until it reaches the texture of caster sugar. Set aside.

In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer on low for a couple of minutes, until bubbly. Increase the speed to medium for another minute, then whisk the high speed until stiff peaks are formed.
Now whisk in the sugar at high speed, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
Spoon the stiff egg white mixture in two round circles of about 8 inch/20cm onto the prepared baking sheet. Level the top to an even surface.

Put them into the oven, reduce the heat immediately to 140C, and bake for about 50-55 minutes. The meringues should be then crisp and dry to the touch, but not yet browned. Switch off the oven and leave the meringues in the oven until it has completely cooled, preferably over night.

The meringues can be made several days in advance. Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.

Just before serving, whip the cream with an electric mixer until it hold soft peaks. Spoon a generous layer of whipped cream onto each meringue and top it generously with fresh berries. Layer the filled meringues on top of each other. Cut into wedges and serve.
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01 July, 2012

Paleo Summer Wraps with Tahini

It's summer holidays, finally. I was anticipating this moment probably as much as my son. No more school uniforms to iron the night before. No more alarm-clock induced awakenings at 6.30am. No more lunchboxes to pack at 6.35am. No more homework to oversee. No more pick-ups in the afternoon that would very often have me run around like a headless chicken before as I needed to squeeze in other tasks into the day. None of this until September.

I love to have my children at home. And my kids love to be at home too. They hardly ever get bored. Most often I only play a supporting role in the day's activities, at times I am only needed to serve food. They keep busy, either one another or each one with their own little projects. Relaxed days are lying ahead of us, with the occasional outing to the movies.

We live in a neighborhood that's just perfect for kids. The back door of the garden behind our house opens to a little park, and so do two dozen of other people's back doors. Most of these people are families with kids. The park itself doesn't have much to offer. There are two swings, a little sandpit and a basketball court. That's all. In the afternoon, the children would just come out their backdoors and play with whoever is there. It's a very organic way of getting together and playing. Spontaneous and real. Younger kids are being included or just tag along. Games are being invented on the spot. Even if the swings were broken and the basketball court fallen apart, they would never be a shortage of games to play. A ball, a bucket to collect treasures, a skipping rope, or bikes, scooters and tricycles is all they need.

My kids are not interested in structured afternoon classes. They rather kick a ball or ride a bike as they like. We have hardly ever had play dates. Those few that we had weren't really big disasters, but my kids have realized that they are much better off when they can do what they want instead of having to play with the one guy/girl the whole afternoon that came over. I totally agree and support this. My kids are 4 and 6 years old. I think they should spend as much time as possible doing their own thing, as opposed to being told what to do. My son spends 7 hours in school everyday, which I find extremely long for a six-year old. Unfortunately, this is how it's done in International and British curriculum schools these days. When I was that age (and in Germany), I was never in school for longer than 4 hours. Yet, I still made it to university and got my degree. For some reason, I doubt that my son will learn more in school than I did in less hours.

Oh well, over the next two months I don't have to get upset about this. It's holidays. With light and quick lunches, refreshing salads, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. One of my favorite lunch over the past two weeks have been wraps with a all-raw filling of avocado, cucumber, mixed greens, nuts and seeds and tahini sauce. The filling has all the freshness and crunch and layers of flavor that you will want on a hot summer day. If you don't have time to cook the wraps, any store-bought tortilla wraps will be fine too. Enjoy.
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PALEO SUMMER WRAPS WITH TAHINI


Wraps
2 tablespoons coconut flour
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 teaspoons tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 egg whites
1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon flax seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

coconut oil (liquefied) or olive oil

Tahini Sauce
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
3 tablespoons boiling water
salt to taste

Filling
1 ripe avocado, mashed
2 Lebanese cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup mixed green leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped

Yields 4
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Wraps
In a bowl, combine coconut flour, flax meal, tapioca starch, salt and baking powder. Mix well.
Add egg whites and water and stir vigorously until well combined and without any lumps. The consistency should be runny. Stir in flax seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.

Heat a medium-sized frying pan over medium-low heat, and brush it with some oil. Pour or ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan. Swirl it around to spread the batter into a thin round layer. Cook until firm and lightly browned on the bottom side. Then flip and cook the other side until lightly browned. Transfer wrap to a plate.
Brush pan with some more oil before cooking each wrap. Repeat until remaining batter is used up.

Tahini Sauce
Place the tahini sauce into a small bowl. Season with some salt. Then pour boiling water over it and stir vigorously until well combined and smooth. It should get the consistency of a typical dressing sauce, not too runny.

Filling the Wraps
Place a wrap in front of you. Spread a generous layer of mashed avocado over three quarters of the wrap, leaving the part furthest from you clean. Sprinkle the finely chopped cucumbers and some mixed leaves over the avocado layer. Drizzle about one tablespoon of the tahini sauce over it and sprinkle with chopped nuts.
Tightly roll up the wrap starting on the side closest to you. Then cut in halves. Repeat with remaining wraps and fillings. Serve immediately.
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