31 December, 2012

My Favorite Recipes of 2012

It's the last day of the year 2012, can you believe it? Every year on New Year's Eve day I have to confirm that time goes past so much quicker as you get older. What have I been doing this year? Before I run the risk of boring you with a summary of little details of my private life ( I guess you get a good share of it in my posts anyway), I'll rather present you with my favorite Top 10 recipes of this year. Recipes that became staples in our house and recipes that surprised us by their deliciousness and simplicity. Enjoy!

Broccoli Tahini Salad with Almonds and Sesame
This Broccoli Salad with Tahini has become a lunch staple of mine. I often swap the veggies around, depending on what I have in the fridge. Most often I'd use cauliflower, carrots and broccoli or a combination of these.

Carrot Coconut Breakfast Loaf
Another staple that I bake at least once a month. It's nutritious enough to have for breakfast, filling enough to serve as marathon fuel, and surely tasty enough to serve warm as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chicken Curry in a Hurry
If the first two recipes were our breakfast and lunch staples, this chicken curry is our dinner staple: Cooked up in no time (if you have the chickpeas ready), it's our go-to recipe when something hearty and meaty is wanted on the dinner table. To add some variety, I often make the sauce in advance (just leave out the chicken), and cook some prawns and squid rings in it just before serving.

Chocolate Covered Hazelnut Balls
Finally a new Christmas cookie recipe. We got to love our three or four recipes so much over the past couple of years, that no-one wanted anything different. The gluten free hazelnut balls will be a welcome addition. And I already know that I will make them not just for Christmas.

Coconut Chocolate Muffins
My kids' favorite muffins when they come home from school. More than once I had to whip up a batch on the spot, as the previous one was eaten up sooner than I thought. They are grain free and sweetened with honey. Goodness all around.

Lemon Frozen Yogurt
2012 has been our year of homemade ice creams and sorbets, after I brought an ice cream maker home from Europe after our summer vacation. Most of them don't need more than two or three ingredients. Simplicity at its best, and a healthy dessert too.

Lentil Pancakes with Coriander Yogurt Dip
Whenever I need something more substantial than steamed veggies for lunch, I'll have lentil pancakes. Delicious earthy ground lentils spiced with cumin and chili flakes,then dipped into a refreshing yogurt dip. I can hardly think of anything more fulfilling. Fellow Dubai blogger Rajani from Eat Write Think was posting this recipe, and I had it numerous times since.

Pavlova with Summer Berries
Pavlovas don't really fit into the "health food" category, no matter how hard you try. I use raw sugar to make the meringues and put and extra load of fresh berries on top to keep the guilt factor small. This is our favorite dessert when we have dinner guests.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dried Cherries
Brussels Sprouts are not everyone's cup of tea. I think they have a good chance to convert a few people when served roasted and topped with dried cherries and toasted almonds. It takes them to a whole new level.

Savory Smoothie
I am not a big smoothie drinker. I prefer to eat fruit rather than drink. But when I discovered a recipe for a savory smoothie that includes a variety of vegetables and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as fresh ginger and cumin, I was immediately intrigued. Wonderfully refreshing in the summer, and surely flu and cold fighting in winter. Give it a try!
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22 December, 2012

Vegan Pumpkin Orange Spice Squares

There is many good things about Christmas in Dubai. If you can get your head around sunshine, blue skies and rather warm weather (which is something you have to get used to when you grew up in more Northern regions of the world), the rest is just mind-blowingly good.

The city is quiet, as many expatriates have left to their home country for Christmas and New Year. The weather is actually really good: just in the middle between the hot summers that last for an eternity and the coldest time of the year which usually hits in January and February.

The good weather serves very well for another thing: outdoor running. No longer do you have to run at crazy early or late hours to avoid the heat of the sun. And now the best: Christmas coincides with the toughest part of marathon training for the Dubai Marathon on 25 January. The longest long runs are to be done during this time of the year. Last week I did a 29k run among a weekly mileage of 70+km. Yesterday I ran 32k. For next week, the longest long run of 35k is on the schedule.

This high mileage translates into higher energy needs. Which is well timed, as Christmas sweets and treats are available everywhere. And I can dig in without any guilty feelings!! Anything that looks like cookie, square, bar or cake will not be safe from me these days. My hunger pangs after a long run trickle slowly through the day. Little bits and bites are my favorite foods.

Today's Pumpkin Orange Spice Squares I ate all by myself. Not in one day, but it surely didn't take much longer than that. The spices and orange zest give it that Christmas-sy flavor. The lemon icing on top gives it extra zing that I wouldn't want to miss. These squares serve all the purposes: a vegan Christmas treat and marathon fuel at the same time. Enjoy!


(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
100g coconut sugar or grated Jaggery
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice

1 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin, coarsely grated

Lemon Icing (optional)
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Yields 16 squares
Preheat oven to 180C. Line 20cm square tin with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine flax meal with water and whisk until well combined. Let stand for at least 15 minutes, or up to an hour.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal baking powder and spices. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk sugar and coconut oil until fluffy. Add the flax water mixture and whisk again. Stir in orange zest and orange juice.

Add wet to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in grated pumpkin.
Transfer batter to prepared square tin. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Lemon Icing
In a coffee or spice grinder, pulse the raw sugar until it has the consistency of powdered sugar. Transfer to bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and stir until the mixture becomes a thick liquid. Use more lemon juice to if the mixture is too thick, and more powdered sugar if's too runny. Drizzle over the cake and let harden before serving.

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17 December, 2012

Chocolate Covered Hazelnut Balls

With less than 10 days to go before Christmas, it's time for a little indulgence. I won't bore you with more broccoli recipes before the end of the year. Instead, I'll share some of my new Christmas cookie recipes with you.

What makes a cookie a Christmas cookie, anyway? I never really understood. Fact is, although it is totally unscientific, cookies taste somehow better around Christmas. Perhaps it's my cultural upbringing that makes me believe that you HAVE TO HAVE cookies of some sorts in the house.

I baked three sorts of Christmas cookies and a gingerbread house on the weekend, and the whole house still smells like a bakery. The weather in Dubai has been almost Northern-Hemisphere-Christmas-sy in the past few days: lots of rain and temperatures below 20C invite to cuddle up inside the house and get some baking done.

Today's recipe is inspired by David Lebovitz' Baci Di Dama Cookie recipe. Looking at the ingredients list, they resemble pretty much the Mexican Wedding Cookie or Snowball Cookie recipe. But hazelnuts are being used in these, and I realized that I haven't baked with hazelnuts for far too long. I substituted rice flour with brown rice flour, and plain white sugar with coconut sugar or Jaggery to make them more nutritious and a bit healthier.

Working on the dough, I thought I'd treat it the same way as my snowball cookies. This would simplify Lebovitz' recipe a lot. The results were a success all over. Honestly, I even believe that Lebovitz' complicated rolling, refrigerating and cutting of the dough would not result in a better cookie.

I found the size of each cookie big enough to count as one cookie. So I decided to just drizzle a little chocolate over the top, instead of sticking two cookies together with a chocolate layer in the middle. I have baked these cookies twice within a week. My son goes straight to the cookie jar  when he comes home from school. If you love hazelnuts, you will love these! No matter if it's Christmas or not.
inspired by David Lebovitz

(Print Recipe)

100g whole raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup brown rice flour
pinch of salt 

50g butter
1/3 cup coconut sugar or Jaggery

1-2 ounces dark chocolate (I used Lindt with 85% cocoa)
raw icing sugar* (optional)

* You can make your own raw icing sugar by grinding regular raw sugar in a coffee/spice grinder

Yields ca. 25
Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes, or until skin starts peeling off. Take off the heat, Let the nuts cool a little and rub off the skin as soon as you can handle the nuts. Set aside and let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 165C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Grind the cooled hazelnuts in a food processor or coffee grinder to a fine meal.
In a large bowl, combine hazelnut meal with brown rice flour, sugar and a pinch of salt.

Cut the butter into small pieces and rub them into the nut flour mixture. The mixture should become cohesive enough to roll balls out of it. Form the dough into small balls (approx. size of cherry tomato) and place on the baking sheet. Leave some space between the cookies on the sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Dust the cookies slightly with icing sugar (optional).

Chop the chocolate and place into a small bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water until chocolate is melted and smooth. With a small spoon or piping bag, drizzle warm liquid chocolate over the cookies and leave until chocolate is firm.
Keep in airtight container.
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06 December, 2012

Cranberry Chocolate Nut Squares

Tomorrow is the previously mentioned Dubai Creek Striders Half Marathon, and I am gonna run it!! Yes, I will. If you have read my previous post, you will know that I got a muscle tear in my thigh two weeks ago. My first injury ever. Complete new territory for me. How to handle it when the most important half marathon is just around the corner and when you are in the middle of the most crucial part of full marathon training ? How to stay calm? What to do to speed up recovery?

I went to see a doctor only 5 days after the pain started. At that time my thigh muscle felt as hard and stiff as a brick.  The physio treatments were pure torture. Bu they helped. I was supposed to put tiger balm onto the thigh and keep on massaging it to increase blood circulation and mobilization of the area. I was recommended two instruments for self massage to help me do it. Meet my new best friends:
Trigger Point Foam Roller
The Stick
I warn you: Be ready for pain. That's all I can say. Those two are self-torture tools. But they do  loosen up knotted muscular tissue in the same way a physiotherapist will do in several sessions, just for so much less money, as you can do it as often as you can stand the pain. If you have masochistic tendencies, it will be of advantage.

Sufficient rest and a lot of massaging got me to recover well enough and just in time for the half marathon. I got the green light from the doctor too, although he said I should be wise enough to stop if the pain flares up again to an extent that is not healthy.

So here I am, alarm clock set for 4am, bag packed, clothes laid out, and water bottle beside me so I'll arrive well hydrated at the start line tomorrow. I ran a half marathon about a month ago and my time was 1:37:11. I want to get to 1:35:00. I am not sure if tomorrow ill be the day. It is quite warm (a tad too warm), and there is a chance for rain.

If anything will help me get there in 1:35, it's my well rested legs, as I have hardly been running for two weeks. I'll keep you posted on the results.

Meanwhile I have been cooking, baking and photographing quite a lot over the past two weeks. The time that I used to spend running had to be spent otherwise. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Today's recipe is another grain-free granola bar that I have been throwing together with whatever I had at hand. I love having these in the fridge, especially at times when I run a lot and hunger hits me often and hard. These are sweet and satisfying with all the goodness of nuts, flax meal and cocoa. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I finished the half marathon in 1:38:33. Not a PB, but my leg was not to blame for it. It was the weather conditions: far too warm and humid. I felt I was putting a lot of effort into my running, but wouldn't move fast enough accordingly. Thanks for your support and all your comments.

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups whole raw almonds
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/4 cup prunes, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons cranberries

3-4 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce

Yields 16
Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20cm square tin with parchment paper.

Put the raw almonds in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add all other ingredients, except the apple sauce, and pulse a few times until medium to finely chopped. Add the apple sauce and blend until mixture sticks together in one lump.

Press the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes or until edges become golden brown. Let cool before cutting into squares. Keeps well in the fridge.
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