28 June, 2013

Chocolate Avocado Cake with Chocolate Ganache Drizzle

Did I tell you that I am running the Berlin marathon in September this year? Well, training starts next week. And I can't wait. The marathon is on 29 September. And apart from running it, I will be away from my family, on my own, for four full days, for the first time ever since my kids were born. They are 5 and 7. I think I deserve that.

After the Dubai running season, which is over the winter months between October and March, I had three months that I dedicated to relaxing, re-energizing, slow, low heart rate base training. At the same time I tried to keep my weekly mileage up, so the shock to the system will not be too massive. I am feeling so ready for the training and the marathon. Bring on the mileage, the intervals, the LSDs.

Looking back at the last running season, I believe that my marathon was my weakest performance.
I ran the Dubai Marathon in January is 3:26. I had trained for a 3:20 marathon, but that didn't happen. I never really believed it could happen either. Perhaps it was due a little injury and a bout of flu during the training. The height of my running fitness came on about a month AFTER the Dubai marathon when I smashed my half marathon and 10k PB times.

So the expectations for Berlin are big. I think I have improved a lot in the past 6 months. And the last three months of base training set the right tone for what's coming now.
The plan for the Berlin marathon is to train for a 3:10 finish time. On race day, I will be happy with anything under 3:15. The Berlin marathon course is flat, so it will be similar to Dubai. I will have to do weekly mileages between 60-85k during my 12 weeks of training.

Why am I telling you all this? It's basically a warning that a lot of calorie-dense recipes will come up in the next 3 months, as this what I will be eating while running my 60-85k every week. What would be a better start than another chocolate cake? It's a wholesome one, but it's still chocolate cake. I replaced the fat/oil with mashed avocado. It's otherwise a very simple recipe with very little ingredients. I hope you enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 cups almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup/1oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water

2 eggs
1 cup/8oz palm sugar or grated Jaggery
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ripe avocados, mashed (ca. 2/3 cup)

Chocolate Ganache
100g/4oz chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream

Serves 10-12
Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Line and grease medium sized spring form.

Pour boiling water over cocoa powder and stir until dissolved and smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal and baking soda Set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream eggs and sugar with an electric mixer. Add vanilla, avocado and cocoa mixture and blend until well combined.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and blend until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared spring form. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache
Melt chocolate together with the heavy cream in the double boiler or a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.  Stir until melted and smooth.

Drizzle the mixture over the cooled cake. Let stand until ganache has hardened. Ready to serve.
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20 June, 2013

Moroccan Quinoa Salad

How many and what kind of childhood injuries did you have? I am talking about stitched-up lacerations, arms or legs in casts, scars, etc? 
I had my wrist broken when I was 11-12 years old, and a laceration just under the lower lip after a bad fall during athletics training that was stitched up. That must have been around the same age. And if I am not mistaken, I also had chicken pox then. That didn't leave any scars though.

My kids are only 5 and 7 years old, and not doing too bad either when it comes to injuries and accidents. My son got stitches and a scar on his forehead before he turned 3. My daughter got stitched up on her chin just a couple of months back. She was playing horsie with her older brother. She was the horsie and it collapsed under the weight. 
Yesterday, my son had a bad fall while playing football in the park. He overbent and cracked his collarbone and now has his left arm in a sling. It seems to be terribly painful.

The amazing thing is that children heal so fast. The doctors would not give us a clue as for how long he would be in pain, or how long he must wear the sling. After some research I found out it can be something between one and a few weeks. But I can already see improvement since yesterday.

My own diet usually takes a back seat when my kids are sick. I seem to have an increased need for red wine and chocolates after long days of cuddling, holding hands, fulfilling requests for food & drinks, blankets, entertainment, and sleepless nights. And as I always do whenever my kids are sick, or in this case injured: I pay extra attention to their diet. Lots of raw fruit and veggies and as little inflammatory foods a possible that support the healing process.

This quinoa salad would fulfil all the requirements for speedy bone healing: lots of plant-based protein from the quinoa and almonds, combined with anti-inflammatory cinnamon, ginger, chili and cumin. 
This salad can be made in advance and eaten warm or at room temperature. Leftovers are good for lunchboxes the next day. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cups water
2 cups carrots, coarsely grated

1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup raisins

Serves 4
In a small bowl, combine all spices and salt. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

Heat oil over medium heat in a medium sized pot (that can be covered later). Add chopped onion and cook, stirring regularly, until it is soft, about 5 minutes.
Add spice mix and cook for another minute. Stir in quinoa and grated carrots. Pour over with water and stir in raisins and almonds. Cover and cook on very low heat  for about 12-15 minutes. Take off the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with more slivered almonds. Serve immediately.
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13 June, 2013

Chocolate Quinoa Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

It's about time I posted another proper dessert here on the blog, don't you think? Looking at the blog archives, I haven't treated you with something nice and sweet for more than a month. I don't want to leave the impression that I don't cook, bake or eat sweet things anymore. Quite the opposite actually.

While I try to fix my sweet cravings with fruit (or in more persistent cases: dried fruit), I don't mind the occasional (and at times quite regular) sweet treat. While I can say that I am off store-bought or restaurant desserts, I do love my own "healthified" versions. Not just for myself, but especially for my children. My kids are no different to other kids - they love sweets and chocolate too.

Same applies to grains. While I try to keep my diet as grain-free as possible, I don't mind the occasional pasta dish or a piece of cake made with whole wheat flour. Again, I would not eat those those shop-bought or restaurant versions, but I do enjoy the occasional grainy meal at home.

Finding the balance between what's good for you and what's not and when and with what amounts is not easy. People are influenced by their upbringing, their cultures and their environments. That shows in their diet too. Once medical conditions come to into the equation, it gets even more complicated.

I am not saying that today's Chocolate Quinoa Cake is a healthy and guilt-free cake. Unless you have adverse reactions to any of the ingredients (particularly dairy or the glutenous whole wheat flour), an occasional piece of it will not do any damage to your health.



(Print Recipe)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teapsoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup coconut/palm sugar or grated jaggery
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup cooked quinoa

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 cup raw powdered sugar
1/2 teapoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons milk

Serves 8-10
Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease small bundt cake form or medium loaf tin.

In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
I another bowl, blend sugar with olive, yogurt and vanilla. Mix wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Then gently fold cooked quinoa into the batter.

Transfer to prepared cake tin. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in tin for a few minutes, then turn out and let cool completely on wire rack.

Buttercream Frosting
Mix all ingredients and stir vigorously until smooth. Drizzle or spread over cake. Let stand for a few minutes to let it harden.

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06 June, 2013

Mango Sorbet

June is the official start of summer in Dubai for me. It's the squelching season: you'll be hot and sweaty, no matter what time of the day. The temperatures even at night will not drop below 30C/86F. During the day expect anything between 38C/100F and 48C/118F. From August onwards, combine these temperatures with high humidity. Then carrying your grocery bags into the house from the car that's parked right in front of it, makes you want to have a shower right away.

I gotta start training for the Berlin Marathon in July. The Dubai summer makes it very difficult. You have to be extra careful not to overheat or dehydrate. Dehydration may be the smaller problem and can be controled much better. Overheating is the bigger issue: if the core temperature rises above a certain point, your body will just shut down and you'll have a heat stroke.

Training through the summer means that you might just give up on certain days as the heat will not let you do what your marathon program prescribes. The good news is that there will be an air-conditioned indoor running track of 650m that will be open to the public from 20 June until 20 August. I see myself doing quite a few laps on this one - my first long run in the first week will be 21k/13miles. That's 32 laps. Sounds scary, doesn't it!?

I thought I would train for a 3:10 marathon and be happy with anything under 3:15 on race day. My weekly mileage will be between 60 and 85k (that's 37 and 52 miles).

Despite the heat and the upcoming grueling marathon training, I feel ready for it. The official big racing season in Dubai closes by March/April. I had a few months of relaxation now with lots of slow runs. I feel very ready for another challenge. In fact, I can't wait! My weekly mileage has been quite steady and not too low. I think I can ease into the training without much difficulty. Just the heat will be the critical factor.

My ice cream maker is doing over hours these days. I have posted several sorbet recipes here on the blog before (check the extremely delicious kiwi sorbet, the refreshing raspberry sorbet or my luscious lemon sorbet). They are all made in the same way: puree raw fruit, add some honey and lime/lemon and put it in your ice cream maker. Today's mango sorbet is not exception. It's raw refreshing goodness. It's as close as it gets to eating raw fresh fruit. Enjoy.

3 cups ripe mango, peeled and cubed
3-4 tablespoons honey (or agave syrup for a vegan version)
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed

Serves 6-8
Place mango cubes, honey and lime juice in a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker, and follow instructions of the ice cream maker.

Alternatively, transfer mixture to a shallow dish and freeze for 45-60 minutes, or until almost solid. Take out of the freezer, and thoroughly stir with a fork. Put back into freezer and freeze until solid.
Scoop out the frozen mixture and place into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Transfer sorbet to airtight container and return to freezer until ready to serve. If necessary, pulse again in a food processor just before serving.
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