Cravings of Chocolate Equals a Brownie Recipe Fit for A Swirly Scoop of Pinkberry

I’ve begun to notice that the days I am fasting is when I crave chocolate the most.  It’s this urge that won’t go away until I’ve had some chocolately goodness.  I missed two fasts during Ramadan because of traveling, so now I have to make them up. I started today and honestly the chocolate cravings were crazy.  I just knew that once I broke my fast I would have to have a chocolate fix. So I went through my “Chocolate” section under My Favourites and came across Two Peas and Their Pod’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies recipe.  Bingo!  I didn’t have all of the ingredients the recipe called for, so I decided to adapt it to what I had on hand. The end result was a fudgey brownie with a smokey, dark chocolately taste.  Yumm!  Instead of consuming the brownies on their own, I believe because of the texture and flavour, the brownies would be better as a topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt.  And since I got my husband to pick up some of Pinkberry’s Original swirly goodness, I had to test my theory.  Yup….it was a perfect pairing!
 Brownie Topping
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour, sifted

3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp instant espresso powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup organic almond butter, room temperature
1 tbsp crushed walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9″ pie plate with parchment paper. You should cut the parchment paper to fit the bottom of the plate.

In a bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Add in the sugar and espresso powder and mix to combine dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix the eggs, vanilla extract and oil until blended.

Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and lightly mix together until just blended.  Add in the almond butter and crushed walnuts.  Stir until combined. Using a spatula, evenly spread the brownie mixture in the pie plate until it reaches the sides of the plate.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean.  I found that my brownies were ready in 10 minutes, so be careful and watch those brownies.

Cool and serve on top of ice cream or frozen yogurt.

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A trip to Little India and Gobi (Cauliflower Curry)

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to check out the Little India of LA. It’s not as big as the Little India on Gerrard Street in Toronto, but the lack of “dinginess” was very appealing to me.  Now I consider myself a Canadian through and through, however there’s nothing like going to an area where your community congregates to; the sights, sounds and smells make you feel like you’ve just come home.

We walked around the entire neighbourhood and discovered Saffron Spot, a drinks and snack stop tucked away in a corner. It’s decor reminded me of Demetris. The bright pops of colour on the walls and the ice cream and falooda display cases. We didn’t end up getting anything, but because the menu had ice cream flavours like Badam Pista, Fig Walnut, Kulfi Kreme, Lychee, Masala Tea, and Saffron Silk and various kinds of falooda, we knew we’d definitely come back.  After making our way back onto the main street, we checked out a few movie stores, some interesting eating places and a grocery store that, from now on, will supply my needs for spices, dals, rice, flour and fresh vegetables. We were pretty giddy when we walked into Pioneer (it’s the Iqbal’s of LA). The quality and freshness of the produce and spices was easy to spot. Also, the fact that they had everything you could possibly need to make South Asian cuisine was amazing.  I have had trouble locating certain spices and vegetables, but thanks to Pioneer, that is no longer the case!
We ended our tour with a stop to Ambala’s, a desi mitae shop. It has nothing on Brar’s in Mississauga or Al-Karam in Scarborough, but it will have to do.

Speaking of fresh vegetables, the recipe I’m going to share is a Gobi (Cauliflower Curry) salan.

Gobi

1 head of cauliflower, cut into tiny florets
1/2 tsp of garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped and browned
1/3 tsp hyde (turmeric) powder
1/4 tsp ghara mirch (red chili powder), adjust as necessary
1/4 tsp salt, adjust as necessary
1 tomato, diced
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 serrano chili, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp fresh kotmeer (cilantro), washed and chopped

In a stainless steel pot, add minced garlic and oil. Slightly brown the garlic and then add the browned onions. Cook the garlic and onions for a minute or two and then add the hyde (turmeric), ghara mirch (red chili powder), and salt. Add in the chopped cauliflower florets and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes on medium heat. Stir frequently.  When the cauliflower is tender, add the chopped tomato and serrano chili and cover the pot.  Let the flavours meld for a few minutes.  At this point check the flavour of the cauliflower- add more salt and ghara mirch if necessary.  Add the lemon juice and put the lid on again. Turn the heat down so the cauliflower is cooking on a low simmer. When the cauliflower is just about cooked through, add the chopped kotmeer (cilantro) and stir into the cauliflower.  Check the spice level one more time, add spices if necessary.  Turn off the heat and keep the cauliflower covered, the kotmeer will steam in the residual heat.

Serve with warm rotis.

A great appetizer: pin wheels

I’m still exploring the various ways I can use puff pastry.  I know it isn’t exactly healthy (think of all of those buttery layers of pastry…yum!), but it is a pretty handy thing to have lying around in the freezer. If guests are coming around you can quickly whip up a few snacks with stuff in your fridge and a sheet of puff pastry. 

 I’ve always loved the way pin wheel sandwiches look because you can see all of the different layers of food. I’ve never tried making a pin wheel sandwich, but recently I made some pin wheel snacks using puff pastry.  The recipe was on the back of the box and the picture of this perfect pin wheel was too hard to resist.

Now before I actually show you the pictures of my finished product, I wanted to tell you about a couple of mistakes that I did while making these. If you keep these in mind, I promise you pin wheel perfection!

1. Make sure you finely dice your stuffing. If you are using big chunks of meat or fruit, they will ooze out while baking.
2. Put a small amount of stuffing half way up the puff pastry sheet.  If you fill it up too much and to the edge, leakage will occur.
3. Ensure that you have a sharp knife so that you can cut through the puff pastry log with ease.

Spinach and Chicken Pin Wheels

1 puff pastry sheet
1 egg
1 tbsp water
1/4 cup of mozzarella and cheddar cheese mixture
1/2 cup of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of excess liquid
1/4 cup of cooked chicken, shredded
2 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Thaw pastry sheet at room temperature for 20-25 minutes or until easy to handle.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Stir egg and water in a small bowl.  Combine cheese, spinach, chicken, chili and salt in a bowl.
Unfold pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Top with cheese, chicken and spinach mixture. Starting at the short side closest to you, roll up pastry like a jelly roll.  Cut into small slices.  Place slices cut-side down on the baking sheet. Brush with egg mixture.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

The beginnings of a cookie extravaganza

As a kid, my mom and I would watch Sesame Street together while my sister and brother would be at school.  My favourite character was the big, blue, cookie-crazed Cookie Monster.  His inability to resist a plate of cookies is quite hilarious and reminds me a bit of myself.  If there are cookies near me- on a plate, or on the shelf, they call out to me. I’m not joking!  I can hear them call me over to take a bite into their sweet bodies and savour the feeling of having a mouth full of cookie goodness.  My brain tells me to resist the temptation and be strong, but my tummy takes over and that’s when I believe it is my duty, as a fan of Cookie Monster, to enjoy the cookies that are around me.  It is only after the fact, that I start to feel guilty about my sweet consumption and think about how I’m going to burn off those extra calories.  As Ina Garten says, “You can be miserable before you have a cookie and you can be miserable after you eat a cookie but you can’t be miserable while you are eating a cookie.”

Hmm.   I know I can’t give up cookies, or chocolate, or cookies that contain chocolate (yum!), so the next best thing that I can think of is to start making my own cookies. The good thing about this is that there won’t be any preservatives or artificial ingredients in my cookies. They will only contain fresh, wholesome natural ingredients.  I think this another way achieving a healthier lifestyle…(yea…right…sure…who am I kidding?). 

This cookie recipe that I’m sharing with you today is a twist on my Cardamom Shorties recipe. A swap of ingredients and a change in measurements gave me these wonderful Cashew Cardamom Shorties.

Cashew Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

1 tsp cardamom powder, finely ground
1/4 cup cashew meal, freshly ground (to make cashew meal, take some raw or roasted cashews and grind them up in a food processor. Stop grinding when the cashews are finely ground- just before you make cashew butter)

1 2/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp instant espresso powder
3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup of brown cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Mix together the flour, cashew meal, espresso powder and cardamom powder.

In large bowl using rubber spatula, beat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until well blended. Pour into flour mixture and stir until combined.  Using your hands, create small balls out of the cookie dough, about the size of a small meatball and then press down gently so a round cookie forms into a coin shape.

Bake until the edges of the cookie are lightly golden. Cool completely on the cookie sheets.

A way to handle leftovers

I always misjudge how much food will be consumed during Ramadan and Eid. It’s never too little, but always too much.  I think it has to do with the fact that I was making food decisions while I was fasting.  You know, they always say never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.  This rule also applies when you’re fasting. Your tummy is telling you that it wants all of these rich goodies and savoury treats to eat after iftar. However, when that time does come, there is no space or desire to eat all of that stuff. Instead, you are left with an overflowing fridge. 

What to do?

 I can’t whip up a casserole, because well people of South Asian heritage don’t eat casseroles. In fact, many of us don’t know what a casserole is. The only way I learned about it was from a friend of mine at work.  I still have a good laugh when I think back to that conversation.  We were talking about leftovers and she asked me what I did with them…my reply was that I ate them..as is.  As the discussion continued, some of my students and fellow teachers of South Asian heritage came into the conversation.  We concluded that people of South Asian heritage don’t make casseroles (most of the people we talked to didn’t know what they were!). We make curries, and stews that involve several steps, and most of the cooking does take place on the stove top.

So, to address my problem of the overflowing fridge, I took to the Food Network for inspiration and came up with some flaky, delectable treats that traveled with me on a 5 and a half hour flight down south. 

Stuffed Puff Pastry

1 package of puff pastry ( I like the ones that are already rolled into sheets), thawed according to package instructions
1 cup of shredded roasted chicken (I love this because you can roast up chicken with any blend of herbs and spices you desire and change the way these puff pastry treats taste),
2 or 3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup of shredded vegetarian cheese
10-12 cherry tomatoes, washed and cut into slices

**Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

**On a cookie sheet lined with parchment, lay down a sheet of puff pastry.  Using a knife, cut the puff pastry sheet into squares or rectangles.

My puff pastries in different shapes before heading to the oven

For plain chicken puffs:
Take a tablespoon of the shredded chicken and place it in the centre of the puff pastry. Take another sheet and put it on top of it and press down the sides so the filling doesn’t leak out.

For cheese, onion and tomato puffs
Combine the three ingredients and place a spoonful of it on one end of the puff pastry.  Start rolling the puff pastry into a roll by rolling the side with the stuffing away from you.

For a combined puff:  Mix all of the ingredients together and fill in puff pastry.

For this batch of puff pastries, I did not brush them with an egg wash (egg mixed with water), but you can choose to do so if you wish.  If you want to save these for another day, place the unbaked and unwashed puffs into a freezer Ziploc bag (don’t forget to put a piece of wax paper between layers!) and put into the freezer.
If you want to enjoy them right away, bake until lightly golden brown.  Serve with chutney or chili sauce.

**I made these puff pastry treats in my toaster-oven, but they can also be made in a regular oven.
** You can create the puff pastries in any shape you desire. Be creative!

A rustic, yet delectible cookie

Eid is just around the corner and I know people are starting to think about what they are going to make. Eid is a day to celebrate with family, exchange gifts and eat lots of great treats.  Also, in between the house hopping, is the oh so important Eid nap where your tummy prepares itself for the next round of eating.
When I was growing up, my mom and grandmother would always make a traditional Sindhi sweet dish called keer karkoon. It comprises of full fat milk flavoured with cardamom pods and sugar, slowly cooked over the stove for a few hours. When the milk turns a pinky colour, the rehydrated dried dates are added to it and cooked together.  Unfortunately I have not had any experience of making this dish- mom, it’s time for a cooking lesson!

Since there will be no keer karkoon cooking in my kitchen for Eid,  I have decided to bake some cookies instead. The cookie recipe is from Heidi Swanson’s site 101 Cookbooks. Heidi’s site is the first food blog I followed. It’s full of mouth-watering recipes that use a variety of healthy ingredients to tantalize your taste buds. Do check it out when you have a moment.

Now let’s get to this cookie recipe. It is rustic, hearty and oh so delicious! It’s a combination of old fashioned rolled oats, wheat germ, whole wheat flour, and bitter sweet chocolate. Just thinking about them is making my mouth water! Heidi’s recipe calls for the use of 2 cups of sugar. I found that to be a bit much, so I cut it in half.  I also decided to add a bit of cocoa powder for more chocolaty goodness. The original recipe was to make these cookies over sized to make ice cream sandwiches, but I decided to make them a lot smaller and used a small ice cream scoop to shape them.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup whole wheat flour

2/3 cup wheat germ
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup coconut/palm sugar
2 tsps cocoa powder
2 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I baked these cookies on the top rack because my oven distributes the heat unevenly. Use your judgement when placing the oven racks.
In a bowl combine the oats, flour, wheat bran, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Mix well.
In another bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar for 3 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixture and combine until everything just comes together.
You do not want to over mix the batter.  Toss in the chocolate chips and mix well. 
Use a mini ice cream scoop to scoop out the batter in round balls and place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Make sure to leave space in between the cookies. Once on the sheet, gently pat down the tops of each cookie. Bake for 10 minutes and cool on a cookie sheet.

Blog photos

Slowly, but surely I find myself improving my photo-taking skills.  I’m figuring out the different settings on my point-and-shoot digital camera and am not relying on the user manual as much.  However, there are some days where I think I’ve gotten a great shot, and only learn later that it totally sucks. I have trouble with angles, and shadows. I’m also struggling with the use of flash.  Let me know if you have any tips on how I can improve on these areas.

 Here are some shots (unrelated to food) that have turned out to be pretty successful.Or at lease I think so!

At the Grand Canyon

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier
The sky above my balcony in Mississauga

My Timmies and novel of the moment

A rose and spider at the Niagara Falls Rose Garden (Canadian side of course!)