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Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

Eid Mubarak, everyone! I hope all who are celebrating this holiday have a wonderful, blessed celebration. (More info on Eid-al-fitr here). What better to celebrate our good fortune and health than with a platter of traditional sweets and some steaming hot tea?

I got this big, tempting platter of cookies as an Eid gift. Truly wonderful.

Another angle. Many of these cookies are stuffed with dates. Love that!

Did I make these? No, but I sure did eat more than my share.

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Vintage Bollywood poster. Bollywood movies are popular in the Middle East.

I adore dinner parties. Love giving them, love attending them, and love, of course, all of that wonderful eating and socializing. Dinner parties are such a civilized way to re-connect in our GO GO GO world. But let’s face it–dinner parties can be WORK.

My friend Khat and I at her brother's traditional Afghan wedding in April. She will be at my Bollywood dinner party. Her dress is a traditional Afghan getup, while mine's a more Bollywood style outfit.

I’m having one in a few days, and this time, I’ve resolved to let it come together in the most chill way possible. A little pre-planning will go a long way. I hope ;- )

It will be a Bollywood Night, complete with a campy Bollywood movie and optional glittery costumes (if anyone is so inclined to go there, wardrobe-wise. I know I am, having a couple of shimmery Bollywood style outfits I’m eager to debut).

In the spirit of keeping things chill, I have to say, “Sorry, guests, but no homemade cheese and bread from this kitchen, at least not this time.”  To combat the summer heat, our spread will be seasonal, with invigorating and cooling recipes and  influences from both Persian and South Asian cuisines.

Why South Asian specifically, besides the obvious Bollywood theme? Well, first of all, I just love the cuisines of India, Pakistan, and the many other countries in that whole amazing part of the world. Middle Eastern cuisine and South Asian cuisine have many elements in common, and have exerted their respective influences on one another for centuries. Plus, these cuisines have many wonderful recipes that are cooling. Perfect for steamy summer heat!

Plus, we happen to have a very fun Desilicous dance party to attend after our Civilized Dinner Par-tay. A Gay-Themed Bollywood party, if you will, all in honor of Gay Pride Week. Yes, love my gays. They kinda own my heart :-)

Here’s what I have planned for our menu:

My Watermelon and Mint Cooler. Like a slushy, but much better for you, and better tasting.

A pre-dinner Cocktail (and Mocktail) Hour with my Watermelon Mint Cooler as the star.

A to-be-determined app, for which one of my friends has signed up to provide. (Key component of dinner parties: let others share in the fun, by either contributing an item of food or drink, or, if they’re so inclined, helping with light food prep or selecting music or lighting candles, etc. Keeps things interactive and who knows, it’s interesting to see what novel ideas our guests have about music or lighting or how to slice a scallion).

Salad of roasted golden beets on a bed of arugula with cucumbers and whatever goodies look appealing that day. Perhaps a yogurt or tahini based dressing. Something very simple, elegant,  and cool.

A summery Chilled Avocado Soup I haven’t tried this recipe out, but I simply can’t wait, as I’m in love with avocados and no longer afraid of the good fat they so generously provide!

Summer squash kuku sabzi, an Iranian omelette. Love this Persian souflee sans drama!

My Summertime Squash Kuku (Perfect for dinner parties, because it tastes great at any temperatures. Any late arrivals will feel well-fed, not deprived.)

Dessert will be So Delicious coconut-milk based ice creams. Because I’m seriously addicted to this stuff, it has that cooling, South Asian vibe thanks to the hint of coconut, and the company was nice enough to send me coupons to sample some of their product line. Thanks, So Delicious. You’ve just made my dinner party a heck of a lot easier, creamier,  and tastier.

I’ll be sure to snap some pictures of our festivities, and report back. Don’t wait up, my loves!

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Try this super easy and refreshing watermelon mint slushie. It will take the edge off of summer's heat for sure.

Today’s chill slushie is the perfect anecdote to hot and dehydrating summer days (and nights)! It’s refreshing and cooling to drink, and beautiful to look at. And one of my favorite ingredients–watermelon, is the base of the drink.

I just adore watermelon. For me, it brings back such happy memories. Some of them are kinda funny memories, too. More on those further down. . .

Watermelon always makes me think of my dad. Hmmmm, and this post is coming out a few days ahead of Father’s Day. Happy coincidence!

My dad and I would have a field day picking the best of the bunch! Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Anyways, I remember my dad going to the grocery store or farmer’s markets together and picking out the most beautiful, juiciest watermelons money could buy. He has a real talent for picking excellent produce. Oh, yes, that’s a deliberate plural on watermelons–my dad would rather buy extra melons than too few. After all, his reasoning goes, we can always share the extra fruit with others.

Our produce-buying missions were “our” thing as father and daughter–going to what my dad calls “fruit market” and picking out the best and best-priced veggies and fruits available. To this day, I say I learned just about all of the skills about how to pick good produce from my dad. And many of my cooking skills I learned from my mom. Both important parts of the equation–how to pick the best quality produce, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Frothy, delicious, and refreshing. I can't get enough of these lately!

As for the funny melon memories: the time my dad picked what he said was the most amazing watermelon ever–and left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot of a Fiesta store (Texans know all about Fiesta ;-) ). Or the time we went to the farmer’s market in Houston. At this market, you can buy wholesale.  Why exactly we needed a few dozen watermelons, I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, one of the watermelon vendors quoted my dad one price before loading up the back of the pickup full of melons. Then he quoted him another price when it was time to pay, the truck fully loaded with probably at least two dozen melons. Sneaky jerk thought we’d not want to unload the melons and just pay the higher price.  He was holding us as fruit hostages. My dad was having none of this bait and switch nonsense. Every single melon went back to the display, and you can bet my dad made the guy help offload the heavy fruits.

Gorgeous watermelons are rich in vitamin C and super-hydrating. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So what makes a good watermelon? My dad taught me that it should be:

  • Heavy for its size.
  • It should have a hollow sound when you thump on it.
  • The stripes should be very green.
  • The skin shouldn’t have any mushy or pitted spots.

If you happen to get a subpar melon, you can salvage it by making this cooler. Of course, a perfect melon would be absolutely delicious blended into this chillaxing drink as well.  Have fun with it and enjoy! Maybe while watching a World Cup match.

Watermelon Mint Cooler/Slushie

Ingredients (enough for at least 2 12 ounce coolers):

2 Cups watermelon, seeds removed

1 Cup almond milk (I prefer unsweetened; you could use rice or even coconut milk here)

Splash of vanilla extract

A few sprigs of mint, saving some for garnish

Ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Drink will be very pink and very cool. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

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Am I dreaming here, or is is just Earth Cafe's creamy vegan cheesecakes? They're very real and delicious, I assure you. They're, get this: RAW, gluten free, light on soy, and totally vegan. Find them here: http://earthcafetogo.com/onlinestore/


I said this would be an Almost Wordless Wednesday ;-) . This is I just have to share:  my friend Marisa, a budding professional photographer and former model, took some headshots of me yesterday. So far, this one below is my fave. Of course everyone has a different opinion on which shot they like best, and sometimes those opinions vary wildly from my own. Interesting, isn’t it? Ok, here”s my pick:

My current fave. Like most people, I'm rarely satisfying with pictures of myself, but my friend Marisa did a lovely job of getting several snaps I dug. If anyone wants to hit her up for photography jobs, contact me and I'll connect you to her. Whooo hooo!

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Eka Pada Koundiyanasana. I love arm balances!

Today’s post is gonna be a bit self-indulgent. I have the right, though. Birthday Girl’s Privilege. Yep, my bday is this coming Sunday. It falls on Easter this year, which I think is pretty cool, because it’s a time of rebirth and renewal.  No matter what creed or religion we follow (or don’t follow), the concepts of  renewal and rebirth are potent and hopeful.

In years past, I’ve been all about partying it up for my birthday, but lately I’m feeling more of the chill-out vibe. Not only that, I like to take my birthday as a time to reflect, renew, and just be good to myself.

Yoga always makes me feel brand new, so I’m including a few snaps of me in some funky poses. The first one is one of my favorite arm balances, Eka Pada Koundiyanasna. From there, we can go to the chin balance and then add more of a backbending element to the chin balance:

A chin balance. Anyone know the Sanskrit name for this one? I forgot.

Chin balance progression. Notice the unassuming and unimpressed cat lounging in the background. You'd better believe he can bend his back much more deeply than I can.

Another thing that makes me happy? Raw, gluten free,  dairy free, VEGAN cheesecake. Like these lovely samples sent to me by Earth Cafe. Yum yum! What a way to kick off my birthday weekend :-) . I’ll post more about them soon, but for now, let me just say that the flavors are poppin’, and they taste every bit as good as a traditional cheesecake, with the added bonus of not feeling like you’ve swallowed a brick after eating. Good times!

Finally, I can enjoy cheesecake again. Earth Cafe's are gluten-free, vegan, raw, and have no refined sugar. They taste amazing!

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Chin up, darling, and no tears over that messed up cake. A broken chocolate cake shouldn't be tossed into the trash, or even to the birds. Make a gorgeous and delicious chocolate trifle instead. Ok, guys, stop laughing at the oh-so-professional studio background I've got goin' here ;-)

Oh dear. A kitchen mishap. Big plans to bake a chocolatey, decadent, gorgeous birthday cake for a loved one. Said cake recipe was new to me and untested in my kitchen.

A vertical view of this layered beauty. Layers of goodies abound.

Plus, I was having a bit of a trying day. Not to get all “Like Water for Chocolate” on you guys here, but I find cooking when I’m sad often leads to mishaps. Long story short, the cake fell to pieces when I tried to invert the layers out of the pans. Whoops.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always said that if something like this were ever to happen to me, I’d salvage the situation by making a trifle. And part of me has longed to make a trifle, but not yet found quite the right occasion/excuse to do so.

Quickie behind-the-scenes self portrait. Ooops, kept the flash on. Well, today's entry is all about mistakes, right?

Now, apparently that day had come, whether I was ready for it or not. Had I willed this into being? Obviously, all of my preaching to my Yoga students about going with the flow was coming home to roost with yours truly. This just might have been a test. Okay, let’s do this, then!

Luckily, no one was expecting a picture perfect cake anyways, so the incident wasn’t a big deal, except in my mind. The trifle was creamy, fun and festive dessert, and crisis was averted. No tears were shed.

The lesson here? I think it’s don’t cry over  broken cakes, my friends. It’s generally not worth it. And there’s always tomorrow, or some alternative iteration of a recipe to save the day right now.

Here's another behind-the-scenes self-portrait. Hee hee, I'm feeling silly now.

Accidental Chocolate Cherry Trifle

Ingredients:

1 to 2 layers of chocolate cake, cut into large chunks (or one small pound cake loaf, in chunks)

1/2 cup of sour cherry jam

1/4 cup dried sour cherries

6 ounces chocolate chips or chunks (bittersweet or semisweet)

3/4 cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon each vanilla extract and almond extract

2 tablespoons almond slivers (toasting optional)

For garnish: white chocolate bits and dark chocolate bits

Directions:

1. Make vegan ganache. Warm coconut milk over low heat. Don’t boil. As milk heats, place chocolate bits in a heat resistant bowl. Slowly pour warmed milk over chocolate chunks, stirring frequently until smooth. Add in vanilla and almond extracts and stir again. Allow ganache to cool and thicken slightly.

2. In a see through dessert glass or jar, spoon in some cherry jam. Top with a layer of cake, then a layer of chocolate ganache, then some dried cherries. Repeat layers, ending with a dollop of ganache. Garnish this with white and dark chocolate curls (Make the curls with a veggie peeler). Put some dried sour cherries on top if you want.

3. Enjoy, and no tears, love. Act like this was the dessert you meant to make, and no one will be any the wiser ;-)

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Easy Turksih Coffee Pudding. No cooking required. Find the recipe here: http://westofpersia.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/easy-turkish-coffee-pudding/ Photo by Stacey Young.

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Did you know the cookie was actually invented in ancient Persia (now Iran) in the 7th century, A.D.? My Vegan Biscotti with a Persian twist are a much more recent addition to the cookie lexicon.

Up until a few days ago, I’d never made biscotti at home. I don’t know what switch got flipped in my brain, but suddenly it seemed like a great idea. Plus, adding a Persian twist (Persianizing, as my friend My Persian Kitchen says)  would be a way to get creative. What if I upped the ante and tried to make them vegan? Hmmm, now that’s a thought.

By the way, did you know that the cookie dates back to Ancient Persia? From WikiAnswers:

The earliest cookie-style cakes are thought to date back to 7th century Persia A.D. (now Iran), one of the first countries to cultivate sugar (luxurious cakes and pastries in large and small versions were well known in the Persian empire). According to historians, sugar originated either in the lowlands of Bengal or elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Sugar spread to Persia and then to the Eastern Mediterranean.

With centuries of culinary history behind me, you’d have thought my cookies would be perfect on Take One. Ehhh, not so much. My first attempt looked promising, but ultimately ended up overbaked. It was totally due to miscalculations and wrong assumptions on my part.  I thought the cookies weren’t done, so I kept baking them. I swear they looked undercooked. Almost raw in spots.

Thankfully they didn’t burn, and still tasted fine when dunked in tea and allowed to soak, but unless soaked a bit, they were a hazard to my dental work, and that of anyone else who ate them. Lesson learned.

The very next morning, I made another attempt. Humbled, I learned from past mistakes, followed the recipe to the letter, and got perfect biscotti:

Biscotti jazzed up with pistachios, cardamom, and dried cranberries. Sour cherries would work well, too!

I made two types– for half of the biscotti I added pistachios, cardamom powder, and dried cranberries to the dough. For the other half, I did sour (tart) cherries, almond extract, and slivered almonds. Tart cherries were on offer at my local Trader Joe’s this week, by the way. Love that, because they’re not always there, and their dried bing cherries get a thumbs down from me. Sorry, TJ’s. I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

The Cherry Almond Biscotti were, taste-wise, my favorites. They're in the foreground, on the the plate. The Pistachio Cardamom Cranberry biscotti were quite good as well, and more photogenic.

Taste-wise, the sour cherry biscotti were my favorites. But the pistachio cranberry cookies, while no slouch in the taste department either,  were notably more photogenic. This is probably due to the interplay of the green pistachios against the dough and in contrast to the jewel-toned dried cranberries.

So yes, while the combo of tart/sour cherries and almonds was my personal favorite, the cool thing about biscotti is how easy it is to customize them to fit your own tastes and pantry. Next time, by the way, I think I might just have to dip these biscotti in chocolate. And/or add in some vegan chocolate chips. That would be awesome. But I’ll make sure to stay true to the recipe’s general directions! Wouldn’t want to disappoint my ancestors too much, after all. ;-)

Persian Biscotti

Adapted from a recipe on RecipeZaar.com  http://www.recipezaar.com/Vegan-Almond-Biscotti-32416

Makes 30-40 biscotti

Ingredients:

3 cups of flour (I used equal amounts of organic pastry flour and all purpose flour)

1 Tablespoon baking powder (Yes, a Tablespoon!)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup of agave necar OR 3/4 cup of granulated sugar

3/4 cup of smooth unsweetened applesauce or apple butter

1-3 Tablespoons neutral tasting oil of choice (I used coconut oil; Use more oil for softer biscotti, less oil for crunchier biscotti)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

For Sour Cherry and Almond Biscotti: 1/2 cup tart (sour) cherries AND 1/2 cup almonds

For Cranberry Pistachio and Cardamom Biscotti: 1/2 cup cranberries AND 1/2 cup pistachios AND 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 325 F and lightly oil one large or two smaller cookie sheets.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together flours, salt, baking powder, and cardamom powder if using.

3.  In another bowl, mix together the agave or sugar, applesauce, oil, and extracts. (Use more oil for a softer biscotti, less oil for a crunchier biscotti)

4.  In thirds, gently add and stir sugar mixture into the flour mixture. Batter will be very thick. Add the nuts and fruits. Finish the mixing with your hands.

5. With floured hands, shape the dough into two 3-inch wide “logs” about 3/4 inch thick, with the ends squared off. (Measure if you have to; I did!)

6.  Bake the logs for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack. As they cool, drop the oven temp to 300 F.

7.  Cool the logs on a rack for 15 minutes. Cut the logs carefully with a sharp knife straight across into 1/2 inch wide slices.

8.  Place the slices cut side down on the cookie sheets and bake for 5-10 minutes more.

9.  Turn the slices over and cook 5-10 minutes more, or until golden on bottom. NOTE: The biscotti might look under-cooked. They almost certainly are not. They will harden up as they sit.

10.  Cool on racks, then store in an  airtight container for up to two weeks.

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Biscotti with a Persian flair. Pistachios, dried cranberries, and cardamom. Recipe to follow later this week.

In the foreground is another Persianized biscotti flavor: Sour Cherry and Almond biscotti. Both recipes are vegan and will be posted soon :-)

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The Coco-Acai Smoothie--packed with coconut milk, avocado, and acai--gives me a perfect excuse to use cute little decorative umbrellas. Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

Hey guys. Another work week winds down. Where did the time go? Well, I say the weekend is a perfect time for a tropically inspired treat. Especially for my peeps who are in the dead of winter right now, sometimes it’s fun to take our tastebuds and our minds on  a mental vacation from the cold outside.

We’ve talked on here about how, even in the dead of winter, I sometimes enjoy cold treats. Yes, I know some people find that weird. Oh well, too bad. ;-) I’m just glad this quirk allows me to enjoy smoothies 12 months out of the year.

Just looking at coconuts makes me feel tropical! Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

Recently, I had an amazing smoothie from a place in Manhattan, Juice Generation. I often hit this spot after Yoga class. It was a coconut-acai based smoothie. Problem was, they used a soy-coconut milk blend. I didn’t realize this until it was too late. I still chugged it, and it was delicious. I resolved right then and there to reverse-engineer their recipe at home, and to make it without soy milk. Not only would this keep me from drinking soy milk, making the smoothie at home would be easier on my wallet as well.

(I avoid soy whenever possible, for many reasons. For one, it’s generally bloating. Yes, bloating. NO THANKS! Other reasons–Watch Food Inc., and you’ll get what I’m saying.)

As fortune would have it, my local health food store had frozen packets of Sambazon Acai on sale that week. So I bought some, along with some coconut milk that was on sale as well. Love it when the stuff I covet is on sale. It’s like the universe conspiring to help.

Sipping my Skin Smoothing Coconut Acai Smoothie. Pardon the almost no-makeup look. It was post-Yoga.

My very first attempt at reverse-engineering the recipe was, miraculously,  on point. I enjoyed the smoothie and mentally filed the recipe to drink and post another day. Then a few weeks later, my friend Kim Snyder featured a Skin Plumping Smoothie on her blog. It had very similar ingredients AND used avocado. (Funny story–Kim was filming a TV appearance and was asked to come up with a smoothie at the last minute. The Skin Plumping Smoothie is what she came up with. Brilliant!)

Do you guys ever find that you’re often on the same wavelength with family and friends, even if you haven’t spoken or communicated about specific things? For example, Kim and I were both thinking of combining similar ingredients in our respective smoothies. And with my Yoga crew, I often notice that we’re teaching or working on the same asana combinations and transitions, even without having consulted one another or even taken one another’s classes.

Wishing I were here. Oh well, a good smoothie is like a mini-vacay in and of itself! Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

This sort of cosmic connection shows how together we can be stronger and even more creative. So I took inspiration from Kim, and added avocado to my Coco Acai smoothie the next time I made it. It was even better. By the way, I love how avocado is so versatile–the way it has its own distinct flavor but can also meld seamlessly into other dishes.

Ok, so real quick, why is this skin so nourishing, smoothing, and yes, plumping to the skin? The info that follows is quoted from Kim:

  1. Frozen Acai: (Found the in frozen section of health food stores big and small). This stuff is loaded with antioxidants and Omega fatty acids that plump and nourish the skin, as well as fiber.
  2. Coconut Water: Coconut water is one of the best hydrators because it has the same electrolyte balance as human blood. Some countries even use it for plasma transfusions. It is also full of potassium, which facilitates cellular cleansing.
  3. Fresh Avocado: Raw beauty fat that digests easily, and is full of beauty minerals and fiber.

So let’s put these nutritional powerhouses, plus a few more ingredients, together for a tropical treat that’s healthy, nourishing, and beautifying. Not bad for something you can garnish with a cocktail umbrella!

Smooth Your Skin Coconut Acai Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 Cup coconut water

1 Cup coconut milk (I used unsweetened So Delicious brand; find in the milk section of your health food store or perhaps the regular grocery store)

1 banana

1/2  avocado

1 100 gram packet frozen acai (I used Sambazon brand)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: powdered stevia (to taste)

4-8 Ice cubes

Directions:

1. Combine ice cubes, frozen acai, and half of the liquids and blend. Add in the rest of the (non liquid) ingredients and blend again. Slowly add in the rest of the liquid to achieve the desired thickness of your smoothie and blend again. Taste for sweetness. Add in vanilla extract, more liquid if desired, and Stevia (if using) and give it one final blend to incorporate all ingredients.

2. Garnish with a decorative drink umbrella (optional) and enjoy!

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