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Archive for the ‘Valentine's’ Category

Stressing over making a homemade dessert for Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry, my loves, I gotcha covered with a few simple, quick options:

Chocolate Almond and Apricot Truffles

Chocolate almond apricot truffles are an easy cookie to make. Gluten-free flour works in this recipe, by the way (I used Bob's Red Mill).

Or you could salvage a broken cake with my Chocolate Cherry Trifle:

This trifle is any easy way to salvage a broken cake, or use up leftover chunks of chocolate cake or brownies. The layers make it look pretty and deliberate 😉

Another fun and easy option: Molten Chocolate Cakes with a Middle Eastern Flair

This cake is really molten, to the point of oozing apart like lava. Ha! If you'd rather keep it together, just bake in ramekins to serve.

If chocolate’s not your bag, but jewels are, consider:

Bejeweled Biscotti with a Persian Twist:

Persianized biscotti. Yes, these cookies could be dipped in melted chocolate, if you're so inclined.

Dunk your biscotti in some Persian Hot Chocolate:

!

Hot chocolate infused with the finest Persian saffron and cardamom? Win!

Portion Control a Concern? Try:

Frozen Hot Chocolate “Shots” With a Goat Yogurt Topping

Petite shots of chocolately goodness!

I hope these options help. I’m working on one more chocolatey goody, which tastes amazing, and is gluten and dairy free. I’ll post it soon.

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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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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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First a rose, then scroll down for a video of me showing you how to make chocolate dipped figs and dates. Easy, quick, and on the healthy side.

The Grand Finale is to our West of Persia Chocolate Week is finally here. My gift to you? Video!

Yep, it’s video of today’s recipe, Chocolate Dipped Dates and Figs. Of all of the chocolate recipes I’ve featured this week, this is the easiest, fastest, and perhaps the healthiest. Please note that while I do use the microwave in this video, and am indeed squatting by it in the screen shot below (LOL!) I no longer use it at home. (This video was shot a while back). Why do I now skip the micro? Health reasons. Plus, I wanted more room for my tea collection 😉 I’ll write  in detail about all of  that at another time.

For now, just know that melting the chocolate over low heat in a non-reactive saucepan should work just fine, as long as you don’t walk away and keep that spatula or spoon moving.

I figured posting this on Friday would be perfect for those of you who might have waiting until the last minute 😉 to gather ingredients for any Valentine’s Day sweets you might be making. You may very well have the ingredients on hand for this recipe. For now, let’s roll that tape. I mean, video 😉

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Flowers anyone? Pink tulips I bought yesterday in the snowstorm. They add such a fresh burst of color.

Chocolate week continues here on West of Persia, with easy chocolate recipes in honor of Valentine’s Day, and also in honor of chocolate in general. As you may have noticed, I’m sort of in love with chocolate. But as I was melting chocolate at 8 in the morning today, even I had to think , “This is slightly insane!” By the time the actual Valentine’s Day roll around, I may indeed have hit chocolate fatigue. Maybe.

Chocolate-Apricot-Almond Cookies are petite, chewy, and simple to make. They travel well, so feel free to box them up or present them on a pretty platter for a fun and delicious gift.

So this recipe is based on another I posted back in December. Chocolate Drop Cookies with Sour Cherries and Pistachios.

Chocolate drops with Sour Cherries and Pistachios were a hit around the holidays. Like today's cookie, they have a brownie like texture and a rich flavor.

In today’s truffle cookie, we are using slightly different flavorings, plus apricots and almonds as our fruit and nuts respectively.  At right is a not really necessary but still fun pic of the  Chocolate drops with Sour Cherries and Pistachios.

Now on to today’s cookie:

Chocolate-Apricot-Almond Truffle Cookies

Prep time- 15-20 minutes

Cook time- 8 minutes Max

Yield: 5 dozen (or slightly less if you like cookie dough as much as I do)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used pastry flour, and it worked perfectly)

1 scant teaspoon cardamom powder

1 scant teaspoon freshly ground allspice

3 egg whites (save the yolks for another use. Perhaps for a custard or for feeding a pet)

Small pinch of salt

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips, melted and cooled (If you are avoiding dairy, check the ingredient list to make sure there are no milk products in the chocolate chips/chunks).

Generous 1/3 cup chopped, dried apricots, plus approx 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing.

Generous 1/3 cup slivered almonds, plus approx. 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing tops of cookies

Generous 1/3 cup chocolate chips or chunks, NOT melted

Optional: 3-4 ounces chocolate, melted.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and flour and cardamom powder.

3. With a hand mixer, or a stand-up mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt at medium speed until frothy. (You’ll see bubbles). With the mixer running, slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar. When all of it has been added, raise the speed to high, and beat until the egg whites are the consistency of marshmallows. (This took me about 5 minutes with the hand mixer. Yes, I’m low-tech like that. The gorgeous Kitchen Aid stand mixer has yet to make an appearance in my life. St. Valentine, are you listening?) Now beat in the vanilla.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and beat in half of the melted, cooled chocolate. Then beat in half of the cocoa-flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Repeat with the rest of the chocolate and cocoa-flour mix. Stop the mixer.

5. By hand, gently fold in the apricots, almonds, and chocolate chips or chunks. Let sit until thick enough to scoop, about 5 minutes.

6. As dough sets, prepare parchment paper and place on cookies sheets.

7. Now it’s time to scoop the cookie dough onto the cookie sheets. Scoop by the level teaspoonful. Leave about an inch in between cookies. Try to keep the cookies the same size to ensure they cook evenly.

8. Garnish cookies with almond pieces and bits of apricot. Looks so festive and pretty!

9. Bake 5-8 minutes, until cookies are a bit cracked on the outside. (I personally like my cookies on the soft, moist, and chewy side, so 5 minutes was plenty of time for mine in my particular toaster oven.  In the big oven, these cookies take about 7 minutes. If, like me, you prefer softer cookies, remember, they might look slightly undercooked when first taken out of the oven).

10. Remove from oven and let cool. This is the part where recipes always say to cool the baked goods on a wire rack. Well, I don’t own any wire racks, so mine just cooled on the sheets, and no one’s complaining.

11. OPTIONAL: To make the cookies more truffle like, do this: As the cookies are cooling, melt the 3-4 ounces of chocolate. Then dip the underside of the cooled cookies in the warm chocolate and allow to cool.

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