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Photo of the day: grilled yummies

I’ve been wanting to start a “photo of the day” series for a while to share yummy pictures, because we all definitely eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. And as I was flipping through my June issue of FNW again looking for culinary inspiration for a dinner party, I found the perfect reason to start my photo series. I came across this gorgeously delicious-looking image of grilled veggies that I hadn’t noticed the first time I read the magazine. Doesn’t this just make your mouth water?! Grilling is so summer!

In good health,

F

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Middle Eastern recipes: lemonade…with a twist

Is there anything more refreshing on a hot summer’s day than a glass of fresh lemonade- sweet, tart, and chilled to perfection? Well.. there might be: a glass of fresh lemonade with crushed mint and a dash of rose water. Yes, rose water.

Rose water is one of those ingredients that we hear about often enough, but do not really encounter in many recipes outside the Middle East, although it does have its place in many cuisines from French to Indian. This very Middle Eastern ingredient, made by steam distilling rose petals to extract the essential oils, and whose origins are traced by many back to ancient Persia, is most commonly used to flavor desserts. Its relative rarity in Western cuisines and among home cooks is perhaps because of its potency and bitterness; if not used correctly, in right places and in just the right amount, it is definitely overwhelming, and not in a good way. But just few drops of it in your mint-lemonade can take this trademark summer drink from amazing to heavenly…try it!

Outside the Middle East, rose water can quite commonly be found in specialty food stores or Middle Eastern grocers.

In good health,

F

Middle Eastern recipes: spicy olives

My grandmother makes the most deliciously spicy olive mix, and for some reason over the past few weeks it has become my newest culinary addiction. What I love most about it is the contrast in textures; from the rich and fleshy olives, to the softened but still crunchy walnuts, and of course the spicy chili peppers, which add just the right amount of savory punch. Here is a suggested recipe, but the amount of each ingredient you ultimately put into the mix is definitely subject to personal taste.

You will need:

  • 2 cups pitted and chopped green olives
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp thinly chopped red chili pepper
  • 1 tsp thinly chopped green chili pepper
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp minced dried mint
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Mix everything together in an air-tight jar. This will keep for quite a while if stored in a cool, dry place. If you like your olives really spicy, keep some of the chili seeds in the mix as they contain the most heat; otherwise, scrape seeds out before chopping and just used the flesh.

Note: my favorite way to eat this is to serve next to a dollop of labaneh for a relatively light but yummy dinner. Labaneh (also known as Labneh in Lebanese Arabic) is a type of savory thickened yoghurt very popular across the Arab world, with a consistency very similar to sour cream. You can definitely find it in specialty food stores, but it is also commonly sold in major supermarkets as Greek yoghurt. It is also very easy to make at home: place about 2 cups of regular yoghurt in a cheese cloth, then place the cheese cloth inside a sieve and let drip over the sink for about 30 minutes. The yoghurt will thicken as it loses moisture. Add a pinch of salt (up to 1 tsp, to taste) and mix well to incorporate.

In good health,

F

Fruity cupcakes

A while back when I blogged about FNM’s food coloring guide, I promised that I would share the results of my cupcake frosting experiments..so voilà, here they are!! My favorite batch were cupcakes that contained fruit to match the color of the frosting; yellow banana cupcakes, pink strawberry cupcakes, and purple blueberry-chocolate cupcakes. I put pieces of the fruit in the batter itself, as well as on top of the frosting as garnish (the blueberry ones had only chocolate on top). I sautéed the strawberries and blueberries with a little bit of sugar to soften them before adding them to the batter, and the bananas in a little bit of honey. Just be careful when adding the fruit to the cake batter as it could become more watery than you want it to be. And again, please excuse the shoddy pre-SLR photos. Nom!

In good health,

F

The dirty dozen

I know I posted about the wonderfulness of eating seasonal produce earlier today, but I just came across this article about pesticide-heavy fruits and veggies on the Huffington Post and I thought it was too important not to share. Some really surprising offenders on that list. Yikes!

In good health,

F

All in good time: “The Bountiful Year”

I am a huge believer in the superiority of seasonal produce. I cannot complain that these days you can pretty much find whatever fruits/vegetables you want whenever you want them at the supermarket, because it does come in handy more than just occasionally. But it also always makes me so happy how much juicier cucumbers taste in the summer, or how much crunchier french fries turn out in the peak harvest season of potatoes (late summer/early fall). So when I came across this awesome chart about produce seasonality while browsing through Fast Company yesterday, I had to share it with all of you. The chart details what is at its peak season when based on the climate and environment of the Western United States, so obviously it will vary slightly depending on where you live…but still a very useful guide. Hurry up and enjoy the last of the season’s artichokes and asparagus before July arrives! And contrary to what we were taught as kids, according to this chart it might not be the season for an apple a day. But how about strawberries, or peaches, or plums every day? Not too shabby.

In good health,

F

Let them eat cake

I couldn’t help but share this adorable photo of apple cupcakes that I accidentally came across while browsing pinterest. And naturally, I followed the source link, only to discover that it was part of a “100 Easy Kids’ Birthday Cake Ideas” feature on a Canadian website called iVillage. While clearly meant for kids, some of these cake ideas are fabulous enough even for an adult, and not just the still-a-child-at-heart kind of adult. There are some really elegant ideas for even the most sophisticated, such as this fabulous ruffled ribbon cake (perfect for a bridal or baby shower!), this fashionable pink ombré cake (perfect choice for a chic fashionista’s birthday), this festive karaoke-themed creation, or these darling crystal-sugar crusted cupcakes. And yes, I know that some of you are thinking that that’s a whole lotta pink, but if you do make any of these yourself, they definitely don’t have to be pink. Happy browsing!

In good health,

F

Summery carrot cake

I am now on Day 4 of my juice fast and really starting to feel hungry. Luckily not particularly weak, just…starving. So as I diligently sip away at my green, red, and other color-coded juices, I have been daydreaming all day about more decadent foods. Just because my tummy can’t eat doesn’t mean my eyes can’t feast on yummy photos! I was browsing through the photos on my phone and came across this one (above) of a carrot cake I made a few weeks ago (and please excuse the shoddy photo quality…the photo was taken in the era before I owned an SLR). I have always thought of carrot cake as a pretty fall/wintery dessert, probably because spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are wintery aromas, but I recently discovered the perfect way to make it summer-appropriate. Adding a little bit of finely chopped fresh pineapple to the cake batter, and a bit of freshly grated lemon zest to the cream cheese frosting adds a ton of freshness to a traditionally heavy and decadent cake, and turns it into a perfect spring/summer dessert. I also tried to find ways to make it a little bit healthier, such as using canola oil in the batter, low-fat cream cheese in the frosting, and minimizing the amount of butter in the frosting than the original recipe. Next time I make it I think I might explore using honey in the batter instead of sugar. Yummy!

For the cake, you will need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups grated fresh carrots
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh pineapple
  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups canola oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream or unsalted Greek yoghurt

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • Approx 1 pound low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • Up to 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple

Preheat oven to 175C/350 F. Butter 2 20cm/8-inch round pans before lining them with buttered parchment paper and dusting with flour.

Sift 1 1/2 cups of the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. In separate bowl, toss together the carrots, 1/2 cup pineapple, walnuts, and remaining 1/2 cup of the flour and set aside.

In a third bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with an electric hand mixer for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture becomes thick and fluffy. With the mixer still on, gradually add the oil then the sour cream.

Scatter the flour mixture over the wet ingredients in 2 batches, each time gently folding together until just combined. Next fold in the carrot, pineapple, and nut mixture. Pour into pans and bake the cakes until firm to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn out of pans and let cool completely on a cooling rack.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese in a bowl until light, smooth, and fluffy. Add the butter pieces bit by bit until mixture becomes stiff. There is no need to use all the butter if you reach the stiff-peaks stage before you have used the whole amount. Sift the sugar over the mixture in 2-3 batches, and beat with mixer until smooth, then beat in lemon zest and vanilla extract until combined. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.

Before serving, place one of the cakes on a cake stand, and spread half the frosting on it. Top with second cake layer and another layer of frosting, and then scatter remaining 1 cup of pineapple on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

In good health,

F

Red juice

…just wanted to share a photo of the afternoon “red juice” that I just improvised. Juice 1/4 watermelon, a handful of blueberries, 15 strawberries and 20 red cherries (pitted of course) with a few mint leaves. Green juice is fine and well, but with such a low calorie intake, I felt the need for a sugar boost. Mmmmm, perfectly refreshing on this hot summer day!

In good health,

F

For the love of juice

Hello, my much-neglected blog! It feels so great to be back in the blogosphere! I know, I know. I have said this before. And I have no excuse for my long absence except the fact that I had a busy patch in May that kept me away from my computer, after which I discovered that the longer you put something off, the harder it is to restart.

Anyway, I’m back now. I am super excited that summer is here, because it means plenty of fun summer parties (and plenty of room for creative cookery!). I now also finally own a nice SLR for taking yummy pictures, and I am working on an exciting face lift for this blog…so there are definitely a few exciting things to come.

BluePrintCleanse bottles are delivered to your doorstep

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you my recent experience with juice fasts. It seems that somewhere between all the travel and eating out that I have done over the past few months (tough life), my body decided to go on strike. My indulgence and utter lack of routine are now being punished with chronic fatigue and unexplained stomach and headaches. Given how often I get sick and the pill-popping that requires, I thought it best to avoid any medication unless absolutely necessary, which got me researching home remedies for these problems. One of the suggestions that I found was to do a detox. It turns out that my fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, chronic dark circles under my eyes even after a good night’s sleep, and skin that just won’t cooperate despite my intricate daily skincare routine, are all symptoms that could be explained by the fact that my body is very possibly not detoxifying itself very well on its own.

After reading about several different types of detox programs, I decided to go with a juice fast. This basically means consuming nothing but freshly-squeezed juices of fruits and veggies for a period of anywhere between 2-7 days. The science behind this is that by juicing a fruit or vegetable, you are getting rid of all the fiber (ie- the “solids” and extracting only the water content, nutrients, vitamins and enzymes. This “liquid diet” provides your body with highly accessible nutrition, and gives it a short break from digesting solid food. And since it turns out that the human body spends an average of 70% of its daily energy digesting the food we eat (think about it…3 meals, several snacks, maybe a drink or two in the evening), freeing up a large chunk of this energy gives your body more “capacity” to focus on other activities, such as cell renewal and deep detoxification. Think of it as a “spring cleaning.”

The Organic Avenue cleanse is similar to BPC, but only available in the NY area as far as I know.

This liquid detox idea is nothing new. We’ve all heard of the “Master Cleanse,” which instructs you to consume only lemon juice mixed with water, grade B maple syrup, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper for several days. For a brief history of juice fasts, find here a NYT article about it. The relative newcomer into the liquid diet arena is the now-famous drink known as “green juice,” made of many different permutations of green fruit and vegetable combinations.The idea is that green produce contains the chemical chlorophyll, which is an alkaline substance that helps neutralize the body’s internal pH against acidic waste material. Clever huh? The best-known commerical juice fast program is probably BluePrintCleanse, which comes in three tiers of difficulty, and if you live in the US, you can sign up for it and have fresh juices delivered right to your doorstep for 5-6 days. There are also others, such as the Organic Avenue popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow, which is only available in the New York area. I myself don’t have access to any of these services, but it turns out that making my own green juice is much easier -and tastier!- than I thought.

Since beach and wedding season is upon us, this is a great way to kick-start your way to a healthier body inside and out (I know, I sound like a commercial), and even lose a few pounds in the process. Today is Day3 for me, and I’m pleasantly surprised to say that I do not feel excessively hungry or tired. Just be careful not to do it for too long, as excessive dieting and chronic low calorie intake can really damage your metabolism! To find out if you fit the “detox profile,” take this quiz here.

Here is my green juice recipe, but feel free to experiment with your own combo of green produce.You definitely need a proper juicer for this, as drinkingjuice is not the same as eating pureed produce baby-style. I use a Kenwood centrifugal juicer, see here. Just toss everything into your juicer and let it do the work!

You will need:

  • 3 romaine leaves
  • 3 kale leaves
  • 1 large cucumber or 2 medium
  • 5 ribs celery
  • 5 ribs parsley
  • 2 bunches (handfuls) rocket leaves – spinach also works
  • 1 bunch fresh mint leaves
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • lemon juice to taste
  • salt to taste

In good health,

F

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