Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rose Baklava

As you may have already noticed, I'm a bit obsessed with Oriental desserts. When I was in Paris, of course I enjoyed a rich variety of French food, but I was also daily visiting the Turkish delights shop in the Latin Quarter. I was fascinated with interesting taste and appearance of their tiny colorful delights. Few years later my friend from Syria brought me a box of beautiful baklava. The box was meticulously decorated, and baklava was prepared with pistachio and cadaif. It was so delicious that no words can describe it. But it was not until recently that I started to prepare such treats at home.

Growing up in Croatia, Baklava was quite popular because of Bosnian neighborhood. Therefore Baklava was the only one among this kind of sweets that I was preparing for years, or better said “trying to prepare”. Of course I made baklava with store bought fillo dough - that’s easy. But the problem is how to make home-made dough baklava or some healthier version of this tasty treat. My idea was to make it with whole wheat flour and with less sugar. While the baklava without much sugar is an impossible task, often sugar can be cut in half and also be replaced with healthier choice of natural sweeteners like honey or agave syrup. However, the dough of whole meal flour is usually difficult to roll out very thin, so baklava becomes hard and it should be soaked in syrup for days to become edible. I experimented with all kinds of nuts, including pistachios. I came to my version of syrup made with honey, which is excellent. Recently I was at a Turkish dinner, for dessert, of course, was the baklava...and then I tried to make it again but didn’t get much further again. Around the same time my daughter came across and interesting cookbook in the library. It was the Persian children's cookbook titled "Happy Nowruz" Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year, from Najmieh Batmanglij. Cookbook is full of wonderful sweets served for this holiday, many of which we tried.

Among other delights, there was a recipe for baklava. The baklava was made up of only two layers of dough with almond filing in the middle, which I immediately recognized as a potential for my idea of baklava from whole meal flour. It was full of spices, and the idea with rose petals immediately won me visually. But still I had to change the flour, reduce the sugar, I added honey, flax seeds, mint, and changed the amount and selection of few spices. That’s how this fragrant baklava recipe was accomplished and it has become our favorite family recipe and the secret that I am unveiling to you to celebrate spring. If you cannot get rose petals, remember this recipe soon, when first roses start to bloom.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fragrant Vegan Cookies from a Buddhist monastery Tassajara

I used a recipe from the Tassajara as an inspiration for my first cookies that I have made with Stevia. Good news for those who avoid sugar in food – they turned out very tasty, and stevia in cookies is even better than in drinks.

"Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a Buddhist temple located near San Francisco. Among other things, it is known for its healthy gourmet cuisine. Recently published cookbook "Tassajara Cookbook" by Carla Oliveira is about with the part of Tassajara’s kitchen which is the most popular - recipes for snacks, picnics & appetizers.

These cookies are like the usual vegan oat cookies, but in addition to not containing eggs or dairy products, they are made with many spices, pepper among others. These cookies are packed with energy, so they make excellent breakfast or dessert for packed lunch. I tried several recipes for cookies in which the eggs and butter are replaced by a banana, but this is by far my favorites. I think they differ from other healthy cookies by a large amount of spices and the addition of dark chocolate, though only ½ cup of this otherwise rather large amount of cookies. They are very simple to prepare.

These cookies are becoming my favorite routine - when the kids fall asleep and after my evening yoga session, I relax with one of the cookies and a cup of Ayurvedic tea. I convinced myself that great amount of these healthy spices will scare away all the viruses from me and so far it works for me. Maybe it can do a miracle to you too!

Let me finish this introduction with a quote from Tassajara Cookbook: "When you cook, you are not just working on food, you are working on yourself, you are working on others." Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Iced Oranges

Lovely idea for this healthy and attractive desert I found in a Spanish cookbook, or better said the manual for cooking "Best of Spain". The original recipe sought for much more oranges and large amounts of sugar cooked in syrup along with fruits, so I decided to simplify it, to avoid added sugar, and vitamin destruction by cooking fruits. I made a simple orange sorbet with fresh cranberries, added honey and decorated it with fragrant bay leaves. The dessert is so simple that it hardly can be called a recipe - this is more an idea.

Although most of us love to eat dessert after meals, it is often more about ritual than the actual need. Even more common is the fact that sweet and fatty desserts are totally unnecessary and can only lead to feelings of guilt and weight in our stomach. The beautiful presentation of this fresh dessert will satisfy even the most finicky gourmand. At the same time, unlike most fruit, which is not good to eat after a meal because it can interfere with digestion, citrus fruits are allowed, even desirable, as vitamin C from oranges will enable the absorption of iron that you probably eat in the main meal.

If you can, use organic oranges. Otherwise, soak oranges in solution of water, salt and lemon juice or vinegar for 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Although you will not eat the peel, most oranges have been treated with pesticides that do not want to have on your plate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Carrot Orange Bundt Cake with Candied Carrot Curls

I became fond of Carrot Cake while I lived in London. Ever since the first time I made it at home, it was a hit on a variety of parties including children’s birthday parties. It was adorn even by children who didn’t liked cakes at all. Only after several years of continuous making of carrot cake I cooled down a bit from it and last time, after a long time, I prepared it for the last New Year's Eve.

Somehow, the decision was made that for Christmas I will make Carrot Cake in a mold for Bundt Cake. I decorate it with candied carrots curls, recipe from Gourmet Magazine, December 2007. I have always used cheese icing on Carrot Cake so this was the first time I used plain sugar icing because I thought that it emphasizes the beautiful shape of Bundt Cake better. It was also more suitable base for these pretty carrot decorations. Instead of walnuts, I used almonds, substituted part of flour with whole wheat flour and I have also added a bit of orange zest and ginger.