Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Healthy Coconut Date Bars

My husband, son, and I just got back from Palm Desert, California. It was our first time in California and third time in a desert. We learned some interesting facts about the desert there that made us appreciate the place even more now. Many people think of a desert as being hot and dry but Palm Desert is actually quite wet. There is water underneath the soil. A lot of it but it's pretty deep underground. We were told you could pretty much plant anything and it will grow. In some places in the desert you can actually press down on the ground and you will actually see bubbles come up. Fascinating!

The weekend we arrived, we visited the street fair down at the college, moments after first learning about it. I was so glad we did. It was huge! There were crafts, art, furniture, food stands, farmer's market, and pretty much everything you could expect at a craft and food market. When we got to the food stands, we noticed tables and tables of nuts and dried fruit, especially dates. When they told us that the dates were from the region in the Coachella Valley, we had to buy some. Local is best! The dates were so fresh and soft. They sort of just melt in your mouth. My husband is a big fan of dates. We actually have a large supply at home already but these looked better :) Also, we paid way more for them back home. At the street fair, they were charging just $3/lb. That's a good deal!

Weekend street fair at the college in Palm Desert, CA.

During our stay in Palm Desert, our resort had a host of activities for us. When they offered their date tasting class, I signed us all up. This one was complimentary and since we all liked dates, it was a pretty easy decision to go. We watched a video on how dates came to California and what takes place in growing them. It's actually a lot of work to grow dates. No wonder they are expensive. After the video, we got to try 6 (or 7?) different kinds of dates. The Royal Medjool is probably the most famous one and it's actually one of the two I preferred at the tasting. My 4 year old picked them all as his favorites. Of course :)

Needless to say, we now have too many dates at home. I'm getting a bit sick of eating them as well so I have now resorted to baking. I actually like traditional date bars but they seemed a bit boring. Then I came across a blackberry bar recipe that uses coconut oil and I was inspired :) Coconut and dates? Yes, please! As an extra bonus, it's vegan as well :) My dear husband is going to love me a little more today.

Can you tell I put it by the window? :)

Healthy Coconut Date Bars
Makes 20 medium bars
(Inspired by yummy mummy kitchen)

2 cups pitted Royal Medjool dates (about 12-14 dates)
1/2 to 2/3 cups hot water
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup quick oats
1 cup solid coconut oil
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup vanilla sugar (or plain sugar)

Soak the dates in the hot water. After about 5 minutes, mash them a bit with a fork. Mix together the flour, oats, coconut oil, agave syrup, and salt until it resembles crumbs. Press at least half of this at the bottom of a brownie pan. Spread the mashed dates over top. Pour the remaining crumb mixture over top. Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan about half way.

When it's done, let it cool before cutting into it. Sprinkle over 1/4 cup vanilla sugar. Cut into bars and enjoy!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Almond Crusted Goat Cheese with Honey Beets

I'm on a roll with all these simple and fast recipes! Today I created a simple salad out of beets and goat cheese I had to finish. My original idea was to use panko crumbs or regular bread crumbs to coat the goat cheese. I didn't have any of those on hand so I used almonds. Well, I could have created crumbs out of some crackers or tried mini toast but my idea of using almonds sounded better :)

My husband and I tend to hoard nuts and almonds are one of our favorite nuts to snack and cook with. I think it all started when I made granola a couple of years ago. Now, we always make sure we have a few variety of nuts around for that. Whenever there is a nut sale on big bags, we buy them. The big bags are usually good for awhile too. When the blanched almonds go on sale in the bulk section, I get those for cooking. My husband also eats nuts with his cereal so we actually consume our nuts quite quickly.

I love that this beet and goat cheese salad is so simple and classy at the same time. I can totally see this being served as the first course at a fancy gathering accompanied with some crusty homemade artisan bread. If you are generous with the portions, it could be eaten alone as well and be quite filling. Especially if you serve it with bread and use the bread to dip and clean off all the juices from your plate!

Caution: Don't be alarm the next time you pee or do #2. Beets will go right through your system, trust me! We have been eating a lot of beets in the past few months so we know what to expect now. Lol.

Beets being fried up in a wok.

Some of the sliced goat cheese coated with grind up almonds.

Almond Crusted Goat Cheese with Honey Beets
Serves 5
(Inspired by The Crispy Goat Cheese Salad)

6-7 medium beets, sliced
1tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt

4 inch log of goat cheese, sliced
3/4 cups blanched almonds, grinded
1 bunch spinach, washed and spun dry
salt/pepper to taste

Fry beets with oil. Add honey. Cook until beets can be easily pierced through with a fork. Turn off heat and add balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt.

Coat goat cheese slices in almond. Toast this until it's light brown (see photos). You can use a toaster oven to bake it. I used my panini grill since it was more convenient.

To assemble, place some spinach first, then a few beet slices. Spoon over some of the juices and sauce from the fried beets. Finally, top with a couple of goat cheese slices. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you like.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Basa Fillets in Red Coconut Curry

One of my easiest and favorite meals is coconut curry with rice. I know there are a gazillion versions of coconut curry out there so I'll share the version I make when I'm in a rush for a quick meal. Incidentally, this version is also one of my favorites as well :)

Lately, I have been super busy with work. For those who don't know what my day job is, I am a User Experience Designer and Project Manager for a math editor site called Out of all the geeks on the team, I am also the most qualified to take on all the social media responsibilities. We just launched our Indiegogo campaign this morning so I pretty much spent all day on promotional work. Look at me! I'm still promoting right now! Lol. I needed a break and decided it was a good time to cook something and blog :)

Because I was so busy today, I ended up working later than usual so I only had around 30 minutes to make dinner. Luckily, I wasn't worried. I already planned on making my coconut curry and after having made it many times before I knew it would be nice and quick :)

I love this curry not only because it's very little work to make, but also because it's incredibly tasty, healthy, and I love COCONUT! Remember my haupia recipe? I already went all gaga over coconut on that post so I won't do it again here :) I mean you really can't go wrong with coconut. Or fish.

The curry dish I'm about to share tastes great with steamed rice or pasta. I personally prefer rice with my curries but when I served this with pasta for my parents one time, they raved about it! My parents don't eat pasta often and probably have only ever had pasta with a tomato based sauce. They were just surprised and delighted to have pasta with an Asian type sauce. What? You can do that?! Sure! Tonight, I actually served my coconut curry with a mix of rice, quinoa, and millet. Honestly, it will go well with any kind of grain or seed, in the case of quinoa.

Hey Food Stylers, how am I doing?

Basa Fillets in Red Coconut Curry
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 fennel, chopped
3 stalks (aka ribs) of celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & chopped
2-3 lbs boneless basa fillets, sliced in big pieces

1 1/2 tbsp curry paste (more if you like it SPICY!)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 can (400 ml) coconut cream (or coconut milk)

Melt coconut oil in a big pot. Add fennel, celery, and carrots. Fry for a few minutes. Add curry paste and stir for another minute. Add coconut cream, sugar and fish sauce. Notice that the coconut cream is thicker and creamier than coconut milk. Stir for a couple of minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Finally add the basa fillets. Stir and cover at low heat for about 5 minutes.

The idea is to cook things that take longer to cook first and then throw in what cooks quickly near the end. If you overcook the sweet potatoes, they will mash and break apart. I wanted them to be cooked but still be firm. Same thing with the fish.

Serve the curry with a side of rice or pasta. The rice, quinoa, and millet combination you see here was drizzled with fried garlic oil.

Do you have a favorite curry you make often? What sorts of vegetables do you like to see in your curries? Do you like to serve curry with rice, pasta, or bread?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ring Pasta with Italian Sausage and Colorful Peppers

After my cooking and baking marathon during the holidays in December, I just haven't been in the mood to cook much in the kitchen lately. I know I don't have to blog all the time but as a mom and as the cook in the family, I still have to provide food every day. Sadly, it's true :( Whether I like it or not, I still have to think about what to eat all the time. Some days, I just don't want to! See what kind of sour mood I am in?!

Tonight, I whipped up a simple pasta dish that looked pretty enough to be blog-worthy. Don't worry, it tastes pretty good too :) If you are in the kind of mood that I am in right now, where you just want to fix up a quick dinner, possibly using whatever you have in your fridge, then this recipe is for you. I threw it together in probably 15 minutes. Then I took maybe another 10 minutes to write it down, food style the dish, and take pictures. Lol.

I always liked the combination of Italian sausages and sweet colored peppers and since I had both, it was a no-brainer for me to use them. We had veggie dip during the week and served them with colored peppers and carrots. We ate all the carrots but we still had colored peppers. I also had some leftover shallots cut up from a previous dish. Yes, this dish came about from me having to use up leftover groceries from my fridge! Once again.

I used my wok to fry everything up before adding the pasta. The smell of sausages and peppers being cooked on the stovetop drove my hungry husband running downstairs to spy on my dish. "Mmm. Smelling good! What is it??" He ran 22km today and couldn't wait to get his hands on dinner. It's his lucky day because I made this dish vegan just for him! Am I not the best wife, or what? :)

Ring Pasta with Italian Sausage and Colorful Peppers
Serves 4-5

500 grams pasta
1 pack concentrated vegetable stock

3 color peppers, sliced
1 pack of Italian sausages (I used a 380g pack of Yves Vegan Italian sausages), sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch of flowering chive bud, chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes
1 tsp dried Provence herbs (or just use a mix of some dried herbs like thyme, basil etc.)
2 tbsp garlic infused olive oil (or use just olive oil and add some garlic to your dish)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta until al dente in a stock pot with the vegetable stock. I used around 1 to 1 1/2 Liters of water. Drain the pasta.

In a large frying pan, fry the sausages in the 1 tbsp of olive oil until slightly browned. Add peppers, chives, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, and dried herbs. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cooked pasta and mix well. There is quite a bit here so you may want to use a large bowl to mix everything together. Drizzle with garlic infused olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

If hosting Christmas dinner wasn't enough, I hosted New Year's Eve dinner as well. It just feels like too much since the holidays are so close together. However compared to Christmas, the dinner we had the evening of December 31st was such a breeze. I only made four dishes and two desserts.

My friend was visiting us from California. She came on the 31st and then left on the 2nd. It was perfect because we got to have our home cooked meal on the 31st for New Year's Eve and then we hung out on the 1st and went out for dinner for my birthday. Yes, I'm a New Year's baby. We got to celebrate two events while she was here!

New Year's Eve cookies. I had no champagne cutters so I used margaritas. Alcohol is alcohol, right?

New Year's Eve was a relaxing cooking day for me. My cookies were mainly complete since I only had to finish off the countdown clocks. I say "countdown" clock since I had a couple of people ask me what the clocks were for. Lol. I have never made cookies themed for New Year's Eve before but when I went searching for ideas, I saw clocks everywhere! Countdown to midnight! Or just countdown to 2013 :) My cake layers were baked already but I had to remove them from their pans, assemble and frost them and decorate. Nothing crazy so it was easy peasy.

I was aiming for a "retro" look.

I baked more dutch oven bread that day since I knew it was the type of stuff my friend would love. She is actually a lot like me when it comes to food. She used to live in Victoria, had her own organic garden and would invite us over for home cooked soup, where everything came straight from her garden. If she was a mamma, she would definitely be a "crunchy" one :) Once again, I went all Martha Stewart with the party but if any one of my friends would appreciate it, it would be her. I'm really glad I was able to cook a nice home cooked meal for her. Apparently, it was a big treat for her since her job has become so demanding that she actually eats out around 70% of the time. I cannot imagine. In comparison, we probably eat out once a month. That would include take out food as well.

My 4 year old boy sneaking into the picture.

My sister and her family also came by and joined us for dinner on New Year's Eve. We had a lot of food but it didn't feel like I over did it. Everything I made turned out great. However, I was a bit disappointed with the new cake recipe. I have a favorite chocolate cake recipe and every time I try a new recipe, I like my go-to-chocolate-cake recipe even more. People on Annie's blog raved about the peanut butter frosting so I had to try it but I wasn't a huge fan :( I think the cool whip was not a great idea. I really don't like to use processed food in my baking. I'm a big food snob that way. At least I got it out of my system because I had wanted to make this sort of cake for awhile now.

My New Year's Eve Menu


Artisan bread with olive oil & promegranate balsamic vinegar dip
Foie gras (bought)
Spinach & artichoke dip (with added mozzarella)
Veggie tortillas and crackers (bought)

Drinks: French Kirs, California red wine, pear sparkling juice


Seafood clam chowder
Rotini pasta with mushroom & truffle oil sauce


Sugar cookies
Chocolate cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting

On the 1st we spent a relaxing day showing my friend around Steveston Village in Richmond and then we went to Mirch Masala in Surrey for dinner. We had cake for dessert at home. My friend surprised me with a cake she bought from San Francisco! Yes, she carried it over here on the plane just for me :) She totally pampered me on my birthday! I got some nice gifts too. I have to say I am definitely not used to this sort of treatment. Don't get me wrong. I'm totally spoiled but it's usually me that spoils myself. Lol. It's been years since we have seen her. I cannot remember the last time someone else bought me a birthday cake. It was so very sweet of her! Also, the cake was delicious. Much better than the one I baked above.

Happy New Year! Would love to hear how you celebrated 2013. Are you glad it's 2013? 2012 wasn't so bad for us but we're looking forward to 2013! Yay :)
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