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Healthy Holiday Baking Hacks-Chocolate Zucchini Bread in 10 minutes!

December 17, 2016

Tis the time of year where the days don’t just run by, they literally sprint –with an ever expanding to-do list. The frenzy starts with decorating the home inside and out and planning out the Christmas cards to send to people all over the planet. I always get lazy with this one and just take a pic of the kids outdoors somewhere when they happen to have their hair combed with clean clothes on. Holiday parties, piano concerts, and ballet performances go into high gear. Menu planning starts early, as I try to figure out the most compatible appetizers and main courses for people with various dietary preferences and restrictions. As far as gifts are concerned, I prefer the handmade variety over buying “stuff” that ends up in landfills. I love showing the special people in my life appreciation through homemade baked goods. I strategically plan baking when I’m stressed out the most, as this activity provides me therapeutic breaks during this hectic time of year.The process of measuring and mixing flours, butters, and spices is calming, and provides the added benefit of filling the house with a beautiful aroma and warmth on cold days. But best of all I get to give away the goodies so I don’t eat them all myself! 

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Aside from making baklava and cookies (baklava will be an upcoming video) I love making simple and healthy quick breads. Now my chocolate zucchini bread is almost magical, in that it takes under 10 minutes to make if using a food processor. I was inspired to make this bread when I had a bunch of cored out zucchini I used for another Arabic dish called “khousa mahshi. In this dish you core out the zucchini and stuff them with rice and meat. No one ever told me what to do with the cored out part of the zucchini which I didn’t want to waste!  So after experimenting with the healthiest ingredients I could find, my chocolate zucchini was born. Why add chocolate? Because it is the perfect disguise for the green vegetable in the bread, and the kids don’t even notice!

Now here are 4 healthy swap outs to make moist and satisfying quick bread:

  1. Sub any oil and butter  with coconut oil and or Greek Yogurt. The Greek yogurt does an especially amazing job of keeping the bread fluffy and moist, plus it adds a good amount of protein so that the bread is filling!
  2. Instead of regular sugar, use coconut or date sugar which is less processed. Coconut sugar is actually lower on the glycemic index, which means it won’t spike your blood sugar as much.
  3.  Vegetables also add a moistness and delicate flavor to breads. The veggies most compatible with sweet breads are: zucchini, pumpkin, avocado and even beets.
  4. If you are baking for someone with an egg allergy, use 1 tbs of flaxseed meal to 2 1/2 tbs of water–whisk before adding to the bread. Applesauce or mashed bananas (1/4 cup for every egg) are also great binding agents.

Now are you ready to bake with me? Click on the video below and get started! A grocery list is provided below 🙂  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 

GROCERY LIST

Zucchini

All-purpose flour

Unsweetened cocoa powder

Baking soda

Baking powder

Salt

Cinnamon

Greek yogurt

Coconut oil

Coconut sugar

Eggs

Vanilla extract

Semi sweet chocolate chips

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My New Cooking Classes in the San Francisco Bay Area!

December 3, 2016

I love Christmas, but not the landfill that surrounds it. I would much rather make homemade treats, or give gift certificates that support local business than buy “stuff” that ends up in the junk pile. If any of you have foodie friends, and want to give a gift of a culinary demonstration with a sampling of delicious food, I have got the idea for you! I will be working with Draeger’s markets to bring Feast in the Middle East to Bay Area foodies through cooking classes in 2017! These classes also make great Valentine’s or Mother’s Day gifts. 😉 So far the first class is on Wednesday February 8th, when I take guests on a culinary tour of the Levant. The menu will feature:

*Syrian Muhammara Dip Featuring Walnuts, Roasted Peppers and Pomegranate Molasses
*Egyptian Cucumber Tomato Salad with Mint and Parsley
*Palestinian Mussakhan— sumac and lemon seasoned chicken baked on flatbread and topped with caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts
*Layali Lubnan “Lebanese Nights”—soft semolina custard scented with rose water and topped with whipping cream and pistachios

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In April I will be celebrating spring with  a Middle Eastern Mezze Party, featuring:

Hummus with Sauteed Mushrooms and Toasted Pine Nuts
Arayes—“Bride and Groom” pita pocket sandwiches stuffed with seasoned beef kufta
Zucchini Pancakes withHerbs, Parmesan Cheese and Chickpea Flour Topped with Cucumber- Mint Creme Fraiche
Sahleb—rose-scented dessert beverage topped with pistachios, coconut and cinnamon

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These cooking demos also include wine and light appetizers. If you are interested in attending these demos CLICK HERE  I look forward to sharing great food memories with you!

Best wishes, B

Middle Eastern Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce…

November 18, 2016

I think this is the first time people really aren’t into the holiday spirit. I know some people dread Christmas because of the added stress of gift shopping, but Thanksgiving is when people really relax, indulge, and enjoy each other’s company. This year no one is even talking about Thanksgiving. Whatever side of the election you were on, I know it has been an emotionally exhausting time, from people unfriending each other on Facebook, to arguments at the water cooler, to protests in the streets. For many the transition from this election madness to Thanksgiving is almost schizophrenic, like how are we supposed to forget everything and just settle down to a table of turkey? Well, I am here to say that it is more important than ever to celebrate Thanksgiving. This can be a time of hope and healing, and focusing on what we have versus what we don’t have. A time to show others you truly love them and how grateful you are to have them in your lives. And a time to appreciate the food we have–in many war torn nations around the world from Syria to Yemen to Venezuela any kind of fresh food is a luxury. So, to help you get started in preparing your Thanksgiving table, I am going to share a recipe for a simple and humble root vegetable that is vibrant in color–the sweet potato.

 

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I love the Japanese idea of umami, that “other” sense of taste that you really can’t describe, a combination of sweet, sour, and salty. These sweet potatoes have all of the those flavors and then some. Lemon juice offers a tanginess, maple syrup and honey a sweetness, tahini a creaminess and richness, pistachios some nuttiness, and sweet potato an earthiness. Put them all together and you’ve got a winning side sweet potato dish that does away with those artificial tasting marshmallows you see in Thanksgiving recipes. This dish also can cater to people with all sorts of diets, whether gluten free, Whole 30, vegetarian, vegan, or paleo–so it’s great for entertaining. I had fun experimenting and developing this dish for you all, so I hope you enjoy this recipe and give me your feedback!

 

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As an aside, a lot of you have sent me e-mails asking why I don’t post videos more often, the easy answer is I don’t have the budget to post a video more than once a month. Feast in the Middle East is a collaborative effort, where I develop the content, but depend on my team to bring you these instructional videos, so that the video, lighting, and editing look professional. My ultimate goal would be to share a video recipe with you once a month, and if you are in the mood feel free to sponsor us on Patreon. Even $1.00 a month from many people will help us reach this goal. 😉 If you are interested please click on this LINK.

So are you ready to give these sweet potatoes a go? Click on the video below, and I have provided a grocery list below the video for your next shopping trip. 😉

 

GROCERY LIST:

2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams

Olive Oil

Maple Syrup

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Chopped Pistachios (without the shell)

Tahini Paste

Lemon

Tbs Honey

Onion Powder

Dried Mint

 

 

 

New Video: 7 Tips for Entertaining Guests from the Middle East!

November 3, 2016

My latest video is in response to many of YOU, the viewers, who wanted a video on how to entertain guests from the Middle East. During the summer I released a video about what to expect if you are INVITED to a Middle Eastern home. However many people are finding themselves in the reverse situation, having to do the entertaining instead of the “guesting” (Is that a word? Well it is now.) 🙂 Many of my viewers have significant others that are Arabic and want to impress their current or potential in-laws. Some are hosting friends from abroad. Some of my viewers have unusual situations, like teaching German to Syrian refugees and wanting to engage with them socially. Whatever your situation might be, I hope you find this video useful!  If you want me to create more cultural videos like this, leave any topics you want me to discuss in the comments below. I think this kind of dialogue is great for bringing people together, dispelling stereotypes, and creating mutual understanding. So, here is the video below, have a great weekend everyone!

 

Avochocolado! (Chocolate Mousse)

October 10, 2016

Do you find yourself wanted to pull out all of your hair during this election? Do you just want to run into a closet with a jar of Nutella and make it all go away? Maybe you fantasize about buying that bungalow on a beach in Bora Bora, just to stay there for the next four years. Well have no fear, I invite you to calm your senses and feed your soul with my Avochocolado Mousse recipe. I know, that sounds simplistic. How can we cure the world’s ills with chocolate? Of course we can’t do that, but we can make our lives a little sweeter and more enjoyable in a small healthy way each day. This mousse is made entirely from plant based foods that you can feel good about, and find in any supermarket:

 

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Now you might be thinking..”what the hell is that avocado doing in there Blanche? This ain’t guacamole!” But, hear me out, avocado is actually a fruit, and when you mix it with sweet flavors, it really works. This mousse is rich and creamy, and pairs beautifully with berries. It’s also dairy free and pretty much sugar free, because all of the sugar comes from the dates. I do add a couple of spoons of maple syrup in the video, but that is entirely optional.  I must admit I do torment my carnivorous brother with vegan surprises, and he was pretty skeptical about this treat, until he tried it. It was love at first bite:

 

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So, are you ready to try avochocolado? I promise you won’t regret making it if you are a chocolate lover, I mean just look at that lusciousness!

 

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To get you started, here is a grocery list:

Package Mejdool Dates (make sure they are really soft)

Nondairy milk of choice (almond or cashew work great)

Avocado

Vanilla extract

Cocoa powder (preferably free trade)

Maple syrup (optional)

Now for the tutorial, click on the video below. I would love to know what you think if you do give it a try. If you are too scared to try it out let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

“Salata Batata” Arab Style Potato Salad

September 14, 2016

Sometimes…you just want a healthy simple side dish to put on the table without much effort. Sometimes..you have to let go the fear of carbs and embrace the potato–the beautiful high fiber potato without the addition of cheese, frying, or all of that other food sabotage. Seriously why are people afraid of potatoes?  They are rich in vitamin C, folate, and have three times the potassium of a banana!  I wanted to make a side dish video that was appealing to beginning cooks, because many of you cooking newbies have been asking me for easy recipes. This potato salad is dairy free–no artery clogging mayonnaise in the mix, but the flavor is garlicky, tangy, and fresh from the added parsley and pickles. Feel free to add some olives too for extra vegan richness just like the pic below:

 

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As you might notice I also added purple potatoes because I love the different color and flavor. You can use any kind of white potato you want– red skinned, fingerling, or Yukon golds all taste lovely. This salad was ubiquitous in our childhood picnics to Napa Valley, where we went to escape the cold San Francisco summers. “Salata Batata”  goes great with a barbeque, or top with some cubed smoked tofu for a complete vegan meal. The only thing I was unsuccessful in doing in this video was to get my brother to take my picnic basket.

 

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For the recipe tutorial, click on the video below, and in seven minutes you too can enjoy this flavorful salad!

 

Grocery list:

2 pounds potatoes

Extra virgin olive oil

Garlic Powder

Parsley

Cornichon pickles

Salt and pepper

Lemons

Kalamata olives (optional)

Vacation Vlog-And How to Maintain Your Weight While Indulging on a Cruise

August 26, 2016

I remember the spontaneous days in my twenties when I used  to set aside a little money from every paycheck to take a trip to a new country each year. Ever since I had children though I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to, and my trips end up being big rowdy  family reunions. I do find cruises are a nice way to travel when you’re with a large group of people with different interests and ambitions. Today cruises cater to the youthful and active, as well as to the more laidback and even sedentary crowd. My father’s idea of vacation is chillin on the balcony looking at the ocean with a good drink and a bag of pistachios. My mom loves shopping at all the ports and playing rounds of  bingo. My hubby loves fine culinary experiences and musical theater. My kids love any good beach or pool. My brother and I love water sports and adventurous land tours. My sister just loves a spa treatment and a good steak. So, we learned that today’s cruises offer all of the above, and this year we decided to book a vacation on a new ship, the Norwegian Getaway. With its expansive bars, cheerful (often singing and dancing) staff, specialty dining, ropes course,  bowling alley, high end theatrical performances and water slides I knew no one would be bored on this ship.

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And here’s a funny thing: I learned that many people are fearful of going on ships because they don’t want to gain any weight or are afraid of getting seasick. Well, as someone that gets motion sickness from a playground swing, I can tell you I have never been seasick on a cruise. These ships are so massive that there would have to be a serious storm for you to feel any movement. Make sure you book a room in the center of the ship on the lower floor just in case to avoid any sway with windy days. As for fitting into your clothes on the plane ride home, here are some eating tips that will allow you to indulge without busting a gut:

1) For breakfast, I stick to simple eggs, either poached or sunny side up. I load up on raw fruit and a bowl of oatmeal with very little brown sugar and cinnamon. Notice, breakfast consists of whole unprocessed foods. Pastries and greasy meats are not going to give you energy, but weigh you down and bloat you from excess sodium and high glycemic carbs.

2) For lunch pile your plate high with veggies–either salad form, steamed, or any kind of vegetable you can get your hands on. After you finish all the veggies, then go for some lean protein, like chicken, white fish or shrimp. Forget the desserts at lunch, because they are not as good as the desserts at dinner.

3) I save most of my calories for dinner. Often I will order two or three appetizers in lieu of an entree so I can sample lots of different flavors.  I will always order lobster if it’s on the menu, or scallops or shrimp. Seafood feels indulgent and is very filling–yet  lower in calories and fat than red meat or even chicken.

4) For dinner I always get a dessert, from chocolate lava cake and  tiramisu to profiteroles or souffles–I eat at least 50% of dessert with lots of tea cups filled with hot water.Yes I really ask the waiter for hot water.  I learned to do this from my Asian girlfriends–who are all really tiny yet can surprisingly pack in those calories! Their theory is that the hot water helps digestion and melts the fat. So there you have it, an ancient Chinese secret that works for them 🙂

5) Now the activities to burn the calories are really important as well. I end up exercizing in some form on vacation at least 4 hours a day! What do I do other than swimming, snorkeling, or waverunning in the ocean? Watch the below  video to find out 🙂  In the following video I also give highlights of our summer trip, where 12 members of my family got to see Costa Maya Mexico, Isla Roatan Honduras, as well as Belize. What are your thoughts on cruising? Do you have any favorite ships or cruise ports? I would love to know! I will be back with a recipe next week so check back soon! Best, B