Almond Coconut Bars

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My super awesome friend Heidi. Is that a random way to start a blog post about “almond joy” bars? You may think so… But let me take you back to a time long long ago when a few friends were enjoying a nice meal together…

JUST KIDDING! This happened last week. And the friends were my friends and I. Including… drum roll… Heidi! She had mentioned she made these amazing coconut chocolate almond bars at work to sell and said she got a hold of a few to take with her to a dinner our friends were having for us. The night passed, we ate our Saudi friends’ amazing home-made Kebsah, (blog post about this coming out in the near future), laughed a lot, did some crazy friend stuff and finally, as we are sitting down doing our own things, I start zoning out imagining of a world made of coconut clouds dipped in chocolate…

Then, suddenly, I wake up and realize these exact beauties are waiting for me in the freezer… I sneak around to the kitchen and try one. Except, I couldn’t just have one, I had to have a second one. As much as I could have easily eaten my third, fourth, and fifth pieces, I realized there were only six pieces in the container and if I had any more, there would not be any left for anybody else and they would definitely have known I was a fat-ass who gobbled down all of the pieces.

I went back home. I laid in bed. I fell asleep… and dreamt about the coconut goodness.

The next day, I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. I decided I would try them out in my own kitchen. I called Heidi and asked for the recipe. They turned out so flawlessly that I had to share them with the world, so you’re welcome:

For about 16-18 individually sized rectangles, I used,

2 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (if you live in a terribly cold place like me just pop it in the microwave for a few seconds)

3 TBSP of pure maple syrup (none of that fake, Aunt Gemima crap)

1 cup dark/ semi-sweet (vegan) chocolate chips

2 TSP coconut oil

Roasted whole almonds

First I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, in a bowl I mixed the coconut with the 1/2 cup of coconut oil and the maple syrup and stirred with a large wooden/ rubber spoon until it all turned into a homogenous shape-holding mixture. I dumped this mixture onto my line-baking sheet and with my clean hands, pressed this mixture into a large rectangular shape of about 1/4 inch thickness. I placed this into the freezer for about 20 minutes while I worked on my chocolate.

Using a double boiler/ bain-marie, I stirred the chocolate chips with the 2 teaspoons of coconut oil until this turned liquid and melted into a beautifully velvety chocolate sauce. You can temper the chocolate at this point if it isn’t already tempered, or if you know how to do this, but if not, don’t worry about it (just make sure to store the final product- the bars in the fridge).

As the chocolate melted slowly, I took out the coconut rectangle from the freezer and cut it into smaller rectangles with care, as they tend to break easily.

I lined another baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside, next to my melted chocolate bowl. Finally, I started dipping the bars into the chocolate with my hands and placed the dipped bars onto the clean, lined baking sheet. Next, I plopped two tiny circles of chocolate on top of each bar and placed the almonds on top of the chocolate to stick.

Finally, I drizzled chocolate over the bars for the finishing touch.

WARNING: If you attempt to make these, be warned they are hard to resist.

GO BANANAS! Or… CocoNUTS! Oh, and the best part about them? They are 100% vegan!!!

 

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My First Recipe Creation!

I had a few very ripe bananas sitting on my counter for a while now. On Monday I looked at them as they sadly looked back at me. It was like they were yelling to me, “save us!” I had so many other responsibilities awaiting, but I felt guilty walking away from the dying bananas… So what else do you make with overly ripe bananas other than banana bread?

UPSIDE DOWN CARAMELIZED BANANA CAKE!!

Yep, I made that. And it was absolutely amazing. It was gone in two days.

Check it out:

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It was like I suddenly had a jolt of ideas and started caramelizing the bananas. My whole house smelled like brown sugar and butter melting and bubbling to perfection. The best part about this cake is that it does not take any oil, but instead, apple sauce. It turned out fluffy, moist, caramel-y, and the perfect balance of cinnamon and sugar to give life some meaning during these upcoming cold days.

Seriously thinking of starting a business of some sort… Cupcakes, cookies, cakes (wedding and party cakes), muffins, desserts, Brazilian desserts…you name it! Thoughts?

Tackling the Fear of Tiramisu

Have you ever taken a bite of a tiramisu just to discover it brought you to a magical, fluffy, heavenly place? If not, I am so sorry. Try to experience this at least once in your life. If yes, then you know what I am talking about… I had this “outter body” experience when I tried a specific tiramisu in Italy. It was a simple restaurant down the street where I was staying at the time, and it has probably been made there since the beginning with the same old chef… To me, however, I don’t know if it was because I was in a different environment, but this tiramisu seemed like a piece of a cloud with chocolate on top. The definition of perfection.

The key to a good tiramisu is to have the lady fingers be fluffy and moist, but not too soaked. With this recipe (pictured above), I tried to keep in mind that the dessert would sit in the fridge overnight and that it wouldn’t only have absorbed the coffee, but the custard that was layered with it as well. I had great success with coffee made out of a mock pot, or a machianetta. Coffee made with this pot creates something stronger than regular espresso, which in turn gives off very strong coffee flavor even after a few days. After living in Italy, I developed a very strong appreciation for bold, strong black coffee, and the machianetta allows me to recreate that flavor here in the U.S. For those who don’t know what this coffee maker is, it is a stove-top pot that produces coffee by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee (bottom up).

What I really liked about this recipe too was the fact it called for orange and lime zest, to soften out the egg yolk flavor. Additionally, although many tiramisu recipes call for only egg yolks and no egg whites, this one I made called for whipped egg whites to be incorporated with the mascarpone cheese and egg yolks to form the custard. Which, I found to turn the custard very fluffy and airy and reminded me of that tiramisu I had in Florence.

Did you know tiramisu means “pick me up” for the fact it has strong espresso inside and the heavy mix of eggs and sugar, that all add to give you a pick me up of caffeine and sugar… what else can you ask for in a dessert?

Softest Banana Chocolate Muffins

Last week I came across a recipe I found by a foodie/ blogger called With Peanut Butter on Top, and it was called Chocolate Chip Banana Yogurt Muffins, making them a healthier version of breakfast muffins, with way less fat and sugars (these only found in the chocolate chips and walnuts and a little from the coconut sugar- which is actually not a bad type of sugar!) but actually with a pretty good amount of protein and fiber! I decided to adapt the recipe using apple sauce instead of yogurt, less coconut sugar, and the wheat flour with some flax seed. I also opted for sliced almonds instead of walnuts. These babies came out SO moist and wonderful, they brought me back memories from an older time, when going to your grandma’s house meant cakes, pastries, and afternoon coffee on a rainy day! Is there anything more comforting??

Anyway, with the flax seed, these muffins have even more fiber  and the apple sauce is the substitute for oil! You can also opt to omit the chocolate chips if you really are looking to cut down but these allow for a still fun diet! Who says losing weight has to be boring??

If you want to try them, here is my recipe:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 very ripe bananas (for natural sweetness)
  • 1 cup apple sauce (unsweetened)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 cup oat flour (you can easily make this by putting some rolled oats into a food processor)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup mini dark (or semi-sweet) chocolate chunks (I LOVE the Trader Joes ones)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds (or nut of choice)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin/ cupcake tin with paper liners (spray with a tiny bit of non-stick cooking spray)
  2. In a large bowl, add the banana and mash them with a fork. Add sugar, apple sauce, vanilla extract, and eggs. Mix again.
  3. In a smaller, separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  4. Slowly add the dry mix into the wet mix, adding a little at a time (Don’t vigorously over-mix. Stop when dry and wet have just come together).
  5. Add in chocolate chips and nuts and fill muffin tray 1/4 full.
  6. Put them in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

ENJOY!!

These are best fresh out the oven with some coffee in the morning, or can be frozen and put in the microwave to warm for 15 seconds when you are craving some.

Let me know how yours turns out!!

Slave Food

I love learning about the history of certain foods and meals. Where did something so unique come from? How did it start? Who cooked it first? What was happening at that specific country at this time in history? I could smell the sweet coconut and corn scent ar my house tonight and went down to my mother’s kitchen. It wasn’t a surprise to me that she was cooking a big batch of canjica. Canjica is a very old and classic Brazilian dish usually made during the month of June for the Festa Junina, or “June festival,” which celebrates the nativity of St. John the Baptist. Festa Junina is celebrated in the beginning of winter back in Brazil. This is a huge festival during the month that celebrates rural life, and was first introduced by the Portuguese during the colonial period (1500- 1822).

This dish (canjica, or also known as mugunza), is very popular during this June festival and it is sort of like a porridge made with de-germed white corn kernels, cooked with coconut milk, milk, coconut shavings, sugar, and spices until tender and thick. The kernels are tender to the bite but the milk liquid is not thin or too thick like a pudding, but more in between, making this the perfectly nostalgic dish to eat during the winter. As I tasted my mom’s canjica on this rainy night, it felt comforting and warm; it tasted to me like home and family. But where has this popular Brazilian dish come from? Canjica is celebrated during the rural festivities, but why was it started in the rural areas? And how? I decided to investigate.

It turns out this dish is of none other than of African influence! Just like the famous feijoada, canjica also has thick African roots, firstly created by slaves during colonial times, and brought by them straight from various countries in Africa.

There is lots of controversy of where the term “canjica” came from. There is strong suggestion that it is derived from the term “kandjica” from the African language Quimbundo, spoken in Angola. This term in Angola is actually the name for a thick corn cooked porridge, so it makes pretty much a lot of sense it would be derived from here. Others say it could have come from Asia as well…

Whether from Asia or Africa, this famous June festival dish has become very famous in Brazilian rural areas and now all over the country, and nobody can deny the comfort level of this dish in freezing New England winter days. If you are a coconut fan, you should give it a shot!

So if you want to try it at home, the rough recipe is as follows:

Two 15-ounce cans/bags whole dried white hominy (or sweet corn)

3-4 cups whole/ skim milk (don’t be shy with the milk, it gets absorbed with time)

1 cup sugar, or to taste (canjica should not be overly sweet)

1 cup thick coconut milk

1-1/2 cups of fresh grated coconut

Cloves (optional)

Cinnamon (optional)

Toppings (optional): Ground roasted peanuts, cinnamon, and condensed milk

Wash and drain hominy. Soak kernels for a few hours (preferably overnight). Drain. Add milk and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until hominy is soft, stirring occasionally. Add  coconut milk, sugar, and coconut flakes. Simmer for about one hour until thick, stirring occasionally. Transfer mixture into a serving bowl or several small ramekins. Add cinnamon and cloves for flavor and optional toppings. Enjoy warm or chilled.

Keeps well in a fridge for 1 week or freezer for 3 months

Serves 8

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Just Another bite…


So you know those meals that when you take that first bite, your entire mouth feels like there are mini fireworks going off?? Suddenly, you have a mini Niagara Falls inside of you bursting with flavor, texture, and love? This was how my graduation meal had felt like.

Yes, I graduated. Congrats to me. “Yay to real life” they say. I have barely experienced life post college yet, and I don’t know what’s waiting ahead for me. What I do know, however, is that I wish I could freeze this moment in time and go back to it whenever I wanted. I had heard about Cafe Mantic many times before. Everyone told me I had to try it and how perfect it was to go on a date or for a special occasion. Previously a local cafe, Cafe Mantic was revamped into a 5-star restaurant that looks and feels like it belongs on the corner of trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After it received a New York Times review, suddenly the restaurant started booming with customers, some of which came from miles away just to try it. And no kidding! This place is worth every mile driven. I, personally live about one hour and a half away but I am already planning to go back and try it again.

That night, we started with their homemade hummus and pita chips, their freshly made ricotta and their bread. Oh and let’s not forget the beautiful Chardonney that the server suggested. These were all such classic and beautiful choices but that were clearly made with love. I am getting hungry just thinking about it. I tried their new special, the lobster carbonara. I am so so sorry I don’t have pictures of these. This was maybe the best pasta carbonara I have ever had! This was also my first time having lobster and I will never let that pass. I wish I had tried lobster earlier. With the fresh egg noodles and creamy carbonara sauce, however, the lobster became a rockstar.

And finally, as pictured above, we ordered the passion fruit creme brûlée with a dark chocolate base and the chocolate truffles. Oh my lord! This was maybe the best ending to the best night. After dinner we took a look around and the place even has a back patio where they serve meals at special occasions during the summer where anyone is welcome. The little Christmas lights, smooth music, and the bliss of that evening could not have topped off the night in a better way. This day made me feel so blessed and so alive. Truly, the perfect ending to the best four years of my life!

Summertime Sadness

I sit in this International Politics class, wearing a heavy sweater. There is currently a snow storm happening outside, and it is about 30 degrees.

A sudden burst of the southern Italian summer breeze passes by me and I cannot help but daydream about my time in the Amalfi Coast almost exactly a year ago… Where has time gone? I feel like I was just standing on the golden grounds of Positano, taking pictures of the five-pound lemons, the size of my face.

The water, crystal clear like a dream, I had never seen anything like that. Capri was truly mesmerizing. That day, I remember it exactly, I was not feeling well but decided to still join the tour group around the city of Capri… Little did I know that was all I needed to feel well again. The waters were so turquoise blue (my favorite!!), and clear that you could see small fish swimming by; the life under that ocean I was standing next to seemed so immense, I felt small compared to the beauty of nature.

Lunch time could not have been more perfect, we sat by the ocean, and I ordered fresh salmon nhoqui. If you don’t know what that is, you have to try it out! They are these small hand-rolled potato almost- dumplings that can be paired with any sauce. I am not lying when I say that was the best salmon and nhoqui I have ever had. And I’ve had too much nhoqui in my life for a 22 year-old. (My mom used to make it on the 29th of every month because it is a tradition in Brazil to put a money bill under your plate as you eat it to bring you luck) Did I mention the creamy sauce?? I don’t know how this was made, I am pretty sure some type of alcohol was involved (as with most Italian dishes…), but it was the most perfect pairing to go with the nhoqui and fish.

As I ate this amazing meal, heard the ocean sparkle and the smell of fresh salt water entered my nostrils, while the warm sunlight was kissing my skin, I couldn’t help but take it all in and think this was the most perfect day I have ever experienced. It didn’t matter that I was feeling sick before, that my family wasn’t there with me (although that would have made it even more perfect,) but my own company on a day like this in Capri made me realize I had never been more glad to be born into this Earth.

A Love Letter

Dear Croatia,

Thank you for your graciously welcoming weekend, almost a year ago… Your bright blue skies, shiny sun rays, and diamond-clear waters made it impossible to forget you. Thank you for giving me new hopes and a new hunger for the world. Living in a single city sometimes can make people see only dark, ugly sides of the world, but traveling and actually being there, can make one see this Earth in a much different light.

And you were definitely part of that. The 12 hour bus ride there and back was worth all of the back pains and sleepless seconds. Something about your slippery white stone streets, and the ocean breeze make you very attractive. That one weekend of love and passion with you has never slipped my mind. I hope you know that I will never forget you and that I plan on coming back for more.

So thank you again, for making me believe in life, love, and beauty- but not physical beauty. The kind of beauty that can only be found from within, that was found in your culture and in your atmosphere.

Love, Julia.

Italians

Italians are loud. Italians are VERY loud. And Italians are beautiful, except for the fact a lot of them have bad, crooked teeth. But the top three things I have learned about Italians are that they are very well dressed and taken care of, are loud and emotional (in a good way), and they love good quality food.

Not only in my classes, but in the things I read, observe, and experience, I have noticed all of these things.

EXCEPT… this is all false…. besides the food fact.

Italians are obsessed with the way they look because having a good figure “bella figure” here means sometimes more than your social status, or it shows your social status. Sometimes you might see a gorgeous Italian dressed with a top notch outfit, with the perfect nails, hair, and makeup but this may be the only outfit she may have. And she probably has worked very hard to be able to buy that outfit. Also, Italians are loud because just like the Italian opera, emotions NEED to be expressed here.

Italians feel an urgent need to express how they feel, not only to their friends and family but to their friends and family in public so that people know what is going on. I often see couples who seem like they are about to get arrested from arguing very loudly in the middle of the street, but then I realize nobody else is even looking or noticing them because this is a normal thing to do here. Couples also explicitly makeout in the middle of the piazzas here but that is something I wish to not get into…

Anyway, Italy may not be exactly what it seems. It is a gorgeous, diverse country (with very different accents, foods, customs, and people within a single country). However, it has a lot of problems many may not even know exist. If you come visit Italy for a few weeks, even a month maybe you may not even notice these problems. But after living for some time here you can start noticing what lies underneath the surface. And all of this helps to explain so much about Italians and the culture.