Vegan chocolate protein bliss balls

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Not long ago some acquaintances were raving about some protein bars that happen to come from Sweden. I will eventually get around to experimenting with making some approximation of those… but in the interim, doing my customary recipe research, I found a recipe for vegan chocolate protein ‘bliss balls’. I’m always looking for vegan stuff to try as well as gluten-free options (and this can be gluten-free too as long as your oats and protein powder of choice are GF). I’m not big on “protein bars” or snacks or what have you, but I know they are popular with many, so here’s my first foray into this world. Very easy, requiring no baking at all – just a bunch of ingredients thrown into a food processor and a tiny bit of mess when you roll them.

Vegan chocolate protein bliss balls (recipe)

1 cup almonds
1/2 cup oats
46-50 grams vegan chocolate protein powder
1/3 cup packed, pitted and chopped dates
about 1/4 cup almond milk (or water)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, if desired

Throw everything into a food processor. Blend until you have a thick, smooth paste that you can easily roll into balls. You can then roll this in some coating (I used unsweetened cocoa powder). Store in the fridge. I think I made about 24 from this recipe.

I really can’t tell you what these taste like – I have never tried them and I am a bit too disgusted by dates to even put one of these in my mouth to find out if it’s edible, so I will have to rely on others to give me a verdict.

On the cooking wagon with no kitchen to cook in: Afghan pumpkin & beef with yogurt sauce

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My thoroughly kitchen-experimental side has stirred and it pokes at me again and again, not fully understanding that I live my life during the week in hotels, sans cuisine (quelle horreur!). I spent two solid days dreaming of making a rich, aromatic chicken pho, and now suddenly, the urge to make an Afghan dish (bourani kadoo), comprised of roasted pumpkin, beef and a yogurt-mint sauce, has completely overtaken me. Why – who knows? I saw the word “Bagram” in connection with an air base in Afghanistan, which made me think about the Afghan restaurant I had passed by so many times in Vancouver, Canada (need I even say that Vancouver is one of the best cities in the entire world – hands down? Most definitely for food but also just because it is fabulous) but never went to.

And what do I know about Afghanistan or Afghan cuisine really? Absolument rien! For me it’s a strangely beautiful and mysterious place with an equally enigmatic history. Some part of me loves it and wishes I knew more. It is all obscured by warfare and the Taliban, but I don’t let those things blind me.

I love pumpkin, though, and I will look for any reason at all to use it somewhere, somehow in my baking and even in my cooking.

The trouble, apart from lacking the facilities to cook on weeknights, is that I don’t really prepare meals for myself and cannot imagine going to all this trouble just for me. House husband/housewife candidates, apply within. (I will probably make this or some semblance of it this weekend in any case.)

Bourani kadoo
Pumpkin/squash
Two three-pound sugar pie pumpkins or the equivalent using butternut squash
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 to 3 cups sugar (less if you want a less sweet taste)

Preheat oven to 300ºF/150C. Cut pumpkins in half and scrape out the insides (seeds + stringy bits). Cut each half into 3-4 inch pieces. Remove the rind. Place the pumpkin slices hollow side up in a baking dish and cover with the oil. Pour the sugar on top. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 3 hours (until the pumpkin has caramelized into a deep, orange color).

Begin to prepare the yogurt and meat sauces while the pumpkin bakes.

Yogurt sauce
2 cups plain yogurt
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried mint
Salt to taste (1/4 to ½ teaspoon)

For the yogurt sauce, combine all the ingredients and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Beef sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 kilogram ground beef
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/3 cup water

Sauté onions in oil over medium high heat in a heavy bottomed skillet until golden brown (about 20 minutes). Add ground beef and break up the pieces until the meat is no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Add remaining ingredients (except tomato paste and water). Blend in tomato paste. Add water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce, and simmer for 15 minutes.

To serve, place the pumpkin on a serving dish or on the individual serving plate, on the bottom of the “pile” you’re building. Add yogurt sauce and then top with meat sauce.

Ricotta Mascarpone Pie – the rarity of ricotta

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Loads of stuff in the fridge and cupboards to get rid of (leftovers, sort of, yet again – oh, the kinship!). With the ricotta and mascarpone cheeses I bought for a recipe I did not end up making, I threw together a ricotta-mascarpone pie with a gingersnap crust. I don’t know why.

Cheeses - pie to die for

Cheeses – pie to die for

The pie makes me think of my dear Italian friend in Iceland and the impossibility and rarity of finding ricotta and mascarpone in that far-flung island nation. When she visited me, she wanted to buy ricotta to take back – and of course that was the one time it could not be found. But then, although Iceland has some great dairy products of its own (skyr and Icelandic butter being the best!), some of the cheeses leave much to be desired.

Ricotta-mascarpone pie recipe
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces/115 grams mascarpone cheese
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350F/175C

Crust: About one cup of crushed graham crackers or gingersnaps, melted butter – press into a pan, bake at 350F for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven before pouring in the ricotta mascarpone filling

Filling: Mix ricotta, mascarpone, eggs, vanilla and sugar. Beat until smooth. Pour into pie crust.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes. Chill for at least a few hours, if not overnight. Should be cold and firm when serving.