I have probably said this before and will say it again – “Chocolate makes the world go around!” And there is something about ‘chocolate cake’ that makes everyone drool! And when it comes to both my children, they usually look for only one word in the dessert menu – yeah you guessed it – chocolate! Anything ‘chocolatey’ will fly with them! As you know, I usually try to bake ‘healthier’ versions of desserts and I mostly love to include fruits in my desserts. I also like to bake with either less sugar or using better alternatives like maple syrup or honey), try to avoid dairy (or use grassfed butter) and also use healthy ingredients like coconut oil and coconut milk.
Baking sweet treats at home helps to assure the quality of the ingredients and avoid unnecessary chemicals, colors and preservatives. I very rarely bake decadent treats like this one and reserve them only for special occasions like our birthdays. I believe having an occasional treat (essentially 3-4 times in a year) is not only ok but that it is also essential for a balanced approach so that you don’t feel deprived. I like to enforce the 80-20 rule at home where you eat healthy 80% of the time. Of course, if you have a chronic disease like diabetes or cardiovascular disease and or have an autoimmune condition like me, you need to try and avoid these completely for a period of time.
Anyways, for my son’s birthday this year, I decided to bake a ‘healthier’, slightly modified version of Ina Garten’s Perfect Chocolate Cake by replacing butter, refined sugar and milk with coconut oil, coconut sugar and coconut milk. For the eggs too, I used farm fresh pastured eggs. In the frosting too, I used honey and coconut sugar. And for the entire cake, I used fresh 100% cacao powder. Pleased to report that all these changes meant a really decadent, moist cake that was so over the top delicious that all of our friends at the birthday party were raving about it some even asking for seconds! No wonder I couldn’t even get good pictures of the cake:)
But let me assure you that this cake is going to be a keeper. With everyone praising the cake so much, even I was tempted to have a small bite and gosh, it was ‘heavenly, melt-in-the-mouth delicious’! I was actually feeling sorry that I tasted it since it made it harder for me to control myself from having anymore! And next time, I will try making this gluten free.
Please do try this recipe and I am sure you will thank me!
Perfect Chocolate Cake - a 'healthier' version (dairy free, refined sugar free)
Author: Indira Shyju
Recipe type: Dessert
A decadent, moist chocolate cake covered with a delicious chocolate frosting baked using healthier ingredients like coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut milk and honey.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups coconut sugar
¾ cup 100% cacao powder (I used OMG brand)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup melted coconut oil
2 large eggs(I used farm fresh, pastured) - taken out of the refrigerator one hour before so they can be at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder(optional)
For the frosting:
1 cup coconut oil(semisolid not completely melted)
⅓ cup coconut cream (from top of a coconut milk can)
⅔ cup raw cacao powder
¼ cup coconut sugar(powdered finely)
½ cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt
Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg F. Grease a large 10 inch springform pan (or 2 smaller pans) and dust lightly with flour.
In a large tray or a sheet of parchment paper, add all the dry ingredients - all purpose flour, coconut sugar, cacao powder, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt. Mix them well using a spatula. Keep this aside.
In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), add the coconut milk,melted coconut oil,vanilla and the eggs and beat using electric mixer until blended. Now slowly add the dry ingredient mix slowly in batches and continue to mix to blend everything well.
Add the boiling water and coffee and mix again till well blended.
Pour the batter into the pan (or pans) and bake at 350 deg F (or 175 deg F) for about 40-45 mins. Check after 35 mins. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Remove immediately from oven and cool for about 30 mins before removing from pan.
If using large pan, you will need to cut the cake horizontally to from two layers.
For making frosting, add all frosting ingredients in a small bowl and mix using an electric mixer until creamy.
Frost between the layers and on the outside.!
Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before you add them to the coconut oil and coconut milk mixture. If they are cold, the coconut oil will solidify! It happened with me. So in the event that this happens, don't worry - just place the bowl in a larger bowl with hot water and wait for about 10-15 mins until the coconut oil comes back to room temperature again.
Indo Chinese cuisine is pretty popular in India with the craze first starting sometime in the early 90s I believe. I was in college those days and we would sneak out from college to have lunch at one of these make shift stalls outside our campus to have delicious lip smacking ‘chicken manchurian’ soup and chill chicken curry. The origins of this fusion cuisine is a bit ambiguous I think because the last time I tried to research about ‘manchurian curry’, I only ended up finding out that Manchurian is a historic region in NE china and there is no curry chicken or otherwise by that name from that region. So I decided to end my research. Anyways, I am so glad that this fusion cuisine came into being combining the best of flavors from both the sub-continents even though the ‘how’ of it is not clear. Hey, let’s enjoy the food right?
I cooked these crispy chicken bites similar to the chili chicken recipe where corn starch is used as the starch/binder. Only thing I did was replaced corn starch with tapioca starch and replaced soy sauce with coconut aminos to make it paleo. As I have mentioned before, even though I am following the stricter autoimmune version of paleo which restricts even chili peppers, I have been having small quantities of red chili powder and other spices occasionally. But you could easily skip the red chili and these chicken bites would still be delicious I can guarantee.! I also pan fried (shallow fry) these using coconut oil and they still came out very crispy!
To (eat) Beef or not (eat) Beef? A lot of us folks I am sure ponder about this question. Growing up beef was not cooked in our home. But we did eat some very delicious beef curry on a routine basis at our close family friends’ home. They were Kerala Christians and hence Beef was very common in their meals. Every year we would celebrate Christmas in their home and spicy beef stir fry was one of the specialties served. Chinnama aunty and John uncle would create a slew of dishes – beef, pork, chicken and fish with an unique blend of spices for each of the different meats. This was one treat that we kids waited for all year! Plus when the six of us (three girls and three boys!) got together, time just flew by -there was a lot of chatting, good natured teasing (with some pillow fighting involved), movies, board games and lots and lots of jokes! Afternoon lunch session easily extended into evening tea and to dinner with the left overs. Oh boy those were the days! I am so grateful to God that our families are still in touch and our respective spouses are all in tune too so that whenever we visit India now we still try to replicate those times. That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?
OK so back to the beef – is it healthy or not? Based on my research (I have been reading a lot of articles and books in the past year trying to reverse my rheumatoid arthritis by eating a healthy diet), it seems that grass-fed beef does not increase cholesterol and on the contrary it has beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that help to control inflammation. 100% grass-fed beef comes from cows who have grazed in pasture year-round rather than being fed a processed diet for much of their life. Grass feeding improves the quality of beef, and makes the beef richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and CLA (a beneficial fatty acid named conjugated linoleic acid1.
So now that I am on a Paleo diet, we regularly cook beef – of course we only get grass fed beef – Our local BJs club have started stocking grass fed beef. This recipe is my attempt to replicate chinamma aunty’s tasty beef curry.
Pressure cooking the meat makes it really tender and moist. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you could use a slow cooker, an instant pot or a regular cooking pot and cook the meat beforehand.Thinly sliced coconut slices and coconut oil add to the flavor of this dish. In case you are getting intimidated wondering where you are going to get fresh coconut and then cut it open to get the slices, relax… you can get frozen coconut slices at any Indian grocers 🙂 This recipe does taste pretty close to hers although next time I visit india I will try to get the exact recipe from her. Aunty is the epitome of kindness! She has been sending me quotes from the Bible regularly and has been praying for my health ever since she learnt about my RA. I am so grateful to her and to God for all such kind souls like her who give me courage and positivity everyday to deal with this disease.
Ending with a recent Bible quote that I received from her which I am in love with:
” Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people” Colossians 3:23 CEB
Spicy Beef Stir fry with coconut (Kerala Style Beef )
Author: Indira Shyju
Recipe type: Main Course
Beef cooked in Indian spices and sautéed in coconut oil with curry leaves and coconut pieces; Makes a great Paleo meal served with salad on the side
Pressure cooking*(see note below) the meat:
2 lbs Beef, Chuck roast (about 1 kg), cut into small bite size pieces
1 tbsp, thinly sliced ginger
6-8 whole black peppercorns
4-6 whole cloves
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½ cup thinly sliced fresh coconut pieces (fresh frozen coconut pieces)
½ cup water
2 tbsp organic extra virgin coconut oil
1½ large onion, thinly sliced
3 green chillies, slit lengthwise
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped finely
6-8 fresh curry leaves
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp coriander powder
2 tsp freshly ground fennel powder
1 tbsp garam masala powder
Wash the beef pieces and add them into a pressure cooker. Add all the ingredients under 'Pressure cooking the meat' to the pressure cooker, stir well to mix all the spices well and then close the cooker and cook on medium heat for 4-5 whistles. Turn heat off and keep aside to cool.
In a large kadai (wok style pan), heat the coconut oil. Add the sliced onions to the oil. Stir for 2 minutes and then add the chopped garlic, green chillies and the curry leaves. Continue sautéing for another 4-5 minutes till the onions turn crispy. Add the salt and coriander powder and again stir for 1 more minute. Now open the cooker and add the cooked beef along with the stock into this pan. Add the fennel powder and the garam masala powder and continue to cook on low to medium heat for a 10-15 minutes until most of the water(stock) is evaporated and you get a thickish gravy with the oil separating out. Turn heat off and transfer to a serving dish. Serve hot as an appetizer or serve with rice and dal.
If you don't have a pressure cooker you can use an instant pot or a regular cooking pot. For regular cooking, you will need to cook for about 30 minutes on slow heat until the meat is tender
Sometimes we crave for a dish that we have tasted long ago somewhere. At least I do that often 🙂 In most cases, I also remember the ‘where’ and ‘when’. Yeah I am a little weird like that. I remember what some folks would call as ‘trivial’, unimportant details such as what dress I was wearing that one day 15 years ago when I visited my aunt’s place or what dish were served at a family party 10 years ago. So last week, when I saw the picture of prawn masala on a FB page, I was instantly reminded of this spicy prawns dish that my uncle would make sometimes when he visited us.
I was a teenager around then and I was already very interested in cooking. This uncle of mine was my best buddy – you see he was a bachelor all his life until he passed away two years ago. So we got along great and I would always tag behind him everywhere. So we started with going to the fish market to buy fresh jumbo size prawns. And then I helped him with the chopping, roasting and powdering spices etc. And I stood next to him absorbing every bit of culinary advice that he had to offer! This uncle of mine whom I loved to death was unlike any ‘normal’ person. He had an interesting personality. He was an artist after all – unconventional, reckless, ‘rebel’ sort of. So of course, when it came to cooking too there was no one recipe that he would adhere to. Just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Whatever spices he felt a particular fancy for on that day would go into the pan. He was sort of a ‘minimalist’ and believed in simple, fresh ingredients. Whatever he did, he would always finish with a drizzle of pure coconut oil on the top and some fresh curry leaves. And he was always able to create magic in the kitchen every single time he cooked – the dishes were all ‘out of this world’! I remember him making really ‘gourmet style dishes and we would come up with interesting names for those like ‘ black chicken’, ‘white chicken’ and other similar interesting ones! How I wish now that I had done some note taking those days.!
Anyways, so that’s what happened to me last week – I went down memory lane to reminisce about my dear uncle and his shrimp dishes and I had to create one. So drawing from my memory, I tried to re-create his ‘prawn roast’. In kerala ‘prawn roast’ or ‘egg roast’ or ‘chicken roast’ are dishes which are spicy and dry in nature – just spicy masala without a wet gravy. The technique is important here. First cooking the shrimp without any water and then sautéing the cooked shrimp with other ingredients.
How I miss you dear maaman. I am grateful for all these wonderful memories. I couldn’t taste this shrimp since I am on a restrictive anti-inflammatory food diet to control my RA. However, without question all this reminiscing and consequently creation of this recipe was very well received by my family 🙂
In a bowl, add all the masala ingredients and mix. Clean and de-vein shrimp and blot dry with a paper towel. Then add to the bowl with the masala and mix well to coat all the shrimp well with masala. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
Heat a flat bottomed pan or pot and add marinated shrimp with the masala and cook covered on low to med heat for about 3-4 mins until the shrimp are just about cooked. Do not add any water and do not overcook.
Take the shrimp out along with the masala. To the same pan, add the oil and saute onion, green chillies and curry leaves for 2-3 minutes. Now add shrimp and stir fry for 2 mins. Add 1 tbsp water and cover with a lid for 1 min so that you get a moist masala. Turn heat off. Let the shrimp sit covered for 5 minutes and drizzle with coconut oil before serving!
Until a few years ago I thought that calamari was ‘fried squid’ – i.e I thought the name of the dish where squid was fried was calamari! So I am sure that some of you might still be under that confusion. So let’s clear your doubts. Calamari, is just the Italian name for squid. And the dish that most of us seafood lovers love is ‘Fried calamari’ where calamari i.e. squid is deep fried in batter. OK now that we got that sorted out, I have two easy recipes for you. One is a gluten free version of fried calamari where I used chick pea batter to fry them. And the other is a traditional Kerala recipe – a simple but spicy sauté in coconut oil with onion and red chillies. Choose your pick! As for me I will happily have a plateful of each!
10-12 thinly sliced coconut pieces (I used frozen coconut pieces by thawing them to room temperature)
1/2 tsp salt (or as needed)
About 1/2 a pound of squid, cut into about 1/4 th inch thick rounds- cleaned and wiped dry
Method: In a food processor/chopper, coarsely grind the onion and red chilli together – It should be only coarsely ground – Do Not grind to paste. Ideally use a mortar pestle.
Heat a medium size wok style pan (kadhai) with the coconut oil. Add the mustard seeds and when they splutter, add the onion and chili mixture. Add the curry leaves and stir for about 2-3 minutes until the onions get crisp. Add the coconut pieces and the squid. Stir and cook for about 4-5 minutes until the squid is cooked through. Do not over cook as it will turn hard and rubbery.