The Quirky Princess

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Hey Everyone!

I wanted to drop you all a line to let you know Confessions of a Quirky Princess is slowly transitioning over to The Quirky Princess.

All the love and support you’ve given over the years, has encouraged me to take that leap into the world of self-hosting and take my blog to the next level. I am super excited and hope you’ll find the new site more informative and easier to use.

Looking forward to your thoughts, please sign up and can’t wait for this new chapter.

Hope you all have a great weekend.

Love & Hugs xo

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Vegan Aubergine Aioli

One of my fondest memories of aioli is from years ago, with my best friend Rach. I had already moved to Karachi by this point and was working there as an associate producer but always stopped off in London before heading back home to the Isle of Man.

We were in a restaurant and decided to order aioli with veggies to start and Rach, couldn’t get enough of the stuff and started dipping the left over baby greens into it, even though she couldn’t care for them. As she described it back then, “aioli, the dog’s (ahem), the bees knees. Garlic mayo, at it’s finest.”

When making my aubergine (eggplant) pesto, I noticed it had a creamy texture and flavour and wondered what would become of it without the basil, the nuts and so on. Though not a vegan myself, I still love eating vegan and vegetarian cuisine and that is what we mostly cook at home. So this aubergine aioli is my love letter to vegans and anyone else who falls in love with it.

So quick and easy, it’s delicious, we ate it with roasted roots, but it also would work well with sweet potato fries, sandwiches, you could use it as a dip or for whatever else you fancy.

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(Makes one batch)

1 aubergine/eggplant, cut into small chunks
1/2 a red onion, cut into small chunks
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp sunflower oil
Himalayan pink salt, to season
1/2 teaspoon of mustard (I used dijon)
1/4 cup extra Virgin olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Arrange the aubergine, onion and garlic in a baking tray. Toss with sunflower oil and season with salt. Roast for about 30 minutes.

Once the vegetables are tender, take them out of the oven and allow them to cool.

Once cool, throw them into the blender with the mustard, olive oil and vinegar. Blend until really smooth.

It will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for about a week.

All I Want For Christmas

A few weeks ago, Oscar, a new innovative health insurance company more human than the others, wrote a lovely email, asking me to reflect on my past year and think about what I am most grateful for this year. Given everything that has happened over the course of 2014, only one thing really sprang to mind and that was the importance of health and wellbeing.

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Last year, on Christmas Day, we had my Ubtan, a traditional event that takes place a few days prior to a desi wedding. My Grandma had recently died of cancer a few weeks earlier and all I wanted that day was for her to be with us. It can be hard looking back at those pictures knowing that such a big part of our lives had recently departed. It was sudden and unexpected, although it was bittersweet, the wedding helped us all to get through that loss, heal together and we have some beautiful memories of those painful days.

What does anyone want for Christmas? Having thought about it a lot recently, in the end I decided it was the health and happiness of my loved ones. What good would everything at Christmas be without that?

Putting up decorations, what fun is that if there aren’t happy, healthy people to do it with you? All the food we prepare, would it taste as wonderful if we weren’t enjoying it over the laughter of family members who feel well? How much would it suck if there were no smiling rosy-cheeked friends to huddle with on a cold day at the Christmas market?

Hunting down roasted chestnuts, braving the weather for gifts, ice skating, building snowmen, holiday lights, stocking fillers, ugly Christmas sweaters, an abundance of socks wrapped up under the tree, mince pies, festive films, an endless list of activities that would not bring half as much joy without the health and happiness of our loved ones.

This year I am grateful to my husband, family and friends for putting up with my adventures in food and life. For coming along to yoga, for supporting me in my health choices by bringing celery sticks with dips to girly nights, being the guinea pigs to my experiments in the kitchen, for getting me hot chocolate without milk, for encouraging my writing, sharing my food and recipes and for embracing all my quirks.

The greatest antidote to all ailments, the thing that keeps me smiling and feeling well, is the health and happiness of my family and friends, because without them, none of this would mean anything.

Chocolate & Strawberry Xmas Kisses

We were all quite surprised by the depth of this sauce. I put it down to the coconut sugar, which has a natural caramel taste to it.

Plenty of people love the flavour combination of strawberries and chocolate. That is why this platter of strawberries with a beautiful chocolate and caramel sauce will be highlight at your shindig. It’s a simple but elegant dessert, a great note to end your evening on or welcome the New Year with. It’s refined sugar free, so you know, bonus. Full of antioxidants, this glowing recipe doesn’t have empty calories.

Ahmed dipped some strawberries in the sauce and popped them in the freezer to set and yes, chocolate and strawberries are always fun, so if they don’t all disappear, you know what to do with the leftovers, enjoy them with someone special underneath the mistletoe.

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Serves 4-6

½ cup of coconut sugar
½ cup of water
1tbsp coconut oil
½tbsp cacao powder
1 cup of coconut milk
1tsp vanilla essence
¼tsp Himalayan pink salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Strawberries

In a small pan, on a medium heat bring the sugar, water and coconut oil to a rolling boil and immediately dissolved the cacao powder into it.

Add the coconut milk and vanilla and continue simmer. Add pink salt and cinnamon.

Keep simmering the sauce down until it is thick and glossy. It will take about 20-30 minutes.

Poke toothpicks into your strawberries and arrange them on a platter, serve with the sauce once it has cooled.

Peshawar

I actually had a different post for today on my blog, it was about how to make avocado pâté for festive get-togethers. Just at the weekend I was saying it’s nice to write about food for a change given what I used to write about when I was a journalist in Pakistan. Today I have no appetite.

I have no words. I have no words today. So then, why even try to write an article talking about the devastating attack in Peshawar that took the lives of innocent children? I’ll tell you why, so I can make myself feel better. You heard me, so I can make myself feel better. You won’t find any apology for my apathetic existence here.

I won’t disrespect the mothers and fathers by saying I am sorry for their loss. Of course I am, I don’t think my heart has hurt like this for a while. My heart goes out to those parents who will bury their children tonight but I will go back to my life in a week or two.

Am I sorry for that? No, I am so grateful that I didn’t lose someone I love today, I am so thankful that a life, I cherish beyond my own, like a parent does their child, is not something I had to experience today. I think that pain would cripple me. Why does someone else have to go through that? That question is burning a hole through my heart as hot tears pour out of my eyes.

Because an apology would be selfish, it’s just another way to make myself feel better about the fact that I will move on from this tragedy and my heart won’t be broken forever.

I don’t even have anything scathing to say about all the Twitter and Facebook updates. Seeing them makes me feel better. It feels like I have someone to mourn, someone to comfort with a response or an acknowledgement.

Because what I can’t do is comfort those mothers and fathers. Nothing will comfort them other than their child coming home from school with tales of the day. Instead they come home from school in a shroud. I wish I could make that happen, I would give anything to.

I feel united with Pakistan all the time, but today it is in my anger and in my sadness. Just the other day I was saying after a year in Toronto I was missing Karachi more than ever, just last night I was telling my husband I want to move back. Today I wish I could be in Peshawar doing something for the families who have truly suffered from this horrific tragedy.

I am well aware of what happened yesterday in Australia and Philadelphia, it was awful but please don’t berate me for crying out with my home country today. Please don’t point out all the faults with this post and everything that is wrong with it in the comments. I know, I already know, but I just want to make myself feel better. Because this morning I woke up to children, in their school uniforms, being carried to hospitals and I have never felt more ashamed of being a human being in this world. Because I have been crying since I read my best friend’s status update, whose birthday it is today, with whom I have spent the most amazing years of my life in Pakistan.

“On this day of my birth, nothing brings home the transiency of life more poignantly than the incident in Peshawar, where scores of children breathed their last. My only wish is for this insanity to end…now and forever. If there were anything I could do to give these families their little ones back, I would give my very last breath to make it happen. Words aren’t enough to describe the depth of this pain! I mourn with them…for their loss and for the unlived lives of their children. My day is dedicated to them.”

Because today, this is what being Pakistani looks like.

December Dates

The holiday season brings out the lover in me. It’s something about those festive activities that become beautiful stolen moments and end up being wonderful impromptu dates. Not just with your significant other, but friends and family too.

These moments happen all year round too, of course, and are just as wonderful, but I cannot deny loving dates set against a backdrop of twinkling fairy lights, Christmas music, seasonal food and the hope of snow. So here are some of my favourite places and ways to spend time with the special people in my life.

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The Christmas Market

Toronto’s Christmas Market is in the beautiful Distillery District, which just oozes with romantic nostalgia of the past and brings so much flavour to the tradition of these German markets. In the UK, my sister and I would always do them together, it was our thing, depending on which city we were in at the time, we would always eat way too much free stollen and pretzels.

I think they are gorgeous places to go on dates because they engage all your senses. There is much to see and do, with divine smells wafting from cute little wooden shacks, you can try different foods together while cozying up to each other and making your way along cobbled paths. Toronto’s Christmas Market has lots going on during the week and at the weekend. Peruse the stalls, get some hot drinks and find a warm spot in front of their outdoor bonfires.

Love & Pizza

If there are two things that go hand in hand, it is pizza and my love of it. When I was living on the Isle of Man, Isola was and still is one of my favourite restaurants in the world. It is small but the food is really good. My favourite floor is their cellar, which is part of the restaurant and is decorated with barrels, lovely artwork, soft light and candles. I took Ahmed there last year while we were visiting the Isle of Man, sharing a pizza (or two) is my favourite way to celebrate loved ones.

The first time I went to Lil’ Baci in Leslieville, I got that homely feeling. You are greeted with the smell of pizza and a warm glow. The restaurant and patio have a lovely ambience, and it is always a great evening with your significant other or friends. Their pizzas are really good especially with the chillies they serve on the side. While we mostly go in the summer because we enjoy walking to Leslieville, it’s stunning there right now with all the pretty lights. Lil’ Baci is the perfect chilled out or dressed up dinner date spot.

All day, everyday

I walk past 7 West a lot on the way to ballet school. The other day they were putting up their decorations and it looked even prettier than usual through the windows. I love this coffee shop, it’s my favourite place to make time stand still while I sip on something warm. The best part is you can go whenever you want because it is always open.

Cacao Christmas Truffles

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Truffles. Gorgeous rounded finesse, at it’s best, a few mouthfuls of chocolate that melt on the tongue and descend one into the abyss of flavour.

Insert into them your most decadent dreams. Make your taste buds water with salted caramel; heat them gently with chocolate and spices, lace truffles with liquor for a heady experience, invigorate yourself with zest and ingrain them upon your memory with the acquisition of nuts.

Their versatility knows no end, paired with strawberries on a date, champagne at a celebration, after dinner with a conversation that scintillates, and my favourite reason to eat truffles? Just because.

Chocolate requires no health exceptions; the type that isn’t pumped with sugar, but made with the best of the earth has amazing antioxidant properties to nourish you. Chocolate done well is the most fragrant, deep and delicious food experience out there.

You can call me a snob, but I don’t throw myself at any old chocolate bar. Swiss chocolate is one of my favourites but having said that, given that I love to indulge in it at Christmas, it is worth making your own that will make you glow inside out.

These dark coconut chocolate truffles are a far cry from the exquisite artwork that goes into creating those stunning artisan ones but these are so rich and delicious you won’t mind. Remember, like with everything, balance is important and these a sweet treat. They are lovely to serve to guests and can make a great handmade gift.

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Makes about 20

80g of dark chocolate, ideally made with cacao (I used Alter Eco Blackout)
170g of coconut cream
Juice and a little zest of half a Navel orange
1tsp pure vanilla essence
1/2tsp cinnamon (optional)
Cacao to sprinkle with (optional)
Line a large tray with parchment paper.

Melt your chocolate in bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Be careful not to burn the chocolate.

Add your coconut cream a tablespoon at a time and incorporate it into the chocolate. Keep doing this until all your coconut cream is mixed into the chocolate. It will get thicker – don’t worry.

Add the juice, zest and vanilla and mix into the truffles. I added a pinch of cinnamon, but it’s optional.

Place the bowl in the fridge for about half an hour, so the mixture cools so you can mold it easier. Once it’s cool, make relatively round bite-sized spheres with the chocolate mixture and place on the parchment paper. Work quickly. (I like to do this right next with my tray in the fridge and I just form the truffles and throw them in.)

Once all of them are made, leave them in the fridge let for about an hour and sprinkle them with a little cacao once they have set if you wish. I like to store mine in the fridge but leave them out for about fifteen before serving so they get soft and gooey.