Moravian Kolaches (Dvojctihodné / Moravské koláče)

kolaches with plum filling

The September Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Lucie from ChezLucie. She challenged us to make a true Czech treat –Kolaches!

Kolach are Czech traditional sweet treats. They come in three varieties,Pražský koláč (Prague Kolach),Chodské koláče (Kolache from Chodsko) and Dvojctihodné/Moravské koláče (Two Fillings/Moravian Kolaches).

Prague kolache is basically a cake like loaf filled with a rich pastry cream and topped with streusel. Chodsko kolach on the other hand is pizza like flat bread that is topped with jam, poppy seed and quark filling. Quark is a type of fresh dairy product, commonly used in some Europian cuisines. It is made by warming soured milk until the desired degree of coagulation (denaturation, curdling) of milk proteins is met, and then straining the milk.

Morovian Kolaches are little buns that are filled with quark and are then topped with jam and streusel. I decided to make these because I loved the small portions. The kids loved having these in their lunch boxes or after school for a snack.

When you bite into these Morovian kolaches, you will fall in love with the soft and fluffy bun that is perfectly complimented by the creamy quark filling.The plum jam topping adds a beautiful color and a lot of flavor while the streusel adds a little crunch to make the texture more interesting.

Thank you Lucie for an amazing challenge, I know I will make these again and again

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Maamoul (date stuffed cookies)

date maamoul

You walk into the house and you’re immediately enchanted by the smell coming from the kitchen, you close your eyes and take it in:Gentle spices, orange blossom water, mastic.the scent of maamoul cookies baking!

You hear the familiar sound of the wooden maamoul molds being banged time after time. The sounds of Laughter and chatter draw you to kitchen. There you are greeted by smiling faces and mounds of beautifully decorated cookies waiting for a final dusting of powdered sugar, that will make them almost too pretty to eat. Almost!

You snatch a few ignoring the advice :”don’t ruin your dinner”.No dinner can compete with freshly baked maamoul!

You join in the fun and allow the worries of the day to melt away.

Eid is on the way .


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Think inside the box:10 back to school freezer meals

back to school freezer meals from chef in disguise

I am horribly terribly late in posting my daring cooks and bakers challenges :( I make the challenges in time for the reveal but finding the time to sit down and write the post has proven to be an elusive task.So for this week,  I am trying to catch up on posting my challenges.

This month, the Daring Cooks challenged us to think inside the box – the icebox, that is! Audax taught us some really cool tips and tricks for stocking our freezers with prepare-ahead meals that can keep our taste buds satisfied even during the busiest of times.

This challenge could not have come at a better time, as we head back to school  (I can’t believe how quickly this summer has slipped by) a bit of organization can be  a life saver in those busy first few weeks.

10 great back to school freezer meals from chef in disguise

In this post I will share a collection of my favorite freezer recipes that I usually prepare around the end of summer to help me ease back into the busy school routine.

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Homemade nacho cheese sauce

Nacho cheese dip, super easy to make and so tasty

I HATE buying nacho cheese sauce!

The amount of chemicals and preservatives in the ingredient list makes me cringe! Yet my kids beg for it every time we go grocery shopping.  I rarely buy it but whenever I do, I promise myself that this is going to be the last time! “I will make it at home! how hard can it be?” I tell myself every time.

Well I finally did and let me tell you, it is not hard at all! In fact, it turned out to be super easy and super quick! All you have to do is add cheese, mustard and paprika to your favorite bechamel sauce! and voila! homemade nacho sauce that the kids loved so much that they ate it with vegetables!

What finally got me to try making my own nacho cheese sauce was this month’s daring cooks challenge

This month, the Daring Cooks got a little saucy! Jenni from the Gingered Whisk taught us the basics of how to make the five mother-sauces and encouraged us to get creative with them, creating a wide variety of delicious, fresh sauces in our very own kitchens.

Bechamel sauce (the base for nacho cheese sauce) is one of the 5 mother sauces. The 5 mother sauces were so named in the early 19th Century by Antonin Careme, a French chef. These are the basic sauces that you can make, and from each of them you can make a huge number of variables

Mother sauces despite what you might think when you hear the name are actually simple. You need a few ingredients to make them but that very fact means that you MUST use the highest quality and freshest ingredients that you can find.

Béchamel Sauce (pronounced Besh-a-mel) also known as white sauce is made from a roux of flour and butter. You then add milk, and season it with salt and pepper. It is that simple! and it is so versatile! you can serve with pasta, vegetable based dishes and in casseroles. Like all the other mother sauces you can make many variations of this sauce include:

  • Cream Sauce – adding cream and sometimes fresh herbs
  • Cheese Sauce – adding cheddar and  mustard and this one goes great with vegetables, pasta or fish and of course tortilla chips
  • Soubise Sauce – with the additions of finely diced onions and butter (sometimes crushed tomatoes are added to this as well). A great sauce for vegetables, eggs or chicken.
  • Mornay Sauce – adding Gruyere, Parmesan and butter, and is a great addition to eggs, vegetables, pasta or fish.
  • Nantua Sauce – the addition of crayfish or shrimp, butter and cream, typically served with fish and seafood.
  • Mustard Sauce – addition of mustard to béchamel and goes well with vegetables, eggs or chicken
Try to keep little hands out till you take the picture

Try to keep little hands out till you take the picture


  • To shred or not to shred: If you’re going to the trouble of making your own cheese sauce (which really doesn’t take more than 10 minutes tops and is totally worth it!), Please don’t go for the pre-shredded cheese in bags as they are usually coated with cornstarch or anti clumping substances and that will give you a cheese sauce with a bad consistency. Get a block of sharp cheddar cheese and shred it  yourself! It makes a world of difference, Trust me!
  • Cheese blend: I personally love the flavor of extra sharp cheddar cheese, but you can use medium if you want. You can also mix and match other cheeses to add more flavor, I have tried to add pepper jack and smoked cheese and they both worked beautifully! Experiment with your favorite cheeses to see what you like best and come up with your favorite cheese blend!
  • Real or not real: Use real cheese. Anything labelled “American Cheese” , “processed cheese” or Velveeta is actually a cheese products and not a real cheese, and they will not work well for making cheese sauce.
  • Thickening agent: You can useflour or cornstarch but do keep in mind that flour produces a better flavor BUT you have to cook it for a long time toinsure a smooth texture (if you don’t your sauce will be gritty). If you need your thickening agent to act quickly, use cornstarch.

Homemade nacho cheese sauce

Using flour:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons cream cheese

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

200 grams cheese shredded

1/4  teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper to taste


Dice the butter into small cubes and melt it in a saucepan over low heat.

Once the butter is melted, begin whisking in the flour.

When all the flour is incorporated, continue stirring and cooking for a few minutes.

If you’re making a white or light-colored cheese sauce, keep the heat low so the roux doesn’t brown.

Add the milk and whisk until the mix is completely smooth

Add the cream cheese mustard and paprika

Allow the sauce to simmer until it gets to the consistency thickens

Remove the pan from the heat and gently blend in the cheese. If the cheese doesn’t seem to be melting, return the pan to very low heat, but watch it carefully and remove as soon as the cheese is melted.

Cheese sauce using cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 and 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1  tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 200 grams sharp cheddar cheese shredded


Place a medium pot over medium heat. Add the butter and melt

Add the evaporated milk. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer,then lower the temperature to medium-low.

Stir in the cream cheese and mustard.

Toss the shredded cheese with the cornstarch

Slowly start adding the shredded cheese. Stir and add by the handful, until the sauce comes together. If your sauce becomes a little too thick add a splash of milk.

Serve immediately, or keep warm in a slow cooker or fondue pot.

Berry almond coffee cake

coffee cake  

For this month’s Secret Recipe Club, I had Jess’s blog Inquiring chef. I have to admit that when I got the email with this month’s assignment I was thrilled! I love Jess’s blog, her recipes and her photography caught my attention the very first time I visited her blog but what kept me coming back for more was Jess’s kindness that shines through her words and her attitude towards life.

You see Jess was born and raised in Kansas. After finishing the university, she volunteered at a children’s home in Romania where she taught English to 14 amazing kiddos. She went back to work after that in Washington D.C. She got married in 2010 but soon after her husband was offered a position in Thailand so they packed up everything and left on a new adventure together.They were recently blessed with adorable twin girls

Being a new expat myself,going through her archives to look for a recipe to make for this month’s assignment carried the added joy of reading about her experience with being an expat and I think she beautifully summed up the way I feel now as I really begin to settle down here in the UAE:

“This is the part of the expat experience that is most thrilling.  Because when you’ve live in a place that is so very different from “home”, you are both satisfied when you get to know it well and continually amazed by its foreignness.  Most moments are shinier somehow.”

Ras Al Khaimah

Choosing  a recipe from Jess’s archives was not an easy task but I ended up making her raspberry almond coffee cake because Jess dubbed this as her favorite coffee cake, she described it as ” light, sweet base that hints of cinnamon, tart fruit, and crumbly topping piled high”.

Cinnamon, berries, and crumbly topping spell must try in my book! and the cake did not disappoint.

At first I found the idea of pairing berries with cinnamon odd yet quite intriguing. Like most, when I think of a fruit to combine with cinnamon in a cake, apples are the first that come to mind then maybe pears or pumpkin but berries? I had to try.

It turns out that the tart freshness of the berries works beautifully with the earthy tones of cinnamon, they somehow balance and compliment each other. Add a light cake canvas and a crunchy nutty almond crumble and you’ll have a cake that

Berry almond coffee cake

Berry almond coffee cake



For the Crumb Topping:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes
For the Cake:
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups mixed berries (fresh or frozen will work, see notes)

Berry coffee cake



To make the crumb topping:

In a bowl, add the flour, sugar, and salt, whisk to combine

Add the nuts and toss gently.

Add butter; using your fingertips,or a fork, work butter into the dry ingredients until large, moist crumbs begin to form.

Place the topping in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

To make the cake

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.

Add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a bowl, whisk to combine.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat ¾ cup sugar and butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy,this should take 3–4 minutes.

Add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy, 3–4 minutes longer.

With mixer on low speed(to avoid spraying flour all over the place) add  the dry ingredients to bowl in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top.

Prepare the cinnamon sugar: Whisk remaining 3 Tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl.

Sprinkle  the cinnamon sugar evenly over the batter in the pan.

Spoon remaining batter over; smooth top.

Pour the berries evenly over batter.

Sprinkle crumb topping over the berries.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 55–60 minutes.

Let cool completely in pan.

Store in airtight container at room temperature. 

Note:Adapted from Old-Fashioned Blueberry Coffee Cake by Eric Wolitzky, Bon Appetit September 2012.


coffee cake



The berries and nuts: the original recipe for this cake uses blueberries and pecans, Jess used raspberries and almonds and I used mixed berries with almonds Experiment with your favorite nut berry combo and have fun

Fresh or frozen:I used frozen mixed berries for this cake because they were what I had on hand, I defrosted the berries and then drained them then tossed them with a tablespoon of semolina to absorb any excess liquid


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