Haji Baba

Flaky, slightly crunchy layers of sweetened dough coated in a gooey syrup with a dense slightly chewy layer of ground nuts and more sugar baked and sliced into the perfect snack sized desserts.

The glories of baklava. My favorite Greek/Middle Eastern dessert.

But it gets better. It’s true! You just need to add an order of Arabic coffee.

Like espresso, but sweeter, this concoction is twice boiled with ground coffee and sugar.

This is the perfect combination for a coffee date or a study break.

Or, in my case, the perfect ending to a meal!

Haji Baba is a small restaurant attached to the like-named Middle Eastern grocery store where you can browse through an endless variety of candies, coffees, cups, candles, cookies, and other customer favorites (Oh accidental alliteration, how you make it so difficult to properly describe the contents of a store!)

Off to the right side of this store is a small café area with the paintings of ancient ruins in the midst of a desert as background.

It’s open and bright, though not the most comfortable or cozy of dining areas.

The food has the usual Middle Eastern schawarmas, kebabs, gyros and falafils, as well as some that I never heard of before.

I’ll be honest, I have never much cared for the savory dishes of Middle Eastern food, it never tastes quite like how I imagine it should and it never sits that well after ingestion, either.

But, I’m determined to enjoy it, so I picked something new to try.

I went with the Kibbeh plate. The kibbeh is a patty made from mixing ground meat with bulgar wheat. The plate came with two portions of two patties sandwiching another layer of ground meat. I have never tried anything like it before, but I actually really enjoyed the meal. The texture was crumbly, but still tender and it was flavorful and VERY filling.

I don’t know how one is supposed to eat this, but I would take a forkful, dip it in the “yogurt salad” (read bowl full of yogurt with a dash of herbs and a few chunks of cucumber) and some Sriracha. It was quite good!

My favorite part, I’ll admit, was the hummus and pita bread. It was just so good – perfectly creamy and tangy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this place. It has good food at great prices. And if you don’t mind a bit of a cafeteria feel, it’s a nice place to hang out for a couple hours.

Veggie Enchilada Casserole

This last year of University I was cooking for myself and buying my own groceries. I quickly found out how much cheaper it was to buy vegetables than meat, which I’m sure many of you who live on your own can attest to. After years of eating a meat-centered diet, it was challenging and new to switch over to veggies. I started asking my vegetarian friends for recipes and ideas of what to do with fresh veggies besides stir-fry, salads, and eggs.

One of my dear friends gave me this gem of a recipe and it quickly became a staple meal. I love it especially, because it is very easily customized and never becomes boring. Plus it makes fantastic leftovers!

You can use any variety of sliced and diced veggies. My favorite combinations are: zucchini, corn, mushrooms, onions, carrots (halfway cooked before hand, unless you like them crunchy and slightly raw), and refried beans. I’ve also used blackbeans, canned green beans, tomatoes, and olives in various combos. Every time a success. I don’t think it’s possible to mess this recipe up!

 

Base recipe:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put some salsa (red or green, whichever you feel like at the time) on the bottom of your dish, lay corn tortillas on top, smother with more salsa, beans, vegetables of choice, and cheese. Repeat until you reach the top of the casserole dish. I like to end with a layer of corn tortillas and cheese so it’s nice and crispy on top.

Depending on the size and depth of your casserole dish, the time will vary. In the dish pictured above – about the size of a loaf of bread – it takes about 40 minutes to heat it through and make the edges crunchy.

Once it’s bubbly on top and heated through, simply cut out a slice and enjoy!

 

And unless you are feeling generous, hide it from your roommates because they WILL devour it all. Everytime! XD

Solo Café

Cleverly camouflaged amongst a strip of run of the mill restaurants and spas, is this cute alternative coffee shop on Southern and Mill.

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This mug was literally the size as my face. Just letting you know, it’s worth the trip!

The walls are covered in artwork with cute and odd monsters and skulls, what I would call alternative punk/psychedelic. There is a cozy sofa and old fashioned arm chair (as glimpsed in the picture) in the middle of the main room facing a wall-sized book shelf (with books you can actually pick off the shelves and read!), and a wooden bench that stretches the length of the back wall covered in cushions.

It is cozy if you want or a little bit stiffer for when you need to work. But you can find an outlet at any seat (cleverly hidden underneath the bench lip or on the ground) and the music is just the right volume. If you like a song, it’s loud enough to hear every word, but if you just want background then it’s soft enough to not disrupt your concentration.

Their drinks are pretty good, too. I’ve been getting their chais – they have three different flavours, and have enjoyed everyone. So far the Ginger Chai (pictured in the mug) is my favorite – it gives the tea an extra spicy kick. I’ve also tasted their hot coco (house blend) and a white mocha. I’ve yet to be disappointed!

All in all, this is one of my top picks. Perfect for meeting with friends, or for finishing some work, or simply reading a good book.

Ground beef chili nachos

So maybe it’s not technically chili… but that’s how I used it, so it counts, right? =)

My friends came over for a night of tequila and cheesy movies. To feed us properly and have a great movie snack I made us nachos.

I used a tube of ground beef (nothing special, I’m not too picky) and cooked about halfway. Then I added a can of diced tomatoes, half a can of corn and a packet of taco seasoning and let it simmer till thoroughly cooked.

Normally I’m all about the DIY recipes, but I have a limited spice collection right now (seeing as I’m about to move out of my apartment back home) and taco seasoning is taco seasoning, right? Not that big a difference in flavors, imo.

Doesn’t it look DELICIOUS?

The ground beef stayed tender and moist and it was delightfully drippy to eat. Actually, there almost wasn’t enough for the nachos since my friends (and I XD ) were eating it like…well, chili! out of the pan.

It was THAT good.

Hillside Spot Café

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This weekend some of my dearest friends were all in town and we got together for a reunion lunch. The suggested restaurant: Hillside in Ahwatukee. It’s a cute little local restaurant with delicious and fresh food.

The inside is very open, almost rustic warehouse style, with large windows which lets in all the light and looks out onto a cute little patio with a fireplace.

First we started off with the dranks. I ordered a pinot grigio – which was a mellow sweet white, but definitely would recommend the Chardonnay which was crisp, full bodied and fruity.

For food, it was a struggle to decide. The entire menu just looked so delicious and I just couldn’t limit myself. So I split with one of the girls.

We shared a Blue Sky Mixed Greens Salad (shaved pear, grapes, blue cheese, almonds, fried shallots & red wine vinaigrette on a bed of crispy manchego) which was sweet and refreshing and a sandwich. The Tuna Melt was perfect – crunchy toast, perfectly melted cheddar cheese, and a crunchy and sweet tuna filling, all accompanied by a side of crispy rustic fries.

It was simply delectable. And did I mention that they plated each half separately, so we had our own pretty bowl of salad and plate of fries and sandwich. I love when restaurants do that!

It’s a great place to meet up and support the local economy with friends. I know I’ll be back again soon to try out their other dishes.

4th of July Cobbler

This 4th of July marked the first family get-together I’ve been to in over 10 years. And my first freestyle dessert. EVER.

Not wanting to get into all the family drama here, let’s suffice it to say it was lovely and relaxing and not at all like my holidays have been the last decade. =)

In order to celebrate this historic occasion, and because I was asked to bring a dessert, I decided to make cobbler! It must be noted I have only made cobbler once before in high school and I’m terribly picky as to how I like my topping. It must be chewy and crumbly and crunchy, not all biscuit and not all granola.

I scoured the recipe sites, glancing through one promising recipe after another. None sounding promising! So I decided I’d wing it.

the filling:

I wanted to make sure my little cousins would be able to enjoy the dessert (and since this was all a from scratch creation) I chose to cook the fruits on the stove first, before baking. I sliced up two (slightly overripe) peaches and threw in a costco sized container of fresh raspberries and blackberries. I added about 1-1/12 cups of sugar and maybe 1/4 cup of flour to those. I stirred it once in a while over medium heat until it started boiling.

If you try this, please add less fruit or use a VERY large baking dish. There was a lot more liquid than I had anticipated so I let it simmer for about half an hour or so, waiting for it to thicken so the topping wouldn’t just sink to the bottom.

Which it did anyway…but that didn’t turn out so badly, either.

the topping:

I did a double batch of topping – enough for two layers.

mix together 2 cups oats, 1 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 brown sugar and a pinch of salt.

Following the preparation techniques of the recipes I was looking through, I mixed in the cold butter with my fingers. I used a smooshing technique. Just crumbling everything together until there weren’t any big chunks of butter left.

Then I added just enough water to bring the mixture together.

What I will do the next time i make this is sprinkle 1/3 to half the mixture over the cobbler and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. this WILL sink into the fruit. But that gives it the chewy texture I like. Then sprinkle the rest of the topping over the cobbler and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. This will be the crunchy portion!

My aunts and uncle and cousins LOVED the cobbler and went back for seconds and thirds. There almost wasn’t enough for everyone! I was so happy it came out well. I don’t normally freestyle on desserts since there is so much food chemistry behind the measurements. But this has given me the confidence to keep trying new things. Or at least when I can’t find a recipe that suits my tastes!

Village BakeHouse

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One of my dearest and closest friends introduced me to this gem a few years ago.

Tucked into the corner of the Trader Joe’s shopping plaza off Oracle, one can find this adorable and friendly little bakery and cafe. You can get coffees, smoothies, fresh pastries, breads, cakes, and breakfast or lunch.

My dad and I like to go for breakfast – their specials du jour (“of the day” in French) are always delicious and filling. Usually they will have an omelete and a french toast special to choose from. This last visit, however, they only had omeletes to pick from. My dad and I both went with the Red Bean Chili and Cheddar Cheese omelete.

It was really good. The eggs were fluffy and the chili was rich and savory. It was full of bean, beef and tomato flavours, with just a hint of spice. Each plate came with a side of toast and fruit or potatoes. I had mine with sourdough toast and a side of home-style red potatoes -perfectly seasoned, while my dad had fruit.

It was filling and delicious. An absolute MUST for breakfast!