Archive | April, 2012

Strawberries with Reduced Balsamic Syrup – Crazy-Easy, Tasty, Healthy Dessert

Wow, have you tried the spring strawberries yet? They’re positively bursting with juicy, sweet flavor! If you want to try an insanely simple and super quick dessert recipe that’s elegant, unique, healthy and moan-worthy delicious, you’ve got to try this dish: Strawberries with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar Syrup. I know it sounds like an odd combo, but trust me, the flavors create a harmonious symphony that’s both luscious and vibrant. It may even remind you of the deep, rich flavor of a berrylicious zinfandel.

I came up with this recipe while trying to figure out a quick and tasty sugar-free dessert that John and our friends might like.  I decided that it was pretty necessary to develop a sugar-free recipe after I had the wits scared out of me when I read a bunch of recent scientific studies about sugar and how bad it is for our bodies. The studies go so far as to call sugar “toxic” and “poison” since it’s been proven to fuel the growth of cancer, cause high blood pressure, prematurely age skin, create man-eating mutant sharks with laser beams on their heads, hasten the apocalypse, etc. But all of the studies said that the naturally occurring sugars in fruits are totally fine when you eat them in the whole fruit (as opposed to juicing fruits or separating the sugar from the flesh of the fruit and concentrating it).

This recipe features the naturally sweet, delicious flavor of ripe strawberries and the deep, dark, silky-smooth, tangy and slightly tannic flavor of reduced/concentrated balsamic vinegar to create a remarkable dessert. When you reduce the balsamic, it really deepens the flavor and takes away its sharp bite while creating a thick syrup, which is divine. So if you choose to banish sugar from your diet, you won’t feel the least bit deprived when you eat this dessert. You won’t even miss the sugar…but watch out for those mutant sharks with laser beams on their heads.

Strawberries with Reduced Balsamic Syrup

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 5-10 minutes

– 1 pint fresh, ripe organic strawberries *
– 1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar **

* Choose organic strawberries if you can afford it. Strawberries absorb chemicals through their skin and right into the flesh of the fruit, so if you buy a conventionally grown strawberry, even if you wash off a berry, you may still be eating pesticides. Plus, organic berries just taste better!

** Flavored balsamics, like fig or strawberry balsamic, work even better in this recipe

Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Boil it down until it’s reduced by a little more than half, occasionally swirling the vinegar in your saucepan. Once it’s reduced, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, which will thicken it into a syrup consistency. Arrange berries in a single layer on a plate, drizzle balsamic over them and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Once reduced and cooled, the reduced balsamic vinegar takes on a syrupy consistence. If you tip your finger in it, it should stick to your finger and slowly slide off.

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Quicky Thai-Style Noodles in Yummy Peanut Sauce

Every time John and I eat Thai food, we say the same thing: “Oh man, I could eat this every day!” The sauces are simply divine! One of the most versatile is peanut sauce. Thai peanut sauces are so good that they can be used for just about everything: as a dip for summer rolls, drizzled on steamed veggies, as the sauce for a thai-style pizza. It’s also a great projectile when you want to fling a spoonful of something at your spouse when he really deserves it, like when he polishes off the bottle of wine while you’re in the hot tub staring forlornly at your empty glass.

This is a very tasty Thai-inspired noodle dish that’s super quick to make. I’ve included a really delicious peanut sauce recipe at the end of this post, but if you are pressed for time or you’re just feelin’ lazy (no shame in that!), you can also use peanut satay sauce from a jar. For dinner, I serve this hot and for lunch I serve it cold – try it both ways and see what you prefer!

Quicky Thai-Style Noodles in Yummy Peanut Sauce

From fridge to table: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup asparagus tips
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, sliced
8 mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (shitake or baby portabella work great since they’re so flavorful)
1/2 cube extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes (if you want extra flavor, marinate the tofu in teriyaki sauce overnight)
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
1/4-1/2 cup peanut satay sauce from a jar, or homemade peanut sauce (recipe below) *
6 oz dry udon noodles, such as Japanese yokogiri

Cook noodles by following the directions on the package. Rinse with cold water and set aside. If using yokogiri udon noodles, bring a pot of water to boil, stir in noodles. When the pot begins to boil again, add 1 cup cold water. When it comes back to a boil, drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Over high heat, warm a couple tablespoons of oil in a wok or large fry pan with high sides. To avoid oil splatter, I recommend sliding the ingredients down the sides of the pan. When the oil is good and hot, slide in the tofu and let it brown before stirring. Allow to brown on a couple of sides (I like mine nearly blackened – it adds character!), and then slide in the red bell pepper. Once it starts to turn orange, kind of like the color of a tragic spray-tan victim, slide in the sugar snap peas, mushrooms, asparagus and garlic. Saute until the asparagus is crisp-tender. Turn down heat to medium and add the peanut sauce, green onions, cilantro, peanuts and noodles – toss very well to fully coat the noodles. Add more peanut sauce to taste. (But be sure to save some just in case you need to fling it at your spouse if he drinks all the wine!)

* If you want to make homemade peanut sauce, here’s my recipe, which tastes way better than the store-bought stuff in a jar (if I do say so myself…):

Homemade peanut sauce

1/4 cup organic chunky peanut butter
3 tsp chili garlic sauce (you can find this in the Asian section of the market)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp hoisin sauce (also found in the Asian section of the market)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water

Whirl all ingredients together in a food processor and voila, you’ve got peanut sauce!

Mmmm, Minted Peas!

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! English peas are finally back at the farmer’s market and in grocery stores! (You’re doing a happy dance right now, aren’t you? You know I am!) To celebrate, we’re making Minted Peas, a super fast, easy and drool-inducing side dish. Of all the dishes I make, this one is the most requested by friends and my husband – people can’t get enough of this, and neither can I. It’s so good that my carnivore husband actually *requests* it – that’s a pretty big deal for a guy who sees the ‘wisdom’ in congress declaring that pizza is a vegetable. I put a California-twist on this English dish to blend the slightly sweet flavor and crisp texture of peas straight from the pod with a refreshing splash of mint, and round it out with a buttery, smokey seasoning. This is a fantastic dish.

If the thought of peas doesn’t inspire you to break into an impromptu River Dance, it’s probably because you’ve never had freshly shelled English peas. These are not the squishy, mealy, weird smelling pellets borne from a can or a frozen bag that your parents force-fed you as a child. Ug, it gives me chills when I recall my mum saying: “Cimeron, please just eat one spoonful of peas or you’ll get scurvy.” I would dissolve into tears and beg my mum not to make me eat the “spongy aliens.” A couple of decades later when I discovered English peas in the pod and shelled them myself, I fell head over heals in love with these crisp yet tender heavenly orbs of joy. Fear not – these fresh peas bear no resemblance to those “spongy aliens” found in cans (and in my childhood nightmares). Freshly shelled English peas are better than candy – seriously! When John craves something sweet, he munches on peas, which are a healthy and tasty high-fiber snack.

We’re going to flash-cook (aka blanch) the peas to keep the centers crisp and delicious while giving the exteriors a wonderfully smooth texture. So prepare yourself to have a new favorite side dish!

Mmmm, Minted Peas

Serves: 2-3
From fridge to table: 5 minutes

1.5 cups freshly shelled English peas (you’ll need to buy a couple pounds of pods)
2 tbsp fresh mint, finely minced
1/2 tsp parsley, finely minced
1/4 tsp smoked sea salt*
a pinch of ground sage
1 tbsp Earth Balance (or any other butter substitute)

* If you haven’t yet tried smoked sea salt, now’s the time! It imparts such a lovely smokey flavor that makes ordinary dishes extraordinary and it’s just divine with the minted peas. Trust me – once you try it, you’ll be using it in everything: in soups, on veggies, in potato dishes. I get mine from SpiceHound.com; you can also find it at gourmet grocery stores, cooking shops and even on Amazon.com. A little goes a long way, so it lasts forever.

In a medium saucepan, bring 5 cups of water to a rapid boil. Toss in the shelled peas and cook for 30 seconds. Drain immediately and put the peas in a serving bowl. Toss in the herbs, seasonings and butter substitute and mix thoroughly. Serve hot and enjoy! Mmmm!

Dancing Taste Buds: Indian-Inspired Tofu Curry

Mmm, street food! Wherever you go in Asia, you’re sure to find some of the best food from the hawkers on the street…if you’re bold enough to try it. You’ll find these vendors on busy street corners, on boats in crowded canals, and in bustling night markets with their steamy carts lit by luminaries. The crowds around the most popular vendors might just convince you to overlook the guy at the next cart selling deep fried crickets – blehk!

This fragrant coconut milk-based Indian-style tofu curry makes me think of warm Bombay nights and a exuberant Bollywood movies bursting with vibrant tropical colors, smiles and dancing. It’s a delicious, thick, filling curry that’s oh so satisfying! And the tofu packs this dish with protein. It’s so rich that meat-eaters love it, as do vegans! And the chef in your family will like it too since it’s so easy and quick to make. I like to make this on my Bollywood dancing night – yes, I take a Bollywood dance class and I flipping love it! (You don’t believe me, do you? Well this is a photo of our last performance – that’s me on the bottom left.) The music is so happy and the choreography is so fun that I can’t help but laugh through the whole class. I have yet to get John to do a little Bollywood dance with me, but I’m persistent. One day, I swear I’ll get him to gyrate to a tabla beat!

I’ve adapted this from a recipe by the wonderful cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen. You can use regular curry powder, but if you have Madras curry, this dish really comes alive and adds a spicy kick that’s sure to make your taste buds dance!

Indian-Inspired Tofu Curry

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: about 15-20 minutes

2-3 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
14-16 oz. firm tofu cut into thin domino-sized/shaped pieces
1/2 tsp salt (I like using smoked sea salt – it adds so much depth, it’s delicious)
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots (drained and rinsed)
1.5 tsp curry powder, preferably Madras curry
2 tsp light brown sugar
2-3 small heads baby bok choy, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 cup asparagus tips, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh Asian-style herbs. Any of the following works great with this dish: mint, cilantro or basil. (Confession: I used all three and it was fabulous!)

Cooked rice, or cooked noodles (soba or udon are great with this)

If you have time, do this step with the tofu since it creates an interesting texture, but if you don’t have time, you can skip it: put tofu in a wide, shallow bowl. Mix in 1 tsp salt with 2 cups very hot water and pour over tofu. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain and let sit on paper towels for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in large non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Fry shallots until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2-3 minutes until light and crisp. Add curry powder. Remove solid ingredients from pan and set aside, but don’t clean the pan. Add a little more oil and then saute the tofu, turning once, until golden – about 4-5 minutes. It won’t get crispy, but it’ll get golden around the edges.

Add the shallot mixture to the pan again, and add coconut milk, salt, bamboo shoots and brown sugar. Bring to simmer and cook 2-3 minutes. Add bok choy and asparagus and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with chopped herbs.  Serve with either rice or atop noodles. Then rejoice as your taste buds dance!