Archive | 2012

The Boomerang: Honey Garlic Chipotle Corn on the Cob

Oh man, last week John experienced Operation Carnivore Reversion! The Big Green Egg (which is a crazy grill fad) and the overwhelming draw of his favorite childhood dishes cooked by his mother was just too much for him to resist. He OD’d on meat so badly that he actually boomeranged and requested a full slate of vegan meals this week. “I feel like my intestines need a scrub down. Bring on the vegetables,” he said. Since this is the first time he’s actually requested a vegan meal plan, I’m torn between being bummed about his drunk-on-meat stupor from last week, and being stoked about his newfound zeal for vegan food. Hmm, let’s focus on being stoked and plan some super tasty veggie dishes, shall we?
John usually isn’t inspired to eat many veggies, so that’s left me no choice but to develop a secret weapon: Honey Garlic Chipotle Spread. I put this slightly sweet, slightly savory, slightly smoky taste of heaven on fresh white corn on the cob. It is to die for. And it’s a total crowd pleaser, too! I’m telling you, it’s the only thing on earth that can possibly make corn on the cob taste better than it is on its own. And as John readily admits: “This spread makes people eat a lot more corn.”
So whether you’re looking for a super tasty way to dress up corn on the cob, trying to get someone to eat more veggies, or providing a vegan boomerang for someone who had a momentary meat orgy, this is the recipe for you. Enjoy!
Honey Garlic Chipotle Corn on the Cob
Serves: 8
From fridge to table: 11 minutes
8 ears fresh corn on the cob, shucked
1 tbsp chipotle sauce *
1/2 cup melted vegan butter spread (I like using Earth Balance)
(If your vegan butter spread is unsalted, add ½ tsp salt to the recipe)
1/3 cup honey
3 cloves garlic
* To make chipotle sauce, buy a can of “canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce,” which you’ll find in the Hispanic food aisle in grocery stores, and puree it in a food processor or blender. Freeze in ice cube trays for future use.
Bring a big huge pot of water to a boil. Toss in your husked ears of corn, cover and turn off the heat. Let it steep for 11 minutes for perfectly cooked corn that’s both crisp and tender.
Meanwhile, dump all the other ingredients in a food processor and puree. Once the corn is done, drain it and pat each ear dry, then brush the spread onto each ear. By the way, you can also make the spread several days in advance and refrigerate it. It firms up a bit in the fridge, but I think it makes it easier to get a thick coat of it onto the corn. When you’re ready to serve the corn, pass the extra spread around the table so people can put on extra as they’re eating – trust me, they’ll love it so much that they’ll want more.
By the way, if you want to make the flavors really pop and you’re willing to go to a little extra work, grill the corn in the husk, and rub the spread onto the corn kernels before you put the corn on the grill – it deepens the flavor a lot and it’s simply deeeelish!

I had to include this. Our cat, Mango, loves loves loves corn. When I’m not looking, he steals the entire cob off my plate. Now he gets his own corn, sans chipotle spread of course. Are we the only ones with cats who eat strange foods?

Smoky Grilled Veggies With Romesco Sauce

My friend Julia, who has been getting over the vegan hump for a couple of weeks, asked what she should do about a recent dinner invitation to a French restaurant. She’s worried that there may not be any food choices sans animal products. She’s smart to be thinking ahead. Let’s face it: if it were legal for a French chef to marry a wheel of brie, a brick of butter or a slab of fillet mignon, they’d be racing to the Hall of Justice and beating each other with baguettes to be the first to wed their beloved foods.

Generally, I find that most restaurants are very accommodating about requests for vegan meals, but for restaurants with multi-course meals and price-fixed menus,  it helps to call a day in advance to notify them of your dietary needs. This gives the chef time to come up with an interesting dish for you. On rare occasions, I’ve had chefs get ornery and try to convert me into being a carnivore – yeah, like the arguments of an guy who has goose fat oozing out of his sweaty pours and is seconds away from having a heart attack could convince me to eat meat!  I’ve also seen some chefs totally cop out and basically serve me an entree-sized portion of a lame side dish, which recently happened to me – but with surprising results – at a super cool farmhouse dinner with Outstanding in the Field.

We had really high expectations at the dinner since we’d had a great Outstanding in the Field experience last year, and when we saw the table for this event set up along the banks of a peaceful stream running through the organic farm, and we heard that the chef of Michelin-starred Chez TJ was cooking for us at the farm, my mouth watered while thinking of the cool concoctions he’d surely come up with.

That’s me and my converting carnivore, John, at the Outstanding in the Field dinner

And yes, I gave ample notice that I wanted a vegan meal. Much to my dismay, my entree consisted of a large plate of grilled veggies with romesco sauce, which was the side dish to the carnivore’s entree. Seriously, that’s just phoning it in! Or so I thought… until I took my first bite. Oh my goodness, I could have eaten three plates of these divinely smoky farm-fresh vegetables and that savory, smoky, deeply flavored sauce of joy! (He also served it with a carrot-top pesto that didn’t do anything for me, so let’s just focus on the romesco, shall we?) The chef was kind enough to share some of his ingenious secrets with me, which I’ll now share with you below. This makes a surprisingly tasty and filling entree, but it’s also a great side-dish, and you could also make it into a yummy sandwich, so I hope you like it!

By the way, the funniest part about that Outstanding in the Field meal is that all the carnivores were totally jealous of my meal. The chef served them an epic fail of a main course: a super fatty cut of pork belly that was utterly devoid of flavor, that jiggled ominously when the plate moved, and that no one could eat. That helped convert several carnivores at our table into vegans! 🙂

Seriously, who could eat meat after seeing this horrifying mess of pork fat?!

Smoky Grilled Vegetables with Romesco Sauce

Serves: 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish

From fridge to table: 15 minutes

– A large handful of redwood tips (that is, the new growth at the end of redwood tree branches. If redwoods don’t grow near you, try using hickory or alderwood chips, which you can find in any store that sells grills)
– 3 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slabs
– 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into large flat slabs
– 3 spring onions, cut into 1/2 inch slabs
– A large handful of flavorful mushrooms (like shitake or crimini), stemmed
– Three large carrots, chopped diagonally to create long, 1/2 inch thick coins
– Two large tomatoes, halved
– A handful of asparagus tips
– Any other vegetables that you like to grill (cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, you name it!)

For the Romesco Sauce:

– 1/3 cup skinned almond slivers
– 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
– 1 slice of sourdough sandwich bread, crust removed (any firm white bread will work, but c’mon, we all know that sourdough is tastiest!)
– 2 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, skinned and finely chopped (you can save time by using roasted red peppers from a jar)
– 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 tsp smoked sea salt
– 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra virgin)

Heat up your grill and spray (or brush) your veggies with olive oil. When the grill gets really hot, place your veggies on the grate and just before you close the lid, toss the redwood tips on the hot coals. Close the lid and allow the smoke to infuse the vegetables with insanely awesome flavor. Check your veggies after about 4 minutes and flip when they’ve got nice char marks. Note: some will cook faster than others. Continue cooking until the vegetables are cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare your romesco sauce. In a food processor, blend together the almonds, red pepper flakes, chunks of torn bread and garlic. When it’s done, it should resemble a fine meal, like thick breadcrumbs. Then add the balsamic vinegar, roasted red peppers and salt then puree. Add the olive oil slowly while the processor is running. It will create a luscious, thick sauce.

Serve the veggies with romesco sauce spread on top, and be sure to pass around the extra sauce since you and your guests will want to use your veggies like a zamboni to get every bit of that delicious romesco. Enjoy!

World Famous Bruschetta

Oh thank God, summer-fresh tomatoes are ripe on the vine on my tomato plants, and they’re all over the farmer’s market! There’s no better way to celebrate the flavor of fresh tomatoes than with this delicious bruschetta, which is the perfect marriage of flavors. It’s bright, slightly sweet, a little savory, earthy, tangy and delicious. Plus it’s got the fabulous crunch of crostini with the sink-your-teeth-into-it texture of fresh tomatoes. Yum! This is one of my secret weapons to help convert my carnivore husband into a vegan. It’s all about creating ultra flavorful, incredibly delicious dishes and this is definitely one of them. And it doesn’t hurt that this helps me put my tomatoes to good use. Since I planted 18 heirloom tomatoes this year (does anyone need that many tomatoes?!), I have realized two things: 1. it’s time that I face the fact that I have a tomato plant addiction, and 2. I’d better find a lot of awesome uses for tomatoes.

The only reason why I call this my “world famous” bruschetta is because wherever John and I travel in the world, I always make this appetizer for the new friends we make along the way. And it always inspires moans of joy…in every accent! Most bruschetta recipes call for you to make the crostini and put the tomato mixture on top, but since people pretty much inhale it, I’ve taken to serving the topping in a separate bowl to force people to make their own (which slows them down a tiny bit). Yes, there have been nights when this is all that John and I eat – we start with every intention to eat a complete dinner but we just can’t stop ourselves since it’s so tasty. The best part is that when I make this, it satisfies my carnivore husband so much that he stops fantasizing about having meat for the night. That’s an impressive feat for a dish! Hmm, I think I should rename this “Magic Bruschetta.”

Cimeron’s Magic Bruschetta

Serves: 6-8

From fridge to table: a little over an hour

2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes, tossed in a strainer to drain off extra juice

4 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2/3 – 3/4 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 tsp dried oregano

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 baguette, sliced into thin coins

Heat oven to 350. Arrange baguette slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with a little bit of garlic powder, or rub each one down with a half-sliced clove of garlic. Bake the bread coins until they’re golden and crispy, which can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on your oven. Then voila – you have crostini! Celebrate your awesomeness, then remove crostini from oven and put it in a serving bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the bruschetta ingredients well and refrigerate for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so if you can. Do not cheat and skip the refrigeration step – the flavors only come alive and set after an hour of refrigeration. Trust me on this one!

Serve the crostini in a bowl and the bruschetta in a separate bowl, then watch your friends and family vacuum it up! Or screw your friends and save it all for yourself… because it’s THAT good. 🙂

Secret Popcorn

Hello and sorry for my absence! I’m in Portugal on assignment at the Kite Surf Pro World Championship Tour event in gorgeous Cascais. Not-so-reliable internet connections and long days of work have made it challenging to post. But I’ve been dying to dig in to this one, so let’s get to it!

I’m about to teach you a secret to making popcorn in the microwave WITHOUT having to buy those disgusting chemical-laden microwavable popcorns. It’s so simple that you’re going to say “no way – seriously?!” and will save you time and money, and may even make you live longer (I mean seriously – those polymers that they call ‘flavoring’ in the microwave bags cannot be good for you).  The evil makers of microwavable popcorn are going to hate me for this, but this is well-deserved payback for their assault on my pallet and their utter mistreatment of my favorite snack: the almighty popcorn.

It’s no secret that popcorn is one of the greatest snacks on the planet. Ever since childhood when my mum would make it in a huge pot on the stove, I have been an addict. It’s my go-to food when I – or my potato-chip loving husband –  have the munchies. It’s light, crunchy, good for you and not fattening, and the perfect alternative to greasy chips. The only imperfect thing about it is that it’s a pain to make. Oh how I rejoiced when microwavable popcorn came out.. And then oh how I frantically scraped my tongue when those chemically coated cardboard popcorn pieces passed my lips. That was emotionally scarring! So those evil makers of microwave popcorn deserve what’s coming to them now…

Here’s the secret: you can pop loose popcorn in any paper bag in the microwave. Seriously.

I like using small paper lunch bags, or better yet, get the free little paper freezer bags from the grocery store, which are slightly thicker than lunch bags – you know, the ones that they use for small tubs of ice cream. Just ask the checkout person and they’ll give a handful of bags for free. This will save you a lot of money – one bag of loose popcorn (with about 15 cents worth of kernels) makes about as much as $30-40 worth of those microwavable popcorn bags. And it’ll also save your taste buds from being assaulted by chemicals.

Here’s how you do it: Load up the bag with 1/4-1/2 cup of loose popcorn kernels (try white popcorn – it’s the lightest and has the best flavor in my opinion), fold the top of the bag  tightly with three folds, put in the microwave (flat side down) and pop it on your microwave’s popcorn setting. Listen for the pops to settle – you may need to add 30-60 seconds to your microwave’s popcorn setting to get all the kernels popped.

One more secret to awesome popcorn: sprinkle it with truffle salt. Yep, truffle salt. It is TO DIE FOR on popcorn! Once I tried it, it was over – it’s the only way I can eat popcorn now. You can purchase truffle salt online at lots of place. I like the one I found at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza building at the mushroom guy’s shop, and also the black truffle salt at SpiceHound.com – both of theirs have a big truffle flavor and lots of black truffle bits. At $20-25 per jar, it’s expensive but it’ll last you a couple of years – it’s totally worth it. Happy snacking!

Hi from Portugal!

Cimeron’s Not-So-Suffering Succotash

Hurray – the sparkling sunny days are here! And so are fabulous veggies bursting with flavor. If you love the warm seasons as much as I do, you’re going to want to try this dish: it tastes like summer! The creamy smoothness of butter beans provides a most luxurious base for the layers of luscious summer flavors in this dish: sweet, crispy white corn, tangy vine-ripened tomatoes, and the distinctively fabulous taste of sun-kissed basil. Every time I make this, it disappears instantly. Friends eat multiple helpings and John vacuums it up. (Shhh, I’m going to tell you a secret: this dish is so good that sometimes I hide it in the fridge so that I can have it all to myself.) And the best part is that it’s as good for you as it is tasty.

This is not your mother’s succotash (I still have nightmares about that frozen bag stuff my mother tried to force-feed me when I was a kid that had mealy beans and mushy corn – blehk!) This bright, sunshiny dish is truly remarkable and is hearty enough to make a meal, although it also makes a perfect side dish, especially if you’re barbequing. And it’s got lots of protein, which is a nice bonus for vegetarians and vegans. So celebrate the season and bite into summer with my Not-So-Sufferin’ Succotash!

Cimeron’s Not-So-Sufferin’ Succotash

Serves: 8 as a side-dish
From fridge to table: about 30 minutes if using canned beans (a longer if using dried beans, but it’s worth it!)

Olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ cups white corn (if using fresh corn, it’ll take about 2-3 ears of corn to get 2.5 cups of kernels)
3 cups vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped (that’s about 2 pounds of tomatoes)
2 ½ cups cooked butter beans* (I prefer making my own from dried beans, but if you want quick and easy, use canned baby butter beans. Or canelli beans if you can’t find butter beans)
½ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
smoked sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste

* If using dried beans, see below for soaking and cooking instructions

Heat a big old high-sided pan over medium-high. Sautee the onions in some olive oil (1-2 tbsp) and sprinkle with some smoked sea salt. Once the onions become translucent, add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Toss in the corn, beans and tomatoes and stir well. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, add the basil, and season to taste with additional smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve warm (and bonus – the beans retain heat very well, so it stays warm on your plate for a long time!) When you take your first bite, close your eyes and taste summer come to life on your tongue. 🙂

* If using dried beans, cover the beans with lots of fresh water and soak for at least 5 hours, changing the water as often as possible (at least 5 times) to de-gas the beans. It also helps to soak them with a piece of “kombu,” a kind of seaweed that helps to de-gas beans. After they’ve been fully soaked, discard the water and the kombu. Put the beans in a big pot and cover fresh water so there’s at least a couple inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Then uncover the pot and simmer for about 2 more hours until tender, stirring occasionally. Test to see if the beans are done – they will be cooked through and creamy when they’re ready. Drain and rinse with cold water. The extra beans freeze well, by the way!

Silky Portugese Style Pasta With Toasted Almonds and Soy Chorizo

Ever been to Portugal? I recently landed a PR and Editorial Director position with the Kite Surf Pro tour and so I’m heading to the first tour stop soon: spectacular Guincho Beach in Portugal. Yes, I know you’re crying for me right now – my job is tough but I will persevere! 😉  To prepare my stomach for the trip, I started experimenting with traditional Portuguese and Spanish cooking methods and flavors, only with a meat-free twist. Oh meu deus, I found a winning combination!

I think you’re going to like this quick, simple, healthy and incredibly tasty dish: silky Portugese style pasta with toasted almonds and soy chorizo. What’s silky pasta? It’s damn good, that’s what it is! By sautéing dry pasta and then allowing it to absorb a flavored wine sauce, it creates a silky, almost creamy texture that’s rich, flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth good. Pasta normally doesn’t do anything for me, but this is spectacular and now I’m in love with it. Plus, the soy chorizo imparts a fantastic smoky flavor and the toasted almonds give the dish a surprisingly satisfying and interesting crunch. My carnivore husband also loves this dish so much that it’s going into our rotation, and I love it since it’s delicious and fast to make. Ole!

So take a trip to Portugal with me…with your taste buds. I think you’ll really like this, and I guarantee that it’ll totally change the way you look at pasta. It’s muito excelente!

Take a trip to Portugal with your taste buds.

Silky Portuguese Style Pasta with Toasted Almonds and Soy Chorizo

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 30 minutes

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup white wine (a dry wine, like sauvignon blanc, is best)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp saffron, dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water
7 cloves garlic, sliced
3/4 cup (or about 6 oz) soy chorizo cut into small pieces (I use soyrizo and it works great in this dish)
1 yellow onion, finely diced
12 oz thin spaghetti (such as angel hair), broken into 2 to 3 inch pieces
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted
Olive oil
* 1 cup cooked chickpeas – optional

Heat a medium pot and pour in water, wine, broth, salt and saffron. Bring to a boil then reduce to the lowest setting on your range to keep warm.

In a large pot, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and sauté garlic for 30 seconds. Remove the garlic and set aside. Add the soy chorizo and brown it, which should take about 3 minutes. It may break apart, which is fine. Remove from pot and set aside with the garlic. Sauté the onion until it’s translucent and golden brown, about 4 minutes, then add the broken pasta and sauté until the pasta turns golden – about 5 minutes. Add the hot wine/broth mixture, cover the pot and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, which should take about 5-6 minutes. Stir well then add the parsley, the chickpeas if you’re using them (I’d say use them only if you are in love with chickpeas – the dish doesn’t totally need them) and a little salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve hot. Comer feliz! (Which I think is Portuguese for bon appetite…either that or ‘come here, Felix.’)

Nutty Indonesian Sweet Noodles


Knowing how much I adore Bali (who wouldn’t love that tropical paradise where you can get $4 massages?!), and probably remembering how much I talk about my favorite noodle and nut dish that I eat whenever I’m there (if allowed, I would bathe in this dish), my neighbor Martha and her daughter Jamie shared this fabulous and quick-to-prepare recipe with me. It’s from The Accidental Vegan cookbook and is an elegant vegetarian adaptation of a traditional Indonesian dish that is simply divine. Unlike my other favorite dishes that pretty much explode with flavor, this meal lightly dances on your taste buds with a slightly sweet flavor and a lovely nuttiness. It’s got loads of protein to fill your belly with joy. Plus, it’s quick, simple and delicious! Whether you’re trying to please a carnivore’s tummy, a vegan’s palate or a picky kid’s appetite, this dish delivers.

This is the sweet little Indonesian great-grandmother who taught me how to make this dish. See, I wasn't joking when I said her kitchen was blackened!

I learned how to make the traditional version of this dish in the blackened kitchen of an ancient Balinese great-grandmother who used Indonesian candlenuts to make this dish. It can be challenging to find candlenuts outside of Asia, but don’t worry – the other nuts listed below make fantastic substitutes. I’m also happy to report that you can use an actual range to cook this meal instead of the little cooking fire that the ancient great-grandma used. Although I’ll admit it was fun to cook with her, even though she didn’t speak a word of English and my mastery of the Indonesian language is restricted to massage- and surfing-related terms.  Unfortunately I didn’t remember almost anything she taught me since she bestowed on me the gift of an aromatic leaf that she indicated I should chew on while cooking. It made my lips numb. Being unable to feel my tongue, I accidentally swallowed the masticated leaf, which made the old lady’s eyes bulge in alarm – apparently you’re just supposed to chew it and spit it out. Who knows what it was – all I know is that I didn’t remember anything else that followed, except that I had monkeys sitting on my shoulder and that the flames in her cooking fire magically transformed into technicolor aliens that waved forks at me. So thank goodness for the Accidental Vegan cookbook for recreating this recipe!

I made a few changes to get the flavor to be a closer approximation to the dish I love eating in Indonesia, and I think the end result is divine. By the way, if you have sweet soy sauce, which is what is typically used in this dish, you can use that instead of the soy/molasses combo. You can find it in most Asian food stores. But I doubt your local Asian food store stocks that weird Indonesian chewing leaf with numbing and hallucinogenic properties. You never know though!
Nutty Indonesian Sweet Noodles

From fridge to table: about 10 minutes

Serves: 4

1 pound dry Asian noodles (such as udon or soba)
1/2 cup roasted cashews
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts (aka “filberts”) with the skins rubbed off
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pushed through a press
1.5 tbsp grated ginger
1 cup bean sprouts (kale is also a great substitute)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp molasses
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the noodles; cook until al dente. Drain noodles well then run under cold water so they don’t get gummy.

Meanwhile, put the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Heat the olive oil in a wok over medium low heat, add the onions, garlic and ginger and saute for 3-5 minutes, until onion starts to soften. Stir in the nuts, sprouts, soy sauce, molasses and sesame oil and cook for another few minutes until everything is heated through. Add noodles and toss everything with tongs until the noodles absorb the liquid. Serve hot.

Hmm, maybe I wasn't hallucinating?!

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.

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!