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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.

More trickery with the Best Apple Pie EVER

Rule #1 in Operation Carnivore Conversion: Keep the carnisaur’s taste buds and stomach feeling satisfied.

I’ve learned the hard way that if John feels deprived, he goes hunting for steak. So it’s up to me to create dishes that trick his palate and his stomach into thinking that he’s getting a fattening, butter-laden dish when he’s actually getting a healthy meal.

Overlooking dessert is a recipe for disaster that will lead to John falling off the veg wagon, so to make him feel like he’s not missing out on anything, every now and then I create a decadent-tasting (but healthy!) dessert. This is one of his favorites, as well as that of our friends, and I bet it’ll be one of yours as well once you try it. Without a doubt, it’s the best apple pie we’ve ever tried, and best yet, it’s totally vegan but you’d never know it. (Which is perfect for those of us who need to fool the reluctantly converting carnivores in our lives.)

This is a truly different way of making apple pie and the results knocks the socks off of everyone who tastes this pie. When making it for the first time, I thought: “There’s no way this will work out. I’d better have a back-up pie since this looks like it’ll be a disaster.” Much to my surprise, this pie rocked. As for my back-up pie, it was dead to me. So when making this pie for the first time, trust that it’ll all turn out in the end, even though you will severely doubt me while making it.

The Best Apple Pie EVER! (and bonus, it’s totally vegan!)
1/2 cup Earth Balance (or butter if you’re not vegan and you truly can’t live without it in your apple pie) (oh, and Earth Balance is natural “spread” that’s like margarine but unlike margarine, it’s not disgusting or made of flavored plastic)
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar (those more daring than I might try using a small amount of agave sweetener in place of the white sugar)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cardamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract (don’t cheap out –  use a high quality extract)
8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
A handful of sugar in the raw (i.e. big crystals of sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make double pie crust (below) and for one of the crusts, cut it into thin strips for a lattice-top.

In a pie tin, lay down the bottom pie crust, place the apples in there and mound them slightly in the center. Lay the crust strips on top to form a lattice. Put the pie in the middle of a big cookie sheet. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the margarine. Stir in flour and cornstarch to make a paste. Add water, the white and brown sugars (but NOT the sugar in the raw) and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to simmer the mixture, stirring well to fully integrate the ingredients.

Working very slowly, carefully drizzle the molten sugar/spice mixture on top of the pie, giving it time to ooze past the lattice and apples to reach the bottom. Drizzle over the entire surface – trust me, it tastes awesome on the lattice crust once baked. Be careful – if you pour too fast, it will just run off the lattice and onto the cookie sheet. You have to give it time to settle into the apples.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the sugar crystals atop the lattice crust. Return to the oven. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden, the filling is bubbling and the apples are soft.

Do not try to serve it while it’s hot since it will be way too runny. Let it cool completely (or maybe until it’s just a tiny bit warm) before serving. Enjoy!

Olive Oil Pie Crust (borrowed from Vegan Pie in the Sky)

Olive oil produces a light flaky crust with a surprisingly neutral taste, plus made with pantry friendly olive oil it’s a fast and convenient all purpose crust ideal for fruit pies. The secret is to freeze the olive oil before hand, so that it become partially solid. This helps the fat to blend into the dough in little pockets, creating the flakiness you crave.
To prepare the olive oil: About an hour before beginning the recipe, place the olive oil in a plastic container; for best results use a thin light container, like the kind used for take out food. Freeze until it’s opaque and congealed but still somewhat soft, like the consistency of slightly melted sorbet. If it’s over-frozen, that’s ok, just let it thaw a bit so that you can work with it.

Best trick: keep your ingredients cold, cold, cold and use your hands as little as possible because they’re so warm. When you divide the dough to roll out your first crust, wrap the other half in plastic and stash it in the fridge while it waits. Then put the parchment paper with your first rolled-out crust in the fridge to wait while you roll out the second. Makes things much flakier in the end!

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup olive oil, partially frozen (see above note)
4 to 8 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Working quickly, add the olive oil by the tablespoonful, cutting it into the flour with your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the flour appears pebbly.

In a cup mix together 4 tablespoons of the ice water with the apple cider vinegar. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of the water and vinegar mixture and using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula stir into the dough, adding more water a tablespoon at a time until it holds together to form a soft ball. Take care not to over-knead the dough.

Divide dough in two, press into each disk about an inch thick and place each piece between two 14 inch long pieces of waxed paper. Use a rolling pin to roll each piece into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. For a more even, uniform circle of dough roll the pin one or two strokes outward away from you, turn the dough a few degrees and roll a few times again and repeat. Repeat with other half of dough. Refrigerate rolled dough wrapped in waxed paper until ready to use.