Archive | Starters and sides RSS feed for this archive

Delicious Syrian Treat: Nuts and Wheat Berries Bejeweled with Pomegranate

Syrian Treat - YUM!

Looking for an incredibly tasty, unique breakfast (or dessert) treat with exotic flavors? This delicious, healthy dish will do the trick! Toasty notes of roasted nuts, coconut and wheat berries are beautifully balanced with warm cinnamon and bright little bursts of tangy pomegranate. Toasted fennel seeds add a dash of mystery on the palate with its faint hint fragrant licorice. Mmmm, this dish is so yummy and unlike anything you’ve ever tried! A bowl full of this high-protein, fiber-packed goodness will satisfy your taste buds, your belly and your whole body.

I’m not exactly sure what to call this dish (hence the lame name I’ve given it). A Syrian friend once made it for me many years ago and I’ve long forgotten the name. She told me it’s a dish that her family made for special occasions, but she always had some in her fridge to eat for breakfast; she also liked to spoon over yogurt and ice cream. I became an instant addict and have been making it (and modifying it) ever since.

IMG_1309

In addition to the trio of toasted nuts, its other main ingredient is the all mighty wheat berry. This little super grain is an unprocessed wheat kernel, which is packed with minerals, fiber and vitamins. In addition to lowering your risk of various cancers and heart disease, wheat berries have a lovely earthy flavor and a slight crunch – they’re really great in this dish.

Best of all, this tasty treat is bejeweled with the fruit of my people: the luscious pomegranate, which is as delectable as it is good for you. Honestly, is there any better taste of fall than ripe pomegranates? Well, I suppose there’s one: pomegranates that someone else has seeded for you – somehow, those always taste better!

So get ready to make your taste buds happy with this delicious Syrian Treat! (And please message me if you come up with a better name for it!)

Cimeron’s Syrian Treat

From pantry to table: about 45 minutes
Serves: 8

1 cup toasted, unsalted pistachios*
1 cup toasted, unsalted walnut pieces*
1 cup toasted, unsalted pine nuts*
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
1 cup wheat berries (available at Whole Foods and other natural food stores)
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tbsp brown brown sugar

* if you can’t find pre-toasted nuts, just buy raw nuts and roast them in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

First step is to soak and cook the wheat berries. These are tough grains, so soak them overnight, then add them to a large pot with about 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the grains are tender, about 45 minutes. Then drain the wheat berries and put them in a large bowl.

(I like to save time and use my pressure cooker. If you have one too, here’s how you cook the wheat berries. There’s no need to soak them overnight. Just 3 cups of water, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 cup of wheat berries in your cooker and cook under high pressure for 40 minutes. Drain and add to a bowl.)

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 350. Spread fennel seeds in single layer on a cookie sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Spread coconut onto a separate cookie sheet and toast until golden, about 6-8 minutes. Add both to the bowl with the wheat berries.

Add the pomegranate seeds, toasted nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt. Stir well to blend, then serve and enjoy!

You can store this in the fridge for 5-7 days. (Who am I kidding? Once you taste it, it will be gone very quickly!)

Advertisements

Shutdown Survival Foods

IMG_0370

Just in time for Halloween, reports of disease-infested meats are starting to come in. Goody! Unfortunately this is no trick-or-treat – USDA food inspections have been suspended due to the Congressionally-induced government shutdown. (I saw a poll today that showed that Americans prefer dog poop, head lice and colonoscopies to Congress – seems about right!) If you’d like to avoid salmonella and survive the impending zombie apocalypse (have I been watching too much cable news?), it’s a great time to go vegan! Since salmonella is most commonly found in food products that come from animals, it’s easy to steer clear of it: just don’t eat meat or animal products. Simple as that!

Here are two super quick, extremely tasty animal-free snacks that will put a smile back on your face: tomato-basil hummus and pan-roasted shishito peppers. Both take just minutes to prepare, and extra bonus, one of them has a built-in handle for easy hurling at your TV, a member of Congress, or whatever…

Oh, and if you have any old, potentially E. coli-laden meats in your fridge, no need to let them go to waste – just send them to Congress as a special “gift” for their excellent service.  Trick or treat! 😉

Tomato basil hummus

Tomato-Basil Hummus
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 5 minutes

2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp fresh basil leaves
½ cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for a few minutes to soften
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if you’ve got basil-infused olive oil, now is the time to use it! My favorite is from 11Olives.com – deeelish!)
A little water, 1 tbsp at a time, to taste

Toss everything except oil and water into a food processor and grind until smooth. Drizzle in the oil, then drizzle in water – one tablespoon at a time – until you reach desired consistency. Personally, I like this hummus a little thinner than a typical hummus, but it’s totally up to you!

Pan-roasted shishito peppers - yum!

Pan-Roasted Shishito Peppers
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 10 minutes

Grab a basket of these beautiful little peppers from your local farmer’s market, then heat up your wok to super-hot. Pour in a little high-temperature oil (like grape seed oil), then slide in the peppers. I like to slide them down the sides of the pan to avoid oil-splatter. Stir vigorously until they’re a little deflated and thoroughly charred. Turn off heat and toss in some smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, then serve (or huck at the TV – your choice).

Enjoy!

Hearty Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot

Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot

Two years ago, John and I got the chance to experience a really special Outstanding in the Field event held on a private beach in Santa Cruz. The 100-person table was set up on the sand and wrapped around a huge beach bonfire. It wasn’t so bad watching whales spout in the background while sifting sand through our toes and sipping wine with our good friends! You’d think that would be the most memorable part of the evening, but no – since I’m an insufferable foodie douche weenie, the most mind-blowing thing about the whole dinner was being introduced to my new favorite food: the Italian butter bean.  The beans, which are large white limas, are creamy, tender and slightly nutty tasting – they’re unlike anything I’ve ever tried! They are as tasty as they are filling, making them great for entrees and side dishes alike.

The Outstanding in the Field organizers paired up local organic farmers with two top Bay Area chefs, one of which was Richard Reddington of Napa Valley’s acclaimed restaurant, Redd.  Chef Reddington created an incredible tomatoey Italian butter bean dish that left all of our jaws on the table. After dinner, Chef Reddington was kind enough to sit with me at the bonfire and give me some of his secrets for his incredibly flavorful butter bean dish. Unfortunately, I had sampled quite a few glasses of delicious local wine by then and had killed far too many brain cells to remember all the details he shared with me, but thankfully, enough key pieces of intel stayed with me so that I could create my own version of his delightful dish. I’m calling mine the Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot, which features a thick, rich sauce and deep, earthy flavors. Whenever I make this dish, it instantly transports us back to the beach and that spectacularly special evening, which might be why John and our friends request the bean pot so often. Well, it might have more to do with the fact that this dish totally rocks and the butter beans are to die for! And since it’s super easy to make, nutrient-rich and loaded with protein, it has become a staple in our house. I bet you will love it, too.

Note the wine glass in my hand: this is why I couldn't remember Chef Reddington's exact recipe!

Note the wine glass in my hand: this is why I couldn’t remember Chef Reddington’s exact recipe! But don’t worry, my version of his dish will still knock your socks off.

Cimeron’s Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot
Serves: 15 people as a side dish, or 6 as a main course
From fridge to table: about 3 hours (plus overnight soaking of the beans)
(Don’t worry – it’s one of those “let it sit on the stove for hours” kind of recipes, so it won’t require much of your time at all)

1 pound dried Italian butter beans*
1 extra humongous yellow onion, finely chopped
15 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and finely chopped
1.5 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
Smoked sea salt and pepper, to taste

First, soak the beans in water overnight. To de-gas the beans, soak them with a piece of kombu (a dried seaweed you can find at Whole Foods), or change the water often within the first few hours.

Drain the soaked beans, put them in a large pot and fill with fresh water until the beans are just covered. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the salt and pepper. (Salt stops beans from cooking, so don’t add the salt yet). Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered. Then reduce heat to simmer (on my range, I set it to 3), and cook, uncovered, for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours until the beans are tender and the cooking liquid and veggies become a thick, rich sauce. Be sure to stir every now and then to prevent scorching. If the sauce thickens but the beans aren’t soft enough yet, add some water (1/2 – 1 cup at a time) and continue cooking the beans. Once the beans are tender and creamy, add smoked sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve hot as a side dish or as an entree. Enjoy!

*I get dried Italian butter beans from Iacopi Farms at our local farmer’s market. Mr. Iacopi’s father immigrated to the Bay Area from Italy and brought his family’s famous butter beans with him.  If you can’t find them where you are, you can buy canned Italian butter beans in most high-end grocery stores, or buy the dried beans online. You could also substitute another large white bean, but if you can, try to find the butter beans since they are simply divine.IMG_0146

You didn't believe me when I said I am a foodie douche weenie, did you? Well, this might prove my point. Who else but a food groupie would get her photo taken with a chef-idol? Chef Reddington and his butter beans rock!

You didn’t believe me when I said I am a foodie douche weenie, did you? Well, this might prove my point. Who else but a food groupie would get her photo taken with a chef-idol? Chef Reddington and his butter beans rock!

If you have a chance, I highly recommend going to an Outstanding in the Field event. They travel around the US all spring and summer and they're quite amazing.

If you have a chance, I highly recommend going to an Outstanding in the Field event. They travel around the US all spring and summer and they’re super fun.

San Francisco Treat: Artichoke with Lemony Mint-Caper Dip

Artichoke with tangy, lemony mint-caper dip

In honor of our 49ers who are on their way to the Superbowl, here’s a truly San Francisco treat: Artichoke with Lemony Mint-Caper Dip. This is a really tasty and very healthy appetizer, perfect for say…oh, I don’t know…a Superbowl party! 😉

Since my carnivore’s idea of football-watching snacks are nachos or Philly cheese-steaks, my vegan alternative has to be seriously delicious or there will be much whining (and if you heard the whining, you’d know that it is to be avoided at all costs). Luckily, this unique creation has complex flavors that keep the palate happy and interested bite after bite, and the awesome artichoke – grown right here on the Northern California coast – is the perfect way to celebrate the best of the Bay Area.

I realize that capers, mint, lemon and artichoke sounds like a weird combo, but trust me on this one – it’s pretty amazing! Fresh mint compliments the briny, tangy caper , and together with a light hint of acidity from lemon and white balsamic, it brings out the creamy, mellow loveliness of artichoke in a really surprising way. So surprising, in fact, that it kept my carnivore (as well as our other carnivore friends) reaching for one artichoke leaf after another while watching the 49ers win the division. (It also turned out to be a great substitute for biting nails during tense moments in the playoffs.)

By the way, did you know that there are tons of benefits of artichokes, as well as watching football? Our leafy, thorny friends are full of antioxidants, they actually *regenerate* the liver (making them a spectacular hangover treatment), they help the digestive system and they prevent cancer. As for watching football, there’s a big benefit…at least for me.  I get a foot massage whenever John is watching a game. Score!!

So whether you’re a football fan or not, you can still celebrate the flavor of the Bay Area with this tasty appetizer. GO 9ers!

Artichoke with Lemony Mint-Caper Dip

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 45 minutes

2 large fresh artichokes, stems trimmed
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tsp capers, drained and finely chopped
1 tbsp white lemon balsamic vinegar (or a plain white balsamic vinegar combined with 1 tsp grated lemon zest)
3 tbsp meyer lemon olive oil (or plain olive oil combined with 1 tsp fresh lemon juice)
a pinch of salt

Cook artichoke any way you prefer: steamed or boiled. Personally, I just drop artichokes into a large pot of boiling water and cook until the flesh on the leaves is soft, creamy and easily scraped off by your teeth, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the rest of the ingredients and place in a serving bowl. Once the artichokes are ready, drain and serve them warm with the dipping sauce. Or, you can drizzle the dipping sauce all over the artichoke leaves – your choice. Then go cheer for the 49ers!

Curried Coconut Carrot Soup Dupes Carnivore Into Eating Root Vegetables!

Are these carrots or "orange death twigs?"

By now you know that I am perfectly comfortable tricking my carnivore husband into eating incredibly healthy vegetarian and vegan meals. How else am I going to get him to try things he’d normally declare are strictly for “tye-dye wearing bark-eaters?” You know, like foods that are really “out there,” such as carrots.  Yeah, I said carrots. Or as John likes the call them: orange twigs of death. “But they’re so good for you! They prevent cancer and heart disease, reduce the risk of stroke and they’re great for your skin,”  I say, trying to reason with him as he picks the orange flecks out of his salad while shaking his head. Well, I’ve finally figured out a way to get him to eat carrots: Curried Coconut Carrot Soup.

In this super simple little recipe, carrots are disguised in this rich, creamy soup. The beguiling, exotic flavors of garam masala curry and coconut milk are the primary flavors you taste in this delicious soup, and maybe you’ll even pick up a hint of fresh ginger. But the taste of carrots? Nope! Even though they’re the main ingredient, you wouldn’t know it since they simply provide a platform for the other flavors. But you still get the awesome health benefits of the mighty carrot, so it’s the best of both worlds! John loves this soup and if it has the power to convert a carrot-hating carnivore into adoring it, I have a feeling you’ll like it too!

By the way, I have yet to confess to John about the fact that this is a carrot soup. Whenever he asks what it is, I mumble, “Oh it’s a curried coconut cwagha blah blah mubah soup…here, have a beer!” (Note: distraction is a perfect complement to trickery).

Curried Carrot Soup with Coconut Milk

Curried Coconut Carrot Soup

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: about 40 minutes

3/4 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated/microplaned
3/4 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp garam masala (or regular curry powder)
4 cups carrots, thinly sliced
2 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1 can coconut  milk
1 1/4 tbsp fresh lime juice

In a soup pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion, ginger, green onions and garam masala until the onion is translucent. Add carrots and broth, stir well and bring to a boil. With your heat still at medium, cover the pot and cook until the carrots are soft, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and add coconut milk and lime juice. Using a stick blender, puree the soup until creamy and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add more lime juice to taste as well (but be careful – too much lime juice can make the soup a bit astringent). Enjoy!

Giving Thanks for Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf

Every Thanksgiving, it’s the same story. I have to look into the smirky face of a friend and respond: “No, I will not be carving a Tofurkey for the holidays.” Now why would I want to gnaw on a fake bird when there are so many awesome harvest dishes with which to stuff my face?

If you’re like me, or the approximately 95,456 other frantic people who were shopping at Whole Foods alongside me today, you’d probably appreciate an easy, delicious, healthy and full-flavored side dish recipe that can feed an army while pleasing both veggies and carnivores alike.  Yes? Never fear my friends, because the Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf is here! I created this recipe a couple Thanksgivings ago and it’s become one of my favorite fall dishes since it’s got a beautiful blend of flavors: the nutty taste of wild rice, festive bits of fresh apple and dried cranberry, a hint of pomegranate balsamic vinegar to add a feisty little kick, and walnuts (or toasted pecans) to add a bit of protein. And best yet, you can make this dish the day before your big gathering to help easy your stress. (I can practically hear you now: “Cut the foodie chitchat Cimeron and gimme that recipe right now before I throw giblets at you!”)  (By the way, what the hell are giblets?)  (Never mind, I don’t think I want to know!)

Have a great Thanksgiving, my friends! 🙂

Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf

Serves: 10 as a side dish
From fridge to table: 5 minutes (plus refrigeration time if serving cold)

3 cups cooked wild rice (about 1 cup dry rice makes approximately 3 cups cooked)
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup granny smith apple, finely diced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts or toasted pecans, chopped
A splash of pomegranate balsamic vinegar (I like 11 Olives’ balsamic since it’s thick, rich and has a gorgeous flavor)
A splash of rosemary olive oil (I use 11 Olives’ olive oil because it’s divine)

In a large mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients. Add just enough rosemary olive oil to coat the rice, and add pomegranate balsamic to taste. Season with salt and pepper. You can serve it hot, chilled or at room temp – it’s fantastic no matter the temperature at which you serve it. Enjoy stuffing your face with this lovely dish!

 

Pomegranate-Mango Guacamole Pleases Everyone, Even Avocado-Hating Carnivores

Throughout my childhood, my sister used to pin me down and squish guacamole through her lips and let it drool down to my nose before sucking it back up. Ughahhhkkk! That memory still makes my whole body quiver with disgust. So now you understand the basis for my lifelong hatred of avocados. But they’re so dang good for you! They’re packed with fiber, b-vitamins and 20 essential nutrients. I really, really want to like the Mighty Avocado, and since it’s such a filling and healthy food, I also want my carnivore husband to love it too. Unfortunately John doesn’t like the texture and thinks it’s just too cliche: “Is there some kind of requirement that every Californian has to love that snot?!” (Judging by the avocado consumption habits of our friends, it must be a California state law or something).  I knew this would be one of my biggest culinary mountains to climb.

After many tries with numerous recipes (and a couple of times that John rinsed his tongue under the kitchen sink) I hit on one that has *finally* turned us into avocado fans – Pomegranate-Mango Guacamole. Every time I serve it, there’s a tortilla chip traffic-jam at the guacamole bowl. It’s got such lovely and unique layers of flavor! The gorgeous ruby-colored pomegranate seeds add a beautiful brightness on your palate with a sharp little pop of unexpected flavor, while the tropical mango provides a velvety hint of sweetness. This dish is so good that it’s conquered the lifelong emotional scars left by my sister’s avocado-torture technique, and has even inspired my avocado-hating carnivore to enjoy it. So just think how much you’ll love this dish if you already like regular old guacamole! Trust me – this recipe will knock your socks off. And now is the perfect time to make it since pomegranates are in season, and grocery stores are also full of ripe mangoes.

Just whatever you do, please do not pin down your loved ones and squish guacamole through your lips to torture them…unless they really deserve it. (For the record, I never deserved it because I’ve always been a perfect angel.) 🙂

Pomegranae-Mango Guacamole

Serves: 6-8
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

4 ripe Haas avocados, pitted
1/4-1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup onion, finely chopped (I prefer white onion in this recipe, but it can work with yellow if that’s all you have in the pantry)
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tsp smoked sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
The seeds from one pomegranate (which will yield about 3/4 cup). Be sure to save a few seeds for a pretty garnish
3/4 cup finely chopped mango
Tortilla chips

In a large bowl, mash the avocados and immediately mix in 1/4 cup lime juice to prevent the avocados from browning (because brown guacamole is just gross). Add the chopped onion, jalepeno, smoked sea salt (to taste) and mix well. Taste and add additional lime juice and salt as desired. Gently stir in the mango, pomegranate seeds and cilantro. Garnish with a few pomegranate seeds, serve with tortilla chips, then watch it your guacamole disappear!

Tasty Tropical Breakfast Bars (vegan and gluten-free)

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with making breakfast bars. They’re just so dang simple and quick to make, they’re delicious, and they’re a fabulously healthy treat to have hanging around for those times when you need to a meal-on-the-go, be it around breakfast time or anytime, really. And they save you a lot of money too since they’re way less expensive than store-bought breakfast bars. Thanks to the addition of almond butter (which is one of the greatest super foods around – almonds lower bad cholesterol and they’re packed with protein and calcium), dried fruits, nuts, and crunchy granola, these bars really do deliver a nice boost of energy and nutrition, so they’re fantastic as sports bars, too. If ‘almond butter’ sounds bizarre to you, don’t worry – it’s just super finely ground toasted almonds; it has about the same smoothness and texture as peanut butter.

I decided to chef up a breakfast bar with a totally different consistency and flavor than the last energy bar recipe I posted – this one is denser, not-so-sticky, has a nice crunch, travels really well and features the delicious flavors of the tropics: pineapple, mango, ginger, coconut and cashews. Yum! In honor of my neighbor friend Jamie who is experiencing her first week of college (and her first taste of homesickness), I created this gluten-free, vegan Tasty Tropical Breakfast/Energy Bar recipe.  I know she’ll love them, especially in contrast to nasty dorm food, and I bet you will, too. According to Jamie’s mom, who taste-tested these bars for me: “Wow, these could be sold in stores!” Pretty nice endorsement! 🙂 John also loves, loves, loves these bars, so much so that he has requested that they become his breakfast staple every day of the week.

Special thanks to Rhonda for convincing me to try brown rice syrup as the sweetener and binding agent for these bars – it works like a charm and it’s really healthy, too! Hurray! Brown rice syrup is a far better sweetener than table sugar, and even honey, since it’s a complex carbohydrate and has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar. It also tastes delicious, especially in these bars, since they add a caramely hint. Give them a try – I know you’ll like them!

Tasty Tropical Breakfast/Sports Bars

Servings: 25 bars
Prep time: 25 minutes
Chill/set time: at least 3 hours

1.5 cups dried tropical fruits, finely chopped (I recommend a combination of pineapple, mango and a little bit of unsweetened coconut)
1  cup roasted unsalted cashews, chopped
4 cups granola clusters cereal (I used Trader Joe’s “Just the Clusters with ginger, almond and cashew granola”)
a handful of crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)
3/4 cup almond butter
1/3 maple syrup
1/3 cup brown rice syrup

Heat oven to 350. Lightly spray a 9″ square baking pan with olive oil.

Blend together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then, in a saucepan over medium high heat, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup and brown rice syrup, stirring constantly. When it begins to bubble, stir it as fast as you can and when it thickens, remove from heat and dump it in the bowl with the dry ingredients. Immediately mix it thoroughly. Scoop into your prepared pan. Press it down firmly with the back of a spatula – really put your weight into it to squish it down.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges become golden. Remove from oven and once again, press it down firmly with the back of a spatula.  Refrigerate it for at least 3 hours to allow it to fully firm up before you cut it. Once ready, turn it over onto a cutting board and with a sharp knife, chop into 24 bars. Enjoy!

This is what it looks like when you pop your breakfast bar concoction out of the pan. If you press it really well, yours will come out perfectly!

Easy Energy Bars Appease the Growling Beast

While driving to the coast to kitesurf, I heard a terrible growl in the car. John and I looked at each other in shock, and then we pointed an accusing finger at each others’ stomachs. Just then, both of our growling beasts roared – our empty stomachs were very angry at us for racing out the door without eating. “Ooo, let’s stop and get a burger,” said John. I’m really not sure why, but he usually turns to meat whenever he’s dying of hunger.  Luckily, I have an emergency stash of Clif bars in the car for such occasions – I’ve learned that snacks quell his hunger for meat. But as we choked down the chalky, overly chewy, weirdly dense bars (which disconcertingly resembles the gunk that plugs up pipes), I decided right then and there to make my own energy bars from now on. How hard could it be? Turns out it’s even easier than I thought, not to mention that homemade sports bars are way tastier, and they’re less expensive too.

Unlike store bought sports bars that often rely on tons of sugar to give you a quick energy boost (followed by a sugar crash), these homemade bars feature nuts that are packed with energy, like almonds. According to WebMD, almonds are “the new power food” since they’re so nutrient-dense. And these bars also feature dried fruit, which deliver a steady stream of natural energy. Sure, there’s a little bit of sugar in these bars to bind them together and give you immediate energy, but it’s not too much. Promise! These things last for a really long time in the fridge, they transport well, and they always deliver tons of much-needed energy when you need it the most. They’re a perfect snack for kids, they’re great to take along with you for hikes, and really good for those times when you’re so hungry that you just need to stuff something in your face immediately.

Make up a batch and have it on hand next time your growling beast demands to be fed. Trust me, these taste great and they’re way more satisfying than those expensive and nasty-tasting sports bars they sell in the stores!

Cimeron’s Easy Energy Bars

3 cups of any yummy whole grain cereal (I like using a cereal with crunchy clusters)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts *
1/2 cup chopped almonds
3/4 cups chopped dried raisins, cranberries or cherries *
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips (optional)
1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

*You can make these energy bars with an infinite combination of nuts and dried fruits. I like to use classic nut/fruit blends, like: a tropical twist with dried papaya, pineapple and coconut with macadamia nuts; dried cherries and blueberries with toasted hazelnuts;  raisins and walnuts; smores style with chocolate chips and marshmallow,  etc.

Heat oven to 350, and prepare an 8″ baking pan by spraying it with olive oil. In a big bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Then, in a small pot, mix the peanut butter, honey and syrup and cook over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil, constantly mixing it. When it hits the boiling point, whisk it fast for about a minute until it thickens up a bit. Then remove from heat and toss it in the bowl with the dry mixture and mix it thoroughly. Pour into your prepared pan and press it down firmly with the back of a spatula. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the edges turn golden. Remove from oven and press it down again with the spatula. For best results, refrigerate overnight and cut up the bars in the morning – they will be firm and not crumbly at all after overnight refrigeration. They hold up really well, so take them with you to power up wherever go!

The Bonk-Preventer: Quinoa Tabbouleh

John and I have been mountain biking a ton lately, so I’ve been on the hunt for “power foods” to keep us from bonking on the trails. I’ve experimented with a bunch of different ingredients and the one I keep coming back to again and again is the magical, mighty quinoa. Packed with protein – the most of any grain on the planet – I find that it digests easily and provides us with plenty of energy to sustain us through long, grinding climbs through the spectacular redwood forests near our home.

Quinoa is out of this world, and it sort of looks like it, too. When cooked, each grain has a little ring around it and resembles a tiny Saturn. So cute! But since John thinks quinoa is only eaten by stoned, dreadlocked white guys named “OneLove YogiMoonglow,” I have to disguise the cosmic grain to get him to eat it. Lucky for me, the ever-versatile quinoa has no problem being a caped crusader.

One of my new favorite ways of preparing it is in a yummy tabbouleh. The focal point of this tabbouleh isn’t the quinoa, it’s the crunch of cucumbers, the zesty tasty of tomatoes, the cool breath of fresh mint and the tang of lemon juice. In this recipe, the quinoa easily takes the place of bulgar (which is what Middle Easterners traditionally use as the base of tabbouleh) and provides a slightly crunchy platform for the rest of the ingredients to take center stage and shine. John eats this all the time, but he has yet to discover that he’s eating quinoa. When our friends joke with him about Operation Carnivore Conversion and tease him about becoming “a quinoa-eater,” he bursts out laughing and emphatically declares: “I don’t eat it! That stuff is gross!” That always makes me snicker inside…or maybe it’s more like a devious Vincent Price-like evil laugh…but I digress…

Talk about versatile – we can eat this dish for breakfast, lunch, as a side-dish and as a snack. When we’re preparing for a long day on the trails, I break out the big spoons and we shovel down our quinoa tabbouleh. I’m happy to report that it prevents the dreaded bonk while we’re on long rides!  If you don’t know what bonking is, here is a visual representation for your amusement (John would die if he knew I was posting this, so this is our little secret. 🙂

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do!

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Serves: 6 as a side dish, or 2-3 for a main meal
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

1 ¾ cup water
1 cup quinoa
¼ tsp salt (plus some for finishing)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 -1/2 cup olive oil (preferably meyer lemon infused olive oil for a divine flavor – I get mine from http://www.11Olives.com and it is delicious!)
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Two Persian cucumbers or pickling cucumbers, skin on, diced
4 scallions/green onions, chopped
1/2-3/4 cup fresh flat parsley, finely chopped (really depends on your taste)
1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
salt, to taste

In a medium sauce pan, bring the quinoa, water and ¼ tsp salt to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until water is fully absorbed by quinoa, about 10 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes then fluff with a fork.

While quinoa is cooking, chop all the other ingredients and squeeze the lemon juice. Once quinoa is done, transfer to a big bowl and toss with all the other ingredients. Start with 1/4 cup olive oil and add more to taste. Finish with a little bit of salt. Then go out and burn some energy!