Tag Archives: vegetarian

Thai-Spiced Peanuts and Smoky Spanish Cashews

Welcome to part two of the spiced-nut recipe series! Today we’re visiting Thailand and Spain with our taste buds. And special bonus: scroll down to the bottom to learn how to make these cute mini chalkboard clips, which are really great for labeling party food. It’s also great for freaking out your friends who will be convinced that a deranged person is running loose in your house and labeling things with chalk. (Please do not tell me that you write beautifully with chalk because this will thwart my efforts to convince my husband that everyone looks like they have maniac  handwriting when they write on chalkboards.)

Thai-Spiced Peanuts

Thai-Spiced Peanuts
From pantry to table: about 35 minutes
If you’re a fan of Thai red curry, you are going to love these nuts, which feature the rich, slightly spicy, aromatic flavors of Thailand. Plus, these spiced nuts are super unique. Nummy!

1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
3 tbsp lime juice
2 1/2 tsp Thai red chili paste (available in the Asian food section of most grocery stores) (add more paste if you want angry nuts and/or you want to be a fire-breathing dragon)
½ tsp smoked sea salt
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp dried basil

Heat oven to 250. In a small bowl, blend together all but the peanuts, then add peanuts to coat. Pour into a parchment-line baking pan and roast for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minuets. Cool completely, then watch them disappear.

Smoky Spanish Spiced Cashews Smoky Spanish Spiced Cashews
From pantry to table: 11 minutes
These nuts are pretty much my new addiction. The combination of smoky paprika with rosemary, brown sugar and salt is just flipping ridiculous. People go nuts (sorry for the pun) when I serve these. This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s The New Classics.

2 cups raw, unsalted cashews
2 tsbp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp smoked sea salt
1 tbsp Earth Balance spread

Heat oven to 350 and toast the cashews for 10 minutes until golden. Meanwhile place all the other ingredients in a metal bowl. When the cashews are ready, mix them vigorously with the spice mixture until the Earth Balance melts and the cashews are fully coated. Cool and don’t even bother serving – just spoon them directly into your gullet.

How to make mini chalkboard clips
You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make these cute little chalkboard clips. They’re super quick and easy to make. Just head down to (or go online to) Michael’s Craft Store and pick up any shape of wood cut-out you like. Here are a few that I picked out:

wood cut-outs for chalkboards

Next, buy some wooden clothespins, chalkboard paint (it comes in a variety of colors) and chalk – all available at the craft store. I also bought a $2 glue gun and some glue sticks to make this project go even quicker. Clip the clothespins onto something so they’re suspended off your work surface, then glue the wooden cut-outs onto the ends of the clips. chalkboard clips in the makingOnce dry, apply three coats of chalkboard paint, waiting until the paint is totally dry between applications. Then try like hell not to write like a serial killer on your new mini chalkboards.

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Go Nuts with These Easy Spiced-Nut Recipes

Spiced nuts

The holidays are here, so it’s time for that annual freak-out-festival of “Oh My God, what am I going to make for all those people coming over, and gifts for the neighbors, and snacks for shopping, and and and… akkkk!” Never fear, my friends, for I am about to blitz you with a ton of spectacular, tasty and easy spiced nut recipes straight from my kitchen. Featuring flavors from around the world, there’s something here to suit every palate: Indian curried cashews; Truffled-honey hazelnuts; Mexican chili-lime peanuts; spiced maple-glazed pecans; Thai-spiced peanuts; smoky Spanish cashews. I don’t want your heads to explode, so I’ll dish out two of these recipes at a time over the next few days.

These nuts make elegant appetizers, they’re tasty snacks, and they’re fantastic as gifts. Plus they’re high in protein, and did I mention that they take no time at all to make? In short: they kick ass.

But before we get to the nuts, exciting news: have you heard that Jay Z and Beyonce are going to try being vegan for the next 21 days? This is great for them, but even better for us! Next time you’re at a restaurant without vegan options on the menu and you ask the chef to make you a plant-based dish, if the waiter gives you that look – you know the one I’m talking about – you can now throw some attitude back at him: “Would you give that look at Jay Z or Beyonce?! Hmm?” (You may also want to follow that with: “Please don’t spit in my food.”)

Why are Beyonce and Jay Z doing it for just 3 weeks? No, it’s not because they’re special guests at a Fresh Meat Festival at the end of the month. (By the way, there really is such a thing…but I think it might disappoint some carnivores. Google it!)  According to some psychologists, it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. So if you know some carnivores who want to convert, tell them about Jay Z and Beyonce’s 21-day vegan challenge and see if that helps. If that doesn’t work, maybe try giving them that look and spitting on their meat? 😉

In honor of all converting carnivores, the holidays, and everyone with taste buds, here are the first two recipes in my 3-part installment of super easy and extremely delicious spiced nut recipes. Enjoy!

(Oh, and how do you like my mini-chalkboard clips?  They’re great for labeling food for parties. I’ll show you how to make these yourself in an upcoming post, so start channeling your inner Martha Stewart and stay tuned!)

Huh, when using chalk, my handwriting looks like that of a serial killer. (Why is my husband hiding the knives?)

Huh, I just recognized that my handwriting looks like that of a serial killer. Hey, why is my husband hiding the knives?

Indian Curried Cashews
From pantry to table: 11 minutes

If you like the flavors of India, you’re going to love these cashews. (And if you don’t like Indian flavors, what is wrong with you?!) These are crazy-easy to make and when you toss the hot nuts in the spice mixture, it unleashes intoxicating aromas that make your house smell heavenly.

2 cups raw, unsalted cashews
1 tbsp curry powder (personally, I like doing ½ tbsp of curry powder and ½ of garam masala – yum!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp olive oil
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Heat oven to 350. Roast the cashews for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium metal bowl, mix all the spices and oil. When the nuts are ready, immediately toss them with the spice/oil mixture for a couple of minutes to coat completely. The nuts are HOT, so it’s important to use a metal bowl instead of plastic (which will melt) or glass (which may crack). Cool completely, then watch people vacuum them up.

Truffled-Honey Hazelnuts*Honey truffled hazelnuts
From pantry to table: about 15 minutes

Mmm, these are so addictive!  The beautiful, elegant flavor of truffles compliments the earthy flavor of the roasted hazelnuts and the slightly sweet taste of honey just perfectly. Serve this to guests you want to impress…or just hoard them all for yourself.

1 cup hazelnuts (preferably with skin removed)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp truffle salt

Heat oven to 350. In a small bowl, microwave honey for about 15 seconds, until it becomes a little more liquid. Toss the hazelnuts in the honey and coat well.

Line a small baking pan with parchment paper and pour out honeyed nuts in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, then remove from oven and immediately sprinkle on the truffle salt. Cool completely – the honey coating will harden upon cooling. Then break them up and serve, or store in an airtight container. Oh who are we kidding? Just scarf them down and screw everyone else – you deserve it!

*Please note that I did not call these “filberts.” Because that is just wrong. Whoever is behind the evil plot to change the beautiful name of hazelnut to the dumpy hick name of “filbert” (probably some nut farmers named Phil and Burt – we’re onto you!), we must resist!

Super Simple Scrumptious Savory Soup

Multi-grain super simple soup
Have you ever heard a friend tell you: “Oh you really like this soup? I just whipped it up using whatever I could find in my fridge, it only took 15 minutes.” And did you force and smile while thinking: “A-hole! I haven’t even found time to shower today.” Well my friends, never fear, for today you will become that a-hole! That’s right, with this simple, hearty and delicious dish, you’ll be that much-envied home chef who can magically create a scrumptious and healthy soup from scratch in no time at all using scraps from your cupboard and fridge. And bonus: it’s a one-pot meal, so clean-up is quick and painless.

Harvest grains

Thanks to the Israeli couscous, orzo, quinoa and chickpeas, this savory soup is quite filling and has a nice backbone to it. The rich flavors of the tomatoes and red pepper really shine, and they do a great job of hiding the zucchini and carrots (which is essential for those of us who want our veggie-averse loved-ones – like my husband – to eat and enjoy this soup). It’s also versatile – if you’re more in the mood for a thick stew, just use less broth.

So get ready to make your taste buds and your body very happy! It’s a perfect meal to make at the end of a busy day. And if you share a bowl with your friends and tell them how quickly you cheffed up this yummy soup using “just a little of this and that I found in my fridge and pantry,” be sure to enjoy watching them force a fake smile to mask the fact that they’re screaming “a-hole!” inside their heads.

Multi grain soup ingredients

Super Simple Savory Multi-Grain Soup

From pantry to table: about 20 minutes
Serves: 4

½ of a large onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chili de arbol, broken (optional – if you want a spicy little kick)
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
½-3/4 cup carrots, chopped
4-6 cups vegetable broth (use for if you want stew, 5-6 if you want a thinner soup)
½ cup “mixed grains” *
1 tsp dried oregano
2 zucchinis, sliced lengthwise then cut into half-moons
salt and pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice, to taste

* For your mixed grains, be sure to choose those that take the same amount of time to cook. For example, I like using Israeli couscous (which is fatter and chewier than regular couscous), quinoa, orzo and chopped chickpeas. Trader Joes has their own blend of this called “Harvest Grains,” which is quite nice.

In a large soup pot over medium-high, sauté the onion in about 1 tbsp of olive oil for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for 1 minute, then add the red bell pepper and chili de arbol (if using). Continue stirring until the onion is limp and translucent. Add the tomatoes and oregano and cook for 1 minute, then add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, toss in the carrots and mixed grains and stir well. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, stir in the zucchini, cover and cook for another 5 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice. Enjoy!

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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.

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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!)

Pig Out On Vegan Chocolate Cake

This cake will make you as happy as a piggy in a mud bath!

This cake will make you as happy as a piggy in a mud bath!

Converting carnivores, rejoice! You’re going to hog wild when you try this moist, delicious, luscious vegan chocolate cake!

I made this cake for my veterinarian, who is a serious chocoholic and one of the most wonderful people on earth. He provides incredibly compassionate veterinary care to the cats of Project Bay Cat, which is a humane feral cat management program that I co-founded 9 years ago. When I told him I wanted to make him a vegan cake to thank him for his kindness, he cocked his head and looked at me suspiciously, like he was trying to avoid a sucker punch.

“If it’s vegan, it’ll be good for me, so that means that it can’t taste good.  How could you possibly make it without butter, milk and eggs?” he asked with a far-off and somewhat fearful look in his eyes, probably envisioning a cake made of sawdust and frosted with spackle.

The challenge was on and I was determined to knock his socks off. To help overcome his vegan fears, I thought I’d distract him with a cute little pigs-in-a-hot-tub motif.

pig out on vegan chocolate cake

Much to my surprise, I was able to find a vegan version of the KitKat bar to create the siding for the hot tub – the dark chocolate version sold in Canada doesn’t have any animal-based ingredients – bonus!

When my vet saw this cake, he laughed out loud, and when he and his lovely wife tried it, they said it was the best chocolate cake they’ve ever had.

Give this a try – even without the cute pigs or the hot tub, it’ll still make you smile. It’s super simple and quick to make, and it’s moist, scrumptious and guilt-free!

Vegan Chocolate Cake (pigs in a hot tub edition)

Cake ingredients:
2 1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cup water
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp distilled white vinegar

Frosting ingredients:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 tbsp coconut milk
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan margarine (or equivalent)
¾ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp agave syrup

Other ingredients:
8 dark chocolate vegan KitKat bars, scored into 32 individual ‘logs’

Cake directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Oil  and flour two 8″ round pan. This is a very moist cake, which makes it somewhat challenging to remove from the pan once baked. So use some parchment paper on the bottom of the pan so the cake will easily pop out when done.

In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients well. Then add all the wet ingredients and stir well. Pour into baking pans and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto wax paper or parchment.

Frosting directions: 
In a high-sided mixing bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and cocoa. Add all the remaining ingredients, and using an electric beater, mix on low speed for one minute, scraping sides of bowl. Then mix on high for another minute or two until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Hot tub assembly:
I went for a smaller hot tub, so I cut off about an inch around the perimeter of the cakes. Place one cake in the middle of a plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Then place the second cake on top. Spread some frosting on top and place your piggies in the ‘mud puddle.’  Frost the sides of the cake generously as this will act as the glue to hold up the KitKat bar siding. Carefully place the KitKat bars shoulder to shoulder, with the unmarked side facing out. To make them even more uniform, gently tie a wide-banded ribbon around the lower section of the hot tub. Then serve and listen to your friends and family squeal when they see this delicious vegan treat!

Sing Summer’s Song with Plum Granita

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It was close, but I’m happy to report that we survived Plumageddon! During a 3-week period every summer, our beautiful old plum tree dumps enough fruit to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. A few years ago, in a desperate attempt to put all the fruit to good use, I tried 14 plum recipes, and this one – elegant, vibrant Plum Granita – emerged as the Big Hit. It just sings summer! It’s my taste buds’ favorite summer song, and our friends request it more often than a 12 year-old asks to hear One Direction.

It’s no wonder why this granita so popular –  every spoonful of this icy delight bursts with the bright, sun-ripened taste of fresh plums. It’s got much more true-fruit flavor (and a lot less sugar) than sorbet, and its hint of fresh vanilla bean, allspice and cinnamon create a memorable melody of luscious flavor that will make you hum with joy. And bonus – it’s a healthy, fruit-filled alternative to fat-laden, dairy-based desserts. Plum Granita is a snap to make, and since it keeps well in the freezer, you can make a big batch and keep playing this hit throughout the year.

Enjoy!

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Plum Granita

3 pounds red plums, pitted and chopped
1.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole allspice berries
1 fresh vanilla bean

In a small pot stir together water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and allspice berries. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds and stir into the mix. Add the sliced vanilla bean as well, then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced to about 1.5 cups. Cool the syrup.

While the syrup cools, puree the plums in a food processor or blender. Place a sieve over a big bowl and press the pureed plums through it.

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This will fill your bowl with a thick liquid that looks kind of like a plum smoothy. Throw away the plum solids. Mix the cooled syrup into plum ‘smoothy’ and stir until well blended. Put the mixture into a Tupperware bowl and freeze for 1 hour. Then stir the mixture thoroughly with a fork, and repeat ever 45 minutes until you create a lovely, fluffy, light icy granita. Yum!

Can you see the tiny black specks? Those are vanilla seeds, which add a heavenly, aromatic dimension to this elegant dessert.

Can you see the tiny black specks? Those are vanilla seeds, which add a heavenly, aromatic dimension to this elegant dessert.

Answering the Protein Question with Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad Deliciousness

When cow-gobblers hear about Operation Carnivore Conversion, they always ask me (and always in shock): “Oh, but where do you get your protein?!” Apparently they assume that twigs and rocks aren’t very protein-rich. 😉  Below, I’m going to give you a super tasty, protein-packed 15-minute vegan meal – Curried Mango Quinoa Salad – that I often feed to meat-eaters to help turn their doubt into interest. In fact, I served this just last weekend to 25 carnivores at a friend’s baby shower and it was the surprise hit dish of the whole luncheon!

Most times, carnivores tell me: “I just couldn’t get enough protein without meat!”

“Really?” I ask, innocently as I narrow my eyes and go in for the kill. “Is that because you require so much more protein to maintain your epic typing-related muscles than the vegan NBA and NFL players, body builders, triathletes and Olympians like Carl Lewis?” (This usually earns me a punch in the arm). “Plus,” I tell them, “when you turn vegan, you won’t have cadaver-breath anymore, which is a bonus!” (That usually earns me a second punch).

Here’s the answer to the protein question, which is challenging for the T-Rexs to digest: It’s easy to get all the protein you need on a vegan diet. Maybe it’s difficult for people to accept because they have no idea how much protein they actually need. According to the CDC, most women need about 46 grams of protein per day, men about 56. It varies person to person, so to find your exact needs, try this handy protein calculator: http://www.globalrph.com/protein-calculator.cgi

Most carnivores (especially American ones) don’t realize they’re likely consuming exponentially more protein than needed. For example, here’s how much meat- and dairy-based protein my husband used to eat on a typical day before Operation Carnivore Conversion:

Large latte = 15 grams
Grilled chicken sandwich = 45 grams
Turkey tacos = 46 grams
Total = 106 grams of protein

That’s nearly twice what he needs!  Now let’s look at some easy vegan alternatives:

Large latte with soy milk = 14 grams
Tofurkey sandwich (which, much to his surprise, he loves) = 15 grams
Handful of almonds = 21 grams
1 big helping of curried mango quinoa salad = 20 grams
Total = 70  grams of protein

See how easy it is to get all the protein you need with a vegan diet? If you’re new to the vegetarian or vegan thing and you’re worried about getting enough, here are a few protein-rich foods to add to your meals and snacks:

Tempeh, 1 cup = 31 grams
Edamame, 1 cup = 22 grams
Almonds (a big handful) = 21 grams
Lentils, 1 cup = 18 grams
Baked beans, 1 cup = 18 grams
Pumpkin seeds, ½ cup = 16 grams
Quinoa, 1 cup = 8 grams
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp = 8 grams
Hummus, 1 serving = 7 grams
Oatmeal, 1 serving = 7 grams
2 tbsp chia seeds= 4 grams

Okay, now onto our protein star: quinoa. This recipe is great for converting carnivores since it’s got lots of protein, it’s bursting with big, yummy flavors and it gives you that satisfying full-belly feeling. Mango chutney gives it a zesty kick, cucumbers add a lovely crunch, fresh mangos provide a hint of earthy sweetness, while the quinoa and spinach round out the dish to make it a delicious meal. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Serves: 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
1 cup peeled fresh mango, finely chopped
1 cup Persian, Japanese, English or pickling cucumber, finely chopped (skin on)
5 tbsp green onion, chopped
3 cups fresh baby spinach

Dressing:
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup mango chutney, minced
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp smoked sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper

In a medium pot, add 2 cups water, the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed – about 12-15 minutes. Once the quinoa is done, fluff it to cool off the grains.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients and set aside. Then chop the cucumber, green onion and mango. By the way, the easiest way to chop a mango is to slice the flat-sides lengthwise as close to the seed as possible. Then into each half of fruit, carve a grid pattern into the flesh. Use your fingers to invert the pad of fruit, like this, then slice off the squares of mango flesh:

How to chop mango

(All this talk of mango “flesh” is getting the carnivores excited, isn’t it?)

Once the quinoa is ready, add the cucumber, mango, green onion and about ¼ of the dressing, then stir well. Add more dressing to taste. Arrange a bed of spinach on plates, and if you want to add an extra pop of color, then maybe a few red lettuce leaves as well. Heap big scoops of the mango quinoa concoction on top. Drizzle dressing on the spinach and a little more on the quinoa, then serve and enjoy!

* Giving credit where credit is due, the inspiration for this recipe came from one I found on Epicurious.com and modified.

Foods That Fight Stress

Moist and delicious oatmeal blueberry cashew vegan cookies

It’s a natural tendency to reach for a cookie when we’re feeling stressed out. In addition to providing a little respite, they also make great projectiles. But these tasty Vegan Spiced Oatmeal-Cashew-Blueberry Cookies (recipe below) aren’t like most comfort foods that provide only a fleeting moment of emotional anesthesia. These cookies are actually packed with incredible ingredients that alter your brain chemistry to reduce stress hormones and increase the production of chemicals that will elevate your mood.

Can you believe that something as simple as eating the right foods can decrease anxiety, depression and stress? It’s pretty amazing! It’s all chemistry, really. Every time we feel tension, our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol, which elevates blood pressure, impairs the immune system, makes our shoulders reside near our ears, and inspires some of us to throw objects at the heads of annoying people.  Here’s why I’ve felt a bit stressed lately:

Our stress-inducing apocalypse-style patio

Yes, it’s loads of fun trying to write articles with the pleasant sound of the jackhammer just inches away! Stress is a killer – literally. John knows four people who have dropped dead at his workplace in the past year. Yikes!  So when I started seeing his brain-vein pounding more prominently in recent weeks, and when my legs began jackhammering at my desk (even when the demo guys were taking a break), I decided to do a little research about ways to combat our tension with food.

Check this out:

Oatmeal makes your brain produce the “feel good” brain chemical serotonin. It modulates mood, helps us combat stress and makes us feel happier.

Blueberries are high in vitamin C, which researchers have found reduces the psychological and physical effects of stress by curbing the secretion of cortisol. It has also been shown to help people bounce back from stressful situations more quickly. And bonus: blueberries are rich with anthocyanin, which improves cognitive function and memory. They’re also a source of potassium, which lowers blood pressure.

Cashews are rich with zinc, which has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. (By the way, did you know that our bodies can’t store zinc? Unless we consume some every day it can lead to zinc deficiency, which causes a host of other nasty problems like hair loss, mental lethargy and sexual health issues. So unless you want to be an impotent, balding slug, eat your cashews!)

So I figured: why not combine all these stress-busting, anti-anxiety foods into a delicious and healthy snack? Give these easy-to-make Spiced Oatmeal-Cashew-Blueberry cookies a try – they’re moist, delicious, addictive, and they’ll even help you suppress your urge to use one as a projectile. They’re so good that even carnivores who are fearful of anything vegan will love them.  And since they’re packed with complex carbs (verses the empty simple carbs found in most cookies) and are super good for you, there won’t be any guilt-related stress if you happen to gobble up, say, all 25 of them in one sitting. Enjoy!

Vegan spiced oatmeal-blueberry-cashew cookies. YUM!

Stress-Busting Spiced Oatmeal-Cashew-Blueberry Cookies

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 25 cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup agave nectar**
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 olive oil
2 cups old fashioned oats (uncooked)
1/2 cup dried blueberries, rehydrated (soak in hot water for 5 minutes. Be sure to pat them dry)
1/2 cup toasted and unsalted cashews, chopped

* Whole wheat pastry flour is a little lighter and yummier for baking, but you can use regular flour if you can’t find the pastry flour, but if you do, just use a tiny bit less than ½ cup since regular flour is denser.

** If you prefer, you can use 2/3 cup brown rice syrup in place of the agave nectar. But cut back on the salt to 1/8 tsp. The cookies turn out even chewier this way, and with slightly crispier tops. 

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or a light spray of olive oil.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda and all the spices. In a larger bowl, mix the applesauce, agave nectar, vanilla and oil until blended. Then add in the flour/spice mixture and stir well. Add the oats, blueberries and cashews and mix until blended. Now let the mixture sit for 10 minutes – this will soften up the oats and make the cookies chewylicious.

Using your cookie scooper or a spoon, create 25 little cookie mounds on your baking sheets and bake for 12-13 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. Now here comes the hard part: wait at least 10 minutes before wolfing down the cookies. They hold together better after they’ve had a chance to rest. Plus, waiting will help you keep the flesh on the roof of your mouth!

Go MSG-free: Tasty Thai Yellow Curry with Sweet Potato and Chickpeas

Thai yellow curry with chickpeas and sweet potato over millet - YUM!

“Stop goldfishing*,” I tell my husband as he plows through a bag of Doritos that’s roughly the size of a bathtub. “I can’t. They’re addictive!” he pleads as I pry them from his bright orange hands.

(*Goldfishing – [gohld-fish-ing]. Noun. 1. The act of a person who eats non-stop with blatant disregard for the physical limitations of his/her stomach. 2. Stuffing oneself to the point of spontaneous gastric explosion, like a goldfish.)

Really, he can’t stop? C’mon, like an invisible hand is shoving Doritos in his face. Well, after some research, I’ve found that actually, that’s pretty much what’s happening. The makers of the florescent nacho-flavored triangles of doom use a secret ingredient to turn consumers into goldfish: MSG.

MSG-fed lab rat

No, this rat has not swallowed a beach ball. Poor little guy has been fed MSG to make him obese.

Did you know that scientists actually use MSG to induce obesity in lab rats and mice (ironically, so they can test products to ‘cure’ obesity in humans)? In fact, scientists found that when they give MSG to mice, it increases their appetite as much as 40%. When people eat it, it turns us into mindless eating machines. But that’s not its only harmful side effect. There are all kinds of other nasty ailments associated with MSG, including asthma attacks, mood swings, fuzzy thinking, diarrhea, chest pains and headaches. Some scientists are even speculating that it may cause – and exacerbate – autism.

MSG is used as a flavor enhancer and it’s in lots of packaged foods, from chips to salad dressings, sauces to microwave meals. If you spotted MSG on a label, you probably wouldn’t buy the product, right? So those sneaky manufacturers hide MSG behind different names like “autolyzed yeast,” “soy protein isolate,” and “hydrolyzed protein.” For example, Annie Chun’s Soup Bowls contain maltodextrin and yeast extract – both of which are forms of manufactured glutamic acid, the ingredient in MSG (and yet they have the balls to advertise that they’re MSG-free. Campbells does the same. Bastards!) As for Doritos? They don’t even bother hiding it on the label, and the chips are basking in MSG – no wonder John can’t put down the bag! It’s not just in packaged foods, either. Tests found that most chicken, sausage and even parmesan served in restaurants is flavored with MSG. (Yet another great reason for carnivores to convert into vegetarians or vegans!)

The good news is that the antidote is simple: cook healthy foods from scratch to eliminate MSG from your diet (and from that of those you love, especially those who sometimes have goldfish-like tendencies). There are lots of other ways to add flavor than with MSG. One of my favorites is by making meals in the pressure cooker. Cooking under pressure retains the nutrition of food while also amplifying the flavor naturally. And bonus –  you can cook an entire meal from scratch in 15 minutes using the ultra fast pressure cookers, even soups and stews that normally take hours!

Today’s recipe is my take on an incredibly flavor-packed and super healthy Thai-style yellow curry with chickpeas and sweet potatoes. (Special thanks to Lorna Sass and her fabulous “Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure” cookbook – I’ve altered one of her recipes to give it my own twist). If using a pressure cooker, the gorgeous sweet potato flavor enhanced with yellow curry will be utterly infused into every molecule of coconut milk. It is divine! This has become one of our favorite meals, and it’s quite nutritious. So I don’t really mind if John goldfishes on it. 🙂

I’ve also created a non-pressure cooker version of this recipe for those who don’t have one (but I highly recommend you get a pressure cooker – they are phenomenal and it will become your go-to kitchen tool). Here’s the one I use, which I adore (click on the text and it will take you to Amazon where you can buy it): Fagor Splendid 4-quart Pressure Cooker.

Yummy Thai yellow curry with sweet potato and chickpeas over rice

Yummy Thai yellow curry with sweet potato and chickpeas

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 20 minutes (if using pressure cooker)

1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (if using pressure cooker. For non-pressure cooker method, see notes below)
2 cans coconut milk
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” cubes (if using pressure cooker. For non-pressure cooker method, see notes below)
1.5 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp yellow curry paste* (it’s hard to find in stores, so click here to buy a really yummy one)
½ cup cilantro, minced
½ cup fresh basil, minced
2 tbsp MSG-free tamari soy sauce
a handful of roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Cooked rice or millet

For the pressure cooker method:

Drain and rinse chickpeas. In your pressure cooker pan, combine all the ingredients except the basil, tamari, peanuts and rice/millet. Lock lid, then bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 18 minutes. Use the quick-release method (by running cold water over the locked pressure cooker until the pressure comes down all the way). Remove lid, tilting it away from your face to let steam escape. Add the basil and tamari and mix well. Serve atop rice or millet and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

For the non-pressure cooker method:

Take the unpeeled sweet potato, prick with a fork and microwave until it’s slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then peel and chop into 1” cubes.

Also, you’ll need to used cooked chickpeas – 3 cups (or roughly 2 cans) will work perfectly well.

In a large, deep sauté pan, sauté garlic and ginger in 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Cook until the garlic starts to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Add curry paste, tomatoes, cilantro, coconut milk and chickpeas. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add potatoes, then return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook at a low-boil for 12 minutes. To thicken the sauce and infuse more of the sweet potato flavor, break up some of the sweet potato chunks with the back of a fork. Then blend in the basil and tamari, serve over rice or millet and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

Tasty Thai Tacos in Ten Minutes

Yummy - Thai Soft Tacos!

Have you ever had one of those days (or months) when you’re so flipping busy that you wonder when the heck you’re going to have time to eat, and you can’t even think about cooking? That’s what life has been like ever since we got back from a long trip to Maui and Oahu (and speaking of that, sorry for my delay in posting!) Rather than eating a bowl of popcorn for dinner (as one of my cooking-impaired friends suggested, and for whom I’m now watching for signs of scurvy), or ordering take-out (as my converting carnivore has offered – he usually manages to slip in an order of something meat-based which he always thinks will go undetected, but never does), I developed a super tasty vegan dish that takes only 10 minutes to make: Thai Soft Tacos.

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The rich flavor of peanut satay sauce, the crunch of the fake chicken tenders and the lovely tang of Thai sweet chili sauce pair beautifully together. And the secret ingredient – finely chopped fresh lime, including little bits of the peel – adds just the right amount of sharpness, acidity and a hint of bitterness to make the flavors burst to life on your tongue. Every bite offers an intriguingly complex mix of textures and tastes. When I have time, I prefer to make meals from scratch, but when that can’t happen, this is my go-to dish.

John likes these Thai Tacos so much that now he asks for them a couple times per week, and he gives it his highest veg praise ever: “Oh my God, this is so good that it doesn’t even need meat!” (And cue Cimeron’s eyes lighting up with glee.) That testimonial, coupled with the incredibly low “f*$&ck with it factor” has earned this dish a permanent place on our rotation. Give it a try! After your first crunchy, flavor-packed bite, you’ll probably want to make these tacos every night this week, even if you have time to cook something more elaborate. Enjoy!

And while we’re taking the trip to VeganVille, you’ve got to check out this hysterical Saturday Night Live skit with Justin Timberlake extolling the virtues of the vegan diet to a sausage-waving carnivore – priceless! www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YDA9OI56y4

Cimeron’s 10-Minute Thai Soft Tacos

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 10 minutes
“f*$&ck with it factor” (on a scale of 1-10): 2

8 soft taco tortillas
1 package Gardein Crisp Tenders (found in the veggie frozen food section of most grocery stores)
2 cups thinly sliced lettuce (I prefer butter lettuce in this dish since it has such a velvety texture with a bit of crunch)
4-6 tbsp peanut satay sauce
4-6 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1/2 chopped cilantro
1/2 lime, (butt-end discarded) and super finely chopped (including the peel)
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

Heat oven to 450. Microwave the Gardein Crisp Tenders for 45 seconds. Then place them on a baking dish, spray with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes. (Or if you’re super tight on time, nuke them for 1.5 minutes, spray them with oil and broil them for a couple minutes per side until crispy.) When ready, slice them lengthwise into 3 pieces.

Meanwhile, chop up all the fixins and prepare the assembly line. Spread a spoonful of the peanut satay sauce down the middle of the tortilla. Lay down 2-3 of the sliced pieces of Crisp Tenders, then top with some lettuce, tomato and cilantro. Evenly sprinkle with bits of the lime. Then drizzle on some Thai sweet chili sauce to taste. Then prepare your taste buds to be very happy!

Thai Soft Tacos