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Springtime brings us one of my favorite faux fruits: the strawberry.  This “accessory fruit”–or vegetable, depending on how you define it–is, in fact, the swollen tip of the stamen, or the base where the flower grows.  The seeds, or more accurately, the achenes, that attach themselves to this swollen bit are more than just annoying specks that get caught in our teeth–they are, in fact, the ovaries that house the real seeds of the plant.  So, just as the avocado is a delectable undercover fruit that is commonly treated as a culinary vegetable, the strawberry is a tasty summer vegetable that is almost always considered as a culinary fruit.  For more information than you ever wanted to know about the strawberry, click here.

Regardless of whatever else the strawberry is, it is, above all else, delicious.  I have great memories of traipsing through Buenos Aires one late November afternoon (remember–fall in the Northern Hemisphere is spring in the Southern Hemisphere).  They were so sweet, so great, I bought a kilo (a little over two pounds) just after noon, ate while we walked, and it was gone by the time we sat down for dinner.  My fingers were stained red from the feast.  My stomach–not such a soldier that day.  Not my best moment, I know.  But so worth it.  I have pictures of those very strawberries, somewhere on a disk.  Other great strawberry finds include tiny strawberries at community markets in Normandy and Paris, and let’s not discount this weekend’s find (pictured) in Madrid at my local frutería.

Can't beat fresh wild strawberries!

So.  Maybe I went a little bit overboard by buying one kilo when I live alone.  But, in any case, I had this kilo of fresh, delicious, real–and I believe wild–strawberries (the multiple sized kind filled with juice and not genetic copies of some aesthetically “perfect” model).  And I was determined to eat them all.  So… I began by grabbing some and eating them simply, first by themselves, then with creme fraiche, then with regular cream.  If regular cream is difficult to find where you are, just use heavy whipping cream.

Preparing Strawberries:  To prepare strawberries for these simple dishes, as a general rule I cut off the caps, then quarter the strawberries, then sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over them and mix it in.  (This amount of sugar can be adjusted depending on the natural sweetness of the particular strawberry.)  A very light syrup should start to form from the juice of the berry and the sugar.  Then mix with the cream or creme fraiche, if desired.

These were small and sweet enough that I didn't have to quarter and sugar them; but it's generally a good idea if you're getting the larger, "American" variety of farmed strawberry. With creme fraiche.

With regular cream

And after all that eating… I still had at least half a kilo left. So I began to search through my fridge and pantry, trying to come up with ideas to use the rest of the strawberries.  There was a bottle of cava (Spanish champagne) staring back at me, having been bought a week before and seemingly upset that it was sitting there, still unopened.  And I thought… wouldn’t a cheesecake that had both the strawberries and the champagne in it be simply divine?

No-Bake Strawberry Champagne Cheesecake

When I Googled “Strawberry Champagne Cheesecake,” I found only a few recipes, and they were merely regular cheesecakes topped with champagne-soaked strawberries.  Now, that sounds delicious and all, but I was determined to get the strawberries and champagne IN the cake itself.  So… I had to reach far into my cheesecake-making past to come up with this one:

Skill Level:  MEDIUM

Preparation time:  30 minutes (with electric mixer); 7+ hours refrigeration to set.

Cooking time: 10 minutes for crust

Servings: 6-8

There was a rum eggnog cheesecake I used to make with Eagle sweetened condensed milk; I can’t find that recipe online anymore, but I tried to adapt some of the techniques to create a champagne cheesecake with pieces of fresh strawberries stirred in.

The old recipe called for egg yolks to be boiled with the gelatin, rum, sugar, and water, and that the whites be beaten to create a raw merengue to be folded into the cheese and cream mixture. I decided to try to make this pie without the eggs, knowing that my friend Cecilia (who is my dutiful recipe experiment guinea pig) is a bit wary about eating raw egg. Fair enough–let’s see what can be done without the potential salmonella issues.

I recently learned (also thanks to Cecilia) that champagne is much like cognac–copied throughout the world but under different names.  So just as Armenian “brandy” was the Politburo’s cognac of choice; Italian “prosecco” and Spanish “cava” are more or less the same as champagne but unable to claim the title because of the regions from whence they come.  So, basically, what this means for us is that we can easily keep the semblance of luxury for under $10.

Crust:

bag of digestive cookies or graham crackers

2-3 Tbsp sugar

half a stick of butter, melted

Filling:

2  8 oz.  (200-250g) packages cream cheese

about 1/2 cup of sugar

1 envelope of powdered, unflavored gelatin

about 2 cups of whipped cream (I recommend whipping heavy cream yourself; however, using premade unsweetened whipped topping will work)

3-4 cups strawberries, quartered (and sugared if necessary)

about 3/4 cup sparkling white wine (aka champagne)

2 egg yolks, beaten (optional)

To make a basic pie crust, place the digestives in a ziploc plastic bag and pound into fine crumbs.  Pour crumbs in bowl, stir in sugar, and pour butter over mix and stir in with fork.  Once the crumbs are evenly coated by the butter, press the mixture down into a 9″ pie plate (or, if you’re out of pie plates like me, any bakeware will do), and bake for 10 minutes at 250˚F (120˚C).  Set aside.

Bring 1/4 cup of sugar in 1/4 cup water to a boil in a small pot.  For a slightly more creamy final texture, add beaten egg yolks here, making sure not to let the yolk scramble by ensuring absolutely constant stirring.  I omitted it this time around. Add gelatin, continuing to stir constantly.  If you prefer to boil your champagne to remove some of the alcohol, lower the heat and add it here, being careful not to let the bubbles boil over.  Let simmer, stirring constantly.  Keep in mind that the longer you cook the champagne, the more alcohol is removed; however, it will take quite a while to remove all of it.  I suggest just a few minutes, if that; the resulting alcohol level should be low enough to keep from having an effect.  If you don’t mind keeping the alcohol in the pie, I recommend to skip this last step and set the champagne aside for the moment.

In medium bowl, mix cream cheese and whipped cream until smooth and fluffy.  Add 1/4 cup sugar and slowly stir in gelatin mixture.  Slowly pour in the champagne (if you haven’t already added it to the boiling gelatin mixture) and continue to fold the mixture until the texture is thick and consistent.  If you added the egg yolks in the previous step, go ahead and whip the whites to make a raw merengue and add it for an extra creamy texture (Note: if you are uncomfortable with raw egg, don’t waste the whites–store them to cook for breakfast tomorrow instead.)

Fold in the strawberries, and stir in well so that the juice from the strawberries tint the cheese-cream mixture a very faint pink color.  (This will ensure that a very light strawberry flavor mixes in with the champagne flavor throughout the pie.)

Pour the pie filling over the baked pie crust. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Texture will be quite creamy but should hold together.

Using a bread dish as a pie dish

That's what I'm talkin bout. Couldn't quite wait for it to fully set, so it had a bit of a rough landing here. Still absolutely delicious!!!

If you have extra filling, fill up some parfait cups and chill those as well–perfect for individual servings.  Garnish as desired.  My recommendation is a dollop of whipped cream and half a strawberry (and maybe a thin wafer of dark chocolate if you have it on hand), served with a glass of champagne!

For general tips on cooking with wine, click here for a Cooking Light article on the topic.

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Produce: As Sweets

Produce as dessert can be as tricky as it is temporal. There are plenty of vegetables we consider fruits, fruits we consider vegetables, “accessory fruits” that don’t really fit into either category, and, of course, other parts of the plant that we may or may not desire as dessert. Presenting produce as dessert can be as simple as rinsing, chopping, and mixing fruits as a salad, to blending them into a shake, to adding other ingredients and boiling, baking, and/or chilling them as a more complex dish.

Then there is the matter of marrying the textures and tastes with “accent” ingredients such as cream or chocolate. Or making a new texture by adding the fruit as the accent, such as in cakes, pies and other pastries, ice creams and sorbets, mousses and puddings. So, we can have one fruit and have endless ways to make it into something unique and delicious, if we just keep in mind the capabilities and boundaries offered by that particular fruit.

Apart from applying our creativity to the process of going from plant to sweet treat, the short shelf life of produce demands that we think relatively quickly after, if not during, purchase. Many fruits don’t last more than a couple of days after arriving home, especially if they are not stored in the fridge. Some of the “tougher” fruits, like bananas and granny smith apples for instance, stay up to a week out of refrigeration; on the other hand, berries and thin-skinned fruits such as plums don’t last quite as long.

The typical food patterns we usually associate for fruit-based desserts include:

Flavor: pineapple and melon, strawberry and banana, orange and strawberry, apple and pear, and berries generally go well together (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackberries, etc.). The red currant and its cousin, the lingonberry, go well with other fruits, in preserves, and they also complement meats very well, as we tend to see in Nordic cuisine. Cloudberries and gooseberries, also prominent in Nordic dishes, are less common in the middle latitudes and lend subtly sweet overtones to a dish.

Texture: fruit and cream, fruit and bread, fruit and honey, fruit and ice, the list goes on and on. However, how the fruit is added makes a difference. For instance, lemon-flavored Italian ice sounds good, but why does the idea of drizzling honey over lemon wedges 1) make me want to grab my Vicks Vapo Rub and 2) sound like a rather unappetizing dessert for most? Replace the lemon wedges with baked apple, pear, or even banana, and the dessert is suddenly divine. While we value the lemon for its juice and occasionally its zest, most folks do not like to bite into the meat of the lemon itself, which, admittedly, may have something to do with the bitter taste. But the acidic citrus flesh also simply doesn’t work with everything (again–this is for most people; there are always exceptions). Using lemon with cream is a great idea; but again, you probably wouldn’t serve the lemon itself with the cream; you’d blend the lemon juice or grated zest with the cream and perhaps a few other ingredients in order to neutralize the tartness and offer a smoother texture.  But strawberries with cream is a whole ‘nother story.

Keeping in mind flavor, texture, and longevity, it’s fun to play around with new ideas and push the envelope by investigating and experimenting with the various cooking options for almost every edible plant out there. To help us along, we can look to world cultures for inspiration. We can also borrow (or else fully adopt) the vegan and vegetarian options that have been developed in many parts of the world and that offer us new possibilities for almost any type of cuisine out there. Even if you’re not vegetarian, the techniques cultivated in this branch of culinary thought are very useful in applying to other dishes. And it’s always helpful to have a few recipes on hand if you have vegetarian or vegan friends or family coming to dinner. In the coming weeks I am hoping to flesh out the vegetarian/vegan section of this site (poor pun) with the help of a friend who has already done a lot of the leg work to modify old favorite recipes–stay tuned!

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Produce, generally

Whether you buy local and organic or conventional produce, the fact remains that some fruits just don’t last quite as long as others. After all, they are plants that have been recently cut and transported for consumption. A general rule of thumb is 5-7 days, refrigerated. Obviously, some can last a bit longer, and some a bit less. What this means is that you either 1) need to have the dish in mind whilst buying the ingredients at the market or store; or 2) need to have enough “helper ingredients” on hand to use whatever may be in season or whatever may have caught your eye that day.

The idea is that, unlike, say, roots and tubers, produce really does need to be used in a “revolving door”-type fashion and should always be on its way through the house rather than stored as a staple that can be kept for weeks or even months. If this option is not going to work for you, frozen, canned, vacuum-sealed, or otherwise preserved produce may be a good solution for you. But it’s never quite as tasty or as healthy as the fresh option. Usually, you’ll have to add more sugar to frozen fruits.  On the other hand, usually people keep the sugary syrup in which many fruits are canned and consider that useful flavoring.  But you may need to rinse off any legumes or veggies that are jarred or canned as those are often treated with some sort of preservative that isn’t quite as tasty or useful.  But it’s your kitchen–your call.

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In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I am stealing the link off of a friend to this fun Texas Monthly recipe blog.  Thanks, Anna!

www.texasmonthly.com: Sweet Texas Heat. Photograph by Adam Voorhes

There is some debate as to how “authentic” Cinco de Mayo is.  Truth be known, it is much more celebrated in the US than in the homeland (much like St. Patty’s Day).  However, the Battle of Puebla was real, the victory over the French was real, and I don’t see a reason to boycott it just because Chicanos & Friends generally have a little more fun with it than folks actually residing in Mexico.  As a Chicana, I am happy to link over to this fun jalapeño-infused tequila drink recipe for today’s celebration!  There are also a number of Margarita recipes if you’re not feeling that frisky.  Click here to access the Texas Monthly recipe blog.

Viva La Raza!

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This may not be an authentic Eye-talian recipe, and it may not be the most exciting or original food ever, but when you are looking for a fast, easy, minimalist, yet filling and delicious dish to throw together, this is a good one to have on hand.  And it is really, really good.  Like whoa.  I have to say, this meal is definitely staying on my short list for visiting family and friends.

Skill Level:  EASY

Preparation time:  About 20-25 minutes.

Servings: 2.  Or one, if you’re me.

one fileted chicken breast, chopped into smaller pieces.

5 “nests” of spinach fettuccine

approx. 5-6 Tbsp fresh cream

about 3-4 pinches of shredded emmental cheese

2-3 dollops of creme fraiche

about 3-4 Tbsp grated parmesan

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

This is your basic pasta recipe… nothing too shocking.  While you set the water to boil in a pot, rub some olive oil, salt and a small dash of pepper on the chicken and set to bake until it is white through and through.  For me, this is in my toaster oven for 15 min (I’m not sure what temperature it is).  Of course, you can also pan fry it, but baking is healthier and it also keeps a nice moist texture to the chicken.

Add a little bit of salt and a bit of oil when the water comes to a boil, before adding the pasta.

When the pasta has boiled, strain and place back in pot.  Over low heat, stir in about a Tbsp of oil, and the cream, creme fraiche, and the emmental and parmesan.  When this has reached a nice smooth consistency, give it a taste and add salt as needed.  Toss in the cooked chicken pieces (they should be done by now) and stir those in.  When everything is nicely coated with the creamy cheese sauce, transfer to plate, and top with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper.  Serve with toasted bread and a nice glass of chilled white wine for a nice, relaxing meal.

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Chocolate: Friend or foe?

Looking into the eye of the tiger

A recent study seems to point to the possibility that chocolate, while believed to temporarily lift mood, can actually act as a depressant over the longer run.  Of course, the results seem inconclusive and maybe even a little bit contradictory, but still interesting.

I’m sure the researchers accounted for this, but I actually wonder how much is the cocoa and how much is the additives and sugar.  You may have heard that the flavonoids in chocolate, that have antioxidant effects, are richer in dark chocolate and therefore dark chocolate is actually good for you.  The Mayans consumed cocoa as a bitter drink used in special rituals and spiced it with chilies, nothing like the sweet treat that the Europeans later developed.  So “chocolate” really does seem to be a subjective term reflecting a mixture of cocoa and other ingredients.  (Of course, I’m not a scientist, so who knows how they controlled that factor in the experiments.)

The only time I, personally, feel depressed post-chocolate is when I’ve lost my self control and have eaten the whole thing in one sitting.  But hey, if it’s dark chocolate, I do feel less depressed about it.

Read here for the full article on the study.

Tomatoes and Avocados as sweets?  Yes, these “faux veggies” deserve a second look. Their versatility practically begs us to play around and find new ways to use them. Who’s to say there aren’t other potentially fantastic “double agents” just waiting to be discovered?

Another of my favorite tapas from Mercado de la Reina (see Sobrasada with Brie) is a slice of toasted bread topped with a sweetened tomato jam and a slice of soft goat cheese. Given that the tomato is, in fact, a fruit, this shouldn’t have surprised me the first time I tried it. But, it did. Cherry and grape tomatoes tend to be the sweetest. The recipe for my recreation of this yummy tapa coming soon.

For now, I bring you some ideas for cool concoctions with that clandestine fruit, the avocado.

Idea #1
-Moroccan Avocado Shake
When on a walk through Marrakesh with a friend a few years ago, we passed a fruit shake shop. These shakes were not made with ice; simply the fruit, sugar syrup, and water or milk. I was surprised to see avocado on the menu. Avocado, like tomato, is actually a fruit, although we typically see it salted and prepared with vegetables and/or meat. I decided to go for it and asked for a water-based shake. The resulting product was what I have since referred to as the “Guinness of fruit shakes.”

Thick, sweet, and retaining its avocado flavor, I can say I have never tasted anything quite like it. All in all, I liked it. If only I had stopped drinking when I was full instead of challenging myself to the full glass. I have since thought of other ways to incorporate avocado into mousses and other desserts with less… avocado-ey intensity (see below), and I highly recommend it as a daring and different addition to your home menu. If you don’t want to mix the sugar and water to make the syrup, you can substitute honey. And I recommend adding ice cream or yogurt. And maybe a banana if you’d like.

Idea #2 + Recipe
-Avocado Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Frozen Custard
The Moroccan avocado experience opened my eyes to utilizing the remarkable dexterity of the avocado is as a dessert.  The Philipines, Brazil, and many other countries also know the secret bliss of the sweetened avocado in shakes as well as in ice cream.  There are also some intriguing recipes online for avocado lime pies and avocado chocolate mousse and pudding, but I wanted to do something different. Something that combined the elements of avocado, banana, chocolate, and frozen summer treat. With chocolate chips. Maybe this isn’t the most surprising thing, since my favorite gelato flavors are mint chocolate chip and double chocolate chip.

So avocado chocolate chip it is. By far one of the most delicious things I have ever made. And the only equipment I used included a fork and a bowl. Of course, if you have a blender or processor that would make the texture slightly more consistent. But it’s absolutely not necessary.

The one thing that surprised me–and made me kind of happy in a weird “Look at me, I’m a crazy cook” sort of way–was that I could not find any recipes like it already on the internet! Mousse, pudding, ice cream, yes, but not everything together.  (This is also a lot easier than the ice cream because you don’t need a machine.)  It’s the little things, right?

So this is how it goes, I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is! If you want to make it less chocolatey (although I can’t imagine why!), use either less cocoa or omit the cocoa altogether. Play around with it!

And this time… I have tons of pics!

Skill Level: EASY
Preparation time: About 10 minutes to mix ingredients, plus freezing a few hours or overnight.
Servings: 2-4, depending on how large your serving cups are.

1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 banana, not yet mushy and relatively firm

1 tsp lemon juice
3 heaping teaspoons of cocoa (unsweetened)–knock this down to 2 to moderate the “chocolateyness”
1/8-1/4 cup sugar (I eyeballed it; you may want to add slowly, to taste)
About 3-4 Tbsp. dark honey
150-175 grams (5-6 ounces) of creme fraiche (sour cream can substitute)
4 or 5 Lindt dark chocolate thins (70% cocoa)

Mash the avocado, banana, and lemon juice in a bowl with a fork or else in a processor.

No, it's not guacamole. It's avocado and banana mush.

Add the cocoa, sugar, and honey and continue mashing/processing.

My favorite honey in the world

Add the creme fraiche last.

Adding the creme fraiche. OK, maybe I had a little too much fun with it.

Grab the chocolate thins in one hand and break them into little bits by squeezing your fist a few times (yes, it really is this easy). Fold them into the mixture.

Lindt 70% cocoa dark chocolate thins

The most nutritious chocolate treat... ever?

Pour mixture into parfait cups or, if you are at a loss for pretty display glasses like I am, just use regular old drinking glasses, if they can be frozen. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Ta Da!

You should end up with a gelato-like, nutritious, delicious banana double chocolate chip frozen custard. I am in love with it. Enjoy!

NOTE:  The frozen gelato-like texture may be somewhat difficult to achieve as the ingredients can tend to “overfreeze,” making long thaws necessary.  I am going to play with some ingredients (no milk though) to see how to improve this.  For now, my suggestion to get the perfect frozen texture is to pop it in the freezer for about 3 hours after making to achieve the texture, then transfer to the fridge for 3-4 hours for storage before serving.  Longer freezing time may require longer thawing time.  If you only keep it in the fridge instead of freezing, you will achieve a very rich pudding instead.  Could also be used as pie filling–seems to have gone over well that way according to other recipe blogs!  However you serve it–it’s delicious!

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I made it out to Berlin recently to visit friends.  I thought that, without a doubt, I would walk away with some new wonderful currywurst addiction.  Instead, I fell in love with Kartoffelsalat, or German potato salad, which I picked up as a side dish one damp and chilly afternoon at Curry 36, an apparently famous (according to my travel buddy and Lonely Planet) currywurst stand under a city rail overpass.   (The currywurst was okay, too, but nothing in comparison.)  After that, it seemed like Kartoffelsalat existed everywhere I went.  There are a few different kinds, of course, Germany being a relatively large country and made up of various regions that like to claim cultural independence from each other (try referring to a Bavarian as German and you’ll see what I mean).

Anyways, this particular potato salad was served cold (or Kalter), as opposed to this type of hot German potato salad.  This salad had a light but slightly creamy sauce to it, and my friends and I couldn’t figure out exactly how that was done. Yes, it could have been mayonnaise, and according to the internet it was mayonnaise. But it didn’t taste like mayonnaise.

I looked high and low on the internet but I just couldn’t find exactly what I had fallen in love with.  So I had to improvise. One friend had suggested perhaps sour cream–and that got me thinking.

I took the basic recipe of peeled and cooked potatoes, marinated in onions and a little bit of the water they were boiled in, mixed with vinegar, mustard and seasoning.  Having recently become ridiculously attached to creme fraiche (which is related to sour cream), I thought this would be the perfect addition to add the slightly sour, slightly tangy, creamy texture to the salad that I was looking for.  It came out great!! I also added things not mentioned in the recipes I was looking at, but that had made such a big difference in Berlin: fine rings of radishes, and sometimes green onions and chives, depending on the place. So delicious!

For the dill haters out there, just know that I usually don’t like dill either, but just a little bit of fresh chopped dillweed does add an almost summery quality to the salad.

Skill Level:  EASY

Preparation time:  About 3 hours, including skinning and boiling the potatoes beforehand, and 2 hours of marinating.

Servings:  6-8.

2 lbs. (1 kilo) peeled and boiled medium potatoes

1/2 onion, sliced thin into strings

1/2 lb. (approx. 200 g) radishes (depending on how strong an influence you want–I love radishes), sliced very thin

2-3 tsp fresh dill, chopped

2 tsp fresh green onions (optional), chopped

2 tsp fresh chives (optional), chopped

a few dollops of creme fraiche (approx 3 Tbsp, depending on your preference)

1 Tbsp mustard (more if you really love mustard)

salt to taste

Okay, I cheated once again and used vacuum-sealed, pre-boiled, pre-skinned potatoes, although in this case I do think it would be better to use fresh potatoes because you want to save some of the water in which they’re boiled.  Also, the potatoes in Berlin were a tiny bit firmer than the usual typical American potato salad, and the pre-boiled ones were too soft for my preference.

Chop up the onion into thin strips, slice the potato into disks, mix these in a large bowl and pour a small amount (1/4 cup or less) of the water the potatoes were boiled in (if you have it) over the mixture.  Cover and marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.

After marinating, add vinegar and mustard.  Supposedly the texture would be “creamy” as-is, according to every internet recipe I saw, but it was nothing like what I had in Berlin.  So, I decided to add a few dollops of creme fraiche, which immediately thinned out upon contact with the water, mustard, and vinegar.  That definitely did the trick!

Nice and creamy potatoes, after much ado!

Add in the dill, radishes, green onions, and chives.  You’re ready to go!  Enjoy!

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Vegan Fusion Cooking

When I made my third, and last, attempt to go vegetarian, I was living in one of the most difficult places in the world to try this–Armenia.  Things have changed a bit since I lived there, but at that time it was very difficult to keep to a vegetarian diet, especially when the local cuisine is based on meat, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and more meat.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, fruits and other produce in the summertime did help, but the winter was brutal for anyone even thinking of foregoing meat.

In fact, I did such a poor job that I had to occasionally allow myself some fish just to keep myself from keeling over.  My skin turned gray, my hair went brittle, I gained weight from all of the carbs I was eating to feel full.  I clearly did not know what I was doing.  I literally dreamt of meat-filled banquet tables.  I remember waking up one morning, salivating, thinking I had bitten into a chicken leg.  It’s true.  Suffice it to say, this did not work out for me.  After seven months of trying, I gave up.

While I still don’t cook very much with meat at home, I definitely don’t turn it down as a guest in others’ homes, and I do order meat at restaurants.  Of course, even if everything I buy at home is ecologically and ethically acceptable, all bets are off when I am eating elsewhere.  Who knows what’s in that burger?  Do we know if those eggs are from open range chickens fed 100% grains?  I’m still trying to reconcile this for myself, but the truth of the matter is I know that I cannot live completely without meat.  I just minimize where I can.  It’s difficult, because as you may be able to tell, I’ll eat almost anything.  Maybe someday I’ll give it another go, and see how far I get.  It will have to be in a country with ample alternatives to meat.

In the meantime, I do enjoy increasing my knowledge of the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.  There are plenty of meatless, fishless, eggless, dairyless dishes that I enjoy, and having more recipes under my belt is never a bad thing.  Even if we take small steps at a time, we can make an impact on our health, on the environment, and on the state of animal welfare.  I will expand this discussion of why people go vegetarian and vegan in a later post, and I invite my friends who follow these diets to chime in.  For now, I want to share the Google Books preview of Vegan World Fusion Cuisine, which contains tons of great-looking recipes without any animal products whatsoever, ranging from easy to a bit more sophisticated cooking and preparation methods.  I will eventually attempt some of these recipes myself, but if anyone reading this beats me to it, by all means please write in and share the results!  Click here to see the preview of the book.

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Avocado Mousse Tapas

Avocado mousse-stuffed smoked salmon rollsSeafood baked mac and cheese.  It seems that no matter how creative we try to be, someone has already thought of the same thing, or else something extremely similar.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty of room (and need) for creativity.  In fact, the wide range of internet recipes that mob the blogosphere is a great resource–we can find good ideas for new food pairings, improve the recipes we were already working with, and perhaps most importantly, learn from others’ mistakes!

So, when I tried to think of something to do with an avocado sitting on my shelf, I thought that avocado mousse would be a good idea.  Counting on the fact that I am not entirely original, I Googled it and found a slew of avocado mousse recipes, ranging from the savory to the sweet.  Of course, I had also thought of making a dessert with avocado, with banana and possibly with cocoa, and this list of recipes just proved that yet again, many, many people had already beat me to it.  The great thing about this is, I could compare and pick the best ideas and, of course, still add my own to the mix.

I saw that, basically speaking, to make a savory avocado mousse you just mix the avocado with cream cheese.  I also saw that most of the time, people pair the mousse with smoked salmon.  However, the friend of mine at whose house I was going to be eating this snack does not like smoked salmon.  So, I took the basic idea, picked up some specialty cured jamon ibérico to replace the salmon (and also used some leftover turkey slices sitting in my fridge), and grabbed a baguette from my local supermarket, and came up with this:

Skill Level:  EASY

Preparation time: 5-10 minutes.

Servings: Approx. 15 pieces, depending on the amount of mousse you spoon onto the bread pieces.

For base:

smoked salmon slices, turkey slices, cured ham slices, or whatever sliced soft meat you prefer (thin slices of muenster or another mild semi-soft cheese should make a good vegetarian option)

1 baguette (freshly baked or re-toasted prior to meal preparation)

For avocado mousse:

1 ripe avocado (peeled and pitted)

1/2 package of cream cheese (4 oz.)

1-2 teaspoons mustard (to taste–I find using dijon or other specialty mustard is better for this)

half a teaspoon of garlic butter (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix avocado, cream cheese, mustard, garlic butter (if used) and salt and pepper to taste.  I did this with a fork for a few minutes and it was fine, however if you really want to make it as smooth as possible, feel free to use a processor.  Slice the baguette in half down the middle, then into small pieces, 2-3 inches in length.  (I find that the step of slicing it down the middle makes it much easier to eat.)

Lay a small piece of sliced salmon, ham, turkey, or whatever you have chosen on the bread slices.

Note: These bread slices have NOT been sliced in half width-wise. Don't make my mistake!

Scoop about a tablespoon of the avocado cheese mixture onto each piece.

Easy, fast, minimalist, and tasty.  My favorite combination!

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