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Elena’s peanut butter balls

The truth is, I was going to make something with frozen bananas for today’s post because I am still so psyched about the power breakfast smoothie. But… Marcos had put the leftover frozen bananas away in the refrigerator. That’s right, a big pile of mush. I asked my helpful honey, why he didn’t put them back in the freezer, and he innocently asked, ‘Well we still can, can’t we?’

Note: We have a “leave no man behind” rule in our house. So, if you are one of my readers who eats out way too much, and you are scratching your head right now, wondering why frozen bananas don’t go into the refrigerator, don’t worry I will help you (and my husband) learn to cook delicious healthy foods.

Anyway, I did find a bag of peanuts from Trader Joe’s and remembered that I promised my cousin Elena a post. So today is her day.

Elena came over to visit with her new sewing machine for a girls day which included a very serious discussion about peanut butter balls. I told her that the recipe I was working on had too much sugar and butter in it. That I wanted to do just peanut butter and chocolate but it was so boring. She considered my dilemma and decided resolutely that I needed pretzels in the mix creating the holy trinity: pretzels, chocolate and peanut butter. Pretzels on top, to be exact. I also added Uncle Sam cereal. Yum.

Believe it or not, these balls are pretty healthy for you. They have about 100 calories and sneak in 3-4 grams of protein each. The balls are rolled in crushed pretzels or cereal before being rolled in melted chocolate, then topped with yet another crunchy layer. As opposed to the traditional sugar and butter laden ball, this just has pure unadulterated peanut butter. We are talking about the good fat category! And, a high-quality dark chocolate encasing the whole thing.

This recipe is flexible and you should be too. Depending on the consistency of your peanut butter, you may need to place it in the freezer a few times to make these pretty. Other than that, this recipe is super easy.

Peanut butter balls

1 lb of fresh peanut butter, pure crushed peanuts (I made mine by demolishing 1 lb of peanuts in my Vitamix, you can also find a market near you that has a peanut butter machine such as the Sacramento Food Co-Op or Raley’s in Sacramento.)
6 oz of dark chocolate
1/2 cup crushed pretzels or Uncle Sam cereal
1/2 tsp olive oil

Chill the peanut butter in the refrigerator for at least an hour so that it is about the consistency of cookie dough. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Using a spoon or a cookie scooper, spoon 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and form by hand into a ball and place on the cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in the freezer for a few minutes until ready for use.

Crush the pretzels or Uncle Sam cereal and place on a plate. Heat the chocolate and olive oil in a double boiler or microwave (in a glass bowl in short increments so that it doesn’t burn). Stir frequently. The oil will help the chocolate spread smoothly over the balls. Remove the chocolate from heat and place it at your assembly station with the balls and the plate of pretzel/cereal.

Roll the balls in the pretzel/cereal. Then roll them in the chocolate, using a spoon to ladle more if you need the assist. Place the ball back onto the cookie sheet and sprinkle a little of the pretzel/cereal on top. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Warning: I have had one consistent complaint to these. People say that they are too big. Personally, I feel good about an entire tablespoon of peanut butter, but feel free to make them smaller.

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On Sunday afternoon my new grandmother, Nana, came over to the house to cook with me. I feel so lucky to be a part of this close family.  Nana helped raise my husband, watching him before and after school throughout his childhood. She is still amazing, spunky and helpful. She does things like pick up our work shirts for ironing and sends over pots of beans when times get busy for us.

During our afternoon together, I wanted to share some cultural dishes that my family enjoys. A gift of sharing something meaningful. This amazing woman was born and raised in Tepechitlan, Mexico. She has lived in Sacramento for over 60 years and is very adventurous – but on Sunday, I treated her to her first bowl of tabbouleh ever. She loved it!

Full of love and genuine intrigue, she wanted to know each ingredient and what every step was so that she can make it at home. This exceptional recipe is from my good friend Gina. It is, of course, her family recipe. And the tomatoes are from our parents garden.


2 c fine bulgar (#1), dry (Found in Mediterranean stores and Whole Foods. I found mine at Pita Kitchen in Arden.)
4 medium tomatoes (Or more to taste. We used our garden gems.)
1/2 can tomato paste
1 bunch green onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
1-2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped small
2-3 lemons, juiced
1/2 c olive oil
salt to taste
red pepper flakes to taste

Mix tomatoes, parsley, green pepper, green onion, tomato paste and lemon juice.  Mix in bulgar and let sit in refrigerator for about 1/2 an hour.  Before serving to add the olive oil and season with salt and red pepper to taste.

Note: The ratio between bulgar and parsley varies among cultures for this dish. Many do a much higher ratio of parsley than you see pictured above. It is a matter of taste.

Bonus: this is already raw and vegan!

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Summer-Exploring stir fry

Stir fry-  It seems like such a simple main dish to master.  Veggies, lightly fried in a pan, with sauce. Regardless, over the years I have made many inedible stir fries that went into the trash.  Soggy, limp, overly salty, disastrous flavour combinations and unsatisfying.  I consulted the internet and found ridiculous and difficult recipes that included ingredients such as ketchup and sugar.  For years now I have believed that there is a stir fry recipe conspiracy.

My vision of a perfect stir-fry is a piping hot dish of fresh vegetables, that are still intact both in form and true flavour, colourful and vibrant, lightly glazed in a layer of chillies and salt.

When we received the Breville Wok for a wedding present (Best “Off the Registry” Gift Ever from Tim and Dan), it was time to figure this disaster out.  After about 12 attempts, I figured out the crucial basic steps.  I have shared them below because I can not be the only person outside of Asia to get this technique wrong.

#1 Buy the extra firm tofu that is not packed in water.  The tofu magically sears within a reasonable amount of time (tip courtesy of the brilliant couple who gifted the wok).

#2 Find a good chilli paste in the Asian food aisle that matches your palate.  They are labelled with helpful terms such as “sweet”, “hot”, “mild”, “Asian Hot”, etc.  You can also get a hot bean paste.  The idea is to add a spike of flavour.  You don’t want to drown the vegetables until they are unrecognizable.

#3 Find all the best vegetables in season for the freshest fry.  Right now, great stir fry vegetables in season include asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, dandelion greens, endive, fava beans, garlic, jicama, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, spinach and sweet potatoes.

#4 Chop all the vegetables in similar bite-size pieces, keeping each in separate prep bowls.  Cut the tofu into 1″ cubes or smaller, set aside.

#5 Heat your pan or wok until very hot.  Using minimal sesame oil, saute the tofu, stirring regularly until it has browned on most sides. Take the tofu out of the pan and set aside.

#6 Start sauteing your veggies in order of density.  Leaving ample time for ingredients such as potatoes to cook until almost tender before adding additional vegetables.  Use your judgement on how long to wait before adding more ingredients.  Leave greens until all other vegetables are completely tender.  Toss them in.

#7 Whisk together approximately 3 tablespoons of water per 1 tablespoon of bean or chilli paste, pour over stir fry and toss thoroughly.  Do not overcook.  The best flavours to emerge from a stir-fry are from the beautiful vegetables.

#8 Explore, try new vegetables each time, and eat as much as you can.

Tonight we made a stir-fry with broccoli, onion and peanuts.  It wasn’t quite hot enough so we added Sriracha Chili Sauce.  We served it over Amy’s organic brown rice noodles.  It was divine.

I’d love to hear what your favourite stir-fry combination is, leave a comment below!

Spring – Orzo pasta salad with preserved lemon relish

preserved lemon orzo pasta salad

Remember the preserved lemon relish I posted? Many of you sent me messages that you preserved a jar of lemons so those should be about ready to eat!

Here are a few of my adventures with the simple preserved lemons that are easy to assemble: sauteed kale and chard with two tablespoons of the salted juice and one section of sliced preserved lemon; salad dressings using both the juice and the lemon; veggie pita sandwich with feta and sliced lemon; a Moroccan vegetable tagine with green olives and lemon; and a lemon saffron rice. The possibilities are endless and I really do not anticipate my stash of preserved lemons lasting through to next season.

All of this fun started with the preserved lemon relish recipe from Jenna and her inspiration to make Selland’s Market style orzo pasta salad.

You may have noticed that preserved lemons are a total Game Changer. This orzo pasta salad is a completely different animal than the typical summer pasta salad. Once you have marinated the “relish”, the salt both softens the bite and intensifies the naturally sweet flavour of the onion. Blending smoothly into the olives, the lemon infuses the oils with added freshness of citrus.

Orzo pasta, although I rarely allow myself this simple carbohydrate, is the perfect delivery food distributing the ingredients and satisfying my need for pasta. Once the relish is made there are very few steps to take.

Orzo pasta salad with preserved lemon relish
Serves 4-6

1 cup orzo, boiled and drained
crumbled feta to taste
fresh spinach, sliced thin to taste
toasted or raw pine nuts to taste
1/2 c prepared preserved lemon relish

For a nearly fat-free version, just toss the relish and spinach into the pasta to explore what plant-based explosive flavours can be achieved with minimal fats.

PS- If you haven’t seen the ads yet, we are sponsoring the Tasting Competition at the Sac VegFest this year. There will be vendors from all the vegetarian and vegan venues in town, in addition to healthy living related products and services. We will also have a table, come by and see us!

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Dad’s Sandwiches – Sacramento

Dad's sign

As a vegetarian diner at a sandwich shop, it is a really exciting day when I can order something more than bread, tomato, cream cheese and cucumber. Whoever deemed cream cheese the be all and end all for vegetarians should hide under a rock in shame.

That’s why I am actually giddy about the vegan meatloaf sandwich at Dad’s.

Over the weekend, we went down to the Dad’s Sandwiches at 1320 S Street to speak with Co-Owner Mick “The Deli Lama” Stevenson and sample one of his Saturday specials- the vegan meatloaf sandwich. I’m sort of wondering if I need to post at all once you’ve seen the photo…

Vegan meatloaf sandwich


In case the photo wasn’t enough, let me break this down for you.  It is simply stacked on gently toasted fresh sourdough bread. It includes loads of crispy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, onions and vegan mayo. The slice of “meatloaf” is everything it should be: thick, full of earthy seasonings and tomato sauce. Simply perfect.

When we asked Mick how a number of vegan options landed on his “meat stacked on meat” menu, he said that a lot of vegan bike messengers in town frequent his sandwich shop and made him aware of the lack of options. He stepped up to the challenge and has consistently kept vegetarians and vegans in mind when planning the menu boards.

Mic "The Deli Lama"

Almost everything on the menu can be modified to vegetarian or vegan.  Some items can be made with a morning star veggie patty.  Others are mouthwatering enough to just nix the meat.

For example, when was the last time you could order this for $7.00: Bad Breath Special- walnuts, blue cheese, red onions, roasted red bell peppers, mushrooms, garlic spread, brown mustard, a pepper plant and horseradish sauce on organic rye (hold the roast beef). Or this for $5.75: Besto Pesto- pesto, walnuts, cheddar cheese, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on sourdough bread (as is).

As for my sandwich needs, I’ll be back around to Dad’s for more, they get it.

Note: Mic just opened a second location at 1004 J Street for weekday lunches.

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