Spicy Shrimp & Avocado Salad Sandwiches

Last week I read the book Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (she of The Time Traveler's Wife fame). I ended up not really liking the book as much as I expected. In fact, I didn't really like it at all. The story was fine initially, but I expected something spookier and felt like many parts of it were left unexplained and unexplored. Even with suspension of disbelief, much of it just really didn't make any sense. The final third of the book, in particular, was stupid, and rushed, almost as if it had been written in haste just to get it over with or like she just grew bored.

To put it frankly, it was a huge waste of time.

But all was not lost!

It's a long book and once I put it down (once I got past just how bad it was), I found myself thinking over and over again about one particular scene. Just a few lines, really, where the main characters--a pair of 20-something American twins living in London--are taken on a picnic by a male neighbor. He brings along sandwiches and when they ask what kind they are, he says

"Prawn-mayonnaise sandwiches...[In America] you would call it a shrimp-salad sandwich, though I've never understood where the salad idea comes into."

I thought that was a pretty clever observation because it's true; we do seem to call just about everything a "salad" even though most barely are (think Ambrosia salad or classic tuna or egg or elbow macaroni salad; x-flavored mayo would definitely be more appropriate). That said, the thought of a creamy shrimp salad was officially stuck in my head and it wasn't long before I made it our dinner.

I used small hand-peeled Laughing Bird white Caribbean shrimp for mine. If you haven't tried them yet, I definitely urge you to seek them out. Humanely farm-raised in filtered sea water, they are fed a completely vegetarian diet (that keeps them 100% mercury free) and are chilled immediately after being caught (never frozen) so they are always fresh and sweet. Bonus points because the farm where they are raised has been given high marks and praise by the World Wildlife Fund.

Oh and at around $10 a pound, they brought me infinitely more pleasure than that lousy book.

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Spicy Shrimp and Avocado Salad Sandwiches
Makes 6-8 sandwiches

1.5 pounds clean and peeled small shrimp (I love Laughing Bird hand-peeled shrimp, which are humanely farmed shrimp completely free of mercury, sulfates, or other nasty things.)
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon cooking or olive oil

1 red onion, finely minced
1 large Florida avocado, diced into about 3/4" cubes
1 cup minced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 bunch roughly chopped watercress (or arugula)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon grainy or Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider or red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Ground Black pepper

Kaiser or Whole Grain buns for serving

In a large bowl, toss the clean and peeled shrimp with the Old Bay and paprika.

Over medium-high flame, heat the oil in a large dutch oven or skillet and add the shrimp. saute until cooked thoroughly. Remove the shrimp from the pot and place in a large clean bowl. Reserve the liquid from the pot.

To the bowl of shrimp, add the minced red onion, diced avocado, minced celery, and watercress.

In a smaller separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, mustard, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and cayenne. If too thick, add a tablespoon or two from the reserved cooked shrimp liquid.

Pour the dressing over the shrimp and watercress mixtures and toss to coat well. Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as desired.

Serve the salad piled into Kaiser or Whole Grain buns for serving as a sandwich or serve in small bowls as a salad.

Bagged Lunch Ideas: Cucumber Chickpea Salad

This is a simple salad for lazy days. Just chickpeas, diced cucumbers (lots of them), and big bright showers of cilantro and lemon zest. (OK...a little bit of diced onion too.) The dressing is just a bit of oil whisked with a bit of lemon juice and a splash of vinegar.

Make a big bowl because it develops the longer it sits and will taste better tomorrow than it does today. Left to soak in a bit, the cucumbers take on a slight pickled tasted and the chickpeas absorb mouthfuls of flavor until you find yourself sneaking forkfuls right out of the fridge.

I used canned chickpeas for these, but I made sure to give them a good rinse with fresh cold water first. It's not required, but it's something I always like to do to whisk away that slightly sludgy liquid and musty smell all canned beans seem to have. (This trick, by the way, also works wonders to get rid of the extra fishy smell of water-packed tuna.) Some brands package their beans with a bit of extra sugar or salt in the liquid so a quick rinse helps get rid of that and gives you more control over the flavor of your dish (and your nutritional intake).

(And you can, of course, soak and boil your own dried beans.)

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right.

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!

Cucumber Chickpea Salad

2 cans chickpeas, rinsed
2 large cucumbers, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, leaves chopped finely
1/2 small red onion, diced
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon Apple Cider or Red Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (more to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine the rinsed chickpeas, diced cucumber, cilantro, and red onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the dressing to the chickpea mixture and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (depending on how much juice your lemon had, you may need a bit more vinegar or oil. This can be eaten right away or made up to 24 hours in advance.

Chocolate Banana Fudge Brownies

I know. You're thinking, "Again with the bananas, Alejandra?!?"

I'm obsessed, I tell you... I've been craving these babies nonstop lately so I keep buying them. But it's approximately a billion degrees in our apartment during the day (because, apparently, our building is located on Mercury) so fruit that I leave in the basket in the morning has a tendency to all but disintegrate between breakfast and dinner.

And so, to reduce the waste, I'm forced to bake.

These brownies--made with chestnut flour, ripe bananas, and a mix of cocoa powder and chocolate chips--are freaking incredible. They're soft, fruity, moist, fudge-like, even. The top gets a bit of crisp, but it's all about that practically creamy inside. They taste like no brownie I've ever eaten, but are still recognizable.

And though it's probably technically too hot to be blasting the oven (did I mention that it's hot?), these bake up in just about 20 minutes which, I think, is bearable and worth it. I recommend eating these on the couch, still warm from the oven, with a fan blasting in your face, and an old movie on the TV.

(P.S. See why I told you to get that chestnut flour the other day? I bet you wish you'd listened to me now... ;)

Chocolate Banana Fudge Brownies
The chestnut flour in this recipe adds a lovely layer of fruitiness and moisture, but it can be easily replaced with All Purpose flour for equally delicious results. Or you can make this gluten free by replacing the All Purpose flour entirely with chestnut flour. I like the mix of both, but play around and see what works best for you.

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chopped semi-sweet chocolate)
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 large ripe (or over-ripe) banana
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chestnut flour (can sub another 1/4 cup all-purpose)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour an 8" square baking pan

Combine butter and chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir then microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat just until the chocolate is melted and you can easily combine.

Stir in the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Whisk in the mashed banana until as smooth as possible (will be somewhat grainy).

Whisk in the vanilla extract and each egg, one at a time, until combined.

Use a spatula to gently stir in the AP flour and the chestnut flour just until it is all combined thoroughly.

Pour batter into baking dish and smooth out the top. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan before turning out and slicing into desired-sized portions. (I like to turn it out and flip it again to keep the crunch part on top.)

Will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days. (If refrigerated, return to room temperature before eating.)

Watch This: Children of the Harvest

At the Dan Barber talk I attended a few weeks ago, Dan expressed his belief that it is the stories behind the food we eat—the stories of the seeds, the land, the farmers, the cooks, behind every dish—that make it all that more valuable to us.

I thought about this last night when I received an email from my longtime friend Nick Capote (the same friend who taught me all about the science of deep frying back when we were both in high school). In his message, Nick excitedly announced that the documentary he and his team have been working on for the better part of a year is finally going to be airing nationwide this Sunday night on Dateline.

Called Children of the Harvest, it tells the story about migrant farm workers—the invisible hands in America’s food-supply chain. Specifically, it tells the story of the many children, as young as five and six, who work alongside their struggling parents in the fields harvesting the food that we eat every day. The documentary intimately follows the journey of ten-year-old Ulysses Cruz, a young boy whose life has been dictated by the cycle of the crops, and other children under 12 doing work forbidden by child labor laws.

It’s an important story for all of us to know, and I hope you’ll join me in watching it on Sunday evening.

America Now: Children of the Harvest. Dateline NBC Sunday, July 18 (7 PM EST) on NBC

Read more about the documentary on the Dateline website.

Banana Ice Cream for Breakfast

I used to live in Washington, DC, where the summers are sticky, hot, and gross. My apartment was only a 10-minute walk from my office through a lovely part of town, but all summer long I found myself dreading the way that a few minutes in the stifling summer heat would transform me into a red-faced mess with frizzy hair and rivulets of perspiration chasing down my neck.

At my wits end one morning, I opened the freezer in search of something to help keep me cool. That's when I spotted the Popsicles. Icy cold, sweet, refreshing. I grabbed one and my keys, and headed out.

It was perfect! Down the street I walked, Popsicles in hand, smiling and feeling like a kid with my bright orange treat. It was still hot, but somehow not as awful. All summer long I walked to work this way, arriving at work with slightly sticky fingertips and bright pink (or purple or yellow) lips.

Since moving back to New York, I haven't had to deal with an unpleasant commute. My apartment is less than a block from the train that lets out directly beneath my office (just like a Senator!). I LOVE that my commute is so easy, but there are definitely times when I think back to those sticky DC mornings and miss the excuse to start the day with a frozen treat.

Last summer, I read about a neat trick that got me very excited. Ripe bananas, frozen and pureed, taste just like ice cream! The natural fats and sugars in the banana keep the fruit creamy even when frozen without the addition of any other ingredients.

I was fascinated! I tried it at once, quickly pureeing a few frozen bananas I'd had sitting in waiting for the next batch of banana bread. It was fantastic.

This original article suggested this as a healthy dessert, but remembering my Popsicles, I've taken it one better. Ice cream for breakfast! We all eat bananas at room temperature, so why not, right? Add a bit of peanut butter for protein and a little cocoa for flavor and it's a perfect way to start the day!

Breakfast Banana Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes about 2 cups ice cream (depending on size of bananas)
Prepare this the night before so you can enjoy it in the morning. A scoop of this on the way to work will make any day feel indulgent. (And how much would a kid love this?!)

4 ripe bananas
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (can substitute almond or soy nut butter)
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Peel and slice the bananas into small chunks. Spread on a tray and freeze overnight or for at least 4 hours.

In a food processor or blender, combine the frozen banana pieces, peanut butter, and cocoa. Puree until smooth. Eat right away (it will have a soft-serve like texture), or refreeze for 2 hours to give it a more scoopable texture.

Store in freezer in an air-tight freezer safe container. Can be made up to 48 hours in advance.

Banana Chestnut Cake

Have you ever worked with chestnut flour before? This delicate and lightly sweet flour made from ground dried chestnuts has become a new favorite of mine.

Common in Italy, where it is regularly used for everything from savory pastas and dumplings to breads and cake, the flour is actually a wonderful (and entirely gluten free) substitute for all purpose flour.

Unlike other nut meals, which have a high fat content, chestnut flour is relatively "dry" so it can replace regular flour in recipes at a much higher percentage than almond meal (effective if you're trying to reduce carbohydrates or simply the amount of refined flour you eat). It's also lower in calories and, as an added benefit, the natural sweetness of the chestnut means that recipes that use it can be made with only minimal amount of sugar.

Apart from the dietary benefits, the flour itself is delicious! When you first open a bag of it, dip your pinky finger in and taste it. Naturally sweet, nutty, almost fruity; you'll quickly understand why it makes such an incredible flavor base for recipes.

I've been craving bananas quite a bit lately (coupled with my insatiable thirst for coconut water lately, I suspect there must be some kind of potassium deficiency going on), and decided to try pairing this lovely flour with coconut for a moist, gently-spiced cake.

Since most of my banana cake and bread recipes tend to lean towards more autumnal flavors, I took inspiration from the summer heat and decided to go for something a bit more summery and reminiscent of the island vacation I'm also quite badly craving right now.

Cardamom, allspice, and (of course!) a bit of dark rum paired wonderfully with the sweet chestnut and ripe bananas. I served the cake plain with just a light sprinkle of confectioner's sugar on top to decorate it. It's incredibly moist with a soft, slightly sticky crumb; perfect with a cup of tea or in the morning as breakfast.

The chestnut flour is really what makes this cake, so please don't try to substitute something else. If you're not sure where to find it, I suggest first trying any local import stores (particularly Italian ones) where it may be labeled farina di castagne (chestnut flour in Italian). New Yorkers should head to Chelsea Market, Arthur Avenue, or down to Little Italy. I bought this particular bag at a shop in the Italian Market in Philadelphia.

If you don't have luck finding it in a brick and mortar shop, I highly recommend the online retailer nutsonline.com. They're one of my favorites and I order baking supplies regularly from them. You can also find several vendors on Amazon who stock it. Take care to make sure you're getting plain chestnut flour; smoked chestnut flour is also sold but that's for use in savory dishes (and it's delicious).

I have a few more recipes using this flour coming up soon so all the more reason why you should consider stocking up now... ;)

Banana Chestnut Cake
Makes 1 single-layer 9” cake

1 cup chestnut flour (available in specialty markets, Italian import markets, or online in stores like nutsonline.com)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground walnuts, pecans, or macadamia nuts (buy prepacked nut meal or blitz a cup of the whole nuts in the food processor and measure out the final amount)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
2 over-ripe bananas, smashed and whisked until smooth and creamy
1/4 cup coconut milk or buttermilk
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Butter and flour a 9” springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the chestnut flour, AP flour, ground nuts, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and allspice in a large bowl. Whisk until everything is evenly combined. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl or the base of your stand mixer, combine the oil and sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the egg one at a time, mixing each in until it is well incorporated. Add the rum, vanilla extract, bananas, and coconut milk until everything is mixed well.

Gently add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix in by hand until it is all incorporated and no dry spots remain. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 - 40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of your cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the sides and slide cake onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving, if desired.

On Picnics and Elderflowers

It was the elderflower that started it all. Last weekend, as we explored the Italian market in Philadelphia (a market which is much less a market than it is a street full of shops, and much less Italian than it is just Mexican) my friend Moe and I spotted a chalkboard across the street advertising elderflower soda. Lugging bags filled with imported flours, bulk spices, and black truffle polenta, we dragged our respective gentlemen companions into yet another store in search of one final treat. Pushing into the crowded shop, we flagged down one of the attendants who pointed us toward the bottles.

They were larger than we expected and, at $10.99 a bottle, much pricier too. Moe decided to skip it, but I was already smitten with the idea and couldn't resist. I grabbed one and then a second of the ginger soda that stood right next to it. Back home in New York, Eugene started pestering me.

"Can we have elderflower soda today?" he'd ask as we sat on the couch eating dinner in front of the television.

"No," I'd say. "Let's save it for a special occasion."

"Well can I just have a sip of it?"

"No. It'll lose all its fizz."

He'd sigh and pour himself a glass of water before trying again a couple hours later.

"You know, I'd could really go for some of that elderflower soda," he'd say casually while I worked on a post.

"Well that's just too bad now, isn't it?" I'd reply barely looking up from my screen.

Finally I conceded. "Let's plan a picnic. A romantic picnic for just us two and we'll take the elderflower soda along."

I've got to say that I've never seen Eugene so excited for a picnic.

We decided to do it on the 4th. A picnic of our own to celebrate our nation's independence. I packed a ridiculously extravagant spread of freshly baked breads (sourdough and whole wheat pecan), peppered salami, sliced prosciutto di Parma, pickles and cornichons, a small wheel of brie that I drizzled with honey and sliced almonds, a wedge of Truffle Tremor [amazing!], and some fresh figs. I also brought along a single-layer chocolate cake, a pint of fresh berries and some lightly sweetened mascarpone to dip it in. To drink, I filled a large water bottle with cucumber-infused water and layered my wine-carrying tote with ice packs. Inside I tucked a bottle of champagne and (of course!) the elderflower soda.

Off to the park we went, with our blankets and a tote filled with food. I wore a gingham dress and my new handmade straw hat (purchased spontaneously from a quirky milliner I encountered the previous afternoon as I strolled along the Upper West Side).

We settled under a willow tree just by the pond at 103rd street (my favorite Central Park picnic spot) and I arranged our food on wooden trays while Eugene cradled the bottle of elderflower soda in his hands.

"OK," I said. "Open it."

"It's probably going to be so disappointing," he said as he poured the crystal clear liquid into our cups.

Oh but it wasn't disappointing. In fact, it was wonderful. Refreshing, crisp, with light floral tones. Just a hint of sweetness and a sprightly tickle from the bubbles. Fellow St. Germain fans will recognize the similarities (minus the alcohol).

"This is so good!" we exclaimed, as we refilled our glasses and toasted. "To America," we said. "And to elderflower."

We finished the bottle much too quickly, never even bothering with the champagne. And then, after having had our fill of the food we'd brought, spread out in the sun on the lumpy ground each with a book in hand.

God bless America!


Now for the irony. This incredible soda? The one purchased in minutes from Independence Hall and sipped on the Fourth of July?

It's British! Bottled far, far away in lovely Leicestershire, England.

Which explains the $11 price tag and why it's practically impossible to find around here. Something which has made me intensely sad as I would love to drink this every day for the rest of my life. Not only that, but a quick browse through the Belvoir Fruit Farms website has me convinced that I must try every single one of their flavors. Like the "Summer Cooler," which has cucumber (!), mint (!), and geranium (!!!). Or the "Pear Elderflower" presse which I already suspect I will likely want to marry once I taste it.

Speaking of marriage, I'm now determined to hunt down a local distributor for these because I MUST SERVE THESE AT MY WEDDING. How perfect would these fit in with my whimisical vintage theme?

The research has already begun. Emails have been located and will be sent. Stay tuned as I am determined to make this happen. Until then, I'm hoarding the bottle of ginger beer until I have something to celebrate. (Let's hope it's the local arrival of that gorgeous elixir.)

Cucumber Cooler

The temperature has been barreling past 100 degrees the past few days here in New York and it's quickly become the only thing people are talking about.

"Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate," the news anchors keep reminding us and I'm happy to oblige.

For the past few months, this cucumber-infused water has become a constant in my refrigerator. I prepare it at night and then sip it throughout the day. Delicious, cool, and crisp, it makes every glass feel like a spa day.

You can customize this however you like based on whatever you have at home. I love to add slices of fresh ginger to mine.

Cucumber Cooler

2 cucumbers
2 liters filtered or bottled water
Juice of 2 lemons
1 handful of fresh mint, optional
1 ginger root, sliced

If you have a juicer, you can simply run the two cucumbers through the juicer and reserve the cucumber juice. If not, puree the cucumbers (in a blender or food processor) then strain and reserve the liquid. (You can toss the solids into a salad.)

Combine the cucumber juice with the water, lemon juice, and fresh mint or ginger root, if using. Pour into a large container (I use an old-fashioned beverage dispenser with a spigot that I keep in my fridge for easy serving.) and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Before serving, use a spoon to stir up the ingredients (the solids in the drink will settle after a while) and serve. Lasts 1-3 days (you can refresh it by adding more water).


And the winners are!!!

Thank you ALL for entering the foodie swag bag giveaway. We had more than 200 entries and I loved hearing about the amazing things you've all discovered recently. (I now have a ridiculously long list of things I MUST try out asap.)

I used the Random Number Generator on Random.org to pick a winner and I'm excited to announce that the winner is commenter #27 aka Jenny Hartin from the blog Mad Rantings of Andrew's Mom.

Jenny's been a loyal reader for a while now, so I'm excited that I can finally give back a little something. Jenny, when you get a second, please send me your address so that I can get you your awesome prize! You can email me at alejandra@alwaysorderdessert.com.


It just so happens that I have a few extra prizes hanging around the apartment, so I've decided to pick FIVE more of you to win a little something fun. Also using Random Number Generator, I pulled five more numbers. The other winners (and their respective prizes) are:
#3 aka Julia9874 to win a jar of Schoolhouse Kitchen peach-rosemary preserves and a coupon for a free bar of Green & Black's chocolate

#63 aka Sara to win a box of Peanut Butter & Co Dark Chocolate Dreams squeeze packs and a coupon for a free bar of Green & Black's chocolate

#206 aka matt4melis to win a package of Navitas Naturals Trail Mix and a coupon for a free bar of Green & Black's chocolate

#10 aka w_estremera to win a set of Mothering Mother produce bags and a coupon for a free bar of Green & Black's chocolate

#154 aka Blogger Mama(Ashley) to win an American Feast organic cotton apron and a coupon for a free bar of Green & Black's chocolate.

So all of you lucky winners, email me your addresses as soon as you can. And to the rest of you, thank you for entering. Keep reading because there will be plenty more fabulous contests coming up!

Strawberry, Brown Sugar & Passion Fruit Compote

This year, more than ever before, I've been doing my best to stick to eating seasonally. The occasional bag of something frozen notwithstanding, I've been good about resisting the cartons of jewel-like grocery store berries tempting us in the dead of winter. I do quite a bit of shopping online, via Fresh Direct, and my first click there is always their "What's Good" button. The feature, which highlights the current peak produce and ranks it by stars, basically guarantees that we're only buying and eating for the correct season.

I've even shared this concept with Eugene who has now included the phrase "how many stars was this?" into his vocabulary whenever he reaches for a piece out of the fruit bowl. And even at restaurants, where occasionally the cooks add something that really doesn't belong (invariably raspberries), he'll remark "Ugh...it's just not the season yet," sliding the offending item aside with his fork.

The funny thing is that because of this, I've also found myself hesitant to accept that yes, it now REALLY is strawberry season again. It kind of reminds me of the year or so after college when I dropped a bit of that dorm-life weight and yet still kept grabbing dresses off the rack that were much too large for me. It's like my brain is still stuck in the wrong season, waiting for permission to eat lush berries and plums again.

Fortunately, their presence at our weekly office farmer's market (conveniently located just outside our office cafe) has jolted me out of that hang-up and for weeks now I've been unable to Stop. Buying. Strawberries. I buy pints of tiny local ones from the market. I buy boxes of them from the street vendor at $2 a quart. And then I add a few more pints to the basket at the grocery store just to be safe.

Eugene goes through them as fast as he can (the boy LOVES fruit as dessert; I admit to preferring fruit IN ADDITION TO my dessert), but not even he can work through the stores. So finally, finding myself with several pounds of berries on the verge of death, I took action.

Homemade compote is basically just preserves for the lazy (and improperly air conditioned). Though I love making marmalade and quince paste in the winter, and have daydreams about preserving peaches one day, my current improperly-ventilated kitchen makes the whole task a bit unbearable in the summer months. Fortunately, all this recipe calls for is a bit of a stir and a few drizzles of this and that before it's done. Serve it hot with your oatmeal, or let it chill in the fridge (it lasts for a couple weeks at least).

Cold you can pour this over yogurt, serve it with cheesecake or pannacotta, use it in place of syrup on your pancakes, or even enjoy it in a bowl with a drizzle of cream on top.

You can even drink it! I've been dropping a few teaspoons at the bottom of my champagne glass--strawberries and champagne; a classic combination!

Cook's Note: I used passion fruit juice as the liquid, but you could use pomegranate, orange, even cranberry. Something with a bit of tartness is best to cut the sweetness.

Now tell me, have you found yourself making more of an effort lately to eat seasonally?

Strawberry, Brown Sugar & Passion Fruit Compote
Makes about 5 single 1-cup servings, more if used as a garnish over other items

6 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (can use granulated white if you don't have brown)
1/2 cup defrosted passion fruit puree
1 vanilla bean, halved (optional)
1 teaspoon good aged balsamic vinegar

Combine strawberries, sugar, passion fruit puree, and vanilla bean in a large non-reactive saucepan. Set over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves.

Let liquid come up to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Let simmer for about 10 minutes or until the fruit is soft but still retains its shape.

Remove from heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Let cool completely and then serve or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator (leave the vanilla bean in). Will last for at least one week, possible more.

*If desired, you can puree all or part of the berries for a smooth sauce.
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