Sunday, January 23, 2011

I will have the green one please!

I have talked here before about my love for smoothies but I haven't told you yet about my fondness for the green ones. Yep, green smoothies!
Don't rule this out so quickly, if you can go past the green color I promise that you will be surprised by how delicious a fruit smoothie with a bit of greens can be.
I have tried a few combination already and every time I am blown by how much I like this. Maybe it is an acquired taste, maybe not. In my case I already loved all fruits and veggies so it wasn't hard to find these smoothies delicious, but as it is recommended with all foods I would tell you to try at least once, and if you don't love it at first then try it one more time. Vary the fruits and/or the greens and I am sure you will find a combo that suits your taste.

What happened to me was that after trying it a couple times I started craving the green goodness more and more. Sometimes I would have a green smoothie on the afternoon and I could not wait until breakfast the next day to have another. I believe that all the nutrients give my body such a good feeling that it actually keep asking for more. (Seriously, it is really energizing to have a green drink - juice/smoothie - in the morning, or at least I feel this way)

I don't have a juicer (yet...), so I make green smoothies, but if you do have a juicer than you are up for a treat as I find that green juices are totally delicious, plus they are easy to drink and may provide you with a whole bunch of vitamins in one cup.
The difference between the smoothies and the juices is that the smoothies contain the fiber of the fruits/veggies, the vegetable and fruit pulp. The juices is just the liquid part of the produce, which is where all the vitamin and minerals are. Both are healthy and delicious and will provide you with very good for you nutrients, but smoothies are a bit more filling depending upon what you add to them. I actually feel good drinking the smoothies as I am also getting the fiber (which, uh.. it is much needed in my case... but anyways, lets go back to the post's original subject)
I wish there were juice bars here where I live as I really enjoyed having green juices at the Reading Central Market when we went to Philadelphia last year!
The juice below had carrot, pear, kale, and spinach. The pear gave it the best flavor, it was "pear"fect! :-)

Making a green smoothie is the easiest thing to do, just as with other smoothies all you do is add your fruit + veggies to the blender and whiz it away. You can add water and/or ice depending on how thick you want it. I like my veggie smoothies more on the not too thick side, so I usually add water to mine. But sometimes depending on what veggie or fruit you use you won't need too much water. Cucumbers for example is a good veggie for juicing or making smoothies as it adds a lot of water to the party.
When I make my smoothies I add the fruit on the bottom along with the liquid and then put the green leaves on top. Your blender will look like this:
On this particular smoothie I had 1 pear, 1 big chard leave and 2 handfuls of spinach.

But don't be alarmed, you won't get a full blender full of green goo, because after it blends it will reduce down to this:
Look at the bright green color!

Make sure to blend well. Depending on your blender it might take a couple of minutes to get everything smooth, just don't give up. (I can't emphasize here how much I LOVE my Vitamix, makes the smoothest smoothies ever! I plan to dedicate a post to talk about my vitamix soon)

My favorite combination for green fruit smoothie is: 1 cup mango chunks (I use frozen from Trader Joes), 1 inch piece of cucumber, and 2 handfuls of spinach, it is the best tasting one in my opinion. It is sweet, creamy and delicious, you can barely taste the greens on this one, the mangoes make this ultra special! The cucumber here is not necessary, I used it once and liked it, but if I don't have I don't fret and just omit it. It is wonderful just with mangoes and greens.

Back in the summer when berries were in season and amazingly delicious I used top my smoothie with raspberries, made it ultra good! From this pic you can see how thick I like the mango + spinach smoothies, but you can always make it more or less liquid-y to suit your preferences. This combo provides my favorite shade of green smoothie, it is bright and green, so pretty!

After having that delicious juice in Philadelphia I recreated it at home but into smoothie form, using 1 small pear, 1 small carrot, 1 big leaf of chard (didn't have kale that day) and a big handful of spinach. It was one of the best ever!! I also made this same one using apples and it was just as good! (I like pears more than apples though...)
I have also made this without the carrot and it is again really delicious, and a bit less thick and filling, which I like since sometimes carrots can be a little gritty and overpower the flavors if used too much.

The last one I made was this morning for breakfast. I wanted the pear + spinach again but didn't have any pears, so I used what I had on hand: 2 cups spinach, 8 cherries, 1 big slice of papaya. It turned out a bit darker than usual due to the cherries but the flavors were delicious, I gobbled up my smoothie along with breakfast in no time! It was gone so quickly that I almost didn't get the picture in time. The cup was full to the brim when I started drinking it, I had to stop and go get the camera in order to snap a pic before I downed it all.

I also added two drops of stevia to this one as I thought it needed a bit more sweetness (maybe due to the tartness of the cherries?). By the way, always taste it and adjust to your preferences. I like using either stevia or honey to sweeten my smoothies. If I want honey I add with everything else since I think it mixes better that way, but if using stevia I wait to taste and see how much of it I need. When I use mangoes usually I don't even need sweetness, same with the pears (actually, most of the time I won't sweeten my green smoothies or juices). Plus spinach has a little sweetness to it too, but taste is subjective so go with what your taste buds like better.
The combination for green smoothies are endless, you can vary the fruits, you can vary the veggies... your imagination is the limit!

My tip: start by adding a little bit of green at a time. When you first make a green smoothie use more fruit than greens. This way you won't be overwhelmed by the green flavor and your palate will slowly adapt and warm up to it. Add 1/2 cup of greens for the first few times, then slowly increase the amount and see how you like it. I started using 1 cup and now I usually add 2 cups of greens, and I feel like that is enough for me - I like to taste the fruit in it too! :-)

As far as green goes you can use spinach, romaine lettuce (makes a delicious and sweet smoothie, I love it!), chard, kale. Parsley adds an interest flavor to all veggie smoothies, but I haven't experimented paired with fruit much.
Veggies I like are carrots, beets (both of these I like in small amounts though as they can be a bit "earthy"), cucumbers. Some people like celery, I don't like celery at all so I never add to mine. Ginger also adds delicious flavor, if you like ginger then by all means try it, it gives it a bite to it that is good, especially when paired with lemon and a touch of honey.
For fruits my favorites are mangoes, pears, apples, papaya, all berries, avocado, cherries.

A lot of people like green smoothies made with bananas. Even though I like bananas by themselves I don't like adding them to my smoothies (green or not) because all I can taste then is... bananas, which is what most people like to taste, they mask the flavor of the greens with bananas. So if you are a fan of bananas then definitely try it, it is certainly the most popular fruit in smoothies (again, green or not!).
A few drops of lemon adds tons of flavors to smoothies and green juices too.

I am still experimenting and trying new flavors everyday, so I will keep posting more as I find new combos I like. And please definitely let me know if there are some pairing of fruits and veggies you like, so I can try it too!

One thing I wanted to mention, even though I believe it goes without saying, is to try and choose organic produce if you can. The fruits and veggies themselves will be more fresh and flavorful (and sweeter) and consequently your smoothie will taste like that too!
That's it, a bit of my favorite green smoothies shared with you all! And if you want ideas, take a look at Angela's Green Monster movement page, it is full of ideas too.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My new Favorite Smoothie!!

My favorite breakfast of all times is yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. I have plain yogurt and fruit basically every morning and never get tired of it (varying the fruit is key!), and one of my favorite ways to eat this combo is in smoothie form.
I love all creamy things, creamy is definitely my favorite texture of all: creamy ice cream, smoothies, pureed soup... you get the idea. So no wonders that I love smoothies so much: I usually have a smoothie (or shake of sorts, whatever you like to call them) at least once a day.
They are good vehicles for getting your daily dose of fruits, protein, and even veggies - yep, as weird as it may sound to some, I add spinach to my smoothies all the time, and I love it (I will share my green smoothie on my next post)
One thing I do when I make a breakfast smoothie though is to make sure I am getting proper nutrition in my glass. It is easy to blend a piece of fruit with a bit of milk and call it breakfast, but that is not how I see it.
Three things I make sure to add to my smoothies are: protein, fruits/veggies, and healthy fats.
As far as fruit goes there are a variety of combination to try. I like all berries, bananas, papaya, peaches and mangoes the best - especially mangoes, they make the smoothie oh soooo creamy!
For protein I like plain Greek Yourt (my favorite is FAGE), and sometimes I add a little protein powder along with it (if I am using hemp protein I don't add yogurt though, for some reason they don't go too well together for me).
For my healthy fats I vary between these choices: ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, coconut oil, and avocados. I like the flavor of flaxseeds a lot, especially paired with yogurt - love plain Greek yogurt with flaxseeds, totally delicious. Chia seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients, but they thicken the smoothie a lot, so need to be aware of that and add a bit more liquid than usual when using them. Coconut oil adds not only awesome fats for you (medium chain fatty acids) but also flavor and a hint of coconut sweetness, which I really like.
However, my favorite fat for smoothies are avocados, they make the creamiest and fluffiest smoothies ever, I love avocados! And not only in smoothies, I like them in my salads, in guacamole, and even mashed with a bit of sugar, but in smoothies they are stellar.
And that's why I just finished off my breakfast smoothie and wanted to come here and post about it. I have been adding avocados to my smoothies lately and I can't get over the deliciousness of it, I just had an amazing bowl of thick and creamy smoothie and I am as happy as one could possibly be in the morning! (yes, I like mine thick and creamy, in a bowl to eat with a spoon!)
If you want to add a bit of whole grain to your smoothie too then one thing I like is to add is oatmeal. Just add a couple tablespoons of rolled oats to the smoothie and blend away, makes it creamy and thick (adjust liquid to your liking), it is super nutritious and tastes delicious!
(you can also add plain, unflavored/unsweetened cooked oatmeal to it, adds wonderful creaminess)
I am posting here one of my favorite smoothies, but know that the possibilities when it comes to smoothies are endless, this is just one that I truly enjoy.
Now during the winter months I use frozen fruit and leave them in the counter for 10 to 20 minutes to defrost before I blend. By using frozen fruit the smoothie gets deliciously thick without the need of adding ice, but you can always add that if you prefer.
And always adjust the amount of liquid to your taste, add more or less water/milk depending on how thin of thick you like your smoothie. If you want to sip it through a straw then add more. I sometimes like it thick and creamy and eat with a spoon on a big mug or bowl, so I add only the 1/2 cup water mentioned.
Making a smoothie is all about creating a delicious concoctions that suit your palate, so don't be shy and experiment. It is fun and good for you!

Breakfast Smoothie

1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup raspberries
4 strawberries
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 of a small avocado (2 thick slices)
Stevia to taste
a few drops of vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 cup water (or milk if you prefer - coconut milk is a delicious addition too!)

Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons protein powder (I use plain, Unflavored Whey Protein but vanilla also works, just be aware of any thickening gums they might have added and adjust liquids accordingly)
If using fresh fruit you might want to add ice too

Put everything in the blender and whiz it away until creamy!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The best and fluffiest sweet potato muffins!

Hello blog friends!
What a better way to start the year in my blog than with a healthy muffin recipe, right?!
I created this recipe last year when we had a bounty of sweet potatoes coming weekly in our csa box and let me tell you, it was one of the best muffins that have come out of my oven to this date. I was totally happy to hear the husband saying every day at breakfast that these muffins were delicious - since he doesn't say much unless I keep asking this meant a lot to me!
These muffins are simple and easy, but full of healthy ingredients. Not loaded with sugar, made with whole grains and healthy fats, so not bad as a component of a healthy and balanced breakfast, especially if paired with a glass of milk or yogurt (protein) and some fruit.
The one thing we were in love with these muffins was the fluffiness, they had such a delicious texture and flavor, it was truly one of the best creations around my kitchen in terms of baked goods.
On the first time I made these muffins I used this coconut yogurt:

It didn't impair a coconut flavor to the muffins, but rather gave them a hint of coconut sweetness on the background that I truly enjoyed!
I have also made these muffins using plain yogurt and with kefir (we were swimming in sweet potatoes around here), and all the trials turned out delicious, so don't fret if you don't have the coconut yogurt available - although I would advice you to try using it if you do :-)
We did a taste comparison of two muffins made with the coconut yogurt and with plain yogurt and I liked the one with the coconut yogurt better, but both Matheus and my husband didn't think it was that much different and happily gobbled them up!
For one of the batches I added dried cherries and chocolate chips, and for the other one I added a pecan half on top. Matheus liked the chocolate chip/cherries combo the best (wonder why?! chooooocolate!), while the husband preferred the pecans. I have to say that I think the cherries were a good combo with the sweet potatoes, and upon tasting that muffin version Matheus suggested using dried cranberries, which I think was a good idea too! Toasted chopped pecans inside are also good, for some reason pecans go well with sweet potatoes, doesn't it?
Here goes the recipe, please let me know if you try. Since this was one of my creations I always like to hear feedback!

My Sweet Potato Muffins

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup plain or coconut yogurt (6 oz container)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup melted coconut oil (canola, or grapeseed oil also work)
2 tbsp water
1 egg
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Optional add ins: chocolate chips, dried cherries, pecans (I don't usually measure, but I am guessing I use about 1/3 cup of add ins all together, but hey, it is your muffin so you can add as much as you like!)

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl combine sweet potatoes, yogurt, sugar, oil, water, and egg and stir until well mixed. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips and cherries, mix all together until incorporated.
Pour batter into muffin tins oiled or lined with muffin cups.
Bake for about 16 to 18 minutes.
Makes 10 nice sized muffins.

Note: when I made the muffins using the flavored coconut yogurt I only added about 1/3 cup sugar to the batter and the muffins were plenty sweet (I find the coconut yogurt to be on the very sweet side). If you use the plain yogurt then the 1/2 cup + extra 2 tablespoons of sugar are necessary, but adjust the sweetness to your taste. I don't like things too sweet and never add more than 1/2 cup sugar to any muffin recipe that makes 12 muffins, and both Matheus and my husband thought this amount of sugar was great, which says a lot since they both like things sweeter than I do.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy 2011!!!

Happy New Year my friends! Another year came and went and the one thing I wish I had done more was to post on this blog. I am so thankful for the friends I made through the blog that I totally miss the comments and happy thoughts people leave here when I post - you all always make me smile!

2010 was a busy year, but it was a good one!

The biggest accomplishment for me last year was gathering my courage and going back to school! It was something I have been wanting for so long, and in 2010 I finally gathered the courage to apply to grad school, at the ripe age of 31. And all I can tell you is that it was the best thing I did. Being a mom and a student wasn’t easy, but I was able to do it all and more!

Time just flew by, it was a busy year for me, but more than that 2010 was a year when I finally started to figure out who I really am. I dispensed much more attention to myself, learning more about me, learning to listen to my body and to respect myself. Even more than that, I learned to love me just as I am, and that my friends, is the best thing ever!

We also went to Italy in July, it was my first time there and it was a super nice trip, which I still want to blog about someday. The best thing in Italy you ask? It was actually seeing my sister there! She was studying abroad in Denmark and took some time to spend a few days with us in Italy: fun, fun fun!!

We didn’t go to Brazil this year though, but I also saw my mom when she came to visit us in May, for Matheu’s first communion!

Seeing my mom and my sister were some of the highlights of last year for sure!

We (me, Matheus and the husband) also went to Pennsylvania during Thanksgiving break, it was a nice trip where we visited the Hershey chocolate factory, the Crayola factory in Easton, and spent a couple of days in Philadelphia – just to register here: it was way too cold there and whenever we decide to travel during Thanksgiving again we promised to ourselves we will hit the south! ;-) I was definitely not made for winter weather, I tell ya.

Last year Matheus turned 8, and also did his First Communion. As always I am the proudest mom ever and I love him more and more each second of my life. Being a mom is amazing and every day I am thankful for this blessing, I love seeing him grow!

Right now I am happy that the New Year is here, even though I now this means the craziness of school + life will soon start all over again. But I am pretty excited with the classes I am taking this semester and I actually can’t wait to start! (nerd, I know...!)

I am loving grad school, I did great last semester and I am as proud of myself as I could ever be. I was amazed by how much I was able to accomplish last year and looking back and realizing that gives me the strength to face what is to come!

I will try to post here more frequently and share more about what is going on in my life, this space means a lot to me and I don’t want to let it so behind as I did in 2010.

As far as what I expect from this next year, all I want is to be happy, to continue to do well in grad school, to be the best mom I can for Matheus, to be more organized with everything that is going on, and to keep with the healthy habits I/we have. Among everything I had to do, last year I managed to exercise weekly and to cook healthy meals for my family on a daily basis, and I want to keep up with that for sure!

Hope everyone had a nice 2010 and I wish us all a wonderful 2011!

And since this is a food/cooking blog, here are two recipes I made last year that I really enjoyed:

The fabulous and delicious Vegan Apple Cake that I created! (Couldn’t be more proud!), and Giada’s Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups, one savory and one sweet. Both recipes have been made many times here at our house, so if you haven’t tried yet then it is something to do in 2011!

Ohhhh, and how could I forget, another foodie fact of 2010: I met Alton Brown!! (Nerd again, I know!!!)

Happy New Year!!