A new month, a new challenge

July is near. That means another set of bills, the latest edition of Cooking Illustrated, and the next online class starts up. But this month is going to be different, unlike any other month before. Why? Because I’m starting a 30-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. You might be thinking, Shelley, don’t you already do such a thing? The answer is…sorta. As much as I preach about eating green 24/7, I don’t always stick to it. At no point do I allow my clean-eating practices slip, but I could use a little extra push. That’s why I signed up for SimpleGreenSmoothies.com‘s challenge and every morning for the next 30 days, I’ll consume a green smoothie.

What makes a green smoothie, you ask? Did you think I wasn’t going to tell you and I would just leaving you hanging like a hammok in the winter? Nah, I’m not that mean. The trick with green smoothies is in the base and every green smoothie needs to start with one. Without this base, you’re left with either a mouthful of lawn or a sugar rush that will only get you through your first 15 minutes of work’s morning meetings (and to think there could be hours left to go!). The bases consists of (any) leafy green and a frozen banana. I typically go for the kale because of it’s amazing nutritional value. I talked about all the great aspects of kale in a previous post where I claim my love for it’s greeny goodness.

With this simple base, you can make wondrous green smoothies that are healthy and tasty (imagine that!). Why this base is so important is because the frozen banana (which doesn’t de-crystalize into it’s original form after being thawed, providing an ice cream-like texture) masks the flavors of the raw leafy greens. Then the flavors all happen in the add-ons. You can mix in your favorite fruits, spices, supplements or anything else you want to throw in there to make a complete smoothie.

One of my all-time favorite smoothies is a blueberry oatmeal cookie (yes, I said cookie). I promise you, one sip of this bad boy and you’ll never look back!

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Ingredients:

Handful of kale (or any leafy green)

1 frozen banana

Handful of frozen or fresh blueberries

1/2 cup oatmeal (I always go for Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free when it comes to oats)

1 tablespoon of cinnamon (I know it’s a lot, but the health benefits of cinnamon, including speeding up metabolism, are so worth it)

Pinch of salt

1-3 drops of liquid stevia extract

Combine all ingredients (except the stevia) in your blender and blend for a solid two minutes. You want to make sure everything is broken down as much as possible. This helps breakdown the raw leafy greens making it easier for digestion/absorption and helps prevent any crummy tummy action. After the first round of blending, add stevia to sweeten the mixture to taste. Drink smoothie immediately as the oats tend to make it really thick. Sip and enjoy that guilt-free oatmeal cookie. I like to top my smoothies off with a sprinkle of bee pollen (as seen in the picture) for that extra health kick. Toss in a few raw cacao nibs for a super-charged chocolate twist or blend that sucker up with a handful of raisins, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

When it comes to this challenge, I’m sure it will be easier on a few days compared to others. But I believe committing to the entire 30 days of green smoothie mornings followed by clean eating will keep me charged up and ready to go all the way to August!

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Hello, this is Cauliflower, your new best friend.

Have you met Cauliflower? I’m sure you have in passing but you really must meet this friendly, yet oh-so-very flexible pal of mine. Not only is Cauliflower loaded with Vitamin B6, it’s packing some serious heat in those Vitamin C guns with nearly 250% of your daily minimum requirement in just a half of a head. So go ahead and play nice.

This Brassica oleracea comes is so many shapes in sizes. What they all have in common is quite good for you: High Vitamin C, B6, and Magnesium.

This Brassica oleracea comes is so many shapes in sizes. What they all have in common is quite good for you: High Vitamin C, B6, and Magnesium.

You must be thinking… Um, ew? Cauliflower is so bitter and retains little flavor of herbs from cooking. Pretty much salt (or heavy, heavy amounts of cheese) are the only things to give this steamed pile of muddy sand any possibility of satisfying your taste buds. I couldn’t agree more. This veggie is good for you but, let’s face it, there are plenty more fish in the sea. Vitamin C? Easy… Go for a yellow bell pepper. Vitamin B6? I’ll even up you on that and give you the whole B-complex with a handful of kale. Magnesium? Spinach will give you way more by eating fewer bites required to munch on a half of a head of cauliflower. There are all these veggies out there that are higher in nutritional value so what makes cauliflower so special? This very thought ran through my mind at the grocery store earlier today.

Sidebar… We have a small (and shitty) grocery store in our town. Its limited space is dedicated to frozen foods, processed snacks, and a bread aisle that’s big enough for a Super Walmart. What we don’t have is a decent organic produce section. Numerous occasions I have found myself walking out of the store, empty handed, because 99% of the organic produce is either molding, shriveled, or so ripe that I could possible break a tooth trying to eat it (i.e. avocado). I can’t complain all that much right now because there are several farmer’s markets that happen a few days a week in my tiny town, plus my garden is well on its way to producing a harvest. But then yesterday happened. I ran into the store to grab a few things for lunch and as I approached the organic produce section (please understand that the section is literally a section of surface area from the produce aisles that spans all of five feet) I couldn’t believe my eyes! There were red bell peppers, mushrooms, (ripe) avocados. Oh, the list would go on. I was beyond thrilled to see pile of organic produce that I picked up one (or two… Okay, three. But who’s counting anyways?) of everything I saw. The joy I felt from that moment put me on cloud nine. I was so happy that the screaming toddler in the check-out line freaking out because he had to wait for his mom to pay for his Funyuns didn’t even bother me. I drove all the way home while I was brainstorming the various recipes for my purchase. It wasn’t until I started to unpack my groceries that I realized what I had done.

Cauliflower?! What the @$#! am I going to do with this? And there I was standing in my kitchen with three (organic) cauliflower heads staring back at me. That’s when good ol’ Google never fails and minutes later I came across this gem:

Cauliflower Alfredo

1 head of cauliflower

1/2 c milk (almond works fine)

3 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp of nutritional yeast

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the cauliflower in the milk. Add to blender with remaining ingredients. Blend then serve over favorite pasta.

Holy crap. Since I snuck out the bathroom window on my last date with gluten and dairy, we haven’t spoken much since. My sudden change of dietary status over a year ago kept me on a single-track mindset. Don’t think about pizza and you won’t miss it. That pretty much sums up how it worked and continues to work for me. Normally, I wouldn’t dare to come up with an alternative because, let’s face it, it is never as good as the real thing. And when it comes to Alfredo  how can anything without cream or butter or cheese even compete? But then again, I foolishly bought more cauliflower than I’ve consumed in the last two decades combined and I had to do something.

So I did. And this is how I did it:

Cauliflower was tossed into a pan over medium heat with the almond milk and a little salt and pepper for good measure. Letting that cook, I prepared one large red bell pepper and a box of baby bella mushrooms for sautée  My knife skills don’t produce the most consistent results, so I recommend you cut them up as big as you usually like your veggies in, let’s say, a stir fry. I enjoy large bites of mushrooms and peppers, so I kind of went for that.

Did you know you should never wash mushrooms? They retain even the smallest bit of water and you don't want to add that to your pan. Instead, make sure you buy organic so wiping the dirt off with a paper towel is enough. If you don't buy them organic, well, then good luck.

Did you know you should never wash mushrooms? They retain even the smallest bit of water and you don’t want to add that to your pan. Instead, make sure you buy organic so wiping the dirt off with a paper towel is enough. If you don’t buy them organic, well, then good luck.

Mushrooms meet peppers. Peppers meet mushrooms. Oh, you've both met rosemary? Great.

Mushrooms meet peppers. Peppers meet mushrooms. Oh, you’ve both met rosemary? Great.

While the vegetable delight sautéed in a bit of olive oil and fresh rosemary, I transfered the soft-to-the-fork cauliflower and the hot almond milk to the blender. I added the raw garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper, and a little bit of vegan bouillon seasoning for good measure. I blended that sucker up and transfered the liquid to my pot where I added Shiritaki noodles. Together, in sweet harmony, the cauliflower sauce and fancy mushroom noodles simmered like they were meant to be. I continued to cook until the raw garlic flavor settled down to my liking. I served up the “Alfredo” in my favorite bowl and topped it off with the veggie melody.

#nom

#nom

Would you like to know the best part about this dish? That entire bowl (about four cups of food) was less than 250 calories. I’m not a light eater, by any means, and I could not come close to finishing this bowl. It was so creamy and delightful that I think it filled me up the same way a bowl of Alfredo would.

After my adventure with cauliflower and its unique character you cannot find with another vegetable, I encourage you to give it a try. Check out the links below for a few more ideas on how to design your next head of cauliflower using a whole new canvas!

Kale of Duty

Ode the the bitter, leafy goodness of the plant that grows is the worst and the best of all conditions here in Maine. Its energy pumping, cancer fighting, anti-aging, vitamin punching versatility leaves me wanting more with every accomplished recipe.

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This leafy goodness is often the canvas, paint, and brush used in my culinary designs.

It took me twenty-three years to try enjoy this particular cousin of broccoli for the first time. I had my tastings of the bitter, slimy slop my bother used to boil and “give it some salt” but nether the less, I found it repulsive. That was until I tried massaged kale. Yes, massaged. The intimate crunching of (olive) oiled up leafy stock between your fingers means nothing until you’ve tried it for yourself. But damn is it tasty. A little lemon juice, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper and it makes the perfect side to any, and I mean any, meal. And that is when it all began.

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Smoked hungarian paprika grilled eggplant (tastes like bacon, I swear) and garlic hummus topped with massaged kale.

I started to put kale in everything: quiche, fritatta, salad, pizza. It was for breakfast. It was for dinner. I made it for lunches and snacks! I even figured out a way to dehydrated kale tossed in some crazy ass mixture of white miso paste, amino acids, and nutritional yeast for them to only come out tasting like Cheetos. Oh yes, Cheetos. But that was only once and I’ve never been able to replicate it again. (That felt like when your computer battery dies and it’s the one time, ever, that you computer doesn’t automatically backup and you lose six hours worth of vector work in Illustrator so you back to tracing from the beginning and you have no idea how you set up the transparency… Breathe, Shelley. Breathe.)

Smoothies

Green smoothies. You know you’ve heard of them and maybe you’ve tried one. Was it “just not for you?” That’s because you didn’t know the secret to green smoothies. The health benefits of drinking smoothies containing raw greens, in particular kale, are mind blowing but there is no need to choke anything down. Just like any craftsman, there are always tricks to the trade and mine just happens to be a frozen banana. You see, when most items are put into the freezer, they freeze (duh) and the water content forms crystals. Frozen bananas happen to be the black sheep of the frozen foods society and just plain breakdown (the same way ice cream is made). When you toss that sucker into the blender, it not only masks the flavors of raw greens, it gives you the feeling that you’re cheating with ice cream in your health-kick drink. So next time you’re feeling green about your smoothies, remember, there’s always money in the banana stand.

Juicing

I’m not going to sugar coat this for you. Juicing with greens is friggan hard, especially kale. First of all, it takes a lot of product to get a small amount of juice. Then there is the overpowering, intense kale flavor that, if you’re not careful, can totally knock you off your feet. But then I remember how manu macronutrients I’m getting from that juice and how I would never be able to eat enough raw kale to get the equivalent elsewhere. So here I have my best kale juice recipe: Green Lemonade.

Ingredients:

6-8 large kale leaves

1 well peeled lemon (Absolutely no white flesh! It comes out too bitter if you leave it on)

1 inch knuckle of ginger

3 green pears

Wash all items well and peel (only if not organic). Put through the blender and serve over ice.

Growing

Kale always tastes better when you grow it yourself. And you’ll get to enjoy the endless varieties available! There’s the classic Curly kale (most often in grocery stores), Dino, Premier, Redbar, Siberian, Red Russian, and Kamone. And let’s not forget Walking Stick kale, which can grow up to six feet tall!

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Walking Stick kale can grow up to six feet tall.

The best part about growing kale is its ability to continue to grow throughout winters. Yes, even Maine winters. All it takes is a cold box that allows the sun to heat it up during the day so it can hold onto the slightly warmer temps at night (think of a mini greenhouse that isn’t quite as warm) and baby, you’ve got a stew kale brewin’! And let’s face it, not much beats the site of fresh greens on your place/juice/smoothie in the dead of a Maine winter.

So I encourage you to give my green friend a try. You’ll won’t regret it, I promise.