TROPICAL GREEN ANTIOXIDANT SMOOTHIE

This week we have a Tropical Green Antioxidant Blast Smoothie. Greek Yogurt provides most of the protein in this smoothie, which packs 18 grams per serving. There is tons of fiber from fresh fruit and spinach, as well as chia seeds, which help reduce hunger. Chia is also high in calcium, phosphorus, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and increase brain function. Ginger and turmeric* have anti-inflammatory properties that can help ward off chronic diseases such as cancer, and heart disease, and can reduce symptoms of arthritis. Everything in this tropical green smoothie can start your day with a mega-dose of nutrition!

*Ginger and turmeric may interfere with anticoagulants, such as warfarin, and increase risk of bleeding. Please discuss with your dietitian or doctor before using herbal supplements for any potential drug interactions. 

Tropical Green Antioxidant Smoothie

Serves 1

Ingredients:
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 cup baby spinach
½ cup banana slices (approximately ½ medium banana)
½ cup pineapple chunks
1 tbsp chia seeds
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp turmeric 

Blend all ingredients together in a blender and serve

A MONTH OF HEALTHY SMOOTHIES: A FOOLPROOF FORMULA AND A RECIPE

I will always strive to achieve the goal of leisurely mornings before work. I would love nothing more than to wake up early enough to get a full workout in and read the newspaper. I truly believe that someday it will happen! But until then I will just have to do the best with what I can. Maybe I should start with not hitting snooze! :-P It has also been helpful to use a breakfast smoothie to help me speed up my morning routine. I found dozens of great recipes online, but what works best for me is a simple formula to mix things up.

Liquid Base + Protein + Fruit/Vegetable + Spices/Extras + Ice

My breakfast smoothie is a complete meal. It’s the ultimate “fast food” because it can be whipped up in an instant. I love a green veggie boost in my smoothie to add fiber and nutrients without a lot of additional calories. Frozen fruits are the easiest, as they are usually pre-cut and you can have a variety of them in your freezer ready to use. I always make sure to have a source of protein in my smoothies to keep me full throughout the morning. Protein powders are available everywhere these days in a variety of flavors. I use the Whole Foods 365 Everyday brand vanilla whey protein or Vega One French Vanilla. It’s fun to experiment with the extra spices and add-ins to the smoothie to really create a unique flavor. A dash of cinnamon or ginger goes a long way, and flax meal or chia seeds add healthy fats, fiber and make for a thicker textured smoothie.

When making a smoothie it’s important to remember that it is very easy for calories to add up when adding in multiple servings of fruit, nuts, seeds and sweeteners, and also from the liquid you choose to start with. If you are interested in controlling your weight consider omitting sweeteners, limit the amount of extras you use and stick with one ½ cup serving of fruit to blend in. A good protein powder will become handy if trying to control hunger and calories, as they usually are found in a variety of flavors, not just vanilla and chocolate, that can make a tasty shake without all the added ingredients. And remember fruit juice has a lot of natural sugars, so diluting juice with water will cut the calories while preserving the flavor of the juice. But feel free to use all the spices, herbs and greens your heart desires to make a deliciously filling and lower calorie breakfast smoothie!

Here are some of my favorite ingredients to use in the healthy smoothie formula: 


Liquid base (1 cup):
Skim milk
Unsweetened dairy-free milks (soy, almond, coconut, rice)
Fruit juice
Coconut water
Green tea (room temperature or iced)

Protein options:
Whey protein powder (1 or 2 scoops)
Plain Greek yogurt or kefir (1 cup)
Nut butter, peanut butter or PB2 (2 tbsp)

Fruits (½-1 cup):  
Banana
Mango
Melon
Frozen or fresh berries
Pineapple
Kiwi
Avocado

Vegetables (generous handful):
Baby spinach
Kale
Chard

Spices/Extras:
Oats
Chia seeds
Flax meal
Vanilla
Cocoa powder
Cinnamon
Ginger
Turmeric
Honey
Maple syrup
Mint
Matcha green tea powder

This month I will be mixing up different smoothies every week, so check back for the latest recipe every Sunday! 

TURKEY MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI SQUASH (PRESSURE COOKER)

There has been very little time during the past few weeks to focus on eating well. Here in Massachusetts we’ve experienced the worst winter since I’ve lived here – over 100 inches of snow in less than one month! The winds have been terrible, there’s no place to put any new snow and my commutes have been 2+ hours each way to work. Geez!  It’s been difficult to find any time to cook well or to exercise after hours of driving and shoveling. I wish I had as much excitement about the snow as Jim Cantore!

So to keep warm I have been going to hot yoga (it feels great to sweat it out in a 100° room) and I have been making very good use of my new Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. I was nervous that using a pressure cooker would change my cooking style, but thankfully it hasn’t. I still enjoy cooking the old-fashioned way, but it’s just so easy to put everything in one pot and then have leftovers prepared for the rest of the week! One-pot meals were always a favorite in our house, mostly because we really don’t like doing the dishes. In fact, maybe that’s why I love cooking – because then hubs will be obliged to do the cleaning! ;-) 

We’ve been experimenting with various recipes for the Instant Pot. Most of them have been hearty and heavy, so I attempted to find a way to lighten up our wintry meals by using healthier ingredients. I opted for lean ground turkey meatballs, which are leaner than beef and easily takes on the flavors of spices added to it. The homemade tomato sauce was made right in the cooker using canned diced tomatoes and herbs, reducing the need for processed and added sugar pasta sauces from off the shelf. Spinach was added to the sauce for a boost of veggies and I used spaghetti squash as my base, which makes this dish low-carb and light. If you’ve never made spaghetti squash before, The Kitchn has a great tutorial to show you how easy it is to prepare. It bakes in the oven while you are prepping the sauce and meatballs, so it can be timed perfectly. If you aren’t yet a fan of spaghetti squash you can also use whole wheat pasta with this recipe.

This is my first pressure cooker recipe, so if you have any comments or can suggest any changes I would love to hear from you! My recipe is inspired and adapted from a recipe I found after googling “turkey meatballs pressure cooker”. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti Squash

Serves 4-6
45 minutes

Ingredients: 

1 Medium spaghetti squash
Tomato Sauce: 
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine
14.5oz can of diced tomatoes
15oz can of tomato sauce
½ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp of Italian seasoning (or 1 tbsp fresh thyme, 1 tsp dried oregano and 1 tsp dried rosemary)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup fresh baby spinach
Meatballs:
1lb ground turkey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
¼ cup breadcrumbs
small handful of chopped parsley
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and drizzle olive oil on top of squash. Place face down on sheet pan and bake for 30-40 min.
  2. Set electric pressure cooker to sauté/brown. Add olive oil to the pot and sauté diced onions. When the onions are translucent add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.
  3. Add red wine and cook until most of the alcohol has evaporated (approx. 2 minutes). Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Continue to simmer with cover off while preparing meatballs. 
  4. Place all ingredients for meatballs in bowl and mix until well combined. Roll mixture into 1 inch balls and place in the pressure cooker pot with tomato sauce. Cover pressure cooker.
  5. Turn electric pressure cooker off of sauté and set to high pressure for 5 minutes.
  6. When the cooking is complete, carefully release pressure. Using a fork shred the spaghetti squash into a large bowl.
  7. To serve place shredded spaghetti squash into individual bowls and top with sauce and meatballs. Add shredded parmesan if desired and enjoy. 

Bright and Lemony Couscous Salad

Lemony couscous photo1

This February has seen a deluge of snow here in Boston, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon! The snowfall has left us with piles in our front yard taller than the hubs and this weekend we might get another foot on top of that! This has left us sore from all the shoveling and daydreaming about summer. (I’m already picking out my summer vacation wardrobe – too soon?)

7-foot tall snowpiles! 

Our newest kitchen gadget - the Instant Pot 7-in-1 Pressure Cooker!

To help us get through this crazy winter we purchased our first electric pressure cooker! After hours of comparing various pressure cookers online and gathering input from friends on Facebook, we decided to go with the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 – a 6 quart model that is also a slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer and yogurt maker! I have yet to try out it’s various other functions, but we have had loads of fun cooking up recipes we’ve never made before. So far we’ve made mushroom risotto, beef stew, barbecue pulled chicken, cola and soy short ribs and beef stroganoff! Mostly warming comfort food for this blistery weather as you can tell. A blog post about healthy pressure-cooking will probably come along once I gather my bearings with this nifty gadget.

Although it’s been fun playing with the Instant Pot, hubs and I have been craving something simpler and less heavy. We need to maintain our energy for shoveling, after all! I remember having a couscous salad at our friends’ housewarming-slash-birthday party a few weeks back and wanted to recreate it. I used whole wheat Israeli couscous and added avocado to the mix. This would be perfect for work lunch, as a side salad or summertime picnic dish (if I cook it, summer will come? Field of Dreams reference for you there). You could easily exchange any of the ingredients for other fresh veggies. I forgot to put red onion in it this time, but it would be delicious with some diced in. Add some toasted walnuts or pine nuts to make it even heartier, or leave out the feta to make it vegan-friendly.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. I will be – along with a nice big hot cocoa by the fire! Stay warm out there everyone!

Bright and Lemony Couscous Salad
Serves 6-8     
25 minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat Israeli (big pearl) couscous
1 tbsp olive oil (for toasting the couscous)
1 ¼ cup water
1 English cucumber, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup olives (kalamata or black olives)
1 bunch curly-leaf parsley
2 cups feta cheese
1 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
optional salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. When the oil is shiny add couscous to the saucepan with the oil and toast couscous for approx. 3-4 min, turning to coat all of the grains of couscous and toast evenly.
  2. Add water and cover, reducing heat to low-medium. Cook for 20 min or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
  3. Dice and cut cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado and olives. Finely chop parsley. Add all to a large bowl and toss with feta cheese.
  4. Squeeze the juice of the lemon on top of the salad and then drizze with olive oil. 
  5. When the couscous has finished cooking add to the salad and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Warm Farro and Greens

I recently was enlightened to Farro, one of the ancient grains making their way to mainstream supermarket shelves. When I decided I wanted to try to cook farro, I had no idea the little brown grain had such an ardent following of foodies that would take to the internet to dispel the beliefs that it is equivocal to another ancient grain, spelt (see here and here for examples). Controversy over ingredients excites me more than anything, so I was super excited to give this grain a try.

Farro is not always a whole grain, as I found out. Many of the store-bought farro actually has part of the bran removed, called semi-pearled, making for a quicker cooking time (about 45 minutes, similar to brown rice) with some of the fiber left intact. If you purchase the whole grain version be sure to soak it overnight. Either way, once cooked to al dente you will notice that this mighty morsel packs more flavor that your run-of-the-mill brown rice. It is deeply nutty, and has a chewy texture that really makes it stand out. It absorbs the flavors it is cooked in, so throw a little chicken or veggie stock to add a little umami. But even without seasoning farro can provide a complexity to dishes you may not have thought to use it in… such as salad.

I decided to try farro over a hearty green salad. I was inspired by my one of husband’s favorite salad at Sweet Greens, the Earth Bowl, which includes warm grains over arugula. (Delish!)  I used kale for the salad, however you can use any type of green that can withhold the weight of the farro, veggies and eggs in this recipe. I also include here a recipe for Citrus and Dill Salad Dressing, which is a perfect pairing for any summery salad. 

Farro would also be great thrown into a soup, or used like a pilaf style side dish. It has a multitude of uses, which I am looking forward to experimenting with. I’d love to hear some of your recipe suggestions using farro in the comments section!

Warm Farro and Greens Salad with a Fried Egg
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 cup farro, dry
3 cups water
1 head of kale or swiss chard, chopped
½ red onion, diced
1 large tomato from the vine, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1-2 avocados, diced
4oz Citrus and Dill Dressing
Olive oil or butter
1-2 eggs for each person
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook the farro in salted, boiling water until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water in a colander. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and prepare an ice bath for blanching the kale or swiss chard.
  3.  Add the greens to the pot of boiling water and stir once. Cook for 1-2 minutes and then remove the greens. Place immediately in the ice bath for 2 minutes. Dry kale using a salad spinner or paper towels.
  4. Combine farro, greens, onion, tomato, pepper, avocados and season with salt and pepper and add Citrus and Dill dressing. Mix well. Plate the salad on individual plates for serving.
  5. In a small pan melt olive oil or butter. Fry the eggs in the pan and season to taste. Place on top of the salad on each plate to serve.

Fresh Citrus and Dill Dressing:

Ingredients:
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp shallot, diced fine
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped fine

  1. Add all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk well. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 


Blueberry Ginger Steel Cut Oats

candiedginger

A lazy Saturday morning helped me come up with my new favorite oatmeal flavor combination. I was simply trying to figure out a way to use up the rest of my candied ginger when it dawned on me. The day before I had purchased two quarts of blueberries,and then all of a sudden this tasty and super healthy idea came together!

blueberries

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins (which impart the blue, red and purple pigment in berries). Antioxidants may reduce the risk for certain cancers, heart disease and other chronic diseases through their ability to prevent or slow the damage to cells during the aging process (read more about antioxidants at the National Cancer Institute website). Ginger is a root spice found in many cultures that has also been used for centuries as a medicine to relieve nausea or stomach aches. The almonds provide some added protein, fiber and heart-healthy fats. Last but not least, the oats are whole grain, which help lower cholesterol, are packed with minerals, antioxidants and can also aid in weight loss by keeping you satisfied well into your morning. (Check out the Whole Grains Council for more information about whole grains, why they are so good for you and even cooking tips for all the different kinds of grains).

ingredients

This recipe is slightly sweet, yet also a little savory, as the ginger still has some spice even though it’s been candied. It’s the perfect pairing for a cup of French-Press on the porch, or even when re-heated as a quick on-the-go breakfast at work. Enjoy!

 

Blueberry Ginger Steel Cut Oats
Serves 4-6      

The finished product with a little milk poured over it. Delicious!

The finished product with a little milk poured over it. Delicious!

Ingredients:
4 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup candied ginger, chopped finely
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup sliced almonds
optional: milk to pour on top

  1. Boil the water in a pot. Add the steel cut oats once the water is boiling and stir. Cook uncovered until the water is boiling again, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 min.
  2. Remove cooked oats from the heat and mix in brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the ginger, blueberries and almonds and mix in until distributed evenly in the oatmeal.
  3. Serve with a splash of milk on top, or add few extra blueberries or almond slices. If making for breakfasts at the beginning of the week, store in containers without milk on top, and then reheat as needed.   
Save leftover oats in jars to reheat throughout the week for a quick and easy breakfast.

Save leftover oats in jars to reheat throughout the week for a quick and easy breakfast.