Green(ish) smoothies

I’ve been working from home since January, trying to make a go of my online dating consultation business full time. (PLEASE send my info to your single friends if you think they could use a hand! Referrals are my number one source of business.) Working from home has SO many wonderful advantages, but I thought one would be that it would make me eat healthier. Boy, was I wrong!

I’m normally a very hungry person, and between boredom, stress, and I guess just timing at work, I’m always acutely aware of when it’s lunchtime at a normal office job. Sometimes I’d have a big project or be engrossed in a deadline and I wouldn’t eat until an unhealthily late hour, or I’d stay late well past a smart dinner time. But for the most part, I ate regularly at normal intervals that didn’t make my metabolism crazy.

At home, I’m a menace. Grant and I are sharing our car and attempting to stave off the purchase of a second vehicle until we have kids someday. So I’m sometimes driving him to work or to the bus stop, grabbing a latte, mocha, or chai, and then not consuming anything else for breakfast. And then I don’t realize it’s Food O’Clock until about 3 PM, when I’m DYING and my entire metabolism is screaming at me and I need to lie down and can’t imagine getting back to work because my blood sugar is crashing so hard. (I exaggerate a little, but not much; I’m an idiot who forgets to eat.) I don’t think this is one of those healthy things where I lose weight; I think my body goes into starvation mode and starts conserving anything that touches my lips as fat. So it’s not like I devised a brilliant breakfast-free stratagem here! I need to eat.

More and more, the thing I wind up eating to chill myself out is one of these:

Mmm mmm purpley goodness!

 

Yeah, that’s a “green” smoothie. Only yesterday’s is more like brownish-purple because I included lots of blueberries. In fact, all this contains is filtered water, ice cubes, two lemons, half a bunch of Italian (flat) parsley, and about half a cup of blueberries.

Here’s today’s, which was a third a bunch of Italian parsley, a few (five?) big leaves of green kale, a large Braeburn apple, and two small lemons, plus ice cubes and filtered water:

Frothy goodness!

One of my tips for making more nutritional smoothes is that you should generally blend up as much of the fibrous parts of veggies as you can, in addition to the part you’d normally eat. So for kale and parlsey, this means you don’t discard the stems (though you can trim the very end bits off if they’re scuzzy). And for lemons, you cut them like this:

IMG_3940

Actually, you can be even less aggressive than I was. I just accidentally cut through to the pulpy part, but an ideally butchered lemon would be opaque pale white with all zest removed but no juicy bits poking through if you know what I mean. I first learned of green smoothies from Green for Life by my mom’s pal Victoria Boutenko. Victoria posited that you could even eat leafy parts like carrot tops and other veggie greens that usually get discarded in our country. I’ve tried it but never with a proper blender, which makes a HUGE difference; so I can’t attest to the carrot top thing (nor the Carrot Top thing, if we’re honest) but I bet it’d be lovely.

Here are my prep tips for an awesome green smoothie that won’t gross you out:

  • Include ice cubes. Both in the blend and in the glass you drink from. I find that green smoothies are WAY less ick-inducing when they’re really cold! I also often use some frozen berries both for fiber and flavor, and they have the side benefit of chilling things down a bit.
  • Use a Vitamix. You just have to. You’ll never get truly smooth-ish smoothies with a regular blender. See if you can find a used one on Craigslist or at a yard sale; my mom did this for me and saved hundreds!
  • Add more water than you think you need. You may want to make your smoothie more concentrated, but more water makes it blend more easily and heck, it keeps you hydrated!
  • Don’t use powders/boosts/etc. Just don’t. There’s a place for that crap, but in my opinion it’s not in a smoothie like this. The ingredients in what I’m describing are so pure and healthy that they shouldn’t need a helping hand from some chalky powder that’s just going to diminish your final product.
  • Start on Low, wait until all the bulky bits have been grabbed and are starting to spin in the slushy form, and then kick it up to high. If you need to, use the blending stick to poke your produce through the hole in the lid (I KNOW; that’s what she said). Poke as much as necessary, but be careful because liquid can spew out around the poking stick once everything is blending properly. I don’t even want to hear the jokes that might come from this.
  • Consume rapidly, ideally within a couple hours. They get gross if you leave them, even refrigerated. And they start to taste really different and not in a good way.
  • Stir before you sip! I like to use these metal spoon straws, which are also excellent for many a melty dessert. (I definitely don’t just eat kale, after all!)
  • Rinse your equipment right after. Even our badass dishwasher can have trouble getting dried smoothie-blend-bits from the inside of our glasses, blender carafe, and reusable straws if I don’t stay on top of the rinsing. Which just looks super gross to the next person who uses that item. So be diligent!

I’ve been doing much better home-food-wise ever since I got back on the green smoothie train. I know they look scary, but I urge you to give them a try! Heck, come over and I’ll make you one. :)

Maple syrup sidecar

The sidecar is my favorite go-to cocktail. Or rather, go-to cocktail where I can tell there is a decent bartender — at shitty places, my go-to is a glass of cheap sparking wine. (This comes from having a horrifyingly bad sidecar made with cheap brandy and no sweetener from Brasserie Margaux a couple years ago. *shudder*)

Aaaanyway, why am I mixing cocktails at 3:07 on a Friday? Because it’s my Sunday, baby, and it’s almost Christmas, and I vacuumed and swept and mopped up a storm and made banana bread out of the worst bananas ever, AND we needed to use up some lemons.

It should go without saying that this drink is better with the highest quality ingredients — I use Cointreau because it really does taste better than other cheaper Triple Sec type options. My brandy this time around was Raynal VSOP, but I would welcome recommendations of other good ones to try. I use organic lemons and organic Grade B syrup — it has a stronger mapley flavor than Grade A.

Maple Syrup Sidecar
2 oz VSOP brandy or cognac
1 oz Cointreau or equivalent
2 oz lemon juice, strained
1/2 oz Grade B maple syrup

Combine all and shake well with ice, pour directly into glass, or strain into chilled glass if desired. Skip the sugared rim unless you need it for the aesthetics; if you must sugar the rim, reduce syrup in drink by 1/4 oz, grind your sugar to superfine using a (well-cleaned!) coffee bean grinder or food mill, and use maple syrup to make the sugar stick to the rim.

Indispensable tools for the job: shakerstainless steel funnel with strainer, mini measuring cup

Cheers!

My intro to slow

Let's pretend mine will look exactly like this.

My mom gave me a slow cooker for my birthday. Yippee! I grew up on her Moroccan-inspired lamb and couscous dishes prepared lovingly in the crock pot, and I’m looking forward to creating my own.

However, in true Virginia fashion, I got bored flitting through recipes that called for complicated steps (searing the meat BEFORE I put it in the cooker? You mean I can’t just throw this sh*t together before I dash off to catch my bus in to work?) and ingredients I don’t currently have in my kitchen (see aforementioned couscous), so I decided I’m just gonna wing it. Yep, I bought me some grass-fed lamb at Whole Foods, and Imma throw that in there with chopped turnips and rutabaga and carrots and kale and herbs and spices and a can or two of beans or soup we have that I can’t seem to use up, and some wine and whatnot, and just throw it on low and go with the flow. Ya know.

The plan is Lamb Thursday. I’ll keep ya posted. (And possibly I’ll put the slow cooker in a baking dish in case it explodes/leaks while I’m at work, which seems totally likely, and yet does not deter me from this “plan” in the slightest.)

Smoked salmon & hazelnut linguine

Yet another dish I cooked up on the fly without noting any specific quantities. Let’s see if I can reverse-engineer this baby, because it was DELICIOUS.

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for your fresh linguine (we use Seattle’s Cucina Fresca brand. Not to be confused with my friend Brooke).

Mince 1 shallot (or 1 bulb if large) and 2 garlic cloves with a few sprigs of Italian flat-leaf parsley. (I use the chopping attachment to my Cuisinart hand mixer.) Brown a tablespoon of salted butter in a skillet (I like cast iron). Once brown, add another tablespoon, reduce heat to medium low, and add in minced shallot-herb mixture. Add 1 cup double-strength chicken stock (I use the Organic Better than Bouillion). Reduce to very low and let this simmer while you…

Pour 1/4-ish cup milk (I used whole) in a pot, bring to gentle boil. Add a tablespoon or so of unbleached white flour, mix in the lumps, and roux it up. Eventually add a glob of cream cheese (1/3 c?), a similarly sized glob of sour cream, a quarterish cup grated parmesan, and a splash of kefir, and enough milk to thin it all out. Mix and melt but don’t overheat it to burning.

Crush some raw hazelnuts (I smashed them in the pestle part of my mortar and pestle with a mojito muddler, because well, we just unpacked and I can’t find the damn mortar. Assuming the mortar is, in fact, the stick part. You know what I mean. Smashy smashy.) Coat with a bit of olive oil and nice salt, and toast in (toaster, if you like) oven until the oil sizzles and the nuts begin to brown and become fragrant.

When finished, break up chunks of dry (non lox-style) smoked salmon, being careful to remove any bones, and stick the salmon in a bowl to warm up in the remaining heat of the toaster oven.

Boil the pasta for 30-60 seconds less than the stated cook time. Drain, combine with sauce, curse about having made way too little sauce for that quantity of pasta like you always do. Oops. Add in hazelnuts and salmon while combining, garnish with grated Parmesan; devour immediately.

Back to food (and food blogging) with BEEF

Well, as you may or may not have gleaned from various Tweets and status updates or from real-life knowledge, the hubby and I had a busy first quarter. We went to Rio de Janeiro in late February, where hubby served as the wedding officiant for two great pals. Then we came back, almost immediately closed on our new house, and then almost immediately moved and have spent almost every waking second on home improvement or spending loads of money on theoretical home improvement. Oh, yeah, and both of our day job companies are gearing up for major releases. Busy!

But oh, so worth it. Don’t worry, some Brazil-specific posts are coming soon, about all the deliciousness therein. But for now, let’s focus on COOKING in a KITCHEN that I OWN. Not only did I make some interesting appliance discoveries, but I just care so much more about the place since it’s mine! We’ve tinkered with a few meals or dishes here and there, but this is the first fully cooked at home DISH that I did in my new cuisine, upon Grant’s request: Beef Stroganoff.

I used the Epicurious recpie with some substitutions and quantity wild guesses, and it turned out lovely (though I prefer a higher meat-and-sauce-to-pasta ratio so I might use half the noodles next time, or double the rest). Grant wanted to make it with ground beef instead of steak like the recipe calls for, so we compromised on inexpensive but still not ground up stew meat. (The idea of it with ground meat totally grosses me out, but maybe that’s just me?)

I also played around with the new oven last night and figured out that it runs, if anything, slightly hot. Good to know for muffins, cakes and cookies! Mmmmm, cookies. My banana sour cream cinnamon muffins turned out lovely and moist and yummy, but they had been cooked for almost exactly the minimum that the recipe specified and were still a bit browner on the bottom than I like. Learning new appliances is never easy (our microwave LOVES to splatter/assplode) but it sure is fun! I’ll have to post a video of Grant reacting to our oven vent, which is built into the top of our microwave, opening and closing at the push of a button, with the microwave text narrating the whole while. Crazy technology.

One night, two very different foods

#1: Red Velvet Cupcakes. Only old-school, cocoa-heavy, extra-tangy ones. #2: Kale chips. (Told ya they were different!)

For item #1, I sought out a recipe that was a bit chocolatier than most store- or bakery-bought red velvets and, well, apparently I was also seeking out tangy without meaning to. I heard from our wedding cake baker that a cake with cocoa and vinegar is the more traditional Red Velvet origin, but I managed to forget that I’d made one like that once before in that fashion and it was kind of weird and unpleasant. So! Once again! Kind of weird and unpleasantly tangy, especially with my more-tangy-than-most cream cheese frosting. But also kind of good, in that not sickeningly sweet, maybe I’ll pass these off on my coworkers kind of way. (Tee hee, in case any are reading this.)

And here’s my favorite bit: filling cupcake tins is so much easier with my Pancake Pen, which is in turn best filled by my Wide-Mouth Funnel (both of which appear on my Favorite Tools page). Also, I forgot to add sugar at first, and when I dipped my finger into the batter I got a nasty surprise. Good thing I taste tested! o_O

And for item #2, I used smitten kitchen’s kale chips recipe, only I had crazy curly kale (cale?) so the proportions and times and temps were off. Plus, we broke our Oxo Salad Spinner apparently, so I had to hand dry it. Luckily, there’s a website to fix it, but so far no luck. :( And my hand-dried curly-ass kale was sort of imperfectly crisped, like the outer bits too crisp and parts still chewey. I’m planning on letting it sit out overnight and seeing how I like it for weird breakfast, at which point I may just pop it back in the oven for a bit more crisping.

And there you have it! A night of odd choices, to be sure, but both yummy enough in their own way I hope.

Gadgets galore

Every year for Christmas, one side of Grant’s family tends to shower me with culinary-related gizmos and gadgets. (His other side showers me with beauty gifts! All in all, I’m a lucky girl.) This year’s haul included a few notably different items, so it seemed an injustice to fail to mention them here.

The most bizarre-looking treat was the fusionbrands iceorb, a vertical ice cube tray/chiller/ice bucket all in one. The thing, as you can see, looks a bit like an alien space ship. Looking forward to testing it out, though — and it seems like these cubes would be released from the silicone a bit easier than more detailed silicone ice molds, which I always find trying.

And my very favorite kitchen item, pictured below, was a stack of personalized baked goody bags. Kind of an awesome way to (sorta) subtly get credit where it’s due, like when I bring cookies or muffins in to the office, heh heh. RECOGNIZE MY BAKING PROWESS! (And give me a raise!)

The rest of the haul included a cookie dough dropper, a champagne cork puller-outer, a powdered sugar sifter for decorating, a few soda can savers with little plastic caps to contain the carbonation, a jar of Penzey natural wasabi, a test-tube-encased vanilla bean, a set of holiday-themed molded sugar frosting toppers, a big snowflake cookie cutter, two strawberry-shaped Jell-O molds, a special little wooden tool to open our awkward oven door, a set of recipe cards, a Colts insulated cup (OK, that’s really Grant‘s, as are the soda things), and various themed wine stoppers and openers (namely, Christmas and LOVE with mega heart action).