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Chunky Monkey Smoothie

What better way to inaugurate day 4 of no-processed foods eating than with a smoothie named after my favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor – Chunky Monkey!  Based on the yummy combination of banana, nuts, and chocolate, I knew this smoothie had to be a hit!

Chunky Monke Smoothie

The inspiration for this smoothie came from my favorite childhood ice cream flavor as well as from the Reboot With Joe website.  For the first time ever, I have been drinking smoothies for breakfast this week (and avoiding processed foods), and have felt surprisingly energized by them.

The inspiration for this change in my diet came from two people.  One was a friend who did a fruit-and-vegetable ten-day cleansing.  I never thought of myself as the cleansing type, but I realized that even though I may eat healthy according to dietary guidelines, I do consume too much sugar and processed food.  My second inspiration was my mom, who has recently reported feeling much better since eliminating gluten from her diet.  I have drastically reduced gluten and dairy (two common allergens) in my diet, and hope to completely eliminate these next week to see how it affects me.

I used to snack on sugar-loaded sweets throughout the day, especially when I would get stressed at work.  I am excited to report that, even though I did go through sugar withdrawal for two days, leaving me sleepy and lethargic, I have now overcome the sugar addiction and feel empowered to take on the world!  While I originally wanted to see if my reduction of processed foods and sugar would result in weight loss, the change I have noticed most is in my skin – my face feels much smoother than before.  I look forward to seeing the other benefits this healthier eating plan has to offer.

I will continue posting any recipes I create, but for now, enjoy the Chunky Monkey Smoothie:

Chunky Monkey Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 handful baby spinach leaves
  • 3-4 leaves kale (stem removed)
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 heaping teaspoon natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup coconut water
  • 2-4 ice cubes, optional

Blend all ingredients in high-powered blender.  Pour into glass and enjoy!

 

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Nut, Fruit, and Seed Energy Bars With Omega-3s

For a long time, I was addicted to Kind energy bars.  I loved the simple ingredients in their fruit and nut bars as well as the natural energy they gave me when I ate them before my workouts.  However, the habit became pretty expensive.  Furthermore, I felt limited by the selection, constantly wishing that more of their bars contained flax or chia seeds.  So what was a girl to do?  Bake her own bars, of course!

For this recipe, I customized this recipe for energy bars.  I have experimented with different types of dried fruits, and learned that anything works as long as I include at least 1/2 cup of dates or prunes and a bit of honey to hold everything together (when I first followed the recipe, the bars were kind of falling apart on me).

Since I had been wishing that more Kind energy bars contained omega-3 fatty acids, I added chia and flax seeds to this recipe.  According to WebMD, omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are not produced by the body, but that can be obtained only through food.  They reduce inflammation in the body, lower triglyceride levels, reduce overall risk of heart disease, and lower levels of depression.  Some studies have even found that they may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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Nut, Fruit, and Seed Energy Bars With Omega-3s

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole raw almonds with skins
  • 1/2 cup dates
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/4 cup fruit juice (preferably orange juice)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds), unsalted
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/8 cup flax seeds or ground flax seeds
  • 1/8 cup chia seeds

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line an 8 by 8 inch baking pan with aluminum foil and grease with nonstick baking spray (Pam), if desired.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the almonds and the dried fruit a few times until they are roughly chopped up.
  3. Add the juice, honey, and salt, and pulse to blend.
  4. Add the pepitas, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds and pulse to combine.
  5. Spread the mixture evenly on the baking pan.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden at the edges.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting or breaking the bars apart into about 8 pieces.

Broccoli Soup – Creamy and Healthy!

I love it when I stock up on more farmer’s market veggies than I can eat because it forces me to try new things with food.  And I know I’ll be getting more than my daily five servings of veggies this week!

Today I got home early after working a half-day and decided to try out a broccoli soup.  The results were pretty healthy and delicious, though I added in some less healthy ingredients to up the yum factor 🙂  Another perk was that I got to inaugurate my new Ninja blender.  I have struggled with an awful blender, in which I had to manually stir the ingredients and which would have taken a lifetime to blend this soup.  With my new Ninja blender, I pushed the blending button three times and was done!

 

Broccoli Soup with sour cream and sauteed bacon bits.

Broccoli Soup with sour cream and sauteed bacon bits.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 gloves garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 large head broccoli, chopped (I included a large portion of the stem, not just the florets)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 freshly shredded cheese (I like one with a strong flavor and used Romano, which I had on hand)
  • extra cheese, sour cream and freshly sauteed bacon bits, optional

Directions:

1.) Heat the oil in a skillet.  Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and saute until tender, about 4-5 minutes.

2.) Add the bay leaf, garlic, and thyme, and saute for 30 seconds.

3.) Add the broccoli and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the broccoli is soft.

4.) Stir in the cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

5.) Transfer the mixture to a blender.  Blend until all ingredients are blended.

Serve with extra cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits.  Dee-licious!

Ramekin-Broil Eggs – A New Breakfast Staple

Today, I decided to get creative with breakfast – after all, I have relied on the same 3 breakfast choices (cereal, omelets, or pancakes) for the past 10 years of my life, and it is time for a change.  Yesterday, I had come across four ramekins that I purchased about 3 years ago, and have not used once.  So it was only natural to break those out and see what I could come up with using them!  Here is the result:

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Eggs broiled in ramekins with bacon, spinach,tomato, and cheese.

I set my oven to broil, then placed a strip of bacon across each ramekin, draping it at the sides.  Next, I layered baby spinach and chopped tomatoes, making a little “nest” (indentation) in the middle for the egg to land into (otherwise, it will splay off to the one side of the ramekin and not look nearly as pretty).  Lastly, I cracked the egg into the center and topped it with salt, pepper, and freshly grated cheese.  

I broiled this concoction for about 10 minutes, until the whites were set and the yolk was still a little runny.  Before eating, I topped it with some freshly chopped herbs and hot sauce.  Simple and delicious! 

Cornish Game Hens, Roasted Potatoes, Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus – A New Year’s Feast!

What a New Year’s feast I just enjoyed!

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Today a planned on making a holiday favorite of my husband’s that I never made before – stuffed pork tenderloin.  I decided to go with this recipe from Cooking Light for Roast Pork Loin Stuffed With Port Sauce.  On the side, I would serve the same amazing roasted potatoes I made for Christmas and bacon-wrapped asparagus bunches.

Because I have been away for a week, our fridge was devoid of most foods I like to keep on hand – leafy veggies, fresh fruit, and delicious herbs.  After making an extensive grocery list, I headed out to my two grocery stores – the natural foods store, and the regular grocery store.  I stocked up on all the ingredients, and one of the last things I needed was the pork tenderloin.  Lo and behold, I found the shelf empty!  I asked the butcher if they had any more, and the store was out of stock.

At first I panicked.  Tears began to come to my eyes – I had spent 2 hours grocery shopping all for nothing and, even worse, I didn’t have a Plan B for tonight’s dinner.  I did not want to battle more New Year’s Eve traffic on the roads and – even worse – at another grocery store, so going to a  third store was out of the question.  Fortunately, after taking some deep breaths and desperately searching for alternatives in the meat section, I found individually packed cornish game hens.  Since I had already sought out the ingredients, I decided to use the pork tenderloin recipe, and to use the recipe’s stuffing and sauce for these cornish game hens instead.  I was slightly worried about the pairing of a red wine sauce with white meat, but I decided to ignore tradition and go with my gut instinct instead.

After getting home, I immediately placed the birds in cool water to defrost.  About 3 hours later, I opened the packaging to behold what I would call an utterly cute sight.  It had been a while since I had made cornish game hens, and it was my first time cooking with birds that were this little.  I thought of them as cute mini-chickens.  For a moment, I felt the slightest bit of remorse for consuming them.  Then I felt my stomach grumble, and I got to work.

I prepared the stuffing as indicated in the Cooking Light recipe (link above).  Once that was ready, I cut the skin on each bird from above each thigh to the neck.  I rubbed butter all over the birds, including under the skin where I had cut, and then seasoned the skin with salt, pepper, and rosemary.  I placed the stuffing inside each bird, trussed each bird (once again, by instinct – I was pretty proud of how dainty the birds looked with their wings and thighs stayed in place), and placed it in the roasting pan. I filled the roasting pan with a bit over 2 cups of chicken broth, which I used to baste the birds every 15 minutes.

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For the roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus, I have perfected my own recipes, which I am proud to share.  The potatoes turn out moist yet not too greasy and full of flavor from the herbs.  It was my first time roasting asparagus in the oven, and it turned out oh-so-tender.  In addition, because it is bacon-wrapped, it becomes infused with the smoky scent of the bacon, which makes it all the more so amazing!

Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, and/or dill)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix the herbs, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

Add the red potatoes, and mix well to combine.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray (I like to place aluminum foil on the baking sheet, and spray that instead).  Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until slightly browned.

Serve by themselves or with ketchup.

Roasted Asparagus Bundles

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 strips good-quality, full-fat bacon (I like Applegate Naturals’  nitrite/nitrate-free bacon)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stir together the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.  Coat the asparagus spears with this mixture.

Divide the asparagus spears into thirds.  Wrap each bundle with a piece of bacon.  Lay each bundle on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the bacon is cooked and the asparagus spears are soft.

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Even though I was still pretty bummed about not getting any pork tenderloin, it turned out to be a delicious New Year’s meal!  I’m glad I was flexible and opted for the cornish game hens because, knowing myself, I could have just given up and tried to plan a different meal from scratch on the spot (which probably would not have turned out that well, since I don’t think rationally when I’m uupset!).

And the best news for next year?  I have a lot of leftover stuffing, so when I do get my hands on a pork tenderloin, I will be more than ready to roast that baby!

Cornish game hens stuffed with spinach and goat cheese

I’ve been reading a lot about the diets and living conditions of conventionally raised poultry – birds that have no space to move, chickens whose breasts become so big (because they have been genetically engineered or – possibly even worse for the health of the consumer – given hormones to have this consumer-desired trait) that their legs give out, and poultry fed diets that include body parts and feces of other animals (in an effort for companies to reuse discarded parts of other slaughtered animals).  I also discovered that the label “free-range” on a bird bought in the grocery store does not usually mean what one might typically picture: a small family-owned farm with a few happy chickens scattered around the yard, eating grass and grubs to their hearts’ content.  Instead, this label is often applied to chickens who are kept indoors – once again in crowded conditions – and fed a diet of grain, but who have access to the outdoors, giving them the option to graze.  However, since these chickens were raised indoors and have never been taken outside, they typically do not venture out of their building.  So they are not really free-range, and paying the extra money for them is a rip-off.

I have been eating more local, free-range poultry, and it is quite delicious!  It turns out free-range birds are fed a diet of grain, just like conventionally raised birds, but it is supplemented by whatever delicious morsels they find while roaming.  I remember this is how the chickens were raised on my family’s farm in Poland too.  It turns out that chickens naturally eat grain, and they need it to meet their caloric and nutrient intake, but they also consume grasses and grubs.  So this kind of diet seems like the most natural way to feed poultry, and the free-range lifestyle ensures what I consider to be more ethical conditions.

Today I made cornish game hens for the first time – I had never eaten one before!  I created a dry rub using a variety of spices and stuffed them with a spinach-goat cheese mixture, inspired by the woman who sold me the game hens at the McAllen Farmers Market.  Below is the recipe.

Ingredients:

Rub:

Lemon pepper

Garlic powder

Dried basil

Poultry seasoning

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Stuffing:

1 large bag baby spinach (preferably organic)

3 oz. goat cheese (plain or herbed)

2 gloves garlic, minced

salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Other:

Olive oil (or butter)

Wine

Directions:

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.) Mix all of the spices for the rub.  Use the quantities and proportions desired.  (I used a total of about 1.5 tablespoons of rub for 2 game hens).  Set aside.

3.) Roughly chop the baby spinach.  Add a small amount of water and microwave it until wilted.

4.) Strain the spinach.  Sprinkle it with salt (to drain out the liquid from the spinach).  After a few minutes, rinse out the salt and squeeze out the water from the spinach.

5.) In a bowl, combine the spinach, goat cheese, and garlic.  Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

6.) Cut the hens’ skin from the thigh to the wing on both sides of the bird.  Rub olive oil over the bird.  Lift up the skin and rub the dry rub into the meat under the flaps.  Rub the skin of the bird with the rub as well.  (I like to cover the whole bird with the dry rub.)

7.) Stuff the cavity with the spinach-goat cheese mix.

8.) Bake until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (measured by sticking a meat thermometer into the thigh, never touching the bone).  During baking, baste with white wine every 20 minutes.

The meat of these free-range birds really is quite exquisite – they taste more “meaty” or “henny” than conventionally raised poultry.  They turned out tender, and basting them ensured the meat retained its moistness.  The stuffing was also quite tasty – goat cheese and spinach work really well together, and it provided a nice accompaniment to the meat.  And to top it off, I know I made a healthy and ethical decision by supporting a local farmer who raises free-range poultry 🙂

Grapefruit-ginger Preserves

Mmm… grapefruit season.  I bought a large sack of grapefruit (I counted about 40 in all) for $5, but could only eat so much.  So I went about creating a grapefruit preserves recipe.  Although the ingredients are not organic, I bought the grapefruit because it is grown locally, and in-season food is always delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 10 grapefruit
  • 1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • sugar to taste

First, I peeled the tough grapefruit skin and divided the grapefruit into sections.  I then peeled the membrane so only the pulp remained.  I placed the pulp in a medium-sized pot and drained all the juice that had formed.  I then added the ginger and sugar, and set it on the stove the boil.  Once it boiled, I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 2 and a half hours (until most of the liquid had evaporated and it reached the consistency I wanted).  I then placed it in clean canning jars and boiled these in water for about 10 minutes, then removed them and let them cool.  Voila – grapefruit preserves!

I have used these preserves on top of toast and to flavor plain Greek yogurt.

A side note: During this process, I learned the difference between jelly, jam, marmalade, and preserves.  After searching far and wide online, it seems that the general consensus is as follows:

  • Jelly is made from fruit juice, to which pectin is added.
  • Jam is made from pureed fruit or fruit pieces.
  • Preserves are made from whole fruit without breaking the fruit up.
  • Marmalade uses the zest and the pulp of fruit.