Shiver me Blueberry Timbers Smoothie

Who doesn't love a good smoothie? I know I do!

If you're not careful, smoothies can end up being loaded with calories and sugar without actually being very healthy. Fruit is great but it's loaded with natural sugars that, in high quantities, can kind of trip you up. When I make smoothies, especially for breakfast, I try to incorporate other ingredients to "health it up" a bit even when I'm not in the mood for a green smoothie.

This sweet smoothie is packed with fruit, but also contains rolled oats and flax meal for added health benefits. Plus, those two ingredients also help you feel fuller longer, thus curbing the mid-morning munchies. Bonus!

Gingery Blueberry Smoothie
Yield: 2 servings

1 cup water
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup frozen blueberries
1 frozen banana
1 cup non-dairy yogurt (preferably homemade!)
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp fresh grated ginger root
3/4 cup ice cubes (optional)
  1. Place water and oats in blender and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the rest of your nutritious breakfast (see below).
  2. Add all remaining ingredients and puree. 
  3. Pour into two glasses and drink up!
I wish I could say that a smoothie is all I need for breakfast in the morning, but it just ain't so. In fact, I awake with a powerful hunger nearly every morning. Who needs an alarm clock when your stomach is growling loud enough to rouse you from sleep?

I pair my smoothies with light breakfast fare whenever possible. For this blueberry-oat smoothie, I like to make a few pieces of cinnamon toast (homemade bread sliced thinly, topped with brown sugar and cinnamon and placed under the broiler) and some fresh fruit. It might not look like much, but the combinations of these foods are a perfect way to start the day.

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DIY vegan yogurt and save about a zillion bucks!

Recently, I commented on The Verdant Life's Facebook page about making my own soy yogurt and was startled to realize that lots of people didn't know that was possible. If running this website has taught me anything, it's that some of the things I take for granted in my kitchen adventures are foreign concepts to other people. I love being able to shine a little light on a new topic and help people learn how much really is possible.

It's true that you don't have to spend a ton of money on expensive, sugary commercial non-dairy yogurts.

It's true that you can make practically any flavor you can think of in any quantity you choose.

It's true that making homemade non-dairy yogurt is as simple as boiling water.

But how?

Whether you're a daily yogurt-aholic or you're just trying to maintain all those "friendly bacteria" your digestive system needs, there's a DIY yogurt method for you. Once you see how easy it can be, you'll surely be kicking yourself for wasting so much cash at the grocery store on something you can make for practically pennies.

Preparing your yogurt medium

All DIY yogurt recipes start the same way. You can adjust these quantities up or down, but I find that making this amount of yogurt yields not only the best results but also makes the right amount of yogurt for me for one week. If you're making yogurt for more than one person, you may want to double the batch.

Here's what you'll need:
1 quart plain unsweetened non-dairy milk of your choice (full fat versions!)
2-3 Tb plain unsweetened soy yogurt (about half of a 6oz cup)
2 quart or larger stock pot with lid
Instant read thermometer like this one (optional)

In your stock pot, bring your non-dairy milk to a simmer, stirring frequently to ensure that the milk doesn't scorch. Alternately, you can do this in a double-boiler to take out a little anti-scorch insurance. Use your thermometer and bring the mixture up to 185°F. If you're doing this sans thermometer, you'll know the mixture is the right temperature when tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pot that cannot be stirred down.

While you're waiting for your milk to reach its goal temperature, fill your sink with ice water. Once the magic temp is reached, transfer your pot of milk to the ice bath, being careful not to get ice water inside the pot. If you're using a thermometer, cool the milk down to 110°F. This usually takes about 20 minutes for a 1-qt batch. Stir in soy yogurt (you may want to use a whisk) and cover with a lid.

Now that you've prepared your yogurt medium, we move on to the next step: incubation. Your yogurt-milk mixture needs to stay at an even 105-110°F while the yogurt cultures multiply (that is, procreate). You'll want to select your method before you pitch your milk (the above steps) so that everything is ready to go when your milk is ready.

There are 3 main options for incubating your homemade non-dairy yogurt.

The Insulated Cooler Method (aka The "all materials on hand and no extra cost" method)

This is a great method for the skeptic who doesn't want to spend any money to find out if they like making their own yogurt. All you need is a standard cooler (plastic or foam), an electric heating pad, and a vessel large enough to hold your yogurt medium. I recommend splitting your yogurt-milk mixture into several smaller glass jars. And always leave the lids off during incubation! Just set the heating pad on "low" and place along the bottom of the cooler. Place jars of pitched milk on top of the heating pad and put the lid on the cooler. Leave undisturbed for 7-8 hours, then check your yogurt's consistency. If you like thicker yogurt, it may take 2-3 additional hours.

Pros: Requires no additional equipment or expense
Cons: Can be a bit tricky and time for incubation may vary widely from batch to batch, depending on conditions

The Dehydrator Method

If you have a box-style dehydrator with a low temperature setting, this method works great. If your dehydrator doesn't have settings in degrees, I suggest doing a test run at "low" or "low-medium" and using a thermometer to find the right setting to keep your pitched milk at 105-110°F. As with the cooler method, simply place jars of pitched milk in the dehydrator and run for 7-8 hours. I used a dehydrator to make my yogurt in the past, and I liked to set it up in a back utility room so I didn't have to listen to the fan. It's also a great method for making yogurt overnight.

Pros: No extra equipment is required if you already own the dehydrator and the yogurt results are foolproof.
Cons: Ties up your dehydrator so you can't make other things!

Some yogurt makers come with 6oz jars for individual portions.
The Yogurt Maker Method 

The third and final method is what I use today. After having used a box dehydrator for several years, I finally cracked and bought a dedicated yogurt maker. I had previously been skeptical and now I don't know why I waited so long. Since I typically make a batch of yogurt every week, I could justify the small investment, knowing that I could easily make enough yogurt for the machine to pay for itself within a short amount of time.

I personally use and highly recommend the Yolife Yogurt Maker which comes with 7 6-oz glass jars but is also adaptable to use with your own larger jars. It's easy to use, draws very little electricity, and makes yogurt overnight with consistent, reliable results. Hands down, this is the best method for a daily yogurt eater who might need to make 1-2 quarts or more per week.

Pros: Reliable results with every batch
Cons: Requires a small investment up front

There you have it. Homemade non-dairy yogurt in a snap! I hope you found this information useful and I'd love to hear from you if you have your own DIY yogurt adventure story to tell!

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Weird Things: Cauliflower

Ok, so cauliflower really isn't that weird. Chances are, you grew up eating it steamed or lightly boiled and doused in salt and butter/margarine.Or perhaps it was just served raw with a bowl of creamy salad dressing.

I have a secret. I don't like cauliflower enough to eat it like that. I have found, however, that there are plenty of ways for me to enjoy cauliflower - particularly when it's not the bright shining star of the dish. Here are some of my favorite ways to sneak cauliflower into my meals.

Aloo Gobi - Sounds like gibberish, but it's a staple in practically every Indian restaurant in the world. This curry stars cauliflower, potatoes and tomatoes in a beautiful dish that is healthy and delicious. It's easy to make, although it does call for a number of spices that might not be in your everyday pantry. (They should be, though, so making this dish on a regular basis is a good excuse to expand your spice collection.)

Caulipots - Isa's brilliant method of turning cauliflower into a carb-free, creamy, fluffy side dish.

Roast it, Roast it - Just 30 minutes at 350°F (turning once about halfway through the cook time) dramatically changes the flavor, bringing out deep, nutty notes you never expected. Toss with whole wheat or brown rice pasta and your favorite herbs for an easy, unique dinner.

Cauliflower Soup - The Pioneer Woman has a classic recipe but substitute vegan versions of her ingredients. Try using plain soy or coconut yogurt in place of her sour cream.

Keep thinking out of the box (and the ranch dressing bottle) when it comes to cauliflower, and you're sure to find new ways to enjoy this boring old classic.

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Storage tips for fresh Asparagus

via flickr

Asparagus, like most produce, can be a little tricky to store. It's pretty hardy though, so stored correctly, you can keep it at home for a week or more without worries.
  1. Asparagus likes to be stored standing up. You probably saw it displayed this way at the store, perhaps with the cut ends in ice. At home, mimic this position by putting it into a tall container with the cut ends at the bottom. 
  2. Don't let it dry out. Add an inch or so of water to the container. The asparagus will draw from the water, so you'll want to refresh it every 2-3 days. 
  3. Find your asparagus a roommate. I always have other things in the fridge that need to be stored in a similar way - like fresh cut herbs. Rather than have two containers in the fridge, I make my parsley share a room with my asparagus.
  4. Keep it cool as a cucumber. Asparagus likes to be cold, so store it in the coldest area of your refrigerator. This means in the back and oftentimes near the bottom. Since asparagus is tall, it always ends up on the top shelf of my fridge - but I stick it way in the back. You know, behind the locally brewed beer.
When you're ready to use your asparagus, give it a good rinse and trim off the ends. How can you tell how much to chop off? Easy. The asparagus will actually tell you, if you ask nicely.

Hold one asparagus stalk between your thumb and forefinger, gripping it at the cut end. With your other hand, grab the bud end and gently bend the stalk. The asparagus will snap in exactly the right place to show you how much of the woody cut ends to discard. And don't worry. You don't have to hand-snap all of them. Just use the first one as a rough guide to slice the other ends off with a knife.


Meatless Monday: Panzanella for Two

There are lots of uses for day-old or stale bread. Like French toast. Breadcrumbs. Bread pudding. Perhaps my favorite use is this simple, rustic Italian salad called Panzanella. It's traditionally made with basil but since basil isn't in season yet, I used some Italian flat leaf parsley instead. The result? Just as good!

Any type of bread will work for this recipe, from sourdough to sandwich bread, pumperknickel or even stale bagels. Just be sure to chop your bread into uniformly-sized cubes so that it toasts evenly and blends well with your chopped veggies.

Yield: 2 servings

Toasted Bread Cubes:
1 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 slices stale bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1/4 tsp salt

1 medium tomato or 5-6 cherry tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 onion (red is traditional but I had a sweet onion on hand)
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped coarsely

1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white balsamic or Champagne vinegar
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
  1. In a heavy skillet, toss bread with olive oil and salt over low-medium heat and stir occasionally until lightly browned.
  2. While toasting your bread, toss all salad ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients.
  4. Add vinaigrette to raw veggies and toss to combine.
  5. Add bread cubes and toss. 
  6. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to combine. 

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Confessions of a Pear Vinaigrette Addict

Pears are probably my favorite fruit. I love them in salads, in desserts and eaten right out of hand. Unfortunately, I sometimes buy more fresh pears than I can eat and they tend to ripen quickly. Faced with one soon-to-be over-ripe green pear, I challenged myself to find a new way to love pears. And I did!

I love love love them in this easy salad dressing, which combines simple, elegant flavors to create a decadent liquid you'll be slurping right out of the blender. Not that I did that or anything.

To add an extra layer of pear delicious-ness, I used a pear-infused white balsamic vinegar in this dressing because I had it on hand. If you don't have it, substitute another type of vinegar. Champagne, white wine or even apple cider vinegar would work just fine.

Pear Vinaigrette
Yield: About 2 cups

1 large D'Anjou pear, cored and chopped roughly (leave the skins)
3 Tbsp pear-infused white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 medium shallot, minced
1 1/2 tsp rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp green onions, chopped finely
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a skillet, bring pears, vinegar, water, shallots, rosemary, sugar and pepper to a simmer. 
  2. Reduce to low heat and simmer, covered, for about 6 minutes until shallots and pears are tender. 
  3. Transfer to a blender and add mustard, soy sauce, and green onions. 
  4. Puree until smooth, then drizzle in canola oil (I just use 1/4 cup because I like my dressing thick). 
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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The times, they are a'ch-ch-ch-changing!

See what I did there? Two songs references in one. How do you like them apples?

If you follow my updates on Facebook, you might recall that I recently mentioned a big move. Well, I've actually had two big moves in the past six months (and boy, are my arms tired!). First, I moved from my beloved Pacific Northwest to North Carolina in November. Then, just a few weeks ago, I relocated again to the Cleveland area. Yep, that's right. Cleveland, Ohio. What's THAT all about?

Well, I used to live here. Betcha didn't know that about me, did ya? And now I've come back to Ohio...

I'd like to tell you it's because of my secret crush on Drew Carey but that's not actually true. Instead, I've come back to Ohio to take another go at a relationship that began on the sunny beaches of southern Florida over 11 years ago. It was a helluva leap and I'd do it again. In a heartbeat.

This blog has never been about my personal life and that's not going to change now. What IS changing, aside from my geographic location, is some of my content. One major benefit in making this move is that I can finally concentrate on my cookbook. What this means for the blog, primarily, is that I won't be posting three new recipes every week. I am committed to continue posting at least two or three times a week, but you're going to see more posts devoted to food education, nutrition, flavor combining, techniques and other topics people ask me about. You'll still see a new recipe from time to time - especially if I come up with something that is just too amazing to keep a secret. I'm pretty sure that'll happen on a regular basis.

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