green juice (aka pressing the reset button)

green juice aka the rest button

It’s no secret that green smoothies are in regular rotation around here. But every so often you need to bring out the big guns – like after you’ve eaten your way through New York City. Or you’ve spent the afternoon sipping vodka cocktails and eating cupcakes by the pool with a couple of girlfriends. Or you had dinner on the midway at the CNE. Or when you’ve recently done all of the above and feel like it’s time to hit the reset button. That’s when it’s time to bring out the heavy artillery: juice.

What’s the difference between smoothies and juice? To put it simply, fibre. Smoothies contain all of the glorious fibre from the fruits and vegetables you loaded in to your blender.  Juice on the other hand extracts the fibre (also known as pulp), leaving behind all of the great nutrients from the veggies and fruit in your juice that are easier for your body to absorb, and quickly, since they didn’t need to be digested.

There’s room for both smoothies and juices in my healthstyle; I don’t think one is better than the other. I default to smoothies since they’re super simple, easy to clean up and keep me going until lunch time when I’ve got a long, busy day at work. I reach for a juice when I really want to get the good stuff in me fast; usually when I’m looking to reset like I am this week, or when I need a 3:00 pm boost I’ll head over to my favourite juice bar instead of grabbing a coffee.

Contrary to popular belief you don’t need a juicer to make fresh juice at home. Simply throw all of your gorgeous fruits and vegetables into the blender, add a little water and blend. Strain that bad boy through a fine mesh sieve or a nutmilk bag and you’re on your way to fresh juice. Watch this video from Meghan Telpner on how to transform your blender in to a juicer.

So this week I’m adding this drink into my routine. This is my favourite juice, sweet and tart from the apple with a little bit of zing from the ginger. I love ginger, but if you want less of a kick scale it back.

Green Juice
Adapted from It’s All Good

Ingredients
2 big handfuls of leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard, whatever you like — about 1 cup packed)
1 green apple, cored (skin removed if not organic)
1 lime, skin removed
A chunk of peeled ginger, 1-2 inches
A handful of mint

Method
If you have a juicer, push everything through your juice.

If you are using a blender, put everything into your blender with 1/2 cup of water. Blend until smooth and then pass it through a fine mesh sieve or a nutmilk bag.

Serve over ice.

Enjoy!

dispatches from the 30 day green smoothie challenge

free radical fighting green smoothie
Four years ago this summer I looked at a photograph of myself and didn’t know who the person pictured was. It was taken just as Jeff and I were going out the door to a friend’s a wedding. I was wearing this beautiful orange dress that I had loved but looking at it — at myself — in the photograph, it didn’t match up to the picture I had in my head. That day I was at my highest weight ever and that was the day I vowed to change my relationship with food.

Since that day I have released more than 50 pounds (I don’t like to say “lost” because that implies I will find it again) and completely overhauled the way that I eat. I had great success with Weight Watchers when I needed some structure to my eating but now I simply focus on eating real food that’s wholesome and nutritious. That’s not to say I’m not still without my challenges but I know when I choose nutritious, real food over anything else I feel better, I look better, I sleep better, I workout better… I could go on forever with my betters.

Smoothies are an integral part of my healthstyle, more than just an easy way to pack a lot of nutrients in to one glass. A smoothie is a great start to the day, with the best of intentions, setting the tone for how I want to nourish my body. They are the touch stone that I come back to after I’ve indulged in a few too many indulgences. They are my saving grace when I’m traveling and need a little nourishment, and a little comfort from home. Enjoying a smoothie is no longer a habit I have to work it, it’s just part of my diet now.

Even so, when I saw Simple Green Smoothies post their 30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge I jumped on board. I have a couple of mainstay smoothie recipes that I rotate (like this one, this one and all of these) and if all else fails I just throw whatever we’ve got in the fridge into the Vitamix and voila, nutrition nirvana. On an average week I have about five smoothies, usually for breakfast. About half of them include something green.

a purple green smoothie

My objectives for the challenge were simple: learn a few new recipes, eat more greens and start building a weekend habit. Monday to Friday when I have the structure of office hours to keep me on track I find it dead easy to eat well. But on weekends when I’m a free agent I often find myself indulging more then I care to admit, sabotaging the week’s hard work.

Now that the challenge has come to a close, I sipped my official “last” smoothie yesterday, how do I feel? Pretty great! To be honest, even though smoothies were a regular habit of mine this was still definitely a challenge. There were days when I didn’t want to get up and blend a smoothie for breakfast, I wanted pancakes. With bacon. And an almond milk latte. With salted caramel brownie chaser. But I powered through and in the end I never regretted sipping a smoothie. Making sure we had enough of the various fruits and greens in the house each week was also challenging, but a few extra minutes of planning and prepping on Sunday afternoon made sure we were always locked and loaded.

Full disclosure: I did miss one smoothie day thanks to an upset stomach. So instead I sipped a green juice!

citrus breeze green smoothie

The best part of the challenge was definitely discovering new recipes, fruits and combinations that I never would have thought to put in to my blender before. Like melons! I never would have put melon in to my smoothies, but not only did it work it was delicious. Coconut milk was another winner that will certainly become a mainstay in my smoothies going forward. Tropical fruits like guava or citrus fruits like navel oranges were also new to me. They were exciting at the first half of the challenge but I found them a little too sweet for my taste. Overall I felt that there was generally too much fruit in the smoothie recipes, lots of high-glycemic fruits and too many at one time, but as I got more familiar with the recipes and how my body was reacting to them I learned to tweak them here and there so they were less sugary.

I am so proud of myself (and Jeff!) for completing the challenge. It was also a great way to bond with my mum, sister and aunt who also participated in the challenge, cheering each other on throughout the 30 days. I’ve definitely fine-tuned my smoothie habit and learned a few new tricks and recipes to put in to our regular rotation, and I think I might just have succeeded in breaking Jeff’s milkshake smoothie habit!

So with that, I declare the 30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge a success!

Free Radical Fighting Super Smoothie
From Simple Green Smoothies
Makes 2 generous smoothies

Free Radical Fighting Super Smoothie

Of all the new smoothie recipes we tried out during the challenge this one was my absolute favourite. The melon and the coconut water made it so refreshing; it was great for after a hard workout or on a hot day.

Ingredients

2 cups of your favourite greens (kale, spinach and chard all work well!)
1 fresh mint leaf
1 cup coconut water
2 cups ripe cantaloupe, rind removed
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen, up to you)
1 green apple
Juice of 1/2 lime, fresh squeezed

Method

Throw it in your blender and whiz away! Enjoy!

Mini Goat Cheese Frittatas

Mini spinach and goat cheese frittatas

If you’ve spent more than five minutes at mise en place, then you are familiar with how much I love eggs. When I came across this recipe (unfortunately I have no recollection of where it came from and my desperate search to attribute it to somewhere or someone came up dry) a great big light bulb went off over my head; this is the perfect way to enjoy eggs for lunch at work! This has always been a challenge; there aren’t many options beyond a hard-boiled egg or egg salad.

But these were perfect. I just popped two in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and enjoyed them with a side salad and a cup of soup. They kept me satisfied for most of the afternoon and kept for almost a week in the fridge. The best part was the creamy, goat cheese-y middles. I love how just a little bit of goat cheese can go a really long way.

And now you can use this recipe as a template and switch up the mix-ins. The next time I make these babies I’m going to swap out the red pepper for sun dried tomatoes. Yum.

Mini Goat Cheese Frittatas
Makes 10

Ingredients:

5 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup sweet red peppers, minced
10 oz chopped frozen spinach
3 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled.

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Cook spinach according to directions on package. Drain and squeeze dry.

3. Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Spoon mixture into prepared muffin tins.

4. Bake for 15 minutes or until eggs have set.

Not your mama’s mac ‘n cheese

Not your mama's mac 'n cheese

THE BREADCRUMBS ARE TOASTED IN BACON DRIPPINGS.

That was the first draft of this blog post.  Just that one line, with the recipe posted underneath.  Because really, is there anything else I could say to make you run to your kitchen any faster than you already are?  When I first discovered the recipe over at Soup  Belly I got all weak in the knees, suddenly overcome with macaroni brain, unable to focus on anything else.

Thankfully fall arrived in the form of a chill in the air on the very same day I came home from the grocery store armed with everything I needed to make shells ‘n cheese for dinner.  I like cold-weather cooking much more than summer time “cooking”, which in our house is much more like this: open bag of salad, put grilled meat on top, enjoy with crisp white wine.  Hunkering down to make a pot of soup or stirring a risotto is much more satisfying than assembling.

But back to the shells, yeah?  Cheese, bacon, spinach, pasta.  Bread crumbs toasted in bacon drippings.  It sounds like perfection on a plate, and it was.  It was a wonderfully satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs-down-home kind of meal that Jeff and I enjoyed not at the table, but in front of the TV to finish off a lazy Sunday.  And, like Candy and her husband, I topped mine with ketchup (ironically mac ‘n cheese is one of the few things Jeff does not enjoy with ketchup), but redeemed myself by using the leftover balsamic ketchup I picked up with my grilled cheese at the Leslieville Cheese Market.

If you’re looking forward to getting back into your kitchen with the arrival of autumn, this is a great place to start.  And you’ll have enough leftovers to enjoy for days to come.  You’ll be happy to know this is one of those dishes that just gets better with age.

Shells ‘n Cheese with Spinach and Bacon
Adapted from Soup Belly, yields 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

8 oz large pasta shells
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
10 oz. chopped spinach, cooked
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced (roughly half an onion)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 egg
12 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste

For the topping:

3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a skillet, cook bacon until crisp and crumble. Reserve bacon fat on skillet for bread crumbs later. Cook spinach and pasta as directed (in two different pots, of course).

3. Using one large or two small casserole dishes, mix pasta, spinach and bacon together and set aside.

4. Prepare cheese sauce in a medium pot. Melt the butter on medium heat and whisk in flour until thickened. Stir in milk, onion and paprika. Simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Temper in egg. To temper, just stir in a few tablespoons of the hot milk from the pot into the egg, then pour the egg into sauce, stirring vigorously. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Add salt and pepper.

6. In the skillet with bacon fat, heat on medium and add bread crumbs to coat. (You can use butter or olive oil in place of the bacon fat)

7. Carefully pour sauce into the casserole dish(es), mixing to combine. Top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.