Sunday, May 30, 2010

Monster Attack!

Green Monster, that is!
This is one of the best smoothies I've ever made.
1/2 frozen sliced banana
1/2 c. (70 g)  frozen pineapple
1 c. spinach
1/4 cup (good handful) blueberries
1/2 c. Almond Breeze (Unsweetened Vanilla rocks my socks!)
splash of vanilla
Blend, baby, blend!
I think the trick was lots of frozen fruit to eliminate the need for ice cubes, and only half a cup of milk. The texture was perfect - juuust thick enough to savor it but not so much that it couldn't move out of the glass. Fruity, creamy, and just sweet enough. I love drinking my greens!

Speaking of some of my best kitchen productions, I made some pretty kickin' oat bran this A.M. too:
26 g organic oat bran (I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/2 c. almond milk + 1/4 c. water
~2 tsp cocoa powder
~1/2 tsp instant espresso
dash of salt
1/2 banana, sliced and slightly melted in the microwave
handful of blueberries

I say 26 g because I have no idea what this measurement is in cups - I use a food scale for my hot cereal experiments. Really, it's like a toy, and I'm just playing with my food. That, and I'm terrible at eyeballing portions, and the food scale has helped me get a lot better at it. Yes, I'm a geek. Don't hate! 

Ok, here's the process:
Once your oat bran is in the bowl, toss in your cocoa powder (or cinnamon or whatever dry spice you're feeling that day) and the salt. Then add the liquid - I usually use half milk/half water or more of a 3:1 milk-water ratio to make it nice and creamy. It makes an enormous difference.
Microwave it for about a minute and a half (or do it on the stove - your call!)
Slice up your banana and microwave it in a separate container for 10-20 seconds. I got this "melted banana" trick from this cool chick, and I've never looked back. It spreads the sweet banana goodness all throughout the bowl instead of just in chunks, and also acts as an emulsifier and thickens things up.
Here is when you want to add your espresso if you're using cocoa. I swear by this trick - coffee brings out the chocolate flavor in any dish, and it really makes the bowl richer and more chocolatey. Mmmm!
Add the nanner and keep cooking. WATCH your bowl if you're nuking it - it can very quickly boil over!
I also like to add blueberries for an extra fruity kick. I love microwaving them and then popping them to release the juice inside. It's the little kid inside me I guess :)

You might want to throw the bowl in the fridge or freezer for a minute or two to cool it down - it can get HOTTTT! But it's worth it in the end. Try that melted banana trick - it will change your life. Or at least your breakfast.

Sick of breakfast yet? I'm not. It is the one meal I could eat 3 (or more!) times a day! It's so fun. And usually involves my favorites - fresh fruit and carbs!
I'm a big fan of waffles as a snack, and I just tried a new brand:
I usually get the Kashi GoLean waffles, but they are suddenly nowhere to be found!! I almost cried when I couldn't find them at my grocery store OR beloved Whole Foods. Well, ok, maybe I didn't get that dramatic, but it was close. Time to find a new favorite! So I went with Nature's Path Flax Plus. Love me some Omega-3s!
For my first taste test, I went with a classic:
Peanut butter+banana. Soulmates if I've ever seen them.
The only thing that can improve this dish is maple syrup - enter: Peanut Butter & Co.'s Mighty Maple.
 Genius in a jar. I'm pretty sure whoever created this was eating a waffle with peanut butter and syrup and thought "hey, we should really get these two together?" So, I guess this is really a menage a trois of breakfast foods? How scandalous! And delicious.
 The verdict on the waffles? Well, I was a little distracted by the amazingness going on on top, but I think they will do as a Kashi replacement. They didn't get quite as crunchy as I like, and they're a little airier, but I have 5 more waffles left to confirm my opinion.

Anyone bar-crazy? No, I'm not referring to the smoke-filled, dimly-lit rooms where you go to watch the game. I'm talking about the edible kind. The best kind, obvz ;)

First up: Clif C Bar in Raspberry
This new line from Clif boasts only 9 ingredients. That usually means a clean, simple flavor that makes a nice little snack or dessert.
Unfortunately, the only flavor I got was cardboard. It looked good, it even smelled pretty good...but the taste was lacking. There was a vague tart-fruity flavor, but it definitely didn't scream raspberry, and the nuts on top might as well have not been there at all. The texture was actually pretty good, gooey but not crumbly, easy to eat. I know it's not the brand; I've had the cherry pomegranate flavor before and really enjoyed it; the raspberry just failed. I have yet to try the apple or blueberry, and I'm a believer in second chances, so maybe its just this flavor. But, I wouldn't recommend this one. Unless your mouth waters every time you see a UPS box on your doorstep.

In yummier news, I had a new Larabar that rocked my chocolate-loving socks off. Their Jocalat line is similar to the original Laras in that the ingredient list is short, sweet, and completely recognizable. And their organic and use fair-trade cocoa, which is always a plus.
I bought the German Chocolate Cake flavor on a whim:
I love it when my whims come through. This was fan-freakin-tastic! I was a little wary because I'm not big on coconut, but Lara knows how to wield this fruit. It adds the perfect amount of sweetness to complement the chocolate without making the bar all about the coconut. This was like a rich, dark brownie. I even liked the little chunks of almond and pecan, which surprised me because I am a hardcore anti-nut brownie girl. But here they just added to the flavor and texture. It's a little crumbly but not obnoxiously so.
I know the fat & calorie content in Larabars is scary for some people, considering how small the bar actually is. BUT this is only because they are made of real, nutrient-packed foods. Do not fear the fat here! Your body needs it. And the fat in these will make your body a LOT happier than the fat in your average brownie. (Not that classic brownies don't have their time and place - sometimes, they are simply necessary!) All this to say - this bar was GOOD. And healthy. And chocolatey. What more could ya ask for?

Peanut butter, oat bran, spinach smoothies and chocolate. I miss Florence...but I'm doing ok so far ;)


Restaurant Review: Gran Gusto

What to do when you've just returned from a semester in Florence and are itching to go right back?
Go to one of the best Italian restaurants nearby.
Enter: Gran Gusto.
Located in Cambridge, Mass., Gran Gusto is owned and run by native Napolitani. Chef Giuseppe Castellano was generous enough to bring a taste of his home country to my home state, and boy am I grateful. Everything is homemade - from the focaccia slices brought in classy metal conical baskets, to the pasta and pizza, to the classic Italian dessert offerings. Oh, I was home!

After reading the menu and listening to our waiter (who spoke to me in Italian - I wanted to hug him!) list the specials with a certain flair that can only be described as veramente italiano, my parents each started out with a salad - and I stole plenty from each of their plates.
This is baby spinach, fresh asparages, roasted red peppers and a slice of what I am mostly sure was an aged pecorino (but might have been a good parmegiano tastebuds' memory is failing me). It was all dressed up in a light oil-and-vinegar dressing and drizzled with a touch of balsamic. It was just lovely. The freshness and different flavors of the veggies, the sharp pungent taste of the cheese, and the sweetness of the balsamic was Italian simplicity at its finest. 

I should also mention the wine - my parents ordered a really nice red from Montalcino and gave me sips. YUM! Oh, I miss a glass of wine with dinner. It really makes the whole thing more satisfying.

For our entree, my parents and I ordered the same thing - boring, yes, but it sounded SO good!
Fresh fettuccine with morel mushrooms (some of the best funghi in the world), spinach, and baby squid called calamarelle. I heard squid and I was there! None of us were sorry, either. The pasta was perfectly al dente. The sweetness of the squid melded beautifully with the earthy mushrooms flavor, and I was just so happy. There's just something about a wonderful plate of fresh pasta that gets me grinning every time.

No picture, but my brother ordered a pizza with ham, mushrooms, olives, artichokes, and the mandatory fresh tomato sauce and bufalo mozzarella. Though I'm quite sure no slice will ever top the pies we made in cooking class, this was as authentic as it gets. My dad said it really took him back to his childhood, when he could wander down to a pizza place that used the fresh tomato sauce and mozz. The boys at the table were quite satisfied :)

When dessert time rolled around, the words of my beloved cooking professor resonated in my head: "The true way to judge a restaurant is by its dessert list. The way the chef chooses to finish the meal is very important."
Couldn't agree more.
My brother went with the tiramisu - one of our mutual favorite desserts. The thing I love about tiramisu is that it's always a little different every time I taste it. This was no exception. Though I still prefer our rendition, this was good with a thicker than usual layer of cocoa, giving it a really nice deep cocoa-y flavor. 

My parents, hankering for something lighter and fruity, went with the delizia limone:
A wonderfully light lemon sponge cake with a chilled lemon cream in the middle and a couple big fat slices of strawberries hiding!
I ended up helping them out a lot with this - I love that it was chilled! It turned the tart lemon, sweet cream and airy cake into a light lemony cloud of dessert perfection. And the strawberry slices in the middle were like finding buried treasure!

If you live anywhere in the vicinity of Cambridge and have a hankering for bell' Italia, or even just want to brush up on your Italian language skills, take a trip to Gran Gusto. It certainly helped this homesick Florence-sick chick!


Saturday, May 29, 2010


I just love salads. Fun textures, yummy fresh flavors - and such pretty colors!
My mom stopped at a little cafe called Baker's Best in Newton (Mass) that is a cafe as well as a kind of take-away place - lots of prepared foods like salads and hot pressed paninis. She grabbed three different salads, and I threw a little of each on a bed of spinach. I love eating this way - light, fresh, and a little bit of everything.
There was an orzo salad with feta cheese, asparagus and roasted peppers in an oil-and-vinegar dressing - probably my fave! Another was a noodle salad, a little spicy with chili, shrimp, cilantro and asian veggies like bell peppers and snap peas. Probably my least favorite - too oily and the noodles were a little mushy, plus I'm not big on spicy foods. The last was a red quinoa salad with veggie strips and mandarin oranges - this I loved as well. The fun thing about salads like these are they're super easy to duplicate - and even play with and improve upon! Pick a grain, pick some veggies, maybe a little cheese, and spices and BAM! super yummy, quick, homemade salad ready for chowin'.

As much as I have been thoroughly enjoying my time on the elliptical jamming to my newly-downloaded Glee tunes, today was not a gym day (let's just say, sometimes it sucks to be a girl). The weather was beautiful, and it was the perfect day for a walk around the neighborhood with the dog - and LuLu!

Love that natural light :)

A baby!

I think she was feeling a little shy :)

I love this tree. Every time I walk by it, I say that to myself. Doesn't it look like a woman stretching her arms up and out? Very free. Beautiful.

Dogs will be dogs!

Lean on me...

I love walks. They're like free therapy.

Tippy likes them too ;)