Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Beverages’ Category

Avocados star in this creamy, vegan milkshake, along with pistachios and coconut milk.

You won’t believe for one second that my Creamy Pistachio Almond Milkshake is healthy. No way. In fact, anyone who drinks it will swear it’s decadence in a glass. It’s a great way to get the good fats and other awesome nutrients from avocados, coconut milk, and pistachios into your body. Remember, don’t fear the good fats!

This is one of those recipes that came together in no time, with ingredients I had on hand, including an avocado that needed to be used up pronto. The avo gave it a beautiful pale green color, almost minty.

Creamy Pistachio Avocado Milkshake (Vegan)

For one milkshake, 16-20 ounces, or two smaller shakes, combine the following in a blender:

  • 1/2 avocado, ripe, flesh removed and seed discarded
  • 1 banana (can use 1 frozen banana)
  • 1/4 cup pistachios, shelled (unsalted is best, but salted is fine)
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used So Delicious Plain. Canned works, too.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom or rose water (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon French Vanilla So Delicious Coconut Creamer (optional)

1. Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend all ingredients together until well incorporated, smooth, creamy, and thick. Use additional milk if you desire to thin the milkshake. Pour, serve, and enjoy.

Read Full Post »

Spicy Winter Tea with cookies.Yes, tea served in a coffee mug. I have so much tea, I don't have space for actual tea sets. ;-) Plus a student gave me these mugs, and I happen to really like them.

Nothing warms my heart quite like a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Have I ever told you guys about my tea collection? No joke, I have about fifty, as in 5-0, different types of tea. taking up a fair amount of precious real estate in my kitchen. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that I’m rockin’ a cramped New York City Prewar galley kitchen that, outside of the appliances,  hasn’t seen an update since the Nixon administration.

Quality tea deserves quality cookies. I didn't make these. I let the experts at my fave Middle Eastern pastry shop, Laziza in Astoria, NY, do that.

Percentage wise, tea takes up a huge amount of my storage space, but I’ve no regrets. That’s because I’m the type of person who sometimes looks forward to the post-meal cup of tea more than to the meal itself.

Yes, Persians love their tea, and I’m no exception, as my dedication to my collection shows. My fam might consider my stash of all sorts of teas–from green jasmine, to chocolate mint, to Tiramisu–a bit weird. In Iran, the teas I remember were always black teas brewed to a beautiful dark amber, served with cubes of sugar and savored often.

The way the cookie crumbles. . .when it crumbles in my tea, I love it. Love to drink up those little cookie bits. Ha!

A quality black tea, maybe an Earl Grey, is where it’s at when we’re chatting about Persian tea. P.G. Tipps brand works for me, but even good ol’ Lipton will do the trick.

About the only bad memory I have about tea is the time in Iran when I knocked over my uncle’s tea cup and got a blister on my foot. Whoops! That taught me a valuable lesson: awareness of hot beverages!

Today’s tea is super simple. You just brew the black tea of your choice, and add in a few chunks of fresh peeled ginger, a cinnamon stick or two, cardamom pods, and a shake of rose or orange blossom water. That’s it.

Afternoon delight!

If you’re hot where you are now and want a cool tea option, try my Persian Iced tea with a Rose Water and Cardamom Infusion, which was featured on Saveur Magazine’s “Best of the Web” a few months back. For now, the hot pot:

Warming Winter Spiced Tea

Brew black tea of your choice according to package instructions. For each cup of tea, add in the following:

  • A chunk of fresh, peeled ginger
  • A cinnamon stick
  • Up to 3 cardamom pods
  • A splash of either rose water or orange blossom water

Serve with cookies (or “biscuits”) of your choice, and enjoy.

Read Full Post »

Hey guys, I’m so excited to have a spare moment to post. Things have been busy around here in Bria’s World. I’m getting deeper into planning mode for the upcoming Yoga Retreat I’m putting on in Upstate New York. (Click the link for more info).

Work continues, with 3 new Yoga classes on my roster, plus private clients and subbing gigs,  and I also have a special project I’m in the very early stages of thinking through/planning. I’ll keep you posted on all of that. So today’s post is just a quickie, to let you guys know I recently got my very own Vita-Mix blender, and to share a round-up of recent samples with you.

Faster smoothie-making via my new Vita-Mix blender gets me to this happy moment much faster. That can only be a good thing.

I’ve been wanting a Vita for AGES, and I recently found one at a great price, placed my order, and am now learning all about it. The very first green smoothie I made with it was rockin’! The texture was sooooo much better than what my regular blender was able to produce. And faster, too. What sometimes used to take me a good ten minutes to make on certain mornings now takes more like 3 minutes, tops. Talk about a way to ease the stress of mornings. I like getting up and getting to things, but I’m not always the most organized (or rational!) person in the morning. Ha ha! So just having the Vita cutting my smoothie prep time so dramatically really helps, silly as that might sound.

So my getting a Vita is good news for all of us, because it’s sparked my creativity, and I’ll be creating more recipes with it going forward. Of course, I’ll try to make sure the recipes are workable for non-Vita users as well.

I also got some really great samples that I’ve been making my way through. First up, tea from LeafSpa:

Organic, fair trade tea. Sign me up. Find this amazing stuff at LeafSpa.com

I haven’t yet made my way through all of the samples they sent me, but I can say with certainty that the Decaf Chai was divine. You can tell I’d be all up in the bag, not just from the tear on it, but from the water splash stain:

Loved this decaf chai by Leaf Spa.

Thanks, LeafSpa, for these excellent samples. Take a look at their site; they not only sell amazing teas, but natural spa products that I’m sure are sumptuous as well.

Moving on:

Lately I’ve been using this coconut oil from Tropical Traditions in a lot of my cooking. It has a lovely coconut scent when cooking, but the scent and flavor disappears seamlessly into the final product.  I’ll admit, I WAS worried that the gorgeous coconut scent would seep its way into certain recipes and clash with the other flavors. Happily, that didn’t happen at all. Thanks, Tropical Traditions, for the generous,  HUGE 32 ounce sample:

Tropical Traditions virgin coconut oil is working out quite well in my recipes.

So that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with a full report on my Vita. Have a great day, everybody!

Read Full Post »

Iced tea can have a Persian twist, thanks to a cardamom and rose water infusion. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Hey guys, I wrote this post a few days ago, then didn’t publish. I was trying to get a snap of me enjoying today’s iced tea recipe. Oh well, I got a pic, then didn’t upload it, and my camera is in my checked luggage. Yes, I’m typing this in the JetBlue terminal at New York’s JFK airport as I wait to board my flight to Texas. Gotta LOVE free, public Wi-Fi.

We’re deep in the workweek now, but I started the post out asking. . .

How was your Fourth of July (if you celebrate it?) What were you all up to for the holiday?

Mine was great, even if it was HOT out. I enjoyed some blissful time off.  Saw some friends, did Yoga both days, plus rollerbladed around Central Park early in the morning on Monday the 5th before the heat hit. Hit up the farmer’s market and the local store as well and enjoyed walking around a quiet, somewhat empty Manhattan.

I ate more than my share of watermelon this weekend. Yum! Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Throughout the weekend, I ate a ridiculous amount of fresh watermelon, cherries, and crispy local Kirby cucumbers. Cooling, filling, and most of all, tasty. Heavy food on hot days generally doesn’t do it for me. The heat kinda puts a damper on my normally slightly voracious appetite. Admittedly, not a complete damper. I gotta say, if there were legal limits on watermelon and cherries in particular, I’d have been waaaaay over. ;-)

Fireworks! Can you believe the people in my neighborhood put on their own display? Some of the fireworks actually looked like this. Photo source: Stock.xchng.

On the night of the Fourth, as is an annual tradition up here in Harlem, the neighbors were blowing up fireworks in the local park across the street from me that rivaled the “real” fireworks display further downtown. Seriously, from my window, I had a front-row seat to the neighborhood’s (illegal) display. Further in the distance, the official fireworks display was going off. Double trouble, baby! Some of those local fireworks were no joke–my guesstimate is that the local fireworks shot up and exploded at around 15-20 stories high. They were loud, too. The cat was like “What the. .  .?”

It was kinda fun to see and hear all of the commotion and brightness, in an illicit and underground sort of way. Ha!

Today's Persian Iced Tea recipe is influenced by the hot black tea I sometimes brew and infuse with cardamom pods and a splash of rose water. Note the dark amber hue of the tea. This is the color we are going for when brewing our tea. You could go lighter if you prefer, of course. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Another thing I did this weekend was tinker around with some recipes. I’d been meaning to make a Persian influenced iced tea for the longest time, but never got around to it, until this weekend. It’s really quite easy and has an exotic taste, thanks to cardamom, rose water, and classic black tea. It’s a subtle flavor, but a refreshing one. Yes, the rose water and cardamom might be exotic ingredients for some readers. Check out your local Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean, or  market to find these ingredients at competitive prices. For example, gourmet markets sell rose water for like $7 a jar, but I can get the exact same jar at Patel Brothers out in Jackson Heights for $1.99. It pays to shop around. Amazon carries this stuff, too. Cardamom and rose water are used in lots of other recipes, so they’re worth having.

This drink recipe comes at a perfect time, as I’ll be shoving off to my home state of Texas in a few days, and am sooooo looking forward to the plentiful and perfect iced tea there.  The iced tea in New York City doesn’t hold a candle to Texas tea. Dunno why, but it just doesn’t. Some of my favorite memories are of my mom and older sister brewing a big ‘ol jar of “sun tea” out in the backyard. I’ll have to ask them to teach me how, because I forgot. If I ever know (not sure if I did).  So with this Persian Iced Tea recipe, I pay homage to both sides of my heritage: Proud (part) Persian and proud native Texan.

PG Tipps tea is my black tea of choice, but any decent quality black tea will do for this recipe. Lipton, for example. works well.

By the way, the other day I went on a bit of a shopping spree. For me, that means spending like, $30 outside of the grocery store. Yeah, I was a frugalista or recessionista or whatever-ISTA waaaaaaay before the terms were trendy. And I still mostly am, even though, at the moment, I have more work than I can shake a stick at. I know the ebbs and flows of life, and that this feast of work shall likely pass, so I always try to strike a balance with my spending so that things don’t get too out of control in either direction–too frugal, deprived, and miserable, or too bloated and spendy and equally miserable.

Anywho, I finally got a big, beautiful glass pitcher, something I’ve been wanting for a long time. For some reason, a glass pitcher and cake display plates have always seemed so luxurious to me, like items to get only on a gift registry or somesuch. I’ve recently begun to realize that this mentality is kinda silly, especially for people like me who do cook, prep drinks and smoothies, and even have people over for food relatively often. It’s not like my kitchen tools are museum display pieces. They’re real workhorses. They kinda have to be, because in my tiny NYC kitchen, I have room for very little.

So when I spotted a lovely glass pitcher For $3.99 at a discount store up here in NYC known as Conway (a chain better known for its clubwear and underwear that’s so trashy, I deem it disposable lingerie-ha!), I was all over it (the pitcher, not the lingerie!) I snapped it right up.

Rose petals, rose water. It's all good in this tea.

Right away, I was up to brewing teas, smoothies, and other chilly concoctions as my excuse reason to use the pitcher. (Well, after I paid for the pitcher, took it home, de-boxed and washed it, that is ;-) ) So the Persian Iced Tea is the first recipe that I’m sharing with you, debuting the new pitcher. I think if this story had a moral, it’d be that simple things can make us happy, and why deprive ourselves of this happiness for some unknown tomorrow. Live in the moment, and enjoy amazing tea while you’re at it!

Which reminds me: I’m not sure how much (or if), I’ll be posting while I’m away in Texas. Lately I’m all about not putting too much pressure on myself, so if that means a few days in between posts, that’s okay, right? Well, I sure hope so ;-) See you all around online soon. Xoxo!


Persian Iced Tea

Made with rose water ice cubes, cardamom-spiked simple syrup or agave nectar, and quick brew black tea, this Persian inspired iced tea has an exotic flare and refreshing taste:

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces rose water
  • Black tea (I used 2 PG Tipps bags, a strong brew that’s brewed hot. You can use a cold brew tea as well)
  • 6 cups of filtered water, plus more for ice cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons agave nectar (or simple syrup–linkage to directions below)
  • 2 teaspoons powdered cardamom (or 4-6 pods of green cardamom)
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Make the rose water ice cubes. Pour 6 ounces of rosewater into an ice tray and top off with more filtered water to make perfect cubes. Pop into freezer overnight, or until frozen solid.

2.  Brew the tea according to package instructions. For example, with my PG Tipps brand tea, all I needed was 2 teabags to 6 cups of boiling water. (PG Tipps is a strong brew!)  I immersed the teabags for no more than 30 seconds, and the tea was the perfect dark amber hue. Your mileage will vary, depending on the brand of tea you use, and if you use a cold or a hot brew tea. (With a cold brew tea, you don’t have to boil water. You just dump the bags into the cold water and allow them to infuse. Love that!)  So in short, carefully follow the package instructions that will yield 6 cups of tea total.

3.  Make the agave-cardamom syrup by warming agave over low heat. Or, if you don’t have agave, follow these directions for a classic simple syrup that we can then infuse with cardamom.

4. Add the cardamom powder or pods to the syrup, and stir well to allow its flavor to infuse. Remember, LOW heat here is your friend. It only takes a few seconds for the infusion to happen, so taste test the syrup, make sure you can taste the cardamom, and then remove it from the heat immediately.

5. Add the syrup, a little at a time,  to the brewed tea, and stir generously.  (Taste as you go here–everyone likes their tea sweetened a little differently, or not at all. For that matter, you could put the syrup on the side and let everyone use the amount they want in their individual tea glasses).

6. To serve, pour tea over rosewater ice cubes that you’ve placed into a tall glass. As the rose water cubes melt, their flavor will infuse into the tea. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

Read Full Post »

Try this super easy and refreshing watermelon mint slushie. It will take the edge off of summer's heat for sure.

Today’s chill slushie is the perfect anecdote to hot and dehydrating summer days (and nights)! It’s refreshing and cooling to drink, and beautiful to look at. And one of my favorite ingredients–watermelon, is the base of the drink.

I just adore watermelon. For me, it brings back such happy memories. Some of them are kinda funny memories, too. More on those further down. . .

Watermelon always makes me think of my dad. Hmmmm, and this post is coming out a few days ahead of Father’s Day. Happy coincidence!

My dad and I would have a field day picking the best of the bunch! Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Anyways, I remember my dad going to the grocery store or farmer’s markets together and picking out the most beautiful, juiciest watermelons money could buy. He has a real talent for picking excellent produce. Oh, yes, that’s a deliberate plural on watermelons–my dad would rather buy extra melons than too few. After all, his reasoning goes, we can always share the extra fruit with others.

Our produce-buying missions were “our” thing as father and daughter–going to what my dad calls “fruit market” and picking out the best and best-priced veggies and fruits available. To this day, I say I learned just about all of the skills about how to pick good produce from my dad. And many of my cooking skills I learned from my mom. Both important parts of the equation–how to pick the best quality produce, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Frothy, delicious, and refreshing. I can't get enough of these lately!

As for the funny melon memories: the time my dad picked what he said was the most amazing watermelon ever–and left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot of a Fiesta store (Texans know all about Fiesta ;-) ). Or the time we went to the farmer’s market in Houston. At this market, you can buy wholesale.  Why exactly we needed a few dozen watermelons, I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, one of the watermelon vendors quoted my dad one price before loading up the back of the pickup full of melons. Then he quoted him another price when it was time to pay, the truck fully loaded with probably at least two dozen melons. Sneaky jerk thought we’d not want to unload the melons and just pay the higher price.  He was holding us as fruit hostages. My dad was having none of this bait and switch nonsense. Every single melon went back to the display, and you can bet my dad made the guy help offload the heavy fruits.

Gorgeous watermelons are rich in vitamin C and super-hydrating. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So what makes a good watermelon? My dad taught me that it should be:

  • Heavy for its size.
  • It should have a hollow sound when you thump on it.
  • The stripes should be very green.
  • The skin shouldn’t have any mushy or pitted spots.

If you happen to get a subpar melon, you can salvage it by making this cooler. Of course, a perfect melon would be absolutely delicious blended into this chillaxing drink as well.  Have fun with it and enjoy! Maybe while watching a World Cup match.

Watermelon Mint Cooler/Slushie

Ingredients (enough for at least 2 12 ounce coolers):

2 Cups watermelon, seeds removed

1 Cup almond milk (I prefer unsweetened; you could use rice or even coconut milk here)

Splash of vanilla extract

A few sprigs of mint, saving some for garnish

Ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Drink will be very pink and very cool. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Enjoying a green smoothie in the morning starts my day off on the right note.

I have a secret. I don’t eat breakfast most days. No, actually, I drink it. In the form of a green smoothie. Yes, it looks like green sludge. I actually like that it looks so off-putting, because it tastes amazing. Much more smooth, sweet, and flavorful than you’d ever imagine. Honestly, it’s as good as any smoothie that uses just fruits. Nutritionally, it’s better.

To say this drink has changed my life would almost be an understatement.  If you Google around green smoothies, you’ll find all sorts of recipes and lists of benefits. Some of the benefits I’ve personally noticed:

  • Higher, even energy levels.
  • Better moods.
  • A clean, light feeling because the smoothie is full of fiber and nutrients.
  • Better digestion.
  • Calmer, brighter skin.
  • Food cravings are noticeably reduced.
  • A feeling of accomplishment for having loads of veggies as the first meal of the day. (I think this is important–so much of balanced eating is psychological and emotional as well.)
  • I’ve noticed that the smoothie makes it easier to stick with healthier eating throughout the day.
  • Filling enough to power me through Yoga teaching and practice, without weighing me down.

For some reason, I love drinking my green smoothies out of beer mugs. Never got into beer, so go figure. I do have a lot of random glasses and dishes around. Sometimes I add a drink umbrella for fun.

I’m forever indebted to my friend, clinical nutritionist, and fellow Yoga instructor, Kim Snyder, for blogging so extensively about the green smoothie. I’m so glad she got me into it. It’s made a huge difference in my life.

The smoothies I whip up aren’t exact replicas of any one recipe. The one pictured today was a tropically-inspired combo of frozen spinach, fresh pineapple chunks, banana, and shelled hemp seeds. The hemp seeds add a nice wallop of protein, fiber,  good fats, and zinc to the drink.

Pineapple Spinach Colada Green Smoothie

To serve 2-3

Combine the following in blender:

8 ounces (1 cup) frozen spinach

10 ounces filtered water (more if needed)

1 cup pineapple chunks

1 large banana or 2 small bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons shelled hemp seeds

Stevia or agave nectar (if needed, to adjust sweetness)

Whir up all ingredients except agave nectar or sweetener in blender . Test for sweetness, adding agave or stevia if needed.

Note: By using frozen spinach, you don’t have to bother with ice cubes. If room temp spinach is all you have on hand, though, by all means, use that and just add in some ice cubes.

Read Full Post »

The Coco-Acai Smoothie--packed with coconut milk, avocado, and acai--gives me a perfect excuse to use cute little decorative umbrellas. Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

Hey guys. Another work week winds down. Where did the time go? Well, I say the weekend is a perfect time for a tropically inspired treat. Especially for my peeps who are in the dead of winter right now, sometimes it’s fun to take our tastebuds and our minds on  a mental vacation from the cold outside.

We’ve talked on here about how, even in the dead of winter, I sometimes enjoy cold treats. Yes, I know some people find that weird. Oh well, too bad. ;-) I’m just glad this quirk allows me to enjoy smoothies 12 months out of the year.

Just looking at coconuts makes me feel tropical! Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

Recently, I had an amazing smoothie from a place in Manhattan, Juice Generation. I often hit this spot after Yoga class. It was a coconut-acai based smoothie. Problem was, they used a soy-coconut milk blend. I didn’t realize this until it was too late. I still chugged it, and it was delicious. I resolved right then and there to reverse-engineer their recipe at home, and to make it without soy milk. Not only would this keep me from drinking soy milk, making the smoothie at home would be easier on my wallet as well.

(I avoid soy whenever possible, for many reasons. For one, it’s generally bloating. Yes, bloating. NO THANKS! Other reasons–Watch Food Inc., and you’ll get what I’m saying.)

As fortune would have it, my local health food store had frozen packets of Sambazon Acai on sale that week. So I bought some, along with some coconut milk that was on sale as well. Love it when the stuff I covet is on sale. It’s like the universe conspiring to help.

Sipping my Skin Smoothing Coconut Acai Smoothie. Pardon the almost no-makeup look. It was post-Yoga.

My very first attempt at reverse-engineering the recipe was, miraculously,  on point. I enjoyed the smoothie and mentally filed the recipe to drink and post another day. Then a few weeks later, my friend Kim Snyder featured a Skin Plumping Smoothie on her blog. It had very similar ingredients AND used avocado. (Funny story–Kim was filming a TV appearance and was asked to come up with a smoothie at the last minute. The Skin Plumping Smoothie is what she came up with. Brilliant!)

Do you guys ever find that you’re often on the same wavelength with family and friends, even if you haven’t spoken or communicated about specific things? For example, Kim and I were both thinking of combining similar ingredients in our respective smoothies. And with my Yoga crew, I often notice that we’re teaching or working on the same asana combinations and transitions, even without having consulted one another or even taken one another’s classes.

Wishing I were here. Oh well, a good smoothie is like a mini-vacay in and of itself! Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

This sort of cosmic connection shows how together we can be stronger and even more creative. So I took inspiration from Kim, and added avocado to my Coco Acai smoothie the next time I made it. It was even better. By the way, I love how avocado is so versatile–the way it has its own distinct flavor but can also meld seamlessly into other dishes.

Ok, so real quick, why is this skin so nourishing, smoothing, and yes, plumping to the skin? The info that follows is quoted from Kim:

  1. Frozen Acai: (Found the in frozen section of health food stores big and small). This stuff is loaded with antioxidants and Omega fatty acids that plump and nourish the skin, as well as fiber.
  2. Coconut Water: Coconut water is one of the best hydrators because it has the same electrolyte balance as human blood. Some countries even use it for plasma transfusions. It is also full of potassium, which facilitates cellular cleansing.
  3. Fresh Avocado: Raw beauty fat that digests easily, and is full of beauty minerals and fiber.

So let’s put these nutritional powerhouses, plus a few more ingredients, together for a tropical treat that’s healthy, nourishing, and beautifying. Not bad for something you can garnish with a cocktail umbrella!

Smooth Your Skin Coconut Acai Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 Cup coconut water

1 Cup coconut milk (I used unsweetened So Delicious brand; find in the milk section of your health food store or perhaps the regular grocery store)

1 banana

1/2  avocado

1 100 gram packet frozen acai (I used Sambazon brand)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: powdered stevia (to taste)

4-8 Ice cubes

Directions:

1. Combine ice cubes, frozen acai, and half of the liquids and blend. Add in the rest of the (non liquid) ingredients and blend again. Slowly add in the rest of the liquid to achieve the desired thickness of your smoothie and blend again. Taste for sweetness. Add in vanilla extract, more liquid if desired, and Stevia (if using) and give it one final blend to incorporate all ingredients.

2. Garnish with a decorative drink umbrella (optional) and enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Today’s post is in honor of my sister Mona, who, recently went to work at Godiva. Ahh, yes, I can now honestly say that I have family in the chocolate business. Hey, I never realized how much I wanted to say that until right this second!

Hot chocolate has to be one of my favorite drinks on the planet. It’s decadent, creamy, and lightly energizing. It never gives me the borderline violent jolt of coffee, but it does offer a bit of a lift. It always tastes decadent and warming to me, especially when made with high-quality ingredients.

Hot chocolate with a Persian twist. A bit of saffron and cardamom flavor this drink.

Plus, it’s flexible. Sometimes I experiment with the flavorings, as in my Persian Hot Chocolate. I figured, why not? Hot chocolate is so luxurious, and saffron, quite possibly the most important flavoring in Persian cuisine, is certainly luxurious in its own right. Why not put the two together, and throw in some cardamom for good measure?

A touch of saffron in my Persian Hot Chocolate takes the drink to the next level.

Not to mention that using a high quality chocolate and spices of your own is much less pricey than paying $10 or more for a package of pre-flavored drinking chocolate mix.  Or paying close to $4 per mug if you’re buying it as a single serving.  Sure, if you only drink it once every now and then, then $4 a mug isn’t so bad. But, if like me, you like to drink it several times a week ;-), learning how to make your own is cost effective.

A word about the chocolate you use. I long ago stopped using milk chocolate in my hot chocolate. In both chocolate eating and drinking, I much prefer the deep, dark and rich flavor of dark chocolate. Plus, without the milk to mask or overpower the spices, you can really taste any creative flavorings you might add in.

I go out of my way to get unsweetened cocoa, and then sweeten it to my liking. Some days it tastes great to me with no sweetener at all, so I like to keep all options open by using unsweetened cocoa from the get go. This is the stuff I prefer for my hot chocolate:

The cocoa powder I keep on hand at home. I've tried many others, but this one seems to have the richest flavor, and the price, while not cheap, isn't over-the-top.

I find that adding in a bit of powdered raw cacao adds a nice earthiness to the chocolate, but if you can’t find it, feel free to use the high quality cocoa powder or meltable drinking chocolate of your choice.

To make the recipe vegan, simply read the labels to make sure there are no milk products in the chocolate you use, and use an alternative to milk, such as almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk, as your liquid.

Persian Hot Chocolate

For one serving:

8 ounces milk of choice

2 generous teaspoons cocoa powder

1 generous teaspoon raw cacao powder (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 pinch of saffron, finely ground and dissolved in 1 Tablespoon of hot water

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Sweetener of choice (stevia, agave nectar, sugar, etc)

Directions:
1. Warm a non-reactive sauce pan under low heat. Add in chocolate and cardamom powder, and lightly “toast” for 20-30 seconds over low heat to bring out the flavors.

2. Add in one-third of the milk and whisk until chocolate is lump-free and well-dissolved into the milk.

3. Add in the rest of the milk and whisk again. Do not boil, but cook on low heat until the edges of the milk start to bubble.

4. Stir in vanilla and saffron and remove from heat.

5. If using sweetener, sweeten to taste and enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Cranberry Bliss Detox Smoothie. A tasty and cleansing drink to kick off the new year, or to enjoy any day! Photo by Stacey Young.

Happy New Year, everyone! I seriously can’t believe it’s 2010. Incredible!

I figured we’d start the New Year off right with a detox smoothie that incorporates some seasonal fruits and also some spices of the Middle East that are extremely beneficial to the health.

I’ve been a smoothie junkie since my teens. What’s not to love?  They’re refreshing, filling, and flavorful. Growing up, my mom was cool enough to let me play around a lot in the kitchen. Sometimes I even came up with something worthwhile ;-) Like a great smoothie.

Over the years, I’ve made many different types of smoothies, but this one has to be one of my favorites. It’s simple, fresh, and effective at cleaning out the body and helping to reduce bloat and/or fluid retention. It’s full of nutrients, antioxidants,  and is super-hydrating, so if any of you are bellying up to this blog after a night of bellying up to the bar, read on. . .

Fresh farmers' market cranberries inspired the Cranberry Bliss Detox smoothie.

Fresh cranberries at the farmers’ market inspired this smoothie. The cranberries help reduce bloat. The turmeric has may beneficial properties. It’s a popular spice in Middle Eastern food and in many other cuisines as well (Indian comes to mind). It has anti-inflammatory properties, is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, and a liver detoxifier.

Pumpkin pie spice is added in for more flavor and fun, but if you don’t have a pumpkin pie spice blend on hand, you could simplify and just add in some ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

This smoothie has a tartness to it, thanks in no small part to the cranberries and the fresh lemon, so don’t expect it to be super sweet. Whenever possible, use organic ingredients to really start the new year off right ;-)

Lemons provide plenty of vitamin C and aid digestion.For the best cleansing results, have today's smoothie on either an empty stomach, or 45 minutes to an hour after drinking a glass or warm water and lemon.

Cranberry Bliss Detox Smoothie

For 2 smoothies, 12-16 ounces each:

2 apples, sliced, peel left on

2 pears, sliced, peel left on

1 lemon, peeled, cut in quarters, seeds removed

1 cup fresh cranberries

2 cups of filtered water (keep extra handy if needed)

Sweetener of choice (my picks would be stevia, agave, or honey, in that order of preference)

4-6 Ice cubes (if you want a cooler smoothie)

1 Tablespoon turmeric

2 Teaspoons pumkin pie spice blend (optional) OR 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or 1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Directions:

1. Blend ice, if using, and 1 cup of the  filtered water together. Then add the spice powders and blend again. Add in all fruits and blend until smooth, adding water as necessary. Check the taste and adjust seasoning to taste. If it seems too thick, add more filtered water and re-blend.

2. Pour into festive glasses of your choice, and enjoy. I like to drink mine with a straw. You can store the smoothie, covered,  in the fridge for two days, or freeze any leftover smoothie and enjoy another day.

Read Full Post »

Vanilla it is--as in a warm, foamy Rice Pudding Latte. No high tech equipment required. Just run the warm milk and spice mixture through a blender for added frothiness.Perfect for the freezing cold weather we're having here in New York. Put it on ice if the weather where you are is warmer. Photo by Stacey Young.

As I’ve told you guys before, I’m not a coffee drinker. One of my quirks is how I really adore the smell of freshly brewed coffee, but never truly warmed up to the taste.

Still, I love hanging around in chill coffee shops. Working on my laptop, reading a book. You know the drill. Sometimes I’ve felt a bit left out sipping my tea while the coffee drinkers got their fancy drink on. This might have led to my brief dalliance with cappuccino. That came to a grinding halt when I started cutting way back on dairy and soy in my diet. To say nothing of caffeine!

Frothy, warm drinks aren't just the domain of coffee drinkers!

Yes, many  coffee shops whip up non-dairy cappuccinos now (meaning they use soy milk), but getting almond or rice milk instead is a much trickier proposition, unless you know exactly where to go. That all sounds like too much trouble to me. And honestly, I don’t like to have too much caffeine in my diet in the first place.

Plus, lattes can get expensive! In fact, financial planner and author David Bach has a whole concept of building up your saving by skipping that daily latte. He calls it “The Latte Factor.”

At any rate, it was the warmth of the drink and the foam that I always enjoyed the most. Oh, and how can I forget the sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg or cocoa (or all three!) atop the foam? That was really my favorite thing about cappuccino anyways!

So when my friend Kimberly Snyder, whose blog I follow religiously, posted her “Almost Raw Vegan Vanilla Latte,”  my foam-loving ears perked up. I made her recipe, and loved it.

Then, being the kitchen nerd that I am, I got inspired and began to riff on her recipe. First, I added coconut milk to the almond milk her recipe uses. Then I ran the warm almond milk  and coconut milk through my blender for about a minute. This created a bit of a foam-like texture, which was enjoyable, especially when topped with a dusting of freshly ground nutmeg. Of course, it was nothing like what you’d probably get if you ran this through a real high tech coffee machine, like the one pictured below. But it was still smooth and creamy.

High powered coffee machine. Like industrial strength and stuff.

Then I got even more inspired. An attempt at a vegan rice pudding that fell slightly short got me thinking that it might be worthwhile to put some of the flavors of a Middle Eastern style rice pudding into this latte. It would be a soothing drink that could be enjoyed in the afternoon or night, not just in the morning like a caffeine-laden drink.

So that’s how my Rice Pudding Latte was born. Now granted, Kim, who inspired this latte in the first place, isn’t a huge fan of rice milk. She points out that almond milk packs much more nutritional wallop. So in honor of her, I’ll just say that you can absolutely use almond milk in this recipe. It will be lovely. The rice pudding spices are what really gives it its distinct taste anyways. For all of you dairy and soy drinkers out there, who am I to stop you from using what you already use? We may differ on our opinions towards coffee, and even what milk to put into our lattes, but we can all try the rice pudding spices in this latte :-)

The best part? You can whip up this cozy drink at home on the stove. Blend it for extra lightness. Or not. Run it through your high tech coffee machine, if you have one. Or not. Either way, enjoy it. No need to pay $4 or more for a latte, when you can have a delicious and creative one at home.

Rice Pudding Latte

For one 12 ounce latte or two 6 ounce drinks:

Ingredients:

8 ounces of milk of your choice. I used UNsweetened rice milk, but you can use almond milk, or another milk.

4 ounces coconut milk (regular or light will do. To lighten regular coconut milk, dilute it with filtered water)

1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

1/4 teaspoon of clove powder

1 cinnamon stick (I prefer to use a stick because it doesn’t alter the milky color. And, it looks cute as a stirring stick inside the finished latte).

Splash of orange blossom water or rose water

1/8 teaspoon vanilla

1 packet Stevia (or more to taste) If you’re not a Stevia fan, use the sweetener of your choice. Agave nectar would work well–I love that it has a neutral flavor.

Freshly grated nutmeg to sprinkle on top

Directions:

1. In a small, non-reactive  saucepan, gently warm both milks and all spices except nutmeg over low heat, just until bubbles start to form at the edge of the pan. Don’t boil.

2. Carefully remove from heat. Remove cinnamon stick and set aside for garnishing later.  If blending the milk, pour into blender and blend on high for 30-60 seconds.

3. Add in splash of orange blossom or rose water, Stevia, and vanilla and, if blending,  blend again for 15 seconds.

4. Slowly pour latte into a large mug. Add cinnamon stick, and sprinkle with ground nutmeg. The spices will settle in the bottom of the mug, so just remember that they’re there as you take your last few sips. Or feel free to enjoy this drink on ice. Let it cool for a bit before pouring so it doesn’t get a watered down flavor from rapidly melting ice. Enjoy!

Warm, soothing, and guilt-free. Not to mention so much less expensive than a coffee shop latte. Photo by Stacey Young.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,007 other followers