Tag Archives: spinach

Green as a Coconut, Spinach, Chocolate Smoothie

Topped with toasted coconut and sliced almonds

Topped with toasted coconut and sliced almonds

So this is only day 2 of my weaning myself off of caffeine, and I feel like this:

Copyright Melissa Iwai 2005

Copyright Melissa Iwai 2005

All I want to do is sleep.  Which probably means I am sleep deprived.  Which is why I decided to stop drinking coffee in the first place.  I have been struggling with insomnia and stress, and hopefully this will help with that.  Unfortunately, I have a lot of work to do, and my daily coffee seemed to help make me so much more productive!  Have any of you dealt with this issue?  Any advice or tips you can give?

In the meantime, I’m still trying to keep a healthy lifestyle.  I’m still drinking my smoothies.  Jamie too.  Remember this one?  It’s his favorite Chocolate Banana Smoothie (with Secret Ingredient).

These days, I drink one daily and it’s a riff on Jamie’s Chocolate Banana Smoothie and my Strawberry Bliss Smoothie.

Strawberry Banana High Fiber Smoothie

Strawberry Banana High Fiber Smoothie

It has the frozen fruit, spinach (whoops! there goes the secret!), and pysllium husk that those have, but I’ve also added protein powder and coconut milk as well.  I often try to make it as thick as possible so I can eat it with a spoon.  I top it with a little toasted coconut and almonds, and it makes me feel like I’m eating a soft serve ice cream for breakfast.  This is especially nice in these hot summer months!

I toast unsweetened coconut and sliced almonds on foil in the toaster oven.

I toast unsweetened coconut and sliced almonds on foil in the toaster oven.

I keep frozen banana, various fruits, frozen spinach in a bag, and frozen coconut milk in the freezer at all times.

One can of Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk fills one ice cube tray. How convenient!

One can of Trader Joe’s Light Coconut Milk fills one ice cube tray. How convenient!

I freeze the coconut milk in an ice cube tray.  One cube equals 2 tablespoons, if you are curious.  When it hardens, I transfer the cubes to a ziploc freezer bag and store for future use –i.e. almost every morning.

This is what I put in the blender:


The fruit I used this time was nectarine, but that varies.

Frozen Coconut Milk, Banana, Nectarine, and Spinach

Frozen Coconut Milk, Banana, Nectarine, and Spinach–pretty!

I know it looks green and icky, but it is SOOO good!

I know it looks green and icky, but it is SOOO good!

Here's a more Martha Stewart photo for ya!

Here’s a more Martha Stewart photo for ya!

Coconut, Spinach, Chocolate Protein Smoothie

2-3 ice cubes

1/4 frozen banana (I slice them and freeze, so this is about 4 slices)

1 cube of frozen coconut milk (or 2 tablespoons)

a handful of other frozen fruit — I use nectarines and strawberries often

1 teaspoon psyllium husk (if you want more fiber — also it acts as a thickening agent.  You could also use Chia Seeds)

a little less than 1/4 cup milk (or almond milk if you want to keep it vegan), depending on how liquid you want the final to be

teaspoon of toasted coconut and almond for garnish (optional)

1.  Crush ice cubes in blender.

2.  Pour in remaining ingredients and blend. If you make it thick, like mine, you need a tamper to press everything down — I use a Vitamix.  If you don’t have a tamper, I would just keep stirring it every now and then by hand to remove clumps, and blend again.

3.  Pour into a wide rimmed glass or bowl and top with crunchy toasted coconut and almond topping if you desire!


Filed under Beverages, Breakfast, Vegetarian

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

book cover

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this “recipe book” of Emma Darwin awhile ago, before work got crazy.  It’s not just your average cookbook, it’s a documentation of family life in the Darwin household in the middle of the 19th century.  It is filled with reproductions of handwritten recipes and beautiful botanical illustrations, as well as interesting anecdotes and little details about daily life, such as what time the family ate lunch and dinner and how they were “lax” because they didn’t require the children’s nurse to wear the “right cap”.  Another bit of interesting trivia is that both Emma and Charles Darwin were grandchildren of Josiah Wedgewood.  Which is more intriguing — the fact that the father of evolutionary theory had a connection to the famous Wedgewood pottery or the fact that he and his wife were first cousins — I cannot say!

Wedgewood's Water Lily pattern which the Darwin's used

An example of  the Wedgewood Waterlily pattern used by the Darwin’s

The recipes, which have been tested by the authors, Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway, give us modern day folk a taste of Victorian England via one of its most esteemed families.   The historical notes are fascinating, and I found myself imagining what it must be like to live in Emma Darwin’s world.  The Darwin household must have been teeming with activity, what with their ten children and a dozen servants living with them as well as numerous visits from family and friends.  I imagine it was a full time job keeping track of the household accounts, the garden, and the livestock!

I hadn’t known that Charles Darwin had a rather delicate constitution and suffered from poor digestion.  The recipe book is filled with rich Victorian age food that is comforting and soothing,  such as puddings (apparently Emma’s original recipe book has more than sixty puddings!) and many other dishes with cream and butter.  Preserving and pickling was quite common at the time, and Emma’s notebook has instructions for preserving eggs, curing beef, pickling, etc.  There is a chapter in the recipe book on preserves that I am looking to make use of in the future (the Quince Jelly sounds wonderful).

custard up close

Since there is a whole chapter devoted to Charles Darwin’s beloved puddings, I knew I had to try one.  I made the Burnt Cream, which is basically Creme Brulee.  I don’t have a blow torch nor a salamander (an iron disc with a long handle that they used to heat the sugar), so I melted the sugar and poured on top. Unfortunately, I did not achieve a hardened layer.  I also tried broiling it to crisp up the sugar with no luck.  So, I served the puddings  turned over on a plate.  The caramelized sugar made a sweet sauce, making the dish more akin to Mexican Flan, which was delicious.

I also made Stewed Spinach because I knew Jamie would love it (and he did)!  It is a simple side dish to throw together easily on a weeknight.  It’s so comforting and good.  And it always makes me happy to see my son eating green food.

spinach 1

The third recipe I tried out was the Gingerbread.  The authors adapted this recipe and used half of Emma’s original amounts (2 1/2 lbs. of flour!) I went a step further and cut that in half and made a loaf of Gingerbread instead of a large square pan of it.  It was also delicious — perfect with tea– and gobbled up by children and adults for a nice afternoon snack.

gingerbread vert

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we did.  It also gave us an added sense of awareness knowing we were eating the same kind of food that was served over a hundred years ago and enjoyed by the Darwins in their cozy home in Down House on the North Downs of Kent, which added to the flavor. 🙂

auburn custard

Recipes from “Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book”  by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway, published by Glitterati Incorporated, 2008

Burnt Cream

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

2 eggs, separated

2 ounces (50g) superfine (caster) sugar, plus 1 teaspoon

1.  Mix the flour in a medium saucepan with a little milk or water before adding cream; this will prevent lumps. (Note:  I added 4 tablespoons of water and whisked it).  Bring to a boil and cook gently for 10 minutes to ensure flour is thoroughly cooked.

2.  Add the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon sugar.  (You can do without the sugar at this stage if you like, as the caramelized top will provide plenty in the finished dish.)

3.  Beat the egg whites only until they form a frothy liquid and add them to the pan.  (Note, I added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.)

4.  Taste and, if you are satisfied that no hint of floury taste remains, pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish  and allow to cool.  Chill overnight.  (I used four small individual ramekins.)

Sprinkle an even layer of superfine sugar over custard.  If you have a blowtorch, heat the sugar until it browns.

Otherwise, as the authors suggest, “Far simpler is to put the superfine (caster) sugar in a small heavy saucepan and heat it gently until it melts.  Do not stir.  When it starts to color and bubble, tip the pain in a circular motion so the sugar is well mixed and dissolves completely.  Watch it carefully — it can burn very quickly.  What you want is a deep auburn color with that wonderful caramel smell.  Then, holding the custard dish in one hand, pour the molten sugar onto the top, tipping the dish so it covers evenly.  The sugar will bubble up, but do not worry, it will soon subside. With his method, a beautiful thin layer is achieved.  Do this a couple of hours before you want to eat.  As soon as the sugar has cooled, chill until needed.”

Stewed Spinach

3/4 pound (350 g) fresh spinach (I used one bunch)

2 tablespoons butter

Approximately 1/2 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Pinch grated nutmeg (optional)

1.  Wash the spinach leaves well.  Give the handfuls of leaves a good shake and pack them into a saucepan. No need for any extra water.  Cover the pan and place over a medium heat.

2.  After 1-2 minutes, remove the lid and stir the leaves with a wooden spoon, turning the top leaves to the bottom, so they all cook.

3.  When the spinach is thoroughly wilted, let it bubble for another 1-2 minutes.  Taste  a small piece to make sure it is tender.

4.  Pour the contents of the pan into a colander and plunge the sieve into a sink of cold water.  This helps to keep the bright green color.  Do not submerge completely, but make sure the spinach is in the water.  Remove the colander from the water.  Using a wooden spoon or, even better, your fist, press the spinach down, removing as much water as possible.

5. When you have extracted as much liquid as possible, put the spinach back in the saucepan over moderate heat.  Add butter and with a wooden spoon mash or pound the spinach to break up the leaves.

6.  Add just enough cream to give a thick puree.  (You may not need to use the full amount.)  Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, if using.  Serve at once.

gingerbread 2


(I halved these amounts and baked in a loaf pan)

1 pound (450 g) flour  (about 3 1/3 cups)

1/2 ounce (15 g) ground ginger (4 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces (110 g) butter

4 ounces (110 g) brown sugar (about 2/3 cup)

12 fluid ounces (335 ml) dark molasses

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

In Preparation:  Preheat oven to 350 F

1.  Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the ground ginger and the baking soda.

3.  In a small saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, and molasses together.  Add lemon extract.

4. Make a well in the flour and add the mixture from the saucepan.  Mix together thoroughly.

5.  Add the beaten eggs and mix well.

6.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes.  Test with a toothpick.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.  If not, bake for a few minutes more.


Filed under Books, Desserts, Sides, Vegetables

Healthy Desserts for Kids

Chocolate, banana, spinach smoothie!

Awhile ago, during the summer (those days seem far away!), I had the opportunity to join Katherine Lee of about.com in her kitchen for a fun afternoon of cooking and filming!

Katherine has a wonderful parenting blog on about.com, and she invited me to contribute some healthy dessert ideas for kids.  We made everything in her kitchen and the lovely Meredith filmed us.  It was a blast and such a different experience from what I am usually doing during the day in my studio!  She treated us to a fabulous sushi lunch, and we munched on the desserts we made throughout the day.  🙂

My favorite Double Chocolate Zucchini, Banana Bread with Secret Ingredient is one of the recipes featured.

Can you guess what the secret ingredient is?

Check out the video on how to make it here.
Other super easy, practically-not-cooking recipes are:
Peanut Butter Truffles!  Remember this post?
Video is here.
Frozen Yogurt Grapes:
I never did a post about it, but the recipe is in the video.
Banana Soft Serve (minus the Magic Shell!):

All natural goodness — just bananas and a splash of milk!

Chocolate version seen here in the video.

And last, but not least:  Chocolate, Banana, Spinach Smoothie  

This the one video I never want Jamie to see, because he drinks this all the time!  It is a great after school snack.  The spinach has absolutely no flavor in the smoothie, and he has no idea I sneak it in. I sometimes use frozen spinach which adds to the creaminess of the smoothie along with the frozen banana!

Video and recipe are here.

Hope you enjoy these recipes — they are all really easy to make and are pretty healthy considering they are desserts!


Filed under Breakfast, Children, Desserts, Snack, Vegetarian

High Fiber Smoothies: From Dumbledore’s “Drink of Despair” to Strawberry Bliss

Strawberry Banana High Fiber Smoothie

These days with the end of school looming and book events (not to mention book deadlines!), I haven’t been cooking anything terribly new or exciting.  I haven’t been baking either.

For my birthday, this past Sunday, I told my husband I wanted to bake my own cake, but I ended up pressed for time and resorted to a box mix! (Hangs head in shame.)

This mix is actually quite good in a pinch. You can make single servings too — 2 tablespoons mix to 1 tablespoons plain yogurt — that’s it!

I don’t have a picture of the final, as it wasn’t particularly drool worthy, but it held the candles fine!


Quickie breakfasts have been smoothies.  There are so many great smoothie recipes out there, ranging from decadent and dessert-like to healthy green monsters made with kale.  Mine fall somewhere in the middle.

One ingredient I haven’t seen on other blogs which I use regularly in my smoothies is pysillium husk.  That’s right, people, the stuff in Metamuscil.

I buy it in raw, tasteless form at the healthy food store.

I originally tried it when I was pregnant and needed extra fiber.  I didn’t want the added sugar (I was a borderline gestational diabetic) or artificial sweeteners found in Metamuscil– it also has more fiber than Metamuscil (6.7 g unsoluble fiber to 3 g).

The downside is that it doesn’t dissolve as well in water.  And you have to drink a lot of water with it and FAST (or it turns into a gel before your gaping eyes).  The result is a nasty consistency of quicksand.

I used to gag it down as fast as humanly possible.  It was redubbed “my horcrux”, referring to the Drink of Despair in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

After giving birth, the psyllium husk stayed hidden away in the recesses of our cupboards for years.  It made a brief appearance when I tried to pass it onto a friend who was also pregnant with gestational diabetes.  She gave it back to me, saying it was impossible for her to ever drink it after trying once.

Cut to the present.  Ever since I received my beloved blender, I’ve been having smoothies almost every day.  Jamie loves them too, and we often make them for a play date snack.  I let them choose the ingredients. It’s fun to experiment.

I like really thick, creamy ones, and I’ve seen some versions made with a lot of ice and xanthan gum and guar gum to get this effect.  I couldn’t find the guar gum, and I didn’t like the xanthan gum alone, so I decided to try it with my old psyllium husk since it was still hanging out in the pantry.  I was pleasantly surprised by the results!  It thickens the smoothie beautifully.  It’s not “gummy” like the xanthun gum alone.  A side benefit is that it has all the extra fiber too.  So now, it’s become a regular ingredient in my morning smoothies.  I cannot believe it is the same evil “potion” I used to have to force myself to drink!

For my smoothies, I use:

about 3/4 cup liquid (milk, almond milk, water, juice, coconut milk, coconut water, etc.)

about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup frozen fruit (banana, mango, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, grapes) or raw fruit (apple, orange, raspberries, etc.) or vegetable (baby spinach -haven’t tried kale yet!)

2-3 ice cubes, depending on how much frozen fruit I use

1 tablespoon raw psyllium husk powder

Other occasional extras are: cocoa powder, protein powder, roasted peanut flour, chia seeds, flax seeds, (though not a HUGE fan of using seeds, because bits still get stuck in my teeth even after blending), peanut butter, yogurt, Torani flavored syrups

I’ve also seen smoothies made with nuts (cashews soaked in milk, other nut butters), silken tofu, and avocado but I haven’t tried them yet!

My favorite breakfast smoothies these days are:

  • strawberry banana (with vanilla protein powder and stevia)
  • peanut butter chocolate (with peanut butter, peanut flour, cocoa powder, chocolate protein powder, and stevia)
  • coconut pineapple (coconut milk, frozen pineapple chunks, dried coconut, vanilla protein powder)
  • creamsicle (orange juice, milk, Torani French Vanilla syrup, vanilla protein powder)

All are made with some ice and psyllium powder!

To make, put in the liquid first, then the powder(s), nuts and/or nut butters, and seeds, if using, then the fruit, and ice.  Blend until smooth and creamy.

Have fun experimenting! 🙂

This is Strawberry Banana with vanilla protein powder, Lactaid, water, ice, psyllium powder, and a pinch of stevia — Sooo creamy and delicious!


Filed under Breakfast, Children, Snack, Vegetarian

Monthly Lego Build and Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread with Secret Ingredient

Can you guess what the secret ingredient is?

*Quick note, I forgot to add earlier — after almost two years, I FINALLY figured out how to post my book, SOUP DAY, on the sidebar just days ago!  Yes, I’m kind of technically challenged (or intimidated, shall we say?)  Anyway, if you haven’t already, please check it out — I have almost reached my goal of selling enough copies for the sequel (another cooking related theme)– it’s a fun book for budding cooks! *

OK, back to the regular scheduled blog post:

Yesterday Jamie had a special play date with two friends.  I took the three of them into the city to visit the Lego store at Rockefeller Center where there is a monthly model build every first Tuesday.

Approaching Radio City Music Hall near Times Square. Such city kids.

Each month is a different theme, and each child gets to build the model and keep the original kit (while supplies last).  For the month of May, it was a tulip.

The staff there is incredibly nice and actually let the boys build their own construction using pieces in the bins for sale while waiting for the model build to begin!

Plants v.s. Zombies Zen Garden

If you are ever in the area, the Lego store is a fun visit. There are giant structures as well as fun miniature city scenes all built out of Lego, including Rockefeller Center.  I didn’t take any photos because I had to save our spot in the line.

I wanted to bring a portable snack for the boys to eat on the subway on route, so I made a Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread loaf beforehand.  I cut each slice into cubes and brought it in containers.

This bread is SO moist and full of chocolate flavor, you would never guess it is actually full of nutrients.  It’s also lower in sugar and fat than traditional zucchini bread, because I use applesauce in place of a lot of oil.

Can you guess the secret ingredient yet?  Yep, spinach.  The chocolate masks the flavor completely.  I’ve actually seen chocolate baked goods made with cooked kale, but I haven’t attempted this yet… Kale has a much stronger flavor than spinach, so I am a bit hesitant to try it out.  The spinach, however, works perfectly, I promise.

This bread is an excellent after school snack.  It’s actually good enough in my book to serve for breakfast. 🙂

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread (with special ingredient!)

Non-stick spray

1 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½  teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (23 g)

1 cup frozen spinach, or ½ cup cooked spinach

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 small zucchini or ½ medium one)

1 ripe banana, mashed

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a loaf pan with parchment and spray with non-stick spray.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder until evenly mixed.
  3. Microwave frozen spinach for about 1 minute on high.  Squeeze out extra water and drain.  Process in a food processor with oil until finely pureed.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Into spinach mixture, add zucchini, banana, applesauce, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix well.  Then add dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.  Then stir in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into lined loaf pan and dot the top with remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.
  6. Bake for 1 hour. Test with a toothpick or skewer to see if done.  Let cool in pan on a rack for about 30 minutes.  Cut around edges with a knife and carefully lift out onto cooling rack (don’t invert or the chocolate chips will get smashed).
  7. Let cool, cut and serve.


Filed under Children, Desserts, Snack, Vegetables, Vegetarian