Lite Brite

What’s That, Johnny Appleseed?

Today’s lesson includes a trip down Cyanide Lane and concludes with a tasty smoothie concoction!

We’ve all heard that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Turns out, there’s something to that. WebMD lists medical uses of apples that include prevention of cancers (particularly lung cancer), treatment of cancer, diabetes, and heart problems, and more. Say what?!

I’ve tried for years to get myself to eat more apples. I like apples. I’m just not a big fan of eating apples. I’ve wasted countless bags of red delicious, golden delicious, granny smith, gala, and local varieties as they’ve gone bad before I could finish them. I successfully finished my first full bag of apples recently, thanks to my Breville Juice Fountain Plus. With my new toy in town (the Vitamix 5200!), I’m hoping to keep the apple streak alive.

The store demo of the Vitamix used a whole apple, but when it came time to make my own smoothies, I couldn’t help thinking there was something wrong with eating the apple seeds. Of course, initial Google searches would have me believe that I’ll die a slow, painful death if I even think about eating an apple seed. There is, however, some truth to the notion.

Apple seeds contain amygdaline, a cyanide and sugar compound that, when digested, forms hydrogen cyanide [source, source]. Consumed in small quantities, the body can detoxify the cyanide and it poses little to no risk. In larger quantities, though, it is lethal (just like in the old murder mysteries). Stories about tell tales that even a cup of apple seeds can kill a man. (Considering there are 4-6 seeds per apple, it would take a LOT of apples to kill a man!). Still, the risk is even higher if the seeds are chewed or pulverized (like the Vitamix would do!) rather than swallowed whole, as whole seeds are generally passed without being broken down – and the cyanide compound is inside the seed, beneath its hard shell.

As likely as it is that the seeds from an apple a day would not kill me, I’m not a big fan of the idea of ingesting toxins just because my body can and likely will detoxify them. It’s the same reason I prefer organics over conventional produce. While pesticides on produce won’t likely kill me in small quantities, I don’t see the point of making my body work to detoxify the chemicals in pesticides when I don’t have to. The work the body does to detoxify all of these chemicals in the foods we eat and the air we breathe increases inflammation, and chronic inflammation can aggravate the immune system. Studies are beginning to show that inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease [source].

So, why eat apple seeds if I don’t have to? I’ll leave the gambling to the poker table and keep it off my kitchen table.

That is why I slice my apples and remove the seeds before throwing them into the Vitamix.

But nevermind the cyanide and killer toxins – we’ve got a smoothie to devour!

I call this one the “Lite Brite PB Smoothie” because it turns out a less-than-scary bright shade of green and tastes sweet and peanut buttery but not heavy. Put light and bright together, and you have the awesome light-coloring toy of my youth:

Lite Brite

Lite Brite – Source

Once upon a time, a band called the Dyslexic Apaches put a Lite Brite on stage at one of their shows to wish me a happy birthday. It’s one of my top 10 memories of all times.

I digress…

This is a delicious smoothie and packs a great nutritional punch for breakfast or a midday snack! The entire recipe clocks in at 462 calories (one large serving), or can be split into two 8-oz servings for 231 calories each. (Full nutrition info follows the recipe). You can substitute peanut butter for the PB2 powdered peanut butter, but that will increase the calories and fat content.

Let’s get to blending!

PB Lite Brite Green Smoothie

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes

Keywords: blender beverage breakfast vegetarian vegan gluten-free kale pb2 zucchini apple

Ingredients (1-2 servings)

  • 1 small apple, seeded
  • 1 banana, peeled
  • 2 dates, pitted
  • 1 large handful kale leaves
  • 1/4 of one zucchini, ends removed
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (soymilk, almond milk, coconut milk, etc)
  • 2 tbsp PB2 powdered peanut butter
  • 2 tsp spirulina or barley grass juice powder, optional
  • 1 cup ice

Instructions

Blend in a high powered blender or Vitamix for 45 seconds. Enjoy!

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Lite Brite PB Smoothie Nutrition

Lite Brite PB Smoothie Nutrition

Not Epic but Pretty Good

Don’t you hate it when a recipe sounds epic and you slave away in the kitchen to prepare it, only to find that it’s just OK?

I suppose OK is better than awful.

I was pretty excited to try out this Pesto Veggie Gratin recipe from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” and was even more excited that it called for goat cheese (which I discovered via an appetizer at Mas Tapas in Charlottesville and recreated at home via this Artichoke and Goat Cheese Dip). I think goat cheese is delicious when I’m on the non-vegan bandwagon… sorry, goats. At least I don’t eat you…

The recipe called for couscous, pesto (another obsession of mine… see The Magic of Pesto for my favorite pesto recipe), asparagus, goat cheese, and another vegetable (I chose a yellow squash). Sounds epic, right?

Pesto Veggie Gratin

Pesto Veggie Gratin

Looks pretty epic, right?

I must admit one instance of user error in preparing this recipe: I mistook scallions for shallots (I always get those two mixed up). I should’ve used shallots, but instead, I used green onions. So maybe there was a flavor depth thing missing.

The dish wasn’t bad. It was just a little bland… until I dolloped on more pesto! Next time, I’ll just add more pesto to the sauce and I think it’ll cross over into greatness, if not epicness.

Pesto Veggie Gratin plate

Pesto Veggie Gratin plate

So, chins up, people! They can’t all be epic meals… but one can dream!

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

This might be my favorite lasagna ever – and it’s vegan! I know – I’ve been making a lot of “best ever” claims lately, but I’ve really been on a roll in the kitchen. While this recipe is a little bit labor intensive, it’s easy labor – and the end result is beyond worth it.

I made this dish for my family’s Christmas get together in Chicago last week (though it was just vegetarian for them and not vegan, as I couldn’t find Daiya on short notice Christmas eve). It almost didn’t happen; do you have any idea how hard it is to find lasagna noodles at 4pm on Christmas Eve? We had to go to 2 stores, and I got the very last package on the shelf at store #2 (thank you, Target!) It was well worth the search. This lasagna got thumbs-up reviews from even the meat eaters, and I enjoyed it so much that I made it again at home for New Years.

This recipe makes a 9×13″ dish of lasagna – good for 8 serious servings (which in my case means, a freezer full of lasagna!) For the record, it does freeze and reheat very well. If you plan to go that route, let it cool down a bit then portion it out into freezer-safe containers and freeze. You can also make this a day ahead of time and refrigerate it prior to baking, then toss it in the oven when it’s time to make dinner. Just add 5-10 minutes if you’re starting with cold lasagna.

Without further ado, my favorite lasagna recipe of all times:

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 30

Cook Time: 35

Ingredients (8 servings)

Lasagna

  • 1 pkg lasagna noodles (12+ noodles – no-boil are fine)
  • 1 cup pesto – see recipe below
  • 5 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
  • 5 cups grilled or sautéed veggies – choose from zucchini, eggplant, red or green bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, broccoli, or your favorites. My favorite mix: 1 red pepper – diced, 1 zucchini – cut into half moons, and 1 head of broccoli florets.
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 lb or 1 – 14oz package herbed tofu, firm or extra firm (Italian herbed tofu works great here), pressed and crumbled
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced (8 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz) Daiya mozzarella or other vegan shredded cheese
  • 1 jar of your favorite marinara

Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (or, replace with additional 1/4 cup walnuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, scant
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Instructions

This first step is optional, but highly recommended. Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (such as a cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat. Add the walnuts to the dry skillet and toast for 5 minutes, tossing often. Then add the pine nuts and toast an additional 5 minutes. (If using all walnuts, add them all at the start and toast for 10 minutes).

Set toasted nuts aside to cool.

Prep the Veggies

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.

As you chop up the rest of your veggies, add them to the pan, stirring often. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan and keep on saute-ing.

Continue to saute the veggies while preparing the pesto.

Prep the Pesto

Add the toasted nuts to a food processor.

Add the minced garlic, basil, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until the basil leaves are well blended, scraping down the sides of the food processor as necessary.

Slowly stream in the olive oil and process until well combined.

Blend in the lemon juice.

Assemble the Lasagna

In a 13×19″ dish, coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of marinara.

Place one layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish.

Layer more marinara on top of the noodles.

Then, add the baby spinach over the noodles.

Crumble the tofu on top of the spinach.

Sprinkle a layer of shredded Daiya over the tofu, then add a second layer of noodles.

Coat the noodles with another marinara layer.

Add the veggies to the next layer and top with a generous layer of pesto.

Add the last layer of noodles and coat with remaining marinara.

Add the rest of the shredded cheese. Place 8 dollops of pesto across the top, and add a tomato slice onto each dollop of pesto.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F, until the lasagna is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

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Going Green

So, it’s been about 2 weeks since I ran my last half marathon. That race was the culmination of a whole lot of chaos in my life: moving cross-country, starting a new (and thankfully awesome!) job, going to school for my MFA full time (12 credit hours, yikes!), and of course – another round of long-race training. Needless to say, upon completion of that race, I needed a break – so I took one. I took a break from running, and indulged in some holiday goodies in the form of way too much chocolate and pizza.

The result: I caught my first sickness in 2 years (ugh – still fighting it off), gained 5 pounds, and felt like absolute crap!

While I’m glad I took a break from all things healthy (I needed it mentally more than anything – I’ve been going at this healthy lifestyle thing for 2 years now!), it definitely demonstrated that feeling good is so much more enjoyable than eating junk food. I couldn’t wait till the new year to get back to eating right, so I started the day I got home from the holidays. I started yesterday. (The exercise is going to have to wait until I stop hacking up lungs).

Since my pre-planned junk food binge was pretty extreme (at least relatively speaking), I decided to embark upon a similarly relatively extreme detox: 5 days of only fruits and veggies.

I considered a juice fast, a la Jason Vale (the JuiceMaster), but decided I’d have a much more enjoyable experience with something like Reboot Your Life (a la Joe Cross, the guy that made the film Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead). I like Jason’s juice recipes more, though, so I’m basically drinking Jason’s juices and eating fruits and veggies as described in Joe’s Reboot Entry program.

So far, so good! I’m on day 2 of 5.

The first day, I was starving… All. The. Time. I was also pretty dehydrated from a week of holiday madness (and wine, ahem), and dehydration feels a lot like hunger, so I probably wasn’t actually hungry for food. Still, I felt like I went to bed hungry (booo).

Ironically, though, when I woke up this morning, I wasn’t hungry at all. I felt good (well, except for this plague of a cold I caught in Chicago over Christmas). I haven’t felt hungry today, and – knock on wood – my body seems to be fighting off this cold.

My basic plan is to:

  • drink juice concoctions and smoothies made with my Breville juicer (including a Vega protein shake each day).
  • eat fruit (bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries), green soups, and green salads.
  • drink lots of water and some tea.

Now, that does mean I’m also eating salad dressing. Sorry – I can’t live without my daily giant bowl of greens, and to that end, I can’t live without salad dressing. I also used a dab of olive oil to saute the veggies I used in today’s soup recipe (below). But those are the only non-whole-foods, non-fruit-or-veggie things I’m eating for these 5 days.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to busting out that loaf of bread I baked last week or mashing together a great new veggie burger recipe… but that day will come soon enough, and I’m already feeling the positive effects of this junk food detox. Ahhh, to feel normal again!

In the spirit of going green, here’s the recipe for the soup I had for lunch! Super tasty. I love kale!

Green Veggie Soup

by Shelly

Prep Time: 10

Cook Time: 30

Keywords: soup/stew kale broccoli zucchini garlic

Ingredients (4-6 servings)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 head broccoli florets
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 2 cups kale, roughly chopped
  • 4 leaves basil, plus 3 tbsp chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 6 cups water

Instructions

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat.

Add onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes.

Add broccoli, basil leaves, zucchini, spinach, salt, and pepper.

Stir and cook for 5 minutes.

Add water and bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil.

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Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment: Prep

*queue Mission Impossible music*

Actually, I think this mission is quite possible! I am embarking upon what I call the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment. You are about to bear witness to Phase 1: Prep.

It all started when my sister in law Amanda suggested that I check out this book: Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry’s wife). Since I was already sold on the possibility of hiding veggies in my smoothies, I thought this book might hold some promise (though I’d be attempting to deceive myself, not kids). I picked it up at my local library (Homer Township Library ftw!) and decided to give it a test-drive.Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld

The basic premise of the book is that you puree a variety of vegetables and store them in 1/2 cup portions in little ziplock baggies, then sneak them into recipes as needed. Sounds good to me!