Healthy Fruit and Vegetable Smoothies

This trend is coming soon to the Ample Bites household. Sandy and I have both been introduced to some amazing smoothie recipes during the last couple of days. We feel compelled to give healthy smoothies a try.

Adding smoothies to our diet allows us to take in more vitamins directly from quality food sources, increase consumption of dietary fiber, and purported benefits including both healthy weight loss and increased energy. I sure can’t think of a downside to the smoothie trend … heck, you can even use up herbs and vegetable, like parsley, cilantro, celery and carrots, leftover from recipes made earlier in the week.

With the aid of a blender or smoothie maker and recipes like those in the Runners World article and the Parsley, Kale and Berry Smoothie from Bon Appetit magazine below, these delicious smoothies are easily within your reach.

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Parsley, Kale, and Berry Smoothie
(Courtesy of Bon Appetit, April 2012)

Before blending

Serves 2

Puree 1/2 cup (packed) flat-leaf parsley (leaves and stems), 4 kale leaves (center ribs removed), 1 cup frozen organic berries (such as strawberries or raspberries), 1 banana (cut into pieces), 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed, and 1 cup water into a blender until smooth (add water if too thick).

Calories: 100/serving Fat: 1 G Fiber: 4 G

I’ll let you know how this works out for Ample Bites. If you are already caught up in the trend or you are just starting to make your own healthy smoothies, let Ample Bites know about your favorite recipes and smoothie maker reviews.

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Good Old Grilled Cheese — A Hot and Trendy Comfort Food

Grilled cheese sandwiches have become a fast food and food truck trend that are bringing one of the all-time great comfort foods to more and more people and an even higher level of recognition.

These sandwiches are easy to assemble and simple for the home cook to perfect. Since the variety of ingredients that can be incorporated into a grilled cheese sandwich is only limited by the number ingredients available where you live and shop, the variations of grilled cheese sandwiches to be made are limited only by the imagination of the cook.

Worldwide there are many varieties of sandwiches that can be considered a grilled cheese, including the well-known pannini. In this “Bite” I am going to focus on the more Americanized versions using white breads like sourdough, ryes and whole-grain wheat breads.

Ingredients
Different cheeses melt at different temperatures and some cheeses lend themselves to being cooked in a sandwich better than others. Among the best cheeses to use are cheddar, Monterey, Colby, swiss, muenster, havarti, provolone, American, goat cheese or feta, brie, and fontina. There are, however, hundreds of other cheeses to that can be used.

Meats, vegetables, and condiments can be added to the bread and cheese ingredients in various forms and combinations.

Thinly sliced lunch meats work best because the fairly quick skillet grilling process effectively warms these meats. Raw or prepared vegetables such as tomato, onions, mushrooms, peppers, and herbs provide additional flavor and consistency. Condiments can include the more common pickles, catsup, mayonnaise and mustard or more exotic items like pestos, hummus, olive salad, cranberry sauce or sauerkraut.

Generic Recipe
To make a grilled cheese sandwich you will heat a tablespoon of butter in a heavy-based skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, place the assembled sandwich into the skillet, pressing it slightly, and cook until the bottom of the bread is golden brown. This should take 3 – 5 minutes. Flip the sandwich over (you may need to add more butter depending on how absorbent the bread is) and cook until the other side is golden and the cheese is melted, about another 2 – 5 minutes.

Much as with any simple meal, one of the keys to making a good grilled cheese sandwich is limiting the ingredients to just a few very good quality items. Experimenting with different ingredients is fun and it can be especially rewarding when you hit on a great combination. If you have a limited amount of time to experiment and try one of the recipes below.

Bacon, Cheddar and Tomato
Using a sourdough bread, add two slices of crisply cooked bacon and a slice of tomato with two slices of medium cheddar cheese.

Pesto, Provolone and Mozzerella
Using a heavy-bodied white bread, spread a thin layer of pesto on the inside of the bottom and top slices of bread and place a slice of mozzarella and a slice of provolone between them so the pesto and cheeses melt together when cooked.

Swiss, Mushroom and Onion on Rye
Using a dark rye bread, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise or Thousand Island dressing on the inside of the bottom and top slices of bread and place two slices of swiss cheese along with sauteed mushrooms and onions between them before cooking.

Feta, Pancetta, Basil and Tomato on Wheat Bread
Using a whole-grained wheat bread, brush a light coating of 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 balsamic vinegar on the inside of the bottom and top slices of bread and place two large basil leaves, one large slice of tomato, a thin slice of pancetta, and generous amount of feta cheese between them before cooking.

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Puff Pastry v. Phyllo Dough

While making an asparagus tart yesterday I learned the difference between puff pastry sheets and phyllo dough? They cannot be used interchangeably.

Puff pastry dough is a rich dough made by placing chilled butter between layers of pastry dough. It is then rolled out, folded into thirds and allowed to rest. This process is repeated six to eight times, producing a pastry with many layers of dough and butter. This is the type of dough I needed for the tart recipe.

Instead, I used the phyllo dough that I had purchased at the store earlier in the day. This tissue-thin pastry dough, which is used in a variety of sweet and savory Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, was too flaky and not nearly rich or absorbent enough for the tart. I learned from my mistake that puff pastry dough and phyllo dough are quite different. I guess that is why I am a cook and not a chef.

I will share the asparagus tart recipe after I make it successfully using puff pastry. I think it will be a “keeper”, as we say in our house about recipes that we enjoy enough to save and cook again.

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Field Trip to The Olive Mill in Geneva, IL

Yesterday I visited a favorite local food store called The Olive Mill. It is located less than two miles from home, just off of 3rd Street in downtown Geneva, Illinois, so my field trip was quite short. If you don’t live as close as I do you can order at their website The Olive Mill.

The Olive Mill stocks a large and diverse selection of olive oils and vinegars. Sandy and I have been buying better oils and vinegars from this store since shortly after they opened a few years ago. The store sells these cooking liquids in their own labeled bottles which can be cleaned and reused when you return to purchase more product. A frequent buyer program offers a free bottle of oil or vinegar after purchasing ten bottles. All of their oils and vinegars can be tasted before purchasing and the store offers numerous recipes using The Olive Mill products. Many of these recipes have been provide by customers of the store.

During my visit I bought a bottle of their Persian Lime olive oil and a bottle of Blackberry Ginger Balsamic vinegar.

A simple recipe using the Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar uses it in a vinaigrette.

Spring Mix Salad with Blackberry Ginger Vinaigrette

8 cups of mixed lettuces (romaine, endive, frisee, spinach, etc.) rinsed and spun dry
1/2 lb feta cheese crumbled
1/3 cup walnuts (optional)
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 mandarin orange or tangerine peeled and separated into sections
3 Tbsp OLIVE MILL Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 cup OLIVE MILL extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare greens, cheese, nuts, onion and fruit by arranging on a serving plate or bowl. Thoroughly whisk vinegar, pepper and mustard together in a small bowl. Add the oil while whisking. Pour the dressing over the salad or serve on the side.

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Easy Ways to Move More Each Day

As a new food blogger I find myself spending an inordinate amount of my time sitting at my desk writing articles, searching for new and interesting content, and following the writing of others. I find that I simply don’t move nearly enough during the course of my typical day. I do get exercise when I am off to do my regular distance training runs and my core work at the gym but sometimes it seems like it is not enough. What worries me even more are the recent articles about the dangers of sitting which describe the health risks as being similar to both smoking and overeating.

This article from the Food Network blog describes five simple ways to be better and feel better.

Five Ways to Move More

I plan to start doing all five things more regularly starting today. If you spend your days sitting as much as I do, I hope you will, too. If you have other ideas about this topic to share with me and my readers, please do share your comments.

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Two Handy Smartphone Apps for Food Lovers

WineStein Pro and Superlist

These apps are two of the best food and wine-related smartphone tools I have found. Both apps are free.

WineStein Pro is a digital sommelier that provides you with wine matches to most any dish or ingredient. You can match a wine to a dish or a dish to a wine. You can build a database of wines that you enjoy. You can also share your preferences and recommendations with your friends

Superlist is a smartphone-based shopping list with a database of items that you can expanded upon. Staple items that you purchase regularly can be saved as favorites and pulled up from the favorites menu when you put together your next list. Brand items can be scanned and saved. Your lists can be saved or discarded at the end of your shopping trip. For absent-minded shoppers, like me, you can check off the items as you add them to your cart to ensure that you don’t forget anything.

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USDA Tweeting Food Recall Alerts

(Source: Wall Street Journal and Associated Press)

Anyone with a Twitter account can now be among the first to know about food recalls with a new service the Department of Agriculture is rolling out.

The USDA says state-specific food safety alerts for meat, poultry and processed egg products are included.

Up until now recalls have been announced in news releases and on a general USDA Twitter feed.

The agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says state feeds will better provide information directly to people affected by the recalls. Food recalls often involve specific states where food was distributed.

The alerts can be followed by listing you state’s two-letter designation followed by underscore then FSISAlert. Illinois for example is IL_FSISAlert and Florida is FL_FSISAlert.

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