Archive for the ‘Beverages’ Category

Vegan Pineapple Julius SmoothieHello, Opera Girl Cooks readers! First off, I’d like to thank you for following me here for so many years — it’s been a blast! Rest assured, I’m still blogging it up a storm. You can follow me on my brand new blog, It Was Just Right. The new design is open and bright, and I hope you like it as much as I do! Come on over for a Pineapple Julius Smoothie.

You can subscribe to It Was Just Right by email or RSS, too. For RSS readers such as Feedly, just click on “Add Content” and insert the link “http://www.itwasjustright.com/feed/” to keep up with all of my recipes, reviews, and how-to’s. To subscribe by email, you can enter your address on the sidebar of the new site — just scroll down to where it says “Subscribe for Updates.”

You can also find me on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, Google+, Pinterest, and Foodie. Thanks for your continued support and readership — I look forward to many more years of sharing my recipes and tips with you!




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Sweet Earth Za’atar Burgers

These veggie burgers made for two healthy and filling lunches — I’ll definitely be getting them again. I loved the pop of whole sesame seeds and the generous hand with za’atar spice mix — it was kind of like falafel on steroids! I enjoyed one burger simply on a whole wheat hamburger bun, and another broken up into a bowl with julienned, sauteed zucchini, shredded cooked beets, and sliced avocado.

Kiss Me Organics Matcha Powder

First, I’ve gotta give props to my adventurous husband for sipping the banana matcha smoothie I placed in front of him without a second of hesitation. A dull shade of tannish green, it tasted far better than it looked! I really enjoyed the tiny hint of bitterness from the matcha (I used a teaspoon for two servings), and it paired well with plain soymilk and ripe bananas, no extra sweetener required. I look forward to trying it out in savory recipes as well — a half teaspoon mixed into a tablespoon of salt, and you’ve got a topping for poached eggs, popcorn, and more.

Ayurvedic Roast Coffee Substitute

I’m a huge fan of coffee, but once I’ve gotten my morning cup of caffeine, any more during the day just makes me jittery. An afternoon cup of decaf often sounds like a good idea, but my stomach doesn’t like the extra acid, and I’ve dealt with acid reflux issues in the past. For a while now, I’ve been trying to find a good coffee substitute for those times when I want a nice warm mug of coffee minus the caffeine and acid.

I’m happy to say that Ayurvedic Roast is a great option! It’s a 100% organic mix of roasted barley, chicory root, and rye mixed with Ayurvedic herbs. I tried brewing it a couple of ways, and extracted the most flavor by boiling it on the stove for ten minutes, one heaping tablespoon per cup of water. I’ve been enjoying it with a splash of whole mlik, and it really hits the spot. It comes in two varieties, original and vanilla.

CocoaPlanet Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate

These disks of chocolate are perfect for a portion-controlled desert. The chocolate and caramel flavors are so intense that you’ll be happy with a small portion. The dark chocolate has little spherical pockets of caramel throughout (they call them “pearls of flavor”), so each bite has a burst of caramel, and it doesn’t squeeze out all over the place like other liquid-filled treats. CocoaPlanet also recommends dissolving the chocolate disks in a cup of hot milk for instant, flavored hot chocolate.

Sur La Table Coupe Cereal Bowl

I just love the size and shape of this bowl. It holds 16 ounces, perfect for my morning bowl of oatmeal or an afternoon strawberry snack. The coupe line is basic but modern, with shallow, sloping sides and a low profile that’s great for food photography, too. I picked up a pair of these, along with a couple dinner plates (you can see one in the photo of lettuce cups above), and I’m glad to have such basic but stylish pieces in my collection.

Where To Buy

1. Sweet Earth Za’atar Burgers via their Facebook Store Locator App

2. Kiss Me Organics Matcha Powder at Amazon

3. Ayurvedic Roast Coffee Substitute at AyurvedicRoast.com

4. CocoaPlanet Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate at Amazon

5. Sur La Table Coupe Cereal Bowl at Sur La Table


Whether I’m sent a product free of charge or have purchased it myself, all opinions are my own. Samples provided by Sweet Earth, Kiss Me Organics, Ayurvedic Roast, and CocoaPlanet.


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Smoothie trends come and go, and I think it’s time somebody said it: the green goop concoctions have had their day. It’s no longer revolutionary to pack your blender with spinach and kale, and for some (my mother included), there’s no getting used to the distinctly planty aftertaste.


It’s high time we came up with another way to play with our morning blend. And so, I declare spices the hot new smoothie ingredients of 2014. They’re the stars of today’s recipe, adding great taste as well as vitamins and minerals. Ginger aids digestion and calms nausea, and turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory containing manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. Manuka honey lends just enough sweetness to offset the tangy yogurt and cranberry juice. Its menthol-tinged aroma plays well with the warming spices.


Sunshine Smoothie with Turmeric and Ginger (printer-friendly version)  


1 C. frozen pineapple chunks
1 C. whole milk plain yogurt
1/2 C. unsweetened 100% cranberry juice
1 T. Manuka honey
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground ginger


Combine all ingredients in blender in order listed. Blend until smooth, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender if necessary.

Nutrition Information:

Servings: 1 Calories: 375 Protein: 13.1g Fat: 7g Carbohydrates: 62g Fiber: 2.5g Sodium: 156mg

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It’s been a while since I’ve made a smoothie, and I’m not sure why! They’re one of my favorite mid-morning pick-me-up snacks, and I’m definitely going to include this one in regular rotation. It’s packed with nutritions ingredients, including a couple sources of healthy fats to keep you energized long after you’re done sipping. Thanks to Linwoods for sending the sample of hemp seeds – they’re mild in taste and blend easily, adding lots of protein, magnesium and iron.


Berry Hemp Smoothie

Serves 2

3 C. loosely packed baby greens (I use a mix of chard, spinach and kale)
½ C. frozen pineapple chunks
2/3 C. frozen wild blueberries
½ medium avocado
2 Tbsp. shelled hemp seeds
1 C. unsweetened cranberry juice
3 Tbsp. agave nectar

1. Place ingredients in blender in order listed.

2. Blend until smooth, stopping and using a spoon to agitate the ingredients a couple times if necessary.

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One of my favorite summer indulgences is the Mint Mojito Iced Coffee at Philz. The combination is simple but genius. Each frothy cup starts with a handful of muddled mint leaves. Plenty of ice, freshly brewed pour-over coffee, cream and sugar complete the drink. It is creamy and sweet and delicious, perfect for a weekend treat.


While I could make you a copycat recipe, I chose to go a lighter route — this recipe makes two servings, each topping out at a cool 95 calories. My version is sweetened with a moderate dose of clover honey instead of spoonfuls of sugar, and I used 1% milk instead of the Philz standard, ultra-rich manufacturing cream. You could also easily sub in agave nectar or brown rice syrup for the honey, and almond milk or soymilk for a vegan version.


Honey Mint Iced Coffee (printer-friendly version

serves 2

2 C. ice cubes
1 C. 1% milk

10 large mint leaves (plus extra for garnish)

1 C. strongly brewed pour-over coffee (I use one ounce of coffee grounds per 8oz water)
1 Tbsp. clover honey
1. Divide the ice cubes between two large (16-ounce) glasses. Set aside.

2. Cut the mint leaves into 1/8-inch ribbons, and place in a quart-sized measuring cup, or other bowl or pitcher with pouring spout. Use a cocktail muddler to smash the mint leaves liberally, until uniformly bruised.

3. In whatever vessel you used to brew your coffee (I use a Melitta filter over a large mug) stir in the honey until dissolved.

4. Pour the sweetened coffee and milk into the measuring cup with the muddled mint. Stir for about 10 seconds to infuse the mint into the liquid.

5. Hold a small strainer over one of your serving glasses, and pour the coffee mixture through the strainer and into the glass. Repeat with second glass. Garnish with mint and serve.

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Having lived in Santa Cruz during the height of the kombucha craze, it was inevitable that I become a fan of the uniquely tangy beverage. All of my friends were drinking the stuff and singing its praises — GT’s Kombucha bottles were practically a status symbol around the music building at UCSC.

At first, I was resistant to the charms of fermented tea. Plain kombucha tastes like someone spiked your English Breakfast with apple cider vinegar, then added a little carbonation. I couldn’t imagine how people were enjoying it at all, but I thought that maybe if I tried to make it at home I’d gain an appreciation for it. No such luck. My home brewing experiment left me with an overly acidic batch that was far from drinkable (and also lent its unpleasant aroma to the entire downstairs of our condo), and I was put off of the ‘buch for quite some time after that.

My revelatory moment came in Spring 2009, when a new Whole Foods Market opened just a few blocks from where I was living. They had a first-of-its-kind kombucha bar, featuring [now defunct] local company Kombucha Botanica‘s offerings on tap. They were doling out free samples of intriguing varieties like Pineapple Ginger, and after a first tentative sip, I quickly got hooked on the zippy, fruity flavor. It turns out that adding a little fruit to the brew makes for a seriously delicious drink.

Every once in a while, I’d buy a bottle of flavored kombucha as a treat, but I never thought to brew it at home again until Emma posted an incredible looking recipe for Strawberry Kombucha on her blog. A brewing afficionado (her cookbook is hot off the presses and absolutely gorgeous. If you’re interested in making small batches of soda, beer, kombucha, or kefir at home, I suggest you check it out!), she had come up with a summery recipe that I couldn’t resist attempting on my own.

And so, my second homemade kombucha adventure began about two weeks ago, when Emma generously gave me one of her starter cultures, or SCOBYs. The Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast resembles a gelatinous and floppy pancake — it’s actually a zoogleal mat comprised of bacteria and yeast. Feeding off of the sugar in a batch of sweetened tea, the yeast converts it into CO2 and alcohol, while the bacteria in turn use the alcohol to produce acetic acid, gluconic acid, and occasionally lactic acid (depending on which bacteria are present in your culture).

If you can’t already tell, I’ve been having a grand old time nerding out, reading up on kombucha’s history, biological makeup, and various brewing methodologies. Multiple sources confirmed a couple of concrete details that aid in a more scientific approach to brewing: Kombucha cultures thrive at temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and a finished brew should measure anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 on the pH scale. Being able to take these measurements along the way takes a lot of mystery out of the brewing process, and so I armed myself with an instant-read thermometer and a pH meter, courtesy of my friend Sheri.

If you don’t want to be a wonk about it, you can brew based on feel and taste — your tea should be at about room temperature or slightly warmer when you add the SCOBY, and when it’s done, the kombucha should taste, well, like kombucha. Not too sweet and flat, and not so tangy that you’ve made yourself an unpalatable batch of vinegary tea, best used as a hair rinse.

Problem is, I’ve got a serious aversion to drinking room temperature, unflavored ‘buch. Being able to just measure the pH has considerable appeal. Plus, hey, it’s fun to play with gadgets. If and when she wants it back, Sheri’s going to have to pry this pH meter from my stubborn, iron-fisted grip.


Below is my variation on Emma’s recipe, with a few small changes, along with some additional nerdery and detail (seeing a theme here?) thrown in. Instead of strawberries, I used blueberries and white raspberries, and I added an extra pinch of sugar after the second fermentation to ensure lots of fizz in the finished beverage. You can use just about any berry you please, and experiment with other fruits as you become a more brazen brewer. I can’t wait to try out seasonal varieties as the produce selection changes from summer berries to autumn apples and pears, and maybe throw in a few chia seeds with my next batch for an agua fresca variation.


Blue Raspberry Kombucha (printer-friendly version)


for brewing:

electric or stovetop kettle
1 one-gallon, wide-mouth glass jar (I use this one)
instant-read thermometer
large wooden spoon
paper towels or cheesecloth
rubber band
pH tester or strips
a dark corner, out of direct sunlight

for bottling:

medium mixing bowl
potato masher or fork
fine mesh strainer or chinois
one-gallon pitcher
6-8 swing-top bottles (sold by the case of 12)
medium (4-inch) funnel


3 1/2 quarts water, divided
8 black tea bags (I used Tazo English Breakfast)
1 C. organic cane sugar

2 C. starter tea (1 bottle Original Synergy Kombucha or two cups from your latest batch)

1/2 pint (6 ounces) white raspberries
1/2 pint (6 ounces) blueberries
3 1/2 tsp. organic cane sugar

To Brew the Kombucha:

1. Boil one quart of the water in an electric or stovetop kettle. Pour into one-gallon glass jar and add tea bags. Let steep for 10 minutes, then remove tea bags and discard.

2. Stir in the sugar until fully dissolved, then add the remaining 2 1/2 quarts of tap water to the jar. Let the sweetened tea cool to 80F (according to most sources, the ideal brewing temperature for kombucha is 72-85F).

3. Pour the starter tea into the jar with the sweetened tea — the liquid should reach about two inches from the top of the jar.

4. Carefully place your scoby in the jar. Don’t worry if it floats, sinks, or stands on end in the jar — its position will not affect the brewing process.

5. Cover the jar with paper towel or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Place the jar in a cool, dark spot, out of direct sunlight, taking care not to jostle the liquid and dampen your lid.

6. After four days, begin testing your kombucha with the pH tester or strips — the pH of the kombucha will drop as it brews, becoming more and more acidic. To test, use a turkey baster to take a sample of kombucha, taking care to draw liquid steadily as you bring the baster up the side of the jar. Transfer your sample to a small glass, and dip your pH tester or strip into the liquid. When the pH tester reads between 2.5 and 3.5 (I prefer mine around 3.2), you’re ready for the secondary fermentation.

For the secondary fermentation:

1. Uncover the glass jar, remove the SCOBY, and place in a 1-quart container. Cover the scoby with two cups of the brewed kombucha — this is your “starter tea” that you’ll use for your next batch. Set aside in a cool, dark spot — you can start a new batch right away, or leave it for a few days with no ill effects. Just make sure that the SCOBY stays suspended in liquid, and add a small amount of sweetened tea if the liquid evaporates to the point where your SCOBY might dry out.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, use a potato masher or fork to mash up the blueberries and raspberries until all of the blueberries have been popped, then add the mashed berry mixture to the one-gallon jar with the remaining kombucha.

3. Re-cover the jar with paper towel or cheese cloth, then set it back down in your cool, dark spot. Let sit for two days. Check the pH — when you get a reading of 3.0 or whereabouts, it’s time to bottle. I bottled mine at 3.2.

To bottle:

1. Using a fine mesh strainer or chinois, strain your kombucha into a one-gallon pitcher. Make sure you pick up all of the yeast that has settled in the bottom of the brewing vessel — you want that to end up in the bottles.

2. Secure your swing-tops to the bottles if they are not already attached, then add 1/2 tsp. of sugar to each bottle before adding your kombucha. This will ensure that it ends up nice and fizzy — the yeast will consume the sugar and convert it into a negligible amount of alcohol, while releasing lots of CO2 in the process, carbonating your kombucha.

3. Carefully funnel the kombucha into the bottles, leaving about an inch of headspace (i.e. space between the liquid and the top of the bottle).

6. Seal the bottles with their swing-tops, return to their cool, dark spot, and leave for two days. Transfer it to refrigerator to slow the fermenting and carbonation process. I like to let it sit in the fridge for at least a day before serving.

7. Open your kombucha over the sink — it may bubble over. Pour into glasses and serve chilled.

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Happy Holidays, dear readers! I hope you are all enjoying the season and making some great plans for New Year’s Eve.

Whether you’re resolving to eat healthier in 2013, or are simply in need of a killer hangover fix, this is the smoothie to drink on the first of January. Packed with nutrition from persimmons, cranberries, and baby spinach, it’s sure to get you back in tip top shape after a late night of celebrating!


New Year’s Day Smoothie

2/3 C. frozen cranberries
1 fuyu persimmon, quartered
4 C. (loosely packed) baby spinach
1 C. orange juice

1. Place all ingredients in blender in order listed. Blend and serve.

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