Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies

Fresh orange juice & ginger smoothies

Summers in Phoenix are brutal, but I’m pretty sure Mother Nature tries to make up for it by giving us mild winters with trees teeming with citrus fruit. So what do you do when life gives you oranges in the middle of winter? You make Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies, of course!

Enjoy fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies

Out with friends recently, the topic of working in the mall as high schoolers came up. Our friend revealed that he was a toy soldier at a toy store. I was the Easter bunny for a season. Both entailed wearing hot, heavy, stinky costumes. The kind that made you lose 5 pounds wearing it for a shift. The kind that had one eye hole in the spot where, say, the Easter bunny’s mouth would be. The kind that were top heavy and made it hard for you to do anything without another human (sans costume) escorting you around by the elbow (or rabbit leg, as the case may be).

Fresh squeezed for Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies

Talking about these crazy jobs also brought up memories of Orange Julius and their famous sweet, orange shakes. From time to time I crave those frosty drinks made with who-knows-what. During our flashback conversation we talked about what you could put in a smoothie to make it taste like Orange Julius. My “toy soldier” friend suggested powdered sugar.

Since my husband and I had just picked a bunch of oranges from our tree, I thought it would be a good time to start juicing them for Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies. I wasn’t going to go the copycat-mall-smoothie route, but I did decide to add the powdered sugar to the mix. It didn’t make my version taste Orange Julius-y, so if you prefer, use honey instead.

Orange peels from making Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies

This recipe is super-simple and serves 4 – unless of course you trip and drop a full glass on the kitchen floor, spraying the cupboards and surrounding surfaces with sticky smoothie (luckily the glass fell on the little rug by my sink and didn’t break!). You can use oranges or orange juice from the store to whip up a batch of Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies, but if you’re enjoying the bounty of winter oranges like I am, you’ll want to use the ones straight from the backyard!

Recipe for Fresh Orange Juice & Ginger Smoothies
Serves 4

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

When life gives Phoenix freezing temperatures, pick the lemons from your tree and make these Lemon Meringue Tartlets!

A little sweet, a little tart, creamy and piled high with fluffy, dreamy meringue, these tartlets are easy to make. The filling requires the juice from just two lemons along with some zest, but it offers an amazing burst of sunshine!

Lemon juice by using my grandma’s juicer.

Most people don’t think about the cold weather in Phoenix. Our winters do, in fact, bring on cold weather (relatively speaking) but it’s pretty rare when the temps dip below freezing for several nights in a row. When it does, you cover your plants and hope for the best. You also take the time to pick the fruit that grows beautifully from your citrus trees.

Fresh lemons

That’s what we did during my mom’s recent visit. Needless to say she was surprised by the weather, but she was thrilled we could make these luscious Lemon Meringue Tartlets with lemons straight from the tree. This dessert definitely appeals to your senses, from the sweet smell of the lemons as you juice and zest them to the beauty of these small, fluffy packages, and finally, the amazing fresh flavor as you dig in.

Out of the tin and ready to enjoy

This recipe makes five, 5-inch tartlets, or one, 9-inch pie.

Kale and White Bean Soup: Perfect for a Night In

Kale and White Bean Soup

Kale and White Bean Soup is such an easy and tasty dish to make. It only takes a few minutes at the stove before you can sit down with a loaf of crunchy bread and some good company for a great meal. It’s an ideal dish when time is limited but your hunger isn’t!

Saturday Chores Left Behind

I had such a fun Saturday last weekend! Usually, Saturday morning rolls around and all I can think about (after coffee, of course) are things that need attention: right now I’m thinking about cookies that should be baked, cards that should be written and mailed, and the tree that should be put up and decorated.

But this weekend, my husband and I banished the “shoulds.” Instead of tending to the holiday chores, we decided to live dangerously and put off most of those things for one more weekend and just do what we felt like doing.

At this time of year, most people in other pars of the country aren’t getting ready to go to the farmers market, but that’s where we were headed –- we’re so lucky for our mild winter weather (if you’re jealous, call me in July when it’s 118 degrees out).

We reached the Phoenix Public Market, milled around and shopped, picking up some great produce, fresh baked bread, a dozen tamales to freeze and eat on Christmas, and our favorite goat cheese from Lauren at the Crow’s Dairy stand. With all of this delicious food around us we worked up an appetite and decided to grab some lunch downtown.

It Really is the Holiday Season!

On our way to the restaurant we ran across an outdoor, holiday-season ice rink. What a sight! The rink was decorated with sparkling, colored lights for the evening, and the trees were decorated with ribbons, bows and packages wrapped in shiny colors. Kids and adults wobbled by on their skates, moving round and round the chilly rink wearing mittens, not feeling the 70-degree temperature surrounding it. If I squinted my eyes and stood on the ice, it was sort of like being at Rockefeller Center…sort of. Nonetheless, it was festive enough to get us in the mood for Christmas!

We made it to lunch and enjoyed our time lingering over our plates and a few cocktails. To make matters more festive, my Prosecco was served in a short coupe champagne glass – the kind that makes you feel like you’re ringing in the New Year with the likes of Don Draper.

By this point we were definitely in the holiday spirit and set out for a little more shopping. Once we made it home we were exhausted! Saturday night is usually reserved as a going-out-to-dinner night, and earlier in the day we picked a place to go. No reservation, of course, because that’s how most restaurants in Phoenix roll. But the inevitable happened. Once we sat down at home we were too tired to get up to head back out.

Saturday Night Soup Special

What about dinner? Too tired to make anything that was time-consuming and too hungry to wait around any longer, my husband jumped up and started something in the kitchen: Kale and white bean soup.

This soup is easy to put together, healthy and filling (and kale is such the “it” vegetable these days). Our trip to the farmers market helped inspire our meal. You can add whatever vegetables you like, or even sausage for extra flavor. About 25 minutes later, we were enjoying our soup with fresh baked bread topped with goat cheese quark spread. A great meal to end a great day!

Recipe for Kale and White Bean Soup:

Serves 4-6 people

Prickly Pear Margaritas

 My post originally appeared on Organic Authority.

Beautiful, vibrant prickly pear margaritas

Phoenix in the summertime is scorching hot, humid due to building  evening storms, and offers the chance of a haboob (major dust storms for those who haven’t heard). One thing is certain during the Phoenix summers: it takes motivation and imagination to get out and about during the day.

Thanks to a local chef and restaurant owner for providing both, I now know that the fruit from prickly pear cactus become ripe and ready to make into special treats during the summer in Phoenix.

Hot in the city

On a recent blazing hot day when those lucky enough are cloistered indoors in the cool AC-regulated temperatures, I received an email from chef/owner Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale, Ariz., and founder of the of the Phoenix chapter of Slow Food USA.

Her note was an invitation to her desert home to pick prickly pear fruit. The plan: pick the fruit, take it back to her restaurant to clean, process and puree into juice, then be sent home with jars of juice for our favorite use. This sounded like just the kind of activity to help my imagination along (not to mention the enticement of making Prickly Pear Margaritas!).

The beautiful desert cactus

Note: In Arizona, you have to obtain a permit from the Arizona State Land Department to harvest fruit on state land. An easier way: ask your neighbors or property owners for permission – urban harvesting! Do not harvest all of the fruit on a plant – leave some for the birds and animals.

Painting a (pinchy) prickly pear picture

If you’ve been to Arizona (or the North American dessert, Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and a handful of other places), you’ve likely seen prickly pear cactus just about everywhere from freeway medians to open desert lands to neighborhood yards. If you’ve stayed closer to home, you’ve likely seen prickly pear cactus in many Western movies or photos of the desert.

These cactus have flat pads anywhere from 4-to-18-inches long and large spines. The fruit of most of the cactus varieties – called tunas – is edible and is often processed into jelly, juice and candy. When the fruit is ripe in the summer it turns a beautiful scarlet color and grows to about the size of a plum. The fruit are covered with tiny, almost invisible spines called glochids, seemingly impossible to remove from your skin once they get you.

Instructed by Chef Chrysa to bring long tongs to pick the fruit, about 40 people showed up to cautiously and lightly twist the tunas off their pads and collect in buckets. Next stop: the restaurant where the tunas were put in large bowls filled with water, swished around to help remove loose spines, then placed into another bowl of clean water. Then, wearing rubber gloves, we lightly passed scrubbing pads over the fruit to remove any remaining glochids, and moved them to a colander to drain. Cut in half, the fruit was blended until it began to liquefy, then placed in a strainer and pressed until the liquid was strained out. For the final step the puree was put into another, even finer mesh strainer for more juice to be collected. The leftover pulp and seeds were saved for the compost pile.

Careful!

After a hot, educational and fun morning, the restaurant’s friendly and talented staff prepared lunch for the crowd. What most of us were anxiously awaiting? The bartender’s special margaritas made from the prickly pear juice! Both lunch and the margaritas were amazing.

According to Chef Chrysa, about 15 large fruit should yield about 2, 2-1/2 cups of juice. The juice can be added to lemonade or turned it into a syrup for pancakes or ice cream. It can be added to your favorite barbecue sauce, marinade or vinaigrette recipe or made it into a tasty jelly.

Enjoy!

Recipe for Prickly Pear Margaritas courtesy of Travis & Rancho Pinot:

 

To downtown Phoenix for the farmers market

Finally. A Saturday without (too many) errands! That means taking advantage of getting to one of the local farmers markets. Today the plan was to head downtown to the Phoenix Public Market. Phoenix is mostly a drive-to-your-destination kind of town. Getting up early on a Saturday and driving 30 minutes downtown isn’t something my husband and I do often, but we’re (wearily) used to putting in significant drive time to make it to our favorite destinations in Phoenix. Aside from the time of day, this wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary.

I’ll admit that when I make it to a farmers market I don’t typically have a plan. And since I’m a major sucker for all the beautiful vegetables and goodies, I usually walk out of the market with stuff I really didn’t need (but love anyway). So for this visit my plan (albeit weak) was to walk around and observe before buying. My plan resulted in only mild success because of the brownies I encountered almost immediately upon walking down the first row of stands. Smart vendors, sucking me in with their samples!

Once I got my sweet tooth satisfied, we milled around, made our purchases and were ready to hit the road and head back home. As we were leaving we noticed a booth we had somehow missed earlier. It was one of the prettiest booths! Large crates displayed a beautiful variety of radishes from Maya’s Farm. The ones that caught my eye, according to the sign, were called French breakfast radishes.

French Breakfast Radishes at the Phoenix Public Market

I had never heard of them before, but my husband had. The woman selling them told us they’re more mild than regular radishes (although not always a guarantee), and that they’re traditionally served sliced thin on a piece of buttered bread with a sprinkle of salt on top. Um, ok! Easy, basic, delicious.

Retouched breakfast radishes

French breakfast radishes on bread with butter and goat cheese

Eventually we left the market with an armful of radishes and lots of other goodies. Pretty much as soon as we got home, we plated up the radishes according to the vendor’s direction. We also paired them with some delicious, fresh goat cheese from Crow’s Dairy, a local favorite. The radishes were definitely more mild than regular radishes. In a strange way, it was almost a welcome relief from the sharpness of the regular variety. Guess that’s why they’re served at breakfast. They are something I’ll definitely keep my eye out for next season.

When I was talking with my mom later that day I told her how the vendor suggested serving them in such a simple way. She told me, “Your dad used to love to eat radishes sliced and dipped in a plate of oil and vinegar with a little salt,” which I remember. Simple pleasures….