gluten free brownies

High Altitude Gluten-Free Brownies

Hitting a milestone birthday is a big deal for many.  Some splurge on cars, and others have a right-of-passage party. Not my husband. He requested a guitar cake.  That’s right he picked a themed cake over a Lamborghini. Well, not really, but he knew I wasn’t going to get him a car so he settled for the next best thing.

A few years ago I made my son a guitar cake which actually was a lot of work and looked, well, mediocre.  I opted for a compromise: make a batch of homemade, fudgy, gluten-free brownies, cut them out in shapes of guitars, and decorate them in a pattern that replicates a famous 80’s rock band guitar.

gluten free brownies

First, let’s discuss the brownies.  As I have mentioned in other posts, high altitude baking has been a huge frustration.  There are a variety of things to tweak and it takes a while to find the best modification.  Add to that the concept of gluten-free baking and you have yourself a challenge.  I did a bit of research and decided to blend this recipe from King Arthur’s flour with this high altitude recipe from Allrecipes. The two modifications important for high altitude baking were:

  • Extra flour: I added two extra tablespoons of flour (for a total of 7/8 cup rather than ¾ cup of flour)
  • Less leavening agent: I decreased the baking powder to 1/2 teaspoon (instead of 1 teaspoon)

With these two simple changes I solved my problem of soggy brownies, AND I had gluten-free brownies that tasted amazing.

With my brownies done it was time to attempt the guitar shape.  I used a 5-inch long electric guitar cookie cutter and carefully cut out shapes. I placed the shapes on wax paper and then melted candy melts to coat my brownies.  I started with red and poured it over the brownie to coat it entirely.  Next I melted a bit of black and white candy melts to sprinkle over the top.  Finally I trimmed away the excess candy melt and admired my handiwork.  The brownie did in fact mirror the pattern of the famous guitar, as shown by the guitar pics that are decorated in the same pattern.

gluten free brownies

While decorated brownies are only for special occasions in my house, this high altitude gluten-free brownies recipe is my new standard.

High Altitude Gluten-Free Brownies

1 1/2 cups white sugar
¾  cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
3/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs
7/8 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8×8 baking pan.

Place the sugar, butter, and salt in a medium sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula until the butter melts and the mixture lightens in color.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the vanilla and cocoa, and then add the eggs and mix until incorporated.

Carefully stir in the flour and the baking powder until well mixed, and then stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges. Bake the brownies for 40-45 minutes, until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or nearly so.

Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting. Once the brownies are cool, cover tightly with plastic.

 

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Spinach & Blackberry Salad

Spinach & Blackberry Salad

A few of my posts to date have discussed recipes I received as a gift at my wedding shower, such as Pistachio Cake and Chopped Veggie Salad.  Today is another one of those recipes.  The recipe my Aunt Kelly added was a Spinach and Strawberry Salad.

A few years ago I made this salad for an Easter gather of friends and it has been requested every year since then.  This year is no exception, so I will be making the original recipe as well as my new version, a Spinach and Blackberry Salad.

Spinach and Blackberry Salad

I have kept the dressing the same, as I find the sweet poppy seed dressing is a huge draw. What I did swap out is the strawberries, which I replaced with blackberries, avocados, and pecans.

I knew it was a winner when my kids (who have been on a streak lately to proclaim they are hungry just after finishing a meal) each ate a full plate as if I was serving them ice cream.

I am looking forward to the verdict at Easter: strawberry version or blackberry version?

Spinach & Blackberry Salad

Spinach and Blackberry Salad

Two, 9 ounce bags of baby spinach
18 ounces fresh blackberries
2 avocados, peeled and diced
1 cup pecans
¾ cup canola oil
½ cup white sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons grated onion
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons poppy seeds

 

Place spinach, blackberries, avocado, and pecans in a large bowl. Add the oil, vinegar, sugar, onion, mustard, salt, and poppy seeds to a blender.  Cover and process until combined.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Note: This salad does not keep well once the dressing has been added.  Pour the dressing over the salad just before serving.

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tzatziki tacos

Tzatziki Tacos

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend at Next Door Eatery in Denver. One of the things I respect about this restaurant is their commitment to the farm-to-table concept.  This reminded me that it had been awhile since I had purchased meat from local farmers, especially lamb. This got me thinking of lamb dishes, resulting in this Tzatziki Tacos recipe.

tzatziki tacos

I decided to modify the traditional tzatziki sauce of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill, and lemon by making it a cross between a salad and salsa. I accomplished this by adding tomatoes, feta, and Kalamata olives and keeping the cucumbers as chunks (rather than blending them into the sauce). I then used this fresh salad as a topping to balance the hearty taste of the shredded lamb, served in a toasted corn tortilla.

My husband thought these were fantastic, making me wish I had made a double batch. If you are looking for a fun, new take on tacos (or gyros), try these Tzatziki Tacos!

tzatziki tacos

Tzatziki Tacos
 1 ½ pounds lamb shoulder chops
½ cup beef stock
1 cup diced Roma tomatoes
1 cup peeled, diced cucumber
½ cup crumbled feta
¼ cup chopped Kalamata olives
½ cup plain, Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon  lemon juice
10 yellow soft corn tortillas (~6 inch diameter)
 

Place the lamb and beef stock in a 4 quart slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. 

While the lamb is cooking, prepare the tzatziki salad.  Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, and olives in a large bowl.  Add the yogurt, dill, garlic, and lemon juice and stir to coat and mix well.  Refrigerate until ready to serve the tacos.

After the required cooking time, remove the lamb from the slow cooker. Then, remove the bones and fat from the lamb and shred the remaining meat; set the meat aside and keep warm.

Lightly toast the corn tortillas on both sides in a non-stick skillet.   To serve, evenly divide the lamb between the tortillas, and top with the tzatziki salad. Serve immediately.

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gluten free french bread

Gluten-Free French Bread: Part One

Gluten free living.  It sounds easy, right?  Well let me tell you, gluten free food has come a LONG way in the last four years.  While my blog is obviously not exclusively gluten free, my family eats a largely gluten free diet due to the restrictions of some. The advent of more tasty bread and pasta has made this more bearable, but there are still times when we must hang our heads in defeat. Lately, the pining has been for French bread or anything that resembles a burger or hotdog bun. Either gluten free bread does not hold the crusty exterior + soft interior of the former or cannot last long enough to not crumble.Sigh.

Thus I am on the search for good recipes.  This along should come as a proclamation, as I have often announce I am not a baker.  I live at over 6,000 ft of elevation, which means that on a good day (i.e. not gluten challenged) I have the odds of baking against me. When I take on a baking challenge it means that I-AM-SERIOUS.

gluten free french bread

Consequently, I am counting this post as my first in a litany of “searching-for-good-gluten-free-bread-recipes” posts. What I tried first was French bread. I selected a recipe that had a lot of great reviews, and I was pleasantly surprised. I followed the recipe as written, except for omitting the optional egg substitute.  It smelled great AND had a crusty exterior, plus it was easy to make.  It will definitely serve as my starting point for any modification (my only complaint is that the interior isn’t fluffy enough). It also gave me confidence to come up with a workable bun recipe.  Hopefully that doesn’t take me too long!

gluten free french bread

 You can find the recipe from GlutenFree Girl HERE.

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Lowfat Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

Lowfat Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

We are big fans of peanut butter in my house, so when I saw a jar of peanut butter powder I knew I wanted to try it.  All the taste of peanut butter with very little fat? Sign me up! I thought it would be a great way to sneak in another high protein meal. I decided to make a Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl to start my day off right.

Lowfat Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

The blend of vanilla almond milk, oats, chia seed, and peanut butter powder makes a thick smoothie with a great peanut butter flavor.  I also loved that it covered a bunch of other nutrients for my day: 45% of my calcium intake, 60% of my daily fiber, and a whopping 21 grams of protein and only 4.5 grams of fat.

Lowfat Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

It turns out my kids wouldn’t let me eat it all by my myself.  They scavenged some of my meal, but I’m not complaining.  I’m always looking for ways to make their meals just a bit healthier.

Lowfat Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

Lowfat Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

1 cup vanilla almond milk
¼ cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons chia seeds
4 tablespoons peanut butter powder
Assorted, chopped fruit (strawberries, blueberries, grapes, etc.)

 Add the almond milk, oats, chia seeds, and peanut butter powder to a mixer or food processor and blend until smooth.  Pour into a bow and let sit for 5 minutes.  Garnish the top with the desired amount of fruit and serve.

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matcha fried rice

Matcha Fried Rice

Have you heard of matcha? I’m sure you have.  It is one of those “in” ingredients these days.  I have put of trying it because green tea ranks below most other flavors of tea in my book. I tend to prefer spicy/cinnamon or earl grey rather than the earthy flavor of green tea.

matcha fried rice

None the less, I was still intrigued. One of the hypes of matcha is the concentrated antioxidants it offers. Instead of steeping tea leaves in a bag, you are essentially consuming finely ground tea leaves. In addition to beverages, it has found its way into food items, even dessert.  I was determined to try it in an entrée and decided to make a version of my fried rice.  I started with my Ham Fried Rice recipe, and eliminated peas, ham, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and ginger. I added matcha as my replacement spice and a bit of baby tomatoes for added sweetness. The result was a light and refreshing Matcha Fried Rice that was well balanced.

matcha fried rice

This festive dish has been a fun lunch this week and I look forward to experimenting with matcha in other recipes.

Matcha Fried Rice

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced red onion
4 cups cooked long grain rice
1 1/2 teaspoons matcha
2 large eggs
½ cup baby tomatoes, chopped
4 green onions, chopped

 

Add 4 tablespoons of butter to the pan and heat until melted over medium-high heat. Add carrots, and onion, and saute for 3 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Immediately add the rice, and matcha, and stir until combined. Continue stirring for an additional 3-4 minutes to fry the rice. Keep warm.

Coat a non-stick pan with cooking spray then heat over medium heat. Add eggs, and cook until scrambled, stirring occasionally. Remove egg, and stir into rice mixture, along with the tomatoes and green onions.  Serve immediately.

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Coconut Crusted Sea Scallops

Coconut Crusted Sea Scallops

One of my favorite cooking tips is to bake scallops.  This results in tender scallops that turn out perfect every time. I enjoy sharing this tip so much, I decided to build my entry for the create TV cooking challenge around it (below).

Buried in my entry are two other tips: (1) toast flour and (2) use quick pre-prepared items to really build up flavor in an easy way.

I chose to coat my scallops with a coconut flour to create a nice tropical flavor, that isn’t too over powering yet that stays well. The first step though is to toast the flour to eliminate the raw flour taste, and enhance the coconut flavor.

Coconut Crusted Sea Scallops

I also paired the scallops with jasmine rice, which is a floral scented, long grain rice. To the rice I added some lemongrass puree to give it that extra oomph (You can find the puree in a tube in the produce section of your local grocery store).

 Plating was simply layering the rice, coconut crusted sea scallops, and salsa for an impressive, yet easy dinner.

Coconut Crusted Sea ScallopsCoconut Crusted Sea Scallops

Coconut Crusted Sea Scallops with Jasmine Rice and Mango Salsa

½ cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup butter, melted
1 pound sea scallops
1 cup jasmine rice
2 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon lemongrass puree
1 mango, diced
1 avocado, diced
¼ cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons cilantro
Zest and juice of one lime
 

Preheat the oven to  350 °F.

While the oven heats, toast the flour. Add the flour to a nonstick pan over high heat, and stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes until the flour has an even, light brown color. Remove from the heat and add to a large bowl. Add the ginger, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the toasted flour and stir to mix.

Dunk the scallops in the butter, coat in the toasted coconut flour, and then place in an 8×8 glass pan treated with non-stick spray. Bake the scallops for 30 minutes.

While the scallops bake, make the rice and salsa. To make the rice, bring the water, jasmine rice, and lemongrass puree to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until all of the water is absorbed.

To make the mango salsa, combine the  mango, avocado, red onion, cilantro, lime zest, and lime juice.

To plate, place ¾ cup rice on a plate, top with some of the sea scallops, and garnish with the mango salsa. Serve immediately.

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Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

Punch Box “Birthday Cake”

My school-aged daughter recently celebrated a birthday and I wanted to be able to bring something to share with her class at school.  Like many schools these days, her school respects allergy concerns and has banned food items for parties. Since I couldn’t bring in an edible cake or treat, I wanted to devise a “cake” that served small goodie bag trinkets instead.

 Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

What came to mind was a popular game for trunk-or-treat events – the punch box.  A punch box is typically a piece of cardboard with holes cut out that are covered with tissue paper.  Trick-or-treaters punch through a piece of tissue to reveal a prize.  Why not transform this idea into a “birthday cake”?

Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

 

For easy of construction, I made my Punch Box “Birthday Cake” out of plastic party cups, tissue paper, and rubber bands.  I used one cup per kid in my daughter’s class and used a box that was suited to arranging the cups to get a layered cake effect (i.e. twelve cups around the bottom and six cups on top).  I fashioned some candles out of construction paper and voila – an inedible, yet fun cake.

The Punch Box “Birthday Cake” was a hit and netted compliments from teachers (including the art teacher!) when I walked into the school.  I’d love to hear your ideas for non-food birthday celebrations.

 Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

Punch Box “Birthday Cake”

18, 16oz. colorful drinking cups
18, assorted trinkets, stamps, or small toys
18, 10-inch by 10-inch squares of tissue paper
18, rubber bands (at least 1/8th inch wide and ~2.25 inch diameter)
One, 5-inch x 7-inch x 10-inch box
Wrapping paper
Duct tape
Ribbon
Construction paper (optional)

 

Note: These instructions make one “cake” serving 18 children.  To accommodate a larger group size, increasing the number of cups, trinkets, tissue squares, and rubber bands by one per child. A larger box or multiple boxes will be needed to accommodate the extra cups.

Place one trinket or toy in each cup.  Place one piece of tissue paper over each cup opening and secure with a rubber band, sliding the rubber band about halfway down the cup.  Wrap the box as if it was a present, then secure twelve of the cups to the short sides (three cups per side) with a bit of duct tape and (side of cup to side of box). Secure the remaining cups with a bit of duct tape to the top (bottom of cup to top of box).  Tie a ribbon around the top cups and a ribbon around the bottom cups and box to secure in place.

To use, each kid gets to punch through the tissue paper on top of one cup to claim their prize.

Tips:

I found that hot glue was not a great choice as the cups were a bit too heavy and I was a bit too impatient to hold each cup in place.  The ribbon is necessary to make the “cake” look pretty and keep the cups aligned.

When using the punch box, place on top of a table or use a larger piece or wood or cardboard under the bottom layer, otherwise enthusiastic kids can knock the cups right off the package.

 

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Bulletproof Energy Bites

Bulletproof Energy Bites

Have you heard of bulletproof coffee? It has been something my husband and I have wanted to try, and had resurfaced recently in a morning conversation.  The concept is that creamer is replaces with a pad of butter and a bit of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil (or coconut oil in some copycat recipes) for a morning cup of joe that is said to give you more energy.

While trying bulletproof coffee is still on my list, I did try something new this week – coffee cherry flour. It caught my attention as I was meandering through the bulk bin aisles at my local grocery store, mostly because I had never heard of it.  It looked like cocoa powder, but I didn’t know if it was actually made of coffee.  It turns out coffee cherry flour is a gluten free flour made from the coffee cherry which is the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean.

bulletproof energy bites

Since I had bulletproof coffee on the mind, I thought it would be fun to make a recipe that played on the bulletproof concept and made Bulletproof Energy Bites.  I started with a date base, then added in unsweetened shredded coconut, butter, coconut oil, and a bit of the coffee flour.

The result was an energy bite that looked like a chocolate truffle and tasted fantastic. These Bulletproof Energy Bites are a great mini snack for a pick-me-up that will satisfy a sweet craving.

Bulletproof Energy Bites

Bulletproof Energy Bites

1 ½ cups chopped, pitted dried dates
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
½ cup coffee cherry flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons coconut oil

Place the dates and coconut in a food processor and mix until chopped fine and begin to stick together.  Add in the flour, butter, and coconut oil and process until well mixed and dough sticks together well.  Using hands, roll into 1-inch balls and place in a plastic or glass container.  Refrigerate until firm; keep refrigerated until ready to eat.

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Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

I’m often amazed at how many variations there are on classic recipes.  Take for example Stuffed Mushrooms. When I first started making these I used leftover bratwurst from a summer BBQ and I have been doing so ever since. I have even used the stuffing base in other recipes, such as my Stuffed Acorn Squash.

Stuffed Mushrooms

In addition to bratwurst meat, the stuffing includes breadcrumbs, onions, cheese, and fresh parsley.  The combination is a wonderful, savory starter.

Stuffed Mushrooms

 The instructions below start from an uncooked bratwurst, just in case you want to make these anytime.  If you do have some cookout leftovers, the timesaving instructions are noted as well.

Stuffed Mushrooms

 

Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb button mushrooms
1/3 lb uncooked bratwurst (~1 bratwurst)
1/2 Cup yellow onion, diced
1 Tablespoon freshly minced garlic
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons fresh, minced flat leaf parsley
¾ cup pecorino-Romano cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Wash mushrooms, then remove stems.  Mince the stems and set aside.  Place the mushroom caps (top down) in a large, greased casserole or 9×13 pan.

Add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to large sauté pan, and place over medium high heat. Remove the bratwurst meat from the casing and add to the saute pan. Saute the bratwurst meat, breaking it apart with a spoon, until it is cooked throughout. Remove the cooked meat, place in a large bowl, and set aside. Add the minced mushroom stems and onions to the man and cook, stirring frequently, until softened – about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer.

Remove from the heat, and add the mushroom stems and onions to the bratwurst meat, along with the breadcrumbs, parsley, and ¼ cup of pecorino Romano cheese; Stir to combine.  Evenly divide the stuffing between the mushroom caps, then sprinkle the tips with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cheese begins to melt and brown slightly. Remove from oven and serve.

Note: If you have a leftover, cookout bratwurst, place brat in food processor and process for about 20 seconds, until well minced to eliminate the meat-cooking step.

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Monkey Tree Cupcake

Monkey Tree Cupcakes

Over the last few years I have created fun, themed birthday parties for my kids such as last year’s dragon party. The result of this creativity is now my children are requesting elaborate themes.  This year both kids wanted an animal themed party, even going so far as to suggest that I make individualized animal costumes for each party guest. That requested netted a swift no, but I did want to try to make their cake ideas happen.

Monkey Tree Cupcake

My son requested a cake that looked like a monkey hanging upside down. This sounds like a lot of shaping and cutting of round cakes so I decided to make these Monkey Tree Cupcakes instead as a play on the monkey theme.

I filled cake cones with a couple mini cupcakes, frosted the top with green frosting to look like a tree, and then affixed miniature monkey figurines.  Cute right? My son thought these were great, and I loved the minimal effort.

Monkey Tree Cupcake

While many ice cream cone cupcake recipes call for baking the cake in the cones, I didn’t want too many cone cupcakes (preferring to use the remainder of the batter for a 9-inch round cake) and others have commented on soggy cones.  If you do decide to try these by baking the cake in the cones I’d love to hear how then turned out!

Monkey Tree Cupcake

Monkey Tree Cupcake

1 box preferred cake mix, plus eggs and/or oil according to box directions
Two 14oz cans whipped, vanilla frosting
60 drops green food dye
12 ice cream cake cones
12 miniature monkey figures, such as these

 

Preheat oven per cake mix directions, then mix cake mix per directions.  Line 24 mini cupcake forms with liners (this requires only ~1/3 of the batter; see note below for use of remainder of batter). Pour batter half way up the mini cake pans, then bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.

To color frosting, place frosting in a bowl, and then stir in food dye. Place frosting in an icing bag affixed with your favorite tip (or use a gallon sized freezer bag).  To make the Monkey Tree Cupcakes, remove the mini cupcakes from the wrappers and place two inside each cake cone. Swirl the frosting on top of each cake cone to make “tree top” and then gently place a monkey on top.

 

Note:  1 box of cake mix will typically make two 9-inch round cakes, 24 cupcakes, or 72 mini cupcakes.  For my preparation of this recipe I made 36 mini cupcakes, and one 9-inch round cake.

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Wild Blueberry Smoothie

Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie

Contest Note: By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

I find smoothies are a fun, easy way to get my kids to eat a quick and healthy breakfast which they believe is a real treat.  Take for example this Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie. The base of wild blueberries adds intense flavor, has double the antioxidants of fresh blueberries, and adds beautiful royal hue, whereas the pineapple adds fiber and a hint of tropical flare.  The mango kefir and coconut milk also help set the tropical tone, while adding protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 to the power drink.  The addition of flaxseed meal ups the fiber once again and adds a serving of omega-3s. Finally, the lime zest and juice finishes off the drink to give it an over the top tropical taste.  The result is a refreshing, satisfying and good-for-you smoothie the whole family will enjoy.

Wild Blueberry Smoothie

I couldn’t help serving this Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie in a glass garnished with toasted coconut and whimsical straw.  Even with a busy morning, the garnish doesn’t take much time.  Simply add sweetened, shredded coconut to a non-stick pan and cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.  A dab of honey is all it takes to get it to stick to the glass!

Wild Blueberry Smoothie

 

Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie

1 cup frozen wild blueberries
½ cup frozen pineapple slices
1 cup mango flavored kefir
½ cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons flaxseed meal
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Toasted coconut and honey for garnish (optional)

Place the wild blueberries, pineapple slices, kefir, coconut milk, flaxseed meal, lime zest, and lime juice in a blender.  Blend until smooth. Pour into two garnished (If desired) glasses and serve immediately.

For garnish: add sweetened, shredded coconut to a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until coconut is light brown in color, about 2-3 minutes. To garnish glass, coat the rim of a glass with a bit of honey and roll in the toasted coconut.

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