Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cherry Smoothie

This is a very tasty and refresing smoothie ideal to start your day! You can freeze the cherries a couple of hours ahead (after you’ve removed the pits) for a more frozen result, alternatively, add some ice!
You will need:
2 cups cherries (pits and stems removed)
1 peach, cut in chunks
1 nectarine, cut in chunks
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
Ice (optional)

If you wish to get a more smooth result you can peel the nectarine and peach, other wise you may keep it. Put your ingredients in a blender, arranging the peach and nectarine on the bottom, next the cherries and finally the mint leaves. Blend and add the ice. Blend again really well and enjoy right away!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012



Monday, June 18, 2012

Thank You Cherries! > The Health Benefits of Cherries

Botanically, cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus Prunus (belonging to the broad rosaceae family) and it is a “drupe” (stone fruit) just like plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, almonds etc. it is a very beautiful tree that blooms in spring and carries delicate light pink blossoms.
The English word “cherry” (French “cerise” and Spanish “cereza”) all come from the classical Greek word “kerasos” (κέρασος) and the plant is native to Eastern Europe and Asia Minor regions (although the cultivation of cherries has been widely spread in many parts of the world). 
Cherries have been recognized for their medicinal purposes for centuries. Apart from the fruit itself, they also used the cherry-tree bark (and root) as a stimulant and tonic substance. They are considered a “Superfood”, mainly due to their high content of antioxidants. It is interesting to note that in ancient times, unripe cherries were pickled as olive substitutes!
 The health benefits of cherries are numerous! Here is a list of what cherries do to you:

•    High antioxidant
Antioxidants are substances found in foods that may protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules, known as free radicals. Cherries rank among the top 20 foods with the highest concentration of antioxidants. In fact, the standard one-cup serving of cherries has the capacity to carry 4,873 antioxidants! Cherries are especially rich in a phytochemical called anthocyanin. The skin of the cherries holds most of the essential antioxidants. 

•    Anti-inflammatory
Anthocyanins are the key antioxidant compounds in cherries. These phytonutrients have been specifically linked to high antioxidant capacity and are capable of reducing inflammation, at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications.
•    Great for regulating your sleep cycle
Cherries are rich in melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a key role in regulating the body’s internal clock and helps determine when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Eating a handful of cherries just before bed is a great way to naturally regulate your sleep cycle.
•    Reduce the risk of cancer
Cherries are high in Beta Carotene (Vitamin A) and this also helps fight cancer in organs and glands. They are particularly beneficial in reducing the risk of colon cancer. In animals studies of mice prone to colon cancer, the addition of cherries to their diet resulted in a reduction in colon tumors and their size. In related studies, cherries also reduced the growth of breast cancer cells.
•    Beneficial for the liver and kidneys
Scientists have confirmed that cherries help our liver and kidneys to get rid of toxicity which makes them perform better.
•    Beneficial against arthritis
A bowl full of cherries may help alleviate pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and gout, the most severe form of arthritis. A gout attack occurs when excessive amounts of uric acid (waste product found in the blood) accumulate in the joints, and cause inflammation and pain. Back in 2004, researchers from the Agriculture Research Service and University of California-Davis teamed up to study the effects consuming cherries could have on reducing pains caused by gout. They found that participants who ate 45 sweet cherries during breakfast significantly decreased their blood plasma levels while simultaneously increasing the amount of uric acid removed through urine.
•    Beneficial for the heart
Anthocyanins protect cells from damage during an interaction with oxygen, protect the heart and surrounding tissue, inhibit plaque formation and reduce inflammation. These reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
•    Great for the immune system
Cherries are high in vitamin C and melatonin which are essential for are immune system.
•    Anti-aging 

Melatonin is thought to slow down the aging process.
•    Beneficial for muscle aches
Drinking a glass of cherry juice after exercising may help ease aching muscles 

•    Fight jetlag
Due to their high content of melatonin.
•    Promote brain health
Melatonin also helps in maintaining optimum brain functioning and may deter the onset of chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s. Research also suggests that the anthocyanins found in cherries further protect neural cells and promote brain health.
•    Great For Digestion
When we eat cherries, there is more production and secretion of digestive juices, which subsequently improves our digestive system.

Above all cherries are super tasty and the feeling of pleasure I get when eating them is beyond words! Joy is always the best healing method after all. In Greece they are in season between early May and mid July, but you can also enjoy them dried or frozen throughout the year. You can actually freeze them yourself now that they are at their peak. It’s really simple: you just buy them really fresh, wash them well and let them dry, remove the stems and  pits (either with a sharp knife or a cherry pitter), arrange them on a tray (make sure they don’t touch each other), freeze them for two hours and then seal them in a bag or a freezer-proof container and put them back in the freezer. I often use frozen cherries in smoothies or for home made sugar-free sorbet, ideal for children! Thank you cherries!!!



Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Coconut Panna Cotta with Lemongrass and Verbena Topped with Kiwi Sauce

Panna Cotta (which in Italian means "cooked cream") is a dessert traditionally made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, flavored with vanilla and mixed with gelatin to set. It is served cold and is usually topped with berries, fruit coulis, caramel
or chocolate sauce. They say it has its origins in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont, although it is eaten all over Italy.
I made a sugar-free version of panna cotta, using agave syrup instead and I replaced regular milk with coconut milk. I added lemongrass and verbena, which taste great with the coconut milk and give a unique flavor to this tropical dessert. Finally, I topped it with a fresh kiwi sauce, in which again I added agave syrup and fresh verbena leaves. It’s very light, easy to make, it tastes great and is ideal for summer!
In this recipe I used a pastry mold to chill the panna cotta, but it’s easier to make it in individual cups and when set you just flip them over in plates, or even easier are the individual glasses (wine or martini or any small glass will work great), in which case you just serve the panna cotta as it is with it's topping, without needing to unmould it.
Recipe follows.

For the Panna Cotta you’ll need:
1 can coconut milk
2 ½ cups double cream (can be replaced with coconut milk if you prefer)
1/3 cup organic agave syrup
2 stalks fresh lemongrass crashed and split 

2 stalks fresh verbena (can be replaced with mint)
2 packets powdered gelatin
7 tablespoons cold water
1 pastry mold
4 ramekins
Coconut oil (or a neutral-tasting oil)

For the Kiwi Sauce:
4 kiwis, plus extra to garnish
¼ cup organic agave syrup (or more if you like it sweeter!)
5 fresh verbena leaves (optional)

Pour the cream in a medium saucepan and add the lemongrass and verbena leaves. Put it on low heat and bring to boil, stirring it occasionally. Allow it to simmer for about ten minutes then remove from heat and mix in the agave syrup. Add the coconut milk and stir well.
In a different bowl, put 7 tablespoons of cold water, mix in the gelatin and allow it to stand for a couple of minutes. In the meanwhile, apply the coconut oil (or another neutral oil of your choice) on the pastry mold (if you are using glasses, you won’t need the oil at all, since you will serve the panna cotta straight in them).
Using a strainer, pour the panna cotta mixture (while still hot) over the gelatin. Stir well until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour your mixture in the pastry mold, cover it, put it in the fridge and allow it to set (it will take about 3 hours but the more you leave it, the more firm it will become).
Just before serving your dessert, prepare the kiwi sauce (you can make it a few hours ahead, but it’s always best to have it fresh and full of vitamins!). Peel and quarter 4 kiwis. Put them in a food processor along with the agave syrup and the verbena leaves. Puree until smooth.  
Remove the set panna cotta from the fridge and unmould it in a large plate or tray. Using lightly oiled ramekins (or just a knife) cut it into portions and serve it in individual plates. Wash a couple of kiwis and, keeping their skin on, cut them in half lengthwise and then slice them thin. Use these to decorate your panna cotta if you wish. Pour about a tablespoon of the kiwi syrup on each portion and decorate with some verbena leaves! 



Monday, June 11, 2012

Agave Syrup: A Gift From The Gods!


Agave syrup is the nectar extracted from the plant agave, a succulent plant related to the yucca and lily. Agave has Mexican origins, but is also native to the southern and western United States and central and tropical South America. 
It has been used for centuries, first by the Aztecs, who considered the plant a gift from the gods and related it to Mayahuel, the goddess of fertility, pulque (a type of alcoholic beverage) and agave and is generally depicted as a woman with agave branches. The nectar from the agave plant became a ritual beverage and a ceremonial offer to the gods. The Aztec people believed that the elixir made from the plant was meant to soothe the soul of people who lost loved ones and they also used the liquid from the core of the plant to flavor foods and drinks. There are more than 400 species of agave but the best nectars are produced from 100% Blue Agave, also known as Agave Tequilana and, as the name denotes, it is also the specific variety of agave from which tequila is made.

 Agave syrup, known in Mexico as “aguamiel” (honey-water), is a natural sweetener and in the past few years it has become a worldwide “health trend” as a substitute for other sweeteners. It is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar, it has a very discreet flavor (the light-coloured varieties) and it’s more liquid than honey, which means it dissolves easily, so, for me, it’s really the best sweetener for culinary use.
Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. The darker the syrup, the stronger the flavor (so in most recipes it’s best to use the light-coloured
milder type). It’s important to note that many brands of agave nectar do undergo some commercial processing before they're distributed to consumers, so it is best to buy only certified organic agave syrup.
You can use it as a sweetener in cold drinks like iced tea, almond milk, fresh lemonade, smoothies and juices even in cocktails! Also use it in tea or coffee, add it to granola, or use it as a topping over yoghurt or ice cream. I replace sugar with agave syrup in desserts, cakes and cookies. I love it in salad dressings and sauces and use it a lot in raw desserts and especially in the chocolates I make, because the taste is milder than honey or maple syrup and it’s got the right consistency to blend well.

Here is a list of benefits of agave syrup:

•    It has a low glycemic index.
This means that when consumed, it won't cause a sharp rise or fall in blood sugar and is appropriate for type II diabetis.
Here is a list of sweeteners and corresponding glycemic values. The higher the value, the bigger the impact on blood sugar. 

Glycemic Values
Organic agave nectar 27
Fructose (fruit sugar) 32
Honey 83
High fructose corn syrup 89
Sugar 92
Glucose 137 

•    It has anti-inflammatory and immune system boosting properties.
Agave syrup contains saponins, which are also found in quinoa and many plant roots, including ginseng. Saponins have anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting properties, including antimicrobial capability. In fact, the Aztecs used agave syrup to treat wounds because of its antibacterial properties. 

•    It is effective in weight-loss.
 It contains fructans (a type of fiber) called inulins. Studies suggest that inulin can be effective in weight loss because of its low impact on blood sugar and its ability to increase satiety and decrease appetite. However, agave syrup has more calories than sugar so you shouldn’t eat large quantities of it. 

•    It is effective in lowering cholesterol (due to its content of inulin).
•    It increases the absorption of nutrients, such as isoflavones, calcium and magnesium (due to its content of inulin). 

•    It can be effective in treating colon diseases such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.
•    It is a great, safe sweetener for children.

It is 100% natural and contains about 90% fructose, the same natural sweetener found in most fruit.
•    It is often recommended for anti-candida yeast diets. 

•    It is a great substitute of sugar. 
It has a lighter texture and a milder flavor than honey or maple syrup. This makes it more flexible and can be adapted in most recipes. Since agave syrup is sweeter than sugar, you should always use a bit less than the quantity of sugar given in recipes.

Resourses: (photo)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Natural Anti-Mosquito Body Oil and Spray Recipes

Mosquitoes are a nightmare! The problem is that most mosquito repellents are full of chemicals, smell unpleasantly or don’t work effectively. The truth is it’s actually really easy to make your own natural mosquito repellent thanks to essential oils! I prefer buying good quality organic essential oils that you can find in most organic or health stores as well as in pharmacies.  It’s recommended to store them in a cool and dark place (that will retard the oxidation of the oils) and make sure you always keep them securely closed. You must always follow the diluting instructions and never use them straight on the skin (with the exception of lavender and tea-tree essential oils). Also beware that certain essential oils are forbidden during pregnancy (and during the first three months it's best to avoid all of them), so when you are not sure, you should ask the advice of a specialist. Below you’ll find two easy-to-make recipes, which can also be suitable for young children, when you adjust the doses of the essential oils.   Cedarwood, lemongrass, geranium and basil essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy, so don't use these recipes while pregnant!

Anti-Mosquito Body Oil
80 ml almond oil or jojoba oil (for more oily skin types)
25 ml grape-seed oil 

10 drops eucalyptus essential oil 
10 drops cedarwood essential oil  
5 drops tea-tree essential oil 
5 drops basil essential oil 
5 drops lemongrass essential oil

Blend all the ingredients well and keep your mosquito repellent oil in a dark glass container. I use spray bottles (the dark blue or brown ones), which make the application on the skip much easier and it’s handy to carry around. Just be careful not to stain your clothes! This oil blend, apart from being 100% natural and effective, it also nourishes and hydrates the skin!
Important note:
If you want to make this oil suitable for children aged 3 years and over,  then you must keep the amount of base oil and use half the quantity of essential-oil drops given in the recipe above.
If you want to make it for babies or children up to 3 years old, then again you must keep the base oils as they are and use ¼ of the quantity of essential-oil drops given in the recipe.

Anti-mosquito body spray
½ cup vegetable glycerin (I prefer organic)
½ cup vodka
2 tablespoons calendula oil
20 drops cedarwood essential oil
10 drops tea-tree essential oil
10 drops mint essential oil
10 drops geranium essential oil

Mix all the ingredients well and store in a dark-glass spray bottle.
Important note:
If you want to make this oil suitable for children aged 3 years and over, you must keep the quantity of glycerin and vodka given in the recipe above, and use half the number of
drops of the essential oils.