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.

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My husband is a chips and salsa fiend. One of the biggest challenges I had when we moved in together was finding enough shelf space for his tortilla chips in our limited pantry. He’ll eat them after a run, to tide himself over before dinner is ready, as a midnight snack . . . if we don’t have at least two full bags of tortilla chips on hand, something is seriously wrong.

More often than not, he’s content to scoop up a store-bought variety of salsa, as he did for years before we got together. But when I’ve got the extra time, I love making him a batch of homemade salsa. Usually, it’s my Roasted Tomato and Pepita Salsa, his hands-down favorite.

This recipe is a new contender for the top spot. There’s no cooking required — it’s just a bowlful of lightly dressed diced seasonal fruits and vegetables, perfect for summer days when you don’t want to turn on the heat. Start with a perfectly sweet nectarine (ripe but still firm), a golden yellow pineapple, and crisp red onion and bell pepper and fresh cilantro, then season the mixture with chili paste, agave nectar, and rice vinegar. And that’s it. In as long as it takes you to dice the produce, you’ve made a perfect summer salsa for dipping chips, topping grilled fish and chicken, and spooning onto tacos and tostadas.
Summer Fruit Salsa (printer-friendly version)

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup diced pineapple
1 nectarine, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium red onion, diced, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon sambal oelek chili paste
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

In a medium mixing bowl, toss ingredients together to combine evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.


Plantation® Peat Pellet Greenhouse

Plantation® Peat Pellet Greenhouse

Plantation® Peat Pellet Greenhouse

I don’t have the greenest of thumbs, but my husband does — this week, I was so excited to see little green shoots coming up from these Peat Pellets! They come with their own little “greenhouse” — it’s a small (11-inch square), clear-lidded tray that helps trap in warmth and moisture, allowing seedlings to thrive. My husband planted a few jalapeño and cilantro seeds, and we can’t wait until we’re ready to harvest some peppers and herbs. When they’re big and strong enough, we’ll be transferring our seedlings outside to larger, modular raised garden boxes. You can just nestle the whole pellet into potting soil, making for an easy transplant.

Cascade Ice Organic Citrus Twist

Cascade Ice Organic Citrus Twist

Cascade Ice

These are super refreshing! The carbonation level is just right, which is nice since I’ve often found sparkling waters to be too bubbly for my taste. My favorite was the Citrus Twist flavor, which I enjoyed on its own, as well as mixed with cranberry juice for a mocktail treat.


EcoJarz Small Mouth Silicone Drinktop and Stainless Steel Straw

EcoJarz Small Mouth Silicone Drinktop and Stainless Steel Straw


Speaking of that mocktail, I enjoyed it in a stylish and functional jar-turned-drinking-glass, thanks to some fun new accessories from EcoJarz. The silicone lid sits on top of a standard mason jar (they also have a size for wide-mouth jars if you prefer), and the screw-top band holds it in place. They also sell stainless steel straws, a fantastic alternative to the disposable kind. I’ve been taking my little EcoJar with me all over the place, and it’s encouraging me to sip more water during the day. Next week, I’ll be reviewing some of their other products, including a genius little whisking attachment — stay tuned!


Nutiva O'Coconut Snacks

Nutiva O’Coconut Snacks

Nutiva O’Coconut Snacks

Nutiva has been making great coconut oil for some time, but more recently they’ve gotten into the snack game as well. I’m so glad they did, because I absolutely love their O’Coconut bites. They remind me of macaroons (the Passover ones, not the dainty French variety), except with a fresher, cleaner coconut flavor. At 60 calories each, they’re just big enough to satisfy a sweet craving. They come in two varieties, Classic and Hemp & Chia, which has a little extra crunch from the seeds.


Among Friends Gluten Free Double Chocolate Cookies

Among Friends Gluten Free Double Chocolate Cookies

Among Friends Gluten-Free Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I whipped up a batch of these for a ladies’ get-together, and they were a big hit. More like a brownie bite than a cookie, they cook up soft and a little chewy. The flavor is rich and super-chocolatey. Oh, and they took me about 20 minutes to make, from start to finish — you just add eggs and butter to the mix, stir it into a dough, roll into balls, and bake. Among Friends, you’ve got a winner here! Next time, I think I’ll push the dough into a mini-muffin pan for brownie bite-like treats.


Vegan Strawberry Orange Julius Smoothie

Vegan Strawberry Orange Julius Smoothie

Nielsen Massey Orange Extract

I’d used Nielsen Massey’s vanillas before, but the orange extract was new to me. I decided to try it out in my recipe for a summer smoothie, the Vegan Strawberry Orange Julius. The orange extract really helped bump up the flavor, eliminating the need for tons of extra sweetener. Next, I’ll have to try it out in a shortbread recipe (thanks to Cheryl for that idea!).


Le Creuset 3 1/2-Quart Oval Dutch Oven

Le Creuset 3 1/2-Quart Oval Dutch Oven

Le Creuset Oval Dutch Oven

This thing is so darned cute. Thank you, Aunt Janet, for getting us such a beautiful wedding present! I just love the even heat, easy-to-clean enamel interior, and perfectly classic Flame color of my new Le Creuset 3 1/2 Quart Oval Dutch Oven.

For a first recipe in this pretty pot, I made a simple but flavorful lentil soup. I look forwared to baking breads, simmering stews and braises, and putting together some delicious vegetable tians this summer!


TruRoots Sprouted Green Lentils

TruRoots Sprouted Green Lentils

TruRoots Sprouted Organic Lentils

I’m always looking for new sources of vegetarian protein to incorporate into my diet. When I spotted these sprouted lentils at the Winter Fancy Food Show, I was happy to take a bag home! They reminded me of my college days, when I’d always have a jar of sprouting mung beans or lentils out on the counter, waiting to be folded into salads and stir-fries. Check out my review over at The Kitchen for more info on how to prepare them — they’re ready in about 10 minutes.


Taylor Organic Prune Extract

Taylor Organic Prune Extract

Taylor Organic Prune Extract

It seems like there are tons of natural sweeteners coming out these days. Prune extract is one of my recent favorites — it’s just prunes in liquid form. With a thick, syrupy consistency, it’s great for making your own plum sauce, adding a dose of sweetness (along with iron and potassium) to smoothies, and mixing into barbecue marinades. I used mine for a stirfry of ground turkey, mushrooms, and carrots, and it gave the ingredients a beautiful glossy sheen and lots of flavor. Served on lettuce cups, it was a great light lunch.

Whether I’m sent a product free of charge or have purchased it myself, all opinions are my own. Samples provided by Cascade Ice, EcoJarz, Nutiva, Nielsen Massey, TruRoots, and Taylor Brothers Farms.


We always keep a supply of romaine lettuce in the fridge, since it is one of the low-calorie snacks that calms down our crazy beagle when he’s on a barking tirade. This week, I decided I wanted to get to the lettuce before he ate it all up, so I came up with this simple stir-fry and served it on whole leaves. They’re sturdy enough that you can eat them taco style, but you can also make more delicate wraps with red leaf or butter lettuce if you prefer.

If you have difficulty tracking down wood ear or shiitake mushrooms in their fresh form, you can find them sold dried online (this packet will last you quite a while!), or at any Chinese grocery store. Just rehydrate them in warm water for an hour or so, until they are soft and pliable through and through.

Oh, and this stir-fry is super-versatile, too. If you’d like to serve it as a more filling main dish, spoon a cup or so over a bowl of soba noodles or brown rice.


Spicy Turkey Lettuce Boats (printer-friendly version)

Serves 4


1 head romaine lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed and dried

For the sauce:

3 tablespoons plum sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sambal oelek
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

For the stir-fry:

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped finely
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, chopped finely
3 ounces wood ear mushrooms, chopped finely
1 pound ground turkey breast

2 green onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly


In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients and set aside.

In a large (12-inch) skillet, heat one tablespoon of the canola oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, about one minute.

Add the carrots and sauté until slightly softened, about five minutes. Add the shiitake and wood ear mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms have shrunken considerably, about 15 minutes. Don’t worry if some golden browned bits are beginning to stick to the skillet — the sauce will help you scrape those up later.

Scoot the sautéed vegetables to the edges of the skillet. Add the remaining tablespoon of canola oil to the skillet, then add the ground turkey breast on top of the oil, breaking it up with a spatula. Sauté the turkey until it is completely cooked through, continuing to break it up as it browns, about 10 minutes.

Add the reserved sauce and green onions to the skillet. Stir everything together until the turkey and vegetables are thoroughly mixed and coated evenly with sauce.

Spoon onto lettuce leaves and serve immediately. Alternately, you can serve bowls of the stir-fry with lettuce leaves alongside for your guests to assemble.

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.


This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Organic Choice for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

In my last post featuring Miracle-Gro Organic Choice line of products, I told you all about my plans to create a little herb garden, and I’m happy to say I did just that. A couple months ago, I headed over to my local nursery and purchased a pretty planter, along with organic seedlings of rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme.
Planting the herb garden was super-easy. I filled up the planter about a third of the way with potting soil, nestled the seedlings in gently, and then added more soil to fill up the planter. Next, I sprinkled a couple tablespoons of plant food evenly over the top and used my fingers to mix it into the first inch or so of soil. Finally, I watered the plants. It seriously couldn’t have been easier, well, except for keeping my busy-body beagle from eating the plant food and digging everything up.
For a little while, the herb garden had a place indoors, sitting in the sunny window of our living room. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, it began to attract tiny winged creatures (fruit flies, maybe?), so I had to relegate it to the backyard. Luckily, it’s been thriving out there. The sage, thyme, and oregano are super happy, but the rosemary is a little brown in places — I may replant it in the ground and replace it with another herb if it gets any sadder. But hey, 3 for 4 ain’t bad, especially for my first try at organic gardening!
I’ve been snipping fresh herbs into lots of recipes lately. Cooking from Eggs On Top, I made Sage-Brown Butter Eggs with my Berggarten Sage. Fresh thyme has found its way into pasta salads and vegetable sautés. And as for the oregano, I just love how it pairs with crimini mushrooms in this simple pasta recipe, the perfect thing to throw together on a weeknight after a long day.
Weeknight Pasta with Mushrooms and Oregano
Serves 2.
4 ounces spaghetti (whole wheat or regular variety)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/8” thick
1 5-inch sprig fresh oregano, destemmed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup marinara sauce
1. In a medium (2-quart) saucepan, boil a quart of water seasoned with one heaping teaspoon of sea salt.
2. While the pasta water comes to a boil, sauté your mushrooms: In a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add the oregano and sea salt and saute for another 2 minutes, until aromatic.
3. While you are sautéing the mushrooms, boil the spaghetti according to package directions, until just al dente.
4. Drain the pasta, but not too thoroughly — leave a little bit of water to help bind with the tomato sauce. Add the pasta and marinara sauce to the skillet with the mushrooms, turn off the heat, toss to combine, and serve.
Have you ever grown an organic harvest using Miracle Gro Organic Choice products? It’s easy — you can find tons of useful instructions and information at Miracle-Gro Learn And Grow. Tell me all about what you’ve grown, or what you’re planning to plant this summer!

Visit Sponsor's Site

Check out some of my latest recipes over at The Kitchn and Garlic Gold®! Here’s a roundup of my favorite recent creations.

  1. Braised Fennel and Shallots
  2. Southwest Breakfast Tacos with Garlic Scrambled Eggs
  3. Quick Coconut Chicken Soup
  4. Ground Turkey Sloppy Joes
  5. Garlic Deviled Eggs
  6. Lamb Meatballs with Lemon Sauce
  7. Spring Vegetable Medley with Fresh Thyme
  8. Barbecue Tempeh and Chickpeas
  9. Farro Spinach Chicken Bake
  10. Whole Wheat Turkey Wraps with Garlic Sauce

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

-Coco a.k.a. Opera Girl