Nutri Ninja Blender (Sponsored Post)

As a participant of the 2014 IFBC (International Food Bloggers Conference) I was invited by the folks at Ninja to review their blender. They provided me with a blender, and I was happy to test it out. I received no compensation and as always, the opinions expressed here are my own.

nutri ninja blender

The Nutri Ninja® | Ninja® Blender DUO™ With Auto-iQ™

When I contemplate adding another appliance to my already overstocked kitchen, many thoughts go through my mind. Will I have the room for it? Will it make my life easier? Will I use it enough to justify the real estate it will occupy in my cupboard or on my counter? Since I already had a blender that I don’t use that much, I wasn’t sure that I needed another one. It wasn’t until I unboxed my Nutri Ninja Blender that I realized that this is no ordinary blender. After a month of use, I am happy to share my thoughts and experiences with you.

My first impression was that it is a beautiful machine. That shouldn’t matter as long as it does a good job, but if it is going to sit on the counter, it should look good too. It’s also heavy! That’s probably due to the 1300-watt motor that powers it. This hefty motor drives the unique Total Crushing® blades in this blender that are the reason the Nutri Ninja is go good at what it does. The Ninja felt solid and well made. I was impressed that not only did it come with a large 72-ounce capacity pitcher for big jobs, but it also included two smaller cups (24 and 32 ounce). These smaller cups (for preparing individual or small servings) come with a separate blade and include two snap-on lids. The snap-on lids make it possible to blend a drink, pop on the lid and be on your way. Since my workday starts early, this feature is very welcome. Within minutes I can blend up a delicious smoothie and have no mess to clean up (or have one waiting for me when I get home).

To put the Ninja to its first test, I decided to revive an old favorite ‘Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup’ recipe. I make this soup frequently when the weather gets cold, and I wanted to see if I could simplify the recipe and still get great results (if not better). In the original recipe, I used a whole butternut squash. It had to be cut, roasted, scooped and simmered with other vegetables, and then blended with a hand blender or in two batches using a conventional blender. After a bit of tinkering, I tried out my modified recipe using the Ninja. I was very impressed! The soup came out much better in the Ninja, incredibly smooth and silky and thicker. The large 74-ounce pitcher did a fantastic job, and it was big enough to do the entire pot of soup at once. I include the recipe here. You can have a look at the old recipe here, but I will be making the new improved version in the future.

Butternut squash chipotle soup

Cream of Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup

Cream of Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubed
  • 1 20 oz package pre-cut fresh butternut squash
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 28-32 oz. stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-teaspoon salt
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, and another 1/2 cup for garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Over a medium high heat sauté the celery, carrots and onions in a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently until the vegetables start to soften, but do not brown. Add the potatoes and garlic and sauté a few more minutes. Add the butternut squash and enough stock to just barely cover the contents of the pot. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the squash is very soft (about 40-45 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool (about 30 minutes at least). When the soup has cooled, pour it into the Ninja 72 ounce pitcher, place the lid on, and press the ‘Auto IQ Puree’ button. The Ninja will blend the soup and shut off automatically. Return the soup the pot. You can finish the soup by bringing it to just under a boil and add the sour cream and heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

After trying out the large pitcher, I was eager to check out the small cups. For a while now I have wanted to start my day with a smoothie, but because I start so early there never seemed to be enough time. The Nutri Ninja inspired me to give it a shot. I got in the habit of preparing the ingredients for my smoothie right in the cup the night before and putting it in the fridge. In the morning all I had to do was put in a little ice and blend them. Very simple! The cup would come off the machine; the blade would go in the dishwasher, the cap went on the cup and I was out the door. I tried out a few different recipes in the book, but lately I have enjoyed experimenting with my own combinations. Usually, regardless of what I put in, the results are tasty, with some combinations working better than others. The book that came with the Ninja was a great place to start. In addition to numerous recipes, there was also a lot of great information plus a flavor chart of tasty suggested combinations. I was impressed with the cookbook. The largest portion was expectedly devoted to juice drinks. There were also chapters on ‘Infused Waters and Teas’, ‘Breakfast’, ‘Soups Sauces and Entree’s’, ‘Entertaining’, and ‘Desert Treats’. In addition to all the great recipes, there was lots of great advice and tips for healthier eating, maximizing nutrition and much more.

Another great aspect of the Nutri Ninja is the Auto-iQ™ feature. I thought at first this sounded a little gimmicky but it truly is a great feature. This feature essentially is multiple automated programs built into the blender that takes all the guesswork out of how long you need to blend a recipe. At the push of a button, the Ninja will select the speed and time needed to blend everything perfectly. It will also stop and start again to allow the contents to fall back down for even and thorough blending. It is scary that this blender might be smarter than me at 5AM! In addition to being smart, it is a great time saver! All you need to do is push a button and walk away.

nutri ninja blender

Other great features include:

  • Suction cups to keep it firmly in place on the counter
  • Intelligent Auto-iQ™ feature
  • Safety features like locking cup/pitcher and caps.
  • Easy pour feature on the pitcher cap.
  • Total Crushing® Technology for the best blending I’ve ever seen
  • All the parts are dishwasher safe
  • BPA free

Pros In addition to all the great features I have already mentioned, this is a great all-purpose blender. It does a great job on anything you want to put in there from ice to cooked vegetables. I love the large 72-ounce pitcher plus the smaller cups are great for lesser jobs and to make individual servings.

Cons It’s large! If you are planning on keeping it on the counter under a cabinet, you might want to measure it first. It fits great with the smaller cup but not with the 72-ouncer. This wasn’t even an issue for me because I don’t keep any appliances on the counter anyway. I can honestly say that I couldn’t find anything else with this machine that I would change.

The Slanted Door

 

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The Slanted Door, a cookbook by Charles Phan

I was thrilled when Charles Phan released his first book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking”, that introduced his reader to the world of Vietnamese food. The book, published in 2012, was heavy on technique and went in depth with the description of the ingredients that make up this fabulous cuisine. It was a primer course, if you will, complete with a comprehensive glossary and detailed instructions that still managed to remain personal and intimate. As a long time fan of ‘The Slanted Door’ I was delighted again this year to find that Charles has released a second book titled “The Slanted Door” that is dedicated to this beloved San Francisco institution. As the name would suggest this book is all about the restaurant.

‘The Slanted Door’ restaurant has received numerous accolades over the years including the 2014 James Beard Award for “Outstanding Restaurant of the Year”. Critics love it and diners have made it the highest grossing independently owned restaurant in the country. If you love eating like I do, or if you’ve never gone to the restaurant but want to share the magic, then this is the book you need to have.

The first thing I noticed about the book is that it’s a great looking book (not unlike its namesake). It would look as good on the coffee table as it would on the shelf. However, if all you do is admire it on the coffee table you are making an egregious error, because so much of the great food that we have come to love at the restaurant is in the book! I’ve always thought that ‘The Slanted Door’ perfectly reflects all that is good about the San Francisco Bay Area food scene. The menu was groundbreaking but still managed to stay true to its roots maintaining an emphasis on local fresh ingredients to create heathy, balanced, exciting and original offerings. If he didn’t invent modern Vietnamese cuisine, Mr. Phan pioneered it. Fans of the restaurant will be happy to see that many of the most popular dishes are in the book. Dishes like ‘Caramelized Chicken Claypot’ and ‘Shaking Beef’, as well as relatively new dishes like the ‘Roasted Mushroom and Yuba Salad’, have been bringing people back to the restaurant since the beginning. Another favorite included in the book is the ‘Vegetarian Imperial Rolls’ along with the subtle tips that make them consistently crunchy. The recipes are all well written and easy to follow particularly if you are already familiar with some of the more exotic ingredients you will need. If you are completely new to this type of cuisine, you may want to start out with Charles’ first book, ‘Vietnamese Home Cooking’, as an introductory course. Then again, maybe you won’t…one look at the beautiful photography by Ed Anderson will more than likely have you running to the kitchen to get started.

Another groundbreaking aspect of ‘The Slanted Door’ experience has been its wine pairing which is touched upon in the book. When the restaurant’s location was moved from the Mission to Brannan Street, cocktails became an integral part of the ‘Slanted Door’ experience. In addition to the great advice on pairing Asian food with wine, there is also a chapter dedicated to cocktails. Here you will find familiar Slanted Door favorites like ‘Ginger Limeade’ (made with Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka from St George Spirits in Alameda). I was also pleased to see the ‘Mai Tai’ recipe that was originally invented in Oakland, California in 1944 at ‘Trader Vic’s’ (although oft times disputed). The cocktail chapter also features many of the restaurant’s desserts. Anyone not familiar with ‘The Slanted Door’ might be surprised to find that the desserts are not Asian at all. ‘Crème brûlée’, ‘Chocolate Soufflé Cake’, and ‘No-Bake Cheesecake with Walnut Cookie-Brown Butter Crust’ all seem to be a throwback to Vietnam’s imperial history with the French. This east-west fusion can be seen in other recipes as well such as the ‘Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce’. In this dish, traditional Asian ingredients are wonderfully balanced by the introduction of butter. This perfect union between east and west is one of my favorite characteristics of Vietnamese food.

For someone with no formal chef training, Charles Phan has become a remarkable success and inspiration. This book is a chronicle of his journey from the humble beginnings on Valencia Street to its present location in the San Francisco Ferry Building. If all the book contained were great recipes that would have been enough. But what really made this book fun to read was learning all the background on the many great dishes I have enjoyed for years and hearing some of the great stories that have gifted San Francisco with this wonderful restaurant.
Pros: Great looking book, well written recipes, inspirational food and beverages. A must for fans of the restaurant.
Cons: Not a great start for people unfamiliar with Asian cuisine and ingredients, but nothing Google couldn’t solve.

Bottom Line: This book is much more than a pretty face. I’m sure the recipes in here will fast become part of my regular repertoire. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

the slanted door

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. The opinions and views that I have expressed are my own.

Spicy Satay Quinoa

Spicy satay quinoa

Spicy Satay Quinoa

While I usually like to think of myself as someone on the cutting edge (usually) sometimes I’ve been known to miss the boat (sometimes). That is the case when it comes to quinoa. It seems like it went to ‘never heard of it’ to ‘sick and tired of it’ overnight. I finally got around to trying it in the form of a flavored box mix I had picked up somewhere that looked good but tasted awful. After that dreadful experience I put it on the back burner. I just went on with life continuing to scratch my head over the popularity of this quaint little grain. Then over the summer we had a couple of visitors and I was forced to give it another try. Our friends Eli and Miri were here from Israel and Miri wanted to make some quinoa for us. As you can imagine I was a little less than enthusiastic. Miri made it very simply by sautéing a mirepoix of aromatic vegetables, adding some water, a bouillon cube and the quinoa. Happily, instead of having to figure how I was going to choke it down, I was treated to a light, healthy and delicious dish. It was ready in no time and everyone, including myself, loved it. I was amazed at how easy it was to prepare and wondered why anyone would ever bother with a mix. In addition to tasting good it is also considered a superfood, high in protein and gluten-free. It is easy to digest and is a great source of dietary fiber and phosphorous as well as being high in magnesium and iron.

After our friends left we continued to make it just the way Miri taught us. However, we eventually got braver and began experimenting with the recipe a little more each time we made it. Quinoa is like a blank canvas that is begging to soak up any flavor and texture that you want to add to it. It was after a long day at work that I was in the mood to eat some Thai food but not in the mood to cook it. I was staring at the huge bag of quinoa in the pantry and suddenly became inspired. I continued scrambling in my pantry for some coconut milk, curry paste and peanut butter. The results were fantastic! We loved the combination of flavors and continued to make this “new quinoa recipe” over and over until we got it down perfectly. If you like Thai Satay you are going to love this dish. One component of this dish that elevates it is the sweet and sour cucumber. Although it sounds like a bit of work it is easy to make. The quinoa is still great without it, but I am begging you to try it with the sweet and sour cucumbers. You will be glad you did.

Enjoy.

Spicy satay quinoa

Sweet and Sour Cucumbers

Spicy Satay Quinoa

Spicy Satay Quinoa

Ingredients

  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 rib of celery, diced
  • 1-2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 rounded teaspoon red curry paste*
  • 2 rounded tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 1 bouillon cube (chicken or vegetable) dissolved in 1 1/4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed Thai Basil, chopped (chiffonade)
  • 1 cup of dry quinoa
  • Sriracha Sauce for garnish (optional)
  • For the Sweet and Sour Cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 cup of cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

Instructions

Begin by preparing the cucumber relish. Cut the cucumber and red onion and place in a small bowl. Combine the vinegar, sugar and hot water and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour over the cucumber and red onion and set aside. For the quinoa begin by cutting the carrot, pepper, celery and onion into a ¼ inch dice and sauté in 1-2 tablespoons oil until soft and beginning to brown. Add the chopped garlic and continue to sauté for a couple more minutes. Push the vegetables over to one side of the pan and add the curry paste. Fry the paste for a minute or so being careful not to burn it. Stir in the peanut butter and blend with the other ingredients in the pan. Add the water and bouillon, coconut milk and lime juice and bring to a boil. Add the quinoa, give it a stir, and return to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Do not lift the lid until at least 15 minutes or so to check on it. After that it is ok to stir if necessary to prevent sticking or scorching the bottom. After 20 minutes taste for doneness. Plate and serve with Sweet and Sour Cucumbers.

*Most Thai red curry pastes are not vegetarian. Thai Kitchen brand is and it is easy to find in many major supermarkets.

Spicy satay quinoa

A note from Tim: most Thai red curry pastes are not vegetarian. Thai Kitchen brand is and it is easy to find in many major supermarkets. Use a vegetarian bouillon cube to keep this dish vegetarian.

IFBC 2014

IFBC 2014

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I wanted to quote ‘Oliver”and entitle this post “Food Glorious Food!”, but I’m guessing that line has already been used about a million times already. If ever there was a weekend where it applied though, last weekend was it. For a second year in a row I attended the IFBC (International Food Blogging Conference) in Seattle. I’ve gone to quite a few different food conferences/events in the past, but I can honestly say that IFBC is my favorite. Once again I got so much out of it by acquiring new knowledge, new ideas, new friends and a renewed enthusiasm.

knee high stocking company The conference started on Friday, but I decided to get to town early to see Seattle and have a couple of days to relax and explore. I also wanted the chance to get together with a couple of friends from IFBC 2013. My friend Mary from ‘Fervent Foodie’ invited me to dinner along with Jenifer from ‘Cocoa Nib’. We were joined by two new friends, Nichole from ‘Gap Creek Gourmet’ and Jill from ‘Eating My Words’. We had dinner at ‘How To Cook A Wolf’ in the Queen Anne section of Seattle. The name is a reference to the MFK Fisher book about inspiring courage in time of wartime shortages. Ethan and Angela Stowell have created a menu consisting of small rustic plates that take advantage of local seasonal ingredients. Everything we ate was delicious and well thought out. I could have stayed all night, but instead we headed over to ‘Knee High Stocking Company.’ We were not, as you might imagine, shopping for hosiery…quite the contrary. Knee High Stocking Company is a speakeasy. Like the speakeasies of yore, you need to find the unmarked door and ring a bell to get in. You also need to have a reservation. The only thing you don’t need is a password (I think they should institute that). The cocktail menu is long and full of interesting and appealing old school cocktails with a modern twist. The space is intimate, cozy and comfortable. It was like relaxing in someone’s living room, but no one I know makes cocktails like that. Another of my other pre-conference meals included a great bowl of noodles from ‘Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant’. Long Provincial has a very extensive menu that I would have loved to dive into; unfortunately, one of the snags of dining alone is not being able to order everything you want. I don’t always mind eating alone…sometimes a little down time before a busy conference is a welcome contrast. Such was the case with my meal at ‘Pintxo’, a charming tapas restaurant not far from the ‘Westin’. I sat and drank a very respectable house red wine while ordering little plates until I couldn’t eat anymore. I really enjoyed the quiet rustic interior, and every dish I ate was a hit. I could only stand so much relaxation before it was off to the conference.

ifbc 2014

The conference opened with best selling cookbook authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Karen and Andrew are true visionaries. Their work has always been one step ahead of everyone else’s. They were on the forefront in the early days of the Internet, using the new technology to share their ideas and passion about food before anyone else did. They continue to be ahead of the curve and their insight into the way food is continuing to evolve was interesting and welcome. With barely time to catch a breath, we went on to the next speaker, Todd Coleman, who is the creative director of ‘Tasting Table’ and co-founder of ‘Delicious Contents’. I thoroughly enjoyed Todd’s presentation where he shared his modern and unique approach to food photography. His use of simple items like tin foil and flashlights, unexpected backgrounds and interesting textures was truly inspiring. The breakneck pace continued with a cooking demonstration from Seattle’s own Thierry Rautureau, the ‘Chef in the Hat’. Thierry’s session was both amusing and informative. He demonstrated how to elevate a few simple ingredients into a first class meal while dropping tip after useful tip throughout his presentation. Afternoon sessions included something for everyone with topics ranging from food, tech, writing and an informative look into one of my favorite subjects, the wines of Bordeaux.

ifbc 2014 thierry rautureau

Cooking demo with Thierry Rautureau

I think everyone’s favorite part of the conference was the Gourmet Fair. Local restaurants were out to impress with scrumptious offerings, local vintners poured memorable wine and martinis were flowing courtesy of ‘Lindsey Olives’. This was a great way to unwind and socialize after a long day as well as network with fellow bloggers and brands. Here I am just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Sunday-morning breakfast was provided by ‘Bigelow Tea’ and was followed by more sessions on writing and technology. At noon the conference drew to a close, which was all too fast and soon for me. The IFBC 2015 conference will return to Seattle again next September. Registration is open and I have it on my calendar. Thank you Seattle and IFBC. See you next year!

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Panzanella

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Panzanella

“You say tomato, and I like tomahto…”
                                    George and Ira Gershwin

Have you gotten your share of ‘tomahtoes’ yet? I haven’t. It is my favorite late summer treat and I can’t seem to get enough of them. Since they are generally lousy the rest of the year, I am making every effort to eat as many as I can now. It is almost as if those off season red orbs in the market are not even the same vegetable (or fruit to be precise). Now that they are in the peak of the season there are a few dishes that show them off better than any others. A BLT is one; so is a Caprese Salad. Panzanella is another. This unassuming salad originated in Tuscany…no doubt invented because some Italian wasn’t about to waste some day old bread because it was a little dry. I thank him or her for for that! Panzanella combines three of my favorite ingredients… tomatoes, basil and bread. For the basic version, day old bread is combined with chopped tomatoes, basil, oil and vinegar to make a hearty rustic salad. There are endless variations and other ingredients that turn up in Panzanella as well. I prefer to keep it simple adding only onions, capers, cucumbers and sometimes cheese. Shaved Parmesan is good and so is fresh mozzarella. Olives, celery, tuna, anchovies and many other possibilities could also round out this versatile dish. The key to this salad (as it is with any simple salad) is to use nothing but the best ingredients you can find. It is only going to be as good as the tomatoes, bread, olive oil and vinegar you use. So far I have been getting plenty of good tomatoes from my neighbors (God bless them) as well as loading up on good heirlooms from my local farmer. For the bread, I have become a little obsessed with Acme ‘Pain au Levain’, my bread of choice lately. For vinegar, I like a good red wine or Champagne vinegar. Balsamic is good as well, but things tend to get a little too dark for me. Fantastic olive oil just goes without saying as does good kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. If you are fresh out of stale bread, you will have to “stale-idify’ some which is easier than it sounds. Hardly anyone follows a recipe when making a salad and I strongly urge you to just start tossing one up and tasting it all along as you go. If you need to see it in black and white, I’ll have a recipe at the bottom of my post. Let’s get started!

We are starting with a fresh loaf of Acme ‘Pain au Levain’. I am using a fresh loaf so it is going to need to be ‘stale-idified’. Cube it and toss it in a little olive oil and bake in a 250°until it is dry, but not toasted. Remember that the cubed bread will expand when it soaks up the dressing so don’t make them too big. Remove and cool.

I am using heirlooms from the local market and a few from my neighbors yard. Cut them into uneven bite size chunks. I am even adding a few cherry tomatoes.

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Place the tomatoes and cucumbers in a bowl and toss with capers, sliced onions, basil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I like to do this about 15-20 minutes before tossing the salad. The salt will bring out a lot of juice from the tomatoes, and all the flavors will have a chance to get to know one another.

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Just before you are ready to serve, toss the salad with the bread. It is ready to serve once the bread has soaked up some of the dressing.

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Panzanella

Panzanella

Ingredients

  • 3-4 thick slices of day old rustic bread, cubed
  • 2 pounds tomatoes cut into 1-inch chunks
  • ¼ cup cucumber, sliced
  • ¼ medium size sweet red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 5-6 basil leaves, sliced thin (chiffonade)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Olive oil (another two teaspoons if you are using fresh bread)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

Cut bread into uneven ¾ inch cubes. If you are using fresh bread, toss it with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, place it on a sheet pan and put it in a 250° oven for about 10-15 minutes. Remove and set aside. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and let rest for 15-20 minutes. When you are ready to serve, toss in the bread, mix well and serve immediately.

A note from Tim: I could not keep this blog going without the support from my partner Paul. Paul was particularly helpful with his contribution to this post which includes some of the photography.  Thank you Paul for all the things you do!