Smoothie Hack: Freezing Bananas

Frozen Bananas

We love smoothies around here, and make them almost daily and sometimes twice daily.  Our favorites almost always involve bananas, and frozen bananas in particular make for a creamy base. Recently, since the addition of a fancy, high-powered blender to our household (yay!), I have been freezing bananas in batches to keep up with our demand for them.  I freeze them in chunks, and had been doing so in bowls and freezer bags; however, the problem was that they usually became one sticky chunk of banana, and breaking them apart was difficult.

It then occurred to me to freeze the pieces individually.  I am not sure why I didn’t think of it earlier, since it was something I did frequently when freezing cubes of R’s pureed fruits and veggies five (!) years or so ago.

Bananas on a sheet pan

To freeze: Simply spread the banana chunks on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.  Place in the freezer for 2-3 hours, or until they are frozen solid.  Once they are frozen to your liking, place them in a sealed freezer bag, or your container of choice, and they will be ready for whenever you need them.

It’s a small hack, but I love having a big batch of frozen bananas at the ready.  Happy smoothie making!

A Tale of Two Fishes

If you are more interested in eating delicious cake than creating it, then feel free to move on. However, if like me you are more of an amateur baker and could use a few extra tips, proceed!

kissing-fishes

A few weeks back, a friend of mine asked for some help with her wedding cake. I was little hesitant to say yes, as I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. However, it was a low-key cake for a lovely, low-key wedding, and it seemed like something I could actually do, so I agreed to help.

Our friends had the super-fun and playful idea of having two kissing fishes for their cake.  I worked off a template of a fish cake made from cupcakes and a smaller, divided 6-inch cake. (I love the concept of cupcake cakes; they are adorable, and you can just pull them apart! Plus, it’s a little like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.)

I love baking, but icing cakes properly has always been tricky for me.  Making them tasty is no problem, but more often than not they do not turn out exactly as I hope (largely due to the dreaded crumb lifting).  Usually this is no big deal, but presentation was obviously important in this case.  I was happy with the results, but there were definitely a few bumps along the way.

Here are a few things I took away from the process (some of them not for the first time!):

Practice ahead of time. Although the cake was a super-simple concept, I decided to make a test fish well ahead of time to see how things went.  I am glad I did, because it took me twice as long as I anticipated, and it turns out that crumb coating and icing a small cake with funny angles and corners is not as straightforward as it looks. Plus, no one in my household would be upset by the presence of extra cake!

test-fish

Batter dispensers are awesome. I stumbled across this handy little tool on clearance and decided to try it out.  I am so glad I did! I had to make a number of cupcakes and mini cupcakes and this sped up the process a lot.  Releasing the pressure on the piping bag immediately stops the flow of batter.  There is the extra step of adding the cake batter to the bag, but the ease of being able to squeeze just the right amount of batter into the pans made it worth it. This was especially helpful with the mini cupcakes where only a tiny amount was needed to fill the cups half way. (Note: The dispensers are inexpensive to begin with, so they are definitely worth trying out.)

batter-dispenser

Resist the urge to overfill cakes pans.  I have always struggled with this, and it’s another good reason to try a test run.  For the 6-inch cakes and all the cupcakes, the half-way mark was perfect. Anything more and you will often end up with a rounded, uneven top layer.

baked-cupcakes

Do not skip the crumb coat, no matter how tempting it is.  The crumb coat is a super-thin layer of icing that is applied to the cake so that the crumbs will adhere to it, helping them stay in place when the final layer is applied. This step feels somewhat frustrating, because it is not supposed to be pretty and it always feels to me like I need to keep picking at it. It is also time consuming, and requires some chilling to set the icing in preparation for the next layer.  But when the final layer goes on so much more smoothly, it is worth it.  Speaking of which…

All these finicky curves and angles need a good crumb coat.
All these finicky curves and angles need a good crumb coat.

Use more icing than you need. Really! When the crumb coat has chilled (I pop the cake in the freezer for about 30 minutes), applying far more icing than you think you need to the top of the cake allows the icing to run down the sides on its own.  This makes for much easier spreading, especially into finicky corners.  Usually, I try to apply it more sparingly which ends up pulling more on the cake, and is more likely to result in crumb lifting.  More icing also means that if you are using a buttercream, it should be easier to smooth it out.  I applied the abundant layer of icing and spread it out with a spatula, and then used a baker’s blade to gently take off the excess.  The blade worked great for smoothing certain areas, too.

final-orange-fish

Prepare icing ahead of time. I made my own buttercream icing (using shortening – ick, but holds up well at room temperature) and had to tint it in several colours.  Buttercream can be made well ahead of time and even frozen for up to three months.  It made life much easier to have the icing prepared and tinted well before the baking began.  Plus, when using colouring gels, the colour of the icing sometimes deepens over time.  So making and tinting at least a day or two in advance allows you to see if you will need to adjust your colouring or not. The icing may separate a little when made ahead, but easily mixes back together.

In addition to making it ahead, I made a couple of extra batches of white icing just in case!

burnt-orange-icing

A hot spatula is a good tool for quick fixes.  With larger cakes, in the past I have used parchment or wax paper and a large spatula to smooth out the icing once it has had time to crust .  This time, though, it was more difficult to do with the small surface area of the cakes as well as the finicky corners.  One tip that worked really well was to take a metal spatula, run it under or dip it in very hot water, then dry it quickly.  Applying the hot spatula gently to the icing allowed me to smooth over some rough patches.

This cake was definitely a bit out of my comfort zone, but it was a fun project to work on!  If you have any additional tips for making the baking process go more smoothly, I would love to hear them.

Homemade Happiness: Iced Coffee

Half-finished iced coffee

While I generally love all things coffee, I have never been a big fan of cold coffee drinks, especially those that are just regular coffee over ice.  I think to me, it feels counterproductive, as I am usually trying to consume my coffee before it gets to that state. (Many moms of small children likely feel me on this one.)

However, on a particularly humid day recently, I found myself ordering an iced coffee instead of my usual hot brew.  To my further surprise, I loved it! It got me wondering how easy it would be to make at home.

In my past experiences trying to reproduce lattes and the like, the results have been disappointing.  (The one exception to this has been the Oh She Glows version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, which I would argue when made as instructed is even better than the original.) Recipes for iced coffee usually call for pre-made coffee concentrate, so I wasn’t sure how this would go.

I loved the way it turned out on the first try, and have made it several times since.

  1. Brew a cup of hot coffee as you normally would.  I use a vanilla-flavored decaf.
  2. Add any sweetener at this point so it can dissolve in the hot liquid.  I add about a teaspoon of honey.
  3. Refrigerate until the coffee has cooled to your liking.  I generally refrigerate overnight.  You could also use the freezer – just don’t forget to keep an eye on it!
  4. Pour the coffee over several ice cubes in a glass.  Add milk or cream to taste, and enjoy!

While pouring coffee over ice doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, apparently a good iced coffee is more straightforward than I thought.  If you like them too, it is worth giving this super-simple method a try.  I have a feeling it will be adding some extra happiness to my summer!

Link Love: 3 Recipes We’ve Been Enjoying this Summer

Three Summer Recipes

Although summer has officially ended, the days are growing shorter and there is a definite chill in the air, I just cannot be sad about the arrive of fall, my favorite season. It is not too late to soak up as much fun and outside time as we can, and now that I have (mostly) gotten the hang of grilling, I intend to enjoy it as long as possible! Our family has been enjoying these easy recipes all summer long, but they are great any time of year.

Cilantro Lime Grilled Shrimp

Cilantro Lime Grilled Shrimp

In keeping with my goal of mastering learning to properly use the barbecue this summer, shrimp were the first thing I tackled. They are extremely easy and quick to cook, and the great thing about shrimp on the grill is that it can literally be done five minutes before you would like to eat.

This marinade from Closet Cooking is tangy, fresh and summery. The first time I made it, I did not have fresh cilantro on hand and used a paste instead – it was still fantastic. Some lime zest as well as juice is awesome, too!

These skewers would be a great appetizer at a barbecue or other get-together and are particularly good with coconut rice. And they are a delicious accompaniment to a summery salad, like this one. But perhaps my favorite thing about this recipe is that you can pair it with just about anything and throw together a meal in no time.

Cilantro Lime Grilled Shrimp

Recipe notes:

  • Don’t forget to soak your wooden skewers in water at least half an hour ahead of time to avoid burning.

Slow Cooker Greek Chicken Pitas

Greek Chicken Pitas

Raise Healthy Eaters is one of my favorite sites to visit for practical, research-based advice on feeding children, and it is also a great source of easy, family-friendly recipes, this one being no exception.

I have been regularly making this yummy chicken pita dish since getting my slow cooker last year. The slow cooker is a great way to infuse flavor and tenderness into otherwise bland and dry chicken breasts, which I often find difficult to cook to my liking. And the addition of broth, herbs and lemon juice give this shredded chicken amazing flavor. I have often made it on its own to have on hand for things like wraps, salad and pizza.

Slow Cooker Greek Chicken Pitas

Additionally, the accompaniments for this recipe (tomato, onion and feta mixture, tzatziki) come together very quickly and are great for using up summer produce. This is a fun meal to serve family-style where everyone can add their own toppings.

I love Greek flavors and these pitas feel like a real treat without being too heavy, plus the slow cooker takes care of the chicken with no need for the oven. Perfect for summer! One of my favorite ways to enjoy this recipe is to skip the pita or bun and serve the chicken and toppings over spinach or other greens. I have also served this to company several times with rave reviews and it is kiddo-approved. (Not by my kiddo yet, although she is happy to dig into the hummus and pita bread!)

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies

blondies2

This is not a ‘summer’ recipe as such, but I’ve made these blondies several times in the past few weeks, and am officially hooked. As a disclaimer, I am all for regular brownies and blondies as part of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle in all their gooey, sugary glory. That said, I do love finding ways to incorporate more wholesome ingredients into baked goods, since there are lots of ways to add moisture, richness and body besides flour, butter and oil. It is also nice to have an arsenal of recipes that are less treat and more snack.

Bottom line: These blondies are good. Chick peas do not immediately spring to mind when thinking of wholesome baking substitutes, largely because they have a relatively dry texture. And I admit that although I love to experiment with beans in baking, I may not have tried these on my own. But after trying some made by a friend of mine I was sold.

The chick peas work surprisingly well! They blend up in the food processor with peanut butter to a hummus-like consistency, and essentially it is hummus with maple syrup added for sweetness. (I have used PB as a tahini substitute in hummus many times, as I am much more likely to have it on hand.) I like the chewy, dense texture of these, and they are especially good chilled.

Flourless PB Choc Chip Blondies

What I especially love about using ingredients like these is that you get a satisfying snack that does not leave you lethargic ten minutes later. The kiddo also loves to help make these and gives them two thumbs up.

Some notes:

  • I used vegan chocolate chips, specifically Enjoy Life Mini Chips, which were great.
  • I did not use the coconut sugar called for and just added a splash of extra maple syrup. These were sweet enough for me, but judge according to your own preferences.
  • Although the recipe states 1 and 1/2 cups of chick peas or one can, my cans yield 2 full cups, and I use the whole thing.

What are some of your favorite summer recipes?

Apple Sauce Four Ways

Apple Sauce 4 Ways!

Apple sauce, for me, falls into a food category where depending on your time, energy, interests and values, it is debatable whether or not it is worth making at home. Sure, purchasing the ingredients and making it from scratch may be cost effective sometimes, and you may feel some pride in knowing that you made it yourself, but you may also want to invest your time and energy elsewhere. There are many brands available now that feature just pureed apples and other fruit, and nothing else. Personally, I would usually prefer to spend the energy assembling, preparing and cleaning up various ingredients and appliances to make something I feel will be of better quality if I make it myself.

Having said all that, there are also lots of reasons homemade apple sauce comes in handy. We tend to purchase apples in bulk, and it is an easy way to use up those that are getting past their prime. If you like the convenience of store-bought apple sauce but dislike going through so much packaging in the form of pots and pouches, making your own might be worth the time. And finally, making your own allows you to put your personal spin on it, which is the primary reason I like to make anything.

Whatever your reasons are, if you are inclined to try it for yourself, it could not be easier: peel apples and cut into chunks, add whatever flavors you like, add water, simmer and puree. Here are a few variations that are popular at our house.

peeled_apples

Basic Apple Cinnamon

Peel five apples of your favorite type (I like Royal Gala), core and chop into large chunks. Add to a medium sauce pan along with one cinnamon stick and a couple of splashes of water (about 1/4 a cup). Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes. The apples are ready when they are soft enough to be speared with a fork.

Remove cinnamon stick. Transfer the cooled apples to a blender or food processor and puree to your desired consistency. If you like chunkier apple sauce, you could also pulse the mixture with an immersion blender or simply mash with a fork or potato masher.

This recipe yields about 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of sauce.

Apple Prune

Okay, so this one might not sound like the most appealing option. But I tend to think that prunes get a bit of a bad rep, as they are delicious in cakes in other baked goods, and they add a delicious sour tang to this apple sauce. And well…maybe you’re interested in getting some into your toddler or preschooler. :)

Using the above method for basic apple sauce, add about 20 dried pitted prunes to the sauce pan along with the apples and about 1/2 a cup of water. Simmer until the apples are soft and the prunes have plumped up, about 10 minutes. Let cool and puree using preferred method.

Note: It is a good idea to remove the cooked prunes and lightly mash with a fork before pureeing to ensure there are no residual pits still lurking inside.

Apple Cherry

Using the basic method, add about two cups of fresh or frozen cherries to the sauce pan with a 1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, covered, until the fruit is softened (if using frozen cherries, this might take a few extra minutes. Let cool and puree using preferred method.

This version is particularly good with meat like pork or simply mixed with some plain Greek yogurt.

Apple Peach

Using the basic method, add about a cup of fresh or frozen sliced peaches (peeled) to the sauce pan with a 1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, covered, until the fruit is softened (if using frozen peaches, this might take a few extra minutes. Let cool and puree using preferred method.

apple_sauce_pot

Notes:

  • As per usual, ingredient amounts are subject to your own preferences and can easily be tweaked.
  • Amounts of water will vary, as the apples and other fruit will release a lot of their own as they cook. It is best to start with a small amount of water, keep an eye on the fruit for a few minutes, and add more water if the mixture looks too dry. Especially with frozen fruit, you will likely find in most cases there is more than enough water being released and you do not need to add more.
  • If the fruit has finished cooking and you are concerned about the amount of water, drain some before pureeing.
  • I like smoother apple sauce , so I tend to puree it in a regular blender. However, an immersion blender works well right in the pot and will result in less cleanup.
  • Store apple sauce in a Mason jar or airtight container in the refrigerator up to a week.
  • Apple sauce also freezes very well. Place in a freezer-safe container and when ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.  Alternatively, pour into ice cube trays and freeze for several hours, then pop out the cubes and store in a freezer-safe bag or container.  The small cubes of apple sauce can be thawed as needed in the microwave for about 30 seconds at a time.

Watermelon Feta Salad with Mint and Balsamic Glaze

Waltermelon Feta Salad

I always look forward to this time of year when fresh watermelon, particularly the adorable mini seedless variety, are readily available, and I am usually more than happy to munch away on them exactly as they are, sliced or cubed.

However, as evidenced by this post, there are many other ways to enjoy this sweet, crunchy pink fruit. Last weekend, I was contemplating what type of salad to make when having a friend over for lunch, and spied half a watermelon leftover in the fridge. Since we also had some feta cheese, they both seemed like a great accompaniment to the spicy soup and toasted sandwiches I was serving.

There are a lot of variations out there on the watermelon and feta combo, and this one works really well in combining tastes and textures. With the sweet juiciness of the watermelon, salty feta, pop from the fresh mint and crunch of the pine nuts, it is already delicious, but the syrup-y balsamic glaze sends it over the top. This turned out to be my favorite part of the whole meal, and I made another big bowl of it the next day. Be warned that it is difficult to stop eating.  With a side of toasty garlic bread it would be a meal in itself!

Watermelon Feta Salad with Mint and Balsamic Glaze

Serves 4 generously

Salad Ingredients:

  • Half a mini seedless watermelon, or about 2 and a half cups, cubed
  • Approximately 1 and a half cups cubed feta cheese (or just broken into whatever size chunks you like)
  • Two sprigs of fresh mint, torn into small pieces or finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Freshly-ground black pepper, optional

Balsamic Glaze Ingredients:

  • Approximately 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp maple syrup (or other sweetener of your choice such as honey or brown sugar)

Salad Directions:

  • Mix watermelon cubes and feta cheese together gently, so as not to break up either ingredient – I used my hands for this.
  • Add the chopped mint, toasted pine nuts and pepper if using, and mix gently.
  • Just before serving, drizzle the balsamic glaze over the finished salad.
  • If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with a whole piece or sprig of mint.

Directions for reducing balsamic vinegar to a glaze:

  • Measure out about three times as much vinegar as you would like to have of glaze. I used about 3/4 of a cup.
  • In a heavy-bottomed pot or sauce pan, whisk together your choice of sweetener with the balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the mixture has reduced by about two thirds; this should take about 10 minutes. (See recipe notes for more details on time!) For a glaze that is easy to drizzle, you want to simmer until the mixture just coats the back of a spoon.
  • Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for several minutes. As it does, it will thicken quite a bit, so it’s a good idea to stop simmering before you reach the consistency you would like.
  • Drizzle over Watermelon Feta Salad, or anything else you desire.

withglaze

Notes:

  • As with any salad, ingredient amounts are approximate. Feel free to adjust to your own preferences.
  • I sometimes reduce the vinegar a little too much – past a certain point it will become too thick and sticky to drizzle, and will harden as it cools. If this happens, you can heat it gently in the microwave, about 10 seconds or so, and add some hot water a little at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. The glaze will last for a very long time in the refrigerator.
  • I’ve seen watermelon salads out there in internet-land where arugula was used as a base, and that would be an awesome addition if you wanted to round out the dish a little. (Plus, it would look even more beautiful!)

What is your favorite way to use watermelon?

Sweet Spiced Almond Butter

DSC08605_main2

It has taken me a while to jump on the nut butter bandwagon. Generally, I like peanut butter but can take or leave it (and this was true even before I switched to a just peanuts variety). Aside from the occasional PB and J, a jar could last me for ages. And the ubiquitous Nutella holds a special space in my heart, but that has always seemed like more of a dessert item to me than an everyday spread.

Eventually though, through the proliferation food blogs, availability of recipes and techniques and sites like Pinterest, nut butter was suddenly everywhere and held so much possibility. (Peanut butter might be just okay on a cracker, but in a warm bowl of oatmeal, it is divine.) Different types and varieties of nut butters and substitutes became commonplace at the grocery store, and once I tried almond butter and sun butter (made from sunflower seeds) I was hooked.

Not only that, but many items besides nuts are being butterized these days…like cookies. Cookie butter – think about that. Only a single jar has entered my house and I cannot speculate as to how much was eaten with ordinary things like oatmeal and how much just traveled directly into my mouth on a spoon. I just know it didn’t last very long.

ab_ingredients

Nut butter is also one of those things that is ridiculously simple, but you’re kind of incredulous you can make it yourself. But that is the awesomeness of a food processor! It is also relatively inexpensive to make at home (store brands are very pricey) and you know exactly what went into it.

It’s fascinating to watch too, if you’re nerdy like that…which I am. Right before your eyes the almonds turn from course crumbs to a ball of dough, until the oil is released and it eventually becomes smooth and drippy. With no interference. Easy as pie…or nut butter.

I’ve made this addictive flavored almond butter several times now and I’ve stuck pretty closely to the original recipe. However, I’ve found that mine needs less processing total and it also doesn’t need extra oil to achieve a smooth consistency. Not only that, when it is stored in an airtight container (I use a Mason jar), the butter remains smooth and does not separate from the oil as nut butters are inclined to do. Yay!

So here is the process:

1. Coat two cups of almonds with molasses and maple syrup. Roast at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

roasted_nuts

2. When they have cooled for another 30 minutes, they are ready for the food processor!

nuts_preground

3. Turn on your processor and let it go!  It might seem like the recipe is not working out, but be patient as the almonds need quite a bit of time to do their thing.

After 2 minutes: Coarse crumbs.
After 2 minutes: Coarse crumbs.
After 6 minutes: Ball of Dough
After 6 minutes: Ball of Dough
After 7 minutes: Wet Consistency
After 7 minutes: Wet Consistency

4. At this point, add some spices, coarse salt and extra molasses and maple syrup.

extras_ab

5. Process for another 2 minutes, and the consistency is smooth and drippy.

finished_AB
Ready to spread or spoon!

A dollop of this almond butter on your morning oatmeal will take it to another level. And spread on some rice cakes and topped with slices of banana…happiness. :)

Sweet Spiced Almond Butter

Adapted from this recipe from Edible Perspective.

 Ingredients:

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1.5 tbsp + 1 tsp molasses
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 ground nutmeg (I used grated nutmeg to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Place two cups of almonds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle the first amounts of molasses (1.5 tbsp) and maple syrup (2 tbsp). Mix with your hands to ensure almonds are thoroughly coated.
  2. Roast almonds for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Allow them to cool for an additional 30 minutes.
  3. Place your cooled almonds in a food processor and let it go for as long as it takes to achieve a wet consistency, about 7 minutes or so. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  4. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, extra molasses (1 tsp) and maple syrup (1 tsp) and salt.
  5. Continue processing until the extra ingredients are incorporated and the almond butter reaches a smooth, drippy consistency, about 2 more minutes.

Notes:

  • Every time I have made this recipe it comes together in about 10 minutes of processing. However, food processors and ingredients vary a lot, so let it keep going until you get a drippy consistency, or whichever consistency makes you happy!
  • The original recipe calls for canola oil, which I have not found to be necessary. If your nut butter is not coming together after a reasonable amount of processing, however, you can add some canola oil to help it along, about 1/2 a teaspoon at a time.

My Version of Smoothie 101

My Version of Smoothie 101

I love smoothies. We make them almost daily in our household and they are a great way to add some extra fruits and veggies to your diet. I especially love that they make a satisfying breakfast or snack without feeling too heavy, and they are adaptable in many ways.

In fact, they fall into a category for me much like sandwiches or salads where it almost seems redundant to list a ‘recipe’ here. However, I have a bit of a history of trying to get smoothies right. (Much like cooking rice without undercooking or burning it, but that is another story.) Basically, I would throw anything that sounded good together in a blender and hope for the best. I almost always ended up with a mixture that tasted okay but was too gloppy or slushy, or too sweet, or not sweet enough. It seemed like a smoothie should be simple, but I never managed to hit the right consistency.

Then one day a few years back while pregnant with my daughter, I came across a recipe for a mango smoothie that seemed to hit all the right notes: creamy, cold, thick and slightly sweet. It had a basic structure that seems to work really well across different ingredients:

  • About a cup or so of frozen fruit (cold)
  • Water or juice (liquid), enough to almost cover the fruit
  • Half a cup of plain yogurt (thickness/creaminess)
  • A banana (sweetness and creaminess)
Smoothie 101
Basic mango smoothie structure.

So for a basic fruit smoothie, this formula works really well, and is infinitely adjustable for your own taste. There were a few other factors involved, though, in making smoothies a painless process.

Initially, I made smoothies in an immersion blender, which is fantastic for a single serving and less cleanup. But often ingredients would not blend well or the smoothie would spatter on to the countertop and myself. Over time, I discovered that the order of ingredients makes a difference.

  1. Harder to blend items, like frozen fruit, should go in first, followed by liquid. Allowing this to sit for a few moments will slightly soften the fruit, making it easier to blend, and keeps the ingredients most likely to splatter near the bottom.
  2. Adding the yogurt at this point makes a cap over the liquid that helps prevent splattering. It is also a good time to add any extra ingredients like honey or wheat germ, which will stick to the yogurt.
  3. Finally, break the banana on top in a few pieces. The banana, especially when ripe, will be the first thing the blades hit and like the yogurt, seems to make a cap that prevents splatter as you work your way down.

In a standard blender, which I use most often now in larger batches, I find this same order works best as well, though the blade is at the opposite end. Having the liquid at the bottom helps the blade pulverize the fruit and draws the creamy ingredients down into it.

Smoothie 101
Mmmmmm.

A few additional notes about smoothies:

  • You don’t need a fancy blender. It’s certainly nice to have a higher-powered motor, but it’s not a requirement.
  • If you don’t have a fancy blender, blending for beyond when the elements are broken down will result in a creamier smoothie, about 60 seconds or so.
  • Certain items benefit from a run on their own in the blender beforehand. For example, if you are adding spinach, blending it with water ahead of time and then adding the other ingredients with help incorporate it more fully into the smoothie.
  • Adding about 2 tsp of cocoa powder to a fruit smoothie, particularly strawberry or cherry, makes for a creamy, chocolate treat. (This works best when using water or milk/milk alternative as a base rather than juice.)

So that is my idea of a perfect smoothie. What are your favorite combinations?

 

Creamy Chocolate Pudding

Creamy Chocolate Pudding

I am always on the lookout for simple treats, ones made with mostly wholesome ingredients (but not too many of them!) that are quick to whip up and will satisfy my sweet tooth.

A child of the 80s, straight-up chocolate pudding has always been kind of a meh thing for me. I associate it with small, dusty boxes of powdered mix, sometimes in a ‘diet’ version, that was beaten or whipped within an inch of itself but never managed to achieve that taste of chocolate nirvana, or even a palatable consistency. Hence, I didn’t have much interest in it.

Surprisingly, in the subsequent years of learning to cook and bake and plotting delicious things to eat, it never occurred to me until very recently to attempt making dessert pudding from scratch. Many recipes I came across, though rich and delicious-looking, seemed to contain many fussy steps with several different kitchen utensils and just as many ingredients. (Fine once in a while, but not when you want a quick treat within an hour or two). Many also seemed to be verging on more of a mousse or ganache than a pudding. So I decided to try a basic recipe I happened upon using mainly ingredients that are staples in my pantry and was more than pleased with the results.

Creamy Chocolate Pudding

This recipe ticks all the right boxes for me:

  • It contains only six ingredients (seven if you include the optional and delicious butter)
  • It is a straightforward, dump-and-stir affair, and the kiddo loves helping me out with it
  • The ingredients are probably already in your fridge and pantry
  • Depending on your stove, you can go from thinking about pudding to having pudding in less than 10 minutes (with additional chilling time required)

I think this recipe would also be adaptable in many ways, including using less sugar, using a different sweetener, and perhaps substituting coconut or almond milk for the dairy. When I first attempted this I included all ingredients (minus a sprinkling of M&Ms), but then tried it without salt and butter and found that it was equally as good.

If you are a pudding skeptic as I was, or you would simply like a lighter, more straightforward version to try, this is for you. It is chocolate-y, creamy and delectable.

Creamy Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used a generic store brand, but if you have a fancier version you’d like to use, that would be great, too!)
  • 4 cups of milk (any type, I use skimmed)
  • Splash of vanilla
  • 1-2 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine sugar, salt, corn starch and cocoa powder in a medium sauce pan.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly, gradually add the milk to the pan.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, continuing to whisk to prevent the mixture from burning. When bubbly, reduce heat and cook for about two minutes, or until the pudding thickens.
  3. Take off the heat and add the vanilla and butter, if using.  Let sit for about 5 minutes. Pour into bowls for serving (ramekins are great!) or a large container and chill for at least two hours.

The pudding will form a skin relatively quickly (ick), which a quick stir will fix. If you would like to avoid this in the serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap directly on the pudding and remove just before serving.

Makes about 4 generous servings.

Adapted from this recipe at Taste of Home.