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?

 

Quick Tip: Extending the Life of Avocados

Extending the Life of Avocados

Recently, I read this tip over at The Kitchn , and it’s been a game changer (you know, in a culinary, first-world-problem sort of way). I love discovering food and cooking hacks that make life a little easier, so I thought I would share this one here.

In my neck of the woods, fresh avocados are about as far away as they can possibly be. They are available year-round at the supermarket, but it’s much cheaper to buy them in bulk (bags of five or six) at Costco. I am the primary consumer of avocados in my household, though the kiddo is learning to like them too. However, unless I am whipping up a large batch of guacamole (of which I am also the primary consumer), it is next to impossible to work through a bag before they are too ripe to eat. And the transition from firm, olive green flesh to gooey, muddy brown seems to happen in record time. Who knows how long they’ve actually traveled before reaching me, anyhow?

I love them dearly and they are a fantastic toddler snack, but I bought them sparingly until recently. Then I tried storing them in the refrigerator, waiting until they felt ripe and placing them in whole. The verdict? Sure enough, they remained in their firm, ready to scoop or mash state until I chose to cut them open.

So far, the longest I’ve stored them has been about two weeks and they were still perfect to eat at that time. It has been great to be able to randomly grab one for a quick snack of avocado toast, or to add a little to chilli or tacos without having to worry about wasting them.

Has anyone tried refrigerating whole avocados before? I’ve also read that avocados freeze well, though I have yet to try this.

 

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.

Simple Apple Carrot Soup

Simple Apple Carrot Soup

Now that winter seems to be in full swing I have been craving soups like this simple but flavorful carrot and apple puree. In fact, it has been a staple in my freezer now for several months. It is easy to make and comes together quickly (even more quickly if my food processor helps me out with chopping). It is inexpensive and uses items that are usually on hand in my fridge and pantry.

It is also nutritious, and its sweet and mellow flavors mean that the kiddo is a fan of it, too. (Well…usually. Especially as a vehicle to dunk bread or crackers into.) Add a side of fruit and we have a lunch that makes us both happy.

I did not include the sage that the original recipe called for, but if you have it on hand it would work well with the carrots. Some curry powder would also change this up nicely!

Simple Apple Carrot Soup

Ingredients:

  • 8 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 apples, peeled and diced
  • Approximately 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp butter or canola oil

Directions:

  1. Heat butter or oil* in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, apple and celery and sauté until onion is softened, between 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add chicken or veggie stock along with the bay leaf and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until carrot is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Turn off heat and let soup sit for 5-10 minutes. Then, puree with either an immersion blender right in the pan, or process in batches in a regular blender or food processor.
  5. Check seasoning, adjust if necessary and serve!

*I often skip the oil or butter and use a splash of water or stock in my Dutch oven to soften the veggies. Since the end product is pureed, it does not affect the flavor.

Adapted from Taste of Home: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/carrot-apple-soup