Smooth moves

I'd been pondering out how to get my son to eat fruit other than Cuties or apples, and Alton Brown has come to the rescue. With his guidance, I have figured out how to make high-quality fruit smoothies in the morning quickly, with a minimum of muss and fuss. It does require some advanced prep work, but that's just the way it goes sometimes. It's so nice to be able to put one together in less than five minutes on a busy weekday morning, when my time is at a premium because I can't stop hitting the snooze alarm.

On a recent episode of Good Eats, Alton showed off his Buff Smoothie, which boils down to a banana, twelve ounces (by weight) of frozen fruit, and eight ounces of liquid. Toss it all in a Vita-Mix (What? Everyone doesn't have a $400 blender?) and there you have it: A 24 ounce smoothie.

Well, right away I noticed a few problems with implementing that at my house. The blender I have -- a fairly decent Cuisinart -- is very noisy and a huge pain in the butt. The blades are set way down in a little recess at the bottom of a wide container and trying to keep the contents in contact with the blade is an invitation to frustration. There's no way I'm dealing with that first thing the the morning before my coffee kicks in. I am also not going to pull multiple items out of the freezer and weigh out the ingredients.

I played around with the concept over the weekend and I think I figured out how to make it work. This method required a blender or food processor to make the smoothie base in advance, and a stick blender when you're ready to actually consume the smoothie.

Sometime when you have time and patience, make your smoothie base.
(The following measurements are by weight.)
  • 1 banana (~ 4 ounces)

  • 4 ounces frozen peaches or mango chunks (I buy the bags of IQF fruit)

  • 8 ounces frozen berry mix (IQF), or 4 ounces each frozen strawberries and blueberries
Toss the fruit into a food processor or blender and process until it's fairly homogeneous.

Alton's recipe yields a 24 ounces smoothie but that is a LOT of smoothie so I decided to go with two half-sized portions. Divide the pulverized fruit mash in two equal portions -- should weigh about 8 ounces each -- and package in resealable sandwich bags (I flattened them out so I ended up with a thin frozen disk) or small containers. Toss into the freezer.

When you're ready to complete the act, pull one of your smoothie base portions from the freezer and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to thaw slightly. I nuked mine for about 15 seconds.

Measure 4 ounces of liquidous ingredients (I used 2 ounces each of soy milk and pomegranate juice, but plain yogurt or milk would be good too) into a tall, deep container like the one that usually comes with a stick blender, or a 2 cup liquid measuring cup. (Safety tip: I haven't actually used a 2 cup measuring cup so it might not be deep enough to prevent splashover.)

Crumble your smoothie base on top of the liquids and stick blend the heck out of it. It takes me maybe a minute to blend it.

Pour into a glass and enjoy, but beware of brain freeze! We discovered an added bonus: Smoothies give us an excuse to use our rarely-utilized root beer float spoons, small plastic spoons with a straw for a handle.

My favorite tip from Alton is to buy the bananas that are fully ripe, peel them, lay them side by side in a resealable bag and freeze. Then you can pull them out as you need them, although you'll want to cut them into chunks before trying to pulverize them. Brilliant!

Now that I have it as simplified as possible, I'm hoping my husband will make one for himself once in awhile. A girl can dream!


Better with bacon

I admit, I am standing proud and tall right in the center of the 'Mmmmm... bacon!' bandwagon, even though it has already been overused to the point of pain. But I can't help it. Bacon is tasty, and just a strip or two adds so much flavor to an otherwise veggie dish that my guys don't even miss a full serving of meat. What's not to love?

It'll come as no surprise then that when I saw a link on one of my regularly-visited food blogs to a recipe for lentils and bacon, I knew it would be mine. And when I clicked through and learned it was adapted from one of Anne Burrell's recipes, it was all over. I have a complete chef-crush on Anne Burrell, and I watch her show regularly. In fact, I had seen this recipe just a couple of weeks ago but the fennel bulb scared me off - I've never cooked fennel bulb. But The Amateur Gourmet's version solved that problem for me. Win!

I started with Anne's original recipe (which apparently has a grievous typo in the amount of vinegar used for finishing) and bounced it against The Amateur Gourmet's mods, which omitted the fennel bulb and corrected the amount of red wine vinegar.

I used the small green lentils, but only because I found a small bag in the pantry that I had bought on spec who knows how long ago. I'm glad I did, too. The green boys held their shape when cooked, where the brown lentils probably would have pretty much disintegrated. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, really.) I also upped the amount of onion/celery/carrot to about 3/4 cup each.

Since I was serving it as an entree, I dished it over brown rice (2:1 lentils:rice) and it was downright tasty. I really appreciated how the bacon fat/red wine vinegar/coarse mustard combined into a dressing.

Next time I will probably add the cooked rice right in, a lá Gallo Pinto. I'll also omit the olive oil in the beginning. I've been cooking bacon for a l-o-n-g time and I just don't see the need to add two more tablespoons of fat to the dish. I may also up the amount of vegs further, to a cup each. And who knows? I might even get brave and try that fennel bulb thing.

With all the veg prep, it takes a little too long to be Project Weeknight-eligible, and I'm not sure my son would eat it, but it was a lovely simple dinner for us adults and it made fabulous, easy-to-reheat lunches as well.

And did I mention? Bacon!


Start making sense

It's about time someone said this out loud. In this post, Marion Nestle at Food Politics writes about what I've been experiencing for years: An extra fifty or hundred calories a day is not going to make that much difference in the long run. It takes a lot more than that to make a significant change in one's weight.

Which, unfortunately, means that small changes in my diet are not going to make this twenty (going on twenty-five) extra pounds go away. I knew it, but I didn't want to have to face it. Oh well.

(Thanks to Daniel at Casual Kitchen for posting the link!)