Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SIY--Smooth it Yourself

The continual heatwave has made us into cold breakfast people; a smoothie a day keeps the oatmeal away. And starts us out cool when the house is still too warm from being shut up during the night... so our cat won't pull out the screens and go off on a prowl. He's the Houdini of Cats, so we have to watch it.

Not that we don't let in a little air through the night-- we just don't keep the windows open enough for him to fit through if he should pull off the screens.

Cold smoothies for breakfast are a good way to get in lots of fresh raw fruit, nuts if you want them, protein powder if you use it.

I don't. Nor do I use all those wonderful smoothie recipes that fill family magazine food pages throughout Spring and Summer. I use a method instead, and it's perfect because it lets me adjust to what is in the fridge, fruit basket, and pantry at the moment of making. And it can be vegan, raw, half raw, gluten free, nut-free; whatever you need.

First, I like to start with some frozen fruit-- it removes the need for ice, which helps when you have a food processor instead of a blender. But if having complete raw is your thing, just refrigerate some of your fruit overnight. About a third of the 11-cup processor bowl gets filled with cold or frozen strawberries, blueberries or mixed berries, and any bananas that might have gotten thrown in there to keep them from dying a moldy death. If the fruit is big, chop it in half or thirds with a sharp chef's knife, even for a blender.

Process until the fruit is very small or pureed, then add the fresh fruit, washed, chopped, pitted & peeled as needed. Apples I peel, peaches I don't. I use as much fruit as I can, and as little of anything else as possible to make a rich, creamy drink. Any fruit is good, but some combos are better than others-- berries and banana work together, banana/plum/peach/nectarine and nuts with some nut butter and/or apple are good. Cherries are great with any other fruit. If you can afford the exotics, you likely know how to mix them. Melons work with berries or apples, but are more watery and better with soymilk than yogurt, so a thickener like ground flax or a handful of raisins or craisins is helpful.

If I'm going to be adding sweetened yogurt, almond or soy milk to the mix, I won't sweeten till the last blend. But this is a good place to add soaked, drained nuts, or flax seed, or a drop of vanilla. For almonds, you can let them soak in cool water on the counter all night, or soak for 6 hours before bed and stick them in the fridge, drained. An hour or so for softer nuts, then drain, etc.

Get the whole thing smooth, taste, and add just enough of any of the above liquids or yogurt to thicken it to your ideal mouthfeel. Or use a splash of any juice you have on hand to thin it a bit, and add more flavor too. A dash of spice like ginger, fresh or dried, or ground cinnamon or coriander, can be nice. We like it simple, most times.

Sweeten to taste with agave, maple, honey (warming this slightly in the microwave helps it dissolve in the cold smoothie) or a little sugar if you want, and process again till fluffy and thick, stopping to swipe the chunks down from the sides of the bowl towards the blades if needed.

You'll have a great cool smoothie without fuss or having to measure things in spoons & cups before your coffee. It makes about three good drinking glasses full, when the old FP is 2/3 or a little more full of smoothie. Add more to make more-- there's just two of us, since the cat doesn't like fruit, and I'm happy with one glassful.

Maybe you'll be more adventurous-- if we had a juicer, we'd be getting veggies in there too, and now that I think of it, some zucchini would easy to hide in a cherry-berry smoothie. Hmm. The hubby-man would never know. Think I'll be trying that tomorrow. Keep Cool!

Peace, Mari

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eating by the numbers...

Mid-summer, daily cooking is a numbers game: if the thermostat reads above 80, I'm not using the stove. No matter how many pictures I see in July food mags of grilled this and baked that, it doesn't work for me. And if there isn't a breeze, forget the crockpot, too.

That's when eating what I can chop and throw together in ten tiring minutes or less is not a choice but a necessity, if I'm going to avoid expensive takeout that is probably too heavy and greasy anyway. All we want around here during superhot days is a good salad, or a cool, crusty sandwich and some iced tea.

It's imperative to have plenty of fresh veg on hand. I still end up making runs to the grocery for a little bread, or cheese; whatever can help me turn a few odds and ends into a real meal, cool and crunchy and satisfying without being too weighty. Like Panzanella, or Taco Salad.

My Taco salad tends to look different than, say, what you'd get at Chili's. (Okay, not as different as the picture above, which I took for another purpose). I might use raw taco nut meat, or just scads of shredded veggies and salsa, or torn pita for the tortilla part. Panzanella might be simple, just bread, tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and cheese. Or it might be crazily full of grilled and raw veg.

You have to use what is on hand, make the most of the best and use up the worst before it wilts. That's everyday cooking, even when you're not applying heat. But there are a few things that make any salad or even supper sandwich into a meal: avocado, sliced or mashed with garlic and fresh citrus of any kind, red bell peppers in thin slivers or big juicy chunks, a crunch of almonds sprinkled with shoyu or vegan worcestershire, a dollop of fresh fruit salsa, a homemade garden relish or pickled onions, cubes of marinated feta, olives tossed with lemon zest, perfectly ripe tomatoes, chickpeas in lemon and olive oil.

Put a few of those together with some slivered zucchini, spinach or lettuce and a drizzle of viniagrette and you have a salad or sandwich filling that beats the heat. It's the no cook, no recipe way to get through days like today, and tomorrow, and half of August. Eat something cool tonight, and don't forget, the Italian Heritage Festival is happening now, and tomorrow, on Hertel Avenue between Elmwood and Colvin. Big, and delicious!

Ciao, Mari