Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Healthy Smoothie

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Today's post covers the basics of making smoothies in your own home.  I grew up with a lot of homemade smoothies (licuados) and I absolutely love the way I feel when I'm regularly drinking fruits and berries.

Blenders

You will need a good blender.  This does not mean that you need an expensive blender, just one that can get through frozen fruit.  A cheap blender will work well in the hands of someone who knows how to make a blender work (more below).  If you live in an expensive area, please do not pay more than $40 for a nice one.  If you can get a good one for $30, you're in the right price range.  Check Craigslist before you shell out for a new one in case someone is selling one for $15-$20.  Once you find a decent blender in your price range, check a place like Amazon that has a high volume of customer reviews to avoid buying a lemon.  The main feature you want in a blender for making smoothies is an "ice crush" button.  You will probably be dealing with frozen fruit, so that's a good idea.  No one ever really uses more than two or three of their ten to twenty available speeds, so don't pay for them.

Once you have a decent blender, you should hang onto it for years to come.  There are two important ideas that extend the life of your blender and make your blending life easier in general.  The first is that you should not try to blend ice or icy things without enough liquid.  If your blender sounds like it's choking, it is.  Be nice.  The second thing is to not leave food or juice in your blender.  This actually works to your advantage anyway, since cleaning the blender is the worst part to any smoothie.  As soon as you pour out the smoothie, rinse your blender immediately.  This makes it easy to actually wash later on.  Try to avoid the temptation of letting it soak as you would a regular glass.  Blenders have little rubber, metal, and otherwise just moving parts that do not like to soak.  If you make this a habit (as they do at many alcohol and juice bars alike) you tend to get a moldy growth in the innards of your blender that is nothing short of disgusting.  Just rinse your blender and place it upside down.  Better yet, take it apart and rinse it while you still have the momentum of making things in the kitchen.

Ingredients

You may not realize it, but many of the places you currently buy smoothies from increase their profit margins by watering down their products with ice and then adding sugar.  They may not be as healthy as they are marketed to look.  I like to use only fruit, juice, and yogurt.  Yogurt tastes good and gives your smoothies a bit of a creamy flavor.  If you do not like yogurt, you do not have to add any.  Frozen fruits give that icy effect if you like it.  If you are very sensitive to sweet things, you may find that you need to water it down a bit with actual ice.  Remember, a little goes a long way.  Add a few cubes and see what happens.  Then, drink it before it melts because when that ice turns to water, it coincidentally tastes like the ice melted and there is water in your smoothie.  Not so good.

Fresh fruits obviously are your best option.  If you happen to have a fruit tree or berry bush handy, you should take advantage of that and maybe freeze some of it for when the fruit is out of season.  I like to also use frozen fruit from Costco.  It's a good price.  Before you purchase a bag, roll it through your hands.  If it feels like the fruit is stuck together, that probably means that it was not refrigerated well while being transported and has melted and refrozen at least once.  Just a thought.

The best fruit juice is just fruit in liquid form.  A lot of juices contain a surprising amount of [not fruit] very high on the ingredient list.  If it's orange juice, the "ingredient list" should read "oranges".  That's just my opinion.  A lot of bottled juices (especially those that are not refrigerated) are "cocktail juices".  This usually means that they contain comparatively little of the fruit juice marketed on the front of the bottle, like blueberry or pomegranate.  They are mostly grape juice because it's cheap.  They are often loaded with sugars, syrups, and/or preservatives as well.  Sometimes you get lucky and find a NSA (no sugar added), healthy bottled juice.  If you can find one on sale, stock up.  I found $4 juices on "manager special 18 hour sale" or something to that effect for $1 a piece at Albertson's one day.  Limit 2?  So I bought two, put them in my car, and returned for two more.  Four for the price of one is what I like to pay.

Pulpy juices taste the best in my opinion.  I love apple juice but it tastes tastes terrible in smoothies, especially ones with berries or tropical fruits.  I like orange juice, carrot juice, pineapple juice, and coconut juice the best.

Blending

Blending well starts with filling the blender in the right order.  It really pays to have something soft at the bottom, like bananas, yogurt, soft fruits, etc.  Frozen fruits should go on top.  The blender really needs some liquid to help it blend frozen things and it blends whatever is next to the blades first.  Once you have all of the soft stuff and frozen stuff in there, pour in juice to about the same level.  That should give it a good consistency.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Everyone makes way more than they need the first time they make a smoothie.  To help you gauge the amount you should be putting into the blender, try a little trick we use at the bar to avoid waste.  Fill the glass you plan to drink out of with the fruits and frozen stuff.  Pour that into the blender.  Add liquid to the same level.

Put the top on the blender.  Use your "ice crush" setting first.  Once the icy ingredients seem manageable, use another blend setting for a good minute to make sure it blends evenly.  Listen for the sound of the blender either choking or running hard without actually blending.  The latter will be somewhat similar to punching the gas peddle in your car while it's in neutral.  If this happens, it is probably not because your blender is inadequate, as most people assume.  If air gets trapped in the mix, the blades run in a bubble while the mix is unaffected.  There are three things you can do about this.  The first is to hold the blender firmly to the motor and shake it a little.  If that doesn't work, try tilting the whole thing at a slight angle for a few seconds.  If that doesn't work, turn off the motor, shake the bubbles to the top, and then start again on a slower speed.  Once you get a good swirl going on a slower speed, transition directly into a higher speed so that it will blend thoroughly.  This should help you avoid the bubbles.  Every so often, you get a frozen strawberry or something legitimately stuck under the blades.  If this happens, turn the whole thing off and remove the blender from the motor/stand.  Use something with a long handle (not your hand) like a butter knife or something unimportant to pry it out of there.  Replace the blender and start again.

To your health!

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