Smoothie Madness!

Is it just me, or are smoothies very "in" these days? At any rate, while it may be a little too cold this winter to be thinking about smoothies, a month of breakfast just would not be complete without them.

Now I know I spend a lot of time here mentioning ways to add more vegetables to your meals, but I will be the first to admit that I fall quite behind on my fruit promotions. That's why MY New Year's resolution was to eat more fruit...and have a bowl of seaweed every day (but more on that later.) So aside from having a banana every morning and an orange with my lunch, I've been smoothie-loading every weekend this year ("year"- hah).

Another thing I know I say a lot is "you can put almost anything in this...blah blah blah". Well, here I go: you can put anything, ANYTHING in a smoothie. Even your iPhone, as one of the most popular internet videos of all time has demonstrated here. Ok, but seriously, depending on what kind of mood you're in, you can put a lot of crazy *stuff in a smoothie. Fruits, of course, are the most popular, but you can also get kinky and creative. My boyfriend's even been trying to sneak oatmeal into one of our weekend concoctions all month...which can be done, I just don't like oatmeal.

So however you feel like experimenting, just keep in mind that a smoothie usually needs a few key parts: something creamy, something frozen, something liquid and all the crazy *stuff you want to flavor it with. "Creamy" can be yogurt, ice cream or even milk; though this is the part that's the most optional.  2nd most optional is the "frozen". LOTS of recipes call for ice cubes. I don't like ice cubes (they don't "add" anything and can water it down) so instead I freeze pieces of fruit. You can buy frozen fruit, of course-- and even smoothie-ready packs nowadays --I just find both needlessly expensive. And you can go completely un-frozen...just a different texture. Liquid you can't skip out on, however, 'less your smoothie won't blend. Try to go for fruit juices that complement your selected flavors, and when in doubt, use apple juice.

Finally, there are two key questions that everyone always asks about smoothies: 1- How do you know how much *stuff to put in? and 2- Can you make them ahead of time and store them? Well...
  1. At some point you'll get a natural feel for it, but when I need help, I take the glass I'm going to use and fill it about 1/2-2/3 full with stuff (ie: fruit). Your "creamy" and liquid portions can then be added directly to the blender as necessary to blend. You may be surprised how much this adds to the size of your smoothie.
  2. Not really, but yes. Refrigerating gets you nothing-- depending on how long it's in there, it will gradually melt and separate. Freezing will give you a solid mess which can then only be salvaged by very quick 10sec microwaving and then eating with a spoon. Not ideal. One fun idea may be to stick a popsicle stick in your glass before freezing and then eat it like a popsicle. Yes, embrace your inner child. 

Given the vast array of smoothie concoctions imaginable, the following are a cross-sectioning of different smoothie types that I've been working on that can hopefully be used as inspiration.  Note that based on the two points above, the "recipes" below stray from my usual method and made for ONE. Multiply as necessary.

Very Berry
The Classic Smoothie

The most popular and probably the prettiest, everyone wants to take Very Berry to the prom. Lots of recipes call for mixing multiple berries in this one, but since only blueberries seem to be in season for me, here's my adaptation. Also, beware of frozen blueberries- some blenders can't handle 'em.

- 1/2 an apple
- 1/2 an orange
- ~1/4 cup of blueberries (frozen/fresh)
- 1/2 cup of cranberry juice
- 2 heaping Tbs of yogurt (plain or vanilla)

Peanut Butter Cup
The Body-Builder Smoothie

The recipe I based this one on called for yogurt, but I wasn't a big fan of that flavor. I used milk as the liquid base and that turned out well, so next time I'm looking forward to no yogurt or substituting ice cream instead (hey, this is meant to be eaten after you work out, right...) And if you're not into protein powder, drizzle chocolate sauce or honey instead.

- 1/2 a banana (frozen/fresh)
- 2 heaping Tbs of smooth peanut butter
- 1 Tbs chocolate-flavored protein powder
- 1/2 cup milk/soy milk
- 1-2 Tbs yogurt (plain or vanilla)

Orange Creamsicle
The Dessert Smoothie

One of my all-time favorite flavors...just had to develop it. You can take this a few directions: Substituting yogurt for the ice cream will give you more health, less dessert, and while with the family this Christmas, I discovered that substituting a Boost drink for the ice cream or yogurt was quite good. I also used to make these in my cafe with orange soda instead of orange dessert mode there, but oh so yummy. And finally, I used apple juice the other day 'cause I didn't have any orange around, and it gave the drink a nice "fizzy" flavor.

- 1 orange (preferably frozen)
- 1/2 a mango
- 1/2 cup orange juice (or orange soda or milk or wtv...)
- a couple scoops of ice cream

[okay, may end up being more than one serving...]

Green Meanie
The Bizzaro Health-Food Smoothie

OK, this may sound and look and smell funny, but if you like seaweed (which I do...) this is actually an interesting & decent drink. Also, seaweed is supposed to be incredibly good for keeping your skin youthful and rumor has it Posh Spice used to drink something similar before concerts. There are lots of other green smoothies out there (I'm not entirely crazy) that use spinach, kale, avocado and, of course, wheatgrass... so don't be afraid to throw in some veggies and get your green on...

- 1/4 cup re-hydrated wakame seaweed (it comes dried and needs to be soaked-- use only a tiny bit 'cause it plumps up A LOT)
- 1/4 cup cubed cucumber (frozen)
- 1/2 an apple
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 1 Tbs yogurt (plain or vanilla)


Breakfast Tacos

So, breakfast tacos may not be the most innovative or exciting dish on the planet, but this recipe is very dear to me.  Not only is it the first meal I ever created, but it also contains a super secret ingredient that will finally be revealed to the world [wide web] ...

As for the wonderful things about breakfast tacos, like most of the recipes this month, you can mix-n-match and load it up any way you please-- it can be a great way to work veggies into your morning!  And for those looking for quick fixes before jetting off to work, this taco filling keeps quite well, so be sure to try out making a big batch on Sunday and then reheating the next morning or two.

Now that I've digressed, let's get back to the big secret.  This is obviously a tex-mex dish, which opens the door for any number of special sauces.  Lots of people plop their favorite salsa on top before wrapping it up and some adventurous types will mix in tomatillos or green chili sauce, but twelve-year-old me had a whole different idea...






Yup, that's it.  Taco Bell sauce.  And for those of you wondering how I manage to cook with this wonderful sauce while living oceans away from any sign of a Taco Bell, it's time for another confession: I horde it.  About once a year, somewhere in a video surveillance room back at my neighborhood Taco Bell in Texas, there is a security guard cursing, "There's that blonde girl emptying the mild sauce bucket again!"  I've left books and shoes and sweaters behind when my luggage gets too heavy, but I will always make room for a pound of sauce packets.  I know I probably shouldn't be confessing to pseudo-petty theft online, but with Taco Bell dinners popping up in grocery stores nowadays, common' guys-- SELL THE SAUCE!  Then maybe I wouldn't have to steal it...

[Prep: -- / Cook: 15-20min]

- breakfast sausage of choice (~ 3 small links, 2 patties or 1/3 of a sausage roll)
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend (cheddar and monterrey jack)
- 4 packets of secret sauce
- flour tortillas
- seasoned salt (or just salt)
- black pepper
- dash of milk

1.  In a large skillet, heat the sausage links (cook thoroughly if not pre-cooked).
2.  Meanwhile, beat/whisk the eggs, 2 packets of sauce, salt & pepper and a dash of milk (no more than 1/4 cup) in a bowl.
3.  When the sausage is finished, remove to a bowl or plate, cut-up and mash with a fork to get ground sausage.
4.  In the same skillet, scramble the eggs in the sausage grease.  Just as the eggs are almost fully cooked, mix in the cheese and add the sausage back in.
5.  Divide the mixture as desired across flour tortillas.  Top with remaining sauce and wrap up tight.
6.  Ready to eat!
[Serves 2]

  • Cooking the eggs in the sausage grease is obviously not the healthiest idea, but it does make for better flavored eggs.  Proceed as you wish.
  • It's taken years of tweaking to get the sauce "dynamics" perfect.  You get a better kick from the sauce when it goes on last, but some still needs to be mixed in to make the eggs right.  And, of course, more is even better...I just have to ration my supply!
  • As a twelve-year-old, I put the heated/cooked sausage in a plastic baggie and then mashed it up with my hands.  It was quite efficient.  Not sure why I stopped doing it that way...

  • I personally like a lot of meat (sorry Vegetarian friends!), so the main way I tweak this is to add potatoes/hash browns and bacon/bacon bits.
  • They're also great with veggies-- you can always pile on onions, mushrooms and peppers.  Try a frozen mix to keep the recipe quick and easy.
  • Sausage: use your favorite.  Chorizo would be fabulous and oh-so much more Mexicano, but I can't eat pretty much all store-bought chorizo and therefore cannot speak for it.  What I can speak for, though, is the ease of cutting open a simple sausage link from the butcher's/meat section.  Just add some chili powder/pepper/cilantro, etc and the meat's already conveniently ground up.
  • I know my secret sauce may not be for everyone.  I just hope that the next time you decide to make breakfast tacos, jazz them up a bit with some taco sauce or salsa before it's finished cooking to give it a bit more punch!


Quiche Lorraine

My mother's quiche is one of the foods I look forward to most when I go home.  So incredibly easy to make, though, I figured it was about time I got her recipe and started making them myself!  This is another French breakfast, a delightfully fluffy and cheesy egg pie that you can add all sorts of meats, veggies and seasonings to and fix up any way you'd like.  Below is probably the most common, the "Lorraine" which uses swiss cheese, onions and bacon/ham.  Quiche also keeps quite well, so you could bake up a couple one night or weekend and reheat a slice or two in the morning before work!

Oh, and if you think you're one of those "real" men out there that just doesn't eat quiche, just remember: French men eat quiche, and the ladies seem to like them ;)

[Prep: 10-20min/ Bake: 30-45min]

- 2 ready-made frozen pie shells (defrosted)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups whipping cream or half&half
- 1/2 cup crumbled bacon/bacon bits or cubed ham/chopped up ham slices
- 1 cup shredded, cubed or cut-up slices Swiss cheese
- chopped onion (as desired)
- dash salt, pepper and cayenne pepper/chili powder

1.  If necessary, cook or prepare bacon/ham, cut-up the cheese & chop the onion.
2.  [optional] Place the pastry shells in the oven covered with a piece of aluminium foil and bake at 400F for about 5-10 minutes to help the shell cook.
3.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat eggs, cream and seasonings.
4.  Remove the pie shells from the oven and sprinkle the meat, cheese and onion evenly into the shells.  Pour the egg mixture on top and bake for 30-45 minutes until you can insert a knife in the center and it comes out clean.
5.  Let stand for about 10 minutes and ready to eat!

  • Almost no matter what you do, the upper crust will burn a bit.  It's never really bothered me, but many recipes advise you to wrap aluminium foil around the edge of the crust while the pie is baking to keep it from burning.  A bit more trouble, but may be worth it.
  • There is something just so incredibly fluffy about a restaurant quiche that is hard to replicate at home, but I finally uncovered the secret.  When you beat the eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and beat the whites first.  Whisk or beat the daylights out of them until they get really bubbly and foamy, then whisk/beat in the cream.  Finally gently mix up the yolks and swirl them into the mixture.  Just did this- it works!

Crustless "frittata" version with tomatoes and mushrooms
  • As I said, you can add all sorts of things to your quiche.  Veggies like spinach, mushrooms and spinach are a good place to start.  You can also try swapping out different cheeses for slightly different flavors.
  • From there you can try any assortment of things.  Some popular ones include:
    • crabmeat or other seafood
    • olives, anchovies & tomatoes
    • ground beef & taco seasonings
  • An important potential issue you may have is a lack of ready-made pie crust and a strong desire not to bake your own.  Here are some quick ways to make do without the frozen crust:
    • Go crustless:
      • You can just make it in a pie pan or casserole dish without a crust, but you can also add a bit (like 1/2-3/4 cup) of flour, biscuit mix or some crushed up saltine crackers to the mix to give it some substance.
      • Make mini muffin quiches by just spraying a muffin tin with cooking spray and baking.  (might benefit from some flour/biscuit mix mixed in)
      • Bake it frittata-style by either cooking the mix in an oven-safe skillet in the oven or by cooking it on the stovetop until it's heated through.  They say to cook it on the stovetop, just periodically lift the egg away from the edges and let the uncooked egg flow down, but I tried this yesterday without much luck.  It will cook through this way, but it takes a lot of attention, and just didn't taste very quiche-like to me in the end.
      • I read a crazy recipe that claims you can make a quiche/frittata in the microwave by using a 2qt microwave-safe dish and running it on 70% power, stirring every 2 minutes until the egg is set (about 6-10 minutes total).  
    • Substitue a quick crust:
      • Layer the bottom of a casserole dish with refrigerated crescent dough before adding the filling on top.
      • Flatten and layer plain bread slices across the bottom of a casserole dish (and maybe coat with a little melted butter).  Or flatten the slices of bread, cut into half or fourths and shove into a muffin tin to make mini quiches.
      • If you feel like almost-baking, crush up 1 cup's worth of saltine crackers, add about 1/4 cup of melted butter/margarine and a splash of water.  Mix and then press into the bottom of a casserole dish or pie pan.


The Everyman's Croque-Madame

I had my first croque-madame a few months ago at this lovely cafe on the Amstel called Ysbreeker.  It was also the first real French food I'd ever had and I was instantly in love.  A croque-madame is something like a grilled ham and cheese, except ten times better because it's smothered in white sauce and topped with an over-easy egg.  It's a step up from the slightly more popular croque-monsieur, which is the same thing minus the egg.

I just had to learn how to make this wonderful sandwich in my own kitchen, but I soon learned that it's a bit fancier than my typical repertoire- mostly because it's supposed to be topped with a Mornay or Bechamel sauce, which is sort of like a roux with cheese mixed in.  Now, I've seen a couple of sites which claim that a roux or bechamel is an easy creation, but in my book, anything that involves whisking a specific proportion of flour into "scalded" milk is not easy.  Actually, anything that involves flour, cornstarch, baking soda or the like are automatically filed in my not-easy category.  I don't even keep these things in my kitchen.

At any rate, I have thus developed an OntheFly version which replaces the French white sauce with a much simpler out-of-a-packet cheese sauce which, to my oh-so-refined tastes, comes out just the same as the one in the cafe.  The other hang-up is the cheese.  The sandwich is typically made with emmental, gruyere or, in the case of this Dutch cafe, beemster (gouda) cheese.  Here in the land of cheese, shredded gouda is everywhere you look, but outside of Holland and Europe, you should be able to find it, but it won't be conveniently pre-shredded.  The key is really that the cheese is strong, so a shredded or sliced swiss or even sharp cheddar will probably do the trick!

[Prep: -- / Cook: 10-20m]

- 2 slices of bread (works best with white)
- 1 egg
- 1 or 2 slices of deli ham
- ~1/2 small packet white cheese sauce mix (such as McCormick's alfredo, 4 cheese or carbonara)
- 1/2 cup milk
- shredded cheese
- butter/margarine

1.  In a small saucepan, mix the cheese sauce with the milk and bring to a boil.  You may want to add even as much as 1/4 cup more milk because the sauce really thickens up as you're putting the sandwich together.
2.  Heat a dab of butter in a smal pan and place one of the slices of bread down.  Spoon on some of the cheese sauce to coat the bread.  Then, add shredded cheese and a slice of ham.
3.  Put the second slice of bread on top and after about a minute, flip and grill for only a minute or two more.
4.  Remove the sandwich to a plate and while the pan is still hot, add a dab more butter and quickly fry an over-easy egg.  Crack the egg in the pan and once the white is solid and opaque (about 2-3m), flip and cook for about 30s-1m longer.
5.  While the egg is frying, completely saturate the sandwich with the cheese sauce and then coat with a layer of shredded cheese.  Top with the over-easy egg.
6.  Ready to eat!

  • What really makes this sandwich so excellent is the combination of the runny egg yolk, cheese sauce and soggy bread.  That being said, I've ruined the dish over and over again by over-cooking the egg or breaking the yolk somehow.  An easier alternative may be to just go with the egg completely sunny-side up,  ie: only cook the egg on one side until the white is really solid.


Breakfast of Champions

the big breakfast with chilli jam
Originally uploaded by jules:stonesoup as
the big breakfast with chili jam
Raise your hand if you don't eat breakfast in the morning.  That's what I thought.  Well, it's that time of year again, and whether you've set resolutions for yourself or not, I'm giving you one: eat breakfast.

If there's any lesson that I've had to learn over and over again in my adult life, it's to eat breakfast.  It all started sophomore year of college when I started feeling absolutely horrible at 9 o'clock every night.  What did that have to do with breakfast?  It turns out that by running off to class every morning and skipping breakfast, I wasn't starting my metabolism until midday.  So even after a full lunch and dinner, by 9pm my metabolism was still firing but I was running on empty- which made getting through my reading every night a nauseous, fatigued nightmare.

Of course, eating a decent breakfast will help you wake up and start your day feeling fresh and energetic, but it will also help control your weight.  It goes back to the metabolism thing.  Staring your metabolism bright and early will allow it to run its course all day, actively burning off calories and boosting your energy.  By evening it will be slowing down again, and you'll feel less compelled for those naughty late-night snacks and desserts.  And for that matter, letting your metabolic clock wind down at night will also help you fall asleep easier!

But I just don't have time to eat before work in the morning!  Tough.  Make a little time for breakfast and it will be the most rewarding change to your morning routine that you've ever made.  It only takes about 10-15 minutes to eat a simple breakfast- or less if you can grab it on the go and eat while you're checking your email in the office in the morning.  And if you live in America, you have no excuse- there are dozens of microwave-ready, already-put-together-for-you products out there that make breakfast a flash.

Aside from the smoothies, the recipes this month are a bit heartier and time-intensive and are designed for getting a good start to your weekend, but here are some great breakfasts to sneak in before work, all taking 15 minutes or less of your morning:

Baked Oatmeal
Originally uploaded by Laurel_Kate as baked oatmeal
  • Cereal: Tried and tested, there's probably no more efficient way to get through your morning.  No matter where you live, there are tons of great cereals out there with fruits, nuts and whole grains ready to eat straight out of the box.  Or you could always add sliced fresh fruit to a simpler cereal like Cheerios or Corn Flakes.  And slicing up a couple strawberries or a banana only takes, like, 30 seconds ;)
  • Oatmeal / Cream-of-Wheat / Grits: For a few minutes more, hot breakfast is always great on a cold winter morning.  Cream-of-Wheat with a dash of brown sugar is my favorite, but you can add nearly anything to each of these.  Sliced fresh fruit, berries, dried fruit, chopped nuts, a swirl of honey, cinnamon (an antioxidant!) or even peanut butter or Nutella will bring life to an otherwise bland breakfast food.
  • Yogurt: So great for your tummy and so easy to eat.  Mix yogurt with your cereal instead of milk or add museli, oats, berries and/or dried fruit to your yogurt for a super-healthy, super-quick breakfast.

  • Breakfast
    Originally uploaded by as Breakfast

  • Loaded Bagels: They'll put anything on a bagel these days.  The classic butter and cream cheese will still get you through your morning, but try making little sandwiches out of your bagels and haul them off to work with you.  You can add jam or peanut butter or stack on your favorite deli meats and cheese.   My personal favorite is sliced cucumber and tomato with cream cheese and smoked salmon (if it's in the budget that week).  You can slice up the veggies/toppings right before bed at night and they should still be decent and ready to stack on your sandwich in the morning.
  • Simple Ham & Cheese Sandwich: Throw two slices of bread in the toaster, fry an egg and stack it together with a slice of cheese and ham.  Done in 5 minutes.
  • Eggs and Toast: Aside from making one small dirty pan and spatula (which you can rinse and then wash when you get home), you can cook up one or two eggs in no time.  
  • Originally uploaded by VirtualErn as Breakfast
    • Scramble eggs with a dash of shredded cheese, bacon bits/cubed ham and some chopped veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes).  Or load the same ingredients into an omelet.  Like with the bagels, chop up your veggies/other ingredients the night before and refrigerate till morning.  If I've chopped veggies for dinner, I like to set a little aside for the next morning.
    • My favorite breakfast in Southeast Asia was soft-boiled (aka: runny) eggs and kaya toast.  I've been trying to replicate it since I left, but the runny egg is a fine art.  In general, you boil water, then turn off the heat and place a room temperature egg in it and cover for only 1-3 minutes then add a pinch of soy sauce and pepper.  But if you're like a lot of ang mos out there and a little afraid of the runny egg,  submerge your egg in water and let it boil all the way through.  Go about your business while it's boiling, and if you can master the "four-hour work week" guru's technique, a boiled egg and toast can be a quick and easy breakfast. 
    • Poached eggs on toast.  Poaching eggs is also an art form, but they're making silicone egg poachers these days that really help. I usually cheat and lightly fry two eggs over easy- or even sunny-side up and plop them on toast.
    • Don't forget to add a little life to your buttered toast.  You can sprinkle cinnamon and/or sugar/brown sugar on top, slap on your favorite jam/preserves or spread on some peanut butter, Nutella or kaya (a green or brown coconut spread).  In Asia they also add (sometimes spicy) meat "floss" to their toast.  See if you can grab some at a Chinese market, it's worth it!
  • Smoothies: Another quick and increasing popular easy breakfast food is the smoothie.  You can blend nearly anything together and make a breakfast out of it.  There's so much to say about smoothies, though, that I'll have to dedicate an entire post to it!

Happy Eating!