Smooth Operator

18 05 2010

For a long time I refused to even attempt to make smoothies at home because after a few terribly watered down and flavorless attempts I decided it was best left to the masters at Jamba Juice. But, recently I decided that it was actually something I could conquer. I realized that there are really only a couple of key elements to making an awesome smoothie at home:

1. One of the fruits must be frozen
2. One of the fruits must not be frozen
3. A decent blender (you don’t have to spend a ton, it just needs a powerful motor)

At the heart of it that’s the real key because it allows you skip the ice so you don’t have to thin the flavor just to get it cold. No one likes a warm smoothie so just blending warm fruit is no good either. Having the fresh fruit is also essential because you need something that liquefies easily so the blender can do its work. The fresh fruit is the catalyst to get the whole thing churning. A lot of the time you won’t even need juice to thin it out but if you do, add it a bit at a time and only as much as you need so you don’t end up with a thin liquid smoothie.

Now come the other steps that aren’t as key but in my opinion are pretty essential. For starters, I almost always have a banana in the mix. Banana just adds a perfect creamyness and really binds everything together in the perfect texture. When I buy bananas I almost never make it through the entire bunch before they go bad. So when it gets to the point where they’re almost starting to turn brown (because the longer they ripen, the sweeter they get) I slice them up and freeze them in a tupperware tub. Then when I’m ready to make my smoothie I just grab that, a little bit of fresh fruit, some yogurt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and I’m ready to go. Honestly I usually don’t even use more than two fruits, one of which is almost always a banana.

The other option I’ve been using lately that allows me to use the fresh bananas too is using frozen chunks of fruit from Trader Joe’s. Some of my favorite combos are below.

Frozen banana + frozen blueberry + fresh strawberry + plain yogurt + lemon juice

Frozen mango chunks + fresh banana + plain yogurt

Frozen banana + peanut butter + chocolate syrup + milk or vanilla yogurt (trust me, it’s awesome)

Useful ingredients are…

Fruit (fresh and frozen)
Yogurt (plain or flavored)
Lemon juice
Juice – orange, pineapple, carrot… whatever
Peanut butter

The trick is when fruit is in season and it’s cheap, buy a bunch and freeze what you can’t eat when it’s at the peak of its ripeness or even a bit past.

A word on blenders – I’ve tried making smoothies with shitty blenders in the past and it just discouraged me from wanting to make them at home. I’ve found two options that are affordable (compared to restaurant grade blenders) and work great. One is the super simple old-school clover shaped blender. The shape of that thing was apparently designed perfectly to encourage mixing and it does an amazing job of getting stuff mixed without needing to stir or beat the hell out of the side. The second is what I use now, an Oster Beehive. It’s relatively cheap and has an amazingly powerful motor for its price.


Liege Waffles

31 03 2010

I’ll just put this out there right now – I love Eggo waffles. You can hate all you want but Eggo waffles with Log Cabin syrup is the shit. Part of the reason I think I like them so much is because homemade waffles have never done it for me. They just suck… too dry, no flavor, and just can’t compete with those frozen wonders of modern preservation.

I’ve had “Belgian waffles” in plenty of restaurants too. I always give them a try because there’s so much fuss about them but they just disappoint every time. The exception was in Amsterdam at these little snack shops that sell waffles… covered in icing and other good stuff, they’re basically desserts. They are amazing and I have dreamed about them for years. Turns out there are now joints selling that kind of waffles here and when I had one in Tahoe a few weeks back it took me right back. Good ness where have you been?

Well I did a bit of googling and it turns out these little beauties are actually called Liege waffles. Named after the city in Belgium where they got their start, these things are no joke and since I found that out I’d been pretty determined to bring them to my gut and make it possible to have them on a regular basis. Mission accomplished.

The trick is that the dough for these puppies is less like a normal waffle batter and more like a wet bready dough. The recipe and information come from a website full of waffle info, aptly titled Waffle-Recipe dot com.

Liege Waffles
adapted from Waffle-Recipe dot com

2 cups of flour
1 cup of pearl sugar (I didn’t have this so I substituted a mix of regular sugar and light brown sugar)
1 cup melted butter (this is ridiculous, I fully realize)
3 eggs
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle the 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and the yeast on top of the water in a small bowl and let it hydrate for a bit (15 minutes or so – let it get a little foamy). While that’s happening, melt your butter.

Put the flour in a big bowl and make a well in the middle – pour in the yeasty water mixture. Add the eggs and butter and mix until you have a smooth dough – you might have to add some flour to thicken it up a little because of all that moisture. It should be thicker than regular waffle batter, but not as firm as a ball of bread dough – somewhere in between.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it sit for about 45 minutes to an hour until it has doubled in size.

Take about 3/4 of the cup of sugar and mix it in after the dough has risen. Let it sit again for about 15 minutes or so. Fire up your waffle iron.

At this point, tear or spoon off balls somewhere between a golf ball and a racquetball and roll them in a little bit of the leftover sugar. smash them into your waffle iron, spreading them out a bit with a wooden spoon or whatever you have. Close it and cook till they’re done.

Voila. Add syrup if you want but it’s really not necessary – the sugar you rolled them in will caramelize on the outside and makes from some pretty tasty coating. I think I was to do it again I’d cut back on the butter by a bit – a little too much for my taste, but otherwise they’re pretty perfect.


Baco Cakes

4 02 2010

Vegetarians, read on. This is for you too and there’s nothing too too graphic… you can just ignore anything swine-related.

Since it’s almost the weekend, I thought some breakfast would be good inspiration. And this, seriously anyone can make. It was the first thing I ever learned to make from scratch in the kitchen – pancakes. I still remember making them every Saturday morning growing up. That was my job in the kitchen… and to this day, some 20 years later, it’s still the only recipe that I know straight off the top of my head. I even remember what page it came from in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. You know the one – the classic gingham patterned book that was on the shelf of probably just about every Midwestern kitchen in the 80’s.

In this photo – everything you need to make pancakes. Goood pancakes. If this is it, why do we ever use Bisquick? I don’t know. These pancakes are so good you’ll never use a boxed mix again, promise.

And then, as if they weren’t good enough already, I decided that since I had a fresh slab of homemade bacon hot off the smoker less than 24 earlier, what better way to put it to use than… in my pancakes. This is the first time I’ve added the bacon twist to these cakes but it definitely won’t be the last. I figured, we eat plenty of bacon with pancakes, why not just cut to the chase and stuff it inside. Kill two stones with one bird, no?

So the first thing I did was fry up the bacon and render off some of the fat. Now this fat – from these amazing hogs – is like gold. And you have to treat it that way… any of it that comes out, gets saved and used in some way later. This stuff is no normal bacon grease… no no no this is some special stuff. Flavor like you wouldn’t believe, and I plan on savoring every last bit – just not all at once. I’m saving up for a bacon fat milkshake…

So actually, after I fried the bacon and poured off the grease, I decided to substitute a little bit of it for about half of the oil that goes into the pancake mix. I also used it to grease the pan I was frying them in instead of butter like I usually would.

So, this is how they go:

Best Pancakes Ever
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook circa 1988

1.5 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt – just a nice little pinch

1 egg
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp oil (vegetable, olive, canola – or slightly warmed bacon fat)

Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl.
Mix the wet into the dry.
If the mixture is too thick or too thin, adjust with more flour or more milk accordingly. The consistency can vary, depending on how thick you like your pancakes. I prefer mine nice and fluffy so I tend to make my batter about the consistency of… a milkshake. But not a thin runny one, a good milkshake… but not an extra thick one either. Just a perfect consistency milkshake. I love milkshakes.

This is when I added the chopped up bacon.

When you’re ready to go, heat up a frying pan (I prefer nonstick – it makes things so much easier) over medium heat. I test it by flicking a drop of water on it – If it sizzles, you’re ready to go.

There are a couple of crucial moves to ensure your pancakes are perfect:

1. Don’t overmix the batter. Only mix it until the ingredients are incorporated and relatively smooth. If you beat it forever, you’ll make glue.
2. Only flip once. EVER. None of that flipping and flipping until you have the right color. Get it right the first time. You cook it on one side, flip it and it’s done. End of story, no questions.

Don’t flip until it’s done on the first side and once you get to that point, it doesn’t take more than just giving it a little color on the second side to be done. You’ll start to see little craters forming and filling in on top of the pancake. When those start to slow and it’s golden brown on the first side it’s ready to flip. Usually it’ll take a couple minutes. Then on the second side all you have to do is give it a little color and it’s ready to go.

It’ll look something like this when they’re ready to flip:

And when they’re done, they’ll look something like this:

And then of course, the marriage between bacon and maple syrup is a very stable one, sure to produce many children and last a long long time. And I’m sorry, I don’t care what anyone says about real maple syrup… when it comes to pancakes, it’s just not for me. I’ve had too many years of Log Cabin and nothing satisfies me like it does… sometimes I just need to get my corn syrup on, sorry.