Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pumpkin Smoothie

Cheap Eat Challenge Count Down: 31 days

In the summer I really like smoothies. My sister, Rebecca, got me hooked on them. I usually make them with spinach or kale, a banana, peaches, or berries of some sort. I still have some peaches in my freezer from the cheap summer crop, but, um, I'm sort of hording them in case I want to make a peach cobbler some dreary winter night. And also, these smoothies with their frozen summer fruits--they're so cold. So I was looking for something a little more wintery, with some sort of seasonal way to get a vitamin punch.

And then I got an email from my sister-in-law about a pumpkin smoothie, and some lights went on.

This smoothie is good. It is also packed with beta carotine, which converts to our friend vitamin A. On the down side, it must be sweetened with something. The original recipe called for almond milk and agave nectar. We're not eating on $6/day yet, so I obligingly bought those ingredients. I'm not sure I've ever had almond milk before, but I was excited about it. I love almonds and I pictured something like coconut milk only with almonds instead. It was much more watery than that and also, as I believe is the case with all plant-product "milks," it was sweetened with cane sugar. Which forces me into a small tangent about "health foods." I believe that almond milk is generally touted as a health food. Perhaps that's true if you make your own in a high-powered blender or food processor. However, from the store, it just struck me as a sweetened processed food that is, ahem, not exactly cheap. I mean, I get it if you're a vegan and don't do animal products. But as a health food just because, well, I don't get it. Feel free to explain this to me if you do get it. Unfortunately, you won't be able to explain it to me before I post this recipe, which has departed from the virginal almond milk/agave nectar to include all sorts of pagan variations such as heavy whipping cream (come to mama).

The original recipe (just in case you're a vegan or you think almond milk is the most transcendent substance on earth, cane sugars and weird additives be darned) as sent to me by my sister-in-law:

2/3 C pumpkin
1 banana
1 C almond milk
agave nectar to taste

I tried it without any sweeteners and found it (forgive me vegan friends) not quite creamy enough or sweet enough. In fact I found it a little bland. And for some reason I couldn't break into the agave nectar because I was already disappointed in my almond milk. I couldn't take 2 expensive disappointments in one day so I decided to save the agave nectar. A mistake perhaps, but oh well. I used sugar instead--2 Tbsp. Still, it seemed too watery-pumpkin for me (vegan friends, we're going to have to agree to disagree here). So I stuck it in the freezer, blender and all and then when it was good and cold and just getting some firmness at the edges, I took it out and added 2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream and blended it all together and that was good. Then I sprinkled some nutmeg on top and that was even better. [Don't get me wrong; you don't HAVE to have the sugar, cream, nutmeg, (well, maybe the nutmeg--it is the body scrub of the angles) but it really helps the smoothie along, especially at the beginning when you're getting used to them. I find as I keep drinking them (and I've been drinking them a lot) that I need them less sweet than I did on that first batch.]

But I wasn't done experimenting. I wanted to see if I could make it with old-fashioned milk (and maybe still a bit of cream). Also, I had some coconut milk leftover from a previous dinner.

The plain milk version was the most practical as I feel most people have it lying about. Also, it's the cheapest option. But it was a bit runny (maybe if I'd gotten it really cold like above it would have worked better, but I didn't). And the coconut milk version was too thick. So I mixed them together. That was pretty much just right. And then I did something out of character for me and which--considering my preaching above about the processed nature of almond milk--was even downright hypocritical: I added some of the sugar-free hazelnut coffee creamer my mother-in-law left. Yes, I did. And I'm sort of embarrassed to admit this (see above preaching), but it was really really good. I might even do it again tomorrow for breakfast. Yes, I might.

And then I didn't get this posted because I made a great turkey salad. And last night I made some sweet potato puree because sweet potatoes were $.10/lb at Walmart and I have a baby and I (like to sneak sweet potato into foods my kids like such as boxed mac and cheese). Anyway, I looked at my sweet potato puree and I looked at my almond milk. And I got another idea. So today I've been feasting on sweet potato smoothies. The texture is slightly thicker and best of all, they don't need the sweeteners (or as much sweetener) as their pumpkin friends. The flavors, of course, are different. I prefer sweetened pumpkin over sweet potato--I think because I associate it with pumpkin milk shakes and pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin pie. But both were tasty.

Not sure how to make sweet potato puree? Basically you roast the sweet potatoes, let them cool a bit, scoop them out of their skins and into a blender. Then add a little water and blend. Need a more specific recipe? Stay tuned because at some point this month (hopefully soon) I'll be posting a hot cocoa recipe which may include a shot of sweet potato puree (though I will not admit this if you are my children). I'll have more specific measurements posted then.

A note on agave nectar: Yes, I broke into it. Agave nectar does blend up nice and smooth. It's further advantage is that it has a lower glycemic index than sugar or honey. Also, it's not refined like sugar is. However, I prefer the taste of sugar or honey.

A note on sweetened coffee creamers: So I happened to lick off my spoon after adding my fake hazelnut cream today. Wow. That stuff is really sweet. Now I know how you coffee drinkers do it. In the smoothies, you can likely skip or lessen the sugar/agave nectar if you use the sweetened coffee creamer, especially if you use sweet potato.

A note for those who don't have coffee creamers on hand: You get a similar effect by using 1 Tbsp whipping cream, 1/16 tsp (just a few drops) almond extract, and a sprinkle sugar.

A note on the garnish spices: I like nutmeg. A lot. But cinnamon, allspice, or even pumpkin pie spice would work.

Now, without further ado, here are a few winter smoothie options. Let me know if you've got a favorite.
Option A: Cheapest Winter Smoothie
Serves 1-2 depending on whether it's a meal in and of itself or a drink with a meal

This one is, for our family, also the most accessible--meaning we tend to have milk and, yes, even cream readily available.

2/3 C pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1 C milk (I used whole (raw) and I expect 2% would be good too. Go lower than that, and I make no promises, but if you're used to it, it'll probably be okay.)
1 banana
1-2 Tbsp sugar or agave nectar
1 Tbsp heavy whipping cream (optional)
1 tsp flavored coffee creamer (optional)
nutmeg (optional, unless you're me and find it of supreme importance in frothy winter drinks)

Blend all ingredients. If you've got the time, put it in the freezer for a half hour or so and then blend again. This will make it frothier and yummier, as will the addition of the optional whipping cream. Add creamer and/or nutmeg if you wish.

Option 2: Almond Winter Smoothie
Serves 1-2

2/3 C pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1 C almond milk (I'm sure rice or soy will also work to good--perhaps even better--effect)
1 banana
1-2 Tbsp sugar or agave nectar
2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream (optional)
1 tsp flavored coffee creamer (optional)
sprinkle nutmeg (optional)

Blend pumpkin, almond milk, banana, and sweetener. If you've got the time, put it in the freezer till very cold and barely beginning to freeze at edges. Then add whipping cream and re-blend. Sprinkle with nutmeg

Option 3: Coconut Winter Smoothie
Serves 1-2

2/3 C pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1/2 C milk
1/2 C coconut milk
1 banana
1-2 Tbsp sugar or agave nectar
1 tsp flavored coffee creamer such as hazelnut (optional)
nutmeg (optional)

Blend it up.


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