_4 Getting Started-Making a Summer Smoothie: Equipment and Techniques

Serves: 5



Aside from the fabulous taste, another unique attraction of smoothies is that they're unbelievably quick and easy to prepare. With many of us feeling overbooked with life's daily responsibilities, the last thing we want to do is to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Enter the classic smoothie. With very little effort, you can enjoy a satisfying and richly flavored drink within minutes. With such an unbeatable combination of good taste and ease of preparation, it's no wonder smoothies have quickly become one of the ultimate culinary rages of our era.

All that's needed to accomplish this miracle of flavors is a modest number of essential tools to equip your smoothie station: a sharp knife for prepping fruit, a rubber spatula to remove every last drop from the blender, airtight freezer bags for storing freshly cut fruit in the freezer, and, of course, the invaluable blender. There are, in addition, a few optional items of equipment. As you glance through the garnish recipes found in this cookbook, you'll note that some of them suggest using a silicone mat, which is a reusable laminated food-grade silicone sheet that prevents food from sticking during the baking process. This is a very useful item but not an absolute necessity. Finally, although a food processor can be used to make a smoothie, most smoothie mavens would agree that a blender definitely is the preferred appliance. While a food processor can be used to puree fruit and ice, it often leaves small chunks of ice. On the other hand, a blender breaks up the ice and fruit into tiny particles and is better able to process liquids and solids into a fine, smooth, and well-aerated puree.

A blender is the most important piece of kitchen equipment you'll need to make a proper smoothie. The invention of this indispensable appliance is credited to Stephen J. Poplawski, who, in 1922, first conceived of placing a spinning blade at the bottom of a glass container. By 1935, Fred Waring and Frederick Osius made significant improvements on the original design and began marketing the "Waring blender." The rest is history.

A blender basically consists of a tall and narrow stainless-steel, plastic, or glass food container fitted with metal blades at the bottom. These blades usually have four cutting edges placed on two or four planes, allowing the ingredients in the container to hit multiple cutting surfaces. An upward motion is caused by the rapidly spinning blades, creating a vortex in the container that allows for the incorporation of more air in the final product, giving it a smoother consistency.

When selecting a blender, you should assess certain basic qualities, including its durability, ease of operation and cleaning, capacity, and noise production. With such a wide variety of blenders from which to choose, I hope the following information will help you narrow your choice.

* Blender containers typically come in two sizes: 32 ounces and 40 ounces. If you'll routinely be preparing smoothies for more than two people, choose the larger one.

* Blender motors come in different sizes. Those with 290-watt motors are adequate for most blending jobs but are not optimal for smoothies. Others with 330- to 400-watt motors are considered to be of professional caliber and are excellent for crushing ice, a feature that is very important for creating the best smoothies.

* Blenders can be found with a variety of blade speed options, ranging from two (high and low) to multiple (between 5 and 14) speeds. Variable-speed models provide more options, such as the ability to liquefy and whip.

* The blender should have a removable bottom for ease of cleaning.

* Container lids should have a secondary lid that can be easily removed. This allows for the addition of ingredients while the blender is turned on.

* Avoid plastic container jars because they become scratched over time and do not wash well in the dishwasher.

Recently, a new blender that was specifically designed to make smoothies has become available. This whirring wizard, called the Smoothie Elite (by Back to Basics), has several features, including a custom stir stick to break up the air pockets, an icecrunching blade that ensures consistent smoothie texture, and a convenient spigot at the bottom of the container that serves up the finished product.

Although a blender is the ideal appliance for making smoothies, you may prefer a food processor because of its overall versatility or, more important, because it's an appliance that you already own. The New York Times described the food processor as the "twentieth-century French revolution." This unique appliance can mince, chop, grate, shred, slice, knead, blend, puree, liquefy, and crush ice.

The food processor has a base directly under the work bowl that houses the motor. A metal shaft extending from the base through the center of the work bowl connects the blade or disc to the motor. A cover that fits over the work bowl has a feed tube. When the bowl is locked into place and the motor is switched on, the shaft turns and propels the blades or discs. Unlike the blender container, the food processor bowl is wide and low, causing food to be sent sideways rather than upward by the spinning blade. This motion results in food striking the sides of the container, with less incorporation of air than in the upward motion produced by a blender.

Similar to the blender, the food processor has some basic features you should assess when attempting to select the one that will best fit your cooking needs.

* Food processors come in a wide range of sizes. The 2- or 3-cup miniprocessor is practical for chopping, especially small quantities of food. Those with 7-, 9-, and 11-cup capacities are each equally suitable for making smoothies as well as other food preparations, while 14- and 20-cup units are ideal for professional cooking needs.

* Although a few food processors have four speeds, most have two (high and low) in addition to a pulsing action.

* Some food processors come with both large and small feed tubes. The larger tube is convenient when large-size ingredients are to be added while the machine is running.

Once you've decided on the features you would like in a blender (or food processor), I highly recommend that you visit several appliance or department stores and personally view the various models available. The salesclerk should be able to provide you with information to further help you in making the best decision. Another resource for gleaning valuable information is the Internet. Many of the companies that manufacture these appliances have sites that are quite informative, and some also provide a phone number so that you can personally speak to a representative. Finally, CONSUMER REPORTS and similar publications provide comparison quality ratings for a variety of blenders and food processors.

Now that the blender has taken its rightful place-center stage on your countertop-it's time to rev it up and make a smoothie. Equipping your kitchen with the necessary tools to make smoothies was relatively easy, and you'll be pleased to learn that mastering the techniques required to prepare them is just as simple. In fact, preparing a smoothie is probably one of the most uncomplicated tasks you'll ever have to perform in your kitchen. Simply place all the appropriate smoothie ingredients in a blender, and you'll end up with a perfectly acceptable final product. However, for those who want to create the ultimate smoothie, there are a few helpful techniques that will help you reach that lofty goal.

* To ensure having the most delicious fruit, buy it when it's in season and at its peak flavor.

* Before freezing fruit, wash and dry it first, then follow the preparation instructions given in "About Fruit-Noteworthy Ingredients: How to Select, Prepare, and Store Fresh Fruit."

* When ready to freeze the fruit, set it in a shallow pan lined with a piece of parchment (or waxed) paper to prevent it from sticking to the surface. Place the fruit in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or until partially frozen. Using frozen fruit ensures that the smoothie will have a thick consistency and also be icy cold.

* Store-bought individually frozen fruit can be substituted for fresh frozen fruit, but it should be used within six months of the purchase date. Avoid using frozen fruit that is packaged in sweetened syrup.

* To be certain that you have a supply of your favorite seasonal fruits, stock up before they are no longer available for purchase. Although fruits have the most flavor when kept frozen for only one to two weeks, they can be kept in the freezer for a slightly longer amount of time.

* If you're using ice in a smoothie, the individual pieces should be slightly smaller than the cut-up fruit to prevent any chunks of ice remaining once the smoothie is blended. If you don't own a high-speed blender, you can make your own crushed ice simply by placing ice cubes in a resealable bag and crushing them with a mallet or rolling pin. An easier alternative to cutting the ice is to buy a bag of ice chips or crushed ice to keep in your freezer.

* Fill mini ice-cube trays with orange, lemon, lime, pineapple, or apple juice to create frozen juice cubes. Commercial juice works fine, but if the opportunity presents itself, use freshly squeezed varieties instead. These cubes make a flavorful alternative to plain ice cubes because they infuse additional rich fruity flavor to smoothies.

* When adding ingredients to a blender, always add the chilled liquid first, then the frozen fruit, and the ice or frozen yogurt last. Start the blender on low speed to crush the ice and fruit and blend the mixture. Gradually increase the speed until the mixture is smooth. It may be necessary to turn the blender off periodically and stir the mixture with a spoon, working from the bottom up.

* If the smoothie is too thin, add more fruit or ice. Conversely, if the smoothie is too thick, add more liquid.

From SUMMER SMOOTHIES: more than 130 cool and refreshing recipes. Copyright © 2002 Donna Pliner Rodnitzky. All Rights Reserved.

This _4 Getting Started-Making a Summer Smoothie: Equipment and Techniques recipe is from the Cook'n Summer Smoothies Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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