Race Day Smoothie

About five years ago I discovered my favorite green smoothie, which I basically lived on during an extremely hot and smokey summer in Helena. I was admittedly liberal with the peanut butter and a bit light on the spinach, but overall it was a decently healthy dinner option for those days I didn’t want to eat anything warmer than ice.

Over the years I’ve lightened up my original recipe, opting for coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s and substituting PBFit peanut butter powder instead of the real deal. Peanut butter powder may sound silly, but in baking or smoothies I actually prefer it over the original. The peanut flavor is a bit more concentrated and it really lowers the amount of calories and fat. I’m not a calorie counter by any means, but it makes it much easier to create a snack-sized version while keeping all that wonderful peanut flavor.  I’ve also probably doubled the amount of spinach I use, since I’m now inclined to add it to almost anything from smoothies to soup to scrambled eggs, and it’s definitely my preferred salad base. The spinach only vaguely modifies the flavor but gives a big nutrient boost – presuming you don’t mind the crazy green color. I admit it’s a bit off-putting to the uninitiated but I’m so used to it that this smoothie without spinach now looks and tastes strange to me.

During the summer and fall I participate in tons of running events, where you have to get up stupid early in the morning in order to make it to the start line or bus pickup on time. My usual race day breakfast (or really any day breakfast) is oatmeal with banana and PBFit, but on the days it’s too hot for that I opt for this smoothie instead. They contain basically the same ingredients, with the smoothie having that extra spinach boost. It goes down much easier when it’s already 75 degrees or more, and takes just as little time to prep in the morning.

I like to pre-grind the oatmeal so there aren’t large chunks clogging up my straws, but it’s not strictly necessary if you have a really quality blender. The oatmeal not only adds some calories and makes the smoothie more filling, but I really enjoy the hearty flavor it adds to the palate. It’s not overwhelming but reminiscent of an oatmeal cookie, and is still pleasant for people who necessarily enjoy oatmeal on its own.

This smoothie tastes like a peanut butter banana milkshake but is a much healthier way to start the day. With the addition of oatmeal it sticks with you for quite a while, making it perfect for both pre-race and post-race. It’s also a pretty legit dinner for those days you’re feeling lazy or in a hurry but still want something on the healthy end of the spectrum, and your boyfriend isn’t around to insist smoothies are not a real dinner.

Race Day Smoothie
Makes one 16-20 oz smoothie

Ingredients

1/3 cup oatmeal

1 ripe banana (peeled, sliced, and frozen)2
1 – 1.5 cups coconut milk (or any unsweetened milk)
2 Tbsp PBFit
1+ cups frozen and crushed baby spinach
cinnamon, to taste

Directions

  1. Place oatmeal in blender (I like to use the single-serve size so I don’t accidentally make a gigantic smoothie) and blend until finely ground.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend until completely mixed (this could take a minute or so). If it’s too thick, blend in additional milk 2 tablespoons at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Enjoy immediately with a straw, a sunny day, and a good book.

Notes

1  For a lighter smoothie I just leave out the oatmeal; this is great for the days you want a lighter breakfast or a healthier snack/dessert later in the day. But for an entrée smoothie the oatmeal adds great flavor and makes it a lot more filling!

2  I typically slice mine into roughly eighths as they fit into my single-serving blender cup better that way. You can slice yours more or less to suit your needs.

I like to put a bunch in the freezer and then crush it all once it’s frozen. Then it’s really easy to measure out a cup or two for each smoothie on the fly.

Advertisements

Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad

I’ve written about my favorite Italian restaurant in Bozeman, Fresco Cafe, as the inspiration for one of my grilled cheese concoctions from April. This is probably the place I go to with the most regularity, both for team lunches with work and with out-of-town visitors. It has delicious pastas and paninis, several delightful salads, and the specials are always on point. Although a semi-expensive place to dine, it is worth every single dollar to have amazing food and service every time. (As an aside, it’s also one of the few places that serves plain water rather than ice water, which is always worth a lot of points in my book.)

A couple of weeks ago during team lunch, the special salad was basically the combination of all my favorite things: bacon, bell peppers, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Served atop a bed of mixed spinach and arugula, it was one of the best salads I’ve ever had, in addition to being the perfect size for lunch. I expressed my ecstatic review, as well as requested they put it on the regular menu, which is something I’ve never actually bothered to do at a restaurant before. Since they haven’t heeded my advice yet, I set out to recreate a similar experience in my own kitchen.

It might sound plain and possibly too light, but with a slice of bread and a latte (I always get a latte at Fresco) it was properly filling without leaving me feeling overstuffed and heavy for the rest of the afternoon. Roasted red peppers are something I could eat with every meal, and you’ve probably already noticed I have a slight obsession with goat cheese (blame Costco.) Bacon and walnuts bring a little salt and a lot of protein to the dish, and a bed of leafy greens rounds out the meal nicely.

The original uses their house-made balsamic vinaigrette, but I opted to dress mine with plain balsamic vinegar from my local oil and vinegar spot. This was mostly out of laziness but also because it’s one of my favorite ways to top any savory salad. In any case, you can substitute your favorite balsamic vinaigrette or reduction in its place for a more traditional pairing.

I served mine with the bacon and peppers still warm (which will be extra great in the winter), but you could absolutely let them cool to room temperature during these excessive heatwaves everyone is having. I made myself all four servings and then each day assembled the leftovers for lunches this week. If you do the same, you could either serve it all cold or briefly reheat the bacon and peppers in the microwave before stirring it all together, as I’ve done for the past three days. Goes perfectly with a side of focaccia fresh from the Co-op.

Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad

Inspired by Fresco Cafe
Serves 4

Ingredients

8 slices bacon
2 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced

1 cup walnuts, halved

~8 cups fresh spinach & arugula (10-12 oz)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or your favorite vinaigrette or reduction)

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed cookie sheet (or two quarter sheets, if you have them) with foil. If you’re using one sheet, create an edge of foil in the middle of the pan.
  2. Arrange bacon in one half of the pan; lightly coat the other half with olive oil and arrange the peppers on top.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or to desired doneness. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain and set aside bell peppers.
  4. Spread walnuts on the bare pan and return to the oven to toast for 3-5 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, gently toss greens and balsamic vinegar (or dressing.)
  6. Divide greens into four bowls or plates – don’t scrape the mixing bowl.
  7. Gently toss bell peppers in the large bowl with leftover vinegar/dressing, then arrange on top of the greens.
  8. Slice bacon on an angle into bite-size pieces and arrange in the bowls.
  9. Top each with walnuts, goat cheese, and freshly ground pepper.
  10. Enjoy immediately, optionally garnished with a slice of bread.

Sriracha Blackberry Salad

Despite what looks like an excessive ice cream intake, during hot weather I also eat a lot of chilled salads and smoothies as a healthy way to keep cooler. With no stove or oven required, it doesn’t add heat to either me or the house, and they are quick to throw together. My fridge is always filled with an array of fresh produce, but during the summertime I make extra sure to have plenty of salad ingredients on hand.

Spinach is my go to base since I use it in everything from soups to scrambled eggs to smoothies, and there’s always a hefty bag of it from Costco. I don’t usually have a specific flavor palate in mind, but throw on whichever veggies or fruits I have lying around. I often add some raw nuts, cooked quinoa, or canned beans for extra calories and a protein boost. Tossed with a flavored vinegar or a simple dressing, it’s a delicious and filling meal and easy to throw together for a quick lunch or dinner.

Last year I concocted a lemon and berry combination that is still one of my favorites, especially with raspberries fresh from the garden. In these months before the berries have ripened, I sometimes splurge on a tray of blackberries from Costco to eat throughout the week. Delicious on yogurt or ice cream, in a smoothie, or just by the handful, it’s never a challenge to get through them on my own.

Since I love the berry and spinach combination, I decided to combine some blackberries with my newest favorite Olivelle discovery: Sriracha White Balsamic Vinegar. Still fairly sweet but with the slight kick of Sriracha flavoring, this is a more savory experience. It’s superb as a dressing all on its own, excellent as a condiment for wraps, and delightful mixed in with scrambled eggs. I’m already halfway through my rather hefty bottle, and I know I’ll be back promptly when I need a refill.

I started with my standard spinach based, and topped with fresh blackberries and sliced almonds. As I usually have goat cheese in the fridge as well (how do people live without Costco?), I added that for some creaminess and a little tang. The sweet and spicy Sriracha vinegar pulls everything together with a little kick, but not so much that it overwhelms all the other delicious flavors. This salad is great as a light meal with a side of tasty sourdough bread, but works just as well alongside a chicken or fish entrée.

For those of you that are perhaps not keen on buying specialty vinegar, I’ve included a recipe for a copycat version. It’s not a perfect match but it’s still delicious, and a bit more accessible than mail-order vinegar.

Sriracha Summer Salad
Servings: 1 entrée, or 2 sides

Ingredients

2 cups baby spinach, washed and dried
1 Tbsp Sriracha white balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup blackberries, washed and dried (and maybe halved, if you want)
2 Tbsp goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp sliced almonds

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, gently stir together spinach and Sriracha vinegar until well coated. Transfer spinach to serving dish(es).
  2. Arrange berries, goat cheese, and almonds on top, optionally drizzling with extra vinegar.
  3. Enjoy immediately as a spicy-sweet entrée for one, or as side dishes for two.

Copycat Sriracha Vinegar
Makes about 1/3 cup

Ingredients

1/2 cup high quality white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Sriracha, to taste

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, gently heat vinegar and Sriracha to a simmer, and let simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup.
  2. Whisk vigorously to mix in Sriracha (there may still be speckles.) Add more Sriracha to taste, if desired.
  3. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator, shaking or whisking before each use if spices have settled.

Summer Squash Tian

We had a brief stint of summer here, with one day reaching 92, but so far haven’t quite made it to the sustained heat I know is imminent. I am constantly torn between being grateful the heat is holding off, and lamenting the lack of heat training I can do for my upcoming summer races. In any case, as the plants in my garden sprout and grow, it makes me excited for harvest and all the lovely dishes that come with a summer bounty.

Summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squashes are some of my favorite veggies, and their relative cheapness here means I eat a ton of them throughout the summer and early fall. I add them to salads and scrambled eggs, eat them plain with hummus or pesto, and freeze them for when the weather turns me towards soups. Their neutral flavor makes them an easy addition into almost anything, as well as being a delightful standalone.

One of my favorite hot weather recipes is a simple baked dish. Summer squash and sweet potato are accented with onion and spices, then topped with a sprinkle of cheese for an easy but delicious side great for the hot months. You may be wondering how baked vegetables could possibly be warm weather appropriate, but the secret is I actually prefer this one cold! Not only does that make it easy to serve straight out of the fridge for barbecues and leftovers, but it makes for a great make-ahead meal as well.

Simple without being boring, this vegetarian concoction works great as a side dish when you get bored with salad, or as a healthy afternoon snack. For the vegan crowd, you can just leave off the cheese – it’s quite excellent without it – but you may want to add a pinch of salt to your spice mix. Briefly sautéed onions and roasted squashes bring a light sweetness to the dish, complimented with your favorite spices. This one is easy to customize to whatever you’re pairing it with: just change up the spices to match or contrast with your entrée.

I used an Italian spice blend, but you can easily concoct your own mix or just include one spice for a simpler flavor profile. Pairs beautifully with a side of grilled anything, and makes for an easy lunch since it requires no reheating. I’ll admit it’s a little messy and time-consuming to slice and vertically arrange so many items, but it’s worth it for even cooking and presentation points. I like to use a sweet potato, but if you prefer a white or red that is excellent too. The dish is easiest if you can find squashes and potatoes of roughly all the same diameter, but as you can see I have a variety of sizes in mine and it’s completely manageable.

When the over abundance of squash hits your area, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Summer Squash Tian

Adapted from Budget Bytes
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 lbs zucchini and yellow squash (about 6 medium, I used most of one of the bags Costco sells)
1 narrow sweet potato
3 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 Tbsp Miscuglio (or your favorite spice mix)

1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar and Gruyère)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a small or medium frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high.
  3. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly into the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  4. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife and a lot of patience, slice zucchini and yellow squash into approx 1/4″ slices (I used the thickest setting on my mandolin.)
  5. Using the same method, slice sweet potato into less than 1/8″ slices (I used the thinnest setting on my mandolin.) This ensures the potatoes cook in the same amount of time as the squashes.
  6. In a large bowl, combine squashes, sweet potato, 3 Tbsp olive oil, and spices. Stir until well coated.
  7. Arrange upright in rows, avoiding having large sections of the same vegetable if possible. This is messy, but worth it for even cooking and prettiness.
  8. Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove foil, top with cheese, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is to your desired level of meltiness.
  10. Let cool briefly before serving, or store in fridge and serve chilled.1

Notes

This does not reheat well but I actually prefer it cold which makes it not only a great make-ahead meal, but also a great side dish for hot summer days.

Teriyaki Meatballs

Like many teenagers, I rarely packed a lunch for school. Possibly unlike many teenagers, this was mostly because my objectively large lunch group was typically so annoyed at my exceedingly slight build they would just hand me food to eat. Albeit a little annoying in its intent, my laziness won out over my dignity and I happily accepted nearly anything people were willing to share. At some point during my high school career, a place next door started a lunch business serving bowls of Asian-inspired cuisine, like General Tso’s chicken and sweet & sour pork. They were all $5 per bowl and came with white rice, so my favorite teriyaki chicken bowl became somewhat of a staple food in my life. I was much too cheap to fork over my own money very often, but would delightedly finish off other’s leftovers or graciously accept a gift if one of my extremely generous friends felt so inclined.

These days I nearly always pack my own lunch and try to aim for healthier options, but my love of teriyaki has not waned. I rarely eat it, for reasons unknown, but when I saw these teriyaki meatballs on Damn Delicious I knew I had to give them a try. With a freezer full of venison, antelope, and elk, I did not opt to buy the ground pork advised in her original, but I thought my all venison version was exceptional. With this in mind I believe nearly any species of ground meat would suffice, but if you prefer the mixed meat combinations then by all means please do so.

Moist and flavorful, the meatballs are pretty excellent all on their own but also obviously improved by a delicious teriyaki sauce. I made the original version as directed the first time, but found it far too sweet for my personal taste. Although it was delicious, it was more along the lines of a sweet & sour profile than a savory and tangy teriyaki. As such, I’ve made some alterations, mostly cutting the sugar in half, which resulted in just the right amount of sweetness for me. If you like a sweet teriyaki sauce, you can certainly increase the sugar along the way.

I paired mine with my favorite wild rice mix and a side of roasted broccoli, which rounded out into a lovely dinner. The meatballs and sauce would also be excellent as an appetizer (don’t forget the toothpicks!) or as a fun twist on a meatball sandwich or wrap (I’d garnish mine with sprouts.) I like lots of sauce so I made a large batch; if you have leftovers, it’ll be great drizzle over veggies or salad, mixed with scrambled eggs, or paired with grilled chicken or salmon. I never worry about extra sauce, but if you’re not a big sauce person or are serving these as an appetizer, you could likely cut the recipe in half.

 

This is a great summertime meal, and to cut down on prep time just roll the meatballs ahead of time and store in the fridge till you’re ready to bake. If you have a second baking sheet you can roast your veggies at the same time while you make your sauce and cook the rice, and within 30 minutes dinner will be ready. The whole shebang also reheats great so look forward to those leftovers tomorrow.

Teriyaki Meatballs

Adapted from Damn Delicious
Makes about 2 dozen meatballs

Ingredients

Meatballs
2 lbs ground meat of choice (or combination; I used venison)
1/2 cup Panko (bread crumbs)
2 large egg yolks
2 green onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger (or 1/8 tsp ground ginger)
1 tsp pepper

Sauce1
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water

Optional toppings: green onion, sesame seeds, parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat lightly with olive oil or cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add all meatball ingredients. Use your hands (yes it’s messy) to mix together until completely combined.
  3. Roll 2 Tbsp into a ball and set on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining meat mixture, leaving at least 1″ between meatballs.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until nicely browned and cooked through (165*F on an instant-read thermometer).
  5. While the meatballs are baking, add soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, ginger, and garlic powder to a small saucepan.
  6. Heat over medium until sauce reaches a simmer, then taste carefully (don’t burn your tongue!). For a sweeter sauce, add additional brown sugar and return to simmer.
  7. Whisk together cornstarch and water and slowly stream into the pan, whisking constantly.
  8. Continue to heat over medium, whisking often, until mixture thickens to desired consistency (for me this was 5-10 minutes, I like it thick).
  9. For an appetizer: pour some sauce into a shallow bowl or serving dish and arrange meatballs inside. Drizzle additional sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle with sesame seeds or other garnish.
  10. For an entrée: serve atop your favorite rice or grain; roasted broccoli or Brussels sprouts make an excellent side.

Notes

If you’re serving these as an appetizer, you can probably make half the amount of sauce, but I don’t consider extra teriyaki sauce to be a burden so really it’s up to you.