Healthy Breakfast Fruit Smoothies

We all need options when it comes to breakfast, and so I’m sharing my tips for making a quick and healthy smoothie, regardless of the fruit and other fixings you have on hand.

What makes these smoothies “better” for better breakfast month?

  • They work two servings of fruit into the most important meal of the day.
  • They bend and flex to accommodate your favorite fruit, fresh or frozen.
  • You can easily swap out dairy for plant-based milk.
  • Your favorite protein powder will feel right at home in them.
  • They are quick, easy and portable for rushed-out-the-door mornings.
  • They satisfy your morning hunger and are friendly to a weight-loss diet.
  • They are super kid-friendly.

My magic formula for delicious and healthy fruit smoothies goes like this—something creamy, something packed with protein, some kind of fruit, maybe a juice, and optional special touches, such as coconut or spices. See what I mean? Flexible! I’ll give the full rundown of how I mix and match ingredients (and in what quantity), then I’ll share specifics of my favorites. Here we go!


Something Creamy

about 3/4 cup

I usually choose plain Greek yogurt or kefir, a cultured dairy drink that is similar to buttermilk but tastes more like a drinkable yogurt. Regular yogurt is also an option, but I avoid the flavored ones and their crazy-high sugar content. Skyr is another good option—a yogurt-like product from Scandinavia. Two popular brands are Siggi’s and Icelandic Provisions. For a plant-based option, choose your favorite non-dairy yogurt substitute, but lean into the low-sugar or plain options. The fruit you add will bring plenty of sweetness to the party.


Something Protein-y

about 1/2 “scoop,” or approximately 1 heaping tablespoon

Choose your favorite powdered form—I like soy protein, but whey works very well in smoothies, and so does hemp or pea protein. Almost every protein powder I’ve purchased comes with a small scoop that is roughly 2 tablespoons, and I fill it halfway for a smoothie. I recommend a plain or unsweetened vanilla option. My husband, Les, likes the chocolate protein powder, but we have found it can be less versatile for matching with fruit. Chocolate and raspberry is great, but chocolate and peaches?—not so much. Vanilla helps us keep our options open.


Something Fruity

total of about 1 cup

Yay—my favorite part! I like my smoothies to be icy cold and shake-like, so I almost always use frozen fruit, and especially bananas because of the creamy texture they provide. The greatest benefit to using frozen is that I don’t have to wait until the fruit is in season. It also saves multiple trips to the market for fresh fruit, or throwing away fruit that has gone bad. The fruits that work best for my homemade smoothies are peaches, bananas, pineapple, mango, cherries and any kind of berry (as long as you don’t mind their seeds). Fresh fruit works fine, of course. I don’t recommend citrus fruits, apples, melons or grapes, as their texture and water content would prevent them from blending well.


Juice or other liquid

1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on other ingredients

This is helpful for blending the smoothie, but it may not be necessary if you use kefir, which is pourable. Greek yogurt is much thicker and would benefit from addition of juice, especially if you are using mostly frozen fruit in the smoothie. Other suitable liquids include milk, almond milk, coconut water or coconut milk.


Special mix-ins

small amounts of each

The mix-ins can be anything you like, but my favorites are unsweetened coconut (for texture and fiber), chia seed (for fiber and additional protein) and ginger (good for digestion) or another powdered spice, such as cinnamon. Sweeteners are not necessary, but if you must, may I recommend a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup? Anything but sugar, if you are aiming to keep them in the healthy column.


Ordering the layers:

It may seem inconsequential, given that the ingredients will be whirred into one mixture in the blender, but your smoothies will come together faster and more evenly if you layer the ingredients in a way that your blender can best mix them. You want the liquids and powders closest to the blender blade, so they can get a head start on mixing before the frozen stuff enters the game. The heavier ingredients, such as frozen fruit or ice, should be at the top, providing weight to keep the mixture moving downward for thorough blending. For a standard base blender, it might look like this:

My smoothie appliance is a bullet blender, which of course goes upside-down for mixing. So I layer my ingredients in reverse order, beginning with frozen fruit. When I flip the sealed blender cup onto the machine, I give it a minute to allow the liquids to run back to the blade area for more even mixing, leaving the frozen fruit at the top, where it should be.

Enough talk—let’s make a smoothie! Below are some of my favorite blends, and a list of ingredients I use for each of them. I’ve given the ingredients in order for a conventional blender. If you use a bullet-style blender, reverse the list order. Each combination yields a 12 oz. (340 g) smoothie.


Kefir, pineapple and spinach

I think of this smoothie as a power breakfast for all the nutritional benefit I get from it. Plus, the flavor is so delicious, it is a treat at the same time.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup kefir, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop soy protein powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1 medium handful baby spinach leaves, 1/2 cup banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits.


Yogurt and banana-berry blend

This one feels very protective, with lots of antioxidant benefit in the red and blue berries.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup yogurt (I used coconut flavor skyr for this one), 1/4 cup blueberry juice (any juice or milk will do), 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen berry blend (with blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry).


Plant-based yogurt and mango

There are many great flavors of plant-based yogurt available, and this one was mango, so I played up the tropical flavors throughout the smoothie.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup plant-based yogurt, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks.


Peach cobbler smoothie

For this one, I soaked 1/4 cup rolled oats in 1/2 cup kefir overnight (in the fridge) and then built the smoothie in the morning. It’s an easy way to work some whole grains into your breakfast drink (because September is also “whole grains month”). From that point, the process was the same for layering and blending. You get the idea, right?

Ingredients: 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, kefir-soaked oats, 1 tablespoon almond flour, 1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen peaches.


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Cherry Amaretto Upside-down Skillet Cake

A great meal deserves a sweet, delicious ending, and this one showcases the plump and luscious dark red cherries that were everywhere this summer. The cake is moist and flavorful, rich with buttermilk, almond flour, eggs and real butter, and the buttery brown sugar topping is a little on the boozy side, plus the deep, dark sweet cherries. And the whole thing is elegantly draped with a dollop of amaretto-spiked whipped cream.

YUM!

If you aren’t wild about cherries (or maybe you aren’t wild about knocking out the pits), substitute fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, blackberries—well, I think you get the idea. But these cherries!

Fresh and sweet dark cherries

To tackle the unenviable job of pitting the cherries, I purchased a nifty device that gets the job done, six cherries at a time! If you’ve ever tried pitting cherries without a tool, you know that it cannot be done without making a huge mess. In previous attempts, I’ve balanced the cherries—one at a time, of course—on the neck of an empty wine bottle, then held the cherry while shoving the end of a chopstick through it. It left holes in the cherries, the pits inside the bottle, and red juice stains all over everything else in the room, including me. It’s the reason that, for the most part, I’ve relied on frozen cherries whenever I wanted to make a cherry dessert. I adore fresh cherries, but I’d only bought them to snack on, and only when I was flying solo because the whole spitting-out-the-pits part conjured memories of the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. There’s just no way to do it gracefully.

Suffice to say, this $15 tool has changed the game for me. After rinsing the cherries and pulling off the stems, I loaded them into the tray and pressed the top down. Boom!

And just like that, the pits are pushed out the bottom and into a receptacle, leaving the cherries intact but devoid of pits. I finished the entire bowlful in about 8 minutes. I’m not prone to give kudos for “uni-task” tools, but this one really took the pain out of what would otherwise make me choose a different dessert. Besides, as I reminded my husband, Les, this will also come in handy when I need to pit whole olives (which I’ve never tried but now I can).

After the cherries were pitted, I got busy making the topping, which goes into the skillet first. This part of the recipe felt familiar because I’ve made a similar upside-down skillet cake with peaches. I start by melting butter with brown sugar, then adding amaretto to the mix for a subtle almond flavor that echoes what will be going on later in the cake batter. The cake is easy to make, too—cream together the sugar and butter, add the eggs and flavor enhancers, and then alternate the dry ingredients with buttermilk until it’s ready to spread over the topping. The rest of the delicious magic happens in the oven.

It’s best to invert the cake onto a plate while it’s still warm, but be careful handling the hot skillet!

This cake has a dense, but not heavy texture, and the warm almond flavor permeates every layer while the soft, juicy cherries satisfy the sweet tooth. It keeps well, too, which is always a bonus in our empty nest household. As odd as it may sound, Les and I found that we enjoyed this cake even more a couple days after I baked it—ice-cold, straight from the refrigerator. The cake part remained moist (thank you, buttermilk!), and the cherry flavor was more pronounced.

Leftovers. The cake remained moist in the fridge, and the deep cherry color seeped further into the cake. This is a delicious dessert for late summer!

Ready to make it?


Ingredients

4 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cane sugar

1.5 oz. amaretto* (see notes)

About 3 cups pitted fresh dark cherries

1 cup all-purpose flour*

3/4 cup almond flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3/4 cup cane sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, softened but not melted

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 Tbsp. amaretto (optional)*

1 cup buttermilk*

Whipped cream for serving, if desired


*Notes

Amaretto is an Italian, almond-based liqueur. It is lower proof than whiskey or vodka, slightly sweet and plays very nicely with cherries. If you avoid alcohol, you can get close to this flavor with almond extract. Drizzle 1 teaspoon over the cherry mixture and increase to 2 teaspoons in the cake. Real almond extract, by the way, also usually contains alcohol as a suspension for the almond flavor, but the amount will be minimal.

Remember the rule for measuring flour? In baked goods such as this, using the correct amount will really make a difference. Dipping your measuring cup straight into the flour container is a sure-fire way to have a dry and crumbly cake. I trust a kitchen scale for most of my baking, but if you don’t have one, follow the simple “fluff, sprinkle, level” method—fluff the flour with a whisk or fork, sprinkle it over the dry measuring cup to overflowing, level it off with the back of a knife.

Don’t be tempted to substitute regular milk for the buttermilk in this recipe. The acidity in the buttermilk will lend a subtle tanginess to the cake, and it also reacts with the baking powder and soda for leavening.


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Place a 10” cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture appears lightly foamy.
  3. Pour in the amaretto and swirl gently to evenly distribute throughout the butter and sugar mixture. Remove from heat and arrange the cherries close together over the mixture.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon.
  5. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it’s evenly combined and fluffy. Add one egg and beat until smooth, repeat with the second egg. Then, beat in vanilla and almond extracts, plus additional amaretto, if desired.
  6. Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, blending only until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat in half the buttermilk until smooth. Repeat with flour and buttermilk, then the remaining flour.
  7. Pour the batter evenly over the cherries in the skillet. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula to evenly distribute the thick batter.
  8. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Allow cake to cool at least 15 minutes before inverting it to a large serving platter. To do this successfully, first slide a butter knife around the edges of the cake, to loosen any areas where it might be sticking. Center the plate, face-side down, over the skillet, then carefully hold the skillet and plate together and turn them over. I’ve found this to be easy, as long as you don’t allow the cake to cool too long. If it sticks too much to release, turn the pan right side up again and briefly heat it over a low burner. This will melt and soften the butter again for easier release.

Allow the cake to cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream (spike with amaretto, if you wish).

Store leftovers in the fridge, covered with foil or plastic wrap.

This recipe makes about 8 servings, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream is a perfect topper.

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Seared Tuna with Forbidden Rice and Tropical Salsa

This colorful dish proves two points—that eating healthy does not have to be boring or bland, and that you don’t need to be in a restaurant to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal.

When it comes to fresh seafood, I believe in keeping the fish (or shrimp, scallops, crab, whatever) as close to its true state as possible. Trust citrus juice, salt and pepper to bring out the best in seafood and bring in other complementary flavors on the side. That’s what I’ve done with this pretty plate, featuring a fresh-caught ahi tuna steak and a tropical fruit salsa that comes together in about 7 minutes. The most time-consuming part of the dish is waiting for the rice to cook.

If you’ve never seen or cooked with forbidden rice before, here’s a quick list of facts to help you get to know this delicious, somewhat exotic ingredient.

Black rice is sometimes called “forbidden” rice.

Where does black rice come from, and why is it “forbidden?”

Black rice originated across the continent of Asia, and has long been a significant crop in China, Bangladesh, parts of the Philippines, Thailand and Northeast India. The grain is no longer considered “forbidden,” but it was given that distinction in ancient China because of its former scarcity. The cost of this rare food put it out of reach for all but the wealthiest people, and so it was forbidden to everyone else. That has changed, however, as it is now cultivated more widely and available in larger supermarkets or online.

What gives black rice its color?

The rice has a very deep color that looks nearly black in its raw state, but in bright light and after cooking, it’s easier to see that it is actually more of a deep purple. This is because of anthocyanin, a type of plant pigment that also occurs in blueberries, raspberries, purple cauliflower and “blue” corn. Although some websites suggest the anthocyanins have antioxidant properties, scientific studies have so far only shown this to be true in a lab environment—not in the human body by food consumption.

What does black rice taste like?

If you were to close your eyes while tasting black rice, you might think you were enjoying smaller grains of brown rice because of the similar mild, slightly nutty flavor.

What do you make with black rice?

You can use black rice the same way you’d use any rice—in side dishes, pilafs, soups and salads. Also, because of its unusual color, it is commonly used in Asian countries in special dessert dishes, especially rice pudding made with coconut milk.

Ingredients

1 cup cooked black rice

2 portions fresh tuna steak

1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces* (see notes)

1 fresh honey mango, cut into chunks*

1/4 red bell pepper, diced (or 1 Tbsp. jarred pimentos, drained)

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely diced (optional to taste)

4 fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips* (see slides for tips)

1 Tbsp. peach white balsamic vinegar*

1 Tbsp. neutral extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and fresh black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime

*Notes

Save some time on the pineapple and pick it up pre-cut from your produce department. I don’t recommend canned pineapple for this, but you could probably use frozen (thawed) in a pinch.

There are hundreds of varieties of mango, but usually two at my market—“regular” mango, which is kind of round-oval and darkish green with blushing orange areas, and the one they call “honey” mango, which is usually smaller, deep yellow all over, and (my reason for choosing it) easier to cut up. Use whatever variety is your favorite, or whatever is available. If you’ve never cut a mango, check out the slideshow below for some easy tips.

The peach white balsamic is a specialty product I purchased at a gourmet olive oil and vinegar store. I chose it because it’s soft and fruity, but feel free to substitute any light vinegar you like, especially one that plays well with the fresh tropical flavors in this salsa—think fruity, citrus or mint.

Here’s a visual walk-through of how I put this together, and written instructions appear below.

Instructions

  1. Season tuna steaks with only sea salt and black pepper, and set aside, covered, at room temperature.
  2. Cook black rice according to package instructions. Try not to stir it too much to avoid additional “stickiness.”
  3. While rice is cooking, prepare salsa—combine pineapple and mango pieces, add jalapeno, red onion and red bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Use a mini whisk to combine peach balsamic and extra virgin olive oil, stirring briskly until a thick emulsion results. (If your vinegar is not a balsamic, it may be thinner consistency)
  5. Stack mint leaves, then roll them lengthwise into a tube shape and cut across into slices. When unfurled, these will be thin strips.
  6. Pour dressing over fruit salsa blend and toss to coat evenly. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle mint leaves into blend, gently toss again and set aside.
  7. When rice is ready, sear tuna steak on a medium-hot griddle, grill or skillet, turning to sear other side to desired doneness. Ideally, good quality fresh tuna should be cooked rare, but if you’re squeamish about that, push it to medium-rare.

Plate by spooning about 1/2 cup black rice, then lay tuna steak halfway over the pile. Spoon salsa over the top, squeeze lime over both plates and serve!

It’s light, fresh and pretty!

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Strawberry Mascarpone Ice Cream

If you love the idea of homemade ice cream but don’t feel like messing around with a cooked custard base, this recipe will be right up your alley. The cream cheese (or, in this case, mascarpone) gives it a luxurious, silky texture, but it comes together quicker without the extra, fussy step of tempering eggs and straining a custard. Greek yogurt helps lighten it up a bit without compromising the creaminess. The layers of fruit syrup and crushed graham crackers bring home all the memories of a fresh summer cheesecake.

I’ve broken the recipe into tasks over a couple of days, but you could easily start this in the morning and finish it the same evening. Just be sure you give the berries enough time to macerate, and the cream mixture time to thoroughly chill before freezing.

Not wild about strawberries? Feel free to swap them out in favor of another favorite fruit, but consider that some fruit might need to be cooked first. Blueberries and raspberries, to name two, aren’t as juicy as strawberries so they would need a little help getting there. I think fresh summer peaches would be amazing in this recipe—and, of course, cherries.

In a bowl, off the spoon, in a cone. However you take it, this ice cream is delicious!

This recipe is part of a series for National Ice Cream Month. Each year in July, my community celebrates with a fundraiser called “The Big Chill,” an entry-by-donation event offering tastings of exquisitely crafted homemade ice creams, live music by local artists and “cold-calling,” during which various community leaders quite literally freeze their buns off while sitting on blocks of ice in quest of a fundraising goal. This year, because of our city’s commitment to safety during the coronavirus, the live event has been sidelined and all activities will be virtual instead.

The funds raised at The Big Chill are directed to an amazing non-profit organization called The Shalom Project. If you find any of my ice cream recipes interesting, creative, unexpected, intriguing or just plain pretty, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this life-giving project. Link (here) for more information or (here) to donate, and thank you!

*The link to donate leads to my Key Lime Pie Ice Cream recipe on the Big Chill page, but your contribution will go to the same great cause!


Ingredients

8 oz. mascarpone* or cream cheese

3/4 cup caster (super-fine) sugar*

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup Greek yogurt* (plain or vanilla)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. almond extract

2 1/2 cups fresh organic strawberries*

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 Tbsp. vodka* (optional for improved texture)


*Notes

Mascarpone is an Italian-style creamy cheese, a bit denser and definitely silkier than regular cream cheese. It will lend an ultra-creamy texture to this ice cream which, unlike most of my others, does not begin with an egg custard. If mascarpone is not available in your market, use full-fat cream cheese (the brick kind) for similar result.

Caster sugar is sometimes called “super-fine” sugar. I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it is easier to dissolve in cold ingredients. In my custard-based ice creams, I use pure organic cane sugar, which I’m certain would not fare well in this recipe because we are not cooking the base.

From top, clockwise: pure organic cane sugar, fine organic cane sugar, caster sugar.

Caster sugar is pure white and extremely processed (a quality that makes it practically against my religion), so it’s rare for me to use it at all. It’s also pretty expensive compared to most sugars. If you can’t find caster, put your regular sugar in a blender and grind it into as fine a powder as you can. Measure the amount after grinding. Otherwise, warm the milk called for in the recipe and dissolve your sugar into it, then cool completely before proceeding.

Because the mascarpone already has cream in it, I’m using less heavy cream than I normally would for ice cream. To make up the difference, I’ve opted for Greek yogurt, and the one I chose is vanilla with a touch of cinnamon, which I think is going to play really nicely against the strawberries. I’m always on the lookout for a twist, which typically leads me to develop favorite new recipes.

Unfortunately, strawberries top the 2020 “Dirty Dozen” list of potentially toxic produce items. Each year, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, issues a list of produce items most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and other questionable chemicals. You can learn more about it here, but in the meantime, choose organic strawberries whenever possible.

The vodka in this recipe is optional, and it does not affect the flavor, but it helps with the final texture of the ice cream, making it easier to scoop straight from the freezer.

This time, I did not add the vodka at the end, and I can feel the difference as this ice cream is very solid.

Instructions

Day one:

Clean and hull the strawberries, and slice into pieces. I use an egg slicer for this task—it’s quick and simple, and I end up with uniform slices. Add the berries to a medium size bowl and stir in brown sugar. Give the berries time to fully macerate at room temperature, then put them in the refrigerator.

If you’re cool with having a pink-colored ice cream, feel free to skip this next step. I’ve decided this time around that I want to create a ribbon of strawberry syrup through the white ice cream, so I’m going over the top, even though it means I’ll add a day to my ice cream prep. Care to join me? Allow the strawberries to macerate overnight, then use a large mesh strainer to drain off the liquid and simmer it over medium-low heat until it is reduced by half and has the consistency of a thin syrup.

After reducing, I have about 1/3 cup of strawberry syrup– more than enough to create my “ribbon.”
If there’s enough left over, I’ll drizzle it over the first serving of ice cream!

Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature, then return it to the fridge in a separate bowl from the drained berries.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat the mascarpone together with the caster sugar, milk and Greek yogurt until fully combined. Slowly beat in the heavy cream, taking care not to whip it too much. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Transfer the cream mixture to a sealed bowl and refrigerate several hours until fully chilled.



Day two (or three, if you went down the rabbit hole with me on the strawberry syrup):

Stir the cream mixture to reincorporate all ingredients, as some separation will have occurred. You don’t need to whip it here—just mix or gently whisk until the mixture has a uniform, creamy appearance. If you didn’t make the strawberry syrup, drain the berries at this point and blend their liquid into the cream mixture.

Pour the cream mixture into the ice cream machine and mix according to manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes 20 to 25 minutes to freeze. For the final few minutes of freezing, spoon in the strained strawberries (and vodka, if using), allowing them to blend in before adding another spoonful, and repeat until all strawberries are used.

Place the graham crackers into a paper or zip top bag, and gently crush them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a bowl or measuring cup. I didn’t want it to be fully crumbs—try to keep a few bits of the crackers for texture in the finished ice cream.


Layer the ice cream in an insulated container, beginning with ice cream, then staggered layers of reduced syrup ribbon (if using) and graham crumbles. Finish with the leftover fine crumbs. Cover the container and freeze at least 4 hours until firm.

The strawberry syrup pushes this treat right over the top!

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Just for fun, and because we had already licked the bowl, the spoon and the ice cream maker paddle, I gathered up the dregs that freeze hard to the freezer bowl and made miniature ice cream sandwiches with a couple of graham crackers. They were not the prettiest things, but it was a delicious taste test!