Saturday, June 29, 2013

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade Almond Milk

One cup raw whole almonds, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed.  One cup of  the best-tasting water you have available, I use bottled.  Sweeten and salt to taste.  I use two Medjool dates (pitted) and a few grinds of Costco's pink salt.  I used to use about a tablespoon of raw agave instead of the dates but found the dates give it a mellower depth of sweetness, and help cut the "wet cardboard" flavor.

I run the Vitamix for one and half minutes.  A regular blender would be even longer.  This really pulls the fats and flavors out of the nuts.

Pour through a fine sieve, milk bag, or I use a paint strainer from the hardware store. Squeeze out as
much moisture as you can.  Decant into a cool-looking old milk bottle.

Save the pulp for another purpose--crackers are what I usually make. Or granola bars.  I'm working on biscotti but have been unsuccessful so far. If you dehydrate the pulp, it's supposed to make the best almond flour.  The grossest-sounding use I read was a vegan cheesecake.  The raw vegan hummus might be okay.

Sourdough Toast with Butter and Jam

Sometimes nothing hits the spot like a slice or two of sourdough toast drenched with butter and strawberry jam.  None of this food was homemade, but it tasted like heaven in my mouth.  All those Continentals know a thing or two about breakfast.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fresh Strawberries and Banana with Vanilla-Glazed Buttered Walnuts over Yogurt

The yogurt is Strauss Whole Milk Plain Yogurt.  The strawberries and banana are just regular grocery store produce.  The walnuts I buy raw in the big Costco bags.  I glaze them as needed.

Vanilla-Glazed Buttered Walnuts

Heat a small cast iron skillet to medium high heat.  Melt a knob of butter--I used whatever was left in the butter dish, maybe 3 tablespoons?--in the skillet and add a big handful of walnuts. Add a big squirt--yeah, I know, how does one quantify--of previously mixed-together raw blue agave and vanilla extract.  Stir it all together.  As the liquids evaporate, the fats and sugars will meld together into a thick caramelly glaze.  Pour out of the pan onto parchment or a plate when the glaze has condensed to your preference (anything from syrupy to shiny candy shell).  Salt to taste while hot and sticky.  Let cool and separate with your hands--or just burn yourself adding it to the dish like I do!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sweet and Pungent Sesame and Chicken Salad with Spicy Coconut Cashews

As a diet and nutrition heretic, my only rule of eating is that food feed me body and soul.  After several days of unremarkable, unphotogenic, ultimately unpalatable food, food that sounded good when I was tired and hungry and just wanted convenience, I admitted that none of it was really making me feel good.  So, this morning, when my vitality was still high and not yet expended on crises of parenting or whatever, I started slicing and chopping and mandoline-ing.  (Is there a verb for using a mandoline?) 

The result was this asian-inspired, sweet and pungent, sesame and chicken salad.  The sesame-ginger dressing started out from a bottle but I spiked it up several orders of magnitude in the Vitamix. It was a great lunch.  So good I am repeating it for supper.  Apparently, though, I can't get enough of that spicy sweet combination and I added a big handful of these spicy coconut cashews to the redux.

I wish I had one of those gluten-free, rice-based beers that my husband thinks is so revolting but I find delightfully light and refreshing.

Sweet and Pungent Sesame and Chicken Salad

Using whatever tools and appliances you have at hand, finely slice whatever quantity and ratio you like of the following:

Green Cabbage
Romaine Lettuce
Red Bell Pepper
Anaheim Pepper
Cooked Chicken

(Other additions that would have been great if I'd had any in the house, fresh bean sprouts, water chestnuts, any of the many varieties of Asian mushrooms, bok choy.  Really, the possibilities are endless.)

Toss together in a large bowl with a tablespoon or so of dressing, just enough to get everything damp.  More dressing can be added after plating if more flavor is desired. Don't get the salad too wet; it will become soggy and the dressing flavors will overwhelm the sweet crunchy vegetables.

Sesame Ginger Dressing

I started with Newman's Own Sesame Ginger Dressing but it would probably taste even fresher and lighter starting simply with a light vegetable oil and a mild rice wine vinegar and soy sauce.  I put about a 1/4 cup dressing into the Vitamix and added a large clove of raw garlic, several chunks of dried candied ginger, and several shakes of red pepper flakes. After starting it whizzing around in the blender, I added a splash of tamari sauce and maybe 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil.  I might have added some sesame seeds.

Spicy Coconut Cashews

Heat a small cast iron skillet.  Toss 3/4 cup cashews in 2 tablespoons San-J Hot and Spicy Marinade and Stir Fry sauce and 1 tablespoon coconut oil until well coated.  Add to the hot skillet.  Stir frequently.  Cook until the liquid evaporates and the sauce has melded with the nuts.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and dust heavily with powdered coconut (I made mine by finely grinding some dried young coconut pieces in a coffee grinder).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fish Tacos

Costco's Trident brand battered halibut is pricy but makes an excellent fish taco.  These pieces were leftover from someone's dinner last night--just baked frozen from the box, cooled and packed into the fridge overnight.  For lunch today, I reheated them in a cast iron skillet with a bit of grapeseed oil until the batter regained its crispy crunch.

While the fish reheated, I cooked some raw corn tortillas (also available at Costco) on a hot griddle: a minute or so on each side until they were cooked through but still pliable.  I also chopped some aging mixed greens found in the back of my refrigerator and sliced an avocado.

To assemble, lay out the tortillas on a plate, top with chopped greens, a piece of fish, a few slices of avocado, and a few generous spoonfuls of roasted salsa verde (Target's Archer Farms brand, it's very mild).  Fold the tortillas over the filling and stack next to each other.  Squeeze a twist of fresh lime juice over the plate and add a few grinds of Costco's pink salt.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sweet Potato Cashew Soup

(A West African soup adapted from this recipe)

Sweet Potato Cashew Soup

In 6 tablespoons of butter, melted, fry 1 cup raw salted cashews until browned.  Remove the nuts but keep the butter.  

Add the aromatics, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1-2 minced serrano peppers.  Add additional butter if necessary to sweat, 1 medium white onion, diced, 1 large sweet potato, diced, 2-3 ribs of celery, chopped, 1 large carrot, chopped. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 15 minutes.

Add 1 quart chicken stock (or other stock). Simmer until the potatoes are tender.  Removed the solid ingredients to a blender and process until smooth. Or use an immersion blender.  Return to the pot and add 1 14oz can full-fat coconut milk, 2 tablespoons soy sauce.  Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls over rice, if desired, and add the browned cashews.  Garnish with grated coconut, fresh cilantro/coriander, and/or serrano pepper.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Dirty Chai Latte--Frappe Style (Dairy Free)

This recipe is an example of how failure is not a set-back, it is an inspiration to something awesome.

A few days ago, I tried to make a dairy-free chai ice cream.  It wasn't very good ice cream: it didn't churn or freeze well.  It was too light and airy and way too liquid when I scooped it out of the churn.  It froze very hard, melted very quickly, and had a flaky sort of texture upon scooping.  But it tasted good!

This morning, as I was grinding the daily coffee beans, I realized I had neither made almond milk yesterday, nor set any almond to soaking to make milk today.  I just wasn't in the mood for espresso.  That's an after-dinner coffee for me; lattes are my breakfast drink. I remember the too-melty, yummy-tasting ice cream.  Maybe I could just use that like milk.  Or frozen milk-like stuff.

I dumped my two shots of espresso into my Vitamix and dug out the ice cream.  I loaded up the blender and cranked it up to warp speed until everything was all thick and smooth.  Poured into my favorite cold drink cup, topped with a scoop of the frozen chai, this frappe-style frozen dirty chai latte was an amazing start to the day.

Of course, all the churning and freezing and scooping now seems like a lot of extra work on top of the already (slightly) labor-intensive effort to make the base.  Next time I try this, instead of attempting to churn it like ice cream, I will simply pour the base into ice cube trays.  And probably in a larger quantity since this recipe wont make a terrible lot of frozen lattes. And if I were really smart, I'd freeze some espresso ice cubes to use instead of hot espresso for an even thicker and freezy-er drink.

But, here's how I made the ice cream base:

Soak 1 cup of raw unsalted Almonds in a pint of filtered water for several hours or overnight. Strain, rinse, and add to the Vitamix.  

Brew three bags of Tazo Chai tea in a pint of filtered water.  Make it strong.  Remove the tea bags and open them, add the contents of the used tea bags into the Vitamix.  

Add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon kosher, sea, or pink salt.  Sweeten to taste with preferred sweetener.  I used 1/4 cup coconut sugar.  
Add the pint of tea to the Vitamix. Cover and blend on top speed for 2 minutes (use a timer, it seems much longer than it is).   

Pour the thick mess through a milk bag (I use paint strainers from the hardware store) over a strainer.  Squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.  Retain the chai-flavored almond pulp for another purpose (I'm still working on a biscotti recipe).

The strained chai almond milk is now ready for freezing.  Pour into ice cube trays and freeze until solid or overnight. Add chai cubes with fresh brewed espresso or expresso ice cubes to the Vitamix and whiz it up into a frappe-style dirty chai latte.

You can, of course, buy ready-made chai concentrate just like they use at Starbucks but it is pre-sweetened and I find it just nasty sweet, I wouldn't even order this drink there when I was drinking milk.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sweet and Spicy Sweet Potato Chips

This easy (but not quick) recipe is simply one thinly sliced sweet potato--unless you have mad ninja knife skills, use a mandoline--deep fried in batches in a cast iron skillet in about 3/4 inch of oil or fat.  Sprinkle with sea salt or pink salt and the South of Beale spice mix.  Yes, there is a good deal of salt in the spice mix but I found that the sweetness of the sweet potato needed a little extra punch.  But then, I like (okay, crave--hey, I've got health issues) a lot more salt than most people.

I served these chips with an easy (and yes, this one is quick) sour cream and chive dip but found the dip overpowered the harmony of chip flavors.  Here's how to make the dip, but serve it with something else: a cup of sour cream (I use strained Strauss Whole milk yogurt, more flavor and doesn't upset my tummy like regular "sour" cream) and a handful of finely chopped fresh chives, a grind or two of pink salt, a pinch of fresh ground black pepper, and a tiny sprinkle or powdered roasted garlic. Mix and chill for at least thirty minutes to let the flavors marry comfortably.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grain-free Mock Rye Crackers and Tuna Salad

The tuna salad is just a basic mercury-free canned tuna with some minced carrot, celery, pickle, chive, and mayonnaise, served on a bed of heirloom mini lettuce.

The mock rye crackers are the interesting part of this lunch.  I make almond milk two or three times a week and am always looking for something tasty to do with the resulting pulp.  I've been working on recipes riffing off this post from Elana's Pantry.  I highly recommend Elana's recipes--they almost always work well the first time and, even more importantly, taste great.

I've made several variations on Elana's crackers because I get tired of the same old thing all the time.  I still have trouble with the crackers having a kinda cardboard-y "health-food" texture but that is not too noticeable unless the crackers are eaten on their own.  And, sadly, my crackers always curl a bit, unlike Elana's lovely flat and perfectly edged crackers, because I can't get my oven as low-temp as her recipe calls for and my pizza cutter makes is wobbly and creates rather whimsical score lines.

Nonetheless, these added a nice crunch and rye-bread flavor while conveying the tuna salad into my mouth.

Grain-free Mock-Rye Crackers

 1 cup firmly packed almond pulp (I get this from one or two batches of almond milk)
2 tablespoons dark flax seed, ground, 
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon lightly crushed caraway seeds 
1/2 teaspoon finely ground coffee beans
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
additional salt and caraway seed for topping (I ran out and didn't finish the pictured crackers)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Roll dough into a tight ball and press between two layers of parchment paper.  Roll out between the paper to no more than 1/8 inch thick (Elana says up to 1/4 inch but that doesn't work in my higher heat oven).  Remove the top paper and transfer the bottom paper with the rolled dough onto a flat baking sheet.  Score the dough into 2 inch squares with a knife or pizza cutter.  (I find that the pizza cutter is much easier to work with but mine is so wobbly that I end up with crackers anything from 1 inch to 3 inch crackers.  Obviously, I need to work on my fine motor skills.  Or buy a better pizza cutter.)

Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.  Without opening the oven, turn the heat down as low as it will go--my oven's bottom temperature is 170F--and continue baking until crackers are thoroughly dried and crispy. This batch took a surprisingly quick 45 minutes at the lower temp.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Refried Beans and Tortilla Chips

The beans from earlier in the week were such a hit with the family that I made a big pot of them yesterday (doubling the recipe).  Everyone had a bowlful, or two, after we all got home from our busy day but I was just too fatigued to think about eating--summer heat and my hysterical illness do not mix well, especially with being out and about most of the day.  After the sun went down and I had rested, however, I thought maybe some food would be good before going to bed.

So about 9:30 last night, I reheated the bacon grease left in the cast iron skillet from breakfast and tossed in a couple big scoops of beans from the bean pot.  As it sizzled and thickened and smelled just all bacony, beany scrumptious, I grated a wodge of cheddar cheese (because it was what we had, a Mexican cheese would have been much preferred).  I layered the cheese on top of the beans just as they were about a thick and delicious as I wanted.

When the cheese was all melty and bubbly, I put the beans in my favorite turquoise bowls that remind me of my Grandma, topped it with a bit more cheese and a big dollop of strained plain yogurt (like Greek yogurt, it's what passes for sour cream in our house).  I sat down with the bag of tortilla chips and dug in.

One of my daughters came by, saw the chips in bean dip happening, and joined in, polishing off half the bowl.  It was good to have a late night chat with a teenager.  Food is a powerful magic.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grain-free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

After some intensive healing work, I was grieving and spent a week eating nothing but popcorn and Coke.  Then I realized it wasn't really making me feel very good and that I might want to think about something a little healthier-for-me.  So I baked up a few batches of these cookie bars and ate only them for several days.

(recipe adapted from Making the World Cuter)

Grain-free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/3 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Mix the dry ingredients except the chocolate chips.  Mix the wet ingredients separately and then add to the dry.  Mix well and the fold in the chocolate chips.

Turn onto parchment paper and cover with another sheet of paper.  Roll to a roughly 8 inch square.  Peel off the top layer of paper.  Cut into 2 inch bars with a sharp knife or pizza cutter (the baked cookies will only be scored from this step but it helps to prevent crumbling when cutting again after baking).  Transfer the parchment paper and cookie bars to a baking sheet and bake at 350F for 10-13 minutes.

Alternatively, press the dough into a 8x8inch baking dish.  Or, scoop spoonfuls onto parchment for cookies--press a bit flat because these cookies won't spread out like grain-based cookies.  I'm just lazy and prefer the bars.

Even my "health-food" hating teens gobbled these down.  I blame them for my needing to make so many batches.  I easily doubled this recipe to produce a whole lot of cookies--at least three dozen, maybe four, I forgot to do the math as I was breaking up the bars.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

South of Beale Popcorn

It might only be early June, but the thermometers here are already in the triple digits.  My car told me it was 107F/43C today.  Which means that I don't want to eat much in the way of actual food, certainly I don't feel like spending any time in the kitchen preparing it, and I'm craving something salty.  So I pulled out my bottle of homemade South of Beale spice mix.

This spicy-salty-sweet popcorn is my version of this Memphis restaurant's treat. I saw the chef assemble the spice mix on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. In fact, I backed it up and watched about six times, estimating the measurements, and what follows is my best guess. Well, and my own tweak.

SOB Popcorn Spice

1/4 cup coconut sugar (original: brown sugar dehydrated and ground)
1/4 cup sea salt (original: kosher salt)
1/4 cup paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Place all ingredients in a small coffee grinder (I keep one just for non-coffee purposes) and grind into powder.

The restaurant showed the popcorn air popped, though I wondered whether they really popped enough with that dorm-room popper to supply the whole restaurant! I popped mine in a large aluminum pot with a blend of coconut oil and grapeseed oil.

Time to kick back with my kid and catch some of the James Bond marathon on REELZ.  Thunderball  just started.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Southwestern Chicken with Beans and Rice and Tequila Pan Sauce

Southwestern Chicken with Beans and Rice

For the beans:

2 Cups dried pintos, washed and sorted for rocks, etc.

Cover the beans with water by at least a couple inches.  Bring to boil, covered, let simmer rapidly for five minutes.  Without uncovering the pot, turn off the heat and let sit for one hour.  Drain, rinse, thoroughly and return to the pot (This step eliminates the overnight soaking, reduces future digestive bloating and gassiness, and shortens the cooking time).

Add to the beans, 1 tablespoon of bacon fat or olive oil, 1 small or 1/2 large yellow onion, diced; 1 jalapeƱo or 1/2 serrano, seeded if preferred, minced; 3 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 large bay leaf; 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano; a few grinds of black pepper.  DO NOT ADD SALT! Wait until the last half hour of cooking to add any salt because the beans will be tougher.

Cover the hydrated beans and aromatics with water or chicken stock by at least an inch. Cover the pot and simmer until the beans are soft, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour (but could vary 15-20 minutes depending on a variety of factors).

When the beans are soft, remove the bay leaves and add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, to taste.  Remove a cup or two of the beans, especially the liquor, to a blender and whiz at high speed until thoroughly mashed and creamy.  Alternatively, mash in the pot with a big spoon or potato masher.  The blender method produces a thicker result, more consistent with the beans you get in Mexican restaurants.  Return the mashed beans to the pot, stir to incorporate, and simmer on low until needed. Squeeze a quarter of a fresh lime into the beans just before serving.

For the rice:

1 1/2 Cups dried white rice
3 Cups water

Put together in a small pot, bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft and a bit sticky, about 12 minutes.  For exceedingly white and fluffy rice, rinse the dry rice in cold water until the water runs clear.  This will shorten the cooking time.

For the chicken:

Rince and pat dry, 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon dried chipotles, salt and fresh ground pepper. 

Melt enough bacon fat in a hot cast iron skillet to create a heavy glisten but not so much that the chicken will fry.  When sizzling hot, add the chicken pieces, top side down.  Add 1 tablespoon salsa of choice to the top of each piece.  When the chicken has seared and moves easily from the pain, turn pieces over, allowing the salsa to fall into the pan.  Add another 1 tablespoon of salsa to the cooked side of the chicken, cover with a lid and braise for about five minutes until chicken is just cooked through (a hint of pink in the center, still soft throughout).  Remove the chicken to a plate, cover loosely with foil and set aside in a warm place.  It will continue to cook in the center as it sits. When ready to plate, slice the chicken against the grain.

For serving, finely slice a quarter head of green cabbage.  Toss with the juice from half a lime.

For the pan sauce:

Deglaze the hot pan from the chicken with 1 shot tequila and 1 shot water or stock, scraping up all the crunchy bits of chicken and caramelized salsa.  Add 2 tablespoons more salsa.  Stir and reduce the sauce by half or until it begins to thicken, whichever comes first. Add in the collected juices from the warming plate.  Stir.

To plate:

Divide the plate into thirds, one-third rice, one-third beans, and one-third shredded cabbage.  Lay the sliced chicken on the cabbage.  Spoon the tequila pan sauce over the chicken and the beans and rice.  Squeeze a final lime wedge over the whole plate.

Amazingly, this recipe served 6 last night.  I expected to get four servings with some leftover beans, but we had unexpected teens around at dinner.  Everyone seemed satisfied.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Five-Minute Grain-free Chocolate Cake for One (or Two)

Five Minute Grain-free Chocolate Cake

1 tablespoon coconut flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder 
4 tablespoons coconut sugar (or sweeten to taste with preferred sweetener)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Mix dry ingredients well in a microwave bowl or mug. Then add:

1 tablespoon oil (can use melted butter but it makes the cake tougher. Can also sub applesauce but makes it rubbery)
3 tablespoons full-fat milk (if using dairy substitute, may need more oil. Coconut milk gives best results)
1 egg
Splash of vanilla

Mix well and microwave for 3 minutes. 

While baking, put in a small saucepan:

1/4 cup chocolate chips (can use gluten-free or low carb but may not melt as smoothly)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream or coconut milk
If needed add up to 1 tablespoon oil to create smoother texture. 

Melt over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and glossy. May add flavorings now if desired. 

Tip (and scoop) cake onto plate, pour hot fudge chocolate sauce over the cake, garnish as desired.