Posts tagged ‘Prep Work’

Gingerbread-Infused Butter

I was thinking about the marshmillets from the other day, and I realized that I need to offer an alternative to holiday marshmallows made by Kraft. If possible, I recommend making the marshmillets more from scratch. I used the the flavored marshmallows out of convenience, but you can use other regular or vegan marshmallows. Even better, you can make your own marshmallows, like these, and I even found David Soleil’s ebook of vegan marshmallows.  If you are using plain marshmallows, substitute the Earth Balance spread with gingerbread spice-infused Earth Balance instead.

The only problem with using the recipe below is that it is missing molasses, but you can add between 1 to 2 cups of molasses (depending on your preference) when melting the marshmallows. In addition to adding molasses, if you want to use this as a butter spread on toast or the like, try adding some agave or honey for a little more sweetness.

Gingerbread-Spiced Butter
I have used Nicole Harris’ gingerbread spice mix and Leanne Vogel’s Gingerbread Cookies as guides to create my spice mixes, and I used André Baranowski‘s Ethiopian Spiced Butter as an inspiration for the infusion method.

Ingredients
2 Sticks or 1 C Earth Balance Spread or Salted Butter
2 tsp Ground Cloves
2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
2 T + 2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 C + 2 T Ground Ginger

Directions
Combine the spices in a bowl. In a large saucepan, melt the spread over low heat. Pour in the spices. Stir with frequently with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes to fully infuse the flavors. Transfer the mixture into a small glass bowl or storage container. Cool until solid.

Note
If you are using real butter, you can use this opportunity to clarify it of impurities by removing the foam that forms at the surface during spice infusion. Foam no longer forms, strain the melted butter through a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth into a bowl to remove the milk solids.

Glazed Clove-Studded Ham

Ham and String Beans

The other day at work, someone brought home-baked ham from lunch, which of course only made me crave it, so as soon as I clocked out for the day, I went to the store on a quest. A quest for ham! Well, the first store did not have what I wanted, and the second store did not either. As it was getting later though, I settled on a mostly unflavored precooked spiral-sliced hunk of ham, since that’s all the store carried. Honestly, I was too hungry to make dinner from scratch and bake the ham for several hours. I made sure to check the ingredients on the ham label first to make sure the meat did not contain any allergens or gross chemicals.

Once it was out of the packaging, I studded it with all of my whole cloves at about one-inch intervals. As per the directions, I placed the ham on a foil-lined baking sheet and then covered the ham tightly with more foil. I baked the ham at 350 degrees F for about an hour, which was about 8 minutes per pound.

During the last few minutes of the baking time, I prepared the glaze. To reduce the sugar, I opted to only use half of the sugary spiced glaze mixture, stirring it into 3 tablespoons of water in a sauce pan on low heat until the sugar crystals fully dissolved. I simmered the glaze on low for about two minutes and then brought the glaze up to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.

While the glaze was still hot, I removed the ham from the oven and increased the temperature to 400 degrees F. I carefully spooned the glaze onto the ham, making sure to glaze all whole cut of meat. I set the foil covering aside for post-dinner ham storage, as it was no longer needed for roasting. Once the oven reached the desired temperature, I popped the meat back in the oven to roast for another hour, when the center of the roast reached 120 degrees F. (Remember the ham was precooked, so I was just reheating it and allowing the flavors to meld.) It was nice that the ham was spiral-sliced, so all I had to do was cut the meat in sections from around the bone.

Glazed Clove-Studded Baked Ham

I was so relieved that preparing the ham was so easy. Although I wish I cooked the ham and made the glaze from scratch, this was a nice alternative. I am very glad that there was plenty of leftovers for my husband and I to incorporate into later dishes, such as soup, salad and sandwiches. Most importantly, it was rather healthy and delicious.

Chocolate Chip Beet Brownies and Cream Cheese Frosting

I really enjoy red velvet cake and buy a gluten-free vegan piece whenever I find it at a store, bakery or restaurant, so I decided to treat myself for my birthday when my folks came to celebrate with me. I made my adaption from a recipe I found at the Gluten-Free Food Examiner, which looked really intriguing, but I wanted to make a healthier version. I was a bit leery of the recipe’s large amount of beets and was unsure how potent the the red color or earthy root flavor would work in this cake compared to the small amount of chocolate. The cake batter of this first attempt ended up tasting too much like beets but had a great raspberry shade. The chocolate lacked flavor intensity, but the batter was at least sweet. It needed more chocolate, so I quadrupled the amount of cacao when doubling was not enough. Unfortunately, adding this much chocolate made the batter much thicker and a very dark shade of brown. As bright red coloring faded a significant amount as while baking, it came out not looking red at all, so left out the red dye in the recipe listed below. Although the the concoction was tasty to me, they were not to everyone’s liking, as some changes to the recipe resulted in rather an intense dark chocolate flavor. (I prefer my chocolate very dark and bitter, sometimes eating dried cacao beans or 89 percent to 100 percent dark chocolate bars.)

The vegan cream cheese frosting that I made is AMAZING! It tastes and feels like REAL cream cheese frosting! It is sweet, tart, light and fluffy. It’s not healthy enough to eat by the spoonful but provides a perfect accompaniment to red velvet, various spice cakes or really in any other recipe that calls for cream cheese frosting. The original recipe called for too much sugar, and the frosting made from it appeared too sweet for my brownies. I listed the reduced powdered sugar measurement (see the recipe below), which prevented the frosting from overpowering the brownies. Feel free to experiment with other dry sweeteners, but I’m not sure how the recipe will turn our if you do. I do not recommend using liquid sweeteners, as the powdered sugar seemed to absorb some of the oils in the cream cheese and prevented the frosting from becoming too greasy.

I used Daiya’s new non-dairy plain cream cheese, which already has an incredible taste and texture by itself; it even has that classic cheesy tartness that is usually so difficult to simulate without fermentation. I first stumbled upon their cream cheese when I was perusing their non-dairy cheese selection on the Daiya website. I thought to myself, “With all of the recent progress in the foodie world with gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan foods, someone has to have a created a not only decent but good dairy-free cream cheese by now. I wonder if Daiya has one yet….” Lo’ and behold (and luckily for me), they do! I really like their other non-dairy cheeses, so I thought I might as well try it. Why not?

Roast Beet Purée
Adapted from the roasting instructions for Jessica’s red velvet cake at Desserts with Benefits.

Ingredients
2 Large Beets, scrubbed, trimmed
1 1/2 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the beats in aluminum foil. Place on a foil-lined lipped baking sheet due to a tendency for the beet juice to bubble over through the wrapping. Roast for an hour or until a fork easily pierces through the flesh. Cool slightly on a wire rack. Unwrap the beets. Be careful not to burn your hands. Quarter them before pureeing in a food processor or high-speed blender with the lemon juice.

Birthday Brownies

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Beet Brownies
Adapted recipe from Jen Cafferty’s recipe on the Gluten-Free Food Examiner.

Yields 15 to 20 Servings

Ingredients
3 T Chia or Flax Seeds, course ground
8 T Warm Filtered Water
2 C Cacao Powder
1 1/2 C Unsweetened Apple Sauce
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 – 2 C Evaporated Cane Juice or Turbinado Sugar
1 3/4 C Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 tsp Xanthan Gum
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1 C Roast Beet Puree (see above)
20 oz Vegan Chocolate Chunks or Chips
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
Red Sanding Sugar, optional

Directions
In a small bowl, beat chia or flax seeds and water with a fork until smooth to create “egg” substitute. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour-dust a glass 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix cacao, apple sauce and vanilla. Set aside.

Into a medium bowl, sift flour, xanthan gum, 1 cup sugar, soda and salt. With an electric mixer, gradually add in cacao-apple mixture. Blend in “eggs” and beets. Stir until fully incorporated. Adjust batter to desired level of sweetness with remaining sugar, mixing in a quarter cup at a time. Fold in chocolate pieces.

Bake for at least 30 minutes (mine took 70) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly on wire rack. Frost and decorate as desired.* Serve and enjoy!

*If you do not want to frost the brownies, they would also taste great accompanied by vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Frosted Red Velvet Beet Cake

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
I adapted this cream cheese frosting made by Rachel Young of Gladly Gluten Free.
I doubled this recipe from the original, since I planned to make cakes for two different occasions.

Yields 40 to 48 Servings.

Ingredients
16 oz Daiya Plain Cream Cheese, softened
2 C Earth Balance Spread, softened
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
4 C Powdered Sugar, to taste

Directions
Combine the cream cheese and spread in a large bowl until fluffy.Thoroughly incorporate the vanilla. Sift the sugar to get rid of lumps, gradually adding four cups of sugar to the cream, using an electric mixer. Adjust the frosting to your level of desired sweetness by slowly adding up to another cup of sugar. Store leftover frosting in a large airtight container, like a glass canning jar, for up to a week; just make sure you let it soften it a bit before attempting to spread it on a cake.

Spiced Apple Compote

Photo credit: kthread on Flicker

Earlier this autumn, I visited the organic sustainable golden delicious apple orchard at my university alma mater with some friends. We went home with several pounds of golden beauties. Three large cloth shopping bags worth! As no one tends the trees, not even to trim them, many of the apples were already spotted, buggy or on the ground. We picked the best ones that we could find. I spent absolutely hours picking over and chopping the apples once I got them home.

Stir the spices into the apples.

Stir the spices into the apples.

I pretty much knew from the start how I wanted to prepare them, either in a pie or as spiced compote. Since my stomach is so fussy, I cannot eat raw apples anymore, only cooked ones. When the time came to cook the apples, I decided that I did not want to bother making a gluten-free pie crust, so I just made compote instead. I had so many apples that I had to dived them into four batches, altering the recipe as I went along. I have included my favorite version below.

After 4 hours on low heat, add in the vanilla extract.

After 4 hours on low heat, add in the vanilla extract.

Spiced Apple Compote
Adapted from Alyssa Brantley’s Crockpot Apple Pear Sauce.
This compote goes very well with hot cereal, in a pie or on top of ice cream, pancakes or waffles.

Yields 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients
4 – 6 lbs Apples, cored
1 tsp Citric Acid or Sour Salt
1 T Orange Juice
Filtered Water
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Ginger
1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
2 T Blue Agave Nectar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Directions
As you chop the apples to roughly bite size, put them into a non-reactive (glass or plastic) container filled about half way up with water and the citric acid. Make sure the apples are mostly submerged, occasionally mixing and pushing the apples down into the water. Add more water as necessary.

Place the apples, spices, agave, and 1 cup of the apple soaking liquid into a slow cooker. Cover and cook for four hours on low. When the apples are tender and reduced, turn off the heat. Stir in the vanilla before serving. Serve hot or cold. Store in clean canning jars.

Note:
You can save the remaining apple infused water for making smoothies and other sweet recipes in place of filtered water.
In lieu of measuring all of the spices listed above, you can use an equivalent amount of apple or pumpkin pie spice mix, adjusting the flavor to your liking.

Almond Milk

There are generally several types of nuts and seeds that you can buy in the grocery store bulk section, including unsalted, salted, organic, non-organic, gourmet flavors and candied. Due to a law made in response to few years of harmful bacteria contaminated produce, regular raw almonds are illegal to sell in stores, which forced businesses to sell only chemical or high-heat treated almonds. This makes raw almond availability rather scarce, and now raw almonds have to be bought directly from the growers. For some odd reason, this law only pertains to almonds, seeds, grains or other nuts.

I made the strange observation earlier this year that some grocers are selling organic sprouted almonds; I am guessing that this is due to the additional processes that the nuts must go through before they are sold to stores (someone please correct me if I am wrong). Maybe no one thought to sell them this way before, or maybe there was too much speculated financial risk of the projected cost. I am not sure, but these days people are definitely willing to pay for the convenience and availability of store-bought raw almonds. Let me tell you, sprouted almonds are more expensive and have a stronger flavor; a rare few tasted as intense as alcohol-free extract. It might be possible due to their increased nutrients and flavor from sprouting that fewer almonds are needed to make nut milk with the same amount of flavor, which may also help to balance out the price. As these almonds are already prepared through sprouting, they do not have to be soaked, which saves a bit of time and labor. Personally I still like purchasing raw almonds directly from the growers at the farmers market during peak season, since I don’t mind soaking and dehydrating the nuts myself.

Please see my previous cashew milk blog entry for general directions for making non-dairy milk. I have included some suggestions for sweeteners and spices.

Plain Almond Milk
My husband and I prefer to make lots of plain unflavored milk at once, so we can use it in a wide variety of foods, from smoothies to soups. Adjust the milk proportions and flavors as you like.

Yields 6 Cups

Ingredients
2 C Prepared Almonds
6 C Filtered Water
1 Pinch Sea Salt

Directions
Process the almonds, salt and water until the nut pulp is fine and the liquid turns white; the nuts can’t be over-blended. Strain the mixture through fabric, like cheese cloth or a nut milk bag, making sure to squeeze the ground almonds within the fabric to release more liquid without letting the pulp squish through. Set the pulp aside. Store the milk in a sealed jug or jar(s) in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

Notes:
Reserve the pulp for another batch of milk, or dehydrate it into almond meal to later use.
You can also freeze the milk into cubes to melt into hot tea or coffee or make into ice cream.

Cashew Nut Milk

For those of us who have an allergy or an intolerance to milk, eating or drinking many tasty creamy delights that normal people can have can prove difficult to consume, even with allergy and digestive pills. This means, no cheese, yogurt, ice cream, milkshakes, cheesecake,…. You get the idea. As more people are discovering their own digestive intolerance and allergies, more options are becoming available in grocery stores and restaurants. At the same time, recipes for dairy alternatives are being perfected with improved colors, flavors and textures. Thank goodness there are so many food enthusiasts excited about experimenting with ingredients! For instance, I have seen all sorts of non-dairy milk and cheese alternatives in stores and online, such as various cultured and non-cultured goodies made from hazelnuts, hemp seeds, coconuts, oats, rice, sweet potatoes, etc. The process of making special milk is pretty easy and is usually much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to make your own than buy it (processed with bonus additives) from the store, even if you buy organic ingredients. Making and drinking milk alternatives is so popular, the comedy television show, “Portlandia” (which is on Netflix right now), has even featured several hilarious spoof PSAs by the “Portland Milk Advisory Board” regarding different types of milk, including zucchini milk and berry seed milk (jam).

You can make the milks as thick or as concentrated as you like, although the methods depend on the ingredients used. Also depending on the nut and how you process it, like cashew milk can turn purple and pumpkin seed milk will turn green if they have their inner skins still attached. You can also flavor or sweeten them however you like. Some nuts, like almonds are naturally sweet, so they don’t require a lot of sugar. Others, however, may need a bit of help if they have a natural bitterness, like walnuts do. I like rice milk, but it’s very low in nutrients and is not raw (none of the store-bought milks are). Sweetened rice milk is fine and dandy for horchata, but I would rather make something with more protein and less sugar (I like to dilute restaurant-style horchata by half usually or at least wait until the ice melts, so I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid candy). What I don’t want to do though is destroy the proteins in the nut milk by boiling water to concentrate it. I did read somewhere that milk concentration in a dehydrator is the preferred method to preserve the proteins and amino acids, but excess water can also be steamed off by simmering the milk in a pan over the stove, constantly stirring and frequently measuring the temperature to prevent the milk from reaching over 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

The method of making alternative milks is pretty much the same no matter what you use. From what I gather, the first step is to prepare the seed (grain, nut or otherwise) into an edible form. See my blog entry on preparing nuts and seeds. (If you are working with grains or root vegetables, you have to cook them first). Blend the nuts, seeds, etc. with water; I recommend a high speed blender, like my Vitamix. Generally you want a ratio between a one to two and a one to four parts of nuts to water. According to Sarma Melngailis in her book, “Living Raw Food,” if you do not have nuts, seeds or what-have-you to grind up with the water, you can mix the water with nut or seed butter instead; Amanda Mercer’s alternative recipe uses 1/16 or 1/48 to 1 parts ratio (for instance one tablespoon almond butter to one cup water for thick milk or one teaspoon nut butter to one cup water for thin milk). Strain the milk through a fine mesh, like cheese cloth or a special nut milk bag; I bought mine at the Santa Rosa Community Market. Some nut pulp can be blended and strained to make a couple more milk batches, depending on the desired flavor intensity and thickness.

At this point, you can sweeten the milk (with stevia, agave, honey or dates just to name a few); there’s a wide variety to choose from depending on what flavor profile you want. You can flavor the milk with alcohol-free extracts (vanilla or almond), spices (such as ginger, chai spices, pie spices, cinnamon or cacao nibs) or cooled infusions (like herbal tea). Adjust the richness of the milk if you like by adding oils or butters, like those of coconut.

Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is great not only for cereals and smoothies and other normal milk uses, but is also great in making desserts, sauces and cultured non-dairy cheeses. This milk has a pleasing rich creaminess from the natural oils contained in the nuts.

Yields 6 cups

Ingredients
2 C Prepared Cashews
6 C Filtered Water
1 Pinch Sea Salt

Directions
Process the nuts, salt and water until the nut meal is fine and the milk opaque; the nuts can’t be over-blended. Place the nut milk bag or filtering fabric over a large clean container, like spouted glass measuring cup. Strain the mixture through fabric into the container, making sure to carefully squeeze the pulp within the fabric to release more liquid but without letting the pulp squish through. (Cashews can grind down to a very fine meal, and silty cashew milk is an unwanted and unpleasant surprise. So be careful not to squeeze too hard.) Set the pulp aside.

Notes:
Store the milk in clean, sealed non-reactive jugs or jars in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
Reserve the pulp for another batch of milk soon, or dehydrate the almond meal to use later.
You can also freeze the milk into cubes to melt in hot tea or coffee or make into ice cream.

Indian Inspired Lentils

I love lentils! I especially like eating Indian and Himalayan spiced dhal (daal or dal), usually made into a very comforting thick lentil pottage or soup. Not all dal varieties are the same; many differ in size, shape, flavor and nutrition. Some types of dal are not even lentils but different kinds of legumes, like peas, chickpeas or beans. They contain less insoluble fiber than beans and are not as irritating to finicky digestive systems, which means they cause very little gas, if any, depending how much you eat; keep in mind I am not suggesting you eat dhal three times a day, even though they taste really good.

These lentils aren’t restricted to soup. You can dish them over other vegetables,  quinoa, rice, buckwheat or green salad. Commonly daal is non-vegan and includes ghee, or clarified butter, but it is delicious either way. Another way to westernize this dish is to treat it like split pea or lentil soup by adding meat, like ham or sausage, but i prefer mine vegan. Sometimes if I haven’t eaten daal in a while, I crave it.

Chana dal are baby chickpeas or skinned and split black chickpeas (or kala chana if still in their skins), so don’t confuse them for yellow split peas even though they are the same exact color but flatter. They are low on the glycemic index, which means they are good for diabetics and are low in bad carbohydrates, have lots of fiber and protein and a significant amount of zinc, folate and calcium. Here is the listing for Bob’s Red Mill chana dal. Chickpea flour or besan is often made from this variety. These chickpeas require soaking in water at room temperature for two to three hours. If you add in half a teaspoon of baking soda, the chickpeas soften much quicker and then only need to cook 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your desired texture. Adding baking soda makes the water more alkaline, allowing beans to cook to doneness in only half the time; you can add the soda to any harder beans that require cooking for longer periods of time.

Masoor dal are red lentils, which contain significant amounts of fiber, flavonoids, complex carbohydrates, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin E. Click here for more nutritional benefits. Red lentils do not require soaking; just cook it for about 25 to 30 minutes. Here is Ashley Skabar’s spicy daal recipe made with red lentils that looks great.

Toor dal or arhar dal are yellow pigeon peas and the same color as chana dal and yellow split peas, however they are not low in glycemic value but contain healthy complex carbs. They are high in protein, vitamin A and C, folate and fiber. Toor dal need to soak for 30 minutes and then cooked for 50 minutes. Check out Jacqueline Pham’s recipe on her blog and Karen Mintzias’ recipe over at Big Oven.

There are three types of urad dal, which is black beluga lentils. You can get them whole, like I did, split or split and soaked, which removes their skins. They are rich in protein, fiber, calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and zinc. Beluga lentils also do not require soaking, only cook them at a low boil for 30 minutes.  Check out this recipe over at Indian Food Forever.

French green lentils or lentilles du Puy are olive green lentils with black speckles. They are a longer cooking lentil, needing about two to four hours of soaking and 45 minutes of low boiling, due to all of the insoluble fiber they contain. Check out this recipe by Caroline Russock for some more inspiration. Green lentils a nutritious amount of complex carbs, protein and are fat free; they contain good amounts of your daily calcium and iron.

As per usual, most of the herbs and spices that I used to make this dish are from Savory Spice Shop in Santa Rosa. A while back, I decided to flesh-out my spice cabinet, throwing away stale seasonings and combining duplicates to make more room. I wanted to expand my flavor palate and try something new, exciting and exotic. I was feeling incredibly adventurous and did quite a bit of research first, focusing on recipes from cuisines that knew I adored but had never cooked with at home, which was extremely helpful when I went to explore the shelves in the shop. I must have examined at all of the jars and canisters they had for absolutely hours. I had a great time asking questions, smelling, tasting and making new discoveries. I ran back and forth from the shelves to the counter several times. The garlic and onion came from the farmers market in Cotati, and I bought the mugwort (an uncommon culinary herb used in medicinal teas) at Rosemary’s Garden.

Indian Inspired Dhal

Ingredients
1 C Petite or Regular French Green Lentils*
1 C Urad Dhal
1/2 tsp Fenugreek Seeds
1/2 – 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/4 tsp Ajowan Seeds
2 – 3 tsp Olive Oil**
3 – 4 Large Garlic Cloves, grated or minced
1 – 2 Medium Sweet Yellow Onion, peeled, trimmed, minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, grated or minced, optional
4 C Filtered Water
2 Bay Laurel Leaves
1 T Cilantro Leaves
1 T Mugwort Leaves
OR 1 T Parsley Leaves
Mixed Peppercorns, ground to taste
1 tsp Sea Salt, to taste

*If you really want to stay with an Indian theme and add more color contrast, substitute the green lentils with channa dhal, toor dhal or masoor dhal. These lentils all have various cooking times, so adjust your preparation accordingly.

**If you want to make dhal without oil, skip the step of sauteing, and add the garlic, onion and ginger in with the other spices near the end of cooking the lentils.

Directions
Always sort your legumes and discard any broken or discolored ones along with any rocks you may find. Rinse your dal under cool water until the strained off water becomes clear to remove any dust or dirt. Put the lentils into a large mixing bowl or other vessel. Pour in enough water so that the level reaches about an two to three above the lentils. Remove the ones that float to the top. Soak the green lentils for two to four hours.

Dry roast the spice seeds in a small pan to intensify their flavor and get rid of any bitterness. Grind the seeds as small as possible in a spice grinder.

Saute the garlic, onion and ginger in a large oiled soup pot until the onion turns translucent, stirring often.

Rinse the lentils. Add them with the water to the pot, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium to prevent the water from boiling over. Cook the French lentils for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the black lentils. Continue to cook the lentils for 25 minutes, occasionally adding more water if needed and stirring. During the last five minutes add the powdered spices. Stir the mixture and cook five more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat completely, and stir in the herbs. After 15 minutes of cooling,taste test the lentils and adjust the flavors as needed. Serve the lentils on a salad, on toast, over or mixed into rice or noodles or as soup or really anywhere you would use beans. I mixed mine in with marinated vegetable noodles.

Spaghetti Squash

A bit ago, I volunteered for two days at the second annual National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa (of all places). I had a blast and saw so many fantastically amazing animals, fruits and vegetables. One of the great things about the event, was the decorations, which consisted of mostly hard skinned melons, gourds and squash. Since I worked until closing I got to take a bunch home, including three spaghetti squash! Who doesn’t love free organic heirloom produce? For that matter, who doesn’t like free food? I was in absolute awe of the huge piles and towers of melons and squash at the expo, which I hope to post more about another blog entry soon. Now on to the squash!

Spaghetti Squash is an oblong pale to bright yellow skinned variety of winter squash with bright yellow flesh inside that separates into noodle-like fibers. It is a wonderful alternative to wheat-based pasta. A one-cup serving has only 43 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates and a lot of nutritional value. It has over two grams of fiber, lots of water, three percent of your daily value of calcium and iron, five percent vitamin A, eight percent vitamin B6 and nine percent vitamin C. Check out this site to find out more information.

Small & Large Spaghetti Squash

Here are some ways to prepare spaghetti squash. I prefer to steam it in the oven; see the instructions below. There are lots of recipes on the internet for spaghetti squash that look awfully yummy, especially since you can use it to replace grain-based pasta noodles. How about making an herbed or spiced pasta, like this one over at Smitten Kitchen or the roasted squash recipe from Martha Stewart Living? Just like with regular spaghetti noodles, you can also dress the squash with sauce of many varieties, like this recipe that uses tomato sauce. You can always check out my post on pesto recipes, where I listed a bunch to choose from. This website has even more recipes.

Oven-Steamed Spaghetti Squash

Start with a spaghetti squash of any size. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Be careful when cutting the squash, since it is round. Don’t let the knife slip and cut you. Trim off the ends, occasionally turning the squash order to slice all the way through.

Now cut the squash in half. Use a mallet to get the knife all of the way through if you must to get cut through tough skin. If you do have to use a mallet, firstly, only use a metal knife. Secondly, protect your cutlery by placing a padded layer between the mallet and the knife to prevent denting and warping. I used a silicone gripper for opening tight jars, but you can also use a really thick towel or potholder.

Scoop out the squash strings that run parallel to the long cut edges along with the seeds. You can save the seeds for roasting later; they roast up just like pumpkin seeds.

Put the two halves side by side in a large glass 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. If your squash is really big, you can use two baking dishes, a basting pan or a broiling pan without the grill. Fill the pan of your choice with half an inch of filtered water.

Cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake the squash for 50 minutes to an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and uncover the squash. Let it cool on a trivet on the counter for 30 minutes or until it is not to hot to handle comfortably.

With a large spoon, separate the skin from the flesh. You may have to peel and break it off a bit at a time with your fingers. Transfer the flesh to a large mixing bowl. Separate the fibers with your hands until they look like noodles. At this time, you can mix in other vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat or vegan sausage and sauce.

Vegan Nut Butter, Chocolate & Carob Chunks

I love sweet little chip morsels, but most of them contain soy, dairy or unnecessary additives. When I read Leanne Vogel’s entry on Almond Buckwheat Goji Raw Bars over at Healthful Pursuit, I noticed that she also included instructions for making your own chocolate and carob chunks, which is great if you want to make sweet tasty treats from scratch. I thought, why not make nut butter chips using this recipe as a guide. This would be great for making cashew, almond or peanut butter chunks to put into cookies.

Peanut Butter Chunks
Yields 1 cup of peanut butter chunks.

Ingredients
1/2 C Peanut or Other Nut Butter
1/2 C Coconut Oil, melted in bowl of hot water
1 – 4 tsp Agave Nectar*

Directions
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. In a bowl mix all of the ingredients together. Pour the mixture into the pan. Chill flat in the freezer for 30 minutes or until it solidifies. Chop up the mixture into chunks. Store the chunks in a sealed plastic bag or container in the freezer until you are ready to use them. When you are ready to use them, you may have chop or break up the chunks again. Work fast, or they will melt.

Carob or Chocolate Chunks
Yields 1 cup of carob or chocolate chunks.

Ingredients
1/2 C Raw or Toasted Carob or Cacao Powder
1/2 C Coconut Oil, melted in bowl of hot water
1 – 4 tsp Agave Nectar*

Directions
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. In a bowl mix all of the ingredients together. Pour the mixture into the pan. Chill flat in the freezer for 30 minutes or until it solidifies. Chop up the mixture into chunks. Store the chunks in a sealed plastic bag or container in the freezer until you are ready to use them.

*If you don’t mind vegetarian morsels instead of vegan ones, you can substitute the agave nectar with honey.

Raw Nut Preparation: Soaking & Dehydrating


Whenever I purchase seeds and nuts from the local organic stores, like Whole Foods, Community Market or Oliver’s Market, I try to always buy pounds at a time from the bulk bin section to save money. I also like to reuse the bags I pour them into in order to reduce waste; if you decide to reuse yours, make sure you clean them really well first to avoid contamination. Some stores even give you a discounts for reusing bags. One cashier even gave me a discount for each reused bag I put my produce and nuts into, too, in addition to the discounts for bring in my own fabric shopping bags. I saved a lot of money that trip! At Community Market for each fabric shopping bag you use to take your purchases home in, you receive a token to donate towards a charity of your choice; each token represents a either a dime or nickle (I can’t remember which) that the store will donate on your behalf; Whole Foods has a similar program for donating to a charity of your choice in exchange for bringing in your own fabric shopping bags (or you can choose to keep your nickle). Either way, many many people bring in their bags to shop, that’s a significant amount of money donations. Giving back always makes me feel warm and fuzzy. 🙂


Anyway, back to the nuts. (I will talk about seed sprouting in a future post.) Before I start, I always turn to my books by Ani Phyo and Sarma Melngailis, who have fantastic healthy recipes, present readers with nutrition facts and are both very inspiring wome. It is very important to soak your nuts before you eat them if you want them raw, which is healthier for you than eating them straight or cooked due to all of the great amino acids and vitamins within the raw nut “meat”. Some vitamins are also fragile and break down when exposed to high heat that they are therefore no longer available to you after they are cooked. Soaking the nuts is like soaking beans; it helps get rid of bad stuff, including dust, residues and acids. In this case, you want to use salted water to speed up the process of leaching out the tannic and phytic acids, which in turn improves flavor and allows more efficient nutrient absorption and digestion.

Make sure that you shell your nuts or buy pre-shelled nuts before soaking. Always use a covered airtight (to prevent bacterial contamination) glass bowl and other non-reactive tools (plastic or stainless steel fine mesh strainer and wooden or plastic spoon to prevent oxidation) when preparing raw food. You also want to use at least twice as much water than nuts, since they will double in size. Keep an eye on your water level, and add more water to the bowl if necessary.


The amount of time required to soak the nuts is directly related to their hardness. Harder nuts take longer, some 8 to 12 hours, whereas the softer ones, only need 20 minutes to 4 hours. Visit Raw Food Living for a helpful soaking and sprouting chart. The range in soaking times depends on the ambient room temperature, so if you are using a warmer kitchen, your soaking times is lessened. Be careful though; your nuts should not get above about 72 degrees F. I always soak mine at room temperature, but some other people soak theirs in the refrigerator. If you are unsure of your nut’s leaching progress, just rinse one off and taste it. If it’s still acidic, put it back in the water. Any time after the midway point, you can change out the cloudy water for fresh water; just make sure to only use filtered water and more salt. (Filtered is best, but water that has sat out about for 20 to 30 minutes to release chlorine, other gases or even sediment is better than straight from the tap.) If you soak your nuts past the maximum time limit, they can ferment and turn sour. Trust me. If that’s not your intent, fermented nuts are a waste of time, money and food. I probably could have made nut cheese or something, but I didn’t know about that option at the time and threw all of my brand new nuts away, which was very sad and frustrating.


The nuts I eat the most often are cashews, almonds and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately due to several salmonella contamination incidents in 2001 and 2004 at non-organic almond farms, all almonds grown in the US and sold in American stores are either pasteurized with steam (which cooks the nuts) or propylene oxide (a former insecticide and racing fuel and a probable carcinogen) according to federal law since 2007. Hurray. 😦 I was recently very confused and shocked to see Oliver’s “raw” organic almonds now relabeled as steam-pasteurized. Bummer. I’m glad the shoppers are now better informed though. I still soak mine anyway to get rid of the acids to prevent heartburn and to aid digestion; I’m in trouble if I don’t. Thankfully, many farmers who sell almonds at US farmers markets are not required to pasteurize with either method, which may explain why they are always more expensive. Almond growers in Europe are also not required to pasteurize their almonds.


Let’s look at soaking cashews.

Cashews for Snacking (& Adding to Other Recipes)

Ingredients
2 lbs Whole Cashew Nuts, shelled
Filtered Water
1 T Sea Salt, ground

Directions
Sort your cashews, discarding any that are discolored. Try to remove bits of remaining skin from the nuts, otherwise they will cause dark discolorations. Sprinkle the salt into your soaking container. Pour in the nuts. Add twice as much water than nuts to the bowl. Stir them together to dissolve the salt. Cover your bowl with an airtight lid. Soak your cashews for two to four hours. Drain your nuts into a fine mesh colander, so you don’t loose any bits. Rise the cashews with cold water until it turns clear.


Place your flexible sheets or parchment paper onto the dehydrator trays. Transfer your nuts onto the trays.* Set your dehydrator temperature to either 105 or 115 degrees F. Dehydrate your nuts for at least 6 hours or longer, depending on ambient humidity. The nut meat is sufficiently dry when it makes a slight snapping sound as you break a piece in half and the color of the flesh of the nuts is a consistent shade of beige all the way through along the broken edge.

*On sunny days, you can use a solar oven or food dehydrator with a built-in fan and thermometer. You don’t want your food to get too hot. Here is a neat website that shows you how to build your own dehydrator, and this site has even more great design options. As another option for those of you who live in a climate region with dry summers, like my parents do, you can leave your nuts out in a baking sheet or jelly roll pan covered with a few paper towels in a warm place in the kitchen to dry for 8 to 12 hours or overnight. If I tried this where I live the nut’s would ferment or start to mold. Yuck. 😦