Homemade Almond Milk

For those who would like an alternative to cow’s milk, this may be something you’d like to try. I have tried many brands of almond milk, and a few were okay, but when I read the ingredients, I thought, “Hmmm…homemade would be better.” And it is! (as usual)

These are the ingredients of a popular organic almond milk – “Organic almond base (filtered water, organic almonds), organic rice starch, organic vanilla, sea salt, natural flavor, carrageenan, riboflavin (B2), vitamin A palmitate and vitamin D2.”

Organic rice starch? Why would starch be in a milk product unless it’s to enable the manufacturer to reduce the expensive ingredient (almonds) and make it seem full-bodied by using a thickener? How many almonds might there actually be in this product? I did the math – 1/4 cup almonds has approximately 200 calories. The calorie count for 1 cup of the above-mentioned commercial almond milk is 40 calories. That would be the equivalent of 1/5 of 1/4 cup or less than 1 tablespoon of almonds. That’s about 7 almonds per cup of almond milk. But actually less, because we have to account for the starch calories.

And natural flavor? The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Section 101, part 22 is as follows:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Uh…all I know is “natural” flavor seems to be a highly processed food-like product.

And finally, carrageenan. The jury’s out on carrageenan. From an article on Stonyfield’s website, “Undegraded carrageenan is approved for use in all foods and infant formula in the U.S. In the EU, undegraded carrageenan is not approved for use in infant formula, but is allowed in all other foods that might be fed to children of any age.” There might be more to carrageenan than meets the eye, so if I don’t have to have it, I’d just as soon avoid it.

These are not ingredients that I have in my pantry, and I doubt that you do either. When was the last time you went to a neighbor and asked, “Um, could I borrow a teaspoon of carrageenan?” They’re just not what I would consider real food – whole foods created for us by a loving God to nourish our bodies and keep us healthy.

The ingredients in homemade almond milk? Raw organic almonds, filtered water, a tiny bit of sweetener (such as raw unprocessed honey), a pinch of salt, and pure vanilla extract, if desired. That’s it.

Homemade Almond Milk

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup raw organic almonds

1 cup filtered water

pinch sea salt

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup or other healthy sweetener

1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (if desired)

3 more cups filtered water

Instructions:

1. Put almonds into a cereal bowl. Pour water into bowl to cover almonds by 1 inch. Let sit overnight.

2. Drain and rinse almonds. Discard that water. Place almonds, salt, sweetener, vanilla and one cup of fresh water in high speed blender. Blend for about 1 minute, or until almonds are fully pulverized and liquid appears thick and creamy.

3. Add one more cup of water. Blend to mix.

4. Add as much of third cup of water as it takes to reach the 3 cup line. Blend to mix. Taste, adjust flavors, and strain if desired. (If you strain it, the pulp can be saved and slipped into recipes here and there – even cookies!) If you don’t strain it, shake or stir before pouring.

5. Refrigerate and use within 3-5 days.

One cup of this almond milk has about 132 calories, 5 grams protein, 11 grams good fat (monounsaturated), 57 mg calcium, and almost 3 grams of fiber. It can be poured over cereal, used in cream soups and casseroles, and flavored with veggie “bouillon” and/or mushrooms to make gravy, as well as many other uses. In the next post, I’ll be sharing my recipe for Vegan Creamy Butternut Squash Soup made with this almond milk.

Let me know what you find to use it in!

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GF Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Cake

At this time of year, my office usually has a bowl of snack size chocolate candy available for anyone at any time. Oh, goodness, it’s hard to stay away from! I’ve been averaging 2 a day on the days I go to work. :/ So I needed chocolate, but in a healthier package.

In this cookbook from my local library, I  found a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread. I almost didn’t make it because I did not have enough cocoa powder, but took a chance with what I had and I’m glad I did. It came out delicious! The sweetness is comparable to a quick bread, but since I couldn’t quite see having a piece for breakfast, I called it a cake.

I  made a few changes because of my preference for certain ingredients, but either way, I’m sure you would be happy with the result! (If gluten is no concern for you, just sub whole wheat pastry flour for a healthy alternative and omit the xanthan gum.)

GF Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Earth Balance, coconut oil, or olive oil

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup Sucanat (or organic sugar)

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 T milled flaxseed (optional)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups finely grated zucchini

2 1/3 cups GF flour mix *

2/3 cup cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×9 baking pan.

2. In medium saucepan, melt Earth Balance. Turn off heat, and add honey, Sucanat, vanilla, flaxseed and cinnamon. Mix well. Let cool a bit.

3. Finely grate 2-3 zucchini to make 2 cups. Don’t squeeze out the moisture – this helps moisten the cake. Add to wet ingredients in saucepan. Mix until well combined.

4. In large bowl, sift together flour mix, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking soda and salt. (I use a fine mesh strainer.) Whisk well. Stir in chocolate chips

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until well combined.

6. Turn into well-oiled 9×9 baking pan and spread out evenly.

7. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (But don’t confuse melted chocolate chips with liquid batter! – Yes, I speak from experience.)

Serve with fresh, cold milk. (Recipe for almond milk to come soon!)

* A word about gluten-free flour mixes…

I would like to use all whole grains when I bake, but I’ve seen that that’s not realistic. First of all, some items wind up feeling like gravel in the mouth 😉 . And particularly with gluten-free baked goods, some turn out too crumbly and won’t hold together. So I’m taking the advice of those who’ve been doing this longer than I have, and using a whole grain/starch combination for my all-purpose flour mix. My flour mix consists of 70% whole grain flour (or combination of whole grain flours) to 30% starch. This works out to approximately 25 ounces WG flour to 11 ounces starch. Currently I’m using a mixture of 25 ounces brown rice/millet mixture and 11 ounces potato starch all mixed together and stored in my fridge. See below for possibilities.

Use 70% (25 ounces) of any of these whole grain flours, alone or in your desired combination:

Almond
Amaranth
Brown Rice
Buckwheat
Corn
Millet
Oat
Quinoa
Sorghum
Sweet Brown Rice
Teff

Then add 30% (11 ounces) of any of these starches, alone or in your desired combination:

Arrowroot
Cornstarch
Potato Starch
Tapioca Flour
White Rice Flour

Vegan Creamy Cauli/Split Pea Soup

Last week, a few friends and I went to a retreat in California. Everything about it was wonderful, including the food. The meals included an abundance of vegetables and a great use of whole foods. And whenever I needed to ask, there was a gluten-free substitute – including GF carrot cake and chocolate mousse!

I did, however, eat a lot more meat than I am used to, so when I got home, I couldn’t wait to make a vegan meal for supper.

Fortunately, a Whole Foods email had arrived suggesting “Warming Meals for Cooler Weather,” with a few recipes I wanted to try. I couldn’t decide between two of them – that’s where it began, and this is where it ended!

Vegan Creamy Cauli/Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

4 cups water

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup yellow split peas

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped carrot

1 rib celery, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

4 cups chopped cauliflower

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled apple

2-3 cups almond milk* (see below)

cayenne to taste

Garnish:

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 t salt

sprinkle of cayenne

Instructions:

1. Bring water to a boil. Add salt and split peas and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender.

2. While split peas are cooking, saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic in oil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. After split peas have cooked and are tender, add sauteed veggies, cauliflower, curry powder, apple and 2 cups almond milk. Simmer until veggies and apple are tender. Add extra 1 cup almond milk as desired.

4. Prepare garnish: toss pumpkin seeds, oil, and seasonings until seeds are well coated. Roast in oven at 350 degrees for about 3-5 minutes, watching carefully, until crisp.

5. Taste soup and adjust seasonings. This can be served as is, or you can blend it with a stick blender till smooth. Top with seasoned pumpkin seeds.

*To make your own almond milk, soak 1/2 cup raw almonds overnight in water. Strain and rinse. Add to high speed blender with 2 cups water and blend until almond particles are fully pulverized and milk looks creamy. Use as is for this recipe. Or you could add a pinch of salt, a few drops of vanilla and a bit of pure maple syrup to taste if you’d like to use this for drinking or to pour over cereal. (In this case, you might also want to strain it, but that’s optional. Just shake well each time you use it.)

Tomato, Spinach, Cheddar Quiche – Quick and Easy

 

I wanted to make a quiche to bring to our ladies Bible study this morning and had to scramble (haha) for ingredients because I’ve been away for the past week and had no fresh veggies in the house. No problem! (Alas no picture either because, as usual, I was running late and forgot to snap one! Just imagine this with beautiful chunks of red tomato throughout – very impressive but so easy!)

Blend in blender:

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

3-4 tablespoons flour (GF if desired)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

few scrapings nutmeg

Toss together in bowl:

1 1/2 grated cheddar cheese

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 cup frozen spinach, squeezed in paper towel

1 c fresh tomato, cored, seeded and chopped, or equivalent of canned diced (let sit on paper towel for a few minutes to remove excess water)

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Turn cheese and veggie mixture into oiled pie pan.

2. Pour blended liquid mixture over.

3. Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, then at 300 degrees for additional 30-45 minutes. It’s done when it doesn’t jiggle and when knife inserted into center comes out clean.

That’s all!

 

Basic Crustless Quiche

I was invited to have lunch with a friend around 30 years ago (Can it be?!), and she served this quiche.  She gave me her recipe, I changed it to eliminate the crust, and I have made it many, many times since then. It makes a great entrée for brunch or dinner and is a well-received dish to bring to a group meeting or potluck supper. I occasionally bring one to our morning ladies Bible study.

This quiche can be made with or without meat. It can be made gluten-free or with wheat flour. The filling can be poured into a pie crust, but it does perfectly well without one. I will give you the basic recipe as well as many options – be creative! Choose something different each time using the basic structure found here.

Basic Crustless Quiche (GF version)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Custard ingredients:

4 eggs, preferably farm-fresh organic

1 1/2 c organic 2% milk

2 T GF millet flour

1 T arrowroot

1/2 t salt

1/4 t dry mustard

Few scrapes of nutmeg

1/2 t dried herbs or 2 t fresh (about 1 t each fresh chopped rosemary and sage)

Filling:

1-1 1/2 c grated cheese (I used half grass-fed cheddar and half monterey jack)

1 small to medium onion, chopped and sautéed

Approx. 2 cups vegetables, lightly steamed or sautéed, and patted dry (I used 1 1/2 yellow zucchini and 1/2 bunch kale)

1/2 cup meat, if desired

Some notes about ingredients you may choose to use:

1. Vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower – slice thin, lightly steam. Frozen spinach or kale – squeeze dry. Fresh greens – pull leaves off tough ribs, wash, shake off water, steam in covered pan until reduced to about 1-1/2 cups worth. Zucchini, asparagus – sliced or chopped and lightly sautéed. Tomatoes – chopped and drained a bit on a paper towel. Fresh sweet peppers – no need to saute. Frozen organic corn – no need to cook first. Potato – sliced and lightly steamed.

2. Cheese – Swiss, cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella, gouda, havarti – just grate on large-hole side of box grater. One kind or combination of a few. Low-fat is okay. Just don’t use romano or parmesan cheese as your only cheese. You may, however, add a few tablespoons for flavor. Brie is wonderful!

3. Onion – after chopping, you may saute, but you don’t have to.

4. Milk – Two percent works well. One percent’s okay, too. And I’m sure whole milk would be wonderful!

5. Herbs – dill weed, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, summer savory, etc.

Instructions:

1. Blend custard ingredients (except for fresh herbs, if using) in blender or place in bowl and blend with stick blender. Set aside while making filling.

2. Oil pie pan. Place it on a foil-covered baking sheet.

3. Cover bottom of pie pan with sliced, sautéed zucchini. Sprinkle chopped onion evenly over zucchini.

4. Distribute steamed kale over onion layer. Sprinkle shredded cheeses (and meat if using) over kale .

5. Blend custard again for a few seconds. Stir in chopped rosemary and sage. Pour over fillings in pan.

7. Very carefully, place baking sheet with filled pie pan on center shelf of oven. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then at 300 degrees 30 minutes longer or until knife inserted in center comes out without any custard sticking to it. Let sit 10 minutes to settle before serving.

Some great combinations:

Asparagus and Swiss.

Corn, peppers, and black beans with cheddar/monterey mix.

Spinach, havarti, and nitrate-free bacon.

Mozzarella and tomato with basil.

Broccoli, potato and cheddar.

What combinations can you think of?

Fresh Lean Eggplant Parmesan and Finding a Farmer’s Market

I love my farmer’s market. We have a few in the area within 1/2 hour drive, but the closest is also the most convenient (open Saturdays) and has the BEST produce! My favorite stand will be operating until November selling apples, winter squash, and greens along with whatever is still in season. This is what we bought last week.

This is more than I usually get because I needed to make a large pan of roasted veggies to bring to a birthday party for my dear father-in-law who turns 89 this year! Also, my older daughter and her family came from Vermont for a visit  for a few days so I wanted to make sure I had enough healthy vegetables on hand. My grandson is now eating table food – it was this Italian nana’s first opportunity to feed him real food! Tu mangi! (You eat!)

Now we’re working on finishing up those veg – we still have eggplant, cabbage and okra in the fridge. Okra? Not quite sure what to do with that, but I had to try it. But I do know what to do with eggplant! This is my lighter version of Eggplant Parmesan. Forgive me, but measurements are totally estimates. There is so much leeway with this type of recipe because of differences in sweetness and size of the tomatoes and eggplant, so you just have to taste as you go along and adjust.

The way to assure a good result, even without exact measurements, is to use ingredients that are as fresh as possible. You really can’t go wrong that way. Find a farmer’s market in your area. Go here – this should help.

Ingredients:

About 20 meaty tomatoes (I use what I grow – Brandywine)

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

About 20 fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 large eggplant

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin or coarsely grated

Freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese

Salt and pepper

Directions:

In medium saute pan, saute onion and garlic in a little extra virgin olive oil until soft. Set aside.

Prep tomatoes – wash, dry and core tomatoes. Cut them in half horizontally and, with your index finger, slide out the seeds. Place tomatoes into a wide saucepan on medium high heat and cover for about 10 minutes so that peels will slip right off. Remove the lid and, using tongs, begin pulling skins off the tomatoes. Then use a stick blender to blend the remaining tomato pulp to desired consistency. Alternately, you could just mash with potato masher – your choice.

Add sauteed onion and garlic to tomatoes. Boil, stirring frequently, until reduced to good sauce consistency. Stir in chopped fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper.

Cup off top of eggplant and peel. Cut about 1/4″ slices. “Fry” on cast iron pan lightly painted with olive oil at medium heat. This could be tricky. Too high, and the eggplant will burn before getting soft. Too low, and it will take forever! You just have to experiment. Keep turning them over and moving them around if you have hot spots like I do. Continue “frying”  until slices are lightly browned on both sides. Remove to a plate as soon as each slice is done. Continue until both eggplants are cooked. You should have a nice mound of slices.

You hardly need any oil with a well-seasoned pan. This isn’t an old-fashioned version, saturated with oil. The oil on the pan will keep the eggplant from sticking, but it’s actually direct heat and trapped steam that do the cooking.

Now to assemble: First spread some sauce in bottom of 9×9 baking pan. Then place eggplant slices to cover bottom of pan. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Distribute mozzarella on eggplant slices. You can go easy here, because there will be more layers of cheese. You could also sprinkle just a bit of Parmesan or Romano cheese at this point.

Ladle some sauce over all.

Repeat until pan is full or you run out of ingredients. If you have just a small quantity of ingredients left over, fill a lunch-size casserole dish with them and bring to work for a special lunch! End your layers with mozzarella cheese, then tomato sauce.

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 20 minutes. Open oven and sprinkle parmesan cheese over all and bake another 10 minutes or until cheese is lightly golden.

Enjoy every bite of this! Seriously, this was the best eggplant parm we ever had – just because of the freshness!

Now what do I do with okra? Any suggestions?

Homemade yogurt step-by-step

I realized yesterday morning that I was low on our homemade yogurt. This is never a big deal any more – I can even fit in making it before work. What used to be a project has become a very streamlined process. Try it! The first few times, of course it will take a while as you get used to it, but with practice, you’ll be making homemade yogurt for your family in no time!

Why do I bother making it myself? A few reasons:

1. Taste – can’t beat it. Truly.

2. I know what’s in it – as you’ll see, the ingredients are whatever milk you choose and a tiny bit of  your favorite plain yogurt from the store. No artificial sweeteners or flavoring, no sugar, no thickeners or stabilizers, gums or starches or Carmine. Ew.

3. Freshness – Go to the fridge and look at the date on your yogurt from the store. It could be dated a month in the future. Or it could say today’s date. That means that it could have spent the last month on the shelf in the store! How fresh is that!? The good bacteria culture in yogurt gradually decreases over time, so homemade provides the highest quality product.

4. Price – One quart of store-bought organic yogurt costs approximately $4/quart. One quart of homemade organic yogurt costs about $1.42 for the milk and $.27 for the 1/4 c yogurt, so $1.69/quart. Less than half price! I’m no dummy.

This is what I do to make 1 quart. To make 3 quarts at one time, triple the ingredients, use a larger saucepan for heating, and see picture at the end for incubating.

Gather equipment:

1 quart-sized Ball jar

1 large spoon

1 small whisk

1 food thermometer

1 measuring cup

1 salad bowl (for resting sterilized utensils in)

tongs (for removing hot jar from boiling water)

For best results, sterilize equipment by either pouring boiling water over them or by immersing them in a pot of boiling water. I used to skip this step, and my results were not consistent.

Gather ingredients:

1 quart milk

1/4 cup store-bought yogurt for starter (measured out in your cooled-off sterilized measuring cup)

You can use any kind of cow’s milk yogurt that you want. I’ve tried using almond milk, soy milk, and homemade seed milk with no success. I use Wegman’s 1 or 2% organic milk. I spoke with someone at Wegman’s corporate office and am comfortable with the information they gave me regarding their cows grazing on grass as well as their inspections and accountability regarding organic regulations.

I use Stonyfield plain yogurt because it’s organic and because of the 6 live active yogurt and probiotic cultures that are in it. I recommend that you use plain yogurt with LIVE bacteria in it. If it contains live bacteria, it will say so on the container. After opening and using 2 ounces of the 6 ounce container, I keep it in the coldest part of the fridge in a ziploc bag till next time.

The process:

Heat 1 quart milk in a saucepan on medium heat stirring occasionally. Bring to 180 degrees.

Remove from heat and float in a large bowl of cold water in the sink until thermometer registers between 100-110 degrees.

Pour about 1/2 cup of the cooled milk into the 1/4 cup yogurt in measuring cup. Whisk until fully blended.

Pour milk/yogurt mixture back into cooled milk in saucepan. Stir until fully incorporated.

Pour into sterilized Ball jar. Scrape off most of the bubbles from the surface of the milk. Mine looks like this.

Carefully place jar in electric yogurt maker, or…

…if you don’t have one, you could use a cooler lined with a heating pad. This is a peek into what I use when I make more than one jar at a time. These jars are incubating in my collapsible cooler, with a heating pad set on medium on the bottom, then the jars, then plastic wrap covering the jars and my thermometer poked through the wrap and suspended between the jars so I can keep an eye on the temp to make sure it stays between 100-110 degrees. I run the power cord out through the almost-fully-zippered lid. This method reliably keeps the temperature stable. It has successfully made many gallons of yogurt over the years.

You could also use 8 ounce Ball jars for individual servings. I prefer quarts because it’s less to wash, but 8 ounce cups would be great for individual servings for packed lunches.

With either method, I let them incubate for about 7 hours. This gives a nicely thickened yogurt that’s not too tart. Some people with lactose issues may want to incubate for up to 24 hours. By that time, the lactose should be pretty well dealt with.

When the 7 hours are up, carefully remove the jar, screw the lid on, and place in refrigerator until fully cooled. If you severely tilt or shake the jar, it will not set up as well.

I like this added to my green smoothie, or plain with a little stevia or pure maple syrup, or my favorite, with a little homemade granola sprinkled on top.

I guess I know what recipe I’ll have to share with you soon!

Enjoy! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

You may want to use your homemade yogurt for:

Facial masks

Maple vanilla frozen yogurt

Falafel with cucumber yogurt dressing

Ranch salad dressing