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Archive for April, 2011

Homemade Almond Milk

I have been meaning to make homemade almond milk for sometime now. I absolutely love almond milk and tend to buy it often. The thing I really dislike about it (as with most foods from the grocery store) is that a lot of times it has added ingredients that really just don’t seem to need to be in there, even the organic stuff. Though that tends to be the story of most of the food products people buy. It’s all so over-processed and filled with unnatural junk. These are all reasons why I’ve changed my lifestyle and rarely consume store-bought processed foods, I try to make everything I can myself and eat as many fresh foods as possible.

I came across a few really great recipes and finally took the time to experiment and make my own homemade almond milk and now that I have, I will never buy it again. This recipe is simple, fast (besides soaking time) and it requires only a few ingredients. It is creamy, sweet, nutty, rich and full of luscious nutrients, plus it is great for those on dairy-free or raw diets and vegans. It’s great as is, in smoothies, served over your favorite granola or cereal, heated up with chai spices or chocolate, etc.

In addition to all these other great things, it’s also much cheaper than the almond milk you buy at the store.

Homemade Raw Almond Milk

2 cups whole raw almonds
4 cups water (you can use more depending on how light you want it, I used about 5 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 vanilla bean
2-4 tablespoons honey*

Soak almonds and vanilla bean or vanilla extract for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Discard soaking water and rinse almonds.

Place soaked almonds, vanilla bean (if you are using), agave and 4-6 cups of water in a blender. Cover and blend on high for 1-2 minutes. It will be milky and have a bit of foam on the top.
Strain milk through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. You will then be left with almond pulp that can be saved and used for spreads, butter, crackers, cookies, crusts, etc. Look for recipes using the almond pulp very soon 🙂

Serve or store in a covered jar or pitcher in the refrigerator, it’ll be good for about 5 days.

* You can also leave out the honey if you wish to have it be unsweetened

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade Almond Milk

Almond Pulp from Homemade Raw Almond Milk

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Thai Chicken Soup

I absolutely love Thai food! The layers of flavors and the spices are so amazing and there are so many naturally gluten-free options. One of my favorite things are the different soups. The flavors are always so distinct in Thai soups from the curry pastes, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro, etc. I have wanted to try making a Thai coconut milk soup at home with all the fresh herbs and spices. With the lingering chilly weather, last week was the perfect time. The original recipe I found was a bit basic, so I added in mushrooms, fresh ginger, fresh lemongrass and jarred kaffir lime leaves (which I was very excited to finally find), I also went with a light coconut milk instead of the full fat version and I used more of it, I find it is still quite creamy and it has a bit less fat and calories. I also added a bit more broth, curry paste, fish sauce and noodles so I would have more leftovers for lunches and dinners on some of the busy nights we have this week. Don’t worry if you can’t find lemongrass or the kaffir lime leaves, the soup will still be really great even without them. The curry paste really has a lot of flavor. I just find that adding those extra fresh ingredients makes this soup more authentic. I know from eating a lot of Thai food that lemongrass can be a bit annoying to eat, since they are a bit tough to chew, so I decided to cut the stalk in large pieces so that I could easily pull them out just before serving.

Since we normally buy whole chickens from the farm we get all of our meat from, I just grabbed two organic chicken breasts from Wegmans, I honestly can’t tell you the last time I bought meat from the grocery store. Thankfully Wegmans has a great selection of organic and grass-fed meats, though it just isn’t the same as getting it from a local farm. You could also roast a whole chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken and shred some of the cooked chicken and add it in to the soup at the end. This soup could also easily be made vegetarian/vegan with vegetable broth and by skipping the chicken or you could make a seafood version and add shrimp or scallops.

Serve the soup with lime wedges and maybe even a little Sriracha if you want a bit more heat. Enjoy, this soup really is incredible.

Thai Chicken Soup
serves 6
loosely adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb of sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons green curry paste (If you don’t like spicy, start with 2 and go from there. It seems some curry pastes are spicier than others)
8 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth
2 15-ounce cans organic lite coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
6 ounces thin rice noodles, broken into pieces
2 small skinless, boneless chicken breasts preferably local and hormone and antibiotic free (about 1 pound), very thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon kaffir lime leaves (I used were jarred, you can also find them fresh or frozen, use about 3 or 4 leaves)
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often until they begin to soften and get a bit brown, about 5-7 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and set aside. Add a bit more oil if you need it and add the onion to the pot over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and curry paste, cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk and fish sauce; cover and bring to a boil.

Add the mushrooms, bell peppers and noodles and simmer, uncovered, until the noodles are al dente, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer until just cooked through, about 3-5 more minutes. Stir in the lime juice, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro. Remove the chunks of lemongrass just before serving. Add more fish sauce and lime juice, if desired.

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Fried Black Rice With Ginger Tofu and Baby Arugula

I came across this recipe in a recent issue of Whole Living and couldn’t wait to make it. I love black rice so much, it is full of flavor. I always keep a pound or two of Black Japonica in the pantry, a unique field blend of medium grain black and short grain mahogany rice. It’s so nutty and sweet, perfect in many different dishes.

This recipe is so healthy and fresh, simple to make and full of so many flavors. The original recipe called for spinach but since I still had some baby arugula on hand, I figured that would work just as well. I was pleasantly surprised how much more delicious the rice was after frying it up in the pan, it grabbed all the little bits of ginger and garlic and the Sriracha left in the pan from the tofu. The tofu had a nice crisp outside and it was full of flavor from the ginger and Sriracha and the arugula brought a beautiful peppery crunch. I hope to plan spinach and/or arugula in our garden this year so I have a feeling we’ll be eating this dish a lot this summer.

Fried Black Rice With Ginger Tofu and Baby Arugula
Adapted from Whole Living, March 2011
Serves 4-6

3/4 cup black rice (I used a blend of black and mahogany rices)
1 1/2 cups water
1 bunch organic baby arugula, rinsed and roughly chopped (spinach will work here, too)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
3 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into six 1/2-inch-thick rectangles
2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
Lime wedges, for serving

Bring rice and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Steam baby arugula, covered, in 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes; set aside. Saute garlic, ginger, and scallion whites in remaining oil until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tofu and Sriracha and cook until tofu is golden, about 6 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.

Add rice to skillet and cook over medium-high heat until crisp, about 2 minutes. Serve with baby arugula and tofu. Garnish with scallion greens and serve with lime. Add more Sriracha when serving, if you like.

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Gluten-Free Banana Bread

For some reason the smell of overripe bananas drives me crazy. There is no specific reason for it, it’s just so strong and obnoxious to me. Any time they are on the counter and past the point of eating on their own, I always think ‘banana bread’. The perfect use for those little stinkers. This is a very simple gluten-free recipe that requires very little thought and only a  few ingredients. If you hate measuring and buying multiple flours, Bob’s Red Mill makes a great all-purpose gluten-free flour. Of course, you can always create your own all-purpose flour mix, as well.

The great thing about this recipe is you can always change it up, you can add dried fruits like raisins, cranberries or cherries, chopped nuts, chocolate chips, etc. You can even come up with a sweet glaze to drizzle over the top and make this a delicious and simple dessert. This time around I kept it simple and just went with chopped pecans. I also have read you can substitute apple sauce for the oil in this recipe, I will have to give it a try to see how it works out.

This bread is just like the “real thing”, moist and light and it browns nicely on the outside. It has a nice sweetness and has the perfect amount of banana flavor without overpowering. It is equally as nice for breakfast toasted and topped with a smidge of butter alongside a cup of your favorite tea as it is served as dessert with a bit of cream cheese spread over it (I have fallen in love with Nancy’s Organic Cultured Cream Cheese).

Gluten-Free Banana Bread
adapted from Bob’s Red Mill
serves 10

1/3 cup grapeseed oil
2/3 cup organic dark brown sugar, packed
2 large local farm-fresh brown eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe organic bananas (I used 4 small bananas)
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Other ingredients you could add:
chocolate chips
raisins
dried cranberries
blueberries
peanut butter chips
coconut

Preheat oven to 350Âș F.

Use a bit of grapeseed oil to grease a 9×5-inch non-stick loaf pan. You can also make smaller loaves, use three 5×3 inch loaf pans.

Cream together oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large bowl. Add flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg to egg mixture, alternating with bananas.

Beat until smooth. Stir in nuts and any other add-ins. Transfer to pan(s).

Bake 9×5″ loaf for 1 hour, 5×3″ loaves for 45 minutes. Make sure a cake tester or knife comes out clean.

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Baked Sweet Potato Chips

This is a super easy and healthy treat you can make at home that is perfect for a mid-day snack or for the road trip munchies. I made these for our drive to NYC a couple of weekends ago, they were perfect for the car.

You can certainly leave the peels on, though the potatoes that I had on-hand were looking a bit rough, so I decided to peel them. I used organic white sweet potatoes but any sweet potato or regular potato would work just as well. You can have fun with spices, oils and other flavors. I kept it simple with just salt and pepper and a good olive oil and topped them with a squeeze of lime and a bit of chopped cilantro. You could add chili powder, cinnamon or any other spice or herb you desire. I made these again today, for a mid-afternoon snack, and this time I used applewood smoked sea salt! WOW, it was incredible.

Once you get into making your own chips, you’ll really laugh at the thought of eating them out of a bag. These are so much more filling and have a great flavor. You will still have the great crunch but without the insane amount of fat from frying and all the chemicals and preservatives.

Once thing I recommend highly when it comes to making your own chips at home is to slice the potatoes (or whatever you are making the chips from) with a mandoline slicer. This ensures a consistent thickness on all the chips so they will cook evenly, plus it is incredibly easy to use. You can go-it by hand with a sharp knife and a steady hand, but it isn’t easy.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips
serves 4

2 medium organic sweet potatoes, scrubbed well or peeled, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

lime wedges for serving
fresh chopped cilantro for serving

Preheat oven to 400Âș F.

In a large bowl, add the potato slices, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss gently to evenly coat.

Place the potato slices on two rimmed baking pans, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently toss to coat evenly. Arrange in a single layer between the two pans.

Bake uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the potato slices are golden brown, crisp and cooked thoroughly, turning a couple of times to crisp evenly. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper a squeeze of lime juice and the chopped cilantro just before serving.

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Spring Mushroom Risotto with Leeks and Sweet Peas

I am so ready for it to just be spring already. This chilly, dreary weather is getting a tad bit old and we’ve gotten a taste of the warm weather already, so I just wish it would stay. It was near 80Âș when we were in NYC last weekend and apparently it was in the 70s here in Buffalo at the same time. Today it is in the low 30s and it’s snowing again. Don’t get me wrong, I love the snow and the change of seasons, but this has been one of the longest and nastiest winters I can ever recall here.

I guess since the weather isn’t cooperating the only thing to do is to bring the spring to our bellies via delicious spring inspired dishes like this one! Once again this risotto, like the pasta recipe I posted yesterday, was inspired by what looked best in the produce section when we went to the market. I had actually hoped to find fresh sweet peas, but I guess it is still a bit early, so I went with frozen organic sweet peas. You can certainly substitute fresh peas here, you’d just want to quickly blanch them first.

This risotto is so creamy and satisfying it is hard to believe it is healthy. There is very little cheese and really since arborio rice creates such a creamy risotto, if you wanted to make this vegan you could simply leave out the cheese and it would still be incredible. The leeks bring a nice fresh but subtle onion flavor, the mushrooms a nice rustic earthy aroma and taste and the peas are a nice burst of brightness to finish it all off. The fresh tarragon was the perfect unique compliment to all of these flavors, bringing subtle scent and taste reminiscent of anise. You can play with adding in some white wine or vermouth as well as different cheeses, mascarpone or heavy cream, different herbs, lemon zest, etc. There are so many variations on classic risotto and you really can’t go wrong.

I had a dozen local farm fresh eggs that I picked up and want to use while they are at their freshest so I decided to fry up an egg for each of us to serve on top of the risotto. I had never done this before, but I knew it would be incredible and I was right. Such a nice way to finish it off. The yolk was a tad runny and it was just perfect.

Spring Mushroom Risotto with Leeks and Sweet Peas

Spring Mushroom Risotto with Leeks and Sweet Peas
serves 4-6

5-6 cups of organic mushroom broth
2 tablespoons organic olive oil
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms, I used baby bellas
2 leeks, rinsed very well, slice thinly white and green parts only*
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 cups frozen organic sweet peas (I would have preferred fresh, but they weren’t yet at the market)
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Keep the broth warm over very low heat.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and a sprinkle of salt, sauté until tender and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan over a medium-low heat. Add the leeks and garlic, sprinkle with salt. Sauté until the leeks are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and increase the heat to medium. Stir until the edges begin to look transparent, careful not to brown the rice or leeks. Add the mushroom broth, 2 ladles at a time (or approximately 3/4 cup); stirring constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. Always adding enough just to cover the rice. Continue stirring and adding broth, waiting for it to absorb and then adding more. Cook about halfway, which should be about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the sautéed mushrooms. Continue adding broth until the rice is tender but has a bit of a firm bite and the risotto is creamy, another 10-15 minutes. Add the frozen peas and fresh tarragon with just a few minutes remaining, stir to combine. The peas will cook very quickly. Once cooked, turn off the heat. Taste the risotto and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in approximately 1/4 cup of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, reserving the remaining for serving. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl, top with fresh ground black pepper and a pinch or two of freshly chopped tarragon. Serve with the remaining grated parmigiano-raggiano. This risotto is incredible with a fried farm-fresh egg served on top. If the yolk is just a tad bit runny, it is absolute perfection! Trust me, try it.

* a quick note on cleaning leeks: leeks tend to have a lot of dirt and grit in them. If you aren’t careful when cleaning them, you may think they are totally clean, start cooking with them and find your entire dish has a nasty grittiness to it. This can ruin a dish After trimming off the ends (called the beards) and the dark green tops (save these for stocks). You can run them under cold water at this point, or even better, you can submerge the leeks in a large pot of cold water. Swirl them around to really remove all the grit and dirt. Drain well and then cut.

Spring Mushroom Risotto with Leeks and Sweet Peas

Oh and one last thing to mention, this is what was going on outside my kitchen window while I crafted up this beautiful spring dinner. Ironic, isn’t it?

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Spicy Spring Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Baby Arugula (Gluten-Free)

Pasta is definitely my go-to comfort meal, it rarely disappoints. I almost always have a couple of pounds of dried gluten-free pasta in the pantry and enough ingredients to throw together a tasty and seasonal dish with it. Plus, I really love how little effort it takes. In the time it takes to preheat the oven and make a horrible processed frozen pizza, you can have a delicious main-course pasta made with fresh ingredients. With all the traveling we’ve had going on and how busy we’ve been I have been craving one of my homemade pasta creations, so last week after we got home from NYC and before we left again for Pittsburgh, I thought up this dish and threw it together for us.

Besides the beautiful spring produce that is finally showing itself at the grocery store, what inspired this dish was a jar of hot pepper spread from Wegmans in my refrigerator. We always have it on-hand for things like sandwiches, soups, eggs, pizza etc. It has a mere 5 ingredients, all natural, and it’s the perfect condiment. It caught my eye the other day and I realized that I had never made a pasta dish with it. I decided to take a trip to the grocery store and let the fresh produce decide the rest. I was definitely craving a spring inspired dish! Though the choices are still limited and it isn’t all necessarily local, I was happy to see more green in the produce section. It feels like we are finally through the winter and onto brighter things, literally.

The asparagus and baby arugula both jumped out at me in the produce section and I thought paired with the spicy peppers, a nice parmigiano-reggiano and some lemon, they would be perfect. Certainly skip the hot pepper spread if you don’t care for spicy or if you can’t find anything like it, or you can substitute it with a teaspoon or two of red pepper flakes. Have fun with it and always start out slow with the spicy ingredients if you don’t like the heat, you can always add more. This pasta just explodes with fresh flavors, the heat from the hot pepper spread brings a nice zing, but it’s not too overpowering, the subtle peppery crunch from baby arugula is fresh and welcomed after a long winter, along with the brightness from the lemon. It is a very light and healthy, but certainly satisfying, spring dinner. If you are looking for a nice vegan spring pasta dish, just leave off the cheese or substitute with your favorite cheese substitute, it will still be delicious.

After a winter of root vegetables, frozen vegetables and just plain ‘blah’ produce, it really is nice to start seeing better fresh produce options again at the grocery store. The farmers market opens in less than 3 weeks (I am counting down the days) and shortly thereafter I will be starting our garden.

Here’s to the spring, more green and a lot sunshine!! (FYI – as I type this, it is snowing)

Spicy Spring Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Baby Arugula (Gluten-Free)
serves 4-6

1 lb asparagus
3 tablespoon organic olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 lb organic gluten-free brown rice pasta (you can use any shape you’d like and certainly you can use regular pasta here, as well)
2 cups organic baby arugula roughly chopped or torn
2 cloves organic garlic, minced
1 tablespoon hot pepper spread (I buy Wegmans brand, but you can also substitute 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes or leave it out)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Lemon zest
fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400Âș F.

Clean your asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Cut into 2-inch pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking pan and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 15-25 minutes until tender, but still a bit crisp.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, reserve approximately 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, drain the pasta and rinse in hot water. Place the rinsed pasta in a large serving bowl, immediately add the baby arugula and toss, so it begins to wilt. Then add the minced garlic, hot pepper spread (or red pepper flakes), 2 tablespoons of olive oil and as much cooking liquid as necessary to make the pasta a bit creamy. Toss carefully to combine all the ingredients, add more cooking liquid as needed. Once the asparagus is done, add this to the pasta along with most of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, reserving a bit for serving. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the pasta, taste the pasta and salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything carefully one last time. Plate the pasta individually and top each serving with fresh lemon zest and the remaining cheese.

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