Friday, June 28, 2013

Almond Milk and Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

Like many other foods and drinks, homemade almond milk is tastier than the commercially-made kind.  Making your own lets you avoid preservatives and is pretty satisfying in the self-sufficiency realm too.  Add a smidgen of sugar or honey helps to sweeten it if you don't like it plain.  Almond milk has a thinner consistency than cow's milk, but does not involve cows so I consider that a plus and well worth a purposeful shift.

I enjoy almond milk in my morning coffee or it makes great chai tea.  

What do you do with the leftover ground almonds?  Make cookies!   These are also great with coffee.  Thanks to my awesome cousin Natalie for the cookie idea.  The lack of flour in this quick and easy cookie recipe is on purpose - these are gluten-free!  These are a lot like macaroons with almonds instead of coconut.  I think the chocolate is an important part of the recipe and brings a special pizazz to the cookies, it really bumps up the texture contrast.  Besides, if cookies are too healthy what's the point?

Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

Homemade Almond Milk
Makes 2 to 3 cups of almond milk

Cheesecloth - the kind for making cheese, not the kind for making crafts

2 cups raw almonds
Sugar, to taste

1) Soak almonds in about 4 cups of water overnight, either on the counter or in the fridge.  This is to get the almonds soft enough to blend and release their flavors. 
2) Drain the water.  Water plants with it.  This contains the bitterness from the almond skin.
3) Put the soaked almonds in a blender with 2 to 3 cups of fresh water and blend until the almonds are in very small bits.
4) Arrange several layers of cheesecloth over a container; a tallish one with a wide mouth is best.  Slowly pour the blender contents into the cheesecloth and let the almond milk drain out, ten minutes or so.  Bring the cheesecloth edges up so the almond mush is in a ball and squeeze out the last of the milk.  Save the almond mush for making cookies!  The milk will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days.  Add sugar to taste as desired (optional)

Almond Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups almond mush (from making almond milk, recipe above)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 Tbsp sugar or Stevia to taste (I use sugar)
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp Almond extract
3-4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

1. Mix all ingredients together except chocolate.
2. Press spoonfuls of mix tightly into shape on a teaspoon, then carefully slide off onto a cookie sheet to keep in shape.
3. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 325 or until desired crispiness. They turn golden around the bottom edges and make the kitchen smell like toasted almonds.  
4. Melt chocolate by putting in a microwavable bowl and microwaving 10 seconds at a time, stirring in between until it's completely smooth.  Dip the cookies in chocolate, then set on parchment paper and refrigerate until chocolate hardens. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cherry Amaretto Tart

If cream cheese had a superhero it would be marscapone cheese.  There are so many wonderful flavor highlights here - fresh cherries, glazed cherries, shortbread cookie crust, with rich amaretto to tie it all together.  This is a dessert for after the little ones go to bed, that's for sure.  I just saw today that fresh cherries are coming to the local farmers market this weekend so it's time to post one of my favorite desserts.  I look forward to cherry season for THIS:

Cherry Amaretto Tart with Shortbread Crust

I discovered this recipe on Serious Eats (one of my favorite food blogs) and knew I had to try it.  Yes it's a heck of a lot of work to halve and pit this many fresh cherries, but it is SO GOOD. When I first made it I told my husband that the flavor was too strong and I didn't think I liked it, and put it in the fridge overnight.  I then proceeded to eat most of the tart myself and I think he got a piece or two.  I'm not generally a person who enjoys liquor but with the cherries it's good enough to make me want to randomly capitalize letters, and those who know me know I don't do that lightly. 

Last year I didn't have amaretto and of course all the Utah liquor stores are closed on Sundays when I had the time set aside to make it, so I used Frangelico instead (a hazelnut liquor) - this was not sweet enough and if I did it again I'd at least double the sugar, but the amaretto is a much better flavor match. If cherries are out of season, the recipe creator suggested pears which also sounds delicious and I'll be adding that to my future to-cook list.

The biggest trick to this - and maybe it isn't so much a trick as a reminder to myself and anyone who cooks like I do - is to have all of the ingredients prepared beforehand.  I tend to get halfway through a recipe before noticing that I don't have all the ingredients and that's especially frustrating when there isn't even a place to go buy them.  The recipe itself is pretty straightforward despite using ingredients I wasn't terribly familiar with.  Consider it a grocery store treasure hunt! 

For an extra food adventure (and to save some money) you can make the marscapone cheese too!  I haven't done this yet but have seen it on Pinterest several times.  Here is a good link with detailed instructions: - Marscapone Cheese.  I'll probably do this next time so I can avoid driving to four separate stores to find the stuff.  The one that had it?  WinCo.  They have a surprisingly good cheese section; kudos to the WinCo cheesemonger!

Cherry Tart with shortbread crust

Cherry Amaretto Tart

10" round tart pan with removable bottom
Grinder for almonds

        2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs (See Note)
        6 tablespoons light brown sugar (divided 4 Tbsp + 2Tbsp)
        1/2 cup toasted almonds, finely ground
        3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
        1/2 teaspoon salt (divided 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp + 1/8 tsp)
        1 1/2 pounds fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted, and halved
        3/4 cup Amaretto liqueur (divided 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup)
        1/4 cup white granulated sugar
        2 tablespoons water
        1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
        2 cups mascarpone cheese
        1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

NOTE: I used Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and crushed them with a heavy rolling pin. I get two boxes and I'm pretty sure some are leftover but I eat them so I don't know how many.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In medium bowl, combine shortbread crumbs, 4 Tbsp brown sugar, almonds, butter, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Press into bottom and up sides of tart pan. Bake until light golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring 3/4 cup cherries, 1/2 cup Amaretto, white sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to boil in small saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until thick and syrupy, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add remaining fresh cherries and toss to coat. Set aside.
4. Combine water and gelatin in small bowl. Microwave until gelatin dissolves, about 20 seconds. Cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
5. In medium bowl, whisk together mascarpone, remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup Amaretto, vanilla, remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cooled gelatin mixture until smooth.
6. Spread mascarpone mixture in cooled tart shell and top with cherry mixture.
7. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving or removing the pan ring (see below).
8. Share.  At least one piece, so people will believe you when you tell them how amazing it was and why only two pieces made it to the potluck.

Here's another photo for good measure!  This is the reason for the tart pan having a removable bottom, so it can still sit on the solid metal bottom and have the beautiful crust showing and make it much easier to cut.  Just put your hand on the bottom (after it's completely cool of course) and very gently, nudge the metal ring away from the crust until it drops down onto your elbow, then set the tart down on a decorative plate with the pan bottom still underneath it.  Then go wash your elbow, it's sticky.  :)

Cherry Amaretto Tart... because it's so darn pretty.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blueberry Lavender Lemon Popsicles

Hot weather plus plentiful lemons and blueberries means it's time for popsicles!  This is a favorite recipe that brings in the flavor of lavender for an unusual and refreshing combination.  The original is from Women's Health Magazine so these are even good for you!  Hello antioxidants!

For lemons at a good price in the Salt Lake City area, I've had great luck at Rancho Markets.  They aren't grown locally (obviously) but they are delicious.  Lavender grows wonderfully in Utah - make sure to get this organic so it hasn't been sprayed with anything not edible. 

Blueberry Lavender Lemon Popsicles

Blueberry Lavender Lemon Popsicles
Makes about six popsicles

1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp culinary lavender
1 1/4 cups water, divided
3 Tbsp lemon juice (or juice of 1 to 1 1/2 lemons)
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Juice the lemons, if using fresh.
2. Bring sugar, lavender, and 1/4 cup water to boil in saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and steep for at least 30 minutes. 
3. Mix the remaining 1 cup water with lemon juice.
4. Strain lavender from sugar syrup, add syrup to lemon water, and mix well. 
5. Evenly distribute into ice-pop molds, filling each about three-quarters full. 
6. Option 1 - Drop several blueberries into each mold, until the liquid reaches the top. These will be white with blueberry spots.
Option 2 - Mash blueberries in a dish and drop a spoonful into each mold, stir into the lemonade.  These will be purple and have a stronger blueberry flavor. 
 7. Insert sticks and freeze for about 8 hours.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Berry Maple Syrup

We're getting close to berry season!  This makes a special treat for breakfast and is a great way to use up that giant container of berries that's on a great sale but won't get eaten before they go bad.  This will definitely get eaten. 

Fresh strawberries are a great breakfast combo.  I love this with cranberries and like to get a stash for the freezer when they go on sale in December.  Blueberries work very well too, or a combination!  The only thing I don't recommend is frozen strawberries since they lose their color and texture when frozen, those are better saved for smoothies. 

Cranberry Maple Syrup on sourdough French Toast

Berry Maple Syrup
Serve over french toast, pancakes, waffles, ice cream, etc.

2 cups any kind of berries, fresh or frozen
2 cups maple syrup - go for the real stuff!

1. If frozen: Mix ingredients together in a pot on medium-high, shaking/stirring frequently, until the cranberries are defrosted.  If not frozen, start at step 2.
2. Turn down to medium and stir occasionally until the mixture gets bubbly.  Some berries will pop when they heat up so make use of those kitchen aprons!
3. Turn burner to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

(tags: cranberry syrup, blueberry syrup, strawberry syrup)

Homemade Mustard

This post has been a long work in progress!  I definitely encourage all of you readers to try this at home.  If you have never tried making mustard yourself, this process might just be mind-blowing. Spicy mustard, honey mustard, rosemary mustard, apricot mustard, you can use just about anything.  Below is a basic recipe outline and a specific combination that I have enjoyed.  I suggest experimenting in small batches, until you find the combinations that you like the best.  The most important thing for this recipe/project is to take notes as you do things so that if you find the best mustard ever, you can make more.  
Homemade brown mustard served on an egg salad sandwich

I have read that Indian grocery stores have mustard seeds at low prices - I haven't found one near me yet but keep an eye out for them!  If you are lucky enough to have more than one option of color, the darker the color, the spicier the seeds. Growing mustard yourself is do-able but a heck of a lot of work.  The dried stalks with seed pods have very sharp tiny spines so get the heaviest garden gloves you can find (yes that's personal experience).  If you want to grow your own, you can plant the ones from the spice tin, but be warned that it's an invasive weed in many places so it might not go over well with the neighbors.

It is well worth it to keep an extra coffee grinder on hand for spices such as this, as the seeds in a mortar and pestle get very excited and like to jump all over the kitchen without an awkward hand-covering style of pounding, but it can be done either way, especially if you have ambitious kids with too much energy.

Everyone who tries this, please share your recipe variations below, I look forward to reading about your adventures!  

Homemade Brown Mustard: Basic Recipe

Spice grinder or mortar and pestle

6 Tablespoons whole yellow mustard seeds (or any color)
1/2 cup mustard powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup water (Cold for more spicy, Hot for less spicy - beer or wine can be substituted)
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar (or any vinegar)

1) Grind mustard seeds for just a few seconds in an electric grinder or until desired consistency with a mortar and pestle.  This gives your mustard its texture.
2) In a glass container, mix together mustard seeds, mustard powder, and salt.
3) Add water and stir well.  Let sit for between ten minutes and overnight (cover loosely if desired but not airtight).  The shorter the sitting time, the spicer the mustard will be.  Adding vinegar (the acid) freezes the chemical reaction between the seeds and water.
4)  Add vinegar and stir well.
5) This is the most important step!  Let your mustard sit for at least 12 hours.  It does not need to be in the fridge.  It's likely to be terrible until it has cured properly so if the smell is bad, don't despair, some take a day or two before they are really good.

Serve with sliced meats, cheeses, eggs, in potato salad, on sandwiches, etc.  Enjoy!

Brown Cider Mustard
This is not very spicy and has a nice apple cidery flavor to it. The ingredients are half of the main recipe above, which is a good taste-test amount. 

3 Tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup mustard powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup warm water
2 tsp Cider Vinegar

1) Grind mustard seeds for just a few seconds in an electric grinder or until desired consistency with a mortar and pestle.
2) In a glass container, mix together mustard seeds, mustard powder, and salt.
3) Add water and stir well.  Let sit for 24 hours, loosely covered, not refrigerated. 
4) Add vinegar and stir well.  Let sit for an additional 12 hours before using it, and refrigerate leftovers in a covered glass container.